the things that hurt


It's just a fact of nature - boys growing up together will fight.

Tom's knows it.

Breaking up the tussles and petty arguments, telling them over and over again to get along, only makes them want to fight harder, and his boys are so different it's inevitable that they're going to butt heads over one thing or another. Iceberg is too serious, Franky not serious enough. They're both hard workers, but Franky is like a bird, flitting from one project to another, where Iceberg tends to overthink things so much he gets hung up in them. They'll sort themselves out on their own, given enough time - and neither one of them can hold a candle to the aggression young fishman show at their age, easing into adulthood, so Tom doesn't see any harm in letting them be.

Of course, he has never had to break them up before.

Never had to physically pull them off of one another, never had to raise his voice with a BOOM! and still not be heard.

And it's left him puzzled, upset setting in as he looks the two boys over.

He has them sitting beside each other on the chimney from the engine they've dismantled for the third time this week. Something's just not right on the inside, and it's taking some time to fine tune the engine and work all the little odds and ends out of it. He understands that they're frustrated - he is, too, probably more than either of them. It's his neck on the line, after all. His dream. But for them to let that frustration come to this...

That Tom doesn't understand at all.

Iceberg's left eye is swelling shut, an ugly purple color blooming across his cheekbone that nearly matches the blue of his hair. Franky's nose is bleeding freely, might even be broken again if the angle is anything to judge by. Their chests are heaving, clothes torn, collars stretched, bruises forming where fists connected, busted lips and a number of scrapes bloody and dark. Iceberg is rubbing his knee and shaking, mouth pressed into a thin line, the anger not quite in his eyes anymore, and Franky's hands are squeezed into fists, his bottom lip between his teeth. The lens of his goggles are broken out, his eyes red-rimmed, breaths shuddering as they go in.

Tom doesn't know what started the fight, but he can make a fair guess.

He looks to his oldest apprentice.

Iceberg is too harsh with his words, though he usually has a decent point - Franky too easy to rile into anger and too quiet about the things that hurt him. Tom knows he won't get a word out of Franky, but Iceberg will talk if he asks. He just isn't sure he wants to hear what the young man has to say right now.

Tom rubs his jaw, silent while he thinks of some way to resolve this and teach them a lesson that's, at his fault, a bit late in coming. They don't quite respect each other the way he'd hoped they would at this age; are still quick to take each other for granted and throw their childish insults around. Neither of them are so little, anymore. They're both just about fully grown, big and strong enough to really hurt each other, whether they mean to or not. Blows to the body will heal up on their own just fine - it's the other that won't.

He does have a couple of shipments due to come in soon. The looming overlap of their arrival dates presented a bit of a problem before, risking both shipments on the sea these days. Now, however, it presents an opportunity.

Tom hums deep in his chest, squares his shoulders.

"I've got a job for you boys." Iceberg looks up in surprise, hair falling across his face, but Franky doesn't react at all other than to tighten his fists. He's still glaring at the distance, blood oozing from the cuts across his forehead. His eyes move in Tom's direction when he continues, "Franky, you're going to San Faldo to pick up that shipment of iron for me. Iceberg, you'll go to St. Poplar for the six pallets of lumber. You're both leaving first thing in the morning."

Tom expects the protests that come as the shock sinks in. The few times either of them have left Water 7 it was with him, to either pick up shipments or work on the railway and never for any real length of time. The color drains from Franky's face when he blurts out, "What - you're sendin' us way?!"

Iceberg nearly launches up from his seat and it's his injured knee that stops him more than anything else, "Mr. Tom, those shipments aren't due for almost a week! If we're both gone for that long, who's going to help you repair the engine or -"

"I can do all that myself," Tom says, with a deep finality that makes Iceberg reel back, bottom lip between his teeth, hands shaking where they're gripping the chimney. It's true, though it isn't fair of him to say. His boys work hard. They're just as capable as he is, more capable than most. But this will teach them some responsibility - maybe something else, once they spend some time without one another. "I was a master shipwright for many years before you boys came along, and you'll leave first thing in the morning because it's what I've asked you to do. Stay until the orders are filled, and then bring them home with a BOOM! Do you understand?"

For a second, he wonders if they might pipe up again.

Franky, he knows, is on the verge of an outburst, but they both buckle under, mutter a reluctant, "Yes, sir."

This will be the longest they've ever been apart since they came here.

Hopefully the distance will do them some good.


Nine days later, Iceberg's bruises are fading. He's quiet when he brings the pallets into the warehouse, no longer limping on the knee Franky twisted, smiling at Tom's loud greeting. He's eager to talk about the trip. He enjoyed St Poplar as much as Tom suspected he would, and it was the very same with Franky in San Faldo, when the younger man turns up just a few hours later. The scratches on his forehead are as red and noticeable as the day he left, but they're smaller than before and not likely to scar. It's odd to see him goggle-less, but Franky is as boisterous as ever, standing on top of the iron beams when Tom and Iceberg both come out to see it, bouncing on his toes and grinning.

"Lookie here, lookie here!" he sings, his hands on his hips, "Came back in one piece! Or should I say, several pieces - all ready to be a Sea Train!"

Tom had given both of them plenty of money before they left; enough to cover the cost of the orders, their lodgings and meals, and some extra to do with as they pleased. Heading back into the warehouse, Iceberg remembers it and tries to give all the extra money back to Tom, and then some - Franky barely has anything left at all, but he does the same, pulling the small wad of cash out of his shirt pocket, looking incredulous when Tom laughs and tells them both to keep it, that they earned it.

Iceberg accepts it without a word.

Franky is stupefied.

"What the hell, Iceberg," he says, but he's laughing, "How're you gonna come home with so much money? That's super messed up!"

"Oh my. Not at all!" Iceberg is smiling as he pockets the money. "I got the woodcutters to come down on the price."

"Show off! It wasn't a contest; hell, I partied my brains out!"

"As if you had any to begin with, Flaky."

"Hey, at least I know how to have a good time, ice for brains! You probably stayed cooped up in your hotel the whole time!"

Their bantering carries over well into supper, but it's the easy, laughing kind that Tom sorely missed. They bump elbows a lot at the table, compare stories and makes jokes about the townspeople they saw. They both noticed the glaringly difference between the other cities and how things are in Water 7 - the living standards, the crime rate, how at ease the people are - and voice their mutual concerns, show an eagerness to get back to work before the name-calling starts again. Kokoro takes a seat beside Tom, shakes her head and smiles as she watches Iceberg take a new pair of goggles out of his bag and hand then to Franky, listens to Franky call him a jerk and deny that he's crying as he pulls them on.

(He just has pepper in his eyes, that's all.)

"I guess your plan didn't work the way you wanted to, huh, Tom?" she asks with a quiet cackle, chin resting in her palm, "They're the same as ever."

Tom only laughs harder, leaning back in his chair. Maybe Kokoro doesn't see it the way he does. Maybe she doesn't hear the things they don't say - the way Iceberg smiles and comments on how quiet it was, how Franky laughs, saying that he barely got any sleep at night.