“You’re getting fat, old man,” Pullo says with a low chuckle. Pullo’s palm curves over the mound of Vorenus’ lunch-filled belly, feeling his stomach quiver at the touch. The skin is slick with sweat from the humid summer day. The air smells of clover and heat and familiar musk, the weight of the breezeless afternoon compelling them to repose and relent to laziness.
What Pullo says isn’t true, of course – that Vorenus is growing old or fat. Naturally, since their days of battle have tapered off, neither he nor Vorenus are at their peak, but they are no pudgy farmers either.
Vorenus is still imposing – still has that stick up his arse, as well. Probably a bigger one now that Vorena the Elder is married off with a babe of her own and Vorena the Younger is at marrying age. Lucius is still a timid creature as ever, no matter how many times they get to wrestling.
Indeed, Vorenus still has a life of pressures and politics to live through, and it keeps him hard.
But it’s near impossible to consider him as such when he’s pillowed on a bed of sweet-smelling grass with his long, lithe limbs splayed out in worship of Apollo. Time appears to melt around Vorenus like thick butter, glistening in the fire-gold of his eyelashes and kissing every freckle that browns in the sun.
Here, pooled in light that dapples through shimmering leaves, with fingers sticky and sweet from dripping peaches and lips shining and flushed from golden ale, Lucius Vorenus is nothing but a man. Pullos’ man.
Vorenus grunts in reply, but doesn’t stir. “And you’re a drunk.”
Pullo grins and swirls his fingertips in the pale fuzz that skims Vorenus’ navel. “Now is that a compliment, because I’ve known many a fine drunk. Think my father was a drunk. No harm in that.”
“Take it as you will, I don’t care,” Vorenus says, and flings an arm across his eyes when the noonday sun grows too insistent.
Most people would not catch the low thrum of amusement in the timbre of Vorenus’ tone, but Pullo does. He’s admittedly a fool in regards to most of the Roman race, but never with Vorenus. Not after all this time. Gods, it’s as if they’ve been carved from the same slab of stone and bone and blood.
They are different, true, but Pullo has nothing if not his instincts to rely on – and from the very first, he had seen Vorenus in a light no one else could. By the initial meeting, Vorenus had already been attached to another, and loyal as a dog. Pullo had respected that – had no choice in the matter, really. He couldn’t have rightly goaded Vorenus into a fuck back then, when what Pullo admired most about the stubborn bastard was his loyalty.
But things have changed. The Gods have forged them a path of scars and scrapes and mud and piss and pain. Pullo sometimes marvels at how many times he and Vorenus have escaped death. Perhaps the Gods have granted them shitty lives to even the scales of how fortuitously they live on and on, no matter how many time Death visits their door. They may be balancing the scales.
Pullo doesn’t know. He doesn’t think too hard over these things – mostly because he’ll quite merrily believe that the Gods have finally given up on torturing the pair of them, and are now letting them be.
Vorenus has ducked out of that final black shroud. Pullo has himself a son – albeit a snot-nosed, haughty little pup, but one that almost reminds him of Vorenus. Relations between Vorenus and the children are mended as much as they will ever be, and Pullo had –
Pullo lies on his side, with his elbow propped in the soft earth and his cheek pillowed on his palm. He frowns down at Vorenus’ reposed profile. His gaze skims over the bare chest, sliding with a flicker of amusement across the sunburn that is staining its way across Vorenus’ torso, up and up – and snags on the same thing as always.
That puckered, jagged flesh at the joint of chest and shoulder. Pullo feels a twist in his gut, sharp as any small, dingy blade. He can relive the memory of those weeks in the damned desert, on the rocking dank boat in return, all the while making peace with the fact that his best friend in this world would soon be ripped and cauterised from his heart.
But he doesn’t think of that anymore. Doesn’t dwell. Much.
He reaches out, drags the pad of his thumb over the ashen indentation that marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. This is their chapter now.
When Pullo continues his unusually delicate exploration of the wound, Vorenus’ breath releases in a hushed hiccup.
“I should have died back then, so I wouldn’t have lived long enough to see you go soft as an old maid.”
Pullo’s slaps Vorenus on the shoulder with a smack. “At least you wouldn’t be able to glare small children into pissing themselves with fear.”
“I will go blind in my own time. No doubt from gazing upon your mangled visage over the years.”
Pullo rumbles with a laugh as he swiftly rolls atop Vorenus and slips a thick thigh between his legs. They slot together perfectly – always have. In battle, in life, in love they fit.
“You would miss my smiling face.”
Vorenus flops his arm back onto the grass and blinks up at him with eyes clear as water. “I’d rather die than admit to so horrific a feeling.”
Pullo beams and leans in, caging Vorenus between his arms. Their breath mingles like winds on the sea as their gazes clash and hold, sharp as swords. Pullo hums quietly and drops his head to whisper his lips across Vorenus’.
“Then you will tell me so in the afterlife.”
Vorenus rolls his hips once, like a challenge between warriors; all hard and hot, but undeniably pliant and willing beneath Pullo’s warm, limber limbs.
“And who is to say that we will journey into the abyss together?”
Pullo bites back a snarl that scratches up his throat, and surges forward to scrape his teeth over the pulse nestled in the curve of Vorenus’ neck. Pullo is in charge of this life now. He has dragged Vorenus’ body across too many sanguine sands. He has watched colour and sun and sea leech out of Vorenus’ almost-corpse.
A vast, black maw of something indefinable spreads wide in Pullo, and only Vorenus can fill it.
“I say.” Pullo bites a bruise into Vorenus’ throat and sucks blood to the surface. The following buck of Vorenus’ hips is the only encouragement required. “We are brothers, Vorenus,” Pullo says with a voice too parched. His hand finds Vorenus’ thrumming heart and presses down hard once, in time with the arch of his hips. “On Jupiter’s Stone, we are brothers. In death and all between.”
And when Vorenus finally slings his heavy arms around Pullo in assent and crashes their lips together like war, Pullo knows that this is one thing the Gods will never deny him.
Amid this world of pain and suffering and loss and anger, this single act keeps them tenacious. Grips them fast to humanity, as they recall what it is to feel the warmth and need and generosity of which they’re often so deprived. This is something that gives them strength.
In splashes of amber light and olive shadow they pass the time in the eager roll and buck and slide of skin on skin. Muscles clench and stiffen and give, and remind Pullo of the strength they possess when together. Joined, they are a mirror of each other – warrior, brother, lover, father, friend.
Pullo’s grips and grabs are messy, rushed and unthinking as he ever is. But he lavishes Vorenus’ prone form with tongue and touch and slick thrust and beautiful, flushed bruises that speak of more devotion than he can ever put to words.
He ruts his aching cock against the hollow of Vorenus’ hip and thigh, revelling in the answering hiss and scrape of nails trailing welts into his shoulder blades. His body arches to Vorenus like an unbreakable curse or blessing, and he wants to be buried deep inside him. Shackled to Vorenus, imprisoned in his body, soul, and heart.
He spreads Vorenus, shoves his thighs apart with the roughness he knows Vorenus loves. Pullo spits in his hand and strokes hastily down his aching erection; then pins that pliant, imperfect and scarred body beneath him as he pushes into Vorenus – deep, hot likes Hades, sweet as sin. Words tumble from Vorenus’ tongue like a prayer to the gods as he bucks and thrusts up on Pullo’s cock.
Pullos’ body falls toward Vorenus, diving into his heat like a man starved and lost and finding home. Summer sweat shimmers across Vorenus’ body like a God made in flesh, and Pullo bites down on a shoulder that tastes of war and fire just to keep them both grounded. He knows he’s making soft, shredded animal noises in his throat, but the roaring is coming up close in his ears and he can no longer concentrate on anything but the wild, manic thrust of ownership and need.
When his vision blinks out and his ears roar with thunder as he pours out like a storm in the dry season, Pullo can do nothing but collapse into the quivering arms of Vorenus and pant open-mouth to mouth. Vorenus’ fingers still grip the back of Pullos’ thighs, holding him firm and joined as the aftershocks wrack both their bodies.
Neither of them moves for some time. A cool breeze has kicked in from the north, and the trees whisper and sing and shed twirling leaves upon Pullo’s back. He nuzzles Vorenus’ neck and presses his lips against the damp curve beneath his ear.
“You weigh more than a Titan,” Vorenus grumbles from beneath him.
Pullo laughs out loud, fills the forest with sound as he flops onto his back and lies there with arms spread like Caesar’s eagle. He feels just about as gold and shiny, too.
Pullo lolls his head to the side in search of Vorenus’ consistently grim expression, only to find the man has already turned to gaze at him. Vorenus’ lips are subtly curved, his heavy-lidded eyes bright as Sicilian summer skies. A jolt of wordless recognition passes between them, lingering heavy and honeyed in the sweltering heat. It slowly seeps away, leaving Pullo dizzy and grinning like the town drunk.
“By the Gods, but you bitch a lot,” Pullo says without severing their gaze. “I’m not the old maid here.”
“That is through no fault of mine,” Vorenus says with a scowl that isn’t close to reaching his eyes. “You leave me with plenty to want for.”
“Do I really?” Pullo raises his eyebrows, his smile threatening to split his flushed cheeks.
“I –” Vorenus furrows his brow, then abruptly looks away and sits up. “No. We should begin the journey back before the children worry.”
Pullo chuckles and lurches to a sitting position. He claps Vorenus on the back. “Don’t fret, old man. No one bothers to worry about you but me.”
“How comforting,” Vorenus says dryly as he stands.
When he offers Pullo his arm, Vorenus is smiling.