A/N: Hey guys! Have you missed me? :D
I offer no explanation for my absence from this fandom aside from a cruel and fickle muse. But after a very sweet message/review from DeleaMarie I dug this half-finished tidbit out of my "WIP" file and fixed it up. It's a continuation of chapter 4. The Call. If I get the muse again I'll wrap up the arc with at least one more, but since I've proven to be so terrible at updating I'll make no promises.
Enjoy the update, guys! Dedicated to DeleaMarie since she's the one who got me moving again. Hope you like it, my friend!
Title: The Call: Where You Go, I'll Follow (2/?)
Word Count: 897
Summary: Marcus is off to war, but Esca is determined to make sure the Roman knows that he won't be going alone. Continuation of The Call.
The Roman looked up, guilt flushing his face as he stowed another item into his small rucksack. Esca stood in the doorway, calm and stoic - and stealthy - as ever as he observed the young centurion's actions.
Marcus had been packing since daybreak, sneaking about the house whenever Esca was absent, hiding things away to be slid into the pack he now held in his hands. His reasons for such stealth were hard to explain, even to himself, but now that he had been caught he could only look away guiltily. "I am."
From the doorway Esca merely nodded. Ever since Marcus had received his orders to rejoin his legion the Briton had been expecting this. He had watched all day as his friend snuck about, packing and hiding things away when he thought Esca too busy to notice.
"When will you go?"
Marcus hesitated. "My orders are to be in Rome within the month," he answered evasively. "It will have to be soon if I'm to make it in time."
Nodding again the Briton leaned against the doorframe, arms across his chest. "Were you going to tell me?"
A sigh leaked past the lips of the troubled young cohort-centurion, his head falling a little as he focused on the wall, the bed, anything but the man behind him. In truth he hadn't planned on telling Esca at all, or at least not until he had been ready to go and it was too late for the Briton to make ready and join him. "Yes. In the morning," he finally muttered.
"As you were leaving?" Esca asked knowingly, a surprising lack of anger in his voice. "You were just going to ride off and leave me here to tend the horses?"
Another sigh. "It wasn't going to be like that." Only it was and they both knew it.
"You can't come, Esca," Marcus continued tiredly but with solemn finality. "I knew the only way to stop you would be to keep it from you until it was too late."
"And you thought that would stop me?" the Briton asked, sounding more amused than anything. "As if I wouldn't just ride after you."
"Esca, you can't-"
"You're not going to war without me, Marcus," the young warrior interrupted firmly. "If you go so am I."
Marcus shook his head. This was exactly why he hadn't said anything before. Esca had no place in the legions, and there was no way that Marcus would drag his friend off into what everyone but the emperor knew was probably suicide. Not again. "You can't go as a soldier," he insisted.
"Then I'll go as your slave."
The meaning, the determination, the loyalty behind those words stopped Marcus cold for a moment. That the Briton considered him a close friend, perhaps a brother, the Roman knew - he felt the same; but for Esca to be willing to undergo - yet again - the humiliation of being a slave just so that Marcus wouldn't have to go alone...?
It was... it was... Marcus couldn't even begin to find the words to describe it.
The Briton cut him off with a raised hand. "You're not stopping me, Marcus."
With a long breath the centurion turned away. "You know who we'll be fighting," he said heavily, insistently, in one last attempt to dissuade his friend. "Your people - Britons. We'll be killing them. Slaughtering them. I won't ask that of you."
At last Esca was silent for a long while, the consequences of his choice being carefully weighed. The decision was not easy - loyalty to his people versus loyalty to one single man. Neither path would be simple and guilt would follow no matter which he chose. The only question was which decision would haunt him the most.
"It's not that I don't want you there, Esca," the centurion admitted after a while. In truth, the side of him that was selfish wanted nothing more than to have the Briton as his side in this. But he would never, ever ask it, and the side of him that was afraid of losing his all-but-blood brother wished that Esca would, for once, bow to the side of safety, forget loyalty, and just stay home.
Eventually Esca raised his head and stared his friend straight in the eyes. "You must go." It wasn't a question but Marcus nodded anyway, hope and dread both warring inside of him.
"Then so must I."
It was said with such simple finality that Marcus knew that to argue was useless. Still, he had to make absolutely sure. "Are you certain?"
Esca nodded. "You know I am."
Closing his eyes for a moment in resignation, the centurion allowed both the dread - and the relief - to have their way with him. Soon he raised his head again. "We'll have to find someone to take on the horses."
"I already have."
Surprised, Marcus stared for a moment before the realization hit him - Esca had probably been planning this since the orders arrived. In fact his mind had probably been made up well before Marcus' own had.
In spite of everything the centurion had to smile. "You'd best pack, then," he said with a small and lopsided grin.
Marcus watched as Esca smirked and turned to walk away. He had to laugh aloud at the Briton's parting words.
"I've already done that, too."
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