"You fucking jest," Batiatus snapped, fingers clenching in the parchment so tightly it began to tear. "The man shoves fist in ass and grants me two slaves to soothe torn flesh?" A scoff from the man, the parchment thrown as he stood. Hands on the desk, he lent over to glare at the guard before him. "Fucking slaves, as if I lack them. He seeks to compensate for pulling favor and insults in the process."
The guard paused for a moment of caution. "Not just mere slaves, good Batiatus," he began, mulling over every word before they parted from throat. "Avitus sends his body slave and favored cunt as gift."
The guard motioned quickly, the two slaves in questioned pushed into the room. They had been bathed and dressed properly, the two of them almost appearing of mantle above slave. Chadara's blond locks fell in soft curls around her face and over her shoulders, the white dress decorated with ornate gold pieces as if for celebration. Tiberius' long bangs were pulled back into braids that joined at the back of his head, a similar white wrap flecked with gold around his waist. They stood together, pressing arms against one another, as Batiatus took them in with impartial eyes.
"Cunt and body slave," Batiatus repeated, pausing only for a moment before he was laughing. "He parts with cock and heart in an attempt to please me!"
Tiberius kept his eyes to the floor, knowing Chadara was doing much the same. A new villa, far from their own in the south--it weighed heavily on the heart, a reminder at just how little was their own. The family they had made, the familiar faces and laughter during quiet moments were all gone forever. Torn away at the whim of a man they called dominus, to sooth relations with a lanista below him.
"They should make for decent sacrifice at the beginning of the next games, with Avitus at front row."
The wince could not be suppressed, wracking through Tiberius as his stomach threatened to twist itself out. He had been of status, respected among the slaves and yet gifted without second thought and everything ripped from him once more. He felt Chadara tremble beside him, subtly wrapping his fingers around her wrist to steady her and remind her of purpose. Her own found his, lacing together tightly as they stood as one.
"No, no," Batiatus corrected, waving his hand in the air as if to dismiss the idea. "I would not want the man to think his gift unwelcome. Leave and return to your master with stories of my gratitude and pleasure in his offering," Batiatus ordered with a short nod of his head. A brief wave dismissed the guard, leaving Chadara and Tiberius standing before him. Tiberius did not like the look in the man's eyes, though he had seen it many times before.
They were but possessions, and he was to decide where they would be place.
"You," Batiatus began, pointing to Chadara. "You will tend the domina in the villa. I would keep you by her side in chance of Avitus coming to visit." Another guard stepped forward, from the house of Batiatus this time. "Bring her to my wife's body slave for instruction. But first, remove your clothing. I would have them burned and replaced with more fitting attire."
There was a hesitance then, their fingers releasing immediately even as their eyes met. Being nude in front of one another was hardly a new development--being body slave to his dominus meant watching he and Chadara on countless occasions. Still, their fingers shook as they made quick work of their clothing, leaving them in piles at their feet without second thought. Their fingers laced together again, heads bowed before their new dominus in respect.
Chadara was pulled away by the arm forcibly, Tiberius turning his head to see in which direction she was forced by the guard. Their fingers released from each other immediately, though eyes never parted until she was tugged from sight with a deep frown and eyes filled with tears. Sentiments were shared, though Tiberius' eyes remained blessedly dry.
"And you," Batiatus continued, seating himself once more. Tiberius squared his shoulders as he was surveyed, keeping his chin towards the ground in a demure fashion. "Unfortunate events have lead to the death of one of my ludus slaves--you shall take his place."
The ludus? Tiberius' eyes widened, falling to his new dominus' in surprise. Another guard was there, another man to drag Tiberius in the opposite direction of Chadara. There was no fight to the slave--he was no fool--but there was great reluctance with every step he took. The other slaves stared, eyes upon such a dark slave within the halls of their villa, being dragged while he was naked and vulnerable. There might have been whispers, but Tiberius could not focus. He felt nothing but the grip on his arm, the intricate tiles beneath his feet, numb to the world even as he was pulled down stairs and thrust forward into an open gate.
The man to greet him there didn't necessarily seem unpleasant. In fact, Tiberius found something almost familiar in his face and calm demeanor, standing there with his wrist clasped at the small of his back. It came to him moments later, taking in the scar across his cheek--the arena. There was a hint of respect from the guard when he nodded, locking the gate and disappearing up the stairs to leave them alone. The man kept his gaze proper, apparently ignoring the nude slave refusing to tremble.
"You are the slave from Fulvius' villa?" the man asked, voice a quiet tone as opposed to the yelling of directions Tiberius was so used to hearing. A nod gave the man his answer, Tiberius swallowing the lump in his throat but not trusting voice. "Very well. I am the Doctore of this ludus. And your name?"
"Tiberius, sir," he said immediately, his voice sounding hoarse to even his own ears.
Doctore's smile was something small, and yet held some comfort in it. Perhaps there would be hope to have a new family here. Or at least some type of support system, born of injustice and common grievance. Tiberius had never spent much time with men in the villa to know how such things operated without women. The women of his old villa often told him that he had been lucky to achieve such a status, that men born of soft heart such as he were often taken advantage of. The thought scared Tiberius then, a trait he had once been proud of making his fingers shake by their own accord.
"Tiberius," Doctore finally said, nodding his head as if to greet him. Tiberius nodded back, his lips pressing into a thin smile, genuine despite its size. "You will live amongst the gladiators and tend to them as needed. The time when they are occupied is your own, however--I will show you to Drusus for further instruction."
Doctore turned on heel, leading Tiberius further and further into the depths of the ludus. He took everything in with wide eyes--stone walls, lit torches, the doors to the more private cells that poured forth grunts and groans of pleasure. A few men crossed their paths, holding jugs of wine and sparing Tiberius but a passing glance for now. Further still, a few open cages, one that held four men slumped against the wall in exhaustion. They barely lifted their heads, the curiosity of a newcomer successfully subdued from a day of what Tiberius assumed was fighting.
There was one, though, whose gaze was felt most keenly. Tiberius had looked once at them before adverting his eyes respectfully. He didn't know where he stood with these men, who didn't have an ounce of privacy and were probably below the men with actual rooms, but they were physically his superior. But there were eyes on him still, he could feel them, and when he spared a second glance, he found their source. One of the men, sitting against the wall with another slumped against his shoulder in slumber, staring blatantly at him. Blue eyes keen and curious, brows knit in the same emotions as he watched Tiberius move. He was not sure the purpose as to his gaze--was it because Tiberius was nude? Dark of skin and long of hair? Simply new to these walls? The gaze set Tiberius' skin on fire, warming him to the core and making him entirely too conscious of his nude state.
Boldly, Tiberius returned his gaze, holding it steady until the gladiator gave him a brief nod of his head just before he disappeared around the corner.
Breath stuck in his throat and mind occupied, he almost walked into Doctore's back as the man suddenly stopped. The door was slightly cracked, but it was a solid door with a barred window near the top. Some privacy, something that those other gladiators hadn't been afforded.
"You will share this cell with Drusus," Doctore informed, his hand motioning to the door as if in invitation. "Tomorrows training starts at daybreak--you are to be up an hours time before that to clean weapons, as Drusus will explain."
Tiberius' nod was small, overwhelmed and suddenly exhausted with such a day, such a life. He watched carefully as the man turned to leave, suddenly finding his voice to blurt out, "Doctore!" There was a pause in Doctore's step, a clear signal to continue. "A-A friend," he stuttered through, cursing himself for it and taking a deep breath to steady his nerves. "I came with a friend, sent to gain favor, as well. She will be in the villa. Will... will I ever see her again?" It felt good, to remove question from mind and hopefully receive an answer.
Doctor tilted his head just slightly, enough to look at Tiberius over his shoulder. "I cannot say for certain," he began, breaking eye contact briefly as if in thought. "But know that she will be well taken care of. This is an honorable house, one that you should grow to be proud to serve."
While the answer was not what he expected, it was most certainly a comfort. Chadara was dear friend, one that he had known for much of his life. An honorable house had yet to be determined, though. But to know that Chadara would not be mistreated past assumed acts was enough to relieve the tension from Tiberius' shoulders and enter the room.
The man laying in a bedroll against the wall did not look like the other men. In fact, he looked more like Tiberius--short of stature, thin of body, with longer blond hair pulled back from his face and light skin tinted with freckles. He stirred with a noise before a yawn, sitting up and rubbing his eyes to rid them of sleep. The blanket that had been around his shoulder dropped to his waist, revealing a clean torso without scars. No mistreatment there, either.
Green eyes found his own, a brief smile on the slave's face. "You are the new ludus slave?" he asked, perhaps a bit unnecessarily. Still, Tiberius nodded his head slowly, his eyes traveling to the bedroll on the opposite side of the room beside a pair of well-worn breeches. He was suddenly very conscious of his nudity, less so than when the gladiator's eyes had burning upon him.
"Tiberius," he offered, motioning towards the breeches.
The man nodded in consent, Tiberius not wasting a second before tugging them on and tying the cord around his waist. "I am Drusus," he introduced, eyes politely adverted but meeting Tiberius' after he was dressed.
"Doctore said you held instructions for me?" Tiberius asked, his voice tired to his own ears.
There was something there then, passed in Drusus' face. Something akin to sadness, something Tiberius was familiar with. "Yes, yes," he agreed with a nod of his head, motioning to the opposite bedroll. "But sleep now, instructions can be given when we wake."
Any room for argument was cut off by Drusus laying down once more, curled towards the wall and hiking his threadbare blanket further up over his shoulders. Tiberius watched him for a long moment, unsure of what to do, before the call of the bedroll was too much. His mind seemed blank, despite the hundreds of thousands of thoughts trapped within. They jostled him, keeping him awake for hours after he laid his head to rest. When the tears came he was almost startled, wetness against his cheeks though he made no noise, no attempt to comfort himself
There was none left to give.
Next part! The first few parts are going to take place during the canon two week gap between Ep. 8 and 9. I know this part is a little OC heavy, but I promise there’s plot relevancy. (And, hey, there’s actually a plot! A lot of it… weird.) Avitus, Gallus, Drusus, and Livius are products of my strange mind.
Tiberius' dreams were thankfully absent of horrors, but teased with sweeter subjects. Of blue eyes and dimpled cheeks. Of the taste of sweat and sand sampled from warm skin. Of Chadara's laughter through the halls of their villa. Of the stew that had been his favorite, never to be had again. The loss hit hard within his chest as he awoke, a gasping breath and wide eyes settled on Drusus crouched beside him.
"Apologies," the man said, withdrawing his hand with a friendly grin. "I tried to wake you by voice, but you would have none of it."
Tiberius rose to his elbows, his breath still panted from between parted lips. Chest slick with sweat, his hair matted in the same manner to his cheek, he must have been a sight. "Gratitude," he murmured after a few moments, pushing his hair from his forehead and sighing out. "And apologies in return. I did not hear you."
"It matters not," Drusus soothed, standing to give a stretch. "However, we must begin the day's duties--there are weapons to be cleaned and breakfast to be prepared."
It took a few moments to recall the previous day, the reasons as to why Tiberius was not in a cooled room of his own in his villa, but in a cell within a foreign ludus. He was quick to move, though, coming to stand while sweeping his hair off of his neck to be tied up. It would become a burden if left down in the afternoon sun, a reminder of previous status when luxuries such as longer hair could be afforded without negative consequence.
Drusus pressed a finger to his lip in warning as they left their cell, using the same hand to motion Tiberius to follow. The path they took was similar to the one last night, passing by the cage with the unconcealed gladiators sleeping within. Tiberius found the one with the blue eyes, sleeping with his head against the man's that was against his shoulder. They looked similar enough to be considered brothers, though Tiberius would not rule out the option of lover. There was an ambiguous tenderness with the way they pressed close to one another for comfort and heat.
The morning was cool when they stepped out into what appeared to be an eating area, beyond that the sands of the training ground. It all seemed relatively... barren, sad to think that this was where gladiators were made. Tiberius had never cared much for the games, unlike his former dominus. Perhaps it was because he was a slave, while Avitus was a Roman. He refused to see the point in glorified deaths to people who would die regardless under the binding of slavery; Avitus attended only to further his own position and make appearance.
For some reason, his feet carried him through the covered resting area and out onto the sand. He crouched down carefully, touching the fine grains and thought he saw blood there. Sweat. Tears. Years and years of strife to the reward of no one. Gladiators were still slaves. Slaves with swords and training, used as tools to secure the favor of the people. Tools to their masters, the lanistas and the men above them. All puppets to the Magistrate, simple men whose lives were solely dependent on the upturn of a thumb.
Still, his feet took him further after he straightened to a stand once more. Further and further still, until he could stand at the edge of the cliff. Tiberius found himself overwhelmed for a moment, taking in a different starry morning, the vast expanse of the East exposed over the cliff. So much land, it was almost a tease. A show of what could be theirs if they had been born in another life, another body. Roman instead of Syrian. Lanista instead of gladiator. It was beautiful, though, with the sun just barely peeking over the mountains that stretched so far back.
Tilting his head, he caught a glimpse of the ground below the cliffs. Such beauty bordered on such ugliness. Life and death. How easy would it be to have a misstep and fall? Would the soul leave body before impact, or would the rocks below deal the death blow? Tiberius took a moment to wonder how many bodies laid at the bottom of the cliff, wondered if his own would join it eventually. If they all would. A profound thought, the troubles necessary in order to reach the sunset and seize it as a free man.
Drusus seemed to understand his thoughts, coming to stand beside him with a small smile and a nod of his head. "Some of my favorite moments of the day have passed at this time," the man said quietly, tilting his head to catch Tiberius' gaze. "Alone with thoughts and peace. But we must begin the day."
Drusus turned to leave by the time Tiberius found his voice. "The other ludus slave," he began, voice quiet to avoid breaking the still of the morning. "Batiatus had mentioned his end--how did he meet it?"
Drusus' back tensed, head hanging down to curtain his face with his hair. Tiberius opened his mouth to recant statement, lips sealing shut when the man turned to face him with a sad smile. "His own hands. It was a delicate situation, best left at the bottom of the cliff with the body."
Regret in asking was hopefully conveyed in the softness of his face, though Drusus flashed him a brief smile afterward. He finally followed the man to where their duties were--two chests, tucked into the eating area against the wall. Drusus acted with practiced ease, hauling both lids open and grabbing some cuts of cloth and oil to clean with.
"Oil and clean the gladus, pick stray splinters from the training swords," Drusus directed, plopping himself beside the chests in order to get comfortable. There was something mischievous in his grin when he met Tiberius' eyes, lifting his brows playfully. "For men that brave death with every time they take up blade, they bitch like women when a splinter finds its way into skin."
Tiberius joined him on the floor, following suit and withdrawing a gladus to begin cleaning. The oil smelled rather pleasant, oddly amusing to Tiberius as he wiped flecks of dried blood from the steal. "It is heavy than I thought it would be," he commented lightly, weighing the sword in his hand.
Drusus nodded, taking one into his hand as well. "I was surprised at first, as well. Gallus tells me that it lightens in time."
"Gallus?" Tiberius repeated, letting the curiosity of his tone speak to Drusus.
The smile was brief but bright, head ducked as Drusus continued to clean the blade. "The dearest of friend," he answered, eyes flicking up to Tiberius' with a raise of his brow and that smile in place. "He is amongst the gladiators, and was born of a kind heart. He offers protection."
The second question paused his friend, lip drawn between teeth as if he had spoken too much. "There has been... problems, before," Drusus said, hesitance all over him. "There was a gladiator who was rough, forcing himself upon the previous ludus slave. We are... we are not men of large stature," he pointed out with a short laugh. "In a world so dominated by men, some of the gladiators seek pleasures of the flesh in one another. Whether force is used... well..."
Tiberius had barely noticed his hands had paused over his gladus, staring wide eyed at Drusus. He was to lay with these men now? A whore for their whims? Naturally, should one come upon Tiberius, there was very little he could do. He was not skilled in sword, not strong enough to overpower a gladiator. His fingers shook at the thought, causing the gladus to slip from his grasp and clash to the ground.
Drusus looked up sharply, a deep frown to his face and immediately reaching out. "Apologies, apologies," Tiberius repeated, scooping up the gladus and continuing to clean gently. He had nicked his thumb, ignoring it as it bled slowly. "And... Gallus protects you from such advances?"
"The gladiators of this ludus are honorable men," Drusus defended absently, grabbing another gladus. "Most of them are well mannered and treat me quite fairly. But few have been known to be bold. The gladiator that had forced himself upon the previous ludus slave now rests at the bottom of the cliff, gratitude towards our champion." Tiberius' fingers still shook, even as he resumed his cleaning. Fingers covered his own, attempting a reassuring squeeze. "Gallus will watch over the both of us," he soothed, green eyes sincere when he ducked his head to meet Tiberius' downcast gaze. "Remove worry from thought. I will not allow harm to come to you."
"And what of the previous slave?" Tiberius asked, voice soft as his eyes flicked up to Drusus. "Was Gallus there to protect him?"
The press of Drusus' lips made Tiberius question if he had gone too far. The other man's eyes fell, hand withdrawn and brought into his lap. They remained quiet for a long moment, both of them looking anywhere but each other. Tiberius was flush with shame--if Drusus was to offer protection in the ways of his gladiator, then who was Tiberius to refuse? If nothing else, the other man treated him as brother, despite having known him for barely an hour.
"It was unfortunate circumstance that took Pietros from us," Drusus finally said, breaking the still that had settled between them. "His own gladiator--his lover--filled his head with thoughts of love and freedom far from these walls. When opportunity came, his gladiator purchased freedom only for himself, leaving Pietros but a broken shell behind. His death... was a kindness." Drusus finished with a sad smile, meeting Tiberius' gaze with a short nod. "A kindness to the one passed. May he find freedom now."
Tiberius nodded his head once in understanding, a silent consent to speak of it no more.
The day approached quickly, just barely shutting the lids to the chests before they were off once more. Sand to rake, meals to prepare and bring to the eating area, gladiators to rouse from drunken slumber--it wasn't until late morning that Tiberius could pause to catch breath. He could not remember the last time he had been so active. Usual morning routines revolved around his dominus, for bathing and dressing, before he was but a statue. Forever silent until commanded, and then he was a dog. Now, here, he was a dog constantly. A wild little dog that ran itself around a pack of wolves.
Tiberius caught the eye of the gladiator many times, whenever they were even remotely near one another. It was ridiculous, this strange draw that had Tiberius searching for the eyes he felt upon his flesh. He attempted to convince himself that was his true purpose, to meet eyes in hopes they would disappear. But there was something in those blue depths that licked fire into his belly, especially watching the man train. He performed activities different from the rest of the gladiators, hauling wooden beams and running across the expanse of the training area. The other men fought constantly, but not he. The men that had slept in the cage sparred with only each other, and when they paused after midday sun, they were the last to eat.
"Those men," Tiberius asked, head motioned to the four huddled. His gladiator's eyes were upon him once more, despite the fact that the man that Tiberius had deemed brother was speaking him. The gaze was met boldly before Tiberius broke contact to further look at Drusus. "Why do they not train amongst the rest?"
Drusus looked over his shoulder to them, as if to just confirm his thoughts. "They are not yet of the Brotherhood," he explained, grabbing some stew from the cook with a gracious nod of his head. "The test is tonight--we shall see who falls before the titans of the arena, or lives to some day become one."
Not gladiators then, not yet. Still, Tiberius looked over his shoulder to the man as he received his stew, catching those blue eyes once more. There was a chance of death, and the thought unsettled Tiberius. He had yet to speak a word to the man. And for all his silent staring, the man made no effort to address him, either. But just before their gaze broke, Tiberius was granted the most precious gift he could remember--a smile. His lips curling in a short smile, dimpling his cheeks and bringing a spark of life to those tired eyes. Tiberius found himself smiling back, something small but genuine, realizing he had not felt the sensation in quite some time.
Ludus slaves were apparently a step above slaves that had not received the mark. He followed Drusus to the end of one of the long tables, bread in one hand and stew in another. "Do you favor him?" Drusus asked once they sat, already beginning to dig into his stew with vigor. Tiberius found that he held no desire for food, taking a cursory bite as he considered his reply.
Drusus' look was dry, paired with a grin. "The one from Germania. Agron seems to be unable to draw eyes away from you."
Agron. Tiberius' heart leaped at the ability to put a name to the man. Agron. Part of him wanted to try it, taste it on his lips. Call out to him, ask him of his home and of the man he seemed so close to. Perhaps seek protection under him, strong and capable enough to ward off any advances, but with eyes that were kind and took interest in him.
Tiberius ripped his bread in half, feigning ignorance. "Oh? I had not taken note."
"I only wonder if lies taste sweet pouring from your lips, or if you think me blind," Drusus teased, earning a short jolt of laugh from Tiberius. A laugh. Another commodity he had thought left in his former villa.
They fell into a lull of easy conversation, Drusus testing Tiberius' knowledge of the gladiators' names. The champion was an easy target, as was his friend, Varro. Rhaskos stuck with Tiberius as both person and name, Hamilcar and Fortis as well. There were a few whose faces bore familiar memories of fighting styles and voice, but no name to recall. Drusus seemed impressed regardless, tossing bits of bread at Tiberius when a question was answered incorrectly, or with snark.
So engrossed in conversation, the two did not notice the approach of another until a hand was laid upon Tiberius' shoulder. He froze, as did Drusus, feeling the fingers slide from shoulder up the sweaty line of his neck, pushing hair away from there. Protection, Tiberius recalled from their earlier conversation, knowing that Gallus was still out with dominus according to Drusus. Tiberius' eyes immediately fell to Agron, attempting to keep the pleading fear from them. The man's gaze held such a fire that he was surprised the gladiator touching him did not burn where he stood, Agron's jaw clenched tight and fingers tightening on the bowl so hard that knuckles turned to white.
"You are very pretty," a voice said in his ear, low and gravelly. It brought back images of a massive man, axe in hand and sheild in the other, beating Hamilcar into submission while training. Tiberius searched for the name, tried to suppress the bile rising in his throat to no avail. It stung his flesh, swallowed down with a short cough that managed to dislodge the hand spanning over the back of the neck. It was replaced once more, tugging the tie loose from his hair to have it spilling down his shoulders.
"Livius," Drusus said, bringing name to man that touched Tiberius so. There was hesitance in his voice, though, eyes flicking to Tiberius as if at war with himself. And Tiberius understood--without Gallus, they were both men of small stature. Drusus was risking personal injury in his attempt to protect Tiberius. "Remove hand from his person. He cares not for your attentions."
The laugh from Livius was more of a roar, the hand against the nape of his neck tightening enough to have his entire body freezing. Tiberius' eyes went to Agron again, this time finding his brother's hand on his biceps, whispering words into his ear while Agron just stared. He did not move, did not make an attempt to defend the very person he had spent the day staring at and it stung Tiberius to the core.
"And yet he does not shy away from my touches," Livius said, another hand turning Tiberius' face enough that he could catch sight of the man. Just as he had thought--thick beard, short cropped hair, a jagged scar running down the left side of his face. The thought of laying with such a man repulsed Tiberius so that he felt his lunch threatened, stomach turning. Especially as the face came closer and closer still, though Livius' gaze was on Drusus. "Without Gallus here, you forget your place--"
The words ended as the touching did, Livius ripped from Tiberius by another. Tiberius looked quickly, anticipating seeing Agron, but it was not him. Another man, still dressed in robes with a hood up, standing in front of Tiberius as if to keep distance between him and Livius. He couldn't help but note that the rest of the gladiators did not interfere, even when there was a sickening crunch of the robed man's fist against Livius' nose. They cheered and roared when Livius was thrown, but made no move to help either side.
"And what of my presence?" the man snapped, hands to fist as Livius slowly stood. "I leave for but hours to find you forget your place, Livius."
Tiberius looked to Drusus then. The other slave still held that same frightened look as he had when he spoke out against Livius, but there was a calm there. His shoulders were no longer slumped, eyes glued to the robed figure and tearing them away only to meet Tiberius' gaze and give him a short nod and smile.
"Have the gods blessed you with two cocks?" Livius snapped, brushing himself free of sand. A shudder went through Tiberius yet again at the thought of laying with the man. "That you would need two asses to call home?"
Gallus was not paying attention, however, turning to face the table once more. Drusus received him warmly, a solid hug between the two of them before a kiss from under his hood. The dearest of friend replayed in Tiberius' mind, but he made no comment towards it. Instead, he adverted his eyes politely to his stew that had long since gone cold. All he caught was a glimpse of the wet slide of lips, a stubbled jaw and a lock of honey-brown hair from Gallus.
"Apologies," Gallus murmured as he pulled back, hands pushing through Drusus' hair before he kissed him once more. Softer this time, thought not letting it linger. "Dominus had me accompany him to market since Barca purchased freedom. Come, to my cell," he directed, releasing Drusus. The hood pushed back to reveal the man. Strong in the face, handsomely so, with warm brown eyes that made Tiberius think born of a kind heart. "Both of you," he added with a nod towards Tiberius.
The fear was back, real and seizing. Had he escaped the hands of one man only to enter another? But Drusus smiled at him, followed him without another word, and Tiberius would not be left alone to deal with such men.
While walking pass, he did not meet Agron's eyes, despite the gaze felt.
Tiberius followed the large figure of Gallus through the barracks, passing by the cage and entering where the cells that contained doors were. The man was almost overwhelming in size, at least compared to Tiberius and Gallus. Drusus seemed to move with familiarity, pushing open the door to what Tiberius assumed was Gallus' cell, taking the lead of their small pack with a comfort that put Tiberius at ease.
The ease was quickly taken away when, as soon as he could, Gallus was pinning Drusus against the wall with hands on shoulders and a snarl.
"You press Livius," the man snapped, voice low but Tiberius could hear no bite to the words. No anger. Only worry and concern. Regardless, Tiberius backed to the door, should he need to run. "Livius. A man who nearly outmatches me."
Drusus seemed relatively unfazed by the display of strength, hands coming up to grip each of Gallus' wrists and pull them away. A kiss was placed to palm, wrist, scarred knuckles before tugged around his body and Gallus was drawn into a hug. The difference in size almost made it laughable, Drusus able to tuck Gallus under his chin warmly with some adjusting.
"Apologies," Gallus mumbled, arms wrapping around Drusus in a tender way. It spoke deeper to Tiberius' heart, awkwardly standing beside the doorway and feeling himself unprivileged to be witnesses such a tender display between men.
The robe was stripped away by Drusus' patient hands, revealing the body beneath that made Tiberius' face heat up. Broad and strong, thick biceps and a wide chest. Certainly offering protection, without a doubt. A gladiator to behold, one that Tiberius could remember from the arena now that he was stripped bare.
"Tiberius," Drusus said, turning to him again. "This is Gallus."
The introductory nods were short, Tiberius coming over to them with a nod of his head. "Gratitude, for the assistance."
Gallus' laugh was a pleasant one, one side of his lips quirking up into a smirk. "The new ludus slave? Drusus told me of your arrival. I hope you find present company more enjoyable than those fucks."
"Most enjoyable," Tiberius agreed, getting a laugh out of both of them.
Drusus pushed Gallus forward with a hand against his shoulder, the gladiator moving without complaint. "Go, fetch stew," he ordered, causing Tiberius to raise a brow. "When you turn, you can regale us with tales of the market, and how there came to be blood upon your robe and your hair so unkept."
At the mention of it, Gallus pushed his hand through shoulder-length locks to smooth them, honey brown in the sun but looking a dark blonde with the torchlight. "Dominus," Gallus said with a bow of his head and a laugh, passing by Tiberius with a warm clap to his shoulder before leaving.
Tiberius turned to watch him go, unable to decide if he was amused or simply taken aback. Drusus came to stand beside him, both of them surveying the spot where Gallus had disappeared before Tiberius spoke. "The best of friends? And yet you take him to your thighs?" Tiberius teased, pushing at the slave's shoulder.
For a second, Tiberius was frightened he had overstepped boundaries with the look that Drusus gave him. Something dry and hard, eyes narrowing and a brow arching. The apology was on the tip of Tiberius' tongue, mouth about to open until Drusus responded with, "Who is to say I take him to my thighs?" Another apology on Tiberius' tongue, once more stilled when Drusus smirked and continued. "He takes me to his."
A pause between them, Tiberius in disbelief. The image was still a comical one, earning a chuckle that blossomed into a full out laugh that they shared, together, collapsed to the floor with it by the time Gallus returned with three bowls of stew and some bread.
Just before nightfall Drusus and Tiberius were instructed to erect a plank of sorts. "For the test," Drusus had explained, hauling a long beam of wood on his back to the sands. They worked quick and efficiently--every stumble Tiberius made was corrected by either Drusus or the careful hand of Gallus, offering assistance when assistance was needed. Tiberius found that he enjoyed watching Drusus and Gallus together, the simple sort of affections passed between them. Never before would Tiberius had assumed that a gladiator and a slave could stand on equal ground, with love and respect. But there they were, playful and loving, a sight to behold.
Such beautiful reprieve they had found, in this world of shit and piss.
The test was to begin at nightfall; four recruits to either live or die. Live, and they may rise to be gods of the arena. Die, and they would be just another body prone and cold. The plank was risen by the beams, supported and hefting it higher towards the balcony of the ludus. Closer to the gods, may they blessed these strong men enough to give them chance to win glory.
Agron's gaze was ever pressing, an itch between Tiberius' shoulder blades at every turn. The afternoon was still fresh in Tiberius' memory, though. Of rough hands along his neck and shoulders, of Agron doing nothing, saying nothing. The silence that still took the German's tongue, despite how fiercely he gazed. What was he to the man? Merely a prize, some great beauty to behold? Never to address, though, and certainly not worth the disagreement with a superior. And what would they had? He swore that Galllus and Drusus had filled his head with boyish thoughts of love and possibility. But despite how he tried, Tiberius always found him catching the gaze. He held it with a narrow of his eyes, though, a set to his mouth to reveal displeasure.
The only spoke in vowels, lacking consonance and sense.
The test itself seemed no different from sparring. There was the clash of metal that threw Tiberius off, the sparks flying and snarls from the men. Blood upon the sand when the first recruit was split open by Rhaskos' mighty blade, falling before the Gaul and landing prone on the ground. The blood would remain well into tomorrow, Tiberius knew. He would see it mar the peace of the morning, bring back images of split flesh and intestines that dragged through the sand and removed forever.
The crack of the whip cleared mind, however, bringing Tiberius' gaze from the sand to Doctore's form. The man moved as if feline, a predator of the night with silent footfalls before them all. Gladiator and slave alike, with Batiatus and domina standing watch from above. Tiberius sat beside Drusus, leaning against one of the beams with Gallus standing behind them in much the same way. Almost a family, Tiberius realized, waiting to welcome new brothers.
"Agron!" Doctore snapped, voice sharp. "Livius!"
Even the name had Tiberius freezing, a flash of discomfort through him. Livius? The man was easily twice the size of Agron. Surely it was an unfair advantage. It was almost comical to see the two standing near one another. Agron was of a form, yes, but nothing compared to the honed skill of Livius. Tiberius had watched them both battle-- Agron was prone to passion. There was a blood lust there that Drusus had told him was common of those from Germania. Agron's brother held the same fire, to a lesser extent.
It was Tiberius who found his gaze unable to be torn away this time, Agron to feel his gaze. If it was the last time he was to see Agron draw breath, then he would drink in the sight as if parched. Sword in hand, their eyes met briefly when Agron looked to him before making his way onto the plank to face Livius. There was so much that Tiberius wished he could convey in that look--confusion, attraction, the undeniable draw between the two of them, despite having never broken words before. And they would, Tiberius attempted to promise with his eyes. Should Agron live, they would speak.
"Calm nerves," Drusus said from beside him, a hand reaching out to squeeze his wrist gently. "And worry not. It is not the size of the man, but of the fire within him. Agron burns brightly."
Tiberius could feign ignorance once more, but it seemed fruitless. Drusus was not blind. Only a day together and he treated Tiberius as good friend, so why would the favor not be returned? "Should he live," Tiberius began, voice steady. "I will have him as mine."
Gallus' laugh was warm, a heavy hand settling onto Tiberius' head affectionately. "The gods would not stand in your way, little man," he said, smirking down to Tiberius when he brushed his hand away with a short, irritated noise.
Tiberius was drawn, watching Agron immediately fling himself into battle. Livius seemed caught off guard, bringing a sword up to deflect and attempt a swing. But Agron was there once more, blocking and turning to slice. A misstep had Livius swiping out and catching Agron's side, blood spilling with it. Not deep enough to seriously wound, but enough to have blood coating his side in only seconds. The pain seemed irrelevant though, no sign of discomfort in Agron's form as he swung again and again. In fact, there was a wild grin upon his face, a fierceness into his eyes that made Tiberius ached at the thought of never seeing it again.
"He fights like a man possessed!" Liscus exclaimed, causing the brothers to cheer with a solitary fist lifted in the air.
Drusus pulled himself close enough to whisper into Tiberius' ear, "Possessed by thoughts of dark skin and eyes."
Tiberius' desire to cuff Drusus was overcome by watching Agron. He moved with great purpose, pushing Livius back to the edge to strike at him. With Livius pressed, Agron defended with great discomfort as a man more comfortable with offensive strategy. Blood spilled from three wounds on Livius, slicking the plank and joining the blood from Agron's own. There were snarls and roars, the brutal sound of metal against metal. Agron misjudged distance in a step, bringing him too close to Livius to be headbutted hard. Blood from mouth and nose still left him unaffected, taking advantage of Livius' moment of weakness in order to disarm the man with a hard swing and bring sword to throat.
"Enough!" Doctore commanded, his whip cracking in the night sky. "Agron is the victor."
Tiberius found himself cheering just as loud as the rest of them, he and Drusus standing up with arms in the air. His eyes could not leave Agron's form, his gladiator's form, the heaving of his chest and the bleeding of his body. When the battle faded from Agron's eyes, their gaze met first and the tip of his blade was pointed in his direction. Something warm swelled inside of Tiberius at that. His first instinct had been to look at him, not his brother nor other acquaintances made. But Tiberius. His fight had been dedicated to Tiberius. And there his eyes remained, Agron offering Tiberius a bloody smile that dimpled those cheeks and made his blue eyes sparkle.
Tiberius could only smile back, full and breathless at the prospect of what was to come.
Thank you all so much for the feedback and the kudos, so here's another update! I just figured out how to respond to comments, so feel free to leave me anything you have and I will definitely get back to you :)
"He sleeps like a babe."
"Yet bares teeth like a dog."
Tiberius groaned out, pulling the blanket over his head further to quiet the voices in the room. He had an inkling that it would be fruitless, however.
"Groans like a woman, wet with anticipation."
With that, Tiberius threw the blanket from himself, sitting up to glare sharply towards Gallus and Drusus. Both men were sitting with backs to the wall and a blanket around them, twin grins of amusement curling their lips. How insufferable the two were together. If he thought Drusus' teasing clever, the combined weight of wit and gaze was oppressive.
"Do you not have a cell of your own?" Tiberius asked, eyes on Gallus. Both had been absent when Tiberius had fallen to his bedroll, immediately after dismantling the plank from the test. He knew that they had retired to Gallus' cell for privacy, and had assumed only Drusus would return for sleep, if he was to return at all.
The hurt and betrayal over Gallus' face was clearly a jest. "I do," he agreed, a thick arm wrapping around Drusus to bring him to his chest. "But it lacks a lover's warmth, or the dry wit of a dear friend."
The sentiment touched Tiberius deeply, though he refused to say such out loud. Barely at the ludus for two days and yet these men treated him like kin for little reason. One risked life for his safety, the other offering wisdom and gentle hands to aid him in tasks yet unfamiliar. Tiberius knew that with time ease would come. But for now, his body was awkwardly sore with the new activity, mind still exhausted from the day before.
"At a lost for words," Drusus pointed out, standing from the warmth of their blanket to stretch. "I have a feeling this is a rare occasion."
"Yet ruined," Tiberius responded dryly, coming to stand as well. Their day was about to begin, despite the screaming of Tiberius' muscles. It would grow easier in time, he continued to tell himself.
Drusus' laugh was quiet with the early morning, leaning down to kiss Gallus. "Attempt more sleep, and I will come to wake you when the hour is right. Your absence from training has been missed."
Gallus' large hand caught the back of the other man's neck for a deeper kiss. Affections were something that Tiberius was getting used to seeing between the two of them, no longer making the air awkward if he was in close proximity. If nothing else, it filled his head with ideas. Of large, scarred hands cupping his own hips, a body trained for killing made weak by his own delicate touches, as Gallus was for Drusus. Something he had thought impossible before the two of them.
"Finally," Gallus groaned, laying himself down on the bedroll with a slow sigh. "Batiatus thinks me his fucking guard. I am a gladiator, trained as such. Not a man to be dressed for market should someone decide to kill the man."
Tiberius' brow furrowed. "Attempts upon dominus' life are frequent?"
"For a man such as he, surprisingly no," Gallus responded, an arm tossed over his eyes to block the torchlight.
"Hush," Drusus admonished gently, working the front of his hair into to braids to keep it away from his face. He motioned for Tiberius to turn around, and he complied with a skeptical glance. "You both would do well to remember the eyes and ears these walls contain," he said, doing the same to Tiberius' hair. It was quick and simple, keeping his bangs from eyes while the rest was down around his neck and shoulders. A trick he would need to learn from the man.
One of many, he supposed.
There was comfort in their routine. Tiberius took some time once more to watch the mountains, to stare at the starry night and collect himself. Drusus, too, the both of them sitting beside the cliff in quiet companionship. Then to the swords, both gladus and wooden, to lose themselves in mindless conversation. Of homeland and lives, dominantly so. He discovered that Drusus was Roman, with family in Neapolis last time he checked. Taken to slavery due to debts of an absent father, offered instead of his mother and two younger sisters.
Drusus seemed content to speak of himself, never imploring Tiberius to divulge similar facts. It was a welcomed change, to hear the life of another. The facts of his own were fuzzy at best, still painful to think of for time necessary to sort dream from life. So he lost himself in the warm tales of Drusus' family, what he could remember and what he was willing to share. And, naturally, there were tales of he and Gallus. How they first came to be together.
"I was very much the aggressor--I thought him sinfully delicious," Drusus had admitted with a fond smile. "He thought me bull-headed. Opinions still remain the same."
Drusus questioned him on Agron, and Tiberius found he had no words to say. Nothing coherent, worthy of bringing voice to. There was just want and fire, blue eyes and dimpled cheeks that had been present in his mind since he had first stepped foot inside this ludus. He knew nothing of the man, save for the intensity of his gaze. It intrigued him, sparked a flame Tiberius had suffocated in order to succeed under servitude--his heart.
With the gladiators still to rise and breakfast to bring to the resting area, the two split. Drusus woke the gladiators, since more respect was offered towards him than Tiberius, while Tiberius lugged up pots of porridge for the men. It was another non-stop morning, moving from one place to the other, never pausing too long should you misstep or anger someone higher above. The men of the ludus did not seem of ill-temper, but Tiberius would not press his luck. He would be quick and efficient, keep his head down and mind clear to avoid punishment. A simple procedure, though easier said than done.
When he surfaced from the bowels of the ludus, he found the men already training. Eyes scanned the bodies rapidly, flicking one to the next until able to settle upon Agron and rob himself of breath. If he had thought the man looked powerful in simple subligaria, now he was a sight to behold. Straps across his broad chest to keep an arm guard in place, sword and shield in hand as if he had been born with such. The mark still looked raw and painful, but there was no evidence of such on Agron's face.
Duro, however, was as open as a newborn.
Tiberius watched as little mercy was granted between siblings, striking and parrying only for Agron to bring his brother down to the sands. Duro had fared well in his own test--partnered with Liscus, he fought with abilities practiced enough to survive. His skill relied in defense, in drawing in opponents to deflect with shield and strike with sword upon rebound. It was a stark contrast to Agron, who truly did fight like a man possessed.
Possessed with thoughts of dark eyes and skins.
The first time their eyes connected, Tiberius felt the gaze go through him. Such happiness in those blue depths, elated like the breathless smile he gave Tiberius. Tiberius returned it, still tentative, but a true smile that curled his lips. Naturally, Agron paid for his moment of distraction--a sword to the flank as Duro skirted past him. No blood drawn, only a wince of discomfort before Agron was launching into another attack. More powerful, thick body moving with purpose that turned Tiberius' mind towards other uses of such muscles. Of sweat slicking skin for other reasons.
"Close mouth, lest you catch flies," Drusus whispered in his ear, startling Tiberius enough to almost drop the clay jug of water he had been holding.
The glare he shot the other slave was playful. "And yet you watch Gallus like a bitch in heat," Tiberius pointed out, eyes falling to Gallus' form then. Sparring with Rhaskos, easily overpowering the man with modified training sword. Longer and thicker than the usual gladus, making using of Gallus' strong biceps and trunk. Drusus had mentioned that Gallus had been trained in fighting with larger swords than standard gladus.
"I am a bitch in heat for that man," Drusus pointed out with a roll of his eyes, looping an arm around Tiberius' waist and resting his chin upon his shoulder as they both watched him. The touch was foreign but sincere in friendly affections, Tiberius preventing himself from freezing to instead lean back against Drusus just slightly in order to return sentiment.
A break was needed, only five minutes of watching the men spar. It was truly amazing what they could do, though Tiberius still did not favor the games. If they could train to be warriors and never leave these walls, it would be preferable. If none were to fall, then Tiberius could see himself living here comfortably. But that was not the way such things worked. These men, whose name he knew and whose lives he made easier, would all perish at the roar of the crowd.
"Come, we must prepare for midday meal," Drusus said eventually, pulling away with a low sigh. Exhaustion felt by both of them--Tiberius born of inexperience, and Drusus of little sleep. The look in his eye was playful when Tiberius met them, a sign he had come to know meant impending danger. "And with it, opportunity to speak to your gladiator and make him yours."
The flush to Tiberius' face was to be expected, as was the fact that he had nothing clever in response. Drusus had this amazing ability to fluster him, unlike any person he had met thus far. Thankfully he counted the man amongst friends, because he would loathe to have an enemy with such a power. All the playful smirks and waggles of his eyebrows still produced the same response--a stutter, a stumble, and maybe a punch to the shoulder if Tiberius was feeling particularly responsive.
Preparing food proved to past time quickly, and before Tiberius could even formulate proper plan, Doctore was calling midday meal. Heart jumped to throat, Tiberius' hands suddenly too awkward. He caught a glimpse of Agron walking into the resting area, blue eyes bold to purpose, and suddenly the wooden bowls in his hands were crashing to the ground. The cook was immediately inflamed, swearing and cursing at Tiberius' incompetence. The embarrassment burnt his face, staining his dark cheeks a red as he dropped to his knees in an attempt to pick them up. The bowls scattered beside the stone counter that the stew sat on, thankfully masking most of Tiberius' mistake from the rest of the gladiators.
Scarred hands joined his own, only furthering the tightening of Tiberius' chest. But when he looked up, he found himself looking into the face of Livius. The man smirked, a twist of lips that eventually revealed yellow teeth as if to bare them. The tightening in Tiberius' chest ceased, overpowered by the dropping of his stomach as his eyes looked for Gallus and Drusus. No where to be seen, the other men too preoccupied with food or not paying attention to their mostly-hidden position.
"I like your braids," Livius said, a hard hand gripping Tiberius' chin to lift his face. Surveying it, as if he was to be purchased at market once more. But a mere possession. "But I would have your hair free while I fuck you."
Tiberius swallowed quickly, unable to think of anything in response. Though that nausea was back, twisting in his stomach until Tiberius thought he would lose all contents. Certainly the man would do nothing in the middle of the resting area, but would the other gladiators make move if they saw Livius drag Tiberius off to the cells? It was a question that Tiberius couldn't answer and that frightened him the most.
"Please," Tiberius tried, voice soft and desperate as his eyes fell shut. The sight of the man repulsed him so, perhaps eyes shut would be better.
The grip on his chin tightened to almost bruising strength, making Tiberius wince. "Your begging stirs my cock." Livius brought his face closer, until lips could press to the side of Tiberius', moving against them as he murmured, "You and I have unfinished business."
"To never see completion, I fear."
Tiberius' eyes snapped open, finding Livius' face still too close for comfort. He could see every scar, ever pore, the disgusting sight almost enough to block Agron. Almost, but not quite. There he was, standing behind them with his jaw set and anger radiating from him. The pounding of his heart had nothing to do with Livius, but for Agron, for the knowledge that, once more, this disgusting man's hands would not find their way to his skin. And never again, he hoped.
Livius laughed once more, stale breath fanning over Tiberius' face. He released his chin with a push, using enough force to have Tiberius falling hard to the ground on his back. Pain shot up as his head smacked against the stone floor, dizzying him. First instinct was to scramble back, but he stayed, eyes wide as Livius sized up Agron.
"Are my ears to deceive?" Livius said loudly, garnering the attention of the other gladiators. Some were already sitting with soup, others in line beside them, watching with muted interest. "That this pup is to challenge me? Barely brought into the Brotherhood, and yet he presses!"
Much to his credit, Agron did not waver. He had to tilt his head just slightly to meet Livius' eyes, but he did so boldly. The blue depths swam with anger, hands to fists at his side. "And whose incompetence with sword saw me to such a position?" he asked, arching a brow to the larger man in challenge.
A roar of laughter went through the ludus, a few of the gladiators clapping at such an insult. Livius' face was hidden from Tiberius' position, but he was certain he would find it just as red with humiliation as his own had been only moments before.
"Tell cock to find another mouth to call home," Livius growled out, wounded pride bared to see. "I would have this one."
Agron's hand was quick, gripping Livius' chin in the way that mirrored how he had grabbed Tiberius'. Fingers just as tight, bringing his face down to meet Agron's snarl head on. "Tell your cock that it shall call the bottom of the cliff home should its master's fingers find their way over his skin again," Agron threatened, voice soft and but eyes burning.
It was then that Duro took place beside his brother, arms crossed over his chest and watching Livius with that same intense gaze. The two looked an imposing figure, Duro clearly supporting his brother to fight for his whatever his cause was. Surely they would be formidable, but Livius was skilled. There was a possibility that both brothers could be taken down. No, it was Gallus that tilted the scales, standing behind the both of them with a freshly bandaged bicep at the same time Drusus practically fell to Tiberius.
The hug he was drawn into was crushing to say the least, Drusus' arms around his neck before pushing him back to arms length and check over his body. "A thousand apologies," Drusus began, voice thick with worry as he looked over Tiberius. Checking for wounds, no doubt. "We left for but a moment so I could clean Gallus' wound." Eyes eventually fell to Tiberius' face, the redness of his jaw touched with gentle fingertips. The other man looked close to tears, probably a combination of concern and guilt. But Tiberius could not find the strength to be upset. He hugged Drusus back when he was drawn into another embrace, burying his face into his friend's neck and letting out a shaking breath he had been holding.
"I would never let harm come to you intentionally," Drusus whispered against Tiberius' cheek, his hand cupping the side of Tiberius' face. Tiberius nodded in his understanding, pulling back from the warm embrace when a hand fell to his shoulder.
He turned, expecting to see Gallus. And yet there was Agron again, crouched beside the two of them with kind eyes. "I would have words," Agron said, as gentle as he had ever seen the man. "After you receive food, come to me."
There was a shock there, of finally hearing Agron, of having him so close. Tiberius' nod was still a little numb, the back of his head throbbing in time with his jaw. Agron nodded right back, offering him a short smile before standing to join his brother in line. Tiberius did not miss the clap Gallus gave him to his shoulder as he passed.
"Did he hurt you?" Gallus asked, a hand for each of them for assistance in standing. Tiberius was a little shaky, something that Gallus seemed to understand since he kept his hand on him.
"Nothing too serious," Tiberius answered honestly, smiling in his thanks as Drusus picked up the bowls and left to wash them. "I will be fine."
Gallus' smile was small, twinged with guilt of his own. "Apologies. I did not think the man so dense to make attempt at you again."
There was comfort in the remorse his friends felt at what had occurred. And, really, Tiberius could recognized that it could have ended far more poorly than it actually had. He was to go to Agron after receiving food, and they would speak, so there was little regret to have. "There are no ill-feelings, friend," Tiberius said, resting a hand over Gallus' heart in a gentle motion. "You need food, however, after a day of training. Come, tell me of your sword--it exceeds the length and width of all others."
The playfulness was back, Gallus' lips curling into a smirk. "As many have told me before."
Tiberius' laugh was accompanied with a shove, pushing the gladiator towards the end of the line. He caught Agron's eye for another smile, another nod, which was returned broadly. Duro offered a smile, as well, which pleased him. It was evident that the brothers were close, and having Duro in agreement was certainly welcomed. Gone was the issue with Livius, ignored was the aching in his head and jaw in favor of paying attention to the fluttering in his stomach, the way his heart was beating too quickly in anticipation.
Drusus joined them afterward, and together they passed the time in line aimlessly chatting. Tiberius was lost, though, his eyes glued to Agron as the man received his soup and went to sit with Duro. There was a spot beside him at the end of the table, eyes met with purpose that told Tiberius that was his seat. To his right, while his brother sat across from them.
The nervousness only increased as Tiberius received his soup, avoiding eye contact with the cook and offering a small, "Gratitude," afterwards, should the man still be upset about the bowls. Drusus and Gallus moved to sit towards the sands to extend their feet into the sun, as they enjoyed, bidding him farewell with small smiles. Surprising, considering Tiberius thought they would make more of a scene. There was no doubt in his mind that Drusus would be watching the entire time, though.
Agron's eyes were on him as he moved, a feeling he was getting quite familiar with. He avoided gaze, though, too nervous and unwilling to make himself look the fool any sooner than necessary. Even Duro was looking, a faint smile on his face that seemed lacking compared to the practical beam that was splitting Agron's lips when Tiberius finally took his seat beside him.
"Hello," Tiberius greeted, the wording sounding awkward to his own ears. After nothing but open staring and silent conversation, it was a strange feeling to finally sit beside Agron. He was just as warm as he thought he would be, heat radiating from dusty skin that Tiberius had thought of so much. Eyes met tentatively, finding Agron watching him in a quiet sense.
"Hello," Agron returned in kind, looking across the table to Duro to share a look. "I am Agron, from east of the Rhine, and my brother, Duro." Duro nodded his greeting, though his smile betrayed something. Previous knowledge, Tiberius assumed, with the way Agron's expression turned sour as he glared to his brother.
"Tiberius?" Agron echoed, sending heat straight to his very core. It sounded sweet falling from his lips, mind drifting to how it would taste moaned from such a mouth. "You are far too dark to have such a fair Roman name."
Tiberius paused, mulling over the statement. How long had it been since he had spoken his true name? Years, at least, spent under servitude. He was afraid he no longer knew who Nasir was. "I am more Roman than Syrian," Tiberius finally answered, ripping a piece of bread to gather broth from the soup. He wanted to talk, wanted to learn everything that Agron had to say, but his stomach called for food.
"Nothing like the other Syrian," Duro commented from around a mouthful of bread. "A treacherous fuck if there ever was one."
Agron nodded in his agreement, though his eyes had not left Tiberius. The gaze was heavier so close, making him feel awkward under such scrutiny when words were available. When those eyes did leave, though, their gaze was directed towards Duro. Another wordless conversation between brothers, witnessed out of the corner of Tiberius' eye.
"Oh," Duro finally said, looking down to his meal in thought before picking it up. "Hamilcar had asked for words during training, I will go to him now." He stood sharply, giving Tiberius a short smile with a nod. "Hamilcar! Make room!" he called, Hamilcar lifting his head with an arched brow in confusion, responding with something along the lines of, "Have you gone mad, pup?"
Tiberius chose not to comment, mind preoccupied by the fact that he and Agron were relatively alone. Of course, there were other men at the table, but none to pay them any attention. The flush to his cheeks was a natural reaction, he told himself. The weather was getting hotter with the day, sweat sticking his hair to his neck. It had nothing to do with the way that Agron was dipping his head to speak more directly to him.
"Apologies for not breaking words sooner... I was not of the Brotherhood," Agron began, licking his lips to wet them. "You must know that I had desire towards it. Surely you have felt my gaze, at least enough to return it in kind."
Tiberius lifted his head to meet those blue eyes, a small frown on his lips. The thought that had been bothering him finally surfaced, Tiberius murmuring, "And yet yesterday, when life and virtue was threatened by Livius' fingers for the first time, you gave no aid. You sat idle while Gallus offered assistance."
Agron looked taken aback for a second, eyes wide and mouth in a short line before whispering quickly, "You took note of my anger, of Duro and Ithus preventing me from intervening." A short pause, both of them taking in the tension of the air. Tiberius' eyes flicked away from Agron for only a second, finding both Gallus and Drusus watching them with concern. "I could not make towards Livius," Agron continued, sounding softer, leaning closer to Tiberius. "A recruit had made an attempt on our Champion's life only the day before you arrived. He paid a heavy fine--parted from cock and life. I thought it would be easier to beg forgiveness in this life than in the next."
Tiberius felt ashamed for his anger then, for putting so much responsibility on a man that had not even spoken to Tiberius. Gallus would be fine--he was a member of the Brotherhood and a fierce gladiator. Agron had not held position, barely allowed clothing and weapon during training. It softened Tiberius visibly, shoulders relaxing and a faint smile coaxing a bright grin out of Agron.
"And to what purpose would your words hold?" Tiberius teased, deciding it better to leave unfortunate events in the past. With the support of Agron, Duro, and Gallus, the man was certainly not stupid enough to make attempt at Tiberius again.
It was Agron's turn to look away with something akin to shyness, pushing the soup around in his bowl. "Unknown at present moment, but to be discovered through further time spent in your presence."
They shared a laugh together, something small and private, reserved for the two of them. Agron's hand was tentative when it reached out, pausing in front of Tiberius' face with uncertainty, should the touch be unwelcome. Tiberius' stomach fluttered happily, offering permission with a nod of his head. Those callused fingers were gentle, so gentle, against Tiberius' skin, tilting his jaw to inspect the forming bruise there.
"It is a dangerous thing," Agron murmured, brows drawn and voice quiet. "This draw I feel to you. It is unlike anything I have felt before." Tiberius drew in breath through his nose, eyes falling shut and just barely tilting his head into Agron's touch. That hand cupped his jaw, fingertips brushing against Tiberius' hair. "Soft, just as I had imagined."
"Your hands are warm and gentle," Tiberius murmured, eyes opening to meet Agron's gaze. "As I have imagined."
There was a smile of understanding, maybe a bit of reluctance when the hand fell from Tiberius' face. So much had passed between them without words that it was difficult to find them now. To have the ability to say things, to ask the questions that Tiberius had burned with, it was overwhelming. It was easy to see the same thing in Agron's face, as well. They way they stared at each other still, taking in every detail possible before time was robbed from them.
Both looked up as Doctore's whip snapped, signaling the beginning of training once more. It sent both of them to action, standing up like the well trained slaves they were to continue duty. Tiberius had dishes to clean and Agron had his training. Still, they stole glances at each other as they finished up what they could of their meals, smiling and chuckling to themselves with this giddy sort of feeling.
"My cell," Agron said suddenly, when bowls were empty and stomachs full. He cleared his throat, a softer smile on his face. "Tonight. Come to my cell."
Tiberius blinked at the invitation, the worry spreading through him again. Did he want to lay with Agron? Yes. That much was undeniable. But there was such a delicate balance between them, barely a full conversation and already speaking of more intimate things. Tiberius wasn't--
"Strike worry from thoughts," Agron continued, Tiberius coming back to himself to stare up into genuine eyes. "I wish only for words, not flesh. Though I would not be opposed..."
The last was said with a tease, a clear joke that had Tiberius laughing out and shoving at the gladiator's shoulder. Wrist caught in a large hand, Agron maneuvered to lace their fingers. Tiberius' breath caught in his throat, closer to Agron than ever before, eyes level with his throat that practically beckoned Tiberius' mouth.
"Yes," he whispered, needing to tilt his head up to meet Agron's eyes. "Yes, I will come."
The smile he received was more than pleased, all teeth and dimples that had Tiberius' melting. Such a relief in those eyes, as if he had been afraid Tiberius would turn him away. As if Tiberius had the strength to turn him away, never mind the desire.
"Train hard," Tiberius said, pulling away and taking Agron's bowl to return for him just so they could have a few more seconds. "And find yourself in my company tonight."
"I will," Agron agreed with a quick nod of his head. Tiberius barely had time to react as a large hand settled on the back of his neck, pulling him forward enough for chapped lips to fall to his forehead in a quick kiss. As soon as they were felt, they were gone, leaving Tiberius breathless and flushed as he watched Agron's retreating back.
Tiberius knew it was only a matter of time before Drusus joined him again. They stood together in silence, leaning against one another with eyes upon different bodies. That lightness in Tiberius' stomach was ever present, the tightening in his chest so different from the fear or nervousness. It was something more powerful, something warmer that had Tiberius smiling brightly when Agron caught him looking and offered him a toothy grin before attacking Duro.
"Gallus tells me that Agron's cock is impressive," Drusus stated casually, as if giving Tiberius the weather.
Tiberius' shove was playful, as was his shocked laugh. "What have I done to deserve a friend such as you, willing to provide me with the most vital of information?" he asked, slinging an arm around Drusus to tug him close affectionately.
Hands settled at his waist, the pair of them walking with great effort towards the dishes. "I know not," Drusus answered, pressing a brief kiss to Tiberius' cheek before looking at him so genuinely it made Tiberius pause in his step. "But the gods must have heard both of our prayers."
The day was spent with more chores-- cleaning out the storage cellar and chasing rats from it, refilling the massive clay jug of water with smaller containers kept cool, helping prepare dinner for the men. Drusus taught him songs to pass the time, some of the ones the gladiators would sing when victorious, or little lullabies he remembered from his youth. All of Tiberius' songs were in foreign tongue, but he sang one for Drusus and found the man entranced.
"The other Syrian speaks your tongue," Drusus informed him. "There had been another--Dagan--but he fell during the games that opened the arena. They sounded... frightening, when speaking. But you sound like poetry."
When dinner came and all training swords were put away, Tiberius was ordered back down into the cellar to resume cleaning. A punishment for dropping the bowls earlier, he knew. And while his stomach protested at not being able to have another meal, his heart was the louder of the two. He caught Agron's eye, noting the empty seat to his right that had been kept for him, and could only offer an apologetic smile. The eyes were understanding, though, Agron nodding briefly yet not containing his disappointment. Tiberius let it show on his own face, tentative before disappearing from the rest area to attend duties once more.
Duties passed slower than ever with nothing but thoughts of Agron to fill his time. Thoughts of large hands on his flesh, the feeling of his lips pressed against skin. There was an excitement in his movements at the prospect of being able to sit and talk with Agron, learn everything there was to know about the man. It was a relief, to know that the draw between them was not only felt by his heart, but Agron's as well. It all seemed a little crazy. Only three days ago Tiberius had been cursing his misfortune, and now he stood in the prospect of love and a new family.
It hit him then, broom in hand and a dust pile at his feet, how easily all could be robbed from him once more.
Agron was a gladiator, sent to fight to the death. The man was skilled, yes, but even giants fell eventually. It was a dangerous game the two of them were playing at, wanting to grow close but Tiberius had to consider himself. His heart. Gallus and Drusus made it seem so easy, and for the first time, Tiberius felt a brief surge of anger towards them. He knew Drusus was not dense enough to think that Gallus would never fall--the man was a titan, but still human at the core. So what kept Drusus at Gallus' side? Happiness so heavily weighed in another person that Tiberius wondered what if Gallus fell. What if Agron fell?
The cook interrupted thoughts with a clearing of his throat, head motioning up to signal Tiberius' release. He wasted no time in cleaning up the dust and heading towards the cells. He paused, though, hearing the sound of voices echo through the stone halls, coming from the bath. Feet followed path, only the hear the voices grow louder and louder. Would all of these men eventually fall? Perhaps that was what made the Brotherhood such a family. The thought of dying with honor upon the sands, under the roar of the crowd, was an easier pill to swallow than the thought of dying at the hands of the Roman pigs that had enslaved them.
Thoughts clouded his eyes as he stepped into the bath, immediately finding Gallus with Drusus in his lap. Any anger he had felt towards them was long since passed, smiling warmly to his friends who seemed oblivious to the world outside of them. The next, of course, was Agron. Sought out with eager eyes, finding him naked and sitting beside Duro as they two chatted and cleaned themselves. The way Agron's eyes flicked up briefly told Tiberius that he checking for him for quite some time, not expecting to see Tiberius like all the others. But as soon as the gaze was gone, it was back, whatever he had been saying falling from his lips in favor of a smile.
"Tiberius," a voice called out, friendly and familiar. It was not of Agron, though, whose gaze immediately redirected towards the man who beckoned him. Varro seemed unaware, however, eyes on Tiberius and motioning for him to come closer.
"Apologies," Varro began as soon as he was close enough to hear, "but I require assistance. I fear my wound impedes movement, and infection should it not be cleaned."
Tiberius' gaze dropped down to the man's ribs, finding the wound in question there. Red around the edges, looking like that of a jagged blade that wrapped from front around his side to end at his back. Most likely from the last games, the ones right before his arrival. He could see how the wound would be bothersome, looking irritated with a day of training and dust. And Varro was a kind soul, Tiberius knew. Close to the Champion, well mannered and warm from what Drusus had told him. He would help regardless--he was a slave after all--but he did so happily for this man.
"Of course," Tiberius soothed, going to Varro's side immediately. His skin was already slick with oil, with attempt to finish the job himself. Asking another gladiator for help was impossible, a blow to pride hard earned, but a lesser slave was perfectly willing to be directed. Tiberius was good with wounds, too. Before the position of body slave, he had been close to the Medicus of the villa. A cloth wet with water pressed against the wound, to soften scab enough to remove dirt. He guided Varro's hand to hold the cloth before beginning to clean around with oil and strigil.
Varro was kind with his words. "Gratitude. I would ask Drusus... but the man seems forever occupied," Varro pointed out, though his voice held nothing but amusement. Tiberius knew that Varro and Gallus were in good terms, or at the very least, the blond respected him greatly. "Barca and Pietros were much the same way. Gladiators and ludus slaves seem a match made by the gods."
For their own amusement, Tiberius thought, pushing away the dark thoughts of early. "The gods often hide intentions until proper timing."
"And your own gladiator watches you with a ferocity. Should I offer him a smile?" Varro asked, looking over his shoulder to Tiberius with a grin. Tiberius' eyes flicked up to find Agron watching them in the way that Varro had described, his own cleaning forgotten in favor of staring.
The grin was returned with a shake of his head. "Kindly refrain," he murmured, sliding the strigil carefully around the still tender wound. "And he is not my gladiator."
"Ah, but he is," Varro protested, looking down to his hands with a small smile. "He fights like I--with thoughts of loved ones clouding judgement, making reckless while bringing strength."
Had others noticed their gazes? Tiberius hadn't thought them subtle, merely the other men uninterested. "Perhaps he thinks of his brother?" Tiberius offered as ways of explanation, setting the strigil aside in favor of removing the cloth. Varro's hiss was soft as he rubbed at the wound, removing the dirt and sweat from the day.
"His brother fights beside him, yes, and he is cautious of the pup. But his eyes travel to you when allowed," Varro continued, voice tight. The dirty cloth was tossed away in favor of a fresh one, held against the wound to repeat the process.
Tiberius' hum was noncommittal. "And who do you think of?"
Varro paused, drawing a deep breath in through nose. "Wife and son, left behind to receive my winnings from the arena. I fear I have fallen from their favor as of late."
Tiberius' frown was a small one, a hand against Varro's shoulder drawing the gladiator's attention towards him. "To return, with certainty. She is blessed to have such a husband that would risk own life to see his family provided for," Tiberius said, tone filled with the conviction that Varro's eyes lacked.
There was a pause between them, something comfortable as Tiberius finished cleaning the wound and skin around it. Another cool cloth to calm the swelling, but the wound looked clean and would be saved from infection should it be taken care of. "Go to the Medicus for wrappings, and tomorrow I will help you clean it again," Tiberius said, wiping his hands free of oil with a short nod.
Varro's smile was a small one. "Gratitude. And apologies for not offering assistance today with the pig Livius--I had been absent during yesterday's issue, and had not noticed he'd fallen upon you again today. But know that should he try anything again, call for me and I will see you to safety. Spartacus also does not take kindly to the mistreatment of the slaves that aid us."
Tiberius was oddly touched at the sentiment. He knew Varro of a good heart, but enough to risk personal injury for him? He hoped his smile and nod conveyed the swell of pleasure in his chest, Varro's hand clapping him gently on the shoulder and motioning his head towards Agron.
"Now go, before your gladiator's gaze burns my flesh," he said with a short laugh, coming to stand as he wrapped the white linen around his waist and took his leave.
Tiberius watched him go, finding himself with a twinge of sadness. Varro would most certainly be mourned should he fall, if not as gladiator than most certainly as husband, father, and dear friend.
He turned to join Agron, eyes still in the direction of Varro's exit and finding himself against a warm chest because of it. The skin was familiar to him, though, hands coming up to brace himself against Agron's chest. The shock of the touch was felt, words failing them both until two of Agron's fingers fell to Tiberius' jaw to tilt his head up.
"You seek favor with Varro now?" he asked, voice quiet and eyes serious.
Tiberius could see where the misunderstanding was, finding that the protectiveness licked fire into his belly. "Offering assistance to a friend," Tiberius corrected, letting his hand slide down the length of Agron's torso. Skin still warm and slick, it would be so easy to lean forward and taste. But there were other men in the room still, eyes upon them and it made Tiberius' uncomfortable. "To your cell then?"
There was a barely there nod before Agron was taking Tiberius' hand and leading him away from the bath. The halls of the ludus were becoming familiar to Tiberius, easily navigated now. Some of the men had returned to their cells, leaving doors open in case of visitors. He caught Varro in his, back to the door and head bowed in thought again. They passed the Champion on their way, though, presumably to join Varro and drag the man from darker thoughts.
The cell Agron had was small, probably due to being so new in the Brotherhood. Two raised stone platforms, each with a bedroll. For he and Duro, Tiberius assumed. But they were alone for the time, Agron releasing his hand in favor of sitting on the left bedroll. Tiberius' heart followed, but his body remained in place, leaning back against the wooden door as they stared at one another.
"We are mad," Tiberius began, licking his lips nervously. "To seek solace in one another."
Agron did not seem surprised at the statement, if anything a bit amused. Definitely interested, resting his with elbows on his knees as he looked to Tiberius. "And why is this?"
"You are a gladiator, destined to die in the arena. If not now, then eventually," Tiberius said before he could stop himself, words coming out quickly. "I am but a slave. Here is where I will stay--tomorrow, the next. It matters not. These walls are my home. But every time you leave... there is a chance you will not return to me and..."
"...and you do not think yourself capable of remaining sane, living in such a way," Agron finished for him.
A nod of confirmation was all he could muster, swallowing and tilting his head back against the door. His eyes stayed on Agron, though, the gladiator watching him in that same, quiet manner as he always did. The same look at had Tiberius light headed, a flutter in his stomach and a clenching in his chest because this could not be. Drusus was apparently a far stronger man than he, because the thought of having Agron as his world only to have him die a slave, in the sands of the arena, shook him to the core.
Agron was quiet when he stood, beautiful in the torchlight. Tiberius took in his muscles, the way they danced under warm skin when he moved close. Closer and closer still, until hands were resting on the door, one beside each ear. Shaking fingers gripped at Agron's forearms, feeling the strength there, tilting his head to rest his cheek against those strong fingers while Agron brought his face closer. The feeling of breath fanning against his neck, Agron's rough cheek against his shoulder as the man laid his head there. He should have felt trapped, with Agron's body blocking his exit, but he didn't. Couldn't. There was nothing but warmth and comfort, even if Tiberius did not wish to find it as such.
"Would you not mourn me the same?" Agron asked, voice a low rumble. "Turn from me, if it is what you wish. I will not force you to stay. Do not meet my gaze, do not take meals with me and my brother. Turn me from your thoughts if you can. But when I do fall in the arena, would you not mourn me the same? Having known the warmth of my touch, after seeing my heart? Would time not be better spent savoring each touch, each laugh, each kiss until I pass on, than fighting our very souls?"
There was a solid argument in Agron's words, Tiberius far too focused on the actual thought of them together. Was he strong enough to turn away from this man? He had yet to find success before they had even spoken, and now the draw was stronger. Agron was a warm weight, the heat radiating off of him making Tiberius' heart want but his mind telling him it would only hurt later. It hurt now, tilting his head when Agron lifted his own to press their foreheads together. A brush of noses, soft and delicate, and yet there was no kiss. Just tenderness in Agron's eyes, and, yes, maybe a bit of the desperate fear that Tiberius felt.
"You mustn't look at me in that way," Tiberius whispered, his fingers sliding from forearm to bicep, up over the curve of Agron's shoulders to cup his neck. Thumbs rubbed soothing circles against the taut muscle of Agron's jaw, his actions betraying in which direction his heart headed.
Agron knew, too, with the smile he gave Tiberius. "I try with all my strength not to, but I am weak," he answered, words murmured against lips before pulling away. It left Tiberius feeling empty, robbed of the warmth of his skin, the weight of his touch, even without the man straying too far. Just back to the bedroll, sitting against the wall and patting beside him. "Come, let us talk until sleep claims you. I will carry you back to your cell, and pray for dreams filled with dark skin and eyes." A hand went into the blankets, rummaging around before withdrawing two small rounds of bread. "Oh, and I had Duro accompany me in taking some bread for you."
Tiberius nodded in his agreement, a quiet laugh parting his lips, knowing logically that he walked but could not stop the feeling of flying.
This took entirely too long, and I’m really sorry for that. School is coming to a close, so things are getting pretty crazy! This part was also super rough for me to write for some reason. Hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing from now on. If you want to make a drinking game out of the story, drink every time Drusus/Gallus mention fucking, or every time Nasir is cockblocked. Or every time Duro is adorable. Please don’t die.
The feeling of weightlessness was a new one, something beautiful and fleeting that Tiberius wanted to hold onto forever. It was almost as if floating, no control over himself and his limbs. A dream still, a sweet one, without the pain of life weighing him down to the ground. It was evasive, though, such a feeling. Tiberius could feel himself coming back, eyes flicking under their lids until opening. He wasn't surprised to find himself in Agron's arms, being carried as if a child with his head against the man's heart. It was what he'd been promised, after all--conversation until sleep claimed him. And it had, quickly, while the brothers had chatted about their homeland and laughed through stories of youth.
Such warm skin, and all Tiberius wanted was to bury himself deeper inside. One hand lifted to the man's chest, fingertips gentle against the center of his breast, fanning over a pectoral to feel the muscle jump beneath his ministration. His lips followed suit, still in a blissfully sleepy state, dabbling a few kisses along the line of Agron's collarbone like he had wanted to do since they first laid eyes upon each other.
"You return from dreams," Agron mumbled, voice betraying his own exhaustion.
Tiberius' nod was barely there. "Only to find reality sweeter."
Agron's laugh caught in his throat, a rumbling sort of noise that was pleasant enough for Tiberius to want to listen to for the rest of his days, happily. Everything was so blissfully comfortable, Tiberius delirious enough to be able to want more, and be unashamed to ask for such. His hand continued in its exploration, up to Agron's neck, stroking briefly before over the curve of his shoulder. Down to his bicep to feel the strength there, tensed with the effort of carrying Tiberius. The body he found himself so drawn to, regardless of what his mind thought appropriate.
The cell door was already slightly ajar, Tiberius holding out a foot for Agron to use in opening it the rest of the way. A chuckle passed between them, something familiar and effortless that spoke of a relationship that surpassed their own. Drusus was nowhere to be seen, still with Gallus where he would hopefully stay for some time. Heart swelled at the idea, body nervous as Agron knelt beside the bedroll in order to gingerly lay Tiberius down upon it.
They stayed in such positions for a few moments--Tiberius on his back, Agron sitting beside him dutifully, just taking in each other with fond eyes. Tiberius still wanted skin, though, the pleasure of having Agron so close to him and alone. A hand reached out, sliding from wrist to forearm, tugging the man closer until Agron laughed in a strained way and rested a hand on the opposite side of Tiberius' body to hover over him.
"Lay with me," Tiberius murmured, fingertips passing over Agron's shoulder to grip the nape of his neck. Tugging slightly, to indicate that he wanted the man closer.
Agron complied in a way, bringing his forehead down to rest against Tiberius' chest. It was a comforting weight, one that Tiberius could most certainly get used to. Nights spent twined together, cooling skin and absent conversation. Pouring poems into each others' mouths, not stopping until every inch of skin had been learned with thorough hands.
"I would not be able to leave," Agron admitted quietly.
Heavy words felt by them both, laced in the silence that followed. Tiberius attempted to keep his breathing even as one of Agron's hands fell to hip, squeezing there gently. It was such a new feeling, Agron's palms searing flesh with their touch, leaving Tiberius only wanting more. And the palm slid, too, from hip to his side, tracing over the skin as if glass. Delicate in the way his fingertips explored, keeping his face hidden in Tiberius' breast. He prayed Agron couldn't feel the pounding of his heart, threatening to leave his chest any moment.
"I see no issue in such," Tiberius whispered quietly, fingers catching in Agron's hair. He was barely able to thread his fingers through the dreadlocks, but it licked a small flame into his belly at the thought of using them to direct a hot mouth, pull on them in pleased. He tried his grip out, using them to gently tug the man's head back, so chin could rest against chest and their eyes could meet. "I would memorize the feeling of your body against mine."
For the moments when it will not be, or never will be again, weighed heavily in Tiberius' mind, pushed aside stubbornly to savor the moment. His fingers returned delicacy in his own exploration--using the tip to trace the curve of Agron's eyebrow, the line of his nose, the strength of his jaw. He found a scar to the right of his mouth, fingering the faded flesh before trailing to the man's lips. The fingertip was met with a purse, a sweet sort of kiss to wandering tips before they moved on.
Tiberius' hand dropped to Agron's shoulder as the man moved, pressing closer still until all he could feel was the gladiator. Strong muscle against his own frame, legs parting easily to invite him flush. His fingers tangled in Agron's hair as best as they could, head tilting back when that wonderful mouth found the curve of his neck to kiss.
Two, three kisses easily melted into a nuzzle, Agron seemingly only wanting to burrow closer. Tiberius had no problem with such. Hands tugged Agron down, until they were aligned from head to toe, with just the brace of elbows on either side of Tiberius' head to keep the full brunt of Agron's weight at bay. It brought faces closer together, foreheads pressed, and eyes open to gaze.
It would be so easy to lean up, to claim Agron's mouth in a kiss that would leave them breathless. There was a twisting in his stomach, entire body tensed in anticipation. Agron didn't seem to be intent on moving relatively soon, not with the way he was stroking Tiberius' hair away from his face, watching him with that same mixture of fascination and fondness that he had grown used to. As if Tiberius was some rare animal, shining fur and sharp teeth kept at bay while docile. Claws tucked away, just smooth palms skirting up Agron's sides and making him smile and drop his face. Slower and slower, lips hovering to savor the moment, Tiberius' breath catching in his throat as he simply stared.
"The way that man fucks--"
They jerked away from each other as if caught indispose, Tiberius sitting up sharply as Agron moved off of him in a smooth motion. Drusus seemed surprised to see the other gladiator, leaning heavily against the frame of their cell. Mussed hair, red bruises over his torso, knees looking unsteady--Tiberius flushed at the sight of him so thoroughly ravished.
"--rivals the gods. Hello, Agron," Drusus finished with a short laugh, making his way over to his own bedroll with trembling legs to collapse upon it.
Tiberius' groan was not a subtle one, a hand covering his eyes as he flopped back onto his bedroll. Agron chuckled, though, nodding his head in greeting. "Drusus," he murmured, looking down to Tiberius wistfully before pushing himself up to stand. Tiberius wanted to reach out, grab onto his hand and tug him back down. Except he didn't, couldn't, because Agron was moving towards the door and further away from him. "I was merely returning your friend."
"Gratitude," Drusus teased.
Agron hesitated in the doorway, eyes meeting Tiberius'. "Tomorrow?"
The nod was a firm response. "Tomorrow."
Agron's smile was genuine, cheeks dimpling with it. The flipping in the pit of Tiberius' stomach only increased, as well as the sharp ache when the man turned and slipped silently from the room. Hours until he would be able to feel that skin again, press close and smell the sun and sand, revel in the strength. Agron had been right--this draw was a dangerous thing.
"So," Drusus began, resting on his hip with head propped up on palm. "Agron."
Tiberius rolled his eyes, tilting his head to rest cheek against bedroll and meet Drusus' playful gaze. "Yes?"
"I find the two of you in heated embrace and you expect no prying?"
Tiberius shook his head slowly. "Expected, yes. Hope that tongue would be held was apparently futile, however," he sighed out, feeling oddly exhausted now that the intoxication of Agron's skin was far from him. Thoughts to return once more, pressing matters that had been pushed aside in favor of tender touch. "Nothing happened."
"Not even a kiss passed between?" Another shake of his head, paired with a frown from Drusus. "Strange, considering the heat that swells between the two of you."
"The interruption certainly helped matters," Tiberius pointed out dryly. There was no anger there, though, perhaps a hint of sadness. Agron's attentions were a dangerous thing, something Tiberius didn't want to grow comfortable in, but finding no other way. The man had been right--even if Agron was to fall, Tiberius would mourn him the same as a lover.
They both settled down, blankets tugged over shoulders, facing one another in preparation to sleep. "I would refrain from dwelling upon it," Drusus said through a wide yawn, eyes slipping shut. "There is still time, and opportunity will arise once more."
"Yeah," Tiberius agreed, settling down for the night with a short sigh. "Yeah."
It was early morning the next day, while Drusus and Tiberius were laying in respective bedrolls, that he approached the subject.
"What is to happen should Gallus fall?" Tiberius asked, voice quiet with the still of their room. He rested on his back, staring up at the ceiling while his fingers traced the lines of his ribs. When head rolled to look at Drusus, he found his friend on his stomach, cheek pillowed on crossed arms and eyes sleepy.
There was consideration in Drusus' face, something Tiberius was accustomed to seeing during their quiet moments. The man was still a tease, yes, but something deeper than that. "Then I mourn him, and hold the memory that he perished at the hands of another gladiator, upon the sands, as he would want," Drusus finally answered, his smile small and a little terse.
"You are a strong man, then," Tiberius commented.
It was Drusus' turn to laugh, a humorless sound accompanied by the shrug of his shoulders. "You talk about strength with such permanence, Tiberius. Strength is but a state of mind, susceptible to whims and at the mercy of this world so filled with shit and piss."
Tiberius' chuckle was a fond one. "Forever the orator, I see."
"Eh, what would you have me say?" Drusus asked instead, running a hand through his hair to smooth it back from his face. "I would ache for the man every day. I would turn corners to expect to see him. My body would weep for his touch, to hear his voice. It is something I have thought of every day, when I hold him close to my breast while he sleeps. But should fear prevent me from having such a man?"
It was an actual question posed to Tiberius, he knew. "Fear would find itself against a most difficult adversary," he pointed out, rolling over onto his side to face Drusus bodily.
Drusus' grin was a bright one. "Exactly."
Tiberius opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off by the opening of their cell door. Gallus' presence was a familiar one, practically taking up their entire doorway. "Even in such an early hour, I find you two gossiping like women," Gallus commented, removing the cloak from his shoulders and dropping it to the floor carelessly.
Drusus was up in seconds, arms braced against the floor as he leaned towards Tiberius in hurried excitement. "Did you hear of Gallus?" he asked, a little smirk on his lips.
Tiberius sat up himself, pushed to an elbow to lean closer and aid in the charade. "No! What? Tell me!"
"Cock as big as a horse," Drusus said, a small lift of his shoulder accompanied by a devious look. "But the stamina of a boy! Unable to hold seed long enough to please any--hmrph!"
Tiberius laughed as Gallus practically pounced, larger body causing Drusus to disappear completely. An arm worked its way out, though, clawing at the strength of his back, Drusus' head finally popping up with an exaggerate draw of breath.
Naturally, the playfulness ended with a kiss, shared between lovers and dutifully ignored by Tiberius, who fell to his back once more. The slick sound of mouths only furthered his own desires towards Agron, reminding him of the lack of intimacy that had passed between him and his gladiator. There was time, yes, but how much? Agron had yet to fight in the arena, and with only training to go from, it was difficult for Tiberius to find comfort in his skill. Trust was something hard earned, thought his body and heart gave it to Agron freely, his mind did not follow.
Tiberius rolled onto his hip, facing the wall as his jaw split in a wide yawn. The inconsistencies within were making him exhausted, and there were still hours before he and Drusus would need to get up to begin the day. He heard shuffling from the other bedroll, the sounds of softer kissing and quiet sighs. Things born of affection as opposed to lust.
"You should return to your cell," he heard Drusus murmur, muffled as if lips were pressed against skin.
Gallus sighed out slowly, a shuffling noise that seemed to be him pressing tighter. "I would stay a while longer, and listen to the heart that calls to me so."
Another day of heavy gazes, of catching glimpses of Agron training only to find fire licked into his belly at the sight. Training partners were switched, pinning Agron against Varro in an impressive display of strength that Tiberius openly stared at. Even Drusus had, with Gallus absent form training once more, the two of them sitting within the shade of the resting area. His head was filled with nothing but thoughts of warm skin under his hands, blue eyes lidded in pleasure as Tiberius hovered over him. Lips against lips, a pleasure not yet taken but soon to be experienced.
Daydreams were reserved for quiet hours, something that Tiberius had a shortage of. Midday meal was fetched with an eagerness that betrayed his heart, to meet Agron and surge up to capture those lips. Or perhaps to wait for more delicate times, alone in one of their cells, when it could be slow and time consuming, enveloping them both with tender sentiments. When he could pause to run his hands over Agron's body, locked away from the prying eyes of other gladiators. Privacy that would be hard earned, considering the everlasting presence of Drusus and Duro.
It was these thoughts that had him rushing out of the cold cellar from bringing a jar of olives back down. Agron's eyes were bright when they set upon Tiberius, walking towards one another to for their first conversation of the day. He couldn't even prevent the brilliant smile that parted his lips, excited to feel sweat-slicked skin beneath his palms, only to be intercepted by Gallus' arm on his bicep, tugging him away.
"Little man," Gallus greeted, dressed in his usual cloak that spoke to the reason as to why he had missed morning training again. "Your friend from the villa wishes for words, by the gate. Make haste."
Tiberius was a flurry of motion, drawing Gallus into a warm hug as his heart swelled. "Gratitude," he whispered into the man's chest, fleeing without another word, without another glance to Agron. There was a certain shame in him, how quickly his mind had been taken to thoughts other than dear friend. He had wondered how she fared the first few days within the villa, though, but had trusted in Doctore's words that she would not be harmed. And indeed, when he approached the gate to find her standing on the other side, she looked well. Clean and well clothed, arms reaching through the gate as soon as it was possible to draw each other into a hug.
"Look at you," Chadara whispered, pulling back with a watery smile. "Breeches? How barbaric."
Tiberius' laugh was strained, his hand slipping through the gate to brush some hair from her eyes. "Have you heard of Avitus?" he asked, voice dropping to a whisper.
She shook her head. "I know not of his fate. I assume him living."
"Then you have not had opportunity to carry out purpose?"
Chadara's frown was answer in itself, voice a hiss. "Does Batiatus yet live? The man is a jackal, slinking away in the night!"
The news was not unexpected. Had Batiatus fallen, Tiberius would have known for obvious reasons. They all would have. Still, his stomach sunk at the news, the thoughts of Avitus' last words to them before they had been sent to this villa still fresh. Another wash of shame--Chadara must have thought of their former Dominus every moment of the day, with nothing else to fill her time, while Tiberius found warm embrace and tender gaze.
"But I have thought of a way," she continued, bottom lip drawn between teeth briefly. "The man is known for extravagant parties--surely a poisoned drink in the midst of one would point no direct finger of blame?"
There was truth to that, one that would see Batiatus dead and them both back to their villa with any luck. Still, the fear was there, replacing any of the nervous flutter that Agron had caused for the past few days. "Yes, we could... I supposed... To just--"
"Here," Chadara said, hiking up her dress to remove a glint of silver and break Tiberius' sentence, thankfully. He hadn't anything to say. It was quickly pressed into his hands, revealed to be a dagger, eyes meeting with purpose. "Should any of these beasts attack you, I would have you armed. Remember Avitus' warning--this house is a dangerous one."
Protection, Tiberius knew, licking his lips when he found them to be painfully dry. How useful it would have been yesterday, or the day before, when Livius had made towards him. But now he had the protection of others, a warmer embrace than the cold steel that pressed against his flesh when he slipped it into his breeches to conceal it.
Their shared nod was a firm one, lips meeting in a solid kiss. Comfort, seeking the warmth of a friend. "How do you fare?" Tiberius asked in a whisper, eyes flicking up to the stairs. "No mistreatment?"
Chadara shook her head. "The slaves here are warm, bonded under the servitude of a domina gone mad," a pause, looking towards the stairs as well when footfalls sounded from above. There was haste then, Chadara leaning close to the gate to whisper almost directly into Tiberius' mouth. "The body slave of the domina tends to the Gaul, Crixus. I discovered them last night in passionate embrace. She begged my silence, and I accepted under condition that she share the key to this gate and allow me time to speak with you." Tiberius' eyes widened in surprise, though remained silent as she continued. "We can continue to plan together, to speed towards return to our villa and well earned reward."
Mouth opened but words escaped him, conflicted with the emotions swirling behind his eyes. What a welcomed thought that had been when Avitus had first informed them of plan. Thoughts of being well fed, kept safe from visitors, no longer taken as if meat. A possibility of freedom, planted in their brains and being fed by thoughts of what they could do if their lives were theirs once more. To steal Batiatus of his without being noticed seemed a simple task when only concern was himself and Chadara.
But things had changed. Agron was but a part of the whole--the Brotherhood. These men were a family, they were good, honorable men with eyes towards glory the only way they could achieve it. They were not the vile creatures Avitus had explained them to be, when he had originally instructed Chadara and Tiberius to take the life of Batiatus. They were humans, creatures with hopes and dreams, worthy of a death upon the sands of the arena.
"Avitus yet lives," Tiberius whispered quietly, not meeting Chadara's eyes. "Until he--"
"Your eyes betray you, Nasir," Chadara said gently, stepping away from the gate as a voice called her name. A jug of wine was retrieved, held close to her body to avoiding breaking or dropping. "I make no move for now, and we will discuss later. Thank the gladiator who sent word to you for me, he has a kind heart."
Tiberius watched her leave with a frown and heavy heart, feeling the weight of burden upon him once more. The feeling of flight was but a memory, the lightness of a new friendship, a new prospect of whispers of love, replaced by the cold press of deceit and intent. Dark thoughts stayed with him as he made his way back to the resting area, receiving some stew and taking his seat with Duro and Agron. The two were speaking in foreign tongue, as they did sometimes, though Agron hand did drop to rest at the small of his back. The hand was warm and large, what would usually cause Tiberius to flush instead making him sick. If they were to be caught in conspiracy or act of killing Batiatus, all were put to death. Looking up to the gladiators, laughing and smiling with one another, catching a break from hard work, it startled Tiberius just how much that frightened him. The thought of losing everything once more, to no fault of his own. So many lives staining his conscience.
"What troubles you so?" Agron whispered, head dipped so low that his chin was almost resting upon Tiberius' shoulder.
It took great effort not to wince away, instead turning his head to smile at Agron. Those blue eyes were so close, swimming with good humor and tender affections. Duro's eyes held much the same, though twinged with concern as well. He must have been the one to say something about Tiberius' sour expression.
"Thoughts better saved for later," Tiberius reported with a nod of his head, his smile warm.
Duro's smile twisted his heart, as did the way Agron's hand slid from back to hip to tug Tiberius against his side in a possessive manner.
Dark thoughts remained as if a cloud, looming overhead and chasing away all that would draw near. Even Drusus seemed to keep his distance, only pausing once to hug Tiberius and softly whisper, "If needed, I am here," into his ear when he pulled away. But for the most part, Tiberius knew his decision would coincide with desire. Surely Chadara would not spurn him for delaying death. It was that nagging twinge of honor in the back of Tiberius' mind, that said that Avitus had done them a kindness. That while he was to live a relatively peaceful life in the ludus, the same might not be said of Chadara. Batiatus' villa was a place where they were both without status, something sorely missed when washing the sand and sweat with sore arms and legs.
A difficult decision, proved only more difficult when heart and mind were not as one.
Thoughts of food only made him ill, instead disappearing into the baths in order to cleanse himself of worry and thoughts. A heavy burden laid upon his shoulders, lifted for a few moments by scarred hands only to be dropped once more and crush him. Shaking fingers felt the weight, swiping a wet cloth over his skin with haste.
The hand at the small of his back startled him enough to gasp, whirling around to face a wide-eyed Agron. "Apologies," he said immediately, hands up in a placating gesture. "You were absent from meal, and thoughts darken your eyes. I only wished to see them soothed."
The fluttering still dead, replaced by a cold weight as Tiberius looked up to Agron. What would happen to the man, should they succeed in killing Batiatus? More slavery, another ludus. Unknown if he would find his place in the arena.
Tiberius was suddenly very aware of his nudity, of Agron's eyes remaining firmly on his face. The warm comfort of the man's skin was but a fleeting memory, one he would see strengthen, to chase away such unpleasant thoughts and heavy responsibilities. Tiberius dipped the cloth into the water once more, fingers curling in the waist of Agron's subligaria to draw him closer. He could see Agron's breath catch, the way his chest stopped moving and muscles jumped when cloth was touched to skin.
"I would seek distraction from them, then," Tiberius murmured, eyes keen on the way the water ran down Agron's flesh in rivulets to wash away dirt.
The fingertips that fell to his shoulders were rough, yet just as delicate as always. Tentative, because not even Tiberius could prevent the was his muscles tensed. The touch wasn't unwelcome, though, searing his flesh and making Tiberius want more. To forget anything existed beyond Agron's touch, the smell of him so strong while so near. His warm skin under his palms, the cloth dropped in favor of touching more. Nails against skin, Agron's hands sliding down to drag him closer, pull him tight enough to rob him of breath.
Once more they were torn apart by the sound of men, loud and raucous against the stone walls, heading towards the bath. Time spent with Agron would be preferable, but Varro's wound still needed to be tended to, and Tiberius' mind clear. One more kiss, placed to the scar above Agron's heart, before Tiberius retrieved the cloth and wrapped himself up once more, ignoring the way his half hard cock pressed against the light material.
Agron's eyes did not, flushing Tiberius' cheeks as he went to Varro to assist his friend in cleaning his wound once more.
The days had begun to take a pleasant lull despite impending storm. Tiberius was no longer sore when he woke, no longer felt the oppressive heat or the dust cling to every inch. Drusus and Tiberius kept their morning routine--sitting by the cliff, cleaning the gladus, gathering breakfast--before parting ways to take their meals. Tiberius found his place with Agron and Duro, so endeared by the two men that he found himself with a constant smile on his lips whenever in their presence, regardless of pressing thoughts that brought him down.
"You look as if you are faring better against the heat and action," Duro commented, just the two of them while Agron chatted amicably with Ithus a few tables away. Naturally Tiberius was watching him, eyes taking in the broad line of Agron's shoulders with no small amount of heat.
When Tiberius met Duro's gaze, his eyes were entirely too knowing.
"I do," Tiberius agreed through a brief cough, cheeks heating up with the embarrassment of having been caught. "I find that tasks are made easier in good company."
A smile passed between them, something warm and familiar. There was so much of Agron within Duro that it was hard for Tiberius not to feel that same pull, that same want for kinship. The three of them made quite a little group, Duro constantly at his brother's side. It was a source of comfort and frustration, during the nights when they chatted, Tiberius' head against Agron's shoulder to listen to the tales they weaved seamlessly. Sentences finished without a hitch, soundless conversations that ended in grins and laughter. It helped eased worried mind, shouldering weight so Tiberius could breathe against it.
"And should I find myself counted amongst such good company?" Duro asked with a tease, a bright smile and a cock to his head that had the same effect should it had been from Agron--Tiberius smiling widely in return.
"Of course," Tiberius confirmed, his smile turning gentle as his eyes turned towards Agron. Still faced away from them, the broad of his shoulders dusted with dirt from sparring with Spartacus today. "You and your brother are--"
"If you two desire time spent alone, I would understand," Duro interrupted, chin propped up on his palm as he took a generous bite of his bread.
Tiberius' eyes widened for a second, looking down to his meal to collect himself. "I..." he began, unable to find words and instead dissolving into nervous laughter. "What?"
Duro's eye were more amused than anything, looking over his shoulder to look at Agron with Tiberius. The man must have noticed, because soon he was looking at the both of them, too, Duro wiggling his fingers in a wave towards his brother.
"Tonight," Duro said, head lifting at the crack of Doctore's whip. They both startled to action, standing up with bowls to return. "Come to our cell. You will find him alone." And Duro's smile was so genuine, hand warm when he clapped Tiberius' shoulder and he left him a little dazed, even as Duro walked away.
Agron's fingers against the nape of his neck brought him back to the present, rough and warm, Tiberius turning his head towards the touch. Agron was watching Duro's retreating back, though, a knit to his brows.
"What have I missed?" he asked, thumb distracting Tiberius from a legible answer as it rubbed circles right under his ear.
"Nothing," he murmured, sharing a smile with Agron before the man left to resume training. He managed to catch Duro's eye, laughing at the carefree smile he was granted right before Agron brought him down to the sands.
Excitement coursed through Tiberius for the first time since his conversation with Chadara, taking him through the day with relative speed. Drusus seemed to notice his good mood, coming back around gradually as if testing the waters. A good friend, Tiberius knew, a good friend with a good life, comparatively. Many died under the oppression of slavery, but Tiberius would rather live as a slave, knowing the love and friendship the ludus had to offer, than a free man with the blood of hundreds on his hands. He could sway Chadara into staying her hand, possibly convince her much of the same that he felt.
He was exhausted from thinking, though. Replaying scenarios over and over in his head, weighing pros and cons of his actions. He would have his mind filled with skin and blue eyes, a warm body against his own and the heat of lust burning in his belly.
Duro's promise of time spent alone between the two of them replayed in his mind over and over again--through evening meal with the two of them, when it was time for the baths. He tended to Varro as always, the wound beginning to close and absent of any sign of infection. It lifted heart to know, since fear told him that Batiatus would send Varro to fight regardless of injury. And Varro would go, with wife and child on his mind, and succumb to the roar of the arena with either victory or defeat.
When Agron approached with intentions of walking to his cell together, Tiberius waved him off with excuse of needing to talk to Drusus. The man asked no questions, simply tucking some of Tiberius' hair behind his ear with a fond sort of smile and leaving him be. With the baths emptying it was easy to grab a bowl of water and some cuts of cloths without prying eyes, though not without an insufferable smirk from Drusus as the man approached with Gallus in tow.
"And where do the gods see you to?" Drusus asked, arms crossed over his chest and a cock to his head.
Tiberius' rolled his eyes. "Towards distraction and warm sentiments," he answered honestly.
Gallus' laugh was a loud one, wrapping Drusus in a hug from behind affectionately. "I pray for a night absent of interruption for you, little man," he said, cheek pressed against Drusus'. "And your cock well satisfied."
Such bold talk had Tiberius flushing, remaining in place as Drusus dragged his lover towards his cell. No doubt to spend the night in the same way that Tiberius hoped to. It was those light thoughts that lead him through the ludus, passing by cells left open for visitors that were becoming a familiar sight. Varro, alone in his own, but with parchment and a quill to write. Duro and Ithus spending time with Hamilcar, Tiberius willing the flush to his face away at the thumbs up Duro gave him.
The knock was barely there, knuckles against the heavy wooden door that gave way to Tiberius' firm hand. His heart jumped into his throat as Agron lifted his head to meet his gaze, sitting on his raised bedroll with back resting against the cool wall. The fresh brand of his forearm was turn up, still raw and angry, despite the pride in Agron's eyes as he stared at his skin.
Tiberius was silent as he moved, careful with the bowl of water and cuts of cloth he had brought with him. Agron's eyes flicked over his form, that same intense gaze that set fire to Tiberius' skin, robbed him of his ability to think. The interest only grew as he knelt on the ground before Agron, between his legs, the bowl placed aside and one of the soaked clothes remove.
"Does it bother you still?" Tiberius asked, voice quiet to match the mood. Agron hissed between his teeth at the first contact to the brand, though Tiberius' fingers were gentle in supporting both forearm and cloth.
"I have experienced worse," Agron admitted once they settled down. Tiberius could feel the heat radiating from him, the sweat from a long day of training in the Brotherhood. It was a familiar warmth, one that he had spent pressed against for the past nights. So different from the blood-thirsty animal Tiberius saw during the day. An interesting contrast to the human who sat before him with kind eyes and a light smile.
"Nasir," he interrupted gently, avoiding eye contact by pointedly watching the motion of his hands, the sweep of his thumb against Agron's warm skin. He wasn't sure what had prompted him to say it, to reveal something, someone, so long since removed. But the name given to him by the Romans seemed dirty from Agron's mouth, and perhaps Tiberius wanted to be Nasir again. Carefree, young, innocent--not yet tainted by the life he lead.
A gentle hand caught his chin, lifting his head to meet those blue eyes. There was a question there, soft and imploring, despite the lack of words.
"My brother," he began, licking his lips to wet them. Agron's eyes dropped to watch the motion. "My brother called me Nasir. You may, as well, in quiet moments like these." And Tiberius wanted him to, wanted to be reminded of what they could have. A certain aspect of honesty between them, a place for them to break down the walls that kept them both safe from the outside world but each other at arms length.
"Nasir," Agron tried, sending a brief chill through Tiberius. It had been so long since he had been called his true name, aside from Chadara the day before. The word sounded good from Agron's lips, though, sounding harder in the middle of the word that came out as Nazir.
"It brings warmth, to hear it from your lips," Tiberius admitted, removing the cloth from the man's forearm in order to dip it back down into the cool water once more. His hands were stopped, though, trapped in larger, scarred ones to halt his motions. Suddenly, Agron seemed so close--staring at Tiberius, their foreheads almost pressed together. It wasn't unlike him, them, to be pressed together as such. But now they were alone, and would remain that way, a fact that Agron had seemed to catch on to.
It was Tiberius' turn to watch as Agron licked his lips to wet them before speaking. "You would find it sweet, should you taste it from them," he spoke, face so earnest and so close that Tiberius immediately dropped the cloth in favor of cupping Agron's face to draw him closer and taste.
It was awkward at first--Tiberius was too frightened to move, keeping the press of their lips soft while Agron remained impassive. The words had been hard to misconstrue, but there was a tremor of insecurity that went through him. Agron wanted this, wanted him, but the lack of response had something cold seeping into Tiberius' chest. He tried to pull back completely, only to find himself trapped by Agron's strong hands on either wrist. The grip was hard, harder than he imagined, eyes wide when he looked up to find Agron's brows furrowed.
Something clicked in those blue depths, the hold loosening until just barely there, Agron's thumb drawing warm circles over his pounding pulse. "Apologies," he murmured, leaning forward still to rest their foreheads together. "This... this body has known little tenderness. I fear myself without experience in such delicate touches."
The words melted Tiberius' doubt, taking the nervous tremble to Agron's words and erasing them with a warm smile. It lifted heart, removing knots from stomach and allowing Tiberius to breathe once more. "Proper tutelage will see that fixed," Tiberius answered as gently as he could, though the nod of his head was certain. They had time, in theory. Every day threatened life for the both of them, but if Agron was tentative, Tiberius would not push. He could not. There was uncertainty within himself, as well, better pushed aside for thoughts alone in his cell.
His hands set purpose to task once more, taking up the cloth with intent to press it to Agron's brand and soothe. He was interrupted by hands again, rolling over the ball of his shoulders in experimental touch. Agron had not moved, still keeping close proximity to Tiberius and watching him, as if he was the most fascinating creature he had ever seen. One hand lifted to his cheek, Agron's thumb callused but gentle as he stroke the curve of it. It was that same hand that brought their faces together once more, eyes glued to one another until slipping shut with another kiss.
This time, Agron was far more responsive. It was just slow movements of his lips at first, exploring the feel that had Tiberius' breath caught in his throat. He didn't dare move too quickly, not wanting to frighten Agron but the desire to explore was too strong. The cloth dropped into the bowl with a splash, sounding too loud in the quiet room, while Tiberius' wet hands splayed over Agron's chest. The beat of Agron's heart felt so strong beneath his palm, as if it was tempted to jump from flesh any moment.
The position must have been uncomfortable, Agron's body tired from a long day spent training growing stiff from being curled forward. Tiberius used the hands against his chest to push him up slowly, making sure to keep their lips connected with the movement. For all Agron's nervousness, the man did seem to know what to do. Hands fell to Tiberius' hips, squeezing gently and helping him up onto the bedroll to settle in Agron's lap. The positioning was better for all involved--Tiberius able to slide his hands up into Agron's hair, Agron able to tug him closer and truly kiss him.
Mouths parted easily, Agron's tentative tongue meeting his own. Kissing was something that Tiberius was familiar with for the most part and he knew the mechanics. He was unfamiliar with the emotion though, how heightened his senses seemed when kissing with wild passion simmering under the surface. He found that Agron didn't necessarily taste sweet--a little like blood and sweat, smelling of sand and oil that went straight to the pit of Tiberius' stomach. Both of them stuttered for breath, a soft sort of a sound coming from Agron before Tiberius was dragging him in for another kiss. Deeper, quicker, with the barely-there roll of Tiberius' hips against Agron to feel him, hardened flesh barely concealed by the white subligaria.
Both pulled away with a short noise as Duro burst into the room, eyes widening with surprise before he was turning with a laugh. It was a pleasant sound, something drunken though Tiberius had not seen him with drink. Excitement, then, to disrupt them so. Tiberius' cheeks heated up immediately, tilting his head to hide his face within the curve of Agron's neck with a short chuckle. It would figure that the one man that had promised them solitude would be the one to break it. Agron, however, seemed far from amused. His jaw was set, nostrils flaring dangerously. Tiberius' hand against his chest seemed to calm the beast, though, paired with a few kisses pressed tenderly behind his ear.
"Apologies, but we fight tomorrow in the games!" Duro exclaimed, his back still turned to them even while he spoke.
That had Agron interested, pulling Tiberius to sit beside him with an apologetic sort of kiss to his cheek. "Did Batiatus reveal this to you?" Agron asked, standing to walk to his brother and turn him around. Hands on either shoulder, they stared at one another with twin smiles.
"The list that the fucking Syrian--" A pause from Duro, looking over his brother's shoulder with a guilty sort of face, "--apologies." Tiberius waved it off with a hand and a smile. "He brings a list of the men to fight--you and I, together in the arena!"
Their hug brought a smile to Tiberius' lips, leaning his head against the wall to watch the brothers. Such a bond, one that Tiberius found himself slightly envious of. Though he did suppose that these men were his family now, further solidified with how they both turned to him to draw him into an embrace. The happiness was contagious, Tiberius laughing and gripping onto them just as tightly as they were him.
The kiss from Agron was still a surprise. It was something small, hands cupping Tiberius' jaw to press lips against lips before tugging him into a hug. The newness of it all caused a fluttering in Tiberius stomach, alive once more after so long spent worried, hugging Agron back just as fiercely. He would push from mind the thoughts of death, of never being able to experience such a new found freedom in whatever these feelings were.
"Come, let us celebrate with the rest of the men! There is wine for all to wet tongue!" Duro suggested, slinging an arm around Tiberius shoulders and grabbing the back of Agron's neck to drag them both from the room.
Thoughts to dwell upon later, when happiness faded from eyes and spirits.
New part, and the first appearance of Nasir! :) I apologize in advance, really. After part seven of the story, the canon episodes (starting with 9: Whore) are going to be involved, so you'll be seeing some more familiar scenes with Tiberius/Nasir tossed in. New part will be up soon, and perhaps a little on the shorter side (as you can probably guess why after this part).
The morning was greeted with sullen thoughts and hazy mind. Just enough wine had brought them to bed with light spirits, Agron and Tiberius pressed into a bedroll and Duro sleeping sprawled out on the floor. A week in the ludus and Tiberius was already well trained--waking up just before Drusus poked his head in, having found Tiberius in order to wake him. A look was shared between them, acknowledged with the nodding of their heads. Drusus disappeared once more, leaving Tiberius torn between slipping silently from the room or waking Agron to spend some quiet moments together.
The decision was made for him when Agron's lashes fluttered, a sleepy noise parting his lips and arms moving to readjust. There was surprise across his face when Tiberius' weight prevented his left arm from moving, blue eyes opening in confusion and immediately softening when they landed upon Tiberius.
"A sight to behold," Agron murmured quietly, the corner of his lip turned up in a half smile as gentle fingertips brushed away some hair from Tiberius' forehead. Tiberius turned towards the touch, lips parted to kiss his palm sweetly.
The tangle of limbs was a warm one, something that could have easily lulled Tiberius back to sleep. If they were free men, perhaps, afforded the luxuries such as lazing around. But Tiberius knew that Drusus could only cover for him so long, that the man had to drag himself from a similar situation and did so because of duty.
"You are to fight in the arena today," Tiberius whispered, resting his head against Agron's bicep as the man tugged him closer. Bodies aligned as best as possible, the press of Agron's erection against his hip was something not soon forgotten. There was no shame, just a flush upon Tiberius' cheek as he returned the favor.
It seemed natural to accept Agron's weight on top of him, solid and warm and alive, as Tiberius may never feel him again. Fingers laced, Agron kept him pinned with body and gaze, both ignoring the sound of Duro's snoring in favor of memorizing one another. There was a moment of shifting, Tiberius freeing one of his hands before he was touching Agron's skin with greedy sweeps. His fingers danced over Agron's ribs, curious in their exploration, a privilege that was granted to him now. Much like the kiss they shared, something sweet and simple, tasting new and leaving them both with small smiles.
"Do not worry for me," Agron murmured, his thumb tracing the curve of Tiberius' brow tenderly. "I will fight with nothing but thoughts of returning to your arms."
Tiberius refused to acknowledge the tightening in his chest at the words, the way his eyes stung stubbornly before tugging Agron down. He could do nothing but worry, he knew, until Agron was back in his arms. Another kiss, to savor him, something slow and tasting of stale wine. There was still an awkwardness to them, the closeness such a new development, but if given the time, Tiberius knew that they would fit together as if one.
"They say love makes men weak," Tiberius whispered into Agron's mouth, eyes shut when those same lips fell to his jaw, cheek, eyelids, the tip of his nose. All sweet little kisses that spoke volumes, much like the look in Agron's eyes when he pressed their foreheads together.
"I would only be weak for you, then," he answered, taking Tiberius' bottom lip between his own to suck softly.
Simple words that lit something inside of Tiberius, making him ache sweetly. Hands cupped Agron's face, the back of his fingers stroking over the man's scruffy cheeks, staring as Agron closed his eyes and tilted his head into the touches. There was a heaviness to the moment, the weight of their lives and decisions to be made hanging between them. Tiberius knew it was fruitless to hope for freedom, the ability to make his own choices, but never before had he wanted it so deeply. The freedom to love, to live, to show such a man all Tiberius saw him for.
"Sleep," Tiberius murmured, tugging on the end of a dreadlock just to see Agron smile in that slow way of his. "You have hours yet until you need to be dressed for the games. I would see you well rested." There was logic to his words, but tentativeness to their actions. Eventually, though, Agron did move, rolling to the side to release Tiberius and rob him of the warmth his skin provided. A necessary evil, he reminded himself, standing with a short sigh and pulling his bangs back in preparation to start the day.
With fond eyes he looked at Duro, sleeping on the floor and curled on his side. A dear friend, a relationship as important to him as Agron's trust. So different would things be without Duro's lighthearted warmth and smile. "Take care of him," he said, more like a warning, grabbing one of the blankets from Duro's pallet to place over his body.
Agron's snort was definitely fond. "I know how to do nothing but," he answered, throwing an arm over his eyes as he settled back into the bedroll once again. Tiberius was so tempted to join him again, to crawl along the length of his body and kiss the breath right from his lips. But he refrained, knuckles pressed to his lips to stifle the smile there before turning to take his leave.
He found Drusus beside the cliff, sitting with his feet dangling over and shoulders slumped. It wasn't unlike him to be vulnerable during their quiet moments. Hardened to the world was something best saved when there were people to witness, Drusus immediately straightening his back and smiling as soon as Tiberius was near enough.
"Did you say your goodbyes?" Drusus asked, head tilted back to meet Tiberius' eyes.
Tiberius nodded once. "We did. And you?"
There was a laugh, something dry and humorless. Drusus stood, brushing off the back of his breeches and then his palms free of sand. A hand against Tiberius' shoulder, warm and supportive, before he was smiling with only lips, not eyes. "Gallus and I have used all of our goodbyes. Shall we start the day?"
Tiberius nodded again to show his agreement, smiling when Drusus' arm looped around his neck to draw him close. He vaguely wondered if happiness would always be tinted with bittersweet reality, or if he would simply learn to simply ignore it.
For men that Tiberius saw on fight on a daily basis, he had never been so impressed as seeing them ready for the arena. Robes and cloaks donned against the heat of the sun, the brothers left behind wishing good fortune to those who would fight. He and Drusus stayed along the edges, cleaning the resting area and letting the men have their moment. And yet Tiberius' eyes stayed firmly on Agron the entire time, greeting each brother with a smile and a nod of his head, though his eyes always drifted back to Tiberius as if he couldn't get enough.
When duties were completed, he and Drusus made their way to the men. Tiberius found Varro first, clapping the man on the shoulder and gripping his forearm firmly. No words passed, simply smiles and nods of their heads. Spartacus next, though the Champion and he had never shared words. He still wished for the man. Liscus, Hamilcar, Fortis--all greeted as brothers, well wishes on his lips and in his eyes for the men.
Gallus was already waiting for him as he turned, that insufferable smirk on his face and his arms open for a hug. "Little man," he said warmly, face pressed into Tiberius as he spoke.
Tiberius' arms wound tightly around the man, finding himself just as terrified to never see him again as he was Agron, or Duro. Enough that he disregarded the pet name he had seemed to acquire from him. "Do not fall, you giant oaf," Tiberius warned sharply, words murmured into Gallus' chest.
The nod was felt before Gallus released him, attention already over Tiberius' shoulder to Drusus, who chatted with Mannus. The tension was palpable, Gallus' smile terse and eyes too expressive. They spoke of too many goodbyes, too many times when coming home was a very far option. But still he went to Drusus, Tiberius watching him with a faint smile as he tapped the smaller man on the shoulder. He watched as Drusus turned, fingers pressed to his lips, as if trying to prevent words from falling from them. And then they embraced, something warm and fierce, Tiberius' heart aching painfully as Drusus' fingers dug into Gallus back to keep him there.
"I believe Gallus will be fine," Duro said, resting a hand on Tiberius' shoulder and greeting him with a bright smile.
Tiberius turned with a smile of his own, arms crossing over a chest and a raise of his brows. "And what of you, great warrior? With wine still clouding mind, will you return back to warm embrace?"
There was something so carefree about Duro that Tiberius loved deeply. There was confidence in his smile, the natural optimism that Tiberius hoped he never lost under the oppression of servitude. Such a rare commodity in a place such as this. Almost boyish in his view of the world, though it did make sense. Under Agron's fierce protectiveness, his brother remained untainted by a world so cruel.
"Naturally," Duro answered, rolling his eyes before tugging Tiberius into a tight hug that lifted him from the ground. "The gods above would not dare separate such a bond between brothers."
Tiberius knew his meaning, knew that he spoke of the connection between the two of them, not he and Agron. So much of his heart was to leave through those gates with possibility of never returning. How quickly had Duro slipped under his skin, right alongside his brother.
Tiberius couldn't find it in himself to regret such attachments. Not yet.
Hands on Duro's cheeks dragged him down, a kiss pressed to his forehead. "Return to me. What would I do without your smile?"
Another one of those smiles, still light, though there was a seriousness to Duro's eyes. "Your goodbyes would be better spent elsewhere," he offered, a lofty sort of statement before jerking his thumb to where Ithus and Agron were talking a little ways away.
The shake of Tiberius' head was firm, much like the grip on Duro's chin to tug him down to eye level. "I will spend them how I see fit," he reminded the man, a little bite to his voice adding edge to the softness to him. A hand through Duro's hair, the protectiveness flaring in his chest most definitely remnants of Agron's feelings towards him.
"We can continue argument when I return, then," Duro acquiesced, drawing Tiberius into another hug. Something strong, devoted, and just maybe a hint of a tremble that Tiberius chose to ignore. A favor granted between brothers.
When they parted again, it was Duro's hand that went to Tiberius' cheek, one more smile shared between them. That same hand moved to the nape of his neck, using the leverage there to push Tiberius towards Agron with a short laugh.
Ithus excused himself with a nod of his head, smiling to Tiberius in greeting as he took his leave. The gesture was returned in kind, though his attention was so obviously on Agron. A cloak wrapped around his shoulders, giving only peaks of warm skin that Tiberius wanted to bury himself inside. He touched it freely, hands sneaking under the cloth to wrap around Agron's back and keep him close.
"The next time we embrace, I will be a victor in the arena," Agron said, a grin on his lips and a sparkle to those eyes. Leaning down, lips pressed against Tiberius' ear, he whispered, "And what shall be my prize?"
The dreadlocks were a blessing, something to grip onto and tug sharply at such cheekiness. He kept Agron close, though, their cheeks pressed against one another so Nasir could whisper, "Should you return victorious, you will find my thighs most welcoming."
There was heat in the kiss they shared, tongue and teeth making Nasir weak in the knees. Nail dug into the meat of Agron's hips, head tilted and eyes shut as he gave himself to Agron. A taste of what was to come, with how Nasir surged up to take control of it, to make Agron his.
"Such a fire within you," Agron murmured, voice a little surprised but definitely interested.
Nasir's smile was possessive at best, a lick of swollen lips and heavily lidded eyes. "I want only thoughts of returning to me to spur you on," he answered simply, garnering a low laugh from Agron.
Fingers pushed hair behind his ear, a tender motion not lost upon Nasir. "I would not have you believe that anything other than you will fill my thoughts."
The crack of Doctore's whip caused Tiberius to jerk away, both of them startled apart successfully. The gladiators were lining up, guards towards the gates in order to lead them out and to the arena with Doctore. One more kiss was stolen--sweet, placed to the corner of Agron's lips--before Agron was walking away to join Duro, and Tiberius sought out Drusus.
Together they stood, standing side by side, watching with keen eyes as the men moved. Agron caught his gaze from over his shoulder, his smile betraying his emotions. Excitement, predominantly, only a pinch of hesitation to be found. The chance to prove himself, to come back a victor. A god of the arena, much like the ones he walked alongside.
"They will return to us," Tiberius said aloud, watching the gate swing shut with such permanence it made his throat seize.
Drusus' nod was barely there. "Or we will follow."
Tiberius found that he had no response.
Without the constant presence of Agron and Drusus' own dark mood, Tiberius found his day dragging. There was nothing to occupy his time aside from his own mind, a dangerous thing in itself. Thoughts of Avitus, of his true purpose in the ludus, how he could convince Chadara to stay hand and keep them here. Of Agron, Duro, Gallus, Varro, Spartacus--all the men he now called brother, and the possibility of never seeing them again. He understood Drusus' sour mood, then, knowing that the man was most likely replaying the same things in his own head. The men returning from the games, proud with victory. Searching for their gladiator, only to find them absent.
The mere thought was enough to have Tiberius' stomach turning.
Midday meal was relatively easy due to the decrease in numbers. Less food to prepare meant less things to carry, quicker trips into the bowels of the ludus. Tiberius was well versed in it now, keeping his head down and moving as quickly as possible. His muscles had stopped complaining, feet quick and sure, able to work independent of Drusus and it felt good. Being body slave garnered respect and fair treatment, but there was something rewarding about this work. He could see the appeal to it, to have fruits of labor, have meaning.
A hand on his bicep dragged him from such thoughts, nearly causing the jar of olive in his hand to fall. But Tiberius was quick, keeping his hold and twirling around with an expectant smile. Had the gladiators returned so soon? Agron victorious, ready to take him to bed and spend well-deserved hours to learn one another. Or even Drusus, coming with the news that they were back, and alive.
Instead, he was faced with a snarling Livius, turning his blood to ice.
The jar of olives broke as soon as it hit the floor, Livius shoving Tiberius up against the wall with his whole body. The force drove the air from Tiberius' lungs, vision clouding as his head snapped back against the cold stone. The hand around his throat was strong, vicious, squeezing so hard that Tiberius' eyes bulged and his lungs stopped.
"I would have been kind," Livius said, growled, squeezing tighter until Tiberius was forced to open his mouth against the building pressure. "I would have prepared you, gone slow." Livius' breath washed over his face with every word, stale and disgusting, causing Tiberius to wince. He could feel every inch of the man, hard cock against his stomach, making his insides turn.
"Please, don't--" was all Tiberius could muster through a gasp, fingers sliding uselessly against Livius' wrist, digging in to release his grip. Down to his sides, scrambling for purchase only to find nothing.
"No," the man yelled, spit flecking on Tiberius' face. He pulled Tiberius away from the wall by his throat, slamming him back against the unforgiving stone. "Now, I will rip you from the inside out."
There was a very real threat in that, one that seized Tiberius' heart. Any men that would freely offer assistance were gone, and they were well hidden in the cold cellar. Tiberius' breath quickened in his panic, barely able to draw anything in, head feeling light as Livius' hand finally dropped from his throat to his crotch. Fingers quick, groping soft flesh through his breeches hard enough to make Tiberius flinch as he dragged in his first real breath since Livius had caught him.
"W-Wait," Tiberius tried, voice raw, only to receive a snarl in response. "I-I wish to touch you!"
Livius paused in his surprise, pulling back with suspicious eyes. It slowly melted into a grin, Tiberius taking in the two missing teeth with disgust. "Little whore," Livius practically cooed, releasing the grip on Tiberius' cock to cup his jaw and kiss him instead. The touch was far from tender, forcing Tiberius' head back for a proper angle. A press of lips robbed Tiberius of breath again, Livius' tongue thrust into his mouth to be received with enthusiasm. "I knew you wanted me," he continued, slick lipped against Tiberius' mouth.
"Yes," Tiberius breathed out shakily, taking Livius' bottom lip between his own to suck softly. "And now no one will stand between us."
Livius nodded, capturing Tiberius' lips in another kiss. It was nothing like kissing Agron--hard and brutal, meant only for Livius' pleasure without any regards to Tiberius. Hands on Tiberius' skin to bruise, to leave marks that he didn't care to see again. Tiberius broke the connection with a soft gasp, lips moving to Livius' neck. Heated kisses again and again, cautious of the strong hands that could do him harm. Over the thick curve of Livius' shoulder, tasting like sweat and sand that made Tiberius sick. He needed a semblance of control, his hands skirting down Livius' sides to settle at the subligaria. There was no hesitation, only clever fingers undoing the cloth to find hardened flesh pressed against his stomach.
"Eager for my cock to fill you," Livius practically purred, a sickening little sound that had Nasir hissing. His movements were quick--fingers gripping Livius' balls tightly, the dagger removed from the back of his breeches to press against the tender flesh with little care. Blood poured over his fingers, paired with the man's wounded howl. A flesh wound, nothing that would cause permanent damage. A warning, further deepened by the fire in Nasir's eyes.
"You would have done well to heed Agron's warning," Nasir hissed, voice low as he rose to tiptoes in order to look Livius in his eyes. "And would do well to remember that I am far from the helpless whore you think me to be." The hold on his balls tightened with that, a jerk of his hand before releasing such rancid flesh and pointing the dagger at Livius' throat. "Now go, and turn thoughts from my flesh."
The subligaria was pulled up quickly, Livius pulling away from him with haste and wide eyes. "Fucking bitch," Livius spat out, Nasir taking in the blood seeping down his thigh with greedy pleasure. It was wiped away quickly with a scarred hand, one that was never to touch him again and that was even better than the dangerous glint of the dagger in the low light. Better than watching Livius flee up to the ludus once more, knowing secretly the wound that would stain his subligaria.
Nasir fell back against the wall, breathing quick but a smile on his face. He stared down at the dagger, the blood staining the blade, and for the first time felt it.
The exhilarating freedom of making a choice for himself.
Drusus caught his arm hours later, after training had resumed and the day had calmed down. "There is blood along Livius' thighs, appearing after he left the cold cellar only for you to follow," he said quietly, head bowing to meet Nasir's eyes.
Nasir's smile was a slow one, paired with the raising of his brows. "He made move towards me again. A mistake that will not be repeated with message driven home."
He had expected to see elation in his friend's eyes, but instead only found darkness and concern. "You press too much," Drusus warned, keeping his voice low. "You overstep boundaries."
Nasir blinked his confusion, head cocked to the side with it. "I thought you to be pleased," he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck to ease the tension there. His throat still felt raw and head heavy, thinking perhaps that he wound bruise come morning.
"You have not known the cruelty of this ludus, but warm protection cannot ward away its icy fingers forever. Especially if provoked," Drusus said, eyes down to the floor, avoiding Nasir's gaze. The confidence within him trembled at seeing such a strong friend weakened, unsure of the reason or the ghosts behind his eyes. He had never seen Drusus to waver, had never experienced the man so dark.
"I..." Tiberius began, unsure of how respond. He could offer words of comfort, but found that he had none. Strength was temporary, fleeting, he reminded himself. Even a man he thought so strong crumbled before him, uncertainty behind his eyes that spoke too deep. "Okay," he finally agreed, lip tugged between his teeth. "Apologies."
The sigh was heavier than Tiberius thought it would be, Drusus rubbing his hands over his face. "Your friend from the villa calls for you," he said after a long moment, looking towards the training men with his eyes narrowed against the sun. "Go to her quickly."
Another nod, a thankful clap on the shoulder before he was off towards the gate. He didn't allow himself to dwell over the interaction with Drusus, not when he knew conversation with Chadara would be just as taxing. And in a way, Drusus was right. He had been looked after since he first stepped foot inside the ludus. What had happened to Drusus before Gallus? What would have happened to Tiberius should Drusus not have been there? He had been a fool to press such luck, to reveal that he had a weapon, especially to someone as Livius. A dead ludus slave meant less than a dead gladiator. But in his lightness he had thrown caution away, forgotten himself and his place in this world. Low along the hierarchy, easily replaced and without standing.
"Such a sullen face as you greet dearest friend," Chadara called as soon as he was visible, eyes flicking up to meet her gaze.
His smile felt forced, and he could only imagine how it appeared. "Apologies. Pressing thoughts."
Chadara reached a hand through the gate, warm and soft as it settled against his throat. "Reddened flesh. Have hands been placed upon you?" she asked quietly, eyes stern.
"Yes. Taken care of, however," Tiberius admitted, hoping to see conversation die.
The anger was there in his friend, though her fingertips remained gentle. "Animals, pawing at such beauty, as we were warned. I would see them all--"
"No," Tiberius interrupted before she could finish, louder than intended and causing Chadara to pull back with surprise. The word had been ripped from Tiberius' sore throat without thought, but now that it was there, he only felt pressed to continue. "I... I cannot do it."
Another stern look, Chadara's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"These men, they are good men, Chadara. Good, honest men worthy of a glorious death in the arena. Not to be sold into slavery once more, picked at like objects and displaced from their brothers. Agron, Duro, Gallus, Drusus, Varro--they all deserve better than such a life." All was said in rush, a deep breath taken in afterward with a shake of his head. "And Avitus is a snake. We are but slaves to him, easily disposed of. He sent us to murder Batiatus, with promises of taking us back into a life of luxury. But what holds his promise? When Batiatus falls, his wishes are complete. What holds his promise?"
Chadara looked as shocked as he felt, worn so tired and thin by this world he was nearly driven insane. Everything had been bottled so quickly, uncorked by insecurity and a failing of strength. Agron was but an anchor, an opportunity to misplace thoughts and allow another to carry burdens. But if all Tiberius could do was buckle under the weight of them when shouldered alone, how long would it be before he collapsed completely? So much was asked of him, too much, and he could not do this. He could not have these men die by his hand, displaced and abused once more.
The hand was quick, and Tiberius was surprised Chadara could get such a swing with her arm through the gate. It was loud enough to echo, though, Tiberius' face stinging painfully from where he was slapped. His lifted to burning flesh, looking at Chadara stand there with her jaw set.
"I see it is not yourself you forget, Tiberius," she said, voice quiet despite the tears in her eyes. "But me. What of me, Tiberius? You have found family, brothers, while I still live in fear of the next day."
Tiberius opened his mouth to respond but found nothing, nothing but a soft sound of frustration. Hands through his hair to pull at it, turning away for a moment only to come back. Another opportunity for him to be strong, to make a decision for himself and exercise fleeting freedom. And yet nothing came to mind, nothing except needing to share such a burden, to hear the thoughts of another. "I will think of something," he promised, coming back to the cell to grip at the bars. A hand pushed through, fingers brushing the back of Chadara's cheek with a set to his mouth. "I will think of something, I promise you this."
There was a short laugh from Chadara, humorless and dry. Nasir understood, did not blame her. It was her life in the mix, as well. And she was right--what he had found was support, something that was not offered in the villa above. "And what will you do? Kill them all and see us free?"
"Give me time," Nasir said, voice confident in a way he didn't feel. Not at that moment. "Trust in me. I will think of something."
Both looked towards the stairs, a shadow of a slave cast over them. So much was left unsaid, but their time cut too short. Nasir pulled away quickly, though his eyes remained on his friend. Her short nod of agreement was enough, however much her eyes protested, backing up towards the stairs to hold gaze.
I promise, Nasir mouthed, just before she turned up the stairs, disappearing from sight to leave Nasir with his thoughts once more.
Sunset approached without any more words between him and Drusus, another weight loaded onto his shoulders. Addition after addition had Tiberius feeling exhausted all over again, paired with his continuous thoughts of Agron and his return. Or perhaps not. Perhaps never to return again, leaving Tiberius alone and vulnerable as he had feared from the beginning. It seemed as though problems only replaced one another--when one disappeared from the forefront of his mind, another quickened to take its place.
Still, as soon as the first calls from the victory song could be heard, Tiberius dropped his meal and hurried towards the sands. Everything that had occurred during the day was pushed aside in favor of the prospect of seeing Agron and Duro again. Drusus was there in a second, hand slipping into his own, that same spark back into the man's eyes that had been absent earlier. Tiberius nodded his head in response, hoping that Drusus found it to be the motion of reassurance that he had meant it to be. Received kindly, with a nod of Drusus' own head and a squeeze of his hand.
The singing only grew louder and louder, the other gladiators all crowded around to greet their victorious brothers. Tiberius could feel his heart quicken, pounding in his chest, his palm sweating against Drusus'. The other man seemed to understand, only squeezing his hand again. How did Drusus manage to do this? The men fought almost on a weekly basis, and Gallus was counted amongst the strongest. Tiberius had been wrong to think his friend weak and crumbled earlier. Standing there beside him, a hopeful smile on his face, he understood that Drusus meant only to share some of his own burden, unknowing of how heavily laced Tiberius was with his own.
The gates swung open heavily, a low whine from the metal as it was worked. Tiberius' breath caught in his throat when he caught sight of Doctore leading the men, torch in hand, playing shadows over his own face but keeping the rest concealed. The forms were familiar, a large amount of men that were more than happy to be home. The victory song continued, loud and boisterous, sung by every man as one.
Drusus' brief noise of excitement was contagious, Tiberius' lips splitting in a grin. They shared a look, something small and simple yet spoke volumes.
Whatever would come, they would face. Together.