Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine. If they were we all know the show would be very different.
Summary: Dean and Sam have been given a second chance to recover from their mistakes in their past lives, but some things are too ingrained, and playing a hand with all the cards dealt against you is a tough game.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to bungee and to mein twin, memphis86, for looking this over.
Notes: Sanderides is Sam's past life version and Alexion is Dean's past life version. This chapter is divided into two parts for length.
He was at the mall with his brother. Dean wanted to see Tomb Raider, and Sam needed a new sweatshirt, so a deal was made. When they made their way past The Gap, they spied a Cinnabon stand and Dean practically cheered. Sam preferred a Garlic Pretzel with cheese dip from the Wetzel’s Pretzel stand just a few stores up, and he pointed out that Dean could get a pretzel with cinnamon sugar and icing there too, but Dean wasn’t having it. He bought himself the sugary gooey concoction, and then made noise about garlic breath the entire time Sam was waiting in line for his pretzel. Sam was sure he was going to develop an eye twitch in response.
The girl behind the counter eyed the two of them standing there, the way Dean was ragging on him, and smiled. Sam wondered at just how obvious they were. He grinned sheepishly and dropped his change into her tip box.
They had to sit, Sam would get cheese dip and grease all over himself if they didn’t. They found a little table with two chairs right next to the fountain and dug in. Sam’s pretzel was mostly forgotten in favor of watching Dean eat his bun. He leaned over to take a sip of Coke, and wound up staring at Dean; the straw still in Sam’s mouth some 60 seconds later. Dean had an almost insane romance with food, and the blissed-out way he ate drove Sam to distraction. He was licking his index finger with a sucking pop, and Sam had to clear his throat.
“Dean, we're in a public place!”
Dean’s mouth pulled into a smirk, and he ran elevator eyes down Sam’s lanky coltish body, lingering on Sam’s fisted hand resting on the table. Sam blushed and got ready to launch into a full tirade about Dean’s complete and utter lack of shame, when a big group of teens from school walked by. Most of them were in his grade.
“Hey, Sam!” Alicia, one of the girls from his AP English class, called out. They stopped at the table. “What are you doing here?”
“Um, we’re going to see Tomb Raider.”
She made a face, and changed the subject to the paper they had on Thomas Hardy due next Monday. Dean fidgeted and picked at his bun, bored with the topic, with Sam, and the big group of people milling about next to the table.
“Oh my god, wait 'til you hear what Mr. Farrel told me!” she interrupted herself, excited.
“Apparently, Thomas Hardy and his wife lived in separate sections of their house, and when she died it took him two weeks to notice.”
Dean looked nonplussed and Sam hid a smile. “This is my brother, Dean.”
Dean nodded at her, lips tilted in a crooked smile.
“Oh, hi, I’m Alicia,” she offered her hand out to shake. “Sometimes I just get going and…” she shrugged sheepishly. Dean laughed and waved it off. She asked Sam a few more questions about MLA or Chicago style for the paper, and then ran off to catch up with her friends who were clustered outside an Abercrombie & Fitch. Sam waved, and then turned determinedly back to his pretzel.
“She’s cute, Sammy,” Dean said, knocking his shoulder with a friendly punch. Sam tried not to cringe at the nickname.
“Yeah, so?” he said in between bites of his pretzel. He finished the last bite, and then crumpled the wrapper into a ball and aimed for the trashcan. It landed in easily. Sam thought with a slight melancholy pull of days spent on the basketball court, or on the soccer field, and then shoved it away. Dean tossed his own carton in with a careless flick as they walked by on the way to the theater.
“You should ask her out.” Dean shrugged, like it was the most obvious conclusion in the world as they waited in line for tickets. “Geek like you could have a relationship.”
Sam stayed silent a long time, didn’t say anything until they had their popcorn, jumbo cola, and sour patch kids arrayed in the proper armrests. “I kinda thought I was in a relationship with you.”
Dean choked on a piece of popcorn and hacked for ten minutes. Sam shifted away from him in his seat, and took that to be his answer. The movie sucked, not even Angelina Jolie in form-fitting shorts could relieve Dean of the sudden disquiet in his stomach.
It took two weeks before Sam would say anything to Dean that wasn’t in a monotone, two weeks of Sam’s eyes avoiding his, two weeks of listening to nothing but The Cure drift under Sam’s door. Dean heard so many rotations of Disintegration, he figured it wouldn’t be very long before they’d be stringing him up in a straightjacket.
He didn’t know what to do. Dad didn’t know what to do. Sam would eat meals with them silently, and then get up from the table to go do his homework. His chores were always done, and he didn’t get into any shouting matches with Dad. After the third time Sam walked away from the table, John shot Dean a pointed look, but Dean didn’t have any answers for him. At least not ones that John would like.
Uh, yeah, so Sam kinda thought we’re dating, and I kinda didn’t, and now he’s refusing to talk, how do you think I should make that better, Dad?
Christ in heaven, what did Sam want from him?
Dad sent them out on errands: groceries, the hardware store, an herbalist. Finally, when they stopped in the local record store, Dean was struck by an epiphany. Lord only knew he’d probably never live what he was about to do down, but for now it seemed like the payoff was worth it. Sam was flicking through The Stone Roses when Dean placed a hand on his shoulder.
His brother looked up, startled, hazel eyes wide, hand still leafing through the CDs, and Dean leaned in and planted one on him, right in front of everybody. Sam’s head was cocked at an awkward angle, his hand tightening in Dean’s coat. He could feel Dean’s eyelashes fluttering against the smooth of arc of his cheekbones. There wasn’t anybody in this town who could know they were brothers. It was large enough to get lost in, but Sam still knew what it cost Dean. A hot rush of feeling swept over Sam, and he felt like the heavy gray clouds that had surrounded him were dissipating. His brother ran the tip of his tongue over Sam’s lower lip, and then pulled back.
He grinned, hand coming up to cover his smile, at the sight of Sam with eyes still closed, his body frozen in shock, and his cheeks pinkening into a blush. Two girls on the other side of the rack looked like they were going to swallow their tongues. Dean winked at them. Sam’s lids fluttered, and he cleared his throat, going back to the CDs and picking up the one his fingers had been resting on, Second Coming.
“Guess I’d better buy this one,” he said, cheeks darkening further, and he plucked the CD out of the collection and went up to pay for it. Dean resolved to kiss him in front of the AC/DC display next time.
Things eased between them after that. Sam started having conversations at the table again, and he began baiting Dad again. John was glad because he’d been thinking he’d have to march them out into the field behind the property, and have them fight it out. That never ended well now that Sam was actually able to hold his own against his brother. Instead, he just hid a smile behind his newspaper and pretended to formulate a terse response. He didn’t fail to notice Dean’s relief, or the way he looked happy to be nagged and insulted by his younger brother.
Dean nearly lit a candle in the local church when their dad’s latest hunt was a day’s trip away, because forcing Sam to pack up and leave in the second semester of his senior year would’ve ruined the sudden serenity in their relationship. He could remember well the way Sam started hurling possessions about, and showing his brains in the effectiveness of his acid wit when it was time to pack up and leave again. They were painful memories. John was adamant that his boys finish high school, but he didn’t care which school was handing out the diploma.
John waved a hand at them and told them not to set the house on fire as he packed up the truck, and drove off into the distance. Dean found himself feeling okay with being left behind. Usually he itched to follow along. He knew that Sam wasn’t happy with this, that he felt like he needed to strike out into the world—a bizarre concept of Winchester primogeniture wired into his head. For Dean, it wasn’t so much that he knew his place, but that he wanted his place. Sometimes, being with Sam wasn’t enough to take that itch away.
He had a job at a dusty army surplus store, and he found himself quite busy when some World War I vet who’d been holding on to his wretched existence finally kicked, and they found themselves with a pile of ancient medals and ribbons to catalogue. Rafe, his boss, was going blind—although he insisted otherwise—and made Dean do all the research.
The weather was unseasonably hot, and they had power outages when everybody turned on their ACs at the same time. Not like it made much of a difference anyway, their AC unit was loud loud loud, and only occasionally felt like working. They both wound up hiding out in the damp storm cellar to escape the heat. Dean hung a camping lantern from the ceiling, and the tepid blue light was enough to read by, but there wasn’t much in the way of creature comforts.
Sam was freaking out over AP week, studying like mad over Physics and BC Calc and Econ. Sam said the others were in the bag, although Dean felt it more likely that Sam had just ceased to care about those. He wasn’t sure how Sam had scraped the money together for all the tests, because they were like sixty bucks a pop. But his brother hadn’t asked to borrow from either Dad or Dean, so he must have worked something out.
When the heat abated around 8 PM, they crept out of the basement; books tucked firmly under their arms, and made dinner together. Dean realized as he set the table that he felt more married to Sam than he felt like his brother. Sam found him pale and still and staring at the wall. He looked down at the chipped white plates of pork chops and green beans he was carrying and then back at his brother.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked him as he sat down.
Dean breathed in deep. “I’m going to hell.”
Sam shot him a level look. “Well you’ll probably get to see Bon Scott down there, so it won’t be all bad.”
Dean was shaken out of his stupor by outrage. “Bon Scott is not in hell!”
“Oh yeah? You think he’s in heaven?” Sam replied, resting his chin on his fist, eyebrows raised.
Dean narrowed his eyes and stabbed his pork chop, but didn’t say anything in response. Sam figured he’d won that battle.
A few days later after AP week was over and out of his hands, Sam burst into Dean’s room, discman in hand. Dean was lying on his bed reading an automotive magazine, and Sam straddled him, tossing the magazine onto the floor. Dean looked up at him with wide eyes, laughter already starting to curl his lips upwards. Sam put his headphones over Dean’s ears and pressed play on the discman.
An electric guitar with a distortion pedal started up, and a soft voice whispered in Dean’s ears before the drum line took off. Sam ground down against him.
“Tell me that’s not hot.”
Dean hooked his fingers into Sam’s hair, and drew his head down. His lips drifted over Sam’s lightly, so much sensation packed into the barest touch that it was almost painful. Sam thrust against him to the sound of the guitar, tinny and soft through the headphones.
Sam was good at that—finding quiet moments to plaster himself to Dean and wring orgasms out of him. Dean didn’t mind, occasionally he worried about stopping them before it got too far. He wouldn’t be the man who fucked his brother. He just wouldn’t, but he couldn’t help dragging his nails over Sam’s skin, just enough to get the nerves firing, just enough to get Sam to writhe on his lap, and arch desperately into Dean’s hands.
Sam wasn’t much of a talker during sex—far too self-contained. He made hitching gasps and little choking noises when Dean was doing something right. Dean pretty much always did stuff right, although Sam would deny it until his last days on earth. He bit down on Dean’s lip and slid his hand into his older brother’s pants in tandem, just as the chorus was taking off, and Dean made a noise in the back of his throat and arched off the bed. He came in time with the crash of the lead guitar.
Later, when Sam had spent himself against the strong muscles of Dean’s thigh, and the breeze that came through the window was just starting to chill, Dean popped the cover of the discman and found himself staring at Second Coming. He shifted Sam’s sleeping body off of him and couldn’t help convulsing with laughter.
The youngest Winchester graduated on a Thursday. Dean and John went because they knew how much it meant to Sam, even though it meant passing off a hunt in South Dakota to someone else. He sat through two hours worth of boring speakers and hoped, desperately, that his brother thought it was worth it. Dad looked ready to start snoring any second.
When the graduates all had their diplomas in hand, and the families converged on them, to wish them well, he saw Sam stopped by two-dozen different kids before he even got to his father and brother, hanging back around the edges. It was strangely jarring to see how easily his brother moved through a sea of innocent teenagers, how easily he blended in. Dean had never blended in. He’d been the kid from the wrong side of the tracks the entire time and maybe some of the kids had liked that, maybe some of them found it sexy, but they’d known him, in a way, for exactly what he was.
Sam could straddle the line. It made his heart ache.
Sam waved and was pulled aside again, this time by a tall teacher who hugged him close. Dean could tell from her face that she thought a lot of Sam. Thought maybe one day she’d be reading his name in the paper. Dean thought grimly that it might be the obits.
Sam got to them eventually, face flushed red and eyes wide with excitement. John drew him into a hug, pounding him on the back and then backing off. Dean was next, he hugged his brother close, resting his chin on his shoulder for a scant second before moving back like he should.
“So what now?” Dean asked, scuffing the toe of his boot against the grass. Sam shrugged. He could’ve gone to grad night with all the rest of the seniors, but he didn’t. He waved at a few more friends and then walked off with his family.
Dean and Sam went out for dinner, John didn’t join them. It was a nice Chinese place downtown with heavenly sesame prawns and mu shi pork. They’d only been once or twice—eating out was a luxury they couldn’t really afford, but the waiters remembered them and their order. The Winchester boys were a little hard to forget. Dean went to the bathroom and when he got back he found a Shirley Temple sitting next to his plate. He glared at Sam.
“Don’t deny that you love them.” Sam’s grin was bright with a wicked edge.
Dean sighed. He had to have been thirteen the last time he’d sucked down one of those. The first sip was a little bit of heaven.
“Are we reliving our lost youth, grandpa?” Dean asked, licking grenadine off his lips.
Sam rested his chin on his fist and refused to rise to the implications of Dean’s teasing comment. “Just celebrating.”
Dean bit his lip around a smile. “I’ll show you celebrating.” He popped the maraschino cherry in his mouth, the syrupy sweetness spreading across his tongue. Sam rolled his eyes at the lazy pleasure-filled expression on his brother’s face and fiddled with his chop sticks. Dean waited until Sam was looking at him before using his tongue to tie the cherry stem in a knot. He stuck his tongue out to show Sam his skill.
Sam groaned and dropped his head on the table. “Only whores know how to do that, Dean.”
Dean was prevented from retorting by the arrival of potstickers. He might’ve only let Sam have two, while he devoured the other four, but Sam didn’t seem to mind. He was eating eggplant in hot garlic sauce like it was going out of style. It was a good dinner, Dean felt like it foretold the beginning of a good summer. Sam was in a brilliant mood. The heated defiance that had risen up like a spectre in his eyes every time Dean turned around was gone.
He should’ve known it couldn’t last.
When they got home they were laughing, shoving at each other in the hallway. They sobered up when they found John in the kitchen staring at the wall with a dark expression.
“Hey, Dad,” Sam said slowly, stopping short beside Dean. Dean noticed that his father was clutching a ripped envelope tightly and shot Sam a questioning look. Sam’s lips had drawn tight and Dean was suddenly very aware that he was missing something. John’s eyes were burning cold fire and his expression was dead.
“Pastor Jim just sent this,” he pushed the envelope forward, “said you needed to have these forms because they have a due date.”
Dean wanted to know what was going on. Sam was pale and his shoulders rose up around his ears, ready for a fight.
“When were you going to tell us about Stanford?” John asked, voice soft and deadly. Dean’s stomach dropped out. Stanford. Dean may not have been one for higher education, but he knew what Stanford meant.
“I—” Sam started.
John cut him off, hand smacking down on top of the envelope with sharp thwack. “Were you going to tell us after you had attended orientation? When you came home for the holidays?”
Sam looked a little desperate. “No, I—” Dean wanted to push past him, run the hell away, not hear this. Sam was leaving. Leaving. But Dean couldn’t leave, he wanted an explanation just as much as his father did.
“No?” John repeated, his mouth forming a humorless frightening grin. “No, you weren’t going to abandon us and your duty?”
Something in Sam snapped. “My duty?” he snarled, even taking John aback. “What duty? Do I owe you something Dad?”
“Don’t take that tone with me, Son.” John got to his feet. Dean swallowed, watching his life crumble before him.
“No, you don’t get it!” Sam shouted. “I don’t owe you. Most parents are happy when their children accomplish something, but not you! Oh no, because the only thing that means anything to you is vengeance and blood and tears! I don’t want to be on the fringes of society anymore. I want to be a part of it.”
“Vengeance? You think that’s the only thing that matters to me?” John yelled back, big voice filling up the house, until Dean thought the windows would break. He wanted to sink into the floor and disappear, to block out the sound of his remaining family members screaming, screaming, screaming.
“I’m not like Dean, Dad!” Sam was shouting, interrupting his father in the middle of tirade against his son’s disrespectful behavior. “This isn’t enough for me! What kind of fucking parent are you that you don’t want your own son to be happy?”
Dean closed his eyes and opened them again when he heard the crash of glass. An amber stain was running down the wall just behind Sam’s head, a pile of broken russet glass lying on the floor. Sam’s cheek was bleeding just under his eye, but his expression was blank, calculating.
“Get out!” John whispered. “And stay gone.”
Dean consoled himself with the fact that John would never have hit Sam with the beer bottle on purpose, he wouldn’t have missed if he wanted to. That it was just to prove a point, but the jagged cut leaking red on Sam’s cheek bone broke Dean’s heart almost more than the thick manila envelope from Pastor Jim did.
John shoved past Dean, who was still leaning against the doorway like it was his pillar of strength, causing him to stumble back in shock and hurt. His father slammed out the door and drove off in a cloud of exhaust.
It was the last time they were all together.
Sam collapsed against the counter, sliding down in a crumpled mess, hands pressed to his mouth, like he was trying to press back some of the horror that had come out of it. Glass crunched beneath him. Dean couldn’t believe it. Just weeks ago Sam had been giving him the cold-shoulder when Dean suggested he date someone else, but all along, all along, he’d been planning on leaving. Sam wanted a relationship from Dean, but wasn’t able to give one himself. Well that was kind of ironic, in a really awful soul-searing kind of way.
“You couldn’t even tell me?” he said softly, his voice bruised with hurt. He wanted to go to Sam, pull him into his arms, say it was all going to be right. The fact that it really, really wasn’t, held him back.
“I didn’t know how,” Sam replied, eyes on the floor.
“We’re not enough for you? Dad and I?” Dean could feel his voice rising.
Sam picked up a shard of glass and didn’t look up, his voice emotionless, “It’s not about you, Dean.”
Dean fell to his knees in front of Sam. “So then tell me, tell me what it’s about, because I don’t understand.”
Sam looked up, eyes burning just like Dad’s had. “I hate it, Dean. This life? I hate it.” He picked another shard of glass up and threw it aside. “If I stay, I’ll wind up hating you, because you’re a part of it. I can’t—I can’t have that.”
“So you’re just gonna go? Gonna leave us behind?” Dean’s tone held a note of hysteria and Sam tried to reach out to him, but Dean skittered away.
“It would’ve only been ‘til thanksgiving, I would’ve been back then. College is not like crossing the Berlin Wall.” The unspoken but Dad just changed all that, hung in the air between them. Sam tried again, “I don’t want to leave you, Dean, but this is what people do. They—”
“Save it,” the finality in Dean’s voice made Sam jerk. He climbed to his feet and turned away from his brother. “I wish you luck—”
Sam grabbed his arm and wrenched him back around, using it to tug himself to his feet. “Don’t walk out on me, not like this, not like Dad.”
Dean whirled back around. Sam was crying, eyelashes darkened by tears, and voice choked up. It startled him. All his life, whenever Sam had been upset he got silent and listless, but he never cried. The walls Dean had hastily erected broke like they were bamboo and plywood. He pulled his brother to him, swallowing his sobs with kisses. Sam was shuddering, but he fisted his hands tight in Dean’s shirt.
They crunched over glass and stumbled over furniture in the move from the kitchen to Sam’s bedroom. Dad could come back any moment, catch them at it, but it didn’t matter. Dean couldn’t let go. He didn’t know how.
“Don’t make me remember this with hatred,” Sam whispered into the skin of his shoulder. Dean shushed him, mouth fastening on Sam’s lower lip. They tripped over a pile of books and fell on Sam’s bed, all the air going out of his little brother in a whoosh. Dean moved to get off him, but was stopped by Sam’s hand sliding down in his pants.
He jerked and swore, going hard with only a few cursory strokes. Sam’s tongue ran a line over the ridge of his collarbone and he couldn’t think at all. He wanted to say something, like ten minutes ago, ask Sam something, but his fumbling attempts at words were ignored by his brother.
Sam rolled them over and shoved Dean’s shirt up around his armpits to lick a hot trail from sternum to navel. Dean stopped him, nails scraping up his back. Sam looked up, eyes betrayed and hurt.
He drew a deep breath. “I want you to—I want you to fuck me.”
Sam looked floored, tugging his hand from Dean’s pants and wiping it down the thigh of Dean’s jeans.
“But we’ve never—I’ve never—”
Dean nodded. He didn’t say that that was why. That he was taking what he could get and all that Sam was willing to give. He didn’t tell him how terrified he was. He’d never, with a guy, ever and Sam—Sam meant something. They’d been playing this game of easy orgasm and quick kisses for so long that Dean hadn’t really thought about more. There were times, when Sam tightened his thighs around his waist, when he rocked against him, that it occurred to him, but he always said he wasn’t going to be that person.
Looked like he was going to break his last rule.
“Well, I don’t know what to do…” Sam whispered, looking down at Dean’s thoroughly disheveled state, t-shirt twisted around his middle and jeans undone and yanked low.
Dean sat up on his elbows and arched a brow. “Don’t you?”
Sam blushed and looked away.
“Of course you do, you looked it up.” He couldn’t help the fondness that leaked into his voice. Only Sam.
Sam nodded slowly, embarrassed. “But we don’t have the right stuff, it could hurt—”
Dean shot him a blank look and sat up on his elbows. “You dug shrapnel out of my shoulder not last week, and you’re going on about whether it’ll hurt?”
Sam covered his eyes with one long fingered hand, breath coming out in a mournful sigh. “Dean, I don’t know—I’ve never done it, you’re the one who’s experienced…” He stopped, nervous and worried, and looked straight at his brother. “Maybe you should?”
“No.” Dean said, tone brooking no argument. He drew Sam down against him, leaning up to suck on the spot where Sam’s neck met his shoulder. Sam’s eyes slid closed and he relaxed, hips rocking against Dean’s. “No,” Dean repeated, grazing his fingertips over Sam’s parted lips.
Sam rolled off him then, going to stand on the other side of the room, back turned to Dean on the bed. His shoulders were hunched inwards and he looked a step away from a full-blown panic attack.
Dean ignored him, stripping off his shirt and jeans. Sam turned back around when he heard the sound of Dean’s heavy leather belt hitting the floor. He swallowed hard at the sight of Dean lying face down on the mattress, golden skin stripped completely bare. His head was pillowed on his shoulder and Sam wanted to be better, wanted to be someone who knew how to make it good. He’d looked it up on the internet, more out of curiosity than out of intent. He’d never even thought to ask Dean for this, but to say he didn’t want it was a lie.
“Dean,” he whispered, voice plaintive. He knew even as it came out of his mouth that he was going to do this. That he was going to take the bottle of lotion they kept for stitches and pulled muscles and stretch his brother open, long fingers searching for the spot that Cosmopolitan.com had mentioned when he’d furtively (embarrassedly) browsed the internet for advice. One, than two, than three fingers, he’d wait for Dean to be ready, and his brother would swear, up and down, long before he got there, that he was. Filth would spill out of his mouth.
He’d needle Sam’s masculinity, tell Sam to stop treating him like a girl, but Sam had enough resolution to ignore him. He’d be hard and aching, Dean’s skin glistening with sweat, and looking so inviting, so tempting. When he’d finally slide in between those cheeks, he’d have to fight every last part of him not to come.
Dean would demand harder, stronger, faster, because to him, there was more than just sex, there was also absolution. And he would come, choking on Sam’s name, arms straining to hold himself up, while Sam’s tears ran down between his shoulder blades.
They would do it twice more. Once with Dean on top, furiously stroking his cock as Sam shook and trembled beneath him, and once against the wooden headboard, Dean’s head pillowed on Sam’s shoulder as he breathed out in harsh panting gasps and demanded release. Muscles would lock up tight, and Dean’s eyes would fall shut. When he opened them again, he’d see Sam’s palm resting over his hand against the wall, and he’d pulse and spurt all over the place. Sam would make that high-pitched noise in the back of his throat and then it would be over.
When Dean woke up the next morning, eyes sore and heart heavy, he knew Sam had left. All his clothing and books were gone, leaving the room sad and lonely and empty. Dean rolled over in Sam’s bed on to a hard object and sat up straight.
An open hardback lay on the pillow next to him, a paragraph highlighted in pink, the only one Sam hadn’t dried out in his mad cramming session before APs.
“For theirs is the bond of brothers, companions, lovers. Theirs is the love that can withstand trial by blade, by fire, by fear—for even when they are far, they walk together,” he read aloud, staring at the message Sam had left him. His heart turned over in his chest, and he picked up his shorts and the book and tiptoed quietly out of the room. He needn’t have bothered. John hadn’t come back last night. Dean, for the very first time in his life, was well and truly alone.
He flicked the book closed, staring at the title, The Appronidic Chronicle, translated by Robert Fitzgerald in boldly embossed letters. Dean clutched the one thing Sam had left him, aside from the sheets and blankets on his bed. He sank into a chair and stared out the window, his heart feeling like it had stopped beating.
When John stumbled in two hours later, hung-over and drained, he found Dean there, still sitting in his boxers, staring out the window. Dean turned to his father, his expression dull, and then got up to push past him for the bathroom.
Don’t make me remember this with hatred
Sam words echoed through his head every time he looked at his father.
In July Sam’s AP scores arrived. Dean tore the envelope open and eyed the long column of fives. Econ, micro and macro; physics; English; BC Calc; Psych; French 6AP—all perfect scores. He remembered last year it had been the same. Sam had made him open the envelope he was so nervous and told Dean to stop lying when he read the list of fives off. Now he was gone. Instead of tossing it, he carefully folded it into his duffel and then forgot about it.
The hardest thing Sam ever had to do was get onto to the Greyhound to San Francisco. School didn’t start for another three months, and God only knew how he’d get by until then, but it wasn’t fear for the future—although the bright dream of Stanford was starting to look and feel oppressive. Rather, it was regret at what he was leaving behind. In his mind’s eye he could still see Dean sleeping peacefully, skin tinged rosy and lips parted.
But he had to go, or the feelings—everything good and light and wonderful that he felt for Dean, would be ash. He would rather have had a real goodbye, but he knew his brother, and it wouldn’t just be pride that wouldn’t allow him one. Better like this, closing the book on a good chapter.
The one sin Sam had ever committed in his life was wanting what he could not have: a regular mailing address, a mother, the basketball team, stability, and above all, his brother.
But Dante had said, “Love alone is the true seed of every merit in you, and of all acts for which you must atone.”
So perhaps, of his brother, he could be forgiven.
Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus arrived in Babylon, the new royal seat, on a rare rainy day. Though sodden and disheveled, mud dripping everywhere, he was still handsome with features carved from smooth pale marble, and dark hair curling with damp. He was shorter than Sander and Alexion, two of Alexander’s tallest warriors, but managed to have more poise and personality than both as he moved into the great hall.
They all knew of him, why he’d fled Rome, and what the power of his name was.
“We are honored to have a man of the Gens Fabia2 in our house,” Alexander said from his throne, Latin rolling easily off his tongue.
Fabius smiled and bowed his head, even white teeth flashing. “It is I who have the honor,” his Greek was flawless.
The feast they held for him rivaled the high feasts held on Calendar days, and everyone knew it was not because Fabius was so important, but that it was also a calculated show—a warning.
‘When you go back to Rome, remember us, remember who we are’ it said boldly, reminding Fabius and all his retinue of Alexander’s might.
Alexion, who thought the thing entirely ridiculous and always viewed diplomacy as wasted time, sat on a lounge with his wife, and tried not to die of boredom. Sander had not yet arrived, perhaps for the better as Cassandra would start gushing poison and bile at the sight of him. She was predictable in that one regard.
“I notice your young foot-soldier friend hasn’t bothered himself to show up,” she interjected, sucking on a candied grape. “Does he wished to offend our majesty?”
Alexion ignored the barb at Sander, hardly an insult in a world of warriors, and rolled his eyes. “I don’t think there’s anything that Sander could do that would offend Alexander.”
“And what of his majesty’s mother?” she posed delicately, eyes alight with triumph.
Alexion sighed. “That is another matter indeed.”
Sander walked in, dust written into his tunic and smudged across his cheek, but never failing to make Alexion’s heart turn. Cassandra made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat, and turned to order a slave to fetch more honey wine. Sander caught his eye and smiled, moving across the crowded floor, packed tight with dancers and drinkers and other revelers.
He was but a few hand-spans away when the guest of honor walked into him, cup splashing and clattering to the ground, red liquor soaking a dark stain into his navy tunic.
“Jupiter and all his thunderbolts!” the man shouted, rebounding off Sander’s broad chest and reverting back to his mother-tongue in surprise. Sander caught him by the elbow and dragged him upright. Cassandra laughed sharply at the collision and Alexion winced.
“You must excuse me,” Sander said, pulling his sodden tunic away from his skin. “I was distracted.”
“I wouldn’t hear of it,” Fabius laughed. “I think I’m far too into my cups to give you the blame for that one, and look, you’ve only just recently arrived.”
Sander demurred and nodded, accepting the square of linen Fabius pressed upon him.
“I am Fabius Maximus Rullianus,” the Roman said, as if everybody in the entire palace didn’t know what his favorite horses and drink and women were already.
“I could little doubt it,” Sander said, smile edging his lips, “With that dark hair coupled with your light skin.”
Alexion watched, appalled. Was Sander flirting with the drunken Latin? Had he lost his mind?
“And you are?” Fabius asked, holding out his recovered glass for a slave to fill with water.
Sander smiled again, and ducked his head. “I’m Sanderides of Mycenae.”
Fabius took a step back, genuine wonder on his face. “Descent of the Heracleidae3?”
Sander looked up, his pleasure genuine. “You have read Herodotus4?”
“I have,” Fabius smiled, taking a big gulp of water. “I would even go so far as to say I have made a study of it.”
“Really?” Sander looked genuinely interested, he stopped dabbing at his tunic.
Fabius put a hand on his shoulder and propelled him to an open bed of cushions. “Truly. Come, let us talk more about your Herodotus.”
Sander turned and looked back over his shoulder, mouthing, ‘I’ll be by later’ to Alexion before he disappeared.
The sour feeling welling up in Alexion’s stomach as he watched the man who had looked so glad to see him eagerly stride away, was a sensation almost completely new to him. He shook it off and turned back to Cassandra, noting her piercing gaze and raised brows.
“Looks like foot-soldier’s found a friend. Why wasn’t that you, Alexion?” she asked, finger dipping into her cup of wine.
Alexion snorted, voice sharp. “It is not my lot in life to gamble for political favor!”
Chapter 4, Part 2