Nasir knew the warmth at his back was not simply the sun -- even if he hadn't just been talking to Agron when Spartacus had begun his speech, he would have known where Agron was. So long as they were in the same are, within sight of each other, Nasir had discovered that he simply knew where Argon was, could feel his presence as palpably as the light of Apollo's Chariot, at any given moment. And so, when the heat at his back suddenly vanished, he noticed. Further, he knew exactly where it -- where Agron -- went. Without any effort to look, Nasir's eyes were drawn to Agron as the man made his way to the side of Crixus. He smiled fondly, guessing what the big German was intending to do.
And then something went wrong.
Nasir had turned his attention back to the speech Spartacus was giving. As always, Nasir was impressed by how well-spoken the man was, and was glad he'd failed to kill the man. Likewise, he was glad Spartacus had spared his life, and that eventually Agron and Crixus had followed the example Spartacus set in forgiving Nasir. Nasir counted Crixus a friend, and Naevia, and would see Agron count the Gaul a friend as well. He was proud of and pleased with the German for making the effort.
So when Crixus set Agron flying backside, he suddenly wasn't feeling so friendly towards the Gaul. But he knew how well the men got along -- which was to say, barely. As much as he loved the man, Nasir suspected Crixus was not entirely to blame. He sighed. Naevia glanced his way; she looked as at a loss about what to do with the pair as Nasir felt.
Nasir would have made his way to Agron's side, but as he began to move, he heard Agron growl that he was going to Neapolis. The words stopped Nasir dead in his tracks as surely as a well-aimed arrow. Agron was leaving again, already?
He could see the top of Agron's head over the rest of the crowd, then the warriors face as the crowd dispersed between them. Angry fire burned in the German's eyes, a snarl on his lips -- for a moment. The fires were then doused, the snarl falling, the moment Argon's eyes met het his, a sudden despair taking their places. Nasir reckoned the same arrow of understanding must have struck Agron, for he too was suddenly unmoving.
Nasir found his footing first, and managed to erase the last few steps between them.
"Can you forgive me for speaking such words that would see us parted again, so soon?" Agron asked whispered, eyes beginning to glitter.
Every last bit of annoyance in Nasir dispersed like clouds in the wake of the fiery sky-chariot. He smiled, nodding. "Provided you return to me safe and sound -- and soon." He spotted a slight swelling on the side of Agron's face. "Are you hale?" he asked, cupping Agron's cheek gently, wondering if the German didn't wince because the punch hadn't really hurt him, or because the ex-gladiator was better steeled against pain than most.
"Mm? Oh, that. Aye." Agron then muttered something all too familiar, glancing darkly towards where Naevia similarly tended to Crixus.
Nasir put his hands on his hips. "I'd think fornicating with Gauls would be last thing you'd want to do," he remarked dryly, a coy smile tugging at his lips.
Agron quickly met Nasir's eyes again, in horror, then disgust. "Ugh! You'd think right!" Then the German flashed a grin, chuckling.
The smile faded, clouds moving into the blue sky of Agron's eyes. The warrior reached out and took Nasir's hand in his. "I tried to make peace with the Gaul, but ... he threw mistake in face, would not forgive, and anger got better of me. Apologies."
Nasir stood on his tiptoes, lightly kissing one corner of the other man's mouth. "My thanks for trying."
Agron smiled lovingly, but it was spoiled a moment later by a bitter laugh. "He hates me for lying, delaying her rescue, and yet Naevia is angry with me for not trying hard enough to stop him from seeking her out. It seems I cannot win no matter what I do."
Nasir felt a flash of anger himself, then, at Crixus for being so unforgiving when Agron had only sought to protect others by his actions. Protect me. While Nasir was glad that they 'd saved Naevia, he still felt his own guilt for arguably betraying Agron in favour of Crixus -- and while he'd do it again (at least in that circumstance), the act still weighed on him now.
Nasir brought Agron's hand up to his own chest, laying the appendage flat against him. "You have won something -- my heart."
It was a spark of triumph, of fierce joy, that made Agron's eyes glitter now. The warrior took Nasir's face in his hands and kissed him hungrily, his touch the same, seemingly impossible mix of strength, passion, and gentleness as the man himself was made of. Nasir wrapped his arms tightly around the warrior, wishing he could keep Agron from leaving even as he knew the German must.
They finally parted, nearly breathless. "That will not last me a whole day until your return," Nasir teasingly complained. "Best give another!"
Agron readily complied.
At one point during the long wait for Agron to return, Nasir found himself cutting and sorting branches into piles suitable for for staves, clubs, and arrows. He wanted to help, but he was still healing, and this was the least physically-taxing task Spartacus apparently could think of for him. Spartacus assigned Naevia to assist him for a while, under the pretense of her keeping an eye on Nasir's health, but truth be told, Nasir suspected it was as much for Naevia's sake, to grant her some quiet, as Nasir's own.
"Apologies for Crixus," she said after a short while.
"No need," he assured her. "Agron was sorry as well. They cannot avoid bringing out worst in one another, it seems."
"Both could use sound thrashing, like ill-behaved children," Naevia mused. "But I do not fault Agron for his actions."
"He told me you said he should have tried harder to keep Crixus here ...."
"I did. You would not be injured now, and others would not be dead. My life was not worth such losses." She spoke with chilling matter-of-factness.
"Forgive, but ... each man and woman who sought to save you made choice to do so. Is that not what rebellion is about? Choosing one's own path, deciding for self what is of worth in life and what is not?" he asked.
"Is that why you came to save me?" she asked in turn.
He nodded. "Nothing is worth more than love. I would see it grow and thrive; Crixus would have died without yours."
She laughed humourlessly. "I wish I believed as you. I am a dry well, and empty vessel. There is nothing left of me to make things thrive -- a fact he will learn soon enough. I do not blame Agron for wishing to let his new love for you blossom rather risk it falling from branch as but a new bud, as it almost did. All to chase after a bloom long withered."
Nasir ignored the flush of happiness that prickled his skin at the thought of Agron's love; now was not the time to bask in the glow of such thoughts. "I see not end of life in you," Nasir offered, laying a hand on hers. "I see a wound that is deep but not fatal. It just needs chance to heal -- as it will."
She smiled faintly, but her eyes said that his words didn't touch her heart. "I will talk to Crixus, tell him to make peace with Agron," she said, changing the subject. "If everyone is to survive the days to come, they must put aside differences. I will not have more die because Crixus quarrels over me still rather than focusing on true enemy." And with that, she got to her feet and walked away.
Nasir was waiting by a fire for some food to finish cooking, when he suddenly spotted Agron approaching Spartacus, a little ways off; where Nasir was standing and the direct the German headed, Agron hadn't seen him yet. Though he wanted to rush into Agron's well-muscled arms in greeting, Nasir held back (admittedly thanks, in part, to his injury). Instead, he waited patiently for Agron to report to Spartacus, straining to overhear their conversation but only picking up a few words here and there. He smothered a laugh when he heard Agron ask Spartacus, after a passing Gannicus lobbed a sly remark their way, if the Gauls weren't bad enough. Even when Naevia came over to tend to his bandages, Nasir found himself frequently peering over her shoulder at the German, as if he'd been starved and the sight of the man now served to curb his hunger some. Which, with Agron's absence, was basically the truth of things.
Eventually, Agron finished with Spartacus, and looked about; Nasir hoped the warrior looked for him. Judging by the grin that lit Agron's face when their eyes met, much as had happened when Agron had returned from Capua, Nasir reckoned happily that such was the case. Unfortunately, Naevia was not yet done treating Nasir. Agron stopped midway to their reunion, waiting for her to finish, awkwardly busying himself with some paper to give them some privacy, as if they needed it.
"That smells delicious! I'm starving," Agron remarked when he finally approached, glancing at the food being divvied out to those around the fire.
So am I, Nasir thought, wondering if Agron felt a similar hunger, one that had nothing to do with food. The Syrian silently cursed his wound, wondering how long it would be before he could trade that pain for pleasure. He looked forward to showing Agron the skills that had made him valued as a slave, but which he could use as he saw fit, on whomever he chose.
But for now .... "Oh, so you actually came for the food, then?" he mock-pouted.
"No feast could out-tempt you," Agron rumbled, burying his nose against Nasir's neck and inhaling deeply. He nipped the flesh there lightly, sending a wave of heat through Nasir that almost entirely chased the pain away. He stifled a moan.
Just then, Agron's stomach rumbled noisily. As Nasir laughed, he was glad for the excuse to break away before things reached a point where they could no longer bring themselves to stop. If his wound reopened as they embraced, Nasir feared that would scare the overprotective German off of intimacy entirely! "Fill your stomach, and then fill ears with news of journey!" he demanded, trying not to think of what he'd rather have filled, or with what ....
As Agron crouched before Gannicus, sword at the ready, Nasir wondered if he would ever get used to this, to those he cared about being in near-constant danger. Further, while he himself was guilty of the same temperament, he wondered if he would ever get used to Agron willingly putting himself in harm's way, even when ordered, as Spartacus had just said, to stand down and leave the fight to someone else.
Then he noted how Gannicus had two sowrds while Spartacus had only one, and saw a way to kill two birds with one blade.
He batted at Agron, to get his attention. "Your sword!" he told the man. To his relief, Agron handed his weapon over to Spartacus without argument. (Nasir tried not to preen over the fact that he'd managed to get Agron to listen when Spartacus had failed.)
Not that Nasir was all that eager to see Spartacus fight either -- Spartacus was his friend. He watched with baited breath as the two men went at one another.
Everything was a blur. He vaguely noted the sound of Mira's voice, calling for Spartacs. The next thing Nasir knew, people were crying out behind him. He turned and saw Chadara lying on the ground, an arrow protruding from her neck; he rushed to her side, disbelieving and distraught. Chadara was still alive, barely, as he took her hand in his. He could barely comprehend when Mira explained why she had let the arrow fly, was too numb and confused to push her away, as part of him wished to. The fact that she had only meant to wound made no difference now!
He could swear he felt the very moment Chadara's life fled, like it had slipped literally through his fingers. Grief bearing down on him, he rest his head against their clasped hands. He had feared for Agron, then Spartacus -- he had not imagined that someone who wasn't battle-ready with an enemy in sight, someone he'd known for so long, would suddenly be ripped from him tonight. When Mira revealed that Chadara had stolen their map, and why, he couldn't find it in himself to be angry with Chadara, despite her betrayal. All he could think of was how he had failed her, failed to see her desperation, much less help her.
Could he have prevented this?
As second-in-command, Agron's first duty was to everyone, and that meant, with the threat Chadara posed neutralised by Mira's arrow, his place was at the side of Spartacus, at least until they were certain Gannicus wasn't a threat either. Even after Spartacus let the man go, without contest, Agron still was uncertain on that count.
Or maybe he was just avoiding trying to figure out what to do about Nasir. Even as he watched Gannicus depart, he was also watching the Syrian out of the corner of his eye. He kept watch still as Mira handed him the map and the coin for safekeeping, and then as he pretended to listen to Spartacus address the concerns of others. He wondered what, of anything, he should do for Nasir.
When Duro had died, the last thing Argon had wanted was for any other being to come near him. Contact, voice, image -- all grated. He'd lost the only person in his world who truly mattered. His grief was an open wound that hurt even worse when touched in any way. But he had not had someone like Nasir in his life: he could not imagine if the embrace of such a person would have likewise brought pain, or been a comfort. Moreover, Nasir was not him, so even if Argon could guess how he himself would feel, it did not mean that Nasir would feel the same.
And then Agron no longer had to worry, as what to do became readily evident.
"What will you do with her?" Nasir was asking, scrambling to his feet as two men -- Agron couldn't remember their names -- grabbed Chadara's body by the arms and drag her corpse unceremoniously away.
"Take her into the woods somewhere," one man replied, shrugging.
"I would help with cremation," Nasir told them, following.
Agron followed in turn.
They didn't have far to go, as one of the men stopped, then the other. The first laughed, and the second joined him. "You think we would waste effort on traitor who would see us all killed?" He dropped his side of the corpse. "You care so much, you handle it." His companion released his side, and the pair walked off, still chuckling.
Nasir knelt down and tried to lift Chadara's body, crying out in pain.
Agron quickly knelt beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Let me." He gently took the body up in his arms. "Are you all right?" he added, worried that the youth had opened his wound again.
Nasir nodded. "I'll live," he whispered.
Mira and Donar came up just then, having, like Agron, left conversation with Spartacus. Mira held out a hand to Nasir, and he took it without hesitation, letting her help him to his feet. Agron found himself relieved: he had worried that Nasir might hate the woman for her actions.
"I am sorry," Mira told the Syrian, squeezing his hand. "I did not mean to ... I considered her friend."
"I know," Nasir replied thickly, wiping a tear from his cheek. "She considered you friend also -- and yet, she betrayed us both," he added, confusion on his face as he reached out and stroked Chadara's hair. "I was too caught up in my own happiness to see her lack of it."
Agron wished his arms were empty, so he could fill them with Nasir and, hopefully, comfort the Syrian. Agron had never exactly loved Chadara, but he was liking her less and less -- first for her treachery, which would have put everyone, Nasir included, at risk, and then for giving Nasir and Mira reason to feel such guilt. He wondered what she had done to ever prove herself worthy of their affection, as to him she had only ever seemed an opportunist.
"We all were," Donar replied, morose as Agron had never seen him. "If I had not used her and then cast her aside, none of this would have happened. Here, let me take her," Donar added, holding out his arms.
Agron happily obliged him.
"She would have been first to say she was slave no longer, to be ordered about. She sought to use you for position even as you used her," Nasir told the man. "She has ever been so -- often I have wondered if she truly cared for me as I did for her, or if she only hoped to gain favour alongside me. Perhaps we contributed to her pain, but she still bears blame for her own actions. And yet ... I will miss her all the same."
"The heart is a complicated thing, few of us wholly good or evil," Mira agreed. "She may still have cared even as she curried favour."
"Tell us of her, of your days together, while we prepare to say goodbye," Argon suggested, laying a hand of Nasir's back and gently guiding him along. When Argon had finally found his voice after Duro's death, reminiscing about their years together had somehow helped to ease his own heart; he hoped doing so might have the same result for Nasir. And if he learned more of Nasir in the process ... well, he would have a reason to be grateful to her.
It turned out that Chadara, for all her faults, was worth mourning.
As Agron helped Donar chop wood for her pyre, and Nasir and Mira cleaned and dressed her body, Nasir recounted stories of his youth with Chadara, how, after his arrival, she had taken him under her wing and shown him how to survive in the world of a house-slave. Agron privately agreed with Nasir's suggestion that she'd become his friend because she thought it would benefit her; she'd probably guessed that, with his pretty face, Nasir stood a good chance of becoming a body-slave, and that she stood to gain by association with him. But as Mira had suggested, that didn't mean Chadara didn't also care, and a number of Nasir's stories suggested that she did. Even if she hadn't, the fact of the matter was, Nasir wouldn't have survived those early days without her help. That alone warranted Agron's thanks. As for her duplicity, well ... she'd paid the ultimate price already, hadn't she?
Thank you he thought as he took a coin from what Mira had given him and, opening Chadara's mouth, placed the coin under her tongue. He'd learned that Romans did this for their dead so that the dead [person's soul could pay the ferryman to take them into the afterlife; his own people had similar ideas. Personally, he'd long thought it a foolish waste of money, but as he turned, the gratitude on his lover's face said that the coin was well-spent.
Nasir kissed Chadara's lips, softly. "Goodbye, my friend." He then gently laid a torch on the pyre, and stepped back.
Agron wrapped his arms around Nasir, and was guiltily relieved when Nasir turned and buried his face against his chest, rather than pulling away. Agron laid his cheek against the top of Nasir's head, smoothing his Syrian's hair and gently swaying with him. As he watched the flames grow, Agron felt his eyes and throat burn. It took him a moment to understand that it wasn't because the smoke was irritating him. He'd told Nasir that he would help carry the weight of the death of the man Nasir had killed to save Agron. Agron realised now that loving Nasir meant bearing the weight of all the other man's sorrows -- a burden he would gladly share, for as long as they had together.