Nasir supposed it was best he hadn't gone with Spartacus this time. The drink Naevia had given him to dull the pain of his wound had long since worn off, and every second now was agony. Welcome agony, as it largely clouded all thought, including his worry for Agron, but agony all the same; he would have been useless on the mission. They would have had to carry him home again!
For a fleeting moment, he imagined Agron carrying him, strong arms under him and a chest firm as a stone wall against his side. He felt the heat rise in his cheeks, just as Chadara had once noted as his reaction to mention of the former gladiator. Then a most unwelcome thought snuck in: that perhaps Agron wouldn't have survived to carry him anyway -- wouldn't survive in any case, whether Nasir was there to be a burden or not.
He thanked the pain again as another wave of it distracted him from his fear.
"He will be fine," Chadara assured him, apparently playing oracle as she sat beside him against a column. "You survived past skirmish, and you -- forgive me -- are not half the warrior your Agron is."
He couldn't bring himself to point out that several men who were great warriors had fallen on the last mission. "My Agron?" he asked himself as much as her, wondering if she just meant it in that he was closer to Agron than she was, or if she was implying something more by it. Could Agron really be considered his? If she'd said that a day ago, he might not have believed it, but after that kiss ....
Chadara snorted, a habit she couldn't blame on the influence of her uncouth Gaul even if she tried -- Nasir had known her too long. "I saw you together, just before he left," she informed him. "Rhaskos never looks at me in such way." She tossed a pebble, smirking ruefully, and suddenly it occurred to Nasir that she might be worried for Rhaskos .... "Spartacus never looks at Mira so, either," she continued. "When Agron sets eyes upon on you, there is more than simple friendship in them -- and more than lust. There is tenderness in his touch. Do not doubt -- you own him, my friend." Her smirk did not hide her wistfulness.
Nasir's head was reeling, and he wasn't sure if it was because of his wound or his thoughts. He had been "owned" himself, in the context of being used for the pleasure of another, and had feared that Spartacus had intended to simply become the next rein-holder. Nasir was happy to be proven wrong about Spartacus, but while Chadara claimed that being with Rhaskos was her choice, not forced upon her, Nasir couldn't seem to help but see the Gaul as being little better than their old master.
And then Chadara had to go and point out Nasir's growing friendship with Agron, and Nasir's attraction to him -- and the possibility that Agron was attracted back. Nasir had been left wondering if it were true, and, if it was, if Agron just wanted his body, the way his former master had or the way Rhaskos wanted Chadara. Then he wondered if it mattered. He could think of worse fates than being Agron's bed-warmer -- and not really any better. In fact, were Nasir to, by some miracle, come into power equal enough to have an army at his own beck and call, and not need the protection or status associating with Agron would give him, as Chadara sought from Rhaskos, he still would want Agron in his bed -- and at his side, as his friend.
Or as more? Could Agron truly ... love him? Not just want him as a lover?
A vague memory surfaced, something from when Naevia had been treating Nasir in the temple. He'd barely been conscious -- wasn't even certain now if it were real or a dream. Agron had said to Naevia, "I am in your debt. Spartacus told me what you have done for Nasir."
If it was real, then what cause would Agron have to be in Naevia's debt for Nasir's survival, save for love? One did not indebt one's self over the rescue of a simple plaything. He might for a good friend, true, but the way Agron had looked at him, the way he'd touched Nasir's cheek, the way he had kissed him ... Nasir had seen a husband kiss his wife so once, as the husband left to run an errand. A quick but firm meeting of lips -- fleeting yet also lingering, as from one reluctant to depart. Further, a promise of return. Nasir wondered if Agron's touch was meant to be similarly loving, but he hadn't dared hope so, lest he proved mistaken. He had no experience in matters of love (as opposed to just sex), had never personally felt a gaze or touch so gentle, yet so intense .... Nasir honestly believed, without intending to be poetic, that the touch of Venus herself could not be more powerful or magnificent. He hungered for more as he had never wanted anything else in his life -- and was becoming terrified to the point of nausea over the prospect of never having it again.
Or it might be his injury that was causing the nausea, he supposed, but regardless, he knew for certain that he wanted Argon to come back to him.
And sometimes, it seemed, the gods did answer prayers.
Agron stumbled slightly as the stretcher bearing Oenomaus lagged in his grasp, with Gannicus, under the former Doctore's other arm, nearly a full beat behind. A few dozen feet ahead, the rest of their party, led by Mira, picked their way through the growing dark.
"Pace yourself," Gannicus chided. "We are not pursued. Rushing now will only make journey that much harder as we go."
"I imagine love hurries his feet as much as it does for Crixus, here. He almost carries me!" Spartacus mused as he helped Crixus similarly along.
"Agron? In love? When did this--ah, the boy!" Crixus realized.
"More than mere boy!" Agron snapped. "He saved Mira's life, at near-cost of his own! If it were not for Naevia ...." He softened upon mentioning her name. Really, Spartacus had been right: Agron would have insisted on saving his brother Duro, at the risk of all else, if he could. And Crixus had not meant any harm in calling Nasir a boy -- anyone might have done so, including Agron not long ago.
But even as Agron's own anger quickly faded, he'd served to raise the ire of Crixus.
The Gaul stopped and shook off the aid of Spartacus, getting in Agron's face. "If it were not for Naevia what?" Crixus demanded. "Finish thought!"
"Crixus--" Spartacus protested.
"Finish. Thought!" Crixus spat, grabbing Agron roughly by the arm, almost making him drop his end of the stretcher.
And to think that is face Naevia wants to see more than anything in world, Agron thought as he met the man's eyes. Well, there was no accounting for taste. "Nasir would be dead," Agron finished as ordered.
Crixus blinked and let go, stepping back to regard Agron with wary eyes.
"Nasir took grievous wound," Agron explained. "He bled heavily, and would not have lasted journey towards Vesuvius, if not for Naevia remembering how cauterising such a wound had once saved you."
"You would have been proud of him, Crixus," Spartacus weighed in, laying an arm around the man's shoulder. "He did not cry out once. I consider him of the Brotherhood now, as should you."
Crixus nodded, still looking nonplussed.
"He proved more a man than I," Agron agreed. "Half of why I did not want to pursue Naevia was my fear for him, yet he went anyway, because it was right thing to do. And so I apologised to Spartacus and now to you -- maybe odds would have been better if we had all gone to mines."
"And I say again that more may have died," Spartacus countered. "It is in past; let us leave it there." He began to steer Crixus forward.
Crixus only managed a few steps before stumbling. The man swayed; Agron guessed that blood loss and treatment at the hands of his captors was catching up to him, now that they had stopped their momentum for a moment.
Agron gently set down his end of the stretcher and went to Crixus.
"Maybe we should rest a bit," Spartacus was saying.
Agron shook his head no, and took Crixus by the shoulders. "Naevia chastened me for not trying harder to talk you out of rescue. She does not feel her life as she is now was worth saving at the cost of anyone else's, especially yours. Yet her words proved to me all the more that mission to save her was correct course. And so I came with Spartacus to save you, so as to return you to her, make amends for my lapse, and repay debt I owe her for saving my Nasir. She blames herself, though she did not demand to be saved. I would not have her suffer over your loss a moment longer -- would you?"
Crixus straightened, shaking his head. Satisfied, Agron nodded once and smiled encouragingly. He took up his place beside Oenomaus, and they resumed their walk.
"Love certainly does change a man," he faintly heard Crixus remark.
That it does, Agron silently agreed. He was just as surprised as Crixus about the situation, really. It all was happening so fast -- and yet it hadn't even been "love at first sight". Oh, he'd found the man attractive from the get-go, but that had been the most thought he'd given the matter. And when Nasir had attacked Spartacus, he'd wanted the man dead for attacking his friend, and for the threat he seemed to pose to all of them.
He was relieved, now, that Spartacus had shown more sense.
Nasir had proven thoughtful and as dedicated to freedom as they; looking back now, Agron realized Nasir had every right to be wary of Spartacus and his followers. As Agron had watched Spartacus train Nasir, he'd come to see the beauty of the youth -- not just Nasir's physical grace, but his determination, his ability to learn, and his thoughtfulness, how he questioned and did not just blindly follow. Nasir exemplified that last not just by suspecting Spartacus and trying to kill him, but also when he went against Agron's lie and followed his heart, telling Crixus the truth about Naevia. Looking back, was it really any wonder Agron was so drawn to Nasir, found himself making more and more excuses to talk to him, spend time with him? He'd acted out of love for the youth before he'd even realized that he felt anything for him.
But did Nasir feel the same way? He acted friendly, but maybe that was all Nasir felt: friendship. He'd seemed surprised when Agron had kissed him. He'd smiled, but had done so hesitatingly; now Agron wondered if there hadn't been discomfort harboured in the corners of Nasir's lips, or shadowing his eyes, rather than just surprise slowing his reaction. Had Agron overstepped his bounds? Should he pretend he'd never acted as he had? Should he wait for Nasir to act next? Or, if Nasir did feel the same, would it hurt Nasir if he did not continue to show him affection?
Would that Agron knew as much about love as he did swordplay.
The walk back to the temple was excruciating, every step agony as he fretted over how Nasir might feel, and whether the man was well or if his injury had taken a turn for the worse. Agron had more than a few nasty cuts and bruises, but they were nothing to him compared to his turmoiled thoughts ....
Nasir's heart quickened as a large group could be heard approaching through the wood. A whistled signal told them that it was friend, not foe, who approached. He started to rise, but pain chained him to the ground.
"Lie still," Naevia chided, kneeling beside him. "You should not even be out of bed!"
"Could you be still, even if you were so injured, knowing your Crixus might be returning to you? That he may be just yards away?"
She seemed to start to object, but instead pressed her lips tightly closed and shook her head.
"Well, I am just as eager for word of my Agron." Warmth trickled through him as he said "my Agron"; it felt good to say it aloud. He only hoped Agron would want to hear it.
Naevia sighed,smiling. "All right. Let us meet them together."
She and Chadara helped him to his feet. As he gripped his left side with his right hand, the women grew concerned, but he nodded what he hoped was reassurance. Chadara took his left arm, Naevia taking the lead. He would have protested to Chadara that he was well enough to walk on his own, but he could move faster with the help, and each second more of waiting was as agonizing as the pain in his side. Besides, she knew him well enough to know when he was lying.
He panicked a moment as the crowd drew close, Mira in the lead without Spartacus, Crixus, or Agron beside her. The woman beamed at Naevia, though, then at him, and he relaxed as much as he could with the pain in his side and his heart hammering in anticipation. The crowd parted around them, giving them clear passage to the back of the group.
Nasir barely registered the joyous reunion of Naevia and Crixus as he waited for Agron to come into view. Relief split lips in a wide grin, which Argon returned. The man was occupied, though, carrying a stranger with the aid of another stranger.
"Let me," Spartacus told Agron, taking up his end.
Nasir managed to meet Agron halfway, catching him just in time as he lost his balance. Agon steadied him, then slipped his arms around him, holding him gently, one hand clasping Nasir's head to his chest. Nasir wrapped his own arms around Agron's lower back, sighing contentedly.
Then Agron stiffened and pulled away some; Nasir almost cried out in frustration. "Apologies!" Agron told him. "I forget your injury!" Before Nasir could lie that he was fine, Agrin continued, "A-and I should not be so forward when .... when I do not even know your feelings!" Agron's gaze seemed uncertain, with an undercurrent of anguish.
Nasir wondered if it was sadistic of him that those words made him so happy. "I have spent long hours fretting and frantic as I have never felt for anyone before. What does that tell you about my feelings, my Agron?"
Agron grinned, and in the dim torchlight, it was like the dawning of the sun. He leaned in, and Nasir eagerly met his lips in a kiss that more than made up for the briefness of the previous.
When it finally ended, Nasir vaguely noted that everyone else has left. He buried his head in the other man's chest, trying to stifle his joyous tears.
Agron laid his cheek against the top of Nasir's head. "I worried I would never see you again," Agron whispered.
Nasir hugged Agron tighter, ignoring the protest of his wound. "As did I." He began to tremble, and he couldn't tell if it was from cold, exhaustion, or the draining away of fear.
Agron took off his cloak, draping it over Nasir, then put himself under Nasir's arm, helping him back to the temple.
As they came in, they saw Mira comforting a crying Chadara.
So Rhaskos had not made it back -- and Chadara had indeed cared more for him that she would admit.
Nasir stopped beside her, leaving Agon's embrace for a moment to hug her.
"I'm sorry," he told her, feeling awful that he and Naevia should see their loves return but not her.
"Thank you," she replied, sniffing. "And I am happy for you. Worry not for me; I have Mira to console me. Get your man tended to, and I will see you on the morrow."
He tightened his grip a moment, kissed the salt from her cheek, and returned to Agron's side.
"Rhaksos was far from my favourite person, but I wish we could have saved him, all the same," Agron remarked as they made their way to the room they were using as a triage. "Poor Chadara."
"Is it terrible of me to feel that, if only one of the pair of you could come back, it was you?" Nasir asked, feeling awful in a way that had nothing to do with his injury.
Agron squeezed his shoulder. "Tis human of you. Tis not a crime to love and be glad of love's return. I was likewise relieved that it was you who came back from mines, and not another instead. If that makes me terrible as well, then at least you are not alone in it."
When they reached the triage, they found all but one of the few cots occupied. Naevia tended Crixus at one. A medic treated Oenomaus at another, with Spartacus and Gannicus watching over him. A few more were occupied by a rebels that had been apparently been injured during the destruction of the arena. Argon helped Nasir settle on the last cot, which was set in a corner, then sat beside him to wait for a medic to be free to stitch his cuts.
"You should rest, as Spartacus told you to," Agron told Nasir. "Here, use me as your pillow," he added with a grin.
He turned so that Nasir could lay against him, between his knees, and then wrapped his arms gently around the youth. Nasir took one of Agron's hands and brought it to rest over his heart, curling his fingers around Agron's. A wave of fondness washed over the warrior.
Argon began to tell of how the mission went, but it wasn't long before Nasir's breathing slowed into sleep.
"Your presence is balm to him," Naevia remarked. "Pain no longer furrows his brow."
"As his presence is to me," Agron replied, Nasir's soft breaths lulling him to sleep soon after.