Lex flips the pages of the new issue of Twist, watching the naked people flicker by. He only had a few drags on the joint, and that's almost worn off now, and he's starting to think about reading the articles. Then he hears two sets of running feet in the hallway, and excited screams that resolve into his name, shouted repeatedly.
Sounds like naptime's over, and so is his lazy Saturday afternoon. He shoves the magazine under his pillow and stands up, shaking his head, just as the pounding on the door starts.
"Lex! You lock it! No!"
He walks over and unlocks the door, and Luc almost falls through as it swings open, leaning onto Lex's legs and looking up at him with his lip trembling. Lex smiles. "Don't break the door down, okay?"
Lian frowns, peering around the doorframe, staring hard and suspicious into the room, sniffing. He's been increasingly difficult to handle since he started middle school and Lex almost dreads the surging proximity of puberty for his little brother.
"Lex masbatating?" Luc blinks softly, confused and curious.
"Where did you hear that word?" Lex's voice is deceptively calm.
Luc stares up at Lex, blue eyes huge in his round face. "Lian."
Lian pulls back into the hallway again, straightening up. Lex glares at him. "You know not to say things like that around your brother, brat." Lian pouts, unrepentant.
Bending down, Lex picks Luc up, propping him against his hip, Luc's arms going around Lex's neck. Soon Luc will too big to carry anymore, and that's another change Lex isn't looking forward to.
"And baby, don't you ever use that word again. Especially not in front of Dad."
"It's what Derrick's big brother said," Lian explains. "He said when guys lock the door, it means they're..." He trails off, and Lex is glad that Lian paid attention to this warning.
"Now what have I said? Don't ever listen to him. Remember when he told you to eat dog food?"
Lian grimaces. "That tasted bad."
"And when he told you to jump off the roof?"
"I didn't do it! That would be revealing." It's one of the biggest sins in the family, and maybe this isn't dire enough to pull that gun out against Lian, but Lex goes for it. Trouble's been brewing.
"Exactly. Derrick's big brother is an idiot. Never do what he says."
Lian pushes past Lex and stomps into Lex's room, throwing himself on Lex's bed. "You're stupid."
"Not fight," Luc orders, pushing at Lex's neck. "Read story?"
Lex bounces his baby brother on his hip a little, just a little. "What do you want to hear?" He walks toward the bed, glancing at his bedside table. "I've got Kierkegaard, some stuff on chaos theory, and..."
"Horsie! Horsie horsie horsie!"
Like there was ever any doubt. Lex laughs. "Okay, baby. I'll read to you about the horsie."
He settles down on his bed again, propping himself up against the pillows, Luc sitting in his lap. Lian curls up against his shoulder. The book is right there on the table, a child's version of the story of the Trojan War, illustrated in bright colors and written in short words. Lex doesn't need it, but Luc likes to look at it.
Their father hates it. When Lex was eight, he had been given a replica of the city and the soldiers, and told to learn strategy with it. Lionel thinks that's the level his children should be at. Luc isn't. He's five, and he can't read at all yet, doesn't use complete sentences when he talks, can't pronounce any word of three or more syllables. He makes messy drawings, and he cries sometimes, and he wants Lex to read him the same story every day. By that age, both Lex and Lian could talk very well, and were working on reading and writing and math at a rate beyond that considered normal. Luc is the disappointing son, the one who isn't up to Dad's standards, the stupid one, the sickly one, sickly the way Lex isn't anymore.
Combined with the fact that Lionel still blames Luc for their mother Lillian's death, it means Luc has never had any parental affection in his life.
But Lex loves his baby brother with a fierce and protective passion that almost leaves him breathless at times. He doesn't care what Luc can and can't do, because he would do anything for Luc.
"...So the Greeks gathered up lots and lots of wood, and they began to build a horse. The horse was tall, almost tall enough that it wouldn't fit through the gates of Troy, but not too tall. They built it-"
The door flies open and their father strides into the room. Lex stops in midsentence as all three of them look up.
"Lex. Lian." Lionel nods twice, sharply.
"Dad," Lex answers. Lian doesn't say anything, and Luc shrinks back slightly, pressing harder against Lex's chest. Lex tightens his arm around Luc's waist.
"There's a meeting I want you to attend tomorrow morning, Lex, concerning certain scientific inquiries that ought to be of interest to you. I'll expect you in the smoking room at 10 am sharp."
The smoking room isn't used for smoking at all; it's used for group meetings, and Lex figures that means there will be five to ten people in attendance. He has no clue what scientific inquiries his father is discussing, or who might be at this event, but he nods. "Okay. I'll be there." His voice is a little colder than he meant to allow it to be, but only a little.
The stern look on his father's face will brook no arguments, and Lex just wants Dad out of the room right now. Of course he wouldn't have given more advance notice, and of course he has nothing else to say, just this imperious summons that could have easily been given in a note. Or his father could have arrived a few minutes earlier, before the kids did, and it would have been easier. Luc is starting to twitch a little, nervous and trying to hide it, which is why Lionel is scowling. Luc's poor response to his father's presence just increases Lionel's contempt, and that makes Luc even more upset every time. Since Lionel knows what happens in the house, and knows the schedule, he could have easily avoided this, but for some reason he chose to barge in here right now, and it makes Lex angry.
Lionel nods in response, then stares at the three boys on the bed for a short instant more. "Your midterm grades came in, Lian, and they were satisfactory. Apparently you haven't gotten in trouble much these past few weeks. Good."
"I'll see you tomorrow then, Lex." With another slam of the door, Dad's gone.
Luc turns, burying his face in Lex's neck, clinging and whimpering. Lian's smile fades away. Lex wants to hurt someone, preferably Dad. Instead, he just stokes Luc's back, whispering softly. "It's okay, baby. I'm right here. Let's go back to the horsie, huh? All those men fitting inside the belly of the horsie?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Lian's hand slowly creeping under his pillow. He reaches out, grasps Lian's wrist.
"Don't even try it, brat."
Lian could have yanked the magazine out faster than Lex could even see, so he clearly wanted Lex to stop him. It's a distraction attempt, but it fails completely to make Lex feel any better. He squeezes Lian's wrist as hard as he can, knowing it won't hurt him, and that actually helps a bit. Lian stares back at him, green eyes open and guileless. "I just wanted to know what you were reading."
Lex shakes his head. "Forbidden magazine. So your grade report says you haven't gotten in any trouble at school yet this semester, huh?" Lex knows that's not the truth.
"Well, someone may have gone into the principal's office and taken a page or two out of the envelope before it was mailed."
"I see. Did he praise you enough to make the effort worthwhile?"
Lian slumps back against the wall, effortlessly pulling his hand out of Lex's grasp. "It wasn't hard at all." He frowns.
Putting his arm around Luc's shoulders, Lex nods, but he doesn't apologize.
Luc coughs into Lex's chest. "Horsie?"
"Sure, baby. Where were we?"