It was strange to see the home of his former master so overrun by the men that had liberated it. Tiberius had grown up in the house and had only known it filled to the brim with slaves demure and obedient, with guests high-born and upperclass. Now there were gladiators within the walls, freed warriors that talked and fucked more loudly than Tiberius had ever thought possible. It was a shock to him, but one he found himself adjusting to. And it was an adjustment made easier with Agron by his side. Agron, a man the former body slave would never have imagined seeing again, if only because Leddicus had convinced him otherwise. But now Leddicus was dead and Agron was near, so perhaps the Roman had given the gladiator less credit than he'd deserved. Perhaps Leddicus had, given Tiberius less credit, too.
Dawn broke quickly after the dominus' body had fallen dead onto the stone floor. As soon as the sun had started to peek over the horizon, all had been roused from sleep and summoned into the large courtyard at the center of the house. Carved pillars surrounded a garden once carefully tended, though now its caretakers had left it to the hands of countless others who stripped it of its bulbs and root vegetables, who trampled its carefully lain paths and crushed its fragile flowers underfoot. The high grass within remained and was untouched, though, ever flourishing in the sunlight that streamed down from the open sky above.
It was amongst that tall grass that Spartacus stood, turning slowly to look at all that had gathered around him. The rebellion's numbers had increased greatly with the liberation of Leddicus's house. Just as it was odd to see gladiators among them, Tiberius found it strange to gaze upon the faces of those who had served in this house with him, their slave collars gone from their necks and a different look to them. Some were glad for the newfound freedom, eyes alight with it, but there were some that were confused. There were some whose now idle hands twisted with nothing to do. These were the men and women who, like Tiberius himself, had never known the feeling of freedom and who now felt without purpose, having no one to serve. They were the ones who looked most intently at Spartacus, as if expecting him to give them the orders they so craved.
Tiberius, too, watched on as the rebellion's leader addressed his followers new and old. "We had plans to move for Vesuvius," he said, eyes scanning the crowd. "To set up camp there and free more people from slavery. But Crixus—" All eyes turned to the Gaul, who stood behind Spartacus. "—means to go to the mines and have his woman returned to loving embrace." All were still. Tension was in the air before Spartacus spoke again. "I stand with him," the Thracian said, "and will see Naevia from bondage." At that, the silence was broken by chatter, some confused and some defiant and some, mostly from Crixus' kin, agreeable. Tiberius glanced to Agron, who stood beside him. In the brief time before dawn, the gladiator had confessed to Tiberius that he had struggled with telling Crixus of Naevia's fate. That he thought it would have been easier to lie and tell the man she was dead so they could all avoid the suicide mission to the mines. That conflict showed on his face then. Tiberius reached out and touched his hand.
"The mines?" one of the gladiators said, incredulous. Tiberius didn't know his name, but he was blond and wielded an axe. "To stand with Crixus is to fucking fall with him, then." There were murmurs of agreement throughout the crowd. The gladiator that had spoken stepped forward now, and all paid attention to him. "No one escapes the mines. It would be easier to slit our throats now than to make attempt on them." Those that shared the same opinion became more vocal. The blond raised voice one more time. "And what of those who don't wish to die for some whore?"
It was the wrong choice of words. Suddenly, Crixus lunged forward and tackled the other gladiator to the ground, though the impact was softened by the high grass that surrounded them. Agron was gone from Tiberius's side and, as Spartacus pulled the Gaul off the other man, Agron stood between them. With one hand pressed against the blond gladiator's chest, Agron held him back. And, to the apparent surprise of most others, the German spoke on Crixus's behalf. "She is more than a whore," Agron said, "and you would do well to hold your tongue or find it removed from mouth." The Gaul stopped his struggle against Spartacus and only stared at the blond gladiator, his breathing heavy. Agron continued to speak. "Those who do not wish to venture into the mines can follow Donar to Vesuvius. Those who would see Naevia freed can come with us." Us, he'd said. And so bound himself to the mission.
Donar - who Tiberius assumed was the axe-wielding gladiator - looked at Agron, scoffed, and shook his head. With that, he turned to walk from the courtyard. Others followed; most were slaves from Tiberius's own house, who no doubt feared the mines more than any gladiator. Some were those that had been in the ludus with Spartacus and the rest. Most that stayed behind were Crixus's kin, men from Gallia. Tiberius looked to Agron and found that the man was looking back at him - and Agron nodded his head.
Was that his assent for Tiberius to follow the rest to Vesuvius? Or perhaps an order to do so. But Tiberius would not be separated from Agron again. More than that, he could be useful. He wasn't weak; he would not flee from the mines because some thought that the tunnels would trap him there. "I accompanied my dominus to the mines once," he said, lifting his voice. Spartacus, Crixus, and the others turned toward him. He met the eyes of Crixus if only to avoid Agron's gaze, which the former slave knew would be fixed upon him. "I may be of some aid."
"Well received," the Gaul said with a nod. So now Tiberius committed himself to this mission just as Agron had. And when the rest in the courtyard dispersed, off to prepare for the mission to the mines, no doubt, Tiberius and the gladiator were left alone. The Syrian still looked anywhere but at Agron, but that didn't stop the man from approaching and addressing him.
"You cannot go to the mines," Agron said, now standing before Tiberius. The gladiator reached out and gently cupped Tiberius's face in his hand, and only then did the former slave shift his gaze to meet the other's. What he saw in those green eyes surprised him. He'd expected anger, perhaps. Disappointment. Defiance. But not this desperation. From what sadness did that come? "You cannot. It is as sure a death as giving yourself to the Roman army."
Tiberius drew his eyebrows together. "Are you not going?" he asked then, and the way Agron's gaze skirted away was an answer in itself. "Then so am I." He considered the matter settled. As if he would run to Vesuvius with the rest with the knowledge that Agron likely wouldn't come back from the mines. Agron was all he had left in the world; Tiberius would be leaving this house, would be leaving the only life he knew, and he would do so with the gladiator at his side.
Though Tiberius was decided, Agron still argued. His free hand joined the other in holding the Syrian's face and he leaned forward. There was wildness in his eyes. "I will not watch you fall," he said, voice low, "not as I watched Du—" But he cut himself off and clenched his jaw, nostrils flaring, as though it took great effort to hold back what was inside of him. As if Tiberius hadn't realized that Agron had suffered something. It had been in the other man's face since the moment they'd been reunited, no matter how Agron tried to hide it. Only hours ago Tiberius had asked him what so weighed upon him, what made his brow buckle when he thought the Syrian couldn't see him, but there had been no answer. Tiberius sought one again.
"Not as you watched… what?" the Syrian asked. And as he looked on, he was witness to Agron steeling himself, building walls of protection from what must have been a painful memory. Tiberius could see those walls as they went up stone by stone. How he wanted to be part of that foundation. He had no desire to break down the defense but rather wanted to be something that strengthened it. He wanted to be some of the reason this memory didn't consume Agron, didn't take him over and make him hurt. But Tiberius could only be that if the gladiator shared with him what was in his heart. The Syrian leaned into the hands still cupping his face and caught Agron's eye. "If you are to go to the mines and never leave them, I would have you do so unburdened."
It took a moment for Agron to reply. He was still for some time and seemed to be searching Tiberius's face, though for what, the man had no idea. He allowed it to happen, though, and his patience paid off. Soon, Agron dropped his hands to take one of Tiberius's. "Come," he said gently, "and I will reveal all. Then we say goodbye to this place forever." And so Agron pulled Tiberius by the hand and needed no guidance to find the former slave's old room, where they'd tried to sleep the night before with little success. It was private, and privacy was what the two needed in that moment. Who knew when they would find some again. Who knew if they would.
The two sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. Tiberius tilted his head back and then turned to look at Agron, though the gladiator stared intently at the floor. There was silence between them for some time and though the Syrian wanted to break it, to urge Agron to speak, he thought it better to let the other man come to it in his own time, though it wouldn't be long before they were both off to the mines with the rest that had volunteered to go. "Will you be sad to leave here?" Agron asked suddenly. He had lifted his head and was looking around Tiberius's small room.
The former slave's eyes followed the same path. "No," he said, voice low. "I will not." There had been a time where he'd thought his life… good. And certainly it had been better than most slave's lives. But Agron had given him a taste of all he'd been missing. More than that, the gladiator had brought forth from Leddicus the man he truly was, and that had been an ugly thing to witness. An ugly thing to fall victim to. Tiberius was happy for the Roman's death and would be happy to step foot from his villa. Happy to leave it all behind him. Though he still struggled with the concept of freedom, he preferred it already to the life he'd had, and that largely had to do with the man sitting by him in that moment.
"What life did you live," Agron continued, "before you were slave to Leddicus?" This was not the conversation Tiberius had expected. Agron should have been confessing things to him, not the other way around, but the gladiator had promiesd to reveal all. So Tiberius would simply have to be patient.
And he would have to call forth memories that had not been touched in a very long time. "I do not remember much," he said, brow furrowing as he went further and further back into the dark recesses of his mind that had long since been forgotten. "Nothing about my life in Assyria. I do remember a brother." Though barely. He remembered a boy older than him with the same dark hair and eyes and a quick smile. More confident than Tiberius's own. Easier than his own. The Syrian blinked and shook his head, unsure of where this image had come from. He had no context for it.
"A brother," Agron repeated, and Tiberius immediately looked back at the man. His tone of voice in saying those two short, simple words, had been heartbreaking. There was misery behind them. And even before Agron continued and confessed what he'd so long kept internal, Tiberius knew. He simply knew. "I too had a brother." The gladiator turned his head and met Tiberius's gaze, and never had the Syrian seen anything so heart-rending as the green of Agron's eyes covered in a sheen of tears. How many had already fallen for this brother? Not enough. That much was obvious. Not enough.
"No longer?" Tiberius whispered.
Agron held the Syrian's gaze, unblinking, and shook his head. "He was struck down by the Romans," the gladiator said. And this wound, Tiberius could tell, was a recent one. Perhaps it had happened when the slaves had risen up against Batiatus. Not so long ago, and Agron still felt the tragic weight of it. Tiberius had been young when he'd been separated from his family; he hadn't had the time to love them as Agron had had the time to love his brother. The Syrian couldn't imagine the pain that came with losing someone so close, so dear. It was something he'd never suffered before.
"Struck down," Tiberius then said, taking Agron's hand and holding it tightly, "when he bravely turned sword against them." It was a death worthy of a gladiator, was it not? Though Tiberius knew nothing of glory or of honor. But for a man that craved freedom, what better way to die than in the pursuit of it? Better than dying a slave, a piece of the Romans' games.
The fingers intertwined with Tiberius's own tightened, and so did Agron's lips, for a brief moment. And then they parted, and he spoke again. "As you shall one day," he said. "Perhaps this one, when we venture into the mines." So Agron had surrendered to what Tiberius wanted, and it was better that way, because the Syrian would have fought tooth-and-nail until he won. No way would he have gone to Vesuvius when he could have been of aid in the mines. No matter that it may have meant death for the both of them. He would rather face that death than live the rest of this new life without Agron.
"Perhaps," Tiberius returned gently. "And should we fall within the tunnels, we will meet your brother in the afterlife." It was the only comfort he could give the other man, and it seemed to work. There was even the slightest smile on Agron's lips, though it disappeared as quickly as it had shown itself. Suddenly, the gladiator stood, and with his grip on Tiberius's hand lifted the Syrian so that they were both on their feet. And if Tiberius wasn't mistaken, it seemed Agron was a bit lighter, his shoulders a bit less burdened. The tragedy of losing his brother would never be gone from him entirely, but if Tiberius had helped at least in some small part ease the pain of it, he was glad.
It was time for them to help in preparations for the mines, no doubt. But before they left, Agron pulled Tiberius near and brushed a kiss over his lips. Just a gentle one, so soft it was barely there - but Tiberius would have none of it. No, he reached up and pulled the gladiator into a kiss deeper than that, if only so he could bring the taste of it with him into the mines. Agron responded in kind, wrapping his arms around Tiberius and tugging him closer, and for a moment they were both lost in it. There was no villa around them, no mission looming over them, no call to the afterlife coming closer and closer. But they couldn't stay lost forever. No, they had to come back to earth eventually.
And so they did, lips parting. Tiberius's eyes remained closed for a moment and he savored what lingered of the kiss, a grin curling his lips. He felt fingers brush over his smile, and then Agron took a step away from him, leaving him wanting. "Is there anything you would take with you?" he asked, and when Tiberius opened his eyes the gladiator was looking around his room. It was a bare thing with not enough room for anything but a bedroll and a table, and no hiding places for any personal things that might belong to the former slave.
Only one thing came to mind. The vial that Tiberius had held onto for so very long when he'd been apart from Agron. But even that precious thing had been tainted by Leddicus' knowledge of it. Better to leave it all behind and start anew, if there was a life after the mines. "Nothing," Tiberius answered firmly, shaking his head. Agron nodded once, and then started walking from the room. The Syrian followed.
But right before Tiberius passed the threshold, for the last time exiting the room he'd called his own for years upon years, Agron stopped and turned to look at him. "You were not Tiberius before this house," he said. "In Assyria, you had a different name."
Tiberius's brows drew together and, for a moment, he looked confused. So long had he been called 'Tiberius', the name his Roman master had given him upon entering servitude, stripping of his identity as a Syrian. So long had it been that, for a moment, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to remember the name he'd had as a child. The name his parents had given him. The name that had echoed in the back of his mind come from the mouth that held a quick and easy smile, quicker than his own. Tiberius lifted his dark eyes to Agron's and in the former slave's gaze was gratitude. Because now he would be able to strip from himself the person he'd been underneath this roof and beneath Leddicus' thumb. Now he would be a free man by the other man's side without the ghost of his former dominus clinging to him. "My brother called me Nasir," he said, and the name sounded foreign to his ears, felt foreign on his tongue.
"Nasir," the gladiator repeated, nodding. From Agron's lips, the name was the sweetest thing Tiberius - the sweetest thing Nasir - had ever heard.