He kisses Esca again, a proper kiss, a lover's kiss, and loses himself in the feel of it.
"--so that is your Roman kissing? With mouths on mouths, like so?"
Marcus' head is full of poetry still, and he can't help but quote more, delirious with joy, as Esca offers him ninety-eight more kisses, for Esca has kept count. He replaces even the name of the poet's lover with Esca's name, and feels only a little the fool.
Marcus nods and cannot, does not stop himself from smiling so hard his face hurts. "Indeed it is. Is it not pleasant, as Catullus says?"
"It is strange," Esca says, smiling back, "but I think I shall enjoy it. It is quite pleasant with you."
Marcus laughs to hear the compliment. "And to think you had never truly kissed anyone before today!"
Esca leans in and kisses him, this time, on the cheek. He is still oddly hesitant. The warm breath across Marcus' skin makes him shiver in delight.
"Ninety-seven," Marcus murmurs, absently, and Esca pulls back and looks confused, now, just as he had done at the very beginning of the conversation. Perhaps he still has not explained kissing rightly.
"That too, that was also a kiss? What I just did?"
Marcus must not have used the right words, because Esca is intent with concentration now, as though he is trying to make the definition Marcus has given him match the act of it.
Marcus nods. "Yes, of course, that was a kiss too." He tries to find some other way to explain it. "Kissing is not only a mouth against a mouth, it is what one does with a mouth. One may kiss on other parts of the face and body -- say, the cheek, as you did. Necks, hands, shoulders." He is running out of examples and hopes this will be enough for Esca to understand him. "Do you take my meaning now?"
"Oh!" Esca brightens, and smiles what is perhaps the most amazing smile that Marcus has ever seen on him, brighter than the look on his face on the day that they returned the Eagle. "That is most excellent, then."
"Now that you have said it is that way, I understand Roman custom much better. We are not so different." Esca beams at him and looks pleased. "I have kissed many people."
That makes no sense, Marcus thinks. Esca was so awkward in his arms, against his mouth, that he would swear, he would call the gods to witness that Esca had never kissed anyone before in his life. Even the kiss on his cheek now was tentative, like something he has never done.
"I don't understand," Marcus says, finally. Perhaps something about all the kissing has addled his mind. "You said you hadn't-- you didn't seem to understand-- you have indeed kissed people?"
"I have." Esca grins and looks proud and delighted all at once. "I've kissed people many times. I am very good at it. I would be pleased to show you."
Now nothing is making sense. "What? Show me what?"
"Kissing, of course, in the way of my people." The smile Esca turns on him, suddenly, is full of desire. "Only not on the mouth. This mouth business, it is all very nice and I thank you for showing me it, but it is much better the other way, on other places."
Marcus still doesn't understand at first, but then Esca's eyes flick up and down his body -- lingering, perhaps, longer on the "down" side of the look -- and it is then that Marcus realizes the nature of the hideous miscommunication that has taken place and the unspeakable act Esca has just offered to perform on him, in all innocence. His face grows hot like the sun and he cannot speak. And, oh, if Marcus were good, if he were a better man, he would not have the thought at all, but he cannot stop himself from picturing it now: Esca on his knees, pulling Marcus' tunic and braccae aside, Esca's warm mouth enclosing him--
To his shame, he finds he is growing even harder, when he should not, not at the thought of using his friend so. And that is when Marcus' wounded leg, taxed already from the plowing, finally gives out, and he sits down hard in the dirt. He still cannot talk, and it certainly does not help matters when Esca, looking stricken, sits down next to him and places his hand over Marcus'.
"Did I say something wrong?" Esca asks, and the look of pain in his eyes is twice as bad as the beginning of this whole affair, when he began by asking about the kissing in the first place. "Is it not a kind of kissing that you are familiar with, that you enjoy? I did not think it was even a sort that took any getting used to, if someone is kissing you there, but I will go slowly with you if you are nervous about it, as you did for me with the mouth-kissing--"
Marcus finally draws enough breath to speak. "Esca. What you are talking about is not kissing."
"Oh." Esca turns his head to the side, and the pain in his eyes is beginning now to mix with disappointment. "What is it, then?"
"It is an obscene thing," Marcus says, firmly, refusing to name the words. He will not be that crude. "It is not a thing fit even for discussion, much less doing. It is a thing done only by prostitutes, and by slaves if their masters wish to punish them."
"It is a wonderful thing," Esca retorts, and his chin tilts up in that familiar, defiant look. "Here, I will show you--"
And before Marcus can quite figure out what is happening, Esca has his fingers at the laces of Marcus' braccae and is moving his head toward Marcus' lap. Marcus twitches as Esca's lips, reddened already from the kissing, brush against his cock, through the fabric, and it is so good, it is already so good, and Marcus shoves himself away hard and backwards into the soil, pushing, pushing away so he won't thrust up, before Esca disgraces himself--
"No!" he cries out, aroused and hating himself for it and terrified that Esca, Esca whom he thought was strong, would want to do these things to him. "Esca, stop!"
And Esca does stop, sitting back on his heels and staring at Marcus while Marcus tries to remember how to breathe properly. It seems as though there is not enough air in the world, and he gasps for it, all the while with Esca staring at him in pain and confusion, like he hasn't the slightest idea how wrong it would be to do this.
"You act as though I am going to torture you, Marcus," Esca says, quietly, and his face has gone still, forcing back some of the pain probably to where he thinks Marcus can't see it any longer. "You should hear your own voice."
"I am sorry." His throat feels raw as he says it; he was yelling in his fear, he knows. He has offended Esca, and that thought makes him sink still lower, but at the same time-- "What you are offering, it is not done," Marcus manages, finally.
Esca gives him a curious look. "Has no one ever done this for you?"
"Once," Marcus says, and he doesn't even know why he's telling Esca this. "A long time ago I was on leave in Baiae and there was a prostitute--" and he can't even finish the sentence. It was what whores did, after all, but it had been a short while of licking followed by one of the most joyless orgasms of Marcus' life. He left immediately, as the woman was spitting and rinsing out her mouth, feeling horrible for having commissioned, and committed, such a perversion, even though he ought not to have been the one demeaned by it.
"Ah, Marcus," Esca says, smiling a little through his own pain, trying to brighten him, even so, and he does not deserve this kindness. "It is not a bad thing. Whatever happened, it doesn't have to be like that. You will see."
And he looks at Esca, really looks, trying to reconcile the face of his friend with what they say about those who suffer this role. How can Esca want this?
"But it's your mouth," he insists. "You can't-- you can't just do that with your mouth."
There is a spark of challenge in Esca's eyes, as he always gets when someone tells him he cannot do something. "Indeed, it is my mouth," Esca says. "And I do not understand why I should not be able to put my mouth wherever on your body I want, as it would please me."
Tangled, confused, beautiful images flash through Marcus' mind -- oh, please, something within Marcus calls out, please let Esca do whatever he likes to him, and the thought of Esca on him--
Marcus pushes the thoughts away. "You cannot want to pollute your own mouth."
And Esca tilts his head as though he truly does not understand. "I don't see why I should think any part of you to be a pollution. Or any part of anyone. I have done this before, as I said, and you seemed to think well enough of me earlier."
"But it is wrong--" he tries, but does not finish, as he feels his objections begin to slide, ever so slowly, out of his grasp.
Esca snorts. "You Romans and your ideas of what is wrong. You invent them, I think, only to entertain yourselves. They mean nothing. You say you must enter rooms or start your journeys on the right foot. There are some days you will not do business on for no reason that I see. You make wine, bring it all the way here, and then insist you should only drink it with water poured in. And now you say you all like kissing so much, that your poets have so many songs about it, but that I must not kiss you there, that no one may have the best kind of kissing. It is all nonsense."
"I told you--" Marcus struggles to find anything left to object to, now that his body is telling him yes so fiercely, yes, please, Esca-- "I told you it's not called kissing. It is a different thing."
"Well, you did not tell me what it was called," says Esca, sounding only a little offended still.
And so Marcus tells him the words, all of the words, very quietly. He feels strange as he does so for they are none of them pleasant ones. If Esca could read he would have seen them scratched into the walls at Calleva. If Esca had met more soldiers he might have heard all the marching-songs. They are cruel words to say, but there is no cruelty between the two of them; the contrast is odd.
"Ah." Esca nods his thanks, as does one enlightened. "That is very helpful. Then, Marcus, let me suck your cock."
It is embarrassing how aroused he is just by hearing Esca telling him this. He cannot, he should not--
Esca smiles at him, then, once again looking him up and down in pure, unashamed lust. Marcus watches as Esca's tongue flicks out of his mouth a little, like he is imagining doing this to him already, like he wants this, like he truly wants this, like this would make him happy. And somehow that changes everything. Marcus did not ever think this act could be happy. But Esca wants it, and if Esca wants this it cannot be a bad thing. Knowing that Esca wants to do this is wondrous, sliding into him and erasing the last of his twisted fear. And thus he gives in.
"Please, yes--" Marcus forces out, finally, past all of the inhibitions of Rome, and he is broken.
And Esca's hands are on his shoulders, easing him down into the sun-warmed dirt, and by Pollux, they are in the middle of a field and Marcus doesn't even care any longer, because Esca is moving his way down his body, and Esca's clever fingers are working at the fastenings of his braccae, and then, and then--
"I don't want you to be nice about this, Marcus." Esca's breath is warm across his cock; he still hasn't touched him yet. His voice is low with desire, but there is a snap of command in his voice that Marcus, ever the soldier, cannot help but respond to. "I don't want you to tell me that you respect me too much, and that because only slaves and whores do this you will try to be -- oh, polite, you would probably call it -- and that you will lie as still as you possibly can and try not to use me cruelly, or however you would put it."
He feels Esca's hands move up higher, undoing his belt, and then, as if it is only a casual motion, sliding down underneath his tunic to rest upon his stomach. Marcus had, in fact, been having half-formed thoughts along those lines, and his muscles are tensed already. Esca can probably feel this, and his fingers stroke lightly along Marcus' torso.
Marcus swallows. "I understand," he says, formally, as he might have once spoken to a tribune, but he still cannot quite make himself relax.
"No, I don't think you do," Esca says, and his voice has gone rougher, harsher, and something about the perfect confidence there arouses Marcus beyond the telling of it. "You have taught me all the words now, so: I am going to suck your cock, and you are going to fuck my face, and you will hold nothing back from me. That is what I want from you. And nothing about it will be nice or polite or proper. And I will love it. And you will love it. Exactly that."
And then Esca finally, finally has his mouth on him, and there are no words anymore.
Marcus did not know it could be like this. Esca is in control here, taking him in, reducing him to raw, instinctual lust, swallowing him deeper. Marcus digs his fingers into the dirt and shoves his hips up, harder and harder, and he knows it is still Esca and he knows Esca wants this, because every time he does Esca makes a happy-sounding noise that he can feel more than hear, and it is wonderful. And somehow Esca slides his mouth even further down on his cock, taking him in completely, and Marcus is gone past all thought. Esca holds there, exquisitely pleasurable, bringing him almost to the edge, and then backs off to do it again. And Marcus realizes that, despite all the words, despite what they mean, Esca is the one fucking him here. And they both love it.
Esca's mouth slips off him, then, and there is only the warm line of Esca's tongue tracing once along the length of him before it is gone.
Marcus struggles to push himself up on his elbows to see what has happened, to remember how his limbs work. "Esca, please," he pants out. "I will swear anything, by anything you name, but please do not stop!"
And he sees Esca curled around him, head raised, mouth slick and red and shining and smiling and it is the most wonderful sight he can ever remember. Esca's eyes glimmer in triumph.
"That's better," Esca murmurs, still with command in his voice, as though he is praising Marcus for behaving rightly. "I only wanted to hear you beg for me first."
Before Marcus can even wonder what "first" means, Esca drops his head back down, and down, and down, and Marcus thrusts up and Esca's tongue is exactly there, pushing right where he needs it, magnified with every move Marcus makes. He is close now, so close, and Esca cannot want him to finish like this--
"Esca, I will-- I'm about to-- " he gasps, and can't get the rest of the sentence out.
And Esca makes one last joyful sound against him, and this must be what Esca wants to happen, and knowing that Esca wants even this is what undoes him.
Marcus tosses his head back against the earth as the rest of him arches, helplessly, against Esca, into Esca, and he locks his hands down on Esca's head to hold him just there, and he is coming and Esca is taking it all and swallowing and does not leave him even through the last of it.
When he is finally too sensitive for even the gentle touch of Esca's mouth, Esca moves back off him, sitting up. Marcus stares up at him and tries to remember how to form words. Esca smiles the widest, happiest smile Marcus has ever seen, then wipes his mouth off on the back of his hand and smiles again. He is beautiful.
"I want to kiss you," Marcus blurts out, before he can think about what he is saying. Esca has just-- he should certainly not want to kiss--
Esca gives him a curious look. "Then kiss me," he says, as though it is that simple. And maybe it can be.
Esca lies down next to him, half on him, and his mouth opens against Marcus'. It is strange, oh, it is perverted... and somehow it is nothing like he feared. They are still the same people, after all. It is only Esca, and he cannot fear him.
"You taste like me," Marcus murmurs, reaching up to run a wondering hand through Esca's hair.
Esca blinks in confusion. "I should hope so," he says, smiling. "Who else should I taste of?"
Marcus is aware, abruptly, of Esca pressing against him, hard and rubbing up against his hip slowly, in an odd distracted manner. He probably doesn't realize he's doing it. And it is strange, strange and good, to know that it aroused Esca to do this to him.
"You enjoyed doing this?" he asks.
"Of course." The answer is matter-of-fact. Perhaps Esca has misunderstood him.
"No, I mean, you enjoyed it," he says, working his hand down between them against Esca's cock. "Like this."
"Ah--" Esca groans and pushes his hips toward Marcus' hand; Marcus is ridiculously pleased that he can so easily do this to him. He strokes Esca harder through the braccae, and he knows he could make Esca spend himself, just like this.
"I want you to teach me what you did to me," Marcus says, on a sudden impulse. "I want to do that to you."
Esca shudders against him -- oh, he likes that thought, does he? -- but then draws back and regains enough composure... to object. "Are you certain? You say it is not a proper thing of your people, and I would not want you to feel ashamed for it."
"You did it for me," Marcus insists. "I want to." For how can he allow Esca to do this and then refuse to do the same in return, as if he thought himself better than Esca? Besides, Esca clearly liked it; perhaps there is some merit after all. And he does want to try. He wants to bring Esca this same pleasure.
"All right," Esca says, very gently. "I will show you. Come here."
Esca, it seems, needs very little in the way of convincing, for he immediately moves back and pushes off his braccae, kicking them off into the dirt.
It isn't as though he's never seen Esca naked, Marcus thinks as he carefully, slowly pulls Esca's tunic up past his thighs to his waist, then higher as Esca undoes his belt and pulls the whole tunic off. But sporting together, or spending a pleasant time relaxing in the bath, is nothing like this, with Esca aroused and desiring him. For the evidence of Esca's desire is here before him, his cock heavy and dark with need. And suddenly it seems impossibly huge, and the idea that he could do as Esca did for him is something far beyond attainable.
And then he feels a hand on his arm, and looks up to see Esca smiling at him.
"It's all right," Esca says, and his voice is so soft, giving Marcus all the reassurance he would never bring himself to ask for. "It is easier than it looks, I promise you."
"But--" he can feel his face growing hot now, as he admits it-- "I do not think I can do as you did, with all of my mouth." It galls him to say so, because surely if Esca did it it is a thing he can do as well.
"Ah, Marcus." Esca chuckles a little, but the sound is not unkind. "That is a fine trick to learn, but not for the first time. And I will be nice for you, as I asked you not to be, so it will be easier. Here," he adds, inexplicably. "Give me your hand."
Puzzled, Marcus holds out his arm. Esca grips his wrist, turns his hand palm-up, and proceeds to lick in one long stroke, from the sensitive skin of the inside of Marcus' wrist all the way up to his fingertips. Marcus' cock twitches as Esca sucks his fingers inside his mouth, and how is it even possible that Esca's mouth on his hand should feel nearly as good as Esca's mouth on his cock?
"You're good at that," Marcus breathes, amazed, wishing he wouldn't stop.
Esca releases his hand, then, and smiles again. "It is only that is easier yet if you use your hand to help."
Marcus can do this. He moves to lie down in the dirt, between Esca's legs that open for him, as Esca himself lies back as well, and he wraps his slick hand around Esca's cock. Esca gives a choked-off moan and stills, suddenly. Marcus can feel by the tremor in Esca's muscles, the shaking of Esca's thigh where it presses against his shoulder, that he is holding back as he has promised.
And then, since he has come this far already, he lowers his head and takes Esca into his mouth. Esca groans aloud at that, and his hand comes up to card through Marcus' hair as though he wants to push but dares not.
"Oh." Esca breathes out. "I may not need to instruct you as much as I had thought."
It is nothing like anyone has warned him about, he thinks, wonderingly. Esca is not foul, nor fetid; his taste here is as the taste of his skin, the taste of his mouth, but more so. And it is even better because it is clear that Esca loves this. Marcus catches onto the rhythm Esca wants of him as Esca's hand drops to his neck, tapping out a pattern on his spine, the only motion Esca has allowed himself.
And the trembling of Esca's fingers matches, suddenly, the twist of Marcus' hand along Esca's shaft and the way Marcus is licking at him, the three in harmony, and this hidden dance unlocks something in Esca. Marcus looks up along the length of Esca's body to see that he has thrown his head back against the earth.
And Esca starts to talk, rasping words hoarse with need, like he had been waiting until this moment to say anything, saving it up, and now must have all the words out at once.
"Take it," Esca gasps. "Take it in just like that, ah, Marcus, with your perfect mouth." And though the words ought to frighten Marcus, he feels not at all lessened; it is a thing Esca says because he loves him. "I have thought about this for a long time, do you know?" he continues, and there is a hint of teasing, tantalizing Marcus with this fantasy, this side of Esca he wants to know. "I touch myself thinking of you coming to me, of you offering yourself like this, of how you would fall your knees for this, for me--"
Those last words, more than any other, should strike terror into Marcus, should remind him that one doing this should suffer, but the fear curls down his body and somehow there is only pleasure in that thought. His own reflected lust makes him speed his strokes on Esca, makes him confident to dip his head lower, to take more in.
"So good. Ah! I am so close," Esca pants out, as though it is an effort to say these words, and the heat of desire in Marcus mixes with pride, that he can bring Esca to this. "Marcus, please, I dare not ask this much-- you should--"
Esca groans and shoves Marcus back now, hands at his shoulders, until Marcus' mouth is off him. There will be another time to try this; they have all the time in the world. And this way he can even watch Esca better, which is its own kind of pleasure. He keeps his hand on Esca, though, moving faster and harder, and now that Esca worries not about his mouth he is quite willing to thrust into his hand, hips rising and falling faster and faster, but somehow he is holding himself back, not quite at the edge yet.
Marcus pushes himself up higher, so that Esca can be sure to see him, locking his eyes with Esca's, whose pleasure-dazzled gaze is fixed at him and somehow beyond him. Marcus swears he will remember how Esca looks at this moment for the rest of his life.
"Still thinking about my mouth, eh?" he manages to say, and Esca moans inarticulately, then gasps a few words that are not Latin; Marcus thinks it might be British. "You can have my mouth as much as you like. You can have any part of me--" and he doesn't even know where these words come from, but they are true, true because this is Esca, and he has to say it-- "I am yours, Esca, I will go to my knees for you, I will do anything you ask, only command me, and whatever you imagine, you may have it--"
Esca cries out, then, and spills into Marcus' hand, shaking and coming hot over his stomach and Marcus' fingers both. It is glorious, and Marcus moves with him, carrying him through it, smiling to see Esca's face full of the utmost pleasure shading to satiety.
As Esca's face turns grateful and his gaze half-lidded, Marcus considers the mess they've made together. He doesn't even let himself think about it as he takes his spattered hand away and deliberately, slowly, so Esca can see him -- he licks his fingers. The taste is salty and not at all horrifying and he finds himself wishing Esca had not pushed him away.
Esca's eyes have gone wide. "Marcus, I would not have asked that of you, but, oh, do you know how you look?"
"Good, I hope?"
Esca's throat works as he swallows, and then he says, "If I had not just come, I think I would now, seeing you do that."
The compliment makes Marcus redden, aware suddenly of exactly what he has done, all of it. "If you had not just come I could not have done that," he mutters.
Esca senses his embarrassment, and sits up, pulling Marcus into his arms. "Shh," Esca whispers, as though Marcus is one of his skittish animals. "You did well. It is all right."
"I know it is," Marcus tells him. It felt right, and he will not be shamed before Esca. He will not. So if Esca can stand proud, so can he. He must.
Esca holds him for a long while then, saying nothing, until Marcus lets himself relax fully against him; he thinks Esca can feel that, because kisses him -- Roman-style, Marcus supposes -- on the cheek, and gives him a smile that is more joking.
"So, Marcus," he asks, grinning, "now that we have tried kissing your way and mine, which do you like better?"
Marcus pretends to consider it, rubbing at his still-slick mouth. "I would have to say they both have their virtues," he begins, diplomatically, trying to keep from laughing and spoiling the jest. "But of course, you understand that I have practiced kissing in my way more than yours, so I think I cannot truly, fairly answer that question until I have more experience with kissing in the manner of your people." And then, only then, does he allow himself to smile, with all of his feeling for Esca in it.
"With me?" Esca sounds nervous. As if he doesn't know the answer.
"Of course with you," Marcus says, pressing his mouth to Esca's. They taste like each other.
Esca relaxes. "Well, that is all right, then."
"Only all right?" Marcus teases.
"Better than that," Esca retorts, grinning. "As you know. Come, let us finish the field, and then later I will show you the other kinds of kissing."
Marcus stares, confused, as Esca moves away from him and starts to collect his clothing. "How many kinds of kissing are there? I do not understand, Esca. Surely at this point you have run out of relevant anatomy?"
He stands up, fastening his braccae and belt as he watches Esca slide all his clothing back on, which is somehow nearly as intriguing as watching him slide out of it.
Esca comes to his feet as well and now he too looks puzzled. "You mean to tell me Romans have not invented other words for those other kinds of kissing? I had thought perhaps you only told me the ones we needed just now. Though you did tell me that word for kissing women."
Marcus is completely bewildered now. What else can Esca mean that they should do? There is fucking, of course, but that is not anything anyone might call kissing. "No," he concludes. "Those are all the kinds of kissing there are. I don't understand what you mean."
"I will most certainly have to show you, then," Esca says, sounding oddly proud. "I am sure you will like being kissed there." And he steps forward, putting his hand on Marcus' hip, then curving it around to his buttocks.
And suddenly Marcus understands, and the thought makes him hot with shame and want in equal measure.
"I don't think there are even words for that," he manages, and his voice sounds only a little strangled. Esca did mean, it seems, that he would put his mouth anywhere on him.
Esca smirks at him, but it is a happy sort of smirk. "How uncreative you Romans are."
"I can learn," Marcus offers.
"Oh, you will."
And Esca smiles at him as they walk back to the plow. And perhaps the poet was right, even if he did not mean it thus, the old song and Esca together, saying that thousands of kisses do not make one less of a man. No matter where they are.