Growing Up Is Still The Most Fun That You Will Ever HaveRating:
Claire, Luck, Keith, BergaSummary:
Because Claire had to have grown up into the balanced individual he later became somehow
. Everything he learnt, he learnt from his brothers.Warnings:
Mmm, invented backstory, ho.2154 words of crazy almost-not-quite mafia-family fluff with a pretentious title to boot!
'You know, your dad is really weird,' Claire said; it was one of the first things that the angry-looking redhead kid said to Luck.
The two of them had to share a bedroom because there just wasn't enough space around the house. Keith had his own because of elder-brother immunity, and Berga defended his turf with manic aggressiveness, so it'd been Luck who'd had his bed towed out and a double-deckered monstrosity pulled in.
'He's your dad too, now,' Luck replied, trying very hard not to curl his fingers into fists. Violently rearranging his new foster-brother's face probably wouldn't impress the rest of the family.
'No,' Claire shook his head, sitting on the top bunk (of course he got the top bunk) and swinging his legs back and forth idly. 'My dad is dead.' Their bed creaked. 'But yours is not too bad.'
'You called him "weird" a second ago,' Luck pointed out, trying for icy, but there was something in Claire's voice that gave him pause. It'd only been a week since the other boy had joined their household, after all. Maybe it was justified, all this pent up anger of his. Father certainly wasn't taking any notice when Claire skipped meals (there was a thrashing for any real Gandor who did) or when he woke late for school (Luck tried that once, and never again) or when he talked back to his elders.
Balancing on his stomach, Claire ducked his head down to the first deck to meet Luck's eye. 'Weird doesn't mean bad,' the eight year old said. 'Weird just means different.'
This was a bit too philosophical for Luck, seven years old and now thoroughly confused. 'What?'
The redhead looked at his foster-brother for a very, very long time. Then he smiled, which only puzzled Luck further - until Luck realised that it was the first time that he'd seen Claire with anything other than a frown on his face. The expression didn't quite reach the other boy's brown eyes just yet, but --
'Let's go out and play,' Claire said.
'It's nine at night,' Luck said.
'So?' said Claire.
'You're weird,' Luck pointed out.
'That just makes me different,' Claire retorted, and he jumped off the bed and went to grab his pullover and threw Luck his own and they were going to be in so much trouble tomorrow if ---
The Gandor family wasn't one that liked to beat around the bush; they got to the point, and got the job done. Their father was a busy man - loving, in his own way, attentive to his sons, certainly, but busy. Their territory had come under his control at a very bad time: the whole of New York seemed to be awash with turf wars and petty street fights. There was not enough time in Mister Gandor's day to coddle the children and tell them sweet lies: the family was what they were - mafia.
Luck wasn't old enough to have been told too many details, but he respected the fact that what Father did wasn't something to be talked about too openly in class or around polite company.
Claire wasn't old enough to have been told too many details either, but his approach to what the family did for a living was far different from Luck's --
'What are you doing?' Keith said. The living room went kind of quiet - Keith didn't speak very often, and when he did it was almost always in the capacity of being the eldest brother.
Claire looked at Keith, blinking. 'What?'
Keith pointed to their small kitchen, where the remains of dinner were stacked high in the sink.
Claire stared at Keith. 'You want me to do the dishes?' he asked, incredulously. Tonight was the first time he'd come down to eat with the other members of the family; prior to this he'd preferred staying in the room he shared with Luck, locked up as he locked the rest of the world out. Being forced to do chores had not been one of the things he'd been expecting. Weren't the Gandors gangsters? Gangsters didn't --
'Come here, you little twerp,' Berga was already saying, pushing up his sleeves and grabbing the momentarily stunned Claire by the back of his collar. 'You think you're so special just because you're new?'
Claire squirmed against the hold, but Berga was years older than he was and a lot stronger. 'But don't you have other people to do these kinds of --'
'We clean up our own messes!' Keith snapped, and even Claire couldn't say anything in the face of that.
Berga dumped his arms into the sink as it began to fill up with warm, soapy water. 'The scrubber goes there,' the second Gandor brother said, 'and you dry them with that, and have you never washed a plate before or something?! Do it like this!'
Berga stayed next to Claire for the next half hour, insulting the boy's ability to get grease off the pans but never moving away until the last dish had been dried off and put back.
That night, Claire crept into his bed, his fingers rough from the washing. 'Your brothers are scary,' he told Luck.
Luck just closed his eyes and tried to get to sleep. 'They're your brothers too,' he yawned.
He didn't realise how long Claire spent awake that night, mulling over his words.
They celebrated Claire's eleventh birthday without their father around; he was at the headquarters again, wherever that was, pulling another all-nighter. The four of them headed out to a small pier overlooking the Hudson, and bought themselves ices and sickly sweet drinks. Keith watched as Berga tried to throw Claire into the river; he hauled Luck out when the youngest child ended up taking the brunt of the collateral damage. Keith didn't say anything as he herded them back to their apartment before sundown, but when they reached the front door he kept Claire back and pressed something into his hand.
It was a switchblade; the handle was a dark, matte black and the edge was sharper than anything Claire'd ever been allowed to touch before. He ran his hands over it, reverent and amazed, before looking up at Keith and asking, 'Can I really use it?'
'Learn how to first,' Keith said shortly, then he shrugged and walked into the house.
The blade came with no instructions and no lessons; but Claire fought to find time with Keith over the following months, watching with studious intent as the eldest Gandor went mutely through the basic motions and then practicing on his own until the moves came as naturally as breathing.
He went out and started a fight the day after he thought he'd learned everything there was to know. He found out, the hard way, exactly how wrong he'd been - he won the fight, but he crawled home bruised and - for the first time - bloodied.
Keith looked completely unsurprised by how things had turned out; he just went to get the alcohol and the swabs and he pressed down hard
on all of Claire's scrapes.
'I lost the knife,' Claire mumbled, refusing to allow himself to look as ashamed as he felt.
'You used it,' Keith shrugged. He didn't follow up with: these are the consequences
, because he knew that Claire would figure that out for himself.
Claire bore the rest of Keith's silent reprimand with a stoic face, wincing only once or twice more. 'The other kids didn't have blades on them,' he said.
Keith hit him across the side of the head hard enough that Claire saw stars for a brief moment. 'And you used yours?'
Claire never fought on unfair grounds again.
By the time he and Luck were around the age of fourteen, the restrictions keeping them at home and away from the grittier end of the family business were lifted. They were given a few jobs together, for safety and for practice - simple things like running a courier down to the East Side, things that would force them to memorise the layout of the streets and how to get out of sticky situations in a pinch. Luck was always better than he was at doing the talking once they got to their destination, so Claire let him handle that - he was more interested in watching the people they met: how they moved, how they reacted, how they guarded themselves, how they responded when they thought they were being threatened.
Humans, Claire decided, were really very simple creatures. It all boiled down to the instinct of flight versus fight - and as long as you could fight better than your opponent, you'd never have to engage in the shameful act of flight.
'Berga,' he said to his brother one night, 'teach me how to brawl.'
Berga laughed, cracked his knuckles, and came after him just like that.
Gandors never really held their punches when they thought they didn't need to be held.
Claire ended the first session he had with Berga with his muscles screaming in agony.
'Try again next week,' Berga crowed. He threw a towel at Claire and told him to grab a shower, because he stank.
Claire did a hundred sit ups on the floor of his room that night while Luck lazed on the bed and read poetry.
A year later and Claire'd practically overtaken Berga in terms of skill in unarmed combat. He'd spent the last twelve months training in an almost obsessive fashion: learning new moves and perfecting his own, getting faster and better and stronger every time he won a fight.
'You should train up as well,' he gasped at Luck one night as he started out on the last of his daily exercise regimes.
'I've had a few lessons from some of the men at headquarters,' Luck said, running his eyes over the lines of a sonnet.
'I rarely see you practicing,' Claire said.
'Father wants me to help out with negotiations more,' Luck shrugged; their old man had been slowly taking him into the fold, bringing him along on a few of the talk-only jobs. 'He says that I should leave the fighting to the others.'
'You're not going to have help around you all the time, you know,' Claire pointed out.
'I'm not like you,' Luck shrugged, closing his book. He looked at his brother, smiling slightly. 'You've always needed to be better than everyone else, more independent than anyone else. And you probably will end up that way. Who knows how high you're going to go? But me?' Luck chuckled. 'I just want to stay in the family. I'll always have Berga and Keith to back me up. I don't need to be everything they are and more.'
Claire finished his crunches and sat up. 'You make it sound like I won't be here for you and the others.'
Luck looked at him, because he'd come to know Claire very well over the years, and if there was one thing he knew it was that Claire'd never be able to spread his wings the way he needed to if he stayed. There were signs of it already, signs of impatience with the family business and signs that Claire was getting bored of the daily routine that didn't offer up enough challenges anymore.
Claire laughed. 'Fine, so maybe I am getting a bit tired of hanging around Manhattan and watching cars and people all day. But I'll always be here for you,' he said. 'I'll always be here to back you up.'
Claire's eyes were fire-bright, and Luck knew that he really, honestly had no other choice other than to believe.
Claire left for the circus not long after that.
When he told the family his intentions, he'd smirked the entire time Berga yelled and stomped about how he shouldn't make "stupid decisions like that without asking other people first", and laughed when Keith came up to him the next day with some information about a group that would be passing through New York in a week, and hugged Luck when they parted ways at Grand Central.
'I'll be back,' he told them, shouldering his small pack.
'When?' Berga growled at him; Berga'd been growling a lot lately, as if he couldn't find any other way of dealing with things.
'That's the wrong question to ask,' Luck sighed, shaking his head.
Keith tossed Claire a pack of cards. It'd help to keep him amused on the long ride out.
Claire snatched the deck out of the air and saluted his brothers with it. 'Don't die while I'm gone,' he grinned.
'We could say the same to you,' Luck said.
'I'm going out there to learn how to be invincible,' Claire laughed, exuberant and brilliant and unstoppable. 'I'm never going to die.'
And that - that was just the beginning of things.