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vixys

"after"

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Aug. 28th, 2011 | 07:10 pm

Title: after
Fandom: The Eagle.
Characters: Esca, primarily.
Word Count: 1983.
Rating: 15
Summary: Esca should be used to death by now. Marcus/Esca.
Warnings: major character deaths; some half-disturbing/violent imagery.
Notes: Written for this prompt on the_eagle_kink. Film canon. ♥ Ohhhh, it was only a matter of time.


after


It’s midday, summer sun blazing overhead, trees gleaming leafy-green. The woods are humming with life, rabbits bickering in the undergrowth, boars snuffling through the soil – and Esca sits, Marcus’ head in his lap, blood pooled in his hands. Light dapples quietly across Marcus’ vacant eyes. Blood is fingerprinted across his cheeks, crimson trails ending at Esca’s fingertips. The soil is stained dark, and his throat is a mess, ripped apart; teethmarks.

The body of a wolf lies half-out of the trees’ shade, muzzle bloodied in a snarl. It’s gutted, innards spilling across its stained paws in sprawls of unruly weaving – but it doesn’t matter, now. The horses stand in the grass, hooves sunk into the earth. They’re muted, like they understand, like they care.

Esca stares ahead, eyes dry.

Marcus dies here, in the woods, three nightfalls after the first time they kiss.



A pyre gapes blackly against the sunset, interwoven branches cut from oak and ash, knotted together. It’s imperfect, flawed – but it takes Marcus’ weight, holds him in its embrace. Fire is catching in the wood, slowly, and Esca’s standing close, too close. Greenwood hisses in the flames, pops smoke into his eyes. Salt drips down his cheeks, but not because he’s crying.

Eventually, Marcus burns, becomes nothing more than ash.

Esca’s skin is flushed red in the heat, almost burning. He’s too close, but he doesn’t step away. He doesn’t think he can.

By the time the fire has burnt itself into nothingness, the sun is just breaking over the horizon, lighting night into day. Esca’s face is smoke-blackened, his eyes red-rimmed and hazy. He kneels, in the dirt, in the ruins, and gathers the ashes, too-warm against his skin, tipping the silver-soft dust into a dark urn, smokestained as his skin. His hands are shaking, trembling.

Ash runs through his fingers.



Next day’s dawn is scratching grubbily pink fingers over the horizon when Esca slips from the saddle, knots the horses’ reins around the gatepost. He pads into Aquila’s villa, silent as a cat, and the kitchen door is ajar; Sassticca is cooking. The air smells of porridge and sugar and home and warmth.

Without a word, Esca steps inside, boots tapping in sudden noise on the stoneflagged floor. His fingers spasm around the urn in his grasp; he puts it down on Sassticca’s tabletop before he drops it, and the look in her eyes tells him that doesn’t need to say anything. He doesn’t think he could.

The urn stands, quiet and fireblackened.

Esca wets his lips, retreats.

Sassticca’s eyes are old. “Don’t go,” she says, pain in her voice. “Stay with us.”



Half a day’s journey from Calleva, alone and on foot, flitting beneath the trees and their dappled shadows, Esca stops, pauses, empties his stomach into the grass in retching, violent heaves. For a moment, he leans against the rough bark, hands scraped against its coarseness, eyes closed, and just forces himself to breathe.



They find him in midafternoon, slouched at the base of a gnarled oak, staring listlessly into the treetops. After a brief deliberation that they think he can’t understand, they pull him to his feet, take him to their village. They bind him, despite his apathetic compliance, and he wonders why. He must smell Roman, smell of their festivals and beliefs and customs, smell of their kisses.

An elder with clan tattoos swirling up his neck studies him sharply, pinches his clipped ear, tugs up his sleeve, matches blue to blue. His beard is ash-grey, and he says, “You dress like an invader, but you are marked as one of us.”

Esca meets his gaze, flat and level, and doesn’t speak. He remembers, stay with us.

Greybeard’s face is inscrutable. “Put him with the dogs,” he says.



Pups lick at Esca’s hands during the night, curled against his chest. He twitches away, because he can’t get the feeling of ash against his skin out of his mind – and the dogs whimper, shift their attention, slobber their little rough tongues against his cheeks. There’s no starlight to show them their way.

Curled in the straw, Esca dozes. He doesn’t want to dream.

A pup butts its nose against his lips, yips its way into sleepfulness. Esca thinks about Marcus breathing esca in that voice, that tense voice, that tense little voice whispering in want and need and tenderness. He closes his eyes against the memory.



Midday sun batters down on his shoulders, stripped bare. He works, in the fields, under the watchful eyes of those who keep him captive, those who don’t know who he is but won’t let him go. It’s not that he doesn’t mind that he’s a slave, again – rather, that he doesn’t care.

He pulls weeds from the ground, and doesn’t think about the farm he left behind. Thistles dig their spines into his skin, and he breathes in the pain, tucks it away in his heart.

Esca’s being watched: a woman, with flowers in her hair, waist-deep in growing things. She holds a basket of fruit in her hands, and her eyes are sad. When he sees her, she half-smiles, picks her way through the crops towards him, delicacy in the fall of her feet and the tilt of her head – and under the heat of the summer sun, she says, “Why don’t you speak? I don’t believe you can’t, or that you don’t understand us. So why won’t you?”

Now that Esca thinks about it, she has Marcus’ eyes.

He thinks, wets his lips. His throat is empty. “Because I have nothing to say,” he answers.

Her sad eyes are so bright, and abruptly, he thinks she might understand the blankness in his stomach. The world isn’t a kind place. “Who was she?” she asks, innocent in her ignorance.

Esca thinks, marcus. Esca thinks, everything.

“He,” he corrects gently, and turns his back on the woman with flowers in her hair.



Nights pass slowly, in warmth and darkness.

Esca sleeps, curled around the soft-furred jumble of dogs and their pups, and dreams of Marcus’ hands against his skin, gripping his hips so hard his skin is bruised in the morning. He dreams of nights tangled together, doesn’t think about how few they shared; he dreams of the softness of Marcus’ whispered breathing, rushing against his skin in the midnight quiet. In his dreams, he is so warm.

He wakes before the sun rises, and feels nothing but the softness of a grey-furred pup, snuggled up against his palm.



In the morning, there’s something in the air in the village; a tension, a reverence. Esca doesn’t remark on it, not really, but he catches half a glimpse of a figure swathed in robes and authority – and he’s not so Roman, now, that he doesn’t understand. A druid, quiet in the power of his religion, and as Esca plucks weeds and rakes earth, a kind of realisation settles in his stomach, whispers through his mind. They’re not far from Calleva, not really, not far enough to make the garrison safe from assault – and he thinks about Stephanos and Aquila, Marcipor and Sassticca, about the life he used to lead.

He doesn’t think about Marcus. He never thinks about Marcus, if he can help it.

The sun is cooler, today. Autumn is coming, bringing golden boughs and scarlet leaves, but Esca still sweats as he works, dark patches staining his ragged clothes. He listens to the whispers of those who work around him, and a chill ripples through his bones. They speak of appeasement; they speak of sacrifice. Esca is no fool. To them, he is Roman and yet not, slave and yet free, a stepping point between friend and enemy. What better gift to the gods? What better way to gain their favour?

Esca stands still, closes his eyes, feels the sun’s quiet warmth on his cheeks.



At twilight, drums sound beneath the eaves of the trees.

Esca has not been told where he is being led. Instead, they simply bound his wrists and stripped his shirt, painting whorls and figures on his naked skin. He is barefoot, and the forest floor is rough beneath his feet. He can read the marks on his chest without even looking; exhortations to war, to victory, to death. There’s a hush settled over his entourage, and he remembers the quiet of the shrine to Marcus’ Mithras, tucked away in a corner of their home. The night is warm.

The village is gathered under the trees, that same spectral hush shrouding their hearts – but there are others, too; men with spears, men with scarred skin and hard eyes. They crowd the clearing, but there’s a ring of empty ground between the people and the pyre, piled high with broken trunks and snapped wood. That same druid stands in that emptiness, eyes sharp as fire, and he watches Esca’s approach, studies the cant of his shoulders, the quietness in his expression.

Esca walks the last few steps on his own, enters the dead ground. He thinks, marcus.

The druid’s robes whisper across the dirt.

Slowly, Esca offers his bound wrists. “Untie me,” he says, and his voice is as cracked as lightning-split skies. “Wouldn’t the gods prefer a willing gift?”

The druid’s eyes are feverbright, and his attention darts across Esca’s face, chest, arm (tattooed in darkness). “You know the gods well,” he says, finally, like rain dripping through the trees, “Esca, son of Cunoval.”

For some reason, Esca isn’t surprised. He cocks his head in abstract curiosity: religion, and belief. His world is the reality of battle, of the slip of blood-wet grass beneath worn boots, the roar of a hundred men bound for nothing other than death. Belief. “You know my name,” he says, and it’s not a question.

The druid takes his wrists, slips off the bonds with fingers as smooth as snakeskin. Softly, he says, “I know everything.” – and Esca thinks, marcus—thinks it like a breath of wind across a river, the beat of horses’ hooves, the spit of logs in the hearth—and in half a heartbeat, something in him curls up, aches like the pull of a new wound. He wonders if he’s feeling his heart breaking – and as the ropes spin away from his wrists, he takes in a shuddering breath, feels pain and grief and hurt and loss flood through to his fingertips.

Drums pound in time with the thud of his empty heart.



It’s midnight when the pyre begins to die.

The clearing is deserted, now, the ecstasy of the sacrifice over – religious zeal is replaced by the stink of burning flesh, the spit of collapsing wood. Now, there’s a single woman left in the dark air, a woman who once worked in sundrenched fields with flowers in her hair, a woman who has the ghost of a dead man she never knew in her eyes. She stands in what was once the dead ground, wrapped in the heat from the fading pyre, and thinks about the man who gave his life, the man with empty eyes. He didn’t cry out, even when the flames caught in his clothes, even when the colour across his chest ran and dripped and hissed in the fire. He stood with eyes closed, stark against the brilliance of the blaze, and let himself be taken by the darkness.

The woman understands. She saw it in his eyes, that day in the fields: loss and grief and emptiness; nothing left to keep him alive. She wonders if he cried, that nameless man, and if the flames carried his tears away into nothingness; she wonders what the name was that she saw his lips form through the flames. She only saw it once.

She leaves, in the end, slips away like a shadow.

Ashes dance in the firelight, and smoke swirls up through the trees, whispering away into starlight and dreams.


finis

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Comments {37}

meggington

from: poziomeczka
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
link

I AM CRYING LIKE A NEWBORN.

this was just. soul-wrenching. beautiful and lethal and cutting.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
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SORRY. HAVE SOME TISSUES OR SOMETHING. I saw the prompt and couldn't resist. I'm a bad person. ♥♥♥

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meggington

from: poziomeczka
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
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it was gorgeous!

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
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:D ♥♥

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two cthulus in a lady suit

from: ilkworm
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
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Simply stunning. Heartbreaking in all the best ways and gorgeous and well written, it was an absolute pleasure to read!

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. ♥

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from: ephinee
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
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This was heartwrenching, powerful and beautiful all at the same time, invoking tremendous emotion. You are a master of words! Thanks for sharing.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. ♥

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coeurdesoleil

from: coeurdesoleil
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
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oh god i read this like half an hour ago and i am still crying. this hurt to read but the words and the imagery are still stunning. You have carved heartache into words and it is gorgeous.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
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Oh, darling, thank you. ♥♥

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(Deleted comment)

sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, so much. ♥

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pjvilar

from: pjvilar
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
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Beautiful and heartbreaking and oh, Lordy, I'm crying and now I'm going to make some tea. <3

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
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I'll reimburse you for teabags. ♥♥

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(Deleted comment)

sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
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A spot of teeth-rottingly adorable fluff would definitely be an appropriate remedy. Thank you. ♥

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Glenn

from: hypertwink
date: Aug. 28th, 2011 11:16 pm (UTC)
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When I read major deaths, I knew this was going to be heartbreaking but I'm glad I continued. This was exquisite. Painful, yes, but in a way, cathartic and wonderful.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 09:57 am (UTC)
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Thank you. ♥

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Tiferet

from: ladytiferet
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
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I died and I'm dead and it's not good.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 09:58 am (UTC)
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CRASH CART. NOW. ♥

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Sara

from: stellarsara
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 05:26 am (UTC)
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You broke me.

I have never cried over a slash fic before, but I am now. Oh god...

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 09:58 am (UTC)
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Thank you, so much. ♥

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sistermine

from: sistermine
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 08:39 am (UTC)
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That was very touching.

The post-death-scene of Marcus, the brevity of their affair, Sassticca's request, Esca's willing sacrifice itself, and the woman's witnessing all layered the grief.

Such a sad story of despair.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 09:59 am (UTC)
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Thank you. ♥

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bassino

from: bassino
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 10:49 am (UTC)
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It hurts to see Esca like this *snif*, but it hurts so good it's Gorgeous!

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 29th, 2011 10:53 am (UTC)
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Thank you! ♥

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floatxxaway

from: floatxxaway
date: Aug. 30th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Oh bb! I'm over here trying to quiet my whimpers. This is so beautiful and painful, oh the imagery. Amazing <3

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 30th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
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*hugs* Thank you, darling. ♥

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(Deleted comment)

sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 31st, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
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*dutifully provides tissues* Thank you. ♥

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Tindómiel

from: luthien13
date: Aug. 31st, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
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You are very mean and very wonderful. I cried and got shivers at the end. ;_;

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Aug. 31st, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. ♥

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(Deleted comment)

sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Sep. 1st, 2011 09:53 am (UTC)
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Everyone needs a good bit of character death now and again... Thank you! ♥

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aislinnrae

from: aislinnrae
date: Sep. 3rd, 2011 11:23 am (UTC)
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This is exquisite. Absolutely heart wrenching and beautiful. I'm so happy to have read it, and ecstatic that this fandom has such talented writers such as yourself. I hope you continue to write and move people with your stories as much as you have with this one.

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Sep. 13th, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. ♥

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tamerlorika

from: tamerlorika
date: Sep. 5th, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
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;a;ldfalksjdf. No, actually, I MADE that noise. And now am trying to be very, very quiet with my sincere sadness around my slighty frightened roomies.

Oh law.
Um
You have such.. such a way with emotions. Its ... ripping. Oh frick - you're so talented, making us all feel

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sea-sky

from: vixys
date: Sep. 13th, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
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making us all feel
Thank you. ♥♥

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