Actions

Work Header

Like the Sound of the Sun

Work Text:

Agron had been glad when he learned who had purchased him and Duro. If it was their fate to be enslaved, at least it was in such a way that they could still fight, and perhaps even win back their freedom.

That was before Batiatus decided to show off his new acquisitions--those that survived to pass the test--at a celebration in the villa. Now Agron is learning that fighting in the arena is not the only way gladiators are expected to perform for their masters.

They brought him into a room with a female slave, but Agron can tell his performance isn't satisfying their audience any more than it is her. He feels for the girl--bad enough to be ordered to fuck a stranger, to find him with no enthusiasm for the task must add insult to injury. He clenches his jaw, determined to simply get through this, and then one of the gathered Romans says something unexpected.

"Perhaps it is not women that stir this one's cock?"

"Do you mean he'd rather have a boy?" The blonde woman who'd been pouting in disappointment a moment ago now sounds both scandalized and delighted.

Batiatus' wife looks at the blonde woman, one eyebrow raised slightly. "Would you care to watch such a thing?" she asks, in a tone that suggests her guest need only voice such desire to see it done.

The blonde makes a show of looking shocked, hand fluttering at her throat, but her eagerness is clear, and Lucretia addresses the slave girl.

"Send the Syrian boy to take your place, and then return to your other duties."

"Domina," the girl says in placid acknowledgement, pulling her dress back into place.

"Apologies," Agron whispers to her, still feeling some remorse on her account.

The girl gives him a quick glance and an even quicker shrug, as if to say it matters not. Agron wonders how it must feel, to be so accustomed to having your body used. He wonders if he will become like that, if he stays in this place long enough. He would hurl himself off the cliff before it could happen, but that would leave Duro here alone.

It takes but a few moments for another to enter the room. Before he steps into view, Agron hopes briefly that whoever the girl found will be no more able to stir his interest than she was, to spite these Romans.

But no--no, that would be far too simple. The boy who steps in front of him is so beautiful the very sight of him steals Agron's breath. Fuck the gods.

"Well, gladiator?" Lucretia asks him with a knowing look. "Is this more to your liking?"

Agron wants to stay silent, to give her nothing. No, not nothing--he wants to lunge for her throat. No guard stands in the room with them; he wonders how many Romans he could kill with bare hands before one came to cut him down.

"Yes, Domina," he says tersely.

She nods, smiling calmly. "Proceed, then."

The Syrian strips and climbs onto the bed where Agron kneels, his movements quick and efficient. Jars of fragrant oil stand on a table nearby; the boy picks one up and coats his hands, then wordlessly takes hold of Agron's cock, preparing him.

It's strange to be touched in such a fashion, even as Agron feels himself respond. All the boy's movements are both gentle and mechanical, as though he were some sort of living doll. But there is unexpected strength in his soft hands, and intelligence in his eyes--eyes that flick up to meet Agron's through the dark fringe of his lashes.

Agron doesn't want to fuck this boy for Roman amusement. He wants to sit and look into those eyes and speak with him, ask his name and how long he's been in the house of Batiatus and if he likes what he sees when he looks at Agron.

The boy gives him one more look, though Agron can't read any emotion in his face, and turns around on the bed, getting onto his hands and knees. Agron yet wishes he could be defiant, but he is not the only one who could be punished if they fail to please these Roman fucks. He steadies himself on his knees, takes hold of the Syrian's hips, and pushes forward.

The boy makes no sound but a sharp intake of breath, holding himself still as Agron enters him. The grip of his body is tight and hot and oh, fuck, it's been long since Agron's known any but that of his own hand. He expects his audience wants to see him last; it's only his distaste for the situation that makes such a thing possible.

He starts moving in gentle, shallow thrusts, seeking to let the boy adjust, to make this as easy as possible for him. At first the boy stays as still and docile as he has been all along, but then he moves. Just slightly, rocking back to meet Agron's thrusts. Agron adjusts his grip and changes to longer, deeper strokes, hating how good it feels.

There is still no sound from the boy except his breath, but that changes as well, coming faster and harsher. If they had come together of their own will, Agron would be determined to make him moan. As it is, he can only hope he's causing more pleasure than pain, and the boy's responses, however slight, suggest he is.

Agron continues thrusting, drawing this out to give his audience what they desire. When he feels his end nearing, he reaches forward and tugs the boy up on his knees, his back against Agron's chest. He doesn't know if making such a move absent direction is allowed, but no one stops him, and one of the boy's hands comes up to cover Agron's arm where it lies across his chest. From this position, Agron can see his cock stands half-erect, and absent pause for thought he wraps his free hand around it, stroking quickly.

The boy gasps, his head falling back on Agron's shoulder, and Agron strokes harder, still thrusting inside him. He pants against the boy's ear as he nears climax, losing the rhythm, his movements becoming quick and erratic. The boy shudders in his arms, spilling over Agron's fingers, and there it is--a short, sharp moan buried against Agron's neck. He tightens his arm about the boy's chest and thrusts once more, letting out a groan as he finds his own release.

He can hear the Romans discussing his performance, but for the moment he pays no mind to anyone but the boy. Agron pulls out gently, but keeps holding him, and turns his head to speak words that are for his ears alone.

"What is your name?" he asks softly.

The boy still leans against Agron's shoulder, catching his breath. "Nasir," he whispers, and then opens his eyes. "Yours?"

Agron cannot help but smile as he whispers back. "Agron."

They exchange no further words. The work of a few moments sees them both cleaned and dressed while their audience disperses, and they both return to duties, Nasir to serving their master's guests, Agron to standing like a statue for their admiration. As he resumes his place beside Duro, he casts one last look in Nasir's direction, and dark eyes meet his own for a fleeting moment before Nasir turns away.

***

Since Pietros' death, the other male slaves in the house have shared the duties that were his. None of them stays in the ludus too long once duties are completed, and none of them sleep there as Pietros did--measures suggested by Doctore and agreed to by their dominus, to avoid another unpleasant situation.

This week the work falls to Nasir, so before dawn he goes down to the ludus and follows Doctore's commands. The day seems to pass in a routine fashion. After all that has happened of late--Pietros, Gnaeus, Segovax--the gladiators seem inclined to behave, and save risking death for the arena. Nothing of note happens until Nasir fills a cup at the water barrel, turns to hand it to the man who stands before him, and finds his gaze unexpectedly caught by green eyes.

"Nasir," the man says--quietly, as if the name is a secret he's been entrusted with. He seems genuinely pleased to see Nasir, and Nasir cannot help but smile cautiously as he offers the cup. Agron takes it, their fingers brushing, and looks as though he's about to speak again when someone shoves him from behind.

"Am I to die of thirst while you stand and flirt with a slave boy, brother?"

The man who speaks has the same dreadlocked hair as Agron, and when Agron turns to shove him back it seems playful. Nasir hands the other man a cup as well, and as the two move away Agron gives Nasir a lingering glance over his shoulder.

The brothers return to the practice field, and though Nasir previously stood with eyes properly downcast, he now watches Agron. As he trains with sword and shield, everything about him--his expression, his movements, the frustrated growl he lets out when caught off guard by his opponent--speaks of a warrior, with nothing to hint at the moments of gentleness Nasir has seen.

Agron is not the first man Nasir has been commanded to lie with. The first was a few months after the death of Titus Batiatus, and there have been many since then. Not only gladiators, to provide spectacle as he and Agron did, but also favored guests whose eye fell on him, or men who had done some service to Batiatus and sought reward. None of them have ever given any thought to his pleasure, or evoked such an unexpectedly genuine response from him. None of them have ever asked his name.

When the gladiators break for rest and food, Nasir helps serve them, then moves to stand against the wall until Doctore gives him further command. As he passes the bench where Agron sits with his brother (Duro, Nasir has heard him called), Agron reaches to stop him.

"Stay a moment?" Agron asks. At least, the inflection in his voice makes it sound like request, rather than command. "If you can."

Nasir thinks briefly of Pietros, but a quick glance around finds Doctore not far, watching but making no move yet to call Nasir away. He looks back at Agron.

"For a moment," he confirms. "What would you have of me?"

Agron's brow furrows. "You speak as though I stood Roman, giving you command."

Nasir shrugs lightly. "You are a gladiator. You have command over me, so long as your will does not conflict with Doctore's."

"I do not seek it," Agron tells him, sounding offended at the idea. Nasir bows his head automatically, and Agron's voice is softer when he speaks again. "I would only ask that you sit and talk for a moment, if you wish to do so."

Having a gladiator show any concern for his wishes is as foreign to Nasir as having one care what his name is. He's too surprised by it to even consider what his wishes are, and takes a seat on the bench. Duro remains at Agron's other side until Agron jabs an elbow into his ribs, and at that he rolls his eyes and goes in search of another seat.

"What do you wish to speak of?" Nasir asks.

"Anything," Agron says, eyes fixed on Nasir's face. "Tell me of yourself."

Nasir smiles, looking back at him. Agron's interest is as curious as it is flattering. "There is little to tell," he says, and finds himself regretful that it is so. "I was born in Syria, I was brought here as a child, and now I serve the house of Batiatus."

"Surely there is more than that," Agron presses. "Do you have any family?"

Nasir looks down. "I had a brother. He is the only one I recall, and we were separated when we were taken as slaves."

"Apologies," Agron says, glancing toward Duro. "The gods have not yet seen fit to part my brother and I, at least."

He sounds as though losing Duro would destroy him utterly, and Nasir finds himself afraid for them both. It's dangerous to set so much store by another's survival in the arena.

"May they continue to favor you," he says.

Agron looks back at him, smiling, and reaches to cover Nasir's hand with his own where it rests on the bench. The touch is gentle, but at that moment Doctore barks Nasir's name and Nasir pulls his hand from under Agron's.

"I must go," he says, standing and moving away without a backward glance. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees someone take his place on the bench--Spartacus.

Nasir falls to Doctore's side and stands with hands behind his back and eyes lowered, but he is not too far removed to hear the gladiators' conversation.

"What do you seek from the boy?" Spartacus' voice is calm, but as with every time Nasir has heard the Thracian speak, danger lurks below the surface.

"What fucking business is that of yours?" Agron replies angrily.

"I would have answer," Spartacus says flatly, and though Nasir does not look up he can picture them glaring into one another's faces. A few moments pass in silence, and Agron's reply is soft, but no less angry.

"I seek only his company. Do you take issue with that, champion?"

Spartacus seems mollified, his voice softer as well. "I speak only out of concern for the boy."

"Nasir," Agron interjects.

"Nasir," Spartacus acknowledges, and goes on. "There was another boy who served us and was...tormented by one of our number. I stood idle too long to aid him, a mistake I would not see repeated."

"I'm no fucking animal," Agron says, disgust clear in his voice. "At least, not of that sort."

"I am glad to hear it," Spartacus tells him. "For both your sakes. But if you care for him, remember where you both stand in this house. It may not be wise to show your interest too plainly."

"Our champion speaks the truth," Doctore comments in a low voice, and Nasir ducks his head.

"Yes, Doctore," he agrees.

For the rest of the week, Agron does not speak to Nasir except to offer thanks when Nasir serves him. He's one of the few who does so, along with Spartacus and Duro, and Nasir suspects Agron's influence in the latter.

They do not speak, but Nasir feels Agron's eyes on him often, and cannot help but follow Agron with his own. He does not find it unpleasant to be watched so. He is used to eyes on him, and has been for most of his life, but Agron's feel different, in a way Nasir has never known before. He would seek to know it better, if he had freedom to do so--which, of course, he does not. The week ends, another slave takes Nasir's place in the ludus, and he does not see Agron again, except in passing.

***

On the eve of the next games, Batiatus hosts another celebration. Nasir does not allow himself to expect or hope for anything. He is not even certain what he wants. His pulse quickens at the memory of Agron's hand on him, of Agron inside him. But the thought of their being made spectacle for Batiatus' guests now seems distasteful, as does the thought that they could just as easily pair him with another gladiator. He has always merely accepted such things, has no choice but to accept them, and it is troubling to now find acceptance more difficult.

All he can do is wait to see what will occur. He goes about his duties quietly, and what the night holds for him is made clear when he answers Lucretia's summons and finds her standing with a small group of others--several of whom were present the first time Agron fucked him.

This time they have him prepare himself and wait, facing away from the door, so he knows not who they've chosen to join him until the man kneels on the bed and reaches for him.

The hands that take hold of his shoulders are strong and callused, yet their touch is gentle, and a familiar voice whispers his name. Nasir cannot hold back a sigh of relief, his shoulders sagging. Agron feels it and pulls Nasir back against his chest, and Nasir leans into him.

"We brought you here to fuck the boy, not whisper in his ear." Lucretia's voice intrudes on them, shattering the illusion of intimacy they had somehow achieved for a moment. "Proceed."

It's familiar this time, Agron's hands on his hips, Agron's cock entering him as Nasir braces his hands on the bed. Nasir draws in a deep breath, closing his eyes, then opens them as he hears one of the Romans approach. When she speaks, he knows it's Illythia, the woman whose favor Lucretia constantly strives for.

"He's such a quiet little thing." Her hand comes to rest on Nasir's head, stroking his hair as if he were a dog. "I want you to be rough this time, gladiator. Make him cry out."

Agron hesitates, and Nasir silently begs for him to do as he's told. He's seen enough of this woman to know that if she desires pain, she'll have it from them one way or another. After a moment, Agron adjusts his grip and thrusts forward again--harder than before, but not enough for real pain. Nasir does his part, letting out a moan.

"Good." Illythia's fingers twist in his hair, and there's nothing false about that pain. "Again."

She keeps spurring Agron on, and at first his forceful thrusts and Nasir's answering moans are more show than truth. But something seems to take hold of them both. Agron's hands tighten on Nasir's hips as he drives into him, harder and deeper, and the cries falling from Nasir's mouth are pulled from deep within him.

All Nasir's life, whatever has been done to him and whatever he's been made to do, he's managed to hold to some measure of internal control, control over his mind and his reactions if nothing else. He does not want to give up that control to Illythia, but finds himself surprisingly willing to yield it to Agron. He comes unexpectedly without a hand on his cock this time, his body shuddering and clenching, and moments later Agron moans and Nasir feels him finish.

Nasir pants for breath, kneeling with his head bowed so low it touches the bed, and Illythia lets go of his hair and pats his head--again, as she would a dog's--before she withdraws.

They have a few short moments alone as they clean and dress themselves, and Nasir turns to face Agron for the first time. He can't hold back a wince as he moves; he'll be sore tomorrow, with bruises on his hips.

One of Agron's hands brushes his side, gentle in contrast to earlier. His other hand touches Nasir's cheek.

"Apologies," he murmurs.

"They are not needed," Nasir replies softly, lifting his eyes to Agron's. "I carry the marks of your touch with me when we part this time, and I am glad of it."

Agron's breath catches and he takes a step closer, but Nasir looks down. "We cannot linger," he says.

Agron sighs, but nods. His hand presses Nasir's cheek for a moment, and Nasir leans into the touch, and then they step away from each other.

***

Agron grows accustomed to his new life faster than he would have thought possible. He eats, sleeps, and trains, awaiting the chance to prove himself in the arena. He bickers with Duro and tries to keep him from getting in too much trouble. He treasures every glimpse he gets of Nasir, every word that passes between them, no matter how brief.

He has never wooed anyone before. At home, he would find a man who shared his appetites and they would fuck--perhaps on only one occasion, perhaps several if it was good--and that would be that. He knows he should not be trying to woo Nasir now, yet still he looks for ways to show his regard, to let Nasir know he is in Agron's thoughts. Nasir is too controlled to show much reaction, but sometimes he gives just a hint of a smile, sometimes he lingers when he hands Agron a cup of water or a practice sword, or raises his eyes from that careful downcast gaze to look at Agron directly, and it's enough to give Agron hope that he is not alone in this.

Weeks after passing the test, he and Duro are finally given a chance to prove themselves in the arena, fighting side-by-side. It's the first time Agron's had a real sword in hand since his capture, and it feels viciously good, even if he'd rather use it on the guards than the poor bastards they set him and Duro against. He has no wish to fight other men enslaved by Rome, but the only options open to him are victory or death.

And victory, when it comes, is intoxicating. For a few moments, it matters not that the crowd cheering them is full of Romans, or that Duro dropped his guard during their fight and Agron felt his heart stop until it was raised again. They are together and alive, and Agron lifts his sword and roars back at the crowd.

Brotherly concern rears its head again once they return to the ludus, and he cuffs Duro's ear roughly.

"What were you thinking, lowering shield?"

Duro swats his hand away angrily. "You scold like an old woman for mistake of a moment."

"A moment that could have cost your life," Agron growls at him. "We were in the fucking arena, not training."

Duro makes no answer, scowling at the ground. Agron stalks away, leaving him to pout.

Someone calls his name and he looks up to see Ashur approaching. Agron regards him warily; he has not had many dealings with the Syrian, but none who have speak well of him, and the way he curries favor with any he thinks might give it disgusts Agron.

"What do you want?" he asks.

"Merely to be of service," Ashur says, in an obliging tone Agron doesn't trust for a moment. "You performed well in the arena this day, and Batiatus rewards those who do him such honor. He sends me to ask if you would have any such reward--wine, perhaps, or companionship for the evening? I could easily procure such a thing."

"I want nothing from you," Agron tells him flatly. "Least of all one of your whores."

"No?" Ashur cocks his head to the side, and a knowing look comes over him. "No, I remember now. Your tastes seem to run in a different direction...that of my young countryman."

Agron looks away, his jaw clenching, but Ashur presses.

"You have never enjoyed the boy's company alone, have you? Is that reward you would seek?"

"Is such a thing possible?" The question falls from Agron's mouth before he can stop himself. The very thought of what Ashur offers drives all sense from his mind, and he struggles to reclaim it.

Ashur smiles, and Agron wants to smash his fist into the man's smug face. "When Dominus stands pleased with you and Ashur speaks in his ear, many things are possible, my young friend."

"I'm no friend of yours," Agron snaps.

Ashur's smile turns to glare for a moment, but he recovers quickly. "Perhaps not," he replies smoothly. "But...you would have the boy?"

Agron looks away, weighing the folly of accepting anything offered by this snake against the thought of Nasir. He knows which is the wiser choice--just as he knows he is incapable of making it.

Ashur leaves him in his cell while he makes the arrangements. As the Syrian departs, Agron hears someone come up beside him and turns to see Duro.

"What was that about?" Duro asks, their quarrel apparently forgotten. "I've never seen you exchange so many words with that treacherous fuck."

If it were anyone else, Agron would reply that it was none of their fucking concern, but he has never had secrets from Duro. "He asked if I would have reward for my showing in the arena," he says quietly. "I requested Nasir."

"Your Syrian boy?" Duro asks, then laughs and slaps Agron on the shoulder. "I've been wondering when you would find your balls and do something besides moon over him."

"He is not mine," Agron hastens to point out, a reminder as much to himself as Duro.

"No," Duro acknowledges with a crooked smile, and puts his hand on Agron's shoulder again, gently this time. "But I wish you joy of him all the same. You should take whatever joy there is to be had in this fucking place."

Agron smiles at him, leaning forward until their foreheads touch.

As he waits, doubt nags at him. What if Nasir resents being summoned and presented to him this way? What if he doesn't desire this as Agron does? He has always seemed to welcome Agron's touch, but perhaps he's merely been making the best of a bad lot.

He thinks of Nasir's smiles, given sparingly but never seeming less genuine for it, and the way he's pressed back against Agron's touch the precious few times they've been together. The memories give reassurance.

At length, a guard opens the cell and barks at Agron to come with him, and Agron follows him to a vacant cell further down the passage.

"My watch ends in three hours," the guard informs him. "My orders are to see you back to your cell and the boy back to the villa before I retire. Don't fucking keep me waiting."

Agron steps into the room and finds Nasir standing there, looking up as Agron comes in. As the door shuts behind him Agron opens his mouth to speak--to give some explanation or reassurance that Nasir need not do anything he does not desire--but before he can make a sound Nasir crosses to him and lays fingers against Agron's lips.

"I hoped it was you I was being brought to," he says softly, his eyes warm and bright. Agron takes hold of Nasir's hand, moving it away from his mouth and using it to pull him closer.

The first touch of Nasir's lips against his is the sweetest thing Agron has ever known. He reaches down to take Nasir in his arms, pulling him close. Nasir braces his hands on Agron's chest and goes up on his toes, changing the angle of the kiss, and Agron holds him tight.

When the kiss finally breaks, they stay close. Agron bears Nasir's weight easily, cradling the smaller body against his own.

"It was unwise to let Ashur know you favor me so much," Nasir says in a low voice. "I am glad to be in your arms, but never again reveal anything to him if you can avoid it."

"Do you have reason to fear him?" Agron asks, setting Nasir back on his feet and looking into his eyes. If Ashur threatens Nasir, at any time or for any reason, Agron will rip his fucking head from shoulders.

Nasir shakes his head. "No more than any in this house have reason," he says. "But also no less. He never learns of anything without seeking to turn it to his advantage."

"I will remember," Agron promises, and leans down to touch his forehead to Nasir's. "But tonight I would have Ashur far from mind. We have only a few hours."

Nasir leans against him, closing his eyes. "I have dreamt of finding myself in your arms with no one watching us," he whispers. "A few hours is not enough, but if that is all the time we have, let us waste none of it."

Agron tilts Nasir's chin up, kissing him again. This time he coaxes Nasir's mouth open and slips his tongue inside, seeking to taste more of him. Nasir makes an eager little noise, and his hands wander over Agron's chest and down, trailing over his ribs and stomach and not stopping until they reach his subligaria. They pause there as if seeking permission, despite the fact that they've fucked twice before. Agron thinks of the first time, of Nasir laying calm, efficient hands on him at Lucretia's command, and understands why Nasir would choose to wait on Agron's word this time.

He breaks the kiss to whisper, "Take it off," and Nasir does so. His hands linger at Agron's hips for a moment, stroking his skin, and then he sees to his own clothing, taking a vial from his waistband before the cloth falls away.

Agron takes hold of Nasir's waist, hands curving around his sides, and bends to claim his lips once more. He backs them toward the bed, but when they reach it Nasir turns them, pushing gently at Agron's shoulder. Agron sits when his knees hit the bed, and Nasir climbs up to kneel astride him.

"I would look upon your face while you are inside me, this time," Nasir says.

Agron slings one arm around Nasir's waist to hold him where he is, and with his free hand, touches Nasir's fingers where they clutch the vial.

"And I would have it be my hand that prepares you," he replies.

He goes slowly, reaching between Nasir's legs and stroking the skin there before pressing in gently. Their time may be short, but for the first time they have no one to please but each other, and Agron means to see to Nasir's pleasure as thoroughly as he can.

Nasir moves against him, hands on Agron's shoulders. It's nothing like the slight, controlled movements Agron's seen from him before; Nasir holds nothing back now, and Agron's never thought him more beautiful. He moves his fingers inside Nasir and is rewarded with a tiny moan and the graceful arch of Nasir's back. Nasir lowers his head, seeking Agron's lips, and the next time Agron makes him moan he breaks the kiss but stays close, panting into Agron's mouth.

Agron works his fingers until Nasir is writhing against him, then pulls his hand back, taking hold of his cock to steady it. Nasir tightens his grip on Agron's shoulders and pulls in a deep breath, then lets himself sink down. Agron grasps him tightly about the waist and moves his hand to Nasir's hip. Nasir sinks down all the way and then pauses, holding still. Agron tilts his head down and presses a kiss to the center of Nasir's chest, and Nasir runs his hands up to cup the back of Agron's head.

Nasir starts moving after a few moments. Just a slight flex of his hips at first, encouraging movement from Agron as well. Agron thrusts up into him gently, drawing forth another moan. He trails his mouth over Nasir's chest and collarbones, then starts to make his way up, but pauses, biting back a noise of frustration, when he reaches the place where Nasir's collar encircles his neck. He pulls back to see Nasir's face instead, and Nasir looks down at him. Agron's never seen his face so open and unguarded, never seen the fire that now burns in Nasir's eyes.

Nasir keeps moving, rolling his hips in tight circles, and Agron responds, thrusting harder and deeper. They find a rhythm, moving together easily. Nasir lowers his mouth to Agron's, and Agron kisses him hungrily.

They're pressed together tightly, but Agron works a hand between their bodies, taking hold of Nasir's cock. Nasir breaks the kiss on a gasp, pushing into the touch, and Agron strokes him in time with his thrusts.

Nasir starts moving faster, growing frantic, and Agron isn't ready for it to be over but he cannot slow down, cannot do anything but thrust up into Nasir over and over. Nasir drops his head to Agron's shoulder, teeth scraping across his skin, and moans into the crook of his neck. Agron cradles Nasir against him with one arm and keeps stroking his cock, until Nasir shakes against him and spills into his hand, letting out a broken cry. The way he clenches and shudders and the sounds he makes drive Agron over the brink of his own release, and he snaps his hips up one last time, moaning as he spills inside Nasir.

Nasir collapses against his chest, breathing heavily, and Agron wraps both arms around him and holds him tight. Neither of them speaks. After a few moments Agron pulls out and takes up the edge of the blanket that lies on the bed to clean them both. He gathers Nasir against him and moves back on the bed.

Nasir has gone quiet and pliant again. He lets Agron lay him down, and when Agron lies beside him and gathers him close again he lets his head come to rest on Agron's shoulder. He does not shrink from Agron's touch, but there's some slight tension in his body, and Agron reluctantly breaks their silence.

"I fear you are not at ease in my arms. If you would leave before appointed time--"

"No," Nasir says at once, and it gives reassurance, though he still does not relax against Agron. "Apologies, I am taken by thoughts."

Agron pulls back enough to look at him, brushing a stray curl from his face. "Then share them, if you would."

Nasir curls his hand around Agron's wrist and turns his head, kissing the place where his pulse beats. "You make me feel things no other ever has," he whispers. "Things I did not know I could feel. And I'm afraid."

Agron frowns. "I would never hurt you, Nasir. Never willingly," he amends, recalling sharp eyes and a cultured Roman voice giving him commands.

"I do not fear you," Nasir assures him. "But everything around us. I have seen other slaves form close attachment in spite of their bonds; I have never seen it end well."

"I will pursue you no further, if you do not wish it," Agron tells him solemnly. It seems an impossible task to rein in his desire, but he will find a way if he must, for Nasir's sake.

Nasir lifts a hand to Agron's face, gently tracing the shape of his lips. "That is the safer course. Yet when I look into your eyes or feel your touch, I care little for safety or caution." He lifts his eyes to meet Agron's. "You are a danger to me, yet I crave you like water or air."

Agron kisses his fingertips. "Caution has never come easily to me," he says. "Even now. No fate I can imagine seems worse than to have never held you in my arms."

"You speak as one who has not been a slave long," Nasir says, his smile rueful.

"I have not been," Agron says. It still aches worse than any wound when he thinks of freedom, of home, yet he cherishes the pain. To lose it, he thinks, would be to lose the memory of what it was to be free. "I once thought I would sooner die than submit to Roman enslavement."

"Yet you live," Nasir says, lifting up on his elbow to look down at Agron's face.

"When they captured Duro along with me, I knew I had to. I've lived for him since then." Agron reaches up, cupping Nasir's cheek. "I did not expect to find anything else to do it for."

Nasir regards him solemnly for a moment, then gives one of his soft, gentle smiles and leans down for a kiss.

They lie together until their time runs out, sharing soft kisses and touches, revelling in the fact that they have opportunity to do so. Too soon, they hear footsteps approach in the corridor, and rise and dress quickly.

Agron draws Nasir into his arms one last time, resting his cheek against Nasir's hair and wishing desperately he didn't have to let go.

"You will ask for me again?" Nasir whispers.

"As soon as I can," Agron promises. "And you will never be from thought until then."

It's not enough. It's all they have. They share one last, lingering kiss before the guard pounds on the door.

***

The next time the gladiators are summoned to the villa is for the boy Numerius' birthday celebration. As soon as they take their places among the guests, Agron seeks out Nasir with his eyes, drinking in the sight of him. A group of Roman women admiring the line of gladiators pause in front of Agron, and he grits his teeth and does his best to ignore the unwelcome hands on his chest and arms. Nasir's hair looks freshly washed and combed, curling gently about his neck and shoulders. If Agron were to bury his face in those dark locks and breathe in, there'd be cloying smells of oil and perfume, but perhaps also a deeper, cleaner scent underneath.

He's pulled from his reverie when the exhibition match begins--not Spartacus and Crixus as everyone thought, but Spartacus and Varro. Much as Agron would love to see the champion put the Gaul in his place yet again, he enjoys watching him fight Varro. They're not so evenly matched as Spartacus and Crixus, but the love and respect they bear each other shows in every move, and it's a fine thing to watch.

Until something happens that no one expects.

As the guards form a ring around the two gladiators, Agron starts forward absent thought, only to feel a hand close on his upper arm.

"Don't," Nasir whispers, standing at his shoulder. No one seems to take notice of them--all eyes are on Spartacus and Varro.

"I cannot simply stand by and watch this," he hisses, and Nasir's grip tightens.

"You must," Nasir replies, voice no less urgent for its softness. "Spartacus is the Bringer of Rain and they will kill him if he does not do this. They will not hesitate to kill you if you interfere." Agron still stands tense, braced for action, and Nasir whispers, "Agron, I cannot lose you this way."

The desperate plea in his voice catches at Agron, and then Varro does something that renders meaningless anything he could do. As he reaches up to seize the blade and drive it into his own flesh, Agron jerks in shock and hears a small gasp from Nasir. He feels Nasir's hair brush his shoulder as he looks away, but Agron keeps his eyes locked on Spartacus and Varro. If he can do nothing else, he will honor them by bearing witness.

Varro falls and the Romans applaud, and once again Agron desires nothing but to kill as many of them as he can. This time it is not only the thought of Duro that stays his hand, but Nasir's presence at his shoulder.

The guards move back to their posts, and Nasir's fingers slip from his arm as though they had never been there.

***

Nasir's mind has never been so consumed by anything as it is by Agron now. The gladiators fight in the arena again today, and Nasir has spent the day shifting between fear Agron may be hurt and hope they may soon have more time together.

The words he spoke to Agron just before Varro's death keep echoing back to him. To fear losing something implies that it is yours to begin with, and Nasir has never been able to call anything truly his, not even his own body. That those words fell from his mouth speaks to how much being with Agron has changed him in so short a time.

He's so lost in thought that Naevia has to call his name twice before he looks up.

She approaches him, frowning slightly. "Your mind wanders," she says quietly. "You would do well to call it back before less friendly eyes take note."

"Apologies," Nasir murmurs, bowing his head. Naevia has not had to chastise him so since he was a child, she a girl not much older, speaking as a sister would to a younger brother. "I thought you and Domina yet at the arena."

She does not seem entirely mollified, but lets it pass for the moment. "We returned early; Domina is unwell. I cannot be gone from her side long. Go to Medicus and have him prepare something to ease troubled stomach."

Nasir nods and hastens to complete the task. He returns to the villa with a packet in hand, and finds Naevia in the antechamber outside Lucretia's bedroom.

"She sleeps," Naevia says, taking the packet. "I will see her receive this on waking." Nasir starts to withdraw, but Naevia touches his shoulder. "Stay a moment."

Nasir obeys, glad for the chance to share a moment's leisure with her.

"You are not given to distraction," Naevia points out, touching his shoulder gently. "Does something trouble you?"

Nasir smiles, shaking his head. "I am well." It's not untrue. There is much that troubles Nasir--that they are not free to be together as they choose, that Agron faces death every day--but even in the face of them, he has never been so happy.

Naevia smiles at him. "Is it pleasant distraction, then?"

Nasir has not spoken of Agron to any of the other house slaves, but if there is anyone he can confide in, it is surely Naevia. "Agron takes the sands again today," he tells her in a low voice. "The last time, he was offered reward and asked for time alone with me."

He glances up to see an odd look on Naevia's face, one he cannot decipher. "Agron," she says softly. "I've seen your eyes upon him when you've served in the ludus, and his on you. Are you so taken with each other?"

Nasir feels himself blush. "As I never knew I could be. Do you think me foolish, to encourage such feeling?"

Naevia lays a hand on his shoulder, smiling gently. "I believe our hearts make fools of us all, in time. I would urge caution, but if he makes you happy, such a gift is not to be squandered."

Nasir smiles at her, reaching to take her hand. "I have missed speaking with you like this. We used to find moments when we could sit and talk, even after you became Domina's body slave."

Naevia looks down. "I've been busy of late. Much occupies Domina's thoughts these days, and in turn she requires much of me."

Nasir presses her hand gently. "I hope someday soon we may be able to speak more freely."

"As do I," Naevia says, smiling at him once more before she moves back toward the bedchamber.

As evening falls and the gladiators return, Nasir feels his heart speed up despite all his attempts to keep calm. Sure enough, one of the guards comes to fetch him.

He's led to the same room as before, and before long Agron joins him. Without a word of greeting, he sweeps Nasir into a tight embrace and kisses him deeply. Nasir slides his arms around Agron's waist and returns the kiss with equal fervor, then pulls back, smiling.

"I take it you stand pleased to see me," he says.

Agron grins, leaning in for another, shorter kiss. "As I hope you are to see me."

Nasir tips his head down to rest on Agron's shoulder, nestling close. Already, he feels at home in Agron's arms in a way he has never felt anywhere else. "I've thought of little but this all day."

Agron smooths a hand gently across Nasir's shoulders and back. "At least someone stands pleased to be in my company." Nasir looks up at him curiously, and Agron sighs. "Duro begins to chafe at our fighting together."

"He longs to prove himself," Nasir says. He has yet to break many words with Duro, but that much is evident from watching him train.

"Can he not do so at my side?" Agron asks, scowling.

"A question better put to Duro himself," Nasir points out. "Have you spoken of this with him?"

Agron looks down at him, smiling fondly. "We snapped at each other and each stormed off. I'll seek calmer words with him when I may."

"You should," Nasir says, smiling up at him. "But now you should kiss me again."

Agron's smile widens, and he cups Nasir's cheek as he leans down. He deepens the kiss almost at once, and Nasir opens his mouth under Agron's, sliding his hands up to Agron's shoulders. Agron turns them and steers them until Nasir's back hits the wall, trapping him there with a hand on either side. His mouth is fierce and hungry, allowing no time for Nasir to catch his breath. Nasir kisses back just as fiercely, letting out a little noise when Agron draws Nasir's lower lip between his teeth. A moment later, Agron reaches down and lifts Nasir off his feet, hoisting him easily. Nasir gasps and wraps his legs around Agron's waist, and Agron slides his hands around the backs of Nasir's thighs to hold him in place, pressing him up against the wall as they kiss.

A few moments later Agron turns and starts carrying Nasir toward the bed, but Nasir breaks the kiss to speak. "Wait," he says, pushing gently at Agron's chest, and Agron sets him down, a curious look on his face. Nasir keeps pushing until they hit the wall again, Agron pressed against it this time.

"There is something we have not yet shared," Nasir says, leaning in to kiss the underside of Agron's jaw and make his way down the line of his throat. "And I would have it now, rather than wait for it to be commanded by others."

"Anything." Agron's voice is rough with need, and his hands move over Nasir's shoulders and arms restlessly, as though he can't get his fill of touching him. "Whatever you would have of me, take it."

Nasir trails kisses across Agron's collarbones and chest, then goes smoothly to his knees, hearing a sharp intake of breath above as Agron realizes his intent. Nasir makes short work of Agron's subligaria, then curls a hand around the base of Agron's cock and leans forward, taking the head into his mouth.

He knows how to do this well, how to please. He's never done it acting on his own desire rather than on another's command. He desires it fiercely now, wants to taste Agron, to see him fall apart under the work of Nasir's hands and mouth.

Agron obliges beautifully. He gasps for breath and then moans loudly, and Nasir looks up to see his head thrown back, exposing the line of his throat. As Nasir slides his mouth down, taking in as much of Agron's cock as he can, Agron's hands settle on his hair and his hips twitch forward. He's holding himself still, Nasir can feel it in every line of his body, and he slides a hand around the back of Agron's thigh and presses gently, urging him not to.

Agron's hips rock forward, gently at first. Nasir makes an encouraging noise, letting his eyes flutter closed as Agron's cock slides in and out of his mouth. After a few moments, Agron seems to trust that Nasir will signal if he goes too far. His movements become firmer, surer, and his hands tangle in Nasir's hair, wrapping strands around his fingers. Nasir teases with his tongue, reaches between Agron's legs to cup his balls, uses all his skill to bring him to the edge. Agron's breath starts coming harsh and fast, his hips stutter, and he tightens his grip on Nasir's hair and moans Nasir's name as he comes.

Nasir swallows steadily, not pulling off until Agron falls back against the wall and goes still. He lets his forehead come to rest on Agron's thigh, catching his breath, and Agron's hands slip through his hair gently now.

Agron touches Nasir's face and urges him to stand, kissing him deeply when he does. With one hand cupping Nasir's chin and the other at his waist, he turns them yet again, so that Nasir is back against the wall.

When Agron drops to his knees, Nasir simply stares at him. Agron puts his hands on Nasir's waist and looks up, then pauses.

"Nasir?" he asks softly, hands curling around his sides. "Do you desire this?"

Nasir wants Agron's hands and mouth on him in whatever way it pleases Agron to give them, but he yet hesitates. "I...have only ever given this pleasure to others," he says softly. "Never received it." It's one of those things that has simply seemed a fact of existence--boys such as him suck cock, men such as Agron have their cocks sucked.

Agron's eyes widen slightly, as if he hadn't realized that would be the case. He looks up at Nasir a moment longer, then leans forward and kisses his stomach.

"Then I would gladly be first to give it to you," he says into Nasir's skin.

Nasir looks down at him, smoothing a hand over the matted locks of his hair. "Yes," he whispers.

Agron tugs Nasir's clothing out of the way quickly and leans in. Nasir gasps, not fully prepared for the sensation of wet heat enveloping his cock. Agron takes him deep at once, bracing his hands on Nasir's hips, and when Nasir catches his breath all he can do is moan. Agron does this with the same fierce passion he does everything, sucking hard and working the shaft with his tongue.

Nasir lets out a sharp cry of pleasure, feeling his knees go weak. He sinks against the wall, held upright only by the stone at his back and Agron's firm grasp on his hips. He keeps one hand in Agron's hair, twisting the dreadlocks in his fingers. With his other, he covers his mouth to keep the sounds escaping him from carrying out of the room, unwilling to share them with any but Agron. Agron gives no quarter, doesn't let up for a moment, and Nasir moans and shakes as he tumbles over the edge of release.

As soon as Agron pulls off, Nasir sinks to his knees beside him, taking Agron's face in his hands and kissing him deeply. It's new and a bit strange tasting himself, but not unpleasantly so. Agron gathers him close, curling a hand around the back of his neck.

At length, they move to the bed, lying in a tangle of limbs and exploring each other's bodies gently. Nasir lets his fingers trail down Agron's throat to his chest, touching the scar there briefly, mapping out Agron's collarbone.

"Tell me of your life before this," he whispers.

Agron combs his fingers through Nasir's hair and tells him of his home, of things Nasir has only ever known of through the words of others. He speaks of the lands east of the Rhine, of a mother and father and a village where all treated each other as kin whether closely bound by blood or not, so that growing up it was as if Agron had many siblings instead of just one. He tells of his childhood, of Duro always trailing after him from the time he could walk. He tells of the first time his father showed him how to butcher an animal, the first time he held a sword, and the first boy he lay with, both of them fumbling and overeager and not yet fifteen.

"Was he more beautiful than I am?" Nasir asks with a teasing smile, and Agron cups his cheek and answers seriously.

"You eclipse anyone I have ever been with," he says. "Any I've so much as looked at."

Nasir grins at the praise, leaning in for a kiss. When it breaks, he lays his head on Agron's shoulder, hand still tracing over his skin.

"I remember very little of Syria," he murmurs. "But for my brother, what remains in my mind is only...vague images that could as easily be a story I was told as my own history. One of my first clear memories is the journey here. The way the ship rocked and groaned frightened me--I thought myself in the belly of a monster. And then I remember the auction block. It was Titus Batiatus who bought me, Quintus' father. He outbid another man, and I remember hearing them call back and forth and wondering what they were arguing over. I didn't understand enough Latin to know it was me until I was collected."

Agron tightens his grip on Nasir reflexively, and Nasir lifts his head from Agron's shoulder, studying his face.

"I have never known any life but this one--doing what others asked of me, absent any desires or hopes of my own. I never even thought to wish for anything but that. Until you."

Agron draws him down for a deep, slow kiss, twining his hands in Nasir's hair. He rolls them over on the bed, pinning Nasir under him, and looks into his eyes when he pulls back.

"Duro and I hope to take back our freedom eventually, with winnings from the arena," he begins. Nasir knows that much already--it's what many gladiators dream of. It's what Agron says next that takes him by surprise. "If we could earn enough to buy your freedom as well, would you desire it?"

Nasir's eyes widen. "You would do such a thing for me?" he whispers, astonished.

"What else could I do?" Agron asks. "Leave you in this place and never set eyes on you again?"

"I've never thought of having freedom," Nasir says. The concept is utterly foreign to him. "Or what I would do with it."

"Anything," Agron says, smiling down at him. "You could return to Syria if you liked, search for family there. Or--" he hesitates a moment, then says, soft and hopeful, "Or you could go to Germania, with Duro and I."

Nasir lifts his hands to Agron's face. "I would have no idea where to look for any who may be family to me, short of searching the entire country," he says. He thinks of what Agron offers--freedom, a place to go, a chance at a life on his own terms. He'd be a stranger to everyone but Agron and Duro, a stranger to the language and customs, with no knowledge of any trade but servitude. But he could learn. He could try.

He looks up at Agron, feeling a smile start to spread over his face. "Yes," he says softly. "Yes, I would go with you."

Agron pulls him up into a tight embrace, laughing. Nasir laughs as well, in startled delight. He has to rein himself in, remind himself that Agron and Duro earning freedom is far from certain, and will take years if it happens at all. Much can happen in a space of years. But once kindled, hope seems impossible to extinguish.

They settle back on the bed, lying side-by-side and turned to face one another. Agron takes one of Nasir's hands and lifts it to his mouth, brushing gentle kisses across his knuckles.

"Does it grow very cold in Germania?" Nasir ask after a few moments.

"Far colder than here," Agron tells him. "Or even more northern parts of Italia."

"I'm not used to such," Nasir says. "I have never been north of Capua."

Agron smiles, tugging Nasir into his arms. "Then I shall have to find ways to keep you warm," he whispers, and kisses him.

***

The following week, Nasir works in the ludus again. He and Agron keep a certain distance from one another, exchanging words when they can but striving to limit how much affection they show. All the same, Agron cannot seem to keep from smiling at him, and Nasir cannot help but smile back.

"I've not seen my brother smile so often since we were captured."

Nasir looks away from Agron to see Duro leaning against the wall a short distance away. Duro glances over at his brother and then back to Nasir, mouth curving up in a crooked smile. "Perhaps he's simply taken one too many blows to head, but I'm more inclined to think you cause."

They haven't broken many words yet, and Nasir has wondered what Duro thinks of him. He looks over at Agron again, smiling faintly. "It lifts heart to know I bring him such happiness."

Duro breaks out in a laugh. "Fuck the gods, you're as bad as he is."

Nasir looks down, feeling his smile widen.

"Agron has ever left himself vulnerable in matters of the heart," Duro goes on, speaking quietly but with a hard edge to his voice. "Do not hurt him if you can avoid it."

Nasir looks up at him, nodding."You have my word."

Agron moves to join them, standing on Nasir's other side. "I don't know if I should be pleased or wary to see the two of you in conference."

"No need to be wary," Duro says, smirking at him. "I've just been telling Nasir it's mystery to me how a great oaf like you caught his interest in the first place."

"I can explain, if you wish," Nasir says. He does not move to touch Agron, but lets his eyes move over his form. Slowly.

Duro makes a pained noise and goes to stand with Hamilcar. Agron grins at Nasir, who smiles back at him. It would be so easy to reach out and touch him, and Nasir wants badly to do so, but then Doctore cracks his whip and the gladiators return to training.

Nasir falls back to the margin of the practice yard, and Doctore moves to stand near, whip coiled in his hand.

"It seems you have not been as cautious as advised," Doctore says. He looks straight ahead as he speaks, but Nasir knows he's the one being addressed.

Nasir bows his head. "Doctore--" he begins, and then halts uncertainly. There are few whose good opinion he seeks because he truly desires it, rather than as a matter of survival, and though Nasir would not give up the unexpected joy he's found he still feels the sting of having disappointed Doctore.

After a moment, Doctore speaks again. "It has never been my intent to keep you from joy, Nasir. Only from pain I fear may follow it."

Nasir glances up at him cautiously, and asks a question he never would have thought to in the days before Agron. "If joy is great enough, does it not make the risk of great pain worthwhile?"

"A question every man and woman must answer for themselves," Doctore says, and glances at him sidelong. "I pray you find a better answer than some in this house have."

The games in honor of Magistrate Calavius fall that week. While Doctore and the gladiators are at the arena, Nasir sees that all stands ready for their return, then is able to sit quietly for a time. As always these days, his thoughts turn to Agron, and when he's pulled out of his reverie by a summons from Medicus, his first terrified thought is that it will be Agron or Duro lying in the infirmary when he gets there.

But the gladiator who lies wounded is one of the other new recruits who was purchased with the brothers, not one he knows well. The sight is gruesome enough without it being someone he cares for. Nasir has not seen wounds like this since Crixus fell to Theokoles, and this gladiator is not the man Crixus is; even if he survives, his future in the arena will be dubious at best.

Nasir holds the gladiator down while Medicus seals his wounds, bracing his hands on the man's shoulders. He steels himself against screams and the scent of burning flesh, and does not let himself think that this may one day be Agron.

"Stay here and see that he doesn't stir," Medicus says when it's over. "If he wakes, give him something to send him back to sleep."

Nasir sits quietly for a time, then hears someone enter the room and looks up to see Agron. He rises as Agron comes toward him, and they meet halfway.

"I asked if I might see you tonight and was told you were here," Agron says, taking Nasir's face in his hands and bending to kiss him.

"I was afraid I would find you here when I was summoned," Nasir replies, then steps back to look at him. There are cuts on Agron's torso and arms, though none look very deep. "And I see you are not unscathed."

Agron smiles at him, seeming unconcerned by the wounds. "A few scratches. Nothing to cause concern."

He moves in for another kiss, but Nasir evades him. "They are not nothing to me. Come."

He leads Agron over to one of the tables and presses him to sit, then reaches for water and cloth.

"I must find another to take my place here if I am to leave," Nasir says as he tends the cuts. "But you said you asked for me--you fought well on the sands today, then?"

Agron brushes Nasir's hair back and plants a kiss to the underside of his jaw, just above his collar, and then speaks in his ear. "And earned my reward."

Nasir smiles, continuing his work despite Agron's attempt at distraction and the shiver it sends through him. "Then once I stand relieved of other duties, I am yours."

Agron kisses the shell of his ear, then draws back. "Would that all requests were so well met," he says with a sigh. "Batiatus has given command that Duro and I are to fight separately in future games."

Nasir frowns as he secures a bandage around Agron's upper arm. "I thought his intent in having two brothers as gladiators was to fight you as a pair."

"It was," Agron says, anger growing in his voice. "Yet now he says I risk myself too much on Duro's behalf. After seeking to use our kinship to gain crowd's favor, the man stands displeased that I act as any brother should."

Finished with his work, Nasir moves to sit beside Agron, touching his shoulder gently. "Apologies," he says softly.

"We may not take the sands again for some time," Agron says, a stubborn look on his face. "Perhaps Batiatus may yet be swayed, by another's words if not my own."

"Perhaps," Nasir agrees. "But...perhaps there is some wisdom in command."

Agron turns to face him. He could not look more betrayed if Nasir had stuck a knife in his back, and Nasir hastens to make his meaning clear.

"Your desire to protect him is natural, and admirable," he says. "Yet if you allow it to drive your actions in the arena, you will both be ill-served. Duro must be able to stand on his own if he is to survive, and you must be absent distraction if you are."

"He is my brother," Agron says sharply. "You too would see me turn back upon him?"

Nasir almost shrinks from him. He is no stranger to Agron's temper, but it's never been directed at him. He lowers his head automatically, but gathers his nerve and raises it again, meeting Agron's fierce gaze.

"He is a gladiator, as you are," he says calmly. "He passed the same test and receives the same training. And I would see you both fight, and live."

Agron deflates, expression softening, and lifts a hand to Nasir's cheek. "Apologies. I should not have spoken harshly to you."

Nasir presses against the touch. "You spoke out of love for Duro. I understand."

Agron draws him closer, kissing his brow. "How is it you know my heart so well already?" he whispers.

"You leave it open for all to see," Nasir tells him, laying his hand on Agron's chest to feel his heartbeat. "I but paid attention."

***

Agron has always been able to hope for the future while bearing in mind that what he hopes for may never come to pass. He's lived his entire life knowing death could come for him at any moment, no matter how careful or strong or skilled he is. To let fear of pain or loss keep him from hoping and wanting and planning would be to only half live, and when death does come, Agron plans to greet it having lived fully.

So the thought that he may die in Capua and never see home again does not keep him from dreaming of returning there with Duro and Nasir. He dreams of making a home with Nasir in their village, Duro making his nearby, perhaps with a wife and children someday. He's already begun teaching Nasir a few words in German, whenever they have a chance to speak. He starts with the most important--water, food, sword, brother. Nasir says them as though they taste strange in his mouth, but he seems determined to make them more familiar.

Duro teases him mercilessly. Agron has not exactly confessed the depths of his feeling for Nasir, but of course he doesn't have to. Agron bears the teasing tolerably--he'll likely be worse if Duro ever falls in love--but thrashes him on the practice field anyway, and notes with pride that it's more difficult than last time. Duro is learning.

When they break for rest and food, Agron looks around for Nasir. He catches his eye and Nasir looks back at him for a moment, but the soft smile Agron has grown so used to is absent. As the gladiators move into the shade, Agron goes to stand close to Nasir.

"You have no smile for me?" he asks gently, and when Nasir's only response is to look at the ground, Agron frowns. "Is something wrong?"

"Not with me," Nasir assures him quickly.

"What, then?" Agron presses.

Nasir glances up at him. "I fear something has happened to Naevia."

Agron only knows the girl by sight, but he knows Nasir holds her to heart. He brushes Nasir's wrist gently with his fingers. "What is it you fear?"

"I do not know," Nasir says, eyes downcast again. "We have not had opportunity to speak, the past few days, but I have never seen her look so troubled."

Before Agron can make reply, Doctore barks at them to attend.

"We are summoned to the villa," he says. "To the baths and make yourselves presentable, quickly."

"What, all of us?" Duro asks from where he sits, some lessons seemingly not learned so well.

Doctore's hand tightens on the handle of his whip, but it stays at his side. "All of you," he confirms. "Now."

Nasir touches Agron's arm. "I will aid you," he says urgently, whatever troubles him laid aside for now as they move for the baths.

***

With the restrictions set in place by their new patron, the gladiators are guarded more heavily--but still by men, greedy and self-serving as ever. It takes everything Agron's won in the arena to bribe a guard to let him be alone with Nasir in the room they've used before. Agron cares nothing for the money. Any thoughts he once had of buying back his freedom have been abandoned.

Nasir is quiet and sedate as ever when the guard leads him in, and throws himself into Agron's arms the moment the door closes. Agron holds him tight, burying a hand in his hair and pressing his lips to the crown of Nasir's head.

"Naevia is gone," Nasir whispers, voice shaking. His arms steal about Agron's waist and cling to him, as if he fears he too might be taken away if he doesn't hold tight. "No one knows where they took her."

"I know," Agron says. He leads Nasir to a corner of the room, as far as possible from the door. "There is something I would tell you, but you must speak of it to no one."

Nasir looks up at him curiously. "What is it?"

"We have a plan for escape." Agron keeps his voice at a whisper, but he cannot entirely contain his excitement. "No more waiting for freedom on Roman terms."

Nasir's brow furrows. "'We'?" he asks softly.

"Spartacus, Duro, and myself," Agron says. Nasir looks doubtful, and Agron understands; three men do not present much challenge to the number of guards that now stand in the ludus, even if one of them is the Bringer of Fucking Rain. "Others will join us, I am sure of it. And then we shall see ourselves from bondage."

Nasir takes a step back from him, his face still clouded. "Have you all gone fucking mad?" he hisses.

Agron frowns, reaching to take hold of his arm, but Nasir jerks it away.

"They'll kill you," he goes on. He keeps his voice low, but he's bristling with anger. "They'll kill us all, those who raise no hand against them along with those who do."

Agron catches Nasir's face in his hands, looking into his eyes. "Not if we kill them all first."

Nasir looks at him incredulously, shaking his head. "And if you manage to do so, what then?"

"Then we take our freedom," Agron tells him. "All of us."

Nasir stares back at him, unrelenting. "Freedom? Freedom to be labelled fugitivus and hunted like animals? To spend whatever wretched life we would have under constant threat of death?"

"Do we not stand so already?" Agron asks him. He lets go of Nasir, pacing away a little, and then back to stand close again. "I can embrace death in battle as a free man, or in the arena, where skill and honor count for something. But these fucking Romans need only decide they want you dead and see it done. What of Varro? What of Crixus and Naevia, whose only crime was to fall in love, as we have?"

Nasir looks up at him, eyes full of emotion, and Agron realizes that for all that has passed between them, this is the first time he has said he loves Nasir. He reaches for him, but Nasir bows his head, looking away.

"Naevia and Crixus yet draw breath," he points out.

"Beaten and in chains, alive only because Rome is not done using them yet," Agron counters. There is no love lost between him and the Gaul, but it's impossible not to feel pity remembering his sobs when Naevia was torn from him, not least because Agron now has some idea what it would be to feel such pain. He takes Nasir's face in his hands again, thumbs stroking his cheekbones. "You and I could be torn apart as they were at any moment, and I will not stand idle awaiting such a thing. As fugitives, at least we would have some say in how we live and die."

Nasir looks back up at him, searching his face. "It matters to you so much, to be able to decide how you die?"

"If that is the only choice open to me, then yes, it fucking matters," Agron tells him.

Nasir closes his eyes, letting out a sigh. "You are set upon this course?" he asks.

"We are," Agron says.

Nasir moves closer, his arms stealing about Agron's neck, and speaks in his ear. "Then make certain you do kill them all."

Agron wraps his arms around Nasir, pressing a kiss to his temple. "We will," he promises.

"Do not tell me when you plan to do it," Nasir says, and Agron nods. If the plan goes awry, as it easily may, better for Nasir to know as little as possible. "But...will we be together again, before it happens?"

"No," Agron tells him regretfully. Even if he could bring it about again, there's too great a risk to Nasir if the guards start to find the amount of time they spend together suspicious.

Nasir turns his head, lips dragging along the skin of Agron's neck. "Then I would treat this as our last night together in this world, for it may well be so."

Agron takes him on his back this time, laying him down on the bed and burying himself in the tight grip of Nasir's body. Nasir wraps arms and legs around him, holding him close and muffling his cries in the crook of Agron's neck. Agron draws it out as long as he can, keeping them both on the edge of release until neither of them can bear it any longer and they shudder and moan and collapse back onto the bed together.

"You will know when the time comes," Agron whispers as they lie there. "If we fail--"

Nasir stops him with a hand on his mouth. "Do not speak to me of such."

Agron pulls his hand away, persistent. "You and the other house slaves may be able to slip away unnoticed," he says. "It would at least give you a chance to escape punishment."

Nasir shakes his head. "If you fail, it will mean you are dead, and it will not matter what they do to me. You have given me the only hope I've ever had of a life beyond these walls. There is none for me without you."

Agron doubts that. Nasir is clever and far stronger than he gives himself credit for; given half a chance, he could make his own way in the world. But he doesn't press, only tilts his head down to kiss Nasir's chest, just over his heart.

"Then find a place to hide, away from any Romans, and stay there. Duro and I will find you, and then they will never keep us apart again."

***

A few moments ago, Nasir stood on the balcony, holding an ostrich-feather fan and stealing glances down at Agron whenever he dared. Now, as all the guests spill screaming into the villa, Nasir follows and tucks himself into a corner, quiet and still.

There are drops of blood on his shoulder and in his hair, from the first man to fall to Spartacus this day. He will be far from the last. Nasir looks around at the guests--many of them women, one a boy younger than himself. All of them are going to die.

That boy gave the order for Varro's death, he reminds himself. Those women were among those clamoring to see Crixus' blood spilled moments ago. Nasir thinks of everything else that has happened here; Melitta choking on her own blood, caught in a crossfire of Roman vengeance, Pietros freeing himself the only way he knew how, the terrifying sight of Naevia's bloodied face as she was dragged away. Few of those here bear direct responsibility for how the slaves in this house have suffered, but do they not all share in the guilt of it?

He hears shouts and the clanging of metal from outside as the gladiators clash with the guards, and remembers Agron's words. In the chaos, no one notices him slipping away. He moves through the house quickly and quietly until he finds an empty room, crouching behind a column to wait.

He hears a noise and turns his head as one of the guards comes into the room. Blood-spattered and breathing heavily, he must have come up from the ludus. Nasir holds himself perfectly still, hoping the man will pay him no mind and move on--but then the guard's eyes fall on him, and Nasir knows from the look in them that he should run.

He's out of the room and halfway down the corridor when the guard catches him by the hair and yanks him back. Nasir slams against the wall, and a moment later the guard's hand is around his throat.

"You," the man snarls. "You're the one that German fuck likes so much. Did you know of their plan?"

His hand on Nasir's throat is too tight to allow answer. It doesn't matter, Nasir knows--the guard only wants to inflict pain while he still can, and Nasir is far easier prey than any gladiator. He claws at the man's hand, gasping for breath.

And then someone slams into the guard, and Nasir sinks back against the wall, coughing raggedly.

His rescuer is Agron, but Nasir almost doesn't recognize him. He's spattered with blood from head to toe, face distorted by rage, roaring as he bears the guard to the ground. There's a sword in his belt, but he simply raises his fist and brings it down on the man's face, and then does so again. And again. And again.

Nasir turns away, shuddering when he hears the crack of bone and the horrible wet noise that follows, and sees another guard enter the corridor and starts toward them.

"Agron," Nasir rasps, but Agron hasn't finished with the first guard, though he must surely be dead by now. The second guard draws his sword, Nasir calls to Agron again--and then pushes off the wall and leaps forward, crashing into the guard moments before he brings his sword down on Agron.

The sword clatters to the ground as they roll, ending with Nasir pinned under the larger man's weight. The guard seems momentarily stunned at being attacked by a house slave, and Nasir presses his advantage, grabbing for the knife in the man's belt. The guard backhands him across the face and he tastes blood, ears ringing, but then the knife is in Nasir's hand and he stabs at the guard's neck, seeking the unprotected space between armor and helmet. Somehow, he strikes home, and closes his eyes against the hot splash of blood on his face.

The guard collapses on top of him, and Nasir pulls the knife out and stabs it in again and again until the man stops twitching. Then the guard's corpse is lifted and tossed aside, and a moment later he's in Agron's arms.

Nasir clings to him and buries his face in Agron's neck, heedless of the blood that covers them both. He's shaking, he realizes, a delayed reaction, and Agron holds him until he stills.

Nasir draws back, running his hands over Agron's shoulders and chest. With so much blood on his skin, Nasir cannot tell if any of it comes from a wound. "Are you hurt?" he asks desperately.

Agron shakes his head. "None of it is my blood," he replies grimly.

Something about the way he says it catches Nasir's notice, and things start to come together in his mind. Agron's recklessness just now, his unbridled rage and the fact that he came to Nasir's side alone, when surely he and Duro would be keeping close unless--

"...Where is Duro?" Nasir asks in a hushed voice.

The look on Agron's face is indescribable, and all the answer Nasir needs. "He pushed me aside," Agron whispers. "The blow was meant for me."

Nasir pulls him close, cupping the back of Agron's head as it comes to rest on his shoulder. Agron's shoulders shake briefly and he lets out a single ragged sob, but then stills himself.

"Tears will not bring him back," he says, lifting his head again.

Nor will blood, but Nasir does not say so. Agron will have blood anyway.

Nasir reaches out and finds the sword dropped by the guard he killed, hefting it in one hand. Its heaviness surprises him, given the ease with which he's watched the gladiators wield swords like this one--but of course, he's nothing like them.

"You will have to teach me to use this, if we live long enough," he says.

Agron lifts a hand to his cheek, and in spite of the heartbreak in his eyes, Nasir has never seen anyone look at him with such pride.

"I cannot lose you now," Agron says. "Stay close--" he breaks off, looking away, and Nasir reaches up to curl a hand around his wrist, gripping tightly.

Agron gathers himself and stands, offering a hand to help Nasir up. "Come," he says. "Let us see an end to this."

Nasir stays at Agron's side through all that follows. He feels the tremor in Agron's fingers when Spartacus speaks of brothers, and grips his hand tighter in response. The gladiators roar their agreement with their champion's words, and Nasir cannot find voice to do the same, but he feels a small curl of agreement from somewhere inside himself.

It's as they prepare to leave the house that Spartacus takes note of him. "Nasir." It's hard to read the Thracian's expression, but he does not seem surprised to see Nasir with a sword in his hand. "You would fight with us?"

"I would stay at Agron's side," Nasir says, and Agron moves closer to him, as if to signal to Spartacus that the desire is mutual. "I'm not much of a fighter--"

Spartacus lays a hand on Nasir's shoulder. "We will help you become one. For now there is a thing I would have you do." Nasir looks up at him questioningly, and Spartacus taps the collar around his neck. "See yourself free of this."

Nasir lifts a hand to the collar. He hasn't always worn it--Titus Batiatus did not favor collars for his slaves--but it has never been removed from his neck since being placed there years ago. He tugs at it, but it stands firm.

"Help me?" he asks Agron.

Agron takes hold of the collar and rips it from Nasir's neck with a single pull. Nasir's head is jerked forward and his skin stings, but Agron bends to soothe it with a kiss to the side of his neck.

"You are a free man," Agron tells him.

"And still unsure what it means to live as such," Nasir says softly. "But ready to learn at your side."

Agron touches his chin gently, urging Nasir to look up at him. "I've been living for you and Duro," he says. "Now I live for you and the promise of vengeance."

Nasir remembers the first time they truly spoke to one another, his fear for them both when he realized how much weight Agron placed on his brother's survival. It's a heavy thing, to feel that weight settle on him now, but also an honor he prays he is worthy of.

He reaches up to cup the back of Agron's neck, drawing him down until their foreheads touch. "I never truly lived until you came into my life," he says. "You taught my heart to beat. I am yours until it ceases."

Agron brings his mouth to Nasir's, and their words of promise echo in the kiss. They leave the house of Batiatus side by side, hands entwined.