SUMMARY: On the way back from Eburacum to Calleva, an innkeeper offers to send a slave to tend Marcus's leg; Esca is not best pleased. Very very faintly slashy hurt/comfort and cuddling; kinkmeme fill.
NOTES: A fill for the prompt
"One of Esca's duties as a slave was tending to Marcus' injured leg - changing the dressings and massaging it and such. Their journey north has worn heavily on Marcus, and after they deliver the Eagle they stop to rest for a little while. Marcus is too ashamed to ask Esca (now a free man) to help tend to him.
Grateful Roman officials lend him a slave for that purpose. Esca reacts rather possessively."
Movieverse, but if you ignore some of the details, it could probably work for bookverse in terms of characterization. I am afraid I am not the best at writing jealousy so it's less jealousy, more hurt/comfort and unspoken feelings.
For more Eagle and Eagle of the Ninth stories, I recommend the ninth_eagle community on Livejournal: livejournal DOT com SLASH community SLASH ninth_eagle. My own Eagle fiction (including many more stories than I have posted here, since most of what I've written in this fandom is sexually explicit and I don't really post to FFN anymore anyway) can be found at archiveofourown DOT org SLASH users SLASH Carmarthen.
Marcus nearly fell when he slid off his horse, the lancing pain in his thigh as his leg buckled under him nearly as harsh as that from the surgeon's knives, only his grip on the saddle keeping him from landing ungracefully in the courtyard of the inn.
On the flight south he had sorely overused his leg, and nearly died from cold beside, although the cold had perhaps kept his new injury from the rot that sometimes set in to such wounds. The chief surgeon at the fort in Eburacum had only shaken his head and said there was nothing he could do but clean and bandage it; only rest would bring healing. But they had to be back to his uncle's villa in Calleva before the winter truly set in, so Marcus had ignored both the surgeon and Esca's glares, although there had been many days since when he had gritted his teeth and prayed Esca did not notice the pain he was in.
Esca had not, at least, looked smug when Marcus could see him. Marcus supposed that was something to be grateful for.
He gritted his teeth again against the waves of agony and clung to the saddle as the horse shifted nervously, confused by his strange behavior and the dragging weight on its side.
"I will send one of the slaves to your room with some oil and hot towels," the innkeeper said solicitously, reaching out to help Marcus.
Marcus shook off his hand and forced himself to stand alone, saying "Thank you," although it galled him, just as Esca snapped out, "No, I will see to him."
Esca's jaw was set with that muleish look that Marcus knew all too well, the expression in his eyes perhaps a little terrifying to a soft civilian like the innkeeper. The innkeeper seemed taken aback, and frankly, Marcus shared the feeling. Esca was no longer his slave, and there was no reason for him to perform such duties; Marcus already owed him a greater debt than he could ever repay, no matter what Esca thought.
"Of course," the innkeeper said, stammering a little.
Marcus held his tongue until they were in the room, not wishing to argue in front of a stranger. It took the majority of his focus simply to walk without letting the pain show in his face, anyhow.
"You are not my slave," he said as he collapsed onto the bed, pain making his words come out harsher than he intended.
"I am sworn to you," Esca said, with that same quiet fierceness he had used in Caledonia. "You released me from my debt and I returned; that is what it means. It is for me to do these things for you, not for another who cares nothing for you. And besides, I have tended your wound this past year and know it well, as I know you."
Marcus was not so certain of that; if Esca knew some of the thoughts that had been in his mind, even back in Calleva when Esca had never smiled, he might not say such things. He might not care for Marcus at all. "You do not have to," he said, but he knew he had already lost.
"Lie down and rest a moment," Esca said, as if it were not even worth bothering to argue with Marcus. And it was not, Marcus thought bitterly as he leaned back against the pillows and tried to remember to breathe evenly instead of panting until he was dizzy, not when he could hardly stand and felt sick with pain. There was no reason for Esca to respect him, a crippled Roman who had nearly led them both into death in the north, who had only been a burden on Esca in that terrible flight.
While Esca was gone, Marcus wriggled out of his braccae, trying not to moan. By the time he was done he was sheened with sweat and shivering, despite the bronze pot of coals heating the little room. He tried to work at the knotted muscles some, but it was difficult to press very hard at his own thigh, and today the pain felt like more than the burn after a cramp. The pull of the new-healing scars was hot and unpleasant, as if it plucked at something deep within the muscle.
He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and had just managed to get the pain to ease a little when Esca returned with a jar of oil and a lidded clay pot. He could not bear to look at Esca as Esca sat beside him and uncovered his leg with deft, gentle hands. "You're cold," Esca said, laying his hands for a moment against Marcus's thigh. Even through the bandage he could feel the heat of them. "At least the wound is not hot."
Marcus managed not to wince much as Esca unwrapped the bandage, but even as careful as Esca was, it was clear that today even the lightest touch would be excrutiating. "No blood today," Esca said cheerfully, and then more gently, "I'm going to touch you now."
And then Esca's oiled hands were sliding lightly over Marcus's injured thigh; they felt like knives, like a scourge, like the teeth of wild beasts, and Marcus squeezed his eyes shut, pressed his lips together, and told himself it could not be as bad as the ride in the donkey cart to Calleva. Except he had been near-insensible for that, drugged with opium, and only remembered it sometimes in his nightmares, and he was quite, quite awake for this.
Esca pressed ever so slightly harder against one sore spot and this time Marcus could not stop himself from making a sharp little sound. "I am sorry," Esca said. "I feared it might be so, with as much riding as we have done these past days."
In a secret part of his heart, Marcus was shamefully glad that at least it was not some stranger seeing him like this, but Esca, who had already seen him at his weakest and had not turned away.
Someone tapped at the doorway, and then an older woman, in a slave's poor clothing, stepped inside, holding a cup wrapped in a cloth. "Thank you," Esca said, taking it from her and giving her a coin. "Drink this," he told Marcus, handing him the cup. "Be careful, it's warm."
The liquid looked unnervingly similar to blood, but at least it did not smell as bad as the herb broths Stephanos had made him drink back at the villa. Marcus took a cautious sip and nearly spat it out. No amount of honey could disguise the bitter taste of it, or the way it made his mouth feel dry and sandy. "This tastes like piss."
"I don't care," Esca said, but the corner of his mouth quirked and there was something soft in his face. He rested a hand on Marcus's shoulder. "It will help, I swear it."
Marcus managed to swallow the rest of it, shuddering, and then wished for one of Sassticca's honeycakes to take away the taste. But Esca seemed pleased, and that would have to do instead.
"Can you bear for me to try again?" Esca asked. He did not look as if he thought Marcus weak, but Marcus knew that Esca could hide his thoughts as easily as show them.
Marcus nodded. This time Esca's hands felt oddly cool, and it did not hurt nearly so much. "Balm for the horses," Esca said, with a faint smile. "It is good for this kind of injury." After a moment the light movement of Esca's hands stroking the balm into his leg felt almost soothing, and he closed his eyes.
He was nearly asleep when Esca stopped, and the pain had faded to something he could almost ignore—whether from the balm or from the horrible tisane, he could not say. His mouth still felt strange and puckered, but at least the taste had faded. Esca's hands simply rested on his bare leg, warm and strong. Marcus opened his eyes to find Esca regarding him with a peculiar expression in his eyes. "Better?"
"Yes," Marcus said, and Esca prodded at him to lift his leg so that he could wrap a fresh bandage around Marcus's thigh. "Thank you."
"When we are in Calleva I will find an herb-woman for you." Esca's hand was resting lightly on Marcus's leg again, his calf this time, and Marcus did not know why. There was no reason for it.
Esca scoffed. "What does the surgeon know of Britain? Our knowledge is not your knowledge, but it is no less true for that. At any rate, it will not harm you, and may well help."
It was true; whatever was in the tisane or the balm, it had helped more than anything the fort surgeon in Eburacum had tried. "Of course," Marcus said, ducking his head.
Esca yawned and stretched; Marcus could hear cracking and felt instantly guilty that Esca had been tending him when he himself was weary and sore from the road. "Move over." The legate had given them some money for the trip south, but not that much, and it was cold enough in November that Marcus was glad for the shared warmth. Or he had been, before; right now, he felt exhausted and raw, and he felt terribly afraid that Esca would see more than Marcus meant to reveal. He did not think he could bear to lose Esca now, not when they had survived this much together.
Esca blew out the oil lamp and settled next to him under the blankets, careful not to jostle Marcus's leg, a shockingly warm presence in the bed. Perhaps British blood ran hotter because of their colder winters. Esca smelled like wine and olives, and his warmth was almost unbearably tempting; Marcus wanted badly to roll over and wrap himself around Esca, but he could not. He dared not. They were not in Caledonia, where such closeness was a matter of survival.
In the darkness next to him, Esca sighed and shifted. "It is cold, Marcus," he said softly. "Come here."