Pairing: Pullo/Eirene (Vorenus)
Spoilers: Missing scene for 2x03
Summary: “Why did you not marry him?”
Notes: Being in the UK I haven't watched the latest episode yet, but I have a feeling that I might have been...preempted, if not jossed, in my treatment of this. Still, never too much Rome fic? Epigraph is from Julius Caesar.
ETA: Okay, wow, really sort of redundant now. Sorry!
Am I yourself
But, as it were, in sort or limitation,
To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs
Of your good pleasure?
Yet another night on the road, from Rome and now back, and they go to bed exhausted as soon as they’ve eaten their meagre supper, not speaking much; Pullo placing a knife close to hand just in case, and his wife curling up beside him.
Strange to think, still – him having a wife. It used to be that he’d watch Vorenus and Niobe together, both when it had worked between them and when it hadn’t, without any thought of having the same for himself. Wanting it, though, maybe. Maybe wanting it too much.
Well, and hadn’t that turned out a fine mess for everybody? And they’d loved each other, too. Just went to show.
Eirene stirs beside him, hugging herself against the chill. “How many days more, now?” she asks.
“Not many.” The words follow in a rush: he feels the constant need to explain, to himself as much as to her. “And then we’ll settle down somewhere, find steady work, I promise. As soon as I’ve patched things up with Vorenus. I’ve got to patch things up somehow….”
Sometimes, she shows that she understands. But tonight she’s short-tempered – womanly things, maybe. She’d thought she might be pregnant last month, but she wasn’t. What would we do with a child on the road without work, she had clearly not said.
Eirene rolls away from him, towards their little fire. “Vorenus, Vorenus.” She still mangles his name. “Always Vorenus. Why did you not marry him?”
She settles down to sleep after that, but he lies awake with his hands behind his head, staring up alone at the sky of stars. It was just a jibe: she doesn’t see, not really. She thinks that marriage is the closest bond two people can have.
He isn’t simple – he knows he’d given her reason to hate him, once, and early on he’d wondered sometimes if her every touch was a lie, if as she’d first come to him from obligation she came to him now for revenge. It’d chilled him through, to think that for even a second. But it didn’t come close to the horror of Vorenus’ arms around him in false friendship, all the sinews corded under his hands like a snake about to strike.
Easier, when he had struck him – a man could strike back. Hadn’t pulled his punches, either – not too much. Had wanted desperately to break through that hard cold shell of rage – but there was only more rage underneath, hot.
“Why do you always call him brother now?” Eirene had asked him one night back in the Aventine collegium as she cleared away the dishes, late enough that they were alone among the empty tables. “You didn’t before.”
To remind him. To try and call him back to himself, from whatever dark place he seemed to be inhabiting. To say: Here I am. Still and always. “He’s got no one else,” he answered, gruffly. “We’re all he has for family.”
“And all these people around?” She sniffed. “Are they servants, slaves? I don’t remember joining Vorenus’ family.”
He’s glad that she feels confident enough to speak her mind now, he is, but when he was arguing with Vorenus what seemed like a dozen times each day, it got to be too much sometimes. He drained the dregs from his mug and handed it to her, looking away. “You married me,” he said quietly.
“And you are of the Vorenii, now?”
“I won’t leave him. Not ‘less he makes me – maybe not even then.”
“Vorenus won’t cook your food and clear away your rubbish,’ she burst out. “Vorenus won’t carry your babies!”
She’s jealous, Juno be praised, and the thought was so ludicrous, on top of the wine he’d drunk sitting there by himself, that it made him laugh. He took her by the waist and spun her around to the table, glorying once more at how small she was in his arms. Eirene calmly set the dishes aside, looked up at him with those eyes. Well trapped by his bulk but she didn’t seem to notice it, except for the way her pupils widened.
“I know he won’t, love,” he said, as gentle as he could. “Be a fair sight if he did, nay?”
He wanted to make her laugh, but she only turned her head aside. He tilted her chin up to kiss her, but she pulled away. “The whores here treat me like a servant.”
“Tell me which ones and I’ll make them sorry.”
He’s getting better at reading her non-expressions now: this one meant that she doubted it, very much. “I don’t mind it that I’m not first in your heart,” she said, phrasing it careful, as if she’d been practicing. “But I’m a free woman now, you said, and I don’t wish to live like a – a bit of trash because of your….”
She searched for a word – all manner of thing, it could have been, and he was grateful when she didn’t find it. “You tell me who’s mistreating you,” he repeated. “I’ll protect you – that’s my job, you know. I don’t want you to be unhappy here.”
“But you are unhappy.” It can be a little frightening, how direct that gaze is. She goes so long without saying anything that you forget that she’s watching and listening, all the while. “He treats you like trash too, now, and you won’t leave.”
“Now that’s not—” One side of her mouth twisted, humourless, and he stopped. “We all have our burdens, eh?”
“And you’re mine.” She pushed at him ineffectually, to demonstrate, but she was smiling a little now for real and he thought the worst was past. He crowded still closer, caught her face and kissed her, mouth and cheeks and closed eyelids. He whispered, “You are first in my heart.”
She shook her head, eyes still shut, but all she said was, “Someone will come in.”
Unbidden – Eirene’s fault, with her mad talk – his mind flashed on Vorenus upstairs, unsleeping even at this hour, getting up for the privy or a drink of water and stopping still by the window to watch them together. He pulled her to him, urgent, hands on her new dress; said, “So let them. They’ll see I’ve got the prettiest girl in Rome…”
Set to distract them both, for a little while.
On the road, and the fire is dying down. He turns and strokes the tangled curls of her hair; she shifts fretfully in her sleep, and guilt stabs him, short and sharp, like a knife in the back. He has no right to drag her along like this, involve her in his troubles. Except that she is his wife.
Someone to follow him anywhere, through thick and thin. Yet even now, he can’t help remembering what it was like to be the loyal follower himself, across years and continents. He feels ill-suited in his new role, sometimes – cast adrift. She asks him questions and, more often than not, he doesn’t know what to tell her. He loves her, of course: he’s her husband. But unless – until this is set right, he’ll only be half a man.
Ought to have warned her about that, maybe, before she’d agreed to take him on. It hadn’t even struck him, though, in the sunlight away from Vorenus and away from Rome. Only as soon as he’d heard what had happened he’d rushed straight back, and Eirene had been right there with him.
So she’s taking it well, all things considered – this weight he carries with him, like a tether stretching thin. Oh, she might grumble and complain, right enough, but she’s been his prop and support and solace from the first, for so many miles now. He loves her the more for it. If it wasn’t for her, he might never have made it this far.
But if it wasn’t for Vorenus, he thinks, staring up at the sky some miles still from Rome, a woman’s light breathing beside him that he half-hears as something else….If it wasn’t for Vorenus, he wouldn’t be on this road at all.