by LindaMarie

Spring was in full bloom around them, the heat bursting like a berry on the tongue of the air. Damon and his little brother were stretched out at the top of a small hill, watching the clouds pass.

It was a lazy, blessed kind of day, the kind that could make two boys stop their play and wonder at the beauty of the world. There was no tutor here, nothing to marr the golden sheen of this freedom. Life was good.

This was the old house in Tuscany, Mother's family's ancient Roman home and the garden-like land that surrounded it. Father sent them here, with Giana, the nurse, when he travelled abroad.

At twelve Damon was far too old for a nurse, of course. But his little brother Stefan was only eight, and often sick, so Damon was happy that Giana was with them.

Father said that Damon worried about Stefan far too much, but Damon ignored him. He was beginning to suspect that grown-ups weren't nearly as smart as they'd been made out to be. All he could see was that his younger brother was easily frightened, pale, quiet and reclusive. Damon occasionally wondered whether Stefan would just waste away to nothing one day, like...

"Talk some more about Mother." Stefan was following the path of a falcon as it circled high in the sky, hunting. Damon, too, kept his eyes on it as it turned in the empty air.

"I don't think there's much I haven't told you by now."

Stefan smiled and ducked his head, blushing. "You're right." He put his hand on his brother's shoulder. "But tell me again. Please."

"All right." Damon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He closed his eyes, still seeing afterimages of blue, and tried to think. Stefan's touch was warm and soothing to him, and the memories soon came easily. "Mother smelled like flowers. Roses, I think. She looked like you, only her skin was darker because she was always outside. But she had your green eyes."

He scrunched up his face a little, hoping Stefan wasn't watching him. It hurt inside to talk about her, and he didn't want his little brother to know it did, because he'd be sad. The whole reason why he was talking was to make him happy. "He hair was really long, really thick, and it curled at the bottom. It was nice to brush it for her. She liked that. She...she used to make crowns for me out of flowers, and we'd sit up here, right here, and I'd pretend to be King."

Damon opened his eyes, blinking. He couldn't say any more. He turned, and Stefan was looking at him after all.

The younger boy sat up and brushed one hand over the tips of the grass. "I wish I'd known her."

"I know." Damon often asked himself why he kept telling Stefan about her. He told himself it was because it made Stefan happy to hear it, but he was being dishonest. In truth, he thought thinking about her saddened his brother. He suspected the real reason why he talked all about her was because it was lonely keeping the memories to himself. If he told someone, someone who'd understand, then at least he'd have company.

They were quiet for a long time. Damon stretched his arms down at his sides, working his fingers gently into the earth as he thought to himself. Finally, he stood and surveyed the ground around him. He pointed a few yard to the left, where there was a patch of flowers. "Come over here and help me with this."


"I'll show you."

They sat down close to where the blossoms began, facing each other. Damon picked one flower down by the base, then another, starting a little pile between them. "Do it like this, Stefan. See?"

Stefan obeyed, but his brow furrowed a little as he asked, "Why? What are we doing?"

"We're gathering flowers for a crown, that's what. I'm not sure how she did this, but I'm sure it's not too hard."

After Damon deemed that the pile was big enough, he started puzzling out just how they should be put together. He tried knots, but they usually broke, and the ones that didn't looked all wrong. After much consideration, he recalled that Mother had used her nails on the stems. He didn't have long nails like she had, so he used his teeth. Stefan stared at him and occasionally stifled a laugh.

"There!" Damon triumphantly held up two connected flowers. He'd made a hole in the stem of one, then slipped the stem of the other through it. It looked the right way this time. He showed his brother how it was done, and they worked together at connecting more. Damon measured the top of Stefan's head, and when the wreath was done, he placed it grandly on top.

"See, now you're King." He winked and bowed low. Stefan nodded and laughed while Damon ran down to a tree at the base of the hill. He found a nice, straight stick and hurried back up with it. "Here's your scepter. Mother always gave me a scepter."

Stefan laughed some more, and it was such a happy sound that Damon joined in. Then Stefan poked him with the stick. Twice. Then he started running.

Damon gave chase, picking up a stick of his own when the opportunity presented itself. They ran and they ran, up the hill, down the hill, around the hill, until the younger boy collapsed. By that time Damon had picked up so much momentum that he couldn't stop in time. He tripped over Stefan, dropped his stick, and fell right on top of him. "Oof."

They were still out of breath, still laughing, as Damon rolled off on his side, facing Stefan, who mirrored his posture. "So what else did Mother do when you came here?" His hair was falling over his eyes, tangled and curling. Damon brushed it away.

"Well, she didn't chase me, that's for sure. She...wasn't ever very strong." His hand lingered on Stefan's face as he again reflected how much the boy was like her. "Usually she'd stay sitting up at the top, and she'd hold me in her lap, and she'd...she'd kiss me."

Stefan turned his head down, toward the ground, away from Damon's touch. "Nobody's ever kissed me before."

And it hurt so much to see that pained, wanting look on his face. Damon didn't want his little brother to hurt, ever, because it hurt him too. He wished he'd never said anything about the kissing now, but it was too late. So he leaned over, awkward, not knowing what to do, and pressed his lips to Stefan's, trying once again to figure out how Mother did it. After a moment, Stefan responded, just as clumsy, but that was fine. He was still there, and warm, and solid, and Damon didn't think he'd felt anything better in his whole life.

Damon pulled away first and licked his lips reflexively, tasting salt. Stefan's eyes were wide on him, and he stared right back.

"One time," Damon said nervously in the silence that followed the kiss, "Father told Mother that she shouldn't kiss me so much, that I'd get spoiled."

Stefan frowned. "That's a mean thing to tell her, I think. But why would he say something like that if it wasn't true?"

Damon didn't answer. Up in the sky, the falcon wheeled, as if waiting.


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