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Cruelties of Fate

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Laszlo Kreizler was not born left-handed.

People around him forget that, after his injury. His teachers flick their eyes from his withered and crooked right arm to the pencil grasped clumsily in his left and whisper like sign of the devil, and unnatural when they know he will hear. His mother forces his bad hand into his pocket at every opportunity, forcing him to stand slightly turned when they are in public, anything to complete the illusion that his arm vanished the day he tumbled down those stairs.

His father is the only one who doesn’t pretend his disadvantage doesn’t exist, bumping and slamming and jabbing at the limb until it aches, until it catches fire and burns, until it’s all little Laszlo can do to bite into his tongue and pray his screams remain quiet enough to prevent further attention from his father.

And somewhere, somehow, his injury becomes something that has always been part of him. Not a living reminder of his father’s temper, or love of fine whiskey, or even his casual cruelty. Not a testament to what Laszlo has survived, not a silent witness to the horrors of his existence.

Just something unfortunate, something to be concealed as much as possible and remarked upon as little as possible. Something he was born with. A defect yes, but one given to him by god, not man.

A congenital defect even. How very apt, he will always think. And just as it was when he was a boy of six years, cowering from his father and wondering how no one else seemed to hear the screams, Laszlo will wonder at the bitterness in his own voice as they formed those words, and how no one else seemed to ever be able to quite hear it.

00

“Laszlo!” The book slipped through his fingers and tumbled towards the gravel of the play area, his right hand twitching instinctively as if to reach out and catch it. Laszlo was forced to take a moment before he looked towards the shout, forcing the lines of agony to smooth from his face as he’d done a hundred thousand times before, then arching an eyebrow in the caller’s direction.

John Moore was down to his shirt sleeves, sweat stains broad and prominent even in the weak winter sun, and Laszlo was for once glad of the old, familiar agony running down his elbow to his fingers, as it provided enough distraction from the swell of…something in his chest to frown at his friend’s broadly grinning face, when really all his facial muscles seemed inclined to do was beam back.

“Come and play with us!” A chorus of “yays!” and the odd “yes please!” echoed from the circle of children crowded around Moore and Laszlo felt his face soften of its own accord, as it was always want to do when any of the children in his care showed even a sliver of eagerness regarding something, never mind happiness.

“Las! Come and play with us! That mountain of books isn’t going anywhere dear chap!” Even in their earliest of college days, Joey Moore had been a wastrel in manner and appearance, shaking hands and permanently shadowed eyes among his most memorable features. And yet, even on the worst of days, he had also been charisma incarnate.

And that, that had been the very best of good days, John fetching up against his brother’s back, tossing an arm around his shoulders and ruffling his hair to much protest from the latter, their twin expressions of delight for once banishing all but the darkest of the shadows from the younger’s eyes.

“Come on Kreizler, it’s a gorgeous day! Let’s see how you are with a ball!” There is a part of Laszlo that will always regret his refusal, that regretted it then, that regretted it even more less than a decade later, when they put Joseph Schuyler Moore in the ground, the same part that cried a little harder and a little louder with each step John took towards the edge of self-destruction his brother had fallen from and drowned.

Laszlo Kreizler has many ghosts, his own and others, the ghosts of those he lost, those he couldn’t help, those he never had the chance to help, the ghost of those he never even realized needed help so very desperately. There are days, many, many days, where he can barely even stand to look at John, the weight of his little brother’s ghost is that heavy on Laszlo’s shoulders.

But there are also days, few and far between the growing larger in number these days, where he looks at John, at his friend, dare he say even the best friend he’s ever had, and he doesn’t see a ghost, in John’s eyes or reflected back in his own.

“Here’s the ball Doc.” Joseph’s voice is still hesitant, his eyes haunted and face drawn, but there is a genuine grin on his face, however small in size, and Laszlo casts a wistful glance at his fallen book, reaching out to take the ball, “Than-” Joseph almost causes him to overbalance, he moves so quickly, but suddenly the fallen book is being offered in place of the ball, which is now positioned carefully before Laszlo’s left foot. His left foot, not his right.

Laszlo swallowed something wet and lumpy, closing his good hand around the book cover. “Thank you Joseph.” He makes no effort to disguise the warm gratitude in his voice, nor the slightly choked tone. Joseph flashed him a grin, shy still, but perhaps just a tad wider than before, a tad closer to touching his eyes.

Across the yard, John offered a suspiciously wet throat clear of his own. “Well Las, are you in or out?”

“In or out Las?” He had liked John’s little brother immensely. Perhaps even more than he’d liked John, in those early days. And on his best days, in the years that follow, Laszlo looks back on that sun-drenched afternoon, himself attempting to concentrate on complex psychological theory while the Moore boys kicked a ball back and forth across the grass, laughing and joshing each other with abandon, and he thinks, this is how I choose to remember them.

Laszlo carefully tucked his book against his side, and toed at the ball, his eyes glittering a challenge across the yard, “Fancy yourself the winner already Moore?” A ripple of laughter and playful gasps sounded around them, and John smirked, “Take your best shot Kreizler.”

Laszlo never learned what horrors haunted the shadows behind Joey Moore’s eyes. To his knowledge, neither did anyone else, not even his brother. John’s shadows were always different, even in the days before they became forever stamped with the memory of his little brother’s silent suffering.

But on the best of days, when his arm feels more like its been set on fire than being burned off from the inside out, when the sun comes out just right and a child with shadowed eyes looks at him and finds the will to smile, to just be in the moment, to be happy, to just be, on the very best of days, Laszlo remembers the Moore boys, and on the very bestest of days, finds the will to smile back.

Laszlo throws his body sideways and down, using the momentum to put as much force as possible into the kick.

John catches it on a leap, landing in a heap of crowing delight and laughing children. Behind their heads, the sun shines brighter than ever.

In the years later follow, when he looks back on this moment, Laszlo will always remember it as the day he learned it sounds like to hear Joseph Moore laugh.

00

He never finds out how much his father paid the doctor who treated his arm, a man all he remembers of are frigid, stiff hands and muttered words like amputation and would be a kindness, and sweet, sweet agony. He never sees him again, wouldn’t recognize his face if he tripped over him the street, and thus he never finds out what the price of the man’s silence was. What the price of his childhood was.

Nor does he ever discover what price his teachers demanded, to accept back a pupil with the use of only one limb, who scarcely a month before had had the full, active use of two.

For all Laszlo knows, bribery wasn’t even involved. His father always was well liked after all.

Unlike Laszlo.

And as much as he wishes to blame his injury, his deformity, his difference, he remembers the muttered looks and shunning glances of the years before it happened. Remembers that for all the scorn and derision of his elders, peers, and juniors alike increased with every limit he refused to accept, with every kicked ball and thrown punch, with every plonked key and scribbled note, with every time he flaunted the fact he might be defective but he certainly was not broken. Remembers that for all that, people never really liked him, not even when he was barely past toddling.

John follows him home for break in college, like a boisterous, jocular puppy. On the first night John trails out after him to purloin a smoke, leaning against the cold brick of the townhouse with his shoulder just brushing the edge of Laszlo’s right one, smoke curling from their lips towards the darkened sky, and crows, “I say Laszlo, you dark horse, your pa really is a first-rate chap.”

And try as he might, those words will never quite leave Laszlo’s ears.

In the course of his career, whether in his work at the Institute, for the courts, or with the 808 gang, Laszlo will witness many abuses of power, privilege, position. Many ways abusers used their power to exert tyranny and pain over their victims, each more grotesque and yet predictable than the last. But as much as such things will never fail to disgust and horrify him, they will also never surprise him.

For if there is one lesson his father managed to convey to him that stuck firm, it was that.

Men like that never offer anything that is not to their advantage John. There are always strings attached, and I for one, prefer to remain unstrung.