When Arthur turned 21 he spent the afternoon at the park alone, his two younger brothers were still in middle-school at that point and were grumbling and rebellious, hard to even picture such a sweet boy like Niall wearing black clothes and painting his gorgeous blonde hair black and listening to Nightwish on repeat. Or that Wendell would start bringing different girls home every week and refused to clean or take part in any family activity. Their mother Isabella was a bartender at the nearby Hilton Hotel and she had late hours, it worried Arthur that they would worry her and not feel any guilt. But it was his birthday and he didn't feel like taking part in fighting with Niall to turn down his music, or to answer any angry phone calls from another spurned girl on behalf of Wendell. He just wanted some time alone.

All his life he'd been told to be good, to be responsible, that he had two younger brothers who needed him, that his mother depended on him to watch out for them. Nobody had watched out for Arthur, but he didn't mind, he'd never known anything different and so he didn't feel bad or bitter about keeping his siblings out of trouble. His mother had been wild when she was young, a rich heiress who swathed in expensive clothes would prowl the cities nightclubs in search of fun, but of course she only found Arthur's father, whoever he was, and disowned by her own father, Isabella spent some time at her sister's house, for Arthur's early years, and then it was the two of them, and 8 years later it was Yeven, Niall's father, and a year after that it was Earnest, Wendell's father.

Arthur didn't resent his mother, he'd been there for the year Yeven stayed, secluded, always working, and the fights they'd had and how they'd bitterly broken up. And Earnest who no matter how kind and dedicated he was his mother simply didn't love him, Arthur still received letters asking about Wendell. Wendell talked with him during phone calls sometimes; it was the only time he smiled, Arthur was glad they had a good relationship. Niall however had not been approached by his father, or if he had Arthur wasn't sure, he didn't think his mother would be the type to hide letters and gifts from her sons just because she didn't like the sender.

Nevertheless, somehow it led here, 21 years; they'd lived in this town for five years now, finally settled down in a three bedroom house, decent rent, and a decent neighborhood. His mom had a stable job; his kid sibling's had good grades even though they were going through puberty and couldn't be subtle about it.

Arthur didn't think he had any complaints, his life was good. He was going to start classes in one week, and he was thrilled, finally being able to get his degree in botany, to open his own cactus shop. Isabella still laughed at him about that, but he knew she supported him in her own way.

Arthur shrugged and sank down on the bench to better look at the sky, cloudy and orange and pink and purple, it was getting late.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and when he took it out he saw his mother's name on the screen, he opened the text message and smiled.

"Happy birthday! I'll try to get home early today! Got a big surprise for u!"

Arthur put his phone in his pocket and got off the bench, after a quick stretch he made his way home.

When Arthur walked up the tiny drive way of the house he could hear Nightwish playing at full volume, blaring from his brother's bedroom window. The neighbors here never complained about it, it made him wonder if secretly everyone on their street was a fan. As he approached the front door he was surprised when it burst open and a young, pretty girl stomped out, she was buttoning her shirt, she glared at Arthur, and then turned around, "fuck you Wendell! See if I ever call you again!"

The girl turned to Arthur, she looked pissed, she shoved past him without a word and Arthur didn't comment, since he, unlike Wendell, did not want an angry girl yelling at him. Once inside Arthur noted that Niall's bedroom door was open, a rare occurrence. He thought of stepping in, asking how his brother was, but he was distracted by Wendell who walked out of the kitchen with a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls. He glanced at Arthur, "oh, hey, you're home."

Arthur walks to him "are you planning on sharing those?"

Wendell gave him a once-over, "let's see…hmm, Niall?"

Nightwish was suddenly muted, Niall stepped out of the open doorway and when he saw Arthur he smiled, no, beamed, gods his face was glowing when he saw Arthur.

"You're home!"

Niall fluttered over to them, picking up a hot cinnamon roll with the tips of his fingers, careful not to burn himself, it was so odd, to see his delicate, kind hearted younger brother with such a severe look, the black eye liner, the dark hair, but underneath he could see that all this dark and foreboding look could not really cover up the kindness, the peaceful aura that surrounded Niall. Arthur ruffled Niall's hair, "mom said she's coming home early tonight."

"To celebrate? But she's always late," Niall pouts.

Wendell grins at them, his dad's grin, full of that bad boy charm. He was definitely Earnest's son, had his same black curls and hazel eyes. Wendell was taller than Niall and was steadily getting taller than Arthur. He excelled in sports and academics; his worst subject was art which somehow balanced out that Niall was bad at sports but good in art. Arthur was average in both. But he liked plants anyway, so who cared?

The three of them got along so well because they had realized at an early age that they were all they had, and they loved their mother dearly, no matter how scatter brained and insane she could be.

Their family bond was nigh unbreakable.

"Who cares? Also, Arty wants a cinnamon roll, "

Niall frowns at Arthur, "hmm, have you earned it?"

Wendell shrugs, "you know, it is his birthday."

Niall nods solemnly, "I see then we'll make an exception."

Arthur snatched the cinnamon roll off Wendell's plate before Niall could change his mind.

Arthur decided to eat in the living room to watch some television before thinking about what to make for dinner.

As he walked toward the couch he noticed Niall and Wendell following him.

He stops, they do too, "do you guys need something?"

Niall's blue green eyes widen and he gapes like a fish for a moment before glancing at Wendell whose face flares.

"What is wrong with you guys?" Arthur asks.

But they don't respond and when he makes it to the couch they both flank him, Niall leaning against his right shoulder and Wendell sitting close to him on his left, keeping a straight back like he's tense and waiting to leave.

Arthur shrugs and figures that they're just acting weird, being in middle school wasn't easy, he knew that, so he decided to just let them be.

And that was how they fell asleep and forgot about dinner, and how they woke up to their mother laughing and talking in the kitchen and the smell of hot strawberry cake and coffee filled the air.

On Arthur Gallagher's 21'st birthday, he met his stepfather.

Arthur followed his brothers to the kitchen, still yawning and drowsy. When he walked in to the kitchen and saw his mother laughing with some unknown man he was worried. About her, about his brothers, he was wary. Who is this guy? What's he doing here? Why is he laughing with mom?

Isabella looked at Arthur and squealed she jumped at him bringing him to a tight embrace.

"21 years old! How can this be! You're my baby! My baby!" she laughed and kissed his face.

Arthur smiled as she kissed his forehead, "it's just a birthday mom."

"But you're my baby!" she screeched, and suddenly she was crying.

Niall looked between them worriedly.

Wendell was glaring at the man standing by the counter.

Arthur drew his mother into his arms, "I'm so proud of you!" she sobbed, and drawing back she cupped his face in her hands, "I know we haven't had the easiest life, or the happiest one but you've done so well son, you're everything a mother could want."

Arthur blinked and smiled again, she kissed his cheeks and forehead again and stepped away wiping the tears from her face.

"Well then, I owe you all an introduction to our guest here," she says gesturing to the tall, dark haired man standing by the kitchen counter. Arthur observed him quietly as his mother gushed about how they met and how they'd been seeing each other for two years now.

He looked to be in his mid-thirties, about six feet, broad shouldered, steel grey eyes and dark hair. He'd been smiling at Niall and Wendell so he couldn't tell that Arthur was staring, that is until Isabella turned to him and said, "and this is my oldest son Arthur, it's his 21st birthday tonight!" she smiled anxiously between them. "Arthur, this is Neil Dryden."

Their gazes met and Arthur felt uneasy, Neil's gaze did not look like the one he'd aimed at his brothers.

Neil stepped forward and touched his cheek.

Arthur stepped back, "what the hell-"

"Lipstick," Neil says softly, "sorry, your mom left some on your cheek."

Isabella laughed lightly, "Oh, I'm sorry!" she says, taking Neil's hand in hers.

Arthur rubbed at his cheek with the heel of his hand.

"Right." Arthur says.

They all passed into the dining room then, like they did every year for everyone living in the house, Arthur wondered distantly as he blew the candles out, if they'd do this for Neil Dryden one day.

When the picture of that night came out, it was of Arthur looking solemn but at ease, Niall hugging his arm tightly, all but hiding behind him from the camera, Wendell sticking his fingers in the cake as was tradition, and their mother, Isabella, with her arms widespread over their shoulders.

Neil wasn't in it, but then he'd taken the picture so in a way it was fitting.