Marcus knows that, in spite of Esca’s complaining--about the heat, about his sunburn, about Marcus’ obsession with licking every single one of his new freckles--Esca is happy here. He sees it in the new crinkles of laughter lines around Esca’s eyes and in the determined set of his shoulders when he works beside Marcus in the field. And if Esca truly meant all of his complaints, then Marcus is sure that he would not make those breathy, whimpering noises when Marcus insists on licking his freckles anyway, and also that it would have been much harder convincing Esca to go with him to the seaside today, on a rare respite from work.
“I’m going to go home scorched,” Esca grumbles, the way he always does.
“There is aloe in the garden,” Marcus answers, as he always does, trying not to grin. “I will salve the places you can’t reach.”
Esca glares at him, but Marcus knows better than to believe it. He keeps his thoughts to himself when Esca elects to spend the rest of the afternoon laughing and splashing at Marcus in the surf--in between hunting for sea stars and trying to catch the little silver darting fish that come up to nibble at their legs. Esca never set foot in the ocean before they boarded the boat that took them away from Britain, but Marcus likes to imagine that if Esca had been to the seaside as a child, that perhaps these are the kind of things he and his brothers would have done. As hard as they have worked for everything they have, he thinks they deserve an afternoon to be childish and carefree.
By the end of the day, Esca’s prediction has come true, but Marcus says optimistically, “I think it’s getting better. Who knows, one of these days you might even tan a little.” He leans in for a kiss before Esca can scowl at him. “I have a surprise at home to make you feel better,” he promises, and is extremely gratified by the poorly-concealed interest on Esca’s face.
“I have never seen fruit like this,” Esca says doubtfully, tossing the orange from hand to hand.
“Trust me,” Marcus says, showing him how to peel away the thick skin. “It’s delicious.” It has been years since he last ate a fresh orange, and his mouth is watering, but he waits for Esca to pull the fruit into segments and take the first bite, a little spurt of juice catching him by surprise.
His eyes widen comically, and Marcus grins.
Esca nods emphatically, his tongue swiping out to capture the trickle of juice. He hums happily, and Marcus lifts a second piece of fruit to his lips, forgetting his own eagerness to taste it in favour of watching Esca’s awed face and listening to the pleased noises he makes as Marcus feeds him the rest of the orange, segment by segment.
Juice rolls down Esca’s chin and the side of his throat, and Marcus is captivated. He wants to lean in and lick the droplet away, and then lick up the sticky trail it has left on Esca’s skin, follow it back to his mouth and chase the sweetness of it behind Esca’s teeth. So he does.
Esca grabs Marcus’ wrist and, when Marcus pulls back to get his breath, laves his tongue over Marcus’ fingers, taking great care to catch every stray drop of juice. Marcus makes a shivery, needy noise, and Esca nips playfully at the pad of his thumb.
After the taste of the orange is gone, he looks hopefully for another piece of fruit, and the blissful look on his face slides suddenly towards one of contrition.
“But you didn’t have any,” he says, and a rush of amusement and warmth rolls through Marcus, and if Esca weren’t burnt so pink and sore, he would wrap his arms around him and squeeze him close.
Instead, he just kisses the sunburnt tip of Esca’s nose and says, “There is a full basket in the larder, and plenty more for both of us.”
Esca’s eyes light up, and Marcus thinks smugly that he has figured out exactly how to deal with any complaining Esca might do in the future.