Holidays were among the greatest times at the Darkov Mansion. They were still always on alert for any attacks or criminal attempts but it was hidden under a layer of festive joy. The vast grounds had turned into a sparkling, crystal playland and fires burned brightly in the main rooms of the mansion. The best part was that Blaise, Trevor, and some of the guards moved into the mansions, filling up the numerous empty rooms so that they didn't have to spend the Holidays alone in their solitary homes. Many of the guards weren't married; preferring to dedicate to their job without putting others they cared for at risk and had long ago severed contact with their family, or in Trevor's case had lost their spouse. No, for most of them their family was the Mafia headed by the Darkov clan. Every guard was tried and true having served Manuel for years, they were family, and in this world they only needed each other and knew their backs would be safe from all attack.
"Gotcha" Blaise crowed as she nailed Harry with a firmly packed snowball.
"This means war" the raven haired boy yelled and turned away from the snowman he had been trying to build.
"Take that" he cried and lobbed two firmly packed snow spheres at Blaise.
They hit the girl dead on and she fell backwards into the soft powder.
"Oww" Blaise cried out as if the snowballs had hurt her and Harry's grin faltered as he went to her side, hoping that he hadn't accidentally packed ice inside the snow.
"Are you okay" concern showed in his radiant eyes and he held a helping hand down to Blaise.
"Sucker" Blaise smirked and quickly pulled Harry down beside her with a laugh.
For a while they just lay there allowing the cold to soak through their clothes before Blaise started slowly moving her arms and legs in a smooth, concerted motion. Harry climbed to his feet and once satisfied Blaise did as well. Together they looked at the snow angel. It was perfect except for the single handprint where Blaise had climbed out. Together they moved away to finish Harry's snowman.
They had just put the finishing touches on the snowman when they heard the crunch of boots on the crisp snow. Looking up the two mischief makers spotted two of the guards put on outside duty for the morning. One of them, Matthew, had been with the guard for as long as Harry could remember and was like an older brother or extra uncle to him. The other man, Bill, was newer to the guard as he had joined almost straight out of school and had only been with them for about half a year, but Harry and Blaise trusted him fully; it had helped his case immensely when he conspired with them to devise and set up a few of the pranks they had pulled before the holidays. With a sly smile Harry and Blaise expertly packed a few snowballs and launched them in quick succession at the two guards who had just been heading off duty and inside to warm up.
"Score" Blaise yelled as the projectiles hit their oblivious targets dead on.
The two guards whirled around and crouched down low in the snow out of instinct, eyes restlessly scanning the ground before resting on the two grinning brats standing next to the snowman.
For a moment the guards just crouched there as if disbelieving that they had just been hit by snowballs from two immature adolescences before swiftly packing their own snowballs and returning fire. Quickly Harry and Blaise ducked behind the snowman, but not before they had been pelted by the snowballs. Crouching down they began forming more snowballs and lobbed them at the exposed guards only to get hit right back. Both teams realized how exposed they were to their opposing team and with a brief truce snow bunkers were quickly erected as a few more guards joined in on the fun after hearing the shouts and coming to investigate. One bunker was a half circle set up against the side of the house while the other was more out in the open but protected in the middle by a leering snowman as carefree laughter rang through the air.
Manuel and Trevor sat in Manuel's office going over papers and the usual business while the snow war waged outside.
"...owes you a lot of money. You saved his drill company from going down the drain ten years ago..."
Manuel was jerked out of his musings of trying to figure out why the names of both the man and drill company sounded familiar beyond the obvious business transaction when shrieks of laughter punctuated by "score" and "gotcha" rang through the air. Manuel smoothly rose to his feet and walked to the windows, twitching the drapes aside slightly as Trevor continued going over the papers. A ghost of a smile crossed Manuel's hardened face as he watched snowballs fly back and forth in the yard below him. He was painfully reminded of himself when he was younger; playing in the very same yard with his older brother and father, reminded of the snow wars they had gotten into with their guards. His brother and father had died in the same assassination attempt that had taken the lives of his wife and child. If the car Manuel had taken from work to meet his family at the restaurant hadn't developed a flat tire on the way he would have been there with them, would have died with them, wouldn't be standing there watching his adopted son play in the snow. Harry himself would most likely have been dead as well.
A hand fell heavily on Manuel's shoulder and he tensed before relaxing under Trevor's comforting hand.
"What's wrong Manuel" Trevor asked, knowing his friends mind had not been on their work for a while.
Manuel sighed "ghosts my friend, nothing more."
Trevor glanced between the gaps in the curtains and saw the snow war going on beneath them; he too remembered the snow wars he had engaged in with the Darkov family. He and Manuel had been companions much like Harry and Blaise now were, though not nearly as troublesome or mischievous.
"Forget the work" Manuel suddenly declared before walking out of the office and down the hall, straight out the back door and into the crystalline snow.
As soon as Manuel was hit by the cold outside air he took off at a run for his son's snow fort, dodging snowballs from behind him and getting pelted more than once. With a dramatic cry Manuel launched himself over one edge of the snow fort and came to a rolling stop in the snow, Trevor beside him. Harry and Blaise just stared at their insane father's as they crouched low behind the hard packed walls, trying to shake the powdery snow from their clothes and hair.
"Reinforcements have arrived" Trevor quipped before turning to battle mode "we need to shore up these walls, make them higher, and we need to call in backup. We cannot lose this war!"
Harry turned to his father with a grin when the suddenly lighthearted Mafia King pulled his portable radio from his pocket. Tuning into the frequency the off duty guards were using he spoke "Snow war, I repeat, snow war on the North side. Back up requested and bring two coats, it's bloody cold out here."
The afternoon passed in a flurry of hard packed snow being hurtled across the open expanse of pristine snow that had turned into a battle ground. Throughout the whole time the guards were coming and going as shifts were changed, leaving both teams open to sneak attacks as no sides were set. Even a few of the house staff joined in. One moment a team would be pelting their 'enemy' and before they knew it someone in their own fort was pelting them. Manuel and Trevor seemed to be getting hit an awful lot from behind and though no one admitted to it the two men suspected their children. Little did they know that it was mostly the guards attacking them, taking the chance to score a playful hit against the bosses without them knowing it.
Finally when it was getting too dark to see and all their wet clothes were freezing stiffly on them everyone headed inside to be greeted by the head cook and one of the maids bearing trays of steaming hot cocoa, the perfect drink after a hard play in the snow. Quickly shedding their jackets, boots, and gloves the group either hung their wet things in the back mudroom to dry or left them in a sodden heap. Grabbing their mugs eagerly Harry and Blaise drank the steaming concoction, burning their tongues in the process, it was a perfect blend of chocolate and the cook had even added a tiny splash of rum for the added medicinal warmth.
A hot shower, dinner, and a few more mugs of cocoa taken before a roaring fire brought an end to the day and the Darkov household retired to their beds to sleep; the only ones still awake those currently on duty. To top off the great day they had just spent no disturbances occurred during the night and no strange dreams plagued any of the inhabitants of the manor.
The next few days leading up to Christmas did not include anymore snow wars, but Sensei had gotten an idea from the battle and decided to take training outdoors which was something he usually only did in the summer. They warmed up with basic martial arts practice while learning to adapt their movements to the hampering snow, often ending up lying face down in it until they did before Sensei instructed them to match him in a fight. It wasn't until they started getting hit by snowballs from a few of the guards that Sensei had positioned behind the snow forts that their fighting instructor explained that they were to fight him while avoiding getting hit by the frozen projectiles. He was trying to train them to not only be aware of the person they were fighting, but to be alert to other attacks that could come from anywhere at anytime. Harry and Blaise were more than a little grumpy by the time that lesson ended.
Christmas morning dawned cold and early, Harry waking up just before dawn and tiptoeing into Blaise's room. Merging with the shadows of the room as Manuel and Trevor had taught him Harry crept to the foot of Blaise's bed and pounced onto the fluffy mattress. Blaise startled as she felt the mattress move under her, felt someone in the bed with her, and woke up choking back the scream rising in her throat.
"Merry Christmas Blaise" Harry grinned angelically at his friend, receiving a pillow in his face for the trouble.
"Damn you Harry Darkov" Blaise hissed "you scared the shit out of me."
Harry tried to look repentant but only managed to look even more mischievous.
"What would Trevor say to hear such language" Harry mocked "come on; let's get Trevor and my father up."
Blaise went to wake up her father while Harry cautiously entered Manuel's room. Here he had to be careful, his father slept with a gun and knife under his pillow and though Manuel probably already knew it was him it paid to be cautious so as not to become a target.
"Dad" Harry called out softly from near the bed but not near enough to be within knife range knowing that Manuel would go for the knife at such a close distance instead of a gun. To get that far into the bedroom of Manuel Darkov made things personal.
"Harry" Manuel's voice was alert and Harry moved to the bed and climbed in beside his father, snuggling down into the warmth and ignoring his dad's wince as his cold feet brushed against him.
"Merry Christmas dad" Harry said, giving his father a hug.
Manuel returned the hug and anticipating what was coming next told Harry "Merry Christmas Harry, but it's way too early to get out of bed."
Harry pouted for a moment in a typical seven-year-old manner before wiggling free from his father's arms and heading out of the room. Blaise was waiting impatiently in the hall for Harry and shook her head negatively in response to Harry's questioning look. Neither of their father's was willing to get out of bed and indulge them in their need of presents. It was tradition for the four of them to wait until all together before opening anything. Harry sighed, a hidden twinkle in his vibrant green eyes as he plotted.
"Well, we can at least go open our stockings" he said and allowed Blaise to precede him downstairs.
Pausing for a moment at the end of the hall Harry concentrated hard as sweat began beading lightly on his forehead, he was rewarded moments later by two muffled yelps; this particular feint of magic had taken a lot out of him but would it would be well worth it in the long run. For a brief moment Harry swayed there near the top of the steps wondering why some of the magic he played with was harder to work with and needed to be controlled in different ways than some of the stuff he could just wish to happen. Doing some things with magic, like what he had just did, was more tiring than others to his young body and unlike the day at the amusement park he didn't have an adrenaline rush to augment his powers. Smirking Harry regained his equilibrium and skipped lightly down the steps to join Blaise at the Christmas tree positioned near a crackling fire in the informal living room.
Upstairs Manuel was shaking cold water off his head and grimacing at Harry's unfair and devious tactics before heading towards his shower, giving up on the idea of sleeping in. Further down the hall Trevor was grinning even as his teeth chattered, Blaise must have really wanted him up for her accidental magic to have forced such a thing to happen. Still grinning Trevor pulled a length of wood from its hiding place in the bed frame and cast a simple drying charm before heading to his shower; his daughter would definitely be getting her letter in a few years. Wouldn't she be surprised then, but he would also have a lot of explaining to do. It wouldn't matter though, it would be worth it.
Christmas day passed as it always did excepting the fact that Manuel glared at Harry for a good fifteen minutes after he came down, peeved at the wakeup call and planning retaliation for later. They spent the day exchanging and fooling around with presents as each shift of the guard changed. The ones that were at the mansion today were those that didn't keep contact with their family or were spending a different day with them, mainly all of them. Harry was glad most of them stayed to spend Christmas at Darkov Manor since except for three or four of the guards they had been around since Harry was a baby; some often delighted in teased him with embarrassing stories on changing his nappies. Then of course there was the ton of food to feast on.
Throughout the day you only had to walk into the dining room and grab whatever you wanted to eat off of the trays or steam table. It was at dinner that everything changed. Before dinner a thorough sweep was done of both the grounds and the mansion, the exterior security systems were set on high alert, and the house was locked down so that they could celebrate Christmas dinner together and no one was forced to miss out because they were on shift. Every year they all sat down to enjoy Christmas dinner and crack rowdy jokes, ignoring the fact that they were saying things most seven year olds shouldn't hear. To Harry, Manuel, Blaise, Trevor, Sensei, and all the rest this was how Christmas dinner was meant to be spent; with their mafia family all together, sitting around the grand table in a locked down house.
The rest of the holidays passed uneventfully except for a brief problem when security was breached. It had been in the early hours of the morning when the alarms signaling one of the first story rooms being broken into went off. Instantly the whole of the Darkov household was on alert and guards could be heard moving through the halls towards the lower levels, checking for intruders as they went. Harry himself was on his feet in no time, slipping his feet into his shoes as he pulled his knife from under his pillow and picked up the gun from the bedside table. Silently Harry slipped into the hallway at the same time as his father and Trevor, Blaise joining up with them only moments later.
"Stay here" Manuel ordered firmly to the two children "I don't want to see either of you set foot downstairs."
Before either Harry or Blaise could respond Manuel and Trevor were gone, leaving them alone in the hallway as all but one guard left at the stairs had headed to the lower level. Harry reached out to tap Blaise's arm and motioned her into the relative safety of his room, the hallway was too open. Settling her comfortably in his bed he motioned for her to stay lying on the bed and he drew the thick hangings to screen her should anyone enter the room, she would have been safer on the floor under the bed but less comfortable and her escape would be hampered if they needed to flee. That done he took up position in the shadows across from the door and waited.
He didn't have to wait long before his door creaked softly open; it wasn't his father, he would have knocked first as a precaution as would most of the guards. Harry hadn't heard any noise from downstairs and now suspected that the intruder had somehow slipped by the guards, either that or there was more than one and the guards were tied up dealing with them. Harry stayed his hand until the shadowy figure was fully into the room; double checking to make sure it wasn't a guard. Eyes locked onto Harry's position and the young boy no longer hesitated but sent his knife flying, brining up his gun at the same time. The intruder was one step ahead of him.
The moment the knife had left Harry's hand the intruder had dove forward under Harry's guard and knocked the gun away. A furious struggle ensued as Harry desperately tried to land blows on his opponent. But it seemed as if the intruder merely absorbed the blows and knew exactly what moves Harry was going to make as he threw his greater weight around to disadvantage the young Darkov. All too soon Harry found himself pinned to the floor and though he continued to struggle he couldn't throw the shadowy form off of himself.
What happened next was completely unexpected. During the struggle Blaise had slipped unnoticed from the bed and retrieved Harry's dagger. Moving behind the intruder she had raised the knife and plunged it down, squeezing her eyes shut as she did so, at the exact moment the intruder reared away from Harry who had just kneed him forcefully in the groin. As the intruder reared away from Harry his body turned sideways towards Blaise exposing him to the frantically thrust dagger. The sharp edge of the blade pierced the intruders body as the flesh of his neck parted easily beneath the force of Blaise's frenzied stab.
Blaise opened her eyes, unable to resist, in time to see dark eyes glaze over in death as the body slumped sideways off of Harry; the front half of the assassin's neck was completely severed. Harry rose to his feet, ignoring the blood that had poured over his body and was spreading darkly across his carpet. Taking Blaise's bloody hands in his own relatively clean ones Harry led his friend to his bathroom.
"Come on Blaise" he coaxed her gently "let's get you cleaned up."
Manuel and Trevor had only made it to the second floor before they were ambushed. Expertly dispatching one assassin Manuel left Trevor to torture information out of the second one as he headed towards the first floor. Manuel reached the top of the stairs and almost started down them when he was disturbed by a faint odor in the air. Looking sharply at the air Manuel noticed a faint haze floating along the first floor and immediately covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve, shaking his head slightly as if to clear it.
"Knockout gas" Manuel cursed moving back to the second floor where the gas had yet to infiltrate and turned to Trevor who had just slit the assassin's throat having no more need for the bastard alive.
"Sampson betrayed us" Trevor hissed, the desire for vengeance in his voice.
Manuel's blood ran cold. Sampson had been on the guard for at least two years and while a bit strange they had trusted him, the intelligence he had gathered had always been top of the line and had never steered them wrong. It seemed as if the man's ambitions had risen to meet a higher price.
"The kids" Manuel ground out and sprinted back to the third floor, taking the steps two at a time.
Not bothering to knock Manuel flung the door to his son's room open and flipped the lights on, his gun sweeping the room as Trevor did the same beside him. Harry and Blaise weren't there but a slightly mangled and rapidly cooling corpse lay in its own blood in the middle of the room. Both fathers felt their hearts skip a beat and nearly stop before they caught the low sound of a voice accompanied by running water coming from the bathroom.
The sight they walked in on was one they did not expect. Blaise was sitting stonily on the sink counter; blood was splashed all over her though it obviously wasn't hers and Harry was gently washing blood off her hands and whispering soft words of comfort to the distraught and shocked girl. For a second Harry looked up and caught his father and Trevor's eyes before turning back to Blaise.
"If it wasn't for you he would have had me Blaise. Thank you. You did a very brave thing; you protected me and the others in the house. That man doesn't matter anymore, what matters is that we're safe. You saved us."
Harry's words released a flood gate in Blaise and she started to sob and shake. Coming forth Trevor wrapped his arms around his daughter while Harry dried her now clean hands on a dark towel.
Picking his little girl up and cradling her in the safety of his arms Trevor took Blaise to his room and tucked her into his bed, coercing her to take a sleeping pill; the talk they needed to have was one better saved till morning.
Harry also slept with his father that night after he had showered the crusting blood of his attacker off of himself and the back-up guards had arrived to take care of the situation. Most of the on-duty guards had been caught by the knockout gas and were suffering from extreme wooziness and headaches. Though he had appeared to be strong it had been more of a front for Blaise, inwardly Harry had been shaking and now delayed reaction was setting in. He could almost still feel the man's hot blood drenching through his clothes, onto his skin, and Harry couldn't hold back a shudder at every imagined whiff of the tang of blood he knew still clung to him even after a vigorous scrubbing under nearly scalding water. Manuel held Harry in his arms as his shaken son finally fell asleep and he couldn't help but think back to Harry's first kill.
It was only a little over a month before Harry's seventh birthday and they were taking the limo out to dinner. They hadn't realized that their guards had been cut off from reaching them until right before the limo was attacked. A sense of fearful dÃ©jÃ vu had gripped Manuel and he had come out fighting after telling Harry to crawl under the car and hide, he wasn't about to lose another child. So intent on one of his opponents and the taunts being thrown at him about his dead wife and child Manuel hadn't realized that he was being snuck up upon until a gun shot shattered the air. Quickly dispatching the suddenly distracted man in front of him Manuel had turned to see his little Harry standing over a still form, the gun he had picked up shaking in his hands though he didn't know how the boy had managed to keep hold of the gun after the recoil. Manuel knelt before is son, blocking his view of the body and gently removed the gun from Harry's hands before pulling his son into a tight hug. They were safe then and the guards were coming to surround them in a protective barrier but still Harry had shook...
Manuel sighed and pulled his son closer, thankful his dark prince was still alive. He had managed to help Harry through his first kill and together they would help Trevor get Blaise through hers. It wouldn't be easy but they would do it, they wouldn't allow Blaise to lose herself to guilt and fears.