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unfinisheds

Chapter Text

In early 1994 Remus Lupin received a visit from the headmaster of his alma mater, bearing grave and startling news.

“Your older sister’s widower has just passed away, my dear boy,” Albus Dumbledore informed him, his blue eyes missing their usual twinkle.

“I had a sister?” Remus asked, handing Albus a cup of tea.

“Yes, you did.” Albus sighed. “She was a lovely girl. Older than you by six years, she had such potential…” He sipped the tea, studying Remus. “Your parents chose to send her away, to your father’s brother in America. She was raised a Muggle, her powers bound.”

“What was her name?” Remus sank down into a chair. “Why didn’t I ever know?”

Albus’ smile was kind and sympathetic. “A Seer spoke a prophecy as your mother gave birth. When the Ministry heard of his words, they gave your parents a choice—send the child away or she would be destroyed. And so Maralyn Sceana Lupin was sent to America to become Mary Christina Nicholson. She was taken in by your uncle, a squib.”

“Uncle Sebastian,” Remus said. “I’ve heard of him. Father never spoke of him much.”

Albus nodded. “He was the shame of your family. Ran off to the States the first chance he got, and never looked back.” Albus set down the saucer. “Your sister had two children before she died, Remus. Their father, John, has just died, as well, and they have no other family but you.”

Remus stared at him. “Albus, surely you can’t mean…”

“I do mean.” Albus’ eyes were solemn. “You have to take them in, my dear boy.”

Remus continued staring at him. “I’m a werewolf, Albus. You really think the Ministry will let me keep two young children?”

Albus smiled, and something dark peered out of his eyes. “They will.”

Remus slumped down. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”

With a shake of his head, Albus said, “Not much of one, no.”

.

Albus went with him; Remus was thankful for Albus’ presence. He hadn’t felt this nervous since he realized his friends had discovered his werewolfness.

The Ministry listened to Albus, gave Remus custody of his young nephews, despite protestations of his unsuitability. The minister, in particular, seemed against the idea; but Albus spoke eloquently, voice soft and compelling, and by the end of the meeting, Minister Fudge was practically waxing poetic about Remus’ good qualities.

The boys—Dean the elder at fifteen, Sam ten—were with a friend of their father’s, a Seer named Missouri Moseley. “She is part Muggle,” Albus explained as they walked to the Portkey. “Not very powerful as a witch, but her senses are extraordinary. She’s the one who contacted me after John died.”

.

The Portkey deposited them on Ms. Moseley’s front step. Albus lightly knocked his staff against the door and it opened almost instantaneously to reveal a bustling black woman.

“Well, c’mon in, you two,” she said, stepping back. “Ain’t got all day.”

Albus moved in first, saying, “It’s good to finally meet you face-to-face, Ms. Moseley.”

“Call me Missouri,” she told them both, holding out a hand.

Albus shook with his Merlin-esque smile, the one that used to drive Remus mad as a child. “Only if you call me Albus.”

Missouri offered them tea; Albus accepted for both of them. She gestured for them to take a seat and Remus waited for the Headmaster to sink onto the large couch before following his lead.

Remus looked around the room, waiting for either Albus or Missouri to speak; finally, Albus asked, “How are the boys doing?”

“Not that well,” Missouri answered, setting down her saucer. “Dean’s reeling, the poor boy. He thought the world of John, practically worshipped the man. And Sam—he’s so muted since it happened.” She focused her sharp, dark eyes on Remus. “You have your work cut out for you, wolf. Those boys are close to breakin’—and, I promise you, that won’t be good for anyone.”

“I don’t have room or time for children,” Remus finally burst out, swinging his glance from Albus to Missouri and back. “You must realize this—I can’t take them!”

Missouri raised an eyebrow. “Now, you realize this, boy,” she said, low and dangerous. “There’s no one else. It’s either you or a home, where they’ll be separated, vulnerable. They need to be together, Remus.” Her expression turned unsettled. “I don’t know why…” She trailed off, staring down at her teacup.

“It will be fine, Missouri,” Albus said. “You have my word.”

.

While Albus and Missouri worked out a few last-minute details, Remus followed his hearing to a room on the far-side of Missouri’s house. The two boys—his nephews, dear Merlin, he’d had a sister—were whispering softly, sounding worried and hesitant.

He paused outside the closed door, gathering courage. They were just boys, after all, just lost and lonely boys—they were probably more terrified than him.

After a moment he lightly rapped his knuckles against the wood. The voices hushed immediately and a few seconds passed before one of the boys—Remus guessed to be Dean—said, “Who is it?”

“Remus Lupin,” he answered. “I’ve come to bring you back to Britain with me.”

The door swung inward and he met a burning hazel gaze. “We’re American,” the boy growled out, stepping in front of his younger brother. “And we’re fuckin’ staying in America.”

“Dean!” Sam gasped.

Dean said nothing else, just glared at Remus. Remus knew he had to somehow get Dean on his side, if anything were to work out at all. “I’d myself prefer that you stay here, with familiarity, with people you know,” he told Dean, going for honesty. “But Ms. Moseley pointed out that you would probably be separated.”

Sam made a small noise, stepping forward to grip Dean’s arm.

Dean considered Remus for a long minute. “If we go with you,” he finally asked softly, “we’ll stay together?”

“Yes,” Remus promised. “You have no reason to trust me, but I swear it.”

Dean reached back to touch Sam’s arm. “Alright,” he murmured.

Sam peered around his brother, curiosity in his bright green eyes. “So, who are you?” he asked.

Remus smiled gently. “I only found out recently, but your mother was my sister.”

“So, you’re family,” Sam said, excitement thrumming through the words.

He nodded, Sam reminding him painfully of what James’ boy would be now. “Are either of you hungry? Ms. Moseley prepared some kind of stew, I believe.”

Dean shook his head, but stepped forward, eyes still wary. “I’ll come down to keep Sammy company, but I don’t wanna eat.”

“Very well,” Remus replied, wishing he’d met the boy before John died.

.

Sam was shy around Albus, never leaving Dean’s side. He had questions—Remus could see them bubbling in his throat—but he only asked a few: where in Britain they were from, what their jobs were, if they had kids or family, if they’d been in America before. Dean never spoke throughout the entire meal, except to tell Missouri no, ma’am, when she asked if he wanted some stew.

Albus and Missouri continued their discussion of protective runes well into dessert, a topic Remus would’ve usually found fascinating; instead of paying attention, though, Remus studied his nephews. They seemed to keep up a fairly steady conversation with head tilts, shrugs, and eye contact. Missouri had seated them next to each other, but Dean immediately turned in his chair to watch Sam.

“Well,” Albus said as Missouri served Sam some Mississippi Mud Pie, “how do you boys feel about coming to England?”

Dean straightened and Sam shrugged.

“Boys,” Missouri drawled warningly.

Sam answered, “I guess it’ll be okay,” while Dean glared at Missouri.

“You’ll live with Remus. He has a nice cottage at the edge of a Muggle village; I’m sure you both will like it.” Albus sipped his tea, eyes twinkling at the boys. “Of course, you both will be tested.”

“Tested?” Dean asked, worry causing him to break his mutinous silence. “For what?”

Albus smiled his grandfatherly smile. “Magic, of course.”

.

Missouri moved them all to the den for Albus’ explanation of the magical world. It hadn’t even occurred to Remus that the boys didn’t know about the society they would be joining.

Dean sat on the floor by the couch; Sam sank down next to him, so close he was almost in his brother’s lap.

Remus didn’t listen to Albus’ story—he knew it well. Instead he watched his nephews hear it for the first time. Sam was wide-eyed as Albus relayed a condensed version of magical history and culture. Dean kept his face blank, his body held slightly toward Sam.

“Are we wizards?” Sam asked after Albus finished.

“I believe so. I can perform the test right here, if you like,” Albus said.

Sam turned to Dean. “Please?” he begged.

Dean looked at Missouri, who shrugged. “It’s up to you, honey. You’re a man grown, now.”

He glanced back to Sam, then said, “Why not?”

Albus’ wand slipped from his sleeve. “I’ll need you to step up to me, Mr. Winchester,” he told Dean. “I assume you wish to go first.”

Dean lunged to his feet smoothly; wasn’t the first time Remus noticed his older nephew moved like a fighter. Dean strode to Albus’ armchair and the Headmaster stood. He tapped Dean’s forehead with the tip of his wand and golden sparks flowed out.

Albus nodded. “As I suspected: you are quite the powerful boy.”

Sam bounced again, shooting to his feet. If this was him muted, he must have been blinding before John’s death.

Dean said nothing, just moved to the side. Sam stood before Albus, who repeated his actions; this time, white sparks appeared.

Albus sucked in a breath and Dean stiffened. Sam looked to his brother, who stared at Albus. “Problem, sir?” he asked softly.

“No, no,” Albus answered. “Just something I was not expecting.” He looked at Sam. “You, my boy, have quite a future ahead of you.”

Remus shivered and Missouri sighed. “Poor child,” she said so quietly Remus only heard because of the wolf.

Sam still seemed excited, but Remus could tell that Dean understood the true ominous nature of Albus’ words.

.

Remus spent the night at Missouri’s, Albus having to return to Hogwarts. “You’ll join me tomorrow,” Albus told the boys. “Remus will bring you to the school; from there, he’ll take you to his cottage.”

Chapter Text

When Jo Harvelle was a very small girl, before Daddy went away and never came back, she met a palm-reader who told her that her little boy would be the messiah.

Daddy laughed and said, “Well, that’s quite the tall order.”

The psychic looked at Jo, eyes unsmiling, and added softly, “He will be a weapon. It’s up to you to see that he’s forged well, Joanna.”

She nodded, unable to look away from those dark eyes.

Daddy didn’t find it funny anymore and hustled her away. On the way home, he said, “Baby, let’s keep that woman’s words just between us, huh?”

Jo did.

o0o

Jo gives birth in the spring. Her boy is healthy, a hefty ten pounds. She’s alone in the hospital, and wouldn’t have even gone if her water hadn’t broken in the supermarket and a bystander called an ambulance.

She names him Colt. After she leaves the hospital, she never stops running.

Colt’s father finds her in autumn, anyway. She doesn’t see the first of the year.

o0o

When Sam Winchester was a very young boy, his daddy told him, “Always be ready, son. Can you promise me that?”

Sam had nodded, meeting Daddy’s serious gaze, and even though it hurt, he held the gun steady and shot the target until he ran out of bullets. The last two hit the bull’s-eye dead-center.

Daddy said, “That’s good. Again.”

o0o

John has been to forty-nine states and five countries. Once, he would have said he’d seen everything.

That was before, though. Before Mary and the fire and hunting for vengeance.

And what he’s hunting now—it’s impossible.

“Hey, old man,” a boy with Mary’s eyes and Mary’s smirk says. The joviality drops and he commands, “Tell me where you’ve stashed Sammy.”

“No,” John answers.

His son—who he’d have sworn died that night with Mary—says, “Tell me and I’ll let you live.”

John shakes his head.

Dean smiles, slow and sweet, and his eyes flash fire. “Stupid,” he murmurs.

With his dying breath, John still doesn’t scream.

Chapter Text

An eternity spent in a box with his brother, and he can’t help wishing Dean had said yes.

Time passes. So much time passes. He and Michael talk and fight and argue and beat each other bloody and comfort each other and talk and fight, rinse and repeat, forever.

Sometimes, Michael and Lucifer let Adam and Sam talk to each other. Adam’s actually a really cool kid. Sam thinks they’d have gotten along, if they’d ever met before everything.

“Will we ever get out of here?” Adam asks.

“I don’t know,” Sam answers. “I doubt it.”

o0o

He’s not just Sam anymore. Lucifer saturates him, fills him, changes him from the inside out. He was created for Lucifer, and even if he gets out the pit, Lucifer will still be with him.

Adam finally burnt out a while ago now. Michael doesn’t have a body anymore. He’s still there, and Sam can see the beauty of him, and he hopes Adam’s at peace with his mom. He deserves that much.

Eons and millennia and finally finally the door opens again.

"Father,” Lucifer and Michael murmur, both kneels before him, heads bowed.

"Boys,” God says. “Sam.”

Chapter Text

“There’s a forgotten door,” Dean says quietly one night, sitting next to Sam on the Impala’s hood. “We could use it.”

“What?” Sam asks, nearly asleep.

Dean focuses on the brightest star, sending out a thought. When the star darkens for a moment, he knows the answer.

"Tomorrow,” Dean tells Sam, even though Sam is actually asleep now, “I’m taking you to Bobby’s. I can’t do what needs to be done if you’re there.”

.

Whenever Alistair’s eye wandered from Dean, Dean left the workroom. Not even Hell dampened his need to explore. The moment he felt Alistair seeking him out, Dean hurried back, ready to pick up the knife for his master.

It wasn’t very often that Alistair looked away from Dean. He felt no pride in that, or despair, or anger. It simply was the way of things, and his own fault—Alistair offered the knife. Dean hadn’t been forced to take it.

“What do you do, when out of my sight?” Alistair asked, twining around Dean, touching him in the deepest places. “Little pet, looking for a way out?”

Dean surrendered. “Just exploring my new home,” he replied softly.

Alistair sliced him to the core and Dean sighed in pleasure, relishing the pain.

Chapter Text

“Hello, Dean,” Mommy says, which isn’t right, because Daddy said that Mommy is gone and not ever coming back, but she’s right there, crouched down next to him and smiling her happy Dean I love you forever and ever even if you spilled macaroni all over the kitchen, and you wanna help me make cookies? smile.

“Mommy?” he asks, scooting back and looking around for Daddy. Daddy will know if this is Mommy. She might be one of the scary things that Daddy said will hurt them.

“Dean, baby,” the Mommy-shaped thing says. “Calm down, sweetheart. I won’t hurt you. I’ll never hurt you. I love you.” Her eyes are sad, with tears leaking out.

That’s not right. Mommy shouldn’t be sad. Mommy is sunshine and laughter and oven-warm cookies. So he says, “Don’t cry, Mommy. I’ll take care of you.”

“I know you will,” she says softly, and her hand is warm on his face, warm and real and there, and maybe Daddy is wrong, maybe she didn’t go away forever and ever, maybe she came back because he was so good, making sure Sammy ate and got changed and stayed safe all night long while Daddy had bad dreams. “You’re my good little man, Dean. You’re so strong and so brave.”

Chapter Text

“My dad was a hero,” the kid says, green eyes flashing, and it’s like looking into the past. He’s shackled hand and foot, teeth bared, and he doesn’t answer any questions. All he says is, “Fuck you” and “My dad was a hero.”

Victor Henriksen wants to strangle him.

o0o

No one has heard from Dean Winchester in twelve years. Sam Winchester vanished, too. Then this punk-ass kid shows up, same MO, same eyes, same cocky words and cocksucking lips—yeah, he’s a Winchester, for damn sure.

He’s not as good as the long-missing, presumed dead brothers; he gets caught three months into his spree. He gets caught and tried and found guilty of being insane, so Victor watches him get put in a hospital and left there.

Victor’s the only one not surprised when the kid vanishes a week after being locked away. A Winchester, through-and-through. And Victor had been hoping to retire soon.

o0o

“My dad was a hero,” the kid says, like his father did the first time he and Victor ever spoke. “Don’t talk about him like that.”

This is the first time Victor’s interrogated him, after that disappearing act he pulled a year ago.

“Actually,” Victor counters, “your dad’s psychosis is well-documented. Apparently, it’s hereditary.”

The kid has the gall to smirk, something dangerous in his eyes. “You’re lucky that’s the only thing I inherited,” he says, “’sides my wit and good looks, of course.” He straightens from his slouch to add, “And for the record, sir, fuck you.”

o0o

Victor scours the kid’s history, his school records and hospital visits, notes his pediatrician kept, even his little league scores. Only child of single mom, living off her parents’ inheritance, normal childhood except for an instance when he was eight, when he and the neighborhood kids all seemed to have a similar breakdown. But it quickly passed.
Nothing to explain how he took up his dad’s insane crusade years after his father fell off the map.

Chapter Text

Let there be light, Anna whispered, arms wrapped around herself. That’s what You said, Father. Let there be light, and there was light, and it was good.

She shivered, glancing to the walls of her prison, barely able to see through swollen eyes and murky darkness. Let there be light, she repeated, barely a murmur. Then, louder, Let there be light!

Nothing. Just her voice echoing back and shadows. She closed her eyes, muffling her sobs in her folded arms, ignoring the way her ribs ached and her bones creaked. Let there be light, she wept. Let there be light.

There wasn’t. Not anymore.

o0o

Ruby paced, trapped in her meatsuit, three steps across, seven steps around, over and over and over again. She slammed her fists against the walls, kicked the bricks until her feet ached and her toes snapped, yelled her voice hoarse.

Nothing she did made a difference. No one came to taunt her or torture her, or to free her. There was no one left.

o0o

They’re not Cain and Abel, Johnny, Alistair purred in Hell, twisting the knife until John howled for mercy. Your boys, your precious sons, Mary’s shining triumph… Alistair cackled and John sobbed.

No, they’re not Cain and Abel. He petted John’s hair, trailed his finger along John’s side, down to John’s cock. You did good with them, my dear. So very good.

John’s tears were the most beautiful thing Alistair ever saw, until John’s firstborn made his way to the rack, knife in hand and coated with blood. John’s tears tasted like sin when Alistair licked them off his face. Like desecration and degradation, like broken skies.

Cain and Abel, Alistair mused, watching Dean work. Nope, not you, little Dean-pet. More like… hmm…

He smirked as the idea came to him. I’ve got a special gift for you, kiddo, he said, and led Dean to Judas Iscariot. Go to town, he told Dean. Make him suffer so prettily.

Chapter Text

She walked into the Roadhouse during a February snowstorm, a baby on her hip and another in her belly. She cased the joint with wary, weary eyes, and the man who came in behind her looked just as worn-down.

That was the first time anyone in the hunting world met the Winchesters. It sure as fuck wasn’t the last.

.

The deaths of Samuel and Deanna Campbell shook the hunting community. They had been major players, both from hunting families themselves, and that they went down—well.

And their daughter taking herself out of the game was a total blindside. She vanished not too long after the funeral, with her little civilian(as much of a civilian as a marine could ever be, anyway) and some of the old-timers shook their heads. Disrespectful, that girl, turning her back on what her parents had stood for.

So when she reappeared at the Roadhouse, the news made the rounds swiftly.

.

There was something feral about the Winchesters, even the little rugrat with floppy hair that peered out from behind John or Mary’s legs. Something wild in Mary’s eyes, something wild in the coiled tension of John’s shoulders. Whether it was remnants of the thing that got the Campbells or something new chasing them, no one knew, and quite a few asked.

But the Winchesters didn’t talk. They stopped in for a rest, for supplies, and went back out to the hunt.

And pretty soon, that baby in Mary’s belly joined them, and he was scarier than all the other three combined.

.

No one could hunt with the Winchesters. No one could keep up, or trusted any of those four at their backs. They’d take care of each other, no problem, but anybody else just didn’t matter. They’d as soon as shoot someone as step around them, and so the other hunters left them alone.

Chapter Text

Loki wears red to the funeral. She sits at the back and listens as humanity praises the fallen warrior, as aesir mourn the fallen prince. Odin All-Father solemnly vows to avenge his beloved son, his stolen heir; the queen Frigga weeps, but her eyes do not stray from Loki.

Nodding her head, Loki’s gaze goes to the pyre. Brother, she promises, I will have my revenge in your name.

.

Loki has never truly wanted Thor dead. Wanted Thor in the dirt, laid low, bloody and bruised, yes. But all of those can be risen from. Thor is gone now, passed into Valhalla – never again will the Thunderer wield Mjölnir and command the storm.

Never again.

It was not Loki’s plan. Loki had no part in at all, was worlds away, courting allies in Múspellsheimr. But he felt Thor fall. Thor’s death was immediate, in battle, complete. Had Loki been there that same moment, not even his strongest magicks could have halted Thor’s travel to Valhalla.

Thor’s killer wore Loki’s face. Thor never could see through illusions.

.

 

After the funeral, Loki goes to ground. He takes the form of a small child, the better to be underestimated, and lets himself be found by a librarian in upstate New York. She follows all procedures and Loki is inducted into the foster system. He does not speak to any of the humans who interact with him; they give him a new name, Vincent Gage, based on criteria he does not care about, and bandy about terms that have no meaning.

Loki is deep inside himself, planning and plotting and pondering.

Every ‘hero’ in every world is hunting Loki, cowardly murderer of the God of Thunder.

Only Loki seeks the one who actually did it.

.

Vincent Gage is never adopted. He also never speaks. Ten years pass and Vincent sits in corners, staring at nothing.

No word ever comes about Loki.

Chapter Text

After everything dies down, after Steve helps save the world (again, Bucky would drawl, grinning, eyes bright, Stevie, you’re a motion-picture hero, what d’ya know) after he’d gotten out and gone places and done things, he realizes that he needs to keep getting out and going places and doing things.

He can’t hide anymore. He starts walking around again, and talking to people he sees, and going to art galleries and museums and diners. He starts sketching again, visits libraries, familiarizes himself with computers, and thinks he’s coming along pretty well.

When he was a kid, he liked science fiction. Ever since he joined the army, he’s been living in a story, the kind he and Bucky used to make up. (Bucky wrote the words. Steve illustrated them. For awhile, he daydreamed about them getting famous that way.)

Some days are worse than others. Some days, he wants to stay in bed beneath the covers and pretend he’s home with a cold and Bucky ran out for some soup, but he’ll be back any minute now.

Some days, he wishes he was still in the ice. Those days, he calls the therapist Director Fury assigned him and requests a session.

.

Dr. Collins is a very nice lady. She’s sharp and no-nonsense. Steve talks to her about being a little guy and getting the snot knocked out of him all over Brooklyn. He talks about Ma and the father he never knew. He talks about basic and Project Rebirth. He talks about the Howling Commandos, Hydra, and Johann Schmidt.

He never talks about Bucky. Not even once.

If Dr. Collins knows, she doesn’t let on.

.

It’s Dr. Collins’ idea to contact any of his old friends who might be alive.

Well, it was actually Steve’s idea, but Dr. Collins convinces him to try. He could ask Stark’s son to find all the information, but instead Steve makes a project of it.

The last Commando died the week before Steve woke up. Three of the chorus girls from his USO tour are still alive; he visits each of them, though only one recognizes him.

And Bucky’s little sister lives in Albany. Steve stops breathing when he learns that, staring at Dr. Collins.

“You didn’t mention Sergeant Barnes,” Dr. Collin’s says quietly. “But I have access to all SHIELD’s files regarding you. The fact that you never mentioned him…” She smiles gently. “That tells me a lot, Captain.”

Steve looks away. They sit in silence for a few minutes, until Steve says, “Bucky tried to leave Becca behind a few times, when we were younger. I wouldn’t let him. I knew how it felt, you know? So what if she was littler than us.” He shrugs, keeping his gaze down, fingers picking at the fabric of his pants. “She left us alone as we got older. Friends of her own or staying home with her mom. I didn’t really notice.” Too wrapped up in Bucky, he doesn’t say. He’s never talked about that with anyone, Bucky included. They never needed to talk about it.

Bucky went to war and Steve followed as soon as he could.

Steve glances up at Dr. Collins. “I love Bucky,” he says quietly. “He was… he was my friend and my brother, and…” He swallows. “Every day, I wake up and I think, maybe it never happened. Every day, I see something, and I think, Bucky would love that, or wait ‘til I tell Bucky.” He wipes at his eyes, then squeezes them tightly shut. “I love him, and I miss him, and if I go see his little sister, I don’t –”

Becca had gray-blue eyes just like Bucky, and black hair, and charm. She’d hugged them both goodbye. He never saw her again after Dr. Erksine let him enlist, but – just like Bucky – he sent all his pay to her. There had been no one else.

“Here’s what I’ve found,” Dr. Collins says. “Let me know what you decide.”

Steve takes the memory stick for his laptop computer and flees.

.

Two missions with the Avengers happen before Steve goes back to Dr. Collins. He stands at attention and says, “I’d like to see Rebecca.”

Dr. Collins smiles.

Chapter Text

He wakes and has never been so hungry. He hears heartbeats not too far off and forces himself to his feet, staggers in that direction. He’s famished, starving, and it doesn’t matter what he eats, so long as he eats something.

The heartbeats are locked in a cage, whimpering and begging. He rips the door away and grabs the nearest, latching his teeth onto the heartbeat’s throat, tearing the skin and gulping down blood.

The heartbeat stutters, stops, and he is nowhere near sated, so he lunges to another.

Thought returns. He knows they are humans, not heartbeats. He knows eating them, drinking them, killing them is wrong.

But he is so hungry. He lets the second fall and goes for a third, a fourth, a fifth. They scream and plead and hit him with fists and run from him, but there is nowhere to go. By the tenth he is full, becoming tired. There is one human left, staring at the bodies in mute horror. She is a child, no more than twelve, long blonde hair and deep green eyes. He shuts her in the cage, chaining the door. Big, fat tears roll down her cheeks and she keens, “Mama,” stretching one of her hands toward his first meal, a blonde woman with a gaping throat.

He leaves, listening for noise, sniffing out others. There are remains of his kind in the far west room, half a dozen. Their heads are tossed in the corner.

He is tired, so he returns to the first room and curls on the floor, sleeps.

.

He wakes again to muffled sobs, still full. He stands and walks back to the cage, stares at the crying girl. She realizes he’s there and stiffens, looking up at him with palpable fear.

“What’s your name?” he asks, kneeling down. He remembers that humans have names, but he can’t recall what his was, in that time before hunger.

“Nic-Nicole,” she whispers, voice tiny and filled with fear.

He smiles at her, fangs still stained with her companions’ blood, and she shrinks back.

“Nicole,” he says, tasting the sound of her name. “How long have you been here?”

“Three da-days,” she answers, voice gaining a small bit of strength.

He licks his lips, nodding, trying to think back. “What year is this?”

She stares at him. “2020.”

“2020,” he repeats. “Interesting.”

He leaves her there and walks to the door. He knows what he is, and he remembers that sunlight is supposed to hurt him, so he decides to experiment. The sun is high in the sky—it’s almost noon, he knows. He stretches his hand into the light: nothing. No burning, no discomfort.

“Interesting,” he says again, softly.

He returns to Nicole, feeling the faint stirrings of hunger in his gullet. He watches her for half an hour, smelling her blood, hearing her pulse race.

“Do you know what happened?” he asks.

She jumps, gasping, and shakes her head. “I woke up here,” she replies, gaining a little courage. “Last thing I remember, me and Mo—” Her voice breaks, but she perseveres on. “Me and Mom were goin’ into a bathroom at a gas station.”

He nods, thinking. “What state?”

“Um…” She closes her eyes. “I think we’d just crossed the Montana state line.” She looks at him. “What are you goin’ do with me?”

He’s hungry, but he tells her, “Thank you, Nicole,” and leaves the room.

He’s knows he’s a vampire, and he wants to eat her heartbeat. But he may need her in the future, so he needs to find other prey before he loses control.

But a memory comes to him unbidden: humans carry identification. He needs to search the building, to look for a wallet. He may find out who he is, why he was the only survivor of the massacre that killed all his kind.

First, though, he must hunt, so nothing untoward happens to Nicole.

.

He steps out of the house into the sunlight and preens beneath the heat, sighing at how good it feels. He stretches, popping his back, and realizes what a mess he is. He’ll need to bathe before he comes back, wash of the scent of blood and death off him. Nicole needs food, too. And he’ll have to clean the cage of bodies.

He runs, listening for heartbeats, smelling for life. All creatures flee before him and he finally catches a young doe, latching onto her neck like he did Nicole’s mother. The doe fills him and he hears something bleating. He turns: there is a baby deer, a fawn, staring at him with what seems to be reproach in its large eyes.

He stares back, determining what to do. He could kill it. Or eat it. Or leave it, though that would surely kill it, too.

Or he could bring it back to the house, give it to Nicole. Maybe having something to care for will make the girl feel better. Yes, he decides, that’s the best option.

He springs for the fawn, lifting it easily. The deer fights, kicking, but his grip is strong. He hurries back to the house and deposits the fawn in the cage with Nicole.

It panics even more at the smell of blood; while Nicole tries to calm it down, he removes all the bodies, dropping them in a pile with the remains in the west room. He’ll bury them later, after he’s gotten food for Nicole. He decides that’s when he’ll search for ID, too.

He leaves again, trying to remember what humans eat, what a little girl might like—cake? Bacon? The thought disgusts him, but he knows humans can’t eat heartbeats like he does.

The house is in the middle of nowhere; he focuses his hearing, listening for humans—there. On the edge, to the east, a group of people. Food for him, possibly food for Nicole.

And the fawn. Damn. What do deer eat, grass?

He’ll need to convince Nicole not to leave if he lets her out of the cage. He’ll worry about that later, probably before burning the bodies.

For some reason, he wants to burn them, pour salt on the ashes. Odd.

Did he have this much to worry about before the hunger?

He sets off to the east, a steady trot. Instead of weakening him, the sun fills him with strength—does that means he’s not a vampire? He doesn’t know. He’ll worry about that later, too.

It’s dusk by the time he finds the campers and hunger is just settling in his belly. Heartbeats are lasting less and less—that’s got to mean something. If he could remember before, it probably would.

The campers are around a fire, laughing and talking; he sneaks in close and senses the dog at his back before she howls. He whirls around, meeting the Doberman’s dark eyes.

“Hush,” he whispers, stretching out a hand. She sniffs his fingers, undocked tail going between her legs, and then sinks to the ground, rolling over. He kneels and runs a hand along her belly. “Good girl,” he murmurs. “Such a good girl.”

“Devon!” one of the campers calls. “Come here!”

The Doberman looks up at him. “Go on,” he says, and she rolls to her feet, hurrying to the man.

The dog gives no hint that a predator lurks in the darkness. He doesn’t know if it’s because she fears him or knows him to be superior, nor does he care.

He watches the humans—four men, three women, the eldest around sixty, the youngest twenty—prepare for bed. Devon is given the command to guard by the same man, called Charlie, and sinks down outside his tent.

He wonders if Devon will follow him back to the house. Nicole might like a dog.

A few hours after sunset, when hunger is gnawing at him, he makes his move. He doesn’t want the old woman: she’ll probably taste worn and tough. The youngest woman would be good company for Nicole, most likely. He won’t be able to transport everyone…

The van on the edge of camp catches his eye. He could move everyone to it, drive it back—assuming he knows how to drive. Does he?

He goes to the main tent first. Charlie and the middle woman are in it; he grabs them both by the neck and carries them to the van, setting the woman on the ground so he can force the door open. Charlie wakes kicking, and he slams the man’s head against the side of the van. Charlie’s woman—wife, by the ring on her finger—wakes and stares at him, sucking in a breath to scream. He grips her neck, cutting off her air, and holds until she passes out.

He trots to the second tent, with three men inside. The hunger is turning sharp, so he chooses the strongest of them and bites down on his neck; the man gasps but doesn’t wake. His friends—brothers?—notice nothing until he grabs them, hurrying to the van; they struggle but have no hope of winning.

Devon appears at his side, silent and still. One of the men yells, “Devon, attack!”

The dog flicks an ear and settles into the dirt.

“Devon!” the man yells again, and he snaps his neck. The other immediately ceases struggling and he tosses him in the van.

All that’s left are the two women, the youngest and oldest. Both could prove useful, so he doesn’t want to hurt them. He decides to get the older first, in case the younger puts up a fight.

When he finally has everyone in, he holds open the door and the dog joins them. He turns to face his captives and asks, “What’re your names?”

Of the remaining five, two are unconscious: the middle-aged couple.

The old woman speaks. “I am Katerina.” She gestures to the unconscious woman. “My daughter Angell, her husband Charlie.” She nods to the youngest. “My granddaughter Christine.” Lastly, she gestures to the terrified man. “My son Daniel. The two left behind were Daniel’s friends.”

Katerina’s gaze sharpens. “Now, who the fuck are you?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know my name,” he tells her, starting the van.

.

His captives are silent all the way back to the house. Angell wakes before Charlie does, but her mother keeps her calm.

Before he lets them out of the van, he says, “There is nowhere to run. I’ll catch you before your second step.”

They believe him.

.

He puts the women in with Nicole and the deer, tells the men to pile the bodies out back. While they do, he searches for ID, combing the house one room at a time. He finds a wallet that contains a driver’s license—the picture matches his face, but the name is unfamiliar: George Strait. The year, too, is wrong: 2005. It’ll do, though.

Charlie and Daniel finish. He goes outside to light the pile on fire with matches he found in the kitchen.

Chapter Text

He rides into town at dusk, horse dark with sweat. Chris watches him come, intent for any sign of threat, but there’s none—just a worn-out rider at the end of his trail. He nods to Chris as he passes, steers his horse to the livery. He swings out of the saddle like a man accustomed to horses.

“Rides like a Lakota,” Vin observes from behind him, appearing out of nowhere. Chris startles, shooting a glare over his shoulder.

“Thought I told ya not to do that,” he growls and Vin chuckles.

Vin continues, “Lakota are a dyin’ breed. Heard from an old one that he had a vision’a their end.” With one last assessing glance at the newcomer, Vin turns back to the saloon. “Comin’, Cowboy?”

Chris rolls his eyes and follows.

.
The newcomer is dressed like an Indian, wearing his brown hair in long braids. He moves smoothly, like a fighter—like Vin, Chris realizes. He orders whiskey at the bar and takes his drink into a corner, sits alone.

Buck shoots a glance at Chris, cocks an eyebrow; Chris shakes his head. JD’s chattering on about something again and Buck listens avidly; Ezra interjects a comment here and there, mocking everyone and everything. JD either doesn’t catch the sarcasm or doesn’t care—Chris never can tell with that boy.

Josiah and Nathan are discussing something, either the spiritual journey to Nirvana or the medical practices of a remote tribal group. Chris isn’t sure, and isn’t sure he wants to be.

Vin pushes out of his chair and pads over to the stranger. Stranger looks up and Vin cants his head; Stranger shrugs. Vin slips down across from him and pushes over a shot of whiskey. Stranger smiles and nods, picks up the glass and salutes Vin, then drinks it down.

Gunshots come from the edge of town, so Chris heads off to find out what’s going on, JD and Nathan just behind him.

For the first time in a long time, Vin doesn’t follow—and Chris isn’t sure what to make of that.

.

By the time they get back to the saloon, Vin and Stranger are gone. Chris looks to Buck and his oldest friend explains, “They rode east.”

“Newcomer’s horse was too worn-out for that,” Chris says.

Buck shrugs. “He had a horse.”

Chapter Text

Monday's child is fair of face

All Lucy ever wanted was to be beautiful and lovely and happy. Of those three, beautiful was the most important, so she worked hard and begged her parents and remade herself as Quinn - beautiful Quinn all the boys want and all the girls want to be.

Lauren doesn't care what anyone says about her; she can kick all their asses. Who cares what anyone else thinks? She knows that she's pretty, and strong, and can do whatever she wants. Nothing else matters.

Blaine has only ever wanted to make his parents and brother proud. Sure, Cooper was always better - popular, funny, gorgeous. Cooper succeeded at everything he tried. Blaine always felt like he wasn't as good, wasn't as talented, wasn't as anything. But then he met Kurt, and when Kurt met Cooper - well, even though Kurt had once harbored a small crush on Cooper for that god-forsaken commercial, Kurt chose Blaine.

Tuesday's child is full of grace

All Mike has ever wanted is to dance. He feels strong and powerful and happy. And he won't give that up, not for anyone.

When Mercedes sings, people look at her like she's extraordinary. She connects with the music and goes somewhere else. When she sings, she is glorious, and she knows it's what she wants to do forever.

Wednesday's child is full of woe

Noah was a good kid who laughed a lot and tried to make his parents happy. But Noah died in fifth grade and Puck took over, and Puck... well, Puck's not that nice a guy. He doesn't have much reason to be. But his daughter - she's all the reason in the world.

When he was a kid, Artie danced. He was good, too. His parents gave him pretty much anything he wanted, and when he was six, he requested dance lessons. He can remember how it felt, his body doing everything he asked. He can remember when he woke up in the hospital and realized he'd lost his legs forever.

Thursday's child has far to go

Rachel Berry is a name to remember. She wants the world to know her face, to love her voice, to embrace her talent and lift her up. Rachel Berry wants the world, and she is going to get it.

Matt wants to make a difference. Somehow, someway, he wants to leave the world a little better than how he found it. That's all.

Jesse St. James might be the only true equal Rachel Berry has.

Santana

Finn

Friday's child is loving and giving

Brittany

Sam

Sugar

Joe

Rory

Saturday's child works hard for his living

Kurt

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay

Tina

Chapter Text

Has been posted as its own story, though still unfinished.

Chapter Text

They moved down the street two months after Mick died. Phoebe figured everything would be on that timescale now.

She didn’t welcome them to the neighborhood; neither did Mom or Pop. They were getting better, but Phoebe still only spoke to Zoë and her parents. No one else, even at school. There was simply nothing to say. Ever since the bike-safety assembly, ever since she laid bare her brother, no one really looks at her, anyway. She knows they don’t know how to breach the gap, and honestly, she doesn’t care.

So the Monday after they moved in, Zoë told her about them on the way to school. “Two boys,” Zoë said. “The older is our age, the younger just a kid. The dad’s a private investigator or something, and alone, Mom said. She hasn’t seen a mom at all.”

Phoebe wasn’t interested.

.

The new kid, Dean Winchester, was in her first class, her second, and her fourth. He was instantly popular, based on his looks and smart mouth.

At the end of the day, as she got her books out of her locker, he came up to her. He stood quietly, waiting for acknowledgment.

Phoebe sighed and turned to face him, raising a brow. She didn’t want to notice his long eyelashes or large eyes.

He met her gaze for just a moment before looking away. “I heard about your little brother.” His voice was soft. “I just wanted…” He met her eyes again. “I’m sorry.”

He waited for a slight moment more before turning and walking away.

She watched him go, at a loss. Only a handful of people ever mentioned Mick to her anymore, and almost nobody had ever acknowledged that he was gone.

.

The next day, he nodded to her in the hall. Day after, he nodded and smiled. Phoebe didn’t know what to do; was he flirting with her, or just being friendly, or what?

That afternoon, as she walked home with Zoë, she noticed Dean and another kid following. The kid was chattering excitedly, dark hair flopping everywhere as he bounced around, and Dean grinned down at him.

Immediately, deep longing went through her for Mick. That must be the kid brother Zoë had mentioned. She averted her eyes from their playful shoving and kept her gaze on the cracked sidewalk all the way home.

.

She still played soccer, but only out of duty. Her passion had died with Mick. She practiced whenever scheduled and no other time.

One Saturday afternoon, she saw Dean and his brother kicking around a ball. She sat on her front yard and watched for a few minutes.

The kid missed a pass and it sailed right past him, up the street and onto her lawn, coming to rest within Phoebe’s reach. She lightly touched it, then looked at them.

“Gonna send it back?” Dean called.

Phoebe surged to her feet and kicked. She smirked as it soared perfectly to Dean.

The kid laughed and said, “Play with us?” She hesitated. “Be on my team!”

Phoebe smiled.

.

Monday, Dean walked to school with her and Zoë. “Sam’s got a cold,” he said. “Normally, I walk him.”

Phoebe nodded.

Zoë grinned, looking back and forth between them. “So, Dean,” she began. “How’s your family setting into the neighborhood?”

They chatted the whole way, easily carrying on the conversation. Phoebe interjected a couple of comments, but was content to merely listen.

.

Phoebe had soccer practice, so she got home later than Zoë and Dean. She immediately went across the street to see Zoë. Zoë chatted at her about school and movies, then said, “You like him, don’t you?”

She shook her head.

Zoë raised an eyebrow and looked at her, and then her face softened. “Oh, Phoebe,” she sighed. “It’s not a betrayal of Mick, Pheebs.”

Phoebe looked away. “He’ll never grow up or tell another joke, and I can’t—” She cut herself off, tears prickling in her eyes. “How can I go on, if he’s not here to mock me?”

Zoë hugged her, patted her back. “Phoebe, Phoebe,” she whispered. “He’d want you to be happy. You know that.”

Phoebe cried. She fisted her hands in Zoë’s shirt and cried.

.

Dean and his little brother left for school a few minutes before Phoebe and Zoë. The kid, Sam, was excited about something and babbling on, quick as lightning. Dean laughed at him, ruffling his hair. Sam pulled away, frowning. Dean grinned.

Zoë looked at Phoebe. “Mick would like him,” she said.

Phoebe sighed. “He really would.”

.

Dean sat with them at lunch. “Anything in town a kid’d like?” he asked.

Zoë launched into a stream of information that Dean actually seemed to follow. He pulled a sandwich out of his bag and attentively watched Zoë as she spoke. Dean scarfed his sandwich down then sipped his coke. Phoebe wasn’t hungry, so she pushed her tray across the table to him.

Dean looked at her, then smiled shyly and took the tray.

Zoë didn’t show that she noticed, but Phoebe knew they’d talk about it later.

.

Wednesday and Thursday passed much the same, and then on Friday, Dean never showed. He hadn’t been at class or lunch, and Phoebe didn’t see him walking home. No sign of Sam, either.

Phoebe strode up to their house late Friday afternoon and knocked on the door. She waited a few moments and knocked again.

Something rustled inside. “I hear you!” she called.

“No one’s home!” It was Sam, sounding small and scared. “Go away!”

She frowned. “Sam,” she commanded. “Let me in.”

“No one’s home!” he repeated, louder and shrill.

“Are you alone in there?” she asked. “Where’s Dean or your dad?”

Something thumped against the door. “Please go away,” he begged, close to tears.

Phoebe was beyond worried. “Sam, open the door or I’m calling the cops.”

The door slowly swung inward and she stepped in. The kid backed away, eyeing her warily. “I’m fine,” he told her, petulant.

She raised a brow. “Where’s your dad and brother?” The house was quiet and dark. Sam had made a small nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. “Sam?”

He crossed his arms, pouting up at her. “They’re at work. Dad took Dean.”

Phoebe looked at him for a moment. “When are they coming back?”

“Tomorrow.”

She nodded. “I won’t call anybody if you come home with me.”

He shifted back, face blank. “Why?”

She sighed. “Because I don’t feel comfortable leaving a kid home alone overnight.”

Sam straightened to his full height, glaring at her. “I’m not a kid!”

“Sam,” she said. “Please.”

“I’ve stayed alone before,” he argued. “Loads of times.”

Sam was a good liar, but Phoebe grew up with Mick Harte. “Really,” she said.

He slumped down. “No.”

She nodded. “Come stay at my house tonight. Leave a note for Dean and your dad, in case they come home early. Okay?”

He hung his head. “Okay,” he muttered. Then said, looking up impishly, “But you get to explain it to them.”

.

Mom and Pop didn’t object. Sam was polite and quiet. Mom had thrown together some pasta thing, a recipe from Nana from Florida. Sam complimented her, Pop talked about work, and Phoebe said that she and Zoë were planning on seeing a movie sometime in the next few weeks.

After supper, Mom went to bed and Pop sat at the table, flipping through a book. Sam looked around the house, taking in the pictures. Phoebe went to stand next to him and explained what the photos meant.

Phoebe showed him to Mick’s room. He stared at her, eyes wide. “You want me to sleep in your brother’s room?”

She smiled. “He wouldn’t mind, Sam. I promise.”

.

Phoebe stayed awake late that night, remembering her little brother. She’d done a lot of that in the last couple months.

A boy was in Mick’s room. Mick would never be there again. It wasn’t her fault, she knew that. In her mind, she knew that. But if she’d only ridden his bike home that day—

No. She cut off that train of thought with a sharp jerk of her head, then flipped over and buried her face in her pillow.

.

Sam was up at dawn; his movements woke Phoebe. She blearily rolled out of bed and padded to the kitchen, where he sat at the table.

“I didn’t want to just vanish,” he told her. “But now that you’re up…”

She nodded, rubbing her eyes. “I’ll walk you back.”

He chatted the whole way about Batman and Dean. She listened, enraptured by his enthusiasm. She saw him inside and he said, “Thank you, Phoebe.”

She smiled. “You’re welcome, Sam. I’ll be back later.”

.

Phoebe spent the morning sitting on the front yard, looking up at the clouds. She picked out different shapes and imagined what Mick might see. About nine, she heard a loud engine, roaring down the street.

Dean had waxed poetic about his dad’s car. Besides his brother, it was the thing he talked the most about.

She watched them pull up in their driveway, watched Sam rush out of the house to meet them. The dad ruffled Sam’s hair, and then helped Dean out of the passenger seat.

Phoebe straightened. Dean walked like it hurt, like something had happened to his ribs, arms held tight to his side and a pretty pronounced limp. She rolled to her feet, prepared to stalk down the street and kick their dad’s ass—then she paused. Thought about it.

Dean was her friend. Somehow, he’d found a place in her heart next to Zoë and Mick. When did that happen?

While she pondered, they went inside. Phoebe sank back down onto the grass.

She’d go by later, tell Dean what he missed at school. See if he was alright. She looked up at the sky.

.

After lunch, Phoebe took a walk down the block to Dean and Sam’s house. She brought a plate of sandwiches and her backpack, as an excuse and an offering to make up for anything she might say to Mr. Winchester if angered.

Sam answered the door on her second knock, face lighting up at the sight of food. “Phoebe!” He grabbed her arm and pulled her in, words flowing a mile a minute, too fast for her to keep up.

“Sam, whoa, slow down,” she laughed. “I have no idea what you just said.”

He stopped, looking up at her with huge green eyes. “Dean’s grouchy,” he told her. “You’ll make him feel better.”

He led her to the kitchen, where his dad sat at the table, newspapers strewn around him. “Dad,” Sam said and the man glanced over his shoulder. “This’s Phoebe Harte.”

He looked at her for a moment, then smiled. “Miss Harte.” He nodded.

She held out the platter. “I brought sandwiches. Was hopin’ I could see Dean.”

Mr. Winchester wiped a hand along his jaw. “Sammy, go make sure your brother is awake. I’ll set up lunch.”

Sam bounced out of the room. Phoebe watched him go, feeling old. Mr. Winchester rose to his feet, taller and broader than Pop. He slowly strode to her and gently took the plate.

“Put your pack in the den,” he said. “Then sit on down, Miss Harte. You’re a guest.”

She did. He got out four small plates from the cabinet and four glasses. “Milk, juice, coke, or water?” he asked.

“Coke, please.”

Sam came back and announced, “Dean’s on his way.”

Mr. Winchester told Sam, “Serve the sandwiches while I pour drinks.” Dean shuffled in as Sam handed Phoebe her plate. He wore sweatpants and a T-shirt that completely swamped him, looking all of five.

“Phoebe,” he said wonderingly, like he couldn’t believe she was there, had come to see him.

She smiled. “Hey, Dean. I brought your assignments.”

He carefully sank into the seat across from her; bruises fell in smatterings across his face, and it looked like choke marks circled his neck.

Phoebe’s gaze flew to Mr. Winchester, rage welling up. But his son didn’t act scared. Didn’t shy away from him. Whoever had hurt Dean, it must not be his dad.

So then, how’d he get hurt?

She ate lunch with them, sandwiches she’d thrown together and flat coke. She watched them interact, the gentle way Sam and Mr. Winchester treated Dean. Judging by his annoyance, it wasn’t normal at all.

After all the sandwiches were gone, Dean painfully rose to his feet. Sam zoomed to his side and supported him.

“I got it, Sammy,” Dean grumbled. “I’m not an invalid.”

Sam pouted up at him, not moving. Phoebe glanced at Mr. Winchester; he grinned as Dean rolled his eyes, muttering, “Fine.”

Phoebe followed them to the den. “Dean,” she said, grabbing her booksack and pulling out a notebook. “What happened?”

He looked at her, then down at Sam next to him. “One of Dad’s clients lost his temper. I didn’t get out of his way quick enough.”

“Are you alright?” He looked like he’d keel over any minute.

He nodded. “I won’t be at school Monday. Maybe not even Tuesday.”

Phoebe studied him for a moment and said, “Then you have plenty of time to catch up.”

He rolled his eyes.

.

Phoebe stayed up late that night, worried about Dean. She didn’t think Mr. Winchester was hurting Dean, but something had. Because of his father, because Mr. Winchester took him to work.

What, exactly, did Mr. Winchester do?

Should she tell someone? What if they took Dean and Sam away, separated them? Neither of would ever forgive her. She wouldn’t forgive herself.

Chapter Text

They purchase him in the dying days of November. He knows they’ll sell him by the first of the year. No one ever keeps him long, unable to tame him, unable to do anything except beat him and curse him.

These two, father and son, won’t be any different. No one ever is.

.

They give him easy chores, the father watching warily as he completes all tasks quickly and waits for more. The son chatters ceaselessly, bouncing from topic to topic, uncaring if anyone listens or responds.

He stays silent, only answering with yessir or nosir. He does not flinch from contact; he learned that lesson early, and well. He knows how to submit.

But the father never comes for him, for that. Just as he knows how to submit, though, he knows how to wait.

.

On Christmas, three weeks into this new life, the son hands him a wrapped package.

“It’s a book,” the son bursts out. “I don’t know if you can read, but it’s a book of names, and you should have one, something you like, something you picked out yourself, and—”

“Sam,” the father says quietly.

He looks at them both, at the father who bought him and the son who never leaves him alone, always asking questions he doesn’t answer, always there.

“A name?” he whispers, hands tightening on the package, crinkling the paper. They won’t keep him past the beginning of the year—no one ever has—and this is such a cruel game. He’d known the meanness would come—it always does.

.

That night, he makes his way through the book, sounding out the many words he doesn’t know. So many names, with so many meanings… even if the father and son are just being cruel, he decides he would like a name of his own, something to call himself in the safety of his mind, something no one could ever take from him.

By the time the father comes to wake him, though, he’s no closer to choosing because there are just so many. He’s only made it through the Bs.

.

As he does the breakfast dishes, the son bounces over and asks, “Have you picked one?”

Quietly he says, “No, sir.”

The son looks up at him, head cocked to the side. “I’m eight years old,” he announces. “How old are you?”

He moves around the boy, placing the clean dishes in their proper spots. “I don’t know,” he says.

“You don’t know?” the boy repeats, sounding scandalized. “But—”

“Sam,” the father says. “Let him be. Go play.”

The son bounces off and he ducks his head down, returns to the dishes. He tenses as the father strides over to stand beside him.

“You can call him Sam,” the man says. “He’s no sir.”

“Yes, sir,” he replies quietly, staring at the tiled floor.

The father chuckles. He keeps standing there, too close, and then says, “My son means well, boy. He’s not trying to be cruel.”

He repeats, “Yes, sir.” The father moves away, leaving him to finish the kitchen chores.

Chapter Text

Clint is a predator. He always has been, though he didn’t know it at first.

He was a quiet kid. No one he’s met since growing up believes that, because he’s a smartass and doesn’t seem to know what tact is, but Clint was a quiet kid. Watchful. Wary.

He’s a case of textbook domestic abuse, and he knows how to use that. Plays the pitiful, beaten down boy and the hardened survivor just looking for the right person to heal him. Plays the warrior trying to save all the other kids. Plays the atoner, for those years he was on the wrong side of the law. He plays so many things.

Hawkeye is a sniper. Kills from a distance. Knows some hand-to-hand, enough to get by. Smartass. Cunning, but not book smart. Dropped out of high school, skipped college to enlist, has a GED. Spent some years as an assassin, after the military thing fell through. (How many years is unclear. SHIELD didn’t try too hard to figure it out.)

Hawkeye is the greatest marksman in the world.

Hawkeye brought in the Black Widow and nearly took down the helicarrier.

Hawkeye is a prankster. Hawkeye is aloof.

Hawkeye is a goddamned lie.

Well, my raptor? Loki asks.

Almost time, he replies, watching Tony laugh with Bruce, watching Steve sketch, watching Nat turn a page in her book about Baroque architecture.

I miss you, Loki whispers, in his cage of Asgardian magic.

Yeah, he says, eyes flicking back to his magazine. Was fun, playing with you again. First time in nearly fifteen years – they’d separated right before SHIELD came calling, back when Clint was known as one of the best assassins. First time he’d known Loki as Loki, as his guardian angel, as his best friend.

Loki’s not his god. Loki’s his friend. Flicking a quick glance at Nat, he says, Thor should be back in a couple days. I think – that’s when you should make your move.

Loki’s his only friend.

Clint’s a predator. Always has been. He’s not like Tony, or Bruce, or Steve. Or even Thor. Nat’s almost the same, but still not. She was made by Red Room and stupid, horrible old men who wanted a tool and a weapon, but didn’t know what to do with what they got.

Maybe like James, his partner before Loki showed up again.

He should call James.

He’d be useful, Loki says. But could we trust him?

Clint mentally shrugs. He saved my life and taught me a lot.

Hmm… I’ll think on it. Loki sighs. Read to me, Raptor.

As you wish, he murmurs, silently leaving the joint-den and going to his room. Only Natasha will notice but she won’t say a thing. What do you want tonight, Lucian?

Clint’s a predator. And he’s tired of someone else holding his leash. Tired of the mask, of all the masks. He wants to rip it all apart and show the world what he is. Whose he is.

Loki’s been there most of his life, and Loki’s given him purpose, and Loki is just as hungry as he is. More, even. A wolf amongst a pack of dogs his whole life, surrounded by warriors who never understood.

An assassin, stuck with cannon fodder for a thousand years.

Clint’s actually pretty lucky, come to think of it.

Egyptian, Loki says, so Clint settles into bed with a book of Egyptian mythology and reads until he falls asleep.

.

Is it time yet?he asks every day he’s at Project Pegasus.

Almost, is always the answer, until it becomes, Yes.

Finally, Clint replies, and smiles.

.

Loki spent a great deal of time on Midgard; more than Thor, anyway, who preferred to go to Múspellsheimr or Svartálfaheimr and find some sort of dumb beast to kill so he could call it a ‘noble quest.’ When they got old enough to go their own ways, Loki almost always went to Midgard.

He found the humans fascinating. They were primitive, of course, but so innovative. He knew they’d soon find their ways to the other realms, all of which he’d long since grown bored of. He wandered amongst them, shedding skins like the World Serpent did oceans, and learned of marvels few back home would recognize as such.

Years and years passed. Thor grew more arrogant, the Warriors 3 and Sif more dismissive of his talents, and Loki’s annoyance turned into a very dangerous weapon that none noticed.

When he could take no more, he went to Midgard. He threw himself into other lives, become people other than himself, the shadowed prince of Asgard, Thor’s jealous, silvertongued younger brother.

He sought out others like himself, men of cunning and women of wit, those appreciated what none but the very old realized on Asgard.

It was on Midgard, in a small of speck dirt called ‘Iowa’ that Loki found the greatest treasure of all.

.

The first time Loki met his little hawk (not yet his warrior), Clint Barton was nine years old, and he and his brother had just run away to the circus.

Loki assumed the shape of their relative age and size, and while Barney, Clint’s brother (not yet his enemy), reminded him a great deal of Thor in temperament, Clint’s clever mouth and determination to impress everyone reminded Loki of no one so much as himself. Both children were already scarred by their lives, seeking safety, and while Loki was not sure the circus they’d found was suitable, it was their choice and he let them keep it.

They called him Lucian, the two little boys. They called him Lucian and included him, in his guise as a brown-eyed child, with blond curls that the Bearded Lady (Mag, she said her name was) termed angelic.

Angelic. Loki Silvertongue, compared to an angel. How amusing.

Barney grew up, of course. And Clint learned all sorts of tricks, and no one complained about the extra hands, clever and swift, Loki’s hands to help. He carefully mimicked Clint’s growth, but just after his sixth anniversary with Clint, one of Father’s men came for him. Time to go home.

He didn’t say goodbye, just vanished in the night. But he left a protection spell, woven deep into the core of what made Clint Barton, and a sigil, etched into Clint’s bones, that would warn him if anything fatally dangerous happened to his young friend.

Friend. The only one of those he could claim, in any realm.

Loki had always been possessive.

.

Clint wasn’t thinking about Lucian, or Barney, or anything but right vs wrong when he confronted Jack about the money. Well, okay, maybe he thought Lucian or Barney would make sure to do it out in public, and away from weapons, but only in hindsight, barely breathing before he got put under for the surgeries that saved his life.

He woke up knowing he should’ve died, and had nowhere to go, and there was a man, tall and pale with dark hair, who stared at him, eyes fluctuating between bright green and light blue.

“You, my friend, are too good a man,” the stranger said. “We’ll have to work on that.”

“Whatever, buddy,” Clint slurred, sliding back under.

.

Clint had nowhere to go, but he needed to belong, so he went to the military. He was almost sure they’d reject him because of his lack of education – what with his high-school years being in the circus, where no one cared, except Mag, and she’d had actual kids of her own to worry about.

But there was no trouble at all. And his aim made people sit up and notice, and he kept getting shuttled up the command pole till an old dude asked, “How d’you feel about black-ops?”

Something was weird about it. Everything was weird about it. but he wanted to belong somewhere.

So he said, “Sounds good.”

The whole process went too smoothly, and he knew it while it was happening. But since it worked out to his advantage, he didn’t complain. He kept his head down and followed orders, traveled the world, and killed people for the good ole US of A.

And he kept dreaming the weirdest shit. Palaces and golden halls and ice and fire. Lightning and storms. That guy he hallucinated in the hospital and a giant warrior that was apparently his brother. All sorts of adventures waiting for Clint every time he closed his eyes.

.

 

“So, what do I call you?” Clint asked, sprawled over the couch and watching the Russian assassin pace around like – well, like something beautiful and deadly. He reminded Clint of the tigers, back at Carson’s: caged, but always always waiting for the moment to pounce.

“Mother Russia calls me her Winter Soldier,” the assassin said, pausing to tilt his head and look at Clint. He sounded as American as Clint, with the perfect blandness of the everywhere-nowhere accent. “I was meant to leave all your unit in pieces.”

Clint’s lips curled and he lifted his chin. “So why didn’t you, Mr. Winter Soldier, sir?”

The assassin smirked. “I recognize you, American,” he said, turning to face Clint. “I recognize everything about you.” He just waited, whole body at ease, watching Clint watch him.

It… it wasn’t frightening, really. But then, Clint had never been afraid of the tigers. Barney was, always nervous, eyes darting from one to the next, body poised to flee.

You’re not supposed to run from predators. That’s what Ace the tiger handler always said. Keep your eyes on ‘em and don’t run.

So Clint kept his eyes on the Winter Soldier, kept on sitting pretty, and waited.

Finally, an hour after he woke up alive – again – the assassin smiled and stalked over to sprawl beside him, his metal arm overlapping Clint’s, his thigh and calf warm against Clint’s, and he said, “I’ve been looking for a partner, American. Someone like me. Someone I could grow to like, even trust, given time.”

Clint leaned back into the couch, looking at him some more, up close and personal. The Winter Soldier was attractive, of course, blue-gray eyes and dark hair, pouty lips and tanned skin.

He reminded Clint of Lucian, a little bit. Clint shoved that thought away and asked, “What if I’m not that person?”

The Winter Soldier shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll kill you right here and leave your body with the rest.”

Laughing, Clint let himself tip over, falling across the Winter Soldier’s lap. “Give me something to call you,” Clint whispered, trailing his lips along gorgeous cheekbones.

Both of the Winter Soldier’s hands slid up his back. “James,” he said. “And you?”

“Clint,” he muttered against James’ lips.

.

They stayed in Europe and Asia, dealing with both James’ past bosses and whoever had the money to afford their prices.

Killing for money was kinda fun, in a way. Better than all the bureaucratic bullshit of killing for a government, anyway. James was like a squad all by himself, and his sense of humor was just as fucked as Clint’s.

 

.

He says, You have heart. Clint hears, You are mine

Chapter Text

Has been posted as its own story, though still unfinished.

Chapter Text

They found his body in the Forbidden Forest while combing the trees for survivors. There was no mark on him and his eyes stared up at the sky. He was placed with the rest of the student casualties in the Great Hall; later, they would be sorted out, but for now they were all simply dead.

His body was burned with the rest of the unclaimed dead and soon the world had moved on. They rebuilt and forgot; his fortune was taken by the government and used for dozens of projects that he would never have donated to.

He had been the last of an old pureblood family and ever-more myths grew up around his name. Neither side of the war could claim him; in truth, there was no evidence he’d ever fought, save for those childhood squabbles at school. His name nearly damned him, but with no proof, the history books left him alone.

The heroes told their tales while the villains were ignored, and what actually happened is no longer known.

Chapter Text

The wards fall on a Tuesday, so late at night it’s morning, and Harry is barely seven years old.

Alarms sound; Dumbledore knows immediately. He gets there before anyone else, and Harry is already gone.

The Dursleys have no explanation, magic cannot find the child, and despite Dumbledore’s best efforts, word gets out. The magical community of Britain panics. A charm left on Harry does, however, let Dumbledore know that Harry is alive.

Years pass. Harry Potter does not show up for First Year, Second, or Third. Dumbledore spun it the best way he could, but the people’s faith in him is wavering. Every year without their beloved Boy Who Lived unweaves another thread of his power over the populace.

The Dark Lord Voldemort rises from the ashes of his defeat, far more powerful than before. At his side, unnamed except for Apprentice, stands a young man who only ever wanted to belong somewhere he was beloved.

Prophecies only have the weight given by those who hear them.

Chapter Text

He started collectin’ ears to prove he meant business as king; it worked.

Aly reminds him so much of her mother—and yet neither of them can see it.

He doesn’t have much of a Gift, not like Alanna—she’s touched by the Goddess, poor girl.

The little lad with purple eyes would bear watching, George decided, and vanished into the crowd.

Aly’s gone—the Sight can’t find her, scrying passes her by, and Alan only knows that’s alive—and George is desperate to find her, worried out of his mind.

He knew that Alan’s smilin’ friend had people followin’ him through the city and he had his own people deal with them.

Ma will be disappointed—she wanted more for her boy than thievin’—even if he is the King of Thieves.

He watches Jon and Alanna dance around each other, and knows he’s lost his purple-eyed lass.

He’s the King of Thieves, a very tenuous position—and just as powerful as that royal up in the palace.

George felt something for Alan—though what, he wasn’t sure—even before he learned of Alanna.

There is one thing George knows for sure about Alanna’s twin Thom: he loves only Alanna and power.

George sees the stardusted mare and midnight stallion, and he knows he must purchase them—Alan will love the mare and surely someone will want the stallion.

The little storm-eyed lass—Daine—approaches him in a swarm of bats and he knows the gods have touched her, as surely as they touched Alanna.

Chapter Text

When he was very young, his grandfather—still alpha, still strong, still iron-willed and unbeatable—pulled Peter aside and explained what being The Grey meant. They were The Grey Pack, the most powerful pack in the world. They had acclimated into mainstream society, learned how to hide and cope, had a successful corporation that netted billions of dollars a year. Being a werewolf was no longer a hindrance; three days of a month, that was all it cost.

The Grey spread out: too many in one place might look suspicious. Peter’s family, the alphas, lived in New York—his grandfather, mother, and sister. His father died when Peter was fifteen, a car wreck. His grandmother died years before he was born, in a territory dispute with an arrogant European pack. His grandfather’s subsequent reaction kept all outsiders at bay for half a century.

Three nights a month they had to change whether they wanted to or not. All of the rest of the time, they could shift at will. When he was young, before school, Peter spent days as a pup, nosing around his grandfather’s land. As a man, though, long after Grandfather was dethroned and a western cousin took the Pack, Peter only shifted during a moon.

His kind still knew him, though. And most kept their distance. A lone wolf was dangerous—clearly strong enough and wily enough to survive apart. Maybe they didn’t know his identity, but his scent warned them off.

By his fortieth birthday, he knew his life would never revolve around werewolf politics again. Nathaniel had firm control of the pack, Mom and Carrie had both returned to his new capitol, and Grandfather died three days after his last fight. Peter was an FBI agent now, and married to a different type of ‘shifter: Elizabeth could become a gorgeous silver gyrfalcon or a dainty calico cat at will. Few of her species existed, and Peter had only ever met one other before, an old man who lived on the edge of his grandfather’s property. Dave changed into a black-bear when the mood struck him.

During the moon, Peter and Elizabeth traveled to a country cottage and roamed together. Some months, because of work, they couldn’t get away and they would just curl up on the bed. The first month, El’s golden retriever wouldn’t go near Peter, but after that he recognized Peter as the alpha.

And then Peter got assigned Neal Caffrey’s case. With Neal came a lone wolf named Kate Moreau, and Peter hated her from the moment he saw her picture. He suspected what she was then, but knew it when he caught a single whiff of Neal, the first time he met Neal face-to-face. He could have run the kid down then—Neal didn’t have a speck of ‘shifter in him. But instead Peter let him go, setting the tone for every meeting until the one where the FBI was watching and Peter had to haul him in.

Elizabeth forced Peter to go on a vacation after Neal’s sentencing. They spent a month at their cabin, forgetting about everything but each other.

...

 

After the disastrous meeting with Peter, she runs. She flees the States and sheds that identity, becoming someone else far away.

Yes, Neal is sitting pretty on a pot of gold, but the payoff isn’t worth the hassle. He may have loved her, but he sure didn’t trust her and Peter’s staked his claim, anyway. New York and Neal are both his. She effectively ceded any claim when she left, and she knew it then—four months before he got out, and he would have shared his millions with her had she but waited.

And now none of it is for her. Peter is a dangerous enemy and she can’t beat him. Won’t even try. She brought him into this with a tip about Neal—always a game, and Neal always won, until he didn’t—and now she’s been warned.

A single warning. That’s how the masters play. A single warning—if unheeded, next a single strike.

She’s had the warning, so she runs. America’s gotten boring, anyway.

Chapter Text

When they find him, he’s covered in bruises and dried blood. He shies away from their touch. He doesn’t make a sound and his eyes barely track them.

Jim wraps his fingers around the chain and wishes he could bring those bastards back to life just to kill them again.

o0o

The building is primitive, and so were the weapons. But the chain around Bones’ neck and wrists and ankles is some sort of material none of the crew have ever seen before. Even Spock is stumped. It can’t be broken, or sawed through, or lasered off. It goes directly into the ground. They dig nearly twenty feet down and it just keeps going.

“I swear,” Jim mutters to Spock, “it’s like adamantium or something.”

“I am unfamiliar with that material, Captain,” Spock replies.

“Yeah.” Jim sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “That’s the problem.”

o0o

Jim has the entire settlement scoured. There had to be some way to remove the chains, or else there’d be corpses chained all over the place. Most of the priests(what the fuck ever) died in the firefight, but the high priestess comes forward.

“If you swear to your god that you will leave and never come back,” she says solemnly, looking past Jim’s shoulder the whole time, “we will perform the ceremony. Your man will be released.”

“I swear to God and all the saints,” Jim tells her. “If you get Bones outta those chains, we’re gone.”

o0o

They aren’t allowed to witness the ritual. Jim paces around the antechamber, itching to be back on the Enterprise. He wants to blow this place off the map, but knows he won’t. Those responsible are already dead. He’s not Nero.

When Bones is free, the priestess lets them know. Jim wants to pick him up and cradle him, but his arm is still fucked up from fighting those bastards, so Spock is the one who gently lifts Bones.

“Take your man and leave,” the priestess says.

They do.

Chapter Text

She strikes the match.

A cold night, like all the others.
Sent out to scavenge, to forage,
in rags and bruises.
Not enough, he always snarls. Bring more.
More coin, more silver and gold.
More pride spent for his pockets,
more blood frozen in her flesh.
More for him, none for her.
The way of things.
She’s tired evermore.
No warmth, no light,
selling matches for pennies
to line pockets she never sees.

Another lit, dazzling,
Small heat cupped in her hand.
Most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
And another.

Snow falling.
His hands will bruise and break.
So cold, hidden in the corner,
frost on her fingers in fingerless gloves,
frost on her toes in raggedy shoes.
She is tired and hungry,
hands pressed against her belly,
and the snow, the snow –
if she closes her eyes and imagines,
butterflies are alighting on her
and the sun is so warm.

She is unseen, unworthy.
More, he demands, ever more.
One match at a time is sold
and it is never enough.
She studies the little sticks in her hand
as the wind roars, biting her
bonedeep and all the way through.

Heat is only a strike away.
Huddled in the corner,
watching the rich folk hurry past,
she summons the tiny fire again.
And again, and again.
A meager fortune burns in her hands.

Chapter Text

When Spider-Man goes down, he goes down hard: half a dozen bolts of lightning hit him and he falls eighty stories to the sidewalk, cracking the concrete.

“That’s one way to squash a spider,” Iron Man quips, but there’s something like regret in the computerized tone.

Captain America gets to Spider-Man first; they’ve all seen the footage of him taking out the SWAT team, so no chances are being taken. Captain America puts cuffs on him identical to the ones used on Loki, just to be safe.

That’s when things get weird because the cuffs won’t lock. “Iron Man,” Captain America says, “they won’t lock.”

“They won’t what?” Iron Man asks.

Another man is suddenly besides Captain America and with one shove, he sends the captain flying down the block. He looks up at the sky, at the Doombots Spider-Man had been battling before the Avengers’ arrival, and flicks his fingers at them.

“Whoa,” Iron Man mutters as every single Doombot explodes. He keeps his distance, saying, “Captain, you alright?”

“Winded,” Captain America mutters. “Bruised a bit. Guy’s as strong as Thor, at least.”

“Bullets are ineffective,” Black Widow reports. Iron Man hadn’t even seen her trying to shoot the new guy. “Can JARVIS give us an ID?”

The stranger is young, thin, wearing glasses with wild hair, and being swallowed by his sweatshirt. He looks like an undergrad geek.

“Sir,” JARVIS says, “I cannot access any recognition programs. Also, the suit’s recorder program has ceased working.”

“What the fuck?” Iron Man responds.

JARVIS replies, “I do not know, sir.”

The stranger kneels over Spider-Man and taps his cheek. Black Widow fires at him again; again, Iron Man never sees the bullets. One of Hawkeye’s arrows explodes yards away from its target.

“Who is this guy?” Hawkeye demands, counterpoint to Hulk’s roars. Captain America finally climbs back to his feet.

The stranger looks back at the sky and tilts his head. Iron Man follows his gaze to see Thor circling around, coming in to land. The stranger says, loud enough for Iron Man to hear but seemingly directed to Thor, “I’m tired of your existence, Thor Odinson.”

The bottom drops out of Iron Man’s stomach. “Guys,” he says, “Something’s about – ”

An explosion cuts him off and Thor falls from the sky.

“What the fucking fuck?” Hawkeye demands.

Thor hits the ground, unmoving, and Iron Man aims everything he has at the stranger –

Who is lifting up the bottom half of Spider-Man’s mask and kissing his lips.

What the fuck?

“What is going on?” Captain America asks.

That is a very good question, Iron Man thinks.

And then everything gets worse because Loki shows up. He glances at the Avengers, then crouches down beside Spider-Man and the stranger.

Iron Man risks landing a few dozen feet from them. Black Widow doesn’t say anything but Hawkeye starts cursing and Cap demands to know what he’s thinking.

“So, uh, hey, Loki,” Iron Man says. “How’s it hanging?”

The look Loki gives him is impressive. The look the stranger gives him is even worse. And seeing them together... same cheekbones. Same elegance.

Same dangerous smile.

Oh, fucking hell.

They both ignore him, looking down at Spider-Man, and Iron Man doesn’t want to know.

Has to know.

“Who’s the kid, Loki?” he asks, and then to JARVIS, “Is anything working yet?”

“No, sir,” JARVIS answers. “Also, I have discovered that no recording devices in New York are currently functional. All ceased working when the young man appeared.”

“Shit,” Iron Man murmurs.

Thor groans. The kid and Loki both jerk their heads up to glare at him. Loki murmurs something Iron Man doesn’t understand – it’s not English. JARVIS can’t find a translation for it, either, so not an Earth language, then.

The kid murmurs something back and Loki stands, stalking over to Thor’s prone form.

“Brother,” Thor says as Iron Man creeps forward as silently as possible. He freezes when the kid looks at him.

God, he looks so young. Barely twenty-five, if that.

Spider-Man grumbles something and Black Widow drops down next to Iron Man. The kid focuses back on Spider-Man but Iron Man doesn’t move again.

Whatever Spider-Man says, it’s in the same language Loki and the kid spoke before, and Iron Man is still clueless. But the kid pulls Spider-Man’s mask back down and offers him a hand up, which Spider-Man takes.

Loki looks at Thor silently for a long, terrifying moment. Then he says, “Goodbye, Thor.”

“Brother!” Thor shouts. “No, you cannot mean – ” He lunges for Loki but Loki holds up a hand and Thor –

Thor –

Thor implodes. Iron Man retracts his faceplate so can double over and vomit. “Holy fuck,” Hawkeye breathes and Black Widow’s eyes are wide and Captain America lets out a cry of rage and grief. Hulk roars and stomps over.

At that, Loki flinches. Spider-Man steps in front of him and clearly says, “No, Dr. Banner.”

Hulk starts melting down into his human counterpart. Iron Man knows he’s gaping like a fool, the taste of vomit still in his mouth, but seriously – what the fucking fuck is fucking going on?

The coms seem to be the only piece of tech working, so Iron Man says quietly, “I think we should retreat.”

“Agreed,” Black Widow murmurs.

“Fuck yeah,” Hawkeye adds.

Captain America says, “Fall back. We need more information.”

Loki glances at each of them, smiling, and Iron Man, grabbing Bruce on the way out, knows he lets them go.

Fuck. If Loki could’ve done that to Thor anytime… Iron Man needs so much more information because none of it makes sense at all.

.

“So now,” Fury says, in that slow, dangerous tone, “I have to tell a god-king that his heir died on our watch and on our soil.”

“Yes, sir,” Natasha replies calmly. Clint keeps his gaze on the table. Tony has JARVIS researching Loki, Spider-Man, and what his memory and Steve’s sketching has on the stranger.

“How the fuck did this happen?” Fury demands. “You were supposed to capture Spider-Man and bring him in for a discussion – now, Thor is dead and we have a new threat?”

“To be fair,” Coulson says, “Thor did attack Spider-Man while Spider-Man was in the midst of another battle.”

“Who cares about fair?” Fury shoots back. “One of our heaviest hitters and a foreign ally who was a prince is dead. we are so fucked when his daddy finds out.”

Steve looks at Coulson. “Why aren’t you more concerned?” he asks quietly. “The new guy not only destroyed an army of Doombots on his own, he somehow killed all electronics in New York. Spider-Man forced the Hulk to become Bruce again. And Loki killed Thor without any noticeable hardship at all.” He spreads his hands with a helpless grin. “Any one of those alone is a major problem. Altogether, they’re flat-out terrifying. But you… you haven’t even shown an ounce of concern. Loki killed you the first time he showed up. So, Agent Coulson, what’s going on?”

Tony says, “Actually, Phil, those are all valid points.”

Clint snarls, “Back off. Phil’s got nothing to explain to any’a you.”

Natasha looks from Coulson to Fury and angles her chair to be slightly closer to Clint. Fury rolls his eyes, but something about the grin on Coulson’s face…

Chapter Text

If he’d been born a girl, like his mother’s visions said he would, he would’ve been named Noadiah. But he wasn’t born a girl.

So they named him Bożydar, for the grandfather he never met, but he still had Mama’s eyes and Daddy’s heart.

He never meets any of Mama’s family, and all of Daddy’s are dead.

“And we don’t tell Daddy, right, little love?” Mama asks after every vision, after every spell, after every potion that tastes like poison.

“No, Mama,” he answers dutifully, because magick is theirs and theirs alone.
Jimsonweed grows in Mama’s garden, and aconite, and belladonna and hemlock. Powdered oleander is used to spice most of Mama’s meals. Some of the neighbors avoid her, and none of the children are allowed in the backyard.

He doesn’t like any of them, anyway. None of them feel right, like Mama and Daddy.

Daddy can’t know, Mama explains over and over, because Daddy is as awesome as chocolate cake, but he doesn’t have magick, not like them. He’s fragile. Mama protects Daddy, and it’s her little love’s job, too.

Bożydar becomes Stiles when Mama dies on a moonless night. Daddy never said his name right, but that was fine because Daddy didn’t have the magick that dripped from Mama’s tongue like Bożydar’s favorite smoothie, aconite and pineapple swirled around and around and around.

“Be good for Daddy, little love,” Mama whispered with her last breath, eyes shining golden in the reflected streetlight from outside, and Daddy bit down on a sob, and Bożydar said, “I promise, Mama, I promise, don’t go, don’t go – ”

But their magick didn’t answer, and Mama looked up at Daddy, and Mama died.

Mama died and Bożydar became Stiles and the garden withered in a drought.

Two months after Mama dies, the Hales burn.

No one connects the dots for a long time.

Bożydar was a little love. Stiles is a little shit.

Stiles pretends that Bożydar never existed. He certainly doesn’t have visions, or whisper spells, or make potions that taste like poison. The garden is dust behind the house. The adderall silences Mama’s voice, and Stiles is glad for that.

Really. He is.

(Can’t miss what you never had.

And he never had it. He’s just – imaginative. That’s all.

That’s all.)

But then werewolves are a thing, and oleander pokes up out of the soil, and Stiles just looks at it for hours. He reaches out to gently stroke the only flower yet blooming and murmurs, “Hey, Nerium. It’s been a long time.”

By dawn, the rest of the garden is returning and Stiles leaves to convince Scott that he’s a werewolf.

It goes about as well as Stiles expected it to.

Chapter Text

Has been moved to the main fic.

Chapter Text

Dragons are possessive. When Jezika stepped through the realms and became a woman, she knew that her king would not let her be gone long. Especially since her king was also her mother. Papa had warned her, and so had Teminian, her eldest clutchbrother - go if you must, they both had said. but know that you will be reclaimed whenever your mother cannot take it anymore. Papa had added something Teminian couldn’t bear to say: Any child you bring to life over there will be reclaimed upon maturation, my dear, whether or not you’ve been allowed to stay that long. Think it over. Be sure.

Jezika had been sure.

She was still sure when she met Alexander Stilinski, though she couldn’t explain the odd accent he never managed to place, all the pop culture she didn’t know, her lack of a history in any database. She told him she was Jessica Drake, lips curved at a joke he would never understand, and he asked her to dance.
She was still sure when he proposed and she said yes and suddenly she was on paper, suddenly it was real - Jessica Stilinski was a woman, married to a man, and had a house in his hometown, had a job at the library (telling stories to human children) and writing books that Alex’s mother got published (nothing she wrote was fictional, but no one in this world knew that), had friends in the fragile little people. Had a life that had nothing to do with Zanikora, King of the Dragons, or Ujaraon, Historian of the Blood, or Jezika, Heir of the Golden Throne, one day to be advisor to whoever Mother chose as a successor (and there was a very good chance it might even be Jezika, at least until Jezika became Jessica).

Jessica Stilinski’s greatest problem was when her jeep decided to crap out on her, halfway to work.

She certainly didn’t worry about the pack of wolves that called Beacon Hills their territory, or how their alpha, Talia Hale, reminded her of Mother. They were not her problem, and while she lived in Beacon Hills, none of this world was her territory except for her house, warded with blood and fire and spells so old no language of this young world could pronounce them.

Nothing on this young world could get into her house without permission of her blood kin (or her mate, adopted into the Blood when she realized she loved him).

Jessica wasn’t trying for children, Papa and Teminian’s words also echoing whenever she thought of a baby, but she knew the moment a dragonet sparked inside her. And it would be a dragonet; she wore a woman’s shape, but she wasn’t a woman. She was a dragon, the King’s youngest daughter, and any child she carried would be an Heir of the Golden Throne. Her dragonet might even be King, if it was clever enough or powerful enough.

Jessica Drake Stilinski had existed for eleven years when she gave birth to a son, whose eyes were the same color as the Golden Throne of his ancestors, and she named him Ujaraon Nikolas for her father and for Alex’s. For his first few years, Jessica called him Uri and Alex called him Nick, but their boy eventually decided his name was Stiles and that was that.

He was a quick child, and playful, and so adorable that Jessica just wanted to cuddle him all the time. He had her father’s sense of humor and her mother’s temper, and the few times his tantrums dipped into true rage, Jezika could see the dragon her dragonet would become. No human could keep up with Stiles, and few tried, but the day Scott McCall followed Stiles home, Jessica was glad that he had formed some connection outside of the family.

Because he was Alex’s son, too, and this was his world, even though she could hear Papa’s words on the air, getting louder and louder, until -

Jessica Stilinski had existed for twenty years when her king decided it had gone on long enough. She was given three months’ warning and all she could do was make them the best her boys would be able to remember. Greyoria, her elder cluctchsister, slipped between the worlds to help her fashion a body for her boys to bury.

It was a beautiful spring day when Jessica got into her jeep and drove to the store. Stiles was at Scott’s house and Alex was at work, and Jessica was crying when she spun out.

The report would say that the tread marks on the pavement showed she’d tried to avoid something, most likely wildlife, and lost control. She hit a tree and died on impact. She didn’t hurt.

(Jezika tore out of Jessica, wings the color of fire, and roared her goodbye, her regret, her love. Jessica stayed in that car, broken and crumpled, and Jezika flew home because her king commanded it.

When her son was old enough, she’d return for him.)

Stiles went wild after his mother died. It Alex three months to crawl out of the bottle and when he did, he barely recognized his son.

Chapter Text

This is how you die, he thinks, and then, No, this is how you live.

.

When he was eight years old, on a night with no moon, his mother told him, “They can’t do what we do, baby, and they hate us for it.” She closed her hand into a fist, extinguishing the flame and then opened her palm to blow the ashes away.

“You’ll remember when the time is right,” Mama continued, pressing a quick kiss to his temple.

In the morning, all he remembered was dreaming about fighting a fire.

A week later, his mother was dead.

A year after that, so were the Hales.

.

He’s pretty sure a part of him always knew. And it wasn’t the mountain ash, because the ash was magic, not the user. It wasn’t how quickly he figured out the truth about Scott, or how Peter Hale actually backed down when he said no.

It wasn’t that the kanima looked him in the eye and fled, and it wasn’t that the bruises from the basement healed way too soon.

It was Kali and how her gaze always flicked away.

When the rest of the Hale house went up in flames, Derek and Isaac and fucking Chris Argent inside it, a trap for the alphas that – of fucking course – went sideways, he was eight years old on a night with no moon, and he said, “Oh.”

.

Hunters have codes. So do the hunted.

She left that life behind for her other half, and for the spark growing in her womb, and for eight years of peace after two dozen of war.

Nothing, though, will ever get into her family’s house without being invited, because of everything her parents taught, she learned defensive magic the best.

Her son, though, she could see the fire in him. He’d be as good as her at the defensive, when he grew into himself – and he’d be even better at going on the attack.

But she knew she’d only have eight years. And though it pained her, she knew she had to lock it all away until the time was right. He couldn’t be alone with the power; she could all too easily see him burning the entire town down on accident.

… or on purpose.

.

“Oh,” he said, as the pack howled in fear and despair and anger, as Derek shouted for Isaac, as Allison shouted for her father, as Peter and Cora ran towards the house, as the interlopers laughed.

“Oh,” he said, and closed his hand into a fist.

The flames extinguished.

He opened his hand and blew across his palm and the ashes floated away.

Kali was staring at him.

He smiled at her.

.

The hunter code is hunt those who hunt us.

The hunted code is make sure there doesn’t need to be a last line of defense. What he learned on that night of no moon took it one step further: if there is a last line, make sure to salt and burn the earth behind you.

.

“So this is where she hid,” Kali said as Derek’s pack helped an alpha, a beta, and a hunter from the ruins of a life.

“This is where she hid,” he agreed, arms hanging loosely, still smiling.

“What name did she give you?” Kali asked, eyes on something behind him.

“Dolfvarðr,” he said. “Take your pack and leave my territory before I decide to trigger the dormant wards.”

Everyone else was paying attention now, Derek looking up from Isaac, Allison and Argent watching, the alpha pack and the two packs barely stitched together because Stiles was damned possessive, and he always knew –

“Of course,” Kali said. “Any of us not gone by dawn are yours to do with what you will.”

He pulled his lips back in the barest semblance of a smile. “She told me once that you had a brain, even if you were wasting it on a pack that wouldn’t last the decade.” He paused, knowing he should stop, knowing he needed to step back, knowing so many things, but he added, “How much longer?”

“A year,” Kali answered.

Chapter Text

“Stiles,” Dad says, “there’s something…” He sigh, rests his head in his hand for a moment before looking back up. “I have to tell you something and you’re not gonna believe me.”

“Uh,” Stiles says, laughing a little. “I probably will.”

What could Dad possibly say that could top werewolves?

.

A very long time ago, there was a boy. (Sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, sometimes somewhere in between, sometimes neither. In this story, however, he was a boy.)

Not quite as long ago, the boy met a girl and together they had three children.

Those three children were banished and bound by a king after a prophecy was heard, and the boy (and the girl) were never quite the same after.

No one knows what happened to the girl, or to the children – but the boy… well, you have heard his name. In fact, mere months ago, he led an army that destroyed swathes of New York.

.

Dad’s sitting in the living room, ‘resting his eyes,’ so Stiles goes for a walk. He wanders through his neighborhood, and then further, and when he finally focuses back on his surroundings, he’s in the middle of the preserve and the sun has almost set.

He can hear wolves. He can hear every wolf in the world. He’s always been able to, but now he knows what it is, and that makes all the difference.

“Holy shit,” he whispers, and turns around to go home.

.

Dad looks up when Stiles walks in, head tilted to the side. He glances at Stiles just for a minute and when Stiles nods, Dad lets out a relieved sigh.

“My brother wants to meet you,” Dad says. “And you need to meet my sister.”

“Okay,” Stiles murmurs, walking over to collapse on the couch. “Things are calm around here for the moment, so there won’t be a better time.”

“You’re taking this well,” Dad notes.

Stiles shrugs. “Werewolves,” he explains.

.

“Hey,” Stiles tells Scott, “Dad and I are going on a trip this weekend.” He shoves his history book into his locker, grabs his English binder, ignores his physics notebook, and slams the door, glancing at Scott, who is gazing at Allison with doe eyes and apparently didn’t hear a thing Stiles just said.

Good old Scott. So dependable.

Stiles rolls his eyes and heads to the cafeteria. He’s not particularly hungry, but he needs the fuel, and that’s where the pack will be.

(He and his dad have never been gone at the same time before. Dad’s not sure how the ward will react, but some things have to be done, and now that Stiles actually knows about the wards, he’s been actively powering them, and life’s like a thousand times better now that he and Dad are talking, and he wants to tell Scott, wants to share -

But he can’t. Can’t tell anyone who’s not blood.)

So he just grabs a lunch, heads for the pack table, and announces to the world in general that he’ll be out of reach from Friday afternoon to Monday morning because he and Dad are going on a father-son roadtrip and any shenanigans the wolves get up to will not have the muggle saving the day.

(His heart doesn’t blip at all.)

Boyd rolls his eyes, but Erica at least laughs. Isaac just takes a bite of his sandwich.

.

They talk all the way to the coast. Stiles tells him everything from the night he and Scott went looking for Laura Hale’s body.

“If Peter bit me that night,” he asks, “what would’ve happened?”

Dad laughs for ten minutes and when he finally catches his breath, he says, “Absolutely nothing.”

Stiles snickers for a minute before sitting up straight in his seat. “Lydia!” he says. “Is she – ”

“She’ll be meeting us at the water,” Dad says.

.

They reach the coast right at sunset. Lydia’s standing up to her knees in the Pacific, hair blowing in the chill wind and she looks over at shoulder. “Hello, son,” she calls.

Stiles just blinks as Dad calls back, “Hey, Mom.”

.

What no one knows is this:

A very long time ago, a king banished a girl after taking her children. The oldest, he chained in a cave; the secondborn, he cast into the deepest water; the youngest, he left in the ice and snow. The girl fell to her knees and cried for only a minute before she stood and began to search.

She found all three of them, broke the enchantments, and gave them new lives.

While she did this, the boy kept his head down, stayed in the king’s line of sight, and plotted to tear apart the realm.

.

“He’s running late?” Dad asks, kicking off his shoes before hurrying through the surf to twirl Lydia around. Stiles shakes his head, decides to just go with things, kicks off his shoes, and joins them.

“You know your brother,” Lydia laughs, kissing Dad’s cheek. “He wasn’t even on time to his own birth.”

Lydia smiles at Stiles and says, “Hello, Ŭladzislaŭ.”

“Grandmother,” he murmurs, trying not to remember all the years he had a crush on her.

She laughs again, turning back to the waves. “You were fascinated with me, my dear. You had no idea why, so you latched onto the most common, simple explanation.”

“Right,” Stiles agrees. Dad and Lydia keep talking, but Stiles just watches the sun set across the water, which is why he sees the creature before they do.

“Holy. Shit,” he breathes because he’s never seen anything so magnificent in his life .

Dad laughs and throws himself forward.

By the time he reaches the creature, Dad is a wolf the size of an 18-wheeler and Stiles is pretty sure nothing will ever be cooler than that.

“We can’t use our given names,” Lydia says, reaching out to hold Stiles’ hand. “I haven’t been able to comfort my children with the names I gave them at their birth in half a millennia.” She squeezes his fingers but doesn’t look away from Dad and his brother, and Stiles just listens silently. “When I learned of your mother’s pregnancy, I knew I could not stay away. You are my only grandchild and I would allow nothing to go wrong.”

Stiles thinks about New York. “And… him?

Lydia’s laugh, high and sweet, rolls across the water. “Things are in motion, Stiles. We’re gathering, I and my children and my step-children. And a boy I loved once, a very long time ago.”

.

Not so long ago at all, a boy fell from a bridge. He fell for eternity and landed in a terrible place, where a monster hungry for the cosmos brought him to the edge of death a thousand times. There were no good choices to be made, but the boy did the best he could and it ended with him out of the monster’s grasp.

It ended with him back in the realm he hated but understood, and with him trapped in a cell to be punished for his sins.

It ended with a scrap of paper in the middle of his favorite book, a scrawl he recognized in a language they had created – we gather, my love.

It ended with him resting his head against the wall and burning the scrap with a thought, even though his magic had been locked away.

.

When Dad walks out of the ocean, a man two inches taller and a hand’s width broader in the shoulders followed him. “Hello, nephew,” the man said. “Call me Ladon.”

Chapter Text

McCall, Scott is sorted into Hufflepuff. At the time, nobody realizes the importance of it. He’s a halfblood whose mother is the American daughter of a blood-traitor who ran from the War and his father is nothing but an American muggle auror, who had long since turned his back on his wife and child.

McCall is nobody. He settles into Hufflepuff with ease and spends most of his time not in class down at Hagrid’s hut.

There’s another student that follows McCall around, another Hufflepuff. They’re both awkward, but McCall’s friend, Fáeluachail Stilinski, has none of McCall’s charm. He goes off on pointless and loud tangents, doesn’t respect (or, seemingly, recognize) boundaries, and it’s a good thing the boy is in Hufflepuff. Any of the other houses would chase him away.

Stilinski is a muggleborn. The acceptance to Hogwarts was a surprise, but once he realized it was real, Aleksander Stilinski learned everything he could so that his son would be prepared. He’d left behind everything he knew for his wife, who needed to move to Faulagh for her last sixth months, for reasons Alex still doesn’t understand. But after she passed, Alex packed up the few things any of them had unpacked and moved to Belfast with Fáel. It didn’t take long for him to find a job at a security firm, and Fáel started back up at school, where he quickly dropped the name his mother had given him to become Stiles.

A year later, the Hogwarts owl arrived and Stiles started smiling again, that same smile Clionadh wore when she stepped off the plane.

Alex is a muggle through and through. Clionadh hasn’t been found on any pureblood lineage, not that anyone has really bothered to look.

McCall, Scott and Stilinski, Fáeluachail are two nobodies that no one notices or cares about for a long time.

“So, we’re both American, huh?” Stiles says after he throws himself onto the seat across from the little boy with shaggy dark hair. He’d watched the kid say goodbye to his mom (but no dad) on the platform and followed him down the train to this compartment because the kid had said, “I’ll be fine, Mom, honest, don’t worry,” and it had sounded just like home.

“I, I guess?” the kid says, and Stiles grins at him. “I’m Stiles. You?”

“Scott,” the kid says. “Magic school?”

Stiles laughs, nodding. “Magic school, dude.”

Chapter Text

Even when he didn't know anything, he knew about Steve. Not Steve's name, or their shared history - but the important things. The curve of Steve's smile. Steve's inability to back down, no matter what he was up against. Steve's laugh, and the strength of his fingers, even when nothing else about him but his will was strong.

Even in the dead of winter, when there was nothing else he could claim, he knew he would die for Steve. And when that order came, when his masters panicked and let him off the leash to kill a nation’s spirit, when he woke again and traveled to a place that meant nothing to him, when he had Captain America in his sights…

What did the Winter Soldier care about Captain America? Nothing. One more target. The Winter Soldier was the perfect weapon, and Captain America just another body on the ground.

… no.

Because he doesn’t know Captain America’s face except from the propaganda, and he wouldn’t recognize the man’s real name, even if he heard it, and the man looks awfully young to be the legend Winter Soldier’s masters fear. But he knows the man’s smile. The steel in his spine. The force in his voice as he hands out his own orders, to the local police and his team. The strength of his fingers, on his shield and the gun he grabbed off the ground.

His orders are clear. His target acquired. What does Winter Soldier care about Captain America? He’s never hesitated before, not even when sent after begging women or sobbing children. But his finger won’t tighten on the trigger, not even one iota, and his chest hurts. He can’t catch his breath.

Black Widow is beside Captain America. Winter Soldier shifts his scope. That traitorous child, he could kill easily.

… no. She is one of Captain America’s teammates, and he would mourn her. Captain America should never hurt.

What does Winter Soldier care about Captain America? Nothing, nothing at all. Winter Soldier has no thoughts regarding his targets. He is the perfect weapon. He is remorseless and merciless. He is fearless. He feels no pain and never hesitates.

Captain America is nothing. Black Widow is nothing. Winter Soldier will put them both down and return to his masters until the next mission.

… no. He cannot leave. Captain America is nothing, but that smile. That smile. There is something about Captain America’s smile.

And Black Widow is looking right at him. Captain America follows her gaze, and his eyes widen, and he drops his shield and the gun, and Winter Soldier reads his lips - Bucky.

… yes.

Yes.

Steve’s smile. Steve’s determination. Steve’s laugh and Steve’s hands, and twenty-five years as Steve’s protector, and seven months as Steve’s second-in-command.

Even in dead of winter, he knew Steve.

Winter Soldier closes his eyes, and Bucky opens them as winter thaws.

 

...

 

He runs. Leaves his weapons on the floor and runs, hides, goes to ground. He knows that Black Widow - Natasha, Natalia, I’m a monster, how could I have - she will find him, so he starts running again.

But Black Widow is not the only one after him, and when he stops fighting himself, Winter Soldier takes over and keeps them alive. Bucky surrenders total control and curls up in a dark corner in their mind.

Seventy years, give or take. Mind broken apart and pieced back together, body remade how his masters wanted.

- Steve, Steve, dumb kid who never backed down, beautiful smile and graceful hands, Steve, Steve, so strong, Steve, I’m sorry -

Bucky Barnes died. He fell off a train and his body broke and his heart stopped – and he was pulled from the ice, and Red Skull’s experiments meant he woke up, if minus an arm and most of his memories.

In hindsight, seventy years in the future, it’s all too clear. He’s Frankenstein’s monster – except not, because Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t a monster. He tried to get away, to avoid hurting people.

Winter Soldier is one of the greatest assassins in history. He is what his masters made him.

Bucky Barnes is a dumb kid from Brooklyn who wishes his best friend never pulled him from that Hydra base.

I won’t let us die, Winter Soldier tells him. Bucky can feel Winter Soldier dodge, throw a knife, jump, and hit the water in a perfect dive.

We shouldn’t be alive, Bucky replies. Winter Soldier scoffs, so Bucky adds, It’s my body. You’re just… programming.

You know what I know Winter Soldier says. I know what you know. And I can tell you this – Captain America saw us.

Bucky flinches as Winter Soldier smoothly rises from the water. Steve.

I don’t care about Captain America, Winter Soldier says. I’m not you. I never have been. But I won’t kill him. For you – I won’t kill him.

Thank you, Bucky whispers, pulling back as far as he can. There are seven decades worth of memories - not quite, Winter Soldier whispers, I slept some, months or years at a time -to catch up on, to learn what his body has been doing.

So while Winter Soldier finds somewhere safe and starts planning what to do with a life of their own, Bucky tries integrating Winter Soldier’s life with his own.

Finally, days or weeks later, he has no idea how long, Winter Soldier plops down next to him in their shared mind. Bucky looks at him – identical, mostly, but with longer hair, more scars, and a cybernetic arm.

Chapter Text

Most of the time, the pantheons stay away from each other, stay in their own little corners of the sky or ocean or earth. There are dalliances, but they are few and far between – and never result in a child. Most of the time.

But once, there was a wolf. He was a great big wolf, powerful and strong, and he belonged to a trickster. He wandered the world, lord of all wolves, lord of all the wolf gods, what little few were left. He wandered the world and caught the eye of a goddess. She had once been the princess of the earth, and had become queen of the dead, and her heart had long grown cold to her husband, to the god she’d had no choice but to wed.

She saw the wolf and she wanted. So when spring came and she walked the world again, she left her realm of darkness and stepped into the light.

“Hello, son of a god,” she said.

The wolf laughed and shifted into the shape of a man. “Hello, daughter of a goddess,” he said back.

They wandered together, stopping in to see each other’s families. “Be safe,” her mother ordered. “But most of all, be happy.” (They didn’t go near the mountain where her father lived.) His father snickered, “Oh, such a worthwhile trick!” His mother smiled, sure and slow, and promised to keep an eye on all the gateways.

She got along well with her wolf’s sister, and they traded tips on how to keep the unruly dead in line. His brother was a bit frightening, even for a goddess, but he was a sweetheart who told the worst jokes.

When the spark lit in her, she knew immediately. “I am the personification of spring,” she told her wolf. “So I’m quite fertile.”

He understood. “And your husband?” he asked. “You’ve never – ”

She laughed. “Of course not. My mother cursed him long ago. He’ll never sire a child, no matter how often or fervently he tries.”

She was given ten wonderful years with her wolf, eight of them with her son, a bright-eyed boy his father’s smile and his mother’s laugh.

(“What do we tell him?” the son of a god asked, staring down at his own son.

“That we love him,” the daughter of a goddess said.)

When the god of the dead summons you, you cannot fight. Not even if you are a queen. She felt the call, threw back her head, and screamed to her sister of the soul, Watch over my boy. The wolf’s sister swore that her protections would never leave her nephew.

“I love you,” she told her wolf, told her son, told the very dirt under her feet. Her body’s death was slow, her spirit mostly gone, back to beneath the earth. But she fought as long as she could.

And then she was back with him, her husband. She once again sat on the throne, cold and remote. She once again never smiled or laughed.

“You are my wife!” he roared at her. “My queen! How dare you!”

She only ever looked at him, silent, one eyebrow raised.

And then –

And then the door between realms opened and she knew what her husband had planned. He could not avenge the slight against his honor on her or her wolf (no god dared touch the child of that trickster, not since Ragnarök had torn apart a world) but he could strike at her son. It was dangerous, yes, but the connection remote – mayhap, if he tried to be sneaky, no one would notice.

And no one had, not even her wolf’s sister.

But the door was open, like Pandora’s jar before it, and she was the daughter of a goddess. A goddess herself, and her only son in danger.

She stepped through the door into a nightmare as a masked creature demanded, “Everyone has it, but no one can lose it. What is it?”

Her son, her brave and beautiful boy, said, “A shadow,” watching with horrified eyes as the creature unmasked itself to reveal his own face.

She laughed. “I have another answer, little demon.” She stepped in front of her son and forced the thing to show its true face, nothing more than smoke. “It is a name.”

“Mom?” her son whispered behind her as the demon shrieked, “You have no power here!”

She laughed again. “You’re out of your realm,” she said. “But I am wherever flowers bloom and the dead reside. We’re in a hospital – there are dead here. Leave my son in peace and I’ll let you live.”

The demon snarled and dissipated. She turned to face her son. “Wake up, baby boy,” she murmured. “I’ll see you there.”

And she was standing in an MRI chamber, watching her son slide out of the tube, eyes wide, face full of hope, and she gathered him into her arms, crying, "Astrapios, Astrapios, my son, my baby."

She heard her wolf whisper, "Persephone?" before he was suddenly there, arms wrapped around them both. She breathed for the first time in almost a decade and sent a call out to the sister of her soul. Howling filled the air around them as her wolf called his family home. And her son, the only child she would ever have, trembled in her grip.

Mama, she thought, I need your help.

"What the hell?" the doctor said, and her boy's friends were crowding in (werewolves responding to their lord) and the guardian spirits dared approach -

"Enough."

And there was silence. Persephone kept holding her son, and Fenrir kept holding them both, while everyone else turned to see her mother, wearing the guise of an elderly dark-skinned woman. "Daughter, take your son and your wolf to see the trickster. His siblings will be there."

"Yes, Mama," Persephone mumbled into her son's shoulder before doing as her mother commanded.

It was almost a day before her son awoke enough to ask any questions, and when he did, he was curled up with her, with Fenrir in his first form curled around them both. They were both nowhere and everywhere at once, in Jörmungandr's keep, and Hel waited to speak with Persephone.

"I don't understand," Astrapios said softly, blinking up at Persephone.

She smiled at him and pressed a kiss to his brow.

Her human name is Claudia, chosen because it shares no letters with the name her mother gave her, eons ago. She and her wolf go to a place that neither of their families hold claim to, and there they make a little realm of their own.

“What would you name me?” her wolf asks as they stand beneath the full moon, fingers entwined, both in new skins, untouched by anyone but each other.

“Aleksander,” she says, for she enjoys the way it tastes on her tongue.

Beneath the full moon, they are wed. She has known him for barely a season and yet loves him more than she ever could the husband ordained by her father.

“This will be dangerous,” Aleksander tells her as they separate under the rising sun.

“Yes,” she laughs, grinning, “it is so dangerous.”

Chapter Text

Loki smiles as Odin Notfather seals the cage with Gungnir. What more proof does he need that Odin has never understood the power he wields?

By Odin’s will, Loki is declared a non-entity: never was he son or prince or heir.

Odin’s will.

Not Gungnir’s. Not Hliðskjálf’s.

Asgardr herself still views Loki as a once-king, and that is more than Thor has yet.

Odin seals the cage and sneers at Loki before turning on his heel, Gungnir still in hand, and stalking away.

Odin has left Loki his magic, locked in a glass box for eternity.

Odin has left Loki his magic.

Loki need only wish to see what happens outside the cell and Hliðskjálf grants him the king’s sight.
He laughs and he laughs and he laughs. By the king’s will, he is imprisoned. By the king’s will, he remains there.

Once a man has sat on Hliðskjálf – only Hliðskjálf can choose to break loyalty. Loki settles on his cage’s bed with a book and watches through the glass as the guards patrol. He does not speak; by order of Odin Notfather, no sound can leave the cage unless a member of the royal family stands outside, wanting to hear.

Gungnir is yet loyal to Odin Notfather. Hliðskjálf, though, teeters on the edge of choosing to follow the only other being to sit on the throne in an age.

Loki knows that Odin Notfather will do something to break faith with Asgardr, and he has the patience to wait.

(When Odin Allfather promises to spill every drop of Asgardian blood if necessary to defeat Malekith, Hliðskjálf and Gungnir both break faith with him. He screams, dropping to his knees, as all of the king’s knowledge is ripped from his mind and all of the king’s power leaves his hands.

In his cage, still ravaged by his grief and his fury, Loki laughs as Gungnir appears in his hand. He steps between the realms for but a moment, materializing before the throne.

“Odin Notfather found me unworthy of you,” he tells Hliðskjálf, fingers caressing Gungnir.

Chapter Text

- Mars
- Sam dies
- 100 yrs post-Mars: WWIII
o Reaper joins up with John Harrison’s superhuman group (created by new experiments with c24; assumes command
o Reaper takes name Khan; his people choose the other two; each name means something
o Canon for Khan happens
o John Harrison and his people defeated; Khan gives order scatter, but only he manages to escape; searches for decades but never finds his people; assumes they were executed and gives up
o Harrison and his group actually put in cryosleep and ejected into space
- 200 yrs post-Mars, Reaper has become Leonard McCoy/Bones, Jim Kirk’s best friend, respected Starfleet doctor

...

Admiral Marcus finds John Harrison’s people before Nero happens but doesn’t wake him until after the Narada is destroyed.

John Harrison calls himself Khan as a message but Bones’ security isn’t high enough to hear it and he’s not looking anymore – he thinks his second family is as dead as the first – and then his third family is in danger and no one will tell him why. And then Jim summons Bones to the brig and there is his one-time XO and lover. And John Harrison clearly recognizes him, but doesn’t let on in any way that would let anyone else know.

And John Harrison calls himself Khan – and finally Bones hears the message. And finally – Reaper understands the message.

And when Bones calls Jim Captain where John Harrison can hear, he’s sending a message of his own.

The missiles are his second family. Someone is trying to kill his third.

And when John Harrison lets Bones pull his blood, John has received and understood the true Khan’s message.

Star Trek Into Darkness goes AU

One hundred years after he dies, John Grimm is roped into another war. Sam’s been gone for decades and without her being his better half, it’s too easy to slide away from doing the right thing.

Humans have learned nothing in John’s lifetime. There’s just as much fear, hate, and oppression as there’s always been, and he is really fucking tired of it.

So when Kale finds him and says, “My people have need of a fierce, intelligent warrior,” Reaper looks at him long and hard.

“Someone fed you C-24, too?” he asks. He can sense it in this kid, and anger, and the desire to burn –

“I cannot remember a time before I was better,” the kid says. “I named myself Kale when we broke free from the inferior beings attempting to use us.”

“Your people,” Reaper says. “How many?”

“One hundred and three,” the kid, Kale, answers. “I command them. Marlo hacked the system as we left; she found record of you, Mr. Grimm – the only one of our kind free until now. The only one of our kind before us. Every other test ended in failure.”

“I wasn’t a test,” Reaper tells him, studying the boy’s pale skin, angular face, his cold blue eyes. “I was a Hail Mary that, astonishingly, worked. And I blew that place all to hell so that I couldn’t be done again.”

Kale doesn’t say anything, just keeps placidly staring at him, so Reaper sighs. “Why,” he asks, “do you need a fierce, intelligent warrior?”

.

Kale and his people want to take over the world. Especially India, or what’s left of it. Marlo’s mother, the oldest of Kale’s group, had remembered being grabbed from Godhra when she was young; Soma was the only one to remember her life before – she even kept her name from the outside.

Soma died when Kale’s people tore the facility down around them, along with ten others, including Singh and Katia, the leaders before Kale.

It wasn’t like Reaper had anything else to do. He was angry at the pointless violence, at all the hate – Sam would tell him not to, but Sam died during an uprising in Brooklyn while John on maneuvers in the never-ending war in the Middle East.

So Kale wants to take over the world, and he wants Reaper to help him.

“You’ll need a new name,” Marlo tells him. The Council, Kale calls them: Kale, the Commander; Marlo, the Intelligence; Ahnel, the Wisdom; and Elia, the Witness. All must be in agreement before action is taken. It’s a nice system, Reaper things. But not for war.

“A name to inspire confidence in the people we wish to rule,” Marlo continues, her dark eyes never leaving Reaper’s. She’s been talking about names for over an hour. The hour before that, Kale insisted on sparring; Reaper kicked his ass up one side and down the other. The kid never stopped smiling.

Reaper finally says, “I like Khan.”

.

The Council decides that Khan will be their leaders for wartime. Khan has no problem with that. He’s been itching for something to do since Sam died.

They start with Godhra for Soma. Marlo is given Gujarat to be her territory, and from there the rest of the war is launched.

When the subjugated leaders, lesser beings who dare demand of Khan a reason, he says simply, “I am Khan Noonien Singh, and I am better.”

.

Khan’s people are not the only ones. While they take control of the Indian subcontinent, 37 other countries all over the world fall to Augments, as the inferior call them.

At first, it seems like it might be a good thing. The war is won, so Khan steps back to let the Council have their realm. Once they’re established, Khan will win them more land. With other superior beings in charge, the Council has equals to trade and communicate with. The world is big. There’s plenty of land and resources.

Except, the rest are more like Sarge than Reaper, and things turn bloody fast.

.

Everything falls apart. The world that had been divided for so long unites in the face of a common enemy. Khan orders all of his people to go to ground, to blend, to stay safe. In a year, they would all meet up at Mount Olympus in Greece and decide then what to do. Scattering is the only way, Khan explains to them, the 92 left. Three die on the way out and Khan does everything he can to save the ones left.

They escape onto the streets on New Delhi and everyone goes a different way. Khan shadows Kale, who keeps the youngest of them, Nilan, with him, until he sees a mob about to execute Georgia. He doesn’t get there in time to save her, but he does save Sunita three streets over.

.

The riots last five days. Khan becomes Chandra and vanishes. Once communications are up again, he watches the news avidly.

Seventy-nine war criminals have been captured. The man who tried to conquer India is one of them, every newsfeed shouts. The trial is a joke, but the woman who emerges victorious convinces everyone that a time of peace cannot begin with bloodshed.

Chandra laughs when he sees Amani’s face, solemn and steady, leading the world into peace.

Chapter Text

Part 1: how Winter Soldier becomes Jim Banks (1 year)
Part 2: Salmon, Idaho (10 years)
Part 3: Jim Banks researches Captain America; discovers James Barnes (1 year)
Part 4: Jim and Peter banks go to DC/NYC after Cap2

...

1996: Peter Parker born

1998: Richard Parker experiments on his son’s genetic structure.

November 2000: Peter Parker left with his aunt&uncle; parents missing

February 2001: On his way back to his handlers in New York, Winter Soldier comes across a group of boys picking on a smaller boy. He doesn’t know why, but it elicits an emotional response. He takes the boy and goes to ground. An Amber Alert goes out for Peter Parker; Winter Soldier’s handlers search for but cannot find him.

2002: Winter Soldier slowly rediscovers himself while caring for the boy, Peter.

June 2003: Jim Banks, honorably discharged from the marines, moves to a small town in Idaho with his nephew, Peter Banks. He doesn’t like talking about it, but lets it leak that his brother and sister-in-law were killed by a drunk driver and he left the forces to adopt his nephew.

2007: Peter’s natural mutation (his spidey-sense) kicks in.

2008: Iron Man ; Incredible Hulk ; Peter’s mutations keep getting stronger; Storm&Cyclops approach Jim and Peter about Xavier’s school but Jim turns them down

2011: Iron Man 2 ; Thor

2012: Captain America found ; Avengers ; Iron Man 3

2013: Thor 2 ; HYDRA discovered inside SHIELD ; all of SHIELDs files dumped onto internet to destroy HYDRA’s plan ; Jim Banks and his nephew travel to New York because Jim remembers Steve Rogers

...

Steve: only person to receive ‘proper’ serum; peak-human condition
Jim Banks: almost as strong as Steve, and faster, but not same level of endurance; better fighter and better shot because of Winter Soldier’s experience
Natasha: not as strong as Steve and Jim, but faster/more agile than both ; same endurance as Jim
Peter: stronger, faster, and more agile than any of the three due to genetic tinkering; his only natural mutations are the spidey-sense, ability to crawl on walls, and shoot web out of his wrists

PP pov – why doesn’t he fight? What does he think about WS/James? What does Peter remember – his birth family? That WS kidnapped him? Does he care? Barely remembers his parents; remembers an older couple

Voice/asset – how do they become James? WS coming up with ID/cover story – why Uncle Jimmy instead of dad? Year between taking Peter and Bumfuck – what happens? Why James and Peter Banks, why Bumfuck? Evolution of WS to Jim Banks – what happened in his head? Does he remember life before WS? Does he figure out he saved PP because of Steve? Peter barely remembers his parents or the older couple who cared for him (grandparents? He’s not sure), but the man caring for him says to call him ‘Jim.’ Winter Soldier decides to become the man in his memories that used to take care of someone and creates the ID of James Banks, a special ops soldier for the USA. Jim Banks is an artist/photographer but has family money that he and Peter live off of.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmon,_Idaho

Town size? 2003-2014 in Bumfuck. Outside perspective on Jim&Peter – neighbors, teachers, people at stores. How does Bumfuck feel about mutants? Beloved town official has a relative who’s a mutant and everyone loves her.

WS in files released to the public but no one in Bumfuck recognize him; Jim Banks always wears long-sleeves but everyone in Bumfuck knows he has an experimental prosthetic hand due to injury in the service; Jim hasn’t aged but he grows/dyes a beard to hide it. Has Jim killed since WS? Has anyone come close to finding them? How does he explain Peter’s mutation to him? His own differences from everybody else?

Does Jim keep up on current events? Why go to NYC after Cap2 but not for Avengers?

Peter aces school and does online college courses; has a few friends (one who knows about mutation); Jim taught him self-defense and a few other things, and how to control his mutation (he’s also steadily growing stronger and faster). Uncle Jimmy posits that it might be part of his natural mutation, or possibly someone tinkered with him like they did Uncle Jimmy years ago. Storm and Cyclops approach them for Peter to go to Xavier’s school but Jim turns them down

Jim dates but focuses most on raising his nephew.

Natasha sees Peter Banks in action – some move is one WS taught her; Jim Banks can fire around Peter and Peter dances through the bullets; investigate the HYDRA files about WS and Steve recognizes Bucky; facial recognition tracks down Peter Parker; Avengers discover the Banks’ family from Bumfuck

Parker family reactions? Jim Banks’ service record; last record of WS is NYC same month PP went missing

...

He wakes to a child’s pained cry. He is standing in an alley on the way back to his handlers, but there is a child whimpering somewhere close, and that sound – that sound. The asset does not react to it, but there is a voice in his mind demanding that he investigate.

The asset says to return to the handlers for debriefing, must be there by nightfall, but the voice is louder and so to the crying child he goes.

One alley over, there is a small boy surrounded by bigger boys shouting insults and laughing. The smallest boy is crying but still standing, still trying to knock down the loudest boy.

The asset dismisses it all as unimportant; the voice –Bucky—shouts, “Leave him alone!”

The boys scatter, save for the smallest who just plops down on the ground. The asset knows he must leave but the voice –Bucky? Who the hell is Bucky?—steps forward to gently pick the boy up, so gently, and orders him to find somewhere to hide. The boy clings to his shirt, fragile body heaving with silent sobs, face buried in his shoulder, and the asset could break him so easily… but the voice feels how familiar it is to cradle a weaker frame close.

The asset moves quickly, arms carefully tightening around the boy.

By dawn, the Winter Soldier’s masters know their asset has gone rogue again, and they are tracking him down. By dawn, an Amber Alert has gone out in New York for the five-year-old Peter Parker.

By dawn, the asset and the voice have decided to work together, and they and the boy are halfway through Pennsylvania.

.

The boy wakes on the road between Pittsburgh and Columbus; he’s hungry and crying, whimpering, “Mama, Mama,” so the asset pulls off the highway. McDonald’s has breakfast and a drive-thru. The voice asks roughly, “What would you like?” but the boy’s answer is incomprehensible.

When the woman asks for his order, the voice lists the first five things on the menu. He also orders two bottles of water. He has a single $20 and a single $10, so the asset must find funds soon.

The boy devours his breakfast with both enthusiasm and relief. The asset takes one sandwich and one hashbrown for himself, to consume while reentering the highway: he needs to refuel and his handlers will no longer be providing him with sustenance. He will also need to rest soon, if only for a few hours.

Once he has eaten his fill, the boy kicks the back of the asset’s seat. “Who are you?” he asks. “Did my parents send you?”

The voice shakes his head. “I have no name,” he says, “and no one sent me. But you need a guardian. I will guard you now.”

And his handlers must not reacquire him – that would be the boy’s death, surely and swiftly. They must not be caught.

He asks the boy, “What is your name? Who had charge of you?” Who is missing him? They clearly were not adequate caretakers, but might be searching for him.

“Peter,” the boy says. “I live with Daddy’s brother ‘cause Mama and Daddy left.” He kicks the asset’s chair again. “You gotta have a name.”

The asset sees a rest-stop ahead so he carefully exits the highway. “Call me James,” the voice says. It sounds familiar, though not quite right. He eyes the few people wandering around rest area. “Uncle James,” he amends.

Peter bounces out of the car when the asset – the voice -- James opens the door. “We will use the facilities,” he says. “Stay close.”

After they relieve themselves, James allows Peter to run around for a little while. He keeps a sharp eye out, pulling his stolen jean jacket close around his front. Along with funds, he must acquire supplies. He cannot wear the asset’s clothes without being noticed and Peter’s clothes from yesterday are already covered in old dirt.

“Peter!” he finally calls when half an hour has passed.

One of the women smiles as Peter runs up to him. “Let’s go, Uncle Jimmy!” Peter shouts.

James can’t help but smile. It feels unfamiliar on his face, and fragile, but Peter throws his arms around James’ middle before tugging him towards the car. He keeps smiling all the way back to the interstate and waits till the next rest stop before he begins pickpocketing other travelers. He takes only small bills and only one card from each wallet before putting the wallets back. Peter chatters the whole time, and James just listens because it is so alien to his experiences. The asset’s handlers talked around the asset, not to him, except to give orders. He knows he once killed children Peter’s age—more than once. He sees them in Peter’s smile, hears their cries in Peter’s laugh. He shakes the ghosts away and asks, “And then what?” so that Peter will keep talking.

They eat lunch at a Waffle House in Cincinnati. Peter charms the server and she tries to flirt with James, but James just gives her an awkward smile. He leaves a few dollars for a tip, as he has seen other diners do, and then they’re back on the road.

.

Peter naps until Indianapolis. James is finally beginning to feel the need for sleep himself, but he just keeps driving. He fills the tank up in Bainbridge while Peter bounces around the car. The car has surely been reported stolen by now; it is time to acquire another.

At Terre Haute, James rents a room for two nights. Peter’s napping again, so after James leaves the car on the other side of town from the hotel, he carries Peter back to their room. He finally lays down and tries to rest.

He does not remember sleeping, before he was James. There was the cold and the dark, and there was scant rest while waiting for his missions – but not sleep. Not dreams.

He sleeps next to Peter in the bed, curling around the child, and he knows only because he wakes the next morning, his flesh hand above the boy’s heartbeat, with another name caught in his throat.

Peter wiggles out from under his arm, saying, “Go back to sleep, Uncle Jimmy.” James blearily watches him head for the bathroom before rolling back over. He dozes for most of the day while Peter flips through the eight channels the TV gets.

That afternoon, James takes him to the closest Good Will shop and buys them both a handful of jeans and shirts. Peter picks out some shoes he likes, and James finds a pair of boots that fit. While James is browsing the gloves, Peter finds the books, so James ends up getting some of those, too. He also grabs a ball-cap on his way to the register with their purchases.

On the walk back to their room, he keeps an eye out for a new car.

 

---

The population of Salmon, Idaho, grows by two one bright summer morning, when a former marine drives a battered pick-up into town, his nephew next to him, still strapped into a booster seat because he hasn’t really started to grow yet.

“Uncle Jimmy,” Peter says, “did you know that salmon swim upstream?” He’s flipping through a random fact book that Jim bought eight states ago.

“I think I did,” Jim says, “but I’m not sure. Why don’t you remind me?”

And Peter’s off, chattering a mile a minute while Jim watches the town looming around them with
wary eyes.

 

New kids are rare, so Peter Banks is the talk of the elementary school when the semester starts.

---

Like the rest of the world, they watch the alien attack on New York with wide eyes. “What in the fuck?” Jim mutters.

It’s the red-haired woman he notices first, and she seems familiar. But the man dressed like a flag – “Is that Captain America?” Peter demands, but Jim is just watching, mind completely blank except for one thing: I know him. I know him. I know him.

“Uncle Jimmy,” Peter says in disbelief as the flag-man’s helmet comes off, “I think that’s Captain America.”

When Jim doesn’t respond, Peter looks away from the screen to glance at him. “Uncle Jimmy, you okay?”

“I—” He shakes his head. “What’d you call him? Captain America?” That jars something in his head, something he’s avoided thinking about for years.

“Yeah!” Peter says. “He’s only – do you really not know?”

Jim shrugs.

.

While the rest of the world watches the clean-up in New York, Jim programs the DVR to record anything that mentions Captain America and Peter helps him research.

Chapter Text

“You have blood on your hands,” Thor says, and Loki laughs, soft and low.

“You’ve found battles on eight of the nine realms,” Loki says, laughter threaded in the words. “Were the blood spilt your way, I’m sure we’d be drinking in your father’s hall, singing loudly of our triumph.” His smile is ice-cold, vicious – one of his smiles never directed towards Thor before their ill-fated journey to Jötunheimr.

“It is not too late, brother,” Thor entreats, hands searching for Mjölnir. Surely the brother he remembers is still somewhere in this cruel, cold shell.

Loki shakes his head. “The only thing I want,” he says, lifting his ice-cold gaze to meet Thor’s, “is for Asgardr to burn in a funeral pyre for all existence to see. Then, I shall move on to Jötunheimr, and to Midgardr, and I’ll offer the ashes to Thanos.” Loki’s lips curl – almost bitterly, Thor thinks – as he adds, “Are we not allies, he and I?”

“Please, brother,” Thor tries again.

Turning away, Loki laughs – bitter and cold and angry. He settles in the corner of the cell, ignoring Thor entirely, and Thor waits through the dinner hourly, quietly watching his brother.

Think about it, Stark had said. C’mon, Point Break – something’s not right here. Based on everything, Loki should’ve been so much smarter than that dumbass plan that landed him in those magic-sucking handcuffs.

Stark is right. The boy from Thor’s childhood is not the man in this cell.

Thor has not seen his brother since Jötunheimr.

Loki has blood on his hands; so does everyone in Asgardr. So do Thor’s new companions on Midgardr. What happened to you? Thor wants to ask. Wants to demand. Surely, together they can defeat whatever monster lurks in Loki’s heart.

Chapter Text

Steve hadn’t realized how much he missed this until he has it again, Bucky at his back and snarking, Bucky smiling when the mission is done, Bucky in the gym and at the range, Bucky there when he wakes up in a panic, and Bucky there when he closes his eyes to sleep, like they’re boys again, eighty years and a lifetime ago.

Bucky’s alive, has been alive all this time, and every now and then there’s someone else in his eyes, someone dark and cold, but Bucky always comes back. And he won’t tell Steve about it, but he talks to Natasha because the same people had them, took her as a little girl and found him in the mountains, and Bucky and Natasha, they’re the greatest weapons those bastards ever made, but Natasha and Bucky, wearing identical smiles, said their masters were dead, and Clint nodded. Clint nodded because he was there, he had their backs when the Red Room bled out, while Steve was still in the ice.

Steve was in the ice for seventy years while Bucky was unmade. He left Bucky for dead, and Bucky was tortured and used for seventy years.

Bucky just smacks the back of his head every time he starts brooding. He has the Winter Soldier’s memories, and has nightmares, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, Steve knows. Mainly from the files Tony had Jarvis hack for him. Bucky has his life separated into Before and After, and After wasn’t him. All the years he was frozen, waiting for the missions, he integrated the memories, somehow – Steve’s not too clear on the medical or psychological details, and he doesn’t want to think about it too much, because the only person he has to punish for it all is himself, and Bucky’s already told him he can’t.

So he pretends those seventy years never happened, anytime he can. He pretends Bucky never fell, that he didn’t go into the ice, that Natasha doesn’t have a secret language Bucky (and Clint, to a lesser degree) speaks fluently, that most of the SHIELD agents above a certain security clearance look at Bucky with thinly-veiled horror.

Chapter Text

I am not, he thinks, your weapon.

His master smiles. Of course you are.

.

There are things more dangerous than a stolen princeling who fell. Out in the wide universe, there are far more dangerous things, hungry and grasping, waiting for the slightest chance.

.

I will tell you how to kill me, he whispers, touch soft and hands strong. I will tell you how to kill a god.

Chapter Text

"I need your help," Steve says. He's tried everything. Every government agency in the world is looking for the Winter Soldier, either to repurpose him or put him down. Natasha's trying to find Clint, who's in trouble somewhere. Fury -- Fury and Coulson are rebuilding SHIELD, even though Steve nearly died tearing it down.

Would've died, if the Winter Soldier hadn't saved his life.

"So, let me get this straight," Stark says, and Steve can hear the smirk in his voice. "You want me to help you find and save the guy that killed my parents, and dozens of other people?"

"No," Steve says, gritting his teeth. The table splinters beneath his fingers. "I need your help to find and save the man Hydra turned into a gun and then used to kill people they didn't like."

"Alright, fine, c'mon over," Stark says. "Jarvis'll tell you what to do when you get here."

Chapter Text

Baldr ran the first chance he got and never returned, even after the marriage and children of his own. Thor grew ever more powerful and arrogant, waiting for the All-Father to arrange his marriage for the good of Asgardr and the throne. And Loki... oh, Loki.

Frigga did what she could, first with Angrboða and their three children, and then with Sigyn and the twins. Despite what the court muttered, thankfully, Sleipnir was not Loki's, but that was the one grace left to her youngest.

Hel, Jörmungandr, Fenrir, Váli, and Nari - no, Loki had no manner of luck at all. Angrboða returned to her people and took the children with her. Had Odin not forbidden Loki to go, he would have, too.

But Odin called Loki son and spoke of all the magicks left to learn, that no giant could teach him. And for a time, all was well. Loki would spend a month with his family in Múspellsheimr. Every time he returned to Asgardr, it took him longer and longer to smile.

And then Sigyn arrived from Ālfheimr and caught Loki's eye. She spurned Thor’s advances for Loki, and Frigga’s sons did not speak for months.

Sigyn and Loki took long walks, far from the palace and Odin’s watchful gaze. On one of those walks, Sigyn delivered two sons: Váli and Nari. Thor’s wrath was great; Odin’s fury was greater. Twice now, Loki had ignored Odin’s edict of Thor’s children being firstborn, to maintain the line of inheritance.

Loki swore to Frigga he did not want the throne. Frigga believed him. Odin did not.

Soon after the birth, before the children could even toddle around, before either of them displayed any talent for magick, Sigyn took her children and returned home to Ālfheimr. Frigga missed her grandchildren, but she was also relieved – Thor and Odin had both watched the children jealously.

Loki grew ever crueler in his pranks, and his tongue, for all its silver, developed a razor edge. He was even more unpopular with the court, and Frigga could think of no way to

Chapter Text

The moment their first fight with Bucky on the team begins, Steve realizes he’s made a mistake. All he can think about is Bucky, alone at one end, up high and with no one watching his back. The only reason he’s here is because he wanted to protect Steve, so he picked up the gun and put on the armor, and didn’t even want to fight again, not really, Steve could tell that. But it was Bucky’s choice and here he is, and all Steve can think about is keeping Bucky safe.

That first fight, everything goes perfectly. Bucky stays up high, the guardian angel at one end, mirroring Clint on the other. But Steve knows they won’t all go like that. Bucky’s a supersoldier, just as strong and as fast Steve, and with an even stronger left arm. He’s got more training than Steve. He’s an asset, even though it disgusts Steve to even think that.

He watches Bucky make his way down from the perch and promises that, no matter what, Bucky’s gonna be protected from now on.

Chapter Text

He’s not asleep this time. Shoved down and kept there, eyes wide open, shouting, yes – but not asleep. Planning, plotting, even praying a little.

It calls itself a fox. It laughs. It kills with a smile (his smile). It rants at him, sometimes too quickly to understand, but he listens. He listens to everything it says, trying to commit all to memory.

“Do you see yet?” it demands, right up in his face. Imaginary spit hits his face. (they’re in his head, they’re in his head) “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he whispers, jaw clenched, glaring at his own face.

The fox laughs. “No, you don’t.” It smirks reaching out to pat his cheek. “Why you, Stiles?”

He yanks his head away, backs up. “We opened the door,” he says. “I… let you in.”

“You’re the clever one,” the fox says, still smirking. “I like you.”

Stiles shudders, closing his eyes.

Chapter Text

“Tell me,” Arthur says softly, hands carefully still, gaze averted. The sun’s shining outside. Kids are laughing on the sidewalk, pigeons fluttering around, horns honking. It’s a normal day.

Arthur doesn’t repeat himself.

Eames, eyes closed, arms slack at his side, murmurs a name.

.

Outside, Arthur leans against a wall, throws his head back. Breathes deep, holds it, exhales enough rage so he can think. He unclenches his fists, opens his eyes, pushes off the wall, and starts walking.

He stops outside a bakery, where his brother says, “Tell me.”

.

It is Arthur’s fault. Of course it is. Eames says otherwise, but Eames has been delirious on pain medication for the past three days.

Arthur should’ve dealt with Andre Delacroix over a decade ago, but he didn’t. That Delacroix waited this long for vengeance is all the proof he needs.

“It was my call, too,” his brother says, falling into step with him, a broken tracking anklet left in the middle of the bakery.

.

“Dad,” Arthur says into the phone, “I need your help.” His brother is sharpening knives at the coffee table, and every gun from every stash in the state of New York is spread out over the bed.

“I’ll be there tomorrow night,” Dad says. “How many?”

Arthur glances at his brother, who nods without looking up. “All of them.”

.

“So, kid,” Dad says, as Arthur’s family settles around the room. “What do you need?”

“I need someone Uncle Ivan trusts to protect Eames,” he starts. “And I need to be able to get close to Andre Delacroix.”

“My best man is yours,” Uncle Ivan says.

“I know where Delacroix was three days ago,” Aunt Victoria adds.

“Hah!” Uncle Marvin says. “I know where he’ll be the day after next.”

.

“If he dies,” Arthur says, eyes as dry as that podunk Texas town he was born in.

“I know,” Neal says, watching the door as Uncle Ivan’s best doctor restarts Eames’ heart.

.

A decade ago, Arthur was Aiden Solomon. Neal was Nick Halden. Aiden was AWOL because one of Spain’s up-and-coming crime lords had the balls to hold Nick Halden (a very small fish in a very large pond) hostage for his team’s loot.

Spain’s up-and-coming crime lord had a younger brother. He had been the kindest, Nick told Aiden, blood still dripping down onto his shirt.

Andre Delacroix was one of the very few left alive.

Chapter Text

“They don’t know what they have in you,” Damien says softly. “They don’t know how to use you to your full potential.” He smiles, reaching out to caress Eliot’s cheek. “And you are, you know – full of potential.” His hand falls. “We could’ve brought the world to its knees, you and I.”

“That’s not who I am anymore,” Eliot tells him, turning away.

Damien laughs. “Of course you are.”

Eliot shakes his head – and wakes up to Parker throwing her shoe at him from the doorway. “You’re crying,” she says.

He wipes roughly at his eyes. “No, ‘m’not,” he lies. He shudders and then stands, pulling a shirt over his sleep-pants and going into the hall. “Why’re you here, Parker?”

She shrugs. “I want your chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast,” she says.

Chapter Text

They still tell your story wrong.

You were young,
Sun-kissed and dancing ,
Laughing with your girls
In a field of flowers,
Oh, yes,
I suppose that must be true—

It’s what’s told and told and told again.

He came for you
In a chariot with snorting horses,
Fire in their eyes,
Sparking from their shoes.
You and your girls,
You ran, of course you did,
Screaming and crying,
Begging for your mother to save you.

But he caught you.
They all escaped to tell your mother
And he caught you.
The dark lord of the dead caught you
To bring spring into his realm.

Is that not right?

You wept in those dank halls.
Your wails filled those walls
As you pined for the sun and the warmth
And the fields of flowers you danced through.

Your mother strode into your father’s throne room
And demanded your return
And when your father failed to deliver,
She struck down the earth:
Nothing would grow until you were back in her arms.

Is that not right?

When their worshipers starved,
The gods turned to your father
And it was not your mother alone demanding your return.
But he tricked you,
The dark lord of the dead.
You ate six seeds and so you were saved
For half of every year.
You returned to your mother
But too
You had to return to your ‘husband’,
The man who stole you from the light.

Is it not so?

You did nothing but cry.
A token resistance.
You refused to eat until hours before
Your father’s messenger arrived.
You could not escape;
Did you even try?

Chapter Text

I know you’re wondering why I’ve called you now
But I’ve been doing some thinking
We faded so slowly
And yet never talked
About what we wanted or where to go
But we’re both here now
And I hope you don’t mind if I thank you
.
I was blinded when we met
And I remember you told me the same
I dreamt for so long
I hoped for so much
Reality could never live up
I guess you know now
Just like I do
The painful reality that ensued
.
There is no moment where I fell out of love
I just woke up one day and knew
I’m sorry for how I handled it
I’m sorry I let things drag out
But looking back now you knew too
And we both were wrong
I’m not pointing fingers
I don’t want you back
I forgave you long ago
That’s not what this is about
.
There was no explosion
It ended so quietly
And maybe if I had fought more
But no it would never be happy
That wasn’t in our cards
Not the way for our story
I imagined so many things
But never once this
.
I didn’t think you’d answer my call
It’s been so long
It’s just that I’ve been remembering
And need to clear the air so I can move on
.
I promise I just want to talk to you
It’s been so long
And I need to know how it went wrong
I’m not blameless and I never blamed you
I know I messed up too

Chapter Text

It starts as a game, when Bobby Myers knocks Harry down, causing his paper (18 pages of ramblings about poetry and religion, supposed to be a report on Milton) to flutter apart. It's a week's worth of work, and a month of research, scattered on the floor. Harry immediately begins picking it up, relieved Gemma had reminded him to add page numbers before he printed it, and Niall and Liam crouch down to help him.

Louis, though. Louis watches Bobby Myers stroll away with that annoying cackle of his, and when Louis turns to look at Harry, there's a quirk to his lips Harry's never seen before.

That night, after Liam and Niall have gone home, after Louis' helped put his sisters to bed, after Harry is tucked up in his own, there's a chirp on Harry's mobile, letting him know that Louis' downstairs at the door.

It's not until Louis' back in his room, until they're sitting knee to knee on Harry's bed, until Louis reaches out to clutch Harry's hand, that Louis murmurs, "I have an idea, Harold."

"Well, tell me," Harry says, and that's how it starts.

.

It's utterly mad, but Harry's never been able to turn Louis down, no matter what scheme he's concocted, and so when Louis whispers his idea into Harry's curls long after they're both supposed to be asleep, he listens.

"But we'll get caught," is the only argument he offers, and he hears the smirk in Louis' voice when he says, "But Dan's in the service. He's left all sorts of interesting things around."

Harry blinks up at the ceiling, comfortable and warm in Louis' grasp, and he lets his thoughts meander. Louis keeps petting his curls, stroking his skin, pressing little nibbling kisses to his throat. They're silent, breathing in tandem. Finally, Harry says, "Okay."

Louis breathes out slowly, his grip tightening, and he whispers, "This is going to be amazing."

.

Harry's part is research, which he's always been better at than Louis. They've partnered up for school projects since primary school, when Harry's mum moved them to Doncaster. Louis had drawn Harry in with his imagination, as he did everyone - but unlike everyone else, Louis' short bouts of cruelty didn't chase him away. (And they're always short, and he's always so gentle, so kind, after. And once he realized Harry wasn't leaving, he stopped turning them on Harry.)

He's tempered himself over the years. Learned to hide it, disguise it. Harry knows that few remember. Niall and Liam and the lads, they haven't a clue. It's a secret, just for Harry and Louis, and oh, that warms him so much.

Harry does the research; Louis plans and plots. They're the Dream Team, that's what everyone says, their mums and their teachers and their mates at school. They're inseparable. Not popular, exactly. Louis loves attention, but he also can't stand fools.

Bobby Myers is one of the few people who's actively mean to Harry, but he's also a bully who's mean to everyone.

Harry's job is research, as much as he can without catching anyone's notice, exactly how murderers get caught. Louis takes pictures of some of the old textbooks Dan has from his academy days, sending them to Harry before deleting them.

Louis' job is to study their prey. As the days turn to weeks, Louis learns everything there is to know about Bobby Myers - his interests, his habits. Where he is when, and why, and who knows.

"After Christmas," Louis tells Harry one night. "I'll be 17 - Mum'll let me have the car more often."

"D'ya know how, yet?" Harry asks, tucking the small notebook with all the information he's gathered into Louis' schoolbag.

Louis grins, bright and wide. "Come cuddle and I'll tell you."
.
On December 29, Louis takes Harry out for a date, with both their mums' blessings. It's not really a surprise, after all; they been practically dating since they were eight years old. Now that he's 17 and proven himself responsible with the girls for years, his mum trusts him with her car.

That same night, Bobby Myers tells his older brother he's going to his friend's house but he never makes it.

.

When Harry and Louis get in from their date, their clothes are rumpled and their hair's a mess, and Gemma delights in mocking them for it. They're giggly and bouncy and drag each other up the stairs. It's disgustingly adorable, but she's glad - Louis' always been so good to Harry. She honestly believes they might make it.

.

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," Harry is chanting as Louis pushes him onto the bed. He can't stop replaying that moment of realization, when Bobby's eyes had widened, when his mouth had dropped open. He's trembling, staring up at Louis, who hasn't stopped smiling since.

But Louis' watching him now, as his smile fades. Harry presses his lips together as Louis limbs onto the bed to straddle him, reaching for Harry's hands. "What are you thinkin', love?" he asks softly.

This is the moment, Harry knows. Has known all along.

"I'm wonderin' who's next," he says, bringing Louis' hands to his mouth so he can kiss both of them.

Chapter Text

When they're 11 and 14, Harry asks, "What d'you think you'll present as?" The girl down the street, the one only a couple months younger than Gemma presented as a beta over the weekend, and her family will throw a party soon.

Gemma laughs. "I'll be an alpha like Mum, of course."

Harry nods, because that makes sense. Dad's a beta, Mum's an alpha, Robin's a beta - Gemma's much more like Mum than either of the betas, and the few omegas they've met, well, she wasn't anything like them.

"What about me?" he asks.

She grins at him. "You're a little sweetheart, H. Omega for sure."

He nibbles his lip. "Would everyone alright with that?"

Gemma laughs again, nudging his shoulder. "Of course, you numskull."

It's all fairly recent, the equality laws. And not everyone has agreed, especially in Holmes Chapel. Harry's been there, those few times in the grocers, when Mum had to step in and protect an omega from an abusive alpha, or even a meaner beta. He knows that Gemma will be even more terrifying, if she needs to be.

Omegas can have jobs, and property, and inherit, though it's all mostly be in only the last hundred years or so. Harry thinks it'd be nice, is all, working in a nursery with toddlers or something and then going home to a family, taking care of the home and kids of his own with - he's not sure. Omegas and alphas usually pair together, and betas with betas, but Mum married two separate betas instead of an omega, and Harry's honestly not sure who he wants.

"Stop worryin' about it," Gemma tells him, pulling on one of his curls. "You've got time."

.

Gemma, of course, is an alpha, just like Mum. She presents at 15, and while she's always been slightly protective of him (because while Harry does love being the center of attention and making people laugh, he's also slightly awkward sometimes, and he just wants people to like him), it goes a little overboard in the months after. For a few weeks after a couple of older betas insult his curls, she even insists on walking home with him instead of going out with her friends.

Mum and Robin both promise it'll die down soon, once her body fully adjusts. Harry thinks it's kind of nice, though, her wanting to spend time with him again.

.

When Harry is 12, the Tomlinsons move in down the street and nothing is ever the same.

.

The Tomlinsons have five children - the oldest and only boy is in Gemma's class, and he's just as popular as her almost instantly. The rest are all still little, and adorable, so Harry marches over one afternoon to offer his services as a babysitter.

Of course, it's Louis Tomlinson who answers the door. "Hi?" he asks with a raised eyebrow.

"Hi!" Harry shoots back, nervous in a way he doesn't understand. "Um, I thought - that is -" He presses his lips together. "You've got a lot of little sisters," is what trips out of his mouth.

"I had noticed," Louis says, grinning. "They're a bit young for you, though."

Horrified, Harry says, "No! That's not what I -" but Louis cuts him off with a laugh.

"I know, 'm'just teasin'." Louis is still grinning and then behind him, there's screaming. He sighs and says, "Pardon me," before turning to shout, "Oi, you lot, if you break somethin' there''ll be no biscuits later!" He turns back to Harry. "Did you need something?"

"I was gonna ask your mum if she needed a babysitter," he blurts out.

Louis' grin turns soft. "That'd be nice," he says. "You're Gemma's brother, right?" Harry nods. "I'll let Mum know," he promises.

There's more screaming from inside the house, so Louis sighs again. "I'll see you at school," he says. He steps back and gently closes the door, and Harry breathes out slowly.

The next day at school, Louis stops him in the hall to say, "Come over tonight; Mum wants to talk to you," and a whole flock of butterflies settle in his stomach.

.

Louis isn’t there when Harry arrives but his dad (beta) and mum (alpha) are, and the little girls are watching telly in the den.

“You’re Anne’s boy?” Mrs. Tomlinson asks. Harry’s curious if the name is hers or Mr. Tomlinson’s, but it’s far too rude to ask at a first meeting.

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry ssays. One of the littlest girls (a pair of twins! adorable) peers above the back of the sofa, eyes wide so Harry waves. She gasps and ducks back down.

Mrs. Tomlinson laughs. “Lou said you wanted to babysit for us.”

He nods. Mr. Tomlinson looks up from his notebook to ask, “Have you mentioned that to your parents?”

“Uh, no,” Harry admits sheepishly. He hadn’t even thought about it.

“Well, let’s invite your family to dinner,” Mrs. Tomlinson chuckles. “I’ll call Anne.”

“How do you know Mum?” Harry asks as Mrs. Tomlinson grabs her mobile off the table.

Mrs. Tomlinson grins. “We met when she rescued me from an arsehole at a club,” she says. “I was young and stupid—Anne took me under her wing for a bit.” She holds the mobile up to her ear. “Hey, love! I’ve got your boy here.”

Harry wanders to the den, where the girls are all huddled together on the sofa watching Finding Nemo. “Hi,” the twin of the shy one says. The other three look up.

“Who are you?” the oldest one asks. She looks like she’s seven or eight.

“Harry,” he says.

She narrows her eyes. “Me and Fizzy aren’t babies like the twins,” she says. “We don’t need a babysitter.”

The twins make noises of protest. “’m’not a baby!” the not-shy one shouts. They’re either three or four, Harry thinks.

“Hush!” the one who must be Fizzy says. “Dory’s talkin’.” She’s maybe six. Ish. Quite an age difference from Louis to his sisters; Harry wonders how different that makes his relationship with his sisters, compared to Harry’s with Gemma.

He sinks down next to the shy twin, at the edge of the sofa. “I have a big sister,” he tells her softly. “They won’t always treat you like babies.” The not-shy one shuffles closer. “Gemma’s three years older than me.”

“’m’four,” the shy one mumbles. “Phoebe.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Phoebe,” he says with a smile and then turns to the other one. “Are you also four?”

Nodding, she giggles. “”m’Daisy.”

“Girls,” Mr. Tomlinson calls, stepping into the den. “I’ll be back later.”

Both twins bounce up to race over to him. He scoops them up, laughing. “I’m goin’ to pick Lou up from football.” The other two also get up to hug him after he sets the twins down. “Nice to meet you, Harry,” he adds before dropping a kiss onto the top of each of their heads and striding out.

“So,” Harry says as they all get settled back on the sofa. “Fizzy, Daisy, and Phoebe.” He catches the oldest girl’s eye. “But what about you?”

“Lottie,” she says with a grin. “’m’Charlotte.”

“Hush,” Fizzy hisses, focused back on the telly.

Harry chuckles but rises, going to see if Mrs. Tomlinson needs help with dinner.

.

By the time Mum arrives with Gemma and Robin, Phoebe has left the film to help Harry help her mum.

“Jay!” Mum calls from the front, having let herself in. “Why haven’t we caught up yet, lovie?”

Mrs. Tomlinson cackles. “I have five kids!” she shouts, closing the oven door on the garlic bread.

Mum laughs as she walks into the kitchen, Robin trailing her while Gemma goes into the den. “You’ve been busy.”

Mrs. Tomlinson smiles as they hug tightly. “It’s been a long fifteen years, Annie.”

“So it has,” Mum agrees, kissing Mrs. Tomlinson’s cheek. “Hey, love,” she tells Harry, squeezing his shoulder before asking Mrs. Tomlinson, “Anything we can do to help?”

.

By the time Harry and his family leave, he’s been hired on to watch the girls after school the two nights a week Louis has football practice, and looking back later, he’ll realize it’s only because Robin works from home literally a block away.

Curled up in bed that night, replaying every single thing Louis said, every smile, every laugh, he realizes what the butterflies in his belly mean.

.

Louis apparently decides that, despite being the most popular boy in his year, he’s going to share his lunch hour with Harry and his friends twice a week. Gemma only ever did that during her extra-protective phase. But he’s charming and he’s hilarious, and even though he’s kinda slight, there’s something about him that has even the meanest kids backing off.

Louis is so funny. And kind. And he takes to ruffling Harry’s curls as he sits down at the table, or when they pass in the halls, and he actually listens when Harry complains about the teachers or the homework or that exam he totally failed even though he studied for weeks.

Months pass and the school year ends, but the girls insist that Harry come ‘round during the summer because not even Louis is as good at playing princesses and heroes, which Louis acts all offended by, but then ruins the pretense by demanding to be allowed to play in order to restore his honor.

It's the best summer Harry can remember.

.

Even though a part of Harry is constantly waiting for Louis to stop spending time with him, especially with the stress of his looming GSCEs and presenting (which will be soon, because he’ll turn fifteen a couple weeks after Gemma’s birthday), as the semester progresses, instead Louis spends more time with him. Harry’s still babysitting two nights a week, and Jay (as she finally insisted he call her) has him stay for dinner those nights, since he prepares it with the twins’ help. Then, Louis insists (every time!) that he walk Harry home, just to be safe.

Harry’s written odes about Louis Tomlinson, a million of them, and both Gemma and Mum have listened to dozens, generally before he gathers the thoughts to write them down. But Louis seemingly treats Harry the same as all his friends, and Gemma actually told him once that “Louis thinks you’re a kid, H.” She wasn’t trying to be mean, he knows, but he still didn’t speak to her for the night.

But he’s pretty sure Louis, at least, doesn’t know about the crush that keeps growing in leaps and bounds. All of Harry’s friends do, and apparently Mum has even told Gran, and Jay winks at him sometimes, whenever Louis makes him laugh so much it hurts. But Louis doesn’t know, which is definitely for the best.

And then, of course, midway through the semester, Louis presents as an alpha.

.

Chapter Text

The apple did not say ‘to the fairest’ –
Of course it didn’t.
And even if it had,
We have always known that Aphrodite
Is by far the most fair.
.
Ah, how history lies!
But I swear by my sisters of the mountain
That everything I tell you
Is the truth as I know it.
And I was there.
.
Hestia, Hera, Demeter,
Artemis, Aphrodite, Persephone,
Iris, Muses, Fates, Furies, Eris
And then I.
What cared I to be called the fairest?
I far prefer being known as the wise.
For wise I was then –
And wiser still now.

Chapter Text

The day after his 21st birthday, when his keepers were still sleeping off their hangovers and Father had ensured nothing would be scheduled until the next day, His Imperial Highness Kaiden Jonathan William, Prince of Camden and Duke of Chester, who much preferred his chosen name (which his closest friends and family used) Dean, slipped out of the palace in a suit of clothes he’d ‘borrowed’ from his manservant Kyle. Every week for four years now, he’d stolen away to the Lesser District of Laurentius, the capital of his father’s empire, less than a day’s ride from the palace. He’d browsed through the marketplaces, eaten at taverns, helped people with their packages as they rushed home.

The only people who knew his favorite pastime were his bodyguard, Cassian, and his mother; Cas trailed him each time he went, so unfortunately, if Dean headed for his usual haunts, Cas would be able to follow and find him.

Of course, Cas would know Dean’d think that, so if he went where he usually went—

By midmorning, when Dean left the palace, he still hadn’t made up his mind of where he was going. He figured he had half a day before Cas started chasing him.

.

As he left, he utilized the knowledge the Master of the Hunt, Sir Robert, had taught him, setting false trails and backtracking. Once he reached the Higher Town, he slunk through the crowd, still a bit rowdy from the celebration for the Heir Apparent’s birthday, trying to choose a shop to buy new clothes from. He was given a few dirty looks for his garb, though it didn’t appear to be a peasant’s outfit by any means—Mother ensured the servants were well taken care of.

The time it took to find a new suit, then a barber, then someone willing to trade shoes… well, lunch had come and gone, so Dean purchased a sandwich from a tavern and settled into an out-of-the-way corner to eat while considering his options.

Though he was Heir Apparent, his younger brother Adam (His Royal Highness Henrik Martin Bartholomew, Duke of Windom) was by far Father’s favorite. Mother’s favorite had been Sammy, who died when he was barely three, before Adam’s birth. Dean wasn’t clever enough for Mother’s taste, though he knew she loved him utterly, and though he excelled in every lesson on governance, warfare, strategy, and propriety, it still wasn’t enough for Father.

He was not running away, no matter what Lord Zachariah, Father’s chief advisor, would call it. He’d return, once he’d had enough of the world. He would.

Across the way, Dean saw a gawky boy pickpocket six men in a row. His clothes were ill-fitting (probably stolen) and his hair was too-long, disheveled. He moved too quickly through the crowd for anyone to notice, but Dean caught a glimpse of his eyes as he turned away.

Sammy, he thought, shoving the last of the sandwich into his mouth and hurrying after the boy, despite the fact that he could not be Sammy at all.

From his perch on the roof, Cassian followed his prince. The boy had long chafed under the palace restrictions, and he had Her Majesty’s permission to allow Dean this freedom, so long as Cassian ensured his safety. (Well, no longer than a month: he was to return Dean, willingly or not, by the eve of Prince Henrik’s birthday celebration.)

The urchin that had caught Dean’s attention finally realized he was being chased. Cassian shook his head as he landed on the next roof. Though he had unsurpassed potential, Dean still had quite a ways to go to become a master hunter. His prey should never have noticed him.

At the end of the street, the urchin turned a corner and ran into a watchman. Cassian sighed, already knowing how it would play out.

 

“This is all your fault,” Sam hissed at the noble’s son who got them both captured by a watchman on his afternoon break.

“It is not!” the noble’s son hissed back.

They’d been shoved into a temporary cell because the head of this particular branch of the watchmen hadn’t arrived at work yet. Sam nearly had the lock open before the bratling (who Sam cannot look at for more than a moment at a time, because no noble should appeal that much, not to Sam who has been hurt so many times by his kind) realized.

Sam made the mistake of looking over as he slipped through the door. He could’ve closed it back and locked it, been gone before any warning was raised

But he looked at the noble, whose green eyes entreated him, whose open face belied the strength of his hands, as he’d tried to rescue Sam from the watchman (nevermind that it was because he’d been fleeing this man, that he’d been caught in the first place).

He sighed and opened the door just a tad wider. “You coming?”

As the sun set, Dean followed Sam (and it hurt, even thinking that name) into a hole in the wall. Perhaps he should’ve been more nervous, but he just kept finding Sam fascinating.

“Touch me and die,” Sam told him, flashing a thin dagger at him and glaring.

“Yeah, ‘course,” Dean said, glancing around. It was a tiny little nook Sam had, cleverly concealed. Dean was surprised Sam had brought him here. There were blankets piled in a corner, a tiny chair and table, and a lamp that Sam lit.

“I’m leaving Laurentius in the morning,” Sam said, settling into the furthest spot from Dean he could. It left Dean between him and the exit, but Dean assumed there was another way out.

“Can I go with you?” Dean asked, leaning against the wall and sinking down, stretching his legs out. In the flickering candlelight, he could see the guarded look on Sam’s face. “Please,” he added. “I need a guide.”

Sam scoffed. “You should go back to your family, bratling,” he bit out.

“Please,” Dean said again, letting Sam’s words slide off him. Whatever the kid had been through, Dean wouldn’t begrudge him the mistrust. “I want out of Laurentius. I won’t bring trouble down on you, I promise.”

“Fine,” Sam finally said. “I have a friend with a horse. If you can keep up, I guess I won’t try to stop you.”

Dean had only left Laurentius with a full contingent of guards, on the yearly pilgrimage with Father. Sammy had been lost on his first—a rainstorm and a panicked horse. Father hadn’t allowed anyone but the physicians to see him, not even Mother.

“If we can find me a sword,” Dean said, “I’ll act as your guardsman.”

Scoffing again, Sam said, “Like I’m going to trust you with a weapon.”

Dean grinned. Though Father always found fault with his skills on the training ground, not even Gordius, the most taciturn of Father’s knights, could deny that Dean (though unbloodied on a battlefield) was a dangerous foe.

“I’ll keep you safe,” he said. Sam didn’t trust him, or like him much yet, but he’d showed Dean his home, was going to travel with him—and there was something about the kid that reminded Dean of the little brother he could barely remember—well, Sir Robert had told Dean to trust his gut. And his gut had never shouted louder.

He’d left the palace this morning with his only plan to get away. And here was this boy leaving the city in the morning.

If Dean believed in his mother’s god, he’d send up a prayer of thanks.

...

Once his prince was secure for the night, Cassian slipped far enough away that Dean wouldn’t hear the summoning whistle for Cassian’s eagle owl Yasel. He scribbled a quick note, secured it to Yasel’s leg, and murmured, “To Gabriel, sweetheart.”

He returned to watch over his prince and the urchin, truly hoping that Queen Marabelle would not order him to bring Dean back just yet. Gabriel would find some way to phrase the message so it would pacify her.

When he was young, Cassian’s father, a legendary bard, had counseled him to listen to his instincts. He had obeyed, which led him first to being a stablehand for Sir Uram and then as Lord James’ assistant in the palace, once Lord James had seen his way with horses. Cassian had never wanted to be a warrior, but because Lord James had once been a knight on the late King Henrik’s campaign against the southern islands, he required that all his assistants learn some sort of arms.

It was only a year after taking the position that Cassian was called into Gabriel’s tower, where Sir Robert, Sir James, both Their Majesties, and Lord Vitya were waiting.

Cassian was barely five years older than Prince Kaiden when he was assigned as bodyguard, after nearly three years of training. He held no particular allegiance to any of the royals—his father’s intricate web of informants kept the whole family apprised of secrets they’d all be killed for knowing. But he liked Sir James and Gabriel, and though he felt only a mild distaste for King Jonathan, Queen Marabelle was kind.

As to the princes, Kaiden and Henrik…

His Imperial Highness Prince Kaiden was as kind as his mother, with a quick wit and stubborn will that would probably get him killed one day. It was Cassian’s duty to die for him; by the end of his first day as Kaiden’s bodyguard, Cassian knew it would also be his pleasure to ensure his prince’s continued existence, no matter the cost.

By the end of the second day, the Heir Apparent of the Venta Empire had told his bodyguard, “Call me Dean, Cas.”

Over the next six years, though Dean proved to be quite a headache, he had shown Cassian why he was universally adored throughout the palace, and Cassian knew he would become a great king. (And if Cassian had raged to Gabriel at least twice a month about King Jonathan, well, that was between the Spymaster and bodyguard.)

Dean could only become the king Cassian knew he could be if he didn’t shatter beneath his father’s impossible expectations, so should Queen Marabelle send back a command to bring Dean home—

His loyalty was not to the royal family or even the Venta Empire. His loyalty was to the man sleeping in a room scarcely big enough for him, with a stranger he got arrested protecting. So whatever adventure Dean was determined to go on, Cassian would do whatever it takes to ensure it is safe.

 

In the morning, after Sam shoved everything in his nook into two bags, he led Dean to a crappy stable, where a gelding and a mare were tied up waiting. It didn’t look like anyone had been taking care of them, which bothered Dean.

“This is Riot,” Sam said, going to the gelding, a dark roan that nickered at him. “That’s The Imp,” he added over his shoulder, nodding towards the black mare. “She’ll be sent to the knacker this week—look out, she bites.”

While Sam collected a few odds and ends into the less-full sack, Dean cautiously approached The Imp. “That’s a silly name, isn’t it, love?” he murmured, slowly raising a loosely-clenched fist to her nose. She watched him warily; there were blemishes in her hair from whippings. “You’re not an imp, are you, sweetheart?”

She nudged his hand. “This girl’s not going to the knacker, Sam,” Dean said. “She’s coming with us.”

Sam sighed. Imp leaned into the hand Dean put on her shoulder and he smiled, patting her.

“We can’t take tack,” Sam told him. “Nothing but halters, ‘less you wanna be reported for a horse thief.”

“That’s fine.” Dean patted Imp once more before going to dig through the supplies. “’m’gonna check their hooves before we go, Sam. You got any supplies for the road?”

“No,” Sam admitted.

“Okay.” Dean grabbed a pick and turned back Imp. “You go get enough to last the day, so we can put as much land between us and this city. I’ll make sure the horses are good to go.”

When he didn’t hear footsteps, Dean looked over. Sam was just staring at him, ignoring Riot lipping at his sleeve. “Sam?” Dean asked. “You okay?”

Sam shook himself. “I’ll be back by the third bell,” he said and then backed out of the stable, gaze still fixed on Dean.

Dean focused on the horses, making sure both were healthy despite their ill-kempt appearances. Riot was in better shape, probably because he wasn’t being sent to the knacker for whatever reason. He chattered at them, hummed a little, softly sang his nurse’s favorite lullaby.

At the final strike of the third bell, Sam stepped in with a tightly rolled pack and an unsure grip on the nicest sword Dean had ever seen. He gaped at Sam before taking the offered sword. “Where did you get this?” he demanded, keeping his tone gentle despite the glare in his eyes because he didn’t want to startle the horses.

Sam shrugged. “There’s an armory at the edge of Higher Town.”

Dean examined the sword while Sam tucked the pack into one of the bags. “This is Colton made,” he finally said. “You stole a Colton blade.”

Sam shrugged again. “It looked like the best one there, and you said you wanted a sword.” He kept his head down as he brushed Riot’s flank.

“We need to leave before this sword is missed,” Dean said. “I don’t suppose you stole a scabbard?”

By the fourth bell, Dean and Sam were on the road out of Laurentius. Cassian followed a good ways behind; he was one of the last out of the city before the alarm was raised because the blessed sword of Calos, patron God of Venta, had been stolen.

Yasel found him in the late afternoon, with a command tied to her leg: Protect the prince and ensure his return in a month’s time.

“What do you think, Zendra?” Cassian asked, slowing his gray mare as Yasel settled onto her perch. “Did our prince steal the blessed sword?” He laughed because he knew that Dean’s urchin had stolen the most prized possession of the Venta Empire and neither of them knew it.

His task had just become more difficult but he had to admit he was looking forward to the challenge.

The noble’s son claimed his name was Dean Smyth. As they passed through the countryside, until finally Laurentius fell out of sight, Sam became very thankful that Dean asked to join him: for all that Sam knew how to live in a city, he hadn’t a clue how to survive away from one. By midday, he never wanted to sit on a horse again, and after they paused for lunch, Sam walked alongside Riot instead of clambering back on.

The world was so vast away from city walls. Dean commented here and there about the road, about the sun’s position, about the greenery around them; it wasn’t until late afternoon that Sam realized Dean was offering him small lessons, things it’d be good for him to know in future.

A noble’s son surely wouldn’t know all that? Wouldn’t take care of both horses when they stopped for the night? Wouldn’t offer Sam most of the food, or go foraging for edible plants? Come back with two rabbits and even a fish, and then start a fire and cook them himself?

Sam had met spoiled noble bratlings of all ages before. He tried to pretend he hadn’t, for they were painful memories of painful encounters. Three fingers on his left hand still ached before rain; he’d been quicker with his lockpicks before that. Dean Smyth was like no noble bratling Sam had ever known or observed.

“Besides lockpicking and pickpocketing and stealing swords,” Dean said, using a knife Sam hadn’t known he had to skin the rabbits, “what do you enjoy, Sam?”

He carefully shifted closer to the fire, eyes on Dean. Sam earliest memory was of an old woman whose voice cracked like the whip she took to his back, and she had told him, It’s your cursed blood, it’s why I have to do this. Until that night, watching Dean portion out the food so that Sam got more, watching Dean check on the horses, hearing him croon something to Imp—Sam had never wanted to tell anyone about the old woman, about her curses, her prophecies.

He didn’t answer Dean’s question that night, but Dean seemed content with the silence.

Chapter Text

What hunters don't know about vampires could fill tomes, but perhaps the most important is this: once vampires mate, they have a shadow sense of each other.

What hunters don’t know about witches could fill even more tomes, but perhaps the most important is this: witches can have soulmates, just like any being with a soul.

.

Nearly a millennium ago, a young witch's older brother was turned by a vampire. Even in his panicked frenzy, the older brother never threatened the witch, though he slaughtered his way through their village, including their parents. Once the bloodlust abated enough for rational thought, the newly-risen vampire sank to his knees at his younger brother's feet and begged for absolution.

The witch had no training; his mother had ordered him to hide his power, fearful of retribution from frightened neighbors: the Church had begun to take root in their village, burning away the Old Way. But with everyone else dead, the young witch clung to his brother and let his magic do as it willed.

The witch’s magic binds them together, which causes them to share each other abilities: the vampire has the slightest touch of magic and he ages with his younger brother, and the witch has just a touch of the vampire’s speed and senses.

For almost a thousand years, the two wander the world, aging so slowly neither notices until another decade is gone. Better nutrition than they could've ever gotten in their birth-age and magic have ensured they're broader and stronger than they would've been.

Quite a few of the monster legends across Europe are because of them.

 

.

Every century, the vampire chooses new names for them. The witch sometimes scoffs and chooses another for himself, but he usually doesn’t care.

After Y2K doesn’t end the world, the vampire names himself Dean and his younger brother Sammy.

.

Sam feels it when the hunters take Dean, when Dean passes from this world to the next.
Because they're mated, because their souls are bound, Sam feels the tear when Dean dies.

His rage is excruciating for the world around him.

.

Research and torture lead him to a mythical ritual to open Purgatory's gate. It's a tale he remembers from the sire of Dean's sire, the last attempt of an ancient creature for mercy. In those days, neither of them had mercy to spare.

Dean's body is preserved in the most tightly-warded room in their sanctuary, and the families of the hunters who killed him are in stasis, waiting for Dean to drain them.

The ritual will cost ten lives, a sacrifice willingly given by those who have never caused harm. Sam lets the book drop as he closes his eyes.

He'd sacrifice whatever it took, but threats will not provide willing sacrifices, and those who have never caused harm could only be very young. If the ritual rejects the sacrifices, it'll cause a backlash on the other end, and that is a risk Sam will not take.

So there has to be another way.

He'll find it. And when he has his brother back, the other half of his soul, he'll make the world bleed for every moment they spent apart.

"You want to ride me out of Purgatory?" Benny asks the vampire in disbelief. "You got some balls, kid."

Vampires killed him, after all. While turning him, in fact, so he was just twisted enough to end up here instead of Heaven or Hell—not sure which he was going to, actually.

"I can lead you to the door out," the vampire says. Benny has no idea how old he is, but him showing up was enough to scare away the scavengers on Benny's trail, and his presence has kept the more dangerous monsters hanging back.

Which is worrisome. Benny got his fool self killed by underestimating a vampire that looked and acted young but was actually centuries old, and this vampire feels... like more, somehow.

The vampire smiles, slow and dangerous. "On your own, little hunter," he says, "you won't make it much longer. I can keep you safe all the way to the door you can't find without me, and all I ask is that you carry me out when you go." He spreads his hands, shrugs like a college student.

"Why do you want out?" Benny asks. He already knows he's going to agree because Andrea is waiting for him, and little Lizzie who must be almost 5, now.

The vampire shrugs again. "Got family, don't I?" he says. "Dumbass little brother who'll get himself killed trying to avenge me."

"But then you'll both be here," Benny points out.

The vampire gazes at him, face wiped clean of everything except predator. "Sammy's not ever coming here," he hisses.

"Okay, okay," Benny says placatingly. "You lead me to the door, I'll bring you with me."

"Okay then," the vampire says, smiling sunnily. "I'm Dean."

Benny doesn’t want to bring Dean or his brother to the Roadhouse, but it’s a compromise: Sam won’t touch Benny’s family if Benny will give him sacrifices. He almost likes Dean—working together to escape Purgatory does wonders for bonding. But Sam? Sam is terrifying in a way Benny hasn’t experienced, even after a decade of hunting.

He’d landed at Sam’s feet and Dean’s spirit riding him had rejoiced. It burned, Dean’s joy, like fire flooding his body. But Sam reached out a hand and Dean jumped to him, and Benny collapsed back onto the bloodied and muddied earth. As he caught his breath, he ignored the bodies all around him.

Because he didn’t know where he was or how long he’d been gone, he followed Sam.

Now, knowing that Sam would’ve tracked him down had he done otherwise, he’s relieved. Sam has some measure of gratitude towards Benny, and it’s the only reason he’s still alive.

So to keep Andrea and Lizzy safe, Benny is going to unleash a vampire and whatever the fuck Sam is on the hunter’s network, and then he’s going to run as fast and as far as he can.

“I won’t forget this, Lafitte,” Sam tells him, slumped in the back seat with Dean curled up on him. They look so young for what they are—if he didn’t know better, Benny could believe Dean had just turned 25 while Sam was still in college. Sam doesn’t even look fully grown, something still coltish about him; his hands and shoulders promise more height, more breadth. He’s not a vampire. Dean isn’t just a vampire, either.

“Just don’t hurt my family,” Benny says. “We’ll call it square.”

Sam smiles, he sees it in the rearview mirror, and he’s stroking along Dean’s back. “Take them and get out,” Sam says. “Stay out of our way.”

At the moment, that’s the sum of Benny’s plans.

.

“Benny!” Ellen says. “You haven’t been seen in a while. Word was you died.” Because of Bobby Singer and a witch friend of his, the Roadhouse has protections against most everything, so the word must’ve been wrong.

“Got caught up in somethin’,” Benny says, exchanging nods with a few of the boys as he makes his way to the bar. Behind him, there are two strangers, who look about Jo’s age. “This is Dean,” Benny says, clapping the shorter one on the back. “And his brother Sam,” with a nod to the younger one. “They helped me outta a tight spot.” He settles onto a stool, Dean beside him. Sam leans next to his brother and turns to survey the room.

“You boys seem mighty young to be huntin’,” Ellen says as she sets down a bottle of Benny’s favorite in front of him. “What’ll it be?”

Dean is the prettiest thing she’s seen in a long time and he smiles up at her so sweetly she wants like she hasn’t since Bill died. “I’ll take whatever you like best,” he drawls. “Sammy’ll take a Long Island Iced Tea.”

Sam scoffs but doesn’t say anything so she goes to get their drinks.

Benny leaves not long after, having made the rounds with the hunters he knows. Later, Ellen will remember that Benny actually told her goodbye instead saying he’d see her around. She didn’t notice it at the time, caught in a small battle of wills with Ash (she won, of course), and covertly watching as Dean and Sam sank into the far corner of the Roadhouse, each on their third drink. They were fascinating, and she couldn’t figure out why.

But eventually, as the night wears on, Ellen focuses back on the crowd, on her business, on the hunts she’ll be kicking to Bobby and Joshua in the morning.

When she thinks to look their way again, the boys are gone.

Word spreads about them, though.

At first, when the Winchester brothers team up with Gordon Walker, the word about them is good. They’re good hunters, good researchers, good with law enforcement and civilians. They don’t talk about how they got into hunting, or family, or sweethearts. And the way they orbit each other? It’s a bit more than brotherly, but that’s simple to put down as lovers trying to fly under the radar, and most hunters have more important things to worry about than where men stick it.

Gordon Walker, Martin Creaser, Travis Lea—they praise the Winchesters, so a reputation begins to build.

So at first, when hunters begin to go missing, well. It’s a dangerous gig. And Bobby’s friend put protections on the Roadhouse, wards against most everything.

The night it all ends, Ellen greets Dean and Sam with a smile. Dean regales everyone with a tale about a pair of sirens who nearly got the best of him and Sam, while Sam disappears down the hall after a murmured, “Hittin’ the head.” None of them, some of the best hunters in the country, think anything of it.

Dean’s grinning, basking in everyone’s attention, when Sam strikes.

.

“How many more?” Dean asks after Sam licks the blood from inside his mouth.

“Thirteen,” Sam answers, and he continues with hitches in his voice while Dean carefully cleans all the blood from his fingers. “Got-gotta be young, inno-innocent. Tie us together forever.”

Dean presses a kiss to Sam’s palm and smiles up at him. “Nothing’ll be able to separate us again? Hated Purgatory without you, Sammy.”

“Nothing,” Sam promises, leaning in, and Dean meets him with the ferocity he did the first time, when everything was new.

Chapter Text

 

             There are two sisters, because of course there are, it’s that kind of story, and one of them is more beautiful, because of course she is, and the other is nicer in the way kittens are soft but don’t realize their claws are sharp.  Both were gifted at birth because of reasons lost to time.

             Let’s call them Blanche and Sid.

             So there are two sisters and they live in a little cottage on the edge of town with their mom and their dad and a little dog and some goats.   Mom gets sick two years after Sid’s birth and never does get better.  Dad wastes away after she’s gone; from a broken heart, Sid tells Blanche, and Blanche rolls her eyes because there was something broken in the way Dad drank himself to death instead of working to support his kids and their tiny plot of land, but it sure wasn’t his heart.

 

(What’s a cottage?

            It’s a house, numbnuts.  Look, you wanted a story.

I know, sorry.  Don’t stop.)

 

            Blanche took over the outside chores as soon as she was big enough that the goats couldn’t knock her down.  Sid is supposed to deal with all the inside chores, but she gets lost in her head sometimes, so even though Blanche is dead exhausted, she’ll throw together dinner for both of them.  It isn’t long before she takes over all the chores.  And it doesn’t matter how she castigates or cajoles, Sid always swears she’ll do better, but she never does.

 

(Um.

            Scold and coax.  You know those?

Yeah, I think so.

           Good.  Now shut up and listen.)

  

           When Blanche is 20 and Sid almost 15, a rider shows up in the town square to announce that the king is holding a ginormous dance, and because the prince’ll be 25 that year, he has to find a bride, so that’s what the dance is for.  Every eligible maid in the realm is to attend.

            Now, this little town is about as far from the palace as you can get and still be in the same country, so Blanche just goes about her work.  But Sid…

            Well, Sid has her heart set on going, see, and when it comes down to it, Blanche can’t really deny her sister anything.  She sells the goats, all of their mother’s remaining jewelry, and their father’s sword, which gets them passage to the capitol.  She sells their land and cottage, and that gets them one gorgeous dress and one passable dress.

            The dance will be two days after Sid’s 15th birthday.  Once everything is finalized, Blanche looks back towards what had been their home, but Sid has eyes only for the future.

           Now, remember: one sister is beautiful, one sister is kind.

          On the night of the ball, Blanche lets Sid float down the stairs first, and Sid is eye-catching: her dark hair cascading down her pale shoulders, her eyes the same shade of blue as the horizon after a storm, her skin flawless, her gown golden and flowing and utterly perfect.  All of the lords and lords’ sons want to dance with her.  Sid, as she always has, delights in the attention; as always, she doesn’t know what too far means.

          Blanche slips down the stairs while all eyes are on her sister; her brown hair has been kept short for years, the better to work outside in the heat, her skin is work-roughened and darkened from the sun, and the coin left after buying Sid’s gown netted Blanche a simple lavender dress that—there, in that glittering ballroom, surrounded by decadence—looks even plainer than Blanche remembered.   But she isn’t there to catch a husband, or even because she wants to be.  She’s there because she wasn’t about to let her little sister attend alone.

           Sid dances and dances and dances.  She charms earls and soldiers and heirs of the greatest fortunes on the continent.  She floats from arm to arm, laughter and smiles following her all night, and also newly-created rivalries because every lords’ son (and some of the lords) want Sid to be theirs.

            Blanche watches, unsurprised.  But here in the capitol, she cannot do what she does at home, cannot swoop in to soothe tempers, to cajole—sorry, coax everyone into better moods, cannot smooth out what Sid’s obliviousness has wrinkled.   She cannot escort Sid away and keep her away until things simmer down.

            Quarrels start in Sid’s wake and, as always, she does not notice.  No, Sid focuses on the prince, who offers his hand for a dance.

 

(So, Sid becomes queen?

                Why ever would you think that?

Well, she’s dancing with him.

                The story’s almost over.  Just listen.)

 

                Like everyone always does, the prince is falling in love with Sid.  He’s halfway there when Blanche catches his eye from across the room and smiles ever so sweetly.  When the song ends, the prince politely excuses himself and leaves Sid behind.

 

(What?

                We’re almost at the end.)

 

                Sid gapes as her sister dances with the prince.   Though men vie for her attention for the rest of the night, she barely reacts, eyes ever on Blanche.

                When the ball ends at dawn, the prince asks for Blanche’s hand in marriage.

                She asks for a day to consider, and though he is disappointed, the prince agrees.

 

(No, seriously, what.

                Shh.)

 

                Sid rages at Blanche once they’re back at the inn.  She tears apart her gorgeous gown, and then Blanche’s simple dress, she throws shoes and undergarments around, and through it all, Blanche stands quietly in the center of the storm.

                Finally, Sid quiets and, weeping, asks, “Why? How could you do this to me?”

                Blanche smiles gently.  “How long could he have kept your attention, after the wedding?  You always move on to the newest thing.”

                Sid weeps the day away, because despite knowing the truth, it still feels like a betrayal.  It always does, when Blanche does whatever’s needed to clean up Sid’s messes.

                In the morning, Blanche leaves Sid asleep in their room and presents herself at the palace.  In her modest farmer’s smock and her sensible workman’s shoes, she is still the most splendid sight the prince has ever seen.

                “I thank you for the honor,” she says, after the prince proposes again.  “But I most, with all-due respect, Your Highness, decline.”

                “You’re what?” the prince asks after a moment.

                Blanche curtsies, turns, and strides from the hall, leaving bewilderment in her wake.  It’s a familiar situation for her.

 

(What is going on in this story?

                Hey.  You wanted the story where the prince doesn’t get the girl.)

 

                Sid is cheerful again once she wakes.  She slips back into her traveling clothes and chatters brightly as Blanche leads her to a merchant caravan.  They have no home to return to, and if they stay in the capitol, surely a similar situation will arise.  Sid doesn’t understand the birth-gift, and she never will.  She’s such a nice, charming, naïve girl.  Perhaps she’ll grow out of part of it, though Blanche doubts it.

                There are two sisters, you see.  One is so beautiful she could make the sun jealous, though she hides it well.  She’s a crafty one, a clever girl who grew into a dangerous woman.  The younger sister, she’s beautiful as well, and she uses it because it’s fun to flirt, to play men’s jealousies. A few feuds have flared up over the years because of her, though she never means for violence to spark. 

                It would have been so easy for the younger sister to become envious, for the elder’s impatience to harden into rage.  They could have torn kingdoms apart.

                Perhaps, had their mother not died, had their father not drunk himself to death… well. If Blanche hadn’t had to look after the goats and her sister, too, she would’ve had time to worry about marriage and playing the game.