Unfortunately for Agron, once you’ve fought with a man in battle, saved his life, and more than once had yours saved by him, you can’t quite help but share a bond of brotherhood, even if that man does not bear the mark. Even if that man is a fucking Cilician whose favourite pastime is to set covetous eyes upon your lover.
The rear wing – composed of a motley assembly of former slaves – crashes into the cohort from behind scant moments after the Romans have engaged the German horde before them. Bereft of retreat options, there is little the Romans can do other than spreading sideways to avoid being crushed, thinning their lines in the process. It’s easy, once the formation has fallen apart, to pick them off in one-on-one combat.
Castus leads the surprise attack well, neatly pinning the Romans between his and Agron’s forces. He seems to be everywhere at once, pushing each momentary advantage, spurring the rebels under his command to greater fury.
All too swiftly, Agron straightens from the latest Roman soldier he’s laid open from groin to sternum, to realise there are no foes left except those groaning on the ground. There’s a part of him that always dreads this moment, when he feels the battle fervour slowly draining away, leaving him with a hollow disenchantment that he knows will disperse as soon as he is joined with his brothers in celebration of the victory. But for a heartbeat or two, there’s always only emptiness and the knowledge that were he to heap all of Rome’s citizens dead at his feet, they would still weigh less than the loss of Duro.
As ever, his eyes first seek Nasir, who’s dispatching wounded Romans nearby with practised ease. Agron takes a deep breath, feeling a familiar weight lift off his chest with the realisation that Nasir is safe. They share a quick, fierce grin across the blood-soaked ground, and then Agron takes to his own tasks, directing rebels to carry off their wounded, gather spare weapons and kill surviving Romans.
“It lifts spirits, to see enemy defeated yet again.”
He looks up scowling, to find beside him the man he least wishes to see. Castus nods affably as he offers Agron a captured bull standard. “You both fight well together.”
No need to question who he means. Agron takes the blood-smeared trophy and retorts, “Nasir and I have long stood shoulder to shoulder when facing Roman cunts.”
If Castus hears his unsubtle note of challenge, he ignores it. He’s crouched by a dead centurion, slicing the phalerae from his breastplate. “I did not see true affection between you, when first I saw you together,” he says suddenly, almost awkwardly. “It seems… a long time ago now.”
Agron frowns to cover his surprise. “It has been only months. Perhaps they do not teach Cilicians to count, upon vessels on the sea reeking of fish and piss.”
Castus looks amused rather than affronted, shrugging the insult off with a casual roll of his shoulders. His gaze is off across the battlefield, homing in on the familiar figure of Nasir, whose spear flashes quick and deadly in the late afternoon sun. Unable to help it, Agron’s own eyes follow. He doesn’t know if he will ever determine how not to look at Nasir when he is near. He does know he has no wish to learn.
“You spoke only with anger when around him, and his words seemed not to reach your ears,” Castus continues, almost casually, as if this were a thing they’d spoken of before, and often. As if they, of all people, were in the habit of sharing confidences of the heart. “It led me to believe…” – he trails off briefly, then shrugs again, less gracefully this time – “…that he were freer in his affections than he stands.”
“He is free,” Agron all but growls, but when Castus only looks at him with lips slightly quirked, Agron finds he cannot meet his eye. The memory of how he lashed out back in Sinuessa, how Nasir’s eyes first blazed with indignation and then dulled with hurt, still cuts too sharply to allow him the familiar respite of anger now.
“Place half the blame for what you witnessed between us upon your presence at such times,” he grumbles, then sighs and allows honesty to add, “and half upon too-quick temper of a jealous fool.”
He does not mention the insistent niggle in his gut, the one that fits into neither half but still tells him coldly that he was not entirely wrong to be suspicious.
Castus has cocked a brow at him, considering, but does not comment on Agron’s grudging concession. Instead, he makes one of his own.
“I have seen first impression false,” he admits, as evenly as if they spoke battle strategy, “and would not offer challenge now.”
As if you could, is upon Agron’s tongue to snarl, but with an effort he reins in the impulse. He can’t, however, quite school himself to civility.
“Yet you gaze at him still,” he accuses, and notes with satisfaction the brief flash of heat in Castus’s eyes.
Again, though, he refuses to rise to the bait, instead lifting his open palms with a rueful laugh.
“As would any man possessed of eyes and cock.”
Despite his earlier words, there is something of a challenge in his tone, Agron thinks, but this type of challenge he can deal with. He stares back at Castus, ignoring the groaning injured Romans at his feet.
“And heart?” he shoots back swiftly, with a hint of a sneer.
He should feel triumph when he sees Castus’s eyes widen fractionally, sees his bolt hit home. Instead, there’s only an uncomfortable twitch of commiseration when this time Castus turns his gaze aside, his lips compressing as if to hold in pain.
“I cannot wish it otherwise,” is all that Castus says before he walks away. Agron is left standing in a field of dying men, disarmed by those simple words. He tries to imagine seeing Nasir every day yet being unable to touch him, claim him, and be claimed in return. He shrinks from the bleakness of the idea as he did not shrink from blood and slaughter.
That evening, Castus finds them at their tent to deliver an amphora of wine from the provisions of the beaten Romans.
Agron glowers. “You stole it?”
Castus smirks, his white teeth flashing. “I prefer term of ‘liberated.’ Before all went to Gannicus and Saxa.” He offers the jug to Agron, who takes it reflexively. “I thought you might enjoy libation, well earned for victory in battle.”
Nasir is sitting cross-legged on the ground, tending his weapons. “Gesture well received,” he says, and though the words are warm, Agron knows him well enough to detect the warning undertone that isn’t meant for the pirate. “Gratitude, Castus,” he adds pointedly, and Agron sighs.
“Yes, gratitude,” he mutters. “Would you stay and share drink?” He’s well aware of how ungracious he sounds, but he can’t help it, either, not even when Castus grins as if having Agron grumping at him was his favourite game.
At least he shakes his head, face smoothing into polite neutrality. “I must decline, though with regret. I know your cups… are spoken for.” His gaze slides past Agron to Nasir, who has abruptly stopped whetting his spearhead, sitting quite still.
Agron frowns. “Who needs cups? We could just share from jug.” He can’t help the feeling that something is passing between the two of them, some obscure communication that excludes him. To say he dislikes it intensely would be an understatement.
Castus drags his eyes back to him at last, inclining his head slightly. The candlelight flatters his dark skin, caressing his high cheekbones. Agron has never allowed himself to acknowledge that the interfering shit is vexingly pretty.
“Offer well appreciated,” Castus says, his gaze frank and mocking despite the polite words. “Some other time, perhaps.”
“Smug ass,” Agron rants after he has left, pouring wine so abruptly that some sloshes over the rims of the cups. “If he thinks trust to be cheaply purchased with stolen wine, he stands mistaken.”
Nasir accepts his brimming cup with a curiously thoughtful expression. He takes one sip before he sets the cup aside and returns to his task, his fingers smoothing oil along his spear shaft in a motion that Agron would usually find highly distracting.
“You should not rail at him so,” Nasir says calmly. “Had he not come to aid in Sinuessa, you would be sitting here absent loving company and” – a wry smile, quickly hidden – “spilling hot tears into your wine, I should hope.”
Agron cannot help the shudder that races down his spine. “Do not speak such words.”
Nasir shrugs. “They hold truth.”
Agron sighs and sets his cup aside as well. He drops onto their pallet, rolls his shoulders on the threadbare blankets and tries to get rid of the troubling memory of Castus’s words on the battlefield, the bleak twisted smile on the man’s face.
“I’d see Cilician fuck placed from thought,” he complains, as much to himself as Nasir, “and oil no longer wasted on wrong weapon. Come here.”
Nasir raises a brow at him, then laughs and sets his spear aside. He comes over to straddle Agron, hands reaching to entwine their fingers either side of Agron’s head. He dips his head low, brushing wine-sweetened lips against Agron’s mouth. “What weapon did you have in mind?” he asks in a husky voice, and catches his breath when Agron parts his thighs, wrapping his legs around Nasir’s waist.
They make love quietly, too aware of tents close on either side. There’s something particularly erotic about watching Nasir fucking him silently, flushed and keen-eyed in the dying light of the candles, biting his lips to hold back the moans Agron knows are gathering in his throat. It gives him a wicked kind of pleasure to challenge that strained silence by plucking sharply at Nasir’s hardened nipples, trailing hands down sensitive ribs and bucking up to meet his thrusts. It’s better than any victory over the Romans to hear him give a ragged, broken cry as he spends himself inside Agron’s body, better even than his own release moments later.
He wraps his arms around Nasir’s body when he slumps on top of him, savouring the weightless peace of the moment, and the absence of conflicted thoughts.
Agron suspects Spartacus deliberately makes the two of them fight alongside Castus more often than not. It’s an established strategy for him to leverage emotional bonds on the battlefield. He’s never even attempted to separate Agron and Nasir in major battles, being well aware that they fight best when they can keep an eye on each other’s backs.
It doesn’t work the same way with every couple within their army. For some of them, proximity in battle is a thing to be avoided, a distraction too deadly to risk. Saxa especially fights always by herself; her battle fury has no room for worry over anybody else. In truth, Agron thinks, Saxa is never so deeply immersed in passion as when she’s bathed in blood – no kiss or fuck or tender touch could ever enflame her the way that spilling enemy blood does.
Agron recalls a time when he felt similarly: when the heat of battle was the purest thing he knew, and the only thing that had him feeling even vaguely happy. When he counted the days by enemies slain and the hours by how soon they’d next clash with a Roman force worth their while. When he had to remind himself of the things to do in between: eat, sleep, argue with Spartacus, provoke the Gauls. When killing was the next best thing to living.
He recalls the day that changed, as well, almost to the moment: An early morning near the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, where he and the force he’d led away from Spartacus and the dangers of the mines were fighting a small troop of Romans. The enemy was easily subdued, and Agron remembers a moment of straightening up, wiping his sword, and realising with startling, painful clarity that this was not where he wanted to be. For the first time since he saw the light go out of Duro’s eyes, there was a place he was meant to have in this fight, and it wasn’t there; the heart he had thought dead was beating elsewhere, alive and furious, demanding his attention.
It was also the first time that he felt off-kilter, alone in battle, the pleasant red-mist haze that usually settled over him remaining for once elusive. No longer pleased by simply killing, he felt the need to kill for something instead. He thought then of the villa: the flare of interest, visceral and startling, as he observed a dark-eyed boy, unarmed but defiant, refusing to back down from the glare of the mighty Bringer of Rain, or the fists of the Undefeated Gaul. More spirit than good sense, Agron thought then, but the truth is he’s never felt particularly drawn to good sense.
He stood, that morning at Vesuvius, in the barren field of ash and hardened magma and remembered: remembered laughing without meaning to at a dry retort from the boy’s lips; awaking in the morning and feeling strangely invigorated by the prospect of spending a day schooling a near-stranger in the art of combat. He remembered the spark in the boy’s eyes and the moment he stopped thinking of him as “the boy” and started using the name that had been offered, wary but proud. He remembered wanting to be near the fire in Nasir. To stoke it, be warmed by it, or let it char him to ashes.
It was the moment he gave in. The moment he realised that their lives are too uncertain to forbid themselves to love for no better reason than fear of the price some future day might exact upon their hearts.
All the way on the long trek east that morning, he felt terrified, exuberant, and painfully alive.
And almost always since then, he and Nasir have fought together. Dipping and turning, weapons flying in precise arcs that near-flawlessly cover all the space between them. Agron’s sword making short work of anyone who steps within their circle; Nasir’s spear whirling and stabbing with deadly precision into the waiting enemies that believe themselves out of reach. Ducking, thrusting, spinning past each other. It’s familiar and thrilling every time, like a dance, like fucking: anticipating each other’s moves and reacting, every nerve alive and in tune.
When Spartacus first starts adding Castus to the mix, it doesn’t come as a great surprise to Agron. It’s a move that has worked for him in the past: pairing rivals together against common enemies, making them realise their disagreements are easily drowned in the blood of more hated foes.
Still, the common factor in that tactic as Agron sees it is Nasir. It makes sense to send the three of them into battle together; because Agron will always fight most fiercely when paired with his lover; because Castus is still seeking to prove himself trustworthy (and where better to do that than under the eye of a man who hates him?); and because neither of them would ever risk fighting each other when doing so would leave Nasir to face the enemy on his own. No matter his and Castus’s enmities, they’ll always be united by two things: their hatred of the Romans, and their feelings for Nasir. And Spartacus, crafty bastard that he is, has no compunctions about using that.
Agron understands, not that it stops him from wanting to give their leader a good punch in the jaw for his manipulations. He’d probably do the same, as long as he was sure that something kept the rivals from ripping each other’s throats out in the middle of a battle.
For a good while, it works. Castus is swift and focused in battle and fits in well with their fighting styles, wielding his square-ended, flared blade with deadly skill. Agron, who’s used to relying on his size and long reach, has to concede a grudging appreciation for the pirate’s impeccable footwork: he whirls and twists almost too fast for the eye to follow, somehow fitting himself into all the spaces he and Nasir cannot quite cover. It’s impressive, although he’d rather bite off his own tongue than admit it. It’s hard enough to deal with the admiration in Nasir’s eyes. He consoles himself with the fact that as soon as the fighting’s over, it’s him Nasir always turns to, gaze blazing and lips spread in a grim smile that’s only for him, an arm slung warmly around his waist. It’s impossible for Castus to miss these moments, and Agron can’t muster any contrition for the flash of satisfaction he feels when Nasir grabs him by the nape and pulls his head down for a blood-splattered kiss.
He’ll fight by the fucking pirate’s side forever if he needs to, as long as Nasir is by his side as well, anchoring him as he ever has.
It comes as something of a shock, then, when Spartacus sends him out on campaign alone with Castus.
They’re to take a small group of rebels and go steal horses from the Romans.
“With stealth,” Spartacus warns Agron, whose hackles promptly rise.
“If you want stealth, don’t fucking send me.”
Spartacus tilts his head at him. “You’d have me send Castus on his own?”
Agron shrugs. “He stands better suited to deceit and theft by dark of night.”
Spartacus lifts a brow. “When first you freed him, I told you it was to be under your judgement and authority. He has won full trust, then, to be embraced as equal and act free of suspicious eyes?”
Agron sets his teeth at the neat trap Spartacus has laid for him. “You’ve set him to path in battle before now, leading forces of his own.” It isn’t quite an answer, and judging from the half-smile on Spartacus’s face, he knows it, too.
“Yet never far from gaze, or swift retaliation should his sword arm stray.”
“You think he would betray us?” If Spartacus just ordered him to chop off Castus’s head by way of precaution, it would make things a lot less complicated for him.
Spartacus watches him with that shrewd blue gaze, as if he knows exactly what Agron is thinking. “I do not. Yet my belief stands not the one at issue.”
Agron sighs, looking aside. “He has killed many Romans by our side. Without hesitation or attempt at betrayal,” he admits, although the words taste sour in his mouth.
Spartacus nods. “Take current mission as final test, then. If he proves true in this last thing, set grudge aside, and call him brother.”
As if it were that simple. As if it were Crixus, who’s offered no greater crime than being a shit-eating Gaul. As if all they needed to unite them were a fight to air their grievances, or a common foe.
Still, Spartacus has enough upon his shoulders without being burdened with this as well. Agron sighs and relents, with a final grumble. “You stand forever overly generous with granting people chances.”
Spartacus laughs at him, clasping his shoulder. “And often proven right in such. Did not Nasir deserve chance, or would you rather I had listened to your and Crixus’s counsel then?”
Agron really hates him when he’s right.
Castus takes the mission in stride, as he does most things. “Main horse paddock is placed here, outside of Roman camp,” he explains, scratching a rough map into the ground, “yet well-guarded. Quiet approach should see us better rewarded than open attack so near their main force. We should not take too many men.”
They pick five, and sneak up on the camp near dusk, using the slight rise in the terrain for cover. The milling bodies of the horses themselves shield them from view as well, and once they’ve ducked inside the enclosure, it’s easy enough to take the two guards nearest the far corner by surprise, slitting their throats before they can make a sound. Agron signals to Castus and four of the men to start herding horses towards them, while he and the fifth rebel start cutting the thick ropes that hold together the fence, lifting the higher of the two long birch trunks down.
It all goes well until one of the rebels coaxes a tall dark horse from a small separate enclosure, doubtlessly taken by its height and glossy coat. The horse rears with a sudden, shrill scream that echoes through the gathering twilight, and several of the mares in the main paddock answer the call. Their previously placid demeanours change to frantic prancing, and suddenly there are heavy, eager equine bodies moving everywhere. Agron curses under his breath when he realises what’s happening, but by then it’s too late: one of the sentries cries out in alarm. The stallion screams again, frantic to get to the mares, front hooves slicing the air and hitting the unfortunate rebel who freed him in the head. The man goes down without a sound. All through the paddock, mares are whinnying, and the stallion throws himself into their midst.
Agron shouts and smacks the nearest horse on the rear, startling it towards the demolished fence. In the general din, he almost doesn’t hear the Roman until he’s almost on top of him, the fading light glinting on his armour. With a snarl, Agron cuts him down, only to be faced almost immediately by two others. All around them horses shy and panic.
“Castus!” Agron shouts over his shoulder while slicing viciously at the Roman guards. “Set horses free and retreat!”
Whether by lucky coincidence or because Castus has anticipated him, dozens of horses are already being driven across the fence. Three of their men are on horseback, herding the riderless animals before them. Agron swings his sword in a wide arc and slices a guard’s head clean off. Another appears out of nowhere, and another. A bugle sounds from the camp, and torches are swarming through the gates. Agron roars angrily and hacks at the oncoming foes, ducking charging horses as he fights. So much for fucking stealth.
“Agron!” A thunder of hooves behind him. He cuts down another Roman and spins to see a horse gallop towards him, grey against the darkening sky. His raises his sword before he recognises Castus, bending low over the horse’s mane, one arm outstretched. Agron grabs it without a thought and swings up behind Castus, letting the horse’s momentum carry him. Thighs gripping firmly around the horse’s flanks and one arm wrapped around Castus’s middle, he swings his sword to keep their sides clear, taking another of their attacker’s heads off as they gallop past.
There’s an abrupt lift that nearly sends him flying, and then they’re over the fence and charging into the near-dark. He’s lost sight of the other rebels, but there are horses running into all directions and Agron bares his teeth in grim satisfaction as he looks over his shoulder towards the pandemonium in the paddock. Even if they can’t drive all the freed horses back to their own camp, the Romans will have lost a good number of them, which is nearly as good.
He turns his gaze forward again, leaning close to Castus’s ear. “Some quiet fucking approach!” he shouts, half-laughing, and that’s when an arrow hits his upper arm, slicing a hot trail of pain across his bicep. More arrows whizz past, and a second later, the horse screams and goes down beneath them. Agron tumbles through the air, weightless for a moment before the hard ground smacks the breath out of his lungs.
He rolls away from the thrashing hooves of the dying horse. As he regains his feet, he sees the pinpricks of wavering flame in the gathering dark, spreading out towards them. He swears. The horses have already scattered into the hills; not much hope of capturing another one.
There’s a moan near his feet. “Castus.” He scrambles towards the dark shape and grabs at the pirate’s arm, sword still clutched in his other hand. “Come on. Roman shits are in pursuit. We must seek cover.”
Castus makes no reply, but he gets up and stumbles after Agron. The Romans are everywhere, a scatter of torches cutting off their route back to their camp. There’s no sign of the rest of their men; he can only hope they all got away. Spartacus will not be pleased. And Nasir will kill him if he dies.
Ahead of them are scant bushes, gentle hills; a little grove of trees not too far ahead that might conceal them, although it’s far too obvious a choice. Agron makes for it anyway, for lack of better options. Castus staggers along beside him. He’s moving oddly, cradling his left arm close to his chest, but makes no complaint. Behind them, voices are raised in command, ordering small troops of soldiers in all directions.
As they draw closer to the grove, they come upon a dry streambed, barely more than a rocky ditch cut into the ground. Agron jumps into it, Castus at his heels. They follow it for a while, nearly blind now that the sky has almost completely darkened. When Agron runs smack into an overhanging boulder, he swears at first, but a quick exploration shows him the slab of rock tilts down from the bank at a sharp angle, creating a small cave-like shelter underneath.
“Here.” He ducks into the crevice, motioning Castus after him. It’s narrow and dank and smells of something sharp and unpleasant, like a small animal has at some point made its den here, but it should be impossible to see them from above.
They huddle in the darkness together, not daring to stir a muscle when torchlight washes across the dry streambed and Romans swarm through the hills above them. Commands and questions fly through the air. It’s a cloudy night and near the new moon besides, so when the Romans eventually move on, they’re left in almost absolute blackness.
Agron relaxes marginally as the sounds of their pursuers draw further away. His upper arm stings, and his searching fingers encounter blood. The gash is shallow, though, thank the gods; the arrow merely sliced him in passing. He wipes his wet fingers on his coat.
“We had best wait till later hour,” he whispers, “before we attempt return to camp. Night is dark as a Roman’s asshole, and as likely to shit out unwanted surprises.”
“Agreed.” Castus bites off the word like a curse. Feeling the strained tension in him, Agron belatedly recalls his odd lurching gait as they fled, the way he cradled his left arm.
“You hold injury?”
Castus breathes out sharply. “My shoulder. Pushed out of socket by sudden fall off horse.”
Agron shifts towards him. “Let me see.” There isn’t room in the narrow space to move, but they’re in full darkness now, no Romans near that he can hear. After straining his ears to listen into the silence, he eventually risks scrambling past Castus, out to where he can move. He grabs the pirate’s left arm, feeling his way up the smooth muscle. Castus makes a low sound, quickly suppressed, when Agron’s fingers encounter the odd bulge at his shoulder. He moves his fingers over it lightly, asserting it’s the type of injury he knows. He nods to himself, satisfied.
“I can set it. Hold still.”
Castus makes no move to resist him when Agron takes his lower arm, pulling it out straight in front of him, the elbow close against his side. Agron clasps his forearm, tilting it slightly outwards. “It will take but a moment. Don’t cry out.”
Castus’s other hand comes to rest on Agron’s knee, fingers digging in slightly. “See it done.”
Agron moves smoothly, bringing the arm up and around the shoulder, curling the fingers in towards Castus’s nape. There’s a dull popping sound, and Castus’s right hand clutches at his knee; then he leans back, relaxing slightly.
“Yes. See yourself back to cover – Romans might return.” Castus scoots into the dark hole under the overhang, and Agron squeezes in beside him, trying to find a comfortable position for his legs.
For a long time, they don’t speak at all. From his position near the outside of the rock, Agron can see a slice of dark sky, the pinpricks of stars thickening as night deepens. Again, he wonders what has become of their companions.
“Next time we’re tasked with horse-stealing, remind me to choose men who know the difference between a stallion and a mare in heat,” he grouches. Castus hums his agreement.
“Mission could have gone better,” he concedes. “Yet we worked well together.” A pause, then he adds with audible satisfaction, “As we usually do, when set to common foe.”
Agron resists the urge to punch the smug shit in the sore shoulder. “I would cover any man’s back in battle who fights against Roman cunts.”
“A noble stance, and well received. Nasir proves fearsome warrior as well,” Castus adds, and his tone shifts from teasing to sincere admiration. “I had not expected such when first I laid eyes upon him.”
Agron’s hackles rise at the casual tone of fondness. “He has slain more enemies than you could yet hope to.”
“I do not doubt it.” Sounding vastly entertained again, the ass. “No Roman stands his equal in fighting spirit, if not height.”
Agron ignores that. “What did you think, when you first laid eyes?” he asks grudgingly, curiosity getting the better of him.
Castus rolls the reset shoulder in a cautious shrug. “Many of the freed slaves still trade protection from former gladiators and other warriors for comforts of the body. I assumed yours to be similar arrangement.”
Agron’s jaw tightens; he can’t help immediately feeling offended on Nasir’s behalf. “Nasir needs no man’s protection.” Not even back when he was an untrained house slave. Agron recalls the fearless way he sneered through bloodied lips when Crixus hit him, the way he threw himself into training with Spartacus, and a warm wave of pride rolls through him.
“I know that now. He fights with fierce purpose and defends with generous heart.” It’s strange to hear his own admiration echoed in Castus’s voice, the deep warmth in the other man’s voice. Strange and affronting still.
“I tire of you sniffing after him,” Agron snaps, abruptly out of patience with the sparring of words, half-acknowledged truths and concessions dancing just out of reach. “Of longing looks and sly jests. You don’t stand empty of charm, even for a Cilician shit. Turn affections elsewhere, or see restrained temper unleashed.”
“Restrained?” Castus asks, and gods curse him, he’s actually laughing now, though not loudly. “I do not think I have seen you restrained a single moment since your fist first met my face.”
Agron grits his teeth. “I do not jest.”
“I did not think you did.”
The silence gathers, thick as the dark beneath the rock. Agron is starting to think that they’re done talking, that Castus has conceded his point, but then the pirate shifts again, and speaks.
“How would you have me cease?” Castus asks, his voice even and calm this time, for once devoid of mockery. “Offer method, and I shall gladly seize upon it. How does a man turn heart from one such as he?”
The simple question takes the wind out of Agron’s anger. He sighs, letting his shoulders slump until one brushes up against Castus, and doesn’t move away.
“Fuck the gods,” he mutters. “I do not know.”
They don’t speak after that. They sit hidden from the pale sliver of the moon, warm where their sides and legs touch and cold everywhere else, and take turns pretending to sleep.
The Romans keep them in hiding for most of the morning, still scouring the hills in small groups. The sun is well into the sky before Castus and Agron finally crawl out of the dusty streambed. They make their way slowly from cover to cover until they gain the top of the slight rise above the Roman encampment. Inside the wooden fortifications, the open spaces between the orderly tents are bustling with activity: soldiers going through their drills, messengers running to and fro.
Just below them, outside the walls, is the horse paddock. The fence section they’ve broken has been hastily repaired with rope.
Agron knits his brows, counting the soldiers posted at the entrance to the camp. “They’ve not set additional guards on remaining horses.”
“They would not expect another attempt so soon, having foiled one in the night,” Castus says slowly, and when Agron looks at him, he can see the kindling of his own idea sparking in the other’s eyes.
“Because it would be madness,” he replies, then adding casually, “Yet Spartacus wanted horses.”
“It would be,” nods Castus, “and he did.” And then they’re both grinning madly and moving, ducking low as they lope down the hill towards the enclosure and the grazing horses.
The Romans never even see them until they break the fence again.
They charge into the rebel camp mid-morning, each on a horse, with two score others driven before them. Warriors and former slaves come running with ropes and harnesses, ready to round the horses up and lead them towards shelter. Castus and Agron are greeted with whoops and hoorays as they dismount, and with more than a few shoulder-punches that Castus endures with a slightly wincing smile.
From the scraps of news flying about them, Agron gleans that only two of the others made it back, but they, too, brought two dozen horses with them, never mind the scores more who’ll be lost to the Romans in the hillsides. He nods and grins but waves the details away for later as he pushes his way through the crowd, as ever intent on one face only.
He turns to the familiar voice and is nearly knocked off balance when Nasir’s weight hits him squarely in the chest. Nasir grabs his face between his hands, eyes blazing with relief and a hint of reproach. “Prolonged absence set heart to frenzied worry.”
Agron smiles and pulls him in for a kiss, the weight of the long night lifting a little at the sight and feel of him. “Disperse grim clouds. I would have returned sooner, had night and Roman pursuit not hindered way.”
Nasir kisses him, fervent and relieved, before pulling back a little to look him over critically. “You stand uninjured?” he demands, and Agron doesn’t miss the way his eyes flicker past him to include Castus in the question. He briefly clenches his teeth, then relaxes consciously. “A scrape only,” he says, nodding at his upper arm. “And Castus wrenched shoulder, but-“
“But damage was quickly set to rights by capable hands.” Castus inclines his head towards Agron with just a hint of his usual mocking smile. “For which I have not yet spoken gratitude.”
“No need.” Agron clears his throat. He isn’t sure why, after the night they’ve spent, he now feels stiff and tongue-tied again. “Timely rescue on horseback more than settles debt.”
Nasir is looking from one to the other with a bemused expression. “It sounds a tale well worth recounting,” he presses, with a swift poke to Agron’s ribs. “I would hear details of ordeal.”
Agron sighs, abruptly reminded of his duties, and straightens up. “As would Spartacus, no doubt.” He grasps Nasir’s chin between thumb and forefinger, briefly resting their foreheads together. “I shall find you, after.”
Nasir nods reluctantly, but before he can let go of Agron, Castus steps forward, placing a casual hand upon his arm.
“I’ll make report to Spartacus.” He smiles wryly at their inquiring faces, rolling the injured shoulder. “No detail shall be lost, I promise. And I’ll advise him that your counsel follows shortly.”
He looks tired but good-humoured, and Agron wrestles with a short, startling impulse to grin and tell him he was sent by the gods. He settles for a brief clasp of the uninjured shoulder. “Gratitude, brother,” he says, and takes a certain twisted satisfaction in the way Castus’s eyes widen in surprise.
Their camp stands near a small valley of birches holding an abandoned shrine to Ceres. The wooden temple has long since collapsed to rotting timbers; the simple altar is bare and strewn with the husks and vines of sacrifices past, the seeds long carried far and wide by birds and winds. The goddess’s effigy lies toppled face-down, half-overgrown with wildflowers and weeds, in the process of returning to the earth she sprung from.
There is a small brook nearby, trickling across mossy rocks, and it’s ostensibly for this that Nasir takes him there: fresh water and clean moss, to wipe his wound.
He holds still under Nasir’s none too gentle ministrations while recounting the night’s events. Nasir listens with furrowed brow, smiling a bit at the more outrageous parts of their escape, such as when they trampled a dozen Romans in their path. “In addition to lost horses, it will rob Roman guards of sleep, in fear of further nightly attack,” he comments. Agron winces as he winds a length of cloth around his upper arm and knots it tightly.
“Arrow’s cut did not hurt half as much as your tender touch,” he complains, dragging Nasir into his lap. Nasir snorts and nips at Agron’s upper lip, tongue teasing between his teeth. “Apologies,” he murmurs, his voice a low rough purr that seems to ignite something low in Agron’s belly. “I did not realise my fierce warrior was such a delicate flower.”
Agron growls into his mouth and tears at the string holding Nasir’s trousers, pleased when he catches the hitch of Nasir’s breath on his open lips. His cock leaps stiff and warm into Agron’s hand, yearning towards his touch. Agron obliges him, giving the hard length an experimental tug that has Nasir moaning and grinding against him. Agron lets go for a second, leaning back to lick a long, wet stripe down the palm of his hand. Nasir watches him, long lashes half-lowered, teeth caught in his lip. With a groan, Agron dives forward to wrest that tempting lip from Nasir’s teeth, sucking it into his own mouth while he slips his fingers back into Nasir’s trousers, encasing his cock in his spit-slick hand. He gives him a few swift strokes, delighting in the way Nasir’s hips buck up, and wraps his free arm around Nasir’s waist, both to support him and to bring him closer. Nasir hisses when Agron palms him, loose and slick down his length, then back up with a tightening twist, thumb pressing hard against the underside, tracing the pulsing vein there from root to head.
It doesn’t take too long: a dozen rough strokes, Agron’s teeth sinking into the vulnerable spot below Nasir’s jaw, sucking on the soft skin there, and Nasir is gone, hips jerking as he spills thick white streaks over Agron’s chest and stomach. He sinks slowly forward, his forehead dropping onto Agron’s shoulder.
“Clearly,” he murmurs, breathing hard, “injury was but feeble scratch, diminishing neither heat of blood nor vigour.”
Agron chortles and kisses his ear, his temple, breathing deeply of the scent of his hair. His own cock is stiff and throbbing in his constricting leathers. It’s uncommonly warm in the still grove, the harsh winter sun gentled by the protective trees, and he feels both languorous and dizzy with need. His lack of sleep lends a strange clarity to the sun-drenched clearing, changing the quality of the light: enhancing the sparkle on the murmuring waters of the brook and turning the warm-brown lights in Nasir’s eyes to molten gold. He feels like one part of him could tumble boneless and grateful to the goddess’s warm earth atop Nasir’s loosened limbs, while the other half is strained to breaking, thrumming with unfulfilled desire.
He undoes his belt one-handed, clumsily shoving leather and cloth out of the way. His other hand swipes up his stomach, gathering up the sticky mess of Nasir’s seed. He coats himself in it, slicking his cock in his lover’s release, unable to bite back a groan at the slippery touch.
Nasir’s lids drag open at the sound and he stares, lips parted, down at Agron’s hand. The intrigued look upon his face is too much, and Agron drags him up on his knees with a half-snarl. His wet fingers prod between their bodies, half cupping his cock, half pushing between Nasir’s buttocks, fingertips against his opening, nudging inside to spread him. Nasir’s mouth drops open and he leans down to kiss him, his tongue moving slowly and sensuously inside Agron’s mouth. Agron tilts up, the slippery head of his cock pushing at Nasir’s rim along with his stroking fingers. Nasir makes a humming noise low in his throat that swells Agron’s balls to a taut ache. He grabs onto Nasir’s thighs, hips tensing as Nasir slowly, slowly takes him inside, sliding down his length until he’s firmly seated against Agron’s groin. For a long moment they stay still, not moving beyond the tangling of their tongues; then Nasir inhales deeply, lets go of Agron’s mouth and lifts back up.
Agron tightens his grip on Nasir’s hips, aiding his movement up and back down, gravity doing most of the work for them. A few slow, experimental thrusts, and then something sparks between them, hot as lightning. Feeling Nasir’s body loosen and accept his girth, Agron lets go of his control, and lets his hips pump furiously, burying himself as deeply as he can in the tight glorious heat of Nasir’s body.
The clarity of the light about him intensifies. The stillness is absolute, heightening the noises they are making: Nasir’s harsh, sibilant gasps and his own breath caught short in his throat as Nasir rides him. He feels lightheaded with the rhythmic slamming motion. Nasir’s wet cock twitches against his stomach, hardening with every plunge, and the sweat-slick muscles of his back tense in his hands.
Then a different tension suddenly grips Nasir’s body, his eyes wide and intent on something to Agron’s right. “Agron,” he pants. Agron frowns, unable to stop the frantic rhythm of his thighs, but he turns his head, and there is Castus. Half-leaning against one of the trees at the edge of the clearing, making no move to hide. His dark gaze on fire, and his hand beneath his belt and trousers, moving slow but steady. Hips thrusting into his own touch, lips parted, breathing hard.
Agron curses breathlessly. He can’t stop. He should stop. They should stop.
But after the smallest hesitation, Nasir’s gaze returns to Agron’s face, narrow and focused. He’s smiling grimly, as if in challenge, and rolls his hips in a slow, provocative counterpoint to Agron’s thrust. Agron groans, clutching him more tightly, and senses some unspoken understanding pass between them with the motion. He returns the smile, although it feels more like a grimace on his face, and picks up the pace, fucking up into him with harsh, deep thrusts. Nasir’s fingers dig into his shoulders hard enough to leave bruises. Nasir bends backwards without warning, his upper body held up only by his grip on Agron’s shoulders and Agron’s hands supporting him. His head drops back, exposing the long column of his neck.
Baring his face to Castus.
Agron’s eyes drift past the graceful curve of Nasir’s arched shoulders, across the goddess’s fallen shrine and to the man in the shadow of the trees. Castus has one arm clutched around the slender trunk of a silver birch, leaning towards it as though at any moment he might topple. He’s still fully dressed, but his hand beneath his trousers is moving faster now, in a rough jerking grip. His skin is too dark to show a flush, but Agron imagines he can see it anyway, lending a warm glow to his cheeks. His eyes are glued to them, though not on any particular thing. They caress the frantic motion of Nasir’s hips as he rides Agron’s cock, then linger on Nasir’s face, turned almost upside down, his eyes wide to the glinting lights of the sun and the ends of his hair whipping Agron’s knees. Eventually Castus meets Agron’s gaze, with eyes lust-glazed but steady and without shame.
Agron stares at Castus without blinking, keeping his eyes on his face although the rhythmic, furious motion of Castus’s hand teases the edge of his vision. The light distorts everything; the still air shimmers in the space between them. He feels his lips draw back from his teeth in a ferocious snarl when his body tenses; he clutches Nasir so tightly he can no longer feel his fingers. His hips snap up hard once, twice, and Nasir cries out, slack lips shaping Agron’s name in two broken syllables that travel easily through the still air and across the clearing. For a moment, Agron loses all focus when Nasir’s body convulses around him in a mind-blanking, prolonged squeeze. He shudders, his whole body arched to the breaking point as his climax takes him, rolling through him in a powerful wave that wipes out the air, their noises, the curious quality of the light. He thinks he hears a ragged, deep groan across the clearing, but it might just as well be some echo of Nasir’s cry, or his own.
When he comes to, he’s holding on to Nasir’s limp body, both of them breathing hard and clinging to each other, the forest floor still spinning slightly. When he finds the strength to lift his head, Castus is gone.
That night, in their tent, Agron asks the question that has been haunting him for weeks.
“Do you desire him?”
Nasir lifts his head from where he’s bent over a candle flame, mending a tear in one of his leather vambraces. He doesn’t ask who. Conflicting expressions flicker across his fine features, all too fleet to settle, and Agron doesn’t look away no matter how much he might wish to. He is reminded then that Nasir has never lied to him, or others as far as Agron knows. It gave rise to their first ever conflict when Nasir told Crixus the truth about Naevia, although he owed him nothing. Even back then, Agron could not hold it against him. It’s one of the things he’s loved about Nasir from the beginning, the fact that he refuses to compromise on who he is, no matter how much easier deception might make his life.
Eventually Nasir sets his work aside and comes to sit by Agron. He reaches out and places his hand high on Agron’s chest, his fingers warm and sure although his eyes are hooded.
“My heart lives here,” he says simply, palm flattening and fingers fanning out across Agron’s skin. A warm ache unfurls inside him at the words and the touch, but it isn’t purely joy.
“That does not answer question.”
He watches Nasir’s long lashes sweep briefly down, and Agron imagines he can feel the conflict churning behind his eyes, slow and painful like the leaden feeling in the pit of his own stomach. Then Nasir raises his eyes back to Agron’s, meeting his gaze as boldly as he’s faced any challenge since they met. “It’s all the answer that I have.”
Agron nods slowly. He reaches out to take Nasir’s other hand, turning it over in his palm to clasp his lover’s fingers, sword-hardened and strong. He takes a deep breath.
“Some people… share.”
They’ve both seen such arrangements in the camp, taking various forms: whether carefree and easy assignations like Saxa bringing other girls to her and Gannicus’s bed, or more permanent situations where someone divides their time and attention between two lovers, or even all three share affections.
Sharing is not a natural impulse to Agron, and it’s difficult to imagine three where two have always been not just enough, but more than he ever dreamed. He doesn’t want or need more than Nasir, but the simple truth is that he would try anything for him.
His words hang in the air between them, impossible now to take back. Nasir is staring at him in more than mild confusion. Slowly, he shakes his head, brows drawn together.
“I would not be shared.” He looks as if he’s wanting to say more but can’t find words. Agron sympathises.
“I did not mean you. I meant him.” He’s not quite sure why the distinction matters, but it does. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the need to make it clear he’s not proposing simply to hand Nasir over.
Nasir’s frown deepens and he edges closer, hip brushing up against Agron’s. “Agron. I would never ask such a thing.”
Agron lingers on the line of his firmed jaw, the deep concern in his eyes, and smiles, albeit twistedly. “I know you would not,” he concedes, and wraps his arms around Nasir as if that settled the matter. Nasir holds him tightly, his breath warm against the hollow at the base of his throat. Agron strokes his hair and after that, neither of them speaks.
It is because you would not ask that I wish you to have it.
They fight another Roman centuria the next day, and win again, though by a close margin. As before, Castus fights with Agron and Nasir, with never a word exchanged about the moment in the clearing. As they slash their way through enemy ranks, Agron can’t quite help but wonder if they move differently today; whether his heightened awareness of Castus nearby is something he’s imagining or the product of recent events.
They dance upon the blood-churned ground, weapons flying this way and that. Agron slashes at a wide-eyed Roman who drops his sword at the last minute, lifting his arms. Agron cuts him down without hesitation. There is no surrender in this war. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots another raised sword but trusts Nasir to take care of it while he finishes this one off.
But it’s Castus who ducks past him, square blade coming down in a vicious arc onto the charging soldier. Another Roman follows on his heels; Castus rolls upon the ground to evade a sword thrust, and Nasir leaps over him, arm extending in a vicious stab that drives his spear into their attacker’s throat. Blood spurts, raining onto Nasir’s dark hair. Momentarily free of enemies, Agron can’t help but stare as he whirls back to offer Castus a hand up and a ferocious, blood-smeared smile. Castus lets him tug him to his feet and smiles back, and Agron struggles desperately to hate him as he has. Hating him was easy.
Another battle looms tomorrow. Another battle looms every day. Tonight, though, they are resting under a clear starry sky; there are deer and birds roasting over many fires, the smell of cooking herbs mixing with that of smoke and browning meat. Somewhere, someone plays a flute: it must be one of his own people, Agron thinks, because the tune is almost familiar, some variation perhaps on the songs he himself grew up with. There is the cadence of water in the undulating harmony, the lift and dive and plummet of the spirits of the Rhine, reminding him unexpectedly of everything he’s left behind: the morning mists in the green woods and the yielding moss beneath his feet, the rushing of the rivers and always, always Duro.
Duro who’d laugh at this tortured dithering; who’d slap him on the back and say, Brother, we only live today. Try something new. You can still kill him after, if that doesn’t work.
He lifts his cup of wine and drinks although his throat is trying to close. The loss hits him sideways, like it sometimes does: a sudden gaping absence at his side where he used to bump shoulders, toss playful punches and insults, and receive mocking admonition. The abyss pulls at him and throws him off-balance, a profound emptiness that can be patched over with the bridges of more recent bonds, but never truly filled.
He swallows. Duro would not understand the choices he now faces, but Duro would elbow him in the side or sling an arm around his shoulders, scoffing at his knotted-up feelings, and somehow the matter would not seem so dire, the choices not quite so implacable or fraught.
But Duro isn’t here.
The melody lifts above the fires, a woman’s voice twining with it, haunting and foreign in these dry southern lands. Agron feels suddenly like he has to either cry or do something, and he won’t fucking cry.
His eyes travel before him through the camp; abruptly, he drains his cup and then he’s up on his feet and moving before he even knows it.
His path takes him almost all the way across the camp, towards poorer tents and smaller fires, but all the way the song stays with him, filling the night air, rising to the stars. He draws to a halt at last before a tent; sees dark eyes rise to him and fill with apprehension. A hand lifts towards him, whether in greeting or self-defence, he isn’t sure. He makes use of it, grabs Castus by the wrist and tugs him to his feet.
“Do not fucking speak,” he snarls, and lets the wine and song and stars take over, cupping his hands around Castus’ jaw and kissing him hard.
For a moment, Castus’s mouth is slack beneath his, lips unresisting to the onslaught of Agron’s teeth and tongue. Agron takes advantage of his surprise and crowds close, taking the measure of Castus’s body with his own. He’s taller than Nasir and more densely muscled, but not, Agron notes with satisfaction, near his own size. His mouth tastes of cheap wine and some spicy herb, unfamiliar and sweet. Strange, that a man whose words bear nought but jest and mocking barbs should have a mouth so warm and pliant.
A sudden shift takes the body before him, and in a second the lips he’s crushing are no longer passive: a quick response of warm lips and slick tongue, bruising his own mouth with a flash of passion, searing and intimate. Then Castus pulls back, or tries to.
Agron’s hands move from Castus’s face down his neck, tracing his shoulders, circling his upper arms in a grip closer to punishment than caress. They stare at each other, both breathing hard. In the errant light of the campfires, Castus’s eyes are blacker than the night sky, and as impenetrable.
Agron swallows, slides one hand down Castus’ arm to his wrist, and half-turns. “Come.”
“Wait.” Frowning at Agron, Castus swipes his tongue across his lips – unconsciously perhaps, but Agron startles at the flash of lust it elicits. The dark eyes flicker, catching the reflection of the flames. “Why?” Castus asks, his voice rough and more uncertain than Agron has ever heard it.
Agron hesitates. Across the camp, the song that spurred him has stopped and here he is all alone with a man he should hate, driven only by his own courage or utter folly. For a moment, he wants nothing so much as to run.
Then he shrugs and allows his mouth to quirk with something not quite humour.
“Because the measure of our days stands short,” he says, “and he is worth every moment.”
They find Nasir by the fires, drink in hand, with a laugh upon his lips that fades when he sees them: Castus with a slightly dazed expression on his face like he does not dare believe what is happening, and Agron – Jupiter’s cock, he has no idea what his own face holds. He isn’t even sure what it holds on the inside.
After a moment Nasir sets down his drink and follows them, a hand on Agron’s shoulder that burns there like a brand.
“What is this?” he asks when the tent flap has fallen shut behind them. His voice is calm but Agron knows him; he sees the hectic flutter of pulse at his throat, the slow flex and clench of his fingers.
He shrugs and leers. “Castus and I have chanced upon solution to cross purpose,” he declares, and pulls Castus forward, with a hand unsubtly on his hip. Immediately, though, he sees that it won’t do; he can’t pretend this is some careless thing that it is not, and more importantly, Nasir would never let him.
Nasir’s eyes have lit a grim spark that Agron knows to beware. “If words we shared last night led you to this, you can take fucking fool head and shove it up ass. I am no prize to be handed out in celebration.”
The angry blaze of his look is for both of them, and Castus raises his hands in self-defence.
“Look to East of the Rhine for your answer. I stand equally bewildered in this.”
Agron swallows and takes a step forward until he’s facing Nasir, Castus behind them. His heart is thundering and he’s afraid, so afraid that what he’s done is a mistake of terrible proportions. It doesn’t feel wrong, strangely, but this is unfamiliar ground, and if he can’t make Nasir understand, it might just open up and swallow him like quicksand.
“It is not idle game, nor careless indulgence. I have seen your heart struggle these many weeks, and ached for its turmoil.” He lifts a hand when Nasir draws breath to speak, and puts his fingers lightly on his lips. “I would attempt to see rift mended. By any means.”
Nasir is staring up at him with narrowed eyes as if he’s never seen him before. Agron returns the gaze, willing his face to convey what his words cannot. He’s never been that good at words.
Behind them, Castus stirs, and clears his throat. “And I would not see it widen,” he says, his deep voice calm and sure. “I will take my leave.”
Agron doesn’t turn, and Nasir’s eyes never leave his face, but suddenly his hand grips Agron’s, squeezing hard. The tent flap is already rustling when Nasir speaks.
“Castus,” he says, still looking at Agron, still holding his hand, fingers lacing through his so tightly it hurts. “Stay.”
Agron has no clue how to begin a thing like this. How to make room for another when it’s only ever been the two of them. He usually has no trouble making his desires known, but this time he suspects if it were up to him, they’d all just be standing there forever.
But Nasir takes the awkwardness away as if he didn’t notice it. He pulls Agron’s mouth down to his and anchors him with kisses, takes him back to certain footing.
Agron relaxes a little, leaning into the kiss, pressing his palms into Nasir’s bare back. He feels Nasir’s muscles bunching a second before he pushes off from the ground. Agron braces instinctually, catching him as he leaps, light and strong, wrapping his legs around Agron’s hips. The weight of him is sweet and satisfying, the heat between his legs settling high against Agron’s tense stomach. He shifts his arms, one tight around Nasir’s back, the other underneath his buttocks; takes a few steps back for balance, and promptly backs into Castus.
Castus who shuffles awkwardly on the spot and puts one hand on Agron’s shoulder, where it lies stiff and unmoving. The other floats hesitantly in mid-air, until Nasir twists in Agron’s arms, circles Castus’s wrist and tugs him closer by it until they’re nearly skin to skin. Agron can feel some of Nasir’s weight shift from his arms as Castus takes that final step closer, pressing up against Nasir’s back so he’s supported fully between the two of them.
Castus moves tentatively, short of his usual grace. He lifts his arms on either side of Nasir, framing his torso, spread fingers barely touching as they slide up Nasir’s arms. His gaze is lowered, seemingly fascinated with the curve of Nasir’s shoulder. Agron tries not to tense when Castus’s chest comes into contact with his own arm circling Nasir. Challenging himself, he pushes forward, crowding the both of them, and Castus doesn’t yield. He takes a deep breath and slides his hands up Nasir’s neck into his hair, almost reverently, as if it’s a thing he’s dreamed of doing for months.
Nasir hums encouragingly and tilts his head a little, his lips fastening on the skin below Agron’s ear. His kisses send shivers down Agron’s spine that would usually render him incapable of noticing anything else, but with Castus so close, separated from Agron only by Nasir’s suspended body, he can’t help but stare, fascinated despite himself.
It’s strange to watch Nasir’s hair undone by another, to see the dark wealth of it tumble into hands not his own. Castus threads his fingers through it over and over, like he can’t get enough of the silky strands, and Nasir makes a low, pleased sound when Castus’s fingers cup the base of his skull. Encouraged, Castus pushes his fingers up Nasir’s head under his hair, massaging his scalp with slow circling motions. Agron can feel goose bumps forming on Nasir’s skin, minute shudders of pleasure as he leans his head back into Castus’s hands, legs tightening around Agron’s waist, and then releasing. Agron eases his grip as Nasir regains his own feet. He gives Agron a quick smile and kisses him, hands all over him, stroking his chest, his stomach, dipping beneath his belt. Undoing the buckle and tugging belt and subligaria just loose enough that he can fit his hand inside to cup Agron’s already half-hard cock. He groans as it swells into Nasir’s knowing touch; with just a few shallow strokes, Nasir has him stiff and throbbing.
For a moment, he almost forgets that Castus is there at all, but then Nasir suddenly pulls back his hand. At Agron’s growl of protest, he grins wickedly and tugs his subligaria down a little further so his cock bobs free, eager to be touched.
And then he spins in the tight circle of their arms and turns towards Castus. Little bastard.
Castus looks a little stunned to have Nasir suddenly facing him, hair loose upon his shoulders, his hands on Castus’s chest, tracing the outlines of his muscles. Agron can’t see his face anymore, but Nasir’s voice is low and warm when he asks, “You grant permission?” and raises his hands to Castus’s headdress.
Castus’s eyes flicker briefly to Agron over Nasir’s shoulder; then he nods. Nasir carefully lifts the headdress off and takes a moment to set it down out of reach, leaving Agron and Castus to eye each other across the space he’s left.
It hasn’t even occurred to him that he’s never seen Castus with his head uncovered. His hair is very short, covering his head in tight black curls. He looks oddly naked without the cocky hat, and younger than Agron supposed him. A reckless boy, really, ready to gamble his life on the flashfire of a winter’s love. He swallows down the wash of affinity, sudden and unwanted.
Castus’s eyes have dropped to linger between Agron’s legs, unaware of his struggle. One corner of his mouth tilts up. “You stand proudly endowed.”
The frank appraisal sends a jolt of arousal to his exposed erection, making it twitch. Agron struggles with conflicting impulses, half wanting to cover himself, half tempted to close the gap between them, to put his hands on that smooth dark skin and give those full lips something to do other than smirk. Nasir saves him from indecision, slipping back between them, leaning back into Agron and grabbing at Castus’s wide belt to pull him close.
“His cock is formidable weapon, is it not? Wait till you see him wield it,” he grins, brushing his lips over Castus’s. Their mouths slide together, Castus’s hands framing Nasir’s jaw. Despite his own initiative in bringing them here, Agron isn’t sure how he feels about it and isn’t sure he wants to know, either. Chances are he’d have to punch the blissed-out look right off of Castus’s face.
He turns to more familiar tasks instead, reaching around Nasir to undo his belt and trousers. He feels Nasir’s body thrill to attention when he tugs them off, baring him from the waist down, stroking his hips and thighs. The sounds of kissing get more urgent, with small gasps of breath between the wet slide of their tongues, when Agron pulls Nasir back by the hips. Pressing his cock into the warm cleft between Nasir’s buttocks, he rubs up against him, biting his lip at the heat and friction. He bends his knees slightly to accommodate the height difference and traps his cock between those tempting curves, the awkward thrust made slightly easier by the few drops of pre-come leaking from his swollen cock. He’s aware that he’s humping about as crudely as a rutting bull but doesn’t care. The need to be close, to be touching, is too powerful, the fear of becoming relegated to a mere spectator too great. Even so, his eyes are glued to Castus’s face when Nasir responds to his thrusts with a moan, pushing back into him. Castus has his eyes closed and his fingers spread on Nasir’s cheeks. He looks utterly lost in their kiss, his mouth moving slowly but thoroughly against Nasir’s.
He looks lovely. He looks in love.
Agron freezes, his rhythm faltering, but just then Nasir breaks the kiss and cranes his head back. He’s flushed and breathless but his eyes, when they meet Agron’s, are clear. He turns slightly, neck arching, and his lips seek Agron’s. The motion dislodges him from between Nasir’s buttocks but he’s only too happy to comply. He can feel Castus against them, his arms alongside his own, but this time he’s the one who doesn’t care if he’s observed, too relieved to lose himself as ever inside the sweet familiar heat of Nasir’s mouth.
After a while, Nasir shifts again and moves slightly to the side, drawing Castus into their embrace. Before Agron knows it there is a third mouth seeking entrance, their breath mingling in the space between their chins and noses. Agron inhales deeply, breathing them both in. He doesn’t open his eyes; he doesn’t need to, to know who is who, but he decides he doesn’t need to see. He leans back in, and lips brush warmly over his own; hot and open-mouthed, with eager tongues and a curious lack, after all that, of struggle. There’s only pleasure in the meeting of their mouths, some awkwardness of position maybe, but not too bad for all that. He can feel the sparse beard under Castus’s lip, softer than Nasir’s stubble, dragging across his lower lip, tickling gently; Nasir’s tongue warm and demanding in his mouth – their mouths; the shift and tug of clothes coming off until there’s nothing between them but skin. He feels their bodies crowding against his, Nasir’s lithe strength and Castus’s more compact muscle; and with a sudden exhalation into their mouths he lets go of restraint and gives himself over to sensation.
There isn’t room upon the pallet, but the furs and blankets spill onto the ground as it is. Agron unexpectedly catches his foot in a bunched-up blanket and grabs for the nearest support, which happens to be Castus’s shoulder. They stumble together and suddenly they’re both in a heap on the ground, sprawling half on, half off the narrow structure of the pallet. Nasir makes an amused sound that he tries to suppress, though not quickly enough. At the sight of him standing over them, naked and his eyes dancing with mirth, Agron mock-growls and grabs his ankle. He yanks, bringing Nasir abruptly toppling down upon them. Nasir catches himself against Agron’s shoulders and gives up on discretion, laughing openly. Beside him, Agron catches the teasing glint in Castus’s eyes, the quirk of his mouth, and suddenly he’s laughing himself. He reaches down to tickle Nasir’s flanks while Castus leans in for another kiss, smothering the sounds of Nasir’s affronted yelp with his grinning lips.
It all gets a little easier, after the laughing, though not as easy as he might wish.
Agron finds himself seeking familiar touch as if he were learning the moves of a new fighting style and keeps fleeing back to established forms. He grasps at things he knows and loves: the precise shape of the ragged scar upon Nasir’s ribs, the pucker of his nipples when rolled just so between his lips. The sensitive jut of his hip bone and the hissing sound he makes – not unlike his near-silent snarl in battle – when Agron takes his cock inside his mouth. The way he writhes and arches under Agron’s tongue.
Landmarks or no, there is no denying he is not alone in this. He loses himself for a short while in the heady familiar pleasure of driving Nasir wild with his mouth, sliding his lips down the length of his cock, then back to suck at the head, fluttering his tongue; but Castus is not tentative or apologetic about his presence or desires. His tongue meets Agron’s on the curve of Nasir’s inner thigh; they share the musky scent of him and the rough cry he utters when they both lick and suck at his cock. They trap him between their mouths, lips brushing each other wetly around his taut shaft, and Agron feels almost dizzy with arousal at the mingled taste of Castus’s mouth and Nasir’s cock. They jostle for position between his spread legs until he stops them suddenly, one hand in Agron’s hair and the other pushing at Castus’s forehead.
“Wait,” he pants, urging them both up. “I would yet delay a while.”
Castus shimmies up his body with a grace that Agron absolutely does not envy or admire. “As you wish,” he says, his voice a little ragged, “though I had thought you too generous to deny pleasure.”
Agron rather agrees, but adds no complaint of his own, instead fitting himself alongside Nasir’s body to trail kisses up his neck and around his ear, making him shudder. Castus watches them with hooded eyes, one hand curled around his own cock, fondling himself without hurry. Agron’s own face is half-buried in Nasir’s hair, but he cranes his neck a little so he can watch Castus in turn.
He’s beautiful. There’s no denying that. There’s not an ounce of spare flesh on him, and all his muscles are exquisitely defined. The firelight seems to love his skin, caressing it with a rich glow, and the few scars he bears – slightly raised, and paler – somehow only seem to accentuate his overall flawlessness. His eyes meet Agron’s and he holds his gaze while he fists himself, his tongue darting out briefly to wet his lips. Agron swallows, wanting to touch, to smack that slowly pumping hand aside and replace it with his own, but resisting out of the stubborn impulse of not wanting to appear too eager. He strokes Nasir instead, aware that Castus is watching, and then more than watching: meeting Agron’s hands on Nasir’s body, mapping him out and making no attempt to evade Agron when they touch.
Nasir, as ever, understands Agron’s needs without words. He rolls on top of him smoothly, arching into both their touches, trading kisses between them. Seemingly effortlessly, he makes himself a lodestar for their passions, transferring touches from one to the other, one moment writhing against Agron’s thigh wantonly, the next turning deftly aside to direct Agron’s wandering hands to Castus’s hips instead.
Castus, for his part, seems to play no favours. He takes to inclusion in their bed as he did to fighting among their ranks, slipping into the spaces between and filling them out. He turns his attentions to Agron’s thighs and cock as easily as he did to Nasir’s, touching him with unconcealed admiration. Agron startles when Castus climbs on top of him and straddles him in reverse. His face hovers over Agron’s groin, his own cock bobbing heavily against Agron’s face. Agron forgets to think or hesitate when Castus closes his lips around his erection and circles it with his tongue in broad, wet swipes. He reaches up to grab Castus’s cock and guides it to his own mouth. Tugging the skin back from the flared head, he tongues the wet slit before he hollows his cheeks and sucks the thick shaft into his mouth.
He soon feels short of breath, overwhelmed by the dual sensations of Castus on his tongue, sliding smoothly in and out, and Castus’s lips wrapped around his cock, fluttering his tongue and working him slowly more deeply into the tight constriction of his throat until Agron feels like he must burst, or scream. All he can manage is a deep, choked noise around Castus’s cock; he feels the other man’s hips jerk in response, his balls rubbing lightly against Agron’s nose as he moves up and down. Nasir is shifting behind them. Agron can’t see what he’s doing because Castus’s knees and legs block his field of vision, but he can sense him there, and a moment later, Castus utters a deep, desperate moan and his hips press back, dragging his cock momentarily back from Agron’s lips.
“Beautiful,” he hears Nasir murmur. There are slick noises and he guesses Nasir is stroking Castus open with his fingers. The steady, slippery motion translates into the thrust of Castus’s hips and ultimately the wet slide of his mouth down Agron’s cock, increasingly erratic. The image of Nasir spreading Castus open, fucking him with his fingers, drives any coherent thoughts Agron might still have held right out of his brain. He sucks Castus back inside, swirls his tongue around his throbbing shaft and lifts his hips impatiently, trying to push even deeper into the wet heat of Castus’s mouth. He can feel that he’s close to his release, and his jaw is getting sore, so he fondles Castus’s sac to finish him faster, stroking his balls and the skin behind them. His fingers encounter slippery oil and then Nasir’s fingers, busy between Castus’s buttocks.
Castus groans around his mouthful, the vibration of it shooting straight through Agron’s cock. He feels Nasir’s fingers suddenly push deep and Agron thrusts his hips up hard, vision blanking as Castus sucks him through his climax, swallowing convulsively. Only seconds later, he feels Castus’s hips tense, his balls drawing up tight, and then warm salty come fills his mouth, a thin trail of it trickling down his chin when he can’t swallow fast enough. They grind without coordination for a few more moments, suckling each other through the aftermath, before they roll apart gasping. Agron slumps on his side, spending endless minutes trying to regain his breath. Aftershocks still roll lazily through his emptied body, and his mouth feels tender, full of the slightly bitter taste of Castus, different from Nasir in ways he couldn’t put into words.
He can hear them nearby, Nasir murmuring something, Castus panting a laugh in response, but he can’t muster the energy to open his eyes, not quite yet.
It’s odd, having set out to do this only for Nasir, to find himself so consumed by this, the unexpected thrill of being with Castus. It’s another truth he did not realise before now: it may be because of Nasir that he is here, putting his lips and hands on Castus, but it’s hardly some selfless sacrifice.
Long moments later, when he drags his eyes open to see Castus sprawled naked and gasping on their nest of blankets, Nasir on top of him, it isn’t just Nasir’s form that speeds his breath and makes his spent cock twitch. Castus’s eyes, heavy-lidded and lust-dark from behind Nasir’s shoulder, find his and there is an answering spark inside Agron that he has known before this, though not consciously. Perhaps only since that day upon the battlefield, when he felt the kinship of their affections for the man who stands between them; perhaps sooner than that. Perhaps Nasir was not the only one who found a fire there waiting to be kindled, a path not taken for love of a stronger bond, but nonetheless alluring.
Eventually, he persuades his tingling limbs to move and crawls back towards the two of them. Nasir gives him a smile but it’s a little strained with his passion yet unspent. He nudges Castus onto his side and jerks his head towards Agron, urging him closer. Castus is loose-limbed and pliant, obligingly shifting as Nasir’s hands direct him. Nasir slides up behind him and wraps a hand underneath Castus’s leg, pulling it up. Agron settles himself against Castus, chest to chest, and exchanges a glance with Nasir over Castus’s head.
“Do you want this?” Nasir murmurs into Castus’s ear, and Agron can feel the tilt of Castus’s head as he nods, the breath of his murmured assent warm on Agron’s neck.
He also feels the shudder of Castus’s body as Nasir enters him. Castus’s breath catches and his forehead presses into Agron’s shoulder, his hands grasping at his sides. Agron can feel his open mouth hot against his skin, the shivers of pleasure that ripple through him, but it’s Nasir’s expression that gradually fills his cock with renewed heat: his flushed cheeks, parted lips, and the flash of his dark eyes under half-lowered lids. He thrusts again, harder, and Castus starts to make sounds as he settles into his rhythm.
Agron rolls his hips forward, in counterpoint to Nasir’s. With all of them lying on their sides, he only has one arm free to move, and his hand has not quite decided where to settle; it drifts from Castus’s hip all the way to Nasir’s, moving over his pumping buttocks and up his spine, across his shoulders and into Castus’ wiry hair. He clutches his nape as their lips meet in another fierce, sloppy kiss. Gods, but the man’s mouth is addictive, all clever tongue and deceptively soft lips. He still tastes of Agron, and it’s strange to encounter that flavour somewhere other than on Nasir’s lips or his own hand.
Each forward push of Nasir’s hips drives Castus’s tongue inside his mouth and Castus’s hips against his. Agron grabs the leg that Nasir is holding up and pulls it higher still, easing Nasir’s access and opening Castus’s thighs to Agron. He moves between them to bring their sticky cocks together, swallowing a breathless curse when the sensitive heads rub together. He reaches down almost at the same time as Castus does: their hands interlace and move together, palming and squeezing the stiffening flesh. Agron feels not quite ready to come again so soon, but Castus seems close again: he’s straining and bucking against him, moaning on every one of Nasir’s thrusts. He sounds hoarse and Agron can’t help the thrill of satisfaction at the knowledge that he’s the cause of that, his cock down Castus’s throat fucking the voice right out of him.
Nasir turns his head into Castus’s neck with a sudden harsh groan, his pace increasing. Castus’s hand tightens, and the powerful muscles in the leg Agron is still holding up grow hard with tension. His head drops back against Nasir so they’re nearly cheek to cheek and he comes with a ragged shout, spurting over their joint hands and coating Agron’s cock in thick, sticky seed. Behind him, Nasir hisses and shoves forward hard a few more times before his entire body shudders with his own climax. Agron lets go of Castus’s spent flesh, instead placing his slick hand on his chest, stroking him soothingly through the residual shudders. Opening his eyes, he meets Nasir’s gaze, dazed and sated, over Castus’s shoulder, and leans forward to kiss him. Their mouths meet and melt together, Nasir’s lips slack and soft against his.
Castus is dead weight between them, barely moving apart from his heaving chest. One arm is draped over Agron’s hip, his head lolling against Nasir’s neck. Nasir, still struggling for air himself, drags himself up to shift their kiss to Castus’s open mouth, coaxing at his gasping lips. Eventually his eyes flicker open. He smiles at them muzzily, but doesn’t engage with the kiss, instead turning his head sideways with a sigh, to nuzzle into Nasir’s hair.
Agron is sick of it all then, of trying new things, of chasing after something he doesn’t know how to catch; of fucking sharing. He’s painfully hard again, he’s tired of heartsore thought and frenzied longing, and there’s only one thing that can quench his need and make him stop thinking. He shifts away from Castus’s body and drapes himself across Nasir instead.
“I have to have you,” he entreats into the sweat-damp locks, his hands eagerly sliding down the sleek body beneath his. Nasir half-turns his head and nods, brushing his mouth briefly over Agron’s. He positions himself, languid and unhurried, on his knees and hands, but he does not move away from Castus, who’s still breathing hard upon the furs. Instead, he leans over him, bracing his arms against Castus’s shoulders, pressing a kiss on his temple.
“Hold me,” he murmurs. “Watch me.”
Castus’s eyes, soft with sated desire, open.
Agron is too far gone to care about the pirate’s intentions, or his damaged heart. He’s full to bursting, not just his cock but something else inside him, some nameless, desperate thing that rages for release. He’s held it in too long.
“Yes, watch,” he says, voice almost savage, “Watch me fuck him on top of you, and feel him spill all over you.”
Castus only grins lazily back at him, hands slipping between Nasir’s thighs to coax him back to hardness. Judging by the hitch in Nasir’s breathing, he is not without success. “Make sure then that he comes upon your cock, not at the stroke of my fingers.”
Nasir shifts between them with a sound half impatient, half amused.
“Cease preening and see intent through, before I take my leave and seek pleasure at my own hands,” he tells them, voice dark with mounting arousal and a hint of threat.
Castus’s brows lift; he shares an amused glance with Agron. “It would be stunning sight, but most frustrating to not have hands upon you as your passion spends.”
Agron can’t hold back a snort of laughter himself. It’s a little ridiculous to be competing now. With unsteady hands, he reaches for the jar of oil next to the bed and slicks his fingers before he eases them inside Nasir’s entrance. He works them slowly, stroking and pressing against the tender spot deep inside, until Nasir hollows his spine, hips tilting up impatiently.
“Fuck me now,” Nasir demands, head dropping low. The wet sounds of kissing drive all thoughts of lingering patience from Agron’s mind. He slathers his throbbing cock in oil quickly, then drives his thumbs inside Nasir’s slickened hole to ease his way. Four legs tangle and strain beneath him as he positions his cock and pushes past the tight ring of muscle in one smooth thrust, relishing the tight heat that receives him so readily, clenching about him and drawing him inside.
He has no stamina left for leisure. Leaning forward, he fucks hard and fast into Nasir’s body, aware every second of Castus’s hands between Nasir’s legs, occasionally brushing Agron’s cock as he pulls back and slams back in. Nasir is never passive, and less so now than ever; he writhes and moans underneath Agron’s hands on his buttocks, now rearing up to impale himself more deeply, now arching forward into Castus’s hands.
“You are delicious,” Castus whispers, hand jerking rapidly between Nasir’s thighs. “I shall remember you like this in my darkest days – spread open and delighting in being taken, your pretty cock dripping on my thighs.”
Agron groans at the words; he can’t help it. Castus’s eyes slide to him, a strange glint in their dark depths. “And you,” he adds in the same low, scratchy murmur, “the way he swells your cock and nothing but to be inside him can undo your ache. Do you dream of him thus? When you spill blood in battle, is this what you fight for? Fucking him, holding him, knowing your place in his heart?”
The words roll over Agron like honeyed wine with an unexpectedly harsh spice thrown in, firing his cock and twisting uneasily over in his mind. Castus’s lips grin, dripping kisses onto Nasir’s bent neck, but his eyes never leave Agron’s and there is a wildness in his gaze that’s not fired by lust alone; a thing aware and longing and even now removed from what they share.
For a brief mad second Agron wishes he could give him the missing piece. But there is nothing he can do and no one he can be but who he is; and in a moment Castus’s eyes are closed, his lips moulded into a fierce kiss with Nasir, who moans desperately as he goes rigid and comes undone, hips pumping. Agron rams into him frantically, riding the clenching ripples of his climax as they milk his cock. He lets himself go with one last thrust, spilling his seed deep inside his lover until he’s got nothing left, and finally collapses upon them both.
They’ve clumsily toppled sideways on either side of Nasir; he’s sprawled half alongside Agron’s flank and shoulder, half curved back against Castus, their legs still wound together. By habit, Agron has scooped an arm underneath his torso to roll his own weight off him; it’s odd to encounter one of Castus’s arms there as well, both cradling Nasir between them.
There is a moment, somewhere in the muzzy, confusing aftermath of too many legs and arms, when Agron opens his eyes and finds Castus watching him. He looks flushed and sated, his chest still heaving fast, and there’s a grin playing around his lips as usual, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. His head is slightly cocked, and his free hand is drawing idle circles on Nasir’s back, tracing his shoulder blades, playing with his hair.
There’s something casually possessive about the motion that scratches at Agron’s nerves, and despite everything that’s just happened, he’s struggling with the impulse to smack Castus’s hand away. Castus’s lips quirk at him as if he has read his mind. Somehow, he manages to look both pleased and defeated, and Agron wants to snarl at the way he stares at him, all mocking and bruised at the same time, as if he’s congratulating him on a game well played.
He doesn’t know what to do, now that this has happened and they’re back where they were before, no closer for all that they’re all pressed skin to skin. He hates this, the complicated skeins that tangle invisibly in the space between them, as if the Norns had thrown the threads of their fate askew in a fit of vicious glee, refusing to spin or cut them to their preordained order. He didn’t ask for this: he never wanted to care about how Castus felt. He was just fine punching the cocky shit into oblivion.
But now a barrier has been breached and it seems there is no withholding himself from understanding. He sees them flipped in a capricious loop of time for just a second: himself at the start of the rebellion, still furious and broken and alone, filling the void of Duro’s death with piles of bodies and rivers of blood that are never quite enough; then one day coming face to face with a pair of keen brown eyes, a defiantly tilted chin. Feeling his heart tug strangely and turn slowly over at a hint of a devastating smile. And seeing someone else step up to drape an arm familiarly around those trim hips, and sneering at him as an intruder into something rare and treasured.
It does not bear thinking about.
Across Nasir’s dark head, Castus leans over suddenly, his hand moving from Nasir’s back to Agron’s neck, long fingers curling around his nape as Castus pulls him in for a kiss. It’s slow and warm and thorough, Castus’s tongue delving inside his mouth without hurry or rancour, and Agron holds still for it, not sure how to respond. Eventually Castus draws back, eyes dark and serious, and drops a kiss onto Nasir’s nape where his hair parts, lingering for a moment. Then he starts to disentangle himself, gently easing his arm out from underneath Nasir and reaching for his clothes. He puts his headdress on first, covering the tight dark curls, and Agron wonders briefly what that signifies. He never thought to ask.
Nasir stirs at Castus’s movement, brushing his hair back from his eyes and blinking. “You take leave?”
Castus inclines his head. “Morning draws near” – his smile widens, a little ruefully – “and with it, swift end to even sweetest of dreams.”
Agron says nothing. He’s said all the things he knows to, and done all the things he could think of; he’s got nothing left. Beside him, Nasir leans up onto an elbow, looking at Castus for a long moment. Then he gives him a slow, solemn smile, and even from half-lidded eyes Agron can see it sink and settle into Castus’s heart. There is no weapon in this life or the next that can prevail against Nasir’s smile.
“We will stand beside you upon field of battle,” Nasir says quietly. Castus nods once, and leaves.
Nasir settles back upon their pallet, into the scattered furs and the curve of Agron’s body. Wrapping his arms around him, Agron marvels as he always does at how perfectly their bodies fit together, how the curve between his own neck and shoulder was surely fashioned specifically for Nasir’s forehead.
“What are your thoughts?” Nasir asks eventually.
Agron sighs, tired in a way that has nothing to do with his sated body. “I brought him here in hopes of giving him and you something you needed,” he says finally. “I fear I failed.”
Nasir cranes his neck to look at him, his hair ticklish against Agron’s chest. His mouth twists. “You did not fail with me. Castus speaks truth of it – you are the one who holds firm place in my heart.”
“And not him?” Fuck the gods if he knows if it’s reassurance or further torment that he seeks.
Nasir sighs. “I am not absent feeling towards Castus. Had I not met you, in another life…”
“You could care for him as you do for me.”
Nasir hesitates, brow furrowed as he struggles for an answer, and then shrugs. “Not as I do for you. Differently. But these are idle thoughts, Agron.”
“I’m not so sure. The heart is not a simple thing, nor always undivided.”
“No,” Nasir agrees evenly, without regret or apology. For some reason, that frank admission makes Agron feel marginally better.
He lies still for a bit, concentrating on the rise and fall of Nasir’s chest against his own, the distinct thudding of his pulse. It takes him a while to find the words, although in the end they’re plain enough.
“I too could care for him.”
He feels Nasir tense slightly, sucking in a surprised breath, and tightens his embrace.
After a long moment, Nasir exhales softly and edges out from under Agron’s arm to push himself up on one elbow and look into his face. “But we are not to gain it, are we?” he says eventually, strangely calm. “Not all of us together.”
Agron lifts a shoulder, almost regretful and almost resentful over that. “There is some distance that two and two could cross, but not three.”
Nasir nods. “But you would have tried,” he says slowly, wonderingly. “You did try.”
“For you, I would try anything.”
Nasir has a peculiar way of looking at him sometimes that Agron’s not sure what to do with: a keen, measured regard that seems to bare Agron to the core, examining the things hidden too deep for casual observation: old scars, fears and ugly secrets, badly healed losses and inexpertly patched-up wounds – and then inexplicably smiling, sweetly and proudly, as if that ragged mess is the loveliest thing he’s ever seen.
He does it now, and Agron can feel how that look undoes him from the inside out, crumbling what few defences he has left after a night like this.
“Perhaps, if given time…” he says, the last thing he can offer, futile as it is. Nasir keeps looking at him, and Agron takes a deep breath, cupping his cheek in his palm.
“But we don’t have time.” Already their army is splintering, and already Agron knows which way the break will take him. All the moments are draining away like blood already spilled, impossible to hoard or chase once gone.
Nasir shivers against him, just slightly. “I know we don’t.”
They don’t speak, after that. They lie skin to skin, breathing the scent of each other and that of the three of them together, already thinning in the air. The dawn and battle are not far.