The doors to the sanctuary opened and Agron strode in, arms full of skins of wine. Behind him trailed two of the other men, their hands similarly burdened by jugs and bottles of the stuff. The cart they'd ransacked stood just outside the sanctuary's wall, now stripped of its contents. It was good for the gladiator to return to camp with palms overflowing rather than out-turned and empty. Lifting blue eyes to all those that had turned to stare at him, he raised an arm and put on display his bounty. "Fetch fucking cups," he announced, "and see them filled to brimming!" His words drew a cheer from the crowd and all moved to do as commanded, eager to taste sweet wine on their lips after too long without it. Agron tossed several of the skins to those who stood nearby and then helped to fill cups thrust toward him.
Soon all were drinking their fill. All except, perhaps, for one. Agron had expected the Syrian among them standing in front of him, hand outstretched and waiting for wine, but there had been no sign of him. The gladiator weaved through the crowd in the courtyard in search of Nasir, but the man was nowhere to be found. Brow furrowed, Agron started toward the interior of the temple - but then he thought better of it and turned, lifting his gaze toward the sky. And there, silhouetted against it, was his Syrian.
Agron's feet took him swiftly toward the wall and he climbed it, though progress was slow; he was burdened by two skins of wine and two cups, one already full and the other waiting for Nasir. When Agron reached the Syrian, he offered the cup, but Nasir didn't take it. Instead, he only glanced at the gladiator before looking back toward the long expanse of forest before them. Agron followed his gaze but found nothing of real interest amongst the endless trees.
"We have no need of a watchman now," the gladiator then said, shifting his gaze back to Nasir's face. "Come off the wall and take drink with the rest." Agron attempted to press the empty cup into Nasir's hand but it was brushed away, and the Syrian let out a frustrated sound, briefly baring his teeth. Perhaps it was the wine flowing through him that made Agron smile at the act of defiance, or maybe he simply liked being reminded of the little wild dog Nasir had once been. Still was, if not slightly tamed.
It was obvious that Nasir was still bothered by what had happened earlier in the day. "Turn thoughts from the morning's events," Agron urged the other man. "All others have." The gladiator sat on the wall beside Nasir, then, since it was clear the Syrian wouldn't be joining the group below anytime soon. There was silence between them for a moment and Agron waited patiently, for he knew the Syrian wouldn't keep lips tightly shut forever. He was proved right quickly enough when Nasir turned to look at him, a drawn expression upon his features. The moment that look appeared on the other man's face, Agron wanted to see it gone and replaced with happiness. The same happiness as on everyone else's faces as they partook of the wine Agron had provided.
But there was a weight upon Nasir's shoulders that needed lifting. "I am finally set to task after healing from grievous wound," he said, "but the moment my use comes to test, I fail."
"And I slumbered as Spartacus and the others crept upon us," Agron said. "The fault does not fall on any one man. None were prepared." The gladiator lifted his cup and sipped from it. He, too, had been frustrated by the fact that Spartacus had so easily infiltrated the sanctuary, but his disappointment had fled as soon as the wine had started flowing. For now, worry was supposed to be pushed aside in favor of more pleasant things. That had been Spartacus's intention in sending Agron to steal a cart from the road, had it not?
"Had I not been immediately brought down, I could have raised alarm," Nasir argued, intent on blaming himself. Though not all of it. "And if Lugo hadn't taken to fucking dreams." The Syrian's glanced down toward the crowd, at the German who was drinking his fill, and loudly. There was still bad blood between them, it seemed. "I had opportunity to prove myself and I let it slip through idle fingers."
Agron's cup and the skins of wine were abandoned there on the edge of the wall, forgotten for the moment. The gladiator reached out and, with an unforgiving and commanding grip, took Nasir's chin in hand, forcing the Syrian's eyes to his own. "Prove yourself?" he asked, his tone almost dangerous. "There is not a man among us that questions your loyalty or your place in the rebellion." When Nasir's eyes began to skirt away, the gladiator lowered his head and held that gaze. "None but you."
"I have past transgressions to—" Nasir began, but Agron interrupted.
"Transgressions paid for in kind," the gladiator said. The hand on Nasir's chin dropped to the man's side, where just-healed wound laid. "In blood and pain." His fingertips traced the outline of that scar, and only touching it reminded him of those days of torture in which he'd had no idea whether or not Nasir was for the afterlife. He couldn't imagine what the Syrian had been through, hovering on the edge of death as he'd been.
Nasir lowered his eyes to Agron's touch. The gladiator wondered what it was like, to bear such a scar. Sometimes he saw Nasir's fingers flutter to it, touching it lightly as if remembering the pain. In those moments, Agron would distract him with a kiss or with wandering hands to chase away the memory. There were few among them that had suffered so and lived to tell about it. Oenomaus was one. Crixus, another. And Nasir was counted with them as a man who had come back from the dead. A thing for which Nasir deserved credit, though he gave none to himself.
"The fucking Gaul—" Nasir began, and Agron had to grin. His Syrian was beginning to sound like him. "—seems to think me nothing more than your pet."
Agron recalled Crixus's comment about Nasir being his 'boy', but knew better than to think of it as criticism for the Syrian. "Crixus has no love for me," Agron said, turning his gaze to the courtyard. There, he could see the Gaul with his woman. "Which means he will have no love for things close to my own heart." His attention shifted back to Nasir, and the gladiator lifted a hand to chuck him under the chin. "He raised voice only to speak against me. Not to bring any failing on your part to light."
There, finally, was the slightest of grins on Nasir's face. Though it appeared and was gone in seconds, Agron was still happy to have reassured the other man, if only for a moment. But the Syrian returned quickly to his woes. "Lugo is more at fault than I," he said, and in that made the two sound like quarreling siblings. "He took to slumber. I turned away for only a moment."
"Nasir." Agron reached out and took the man's face in his hands. "Think no more of it. Come drink wine with us. I would see you smile again." With his thumbs, Agron gently caressed Nasir's cheekbones. "And if ever anyone questions your part in this rebellion, only remind yourself of the sacrifice made and take comfort. Few have given more for this cause."
Spartacus had lost a wife. Agron had lost a brother. Some had lost friends. Others had made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives. Nasir had almost suffered that same fate, so how could any doubt him? And how could he doubt himself?
The Syrian leaned into Agron's touch and briefly closed his eyes. The gladiator had to wonder what Nasir was thinking in that moment. Perhaps wine would loosen his tongue and see worry given words, or else it would chase away troubles if only for a little while. All Nasir had to do was agree. And agree he did, giving a short nod of his head. Agron ginned a triumphant grin and grabbed the empty cup he'd brought for Nasir, handing it over to the other man. When Nasir finally accepted it, Agron filled it before taking up his own cup, and the two drank deeply.
After a moment, Agron lowered his cup. "Come," he said, and began to move off the wall. But he was stopped before he could get far. Nasir reached out with his free hand and grasped Agron's upper arm, and then used his grip to pull the gladiator into a kiss. It was sweet like the wine that had just touched their lips and Agron couldn't help but melt into it, groping blindly to put his cup on the top of the wall so he could wrap his arms around the other man. And so they embraced one another, forgetting about the wine and the plans they'd had to climb down from their perch, and it wasn't until a shout came from below - one in Saxa's voice and in the German tongue - of, "Will you fuck on the wall and give us a show?" that they pulled apart, Agron laughing as he did so.
The two gathered their things, then, and moved to join the rest, and soon, Nasir would have his chance to prove himself in combat, when Spartacus's reasons for providing them all with wine were revealed.
Nasir turned the skin of wine in his hand upside down over his cup in an attempt to drain it of its remaining precious drops. "The last of it," he said mournfully, and there were howls of disapproval from those around him. They had been drinking since the afternoon, and the sun was only just disappearing beneath the horizon. Nasir lifted the cup in salute to the others and then tilted his head back, tipping the liquid into his waiting mouth. It was all done with very little grace; he stumbled slightly where he stood and though he was in danger of falling over, he managed to make sure he didn't spill a single drop. When he was done, the Syrian carelessly abandoned his cup on the stairs that led into the sanctuary, needing it no longer.
When he regained his balance, his gaze slid over those surrounding him. He looked for one man in particular. It wasn't long before searching eyes found what they desired; Agron was just within the temple at the far end of the wide front corridor, leaning against a table among some of his German kin. Nasir simply observed for a moment, a smile playing over his lips as he watched Agron grin and throw his head back in laughter. It was a simply joy, seeing the one he loved so happy. He would see the gladiator overcome with such happiness.
The Syrian took leave of his companions and started toward Agron, his eyes never leaving the man's face. Perhaps it was the wine that made him so bold, but he didn't hesitate in pushing through the crowd of Germans and reaching out to tangle his fingers in the leather cord wrapped around the gladiator's neck. Agron's gaze shifted and his smile brightened, and he parted his lips to, perhaps, say Nasir's name, but the Syrian didn't allow it. Instead, he used his grip on the cord to pull Agron forward and claimed that mouth in a kiss that tasted like wine, and any noise that had been meaning to escape the gladiator was muffled.
The smile on Agron's face disappeared against Nasir's mouth and he was still for a moment. He moved beyond his surprise soon enough, though, and slid his arms around the other man, wasting no time in grabbing onto the flesh of his ass. The wine made them both bold, it seemed. Only when Nasir needed to gasp for breath did he pull away, but he didn't go far. No, his lips hovered nearby and made way for teasing, biting teeth - teeth that gently took Agron's upper lip between them and tugged. The soft rush of air that escaped the gladiator, a sigh bordering on a moan, chased away the last shred of control Nasir might have had, though he'd never cared to grasp onto it.
Without further ado, and amidst the typical hollering of Agron's German kin, Nasir led the gladiator away, eased him along with the grip he had on that leather cord. The Syrian heard no protest from the other man, nor had he expected to; the evening had been full of touches secret and heated, spurred on by the surge of wine through their bodies. This had always been the intended ending to the night; Nasir had only hastened it, his desire to feel Agron against him too great to ignore. The moment they were within the shadows of the sanctuary, they were wrapped up in one another, mouths crashing together and tongues tasting the remnants of that precious drink on the other's lips.
They were on the path to their own bed, but Nasir was impatient. He cared nothing for the soft blankets they would have beneath them, nothing for the comfort of the home they'd made for themselves; all he could feel was hot skin against his own, and he wanted more of it. With some force, the Syrian pushed Agron away from him and against the wall, but followed quickly to kiss him again, his hands wandering and tugging at clothes, eager to see them gone. The gladiator's fingers fingers slid into Nasir's hair and a shiver ran the length of the Syrian's spine - and he followed it down.
Lips pressed against Agron's neck, kissing it around the leather cord there, perhaps an apology for using the necklace to pull the gladiator along; they moved lower and tasted Agron's collarbone, grazing it with fleeting teeth; they descended further and captured the man's nipple, touching teasing tongue to it - and that's when a shock of pleasure shot through Agron's body. The gladiator's fingers curled in Nasir's hair and his back arched, and he pushed himself closer to the Syrian's mouth. Agron tugged slightly on Nasir's hair, though, to perhaps pull him back into another kiss, but the Syrian was nothing if not stubborn. He remained where he was, giving the now pebbled flesh the attention it deserved, and there was still more for him to taste. He got onto his knees.
"Nasir," Agron whispered, voice strained as the man trailed his mouth down the middle of the other's stomach, lips catching and dragging on that warm skin. Whether the name was spoken as protest for him to stop or a plea for him to go on, the Syrian didn't know, but that didn't matter; Nasir made quick work of the clothing that remained on Agron's body and let it fall to the stone floor beneath them, leaving the gladiator gloriously naked and stretched there against the wall like a meal. And Nasir would take his fill.
Agron tasted better than any wine. Nasir's tongue swept over his hipbone, teeth following to mark the stretch of skin there. As his mouth wandered so did his hand, and his fingers found the gladiator's length and wrapped around it. Slowly, he began to stroke, in time with slow kisses that skirted lower and lower. The gladiator's breath was coming faster and the fingers in Nasir's hair flexed, encouraging that descent. The Syrian's lips had a clear destination and Agron would see them to their purpose. No matter that they were in a corridor where any could come upon them in the midst of their passion; both now had a hunger that needed to be sated and nothing would get in the way of it.
Nasir's hot breath washed over the hardening flesh he held in his palm and the resulting shiver that ran through Agron's body brought a smile to the Syrian's lips. The poor gladiator had suffered long enough; Nasir took Agron's length into his mouth, closing his lips tightly around it and pressing the flat of his tongue against that sensitive head. A long groan was pulled from Agron's throat but caught when Nasir suddenly pressed forward, taking more of that flesh into his mouth without warning. The gladiator's hips rocked forward and Nasir allowed it, letting the length slide even deeper until not an inch of it had been left untouched by the tight, wet heat of his mouth.
And so he pulled back and pushed forward again. And again. And again, until Agron could do nothing but moan. Nasir's hands drifted up over the man's torso, nails dragging lightly over his stomach and the muscles that tensed every time the gladiator pitched his hips forward. He would have stayed on his knees and worshiped the body before him forever - but Agron, with a hissing sigh, pulled Nasir's mouth away and, with his grip on the Syrian's hair, lifted him to his feet and pushed him roughly against the opposite wall of the corridor. Nasir's breath left him in a rush, surprised to have been so handled, but he did not protest, no; instead, he welcomed the searing, hard kiss that was pressed against his lips and returned it in kind.
Abruptly, Nasir found his feet lifted up off the floor. Agron's hands had grabbed onto the backs of Nasir's thighs and pulled both legs around his waist. Now those hands wandered to the Syrian's rear, squeezing the flesh there, making Nasir break away from the kiss and gasp, his head falling back. The gladiator surged forward, taking advantage of the neck that had been exposed to him; he tasted it, kissed it, bit it, and the attention raised goosebumps on Nasir's skin. They moved desperately against each other, Agron's naked body finding friction against Nasir's cruelly clothed one - and as good as it felt to be at the mercy of the gladiator's battle-roughened hands, as good as it felt to have his long body pressed so close, Nasir missed the control he'd so briefly had. So he moved to claim it again.
The Syrian wriggled out of Agron's grip and, again, shoved Agron away from him. When the gladiator let out a growl and started forward again, Nasir stopped him, only lifting his hand - and then there, against the wall, he started to strip himself of his clothing, gaze intent on the other man's face. How Nasir loved watching as those eyes slid over him, hungrily taking in the skin that was slowly revealed when, first, his coat fell to the floor. Nasir's hands dropped to his waistband and there his fingertips teased, pulling his pants down ever-so-slowly over his hips… but then he stopped. And he watched as Agron's gaze went from hungry to confused. And he grinned when that questioning gaze lifted to his face.
Before Agron could find voice to question, Nasir disappeared down the corridor, leaving the gladiator where he stood. The poor man was dumbfounded for a moment before he briskly followed, and the two of them left the clothes they'd discarded there on the sanctuary floor. There were more important things to tend to. Nasir swayed slightly as he fled through the hallway, drunk on the wine that had passed his lips and the kisses that had been pressed against them, and he wondered if maybe he taken a wrong turn before he reached the corner of the temple he and Agron called home. The gladiator wasn't far behind, though he kept his distance, not trusting Nasir not to flit away and out of reach again like a bird out of his cage.
But how inviting the Syrian was being. He looked at Agron over his shoulder as he slowly slid his pants off of his hips, letting them fall to the floor before he stepped out of them. The gladiator could only resist such tempting flesh for so long; he stepped forward slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, and only when his hands finally touched Nasir's hips did he grab on and, for the second time, the Syrian was pushed against a nearby wall. But unlike before, there was now no clothing to separate them; it was only flesh on flesh, and it was taken advantage of. Nasir thrust himself back against the other man, parted his lips in a shaky exhale when he felt hard length pressed against his body. He wanted it inside of him and he would make it so.
Lifting his hand to his own mouth, he wet his fingers with his tongue and reached behind him, fully prepared to make himself ready for Agron to enter him. But before he could do so, before he could even touch himself, both of his hands were grabbed and pinned behind him at the small of his back. He let out a short sound of surprise and struggled against Agron's grip, but he was in no great position to break from it; instead, he remained pressed against the wall and now at the mercy of whatever Agron wished.
There was a soft, breathless chuckle at his ear, and the sound sent a shiver through him. "Part your lips," came the gladiator's voice, and Nasir obeyed. Again, there were fingertips brushing his lips, but they were not his own. They hovered so very close and remained just out of reach until Nasir coaxed them into his mouth with his tongue. Those fingers moved between his lips in a torturous mimicry of the work they'd soon be put to and the worst part was that Nasir couldn't beg. No, he could only moan around the digits as he tasted them, and that wasn't enough.
But he didn't have to wait long before Agron pulled away and used his newly-slickened fingers for what they were intended. Nasir's wrists were freed and there was a welcome ache in his shoulders as he pressed his palms against the wall. The gladiator's free hand slid down Nasir's back, tracing his spine until reaching the small of it and pushing, making the man arch and tip his hips backwards. And once the Syrian was positioned to his liking, Agron pressed his fingers against the man's opening and, at once, slid two of them inside.
The sudden intrusion drew halting sounds from Nasir's throat and he closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against the wall. Agron leaned forward and dragged parted lips over the Syrian's shoulder as he pushed forward and deeper, stretching and preparing the man's body, letting it adjust. It seemed a lifetime before the fingers began to retreat again, and longer still before they thrust into him again. But they looked to do more than just that. Agron curled his fingers, brushed them against the spot inside of Nasir that stole the breath from him. Perhaps this was revenge for the teasing the Syrian had done because underneath Agron's touch he was left trembling and whimpering as Agron had been under the assault of Nasir's mouth.
Soon, Agron's fingers moved more freely, sliding smoothly in and out of Nasir's body and picking up speed. A steady stream of moans escaped the Syrian; he pushed away from the wall and bent at the waist in an attempt to take some control of the pace, in an attempt to take those fingers farther inside of him, but Agron had none of it. No, he wrapped his free arm around the man and held the smaller body against his own, and Nasir was helpless as, again and again, the fingers teased at that bundle of nerves and reduced him to a shuddering, shaking mass of flesh.
And then, when those fingers abruptly disappeared from inside of him, Nasir leaned heavily against Agron and attempted to catch his breath. He mourned the loss of those pumping digits but he was desperate for more, desperate to have Agron inside of him after all of that. Gathering his strength, Nasir turned in the gladiator's arms and faced him, sliding his hand around the back of the man's neck and tugging him forcefully into a kiss. This, he would not be denied. Nor was he. Agron wrapped his arms around the Syrian in return and urged him backwards until he hit the table that stood in the corner. Nasir, in a rash display of impatience, pulled away from the kiss and turned just enough to push everything off the table, sending it all clattering to the floor, and then jumped on top of it, pulling Agron close and wrapping his legs around the gladiator's waist. "Now," was the only word he said. Nasir would wait no longer.
Agron grabbed onto Nasir's thighs and tugged the man's ass to the edge of the table and then, finally, entered him. There was no ceremony. No more teasing. The gladiator pushed his hips forward and was buried to the hilt, and Nasir arched off the table with a long moan. Agron remained standing, just out of reach, so the Syrian's hands pressed against the tabletop and his nails dug into the wood, and the entire thing rocked when Agron began to thrust. It knocked against the wall in a rhythmic beat and in harmony with the sound of their bodies pounding against each other - and the entire song was punctuated with gasps, with moans, with whimpers of their names.
The need to move rose within Nasir. He wanted to meet those thrusts, wanted put the weight of his body into every single one of them just as Agron did. The Syrian sat up, reached out and wrapped his arms around Agron to lift himself off the table, and it was like that - legs tight around the other man's waist and arms clinging around his neck - that he began to ride him. Agron did his part; his fingertips dug into the flesh of Nasir's ass and it was with that grip that he helped to lift the Syrian from his cock and then lower him back down, again and again. And when the strain of maintaining that speed became too much for them, Agron pushed Nasir's back against the wall again, and that's where they continued.
Nasir's fingers slid up into Agron's hair, his nails dragging over the man's scalp. Desperate lips searched for a kiss and soon found it, their mouths pushing hard enough together to bruise. Everything they did was with a little bit less grace. Was it their need for each other or the wine they'd poured down eager throats? Whatever the reason, there seemed no end to the intensity of it, no point at which it plateaued; instead, it built and built and never stopped, and wouldn't until they both were pushed over the edge that would bring them back to earth.
It was a moment that soon approached. Nasir was distracted from the kiss by the familiar tightening in his middle, the feeling of a string being pulled taut. His parted lips still pressed against Agron's mouth but he was gasping, his breath catching in short little moans that warned of the release coming upon him. Nasir's hand dropped between them both, fingers wrapping around his length and he stroked himself in time with the hips pulling back and thrusting against him. His head tilted back, mouth dragging over Agron's, and the gladiator captured the Syrian's bottom lip between his teeth, biting down. That was the thing that sent him over the edge: the tiniest bit of pain mixed in with the pleasure. Suddenly he was there and he was moaning and pressing his body closer to Agron's, clinging desperately, and thank the gods for the gladiator's grip on him because otherwise he might have fallen. His back bowed and he tugged his lip from those teeth just so he could bury his face against the other man's neck, and there he would try very hard to remember to breathe.
And as Nasir recovered, Agron began to pull away. But the Syrian didn't allow it. He tightened his legs, kept the gladiator in place, and when he found his voice, he spoke. "Finish inside of me," he said, and though his voice shook the words could be taken as nothing but an order. With that, Nasir claimed Agron's lips in yet another kiss, and the gladiator gently lowered them both to the floor, laying Nasir on his back. It was in that position that the gladiator began thrusting inside of him again. Slowly at first, but soon enough it regained its previous speed. Nasir's limbs were all wrapped tightly around Agron and it was with whimpers and moans that he coaxed the man closer and closer to his own release. He knew the gladiator's body; he could feel a familiar trembling and a familiar tension, and he tightened his muscles around the length still sliding in and out of him. A whispered plea to the gods escaped Agron's lips and he rocked himself harder against Nasir, faster before ceasing movement and spilling seed within him.
The Syrian tasted his gladiator's release, swallowing the sounds he made and kissing the lips so parted in pleasure. When Agron recovered, he answered the kisses with his own, and they were gentle. More tender kisses than they'd been before, but now their bodies were sated, their desires for one another satisfied. Agron pulled out of Nasir but didn't leave his embrace, wouldn't have been able to if he'd tried because the Syrian held on tightly, needing the warmth of the other man's body still against his own.
When Nasir opened his eyes to look at Agron, the gladiator's gaze was already fixed on him, and they exchanged a slow smile. Agron pressed his lips briefly against Nasir's before leaning to the side, as far as he could without fully parting himself from the other man, and he groped around on the floor to find something - a task made difficult, as everything that had once been on the table now littered their small living area. But Agron was back soon enough, and he held something up for Nasir to see. "To cool us," he said, and with his teeth uncorked the skin of wine.
Nasir had to laugh; leave it to the German to have a reserve of the stuff stashed away. But he was thankful for it. The Syrian opened his mouth and into it Agron poured the drink, and when next he leaned down for a kiss, Nasir's lips tasted as sweet as they had in the first one.
Only then, something came to sour the scene. Through the sanctuary rang the cry of, "Romans!" It sobered all those soaked in wine and called Agron and Nasir from their bed, from each other's arms. Hands no longer wandered over warm skin, no longer glided over curves long since memorized; instead, they hastily pulled on clothes and found cold steel. They had the both of them been waiting for this moment, when they could raise their swords against the Romans, but somehow it seemed fast upon them, too quickly come after they had lain with one another.
But before they left the corner of the sanctuary they'd made their own, Agron sheathed his sword. He bent and from the stone floor picked up a length of red cloth. It was worn and fading and slightly fraying, but it wasn't something to be left behind. So the gladiator reached and and took up the Syrian's wrist and wrapped it in the red cloth, and it looked at home there, where it had spent so long. No words were exchanged. None were needed. Agron only pressed his lips to Nasir's forehead in a kiss and, for a brief moment, closed his eyes.
And then they moved to Spartacus's side to face the armies of Rome.
Long had they been atop the mountain. The wind was bitterly cold and the terrain hard, unforgiving, and barren. Beneath them, at the foot of the mountain, Roman fires burned. The rebels were trapped and they were left wanting for the security the sanctuary had provided them and the bounty given them by the surrounding woods. It was all just out of their reach, but perhaps not for long. They would see themselves off the top of the mountain and be free of it either in victory or in death.
Every last rebel knelt on the mountain's peak, their hands tangled in vines, weaving them into thick and sturdy ropes. Not far away lay the body of Mira, who even in death was part of the rebellion. Every once in a while, Spartacus would stand from his work and kneel by her body, touching the vines that he'd so painstakingly wrapped around it - the same vines that had inspired the strategy they all now moved to execute. Agron would watch his leader as he knelt and though the German was sad for Mira's passing, he recognized it as a blessing. Because of her, no longer would they be cornered like rats, desperate and starving. No longer would any of them be driven to make the kind of mistake that had gotten Mira killed; instead, they would all go and meet their deaths as soldiers in this rebel army.
"Four ropes," a voice said, drawing Agron's attention away from Spartacus. The gladiator looked to the man who sat nearby and whose dark fingers intertwined the vines into something heavy and stable, strong enough to carry some weight. Agron had expected to meet the Syrian's eyes but instead they were downcast, entirely too concentrated on the task before them. His eyebrows drew together just slightly. Agron was looking closely enough to notice.
The gladiator replied with a simple, "Yes." It was his only answer and only spoken to coax what troubled Nasir from him.
"Four ropes," the Syrian repeated. "For four men. Spartacus," he began to list, glancing toward each rebel in turn. "Crixus, Gannicus…" Then Nasir's gaze fell on Agron. "And you." Agron wanted to lean forward and smooth the line that had appeared between Nasir's eyes with a kiss, but he refrained. The Syrian might need more than just that chaste kiss to chase worry away.
"Spartacus has made no order yet," Agron returned, though it would have been just as useful to stay silent in that regard. The Thracian had not yet asked those Nasir had listed to accompany him down the ropes and on top of the Romans, but he would. This, the three other men knew. This, Nasir had deduced, but Agron didn't have the heart to say that the deduction was a sound one. They were the most trusted of the rebels and some of the best fighters. They were all brothers, two of which had started this rebellion with Spartacus himself and one that had trained on the very same sands as the Thracian. Who else but them would descend those ropes by their leader's side?
Nasir turned his head, eyes traveling the length of the rope they had all made. It wasn't yet complete; it would need to reach the landing almost the entire way down the mountain. This was why they only had vine enough for four ropes: because the distance was so long. For the briefest moment, Agron thought Nasir might ask him not to go. He thought the Syrian might ask him to refuse Spartacus when he asked Agron to accompany him - as they knew he would, despite Agron's insistence that he hadn't yet - but no such thing passed Nasir's lips. "Perhaps it can hold my weight as well," he said, glancing at the vine in his hands and tugging as if to test it.
Agron's heart swelled at the thought. How he would love having Nasir at his side. How he would love to watch the Syrian put to use his hard training, the skills he'd acquired - but no. It would have to wait until they were joined on the battlefield, after the Roman guards had all been slaughtered. It was not something Spartacus would not want to risk, having two men on one rope. Such a thing would be too hard a test on the vines' strength. More than that, adding another man would lessen the chances of them remaining detected. Agron knew the Thracian's mind and he knew strategy; Nasir would have to stay on the mountaintop until a different order came.
The gladiator reached out and brushed his knuckles gently over Nasir's cheek. The man's skin was warm, despite the cool and relentless wind. That warmth was something Agron would miss, if he were ever parted from it. "I would have you remain here," he then said. "Feet braced on rock and rope in hand." Fingers sought the Syrian's and found them, tangling beside the vine wrapped around them. "I trust no one else to hold tightly to my life as I trust you," he said finally, and his tone - so sure, so firm - drew Nasir's gaze again to his own. And so they remained for a moment, saying more in their eyes than they had with spoken words, and perhaps that was why Agron soon parted his lips in protest. Because in Nasir's dark eyes he'd seen a familiar defiance.
Seconds later, the Syrian was on his feet, the rope abandoned on the ground, and he was moving toward Spartacus before Agron stopped him. The gladiator took him by the arm and pulled him from path, turning to put himself between Nasir and the Thracian. "Nasir," Agron began, but was not allowed to continue. The Syrian tugged his arm from Agron's grip and looked up at the other man with a hard and stubborn expression that halted any other words that would come to the gladiator's lips.
"I will follow you over edge of mountain," Nasir said, determined, "and if we are quickly to the afterlife, then at least we are together." Brave words from a man who hadn't grown up a warrior but had instead been a house slave, never coming close to death except to hear about it. But Nasir was intimate with the concept now. He bore the scars that proved this fact. "I will not have you fall while apart from me," he added, and though there was strength in his voice, underneath was a note of pleading.
That this subject was even being broached was an indication of how desperate a situation they were all in. How many times had the two of them been separated before, Spartacus sending Agron on missions that always had an element of risk? And Nasir had never reacted like this. He had only waited until Agron was returned and then had happily taken the gladiator into his arms each time. But there seemed some finality in this mission. It wasn't a surrender to the idea of death, no, but it was acceptance of the most likely fate, and it was in no way unreasonable of Nasir to be making his demands. But they were still demands that could not be fulfilled.
So Agron would make promises to reassure his Syrian. He offered the man a smile and almost feared for his life in that moment, for Nasir narrowed his eyes at the grin. Perhaps the gladiator wouldn't die by the hand of a Roman after all but by the one he loved, on the top of that mountain, because he'd dared smile in the face of Nasir's worry. "I vow not to die until you join me in battle," he said, reaching out and wrapping his fingers around the back of Nasir's neck, fingers sliding through his hair. Much softer than the vines. "And when I am taken, I will wait for you at the gates of the afterlife." With that, Agron's smile softened, and he stepped forward to close the distance between them. "We will never be long apart," he said in a gentle voice, blue eyes searching Nasir's darker ones.
The sweet words were well-received, though the Syrian's conviction remained. "I have followed you everywhere until now," he whispered, and Agron was grinning again.
"You strayed once," he argued good-naturedly. He spoke, of course, of when Nasir had gone to the mines while Agron had moved toward the very mountain they now stood upon. The subject was one deserving of perhaps a little more gravity; Nasir had suffered a great wound and had almost died. But it seemed so far in the past and was dwarfed in the shadow of what was to come, so it was easier to make light of. It did draw a small, reluctant smile from Nasir, which had been the intention.
Though the smile only lasted for seconds, as did the levity. "But you found me. I remember—"
"I will never forget," Agron whispered. The desperate hope he'd felt, standing on the edge of the forest and staring into it, hoping it would bring Nasir back to him. And then the relief when finally he'd come upon the small party of survivors. And then the terror when Nasir had hovered so close to death. Gently, Agron rested his forehead against Nasir's, eyes closed, and behind his eyelids played the moment Nasir had lifted his head and looked at him with the sweetest grin before slipping into unconsciousness. The Syrian had stolen his heart even before then. That the gladiator now knew.
"Find me again," Nasir said. "If I cannot follow you."
Agron had promised once, and he would again. "I will," he returned.
"And we will kill the Romans together," Nasir continued. "For your brother and mine. For Chadara. For Mira." A short and shaking breath escaped the Syrian. In it was the soft sound of grief, though it wasn't allowed to last long. "For all of us."
For all of us. Those that had died rose in Agron's memory. Those that had been lost against Glaber. Those that had been victims of circumstance. Those that had been killed in the mines. Those that had been sacrificed in the streets of Capua. Those that had fallen within the house of Batiatus. And last, the one that had died in Agron's arms. A brother for whom the gladiator always fought. But Duro was not the only one. Agron too fought for the Syrian standing so close. In that moment the gladiator selfishly prayed to the gods to let him be called to the afterlife before Nasir was slain, because still, even in the face of what was sure to be certain death, Agron could not bear the idea of watching the life flee from the one he loved. He had done it once. That had been too many times.
To what the Syrian had said Agron could find no words with which to answer, but he needed none. Instead, he leaned forward just as Nasir lifted his chin and they came together in a kiss. It was as gentle as the first they'd shared, though it lingered a little longer, and it was full of all they had shared since. They embraced and somehow it felt like both the first and the last time they'd hold one another. But an eternity awaited them in the afterlife, an embrace that would be everlasting, and that would be a welcome and deserved end.
THE END UNTIL JANUARY 2013