Chapter One- They could have warned you
Connor MacManus grew up on the lam. Well, more accurately, his Da was on the lam, and Connor traveled with him. Being a hitman apparently got you on the wrong side of the law. Connor learned to shoot a gun when he was six. He drove his first get-away car when he was ten, when his Da's partner got shot, and it fell on little Connor to get them the hell outta there before the coppers showed up.
He was what some people would call uneducated. Others would call him home-schooled, though he had no proper teacher. As Da was on the run, he couldn't enroll his son in school, so Connor got his textbooks from thrift stores. He received homework assignments from the men that Da worked with. The most interesting people he'd ever known were so-called criminals, and Connor reckoned they had to be pretty feckin' smart to have gone this long without getting caught.
There were worse people to learn from, in his opinion. He didn't get lessons from spoiled, sheltered pricks who couldn't tell a 9mm pistol from a 38 special. He wasn't forced to write papers on the history of Russia or some such shite. Instead, he learned about Ireland.
He grew up in Dublin, mostly, when he and his Da could afford to stay in one place for more than a couple of months. That was where the guys always got back together, to discuss what'd been accomplished, and to shoot the shit with like-minded individuals.
It's at such a meeting that Connor sits today, the last day he will understand his life as it was. It is on this day, at this meeting, in fact, that his Da is ripped from him. They are seated at the poker table, a cigar in his father's mouth and a cigarette in his own- since he's turned sixteen, his Da has lightened up about the smoking rules- when the door is busted in and uniformed policemen swarm in, guns drawn.
The men seated around the room all seem to twitch towards their weapons, and collectively grimace as they realize they are outgunned.
A man in a long tan trench coat steps forward, pistol trained on Connor's Da's face, and Connor moves to stand in front of it. His Da's hand immediately shoots forward to grasp the back of Connor's shirt and tries to shove him aside, but Connor won't budge. This man won't hurt his father without going through him.
Instead of being angry, the man smiles, and lowers his gun. "Eh, sonny, I weren't gonna shoot yer old man. Jus' gonna arrest him."
"Like hell you will," Connor shoots back, his face a mask of fury.
The man's head cocks to the side, and he waves a young officer forward. "O'Neil, take this young man to tha precinct. Find out who 'e is, if 'e's got a mother or anythin'." The officer nods and takes a step closer to Connor, who widens his stance and prepares to fight.
He tenses when he feels a hand on his shoulder. "You'll do me no good like this, Connor. Go with this man, now, and I'll be seein' ya later," his Da murmurs into his ear.
Connor's hands clench into tight fists. Fuck this, he hates being unable to do anything!
He listens to his Da, because he always does, and goes quietly with the officer. He turns around before exiting the room, and sees the man in the coat tightening handcuffs on his Da's wrists.
Hatred boils in his gut, and he walks out of the room.
At the precinct, he is fingerprinted and run through the system, and inwardly Connor is smug about this. He knows they won't find anything. His Ma died giving birth to him, as his Da told him. And has no grandparents, as they've all passed as well.
He figures he'll end up going to an orphanage, as they can't charge him with anything—if they could, they would've already mentioned it- but he's not too bothered. He'll stay as long as he needs to before he can get back to his Da. He knows the old man'll figure a way outta this.
The officer who is running his prints makes an interested sound. Connor watches as he prints out a piece of paper, and walks with it to his superior's office. A while later, Connor is approached by an older man, a little older than Da, he'd guess, who sits down in the chair previously occupied by the officer.
The man holds out his hand and introduces himself as Sergeant Riley. Connor ignores him. Riley sighs and runs a hand through his hair.
"Son, I know ya been raised on the wrong side 'o the law, but things'll be changin' fer ya now. You'll go home ta yer Ma, and start a new life," he said.
Connor stares at him blankly. What the fuck is he on about?
"I've called her, and she can't wait ta see you again, she said. My assistant is printin' out a train ticket fer ya now. Dunno if ya remember, as she says ya were a wee lad when she saw ya last, but she lives in Cork, with the rest o' yer family."
Connor decides that the man is off his rocker. But no matter, he thinks. He can take the ticket, travel to Cork, and get a job. He'll support himself until his Da can get free. It's better than living in an orphanage, anyway.
He shrugs at the man, and Riley smiles, obviously relieved to get some form of acceptance from Connor. He stands up to finish up the preparations for Connor's trip.
The next morning, Connor boards a train to Cork.
Murphy walks home from school, his split lip still bleeding, though he's been holding a napkin to it for ten minutes already.
Bloody fucking asshole, he thinks. He'd get that fucker Flaherty. Teach him to talk about his Ma.
Murphy slams the front door as he stalks inside, his loping grace carrying him up the stairs to his bedroom. He opens the cabinet in his small bathroom and takes out the antiseptic and liquid bandages. He swabs both on and watches as the blood stops running from his bottom lip.
Asshole Flaherty got in a lucky hit, but Murphy'd teach him tomorrow that one hit was all you got on Murphy MacManus before he beat your ass into the ground. He would've taught him that today, if that teacher hadn't come over to investigate the ruckus.
Murphy lies down on his bed and picks up the book he's been reading, East of Eden. He doesn't know what it's like to have a brother, but judging from this book, he's glad of it. It sounds like more trouble than it's worth.
He's wrapped up in the novel for a few hours, until he hears his Ma come home from the pub. She works most days, and goes back most nights to blow the tips she earns. She's usually home long enough to make Murphy some dinner and make sure he's finished his chores and homework, then she's off again.
When he walks into the kitchen, he can smell the whisky before he even hugs her. "Christ, woman, can't ya wait 'til yer off the clock 'for gettin' pissed?"
She turns and smacks him on the head. "Shut yer hole, ya ungrateful shite. O'Malley spilled his whiskey on me, the drunkard."
Murphy rubs the back of his head tenderly. "Sure he did, Ma. So, what's fer dinner?"
She rolls her eyes at him. "Nothin' if ya keep up with that smart mouth o' yers."
He holds up his hands apologetically. "I'm just teasin' ya, Ma. 'm sorry. Forgive me?" he asks, sticking out his bottom lip in an exaggerated pout.
She tries to hold in a laugh, but fails. "Fine, yer forgiven. We've got roast, carrots and potatoes tonight." When she sees Murphy's face scrunch up, she holds up a hand threateningly. "An' you'll eat ev'ry last carrot on yer plate, young man, or you'll be eaten carrots fer the rest o' tha month, I swear to ya."
Murphy sighs, and nods. His Ma grins smugly and turns back to cooking. Murphy starts to set the table, but hears the phone ring in the family room and moves to answer it.
"Hello, may I please speak with Annabelle MacManus?" The person on the line sounds professional, so Murphy calls out to his Ma. She hates solicitors, but this doesn't sound like one.
His Ma walks in. "Yeah?"
He holds out the phone. "Fer you. Don' think it's a solicitor."
She takes the phone, and Murphy walks back to the kitchen to finish setting their small table. He can barely hear her, but he makes out when her voice rises in alarm. He stops what he's doing to listen better.
"Are ya sure?" he hears her ask, with what he swears is a sob in her voice. There's a momentary silence.
"Yes, o' course. I haven't seen 'im since he were a babe, but I hope he remembers…" she trails off. "No, I guess not."
Murphy's brow furrows at this strange conversation. Who hasn't his Ma seen since he was a baby?
"Aye, I'll be there. Three o'clock. Aye. Thank ya. Bye." He hears her hang up the phone, but it's a couple of minutes before she reappears in the kitchen, her eyes red rimmed.
"Who was tha', Ma?" he asks concernedly.
She shakes her head. "I'll tell ya tomorrow. We'll be havin' a guest over, so I expect ya to be home straight after school. I'll take off early from work, and I'll meet ya back here."
"A guest?" he asks. "Who?"
His Ma shoots him a glare, and points at the boiling potatoes. "Hush, now, I said I'll tell ya tomorrow. Mash those and leave me be."
Murphy does as she asks, but can't stop thinking about who could possibly be coming over. All of their family already lives here, so it's not a relative. Who could it be?
For the rest of the night, he is decidedly distracted. His Ma is too much the same to notice, though.
Connor steps off the train and searches for the exit. He needs to take a taxi into town so he can start his job hunt. As he's scanning the terminal for an exit sign, he sees a woman approach him, a hesitant smile on her face.
She's shorter than he is, by about a foot, he's guessing, as he's almost six feet tall now and she's rather small. But she's also round about the middle, not fat, but plump. She has brown hair and a weathered face, like she's known the hard life and lived through it.
"Connor?" she says as she approaches him. His brow furrows. How does she know his name?
"Yeah?" he asks warily.
"That is ya, then?" she persists. Honestly, he thinks. Would he have answered her if it weren't his name? She seems to sense his annoyance, because she smiles. "It's uncanny," she mutters, and Connor is confused all the more.
"Look, ma'am, is there somethin' yer needin'?" Connor asks, impatient now.
She smiles. "Turpentine."
Connor's mouth drops open. What is she on about? Surely she doesn't know what she's saying-
"Aye, sonny, I know what it means. I'm the one tha' came up with it, in case yer Da got himself caught. Now do ya trust me?" she asks, a gleam in her eye.
Connor's jaw clenches. Who is this woman? Does she know Da? Grudgingly, he nods at her. His Da always said to trust the person who knew the password, and as juvenile as he found it, he figures that his Da knew that this could happen one day. He knew that Connor would be left alone.
And apparently, if his Da was taken, the plan was always to send him here, to this woman. His gaze sweeps her up and down as she leads him out of the train station. She seems oddly familiar, somehow.
He decides he'll figure it out later, when she tells him who she is.
Murphy walks straight home after school, as his Ma told him to. He doesn't even kick the shit out of Flaherty, though he dearly wants to.
He's only home for a few minutes when he hears the front door open. "Hey, Ma. What time are we s'pposed ta meet this person—" he stops talking when he rounds the corner, and sees a boy about his age standing behind his Ma.
He keeps his eyes trained on the boy, as he doesn't know him, and he can't remember the last time a stranger was in his house. He feels vulnerable, and he doesn't like it. His Ma steps closer to him, and Murphy unconsciously moves between her and the stranger. He watches as the boy follows the movement, and the boy smirks.
Keep smirking, he think to himself. I'll wipe it from your face if you make a move toward her.
"Who's he?" he asks aloud.
"I'm Connor," the boy replies sarcastically. "Who're you?"
Murphy glares at him. "I'm the one who lives 'ere, an' I wasn' talkin' to ya. Ma, who is he?"
His Ma clears her throat, and sits down on the couch, which is to Murphy's right and the boy's—Connor's—left. "Sit down, boys. I need ta explain somethin' to the both o' ya," she says.
Murphy frowns, but doesn't take his eyes off of the boy. Connor's eyes are blue, and sharp, as they roam Murphy's body, and he can't help but shiver at the lingering gaze. His hair is golden, and he appears at a distance to be Murphy's height, though maybe a bit stockier, more muscled.
Not that that would stop Murphy from kicking his ass.
"Boys! Sit!" his Ma yells, and he automatically moves to the chair next to the couch at the authority in her voice. Connor moves more slowly, apparently immune to her powers, and Murphy glares at him all more fiercely.
As Connor takes the chair opposite Murphy, Annabelle clears her throat and gathers her thoughts.
"Now, what I'm abou' ta tell ya will be a right shock, no doubt. But I wan' ya both ta hear me out b'fore ya run out, alrigh'?" She waits until she receives nods from both boys before continuing.
"I knew yer father, Connor. Noah and I were close, once. In fact… we were married," she says, her eyes fixed on Connor's face. "It didn't work out, though, 'cause o' his work, and we split. We stayed friends, though, and kept in touch…"
Connor's eyes narrow in suspicion, but Murphy's are simply full of confusion. Who is she talking about? She's never mentioned being married before!
"I can tell ya already figured it out, so I won't drag it out any longer. I'm yer Ma. Yer twins, tha two o' ya," she said, her eyes darting to Murphy's face and back to Connor's.
Connor stands abruptly, and Murphy watches dumbfounded as the boy clenches his fists and takes a step closer to his Ma. "Ya fuckin' bitch!" he yells.
And then Murphy stands up, shaken out of his stupor. "What tha fuck did ya just say?" he asks, his voice low and threatening.
Connor's eyes shift to his, and Murphy is struck by how similar the shade of blue is to his own. He blinks.
"I called her a fuckin' bitch, brother. She and me Da had me thinkin' she was dead fer me whole life!" he sobers, gazing at Murphy speculatively. "Well, I guess he's yer Da, too, now. Did ya know our Da is a criminal?" he asks, taking pleasure in watching the blood drain from Murphy's face.
Annabelle buries her face in her hands and lets out a sob. "I'm sorry, boys! We were selfish, I know tha' now, but we were young, an' we couldn't stand ta be separated from both o' ya."
The twins ignore her, their eyes focused on each other. "Criminal? Is he a thief, or…?"
Connor's grin widens maliciously. "Oh, no, brother mine."
"Stop callin' me tha'! I'm no' yer brother!" Murphy shouts, and he lunges.
His fist catches Connor's jaw, but Connor grabs Murphy around the middle, and they both fall to the floor. Murphy catches a punch to the gut before retaliating with a hit to Connor's nose. The boy yelps in pain and tries to buck Murphy off of him, and only when he feels her arms around his shoulders does Murphy hear his Ma's shouts.
He gets off of Connor and stalks out of the house, ignoring his Ma's pleas and the boy on the floor's glare.
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