Title: Family Rites
Characters: Gandor family and associates; vague Luck/Claire/(Chane).
Summary: Growing up as a Gandor and growing old as a Gandor: Keith tries marriage, Luck tries ambition, Berga tries uncledom, Claire tries everyone else.
Warnings: Liberties taken with Keith's wife and family; liberties taken probably with everything. 8D
6,405 words and a lot of family politics.
How it began was really very simple: just another one of the family's slightly dysfunctional relationships. The announcement came out from the left field, but the surprise that everyone professed at Keith dropping the number of poker nights from 4 times a week to 2 was a kind of surprise expressed out of familial obligation, a little kind of pat on the back. Good on you - you've got yourself a girl, haven't you?
The silence and the almost-smile was more than answer enough. The eldest Gandor brother had taken to haunting a certain bar while waiting for the girl at the piano to get off shift; this silent-stalker technique seemed a lot more reasonable than, say, Claire's habit of literal love-(and marriage)-at-first sight-and Firo's doggedly (pathetic) attempts in the pursuit of pseudo-human females playing hard to get.
Simple beginnings. 'Poker tonight, bro?' Berga would rumble. Keith would shuffle the deck in a quietly guilty fashion. Luck would chuckle, and say, 'It's not like we don't have all the time in the world, brother.' The next moment, Keith would pull on his coat and edge out of their jazz club, looking more like a wanted convict than a man in love. Romance did such funny things to men.
'Blackjack?' Luck would offer Berga. Poker was no fun with only two people.
They knew it was as close to true love as any Gandor would get when Keith started bringing her home. She was pretty, in a soft way, but she had her arm firmly on his and no fear in her eyes when she smiled at Luck and laughed with, instead of at, Berga. Keith never brought her into the basement, so the other two spruced up the upstairs, bringing in some new furniture and nice glasses and plates, anything that'd give the girl a better impression of their brother when words meant so little to Keith.
The informal marriage announcement came probably three weeks before the actual proposal. When Keith invited her to play a four-man game of poker and lost, Luck had to hide his grin behind his hand and made no objections when Berga started making violent toasts with their best wine. Keith might have promised death in his glare, but his eyes were crinkly at the edges, as if he were really happy - so it didn't matter at all.
The wedding itself was very surreal, just a small ceremony and very, very quiet exchanges. The celebrations afterwards were more memorable: Keith, no longer forced into vows and the spoken word, became very generous with his smiles, and all of their adoptive family-and-friends were there to pay witness.
Claire turned up, which astonished everyone and no one.
('Did you think I would not come home?' he asked Luck the night before, flicking his white invitation card at the other man.
'You didn't respond to the RSVP. Honestly? I was expecting you to turn up just before the bells start ringing tomorrow,' Luck replied, wryly, before grasping Claire by the shoulders and allowing himself to get pulled into a discussion about wedding gifts both appropriate and obscene. 'By the by,' he asked before they broke for bed. 'Have you found her yet? The woman who actually agreed to be your wife?'
'I will,' Claire said, with the absolute certainty of a man who does, in spite of not knowing her name or age or who she actually was.)
The Martillos sent their people with gifts and well wishes, but it was a single Prochainezo who mattered more to the family. 'Congratulations, congratulations,' Firo said, hugging Keith - the only one who really dared. 'You're a lucky man,' he continued, eyes sliding to his partner at his side as he pretended that he wasn't half as jealous as he really was. Ennis merely smiled when she heard, and complimented the bride on her dress.
Everyone got drunk, or something like it. The family - now plus one more - went home. Keith and his wife went one way, Berga went to his room alone. Luck and Claire got hold of two bottles of wine and listened to staticky late night radio until four in the morning, which was when they went up and curled in one each other like they were young and seventeen again, everything all right and perfect because it was home.
'Keith,' Claire asked some two days later, after the oldest Gandor looked like he'd finally calmed down enough to sit still. 'Have you told her?' the redhead asked lazily, smiling the smile of a man about to cause a train wreck. 'About the slight matter of your age.'
Keith looked very, very upset the next night, and the night after, until on the third night his wife came downstairs into the jazz bar and walked in through the basement and past stunned men and into the billiards room. She took Claire's cue stick right out of his hand and - in the wake of Luck and Berga's stunned silence - said to him, 'Please stop antagonising my husband. I love him for what he is - all of what he is.'
She stared at him until Claire broke out into a formal bow. He came up smiling, laid a kiss on the back of her hand, and told her: 'You really do deserve him.'
'I don't know about you,' Berga grunted to Luck, quietly, 'but those two are going to make for some pretty scary brother-and-sister-in-law pair.'
Luck just smiled as he watched Claire - manners perfect and gentlemanly - escort the new Mrs Gandor back upstairs.
Perfectly normal beginnings, then. But it wasn't the courtship or the proposal or the wedding or the honeymoon year or even Keith moving into the house next door that really mattered: it was what came afterwards.
Maybe it was because they were all growing up, but even as the world grew more violent and the streets more dangerous, family became safe haven. Men and women came and went; everyone around them was a bit too fragile and a bit too short-lived. After you got up from being shot to death for the eighth or ninth time, looking after the ones you love who wouldn't became startlingly important.
Firo made it a point to make frequent visits, as if to make up for the fact that Claire was never really around. He was the one who anchored the Gandors to the ground the first time that Mrs Gandor saw her husband getting killed: after he'd got up again, she'd been hysterical until Firo brought Ennis over and talked to her in a corner with a smile and a gentle voice that Luck, for all his talent, could never have pulled off.
'It's because you're still creepy when you smile,' he told Luck afterwards, helping to take the edge off the tension in the air. Luck looked shaky, as if fear of death had been abruptly re-injected into him, as if he was feeling as vulnerable as that woman must've felt after the tommy gun caught Keith in the chest, rat-tat-tat-tat-tat.
'Really?' Luck asked, looking over the banister that they were leaning against and down at the table where Keith was mutely making his wife a cup of tea, standing closer to her than he normally would. 'I thought it was because you were cheating and using those 200 years of free experience to your benefit.' If it had been anyone else, maybe they'd have believed the placid calm of Luck's voice, but Firo knew better.
He put a hand on Luck's shoulder, and laughed quietly. 'If it were that easy, don't you think all the added experience would've helped my case with Ennis by now?'
Luck smiled at that, genuinely, and - on Firo's advice - called Claire later that night, asking about sunny San Francisco and just listening to the other man's voice.
The real reason for Mrs Gandor's unusual break of composure (besides the obvious shock) came the next morning:
'I'm pregnant,' she said. 'Three months.'
And then Keith was the one who looked petrified, face frozen in a mask of delight and absolute fear, until she kissed him. He hugged her gently around the waist, his hand placed wonderingly on the still-flat of her belly.
Luck phoned Claire again that afternoon.
'Why do you keep calling me these days?'
'I have something to tell you.'
'Does this have to do with your sudden fear of mortality again? In case you haven't realised, Luck --'
'Shut up, Claire.'
'Hah, it's so important that you have to be rude? Go on.'
'We're going to be uncles, apparently.'
'You told me you didn't sleep with girls anymore.'
'Keith, Claire, not me or Berga.'
'You said that last part on purpose, you bastard. When's the date going to be?'
'Probably around September. Firo's already planning on wallpapering your room with children's print, says he wants to turn it into a nursery where the child can grow up normal.'
'I'll be back to break his fingers before he can begin. Send Keith my regards and congratulations on the future living hell his life will be.'
'I will. How is Chane?'
'Decidedly not with child. I'm insane, not crazy.'
'I still want to see her, though maybe she-'
'Don't worry, she won't gut you for your indiscretions. Though she could, mind you. I, unlike the most esteemed Keith, keep no secrets from my wife.'
'You make it sound entirely my fault.'
'You never asked for what you want, Luck - it is your fault.'
'You're a married man now, Vino.'
'And technically, we're one big happy family as opposed to a group of psychotic men who cannot die. Stereotypes are for boring people, Luck. Stop acting slow and stupid - now I've got to go, we're catching a train down south, can't be late.'
Berga was a champion for the family during the last trimester. Recruiting became a problem a few months before; they'd lost a good number of senior men in a bad street fight, and replacing them had been less than easy. By the time Luck was done scouting for talent and finding ways to beat people off the open sections of their streets, he'd missed the growing swell of his sister-in-law's stomach. It was as if one moment she'd been washboard flat, and the next there she was, curving gently.
It was dinner, and as usual the bosses had a few of their men and associates dine with them for conversation and good company. Keith sat at the head of the table, but it was around Luck that the conversation swirled: discussions ranging from talk on the streets to how the missus was doing, was her rash clearing up?
Conversation ground to a halt later on in the evening. 'What the hell are you doing?' Berga suddenly yelled at a newly promoted executive. The man had, in what he thought was a purely chivalrous motion, offered to pour the lady of the house some wine - her glass had been empty for the entire night, and that usually never happened. 'Are you trying to sabotage her baby? Alcohol can cause all sorts of problems, you stupid little bastard--'
'Berga,' Luck intervened, frowning, but the executive was already busy bowing and hemming and hawing and offering to run out and buy Mrs Gandor juice or pickles or whatever it was pregnant woman ate to have healthy babies.
It didn't stop there: a small street gang, hearing of Gandor family politics, was bold enough to issue a threat on Mrs Gandor's head, demanding that the family stop demanding protection money in exchange for the woman's safety.
Berga took three good men and razed the gang's headquarters down into a mess of crackling timber and bricks, then threw the gang members themselves into the inferno almost as afterthought. The situation was mysteriously dismissed as a "unfortunate gas leak accident", but the pictures of the damage were splashed all over the Tribune papers, and Daily Days was abuzz with rumour and warning for weeks afterwards.
No one tried anything that stupid again.
Keith mostly read articles in the newspaper about hospitals and baby birth rates, and smoked a bit more - but only outside, never in the house, and he made sure that he didn't even smell of nicotine when he was anywhere near his wife.
Claire came home with Chane two weeks before the predicted delivery date of the child. 'I want her to get to know you all better,' he said, taking her coat and hanging it up as the introductions started up. 'And what better time than now, when you all look like you haven't slept in six days?'
Vino's wife was dark haired and mute, his exact opposite and therefore his perfect complement. Berga took to her immediately; Luck suspected it was because he missed having Mrs Gandor to spoil, now that Keith practically hovered over his wife at all hours of the day. Speaking of Keith - their elder brother seemed to approve of Claire's choice, apparently because his ability to communicate with her bordered on levels close to telepathy.
'You were saying about frightening brother and sister in laws?' Luck asked Berga as they watched Chane and Keith take turns at looking after Keith's wife, the two never speaking.
The completion of the family unit helped everyone to calm down in the days before the anticipated delivery. Luck took Claire away from their headquarters one day, saying, 'If I stay in there any longer, I may lose my composure for all that Berga never sits still and Keith never stops pacing.'
'There's the brother I know,' Claire grinned, removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. 'What are we doing tonight?'
They hit a cocaine dealer who'd set up chop shop in one of the abandoned storehouses that littered the west end. It'd been a thorn in Luck's side for a while, but he'd been loath to bring it up with Keith when the boss was already so stressed. He ended up giving the dealer two minutes to start yelling and calling for backup before he took out a gun and squeezed the trigger. Watching the man die was both satisfying and reassuring: a few more kids would stay clean, a few more streets would stay clear.
'You're not going to feel much better if you just do that,' Claire shook his head as he watched Luck reload. 'Here,' he said, pulling out a knife and putting it in Luck's hands.
'What will you use?' Luck asked, holstering his gun and accepting Claire's weapon, the hilt sitting comfortable and heavy in his palm.
'I'm more inventive than that,' Claire said, stretching nimbly just as a few of the dealer's grunts burst in on the scene.
Luck got two or three men very messed up, but that was nothing compared to what Claire did to the remaining five: white powder stuffed down their throats and noses until they couldn't breathe, and then he went about practicing the art of breaking bones.
'There's a reason I wear black shirts,' Claire said conversationally as they slipped back into the car, the both of them getting the upholstery dirty.
Luck drove, feeling supremely calm and looking worse than Claire for all that his shirt had been, at some point, white. 'Hm,' the Gandor hummed, tapping his fingers against the wheel, skin buzzing pleasantly.
'You really did need that,' Claire grinned, leaning back to look at Luck. There was blood all over the place, and that shouldn't have been as right as it felt. 'Now you're going to ask me for what you really want.'
It turned out that Chane really didn't mind: Claire had the audacity, afterwards, of wrapping an arm around Luck's waist and murmuring - sleepy and contented like a spoilt child made satisfied - that it was because it's all in the family anyway.
The baby was healthy - the first joy - a boy - the second joy - and weighed so-and-so and looked like a ball of wet red flesh, but everyone said they could see Keith's eyes and his wife's nose and the lies were outrageous, but nobody cared.
Luck decided, very early on, that he was not the right material to be any kind of uncle to the child, and observation proved him mostly correct. Luck cared, no doubt about it - he was as happy for his brother and concerned about his nephew as anyone ought to be, but if Berga and Firo and Claire and Maiza and Isaac (and everyone else they seemed to know) were prime examples of the duty of the uncle to the nephew, then Luck was going to have to be less than perfect.
Firo was effectively surrogate father to the child: Luck was not quite sure how Firo managed, but it was typical of the Martillo executive. Czeslaw not exactly being "younger brother" material, Ennis and he found the new child the perfect replacement for whatever it was that held them back from marriage: they were constantly around to help Keith (who had, out of necessity, returned to duty) and his wife feed and change and do all the other duties that parents had.
'Hold him,' Firo cajoled Luck, passing over the small bundle of human being. 'He's so well behaved.'
'If you spoil him any further, he won't be,' Luck said, taking the child and deciding that there was - at this stage - no real difference between holding young Jon Gandor and holding a heavy box.
Firo called him cold, and went on to Berga, who was possibly the worst of them all: Berga cooed and made noises and tickled the baby as easily as he growled and snapped and swore.
Isaac, whenever he and Miria visited, seemed to find it necessary to rob entire toy stores for things that a 1 year old child had no ability to use. 'Have a bicycle,' Isaac said to the unresponsive child, 'your first bicycle, Jon. I, your uncle Isaac, have bought you one of the most important milestones in your life!'
The fact that Jon wouldn't ride it for another six years seemed to have no effect of dampening Isaac's enthusiasm. Plans for Jon's second birthday seemed to include the purchase of a car; Luck stopped listening around that point.
Claire dropped by least of all, which Luck actually found himself thankful for. While everyone crowded the mother and child and blew out candles on the you're-one-year-old-now birthday cake, the two of them hung back and drank punch; Claire tilted his head and said, 'You know, I heard that Alexander the Great was made to wrestle with lions as a child. It apparently helped him become the leader that he grew to be.'
Luck turned and said, very coolly, 'Please do not bring our nephew to the circus until he's at least eighteen.'
'But the circus is such fun,' Claire grinned.
The worst thing that Luck ever had to do was shield a screaming and terrified three year old boy with his own body as bullets rained down his spinal cord. He prayed that none would go clean through him, and kept praying until the world blanked out. The first thing he did with his first new breath was to check for a pulse underneath his fingers, dreading what he would have to say to Keith if he found none.
'Uncle,' his nephew whispered, shaking but unhurt. Luck put a finger onto Jon's lips, pushed him behind a nearby table, and then got up and made a decision.
'What's happened in New York?'
'The families belonging to the Italian cosa nostra went on a expansionary campaign through the smaller streets. They don't think highly of Camorristi families.'
'I know that much; but there are rumours that Gandor's gone ambitious. I thought you'd ground every aspiring bone in your body to dust already, Luck - how many years have you been wasting your talent because you three don't want a larger territory?'
'We still don't.'
'Large families have had capos dropping dead like flies. But I know I haven't been doing the killing - and there's no one else talented enough. So it has to be you, no one else could, unless Firo's really changed that much.'
'We don't want more territory. But if the large families are in enough chaos that they're trying just to stay afloat, then it's a fortunate coincidence that we smaller families reap the benefits, isn't it?'
'Ha ha, I never thought I'd see the day. Luck Gandor decides to rise to a challenge: and now you have all of Manhattan quivering in their sleep. You're amazing, brother, amazing. I'd clap for you, if I were there.'
'They tried to shoot Keith's son. If I hadn't been there, we'd have had to use a mop to find what would've been left of him.'
After that, the baton was passed on to Luck. Keith was still first - in age, in name - but they all were too concerned for the child to want him in first place on enemy hit lists. Besides, New York was getting grittier as the Prohibition came to an end: alcohol wasn't lucrative any more, and to keep a mafia family alive on weapons and protection money alone was a job better suited for a man less traditional than Keith. Luck was always better at playing dirty; though, to be honest, Claire had always been best -- but Claire had never wanted to stay.
Luck saw less of his nephew after he took up full-time responsibility. It wasn't much of a problem: the others always kept an eye out; Berga still stormed and stamped on anyone who even dared to think of laying hands on the Gandor heir, Firo still was ever-present for friendly advice and a listening ear; Isaac continued robbing stores until there was a memorandum put out advising shopkeepers to beware of theft during the month of September.
It therefore confused Luck to discover that Jon seemed to confide in him most of all. 'Uncle,' the boy - already seven now - would come up into his office on lazy Tuesday afternoons after school. 'Uncle Luck, I think I need to --'
Keith walked into the room a minute after that. Luck looked up from the books, and blinked. 'Brother?'
Keith shrugged, and said, 'Jon?'
'Probably out with Firo,' Luck said, 'I heard that they were planning a short trip on the new trains, down over to Brooklyn.'
Keith nodded, and went out.
'You're the best,' Jon whispered from under Luck's desk. 'Uncle Berga would've given me a beating, and Ma's gone to visit her friends today, so I couldn't hide. Now what do I do about dad's lost cards?'
'Hide for the rest of your life,' Luck suggested blandly, though his eyes were smiling as Jon climbed out from his hiding place. 'Or buy him a new pack. He'll forgive you, eventually.'
It was Claire who sparked off the debate.
'Want to come on the trains with Chane and me?' he asked Jon one hot, bright summer's afternoon. The plan had been laid out well: three months earlier, a full set of miniature locomotives had been sent via express package to the Gandor family address, and the youngest family member hadn't been able to keep his hands off them since. Jon probably wouldn't have been able to say no even if he wanted to.
Keith let him, because Claire was a learning experience all on his own, and it gave the family business some leeway to move a bit faster, a bit harder, a bit more ruthlessly. Luck was glad of it - Jon was getting more and more exuberant by the day, and there just weren't any kids his age around.
Claire and Chane whisked the Gandor kid off for two weeks of summer, leaving Berga slightly mopey and Luck with what felt like infinitely more rest. (Jon thought it was shameful for a young man to go to his father and mother when he got scared in the middle of the night - his uncle, on the other hand, was free game.) 'No circuses,' was all Luck said at the train platform on the day of their departure.
'This is far better than any circus,' Claire smiled back at him, and that, on hindsight, should've set alarm bells off in Luck's head.
Whatever happened out there, Jon came back from his trip equipped with a pocket knife sharp enough to take off fingers and an insatiable desire to learn how to use it. And how to pick pockets, because Uncle Claire had magic fingers. And how to use forks and knives as creatively as Aunty Chane.
In the basement study, Berga and Luck and Keith nearly took off Claire's head together.
'Are you crazy?' Berga thundered, for once speaking for them all. 'He's just a kid! You can't teach him things like that yet!'
'Just a kid? Really?' Claire asked, sounding very bored as he reclined back into his seat. 'Last I checked, it's been 11 years since the boy was born. When I was his age, Keith'd already shown me how to blindside everyone in poker.'
Keith's silence actually sounded angry.
'Times are different,' Luck cut in before things could get violent - Keith didn't use words in an argument, and Claire didn't hold back when it came to physical force. 'He doesn't have to be brought up the way we were. We don't need anyone to replace us the way Father did.'
'Times are different? Really?' Claire parroted his brothers again. 'How are they different? If anything, they're worse. It's a killing field out there, and while I find that entertaining and the three of you don't need to bother, your precious nephew isn't going to live forever.'
'So you want to help him die by teaching him stupid things?' Berga yelled. 'You carry a knife and people won't hesitate to gut you first!'
'You don't carry a knife and they just gut you anyway, except more efficiently, and probably while laughing at how much of an idiot you are.' Claire propped his legs up onto the table in front of him. 'The boy's a Gandor like you and me,' Claire smiled. 'He's grown up around guns and knives and family members who never seem to go to work. He's not an idiot, Keith -- stop trying to shield him from the inevitable.'
'I don't think that's your decision to make,' Luck said quietly.
'You lot certainly weren't making decisions yourselves,' Claire pointed out. 'And I don't want my nephew dead from ignorance. If you want to keep him innocent and dumb, get Firo to feed him that drink of his first - otherwise, he's a kid in New York city, and he needs these things to survive. And since Firo seems to have taught Jon something about the finer art of stealing before I did, I think that Mister Prochainezo actually agrees with me.'
Keith walked out of the room. 'Bro!' Berga said, torn between going after him and staying to give Claire a piece of his mind.
'You probably think you're right about all of this,' Luck said to Claire, voice low.
'I tend to be,' Claire replied, giving Luck a flat look.
'Go after Keith,' Luck said to Berga, not looking away from Claire. 'Otherwise Jon will probably get something he doesn't deserve. I'll talk with Claire here.'
Berga slammed the door so hard on his way out that the doorframe shook.
'And you know I'm right,' Claire said the moment they were alone.
The worst part of it was, Claire probably was. 'You didn't have to take it into your own hands,' Luck said, evenly.
Claire sighed. 'Firo was right, you three just aren't made for the mafia. Listen to me, Luck. Stop them from shielding the boy. Otherwise they're going to find him with a hole in his head, dead because he thinks he deserves to inherit the earth. You lot have been handing it to him on a silver platter all these years.'
'That wasn't what I was talking about,' Luck shook his head. 'You're right about teaching Jon - we would've, sooner or later. But immortality - you've asked the question no one wants to answer.'
Claire left home with Chane a few days afterwards; his leaving put a temporary end to a series of arguments between everyone in the family: Firo was adamant about the elixir not being produced, Keith was furious, Luck had no time to quarrel family affairs when no one else seemed to be managing the district, Berga shouted pointlessly and Claire added fuel to the fire every time he insulted living forever. Ennis and Mrs Gandor took Jon to Central Park every evening (when the fighting was worst) and told him a variety of excuses and lies.
With Claire gone, everyone agreed to just drop the subject: it was too early to even think of that for Jon, give it a few more years, give it a few more decades.
Frightened of the change in his usually calm family, Jon took to sitting with Luck in Luck's study at night; it was quiet and calm and he could ask questions, usually receiving grown-up answers.
'Is this bad?' he asked Luck, holding up the knife from his other uncle. 'Is this why you are all fighting? I'll be careful with it, I swear!'
'No,' Luck said, putting down his books and reaching over to close Jon's hand over the hilt. 'It's not exactly a bad thing. But don't take it out unless you mean to use it - and don't believe everything that comes out of Claire's mouth, next time.'
'He was the one who told me to ask you,' Jon shrugged, putting his knife away. 'He said you'd explain anything I needed to know.'
Luck felt his stomach drop out - fuck, Claire -- 'Know about what?' he asked, his voice smoother than he imagined he was capable of making it.
'Stuff,' Jon said helpfully. 'Like how to use this knife, and,' Jon paused. Luck dreaded what might come next -- 'And Edgar... Ellen? Allan? Alan? Poe? Are those three different people?'
Luck exhaled. 'No, not three,' he smiled, no sure whether he should love Claire or hate him. 'Edgar Allan Poe. He's one person - a poet. Let me get you one of his books.'
Mrs Gandor died in spring, on the 15th year of her marriage to Keith. It wasn't by a bullet, or torture, or anything so fantastically evil as that: she went in her sleep, sudden as a quiet flash, life there one moment and then gone the next as an aneurysm somewhere deep inside of her head ruptured. None of them could've saved her from that.
The funeral was silent, black and bitter. Firo stood next to Maiza, but to his credit, Keith never asked why or should I have; the oldest Gandor just stood by his son, his hand on the shoulders of a boy trying not to cry.
The three brothers packed in the grave themselves, pouring dirt over the coffin as if it would give them closure. Claire appeared as they were halfway through - he'd been watching from farther away, afraid as he never was to offend Keith - and without words they gave him a shovel and he joined them, the soil raining down, down, down.
'I wish,' Luck said to Claire as they took the solemn drive together back to headquarters, 'that you had less opportunities to say I told you so.'
'I didn't come here to gloat,' Claire said, softly, looking out into the gloomy Manhattan dusk.
'I know you didn't,' Luck said. 'But Keith's going to bring the boy into the fold soon, start him off on a simple collection job.'
The redhead nodded, but absently. They threaded through the congested streets in silence, letting the noisy buzz of sleepless New York streets fill the space in between; the honks of cars and the yells of pedestrians reminders that the city, at least, always lived. 'Not such a pretty thing, is it, this living forever?' Claire said, eventually, but Luck didn't know whether to agree, or to point out that living only once was never enough.
It was actually Berga who took the death hardest. Keith had his own ways of dealing: he dressed in black for a month, kept his ring on his left hand, taught Jon how to shoot worth a damn, picked up a few more responsibilities to help fill the void. Berga, on the other hand, wasn't really familiar with enemies that he couldn't punch into senseless submission.
'Don't insult me, uncle, I'm not seven years old anymore-' Jon never raised his voice to his seniors, but when Berga started questioning his comings and goings and playing almost paranoid, the straw got on and broke the camel's back. 'I'm not going to let myself be leashed to the basement whenever there isn't someone free to chaperone me!'
When he next came over, Firo suggested, quietly, that Berga find a girl of his own: wasn't it about time?
Berga said, 'I don't think it's worth it anymore.'
Claire and Chane were warm on both sides of Luck; he didn't need any other reassurances, or any other way of confronting the grief.
When Jon was sixteen, he crept shamefaced into Luck's office and said, in a tiny voice, 'Uncle -- Uncle Luck? Can I talk to you?'
The boy was starting filling up into his clothes, and for a split second Luck wasn't sure whether to call him a boy or an adult. He waved Jon in, almost as though Jon were seven and running from his father again, except that now Jon was almost taller than Luck, and still growing. 'Yes?'
Maybe it was the fact that he never exercised much control over Jon that made him into Jon's confidante and ally - Luck never imposed curfew, never coddled his nephew when it came to the job, never laid down judgement about the habits and small offences the boy had run through. Said boy seated himself in front of Luck's desk, fidgeting. 'The last time Uncle Claire was here, he told me I could rely on you to understand,' he muttered.
'Understand what?' Luck asked, and in the back of his mind the cogs started to turn and he wondered if he was going to have to give Jon a talk about -
'You know. Sex.'
Life was so full of surprises. Luck had been expecting questions about living forever or dealing with the anniversary of a mother's death or how to stop shaking after killing your first man. 'I'm sure you know the mechanics already,' he said, smiling but not patronising.
'The complicated kind of sex,' Jon said, pained. 'Uncle!'
'What has Claire been talking to you about? Bondage?' Luck wasn't sure it was humanly possible to go that red.
'No!' Jon shook his head violently. 'About -- I know about girls, but about--'
By the end of the night, Luck was vaguely aware - in between sips of brandy - that Jon was a lot less concerned about the issues that Keith, Berga and himself were afraid of; the boy seemed more balanced than the rest of his family. Jon thought about sex like any other teenager, thought about life and how to live it -- why were they so worried about him? He could handle himself.
'Have you told Keith yet?'
'I respect Jon's privacy more than that, Claire.'
'So, are you going to help the prodigious nephew experiment?'
'I'll reserve that questionable duty for you.'
'What are you so afraid of? Keith didn't kill you when he first found us tumbling about.'
'My world, unlike yours, doesn't revolve around me, Claire. Keith can make my life a living hell if he wants to, and if I lay so much as a finger on his son, he will.'
'Say what you like – Jon's is still a Gandor. Were you expecting him to grow up normal?'
Gandors didn't like to live up to expectations, so normal was as close a word as you could find to describe how the son of the family - twenty years old and better looking, Firo joked, than Luck – turned himself out. He brought home boys for a few years, but the new beau was a petite blond with a killer smile.
'I met her at the public library,' Jon told everyone the next gathering they had.
New York was busier than it had ever been; Times Square was starting to burn with lights and sound, and there was talk about building a bridge to Staten Island. Finding time to meet again after years apart was like seeking shelter from the helter-skelter of change. The Gandors were a little bit richer, the Martillos were a little bit more influential, Claire and Chane looked a little bit more settled, but nothing else seemed different - nothing important, at least.
'Did you propose?' Claire drawled.
'Did you first watch her for a week without her knowing?' Firo grinned.
'She's a she?' Berga demanded, confused.
'Leave him be,' Luck said.
'We had coffee after getting about to talking,' Jon said, patiently - because he couldn't blame the older generation: none of them were as sane as they'd like to believe. 'We've been going out for a few months. To movies, Uncle Claire, not to rob banks or cross-country on the rail. She wants simple things, like two cats and three kids and to grow old with someone.' He looked at Keith when he said the last few words, and took the family's worst choice right out of their hands, and firmly into his own.
Keith swallowed and twisted his ring, but he nodded anyway.
Firo started wolf whistling; after that, no one talked about, or even thought of, elixirs or immortality. They toasted Jon and remembered Mrs Gandor and insulted Luck's bachelor status and asked Firo about Ennis and drank like it was the Prohibition again.
Whether they were living one life or many didn't seem to important as the act of living itself - of keeping it in the family, and keeping each other safe.
[Edit:] 15/4: made a huge bunch of minor spelling/stuff corrections that I didn't see before. Lordy, I needed to make those corrections.