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By your leave, gods

Chapter Text

Prologue

 

I am floating over the sea of language, looking for anything that could belong to me. "Fishing for the moon". The moon’s reflection in the water is one of the things I can recognize - because there is such thing in my inner sea, too. The inside and the outside have to match, that's why you need a mirror for any enchantment.

I need things to match, if I want to regain my self. If I see it in the mirror, I will recognize it, and if I recognize, I will remember. How have I lost myself, you ask? That's the easiest to answer. I died.

My love, are you longing for me? You threw your arms and legs around me, needing me, accepting me, and suddenly I could feel hot tears in my eyes.

Sunset bleeds over the water. My love, you are the only person worthy of red colour, the only red letter on the page. When I unfastened your cloak, it flowed down on the bed and lied there like sun-red sea.

A ship is the same as long as you recognize it, no matter how many times the planks were replaced. What if there is no one to recognize it, you ask? Then there is no one to ask the question, either.

Maybe I can remember a lot of other things. Do I want to?

 

 

Antioch, Syria. 3 October 51 bce.

 

“Please”, says Cassius. “If I stay, I’ll fall asleep right here. I’m so happy, but so. Very. Sleepy. Love you all. Damn, but we were great today!”

 

This is met with cheerful shouting. We are the winners. I grin and raise my cup, ignoring that the myrtle garland slips to the side of my head. Today we wrecked the Parthians, and we have full right to celebrate. No battle is beautiful, but the memories of this one are written over Carrhae - not erasing it, as I would wish, but bringing closure: blood washed with blood. No matter what comes next, at the moment, above all agitation, exhaustion, and pain, I feel peace.

 

So does Cassius: I have never seen him as relaxed and happy as now, although I have imagined it many times. For a year now, I’ve been wishing to see him with his guard down; to see his eyelids falling shut, his lips parting. I’ve been wishing - longing - for a lot of things, but why have I fallen for the highest apple on the tree? Why must my inability to reach it poison the celebration for me? I barely notice what is happening around: Cassius’ figure seems to be enclosed by a shining outline, and everything beyond is lost in the shadow.

 

Reluctantly and not without another toast, my fellow soldiers let Cassius go. As he walks past me, our eyes meet; he smiles. Are there hints of uncertainty and regret - like when you say ‘farewell’ - in this beautiful warm smile? Yes, I saw that, I’m sure it was not just my imagination. But what of it? It can be interpreted in many ways, and does not provide the answer I need. To get the answer, I will have to ask a question. I know I’ll never forgive myself otherwise, and that even rejection is better than a lifetime of second-guessing. He is my commander - but does it really matter now that he is about to resign and return to Rome any day? My only chance may be today.

 

I quietly leave; no one pays attention. If today is a lucky day, I’ve decided to make the most of my luck. Love and hope bloom in my blood, and if my hope is misguided, if he does not want me, I want - I deserve - to hear it from him.

 

* * *

 

“Titinius?”

 

Don’t you dare stutter and look away , I tell myself.

 

“Yes, it’s me. General, can we talk?”

 

He is still awake and dressed: does not look like he’s going to bed. Although his cheeks are flushed with wine and glory, he appears more contemplative than he was in public.

 

“Sure. What’s on your mind?”

 

“You.”

 

Cassius gives me a puzzled look, but I don’t avert my eyes. Instead, I step closer and put my garland on his head. Framed by leaves and flowers, his face looks more beautiful than ever. His eyes, like the sea, never stay the same as a moment before; I could look into them all night long. I want to carve this sight into my heart, to remember him even if I forget everything else.

 

“You are always on my mind”, I confess softly.

 

The sea in his eyes freezes. I can feel the ice catch his face and squeeze his throat. I can hear it in his voice as he speaks. “I do not deserve you.”

 

Guilt? It sounds like guilt.

 

“Yes, you do. And I deserve you.”

 

We are so close right now. Let me touch you. Let me love you.

 

“Stop. You know I cannot allow it.”

 

“You… you are leaving so soon. That you are my commander was the reason to stop before, but it would be an excuse now. I want you like I’ve never wanted anyone or anything in my life. If you don’t want me” - the words scratch my throat - “say it, I can take that answer. If I was wrong to imagine… whatever connection I imagined - say it. But if you want me - don’t reject me. Trust me. Please.”

 

* * *

 

We lay intertwined, and Cassius studies my face with the expression I could only dream to see.

 

“Where’d you come from?”, he whispers.

 

I don’t know if he actually expects an answer.

 

“Luna.”

 

“Makes sense. I was wondering why your skin glows.”

 

“Really”, I add after some hesitation, while he kisses my neck. “Luna, in Etruria.”

 

“That’s where Via Cassia ends.”

 

I shrug. “Ends, begins. Whatever.”

 

“Come here.”

 

His beautiful lean body radiates heat. I would never be able to stay away.

 

* * *

 

The new governor, Calpurnius Bibulus, arrives the next day, and Cassius is not my commander anymore - just my lover. I have a few days so full of sun that I just cannot discern anything beyond.

 

* * *

 

“I wouldn’t have guessed you talk in your sleep”, he murmurs.

 

“I don’t”. My hand travels along his back and stops near the shoulder blade, next to the bite mark. Leaving it felt good.

 

“It was just one phrase, but very distinct. Of course I can do it. Left me wondering.”

 

“No, nothing special. In my dream, we were on the hill, watching some horsemen in the distance. You told me to take your horse, get a closer look and find out if they were allies or enemies. I said ‘of course’. It was easy.”

 

“And which were they?”

 

"I don’t remember, even though I told you in the dream. It quickly changed to something about the sea, and you were there, too.”

 

He runs his fingers through my hair. “I will always dream about you.”

 

I touch the bite mark, wishing it could stay there forever. “Yes. Please do.”