It was strange for Nasir to be outside the walls of the sanctuary. He'd never left, not once since they'd made it their home. His injury hadn't allowed it. But now he was healed, for the most part, and now he could finally prove himself useful in some capacity. He wasn't fighting, as he wanted to be; in fact, the mission he had was a simple one without any real risk of danger. With him were three others: two former slaves of his own house and one gladiator - Otho - from the house of Batiatus. They were in the city of Neapolis to gather supplies that nature didn't readily provide.
The afternoon sky was filled with gray clouds that cast shadows over them all and a heavy, steady rain fell. "Every time I step foot in this city," the gladiator said miserably, "the fucking heavens open up and piss on me."
Nasir made no reply, but drew his hood over his dark head. His fingertips wandered to the slave's collar around his neck soon after, pulling at the leather that stuck to his skin. He hated wearing it, but it was necessary. It made him invisible in these streets. No one looked twice at a slave doing his master's bidding, and that's all he and the three others were. Just harmless slaves, two of which had swords concealed on their bodies.
But if they were meant to be invisible, why did Nasir feel eyes on him?
He told himself it was nothing, or that it was only the rain weighing down on him. When he did turn around expecting to meet another's gaze, there was none. No suspicious eyes. No face full of malicious intent. Those who braved the streets in this weather all had their heads down and covered and paid them no mind. Nasir's dark eyes were narrowed from behind his hood as his gaze swept the lane, and it wasn't until he felt an arm on his own that he realized he'd stopped walking.
"What is it?" Caelia asked. She was one of the slaves that had served in Nasir's former dominus' house. The woman was red of hair and it was plastered to her skin, curling in the rain. Like Nasir, she turned her eyes to peer at the people milling through the streets, and there was alarm in her expression.
Nasir put his hand over hers, hoping to soothe the panic that had risen in her. "There is no cause for worry," he said kindly, offering her a smile. It seemed to have a calming effect, and the Syrian only wished he could feel the relief she must have. But still there was that foreboding.
"Let us get a fucking move on," Otho said from ahead. Both Nasir and Caelia hastened to catch up and continue on their way to the apothecary, from which they would buy much-needed medicine. The sooner they found themselves through a doorway and within a building safe from the rain, the sooner Nasir would be able to shrug off whatever burdened him. Of that, he was sure. Until then, he slid his hand under the cloak he wore and wrapped his fingertips loosely around the hilt of his sword. The group turned off the main street and onto one more narrow, only an alleyway. There were less people here, only a few bodies huddled in the rain, but it made Nasir no less nervous. The dread followed closely at his heels.
He would have felt safer with Agron there beside him. Otho paid no attention to the world around him, only blundered forward. Perhaps it was better that way; had the man been taking more careful steps through the streets, others might have wondered what had him so on edge. Still, Nasir would have rather had a companion more over-cautious than one unaware and thoughtless.
But Otho was so unaware that he collided with some Roman on the street. The scene lasted but a few seconds; the gladiator's shoulder bumped that of a passing figure and Otho reached out and steadied the other man. "Apologies," he said, and there was only a grunt in reply. Otho soon moved on, but Nasir had seen something the gladiator had not. Nasir had seen the Roman's eyes flicker down to the arm that had steadied him, and that gaze could have only been focused on one thing: the branded flesh that marred Otho's forearm. The mark of the brotherhood.
Nasir rushed forward and parted his lips to call out a warning, but it was too late. More men emerged from the rain and in seconds a sword was thrust through Otho's middle and dragged upwards, spilling blood that was quickly washed away by the rain. Nasir drew his own gladius and spun on his heel, slitting the throat of a man that had approached him from behind. It was then that his eyes fell on the two others of their party that still lived. "Go," he hissed. His eyes fell on Caelia, who was silent while the other woman screamed, and she met his gaze. "Now," he told her, and she nodded quickly in reply. He'd cleared a path for them and they had to take it before their chance for escape was gone.
The Syrian couldn't watch to see if they did as they were told. He turned back around in time to see Otho's lifeless body fall onto the street and the men responsible - four remained and one more was dead at Nasir's hand - started toward him, all with weapons drawn.
He couldn't run. If he did, he'd only take them in the same direction Caelia and the other woman had disappeared into. The only option he had was to stand and fight. And so he did.
They all came at him in the same second, swords singing through the air. The clash of their steel against his was muffled by the falling rain; none turned into the alleyway from the main street or opened doors to witness what was happening. Nasir was utterly alone and, in a moment of clarity, knew that this was where he would die. He would accept that death when it came, but not before he did all he could to take these men to the afterlife with him. His gladius cut open a man's legs, bringing him to his knees, and the tip of Nasir's sword slid through his throat soon after. The choking sound that followed meant there were only three left to kill.
But as Nasir turned to lift his weapon to whichever man was next, he was hit in the face with the hilt of the sword. The blow sent him sprawling, his mouth filling with blood and his gladius falling from his hand. A figure stepped between him and the sword he'd lost, blocking him from it. Recovering quickly, Nasir scrambled to where Otho's body lay, and from it he drew the fallen gladiator's blade. He was crouched down low, lips red and bloodied and eyes wild. Fight yet remained in the Syrian.
The three remaining men stood their ground some distance away from Nasir. He expected them to rush him again, to come at him with sharp, swinging weapons, but that did not come to pass. Instead, he was surprised to hear jeering coming from them. "Should have killed the pup," one of the men said, "instead of the fucking gladiator." They were all lowering their swords now but Nasir remained where he was, every muscle in his body tense and ready to spring forward when it was time.
What he hadn't anticipated was the man at his back, one whose footsteps had been concealed by the sound of rain, and the strong arm that slipped around his neck. Nasir struggled, tried to break the grip on him and slide his sword home yet again, but he was robbed of his weapon a second time. The man that held him was stronger than Nasir was, taller and thicker and no matter how the Syrian writhed and scratched and bit, there was no escape.
The three other men strode forward, and the one in the middle reached out to catch Nasir's chin, fingers digging in and keeping snapping teeth from taking hold of flesh. "I would discuss some things with you," he said. The man's gaze dropped to the collar around Nasir's neck and his lips twisted into a cruel smile. The collar was ripped away and dropped onto the street below. "Such a thing does not belong on one of Spartacus's freed slaves, now does it?" Nasir's gaze hardened and a question was on the tip of his tongue - how did this Roman know? - but he was answered before any of the words escaped him. "I recognized your gladiator the moment you stepped into the city," it was revealed, and Nasir's sharp mind immediately understood all that had happened. "I saw him at the arena myself. I only needed to see the brand on his skin to be sure."
Nasir's muscled screamed at him to give in, but he would not. His struggle continued against the one holding him. The Syrian was tired, weak from the time he'd spent idle at the sanctuary; without a weapon and against a stronger man, he could do nothing. But still he fought. The one who had spoken continued. "Tell me, where is Spartacus?" he asked, extending a hand to grab hold of Nasir's hair and pull his head back. Their gazes met. "You will tell me and I'll lead the soldiers to him and collect fucking reward."
The Syrian did not speak, but instead spit his mouthful of blood into the man's face. The Roman, with a disgusted expression, lifted his hand to wipe at it, and then used the same hand to strike Nasir before speaking once more, though this time he addressed the one holding Nasir captive. "Take him inside. Tie him up." He looked to Nasir again. "I will find ways to loosen tongue, slave. You will give answer to my question in time."
With one last burst of strength and a loud, strangled cry, Nasir tried to lunge forward and do whatever damage he might to the man, but he was hauled forcefully backwards, his heels dragging on the cobblestone underfoot. He would escape from the rain, finally, but instead of finding relief, he would find himself captured, bound, a prisoner to Roman greed and with the fate of the rebellion resting on his shoulders.
Agron's spirits were high. The rain had stopped and his hunt had been good; he and the group had managed to kill three boars on this single trip, and that would feed them for a while, if they were careful. And they would need to be. The wilderness could only provide so much, and with their numbers growing, the rebellion would demand more and more from it. But Agron wouldn't trouble himself with that now. The day was at its peak and Nasir must have been back from his trip to Neapolis.
How happy the Syrian had been to finally be able to do something. Agron knew how difficult Nasir had found being cooped up within stone walls for so long. But as glad as the gladiator was for the other man's new freedom, he was also eager to have him at his side again. Having Nasir too long away from him was a torture he never wanted to endure. He might have gone with to Neapolis but had thought it better to remain and allow Nasir to prove himself without him. The Syrian had protested, but had gone with Otho at Agron's insistence. Agron would give him a welcome home well worth it, though.
The group of hunters filed into the courtyard, hauling their bounty along. Agron was too busy searching for Nasir in the crowd to notice the distinct lack of celebration that usually accompanied the arrival of fresh, just-killed meat. There were no cheers, no smiles or laughs or pats on the back. There were only eyes on them, on him - but he was blind to it all. The only thing he did notice was the red hair of the slave that had gone along with Nasir, Caelia, and that meant Nasir was back, just as he'd predicted. The dark, sad expression on her face had been overlooked.
"Agron!" The gladiator turned and saw Spartacus cutting through the crowd toward him. Agron met him halfway and grinned, clasping the man's forearm in greeting. Spartacus's grip on him was tight.
"The beasts practically skewered themselves on our fucking spears," he said, lifting his free hand to clap Spartacus's shoulder. He laughed and started to pull away, but the other man held fast onto his arm, keeping him there. Agron's gaze dropped to where the two were joined, brows furrowed, and then glanced back up at Spartacus's face. Only then did he realize there was a grave look upon it.
"Brother," Spartacus said in a low voice. Agron glanced at the few other people that stood nearby. Oenomaus, who stared at him with sympathetic eyes. Crixus, whose gaze didn't meet his own. Donar, whose lips were pressed together and set in a grim line and whose body was tense, poised. For what, Agron didn't know. But something wasn't right.
Something wasn't right. "Where is Nasir?" his mouth asked, though where the question had come from, he didn't know. His mind certainly hadn't thought to ask it. Perhaps some part of him sensed the Syrian's absence. Was he within the sanctuary? Hidden from Agron within the temple's many corridors? Agron turned to look, expecting to see Nasir hastening down the stairs, a slow smile stretching lips ready to kiss him.
But he saw no such thing. "Brother," Spartacus repeated, drawing Agron's gaze back to him. "Nasir has been taken."
The gladiator let out a sound somewhere between a laugh at a scoff. A noise of disbelief, or perhaps he just didn't understand. "Taken?" A hint of a grin yet remained at the corners of Agron's mouth, as if he hadn't really heard. As if his brain could not process the information being given.
"While he was in Neapolis. A group of men killed Otho and captured Nasir." The news was given to him gently and in few words but still Agron's mind denied it. Resisted it. Another laugh escaped him in a breath and he looked around again, met gaze after gaze after gaze to maybe find the truth in one of them but soon he realized the truth had already been given to him. Soon Spartacus's words were filling his head, repeating over and over - Nasir has been taken.
The grin slid from Agron's face. His blue eyes were wide and staring, turned to Spartacus but unfocused. Agron could see nothing. He could hear nothing but his own heartbeat pumping faster in his ears. For a moment it seemed as though he'd forgotten how to do anything but stand and breathe, but then he shifted. The movement was small. His head shaking from side to side. And following that, the rest of him reanimated. "No," his voice said, though it sounded far away. "No." His gaze dropped, brow collapsing. "No," he said again. Agron's fingers loosened their grip on Spartacus's arm and the other gladiator was forced to let go as Agron slowly lowered himself to his knees upon the sand. At first, his face only revealed the smallest flash of the agony that had started to crawl through his body like a poison.
The gladiator was so practiced at hiding his pain - the pain he'd felt after his brother's death - that this new torment had to claw its way through the walls he'd built. And when finally it broke through, it twisted Agron's expression into something unrecognizable. A mask of misery that had never been seen there before save the moment Duro had died in his arms. Agron lifted both of his hands and threaded his fingers through his hair, his body rocking forward and back, forward and back. His nails dug in, biting into his scalp, as if that physical pain would somehow overcome all the rest. But it didn't. So he tried harder.
He drew his hand back and brought the heel of it down hard on his forehead once. Twice. He was outside of himself, beside himself, a man possessed. He cared nothing of the crowd that stood silent audience, witnessing this break within him. He cared nothing for anything, not the ache beginning in his head or the rebellion that was now at a standstill. The only thing he could think about was Nasir and what he could have been enduring at that very moment. If he was even still alive. A thing Agron knew was unlikely.
Tears sprang to his eyes. He looked up at the sky with an accusing gaze, as if blaming the heavens for what had happened, but when he brought those eyes back down, they passed over something that reminded him where the blame truly belonged. Slowly, the gladiator turned to the side and found the flash of coppery red. Pretty hair on a pretty head. He would wring her throat.
Agron was off the ground in no more than a second and lunging toward her, hands outstretched. This was what Donar had been waiting for: the moment Agron's pain gave way to fury. The other gladiator grabbed him from behind, wrapped his arms around Agron's chest and held him, stopping him a few paces away from Caelia.
"Fucking bitch!" Agron screamed. He struggled against Donar's grip, feet sinking into the sand beneath him and dragging as he tried to move forward. "You left him to die!" Why should she be back within the sanctuary, not a scratch upon her? Why should it have been Nasir abandoned in Neapolis? He wanted it to be her. He wanted her to suffer it, all of it. He didn't care that she was crying and cowering in front of him.
"He told us to leave!" she said desperately. "He told us to but I went back and I-I saw where they took him!"
Agron only half heard her. His teeth were bared and still he reached for her. So intent he was on getting his hands on her that Oenomaus came forward to assist Donar in holding him back. From that iron grip, Agron would never escape, so Caelia was safe, though not from the gladiator's words. "Whatever harm comes to him," he promised in a low, threatening voice, "will come to you tenfold." A terrified whimper escaped the slave girl and that was when Spartacus stepped in.
"Take him inside," the Thracian said. Agron was dragged backwards through the sand and up the stairs, his eyes never leaving Caelia's face, not until a corner was turned and she was hidden from him. He was soon released from the arms that held him, thrown bodily into one of the rooms within the temple. He rushed Oenomaus and Donar, tried to get past them, but they blocked the doorway. Spartacus came through it soon after, though, and with only a look told them both to leave. Whatever part of Agron was still present, however small that part was, wouldn't try to get past Spartacus. At least not yet. They were left alone.
The gladiator paced across the stone floor, hands sliding through his hair, rubbing his face, curling into fists at his sides. He couldn't keep still. If he was still, his grief would hit him again, curl his body and bring him to his knees once more.
Spartacus's voice sounded. "Apolog—"
"He fucking apologizes," Agron interrupted with a mad sort of laugh. He turned and struck out at the nearest thing - a clay jug filled with water that was thrown across the room, hitting the far wall and exploding into hundreds of little pieces. The crash had somehow been satisfying. it had distracted Agron from what was tearing him to shreds inside. He picked up a chair and struck it against the wall again and again and again until it splintered in his hands. This was the aggression he would have turned on Caelia, had Donar not held him back.
Agron whirled around, setting his wild eyes on Spartacus. "She saw where they took him," he said, tone dangerous. "Tell me."
"You must come back from this madness before—" Spartacus started, but he was cut off again, this time by Agron's forearm pressed against his throat. The German had the other gladiator pinned against the wall in half a second, so quickly that the former champion could do nothing to stop it.
They had been in this very position before, and Nasir had been the concern then, too. "Do not fucking dare to tell me," Agron said through clenched teeth, "what I must do." There was only one thing he could do. He would go to Neapolis, find the place Nasir was being held, and cut through all that stood in his way. And if Nasir was dead, he would make the last moments of all those men's lives the most agonizing they'd ever known.
The very thought of Nasir being dead made that expression of agony break through the rage on Agron's face, but only for a second. It was hidden again soon after. "The Romans have taken everything from me," Agron whispered, and his words shook with anger. "They took my brother and now they have taken Nasir. I will feel their blood on my hands before long." Agron stepped back, withdrew his arm from against Spartacus's throat. "Tell me where he is," the German demanded.
"I will, brother," Spartacus promised. He stepped forward, hands outstretched either to keep Agron at bay or in the hopes that it would somehow calm him. "And we will find him. But we cannot go through the streets of Neapolis killing all that cross our path!"
Agron turned from him and closed his eyes. Spartacus was right. Agron knew this. He knew he couldn't risk getting all of them caught with a rampage through the narrow roads of the city. But he was intent on a bloodbath. He would have that. If the innocent did not come between him and Nasir, they would be spared. But anyone, friend, foe, or stranger, that tried to stop him would be sent to the afterlife, and he would help them there with a fucking smile on his face and vengeance in his heart.
"I leave now," Agron said, turning back around. This time Spartacus would not block him from going. "I will not have him suffer any longer at the fucking hands of those who hold him. Let me pass."
And so Spartacus did, but not before stopping Agron, hand once again clasping the gladiator's forearm. "I am with you," the Thracian said, looking into Agron's eye.
Agron cared nothing in that moment for company or loyalty. He would have taken on an entire faction of the Roman army by himself to hold Nasir in his arms again, dead or alive. But he nodded anyway, only once, and then moved to retrieve his weapon. Every step he took toward Neapolis would harden his sadness into rage, and every Roman that dared oppose him would be victim to it.
And there was no rain to wash away the blood now.
"Where is Spartacus?"
The question rang in Nasir's ears. It was asked after every small torture. Each time, it went unanswered. The only sounds that escaped the Syrian were ones of pain ripped forcefully from his throat - never ones made willingly, because he didn't want to give them the satisfaction. But when he felt a knife slide into his old wound, the one that had only just healed, and start to open it again, he screamed. And he wondered why no one heard him.
He was breathing too fast, too hard, and he could feel the warm blood flowing from his body and over his skin. That was his life leaving him. He was going to die here - wherever this was. Some dark building in Neapolis, tied against some wooden beam and barely standing. There were better places to die: with a sword in his hand, fighting beside Agron. In Agron's arms. Old and gray and clutching Agron's hand. Agron…
That thought brought him some peace. He would gladly escape to his mind where there was only his gladiator: his lips, his voice, his gentle touch. It would serve as distraction from the pain of the pressure being put on his newly opened wound, the fingers that pressed inside of it. "Where is Spartacus?" the man asked again, curling his fingers, pushing them further into Nasir's flesh. A low moan of pain came from Nasir and it was right on the edge of turning into a scream, one that would rip at the Syrian's throat, but he swallowed it. Though he wasn't silent. A slow, soft chuckle bubbled to his lips and then fell from them, getting louder and louder until he was laughing, not into the face of the man that tortured him, because his head was hanging, chin to his chest and he hadn't the strength to lift it, but the torturer would know where the mocking laughter was directed. He would know.
The man's bloodied hand pulled from the wound on Nasir's side and lifted to grab the Syrian's chin, staining his bruised skin. Still, Nasir laughed, though the sound was punctuated by a gasp every so often when his body remembered the pain it was in. "Tell me where the fuck he is!" the man snarled. Nasir forced his eyes open and shifted them to the face before his own, and when a smile stretched his lips, the split in his bottom one cracked open again, bloodying his mouth. The man drew back from the sight, his severe expression betraying just a little bit of alarm, but then he raised his hand and struck Nasir hard across the face.
"The little cunt won't loosen tongue!" the man said, turning toward his companions. Nasir collapsed back against the pillar, his head falling forward again; his act of defiance had cost him whatever reserve of energy he'd had. He wanted very badly to succumb to unconsciousness, but something stopped him: the fact that he might not wake up if he did go to sleep, and not knowing whether or not such a thing would be a blessing.
"Should have taken one of the women," another said, and the words had barely left him before he was diving to the side to avoid a knife that had been thrown in his direction.
The one that had been torturing Nasir raised his voice to a shrill scream. "But we didn't take one of the fucking women, you worthless shit!" There was a crash as the man picked up a chair and threw it partway across the room. The outburst was met with silence from all those in the room. Five men were scattered throughout; it seemed their numbers had grown since the ambush in the alleyway. Nasir had counted them when he'd still had hope for escape. That was a far-off dream now.
The leader of the group - the one that had spoken for them all in the alley and the one that had inflicted the most pain on Nasir, fell into a chair and rubbed at his face with one hand. He heaved a sigh and then, with a waving gesture, called forth a brutal-looking companion. "Skin him," he ordered, and the man started toward Nasir, drawing a knife from some hidden part of him. There was a glint of silver and the knife pressed against Nasir's chest, pulling across his skin slowly and cutting it open. And then a second cut in the same direction a few inches beneath that. It was the first strip of skin that would be removed. Ripped from his body. He didn't want to scream - he was too tired to scream - but he knew he would.
"End your suffering," the new man before him said. It was a surprisingly kind voice that accompanied the stinging pain of his chest being carved into. "Loosen tongue and find torture done." If ever Nasir had been tempted to give them what they wanted, it was in that moment. Somehow the idea of his skin being peeled from flesh was the most horrifying thought. Not the opening of his old wound or the fingers that had delved inside of him, but this.
Nasir thought of Agron again. It stopped lips from forming words to betray the rebellion. A disappointed sigh came from his torturer, but it was drowned out by the Syrian's cry of pain when orders were carried out. Nasir tried not to listen to his own scream, but when he tried to escape into his mind, when he made attempt to find solace in his memories of Agron, he couldn't find the gladiator. He only heard words in an unfamiliar voice: 'Where is Spartacus?' and, 'Skin him'.
They moved through the streets like shadows. The sun aided in hiding them, sinking slowly beneath the horizon and casting the city in darkness. It had been hours since Nasir was taken. Hours. Agron knew now why he'd been captured; Caelia, out of sight and listening to the Romans as they held Nasir prisoner, had heard them ask about Spartacus and had heard talk of loosening Nasir's tongue. Part of Agron hoped Nasir was dead and no longer suffering promised torture. Another part of him couldn't bear the idea.
Spartacus and two other gladiators were with him. There were four, maybe five Roman men holding Nasir, so these few would be enough - but Agron had made it clear that he wanted to slaughter every last one of them, and only if he was unable should anyone else step in and offer aid.
They came to the building in which Nasir was being held prisoner. Agron slipped through the door quietly, footsteps silent on the floor beneath him, and he listened intently for the sound of Nasir's voice, whether in words or in a scream. He didn't hear it, but others were speaking - their voices filtered up from below. Wooden stairs would take Agron to them, stairs which he descended slowly, and without a single sound. The others followed close behind. All had their weapons drawn.
"He still holds fucking silence," a man said, and Agron's heart leapt in his chest. Did this mean Nasir still lived? It was better than he'd hoped for - because he knew in that moment that he never would have survived finding the Syrian dead. No matter the pain he was, Agron would free him of it.
Another man spoke. "Pray to the gods that he breaks soon," he said, "for I will have your fucking head if he does not." Agron reached the bottom of the stairs. There was a short corridor that turned into a large room, and that's where the men were. The gladiator's steps hastened; he was so close. He would feel the blood of these men on his hands. He would rob them of their lives for ever taking Nasir from him.
Agron turned the corner and his gaze immediately fell onto Nasir, who stood bound against a wooden beam, his body covered in blood. And as Agron stared, in those few short seconds, the Syrian's legs gave out from under him. After that, Agron saw no more but red. He was blind but his body moved forward, approaching one man from behind and slitting his throat before he even knew an attack was upon them. One by one, Agron slaughtered them all. His rage drove him forward to thrust his sword through another man's chest. The third man fell to his knees when Agron cut the back of them, and he had only a moment to scream before his head was removed from his body. The fourth, a man bigger than the rest, managed to defend himself longer than the others, but Agron's attack made him stumble backwards until he fell to the floor, and there he died when the gladiator's sword embedded into his skull.
The last man didn't move to attack Agron. Instead, he was running across the room toward Nasir, a blade drawn. With a scream of rage, Agron surged forward and grabbed the man by the throat, throwing him backwards so that he had to scramble in the blood of his companions to get up. When he turned to escape, he found Spartacus barring the way. The man spoke two words before Agron gutted him: "Found you—" But anything that might have followed was replaced with the sound of him choking on his own blood.
It was done. Agron turned around and he could finally see again, his rage slowly seeping from him. The sword slid from his hand and clattered against the floor. Eyes fixed on Nasir, he started forward, stepping over bodies, treading through pools of blood, pushing aside tables, chairs, his fellow gladiators, anything that stood in his way. The Syrian was slumped, legs collapsed underneath him and head bowed, and Agron thought he looked dead. He was terrified. So afraid that when he lifted that face and searched for the dark eyes he so loved, he'd find only a blank stare. His heart was racing, pumping blood so quickly it was as if it knew - if Nasir no longer breathed, so that heart would stop working. It would die within Agron's chest.
The gladiator dropped to his knees in front of Nasir. A knife was unsheathed and cut the unfriendly rope that bloodied the Syrian's wrists and with that release, Nasir's body fell forward into Agron's waiting arms. "Please," Agron whispered, though he knew not who he entreated. The gods, perhaps, to spare Nasir and to spare Agron the pain of losing one so close to his heart again.
But Nasir didn't clutch at him. Didn't speak or lift his head. He was still. "Please," Agron whispered again, his voice breaking, and this time he begged Nasir. "Do not be gone from this world." Gently, he shifted the body in his embrace, cradled Nasir in one arm and gingerly took the man's face in his free hand, turning it so he could look upon it. Nasir's skin was further darkened by bruises and stained with blood, and if the men responsible hadn't already died at Agron's sword he would have ripped them limb from limb for what they had done.
Agron searched that face for any sign of life. He thought he saw a tear slide down over Nasir's cheek - but it was Agron's own tear, fallen from blue eyes above. Nasir was so warm against him. He couldn't be dead. Couldn't be. From where did that warmth come, if not life? But there was still no response. Agron leaned down; he meant to kiss those familiar lips but when he felt them underneath his own, he could only open his mouth in a long cry of pain. He clutched Nasir closer and wept freely, but no whimpers or tears could truly express the agony he felt.
Lips brushed against his own. He must have imagined it, must have so desired that kiss that his mind had given it to him. But there it was again, that gentle touch, and there was breath against his cheek. Agron pulled back, his own breath stopping in his lungs, and shifted his gaze to that face again just when Nasir's eyelids lifted and his dark eyes focused. A voice Agron thought he'd never hear again sounded. It was strained and so soft he had to lean forward to catch its words. "I would have your kiss always wake me," Nasir said.
A noise between a laugh and a sob escaped the gladiator and his face split into a smile. "And so it will," he promised, voice thick with emotion. He brushed damp hair from Nasir's forehead. "From this day until my last."
A heavy hand fell onto Agron's shoulder. He didn't take his gaze from Nasir, but Spartacus revealed himself when he spoke. "We must go," he said. "Can you carry his weight?"
Agron nodded. No one would be taking Nasir from his arms. "I can," he replied. He shrugged off the coat he wore and, with great care, put it on the Syrian, covering his broken body, hiding it from prying eyes and harsh air that would make wounds sting. "Come," Agron said, pressing a kiss to Nasir's forehead. "Let us to the sanctuary." With that, he stood, holding tightly onto the other man.
As they left the place in which Nasir had suffered so much pain, the Syrian spoke again. "I have found sanctuary in your arms," he said, and there he would be safe.