Rating: R (for now)
Summary: In between the lines of a story about honour is another story about love. This is an attempt to fill in those lines and to tell that story, with all the scenes that weren't shown.
Warnings: None so far.
Word count: ~7000 for these two chapters.
Disclaimer: The characters from the book 'The Eagle of the Ninth' belong to the estate of Rosemary Sutcliff, and the film, 'The Eagle' is the property of Toledo Productions, Film Four and Focus Features. All creative rights to the original characters and situations depicted within are held by the respective owners; any additional original material is attributable to the author, and no profit is being made from this story.
Author's note: This has rapidly turned into a very large thing of largeness. There's about a billion different prompts from the kink meme packed into it along the way, so if you spot one that's yours, thank you very much for being so wonderfully inspiring <3 I know nothing of Gaelidgh other than what an online translation dictionary can tell me, so my hugest apologies to any native speakers if I screw up spectacularly – and for only using single words because I am unable to form sentences! Also, I've tried to aim for historical accuracy, but if I've done something horribly anachronistic, please let me know so I can fix it :)
Father of my fathers, I pray you, watch over me. Give me the courage and strength to recover from this wound so that I might kneel before you in worship once again.
Mithras, Lord of Light, grant me your favour, so that I might yet live to restore my family's honour, and by doing so, honour you.
Father of my fathers, accept whatever sacrifice you see fit, so that my father's shade may yet walk in your exalted company.
Mithras, Lord of Light, help me. Please, help me.
Red and black. The pain of the old wound had been red and black. The red of each heartbeat, focusing in with an inexorable throb-throb around and inside the livid gash. The black had been starless but still pinpricked with flashes of light behind his eyelids, as the dark lurked and waited for him. This pain was different. It was white hot and sharp as the knives that had opened him once again, new incisions on old scars, and reason had all but left him. He wanted to flee from the incessant pain as an animal might run from fire; he wanted to claw at his own flesh and rip it away, if it meant he had but a moment's respite from the agony.
“You must keep him cool. The fever has him now, but with your care there is every chance he will live.”
“Go fetch more water,” a voice said, that Marcus recognised as his uncle's, calm and quiet but with an underlying note of concern.
The more he tried to control the shuddering in his limbs by trying to force his muscles to be still, the more he shook. Everything seemed very far away, as though he was floating several feet away from the bed, and wrapped in layers of stiflingly hot woollen blankets. Frustration gnawed at his belly that he could neither exercise his will over his body, nor think clearly with his mind. It pained him to think that in the army he had always been capable and in charge; yet now he could not even sit up unaided.
As if his thoughts were laid bare, he felt a firm hand slip under his head and ease him upwards, and the smooth, cool press of a cup was tilted against his lower lip. The cold water over his tongue was laced with bitterness, the now-familiar taste of opium and mandrake root, and Marcus knew that sleep would take him again quickly. It took every bit of his strength to flop his hand out weakly in the direction where the drugged water had retreated, and to take a laboured breath and say,
“His ribs, Medicus. On the left side. Check they are not broken.”
A stunned silence followed, and he tumbled into the waiting darkness without another thought.
In the blackness, there was a booming sound like a wardrum, beating fast, filling him with its sound so completely that he felt shaken apart. He was broken into small pieces like a fallen vase, and it seemed a mercy, for the drumming stopped. But in the silence that followed, the visions began.
He dreamed of blood and tarnished metal gleaming dully under layers of mud, of his father making a stand surrounded by dozens of faceless warriors, who wore a curious armour of narrow bronze-coloured plates, layers and layers of them, like the feathers of a bird. There were so many of them, and his father was only one man, fighting desperately to keep the standard aloft, its golden gleam the only brightness in the gloom. Then it was falling, its spread wings plummeting down as though it tracked a small beast of prey with its unseeing, ruby eyes. The mouths of his father's enemies opened in victorious shouts as the Eagle hit the dank earth, though their mouths issued no sound. The battle was hushed as a tomb.
Father, where are you, Father?
His dreams were always silent, so silent. His father never spoke a word to him in them. It had been so long since his passing, that Marcus had forgotten the sound of his voice, the timbre of his laugh. The rush of bodies descended on the lone figure, and everything went searing white. The dream shifted, changed, and he felt as though the knife cut into him once more, spreading pain and heat through his entire body. He could not move, as though a great weight pinned his chest, holding him in place. Instead of reacting with fear that he was immobile, he felt held, steadied. A tiny breath of calmness fluttered through him, and he felt the briefest respite from the febrile prickling that covered every inch of his skin.
He dreamed of blue eyes that stared into his, the deep cobalt of blown glass, and there was a silence in them, too; a silence without peace.
Mithras, Lord of Light, do not let me die without honour here in my bed. Not when my brothers have given their lives with valour on the field of battle. I pray you, give me a chance to yet redeem myself.
He must have uttered his prayer aloud, for a voice replied in accented Latin,
“Shh, rest. You and your honour will live to see another day.”
Marcus felt a portion of his awareness return, as a cool, damp cloth was pressed against his aching head, and then gently swiped over his swollen eyelids and dry lips. He knew that he was in his bed, in his uncle's villa in Calleva. He knew that the pain in his leg was from where the surgeon had cut the last remnants of the chariot out of him. And he knew that no matter how skilled the surgeon was with his knives, he would never be a centurion again, nor lead his men to hard-won victory in battle.
The sheets were stripped back from him and the wet cloth returned, its welcome coolness on his neck and chest, working down along and under his arms. The palm of each of his hands was turned up and the sweat and grime washed away. Marcus blinked and managed to crack his eyelids open in tiny slits, and he blearily caught a quick glimpse of blue, troubled eyes watching him before his heavy lids closed again.
He heard the sound of water sloshing in a bowl nearby, the gushing noise as the cloth was wrung out, and then his muscles jumped as a few cold drops landed on his belly, followed by the cloth. The movements were brisk and efficient on his aching, heated skin, but his breath hitched as it passed briefly along the length of his cock, then on down his legs.
“Bend your knee,” said that same voice, and Marcus obeyed. A strong hand slid round the back of his injured leg and helped him move it, and another round his ankle gave him a silent instruction to place his foot flat on the bed.
The bandage around his leg was unbound, then he felt the cool, steady pressure of fingertips checking the edges of his wound, and the wet slide of the linen cloth was light and careful around the tight, swollen gash. The fingers brushed at his wound again and he flinched, muscles jittering at the touch on too-sensitive flesh.
“Shh; it's only for a moment. Here.”
Marcus felt something being pressed into his limp hands, a small wooden shape he knew better than the grip of his own sword. He clutched it gratefully to his chest, his fingers slotting between its small wings and around its body.
His knee was seized in a firm grip to keep him from moving his leg while a layer of salve was daubed onto the sore cut to help it heal, fingers brushing his skin with feather-light gentleness, and the pain began to ease. Marcus felt the haze of sleep surrounding him once again as a fresh bandage was wrapped around the dressed wound, and there was an odd, hollow ache in his chest as those hands moved on him, sure and steady. Esca, Marcus said to himself, dredging up the name from his weary mind, and taking comfort in it. It had been an age since anyone had touched him with tenderness; it had been an age since he had permitted it.
“Now turn over, onto your side.”
Marcus tried, then let out a growl of frustration when his weakened body refused to obey him.
“Can't,” he said, teeth gritted in anger.
Strong hands gripped him at the shoulder and hip, lifting and pushing him, and helping to shift his leg over gently, until he lay on his right side. He barely registered the swipe of the cloth over his back, and the softly muttered words that he didn't understand, “breac-sheunan,” followed by a bold finger trailing along the line of his collarbone and shoulder, before he was asleep.
He awoke with a taint in his mouth and aching throughout his entire body, as if he had just woken from the battlefield once more. His lips felt parched, and the afternoon sun of early autumn was too bright where it came streaming through the gaps in the shutters, banding the room with gold. He cleared his throat to ask for water, but his need had been anticipated. Esca appeared by his side to lift him, and brought the cup to his lips. Marcus drank deeply until his thirst was quenched, but the bland coldness of the water was unsatisfying. He settled his head back into the pillow and swiped at his mouth with his fingers.
“I long for some wine.”
Esca set the cup on the table, and folded his arms across his chest.
“The surgeon and your uncle said not to, until you are further recovered.”
“Please,” Marcus said without thinking, asking instead of commanding, and caught the surprised look on Esca's face that was quickly held in check. Esca gave him an abrupt nod and slunk out into the atrium, silent as a shadow.
Marcus was dozing when he heard the soft tap of a jug being placed on the table next to him. He blinked open his eyes and watched as Esca poured a small measure into the cup, the stream of amber liquid winking in the last rays of the sun, and the nimbus of bronze and gold around Esca's head where his hair caught the light. A slow smile spread on Marcus's face as he realised Esca had done as he had asked, though the very act of smiling at his co-conspirator made his lips feel sore. It had been so long since he had smiled that the dry skin split, and he flicked his tongue out to soothe them. Esca did not smile in return as he watched Marcus, though the muscles in his jaw jumped as he drew Marcus up towards him, tipping the cup for him to drink deeply.
The sweet taste of wine flooded his mouth, chasing away the last bitter traces of the opiates. It was like summer on his tongue, warm sunshine on heavy vines and the sound of bees. He drained the cup and tilted his head back in Esca's hand.
For a moment, Esca did not comply, then with a twitch of his mouth he refilled Marcus's cup. The second was even better than the first, now that Marcus no longer had to satisfy his immediate desire. He savoured each gulp, cool and heavily sweet as blossom. But in the midst of his enjoyment, he was filled with a sudden concern: he was Esca's master, indeed, but the risk that Esca had taken in disobeying the orders of both the medicus and more importantly his uncle, the paterfamilias, was high, and had been done only to satisfy Marcus's whim. He reached up and closed his hand around Esca's wrist, and pulled so Esca would take the cup away and let him speak.
“Esca, if anyone finds out--”
“They won't,” Esca said firmly, moving out of Marcus's grasp to put the cup down, and he gave Marcus a solemn nod of assurance. Marcus studied him a moment longer, and found nothing but absolute confidence in the jut of Esca's jaw and his straight spine. Esca's eyes held his, unwavering as he looked down at him, and it sent a small jolt through Marcus. It could not be that Esca was unaware that a slave should not look directly at their master, let alone stare them down. A memory came back to him all at once, sharp and clear in sudden completeness: Esca holding him down, leaning all his weight onto Marcus's chest with one arm, and the other cupped round his head to anchor him, their foreheads almost touching. Then there was pain, so much pain, but throughout it those blue eyes had bored into his, unblinking and steadfast. Despite Esca's professed hatred towards him, he had still shown him kindness. Marcus wondered at that, how Esca saw him as an enemy, yet treated him as he might a friend. It spoke of principles that were stronger than passions, and for that, Marcus could have nothing but the deepest respect.
“Thank you,” he said softly, though whether it was for the wine, or for the compassion he remembered, he knew not, settling back against the pillow in readiness for a long-awaited natural sleep. From the edge of the room he heard Esca's quiet voice reply,
“You are welcome.”
A/N: breac-sheunan - freckles