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don't bite the hand that feeds you

Chapter Text

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Napoleon is half asleep when the man rips the window open. He jerks awake when he hears someone clambering through, shoes creaking loud on the old wood of the sill. His vision spins as he freezes, going perfectly still in the chair he'd collapsed into.

 

For a moment, the figure looks like Cadillac coming for him, white pants spotted with blood and gun gleaming. But then the world becomes less blurry and he can see it's not; it's a man too short to be Cadillac, dressed in red and carrying a gleaming cane.

 

Napoleon presses himself deeper into the chair, trying to hide. There's only the one person, so they're probably not searching for him, but everyone will have been informed of his escape. This man is a threat, especially when he pulls the sword out of the cane, blade hissing against the sheath.

 

That drives Napoleon into motion. As the man walks down the hall, Napoleon throws himself into the room across the hall, running behind the man’s back. It's loud, shoes thudding against the floor and clothes swishing, and the man hears it. He turns around, swinging the sword threateningly.

 

Napoleon presses himself against the wall inside of the doorway and prays to every god of every religion that the man doesn't start checking the rooms.

 

It was just a rat, or something falling over, please, don't look…

 

His knees are shaking and his breathing seems so loud that it'll give him away. But the man turns away and continues exploring the house, settling in the main room.

 

Napoleon is safe for now, but he's also stuck. He can't leave this house; there's no way to find another hideout without someone catching him. But this stranger seems to have chosen this place and has no intent to leave it. Napoleon can't run, and he can only hide for so long.

 

There's only one way for this to end, and it's with him dragged back to Cadillac and put down.

 

Outside, the stranger begins dragging in equipment, tramping up and down the hallway. The racket he's making is a constant reminder of Napoleon’s impending doom.

 

He tucks himself into the corner of the room, behind a broken cabinet. His heart is beating so fast he's sure he's going to have a heart attack. His chest is so tight he can't breath, and he can't stop himself from gasping for air, far too loud for safety.

 

The man pauses outside, as if he might have heard something. Napoleon bites down on his hand, trying to stay silent, trying to stop the terrified whine rising in his throat. Tears are rolling down his cheeks and he can't stop them, no matter how much he imagines his brother screaming at him to be strong.

 

He's a disgrace, a shaking wreck. if his brother was here he would slap Napoleon back into shape.

 

But he's not, because he got himself shot down in a disco.

 

Outside, the man continues down the hall, jerking Napoleon back into reality. He stays in the big front room, he must have finished bringing in all the equipment. He fiddles around for a moment and then the beat starts. At first Napoleon thinks it’s his own, panicked heartbeat, thrumming through the air and betraying him to the stranger.

 

But it’s not, it's music. It’s so strange, for this harsh man with a sword to come into an abandoned mansion just to play...music. At first it scares Napoleon; the thrumming beat reminds him of the disco curling through his bones as Cadillac danced and threatened and killed.

 

But this isn’t like that, this is a collection of changing, shifting beats, with no voice. It’s purposeful, Napoleon even hears mistakes a couple times. It’s not like anything he’s ever heard before, not on the rickety phonograph at home, or on the radio in the warlord hideout, not even on the disco records Cadillac had played.

 

And the man is making the music, not just letting it play off of a record. Drawn forwards by his curiosity and the hypnotic music, Napoleon creeps out of his hiding place and peeks through the door. The man is spinning records, as if he were DJing for a nonexistent party. He’s got headphones on and the music is loud, giving Napoleon the perfect opportunity to sneak away and find a better hiding place.

 

But he stays and watches instead, stares at the man’s fingers flying across the records. He’s a wonder to watch: all swift, controlled movements, no wasted energy. But occasionally he fumbles, the music pausing, as he struggles to grab a new record while still keeping the music going.

 

Napoleon watches, panic fading away, and recognizes the man’s problem: he needs a record boy.

 

-------

 

Napoleon has spent all morning watching the stranger, and it feels like the music is working it’s way into him. He can feel which beats are good and which are bad, and is beginning to anticipate when the man will change the records. He even lets himself dance a little, feet and hips shifting to the beat. An especially good record has just been put on and he can feel a smile forming on his face.

 

Then the window behind him slams open again.

 

The fear crashes back into him like a tidal wave and he’s instinctively darting for cover before he can even think about it. He sprints back to his safe room and pauses to watch the newcomers. Four boys climb through the window, smiling and teasing one another as they struggle to get in. They’re older than him, gangly like teenagers whose puberty isn't quite fitting them right. They look vaguely familiar, and he did mess with the school kids sometimes, so maybe he has seen them before.

 

They pull the last one through the window and brush themselves off before heading down the hall. The DJ comes out to meet them, grinning a sweet smile at odds with the sharp sword in his cane, and claps the tallest one on the back. He leads them into the main room and Napoleon lets himself relax slightly.

 

This situation just keeps getting worse. Avoiding one person was going to be hard enough; avoiding five is going to be impossible. Eventually, they'll wander through the rooms and come across him.

 

Napoleon creeps out of his hiding spot and through the other front rooms. All of them are too open or too close to the room where the others are to hide in. Finally, he's made a full circle through the mansion and is about to despair when he sees the door out into the alleyway.

 

He sneaks out and finds that the alley is blocked in from all sides but the door, making a small, hidden room outside the mansion. No one will be able to see him from the street, and unless they come through that door, the strangers inside won't find him. It's perfect.


He makes himself a little nest out of cardboard and a ratty blanket and curls up to listen to the music thrumming through the mansion. As dangerous as having the people around is, he’s kind of glad they’re here. After being alone and hiding for so long, he’s happy just to hear human voices again. And then there’s the music. He’s so glad for the music, it’s beautiful and unique and it distracts him from the terror. It makes huddling in his coffin of a hiding place a little less terrible.

Chapter Text

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Boo-boo comes tearing down towards them, whispering frantically, and drags them off the roof and back into the house.

 

“There’s someone in the alley, I saw them from the roof. I think it’s napoleon!”

 

Ra tears down the stairs, Shao a step behind him, Boo leading the way. He whoops as they come into the alley, the jean jacket emblazoned with savage warlords standing out like treasure amongst the trash.

 

“That's him, he used to stick us for our lunch money!”

 

Napoleon is lying under a blanket, dirty hair splayed out over the ragged fabric. Shao pushes his gawking crew aside and stomps on his neck, grinding his heel into him for good measure. He wakes, wide eyed with panic, and begins to choke under Shao’s weight. He claws at the shoe pinning him down, but doesn't lash out at Shao. He must be unarmed.

 

Shao jeers: “Yeah, rise and shine, Napoleon.”

 

Shao relaxes his foot a bit and flips Napoleon over, onto his back. He grabs the jean jacket and begins dragging him back into the mansion. His crew follows, fear and worry on their faces. They're soft, but they'll learn some tricks tonight. Shao’s crew is going to be strong, going to be able to protect themselves. He isn't going to let them get hurt.

 

They're already in the main room by the time he drags Napoleon in, shifting nervously. He ignores them and slams Napoleon onto the floor, yelling at Boo:

 

“Boo, put a record on, loud!”

 

Napoleon doesn't struggle as Shao pins him to the floor, doesn't even try to fight. He's moving like he's drugged out of his mind, movements slow and sleepy. It's almost frightening to be beating on someone who doesn't fight back, like kicking a half dead dog.

 

-------

 

Napoleon hasn't eaten for days and he’s still struggling to breath, throat bruised and painful from the foot to the neck. Some part of him wants to fight, tells him he shouldn't be taking this like a little bitch. That part speaks in his brother's voice. But the rest of him is too tired to struggle. They've found him, they outnumber him, and Shao is very strong and very angry.

 

He’s going to die anyways, it doesn't matter anymore.

 

------

 

Boo is rummaging through the records, taking his sweet time. Shao takes the opportunity for some intimidation and gets his hands around Napoleon's neck, slamming him into the floor.

 

“You're a gang dude, right? So you know what an apache line is. They beat you for a whole song to jump you in, right?”

 

Napoleon is making pitiful groaning noises through the hands around his throat. Shao can feel him shaking, but there's no expression on his face. He doesn't even seem aware of what Shao’s saying.

 

“Then we hand you over to my man, wolf.”

 

That gets a reaction out of him, his body tensing and thrashing for a moment, as if the thought of being handed over makes him want to run, more than even torture does.

 

Boo is just standing and watching. Shao snarls:

 

“Boo, drop that record! Then come over here and smack his ass.”

 

The record starts, booming through the room. Shao drags him up, yelling:

 

“Get your ass up.”

 

Shao gets an arm around his throat and a hand in his hair, holding him up like a rag doll. Napoleon still doesn't resist, hanging limply in his grip. The most he does is bring his hands up, trying to relieve the pressure on his hair, whining in pain. Shao pushes him forwards, holding him out for Boo to hit.

 

Boo winds up, and Napoleon flinches away, gasping loud enough for Shao to hear.

 

-----

 

The room’s warm Christmas lights are blurring together, transforming into the harsh light of a disco ball. The harsh brass of that song flares, echoes louder and louder until he can't escape it.

 

Napoleon’s own voice swirls around him as the boy comes at him, Cadillac’s gun pointed at his face, his brothers falling to the floor, blood spraying and pooling and through it all the music and his own voice:

 

No snitching, snitching, snitching—

 

But the music is so loud and the man is leaning over him, cigar dripping ash and flame. The burn on Napoleon’s neck throbs in time with the music. The boy pulls his fist back; there's no tears left in him but something is breaking please god I don't want to die

 

-------

 

“Alright, Alright! Stop!”

 

It's an agonized wail, tearing its way out of Napoleon's throat. His voice is rough, as if he hasn't spoken for days. He collapses, dragging Shao’s hands down as he falls towards the floor. Shao grits his teeth; this isn't right, this isn't how it's supposed go. He wouldn't give up that easily, it must be a trick.

 

“Naw. Boo, smack his ass!”

 

“No! Come on, man. I can't hit him like that.”

 

Shao sighs and lets Napoleon go. He curls into himself, kneeling on the floor, moaning:

 

“This song, this song, he loves this song…”

 

Shao pays no attention to him, too angry at Boo to worry about his whining.

 

Why do I have to do everything myself? They're not going to last long if they can't even hit someone.

 

Ra pipes up:

 

“Man, this ain't right.”

 

Shao huffs out an exasperated breath, rubbing at his forehead. Napoleon is rocking on the floor, sobbing quietly. Shao turns his anger on him, the weak, childish noises grating on his nerves.

 

“What the fuck are you crying about?”

 

Napoleon doesn't pay attention, just keeps sniveling. Shao pushes his head up, snarls at him:

 

“What you crying about, motherfucker?”

 

Napoleon’s eyes are filled with tears and he looks at Shao with an empty eyed terror.

 

“Please, no more.”

 

And that pisses Shao off. This weak little boy is begging for mercy before he's even hurt. Who let him be this weak? How had he survived this long on the streets if he turns into this mess when threatened? Who let him think he'd stop being hurt if he asked for it? If Ra and Boo weren't here, Shao would show him that begging for mercy don't do shit. The world doesn't have mercy on you.

 

“We ain't even got started yet.”

 

“I-I can't..”

 

Shao feels the rage boil over and he screams at him:

 

“You supposed to be hard!”

 

The boy sobs harder and curls forwards, Shao’s words aren't getting through. He slaps his hands together, hard, the sound ringing through the tense room.

 

“Stop! Crying!”

 

He can feel Boo and Ra’s disapproving eyes on him, but that finally gets a reaction out of him.

 

“Th-t-t–”

 

It's intelligible, and Shao doesn't have time for this.

 

“They who?”

 

The boy is talking now at least, hands curling in toward himself to punctuate his words.

 

“I know, I know stuff, that's why they killed my brothers.”

 

“They who? Stop sniveling motherfucker, pull yourself together! Tell me, who the fuck is he and what the fuck do you know.”

 

It's too much, Napoleon is flinching away, eyes darting around the room fearfully, like he might run for it. But finally he's speaking, intercut with gasping sobs.

 

“I know he set up fat Annie. They payed the warlords to do it! Please, I don't wanna die…”

 

The information sinks into Shao as Napoleon whimpers, curling forwards again.

 

“I don't want him to kill me.”

 

“Who is he?”

 

Shao is trying to be calm, be more gentle now that they've got him talking. This is important, he needs to know this so he can warn Annie.

 

“I don't know, I d-don't know, he smokes cigars and drives a Buick red and he always played this song.”

 

The realization hits Shao as Napoleon sobs.


“Wolf, that motherfucker.”

Chapter Text

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Shao storms out of the room, leaving Ra and Boo alone with Napoleon, still kneeling on the floor, curled into himself protectively. Boo is pacing across the room nervously, and Ra watches him.  Napoleon is watching too, frightened eyes gleaming as he tracks Boo’s progress. He's just waiting for one of them to hurt him, Ra can feel it.

 

Napoleon flinches away anytime Boo gets too close or moves too fast and it makes Ra’s heart ache. Sure, Napoleon was a vicious little bastard who used to pick on them, but that didn't mean he deserved this. Boo finally breaks the silence, stomping his foot and yelling:

 

“Come on, Ra! What we gonna do? Once Shao comes back he's gonna kill him!”

 

Ra doesn't want to think about the raw truth of that statement. He doesn't judge Shao for his unflinching purpose; it's what's kept him alive and profitable in the streets. But witnessing it first hand is terrible, he can feel both Napoleon's pain and Shao’s desperation.

 

“He stopped beating on him when we yelled at him, maybe we can just tell him not to kill him.”

 

Boo gives him a incredulous look.

 

“Ra, Shao’s our DJ and we’re his crew, sure, but that dude is a force of nature! If he feels like he needs to do it, he'll get it done. Especially when it's related to his work stuff, you know how tense he gets about that.”

 

Ra sighs; Boo is right. Anything related to Annie brings out the harsh side of him, and this is something too big to smooth over. Ra bites his lip and tries to think, but the stakes are so high! This is a person's life on the line, they can't afford to make a mistake.

 

Boo shrugs.

 

“Lets just toss him out on the street. That way Shao can't get him, no problem.”

 

“Boo, they'll catch him and kill him!”

 

“But at least we won't have to watch our friend be the one to do it.”

 

“No! I'm not going to let this happen. You heard what he said, they killed his brothers already! How would you feel if someone killed me and Dizz and let you for dead?”

 

Boo kicks at a chair and cries out in a wavering voice, despair clear on his face.

 

“Man, it's not like I don't feel for him! But there ain't shit we can do about it!”

 

Ra stands up suddenly and strides towards Napoleon.

 

“No, no. We can do something. There's always something you can do to help.”

 

He sees Napoleon flinch and lean away from him as he approaches, so he slows his walk and crouches down to his level, trying to be as nonthreatening as possible. This close, he can see the boy shaking and hear his panicked breathing.

 

He lets his voice turn soft and offers Napoleon a hand up.

 

“I'm real sorry about what happened in here, you gotta believe that. Shao’s just angry, we’re not going to let him hurt you again, okay?”

 

The boy doesn't move, just stares at Ra. Behind him, Boo scoffs, but Ra doesn't give up that easily.

 

“How long has it been since you slept, man? And I don't mean on that crusty cardboard you had out back. Have you even eaten recently?”

 

That finally draws him out of his shell. He uncurls from his ball, sitting back in his heels. He still keeps his shoulders slumped and his head down, not looking Ra in the eye, but it's progress. He licks his lips reflexively and his eyes dart from Boo to Ra as he whispers:

 

“I haven't had anything for the last three days.”

 

Ra curses and swats at Boo.

 

“Boo, go get my bag. I've got some crackers from lunch and my water bottle in there.”

 

As Boo runs out of the room, Napoleon looks at Ra with a terrible desperation.

 

“Y-you’re going to...let me eat?”

 

Ra wants to crawl back into his bed and not have to deal with this sad shit today, but that's not an option.

 

“Of course I am! What do you think you are, a prisoner?!?”

 

Napoleon stares at him. The room is painfully silent as Ra thinks about what he just said.

 

“I mean, sure, you can't leave without getting killed...and we've already attacked you...and you're unarmed and outnumbered...but...fuck.”

 

The room falls back into silence as Ra mentally beats himself up. He's been thinking about this from his own point of view, he knows that all he wants to do is help. But Napoleon doesn't know that, all he knows is that they're dangerous.

 

The silence is broken when Napoleon barks out a laugh, harsh but still filled with humor. Almost instantly, he's clapping his hands over his mouth and flinching away. Ra doesn't understand why he flinched, but that was progress, Napoleon actually showing an emotion other than fear,  and he needs to get it back.

 

Ra smiles widely, trying to show he's amused too, and leans back, dropping his hands into his lap.

 

“Hey, you found that funny!”

 

Napoleon only gets more afraid, desperately shaking his head no, long hair whipping around his face. He babbles, panicked:

 

“No, no! I wasn't laughing at you, I swear!”

 

Understanding sparks in Ra’s head; as a captive, that laugh, such a little, meaningless thing, could be seen as scornful and deserving of punishment.

 

Shit, shit, gotta defuse this.

 

Ra throws his head back and laughs too, feeling Napoleon's eyes on him all the while. He lets the chuckles trail off and smiles at Napoleon again.

 

“No, that was pretty funny. Sometimes my brain thinks too fast and too slow at the same time and I miss things.”

 

Napoleon is staring at him, but at least he's confused now, instead of terrified.

 

--------

 

This man reminds Napoleon of his brother. How he was on the good days, gentle and sugary sweet. He'd teach Napoleon how to play their sparse record collection or how to gut someone with a switchblade. On those days, he'd let Napoleon have things without working for them, food, an extra blanket, or even once a new pair of shoes.

 

Of course, the good days never last. You never get anything for free, you always have to pay up in the end. Napoleon payed his brother in the what he could steal or take from people, and when that wasn't enough, he payed for it in blood.

 

But this man is offering him that false, sugary sweetness, and he might as well take it while he can get it.

 

--------

 

Finally, Boo comes back through the door, carrying a backpack. Ra breathes out a sigh of relief and rises to meet him. Boo hands him the backpack and Ra rifles through it, pulling out the pack of crackers and a half full bottle of water.

 

Napoleon is laser focused on them, hands grasping at the fabric of his shorts, as if he has to stop himself from reaching out. Boo shifts to hide partially behind Ra, muttering:

 

“Man, he’s just creepy.”

 

Ra has to agree, seeing the usually confident, aggressive boy so quiet and fearful is unsettling.

 

“He's been through alot, Boo.”

 

Ra turns his attention back to Napoleon and holds the food and water out to him.

 

“Here.”

 

Napoleon lunges and tears it out of his hand, as if Ra’s going to take it away from him. He rips open the package and begins eating as quickly as is humanly possible.

 

Boo stands near him, arms crossed over his chest, watching. Ra collapses in his chair against the wall, trying to think things through. They've gotten Napoleon to calm down for now, but there's still the giant problem of what Shao will do when he comes back.

 

Boo leans over and taps Napoleon on the shoulder, face twisted with concern.

 

“Hey, slow down, man. You're gonna choke if you keep eating like that.”

 

Ra smiles at him and gets up, searching around the room for any sort of soft fabric. He finds a couple ratty pillows and tosses them on the couch, followed by some curtains that'll work as blankets. He turns back to Napoleon as the boy drains the last bit of water out of the bottle.

 

“Alright, feeling a little better now?”

 

Napoleon wipes his hand across his lips and look at Ra suspiciously, but nods yes. Ra grins at that, proud that he seems to be getting through to the terrified boy, and gestures towards the nest he's made on the couch.

 

“You need to get some sleep. I bet you haven't gotten any real rest in awhile, you're gonna collapse if you're not careful.”

 

Napoleon looks longingly at the couch, but hesitates. He stares at Ra and Boo, as if there's some ulterior motive to their offering him a bed. Boo speaks, exasperated:

 

“”Come on, man! We're not going to hurt you.”

 

Napoleon finally moves, walking over to the couch shakily. He settles into the curtains and pulls them around himself protectively, as if he's trying to hide himself from the world. Once he's nestled in the cocoon of fabric he looks back up at then, fidgeting with the rough edge of one of the curtains.

 

“What about the other one? Shao?”

 

Ra sighs and buries his head in his hands. It's a very valid concern, but he wishes Napoleon hadn't brought it up.

 

“We won't let him hurt you.”

 

It's the truth, Ra can feel it as he says it. He means this. He'll find a way to talk Shao down. There's been enough violence already.

 

Napoleon swallows nervously, but doesn't speak again. He lies down on the couch, watching Ra and Boo as they laze around the room, working on homework. Finally, his eyes slip closed and he falls asleep, tension draining out of his body.

 

Ra quietly checks on him, tugging the makeshift blankets up. It's shocking, how young and innocent he looks like this. Boo joins him and bumps their shoulders together, giggling.

 

“Do you remember that time you tried to bring that stray dog home and it bit you before we made it halfway there? You just didn't learn your lesson and now you're adopting a gang kid.”

 

Ra laughs. It's true, he's got a soft spot for animals in need and that extends to people too, most of the time.

 

“Well, hopefully he's not going to bite me.”

 

They settle back down, staying quiet so they don’t wake Napoleon. Boo fiddles with Shao’s records and Ra reads his book, sitting in comfortable silence.

 

Then the door creaks open. Shao comes in quietly but they can feel his presence as soon as he steps in, like a vengeful ghost spilling cold spots into the room. Ra and Boo tense and jump up from their seats, staring at Shao nervously. Ra puts his hands out pleadingly and stutters:

 

“H-hey, Shao...”

 

Shao peers around the room, finally focusing on the couch. A muscle in his jaw jumps as he pulls the gun out of his waistband. Napoleon, alerted by their voices, jerks awake. He spots Shao and freezes, frightened eyes drilling into the man looming over him. Ra wants to do something, push the gun away or step in between them, but his body is frozen. The only part of him still working is his mouth, and it’s spilling useless words:

 

“Shao, please. This ain’t right...”

 

Napoleon shakes on the couch, eyes stuck on the barrel of the gun. Ra’s stuck staring at Shao’s face. He’s sweating, and his lips tremble. His hand trembles too, gun wobbling. His eyes are empty and his body hunched, as if he’s carrying a great weight.

 

And he lowers the gun.

 

“Naw, you’re right, Ra. This ain’t right.”

 

On the couch, Napoleon whimpers. Ra exhales in a rush, surprised.

 

“You mean you aren’t going to kill him?”

 

Shao strides over to his makeshift DJ booth, all harsh movements and pent up rage, and slams the gun down on the wood, making the entire room flinch.

 

“No, I’m not.”

 

Boo breaks the spell, cheering, and runs to hug Shao.

 

“I knew you wouldn’t do it!”

 

Shao lets Boo cling to him, but his smile is wan and he looks sick. Ra collapses into his chair, left over adrenaline making him feel twitchy. Something is up with Shao, but he’s too exhausted to worry about it right now. After a moment of hugging, Shao pushes Boo off and snaps his fingers for Ra’s attention.

 

“I’m not gonna kill him but y’all are responsible for him, you hear? He’s not going to stay here, this is my place.”

 

Ra frowns at that. Getting past the killing stage was such a large obstacle in his head that he hadn’t thought about what would do once they got past it.

 

“Maybe we can just let him go?”

 

Shao shakes his head.

 

“Annie called off the hunt, but having a target like that on your back doesn't just go away. Someone’ll take him out before he makes it a few steps down the street.”

 

Boo pipes up:

 

“He’s with the warlords, isn’t he? Couldn't they protect him?”

 

Napoleon speaks, eyes focused on the floor and body hunched:

 

“After I snitched? They want to kill me just as much as everyone else.”

 

Ra buries his head in his hands, exhausted by this endlessly terrible situation.

 

“Shao, are you sure he can't stay here? It's a big place.”

 

Shao is already gearing up to say no. Ra’s ready to fight him on this, but then he sees the fear on Napoleon’s face at the thought of being left with Shao. Ra knows Shao won't hurt him now, but he did try to torture Napoleon and held a gun on him, so it's reasonable for Napoleon to be afraid of him.

 

He sighs, completely out of ideas.


“Then what are we gonna do?”

Chapter Text

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Boo jumps up suddenly, grinning excitedly.

 

“What if we brought him home with us?”

 

Ra stares at him, mouth gaping. Shao snaps:

 

“How the fuck would that work, Boo?”

 

“Our parents let us have people over, and when Mylene’s parents kicked her out, they let her stay with us. We can just say he’s a friend from school who needs help.”

 

Shao looks to Ra for confirmation.

 

“It might work, but even if they say yes, how do we get him there?”

 

Boo frowns at Napoleon, still huddled on the couch.

 

“Get up.”

 

Napoleon doesn't move, looking at Boo with trepidation.

 

“Get up so I can see you, man. We gotta figure out how to make you less recognizable.”

 

Napoleon stands up, hesitantly, holding the blankets around himself protectively. He looks like a child clinging to his security blanket and Ra is once again reminded how young he is. Boo sighs and waves his hands at him.

 

“I can't see shit if you're wrapped in a blanket!”

 

Napoleon drops it instantly, hunching in on himself and bowing his head so his hair hides his face. Ra steps forwards and puts a hand on Boo’s shoulder.

 

“Boo, take it down a notch, okay?”

 

“Ra, I'm trying, but he's so slow!”

 

“I know, I'm not trying to put you down. But it's not his fault, he's been through some real bad shit. You can understand that, can't you?”

 

Boo’s shoulders slump. Ra pats him comfortingly on the back, pulls him for a quick hug.

 

“You're doing fine, Boo.”

 

Boo leans into the hug and then turns back to Napoleon who’s watching them carefully through his dirty bangs.

 

“I'm sorry, Napoleon.”

 

Napoleon jumps at his name, as if he hadn't expected to be addressed. He nods, jerkily, like a puppet being pulled by strings.

 

Boo gets back to work, pointing out parts of Napoleon to Ra and Shaolin.

 

“We need to get rid of the jacket, of course. The shorts too, he can wear a pair of my pants. All the jewelry and the bandana’s gotta go. Give him a hoodie to hide his face.”

 

Ra starts digging through their backpacks, pulling out his hoodie and Boo’s pants.

 

Boo turns back to Shao.

 

“Hey man, you got a knife?”

 

It takes Ra a moment to process that, and by the time he has, Shao has pulled out a switchblade and handed it to Boo. He advances towards Napoleon, blade gleaming in his hand.

 

Napoleon’s reaction is immediate. He lets out a raspy cry of fear and backs up, eyes darting around the room, looking for a way out. Ra throws himself forwards, reaching for the knife.

 

“Boo! What are you doing?!?”

 

Boo stops and looks at him, confused by his reaction.

 

“I'm just going to cut his hair off.”

 

Ra slumps, hysterical laughter bubbling up in his throat.

 

“Maybe you should tell us that before you come at him with a knife?”

 

Boo looks sheepish, lowers the switchblade.

 

“Shit, I’m sorry.”

 

Napoleon inches back out of the corner, but his hands are shaking. Ra's worried he'll just drop dead from stress if they aren't more careful.

 

“Cutting his hair will make him look less like the Napoleon they expect. Nice thinking, Boo.”

 

Boo grins at him, then steps towards Napoleon.

 

“I'm not gonna hurt you, okay? I'm just gonna trim your hair.”

 

Napoleon looks stricken, gripping it like it's valuable and Boo’s trying to steal it. Boo’s tone turns cajoling.

 

“Man, that shit is so dirty and ratted you aren't even going to be able to brush it. And I'm not going to cut it all off, how short do you want it?”

 

--------

 

Napoleon is not used to being asked his opinion. What he would prefer is to keep it like this, but they're being unusually kind and asking him instead of just shearing it off, so he has to at least meet them halfway.

 

He runs his fingers through it one last time, wondering what it will be like to be without it. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, bracing himself.

 

-------

 

“Chin length?” Napoleon offers plaintively.

 

Ra want to cheer, jump with joy at getting him to speak again, and actually express an opinion. Boo grins too, and approaches Napoleon slowly. The boy watches him with wide eyes, but doesn't lean away from him.

 

Boo reaches out, carefully, and lays a hand on his shoulder. Napoleon jolts at the contact and almost bolts, a low groan echoing in his throat. Boo freezes, doesn't push it. Ra whispers, quietly, gently:

 

“You're okay. It's okay. No one's going to hurt you, Napoleon.”

 

Napoleon closes his eyes and swallows nervously, throat bobbing. His fists clench at his side and he turns his head, offering his hair to Boo.

 

“Just do it. Get it over with.”

 

Boo shifts nervously and holds the blade up.

 

“Okay, okay…”

 

He pulls the first bunch of hair up and out, pulling it tight so that it will cut somewhat even. Then he carefully presses the blade to the strands, slicing them off slowly. Napoleon flinches at the cold touch of metal and bites his lip, trying to stay still.

 

He's trembling again, which throws Boo’s cuts off slightly, but the trim progresses reasonably well. Boo carefully works around his head, slicing off the hair until it curls around his ears, ending a little above his jawline.

 

By the time it's done, Napoleon is pale and shaking so badly Ra think he might collapse. Having a knife right next to his throat has obviously not been doing him any favors. As soon as the last strands are cut off, Boo jumps back and hands the knife back to Shao as quickly as possible.

 

Napoleon opens his eyes slowly, as if he's afraid of what he'll see. His hands come up, carefully patting his head and curling the short strands around his fingers. Short like this, his hair is more curly than straight. Ra notices a cracked mirror leaning against one of the walls and gently steers him towards it.

 

He stares at his own reflection, a yawning sadness growing in his eyes. Ra shifts uncomfortably, wanting to make him feel better.

 

“It looks good like this.”

 

Napoleon doesn't respond, but Shao does.

 

“More importantly, you look like a whole different motherfucker now. Put some different clothes on and I bet you can make it to the Kipling house.”

 

Napoleon stands up, legs still shaky, and nods. Ra hands him the change of clothes and points him to one of the empty rooms connected to the main one. Napoleon picks his way over to it and disappears into the darkness.

 

-------

 

Once he's out of their view, he lets himself sob quietly. He claws at the shorn ends of his hair, feeling naked without it. It's not like it was perfect, it was a liability in a fight and got him called girly often enough, but it was his. It was his and he had kept it through everything, even though his brother had hated it and screamed at him to cut it.

 

But now his hair is gone, just like everything else from the world he once knew. Everything is changing so fast and he can't keep up with it. He wonders if he'll ever feel safe again.

 

--------

 

Napoleon shuffles out of the dark, eyes red, their clothes hanging on his smaller form. Ra’s breath catches; it's a very complete change, almost enough to convince him it's someone else.

 

Boo laughs and claps his hands victoriously.

 

“I told you I could do it!”

 

Even Shao is smiling, impressed by how well that worked. Napoleon smiles weakly, uncomfortable as the center of attention. Ra grins at them, proud of what they've accomplished so far.


“I think we can make it. I think we can actually pull this off.”

Chapter Text

--------

The walk back home is long and tense. Napoleon hides in his hoodie, face shadowed, tips of his curls sticking out. Boo and Ra stay close to him, hiding him with their bodies. They're all jumpy, flinching away from everyone they pass by. Anyone could turn on them if they recognize Napoleon.

 

But finally, they make it home. Ra pushes Napoleon into the shadows under the awning, up against the wall. He presses himself in next to Napoleon, joining him in the dark. Then he whispers to Boo:

 

“Go upstairs and being Zeke and Dizzee down. They'll recognize him and give the whole thing away if we don't tell them first.”

 

Boo nods and slips in through the door, running past their parents setting the table for dinner and upstairs to their rooms. He yells down the hallway, not bothering to check which room they're in:

 

“Zeke! Dizz! Come on, I got something to show you!”

 

They peek their heads out of two separate rooms and quickly join Boo in the hallway. He thunders down the stairs, leading them from the brightly lit rooms out into the darkness of the street.

 

Ra pops away from the wall to catch their attention and gestures towards Napoleon. Zeke and Dizz strain their eyes for a minute before Zeke cries, exasperated:

 

“Man, it’s too dark to see anything. Who is that?”

 

“It's Napoleon. You remember Napoleon?”

 

“Of course I remember that nasty little gang kid. The question is why is he outside your house and why aren't we trying to beat his ass already?”

 

Boo interrupts:

 

“Man, some weird shit went down while y'all were gone. We found him and Shao interrogated him and turns out the whole shoot out was a conspiracy planned by one of Annie’s guys. And then we had to stop Shao from killing him and Shao wouldn't let him stay at his place and he doesn't have anywhere else to go so we brought him home with us.”

 

Dizzee is looking Napoleon over, dark eyes intense.

 

“The universe has dropped him on our doorstep, he must have a purpose.”

 

Ra thinks that's a positive response. Zeke, on the other hand, is not reacting well. He sputtering, and finally manages to yell:

 

“You're letting him in your house?”

 

Napoleon presses back against the wall, flinching away from Zeke, curling a lock of hair around his finger nervously. Boo reacts instantly, pushing Zeke back a step and whisper-yelling at him:

 

“Man, keep your voice down. You're scaring him!”

 

Ra finds himself shifting towards Napoleon, trying to comfort him. He doesn't know when they became so protective, but it isn't a bad thing. Dizzee watches him shield Napoleon with his body and follows suit, angling himself to provide an extra barrier between him and Zeke. Ra smiles at Dizzee, relieved that they have his support.

 

“Come on, guys. When did you start letting homeless kids into your home, let alone gang members?”

 

Ra pushes Boo aside and steps up to Zeke.

 

“Zeke, he just has his family killed in front of him. I would think you of all people be able to understand how that makes someone feel.”

 

Zeke freezes, face falling. Ra really wishes he hadn't said that, but there’s no way to take it back now. No way to ease the old pain he sees on Zeke’s face.

 

“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that.”

 

Zeke shudders, pulls himself up, standing tall again. He mutters:

 

“I didn't know. I'll be more careful from now on.”

 

Dizzee breaks the tense silence:

 

“Do you have a plan for getting him inside?”

 

Ra eagerly seizes the opportunity to get back on safe ground.

 

“Yeah, we’re going to tell mom and dad he's a friend from school. They let Mylene stay with Yolanda, so they should let him stay with us.”

 

“Maybe one of us should go ask if he can stay first, instead of just shoving him in there?”

 

Boo runs towards the door, greatly enthused by this adventure.

 

“I'll do it!”

 

He darts inside, door sliding shut behind him, cutting off the light and leaving them in the darkness. The long pause as they wait for Boo gives Ra time to think about all the ways this could go wrong: what if they say no right away, what if they say yes and Yolanda recognizes Napoleon once they bring him inside, what if something sets Napoleon off and he has a breakdown, what do they do then…

 

Boo comes bounding back out and waves for them to come inside.

 

“They said yes!”

 

Ra laughs, he can't believe that actually worked. He rolls his shoulders, trying to loosen the tense muscles, and leads Napoleon inside. Napoleon squints in the bright light, shrinking in on himself, and sticks close to Ra. He’s not close enough to touch, but is obviously clinging to Ra for protection.

 

Mom smiles at them as they come in the door, setting a last dish down on the table.

 

“Hello there, you're just in time for dinner.”

 

Napoleon doesn't respond, just stares at her in wonder. Boo elbows him in the side and he jumps, quickly stuttering out:

 

“Thank you for letting me stay, Mrs Kipling.”

 

She pulls her oven mitts off and begins setting the table.

 

“You're welcome. I'm afraid we can only let you stay for a few days, but hopefully you'll have your family problems worked out by then.”

 

Napoleon bows his head, looking like he's about to cry. Ra winces; there's no way Napoleon’s family issues are going to be solved, and he didn't need to be reminded of that.

 

Mom continues, unaware of the pain she'd accidentally caused.

 

“Ra, why don't you run upstairs and tell your sister to come down?”

 

Ra takes the opportunity to be out of earshot and drags Napoleon upstairs with him. The boy looks nervous about being alone with Ra but doesn't resist. Once they're on the second floor, Ra pauses to whisper to him:

 

“I know you're hungry but when we sit down for dinner you can't eat the way you did before, okay? Our parents don't know anything about our lives out there and if you start acting like you've been starved, they'll get suspicious. So just take it slow, okay?”

 

Napoleon nods, inching away from Ra. Ra sighs at the continued distrust and heads towards Yolanda’s room. He knocks on the door and yells at her to come down, then leads Napoleon back to the dinner table. He sits Napoleon in the extra chair between him and Zeke, as far away from Yolanda as possible.

 

If their sister recognizes him, it's all over. Yolanda comes down the stairs a moment later, the last one to come to the table. Once she sits down, dad says grace. Ra spends the entire time anticipating the moment when Yolanda will look up, recognize Napoleon, stand up and tell their parents…

 

But it doesn't happen. Dinner goes smoothly, Yolanda remains unaware of their guest’s true identity. Napoleon manages to be civil, and Ra can tell he's really trying hard. He still eats a little too quickly, a little too desperately, but not enough to warren intervention.

 

Napoleon looks much happier with a full stomach. Yolanda’s cheerful chatter and mom’s gentle voice seem to be calming his nerves. Once dinner is over everyone's settled into a sleepy contentment. Dizzee and Zeke volunteer to do the dishes, leaving Ra and Boo to get Napoleon settled.

 

With Zeke staying the night they don't have an extra bed, but there’s a couch for Napoleon to sleep on. It's in Dizzee’s room, so they congregate there. It's a nice room, walls covered in papers and interesting fabric Dizzee collects.

 

Ra gets the couch ready for Napoleon to sleep on and the boy settles in, already struggling to keep his eyes open. Ra joins Boo, sitting cross legged on the floor, and they start up a game of war. Soon enough Dizzee and Zeke rejoin them and they switch over to playing poker.

 

It's a happy, lazy night. Occasionally, Dizzee will leave the game to sketch something out or Zeke will lean back and write with his voice, words unspooling and falling out into open air. Napoleon snaps wide awake when Zeke begins to recite, eager to hear the words, hypnotized by Zeke’s ability to create.

 

They play long into the night, laughing and cheering. Napoleon watches them drowsily, slowly melting into the couch, relaxing fully. Finally his eyes slip closed, lulled to sleep by the gentle hum of the brothers enjoying themselves.

 

They play a couple more rounds, Boo and Dizzee cleaning out Zeke and Ra’s pockets, before they wander off to bed. As Ra is leaving the room, Dizzee catches him by the arm and stares at him earnestly.

 

“I'll watch over him, keep myself slow and quiet. He'll feel safe here.”

 

Ra almost sags in relief at having someone else understand that being around Napoleon requires extra caution, and that someone else is there to share the burden with him.

 

“Thanks, Dizz.”

 

Ra climbs into bed, Boo lying in his own bed on the other side of the room. Zeke’s lying on the extra mattress on the floor between the two beds. Boo whispers as soon as the lights are out:

 

“Do you think this is going to work out?”

 

Ra smiles in the darkness, feeling like finally they're making some progress.

 

“I think it will, Boo. He seemed pretty comfortable here tonight. We just need to take it slow and be careful not to set him off.”

 

Zeke rolls over and speaks, slowly and softly, like he's telling a secret to the gentle darkness enveloping the room.

 

“You know, I didn't like him at first, but he doesn't seem that bad. Just...scared and sad.”


They feel that truth, the weight of those words, sink into the room. It's mournful, filled with the past pain he's been through, but filled with hope for the future as well.

Chapter Text

-------

Napoleon jerks awake as soon as the first bit of light peeks through the curtained window. He panics almost instantly, clawing at the constricting blanket wrapped around him. He tumbles off the couch and lands on the floor, managing to kick the blanket off of him. He stares around the unfamiliar room, heart beating faster and faster.

 

Where am I?

 

There's the soft hiss of fabric against fabric behind him and he spins, startled. As he stares at the bed and the man lying on it, the world begins to trickle back into place. He's with Shao’s crew, in the room of the one called Dizzee. He takes a deep breath and tries to calm his racing heart.

 

Dizzee is already dressed for the day, lying on his bed with a sketchbook and a collection of markers. He doesn't seem phased by Napoleon’s bolting off the couch, just watches him evenly. He moves sleepily but his eyes are intense, as if he can see everything. He reminds Napoleon of the crows that perch on the edges of the warlord hideout, bodies perfectly still but eyes constantly moving, always watching.

 

After a moment of silence, he shifts and gives Napoleon a small smile.

 

“You rise with the sun as well?”

 

Napoleon isn't quite sure to respond, this man’s dreamy exterior knocking him off balance. But being polite is never a bad thing, so Napoleon takes the easy route.

 

“Yes, I have work to do.”

 

At least, I did, before I became homeless and hunted by fat Annie.

 

Dizzee doesn't ask for clarification and Napoleon is glad. He just smiles like Napoleon said something interesting and stands up, setting the notebook aside.

 

“Well, if you would like some work to do today, I promised to help mom with breakfast.”

 

Napoleon would rather not sit in this unfamiliar room, thinking about what's going to happen to him once these people get tired of him. So yes, he would like to help with breakfast.

 

Dizzee didn't wait for a reply, just headed out into the hallway. Napoleon quickly stands up and follows him down the stairs. The nice woman from yesterday is in the kitchen again, carefully cracking eggs into a bowl. As her son enters the room she turns to beam at him, and he goes in for a hug. She pauses in her cooking and holds him close, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

 

Napoleon can't help but stare at them. He never had a mother, she died when he was too young to remember her. But he imagines she'd look like this, an angel made out of smiles and soft touches. She's too kind to be real, and he wonders if this entire family isn't supernatural.

 

He stays frozen at the bottom of the stairs until Dizzee pulls away from her and speaks:

 

“Napoleon and I came to help.”

 

Napoleon recognizes he's being summoned but struggles to move. He's frozen in place by this woman, afraid of messing up in her presence. But after an awkward moment of silence, he forces himself into motion.

 

He quickly covers the distance between the stairs and Dizzee, nervous energy rushing him forwards. As he takes his place at Dizzee's side, the pair give him matching angelic smiles and he feels his heart skip a beat. Then Adele turns back to her eggs, gesturing at the counter next to her.

 

“Why don't you two make the pancakes?”

 

There's a bowl of batter on the counter next to the stovetop. Dizzee slides a flat pan onto the heating stovetop and Napoleon settles in at his side. Dizzee turns to him, careful not to press their hips together, and asks:

 

“You pour the batter, i’ll flip?”

 

He's given Napoleon the easier job, but Napoleon isn't going to bring it up, just carefully pours the first set of pancakes into the pan. They wait in silence, the crackle of oil and the hum of the air conditioner filling the air. They cook in comfortable silence and Napoleon wonders if this how he’s going to pay them for letting him stay with them. It seems like such a small price, but these people are very different from his brother. They’re softer, expect less, so maybe this is a reasonable deal to them.

 

As Dizzee flips the last pancake, someone comes down the stairs. Napoleon turns, relieved when he sees it’s Ra. The man yawns and shuffles into the kitchen with a sleepy:

 

“Good morning, Mom.”

 

He gets a kiss too and Napoleon begins to wonder if that’s how moms are supposed to act. He’s never been kissed, and most people don’t do it to be nice, they do it because they want something from someone else. But maybe it’s just because he never had a mom? Has he been missing out on this and just hadn’t noticed? He wrinkles his nose, he can’t imagine liking being kissed like that, it's so...soft.

 

He shakes himself out of his daze and sets down the bowl he’s holding, just as the rest of the family comes down the stairs. The sudden press of people is both comforting and concerning; after his long time spent hunted and alone, he’s afraid to be without people. But at the same time, more people means more possibility of danger.

 

The Kiplings move in an easy flow from the kitchen to the dining room, ferrying containers of food. Napoleon lets himself be pulled along, not sure what else to do. Someone gently presses him into a chair and then the entire family settles down, like a flock of birds landing on a telephone wire.

 

This meal goes as well as the last one. They make quiet conversation, mostly meaningless, and no one challenges him on how much he eats. The calm of this place is starting to seep into him, quieting his instincts, and even though he knows it's dangerous, he doesn't fight it.

 

He wants to believe that a home could be this good. He wants to believe that these people won't hurt him. He wants to feel safe, even if it might bite him in the ass later on.

 

Once breakfast is over, chores are assigned. Boo quickly darts outside, not wanting to be stuck with the dishes. Dizzee goes with him, and they start sweeping the sidewalk out front. Ra, Zeke and Napoleon do the dishes, Zeke scrubbing and Ra and Napoleon drying.

 

There's a couple minutes of silence, and then Adele has steps outside to check on the sweepers. Ra hesitates, then speaks quietly:

 

“So, you, uh, doing okay?”

 

Napoleon doesn't know how to respond to his concern. Normally, he would say he was fine, try to keep up appearances. It’s dangerous to show weakness. But Ra has already seen him at his weakest, so what the point in hiding it?

 

But the truth sticks in his throat, sitting heavy on his tongue and never quite making it past his lips. So he gives up and goes back to the easy lie, slipping out of his lips as sweet and fake as the slushies they used to buy from the gas station.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Ra sighs; he's not dumb, and that wasn't one of Napoleon's good lies. Zeke keeps washing but he's focused on Napoleon, eyes drilling into him. He speaks, voice heavy and filled with an importance that comes from baring one's soul.

 

“You don't have to be okay, you know.”

 

Napoleon jerks at that: it wasn't what he was expecting. Of course he needed to be okay, he needed to get over it. Crying was for babies, he needs to focus on survival.

 

Not being okay wasn't an option, yet here was Zeke, offering it as if it was the only option.

 

Zeke speaks again, eyes far away, deep in memory.

 

“Seeing something like that, you never really get over it.”

 

Napoleon can still see the blood. The running disco lights reflecting in the pool of blood, dancing across the wetness like flame. The matching splotch on the disco ball, dried to a dark brown but still unmistakable. The youngest, the oldest, and Napoleon trapped in the middle.

 

He's surrounded by blood, there's no escaping it.

 

Ra’s voice, echoing, as if he's down a train tunnel.

 

“Hey, hey, breathe. Just breathe, Napoleon. You're okay, you're safe. Breathe. In, out, in out...”

 

He gasps unevenly for a moment, his panicked breathing thundering in his head, before he grasps on to Ra’s rhythmic chant. He focuses on keeping his breaths in time with the words and his breathing begins to slow. He shakes himself, trying to ground himself back into the real world, curls tickling his cheeks as he moves. Slowly, the world swims back into focus: the dishes abandoned for the moment, Ra looking at him with concern, Zeke watching him with sad, knowing eyes.

 

That unsettles him more than the panic attack had. Having someone look at him with understanding was rare enough even before he was broken. He looks away from Zeke, turns back to the dishes, afraid of what he might say next.

 

“That won’t go away for a while. I wasn’t able to stop thinking about it months afterwards. You’re probably already having the nightmares, right?”

 

Napoleon grips the countertop, digging his nails into the surface. He wants to run, wants to fight, wants to do anything but stand here and let this man show his weaknesses to the world.

 

“You shouldn’t have to go through this alone, Napoleon. I want to help.”

 

Napoleon doesn’t understand and he’s sick of it. The glass in his hand goes hurtling towards the pair watching him, not quite close enough to hit them but close enough for Ra to flinch. It shatters loudly on the tile, spraying glass shards across the floor.

 

“I’m not going through anything and I don’t need your help! Why won’t you leave me alone?”

 

Winston sticks his head in the door and Napoleon realizes what he’s just done. He cowers against the cupboard, wondering if he can make it past him and out the door before one of them grabs him.

 

“Everything okay in here?”

 

“Yeah, I just dropped a glass, Dad.”

Zeke crosses the kitchen and grabs the broom leaning against the wall.

 

“We’ll clean it up, Mr. Kipling. Sorry about the mess.”

 

“Alright. At least it wasn’t one of the nice glasses.”

 

The man retreats, back outside. Ra begins picking up the large shards of glass while Zeke sweeps them into a pile. Napoleon stares at them, more confused than he was before. Ra dumps his shards into the trash and turns back to Napoleon, brushing his hands off.

 

“You okay, Napoleon?”

 

“I don’t understand. I-I dont...”

 

He can’t stop the tears spilling out of his eyes, and he doesn’t understand that either. He wipes at his eyes with his sleeves, trying to get rid of the tears, but he’s only crying harder. His legs are shaking and he gives up, collapsing to the floor and hunching in on himself. He’s crying in a steady stream now, face a mess of snot and tears, and his body is shaking with sobs. He’s utterly humiliating himself but he doesn’t have the energy to fight off the tears.

 

Zeke and Ra rush to his side and huddle around him. Ra reaches out like he wants to touch but Zeke stops him. Zeke speaks, comfortingly:

 

“Hey, it’s okay. This is good, Napoleon. You gotta let it out sometime. There’s no shame in crying, I was a sobbing mess for days after my mom was killed.”

 

Napoleon hiccups and tries to think. What they’re telling him doesn’t make sense, of course crying is shameful, it’s showing weakness. But Zeke is saying he cried too and he’s not weak, he’s tall and strong and can make wonders with words. It’s all so confusing and he sobs a little harder.

 

The door opens again and he jumps, but it’s only Adele returning. She notices them huddled on the floor and is instantly concerned. She rushes forwards and crouches next to Zeke. Napoleon doesn’t know how to react, she’s so nice and he doesn’t want to disappoint her and yet he broke one of her glasses and now he’s crying on her kitchen floor.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”

 

She clicks her tongue in disapproval.

 

“Oh, honey, you have nothing to apologize for.”

 

“I broke it!”

 

“That’s okay, it was just a glass. I’m more worried about you. The glass didn’t cut you, did it?”

 

He shakes his head no and she pulls a colorful handkerchief out of her pocket, reaching out to dry the tears on his cheeks. He jumps at the contact but she’s gentle and the fabric is soft.

 

“There, a little better now. Why don’t Zeke and Ra finish the dishes so you can rest.”

 

She helps him up and gently steers him into a chair. He doesn’t resist, still sniffling and exhausted from crying. She sets the handkerchief down within his reach and turns back to the kitchen.

 

“I’m going to make you some hot cocoa, it’ll help you feel better.”

 

Napoleon twists the handkerchief nervously and watches her move around the kitchen. He’s exhausted, body feeling staticky and empty, as if crying had drained all of the energy out of him. Adele returns, a steaming mug in her hand. She sets it down and smiles at him before turning back to Zeke and Ra.

 

“Ra, you and your brothers need to get ready for sunday school.”

 

Ra hesitates, looking at Napoleon. Zeke notices his concern and leans in to tell him:

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll stay here with him.”

 

Napoleon takes a shaky sip of the cocoa as the family prepares to leave, then guzzles it down as quickly as he can. Sweets are his favorite, and this stuff is amazing. Zeke settles in the chair next to him, smiling at him as he burns himself in his hurry to drink.

 

Adele pushes the Kiplings out the door and leans back in to yell at Zeke:

 

“We’ll be back in a couple hours. Don’t wreck the house and keep the door locked.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

The door shuts and Zeke gets up to lock it. He smiles at Napoleon and walks over the the television, turning it on. It settles on some channel with brightly colored cartoons. Then he speaks:

 

“When they get back we’ll head over to Shao’s to work on our next show.”

 

Napoleon feels a surge of excitement; he knows Shao is the most dangerous of them, he can’t help but want to be near him. He wants to listen to him make music, so badly that it overwhelms his instincts telling him to stay away.

 

Thankfully, Zeke doesn't try talk to him again, just surfs through the tv stations. Napoleon couldn't take any more of his soft words and knowing eyes. Instead, they settle into a comfortable silence and wait for the Kiplings to get back.

Chapter Text

-------

It's a long process, extricating themselves from the Kipling house. Napoleon stays out of the way, slouching in a corner. Eventually, everyone has changed and is ready to go. Napoleon is so thankful to be free, he's the first one to push out the front door.

 

It's cloudy today, washing out the city with grey light. Napoleon isn't convinced it's safe for him to be out, let alone walk all the way to the temple again. But the disguise worked last time and the brothers are convinced it'll work this time as well.

 

As they step out into the street, away from the safety of the salon, Napoleon slows down so that he's with the group again. They shift so that he's in the middle, protected from prying eyes. He knows it's just so he doesn't get caught, but he basks in the feeling of being protected nonetheless.

 

They make it to the temple safely. The crumbling building looks even more drab under the stormy skies, but it's welcoming nonetheless. Faintly, Napoleon can hear music playing from inside. That makes him speed up, excitement growing. He can't wait to hear Shao make his music again.

 

They climb in the window and make their way into the main room. Shao is lying on the couch, legs hanging over the armrest and smoke curling out of the blunt in his hand. As they come in his eyes slide across the room to watch them, a soft smile growing when he sees them. Zeke goes right over to him while the other brothers settle into seats around the room. Napoleon stands by the door awkwardly, hesitant to draw attention to himself by taking a seat.

 

Shao rises from the couch, slinging his arm around Zeke’s shoulders and pulling him over to the turntables. He grins around the room, every inch the leader.

 

“Are we ready to practice this shit until it’s perfect? Cause I’m not letting you leave until it’s that good.”

 

Boo smacks the arm of his chair and smirks at Shao.

 

“Of course we are, you don’t gotta tell us that!”

 

Zeke pulls out a small notebook and begins ripping pages out and handing them to his brothers. They spend a moment in silence, reading whatever’s written on the paper. Ra hums under his breath and Dizzee mutters, the quiet words meaningless gibberish to Napoleon. Once they’ve all finished reading, Shao slides into his booth and they settle into a semicircle in front of it.

 

There’s the scratch of a record and then Shao’s off, blending the beats together into the beautiful music Napoleon had heard before. He’s so entranced by watching and listening to Shao that it startles him when Zeke begins to speak. He talks low and fast, to the beat of Shao’s music. Once he’s finished, Ra picks up, then Dizzee, then Boo, around the circle.

 

Watching them is almost as amazing as watching Shao. They’re perfectly in unison, switching back and forth without missing a beat. Napoleon had something like that with the warlords, they knew how to work together, but not on this level. The brothers work together like a machine, like they know each other so well that they can predict each other’s next move.

 

He wants that, almost as much as he wants to make music like Shao.

 

He wants the kindness they showed him this morning, he wants the unbreakable love they have for each other, he wants to be protected, wants to be part of a family like theirs. The realization aches, because he’s never going to get that. What family he did have, broken and painful as it was, is gone. And he’ll never be part of this one, even if they let him stay in their home. He was their enemy not long ago, why would they want him? And even if they did, he doesn’t deserve them. They’re so loving and kind and soft, so different from Napoleon’s ragged, sharp edges.

 

No, he has to be happy with what they’ve given him so far: his life back, a safe place to sleep, the opportunity to observe their family, to listen to their music.

 

He’s pulled out of his thoughts when Shao switches out a record, fumbling, and the music stumbles. The words falter too, and the brothers turn to Shao in disappointment. Zeke sighs.

 

“Shao, man, we really need to get you a record boy.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, but right now I don’t got one, so get back to it!”

 

They start up again, but Napoleon isn’t listening anymore. His heart is beating too fast, and it’s hard to breath. He stares at the turntable that seems to be beckoning him, the piles of record next to it whispering for him to pick them up. The opportunity is there, Shao needs a record boy. Napoleon knows how to be a record boy. But Shao is dangerous, he doesn’t like Napoleon, and he’s probably protective of his records.

 

Napoleon is staring off a cliff. He has wings, but he’s not sure they’ll support them. He wants to fly, but the fall is terrifying. If he does jump, he might fail and be worse off than before. But if he doesn’t jump, he might be missing the biggest chance of his life.

 

He’s stared out over a drop like this before. Before he knew Shao, when he was just a dead motherfucker who stole a record. He remembers chasing him onto that roof, leaving him with nowhere to go. He remembers watching him jump across that gap, his stomach dropping as if he was the one sailing into open air. He remembers watching him land it, just barely. Remembers the exhilaration of watching him succeed, even if that meant he got away.

 

Napoleon picks his way over to the booth, moving slowly so that they don’t notice him. Shao is laser focused on the turntables, so Napoleon leans over and looks at the stack of record next to the turntable. He recognizes some of the songs from when he was secretly listening to him before, Shao is playing the same set now. The records are organized in order, so Napoleon doesn’t have to know what’s coming next, he just has to hand them to Shao.

 

Shao finishes the record on the left turntable and reaches out for the next. Napoleon moves on instinct, slipping the record out of the sleeve and into his grasping fingers. Shao doesn’t react, just puts the record on and keeps the beat going. Napoleon freezes, waiting for his interference to be noticed. But they’re too deep in the music to notice they’ve suddenly gained a record boy.

 

Napoleon is still afraid, palms sweating, just waiting for something to go wrong. But he keeps doing it, working his way through the pile of records, handing them to Shao when he reaches for them. The music begins to smooth out, the pauses disappearing as Napoleon gets faster, better at predicting when Shao needs a record. He almost can’t believe it, he’s helping to make the music. This beautiful thing, he’s helping it live, feeding it so it can curl around the room, thrumming through their bones and the building’s walls.

 

Napoleon feels powerful, like when he’s leading the warlords, threatening to fuck someone up. But for the first time, he feels powerful and like he’s worth something. This isn’t destruction, not stealing lunch money or spilling blood. This is pure creation, taking nothing and making it into something. And Napoleon is helping to make it.

 

He’s in a daze, the music loud in his head, body moving to the beat. Reaching for the records feels like an instinct by now. He reaches out again, but there’s no records left. The pile is all gone and suddenly his peace is broken. He’s shoved back into his terrified body, helpless and just waiting to be hurt.

 

When he freezes, so does the music. Shao stops the record and takes off the headphones, grinning at his brothers. Napoleon knows he needs to move away but he cant, feeling like there’s chains wrapping around him, holding him in place. The dread roiling in his stomach tells him that there’s no escaping this, they’ll notice any minute and turn on him.

 

Zeke smiles at Shao and reaches out to clap their hands together.

 

“That was the smoothest I’ve ever heard you, Shao! Those transitions were perfect, how’d you do that?”

 

Shao’s face falls, like a stormcloud falling over a blue sky. He turns cold and spins around. Napoleon swallows nervously, frozen behind the booth, guilt clear. The other brothers notice, and all eyes turn to Napoleon.

 

Shao storms towards him and Napoleon wishes he could run, speak up to defend himself, anything but stand here. But he’s a rat, caught by the snake’s hypnotic eyes, and now it’s come to devour him.

 

“What the hell are you doing in my booth? Touching my records? You little gang fuck, I’m gonna kill you!”

 

Napoleon gasps for breath and braces for the blow, praying that Shao won’t actually kill him, just hurt him. If he can get away with his life, he’ll count himself lucky.

 

“Hey, hey, hey!”

 

Ra is jumping in front of Shao, blocking his path to Napoleon. Then Zeke joins in, grabbing Shao’s arms and pulling him back.

 

“Shao! Don’t hurt him!”

 

Boo joins Ra, standing in front of Shao.

 

“You said you wouldn't kill him, man!”

 

Shao snarls, but doesn’t struggle away from them, doesn’t keep pushing forwards.

 

“That was before he put his grubby little fingers on my shit!”

 

Dizzee finally joins his brother, walks over to Napoleon.

 

“Shao, brother. The universe has brought him to us, think beyond your records. Don’t you see what he’s done? We’ve never sounded better than when he stepped up and handed you those records. You need a record boy, and here he is!”

 

Napoleon is trembling, fear and hope mingling inside him. The brothers are protecting him, again. He doesn't understand why, but it seems to be becoming a pattern.

 

Shao tilts his head, looking Napoleon over again. He’s looking less angry and more disapproving.

 

“Do you know how many record boys there are out there? We can do so much better than him!”

 

Dizzee slides behind the booth, placing himself at Napoleon’s side. He speaks, gesturing widely with his hands.

 

“Shao, he’s got something they don’t. He’s terrified of you, and for good reason. You think he didn’t know touching your records would piss you off? He took that chance, because the music flows in him like it does in us. It’s in his blood, and he can’t ignore it. You know that feeling, don’t you, Shao? You could be living rich if you committed to being a gangster. But the music is more important to you than money or girls or your life. The music is a gift from the universe, and he’s got it like we do.”

 

Shao sighs, brushes Zeke’s arms off of him.

 

“Alright, Y’all seem to have gotten attached to him, and you right, Dizz. He’s got something in him, it took guts to just step in my territory and start handing me records. We’ll give him a chance.”

 

He strides back over to the booth and pushes Dizzee aside to glare at Napoleon. Napoleon looks down, bows his head, tries to make himself as small as possible.

 

“But you never pull that shit again, you hear? I’m the DJ, I’m in charge. You don’t touch shit, you don’t play shit, without me saying to. If you gonna be a get down brother, you gonna have to be part of the team.”

 

Napoleon looks up, shocked, accidentally making eye contact with Shao.

 

“You mean you’d let me be part of the group? Not just your record boy?’

 

Shao laughs as if he’d said something funny.

 

“Ain’t you been listening? Everyone has to be in unison. My wings gotta be trustworthy, so if you in, you in for real. Record boy, MC, or DJ we all equals in this. Ain't that what you said, Ra?”

 

Ra nods, grinning proudly at Shao.

 

“That’s right, Shao.”

 

“Then we good. Let’s run this again, from the top.”

 

The brothers cheer, Dizzee giving Napoleon an encouraging nod before returning to the semicircle outside of the booth. Shao takes the pile of records already used and hands it back to Napoleon. Napoleon takes it, watching his hands shake.

 

He can’t believe it. It’s like he’s jumped into a fantasy world, where fights are settled with words rather than fists, where he can make the music, where he could be part of their family. It’s hard to think through his relief, his adrenaline draining slowly, leaving him shaky.

 

Shao tells him to reorder the pile, so that they can play through it again. It’s calming, flipping through the records, fitting them back into place. He remembers the order now, after hearing it twice.

 

They run through it over and over again, until Napoleon and Shao are moving in perfect unison. Occasionally Zeke will stop and tweak one of the lines, then make them run through it again. By the end of the day it’s perfect, and Napoleon is exhausted. But it’s a good exhaustion, warm and satisfied, and it keeps a smile on his face as they walk back to the Kipling house.

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Chapter Text

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They pile into the house, trying to stay quiet, but Winston gives them a warning glare nonetheless. Ra whispers an apology and rushes them up the stairs. He’s so gentle that Napoleon almost doesn’t mind the hand on his back, pushing him forwards. They head for Dizzee’s room, which has become their base of operations. Napoleon flops down on the couch, pressing his face into the pillow. He pulls the blankets up to his chin, cocooning himself in soft fabric. Today was a good day, but still stressful.

 

He’s happier than he’s ever been before, happier than he ever thought he would be, but it’s also exhausting. There’s so much going on, and it makes very little sense to him. Constantly being confused leaves him feel raw and defenseless. That trapped feeling makes him want to lash out, even though he knows that wouldn’t make him feel any better and it would ruin his chances with the brothers. But it’s tempting to go back to the mindless violence he’s used to. He’s not planning to, but still…

 

Sleep will help.

 

He drifts off, all his worries slowly fading away.

 

------

 

Dizzee lies on his bed, the words from today’s practice looping around his head. He fiddles with his markers, but doesn’t actually have the energy to draw. Instead he just listens to his brothers talk and Napoleon’s slight snores. He’s glad to see the boy beginning to integrate into the group. He’s got spirit, and he’s sure he’ll bring something special to the get down brothers.

 

Zeke leans against the couch, careful not to bump into Napoleon, and lights a joint. Dizzee, lured by the promise of weed and the company of his brothers, leaves his comfortable perch and sits next to him. Zeke leans against him, pressing their shoulder together, and hands the joint over. Boo and Ra shift closer, but stay focused on one of Ra’s puzzle games. Ra doesn’t really need the help, he already knows the answers, but he likes helping Boo work through them.

 

They spend a few more quiet minutes smoking and talking before getting ready for bed. Zeke and Ra head off to brush their teeth while Boo begins to shake Napoleon. Dizzee steps up behind him, asking:

 

“What are you doing that for, Boo?”

 

Boo continues to gently shake him.

 

“He fell asleep without changing clothes. He’s gonna wake up hurting if he sleeps like that all night.”

 

Boo jumps when Napoleon gasps, taking a step back. Dizzee steps closer and presses a comforting hand to his shoulder, smiling down at Napoleon as his eyes open. He’s unprepared for Napoleon’s reaction. The boy throws the covers off in a sudden, violent motion.

 

“Hey—”

 

Napoleon lunges, faster than Dizzee can dodge, an animalistic shriek tearing its way out of his throat. His fist connects with Dizzee’s nose, pain exploding up into his forehead. He’d managed to lessen the force by throwing himself backwards, so it doesn’t feel broken, but he can feel blood beginning to drip over his lips as he falls to the floor. Napoleon pauses for a moment, chest heaving with panicked breaths and eyes wild, before charging forwards again.

 

Dizzee kicks out, tripping him up, and he falls on top of Dizzee. Dizzee had hoped that might jolt him out of the panicked, defensive state he’s in, but no such luck. Napoleon snarls and lashes out again, clawing at Dizzee’s forearms that protect his face from a second attack. Boo, finally torn out of his shock, shouts and tackles Napoleon off of Dizzee. Zeke and Ra, alerted by the yelling, come tearing into the room.

 

They stare in horror as Boo pins Napoleon down and Dizzee stands up, wiping at the blood dripping from his nose.

 

“What the fuck happened?”

 

Dizzee watches Napoleon slowly stop struggling, his glazed eyes clearing and the rage on his face turning to fear, and wonders how to put it into words. How to say that the rubber band finally snapped, the rotting floor finally collapsed, the cornered rat finally bit?

 

“He didn’t know what he was doing.”

 

Napoleon lies very still under Boo, eyes dull and unfocused. Ra rushes over to Dizzee, patting his shoulder as if that’ll wipe the blood away.

 

“Dizz, you’re hurt!”

 

Before Dizzee can reassure him, Yolanda yells outside:

 

“Why are y’all making so much noise this late at night?”

 

They freeze, listening to her approaching footsteps with dread. Ra whispers:

 

“If mom and dad learn about this there’ll be hell to pay.”

 

Boo whispers back, voice tense:

 

“Then Yolanda better not—”

 

Their sister comes through the door then, a whirlwind of concern and anger. She sputters to a stop when she sees Dizzee bloody face.

 

“Dizz! What happened?”

 

Her eyes scan the room and catch on Napoleon, who’s still being restrained by Boo.

 

“Did that little runt do this?”

 

Ra puts out his hands placatingly.

 

“Yolanda, please don’t—“

 

“I’m telling mom!”

 

She runs out of the room, ignoring him entirely. Yolanda is always quick to act, especially when something has hurt her brothers. She may boss them around, but she truly does love them. Unfortunately, right now that love is causing her to do exactly the wrong thing.

 

They all look at each other, frozen. Yolanda is an unstoppable force at the best of times, there’s nothing they can do to keep their parents from finding out. Dizzee moves first, the most used to facing down their parent’s wrath. He’s up and tugging at Boo, trying to free Napoleon. Boo rolls to the side, still shocked into silence. Dizzee doesn’t wait for him, he pulls Napoleon to his feet and heads towards the fire escape. He’s managed to get one of Napoleon's legs, weak and shaking with fear, over the windowsill before any of his brothers recover.

 

Ra finds his feet first, rushing to Dizzee’s side, and helps push Napoleon’s head down so he doesn’t hit the sill on his way out.

 

“Dizz? Do you have a plan?”

 

Dizzee begins to follow Napoleon out, half turning to his brother to announce:

 

“One, get away from the oncoming storm. Two, find a safe harbor.”

 

Ra sticks his head out, yelling after them as they run down the metal steps, Napoleon’s movement unsteady.

 

“With who?"

 

“Shaolin Fantastic, of course!”

 

That gets Zeke’s attention and he pushes Ra aside so he can clamber out the window and catch up with them.

 

Ra sighs and watches them run away, not having any other options to suggest.

 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

 

The only response is wave from Dizzee, the scarlet stains on his palm a stark reminder of how out of control the situation has gotten. Ra slumps, not comforted by his brother’s confidence, and prepares to talk their parents down.

 

------

 

Napoleon’s mind whimpers for him to run, but it’s quieter than before he met the brothers. He knows he’s in danger, but escape is no longer his first priority.

 

(He could get away, if he wanted. They’re out in the hot night air, walking past alleyways perfect for running through. He knows they wouldn’t even chase him if he tried. Maybe that's why he doesn’t.)

 

He’s just focusing on putting one foot in front of another, watching his shoes smash the plants growing up through the cracked sidewalks. He doesn’t look up to see the familiar buildings they pass or the wet smear marring Dizzee’s face.

 

The guilt is eating him alive, somehow worse than the fear of being homeless again. He hadn’t meant to hurt Dizzee, he wouldn’t ever want to. But his half-asleep self still ran on a lifetime of instinct, all of it violent. If he could, he’d cut that part of him out, but unfortunately no one’s given him the opportunity.

 

He doesn’t know if he ever will get it. Cutting other people up is a thousand times easier than cutting yourself up. He doesn’t know how to reach into himself and rip out the pieces that no longer fit. He’s not a savage warlord anymore, can’t wake up clawing and screaming and have it be a good thing.

 

Doing damage no long brings security, it only buries him in guilt. He feels like a transformed creature, but only halfway finished. He’s still got parts of him that he shouldn’t, that make him scream in his sleep and hurt his friends.

 

Napoleon only stops walking once he runs into Zeke’s outstretched arm. They’ve reached the temple and Napoleon hadn’t even noticed. Zeke smiles down at him, strain showing in the tight pull of his lips. He’s nervous, unsure of how Shao will react.

 

“You’d better let me go in first.”

 

They all know Zeke is Shao’s favorite. The temple door creaks as Zeke pushes it open and Napoleon almost wants to beg him not to go inside. It doesn’t really seem worth it, facing Shao’s scorn and inevitable refusal to offer Napoleon sanctuary.

 

But he doesn't say a word; the brothers are single minded in their attempts to help him. He doubts they’d admit defeat so soon. Only once all the options are exhausted will they realize he’s not worth the effort and abandon him. It’s more than anyone else has done for him before and he appreciates it, even if it’ll end the same way as always.

 

Zeke disappears inside. Napoleon stands outside the door, as stiff as a statue. He wants to be ready when Zeke returns with bad news. Dizzee steps up behind him, paint splattered shoes scuffing against the sidewalk. He wraps an arm around Napoleon’s shoulders, his warmth comforting. Napoleon doesn't let himself lean into him or return the affection, not with the blood still trickling slowly from Dizzee’s nose. Dizzee is undeterred by Napoleon’s unresponsiveness; he squeezes tighter and mutters, his voice sure and even:

 

“It’ll be okay, Napoleon.”

 

He's so kind and calm that Napoleon, contrary to his instincts, might even believe him a little bit.

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Chapter Text

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The temple door creaks open and Shaolin’s off the couch in a flash, ready to defend his home. He doesn't know who he expected to be coming into the temple at two in the morning---the police, or someone from Fat Annie maybe---but it definitely wasn’t Zeke. As Zeke closes the door behind him, Shao has to consciously shift his weight back to his heels and let his shoulders relax. He puts a lot of effort into acting chill around Zeke, doesn’t want him ever seeing the tense, violent, drug dealing Shaolin.

 

He takes a drag, forcing his hands to stop shaking, and asks nonchalantly:

 

“What’re you doing here, Books?”

 

Zeke does that little two step shuffle he only does when he’s nervous. That sets Shaolin’s heart racing fearfully, but he keeps his cool externally.

 

“Out with it, man. I ain’t got time to waste.”

 

Mentally, Shaolin winces. His concern always seems to come out as impatience, like he’s trying to rip the bandaid off before its adhesive can sink into his skin. It’s just another harsh edge of him that Zeke wouldn’t like, nestled in beside his drug dealing. He knows Zeke deserves better than him; Zeke deserves comfort and soft words instead of whatever this knee-jerk reflex is. It’s just another thing Shaolin can’t give him.

 

Zeke sits down, stress showing in the tense line of his shoulders, but finally speaks:

 

“Some shit’s gone down, Shao.”

 

That only makes Shao more worried and he desperately hopes nothing’s happened to his brothers. If anyone’s hurt them…

 

“Napoleon kinda reverted tonight, tried to hurt Dizzee. He didn’t get very far, but he isn’t welcome in the Kipling house anymore.”

 

Shao had known the little bastard wasn’t worth the effort but Dizzee had wanted to keep him around. Dizz’s got a soft heart, and look where it got him.

 

“Dizz is alright, though?”

 

“Yeah he’s fine. Just some scratches.”

 

Shao flicks ash into the tray on the table, careful not to let any sparks reach the carpet. He’s accidently started a small electrical fire before and has no wish to repeat the experience.

 

“So why’re you here, Books? Want me to take care of him or something?”

 

Book’s face twists at that; it was definitely not the right thing to say. But Shao can’t think of any other reason Books would be telling him about this with such urgency. All the get down brothers are too soft to get their hands dirty, but they know Shao isn’t.

 

“No, Shao. I would never ask you to do that. And I don’t want Napoleon to get hurt again, either. That’s why I want him to stay here.”

 

Shao chokes, coughing out smoke before turning to Zeke, shock plain on his face.

 

“Stay here? I already told y’all that isn’t going to fly! Especially not after he hurt one of my brothers.”

 

Zeke sighs and puts hand on his hips the way he always does when they argue.

 

“Shao, I know you don’t like him! But he didn’t mean to hurt Dizzee. He’s just a scared kid.”

 

Shao puts his blunt out on one of his chipped ashtrays, stepping closer to get the argument really going. He’s ready to snarl and curse until Zeke understands. But then Zeke speaks, flooring him.

 

“Shao, I’m asking you to do this because I trust you. You’re my DJ, ain’t no one braver or stronger than you. You’re the only person I trust to protect him.”

 

It knocks his breath out of him, hearing that Zeke trusts him so much, hearing that Zeke really believes that he’s the strongest out there. It makes his love, twisted and pushed down, burst forth again. It settles between his shoulder blades and wraps around his chest, making him gasp for breath.

 

God, he hates that Zeke can do this to him. He hates how Zeke has become his sun and moon, how the stars swirl around him. But Shao wouldn’t give it up for anything. Shao will keep that nasty rat of a kid in his home that means he can keep Zeke’s trust.

 

“Alright, Alright. He can stay here.”

 

Zeke looks surprised, as if he hadn’t expected Shao to agree. But then he breaks into one of his sunshine smiles, grinning as he thanks Shao. Shao feels a rush of pride at being the one to make Zeke smile like that.

 

Zeke runs over and opens the door and Shao gets a glimpse of Napoleon’s frightened eyes before the boy looks down. Dizzee gives Zeke a relieved smile and steers Napoleon in the door with an arm around his shoulders. He gets him settled on the couch, where the boy remains even when he steps away. Napoleon’s head is bowed, almost hiding his face behind his shortened hair, and his shoulders stiff. That makes Shao feel a little better about letting him in; he seems properly ashamed. But when Shao takes a look at the red smear on Dizzee’s face he’s angry all over again.

 

Dizzee seems unphased by his injuries, stepping up to Shao and offering a friendly hand in greeting. Shao takes it, feeling himself calm with the gentle contact. There’s something about Dizzee that makes Shao feel safer when he’s around.

 

“Thanks for letting him stay, Shao. And help him find his place in the universe, yeah?”

 

Shao grins at the look on Zeke’s face as he tries to figure out what that means. Two masters of words, capable of such art, and yet they pass right by each other, like trains on separate tracks.

 

“I’m make sure he’s comfortable, Diz. And make sure you clean up that nose, huh?”

 

Dizzee nods and takes a step back, letting Zeke say goodbye. His wordsmith claps him on the shoulder and smiles at him again, making the world seem brighter than a moment before.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Books?”

 

“Yeah, we’ll come over to practice and check in on Napoleon.”

 

Zeke gives him one last smile and heads for the door. Dizzee waves and follows him back out into the dark. The door swings shut and the temple falls into a tension filled silence. Shao turns, slowly, and faces the boy on the couch. Napoleon comes to attention but doesn’t meet his eyes. Shao doesn’t really care how he acts as long as he stays out of the way.

 

“Here’s the rules, kid. You get the couch. Don’t make a lot of noise or touch any of my shit. If you get hungry tell me, don’t go digging through my cupboards. Basically, stay out of my hair and we’ll get along fine. Got it?”

 

Napoleon nods and that’s all Shao needs. He heads off to his bedroom where he can try to ignore the unwanted presence in his home. He can hear Napoleon moving around the temple quietly, probably collecting blankets. It’s not loud enough to yell at him for and soon enough the noise stops. Shao, satisfied by the silence, rolls over and goes to sleep.

---------

Chapter Text

--------

A scream echoes through the temple and Shao is instantly awake. He sleeps lightly, his fear keeping him from truly resting. He doesn’t really know who he expects to attack him, but he’s sure it’ll happen someday, and probably soon.

 

Shao bolts out from under his sheets and grabs the gun from his bedside table. He pads towards the main room, staying carefully silent. As he reaches the doorway into the room where the scream came from---the room where Napoleon was sleeping---he shifts his finger to the trigger. He takes a moment to ready himself and the old wood creaks under his bare feet. He curses enthusiastically in his head; his element of surprise is gone.

 

He steps into the main room, eyes scanning for threats and finger ready to shoot. He almost expects Napoleon to be dead; one of Annie’s men, or maybe a vengeful savage warlord crouching over the couch. Despite his dislike of the kid, he feels a pang of fear at the thought of his irritating presence becoming a silent, bloody body.

 

There are no enemies, no blood, and the body on the couch is still breathing. Shao slumps against the wall, gun falling from his fingers and a relieved breath rushing out of him. He runs a hand over his face and realizes he’s shaking. The fear and adrenaline refuse to leave despite the lack of threats, and it makes him feel jumpy, like he’s about to break out of his skin.

 

He doesn’t like this feeling, despite it being familiar. It feels like Annie, like trying to hide himself in a cloud of cigarette smoke as her syrupy voice winds around him, like trying to put himself back together in an alleyway after visiting her.

 

The feeling flips over into anger---anger is easy, anger is safe----and he glares at the boy on the couch. What the fuck was he doing anyways, screaming like that?

 

The anger slams to a halt as Napoleon whines, a choked, pained noise. Shaolin can still remember hearing him make that noise when he was helpless on the temple floor with Shaolin’s hands around his throat.

 

Guilt is another feeling Shaolin despises, but it forces him into motion nonetheless. It takes hold of him and walks him closer, makes him look closer at the kid instead of just going the fuck back to sleep. Napoleon is still asleep, but he’s thrashing and fighting against the blankets wrapped around him. There’s sweat beading along his forehead and he whines again.

 

Shaolin is intimately familiar with nightmares; he rarely sleeps without being tormented by them. He knows that’s what Napoleon is fighting now, and it makes his throat tighten up. Napoleon has plenty of things to have nightmares about, it’s not surprising, but Shao really doesn’t want to think about that. Nightmares are private, hidden weaknesses that Shao never wanted to admit existed. When he was alone, he could pretend they didn’t happen, that he didn’t wake up sweating and screaming.

 

Napoleon shrieks again, his childish face twisted with pain, and that breaks something inside Shaolin. He falls to his knees at the couch and reaches towards Napoleon, ignoring how his mind screams at him to ignore the whole situation.

 

When Shao’s hand brushes the blankets covering Napoleon’s heaving chest, the kid snaps awake and lunges. Shao as been fighting for as long as he can remember and reacts with practiced ease, stopping the charge and slamming Napoleon back onto the couch. Napoleon’s eyes clear, sleepiness gone, but the fear remains.

 

Shao knows he’s looming over the kid and the last time that happened he was threatening to kill him, so he carefully retracts his arm. He sits down, putting them at similar eye levels. Napoleon’s breathing slows somewhat, but he still looks afraid.

 

Shao doesn’t know any words of comfort but he can’t just leave him here like this, so he struggles to come up with something to say:

 

“You’re okay, man. You’re safe here, I aint going to hurt you anymore.”

 

Napoleon just looks at him, something accusatory in his face, like he wants to point out that Shao was just holding him down but doesn’t want to risk the fallout. Shao stutters out:

 

“You were having a nightmare.”

 

It’s stating the obvious, but it feels like it could be an explanation. It only makes Napoleon look more bitter and angry. The hard shell that envelopes him during the day is starting to come back. Shao knows how that works, the closing yourself off to protect yourself. He wants to stop Napoleon from retreating, wants to do something to help, even though Napoleon obviously doesn't like him.

 

“I get the the nightmares too, you know. It doesn’t make you soft.”

 

Shao hadn’t meant to say that, and for a moment he hates himself for letting the weakness slip out. But with those words, Napoleon changes completely. His shoulders slump and the coldness retreats. He looks up at Whao with wide, dark, child’s eyes and asks as if Shao should know the answer:

 

“But I’m supposed to be hard. My brother says so. Even you said so. Screaming and crying like a baby is weak.”

 

He says it with an edge, like he wants to believe Shao but has to test and make sure it’s true first. Shao is shaken for a moment by hearing his own words---you supposed to be hard---thrown back at him. But, suddenly, Shao realizes that Napoleon is just a kid. A deadly, strong, gang kid, but still a kid. He’s still looking for someone to tell him what to do, how to act.

 

Shao suddenly feels the full weight of how much responsibility he’s been handed, but Napoleon is watching him with such a sharp, curious look that Shao can’t leave him hanging.

 

“You’re hard most of the time, aren’t you? I saw you, running with the warlords. You’re quick, and vicious. You could take any of my brothers in a fight and win. But the nightmares? You can’t fight them, not like people, and you can’t run from them. The nightmares are the bad stuff in your brain and losing to them doesn’t make you weak.”

 

Napoleon looks doubtful and Shaolin is suddenly desperate to convince him. Shao presses a hand to his own chest and raises his voice slightly, sounding as strong as possible.

 

“Look at me, I’m a badass motherfucker, ain’t I?”

 

Napoleon nods.

 

“But I still have nightmares.”

 

Some of the distrust clears from Napoleon’s face and he looks thoughtful. Shaolin elbows him lightly.

 

“You really think I’d let some wack motherfucker be my record boy?”

 

Napoleon smiles, just barely, and Shaolin feels like someone’s lit a firework in his chest. Napoleon whispers, glancing up shyily:

 

“You mean that? You don’t think I’m wack?”

 

Shaolin laughs and stands up carefully, so he can throw an arm around Napoleon’s shoulders.

 

“Naw. You’re badass, Napoleon. And if you stick with me, I’ll show you how to be a king.”

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Chapter Text

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The sunlight sneaks through the boarded up windows of the kitchen, crisscrossing across the dirty tile floor. Shao rarely uses this room, but he has some basic, nonperishable food stored there: oatmeal, crackers, cereal. Shao had steered a sleepy napoleon in here this morning, once it had dawned on him that he now had the responsibility of feeding him. Shao eats irregularly, usually grabbing something while he’s out in the streets, but he isn’t going to let Napoleon skip meals. He may not like the kid very much, but he’s not going to let him starve.

Napoleon had slowly but methodically explored the room before settling upon a bowl of cheerios. He finds a clean bowl and spoon, tactfully ignoring the sink full of dirty dishes, before sitting at the rickety kitchen table. Shao isn’t hungry, but he takes a seat across from him nonetheless. Napoleon eats like he expects the food to be taken away, stuffing the cereal in his mouth as quickly as possibly can. Shao pushes down the urge to ruffle his hair and tell him to slow down.

They sit in a comfortable silence, except for Napoleon’s crunching, until they hear a door creak open in the main room. Napoleon jumps at the noise and looks expectantly at Shao, obviously unsure how to react. Shao leans back in his chair, making a show of his nonchalance in hopes of calming the younger boy, and yells towards the visitors:

“We’re in the kitchen, y’all!”

Napoleon returns to his previous calm and continues demolishing his cheerios. There’s the overlapping sound of footsteps coming towards them until Ra’s head peeks around the corner. His eyes widen slightly at the domestic scene in front of him. Knowing him, he was probably expecting the worst after leaving Napoleon with Shao. Shao decides to rib him about it:

“What Ra, you thought I was gonna fuck with him?”

Ra stutters, hands flying in front of him as he tries to explain.

“No, I-I just...”

Shao stands up, clasping their hands together.

“Never mind, Ra. I was just messing with you.”

Boo follows Ra into the room, pushing him on the shoulder as he passes.

“I told you we didn’t need to worry.”

There’s a quiet giggle from the table and Shao turns back to see Napoleon. He swallows his last mouthful of cereal and then gestures with his empty spoon.

“Shao was showing me how to spin this morning.”

Zeke pushes through Ra and Boo, grinning that glorious smile of his as he looks at Shao, as if all the good things he thinks about Shao have been confirmed. It makes shao want to be better, to be worth that faith that has been placed in him. Zeke pats Napoleon on the shoulder and leans over to speak to him:

“Did he really? Sounds like you’re on your way to be a real record boy. Did he tell you that he was Grandmaster Flash’s record boy?”

Napoleon gasps and turns to Shao, his eyes shining with hero worship.

“Really?”

Shao can’t stop himself from smiling, and he finally lets himself give in the impulse and reaches out to ruffle the kid’s hair.

“Really. So you’re learning from the best, right?”

Napoleon stands up and adds his bowl to the already full sink, carefully rinsing it out first.

“Right!”

Shao sees Dizzee come into the room last and he claps his hands together, getting everyone’s attention.

“Alright everybody, let’s get to practicing! We’ve got a DJ battle in a few days, and if we lose this we’re back to being banned for life. You ready?”

There’s a chorus of yesses and his brothers turn and flood back into the main room, excitedly romping along and playfully pushing at each other. Napoleon follows them and when Shao arrives in the room is expectantly waiting next to the turntables and the stack of records they’ve been practicing with. Shao gives him a smile and takes his place behind the speakers. Everything feels right with the world; he’s got his brothers and he’s got the music. There’s no way they’re going to lose the DJ battle.

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Chapter Text

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Napoleon stands in his spot next to the table where they’ve set up shao’s turntables and the sound system. THey’re all ready for the DJ battle, other than the fact that they’re missing Zeke. he can see the nervousness on the brother’s faces as they stand by their mics, fidgeting. Shao paces across the stage like a caged panther. Snarling at his brothers:

 

“Where the fuck is Zeke?”

Napoleon stays silent and stays at his post. There is nothing he can do or say to make this better, so he just stays out of it. He plays with the first record they’re starting with. Suddeny there’s a loud squeal of feedback, making him jump, and then the DJ of the notorious three snarls into his mic:

“We say ladies first!”

Napoleon tenses, ready or shao to say the word to hand him the first record. Shao storms back towards the table and takes his place, muttering:

“Fuck Zeke. This is a DJ battle.”

Napoleon hands him the first record and he scratches it before letting it play, the beat unspooling out from the wax. Napoleon rocks to it, dancing as he grabs the next record. Shao is as masterful as ever, his fingers flying as he works. Even so, their speakers are much outclassed by the echoplex of their enemies. Napoleon bites his lip and tries to keep the faith.

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Napoleon is the first to see Zeke come in, the brothers focused on their enemies who are rocking out. He shouts joyfully:

“Zeke!”

And they turn, catching sight of him as well. They join him in shouting and they chorus:

“Zeke!”

They run to him patting him on the back and pulling him in for a hug before pulling away to get ready. They pull on their beautiful red satin jackets which are emblazoned with the get down brothers and Napoleon gasps. They’re amazing, all uniform and all ready to destroy their enemies. They step out onto the stage and move as one, rhyming with perfect speed and accuracy. Napoleon bounces on his heels and dances along, feeling adrenaline flow through him.

This is where he was meant to be, he’s sure of it. At Shao’s side, the slick feeling of records under his fingers, the beat pounding all around him. After everything he’s been through, he’s finally found his place in the world.

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Chapter Text

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Shao and Napoleon are in the temple, sunlight peeking through the boarded up windows, music flowing from the speakers. They’re not practicing, they’re just playing for fun. Napoleon is picking the records, developing his own taste. Shao is guiding him, telling him what’s wack and what’s not.

Secretly, Napoleon hopes he can become a DJ like Shao some day. But that’s so far off, and such a pipe dream, there’s no use thinking about it now. So he just lets himself be taken away by the music, focusing on nothing else.

They’re both so engrossed they don’t notice when the door opens. Only when someone clears their throat do they turn to see a person standing halfway across the main room. He’s black, wearing all red, with a hat like Shao wears sometimes. Napoleon doesn’t recognize him. So he looks to Shao to see if this man is a threat.

Shao breaks into a bright grin and Napoleon relaxes. Not a threat, must be a friend. Shao speaks up, voice as happy as his expression:

“Grandmaster flash!”

Napoleon feels his eyes widen and whispers to himself, astounded:

“Grandmaster flash?”

Is this actually him? Standing in their temple? Napoleon feels like he should be heralded by angels, rather than just walking in here like anyone else.

Shao steps out of the booth to get close to flash and says:

“Osu.”

The grandmaster nods and smiles slightly at his protege. Then his eyes roam across the room and stop on Napoleon. Napoleon feels frozen by his stare, knowing that he needs to make a good impression.

“Who’s this, grasshopper?”

Shao turns to look at Napoleon before bursting out:

“Oh shit, you haven’t met Napoleon.”

He walks back to the booth and throws an arm around Napoleon’s shoulders, grinning at him proudly as he says:

“This is my record boy. Fastest fingers I’ve ever seen.”

Napoleon manages to speak up:

“Hi.”

The grandmaster nods before stepping closer, his eyes intense.

“Let me see your hands.”

Napoleon’s brain is a whirl of confusion. Why does the grandmaster want to see his hands? But he doesn’t ask, just puts his hands out.

Flash takes them gently, flipping them over to look at the palms. He stares for a moment before saying:

“Good. You have the hands of a DJ.”

Napoleon can’t help but gasp. Grandmaster flash thinks he could be a DJ? His dream isn’t impossible?

He stutters out:

“Thank you.”

The grandmaster smiles gently again, before looking back at Shao.

“I hear you’re performing at les inferos tonight. This is a great step forward, grasshopper, but be careful you don’t lose the beat.”

It’s cryptic enough that Napoleon doesn’t understand, but Shao nods like he did and says:

“Yes, grandmaster.”

Flash smiles before smoothly turning to leave.

“Good luck.”

Shao and Napoleon watch him leave, Napoleon still awestruck and Shao contemplative. Once the grandmaster is gone, Napoleon can’t help but jump, up and down on his heels, getting some excited energy out. He cheers:

“I can’t believe I met grandmaster flash!”

Shao smiles at him and says:

“You sure did. He’s the real deal.”

Napoleon feels like he’s overflowing with excitement. He asks:

“Do you really think I could be a DJ?”

Shao grins and reaches out to ruffle Napoleon's hair.

“No doubt about it, Napoleon.”

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Chapter Text

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Les Inferno is shaking with the base of really good speakers, light dancing off the disco ball in the center of the room. But disco no longer reigns supreme here; the B boys and B girls have invaded. Napoleon feels honored to be part of such an important move for the get down brothers, as much as it is terrifying to be back here where both his brothers died. He uses the music to distract himself, focuses only on rocking out.

That is, until Cadillac storms onto the stage and slams his hand down on the record player, stopping the music with a squawk. He yells:

“Cut that shit.”

He’s so close Napoleon feels like he’s going to panic, what if he’s recognized? He trusts Shaolin and his brothers to keep him safe, but Cadillac's presence is still terrifying.

Shao snarls back:

“What the fuck are you doing, man?”

Cadillac leans in, all threat and gold jewelry, and orders:

“You best put on some real man music, because I’m about to school these young bloods. You know what it is? Rock steady, nigga.”

Shao glares back, but nods subtly and turns to Napoleon, who is keeping himself turned away from Cadillac and his head down, hiding as much as he can in plain sight. The sunglasses he’s wearing feel like a paltry defense. Shao says:

“Yo, give me the record.”

Napoleon leans down over the crate and pulls out the record, handing it over. Shao puts it on and lets it play. Cadillac throws his hands up victoriously and crows:

“Yeah, sucka!”

Then he struts back down off the stage and begins to dance, joined by other people waiting for disco. Shao watches for a long moment, blowing out cigarette smoke, before also stepping off the stage.

Cadillac yells out challengingly:

“Disco magic, baby!”

Then the record skips and jumps, overlaid with a voice saying

“Shaolin Fantastic”

The get down brothers whoop and join Shao on the dance floor. Shaolin begins to dance against a backdrop of cheering B boys, much to Cadillac’s disgust. The B boys begin to join in the dancing, leaving Saholin to return to the stage and the performance to continue. Napoleon watches Cadillac’s humiliation with glee and returns to having fun.

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