Nasir remembers when he first told his parents about his job.
“A lunatic asylum?” his mother had cried, clutching her hand to her heart. His mother always did overreact to everything.
“It’s a psychiatric hospital, mom,” he had said. “It’s small and nice. The pay’s good. I’ll have health insurance.”
“What kind of a job is that for you? An orderly in an asylum?” his father has asked.
Nasir had barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “It’ll probably just be temporary,” he had said.
His parents probably hadn’t been convinced, but as far as he’d been concerned, that had been the end of that.
He laughs about that day sometimes; about how he had told his parents that this job would be temporary, and yet here he is, nearly two years later and about to start yet another shift.
Not that he minds it. He quite likes his job. It’s the reason that he’s stayed as long as he has. There’s something very satisfying about helping another human being, even if it is in the small capacity that Nasir does.
He likes it enough that he’s been thinking about going back to school and studying to be a nurse, so that he might one day be of even more help to these people.
But that day is not today.
Today he stuffs his things away in his locker in the staff lounge before walking out to the front station. He greets Jeff, one of the other orderlies with the shift before his.
They exchange the usual pleasantries before getting down to business.
“Anything I should know about tonight?” Nasir asks.
“We got a new one this afternoon,” Jeff says with a nod. “Want to meet him?”
“Sure,” Nasir says. He finds it best to be introduced to the new patients since most of them don’t react well to surprises. He follows Jeff as he leads the way to the residents’ rooms.
“He’s in ten. He’s by himself for now.”
Nasir frowns. “Is he dangerous?” They don’t often get dangerous patients; those go to a different facility farther up north.
“No, probably not.”
“Then why doesn’t he have a roommate?”
“You’ll see,” Jeff says cryptically. They continue down the hallway as Jeff further explains. “The cops found him in the middle of morning rush hour traffic a few days ago, half-naked and sporting a really nasty knife wound of some kind. They had him up at county for a few days before shipping him to us.”
Nasir nods. Knife wound and half-naked aren’t out of the ordinary in a place like this.
“Doesn’t look like it. He says he was attacked.”
They stop outside the new patient’s room. “You heard me,” Jeff says.
“Ok, what else?” Nasir asks, knowing there’s more. There’s always more.
Jeff smiles. “He had no ID on him, but he says his name’s Agron. Almost as weird a name as yours.”
Nasir sighs and rolls his eyes, not bothered in the least. He’s used to people thinking his name odd.
“You’re an idiot. What else?”
“That’s it,” Jeff shrugs. “Other than he’s built like a bear. Oh, and he thinks he’s a gladiator.”
Nasir blinks. That’s one he hasn’t heard before. “What? Really?”
But Jeff doesn’t answer. He’s already opening the door to the room and stepping inside.
Nasir follows suit, his eyes immediately searching for the patient, this Agron.
He finds him sitting on his bed, head turned toward the reinforced window.
The man is huge; tall and broad, and it’s easy enough to see the definition of muscle underneath the mandated pajama uniform.
Those muscles shift and tense as Agron jumps up, surprisingly agile for someone so large. His gaze flickers between the both of them, wary and alert.
Nasir takes a few tentative steps forward. He can see now why the guy is alone. He could do some serious damage if he does turn out to be dangerous.
“Agron,” Jeff says. “I want you to meet somebody.”
Nasir feels as if the very air is leaving his lungs when Agron turns his full attention to him. He hadn’t expected this, eyes so blue set in such a handsome face.
“And who might this be? Another one of my jailers?” Agron asks, sneering as he tilts his head to the side. His gaze makes Nasir feel naked and exposed, causing him to shift uncomfortably beneath its weight.
“He’s one of the orderlies here and he’s working the next shift. So be nice to him.”
Agron doesn’t say another word, only continues to stare at Nasir, his eyes full of distrust. There is something else there, however. Something fragile that looks an awful lot like fear.
“Hello, Agron,” Nasir says, using what he knows is his soothing voice.
Agron’s only response is to narrow his eyes.
“Well,” Jeff says, “on that note, I’m going to leave you two alone. I am really not feeling the overtime today.” He claps Nasir on the shoulder before walking to the door. “Agron, I’ll see you tomorrow. Nasir, you too. Goodnight.”
And just like that, he’s gone, leaving Nasir alone with their newest patient.
Nasir smiles kindly and takes a step forward, intent only further greeting.
“Come no closer, little man,” Agron says. It’s a clear warning, made evident by the coldness in Agron’s tone, by the way his entire face darkens and body stiffens.
Everything about the man screams ‘danger’ and for a brief moment, Nasir finds himself afraid. He pushes that down quickly however. It’s not wise to show fear or uncertainty toward the patients; he’s long learned that lesson. Besides, he might not be as tall as Agron, but he’s been trained to subdue even the most violent of patients. If the need ever arose, he could take Agron down.
At least . . . he’s pretty sure he could.
He takes a step back and holds up his hands to show that he’s no threat.
“The name’s not little man,” he says. “It’s Nasir. And I’m not going to hurt you.”
“As if you could.”
“Well, we’re not even going to try and find out, ok?”
Agron’s posture relaxes, his face losing some of the hard edge. “Nasir.” He says the name slowly, as if testing it. “Yours is the only name that I have heard of late not completely foreign to the tongue.”
It’s interesting, Nasir thinks, to see how far a person’s delusion can go. Agron’s speech is so formal, accented in a way that he can’t quite place, but it is English. Not whatever old, foreign language a gladiator would speak.
“Really?” Nasir shrugs. “Well, my parents were celebrating their heritage when they named me. They felt differently when they got to my brother. His name is Toby. I’m still not sure which one of us is the lucky one.”
Agron wrinkles his nose in distaste. “Toby? Is that even a name?”
Nasir laughs. “Supposedly, yes.”
Agron gives a small, hesitant smile, but it disappears much too soon, gone before Nasir can really appreciate how good it looks on his face.
“This place . . . it’s for the feeble-minded,” Agron says. “Those who are thought mad.”
It isn’t a question. Apparently, Agron understands, at least partially, where he is and why he is here.
“It’s a place to get well. Not physically but mentally and emotionally. It’s a good place.”
Turning from him, Agron places a hand on the window. It’s then that Nasir notices how bruised and torn his knuckles are.
“You tried to break through the window,” he says, mildly surprised. It's only a guess, but Agron's next words prove it accurate.
“It would not break.”
“It’s not supposed to,” Nasir says. “I’ll get the nurse. We need to get that hand looked at.”
“It pains me not.”
“That doesn’t matter, you still need to get it looked at.”
Nasir begins to leave, only to be stopped when Agron asks a question.
“Do you think me mad?”
His voice sounds smaller than it should, much too small for such a large man.
Nasir turns to see that Agron now stares at the ground. He looks strangely vulnerable like this, and once again Nasir is struck by just how handsome he is.
He shakes his head, surprised at his reaction. They’d had other attractive patients here before but he’s never reacted quite like this. He silently berates himself, knowing that he can’t afford to act like a teenager with a crush.
He forces a smile and gives the standard non-answer. “I think you’re here because you need some help with things. And this is the best place for it.”
He expects an answer, but Agron gives none. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Nasir, feeling strangely unsettled, finally excuses himself and leaves.
Nasir doesn’t see Agron again until dinner.
He stands a good distance away, watching over all the residents, and yet his gaze keeps finding its way back to the man. It’s partly because their supervisor had told all the orderlies to keep a close eye on him. He’d be lying if he said that was the only reason.
There’s just something about him that keeps drawing Nasir’s eye; that would keep drawing it even without his supervisor’s orders.
He watches as Agron fumbles with his plastic fork, wondering if it’s because of his bandaged hand or if Agron doesn’t think he knows how to use it. He also wonders how such a small thing can be so endearing on such a large man. He pushes that thought out of his mind, embarrassed for even having had it, and is about to step forward to assist when another orderly beats him to it.
Poor Larry. From a distance he can’t tell what’s being said but it’s obvious that Agron’s being dismissive, he’s all but rolling his eyes at the guy. Larry’s good at his job though, he knows not to take these things personally. He merely shrugs and walks away.
After dinner is medication time, and then free time. The residents are always given a choice to either go to their rooms or hang out in the recreation room. Agron hasn’t had a proper intake yet, and he won’t until he meets with the doctor tomorrow, so there are no pills for him. Before anyone else can be given the task, Nasir finds himself volunteering to watch over him personally.
He tries to tell himself that this is purely professional, that he would do this for any patient. And that’s mostly the truth. He would do this for any patient. But there’s more there, an underlying motive that he doesn’t dare examine too closely. At least, not right now.
He walks up to Agron, who’s still sitting at his seat and managing to look both confused and intimidating at the same time. He makes sure that he’s within Agron’s sight the entire time. He doesn’t want any surprises that can end badly.
“Hi,” he says, keeping his smile relaxed and easy.
Agron frowns. “Is that . . . a greeting? Hi?”
“It is. It’s a short way of saying hello.” He indicates the empty chair next to Agron. “May I?”
Agron bristles for a moment and his frown deepens into a scowl. Much like earlier, Nasir senses danger and he himself prepares to act.
“And what if I said no, little man?”
Nasir keeps his voice steady, the smile still plastered on his face. “Then I’ll escort you to the recreation room and keep a very close watch on you. Or I’ll escort you to your room where you can be by yourself for the rest of the night. But doesn’t that sound lonely?”
Agron’s face changes almost immediately, going from angry to thoughtful to contrite. He physically leans away from Nasir and glances down at the table before looking back up.
“Apologies. I meant nothing by it. I should not have . . .”
Words seem to be failing Agron, so Nasir decides to take pity on him. After all, the worst thing that happened was a little wounded pride on Nasir’s part at being called little man again.
He sits down, making sure that he moves slowly. “Nasir,” he says.
“My name. Not little man.”
He smiles and is rewarded with a tentative smile from Agron in return. And oh my . . . dimples. How are those dimples real? How is that smile real?
“Yes,” Agron says. He shakes his head. “I recall. I seem to recall no others, and yet I do yours.”
Nasir’s smile widens and it’s no longer the manufactured smile that he uses so often here. This one is completely genuine.
“How’s your hand?”
Agron shrugs. “Yet attached to my arm.”
“And your other wound?” Nasir asks, tilting his head as if he can see it through Agron’s pajamas. He knows that it’s on his abdomen; knowledge he might need to use if he ever has to subdue him.
Agron merely shrugs again. “It heals.”
It’s obviously time for a different tactic. “Come on,” Nasir says. “Let’s go to the rec room. I’ll show you the ropes.”
“Sorry. Figure of speech,” Nasir says. “There’s no real ropes, it just means that I’ll show you how things work.”
“I think . . . perhaps it best that I return to my room.”
Nasir can’t pretend that he’s not disappointed. There’s something about their give and take that he really enjoys. But he nods and begins to stand. “Sure, I’ll walk you there.”
By the time they reach the room, it’s as if all of Agron’s strength has disappeared. He all but staggers to the bed and sits heavily on it.
“Maybe I should get the nurse again,” Nasir says, though it is mostly to himself. He places a hand on Agron’s shoulder. It is the first time he’s touched him, the first time he’s felt the man’s heat beneath his palm. “Or maybe you need a stay in the infirmary.”
Agron shakes his head. “Not necessary. I only need a moment.”
“All right. Well, then, I’ll stay until you feel better.”
For a moment Nasir thinks that Agron will reject his offer. In fact, he’s fully ready to come face to face with “danger Agron” again.
But that’s not what he gets at all. Ok, maybe for a moment. For a moment, there’s a look of irritation, a flash of anger that Nasir is starting to think of distinctively Agron. And yet that leaves quickly enough.
Agron stares down at his hands when he speaks. “Yes, that would be fine. I would not mind it . . . if you stayed.”
Nasir settles on edge of the bed, keeping a fair distance from Agron. He smiles, wondering how long he can manage to stay before someone finds him. “Well, good. Then I’ll stay. For a bit.”
Agron settles on the bed and watches as Nasir does the same, albeit it as far away as possible. Nasir seems relaxed, as if he has nothing to fear from Agron. And in truth, he doesn’t. There is something about the dark-haired man that Agron finds soothing. But more importantly, there is something about him that inspires trust. And at this moment, Agron desperately needs someone he can trust.
“Your beds are comfortable here,” he says after a moment.
“Your beds,” he repeats, feeling the softness of it underneath his hands. “Even before I was taken prisoner, in my home country, we never had beds of this luxury.”
It’s a test, giving that information, meant to judge what response Nasir will give. To his credit, Nasir only takes a moment to process it all, his reaction mild and measured. And if he believes that Agron has lost mind, he gives no sign of it.
“I suppose they’re nice,” Nasir says.
Agron turns his gaze upward. “And the fire that is not fire. That you can extinguish with the flick of a finger . . .”
“The lights?” Nasir asks.
Agron nods absent-mindedly. He feels as if he’s floating, lying against the comfort of the bed, his body and mind weary from all that has happened in so short a time. “Yes, the lights. That is what you call them. Lights.”
“They’re . . . yeah, they’re good,” Nasir says.
“A strange world,” Agron says, tearing his gaze away from them, from what he at first thought to be magic. His eyes take in everything in the room, not that there’s much to take in, before they settle on Nasir.
He feels instantly lighter, as if the weight that is crushing him is being lifted, if only for a moment. It isn’t only that Nasir is so very pretty, with those dark eyes and even darker hair. It’s that there’s something almost familiar about him. Something that makes home feel not so far away.
“I guess things are pretty different where you come from.”
“Pretty different.” Agron gives a small, tired laugh as he emphasizes the word pretty. People speak so oddly here. He doesn’t think he will ever grow accustomed to it. That thought leads to another sobering one, one that has been plaguing him since he arrived here. The thought that he will be trapped here, in this time that is not his own. He feels, for a moment, like closing his eyes and giving in to despair. But he does not, he cannot. To do that would feel like surrender and that is the one thing he will never do. “Yes, you could say that. Everything is different.”
“What was your world like?” Nasir asks.
Agron can read the interest in his voice; in the way Nasir leans in, bringing their bodies that much closer together. This is genuine interest, not marred by any ulterior motive, at least not that Agron can sense. He answers right away, the words, it seems, ready on his tongue. At least for Nasir. Others have asked and have received only silence in response.
“Violent. Harsh. Especially under Roman rule.” He looks down at his hand, the one that is bandaged and flexes it. “And yet, there was much beauty too, if you knew where to turn gaze.”
“I suppose it’s like that everywhere,” Nasir says. “Even here. There’s good and bad.”
“Yes,” Agron says. He meets Nasir’s eyes, pretty like the blackest night, and he allows himself to see Nasir as more than merely a source of comfort. He allows himself to see him as a man. And he allows himself to wonder. “Even here.”
Nasir shifts, backing away slightly, enough for Agron to wonder if he’s made him uncomfortable.
“How do you . . . how did you come to be here? Do you remember?” Nasir asks.
Agron doesn’t bother to lie. Nasir will either believe him or he won’t. At this moment, he is too weary to truly care.
“I do remember and yet . . . I have no answer. One moment I was fighting against Romans with Spartacus at my side. And the next . . . I was here. Surrounded by the strangest sights I have ever beheld.”
“Spartacus?” Nasir’s brow is furrowed, eyes sparking with thought.
“Yes,” Agron replies. “Why? Do you . . . do you know of him?” He surges up from the bed, his earlier weariness eclipsed by the smallest glimmer of hope. “Is he here?”
Nasir startles but he hides it quickly. “No. I just know the name. Everyone knows the name. And there was a movie, I think.”
“A movie?” Agron asks, stumbling on the unfamiliar word.
“Sorry, that’s not . . . that would take a long time to explain,” Nasir says, shaking his head. “Spartacus is very well known but he’s not from this time. And he’s not here.”
Agron can hear the sincerity in Nasir’s voice; he feels badly, of that there is no doubt. Yet it doesn’t help Agron. He can almost feel his earlier hope slipping through his fingers.
“What do you know of him?” he asks. He rises on one knee, the distance between he and Nasir now mere inches. “Was he victorious? Did he fall at the hands of the Romans?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this.” Nasir looks uneasy as he makes to stand. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Agron reaches out for him, only to have Nasir step away. He usually despises begging, sees it as a sign of weakness, but the words come so easily to his tongue that they scarcely feel like begging at all. “No, please. Don’t go. Please tell me.”
“I don’t know that much, I swear.” Nasir sighs. “And even if I did, we shouldn’t be talking about this, Agron. I’m sorry.”
“I am begging you to help me,” he says. His voice catches on that word, as if his throat is trying to close around it. “He was my friend. One of the closest I had. I only wish to know what became of him.”
“Look, I’ll go home and I’ll google . . . um . . . I mean research, and I’ll see what I can find. But I can’t promise anything. Ok?”
Agron hesitates. “Ok is yes?”
Nasir’s smile is amused with no trace of condescension. “Yes. It’s like saying all right.”
“Then yes. And . . . you have my gratitude, Nasir. I owe you much.”
“You’re welcome. But you don’t owe me.”
But he does, although he will not explain to Nasir just how much. It’s for more than looking into what happened to Spartacus. It’s that Nasir is the only one that treats him as if he is still of sound mind. Nasir is the only one that treats him like a man.
“You will return? Tomorrow?” A silly question yet it’s out of his mouth before he can stop it.
This time Nasir’s smile is softer, warmer. “Yeah, I’ll be here. I promise.”
Not trusting himself to speak, Agron can only nod.
I was starting to think I'd never come back to this story. After a crisis of faith with the fandom, I thought I was done. But some really nice reviews convinced me that maybe I need to keep trying. So here it is. Next chapter. Hope you guys like it
Nasir is home by 12:30, asleep by 1 am. He’s trained himself to do this, to go home, relax and sleep so as not to sleep through the day.
He’s awake by 10 am. He eats, works out and showers and by the time he looks at the clock he sees that he still has three hours to go before his shift starts.
He supposes he can’t put it off any longer, though why he agreed to do this he still can’t say.
It’s irresponsible, he tells himself, even as he sits down on his couch and opens up his laptop.
He begins and ends with Wikipedia and by the time he drives in to work he feels much more knowledgeable about Spartacus, even if it’s mostly surface knowledge.
He doesn’t see Agron until later that day, at dinnertime.
Agron is much better at handling his utensils today than he was yesterday, although he’s still a little stiff and clumsy. It’s almost tempting just to watch him, to watch that handsome face so lost in concentration, but eventually Nasir moves forward.
Agron lifts his head the moment he senses his presence.
Nasir is momentarily taken aback by just how happy Agron sounds to see him, but then, he supposes that he’s pleased to see Agron too.
“Hi, Agron. Can I sit down?”
Nasir sits opposite him and smiles. “How are you feeling today?”
“I’m well, I suppose.”
“You had your intake today, how did that go?”
Agron gives a dismissive shrug, his features darkening. “I do not know. Your doctor most likely thinks I’ve lost mind, as most everyone here does.” He gives Nasir a pointed glance, both a question and an accusation.
“Agron . . .”
“Please, did you research Spartacus?” Agron asks, unable to hold back the question any longer. “Have you any information for me?”
And this is where it gets tricky, Nasir thinks. Because he has information that feeds into Agron’s delusion and he’s still not really sure if he should impart it. He could be helping Agron or he could be hurting him, there’s just no way to know.
Agron picks up on his hesitation easily enough. “You gave me your word.”
“I gave you my word that I would be here today. And I am.”
Agron sighs, looking crestfallen. “Is it that terrible? What you found?”
The naked distress on Agron’s face is enough to force Nasir into making a decision. Without thinking, he reaches across the table and places his hand atop Agron’s. It’s only much later that he’ll question the gesture.
“It’s not completely terrible. Spartacus was successful for a long time, but eventually he was defeated by the Romans.” He pauses to gauge Agron’s reaction, ready to move away if Agron gets aggressive.
But Agron doesn’t. He just manages to look sadly broken. His gaze drops to the table. “So they crucified him.”
“No,” Nasir says quickly. “I don’t think so. The site I was on said that they didn’t find his body.”
Agron raises his eyes. “No body?”
“Perhaps he was not killed by them. Perhaps he lived?” Agron asks. There’s an excitement to his voice, a hope in his eyes that Nasir has never seen. It suits him, much more than the drawn, tense expression he is becoming used to seeing.
“Maybe,” Nasir says carefully. “But you have to remember that that was a long time ago, Agron.”
“You mean to say that he is dead, whether or not the Romans killed him.”
“Yes.” Nasir looks down, watches as Agron moves his hand, turning it to envelop his own, clasping them together. He’s fairly sure that Agron’s not even aware that he’s doing it.
“Yes, and yet it helps just to know that much. It helps to know that his name has lived on, after all this time. It means his cause mattered. It means we mattered.”
Nasir gives Agron’s hand a squeeze before he pulls away, almost immediately missing the warmth of Agron’s skin.
“Of course you mattered. You still do.”
“Nasir . . .” Agron starts to say before shaking his head. “Words fail me. They cannot express my gratitude to you.”
“You’re very welcome, but really, it was nothing.”
“My debt to you grows larger and larger, little man.”
Nasir can’t help but smile at what he’s starting to think of as a term of affection. He stands, knowing it’s time to get back to the other patients. “I’ll let you finish your dinner. And Agron . . . there is no debt, ok?”
“Ok,” Agron says, still uncertain enough with the word that it comes out stilted. “Nasir?”
“Was . . . was my name mentioned in the histories you read?”
“No,” Nasir says. He had found it curious at the time, that Agron’s name wasn’t mentioned in the article when others had been, others who had fought alongside Spartacus. He had wondered if there had been a historical Agron, and if not, where Agron had even found that name.
Agron doesn’t seem at all upset to hear this. He simply picks his utensils back up and turns his attention back to his food. “I see.”
Not sure what to make of that, Nasir does the only thing he can think to do; he leaves.
It was inevitable after the intake that they would prescribe medication for Agron. And as with nearly all the patients, it’s not quite right. Perhaps they need to adjust the dosage, perhaps change the medication itself . . . either way, the doctors very rarely get it right the first time out.
Nasir knows this, he’s expected it, and yet it’s still somehow a bit of a shock to see Agron the next day. Gone is the man who seemed so threatening the first night. Gone is the man who was so grateful for news of Spartacus, the one who calls him “little man”. In his place is a shell, a man who is so zoned out on drugs that he appears nearly comatose.
He sits down next to Agron and places his hand atop Agron’s arm. Agron slowly turns his head toward him, and even that seems to be an effort. His eyes, when they finally lock on Nasir’s own, are dull and glassy.
“Boy, did they get it wrong this time,” Nasir mutters.
“Nasir?” Agron asks, half-whispered.
“It’s me,” Nasir is quick to say. “How do you feel?”
Agron furrows his brow, clearly thinking, or trying to. “Not sure. Fuzzy.”
Nasir’s surprised at Agron’s choice of modern words, surprised enough to wonder if he picked them up somewhere or if this is a break in the psychosis.
“It’s the meds,” Nasir says. “They’ll give you a few days to adjust to them, and if you don’t, they’ll change them. It won’t feel like this forever.”
“That’s what the doctor said, but . . . I don’t know . . . don’t like them. Don’t like this.”
Every word out of Agron’s mouth seems to be a monumental effort; he seems to be having difficulty finding the right ones, much less saying them. And even though Nasir was expecting this, or something like it, he still hates to see it.
He pats awkwardly at Agron’s leg. “It will get better.”
“I want . . . I think I want to go to my room.”
Nasir shakes his head. “You haven’t eaten yet.”
“Not . . . “ Agron pauses, looking down at his own hands curled passively in his lap. “No appetite.”
“You have to, Agron. The medication works better with food. They all do.” He stands, grabbing hold of Agron’s hand and pulling gently.
But Agron resists. “I need only slumber,” he says, and those words sound more like the Agron he’s used to. But Agron’s either too weak, too tired, or simply can’t summon the will to truly resist. Either way, Nasir insists, pulling more firmly and helping Agron to his feet.
“Eat a little bit and I promise that I’ll take you back to your room.”
Agron nods, slow and jerky and god, how Nasir hates this. Hates seeing Agron like this, hates knowing that he can’t undo this.
They walk over to the dining area, where Nasir lets the other orderlies know that he will be taking sole care of Agron tonight. It’s not really an unusual thing; bonds form between patients and their caregivers, and some patients respond better to specific people. Everyone acknowledges that Agron responds to him.
He helps Agron to eat and it’s nearly as bad as spoon-feeding a sleepy, disinterested child. Again, he surprises himself by how much he dislikes it. Not the act itself, that’s a part of his job that he’s used to. No, he hates it on Agron’s behalf. Even though he barely knows the man, he has a feeling that Agron, the real Agron that’s hidden beneath a fog of drugs, would be completely mortified by this.
It’s not long before it becomes clear that Agron simply won’t eat anymore. Nasir helps him to stand and then walks him, first to the bathrooms and then to his room. He helps him lie down in bed, covering him with the blankets, smoothing them down before tucking them in tight around Agron’s body.
And all the while Agron watches him; face passive and slack, eyes barely tracking. It hurts Nasir to see him like this; a quiet, deep ache in his chest. Without thinking, he clasps Agron’s hand in one of his, gently running his fingers through Agron’s short hair with the other.
Agron lifts his eyes to Nasir’s, and for a moment they lock, and Agron’s gaze is strong. Then it falls away and in a small, soft voice, he says, “I am lost.”
Oh this just isn’t fair, Nasir thinks as he looks down at Agron. This job isn’t supposed to make him care quite this much. It isn’t supposed to hurt like this. And then, once again without thought, he reaches down and places a chaste, soft kiss upon Agron’s brow.
“It will be alright,” he tells him. He’s not even aware that he’s rubbing Agron’s arm, pulling him close. He is, however most certainly aware of the way Agron’s hand is clutching his shirt, gripping it tight. The desperation nearly bleeds from Agron and Nasir has never felt more protective of anyone in his life. It feels natural, so natural and familiar to lean down, gather the larger man in his arms and bring their lips together.
It only lasts a moment. Almost instantly, Nasir rears back, hand covering his mouth as he gasps. What the hell was he thinking? He could be fired for this, not to mention how it could be confusing, even endangering for Agron.
“I’m sorry. I am so sorry,” he says, already backing away.
“No . . . please Nasir . . .” Agron reaches for him, and he looks so broken.
“That won’t happen again. That won’t ever happen again. If you want to report me, I understand. I’m sorry Agron.”
Agron shakes his head, still trying to reach for Nasir. “Don’t leave me. You’re all I have, Nasir.”
That only serves to make Nasir feel even shittier. But he manages to force himself to move back to Agron’s bedside. He settles down in the chair next to it, careful to keep his distance, careful not to touch.
It’s gratifying at least to see Agron settle back, his face gaining a modicum of peace.
“It’s ok, Agron. I’ll stay. Until you fall asleep, I’ll stay.” Nasir hopes he sounds soothing, even though inside he’s shaking with shame and self-reproach. He can never let something like that happen again. It won’t ever happen again. No matter that it felt right, no matter that, in that small, brief moment, kissing Agron felt like coming back home.
And that unnerves him most of all.
Time passes. First a day, then two. Before Nasir knows it, nearly a week has come and gone. He has his days off, days where he tries very hard not to think about Agron and what he did to him and how very wrong it was.
He fails miserably, somehow managing to think about Agron nearly every waking moment. The guilt eats at him, but there’s something else there too. Something secretive yet pervasive that tells him that kissing Agron was a good thing.
He goes back to work and runs into Jeff at the front station. As usual, Jeff fills him in on what’s happened during his days off and what he can expect tonight.
“Oh, and they adjusted your guy’s meds,” Jeff says. “He’s not a zombie anymore.”
“Yeah, you know . . . Agron. The gladiator.”
Nasir bristles. “He’s not my guy.”
“Yeah, whatever, you know he only responds to you. And anyway, have you seen the way he looks at you?”
Now he feels himself growing curious. “What? How does he look at me?”
“I don’t know. You know . . . that way.”
“What you just said means absolutely nothing.”
Jeff shrugs. “Well, I don’t know how to describe it. He just looks at you. With that face.”
The conversation is going nowhere fast. If anything it’s making Nasir uncomfortable. “Ok, I gotta go.”
He can hear Jeff chuckling behind him as he moves away.
He takes his time, walking through the facility, checking in with other patients before finding his way to the common room. He’s not surprised to see Agron sitting all alone at a table, watching him. Agron’s eyes are clear, his aspect strong. It’s obvious that he has returned from whatever netherworld he was lost in.
Nasir feels compelled to walk towards him, even as a part of him yearns to turn around and run.
But Agron’s staring right at him, as if the both of them were the only ones in the room and in the end Nasir follows the silent summons.
He sits down at the table and takes a deep breath, though he’s not really sure what he’s about to say.
Agron beats him to it. “I would have words, Nasir.”
Nasir nods. “You must be really upset with me for what I did.”
Agron leans back, brow furrowed. “Upset?”
“I’m so sorry, Agron. I understand if you don’t want me to work with me anymore. In fact we should probably go to the director right now and-“
“Nasir,” Agron says, raising his voice to cut through Nasir’s babbling. “I give no care for the director or your apologies. They are not needed. They are not wanted.”
“Agron . . .”
“May we speak? Alone?”
Nasir takes a quick look around. There are only a handful of people in the room right now, but it feels like far too many. Agron’s right, whatever is about to happen needs to be between them and them alone.
He nods and they walk back to Agron’s room, settling themselves at its opposite ends.
“Did you kiss me?” Agron asks sharply.
“Give answer. Yes or no.”
Nasir can’t deny the slight thrill that runs through him at seeing Agron so focused and determined. It’s almost easy to picture him in a bygone era, weapons of the gladiator in his hands.
“Yes,” Nasir admits softly. “Yes, I did.”
Agron’s head drops, his lips forming into the most tremulous of smiles. “I had thought . . . I thought I had lost mind. I could not be certain what was truth and what was fevered lie.”
It hurts to know that Agron hadn’t even been sure the kiss was real. And maybe it should surprise him by how much it hurts, but it doesn’t. Now anymore.
After all, with Agron, nothing is simple and nothing is normal.
“I’m sorry that you had to think that.”
Shaking his head, Agron’s smile grows broader. “It matters not.” And then he’s across the room in two large strides, one large hand cupping Nasir’s cheek. Nasir finds himself leaning into the touch, brain short-circuiting at the warmth of Agron’s skin against his.
And then Agron is kissing him, slow and tentative and gentle. The brush of Agron’s stubble against his cheek, the feel of his calloused hands, the very scent of him of him weakens Nasir’s knees. It takes everything he has not to give himself over to Agron, not to wrap him in his arms and hold him close until nothing exists between them.
It might be the hardest thing he’s ever done, to pull away from the kiss, to pull away from Agron’s touch.
“What is it? Nasir?” Agron begins to reach for him, stopping short of touching him.
“Agron, we can’t do this.”
“Because you . . . because you’re here, Agron.” He shakes his head in frustration. He feels like his brain is scrambled and it’s hard to think much less talk. “You’re a patient. And I . . I care for you. Do you understand? We can’t.”
“You did not want that?”
“It’s not that I don’t want it, Agron. It’s-”
Agron straightens, anger and confusion battling for dominance on his face. “And yet you kissed me first.”
“That was a mistake,” Nasir forces himself to say.
“Why? Because I am of feeble mind? Because you think me . . .” Agron looks around, as if searching for the right word. “Crazy? You think me crazy?”
“It’s complicated,” he says desperately. Is it possible to lose a conversation, he wonders? Because if it is, he’s losing this one.
“If we were not trapped within these walls, if we were merely two men who stood as equals, would you have me then?”
It’s not a fair question to ask. Not a fair question at all, because it makes Nasir think, and it makes him wonder. And yes, maybe, just maybe, he can picture it, deep in his mind’s eye.
Nasir shakes his head, not trusting himself to speak, only managing to mutter Agron’s name.
Whatever Agron reads on Nasir’s face is enough to turn his own face to stone. “I see.”
This time it’s Nasir that steps forward. “Agron . . .”
Agron takes a step backward. “Leave.”
“Leave, Nasir.” He folds his arms and turns away, voice cold. “You’ve given answer, now leave.”
Nasir moves forward, then back. Has he ever been this confused? What is he supposed to do here? He only knows that he’s made it worse. Whatever is happening, it’s spiraling and he’s made it worse.
“I think we should talk about this, Agron.”
“Leave.” It’s less a word than a growl. And there’s that thrill again, this time a reminder than Agron can be dangerous.
Nasir gives in, gives up. He sighs, shoulders falling even as he backs away. They are not done with this, not by a long shot, but it appears that they are done for now.
Agron doesn’t speak to Nasir for days. It’s not for lack of trying on Nasir’s part, he makes attempt after attempt but Agron’s response is always the same glacial silence.
It’s especially awkward at night, when Nasir escorts Agron to his room, trying all the while to make conversation and bridge this new gap between them.
It’s another aspect of Agron’s personality that he’s just beginning to know, the stubborn man with the wounded pride. Nasir keeps thinking back on their conversation, trying to find ways that he could have handled things better. But he knows that hindsight is 20/20 and he tries to not be too hard on himself. He’ll just have to keep trying. And he will keep trying; what Agron doesn’t know is that he’s got a bit of a stubborn streak himself and he’s not about to give up.
Tonight it’s dinnertime and there’s a new patient in the facility that’s pulling Nasir’s focus from Agron. His name is Bobby Jacobs and he’s here because he attacked a couple in the subway, trying to gnaw at their faces. Nasir’s fairly sure the guy will soon be shipped upstate where the truly violent go, but for now he’s their problem and they’re all obligated to keep an extra close watch on him.
But dinnertime can be hectic at the best of times. Tonight, Tina’s refusing to eat and Joe and Rob get into yet another screaming match over the color of carrots and everyone is distracted enough that they stop paying attention to Jacobs. At least until the moment that he begins shouting at the top of his lungs, jumping up and over a table and stabbing one of the orderlies in the leg.
Nasir has just enough time to think, ‘Where the hell did he get a knife?’ before Jacobs reaches him, grabs his arm and spins him around. Now Jacobs is behind him, the knife right under Nasir’s chin so that its sharp blade touches his throat.
For Nasir, time seems to slow. Like dripping molasses, it drags and catches, drags and catches. He can see his co-workers and all the patients and it’s like watching them through a slow motion lens. He can see their mouths moving, and whatever they’re saying looks important but he can’t hear anything above the roaring sound in his ears.
At the same time, he becomes hyper aware of sensations; he can feel the solidness of Jacobs’ chest against his back, the sting of the metal at his throat and the way his own heart beats an erratic tattoo within his chest. His mind scrambles to remember all of his self-defense training, all of the moves that are supposed to come second nature in a time like this, but he’s also trying really hard not to fucking move and die so it’s a bit of a wash.
And then from seemingly out of nowhere there’s a yell, and it’s loud enough to break through the roaring in his ears as all sound comes back in a rushing cacophony. But Nasir can’t even begin to ponder that because he’s falling now, hitting the ground so hard that the breath is knocked from his lungs. He looks around wildly, trying to figure out why he fell and where the hell Jacobs is.
He catches sight of Jacobs to his left and only a few yards away. He can clearly see that Jacobs is no longer a threat. Not with the way Agron is currently straddling him and throwing brutal, direct punches at his face and midsection.
Nasir sees that two of the orderlies are behind Agron, making a very valiant effort to restrain him, but they might as well be pesky insects at how little effect they are having on the man.
“Agron!” Nasir shouts, his voice surprisingly strong despite the currents of fear and adrenaline that are still coursing through his veins. He really isn’t expecting Agron to do anything other than keep beating the guy to death, but Agron somehow, miraculously, stops.
His hands drop down to his sides and he stares at Nasir, his gaze savage and intense. Nasir stares back, mesmerized by what he sees in Agron’s eyes, although he couldn’t find a name for it if he tried. Whatever it is, it’s deeper and stronger than anything he’s ever known. They stay like this, frozen in their own little bubble of time until Agron’s face grows slack and his eyes roll back in his head. He slumps to the ground in a graceless heap, a victim of the sedative just injected in his body.
Nasir reaches for him but he’s much too far and after a moment he lets his hand fall to the ground. And then the whirlwind of activity begins again, as everyone struggles to cope with what has happened.
His supervisor takes Nasir to the clinic for a check up and a drug test, standard procedure whenever there’s an incident at work. Nasir fills out all the necessary paperwork and then nods as he’s told that he will be given the rest of the week as paid leave while they investigate.
Nasir goes home and showers, then downs an entire beer so fast he nearly chokes on it. He lies down in bed and tries to sleep, but every time he closes his eyes he can feel the blade’s sharp edge at his throat. More importantly, he can see Agron’s face, at least the specter of it beneath his closed lids, and the way that Agron’s eyes blazed for him.
After thirty minutes, he sits up and tosses the covers aside. He doesn’t need sleep tonight. What he needs is to see Agron.
The first person he encounters at the facility is the security guard who looks at him as if he’s lost his mind.
“I’ll only be a minute,” Nasir says and the man looks like he’s about to argue but he lets him pass.
The second person he encounters, as he makes his way to the patient’s rooms, is Andrew, a fellow orderly.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Andrew says.
“I won’t stay long. I just need to see Agron. I need to make sure he’s alright.”
“He’s sedated and he’s in restraints, what good is it going to do?”
Nasir bristles at the restraints even though he knows that it’s protocol. “Why is he in restraints?”
“Because he attacked that guy.”
“He saved my life.”
“Maybe. Probably, but you know it’s policy.”
“I just need a few minutes, Andrew.”
Andrew thinks it over for a few seconds before finally relenting. “Go, just go. Shit. But you better be quick.”
So he does. He takes the proper key and unlocks the door to Agron’s room, letting himself in quietly.
There’s just enough moonlight to allow him to make his way to Agron’s bed. He pulls up a chair and sits beside it, gazing down at Agron. He smiles as he takes in the handsome face, innocent and guileless in repose, but the smile turns into a grimace as he catches sight of the restraints around Agron’s wrists.
“You idiot,” he whispers as he begins to stroke Agron’s hair. And then he says nothing more, settling in to watch over Agron.
The minutes pass by and eventually Agron begins to shift, breathy moans escaping him as his body fights to wake.
Nasir’s heart beats faster as he leans in closer. Agron is coming clear of the sedative faster than most. He continues to stroke Agron’s hair, clutching Agron’s hand with his other.
He watches, waiting patiently until Agron opens his eyes.
Agron looks confused, still obviously under the pull of the sedative as he blinks up at Nasir.
“Nasir? Where . . .?
“You’re back in your room. And everything’s fine now.”
Agron tries to sit up, but is immediately pulled back down by the restraints. He stares at them. “Why am I bound?”
“It’s standard procedure. They’ll probably undo them tomorrow, don’t worry.”
Agron turns back to Nasir, his voice urgent and rough. “Are you hurt? Did he hurt you?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Thank the gods.”
Nasir can’t help but smile at that. “You know I’m torn between being grateful to you for pulling that stunt and being angry with you that you put yourself in this position.”
“This,” Nasir says, indicating the restraints. “You’ve set your therapy back who knows how many weeks.”
“I would do it again,” Agron says, his gaze intense even if his words still come out slurred. “I would battle anyone that would dare attempt to harm you, Nasir. Anyone.”
“And here I thought you were mad at me and never wanted to speak to me again.”
Agron’s blush is clear even in the moonlight. “It was merely wounded pride.”
Nasir nods. “Listen, Agron . . . I don’t think I handled our last conversation very well. I hate that I hurt you. But you have to understand; this world, it’s different from yours.” Even as he says this, he cringes inside knowing that he’s once again he’s feeding Agron’s delusion. But it seems to be the easiest way to get through to the man. “If we were to begin something and we were found out, I’d be fired and then you would never see me again.”
“I would be forced to leave. I would no longer work here.”
He pauses to make sure that the words are making an impact. He can see that they are. “I don’t want that, Agron. I like you, and I care about you, probably more than I should.”
Agron stares up at him, his grip on Nasir’s hand tightening, but he remains silent. In his eyes, Nasir sees naked vulnerability and tentative hope and he’s not even sure what he’s going to say until he hears the words pouring from his mouth.
“Your question to me last time - if we were two men, outside of these walls, would I have you? The answer is yes. I would.”
It takes a moment for the words to take hold, but when they do, Agron’s face breaks into a smile.
“You would?” Agron asks.
“Yes. I mean, I can’t deny it any longer, I suppose.” He takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “But we’re not, Agron. We’re here in this–“
“Don’t,” Agron says, cutting him off. “Do not finish. I will keep those words and I will take them to heart. I will recall them whenever my arms long for you.”
“Agron,” Nasir whispers, dropping his head.
“I understand, Nasir.”
But Nasir isn’t even sure if he understands. “How can you when I don’t?”
“I will not pursue this any longer. I will take only what you care to give. And if that is nothing, then I will be at peace with it.”
“I do not wish for you to be . . . fired? I prefer you be here, where at least I may look upon you and break words with you.”
Nasir can’t help but smile, chuckling at the impossibility of this situation, at the fact that the most romantic and honest man he’s ever known is strapped to a hospital bed in front of him.
“I’m going to do a really stupid thing right now and I’m going to kiss you. If that’s ok with you.”
Once again, Agron’s face breaks into a smile, sunny and bright. “It would be most welcome.”
Nasir takes one quick look toward the door then drops his lips to Agron’s, kissing him until they’re both breathless.
Nasir touches his forehead to Agron’s, quelling the urge to giggle like a schoolboy. “I think I’m losing it. You make me crazy.”
“Crazy is bad, is it not?”
“Sometimes,” Nasir says, pulling away so that he can look into Agron’s eyes. “Sometimes there’s good crazy.”
“Is this good crazy?” Agron asks.
“I think it is,” Nasir says. He shakes his head in wonderment at his own actions, at what he’s done and what he’s about to do. “Would another kiss be welcome?”
Agron nods, biting gently at his bottom lip in anticipation. “Most welcome.”
It’s a cloudy, moonless night and Agron’s room is black as pitch. It is well past the hour for sleep but he can’t seem to fall to slumber. Instead he lies in bed and stares up at the bleak outlines of the ceiling tiles and thinks.
His thoughts are not new or novel. They have plagued him for weeks now, ever since he found Nasir. Ever since he realized that what he felt for Nasir was more than just a passing fancy.
The man holds his heart like no one ever has. And it is no longer enough to steal snippets of conversation and glances and the briefest of kisses. He wants more. He wants a life; a life with Nasir, a life away from this place, a life where he can be a man again.
He wants these things so badly that he has gone as far as to ask his doctor what he needs to do to be set free.
The doctor had told him, with a fair amount of optimism in his eyes, that he needs to leave Agron behind and remember who he really is.
Only a few short weeks ago, he would have scoffed at those words. How can he leave Agron behind when he is Agron? Who is he supposed to become?
There is no one else.
And yet now he is motivated enough to make attempt. Now, because of Nasir, he has reason to do so. So he lies in bed, night after night, pushing his mind to remember something, anything, other than being a gladiator and a warrior.
He does this now, trying hard to cast his memory back and find something that he can latch onto. He remembers his childhood in Germania, remembering mostly his family and his village. He remembers the raids and the warring of the tribes. He remembers the coming of the Romans and the death and destruction that followed in their wake. Then came the ludus, the arena and Spartacus. Soon after, freedom and fighting with Spartacus and Crixus at his side. He recalls a lengthy battle, blood and pain and then . . . nothing.
Then he is here, a stranger in the strangest of worlds.
He does not recall a life here, no matter how much he sets his thoughts to purpose. A stinging despair threatens to overtake him as he wonders what he is to do. He is Agron, from Lands East of the Rhine. He can be no other. And if he can be no other, then he can never leave here.
Unless . . . unless he breaks free, much like he and the others broke free from the ludus. He discards the idea almost immediately. It would be no great hardship to gain his freedom, that is true, but what would he do after?
He remembers enough of the world outside these walls to know that it is beyond him. He would be as lost within it as a small, frightened child.
He finally sighs and curls up on his side, running a hand over weary eyes. He seeks sleep less as a pleasurable end to the day than an escape from the turmoil in his mind.
The next day he waits, staring at the clock on the wall as seconds tick by. He feels no small amount of pride at being able to mark time in this way, one of the many things he’s learned since coming here.
Finally, finally, Nasir comes in. By the time that Nasir has a moment to break words with him, Agron is nearly jumping out of his skin with impatience.
“You ok?” Nasir asks. They’re in the rec room and it’s filled to capacity, so Nasir is keeping his distance and speaking in low tones so no one may hear.
“Tell me, Nasir, how does one leave this place?”
There’s a terrifying moment in which Agron is certain that Nasir will either laugh or cringe away at the thought, but he merely looks confused.
“What do you mean?”
“I wish to be free of these walls. I wish to experience life outside of them. As a free man. With you.”
And then, because uncertainty once again rears its ugly head, Agron quietly adds, “If you’ll have me, that is.”
Nasir smiles broadly as he touches Agron’s shoulder and squeezes it briefly. “Of course, I’ll have you.” His eyes are hopeful, much like those of Agron’s doctor. “Does this mean, that you’re remembering something?” he asks cautiously.
Agron shakes his head, hating to disappoint. “The doctor says that to leave here, I need to let go of being Agron and remember who I really am. And I have made attempt, Nasir. I have. And yet still, all I know is Agron.”
He drops his head, once again afraid of what he will see on Nasir’s face. He cannot even say why he is reduced to this trembling, fragile thing, only that the love he holds for Nasir is so strong that to be rebuffed by him would be worse than any would suffered in battle.
He feels Nasir’s fingers underneath his chin and lifts it to meet Nasir’s eyes. To his great relief, they are still smiling.
“I think Agron’s a pretty great person to be,” Nasir says.
And because he simply has no words suitable for this, Agron gives a tremulous smile in return.
Nasir drops his hand and once again grows serious. “So you want to know how to get out of here the right way, but still be who you are?”
“Agron, the world outside . . . it’s not like anything that you think you’re used to,” Nasir cautions.
Agron doesn’t miss what is implied in Nasir’s choice of words, but he feels no need to argue. He simply says, “I can learn. I can learn anything you teach me.”
This seems to be enough for Nasir. “Well . . . ok.” He inhales deeply. “There are ways.” He nods, his gaze far away and thoughtful. “You’ve probably got a hearing coming up soon . . .”
“Yes.” He smiles again at last. “And we’ll have just enough time to prepare.”