Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine. If they were we all know the show would be very different.
Summary: Sam gets drugged up in a bar and Dean has to rescue him; Sander and Alexion face the challenges of Macedonian court life
Acknowledgements: To everyone who asked me when this story was going to show up, thank you. To whimsicalwonder, thank you for not sending me evil toilet bombs when I drunk dialed you.
Notes: Sanderides is Sam's past life version and Alexion is Dean's past life version.
Did it start with Dean fellating an ice cream cone? Or the time Sam got high at a theater kid party? Maybe the first time Dean won more than a hundred at pool? Neither of them was sure. But both felt so alone, so lost, and so certain they’d fucked the other up some how. Sam was almost certain he could trace it back to that conversation they’d had about Greek warriors nearly four years ago, but Dean took it back father. It was totally the product of not enough personal space when they were younger.
They waited long years for it to disappear, for the air between them to clear, but either they didn’t have enough patience, or it simply wasn’t going to. To Dean, that thought didn’t even bear contemplating. He was going to soldier on and he wasn’t going to touch him. It didn’t matter what he thought, he told himself, just as long as he never acted on it. That was enough.
Sam buried himself in school and activities and fighting with Dad. Sam was barely at a school for two months and suddenly he was the president of some activity club. Dean ribbed him about it endlessly. Geekboy, nerdface, dorkus, brain. Sam didn’t mind.
They went on a job a few weeks into the school year, a harpy-like creature with steel wings. John thought it would be easy as pie, but Sam saw blood and tears. He wasn’t disappointed. Dean got a slash across the back that Sam had to sew back up. He found himself nearly in tears over the abused, red and bleeding flesh as he taped a bandage in place. Sixteen years old and crying, he’d never been so disgusted with himself. Dean hissed and shivered at the tender fingers that Sam ran over and across the blades of his shoulders.
“You’re a gentler touch than Dad,” he said, his head pillowed upon his bicep and stripped down to the waist. Sam didn’t know what to do about that so he locked himself into the tiny little bathroom until he could stop shaking. If those claws had gone any deeper—his mind could not calculate for that eventuality.
Sam went back to school and Dean went back to doing whatever it was he did—odd jobs here and there. Dad had stopped providing spending money for Dean when he turned eighteen, so it was work or forget buying new records or bigger and better weapons for his arsenal. Even John thought Dean was a regular little Rambo.
Dean needled Sam about finding a girl and Sam got pissy and exasperated back. He was in no rush, there weren’t any girls at school he liked, he had other things to worry about. The list of excuses was longer than his arm. Dean didn’t quit and Sam didn’t know how to lay it out for him so that Dean got the point. He didn’t want a girl, and certainly not the one-night-only cheap lay that Dean seemed so happy with.
Dean brought it up on a Thursday before the school dance, and it was the breaking point. He’d stormed out of the room and slammed the door to his bedroom so hard he’d startled himself with it. John looked up from the police reports he’d pilfered of a supposed double homicide and shot Dean a look.
“Maybe he’s a late bloomer, Dean,” John told his womanizer of a son. “If he’s not ready, you can’t force him.”
Dean had made some crack about Sam’s height and left it at that, but he couldn’t understand him, nor did he try. Sam felt like the one person who had got him in the entire world had just disappeared. He wanted to tell his older brother to change it back, to stop being a jerk and be the person he remembered. Sam could settle for that. He hoped, anyway.
It didn’t help that Dean had spent the last four years breaking hearts. He was indiscriminate in his conquests—cheerleaders, theater girls, preppy girls destined for Ivies, Tom boys, and hipsters. Dean had had them all. Sam who felt so much for Dean, all of it completely incomprehensible and confusing, felt like his heart was being ripped out every time Dean disappeared with a girl and returned to the apartment smelling like perfume.
What could he say? Sam was smart enough not to consider trying.
Sam had a nightmare after they moved to a new town in rural Colorado. A horrible dream of burning lands and blood and fire filled to the bursting point with blackened wasted forms. He woke up screaming, Dean’s strong arms winding around him from behind.
“Hey, hey, just a dream,” he said softly into Sam’s hair, but Sam had known, even then, that they were not just dreams. He expected Dean to just get up, leave him lying desolate and desperate. That’s what he did these days.
Dean, always the master of the unexpected, didn’t move at all. He tightened his arms around Sam and pulled him back into his bare chest. Sam had felt the layers of heated muscle like a brand through his cotton t-shirt, felt Dean’s legs tangled up with his own, felt that the nightmare was almost made worth it by the experience.
When he woke up again, somewhere around 4 AM, Dean’s arm was resting over his waist, his hand just above Sam’s pelvis and his fingertips hitting the bare strip of skin between his shirt and his pajama shorts. He moved against Dean, accidentally grinding back against his brother’s cock. Dean let out a breath and murmured against his skin. Sam froze, practically unable to breathe as Dean got hard against him, but Dean didn’t wake. He merely shifted against Sam and buried his face into Sam’s shoulder. He couldn’t fall asleep again after that, but he didn’t dare move either. Sam had blushed at the mere thought for weeks.
Now here he was at the club, the one that Dean went to, with a few of the kids from his school who thought that clubbing was a regular extra-curricular. He should’ve said no, it was fucking ridiculous, not fun. But he and Dean had gotten into it again today. Hadn’t exactly called Sam a pussy, but certainly implied as much. So when Manda Rogers, one of the girls from the group he ate lunch with, asked him out with them that night, he’d said yes rather than his customary no.
And there was Dean chatting up some girls, two blondes and a redhead, at the bar, looking slick in his leather jacket as a guitar-heavy song pumped through the speakers. Jesus, he must have been on drugs when he agreed to do this. Or just really fucking rattled by Dean.
Damn it. He hated how his brother managed to make him completely lose his head.
He was going to be stuck watching Dean do his thing surrounded by juvie high school kids playing at sophisticated. Hurray. Manda handed him a drink and told him to calm down, live a little. The drink tasted like hospital and fear and being stitched up with a heated needle with Dean’s comforting hand smoothing over his skin. He made a face and seriously considered spitting it back out into the glass.
Manda followed the line of his sight as she chuckled at his disgruntled expression. “Christ, that guy is beautiful.”
Sam snorted and thought about telling her it was his brother, but something stopped him in his tracks, possibly the look on Dean’s face as he leaned in and whispered something in redhead’s ear. Sam let out a disgusted sigh and turned away, accepting another drink from one of the guys he didn’t know all that well.
“I wish I had the guts to talk to him,” Manda told him. She turned to look at him, and then backed up at the expression on his face. “Uh, is everything all right?”
“Sure, yes, I need more alcohol.”
Three shots later Manda was still talking about Dean, eyes full of wonder and jealousy. Sam didn’t understand why girls always started pouring this shit out to him, but always they used him like their free therapist. He was a little drunk though. None of what she was saying made any sense anymore. His entire head seemed to weigh ten pounds. Everything was spinning, including his brain inside his skull, or at least that’s how it felt. Oh God, he should have asked where those drinks came from. Dean was going to kick his ass.
Dean wasn’t in the least oblivious to Sam’s presence. He’d noticed his brother walk in with black jeans and black t-shirt that actually fit and a whopping fake ID within seconds. He hadn’t gone over there though, because he didn’t want to step on Sammy’s toes or embarrass him by telling him to run on home. Sam would never get play that way. He wanted Sam to actually, y’know, cut loose a little, chat up a pretty girl, have some fun. Seemed like the next thing he knew Sam was swaying woozily at the table while the pretty little brown-haired girl next to him shouted in his ear.
Christ on a candle stick. First night in a bar and his brother managed to get himself roofied. There was no justice in the world. He would’ve laughed if it weren’t his own damn brother. He left Emily or Erin or whatever still at the bar to go help him out.
Sam lolled out of his chair just as Dean arrived.
“Whoa,” he cried propping his brother back onto the barstool. “Careful, Sammy.”
The girl, who was wearing lipstick a shade too dark for her age, stared at him, eyes wide.
He turned on her, eyes snapping. “Don’t just stand there, get him some water.”
She gaped at him for a second longer and then ran off to the bar, shoving through the crowd of people.
Sam fell boneless against him, his face pressed into Dean’s neck and his arms wrapped around Dean’s waist just to stay upright. Sam was probably barely aware of the way he was nuzzling Dean’s neck and pressing himself into his brother’s warmth, but Dean was. “I don’t feel so good, Dean.”
Dean ran a hand down his back. “I know, you’re gonna be all right.” He sighed and grabbed Sam’s chin. “Hey look at me, who gave you the drinks?”
“Don’t fuck them up, Dean.” Sam blinked back at him, his pupils contracting into small black points. "Don't want you getting in trouble."
Dean closed his eyes, but didn’t get to press him further. Sam’s friend returned with the water. She handed it to him with shaking hands.
Dean shot her a look. “He’s gonna be all right.”
“I—what’s wrong with him?”
“He was drugged,” He answered in a hard voice. She looked stricken. The rest of Sam’s group was beginning to take notice.
Sam was murmuring something and Dean turned back to him. “I need—I need to leave.”
“Yeah, yeah, all right,” Dean whispered into his brother’s hair. “Hey, who gave him the drinks?”
“I did—Ryan made them for us.”
Dean could’ve laughed. Stupid jock boy joking with his friends in the corner had been gunning for this little thing with wide eyes and berry-lipstick and wound up getting his geek of a brother. Dean still wanted to kill him.
“Listen, don’t accept anymore drinks from Ryan,” Dean said simply and hoisted his brother off the chair, allowing him to lean on his shoulder. Sam fisted his hand in Dean’s leather jacket, stumbling as they started walking towards the door.
“Hey,” Sam’s friend stopped them. “How do you know him?”
Dean answered simply, “He’s my brother.”
She looked down at her feet. “Oh I thought—maybe—boyfriend.”
Dean bowed his head and made a low sound in his throat. An ugly startling laugh. “Nope, Sammy Winchester and I share some DNA.”
He didn’t look back, just dragged his brother out into the parking lot. He wanted to be furious at him, tell him to always watch who was mixing his drinks, but Sam was such a fucking wreck he didn’t have the heart.
He shoved his brother against the passenger door of the impala. Sam looked up and stroked a wavering hand down his cheek. Dean caught it and thrust it aside.
“Hey, stop that.”
Sam drew in a breath. “Just wanted to touch you.”
Dean tugged Sam off the door and unlocked it, pushing and pulling till he got both his brother’s lanky legs inside. Sam leaned back into the impalas leather seats and relaxed, neck barely supporting his head. Dean turned away. He didn’t want to think about it or address it: this thing between them. It was there when they touched, when they fought, when his brother woke him with his screams, when they joked and laughed, but it wasn’t something Dean could face yet. The implications were downright frightening. Dean knew, and he was content to just leave it, bury it, hope to god that it would all go away.
Sam stopped him with a cast out arm, fingers reaching out to grip his wrist. Dean tugged but Sam didn’t let go. “Thank you,” he told him softly, eyes shining and bright. Dean snorted and made to pull away. Sam’s grip on his wrist was going to leave bruises, bruises that he’d finger later and then wrap his hand tightly around his cock, coming hard like punishment. Afterwards, he'd feel sick with guilt and wretchedness. God they had to get home.
“I love you, I mean I really, really love you,” he said softly before passing out.
Dean closed his eyes and breathed a steadying breath. The scariest thing Dean ever had to face, of all the things that hurt and twisted and demanded lives, was his brother when he was refusing to ignore this—this thing between them. “C’mon, Sammy, please don’t do this here.”
Dean got Sammy home, told Dad Sam had been out with friends when he collapsed. They’d stopped at the doctor's on the way back, he lied, just the flu. Sam would be fine in a few days. John didn’t get too close and he never guessed what it really was. Sam was better the next day, but he was embarrassed as all hell. Dean, uncharacteristically, didn’t bother to tease him.
Dean stepped up the conquests after that. Sam tried his hardest not to be bothered by Dean getting trashed with a new girl every night. When he saw Manda at school she apologized profusely. It wasn’t her fault. Nobody was talking to Ryan though. Sam felt a little better. They had a paper due next week on who ended the cold war, and his days were taken up arguing between the Reagan and the Gorbachev theory. Small hick-town like this and everybody had orthodox view of the The Cold War. It was totally more interesting than torturing himself over Dean.
They fought over everything: time in the bathroom, taking out the trash, leaving the lights on, food in the fridge. John started going on more jobs just to avoid the headaches they gave him. Sam was home less and less, activities up the wazoo. Dean took a full time job at a video store. It wasn’t enough. Sam even started practicing more to blow off steam. John thought he was going to have a heart attack.
He tried talking to the both of them one night over dinner, but all it resulted in was Sam slamming his fork down into his plate to lock himself in his room and Dean pushing back his chair so hard that it fell over so that he could grab the keys to the Impala and take off.
When a job came that John knew he needed Dean for he despaired of what his sons would do to each other on the road, because leaving Sammy behind was not an option. Sam, unsurprisingly, had the mother of all hissy fits, but he gathered his stuff up even if he refused to talk to either his brother or his father. Dean, in true mature fashion, used Sam’s silence to bait him as much as possible. John was honestly surprised his youngest hadn’t snapped and stabbed Dean’s eye out with his dinner fork.
Sam gathered the books he needed to take with on the trip: biology, calculus, US history. He reached for the large Intermediate Spanish book on the top shelf and cursed as another book came tumbling off the shelf, hitting his upturned his face. He growled and rubbed his nose.
With a disgusted noise in the back of his throat he threw his Spanish textbook at his bag and bent to pick up the little book that had smacked him in the face. It was the bland blue-bound volume he’d stolen from the library so many years ago. As he looked at the title a black empty hole started to well in his stomach. He envied Sander and Alexion who moved through the world with such ease, who didn’t have to battle their feelings or ever worry how something so wrong as their feelings could exist between them.
In a sudden fit of rage and frustration he hurled the book at the wall. Nothing would ever change for him, his brother would continue to romance everything on legs and would never look at him in the same way he looked at all those women. It was okay, he understood; he just really wished he didn’t have to.
Dean, who walked through the open door just as the book slammed home against the frame, glared at him. “Jesus, Sam! Why do you have to be such a pissy bitch all the time?”
Sam didn’t have the patience for it anymore. He absolutely did not. He turned on his brother, looking murderous, and something in his face must have given Dean pause, because his expression was clearly taken aback.
“Fuck you, Dean,” he said, his voice quiet and ice-cold. “Fuck you!” Then he grabbed his duffle and pushed past him. He never even saw the way Dean leaned back against the door frame and closed his eyes.
Sam always rode with Dean in the Impala. Always. It would foreshadow the apocalypse if Sam chose to ride ahead with his father. John wasn’t surprised; what set of brothers would prefer to hang with their dad? Nevertheless, with Sam in the cold silent mood of doom and Dean glaring hard enough to kill people he was almost surprised that they got into the car together. He did hope that both of his sons had their extremities when they reached their destination, because beyond that it was out of his hands.
The first two days of the hunt were complete and utter hell. John could only get two single rooms. He sure didn’t want to be around either of them like this so they were stuck with each other.
“Dad, I can’t sleep with him in the bed! He takes up the entire goddamn thing!” Dean said as they stood at room number 14’s doorway.
“Language, Dean.” John knew better than to get into anything with either of his sons when they were like that. If it were his father who was watching over the boys he’d hit them upside their heads or shout that they weren’t too old for him to tan their sorry hides. But violence was what his sons knew and he knew they wouldn’t respond to it, certainly not in the way their grandpa would’ve wanted.
He sent them out to get groceries instead, knowing that if they just fought it out themselves it would be over that much sooner for them all. He watched them walk off into town and sighed.
Sam had always loved salads. He liked burgers and junk too, but he really liked salads. Dean hated them, hated them with a fiery passion. The only type of lettuce you could get him to eat was iceberg, which was a complete and utter waste. Sam always told him that he was better off having a glass of water. Dean would more often then not gripe about that too.
He knew it was useless to look at different lettuces and dressings and croutons. Whenever he shopped with Dean it was simply not going to end up in the cart. But, for the sake of needling Dean, he went over and began inspecting tomatoes and cucumbers. Dean gave a disgusted sigh and held up a bag of broccoli, which he unceremoniously threw in the basket, and then gave him the famous ‘don’t even consider it’ face. Sam glared, but went unresisting when Dean tugged on his shoulder. After they paid he snatched the bags together and left the store with his brother trailing behind.
“What’s with you, Sam?” Dean asked disgustedly as he jogged to catch up to Sam who marched across the parking lot past the deserted stores of the strip mall.
“Nothing is with me!” he snarled back.
Dean grabbed his shoulder again. “Don’t treat me like an idiot!”
“Just leave me alone!”
Dean snorted. “Ever since that stupid thing in the bar you’ve been—”
Sam dropped the groceries and rounded on his brother. “It wasn’t stupid!”
“Sam!” Dean shouted. He couldn’t believe Sam was making such a big deal about it. So Sam had said a few things he didn’t mean. There was no need to go bringing it up. “I don’t—”
“It meant everything—”
“You were drugged!” Dean interrupted. He was practically ready to start begging his brother for a return to normal. Jesus. The last thing they wanted to do was end up in the Guinness world book for most fucked up family ever.
Sam’s face was red with anger and his fists were clenched. “You asshole, I meant it—”
Dean didn’t let him finish, he was filled with an irrational anger. Sam just couldn’t leave it alone. Did he not understand the consequences of what he was talking about?
“Do you even know what your asking for?” He shouted at his brother and shoved him back against the cheap stucco of the old abandoned post office, palms running up Sam’s torso to stop at his shoulders, pinning him in place. He half expected Sam to fight back, and he was more than surprised when his brother melted against him, falling into the kiss like he wanted it.
The girl who’d given him his first kiss back when he was twelve had instructed him that when you were kissing someone inexperienced you had to downgrade your technique a little bit, otherwise you might blow them right out of the water. Dean threw that to hell when his lips touched Sam’s. He used every single thing in his arsenal on his younger brother—every calculated flick of the tongue, every seemingly meaningless slide of his hands over Sam’s chest. He pressed every single advantage he had over him, completely bent on turning him to water.
Sam’s chest was rising and falling against his own. Dean had kissed a lot of people in his life, compared to Sam’s few. His idiot brother must’ve been researching somewhere, because he wasn’t half bad. He used his whole body, hands in Dean’s hair, leg threaded through Dean’s thighs. Dean smiled.
Sam ran a hand between them, just grazing his t-shirt covered skin, to flick Dean’s nipple. Oh yes, Dean was willing to bet that Sam had found out about that little trick from the library. He could just see him flipping through Encyclopedia Britannica looking for information on how to fuck your brother mindless.
Sam pulled his mouth away finally, leaning his head back against the brick as he sucked in large lungfuls of air. Dean didn’t back up off him, he just looked at him with a sense of awe. Sam’s beautiful velvety skin was flushed pink and his lips were swollen with blood. Dean suddenly had this incredibly girly wish to just trap the moment forever in a bottle so that he could take it out and look at it whenever he needed to.
Sam huffed out a disgusted breath of air and thunked his head back against the wall. “I’m pretty sure I knew what I was asking for, Dean.”
Dean laughed. “I guess so.”
Sam smiled along with him and then turned somber. “You can’t always make my decisions for me.”
“Dad…” Dean trailed off, beginning to pull away from his brother.
“Don’t, Dean.” Sam gripped his biceps with claw-like fingers. “Not right now.”
It was barely two days after Sander’s 18th natal day when Alexion’s parents announced his betrothal to a girl whose family had deep ties to trade. She’d never been at court before because her father was Egyptian and her mother’s family hailed from Aegea1. Alexion hadn’t told any one beforehand. As they stood in the thrown room while the union was announced Sander looked over and saw Alexion’s face still as stone.
Sander only pretended it was all right. Later, Alexion found him in his quarters and he listened for hours as Alexion listed all the ways nothing was going to change. He was wrong and Sander would have to be completely deluded to believe the rubbish coming out of his mouth. To think that a wife would not put a strain on their relationship was more than foolishness. It was downright insulting.
Alexion wrapped his arms around Sander. “It’s out of my hands, Sander, it’s not what I would have chosen.”
Sander nodded. He had nothing else to say.
Because it was Alexion, he agreed to stand at his shoulder at the young couple’s first meeting. He hated Cassandra almost on sight. She was pretty enough, more than really, with big dark eyes and smooth earthy colored skin. Alexion was taken with her on sight.
“How long have you been at the palace?” she asked as they walked in the gardens, Sander trailing a few steps behind. Oh life had indeed changed. Here he was playing chaperone. He wanted to break something. Cassandra had at least brought her own woman to observe, so he wasn’t required to hang on to every word the young couple said. Unfortunately, Livia, a slave from Rome, was too timid to speak to him.
Sander was so lost in his own thoughts he didn’t hear Alexion’s answer, but he did hear Cassandra’s simpering giggled response. How many hours was he supposed to listen to that? It got worse. Cassandra had more than a proper maiden’s education and was well versed in several of the philosophers and scientists. Alexion hadn’t read a single one, but it was clear he found it very impressive as she quoted Aristophanes. It seemed like there was nothing wrong with her, except for the fact that everything about her screamed awful awful awful at him.
The second visit Sander occupied himself by contemplating different ways of murdering her. But he was good, he was oh so good. He never said anything to Alexion, and he could’ve, he could’ve ruined everything there was between them. But he loved Alexion, and those were not the actions of someone in love. So he soldiered on.
He danced at the feast of Dionysus with her when Alexion asked him, even though she dug sharp nails into his shoulders and dripped poison with every word she spoke.
“I know about you two, and you should know that it will end the minute I say so.”
He said nothing in response, just dealt with it. He had to believe that four years meant something.
“You are nothing,” she whispered, “merely the short tragedy that opens before the comedy.”
But Alexion was drawing away, steadily, steadily and he didn’t know how to stop it. He didn’t know if he had the right. He spent more and more time with Hephaistion, who was feeling divorced from Alexander in much the same way although for different but equally distressing reasons. Alexander was mired in in-fighting with his father, who had dared to call Olympias a whore2 at his wedding banquet. It had been a riotous occasion that ended in all of Alexander’s guard having to pull him away while screamed bloody murder at his father. He’d never even liked Hephaistion all that much, they were too similar. But they bonded that night when they dragged their liege back to his apartments.
Everything felt wrong and it was wearing at the back of his mind. He spent more of the day in the practice courts and in silent contemplation than he did with the other sworn swords of Alexander’s retinue. Their merry behavior only irked him. And it was harder to avoid Alexion when they were around, seemed like every time he turned around Alexion was regaling them with stories of the great Cassandra.
He found himself at the side of the river in the exact place where Cassander had pushed him when he escaped the palace for a walk. He’d avoided the space for a long time, the sight of running water had made him queasy ever since that day. But he realized it traced a sort of sentimental place in his life. His friendship with Alexion had started when he’d fished him out of it. Up to then he had been Sanderides, second son of the King of Mycenae and Ourodata of Sauromatia. Alexion had redefined him and now he was slowly disappearing. He went on walks with Cassandra, bought her a horse and took her riding, went to the theater and whispered intimately in her ear. It was Alexion and Cassandra now.
Sander was practically choking on it all.
He sat down beside the river just watching it, thinking back on when times were simpler-- where they went and did battle, fought to conquer the world, and they were unstoppable. Now everything was tearing apart from within, felt like the court was going to explode at any moment.
“Ah, one of my brother’s peons,” a voice drifted over his shoulder. He turned to look and saw Cynane3 standing behind him. She was growing up, her boyish figure starting to curve. It felt like ages since the last time he’d saw her. Alexander’s swords stayed away from his half-sister. She unsettled almost all of them with her warrior ways and her witchy mother and her complete lack of regard for Alexander. Not Sander, who saw much of his own mother in the tall blonde woman.
“Cynane,” Sander said simply in greeting, nodding towards her but not getting to his feet.
“I hear your love goes to court a pigeon,” she said bluntly as she sat down beside him. He winced.
“Would that it was a pigeon Alexion saw,” he muttered.
Cynane softened just a little and her fine features lost their hardened edges. Both Alexander and Cynane had been blessed with the good fortune to take after their mothers rather than King Phillip.
“I’m sorry,” she replied after a long moment of tense silence. “It must be very hard.”
He shrugged. He was unaccustomed to talking about his problems, let alone with Cynane. “I’m sure you didn’t come here to talk to me about that.”
She shifted in place next to him, carding a hand carelessly through her pinned-up hair and messing the strands up. “No, I’ve been looking for you for the last three days.”
He turned to her then, his face alight with wonder. He’d spoken to Cynane only ever in passing, and usually she was too busy making daft insinuations about the proportion of his brain to the rest of his body. “Why?”
She cleared his throat. “Teach me to shoot while horsed.”
His jaw dropped. He’d have sooner expected her to ask for dancing lessons than for that. “I—”
“The archery master says that you’re Philoctetes reborn, please I need this.”
“What? So that you can take aim on your betrothed, Amyntas4?” he was only half joking, eyebrows raised. Cynane’s dislike of the King's nephew and her future husband was practically legendary. “I could hardly allow myself to be responsible for that.”
She blushed and glared at him. “I wouldn’t need to do that armed, I’d just use the horse.”
It surprised a laugh out of Sander. “I don’t doubt.” Wasn't like Amyntas wasn't asking for it. Although Sander supposed his position must have been a hard one. After all, he should’ve been king. Not Phillip and not Alexander after him. All he had now was the get of Phillip’s third wife and a few fields of olive trees.
“Please, I’ll make it worth your while,” she begged, her hand heavy on his shoulder and the neckline of her chlamys gaped.
He blushed and coughed, manfully restraining himself from scrambling away in surprise and distaste. It brought a wolfish grin to her face that he found almost as frightening as Alexander’s. Finally when he got a hold of himself again, he gestured at her chest and said, “Those are going to be a problem.”
She looked down at her breasts and then back up at him. “Why?”
He looked away from her. “You’re right arm is the arm you draw the bow with?”
She cocked her head. “Yes?”
“Having those,” he looked pointedly at her again and she rolled her eyes, “will hinder the draw, it’s why men are better shots.”
She furrowed her brow and crossed her arms. “How would you know?”
He sighed. If she fought him every step of the way, it was going to be a wonderful instruction. “My mother was Sauromation.”
She gasped, horrified, and her hands flew to her right breast. He looked at her confusedly for a moment before realization dawned. “They don’t do that—that—what you’re thinking of.”
It was oft said that Sauromation women seared off the right breast at birth so that it wouldn’t interrupt their sword arm, but Sander had never met a woman who had actually had it done. But his mother had bound her breasts tightly with bandages, so tight she said she could barely breath, but that was the price women had to pay.
She looked relieved. “Good, I wasn’t about to lose my bosom just to learn to notch an arrow properly!”
Sander sighed. He hadn’t ever taught anybody anything, he’d tried with Alexion, although his friend and lover had quickly grown tired of it. He wasn’t sure he’d be any use with Cynane. Not to mention he really had absolutely no desire to be of any use.
He looked out over the water, his expression still and grim. “You really want to do this?”
She huffed out a breath. “Do you think I would ask you if I didn’t really want to?”
“Cynane,” he looked up at the glass blue sky for a long moment before looking back down at her. “You’re going to have to unlearn everything you were ever taught about riding.”
She steeled herself and then got to her feet. “I can do it.”
He bit his lip for a second and then gave in. “Well, all right then.”
He couldn’t quite contain his surprise when she jumped on him, her arms tight around his neck and her thank yous whispered hurriedly into his skin. He wasn’t sure how to explain the thrill that went through his skin at the touch.
They started a week later, visiting the archery courts to see how good a shot she was. She was better than most of the boys, but she spent too long concentrating on the target. Nothing he told her about how it had to be inside her head was sinking in. He told her she would never get the chance to take such careful aim astride a warhorse.
They worked for days when he didn’t have duties and slowly, slowly she began to learn that the target didn’t move on the courses. After that he raided the palace laundry for linen and cut messy squares with a dirk to toss up in the air and have her shoot at. If some of it turned out to be Cassandra’s, it wasn’t his fault. All that linen looked the same anyway.
For a solid week he came closer to being hit than the palace white ever did.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” she cried, thrusting her bow and quiver aside, to kneel over him, after her latest shot went wide and drew a bloody groove on the outside of his bicep. He shrugged her away, shaking with laughter.
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
She bit back tears and wouldn’t touch the bow after that. “It’ll scar.”
He sighed and pulled back his tunic to expose the many lines of white and pink that marred his skin. She gasped at the whip mark.
“That must have cleaved the flesh from the bone.” She ran soft fingers over the puffed scar. He grinned back. She smacked him on his uninjured arm. “I can’t believe it, you’re proud of it.”
Eventually he learned to throw the cloths farther away and slowly the arrows were more like to just whiz by than fly completely wide. It was nearly a month before she hit one. In that time he only saw Alexion when they needed to appear with Alexander and the one time that he came visiting his rooms.
They fucked quietly and quickly in the dark, it was unsatisfying and vaguely uncomfortable, and then Alexion rolled away from him, shoulders shaking with something that he refused to tell Sander about. Before he could probe further, his shield mate was gone, disappearing into the labyrinthine corridors of the palace.
He didn’t know that Alexion returned to his rooms and fell to the floor in a messy pile of limbs, sobbing. He saw only heartbreak and rejection. Nothing would change, Alexion had told him, and it had. It all had.
At a palace feast, Sander watched unnoticed as Alexion and Cassandra flirted and laughed, feeding each other candied cherries from Ephesus. He could feel his heart turning to dust inside his chest.
The soft whisper of fingertips across his bicep drew his attention away from the two lovebirds.
“I’m sorry,” Cynane said softly. He shrugged and left the feast before he did something stupid.
“You’re spending an awful lot of time with my sister,” Alexander said to him one evening, purposely remaining behind in the stables with Sander
Sander had been afraid of this conversation. He bent over his horse, hiding his face. “She asked me to teach her how to shoot ahorse.”
Alexander snorted. “That girl.” Sander looked up and saw the affectionate exasperation on his face and knew that everything was all right.
Sander held his hands up and shrugged. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Alexander nodded. “By the way, you should really see to Alexion, he’s been moping like nothing else.”
Sander’s eyes went hard and he turned away, muscles tightening in his body. “Then send Cassandra to him.”
Alexander made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. “I swear, between the two of you, I don’t know how I sleep.”
He pursed his lips and didn’t say anything. Alexander looked like he desperately wanted to speak, but Sander had the feeling that his facial expression was forbidding enough that even he dared not try.
He ran into Alexion that same night in the halls, Cassandra standing at his arm, and he had to fight against running in the opposite direction. Alexion exchanged mere pleasantries with him and then he was walking off in the other direction. If Sander had ever been one for the drink, he would’ve swallowed down all the wine in the stores.
Nearly two months had gone by, and Sander realized he greatly looked forward to his lessons with Cynane. She had surprised him by being bright and funny, tireless and devoted. Occasionally, she was a little more hard-edged than he could handle. He knew that was why she thought he was simple, because he wasn’t in to hot-headed debate or arguing. The only one who could provoke him was far away cavorting in the east wing with a harpy. He tried not to think about it.
Cynane always knew when he was thinking about Alexion. She tripped over things and made faces like she was trying to cheer up a four-year-old. He still found himself laughing.
He allowed her to get on a horse after weeks of her wheedling, but he wouldn’t give her a bow. Her own mare wouldn’t do—too soft, too sweet, too set in her ways. They looked at several horses, steeds from the east, blood bays, mountain ponies, before he found a high-spirited dappled gray horse he liked.
“He doesn’t seem like much, I mislike it,” she told him as he hoisted her into the saddle.
Sander laughed. “Your first warhorse, milady?”
“I always thought they were supposed to be more impressive.” She looked down at him and tried not to betray how nervous she was.
“This is a good horse, a young-blood, but dependable.” He patted the horses flank and looked up at her. “What are you going to name him?”
“I—name him?” she looked at him flabbergasted. He lifted his brows. “I don’t suppose Dirty Laundry would fit?”
The kennel master choked and Sander coughed. Cynane snickered. The two men looked at each other and shrugged.
She needed to learn to steer with only the pressure of her thighs, the touch of her knees, and the way she sat back in the saddle. For two weeks she got dumped off of Tiche, as she finally named him, far more than she got him to go where she wanted. Sander called a halt after she fell off and bloodied her nose. There was a crimson swathe across the front of her tunic, and she looked quite fearsome.
“You just aren’t listening to me,” Sander said as he held a wet cloth to her nose. He looked at her dark brown eyes shiny with unshed tears and bent his head.
“I am so,” she mumbled into the cloth, her voice muffled and comical. He rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Tomorrow we try something else.” Before he realized what he was doing, he’d run a soothing hand through her soft blonde hair. She pulled the cloth away from her face and looked straight at him, eyes penetrating. He got to his feet and turned his back to her, head bowed between his shoulder blades. He could feel her eyes on him, but he shook his head and changed the subject, ignoring the chasm that had risen up between them.
The next day he climbed up his mare, Aris, and had Cynane place her hand on his thigh so she could feel the way he directed Aris using his leg muscles. Once she got over the initial awkwardness of such a touch, she relaxed into it. They paced the stable yard, back and forth, back and forth, and after awhile she said she was beginning to understand. He tried his hardest to avoid thinking about the way her touch burned his bare skin, shoving it away in a little box inside his head. The box was getting quite full.
The next day she got on the horse and he watched amazed as Tiche went where he was told rather than simply bucking his mistress off when he got bored. Cynane whooped, spurring Tiche into a gallop and Sander felt pride spilling from his pores. She jumped into his arms as he helped her down from the horse, her legs coming to wrap around his waist.
They laughed together and he twirled her about in a circle.
“You did it,” he whispered softly into her hair.
She slid down his body, but kept her arms around him. “No, you did.”
Sander was about to smile and reply when he felt eyes on him. Looking over his shoulder, he spotted Alexion standing, framed in the stable doors, his face an unreadable mask. Sander held his gaze for a second before dropping it back to Cynane. Was that betrayal on Alexion’s face? He had no right.
For months he worked with Cynane, her own marriage looming ever closer, and Sander had long ago realized she was only doing this to keep herself busy, keep her mind away from being bargained off as a peace offering. Alexion and Sander had stopped speaking completely and he felt like he was missing a limb. One morning they’d been fine and dandy and the next there wasn’t anything there anymore.
He remembered Cassandra and her words. “He will end it, because I say so.”
I love you and I’ll never stop, Sander’s heart was bleeding all over the place. But Alexion never got the chance to hear it and Sander never forgave himself for not saying it before it was too late.
He started spending more and more time with Cynane outside of their lessons. She needed an escort to the market place and he went. She wanted a witness for a deal she had with a Spartan merchant, the only kind who would deal with a woman, and he acted as one. She wanted to participate in the harvest on Amyntas’ land and he leant another helping hand. In everything they did and everywhere they went he saw a bit of Alexion, green eyes flashing and hair bleached golden by time under the sun.
He didn’t know how to let him go.
The night that she crept into his quarters, waking him up the minute she passed through the doors, he wasn’t even slightly surprised. She climbed into his bed, straddling his thighs and he let her.
“Have you ever been with a woman?” she asked as she ran her palms up his bare skin.
She said nothing in reply, merely fitted him inside her and slid down, groaning as she went. He peeled her cotton shift away from her body, baring her breasts to the soft moonlight. He didn’t think he’d ever be interested in this, the soft curves, the tight slick heat of her. He gave himself over to it, thrusting himself into her small body, rolling her beneath him and treating her like glass. His orgasm sweeping over him felt like surprise and tasted like rain water.
Different, oh so different, from Alexion—less real somehow, less gritty, less powerful. They continued to rock and strain against each other until the wee hours of the morning.
“Why’d you do it?” he said into the bone of her shoulder as the dawn bathed them in a quiet gray light.
She shrugged and turned over to face him, her eyes carefully trained away from his face. “I felt like we both needed it.”
When she left later and he ran into her again after midday meal it felt like nothing had changed. They continued on with lessons as if nothing had, as if he didn’t know what she tasted like, where she was most sensitive, what made her scream. After she left him for some delegation, he crossed paths with Alexion. It had been awhile—Alexion was only a second son, but he’d been back to the family lands several times surveying his holdings. Sander only knew how he occupied his time at all because Alexander felt it his solemn duty to keep him apprised.
“You’re well?” Alexion asked stiltedly. Sander shrugged. Everything had gotten so out of tune. Alexion had been his shield mate for years now, but Alexander had recently spoken of relocating them within the phalanx.
”You don’t know how to work together anymore,” he said with his hands on his hips when Sander asked why. “Last time in drills he turned to spear you rather than the target. I will not lose Persia over you.”
He schooled his face into a mask of neutrality, but inside he was screaming. “I am quite well.”
“I’m glad.” Alexion said, his slow grin creeping across his face before it melted into something more serious. “I—listen, will you stand at my right arm?”
“In y—you’re wedding?” Sander stuttered. How could the other man ask that of him now?
“Yes,” Alexion’s look was so beseeching that Sander didn’t know how to say no. Maybe a part of him was so shocked that Alexion thought to ask him, that he simply couldn’t summon up the words.
He requested leave from Alexander after that, missing lessons with Cynane for an entire week. Two years back Alexander had granted him lands of his own. Sander had never been back to see them and if Alexander hadn’t been pulling his leg, he was actually the biggest grain producer in the region. Sander figured it was time to go and visit. He didn’t stay long. His people were simple and happy. They saw the troubles in his eyes and shoved food on him, flat bread and lamb, and thick farmer’s cheese. Alexion would gorge himself if he could see the spread. For the first time in months, he smiled at the thought of his friend.
He left after only a few days with a firm resolve to return. They smiled. He should return for the feast to Dionysus. He thought he just might.
He came back, and Cynane pronounced him better. He shook his head and handed her a bow after she got up on the horse. He’d drawn a line in the dust, and she cantered down it, firing arrows haphazardly at the target. He nearly died of laughter. She didn’t mind.
“Looks like I need a little more practice.” She eyed her arrows lying mostly in the dirt. One had hit a nearby bale of hay.
“You’ve got to adjust for Tiche’s stride,” Sander explained. She nodded and tried again. It was nearly hours before she hit the target, but that one arrow represented the culmination of months of work. She got down and he noticed, just as he was about to congratulate her, that she seemed to glow, that she was oddly triumphant in a way that was unrelated to her success with the bow.
“I’m pregnant,” she said, her hand reaching for his. He stopped in his tracks and didn’t say anything. “The child is yours.”
He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “I—what’ll you do?”
“I am daughter of the king,” she said, her voice harder than the steel of his sword, and in that moment, he saw the truth of her words. “It is my child.”
“Your father will be furious, I am no one,” he said finally, reaching out to cup her cheek.
“Amyntas will accept the child into his own household5 or he can find another wife.”
Sander laughed long and hard. “Was this just another way to get back at Phillip’s decree?”
Her face never lost its determined look but her eyes twinkled. “Maybe a little.”
“And if they force us to marry?” he asked, his voice soft and suddenly serious.
She leaned forward and touched her lips lightly to his. “It would not be so bad.” He heard in the tone of her voice strong sons that carried on a proud lineage, someone to come home to after the battle was won on a farm that grew wheat and millet, and thousands of other dreams that never could be.
He sighed and pulled away. “You know I cannot love you.”
She dropped her eyes and he felt a little guilty for that. “I know it.” She left him then, her head held high.
He went back to his rooms, and stared out the window at the craggy dry mountains. He was going to be a father, only by blood and not in name, but nevertheless, a father. He stood in his quarters for hours watching the shadows move in the palace yard. He was so deep in thought that the sound of his door slamming open startled him.
“How could you?” Alexion shouted at him when he whirled around, his voice hoarse with anger. He was spoiling for a fight. Sander blinked.
“How could I…?” Sander replied, confused, taking in the tense line of Alexion’s shoulders, the downward jut of his eyebrows.
Alexion was angry enough to be incoherent. “How—how could you—with that—do that—”
Comprehension dawned and all the rage, all the pain, all the frustration that he’d so carefully washed away, came flooding back.
“What?” Sander snarled back. “Love anyone else?”
“With Cynane?” Alexion asked, he turned and shoved a pile of scrolls off a writing desk.
Sander watched them unravel and rip, litter his floor—the visual representation of his life. He blew out a breath and looked away. “You swore nothing would change with Cassandra! You swore!”
“The only one who changed was you!” his shield mate shot back, hands fisted and eyes blazing. What lies had Cassandra concocted and fed to Alexion now?
“What?” Sander cried, outraged. “That I wasn’t content to sit and watch you cavort about with her, watch you fall in love all over again, while I barely got a spare glance? I, your lover of four years?”
“So you bedded Cynane?” Alexion’s voice was acid and sulfur.
Sander snorted. “Oh, and you haven’t bedded Cassandra yet? Well it wouldn’t be for lack of trying.”
Alexion struck him then and he careened back into the floor.
“Ah, so this is how it ends,” he said softly, his palming cupping his abused cheek. “Well before you walk off to your new life, you should know I don’t love her.”
Alexion seemed to wilt. “What?”
“Only you, even when you’re old and scarred and have lost your good humor, even when you love someone else more than you love me, even when you hurt me with everything you have.”
Alexion fell to the floor beside him, his green eyes wet with tears. “I thought you stopped.” He pushed Sander’s hand away from his cheek bone, caressing the skin with gentle fingertips. “She said—” he choked and broke off.
Sander looked up at him with dark hurt eyes. “You believed her.”
“No! Not what she said about you, but my father—she said—and I—I couldn’t fail him.”
Sander didn’t understand the words coming out of Alexion’s mouth. “You should’ve told me, I would have listened.”
And then their hands were twining together and Sander was pulling Alexion down on top of him as their mouths connected in a kiss that filled the divide between them. Sander could feel Alexion’s tears running down his own skin as their tongues touched.
It cannot last, he whispered inside, reminding himself to savor every little second of it. No one will let it. When Eos, the dawn, comes there will be servants to summon Alexion away, to remind him of his place. Sander would be alone and discarded once more, but he would always have the night.
1 Aegea was the ancient capital of Macedon, later moved to Pella, where Phillip II of Macedon held court.
2 in fact Phillip II went as far as to disown Alexander, calling him a bastard and “no true son of [his].” Olympias responded that Zeus had come to her while she was sleeping under a tree and gotten with her child. Phillip II was always intensely jealous of his son. His right hand man, Nearchus, foolishly told Phillip once that, “People say that Phillip is good, but it is Alexander who is great.” I feel we can probably trace the decline in their relationship from there.
3 Cynane was Alexander’s half-sister by Phillip II’s Illyrian wife, Audata. Like the Sauromations, Illyrians had a strong tradition of women and battle, and when Cynane expressed interest in combat like her brother, Audata had her trained in the Illyrian fashion. She was famous for her own wars of conquest in the east, all though she rarely acted in tandem with her brother. Not to mention that her daughter Eurydice III would stand in direct opposition to Roxana and Alexander’s legitimate son for the throne of Macedonia.
4 Amyntas was nephew of Phillip II and true King of Macedonia. However, he was young and kind of silly so nobody ever paid him any mind. Cynane was promised to him to cement the ties between Phillip II and his young nephew. Alexander later executed him when he acceded to the thrown, and while it is not known if Cynane had any hatred towards him, it is certainly noticeable that she wasn’t much bothered by his death.
5So Eurydice III, the child I’m referring to right here probably wasn’t illegitimate, but her parentage has always been slightly murky, so I’m just going to go ahead with the idea that Sander fathered her, even though Sander didn’t actually exist. Ah well, bending a little history here and there is okay sometimes (I can’t believe I just said that).