Tiberius had always desired on command. It was a vital skill for a body slave. He desired who his dominus told him to and did it well. It made him valuable and admired in Roman eyes. It brought him status and power and a collar.
Nasir’s desires were locked away for no one to guess and use against him.
Duro had desired whatever Agron focused on since they were boys. Brother followed brother and demanded to do as he did. It continually brought him broken bones and fractured heart. But Agron was always there after, to cuff him round the head and soothe his wounds with laughter and warm mouth.
Spartacus’ arrival with his men tore down the walls of Nasir’s world. Tiberius had no place there anymore. Choice was expected and encouraged and desire more than accepted. Such things clearly drove Crixus to madness and back. Nasir wondered in silence what such a feeling and bond, broken or whole, must feel like.
Agron and Duro had escaped the ludus together and that was all that mattered. Duro bled heavily but Agron half-carried him with cursing complaints and grins when Duro answered back. Duro recovered but remained weakened for some time. Agron lay beside him and thanked the gods nightly that half of his heart had not been torn away from him.
It was some days before Nasir noticed the German brothers. One was weak still from wounding and the other was his shadow, care clear in his biting humour and concerned eyes. They were rarely out of each other’s company and sparred often, laughing and tumbling in the hot sun. Crixus snorted at them and raised voice in complaint. Nasir found himself drawn to watching them, their ease of movement with each other, how they anticipated the other’s words and actions, how together they were clearly a fearsome weapon.
But it was their love for each other, so obvious in their identical expressions, that made Nasir’s heart clench.
Agron noticed the small dark body slave first. The little man had been watching them for several days, he told Duro quietly. He had not been looking at them in judgement or derision. Instead, he looked……hungry. Agron’s words caused Duro to snort in disbelief. A man as fine-boned and beautiful as Nasir could not be without eager company. What reason did he have for loneliness?
Agron thumped his arm and called him a stupid shit. Nasir’s company likely had been mostly Roman before, maybe for many years, and not company of his own choice. Like they had experienced in the ludus, the body slave was learning a new world’s rules. Duro thumped Agron back and started watching Nasir closely.
“The brothers catch your eye,” Chadara teased him gleefully. “You have grown greedy, Nasir.”
Nasir kept his face without expression. “I admire their brotherhood.”
“Oh, is that all? You lie to yourself with such words. Both are fine to look upon, great in strength, and have Spartacus’s ear. And they watch you keenly. To pursue such desires would bring twice protection and status.”
Nasir paused in his packing of the chest, the sound of footsteps and shouted instructions acting as backdrop to his quickening thoughts. He had noticed the brothers’ frequent gazes on him, but assumed they were curious about his own intentions since he looked at them so constantly. The suggestion that their eyes and thoughts were more heated sent fire licking under his skin. He shook his head and locked his face once more.
“You mistake subject of discussion.”
“But not the blush upon your cheek when they are near.” Chadara raised a knowing eyebrow.
Agron and Duro often spoke of Nasir when together, usually without words. They exchanged glances, blood-hot and pleased when they spied colour sweep Nasir’s cheek at their attentions. They offered wine and playful words. They sparred and tusselled and laughed in full view of him, a clear invitation that he was welcome where no other was. But Nasir was quiet and cautious still and only watched, his wondering yearning heart in his eyes.
Spartacus began teaching Nasir to handle sword and shield. Nasir was eager for distraction from thoughts and to be of use. The skills came slow to him and he often fell to the ground. But Spartacus or Crixus pulled him to his feet and soon he stood strong. He was learning. Spartacus told him to lift his sword for purpose of his own choosing. Crixus thanked him when Nasir offered to act as guide in the mines for rescuing Naevia.
Mira joined him by the fire one night, smiling as he watched the brothers.
“Many wished to leave Duro in the ludus. His wound was great, making our group slow, and the blood could have led Romans to us,” she confided. “But Agron would not be parted from him.”
Nasir nodded. He would expect nothing less now he had learned their behaviour. “Their bond is impressive in its strength.”
“It is. They have not needed any but each other for some time. You are the exception.”
Nasir was strong. Agron was proud of that. It was a feeling reflected in Duro’s expression also. They watched as Nasir learned to wield weapons and continued lessons despite their toil. And his heart was kind. He offered his services for Naevia’s rescue, knowing he could likely die. Duro stiffened when Nasir spoke up. Agron nodded slightly; he had no wish to see the little man perish either. They stepped forward to Crixus’s side and bade farewell to Donar as he led the unwilling to the mountain.
The Roman sword flew at him without warning. Nasir fell back, mouth wide and silent in agony. He had never known such pain before. He could hear Spartacus and Mira and the roars of rage and blades clashing. The arms that cradled him were careful and trembling and the hand across his forehead was gentle. He saw Agron and Duro, twin expressions of agony and love, and smiled through blood and teeth at them. This was his choice and he did not regret it.
Agron and Duro carried Nasir grimly, refusing all help. The Romans were closing in and the rebels’ numbers were pitiful. Naevia was too shattered to aid at all and Crixus, Mira, and Spartacus could only kill so many. Nasir’s wound had been closed with fire and pain – he had gripped Agron and Duro’s hands and not let out a sound as his teeth bit wood – but he was still far from life.
“If the Romans….?”
Agron smiled at his brother. A furious baring of his teeth not meant to cheer. “We take the fucks with us.”
Nasir’s dreams were all pain and nonsense sent to hurt him. His dominus was cruel and the rebels never came and somewhere his brother called to him. He thought sometimes he saw and heard Agron and Duro but when he turned they were gone. Perhaps they had always been a dream.
Then he felt cool water and heard a soft voice singing and opened his eyes for a moment to spy Naevia. Her smile lit her from within. Her mouth opened to speak but Nasir had already sunk back into fraught slumber.
When next he stirred, there were bodies near him and low voices guiding him back to consciousness. Agron and Duro were immediately silent when they noticed and Nasir reached blindly for them both, for confirmation of life. He received firm handclasps and heartfelt lips to his neck and palm that made his heart twist. Duro helped him drink water while Agron called for the Medicus.
“We thought you fallen from us,” Duro told him, still clasping his hand close.
Nasir smiled and basked in their warmth and closeness, so soothing following the pain and darkness. It felt like more dreaming, as did what filled their gazes upon him – desire, relief, happiness. It always felt like a dream when they looked at him like that - before them, such desire had never been directed at him so generously and so stripped of expectation. He could not help leaning towards them.
He shifted closer, resting gratefully against Duro’s shoulder, Agron’s hand firmly in his hair. If this was a dream, he would enjoy the warmth and affection before darkness choked him once more.
When he woke again later, his fever broken at last, they were still beside him.