"The only reason you yet live is because I am still debating whether or not to torture you before I kill you," Agron said, quietly as beyond the walls everyone slept. He pressed the edge of his sword harder against the man's neck.
"Please, Agron," the Gaul choked out, "I did not see you here. I thought..." he paused to cough, but could not catch enough breath to do so, and instead made a rasping noise. "I thought perhaps you were on guard."
"That you were unaware of my presence I have surmised," Agron replied. "But let us go back to my original thought, of torture. It depends upon your answer to the following question. What were you doing?"
Agron had returned from a late night drink of water to find the Gaul creeping up toward a sleeping Nasir with a dagger in his hand. Agron did not even know his name. A new recruit of men, Crixus' men, had arrived only days before and as yet Agron had not taken the time to get to know them, or even to speak to them. He was trying, always trying, to be kinder and more accepting of everyone fighting the cause he fought for. But he couldn't help suspecting they had a hidden agenda. Finding one about to attack Nasir did not help the matter.
"Please, Agron," the man repeated. Apparently he had taken the time to learn Agron's name. "I wanted to speak to the boy only."
Agron's eyes flicked up to Nasir, who shifted in his sleep but did not wake.
A woman's voice on the other side of Agron's bedroom wall called out something in a foreign tongue, something Agron did not understand, and soon after Crixus stood in the doorway.
"Agron," Crixus sighed in exhaustion, partially due to the fact he was rudely awoken in the middle of the night, and partially because Agron was acting stupidly, again. "What are you doing?"
"Killing a Gaul," Agron said, "what are you doing?"
Crixus sighed and disappeared. A moment later he returned with Spartacus. By this time people had begun to light candles and the room brightened. Heads were poking into the doorway to figure out what was happening. And Nasir was awake, frowning with half lidded eyes at the scene unfolding six feet from his bed.
"Agron," Spartacus began, no more pleased than Crixus, "allow me to remind you it is counter productive to kill the men we added to our numbers only two days ago."
"He meant to kill Nasir," Agron explained shortly. He would rather not explain at all. He would like to take care of the matter himself. Crixus running off to tattle on him made him feel particularly demeaned, and even more aggravated.
"He did?" Nasir spoke up, having really no idea what was happening.
"What did you actually see?" Spartacus asked Agron, ever the calm mediator.
"He crept toward Nasir in the dark with a dagger in his hand," Agron said flatly. "What else would you have me do?"
"I was not going to kill him," the Gaul choked out. Agron would not release him, or move his sword.
"Well, you were not going to steal from him, because none of us own a thing of worth."
"I was just passing by," he pleaded. "I am unaccustomed to this large house. I went into the wrong room. I apologize."
"He lies," Agron said.
"And if he does not, we should kill each of our brothers who makes a simple mistake and causes no harm?" Crixus asked.
Agron bit his tongue to keep from making a remark about brothers and Gauls.
"And what if he had crept toward you?" he said instead, looking at Spartacus. "At least let us bind him up and put him under watch until he confesses or comes up with a better story."
"No," Crixus' voice was firm. "The last thing we need is our numbers divided so, and no one can be spared to watch over a prisoner." He turned to Spartacus. "Agron is simply angry that my people have come to join us after his were so generally underwhelming."
Agron was about to fight back, or find a way to punch Crixus from four yards away while he held down the Gaul with his sword, but Spartacus quickly stepped between them. "Agron, let him go." Agron made a face but pulled his sword back and the man scrambled up to his feet. "Crixus, keep an eye on your men and be sure they do not wander by Agron's room in the night."
"Armed with daggers," Agron added.
"And you," Spartacus warned the Gaul, "always assume Agron is watching."
With that the crowd separated, Agron and Crixus glaring at one another, until Agron was alone again with Nasir. Nasir had a peculiar look on his face, and appeared flushed. He frowned and stared at a blank point on the stone floor. When Agron crawled into bed next to him he looked shaken, like he had forgotten Agron was there.
Agron pulled him close. Outside their door the candles went out one by one, as people took to their beds again. "What's wrong? And don't say nothing."
"Nothing," Nasir said, and smiled.
"Don't worry about him. He won't get a second chance."
"I'm not worried about him."
"You're tired," Agron said, running his fingers across the darkened skin beneath one of Nasir's eyes. He didn't want to push him, he knew Nasir would not admit to being frightened. "I promise no one will touch you."
It took him a moment, but finally Nasir smiled again. "No one?"
"Except for me of course, but I don't count, as I have not a malicious bone in my body." he paused. "Against you, anyway."
Nasir sighed, trying to exhale what worried him, and kissed Agron.
"Do not distract me," Agron mumbled against Nasir's lips. "I am keeping watch and you are resting your tired eyes." he pulled back from Nasir and gave him a stern look. "You have not slept enough of late."
"Is that an order?"
Nasir pressed his lips together, and put up no fight. He lay down, with his back to Agron. His smile was gone again.
In the light of day no one could keep from gossiping about what had happened in the night, or keep themselves from stealing glances at Agron and the Gaul. It seemed the fact that the event had revolved solely around Nasir had been entirely forgotten. People just waited for a fight. Nothing exciting had happened in days. They were bored, and they wished for blood, but gossip would do.
Nasir found no entertainment in the questions or the whispers behind his back. Agron was loudly trying to convince everyone he was right and the Gaul was not to be trusted. Nasir tried to escape unnoticed to get a bite to eat. At least three people on the way there and two on the way back asked where Agron was, as though Nasir really had no purpose other than to deliver Agron to people. He was fuming before he finally found a somewhat abandoned spot to eat his food.
He was not angry with Agron. He did not believe Agron was at all responsible for what really troubled him. What really troubled him was everyone else. No one thought of him as a singularly important individual, only the thing usually standing next to Agron. Naevia was his only friend there still alive, except for Agron, and Naevia had been virtually absent since the last victory. She was busy with Crixus, of course. Nasir chewed on his food and stared at nothing again. Of course.
"Don't you look exceedingly dejected?" came Agron's voice, and his body followed, and sat next to Nasir.
Nasir looked at him. For a moment he could forget why he was so aggravated. He tried to turn off his peripheral vision and just pretend he was somewhere, alone, with Agron. "I don't feel like talking with others."
Agron didn't say anything. After an abnormally long time, Nasir laughed and pushed him on the shoulder. "I don't mean I don't feel like talking to you."
"Then talk to me," Agron said. "Tell me what's wrong."
Nasir sighed. "I have an idea, and you're not going to like it."
"I don't like most things anyway," Agron replied.
"Well," Nasir began, refusing to make eye contact with Agron while he spoke, "what if we … attempted… to..." he paused. He picked at the food he'd been eating and pushed a lock of hair out of his eyes with the back of his hand. Little movements that would make what he was trying to say sound less absolute.
"I like it so far," Agron said.
Nasir smiled a sad smile. "It's nothing too adventurous. I just think we should attempt to be more discreet."
Agron stared at him. "Attempt to be more discreet," he repeated.
"The people here do not take me seriously," Nasir tried to explain.
"Yes, they do," Agron said.
Nasir ignored him. "It's not your fault. I need to assert myself more. Some of the people here remember me from the past, from before you and Spartacus came. I was respected then, by some of them. For the wrong reasons, I was, but still they did respect me. Now everyone sees me as weak. I can see that they do. And I know it's because I am too open with you. I am too happy with you."
"So you want to be unhappy with me? Are you casting me aside in return for others' good opinions?" Agron almost yelled.
"No, I am not," Nasir yelled back, standing his ground. "I do not want a thing about us to change, but I do not want the others fucking prying into our private matters. I do not want to be seen as your little fucking boy."
Agron had turned red in anger, and it took him a moment to reply. "You are not. No one thinks so."
Nasir could see Agron hardly believed it himself. He said nothing.
"I refuse to participate in this," Agron shook his head. "I refuse to pretend that I..." he lowered his voice to almost a whisper, "that I am not in love with you."
With that, Nasir felt a wave of guilt, and could say nothing in return. He should not be treating the only person on his side so unfairly. But he was still unhappy. He did not know how to explain it.
"Why should I change for the sake of others? Why should I be prohibited to act the way I feel?" Agron went on, while Nasir was speechless. "Is that not what we fight for every day? I will not be a slave to the Romans, I will not let you be a slave to anyone, and I will not have either of us fall slave to the petty opinions of others."
"It's easy for you to say," Nasir finally spit out. "Almost everyone here is mortally afraid of you. Four days ago I killed dozens of Romans and still I am looked down upon."
"You almost bested Spartacus because he did not suspect you. Maybe you should use it to your advantage," Agron said.
"I feel I have proven myself but none of the others take notice. Last night a new man tried to kill me in my sleep because he thinks me weak. You had to save me. I have never..." Nasir shook his head. "I love you, but I will not be forced to rely on you. This place exists entirely on rank and respect, and I will not be at the bottom any longer. I do not cast you aside, or push you away, but I need your help. I need you to take a step away from me, only when the others are watching. I do not want them to fear me, I only want them to stop thinking of me as young and helpless."
Agron sighed. "What would you have me do?"
"You cannot help me with anything, anymore."
"If someone is coming after you with a blade and you don't know it, I will not have you die."
"If it is at all possible for me to handle it, let me handle it," Nasir clarified. "And I will start sleeping in the common room with the others again. I cannot sleep in your bedroom anymore."
Agron made a disbelieving, startled noise.
"Not that I don't want to, but I want people to think we have separated, just for a little while. I will probably sneak in to your room. A lot," Nasir said, trying to cheer him up.
"I am only going along with this for a day or two," Agron grumbled.
"Let's start with two and then reconvene."
"And what should I say when everyone asks why we are no longer speaking?" Agron asked.
"Tell them we had a quarrel and you don't want to discuss the details," Nasir answered.
"And what will you tell Naevia when she gets all teary eyed and says if you were really her friend, you would tell her the truth?"
Nasir laughed. "I don't know. I'll come up with something at the time."
"Fine, but don't say anything bad about me," Agron warned.
"I would never say anything bad about you."
"You know if I ever hear anyone say anything about you except that you are perfect I would have their head," Agron said.
Nasir smiled, and could not bring himself to look in Agron's eyes. "Thank you."
Agron stood up. Then, with a loud voice, he called, "You fucking... fuck." And he walked away.
A couple of people looked over, but no one said anything. Nasir had to bite his tongue so he would not smile.
The day passed slowly, and the boredom that had stricken the camp finally came over Nasir, now that he did not have Agron to keep him entertained. Spartacus had rightly allowed them a few days after the last battle to recuperate, reassess future plans, and settle into the house as much as they could, with the threat of having to run away at any moment constantly hanging over their heads. They knew they could not stay long, especially being so close to where they had just come from, but the house provided them a luxury few, if any, of them had ever experienced in all their lives. Agron did as Nasir had asked, and stayed far away from him for the rest of the day, though Nasir often found him looking at him from across a room. Sometimes he was kind of glaring, and sometimes he was simply looking, and Nasir couldn't tell if he was pretending or not.
Nasir had infiltrated himself into a group of about eight people, some of them new and some old. At first they had acted a little uncomfortable that Nasir, who had never paid them any attention before, suddenly began sitting with them and participating in all of their conversations, but after an hour or so they had gotten used to him. And by that time, Nasir had run out of things to say and was sure he had gotten nowhere in garnering their respect. Words did not go far. He needed to fight again, but there was no one to fight.
At dusk everyone began their evening meal, sharing portions of the day's hunt. Nasir sat with his new friends, whom he knew could care less if he stayed or left. He stole a glance at Agron and Spartacus, who sat apart, with Crixus and Naevia and generally everyone who were the major players in their camp. He could be sitting with them now, but only as Agron's guest, to be cast aside if or when Agron grew tired of him. Naevia had grown into her own, and commanded respect in a way Nasir craved after she sought revenge and killed Ashur before the rest. Well, Nasir told himself, it was only a matter of time before he would have his moment. In the meantime, he would have to keep avoiding Agron.
It was then that he noticed Agron was stomping toward him, anger in his eyes. Nasir's new friends fell silent when Agron approached, looming over them, refusing to sit. Nasir stood to look him in the eyes.
"You have a lot of nerve, showing yourself before me..." Agron paused, and then, as though the name just occurred to him, snarled, "Syrian." And in an instant, Agron cracked the smallest, most indiscreet smile he possibly could, with only half of his mouth. Only Nasir saw it, and Nasir knew Agron was not truly mad at him.
This gave Nasir the courage to fight back. "I have every right to be here. I will show myself wherever I please. Do you have a problem with that?"
Agron nodded. "Yes, I do have a problem with that." He looked to the left, and saw that everyone within earshot had quieted to listen to the argument. "You little piece of shit," Agron added.
"You're the piece of shit," Nasir retorted. "In fact, you're a …"
Agron waited, but Nasir couldn't come up with a good name. "I'm a what?" Agron prodded.
And then it happened. Without thinking, Nasir punched Agron, straight into the mouth, and hard. By the time Nasir's brain seemed to turn on again, he realized his right hand hurt, and he was staring at a bewildered Agron, feeling ten times more bewildered than Agron looked. A line of blood trickled from Agron's bottom lip down his chin. It pooled into a drop at the tip and dripped to the ground before Nasir remembered to breathe, and for a moment he feared Agron would punch him back. Nasir had a healthy amount of self confidence, but Agron would probably win that fight.
By that point, everyone in the camp had fallen silent and stared at them, Spartacus and Crixus included. Finally recovering from the shock, Agron scoffed and spit blood on the ground, close to Nasir's feet. He pointed at Nasir and vowed, "This is not over."
He walked back toward Spartacus and Crixus, who were looking particularly bemused, and offered him some water to wash the blood away. Naevia, who looked only concerned, jumped up and ran to Nasir's side when he turned and walked, numbly, in the opposite direction.
"This is getting too strange," Naevia whispered, and pulled on Nasir's wrist to make him stop and look at her. "What is going on?"
For a moment Nasir wanted to tell her the truth. He respected Naevia too much, and was too out of sorts at that moment, to really want to lie to her. But it would be unfair to Agron if he told Naevia the truth. If he told one person that they were not really fighting, why shouldn't he tell five or ten, or everyone? And then what would have been the point to putting Agron through everything simply because he loved Nasir, even though he thought Nasir was wrong? He had to lie.
"Nothing," he said to Naevia. "I just... I just hate Agron."
"You do not," Naevia said, not falling for it. "If you are not yet used to him saying stupid things, you are a fool. And you are not a fool. Forgive him for whatever he said, and go apologize to him."
Nasir sighed and looked at his hand. His knuckles were sore and red from punching Agron. He couldn't remember ever hitting anyone before. Stabbing people to death, yes, but not hitting them. It hurt.
Naevia watching him grimace, and could hold it in no longer. She laughed. "I honestly cannot believe he let you hit him."
"Well," Nasir said, barely willing to keep up the pretense of lying, and hoping to get away from Naevia before she prodded anymore, "he deserved it."
He turned away from her and stumbled toward the back bedrooms. Naevia laughed and patted him on the shoulder. "I'm sure he did."
Luckily his knees did not give out until he got to their bed, to Agron's bed, now, and he collapsed on it. He was terrified. Not really of Agron's retaliation, which Nasir knew could be real and brutal, even though he did not actually expect Agron to fight back. He was just certain he had hurt Agron, not physically, really, but emotionally. He felt horrible. He wanted to apologize but he was afraid to even look at Agron's face, to see some kind of disappointment there. The plan had lasted less than one full day and had already spiraled out of control.
He waited for a long time after the meal, but Agron did not appear. Nasir found himself falling tired, but dared not to lay down on the bed, in case he slept there all night and Agron would not wake him. He leaned his back against the wall and brought his knees to his chin. The next thing he knew, a candle was being lit before him, bringing light to the entire room, which had gone dark without Nasir noticing. He opened his eyes and saw Agron. His bottom lip was red and swollen, but there was no longer blood on his chin. There was something in his eyes, but it was not exactly disappointment. Something more like confusion and worry, and Nasir thought it was probably worry for his own sanity.
Before he could come up with something good to say, (he had something perfect planned out before he fell asleep, and promptly forgot it entirely), he lunged at Agron and pulled him close. "I'm sorry, Agron," he said. "I'm sorry."
Somewhat surprisingly, Agron held him back, and even ran his fingers through Nasir's hair in a petting, forgiving way. "I would say you took a step in the right direction, if you were looking to frighten the others. But I wish you would have consulted with me first. I would have advised you to punch Crixus instead."
Nasir didn't know what to say, and tried to kiss Agron with apologies instead.
"Ow, ow, ow," Agron complained, and held his hand to his mouth where Nasir had hit it.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," Nasir said, and held his own mouth in sympathy, even though it did not hurt.
"You have one day left before I refuse to help you any longer," Agron said, muffled behind his hand. "I hope by then you will learn not to care what other people think about you."
Nasir had not expected Agron to agree to continue with his plan, and his heart lifted, the slightest bit, in hearing that the punch had not ended everything. Maybe hitting Agron would change the minds of the others. Maybe it would be as simple as that.
He left Agron's room discreetly and chose a place to sleep in the common room among most of the others. A few stared, but no one spoke to him. He would have to wait until the morning to see in what way the night's events had changed things.