Type of Gift: Fanfiction
Title: Amor Omnia Vincit (3/5)
Summary: The tale of a great Roman centurion, the slave he would never have willingly chosen, and the greater force that brings the two of them together.
Author Notes: At last, an earlier update! ...not by much, but I'll take my victories where I can, thank you kindly.This part is a bit longer than the rest, so there's a break midway through. Hope you enjoy! C:
From that night, everything is transformed. The men no longer speak of the young centurion alone; rather, he is now referred to as “the young centurion and his amicus,” for the companion that seems to always trail his steps. The men use the term scornfully, sarcastically, always heavy with the implication that the stern-faced captain could command respect, but not affection from anyone, save those he had quite literally bought.
But these bitter words do not touch either of them in the slightest.
The day after he is up and about, Ludovicus finds Felicianus a much cleaner tunic to wear, and a new pair of sandals. Through his best efforts, it is not long before he is not as deathly thin, either, and the gentle glow of life returns to his face along with the soft curve of his cheeks. These things Ludovicus takes pride in, more than he ever has in even the greatest accomplishments of his campaign.
He begins to feel more and more, somewhere beneath his conscious thoughts, that the simple act of being welcomed home it is greater than the victories on the front. It is part of the routine that has slowly fallen into place with Felicianus, though its repetition does not reduce Ludovicus’ continual surprise and joy in the slightest. It is something he would never have anticipated enjoying, and yet something he has found increasingly impossible to live without.
Upon being welcomed, Ludovicus will thank the younger man, and offer his own greeting. The two will dine together, and Ludovicus will inquire after Felicianus, and then Felicianus after him. Their conversation will go on, covering topics from the serious to the absolutely trivial. Occasionally, more than one would ever expect, the tent is graced by the musical laugh that Felicianus has; it seems to bring back the warmth of home that, in the heat of battle and war, had long since been forgotten. They will retire at the same time, though Ludovicus will always stay up slightly later to make sure the other is able to sleep.
In many ways, the jeers of his men are more fact than falsehood; this, truly, is the young centurion, too young for the good of his own sanity, and his amicus, the one true friend the fates have ever allowed him.
For some nights, the battles are too harsh, and even the thought of that bright-eyed, young face waiting for him cannot make him smile. He can only stumble back to his tent, and shut his eyes, and try so desperately to forget.
It is on these nights that he appreciates Felicianus more than ever. He will usher Ludovicus to his bed, to recline, without so much as a question. He will offer him food, though Ludovicus will rarely partake, and water, which he will drink far more greedily. They do not speak as they usually would, aside from a soft word of thanks offered and a gentle, soothing reply given.
Ludovicus is too tired to bathe, although he sorely needs to be clean. But every time, without fail, Felicianus will take a spare rag and dutifully wash the grime of battle off his hands.
The first time, and the first few after it, Ludovicus protested as much as he could bring himself to, insisting that it was unnecessary; but Felicianus insisted, and so it was that this tradition came to be.
Cleansed hands resting on his stomach, Ludovicus will try to sleep, with Felicianus kneeling faithfully at his side. The comfort of another living creature, another heart beating near his, is what enables Ludovicus to give over to the darkness, and to finally rest his wearied body.
Unbeknownst to either, the two share the same dreams these nights as well. They both hope that they will wake and find this all a nightmare, some terrible thing concocted by a troubled mind. And yet, at the end of that torment and the return of all that is sane, they each picture the other, though it is the hardships they would have erased that brought them together in the first place. It is a complicated wish, but dreams rarely heed such restraints as reality.
And so it is that their nights pass, one after the other, the young centurion and his amicus.
But such peace cannot last.
It is on the brink of their third season together, the slow slide of autumn into a deep, northern winter, that this treasured routine is forever broken.
Ludovicus is on the battlefront when he receives word that the camp is under attack.
His heart drops to his stomach before shooting up into his throat. He commands his men back without a single thought of strategy, and he leads the charge himself. He knows full well, from word of mouth and from experience, how brutal these raids can be. No spoils or prisoners are taken; all is consumed by unstoppable, untamable fire.
When they return to see the camp being ransacked, an answering flame burns in Ludovicus’ chest with such intensity that he can barely see straight.
He grips his sword and runs for his tent as if the hound of hell is at his heels.
All the while, even as he attempts frantically to strategize, all that plays before his mind are images of Felicianus hurt, Felicianus scared or crying or – the thought alone makes his bones quiver, right down to the marrow – dying –
He bursts through the flaps of the tent to find exactly the stranger he has feared, Felicianus cowering away from him.
In a split second, Ludovicus grabs, pulls aside, and slays the intruder.
He has not even lowered his sword before Felicianus rushes to his side, clinging to him with all the desperation of a drowning man.
“Lud – Ludov – ” Felicianus cannot seem to even get the words out, his face pressed against the leather of his breastplate.
The bloodied sword slips from Ludovicus’ hand to clatter to the ground, useless. For a moment, his hands hover, unaccustomed to being without the hilt of the blade that has grown to sit so well in his palms. But another, deeper instinct takes hold much faster.
He presses Felicianus to his chest with all his might, shutting his eyes tightly and offering silent prayers of thanks to whatever deity had kept him from harm for long enough that Ludovicus might save him.
But a thought catches up to him at long last, a chilling realization as the hysteria leaves his mind and reason slowly trickles back in: he has just killed a man, right before Felicianus’ eyes.
He looks down and sees the bloodstains he has left on his tunic, two crimson smears along his back. Ludovicus’ stomach churns, and for a moment, he truly feels as if he will be sick, as he hasn’t since his first days on the battlefield.
Panic seizes him once more. He tries to move away, to stop tainting this innocent creature with his hands, surely in the end built more to destroy than ever to create or to care…
But Felicianus clings to him all the more tightly. “Stay,” he cries weakly. “Please – please, Ludovicus –”
His hands return to Felicianus’ back before he can so much as think. He holds him there firmly, unwavering, seeking shelter from him even as he provides it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he guides them to sit somewhere where he can better protect both of them. He holds Felicianus to him with one hand, and grabs his sword with the other.
Together they wait out the night in this way, until at last Felicianus sags in his arms and Ludovicus can resist the pull of sleep no longer. For the first time in his life, he forgets duty; or, perhaps, for the first time in his life, he realizes what it truly is.
Surprisingly few additional author's notes, given the longer chapter:
Amicus - Latin meaning, of course, friend.
hound of hell - A vague reference to Cerberus, a three-headed dog said to guard the Underworld in Roman mythology.
Tomorrow shall be faster! This I promise. I'd like to see my family keep me away when they're 500 miles from me...
(...they totally will won't they)