The nights had long since turned cold and the days had followed with a damp cold that lingered in the bones.

At least in mine, Marcus thought with some irritation.

He watched as Esca chatted happily with a vendor at the market, dressed only in a light cloak. He sometimes felt like he'd gone soft, living with Esca these last two years, but his journey to retrieve the Eagle had solidified one thing: Marcus' leg could no longer support him as a soldier.

So they'd stayed in Britannia, in the southern parts, and bought land to raise horses. It was good work and profitable, though the first two years had been so much hard work they'd barely had enough energy to live and train the horses. Now, their third year together, they had a home, land fenced off, and a barn for the animals. All their work now was mainly to do with training the horses and maintaining the farm, as opposed to building it.

As well, no one thought it odd that they lived together, assuming that Esca was Marcus' servant helping with the farm, if no longer his slave. Despite his freed status, most Romans looked at Esca and saw an inferior man and took him staying with Marcus to be the natural order of things. Little did they know that Esca served Marcus out of love and not obligation, or that Marcus did what he could to share the burden of running the farm.

Esca looked over at him with a broad smile and Marcus' heart filled at the contentedness that shone from his lover's blue eyes. That combined with the sun glinting off his burnished, coppery hair made Esca quite the handsome sight. He let go of the irritation and walked over to join him. Esca happily showed him the bargains he'd made for cloth and wool exchanged for furs instead of coin. Marcus smiled and said, somewhat rueful, “You always do better than I.”

“That's because you don't bargain, you order,” Esca teased as they walked away with the packages.

Marcus snorted a bit and bumped his shoulder against Esca's. They reached the horses in short order and laced the bundles to the saddles before mounting up and starting home. Marcus has made a sacrifice to Saturn at the local, somewhat shabby, temple in honor of the start to Saturnalia while Esca had shopped. He'd only briefly honored the holy days in the last few years, too preoccupied with building their home, but now he intended to be a better Roman. It wasn't a holy day the Britton observed, but Marcus intended to show him some of the better practices of the Empire when they returned home.

They made it to the farm shortly before dark and spent time first taking care of all the horses, not just the two they'd ridden into the town. It was a companionable silence, broken by the horses' whickering and eating, as well as the occasional hum from Esca. It was full dark by the time they made it into the mid-sized cottage they called home and despite his cloak, Marcus shivered fitfully upon entering the kitchen.

Marcus moved to start the fire while Esca set about lighting the candles. Thankfully, it wasn't long before the blaze caught and he warmed himself by its side for several minutes as light grew around him.

Esca stood beside him, resting a hand on his shoulder, and said with worry, “You don't take the cold well. Perhaps I should have kept some of the furs.”

Marcus stood, rubbing at his bad leg. He cupped Esca's face and said, “I am fine, my love, just thin blooded. Shall we eat?”

The worry didn't fade much, but Esca nodded.

Marcus smiled. “Excellent! Sit and I shall prepare the evening meal.”

Esca's lips pursed. “Ah, Marcus. The last time you prepared food for the evening meal, the house nearly burned down.”

Marcus chuckled and said, “I know. Which is why I bought some foodstuffs at the market while you were otherwise engaged. Sit!”

Bemused, Esca sat at the sturdy wooden table. “I could help.”

Marcus waved him off and said, “I know you aren't my servant, but you do so much for me, for our home, that I wish to honor Saturnalia by serving you.”

Esca smiled briefly. “Very well.”

Marcus went about pulling the cheese and bread from the sack and cut them up. He poured precious olive oil into a small bowl. He chopped up some late season apples and arranged all of it on the table, along with cold spiced chicken. He poured wine into two goblets and set them on the table as well. Marcus withdrew a thick leather cuff from a diffferent satchel and walked over to sit beside Esca on the short bench. “It's not much, but I got this for you.”

Esca took the fine leather cuff and traced his fingers over the native design. Marcus hadn't been able to find anything that had to do with Esca's own tribe, but he'd been assured by the craftsman that it held only good symbols of peace and prosperity and love. Esca turned shining eyes on Marcus and said, “Marcus, it's perfect. Thank you, beloved.”

Marcus let out a sigh of relief and then laughed a little. “Good! Now then, to serve you. What do you wish to eat first?”

Esca's eyebrows lifted. “What do you mean?”

“It was a simple question.”

“Are you planning to feed me?”

“Yes.”

Esca blinked at him a few times and then shook his head, smiling fondly. “Marcus, you don't need to...”

“I want to,” Marcus insisted.

Esca considered him for a moment and then said, “All right then. Serve me as you will.”

Marcus shivered a bit at the low tone that instantly evoked memories far more carnal. He reached for the chicken, pulling a good size off and holding it up to Esca's mouth. Esca opened for the morsel and Marcus gently placed it in his mouth. Esca's lips caught his fingers on the way, wetting them, and then he had to wait as Esca chewed and swallowed the chicken. Each piece went almost the same way, except when he dunked the bread in oil; then Esca caught his hand and deliberately licked up the oil. Heat had coiled through him through most of the meal, but at that his shaft hardened in his breeches.

Pure mischief sparkled in those blue eyes as Esca said softly, “I like this custom of yours. Perhaps you should eat some to make sure you keep up your strength to continue serving me in the bedroom.”

Marcus swallowed against a dry throat and said, “Perhaps I should.”

Esca drank wine while Marcus ate, his eyes remaining locked on him while he ate. Marcus didn't rush, enjoying the heat of his lover's gaze and prolonging the teasing. Esca always broke first when it came to their lovemaking. He was patience itself on the hunt, but when it came to having Marcus or being taken, he wanted everything all at once. Marcus was half-convinced that Esca had never had someone of his own before they'd met. They'd never really talked about it, but one day Marcus would ask. There was time yet.

“You'll be digested before you even finish,” Esca groused at last.

Marcus chuckled and picked up his wine, drinking it all down in one go. He belched and then asked, “Satisfied?”

Esca rolled his eyes, but laughed a little. “Not yet.”

Marcus stood and said, “I can't have that.”

Esca also stood, but grabbed Marcus' shirt and hauled him in to kiss him thoroughly. Marcus opened to it and groaned happily when Esca's tongue slipped into his mouth. The smaller man was fierce in everything, but especially in love. He devoured Marcus' mouth, nipping and sucking at his lower lip and then going back to kissing him fully.

They both breathed heavily by the time Marcus pulled back and said hoarsely, “Bedroom.”

Esca turned and Marcus took the opportunity to catch him around the waist and then scoop him up, into his arms. Esca flailed a little, laughing hard as his arms went about Marcus' neck. “Don't drop me!”

Marcus met his gaze and vowed, “Never.”

Esca's laughter fled at that and he surged in to kiss him again. Marcus found his way to the bedroom by memory, his vision completely obscured by Esca and his attention thoroughly captured by the kissing. He carefully lowered Esca to their bed and set about undressing him, pressing his mouth gently to each bit of revealed skin. When he was nude, Marcus shifted off the bed to build up the fire. He shivered at Esca's groan of disappointment but wouldn't risk either of them to a chill simply because of Esca's impatience.

It took some minutes to build up the fire so that it would burn all night and then, knowing he wouldn't want to leave once they'd finished, went back out to the kitchen to bank the fire there and blow out the candles. When he returned to the bedroom, he stopped short, arrested by the vision that awaited: the firelight kissed Esca's skin as surely as Marcus would, the only light in the room painting him golden. Stretched out across the bed, his lover slowly stroked his cock, one arm behind his head.

“Oh holy Venus,” Marcus murmured fervently. He would never take this man for granted.

Esca smiled and said, “Come serve me, Marcus.”

Marcus yanked off his shirt and shucked his boots, pants, and socks in less than a minute, leaving the clothes where they fell. He climbed onto the bed and settled between Esca's legs, eagerly taking him in his mouth. He fell on it ravenously, sucking and licking up and down the shaft as though it had been months instead of a couple of days since last doing this. Esca moaned and thrust up with his hips and Marcus relaxed his throat to take him down, swallowing around him before pulling back.

Time passed in a haze as he lavished attention on his lover's cock. Esca cried out, hoarse and needy, and came at last. Marcus swallowed his seed and then rested his cheek on Esca's thigh, panting. Esca ran his fingers through Marcus' hair, petting him gently for several minutes as they regrouped. He let out a long breath and said, “Come to me, beloved.”

Marcus crawled up to stretch out beside him, hitching a thigh over Esca's hip and draping himself half-over his lover's chest. He kissed the warm skin stretched over muscle and asked, “How else may I serve you, my love?”

Esca kissed him and kissed him, rarely letting him retreat and always pressing for more. Marcus' lips were tender, almost sore before Esca finally took him in hand. Marcus floated in a daze of need and aching as Esca stroked him just right; strong and with a twisting motion. He was so close that it only took a few minutes before he groaned and bit into Esca's shoulder as he came, spilling over his hand and Esca's stomach as he shuddered through it.

They laid in bed, soaking in the comfort for several minutes before Marcus forced himself to move. If he didn't clean them now, they'd end up stuck together; something that was never pleasant the following morning. He dipped a wash cloth in the pitcher by the bed and cleaned Esca before himself, returning the cloth to hang off the bedside table.

Marcus ushered Esca under the blankets then and climbed in after. Esca curled up over him, head resting on Marcus' chest while his hand soothed over his belly. He yawned and said, “I think I could honor this holy day of yours in the future as well.”

Marcus chuckled and kissed the top of his head. “Not just one day.”

Esca made a sleepy, questioning noise.

“Saturnalia lasts for about a week.”

“Oh. So... you'll be serving me the rest of the time, too?”

“Yes.”

Esca was silent for a few seconds and then slid his hand down to rest on Marcus' hip. “Then I think we should definitely honor these holy days of yours.”

Marcus smiled broadly in the dark.