This is a quite ridiculously, embarrassingly late birthday fic for the lovely fififolle for *last year's* birthday. Sorry Fi! As had become traditional, I had been attempting to write Connor/Ryan as a birthday fic, but it seems my Primeval bunnies just aren't co-operating these days, not even for C/R. And then I saw this film that Fifi had been squeeing about for ages, and the angsty slash pretty much wrote itself. So then I wrote angsty gen fic, as you do...
Fandom: The Eagle
Pairing/characters: Esca, Marcus
Spoilers: Um.. the film?
Disclaimer: Not mine. Film4/Toledo Productions owns them.
Word count: approx 2493
Summary: Bloody stubborn annoying Roman
AN: Very, very late birthday fic for the very lovely fififolle
AN2: Also it fills a Cross-Square extra for hc_bingo including ‘Protecting/Losing Precious Object’ and 'Wild card- Trust Issues' on my hurt/comfort bingo card.
AN3: Missing scene near the end of the film before they get home. I know I’m late to this particular party, but this is my first time writing in this fandom. Meep!
Fic on AO3
Bloody stubborn annoying Roman.
Esca paused for a moment, ostensibly stopping to take a drink and scan the wild northern landscape. In truth he was assessing his companion.
Marcus’ limp had been getting worse with every step for the last two days, and by Esca’s reckoning they were still two or three days away from the wall. Maybe more if Marcus just kept getting slower.
Marcus made it another three steps before he even noticed that Esca had stopped.
“Don’t tell me you want another rest again?”
Esca felt a twitch of a smile.
“I don’t. Just thought you might.”
Marcus just turned away and started walking again, but not before Esca saw the scowl that appeared on his face.
“Oh, what now?” Esca said, following and falling into step with him. “Have I offended your delicate Roman honour again, just by implying that you might want to stop occasionally?”
Marcus grunted something. By the tone of voice, Esca suspected it was uncomplimentary.
“You know, it might be easier if you let me carry that.”
He nodded in the direction of the tightly wrapped bundle in Marcus’ arms. It wasn’t that the eagle was particularly heavy, but it was unwieldy and it took both hands to hold it, which meant that Marcus couldn’t use a stick to help him walk, and his balance was off.
Not that he would actually listen to any of this, of course. Esca had tried, repeatedly, to take the burden off him, but every offer was refused, and on the one occasion that Esca had attempted to physically wrest it out of his hands they had almost ended up having what amounted to the second actual fight in their acquaintance. After that, Esca had decided to let the stubborn bastard just get on with it.
Marcus grunted again, which was about the level of response Esca had expected.
They continued walking in silence.
That damned eagle. Esca knew that for Marcus it wasn’t just a thing; it represented honour, and more than that, it represented the memory of his father. He felt the need to protect it, to keep it close, to not give in until he had restored it to Rome, and all it represented. Marcus had to personally wipe out the stain on his family’s honour.
Which was fine, Esca understood all that, he accepted it. Hell, he had come all this way and nearly got himself killed to protect the damn thing as well. But after everything that they had been through together, the fact that, even now, Marcus didn’t seem to trust him with it... that hurt.
That realisation had surprised Esca more than he was willing to admit.
“There’s a sheltered spot down there,” Esca pointed to an escarpment by a stream below them. “We should camp for the night.”
“It’s too early to camp yet.”
Because of course Marcus wouldn’t want to stop.
“Maybe. But I don’t like the look of those storm clouds to the east. If it pours with rain all night, you’ll be glad of a bit of shelter. If we keep going there’s only open ground ahead and we’ll be caught out in it.”
For a moment he thought Marcus was going to argue, but then he just shrugged and nodded, and let Esca lead the way down the slope into the lee of the escarpment.
They dumped their things in the best spot (apart from the bloody eagle, of course), and Marcus tried to follow Esca to collect firewood.
“Sit down,” Esca said.
“I’m not an invalid. And you’re not my slave any more.”
“Then why do you insist on always doing this?” Marcus waved his arm in an all-encompassing gesture that Esca took to mean setting up the camp.
Esca just glared pointedly at his injured leg.
Marcus moved to get past him, and Esca planted a hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him back.
“Sit. Down. Before you fall down. Because when that leg finally gives in I’m not looking forward to carrying your heavy Roman arse all the way back to the wall. Is that a good enough reason for you?”
For a moment Marcus looked like he was going to argue again. Then he sighed and went to sit down, the eagle propped at his side, resting against his hip.
Esca watched him for a moment. Then, finally satisfied, he set about making camp.
Bloody stubborn Roman.
The rain came at dusk. Not that it was possible to tell when sunset actually happened, because the thick, dark clouds had obscured the light long before the rain began to fall.
They sat in silence, huddled under blankets in the relative shelter of the escarpment overhang, and watched the fire sputter and smoke in a valiant battle against the downpour.
“What did the leader of the Seal People say about my father?”
Esca frowned and glanced at Marcus. Marcus looked back and met his eye for the first time in the last few hours.
“Every time I ask, you avoid the question,” Marcus said.
So apparently Marcus had decided to try again when it was all but impossible for Esca to avoid it without getting up and walking away, and they both knew he wasn’t going to do that right now. He’d be soaked to the skin the second he stepped beyond the safety of their shelter.
Still, Esca hesitated to answer. There was, after all, a good reason why he hadn’t translated his words for Marcus before now.
“The fact that you won’t say tells me that it wasn’t good.” Marcus watched him steadily. “Tell me, Esca. I have to know.”
“You already know. You can already guess. What would be the point of me telling you?”
“He said my father was a coward. That he died badly.”
There was a pain in his voice that Esca had only ever heard when Marcus spoke of his father. Esca knew he couldn’t let him keep dwelling on this.
“Listen to me, Marcus. He told you what he wanted you to believe. Just as Metellus told you what he thought you wanted to hear. Who is to say what the truth really is?”
“You think Metellus lied?”
“I don’t know. But I do know the leader of the Seal People hated you, and all that you stood for. He knew he was mortally wounded, that you had beaten him, and he wanted one final victory over you. If you let his words get inside your head and affect the memory of your father then you are letting him have that victory.”
“Yes. Marcus, you have to stop dwelling on this. There is no one left now who can speak of it. Only the gods know how your father died. All that matters is that you believe him to have been a good, honourable man. And there is no one who can prove otherwise.”
Marcus turned and looked into the fire, apparently unable to meet his eyes any more. Esca watched the flicker of shadows and light on the man’s face and wondered what was going on in his head.
“I have nightmares about him dying,” Marcus said in a quiet voice. “I imagine it. All the different ways it could have happened. I always believed that if I finally knew the truth, it might stop the nightmares.”
Esca considered his next words before he spoke. When he did, his eyes were fixed on the sputtering flames.
“I watched my father die. I know exactly how it happened. If you think that will stop the nightmares, you are wrong. Trust me.”
He felt Marcus’ gaze upon him, but refused to meet his eye.
“You have the eagle, and you have your family’s honour. Let that be enough, Marcus.”
For a while the only sound in the camp was the sputtering, hissing of the fire, and the constant rain.
“I do trust you,” Marcus said.
Esca twisted to look at him, startled.
Marcus flashed him something like a smile. It was grim, but it was there.
“Perhaps,” Esca said. “But not with the things that really matter.”
Marcus was still staring at him when Esca turned and curled up under the blanket, his back to the Roman.
They were both unusually quiet the next day. True, it wasn’t as if either of them were particularly talkative normally anyway, but even by their normal standards they were both quiet. At least the rain had stopped, but the deluge of the previous night had left the land sodden, and it was now debatable which was slowing them down more – the muddy ground or Marcus’ injured leg.
They had packed up the camp with little more than a few words, and spent most of the morning walking in silence apart from to occasionally check they were still going the right way.
Esca didn’t like it.
The problem was, he had no idea what to do about it. Besides, if Marcus wanted to sulk, then Esca had no intention of pandering to his moods. Just because he didn’t like hearing the truth and wanted to wallow in indignation at some imagined slight, well, Esca was quite happy to let him wallow, conversation be damned. It eventually occurred to Esca that he might possibly be sulking a little himself as well, but that was beside the point.
“Watch your step, the ground’s slippery,” Esca commented. The way ahead dropped away into an abrupt slope and the narrow track became a steep downward zig-zag.
“I’m not a bloody invalid. I can manage.”
Esca bit back a surge of anger. He just shook his head and started down the track, wanting to get ahead of the Roman before he said something he might regret.
“I never said you couldn-”
The sodden ground beneath his foot gave way. Esca skidded as the stones and mud tumbled down the rocky slope that fell almost vertically away at the side of the track. There was nothing to grab hold of and his stomach lurched with the sick inevitability as he felt himself going over the edge. His body slammed into the rocks, his shoulder wrenched in its socket... and he stopped.
Esca opened his eyes. Stones tumbled down the slope below him, bouncing down and down to the river that surged so far away beneath them. Above him, Marcus grunted, and Esca felt fingers tighten their grip around his wrist. He twisted and looked up. Marcus was laid flat on the path, his one free hand hanging onto Esca like both their lives depended on it. Considering the drop below, they possibly did.
Esca swore loudly, and tried to grab hold of something with his free hand. Every stone he touched came loose.
“Climb up,” Marcus ordered.
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” Esca snapped back.
His feet scrabbled at the slope and he felt something solid. He tentatively tried his weight on it, and it shifted slightly, and then settled firm. He gave it another moment to be sure, and then rested his full weight on his feet so that Marcus wasn’t the only thing between him and a very painful fall.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. I just need...” Esca took the moment’s respite to find what looked like a relatively dry and sturdy looking rock, and grabbed it with his other hand. It held, and he let out a breath.
“Can you climb up? I can’t pull you without slipping.”
“I think so.”
Esca shoved himself upwards, and Marcus somehow managed to pull one-handed. When Esca got closer he saw that Marcus’ other arm was still wrapped around the bundled up eagle. Typical. Esca braced himself on the rock with his free hand and hauled himself up.
Without warning the rock gave way. Esca fell a second time, showered with earth and mud and loose stones as the ground collapsed yet again. He slammed into the slope and bit back a yell at the impact. His shoulder jolted and his wrist burned from friction where Marcus was still, somehow, hanging on.
When he looked up, it seemed like half the path had collapsed, and how Marcus hadn’t fallen down with him he had no idea. As he watched, another clod of dirt crumbled away and hit Esca in the face as it fell. He shook his head to clear the mud away.
The entire path was going to collapse if they didn’t move quickly.
He dug his hand into the earth and tried to pull himself up again, but only succeeded in tugging another lump of dirt away. Esca felt himself slipping and Marcus felt it as well because his fingers gripped Esca’s arm even tighter. Esca risked a glance up and saw the look in Marcus’ eyes. It wasn’t going to be enough, and they both knew it.
Marcus glanced to the side, closed his eyes for a moment, and then suddenly he was holding Esca’s arm with both hands.
Esca didn’t need telling again. He gave up trying to gain a purchase on the ground, and instead wrapped his free hand around Marcus’ arm and hauled himself up, his feet scrambling under him. They were both wet and covered in mud, and Esca felt both their grips slipping, but with one final effort he dragged himself back onto the track. He felt it begin to crumble again under his weight, and they both threw themselves back away from the edge, Esca pausing long enough to grab the abandoned bundle as it teetered over the drop.
Moments later they both collapsed on solid ground. When Esca looked back, most of the path was gone. That had been far too close.
Marcus was absolutely covered in mud, although Esca suspected he probably didn’t look much better. He put the eagle in his lap and lay back and closed his eyes and just breathed for a moment.
Marcus chuckled. Esca cracked an eye open to see Marcus grin at him.
“What were you saying about watching your step?”
Esca felt a smile twitching at his lips.
“The ground’s definitely slippery,” he said, nodding.
Suddenly they were both laughing. It felt surprisingly good. Or maybe that was just coming down from the high of not dying.
When they finally caught their breaths, Esca picked up the eagle. He was surprised that Marcus hadn’t attempted to take it back already.
“You dropped this,” he said.
Marcus glanced down at the eagle. When he looked up again, he was looking right into Esca’s eyes.
“I knew you would catch it.”
For a moment Esca had no words. Then he smiled again.
“This doesn’t mean I’m going to carry the damned thing the entire way back, mind.”
“Of course not,” Marcus said. He smirked. “I’d better take it whenever we have to go down a hill. Probably safer that way.”
Esca just rolled his eyes.
Bloody annoying Roman.