“Myrrine! I wasn’t really expecting you to be here,” Brasidas said as he dismounted, surprised.
“I’m no stranger to getting my hands dirty.” Myrrine rose from where she’d been sitting beside the campfire. Her gaze darted past Brasidas to Deimos, who offered her a cursory glance as he dismounted in turn. He hitched their horses close to the camp with Myrrine’s and started to brush them down. Once he was done with his black horse, Deimos started to brushing down Brasidas’ roan, only to pause as Brasidas walked over and took the comb from him.
“Go and talk to her,” Brasidas said quietly.
“Is that an order?” Deimos had been pointedly ignoring Myrrine’s and Kassandra’s invitations to visit them in Sparta. Not that the house they were occupying technically still belonged to them any longer. Brasidas had mentioned something about citizenship in passing but Deimos hadn’t paid much attention to it.
“If you want me to make it an order, yes. Go.”
Deimos made a show of bowing in obeisance, which got him a reproachful stare. Myrrine was waiting for him further from the camp, on an outcrop with a gnarled olive tree that snaked out into empty space. She was sitting against it, unafraid of the sheer drop beneath, looking out over at a distant fort. “Your sister will be joining us in time,” Myrrine said, without looking at him. “I sent her to meet her pater first.”
“Nikolaos is still alive?” That hadn’t been what Deimos had heard. Not that he cared either way.
“Not your pater. Hers. Also, Kassandra told me that she spared Nikolaos’ life. I’m glad about that.” Myrrine looked evenly at Deimos, her face carefully blank. “Though for years, I dreamed of wringing his neck for what he did.”
“Only for years?” Deimos folded his arms.
Myrrine exhaled. She glanced away. “Someday you’ll know what it’s like to love another in a way that frightens you. Not mere eros, not just passion. Pragma is to love in a way that’s built into your bones, a love that endures through time and betrayals alike.”
“A love that forgives the attempted murder of children?” Deimos drawled.
“Never,” Myrrine snapped, eyes flashing. “What the Athenians like to say about Spartan women is a little true. Quick to anger. Slow to forgive. Some things are not ever meant to be forgiven. That’s between him and me, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still love your pater. Even as I hate him as well.” She rubbed at her arms and forced a smile. “How are things? With you and your sister.”
“We’re not about to murder each other if that’s what you mean.”
“Kassandra still loves you.”
“She doesn’t know me. You don’t know me. The two of you just love a brief memory of me.” Deimos set his hands on his hips, looking out over the darkening sky. “I don’t feel anything for either of you. You’re both strangers to me.”
Instead of hurt, or anger, Myrrine nodded. “I can understand that. Kassandra… told me about what you said about Spartan parents. You’re right. In general. Spartan parents aren’t… close to their children. Not in the way non-Spartan parents can be.”
“Brasidas said House Agiad would have enjoyed certain privileges and exemptions,” Deimos said. He still resented the re-intrusion of his blood-family into his life. Not only was his sister annoying, but the revelation of his bloodline also seemed to have changed Brasidas’ attitude in a way that he couldn’t easily pin down. It was a little as though Deimos was now being measured up to the ghosts of people he never knew.
“Privileges that wouldn’t have been exercised. Nikolaos would have wanted to set an example for his men by sending his son to the agoge. Some things would not have changed.” Myrrine smiled wistfully. “Even though I wish things were different, given the way things turned out, I’m truly glad that Brasidas found you. He’s a good man. More importantly, he’s also genuinely kind. It’s a rare quality in a Spartan.”
“He’s a great man.” Deimos was keeping an eye on Brasidas through his peripheral vision. He’d gotten used to doing that. Just in case.
“Brasidas’ Wolf,” Myrrine said. At Deimos’ unblinking stare, she let out a soft, mirthless laugh. “You owe me nothing. I would never have been able to raise you, even if I hadn’t lost you the way I had. I just want you to know that I still love you, I always have. And that I’m proud of you.”
“Your words don’t mean anything to me,” Deimos said, as neutrally as he could.
Myrrine nodded tiredly. “They needed to be said anyway.”
“Satisfied?” Deimos told Brasidas when he walked back to the horses.
“It’s a start. She is your mother.”
“I don’t see you often talking to yours.” Deimos was vaguely aware that Brasidas’ mother was still alive. She’d come by the house once when Deimos had still been a child to take a look at him but had appeared largely indifferent to her son and his choices.
“As far as my mother’s concerned, her duty to Sparta is complete.” Brasidas pulled a face. “She’ll just lecture me about how I haven’t done mine.”
“You?” Deimos said, incredulous. “You’ve done plenty for Sparta.”
“I’m over thirty years of age and I haven’t married a Spartan woman or fathered Spartan children,” Brasidas said, amused. “If I hadn’t done ‘plenty’ else for Sparta, I’d have been publicly shamed for it.”
Deimos scowled. “Every year I like Sparta less and less.”
Brasidas cuffed Deimos on the shoulder. “If you have the energy to speak heresies, you have the energy to hunt us some dinner.”
By the time Deimos returned to camp with a small boar, Kassandra had finally arrived. Deimos eyed the still-scabbing gash on her arm as he dropped the carcass by the campfire. “Ran into trouble?”
“Your ‘friend’ Lagos has put a bounty on all our heads,” Kassandra told Brasidas sourly. “The sort of bounty that would allow a small army to retire comfortably for the rest of their lives. I’d be impressed, if there weren’t now so many fucking people after our heads.”
“I thought he might. Which is why I had to resort to this roundabout way of having us meet here. I paid someone to wait for you at the other place.”
“Someone Lagos bought over. Didn’t I mention the ridiculous bounty?” Kassandra pointed at the gash on her arm. “You could’ve left Alexios there if you wanted to reliably pass me a message. No matter. I’ve been scoping out the region. It’s clear that Lagos is a cultist.”
“Burning down Arkadia to get to him will win you no favours,” Brasidas said. Deimos tuned out the argument as he took the boar away to gut it somewhere in quiet. He set cuts of it to roast and wrapped leftover strips to salt, taking his time. Once dinner was ready, the argument was winding down.
“We could just split up and save time,” Myrrine said. She nodded at Deimos. “Alexios could handle your tasks and Kassandra could do mine.”
“I said I don’t approve of your tactics,” Brasidas told her. “There’s something wrong. We should investigate the matter first. Carefully. Destabilising this area will have serious consequences for Sparta.” Myrrine’s lips compressed into a thin line. “I care about that,” Brasidas said flatly. “As you still should. If you genuinely want to retake Spartan citizenship.”
“We’ll do things your way,” Kassandra said, settling down beside the campfire. “Though the bounty isn’t making me inclined to like this friend of yours.” She looked over at Deimos. “Any opinions?”
“No.” Deimos ate a chunk of meat speared on a knife, careful not to get any fat over his knees.
“Alexios,” Brasidas said, with a sigh. Deimos stiffened. He’d been indifferent at the beginning when Kassandra had told him his original name. He didn’t care what Kassandra or Myrrine called him. Brasidas was another matter.
“That’s not my name.” Deimos ate in silence, ignoring Myrrine’s tentative overtures. He went for a walk once it grew dark, locating a creek to perform some perfunctory ablutions.
As he washed his face in the cold water, Brasidas said quietly behind him, “What’s wrong with you now?”
Deimos got to his feet, smoothing his damp hands through his hair. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“You don’t want to be here.”
“Arkadia’s not so bad. Other than the massive bounty a ‘friend’ of yours put on your head.” Big enough to draw famous bounty hunters from far and wide. Not ideal.
“There’s a reason behind that, I’m sure.” Brasidas grimaced. “Lagos isn’t one for—”
“Yes, yes. You’ve said.”
“And you were listening before?” Brasidas came closer. He smiled softly as he stroked Deimos’ cheek, his gaze going dark as Deimos grasped his wrist and rubbed his cheek against his palm.
“To you? I’m always listening.” Deimos turned to kiss Brasidas on the palm and curled his lip as Brasidas pulled away. He grabbed Brasidas by the straps of his cuirass and pushed him against a tree, leaning in to kiss him. Brasidas allowed the kiss but stayed still, lips pressed shut until Deimos pulled back with a frustrated growl. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Why are you being so hostile?”
“Am I?” Deimos pressed a thigh between Brasidas’ legs with a teasing grin. When Brasidas merely stared evenly back at him without reacting, Deimos exhaled and pushed away from the tree. “I don’t want things to change.”
“Change is an inevitable part of life,” Brasidas said.
“Don’t. Don’t start with one of your lessons. I’m not in the mood.”
“When have you ever been in the mood? Deimos. Perhaps you feel wronged by your family. But—”
“I don’t,” Deimos cut in. “Not by those two. Kassandra was as much a victim of what happened as I was. Myrrine did her best given the circumstances. I can see that. I’m not oblivious.”
“This.” Deimos gestured helplessly between them. “It’s changing. Because they’re here. This matter of my ‘bloodline’. I wish I could take it all back. That we’d never met them. I wish I was no one.” Just like before.
“You?” Brasidas smiled. He walked over and pulled Deimos over to press their foreheads together, his palms warm over Deimos’ cheeks. “You’ve never been no one. Especially not to me.”
Deimos clenched his hands tightly over Brasidas’ wrists. This time Brasidas yielded to a kiss, opening his mouth and allowing Deimos to bite him, push his tongue through. He kissed Brasidas until the knot in his gut eased, until Brasidas gently pulled his hands free to pet him over his arms, his back.
“Myrrine said that she still loves Nikolaos,” Deimos said on their way back up to the campsite. “Despite everything.”
“I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. The whole matter of their marriage was unusual in the first place. Myrrine already had a child—Kassandra—out of wedlock, and she refused to disclose who the father was. Broke Archidamos’ nose when he insisted.”
“Why did they care? It’s not unusual for Spartan women to have children by different fathers. There were a lot of half-brothers in the agoge. Nobody cared.”
“Myrrine was the last descendant of House Agiad at the time and there are certain formalities to being Leonidas’ only child. She had a very public argument with the Kings as a result and declared that she would never marry, because the best of all men had already lived and died and he was her father.”
Despite himself, Deimos chuckled. “Well, she had a point.”
“The ephors were not pleased. Eventually, she made a concession. She would consent to marry any man who could defeat her, but any man whom she defeated had to leave Sparta, never to return.”
“Myrrine is that good a warrior?” Deimos said, skeptical. She hadn’t looked the part. Maybe blood ran true. Kassandra, after all, was just as good as Deimos was—without formal training.
“I hadn’t thought so. Neither did the Kings. Spartan women aren’t usually taught how to fight beyond the basics. Leonidas, apparently, wasn’t satisfied with that and secretly taught her himself. After she forced a handful of champions into self-exile they stopped pestering her, allowing her to live quietly with Kassandra in peace. Which was what she wanted all along.”
“The ephors were happy about that?”
Brasidas shrugged. “It didn’t matter whether they were happy about it. She had made a quintessentially Spartan bargain. One worthy of Leonidas himself. Years afterward a young polemarch befriended her. Out of curiosity at first, I think. It became something more. When he finally challenged her to a fight, Myrrine initially refused to accept.”
“She could do that? What happened?”
Brasidas clapped him on the shoulder, grinning slyly. “You should ask her yourself.” He nodded over at the light of the campfire, now visible through the thick shrub.
“That’s not fair,” Deimos complained. “You’re doing this on purpose.”
“Everything I do is done on purpose.” Brasidas patted Deimos’ head and chuckled as Deimos scowled and jerked away.
“Whatever. I don’t actually want to know,” Deimos muttered. “Nikolaos was the polemarch, I assume.”
“By befriending her first. That’s cheating.”
Brasidas laughed. “It wasn’t against her rules. Besides, if you think she held back because of that, you’re much mistaken. That’s one thing you, your sister, and your mater all have in common. You’re all stubborn and prideful people.”
“So Nikolaos defeated her in a duel?”
“That’s not my story to tell.”
“You’ve already told me most of it!” Deimos glared at Brasidas, but Brasidas couldn’t be swayed.
Back at the camp, Myrrine was asleep. Kassandra paused in the middle of maintaining her gear to stare at Deimos. “Someone’s in a foul mood.”
“Fuck off,” Deimos growled.
Kassandra shot Deimos a startled look. “Young enough that I actually don’t even remember that happening. I always thought Nikolaos was my father. Why?”
Grudgingly, Deimos related Brasidas’ story to Kassandra. “And then?” Kassandra said at the end.
“He didn’t want to tell me. So I thought I’d ask you.”
“Well,” Kassandra said, puzzled, “this is the first I’ve heard of all that.”
Deimos glowered at her. “Brasidas wouldn’t have lied.”
“I didn’t say that he was.” Kassandra smirked at him. “You get so defensive over him. It’s hilarious.”
“Forget I said anything,” Deimos growled. He leaned back against the rock, closing his eyes.
“Aww. Don’t get mad, little brother. Did I hurt your feelings? I’m sowwy.”
Deimos grit his teeth. “I’m not your brother.”
“Sadly, neither of us have a choice about that. You think I’m happy about having an emotionally stunted tantrum for a brother?”
“You think I’m happy about having an older sister who’s still so hung up about being mater’s precious little baby girl?” Deimos snarled. “How the fuck did you even get Brasidas involved in your issues?”
“Don’t look at me. Mater just told me to meet her here. Nobody asked Brasidas to tag along.”
“He heard a rumour that she was coming personally and didn’t think it would be safe for her to walk around Arkadia by herself. You could have been here. Instead of meeting your mysterious pater. Brasidas wouldn’t have been worried then.”
“I didn’t want to go either! I was putting that off and she lost patience with me. Made me go.” Kassandra shuddered. “Ugh. That was. Disturbing.”
Deimos’ anger faded, eaten by curiosity. “Really? Who is he? Was it that bad?” A criminal of some sort? Deimos couldn’t imagine the imperious woman who was his mother deigning to sleep with someone like that. She would stab him in the balls first.
“I don’t want to talk about it. I’ve been thinking about it all the way back here and it still—” Kassandra shuddered again, “—leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
“Did you kill him?”
“No. No! What’s wrong with you?”
“You’re asking me? If he was that bad, what’s wrong with you? Gods. What’s wrong with our fucking family?” Deimos muttered. It was a rhetorical question, but Kassandra let out a startled bark of laughter.
“Speaking of our family, we have a brother.”
“Another surprise sibling? Great. Is he also a prick?”
“An adopted brother, and sadly, yes. This seems to be a running theme among the men in this family.”
“Only the men?” Deimos glowered at her.
Kassandra was about to retort, then she held up her hand. “Ssh! I hear something.”
“Good! I was getting bored.” Deimos got to his feet.
“Alexios. Get back here!”
Not that Kassandra had really cared about that, or so she told Deimos afterward as they sat on a bench outside the reinstated family house. “I’ve gotten on fine all this while without Spartan citizenship. I just didn’t want our constipated goat of a younger brother selling off our mater’s house.”
“So that’s what all this was about,” Deimos said. He looked around. He had no memory of the house and had been surprised that it was so small. “Was this really Leonidas’ house? It’s. Tiny.” Brasidas’ house was bigger, even.
“No. It’s mater’s. She bought it the funds she still had after her disagreement with the ephors. They tried to force her to wed by limiting her inheritance. All of House Agiad’s resources are still snarled up in the city coffers. You could probably get your hands on it eventually. Being the male heir and all.” Kassandra rolled her eyes.
“I’m not interested in money. And I’m not a citizen.”
“Not yet. Brasidas told mater that he didn’t think that would be an issue.” Kassandra glanced around her into the house, where Myrrine was happily tidying up. “Speaking of which, I asked mater about the story. Her fight with pater.”
“It’s a good story.”
“You should ask her about it. Over dinner.”
Deimos scowled at her. “I eat dinner at the syssitia.”
“Isn’t the food terrible? I heard it’s the same every day.”
“It’s just food,” Deimos said slowly. He flinched as Kassandra clapped him on the shoulder.
“That’s. So tragic. I’ve never understood that part of being a Spartan.”
“I’m not a Spartan citizen. What part?”
“This sacrifice of your sense of taste for the greater good of Sparta, or whatever their reasoning is,” Kassandra said, with an expansive gesture.
Deimos sniffed. “You’re the one who wished that we could grow up together here as one big imaginary family.”
“I did then, and, I went away and thought about what you said. You’re right in many ways. And you did grow up here.” Kassandra sobered up, staring at her feet. “In a way, it’s true. The Cult did us both a favour.”
“Told you so.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to wipe them off the face of this earth.”
“I didn’t say we should forgive them for what they did just because things worked out,” Deimos said. Deimos wasn’t one for forgiveness in general as a concept.
“‘We’?” Kassandra grinned.
“I have as much of a right to hold a grudge as you do. More. I just don’t see the point of expending the kind of effort that you are. Things like the Cult are like the Hydra. You cut off a head, another head appears.”
“Herakles killed the Hydra.” Kassandra flashed Deimos a sharp smile. “And what he can do, I can do. Come for dinner. Bring Brasidas, if you need a chaperone. Mater can tell you her story over some real food.”
“I’m not that interested,” Deimos said, and later made the mistake of recounting the incident to Brasidas when Brasidas got home from some discussion with the ephors.
“You’re going,” Brasidas said, without looking up from the tablet he was studying. “I’ll make your excuses to the syssitia.”
“I’m not going, and you can’t make me,” Deimos said resentfully.
“You are, and I can. Go and have dinner with your family. Be on your best behaviour.”
“You’re the only family I care about,” Deimos said. He folded his arms and leaned pointedly against the wall when Brasidas said nothing. “You can’t move me if I don’t want to be moved.”
“You’ll go. Or you won’t be sharing my bed for the foreseeable future,” Brasidas said, and smiled at the horrified look Deimos shot him.
Word had reached Brasidas that Stentor would be coming by to pay his respects to Myrrine, and Brasidas had insisted that Deimos attend the meeting. Just in case, he’d said. Deimos wasn’t exactly sure what he was meant to be doing, and had shown up at Myrrine’s house just in time to watch a grizzled old Spartan warrior walk inside. There’d been a snarl of rage from within and a bowl had shattered against a wall, at which point Stentor and Deimos had collectively decided to retreat to a safe distance.
“Our sister would probably have gutted you if you had,” Deimos said.
Stentor pulled a face. They were walking slowly through the fields downslope from the house. “Our sister is a foul-mouthed, unmanageable, infuriating disgrace to her bloodline.”
Deimos sighed. “I hate it when she’s right.”
“Right? About what?”
“About things. Like you being a prick.”
Stentor glared at him. “I remember you. We’re not that far apart in age. I entered the agoge while you were still in it. We’ve never faced each other. At that time you were training against only the older boys, and always against several at once.”
“Funny. I thought I would’ve remembered seeing a boy like you. Scrawny, with the face of a depressed jackal.”
“Your insolence does no one credit. That’s what comes of Brasidas’ continued indulgence of your poor attitude.”
“All right,” Deimos growled, “I’ve had enough. Draw your sword.”
“Gladly,” Stentor said, baring his teeth.
Unfortunately, Brasidas came by just as Deimos was about to stab Stentor a few times in the throat. “I told you to keep an eye on your mater,” Brasidas said, shouldering between them. “Where is she?”
“In the house. She’s probably killed Nikolaos by now,” Deimos said, wiping blood off his mouth.
“What?” Brasidas hurried off, presumably to help Myrrine hide the body. Deimos eyed Stentor warily.
“You’re good,” Stentor said grudgingly.
“You’re not as terrible as Kassandra said you were,” Deimos conceded. Truce declared, they sheathed their weapons and glanced up along the field. “You didn’t say that Nikolaos was coming,” Deimos told Stentor.
“That wasn’t my idea. He thought Myrrine would refuse to see us both if I was completely honest in my missive.” Stentor looked bemused. “I didn’t think she would react so violently.”
“You mean, to the presence of a man who threw her daughter off a cliff?”
“The priests told him to. And in any case, he now regrets it.”
“Being the first child who was thrown off the cliff, I assure you that doesn’t make me feel any kinder toward him.” Deimos sat gingerly down on a rock, inspecting his wounds. After a while, Stentor leaned against a tree. “When did you meet Kassandra?”
“Few years ago. She confronted Nikolaos privately and drove him to self-exile. Then she gave us all the impression that she’d killed him. Charming turn of affairs.” Stentor muttered something under his breath. “I met her again fairly recently. King Archidamos sent her to help me during another campaign. He sent Nikolaos as well. Who intervened when I challenged Kassandra to a fight.”
“Good thing he did. Or you’d be dead.”
Stentor frowned at Deimos. “She’s better than you are?”
“No, but she isn’t any worse. Apparently, it runs in the family,” Deimos said, and despite himself ended up recounting Myrrine’s story to Stentor.
“Nikolaos never mentioned this to me,” Stentor said, during one of Deimos’ pauses for breath. He looked thoughtful. “I knew he’d been married to Leonidas’ daughter, of course. Everyone did. But he never mentioned her. Or either of you.”
“I’d have been surprised if he did.” It wasn’t particularly Spartan to be sentimental.
“So what happened next? When he challenged Myrrine to a fight and she declined?”
“He petitioned the kings.”
“Oh, that would have gone down well,” Stentor said. At Deimos’ stare, Stentor made an impatient gesture. “I’m just drawing conclusions about Myrrine from you and your sister’s behaviour. Besides, she’s Leonidas’ daughter. The same Leonidas who’d once told the Pythia to go and fuck herself, albeit in not so many words.”
“It didn’t go down well. She was furious. Accused him of undermining her. Nikolaos demanded to know whether Myrrine’s challenge was a bargain made out of bad faith. Which it clearly was, but she couldn’t exactly admit that out aloud.”
“He goaded her into a fight on his terms,” Stentor guessed. “It’s something he would do. Nikolaos is one of the most brilliant Generals Sparta has ever produced. I’m thinking he likely did more.” At Deimos’ nod, Stentor said, “He’d never do anything dishonourable. But he likes to tell me that in any war, the battle should already be halfway won before you even step onto the battlefield. Ideally, you try to win over allies. The local population, if you can. That’d be the Kings, likely. And the Spartan public, who love to watch a fight.”
“That he did,” Deimos said.
“Then you try to win over the enemy,” Stentor said, thinking this over. “He already did that. If she refused to fight him.”
“Oh, there’s more,” Deimos said. He gestured at the distance. “He made an offering before my grandfather’s statue and vowed that if he won, he would look after Myrrine and endeavour to live up to the honour by following in Leonidas’ example as a General. Apparently, it was all very moving. According to Myrrine.”
Stentor laughed, then he coughed. “That’s. Actually cheating. Her heart wouldn’t be in the fight after something like that.”
“I know! Finally, someone agrees with me. That’s what I told Kassandra afterward. She said I had no soul.”
“Kassandra is a strange woman. Regardless, Nikolaos would have meant every word he said in such a vow. Did he win, after all that?”
“Supposedly, Leonidas’ spirit aided him in the battle at the last possible moment and he snatched victory from the brink of defeat,” Deimos said, wrinkling his nose.
Stentor considered this. “She threw the fight.”
“That’s what I thought too. Myrrine denied it.”
“You didn’t press her on that point?”
“Kassandra told me to shut up or she’d make me shut up,” Deimos said sourly, “so we dueled and I forgot about it.”
“She’s rude on top of being strange,” Stentor said. He pushed away from the tree and looked Deimos over solemnly. “I might have been mistaken about you. Given your reputation and your sister’s. I thought you would be a violent, unreasonable lout.”
“I am a violent, unreasonable lout,” Deimos said, as he got to his feet. “But there are worse things to be.” He clapped Stentor hard on the shoulder, making him flinch. “I don’t, for example, look like a constipated goat. You ought to get that checked by a doctor.”
Stentor jerked away from Deimos with a scowl of disgust.
Amphipolis. Brasidas had told him to go after Kleon. Deimos had seen Kleon among his personal guard in the scrum. Cutting through to get to him hadn’t been difficult with Kassandra beside him. Then he’d seen it. He’d been kicking the body of one of the guards off his spear when he had looked above the din and the noise and chaos and had seen Brasidas go down in a knot of flashing bronze and steel.
There wasn’t much of ‘next’ that Deimos remembered. Kassandra shouting after him. Other people in his way. How many had he cut through to get to Brasidas? Not enough. What was the point of being a so-called god of war if war ate the people he wanted to protect? Failure, that’s what Deimos remembered most keenly. Failure and Kassandra screaming his name.
Waking up had been unwelcome. Deimos looked up into a luxuriously appointed room with dizzy astonishment. He tried to sit up and ended up cursing and leaning against the pillows, gasping in pain. There was a scuffle outside. After a while, Kassandra walked in. She was limping slightly, her thigh bandaged, but otherwise looked annoyingly healthy.
“Well, that was a disaster,” Kassandra told him. She sat down beside him on the bed.
Deimos didn’t want to ask. But he had to know. “Brasidas?”
“Fine. He’s talking to the—”
Deimos grabbed Kassandra’s wrist. “Fine?”
“Yes? He’s in discussions with his friends. The Edonians and such.”
“I saw him go down.” Deimos had definitely seen Brasidas lying on the ground, bloodied and unresponsive.
“Oh, that. His helmet was knocked off and he was struck from behind by something. It just knocked him unconscious. He’s mostly unhurt. You, on the other hand.” Kassandra glared at him as she poked Deimos in the shoulder. He cursed, hissing with pain. “You went berserk. Ended up shot full of arrows. Not sure how you survived that but you did.”
“He’s really alive?” Deimos asked, wary. “You’re certain?”
“I just talked to him this morning. Yes. He’s alive. More alive than you are. I’m glad I didn’t have to go home to Lakonia and explain to mater how I let you get yourself killed.”
“My welfare is none of your concern.”
“I wish it wasn’t. You’re an ungrateful ass.”
They were still bickering when Brasidas walked into the room. He glanced at Deimos, then looked at Kassandra. “A moment,” Brasidas said. She nodded, getting to her feet.
“About time. He was just about to crawl out of here to look for you.” Kassandra kicked the side of the cot. “See? He’s alive. You have trust issues.”
Deimos made a rude gesture at Kassandra with his good hand and she smirked at him as she stalked out. “She saved your life,” Brasidas said, settling down at the edge of the cot.
Deimos reached out grasp Brasidas’ wrist. “I didn’t want her to at the time. I thought you were dead.”
“If you can’t tell the difference between someone being unconscious and dead, you might need to go back to the agoge for a refresher,” Brasidas said, with a quick smile. He frowned as Deimos forced himself to sit up with a pained gasp. “Rest.”
Deimos ignored him, hauling Brasidas closer with fingers curled around the back of his neck. He kissed Brasidas with desperate urgency, like the first time, when he wasn’t sure if Brasidas would pull away. Brasidas hummed, low and soothing. He stroked Deimos’ cheek, his jaw and throat. Pressed him back down and kissed him until Deimos’ grip on Brasidas relaxed. Deimos closed his eyes, his breaths heaving through him in agonised draughts. He unbuckled one of Brasidas’ bracers and pulled the bared wrist to his ear, listening for the pulse, as deep and as steady as the sea.
“Patience,” Brasidas would reply.
“Patience isn’t a Spartan virtue,” Deimos would shoot back. Normally Brasidas would just laugh and say no more. Tonight, Brasidas shot him a wry smile.
“Of that, you and my many critics would agree.” Brasidas unbuckled his cuirass, setting it aside.
“I have many. Among the gerousia, the ekklēsia… even the current crop of ephoroi. I’m aware of all of them out of necessity.”
“Why? Your campaigns are successful.” Deimos shifted in the cot to make space for Brasidas. The borrowed villa in Amphipolis was a courtesy from one of Brasidas’ many non-Spartan friends, a wealthy merchant with many houses who’d been born in Amphipolis.
“They’re successful, but not always in a Spartan way.” Brasidas kissed Deimos in the temple. “Oh, someday if I were to die gloriously in battle no doubt all the dissent will be forgotten, but—”
“Don’t talk about that,” Deimos whispered. He pressed his mouth to the hollow of Brasidas’ throat, licked at the sweat there. “About dying.”
“Everyone dies,” Brasidas said. He looked steadily into Deimos’ eyes, the warm hazel of his eyes caught in rich reflection. If only that were the case. If only Deimos was all that Brasidas could see. A fantasy for simpler lives. Deimos closed in, pressing their lips together. Lying this close, it was easy to kiss.
“Myrrine said that she hoped I would someday love in a way that frightens me,” Deimos murmured. “Pragma, she called it. A love that builds its way into your bones.”
“The ideal,” Brasidas said. He stroked Deimos’ back, careful of his still-healing wounds.
“Why is it separate from eros?”
“A philosophical conceit. That it has to be one or the other.” Brasidas kissed Deimos on the nose. “That’s clearly not the case for even your parents.”
“What about us?” Deimos asked. It was with a jolt that he realized that he’d never said anything of love to Brasidas. He’d never thought that he had to. Love was a conceit for songs and poems, of which Sparta had little use for. Love was deemed largely useless by the world Brasidas was loyal to, a world that cored parents away from their children, where the word of strangers could get children cast to their deaths. Sparta had no real use for the sentiment.
“I’ve loved you for so long that I don’t remember what it was like not to have loved you,” Brasidas said. He kissed Deimos before Deimos could speak, in this and in many things not quite Spartan at all, and Deimos had never been gladder for it. He muffled a strangled noise against Brasidas, clawed at his shoulders until Brasidas rolled cautiously on top of him.
“Please,” Deimos said, the word hissed out from clenched teeth. Brasidas didn’t argue. He fumbled with their loincloths, freeing them with shaky fingers.
“You nearly died,” Brasidas said. He kissed Deimos’ shoulder, just clear of one of the bandages. “If that arrow had been lower.” He pulled off Deimos’ tunic with gentle fingers, studying new and old scars. Bending, Brasidas mouthed over one of the oldest, a jagged mark over his shoulder. He’d had that one all his life. He didn’t know the story behind that one, or the next seam that Brasidas licked, close to his ribs.
“You should give me one,” Deimos breathed, as Brasidas tickled his fingertips against a long-healed gash close to Deimos’ hips.
“Give you what?”
“A mark.” Deimos pulled Brasidas’ fingertips up to a pockmark near his ribs, from an arrow that had gotten lucky.
“For you to remember me by?” Brasidas smiled. He kissed Deimos between his eyes. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s necessary.” He spat on his palm, gathering their thickening cocks together in a callused grip.
Deimos moaned, nudging his hips up, ignoring the spark of pain that brought. He welcomed the next as he ground against Brasidas’ slow rhythm, wrapping his arms around Brasidas to pull him closer. Stitching lust and pain and more together. It was maddening and overwhelming and brilliant. He gasped Brasidas’ name against his ear, scoured blunt nails down Brasidas’ flanks. Brasidas moved in minute gentle thrusts. He pushed open-mouthed kisses over Deimos’ shoulders, burrowing tenderness against his throat. Deimos would have lasted longer if he could. Brasidas hummed as Deimos gasped and shoved up his hips, spurting between them and soiling Brasidas’ long fingers. Brasidas gasped as he rubbed himself in the mess, bowing his head as he chased his own pleasure with urgent thrusts.
When Brasidas rolled off him to catch his breath, Deimos rubbed fingers through the mess and lapped them clean. He grinned at the heated look Brasidas shot him and did it again, until he’d licked up as much as he could get. Brasidas kissed him, chasing their taste, trading lazy kisses until their breaths had slowed and they were sprawled in a careful tangle of limbs.
“The next time I have to attend some painfully awkward family dinner,” Deimos said sleepily against Brasidas’ shoulder, “I think you should go with me.”
“It’s your family,” Brasidas said, his usual response.
“They might as well get used to you being a part of that.” Deimos yawned. Fingertips traced over his shoulder, tickling down over his spine, over scars. Now in the prime of his life, he’d earned most of them in the service of the man pressed against him. He regretted none of them.
“All right,” Brasidas whispered, and drew him closer.