"Hello, my friend."
Nasir opened his eyes with a start and quickly sat up, even with Argon's arm heavy over his waist. He and Agron had spent the night beside Chadara's funeral pyre, and now the fire was nearly gone -- yet there was another light, and it wasn't the sun.
Chadara stood in her own ashes, glowing warmly.
Nasir tried to rise further, but Chadara came to kneel beside him, stilling him with a hand. "I would not see you leave your love's side on my behalf," she told him.
"But it was because I would not leave that you died!" he protested.
She shook her head. "I pushed you to be with him, did I not? I wanted you to find happiness at his side -- and then through my own poor choices, I would have destroyed the very thing I sought to help build. You never ignored me, Nasir; you are not a Seer, to know all I was thinking and feeling, and you were not my keeper. I was the one who did not confide as I could have, and it was in part because I wanted you to concentrate on Agron. You did as I wished you to."
"But if I'd sought you out more often, spent more time with you ...." He'd had these thoughts a thousand times even though she'd only been dead hours.
She moved her hand from his shoulder to his cheek, and he was surprised to find her touch warm and palpable, though he was more certain than ever she was a spirit, rather than returned to life.
"You'd what? Have learned of my plan and talked me out of it? Made me feel wanted? I did not want myself, Nasir. And I always knew you loved me as sister. I was blessed for it, but it was not enough, and what I needed could not be found in you. Please do not burden self with such thoughts any longer. Instead, treasure love that you found when I could not. My own sisterly affection for you and, through it, the joy I found in seeing you happy with Agron, has saved me from Tartarus by proving to the gods that there was more to me than the selfishness that led to my end. I feel gratitude for the love you both share -- and so should you. So should all who find such. So if you should ever think of me and grow sad, honour me by heeding words: Look to beloved and be glad. Goodbye, my brother." With that, she kissed his brow.
Nasir closed his eyes as she leaned in; when the heat of her lips faded, he opened his eyes and found himself once again laying in Agron's arms. His heart a little lighter than before, he snuggled further into Agron's embrace -- and into a dreamless sleep.
Nasir didn't want to say goodbye, so he didn't. He didn't tell Agron to return to him, either -- anything even remotely suggesting that there might not be a reunion between them felt like it would be tempting the Fates' crueler sides. But just in case, he had taken the ghost of Chadara's advice, making the most of every moment in the two-week wait before Agron's mission to Neapolis, not taking a single second for granted. If the Fates proved unkind, he would have no regrets.
Well, save for that his wound had, by both Agron's insistence and that of the Medicus, prohibited anything more intimate than a kiss or a caress; the Medicus had only just released him from sleeping under her watch! But that wound had reunited another pair of lovers, and Nasir would not regret that. He only hoped that the Fates would bear that in mind ....
So he hugged his beloved, and kissed him, trailing fingers and eyes across Agron's skin and committing everything about the man to memory.
It seemed Agron was trying to do the same.
"I will miss scent of you nearly as much as feel and sight," Agron complained, burying his nose in the crook of Nasir's neck and breathing deeply.
"And I, yours," Nasir agreed, breathing in as well.
"I have notion!" Agron suddenly announced, pulling away. Nasir lamented the absence for all of half a second, until Agron then ordered, "Take off vest."
Nasir obeyed, half afraid that his heart was about to burst as he did so. Were they going to throw caution to the wind, and risk the ire of the Medicus? Nasir did feel better ....
To Nasir's surprise, Agron turned away and began rummaging through a pile of belongings in the corner. Agron pulled his old, hooded tunic (he'd gained a new vest from the soldier he'd killed at the arena, and was using it for this mission) and draped it around Nasir's shoulders. While Nasir had admittedly been hoping for something else, he was still pleased; now it would be like Agron was holding him the whole time he was to be away! He grinned at Agron, and found his smile mirrored in the German's face. He just wished he could likewise lend Agron his own clothes, but even if Agron didn't already need the vest her currently wore for his disguise, Nasir doubted his own vest would fit his giant of a man very well ....
Agron laid his hand against Nasir's cheek and leaned in, as had become his custom. Nasir's lips met Agron's, and he tried hard not to think of how this might be the last time they did so.
"I love you," Agron told him after, his eyes soft and smile warm. There was no fear clouding either, just simple, quiet joy.
Heart ready to burst, Nasir hoped the said could be said of his own visage as he laid his hand over Agron's. "And I, you."
"Do you remember when I gave you this?" Agron asked Nasir, holding up a bit of red cloth from a chest of treasured belongings. There was grey in his hair now, and in the beard that had become his custom. Many scars had been added to the familiar ones, including an ugly one across his face. Ugly, yet beautiful.
"You made it, and one for yourself, from the cloak you took from a Roman centurion," Nasir heard himself reply, a grin in his voice. "A symbol of your great victory the day you and the others destroyed the arena at Capua."
"Our victory," Agron insisted, enveloping Nasir. "You were there with me in spirit; I could not have succeeded without thoughts of you. And now here we stand, free and alive on other side of war, to spend long, treasured years together."
There was no urgency, no fear. The peace Nasir felt in that moment was like none he'd ever known.
That peace stayed with him after the dream, following him into waking life, and all through the morning. He hoped the dream prophecy.
As he watched Naevia spar with Crixus, he knew, with the same certainty one had in that the sun would rise and set (or that Agron would be returning, safe and sound, any moment), that sooner or later Naevia would feel such peace herself, that the wounds of her past would heal. The love she and Crixus shared was too strong for it not to be so! (It was too bad that Argon and Crixus were too at one another's throats for Agron to appreciate their reunion, the result, in part, of his and Nasir's own actions.) When Mira commented how lucky Naevia was, Nasir was surprised by the wistfulness in the woman's voice; didn't she know that Spartacus looked on her with such affection? He told her as much; everyone should know that they were loved! He resolved to tell Spartacus to be more forthcoming with his affections, as well ....
As he made his way into the temple, Oenomaus was on his way out. Nasir smiled -- it truly was a good day, if the former Doctore was now up and about. He greeted the man, clasping hands, before continuing on his way. Having slept in the same room as the man for two weeks, and frequently visiting the triage area for treatment and rest, Nasir had spent a good deal of time chatting with Oenomaus -- well, once the man had become well enough to hold a conversation without the a medicus complaining. The man had obliged him with stories of his days training gladiators, including Spartacus, Crixus, and especially Agron, as well as answered Nasir's many questions about fighting techniques. He looked forward to training with the man.
Of course, at the moment, he was looking forward to Agron's return even more -- and judging by the growing clamour from outside, he no longer had to wait. He immediately turned around, but made himself stay cool and collected as he went back outside, adjusting his red wrist-covering as he walked. He would only believe that Agron was safe and sound; he refused to accept any other possibility. He would hold the dream he'd had of their future together as prophecy -- a promise from the gods.
A promise that, so far, they seemed intent on keeping.
Nasir praised his beloved as he came down the stairs, Agron's bright smile a reward that made it well worth the effort to have woken from such a wonderful dream that morning. And if that hadn't been enough, there was the kiss, and Agron's arms around him.
Nasir then took a good look at the newcomers, greeting them, at Agron's suggestion, with their word for welcome, "Willkommen." Nasir had always thought of Agron as something of a giant, but one of them other Germans was as large in comparison to Agron as Agron was to Nasir! Hopefully the mountain of a man would send the Romans running without even a fight! And even the smallest man was twice as wide as Nasir -- and maybe twice as strong as Agron, Nasir suspected when the man lifted him into the air with a ferocious hug. Nasir was proud of himself: he managed to keep the smile on his face and not cry out despite the sudden agony from his wound (and possibly a cracked rib).
Thankfully, Agron had taught Nasir something of his language, so between those lessons and body language, he and his many new friends were able to communicate surprisingly well. Still, he was more than grateful when he found himself at Agron's side again, both because it made communicating with the newcomers easier and because it was, quite simply, the place he most wanted to be.
Agron couldn't remember having a better day since being captured by the Romans. It would have been better if Duro were there, of course, but the presence of Nasir helped dull that particular ache in his heart. And it was good to hear his own tongue again, raised in familiar songs. Good to hear laughter and know it wasn't being aimed at him, from mouths born west of the Rhine.
He also was more than pleased to see Nasir getting along so well with them, helping them to learn common tongue while mock-gambling with them. He had made it clear early on that Nasir was his, and he trusted them to both respect that boundary and defend Nasir from any threat.
If there was one thing to sorrow the night, it was that no one knew anything of the fate of Agron's particular village. He still had no idea if anyone from his family was left alive. He told himself that he was no worse off than before the raid on the ship, and let himself enjoy the festivities. When food ran low, he gave Nasir a quick peck, then left to carve some more meat in the room they used for butchering. Nasir barely seemed to notice, so enthralled was he by his new friends, and it only gladdened Argon to see him so.
He was still thinking of that happy sight when Spartacus came into the room, looking angry. It was amazing how quickly a good mood could be ruined. Agron could see why Spartacus was angry -- Agron had withheld information from him, which was arguably as bad as a lie, but ... well, it wouldn't do to argue or explain himself, then nor now, would it? Spartacus clearly wasn't in a mood for explanations, and never seemed in the mood to hear any sort of criticism of Crixus or the Guals. Agron struggled but managed to hold a tight rein his temper. He would prove to Spartacus that he'd made the right choice; that was better than trying to talk the man into agreeing with him. He didn't know how Spartacus was so able to command people with his presence, but Agron wasn't quite so good with words, he felt. Everything he said sounded like an excuse -- and a poor one.
And, well, maybe Spartacus understood something about the situation that Agron was missing. Spartacus had been right about saving Naevia, after all: they had to treat every life as precious, or they were no better than the Romans. Not that Agron felt he'd been wrong, exactly -- her life might not be worth less than anyone else's, but it was also not worth any more. No one should have been forced to go after her, either. But that was just it: no one had ever been forced. His way, keeping the secret, he'd taken away everyone's choice, deciding for them whether it was all right to risk their lives or not.
So maybe there was something he just wasn't seeing now in the logic of their leader, who was leader for good reason. Spartacus had proven a brilliant tactician. While no one else seemed equal to Spartacus (save maybe Oenomaus, who frankly scared Agron a little), Nasir had a knack for thoughtfulness; maybe his little Syrian could puzzle out where Agron had gone wrong with his thinking....
Unfortunately, Nasir was out cold when Agron returned.
"Nasir?" Agron knelt beside his love and shook him gently, not the slightest bit mindful of what he did with the food in the process. Had Nasir's wound reopened, or become septic?
"Do not worry -- he sleeps," Lugo, a short but inhumanly muscular German, assured him. "He say gute nacht."
Nasir let out a soft snore just then, as if to prove the man spoke truly.
The Germans laughed; Argon chuckled weakly with them, more out of relief than amusement. He took off his tunic, folded it, and placed it under Nasir's head. He stretched out against his beloved, hoping to keep the man warm through the night (and be warmed in return). The familiar words of his folk died down to a murmur, lulling him past his recently-soured mood into the relief of dreams.
Not for long, though.
The Germans woke him early; they had been able to rest in the boat until their release, after all, whereas he had been walking long hours both before and after. Still, it wouldn't do to let them go off on their own, and if they stayed put any longer, they were only going to grow belligerent. For everyone's sake, Agron decided it was best to get them out of the temple for a while. Besides, many animals were out and about in the night, not the day, so they would likely catch more -- and after how they had depleted the stores last night, that was a welcome thought.
He made them leave quietly, so as to let Nasir and the others sleep. They stayed quiet in the woods, every bit the mighty hunters he expected them to be, but even without words, their eagerness was infectious, energising him. Before he knew it, they were at the road, with a Roman cart approaching.
"I thirst," Lugo remarked.
"As do I," Sedullus agreed. "Let us see if approaching cart can remedy this."
If there was any part of Argon that thought better of such action, he ignored it. Riding on the high of the hunt, he was certain he and his folk could handle this, and he would not deny them the right to chose for themselves what to do with their new freedom. No more would the presence of Romans dictate to them what they could and couldn't do. If they wanted drink, they would have it -- and quench their bloodthirst at the same time. He wasn't worried or afraid. The romans would fall as easily as the wild pigs and other beasts they'd brought down with ease. They would show Spartacus and the others the worth of those born east of the Rhine!
At least, that was the plan. And they were successful in their mission! But Spartacus, when they encountered him and Lucius and Crixus, didn't see a victory, but rather foolishness. Again, Agron kept his temper mostly in check -- a harder feet than yesterday, but he managed it.
It helped that Spartacus made a fair point about the ill-advisedness of fighting Romans so near the temple when they were yet ill-armed. The rebellion on the ship apparently wasn't enough to convince the man of the might of the Germans, and Spartacus had not seen them in action against the Romans. Spartacus had little reason to know or understand why Agron had never been concerned. He still needed to be shown.
It did not help that Crixus was still spilling poison into the ear of Spartacus. Again, Agron wished for the wisdom of his beloved little Syrian. He settled for apologising to his leader for his transgression -- he agreed that leaving without Spartacus was wrong, he saw that now --then put distance between himself and the Gaul before he did something that would really disappoint Spartacus (and Naevia, and Nasir ...).
Even as a body slave, Nasir had seldom drunk wine -- and when he had, it had usually been watered down. He'd had no idea what drinking was really like until this evening, after Lugo had thrust a wineskin into his hand, telling him to share it with his "sour-faced man". Faintly wondering what Lugo meant, a tingling-warm Nasir sought out his beloved, sour-faced or otherwise.
He studied his beloved for a few moments as everyone watched the Germans wrestle. Agron seemed cheerful enough. Everyone did, really, Germans and non-Germans alike.
"Your people, they raise spirits," Nasir noted with a smile.
Looking over his shoulder at him, Agron smiled back. Encouraged by the primal energy surrounding them, Nasir raised a suggestive brow towards him, hoping Agron might be in a mood for something more intimate than kissing, now that his wound was ... well, sealed up, at least.
Unfortunately, rather than noting the look Nasir was giving him, Agron apparently caught sight of something that subsequently erased his smile. "Not everyone," he replied to Nasir's comment, eyes trained on the offender few moments longer.
Not sure whether to be hurt or annoyed, Nasir followed his gaze and found Crixus at the end of it. The Syrian sighed. Would the two men ever get along?
As they turned back to the crowd, Sedullus chose that moment to challenge Agron. Well, it wasn't exactly what Nasir had in mind to cheer him up, but at least Agron was grinning again. Nasir settled down nearby on the steps, to watch. Even when the former gladiatior was getting trounced, Agron was beautiful to behold, all gleaming muscles and fire in his eyes. And really, Nasir wasn't sure anyone could beat Sedullus -- the fact that Agron lasted as long as he did said something of his prowess.
Finally, the match was over, and Agron lay beside Nasir against the steps. Nasir handed Agron the wineskin, and was rewarded with a flash of white in the firelight. After Argin took a long drag from the skin, though, his smile faded, his eyes darkening.
"What troubles you? Crixus again?" Nasir asked, hoping he didn't sound as aggrieved as he felt. Why did Agron spend so much thought on a man he hated rather than the man who loved him and was right beside him?
But Agron surprised him, shaking his head. "Spartacus." He looked about; no one was near. And then soft-spoken words poured forth from Agron like wine. Soured wine, perhaps, but no less intoxicating.
Nasir considered the words as best he could with a brain that seemed to slosh around in his head. Unfortunately, as the thoughts marinated in his mind, the time they took to do so seemed to send the wrong message to Agron.
"Was I foolish, then, to save my own people?" Agron asked. "We could only save one ship -- are Guals to be default?"
Nasir didn't like to hear such uncertainty in Agron's voice, much less see it written so in his features. "No!" Nasir assured him. Then Nasir realized, "But that's what you feared, wasn't it? That Spartacus would choose Guals over your folk, without hesitation? And so he is angry that you did not give him choice."
Agron nodded without meeting Nasir's eyes.
"So he thinks you were hiding truth for own ends -- to what? Usurp him?" Nasir continued, getting angry. "How is it the man has known you this long and knows not your heart?"
"As you do?" Agron asked, smiling gently and reaching out to brush a stray lock from Nasir's eyes.
"Exactly," Nasir agreed, clasping Agron's hand and leaning his cheek into it, before pressing his lips against Agron's fingers. "I will seek Lugo; mayhap I can wean more wine from him," he said, rising to his feet even as Agron refused to let go of his hand.
"Stay," Agron pleaded. "Surely there is none left!"
"Water, then, if Lugo's hands prove empty," Nasir told him, smiling fondly. "I thirst. I will only be gone a few moments."
With a heavy sigh, Agron reluctantly let Nasir's fingers slip though his. "Take too long, and I will hunt for you," Agron warned, petulant.
Any other time, and Nasir would welcome such. He just hoped Agron found himself occupied with his kin instead -- at least until Nasir finished his true errand.
Spartacus was bringing a wineskin back to Mira when he found Nasir blocking his path, his face hard.
"Spartacus? I would have words in private," the young man demanded. The red in his cheeks could have been from anger or drink -- probably both.
Puzzled and worried now, Spartacus simply nodded and gestured towards the heart of the temple. Nasir led him to the room they'd been using for hanging and butchering meat, as well as storing other food.
Spartacus began to suspect what the conversation was going entail.
"Do you have any notion of what you did to Agron?" Nasir asked heatedly. While Nasir had never lacked in courage, Spartacus suspected that a little wine had indeed gone a long way to stoke the youth's fire and bring back out the bite of the little wild dog Spartacus had thought tamed.
"No! No, if we are equals, as you claim, then I speak now," Nasir thumped his chest for emphasis, "and you listen!" He then pointed with one hand to a hanging goat carcass, and to a basket of roots with the other. "Which would you rather eat?"
Deciding it would be easier (and hopefully faster) to humour the youth, Spartacus pointed to the goat.
Nasir nodded. "Why?"
"I like meat better," Spartacus shrugged.
"And yet some would prefer roots," Nasir replied. "And you might eat roots if you had no meat. So when given choice, and knowing you can only take one, what would you do? You would choose that which you prefer! And yet you vilify Agron for doing same!"
"That is not the whole of it," Spartacus countered, hands raised placatingly. He was careful to keep his tone civil, not argumentative. Nasir was still bandaged; Spartacus could only imagine how Agron would react if the Syrian's wound reopened because the youth decided more than words were necessary to drive his point home.
"No, it is not," Nasir agreed. "I know he still should have presented all possibilities. You are his -- our leader. But he is your second-in-command, is he not? And Crixus leads his own force? What would have happened if you filled our numbers with Gauls? Who would they follow?"
Spartacus was reminded of what Crixus and Lucius had said of Agron that very morning; the words were eerily similar to what Nasir said now, yet it seemed Nasir presented a better case for being concerned. Crixus was loyal, but he hadn't exactly sworn loyalty. He and Crixus were leaders of two factions working for the same cause, while Agron worked for Spartacus. If Crixus were to one day decide his path was to diverge from the one Spartacus walked, they could suddenly lose half their force. "But Agron has split paths from me before," he reminded himself allowed.
"It was not meant to be permanent," Nasir reminded him in turn. "And he regretted his actions later -- actions committed for the good of many, rather than one. He learned from mistakes -- as did you, yes? Neither of you were wholly right or wrong. But he is your second in command, yes?" he pressed again. "If you do not trust him to make decisions on his own, without you, then perhaps he should not be counted as such. But know this: while Crixus, however understandably, refused to leave at your request because of his love for Naevia, Agron, whom I am certain loves me as deeply, left twice and brought these men to your side -- not under his own flank, as you might believe. Sedullus asked me about it. He told me that, when he remarked to Agron that his men fought well, Agron replied that they were not his men, but rather yours! Just because Agron finds pleasure in their company, these people from a land he must miss, doesn't mean he doesn't still serve your interests or that of the rebellion!" Nasir's eyes glittered. "Agron regards you as brother -- and not just of the arena. Like blood. You wound him deeply to question his every move and motive."
And through him, wound you it seems, Spartacus thought to himself. He found himself glad that the wild dog had shown himself so loyal and protective of Agron, and brought something more into the man's life than a need for vengeance. As Mira might for you ....
For a moment, Spartacus saw Agron standing where Nasir now stood. He remembered their conversation, and the one they'd had in the woods, and could see now how readily Agron answered his questions, no subterfuge or hesitation. Lucius was wrong: Agron's apologies were genuine. Spartacus could see now, in the memories, how determined Agron seemed that he should prove worthy of favour. How had he missed it? How had he questioned Agron's loyalty? But even as his worry over Agrin's loyalty faded, other words Agron had said were still cause for concern.
"You are right," Spartacus began. "I have ill-treated Agron, who is as a younger brother. But ... Agron must learn to get past his hatred of the Guals. We have both the roots and the meat here, and would be healthier for consuming the two together, as one meal."
"Crixus--" Nasir began to protest.
"--must learn to do same," Spartacus assured him.
He was glad to see the young man's shoulders relax and a smile tug at his lips. "Easier said than done, on either count," Nasir mused.
Spartacus clapped a hand against Nasir's shoulder. "Thankfully we have Naevia and Mira to help us."
"Spartacus?" a voice called out -- Mira's.
"Here," Spartacus called back, trying to remember when hearing her voice had become so welcome -- and absent so much guilt.
Spartacus saw Nasir flash Mira a knowing smile as he slipped out of the room, and suddenly became very curious about conversations had in his absence.
Agron wondered what was taking Nasir so long. In the other man's absence, Agron had begun to realize that being amongst his people when they were celebrating wasn't nearly so much fun when sober -- especially when they were all at least a little drunk!
Then he heard Naevia scream. Upon finding her being threatened by Sedullus, sobriety became moot: his worst fear was realized, one of the warriors he'd recruited threatening a dear friend. If he were drunk, he would have stopped being so in an instant.
Unfortunately, he didn't fare any better against Sedullus this time than last.
Nasir wasn't entirely sure what was going on at first. More wrestling? Sedullus seemed to be on top of someone -- the big man was about all Nasir could see through the crowd. Then was Crixus launched himself at Seddulus -- and Nasir couldn't see Crixus having a good-natured tussle with the Germans. No, this was more serious. Especially when another of the Germans attacked Crixus: surely if it was just sparring, there would be no outside interference?
And then Nasir spotted Agron, looking bloodied -- and eying Sedullus with fury.
That was all Nasir needed to know.
He hissed at the gathering Germans, ready to take on all comers, whether this really was just a game or something more. He didn't care. The wine, the fire, the festivities, all of it burned in his blood, making him feverish even as it numbed the pain of his wound, or at least allowed him to largely ignore it. He barely could keep who was friend or foe straight, though ii if not for Oenamaus fighting beside him, he wouldn't have. And when everyone stopped fighting, it took him a moment to register that they had, much less see what had caught everyone's attention.
Sedullus had met a most gruesome end, at the hand of Spartacus. The part of Nasir that had spent the last day or so getting to know the big fellow felt a bit maudlin -- at least until he noted Agron on the ground. When Nasir realized that he'd been standing just a few feet away when the big German could have killed Agron, Nasir's stomach gave a turn. He swallowed down bile as Spartacus spoke to everyone. He wasn't sure if Spartacus was talking to him as well, but standing amongst men he'd considered new brothers just moments ago yet had turned against in an instant, he felt like he should be. And after he'd lectured Spartacus for finding fault with Agron's decision to bring them back! Perhaps Crixus was right not to trust them ....
And then Agron, having gotten to his feet, told his people that they weren't his people if they didn't follow Spartacus -- suddenly Agron wanted to shout at Spartacus that he'd told him so, that the man had been wrong to ever doubt Argon.
Lugo seemed to step into the space left by Sedullus -- but only to swear fealty to Spartacus, the other Germans slowly following suit. Agron shivered -- with relief or the night's chill or the pounding of many fists upon chest, he couldn't say. He just hoped that Spartacus was paying attention to the fact that Agron was pounding his chest in fealty right alongside the rest of his people. Coming to stand beside Agron, Nasir joined them.