Chapter 1: 1
Summer, 46 BC
It started with an agreement:
No one can ever know.
But Antony was not the kind of man to keep his word. Not when there was something he could gain.
Cassius didn't know when it began for him. As far back as he could remember, from childhood on, he’d known. There was only one person he would ever want. And it was Brutus.
And Brutus was entirely unaware.
Cassius thought, he hoped, it would stop when Brutus gave him his sister. He thought, he hoped, it would stop if he learned self control. He thought, he hoped, he begged that one morning he might wake up and never have those thoughts again. Never look at the curve of Brutus’ neck, the dark flash of his eyes, and think Mine mine mine. Let me make you mine.
Brutus was not an easy person to want. He was not an easy person to be close to. He was branched lightning and intractable pride. He was someone who would never have anything less than full control. Never do anything less than the absolute right thing. If you thought he was wrong, you were wrong. If you had a different opinion, he’d walk off a cliff's edge before changing his mind.
But he could be so lovely. He could look so vulnerable, so vulnerable it felt like a challenge. As if he was whispering in Cassius’ ear “There’s something here that you could take. Bite down deep and own. Come and claim it.”
But Brutus never looked at Cassius twice. Never wanted him. Never whispered anything except conspiracy and knives in the dark. And Cassius tried, he tried so hard, to be satisfied.
And then came Antony.
Chapter 2: 2
Cassius knew what Brutus looked like with a secret. Usually secrets were things that they shared. But then, one night at a wedding, he saw Brutus slipping inside from the garden, with that forced blankness in his eyes that said he had something to hide.
Cassius watched him step back into the crowd, saw him tugging at the folds of his pallium as if anxious that they were straight. Watching like he always watched, Cassius followed the pale line of Brutus’ neck when he turned his head, laughing, and Cassius saw the dark bruise and bloody edges of a bite mark on Brutus’ skin, just under the edge of his tunic. If he hadn’t been looking, he wouldn’t have seen it.
He hoped, at first, irrationally that it was Claudia - That a marriage that he knew to be as cold and dead as the grave had somehow begun to breathe. That Claudia and Brutus were capable of the kind of passion that makes people risk discovery in darkened gardens where anyone might stumble across them.
It wasn’t Claudia. It didn’t take long for careful, observant, obsessive Cassius to figure that out. He started to track Brutus at parties. Started to look for the moment when his expression changed, when something very hidden, very sharp came into his eyes. It was a look that Cassius had never seen before, and when he followed that gaze, he found Antony.
And then Cassius learned to watch for the moment Brutus would leave, slipping down an empty hallway, or leaving the party all together, and 10 minutes later, maybe 15, Antony would follow.
He didn’t let himself believe it the first time. But then came the second, and the third, and he couldn’t deny it. There was a pattern. It was obvious to anyone who knew to look. And now that Cassius had seen it, it was unavoidably clear.
In the street, walking to the senate, Brutus’ head would turn sharply if Antony came into view. Cassius had always thought it was hatred, the reaction of a competitor. He couldn’t persuade himself of that now.
Some mornings, when Cassius called on Brutus early, expecting the insomniac to be awake, a slave would tell him that Brutus was asleep and had given orders not to be disturbed. It didn’t happen often. It was rare enough that Cassius had never questioned it. He wouldn’t begrudge Brutus whatever sleep he could get. But on each occasion, in retrospect, he’d passed Antony in the street maybe five minutes walk from Brutus’ front door.
Cassius stopped going to Brutus’ house early. He stopped walking with him to the forum. He gave excuses. And went home and tried to find Brutus’ eyes in his wife’s face, and tried to admire the slim curve of her neck, and tried to take pleasure in calling it his.
But then, came the letter.
It arrived late at night. He hadn’t seen Brutus for a week, maybe more. It was pleasant, Cassius told himself, not to have the constant reminder in front of him; Brutus could be vulnerable - for someone else. Brutus could give in, could kneel - for someone else. Brutus belonged to someone else.
The letter was brief, the writing hasty and almost illegible, but it was the paper Brutus liked best. The color of the ink was peculiar to him, some recipe one of his slaves had perfected, and the line of the writing was thin and delicate, like the fine point of the styli Brutus preferred, to suit the almost microscopic way he wrote.
Come to my house. The letter read. Please. I want to talk to you.
Brutus never said please. Cassius sometimes dreamed that he would.
The writing was off. The language was off. And Brutus only rarely asked Cassius for anything.
Come to my house.
I want to talk to you.
Cassius' longing to hear that word, to think that Brutus might say it to him, overrode any suspicion, and he went.
Chapter 3: 3
When Cassius reached the house, all the windows were dark. He went in through a side gate to the courtyard and up to the main door. Usually by now he’d have seen someone. A slave would have stopped him and gone to tell Brutus. There was no one. He pushed at the main door, mind half made up to turn back, to wait in the courtyard till someone came, but the door opened easily. He stepped inside, looking around the shadowy, empty space. He could hear footsteps in the atrium, quick and loud. It didn’t sound like Brutus. Not exactly. The rhythm was wrong.
Light flared up, casting shadows on the walls. A lamp had been lit, just out of sight. Cassius took a hesitant step forward, about to speak up, but then Antony walked into the hallway.
He didn't look surprised to see Cassius.
“Oh good, you're here. You got my note?”
Antony was smiling, that incredibly uncomfortable, superior smile that Cassius now realized he’d only started to see in the months since he’d discovered that Brutus and Antony were sleeping together.
Cassius’ mouth was dry.“Your note?”
Antony raised an eyebrow, head tilted to one side, “Did you think Brutus wanted you?”
He could have meant ‘wanted’ in a casual, innocuous way, but there was something in his tone that made Cassius absolutely sure that Antony knew.
Cassius stepped back quickly, reaching for the handle of the door. “I have to go.”
“Don’t.” Antony stepped farther into the hall, taking a flint from above a doorway and lighting one of the hanging lamps. “I want to talk to you.”
“Do you want him to know that you’re here?”
Cassius stopped. Whatever he’d been about to say, wherever he’d expected this conversation to go, flying out of his head. “What?”
“Do you want him to know that you’re here?” Antony repeated, too calm, too casual, too like a threat. “I could go tell him.”
Cassius' spine tensed, eyes widening.
“Or we could stay here.” Antony continued. “And talk.”
Cassius didn’t move.
Antony smiled. “You’re not as secretive as you think you are.”
“The way you look at Brutus. It’s like you’re shouting it to everyone in range.”
Cassius hesitated, started to deny it, but he wasn't going to let Antony put him on the defensive. “You're not surreptitious either.”
“I don’t have to be.” Antony shrugged, expansive and confident. “I don’t care. Stealth is Brutus’ obsession. I let him decide when and where.”
“You let him decide?”
“When he feels safe he can be very accommodating.” Antony’s eyes darkened, shifting colour, Cassius could see it even in that dim light. “He’s so lovely when he’s like that, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Cassius tried to sound sharp. He tried to sound dismissive. His voice came out wrong - empty and raw.
“No. You wouldn’t, would you.”
The silence stretched out, uncomfortable and stifling.
“Are you going to tell him?” Cassius thought he could control his voice until he'd spoken. His voice was strangled with a rising panic. People weren’t supposed to know things about him. People didn’t watch him. He’d always found safety as an observer.
The panic didn’t last long, though. It very quickly became rage, rushing straight up his spine, because Antony had started laughing, quietly, but getting louder, like Cassius’ fear was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. Like he’d never been more entertained. And Cassius stepped forward quickly, anger rising till he couldn’t even speak. He went to strike Antony, but he grabbed Cassius’ wrist and yanked his arm behind him, ramming him up against the wall.
“That's not how this works.”
Cassius wrenched his arm out of Antony’s grip, shoulder screaming. “I’m leaving.” He spat, “I'm done with this.”
“No you’re not.” Antony said, smiling but hard-voiced. Confident. Self Satisfied. Like slamming Cassius into a wall was nothing. “You’re not going to leave. I haven’t told you what I’m going to do for you yet.”
“Do for me?”
Cassius could taste blood, he'd almost bitten through his lip.
“Yes- I was thinking, I’ve never done anything nice for you. Why do you think that is?”
Cassius closed his eyes, trying to block out the sound of Antony’s voice, the way his gaze felt like he was trying to peel back his skin. He felt out of control, manoeuvred out of the kind of situations he knew how to handle. “I don’t care.”
“And then I thought,” Antony went on, ignoring him, “How could I make up for that? What does Cassius like? What does he want?”
Cassius didn’t reply. He was shaking with rage.
“It’s obvious. You’re so obvious when you think you’re the one watching. You want Brutus. You want him so badly it’s hurting you, isn’t it?”
Cassius’ eyes flashed open. He wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the dagger at his side automatically, threatening.
Antony just smiled, unblinking, “You want him, and he’s mine. And that makes this simple. It’s so easy for me to do something for you. Do you know why?”
“I'm not playing this game.”
“It’s because I can do what I want with things that are mine.”
I could stab him. Cassius thought. Not now- But if I plan it right. Stab him. Choke him. Break his neck.
He didn’t try to hide that thought. He knew Antony could tell what he was thinking. Antony’s smirk was challenging.
“Do you know…” Antony said, “It’s a funny thing about Brutus- He’s so in control. All the time. He’s obstinate. He’s frustrating. But when he’s with me? When I put my hand on the back of his neck and push his head down and make him choke on my cock? He’s so good. He’ll do exactly what I want. He’ll beg me to do what I want with him.”
Cassius felt sick, tension building deep down inside him. He couldn’t look away from Antony’s gaze.
“I won't let him move, I won’t let him breathe till he’s crying, but when I let him pull away he begs me to do it again.”
"I don’t- That isn’t what-“
“That isn’t what you want? I’ve seen how you look at him. You want him to kneel for you too. You want him to give in, just once.”
“Don’t.” Cassius swallowed heavily, trying to breathe. He didn’t know why he said it. Didn’t know why he tried. Antony did what he wanted. Antony always did what he wanted. If someone threatened him, really threatened him, they always wound up dead, bleeding out in a back alley somewhere, tongues cut out, stab wounds through their eyes.
“Brutus was very good tonight. Do you want to see? I tied him up. Tied his wrists together, bound him to the bed. If you wanted to see, he wouldn’t have to know. Don’t tell him and he’ll never know. I blindfolded him before I fucked him.”
Cassius wanted to hit him. Knock him down. Other people- They were afraid of him. Antony shouldn't push him. He should understand that Cassius was a threat. He wanted to snap Antony's calm, grinning confidence. But there was a voice, it felt like it was coming from deep down in his gut, saying - What if this is your only chance? Don’t you want to see what he looks like like that? The voice sounded like Antony. It sounded like Cassius on his worst days. It sounded like the truth.
Antony took a lamp from a shelf and held it out to him, “Go on.” He smiled, encouraging, daring, “He’s in his room. He’ll never know.”
Chapter 4: 4
Cassius took the lamp before he could stop himself. He walked down the hallway before he could talk himself out of it, trying to ignore the feeling of Antony’s gaze on the back of his neck. If he thought about it any more, it would make his skin crawl.
He pushed open the half closed door of Brutus’ room (next to the garden, because Brutus loved, had loved since childhood, to watch the moon set while he tried to sleep — He’d told Cassius that bit of vulnerability when he was drunk, late one night, when he’d been too tired to be wholly himself, or more himself than Cassius had ever seen) and he heard Antony quietly close the door behind them. And then he forgot everything for a moment. He forgot about Antony, he forgot why he was here to begin with.
The lamps weren’t lit. There was just the light of the little flame that Antony had given Cassius, but that was enough. Brutus was asleep - Cassius didn’t think he’d ever seen him so relaxed. He was naked, half curled on his side, his wrists bound, another length of rope tying them to the frame of the bed. Antony hadn’t lied, he was blindfolded. But Antony hadn’t mentioned the bite mark at the nape of his neck. The fingerprint bruises across his ribs, his hips, stark and vivid, making the rest of his skin seem paler in comparison.
Cassius could picture, clearly, like he’d watched it happen, what Antony must have done to make those marks. Envy raged through him. He could see traces of semen across Brutus’ stomach, his thighs. He could feel Antony’s self satisfied smile without having to turn and look. And he hated himself for having taken the lamp and let Antony provoke him into this position.
He almost wished he could have just watched it happen, snuck into the garden without anyone knowing he was there, watched through the window in secret voyeurism, even if it meant having to watch Antony fuck Brutus.
“Do you want to touch him?” Antony had stepped up close behind him, his voice so low Cassius wouldn’t have been able to hear it if Antony’s lips hadn’t been almost at his ear. He turned to look at him sharply, that horrific, desperate feeling building in his gut no matter how much he tried to push it down. Like he'd been pushing it down for so long that he couldn’t control it any longer.
“Go ahead.” Antony whispered. “He won’t know it’s you. Don’t say a word.”
Cassius almost asked - Why are you letting me do this? What do you get out of this? But he couldn’t make himself open his mouth. He couldn’t do anything but stare at Brutus, getting harder the longer he looked, desperate and hating himself for it.
Antony stepped around him, going to the window and silently pushing himself up to sit on the sill, watching Cassius expectantly.
Not like this. Not like this. Not with you watching. But- Would he ever have a better opportunity? Would Brutus ever want him if he knew it was him? Would Brutus ever forgive him if he knew what Cassius was thinking now?
Cassius could feel himself trembling. He didn’t have answers. He couldn’t think.
Brutus stretched out, muscles tensing slightly, a soft sound - of pain, or remembered pleasure - falling from his lips.
Cassius found himself at the edge of the bed without making up his mind to move. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t seem to stop himself either. He sat down next to Brutus on the bed, and Brutus curled closer to him, naked, and beautiful, and so trusting. Cassius reached out carefully - he didn’t want to startle him, he didn’t want to wake him, he didn’t want to break whatever state Brutus was in that left him so unguarded - he lightly touched his fingers to Brutus’ palm, tracing lines across it, and Brutus stretched out his fingers, catching Cassius’ hand in between his bound ones and twining them together. He pulled Cassius down next to him half asleep, lazy, pressing his lips against Cassius’ neck, the line of his jaw.
Cassius choked back a groan.He tried to stay silent, he didn’t want Brutus to hear, he didn’t want Antony to hear. He slid his arm around Brutus, pulling him closer, the heat of his naked body soaking through his tunic. Brutus gasped, pressing his hips against Cassius’, whimpering when he felt how hard the other man was. Cassius hesitated slightly, and then reached up and loosened the ropes binding Brutus’ wrists, letting him slide his hands free. Brutus sat up, shifting to be able to reach for Cassius’ belt, and Cassius grabbed at his waist to keep him from falling off the bed.
Brutus’ laughter was almost better than all the rest, breathless and bright, not like the laugh he had during the day. He put an arm around Cassius’ shoulder and leaned up to kiss him, letting Cassius pull him back into the middle of the bed. He started undoing Cassius’ belt, fingers clumsy with urgency, and Cassius pulled away to tug off his tunic, kicking it out of the way before Brutus ran his hands up his chest, fingers brushing lightly across his nipples, making Cassius gasp and moan.
He’d almost forgotten Antony watching them. He’d almost forgotten the soldier was there. Brutus was distracting. Brutus was a world to himself. But then he heard the soft, almost inaudible sound of Antony’s feet touching the floor as he slid down from the sill. He turned his head to look, the feeling of Brutus’ fingers twining through his hair, the sharp nip of his teeth at his neck, almost unfocussing him.
Antony knelt down, picking up a vial from the floor. He held it out to Cassius, the sharp, predatory smile twisting his mouth saying - See. I told you. He’s so good when he thinks its me.
For a moment. Cassius wanted to make it all stop. He wanted to find a way to wipe the smile from Antony’s face. A way to say - You don’t own me. You don’t own him. It’ll be you bleeding out in an alleyway next.
Cassius started to pull away, to get up, but Brutus made a hoarse, imploring sound, shifting till he was almost sitting in Cassius’ lap, his legs spread so that his knees bracketed Cassius’ hips. He rested his forehead against Cassius’, his breath warm against his lips, his fingers tightly wound through his hair. And then, low, and raw, and desperate, he spoke:
And Cassius broke.
He threw Brutus back onto the bed, fitting himself between his legs, grabbing his hips and pulling him closer till the head of his cock brushed against Brutus’ slick entrance. He didn’t need the oil. Antony had clearly used more than enough before.
He breathed for a second, just feeling Brutus’ heat against his cock. He put his hands on Brutus’ thighs, pushing his legs up, so he could watch as he let just the head of his cock slide into Brutus, and back out. He did it again, and again, till the quiet, breathy sounds Brutus was making became needy moans. He catalogued all the ways Brutus tried to plead with his body, the way his fingers curled around his biceps with bruising force, trying to pull Cassius closer, his heels hooked around Cassius’ thighs, making it hard for Cassius not to just give in and snap his hips forward, filling him.
Brutus arched, fingers digging into the sheets. Cassius could see his muscles straining, trying to pull closer to Cassius, like he wanted Cassius to stop stalling and just ram his cock into him as hard as he could, without hesitation, without any concern for Brutus. Just take what he wanted. Take, and claim, and own, and fuck.
When he couldn’t hold on anymore, when he’d seen everything he wanted to see, incised it into his memory, he tightened his grip around Brutus’ hips and thrust into him, hard.
Brutus’ voice broke as he screamed.
Cassius couldn’t have made himself stop even if he wanted to, even if Antony had told him to. He wrapped his arms around Brutus, pulling him closer as he fucked him, the sound of Brutus’ moans muffled against his shoulder, his breath burning against his skin. He couldn’t think past the slick, hot, stretch of Brutus’ body around his cock. He couldn’t hear anything except Brutus’ cries and the blood pounding in his ears.
He was close. He was so close. He was too close. He braced his hand against the wall and forced himself to stop for a moment, his cock buried as deep inside Brutus as it could go. His sweat dripped down onto Brutus’ chest, and his ragged breaths were too close to his own voice for comfort. Brutus was trembling, each breath he took in a gasp. He clenched around Cassius’ cock and Cassius bit his tongue till it bled to keep from making a sound.
You’ll have another chance. You’ll have another chance. This can’t be the last time you do this- He’ll know its you next time. There will be a next time.
But then, Brutus slid his hand around the back of his neck, pulling him down, nipping at his lower lip, and he said - “Antony… Please. Please move. I’m so close.”
And Cassius couldn’t do it. He could hear the soft sound of Antony’s stifled laughter. And he pulled away from Brutus so quickly that Brutus didn’t have a chance to grab him and keep him there. He snatched his tunic off the floor, but before he could leave Antony stepped in front of the door, silent and entirely unmoveable, like a force of nature, his eyes dark.
Cassius’ jaw clenched, he looked towards the window, but then he saw Antony’s gaze shift to just over his shoulder, and he couldn’t help but follow his gaze. Brutus was kneeling at the edge of the bed, still blindfolded but obviously following the sound of Cassius’ footsteps, his uneven breaths.
There was something in his voice Cassius couldn’t place. It was muddied with a hungry, desperate rawness and something like but yet unlike fear.
Cassius saw Brutus reach up, his hand going to the edge of the blindfold. Antony wasn’t moving. Cassius was too far from the window. He leapt forward before Brutus could pull off the fabric, and pushed him back onto the bed, pinning his wrists above his head. Brutus wrapped his legs around around Cassius’ waist, canting his hips up with a needy, desperate little sound.
“Please.” He said. “Please, please, please, whatever you want- Just please-”
No more repetition of Antony’s name. Just please. Over and over again till Cassius wanted to weep.
He held Brutus’ wrists together with one hand, bracing his other hand against Brutus’ hip as he slid back into him, breathing in sharply at the feeling of the heat and tightness he’d tried to refuse.
He didn’t hesitate this time. He didn’t stop. He was so hard it hurt, and the sounds of Brutus’ pleading made him forget even Antony watching them.
He set a brutal rhythm, Brutus’ keening cries spurring him on, until he felt Brutus clench around him, his whole body arching, arms straining against Cassius' grip as he came.
Cassius felt like lightning was branching through him. His vision blacked out, and he bit down hard on Brutus’ shoulder to stop himself from screaming.
When his vision cleared, he realized that the lamp had gone out. The room was dark. The clouds outside blocking the moon.
Cassius pulled away from Brutus, and sat at the edge of the bed.
He pushed his hair out of his face, fingers catching on tangles.
He breathed. And tried to ignore the thin line of heat that was where Brutus’ leg brushed against his back.
He knew Antony was still in the room. If he listened for it, he could hear him breathing.
He didn’t want to think about that. He didn’t want to think about what he’d just given Antony, the weakness he couldn’t take back.
He stood up carefully, trying not to disturb Brutus, and tugged on his clothes. He felt Antony slide past him in the dark, going and taking his place on the bed. He waited, until he heard the soft sound of Brutus’ gasp, muffled slightly, as if Antony was kissing him, distracting him. And then Cassius quietly slipped out the door and into the cold, silent night.
Chapter 5: 5
October, 42 BC
It isn’t till the end that Cassius says something. Four years later, but it feels like a hundred.
They’re not the same people anymore. Brutus is harder, keener, more intransigent than ever. They both carry new scars. They’re both sleepless with new pains.
Cassius sometimes thinks the Brutus he saw that night might not exist. Might never have existed. Easier to think it was a dream than picture distant, bitter, harsh laughing Brutus as vulnerable, desperate, soft.
So he doesn’t say anything. He stays silent over any number of nights, any number of days, until a night comes that he thinks might be their last. Till he thinks - You’ll be out of chances if you don’t say something now. It can’t be that bad to say something now…
He strongly suspects Brutus might hate him already anyway.
They’re alone, for once. It’s late at night, the lamps swinging in a cold wind that edges through the tent.
Brutus is at his desk, head bent over reports, the half light making him look younger for a moment, till he turns, and the shadows darken and Cassius thinks he looks almost dead, exsanguinated, halfway in a grave.
“Did you think this would be where we ended up?” Not the best start. Cassius doesn’t know if there’s a good way to start.
Brutus shrugs, not looking up. “Does it matter now? No one decision brought us here.”
Cassius laughs before he can help it, a cynical, coughing sound, and Brutus raises his eyes.
“If certain people were dead…” Cassius doesn’t need to finish that sentence. Brutus isn’t going to let him anyway.
“I’m not talking about that again.” Brutus says, terse and cold.
“If that choice is going to kill us, don’t you think we could maybe recognise it for the mistake it was?”
“It wasn’t a mistake. I thought it through. I made a very clear decision.”
Cassius was never good at controlling his anger. He was never very good at controlling any strong passion. If he hated, he hated, if he wanted, he wanted. He didn’t know which feeling was stronger, just then.
“You thought it through? Because you liked the feel of his cock isn’t much of a decision.”
Brutus tenses sharply, frozen in place. “What did you say”
“That’s why you didn’t kill him, isn’t it?”
“I think I’d know if it was."
“I know what I saw.”
Brutus doesn’t say anything. Cassius can't read his expression.
“I was there - one of those nights. I-” Cassius breaks off, trying to get his tone under control. This wasn’t how he wanted to explain. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go- Why could they never do anything except fight? Had it always been like that? Had there ever been a better moment, a better time in their relationship and he’d missed it?
Cassius breaths. Waits till his blood stops burning.
“I didn’t mean… I shouldn’t even have been there. I don’t know why I didn’t just walk away but-”
It feels like he’s in that room again. He remembers the way Brutus felt under him. The heat of his skin, the hungry way he’d grabbed at him, begging, pleading…
“I’ve always wanted you.” He says. Trying to sound uncompromising, trying to sound like he knows what he wants and could take it. “And I thought- I thought I’d never have another chance… So I-”
Cassius stops short, staring. Brutus' expression is unreadable, gaze flat.
“You knew?” Cassius can’t make his voice work the first time he says it.
Brutus is silent.
“Why didn’t you-”
“I liked the way things were.” Brutus says, looking up at him, tone inflexible. “I wasn’t going to give that up because Antony was on a power trip.”
Cassius is trembling. He stands up, backing away from Brutus.
“You knew it was me, you said Antony’s name even though you knew it was me-”
Brutus doesn’t say anything, his gaze back on the papers in front of him.
Cassius wants to break something. He wants to shout. He wants to be back in that hallway so he could stab Antony, damn the consequences.
“Gods you two deserve each other.” It wasn’t what he meant to say. It wasn’t supposed to be true.
Brutus looks up at him, just at the edge of anger, “It was four years ago. It doesn’t matter now.”
“It doesn’t matter?”
“No. It doesn’t. I know. I’ve known the whole time. It’s never interfered. It doesn’t matter. It changes nothing.”
And he was right. It hadn’t changed anything. Brutus was the one whose decisions mattered. Brutus never gave up control. Even the loss of control was something orchestrated, something he decided.
Cassius wonders if Antony realized the same thing. He wonders if Brutus was ever honest, ever capable of being the person he was on his own with anyone else. He wonders if he was hiding something now, if he was lining Cassius up for something even worse than this private horror.
Another minute and Cassius might want to stab him - He looks like a stranger, every angle of his face, a face Cassius had memorized, made unfamiliar and foreign. Like someone else had stepped into Brutus’ body. Like someone else had been there all along.
30 years observing, spying, thinking he knew him. Thinking - I can figure him out. Watch long enough, minutely enough, and everyone gives themselves away.
I know. I’ve known the whole time.
Cassius can’t stay. It’s like all the oxygen has gone. Like Brutus has stolen it out of his lungs. He leaves the tent.
When the time comes- When he sees that Antony is winning, and that Brutus’ troops are nowhere in sight, he doesn’t think twice. He doesn’t try to tell himself - You’ll have another chance.
He doesn’t try to say - It’s enough that Brutus is on your side.
He’d been playing Brutus’ game all along, without realising it. And he wasn’t going to win.
Chapter 6: 6
Summer, 46 BC.
The Morning After
Antony stays the night. At dawn, Brutus stretches and gets up, dressing precisely, like he always does, spine straight, head back, uncompromising. Antony watches him. He always watches him, in rare moments of daylight privacy. He thinks sometimes the mornings are an even greater concession to him than the nights have been.
It was still raining. Thunder straight through the morning, cancelling everything.
Antony doesn’t get dressed. He lazes in Brutus’ bed, taking up all the oxygen in the room. He tries to grab Brutus’ waist as he walks by, and makes casual, vaguely threatening jokes about his clothes, the length of his tunic, the colour of his pallium, the careful way he pleats it to hide his bruises. Antony’s heard every garment related slur that could be voiced. He mimics the best.
Brutus ignores him. But his shoulders relax a little. And Antony thinks - A little more work, a cleverer sounding joke, and I could make him smile.
Eventually Brutus yanks the blankets off the bed, kicking Antony out, and throwing his clothes at him. Antony stretches, idle and in no hurry. He can feel the ache through his arms, a dull flash of pain down his back. He’d had Brutus again, a few hours after Cassius had left, biting over the marks the other man had left as he fucked him.
He hears Brutus leave the bedroom. He hears Claudia’s voice in the hallway, and then the sound of the front door closing. He wonders if they both had left, he begins to think he should be gone as well.
Brutus comes back into the room. He closes the door behind him quietly. He goes to pick up a letter he’d forgotten on his desk.
“Why did you do it?”
Antony turns, startled. “I’m sorry?”
Brutus looks up at him, eyebrows raised expectantly, and perhaps a little amused. It’s not easy to startle Antony. "Why did you do it?
“I don’t know what you mean.” Antony stares him down, a little too unblinking to be honest.
“Yes you do. Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I don’t know what it feels like when you’re fucking me?”
“I don’t think you did.” Derision, dismissal. Brutus at his most infuriating.
“Shut up.” Antony snaps. But then he looks at Brutus’ face, and there’s something very close to a smile twisting the corner of his mouth. Sharp, and a little dangerous, but not angry.
Brutus picks up one of Antony’s rings from the window sill and tosses it to him, spinning a second between his fingers, trying it on and grimacing at how thin his fingers are in comparison.
“Do you want me to apologize?” Antony asks. Not I’m sorry.
Brutus looks away, mouth twisting, halfway between amusement and irritation.
“Are you going to do something about it?”
Brutus shrugs, then, matter of factly - “I am going to kill you.”
“So you’ve said.” Antony sits on the edge of the bed, leaning back against the wall. “I’m waiting.”
Brutus pushes himself up to sit on the sill, like he’s testing something, unsure if he will balance. He doesn’t say anything.
“Well?” Antony presses, “What’s your verdict? How was he?”
Brutus looks down at the floor, expression blank, spinning the ring around his middle finger. "Have a go yourself if you're curious."
Antony pushes a little more. “Are you going to do it with him again?” Say yes, Antony thinks, and I’ll kill him before it can happen.
“No.” Brutus still isn't looking at him.
“Because I don’t-” Brutus breaks off. He stops spinning the ring.
“I don’t…” He takes in a long breath, staring fixedly at the clasp of Antony’s sandal.
“You don’t what?”
“It wasn’t…” Brutus hesitates, careful with his words, careful as someone manufacturing a truth, and then he looks up, expression clear, “It wasn’t as good as it is with you.” He throws the ring back at Antony, who lunges to catch it.
Antony slides the ring on, watching Brutus, eyes alive with skepticism, but he lets the hesitation slide. Lets the conversation go where Brutus leads. “Why’d you go through with it then?”
“I wanted to be able to look him in the face.”
“And letting him fuck you let’s you do that?”
“He doesn’t know that I know.” Brutus says calmly, patiently. “If I’d stopped him. He’d know.”
“And that makes it different?”
“Because I say it does.”
Antony laughs, guttural and too loud. “One day that’s not going to be enough.”
“Maybe.” Brutus’ eyes go cold, his gaze flat. “But that day isn’t today.” He jumps down from the sill, pallium a little rumpled.
“Why do you care if you can still look him in the face?”
“I need him.”
Brutus gives him a sharp, weighted look. Antony stares back. The silence goes on for a moment until Brutus says, like he’s testing a limit- "You said you didn’t want to know. You didn’t want details.”
“Maybe I’ve changed my mind.”
“No you haven’t.” Brutus smiles slowly, challenging. The boundary holds. He pushes a little harder, a little more mockery in his eyes.
“Don’t tell me what I think.” Almost an order. Almost Antony’s soldier voice. Not quite.
“I’ll do what I like.”
The conversation devolves quickly, after that. It always devolves quickly.
Antony wraps his fingers around the back of Brutus’ neck and slams him down, bent over his desk. Brutus doesn’t fight. Not really. He doesn’t argue. His eyes are blown wide and dark, his gaze fixed on a point at the edge of the desk as Antony works him open and then snaps his hips forward, filling him, making Brutus feel like he’s going to shatter, like he’s already broken, as Antony fucks him hard and fast.
And later - as Antony gets dressed, Brutus doesn’t say, “You broke your word.”
He doesn’t condemn him. Or argue.
Perhaps he knew it would happen. Perhaps not. He moves on. What else is there to do? The rules change. The game continues. It will happen again.
You still have to see it through to the end.