It had taken months of travel, but Marcus and Esca had made it to Hispania. Marcus’s skin was golden again, and he looked more Roman than he had in months. He wore his tunics without breeches underneath, attended the praetor’s meetings in a toga, was honored among other veterans in the area. He had contracted work, his orchards flourished, his wines were coveted.
He should have been happy, but it all felt too easy.
Marcus walked through his orchards slowly, his hands drifting over the branches and leaves. It was spring, and there were no apples yet. The flowers were still open, and the perfume of apple blossoms was thick in the air. Marcus rested a moment, one hand on the trunk of a tree, and closed his eyes. He felt as if he could feel the life around him.
“Don’t fall asleep.”
Marcus chuckled, turning to look over his shoulder. Esca stood in between the rows of trees, head tilted up, and he seemed almost angry.
“I’m standing up,” Marcus pointed out, smirking.
“Aye, but I’ve seen soldiers do stranger things,” Esca said, walking forward until he was leaning against the tree neighboring Marcus.
Marcus hummed, looking up at the leaves. There were enough leaves that the sunlight was soft and dappled. “What happens if I fall asleep?”
“The sìthiche will take you.”
Grinning, Marcus bent down and slowly sat against the base of the tree, leaning against the trunk. He stretched his leg out, rubbing over where his old injury was. “She-kay.”
Esca rolled his eyes, crouching down. “ Sìthiche .”
“I don’t know what that is, Esca,” he said, glancing over at him. Esca was still in the clothing of Brittania, a short shirt with long sleeves and a tunic. As much as Marcus would have liked to see Esca dress as a Roman, he knew that he couldn’t really ask Esca to do anything simply for the pleasure of Marcus’s eyes.
Frowning, Esca gestured with his hand, passing it by the side of his head, his fingers held together in a certain pattern that Marcus couldn’t recognize.
“Small...gods. Small people, who have power.”
“They will take me if I fall asleep?”
Esca nodded. “If you fall asleep under apple trees.”
“What will these small gods do with me?” Marcus asked, leaning his head back against the tree. “First I fall asleep; I’m taken...then what?”
“You don’t wake up,” Esca said, frowning.
Marcus snorted. “That’s it? Do I die?”
“They seem rather tame gods.”
Marcus was smiling, and he could almost feel the glare Esca was directing at him. “They will take you for one hundred years! You will not know your neighbor when you awake,” Esca hissed.
Marcus turned his head, looking over at him, smiling slightly. “I did not know my neighbors when I returned from the army, and I was only gone fifteen years.”
“They will take you and then you will know nothing, not even your land,” Esca snapped, looking surly.
“What if you fall asleep with me?” Marcus asked, rubbing his leg. He watched Esca’s face for some reaction, although the Briton only glared at him.
Esca shook his head. “I would not be so foolish.”
“If you fell asleep with me, we would wake up together,” Marcus reasoned, closing his eyes again, tilting his head back against the trunk again. As he rubbed his old injury slowly, Esca crept closer and finally knelt down next to him. His hand slid under Marcus’s, and his thumb rubbed into the tense muscles, easing the pain there.
“Aye, I suppose.” Esca’s voice was softer now, less aggressive. Marcus smiled a little and nodded in agreement.
“That wouldn’t be so bad, then.”
Suddenly Esca was pressing his mouth to Marcus’s, but pulled back just as fast. “You cannot rewrite the old stories, Roman.”
Marcus chuckled, opening one eye. Esca was leaning in close, fixing him with an intense stare. “As long as ours are written together, I don’t care what the old stories say.”
This time Marcus wasn’t surprised when Esca kissed him hard, and he brought his hand up to Esca’s jaw, holding him close as they kissed. Esca shifted away, and then turned to sit next to him. Marcus chuckled and put an arm over Esca’s shoulders to keep him close.
“A century is not so long to spend with you,” Marcus muttered, closing his eyes again. Esca didn’t respond for a few seconds, getting comfortable against Marcus’s side. Humming lowly, Marcus rubbed Esca’s arm slowly, moving his hand back and forth. The warmth of the day, sweetness of the apple blossoms, and the heavy comfort of Esca against his chest lulled him to sleep quickly.
Staying close, Esca remained awake, keeping watch over the fool Roman who dared tempt fate.