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And the Living is Easy (Apparently)

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The first thing that happens when he sneaks in through Henry’s front door is Blanche colliding with him in a flail of aggrieved eleven year old.

…Wait.

“Oh God,” he mutters, helping her wearily up from her dramatic pile upon the floor, “it’s the summer holidays, isn’t it?”

Blanche simply gives him a despairing look in response. An incredibly despairing look, a passionate one that he’s pretty sure would even put even his eleven year old self to shame, “Hal and Tom are being weird!”

…He can only blink down at her, while repressing flailing, and try his very best to make it look a planned thing, “because it’s the summer holidays?”

“John too,” Blanche continues scornfully over him, with that particular childish talent of not acknowledging a single word, “but John’s always weird, so I’m a bit less annoyed about that.”

“Because it’s not good to be annoyed in your summer holidays…?”

“I hate them!” Blanche just continues continuing, elevating her talent to an art form so refined that he practically considers making it known to the Turner Prize judges, “make them be normal again, most-definitely-not-an-uncle-but-also-not-a-boyfriend Richard, make them stop.”

…He can’t restrain his blink this time.

“Okay,” can barely even restrain his urge to cackle loudly, make Blanche repeat herself so he can record it on his phone and bring it out to taunt Henry at inappropriate social occasions, “so you can have a nice summer holiday!”

She gives him another despairing look (and, oh, his eleven year old self would be most definitely proud), “boys!”

…And with that she’s gone. Storming up the stairs, with a toss of her hair and bunched fists, in a way that he knows will simultaneously attract and infuriate every single boy (and a good few girls, he’s not so quietly betting) at school within but five years time.

He can only smirk to himself.

Call, “Summer holidays!” Brightly after her and turn to ferret out that stupid problem with the stupid boys in the stupid kitchen (he’s betting yet again) before her stupid father gets home and ruins everything with a profoundly stupid amount of flailing-

…And halt. At the sight of Humphrey and Philippa ever so calmly blocking the hall.

“Oh,” he sighs, considers briefly pretending hysteria at their sudden appearance and then remembers that it’s them and so highly unlikely to win any brownie points (or actual brownies, though the brownies from this house have been unfortunately hovering on the edge of toxic ever since Mary died), “hello.”

“Hi.”

“Hola,” thirteen year old Humphrey, still in the middle of his experiments with more adventurous greetings, is an awful lot more forthcoming, “first of all: yes, it is the summer holidays.”

“For all of you?”

“Considering that all-“

Most.”

“-Of us go to the same school: Yes,” Humphrey gives without blinking, managing a curiously creepy effect that he’s rather keen to see develop, “second of all: Hal, Tom and John are actually being weird in the kitchen. It isn’t just Blanche overreacting.”

“Don’t be mean,” Philippa hisses, making it sound sincere in the way that only a girl probably capable of removing ears can, “she overreacts far less often than you.”

“Oi-!”

“Lovely,” he smirks over them both, claps his hands just to see their heads shoot around, “darling. Divine, almost. But what are they actually being weird about?”

“…Erm.”

Well.”

“We’re not… Exactly sure,” Philippa offers eventually, shrugging her shoulders as apologetically as a nine year old can, “but we think it’s something to do with girls. Or, er, women. Or even boys! All we know is that they shut themselves in the kitchen and started muttering at each other in very angry tones.”

“Ah,” he nods smugly, rewards himself a mental point for the fine deduction of the kitchen “…At each other?”

“John started muttering at Tom,” Humphrey provides, with an officious cross of his arms that manages to look the polar opposite of threatening, “Hal appears to be sitting on the side and narrowly repressing laughter. Stop them.”

He pretends to consider that request, that faintly pleading request, for a long few moments, “I wonder why people keep ordering me to do that.”

“Because daddy isn’t going to be home for a few hours, you’re the nearest thing to an actual adult that we have and you might as well do something while you’re waiting for him,” Philippa sees right through him, she’s always been brilliant like that, “besides, they’re blocking the fridge and I want cookies.”

…He still gives her a slightly incredulous look.

“We got them from town on the last day of school,” Humphrey mutters, turning a shade of red that’s best classed as miserable “…Please? I’d pay you, but I don’t have any pocket money left and dad would probably yell a bit.”

…And smiles.

Chuckles a little, resists the urge to pat Humphrey on the head and proclaim him adorable to the whole world (he remembers an unfortunate idiot who attempted that when he was thirteen, he still sometimes wonders if the man ever managed to reattach his thumb), “they’d definitely still be in the kitchen, then?”

“Yes,” Philippa nods eagerly, as Humphrey lets out an extremely relieved sigh, “right in front of the fridge, and sitting on the counter, and pacing up and down so fast that he’s going to be tired for ages afterwards.”

“…Thanks for the precision.”

“My step-grandmummy used to say that it was practically military,” Philippa smiles proudly – and nods in the general direction of the kitchen in the manner, indeed, of a general directing her troops just before a fiercely fought battle, “now: cookies.”

Please?”

He can only chuckle again. Nod at Humphrey with a little smile, salute to Philippa with a determined nod and march towards the kitchen like a soldier bravely heading towards his doom.

…Well, Hal.

Well, Tom.

Well-!

…John has his heart in the right place, but sometimes he quite understands the mutterings of his brothers on the subject of doom-laden messengers of Satan.

But, still, teenage boys. And so he pointedly fails to draw in a deep breath, bends to listen at the door for the briefest moment and bounds brightly in like the most positive bunny known to man-!

“Richard!” Barring Hal – who is, indeed, currently perching on a kitchen counter and beaming like he’s never ever had such fun, “come to join the party?”

…Hal is usually his favourite.

No offence to Tom, currently leaning against the fridge and looking rather miserable, of course. Or John, currently pacing back and forth at a rate that really will have him tired for days. But Hal just has this… Inappropriate charm, this combination of easy grin and wide eyes that is so very good at getting under peoples’ skin and into peoples’ hearts.

(Mainly under peoples’ skin, of course.)

Richard!” (Like John’s skin, currently a shade of wrathful red so bright that it can probably be seen from space), “Thomas has been being thoroughly disgusting in many ways!”

…It’s impressive how a fourteen year old can bellow so loudly, really.

“It’s not disgusting,” a pity that Thomas, two years older and more inclined to look upon the antics of his incredibly large family with quiet despair, is hardly in a position to appreciate such a thing, “and it’s barely thorough, and it’s most certainly not in many ways.”

“Really?” Hal beats him to the punch, with a casual kick of his heels against the shelves, “how disappointing, Tom.”

“…Not helping, Hal.”

Henry!” John shrieks at exactly the same time, turning to point an accusing finger much like any sane (well, for a given value of the word sane) man would point a gun, “that is not appropriate! Especially with how utterly disgusting Thomas has been being!”

Hal only snorts to himself.

“…Wow, I can practically hear the italics,” he resists the urge to do the same. Since he is, apparently, the closest thing to an actual adult in the area, “and it isn’t that inappropriate, John, Tom is a teenager and thus should be doing as many disgustingly thorough things as humanly possible. The real question, in fact, is: what disgusting thing has he not been doing thoroughly enough?”

(John has managed to go even redder, wow.)

“…Or in enough ways.”

(Wow.)

“You always ask the best questions,” Hal answers cheerfully, casually kicking his feet yet again, “and it appears that little Tommy has gotten himself a new girlfriend.”

Not helping-“

“A new girlfriend?” He repeats, all astonishment, and turns back to John (tomatoes are envious, seriously) in a swift and entirely mature way, “Honestly, John, you adapted to the homosexual affair between me and your father easily enough. What on earth is wrong with an innocent teenage girlfriend?”

John, who had in fact reacted to the revelation of the homosexual affair between him and his father with a month of sulking and two weeks of yelling after that, simply gives him a baleful look in response, “it isn’t innocent.”

“Fair enough,” he adapts smoothly, since he saw that coming about a mile (a kilometre, he will be honest) off, “few teenage things are, I remember many hours of happy groping in numerous backseats… But I’m not here to traumatise you today. What’s wrong with a teenage girlfriend?”

John, whose eyes quite clearly convey you exist to traumatise people all the bloody time, continues to look passionately baleful, “she’s not a teenager.”

Oh,” that’s a little more surprising, he will admit, but still something that he’s perfectly willing to adapt to – he’s regularly made a habit of dating people older than him, after all (poor Robert). And people younger than him (he’s pretty sure that Henry’s still silently judging him for Bushy, and Bagot, and probably Green). And… People in general (poorer Anne, who he has to shove down in his head because the memory of her is still too painful after all this time), “well, maybe none of the girls in his year appeal to him. There’s nothing wrong with dating outside your age group, after all-!”

“Nothing at all!” Hal agrees loudly, eyeing John with something approaching glee.

Not helping-“

“Perhaps not,” John growls stiffly, in the face of all adaptability and glee and faintly terrified cowering against fridges, “perhaps not… But what about when the one that you’re dating is a member of your family?!”

There’s a long moment of silence.

…He spends it perfecting his entirely dubious expression, as Hal obviously represses gales of laughter and Tom dredges up his nastiest glare (still not as bad as his, or Blanche’s on a good day, but still an entirely credible effort), “then that is highly illegal, shall probably sprout several sensational newspaper articles and may cause your father to actually die of shame. But, and forgive me if I haven’t quite scraped the dark underbelly of the matter here, I’ve never seen dearest Thomas as the type to engage in full out incest.”

“Thank you,” Tom murmurs, looking rather dubious over the compliment, “I’m really not.”

“So you would have us think-!”

He silently arches his eyebrow, is mildly pleased with it (and himself, he’s spent years perfecting the thing) when everybody stops talking and falls to staring at him instead.

“…I think it’s best if you explain the accusations of incest, Johnny,” Hal manages eventually, clearly but a few moments away from sniggers, “you know, before he starts writing a trashy movie about us and our apparent trainwreck of a family.”

“He’s a businessman, not a screenwriter, and we are a trainwreck of a family,” John hisses, expression torn between utter misery and all consuming rage of the Hulkish variety (except still the envy of tomatoes, in a still impressive way) “…Which, okay, maybe she’s not exactly a part of.”

“Not at all a part of anymore,” Tom hisses over him, still glaring, “stop lying-“

“She’s a recent ex-member, Thomas, so I am not lying and will not stop-“

“This really isn’t explaining anything at all,” he tuts over them both - focusing on Hal, as the (barely) sanest child of all three, in a faintly appealing manner, “please illuminate me quickly, or… I’ll tell your father about this.”

Hal fails to look impressed.

“And the fact that you’re sneaking out to pubs at night with your English teacher – Mr. Falstaff, isn’t it?” So he simply continues, for he does live to look impressive in as many situations as possible, “And also… The fact that you’re still steadily and responsibly dating that French boy, even after one year and so many complications.”

…Ah, and Hal has gone a bit white now. He probably shouldn’t take so much satisfaction from that.

(John is still heading towards being the unfortunate victim of a plot started by bitter tomatoes), “you never told me that-!”

“Can you blame me?”

Hal…”

Hal takes in a deep breath, shoots Tom a surprisingly apologetic (he never knew that the boy was capable of guilt, you learn something new every day) glance and finally turns to him with firmly set shoulders, “Tom may or may not be currently dating Margaret Holland… Formerly Margaret Beaufort, ex-wife of John Beaufort.”

…He’s back to the blinking.

The slow blinking, the thoughtful blinking, the considering blinking-

“My God,” he manages in faintly impressed tones, suddenly looking at the miserable Tom in an entirely different light, “you’re having an affair with your former aunt. That is actually more inappropriate than pretty much everything that I’ve done.”

Thanks,” Tom simply spits, rearing up the fridge like an apparently daring king cobra, “and it’s not that inappropriate! She’s sweet and she’s nice to most people and we’ve known each other for ages anyway and she’s only ten years older than me and it’s not like Uncle John wasn’t robbing the cradle when he married her!”

“She has children with him,” he can only keep going, in tones of intense fascination, “they were married for five years, they only divorced last month.”

“…So?”

“You see!” John screeches, throwing his arms wide and flailing in a manner that’s suspiciously reminiscent of his father, “how thoroughly disgusting it is in many ways! You see!

“Shut the fuck up-“

You-!”

“Oh God-“

“I don’t see anything,” he interrupts them all this time, arching his eyebrow (and then raising his hand, just for back-up) for silence yet again, “and I’d rather like you to stop putting words in my mouth, John. It was done far too often to me as a child and I still bear the scars.”

…John bows his head, almost manages to look ashamed.

“Thomas…” Gives him time to turn to the next miserable looking Lancaster boy, at least, “I’m don’t know what inspired you to start dating your recently divorced ex-aunt, and I’m not entirely sure that I want to, but I have no room to judge: my mother was possibly a technical bigamist before she even met my father, I spent most of my twenties in various polyamorous relationships. As long as you’re happy with the arrangement then I see no need to meddle.”

…Tom nods slowly, seems rather surprised.

“Don’t start,” he wearily scolds Hal without even turning around, slowly raises a finger in a way that possibly implies that it physically pains him to do it, “seriously, don’t - as much as I enjoy your existence a good 90% of the time it’d probably spoil this profoundly sunny moment, and I intend to bask a little.”

…Hal kicks his feet against the drawers one final time, probably looking so awkward that it’s almost painful.

(He still takes a second to bask in the sunniness of the moment, since he truly does deserve it.)

“…Now,” finally claps his hands in a loud way, happily startling all three boys and possibly even the pigeons lurking on the roof (Henry has creepy wildlife following him, he’s commented on it many times), “I won’t tell your father about any of this, including French boyfriends or who scuffed his nice clean floor, but I also expect you to keep quiet about it in return. He’ll find out eventually, probably not soon since he can be a bit dense at times, but there’s no need to hasten the process. He already has enough worries as it is.”

They all stare at him silently.

“…Mainly caused by me, which is why I want him to focus on them,” he smiles breezily in response, claps his hands again for emphasis, “are we agreed?”

“Yeah,” mumbles Hal, definitely looking awkward.

“Yes,” nods Tom, looking blissfully relieved.

Fine,” grumbles John, looking incredibly red-

“Wonderful!” He finishes with a wide grin, and a bounce on his heels that is probably cruel in at least a hundred ways, “please exit the kitchen quickly, then. Philippa desperately wants cookies and you’re all most profoundly in the way.”

…They all stare at him again.

“What?” He asks innocently, and makes happy shooing motions with his hands that has Tom rolling his eyes and John glaring yet again and Hal… Still looking horribly awkward, in a quite amusing way, “cookies are very, very important. And don’t you all have homework to do?”

“It’s the summer-“

“And by homework I mean shagging.”

…John narrowly (tut tut) bites back a curse, turns scornfully upon his heel and exits the room at a quick stomp. Tom covers his inappropriate giggles with a shaky hand, nods once and swiftly follows him. Hal hops off the counter and lingers for but a moment-

“He’s not actually French, you know, his parents are French but they moved here before he was born-“

Hal.”

-And gives him the closest to a glare that he’ll ever receive, slinks out of the room after John and Tom like his biggest secret has been ripped unfairly into focus.

He smirks after them for a second, almost fondly.

…Opens the fridge, steals one of Philippa’s cookies and reflects happily on how thoroughly he’ll be able to torture dearest Henry tonight.