Warning: Please note that this story deals with slavery, attempted non-con and thoughts of suicide.
Note: This takes place sometime after 2.08.
A Gilded Prison
Agron dreamt of the arena. The roar of the crowds was loud in his ears, a rolling thunder that shook both air and ground, cut through with the clash of blades, fierce and brutal, and underscored by the dull, pervasive thud of footsteps on hot sand. He could hear the dry pants of his own breath, could smell the sickly blood and sweat and dust that sunk into his skin, impossible to wash clean.
All at once, Duro was beside him, alive once more with laughter and the fierce joy of battle, sharing triumph and rejoicing in their victory. Spartacus, too, stood by, tall and lean and powerful, primed with a player's skill as he called to the crowds, claiming them as his own, gaining their favour and making his fortune theirs. And Nasir, Nasir was there, sword in hand, his skin gleaming with sweat and oil as he fought with skill and cunning, winning his own share of the crowd's cheers as he smiled at them with a sweetness that belied the savagery of his movements.
Time slowed, and the arena flickered and blurred before reforming. The crowds howled and bayed and Agron just had time to notice the dark band that bound his lover's neck as Nasir looked at him, his expression gone sad and sorrowful, before he turned his blade upon himself. He tore it through flesh and gut and ragged muscle and sunk to the ground, his eyes already dull as his lifeblood ebbed out onto the burning hot sands, and Agron was alone in the arena once more.
Agron jolted awake with a sharp intake of breath and the image of Nasir's face, pale in death, sharp and jagged in his mind. Panting, he lay on his sleeping pallet, staring at the low stone ceiling above him and fighting back a lingering sense of fear and panic. Finally, as the dream slowly began to recede from mind and he no longer could smell the thick, acrid scent of blood and battle, he pushed himself onto his elbows and swiped an arm across his forehead, wiping away a mixture of cold sweat and dirt. Without allowing his gaze to fall upon the empty blanket beside him where Nasir usually lay, he instead rolled from the pallet and reached for his clothing in the early morning darkness. Finding himself unable to locate much of anything, a result of being absent Nasir's bird-like neatness for two nights now, he instead donned a rough cloth jerkin and padded barefoot from the small enclave he and Nasir had made their own by hanging a row of blankets between two walls, making for the main courtyard of the ruined temple that was the current home to the rebel force led by Spartacus.
Once there, Agron made for the temple wall that stood furthest from the towering mass of rock, stone and cliff that was Vesuvius. In the pre-dawn gloom, he could just make out the flickering torches of the men and women who stood sentry, stationed around the courtyard and on the walls at various points, guarding the temple's perimeter. Raising a hand in brief greeting, he swung himself up onto the wall just by the main gate, and climbed mainly by feel, hand over hand, until he sat perched on the highest ledge possible, looking out onto a world sunk in shadow, over what would in sunlight be the sloping foothills and plains that changed gradually into woodland some miles absent from the base of the great mountain. As he sat there, with the cool stone of the partly ruined wall pressing against the bared flesh of his legs, his dream came unbidden into his mind. Such dire thoughts were born of Nasir's prolonged absence, he knew, but that did not make them any easier to bear. The thought of Nasir facing death in the arena, of wearing again the collar that Spartacus had ripped from his neck, were fears that Agron chose never to give voice for the feeling that they could one day come true. Neither was beyond possibility. If the rebellion failed, if a battle went badly, if Nasir…
He stopped himself. Doubt was the realm of cowards, he reminded himself, of those who would not succeed because their own minds defeated them before enemy even raised weapon. Instead, he turned his gaze towards the burning line that had appeared in the blackness, the uppermost tip of the rising sun that had begun to dawn bloody and red on the horizon. As it rose, forming a huge crimson circle, it cast a hazy glow over the craggy slopes of Vesuvius behind him, causing the mountain to burn with a red fire. High above, iron-grey clouds appeared in the sky, visible for the first time since night had fallen, strewn and ragged as they sailed through the heavens, an ominous portent of foul weather to come.
As he watched the world slowly take life below him, Agron frowned. Something was moving out there. A dark, blurred shadow had appeared on the horizon, outlined in the blood-red light as it emerged from the faraway woods. Swiftly, he gained his feet and leant forward as far as he dared, holding onto the wall with one hand and straining his eyes to see more clearly. Finally, the shadow came into focus and he could see that it was made of people, moving quickly and dragging a long, heavily laden wagon as they made their way towards him. Agron's face dawned as understanding came. The small band of hunters that had left the rebel encampment two days back with hopes of finding sufficient food to feed an ever-increasing number of rebel fighters and followers had returned. And amongst them would be Nasir.
Agron's heart surged, sudden and fierce. Turning his back on the fast-approaching company, still only indistinct shadows in the half-light, he made his way down from his perch, dropping the last few feet unchecked until his bare feet hit cool dirt. 'They return!' he shouted to the guardsmen and women on the walls, who had raised their heads curiously at his sudden haste. 'I go to alert Spartacus. Open gates and bid our hunters welcome!' Feeling as though he was made of lightness itself, he hastened to Spartacus' quarters, bypassing the lone guard posted outside and throwing open the door of the large, sparsely furnished room without ceremony. 'They return!' he announced into the dimness beyond, unable to keep a grin from his face. 'Leave dreams behind and come greet our wayward warriors!' A growl was the only answer and Agron's smile fell from his face as he realised the immensity of the task before him. Famed gladiator or not, Spartacus was a fucking bear to wake in the morning.
He eyed the sleeping pallet that was positioned against the opposite wall, on which he could just make out a heavy bundle of blankets gathered about a solid lump. 'Rise from fucking slumber!' he demanded of it. 'Or be dragged from it by my own hands.' Beyond the room, he could hear the groan of the temple gates opening, and a faint cheer came to his ears as the party was welcomed home. Agron grimaced. Even now Nasir could be entering the temple and he was not there to greet him. He eyed the man in front of him, who seemed to have become lost once more to sleep in the short moments since he had last spoken. Determined not to delay laying eyes on Nasir any longer, Agron strode forward and dealt the form on the bed a sharp blow with the back of his hand. 'Spartacus!' he barked.
Spartacus lurched abruptly upright, groggy with sleep and his hair bristling every which way. He glared at Agron with bleary eyes. 'Find yourself absent room or face my sword,' he grumbled, his voice gravelly. He shook his head to clear it and looked at Agron again, taking in his half-dressed state. 'And don fucking sandals. What if Rome was to launch attack?'
Agron glanced down at his own, mostly bare, form and grinned. 'With Nasir soon returned to my arms, I see no cause for garment of any sort.'
Spartacus groaned and slumped back onto his pallet. 'Remove yourself,' he threatened. 'Or find yourself and Nasir on watch for many nights on opposing walls of temple!'
With an amused snort, Agron left, making for his own chamber and dressing quickly in the rosy light that pervaded the hanging blankets that gave him and Nasir privacy from prying eyes. It took him some time to locate his hob-nailed sandals and greaves, only finding them after uttering many growled curses hidden under a round shield that he had spent much time training Nasir to use to its best advantage. Lacing them tightly onto his feet and lower legs, he left once more for the courtyard, his heart a concoction of eagerness and impatience.
Upon arrival though, he was forced to shove his way through the jostling crowds that had already gathered there. It seemed that every last person in the stronghold had arrived to bid welcome to the hunting party. Rations had been scarce the past few weeks, the added numbers of Agron's countrymen combining with a cold snap of weather that had driven the prey the rebels counted on for survival away from their usual hunting grounds. As a result, Spartacus had ordered an overnight mission to venture further out from the temple than was normal in an attempt to secure sufficient supplies to keep every one of his people fed, newcomers and all. Nasir had been chosen for the task, largely for his growing skill with a spear, along with Crixus and Lugo. Yet anxiety had bloomed in the hearts and minds of those left behind when the party had failed to return when expected. Agron and Naevia, in particular, had been weighted with concern, their thoughts dwelling on the dangers they well knew lay outside the temple walls. And so it was with especially glad hearts that the rebels gathered to welcome the hunters home, milling about with excitement as they waited for the newfound gains to be dispersed amongst them.
Agron expected Nasir to be at the very centre of activities, as he had lately developed a habit of seeking involvement in near every aspect of camp life. Casting his eyes about the courtyard, however, he could see no sign of Nasir's dark head, nor of Lugo or Crixus. Indeed, the only sign of their return was that of the heavily loaded wagon, weighted down by the carcasses of several animals, as well as piles of wilting fruit and herbs. The newly arrived gladiator, Gannicus, was astride it, with Saxa at his side, helping to unload the meat, directing some of it to storage to be salted and dried, and distributing the rest amongst the gathered crowds. Of Crixus, who had headed the party, Agron could see no sign, not that he much desired to lay eyes on the Gaul. He wondered briefly if Nasir had made his way back to the quarters they shared, hoping to find Agron there, and that he had simply missed Nasir in the chaotic press of bodies that lined the confusing hallways of the temple. It had happened before, Nasir being slight enough to often become lost in a crowd despite Agron's own advantage of height, and Agron did not doubt that it could happen again.
Deciding that he little desired to waste time traipsing the temple halls in a misguided attempt to locate Nasir, Agron instead decided to go to the source. He began to push his way through the crowds towards the wagon, offering apologies where he could and swearing violently when someone stepped on his foot. He had made little progress, however, when a voice called his name. He turned to see Mira fighting her way through the gathered people, her dark hair bound in a single long braid that hung over one shoulder. As she called his name again, he noticed that her face was tight with worry. When she finally managed to gain his side, she reached out and laid hand upon his arm. 'Agron,' she said, her voice urgent, 'Spartacus desires words. He bids you join him in his quarters.'
Agron nodded in acknowledgement, taking advantage of the pause to rise up on his toes and skim the crowds yet again in search of Nasir. 'Send word that I shall attend shortly,' he said, wishing idly that Nasir was a little taller.
'He desires immediate presence.'
Agron looked down at her, his brow furrowed in annoyance. Spartacus knew well that he had been waiting upon Nasir's return. Mira's face was grave, however, and he knew that she spoke truth. With a growled curse, he cast his eyes over the crowds one last time, then turned on his heel and stalked off towards Spartacus' quarters with Mira sharp on his heels. As he strode through the crowds, brushing bodies out of his way absent-mindedly, he noticed that the racket around the cart had subsided. People were receiving their rations with muttered thanks instead of their usual cheers, and were speaking softly to one another, their heads lowered.
A lingering sense of disquiet developed in him as he made his way through the temple. People scurried out of his way or else whispered to their neighbours as he passed, casting fearful eyes in his direction. Some of them pointed at him openly, their gazes wide and sympathetic. His unease and his need to find Nasir deepening as one, Agron hurried onwards and entered Spartacus's quarters for the second time that day. Now that the sun had had time to reach its place in the sky, he could better see the large room. Carved from the same stone as the rest of the temple and sparsely furnished, Spartacus' quarters were filled only with the necessities-a sleeping pallet, a bench and a table with a chair behind it. Various bits of armour and clothing were strewn about and a gladius lay against the wall, crossed with a shield and a long spear that he and Spartacus had been teaching Nasir to use of late. The table, with its bench behind it, was covered in maps and other papers, and it was there that Spartacus waited.
Spartacus rose when he entered, and Agron could not help but notice that he looked much the same as Mira, his face sober and grim. His throat tightened but, as he halted before Spartacus, Agron made sure to meet his gaze with his usual brazenness, refusing to let his fears take grip. 'What news beckons from outside our temple?' he asked boldly. 'Has Rome yet collapsed from within, brought down by its own cruelty and greed?'
Spartacus did not reply. Instead, he gestured to Mira, who disappeared outside so that the two men stood alone in the room, facing each other. A chill ran down Agron's spine and settled somewhere in his gut even as Spartacus grasped his shoulder with one hand. His grip was heavy and warm. 'Agron,' he said. 'I bear grim news.'
Agron's mouth went dry. He swallowed, trying to regain some moisture in order to force out the words he knew he must ask. 'Is it Nasir?' he finally managed. 'I await his return, yet he remains hidden from eyes.'
Spartacus nodded and Agron's world went out from underneath him.
'Nasir has been taken captive,' Spartacus said, and Agron heard the words through a veil, murky and faint.
'Captive?' he repeated, the word catching in his throat.
'By Romans. Yesterday, as sun rose.'
Agron found himself shaking his head. 'This is fucking jest,' he said desperately, praying to the gods that it was so. He had lost his brother, he would not lose Nasir. He would not.
'It does me ill to say it, but no.' Spartacus' grip on him tightened yet Agron barely felt it, his mind and body going numb as the words rolled sickeningly through him. 'Heart aches to reveal truth.'
The sympathetic words fell on deaf ears. Agron licked his lips, again seeking moisture. He could not seem to draw sufficient air. 'Where is he? Does he yet draw breath?'
A new voice, low and guttural, entered the conversation. 'He was yet amongst the living last I set eyes on him.'
Agron spun round to find Crixus framed in the doorway, the reddish cast of the morning light spilling around his form, silhouetting him in bloody shadow. Mira was by his side, along with Lugo, mud-covered and with his right leg bound from calf to thigh with bloodied bandages. 'Crixus,' Agron hissed, his fear for Nasir turning swiftly to a hard, savage anger that pulsed through his body, igniting his very blood. 'I should have fucking known.'
Crixus entered the room, bringing with him all his usual arrogance that remained undimmed by the red-streaked mud and filth that covered him from head to foot. Ripping himself from Spartacus's grasp, Agron surged furiously towards the Gaul, the one who had left with Nasir but not returned with him. 'Where is he?' he raged, thrusting the flat of his arm against Crixus's chest and driving him back so that he hit the wall. He shoved him again and the Gaul's head thudded back against the stone. 'Speak truth or have it seized from bloodied mouth!'
'Agron!' Spartacus barked. He started forwards, but Crixus shook his head. 'The man deserves truth,' he said, meeting Agron's gaze until Agron slackened his hold and stepped back, though every muscle in his body remained tight with blind fury.
'The hunt went ill,' said Crixus bluntly. 'Our spears felled many creatures, but Lugo suffered wound, leg gored through by boar's tusk.' Agron's gaze flicked quickly to Lugo, who he now noticed was being supported by Mira, her arms wrapped about one of his in an attempt to steady him. Slowly, Agron turned back to Crixus, who was still speaking, his voice harsh.
'We were forced to take rest,' he continued. 'It was not until sunrise this past day when camp was broken. Nasir went to scout ahead, searching for clear path homewards.' He grimaced. 'He instead sighted company of Roman shits, both mounted and on foot, and armed to fucking teeth. Knowing himself absent time to give proper warning, Nasir confronted them, creating chaos enough to warn us and drawing their attention before they could stumble upon our camp. Such action won us sufficient time to fade from sight and so make it home with supplies.'
'Yet Nasir still lives?' Spartacus asked, his arms folded across his chest as he listened again to Crixus's tale.
Crixus nodded. 'We both set eyes on him, bound and astride one man's horse.'
Agron's blood burned. He advanced on Crixus, his teeth gritted. 'And seeing this, your mind turned from pursuit? From battle?' He clenched his fists so hard that his nails bit into his skin, etching red half-moons upon his palms. 'You are fucking warriors! Both of you! Why did you not stand and fight for Nasir, as he would have for you?'
'Weapons were in hand, you ignorant shit!' Crixus retorted. 'But the fucking fool, beaten and bound as he was, laid eyes upon us and signalled us to fall from sight! His intent was clear and mind reasoned. He would not have us risk death. Lugo and I stood two against ten times that number, and them with knife already at Nasir's throat!'
At Crixus's last words, Agron let loose with a foul curse then spun, turning to storm out of the room with fierce strides.
'Agron?' he heard Spartacus call. 'Where do you go?'
'Where do you fucking think?' Agron retorted, spinning back to face him. 'I go to Nasir's aid, even if these fucking cowards would not!' He headed for the door, intending to seize a horse from their limited mounts, but Spartacus moved to stand in his way, a hand raised in protest. In one quick movement, Agron ducked underneath the restraining arm and shoved the other man, sending Spartacus crashing to the floor and continuing past him. The only thought in his head was to get to Nasir, to have safe him in his arms and to not let go, not to hunt, not to sleep, not to eat, piss or fight. He would have Nasir back. It would not be like Duro, not again. He would have Nasir back, or he would end the world trying.
Lost in that thought, one that he knew, somewhere, edged towards madness, he did not halt in his tracks until a heavy hand hit him hard in the chest, jarring him to an abrupt stop. He raised his head. Crixus stood before him, his eyes hooded and dark, blocking his path through a narrow corridor. Naevia had appeared from somewhere and stood by his side, a silent shadow. Before either of them could speak, Agron bared his teeth and pointed his finger at Crixus. 'Do not,' he growled. 'Do not fucking speak of regret.'
Crixus raised his hands, for once placating. 'My intent was not to abandon your boy. As well you know, I stand versed in the pain of losing one held close to heart.' He glanced sideways at Naevia, small and slight by his side, before returning gaze to Agron. 'I swear by fucking Jupiter, I shall see Nasir returned to you.'
A laugh burst out of Agron that he could not constrain. 'You treacherous fuck,' he spat, watching with cruel satisfaction as Crixus' face tightened. 'You shit sweet words and expect me to believe them sincere when not two days have passed since you left Nasir in fucking Roman hands!'
'Agron-' Naevia started, yet Agron cut her off, intent on Crixus. 'Was it for revenge?'
Crixus's brow furrowed. 'I know not what you-'
'For when I sought to leave Naevia in the mines, in vain attempt to protect us all? Is this why you forsook Nasir? To drive dagger into my beating heart, as I did yours?'
Naevia laid a hand on Crixus's arm as though she expected him to launch attack, but Crixus only shook his head. 'Blame for the judgement you so freely cast shall be laid at grief's dark altar,' he said. 'As such, I shall not give you the beating your fucking words deserve.'
Agron snorted. 'Cowardice strikes once more,' he taunted, his blood surging within him. He wanted to fight, to feel flesh part against his knuckles, to make someone bleed for what had happened to Nasir. And Crixus provided just such a target, arrogant, strong and at fault.
'The choice was Nasir's!' Crixus retorted. 'By his act he ensured the safe return of myself and Lugo, and with food enough to feed our people! Had he not made sacrifice, all would have been dead within weeks or else forced to leave the safety this temple provides us!'
'Better you had passed from this world than stood coward!'
Naevia stepped forward, her eyes narrowed into slits. 'You dishonour Nasir,' she hissed. 'His deed was of much courage, yet all you think of is resulting fate from which he may yet be rescued.'
Agron turned on her, bringing himself to his full height as he glared downwards, towering a full head and shoulders over her. 'Had I been present, Nasir would need no rescue. He would never have fallen to such fate! I would have gone to aid and-'
'With what purpose?' Crixus demanded. 'To have both of you imprisoned by Romans instead of one? To make Nasir stand captive, witness to your death in the face of greater numbers?' Advancing, Crixus shoved Agron in the chest, pushing him back, away from Naevia. 'The choice was Nasir's to give life in exchange for ours, yet you speak as if he was child needing protection! He is not Duro!'
As Crixus's words rang in his ears, a rage fell upon Agron so fierce that he fought to breathe. 'Silence tongue or see it torn from mouth,' he managed to get out. 'You know nothing of what you speak!'
Yet Crixus was not done. He advanced so that Agron could feel his hot breath a bare inch from his face. 'Nasir is no more the body slave found in that villa, obedient to every pleasure of his fucking dominus,' he snarled. 'He is a warrior, equal of many here! He holds loyal to Spartacus and has proven himself willing to lay down life for our cause. He stands a stubborn, obstinate little shit, fool enough to give heart to a fucking idiot who remains stranded in the past, lost to memories of another once held as dear!' Crixus gave a derisive snort. 'You would keep Nasir safe in hand, in gilded cage where no harm could reach, without thought of how it would destroy all he has come to be!'
Agron launched himself at Crixus, driving his clenched fists into every bit of flesh he could reach. Within seconds, however, he was being hauled back and away by Donar and Gannicus, who had both appeared seemingly from the air itself. Seconds later, Spartacus was standing before him, his voice raised in equal measure of anger, sympathy and sternness even as Agron struggled, trying to get at Crixus, who was being assisted to his feet by Naevia as he swiped a muscled arm over his bloodied mouth.
'I know your fear, Agron,' said Spartacus, his voice ringing hard and true. 'Many here have experienced the like, Crixus most of all when he learnt of Naevia's fate in the mines. Yet you must seize control and hold in readiness. Even as we break words we readying force to aid Nasir. We will not leave one of our own in Roman hands.'
Wrenching himself free of restraining arms, Agron stood panting, gradually becoming aware of the watching crowd that had gathered in the narrow corridor, a hoard of people jostling for best position that had gone unnoticed until then. Spitting a mouthful of dark blood to the ground, he glared at Spartacus. 'When do we leave?' he demanded. 'The Roman fucks are over a day ahead of us.'
'Then we shall move fast. We will find him, brother, I swear it.'
Crixus spoke again. 'Spartacus,' he said. 'There is more I must tell you, of Nasir and his captors. One of them named him as Tiberius, the…'
'The name he held as Roman slave,' Spartacus finished. He looked thoughtful. 'Nasir was known to these men.' His gaze hardened and he looked back at Agron, whose heart had begun beating faster at Crixus's words. Spartacus dipped his head in a hard nod, determination etched in every line of his body. 'Take up arms and make ready,' he said. 'We leave now.'