The worse thing about having a younger brother is the blatant disrespect. You try and raise them right and what do you get? Sass. Insolence. Generally bad behavior.
I shook my head at the fast food remains on the coffee table. It was a very good thing that Cal had a supernatural metabolism; otherwise, we would be forced to shop in the Husky section of our local Walmart. It was also a good thing that Cal probably had an extended lifespan. God knows his eating habits would lead to a heart attack at forty, otherwise. Some of us, however, had to earn our years. I sat down to eat my salad.
I don’t think Cal ever considered why our social circle was primarily made up of supernatural beings—Promise, Robin, Ish. Part of it was our job, of course. Hunt supernatural beings and that’s who you meet. Part of it, however, was deliberate. Even with a careful regimen of healthy food, exercise and meditation, I would die much sooner than Cal. Promise had made certain… suggestions. I hadn’t wholly ruled out exploring some options. Vampires are born, not made (well, except in the traditional sense that we all are), but there were more exotic possibilities. Possibilities I never mentioned to Cal. I think on some level, he finds my humanity comforting. Still, as time goes on… Well, no need to cross that bridge yet. Worse came to worse, Cal would have friends who could potentially outlive him. Friends who would remember me and, for that reason, hopefully remind him of his humanity.
Of course, Vegas odds would say that, with our lifestyle (and I’m not talking about Cal’s cholesterol count), he’ll never have the chance to find out. Hell, Cal would say that he would never have the chance to find out, but…Well, you look after someone from the time you were four and see if you’re able to just accept that they’ll die when you do. When it comes to my brother, I’m a planner.
The phone interrupted the efficient consummation of my lunch.
“Niko, my fantasy, how are you this beautiful day?”
Robin, bless him, had embraced his relationship with Ishiah, but he could no more stop flirting than he could quit breathing. Actually, as an immortal puck, he might not need to breathe. I should look that up.
“I’m good Robin. How’s Ishiah doing?”
It took a while to get to the purpose of his call. Robin could talk. And talk. I sometimes wondered when he found time to actually have all the sex he emoted about. Then finally:
“The reason I called, Niko, is that Ishiah found you a client.”
There you go. When the chips were down Robin was a very good friend. I almost changed my mind after he explained the job. Not the supernatural threat. We could deal with enspelled revenants in our sleep. The problem was with the timing—Cal might actually have to.
I winced when Cal absentmindedly spooned sugar into his orange juice. I winced harder when he appeared to like it. My little brother was not a morning person. I'm sure he wasn't the only kindergartner who bit when woken up for school, but Cal had actually left scars. Getting up at five to go to church was pushing it, and I was just happy he hadn't reverted.
“How evil do you have to be to attack during morning mass?” Cal asked “Isn't that an evening mass kind of thing? If I ever become an evil witch-type and enspell revenants to collect people to sacrifice, I'd hit a bar or something.”
“The profanity is part of it." Plus families, I added silently. Kids dragged along by devoted grandmothers—half asleep and resentful. From the uneasy shifting of Cal's body, I must have winced. There isn't much Cal doesn't catch. Unless it’s something he deliberately doesn’t want to see. A shame our client hadn't been able to find "the witch-type" as Cal so colorfully put it. Not that Cal wouldn't enjoy slicing and dicing the revenants, but there was always the remote chance that someone could be hurt.
“Time for all lazy brothers to move their asses.” Yes, I am a morning person. What can I say? It’s an older brother’s job to inflect misery on the younger.
Despite Cal’s whining, we were at the church well before mass started. It was a good thing too. The revenants arrived shortly after us probably to take care of the priests and scope out the place. Good work ethic. Unfortunately, for them, good planning can’t replace good sword technique.
Really the hardest part of the job was getting Cal out of bed and reassuring the priests after the fight. Which was why we did a complete search of the church after getting rid of the bodies (thank God for church cemeteries). Which was when we more or less stumbled upon her.
Cal’s head swiveled to the right. Curled up with a book was a child. Cal, at one time, was that small—it never ceases to amaze me when I look at him now. The child didn’t look dressed for church. She looked unwashed and underfed and exhausted—and about thirteen. Obviously sensing us, she looked up and immediately began to slide backward along her pew. Good instincts, I thought approvingly. Cal remained frozen at my side. He also had good instincts.
“Hi.” Okay, not profound, but you try and think of something clever when you’re faced with a teenager and expecting a revenant.
She paused in her sliding.
“I’m Niko. This is my little brother Cal.”
She blinked and looked at Cal appraisingly. "I’m Aishe,” she mumbled with more politeness than Cal would have had at her age.
I crouched down to be a little closer to her level. “Aishe, this isn’t actually a safe place to be right now. You can come back, but for now…” And that was when the three revenants we had missed attacked.
Cal had been leaning against a pew a few rows down. He was in the best position and he took off the head of the first revenant without much difficulty. I split my attention between keeping an eye on Aishe and the second revenant. Except for the resulting trauma for Aishe, it really shouldn’t have been a problem. Three revenants, two of us. Even saddled with a civilian, it was a piece of cake. At least until the third revenant pulled out an Uzi. An Uzi. Really, Cal was right: the bad guys just have no sense of pride anymore.
The problem was the distance. Of course, Cal had brought his Desert Eagle, but bullets don’t work on revenants, so I pushed Aishe to the floor with one hand and threw my katana with the other. It would have been much easier with my shorter wakizashi sword. Still it was nice and dramatic and hit the third revenant dead center in its neck. No more revenant. Unfortunately, that also left me temporarily unarmed.
Naturally, that was when revenants four, five and six showed up.
This was just getting embarrassing. There was no way we had missed… No, there really really wasn’t. There had to be an entrance we didn’t know about. But killing now, figuring out later.
I was digging out my second favorite sword, and Cal was fending off the three new revenants, when I saw a hand come out from under the pew behind Aishe and grab her by the wrist. Okay, next target identified. Aishe jerked with shock and was dragged under the pew. I caught her by one of her fast disappearing ankles. I heard a high pitched squeal and Aishe slid back to my side with surprising ease. The revenant hightailed out of there, clutching his…stump? He was missing his hand. As Aishe came out from under the pew, I saw she had found it. She spat it out. Her face was covered in black ooze. She spat again, obviously trying to get rid of the taste. I could see her teeth clearly for the first time. They were metal.
Aishe was watching me from the corners of her eyes. Direct eye contact is a predatory thing—Cal avoids it with me when he can. We practiced it when he was younger. You always got some would-be father figure trying to force it. Look me in the eye, son. I never trust a man who won’t. Yes, well… assholes. If you’re top of the food chain, establishing dominance is not a problem. Casually ripping the throat out of someone who was rude to me—that was an entirely different matter. Yes, Cal, I understand that he insulted my braid, but you still shouldn’t maim him. God, he had been a cute kid.
Okay, I’m babbling. Forgive my less than stellar reaction. I really didn't see that coming. I was only remotely aware that Cal had taken care of the remaining revenants and was coming toward us, bitching all the way.
He froze when he saw Aishe’s face. Aishe’s teeth. He tightened his grip on his sword and took a step forward. Aishe bared her teeth at him.
“Cal.” She was a child after all.
“What’s that?” Aishe sounded genuinely surprised and curious.
Cal thinks I bonded with her because Aishe is like me. Not really. Despite what Cal thinks, lots of children like to read. We bonded partly because of who she is, but also because she reminds me, sometimes painfully, of Cal.
We offered to take her. Hey, unlike Cal when he arrived, she was out of diapers. It’s not like she could be any crankier. Promise? Well, daughters were still a painful subject for her. Robin and Ishiah took Aishe in the end. I know, right? But, to a puck, devoting a few years to a child is a pretty small investment. I had a firm talk with Robin about sexually appropriate knowledge for someone her age and of this century. He promised to keep it rated PG in the common areas of the apartment, and I promised that Cal would be available for frequent babysitting.
What can I say? It’s an older brother’s job to inflect misery on the younger.