Cadmus training ground, outskirts of Thebes, 338BC
There was a flash of bright sunlight on metal, before the trill of metal and wood cut through the air, and a loud thunk sounded as the object made impact on its target. The spear stuck straight out, and the warrior who had thrown it strode forward to inspect his efforts.
The spearhead was almost completely submerged in the trunk of the olive tree. The rest of the doru was almost perpendicular to the tree. It took a considerable amount of strength to remove the spear from the tree, and the hole that was left in the trunk passed through to the other side. The warrior’s throwing partner came closer, also inspecting the throw.
“If we don’t get a campaign soon, Thebes is going to run out of olive trees,” he commented with a chuckle. “Perhaps you should do more agility training than trying to destroy all the local farmer’s supplies?”
The spear thrower removed his helmet, wiping the sweat off his brow and running a hand over his light brown hair.
“A campaign is why we’re here, surely? I was promised that there would be more like the Boeotian War. Like the battle of Tegyra. Not watching all the hoplites wrestle and dance.” He measured the weight of the spear in his hand, checking that the head hadn’t been dislodged when removing it from the tree. His companion also removed his helmet.
“Surely you don’t object to the wrestling? I enjoy seeing you take on the other men.”
The man dug his spear into the dry earth below their sandalled feet, turning the soil over pebbles and dust..
“They have their own erastes, Benny.”
“And yet I like seeing you throw yourself into the fight. And trust me, Dean, should a campaign arise, you will be grateful for the way your body remembers the moves. It could be the thing that saves your life.”
Dean looked up, squinting slightly as the sunlight glinted off of Benny’s breastplate.
“I’m not objecting to training, I’m objecting to the fact I have been in this army for five years and the training seems to be for nothing.”
Benny laughed heartily, throwing his head back, the sound reaching other members of the company. Several heads turned towards them, but when they saw the pair who were talking, they lost interest.
“You are not a man built for peacetime, are you?” He clapped a hand onto Dean’s armoured shoulder. “Come, no more spear practice. We will need the olive oil for other things. I want to see how you are with your xiphos.”
Dean followed the older man back through the grove of trees, stepping around the other men throwing spears who were aiming at the bags of grain as he was meant to be doing. They came to a clearing where another pair of men were already fighting with practice blades and shields. Dean could already see where they were not protecting themselves properly. He took another shield and weighted the blades as Benny replaced his helmet, fondling the frond at the top briefly before massaging Dean’s shoulders and leaning closer to talk, in order to be heard past the ear protectors on the helmet.
“Remember that your shield is also a tool. Read your opponent. And should you succeed, I will reward you handsomely.”
Dean fought the shiver that rippled down his spine. His main reason for accepting the offer to fight in the Sacred Band of Thebes was in order to continue the relationships he was used to. Sometimes, he pictured life without the army, where instead he would be married and procreating, and it made his chest ache. It was not what he wanted.
He pushed the thoughts out of his mind as the fight in front of him was called off, and the victor was rewarded by his erastes with a long kiss. Dean stepped forward, and controlled his breathing as he took the measure of the soldier opposite him. Dean had two years of training on this man, and he knew he favoured a low cut, near the knees. Benny had trained him well, and treated him even better.
The battle began, and Dean dropped his shield, anticipating the attack. There was a clang of metal on metal, and Dean held his hand firm to cope with the reverberations through the shield and made an attack of his own. His intention was not to hurt the other soldier, not right away, but to disarm him and remove some of his armour. He aimed his blade at the stalk of the helmet, separating the frond from the base and knocking it askew. His opponent, temporarily blinded, made another low swipe. Dean parried it with his blade in a return stroke, twisting and dislodging the blade from his hand. He pressed his advantage, working to loosen the other man’s grip on his shield while the other soldier couldn’t see.
The man wasn’t helpless, however. Where he couldn’t attack Dean with a blade, he tried to use the shield to knock him flat, throwing punches and kicks where he thought Dean would be too slow with his blade. He hadn’t read Dean correctly however, and hadn’t been trained by anyone half as skilled as Benny. Dean’s onslaught was relentless, his movements fast and unforgiving despite this only being a practice. His blade sliced through the leather restraints, and he knocked the shield to the floor, blocking fists with his shield and managing to press the blade gently against the opponents neck. The fight was called, and Dean stepped away, only just registering the dryness of his throat, the volume of his pants, the aches in his arms and legs where the other man had managed to knick him. Benny stepped forward, and removed the weapons, leading Dean out of the battle circle and over to the dining area. He found some wine and passed it to Dean.
“You must remember it is practice, and they are on your team,” Benny reprimanded him as he gulped the wine down. “You don’t want to be responsible for the downfall of Thebes because you single-handedly decimated your own company out of boredom, do you?”
Dean wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and shrugged.
“Should I remember all this if Athens continues its derogatory campaign of Thebes? What if Sparta rises again? Maybe I should just lay on the floor and accept my fate?”
Benny rested his head in both hands as some of the other soldiers approached.
“Good fight, Dean,” one of the younger men congratulated him.
“You’ve trained him well, Benny,” one of the older men added. They both took the praise of their fellow soldiers, leaving their conversation until later, when they could have privacy.
Dean wasn’t annoyed with Benny, or angry at the lack of fighting, despite what they communicated in public. And Benny wasn’t as disproving of him. They had realised some years before, when Dean was inducted into the band and claimed by Benny that praise made him fumble. Likewise, Dean admiring Benny out loud left the older man flustered and ruined his concentration. Some of the other couples worked well with praise, Dean and Benny worked best by pushing each other’s buttons and striving to do even better.
They were soon surrounded by the entire company, preparing for dinner as the sun left the sky. They made their offerings to the gods and soon all that could be heard was the sound of chewing, gulping, and the general murmur of men enjoying their meal and their company. The air was cooling, and towards the end of the meal someone started to sing as another man played a lyre. Dean was feeling pleasantly full and content despite the lack of action, and he watched as Benny talked with the man beside them, laughing and being engaging. He admired the profile of his partner, his erastes, as the light dimmed further, and did not hear the boy approach.
“Dean?” Benny broke away from his conversation, and nodded to Dean’s shoulder. He knew that, rather than be rewarded for his efforts during the day he would instead be chastised for allowing someone to take him unawares. He looked at the small boy standing nervously beside him, and stood, leading him to the edge of the olive grove, away from the rest of the company.
“I have a message for you, from inside the city. Concerning your brother, Sam.” The boy seemed terrified.
“Sam? Has he been chosen to fight with us?” Dean couldn’t hide his excitement. He missed his brother, who he hadn’t seen since the age of twelve. The idea that Sam would have followed in his footsteps, that they could bond again as brothers, that he could make sure Sam was paired with the appropriate warrior, it was more exciting than Dean would want to admit to.
“No,” the young boy cut his enthusiasm quickly. He spoke rapidly, anticipating Dean’s anger. “Sam was eromenos to a man named Gabriel. Recently it was noted that Sam was coming of age, that he must leave Gabriel and find his way in the world.”
Dean felt his stomach drop, anticipating the worst. Had someone killed his brother? He would avenge them. They would feel all the might of Thebes through Dean’s rage.
“But there has been no sign of Sam or Gabriel in the last week, and when their neighbours went to look, they saw that the homestead was empty, and untouched. They have run off together, to continue their affair.”
The gloom of early nightfall hid Dean’s expression from this boy, who by now sounded terrified, telling a soldier of an unstoppable army that his brother had committed a huge offence. But Dean wasn’t going to slaughter an innocent, and this boy surely had to know the truth about this army? So many of his brothers-at-arms would have loved to remain with their erastes. Dean’s own one, Michael, seemed like such a distant memory. But he also knew his brother, and Sam wouldn’t act hastily. He must have planned the move with his Gabriel well in advance.
“You’re excused,” he said abruptly to the boy who dashed away quickly, and returned to the company, who were beginning to bed down for the night. Benny squinted at him through the dusk.
Dean did something he wouldn’t have normally, that the army may not have approved of: he stepped forward and curled against Benny, their breastplates clashing together. He pawed at Benny’s arms, trying to put them around his torso, suddenly desperate for their closeness. Benny held him at arms length for a brief moment, before leading him away from the others for some privacy.
“What’s wrong?” Benny wanted to know.
“You haven’t rewarded me for my performance today,” Dean blurted. It was easier to tackle that then acknowledge what had happened with his brother.
“We’ve only just eaten, Dean.” Benny pressed their foreheads together. “What did that messenger boy want?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does, it’s upset you. We’re partners, Dean. Tell me.”
Benny ran a hand up Dean’s leg, underneath his armour. His breathing was suddenly restricted by his chest plate. All he wanted was something physical to allow him to forget what the messenger boy had said.
“My brother. He was talking of my brother.”
“Your brother? Has he been drafted to the company?” Benny was cupping his backside, thumbing over the linen Dean was clad in.
“He’s run off. With his lover.”
Benny’s thumb stopped moving, and for a brief moment, Dean was actually terrified of what was to come. Benny withdrew his hand, but then he was removing his own armour, and Dean’s armour, pulling him closer and giving him that sweet physical contact that meant Dean could think of nothing else. Around them were the sounds of other pairs enjoying contact under the cover of night, and Dean stared at the starlit sky as Benny rubbed against him, making him touch his lover. They rolled over, and Dean curled up on Benny, relishing his clammy skin, his gentle caresses. They would sleep naked, and rise at dawn, replacing their armour before eating with the rest of the company, but until then, Dean focused on the gentle breeze over his sun baked skin, on the solidness of his lover underneath him.
In the morning, Dean woke alone on the dusty floor. He brushed himself down, and dressed quickly, looking around for Benny. The guy loved to cuddle in the morning until they were made to eat, but he was nowhere to be seen. Dean walked over to the dining area, and took his usual place. A few men were in his position, looking for their lover as though they were lost to the world. He mixed his wine and bread and ate silently, wondering if Benny’s absence was something to do with the news of Sam. But then they were called to order, and lined up as though ready to march to a battle ground. Benny stood with a group of about fifteen others, all who stood proud in their armour. Dean tried to catch his eye, but he was defiantly not looking Dean’s way.
Their general began making a speech, one Dean had heard several times in the past few years, and it was as this speech continued that he realised what was happening. Benny’s service in the army was over, he was leaving him.
He remembered the day that Benny had picked him out of the crowd of newbies, how he had behaved as he had at aged twelve with Michael, refusing his advances because he was told he must do that at first. How Benny had told him to cut the crap, that wasn’t how the company engaged themselves and he was with their band rather than others for a reason. How Benny had been unforgiving in training, but was venomous and dangerous when it seemed that Dean was at risk. They had been partnered for five years, how was Dean meant to go without him now?
He applauded with the other soldiers, and waited until the formal section of the ceremony was over, when the other erastes and eromenos were saying their farewells.
“How are you leaving?” Dean demanded. Benny shot him a sheepish look.
“Dean, I’ve been with this army for a long time. And you’re an asset to it. But I’m betrothed to a girl in my village, and now is the time to start a family with her. With Andrea.”
Dean took a step back. He knew that some of the men did this, left the lifestyle behind and became like other members of society. Others still returned to their roots, and became erastes to young men who had the potential to be young warriors. Dean didn’t know what his future held, but it wasn’t women.
“I thought the idea was that we didn’t live a lie?”
“Dean,” Benny smiled tenderly. “You’re a great soldier, and you’ll do an incredible job with the next rookie. Make me proud. And thank you for a wonderful last night.”
He squeezed Dean’s bicep, and walked away, to shed his armour and return to life as a civilian. Dean stood frozen to the spot, watching his lover leave, and with him all the fight that Dean had.
Cadmus training ground, outskirts of Thebes, 338BC
Dean spent the next few days on his own, training hard, throwing all his aggression and resentment into his targets. The other soldiers were clearly afraid to wrestle him after he almost savagely beat one of the older men during one training session. There was one poor olive tree that had been impaled again and again by his spear.
Some of the other soldiers who had also lost their erastes tried to talk with him, to bring him around to the idea that he was too old now to have a lover, that he could be that for the new recruits when they arrived. He tried not to be too scornful in his response.
It wasn’t that he was angry with the system, or that he didn’t know he could be as good a teacher as a pupil. He was angry with Benny. They forged their bonds on a foundation of trust, they had to in case they were called upon to fight. Benny was meant to have his back and he was meant to keep an eye out for Benny too. And even if they weren’t bonded for life, they did have a bond, and Dean would have appreciated more warning that Benny was leaving him. It was a betrayal of the very thing that was meant to unite them.
Finally, he was summoned by one of his superiors, as a new group of rookies arrived. He heard the other established soldiers making their choices, picking out those with the broadest shoulders, the thickest chests, the tall men who looked as though they would fight well. Dean studied each of them, trying to see if any of them held a spark of interest for him. On first appearances, no one stood out.
The rookies were put through their paces under the blazing sun, tested for their fighting ability, their endurance, agility, and ability to take orders against those soldiers who wanted to bond with them. Dean sat towards the back of the crowd, and soon found himself watching a particular soldier.
He was slight compared to the others. His olive skin was at odds with startlingly bright blue eyes, the likes of which Dean had never seen before. He held himself upright, tense, as though he was trying to seem as big as all these other men. There was something in his eagerness that piqued Dean’s interest. He stepped up to fit his armour, and Dean did the same, grateful that none of the other men did so. In fact, they were all laughing at the man, who didn’t quite fill out the bronze chest plate. He held the sword clumsily as he stepped awkwardly into the circle. Dean stood, prepared, and tried to get a read on this man. He didn’t move.
Dean began to circle him, trying to encourage him to start the contest, but still he did nothing.
“We’re practicing fighting with xiphos,” Dean told him. He nodded.
“The aim is to fight?”
The soldier held his shield closer to his body, but made no other move. Exasperated, Dean went for the initial attack, making a large swipe at the soldier’s sword. As quick as a bolt from Zeus, the new soldier reacted, meeting Dean’s xiphos with his own, sparks flying as the blades met.
The limp wrist disappeared, as did the other man’s inactivity. They were moving quickly, their swords meeting over and over. Dean couldn’t get a read on this soldier. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a style so much as that he seemed to anticipate every move Dean made and had a counter for it. He was defensive, not looking for an attack or a weak spot, not seeking to disarm as Dean often did, but merely blocking any attack on himself. And Dean couldn’t find an in. He could feel himself beginning to tire from constantly attacking this scrawny man who was somehow equalling him.
Dean backed off, not wanting to wear himself out completely, not wanting to feed into this man’s strategy, if that was what it was. He circled him again, but still the soldier gave nothing away. He could sense the rest of the band talking behind his back, speculating that Dean had finally met his match in combat, their interest growing in this puny man. There was an edge of desperation as Dean engaged the rookie again. It was his rookie to win, not theirs. He put his all into the match, swiping with his shield, jabbing and slicing with the blade, pressing his advantage. The man ducked and dodged as though he had been practising dance, and not one of Dean’s hits landed. And still - still! - the man did nothing by way of attack. Dean was getting increasingly frustrated and exhausted. He stepped back again, and met his opponents gaze. His breath caught, and they stared at each other across the fighting circle. Time seemed to stand still, the air turned fragrant, and Dean felt a momentary respite from the ache of constant attack. Not even with Benny had he felt like this, not even with Michael.
The next moment, Dean was running back at his opponent, who finally went on the attack. Their blades cracked together in the air, sparks flying once more. The slim man was agile, quick, and very good at reading. His blade moved quickly, and Dean had to work to meet it, to parry and to block with his shield. They covered a lot of ground as they kept up their blows against each other. Eventually, one of the officers called time on the fight, and they both moved away, panting heavily. Dean could feel a heat in his stomach, and he knew it was due to the rookie. As soon as his armour was removed, he approached the man.
“That was an unusual approach to a fight,” he commented. The man looked at him with a cock to his head.
“I was hoping that you wouldn’t be the one to pick to fight me,” he said quietly. Dean smirked.
“My reputation precedes me?”
“No.” The soldier shook his head. “You are the most handsome soldier here. I didn’t want to mark you.”
“Are you telling me you were holding back? You gave me a better fight than I’ve had in a long time.”
“I was indeed holding back. I wish I had continued to do so now,” he looked quickly at the other single men. “What if one of them wants me?”
“You’re meant to be desirable,” Dean reminded him. “Who wants to partner with a man who won’t demonstrate how he will protect and care for his other half?”
The new soldier fixed him with a steely gaze.
“I will not hurt you. If you had not fought me, you would have seen what I am prepared to do, but the moment I saw you when I arrived here earlier, I could feel it. I could sense it. You and I are meant to be something very special.”
Dean swallowed. He had felt that too, as soon as they made eye contact.
“I’m not going to give anyone else a chance.”
The new recruit gave a small smile, and retook his seat. Dean abandoned protocol and sat beside him, sending a silent signal to everyone else that he had already made his choice and they could continue to peruse the brawn still displaying their sword fighting skills. He saw some of the older men eyeing this soldier with renewed interest, and he scooted closer.
“What’s your name, soldier?” He demanded.
“That’s what you will be, but what’s your name?” Dean pushed. “If we’re going to spend the next five years fighting for each other, it would be useful to know it now.”
“Call me Castiel,” he acquiesced. “Can I know the name of my erastes?”
Castiel mouthed it, smiling faintly, and he began to watch the soldiers now fighting. He leaned into Dean slightly.
“The older man leaves his left flank open when he makes an upper cut with the blade.”
Dean grinned, and placed a possessive hand on Castiel’s knee, completely disregarding the pattern they were meant to follow.
“What faults of mine did you notice?”
Castiel didn’t answer. Dean squeezed his knee.
“That’s not a trick question, I’d like you to answer. It will help me to improve.”
“I wasn’t thinking straight, you stood up and I panicked, and then you were talking to me. I suppose the only thing I noticed was that you don’t like to make the first attack. If you hadn’t eventually given in, they might have stopped us with no attempts at a fight.”
Dean watched this man with curiosity as he continued watching their peers. He was beginning to wonder how this hoplite could possibly have made it into the sacred band of Thebes, despite his swordsmanship and obvious sway to other men. He seemed too passive for an army, too gentle. Even as he watched the other matches, his expression was vacant and a little dreamy. Dean ran his thumb along Castiel’s leg, still gripping his knee. He glanced around, and saw the other soldiers, most of them watching the new recruits demonstrations, but a couple of them were still eyeing Dean’s new companion with interest.
Dean and Castiel remained side-by-side throughout the rest of the demonstrations. When it came to throwing spears, Castiel was deft, his aim accurate, and the spear flew through the air with a piercing whistle. One of the sandbags they were using as a target exploded on impact. Dean was completely smitten by this man. He showed the new recruit the tree he had been practicing on since Benny left.
“The poor tree,” Castiel murmured, running his finger around the jagged splinters edging one mark. “You must have cared for Benny very much.”
“Of course. We take an oath. We’re in this band in order to be close to each other. Most men here were recruited from their original erastes. I feel more myself in this environment.”
“Then I have a huge chasm to fill.”
“No,” Dean shook his head with vehemence. “You’re not Benny. You’re you. Already this feels very different to being Benny’s eromenos, I don’t think we’ll relate to each other in the same way. But that’s good, I don’t want a replacement, not if my role is changing. And besides, as much as I miss Benny, I’m angry at him too. He didn’t tell me his time was almost up, he didn’t prepare me.”
Castiel put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“I think this is why I was drawn to you. I know your emotions are going to be genuine. Which means we’ll look after each other properly. And I promise you, Dean, I will fight hard to keep you safe, whatever the cost.”
One of their comrades approached then, his gaze glued to Castiel.
“Dean, you have to let the rest of us get to know your new acquaintance. Or are you busy telling him that your little brother couldn’t keep his head and ran away rather than try to join the army?”
Dean rolled his eyes.
“Excuse me?” Castiel asked the other soldier.
“Did you not hear? Dean’s younger brother came of age, and rather than move on like he’s meant to, he’s run away with his lover. It seems to be a fault of their family, they get attached and lose their heads.”
“Oh. Well, that doesn’t change anything,” Castiel said meekly. “I’m still choosing Dean.”
“Your choice only goes so far,” their comrade said. “And a few of the men are interested in you.”
Dean stood in front of Castiel protectively.
“I choose him too. I’ll take the oath right now. Choose someone else.”
“It’s nearly nightfall,” the soldier commented casually. “If you wish to lay with a real man, come find me.”
He sauntered off, and Dean turned to Castiel, who was smiling softly at him.
“Can we take the oath already?”
“I don’t know. But we should probably see about eating dinner.”
“Dean? Was it true? About your brother?”
“Yeah. That’s what they told me. My brother was always a patient kid, I don’t think it was a spur of the moment thing. He and his lover had probably planned it for years.”
“Then our comrade had a point - why would I want to be paired with a man who cares deeply, who comes from others who also care deeply? Why would I entrust my life to a man like that?” His smile grew. “Why would I trust anyone else? Why would I opt for a man who wouldn’t read the air between two men and realise their endeavour was hopeless? May I lay with you tonight?”
Dean nodded, and flouted the system entirely, capturing Castiel’s lips with his own, and tasting his sweet mouth. They kissed deeply, languidly, there in the olive grove as the sun set in the west.
Through the next few days, Dean got to know Castiel better and better. He knew the weight of him in his sleep, knew the precise way he would make his akratos in the morning, the way he would tilt his head in order to better understand something being said to him. He was learning Castiel’s fighting style, and was pleased to see, when practicing on a wooden stake, that Castiel was true to his word and was a much better fighter when Dean was not his target.
Finally, there came the day that those men who had recently been left by the departing soldiers got to choose their eromenos officially. The wrestling space was cleared, and the entire company turned out to watch who would be paired with whom. The rookies were called up one by one, and their potential suitors tried to make their claims. A single claim earned the rookie, more than one resulted in a wrestling contest. Whoever won desired the new soldier more. Castiel was somewhere in the middle of the group, and his name had barely been called before Dean was standing.
“He is mine!” He declared, confident that everyone had borne witness to how close he and Castiel already were. And yet;
“He is mine!” Two others called at the same time. Dean lost no time in making his way to the wrestling ring, stripping off to wrestle naked as was custom, and standing proudly in the middle beside Castiel. One of the other men swaggered his way into the ring also. Castiel and the general who had been calling the names left the area, and Dean considered his opponent.
He was broader than Dean. Heavier. Someone who would rely on his weight to win the contest but perhaps not have the dexterity or energy that Dean would be able to invest in making a match he wanted. Dean was not going to lose Castiel to anyone.
The entire company counted them in, and as soon as they finished, the other soldier was running at him full pelt. Dean imagined that Cerberus chasing you would look similar. But he was not afraid, and he was far more motivated. He waited until the last possible moment, and used his opponent’s weight against him, ducking down and tripping him, sending him crashing to the floor. And then Dean was clambering on him, sitting astride his torso and raining down punches and slaps, rolling around to try and get a good grip on the man’s back. His opponent tried to crush him, but Dean was like a serpent, like a lizard; sliding around him, not giving a moment’s window of opportunity. The sweat produced by the heat of the day by both men made it easier for Dean to move as skin slid against skin, and worked against his opponent because Dean would merely slide out of his grip should he make an attempt to grab him.
Eventually, Dean managed to wrap his legs around the man’s throat, twisting around and pushing his face into the dirt, sitting on his shoulders. He started to punch his head, his vision blurring as rage and desperation took over. He wanted Castiel … there was no one else … he wasn’t going to be kicked out of the band because he didn’t have a beloved. He couldn’t stomach even the thought of someone else having Castiel, touching him … loving him …
He was eventually pulled off his opponent, the atmosphere tense. The other competitor lay in a pile of blood, and Dean began to feel nauseated. He was trying to claim Castiel, not take a life from the band. There was a stifled groan, and the other soldier moved, sitting up but appearing dazed. A couple of other soldiers rushed to his side, helping him to the tent where the medics resided. He walked, and Dean felt relieved, though he knew what he next had to say, and it felt hollow in his heart.
“Who else would challenge me for Castiel?”
There had been one other voice. It was silent now. Dean wondered if his actions would have changed Castiel’s mind, but this was the protocol, and he would follow it doggedly now.
“I said, who would challenge me for my Castiel?”
Still, there was silence. Dean turned, as Castiel was brought to him, his gaze on the remnants of blood left on the dusty floor.
“He is yours,” the general informed him. “And please, Dean, next time? Save it for a Spartan or two.”
“There won’t be a next time,” Dean assured him. Castiel followed him out of the wrestling ring, and into one of the tents nearby, where he sagged onto a bench.
“Was I too brutal?” He breathed.
“Perhaps,” Castiel responded. “Maybe you could learn from me as much as I can learn from you?”
He sat down on the floor in front of Dean, and grabbed a bowl of water and some fabric. He wet the fabric, and then started cleaning Dean off.
“You got some of his blood on you.”
“I stopped focusing,” Dean admitted. “I was so determined not to lose you I lost control.”
“He will live,” Castiel reassured him. “But perhaps if it were a sword fight, he would not have done so.”
“I haven’t scared you, have I?”
Castiel looked up at him with those exotic blue eyes, and tenderly wiped the now blood-stained cloth across his shoulder.
“Scared me? No, Dean. I’m not a young boy on the edge of becoming a man. I’m not delicate. I’m a soldier too. I know that love is a large component of this band, but I also know bravery and strength and determination. I see all of those things in you. If you are so willing to risk so much just to have me as your eromenos, then what would you do in battle?”
Dean grinned down at him.
“Kill any filthy Spartan who tried to hurt you.”
“Do you make offerings to Ares with that mouth?” Castiel cocked his head. “Besides, you have seen it, I can handle myself.”
“Ares would reject my offerings when I kill the children of his city,” Dean reminded him. “You know Thebans are all about Dionysus.”
“That’s why they underestimate us,” he conceded. They fell back into silence, and Castiel continued to clean him, before helping him back into his linothorax. Once dressed, Dean bestowed a sweet, soft kiss onto Castiel’s lips, and then rested his forehead against his beloved’s.
Cadmea, Thebes, 338BC
The next day there was no training, instead the newly made couples went to the temple in Cadmea to swear their loyalty to each other. The ceremony was a private one, most of the other men stayed behind at camp, some keeping watch over the citadel, others were enjoying their time with their own partner. The only people present were some of the superior officers, and the other soldiers committing to each other.
Castiel held his hand as the soldiers stepped up in the order that the eromenos were claimed, all reciting the same vows that had been created solely for the sacred band of Thebes.
They walked together when it was their turn, approaching the elder who was binding them in front of the statue of Dionysus, their hands still gripping tight. They faced each other, and Dean felt that sensation again. That a soft breeze was passing by, with a honey-sweet scent lingering. Castiel’s unusual eyes were wide open, his expression serious, and there was a burning sensation in Dean’s chest. He wondered if his new beloved was experiencing the same thing in the brief moment where everything else seemed to have stopped.
Dean was the first to talk, repeating the words of the pledge to look after and nurture Castiel, to love him and only him through their service together in the band. Then Castiel took his turn, pledging to please Dean, to learn from him, to care for and love him and only him while they were in service. Once the oaths were complete, they left the temple and made their way to a set of buildings on the outskirts of their barracks. There, they had a small hut to themselves, where they could celebrate their new union for the rest of the day. Dean had only been in these rooms once before with Benny, back when he was in Castiel’s position. Though on the outside it was nothing much to look at - a typical white stone building with small openings high up to allow light in - inside it was decadent with drapes and cushions everywhere, cheese and figs and grapes on a platter with bread and olive oil, plus a supply of wine and water. Dean threw himself happily on the cushions, sinking into their luxurious softness, as Castiel slowly pulled a sheet of linen across the opening. Dean turned his head up towards a roof opening, where the sunlight was pouring down, bathing him in its golden warmth.
“Would you like something to eat?” Castiel asked from the doorway.
“Later. Come.” Without opening his eyes, Dean held a hand out for Castiel to join him. Castiel didn’t take his hand, but Dean felt the cushions beside him shifting. He looked, and Castiel was sitting beside him. “Are you okay, Castiel?”
“Yes. It’s just that you looked exquisite, laying in the sunlight like that. I needed a moment.”
He bent down, and Dean lifted his head, accepting the kiss he was expecting. He then began to relax into the cushions, pulling Castiel down with him.
“We have all night,” Castiel murmured against his lips.
“We do,” Dean agreed, sliding a possessive arm around his back. “And I want as much of you as I can get.”
Castiel submitted to more kisses, lazy languid ones where they spent their time exploring each other’s mouths, laying in the golden sunlight and bathing in the warmth of the day. Dean could feel his heart thudding twice as hard as normal, and all he wanted was to get rid of their clothes and fully indulge. Castiel still seemed in no hurry to speed up the action between them, as though he were just grateful to have this amount of attention from Dean.
Eventually, their kisses petered out, and Castiel lay back on the cushions beside Dean, closing his eyes and tilting his head in the direction of the sunbeam they were laying in. Dean sat up slightly, propping his head up as he leaned towards Castiel.
“So … what was your last erastes like?”
Castiel didn’t crack an eyelid, but his did bite his lower lip softly.
“What makes you think I grew up influenced by pederastry?” Castiel deflected.
“Because most of our soldiers did. You fight so well, and you’re in the band known for continuing the tradition. You know there was Michael before there was Benny. Who was there before me?”
“Are you jealous?” Castiel gave a small smile, eyes still closed.
“A little,” Dean conceded. “But I also wanted to get a good picture of what you’re okay with. Just because you were someone’s eromenos it doesn’t mean you’ve had anything physical with anyone before.”
“And you have?” Castiel’s tone softened. Dean grinned.
“Now who’s jealous?”
Castiel finally opened his eyes, shielding them from the sun with one hand.
“I’m not jealous, Dean. I have you now, don’t I?”
Dean grinned, and leaned closer, bestowing another kiss onto his lover, this time on his nose.
“Mmm-hmm, you do. But like I said, I want to get an idea of how physical I can be with you. Especially as we’re not currently having sex right now.”
“Is that the only reason you chose me?” Castiel teased him gently. “You thought I would be good at sex?”
“It’s not the only reason,” Dean began kissing under Castiel’s chin, softly peppering the stubbled skin there with gentle presses of his lips, moving slowly up towards his ear as he talked. “But I keep picturing it, and I wanna know if you’re as good as I think you’re going to be.”
Castiel shuddered violently underneath him, his breath stuttered, and then he drew in a lungful of air.
“So, Michael, your first erastes? You had sex with him?”
“Only one time,” Dean shrugged. “The last night I had with him. He wasn’t the kind of man who took advantage of young men, he was more into my training. He was hard on me too. If I threw a discus fifty feet, he wouldn’t be proud of me, he would say it was a good effort at aiming for sixty. If he rewarded me, it was food he offered. And then one day, after the Band had already shown an interest in training me some more, he said I was a man now. That I would be going to my training the next day. And then it happened.”
“And then Benny?” Castiel’s voice caught in his throat, making it even huskier than normal. Dean bit his ear lobe gently for a moment, before leaning back and shrugging.
“They were my two erastes. But training camp was a little different. You know what it’s like,” Dean put his hands behind his head, tilting his chin once more to the warmth of the day. “Bet your ass got it all the time at training.”
“We’re not all sluts,” Castiel teased. “Dean, whatever you want to do with me is fine. Experience or not, I do want that connection with you.”
“But not right now?” Dean checked.
“No. Right now, I’m really enjoying this. Laying in the sun with you, talking.”
He slipped his hand under Dean’s head, and threaded their fingers together.
“What are you afraid of?” Dean whispered. “You can tell me what your other lovers were like.”
“No other lovers matter,” Castiel rested his head onto Dean’s chest. Dean waited for something more, some big confession of Castiel’s, but none came.
“You’ve never been with anyone else, have you?” He realised. “I’m your first.”
Castiel burst into laughter, sitting up and smiling down at him with a fond smile, stirring up that honey-scented breeze once again.
“I can assure you that I have had some experience. I just don’t want to discuss it now. I want to know everything about you.”
“I want to know everything about you, too.”
Castiel’s eyes seemed to fill with emotion, and he bent closer once more, pressing a kiss onto Dean’s mouth. This one went deeper, as he nibbled at Dean’s lip, sucking slightly, probing his tongue along Dean’s teeth and into his mouth. He groaned, and pulled Castiel closer, his hips already bucking up as he crushed Castiel’s chest against his own. He felt his robes rucking up, and slid his hands under Castiel’s, sliding a hand up his thigh and tracing his butt cheek with his palm. A shudder ran through his eromenos, and he threw his leg over Dean, straddling him, grinding against him.
A bolt of heat ran through Dean’s body, and he forced Castiel’s robes, off, throwing him into the pile of cushions and pulling his own off, before crashing back into his beloved and crushing his lips against Castiel’s. He covered Castiel’s body with his own, groaning as their cocks brushed, both of them sensitive, hard and throbbing. He was bucking again, almost violently, trying to ease the tension he felt. He’d wanted this since he first noticed Castiel.
But then Castiel was taking control, rolling him back over, using his thighs to separate Dean’s with a strength that belied his small frame. Dean let him take control, tilting his head back and panting uncontrollably. Castiel instantly started sucking on his neck, biting down, forcing groans out of his erastes. Dean was clinging onto his lover so tightly that his fingertips were buried in Castiel’s backside. They were rutting together, Castiel’s fingers were grazing against his balls, teasing around his hole, and he was hardly aware of it as he pulled Castiel closer and closer. Their lips met again, though their kisses were so overblown with passion that they could barely do more than pant into each other’s mouth, teeth clashing together as they ground out groans simultaneously.
And then Castiel was leaning across to the tray of food, and Dean watched through a lust-filled gaze as he opened the olive oil, slicking some slowly onto his cock, hissing as he did so, and then pooled some more into his hand, before working it into Dean’s hole, the oil making his fingers slick, his fingers warming the oil and relaxing Dean’s muscles. He eased into Dean, thrusting in time to Dean’s body, and Dean used his grip on Castiel’s backside to help keep that rhythm. Their chests crashed together, over and over, and Dean closed his eyes in absolute bliss, those burning bolts of passion driving through his body over and over again, light exploding behind his eye sockets, his breathing loud and rasping, punctuated by groans of passion and satisfaction every time Castiel gave a particularly fulfilling thrust.
He came between them, with Castiel still riding him, his spunk heating his skin even more, causing a sticky friction between their torsos. And still Castiel was going, pumping hard into him, and Dean was lost in the ecstasy of their connection. Castiel felt right inside him, his girth just the right side of too big, his thrusts hitting that satisfactory spot inside him every time, his orgasm still coursing through his veins.
Castiel finally came, with a shout of pure bliss, and he withdrew before collapsing onto the cushions beside Dean, both of them panting hard. Slowly, they calmed down, and Castiel laughed nervously.
“I think we did that wrong.”
“Well, Zeus, if that was wrong, we’ve got to keep going until we get it right.” Dean chuckled breathlessly.
“You’re the erastes, you’re meant to be inside me,” Castiel spoke softly. Dean turned his head and grinned.
“You didn’t give me the choice. And I’m okay with it, it’s all I’ve really known. Screw tradition, we’ll do what we want. And who knows, it might make us the best fighting team out there.”
Castiel slowly smiled back, and nodded over to the food.
“You’ve worked up my appetite. Let’s eat.”
They sat either side of the low table, and picked through the bread, figs, cheese and olive oil, separating some out to make an offering to the gods, and then began to eat the rest. Once they had demolished a decent amount of the food before them, Castiel brushed his fingers off, and tilted his head to one side.
“In all seriousness, Dean, we have made a bit of a mistake. You’re the erastes, I’m the eromenos, yes? I shouldn’t have taken over like that.”
“Like I said,” Dean spoke around a mouthful of grapes. “I’m used to it. I told you my past, I’ve always been the one to take it. Makes no difference to me.”
Castiel toyed with his wine goblet, his gaze concentrated on the blood red liquid.
“Be that as it may, you’re still the lover in this situation. I’m the beloved.”
“Castiel, no one’s going to be watching us having sex. All the rest of the band will care about is how well we fight on the battlefield. Everything else, that’s between you and me. Okay?”
Castiel didn’t look mollified, but nodded anyway.
“We should exercise caution either way.”
Dean grinned, and kissed him before taking a sip of wine.
“Naturally. When I get to training you, no one’s even going to question our sex life. I’ll be putting you through your paces.”
“Save some energy for night fall.”
Dean grinned, and popped a grape in his mouth.
“Don’t slack on your battlefield.”
Castiel put his wine aside, and pushed Dean over, back onto the cushions.
“Perhaps you need a reminder of what will be waiting for you if we are still able to move.” Castiel smirked, and straddled his other half.
A freshly ploughed field, outside of Erythrae, Boeotia region, south of Thebes, 338BC
The night passed quickly, and all too soon they were putting their tunics back on, and joining the rest of the band on the outskirts of Thebes, on the outside of the huge wall that ringed the city. There, they found their leaders looking anxious and talking urgently with one another. Dean’s urge for combat started to rise.
“Is there a threat coming?”
“Yeah, your brother’s erastes is coming for you,” one of the other soldiers sneered. Dean tried to ignore him.
“Be realistic, Dean will be running away to his brother soon. Especially if there is someone marching to steal our riches. Cowardice runs in families, after all.”
Dean’s hand drifted to his side, before he remembered that he was weaponless. And that he had promised Castiel he wouldn’t turn on another member of the band. Instead, he looked to the group of men who were sniggering at the comments.
“Do you have something to say to me?”
“Dean,” Castiel urged quietly. The other soldiers laughed.
“Of course you’d pick an eromenos who was afraid of conflict, even if he does aim a spear well. I suppose it’s fitting, cowards have to stick together.”
“Enough!” One of the commanding officers broke off their conversation. “This band isn’t made up of isolated pairs. We all have to work together to protect everyone. If any of you are looking for a reason to create cracks in our system, you can leave and go be a regular hoplite, or a shepherd, or a slave to the King. I don’t care. When you’re in the band, you stick together. Understood?”
Dean and the other soldiers eyed each other with dislike. He waited for them to agree with their captain, to leave, because he wasn’t going to be the first to back down. They didn’t either.
“Come on, we need to work together. Rumour has it that a regiment from Argos is on the way. So gear up, we’re going to meet them before they even see the walls.”
The other soldiers departed, and Dean let Castiel lead him away. They helped each other with their armour, making sure their leg covers were strapped on, and their arm covers, before taking their shields, spears and swords from the armoury and affixing their helmets. Dean gave Castiel a quick glance to make sure his armour was secure, and noticed that he still didn’t fill it out well, was still slight compared to most of the broad chested men in the band. Castiel was watching him through the gap in his helmet.
“Are you okay, Dean?” He asked quietly.
“Uh-huh.” Dean grunted.
“We can talk. I’m here when you need it.”
“I know, Cas.” He made to walk away, to get in line, but Castiel placed a hand on his chest, holding him back.
“Don’t let those other soldiers get to you. I’m sure Sam and his erastes had their reasons for running away.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Cas. I just want to kick some Argos butt.”
Castiel didn’t drop his hand.
“A good soldier doesn’t fight from a place of anger, Dean. I have to rely on you just as much as you have to rely on me. I didn’t make a mistake, did I?”
Dean set his jaw.
“I’d prefer to focus on what’s ahead, than feel wounded by others opinions. They don’t know Sam. And you’re right, you have to rely on me, so instead of worrying about how everyone else is acting about my brother, lets focus on what’s coming.”
Castiel pursed his lips, and followed Dean into the line of soldiers, somewhere in the middle of the troop. They stood to attention as their commander-in-chief stood above them slightly on a boulder, his voice projected across the fifteen rows of ten soldiers.
“Once again, Thebes is under threat from jealous Grecians. Argos who thinks their brute force is enough to award them the fortunes our people enjoy. Who think the descendants of Heracles, of Cadmus and Perseus are weaklings, spoiled and embroiled in incestuous relations. Who liken us to Oedipus more than any of our other ancestors, and do not know of our strength, our nobility, and our wisdom. Let us go and meet this army, and remind them again that the sacred band alone has thwarted even mighty Sparta twice, when their numbers far outweighed our own. That their bullying nature will not make us pushovers. Let’s show them the real heart of Thebes.”
All the soldiers lifted their spears and roared in response, then followed the chariots that led the way. The marched with perfect synchronicity, though they weren’t silent. Someone started singing an old song based on the Iliad, of Agememnon and Menelaus, the dispute with Achilles, and the fall of Hector. When they came to the part about Patroclus sacrificing himself for Achilles, everyone joined in, even Dean and Castiel. It was perhaps unsurprising that they would all identify with that part of the epic story, of putting their own lives on the line for the man they were closest to.
When the song moved on to the woes of Odysseus, Dean nudged his shield against Castiel’s spear arm.
“Sorry, for earlier.”
“It’s okay.” Castiel murmured back. “You’re allowed to be upset by it.”
“I think I’m only upset because,” Dean heaved a sigh. “I haven’t seen Sam since he was eight and I was twelve, when Michael took me for my training. I don’t really know him anymore, you know? The kid I knew was smart and level-headed, but who knows what went on when he grew up without me? Who knows what his erastes is like. And I’ll defend him because he’s my brother and I love him, but I don’t know if he went willingly, I don’t know if he’s being held against his will. All I know is he’s out of reach now, no way to contact him, to convince him to train and maybe join the band.”
“Perhaps someone knew his erastes that you could send a messenger to? After this fight?” Castiel said softly. “They might know more than the information the messenger was sent with. Your parents might know what came of him. But I’m sure he’s okay. If he’s half the man you are, he’ll take care of himself, I’m sure.”
“I’m hoping. It doesn’t help when the others tell me my worst fears.”
“Are you two planning to run away like your brother did?” A voice spoke clearly behind them.
“I didn’t know Castiel’s brother ran away,” Dean said over his shoulder.
“Funny, Dean. But that humour won’t help when you soil yourself at the first glimpse of the other soldiers.”
“Said the guy walking behind me.”
“Maybe it’s not that,” the other man’s eromenos spoke up. “Maybe they’re planning to run away together before Dean’s too old for the army. Cheating Castiel out of the chance to have kids of his own.”
“My only plan right now is to fight the Argives and protect Dean. Maybe you should focus more on your abilities and strategies and less on the shame you think Sam has brought to his brother.” Castiel stopped the conversation. Dean nudged him again with the shield, and focused as the song reached the point where Odysseus met the Cyclopes.
It didn’t take long before they came across the Argolis army. At least a thousand Argive soldiers stood across a field used for growing barley from them. They stopped together, and waited for the other soldiers to make the first move. Dean’s fingers flexed on his spear, and Castiel adjusted his grip on his shield. At the command, they brought their shields in front of them, their eyes the only vulnerable part of their bodies as they watched from above the top curve of their shields. Another command, and they shouldered their spears, feet planted in preparation for running or throwing. The Argives began to run towards them, and with a final command, they moved too.
Castiel was fast on his feet, but he kept pace with Dean, running side-by-side across the freshly-ploughed field. They were some of the first to reach the fray, despite being somewhere in the middle of the pack. They worked well together, Castiel using his shield to protect Dean when he stabbed a man in the stomach with his spear, Dean jabbing his newly bloodied spear into a man’s eye when he came too close to Castiel, Castiel using his sword to cut a man’s head clean off his neck when he tried to come at them from behind. They worked back-to-back, cleaving their way through the Argolian ranks, leaving wounded and dying men in their wake. The rest of the band were faring nearly as well, though a couple of soldiers were sporting abrasions from near misses with spearheads before too long.
Eventually, just before nightfall, the leader of the Argives called a truce with the Theban commander-in-chief. He promised to call off the attack, and called for his men to attend to the wounded members of their ranks. The three men who had been battling Dean and Castiel with their swords moved off, as though they hadn’t just been fighting for their lives, and Dean stepped closer to his lover. Castiel was breathing heavily, but smiled widely through his helmet. Dean didn’t have the energy to smile, but the adrenaline still coursed through his veins, mingled with bloodlust. He wanted to finish off the three soldiers they had been battling, to complete the task he felt they had undertaken.
“You did well, Dean.”
“We did well,” Dean corrected, breathing heavily. “But not well enough.”
He eyed a small group of Argive soldiers passing by them, and readjusted his grip on his bloody spear.
“Dean, they’re innocent,” Castiel said under his breath. “Maybe you should clean your spear?”
Dean walked up to the nearest corpse, and wiped the entrails onto the fallen man, smearing blood across his pallid skin to boot. He followed Castiel back to their army, to hear the feedback that their leaders had to give them. The other soldiers were also gathering around, some holding the armour of the men they had killed, others wiping their swords or checking the damage to their shields. Their commander began to speak.
“Well done, men. We were outnumbered at least three-to-one, and yet each and every one of you showed the valour and honour that comes from working in the Sacred Band of Thebes. Each and every one of you proved that your bonds are the strongest thing on the battlefield, stronger than armour, shields or spears. You should all be proud of the service you have done to our noble city. When we return, the king has arranged a feast for us. We will go back, clean up, make sacrifices to the gods and enjoy the food they have provided. In formation now.”
Dean made to slip back into his row, but one of the generals gestured him forward. He moved, Castiel in tow, and stood closer to the front than before. There were renewed mutters behind him, behind Castiel, but he refused to turn his head, refused to let the others soldier’s jealousy and egos take this moment from them.
“Well done, soldiers,” the general beside them said as they began the walk back to Thebes. “Your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. At least twenty more kills than the next pair, and you probably would have gotten to Argos in the night and taken their citidel if given the chance.”
“Thank you, sir,” Dean nodded.
“This eromenos of yours, he’s good for you. Better than that Benny,” the general continued. Dean was surprised that he didn’t feel a stab in his gut at the mention of Benny. That he didn’t feel anything but pride over Castiel.
“I think so too, sir.” Dean carried on staring ahead, not wanting to meet either the general or Castiel’s gaze.
“Well, if you both keep this up, you’ll be promoted in no time. We all have an end date in this army, and we’re always looking for new leaders.”
Castiel knocked his spear gently against Dean’s shield. That was the thing that made Dean swell with pride, and gave him the renewed energy to get home.
Back in the citidel, the band were invited into the king’s home for their feast. A hundred cows and goats had been slaughtered in sacrificial ceremony, and there were piles of bread, olives, figs, strawberries, grapes and cheese to go with the beef and goat meat, and the kings best wine had also been shared. Dean and Castiel were made to sit with the generals, away from their usual comrades. Castiel had leaned into Dean’s arm, whispering into his ear to think of it as an honour of war and not a promotion, and Dean knew it was his lover’s way of telling him to remain humble throughout the meal, to not take it as a certainty that he would get a promotion, that he and Castiel would get the benefits that go with such a ranking.
It was easier, being in the company of the higher ranking gentlemen, those who were comfortable in their pairings, who had no desire to gossip. Only one man brought up the subject of Sam, and though Dean bristled it was only for a short time.
“You’re the soldier whose brother ran off with his erastes?” The man sitting directly opposite Dean asked. Under the table, Castiel squeezed his knee.
“Yes sir, at least, that’s what they tell me.” Dean spoke stiffly.
“Is he like you, this brother of yours?”
“I haven’t seen him since I was twelve and he was eight, sir. But the boy was smart and not very impulsive.”
“Enough of the sir,” the general waved a hand dismissively. “We’re equals at this table. And shame, if he was anything like you, he would make a fine soldier.”
“Perhaps he still would have, but he made his choice,” Dean ground out.
“Don’t read me wrong, soldier, I’m saying you’re smart, you’re strong, you make good choices. It’s a shame you don’t know if he does have those qualities. I’m sure he didn’t run through fear.” The general looked at Castiel. “Is he always this terse?”
“I’d call it defensive,” Castiel said cautiously. “Protective. Which makes him a fantastic erastes, because he’ll always do that first on the battlefield.”
Dean tucked his head down and tore a strip of meat in his teeth, feeling his cheeks flame. The compliments from the general he could take with a pinch of salt, but from Castiel it was like flirting, and Dean had the urge to take him to their bed and show him with his body how those words made him feel.
“He almost killed another soldier for you, didn’t he?” The general became more interested in Castiel. “When they fought for their eromenos?”
“Passionate,” Castiel supplied. “Strong feelings and a lot of physicality. Which is surely something you noticed when we were fighting against the Argives, or else we wouldn’t have been invited to dine at your table instead of our bench.”
The general grinned, and looked back at Dean just as he raised his head again.
“You picked a good one. I look forward to seeing what the two of you accomplish.”
Back in camp, Dean and Castiel hurried to the bunks to get a secluded one for themselves. They undressed hurriedly, and came together almost violently, their chests slamming against each other, Castiel grabbing Dean’s head and pulling it right back, devouring his mouth with his own. Dean wrapped his legs around his lover, and they fell back onto the bed, almost thrashing against each other, lips exploring whichever bit of skin their could reach.
“You were so hot on the battlefield,” Castiel murmured. “Like a god, like Zeus possessed, like Perseus or Heracles fighting the monsters sent to try them.”
Dean mewled as Castiel sucked on the skin just below his ear.
“That why you want me, huh?” Dean panted. “Not just for all those pretty words at dinner.”
“Meant all of them. Let the other soldiers say what they want, I know you better than them.”
“Have known some of them five years at least,” Dean pointed out, as Castiel lowered his mouth onto Dean’s nipple. “Oh holy Apollo!”
“Um,” Castiel sat up, instantly cooling the mood. “No proclaiming to gods, please.”
“You sucked my nipple, what was I meant to do? Besides, Apollo’s cool with men together. He’s done it enough.”
Castiel bit his lower lip.
“Mmm, true. But I want to be the only thing on your mind.”
“Just on my mind?” Dean smirked, and rucked his hips up slightly. Castiel rolled his eyes.
“Are you going to stop proclaiming to the gods?”
“Yes. Besides, invoking their names can be a bad idea anyway. I’ll just scream your name.”
“Good.” Castiel kissed the groove between his collarbones. “Show me why you almost murdered that man for me.”
“Show me why you didn’t want to fight against me, even when you wanted me,” Dean teased back.
“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Castiel murmured against his skin as he kissed his way down. “And I’m a pretty good fighter.”
Dean wound his fingers into Castiel’s dark locks, massaging his scalp as Castiel’s mouth conducted a thorough investigation of his body. As his lips worked up Dean’s shaft, and his tongue ran over the tip, Dean sank his shoulders into the animal skins that lined the bed, and rutted hard into Castiel’s mouth. Castiel hadn’t lied, despite the little time they had known each other, he knew Dean well, knew how to make his body beg for more, how to make his bones tremor and knees knock. It was new, but Dean knew then that it was love. The beginning of it, perhaps, but no one was ever going to compare to Castiel for him.
Cadmus training ground, outskirts of Thebes, 338BC
Early the next morning, Dean and Castiel threw themselves back into training. Castiel had a sharp eye, and he was able to help correct Dean’s stance during spear practice. They worked together well, their moves already almost instinctive as they worked together, almost dancing in their attempts. Whatever notoriety Dean had enjoyed as Benny’s beloved was nothing compared to the comments he now overheard as Castiel’s lover, especially with the general’s approvals. With Dean’s strength and ferocity, and Castiel’s speed and agility, they were a formidable pairing and most of the other couples were wary about practicing against them. They preferred fighting alone anyway, fearful that they would cut down other members of the army accidentally when they absorbed themselves in their efforts.
Despite their teasing of each other, they were as committed to training as they were to their relationship in the evenings. They had fallen into a routine, though their sex life felt anything but. Castiel was dominating, but also tender, enthusiastic and had enough energy to keep going long after Dean was sated. They were in their own little bubble, focused only on their partner, and both were content with that situation.
After a couple of months of rigorous training and equally rigorous sex, they were eating breakfast with other members of the company, and listening to the chatter around them. The topic of Sam, which had been so popular just as Benny left, had finally died out, as had the pining for the man that Dean had chosen to replace Benny in his life. Their performance against the Argives and the resulting respect from their surperiors seemed to have proved that Dean was at least not as impulsive as his younger brother. Instead, the gossip and whispers were becoming more serious in tone, the other soldiers seeming more subdued. Dean was the one to interrupt a conversation at breakfast.
“What’s going on?” He asked the men opposite them at the table. The couple exchanged a look, and then answered.
“There’s some threat from King Philip. I overheard the generals saying that Athens wants to team up and take on the Macedonians.”
“Athens wants our help?” Another soldier snorted. “Maybe they should stop blaming us for their shortcomings.”
“Our training might finally come to some good use?” Dean checked. They nodded. “I’ll put up with Athenians for that.”
“So having sex with Castiel every night hasn’t taken the fight out of you?” One of the men who had originally made a play for Castiel sneered. Dean eyeballed him.
“Take me on with a spear and say that.”
Castiel put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“It’s not worth it, Dean. Save your anger and frustration for the battlefield.”
“Listen to your little eromenos, Dean.” The other soldier bated him. Dean threw down his bread, and stood up, towering over his rival.
“Just remember, dick bag, It’s Cas I’ll be trying to protect on the battlefield. Someone spears your ass and that’s just too bad.”
“Dean,” Castiel urged, and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Come, let’s go practice some spearwork.”
Dean narrowed his eyes at the other soldier, but followed Castiel to the practice area, both of them suiting up and picking spears to practice with. Dean wouldn’t have trained in full armour with Benny, but Castiel thought it was best to understand the balance between the weight of their breastplates and helmets, and the thrusts they made with their spears and swords. And Dean had to admit that his beloved had a point, there was a marked difference training in full gear. And yet, he could feel himself improving.
Like this session, for instance. Knowing the weight of his armour helped him to throw his spear without over-estimating the thrust of it. His body had adapted to Castiel’s corrections, and they worked as one. Dean would thrust his spear forward as Castiel ducked, jabbing his low, and they moved their flanks together, giving another layer of protection to each other as they manoeuvred their spears around each other, making more jabs and thrusts and swipes. They moved quickly, putting their strength into each movement, using each other’s backs to move as though they were surrounded by enemy soldiers.
Though they never practiced with anyone else, they were still confident that their techniques would be useful in battle, particularly with this new threat from Macedonia in the north. Dean had witnessed other couples taking their style on board, dressing for battle and practicing, almost dancing around each other to cover every angle that an enemy might try to use against them. Neither he nor Castiel were complaining, however - the regiment had a certain vogue for being undefeated, for having conquered Sparta in the past - anything that made the Sacred Band of Thebes more notorious was a positive.
They broke for lunch, where Dean smothered his bread in olive oil and xynomizithra and almost inhaled the combination, and Castiel mixed their water with wine and set about eating his meal slowly, though with as much enjoyment. They were surrounded by other soldiers, all of whom were eating with the same enthusiasm that came from an intense work out, and the only sounds were of goblets clinking, men chewing, and the occasional burp.
The food soon disappeared, but before the soldiers could return to their usual training or guard duties, one of the generals approached the food tables.
“Gentlemen, you may have heard that there is a threat from the north. We will be marching to meet the enemy head on, and be joined by the rest of the Theban army, as well as soldiers from Athens and from any other areas of Greece that wish to fight for the sanctity of Zeus and the other gods of Olympus. We should be near the Macedonian border within a week. Prepare to begin marching at dawn. You have the rest of the day to ensure you have all the equipment you need in working order. Dismissed.”
He walked away, and the soldiers began talking amongst themselves. Dean merely began examining Castiel’s armour, making sure that not a stitch was frayed nor a link of mail twisted. Castiel did the same for him, and they stood together, heading towards the armory, where they both picked a long spear, a shield, and a xithos each, and headed to the outskirts of the barracks to examine them and to sharpen their blades.
“How are you feeling?” Castiel asked quietly.
“Good. Pumped. I joined this band to protect my city and its inhabitants. And though the wall keeps most citizens safe, it doesn’t mean it’s infallible. That’s where we come in. What about you? First real military assignment and all. Argives don’t count.”
“I’m worried,” Castiel conceded, ignoring Dean’s jibe. “I know we work well together, I know you can fight better than most men here combined. But the idea of someone still breaking through and hurting you, of me missing that … it doesn’t bear thinking about.”
“Well, don’t. I take my oath seriously. And even if we didn’t swear fealty to each other, I would still look to protect you above all else. But if you fall, then I do too. Even if my body still moves and my heart still pumps and my brain still thinks, if you go, then my soul is in the underworld with yours.”
Castiel’s eyes were big, bright, and swimming with tears.
“Dean,” he breathed, and then made himself take control of his emotions. “The same goes for you. Of course it does. You … you are my existence now.”
He looked away, and Dean allowed it, knowing that if Castiel were to shed a tear he wouldn’t want the audience. Instead, he concentrated on striking a piece of flint against the iron spearhead, trying to sharpen it though it was already razor-sharp and deadly.
Soon, night fell and they both removed their helmets and arranged themselves so they could sleep comfortably together, ready to begin walking in the morning. Castiel fell asleep quickly, but Dean lay there, watching him tucked under his armpit, stroking his bare arm gently. He thought over the words they had exchanged, that somehow felt more significant than the oath they took for the army, and although they had had mere weeks together he started to wonder how he would cope years from now when he was too old to fight for Thebes and had to leave Castiel behind. It turned his stomach, thinking of walking away, imagining Castiel picking an eromenos of his own. He tightened his grip on his beloved, and forced himself to give in to sleep.
March from Thebes to Chaeronea via Athens, 338BC.
Dean barely slept, and he watched as Helios pulled the sun along the eastern horizon, gently nudging Castiel awake and affixing his helmet back on as they both sat up. Castiel did the same, and the soon arranged themselves with the rest of the troop, to the left and near the front of the regiment. Normal Greek warfare dictated that the strongest fighters be on the right but Thebes had a long tradition of putting the Sacred Band to the left, meeting the strongest of their enemy head on. It had been their trick against Sparta before, and Dean felt a thrill knowing that he and Castiel were considered some of their strongest soldiers. It was something he thought wouldn’t happen again after the threat from Argos, but it was rewarding to have the generals confirm they thought he and Castiel were worthy.
They marched quickly, and soon met with other regiments of the Theban army, who seemed reverent of their presence. Dean noted it, and then cast his mind to other issues. They were marching Eastward, and slightly south, following the sun to meet with the Athenian soldiers before returning north to meet the Macedonians in battle. And as they made their way past vineyards and olive groves, up hills and down valleys, Dean began to wonder if Sam were nearby. How his brother was coping, whether his lover was treating him well, if they were being shunned or embraced by their new neighbours.
They stopped marching for lunch, and a nearby village welcomed them in, providing them all with bread, wine, fruit and a few sacrificial goats. The soldiers gorged themselves on the food, and some of the village women started talking with the soldiers, some outright flirting and others acting coy. Dean watched in amusement as the man he had beaten for Castiel had one woman slide onto his lap, toying with the frond of his helmet, but soon sobered up when another woman slid between himself and Castiel.
She leaned into his eromenos, and Dean resisted the urge to shank her with his xiphos. Instead, he cleared his throat, and levelled her with the filthiest stare he could muster.
“We’re from Thebes.” He said bluntly. She cast a quick look at him sideways, nodded, and refocused back onto Castiel. Fortunately, Castiel knew what he was getting at, and spoke up himself.
“We’re from the Sacred Band, and my erastes is very jealous.”
The woman shrugged.
“I’m not looking for a husband. Just some fun with a hoplite.”
“There are other men here who aren’t sitting with their lover.” Castiel pointed out. “But we are closed for business.”
She moved away, and began flirting with one of the generals of their regiment. Castiel scooted closer before anyone could take her place.
“You’re adorable when you’re jealous,” he teased. Dean grunted, and passed him some roasted goat.
They continued marching all day, and reached the mountains circling Athens just as night fell. They scattered on the mountainside, finding places to sleep, the Sacred Band sticking together as they curled up in their pairs. Dean could feel the eyes of the rest of the Theban army on them, but he didn’t care. And likewise, though there might have been tensions and petty squabbles amongst the soldiers, when it came to warfare they were a tight unit. Whatever Dean had said to the other soldiers back at base camp that morning in his frustration, he would always defend them too. Castiel first, and then the band. Who wanted to feel responsible for a soldier losing his partner? And so they all found a spot where they could sit in concentric circles, looking out along the valley and mountainside for danger, arranging a quick look out schedule. Dean and Castiel were second on the list, and decided not to sleep as they waited for their turn. Instead, they star-gazed.
“Do you think that’s where Olympus is? Amongst the stars?” Dean asked out loud.
“No. I thought it was across the seas.”
“Huh. But then, why can you see Orion in the sky?”
“Why can you see Achilles? He wasn’t a god.”
“He was a hero. They’re godlike, even if they’re not gods.”
Castiel went quiet, processing this, then he pointed.
“Those look like rocks. Reckon it’s Odysseus in Ithaca?”
“What, and that’s Troy?” Dean crossed their arms as he pointed in the opposite direction. Castiel laughed, and clasped Dean’s hand with his own.
“Places don’t get up there.”
“Ithaca’s a place.”
“I said Odysseus.”
“Will you two shut up?” One soldier complained. “Take your watch already and let the rest of us sleep.”
“Man up,” Dean shot back and him, but stood, helping Castiel up, and together they walked to the edge of the gathering, still holding hands. They scanned the darkened horizon, and stood close together to keep each other warm through the cool night.
They ate a quick breakfast at daybreak the next morning, and then finished climbing the hill to get to the great valley that held Athens. At the peak of the mountain range, they met with the Athenian armies who did their utmost to stand furthest right of all the soldiers. Dean and Castiel shared a smirk as they stood waiting behind their generals, and then they began the march northward again. Two days passed much the same as the first, with constant marching in formation and meals provided by generous villagers they met on the way. The Athenian soldiers mixed with the single women of the villages, to Dean’s relief.
At the end of the second day, they made camp again at Chaeronea. Again, the Sacred Band separated themselves, slightly further to the left than they would stand in battle, and once more they arranged their look out schedule. Dean and Castiel were roped in again, having had the last two nights to themselves, but this time their post was closer to dawn. They bedded down quickly, curled up around each other, and Dean soon fell asleep. It felt like no time at all had passed before he was being woken up with a sandal-clad foot to the abdomen. He roused himself, and jabbed at the foot with the butt spike of his spear, before waking Castiel up with a kiss.
“Our watch,” he whispered, and sat up. Castiel did too, so smoothly that Dean wondered how long he had been awake for, and they picked their way through their slumbering comrades to stand on the edge of the company, watching.
There was a gentle breeze in the valley they stood in. The moon was small, a thin crescent band in the sky and even the stars seemed dimmer. As though the night had to get darker before the sun were allowed to be pulled across the sky. But the night was not silent, it was punctuated by the heavy breathing and snores of nearly thirty thousand men, the rustling of wind passing leaves on the nearby olive trees, the sounds of nocturnal animals giving the company a wide berth. And a strange, distant pounding, that Dean had to strain his ears to hear.
“Do you hear that?” He breathed at Castiel, afraid to disturb the noise. Castiel tensed beside him, straining to listen.
“Deripedes snoring?” Castiel sounded confused as he responded, naming a soldier Dean had barely spent more than one mealtime with.
“No, that beat,” Dean started tapping it out on Castiel’s inner arm as he heard it.
“It’s coming closer.” Castiel acknowledged.
“You can hear it?”
“No, you picked up the pace … I can hear it now.”
They both listened for a few more moments before Dean realised what it was.
“Footsteps?” Castiel guessed.
“Horses.” Dean corrected, and then he saw movement. A thick black blur on the edge of their valley, growing closer and closer. Coming from the north. He and Castiel seemed to realise together what it was.
“AMBUSH! AMBUSH! GET UP!” They both started yelling, their voices overlapping as they tried to raise the alarm.
“THEY’RE ATTACKING US, GET UP!” Dean roared, throwing on his helmet and readying his spear as Castiel did the same. And then he ran, ready to meet the cavalry on their way, determined to do what he could to protect everyone else. He could sense rather than hear Castiel behind him, and a few other soldiers who responded to the alarm quickly, but he was first to meet the cavalrymen. And he was so, so grateful for all the training he and Castiel had done, all the training Benny had put him through, everything Michael had instilled in him. He dodged the first spear and countered it with a thrust of his own, designed to go through the soldier’s calf and into the horse’s flank. He heard the cry that meant he had found his mark and withdrew his spear, using his shield to help remove it from the sinew. He used the butt spike to hit another soldier on the attack as Castiel jabbed at the first man, hitting him in the heart.
But even with those few moves, they were surrounded, and the rest of the company were still waking up. Only seconds had passed and Dean was already fully invested in the fight, using his shield as a defence and a weapon, his spear making its deadly mark with precision despite the lack of light. They fell a few men, and a couple of horses, and Dean moved forward into the fray, his focus on the small gleams of starlight on metal, and on Castiel’s proximity. He met another soldier, who seemed capable with a spear even on horseback in the darkest part of night and they began jabbing at each other, narrowly missing each other as they swerved the spearheads. There was a strangled cry behind Dean, and he knew it was Castiel.
He turned, and blinked.
He was in bright daylight, in an empty grove. There were marble pillars holding up fine fabric streamers, and a small scrying pond in the middle of a range of marble benches, with a small pavilion almost centre stage. The air was fragrant with the scent of grapes and honey. Everything was still, and quiet. There was no longer a spear in Dean’s hand, nor a shield on his arm. The sword at his side had gone with his armour and helmet. Instead, he was in a soft tunic, white with a delicate gold key at the hem. He turned, frowning at his surroundings. Where had the soldiers gone? Where had Casgone? Where had his weapons gone? He felt naked, even in the tunic. He felt lonely without his Castiel.
He couldn’t have died, there was no river Styx, no boat and no one asking for payment for passage. But he had been in the middle of a battle at the same time, in the middle of the night, and now it felt like late morning, here in this strange grove. He completed his rotation, and stopped, his jaw dropping. He couldn’t be … it couldn’t be … what was going on?!
The foothills of Mount Olympus; Eastern side.
Time stood still, or allowed decades to pass by, as Dean stood in the sweet-smelling grove, alone and unarmed. His jaw dropped as he took in the epic mountain in the distance, capped with the most glorious, overwhelming temple he had ever seen. There was no way, absolutely no way, that he was standing in the foothills of Mount Olympus. And yet, all evidence seemed to point that way …
“Dean! Welcome!” A merry voice called from the marble benches. Dean turned, and saw an effigy made living of a face he knew well. It had decorated his city, it had been everywhere as he grew up. Dionysus. Dean instantly dropped to one knee, bowing his head. He had never thought he would ever come face-to-face with one of the gods. “Oh, do get up, boy, humility isn’t one of your blessings.”
Dean raised his head, and watched as Dionysus plucked a fat bunch of grapes from the vineyard. The grapes swelled as they moved, and burst as Dionysus held them over a goblet. He breathed in the aroma, smiling decadently, and then tasted the wine he had just made.
“Excellent vintage, if I do say so myself.” He spoke indulgently. Dean hesitated, and then spoke, still on bended knee.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Dionysus, your magnificence, but um, I was kind of at the beginning of a battle? I’m glad you’re enjoying your wine, but I need to go back. It’s for Thebes.”
Dionysus smiled arrogantly as he rested across his marble bench.
“I like being called ‘your magnificence’. Although Dean, coming from your mouth it almost sounds like a slur. I understand, you know. About you, and Thebes, and my most sacred band, and honour, and the Macedonians. But it was not I who summoned you here. We both have to wait, be patient, and take on board the words we’re told. Now, get off that knee and come sit. Enjoy some wine.”
Dionysus made another goblet appear from nowhere, and did the same with a new bunch of grapes as he had done with the last, filling Dean’s goblet with wine. He stood and approached Dionysus, but did not sit and though he took the cup, he did not drink the wine. The god before him sighed, and rested his head on a hand, looking bemused.
“I heard you were stubborn. Dean, there is nothing more you can do. My patron city is no more. Alexander the Capable completely annihilated the armies. Cadmea was stormed. So come, drink up.”
The god paused, and spoke as Dean did.
“What about Castiel?”
Dionysus smiled smugly.
“You’ll see. In the meantime, my wine is rather excellent Dean, and I’m rather insulted that you haven’t sampled it yet.”
“Dionysus, really, the boy is worried,” Another voice spoke. Dean whipped around, and saw another god approaching, bees darting around his head almost like a halo. “As if a soldier has time for merriment when he is concerned for everything he fought for. You may want to drown your sorrows, but clearly the boy wants answers. And he should have them.”
“I’m not a boy,” Dean ground out. The bee man chuckled.
“Not for a mortal, maybe, but certainly for a god. Aristaeus,” the bee man held out a hand. “God of beekeeping. A rather minor god, compared to mr one-of-the-twelve-main-Olympians here.”
Dean reluctantly shook his hand, and failed to hide his surprise when Aristaeus pulled him into a hug.
“Well, aren’t you just everything we’d heard and more?”
“Why am I here?” Dean blurted. Aristaeus looked to Dionysus, who shrugged carelessly.
“I suppose Dean isn’t too well versed in his history lessons. He was always more of a physical being, I seem to remember. Sam was more cerebral. He would know instantly,” Dionysus mused, and took a long draught of wine. Aristaeus looked at him fondly for a moment, before turning to Dean with an indulgent smile. Dean who felt a stab in his gut at the mere mention of his little brother, and had to force himself to focus.
“We thought that Dionysus perhaps should be the one to greet you, since it was for his city that you fought. But maybe that was the wrong choice. He is only acting as he knows, Dean, and that is to immerse himself in his wine and celebrate the great city born of Cadmus and Harmonia.” Aristaeus looked at the other god, who was still drinking from his goblet, then turned back to Dean. “Have you heard the story of the son I bore with Apollo?” He talked before Dean had the chance to answer. “It was a beautiful day, the sun was high in the sky and the grain was close to being ready to harvest. My bees were collecting their honey, and all at once we could hear a lyre playing, and someone singing to it. A song of bounty, and of happiness. It carried sunshine with it. I went to check on the hives, and noticed a lump in the honeycomb. And as the singing continued, the wax-like comb grew, changed its appearance, and from it a boy stepped out.”
Dean frowned, not understanding why he was being given this story. What did it have to do with the battle, with Thebes, with Castiel? He wanted to ask, but Aristaeus ploughed on.
“And our son was something. He was curious, and compassionate, and endlessly intrigued with man. He soon found himself protecting small boys who were being taken to their erastes. Our son, born of honeycomb, is a lesser known god of the eromenos and same-sex couples.”
Aristaeus finished talking, smiling that indulgent smile as though Dean knew the rest of the story, as though it explained everything.
“Well, I’m grateful that there was someone has looked out for eromenos,” Dean said slowly, and Dionysus barked a laugh.
“Dear boy, he’s very interested in the Theban army. Always has been, when he’s not protecting boys from poor lovers or following Ari’s bees around. He begged and begged to go to earth, to spend time with his eromenos. So we sent him, and he fell in love with one. That would be you. But he wanted to be sure you knew this whole story before he showed his face, because for some reason he’s acting like the bees stole his tongue.”
“So, instead of trying to save what is left of Thebes, of seeing what has become of my Castiel, I have to meet this minor god? No disrespect to either of you, but I just want to-”
Dean cut himself off. Castiel was there, emerging slowly from behind pavilion. He too was in a simple, but well made tunic. He looked unscarred, healthy and whole. But his expression was closed, almost timid.
“Hello, Dean,” he spoke quietly.
“Cas!” Dean had no compunctions for ceremony. He put the goblet down, wine untouched, and bounded towards his beloved, wrapping his arms tightly around the body he already knew so well. “I’m so glad you’re here too! Are you meant to meet this minor god, as well?”
Castiel held him tightly, and ignored his words. Dean could feel him looking over his shoulder at the two gods that were gathered.
“Hello, Father, Uncle. Thank you.”
Dean’s brain faltered for a moment, before he pulled back, looking between the three of them in the grove.
“Delivered safe and sound and stubborn, just as you wished, dear Cassie,” Dionysus beamed, and refilled his goblet. “Please tell your lover to drink my wine, I’m most insulted.”
“You’re … you’re …” Dean didn’t want to say the words out loud. Castiel looked caught out.
“Dean, please, meet my uncle, Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, patron of Thebes; and my father Aristaeus, god of beekeeping. Father, Uncle, this is Dean, as you well know by now.”
“Uncle, please get my father to let me see my eromenos, maybe the ones in Thebes?” Dionysus mocked.
“Father, what if I were to join the band? I would act as a mortal.” Arisaeus joined in. “He was adorable, wasn’t he?”
“He truly was,” Dionysus agreed. “We’ll leave you now. Castiel has things he wishes to discuss with you, Dean.”
They both disappeared in the blink of an eye, and Dean looked away from Castiel, unsure about what was going to happen now. Castiel seemed at a loss too. There was a long period of silence, before Dean broke it.
“I guess this is why you never told me about your past.”
“It is. I wasn’t sure how you would take my immortality, my creation … my fathers don’t often talk about me, though you can see they care about me. And so much of Greece is wary now of pederastry, as they should be. Looking to me to protect an eromenos is to say they think poorly of an erastes. I do what I do for kindness, not glory.”
Dean began toying with a bunch of grapes, focusing on the full weight of their ripeness, the dusty texture of their skin. Looking at Castiel felt too hard now.
“You chose me. Probably before you ever came to earth.”
“Yes. Perhaps it was selfish of me. It was definitely selfish of me. I knew so many soldiers from their beginnings, Dean. I’d overseen so many boys becoming men. And you intrigued me. My fathers spared you knowing how long I have watched you, and commented on your progress, comparing you to other greats. And then one day father Apollo came with news he had heard from Cassandra, news that one day, Thebes would fall. He couldn’t stay long, but he had enough time to send me to earth. That was the first time he let me go to the band. I suppose he thought that maybe if I was there, I could do away with a prophecy.”
“So, what, you wanted to be there for my final moments?”
“I wanted to do what I could to protect my eromenos, all of them. Pairing with you was a happiness I didn’t expect to have. When you beat that other soldier, I thought that meant you felt it too?”
“I did,” Dean confessed quietly. “Sometimes, when I looked at you, there was this … it was like a sweet breeze was passing through or something.”
He chanced a glance at Castiel’s face. His eyes were bright, his skin seemed to almost glow with his wordless emotion. Dean looked away again.
“But we’re not paired now.” Dean pointed out.
“Are we not?” Castiel sounded confused.
“Well, no. We were sworn together through service to Thebes. That service is ended, if Thebes has fallen.”
“It has. And you’re correct, those were the terms of service in the sacred band. But I am hoping you would wish to stay here with me.”
Dean finally looked at Castiel again properly. His gaze was more serious now, but his skin still had that glow. As though his godly parentage made itself known through his pores. They held each others gaze, and Dean could feel a lump in his throat, making breathing difficult. This wasn’t just an oath between two men who would protect each other, this was a promise to a god. An agreement to lose his own agency. But it was also Castiel.
“Am I dead?” Dean asked softly.
“No,” Castiel shook his head. “Do you wish to see what happened? I could explain it, but I think you would trust the scrying pool more than me right now.”
Dean gave a short nod, and took the marble seat that Castiel gestured to. He watched as Castiel scooped up his uncle’s wine goblet and took a sip as he touched the water of the pool, sitting beside Dean with an amused noise.
“This is really good. Dionysus must be trying to get over the loss of his patron city. Hestia will think it gives her the right to be the twelfth Olympian, now he has lost Thebes.”
Dean didn’t respond, but watched the scene in front of him. Though it was still dark, some godly magic made it easier for Dean to discern what was happening. He recognised the camp, saw himself and Castiel standing to take their watch. Them standing still, listening intently, Dean scrutinising the gloom as Castiel made furtive glances his way. Them talking, Dean tapping the rhythm he heard onto the small part of Castiel’s skin not covered with armour. The horror and realisation taking over as they realised the ambush, the desperate cries, and Dean running headlong into the fray.
He saw his own techniques, and knew he couldn’t have done more even if it was day break. He saw a spear narrowly miss his neck, and Castiel react to the miss. The noise Dean had heard that had ruined his concentration. He turned, and disappeared as Castiel did, just as another spear was making its way to the gap in his helmet, a spear he did not see coming and would not have survived. But the horseman delivering the blow didn’t seem to notice how close he had come to ending Dean, nor his disappearance. He drove the spear into the next man from Thebes. The army was still rousing itself from sleep, or not awake yet, and only a few men were awake to take on the attack. They were quickly dispatched.
Man after man was slaughtered as he slept, so many couples died together in each others arms. The sky slowly got lighter and lighter, the starlight dimmed further as the sun rose in the east. Men lay dead as far as Dean could see, the Macedonian ambush was a success. And then Philip, king of Macedonia, came along, and knelt by some of the men Dean had known for years, and began to cry.
“He realised who was dead on the field,” Castiel said quietly. “The Sacred Band of Thebes was famous in Macedonia too. Though he wanted the power and the riches Thebes knew well, it was still a heavy price, for him.”
Dean swallowed, and carried on watching as the high walls of his city were overrun, the good taken, the men killed and women kidnapped. And finally, Thebes was razed, left as no more than ruined rock littering the earth. Dean wiped a tear that betrayed his feelings, and Castiel placed a cautious hand on his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, Dean. That it came true, that you’ve lost so much. I’m just glad I could save your life, at the very least.”
“Castiel?” Dean fought to keep his voice steady. “What about Sam?”
Castiel squeezed his shoulder.
“Sam’s erastes, Gabriel, owned a small island, not big enough for cattle, but enough to grow olives and a few grapes and figs, and to keep a couple of goats. When they fled Thebes, they went there. They took a small boat with some of Gabriel’s treasures, and set up home on the island. He is safe.”
Castiel touched the water, and the scene changed. There was a small island, as Castiel had said. The figs were in season, and Sam was plucking those that were ripe from the top of the trees. As a man, he was clearly tall, towering almost as high as the trees. His lover, Gabriel, was smaller, grabbing the figs on the lower branches. Together they worked well, and they had soon filled a basket with their pickings. Sam’s lover took the basket, and a kiss from Sam’s lips, heading back to their modest house. Sam stopped by the goats, laughing as they butted against his leg, petting their heads gently. Sam was clearly happy, despite the exile from society. Perhaps because of it.
“They’ve always had a unique relationship,” Castiel said softly. “Gabriel would try to reward Sam for washing, or for eating breakfast. He has a sweet tooth, so thought Sam would love honey and fruit as gifts. Your brother is caring and considerate, and he would receive every single gift with gratitude. Then when Gabriel wasn’t looking, he would return them, knowing Gabriel would appreciate it. They have a strange humour too. But they fit, Dean, so well. Gabriel just wants to take care of him, to see Sam happy. News reached him quickly of Thebes’ fall, but he hasn’t the heart to tell Sam. He knows about you, he knows Sam would be heart broken to learn what happened.”
Dean closed his eyes, soaking it in.
“What happens to me now, Castiel? My home is gone. My brother is exiled, and everyone thinks I’m dead. I don’t even know what I am.”
Castiel placed a tentative hand on Dean’s.
“That is up to you, Dean. Zeus has allowed for you to live here with me as my consort, but only if you want that as much as I do. If not, you may go back. Perhaps not to Thebes, but to another village. I will give you everything you could want while you’re there. Or if you really chose it, I could speak to Hades about you going to the underworld.”
Dean drew a long breath in, then exhaled slowly.
“This isn’t my decision, not yet, but what would being your consort entail, exactly?”
“I suppose you would be my eromenos, my own personal one. You would live here with me, help with my fathers bees and crops, watch over eromenos with me to keep them safe and happy. If you wanted to stay active and use your soldier’s training, I could see whether Ares might perhaps want your service? I wouldn’t hold you to anything you wouldn’t want, Dean.”
“If I said yes to being your consort, would there be a chance to return to Greece?”
“I suppose so,” Castiel drew out the words, sounding puzzled. “I would have to ask father Apollo to appeal to the council to be sure. Why would you wish to return?”
“To see Sam. More than just through this,” Dean gestured to the scrying pool. “We were close as children, and I miss him. He doesn’t know about Thebes, he wouldn’t have to know if I saw him in person.”
“I’ll ask father. Please, wait here.”
Castiel disappeared, and Dean once again looked around his surroundings. It was beautiful, idyllic. The grass was lush and green, the trees full of fruit and leaves. The bees buzzed around incessantly, but not irritatingly so, making their way between the flowers that were scattered everywhere and their honeycomb. Castiel returned quickly.
“Father was with Zeus and Athena,” Castiel’s face was flushed, his voice jumping with excitement. Dean supposed he was such a minor god that he didn’t have much time with the main Olympians, save for his father. “Zeus will allow you one day a year with your brother, should you accept being my consort.”
Dean merely stared at Castiel.
“I know it’s not much, not really, but it is a day every year. Sam is young, and life here is long. You will always be a part of his life.”
Dean nodded slowly.
“Do we have to take an oath?”
Castiel shook his head.
“No. Your decision will act as one.”
“So, be your lover here on Olympus. See Sam once a year. Find some way to be useful.”
Dean nodded again.
“I accept. I will be your eromenos.”
There was a thunderclap despite the brilliant blue sky, and Dean knew as well as Castiel did what that meant. It was binding. He was Castiel’s for all existence.
The isle of Pasas, North East of Thebes, 337BC
Life on the foothills of Mount Olympus was idyllic. There were long days of watching the scrying pool, seeing those boys whose life was playing out much like Dean’s youth, making sure each boy was well cared for and not taken advantage of. If Castiel so much as saw a hand move to strike a boy, no matter what the intent was behind it, he would be gone, involving himself in the situation, making sure the erastes knew his place. As peaceful and loving as Castiel was, Dean could see the fury in his eyes as he let his wrath be known.
When they weren’t watching Castiel’s charges, Dean was learning what area of Mount Olympus he was allowed on, how far their grove stretched. It wasn’t a massive area, but it wasn’t claustrophobic either. He liked walking along the edge of the parameter while Castiel was busy on other endeavours, savouring the quiet stillness that his life hadn’t had since he was a small boy, playing with his brother.
When Castiel was there, when the earth was still with sleep and the foothills of Mount Olympus were still bathed in magnificent sunlight and there was no need for the scrying pool, they would lay together in their pavilion, sometimes talking, often having sex. There was no fear of stigma here, no concern that the other gods would want one of them to have a wife, no demasculisation associated with their lovemaking. When your partner was a god, normal mortal protocol was no concern. And when your partner was a god, sex was different. Castiel was always careful, but he was strong, and he could last long beyond Dean’s threshold. But he never asked for respite. Despite his reticence when he was first brought to Castiel’s grove, he was still very much in love with Castiel, unable to articulate just how strong that feeling was in any other way but with his body.
In the few brief windows when they weren’t laying together, or watching the scrying pool, Castiel would show him more of his world. Dean soon learned that Castiel was friendly with his father’s bees, and not only knew all their names but would talk to them. They seemed to respond, though Dean had no clue if it was just coincidence.
They didn’t see either of Castiel’s father’s often. Apollo because he had other obligations, Aristaeus because he seemed to prefer his solitude. When Dean asked Castiel about their relationships, he had merely shrugged it off. The only thing he seemed certain of was the fact that they were close friends, but had never had a relationship. Castiel had been born by accident, after all.
Time passed quickly, so absorbed were they in each other, in their new life, that Dean was surprised when Castiel announced he was due to visit his brother. He had never thought the gods would go against a promise, but still somehow, it surprised him when they kept it.
He went alone, the gods dropping him on the shoreline of the small island. The sun was barely showing in the sky, and already Sam’s lover was outside, scattering grain for the chickens. He saw Dean arrive, and watched as he slowly approached. Dean was still in his tunic, with no weaponry, but he raised his hands in a signal of peace as he walked towards Gabriel. He dropped to a knee.
“I am here to see Sam.” He broke their silence.
“There’s no Sam here.”
“There is, Gabriel. You saw me come. Do you see a boat on the beach? You must know where I’ve come from. Don’t lie to someone from Olympus.”
“Gabe? Who are you talking to?” Sam’s voice carried from the small house. And a moment later, “Dean?”
Dean looked up, and into the eyes of his little brother. He would have expected Sam to adhere to protocol, but no, Sam came flying out of the house, flinging himself on Dean, who fell over on the impact.
“Dean! How did you find us! Did you leave the army? What happened! Tell me everything. Gabe, this is my brother, Dean, I told you about him!”
Sam had boundless energy. He pulled Dean back up, embracing him in a hug that was full of angular limbs and endless enthusiasm. And then Dean found himself pulled along, into the house.
It was snug, with animal pelts stored below the modest table. One corner was full of jars of wine, honey, fruit and a few salted meats as well as bags of grain, and opposite was the bed they shared. Sam sat opposite Dean at the table, his fingers moving nonstop as he poured some goats milk into a roughly hewn cup for his brother. It had been a long time since Dean had anything as simple as fresh goat’s milk. He sipped it slowly.
“You haven’t said anything, Dean! I have so many questions!” Sam’s enthusiasm was boundless. Gabriel came into the house, and sat between them, biting into a fig as he did. Dean had the feeling he thought he was being protective of Sam, though there was no need for it. Dean however, looked to Gabriel.
“Have you still not told him?”
“I didn’t see the need. Why upset him over something he can’t change?”
“Told me what?” Sam pushed. “Gabe, did you know Dean was coming? Where’s your boat, Dean?”
“No. I didn’t know your brother was coming. And I’d like to know how he managed it.”
Gabriel’s tone suggested that Dean had done something criminal. Like turned on his comrades, or ran from the army. Or worse. Dean narrowed his eyes at his brother’s lover.
“You exiled my brother because you didn’t want to give him up when he came of age and I’m the bad guy?”
“Dean, it wasn’t like that,” Sam promised him. “Please, tell me what happened with you? Last I heard, you were in the army?”
Dean nodded, and slowly told his story, beginning with Michael. He got to the siege, and Sam interrupted.
“Wait, the sacred band, the most invincible army in the world, they were ambushed?” Sam looked scared. “Dean, how did you get out? How are you even here right now? You’re real, aren’t you?”
Sam poked his arm, as if to confirm that Dean wasn’t a ghost.
“I am.” Dean nodded. Sam poked him again. “Sam, it’s okay. Castiel and I, we tried to raise the alarm, went to fight. But it wasn’t enough. Castiel had taken precautions, he had asked his fathers to take me out of harms way.”
Dean sighed, and told Sam everything about Castiel, about the world he was in now. Sam’s eyes grew wide as he talked, and Dean knew he was trying to imagine Castiel, and Mount Olympus, and the other gods.
“I want to meet him,” Sam decided. “Castiel, the god who kept you safe. I want to thank him. I mean, I never thought I would see you again, and you’re here, and you’re not shunning me or threatening Gabe. I have a lot to be grateful for.”
Dean hadn’t considered introducing his brother to his partner. But Sam looked so eager, and those familiar huge hazel eyes still had so much impact on him. All he could do was try.
“We’ll see if he’s not busy. Castiel? If you can hear me-”
“I’m here, Dean,” Castiel’s gravel voice came from behind him. Sam’s eyes grew larger, rounder, if that was possible. “Hello Sam, glad to see you looking so well. Gabriel, nice to see you again.”
“You’ve met before?” It was Dean’s turn to be surprised. Castiel slid a hand onto his shoulder.
“Yes, when he and Sam first came here. I just wanted to be sure they were here together for the right reasons. He loves your brother very much.”
“Good to see you too, Castiel.” Gabriel muttered, before Sam launched into yet more questions, his voice shaking as though he couldn’t quite believe he was talking to a god, however minor.
“How did you meet my brother? How did you fall for each other? Why Dean, out of everyone in the band?”
Castiel smiled, and gave Sam his answers as he settled onto the stool beside Dean, their arms brushing against each other. As they talked, Sam’s lover fidgeted, toying with his own goblet, running his forefinger over the grain of the wooden table, smoothing his hair back, puffing his chest out occasionally. It slowly became too much for Dean, who placed a hand on Castiel’s arm, bringing the conversation to an end.
“Hey, um, do you mind-”
Castiel was already shaking his head, already anticipating that Dean would want time with his brother.
“Of course not. Gabriel, would you mind introducing me to your goats?”
Gabriel looked annoyed, but did what he was asked, leaving Dean alone with Sam. They smiled weakly at each other, before Sam pushed his own hair back from his face.
“Do you want to see the island?”
“Sure,” Dean nodded. They left the building, and headed for the shore, walking slowly together. The sun didn’t heat Dean’s shoulders with the same intensity as it did on Olympus, and the smell of salt water from the sea wasn’t as pungent as the world he knew now, but he liked Sam and Gabriel’s island nonetheless. They fell into an easy stride together, their sandals making the same imprints on the sand, and Dean realised that his younger brother was taller than him, easily as tall as the nearby olive trees. They hadn’t spoken since leaving the house.
“So, Gabriel treats you well?”
“Yeah, he always has,” Sam nodded, his arms swinging by his side as he walked. “Dad didn’t like him when he came around, asking to train me. And you know what Mom was like, just wanting the best for us. I don’t think Dad saw how Gabriel could train me, since he’s short and not exactly muscular. But he did. I can swing a discus and fight with a spear and wrestle. I can play a lyre, I know what the philosophers talk of, I can tell you almost anything about the gods. Gabe knew what he was doing.”
“Even when he ran away with you?”
Sam’s arms stopped swinging.
“It wasn’t like that, Dean. And I hid a lot from him. He thought I was old enough to have a beard, but he didn’t know I’d been shaving for months. I didn’t want to be taken from him. He caught me, early one morning, before the sun rose. And we talked for a long time, long enough that I missed my training at the arena that day. We both knew the consequences, the way society would look on us. But I would rather be without my city than be without the man who helped me to become a man. I wouldn’t know how to be without Gabriel. And I think you would understand that feeling more if Castiel had trained you instead of Michael.”
Dean sighed heavily.
“Yeah, but without Michael I never would have ended up as an eromenos, or gotten into the army, and Castiel never would have noticed me. I don’t regret any of it.”
“Nor do I,” Sam was vehement. “I know I probably brought shame to our family and our parents won’t forgive me, and I know it probably made it tough for you with the other soldiers, but Gabe knows me, Dean. It’s like he’s the match to my soul. Like Achilles and Patroclus without the godly parentage.”
“The other soldiers did find out. Just as Castiel came to the band. They were trying to use it as a way of persuading him to go with them, not me.”
Sam nodded, digesting this information, before bending down and scooping up a pebble, flicking his wrist and letting it skim away from him. Dean found his own pebble, and soon they stood on the bank of the small island, skipping stones out to sea.
“And he went with you.”
“I almost murdered someone to have him,” Dean admitted. “Wrestling for his honour.”
“Then you get it. Because I would do the same for Gabe.” Sam finally looked at his older brother. “And I would do what Castiel did for you too, if I had his powers. I would protect Gabriel and ask the gods to do whatever they could to save him.”
“Would he do the same for you?” Dean checked. Sam scoffed in annoyance.
“Do you think he wanted to leave his house, his servants, his friends and family? But the choice between fitting into society and losing me, or having me at the cost of his reputation … he didn’t hesitate for long. Most of our conversation was about how we were going to make it happen, how we could before we were caught and taken from each other. We came here separately to try and stave it off, at least for a day. It worked.”
Dean nodded, and scratched behind his ear in his discomfort.
“So long as you’re happy, Sammy.”
“I am,” Sam nodded. “And I’m so glad you survived that ambush, that you had Castiel watching over you. I can’t believe my brother’s in love with a god.”
“I can’t believe my brother’s in love with the shortest man in Theban history.” Dean grinned. Sam shoved his shoulder, before pulling him into a hug.
“I’m so glad you were allowed to visit.”
“Every year, Sammy. I can visit one day every year.”
Sam’s response was to squeeze him hard. Dean slapped his back, but savoured the feel of his little brother in his arms, safe and happy and untouched by hardship. He drew away after a few moments.
“Anyway, you were showing me your island.”
Sam grinned, and headed up a grass verge before the sand gave way to rocks.
After they had explored the island, they met back in front of the house with Gabriel and Castiel, who were preparing a meal. Sam immediately fell into his role, making bread for them to eat, while Gabriel prepared the wine, and Castiel examined the goats cheese and fruit that made up the rest of their meal. Dean hesitated for a moment, before taking his place beside Castiel.
“So, do you two eat? Or is Castiel going to exist on wine spilled on our makeshift alter and the roasted fat of a sacrificial goat? How does it work?” Gabriel checked.
“I eat,” Castiel said. “Beyond nectar and ambrosia.”
“Because one of your fathers was a man first?” Gabriel sounded intrigued. It wasn’t the kind of conversation Dean had thought to have.
“Yes, one of my fathers was mortal, but given immortal status for his knowledge. You know my story?”
“I learned it, after you visited me the first time. Apollo and Aristaeus’ accidental son.”
Castiel cocked his head to the side, considering Gabriel silently. Gabriel stared back.
“Thank you,” Castiel said eventually. “I didn’t know people even knew of me for you to find out.”
“I have my methods,” Gabriel gave a small smile. “So I guess we should make our tributes to your fathers?”
“If you wish. It was with Zeus’ blessing that we’re visiting you now, perhaps include him?”
The two of them set about preparing a tribute to the gods, and Dean sat back, watching his brother as he concentrated, occasionally jerking his head to knock his hair back from his face.
“Castiel and I can watch you, when we go back. We have a way of doing that,” Dean said casually.
“Please don’t watch us in bed,” Sam told his baking bread.
“We obviously wouldn’t or Gabriel would be scattered across this island in pieces. But just know that I’ve never forgotten you, okay?”
Sam looked up and grinned.
“Never forgot you either, Dean. I’ll miss you in the next year.”
Gabriel and Castiel returned with a goat they had sacrificed, and put on a spit over the fire. Castiel sat beside Dean once more and leaned into him as Dean wrapped his arms around his lover. The aroma of the roasting fat surrounded them, and soon they were tucking in to their own meals, conversation swirling around the tenderness of the meat, the mealiness of the bread, the ripeness of the olives and the tender flakiness of the cheese.
All too soon, it was time for Dean and Castiel to return to Olympus. They hugged Sam and Gabriel tightly, before Castiel placed a hand on Dean’s arm and used his powers to take them back to their grove. They laid down in their pavilion, Castiel opening up the conversation.
“Do you feel better, for seeing Sam?”
“Yes. Thank you Cas, so much.”
Castiel smiled as he removed his tunic.
“Anything for you, Dean.”
He rolled onto Dean, and sought his lips, pressing kisses as he caressed the hair behind Dean’s ear. Dean sank into his touch, revelling in the familiarity of Castiel’s touch, in the physical elements of their love. He soon lost his own tunic, and opened himself up for whatever Castiel wanted to do with his body.
The foothills of Mount Olympus; Eastern side. 312BC
Time stopped having any meaning for Dean. He spent his time helping Castiel, and slowly meeting the other gods. He got along surprisingly well with Hera, and with Castiel’s aunt Artemis, he talked warfare with Athena and Ares, weaponry with Haephestus. And of course, there was the times when he and Castiel were alone, to connect on every level. Each kiss and touch and whisper still felt like the first.
And then there were the visits with Sam and Gabriel. Dean often didn’t realise another year had passed by when Castiel announced it was time to visit. Castiel often came with him, keeping Gabriel occupied while Dean had some time with his brother. Slowly, Dean got used to Gabriel, even began to like him a little. It was clear he doted on Dean’s younger brother, and that Sam was equally as lost in his partner.
It became apparent quickly that Olympus was having an affect on Dean. While Sam filled out, grew a beard almost as long as his hair, and his face became more weathered, while Gabriel started to get silver threads through his hair and a dull hue to his skin, Dean didn’t age a day past twenty-five, the age he had been when the Macedonians had successfully slaughtered the army. His skin was beginning to glow softly like Castiel’s did when they were visiting Gabriel’s island.
And then Gabriel stopped working so hard on the land, taking to the bed in the corner of their small house while Sam did everything, his head full of grey hair, his beard a fluffy white. Sam’s eyes were constantly full of concern, the bags underneath them indicating a lack of sleep, his loss of muscle tone suggesting a lack of nutrition. Dean wanted to make it better somehow, but he was not a god himself, and it was beyond Castiel’s power to reverse the effects of time.
Dean’s next visit to the island was bleak. The goats and chickens were grazing aimlessly, mingling together. The crops looked sickly and strangled by weeds, the fig and olive trees were heavy with fruit turning overripe. The door to the house was closed, but with a little force Dean got it open, and collapsed on the threshold. Sam and Gabriel were curled together on the bed, but the air stank of staleness and rot. Neither body was moving, and when Dean touched his brother, his skin was ice cold. He couldn’t resist trying to rouse him, as Castiel walked in and looked around at the food stores.
“Sam? Sammy?” Dean urged, shaking his brother’s arm. He stirred the smell of rot, and Sam’s skin was cold and clammy under his grip. “SAMMY!”
Castiel came over, and looked at Sam and Gabriel.
“I’m sorry, Dean.”
“Sammy! Sam!” Dean continued trying to urge his brother’s lifeless form.
“Dean, they’ve been dead for a while.”
“I knew Gabriel was ageing. I knew he didn’t have long. But Sam?” Dean choked out. Castiel placed his hands gently on Dean’s shoulders.
“We should have watched them closer. But they were older and we’ve been helping so many other boys,” Castiel sighed, and placed a tender kiss on the crown of Dean’s head. “I think Sam went first. He did it on purpose, knowing Gabriel was near the end.”
“What do you mean, you think?” Dean spat. Castiel gestured to the table, at the layer of green covering a plate.
“That was rotting when Sam ate it. He poisoned himself.”
Dean stood straight, letting Castiel circle his arms around his torso.
“We should cremate them, make sure they’re able to travel to the underworld. Hopefully they’ll get to Elysium.” Dean muttered. Castiel nodded, and found two obolus, gently placing them in Sam and Gabriel’s stiff jaws. He used his godly powers to take the bed out of the house with the two on it, and Dean gathered some wood to burn them on. Castiel helped him build the pyre, and prayed to his father, Apollo, to start the fire. Dean fell to his knees as his brother slowly turned to ash, his eyes stinging from tears and from the burn of the smoke. Castiel placed a gentle arm around him, and Dean clung to his immortal lover as the grief took over.
When their bodies had burned, and there was nothing but ash left; they dug a hole, and buried the remains of Sam and Gabriel together. Dean heaped the soil back over the ash, and Castiel laid a stone with their names over the mound. They stood together silently, looking at the overturned soil until it was time to return to Olympus.
Dean moped around their little grove. He barely acknowledged the bees, barely raised his head when Aristaeus and Apollo visited. He barely spoke to Castiel either.
He knew Sam wouldn’t be around forever, that he would eventually outlive his little brother once he gave himself entirely to Castiel. But it felt like every visit had flashed by, that he hadn’t truly appreciated the time he was allowed with Sam, and getting to know Gabriel. Time had ceased to mean anything for a while, and then suddenly it was occurring to Dean how finite it truly was.
Then Castiel disappeared, for longer than he had before. He normally only left for mere hours at a time, but this time, it was days. Dean only noticed with the passing of the sun, the movement of the bees that Castiel had taught him. Eventually he looked into the scrying pool, trying to find Castiel, but he couldn’t see a thing. Defeated, lonely, and full of grief, he fell onto the cushions inside the pavilion, and laid there, waiting for the oppressive crush of time to destroy him utterly.
After the moon had waned and waxed in a full cycle, Castiel finally reappeared, kneeling next to him amongst the fine silks that made their sleeping quarters.
“Where’d you go?” Dean asked pitifully, his voice muted, and muffled by a cushion.
“It’s a long story.”
“You left me.”
“No, Dean, no. Of course not!” Castiel said earnestly. “But I knew you were devastated by the loss of your brother, and I know you feel that you didn’t really have time with him, not in the grand scheme of things. So I’ve been busy, trying to find a way to make you happy. May I explain?”
Dean just stared at him, his pupils barely focused. Castiel smoothed his hair back, and explained himself.
“We made sure their souls would go to Charon, yes? Well, I was thinking, we knew where their souls would be. So I visited the council and asked leave to go to the underworld, to speak with my uncle, Hades. Father was uneasy, and Zeus wasn’t sure, but Demeter gave her word I would be safe. So I went, with father’s favourite lyre to soothe Cerberus, and Demeter’s token to pay passage to Charon and prove myself to Hades.
“I don’t know what I was expecting of my uncle - I hadn’t met him before - but he wasn’t so bad. Weary, overworked, but not evil. Persephone wasn’t there, it was her time to be on the surface, and I think that added to his melancholy.”
“How does you hanging out with the god of the underworld, lord of the dead, lead to my happiness, exactly?” Dean said in a dour voice. Castiel laid next to him.
“Listen to the story, Dean. So, I explained to Hades about your connection to your brother, his love with Gabriel, my love for you. I gave him Demeter’s token, and told him I had consulted the council first, that so long as Hades was okay with my idea, they were all okay with it too. Hades asked me to complete a task to earn my reward, one that had to be completed before Persephone returned. He found their souls and would keep them out of the river Lethe and the river Phlegethon while I tried to complete his task.
“That’s where I’ve been, Dean. Helping Hades. Spending time with the furies; appealing to the sisters of the threads of life. My task was two-fold, I was to use the powers that my father Aristaeus had imparted on me to communicate with the furies, and with Cerberus, and to give them new instructions for how to control those souls arriving in the underworld. Hades could have done it, but it was a great test to assign a minor god trying to bargain with him. The other task was a gift for Persephone, to add life to her underworld garden, to ease her time through the winter months down there with her husband. Hades was finally happy with my work this morning, and he held up his end of the bargain.”
Dean merely stared at Castiel, trying to understand what his lover was getting at, what advantage helping the god of the dead would do, how it could be considered a task to raise a garden and communicate with the creatures of the underworld. He didn’t want to voice his doubt, but Castiel seemed to understand.
“Come with me, Dean. Let me show you my reward.”
Dean let himself be pulled up, and held Castiel’s hand as they left the pavilion. Near the fig grove stood two figures, one impossibly tall, one much shorter. They turned as though they heard Dean’s footsteps, and he stopped.
It was like that first visit on the island, all over again. Sam was twenty-one again, tall and healthy, full of happiness and love. And Gabriel was late thirties, his hair full and honey blond once more, his eyes sparkling with mischief. Dean gaped.
“There was a clause to Hades’ generosity,” Castiel said, watching as Dean came to terms with what was in front of him. “They could only come if they wanted what we did, if the council could guarantee their immortality.”
“And while living forever has its downsides, eternity with Sammy? With seeing him happy to spend his time with you? Worth it. Entirely worth it. Besides, Cocytus was cold and unending.” Gabriel smirked.
“They’re staying?” Dean finally asked. Sam nodded, fighting off a smile.
“Is that okay? We had to give them new bodies, but their souls are the same.” Castiel said. Dean finally broke out of his stupor, stepping forward and pulling his brother into a bone-crunching hug.
“I think that’s okay,” Gabriel told Castiel. “So, what do we do, on the foothills of Olympus, under Zeus’ all-seeing eye?”
Gabriel and Castiel began talking about Castiel’s duties, and how Dean had been helping out, and Sam gave his older brother a small squeeze.
“Hey, show me around my new home.”
Dean pulled out of the hug, and did as his brother asked, leading him to the scrying pool and explaining its function, showing him the pavilion where he and Castiel slept together, walking him around Aristaeus’ hives and the groves where their food grew, the small brook that flowed with fresh water, how they harvested ambrosia and nectar for the gods which Aristaeus nurtured. He kept looking at the willowy figure next to him, kept reaching out to check that his brother was real.
Sam was doing the same, clearly unable to believe that he was on Mount Olympus, however low down. That he was back from the underworld, back with Dean for longer than just one day a year. They needed eternity at that point, just to let the knowledge sink in.
The foothills of Mount Olympus; Eastern side. Present day.
“Dean, what do you think?” Gabriel grinned, turning around and showing his latest outfit. It was an eye-watering combination of feathers and rhinestones, in all colours of the rainbow.
“You look like a Macaw,” Dean informed him.
“Cool. I’ll make Sam dress like a tree,” Gabriel grinned. Sam rolled his eyes, and looked down at his shirt and jeans. Originally they had been plain, the tee white and crisp, the jeans a royal blue with a contrasting tan stitch. Now they were bedecked by the same word, repeated over and over. PRIDE.
“I miss Tunics,” Castiel said simply, stirring a finger idly through the scrying pool. He was thinner than he had been, his face drawn and dour. He had suffered for several years now, between Stonewall and the AIDS crisis, but in the last few years, he seemed to have regained his strength. He was no longer god of eromenos, the practice had died out. Though few people believed in the Greek gods anymore, he was now considered by those few experts who knew enough about the minor gods just as the god of homosexuality.
Dean’s outfit matched Castiel’s, both of them wearing three colour stripes, making a rainbow when they stood together. The scene in the pool changed as Castiel’s fingers traced through the water, and they saw the scene of a pride parade just beginning, all the modern people living over 2000 years after they left the earth celebrating a way of life they had always known.
The flowers around the grove were a riot of colour, as though even the plants knew that this month was important for them. They watched through the pool at the people on earth who were walking, dancing, singing, and chanting their way through the streets, a collective of male pairings, women in love, groups of people clearly devoted to each other in complex arrangements, and others bedecked in bi, pan, trans and asexual flags.
Music drifted across the grove, and they looked up to find both of Castiel’s fathers in vibrant colours. Aristaeus was favouring green, and Apollo yellow. They also had small rainbow squares painted on their cheeks. Apollo was playing his lyre, and he was followed by the muses who had opted for pink and purple shades, all of them singing songs they had given to the likes of Cher, Whitney Houston, George Michael to name a few. Their own party was starting.
The other gods drifted over to the grove slowly, in pairs or on their own, and soon the place was full of those long-forgotten deities who were now consigned to the history books, whose actions were explained away by science and mythology. Artemis came in the grey, black, white and purple of the asexual flag, Zeus had opted for the blue, pink and yellow of pansexuals. Other gods had opted for solid colours, like Ares in red, Artemis in pink, Athena in blue. They joined Castiel’s parents to create a flag by themselves.
The ambrosia and nectar flowed, and the music spread even to the peak of Mount Olympus. The satyrs came, playing their panpipes, dancing around Dionysus as he introduced wine to the merriment.
Even when the humans in the scrying pool left their own celebrations, the party on Olympus continued. Castiel merely touched the water, showing the next pride celebration to occur. They were going to celebrate the entire month.
Dean, who had been dancing with Hermaphrodite (in a pantsuit of baby blue, pale pink and white), flung himself onto the bench beside Castiel during the third earthly celebration that Castiel looked for. He planted a wet kiss on his lover’s cheek.
“Are you okay?” Dean checked.
“I’m fine, Dean. More than fine. Look at all these people, just celebrating love in all its forms,” Castiel gestured to the pool. “I’m in awe of the passions people show today.”
“You’ve had a rocky few years,” Dean noted. “I was scared I was going to lose you.”
“We’ve all had a difficult time, Dean. Even after the Egyptians and the Romans kept us in people’s thoughts with different names, the fall of all three empires hit everyone hard. But look, though we don’t influence humans in the same way, though we stick to Olympus, there’s nothing but love here either.”
They both looked at the gods, satyrs, naiads and dryads who were all celebrating the intangible thing that influenced so many of their actions through time, and then smiled back at each other.
“Come on, you have to at least dance with me through Wham!” Dean grabbed his hand, and pulled him up. He led the way to where everyone was dancing, and put a hand on each of Castiel’s hips where he half guided him, half supported him as they began to dance together. Castiel threw his arms around Dean’s neck, and pressed a sloppy kiss onto Dean’s mouth.
“Happy pride.” Castiel beamed.
“Happy pride to you,” Dean rubbed his nose against Castiel’s, swaying his own hips in time to the way he made Castiel’s move. They had had centuries together, centuries with Gabriel and Sam sleeping the other end of the grove in a pavilion of their own, coming together in the day to help Castiel, or other gods who came calling. And watching earth, seeing as their old way of life crumbled and was forgotten for years until the ruins were discovered, preserved, and locked away in museums in various countries. They saw the exchange of power from Greek to Roman to Viking, the Chinese dynasties, the renaissance, the British empire, the industrial revolution, the American civil war, both world wars. They saw the patterns of same sex couples alter, with accusations of possession and witchcraft, of madness and sickness before finally the acceptance that had been there on some level in the society Dean had grown up with.
Sometimes they visited earth, and assumed different forms to help young boys and girls “come out”, giving advice and being confidantes to those who needed it. Perhaps the world no longer believed in the Greek deities, even under other guises, but they still provided the faith that mankind needed when they could.
And so as they danced, letting the upbeat melodies pulse through them, Dean could feel nothing but lightness, happiness, and freedom. And he knew, like he had known instinctively on the battlefield, that Castiel was in tune with him, that he felt the same way. They might have been reduced to a long ago myth, but this truly was their time.
Chapter 11: About this story, references and glossary of terms
I hope you enjoyed this story and will please forgive me a moment of indulgence. I want to explain the inspiration for this story, and how it came to be. The real life story of the Sacred Band of Thebes.
I first came across the story in Athens in 2017. On a family holiday where my son and I were determined to see everything related to the Percy Jackson and the Greek gods. At the Acropolis museum, I came across a book talking about Eros. In there it discussed love between gods and mortals, the women of Lesbos, incidences of homosexuality in Greek life and the roles of erastes and eromenos in society. I started to get a germ of an idea. I read about how when men came of age, they either courted girls or went into the army. Some armies, like the Spartan armies, would turn a blind eye to their soldiers copulating without their wives there. Thebes went one better, and made their most elite squadron one made exclusively of homosexual couples. The theory being that, if a man were fighting on the battlefield with his lover, he was going to be the fiercest, strongest, most ruthless soldier on the battlefield.
The band was first formed in 371 BC by Gorgidas (according to most records, some claim Epaminondas formed the band) after they defeated Sparta at the battle of Leuctra. There are earlier records of similar Theban armies, but none titled the Sacred Band before this date.
The soldiers were selected for their ability and merit, and were paired together by vow (though unlike in my story, it was at the shrine of Iolaus, a former lover of Hercules – this is according to Plutarch at least) using the structure of pederastry – an older erastes and a younger eromenos. Most soldiers joined at around the age of 20/21 after training in regular barracks. They typically left at the age of 30.
They changed the way most Greek armies fought at the time. Typically, an army would place their strongest fighters on the right of the troops. This meant their weakest members might take out a few of the enemies stronger players, but also wore them down by the time the strongest of the two armies met. The Thebans placed the Sacred Band to the left, meaning their strongest soldiers met their enemies strongest soldiers head on. This was a good psychological tactic, as the enemy would believe they were the weakest infantry and be afraid of what was to come. It also meant the Sacred Band didn’t tire before they had beaten the strongest of their rivals. In this way, and using other inventive military ideas, the Sacred Band were undefeated, and took on other armies greater in number than theirs – they had famously annihilated Sparta in combat twice despite being outnumbered at least two-to-one.
Thebes was already a rich and prosperous city, and the envy of Athens and Sparta as well as other smaller towns. But the defense of the citadel by the army, and in particular the Sacred Band, meant that for years they were able to continue growing the economy and growing richer, though this only added to the contempt of the rest of Greece.
The Theban army, and the Sacred Band, lasted until 338BC at the battle of Chaeronea (the battle I made the subject of Chapter 7). Macedonia envied Greece and wanted to invade. Fear of Philip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Capable (later known as Alexander the Great) had made the previously warring cities of Greece unite, and the Theban army marched with the Athenian infantry to meet the invaders. Some sources say the Sacred Band were surrounded and defeated despite fighting to the end, others say the Macedonian cavalry attacked them in the dead of night. Either way, all the band fell at the hands of Alexander. When Philip II surveyed the battlefield and came across the remains of the band and realised who they were, that his army had defeated the invincible band (as they were known throughout Greece and the surrounding countries) it’s said that he broke down and wept for their loss, acknowledging their bravery and tenacity.
Soon after the battle, the previously impenetrable city of Thebes was overwhelmed and razed to the ground, but not before a lion statue was erected in their honour, though only 135 of the 150 couples were inscribed on it.
With its strong ties to legends like Perseus and Hercules, for a long time historians didn’t think Thebes was a real town. It was only in the early 1800’s when they discovered the lion statue that they discovered it had been a real place and that some of the histories of Thebes were fact and not fiction, though with changing attitudes to homosexuality, some historians still doubt the connection between the hoplites of the Sacred Band. A lot of the historical sources still available were written by Athenian and Spartan scribes and as such have a lot of prejudice around them, so skew the details.
Because of this, it is actually hard to find a lot of concrete evidence about the Sacred Band, and so beyond the basic facts I absorbed, I tried to piece together life from my experience in Athens, the histories and myths and legends I had known since I was taught in school as a kid, media accounts that are available and whatever other sources I could find including the Iliad and the Odyssey.
This story completely absorbed me to write it, merging my love of Ancient Greece and my excitement on discovering this way of life in that era and the wonderfulness of Dean and Castiel. If you would like to explore any of the sources I used in building this, below are the different websites, books, podcasts etc I basically inhaled as I constructed the story. There is also a glossary of terms for some of the Greek I have used – my spellcheck is about to hate me as much as it has for the entire rest of the story now!
Glossary of terms:
Erastes: the older man in a pederastry or same sex pairing. Erastes roughly translates as ‘the lover’.
Eromenos: the younger man in a pederastry or same sex pairing. Eromenos roughly translates to ‘the beloved’.
Pederastry: the act of an older man training an adolescent boy in athletics and fighting skills. Progress was rewards with gifts, and with physical rewards. Physical contact depended mostly on the erastes inclinations, but never reached the stage of penetration.
Sacred Band of Thebes: An army totalling approximately 300 men, or 150 pairs of lovers. The most elite warriors that Thebes had to offer. They altered warfare protocol, and the strength of their connection and having their lover on the battlefield with them made them more ferocious and deadly in war.
Xiphos: A sword with a curved, almost leaf-like appearance. The blade was short, and used secondary to the spear on the battlefield.
Akratos; Barley bread dipped in wine, a typical breakfast food, sometimes served with figs or olives.
Linothorax: the typical army outfit for a hoplite from the classical and hellenistic eras of Ancient Greece.
Xynomizithra: a sour cheese. Originally from Crete. Not going to lie, I had this in Athens and don’t know if it’s a traditional or recent thing but it was gorgeous so it gets mentioned anyway.
Obolus: a silver coin placed under the tongue to pay Charon for passage across the river Styx and into the underworld.
Incredible Stories Podcast. Episode One: The Sacred Band of Thebes. 12 October 2016
BBC radio 4. In Our Time: History. Thebes 23 November 2017
Ancient Heroes by Patrick Garvey. Episode Five: Sacred Band of Thebes. 22 November 2016
Eros: Love-Life In Ancient Greece, Mediterraneo edition, Text by Stella Kalogeraki (Archeologist)
Tales of Greek Heroes, Roger Lancelyn Green, first pulished 1958, my edition published 2009 with foreword by Rick Riordan
The Odyssey, Homer. Penguin Classics revised translation 2003 edition
The Iliad, Homer. Penguin Classics revised translation 2003 edition.
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller, Bloomsbury 2011.