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“You could have been my slave,” Esca says once, sighing as Marcus breaches him, careful, as he always is, watchful eyes on Esca’s face, one arm wrapped across his back, holding him steady.

“I was already that,” Marcus says, leaning in and pressing a soft kiss against Esca’s collarbone.

“Not like that,” Esca says. “I would have captured you in a raid.”

“I don’t see how that is possible,” Marcus says, giving it due consideration. He shifts on his knees, pressing deeper in, and makes a soft noise of satisfaction when Esca’s mouth falls open.

“I would have—ah, taken you in battle and brought you back to my dwelling.”

“Oh,” Marcus says. “I see.” He withdraws and lifts Esca so he can roll in at a deeper angle, still moving slowly. Esca closes his eyes at it, feeling Marcus’ hands on his body, how wide he’s stretched open, knowing that it isn’t so easy for Marcus to hold his weight up on his leg without being able to brace his arms, that Marcus will move as slowly or quickly as Esca wills it, that he need only to give a sign for Marcus to fuck him deep and hard. “And would you have been a cruel master to me?” Marcus says. Esca opens his eyes.

“No,” he says. “No.” He grinds down, tightening his knees around Marcus’ hips. His own cock is stiff, leaking against his stomach and Marcus’ eyes are flickering between his face and his cock, rapt. He’s never said as much, but Esca would bet a yearling foal that Marcus was little more than a virgin before Esca came to his bed. There were, Esca thinks, a few hasty tumbles, a friendly hand as a boy, a whore or two between campaigns, but nothing in the wide-eyed way that Marcus looks at him when they’re fucking, still, in the way that Marcus hastens to do his bidding, says to Esca that Marcus has ever been asked to bring anyone pleasure before. “Not cruel,” Esca says. He reaches up and touches Marcus’ face, the fine cut of his jaw and the sweet softness of his lower lip, pink-bruised from Esca’s kisses earlier.

Marcus won’t—allow Esca inside him, his arse or his mouth, and he let Esca suck him once before refusing to allow it again. They kiss. They rut against each other, tumbling over each other in the bed they share, the high grass next to their pastureland. Marcus asks for Esca’s hand, and rubs his own hands down over the muscles of Esca’s back and shoulders, sore after a day of plowing, and then turns him over and kisses his mouth, his throat, runs his mouth along Esca’s chest, his tattoos, works his cock with his hand and asks Esca to come. Marcus will allow Esca to spend between his slickened thighs, blushing hotly when he offers, and Esca knows it takes much for him to give even that. And they fuck, this way, with Marcus inside Esca, although Marcus, swallowing, said he would not presume to ask for what he himself refused to give. Esca, that time, shoved Marcus down by the neck and rode him hard, spilled on his chest and left Marcus to clean himself.

Marcus sometimes gives him a hunted, guilty look over everything he’s refused Esca in his bed, but Esca has made his peace. He has had many lovers, but few so eager to please him as Marcus, none whose kisses kindle such an echoing joy in his heart. He could take no pleasure from forcing Marcus into any act that shames him. Marcus does not have a word to say about the customs of Esca’s childhood that have crept into their lives, the cup of milk left on the stoop after first milking, the cast-off rusty horseshoe Esca finds on a hunt and nails up over the barn door, refusing to sell it or melt it down even though they could sorely use the money.

“Esca,” Marcus says softly.

“You would have known your place,” Esca says, coming back to himself, breathless. “I would have shown you your place.”

“Where—” Marcus’ voice is hoarse. “Where’s that?”

“At my feet,” Esca says. Marcus’ fingers tighten on his arse, pulling him open, “in my bed,” Esca adds. Marcus is staring at him, wide-eyed, but he makes no move to stop Esca’s mouth.

“You would have been bathed and stripped bare for me, and I would have shown you—such pleasure,” Esca says, “I would have taken you until you were mewling and begging for me for release.”

Marcus says nothing but his hips stutter, moving more quickly into Esca, setting a heavy rhythm, and his face is creased in effort.

“You—you would have shown me your submission and ah—” Esca says, and Marcus is pulling him up further into his lap, penetrating him deeply, Esca’s cock trapped between them, Marcus’ arm tightening roughly around his waist, his mouth grazing Esca’s cheek, “I would have given you—” Esca says, and breaks off as Marcus reaches down to where they’re joined and runs his fingers softly over the tightly stretched bounds of Esca’s hole.

“What,” Marcus says, urgently. Esca says nothing, hooking his legs around Marcus’ waist and pressing close to him. “What would you—” Marcus asks again, voice breaking, and Esca says,

“Everything, everything,” knowing that Marcus’ leg can’t support his weight like this for very long, but he’s close, and Marcus’ hands are huge on him, urging him towards completion. “I would have had you every way I could think of, had your sweet mouth on my cock, filled your arse so full that you would be dripping with it—” Marcus comes, shuddering, cock jerking heavily inside Esca.

Marcus is stiff and silent, after. He wipes himself down, standing by the ewer, and then brings Esca a fresh wet cloth. He’s limping and he has to brace his hand heavily against the bed to lower himself into a sitting position. Esca cleans himself, saying nothing; Marcus won’t admit that his leg pains him, hates to be pestered over it when he pushes himself too far.

“There are women in the village who would—welcome your attentions,” Marcus says, slowly. He’s facing away, shoulders hunched.

“What?” Esca says. The language of Esca’s youth comes slowly to his lips, these days, supplanted by Roman words; he dreams in Latin, thinks in it, and still sometimes he can make little sense of the things that Marcus says to him.

“I know well,” Marcus says, hesitating. “I know well that I do not satisfy you as you have been accustomed.”

“You satisfy me,” Esca says, pillowing his head languorously against his bent arm. He can barely feel his legs, he’s so satisfied.

“No,” Marcus says, dully. “There is much that I do not give to you; don’t pretend it isn’t so.”

“Marcus,” Esca says. “I am sorry that I said those things to you, they were words only, they were—foolishness, because you were inside me and I was not in my right mind—”

“Those words wouldn’t come to your lips without cause,” Marcus begins, and Esca loses his temper and sits up and says,

“Very well, so you propose that I go fuck one of these dozens of girls in the village who are so eager for me?”

Marcus jerks his chin in a nod.

“And you’ll do—what?” Esca says. “Will you take another lover?”

“No,” Marcus says, voice low.

“Will you still come to me?” Esca says.

“If you wish it,” Marcus mutters.

“You think I won’t.”

“Why would you,” Marcus says. Esca studies him, the tilt of his head, his hands, twisted into fists against his knees.

“Only a fool or a boy would allow you to rut inside him, is that what you mean?” Esca says, deliberately crude. Marcus flinches, but nods, slowly, his face guilty.

“Do you think I am a fool, then?” Esca says.

“No,” Marcus says.

“Then—I’m a boy?” Esca says coldly, “your kept boy—”

“No,” Marcus says, “Of course not, you’re—your own man, you have always been, even when—” He stops himself, and then says, carefully, “even before.”

“You could have fucked me when I was your slave and you did not,” Esca says. He had expected it from the first, from the way Marcus had looked at him, that Marcus waited only to recover the strength in his leg before ordering Esca to his bed, taking him without care.

After a time, as he had come to know Marcus a little, he had understood that it wouldn’t be so; then he expected perhaps—Marcus’ fingers on the back of his neck, the order smoothed into a polite request for Esca’s presence in his bed, Marcus inside him, gentle hands folded over his hips. It had not happened that way, either.

Marcus had not stopped looking at him, but the looks had never turned into anything more until Esca had willed it, until he had put his hand on Marcus’ shoulder and asked for himself, half expecting Marcus to refuse him. Marcus had not. He’d nodded, a decisive jerk of his chin, clutched at Esca and run his hands up under his tunic when Esca straddled his lap, so eager for him that when he’d risen afterwards to fetch a cup of water, Esca had seen that he still wore one sandal.

“I wouldn’t have forced you,” Marcus says, shrugging uncomfortably.

“It was my lot to serve you,” Esca says. “I wouldn’t have fought.”

Marcus’ mouth pinches into a frown. “You would have lain beneath me like a stone—a—an angry, spiteful stone,” he says flatly. “Forgive me for my lack of interest.”

“And yet you expect me to sulk over the things that you do not wish to give?” Esca says.

“No, I only—I—”

“You keep my bed very warm,” Esca says. “I wish for nothing else unless you desire it.”

“It’s my bed,” Marcus says, but he lets Esca draw him down and cover him, tuck his knees in behind Marcus’ thighs and snug up against his back.

Very much later, when the fire is burning low, he says, “until.”

“Hm?” Esca says, rousing a little from his doze. Marcus is holding one of Esca’s hands twined in his. “until I—desire it,” he says, after a moment.

“Until,” Esca agrees, tightening his fingers against Marcus’.

He was an impatient boy, quick to boredom and anger, but he’s a man now. Patience is a lesson he’s learned well.