"...what are you doing?"
Luck sat on the side of his bed in the room he shared with Claire and watched his brother in confusion. It had been less than half an hour since they'd come home from the funeral. Luck had changed out of his suit and flopped facedown on his bed, still numbly trying to wrap his mind around the thought of his father being gone, and Keith being the head of the Gandor family, and at first when Claire had come in Luck hadn't felt it in him to pay much attention.
It was only when he realized that Claire was stuffing belongings into a bag that he sat up, startled out of his unhappiness.
Claire paused to look up, eyebrows lifting a little as though he were somehow surprised that Luck would ask. "I got a guy who's gonna let me catch a ride out of the city," he said. "Gonna join up with that circus before they leave."
"What-" Luck found himself blinking, trying to make sense out of what Claire was telling him. "You're leaving?"
"Well, yeah." Something about the look on Luck's face prompted Claire to leave his bag and wander over to sit down next to him on the side of the mattress. "What's that face for, Luck? We've been talkin' about it for a while."
"Yes, but..." It had just been talk, Luck thought. He'd talked a lot himself about leaving one day, when he was old enough - getting away from the Family, letting Keith and Berga handle it. Doing something else with his life. Maybe even going to a university. But it had all just been talk. He hadn't truly believed it would be possible in a long time, not since his father's slow downward slide into poorer and poorer health from exhaustion and overwork had made it clear that Keith would need every bit of help his brothers could give him to keep the Gandor Family running.
He'd known, vaguely, that Claire didn't share quite the same sense of familial responsibility that he and Berga and Keith did - he'd grown more and more independent as he'd headed into his teens, taken to coming and going at whatever hours he pleased, like a cat - but still... "Why now?"
"Why not?" came Claire's nonchalant reply.
Luck stared at him in disbelief. "What about the Family?" he pressed. "Keith's gonna need us."
Claire shrugged. "What about it?" he said. "I was never gonna stick around forever, y'know."
Abruptly Luck was on his feet, hands curling into fists. "So that's it?" he demanded. "You don't even care, you're just gonna go?"
"What are you so upset about, Luck?" Claire watched him with a look of vague bafflement. "I wasn't ever planning to join the Family anyway. It's as good a time as any to go."
"No it's not!" Luck could hear his own voice rising with agitation, but he couldn't bring himself to care enough to get it back under control. "Pa worked himself to death keeping the Family together. Keith's gonna need everybody he can get. You could help!"
Claire grinned, unconcerned. "Ah, you guys will be fine. But I'll tell you what," he said, getting to his feet. "Fight me."
The non-sequitur brought Luck's seething tangle of emotions to an abrupt halt. "-what?"
"Fight me," Claire said again, lifting a hand in a quick 'come on' gesture. "If you win, I'll stick around."
That's not fair, Luck wanted to protest. Claire had absorbed everything their older brothers had ever tried to teach him about fighting, and he had the advantage of height and muscle - not like Luck, who was still small for his age even if he hadn't preferred reading to fighting. He might as well have tried to fight Berga. But it was no use arguing; Claire had always had peculiar ideas about what "fair" meant, and he had that look, the set of his head and the brightness in his eyes that meant he'd decided on something he wouldn't be dissuaded from.
Luck tightened his fists, remembering everything Berga had tried to teach him about scrapping, and threw himself at Claire with all the strength he could muster.
Within less than a minute he was on his back on the floor, tasting blood in his mouth as he tried to remember how to breathe.
"Hey, Luck," said the familiar voice, as Claire materialized out of the darkness in the back alley behind Coraggioso. "What's so funny?"
Belatedly, Luck realized that he'd been smiling at the old memory. "Nothing really," he said, shaking his head a little as he came down the few steps from the back door to meet his brother. There was no need to explain to Claire the direction in which his thoughts had wandered. He had the feeling that he wouldn't really understand. "How've you been?"
"You know me," came the easy answer. From someone else it would have been noncommittal, but if Claire had changed much in the not quite ten years since he'd first left New York, it was only to become essentially more himself.
Not for the first time, Luck envied him that, a little.
"What are you doing hanging around out here, anyway?" Claire asked curiously, coming to meet him with his hands in the pockets of his long black coat. The muffled sounds of laughing voices from inside Coraggioso were just audible in the alley, but outside of the light and warmth of the club, the winter air was a cold slap across the face.
"Just thinking." He'd needed a few minutes to breathe, that was all. Claire had been right, all those years ago when he'd said so confidently that the three of them would be fine. The Gandor Family had, Luck thought, become something that their father could not possibly have imagined. Even he himself still wasn't really sure what it would mean for their organization now that he and Keith and Berga were-
Claire was grinning at him. "Anybody ever tell you you think too much?"
"It's to make up for you and Berga," Luck replied mildly. No, Claire hadn't changed much over the years. He lived, as he always did, in the moment, confident in his own peculiar brand of immortality, and sometimes Luck still found himself a little envious of that freedom.
Still caught himself wondering, now and again, what things would have been like if he'd dared to leave the way Claire had. Not that there was any point in dwelling on what might have been. It was far more productive to think about what might be - even if he found himself unwilling to look too far into the future now that 'the future' stretched infinitely far ahead of him.
An eternity of responsibility.
"Fight me," he said to Claire, and had the gratifying experience of seeing his brother momentarily thrown for a loop.
"You sure about that, Luck?" Claire wondered, a little dubiously - not without good reason; Luck had learned a lot about fighting for his life since he'd stepped up as an executive member of the Family, but even so, he'd never been a fighter by nature.
Luck merely smiled, and lifted a hand in a slow, deliberate beckoning gesture that brought a grin to Claire's face.
"I won't hold back," Claire warned, taking his hands out of his pockets and rolling his shoulders in an offhanded preparatory motion.
"I don't want you to," Luck told him.
Claire held back anyway, of course. Not that it made much difference. A short, violent interval later Luck stood doubled over, sweating even in the cold wind as he wrenched his own broken arm back into place for the second time and waited for the bone to knit itself back together.
"So," Claire said, steadying Luck with a casual hand on his shoulder and not even winded, "you wanna tell me what that was about?"
He took a little bit longer just to breathe, panting steam into the chilly air, until the pain had subsided and he could straighten himself without wincing. Then he smiled. "No," he said. "I don't think I do. Come on." Slinging a companionable arm around Claire's shoulders, Luck nodded towards the back door. "Keith and Berga will want to see you."
They headed inside together.