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Rob Thurman fic: The Monster You Know 2/5

February 26th, 2009 (06:52 pm)

A/N:  Thanks to those who reviewed part one.  Just a bit longer until the new book is out!  All other notes are in the first chapter :)  And, sendintheklowns , I gritted just for you...


CHAPTER TWO

He awoke to the smell of warm pancakes and the sound of muffled talking.

It was his habit to rise without hesitation.  He was not one for lingering; staying in bed a minute longer was just another minute wasted.  But today--today he found it hard to move.

His body felt heavy and warm, as though his limbs were leaden.  Sunlight glowed from behind the pulled shade, and Niko distantly wondered what time it was.  Sleeping late was Cal's domain, not his.

At the thought of Cal, sleep vanished from his mind, and he bolted upright.  He was still sluggish, but determined now, because the previous day had come crashing back on him with frightening clarity.

He could remember sending his little brother out to pick up his dry cleaning--Cal's lone suit was necessary for the upcoming gig, and Niko had been studying.  Too busy to be bothered with an errand that was Cal's to begin with.  Forcing his brother to behave like an actual adult was not something Niko felt guilty about.

But Cal never came home.  And that was something Niko felt guilty about.

That had actually been two days ago, now that he remembered correctly.  The first night Cal hadn't come back, Niko hadn't slept, hadn't even considered resting.  He never would have, if not for Promise's intervention.

Then he remembered the drugged drink, and his brow furrowed.  He liked strong women, but he was not sure he could condone a woman who dared get between his brother and him.

Finally pushing himself out of bed, though, he had to admit, he did feel better.  The hazy panic of the previous day was subdued now, and he felt in control at least, capable.  His vision seemed clear and his mind alert.  These were necessary things if he planned on finding his brother.

Out of bed, he shrugged out of his shirt and pulled on a clean one.  Without looking, he pulled his blonde hair back, tying it off behind his head.  He had work to do, and he couldn't be bothered to put any more time into things as petty as appearance.

In the kitchen, he found Promise nursing a cup of tea, flipping easily through a newspaper.

He bristled at the sight of her.

Without looking up, she nodded to the stove.  "There is tea," she said.  "I also took the liberty of purchasing some bagels--whole wheat, which should give you the energy you need."

His throat tightened in anger and frustration.  But at her words, he couldn't deny the desperate hunger gnawing at his stomach.  He'd gone without food for longer, but if he intended on devoting a full day to finding Cal, he would need his energy.

She was right.

It was painful to admit, and it wasn't just macho pride that made Niko feel that way.  He did not like to think he could succumb to such things, especially not with Promise.  But he hated to admit that someone knew better than he how to take care of Cal, how to find Cal, how to keep things together.  That was his job, and he did not relinquish it easily.

Without a word, he breezed past her, begrudgingly pouring himself a cup of tea and taking a bagel from the plate. 

He did not sit, though, and eyed Promise with tense hesitation.  

She appeared unfazed.  "How do you feel?"

The question was pointed, purposeful.  She wasn't going to avoid this. 

"Fine," he ground out.

She nodded.  "Sleep will often cleanse the mind.  Human faculties need to be rested in order to be effective."  She looked up at him, her purple eyes soft.  "Even for you."

He swallowed around the lump in his throat.  "I know why you did it," he said.  "But if I am to trust you, you must promise never to do it again."

She cocked her head contemplatively.  "Would you have listened to reason any other way?"

Teeth clenched, he refused to answer her question.  "Cal has always been my brother," he explained instead.  "I have been protecting him all my life.  I do not need anyone telling me what to do."

With an eyebrow raised, she took another sip of tea.  "You have done a remarkable job," she affirmed.  "But you don't need to do it alone.  That's why you called for help in the first place."

Her point was well-taken, but he couldn't admit it. Wouldn't admit it.

"I would never jeopardize my relationship with you," she said finally.  "Or your brother's life.  I know nothing matters more to you.  Believe me, Niko."

The sincerity was there, ringing and true, and he bowed his head in acceptance.  "What's done is done," he said.  "Now, we must find Cal."

"Robin is hitting up some of his contacts for leads," she said.  "I'm not sure I want to know what that entails.  I, too, have called several, but have heard nothing back yet."

With another swig of tea, Niko put his cup down.  "I know who I have to see."

"She won't help you," Promise said simply.

Eating another bite of his breakfast, Niko swallowed.  Promise was probably right--she usually was.  And in Niko's heart, he knew it was a long shot, even if it was his best one.  "I have to try."

-o-

Most people might consider a reliable psychic a first resort, but Niko knew all too well that he couldn't use Georgina like that.  Not only was it insulting to her powers, but he somehow was skeptical of what kind of answer he could expect from her.

She cared for Cal--she cared for both of them--but she valued her own ethical code more.  That wasn't really a fair way to look at it, and in more rational circumstances, Niko might have understood her reasons better.  Georgina possessed a wisdom that surpassed even Niko's extensive knowledge.  The things she knew, the way she understood the universe--those were things Niko could only grasp on a rudimentary level.  Normally he would respect her boundaries.

His patience, though, was strained when it was Cal's life on the line.

Finding her was never hard.  Even if he hadn't gone to the ice cream shop during her regular hours, he was fairly certain that she would be available as he needed her.  That was just Georgina's way.

When he arrived, the place was crowded, but the instant he laid eyes on her, the people around her seemed to vanish and she looked up and met his eyes knowingly.  He moved easily through the crowd, barely even taking notice of them.  He didn't even take the time to purchase an ice cream soda.  Not today.  Not with Cal's whereabouts still unknown.

As he approached, she smiled.  "You haven't come to see me much," she said.  "I was beginning to think that Cal's denial had rubbed off on you."

He seated himself, but couldn't return her smile.  "You know why I'm here."

She cocked her head.  "It's about Cal."

"He's missing," Niko confirmed.

There was no surprise in her face.  "You're afraid."

It didn't require psychic powers to make that observation.  "I need you to help me find him."

Her lips pursed and her brow furrowed.  "Cal makes his own choices," she said.  "His path is always stubbornly his own."

"He would not disappear without telling me."

Her eyes drifted around the room, and her face softened in sympathy.  "He has many enemies."

"You are telling me what I already know," Niko said, straining to keep his patience intact.  "I need you to help me find him."

Suddenly, her eyes focused on him again, sharper than before.  "You knew before you came here that I wouldn't tell you what you wanted," she said.  "Yet you came anyway.  Love does that to someone.  I should know.  Caliban does as well.  It's a game we all play."

Her philosophical musing was too much for him.  He needed answers, answer he knew she could give.  "Georgina, I would not ask you to do this if I were not desperate."

Her large eyes filled, and she chewed her lip, for the first time seeming to truly consider his request.  Her head cocked gently to the side, and she sighed, her shoulders sagging.  "You always blame yourself," she said finally, softly.  "You blamed yourself before--every time he's in trouble.  Cal is not a child, Niko.  He's not some object you can rein in and protect.  Even if you wanted to.  Cal has a destiny all his own."

Tears stung at his eyes, and he felt childishly reprimanded.  He gritted his teeth and steeled himself.  "You won't tell me where he is?" he said, his voice brittle and hard.

"Sometimes the answers aren't what you're looking for."

Niko didn't even look back as he slid out of the seat and headed out into the city. 

-o-

The day fell to night.  Night turned to day.  He accepted no drinks or food from anyone.  In fact, he did not feel the need to eat or drink at all.  Sleep was something not even Promise could coerce him into.  Cal had been gone for forty-eight hours and Niko still had no leads, no prospects, and it wasn't hunger or sleeplessness that was making him edgy.

Promise seemed to note the change, and her support shifted.  She was stolid now, actively using every contact she had, supernatural or social, to glean clues as to Cal's whereabouts.  The battle over his rest was thankfully one she did not broach again; Niko suspected she could see the futility at this point.

She came and went from the apartment with a frequency Niko paid no heed to.  Between her and Goodfellow, there seemed to always be someone around, but it did not matter to him.  Until they had something to tell him, some news to report, their presences were pointless to him.  They were his friends, but Cal was his brother, and without the one, the rest were nothing more than tools to regain the one that really mattered.

The third night dwindled into the third day, and Niko had scoured Central Park, terrorized Boggle, and even robbed a street vendor of his gold to offer as compensation.  The creature knew nothing, nor did her boglets, and Niko's search kept going.  He found a revenant in an alley, but it knew nothing, and Niko left it dead in his wake.  Ishiah nearly threw him out of the bar after he’d demanded knowledge from its varied customers.  But peri, wolves, succubi--none of them knew anything about Cal.

He'd cornered a wolf, clearly lower in the pack, outside a bar and was holding the katana to his neck when the creature laughed heartily at him.

"You mean the half-breed?  The Auphe-human mix?  Who wouldn't want him dead?  I wouldn't be surprised if something took pity on him and just put him out of his misery," he cackled, his wolfish features full of glee in the moonlight.

Niko's blade trembled, drawing blood, but the wolf didn't flinch.

"Killing me won't help you," the wolf said with an indifferent shrug.  "You don't need more enemies in the Kin.  If one of us had killed the little half-breed, trust me, we wouldn't be hiding it."

He moved so fast that the wolf didn't even see it coming.  The mangy head was still smiling when it fell to the ground.

Standing alone in the alley, blood dripping from his blade, Niko realized he had no idea what he was doing.  Killing wouldn't bring Cal back. 

He wasn't sure anything would.

-o-

How he ended up back in the apartment, he wasn't sure.  Near homicidal rage had numbed his awareness, and his journey home had been stark and unremarkable.  All he knew for sure was that when he came back inside, Cal wasn't there, and Niko was no closer to finding him than he had been before.

It had been too long.  Too much time had passed with too little progress.  Cal was missing and all Niko knew was that the more time that passed, the less likely he was to ever find his little brother.

There were so many possibilities.  He could have been whisked back to Tumulus, through a portal without Niko's knowledge, back to where his vengeful family was waiting for him.  He could have been consumed whole.  Supernatural creatures abounded in the city, so many deadly, so many still unknown to them.  It could have been something as simple as a killer, a murderer loose in the city, human and sadistic, and Cal's body cut up in a garbage bag at the bottom of a river.

Cal was good.  Niko was sure of that.  But the universe had a stockpile of bad guys to throw their way, and sooner or later, Niko couldn't help but know, that was bound to catch up with them.

The possibilities were endless, each one worse than the last.  It drove him to the floor of his apartment, where he paced mercilessly throughout the night, barely even aware he was doing it.

There was nothing else to do.  Nothing else he could do.  And the fear was damn near paralyzing.

The sky outside turned from inky blackness to daylight, but still Niko's course didn't change.  His even pacing, back and forth, remained steady and unwavering.  It was all he had left.

When the door opened, he didn't look up.  It was Promise or Goodfellow or both but that didn't matter.  Nothing matter--except Cal.

The tentative footsteps on the floor approached him, and Niko looked up.  Robin was watching him, his eyes wide and sympathetic.  "How are you doing?" he asked, almost cautious, his fingers running over a newspaper in his hand.

"I can find no leads," Niko told him.  "Nothing.  No one has heard or seen anything."

Looking away, Niko's pacing continued with a new rage.

"It makes no sense," he ground out.  "Cal can't just disappear.  But I don't know who else to ask, where else to go.  Damn it, there are no answers, and--"

"Niko, stop," Goodfellow said, stepping forward gently, and for the first time, Niko really noticed him.  The other man's face was tired, weary, the normally attractive features drawn and...sad.

It was fear that made Niko freeze.  Goodfellow knew something.  He had a lead, a viable lead, but this wasn't good news.  His knees felt weak, and he forced himself to swallow.  "What?" he managed.  "What is it?"

Goodfellow licked his lips, seeming to gather himself.  He held out the newspaper.  It was opened and folded to an inside page.  "I think I found Cal."

For one moment, Niko thought the worst.  He imagined the obituary, a body found, mutilated in an alley, identity unknown.  With shaking hands, he accepted the paper, holding it before him.  It took a moment for his eyes to focus, for them to clear before he realized in relief that he wasn't looking at the obituaries.

He was looking at the Local News section.  The major headline was about a political rally--something trivial, not a part of his world.  He kept scanning, looking over the pictures, the headlines, before he came across the one Goodfellow was undoubtedly referring to.

Local Hospital Marvels at Medical Mystery

Numbly, he read on.

Doctors at Greenwood Hospital are investigating the nature of a medical anomaly discovered by surgeons last weekend.  The mystery revolves around a patient who was brought into the emergency room last Saturday suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest.  While operating to save the patient's life, doctors were surprised to discover some internal abnormalities unlike anything in recorded medical history.

"The patient appears to have an extra lobe on each of his lungs," explained Grant Southerby, M.D.  "He also has an organ we cannot identify."

Apparently, the extra organ is located at the base of the chest cavity.  Doctors believe it may be part of the digestive process, as the organ does seem to be producing some kind of secretion.

"At this point, it's hard to say what its true function is," Southerby said.  "We will need to run more tests and probe into the patient's background to discover how such abnormalities occurred."

The patient, who has not yet been identified by hospital staff, is said to be a male in his early 20s.  The only noteworthy physical feature is a scar on the patient's abdomen, suggesting previous trauma.

"Until we receive some kind of consent, we will have to hold off on unnecessary medical procedures," Southerby said.  "We also need to wait until the patient recovers adequately from the damage of the bullet."

Doctors are hopeful, however, that further research will reveal something to help future patients.  The extra lobe could be a sign of genetic regeneration, and examining the DNA would provide insight into how organ formation can be performed artificially.

"This could be a huge step in medical science," Southerby commented.  "We are anxious to know more."

The patient is still listed in critical condition in Greenview's ICU.


Niko's eyes burned as he finished the article.

"He's alive," Goodfellow said.  "Focus on that for now."

It occurred to him distantly that Goodfellow knew him well.  The puck had, after all, seen him like this before.  Before, when Darkling had possessed Cal.  Before, when he'd had to stab Cal.  Before, when Cal nearly fell through a doorway to hell to save Niko's life.

Too many times.  He'd almost lost Cal too many times.

"Niko," the puck's voice was quiet, gentle, careful.  Goodfellow was close, Niko could sense that, but he knew enough not to touch him.  Not now.  "Niko?"

Niko blinked, and the world cleared.  He was still standing in the apartment, the paper clutched loosely in his hand.  Cal was alive.  His kid brother had been shot, was alone in some hospital, but he was alive.  Swallowing, Niko's resolve returned, his steadiness driven by a desperate need to protect his brother.  Cal was his to protect.  He'd been away from his brother long enough.  "I need to see him," he said finally, his voice sure.

He was already moving to the door, when a hand stopped him.  Niko whirled, on the defensive.  No one and nothing stood in his way.  Not when it came to Cal. 

His eyes flashed to Goodfellow, who was looking at him seriously.  Niko slitted his eyes.  Friend or foe meant nothing.  He needed to get to Cal--now.  Nothing would keep him from that, and he dared anything to try.  "Remove your hand," he said evenly.  "Or I shall do it for you."

Goodfellow took a measured breath, but his hand didn't waver.  "You can't just waltz in there," he said simply.  "They won't let you within ten feet of Cal."

"He's my brother," Niko replied venomously.

"And they don't know that," came Goodfellow's even reply.  "If you identify yourself, you identify Cal, and I don't think Caliban Leandros really wants to go on record as a medical freak."

Niko's jaw locked as his mind went through the logic numbly.  They were already on the run from the Auphe and various other sundry monsters who wanted to kill them.  The fact that they had managed to evade authorities for so long was a feat that Niko had taken great care to ensure.  Besides the fact that any real investigation would undoubtedly uncover some questionable legal issues concerning their trail of fake names and aliases, and just what those names had been affiliated with.  Even if they did manage to dodge a legal bullet, they wouldn't be able to avoid the medical inquiry and instant media sensation that Cal's unique biology would spark.

"They're not just going to let someone who is half human go," Robin said, his voice softer now, gentler.  "The only way to keep Cal from the aftermath is to make sure his real identity is never known."

With a sigh, Niko let his shoulder's sag.  All he wanted to do was to go to his brother, to assure himself that Cal was alive, but it was becoming painfully clear that that course of action was not the wisest one.  "We'll need to break him out, then."

"Which won't be a cakewalk," Robin said.  "Greenview's not exactly high security or anything--it's a county facility.  But a case like Cal's is once in a lifetime.  They're going to be guarding him to make sure he doesn't get out and no one gets in.  He's their million dollar patient if all the hype is half of what it seems to be."

Niko's protective nature flared up.  "He is not some doctor’s meal ticket," he said flatly.  "He's my brother."

The puck looked moderately chagrined.  "And my friend," Goodfellow reminded him.

Taking a deep breath, Niko found his resolve again.  "First, I need to get in to see him," Niko said.  "Once we learn more on his condition, we will develop a plan to break him out."

Goodfellow nodded.  "I think I may know a way to get in," he said slowly.

Niko raised his eyebrows.

With a sheepish grin, Robin shrugged his shoulders.  "It may, however, take a little time."

At that, Niko's eyes narrowed.

Goodfellow held up a hand preemptively.  "I can't work miracles," he said.

"I need to see him."

"We'll get you in there," Robin promised him.  Before Niko could speak or protest.  "Soon."

Niko had a feeling it wouldn't be soon enough.

-o-

A good sleep was like a warm blanket, cocooning and enveloping, soft and welcoming like a long lost home.  It was peace and comfort and eternity in muted hues that seemed to spiral gently into a blissful landscape.

A bad sleep was taut and restless, marked by sweat and a pounding heart.  It was Technicolor and vivid realities, careening recklessly toward an end that was as terrifying as it was inevitable.

He knew both very well, perhaps all too well, according to Niko, and this wasn't like either of them.

This sleep was heavy, empty and consuming, and devoid of thought, of color, of anything.  Sleep was hard to shake sometimes, he knew that from experience, but even this wasn't normal for Cal. 

Because he couldn't open his eyes, he couldn't move, and something was totally wrong.

Then he heard voices.  Not of the dream, of the world.  Voices he didn't know.

That alone was enough to spike his concern, but not even his rising levels of anxiety could break him from the tight grip of whatever sleep held him now.

"...it's remarkable, really," someone was saying.  "From the outside, he looks totally human."

"Which is why we need to get inside of him again," another voice replied.  "The x-rays alone will earn us a Nobel.  Who knows what we'll discover after more exhaustive tests."

"But what about consent?" the first person replied.  "We need consent."

Someone touched him, a cold hand on his brow, and Cal wanted to fight like hell to remove it.

"He's too valuable to us to lose," the second voice said.

"But what about his family?"

The hand moved away and its owner laughed.  "Family?  This kid has twenty fake IDs.  I'm betting any family he hasn't seen him in quite some time.  Kids like this are nearly always alone, even when there are people waiting at home to see them."

Cal struggled to open his eyes, to prove this moron wrong, because Niko would come and then they'd be sorry.  Maybe that was the life he deserved, the life that Sophia had always figured he'd have, but Niko defied every expectation and had made damn sure that Cal did, too.

"His vitals are getting stronger," the first commented, and Cal realized it was a doctor. She was a doctor.

"Which means he's almost strong enough for exploratory surgery," the second said, and oh, hell, no.  Surgery, exploratory or otherwise, was not going to happen.  Not if he had anything to do about it.  Not if Niko had any say in it.

But he didn't have anything he could do.  He still couldn't move, still couldn't open his eyes, and Niko--where was Nik anyway?

Just like that, Cal's struggles turned to panic.  He wasn't proud of it--it was kind of like pissing the bed at age ten--but he was in a hospital and he was alone and they were talking about him like he was some street kid and he didn't know what the hell was going on.

A cough ripped through his chest, and he realized he was choking.

"Damn, he's fighting the tube," the first voice said, and the hands were back now, more of them, though, on his arms.

"We don't want him pulling it," the second said.  "Not until we've attained the court order."

"He's going to hurt himself," the first said, her patience strained. 

"Up the sedation," the second said, and there was movement, near, far, here, there, Cal couldn't tell anymore.

Then, his panic retreated, numbed into submission as his chest stopped seizing and his mind stopped working and oblivion took him once again.

-o-

Niko had spent so much time trying to find Cal that he had not anticipated how stressful it would be waiting to see his brother.  He'd lost Cal to enemies before--the Auphe, Darkling--all very powerful and terrifying creatures in their own rights, with dark agendas and a deep need for revenge that Niko could barely even conceptualize.  They were things that put Cal's life at risk on a daily basis, things that had nearly killed his brother, nearly destroyed his brother completely, and yet knowing Cal was in their clutches was a whole different kind of stress than knowing Cal was sedated and in a hospital.

Because it wasn't Cal's life at risk--not his physical life, anyway.  But his brother's secrets, his only chance at anything normal was in serious jeopardy.  It was a different kind of torture.  A new level of frustration.  Knowing exactly where Cal was and not being able to get him out.  It was like having Darkling tied up in a chair, donning Cal's body, and not being able to talk to his little brother.

Promise had shown up soon after Goodfellow told him the news--whether Robin had called her or she simply was reporting for some unspoken shift, Niko wasn't sure, and he certainly didn't care.  Now, the vampire was standing, arms across her chest, leaned leaning against the living room wall.  Waiting.  Watching.

They were waiting on Robin.  The puck had mentioned a possible lead, and Niko had wasted no time in ordering the puck to explore it.  He'd disappeared from the apartment with a vague promise to return soon.  Vague or not, it was a promise that Niko knew Goodfellow would keep.  At the risk of his own safety and life.

To her credit, Promise said nothing, merely let Niko be.  They had barely moved, barely even communicated in the hours Goodfellow was gone, and Niko was still pacing the floors when Robin knocked once at the door and entered.

Immediately, his pacing stopped.

The puck looked flushed, a bit harried and maybe out of breath.  "It took some doing," he said.  "But I think I've found a way in."

Tensed, Niko needed more than that.  "And?"

"And nothing," Goodfellow said, shutting the door.  "It's all I've managed to do for now.  Cal is under tight surveillance.  Getting you an in was enough of a task.  That's all I've gotten done so far."

"But we need to get him out," Niko demanded, moving toward the puck, anger in his motions.

It was Promise who intervened, sighing a little, her face softening.  "We'll get him out of there," she told him.  "You know we will."

The compassion in her voice was so tempting, soothing.  But he could not be satiated by it.  Nothing would appease him, nothing until Cal was back in the apartment where he would not leave Niko's ever-watchful eye again for quite some time.

Her face tightened with a sad smile and she rested a hand on his cheek.  "I'll keep them busy," she said, letting her fingers linger before dropping them to her side.  "Maybe I can even glean some information as to Cal's condition and their intentions."

At this, Goodfellow made his presence known.  "They're not likely to tell you anything," he said.  "They want grant money, and are afraid of anyone who might threaten them."

Promise turned her purple eyes to him.  "I have made many generous contributions to the hospital for medical exploration.  If they are interested in my support in this venture, I will require some details," she said primly, smoothing her dress.  "You do your part, and I will do mine.  We'll meet here again in two hours?"

It was Robin who nodded his assent.  Niko, for once, had no role in the planning, none in the execution.  He was at the mercy of his friends' connections, relying wholly on them to assist him in getting Cal out.  It was an uncomfortable position.  Cal was his responsibility.  He trusted his friends, but sharing his load ran counter to everything inside of him, almost wounded his pride, if he were honest with himself.

Promise lingered for a moment, resting a hand on Niko’s arm.  She gave him a brief squeeze before donning her cloak and exiting the apartment.

Still dumbstruck, Niko didn’t move, not even as Goodfellow approached him.

"You're Dr. Eli Konokovich," Robin said, a little tentative, handing him a badge.  "Visiting surgeon from the Czech Republic.  You specialize in medical abnormalities, which is why they're granting you limited access to his charts."

Equally tentative, Niko took it, fingering it.  “How did you obtain it?”

“A few favors,” he said.  “Not only do I have ins with the hospital staff, but I know a fellow who can conjure up fake ID’s out of nothing.”

Niko examined the badge, noting his own scowling face on it.  "And they will permit me see him?"

"The head ICU nurse rather fancies me, though I must admit, I think she is somewhat past her prime,” Goodfellow explained with a shrug.   “Your brother owes me for pulling that favor."

"Somehow, I doubt it was too painful for you," Niko replied blandly.

A grin crossed Robin's face.  "Indeed, and the room was quite dark," he reminisced.

Niko suppressed a sigh.  Goodfellow's help was undoubtedly useful, though Niko could do without Goodfellow's excessive preening.  "How long will I have?"

Goodfellow's focus came back.  "Not long, I'm afraid," he said.  "Anne told me you could probably have fifteen minutes alone with him.  He's being monitored closely by the staff, so that's all the time there is between his checks."

Fifteen minutes.  It didn't seem like nearly long enough.  After days of being apart from his brother, he was only allowed fifteen minutes to assure himself of his brother's relative well-being.

Running a hand through his hair, Robin seemed to give himself a good once over in the mirror before turning back to Niko.  "You ready, Doctor?"

Niko cocked on eyebrow.  "Let's go."

-o-

He had not expected a warm welcome, but Niko had to admit, the cool distance with which he was regarded was a bit surprising.  He was, after all, a visiting surgeon--at least, as far as the staff was concerned.  Visiting surgeons, he had thought, would be treated with dignity and open arms.  Either this staff was not friendly, or Cal's case was more guarded than he'd even suspected.

For the most part, he was ignored.  When he wasn't ignored, he was given begrudging attention. 

The doctor he was assigned to, one Doctor Elias Hill, was nothing spectacular to look at, but the moment he met the man, he knew that Cal's well-being was not secure.  The doctor was curt and to the point and nearly glowered as he shook Niko's hand.

"I was surprised to see they gave you access," Dr. Hill say.  "This case is being protected on the highest levels."

Niko smiled blandly.  "They thought perhaps my expertise could be of service.  I have done extensive research on the subject.  The cases I've seen have been remarkable."

Dr. Hill smirked at that.  "Trust me," he said.  "What you've seen is nothing compared to what we've seen here.  This case--he's almost not human.  My case study on him will blow all previous research out of the water."

In general, Niko was the epitome of self-control.  His lifestyle habits, his manners--everything exuded control and patience.  But it took every ounce of willpower that he could muster to not attack the man outright.  "What about the patient's identity?  Is it still unknown?"

With a snort, Dr. Hill smiled.  "Who cares?  He came in without any valid ID to speak of.  He's the perfect case.  Poor bastard doesn't have a legal connection in the world to stand on and more medical abnormalities than you can even imagine.  He's my golden goose.  So I think you can understand why I'm reluctant to share anything with you."

The smile on Niko's face was tight and measured.  His cover was paramount.  Just for a few more minutes.  "I have been granted full access to his files."

Dr. Hill's smile fell at that and he regarded Niko coolly.  "If you want to wait at the nurse's station, I'll have Lydia provide copies for you.  She will monitor you while you view them.  Fifteen minutes with them--no more, no less.  Understood?"

It wasn't nearly as informative as he'd hoped.  It didn't matter.  His interest in Cal was not his physiological "abnormalities" but his safety.  He wanted to see his brother--the charts would tell him nothing of interest.  So parting ways with Dr. Hill would only make his task easier.  He smiled again, easily this time.  "That would be perfect," he said.  "You have no idea how much I appreciate this."

The look Dr Hill gave was dark and skeptical.  "Just follow me, please," he said.

Eagerly, Niko fell into step.  Just a little longer.  He could wait just a little longer.

-o-

Lydia, though clearly a professional, was friendlier than Dr. Hill.  Friendlier, and far more distracted.  She may have been the nurse assigned to Cal's care, but it was clear from the furrow of her brow that Cal was not her only patient.  Middle-aged and a bit matronly, she looked far too busy to be dealing with a visiting physician. 

"His charts," she muttered.  She looked up and smiled.  "You get to see his charts?"

"Yes," he replied. 

"Okay," she said, rummaging through a stack of papers.  "Let me...oh, they're in his room.  I'm going to need a minute."

She was making this too easy.  Almost comically easy.  And she wasn't even Goodfellow's contact.   This time, his smile was genuine.  "Take all the time you need," Niko said.  "I may run to the bathroom and meet you back here."

A grateful smile decorated her face.  "That'll be great," she said.  "I'll only be a few minutes."

"No problem," he replied, and he watched as she hurried away.  Part of him hated to dupe her.  She was an innocent woman, and by all appearances, she was only doing her job.  Not to mention the fact that this was one of the people in charge of his brother--scamming her didn't necessarily make him feel good about himself.

But the other part of him, the main part of him, couldn't regret it at all.  Not when she was the only way he was going to see his brother.

Getting in was step one.  Having the nurse out of the way was step two.  Now he simply needed to circumvent the guards.  Luckily, Niko had a plan for that.

He started down the hall, trailing behind the nurse at a good distance.  He watched her figure bob and weave through the corridors before turning around to a much quieter hall.  Wherein lay his next round of opposition.

There was only one guard, a hospital security worker, and even from this distance, Niko could see he posed little physical threat.  Somewhat past his prime, out of shape, looking more bored than anything else.

Lydia engaged him with some conversation and was allowed in.  Niko watched carefully as she came back out, nodding again as she headed back down the hall.

It looked so easy.  Obviously he wasn't on any list to let him into the room, but it also didn't appear that the guard was maintaining high security measures.  No check lists, no ID verification.  Just visual contact and access granted.

Niko would have preferred knocking the guy clean out, but he supposed that leaving that kind of mess at this stage in the game might constitute undue sloppiness.

So finesse, it was.

The guard was a stout man, a little gruff, and a lot bored.  Competent but perhaps lacking as a professional.

It didn’t matter.  The majority of this con would be in Niko’s attitude alone.

Moving seamlessly, Niko barely slowed to nod at the guard as he approached the door.

“Hey, ID, buddy?”

Niko paused raising his eyebrows.  “Surely they told you,” he said.  “I’ve been granted guest privileges in this case.”

The guard scowled a bit, looking at his clipboard.  “I’ve got no record--”

“And I have no time for this,” Niko said.  “My time is short here.  I have a conference with Dr. Hill, and if I’m late I’m sure he’ll want to know why.”

To his credit, the guy didn’t cave.  “I just need ID.”

“Would you care to explain to Dr. Hill why his lab results and consultation are delayed?”

“I’m just doing my job.”

“Fine,” Niko said curtly.  “I need to grab my charts, then.”

“Your charts?”

“Yes, I left them in there during my last visit.  Your predecessor had no problems confirming my credentials.”

That did it.  The guard’s face went tight, mouth pinched.  “A few minutes, then,” he agreed.

Niko nodded in acquiescence.  “That’s all I need.”

Niko was fully in the room before he let his guard relax.  Fighting his way into something was not a problem; undercover work was less of Niko's style.  Not that he couldn't be diplomatic when the situation required it; indeed, he was more able at it than Cal was most of the time.  But it tried his patience.  Slicing through defenses with a blade was easy and clean.  Lies and subterfuge was dangerous and messy.  It made him feel vulnerable, exposed.

His heart fluttered in his chest, slowing again, and he regained his composure.  Goodfellow had promised him fifteen minutes before the nurse would return, fifteen minutes of solitude before Niko had to slip back into his role.  Fifteen minutes with Cal.

Sucking in a shaky breath, Niko turned, almost cautiously.  The first thing he saw was the bed, cluttered with equipment and surrounded by machines.  It took a second longer to make out the limp form upon the bed, clothed in neutral tones and draped with a thin blanket up to the chest.

Cal was always pale--no amount of sunlight ever made any difference--but now, his complexion was ghastly.  Sallow and sunken, Cal looked like a ghost of himself.  He'd seen Cal colorless before, after Cal's stabbing and their miracle trip to Rafferty's, but Cal looked worse now, almost malnourished.  The greasy black hair fell limply away from his face, matted and unkempt on the flat pillow.  Cal's eyelids were almost blue, tinged with lack of nutrition and health.

Then, there were the machines to contend with.  The last time Cal had hovered near death, Niko had had the help of a bona fide healer, someone he knew could make Cal's body heal itself.  While the results had not been instantaneous, they had been quick enough, and Niko hadn't had to worry about Cal's health for more than a few hours.

This time,it had been days.  Days, and Cal was still lying unconscious in a hospital bed, IVs and monitors, and a tube running out of his mouth.

Very few things rendered Niko completely speechless, utterly devoid of the ability to act, to think, to do anything.  But seeing Cal here, like that--it simply left Niko stunned.

Niko had spent three days silent and speechless when Cal had been abducted to Tumulus.  This time, the sentiments were very much the same.  Cal may have been right in front of him, but his brother’s consciousness was a barrier he could not breech, and it left him feeling impotent in the aftermath.

Only this time Niko did not have the luxury of three days.

He had mere minutes, if that, before he had to leave. 

He had never voluntarily left Cal in a time of need.

He did not relish the thought of having to now.

Moving forward, he let his eyes rest on Cal’s face.  “The dry cleaning could have waited,” he mused quietly. 

His brother’s lack of response was as unnerving as anything else.  Cal was many things, but quiet was not among them.

“You can also stop trying to outdo yourself,” Niko added.  “We could certainly do without life threatening injuries and being separated for quite some time.  If you are sick of me, there are better ways to go about it that involve far less potential for disaster.”

The room buzzed with silence.

“However, I realize that you do have a penchant for the melodramatic these days,” Niko continued.  “I may have to get you lojacked after this.”

Cal would have scowled at that, full of younger brother petulance.

Niko let his eyes peruse the room again, devoid of flowers or balloons or anything personal.  Here, Cal was just anonymous, a John Doe, and Niko had no choice but to leave him that way.

Leaving Cal at all went against his nature.

His watch beeped.  His time was wearing short.  Leaning low, he put his head next to Cal's, leaving one hand on his brother's arm. "I'm sorry, little brother," he whispered.  "I can't get you out of here--not yet.  But I will.  I promise you that."

Cal didn't move, didn't twitch, just lay there as still as ever among the machines and equipment.

With a sigh, Niko pulled away, letting his hand linger a moment longer.  When he pulled it away, it felt like something broke inside of him.  But there was no choice.  Cal needed to recover.  Moving Cal now could be detrimental to his brother's health.  And Niko would risk many things, but he would never risk that.

One more look, and Niko steeled himself and headed toward the door.

Next

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: February 27th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
shoulder

Where are my pancakes? Niko gets them. And now I want some. I mean, Niko won't even appreciate them in his current worried, angsty state.

Poor Cal. He's really gotten himself into a situation here. All because he had to play hero. *hugs Cal*

You have earned my undying gratitude for the use of gritted. *hugs you* I promise to wait at least another month before I rant on that topic again.




Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
responsibility

I'm slow. But I'm just glad I finished this fic. Though sadly I haven't finished posting it...

Cal so needs hugs. Though he'd hate it. But what does he know?

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