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15 December 2016 @ 01:16 pm
{fic} They Cut You To the Roots  
Title: They Cut You To The Roots (and Told You To Grow)
Summary: There were times, Duro thought, when everything would have been different if Agron had lived instead.
Genre: angst
Characters: Duro, Agron, Spartacus, Nasir, Crixus, Saxa
Pairings: none
Warnings: AU, character death

They Cut You To the Roots (and Told You To Grow)

"How very near us stand the two vast gulfs of time, the past and the future, in which all things disappear."-Marcus Aurelius

He is told that the day his brother was born there was sunshine and a fair wind, and that he was born silent, a good omen for strength and a peaceful life. He is told that his own birth was difficult and long, and when he took his first breath the rains were so hard that they drowned out his cries. His brother, a chubby toddler and tall for his age, ran a hand somewhat roughly over his head and marked him proudly as his own, something to defend and protect.

His brother has passed his seventh winter when a hunting spear veers off course and strikes him a breath from his heart. His mother sacrifices to Wotan, and his father's face is gray from expected grief, but Duro never doubts, never fears. Agron is strong. Agron will survive this and more, and there is nothing but a small smile when he learns his brother will live.

He is still young when he is taken from his land, chained hand and foot to his brother and to a stranger. The language they teach him is rough on his tongue, more suited to curses than honeyed words, the rhythm coarse and halting. Agron's mouth forms more easily to it, cursing Roman gods and the men who march them onto an auction block like livestock to be sold and used.

They are sold together, halves of a whole, the German brothers, trained to fight and kill, and even as Agron chafes at the slavery, snapping like a wild dog at the Romans who venture too close, Duro finds a strange sense of peace, some leap in his heart at the spilling of blood. This he is good at. This he can do well, and with his brother at his side, he needs nothing else. He thinks it could be this forever, the scent of death, heady and richly metallic, and the taste of victory in his throat, like wine on his tongue.

It does not last, of course.

There is a rebellion, and Agron is quick to join, eager to spill Roman blood, and where his brother goes, Duro follows always, as he has since the day of his birth. Agron speaks of victory and freedom, of return to their homeland, east of the Rhine, certain of their triumph as he is of their survival, and Duro thinks, without giving it voice, that Agron speaks for himself, for he is stronger, and a better fighter. And yet, Duro will stand with him until the end, will fight until his last breath, always.

He sees it slowly, as if through water, every moment weighed and heavy. The Roman, sword thrusting forward. His brother, smiling, full of joy at their victory. His own hands reaching to push him out of the way, moving to block the sword with his own body.

He is a breath from it, so close he can feel the air between his fingers as they grasp and fall short. The blade plunges into the narrow space between ribs, the tip piercing through bone and into Agron's heart, severing it mid-beat. Duro's hand finds his sword, drives it through the Roman, the blood splashing over his fingers and running down his arms.

He falls to his knees, gathering his brother to him, reaching for the sword, before his hand falls away, choosing instead to cradle his face. Agron's eyes are unseeing, the ghost of laughter still lingering on his mouth, dead as the Roman fell, and he feels himself roaring with pain, choking and drowning in it until there is only silence remaining.

Duro goes on, as his brother would have, but he thinks Agron would have done it better, losing himself in slaughter and fury, and not the strange emptiness that overtakes him, the lack of purpose that surrounds every slash of sword, even beat of his heart.

Once they find a villa, and free the slaves, and among them is a Syrian, as savage as a little dog, with fire burning in his eyes as bright as the sun.

Agron would have spoken to the boy, Duro thinks, drawn, perhaps, by the his beauty and wildness. But he is not his brother, and no words fall from his lips towards the slave, no kindness as he glances at the anger burning in the gaze that meets his defiantly even as Spartacus insists they give him a chance to choose freedom over slavery. The boy is lost already, Duro thinks, and it is only a matter of time before he strikes.

The boy bares teeth sooner than he'd imagined, and the Romans enter, swords drawn. The Syrian throws himself, borrowed sword in hand, at Spartacus with a feral hiss between his teeth that is quickly severed, as Crixus's sword stabs deep into his back and exits the other side, just below his heart, and he falls, dead before he hits the ground, as a flash of sorrow enters Spartacus's eyes.

"The boy could not be saved." Crixus says carelessly, wiping his sword, and stepping over the body. "He made choice."

Duro glances down at the glazed eyes, the hair fanned out and awash with crimson running from a mouth agape with a final breath. The Syrian's skin is fair at his throat, the outline of the collar marring his flesh as if it had never been removed. Beautiful, even in death, like a wild creature after the slaughtering of the hunt. He should have spoken to him, he thinks, and now it is much too late.

He has never done it before for an enemy, and he does not know why he does it now, and yet Duro stoops and closes the boy's eyes.

The days flow and vanish like water poured into the earth, months passing without notice, as their numbers swell and ebb, an endless cycle of battle, blood, and death, but his skill increases, and he thinks Agron would have been proud, as he sends many Romans to meet the gods his brother once cursed.

But there are quieter moments, when the pain in his chest is sharper, and the feeling of something wrong becomes nearly unbearable.

"Speak thoughts." He says, seeing Saxa's eyes upon him, as they huddle round the fire against the cold, fingers icy, lashes frozen against their cheeks.

"What was your brother like?" Saxa asks, for she has heard what they whisper around the camp, of the German brothers, of the one who lived and the one who died, the measurement of the two, the constant question of which it should have been who lived instead.

A thousand words spring to Duro's mind, things he should remember clearly, but now only frail and faded images as time passes, carrying with it all but Agron's smile dimpling against his cheeks and the sound of his laughter. These cannot be forgotten.

"He was the sun," Duro murmurs. "Warmth in heart of winter."

Saxa is quiet for a long moment, rubbing her hands together against the flames. When the words come, they are strangely soft.

"A good man."

The battle begins, a desperate final stand. Spartacus is weary, worn to the bone, but his voice is steady and head high as he leads them, all of them, even if Duro is the last yet living of the Brotherhood, the last still carrying the mark seared into his flesh. Agron would have been better, he thinks, the natural leader that he was, a man Spartacus could have depended upon, and not just one he looks upon and sees ghosts of good men who lie dead while he still lives.

The weak, the children, and some of the women, are already over the hills, led by Naevia, grief-stricken and a shadow of the woman she once was, but brave and steady. She will see them beyond the grasp of Rome, and Duro thinks she will go further, perhaps to the lands east of the Rhine. But such places are a distant memory, now, and his mind cannot conjure even an echo of the warmth of the land he once called home.

It ends, much the way it began, as he is torn from the familiar, and thrust into the unknown, a sudden pierce of a Roman blade from behind, slicing through scarred flesh, through muscle, nerve, and bone, piercing him through the heart, that heart that should have stopped long ago, as should the blade that ended his brother's life. Fitting, at the end.

His breath exits in the taste of blood and sweat, hands too numb to brace his fall as he tumbles forward, striking the ground. The battle roars around him, like the crowd once did, the earth like sand beneath him. His eyes blink, struggling to focus.

And Agron steps into view, strong and alive, laughing, his hair twisted into braids, unmarred by the wound that ended his life, younger than when he saw him last, the young hunter in their homeland, before Rome, before everything.

"Little brother." His voice, curled around their childhood tongue, so long forgotten, aches with longing and home, carrying with it scents and tastes and things Duro had thought he'd lost, memories of his parents, of his childhood. His hand settles against Duro's shoulder, as light as a ghost, because he isn't real, of course, and never could be.

But it's enough, and a smile brushes Duro's face, lips forming his name.

It remains as his breath ceases.
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