Eagan slammed the door and strayed into the living room in a black undershirt, slinging his carmine backpack aside with his emerald sweater. He caught sight of a shadow on the wooden floor beside him an instant before someone leapt onto his back with an elbow hooked around his neck. He staggered around and threw his torso forward, somersaulting Rearden onto his back. He pinned his legs down with one knee and clamped a hand down on his throat.

Rearden released a chuckle that dissolved into a cough. "You win again."

Eagan released his throat and gently slapped his cheek as he rose to stand again. "That's right, I do. The second that changes, you lose your school bodyguard."

Rearden accepted the extended hand that hauled him up again and wrapped a strong arm around his shoulders. "Well, that's going to happen anyway when you go to an chéad bhliai."

"No, when I change schools, you are going to report to me anyone who starts a row with you," Eagan kissed his head and slapped his back as he continued onward.

"Is that what landed you home early again?" his brother hoarsely called after him.

"You know the answer to that," he called as he made his way to the kitchen. He yanked open the refrigerator and reached for a water bottle, which he unstopped with his teeth and gulped down until it was empty. When he swung the door closed, his father stood directly in its place with a scowl and crossed arms.

"There you are," Eagan remarked. "I was expecting you to be lying in wait in the living room for me to get home again."

"How many times have you been sent home this year already?" Cairbre snarled.

"So I gave a shiner to the kid who always teases Liam," Eagan raised his arms up with a casual saunter around the kitchen. "He knew I would when he opened his trap again. Most parents would appreciate someone protecting their wee ones."

"You have been sent home five times already," Cairbre roared. "Were those all to protect Liam?"

Eagan crossed his arms in mock contemplating. "I suppose there was an instance or two where I simply lost me temper. Some of those classmates are right infuriating."

"Sometimes, I could beat ya meself!"

"Fire away," Eagan snarled at his nose. His father's hand darted out and snatched a hold of his hair just as Abigeál entered the room with a paper bag of groceries in her arm.

"What is going on?"

Cairbre released him, and a smile slithered across his lips. "You are going to clean out the barn."

"I am going upstairs."

As he started toward the stairs, Cairbre caught him by the collar and shoved him toward the back door. "You are going to be in the barn until supper. I will be working nearby, and I'll know if you don't."

Eagan started back toward the stares, but Cairbre pushed him back again. He opened and exited the sliding glass door, then slammed it as hard as it would allow. The sun was being smothered with a blanket of silver clouds as he traipsed out to the barn and drew open the double doors. Besides the stack of hay stood several tools and parts of equipment. He managed to pull almost all of it onto the grass before supper was ready.

Aunt Darcy arrived promptly, and in the usual sapphire dress and ebony sunhat. Eagan rushed past her before she could speak and ran to the bathroom to clean up.

As he rinsed his hands, he caught a couple of sounds outside the door. He had automatically closed the door all but a crack, so he peered through the slit to see Aunt Darcy receive Callum with a kiss on his head. She raised her eyes to the approaching Abigeál as he returned to the kitchen.

"This is a lovely lad to serve as a model for the others. He is handsome in appearance and respectable and gentle in demeanor. It is astonishing to me that your second son is such a scoundrel in every way."

Abigeál stared after her son with an affectionate smile, but with a sort of sadness in her eyes.

"Eagan always had so much energy, and we weren't entirely prepared for it after Callum. He has another personality entirely. Remember when he used to throw his arms around us and squeeze as much as he could? He always gave such warm, loving hugs."

Aunt Darcy snorted. "Well, if he keeps up what he's doing now, he'll be on the streets."

"You may be right," she admitted and continued to gather everyone at the table to eat their beef and vegetable soup and soda bread. Eagan sneaked out without notice and seated himself in the kitchen with a scowl of contempt from his Aunt Darcy.

"Well," Abigeál smiled at her sons around her, "I want to hear about everyone's day."

"I received an A on me report on electricity and its presence in creatures such as the platypus," Calder announced at the opposite end. Their mother praised his accomplishment, and Callum laid a proud hand on his back. Liam squirmed in his seat and shouted he would "be right back!" as he scrambled to the living room. He returned with a painting his class made with alcohol on watercolors.

"We made these at school!"

"That is lovely!" Abigeál praised when she examined the swirls of jade and gold. She rose to set it somewhere visible in the kitchen as Cairbre peered out the back window. Dense mist showered the earth, provoking a stern glance at Eagan.

"Did you leave everything on the grass?"