The first real conversation they ever have is a story. Sort of. Nasir comes away from the exchange knowing about Duro and Agron comes away knowing about Kahlil, very real boys who have by now both gone myth. The next time they really speak is a story beyond question.
The day after Agron learns Tiberius is a tale thought up by a Roman shit, and that Nasir is the truth behind it, he finds him in the late evening leaning against the wall of one of the inner corridors, deftly mending a cracked sandal. Agron takes quiet note of the sandal’s rich wood and leather, then of Nasir’s own bare feet.
“Your dominus?” he asks, folding his arms.
“I mend them for myself now,” responds the darker man, eyes never drifting from his work. “I have greater need.”
He laughs wryly before descending to the floor. Nasir’s gaze flicks upwards momentarily, deep brown eyes masking something Agron can’t exactly pinpoint, and with that brief moment of contact he isn’t nearly as sure anymore that he ought to be there at all.
“Um,” he says foolishly, then clears his throat and doesn’t try again. Instead, he picks up the other sandal, the heel dangling precariously from the rest, and tries not to shudder in revulsion at the thought of whose foot had done such damage.
Nasir says nothing as Agron sets himself to work, and so he moves to fill the silence himself. “My mother insisted we all learn to take proper care of our own possessions, so large was my family,” he says, explaining away his cobbling skills. “We would sit around the fire together as we worked and tell stories.”
It is in this way Agron begins to share the fables he long-ago committed to memory. Even on the rare evenings that all tasks have been seen to completion, he and Nasir sit together while he spins the stories of conflicts resolved by Forseti, of mischief caused by Loki. Once even he ventures to tell the stories of Sjöfn, who brings together lovers otherwise forbidden to join in marriage. He tries not to put too much implication behind it.
In return, Nasir begins to tell stories of his own. He was a small child when last he was in Assyria, he explains, so though the names Ishtar and Tiamat are forever written in his memory, their tales are lost to him. The stories he tells instead are of the mortal world, full of trivial intrigue and gossip. They all seem to feature the same cast of characters, and before long Agron begins to suspect they are thinly-disguised personal observances of Roman affairs.
He hates these stories, really, but says nothing, because he will gladly take whatever Nasir chooses to offer his way.
Agron does not take advantage of the hours before he and the others depart for Capua and the arena. Instead of sleeping, he stands vigil at Nasir’s bedside, watching with dimming eyes as the slow, steady intake and flow of his breathe defies the gaping wound just below his chest. That doesn’t ease his mind much, though, even paired alongside Medicus’ assurances that he will live. It’s too much like being seven years old again, watching the color wash out of his mother’s face and wondering how much longer she can hold onto that sort of half life.
But that story had a happy ending, so Agron doesn’t know what else to do, really.
“My youngest sister was born at the height of summer,” he begins, regardless of the fact that his words are falling on indifferent ears.
After that, he doesn’t really have any qualms about sharing his own stories alongside the age-old legends of his people. The difference now is that, instead of quiet murmurs in hallway corners, Agron spins his tales in the embrace of Nasir’s arms, basking in the warm afterglow of whatever new discovery it is they’ve made together that night.
He wants to know everything about Nasir, every bit of this man he’s so suddenly and thoroughly given his heart to. He wants Nasir to know everything there is about him.
So Agron tells him about the farm and the village where he grew up. He tells him about being a child of two worlds, and the history of the Teutones and the Chamavi. He tells him about friends and family and the familiar faces of his youth. One night he even tells him about the sword in Duro’s gut, because Nasir deserves to know why he’s been awakened before the dawn by a half-swallowed shout.
Nasir, on the other hand, listens more and talks less as he begins to run short on hearsay and gossip to fabricate into stories. He doesn’t offer anything of his past self, and Agron understands that somehow it wouldn’t be fair of him to ask. Not when Nasir is always so open with him, freely sharing his thoughts and gladly teaching him ways they can take pleasure in each other, ways Agron had never even imagined before now.
But while that may satisfy his baser needs, it doesn’t satisfy the corner of his curiosity. He can’t ask directly, so it will have to happen some other way.
Opportunity presents itself unexpectedly one night as they lie in a tangle of spent limbs, laughing at nothing in particular. Nasir is lying on top of him so that their bodies press against one another, chin propped up on his arms, and Agron runs his hands along the muscled curve of his back, pulling him down to erase what infinitesimal space remains between their chests. Nasir’s fingers trace the expanse between his broad shoulders, abruptly catching on the puckered patch of scar tissue just above his heart.
“Tell me about this one,” he says.
Agron frowns and asks, “What?”
“The wound you suffered here,” Nasir says, still running his thumb back and forth across the sensitive plat of skin. With a mischievous smile he leans down to kiss it, and Agron can’t help but groan at the contact. “How did it come to be?”
“The tale is something less than thrilling,” he answers breathlessly. “A neighbor’s rogue arrow when I was a boy, though my life was nearly the price. My father nearly skinned the fool responsible.”
“Courting death from a young age, I see,” murmurs Nasir, his attentions still focused on the scar, having but newly discovered its effect on Agron. “I would expect no less.”
Gasping shortly, Agron smooths his hands upwards into Nasir’s hair, lifting his head away. His gaze roams from a dark, swollen mouth, still curved in a wicked smile, then to twinkling brown eyes before something else catches his notice. Slowly, deliberately, he runs his thumb upwards along Nasir’s jawline, through stray damp curls, until it reaches the subtle break in his brow. Nasir closes his eyes as Agron lightly traces the white line stretching across the delicate skin of his eyelid.
Agron leans forward to kiss it, then says, “An equal payment. Tell me about this one.”
“My dominus was of a dark mood one day,” he shrugs. “I was unfortunate to be in his path.”
“A goblet,” Nasir laughs. “A goblet with wings.”
It becomes a game, or a ritual, maybe both. Gods know the two of them put together are marked enough for an entire army that they never fall short of lacerations and pockmarks to learn about. At night now, instead of spinning the age-old tales of the immortals, they trace each other’s bodies, searching for new histories.
“Tell me about this one,” it always begins.
So Agron tells Nasir about the three gladiators he slew in his first arena battle, side by side with Duro, and of wanting to hate the thrill that came with the roar of the crowd yet finding himself incapable.
So Nasir tells Agron about Tullia slapping his ears in for standing too close to the ovens, burning his leg, even after she’d told him to watch the roast as though his life depended on it.
So Agron tells Nasir about the thrill of throwing down Rhaskos, imagining he was the Roman fuck who put a sword through his friend Anselm, and the smell of burning flesh as he was branded amongst the Batiatus brotherhood.
So Nasir tells Agron about what it’s like to be gripped so tightly about the inner thigh that you awaken the next morning to a map of blues and purples, what it’s like for sharp, manicured nails to bite in so harsh that they draw blood in neat semi-circles and leave evidence of the deed for years to come.
He doesn’t press for details beyond that, and the frank, unblinking way Nasir describes such a thing makes him wonder if he’s misinterpreted something.
So Agron tells Nasir about having a little sister who’s six and likes to bite, who’s ten and likes to hit, who’s fifteen and could probably run him through with a sword if she wanted, who’s twenty-one and probably fighting for her life in a gladiatrix pit somewhere right now.
One especially warm night, when it’s probably closer to morning, really, a storm rages outside and the rolling thunder abruptly awakens Agron from sleep. He’s startled to find Nasir already awake, and quickly realizes it has nothing to do with the rain.
“Apologies,” he laughs, loosening his grip from around Nasir’s midsection, disentangling his legs from their possessive weave about his bedmate’s.
Nasir just grins, and as he settles into Agron’s arms, head resting against his chest, he says, “I gave up pursuit of freedom some time ago. You stand head and shoulders above me – I found resistance to be foolish attempt.”
“Verzeihung, mein Herz,” Agron says, kissing his forehead, relishing the heat of Nasir’s body against his, the weight of him and the smooth brush of skin as he gathers one of Agron’s hands in his, lacing their fingers together.
“You need not ask,” comes the answer through an enormous yawn, and Agron has sunk so deep into contentment that a moment passes before he realizes the enormity of his response. Abruptly he glances down to be met by a knowing smile and the gentle brush of fingertips down the length of his arm, catching on a faint white line near the crook of his elbow.
“Tell me about this one.”