Disclaimer: I do not own THE EAGLE.

The days passed slow as the downward drizzle of molasses across bread, holding none of its sweetness, and without a clear sign of change. He'd forgotten the bitter edge of loneliness from before Esca and wondered now how best to set it aside, it might not always be that his friend should stay here.

Esca was away on a hunt. He would not return for several days time.

Marcus had seen him off with a fond eye - ignoring the twisting of his gut as the arrow-line of his back disappeared from view. Esca's absence was keenly felt by Marcus. His friend would return he knew this. But things were changed. The Briton was a freedman, with a freedman's choices.

Each day he thought this would be the one, here Esca will say a few parting words and go to search out his own path; but each day turned into another and another, and still Esca did not leave Marcus. Why he should remain shackled here to a lame Centurion, a Roman, who possessed no foreseeable prospects escapes him, but Marcus was glad of it. This, most of all, is why he does not ask. His pride is to much to allow it. He owned little, but of it what was his so was Esca's.

He did not know how much of this Esca understood but it seemed of little import, he did not own much.

Marcus was not a man prone to doubt but he'd begun to think - why - and when there were no clear answers to be found, then came the doubt; all of his too-many uncertainties barraging him as one cohesive unit. They hissed like vipers worming inside his head against which he had no true defense. Marcus falls into a restless sleep that night. Marcus makes for himself a resolution to put aside his sullen mood and get on with things. What would be would be, Esca's life was his own now, as it should be. He contented himself with the knowledge that the intimacies they'd shared might not so easily be laid aside.

Esca returns on the night of Beltane when the moon is full and the night air still, he rides through heralded by the clop-clop of his mounts hooves across the cobblestones, Marcus knows this because he has found sleep troublesome these last few days. The man in him is shamed to know that this will end, now that Esca has returned.

"Your leg troubles you?" Esca said as he swung down from his mount, bundled across the back Marcus can see the pelts of the animals he'd hunted, they would fetch a fine price come market-day… "Marcus?" Esca repeated, his brows drawn in concern. His leg, right. "Not overmuch" he says plainly and shoulders one of the pelts himself, "A fine hunt you had, I see" Marcus says instead. Esca questions him no further, a subtle pride drawn in the quirk of his lips and the gleam of his eye. "Yes, a fine hunt" he agrees his inscrutable Briton eyes fastening on Marcus with something soft and measuring. It is a lingering look and Marcus knows not what to make of it.

An owls screech breaks the moment and Esca turns away, "I had hoped to return sooner" he sighs. Marcus shrugged, "If it is the festivities you speak of, you did not miss much" Marcus promised smirking, "Just a villa of drunk Romans, and Romanized-Britons dancing about a fire until they were to tried, or drunk, sometimes both, to do anymore."

"And you, did you enjoy the festivities with a pretty dark-haired Roman, or as you say Romanized-Briton?" Esca asked with a peculiar heat in his eyes that Marcus had not see the likes of since before Atia. "No, why would I?" he asked slinging an arm across Esca's shoulder, "when one Briton is more than this Roman can handle."

Esca leaned into his shoulder for but a moment before drawing back to meet his eyes directly. "On the next Beltane I will show you how a true Briton celebrates," he says and there is no mistaking his meaning. Marcus can see the desire lurking in the grey of his eyes, it catches at him like silver glinting from the bottom of a river. The silence that hung between was thick with hunger, pulsing hard beneath the skin, as they stared across at one another in the dim light beside the remains of an ashen fire.

"It is in my heart to ask why you did not join me" Esca said suddenly a hint of sharpness betrayed in the set of his shoulders as he continued with his usual blunt earnestness, "the nights were long and I have grown accustomed to your company, I should not like to do without unnecessarily."

"You did not ask" Marcus said slowly feeling his words with caution. Esca snorts angling at upward look that cut Marcus to the core, "I had thought us beyond that, I had thought…" Esca breaks of, lettings his words fade into emptiness, cheeks flushed a dull red; with anger or embarrassment Marcus cannot tell.

"I thought you knew, where goes Marcus, so to go I." Esca paused something dark and wounded piercing the grey veil of his eyes as he asked, "was I wrong to assume?"

Marcus reached out laying one wide-palmed hand on the others shoulder, denial strong on his lips. "You were not, you are free to come and leave as you desire but it is my wish that you should stay" Marcus wet his dry lips pausing for a breath, "though I know I haven't the right to ask."

Esca laughed then, a sharp bark holding more bite than joy. "You alone own such a right Marcus" he said, gripping tightly the Romans forearm with a warriors clasp, "for none other should I have remained here so long."

"I must caution that I have few prospects to my name."

Esca nodded solemnly, as though he'd been waiting for Marcus to speak these words all this while. "So, this then is what's caused all this foolishness." Esca looked at him with such disappointment that his chest set to aching for its sting. A chuff of breath against Marcus face, a warmth against the chill of night, as Esca sighed. "My service to you was, will never be, a slave-service; when I chose to return here, I chose you."

"I don't need your damn prospects" Esca growled, later Marcus would have bruises from the tightness of his grip, Uncle would look at him peculiarly but allow it to slide, Sasstica would cast baleful stares after Esca and politely ignore him. For now, he welcomed a physical link between them.

Marcus swallowed past a mouth gone dry as words escaped him. Esca's confession was more than he knew what to do with. Later he would curse himself for a dimwitted fool, as all he'd managed to scrape out was "Oh" - very profound that was. Esca allowed him his dignity, though a corner of his lip twitched to betray him, and kissed him soundly - a harsh crashing of lips and teeth as a weeks worth of pent-desires sprang loose unchecked. Lonely indeed, was Marcus last coherent thought as they fumbled their way from the villa square to the house. How they managed the stairs Marcus would later wonder.

Esca was all light touching and hard kissing his mood decidedly playful as he nipped at Marcus shoulder, tomorrow there would be a mark, his hands stroking out a rhythm against Marcus skin that saw them both to the blessed whiteness of ecstasy, names breathed out on cracked voices that shatter the still-quiet of night.

Wishing only to please after so much blundering Marcus pinned the slender man on his back, eyes steady with his own, head bent forward as he ghosted a breath across Esca's cock before he licked a warm-wet stripe along the shaft, its taste of bitter and salt.

Marcus went about pleasing Esca, with all the same determined efficiency he planned a month long siege, until the man groaned beneath him a steady resonance of sound that broke off into native curses before returning to a litany of Marcus. This he liked. Hands alternately caressing and tugging at the back of his neck, Marcus feels the tremble in them. An odd thing overcomes him as he interlocks their hands, relishing the feel of coiled strength beneath pliable flesh, and he does not release it.

Finally, finally, he pulls Esca across the sweet-sharp edge he'd been riding with a scrape of teeth against his hip and sword-calloused hand fisting his cock in steady stokes that bring him undone.

The fires in their belly temporarily sated they flopped boneless onto the mattress, tick-feathers shifting beneath the linen, and they lay just breathing and if Marcus had not released Esca's hand forthwith, well, the Briton said nothing of it.