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the island of conclusions

With Our Arms Unbound (Marcus/Esca,R)

the island of conclusions

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With Our Arms Unbound (Marcus/Esca,R)

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Esca back
Inadvertently, carmarthen got me to write my first Marcus/Esca fic since March. It’s a sequel to “In Any Tongue,” and pretty self-indulgent on a number of level. (written fast and un-beta’d).

Title: With Our Arms Unbound
Pairing: Marcus/Esca
Rating: R (for mild kink, not sexual content).
Warnings: blood play, vague reference to previous dub-con/non-con.
Spoilers: ‘movie verse, but using the alternate ending included on the DVD.
Word count: ~1.5K
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit.

a/n: a sequel to In Any Tongue. I think it will work if you just take a peek at the premise for that fic.
a/n: for the “bloodplay” square on my [community profile] kink_bingo card.
a/n: title from the Decemberists, “This is Why We Fight.”

Summary: “Free as the unmoored ship is free. Honor paid or honor lost, I cannot tell.”

Marcus kept his eyes lowered in the days that followed, even to Esca. Esca did not know whether he did it out of shame, or to hide the smolder of his vengeance. He did not know whether Marcus now wished he’d chosen death.

They did not touch, not even the casual brush of hand or shoulder that had been commonplace before.

There was not much time to wonder why, though. Events moved quickly, and soon they were running for their lives, the Seal People like the Roman Furies behind them.

Then they did touch. Esca curled himself around Marcus whenever they stopped, the warmth of his body a frail bulwark against the fever and weakness that beset him. Marcus let him without a word, shivering into the circle of Esca’s arms, pushed by necessity past the strictures of shame and honor. It was not what a slave would do for a master, or what a master would do for a slave, or even what a man would do for his lover. It was simply what one hunter did for another when the night was hard.

And hard it was indeed. Desperate. Yet somehow they came to the other side: the Seal People defeated; Guern on his funeral pyre, the eagle beside him; and Esca freed.

The old centurions melted away, ghostly to the end, and Marcus and Esca faced each other across the embers. Marcus, Esca could see, was poised between exaltation and exhaustion, the somber fury of his speech seeping out of him, about to leave him shaking.

But he looked Esca in the eye, as he had done when Esca promised to return.

“You are free,” Marcus said. “Free to leave as they have left.” He gestured towards the sodden woods.

Esca held his gaze. “You are free, too. Your debt to your father’s honor has been paid.”

Marcus startled, as if the idea were an arrow that had only now found its mark. Then he drew a shaky breath and went to his knees on the muddy bank as if someone had cut his legs from under him. He hissed as his bad leg took the impact, but his eyes did not leave Esca’s face.

“Marcus.” Esca moved past the guttering coals, was on the ground beside him without quite knowing how he’d gotten there. “Marcus.”

They did not kiss. Esca would not even have called it an embrace. It was an urgent, ungentle laying on of hands. Esca ran his fingers along Marcus’s ribs, pushed them through his hair—half to check for injuries, half to assure himself that they both were still alive. Marcus did the same, his palms warm through Esca’s damp tunic, calloused and rough along his face.

They crushed closer, Marcus’s jaw cracking painfully against Esca’s cheekbone, his heart beating hard enough Esca could feel it in his own chest.

“I am free,” Esca said, almost growled. “But I am yours.”

“I, too.” Marcus’s voice was a thread of sound. “Free as the unmoored ship is free. Honor paid or honor lost, I cannot tell. But I am yours.”


Still holding onto one another, they made their way up the bank to slightly dryer ground and started a smaller fire there. Ignoring Marcus’s protests, Esca left him huddled beside it and descended to the river again to see what he could glean from the fallen.

It was custom only—to the victors went the possessions of the vanquished—and yet he could not bring himself to carry away the jewelry of the Seal People, nor their rich pelts. Let them bring those on their journey to their fathers. Esca contented himself with finding foodstuffs—strips of dried fish and venison, hard oat cakes—and even rummaging through their pouches for that made him queasy.

As he began his climb back up, however, a gleam of metal among the rocks caught his eye. A small knife, good for filleting or mending leather. Southern workmanship, not Roman. Dropped by which side he could not say. Esca tucked it into the belt of his tunic. His father’s knife had gone onto the pyre; he would need another.

Marcus was staring into the flames when Esca returned. He looked, as he had said, like a man adrift on an open sea—or like one who has spent a night in the hollows hills and returned to find years have passed and all has changed. But he shook himself out of his reverie, and accepted the poor fare with a wry grin.

They sat side by side and ate, thighs, hips and shoulders jammed together, as if only the mutual pressure of their bodies kept them anchored to this world.

When they had finished, Esca could restrain himself no longer.

“If you like an unmoored ship,” he said, “then so am I. I have no ties to hold me to Caledonia, nor any in Calleva. Excepting you.”

“That isn’t true.” Marcus kept his gaze fixed in front of him. “I do not hold you. You are free. You may go where you like.”

“No. I have told you—I do not wish to go.” Esca floundered but pushed on. “You do hold me. I wish for nothing else. And—among my people—there are ways to pledge that bond—“

Marcus shied away from him abruptly. “No—Esca—no—I—.” He stood and stared at Esca, eyes wide, lips parted, like a cruelly-broken horse that panics at the bit. Esca’s heart twisted at the sight.

“No,” he said, raising his hands, longing to touch, to gentle, but not daring. “Not that. Just—“

Esca stood, too, and lowered one hand, very slowly, to the knife at his waist. “Here.” He held it where Marcus could see it, heard the sharp intake of his breath. Then he pressed it against the vein along the forearm of his other arm, just above the wrist. Marcus’s gaze heavy on his face, his hand, Esca made a very small, horizontal cut across the vein. The blade was sharp, keener than he’d imagined, and he saw the blood well up before he felt the sting, a bright trickle toward Esca’s elbow as he held the arm, palm up, towards Marcus.

“Do you know--?” he asked. “Do your people do this too?”

Marcus nodded, his breath catching in his throat. “Among the legions, yes —though I do not know where we learned it—perhaps from you.” He swallowed. “You would do this, Esca? Are you sure? We would be—more than brothers.”

In answer, Esca extended the knife, hilt first, to Marcus.

Marcus shook his head, took a step closer, and offered Esca his arm instead.

Wondering at such trust, Esca took his hand, and rubbed a thumb across his wrist, hesitating. Marcus had lost so much blood already, was so weak from his twice-wounded leg, how could Esca ask him to lose even a drop more? But Esca had offered and Marcus had chosen to accept. He lowered the blade, intent on making the smallest cut he could. But as Esca pressed down, Marcus pushed up against the edge, sighing as if the pain were the answer to some unasked question.

Esca pulled the knife away before it could go too deep, stared dumbly at the line of red snaking through the dirt on Marcus’s arm. It was too much—he had done harm when he only meant to help.

But Marcus seemed satisfied by the sight. “Are there words?” he asked, holding his bleeding arm parallel to Esca’s. “Do we say words?”

“No. Only this.” Esca put aside his doubts and pressed their wounded flesh together.

They stayed there, silent, their joined arms sticky with blood, beginning to grow cold. Waiting for who knew what.

This is a mistake, Esca told himself: we are too tired for this to mean anything, too drained of everything except blood. Then a branch snapped in the fire, sending a plume of sparks into the darkening air, and Esca thought he might be wrong. Was it possible that without chants or masks or dances they had summoned whatever gods presided over such things, have sanctified their bond despite themselves?

And it might have been exhaustion, or the aftermath of an extraordinary day, but for a moment Esca fancied he could feel the stream of his blood twining around Marcus’s, mingling and weaving in some ceremony human eyes would never see.

Shaken, he moved their arms apart. “There,” he said. “It is done.”

They sank to the ground again facing each other, Marcus cradling his wrist in the opposite palm. The nick on Esca’s wrist had already ceased to bleed, but the deeper cut on Marcus’s still flowed sluggishly. Esca wished he had a clean bit of cloth with which to bind it. Instead, he closed his hands around Marcus’s and drew the wound to his own lips, pressing his mouth against it with no more thought than if it had been his own flesh. Marcus did not draw away, but leaned forward with a sigh that might have been contentment. His blood was thick and heady on Esca’s tongue, rich, metallic, but not foreign.

“Yes,” Marcus said, moving so that their foreheads rested together. “It is done.”

They slept under one cloak that night, the earth steady beneath them, the winds a canopy above.

  • Eeeeeeeee, I am glad you are writing this fandom again. This is fantastic.

    Marcus shied away from him abruptly. “No—Esca—no—I—.” He stood and stared at Esca, eyes wide, lips parted, like a cruelly-broken horse that panics at the bit.

    Oh god, poor Marcus. This is--yeah. Ow.

    But Marcus seemed satisfied by the sight. “Are there words?” he asked, holding his bleeding arm parallel to Esca’s. “Do we say words?”

    He would ask about words.

    This whole thing is just gorgeous, and it feels like a beginning, like even though it will be hard they will find a way to work everything out.
    • Aw, thank you for the jumpstart--I love the characters, but thought I had run out of ideas for them. And I'm glad Marcus's reactions rang somewhat true. I hope it could be a beginning for them--I love that their feelings for each other are so strong.
  • Oh, your writing is so beautiful and lyrical. There's so much tangible feeling between Marcus and Esca, whether it's fear or love or anger, and even their smallest actions have so much weight and meaning with the way you write them. God, and the description of the blood bond was so quiet and raw and poignant. When Esca leaned his head down and pressed his mouth to Marcus's wound, my heart ached because it was such a tender gesture and said more about their love for each other than actual words.

    Absolutely gorgeous and I love it. I'm always happy when you write in this fandom because it's always an amazing story that touches my heart. ♥
    • thank you so much for the lovely comment! All the lyricism and similes were part of the self-indulgence, so I'm glad they weren't too annoying. And one of the things I love about these characters is how deep, deep, deep their feelings are for one another--so that everything is so charged.

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the fic--thanks for reading!
  • That was beautiful, this mix of desperation, pain and affection :)
  • I love this, and like all the best stories, it leave me wanting more, of how they deal with everything from here.

    I especially love the ship metaphor working through this, and not just in what they say to each other. It nicely foreshadows their journey to Spain.
    • Thank you! It is interesting to think about how they might deal with things--both of them being more stoic than patient, so to speak....

      I was a little slap happy with the metaphors here, so I'm glad that one worked okay. I do love the idea of them in Spain. There's a great set-piece about horse fairs in Iberia in Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset (the Arthur character goes to buy bigger warhorses)--it's insanely slashy, and I just imagine Marcus and Esca there :)
  • This is a fantastic sequel. I love how they deal with what happened before without ever actually dealing with it, if that makes sense.

    • Thank you! That makes perfect sense, and I'm glad it worked okay--I couldn't imagine them sitting down to talk things through--but they care so much about each other they'd have to do something.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Lovely! This was achy and tender and beautiful!
  • Ahhh Beautiful...I love it!<3
    Glad to see you are still writing in the The Eagle universe.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it--thanks for reading and commenting!

      (and I was glad to find myself writing Eagle fic again, too!)
  • so beautiful !
  • nnnnngh, seriously??? OK, first, you give us this whole thing where they pat each other down for reassurance. I LOVE THAT. And then there's the blood bonding, and then there's -

    Marcus shied away from him abruptly. “No—Esca—no—I—.”


    So, there's a third part, right? *looks for it* I'll just, you know. Wait here.
    • heh--I love that patting each other down for reassurance shamelessly:) and, yeah, it had to be a little sad, to be a sequel to the first...

      But strangely, I do have an idea for a sequel--there's something Eagle-ish in the water, apparently, since I haven't written this pairing for months--so we'll see!

      thanks for reading--I'm thrilled you enjoyed these two!
  • I love the descriptions and how you showed the depth of Esca's and Marcus' bond.

    I think I prefer to see this fic without the prequel. The plot can stand on its own, and the conveyed emotions are definitely strong enough.
    • Thank you--I'm so glad you enjoyed the fic.

      it's good to know that this one can stand on its own, since the set up of the first one isn't everyone's cup of tea.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Very late to this, but I loved these two stories. Beautifully written, and so revelatory of character. Thank you!

    Edited at 2013-08-22 07:13 am (UTC)
    • Thank you--I'm so glad you enjoyed them! There's actually a third one in the series if you're interested--I guess I don't have it linked to this one.

      Thanks for reading and commening!
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