‘Tomorrow we get back to my uncle’s’ Marcus said, sounding a lot more final than he intended as he finally broke the silence that had been hanging over them for hours now. They were sat on the floor near the fire Esca had lit up in the disused storage room they had, somehow, managed to convince the grumpy looking owner to rent them for the night. In truth, Marcus hadn’t wanted to stop; they were so close now and the hot bath back at the villa had a very strong appeal to his weary body. He knew he could have ground his teeth a little bit and bear the pain in his leg till they were back, not a problem, especially since the weather had finally given them a break and it had stop doing, what was it called….ah yes, drizzling, that horrible not-rain that makes you think you will not get wet, only to find yourself soaked after a few hours. And he was damn well fed up of being wet all the time now, thank you very much.
But he knew there was something wrong with Esca and he wanted, whatever it was, to clear it up before their return home. For the last few hours, he had noticed how Esca’s body was much more tense than normal, snapping on full alert at the slightest noise but not commenting on anything, not even to make some sarcastic comment at his expense. The final proof was when he hadn’t done anything, not even flinching, at the comment the food seller they had visited upon arrival had made about their appearance.
What was going on with him?
‘Yes’ Esca replied, folding his arms around his bended legs, moving his body forward from where he had been leaning against the wall.
‘We can go hunting again’ Marcus said, although he was quite sure he was ok with not visiting the woods for a few days at least.
‘Yes’ Esca replied, his arms tightening their grip. Marcus knew he wasn’t really listening but wanted one final proof.
‘And maybe go around naked in town’ he said, with a mischievous smile.
‘Yes’ Esca said, not even blinking.
‘Esca, are you even listening to me?’
His friend quickly turned around, blushing slightly for having been caught out. Marcus smiled at the sight, before feeling a cold chill going down his spine. What was making his fierce, painted warrior so scared? Marcus moved his hand forward, wanting so much to grab at his friend’s shoulder, hoping to give him some comfort from whatever it was, but then he stopped himself.
‘What is going on Esca? You have been acting weird for the last few hours’ he said, laughing a little, hoping to light up the mood. Ever since they had crossed the Wall with the eagle safely under his arm, his heart had felt so much lighter, he felt strong enough to fly to the moon and back. Instead Esca, the man without whom none of this would have been possible, the man who had saved him over and over again, had gone quieter and quieter. He knew Esca had been badly shaken by the killing of the young Seal boy, but they had given him all the funerary rites, Esca insisting on making it as appropriate as possible with the limited resources available to two dead on their feet warriors and a bunch of old soldiers. What was going on?
Esca turned around again, his eyes back on the flames. Marcus laughter died in his chest.
‘Esca, you are starting to worry me, what’s wrong?’ he finally said, his voice dropping a hint of amusement. At this point, he needed to know.
‘Will you keep your word?’ Esca asked.
Esca’s hands tightened up on his knees, his eyes not moving at all from the flames.
‘You gave me my freedom’ he hissed.
How could Marcus forget that? He only needed to close his eyes and he could picture the whole scene in its details, from the rain, to the pain in his leg, to the colour of Esca’s eyes.
‘It’s the best decision I have taken in my whole life’ he said, hoping that Esca could feel the fierceness behind his words. He saw Esca’s lips curving slightly up for a moment, before the shadows took hold of him again. His friend shook his head and said:
‘But I know as well as you do that it is not that easy. You will need to go to the officials and’
Marcus threw his reticence out of the window and grabbed Esca’s shoulder, forcing him to turn. To his surprise his friend didn’t rebel but kept his gaze resolutely down to the floor.
‘I’ll not be able to respect myself, to call myself a man of honour anymore, if I were to get back on my word to you to free you’ Marcus said, the words flowing out of him without even thinking twice.
‘Esca, you must know you are’
His voice faltered for a moment as a great wave of heat washed away in his chest. It was not the first time he had felt his heart overwhelming him when it came to Esca. He had felt it that fateful day at the games, then when Esca had thrown his father's dagger at his feet, and then, since after the second surgery on his leg, every single day he spent with him. It has started so slowly, Marcus hadn’t even paid much attention to it, blaming it on being lonely. But it had continued to grow as they started their journey, as Marcus admired Esca’s resourcefulness in the wild. And now, well, he couldn’t get rid of that feeling, that need to know Esca was happy. That desire to know that he had done all he could to alleviate the other’s sufferings. He knew he should tell him more clearly, but Marcus didn’t have the words to express it. He was a soldier at heart, he didn’t get taught the words to express how his heart beat was accelerating, how his palms were sweating and how the only thing he wanted in that very moment was for Esca to lift his gaze and look at him and finally bring him out of the shadows. How was he meant to explain that Esca was now part of him? How could he clarify that not following through with the manumission would have hurt Marcus himself as much as that damn chariot had hurt his body so many months before?
‘Everything will change’ Esca said, taking a little pause at the end of each word.
‘Yes, but for the better’ Marcus replied. As a freedman, Rome would have required Esca to still work for his former master, but, in their little god forsaken part of the Empire, Marcus knew that, if Esca wanted, he could have just disappeared in the mist. Reasonably, he couldn’t go back north of the wall anymore, the tribes there would have recognised him, and his end wouldn’t be a pleasant one. Perhaps he still had some relatives in other tribes, maybe a cousin who married within another clan who could give him protection of some sort. At that thought, right when he pictured his cell back the villa devoid of Esca, Marcus felt a distinct sting right in the middle of his chest and, for a moment, no air come through. Yes, if that was Esca’s path, it was going to hurt, but he was a soldier, he was going to bear it. It was the right thing to do. He couldn’t owe the person he loved.
Esca was still staring at the floor. Marcus searched and searched his brain. What could he say to help his friend? He knew that, if Esca didn’t want to talk, there wasn’t much he could do, but it hurt to see him like this, right when they should have been just celebrating life, after countless near encounters with Death.
‘You will be free, you will be able to go about your homeland like before and’
Esca finally raised his serious gaze up to Marcus, looking at him with a deep frown on his forehead and a challenge in his eyes. Marcus noticed how his friend’s chest was heaving.
‘Esca’ Marcus said quietly. Then everything happened all at once: his friend pushed him down violently to the floor, climbing on top of him, his powerful legs either side of his midriff. Esca looked down at him, right into his eyes, before lowering his gaze down to his lips, setting Marcus’ skin on fire as he waited for Esca’s actions. For a moment, Marcus was back in Isca Dumnoniorum, surrounded by his comrades as they waited for the tribesmen attack. Who was going to attack first this time? Esca’s challenge was still shining in his eyes and his breath was even quicker now. Marcus’ own breath was starting to itch in his chest and his body was betraying his reactions to the onslaught as he started to get hard under Esca’s taut body. Marcus watched Esca lick his own lips before closing the distance between them and kissing Marcus with all that fire he had seen in him a moment ago. There was nothing tender about it. Esca bit his lower lip and their teeth clung together as Marcus opened his mouth against the intrusion. All of Esca’s body above his was shaking as he continued his offensive attack, moving on to kiss down the line of his jaw and further down to the neck, where he bit him lightly.
‘Esca’ Marcus called again, but he didn’t reply, kissing and kissing the skin beneath his ear. Marcus couldn’t stop himself from sighing in pleasure, but he needed to keep his head clear. If it was going to happen, and the gods only knew how much he wanted it to happen, it wasn’t going to happen like this.
‘Esca stop’ Marcus said, trying to push the other man away from him, but Esca used all his strength so could to stay right there, holding on to Marcus’ shoulders. But he had stopped his offensive. For a moment, Marcus could only hear his laboured breathing right against his ear, sending shivers of pleasure down his spine.
Stay focus centurion, pay attention, his brain said, going against everything the rest of his body was screaming for.
Slowly, he moved his own arms around Esca’s body, hoping to give his friend a little comfort.
‘Esca, talk to me’ he said, pushing his right hand through the other man’s hair as delicately as possible. He wanted it to be an invite to move his face up, to show his eyes, but nothing. Esca stayed there, but his breathing was calming down a little.
‘Please?’ Marcus asked, feeling the old reticence at showing weakness pulling at his heart, but the desire to see his friend’s face was too strong.
‘Don’t send me away’ Esca growled with his face still hidden in the curve of Marcus’ neck.
‘What?’ Marcus asked. He had heard him loud and clear, but just couldn’t believe it. Was he really scared of something Marcus hadn’t even remotely contemplated? It was not his decision to take.
‘Don’t send me away from you’ Esca hissed, pushing his face further into Marcus’ body.
And, finally, everything became clear. The two of them were one and the same. Both dragged away from the life they had planned for themselves, both hurt so much by the Fates and their crazy designs. Just like him, Esca knew loneliness, and the unbearable pain of the death of your loved ones. And just like him, Fortuna had shown Esca a glimpse of something else, something like happiness and, maybe, just maybe, love. Esca didn’t want to lose it. Marcus didn’t want to lose it. And he was going to fight for it, even if this meant baring his own heart more than had ever imagined before.
Marcus strengthened his grip on Esca.
They don’t teach you the words for this feeling in the army, but they teach you the courage to say them.
‘Te amo, Esca, and if it was up to me alone, I will never, ever, send you away’
Esca relaxed in his arms, but his face still was hidden. For a moment, Marcus didn’t know what to do or think. His heart rate picked up as he felt the shame grow in is chest. Had he misunderstood? Didn’t Esca feel the same?
‘Rwy'n dy garu di’ Esca whispered, almost imperceptibly.
Marcus hugged him even harder. He didn’t know the words, but he could guess their meaning fairly easily and he remembered, as clear as day, when he had asked Esca if he thought in Latin or his native language, and how Esca had explain to him how using Latin to express himself always put a barrier, a sort of distance, between himself and his words. If Esca wanted to say something extremely important, something like his innermost feelings, he would use his native tongue.
Just like Marcus, he didn’t want to have any barriers between the two of them anymore.
Marcus gently changed their position, laying Esca down gently.
‘Look at me’ he asked.
Esca finally looked at him. For the first time since they met, the raw vulnerability in those eyes was completely naked, there for him to see. Marcus cupped Esca’s cheek with his right hand and said in front of all the gods of both Romans and Brigantes:
‘I will never leave you’
And kissed him gently, just a little peck on the lips at first. And then there was another. And then another, till Esca, unprompted, opened his lips, letting Marcus in. Marcus, slowly, climbed upon the other man, both his hands now holding Esca’s face as the kiss deepened. He heard Esca’s moan loudly, sending a shock of pleasure all the way down to his own loins. He couldn’t hide it, he was hard, but so was Esca. Marcus sat up a little to take his tunic off. Esca took his opportunity to slip out from under him. He stood up, his back to Marcus, who was left to panic. Had he done something wrong? Had Esca changed his mind? Were they going to fast? Slowly, his fears were put to rest: Esca, under his mesmerised eyes, stripped off all his clothing, revealing the perfect, lean body Marcus had seen many times before, but not like this, not with Esca’s member fully erected and desire shining in his eyes.
Marcus, slowly, stood up himself, removing his last pieces of clothing as well. Completely naked, stripped for once of fear, duty, and of whatever the world wanted them to be, they stood there, looking at each other. The skin of Marcus’ hands burned with the desire to touch Esca, while the gaze of the other, moving slowly up and down his body, was sending sparks of pleasure to every corner of his being. He could move, he could have it all, but, insanely, he wanted Esca to do the first move.
‘You are the most handsome man I have ever seen’ he managed to say, his voice going huskier than he had ever heard it.
‘Shut up’ Esca said, finally coming to Marcus, pushing him towards the wall of the room. A gasp left Marcus’ lips without his consent: all that movement was finally taking a tall on Marcus’ leg.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry’
‘Don’t you dare apologise’ Marcus growled, leaning his weight on the other leg as he kissed Esca with all the strength left in him.
They both moaned loudly when their erections touched, naked skin on naked skin. Esca’s forehead was back on Marcus’ shoulder as he panted loudly when they started to move against each other.
‘Esca’ Marcus called out. He didn’t know how to stop the lower part of his body rutting against his lover. His skin was on fire, Esca’s hands were living a burning trail everywhere they went along his body while Marcus’ ones were kneading the muscles of Esca’s arse.
‘I want you. I have wanted you for a long time’ He heard himself saying.
Esca stopped kissing him for a moment and looked at him. There was a new challenge in his eyes, but not the dark one he had seen a few moments before, but one full of mischief.
‘Sit down then’ Esca said.
‘Is that an order?’
‘Oh hell yes’ the other replied.
Marcus followed the orders, smiling, his eyes fixed onto Esca’s, who knelt near him before putting two fingers on Marcus’ lips.
‘Open’ he ordered.
Marcus didn’t object. A pool of hot pleasure gathered further and further down in his stomach, as he moved his lips and his tongue around Esca’s fingers. Esca wetted his own lower lip, moaning as he seemed to enjoy the view in front of him.
Then, he took his fingers out of Marcus’ mouth and brought them behind himself, his intentions becoming as clear as day.
‘No, let me’ Marcus whispered. Esca suddenly stopped and Marcus couldn’t breathe for a moment. Was Esca going to let him do it?
‘I didn’t think that a Roman would know what to do’ Esca said, amused as he studied Marcus’ face.
‘I will show you what this Roman knows’ Marcus said, laughing out loud as he knelt in front of Esca, who, without having to be asked, went on his hands and knees.
Marcus took it slowly, wetting his hands and Esca’s entrance, taking his time before entering him with one finger. Esca’s body trembled a little as a loud moan escaped his lips. His body was so hot and, slowly, more and more malleable as Marcus entered him with another finger, opening him up. Marcus wasn’t sure how much more he could take, his own body shaking with the sheer pleasure of having Esca just like that, just for him.
‘Marcus’ Esca moaned.
Slowly, he took his fingers out of Esca, and, slowly, lined himself up.
‘I’m not a spooked animal, come on Marcus’ Esca said, exasperated.
‘And there I was trying to be nice’ Marcus laughed, before entering him.
Marcus was aware that Esca had said something but couldn’t have made out the words even if he had wanted to. The heat, the tightness, the beautiful arch of Esca’s body the moment he was taken, was just too much to bear. He moved slowly, savouring it, stopping in his slow march when he was fully inside Esca.
‘Te amo’ he said, over and over, planting a kiss on Esca’s back as he let the other adjust to his member.
‘Marcus, move, or I swear to’
Marcus pulled out and in again, thrusting all the way in picking up speed as Esca met his movements eagerly.
‘Marcus’ Esca muttered once more when Marcus took his cock in his hand, starting to pump him in time with his thrust.
‘Come for me Esca’ he whispered, feeling the other’s body contracting around him. With a loud moan, Esca came with Marcus’ name on his lips, arching again as he climaxed. Marcus was not too far behind, three more thrusts and he spilled inside Esca, grabbing the other’s hips so tightly while he came.
He planted one last kiss on Esca’s back, before pulling out and letting himself fall next to his lover, who scuttled closer to him, both enjoying the calm after the storm, slowly falling asleep with the knowledge that, no matter what, they were not alone anymore.
Tomorrow was going to be a new day and, with Esca at his side, Marcus was looking forward to it.