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of all of nature's gifts

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i.

Everything hurts. 

Everything hurts, and it’s too cold, and his bruised ribs are making it hard to take full breaths.

They come for him every other hour on the hour. Jason usually stands by the door as Clark makes Sam his personal punching bag. Once, Sam had caught Jason’s eyes through the glass and Jason had looked terrified, nauseous.

Help me, Sam had mouthed desperately, angrily, almost like a dare. Jason had looked away too quickly, the column of his throat bobbing hard.

 

ii.

Where are they? Where have they gone? Where are you hiding them?

It’s the same questions over and over, just rephrased as if it were simply the correct combination of words that would make him talk. Or maybe it made them feel better, to have a purpose for the pain. Sam spits the taste of blood dully onto floor, his open mouth breathing wetly against the cold ground, watching as the Guard leaves for the night.

Sam closes his eyes to block out most of the questions, focuses his energy on shielding his head, curling into himself to protect his ribs. It’s laughably stupid to torture the deaf guy for answers, but he suspects that Clark isn’t too bothered with semantics.

Luke is absent for most of it. Sam doesn’t know what to think. After Grizz, Luke had been the best of them, earnest and sweet, with an easy air of kindness in his demeanour. Even in highschool he’d seemed like the type to walk an old lady across the road. He would have been prom king, if they’d had their prom for real, Helena being a gracious prom queen at his side. 

Sam closes his eyes and tries to picture how his life could have gone if they hadn’t been dumped into this place. A boring, steady, regular life without parallel universes or mysterious smells. He’d have finished his final year of highschool as invisible as he could be. He’d apply to colleges as far away from his family as possible, maybe York or Stanford. He would have studied library science while doing his best not to wind up as another token minority on an Ivy League pamphlet.

He wonders if he’d still have offered to be Eden’s father, if the circumstances had been different. He’d have stayed by Becca’s side for certain no matter what she would have decided. Campbell would have been gone by then too, off to wherever he wanted to fuck off to after highschool.

Sam sits up with some effort and wobbles towards the water bottles they’d left for him. They’ve fed him nothing but peanuts and twinkies for the past few days, cold TV dinners thrown in every once in a while. Sam thinks longingly of hot food, like lasagna, or mac and cheese fresh out of the pot.

Sam dozes a little on and off, leaning against the wall. There really isn’t anything to do in this makeshift jail. Even inmates out in their old world had routines, scheduled exercises, books.

No one really bothers to stand guard outside the cell, and so when Sam sees a familiar uniform approach the glass, he thinks it’s Clark coming back for a second round. It’s a little soon, but who is Sam to understand the inner workings of a man on a power-trip.

Sam looks up and Luke’s pinched expression focuses in front of his good eye. Well then.

Fuck, Luke says, running his hands through his hair. He looks rough, unslept and unshaven. Sam’s first instinct is to ask what’s wrong, but that’s a stupid question, and here Luke is an enemy. 

They look at each other for a long time. Sam huffs a sigh through his nose, wets his split lip.

Look, if you’re here to beat me, can you just get it over with? Sam says tiredly, I want to go back to sleep.

I’m not going to beat you, Luke says, looking hurt at the accusation. Sam hadn’t thought so, not really, but it’s nice to hear a confirmation.

Then what do you want? Sam says.

I don’t know, Luke says, looking so sorry Sam wants to punch him, shit, I don’t know I guess I just wanted to see how you were.

Well I’m doing swell, Sam says, hoping his tone conveys how very unimpressed he is, never better. I’m not telling you where they are.

I’m not asking, Luke says, hands up and palms open, conciliatory, I convinced Clark to give me his shifts.

That’s nice of you, Sam says, because sarcasm is better than fear, my brother’s not going to be happy.

Screw him, Luke says, face darkening, screw all of this. I know it’s stupid of me to say, but believe me, I didn’t want any of this.

Doesn’t matter now, it’s what we’ve got, Sam points out, a little too late for regrets.

I know, Luke says, and maybe it’s a trick of the light, but his eyes look watery from where Sam is sitting. Jocks have feelings too, Sam knows, the phantom feeling of the tear he’d brushed off Grizz’s cheek pulsing on his thumb.

I know this isn’t anything, Luke says, like not noble or heroic or any of that shit I was supposed to be but…is there anything I can do?

Sam thinks about ignoring him out of spite, but he’s cold and bored and scared and a little human kindness would go a long way. The Guard without Grizz don’t have two brain cells to rub together to come up with anything as complicated as ‘good cop, bad cop’, but Sam decides to just roll with it even if this is some ploy to get him to talk.

A sweater would be nice, Sam says finally, and a book, if that’s allowed.

Yeah, yeah, easy, Luke says, too eagerly, anything else?

A bandaid, Sam says wryly, and hates like something in him twists in satisfaction when Luke winces at the pointed jab.

My sorry means fuck-all, but I am, Luke says, scrubbing the back of his head roughly, looking like he’s in serious psychological pain, but I am. Sorry. Things weren’t supposed to be this way.

They never are, Sam says, hunching into himself a little more and shivers.

Luke shrugs off his jacket. He moves towards Sam slowly, like approaching a spooked animal, and wraps his jacket around Sam’s shoulders. It’s warm, the first warm thing in a long time, and Sam clutches it too tightly, tries not to weep.

 

iii. 

He’s five years old when he comes home from the hospital, nearly six. Too young to fully grasp what he’s lost, but old enough to know that the yawning silence that has replaced his mother’s laugh and his father’s voice isn’t going away.

Sam learns to read lips, learns to talk with his fingers and regulate his voice so that he’s not yelling every time he wants to say a word out loud. Campbell watches silently as Sam and their parents learn ASL together, the three of them learning how to form simple phrases from YouTube videos. Campbell never tries. He does his best to alienate Sam by talking too fast, turning his face away when he talks to their parents, to their cousins, to the babysitter. It hurts that his brother hates him because Sam gets all of their parents’ attention, but what could Sam do: tell his parents to love him less?

So, Sam turns his affection to his bird, feeding it directly from his hand, and stroking its feathers gently as it warbles at him as if it could hear him. It’s a comfort, being able to take care of something instead of the other way around. Sam is sick of being treated like he’s made of glass, that he is somehow less Sam, now that he’s deaf.

The bird is a gift from their parents, the first of many gifts borne out of guilt and relief. Sam had peered at the green and yellow thing through the bars of its cage and cannot remember what birds were supposed to sound like. Its name is Oliver, and if Sam looks after it well enough, maybe one day his parents will finally let him get a dog.

The day Sam comes home from school and finds that the birdcage is empty, Campbell had been too sick to come to school. The window of the room they keep the birdcage in is slightly ajar, so Sam runs to the garden to see if Oliver had somehow escaped from its cage and gotten outside, but what he finds makes him fall to his knees.

Campbell looks up from his handiwork, in the process of cutting the bird’s second wing with a pair of kitchen scissors. There is blood everywhere, splattered against Campbell’s cheek, staining his shirt, the bird writhing weakly beneath Campbell’s steady hands. Sam feels himself scream, the vibrations tearing at his throat like tiny knives. Campbell makes a final snip and tosses the wing away, setting down the bird almost gently on the grass.

The bird takes a few wobbling steps forward, its wingless torso bobbing like a nightmarish parody of its former self as it tries to fly with phantom wings. It finally topples over, twitching weakly.

There is a glint in Campbell’s eyes as he watches. Sam has puked twice already, his stomach roiling with grief and horror. Campbell turns to Sam and laughs, his mouth open and soundless.

Sam staggers to his feet, balling up his fists at his sides. He feels sick and furious, and he’s never won a fight against Campbell before, rarely tries, but his mouth is sour from vomit, and he can’t see properly for rage and tears.

Campbell beats him easily, batting away Sam’s clumsy punches and pushing Sam onto the ground with one hand. Sam cries, because he is ten years old and small and there are ants already swarming around his bird, covering the green and yellow.

How could you? Sam sobs, not even sure that the words are coming out, Oliver was mine. He was mine.

Campbell regards him calmly, a small serene smile playing against his lips. He squats in front of Sam, wiping the tears running down Sam’s cheeks in a gesture that is almost affectionate.

Listen, Campbell says slowly, enunciating each word like he’s savouring them, Nothing is yours. You think you’re the greatest, just because you’re mom and dad’s little crippled angel? You’re not. You’re nothing but a useless piece of shit that should have died. And the sooner you get that, the better.

Their parents find out about the bird, of course they do. Sam gathers the bird’s remains into a shoebox and has vivid nightmares about it for months after.

Campbell is sent away for testing, and Sam reads psychopath on his parent’s lips when they think he’s not looking. Sam is eleven when Campbell comes home from months of diagnoses and doctors and is finally labeled a ‘problem child’.

 

(Ever since you were born, I never had just one day that was mine until now)

It hurts because it’s true. No matter what shit Campbell has put Sam through over the past sixteen years, Sam knows that Campbell is the way he is because their parents had loved him less.

Trust me, Sam wants to say, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t have chosen this.

Instead, he hands over the keys to the house, breathing hard against the hand clamped around the back of his neck as if he were a troublesome puppy.

Rule number one in the Eliot house was: don’t let Campbell have a key. Too many instances of Sam being locked out of the house in treacherous weather made it dangerous for Campbell to have the option of locking Sam out. In this case, though, without parents and consequences, it seems safer to keep Campbell further than arm’s length.

It’s easy enough to find another place to go to, even a reprieve. Sam loves his new family with a shocking intensity, the most mismatched group of people under one roof that would never have been brought together in their high-school otherwise.

Cousin Cassandra is a shining force amidst it all. Golden-haired and keen-eyed, as tall and as beautiful as an Amazonian Queen. She commands attention with as little as a coin and holds court as effortlessly as she brushes her hair, and even those who hate her follow her lead.

So, when they find her body in the cold light of dawn, face down in a puddle of her own blood, Sam thinks about his green and yellow bird, stained red in the grass, and shudders.

 

iv. 

One day, Sam looks Campbell in the eye and signs: why do you hate me?

Campbell laughs amiably, signs back: because I can.

 

v. 

The minutes feel like days in this place. The clock hung directly at Sam’s eyesight seems to mock him like a deaf man’s version of Chinese water torture, the steady rotation of the second hand burned against his eyelids. Sam’s breaths vibrate brokenly against his shredded throat. At some point he must have screamed.

The pain has settled into a dull throb when Campbell comes again. Sam forces himself not to flinch as his brother saunters into the cellar, his easy grin more suited to a tea-party than a jail cell.

Campbell squats in front of him, smiling guilelessly. Sam makes himself stare into his brother’s empty black eyes and tries not to tremble. One of Sam’s eyes is already swelled shut, and the other blurs intermittently. There is a camera slung around Campbells neck, reminding Sam of Becca. He hopes that she’s okay. That Eden is okay. Thinking about Eden makes him feel a little stronger, makes the pain feel a little more purposeful. He’d lose more than a tooth to make sure his brother never hurts what’s his again.

Where are they? Campbell says with his mouth and his hands.

Sam shakes his head, braced for pain. His wrists, tied behind him, strain uselessly against the handcuffs. Grizz’s handcuffs. The irony is not lost on him.

You’re making this very difficult for yourself, Campbell signs, smiling indulgently, but we’ll find them sooner than later.

He reaches down and draws up the camera, say cheese.

The flash blinds Sam momentarily, there are stars bursting against his eyelids as he winces.

Beautiful, Campbell says, grinning at the photograph, we’ll print them out and hang them around town so everyone can enjoy them.

Go fuck yourself, Sam says as venomously as he can. Campbell strikes him then, a backhanded slap that make Sam’s good eye sting with reactionary tears. Sam laughs a little, savouring the tiny victory as blood dribbles from his reopened split lip. Campbell’s hand clamp against Sam’s chin and jerks Sam’s head forward, his smile wiped from his face as his nails dig into Sam’s jaw, close enough Sam could spit at him if he were feeling particularly suicidal.

You really should be more afraid, Campbell says.

Bite me, Sam replies.

 

 

vi.

(this is how it starts)

Sam almost collapses with relief when he comes out of the hospital room and sees Grizz standing there. He grabs hold of Grizz’s jacket like it’s the only thing keeping him afloat, and just takes a moment to breathe, Grizz’s hands hot on Sam’s elbows, thumbs resting in the joints.

He’s a father now. He’s a father, and he doesn’t know where this thing between he and Grizz stands, but now that he’s held Eden in the palms of his hands, he knows he could never give her up, even for this.

You’re back, Sam says stupidly, weak-kneed from the double-relief of a healthy child and a healthy…well, whatever Grizz is to him.

How’s the baby? Grizz signs awkwardly, his eyes darting from Sam’s face to the room behind him.

She’s beautiful, Sam says, because it’s true. Grizz looks relieved and stricken at the same time, emotions warring in his red-rimmed eyes. Sam is determined not to be sorry about Eden, to never be sorry about her again, so he keeps silent and waits for Grizz to either stay or walk away.

Grizz huffs a breath, resting his forehead against Sam’s like Sam is his only port in a storm. Sam closes his eyes and matches his breath with the rise and fall of Grizz’s chest.

Do you want to see her? Sam asks, feeling reckless all of a sudden, trepidatious and on new and unsolid ground. Grizz looks at him in shock and wonder, speechless for once.

Come on, Sam says, already yearning to see his daughter again, her hook on his heart as sure and as piercing as any of his worldly attachments. Grizz follows him as if on a similar string, dazed as if in a dream.

Eden sleep quietly in her crib, Becca unconscious in the adjacent bed. Grizz is silent. He stares at the baby as if she were the first baby he’d ever seen.

When they leave, it is with a somber air. Sam feels surprisingly good, sturdier and more solid, as if he’d been living in limbo and this single moment had pulled him back into existence.

Beautiful, isn’t she? Sam says, hands in his pockets, keeping a distance between him and Grizz, because this is his child, his, and Grizz either understands that or he doesn’t.

When Grizz smiles, it’s small but it’s real. He closes the distance between them, places a trembling hand against Sam’s jaw, his broad thumb stroking Sam’s cheek so tenderly Sam feels his eyes sting.

Of all nature's gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children? Grizz says finally, and then what is Sam to do but kiss him? They stay like that under the ugly hospital lights until Sam has to pause to wipe his eyes.

Cicero again, I think, Grizz says belatedly, bashfully spelling out the letters in clumsy ASL.

The wisest of men, Sam replies, smiling so wide his cheeks hurt.

 

All good things must come to an end. Grizz tells him what’s been going on outside, and Sam is at once grateful to have been shielded from the truth and furious that he hadn’t been there to witness it.

They never would, Sam says angrily when Grizz mentions the accusations of Ellie and Will rigging the election, and Grizz holds his hands up.

Just repeating what I heard, Grizz says, running a hand through his shaggy hair agitatedly. He’s swaying with exhaustion, sporting dark bruises under his eyes, and decidedly grimy after nights in a tent. Sam softens, puts aside his anger for a moment to look at Grizz properly.

You look like shit, Sam says to pull a laugh from Grizz. Grizz obliges, even if it’s a little forced.

You’re probably right, Grizz sighs, smell like shit too.

Yeah, Sam says cheekily, and Grizz laughs again, you need a wash and food and a proper bed.

Grizz looks both longing and guilty at the prospect. Sam can understand. It’s hard to think about creature comforts and luxuries when their friends have been arrested, and a future with Campbell running the show looms like a black cloud on the horizon. Sam’s tired of martyrdom though, and he makes Grizz use the hospital shower and eat a granola bar before he pushes the ex-jock into an empty cot.

Stay here with me? Grizz asks, hesitant like he doesn’t know if he’s allowed.

Sam thinks of Eden, of Becca. He thinks that maybe he should be with them, or that maybe it’s okay that he isn’t. Most of all, he thinks that if he doesn’t close his eyes and sleep, he’s going to die of exhaustion and be of no use to anyone.

Of course, Sam says. They arrange themselves as best as they can, curled against each other like quotation marks, and when Sam falls asleep, he doesn’t dream.

 

vii.

It’s little stuff at first, Sam getting first dibs on yogurt flavours in the morning, getting the last piece of candy like it’s a given. It progresses into bigger things, like his new friend Becca being allowed to sleep over even though Campbell isn’t allowed to have Harry until Campbell does his chores. Campbell takes the favouritism badly, as vicious with his hands as with his words.

There was a time when Sam had been hungry for Campbell’s affection. But Sam has seen what Campbell does to the things who love him, and Sam wants nothing to do with it. Sam shuts his brother out the only way he knows how, only looking at Campbell’s shoes or the space above his head when he’s being spoken to. 

Sam love Becca. Wishes she had been his sibling instead of Campbell. She’s obsessed with ASL, picks it up faster than he did at first. She has a little camera that she carries everywhere, a relic from a grandfather long dead who had been an editor for the local printing agency a long time ago. She prefers watching the news over cartoons, bugs Sam to join the school newspaper.

She becomes his voice, and it is a gift like no other. He marvels at having her.

Becca knows Sam can’t stand being around Campbell, that the brothers hate each other with an animosity that Sam can’t explain without telling Becca that Campbell is a psychopath. He knows it causes their parents pain to think about it, that they go about their lives in purposeful ignorance, focusing most of their time and energy on their poor disabled better-behaved son.

He and Becca start communicating solely in ASL when Campbell is around. Sam starts getting bolder and bolder with his stories, telling Becca things no one knows with his hands and fingers. Becca does the same, tells him about her family, how she also has a sister who lives very far away, how her parents sleep in separate rooms and never talk about it.

Campbell doesn’t react, just watches with cold eyes and a ready smile, and Sam thinks, I’m not afraid of you, as loudly as he can in his mind and pretends that is true.

 

One day, his mom smiles at him over the kitchen table after Becca has gone for the evening, and says, I think she has a crush on you.

Sam grows cold, forces himself to shake his head and shrug, smiling, Na, she likes a guy in our Biology class.

You two would be cute together, his mom says, making kissy faces with her hands.

We’re just friends, mom, Sam says, fear coiling in the pit of his stomach at the thought that his mom is right.

That night he has a soundless nightmare. He dreams of Becca forming signs that look like gibberish, and when he signs back that he doesn’t understand, she gets angry and leaves. His parents appear suddenly, his dad signs, disgusting.

He wakes up in sweat-sour sheets, drenched and shaking. He can’t lose Becca, he can’t. She has become the only bright spot in his dreary, silent, life.

The fear becomes a constant, makes him lose his appetite and smile a little less. When Campbell’s little daily cruelties fail to get a reaction out of Sam, even Campbell pauses to squint at Sam.

Who the fuck peed in your cereal this morning? Campbell says slowly, as if Sam was stupid on top of being deaf. Sam just rolls his eyes and turns away, even though their parents are away at some party and couldn’t intervene if Campbell decided to take it personally.

Campbell doesn’t hurt him though, which is a surprise. Instead, his brother props his chin on his hand and pokes Sam till Sam looks at him.

What, Sam says, clipped. He’s not in the mood.

Did you get in a fight with your little girlfriend? Campbell says, Is that why you’ve been acting like a fucking pussy lately?

Don’t talk about Becca, Sam says, don’t talk to me.

Relax, Campbell says, rolling his eyes, don’t need to get so defensive.

Whatever, Sam says, getting up to toss his barely-eaten pizza in the trash. Campbell is on him before he can walk out, grabs Sam’s forearm with bruising force. Ah. There’s the brother Sam knows and despises.

What, did she get a new boyfriend and you’re jealous? Campbell says, raising his thick eyebrows in mock-concern, or maybe she found out you’re a fag.

Sam flinches like he’s been hit. His silence is damning enough. Campbell looks like it’s Christmas and his birthday rolled into one, like he’s been handed the best present of all.

Seriously? Campbell laughs, Oh man! I was joking but…of course you are.

Don’t fucking say anything, Sam says furiously, that would be low, even for you.

How low is low for me? Campbell says, eyes shining with glee, What would dear mom and dad think?

Please, Campbell, Sam says, and he’s afraid, he’s always been afraid, but this time if Campbell wants him to grovel then he’ll grovel. He’s never been as terrified of anything in his life.

Well, then, you better tell them or I will, Campbell says, taking obvious pleasure in the impossible choice.

Sam swallows and swallows. He can’t stop crying, and Campbell loosens his grip on Sam’s arm to stroke Sam’s hair in a parody of tenderness. Campbell does that sometimes, practices human gestures, human emotions on Sam like a hobby. Sam shudders underneath the touch, fearful of setting Campbell off as Campbell gives him a wry fond look.

It’s your eyes, Sam wants to tell Campbell, it’s your eyes that give you away.

I’ll give you till tomorrow night, Campbell says, with a tyrant’s benevolence. Sam tears himself away and dashes into his room, locking the door. His heart is beating too fast, his breath coming out harshly. He shouldn’t have been so weak, should have denied it, laughed at it, rolled his eyes and called it a lie. But for all Campbell is cruel, he is observant, the cleverest person Sam knows. Of course, Campbell would give a name for something even Sam had been uncertain about, hadn’t allowed himself to wonder about, because it would be too much to be the gay, deaf, one in their quiet community.

Becca, I need to talk to you, Sam types and sends before he can lose his nerve. Becca responds almost immediately.

Your house? She asks.

Sam thinks of Campbell waiting downstairs and responds with a hurried, No. Usual spot?

Sure? Becca writes, trailing dots on the screen, What is it? Is everything okay?

I’ll see you there in 10 minutes, Sam writes instead of answering. He grabs a hoodie and his backpack, opening the window. His room is on the main floor, no sense putting him upstairs away from the exits in case of a fire. It also makes it easy for him to slip out of the house and jump on his bike, pedaling as fast as he can on the sidewalk towards the school.

Becca is there when he arrives, taking pictures of the playground lit in dim streetlights. He approaches, heart lodged in his throat.

Hey, Becca signs, turning around at his approach, what’s going on?

I’m gay, Sam whispers, signing the words before he can lose his nerve. His heart is beating so hard he thinks he’s going to have a heart attack; his face burning against the cool evening air. He can’t bear to look at her after all, tears plipping from his eyes soft like rain. He flinches a little when he sees Becca’s shoes step into view, and then her slender arms are wrapping carefully around his neck as she nudges his face into the crook of her neck, letting him weep into her shoulder.

When he calms down, Becca produces makeup wipes from her camera bag and he wipes his face a little embarrassedly, still not meeting her eyes. She didn’t run away or call him disgusting though, which has so far been more than he’d hoped for.

Becca catches his face with a gentle hand and makes him look at her.

Love, she signs, her eyes shining with unbearable tenderness, I know.

Sam swallows, wipes his eyes again with the back of his hand, really? You did?

Yes, always, Becca says, maybe even before you.

You never said, Sam says a little hesitantly.

It wasn’t for me to say, Becca says, her signs firm, and Sam has to take several deep breaths to bank his tears.

Why now? Becca signs, her eyebrows furrowed in concern, Did something happen?

Sam begins to form the signs to explain, and then pauses. Campbell is a psychopath, but he’s still his brother. Instead he says, I wanted you to hear it from me. Not from anyone else.

I see, Becca says, like she wants to pry, but doesn’t know if she should, thank you for telling me.

Thank you for loving me still, Sam says, signing the word for loving with more boldness than he feels.

Always, Becca says, and then signs it again: always.

 

viii.

Thanksgiving is Sam’s favourite holiday. He loves the turkey, the desserts, the merriment of other people in the house. He even looks forward to the touch football game the cousins play every year, Cassandra making it her personal mission to run plays that even Sam could be a part of.

Campbell is quiet during the holiday, which is a welcome annual breather. He always looks strangely human on the day, his blank eyes filled with a peculiar hunger that Sam tries to ignore. As they get older, Campbell takes to hiding in his room while the relatives filter into the house, appearing only for turkey and an extra slice of pumpkin pie.

One year, there is only one pumpkin pie instead of the three that usually get demolished almost immediately. Apparently, there had been a miscommunication about the dessert, and they have extra brownies instead of pie which no one really complains about other than some good-natured ribbing. Sam gets a slice of the pumpkin pie because, of course, everyone serves the deaf kid first, and then everyone else goes to town.

Sam glances at Campbell and sees his brother with an empty plate and a face wiped from expression. Sam hates him almost three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, but there’s something sad about the way Campbell doesn’t even bother to pretend that he’s a human being like the rest of them.

Sam waves to get Campbell’s attention, points at the pie, I can’t eat this, Sam signs ruefully, if I do, I won’t have room for cake.

You pig, Campbell replies, but his accompanying sign is a little less disdainful than it usually is, and Sam is weirdly glad when Campbell returns to his usual awful self after a few bites of pie and whipped cream.

After that, Campbell is…well not nicer, but maybe not as cruel. For the most part, Campbell leaves Sam alone. In thanks for kindness given, perhaps, or another weird powerplay in their sibling dynamics. Sam chooses always to be the optimist, and warily enjoys the calm.

 

One day, when Becca asks why he and Campbell hate each other so much, he tells Becca about the green and yellow bird.

 Horrified, Becca says: Aren’t you scared what he might do to you one day?

Of course, Sam replies, but it’s not so bad. Next year he’ll go to college and then I’ll never have to see him again.

 

ix.

 

They start moving him the day after Campbell comes to take the picture. Always at odd hours of the day, never the same place twice. Sam indulges in a desperate hope that rescue is closing in, that these attempts at keeping him hidden will ultimately be futile.

Sam is woken up one day (afternoon? Night?) to Lexie’s gaunt face staring at him, flanked by the three Guards. He’s been given beds now, proper beds, imprisoned in rooms a thousand times more comfortable than that wine cellar. They don’t beat him anymore, not since he’d been moved the first time, and his bruises are starting to yellow and fade. It’s a welcome reprieve, as long as he doesn’t think too hard about the why.

He sits up slowly, scanning Lexie’s face for clues. She is clearly exhausted, unhappiness pouring off her in painfully obvious waves. Her hair is limp and stringy, and her skin has broken out in angry rash-like patches, a sign of stress perhaps. She looks awful, taking deep stuttering breaths like she’s preparing to give Sam bad news.

Fine. It’s not like he’d been expecting good news after all. He speaks to break the tension.

Nice of you to visit, he says, hoping his voice isn’t too hoarse from disuse, what do I owe the pleasure? 

You can read lips, right? Lexie says too slowly, wringing her hands on her lap painfully.

Sam nods, gritting his teeth against his fear, Yes, that’s fine.

Lexie looks like she’s going to burst into tears any second, Samuel Eliot, you’ve been accused of treason and will be put on trial in front of the town tomorrow morning.

Treason. Sam forces himself to nod, his jaw too tight to form words. Lexie fairly runs out of the room after that proclamation.

 

x.

(this is the part where things collapse) 

Eden is perfect in every way.

Grizz says Sam is biased, but Sam is certain down to his bones that he’s totally whipped for the soft warm bundle in his arms.

Eden had been wailing all morning for seemingly no reason, tears dripping from the corners of her scrunched-up eyes. Sam had felt the ache of it in his heart, adding a new sound to his wish-list. He bounces his daughter up and down the sterile hallway, crooning half-remembered songs at her. He might be singing the most off-tune song in the history of this new world, probably is, and the thought makes him chuckle.

He looks up from wiping Eden’s face to see Grizz watching them from the end of the hall, an odd look on his face. Sam waves at the other boy, and Grizz seems to take that as permission to go to him.

It seems like they’re always asking for permission these days. They share a cot at night, Grizz’s arm wrapped around Sam like a band of heat as they bend their heads together like swans, trading stories and secrets in the dim light of the emergency exits. Grizz tells him about the field his group had found, the clean sparkling water, the turkeys. He makes Sam memorize the way to get there. Up, down, left, left, and then right, looking for the secret symbol Grizz’s group had marked into the trees. They don’t talk about why Sam would need to know, but disaster is looming at their doorstep, and it is past the time for blind hope and naivety.

And so it’s frustrating that in their waking hours they orbit around each other like distant moons, their conversation stilted and overly polite. But even this awkwardness seems like a luxury, an indulgence beyond Sam’s wildest dreams.

Any word on Allie and Will? Sam asks without much hope. Grizz shakes his head grimly, and Sam tries not to despair. It’s been almost a month since Allie and Will had been arrested and the town has slowly fallen into disarray. They had agreed that the safest place for Becca and the baby was in the hospital.

Eden has calmed down a little by now, blinking slowly up at him. Grizz slips an arm around Sam’s waist, and Sam wonders if it could really be as easy as this.

Team meeting at my place tonight, Grizz says, one-handed. He can pretty much sign most common words now, spelling out the ones he doesn’t know. Their situation is pretty bad, but Sam lets his face light up in a helpless, fond, smile as he feels Grizz press a kiss into his crown.

Becca wants to come to the meeting. She hadn’t been very impressed when she’d found out that they had kept her from knowing about the coup for a week after it had happened to spare her the stress of it, and now demands every bit of news they can bring her.

It’s not safe for you or Eden out there, Sam says firmly, we’ll tell you everything we know.

So far, Lexie and Harry seems to be doing their darndest to run the town into the ground. They’ve voided the curfew, sent everyone back to their own homes, and the Guard is mostly allowed to run around unchecked. The upside is that Grizz is able to slip away as often as he wants to, spending most of his time at the hospital or the garden.

Becca accepts that she has to stay behind with little grace, but she pushes her camera onto Sam’s hand.

I want to see, Becca says, a little desperately, frustrated with cabin fever and weak still, post-partum. Sam can do this one thing for her, at least.

Sam ducks out of the hospital, filming as discretely as he can. Kids mill about, loiter purposelessly in the streets, making out under the shade of trees in the long grass no one has bothered to cut. No one seems interested in doing chores anymore, and the town truly looks like it is inhabited by teenagers. Cassandra must be rolling in her grave. They may not last the winter if things remain as they are. 

Sam records until the battery blinks a warning at him. The sun is going down, he’s stayed out longer than he’d wanted to, but he needs to make one last stop before he heads to Grizz’s.

The library is mostly untouched. He’d been braced for disaster, but everything looks like how he’d left it a month ago, if a little dusty. He fills his satchel with books and heads back, keeping to the fringes of the town even if it takes him longer to return for safety’s sake.

Everyone is at Grizz’s when he arrives. Grizz is there making hot chocolates, and his face lights up when he sees Sam. Their hands touch briefly as Grizz hands him a mug, one hand cupped around Sam’s, fingers pressed against Sam’s knuckles. Affection for affection’s sake. No one is looking, or maybe everyone is pretending not to. This is not the time to be in love, but Sam will take whatever he can get.

Did you get here okay? Grizz asks, a strand of hair falling into his face. Sam wants to tuck it behind Grizz’s ear, but nods instead.

It’s crazy out there, Sam says, but no one’s messed with the library at least.

Good, I made sure of that, Grizz says, so self-satisfied Sam wants to kiss him right there.

I got something for you, Sam says, a little bashfully. Grizz’s answering smile takes up his face, and of course he has dimples, of course. 

Sam wishes they could stay in this moment longer, but people are getting restless. He takes a seat where he can see everyone, hoping that people remember that he’s present and can’t follow the conversation well without Becca. There are about eight or so people present including Grizz’s wilderness team and what’s left of Allie’s gang.

Grizz opens the meeting up with what little they know.

One, that Harry and Lexie had all but disappeared after arresting Allie and Will, only showing up to the weekly town meetings to repeat the same things over and over: everything is fine, everything stays the same, we have things under control.

Two, that the Guard is running amok and even Grizz’s best efforts to stop them is becoming more and more ineffective by the day. They walk the streets at all hours of the night, their presence enforcing a curfew on its own. No one wanted to cross their path, especially the girls, especially at night.

Three, that they have no idea what has happened to Allie and Will, if they’re even still alive.

We should demand a trial, Bean says, clutching her elbows tightly, so we could see them, defend them in front of everyone.

Bean feels responsible for the coup, for Lexie. Sam knows because Bean had confided in Sam once when she’d come by to visit the baby, to make sure mother and daughter were healthy and well. 

This was all my fault, Bean had said, face twisted in guilt, if I hadn’t let Lexie do that improv…if I’d stopped it in time.

No one could have known, Sam had replied, despite the dark secret part of him that agreed, that was looking for someone or something to pin the blame, you’ve always been on Allie’s side, on Cassandra’s.

Now Sam catches Bean’s eye, Not your fault, he mouths, flicking through the accompanying signs. Bean just shrugs unhappily, looking away.

That’s not a bad idea, Grizz says, running a hand through his hair agitatedly, what are we going to do if they decide to execute them?

Kelly raises her hand to get people’s attention. Better than them doing it in secret, Kelly says when the room turns to look at her, no trace of the mousey girl who had spent her highschool years in Harry’s shadow, we deserve answers, and they deserve more than this.

Kelly’s right, Gordie says where he’s sat beside her, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. He’s been running around constantly these days, tending to a sudden outbreak of a minor flu in the community, a sign of the coming colder season. Becca and the baby are thankfully secluded in an opposite wing, Helena keeping her company. They don’t not trust Helena, but she and Luke are too close to make her dangerous, even if accidentally. Helena is clever and compassionate and just, but when it comes down to the wire, she’ll choose Luke every time. 

There’s still the question of what they’re going to do about the ruined food inventory count, how they’re going to regain order out of the spiral of chaos the town has become, how they’re going to go home. Sam gives up on keeping track of the conversation when people start talking over each other, wishes Becca were here, wishes things could go back to the way it was before.

Suddenly, everyone goes silent, looks towards Grizz. Grizz has two fingers in his mouth, had probably whistled to get everyone’s attention. Sam really should be more embarrassed to be as distracted by that as he is.

Look, Grizz says, arms folded across his chest, we’re not going to solve anything by arguing about it. I think our first step should be to speak up at the town meeting tomorrow, especially about the food stores and the trial. Those are the important things for now.

Grizz pauses, listening, then replies to whoever had spoken: no we aren’t giving up on going home, we haven’t forgotten, but it won’t matter if we’re dead. Kelly?

Sam turns to see what Kelly has to say. Kelly is silent for a beat, looking like she’s collecting her thoughts. When she speaks, her face is steady and sure, unsmiling.

I think Harry is cracking, Kelly says, I wasn’t allowed to see him at first, but I managed to slip in when Luke was on guard duty, and I think I got through to Harry a little bit. I think that if I’m the one to bring things up tomorrow, he’ll listen.

Someone says something then. Sam doesn’t turn to see who it is or what, just watches as Kelly pauses to listen and then shakes her head in response, mouth thinned and eyes hard.

Harry isn’t going to do anything to me, Kelly says, I know him more than anyone, and he’s privileged and lazy and selfish but he’s not a villain.

Sam looks back at Grizz to see what he’d say. Grizz seems to consider it for a second then nods, Alright, you can take this one tomorrow, I trust you.

 

The meeting is adjourned soon after, people breaking off in their own groups towards their homes. Sam stays back to help with the clean-up, taking it upon himself to tackle the stack of dishes by the sink. He’s rinsing off the last of the mugs when he feels Grizz’s arms wrap around his waist, Grizz’s chin resting on his shoulder. Sam flicks soap playfully at Grizz, leaving a trail of bubbles down one of Grizz’s cheeks, and laughs when Grizz retaliates by rubbing his face into Sam’s neck.

And then they’re kissing, Sam’s hands leaving wet trails down Grizz’s shirt, tugging impatiently at the hem. They end up on the couch, Grizz pressing Sam sweetly down into the cushions. Haloed by the soft lamp-light, Grizz looks ethereal, angelic. Sam reaches out between their bodies to tangle fingers into Grizz’s soft hair, pulling him down to taste his mouth.

Grizz pulls away, eyes liquid and hazy, you wanna um, he says, uhh, upstairs?

Fuck, yes, Sam says, leaning up to kiss him again.

 

 

Afterwards, Sam barely remembers to text Becca where he is before he passes out next to Grizz. She sends back an eggplant emoji, followed by a smirky face and a crying laughing face. Becca hadn’t been impressed that Sam had kept Grizz a secret for as long as he had, and Sam knows he doesn’t give her enough credit, but he still wants to wrap her and Eden in bubble-wrap. Protect them from every kind of pain.

He wakes up too early the next morning, the sun shining through the open windows. Grizz sleeps with his mouth open. Sam wonders if Grizz is a snorer, or if he snuffles in his sleep. It is unbearably sweet to think about.

Sam’s phone lights up with a text from Becca asking him when he’ll be back. He fires off a response, sitting up.

Grizz turns over at the movement, swallowing. His eyes open blearily, and he stares at Sam for a long time. Grizz is, endearingly, not a morning person.

Go back to bed, Sam says, petting Grizz’s fringe back against his scalp soothingly, I’ve got to go back to the hospital, Eden kept Becca up all last night, and Becca needs a nap.

I’ll walk you there, Grizz says, propping himself up on the bed with some difficulty. Sam shakes his head fondly and pushes the comforter off himself, wincing a little at the cold air. Grizz folds his hands on his chest, looking like a man enjoying the view. Sam feels his cheeks start to heat as he gropes around for his clothes.

He finds a hoodie and sits on the edge of the bed to pull it on without looking at it, and Grizz throws an arm over his eyes, looking like he’s in pain. 

You’re killing me, Grizz says without moving, you’re actually killing me.

Sam looks down and realizes that he’s swimming in his hoodie, Grizz’s green hoodie to be exact. He starts to take it off, but Grizz tackles Sam backwards onto the bed before he can. 

No, I mean, keep it on, Grizz says, red-faced, it’s…cute.

Oh, Sam says, stunned.

You don’t have to if, if you don’t want to, Grizz says, face upside down, his hair tickling Sam’s face. Grizz leans down and then they’re making out again, Spiderman-style. Deep, comfortable, kisses that make Sam’s head spin. Grizz breaks it off after what seems like seconds, eyes dark and hazy. 

We better get going, Grizz says.

Go where? Oh.

I wish I didn’t, Sam grumbles as Grizz peels himself away, grabbing Sam’s hand to help him up.

Nah, Grizz says, tugging on his pants, you know that’s not true. Your girls have you wrapped around their little fingers.

The comment is easy, said in good humor, with none of the bitterness that might have tinged it a month ago. Something in Sam’s chest loosens and he catches Grizz by the arm and stands on his toes to kiss him on the cheek.

Grizz’s answering smile is so pleased that Sam has to look away before his heart can squeeze out of his chest. They pick up Sam’s satchel and Becca’s camera from the kitchen on the way out and Sam remembers the gift he’d gotten for Grizz.

The Secret Garden, Grizz says, looking pleasantly surprised when Sam gives it to him, that was one of my favourite books growing up. I haven’t read it in ages.

You should read it to me sometime, Sam says, and smiles at the gleam of excitement in Grizz’s eyes at the idea, I don’t remember most of the plot, but I thought it reminded me of you when I found it yesterday.

Thank you, Grizz says, tucking the paperback into his coat pocket, it’s a wonderful gift.

Good, Sam says, now let’s go before Becca actually strangles me.

 

Sam decides not to go to the town meeting, letting Becca go in his stead. Becca has been itching to be outside for weeks, and Eden is big enough that Sam can look after their daughter for a couple of hours while Becca breathes in air that hasn’t been hospital-recycled.

Are you sure? Becca asks for the nth time, looking longingly at her baby nestled in Sam’s arms, I could go another time.

It’d be useless for me to be there, Sam shrugs, I wouldn’t be able to follow it without you there anyway, and you’ll be able to bring home more information than I could have. We’ll be fine.

Okay, Becca says, pressing a kiss onto Eden’s soft head, and then Sam’s cheek, I’ll be home soon, don’t do anything I wouldn’t.

So girls? Sam says cheekily and smiles at her fond eye-roll, We’ll be fine, mama, go enjoy the dystopia.

  

Sam feels eyes staring at him from the doorway of the private hospital room, and he turns to see Gwen there, drenched in sweat like she’d run a mile to get there.

What happened? He asks, instinctively holding Eden closer to his body. Gwen shakes her head, stumbling towards Sam to clutch at his arm.

We have to go, Gwen gasps out, no time to explain, but they’re coming. We have to go right now.

Who’s coming? Sam says, his mind racing, Gwen, what is going on?

They brought out Allie and Will, wanted to execute them right away, Gwen says, as Sam packs Eden’s essentials into his satchel one-handed, we grabbed them before they could, it…it all just happened so fast. Bean sent me here to get you guys to our campsite, I think everyone managed to escape, but I heard Campbell order the Guards here to take you guys hostage.

Sam grows cold with fear as Gwen takes the satchel from him. No. If they got hold of Eden, there wasn’t telling what they might do to her to get to the rest of them. He grabs Gwen’s arm.

You have to go, take Eden to safety, Sam says, thrusting Eden into Gwen’s arms, They might not chase you if they have me, and I can’t risk her. I’ll barricade the door and pretend I have Eden, that should hold them off while you get out, but you have to promise to take care of her.

Then I’ll stay, Gwen starts, but Sam stops her, wild and desperate.

Please, Gwen, you know it’s the only way. Sam says, shaking, I don’t know the way to your campsite, and there’s a higher risk if the three of us go together.

We’ll come back for you, Gwen says, and there’s no time, but Sam grins with a bravado he doesn’t feel.

Don’t be late, Sam says.

  

Sam is there, armed with a fire-extinguisher, when the Guard finally manages to break down the door. He puts up as best of a fight as he can after that, but they have too much muscle against him, and the three of them subdue him too easily.

There’s no one else in here, Jason reports after checking the room, he was a decoy.

Fuck, Clark says, his expression dark with annoyance, they can’t be far, we should go after them.

Sam turns to see Luke shaking his head, Nah, Luke says to Sam’s relief, they’re probably long gone. It’s too dark out too, and by the time we get our gear, there wouldn’t be a point.

It’s because this dipshit wasted too much time, Clark sneers as if Sam had put them out for nothing. Sam wants to point out that yes, that had been his goal, but he doesn’t think poking the beast would be wise at this juncture.

One hostage is probably enough, they’ll come back for him, Luke says, jerking his head for the others to follow, c’mon, let’s go.

 

They handcuff him to a radiator overnight, the same one they had kept Campbell at what seems like a lifetime ago. There are bloodstains on the floor. Will’s? Allie’s? Sam tries to be glad that they are safe now, alive and away from whatever horrors Campbell and the Guard might have subjected them to.

He’d said, didn’t he, that letting Campbell go would doom them all? It’s little comfort to be right.

It’s almost a relief when they finally take him to jail, better than spending his days handcuffed to the radiator, wondering when they would. They come in the middle of the night, taking advantage of his disorientation to blindfold and gag him. Sam tries not to weep at the loss of all his senses, regulating his breathing as best as he can.

The wine cellar is too cold for the thin white cotton shirt he’s wearing. He thinks grimly that maybe he’ll die of hypothermia before anything Campbell has in store for him. That perhaps it would be a mercy. They tie his hands behind his back and make him lie on the ground with only a thin sheet between him and the cold floor. Sam moans against the damp gag, shuddering sounds that vibrate painfully against his throat and ears. One of them finally takes it off when Sam starts to choke on his own saliva from the force of his panicking.

Please, Sam says as loudly as he can, the blindfold – I’ll go mad.

There is a horrible pause before the blindfold is edged off his eyes. He almost weeps with relief as Clark and Jason’s faces come into focus.

You’re under arrest, Jason says, his eyes darting to Clark and then back, um, anything you do or say will be held against you by…by us?

Sam wants to laugh. Grizz had told him about Jason’s weird obsession with the Miranda rights the day they’d caught Dewey in their pre-dawn, post-dawn, raid. Sam had thought Grizz was beautiful then as he described the raid to them in the kitchen, radiant in that untouchable way all Sam’s futile crushes were.

Shut up, Clark says before Jason can continue, punctuating it with a cuff against Jason’s shoulder, let’s go.

You can’t do this, Sam says half-heartedly, I didn’t do anything.

Orders from upstairs, Clark sneers, arms folded in that ridiculous jacket that Sam had always hated; hadn’t thought he could hate more until right now.

Sam tries to make Jason meet his eyes, because unlike Clark, Jason isn’t cruel. Jason refuses to look at Sam though, and Sam whispers coward in his direction.

Like you’re one to talk, Clark says right in Sam’s face, so close he can feel Clark’s spittle, you traitor, you and your little gang.

You’re making a mistake, trusting him, Sam says steadily, if you think he’s on your side, you’re more stupid than you look.

Not the best idea to provoke someone obviously itching to hurt something, but Sam feels tired all of a sudden of the games his brother plays. 

Clark balls his fist and punches it into an open palm, looking as intimidating as a cartoon villain. Don’t give me a reason to hurt you. Clark says, a greedy glint in his squinted eyes 

Alright, come and get me, Sam says quietly, come and knock me around if that makes you feel like a big man.

They said not to touch him, Jason says quickly, putting a hand against Clark’s chest. Jason turns around then, and Sam can’t see what he says, but Clark subsides quickly, rolling his eyes.

This isn’t over, Clark says, his lips twisting into a small smirk.

It’s only when Clark and Jason leave that Sam allows himself to break, tears slipping down his cheeks as he shivers. He wipes them away with his shoulder and tries to steel himself for the coming days

 

xi.

 

(this is where it ends)

Dewey had sat where Sam’s sitting right now and wound up executed in the woods. Sam reflects on this and tries not to hyperventilate.

Helena is his defender; and it’s a comfort that at least she looks sickened by the proceedings. When she sees him the day of the trial, she takes one look at his yellowing bruises, the taser burns on his hands where he’d tried to shield his stomach, and her eyes overflow.

This is wrong, Helena says, trembling so violently she has to hold on to the pew, what have we done? What have we become?

Sam’s first instinct is to comfort her, to wrap her in a hug and say something wry, something self-depreciating. Luke is watching though, and although he’s never hurt Sam, Sam isn’t going to take the chance.

If you tell them where Allie and Will are, maybe…maybe we can make things right. Maybe we can work something out, Helena says, her hands clenching and unclenching on her knee, they shouldn’t have done this, there should have been another way.

Sam clenches his jaw, shakes his head. Maybe there is a timeline where he would have traded pain for people. He knew they wouldn’t fault him for giving up under the circumstances, that they even would have wanted him to. But in this timeline, there is Eden, and he already knows that she is the most steadfast love of his life.

The town files into the church in the next few minutes. The jury is filled with kids he knew peripherally, friends of friends, nameless familiar faces in the everyday crowd in the hallways. They don’t look him in the eye when he glances at them.

Harry and Lexie come in last. If Lexie looks bad, Harry looks worse. His eyes are unfocused, hands jittery. It must have been a while since his last fix of whatever Campbell must be pumping him with. Campbell himself is standing by the doors, and for once Elle is sitting on her own near the front. Of everyone, Sam feels for Elle the most, the most wretched victim in his brother’s trail of carnage.

Lexie starts to say something and pauses, both her and Harry flinching suddenly. Feedback from the mic probably, not the most authoritative start to the meeting. Allie would have laughed it off, made a wry comment or a pointed observation, but Lexie just winces, looking like she’d rather be anywhere but here.

The trial is a headache to follow. Harry barely speaks, mumbles when he does. Lexie trips over her words, no longer the strong assertive dissenter she had been towards the end of Allie’s rule. Helena, at least, speaks well. Her points are strong, clear, empathic. She makes it clear that she is on Sam’s side, that the jury would be fools not to be as well.

It is not treason to think differently, she says to the congregation, they want to make him an example, but an example for what? For exercising his first amendment rights? Your same rights? When are they going to come for you?

At one point during the trial she looks straight at Campbell. She says, eyes radiating with fury: this is your brother, your own brother.

Sam could have told her to save her breath. The only protest Campbell would make at Sam’s execution would be that Campbell wasn’t the one who got to hold the gun. He turns anyway to see his brother’s reaction and is surprised to see Campbell tight-lipped and blank instead of lit up with triumph.

Campbell doesn’t get a say this time, Sam realizes with a sinking feeling in his gut. For the first time Campbell isn’t the one pulling the strings.

 

xii.

 

When the jury pronounces Sam guilty, Helena buries her face in her hands and sobs.

 

xiii.

 

They tie him to a chair in the middle of the woods. They don’t blindfold him, a blessing.

He is weirdly calm. He’d expected to maybe cry, scream, plead, shit himself. Maybe some part of him wants to spite Campbell one last time by not giving him the pleasure of watching Sam beg. Whatever it is, Sam tries to hold on to it. He breathes through his nose and out through his mouth and grits his teeth.

At the very least, it’s perfect weather to be outside, sunny and mild, the shade of the leaves making patterns against the sunlight poking through. It is, Sam reflects a little ruefully, a beautiful day to die. 

Eden, Grizz, Becca, mom, dad, Sam chants slowly in his head, a steady mantra of love that pierces through the animal fear, Eden, Grizz, Becca, mom, dad.

He doesn’t know what they’re waiting for. Maybe they’re scared, more scared than he is. He hopes they’re scared, hopes that what’s left of their humanity is railing against the injustice of this.

 Eden, Grizz, Becca, mom, dad.

A shadow falls against his back, and then Campbell comes into view. For once he is unsmiling, eyes cold and grim. If anything, Sam would have thought his brother would be crowing, excited. This, after all, must be more exhilarating than plucking the wings off a bird. Something seems off about him though, off enough that Sam feels like this isn’t really happening, that in reality they are on opposite ends of their kitchen table, arguing over the last of the orange juice.

 He remembers Campbell’s expression at the sentencing, the terse way Campbell had held himself when the guard had taken Sam out of the makeshift courtroom.

What’s wrong? Sam asks, and it’s a surreal question because everything, everything is wrong. Campbell grimaces, looks put out and aggrieved as if he was the one on the chair instead of Sam.

These fucking idiots, Campbell signs violently, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

I’m touched, Sam says dryly, his hands forming half-signs at his sides, sorry your plans got spoiled.

It’s a surprise, genuinely, that Campbell seems to care if Sam lives or dies. Sam wouldn’t want to touch the inner workings of his psycho brother’s brain with a ten-foot pole, but Sam suspects that Campbell has taken whatever love had been borne between them out of blood and twisted it like he does to all his things. It made sense that Campbell would get pissed if Sam got blown off this mortal coil without Campbell’s explicit say-so.

Campbell looks up suddenly, and in a sudden flash of movement, raises a gun he must have tucked behind his waistband, aiming for somewhere behind Sam. Sam can’t process what’s happening, and not for the first time, curses his useless eardrums. Hope is flaring in his chest, a bright and almost terrible thing, and maybe it’s his imagination but Sam thinks he tastes blood in the air.

And then, Campbell is aiming his gun at Sam, squarely on his face. Campbell’s expression is serene, a wild look in his eyes that Sam recognizes as glee. Campbell has always been a monster, a cuckoo in the nest, a beast among men. Sam meets his eyes steadily, holds his best memory of Eden’s tiny pink face in his head and prepares to take it into the next life.

And then Campbell lowers his arm, takes his gun apart slowly and chucks the ammunition somewhere behind him. Things happen very quickly after. Luke grabs Campbell, manhandling him out of view, and then Grizz is there, hands clutching at Sam’s shoulders, his thighs, his neck, as someone else gets to work cutting Sam free.

Thank you, Grizz is saying over and over, red-eyed and terrified, thank you, thank you, oh shit, thank you, thank you.