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Surrender on Both Sides

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Esca is silent when Marcus touches him, mapping out the angles and curves and scars of his body with his calloused fingertips, with something on his face a little like awe. It feels so good, Marcus is so good--and Esca is so happy that it aches in his chest, and he squeezes his eyes shut and bites his lip against the joy swelling up within him.

"Esca? Am I--should I stop?"

The words--Latin--jar sharply against Esca's contentment, and he blinks up at Marcus.

"No," he grits, and Marcus grins and kisses him and does not stop.

Marcus is not at all quiet. He groans against Esca's skin, and when he gasps out curses and pleas for more, yes, harder, his voice is so breathless and strained that it is not hard for Esca to think only of being here with Marcus and not of what he is, of what it means that those words spilling from his lips are in the language of oppression.

When it is done, Marcus says, "Tu es tam--" and Esca does not want to hear the end of that sentence, not in a language that has only ever meant hatred and ugliness, and he kisses Marcus before he can finish. Marcus makes a contented noise, and by the time Esca forces himself out of bed to bring rags and water to clean them up, Marcus is already almost asleep.

*
Esca begins to learn the language they speak here, when they are not speaking Latin. It is not very like the language of home, but it is not Latin and that is what matters. The words are clumsy on his tongue, but it feels like a small victory against the empire to reject her language and barter with these Spanish tribesmen in their native tongue. There is no mockery in their laughter when he makes a mistake and they respect him for the effort it involves. Romans do not respect him for speaking Latin; they consider it no more than their due, the way of the world, even Marcus, though Esca knows he does not do it consciously.

But this is the choice Esca has made, to build a life among Romans, with a Roman. So he keeps his native language locked tight behind his teeth and speaks Latin when he must, taking solace in those moments in the marketplace when he can pretend that he has never known the yoke of Rome.

It would not ever have occurred to Esca to keep his growing knowledge of the local tongue a secret from Marcus, but they have split the business affairs of the farm between them--Marcus dealing with the argentarii and Roman officials for whom Esca has no patience and Esca bartering in the marketplace--and so Marcus is not there to see as the Spanish bakers and leather workers and horse traders teach Esca the language they use among themselves.

But the day comes when Marcus has no business with the argentarii and comes along with Esca, going from stall to stall, and sometimes disappearing for a while before crossing Esca's path again. Esca is politely asking after the health of the leather worker's new son when Marcus comes up at his elbow, careful not to startle him.

Somehow without Esca quite realising it, these conversations have become a private thing, and he feels a flush rising in his cheeks as the craftsman turns their discussion to the business at hand, still speaking in his native language.

"What is he saying?" Marcus asks, and Esca gestures him to silence. He looks at Esca in puzzlement, and at the craftsman, an olive-skinned Spaniard whose Latin is probably clearer than Esca's own. Marcus is not skilled with languages, but of course even he can tell that they are not speaking British, as he would expect if they are not speaking Latin, and Esca can see him turning the pieces over in his mind, unable to find any sense in them.

"He says that if we come back on the next market day, he will have a better selection of bridles," Esca says, lifting his chin. "Demand has been higher than usual of late."

Marcus nods, a curious look still in his eyes.

"I am sorry," he says, when they have gone their way, "if I embarrassed you by interrupting. I have not learned their tongue."

No, Esca thinks, for after all, everything worth saying must surely be said in Latin. That is not what Marcus had meant, but knowing that does not do anything to lessen the bitterness churning in Esca's stomach.

"Of course you have not," Esca says, before he can stop himself. "For even when it might have saved your life, you were too arrogant to learn my people's language." A flash of hurt crosses Marcus' face before he can disguise it with anger, and Esca wishes he had not said anything, even though it was true.

"I had no need," Marcus retorts. "Not when I had--" but he cuts himself off before he can say the unforgivable, before he can throw Esca's slavery into his face, and he looks horrified at having even thought it. "Esca, please, I do not want to fight."

"It is a stupid thing to fight over," Esca says, because it is true, but he is still unreasonably angry. He avoids Marcus when they get home, taking his anger out on the wood that needs chopping and the stalls that need mucking out. After a while, he is not angry any longer, but he still is not quite ready to be around Marcus, and so he works until he is sore and sweaty and the sun is setting.

Marcus has made dinner, and he smiles when he sees Esca, pouring him a generous cupful of mead. A peace offering, and Esca accepts it, drinking deep before offering Marcus the cup for himself. They drain the cup twice more while they eat, and afterwards, Esca feels pleasantly lightheaded and the anger from earlier seems far distant. He is not going to apologise, but it seems like a fine idea to lean over and kiss Marcus, first sloppily on the cheek and then again on Marcus' smiling mouth.

"Come here," Marcus says and lies down for Esca there on the floor. A spark of defiance flashes in the back of Esca's mind, but this is Marcus, who would not truly try to command anything of Esca now, and Esca wants to go to him. Marcus hums with contentment when Esca settles over him, and he rolls lazily up against Esca's weight. He has stopped wearing braccae, going barelegged in the Spanish sunshine and it is not any challenge, even with fingers made clumsy by the mead, to strip him bare.

"Ah, Marcus, rwyt ti’n hardd," Esca murmurs. He has never spoken British in bed with Marcus before, but his head is too clouded with drink and lust for speaking Latin, even if he had wanted to, and he finds that he cannot keep quiet once he has let his control slip. Spain has been kind to Marcus. He has gained weight and muscle and his skin has deepened in tone to a rich, warm gold. "Gallwn i edrych ar ti am byth."

But the light is fading, and Marcus is impatient. Esca lets himself be drawn down, still babbling praise in British as Marcus' hands move over him.

"I think I have never heard this many words out of you all at once," Marcus says, looking amused. "But I cannot understand what you are saying." For a moment, his look of amusement falters, as though he is afraid that Esca is going to shout at him again.

It takes a few seconds for the words to make sense.

"I am sorry," Esca says, for surely it is unfair that Marcus cannot understand when Esca says that he is beautiful. "It is that I hate speaking Latin when we are--" he gestures vaguely "--like this." That is not quite true, for Esca does not think there has ever been a time when he liked speaking Latin, but if he tries to explain any further right now, he will only confuse both of them. Anyway, it seems that Marcus understands well enough, for he is looking up at Esca with an apologetic expression.

"Then I do not mind if you only speak British," Marcus says decisively. "Truly I don't."

Esca should not do it, for many reasons, but most of all because Marcus has been a slave too, frightened and surrounded by a language he could not understand, and Esca knows what that is like, how it can taint even words spoken in kindness. He has already been too careless. But the drink has loosened his tongue and Marcus is touching him again, smiling at him, and he had said he did not mind.

So Esca tells Marcus all of the things that he has been keeping back, all of the praise and sweet words and nonsensical declarations that people say in the midst of passion, and Marcus does not understand any of it, but he nods anyway, his eyes huge and dark.

"Yes," he says, and then carefully, "Ydw, Esca, os gwelwch yn dda.Rwyf am i ti."

Those are nearly the only British words he knows, but Esca does not care, because Marcus has spoken them for him and there is as much longing and tenderness in them as in the finest verse. Esca presses his face against Marcus' throat, breathing out words of devotion that Marcus will not understand.

Marcus whines, slipping back into Latin to plead, "Esca, whatever you are saying, please, do it, or--or tell me what you want, I will do anything."

It is almost more than Esca can bear, that Marcus' trust in him is such that he need not even know what Esca is offering to beg for it. Esca does not make him ask again, and neither of them last long, too far gone in pleasure to draw it out or to speak in more than desperate, half-formed syllables, British and Latin all tangled up together.

Afterwards, Marcus sighs against Esca's hair, his broad hand splayed over Esca's back. "Carissime...Esca, dwi--" He hesitates, not knowing the words, but knowing that this is important.

"Annwyl," Esca says, lifting his head to kiss Marcus. "Calon fy nghalon. You can say it in Latin, it is all right." He thinks he knows what Marcus will say, and it is enough that he is trying.

"Te amo," Marcus breathes, looking shy. The Latin words are thin and clumsy, unable to bear the true weight of the message they carry, but it is the declaration that matters, giving shape and substance to everything between them. Even though he had been expecting Marcus to say it, Esca grins foolishly.

"Dw i’n dy garu di hefyd, fy Marcus," Esca says. It is perhaps the only thing he had not said in his earlier litany. Marcus bites his lip, looking suddenly wary, and Esca pokes his shoulder. "It is the same, you fool. Te amo, Marce." The Latin words do not feel like surrender or betrayal, as Esca had expected. They are only words, here in their bed, far away from empire and dominion and loss, and Rome has no claim on them. He gives these words to Marcus freely.

Marcus is wearing a wide, foolish grin of his own. "Dw i’n dy garu di hefyd--fy?" His accent is terrible, of course, and it is obvious that he does not know where one word ends and the next begins, but it still makes Esca's stomach flutter with happiness. "I want to learn for you," Marcus says, looking earnestly into Esca's face.

That, Esca had not been expecting, and he thinks it is a truer declaration than anything either of them has spoken yet. "Diolch," he says, blinking against the unexpected sting of tears. "Thank you, Marcus."

Marcus beams at him and says, "Dw i’n dy garu di hefyd fy," and Esca laughs.

"We will make that your first lesson," he says. "If you said it like that to anyone else, they would think you a half-wit."

Marcus snorts. "I am not going to say it to anyone else."

"That is a very good thing," Esca says, grinning against his shoulder. "But you still must learn to say it properly, if you are going to say it."

"I am going to say it," Marcus says. "I am going to say it until you are sick to death of hearing it."

"With your accent, I doubt that will take very long at all," Esca says, but they both know that he is lying.