We are the ones (who will never be broken)
He doesn’t stop the fist that comes flying at his face even though he knows he can. The last time he did, Connor had taken a boot to the stomach and couldn’t stand upright for a week. So he lets it crack into his jaw instead of letting one of his brothers take the hit again, lets himself fall to the ground on all fours, and he doesn’t fight it when that same fist grabs him by the hair and jerks him up to his knees.
“Don’t you fucking tell me what to do,” The face in front of him is bloated and red with foggy eyes like a steamed up mirror after a hot shower. The breath that blows in his face is rancid from alcohol. “You little shit, you’re not better’n me. You think you’re tough? Lookit ya, can’t even block a punch.”
The slap takes him by surprise. He spits blood on the floor from a split lip and silently apologizes to whoever has to clean it up. The fist in his hair snaps his head painfully back around and he keeps his eyes down. He tries to act obedient even though everything in him howls for him to fight back, to rip into this man they call father with teeth and claw like some wild animal. A father wouldn’t hurt his children like this. A father wouldn’t cause such abuse.
“Look at me, Altair!”
He grinds his teeth and he flicks his eyes up. He barely has the time to brace himself as another punch slams into his face and knocks him flat on his back. Pain explodes in his head like a thousand fireworks, but he doesn’t scream. He’d learned that first day, watching the social worker turn the corner out of sight while a hand choked him in an iron grip, that making noise only encouraged more punishment.
“Look at what you did, look at this mess.” The coffee table is turned over, empties rolling across the floor or lying in wet, shattered piles all over the place. Altair had told the fatass to call the school since Ezio had gotten into another fight, the parents were raising hell at the principal and threatening legal action. It wasn’t Altair’s fault the man flipped the table in a rage and came at him for ‘telling him what to do’. “Clean up this shit.”
He stays on the floor until the unsteady footsteps fade off to the kitchen and he hears the familiar voice growling into the phone. The white noise in his head eventually fades away, leaving him bruised and feeling a little sick. When he rolls to his side, Desmond is already there picking up the pieces of glass with his little fingers.
“Des,” He mumbles, watching his baby brother slowly look at him with a trembling lip. He pushes himself up and holds out his hand, wincing when Desmond throws himself into his arms and hugs his neck with a small sob. The hot tears soak his neck and it hurts to know that Desmond is so quiet when he cries because he’s afraid of getting in trouble again. Because he knows what happens if bad boys make a sound.
He wraps his arms tightly around the too-skinny body and swallows the lump in his throat. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “It’s okay, don’t cry.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” he croaks. “Not even a little bit.”
Except it does. All these years, and it’s never stopped hurting.
Ezio is holding an icepack to his mouth when Altair finds him in the bedroom. Desmond hasn’t let go of his hand since they finished cleaning up the living room.
“What about the other guy?” Altair asks archly, stepping close to get a better look. Ezio moves the pack away with a wince. The cut is irritated and a little swollen, though nothing to really worry about.
“Vieri,” Ezio says, flashing a vicious smirk only to hiss when it reopens the cut. Altair helps him clean it and presses the ice back against it. “Not going to be winning Most Attractive in the yearbook this year for sure.”
“You’re just making it worse,” Connor mumbles from the top of the bunk bed he shares with Ezio. His hair is a mess, falling in his face and hiding most of his expression. Altair’s been at him to cut it for months but he insists on keeping it long. Ezio gets to keep his long, why can’t I? Preteen stubbornness at its absolute finest.
Ezio shrugs it off, though his eyes darken with acknowledgement. The voice downstairs rises in anger on the phone. It’s only a matter of time before those heavy footsteps stomp their way up the stairs to the their room for another round.
“What’d you do?” Ezio asks, gesturing at Altair’s bloodied face. He’d cleaned off the best he could, but in the end it just hurt too much. Besides, it wasn’t like none of them hadn’t seen blood before. They were used to it.
Desmond’s hand tightens around his fingers. “Nothin’,” he whimpers, and then louder, “He didn’t do nothin’ wrong!” The voice cuts off mid-rant downstairs, listening.
Connor hops from the bunk on silent feet and shakes Desmond’s favorite plush toy in front of his face. “Let’s see if Night-Night Owl can fly again, okay? Come on.” He waits for Desmond to let go of Altair and then helps him up to the top bunk, glancing over at his two older brothers warily.
Altair’s holding his breath and he knows without looking that so is Ezio and Connor. They only relax after the yelling starts up again downstairs, allowing them a bit of peace. Desmond’s eyes are red from crying but he’s smiling a bit as he plays with Connor and it’s better than nothing, Altair decides. At least he hasn’t forgotten how to do that yet.
“So what really happened?” Ezio asks quietly once the other two focus on their game of tossing the raggedy toy back and forth to each other. His sharp eyes rake over Altair’s face like lasers.
He shrugs. “There has to be a reason?”
Ezio sighs. They both know there doesn’t. “Their bags are packed for tonight,” he mumbles, tossing the icepack in the trash. “I couldn’t grab much without him noticing.”
“It’s fine, we’ll pick up things along the way. Where’s your stuff?”
“With theirs. It’s all under the bed.”
Altair glances at the twin bed he and Desmond sleep in. Toward the end of it he can see the edge of a red and white duffle bag peeking out and he walks over to push it further in, out of sight. He would throw a few things in with Ezio’s before they left since there wasn’t much he wanted to keep. Not that he has a lot in the first place, of course. The only thing of value Altair keeps for himself is the thin gold band he wears on a chain around his neck, a promise from a dark haired young man who’ll be waiting on the corner at midnight.
From downstairs the bang of the phone being slammed filters up to their room and Altair stiffens. Desmond and Connor stop tossing the toy and look at him for direction, look to him for guidance, because he’s the oldest, because he always tells them he will keep them safe.
“This is on me, Altair. It’s my fault.” Ezio looks tired but stubborn. His mouth is still red, threatening to split again, and Altair is struck with the sobering realization that they’ll probably have matching scars after this.
“No,” Altair turns for the door without a backward glance. Ezio holds himself well, but under his shirt is still an ace bandage wrapped around bruised ribs that could be cracked, will be cracked if put under any more abuse. His breathing is too quick and his eyes are dilated with pain. Ezio can charm away anybody else’s scrutiny but he can’t charm away Altair’s.
Under all that bravado is still a young boy in a lot of pain.
“Go to bed, Ezio.”
“But – “
“I said stay.”
The stomping seems to fill up the entire house and Altair throws himself straight out to meet it.
They find him in the kitchen a few hours later slumped against the cabinets, hand cradled against his chest and blood everywhere. He’s alone. The house is silent aside from the drunken snores filtering from the back bedroom.
Desmond crawls between his raised knees, staring in horror at the poor excuse of a bandage Altair has wrapped around his hand. “Altair?”
“Shh,” He wraps an arm around Desmond and pulls him close to his chest. “Don’t cry. I’m okay, Desmond. I’m fine.”
“Oh my god,” Ezio moans, dropping to his knees in front of them. “Oh my god, what did he do to you?”
He can feel Connor kneeling by his side, and then a trembling hand pushing through his hair in an attempt to comfort. He pulls them all in, holding tight, holding them together. They’ve been through hell since the beginning, but it’s over now. It’s all over now.
“I’m getting us out of here.” Relief washes over him at the truth behind his own words even as his hand throbs. He can still feel the jagged edge of the knife sawing through skin and bone, can still smell the sickly sweet scent of burning flesh from pressing the stump of his ring finger to the stovetop.
What the hell is this?
Did you get this from that faggot teacher?
You can’t run out on me you little fucking queer! Think you can just do what you want, think you can marry some faggot!
Not under my roof!
C’mere you fucker!
“I swear to God,” he chokes out, holding onto his brothers hard enough that his arms shake from the effort. “We’re getting out of here.”
It doesn’t take long to get their things and walk out the front door. They stay close together, Ezio supporting Altair and Connor making sure Desmond doesn’t trip. They’re finally going to have the chance to teach him how to properly tie his shoes, Altair thinks. They’re finally going to have the chance to do a lot of the things they haven’t been able to do. Like sit in the park under a stupidly large tree, or get a pet dog, or ride in a car with the music turned up so loud the seats vibrate.
They finally get the chance to live, not just survive.
Ezio adjusts his grip. “Is that him?”
At the same corner their social worker disappeared all those years ago, a man pushes off from the fence and waits on the sidewalk. Altair let’s a smile lift the edge of his mouth. “Yeah,” he says as they come together under the street light. “This is him.”
Malik’s eyes take them all in before settling solely on Altair, warm and looking like home. “Happy birthday.”