In the low light of evening, Agron found Nasir in the small alcove he had claimed as his own, after Oenemaus had taken the sickbed. It was small and quiet, tucked away from loud voices an prying eyes. A good a place for a healing man to rest. Agron was sure Naevia had something to do with it. Wounded though she, in her own ways, mothering someone else seemed to give her a sense of purpose again, like if she could keep her hands busy tending wounds and her mind occupied with offering comfort, she would not have to think about her own pain.
Agron rapped on the door frame, as he did so often since his return. They did not share quarters, a problem Agron would love to remedy. But Nasir was still healing from a wound that could have killed any other man, and Agron did not always trust his roaming hands. He wanted the Syrian more than he could bear sometimes, and he knew the feelings were mutual. But Nasir had not lived the life Agron had. He's never had the freedom to love as his heart desired. Agron wanted to woo the man, to show him that he was loved and cherished for more than the deeds that could be done with his body. And love was something Nasir was in desperate need of right now.
Nasir sat on the threadbare pallet, his head leaned back against the cracked stone, his eyes closed. His arm was wrapped loosely around his waist, unconsciously guarding the wound. The was a harshness to his breathing, pain. Not physical, but deeper. It was a aching that Agron was well acquainted with. He ducked into the crumbling doorway setting down the bowl and cups he'd been carrying.
"I brought you something to eat," he said quietly, "And medicine. Naevia said you usually take some before you sleep, and that you had gone without tonight. She was afraid you would be hurting."
"There is nothing Medicus can supply for such a wound," The Syrian replied, quietly.
Agron frowned, concerned, and took a seat at the other man's side. He was careful to be close, but not too close. Nasir appreciated his space. It was something he had never truly been afforded before. Still Agron let his presence be know, whether the Syrian would take the comfort he had to offer, he did not know.
"She was my only friend," the Syrian said quietly after a few moments, "for a very time. And I abandoned her."
"Chadara made her own choice," Agron replied, "That was no fault of yours."
"Was it not," he asked, turning on Agron with a dark, helpless fury in his eyes, " I knew better than anyone. How could not have seen the change in her? I did not see because I did not want to."
"What? What words do you have that make this better? Chadara is dead, my friend is dead. The last shred of the life I knew, and the man I was, is gone. She was one of the few good things I can remember, and she was torn from me by hands who are equally loved and trusted. I can't even be angry with the one who took her life!"
The Syrian pulled his knees against his chest, dropping his head onto his arms. Agron reached out a hand, to touch to comfort. But he withdrew. He was not sure that was a line he could cross yet, not with a man who had spent his whole life receiving unwanted touches. He sighed, leaning back against the wall himself, staring at the ceiling.
There was long silence. In the halls beyond, Agron could hear the others making their beds, taking to their lovers thighs. He knew he should go. But some part of him did not want to leave the younger man alone to face the darkness. Nasir was not a child, but Agron knew what loss could do to the mind, left alone in the darkness.
"All she wanted was to belong. She was so jaded, so empty. But more than anything she wanted someone to see her as useful, as valuable. I think she found that in Raskois, in her own way. Fucking Gaul though he was, he made her happy," the Syrian said after a time.
Agron watched the dark skinned youth from the corner of his eye. Nasir was looking in the pale light, seeing things that Agron could not see. Remembering, perhaps. But memories could not bring back the dead. He knew that better than anyone.
"Her happiness was not your responsibility," Agron said gently, "She chose her own path, Nasir. I did not wish her dead, none of us did. But she chose to betray, she chose to run. If she had escaped, Glaber would have crucified her, right along side the rest of us."
"I could have talked sense into her, if I had only been paying attention. But I didn't, don't you see. I forgot her, I left her alone."
"You nearly died. Who can blame you for being preoccupied?"
"It was not the wound that drove me from her, it was you!"
Agron, looked at the Syrian, taken aback. Nasir watched him with wide eyes, as if he could scarcely believe the words had come out of his mouth.
Nasir ran his hands through his hair, tugging roughly.
"We were all the other had for so long," he said, to the floor, "but when I met you, it changed. You are not like anyone I have ever met, and it would be a lie to say I was not drawn to you. I have never had another man's respect, I have never had another man who wanted my company, to talk and laugh, and not simply to fuck. I have never been around a man who wanted to know my thoughts, who was happy and willing to answer my questions. Who I could fail or make mistakes in front of. I clung to you, and all these new things I was learning, things I was feeling. Chadara, she clung to what she knew. Concepts of affection and position. In trying to sever myself from such ideas, I severed myself from her too. And when you came back from Capua, after you had kissed me that night, I was so relived to see you alive, so caught up in the possibility of this, of us, I forgot, completely, about her affections for the gaul. I forgot that a friend, as dear to me as a sister, might be hurting. I left her alone."
Agron turned the words over in his head. There was a guilt in his heart, he'd never paid much attention to the girl. She was all but faceless to him, just another house slave. If it had not been for her closeness to Nasir, she would have been all but faceless to him. To know she had meant so much to the man he loved, and yet had meant so little to him, was hard to swallow.
"You must think me weak." The Syrian said, "to be so enamored that I would forget someone I love so much. You must be repulsed by me."
Agron scooted closer, watching the Syrian with concerned eyes.
"You are not weak, quiet the opposite I think. And forgetting is not a crime you alone are guilty of. You are human, Nasir. And life you knew was one no man could blame you for trying to forget. There have been many nights, where dreams keep me from sleep. Where I remember what it was I lost, when we rose up against our dominus. My brother's loss has not been so keenly felt since I met you. A fact I must often forgive myself for. But Duro died because of a choice he made, a choice to protect me. And it has taken a long time for me to understand that. I will always feel the pain of it, but no matter how I feel or how often I think of how I could have stopped it, it does not change the fact that my brother is gone. I nearly destroyed myself finding that truth. I found it in you. And I will not see you destroy yourself, as I nearly did. You did not make Chadara's choices for her. Do not punish yourself for them."
Nasir was watching Agron now, caught somewhere better fear and confusion.
"You found your truth in… me?"
Agron nodded, heat rising in his face. He did not know how to be vulnerable, exposed. Yet he felt such things now, under Nasir's careful gaze.
"Is that why you handed over your sword, when I asked it of you?"
"Yes," Agron said, offering his hands, palms up, to the Syrian, "I swore when took down the house of Batiatus, I would never suffer another man to own me again. But I was wrong. My heart is yours, it has been for quite some time. It took nearly loosing you for me to understand that. You are the master of my heart now, what is left of it. Your will, my hands."
Nasir seemed rocked by the confession and Agron steeled himself for the coming words. He had just confessed such things to a man already in grieving? True they had kissed and embraced, but only a handful of times and such affections were not the same as love.
"How does a house slave move the hands of a gladiator?"
"Tiberius was a house slave. Nasir is a warrior, a man I respect. A man I love. You do not fight with sword alone by with keen eye and good sense. You have a kinder heart than most hear, for ours have been made hard, reforged from the men we were, in blood and sand. But you have managed to find who you are. You do not need to burn down the world, as I needed to for so long. Your sense and calm, it tempers the fires that rage inside of me some times. I know my temper has always been foul, but since I lost my…Duro, it seems sometimes that the rage is all I can remember how to feel, that anger is all I have left in me. When I thought Gannicus had betrayed us, I wanted to kill him. No questions asked. I wanted to slaughter him, destroy him completely as I believed he was trying to destroy us. There was no sense in my thoughts, only fury. I did not stop to think of him as a brother. I just knew that the angry he woke in me dredged up deeper hurts and I wanted to make them stop. And the only way to calm my heart was to spill his blood. But tonight, when you spoke, you brought me back from the brink of all that hatred. My heart is yours to command Nasir, regardless of how either of us would have it."
It was Nasir, who moved this time, reaching out to tough Agron's forearm. It was soft and tentative, and it took all of the gladiator's will not to snatch the man into his arms and simply hold him.
"I would not be your master, for I have suffered too many of them to become one myself. It was our master who made Chadara the way she was, that broke the soul inside of her, that made her believe a roman purse was better than a freedom she did not know how to live. If I am to stand beside you, I would have it be not only as lover, but as friend and equal."
Agron smiled, reaching out to touch the Syrian's face, cupping his jaw, running a calloused thumb along the dark curve of Nasir's cheekbones. The young man leaned into the touch, eyes fluttering.
"I should not feel such things," the Syrian all but whispers, "How can a heart be so hurt and so elated all at once."
"The past can not be forgotten. The pain lingers always, for those that we have lost. But do not let it blot out all visions of the future. You loved Chadara, she was dear to you. But do not, in your grief, forget that you dear to me."
He leaned in, pressing a kiss to Nasir's lips. It was chaste and gentle, like so many kisses that they had shared before, but it spoke volumes. He stood, taking his leave, but a hand caught his wrist. He looked back at Nasir, the young man's dark eyes peeling away the layers of him.
"Stay," Nasir asked, "I fear my heart too heavy to hold alone tonight."
Agron nodded, settling back down, letting an arm drape across Nasir's shoulders, fingers playing in the dark hair. The youth leaned into the embrace, his head resting against Agron's shoulder. The Syrian let out a soft, shuttering breath. Agron could feel the tension ease out of the younger body.
"I was ten, I think, when Chadara first came to the house…"
Nasir spoke in a soft voice throughout the night, and Agron listened. If what Nasir needed was shelter and listening ears, Agron was happy to provide such comfort, until the end of his days.