The bite of rough wood against wounds that felt like they would never heal were all that kept him tethered to the realm of the living. That pain reminded him that he yet drew breath, that heart still continued to beat within his chest. That he was still for the mortal realm. But why? There were several who had been crucified after he had that had been shuffled free the mortal coil.
But he still persisted.
"You had better not give in to temptation, you stupid fuck."
The voice was familiar in a way holding a gladius was. The way shouting at those training to kill Romans had been. But he no longer had strength enough to lift head and greet the owner of the voice.
"Open fucking eyes and greet day. Woden has not set your place at his table."
One eye was still swollen shut, but he managed to crack the good eye open. What stood before him should not have been. The apparition was clearly a sign that he was ready to join his fallen brethren. But that shit-eating grin that often accompanied beloved brother was unmistakable.
"You are not dead. Not yet."
Agron opened his mouth to speak, but he had been a couple of days without any food or water. Tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he knew he would not be able to form words.
"You straddle fine line, brother. But you are not ready to cross into death. It is not your time."
Not my time? Brows furrowed and he tried to make sense of Duro's words. How was it not his time? He was nailed to fucking wood and left to rot like so much meat in the sun.
"The Fates have not finished with you yet." Odd that Duro could hear him, though he did not speak aloud. With eye open, he could see the Roman fucks as they went about their business. Each one ignored Duro's shade.
They could not see him.
"You stand surprised. They would not see fucking Death if it stood before them. I am but simple shade, an echo of what I was." Duro fidgeted, as he often had in life. "Woden knew you would not listen to any but me. I told him I held doubt you would heed even my words."
He laughed. The difficult fuck actually laughed. Agron just stared at him.
"Do not fix me with baleful glare." Duro admonished. "Just because I am dead does not mean you can treat me as you did in life."
You laugh. You are dead, yet you laugh.
"I have no concerns, brother. None save you." He made a rude gesture at one of the Roman soldiers as he ventured too close. "They will set you free. You will not die this day."
Free. You fucking jest.
"I do not fucking jest, you woman." He shot back, looking aggravated. "Be patient. You will see that little Syrian once more." Expression softened just a fraction, though it was gone before Agron could truly grasp that it had ever been there. "Know that I approve of your lover. He truly stands a warrior."
The visage of beloved brother flickered and faded some. Apprehension and the pain of a loss renewed made chest ache.
"Cease your concern, brother. You doubted my existence when first I approach and now you beg me not to leave?"
Would that we could have traded places.
"And I would have died when temple was overrun." Duro shrugged carelessly. "You survived because you were better. Because he needed you."
Duro did not need to elaborate who he was. Agron understood. Ache of loss became more acute as he realized he could now see fully through brother's visage.
"You will see me one day. When you stand as old and wrinkled as my balls." Another laugh, Duro was clearly enjoying that he could insult beloved brother.
You are an ass.
"You have missed it. But you will not greet grass, nor will you sit at Woden's table until old age takes you. Go. Take your warrior beyond these lands. Live and be free." He faded from sight. Wound in heart opened anew and he fought to keep from shouting after Duro. An hallucination. His mind teasing him with what he could no longer grasp. Still, it gave him reason to continue breathing.
"This one, Imperator?" Another voice drowned out the last of Duro's words.
"Yes. If he yet draws breath, see him to medicus. Do not waste precious supplies on him, but see him bandaged and ready to travel. Deal has been struck. I will honor my word."
Movement was stilted agony. They lowered the cross bar to the ground and set to pulling metal from flesh. Though, if he thought having the spikes driven into hands had been terrible, it was nothing to having them ripped from his body. The skin surrounding the metal had begun to heal about it. It ripped, bleeding anew and he screamed as much as abused lungs and throat would allow. It was muted, hollow, because he had no strength to pull the air into his lungs and make sound as he had before.
Thankfully, that fuck Caesar was not present to torment him further. Agron knew he would not hold a blade again, but to see that treacherous fuck's face caved beneath his heel would have almost made up for the grievous wounds he would carry the rest of his days.
Once freed of the bloodied wood, he was dragged to Medicus' tent. The older man took one look at the German and cursed softly. "You expect this one to survive trek to rebel encampment?"
"I do not care what happens to him once he leaves our hands." Crassus grunted, though he knew this one held worth. It was why he'd chosen to strike him down from the wood. And why he stood inside the tent when there were so many more who could have held his attention. This one yet bore the mark of the ill-fated ludus in Capua. Word had reached his ear that many others who bore the same mark had fallen in battle.
It would make no difference, in the grand scheme of things, but Crassus would hold to his word. "See wounds bandaged and prepare him for travel. Once he is in their hands, their gods can decide his fate."
You will not die, you simple fuck.
He heard the words as though spoken. Agron closed his good eye and just lay quietly. He had nothing left within him to curse the Roman shits for their ill treatment. Better to have just killed him outright, though now he held to the hope that he might actually cast gaze upon cherished heart once more.
Memory of their parting was bittersweet and painful. He had not wanted such a thing. But the hope of enduring happiness for his Syrian warrior outweighed his own. He could not, in good conscience, see himself over the mountains and away from battle. Not when Spartacus yet needed good men to fight. When they needed to divide forces and draw attention away from those who could not lift blade.
Delirium caught him while they maneuvered him into a cart. He slumped against the rough wood and let the heat of the day lull him into near slumber. Faces danced in and out of the darkness. The babe, born in freedom, while he was present to watch. While the act of the birth had been deeply disturbing to watch, the idea that there was a child born free that would hopefully see life beyond Rome's grasp. It lifted heart.
He even let thoughts travel to Laeta. Odd woman. He did not understand the lay of their minds, but she had found tenderness within the breast of Spartacus. Why? He did not question. He merely accepted that his bond brother needed that softness. Perhaps they would seek asylum together, though he held doubt that the Thracian would, willingly, walk away from the opportunity to strike at Crassus.
Some of the slaves spoke in hushed tones amongst themselves while they were transported to the meeting place. He could hear their words, but nothing could truly press past the haze of exhaustion that seemed to permeate his very soul. It wasn't until the wagon ceased movement that he was roused from his stupor. They assisted him from the cart, most aware of who he was. And the wounds that he carried.
It was said the gods, themselves, watched over the rebels. For why else would they allow a gladiator to survive crucifixion when no others had? Of a certainty, he would not see battle again. But he lived. He stood proof that the gods had not turned their backs on those who yearned for freedom.
The walk toward the rebel encampment was almost as excruciating as being nailed to the cross. Every muscle in his body ached from having been forced to dangle for so long. He clung to another and they limped gamely toward the long line of free souls. Heart sped up at the thought that he might actually cast gaze upon his reason for continuing to fight.
But it was not Nasir who found him first. Agron missed the spectacle, just as he missed the formerly free slave girl being taken back in chains. Pity, really. Kore had been most kind to any she'd happened upon. Truly, she was one of the few who had made the encampment bearable when there had just been so many who yearned for more.
"Agron.." Tone was awestruck and full of wonder. His good eye opened and fell upon a most welcome sight.
"Spartacus." The former slave handed the gladiator over to his friend. Spartacus would bear the weight of his bond brother. And Agron would allow such display of weakness. But only this once.
They did not bother to attempt breaking the silence. There was no need. There was nothing that could be said that would alter the course of events. Still, he could tell it lifted spirits to see so many returned. More than five hundred for the life of the boy. He hadn't asked the fate of the child. It didn't matter. In the days to come, he would learn more. And he would mourn the loss of his friend, though he understood her motivations. Balancing fucking scale was something they all had to do.
They limped toward the encampment at a snail's pace. It was painfully slow, though there were so many about them that were moving equally slowly. He should have thought it odd, though, when the people parted before them. But mind was still focusing on placing one foot before the other and not seeing nose greeting ground. Not until a warm hand that was, most certainly, not Spartacus' greeted jaw did he realize that they'd ceased moving. That another had joined them.
"The gods return you to my arms." He could hear the pain in that voice. The way breath hitched. A dream never thought to see reality.
"I was a fool ever to leave them." Gods, was he. Never again would he part company from cherished heart. He could no longer wield blade, why would he need to see himself from loving embrace again? He hadn't even the capacity for tears, though lip trembled when he formed the words huskily. He was parched as a desert within, but heart beat all the faster. He was home.
Nasir took the German from bond brother's embrace and guided him toward the tent. His belongings that had not been scattered to the winds when Romans invaded and saw their items burnt, were still within. Agron hesitated only a moment, though Nasir held the upper hand. He propelled the German further into the tent.
"Rest. I will find water and food." Nasir seemed almost unsure, as though he would awaken and find it all a cruel jest.
"No. I would see you remain steadfast. I am to medicus for clean bandages, if such are still to be had?" It hurt to speak, but he would not remain silent.
Nasir shook his head. They had precious few supplies now. The carts meant for the Romans had been routed in such a way that they were now out of the way for the rebels to capture. "There are none, but we can attempt to clean wounds and rewrap." Still, he pressed, guiding his lover to their bedroll and Agron went without complaint. It would do little good to voice displeasure now. He hadn't the strength. Sinking onto the bedroll, he closed his eyes for a heartbeat, fearful to drift into sleep absent Nasir's presence.
The Syrian returned with an amphora of wine to wet tongue and a bucket of water to cleanse wounds. "Apologies, food is being prepared. There is not much." Agron lay prone while wounds were tended and rewrapped with filthy cloth. It would have to do. He uttered no complaint as Nasir treated him. "They did not even tend wounds." He groused softly.
Agron had closed his good eye and made a disgusted noise. "They did not expect me to continue living." And, truly, who had? Even Agron had not expected such. He had been thought dead upon field of battle, initially. It was a keen eye that caught chest rising and had seen the German stripped of pteruges and weapons. He'd been tied to a post and left for the Imperator to question further. Crassus had expressed his shock at learning the man yet lived. Though, surprise gave way to frustration when nothing of use could be gleaned from the filth that poured forth. Agron would forever remain proud of such. Though they had tortured, he did not break.
Food eventually came, a simple porridge that proved too much for the gladiator to finish; but they ate quietly. There would be no training for Nasir, he had other duties to attend. And he would not bring to light the way he'd seen Castus diminished by Agron's return. There was no joy in such revelation.
Once wounds were tended and stomach filled, the pair found themselves stretched on the bedroll. They spoke quietly of past grievances until sleep could claim the gladiator. He wanted to speak on how beloved brother had come in the form of an apparition and given him reason to continue. That heart soared to know they would not see death so soon. But, exhaustion was etched in every line. The fight was over, at least for now. He would talk about Duro in the days to come, and give beloved brother the passing he deserved. The one denied when they'd been living beneath the city of Capua. Breathing evened out and he sagged against smaller lover. Nasir, for his part, kept a vigil. He refused to leave the side of his heart, for fear that returning would find the dream shattered.
Cherished heart had returned, just as the man in the dream foretold.