Your hand trembled nervously as you forced yourself to knock on the door. Your new housemaster was behind you, his jaw set in his rugged face. You hated that man, though nowhere near as much as you hated the man who had first enslaved and branded you. That cursed mark on your leg ostracized you from the society, so that even if you did manage to escape from your master’s clutches, no one would hesitate selling you out.
Now, your previous master had sold you to the gladiator’s stadium, to work as a servant and to take care of other menial tasks.
But after the housemaster had taken a good, a very good look at you, he’d decided you were fit for something else too. So he’d told you to follow him. And there you stood, about to walk in to a gladiator’s room. The housemaster had bragged about this particular gladiator’s strength, telling you he was the strongest one who’d ever been.
So there you were, waiting to be let into the room of a gladiator and a strong one at that. What was he going to do with you?! You panicked, your breath coming in short pants as you waited for the door to be opened.
“Si?” A brown-haired man stuck his head round the door and nodded respectfully at the housemaster. “What’s this?” He asked, letting his amber eyes roam over your shaking body. “A present.” The man replied gruffly, pushing you forward and making you stumble closer to the gladiator.
“A present-a?” He mumbled, shutting the door behind him after you’d been ushered inside. “As-a pretty as you may-a be, he shouldn’t treat people like-a objects....” he muttered, rolling his shoulders. You stood motionless save for your eyes darting around the room, looking for escape routes. So far unfortunately, it seemed the door behind you was the only way out.
“Are-a you okay?” He asked you, tilting your chin up so you had to look at him. Your (e/c) eyes wide, you nodded in fright, your lips sealed. “Are-a you sure?” He asked again, seating himself on the large bed in the room.
Nodding again, you still didn’t move from your spot. “Not much of a talker are-a you?” You shook your head, aiming your gaze at your feet. He gestured for you to come closer to him. “Do you think-a you could-a do something for me?”
Again you nodded, your silence being your sanctuary. He smiled somewhat wryly. “Could-a you loosen my muscles for-a me? I think I pulled one at the fight-a today.” After seeing your repetitive nod, he pulled off his shirt and rolled onto his stomach.
Tentatively, you sat down next to him, the mattress barely shifting as your weight was nothing compared to his. With nimble fingers, you started rubbing his tense shoulders, feeling knots in them which had to be painful.
Long scars criss-crossed down his back, a couple of thick lines intersecting with smaller, almost claw like ones. His tanned skin was riddled with them, making you wonder how on earth he could still be alive.
“Don’t-a worry, you can speak-a if you want to.” He said, his voice softer. “Do you always kill your opponent?” He tensed a bit at your question and sighed. “Not-a always.”
“How long have you been a gladiator?” He closed his eyes, resting his cheek against the pillow as he felt his back muscles relaxing under your touch. “A couple-a years now, I’ve-a lost count.” You rubbed your fingers down his spine, feeling satisfied that he was sighing contentedly. “Do you like being a gladiator?”
His shoulders sagged. “No.” You glanced up at his answer. If he didn’t like it, he could leave couldn’t he? He was strong enough after all. “Then why do you do it?”
Sitting up, he crossed his legs in front of you. “I’ll show-a you mine, if you show-a me yours.” You raised your eyebrow at his request, but held out your leg for him to see. Then he lifted his own leg up, showing you the brand mark on the back of his calf.
“We’re-a the same. I have-a no choice but to fight and you have-a no choice but to serve. It really is-a horrible world.” He reached out to stroke your cheek and you flinched out of habit. “What have-a they done to break you like this?”
Biting your lip to keep from bawling, you held his warm palm to your face. A tear escaped your eye and he gently pulled you into his arms. He let you sob wordlessly, rocking you ever so slightly as you clung to him.
Even though you were showing yourself at your weakest to a person you barely knew, somehow it didn’t feel wrong. The two of you were the same and that consolation was all it took for you to break out in tears. But contrary to what he thought, these were not tears of anguish or sorrow.
Your tears were those of happiness as you’d finally found someone like you.
“There-a now, it’ll be-a okay. I promise I’ll-a protect you, okay?” His soothing voice and beating heart comforted you and you stopped crying, hiccupping to a halt. “See? All better!” He said, wiping away your tears and hugging you tightly.
“Yes...” He smiled at you, petting your head. “Well-a now,” he let himself drop onto his back, the bed springing up to accommodate him better. You squeaked in surprise, falling with him. “Do you-a mind... if we stay-a like this?” He asked, his cheeks slightly pink. But then again that might have just been your imagination.
“It’s been-a so long since I’ve-a just been able to be with someone. Someone I can-a relax around.” He said, resting his hands on your back. “Yes of course we can.” When you realised how eager your answer sounded, you blushed and looked away from him.
“But I mean I have to serve you, I don’t have the right to say no to anything you say sir.”
“Augustus, call-a me Augustus. And what do they call-a you?”
“They call me (y/n).”
He grinned and pecked your cheek. “That’s a pretty name.” Resting his head back against the pillow, he closed his eyes, your warmth making him feel happier than he had in a long time. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, you slept well.
Like Augustus had, you’d craved the companionship of another ever since you’d been branded. Unconsciously you’d been looking for someone to share the burden of the pain.
But when morning came, you were forced to step back into the world in which your life was worth less than that of a dog. Slaving away over the hot ovens in the kitchen, scrubbing the floor with a threadbare rag, all of your tasks were wearing you down. The only thing good in your life, the only source of light in your dim existence, was the time you got to spend with Augustus.
His training and fights were visibly tiring him out and he would fall asleep earlier and earlier each day, his wounds more numerous than the day before. That had become your job now, cleaning his wounds and making sure he was warm enough when he slept.
Though the conversations you two had, however short made you smile, actually smile! You thought you’d forgotten how to and the curious thing called laughter entered into your world once more.
The whole stadium was buzzing with excitement. Someone had challenged Augustus to a fight and everyone had turned up to watch. Yourself included of course. Though instead of watching from the stands you watched through the door Augustus would pass to get into the arena.
As opposed to his other fights, he seemed on edge today, nervously hopping from one foot to the other as he jiggled his sword in his hand. “Just stay calm and fight like you always do.” You said, reassuringly stroking his arm.
He stopped for a moment, glanced at you with a kind of determination you hadn’t witnessed before set in his eyes. Pushing you against the dark wall, he firmly placed his lips against yours, moving them with a passion he’d once lost.
When you parted, he grimaced, leaning his forehead on yours. “I-a love you.” He said, wincing again as he heard the trumpet and the roar of the stands. “I want-a you to know that I’ll-a do anything to get out of here and when I-a do, I’m-a taking you with me. Understand? Do you understand-a me (Y/n)?”
His voice was hoarse and desperate, making you bite your lip. “I understand.” You replied, closing your eyes as he kissed you again. “I-a love you, I-a love you, my sweet, precious (y/n).” He whispered, before leaving your embrace and walking out into the sandy pit.
You should have realised at that point that something was wrong. But all you could do was watch as Augustus took his stance in front of the opponent. The silence of the crowd unnerved you and you felt the need to cheer your gladiator on.
He landed the first blow on his enemy, which got retaliated instantly. The clash of metal on metal resounded in the arena and you stood on your toes to see better through the slats of the wooden door.
Augustus was limping, a gash on his thigh streaming blood. He grit his teeth, swinging his sword back at the other gladiator.
The crowd had started cheering and chanting for Augustus, he was one of the best and had gained loads of fans throughout his short career. But now it seemed like for the first time he was on the losing end of the battle.
Another bash of the round shield here, a vicious uppercut narrowly missing there, their battle was heated, barely allowing time for breathing. Augustus’ cry echoed around the arena as he fell to his knees, his chest slashed open.
Losing all energy to fight, he fell onto his bloody chest, the angle he was lying in allowing him to see you vaguely through the door.
You battered the door with your fists, crying out and reaching for him as the opponent poised his sword at the back of Augustus’ neck. The arena fell silent again and the gladiator looked to the stands for his next move.
A couple of people pointed their thumbs down and with a shout of rage, you thrust your thumb into the air, aimed towards the heavens. You kept this up until you saw the people join you, all pointing their thumbs upwards.
“Thank the gods.” You said, resting your head onto the door. The gladiator stood down and returned the way he came, wiping the blood from his sword with his hands. The servants rushed out after you to Augustus and he grinned weakly.
“I-I’m-a -alive.” He said, his voice even feebler than before. They got him on a stretcher and got him back to his room after a doctor was urgently sent for.
You sat beside him, dapping frantically at his wounds with a soaked cloth. He held your hand, his gaze drowsy. “I-a guess, m-my time as a gla-gladiator is-a over eh?” He murmured, a trickle of blood trailing from his mouth. You wiped it away gently, stroking the non-bruised parts of his face.
“I’m-a too old now. It’s time to let the yo-young ones take-a over for me.” He sighed, gulping dryly. “I’m not going to let you die.” Chuckling half-heartedly, he squeezed your hand. “And I’m not planning on that either my sweet (y/n).”
“I-a can’t! I need-a to move around! I’ve-a been sitting still for over three weeks now!” Augustus whined, fidgeting in his bed. You pushed his shoulder and he winced, falling back against his pillows. “Ow.” He said, pouting at you. You sighed and offered him another spoonful of soup.
“You know, I can-a eat by myself.” A blush tinted your cheeks. “I know.” He grinned lopsidedly, the bandages around his chest straining as he leaned forward to you. “I-a love you.” He told you, kissing the corner of your mouth sweetly.
“So what you said about taking me away.... what’re are we going to do?” You asked, the question had been burning at the back of your mind ever since he’d uttered those words in the arena all that time ago.
He leaned back, his eyes closing as he started explaining. “I-a plan on taking you to the countryside I-a grew up in. It’s-a warm there and when the sun shines everything is different-a shades of green. We’ll get-a small house just for-a the two of us. Each day I'll-a go to work and miss-a you all day long. And when I-a come back home, you'll-a be there waiting for me, a smile on your face as your kiss and embrace heal-a my exhaustion. How does-a that sound, my dearest?”
You squeezed his hands. “That sounds like a plan.”
“Bella!!” You grinned when you heard Augustus’ voice coming from inside, his heavy footfalls increasing in volume as he bounded inside and hugged you tightly. “I-a missed you bella!” He whispered, pressing fleeting kisses down your face before heatedly moving his lips against yours.
With a carefree smile on his face, he laughed as he picked you up in his arms and swung you around.
“Careful!” You cried, holding on to him for dear life. Setting you on the ground carefully, he pouted and pressed his forehead against yours. “Whaaat?” he said, a child-like expression on his face.
It looked as though he’d just been interrupted doing something he’d been looking forward to all day. Which could actually be the case, when you considered this was Augustus you were talking about.
“Just... be careful, okay?” You murmured, reaching up to tousle his dirty hair. “I-a will.” He cooed, sliding his hands down past your waist and round to your stomach. Even if only a small bump was visible, he was constantly touching and stroking it. The look in his amber eyes when he did this was so warm, so loving.
“Thought-a of a name yet?” He asked eagerly, glancing up to gently peck your lips once. You shook your head. “Not yet, but don’t get ahead of yourself.” You murmured, rubbing his neck tenderly. “We still have quite some time.”
Wrapping his arms around you, you both just stood there for a moment enjoying each other’s warmth and company. A blood-red sun set in the distance, throwing long shadows across your stone cottage. It came in through the open archways, the last trickling tendrils fading away as the sun retired for the night.
Giggling softly, you stood on your toes to twine your arms around his neck, pulling him down for another kiss. “We’ve got all the time we want.” You repeated, shrieking when he twirled you around again.