Title: Dum spiro, spero
Rating: PG 13
Summary: Pullo found him in the wreckage. Post "Kalends of February"
Disclaimer: HBO/BBC owns Rome
Pullo found him in the wreckage. The knife was no longer in his hand, but his fingers made the shape of it. Torchlight from outside, nothing inside. Not even a candle on the altar. Noise outside--Rome thrashing and skidding gracelessly in Caesar's blood--nothing inside. Vorenus was marble, sitting at his table with his eyes open and no light in them at all. Pullo couldn't hear him breathing.
He held his own breath and listened and waited, and outside the courtyard there was noise and light, and inside the house there was darkness and silence and Lucius Vorenus, without breath.
Pullo's feet got tangled in the torn drapery by the door and so his stealthy, respectful entrance turned into some kind of Gallic mummer's dance, except with a chorus of invocations to the Furies instead of to those old dirt-gods, the gnarled root-gods the Gauls sang to. The stomping and arm-flailing pulled him apart at the seams a little and when he stood in front of Vorenus, panting out the last of his curses, he could feel himself seeping, unhealed wounds whispering blood. And even this close he couldn't hear Vorenus breathing.
Pullo bent low to peer at his face, and then crouched so he could look up at him, and then fell forward onto his knees to bring his face even closer. Looking up now meant kneeling, it seemed. That was the way of things, in Rome. In Gaul, in mud and frost where sniveling root-gods grabbed at your feet, you could look up at a man without kneeling. But that was a long time ago.
He listened. He closed his eyes and listened. Finally, he raised his fingers and laid them on Vorenus's lips, and the sudden rush of air then, the sigh that stopped short of a sob, made him smile. "Not dead, then, eh?" His hand fell to his thigh, fisted.
When Vorenus blinked and focused on him, Pullo thought of Pygmalion and his statue and laughed softly.
"No. Not really. But I never saw myself as a life-giver before. Or you as Galatea."
Even with the living eyes, the suggestion of a smile, Vorenus was more stone than flesh. "You're no Greek. And Aphrodite would abhor you as much as Venus does."
"True. For good reason." The light was going out again, dulling to nothing, so he added, "How she feels about you, though, not so much justification." Instead of kindling it, the sympathy doused the light altogether. Vorenus closed his eyes. Still on his knees, Pullo sighed and twisted to take stock of the empty house. Niobe would have lit candles. "Are you ever going to pick up the place?"
"Go away, Pullo." When Pullo turned back, Vorenus was watching him, his eyes colourless. Pullo wondered how many hours he'd spent studying the light playing in those eyes over the years, if you added all the fleeting moments together. Sunsets and torchlight and watery cloudlight, thoughtlight. Always obliquely, though, because Vorenus was usually looking ahead and Pullo was looking at Vorenus, waiting for the decision to be made. Now was different. He was looking straight on at the glassy blue. He'd seen beads like this, that you thought you could see right through but which only gave you your own reflection. Vorenus blinked slowly. "Get up off your knees and go away."
"Is that an order?"
The hesitation was a chasm fathoms deep and teeming, and when Vorenus finally answered, his voice was far away, on the other side of it. A standard worn thin by too much wind."You kneel for no-one."
"You're a senator." Pullo made it sound a bit joking, but Vorenus's expression didn't change, and so he repeated it, "You're a senator," seriously this time. Niobe would have sent a slave for wine and water. Vorenus's feet were unwashed, his sandals still on. Pullo fretted with the ties, not noticing until he'd twisted one so tightly around his finger that the blood was throbbing.
"I am Caesar's plaything," Vorenus answered steadily, but his eyelids fluttered, closed for a moment, long enough for Pullo to free his fingers from the sandal tie and brush them across the ginger lashes.
"So the gods make us all, eh?" Pullo's hand fell to the folds of Vorenus's toga, bunched the cloth and twisted it as he shook Vorenus sharply. "They freeze you, and drown you, and strand you, and starve you, and hack you to pieces, and break your heart with treachery, and won't let you die. Is that it? I suppose Caesar's a favourite, then, eh? A lucky one." He yanked Vorenus toward him so that their foreheads knocked together and while Pullo panted against his face, Vorenus didn't breathe at all. After awhile, the stillness crept into Pullo, too, and he sighed out a breath of cold. "Only it was you. It was you wouldn't let me die." His other hand squeezed the back of Vorenus's neck, almost enough to snap it, if he shifted his weight a little, adjusted the angle.
"Sorry." Pullo spat on the floor. "And you tell me to get off my knees." He shoved Vorenus away, got one foot under himself, but didn't rise. "You whoreson bastard." Gratitude and anger churned in his gut like milk and vinegar, soured his laughter as he sat back on his heel. "I would fuck you for this if I weren't likely to spill my liver out on the floor, among other things."
This time, Vorenus did smile. "I kneel for anyone. Not much of a prize."
"No, not much. But I have low standards." With an assertive clap of the hands, Pullo stood and hauled Vorenus up, too, by the collar of his tunic. "We won't kneel." He stepped closer, folded his hand again around the back of Vorenus's neck. "I will fuck you upright in the name of the mighty thirteenth, then. Gently, on account of my liver." He pressed his lips to the pale, sweaty forehead and whispered, "And the gods can fuck themselves." He could feel Vorenus cringe at the blasphemy, his brow notching with the familiar frown, and Pullo smiled against it before raising his eyes. "And if the gods are watching, maybe they'll learn something, eh?" Vorenus had no answer, only the moonlight trapped in his steady gaze. Maybe a priest could read augury in the eyes, but to Pullo they were just eyes, watching him, waiting for the decision. Pullo shook him again. "We kneel for no one." He showed teeth in a feral grin. "But if you wanted to--" A little downward pressure on Vorenus's shoulder. "--I wouldn't resist, much."
"You have disturbingly flexible principles."
"And you have none. I suppose that makes me someone to look up to, then, doesn't it?"
"The world is truly in the final throes," Vorenus observed drily.
"Bah! Only this one. Who says there isn't a better?"
"Out there?" Beyond the courtyard, Rome was screaming.
Pullo thumped his own chest with his knuckles, and then Vorenus's forehead. "In here, then."
In the new world, Lucius Vorenus, legionary, centurion, prefect, magistrate, senator, turned out to be good at taking orders. When Pullo pinned him against the house's central pillar, leaned against his back, pressed his mouth to the skin behind his ear, and commanded, "Breathe," Vorenus became flesh again, and the shuddering sound of the first breath made Pullo forget about his liver. He remembered, though, in the morning when he found his blood in the folds of the white toga, but it wasn't much in the scheme of things.
Outside the courtyard, Rome was quiet. Inside the house, Lucius Vorenus slept, his chest rising and falling under Pullo's hand.
Disclaimer:Characters (real and fictional) aren't mine, no money is made with these stories and history isn't changed. Damn.