The wine may have been a bad idea, Marcus thinks. Or perhaps a very, very good one. Celebrating having returned the Eagle yesterday, they are sitting in his uncle's atrium, drinking the best Caecuban wine. It is possibly not watered quite enough, as it has made possible this conversation. By Hercules, he can't believe he just said that to Esca--
And Esca looks at him and smiles, bright and uncomplicated, and says, "Certainly. I would do that with you."
It's as if he'd asked him a completely normal question. As if he'd said let's spar or would you like to go hunting tomorrow. For in fact what came out of his mouth was I want you to use me, Esca, as a master might use a slave. Use me roughly, and speak thus, and pretend you were truly my master.
And Esca still smiles. It's like Esca doesn't know you're not supposed to want it. Like no one has ever taught him good Roman values: this is what a man does, this is what a man wants. And what a man ought to want is certainly not what Marcus has asked for.
Their relationship, such as it is, has not been entirely without physical affection. Nights north of the wall were cold and harsh, and well, if they held each other close and took some measure of companionship in each other's arms, who was there to know of it? Esca was his property by law, to use as he would; any Roman might understand their behavior in those terms. Then, it might have been normal. It is because of that... intimacy... that these words slipped their way out of Marcus' guarded mouth in the first place, even now that Esca is his freedman and any continued relationship would be more than a little strange.
This is not a thing he knew he wanted. Marcus would have said, before today, that it would be an outrage, an insult to decency, that he hated everything Esca had to do to him and would under no circumstances repeat it. Now he remembers, suddenly, being among the Seal People, Esca forcing him to his knees, grabbing his head, forcing him to bare his throat. And the thoughts circling each other in his mind like the thousand jangling notes of a poet's lyre now coalesce into one pure tone: yes. This.
Still, having said the words, he gapes, stammers, and tries to take it all back: "I did not mean-- I should not have said it--"
"You meant it," Esca says, evenly. "And, as I said, I will do this."
"But you... you can't. We can't." He's not doing a very good job conveying the utter impropriety of any of this. Perhaps they could have done what he wants when they were in Caledonia, but they are among civilized people now. He shouldn't have said it. They cannot.
Esca gives him a look of absolute incomprehension. "Of course we can. It's only pretending for fun. And sex is fun. What's the problem?"
He clenches and unclenches one fist. "It's not right."
Nefas est. And he knows Esca's command of Latin is nearly perfect, but it's as though he's learned it without absorbing a single piece of proper morality with it. Only Esca could manage this infuriating feat. Anyone else would know exactly what he meant.
But Esca just shrugs. "If you were worried about your gods' approval, you should have started worrying long ago. It will be fine. It was not wrong before; it is not wrong now."
He opens his mouth to protest again, but Esca just smiles at him, gently, in such a kind way, and all his objections melt.
Instead, he says, "Where can we do this?" They cannot very well retire to one of his uncle's cubicula. Rather, they need to find somewhere... discreet.
"I know a place." Esca holds out his hand. "Come with me."
Which is how it it happens that Esca leads him to one of the worst inns in the city, the sort of establishment where men of his standing ought not to be seen at all, even for a meal; he has better places to eat. And more scandalously still, it is one of those inns that is more than half a brothel, to judge by the obscene paintings. It has the look of every lupanar he has ever seen, at least.
Esca hands the innkeeper a whole sestertius for a room. From the look of what they are shown, it's one the she-wolves aren't using. Marcus privately suspects that for two sesterces you could murder someone in such a room and no one would care. For a third one the innkeeper might even come take the body away himself. Marcus can't bring himself to care. At least the room has a couch.
As soon as they pull the curtain shut, Esca regards him thoughtfully. "What don't you want me to do?"
The question is entirely unexpected, the opposite of what he thought the man might say, and he is caught without words. "What?"
"I have some idea of what you want me to do to you," Esca murmurs, and the look in his eyes, beginning to darken with desire, makes Marcus' blood run hotter. "You'll have to let me know how well I've guessed. And I expect if you truly want me to stop you'll tell me, or make the arena hand-signs for mercy, let's say, if you can't speak. But is there anything you absolutely don't want, or anywhere I should not touch you?"
Marcus thinks about it. "Don't choke me," he says, remembering holding the Seal man's head underwater, remembering his own struggle not to drown in their terrified flight with the Eagle.
Esca nods as if he has expected this. "Anything else?"
He moves his head for no. "That's it."
"All right." Esca tilts his head up, a high, arrogant cast, and Marcus doesn't realize they've started until the smile turns into a sneer.
"Is that what you call your master?" Esca spits out, voice like ice, and Marcus' stomach twists with the contradiction. He should hate for Esca to talk to him in this manner. He does hate it. He hates it, and as he hates it a thrill runs down his spine, and it doesn't make any sense--
Marcus feels his cheeks grow hot. "No, domine," he forces out, barely above a whisper.
"I can't hear you," Esca says, all polished marble, cool and smooth. He has the arch tone down perfectly, and Marcus knows he heard him perfectly well. He's just going to make him say it again, because he can. He can make him do anything. The thought is terrifying and exhilarating.
His face burns more and he hopes Esca can't see it. ""No, domine," he repeats, a little louder.
But Esca notices -- of course Esca notices -- and reaches out to touch his cheek, fingers cool against his skin, turning his face this way and that to examine him, to look at his shame. The scrutiny only makes Marcus burn more.
"Ah, you like this already," Esca says softly, and the smirk on his face is half-cruel, as the role calls for, but his eyes are wide and enthralled. He's enjoying this too. "Tell me it pleases you to serve me."
"It pleases me," Marcus repeats, mouth suddenly gone dry, and he is grateful for the heavy tunic making his growing pleasure less obvious. He ought not to take enjoyment from this, from being made to say these things. "It pleases me to obey you in all ways. Domine."
Esca steps backward, then sits, then lies, sprawling indolently upon the room's single couch. "Good. Then take off your clothes."
His first, frantic thought is to call this game off. Naked, he will have nothing to hide, and Esca will be able to look at him, to see all his secrets, to gaze upon him as an object, as one looks at slaves or women, but never, never men. A citizen should not be a spectacle. Perhaps Esca does not know what this means to a Roman.
"You heard me," Esca says, and the smile his mouth curves into is almost predatory. "I want to see what is mine," he adds, and it is then that Marcus realizes Esca knows exactly what it means.
So Marcus shuts his eyes, unfastens his belt, and pulls his tunic over his head. There, let him look if he must. But he can't watch Esca looking at him. Even knowing that Esca is doing so makes him harder, and he knows Esca is seeing that happen, and it all feeds back on itself in his mind like the snake eating its tail, a tangled loop of arousal and humilation.
He does not know how much time passes; he has only the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears to judge it by. Finally Esca's voice comes from somewhere much closer than before: "Open your eyes, Marcus. Look at me."
Marcus opens his eyes to see that Esca has stood and moved closer to him. And the look on Esca's face-- he isn't sure he has words for it. It is the look of one regarding something beautiful, with all the pride of possessing it, and at the same time he knows somehow that Esca desires this just as much as he does. That Esca desires to have his body, to use it and own it. No one has ever looked at him quite like this.
And Esca reaches out to touch him, placing a warm hand on his hip and looking down, tracing the path of his hand with his eyes. He does not do anything so crude as to reach immediately for Marcus' cock, though he spends enough time staring at it that Marcus begins to sincerely consider the possibility that he could come if Esca so much as brushed against him there. But, no, Esca's hand slides upward, along his stomach and chest, coming to rest upon his shoulder.
Marcus clears his throat. "Am I-- am I satisfactory in your sight, domine?" The words come out more plaintive than he had hoped.
"I don't recall permitting you to ask questions," Esca replies, and though his voice is harsh his eyes tell Marcus a different answer. "Kneel."
Esca's hand pushes roughly on his shoulder, forcing him down. For an instant he thinks of the Seal People, but this is Esca, only Esca, and he would not truly harm him. And so he goes to his knees, wanton and curious. What will Esca have him do?
The answer is revealed soon enough, along with an expanse of pale flesh, as Esca too sheds his tunic. And so Marcus is kneeling here, abruptly confronted with Esca's cock at eye level, very nearly in his face. It pleases him in a ridiculous way that Esca looks about as... eager... as he himself feels. He looks up, nervously, to try to gain some measure of instruction from Esca's expression.
Esca runs one finger along his lips. "I've noticed the mouth is very important to Romans," he begins, almost conversationally. "You're so proud of your orators and your poets. Speech separates us from the animals, after all. And thus you would not have your mouths defiled, as you would call it, more than anything else. This is true?"
Marcus begins to tremble and, at the same time, grow harder. He was wrong to think Esca blind to Roman mores. It is only that Esca does not follow them, but he clearly knows every last one. Marcus has never done this for Esca. Marcus has never done this for anyone. Only a slave or a prostitute would. It is a filthy act.
"It is true, domine," he whispers.
Esca's finger runs along his cheekbone and around until finally his cupped palm is resting against the back of Marcus' head. He can probably feel Marcus shaking. "You have a pretty mouth," he says, smiling. "And I think you know what I will do with it."
Esca pauses, and Marcus realizes he is giving him a chance to stop this before it begins. But he wants this. He shouldn't, but he does. He wants to know what this is like. He wants to taste Esca. He wants Esca to hold him like this, to push him, to make him do it, to make him want it, to fuck his mouth, to use him until he breaks.
So he meets Esca's eyes and gives the smallest of nods, as he knows Esca can feel his head move. Esca smiles and pushes Marcus' head forward. Marcus opens his mouth and takes him in.
He does not know what he was expecting; it never occurred to Marcus to imagine what it might be like to commit this most shameful act. Esca tastes as he smells, but stronger, though it is in no way unpleasant, and he licks tentatively along the length of him.
"Oh--" Esca groans, and when he speaks his voice is dazed and mostly breath, a brief step out of the character he is playing. "I'm going to like this."
Marcus feels oddly reassured by the compliment for an instant, and then all other thought flies out of his mind as Esca's hands lock on his head, holding him exactly there. And he knows that this is where he ought to be, here on his knees for Esca, to please him, to be used for his pleasure, and the rightness of that twines itself up with the wrongness and somehow that makes it even better.
And Esca goes easy on him at first, allowing him to set up a pattern, to practice taking his cock in a little more at a time, only swinging his hips a bit, and then a bit more, and a bit more. He discovers that Esca moans in the most gratifying way when he slides his tongue just there, at the very spot below the head where he knows he himself likes to be touched.
"Imagine," Esca pants out, punctuating each word with a thrust of his hips. "Imagine what your Rome must think of you, Centurion, decorated for your valor and bravery in battle. And now you're on your knees with a Celt's cock in your mouth. Imagine if they could all see you now, eh, cocksucker? You'd like that. I know you would."
Esca's words arouse him more than anything he can ever remember in his entire life. The fire that roars through him is the most profound shame and pleasure, mixed together, trailing down his body to center on his cock. He is so hard now it's almost painful. Barely under his own volition, his hand moves to his lap, and Marcus gives his cock a few quick, rough strokes. He's so close, it'll be over in a few seconds--
Esca reaches down and plucks his hand away. "I didn't say you could do that, Marcus," he says, and his breath is coming even faster. "No better than an animal, giving into your base lusts. I've got plans for you."
And he drops Marcus' hand and begins to move in earnest now, holding nothing back. Each thrust is harder, driving deeper into Marcus' mouth, faster now, and it's all Marcus can do to take it. He can't move away with Esca holding his head down, and he loves it and he hates it and he loves it--
Esca gives a quiet gasp, choking off most of the sound, and spends himself, shaking, spilling into his mouth. Marcus had feared it would be unpleasant, when this moment finally arrived, but he finds he's fairly certain the only thing preventing him from following Esca over the edge is that Esca forbade him to. He tries swallowing as best he can and decides, mirabile horribileque dictu, that he likes the taste of it and would do it again. He knows this makes him no better than a whore. He pictures himself doing this again and again, a series of images playing unstoppably through his mind.
Marcus sits back on his heels, watching Esca's beautiful, ecstatic face as his breathing slows and settles, and Marcus can't help but smile.
"Ah," Esca says, holding out his hand to run his thumb along Marcus' lips again, a kiss at one remove. "Well done."
He pulls his hand back a little, offers it to Marcus to help him stand up, and abruptly Marcus finds that he has been swung around the room and now pushed backwards to lie on his back on the couch. Esca's knowing eyes rove over his body, examining every part of him. Marcus thinks he would blush again if only any blood could be spared from his cock, which merely twitches and aches in response.
Esca crouches down beside him and extends a hand to slide one finger, slowly, up the underside of Marcus' cock. Marcus moans, arching up off the mattress, his shameless body seeking more, and he sobs something that he thinks might have been Esca's name.
"Not going to last long, are you?" Esca asks him, grinning wide and looking immensely pleased with himself.
"No," Marcus breathes out, still twisting up in search of Esca's hand again, and barely remembers to add, "domine." He feels exquisitely vulnerable, exposed, tortured by his own lust. Esca wants to show him what he wants, to make him put every one of his deepest desires on display, to give voice to the unspeakable. And he will suffer it, and he loves it.
"Beg me," Esca tells him. "Beg me as a whore begs." And he is so far gone that he would do anything, anything Esca said--
"Te amabo," Marcus manages, his voice quavering and unsteady, and repeats it. Please, please, he says, please, and he isn't even thinking about what the words themselves mean, because who could at a time like this?
But Esca can, apparently, because he grins more broadly and replies, with the air of one telling a secret, "Te iam amo, mi Marce."
And he can't even think about what Esca's just said, what it's going to mean, because Esca's hand closes on him at last and he only knows the pleasure of it.
Esca strokes him firmly, gliding over his cock in heavy, sure movements. His slick hand does not waver, and Marcus lies back, gasping, afloat in the tides of sensation. He hardly cares how he might look right now, and shuts his eyes, the better to feel everything.
But Esca decides to tell him how he looks. "Oh, you are beautiful," Esca says, gentling his strokes as he talks, as if he wants to have a conversation all this while, still playing the part of the master. "And to think I was right about you all along."
Marcus forces his eyes open and struggles for enough breath to talk as Esca squeezes him in a particularly intriguing way. "What about me?"
"All you could ever talk about," Esca says, smiling, still touching him, "was your honor. Your family's dishonor upon the loss of the Eagle. How you wished not to disgrace yourself in battle. The first thing you asked after your surgery was whether you had shamed yourself."
"No one -- ah! -- should want to shame himself," Marcus replies, because after all, it is a true thing. It is hardly virtuous to want this.
Esca leans over him, close now, hand moving faster on him, and whispers his reply. "You do. You fear it and crave it all the same. It's what you asked me here for, isn't it? You'd crawl on the ground for me. You'd do whatever I told you to. You'd suck my cock again. You'd beg me to fuck you. You'd beg me like a whore, to use you in public, where everyone could see and know what kind of man you really were, and you'd love it--"
Marcus can't control himself any longer, with Esca's words, perfect and true, painting scenes in his mind like nothing he's ever allowed himself to imagine. He arches up, thrusting into Esca's hand once, twice more, and he is coming, and coming, and all he can feel around him is Esca.
When his awareness finally returns, he finds that Esca has lain on the couch with him, curling up at his side to fit on the narrow mattress. Esca raises his head and gives him a shy smile, and he knows it's back to the real Esca.
"Did I overdo it?" Esca asks him, running his hands through his hair.
"No," Marcus assures him, and raises his head to try to kiss him, gratefully, but in his lassitude only makes it as far as Esca's nose. "That was wondrous. I've never felt like that before. Never done that to anyone before, either. How did you know what I wanted when I didn't even know?"
"I told you I'd made some guesses," Esca says, and then looks suddenly pained. "You'd never...? Oh, Marcus, I thought you had-- I should not have begun with irrumatio. It's not the best introduction to the practice."
Marcus starts to laugh. "And here I was wondering why you had missed your opportunity to berate me on my lack of finesse. It was what I wanted."
He nods, and then a thin knife of fear slices through him. "You know all my secrets now, Esca, even the ones I didn't know I had."
Esca props himself up on one elbow. His face is thoughtful. "Do you trust me?"
Marcus nods without hesitation. He can answer this now, after all their time together. If he hadn't trusted Esca he would not now live. "I do."
"Then trust me to keep your secrets for you, as I trust you to keep mine." Esca smiles at him again.
Marcus nearly asks him what secrets Esca has given him, but then he remembers what Esca said to him in that instant before touching him. And so he leans in and kisses Esca, again and again. It means just the same as the words.