A/N: Firstly, huge thanks go out to Jerseybelle for being a brilliant beta. I have, of course, made changes since, so all mistakes are my own. Uh, I don't really have a 'secondly,' other than to say I hope you enjoy this. Oh, and the fic stands at about 48,000 words pre-final-read-though, split up into 7 chapters. I'll probably update every couple of days, and this will 100 per cent get finished.
The fallout from the death of Maggie Williams is far worse that that of the premature demise of her husband. Maybe it's that Danny is left head of the family, just fifteen when he's unexpectedly assigned as the person to turn to for his three younger siblings. He's the man of the house, effectively now playing the role of two parents to his brother and sisters.
Well, unexpectedly might be a stretch. In truth, Danny had seen his mother's death coming for a while now. Danny's struggling with it, really fucking struggling with the burden that's about to be put on him, a part of which he's already been desperately trying to deal with since the death of his father eight months ago. It was a blur; news articles with pictures of Richard Williams, the hero that gave his life in order to save three, the loyal firefighter that left his children fatherless as he tried to protect the people of Newark.
And Danny knows it's selfish - believe him, he does - but that last part is what's worse. He wishes that his father, 'the hero,' hadn't given his life. And the eldest Williams boy can't help but be a little pissed off at his dad, annoyed at his 'willingness to give his life in a sacrifice for others' because, dammit, they really needed him.
With Richard's passing, Danny's mother had fallen to pieces. Danny suspects something more than biology may have been at play, because no sooner had the man of the house been buried six feet under than Maggie Williams was given a diagnosis of lung cancer, the smoking having finally caught up with her and the verdict coming too late to have any hope of ridding her of the disease.
The only silver lining to this dark, dark cloud is that the late diagnosis meant a quick death. Painful, maybe, but Danny's of the notion that three months of the physical pain of the symptoms and the psychological pain of losing her husband, is far better than what could have turned out to be years full of a battle against it. If she'd been optimistic and happy during the time, or even just putting on a brave face for her children, then Danny may have taken a different perspective. But she wasn't, and she didn't.
And with her death, Danny is distraught. Only now does the tragic passing of his father really catch up with him, and he mourns the loss in silence, holding back tears until he knows he is alone within the confines of the shitty care home they've been sent to pending the visit of a more qualified social worker.
It really is a shithole; thuggish kids with nothing to do but cause trouble, insincere social workers just looking to make it through another day without any disasters, and a tattered building, tainted by vicious vandalism inflicted by its more permanent residents. The outside vaguely resembles a prison, the inside an abused youth club, and frankly, Danny's surprised the place manages to pass the tests.
In the days between being pushed through the doors of the looming building and the visit from this illusive woman who has been described as nothing more than a kind lady come to help them all out, Danny does his best to comfort his hysterical sisters, their main fear being that of ending up in this place for good, which is a pretty valid one. Danny hopes that's not the case, but honestly, he's no idea who would be willing to take all four of them. As for Matty, now fourteen, he puts on a brave face, stays quiet, and Danny suspects he's doing much of what he himself is doing...bottling it up.
Lucy, just six years old, clings to him like her life depends on it, and Danny is glad for the summer holidays because he knows there's no way he'd manage to convince her to let him go if they were up and into school every morning. He doesn't even try, just keeps hold of her, welcomes her into his bed with whispered reassurances, hugs her until he can feel her body relax and drift off to sleep. The painful part is those whispered reassurances that things will be okay, because Danny's not yet sure whether to believe them.
Olivia deals marginally better, goes about her day with a glum expression, only slightly lightened by the fact that, in truth, her relationship with their parents had never been quite as close as the others. Danny had been a Daddy's boy, though since he'd taken up boxing things had been strained between him and both of his parents. Lucy and Matty had clung to their mother, and Livvy, well she'd never been quite so sentimental; a tomboy content most of the time to sit in her room alone.
Matty's always been the closest to her, and Danny can - as far as possible - rest assured that he's keeping a watchful eye, ensuring she's doing as well as can be expected beneath that hardened front she keeps up.
Danny worries about her the most for the simple reason that she's hard to read. But inbetween checking on Matty, consoling Lucy, and worrying about where they're going to live and go to school for the rest of their childhood, Danny doesn't have a huge amount of time to think about it. Maybe it's self-centred, but any free time he does have is spent down at the local gym putting the last of his membership to good use. He bypasses most of the equipment, content to take out all of his anger for the situation he's been left in on the heavy bag that hangs from the ceiling, sorely working through the desire to hit more than a bag, the desire to get in the ring and have it out with a stranger. Baseball has been sidelined for the time being.
It's on the third day that he gets called downstairs and is led to an office where a black woman sits across from him, dressed in clothes that clash, but an open smile and sympathetic eyes force their way into her expression before he's even had a chance to say anything.
The social worker then, he guesses.
She looks like the kind of person genuinely in it for helping the kids - for which Danny is glad - if a little tired from the stress of the job.
"Danny." He makes the correction instantly, because only his mother called him that, and he figures that all things considered, manners aren't a priority right now.
As he sits there, properly talking to a stranger for a few minutes as she runs through the details of what will happen to the house and their possessions, Danny realizes that maybe he's okay. Arguably better than he should be, but okay. The death of his parents has upset him - of course - but having had three days to cry about it, and too much time to think about what will happen to the four of them, he's managed to pull himself together, force away the level of sadness that his siblings are feeling. He doesn't have the time to grieve, not when the family is relying on him to make sure they all get through this okay.
He answers her questions efficiently, listens to her babble about how their grandparents will liquidate their inherited assets and setup a trust fund for each of them, and by the time she finally pauses for breath, he still has absolutely no idea as to what the living arrangements will be, but if anyone upstairs is listening, well then he's praying just as much as his siblings that they won't have to stay here.
"And now I'm afraid we're going to need to talk about where you and your siblings will live."
Danny nods obediently, put off by the silence. "Danny, as the eldest, we want to let you make the decision. You're staying here for a few more days anyway in order that you can attend the funeral if you so wish, and if there are any disagreements then we'll talk further. But at the moment the choice is yours, and we have two offers of places for you to stay."
Danny blinks, confused. "Normally, as they are willing, we would send you to your grandparents without a second thought. They live in New York, yes?" Danny nods, though he honestly hadn't been expecting an offer of residence from their grandparents, not with the rift caused by their mother's choice of husband. "Okay, so it's not too far, and I gather that you get on well." Social worker speak for: I gather you've met at least once in your lifetime, and it didn't end in a brawl, which can only be a good thing. "Your mother's will though, it had another request. Can you think why that may be?"
Danny shrugs. "She talked about it a bit at the end. She was on the phone to them a lot," - may as well go with it now - "worried about whether they'd have room and time for us, with other grandchildren around the corner." Truth be told, Danny's not sure he or the others could cope with it anyway. Maggie Williams' mother is the spitting image of her daughter, and he's pretty sure Lucy would break all over again if she came face to face with the woman for so long so soon. As for Livvy, Danny doesn't have the first clue how she'd react. The last thing they need is a constant reminder of what they've all lost.
The woman nods, and stereotypical though she may be, Danny kind of likes her, takes comfort in the way her hand twitches upon the desk, maybe suppressing the urge to reach out with a touch designed to comfort him. "Okay, so that's the first option. But your mother offered another solution in her will." She sorts through her notes for a few seconds. "This man isn't strictly a relative, but your mother seemed sure he would be able to look after you. The name is Jake Murray, he's a mechanic."
Danny doesn't have a clue as to who the guy is, even less of an idea as to why their mother might list him as a person to stay with. "I gather you don't know him?" Danny shakes his head, intertwining his fingers over and over again in his lap as he kicks his feet beneath the chair he's sitting on. "That's okay, I didn't get the impression you'd ever met him from your mother's message. I know it might be scary, staying with someone you don't know, but if your mother thought it was the best option, which she obviously did, I would urge you to think about it."
"Where does he live?" Danny asks, because at this point in time, as crazy as it seems, it really may be the better choice.
"Hawaii." Danny's eyes widen, he leans forwards in his chair, and the woman cringes back, a little intimidated though used to contending with this kind of reaction.
In the months since his father's death, Danny has put on some weight, all of it muscle. He's well aware that he's not the tallest fifteen year old in the world, and while the years of baseball has kept him lean and toned, boxing has added to his physique.
He's no longer a scrawny blond kid with a harsh buzz cut. His hair is longer now, standing on end though only for a lack of care. He's broad shouldered and muscled up top, with nimble legs and a skinny waist, and he can handle himself, aware that he walks with a slight air of confidence only because it's been pointed out to him by kids at school in recent months.
Danny reigns himself in though, calms down and sits back in his seat with a look that he hopes conveys some kind of apology, because if there's one thing he can think of right now that will make this situation worse, it's losing control of his temper.
And the stupid thing is, for all of his impending argument about what the woman is suggesting, Danny still thinks it would be better for them. He's not a massive fan of sweltering heat and the paradisical landscape that his mind conjures up, but it may not turn out to be the worst thing in the world. And whatever his own thoughts may be on moving to some kind of idyllic island, he just knows that the others would love it.
Danny's street smart with more than his fair share of trouble to have dealt with in the past, so he tries to soften his face, and asks something which may actually be helpful to this whole situation.
"Okay, um. This guy, Jake Murray, is there anything else you can tell me about him?"
The woman nods, seemingly reaffirmed with her use in helping a family out. "Yes of course. We don't know a lot but…" She pulls a piece of paper from the stack atop her legs. "What we do know is that he has no kids of his own, financially stable, he owns a garage where he works as a self-employed mechanic as well as running a pool repairs business. As for the relationship to your mother, all we've been able to confirm is that they went to school together, and that they've kept in contact since." Well that gives an approximate age, suggests that he's young enough that he should be able to cope with the basics of looking after kids better than their grandparents.
"Okay." Danny stays quiet for the moment, and he can feel the piercing gaze of the woman on his form. "How long do we have to make a decision? Can I talk to the others?"
She nods. "Of course. Look, Danny, I don't want to rush you into a decision, but these things take a few days to get sorted, and from what I've heard from the staff here, I gather you're not enjoying your stay. I'll be here for another couple of hours or so taking care of arrangements with a few other kids, and the sooner you make the decision, the sooner we can get the ball rolling."
It makes sense. "Okay, sure. And this guy, he knows what to expect, how many, stuff like that?"
"Yes. Don't feel you need to make your mind up so soon though, you can take all the time you need. This is important." No shit, Sherlock.
"Okay, thanks for your help. Hopefully I'll see you in a bit." Danny gets up and leaves, calling Matty from the room they're both sharing and leading the way to the girls' room. Danny sits on the bed, and the three younger kids look up at him expectantly, marginally less upset as each day goes by.
He sighs and pulls Lucy into his lap, holds Olivia's hand as he looks to Matty for some support, to make sure they're on the same page. Matty clasps Olivia's free hand in his own and meets Danny's gaze. They could probably make this decision on their own, but that's never been the way they do things. The Williams clan look out for each other, and that's as important as ever when there's such an imperative choice to be made. There's no question they're all looking to Danny to sort them out here, but he won't make a decision unless he's sure they're all in agreement.
"Okay, look. I'm gonna cut straight to it, alright. If we want to get out of here quick" - they all do, Olivia's already having problems with the other kids and he and Matty have always been dangerously short-tempered when it comes to anyone but their siblings - "then we'll need to decide soon. We have two options. Option one is that we go to New York and stay with Gran and Gramps until we've all graduated." Which would be a really long time, especially where Lucy's concerned. Though Danny and Matty would probably object to staying in New York longer than necessary, maybe find a place that they could all stay together once they've graduated. That's the option they'd been expecting apparently, maybe a testament to how Danny had held more of a grudge against their grandparents for the hostility they'd showed his father, than the others.
"Ma left another suggestion in her will though. She used to go to school with this guy, so I think he must be from Jersey. But he lives in Hawaii now, no other kids, a big enough house for all of us." He's met with blank stares, and then a smile from Lucy.
"Hawaii," she says in response to the so far unspoken question, but Danny's not ready for them to move on a whim, on the idea that it might be nice to have a couple of years in the sun.
"Hawaii," Olivia says, and honestly, Danny's surprised at that response. He'd had her pegged as a city girl, but then she would enjoy the surfing. He holds out until everyone's voiced his or her initial opinion though.
"Hawaii," Matty says, and dammit, Danny's was not expecting that. Matty lets out a breath and continues. "Gran and Gramps can't look after us. They've got enough to be dealing with anyway, and I don't think I can look her in the eye without tearing up, which will be bad for us and worse for Gran."
Danny nods because he can't really dispute that. "Look," he glances down to the two girls. "Are you sure? I mean, it seemed like the better choice to me too, but are we sure we want to travel halfway across the country and then some, to live with a guy none of us have ever met, in a place we've never even visited?"
Olivia shrugs, and Danny realizes this whole thing has aged her. Not physically…Physically she's still the same. Cropped hair, about as dark as Matty's, dressed in tatty dungarees with a pair of well-worn sneakers. But she seems more mature, more willing to offer a reasoned argument rather than be blinded by the prospect of the Hawaiian sun. "We don't have a choice, Danny. Matty's right."
Danny looks back down to Lucy again. "And you, kiddo. What are you thinking?"
Lucy mimics her older sister's roll of the shoulders, clenching a fistful of Danny's t-shirt in her hands. "Too many things here." Danny's pretty sure that what she means to say is too many memories, a reminder of their parents behind every corner, shared experiences dotted around the city in which they live. And granted, New York isn't New Jersey, but it's significantly more similar to home than Hawaii would be.
Hawaii would provide a complete change of scenery, a complete change of company, an almost completely new life.
Danny thinks up worst case scenarios and everything that could go wrong, and Matty spends an hour countering them, until all four of them are still agreed, and Danny knows it's useless to continue talking about it. Hawaii is the best choice right now.
He requests use of the phone down stairs and puts in a call to an upset-sounding grandma. She runs through all of the usuals, studiously ignoring the topic of their living arrangements until Danny finally brings them up himself.
"Gran, we'd love to stay with you, you know that." If it were as simple as it sounded, even Danny would voice a preference to stay with family. "But we don't want to be-"
She inevitably interrupts him with insistences that they wouldn't be a burden, but for all it's worth, Danny can hear it in her voice. She's tired, the death of her daughter has aged her, and she suspects that maybe what Danny is suggesting here may really be the best thing for all of them.
He verifies though, asks her countless times about what she knows about this guy, to which she replies not all that much. Their mother and Jake Murray had indeed been very close, but never had she formally been introduced to the guy. Danny checks with her one last time before hanging up and letting his head fall back to the wall.
He goes upstairs, confirming for the final time with the others before he slips outside of the room and leaves the three of them to chat about what it might be like there, goes to inform the social worker of their decision. She checks at least a half dozen times more that they're sure about it - as though he's made this decision on impulse - goes up to see Matty, Olivia, and Lucy and ask them for herself - as though Danny's made this decision alone - and then leaves with the promise that she'll start the paperwork tomorrow and be in contact soon.
They attend the funeral of Maggie Williams the following day. First thing in the morning they all pile into the girls' room, smartening each other up as they pat down creases in Lucy's dress and readjust the collar of Matty's dress shirt. He and Danny dress in black from head to toe with open collared shirts and black slacks, only bothering with coats when the breeze through the open window hits them. Olivia puts up a half-hearted last ditched attempt at a protest of attending, but Lucy looks up at her, all innocent and wise and says, "What if later you find out that really you had wanted to go?" And that marks the end of that discussion.
Lucy wants to wear a pair of bright flowery tights in view beneath her knee length dress because she says that their mom would want at least one of them to wear something colourful. And though they know it's likely to attract a couple of disapproving stares from distant relatives, nobody has the heart to argue with her. She convinces Olivia to join the rebellion, suggesting that she wear bright socks beneath the pants she's wearing due to a reluctance to bare her legs in anything but shorts.
The funeral is predictably solemn. Danny manages to hold himself together as he clutches Olivia and Lucy to his sides, swallowing the tears that threaten to come as he pulls Matty into a brief hug. Their grandparents are there, nodding their support for their mutual decision to travel to Hawaii in a week's time, saying that their mother was probably right, that it's probably for the best. And they all know it is, because as heartbreaking as the service is, the part that gets them the most is seeing her face, the face that is far too similar to that of the woman they're here to bury.
Nobody even bothers to attempt to sleep alone for the rest of their time in Jersey. The four of them have always been close, but parental death has only brought them closer, eliminating any forgotten rifts that may previously have occurred and dampening the effect of any future ones. Danny's still feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, but Matty's keeping his behaviour under control, and Danny knows it takes a lot of effort on his part to stay out of trouble, because he's the same.
So Matty and Danny refuse point blank to listen to the instructions of the staff at the care home, head to Olivia and Lucy's bedroom for the remaining six nights. They leave the curtains open to allow a dim glow to coat the room, and Matty presses to the very edge of one bed, Danny to the very edge of the other as Olivia and Lucy join them respectively.
With the boys in the beds, the girls fall asleep quickly, and when it begins to get close to the date of their departure for Hawaii, they sometimes indulge in quiet conversation, Danny trying to make sure he really is making the right decision for all of them.
"Hey Matty, you still sure this is right for us, that it's what they'd have wanted? I mean, what if this guy turns out to be a total jackass, or some perv, huh?" They speak in hushed whispers, careful not to wake Lucy and Livvy up.
"Bro, we all agreed. It's the right thing, we need to get away. And we can look after the girls. We'll be okay…As long as we're all together, we'll be good." He's silent for a minute before adding something else. "Ma must have known this guy well to have even suggested it, he'll probably turn out to be the nicest guy we ever met."
Danny leaves it at that, and they talk softly for a little longer, taking the piss out of some of the other kids in the home, complaining about the staff before Matty goes quiet, and Danny realizes he's fallen asleep.
They wake, engage with the other kids to as little extent as is allowed by the stupid team building exercises organized by the personnel here at the home, and then repeat the process. Olivia gets into a couple more tussles, and though they both know she doesn't need the help, Matty gets involved in protecting her. But none of the staff bothers with attempting to punish them in any way; the four of them are the least of their worries at the home, and so they're mostly left to their own devices.
Danny manages to get out to the gym a couple more times, gets involved in a boxing match with a sandbag. By the end of his session he has bruises and wounds on his knuckles though, the weight through the gloves not enough to sate the desire to cause some pain, to him or to someone close. Simply removing the gloves to worsen the burn is still not enough, but it will have to make do until he can get to the island, until he can find some sort of boxing club or competitive circuit.
The last two days are spent with a couple of visits back to their house, marking things to be thrown away or sold and gathering as much as they can into a suitcase each, with a few other things in a small carry on bag.
Danny has the least to pack. He's added the muscle in the past year, which has meant pretty much a new wardrobe, but he's never been fussy in the shopping department, and his wardrobe has suffered for it. All the shoes he has are a couple of pairs of Chucky Ts, a pair of high-tops and one pair of loafers that he'd worn to the funeral. His pants collection consists only of three pairs of jeans and some sports stuff for working out, and the chest of drawers in the corner of his old room houses several t-shirts, all pretty similar with a general colour scheme of white, grey, or blue. Add to that a couple of jackets and he's pretty much done.
Olivia doesn't have much either, the tomboy streak limiting the amount of shopping she can put up with, so the two of them top their bags off with joint items and things of sentimental worth. He throws anything that he thinks might be useful for school into his carry on bag and makes sure that the others do the same, adding four baseball caps to the top of the pile as Matty shouts him a reminder.
It's not until he walks in to find the other three waiting for him though, all looking around the place with tears in their eyes, that Danny realizes the gravity of this moment. Olivia and Lucy are both staring at the younger girl's most recent work of art. Danny can still remember the day it was drawn, weather warm enough for all of them to sit in the yard while Lucy had churned out picture after picture of them all sitting there. It had been at Ma's bedside the night she died, and Danny can see the quake in Lucy's hand as she holds it.
Matty is sat down in what had always been their father's armchair, eyes glossed over as he stares into space. He's replaying a memory, tear rolling down his cheek before he's alerted to Danny's presence, wiping it away and pushing himself to his feet.
Danny drops his own bag though, kneels down in front of Lucy and pulls her into a hug, Olivia joining only a moment later. One in each arm, he holds them tight, presses his face into Lucy's hair, tries desperately to reassure them that they're going to be alright. And he really hopes they will.
When Danny pulls away, Matty has drifted away again, only now shaking himself aware and taking a few steps closer. Danny tries to smile at him as he watches his little brother curl a protective arm around Olivia, pulling her in close as Danny takes Lucy's hand and looks at each one of them.
"We're gonna be okay, girls. You've got me and Matty, huh. Best big brothers in the world. That's not gonna change, alright. We're gonna be okay."
He meets Matty's gaze and knows he's with him on this. Both of them will do everything they can to make sure everything really is okay.
A brief communal check of each of the bags convinces them that they have everything that they need, and then with their lives packed into four suitcases and four backpacks, and with one last glance around the inside of the home they're likely never to see again, they walk out the door.
A/N: I'd LOVE to hear from people, love it, hate it?