Warning: Nothing canon about it.
Summary: Seventeen year-old Ender is sent home after Commander School, and after his promotion to Admiral. Valentine and Peter are starting families of their own and Ender wonders where he fits in.
From the attic window, he watched for Valentine's Car. His personal console, a membrane-thin band around his wrist, kept him informed of her car's distance, her vital signature, and that of her unborn child's, as well as constants and fluctuations in various security checks around him. A third signature told him that Peter had agreed come along.
Your fear and guilt are your walls, answered the Hive Queen. Her voice comforted him.
He'd bought the house. A destroyer of planets at twelve. A home-owner at seventeen. He didn't want to buy it. He had to. It was his only reference point to a life taken away from him. Now that he was back on Earth, it gave him a connection to a fixed point. It was the house he left his family behind in. It needed a lot of work. While still trying to survive becoming known to the world, it gave him refuge. Aside from being a huge restoration project, it gave him a way to return to his family, even if they were no longer in it. He had to start somewhere. Moving back in with his parents just didn't feel right. They didn't know each other anymore.
He'd spent all week fine-tuning the surveillance himself. Under the watchful eyes of FPE guards, he trekked the acreage around his house to make sure all sensors and vid feeds synchronized accurately, displaying real-time information that linked to his personal console. He didn't trust anyone else to be as thorough. He hoped to be able to get rid of the security guards provided to him, by convincing them he was self-sufficient enough. If anyone was determined to harm him, his court-ordered return to Earth gave them that opportunity. He wasn't going to waste his life worrying about fighting for it each day. No, put a practical defense in place and deal with what you wake up to everyday. The only real defense is facing what can't be planned for. That's what he knew from Battle School. That's what it came down to.
His neighbors watched him. It took federation clearance just to turn onto his street. Each surrounding resident was mapped of its inhabitants, screened, and assigned an identifier that let them go on with their lives without being questioned, as long as they steered clear of Ender's property. Outrage over this made its rounds in the media but no one knocked on Ender's door to complain personally. Some families were close enough to wave from their porches. Ender waved back, a million calculations allowing him to simulate warmth and familiarity in the gesture, which appeared in the news, in real-time. Uncomfortable, but necessary. They must not feel his presence a threat, burdening their quiet, ordinary neighborhood with his fame on the political world-stage. They should not be subjected to his demons.
Living here for now, the only way he knew to protect anyone from those scrutinizing him, was to act normal. Acknowledge what he'd done, what it cost everyone, then proceed to make the only choices a practical man can make; food, shelter, purpose. Give basic life a chance. He knew his life would never be normal and he didn't plan on it, but he knew he had to survive all the attention. Hold his ground and see if anything was worth surviving his crime. A crime he was born and bred to commit. Well, that was his and enough people were talking about it that he didn't have to. Talking wasn't going to bring the Formics back.
We are here. We are strong and waiting, the Queen whispered into his mind.
He had to believe, without any evidence, that if they tried to keep him here, and he wanted to go, that he could get back to the stars with the help of the Hive Queen. He had resources. She had knowledge. It was still amazing to him that he could feel her communicating with him, like she was a part of him. In destroying the bodies of her species, he had given her his body. An inadequate offering, until he could find a way for her world to thrive again. For now, he would give life here a chance.
Ender listened, pausing from assessing water damage that made it necessary to replace part of the roof and one wall. Otherwise, original oak floorboards were in perfect condition. They shined when he got the dust off of them. A seed of pride dared to sprout at his efforts. Work done with his hands, not his genius. He remembered building the raft at Colonel Graff's and looked forward to what restoring the house could teach him.
A beep sounded, letting him catch Valentine's car as it entered his long driveway. Instead of rushing down to meet her, his voice triggered her car's transport console.
"Welcome, Val. You guys are coded in. I'm on my way down from the attic."
"What the hell are you doing in the attic?"
Peter's chuckle, behind Valentine's question, was unmistakable.
"You'll see. It's peaceful up here."
He expected, 'That's rich, coming from you.' But Peter never said a word. Good. They weren't children anymore and he didn't need that shit. He did, however, need to find out if this family still wanted him. Forget Locke and Demosthenes. He had to know if there were still real people behind those roles. Peter and Valentine had always needed to upgrade the challenges of their games. Simplicity was not encoded into their DNA. It was no surprise to Ender to learn what his brother and sister were up to and how invested in him they had been. Yes, it pissed him off that they conspired together. But they only played the cards they had, just as he did, and managed to build formidable lives for themselves. They had to come out somewhere in this mess. And he had to face them, these strangers who looked like the people he once loved.
Did you ever love Peter?
Ender ignored the Hive Queen as he jogged from the attic. He registered the cleanliness and sparse furnishings of his new home. It met with his approval. The house was mostly empty, but bright and spacious. He wasn't used to having so much room, he didn't quite know what to do with it. The only lived-in part of the house was the kitchen, where dinner waited over warmers and a table sat by floor-to-ceiling windows, displaying a view of the backyard. A frosty noon sun tinted Ender's plans to welcome Val and Peter into his home. Their home.
This was only his third time meeting them since his arrival on Earth. The first two, few and far between, took place amid hundreds of press cameras, bodyguards, and military personal. Today, the plan was to steal some time for themselves before heading out to their parents and facing that reunion. Sibling recognition was enough between them. Valentine and Peter were removing their coats when Ender swept to his sister's side and took hers. In turn, she hugged him a minute longer than necessary, making her point.
"You're so skinny, Ender. It's not healthy."
Peter waited patiently, catching Ender's eye and pretending to put his finger down his throat. "Just because you have a great excuse to eat, doesn't mean we all do," he told her. "She's a blimp. If she gains anymore weight, we're entering her into a next month's IFP parade." Not an ounce of regret in Peter's statement. "The correct ratio is one to four pounds during the first twelve weeks. As usual, Val, you're screwing it up."
Valentine's petite figure and flat stomach were the only clues that Peter was kidding.
"Too bad I can't turn this whole pregnancy project over to your control, Peter. A male pregnancy would surely augment your plans for world domination."
"I would birth only the smartest and the brightest. Oh, I'm sorry, that's already been done. Hello, Ender, I didn't see you standing there."
Valentine noted her brothers' cool smiles. They didn't hug, nor did she expect them to. She gave them credit for letting the awkwardness be what it was. Peter offered his hand. Ender took it. Later, she would replay the scene and wonder if she hadn't really seen Peter offering equality and Ender, a light of hope in his eyes, falling for it. Ender's absence taught her that he could take care of himself. But his return taught her that she would always be watching out for her baby brother. She was a mother the minute he was born.
At the table, Ender's console signaled his attention. A weather forecast issued storm activity, a system moving quickly from the north. He, Peter, and Valentine all listened to the updates as they ate sweet crab portions wrapped in bacon. The food was Ender's treat to them and something of a treat to himself. An average meal for him consisted of rations he kept stocked. Standard issue foodstuffs kept his time efficient and uncluttered with trivial choices. He gave his wardrobe the same treatment, possessing dozens of the same T-shirts and pants to keep himself from having to think of civilian clothing. He did what he could to maintain his Command School standards.
After an hour, polite conversation thawed to something more genuine. Valentine let her brothers grill her over her choice to become a wife and mother.
"It's your right," Peter insisted. "I just didn't expect you to leap to it, after all the dysfunction in our family."
"We didn't do so bad. It was hard, but we're here. And Peter, you'll be married soon. I can't wait for Ender to meet her. What persuaded you to give family another chance?"
"We all grew up, that's what. The end. Too bad life is not as tidy as all that."
"Then why have a wife?"
"She's a constant I can always turn to. Same as you with your husband. Yay, the geniuses, we made it to adulthood without bringing Armageddon upon ourselves."
Both looked at Ender, realizing Peter's mistake. "Ok, maybe Ender brought Armageddon to the buggers, but it makes me grateful for what's left. What's normal. There is nothing more intrinsic to life as we know it than a baby. A family. It's worth all the pain. And this family knows a fucking thing about pain."
No one wanted to tread on Peter's platform. He went quiet before turning to Ender. "Look at her. She's carrying a baby. And a genius, no doubt. You'd thing she'd learned her lesson. Because she, and other women can do that, humanity continues to get another chance. That makes me very glad. I was a shitty brother and I can't go back but my genes can go forward. All of our potential will go forward in our kids. I'm proud of Valentine. She's beautiful and she's going to be huge."
Neither Valentine nor Ender knew if Peter was serious.
"I guess I'm trying to tell you both that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for putting you through hell."
Falling temperatures froze their plans.
"Let's wait the storm out here, " Ender advised. "We'll go to Mom and Dad's tomorrow."
Valentine grimaced. "If we leave now, we can make it. It's not expected to hit here until six. That gives us a good window."
"No, Val. I won't have you on the road in this. If those excuses for meteorologists didn't see this coming, they don't know what it's going to do when it gets here. We'll stay put. We'll build a campfire and reminisce about the childhood that never was. Admiral Ender can tell us how he got all those medals."
They ended up bundling up and stepping out onto the white, alien terrain of their old backyard. Now snow-covered. Memories came, but not happy ones. Each wanted to enjoy this second chance at being siblings, at making peace. But Valentine was the first to cast away her ideologies in favor of having warm hands and feet. "I didn't bring the right shoes. Sorry guys, you're on your own. It's beautiful, Ender, but way too cold."
Peter insisted on walking her back to the house, as Ender's property sprawled farther than they realized. "What'd you do, buy the whole division?"
"I just needed. . . space."
"I'll bet. Hang on, I'll be back. We need to talk alone."
Ender watched as Peter helped Valentine. Her small feet were obviously too cold to give her purchase in the snow. She kept stumbling. As soon as Peter got her through the back door, he bounded back to Ender. "She's so fucking delicate, I love her. Now that she's a mother, she's going to be even more dangerous than ever. Better not let her catch me doing this." He let loose a hard ball of snow, which exploded on the bridge of Ender's nose.
Stunned and blinded, data leapt into movement as Ender tried to determine if this was real or play. His brother's laughter echoed. "C'mon, Admiral. Show me what 'cha got. I didn't come all this way for polite conversation."
Ender made no move to retaliate. He had to be sure of Peter's intentions. Another burst of frozen ammunition, packed for optimum force, confirmed his suspicion. Peter wanted an old-fashioned snowball fight. Ender hadn't even seen snow in almost three years. He took a beating before he got the hang of packing a ball tight enough and fast enough to send Peter running. He watched Peter's handiwork and improved upon it. Soon, it was Peter spitting out snow and picking himself off the ground. "We're too old for this shit, Ender. Good job, though."
Finally, Peter won a smile from Ender and the offer of his hand. Sunlight was quickly leaving them, replacing the splendor of gold with blue shadows.
"Ender, you're a man of few words." He pulled himself up. In using Ender's support, he thrilled at what he found in the face staring back at him and the strength holding onto him. His little brother looked amazing. It wasn't just the attractiveness. Ender had always been a beautiful child. That used to make Peter angry. It was the oddness, the miracle that Ender was seventeen, a decorated war hero, and in the midst of all that, a young man who was still quite innocent. That was a rare thing. That was a valuable thing. To Peter, that was an irresistible thing. He had always needed to make smaller things suffer, to make innocent things give him their power. Now, the great boy wonder stood over him. Peter wasn't angry when he shoved Ender away. He was excited. Excited to see Ender's smile dissolve into confusion.
"Look at you. You're the prettiest goddamn war hero I've ever seen."
Ender's awareness switched to high alert. What Peter did as a child could be nothing compared to what he could do as a man. Ender's expression closed, casting Peter from it.
"Ender, I really am sorry for what I did. I was a kid. But you know me. You know, I'll always want you to wear the mask. That's the game and you understand the game better than anybody. I should get credit for making you that smart. For giving you the anger to defeat the Formics. Remember when I used to hold you down?"
"We should go now."
"Remember how you'd cry?"
"I never cried."
"Hey, do you think you're finally stronger than me?"
Familiar surge of adrenaline bled warmly through Ender's body. If Peter were anyone else, he'd shut him up by now. But Peter was the one person who remained looming and larger than life in Ender's mind. Ender's fists hesitated a bit too long. He feared being trapped in Peter's net.
"Whoa, calm down, soldier. We're not going to fight. Ender, man, I'm not going to hit you."
"Then let's go."
Peter gestured for Ender to lead the way. As soon as Ender started, Peter's arm shot around Ender's chest, pulling Ender's back against him. Ender's ability to free himself thrilled Peter, giving him license to pin his brother against him a second time. Before Ender could maneuver any damaging footwork, Peter slung him, chest-first, into a tree. "Calm down. You might be a hero, but you're still a boy. Stronger than you were, but not as strong as me."
"Get off me."
"I will, I just want you to understand something."
Ender would see where the bark scratched and cut his face and chest much later. He would feel the strained ligament in his shoulder, from the way Peter hooked both his arms behind him, for weeks to come. And he would remember the way Peter ground all his weight against him, unable to mistake Peter's erection for anything else.
"You win. I don't want to play this game."
"Just one last time, Ender. God, I missed you. Only you know what the game is really about."
Peter's breath against his neck reminded him how cold it really was. He wasn't going to let this happen. He strained to lift his chest off the tree, biting down on a groan as Peter's hands fumbled with his pants.
"Wear the mask for me, Ender. You always wore the fucking mask! They took you away and you were the only one who knew what I needed."
Ender never stopped fighting. Even when Peter's touch pushed him into silence. Even when his shoulder threatened to dislocate. Peter exposed him, kneading and demanding something Ender didn't know how to give. No amount of twisting from Peter's efforts worked to free him. Ender dared not speak, dared not reveal his distress in a voice that cracked. And even though Peter remained clothed, it didn't stop him from using and taking what he could against Ender. Clothing seemed to serve Peter's antagonistic streak more, maddening his pressure against him. In the uncomfortable cold, there was not enough friction, not enough warmth to do the damage Peter wanted to do. For that, he made Ender pay. It wasn't Peter who convulsed, bent in paralyzing cramps that sent streams from his body. Liquid humiliation took Ender's strength, tearing a ragged growl from somewhere dark and hot inside of him. Something he'd never met in himself. Never had he hated Peter more than right then, trapped in his hand. Trapped in his power.
That was the game. That had always been the game. Only now, there was no hiding behind the mask. There was no pretending that Peter wasn't fucking him through their clothing. Wasn't on top of him riding him with as much friction as he could get. Strangulation was just a show, just a ploy to maintain dignity. Say anything, and I'll kill you. That's what Peter's hands around his neck meant. God, why did he move back into this house! What was he hoping to salvage? His fucked up childhood?
Peter's thrusts made him ever aware of his gratification. They ended with increased sharpness, and Ender knew as Peter trembled against him that he'd finished. Peter didn't release him. He waited, covering Ender's neck and face with kisses and words of comfort so fragile that Ender could hardly believe he was speaking them.
"I know you hate me. I know I made your life hell, but I need this. God, Ender, forgive me for needing the power you give me."
Ender wrestled free from Peter's arms. Muscles cramped and he struggled to fix his clothes. He couldn't feel the tips of his fingers but wouldn't allow Peter to zip him. Peter kept a few feet between them as Ender stumbled toward the house, rushing forward only when Ender sank to his knees. As Peter watched him crying, he vowed never to laugh at his brother's tears ever again. They'd taken Ender away from him. That hadn't been fair to him anymore than it was fair to Ender. Cruel games. How else could brothers show what they meant to each other? Gifts don't cut it. Words don't mean anything. They can't be felt the way Ender, straining beneath him, can be felt. Only touch, painful or powerful, mean something in their world.
When Ender was ready, Peter supported him back to the house. Valentine, on the console with her husband, hung up when she saw them climbing the stairs. "What the hell?"
"Forgot what winters are like out here. Afraid we stayed out a bit too long."
"Ender? Are you okay?"
She knew Peter was lying. It took more than cold to wrench that much heat and emotion from Ender's face. His trademark silence held firm, until he swallowed and his watery eyes brought her into focus. "I'm okay. Stop worrying about me, Valentine."
Something in his voice made her follow them upstairs. She stopped short of entering the bathroom where Peter started the shower. The last she saw of Ender, before Peter closed the door, was his fingers trying numbly to undo the top button of his shirt. They trembled.