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let me take your heart, love you in the dark

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Spartacus slowly drags his thumb along the side of a dagger, checking the edge for sharpness before sliding it back into its scabbard. It will have to do. They're going to need every weapon they have. Half the army hasn't been trained properly, and they're sorely under supplied with weapons. The archers lack arrows, half the army won't have shields, and the spear guards have practice ones with dull ends. There is much to do before they leave – a staggering two days.

Agron has done all that he could to help prepare people, working from the rising of the sun until the moon is high in the sky. Food must be packed, horses bridled and saddled, supplies loaded into carts and wagons. He has set to task the creating of weapons and the training of those who have not yet touched a sword beyond the wooden practice ones, but it is a process. If they are to win this battle, going up against the vampire clan, they must work and work quickly. Gerulf will not entertain the idea of delay – for once showing unwavering passion towards the attempt on Duro's life.

Spartacus wishes he could unravel the whole thing, understand why the frigid king has suddenly turned his eyes towards his sons. He's never cared so much before, and the sudden change of heart brings a creeping unease to the general. Spartacus has just placed a cluster of swords to be sharpened against the wall, intending on taking them to Lugo and the other blacksmiths later when Spartacus' is alerted to the opening and closing of the tent flap. This is the armory, and though many have need of it now, very rarely does anyone enter it.

Peaking around a large container of shields, Spartacus watches the figure move across the floor. Nasir is covered in a cloak, a million, tiny stars littering the navy fabric in dazzling silver. It looks as if he's pulled down the night sky to cover him, truly the moon of the people now. He seems to float, first to a large suit of armor and then onto the helmets – most covered in dried blood – hung along the wall. His fingers linger on one, and how he knows it is Agron's, Spartacus doesn't know. He strokes the nose guard with trembling fingers, caressing it like a lover.

It isn't until he shudders in a breath that Spartacus moves, revealing himself in the dying candle light. The tent is dim, gleaming metal of the armor helping to light the way, but Spartacus can see the dark circles under Nasir's eyes, the bruised mouth from working the skin with his teeth.

“Your majesty,” Spartacus bows his head slightly, “I did not expect to find you here.”

“I never expected to be here,” Nasir smiles faintly, returning the bow. He would not consider them friends, but Spartacus is very close to Agron – his right hand – and Nasir would like to know him better – just under different circumstances.

“I would wish you a good evening, but with look upon face, I fear that it is not true.” Spartacus moves towards the royal, “Tell me what troubles you and see burden removed.”

“Would that you could remove it.” Nasir's tone is bitter as he sinks onto a large pile of tunics, pushing his hood back. He isn't wearing his crown and his hair is loose, hanging down to his chest in curls, natural and soft.

Spartacus stays silent, perching on an overturned basket. He considers himself incredibly close to Agron, but he has not truly had the opportunity to talk to Nasir, to get to know him. If he is anything like his husband though, he seeks counsel and reassurance – something both of them share and Spartacus is willing to give.

“You have been here your whole life, Spartacus. You have grown with these men. What do I have to give up,” Nasir begins softly, barely above a whisper, “What would I have to sacrifice for this to be undone? I would surrender anything, relinquish everything I have for this to not be happening.”

“Nasir,” Spartacus sighs, shaking his head sadly, “I know you have heard these words, and despise them, but he is the prince. He must do his duty, and though he does not want to, there is no other way.”

“To hell with his duty.” Nasir's hands tighten to fists on his knees. “This is not his duty. This is Gerulf's lust for power and poison!”

“I know you fear for him, but Agron is a strong warrior.” Spartacus tries for reassuring. “He is one of our best. I have seen him fight many times. He has never succumbed in battle before. He will lead our people to victory and be back within your arms sooner than you think.”

“He should not have to go in the first place!” Nasir bites out, temper flaring, “You are not prepared! I have never been through war, but I know that the sick and dying do not stand against the immortals. He leads us all to our death.”

“We will do the best that we can with the men we have,” Spartacus soothes, “Agron is other-worldly upon field of battle, a true descendant of our war god. He could battle them all himself, and I think he would stand strong chance. You have not seen the power that lives within him.”

“He is one man,” Nasir's voice cracks, tears heavy on his lower eyelashes. It seems the fight has left him completely, the fire that always seems to light him up diminishing under the prospect that there is nothing he can do to change this. “He is one man, but he is mine. How can fate be so cruel to give us to each other only to tear us away?”

Watching tears drop onto Nasir's lap, Spartacus moves to kneel before the man, wrapping his palms comfortingly around one of Nasir's hands. The prince's other rests against his bare stomach, cupping it gently. Spartacus does not miss the action. He had suspected it, the more Nasir's powers grew, the more Agron's wolf forced its way to the surface, and the easy way they fit together. This just confirms it, and with a heavy heart, Spartacus holds Nasir's hand tighter.

“I promise you, Nasir, I will not let him fall.” Spartacus murmurs adamantly , “I swear it to you.”

“You cannot make such a vow,” Nasir shakes his head, “You cannot say for sure-”

“He will not abandon you or your child.” Spartacus moves to grip Nasir's face between his hands, holding his gaze.

Nasir's eyes widen, staring at Spartacus in half horror and half awe. “H-How...You can't tell anyone. Spartacus, please, you can't.”

“Does he know?” Spartacus asks. It would be cruel to send a man to his possible death without knowing of the life he's created.

“Yes,” Nasir nods, “and he still is leaving me. Even the possibility of our child cannot stay his desire to go.”

“It is not desire, Nasir. He wants to stay here with you. And though he must go,” Spartacus reassures, “I swear that I will return him to your arms.”

“Thank you.”

Letting out a broken sob, Nasir suddenly surges forward, wrapping himself tightly around Spartacus, tears falling onto the older man's neck. He doesn't know why he's suddenly become so emotional, magic flaring every once in a while, unable to control it. He blames it on the baby, the stress of this life, the idea he may one day wake to find Agron gone from this world.

“You must return as well,” Nasir murmurs, arms still tight around Spartacus' neck, “I promised Mira that Pietros and I would make all the flowers for your wedding. I'll be very disappointed if I don't get to make that happen.”

“I promise,” Spartacus laughs, breathing in the sharp scent of Nasir's hair. He feels odd, not bad, but the magic that pulses under Nasir's skin always makes the man feel too warm and the air too thick. He is other-worldly, and though Spartacus can feel it, it does not make him want to recoil. If anything, he just wants to hold Nasir closer, comfort him the best that he can. He wonders distantly if this is a fraction of what Agron can sense. Spartacus is not a wolf, but his animal instincts make him want to protect the pregnant prince before him.

“I am sorry. I fall to tears more than I ever have,” Nasir hiccups, pulling back to wipe at his cheeks. “I only thought to come here for a moment of silence, not to lay my burdens upon you.”

“Your child pulls new emotions from you,” Spartacus teases, tucking a strand of Nasir's hair behind his ear, “I imagine it will only get worse as it grows. ”

“A fate I am not looking forward to.” Nasir's grin matches Spartacus, and he hugs him again, quickly and strong. It seems compassion is a hard find in these lands, and yet Spartacus offers it up so freely. Nasir feels indebted to him.

“Your child will be blessed, Nasir. Strong and wild like Agron, but kind and generous like you. They will make a good leader,” Spartacus reassures, patting Nasir's back. “True of heart.”

“It is all I hope for.” Nasir is about to pull away, cursing his hormones and the tears on his face, when they're interrupted by a voice at the entrance.

“I come to find scattered armor,” Agron stands tall in the doorway, arms crossed tightly over his chest, “and instead find my husband in the arms of my best friend. Should I draw sword or recoil like a coward and wash sight from mind?”

“No,” Spartacus pulls away, gently easing Nasir back onto his perch, “I only seek to comfort a heavy heart of the one my king holds dearest. This is kinship and nothing else.”

“Besides,” Nasir wipes at his cheeks with the side of his hand, “is any sword within tent even sharp enough to slice bread? Let alone flesh?”

“Your tongue moves as if snake,” Agron growls, “but I do not yet know if you drip poison or caress me.”

“You speak foolishly,” Nasir laughs, shaking his head. “I am only for you, my love.”

Agron's expression is cloudy still, moving further into the tent and to Nasir's side. He cups the smaller man's jaw, forcing his head up and into the light. Agron doesn't think Nasir would cheat on him, let alone with Spartacus who has been practically married to Mira since they were children, but he does not like the idea of Nasir seeking comfort away from him. He supposes he should be glad that Nasir is making friends, fitting in, but the idea of secrets between them does not sit well with Agron. He should be the one Nasir turns to when burden of this life is too much.

Do not fear, my king. I sought moment of peace away from needs of our people and Spartacus was already in here. Nasir gazes up at him silently speaking through their minds, hands pressing to Agron's face in return. We spoke of nothing but you.

Does he comfort you? Agron spits out bitterly, eyes narrowing. In ways I can not?

Nasir understands the implication, but ignores it in favor of soothing instead of instigating. In promise given to return you to me and our child. I fear for your life, and Spartacus has made vow to me you will not leave this world and return to my arms and see our child to full life.

“You told him?” Agron suddenly growls out, glancing over at Spartacus' passive face. “We swore we would not tell until you began to show.”

“I already knew.” Spartacus speaks up before Nasir can, moving closer to the pair. “I have known you your whole life, Agron. Never have you been so quick to turn. You cannot control your wolf because he wants to be the protector. His instincts tell him that he needs to be the one to care for Nasir. You do not even realize half the time what you are doing.”

“I am in control,” Agron shakes his head, releasing Nasir to turn fully towards Spartacus. “I am a prince, an alpha wolf. I know what I am doing. If you question that, then perhaps we must visit your loyalties.”

“Agron,” Nasir presses his hand to Agron's bicep, cool and gentle, “he means no offense. You told me yourself that your wolf could sense it on me.”

“I seek only to point out that your secret, your family's secret, is safe. I will not betray you.” Spartacus clasps his fist roughly to his shoulder, bowing his head. “You are my king. Agron, we have known each other since before we could walk. You know this.”

Agron's narrowed eyes relax, shaking his head as he takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Of course he knows this. Spartacus has been his brother for all his life. He would not betray him. He has no cause. Yet anyone being so bold as to touch Nasir, and Agron’s wolf is growling at the surface, ready to defend him.

“Of course, apologies.” Pulling Nasir against him, Agron wraps an arm around his shoulders, “I fall to madness. It is stress of long day and bright fucking sun upon back of neck.”

“Let us take midday meal,” Spartacus suggests, smiling at the pair, “and see strength restored.”

“Thank you but no. We would have it along the way,” Agron shakes his head. “I wish to take Nasir to see Völva.”

Nasir has never heard such a name before, and turns curious eyes up towards Agron. It is not a smart idea for them to leave the city, as Gerulf has often been calling upon Agron for updates. Any distraction has been an unwelcome one, and Gerulf only releases Agron from his duties at early hours of the morning and only under the command to 'go and fuck his bride.' Nasir has heard the words from Gerulf's own mouth and though he recoils, he feels blessed to even have a moment of Agron's remaining time.

“Do you think that wise? Has the king not forbade her from our protection?” Spartacus asks, face grim. “What is the purpose?”

“She may be an asset in our coming departure. She has ways of hiding those who may be in danger and healing the sick,” Agron replies grimly, sharing a knowing look with Spartacus. “He has a right to know her.”

“I wish you safe travels, and if asked, I will tell the king of different path.” Spartacus claps Agron on the shoulder before exiting the tent. It is a foolish thing, but Spartacus understand the reasoning behind it.

“Who is Völva, my king?” Nasir turns to look up at Agron, fitting the hood of his cloak back over the top of his head.

“Someone very old and very important. I will tell you more on the way, but we must leave now.”

Agron takes his hand, pulling Nasir from the dark armory and into the afternoon sun.


- - -


“You trained well today, my prince. You are becoming a fearsome warrior,” Auctus leans casually on a supporting pole in Duro's tent, watching him.

Duro dunks his head in the basin of water again, washing away the sweat from the day's training. He had been helping Crixus and Donar to train the younger men, teach them the art and skill of battle. Duro had been wielding a sword from the moment he could stand, taught by both Gerulf's cruel hand and Isolde's more nurturing. Both Agron and Duro had thrived under their mother's lessons, Agron learning her growl and her love of the spear whereas Duro took up the shield, more prone to defense than attack.

“Lyda asked about you again,” Duro replies, tossing his tunic to the side, leaving him in his leather hyde pants, laced up the side with cords. “She seeks your attention and probably hand.”

“And did you tell her my heart belongs to another?” Auctus asks, eyes tracing a droplet down Duro's spine.

“Does it?” Duro looks over his shoulder at his guard. “Who is the lucky woman? Or is it a man? You and Sedullus would make a titan pair.”

His smirk is wide, eyes twinkling. It's a joke to him, really, to see how far he can push Auctus. Duro doesn't mean for it to be cruel, but when he's been told his whole life that he is less, weaker, the lower desirable – it's nice to be wanted, to be the first choice.

Auctus bristles under the easy dismissal, shaking his head. “Do I need to repeat myself? Do royals' ears not work the same as the common man's?”

“No, we only hear commands from the highest – the king and the gods.” Duro turns back around to pour himself a cup of wine. “Does my father's voice not ring out the loudest?”

“It does.” Auctus picks moodily at his thumbnail, “A voice to shake the heavens with the demands of your brother and you.”

“You sound angry,” Duro turns back, offering a cup to Auctus who takes it easily.

“Yes, my prince.” Auctus answers softly, not meeting Duro's gaze, “I suppose I am.”

“He has no reason to turn his wrath towards you. You have been a good dog to him, protecting his less and weaker son.” Duro shrugs as he moves around the room, beginning to throw logs on the cold fire pit.

“His wrath extends to me,” Auctus replies, eyes still tracking him as he sits upon random chair. “Every time it turns towards you.”

Duro isn't as dumb nor as blind as many think him to be. He has noticed Auctus' attentions for him, his unfailing loyalty, his bristling at Gerulf's slurred insults for his younger son. No matter what Duro does to please his father, he will always stand in the shadow of Agron – a backup plan that Gerulf hopes will never need to be called on.

Yet at what cost would it be for Duro take Auctus as his own? Yes, Agron is tasked with creating new heirs – charged with fucking Nasir until he gives him a son – but is Duro also not responsible for carrying on the family blood? Has Gerulf not tried to push women onto Duro, using him as a tool in case Agron fails him? Did Gerulf not tell him that if Agron cannot and will not give him a true heir, then Gerulf will use Duro and whomever he gets pregnant? That he would steal the child to be used as Agron's son?

“Do you-” Duro stops himself mid-laugh, “Do you fear for me, Auctus? Is that what troubles you?”

“It is my job to fear for you, Duro, from the moment your brother tasked me with protecting you.” Shifting uncomfortably, Auctus takes a slow sip of his wine. He suddenly wishes he had stayed at his post outside of Duro's tent, stood guard at the door until the night guards had taken his place.

Stepping behind him, Duro runs his fingers along his shoulder guards, touching the soft skin of Auctus' back. He's always admired Auctus' body, the thick cut of muscles and tendons. He doesn't stand as tall or as broad as Agron, but he is still fierce, a molded man.

“That is not true though, is it?” Duro whispers, leaning down to speak into Auctus' ear, “You do not protect me because Agron told you to. You do not protect me because my father said to. So, what is it?”

“Would you have me say it? Repeat it to you again so you can cast me aside?” Auctus asks bitterly, slamming his hand down onto the arm of his chair, “Why must you make this so fucking hard on me?”

“I would have you say the words again,” Duro comes to kneel before Auctus, pressing between his spread legs, “so I may taste them from your mouth.”

Duro's fingers trace over Auctus' lips, crowding into his space. Up close like this, he can see the anger in Auctus' expression, the glint in his eyes, the barely contained animal within him. Duro has never seen what Auctus is, has never had a chance to see him transform, but Duro imagines he's a beast – a creature worthy of the man before him.

Auctus opens his mouth to reply, but Duro hushes him softly, shaking his head.

“We are to battle in just two days,” Duro whispers, “and we may not survive it. I could be ripped from this world, body shattered under a vampire's poisoned blade. I wish to spend my remaining days with the one who holds my heart.”

“I do not hold such,” Auctus sighs sadly. It hurts to have Duro this close and yet he is not really here, not really his.

Duro leans forward, gently pressing his mouth against Auctus' lax one, a simple and chaste kiss. He withdraws a moment later, lingering close to Auctus' face. “Who else is more worthy? Who else has protected me – from both enemies and myself?”

“I would not see you fall from this earth,” Auctus vows, gently cupping Duro's face, “I would give my life before I would let that happen.”

“Then let me fall instead into your arms,” Duro murmurs, “and see us forget about our looming fates.”

Auctus cannot deny him, never has wanted to. Duro is everything, from his bright eyes and his mischievous mouth, to the way he is reckless – a wolf pup in his truest form. Auctus has spent so much time tiptoeing around his affections, hiding them from both Duro and Agron, fearful of his wrath.

Leaning forward, Auctus captures Duro's mouth in a rough kiss, tongue pressing fully into Duro's mouth, tasting him. Fingers curling in Duro's hair, Auctus guides him up onto his feet, blindly stumbling back towards the bed. They shed armor and clothing, laughing breathlessly as they topple to the furs and deep into pleasure.

- - -

"You fight well for an archer," Naevia mocks, swinging her sword down hard against Mira's shield.

"I've been practicing," Mira's merrily laughs, shaking off the attack to swing around, jabbing her wooden sword sharply into Naevia's side.

They spar for a few more minutes, dancing around one another, getting a few whacks in, nothing substantial. Naevia's calves ache from the exertion, trying to regain her form after so many months of not being able to fight. She had sworn to Crixus she would just oversee the training while she was pregnant. But now that Yasmina is nearly one, Naevia has been itching to get back on the field.

"Too much it seems," Naevia groans when Mira tackles her back into the hard dirt, "Yasmina has put me out of shape."

“Soon she will be taking the sands with you,” Mira pants, flicking dirt at Naevia, “and will wield a sword better than any boy.”

“You sound like Crixus.” Naevia grins, hooking her leg around the back of Mira's calves and flips them, pinning her back against the ground. “He would fashion her a sword now if he could. Already tried to show her how to choke hold.”

Mira wiggles for a moment before getting the momentum to pounce, rolling them until she has her legs wrapped in a way around Naevia's that makes her's go numb. Naevia raises her hand in surrender, huffing in annoyance.

“I am a weak as a fucking milk maid.”

"Motherhood suits you though," Mira laughs, rolling off Naevia to collapse back onto the ground, panting up at the sky. “And you'll get your form back. You were heavily pregnant barely a year ago and then with feeding Yasmina. You deserved the break, Nae.”

"Do you think so?" Naevia asks, brushing loose fly-aways from her forehead.

"You have always been destined to be a warrior, queen of war. All the seers saw so. But I think you make a good mother as well." Mira grins, nudging Naevia's foot with her own. "Crixus sure seems to agree."

"He wants another," Naevia grins towards Mira, "a son this time. Someone he can teach to torment Agron and Duro. Jab them in the legs with his tiny swords and spears."

Mira grins delighted, "What do you think of that? A brother for my goddaughter? So soon too."

"I say let what happen what will happen," Naevia rolls over onto her side, holding her head up on her hand. "And you and Spartacus?"

"We've put the wedding on hold until he gets back," Mira sighs, playing with a random string on her dress. "If he gets back. If we get back."

Naevia picks up a piece of Mira's hair, gently twisting it around a finger. It's always a threat, when they go into battle. Anyone could be struck down at any time. Still, there is little they can do. Fate does what it will.

"Agron has asked me to stay behind, but he wants Crixus to go," Naevia confesses, smiling grimly at Mira. "And you?"

"I am to go." Mira mutters, "Messenger and head of the archers. Why did he ask you to stay?"

"Nasir," Naevia grumbles, sitting up and crossing her legs. She understands why, but it still makes no sense to her why Agron doesn't just bring him a long. Clearly he can take care of himself when it comes to vampires.

"Of course."

“I don't see the purpose. They are going to be miserable apart. Ever since Nasir arrived, unless they are running away from one another, they're inseparable.” Naevia sighs, “Now with the pregnancy, you'd think Agron would be going crazy.”

“Nasir's pregnant?” Mira gasps, hushing her voice when she sees people sparring a few yards away.

“You didn't know?” Naevia asks, continuing when Mira shakes her head, “They didn't tell me. I guess I could just sense it, old pregnancy hormones or something.”

“Wow.” Mira takes a deep breath, raising her eyebrows. “Well, things have certainly got interesting around here.”

“I think it's a secret though, so don't say anything.” Naevia hushes her, “Agron about took my head off yesterday when I got too close to Nasir. I was giving him food and Agron forced me to give it to him so he could hand it to Nasir.”

“I won't say anything. I'd rather not be on the end of one of Agron's rages.” Mira stands, brushing off her knees before offering a hand to Naevia. "Come, sister. I miss my goddaughter and I'm sure it's time for her to eat."

"It is. But when we're done and she is back to napping with Melitta, we are back to the sands."

Naevia takes the offered hand, pulling herself to her feet. Mira grins at her, brushing her own hair back from her shoulders. She ducks down, spreading her legs a little, and with a grin begins to run back towards town, throwing her words over her shoulder.

"Race you!"

Naevia curses under her breath as she takes off after her.

- - -

The sun has just risen to its highest peak as Agron and Nasir reach the forest's treeline. They had passed through town without incident, just the regular bows and whispers behind hands. Agron hadn't paused to give any greeting beside a slight nod of his head, pulling Nasir after him, stride much longer than his smaller husband's. He knew they did not have much time until Gerulf would find need of Agron again, and the faster they got out of the city, the easier it would be to avoid him.

"No," Nasir suddenly freezes, digging his heels into the soft earth, "I'm not going into the woods."

"Nasir," Agron turns, surprised to see Nasir's horrified gaze. "You will be safe. I will not abandon you."

"I do not want to go in there," Nasir shakes his head, trying to pull his hand out of Agron's grasp, "Please. You haven't even told me where we are going. If this is some plot to protect me-"

"I want to take you to meet someone, someone very special to me," Agron replies, stooping down to gently grasp Nasir's face between his palms. "Trust me. Nothing bad will happen."

"I-" Nasir pauses. He does trust Agron, he does, but the apprehension of returning to somewhere that has only bad memories for Nasir is too much.

Sighing, Agron stands up. He can understand it, knows why Nasir recoils. Agron will bear the weight of that guilt for a long time, but if there is something he can do to help rectify – Agron has to try. He fiddles for a minute with the multiple leather strands around his neck before he frees one, holding it out to Nasir.

"Here, tie our hands together."

"What?" Nasir can't help but laugh, shaking his head. Agron looks so serious though, he takes it from him.

"Tie us together." Agron shrugs, "That way you know I won't leave you and can't just run off. It'll make you feel better."

"You're ridiculous." Nasir shakes his head, but wraps the leather around their wrists. It's a little tricky, but he manages it, his right hand to Agron's left. He tries to tie it in a loose knot, but under Agron's watchful gaze, he tightens it until they have no choice but to link their fingers again.

"See," Agron yanks a little on their hands, fingers squeezing Nasir's gently, "stuck together for life."

"A fate worse than death," Nasir grins, leaning up to kiss Agron's cheek, "Thank you."

"Anything for you."

Agron flashes him a smile, dimples and all, before pecking Nasir's lips. He doesn't seem to want to stop though, leaning in for a deeper one, tongue lapping gently at Nasir's bottom lip before pulling away with a slick pop. “Come on.”

“Mmkay.” Dazed, Nasir nods, having no choice but to follow.

They walk for a little while, Agron helping Nasir over fallen logs and pulling fruit from trees for him to eat. It's companionable silence, a soundtrack of birds and insects to fill it. Nasir wonders how he became so comfortable, when just a month ago he would have recoiled from being alone in the woods with Agron. Perhaps it is the child inside of him, barely the size of his fingertip right now, that draws him tightly to Agron's side. Or, maybe it's something else – the devotion, the love that Nasir feels taking over himself. Either way, the idea of him leaving, of him never returning, brings a sudden and sharp pain to Nasir's chest.

Agron peeks at Nasir every few moments, noticing the way the sunlight catches on his hair, his crown, the gold chains woven around his waist. He had shed his cloak back in town, handing it to Naevia with a small smile. She had fought to go with them, but Agron had dismissed her, reassuring her that he had it covered just in case. It was not appreciated, but she had no choice but to let them go.

He can't help it, but Agron can't help wondering what Nasir is going to look like in the coming months. If he'll start slow, just the barely there growing of his stomach, how he'll round out, growing with their child. Will he glow even more than he already does? A sheen filled with life and hope.

They had agreed last night they wouldn't tell anyone about the baby. It was safer that way, at least until Agron got back from the war and they could announce it together. They only need to tell those that were necessary, and most already knew – Spartacus, Naevia, and Pietros. Agron hadn't mentioned to Nasir why he was so adamant about it being a secret, figuring it was better if he didn't worry himself. Agron would protect them both from Gerulf – at any cost.

“So,” Nasir pipes up as they cross a large clearing, the grass tickling at his ankles, “I've been meaning to ask – what exactly is the Moon Festival? Mira and Naevia were talking about it this morning, but they wouldn't tell me anything.”

“Oh, well,” Agron scratches at the back of his neck, awkwardly looking at Nasir out of the corner of his eye, “It's not a big deal. Do you want the long version or the short version?”

“How much longer do we have to walk?” Nasir asks, licking the juice from his apple from his fingers. Agron grows momentarily distracted by the action, staring at Nasir with glowing tinted eyes before clearing his throat. Ever since Nasir grew pregnant, Agron can't seem to contain his lust. He constantly wants to be next to Nasir, touching him, tasting him.

“Uh, a while,” He blushes under Nasir's knowing glance, freckles darker from the red tint of his cheeks. Always so fucking irresistible.

“Tell me the long version then,” Nasir bumps into Agron, nudging him playfully, “I love a good story.”

“Alright,” Agron sighs before taking another deep breath. He's never liked this story – a farce used as an excuse for the violence of his people – the lust for blood that Gerulf clings so tightly to.

“It all started when the world was new. A goddess named Caelestis lived in a cave within the sky. Every night, she would sit by the mouth of her cave and light her candle, weaving the tapestry of the night sky – connecting stars and constellations to hang within her cave. Her candle only lasts a month though, and one night, every cycle, she must descend from her home to hunt for wax to make a new one.”

“She's the moon.” Nasir murmurs, faintly touching the gem on his circlet.

“She is. The most beautiful creature in the whole world, so beautiful her father – Magnus, the creator of the world, hid her away in a cave.” Agron kisses Nasir's forehead underneath his crown, smiling at him, “Just like you are the moon of our people – the most beautiful, the most sacred.”

“You flatter, my king,” Nasir laughs breathlessly, stroking Agron's jaw. Agron looks so intense though, brow furrowed, that the mirth dies on Nasir's tongue.

“It is the truth. We must protect you, always.” Agron kisses his forehead again before leading them on, continuing his story.

“One night, Caelestis climbed down from her sky palace and went in search for wax. She was wandering through the forest when a wolf happened upon her. Ensnared by her beauty, he grabbed onto her cloak in his mighty jaws and tried to pull the goddess down into his den to keep.”

Nasir listens, thinking distantly of the cloak that had been gifted to him by one of the other nobles, the one that looked like a million stars. Did these people truly believe him to be this powerful creature? It would make sense, why the peasant flocked to him, gave him offerings, worshiped him. What would that mean for the child inside of him? What could the people expect of it?

“Caelestis, in her fear, turned, intent on killing her kidnapper. Yet, when she heard his howling confession – the only way he could speak his love for her - she was swayed by his song. She had been so lonely in her cave, and yet here was a creature willing to love her.”

Agron pauses, turning to look at Nasir, shaded by a large willow.

“She turned him into a man – Alptra - so that she could hear his words and they could be together. They thought they were safe, in the dark of the night with no moon to show their infidelity. But when her wife, Solene, goddess of the day and sun, saw what Caelestis was doing, she struck out her wrath.”

Tenderly tucking a strand of Nasir's hair behind his ear, Agron sighs. He doesn't like to think about this next part.

“She enslaved the wolf inside of the man, turning him into a monster, forcing him to have this beast control his every thought, his every action. Solene took away his humanity, leaving him a human shell with a wolf within. She then separated them, casting Caelestis back into her cave and imprisoning her there. Her wrath even extended to the length of the days, staying out longer to keep them apart.

When it was all over, Solene chose one day of the year as her cruelest punishment. It's the day every summer that the sun lasts the longest, bright and hot. On this day, we lose our powers. We are stripped down to simple men, a reprieve from constantly having to battle ourselves. It feels almost like a blessing, but then, when the moon is at it's highest and Solene's wrath is most cruel.

Our powers grow back and we are forced into animal form – stripped of any human thought, feeling, decision. We run only on instinct. We hunt and we kill and we fuck. Turned back into base animals, and then when the sunrises, it's all back to normal, except we must deal with the aftermath – the carnage - while the sun looks down on us and gloats.”

“But-” Nasir pauses, eyes wide and staring up at Agron, “But you don't remember?”

“We do,” Agron smiles sadly, “we do remember. Every kill, every scream, every death.”

“But you can't control yourselves?” Nasir asks faintly. “You just do it.”

“No.” Shaking his head, Agron releases Nasir's fingers. “I lead it. I'm the prince. I make the first kill, and it is not always an animal.”

Nasir is speechless, mouth still gaping as he searches for something to say. He wishes he could just shake it off as a child's story, something mothers tell their children to keep them in at night, but Nasir has seen Agron in full wolf form. He is huge, and strong, and something to be afraid of. Except. And of course it's an exception, because Nasir loves this man, and inside of Agron is a wolf, so he must love the wolf too, right?

“You are back to being afraid of me,” Agron deflates, sighing deeply. He's just about to pull away, reaching for the ties around their wrists, when Nasir suddenly launches forward, wrapping his arms tightly around Agron's neck. It yanks his wrist awkwardly, but Agron manages to catch him, hugging Nasir back.

“Shut up,” Nasir hisses into Agron's ear, “I am your husband and you are mine and I love you. Stop thinking I'm going to turn away from you every moment you show your teeth. I am the consort of wolves.”

“I'd never hurt you. I love you too much.” Agron replies, smiling into Nasir's hair. It seems his prince has started to grow fangs himself, defensive and bright.

“Besides,” Nasir pulls back, peppering kisses along Agron's flushed cheeks, “you are not the only one with deadly magic.”

“I suppose. Your whole deadly fire god thing was uh, was kinda unexpected.” Agron laughs, guiding Nasir into a kiss.

“I had to protect you,” Nasir mumbles, easily submitting to Agron's tongue again, letting him taste him.

“I have to protect you. I have to protect all of us.”

Agron sets him down gingerly, steadying Nasir on his feet before pulling away. They're nearly there, just past the upcoming break in the trees, and Agron wants the mood to shift – wants to bring laughter back to Nasir's dark eyes. The knowledge that this may be their very last days together looms over them like a shadow, but they can forget it for just a moment – just a single afternoon.

“Come, my love,” Nasir smiles up at Agron, “let's continue our journey. Your child doesn't like it when we stand idle. I fear they'll want to run the moment they enter this world.”

He can't let himself be consumed by the fear. Nasir knows that Agron wouldn't hold him to this tradition, not unless Gerulf was behind it. And fucking Gerulf. Nasir wishes they were free of him already, even if it forced them into a higher position, princes turned to kings. If it meant that Agron would never look at Nasir with fear and regret again, then Nasir would happily slit the king's throat himself.

“It's just past these trees,” Agron motions them forward, making sure to slip his fingers back between Nasir's.

Agron leads Nasir past the break in the trees, sunlight suddenly pouring into a fairly small clearing. It's covered in tall grass, swaying in the breeze, and swelling around a dirt covered hill. In the center, a large wooden door hangs - covered in runes and strange symbols. Tiny crystals and trinkets are interwoven into the grass roof, a line of hanging rabbits outside the door, and a firepit glowing dull orange in front. It fills the air not with normal smoke but the sweet smell of incense instead.

"Two footsteps on my earth." A voice begins, rickety but loud in the silent woods, birds having stopped the moment the words began. "Yet three heartbeats approach my home. What a strange thing. What secrets approach me, what pain. You bring darkness here, to my home, beast from Alptra."

Nasir startles at the sound, booming in the close space. It feels like something out of one of the stories his father used to tell him around the fire at night - of the forest god's watchful gaze. Did the woods grow angry with them for being here? What had they done? Nasir curls closer to Agron, squeezing his hand tighter.

"Völva,” Agron calls out, “you know who comes to you.” He leads Nasir forward into the clearing, stopping once they reach the fire. He ignores the fact that he nearly has to drag his husband, who looks around with wide eyes.

“Ah yes,” the voice continues, “A desperate man and his little crouching husband. And inside, ah, a secret. Very naughty. Gerulf would be so disappointed in your trickery, Agron. Are you not his favorite after all?”

“I want to return,” Nasir hisses out, yanking on Agron’s arm, “I do not like these woods. Why have you brought me here?”

“Calm yourself,” the voice is softer now, and suddenly from the side of the hill a figure reveals herself.

She is small, hunched over with shocks of black and white hair twisted upon her head in tiny braids. They overlap, almost creating a crown as the old woman raises her head. She is wrinkled and freckled from years in the sun, wearing a large furred cloak regardless of the heat and a simple dress. Around her neck are thousands of chains, each one holding gems, coins, and tassels. It’s her eyes though, electric green and the exact replica of Agron’s that gives Nasir pause.

“Put away your flames. I am not here to hurt you, Nasir - jewel of the Pythonissam, moon of the Alptraum, and - but you already know your last title, don’t you?” The woman smiles slowly, face scrunching with the action.

“Bearer of giants,” Nasir whispers, unable to move his gaze away from her.

“Very good.” She steps closer, hands opening in a pacifying motion, “the little wolf inside of you already knows secrets.”

“Völva,” Agron states again, taking a deep breath, “I would formally like to introduce you to my husband, Nasir, but you seem to know him already. Nasir, this is Völva - my grandmother.”

Nasir falters for a moment, looking between the pair. Up close like this, the resemblance is a little uncanny. Agron has her eyes and the soft curve of her mouth - though lost in the aging. He wonders, distantly, why she is not held in regard in court? Why was she not at the wedding? What has caused her banishment far from the safety and security of their makeshift town?

“Your majesty,” Nasir bows his head, surprised when Völva laughs. It’s a rattling sound, like nuts in a bowl.

“Such manners from someone who outranks me.” She cups Nasir’s face, kissing each of his cheeks with dry and cracked lips. “You make a good match for my little Wolfjungen.”

“Thank you.” Nasir murmurs, glancing up at Agron with furrowed brows.

“Völva is the mother of my father, and his three brothers: Dietrich, Adalric, and Lutz.” Agron explains, smiling gently at Nasir - trying to be reassuring. “Dietrich is Tove’s and Saxa’s father. He controls the hunting grounds to the north of us.”

“Come, let us not speak of family lines out in the open. Your husband needs nourishment and so does the cub inside of him,” Völva motions with her wrinkled hands towards the house. “I have stew and tea and I will read your stones. Come.”

She leads them towards the entrance of the den, pulling back the heavy door. The darkness of the room inside feels thick, ominous, but Nasir can see tiny twinkling lights all over the ceiling. It's like stars in the dark. He tightens his fingers with Agron's and steps forward, out of the world of the living and into Völva's one of magic.

- - -

Agron is barely halfway through his bowl of stew by the time Nasir finishes his, topping it off by nibbling on the sweet bread Völva offers freely. He's never seen Nasir scarf down food like that, usually one to pick and poke around a plate until he finishes it, saving the honeyed figs for last – his favorite. In all the time they've shared meals, Agron has never even seen Nasir be excited about the prospect of eating, but now he acts half starved. Agron watches as Nasir gently sets the bowl on the table, hiding a tiny burp behind his fingers.

“You starve the boy, Agron,” Völva tsks, shaking her head, “He is carrying your heir. You must plump him up. He's so thin.”

“I do feed him! I give him food all the time,” Agron looks sheepishly over at Nasir, nose wrinkled. He tries to think back over the last time he really saw Nasir eat, truly, but he can't remember. He had barely gotten through an apple on the road before he was shaking his head, politely turning down whatever Agron had offered him.

“He does,” Nasir nods helpfully, “I just-I haven't really been able to eat since I got here. I don't eat meat and the baby has made me sick a lot.”

“You need to,” Völva states matter-of-factly, pulling the hissing kettle from over the fire, “a growing wolf needs raw meat. It gives them strength. Gives you strength.”

Nasir smiles weakly at her, taking another bite of his bread. He doesn't want to voice his insecurities. Nasir has never been one to eat a lot, always having had to be careful. His family's life depended on him being desirable, small and pretty with long hair and big eyes. Isn't this what Agron had been attracted to? The dancing and the sexuality. The fear of him losing his body, his worth, is too big of a risk. Especially now with a child growing inside of him and the pressure from Gerulf. He must continue to be perfect for Agron and for his role as consort.

Völva levels him with a look, as if she can read his mind, before setting a mug of tea before both Agron and Nasir. It smells tangy and sharp, a hint of citrus that Nasir feels himself leaning forward to inhale deeper. When was the last time he had an orange? Years, back when his family had traveled along the coast of Pontas.

“Drink this. It will help.”

“Thank you,” Nasir murmurs, turning to look at Agron, “So, tell me of your family. I do not know many of them, and yet you seem to have a lot.”

“Völva was married to Ludwig, my grandfather that died when I was only five. Together, they had four sons,” Agron explains, glancing at Völva for confirmation. “First, Adalric. He died of fever when he was only eighteen. Lutz, slain in battle against gorgons. Gerulf, my father. And then Dietrich, Tove and Saxa's father, who controls our hunting grounds to the north and northeast.”

“You do not tell the story correctly,” Völva speaks up, pursing her lips, “Adalric, poisoned by his brothers in jealousy. Lutz, killed by your father's own blade in battle. Dietrich banished to the north so that he wouldn't be here to try for the crown.”

“That was never proven,” Agron speaks up, shaking his head, “Vicious rumors cast against our family.”

“Do I not know what my children do? Did I not bring them from inside of me and into this world? Your father was always hungry, always thirsted for more.” She spits bitterly, turning her green eyes towards Nasir. “You will know, when you bring your baby into this world, when your sons battle one another for a piece of gold to place on their heads.”

“You think Gerulf killed your other sons to be king?” Nasir asks, not having the strength to look at Agron, instead staring at the woman before him. The pain flashing briefly across her face already tells him his answer.

“Your poor mother,” Völva gently takes hold of Agron's hand, “having to try and raise you and Duro, protect you against that monster. Pretend that he hadn't turned her into the same beast as him.”

“She did not try hard enough to protect us. She left,” Agron mutters, pulling out of her grasp to moodily sip his tea.

“You will not tell anyone what happened. You didn't even speak,” Völva furrows her brows, “Why won't you tell your poor grandmother what happened.”

“This was not point of visit,” Agron suddenly barks, startling the other two, “I simply wanted to introduce you. We do not need to drudge up the past and open old scars.”

Agron can feel Nasir's fingers tightening in his own, reassuring. He feels the magic flowing between them, a cool breath on the back of his neck, unfurling knots in his spine, but Agron tries to desperately cling to his anger. It's his shield against the horrors of the past, the thing that separates him from his rage and Isolde's glowing violet eyes in the dark, her lips stained blood red.

“Why are you not in town though? Why are you not protected by Gerulf and the others?” Nasir asks, ignoring the tension in lieu of getting answers. He needs to know these things, and if Agron won't willingly give him the information, he must search for it in other places.

“My son does not appreciate all of Caelestis' gifts. I have never been able to turn into a wolf, but I harnessed the powers in different ways,” The old woman explains, setting a felt bag on the table. She hands it to Nasir. “My son didn't think it was natural and when I tried to use my powers to stop his, he banished me.”

“You tried to kill him and put me on the throne,” Agron mutters darkly, expression still furious. “I was ten.”

“Shake the bag and cast the stones,” Völva ignores her grandson for his husband. “I will tell you your fortune.”

Nasir glances at Agron, waits until he rolls his eyes, before he shakes the heavy bag, emptying the bag on the table. Each stone contains a strange marking, some laying face up and some face down. Völva hmms softly, curled fingers moving over them, touching each before looking up at him.

“You do not want to know the sex,” She looks confused, “You are afraid.”

“I think it would be better not to know until it is born,” Nasir murmurs, fingers subconsciously moving to his stomach.

“But you know,” Völva grins, shaking her head, “your magic has been trying to tell you. You know what it is.”

Nasir glances at Agron again, guilty. He knows his magic is trying to tell him, has been trying to hint and show him images every time he touches his still flat stomach. He doesn't want to know. He is afraid, Völva is right. What if it isn't a boy? Would Agron love a girl less? Would a daughter be in danger from Gerulf's wrath even more than a son? These people must respect women, they must. Naevia is one of the most powerful warriors they have, a high ranking soldier with a whole small fleet of women directly under her command. And Mira leads the archers, better than even Spartacus, but Gerulf – Gerulf wants another son – a true heir.

“What else is there?” Nasir asks, leaning forward to peek at the stones as if their magic will show him himself.

“You are destined for greatness,” Völva continues, smiling slightly, “There are many lights on your path, full of love and joy. You both will be very loved royals, a king and his consort, known throughout the land as power and grace. And you will have many heirs as well.”

Agron pulls Nasir closer to him, kissing the top of his head. At least there is that. At least in the shit storm, there is a fucking silver lining.

“But this battle, against the vampires,” she glances up, “you both will bleed.”

“What?” Agron snaps, startling Nasir at the harshness of his tone. For fucks sake!

“I can not see the specifications,” Völva continues, shrugging her thin shoulders, “but you both have blood on you in my visions.” She gathers the stones again, placing them back in their bag.

“It's fine. It's okay.” Nasir soothes, trailing a hand down Agron's thigh, “It could be something simple. I could cut myself on a bread knife or fall and skin a knee. You could get scratched by a random branch when you're riding.”

Völva says nothing, eyes moving between the pair. She has seen it, seen what will cause it, but somethings are better left unsaid. The air is thick with the two of them, fates so entwined that there is no separation. Brief snags in their cords, but they always join back together. But fate is a fickle bitch, and often changes in an instance.

“Cast the stones.” She moves to hand the bag to Agron, but he recoils.

“I do not need your witchcraft to soothe me.” Agron snarls. “I know what you would have be my fate.”

“You hold grudges just like your father,” Völva retorts sharply, shaking her head.

“And your fucking stones would have me be him!” Agron shouts back, “Would you have me beat my husband? Would you have me force our sons to stand out in a storm to see if we could best the gods, regardless of their cries? Would you have me slaughter my brother to secure my crown?”

“Paths change,” Völva replies, shaking her head, “You were a child when they said that. You were so full of rage.”

“If I am to be my father,” Agron quickly grabs a random fruit knife from the table, holding it out to the woman, “I would have you kill me now. Cut the heart from my chest and burn it! I would rather you kill me now than have me become that.”

“No!” Nasir cries out, scrambling to yank the knife from his hand. They struggle for a moment, still tied together, and Agron growls, trying to keep his claws in check.

“Agron,” Völva stands quickly, slapping her hands down on the table. Both men before her reel back, Nasir gasping. “I am your grandmother. I love you. You are not your father. And you never listened to me when I told you that a light was coming for you, the moon was on its way.”

“Caelestis has never given a shit about me,” Agron bites out, hand that holds the knife trembling as Nasir's fingers wrap tightly around them. “And no other god would!”

“You fool,” Völva sighs, shaking his head. “It was never Caelestis.”

She pointedly turns her gaze towards Nasir, who is still staring at Agron imploringly. His eyes are a little damp, huge and glistening as he presses closer, hipbone digging into Agron's thigh.

Please. Give me the knife. He murmurs, raising their hands to press against Agron's jaw. Please, my love.

Agron's fingers go numb as he releases the small blade, staring at Nasir. And of course, of course, how had he been so stupid? All those years, all those times Völva had told him to be patient, to wait. That someone was coming. Agron had ignored it, figuring it was some bullshit about the gods. And yet here he was, brilliant and lovely and powerful.

Nasir doesn't understand any of this, but he does understand getting the fairly sharp and small knife out of Agron's hand. He nonchalantly puts it down on the table and pushes it away from them, listening to it skitter across the wood before falling off the table onto the other side. Nasir wants to apologize, say something, but Agron is just staring at him in this way, like he's awed at Nasir – like he can't believe he's real.

“You two have seen each other before,” Völva murmurs distantly, “a long time ago. You didn't even realize it. Dancing in the streets of Corinth when your father took you to market. Don't you remember the boy who stole your necklace?”

Agron watches in disbelief as Nasir fiddles with the chains around his neck, pulling a single strand out from among the tangles. A tiny gold wolf charm lingers on the end, swaying back and forth. Agron does remember a boy, small with brown skin and dark freckles on his nose, hair nearly to his waist. He had danced around Agron, playfully tossing a scarlet scarf over his shoulders and spun them. Agron had gone along with it, just because Gerulf had been out of eyesight and the boy had looked so happy, so pleased to have Agron's attention. He even had a belt of coins that clinked together with each of his movements, hips rolling in a way not yet perfected.

“You kissed me,” Agron murmurs, remembering how the boy had stood on his toes, flipped his veil up, and given Agron a simple peck, innocent and sweet, before bursting into blushing giggles and run back to the protection of his brothers. His brothers had chastised him harshly, threatening the boy that they would tell his father, but he had just looked over his shoulder, eyes enticing and bright.

“You were my first kiss, both times.”

Nasir's shock matches Agron's, both turning to look at Völva. This can't be though. It's impossible. Of all the places in the world, of all the times Nasir had traveled and Agron had gone to different markets, went on different errands, and they had met before.

“That couldn't have been him,” Nasir scoffs, shaking his head. “That boy was short and chubby.”

“I hit my growth spurt that summer,” Agron murmurs faintly, “I was only fourteen.”

Völva grins at both of them, not malicious but gloating. She had seen this all, from the moment Agron's first cry shattered the air. Had the gods not told her of their fate? Of a magician coming to ensnare Agron's heart? Of the magic that would grow between them, the child – destined for untold greatness.

“The gods crafted you for each other.” Völva sighs deeply. Feeling like a weight has been lifted from her chest.

Agron can't help but scoff bitterly. He wants to believe that, that the gods give a fuck about him, but they've never shown their interest before. And how fucking cruel, to give them this – give them life and love between them – and then threaten it all by a simple fucking fight. Agron does not know if he will die in this war, or the next, or the one after. He will always be fighting, will always be a warrior. But for once, just a moment, he wishes he wasn't. He wishes he could hold Nasir's hand, plan out baby names, find a place in their tent for a crib and a mobile filled with moon charms and tiny silver wolves. He wishes he could be a king without bloody hands.

“We need to get back.” Nasir says at the same time as Agron does, both glancing at each other, blushes matching.

“Of course. Don't be a stranger, Nasir. I have many remedies for the sickness and cravings that are to come. Plus, I want to see you grow heavy with my great-grandchild.” Völva moves around the table to them, arms outstretching first to Agron, pulling him into a tight hug.

When she pulls back, she smiles up at Agron, using a hand around the back of his neck to pull him down and kiss his cheek. He lets her do it, cradling her with his free arm. He wants to apologize for his outburst, but the words get stuck in his throat, and Agron can only hug her harder.

“Your fears are not irrational,” Völva whispers into Agron's ear, “but you are not Gerulf. You are Agron. And Agron is not his father.”

Agron nods at her, still tongue slack, as Völva moves to hug Nasir, petting his soft hair. They exchange whispers and Nasir laughs, light and airy, before taking a small pouch from Völva's wrinkled palms. He moves towards the door, guiding Agron after him, exchanging their final goodbyes.

Back outside and walking idly towards town, Agron unties their wrists for a moment, long enough to wrap his arm around Nasir's shoulder and grab his other hand instead. He likes how easily Nasir fits under his arm, against his side, and Agron hides his grin in Nasir's hair, kissing the side of his head.

“That was interesting.” Leaning back on his shoulder, Nasir turns his face up towards Agron, sunlight reflecting on his face.

“I thought you would enjoy her company,” Agron replies, “She has magic, not exactly like yours, but still. Plus, she seems very fond of you.”

“She barely knows me,” Nasir laughs, and it seems the whole world gets brighter when he does. Like the sun shines harder, the green of the trees gleaming even more. Agron kisses his laughing mouth, hoping to some how fill himself with it, contain as much of Nasir as he can before he leaves.

- - -

“You taste like apples,” Auctus smirks, lapping lazily over Duro's sweaty hipbone, “and salt.”

“And you,” Duro gasps up at the ceiling, “are fucking amazing.”

His whole body tingles, shocks of pleasure firing off down his spine and causing his hands to tremble. He keeps trying to fist them, shake them out, but Duro feels liquidy, skin loose. There is a crawling ache in the base of his spine, hips bruised by Auctus' wide palms. He promises himself later he'll check himself for other bruises, but at the moment, he just wants to lay here, basking in the afterglow.

“Just doing my duty to serve my prince,” Auctus kisses back up Duro's stomach, his chest, and then finally sealing the lips together.

Duro sighs as Auctus' tongue wrestles with his own, lapping at one another until Auctus is forced to pull back, panting against Duro's bruises lips. They grin at each other before Auctus rolls to the side, staying close. Duro tangles their fingers together, measuring Auctus' thicker fingers against his own longer ones.

“Will we fuck like this after every battle?” Duro muses, “Celebration of victory?”

“Of course.” Auctus kisses Duro's temple. “Only if it doesn't hinder you in battle. Being sore and fighting is not beneficial to anyone.”

Duro laughs at that, loud and happy. He doesn't know why he waited so long to take these steps. He knows it was partly for Agron, for the love that he harbors for his brother – both siblings and beyond. Yet still, Auctus is not hard to want, to adore, with his straight nose and his strong brow, his unfailing loyalty.

“You speak as if you have cock equal to titan,” Duro giggles, reaching over to pinch Auctus' chest. Auctus retaliates instantly, nipping sharply at Duro's jaw.

“You called it such as you begged towards the heaven for more.”

Duro gasps, outraged, rolling over onto Auctus and pinning him easily back to the furs. It's growing dark outside, nighttime calling, and the shadows play across Duro's face, eyes glowing gold. Auctus stares up at Duro expectantly, hands falling back to his hips, placed gently on the bruises already there.

“You climb on top, and yet sit expectant.” Auctus grins, cocky and sure.

“Oh? Did you want me to move?” Duro rolls his hips, ass dragging over Auctus' now twitching cock. He groans as he does it, widening his thighs to drag closer. He wants to slip back down on it, let Auctus till him.

“I want you all the time,” Auctus responds, hooking a hand around the back of Duro's neck to pull him down. They kiss sloppy and wet, Auctus' hand fisting tightly in Duro's curls.

“The night is still very young,” Duro smirks, lapping his tongue against Auctus' damp lips, tasting him lightly.

“It is.” Auctus agrees, reaching between Duro's thighs to grip his cock, tapping it back against Duro's ass.

“Then fuck me,” Duro groans loudly, spreading his legs until Auctus' cock presses against his hole, an invitation and a desire. “until the heavens lighten with dawn.”

Auctus leans up to kiss Duro again, panting against his mouth. He wants to say something, wants to beg Duro not to let this thing be a fleeting. He just wants to hold Duro, beyond the fucking and sweat and pleasure. He wants to know what it feels like to wake up next to the prince, to share meals with him without the layer of servitude. He wants to make Duro laugh and pet his hair and kiss him sweetly as they drink wine next to a fire.

How can he though? He's a peasant, a lowly soldier with only a high position – protect the second heir. Had Agron not personally placed the charge on him when he had refused to let Auctus ask for Duro's hand?

“You think too much,” Duro teases lightly, reaching next to them for the oil.

“Sorry,” Auctus shakes his head, falling back against the pillows, “my mind strayed. Let us continue.”

Duro pauses in his movements, holding the bowl in one hand while staring down at Auctus. He can't read the guard's expression, something painful and fleeting behind all the pleasure, and Duro promptly empties his hands. The drummers have been practicing the war song all day, a steady beat that echoes through the town. A heartbeat for the horror that is to come, and Duro wishes they would just shut up. Just stop telling him of his fate.

“You look worried,” Duro trails a finger down Auctus' jaw, “Do you fear for two days past?”

He finds himself climbing off of Auctus, instead curling against his side, head on his chest. Duro is not a small man. He is the slighter version of Agron, darker with their mother's eyes and hair. Still, safely tucked against Auctus' broad side, Duro feels small, safe, protected. He wonders if this is how it feels to be Nasir, to be wrapped up in all of Agron.

“I always worry about your safety, the safety of our people, the recklessness of your father's rule.” Auctus caresses his fingers in random shapes on Duro's back, tracing his shoulder blades.

“My brother is a great warrior, the best next to Spartacus, don't you think he will prove himself triumphant?” Duro tilts his head up to watch Auctus' stormy expression.

“I do. Agron is very worthy.” Auctus reassures, but then sighs deeply, staring up at the tent ceiling. “But is this war for your safety or for Gerulf's need to have Agron prove himself again and again.”

“Agron always rises to his tests, beats them.” Duro breathes deeply, “My unbreakable brother.”

“I suppose.” Auctus remembers a time when he had witnesses Gerulf making a ten year old Agron practice sparring for days, out in the rain and beating sun. Six days and Agron had not cried once, not even when the blisters on his hands from the sword hilt had burst and blood had dripped down his wrists. He didn't even flinch when Oenomaus had to unstick his crusted over hands from the wood, lead him back to his room. Agron had returned to sparring practice the next day, hands wrapped and growling.

“You think he will fall?” Duro opens his eyes, startled.

“No, bambi, of course not.” Auctus shakes his head, soothing Duro's back against his chest. “But I think Agron has more to lose now, and your father does not always play by the rules.”

“Yeah.” Duro can't even imagine, doesn't want to imagine, the result of Agron losing Nasir.

“I would give you my life,” Auctus' tone suddenly shifts, guiding Duro's head up, meeting his gaze, “I would gladly take sword or arrow for you. I hope you know that.”

“And I for you.” Duro pecks Auctus' mouth, “Now, enough. Let us rest for but a moment and then return to highest pleasures.”

Duro is asleep before Auctus can even reply, snoring lightly on the other man's chest. Craning his neck, Auctus manages to kiss Duro's brow, petting a few stray curls back from it, before falling into sleep himself.

- - -


“All of us learn some weapon or other,” Nasir smacks Agron's chest when he sees the man is starting to laugh, “I'm serious. Pietros and I are both pretty good. Though, I've practiced more than he has.”

“Let me get this straight,” Agron grins, trying to suppress his giggles. “You dance, you have magic, and you know how to wield a dagger?”

“They're not just daggers. They're called sai daggers, and yes.” Nasir replies, “When your whole job is to follow strangers into their homes or back alleys or into stables, you sometimes need to protect yourself. We each learn a weapon we can conceal, something small and sharp, to hit it where it hurts.”

Nasir teasingly presses his hand between Agron's legs, stepping in front of his path. Agron halts instantly, grin slipping slowly from his face. He wishes he could school his features to not show what he's thinking, but the fury, the rage, the blinding need to be protective shines through. How many times had Nasir fought someone off of him? How many times had Nasir had to use violence to protect what little he had?

“We used to practice on the road, when we took breaks.” Nasir murmurs, trying to nudge Agron back into a better mood, “I gave Pietros his first black eye.”

Agron has to crack a tiny smile at that. The image of a young Nasir with big eyes and long hair, accidentally hurting his best friend, is a little funny. Especially because he knows Nasir was probably so apologetic after.

“You should let me spar with you,” Nasir teases, “I promise not to hit you in the face. I'm really quite good now.”

“Yeah, okay,” Agron rolls his eyes, wrapping his arm around Nasir's shoulders as they move into the outskirts of town. “You're pregnant. You should be laid up in bed, covered in furs, and being served by a dozen maids.”

“So I get twice as fat and you want me even less?” Nasir's retort is meant to be funny, but it comes out sharp, bitter even. Agron stops instantly turning to look at him.

“Do you have any idea what you do to me on a daily basis?” Agron asks openly at Nasir. “You smell sweet, sweeter than anything else. You secrete this pheromone that sometimes makes it hard for me to even breathe. Every moment you are close to me, my wolf howls inside my head, begging me to wrap myself around you. If for a moment, I am separated from you, my mind can't focus. I feel half drunk, half crazy.”

Agron swallows thickly, continuing. “But I don't just want to be close to you, Nasir.” Agron's eyes widen a little, “I want to be inside of you. I want to taste you and touch you and bring you to the highest pleasure over and over again. I want to make your scent get stronger, to make you happier, to give you anything you want. I would do anything for you.”

Nasir flounders for a minute, caught off guard with the intensity of Agron's green eyes. He can feel the blush rising on his cheeks, searching for something to say, but Agron continues.

“Do you think that's going to go away when you are heavy with my child?” Agron's fingers are warm as they trail down Nasir's stomach. “I've wanted you from the moment I saw you, but I love you now. And your body changing, you growing thick and full. It's not because of the baby. It's because of you. You are so enchanting.”

Agron has drawn closer with every word, breathing the last ones against his Nasir's parted lips. All of what he says is true, painfully at times, especially right when Nasir wakes in the morning and it seems the scent clings to everything. It has been torture to pull himself away these last couple of days. Nasir laying prone in their bed, naked and soft, and Agron had wanted to curl against him, place his head on his stomach and see if he can hear the tiny heartbeat there. Instead, he had to go and train or plan or sit and listen to his father rattle on. Not right now though. Now they are free, and he leans down, intent on kissing Nasir, when he sees movement out of the corner of his eye – Tove breaking out from between the tents, spear in hand.

“There you two are!” He pants, flushed from the sun, “We've been been looking everywhere for you.”

Pressing a quick peck to Nasir's mouth, Agron turns his head. “I told Spartacus where we were going. We're back now and would retire.”

“You can't,” Tove shakes his head, hands on his knees as he tries to catch his breath, “Your father insists we head out tomorrow. He's been raging for you all afternoon.”

“Head out tomorrow? As in leave tomorrow?” Nasir bites out, pulling out of Agron's grip. “Why?”

“He is anxious for us to get going. Something about finding another messenger. He won't tell anyone but Agron.” Tove shakes his head. There is a forming bruise on his cheek that no one comments on but everyone notices.

“For fuck's sake,” Agron mutters, sighing deeply. If the king calls, he has to jump. Fighting his instincts, he turns towards Nasir who quickly shakes his head, beginning to protest even as Agron presses him back towards Tove.

“No, no, no,” Nasir repeats, back peddling, “No. Agron. You promised.” His hands fall to his stomach, urging, but Agron shakes his head.

“I need to go find out what's going on, see if I can't get Spartacus and Crixus into a council meeting.” Agron tries to soothe, “Go home. Have a bath. Cool off. It's hot out here. I'll be back.”

“Don't do this,” Nasir begs, even as Agron bends down to kiss his mouth. It's not what Nasir wants though, he wants Agron to go back with him, not to run after Gerulf. “Please. Stay.”

Agron's expression flickers between pain and determination, and it nearly pulls his lungs from his body to release Nasir against his cousin. Tove places his hands lightly on Nasir's shoulders, but Nasir yanks away, hands full of flames.

“Agron!” He shouts, stepping forward, but Agron levels him with a look, standing to his full height.


Nasir can't fight with him. Agron outranks him, even though they're married. And there is a glint in Agron's eyes that makes Nasir's mouth go numb even though Agron bends down to peck his lips, left staring at Agron's back as he turns. He gives him one glance, a gleaming of green and Agron's so tense and Nasir can't voice anything – can't require anything of him when Agron is already holding the weight of the world upon his shoulders.

“Nasir,” Tove whispers, unsure of his next words, “your uh, your stomach is glowing.”

“I'm pregnant.” Nasir replies, just as soft, no use in keeping it a secret from him.

“Oh,” Tove sways behind him, searching for something to say, “Um. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

The war drums are still pounding in the town, a heartbeat over and over again, filling the air and Nasir's palms feel burnt and so does his throat. He can feel his magic crackling and surging and he's scared that this time he may just burst, fill the air with light. It grows hotter and hotter and Nasir trembles with containing his fire.

“Come on,” Tove's hand on the back of his neck and it's not Agron. It's not even close. But the action is familiar and Nasir swallows every broken sob he has, turning sharply back towards the direction of his tent.

When the tent flaps fly open as they approach, Tove tries to contain his flinch. He's seen Nasir create life, make flowers and heal the sick, but he also saw him torture over and over someone who dared threaten his husband. There is something beautiful and wonderful about Nasir, but under that, hiding in the darkness, is a monster that Tove can't even begin to understand.

“So,” Tove tries for humor, tries to break the tension, “since you're pregnant, do you wanna fuck? Might make you feel better. Would be casual.”

“Get out.” Nasir spits and there is slur there that sounds similar to the hiss the black mamba snake makes as it curls out from its hiding place, coming to it's master.

“I think Agron intended me to stay with you.” Tove tries feebly, recoiling when Nasir turns – the whites of his eyes bleeding out slowly to blackness.

“Get out.” Nasir's voice is deeper, and Tove stumbles backwards, heading towards the flaps of the door.

He manages to get outside, hands shaking, when he catches it. It's small, a broken little noise, before the shattering of clay resonates loud in the stillness. When Tove gets the courage to peek through the cracks in the leather, he sees Nasir sitting helplessly in the middle of the fire pit, licks of flames surrounding him, swirling high enough to threaten the top of the tent. There is a smashed amphora at his feet.

Turning, Tove dashes across the packed dirt and grass, not even pausing as he throws back the door to a nearby tent. Inside, Pietros has just risen from a bath, water gleaming on his tan skin and he gives a shout until he realizes who is now darkening his doorway.

“Fuck! You scared me,” Pietros laughs lightly, pressing a hand to his chest, reaching for a towel. The look of desperation on the other man's face though makes him pause, water droplets cascading onto the soft grass under him.

“I'm sorry. Fuck, I'm sorry,” Tove groans, instantly wanting to crowd the lanky boy against one of the support poles in his room, lick the water off his neck, but he can't. Not yet.

“What's wrong? What happened?” Pietros moves forward, wrapping the towel loosely around his hips.

“Nasir is pregnant,” Tove replies bluntly, “and I had to send Agron to Gerulf and I think Nasir is having mood swings and his magic is kind of turning him back into scary Nasir with the black eyes and the fire and not into the sweet Nasir with the flowers and the little lights.” Tove rushes through the rest of it.

“How do you know- Nevermind. Where is he?” Pietros sheds the towel, still damp, and reaches for a pair of pants nearby. He yanks them on haphazardly, ignoring the violet fabric that clings against his thighs and ass.

“He's in his tent.” Tove can't help his eyes moving over Pietros' body, cursing his luck. He really shouldn't be thinking with his cock though at a time like this, but he can't help it. He's seen Pietros laid out on his bed, moaning with pleasure. It's an image that sticks.

“Come on, you brute.” Pietros notices it, rolling his eyes, “After we go save the world, again might I add, then you can fuck me.”

Tove has to bite back a laugh as he sprints after him, heading towards Agron and Nasir's rooms.


- - -


“Another messenger? And Sedullus just happened to find him and kill him? And then search his pockets for a note that says specifically we need to leave now?” Duro hisses, following Agron through the weaving paths of the tents. “And you just are going to go along with this?”

“What else would you have me do?” Agron retorts, politely nodding at peasants even though his teeth are clenched.

Duro doesn't say anything. Who knows better, out of everyone, than Duro what Gerulf can do? Would standing up for himself even really change anything? Gerulf will always be their father and until he draws his last breath, he will always be king. Duro is left silent and grasping for words that won't come. Instead, he just continues to follow Agron.

The night is oddly calm. The drums have stopped and people seem to be content within their tents, even though it's not that late. It seems the whole city knows what's coming, and they wait with baited breath. They had passed Mira and Naevia earlier, both of them deep in conversation, barely sparing the prince's a glance. Mira had ducked her head though so neither could see that she was crying.

“Duro,” Agron pauses in front of Duro's tent, awkwardly wringing his hands. “Can I come in for a second?”

He's never asked before, and that gives Duro pause. Agron doesn't really need to ask for anything. His position as high prince allows him to do what he wants. Duro has always known this. But it's more than that. They're brothers – half of one whole – but there is line now separating them. It's always been there, but now it's even more apparent. As Agron is forced to take on more responsibility by their father, the more distant he becomes. Bucking under the weight, Agron is unrecognizable to his brother, but with the way he's staring at Duro, open and a little vulnerable, Duro can't do anything but nod.

“Of course. Come in. It's a little messy.”

Duro holds back the flap long enough for his brother to go under before following him. It still smells like sex in here, thick and pungent, but if Agron notices, he doesn't say anything. Duro doesn't try and hide it either. He's proud, excited even, by the possibility of Auctus and his' budding relationship. It may be founded on lust, but things can grow out of that. Duro believes so.

“Are you alright?” Duro curses his wagging tongue, but Agron is just standing there, awkwardly twisting his wedding ring over and over. It's a nervous habit he's seen Nasir do too.

“Of course,” Agron nods, then pauses, and then nods again – reassuring himself too.

Slowly, Duro sinks down to sit on the foot of his bed, elbows resting on his knees. He can't push Agron in this, has to let him get it out, but the suspense fills the air with a choking tension. Finally, Agron takes a deep shuddering breath, before raising his head.

“You are a great warrior, Duro.” Agron starts, seeming to solidify his stance with every word, “A worthy prince and heir. If there was anyone I could trust in this city, it is you. That is why I have decided your talents are best left here, among our people.”

“I'm-” Duro chokes on air, “I'm not going into battle with you?” This has never happened before. They've always gone together. They've always battled side by side, partners.

Agron shakes his head, “You're not going and neither is Naevia.”

“Fuck Naevia! And fuck you!” Duro's temper flares, furious at once again being pushed aside. “We are princes! We are trained for war!”

“And I need you here.” Agron's voice does not give anything away, but it dips, growing deeper.

“Here? Like some blushing fucking child? I want to go with you and with Auctus. You've never left me behind before,” Duro inches towards his brother, hands searching to grab onto Agron, but Agron steps back. “We do better together. We're a team.”

“I need someone here that I trust. It's not safe here.” Agron drops his eyes, shaking his head, “Gerulf is planning something. We both know it. I need someone who can watch, can be the eyes and ears.”

“So you're going to stick me here because he's not safe?” Duro asks confused, arms tight over his chest.

Agron hesitates, has to build up the words, has to try and get them out before he sinks head first into the earth. He feels like he's suffocating, chest so tight and the words are right there but so is the image of Nasir's laughing face in bed this morning, hair curled and eyes bright. And if Agron could keep that, keep that little light of joy, he would, but he can't.

“Nasir is pregnant.”

Agron whispers, afraid to even say the words. It's a precious thing and Agron feels like he has to guard it. He sometimes thinks about the flashes he gets, the images Nasir's magic shows him, of their baby with it's glowing eyes and black curls. The thought of never holding it, of never kissing it's nose and seeing it's smile (and fuck, Agron wants it to have Nasir's smile. Nothing is more beautiful in the world.) is enough to choke him alive.

“What?” Duro's question is just as breathless.

“He's pregnant. Six weeks,” Agron repeats, raising his eyes, feeling the bitterness rising inside of him. “We're having a baby.”

“Oh Agron.” Duro's whisper feels like a shout in the silent tent, joy filling him, a finally bright lining in the storm. “That's wonderful!”

“Gerulf can't know.”

“What? Why?” Duro asks, hands lingering in the air as he reaches for Agron.

“I don't trust him.” Agron answers bluntly. “There is more that I would have of you though, beyond helping to keep our family safe.”

“Ask and I will give.” Duro nods quickly. It's true. He will do whatever Agron needs to do.

“If I fall in battle,” Agron's eyes drop again, struggling with what he's about to say before he draws close to Duro, holding the back of his neck in his large palm. “If I fall in battle, you must swear to me right now that you will marry Nasir. You have to swear you will tell everyone you had an affair, that the baby is yours.”

“Agron, no-” Duro gasps horrified, shaking his head, “Why are you saying this?”

“If you don't claim him and the baby, he'll go to Gerulf. He'll be father's responsibility – his property. You know what he does to people he thinks he owns, what he lets other people do.” Agron grip turns sharp, clenching more than he intends but the intensity of his eyes just grows. “You're a good man and a good lover. He's not hard to love. You could make him happy. Take care of him, and he could do the same for you. You could have Auctus too. But you have to take care of Nasir and the baby.”

“Your husband-” Duro is trying to get out words but Agron keeps interrupting him.

“Must become yours. Our baby become yours. Just say you fell into bed together for comfort of Nasir's broken heart and Nasir found himself pregnant. Please Duro.” Agron's voice shakes slightly with the next words. “I give you my blessing.”

“I-” Duro's mouth opens and closes a few times. He can't seem to wrap his mind around this. The idea of being with Nasir, like that, just seems strange. How can Agron not be part of their lives? Would they ever be happy, pretending their marriage wasn’t founded on both of their broken hearts? Duro swallows back bile before he nods once.

“I need to hear you say it.” Agron whispers, “I need to hear you swear.”

“I swear.” Duro doesn't recognize his own voice.

“Thank you.” Agron drops his head to hide his tears. He can't raise them. Can't show weakness. He's the figurehead, the strength that Duro requires and Nasir needs. Any weakness could unravel all of them. He wants to pull Duro into a hug, to have that comfort, but he can’t. No, Agron takes a deep breath and pushes on, heads home.

Duro watches him leave and doesn't comment on Agron's tense shoulders or his reddening his nose. He wonders if things would be different if Isolde had stayed, if their family had learned to be happy, if their grandmother had been successful in killing their father. Would Agron still think his strength is necessary?

Duro doesn’t know.

- - -

Pietros’s hands shake as he pushes back the flap of the tent. It’s a strange feeling, being afraid of your best friend - your brother. Nasir and Pietros had be inseparable since birth. Best friends, companions. Nasir had taught Pietros how to create sparks, even when he wasn’t supposed to know. They danced together. Pietros had braided Nasir’s hair the first time he was bought be a high lord, virginity purchased like a precious jewel and Nasir had just laughed, shaking his head. Thirteen and too brightly foolish to know life’s sting yet.

Pietros knew from a very young age that Nasir was special. It wasn’t just his tattoo or his higher status than Pietros. Nasir was kind when others were not. Pietros’ earliest memory is Nasir bringing a rabbit back to life that Ashur had killed for sport. He was severely punished by his brother for it, but Nasir had been praised by Kallistos.

They had lost their mothers together, stolen and slaughtered before Nasir’s eyes as he had crushed Pietros’ head to his chest, not letting him see. Not letting him suffer the blow of watching his mother’s throat be slit. He had always protected Pietros, in any way that he could, so why was Pietros so afraid of him now?

Nasir’s magic is untamed. It grows wild as it twists with Agron’s. They are one, united in feeling and in power. Anything Agron feels, so does Nasir, and vice versa. And now the baby’s power is joined in too. It’s no wonder they are having a hard time controlling themselves.

“You linger in the doorway like a spooked messenger instead of someone who has known me since birth,” Nasir’s voice is soft in the dark tent, curled up in the center of the fire pit. Licks of flames still surround his legs and arms.

“I did not wish to disturb you,” Pietros can feel Tove’s warm hand on his back, a comfort.

“You could not,” Nasir shakes his head, dark circles from his tears smearing the kohl around his eyes, “Have you come to pray to Letodeus? Killer of the world?”

“Nasir,” Pietros moves forward, sending sparks to the side to light a few nearby candles. “I was hysterical. Neither of us have ever seen you do something like that. The most vicious thing you've ever done is catch Mika's hair on fire because he was teasing you. And you barely burned an inch off the back. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be. It’s true,” Nasir’s hands shake as he holds them up, curled towards himself, “I ruin everything I touch. I am a killer, a monster.”

"You did what you had to do to protect your family," Pietros shakes his head, sitting down outside of the ring of stones that make up the fire pit, "You reacted bravely."

"This isn't who I am though," Nasir whispers, shaking his head. "I dance. I heal people. I don't kill people. I don't ruin people's lives. Agron needs to run and run far away from me. Forget I was ever here, before I hurt him too."

“How can you say that when you have made my cousin the happiest he’s ever been?” Tove follows Pietros into the room, dropping down onto his knees before Nasir, “Do not worry so much. Agron will be fine. He’ll come back and we all will be able to relax a little. Gerulf's plan for you two isn't written in stone.”

“Your magic feeds off one another,” Pietros reaches out, gently taking Nasir’s hand, “It grows restless and animalistic as it entwines with Agron’s. That’s why you can’t control it this bad. I didn’t mean to shy away from you, but when you turned - I did not recognize you.”

“I hardly recognize myself anymore.” Nasir whispers, staring at their joined hands. “Is this the life that I wanted? All those nights when we laid in the wagon and we talked about getting married and having a life outside of dancing and fucking for coins. Was this our fairytale ending? A mare to be fucked by the Alptra stallion? To give life to a baby that was only wanted for status?”

“Shut up,” Pietros snaps, pulling himself away. “I won’t sit here and listen to you pity yourself. You could have been given to anyone. You could have been given to some poor farmer for your father's fucking safe passage through his land. You are married to a good man and you're going to have a good life. You must forgive yourself, Nasir, and find your own bright path.”

"I just want us to be happy," Nasir sniffles, "I just wanted it to be okay."

"It will be. It will." Pietros holds Nasir's hand tightly, "Soon. Just wait a little longer. We will get our happy ending."

“Once Gerulf is dead,” Nasir spits bitterly, then blanches, shaking his head. “I'm sorry. I'm just- I don't know why I'm feeling like this.”

“I know why,” Tove supplies, grinning crookedly, “You've got a little cub growing in you.” Tove pokes Nasir's stomach gently. “A little pup that is running your hormones rampant. Including your stress and Agron's stress. It's a wonder you haven't burnt the whole village down at this point.”

Nasir laughs a little, breathless and slightly bitter. He knows it's true. Mood swings and the nagging longing for oranges – both things that have never really been in Nasir's personality. He blames the baby, but he also blames himself. He needs to calm down. He needs a break, a breath. If Gerulf is trying to play a game with them, something plotted and reckless, then Agron and Nasir must learn to play as well – must learn to win.

“Love,” Tove brushes a stray tear from Nasir's face, “Get yourself cleaned up. Take a bath. Rub some of that oil on yourself that makes you smell so good. Pull Agron into bed with you when he gets back and spend your last evening together. Forget everything and everyone outside of this tent.”

“He'll want to prepare. Get himself ready for battle.” Nasir starts, shaking his head.

“Seduce him,” Tove smirks, “Just take your hair down. You know he falls apart the minute you do.”

“You watch your cousin too much,” Nasir rolls his eyes, a sliver of a smile pulling across his face.

“You two are kind of obvious,” Tove relaxes back on his heels, “Can barely make it through a meal without pressing against one another, acting all gooey and shit. Barca, Crixus, and I all have bets going on to see how long in court Agron can last in court before he looks at you.”

“That is not true,” Nasir shakes his head, blush evident even in the dim light.

“It is true, and I know for a fact he will not push you away if you come to him tonight,” Tove raises an eyebrow lewdly, “and if he does, you know where my tent is.”

Pietros grins next to Tove, bumping into his side. Only he would give ruggish advice that cracks Nasir's vice like walls. It's strange how charming half of this family can be while the other half is so rough.

Nasir wipes at his cheeks, taking a shuddering deep breath before looking at the pair of them, smiling slightly. He looks tired, but the light is back in his eyes and the fire once curling around his hands is gone. He's back to the man and less of the magician, though the static electricity of his powers still lingers in the air.

“I'm sorry. You're right,” Nasir huffs, “Overly emotional. It'll be okay. Everything will work out. I'm sorry.”

“You will always be my brother, Nasir,” Pietros leans forward again, kissing Nasir's mouth gently, “Please forgive me and get well. You are more important than just what you can do. You are important for you who you are.”

“I love you, Pietros,” Nasir wraps his arms tightly around Pietros, hugging him close, “Thank you so much for staying here with me. You could have gone, but you stayed.”

“I love you too. Never going to leave you.” Pietros vows, shaking his head, “Never.”

“If you two continue on like this, I may have to weasel my way in the middle.” Tove states, standing up. His knees pop loudly and he groans, shaking his head. “I've always wondered what you two would be like in bed.”

“You're vulgar,” Pietros pulls away to smack Tove's thigh, “A miserable asshole.”

“Oh! Is that so?” Tove easily pulls Pietros to his feet, kissing him hard on the mouth. “Should I not walk you back to your tent then? Leave you to warm your bed on your own?”

“Fuck off. I could fill my bed faster than you could,” Pietros giggles, trying to wiggle away from the larger man's rough grasp.

“Why make it a competition? If we work together, we can both make it so much more enjoyable.” Tove trails his teeth down Pietros' neck, smirking when he feels him sigh, relaxing back against Tove's grasp.

“Go,” Nasir is suddenly standing, smiling at the pair, “Retire to your bed and get out of my tent.” It's teasing, though there is a hint of urgency to it.

“Would you like me to – ah!” Pietros threads his hand in Tove's hair, leaning against his chest. “Would you like me to run you a bath?”

“No, and you can't fuck in here either,” Nasir grins, shaking his head. “Go. I'm fine. My husband is coming soon.”

“Goodnight, sweet prince!” Tove bows, forcing Pietros to do the same, “I will see you tomorrow. Enjoy yourself and we shall see to it that nothing disturbs you."

They stumble from the tent, giggling into the night, and Nasir takes a deep breath, relaxing his muscles one by one. He'll do this. He can do this. He's fucking Nasir, Kallistos' gem and Fatin's youngest. He is strong, and he needs to be, he needs to have that strength for his husband, his people, and his child.

- - -

Agron doesn't expect to see any lights in the tent when he returns, figuring Nasir would have retired by then, but he's pleasantly surprised to find their home aglow. Tiny candles litter the space around their bed, illuminating the furs and the curtains that are drawn back. It casts shadows on the rest, hiding the armor, the swords, the parts of Agron he wishes he could forget. He does cast them from his mind, startled to acute awareness as the man on the bed shifts.

Nasir kneels in the center, clinquant with hair long and curled around his shoulders. Agron never expected to be so enraptured by one specific detail of Nasir’s body, but his hair is Agron’s crux. It’s thick and long, with a glossy shine to it that even glimmers in the light. Nasir is stripped completely naked, sans crown and jewelry. It leaves his skin bare but still glowing, skin looking supple and soft. Agron wants to get his mouth on him, bite into the flesh and feel Nasir’s trembles and shuddered moans. The only thing he is wearing appears to be two thick, gold bracelets connected together by a short length of gold chain.

He doesn't say anything, just lifts his head to stare at Agron, eyes dark and searching. It charges the air - sans magic but thick with lust and want and loyalty - all things their relationship is made up of. And love, love as Nasir's fingers tremble as he lifts his hands up, reaching for Agron, and how can he deny such a request?

Wordlessly, Agron begins stripping off his armor, dropping it as he makes his way towards the bed. It can be picked up later, put back on when Agron leaves, but right now nothing exists except the two of them. Nasir is Agron’s oasis, his soothing drink in the desert storm. He is never left wanting with Nasir, always complete.

Sliding his hand along Nasir’s jaw, Agron tilts his head back, eyes tracking over Nasir’s face. He’s so open like this, dark eyes searching over Agron’s face, barely breathing as he waits. Agron’s hands are full of callouses, warrior hands, and yet they never catch on Nasir’s skin. He seems to soften when they touch, palms warm and sure as they hold Nasir’s face.

“You are chained,” Agron notices the shackles around Nasir’s wrists, enclosed by engraved golden cuffs. He lowers down to gently kiss Nasir's mouth, a soft brushing of their lips before Nasir opens his mouth, sighs and tastes like home. Agron clings to that, tries to memorize it.

“Your prize, my king,” Nasir replies softly, panting against Agron's slick mouth, “A last reward before you go to battle to protect your kingdom.”

“I am undeserving, after everything you have done,” Agron trails his knuckles down Nasir’s stomach in a gentle caress. He wonders distantly how much Nasir will change in the coming days. If he will be round and thick by the time Agron returns. It’s a bittersweet thought.

“Have me,” Nasir begs, leaning into Agron’s touch, “One last time. Please, my love.”

He doesn't want to think about the time ahead of them, when Agron is far away and Nasir is here. Their empty bed. Going to court alone. The meals bitter and Nasir's body changing, stomach growing as the child develops. No, Nasir wants to focus on Agron's mouth on his, his hands, his back and shoulders, his cock spearing through Nasir, pleasure unbound.

Nasir presses quick, light kisses along Agron's broad chest, over the red lines that his armor leaves, leather cutting into bronze skin. Agron is so tan now from the sun, training all day. Nasir counts a dozen new freckles, a constellation speckled across Agron's muscles. He presses his lips to every single one, nuzzling into the soft skin of Agron's sternum.

Agron wishes he had words, but he doesn't. He can only act and pray that it's enough of a reassurance.

Stooping, Agron uses his grip on Nasir's face to guide his head back, tracing his tongue slowly up the side of Nasir's neck, nipping at his jaw. He can feel it when Nasir hisses, chain tinkling together as Nasir wraps a hand around the back of Agron's neck, tries to pull him onto the bed. The prince won't have any of it though, instead, Agron grips an arm around Nasir's waist, lifting him into the air.

Nasir automatically wraps his legs around Agron's waist, fingers sliding into the soft hairs at the back of Agron's head. His strength never ceases to amaze Nasir. Agron kisses him hard, keeping one arm around Nasir's waist as the other strokes Nasir's hair. He wants to keep it slow but with the way Nasir rolls his body down, grips him tighter, Agron isn't sure he's going to be able to.

“Agron,” Nasir moans, hand sliding down Agron's chest to his waist. Agron's cock drags along his ass, teasing friction and Nasir cannot hold out like this. He needs it now, begs to have Agron bring them both to completion.

“I'll take care of you,” Agron murmurs, walking them up the bed. He easily kneels there, laying Nasir down among the pillows, pulling back to touch his face one more. “Always will take care of you.”

Keeping Nasir's gaze, Agron eases his arms up above his head, slowly hooking the chain over one of the logs that makes up their headboard. It stretches Nasir out, smooths the plains of his stomach, extends his arms. Agron can smell him better like this, and he caresses his hands down Nasir's biceps, kissing him slow, tasting him thoroughly.

Nasir has been tied up before, a ploy some men use for sport. Usually it’s with a gag or tying his legs apart. This is different though. He can feel the consideration in every one of Agron’s moves, the gentle brush of Agron’s fingers over the cuffs to make sure they’re not too tight. The easy way his body molds over Nasir’s, pins him down as Agron moves his mouth along Nasir’s chest, latching onto a nipple.

He cries out, heels scrambling on the bed and Agron snaps his eyes up, raising an eyebrow. Pleasure shoots through Nasir’s chest, made even better as pain follows.

“Sorry - ah!” Nasir hisses when Agron sucks again, worrying the skin between his teeth gently. “I’m so sensitive now.”

Rubbing his thumb against the other one, Agron flicks Nasir’s nipple, pulling his mouth back. “Sensitive?”

“Mmhm,” Nasir bites his bottom lip, stifling a whine as Agron blows across the now damp skin.

“You're going to be full soon,” Agron's voice takes on a rough growl, moving down to lick teasingly at Nasir's navel, “Thick and even more easy to bite. I may never let you leave our bed. Keep you here and moaning forever.”

“Are you sure you're still going to want me then?” Nasir asks, shifting his wrists so the chain clinks together softly. “When I'm too round to even lay like this?

“You have no idea,” Agron affirms, slipping between Nasir's legs.

Agron doesn't want to waste the words on explaining it to Nasir. He wants to show him, make him feel it. He lifts Nasir's thighs up and out, sloppily rubbing his tongue along his balls. He suckles on the skin, enticing sharp little sparks of pleasure, goosebumps breaking out over Nasir's thighs. Slipping back further, Agron wriggles along Nasir's hole, tasting the sweat and thick musk before he slips inside.

Tossing his head back against the pillows, Nasir tries to keep from moaning loudly, but it slips out. It's strange, really, how Nasir's magic doesn't seem to be reacting. He feels warmer, but also drained, like they're both just mortal. It's not that Nasir doesn't enjoy his magic, it's part of him, but laying under Agron like this – it feels simpler, more connected.

“Fuck!” Nasir gasps as Agron presses his tongue in further, stubble dragging along Nasir's skin, sharp and rough.

“Patience,” Agron teases, slipping in a finger, using his spit to slick the way.

Agron moves it slowly, crooking his finger before teasing the tip of another against the puckered flesh. It's not slick enough. They're going to need oil soon, but Agron spits on his palm, using it to work just the tip of his second in there, spreading them slightly. Nasir's cock jumps at the sensation, dribbling precome that Agron is quick to lap up.

Sliding back up Nasir's body, Agron kisses him, sharing the taste between as he reaches for the bowl of oil next to the bed. It covers his hand enough he can slip in both fingers now, working on a third when Nasir suddenly pulls back from his mouth. He's flushed, eyes damp as he pants against Agron's jaw, nipping at it before tugging on his chains.

“Wait,” Nasir's eyelashes flutter, licking his dry lips, “I don't wanna come yet. Need you in me first.”

Agron nods, still panting himself as he removes his fingers. He's about to settle between Nasir's legs again, when suddenly, he's thrown off balance as Nasir bucks his hips, toppling him to the side. One moment he's falling and the next, he's taken Nasir's place – laid back against the pillows with his wrists clamped above him. The magic makes him feel disoriented, but it lessens as Nasir slowly crawls on top of him, grinning mischievously.

“You should rest before your trip tomorrow,” Nasir lays down, resting his chin on Agron's sternum, fingers smoothing along Agron's collarbones.

“So you place me in chains?” Agron asks, rolling his hips up. It drags his cock along Nasir's thigh, searching for friction that Nasir presses against, moaning softly.

They lose track of what they were saying, lost as Nasir grinds down on Agron, using the oil that has already dripped down the back of his thigh to ease the way. Agron tugs on the chains, wanting to touch Nasir, manhandle him in the way he wants, but they seem to be indestructible now, stuck to the headboard above him.

Nasir arches up, bracing his hands on Agron's chest as he rocks back on him, building up the friction and speed. It isn't enough, but it's so good, and suddenly Nasir knows what he wants. He wants to give Agron all the pleasure he can. He wants to show off, show Agron he's worth coming home to, keep it building between them so that when they both reach completion, it will be like a wave crashing onto the shore – the build up making it that much sweeter.

He flips over, facing away from Agron as he sinks back into his lap, letting the prince get a full view of his ass before grinding down. Agron's cock slips between his cheeks, snug and wet, leaking across his lower back. It leaves stringy white smears all over his tattoo, but Nasir doesn't comment, moaning every time the crown catches on his hole.

Poised like this, Agron can see perfectly as Nasir's ass moves, thighs wide as he arches up and down over Agron's cock. It's the perfect image, lower back arched sharply and small, back tight with Nasir's shoulder blades and the tiny knobs of his spine. Agron nearly chokes when Nasir reaches back and grips his cock, lining him up.

“Slow babe,” Agron reminds him breathlessly, groaning as Nasir sinks down the first inch, shuddering to a stop.

Nasir knows he can handle it. Has felt Agron clear through him before, so deep Nasir felt like he was choking on it. He's never left empty or wanting when it comes to Agron's massive cock, but he can't. He feels helpless like this, suspended with all that pleasure to come, the knowledge that he is guiding them. It's not that Nasir minds being the one in control, but he wants to submit to Agron. He wants Agron to always have him.

“Come on babe,” Agron feels the cuffs around his wrists loosening as Nasir freezes, mouth gaping. “Turn around for me. Let me see you.”

Shuddering, Nasir pulls off and flips around, planting his hands firmly on Agron's abs. He can feel the muscles flex under his palms as he lines back up. Agron stares at him with his electric green eyes, glowing just a little too much to be natural. Nasir focuses on that, loses himself as he feels Agron's cock pulsing against his hole, slipping just the tip into himself.

“Ease down slow,” Agron grits out through his teeth, “Work me into you.”

Nasir does as he is told, sinking down and down and it's pain and pleasure and Nasir can't close his mouth, panting hard as he finally feels his ass touch Agron's trembling thighs. The moment stretches and Nasir can feel every inch, pressed deep and hot to Nasir's very core.

Agron doesn't need to say anything. Just waits and Nasir does it on his own, rolls his hips in a tightly little figure eight, grinding down more than bouncing, working Agron right up against the spot inside of him that has him gasping. He does it again a moment later, sweat dripping down his face as he starts to move.

Chasing pleasure. That's all it is. Nasir moves harder, forgetting to breathe, forgetting to touch his own cock. He rides Agron rough, tossing his head back as his hair cascades down his back. It's always so fucking good. Nasir doesn't even know what he thought sex was before, but it's nothing compared to this. Completed by the connection of both of them, of Agron's expression, his wide eyes and snarling mouth.

It was only a matter of time. Agron feels the cuffs slip from his hands, freeing him to reach out. He grips Nasir's hips hard, denting the skin as he guides him, eases him down and up faster. It lets Nasir let go for a minute, haphazardly running his fingers through his hair, brushing it back from his flushed face. His cock bobs between them, leaking and crimson, begging for relief, but when Agron frees a hand to reach for, Nasir shakes his head.

“Just from you,” Nasir whines, eyes squeezing tight as Agron thrusts his hips up, turning it brutal.

Slapping his hands down on Agron's chest, Nasir uses his full strength to drop down. They lose rhythm and reason, bruising each other with bites and sucking kisses and there is a large bruise on Agron's chest from when Nasir bends down and implants his teeth into the flesh. It only turns Agron on more, using his wide shoulders to brace him as he bucks up. It nearly dislodges Nasir, but Agron's hands are there again, pulling him down.

Nasir's cries turn louder and louder, begging at the top of his lungs. Agron stares in awe of him, his wolf hisses inside. And he doesn't fucking care if the whole city can hear them. All that matters is Nasir's screaming pleasure, his need growing and growing and it's too much and it's enough and Nasir's whines and hisses turn sharper with each thrust.

“Come for me,” Agron spits out, slapping Nasir's ass hard, gripping the flesh.

It's a command that unravels everything. Nasir throws his head back one more, back arched so sharply in one long curve, wisps of his hair sticking to his face. He's so beautiful it's painful sometimes to look at him, but Agron couldn't tear his eyes away if he wanted. Nasir's scream shakes him, trembles and writhing as his cock spurts, sobbing Agron's name after as he tries to collapse.

Agron pulls him down, rolls them until they're on their sides. Hooking Nasir's thigh over his side, Agron thrusts in harder, so fucking close and he wonders if they could melt from this heat, if Nasir's magic could disintegrate them into nothing but pleasured liquid, mixing together forever.

“Fuck the gods. I'm going to fucking fill you so full you still will be leaking when I return,” Agron grits out, holding Nasir's thigh tightly. “Fucking breed you over and over again.”

“Anything,” Nasir tries weakly, voice scratchy from his cries, “my king.”

Agron growls his completion into Nasir's mouth, both too far gone to really kiss. Instead, they share panting breath, staring at one another. Agron can feel his seed slick Nasir up, filling him and over, dripping onto his legs. He can smell the scent commingling, can feel Nasir's body drawing him closer as Nasir runs his fingers over Agron's face, caressing him.

Letting out a small groan, Agron lingers for as long as he can until he is forced to pull out. He flops to the side, having just enough strength to arrange them so Nasir is sprawled on his back next to Agron, head pillowed on Agron's outstretched arm. They pant at the ceiling together, Nasir running his hands over his face, pushing back his hair.

It's nice, quiet as their breaths even, turning to share soft kisses, holding each other as if something precious, something sacred. It's interrupted after a while though by the loud rumbling of Nasir's stomach, filling the silent air with a gurgle.

“Are you hungry?” Agron pulls back, laughing lightly, “We could have eaten before hand.”

“My body betrays me,” Nasir blushes, rolling to the side and against Agron's, “I have had the most significant craving for oranges over the past couple of days. Nothing seems to quench it. And Duro informed me that they don’t grow here.”

“Why don't you just create them? Use your magic?” Trailing his fingers down Nasir's back, Agron draws random symbols into his spine.

“My magic has limitations.” Pressing his head to the center of Agron's chest, he explains further. “I can only create things from things that I know the source of, that I can draw from nature. I can't just make something out of nothing.”

“Okay?” Agron doesn't understand.

“For instance, Pietros making that apple was only possible because the nature here – the land – can produce apples and Pietros knows where apples come from. We've passed multiple trees on the way in.” Nasir continues, “I can heal people because there is still some part of them – their livelihood if you will – that is well. That wants and knows what being not sick feels like. But there are limitations to that too.”

“You healed all those children and people easily,” Agron notes, “and yet you can't make yourself the one food you crave? Where do oranges even grow?”

“I don't know. Pirates gave them to us once when I was younger,” Nasir shakes his head, “But yes, I can heal people easily enough, but I can't cure them of something they were created with. If you were born without an arm, I can't create an arm for you with my magic.”

“What about people who have died? Can you bring them back to life?” Agron asks, finding all of this fascinating.

“I've only done it a few times – with animals. It has to be a recent death. There still has to be some light inside of them. I could not bring someone back who has been to the afterlife for many suns.” Nasir replies, shrugging a little. “Not everyone can do this though. It all has to do with what we are given at birth.”

“This?” Agron traces his finger over Nasir's tattoo, memorizing the slightly raised skin. It's a triangle with swirling lines along the top, pointed down to form a white gem, and from it spills a green triangle as well. Surrounding the whole thing is a golden, intricate circle, interlaced with little lotus flowers.

“Yes. Each part of the tattoo means certain powers. What you are born with tells you what magic you will have.” Nasir traces out the symbols as he talks on Agron's chest. “The triangle means fire. The gold circle means the power of healing. The lemniscate is air and water. Though, I've never been very strong with either. The green is for growing things and controlling nature. And the gem is the sacred power of our people, giving life from our bodies regardless of our sex.”

“So, with all of these, this makes you the most powerful?・ Agron watches Nasir closely, taking in the casual way he nods.

“I suppose. I don’t feel very powerful though,” Nasir sighs slowly, nuzzling against Agron’s collarbones, “With my people, I was something precious to protect. I was their little princeling. I amused them and kept them safe. Here I’m-“ Nasir pauses, unable to continue.

“Here, people adore you. They ask about you constantly. They flock to court to see you - something they haven’t done since my mother were here.” Agron tilts Nasir’s face up, kissing his mouth gently, “They love you.”

“And do you?” Nasir asks, “Do you love me? Even if I am a witch?”

“You are not a witch,” Agron rolls his eyes, “My father is a fucking idiot. You are wonderful and sweet and you have brought joy and happiness to this land - something that has been forgotten for a long time.”

Agron pulls the furs over them, keep Nasir tight to his side. He wants to say more, maybe find another way to reassure his husband, but the words get stuck again. He will have to find a way to say them one day, to tell Nasir how much he means. For right now, Agron hopes he’s satisfied with the soft kiss he brushes across his forehead, the whispered three words he can still give.

And he prays it will last through the night and into tomorrow when the dawn will be smeared with blood.


- -


“Close your eyes,” Pietros murmurs, dipping his fingers back into the red paint. He doesn’t know why he feels like crying. He barely knows the man in front of him, but he doesn’t want him to leave. Not like this. Not under these conditions.

Barca does as he’s told, features schooled in blank passiveness. He won’t show the boy how much it pains him to leave him, here unprotected. He’s been given the task of watching after him - something Tove has done as well - much to Barca’s chagrin.

Dragging his fingers from Barca’s hairline down, he creates four crimson lines - paw scratches. They’re the symbols of the warriors, and Pietros knows Nasir must be doing the same to Agron right now. He had come into Pietros’ tent very early this morning holding the bowl of paint, giving it over wordlessly with a bitter smile.

“You told me,” Pietros murmurs, still working on painting Barca, “when we first met that you kept birds in your tent. Royal messengers used in battle to send notes to the people left here.”

“Yes, I do.” Barca barely moves his mouth with a response.

“Will you send one to me when you’re gone?” Pietros can feel himself blushing, even if it’s just a pinking of his ears, “To let me know how you fair?”

“Would you like me to?” Barca opens one of his eyes, staring down as Pietros draws the phases of the moon along his bicep.

“Very much.”

Pietros isn’t expecting Barca to raise his head, nor to kiss his mouth so gently. It’s not like Pietros has never been kissed this way. Tove does it all the time. But there is something playful there with the prince, where as Barca’s extends beyond easy affection. There is a weight that settles hot and heavy on Pietros’ chest, and he pulls away after a moment to breathe, panting against Barca’s lips.

“When I return,” Barca whispers, caresses his fingertips along Pietros’ jaw, “I would have you as my own, if you allow it.”

“I will.” Pietros grins, kissing him again to sweeten the promise.

- -

“I can’t tell if you’re sad that I’m leaving or that you’re not,” Auctus laughs, strapping his shin guard in place.

Duro sulks on the side of his bed, only covering himself with a random blanket. He had refused to get up when Auctus first had risen, begging him to stay in bed instead. The guard could not. He’d be required to already be in line when Agron shows up - a sign of respect and loyalty.

“I’m upset about this whole fucking thing,” Duro mutters, kicking lightly at the dirt floor with his bare foot.

“We’ll barely be gone a month - at most!” Auctus moves forward, crouching before the moody prince, “And every battle after this, I will make sure you go to.”

“It’s not just about fighting,” Duro hooks his arms over Auctus’ shoulders, pulling him closer. “It’s about you and me. About Agron sticking me here because of my fucking father. Because Nasir needs me and I’m all he has.”

“You’re staying here because he trusts you with his husband. That’s not a dishonorable feeling.” Auctus sighs, shaking his head, “He does need you and I need you safe.”

“I can fight though!” Duro whines, tipping his head back. Auctus leads him back down, kissing him slow and wet, easing his tongue into Duro’s wide mouth. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of kissing the prince. Never.

“Fighting doesn’t just happen on the battlefield, bambi,” Auctus soothes, nipping at Duro’s bottom lip, “You are defending us from home.”

“I’ll miss you though,” Duro sighs, nuzzling his nose against Auctus’ in a gentle brush, “I’ll miss seeing you and touching you and tasting you. You have no idea how much.”

“I will miss you too,” Auctus smiles, brushing a curl from Duro’s forehead, “and when I come back, we will spend a whole week inside of this tent and me inside of you.”

“Promise?” Duro grumbles, unable to keep his grin at bay.

“I swear.”

- - -


Crixus cradles Yasmina against his chest, brushing the tiny babe's black curls from her forehead. She's asleep, having fallen on the way to Melitta's tent, unable to keep her eyes open with the dawn not yet here. He wishes she would wake, only for just a few more minutes of seeing those pretty hazel eyes and her still gummy grin. Crixus knows that's selfish though. It's better to let her sleep, rest for now, until she wakes and finds her parents gone.

“How did you manage to convince Agron to let you go?” Crixus asks quietly, stepping over the grass.

“I didn't,” Naevia replies, sheathing one of her long daggers to her thigh.

Crixus pauses to look at his wife, face painted red with scratches and wolf prints all over her back. She is his warrior queen, fierce and beautiful, but he has to stop them. It is a dangerous line to toe when disobeying the prince. Agron does not place rules into effect unless he intends to enforce them.

“We are a team. If you go, I go.” Naevia gently caresses Crixus' cheek, smiling up at him. “No matter where. Yasmina will be safe here and we will return shortly. I will not be left behind like some sniffling young girl.”

“I would never leave you behind.” Crixus sighs, curling their daughter closer to his chest, “but I would advise you to get such clearance from Agron.”

“He is not the king.” Naevia replies, taking their daughter from him before moving forward once more.

Crixus steps with her, though does not share her sentiment. He doesn't care for the prince. He's reckless, brash, vulgar, and Agron is way too dependent on his temper than anything else. Still, Crixus knows the chain of command here. He knows that if Agron asked Naevia to stay behind, it was for a good cause. Still, it does make Crixus feel a little better to have Naevia beside him.

“I will not get in the middle of this if Agron turns his rage towards you.” Crixus warns, “but will help you sneak into army.”

“You are a good man.” Naevia grins, leaning up to kiss Crixus' cheek before ducking into Melitta's tent.

- - -

“I could act as a healer on the field,” Nasir tries again, slipping the leather down through its buckle, tightening the straps of Agron’s arm until it fits snugly.

“And the vampires would sense your pregnancy and steal you - hold you as a hostage until I gave in and relented,” Agron keeps himself from rolling his eyes. They’ve been having this discussion all morning.

“I could help fight. I’m not useless now that I’m pregnant,” Nasir hisses, tightening another strap hard enough that it bites into Agron’s skin, only relenting as he says his next words, “I’ve killed a vampire before. I have magic. I have my daggers. I am a valuable asset.”

“And they have teeth and immortality and supernatural speed.” Agron snaps back. “My answer is final.”

“Don't treat me like a child!” Nasir finishes with Agron’s chest piece, moving around him to snatch up Agron’s sword, “Fight me, right now if you think I am so incompetent. I will prove to you my skill.”

Agron has to resist the urge to toss Nasir over his shoulder and throw him onto the bed. At least then, it would distract him from the misguided fury.

“My love,” Agron starts, hands open and up - placating. “Please, let our last words not be spoken in anger.”

“Let me come with you. Even if just to stay and help you. Heal those that fall,” Nasir begs one last time, eyes widening as he steps forward, placing his palms on Agron's chest. It's a familiar move, the one he uses when he wants something desperately, when he tries to look small and innocently up at Agron.

“I can’t risk it.” Agron sighs, pulling Nasir tightly to him, hugging him against his broad chest. “The very thought of it - the idea that they could take you - it’s too much. I have seen what they do to those they capture in war.”

“I would be careful,” Nasir mumbles, pressing his chin to Agron’s chest - gazing up at him. “I’d be good in battle. I would listen to you.”

“Listen to me now then. How about this,” Agron begins, stooping a little to meet Nasir’s eyes, “I will go and win this battle, and when I return - depending on how heavily pregnant you are - we can begin your training.”

“But-“ Nasir starts, opening his mouth, but Agron kisses him silent.

“You can come on every single battle after this one. Every single tiny fight. But this one, you stay and when I return, we will work on making you into a warrior.”

Nasir takes a deep breath, sighing slowly until he feels like he’s deflated flat. Then, with tear free eyes, he schools Agron with a severe look, mouth puckered in distaste before smacking him on the shoulder. It’s not enough to really hurt, especially with his followed threat.

“If you come back with one little scratch, I am going to never let this go.”

“I’ll be fine. You take care of you while I’m away. Eat more. You are losing weight when you should be gaining it,” Agron pinches Nasir’s thin side, skirting away from him when Nasir goes to swat at him.

“If that were true, you wouldn’t have found it so easy to grab my ass last night.” Nasir bends over slightly, crimson fabric of his harem pants stretching along the mentioned flesh.

“You do have the most perfect ass,” Agron grins, sliding up behind him and pulling Nasir back by his hips. He grinds up on Nasir for a moment, enticing a shrieked laugh from the smaller prince before pulling back.

“We should go. Father will be waiting,” Agron says it mockingly, rolling his eyes and Nasir answers with sticking his tongue out.

“I think he'd wait a little longer if he thought you were fucking your bitch.”

“Nasir,” Agron warns, shaking his head. He hates it when Nasir talks like that, casual use of the slurs that Gerulf seems to easily spit.

“Alright. I'm sorry. Let's go play royals.” Pulling his crown on, Nasir smoothes down the wrinkles of his pants, situating all his chains before looking up at Agron, pausing when he sees his husband’s expression. “What?”

“You're so fucking beautiful. I just want to capture this, remember it for as long as I’m away,” Agron smiles, finishing latching his royal cloak to his armor before stooping and kissing Nasir’s mouth.

It’s a slow kiss, gentle and drawn out. Agron can feel it when Nasir sighs against him, opening up and letting Agron’s tongue press deeper and thoroughly within his mouth. He tastes sharp and perfect, the memory of this will last with Agron, but he doesn’t want to go and he hates that he has to. So instead, he focuses on kissing Nasir some more, holding his face until he can feel Nasir’s eyelashes against his own cheeks and his gasping breath between them.

“I love you.” Nasir whispers, having to pull away to properly breathe.

“And I love you.” Agron drops to his knees before him, moving Nasir’s dozen of gold chains away to kiss his navel tenderly. “And I love you too, my little cub.”

Nasir has to bite his lip to keep the tears back, fingers caressing through Agron’s hair as he whispers to their baby, nuzzling against Nasir’s flat stomach. It’s only time, he keeps reminding himself, he’ll be back soon. He’ll be okay. Agron is the best warrior they have.

- - -

Mounted on his horse like this, Agron feels like a giant, staring down at the peasants and royalty gathered to bid them farewell. Duro has his hand discretely entwined with Nasir’s, while Nasir’s other holds Pietros. They look miserable, but there is a light there - strength in their love for one another.

“Be strong, my son.” Gerulf stands to Agron’s side, hand on the horse’s neck. “Come back victorious.”

“I will, father,” Agron nods, stooping lower on his side to speak softly to the king. “I trust you will do all you can to protect my family.”

“Yes,” Gerulf nods, that dangerous glint back in his eye. He’s startled when Agron grabs the back of his neck, pulling him closer. To the common bystander, it looks like they’re touching foreheads in a gentle farewell, but Agron’s eyes gleam into Gerulf’s - a threat within the emerald.

“If any harm befalls Nasir while I’m gone,” Agron growls, deep in his chest, “I will cut the head from your body with my teeth.”

“You speak boldly for a prince,” Gerulf snaps back, eyes narrowing.

“Not just a prince, father,” Agron replies, nails sharp on the back of Gerulf’s neck, “An heir. One trained to take over the throne. Do not think I have forgotten what you did to mother. I was not so young. You touch him. You cause him pain. And I will end your life without second thought.”

Gerulf’s mouth falls open, unable to reply as his son sits back up, flashing a grin at the public. He is the monster that Gerulf created, but not to kill others - to defend the ones most important. Nasir turns his head up towards Agron, a glitter emblem of love in red and gold, pressing his fingers to his lips before lifting them away - blowing him a small kiss. Agron winks at him before pulling on his helmet, turning to Spartacus.

“Let’s go kill some fucking leeches, yeah?” He asks, that manic grin taking over, and Spartacus can do nothing but laugh.

They turn, charging forward with a loud battle cry, leaving to the roar of the crowd behind, and Pietros and Nasir send up red sparks - the farewell of their people. And they hope they do - that they fare well and return shortly.

When the army disappears into the horizon ,the crowd disperses slowly. There is no longer the loud cries of eager citizens trusting their high prince to defend them. It is the voice of the ones left behind, murmured fears and the mundaneness of their everyday existence without their soldiers. Gerulf returns to the high royals, mouth set in a grim line and eyes dark. He does not look pleased as he draws closer to them, and Nasir feels Duro shift behind him slightly. He doesn’t cower but his fear is palpable.

“My family,” Gerulf’s voice tries for sweetness but fails, “let us join together in midday meal.”

“I do not hunger.” Nasir replies smoothly, “and would return to task of healing of our people.”

“Take break and have meal with your wedded father,” Gerulf doesn’t leave an opportunity for argument as suddenly Sedullus and his two goons surround them, ushering them quickly and roughly towards the royal tents.

The tent is fitted with a long wooden table now, chairs surrounding it. Nasir and Duro are pushed into chairs next to one another while Pietros is placed on the side, left standing open and awkwardly until a pitcher of wine is placed in his hands. He is meant to serve them. He goes about his task diligently, but he does not miss the apologetic look Nasir casts his way, scowling.

Gerulf takes his spot at the head of the table, pulling a large hunk of meat onto his plate. He takes a thick bite, juices oozing down his chin and chasing it with wine. Neither Duro nor Nasir reach for the offered food. This is not some caricature of a family meal. This is the beginning of Gerulf’s plan, and they both know it. He repeats the motion a few times before beginning to speak.

"You will need more protection, now that Agron and our soldiers are away at war." Gerulf motions towards the door, and a servant pulls it back, guiding four new men into the tent.

Nasir recognizes them instantly by their armor, a mix of blues, greens, and teal fabric criss-crossing on their chests, woven into their hair. They are from Pontas, sailors and known pirates that patrol the lands to the south. Nasir had been only thirteen when his father had led their people along the coast, exchanging songs and dances for fresh fish and fruits from the tropics. It had been a joyful time, and Nasir cannot remember that much of the temperament of these men, just that they had stories of distant creatures - mermaids and octopus men that roamed the open seas.

The men even smell like the sea, salt water and spices. The one that leads them has a large siren emblem around his neck, glinting gold in the dim light to match his earrings and bracelets. He seems taller than he is, hair covered in a bandana and dark skin, broader than Nasir but still small in comparison to Duro. His eyes gleam the second they take in Nasir, wide grin growing across his face.

"Nasir, for your personal guard, I am assigning you to Castus." Gerulf glares at Nasir until he stands, coming around the table to greet them.

"Your majesty," Castus' voice is soft, smooth like fine fabric, as he kneels down, "it would be an honor to protect you."

He peers up at Nasir, grin turning to a smirk as he raises Nasir's lax hand, kissing the back of it. There is something oddly charming about him, ruggish and a little gritty, but Nasir wants to know him - wants to hear his tales from the sea. Even if it's also a selfish request, two outsiders bonded over their otherness. Nasir longs now for companionship, especially with Agron’s departure so fresh a wound.

"As a token of my duty and loyalty, I have brought you a gift." From his sash, Castus suddenly pulls a large orange globe, offering the fruit up to Nasir.

"Thank you," Nasir can feel the blush on his cheeks, trying to tamper it down. And how many days had it been that he had been craving oranges? Only to find they don't exist in this land, and yet Castus appears and offers him what he desires. It must be a gift, a blessing from the mother moon then, to ease Nasir’s suffering. "I accept."

Gerulf nods, turning to Duro to continue his assignments, but his words are lost on Nasir as Castus stands up, drawing close enough to whisper to him.

"Beauty such as yours," Castus boldly runs his knuckles down the chain dangling along Nasir's stomach to his waist, "should always be protected and served. I am very happy to do both."

"You forget your place," Nasir laughs breathlessly, shaking his head. "I am a consort - married to the high prince."

"My place is whatever you would ask of me." Castus' smirk is still there when he pulls away, going to join his men.

Nasir can see the line of his cock through his pants, half hard, and he quickly turns his eyes away. It's the hormones, the stress of a too big bed and empty furs. The constant worry of whether Agron is going to return or not. Nasir needs a distraction, something to occupy his time when he is not healing or hurting. And perhaps Castus' friendship and his tales from the sea will help - friendship and nothing else.

He feels Pietros come and press to his side, whispering into his ear with hot breath.

“I saw that.”

“What?” Nasir turns to look at him, shaking his head.

“Those men are made from the sea. They appear soothing and clear but can turn into a storm at the slightest moment. His intentions to protect you are not true.” Pietros replies, placing his hand casually on Nasir’s stomach. “I would not trust him.”

“Whom can I trust then? Because the list is growing significantly shorter the more people I meet.” Nasir hisses, pulling away from Pietros as Duro joins them.

“Us.” Duro’s answer is soft so Gerulf won’t overhear as he laughs about something with Sedullus. “We can only trust each other. I’m afraid, little brother.” Duro stops, slipping his arm around Nasir’s shoulders, “ that Agron goes to fight the battle but we are in the middle of the true war.”