Agron’s foul temper saw him avoiding most contact in the southern sea village they now occupied. Things had turned sour over the past month, not only among the rebellion’s leaders and forces, but with Agron and Nasir as well. Perhaps it should’ve been expected of a relationship started between one death-scare and another, dried blood embedded in the fingernails with which they clung to each other. Death, mourning, misery, all were shades that haunted their steps. Nasir was new to the idea of freedom and Agron a life without his brother ever at his side when it began; could anything good last when brought together under such conditions? Could anything last this war?
Agron had been the worst fucking fool of them all. He loved Nasir and yet jealousy clouded his mind when he saw others share his company. Love did not mean possession; Nasir had told him as much and Agron knew it as truth. Rationality had no place outside of the strategy meetings these days. Agron had turned raw in a way he hadn’t felt since Duro bled out in his arms.
He found it best to keep his own company when he felt like this; it was too slight a matter to bother Spartacus about and Donar was on a raid with Saxa. Naevia and Crixus led the northern push of forces. There was no one for Agron to speak with; no brotherly commiseration from Duro, no knowing frustration from Mira, no advice offered with no small hint of annoyance from Oenomaus; there was no one.
For a man who had spent all the years since he could recall close at another’s side, in moments like this Agron felt desperately alone.
Self-doubt had brought down far greater men than Agron. He would never cease his love and affection for Nasir, but he would let him go. It would be the best for both of them. Nasir would continue to forge his own path and Agron would watch with pride at his advancement. Nasir would be a great leader among their numbers. They would need him when Agron knew all of them lived and breathed on borrowed time.
His eyes strayed to the faded red fabric wrapped around his wrist. It was more a rusted brown from all its time in the sun and various washings at riverbeds. Some of the color remained true red, hidden inside the folds of the cloth held under his wrist guard. It represented old promises and decisions made when life felt simpler.
“You prefer the company of shadows over mine?” Nasir asked.
Agron looked up in surprise. He hadn’t even sensed Nasir’s approach. He checked the position of the sun in the sky and realized more time had passed than he planned.
“You were missed at the meal,” Nasir continued. His eyes fell to the unraveled fabric in Agron’s hands though he said nothing. “I brought a bowl to our room and found it unoccupied.”
Agron stood and wrapped the fabric hastily around his wrist. “Apologies; I am unfit company these days. You should spend the rest of it among the others.” He grabbed his wrist guard and moved to push past Nasir. A tight grip on his elbow stayed his progress.
Nasir looked up at him in confusion. “What have I done now to anger you? What imagined slight have you found?”
Agron felt his jaw clench and fought down his instinct to fight when confronted. He had listened to Saxa’s many complaints about his lack of sense and was learning to control it. Of all the leaders, someone had to cling to a cool head to steer Spartacus into the clear; that it fell to Agron showed just how truly damned they found themselves.
Agron cupped Nasir’s cheek. “You have done nothing wrong, Nasir. I had a decision to make and now that I’ve come to it, I would see it to its end. If you are willing, Spartacus calls for a mission to the south.”
Nasir nodded. “I will gladly go.”
Agron smiled with all the joy he did not feel. “Good. I shall send a missive to Gannicus.”
“Gannicus?” Nasir questioned.
“Yes, he will lead the mission and you will be his support. I’ll be taking a group of my kin to Crixus and Naevia in the North.”
Nasir’s face darkened. “Alone,” he said.
Agron softly laughed. “Nemetes will lead the march with me.”
A subtle displeased twitch crossed Nasir’s face. “I do not trust others to watch your back so well.”
“Do not worry, Nasir. We will see our missions to success.” Agron turned from him and made to step past the threshold.
“Long separations have done neither of us well,” Nasir called after him. “I do not see the need for such now, unless it is my company you run from.”
Agron turned to him, no longer bothering to hide his frustration. “I seek advancement for you.”
Nasir scoffed. “Taking me from your side and sticking me at Gannicus’ will not aid my advancement. I wish to stand equal with you at your side.”
“You do,” Agron protested.
“Then show me some of the respect you claim to hold for me and tell me what has turned you from my side, Agron. I know not who you are becoming. There are times when you feel a stranger to me,” Nasir said.
He looked equal parts angry and lost, neither of which Agron wanted to or should cause him. Agron refrained from reaching out to soothe with touch, knowing if he did so now he would never let go again. He would gain strength from this sacrifice. It could only benefit them both in the end.
“We are all changed from this rebellion, Nasir. It will take every last fucking thing from us in the end, as all wars do. I would not see you waste what could be the last months of your life clinging to the familiarity of a man who leaves you infuriated on the good days and hurt on the bad. I would see you enjoy freedom to its fullest as you find your own rightful place as a leader. Why continue trying to repair something that keeps breaking?”
“Because it is still fucking together,” Nasir hissed. He grabbed Agron and backed him into the wall. “You are a general of Spartacus so those orders I will follow.” He gripped Agron’s chin and forced their eyes to meet. “With us, you do not make a final decision without consulting me. You do not get to dictate my companions or my desires, Agron. You do not get to decide that I am no longer allowed to love you. You do not get to desecrate what we have with the poison that insists on spilling from your tongue. I would rather be miserable with you than anything else without you. The only reason I remain in this fucking mess of a war is because of you. I care for the others, but this is not about a cause for freedom anymore. It is about raiding and pillaging; half our forces our freedmen, not even former slaves. I trust no other to see you out of this alive. My future is with you and only you, you fucking fool.”
He stood back and tugged the wrist guard from Agron’s hand. He unraveled the red fabric before soothing it out and folding it to fit close and tight to Agron’s skin. He pressed a kiss to Agron’s forearm before securing the wrist guard.
“Are we in final agreement?” Nasir asked.
“Are you certain?” Agron asked. “I want what is best for you.”
Nasir shook his head. “And I desire the same for you. Do not force us apart because dark thoughts haunt your mind. You deserve love, Agron. We deserve it.”