Sextus and Philon talk about various topics, Sextus admits that he has learned that perceptions are misleading, and that people are often deeper than their surface appearances; Sextus again reassures Philon that Arrius has no interest in men.
With that reassurance still ringing in his ears, another knock came at the door, and several servants carried in large platters filled with dishes: chicken in honey, vegetables carved into fanciful shapes of roses and small fish, several pastry dishes filled with lamb and beef, and a whole tray of small cakes and even something which seemed to be made of colored ice in small cups! Philandros had heard of it – sherbet – but had never actually seen it! The idea of ice in summer stunned him – it had to be very expensive!
As the meal was nearing its end, Philandros savored the melting confection – strawberry – but his gaze kept straying back to the divine form Sextus had still not covered. Such casual nudity was relatively new to him...he had only encountered it in the palaestra at the gymnasia in Herculaneum...never at home. He found that he liked it – at least where Sextus was concerned! Perhaps because it was so new to him, Philandros found even the idea of Sextus nude exciting – not to mention the stirrings that the actuality was creating in his loins.
Sextus leaned over to give him another kiss, and smiled broadly. "I guess we are never going to leave this room – not if your friend stays so interested!"
Philandros gave a slight blush, and looked ruefully at his lap. "If someone were to put on clothes...it might become possible for us to do other things; not that I'm in a hurry! I've heard teachers complain of long hours...but not after the first day!"
Sextus made a grab for his lover, and pulled him back onto the bed, where he rolled their entwined forms into a position where his body lay atop that of Philandros, face to face and smiling broadly. The two kissed again, deeply and passionately, revelling in the discovery of one another's tenderest – and most ticklish – spots.
As afternoon began its long decline into early evening, Philandros turned his dishevelled head to face Sextus, and saw his amazing eyes open slowly. Philandros licked his lips before he could speak – they had finished the wine ages ago! "Sextus?"
The older man smiled, "Again?!" Was that a complaint? Philandros thought with a bit of dismay. Then he saw the gleam in Sextus' eye, and laughed too.
"Not yet...I have a – question...." The roman groaned – Philandros' questions were never easy ones he had already discovered! This boy was very greek – a seeker of truth in everything, and a thinker of the deepest sort!
Sextus propped his head up on his crossed fore-arms, looking at Philon with a fixed stare. "Ask away – I'll try to answer, though I don't claim to be one of the Muses!"
Philandros rolled onto his side, so he could see the reaction to his words...for he knew that this would be a very sensitive subject for his lover...being almost a decade older, and a roman to boot! This could very well be the end of their relationship – though it had barely started – and this was something he feared very much as Sextus had come to mean more to him than life itself.
"Sextus..." no pet names now, Sextus noted! This was going to be a bad one, he was sure – even before Philandros finished. He hoped he could give the right and honest answer – whatever the question might be.
Philon began again. "Sextus, among my people...and those close in age...it is not such a problem – but your people – Romans – well, it's different. You place such a stress on form: a man does this, and never that , one thing is good and another forbidden. 'A man doesn't cry'...you've told me this already...even in private. Tell me, what else doesn't a man do?"
Before Sextus could even begin thinking of an answer, Philandros placed a finger to his lips and held it there until he had finished his speech....
"My dearest, we are partners in love both spiritual and physical...what we do is for the pleasure of both...and no one's concern but ours – at least that is what I think; our actions ought to be reflections of this ideal – what is possible for one of us to do, should also be possible for the other to do in return without hesitation or fear of rejection."
Here it comes, thought Sextus. My thinker is coming around to his real point at last! He saw Philandros wet his lips again, and swallow nervously before finishing.
"Sextus...how to put this? In all this time – short as it has been – you have been the...the... active one – I know you are teaching me – " a little smile here, at last! "but it goes beyond that, I think. I am the one who receives you, the object of your wonderful acts of love, the one who submits to your wishes. Is it always to be thus? Am I never to take you , to give you my love?"
Jupiter! His lover came up with the most difficult questions! Sextus thought with awe.
Sextus is surprised by the question, and admits that he isn't sure – it goes against tradition for a Roman male; since Sextus didn't say never, Philon will wait for him to decide. Arrius enters with news, again seeming to look Philandros over – when he leaves, Sextus asks him if he wouldn't like another look – Arrius departs hurriedly then.
Philandros laughed after Arrius had left...but a seed had been planted, and quickly grew to fruition. "Sextus, what if...unlikely as it seems...Arrius were to express an interest? Would you leave me for him, whom you have loved for so long...or would you share me with him?"
Sextus had been laughing with great energy when Arrius turned so red and stalked out, and now that laughter died in fits and spurts. "What? Why would you ask that?" His tone was incredulous.
Philandros thought for a moment before speaking. "It just seems...strange. Arrius acts for all the world like he is jealous of me, and yet curious at the same time. What if it took you finding someone else for him to begin to suspect the depths of his affection for you?"
"Arrius?" Sextus hated that his voice had risen of it's own accord in shock. He laughed again, but Philandros thought there was less certainty than before.
Philandros fidgeted for a while, distracting himself by running his fingers over Sextus' muscled chest, but could finally delay things no longer. "Sextus...where's the bath?"
Sextus looked at the beginnings of an urgent need in his lover's eyes, and laughed. "Come on...I need it too!"
He led the way down another corridor, grabbing a cloak for each of them from the bedroom floor as they went. As Philandros followed quietly, he stared at Sextus' back and muscular legs visible below the cloak's hem. He tried idly to picture what Arrius' legs might look like, but could not do it with those of Sextus providing pleasant distraction.
After completing their business, they went on into a bath with misty curls rising from its warm waters, and climbed into it's pleasantly welcoming wetness. The tub could hold no more than three comfortably, so they had no trouble stretching themselves out. The water soaked into their pores, lulling them into drowsiness. Philandros ducked his head under the water, allowing the warmth to ease his temples and sinuses, and when he came up, he rested his head on Sextus' chest, letting his eyes close in contentment. He could feel his lover's breath slow in relaxation beneath his wet curls, and smiled.
Arrius...interested? Impossible! Or was it? Was there a hint of anticipation in the thought...of an imagined trinity of bliss? Whose vision was it, of the three of them entwined on Sextus' enormous bed?
Sextus considers Arrius' interest, but can't believe it – then he wonders if Arrius is thinking of testing Philon's sincerity; Sextus asks if Philon is going to stay tomorrow, but says he has to go to the slave market to check on his business. Sextus reminds Philon to check with the banker about the credit he arranged, and Philon has no idea what he is talking about.
Despite the warmth of the water in which they lay, Philandros felt a sudden chill working in him, driving out the pleasantness of the bath with each word Sextus spoke. He had received no message from Sextus after their breakfast...certainly none concerning finances! He then remembered the scraps he had ordered Tellus to sweep up – that must have been it! The roman continued, giving the name of the banker and the amount he had had set aside for his lover, and was puzzled by the stiffening of the young man's limbs, and utter silence.
Sextus looked into Philandros' eyes, and couldn't believe the depth of anger he saw there. When he spoke, it was in a tone of icy determination. "May I come to the market with you tomorrow – I have some business to transact."
Sextus was puzzled, but at the same time delighted. "Certainly, my love...but I really must spend some time on running the place – you understand?"
Philandros nodded. "Oh, I do...don't worry! I will be searching for a new steward for the house...maybe just a little bit of advice, then I'll be off for home. Say, I meet you there about the fifth hour?"
"What of Tellus, I thought he was your steward?"
"He finds the job too much for him...so I am selling him." The cold tone in his voice was all too evident to Sextus, and after some moments, came to the truth behind the decision.
"Philandros, Tellus will fetch almost nothing – send him back to your grandfather, and I'll see you get a proper steward." He felt Philon shake his head where it rested in the crook of Sextus' right arm. With his left hand, he tilted his lover's face upward so he could meet his eyes.
"Love...not everyone will accept our relationship...especially among my people; to seek revenge on them all would be impossible." Did he see a crack in the resolve written on Philandros' features? "My siren, I am dismayed to see you so eager to hurt someone else...especially an old man with no defences – it is unworthy of my image of you."
At the disapproving tone in Sextus' voice, Philandros finally focussed on something other than his anger. "But – he...it's not right ..." He bent his head so Sextus wouldn't see the tears of frustration, and chide him for crying after he had sworn never to do it again.
Sextus stroked his hair gently, untangling the drying locks with care. He kissed the top of Philon's head and gave a quiet laugh. He would not mention these tears. "I know...but the world is as it is, and we must make our way in it to the best of our abilities. You are not alone – we will stand victorious against all as long as we are together...and that will be forever."
After sufficient time had passed, he looked Philandros in the eyes again...ignoring everything except the look of love he saw there.
"Now, tomorrow morning we will go together to the Market; I will find you a steward – then you go home, and send Tellus back to your grandfather's. Later in the day, if you wish, we will go to the palaestra and exercise...we will put Tellus and his like behind us, alright?"
Philandros smiled and nodded his head in agreement, accepting the towel Sextus handed him. As they headed back to the bedroom, his spirits rose – he'd be with Sextus a while longer yet, then they'd actually see something of his new town together!
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