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the island of conclusions

The Place You Are (Eagle of the Ninth fic, Marcus/Esca, R)

the island of conclusions

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The Place You Are (Eagle of the Ninth fic, Marcus/Esca, R)

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So, sometimes I try to spare you all my random bursts of fannishness--and I tried this time, I did, but, hey, what the hell?

I may have mentioned how gobsmacked and wonderstruck I was to see Rosemary Sutcliff fic in the Yuletide archive this year. I adored her novels of Roman Britain when I was a kid--they are part of a whole clutch of mid-century historical fiction I adore, along with Mary Renault's The King Must Die and Robert Graves's I, Claudius, but, more or less, for kids.

So, I was thrilled to see the The Eagle of the Ninth was back in print, but this turned out to be because there is a movie adaptation, called The Eagle coming out this weekend, starring, I kid you not, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell (aka Billy Elliot).

Anyway, I re-read the book, loved it just as much as ever, despite my advanced age, for reasons I might expound upon later, and then frantic_allonsy started a com, ninth_eagle, and before I knew it, there was fic.


Title: The Place You Are
Rating: a light R, very mild slash
Pairing: Marcus/Esca
Genre: unrepentant h/c, of a variety that was probably old before the Romans ever invaded Britain: leg massage!fic.
Word count: ~1.5K

a/n: a missing scene from Chapter XVIII of the novel.
a/n: title from Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”
a/n: I haven’t made much effort to follow the style of the book, except in Esca’s speech, nor have I used British spellings of words.

Summary: If Esca had been ripped from the world in which he had expected to live out his life, then Marcus understood, for it had happened to him too.



The Place You Are

The cave was cramped, not even high enough for them to stand upright, and with only the smallest possible patch of dry ground on which to lay their cloaks. In the faint light filtering through the bramble-covered entrance, they could see lichen clinging to the damp walls, a few rivulets of water running through the gray-green clumps.

“As good a foxhole as any,” said Marcus, settling himself stiffly on the rocky floor of the place. “Nothing for it but to try and sleep out the day.”

They spread one cloak beneath them and the other over them, and lay back to back for warmth. Esca could feel Marcus shivering against him, as much from exhaustion as cold, he was sure. The centurion had been running at the limit of his strength for days, Esca knew, propelled forward only by the iron discipline of his training and a furious courage that was Marcus’s own. Troubled, Esca suppressed an unruly urge to twist around and run a hand along his side, to gentle him as one might a horse overtaxed by a brave run.

Eventually, though, Marcus quieted on his own, his breathing evening out towards sleep. Lulled by the rhythm of it, Esca slept too, falling into a fitful dream of hunting underwater.

++++

Esca was up, fighting-ready, the moss-wet smell heavy in his nostrils, before he realized he had no idea what had awakened him. Crouching, he listened, but heard no sound beyond the cave’s mouth—no animals or hunters or Guern returning. Then, beside him Marcus tossed his head restlessly and half-stifled another groan, and Esca understood that the disturbance had come from closer by,

Stooping, Esca peered at his companion in the fading light. The Roman slept on, olive skin worn to sallowness, new-grooved lines carved around his mouth. He lay on his back now, oddly rigid, and suddenly Esca knew what the matter was. He reached a cautious hand under the cloak. As he’d suspected, Marcus’s damaged thigh was a solid block of muscle under his British trousers, cramping hard in the cold and damp. Esca frowned, worried less by the leg than by the weariness that allowed Marcus to sleep through such pain.

Ah well, Esca sighed, gathering his own legs under him and moving closer, perhaps he would be able to release the cramp without awakening his friend. He blew on his hands and rubbed them together, not wanting to startle Marcus with their chill, then moved them carefully over the tense muscles, searching out the worst knots. He could feel the ridges and dents of the old scars through the rough cloth, could picture them running red and angry across towards the knee, but he found his way around them, as through familiar territory.

Marcus shifted a little as Esca began to probe the tortured muscles, but did not wake, and Esca was reminded sharply of the long days Marcus had spent a-bed after his wound had been searched a second time, dazed with pain, and often feverish, though the Roman healer had assured them it was merely his body fighting hard to heal itself.

He had needed everything from Esca then, and even though it was not the sort of thing men did for other men among his people—healing was a woman’s mystery—Esca had taken to it easily enough. He had always been good with creatures, after all, the one they called when a fox had scared the horses, the rare one the bitch-hounds would let near their suckling pups.

Although Marcus, of course, was no creature.

During the day, the Centurion had been unfailingly polite and patient, thanking Esca gravely for each bit of help, always offering him a tight smile, as if he truly believed that Esca couldn’t tell that he was galled half to death by his own weakness and inactivity.

Sometimes, though, Esca would glance up from changing a dressing or some such task and find Marcus watching him with an entirely different expression, as if he looked at Esca and saw neither a Brigante chieftain’s son, nor a Roman slave with a clipped ear, but a person independent of all those bonds, a fledgling Esca the hunter barely knew himself. It was for that look, more than anything, that Esca had stayed, even after Marcus had handed him his manumission papers.

The nights had been another thing entirely. At first, Esca had stretched his pallet across the doorway, as was expected of slaves. But soon the room had begun to seem too far to cross when Marcus groaned in his sleep, or called aloud, lost in some fever dream. The Roman would open his eyes, sometimes, as Esca coaxed water into him, or spread salves over the wounds, but his gaze would be cloudy and unfocused. He grew to recognize Esca’s touch, though, and would always quiet again under his hands. And so, eventually, Esca had drawn his pallet close against Marcus’s cot. If Sassticca had found them sometimes in the morning, Esca with his head resting near Marcus’s hip, Marcus with his fingers threaded through Esca’s hair, she had never said anything about it.

++++++

There had been many times when Esca had hated Calleva, but, by Lugh, he wished they were back there now, far away from this dank cave in Valentia, and preferably enjoying the largest meal Sassticca had ever cooked.

And not for himself alone. Esca imagined he could feel every bone and sinew in Marcus’s leg as he kneaded the muscles, that all the padding of flesh had been eaten away by their long road. The knots were stubborn, and he had to use more of his strength on them than he would have liked. Finally, he pressed hard enough that Marcus came awake with a bitten-off curse, levering himself onto his elbows and staring at the hunter.

“Esca? What--?” Marcus sounded as muzzy as he looked. He was breathing fast, and his eyes were a little wild, opened wide enough that Esca could see the whites of them even in the fading light.

“Sa, sa. Lie back. It will ease soon,” Esca promised.

With an audible effort to slow his breathing, Marcus did, and soon after Esca finally found the key to unlocking the rigid cords of muscle. A few more twists and digs, and all the tension slid away, as quickly and completely as wine flowing out of a wineskin. Marcus let out the breath Esca hadn’t realized he’d been holding, almost a groan, feathery and soft.

Something unexpected tightened low in Esca’s belly at the sound. He released the pressure on Marcus’s leg quickly, sat back on his heels.

“Thank you,” Marcus said. He lay still, clearly too wrung out to even lift his head, and his voice was so quiet Esca stretched out beside him to hear his words. “This leg—“ He made a sharp sound of frustration. “I’m sorry I woke you.”

But Esca wasn’t interested in apologies. There was a furrow between the wings of Marcus’s dark brows, right under the brand of his bull god. Without thinking, Esca reached out to smooth it away. In the murky half-light of the cave, as close as they were, it was strangely difficult to keep track of the boundaries between Marcus’s body and his own.

“Esca.” Marcus whispered as Esca brushed the cool skin of his forehead. He lifted his hand in turn and ran the pad of his thumb along Esca’s lower lip. “Esca.” The hunter tried and failed to remember a time when he had found that voice unfamiliar, its foreign accent harsh.

Fully in the grip now of something he could not explain, Esca drew the finger into his own mouth, ran his tongue over the knuckles, around the calloused whorls, sucked at it a little. It tasted like dirt and sweat and something else, something purely Marcus.

Beside him, the Roman inhaled sharply, as though under a blow, and drew Esca towards him so abruptly their teeth clicked together. It felt strange to kiss a man—nothing like chasing the willowy, half-grown girls around the festival fires of his boyhood. Marcus’s lips were cold and chapped, his wiry beard rough against Esca’s skin. It was strange for Marcus too, Esca could tell, could feel the hesitancy, the questioning, in his mouth. But as they lingered there, exploring, everything gradually grew warmer, more at ease.

It was all too new, and Marcus still too weary, for them to do much more than touch and tangle their limbs together under the shared cloak. But it didn’t matter. If Esca had been ripped from the world in which he had expected to live out his life, then Marcus understood, for it had happened to him too. Maybe here, in this narrow space, they had found another home.

“It is almost dusk,” Esca murmured into the hollow of Marcus’s throat. “Guern will be back soon.”

“I know.” Esca could feel the Marcus’s breath against his ear. “Esca,” he said again, and it was the promise of more. It was the promise of everything.



(yes, I am behind on comments! apologies, and will catch up this weekend)
  • THIS IS DELICIOUS.

    Seriously, I want to eat it up. Only then I don't know if I could beg you to write more because you'd know I would just eat it.

    But:

    He lifted his hand in turn and ran the pad of his thumb along Esca’s lower lip.

    I am swooning.
    • Yay! I'm glad you liked it! You can eat it up if you like, it certainly doesn't need any added sugar ;) *iz a big 'ol softy about Marcus and Esca*

      I'd love to write more sometime--maybe after people have processed the movie (which got a surprising B+ from EW, btw)the com could have a prompt fest or something.

      Thanks so much for reading and for linking to it!
  • Oh my goodness but this is lovely and intimate and everything that a good h/c fic should be. I know very little about the Eagle of the Ninth except for previews I've seen of the movie (which immediately made me think SLASHY GOODNESS). I'm quite the fan of Rome and for that reason I may have to check out these books.

    Thanks for the great read.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it, even without knowing the book! It's my favorite kind of h/c to write, as you know, and these characters are so lovely.

      The book is great--even re-reading after all these years--just the sweetest, slashiest boy friendship tale about a (former) Roman Centurion and his (former) slave. It also, in its restrained, 1950s British way, has a lot of interesting stuff about what it's like to live in an occupied country, both as the conqueror and the conquered--and about forming friendships across cultural lines.

      The movie seems to have changed some important stuff about the book, but I just saw it got a B+ from EW, so I'm looking forward to seeing it. Also, Jamie Bell, all grown up!

      Thanks for reading!
  • Maybe here, in this narrow space, they had found another home. So much love ♥ Amazing read.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for picking out that line--I love the connection between the two of them in the book--

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • (no subject) - ex_lolafeis
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for picking out that line--I love the way they are pretty much clinging to each other (in a manly way) through the last bits of their epic journey--it seems a small step to go to slashing them ;)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Fff and I love this too.

    This: "Lulled by the rhythm of it, Esca slept too, falling into a fitful dream of hunting underwater." I really, really like this. Maybe just because not many people can write the kind of dreams that people actually have, those really weird, surreal ones that still reflect what we do in waking.
    • I'm glad you enjoyed it! Especially the dream -- it took me a while to figure out something that Esca might be having restless dreams about, and in the book he's a swimmer as well as a hunter....

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • omg, I need to take a breath..sweet Jesus! That's got to be the sweetest thing I've ever read!
    Well, let me tell you, your style is absolutely amazing!
    • Aw! Thank you so much for the lovely feedback -- I'm so glad you enjoyed it (and really, I'm just channeling the sweetness between the two of them in the book *g*)

      Thanks for reading!
  • This fandom can never have too much massage fic! Lovely.
    • I wholeheartedly concur! I was so glad they kept so much of the h/c from the book :)

      Glad you enjoyed this--thanks for reading!
  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
    • you guys? are so intrepid to follow my crazy path through multiple fandoms :) Glad you enjoyed this one --especially that line--thanks for reading!
  • Aaaah, this is so gorgeous. ♥
  • IDK if I commented on this somewhere else, but anyway.
    This is such a lovely story, there can't be enough praise for it. So in tune with the book and the way I see them, it's amazing.
    You mentioned somewhere your advanced age- well, same here. I fell in love with Rosemary Sutcliff's novels and the great bromance/slash/love in them when I was about 12 and never stopped since. Have you read "Randal"? I don't know the english title, it's the one about the boy living with the dogs, who get's to be a knight,set in the anglo-normannic wars.
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback! I'm thrilled the characterization seems in line with the book to you--I love the book 'verse characters a lot.

      It's a strange feeling for come back to a book you loved so much as kid (I think I must have been about 12 when I first read it too) and love it just as much, but in a slightly different way. I haven't read the other novel you mention--maybe I'll track it down.
  • I can't believe I haven't left a comment on this story yet! It's one of my favorites in this fandom. I love your characterization of Esca here. This line, especially, really sums him up to me:

    He had always been good with creatures, after all, the one they called when a fox had scared the horses, the rare one the bitch-hounds would let near their suckling pups.

    It explains so much about him, and about his relationship with Marcus. I love the h/c in this, Esca being so diligent in his tending, and examining his reasons for staying with Marcus. This line, too, always gets to me:

    Marcus let out the breath Esca hadn’t realized he’d been holding, almost a groan, feathery and soft.

    It's just so tender and sweet!

    Anyway, I love this story! Sorry it took me so long to comment on it. And I hope you don't mind if I add you to my f-list; I've really enjoyed everything you've written.
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback--I'm so happy you enjoy the story! I'm glad that line about Esca and animals worked for you--I was just noticing that I have a line about Esca thinking about someone through an animal metaphor in most of my Eagle stories...must work on being so repetitious!

      Thanks for friending--friending you back!
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