It had been many days and nights ever since the two of them had passed the wall and had finally returned to the world that Marcus had known to be the one he belonged to. Even though he had always felt himself belonging to a world ruled by fellow Romans that security seemed to have been shattered down by what happened on the adventure Esca and him had been on. He had believed that returning to known land would cause him to feel more at home again – but it had taken the fear of having to return there alone to realise what had changed in his heart.
No amount of fear he had felt as a slave during their stay with the seal people could have competed with the devastating emotions that had washed over him at the possibility of Esca staying behind the wall, leaving Marcus behind. Never before had he felt so much fear, hopelessness and melancholy at the perspective to return home without his companion. He had tried to ignore the feelings as soon as Esca had confirmed that he would indeed stay bis his side and as an entire new feeling had been taking hold of Marcus.
However, it had been during the first days after their return that he had realised that he couldn’t ignore what his heart knew already: It didn’t matter to him to be home again. Without Esca by his side, it wouldn’t be the same at all. It had been then, as he had realised that he would have rather stayed with Esca than returning home alone, that it dawned on him that Esca was his home now.
Ever since realising the importance the other man played in his life Marcus had tried to ignore it. After all- he didn’t see much use in it. Even though the two of them had agreed on starting a farm together the former Centurion would never dream of having his feeling returned by the other. Ever since his childhood he had learned to stay determined on the important task ahead and not letting himself get distracted by emotions that would get in the way of leading a proud Roman live of virtue and glory.
And even though he had finally been able to accomplish the thing he had been training for his entire life with the help of Esca, he had found a new plan to stick to now. After all, they had only purchased a generous amount of land near Cavella with the money Marcus had gotten by the governor of Londinium for returning the Eagle to the Roman Empire some months ago and started to build the farm that Esca had dreamed of. There were too many animals to look after now, seeds to water and a new home to built than to dwell on useless feelings.
And even if they were just, Marcus couldn’t help but feel shame at the mere thought of wishing that Esca would return his feelings. Frankly he didn’t care that he was the only remaining son of the chieftain of the Brigantes – after all Esca was more dear to him than any Roman- but he couldn’t forget about their past and the fact that the man he had fallen for used to be his slave. How could he ever speak out about his desire as the former owner of the man and risk the bond that had started to form between them?
In his darkest hours, lying wide awake and listening to Esca’s breathing -as they still slept next to each other like they had done on their mission in the foreign land to him that was home to Esca and that he should have ruled one day- he couldn’t stop thinking about that, of course Esca was going to return to the north one day, of course he would find a wife and settle down and leave Marcus. And the worst thing about it was that he couldn’t even complain about Esca following his heart and finding happiness, after all the years that had been stolen from him from Rome, from an enemy that Marcus himself was representing.
Even though Marcus knew that he should rather bury himself in shame for wanting even more than Esca was already giving him, which was more than he should have even gotten in the first place, he couldn’t help following the thoughts of his desires sometimes. Like now, as he was sitting on the steps of the staircase belonging to the house they bought alongside the land, he couldn’t help but watch Esca, who was currently trying to lead one of the newly bought mares down the narrow patch that divided their fields from the forest surrounding their farm.
He couldn’t help but appreciate Esca’s lean figure, how his hair was shining in the sun and how his slim but defined muscles worked on his naked back. The sun suited him, even though Marcus knew that the other had trouble with his pale skin after an entire day on the field, as it was way more sensitive than his own darker skin. Marcus appreciated how well Esca managed to work with the animals they had purchased, especially the horses. The particular chestnut mare that the Britain was currently trying to get to walk had caused Marcus much trouble himself. After having almost been injured by the kicking animal he had started to focus more on dealing with the stallions, while Esca had worked his magic on her. Magic to Marcus it was indeed, how calm and collected Esca was able to speak to the horses in a language that the Roman wasn’t able to understand. Now Esca had one hand raised towards the mare and waited patiently, until she finally made some steps towards him so that he was able to caught her. Almost as soon as he thought about how much he appreciated Esca, he scolded himself for focusing on the other man again.
Minutes must have passed, because Marcus almost jumped as Esca was approaching him.
“Been watching me, haven’t you?” Esca asked him as soon as he came to a halt in front of Marcus, blocking the sun from his view. Marcus wanted to protest and hoped that there was no blush rising to his cheeks as he was embarrassed to having been caught. Esca only started to smirk at him.
“Don’t even deny it, Marcus, I saw you starring at me with that weird expression of yours. You Romans always believe you’re so clever, but trust me, reading you is the easiest thing in the world,” he continued, his eyes suddenly serious despite his teasing tone.
“I was merely appreciating your good work with our horses,” Marcus answered in lack of a better thing to say, trying to avoid Esca’s gaze who was eyeing his position.
“Been resting your leg?” he asked in a concerned voice, that caused Marcus to grit his teeth. As Esca seemed to realise how tense he was all of sudden he went on: “Marcus, you know there is no shame in having to rest, not to me.”
“It’s because you don’t know what it’s like,” he hissed back, realising too late that he had acted on impulse. Biting his lip he turned his face away in shame, feeling the need to apologize to Esca. “I am sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. You’ve been through way worse than what I had to deal with.”
As though Esca was sensing his discomfort he gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s not talk about the past now, Marcus. We need to get everything ready before your uncle arrives.”
Marcus groaned as he remembered that they expected a guest that evening. After his uncle had asked him multiple times over the last weeks to finally see the farm Marcus had given in and invited him over for dinner. Groaning in frustration he accepted Esca’s hand as the other helped him up and followed him into the house.
Esca and Marcus had almost finished preparing the meal as his Uncle and Stephanos arrived just in time. Even though Marcus had expected the two of them to arrive he couldn’t help but feel awkward to see his uncle’s slave in his own household as he didn’t want Esca to be uncomfortable. But the other didn’t even seem to sense a difficult situation, as he was still cutting vegetables for their meal. His uncle however eyed their kitchen with a curious expression and frowned, and for a horrible second Marcus expected him to ask why they didn’t own slaves and managed all the tasks around the farm by themselves. He held his breath for a second, but as Esca turned around and greeted the guests the moment has passed. His uncle started to chat with Esca about horse breeding as they guided him around the farm and showed him the fields and stables. Maybe, just maybe, Marcus thought, this wasn’t going to turn out so bad after all.
Almost two hours later however, Marcus wanted to slap himself for ever thinking that. They had just settled down on the porch leading to the garden to enjoy the sunset, and for himself to steal glances at Esca to watch how handsome he looked in the light of the fading sun and the candlelight surrounding them, as his uncle spoke up to break the silence: “You’re really lucky to have found such a nice spot,” he stated and Marcus hummed in response. “And you’ve already made a proud farm out of it. What a pity it is, now that the two of you have settled down and finally come to peace, that the gods can’t bless you with a child.”
Marcus made a horrible sound as he almost choked on his wine. Coughing and wide-eyed he turned his face towards Esca, who was looking at the sunset with a stern expression, his cheekbones hallow as though he was grinding his teeth. Even though he was hard to read his knuckled had turned white where he was pressing his hands into a fist where they were resting on his legs.
“Then again, you probably have enough trouble with all the animals already,” his uncle spoke on in a nonchalant tone and took a sip of his wine. He seemed calm, but Marcus could have sworn that he made out an amused twinkle in his uncle’s eyes. Even though he was being at loss for words Marcus felt the need to speak up, to save the situation, to do anything that would make the conversation comfortable again, but he didn’t know what to say and no words left his lips.
His uncle drowned the rest of his whine and stood up. “I think we’ll be leaving to get back home before nightfall,” he said before raising his brows at his nephew. “Are you going to accompany me to the door, Marcus?”
Marcus had expected his knees to give out as he raised himself from his position and followed their guests to the door. He felt sick inside and as though his uncle had caused a change in the relationship between himself and Esca that he would never be able to repair again. He was quickly saying goodbye to his uncle before turning around, the house suddenly very quiet. He wanted to stay at the door forever, but after minutes that felt like an eternity he finally started to move towards the garden again, a terrible feeling in his stomach.
After all, what was Esca thinking now? That he had spoken to his uncle about his desires? That he would be someone laying hands on his former slave? Were his feeling for his companion so obvious that even his uncle had started to realise them? Maybe it would be best to explain to Esca that his uncle had had to much wine and was making a ridiculous joke? If he had to he could even try and make up a story about the entire thing being a Roman saying that had nothing to do with implying an intimate partnership between two people – but deep in his heart he knew that none of that would work out.
He found Esca standing on the porch with his back to Marcus, starring at the sunset, an unmoving figure that was causing a long shadow on the ground. He approached the other, but came to a halt behind him, unsure of what to do. It pained him not to be able to see Esca’s face like this, but he was too afraid to ask him to turn around now.
“Esca I’m … I’m sorry for what my uncle said. He…,” he stopped, biting his lip in thought. “He must have misread the situation.” He was holding his breath as he waited for Esca to say something, anything, but the silence between them stretched like the shadows at their feet.
As Marcus opened his mouth to go on, wanting to say anything to break the silence, Esca suddenly turned around, his face a grimace full of pain. “Don’t you understand that you’re the only one misreading the situation, Marcus?” he hissed.
“I’m … what,” Marcus answered, cursing himself for being as eloquent as ever, but he was at loss for words. Here he was trying to save the situation, wanting to apologize and Esca was accusing him of being the one misreading what was happening between them?
Esca starred at him, the slender muscles in his arms tense as he pressed his hands into his sides. He seemed to wait for Marcus to go on, but as nothing happened he shook his head in frustration. “Even your uncle, who hasn’t stayed with us for weeks seems to realise what is happening more than you do. But here I am being granted to be bond to the dullest Roman of them all,” he cursed.
“I am really sorry Esca, I-“ his eyes widened as he started to comprehend what the other had just said. “Being bond to me? Do you mean-“ he started, unsure of what to say. His head was spinning as his heart started to hope that maybe, just maybe, there was a tiny possibility that Esca was feeling the same way about him?
“You really are thick, Marcus,” Esca said, but his eyes softened and his composure changed as he took some steps to break the distance between them. He came to a halt in front of Marcus, too close to be unintentional, as close as lovers stood with each other.
As he was able to feel Esca’s breath on his face Marcus starred down at the smaller man, and it finally hit him. “You want me as well,” he whispered, feeling as though he might get mad with longing as he said what he wanted to say for so long now.
“Of course I do, what else do you think I’ve been trying to tell you with courting you ever since we moved in here!” Esca hissed, but there was a huge amount of amusement in his voice now.
“Courting me? When have you been-“ Marcus started, but all of sudden he realised what the other was implying to. Images clouded his mind of their interactions during the past weeks. How Esca had refused to get a bedroom for himself in their new home and how he had been curling into a ball next to him under the sheets every night since they had moved in together, how Esca had taken extra care for his leg and massaged it almost every time when it pained him after a rough day on the fields, even though Marcus had been complaining about not needing help, how Esca had been extremely generous with his compliments lately, praising him for cooking their meal or for how well he worked with the animals, how Esca had been touching him ever so often, a brush of his fingertips over his arms or legs, how he was always sitting so close next to him as they rested and how his eyes seemed to sparkle every time Marcus had been feeling bold enough to return such a gesture.
Even though he had sometimes wondered about the way Esca was behaving, he had never allowed himself to question his motives. He had told himself that, maybe that was how Esca was behaving under normal circumstances, after all he hadn’t been a free man for long, or maybe that was the way the Brigantes used to act with each other. He had been foolish, and now he felt as though he had been too blinded by his own shame to see the affection that Esca was holding for him.
“Now he finally gets it, after weeks of being exposed to my charm,” Esca complained but laughed as he stepped even closer, their chests touching now, and raised a hand to cup Marcus’ cheek.
“I … have been foolish,” Marcus admitted, feeling his heartbeat drumming like the sound of thousands galloping hooves as he nuzzled Esca’s hand. “Why did you never speak up about your desire?” he asked, his voice rough due to his lips being connected with the other’s skin. He heard Esca’s breath hitch before he answered.
“Well I didn’t realise that you were that thick of a Roman,” he stated, his bright eyes shining as he teased Marcus. “I thought that, maybe you didn’t want me. I have been a free man for months now, always at you side and you have never laid hands on me. And as my courting didn’t show any sign of you returning my feelings I almost lost hope. That is, until your uncle talked to me earlier.”
“My uncle did what?” Marcus asked, raising his head from Esca’s hand to look into his eyes.
Esca grinned up at him, as though he already knew that Marcus wouldn’t like the following information. “He approached me as I was showing him the stables as we were leading him around the farm and you were busy checking on the chickens,” he answered. “He didn’t say much, only looked at me with sympathy as though he could read my longing for you. Then he said: 'Don’t give up now. Marcus needs a little assistance with things sometimes' before he joined you outside. As he spoke up after dinner I believe that he could have been afraid I wouldn’t follow his advice, and that he wanted to get the message across to you as well.”
Marcus was already planning on coming back to his uncle for this, a blush rising to his cheeks in embarrassment, but Esca spoke on. “But why did you never speak up about your desires, Marcus?”
Biting his lips, Marcus tried to avoid his gaze. “How could I, Esca? With our history, me being your former master. With my father having fought against your people. To have you stay with me, to allow myself to be near you seemed like more of a blessing than I should have ever deserved.”
He finally manged to look at Esca again and he thought of how beautiful the other looked in the fading sunlight. “You should have had the opportunity to live a better life. And even if I could allow myself to act on my feelings, why would such a handsome and proud man as you want want to bond himself to a crippled Ex-Centurion,” he whispered, his voice starting to break.
“Do you really think so little of yourself?” Esca spoke up, his fingertips tracing the line of Marcus’ cheekbones. “You’re the best thing that happened to me ever since being ripped of my home. I choose to stay with you not because I wanted to stay here, but because I wanted to stay with you, because that is where I know my heart to belong. I have been sure of that as I didn’t leave you behind escaping the Sea People, and I’m even more sure of that now that we have settled down. You’re my home now, Marcus.” Esca grinned up at him with a cheeky look. “And you’re not that bad for a Roman after all.”
Marcus starred down at Esca, not knowing how to deal with the praise. He gulped, goose bumps running all over his cheek where the other was touching his skin. “And now?” he asked with a trembling voice, still unsure.
Esca flashed him a wide smile, showing his teeth. “Now you’re not going to escape my affection for you ever again, my Marcus,” he said before crashing their lips together.
Marcus tried to keep up with the other, as always, Esca was leading and Marcus was following. He brought his hands up to grab Esca’s waist, pulling him as close as possible as he finally felt those tender lips on his own, as he had dreamed about countless times. Esca was holding on to his shoulders as though he was clinging to them for dear life and deepened the kiss. Too late Marcus realised that Esca was pushing him backwards with a groan and suddenly he found himself in a seating position, with an eager Briton in his lap.
Gasping for breath Esca broke the kiss, his lips ghosting over Marcus’ as he spoke: “Don’t think I’ll ever let you go, now that I final have you.”
“I am as bond to you as you are bond to me,” Marcus answered and leaned forward to capture Esca’s lips in a kiss again.
As they watched the sunset, Marcus humming in content as Esca was caressing his chest with his fingers, Esca purring in his lap like a cat that finally got the canary, Marcus though that maybe he would get a matching tattoo to Esca’s as a sign of their love one day, as he traced the blue lines on the other’s arm.
But for now, he thought, as he kissed Esca’s forehead, the feeling of them both finally being home was enough.
As he watched the sun fade behind the hills in the distance and listened to Esca’s heartbeat Marcus realised, that now that Esca had been forgiving him for their past ,maybe he could forgive himself as well.