At Green Acres, Sextus invites Memnoch to stay, and Arrius arranges defences against the unknown threat to Pompeii.
Strange dreams filled the head of Giton as he slept: he was enmeshed by bands of dry leathery skin which seemed to be sucking his youthful vigor from him...while other portions were wet and drooling but equally draining of his vitality. His attempts to escape were of no avail, and his only hope of release lay in daily exercise to try to replenish that energy which he was drained of at night. He shifted in his sleep, feeling a loss of some protective reassurance as the cool air reached his uncovered back...and sought to restore his loss by grasping the remaining source of warmth closer to his chest. Of their own accord, his lips connected with those of the boy next to him, and began to feed hungrily on their sweetness....
For his part, Philandros' own dreams were more pleasant: he lay in the arms of his beloved Atlas, safe and secure in the knowledge that whatever Sextus wanted, it would be for the best...and delivered by him with absolute trust in his lover's judgment. The smooth muscles against his flesh moved as if they were caressing fingers, molding themselves to the front of his body, and Philandros snuggled closer. Sextus was his anchor, his light-house on the sea of life, indeed the very ship which he wanted to carry him to the realms of passion....
Without waking, his own lips responded, and opened to receive the probing tongue of his companion...the urgency becoming entirely divided between them. Philandros felt the body next to him shift again, tightening its grasp about him, and knowing what Sextus preferred, he obediently rolled onto his stomach to receive his desires.
Feeling the acceptance of his companion, Giton made love to his friend, not yet fully awake...in his mind he was receiving the energy of his partner which the dessicated vision in his dreams had sucked from him in the only way he knew – by taking the power of another person in the act of love – he felt his body swell with renewed life and only when he cried out in release did his mind clear and he become aware of his surroundings.
Giton looked in dismay at the body of Philandros beneath him...how could he have betrayed the hospitality of his oldest friend?! He had taken his friend's body like that of some brothel whore, without asking for permission or consent! Fully and coldly roused from sleep now, Giton saw that his accidental lover had not yet reached full wakefulness...but lay still in that half-awake half-slumbering state so difficult to rise from. Could he possibly pretend that this had never happened? Giton could not see how...yet he started to very carefully disentangle himself from Philandros' lovely form.
Before he could do more than begin to shift himself from his position, Philandros sighed luxuriously, and Giton saw a smile light his face like the rising sun. The red-head shifted to face Giton, and his arms encircled him as his lips nuzzled the boy's neck. Giton watched in fear as his friend's eyelids began to flutter – he could not pretend now, for Philandros' arms clasped firmly behind his back held the two of them tightly together.
"Oh...Sextus...that was wonderful! Even better than last time...ummm...again, my love?" His lips closed on those of Giton, and kissed him blissfully.
Sextus? So beautiful Philon had become a lover of men as well? Giton could scarce believe his good fortune! Toward the middle of their friendship, he had thought his friend might be that way...but then he had become more distant, and went less and less to the palaestra – and had gradually withdrawn from their circle of friends. Was this the reason? To hide his true self from that friend who would most understand? Fate could be so cruel to men! He must speak, but what to say....
"Kalos Philandros..." Giton began in a whisper, "the gods are laughing at one of their little jokes again. By clouding our heads with dreams, they have caused something which neither of us planned...but which it seems we both enjoyed...."
Philandros' eyes snapped open, as if someone had dashed him with a bucket of cold water. Sextus!...not Sextus – Hylas? As his mind caught up with his body, and he recalled the delicious events of the night..."Giton?"
Quickly, the boy sat up, his eyes taking in the form of his friend next to him. Giton leaned on one elbow, and placed his other hand on the boy's thigh. Philandros just stared at it, unable to form words just yet.
"It seems we are of like mind, dear Philon...I didn't plan on what happened...but I'm glad it did! I have my old friend back...and I don't want to see you distance yourself again!"
Confused still, Philandros managed to find words – of a sort – though they were hopelessly inadequate to his feelings. "Giton...I thought you were Sextus...I – we – Sextus and I..." His voice trailed off as his eyes sought out those of his friend.
"You are lovers? Tell me, dear friend." Giton sat up, his arm going about Philon's shoulders to hold him, comfort him. He listened as his friend's story began to pour out in fits and starts: being discovered by his grandfather with the stableboy – that was when he had started to withdraw from his friends...of his fear, his attempt to suppress his longings...and the release he had felt when he met Sextus just weeks earlier – the giving of his soul to the roman who was the center of his life now.
Giton listened with great concern; he had had no idea of the troubles and fears which had tormented his friend all these years! If only he had said or done something, all this could have been avoided! Giton would have been the companion his friend sought, and gladly – and there would have been no discovery with the stable boy! He rested his head on Philandros' shoulder, and his hand drew Philandros' down to rest against his own.
"Oh, Philon – my dear and beautiful friend! I would have welcomed your affections with all my heart..." His hand stroked Philandros' thigh gently, and he pressed his lips to the freckled cheek next to his softly. He proceeded to tell his own story: of experiments with their friend Andreas, who later gave it up when he discovered the cook's assistant Cleomene would sleep with any of the local boys...how he had sought release with sons of visitors from Rome or actors in the theatre. And of his being the toy of Marcus Renatus...who could scarce perform, yet enjoyed watching Giton do so.
Philandros was shocked...sex for money? A free man engaging in such things? Yet, it occurred to him with horror...Sextus has given me a large sum of money himself – is this to secure my body for his own use? Until that moment, such a thought would never have entered his head!
He turned to Giton, and his friend could see tears forming in their green depths. "Oh, Giton...I – we have a problem!"
Philandros learns from Hylas that the slave did not have sex at the stream with Sextus before Tellus' attack.
When Philandros returned to the peristyle, Giton had gathered up the blankets and pillows, and placed them on a lectus in the dining room. He turned to Philandros and enfolded him in a hug, kissing his cheek. At once, he saw his friend was troubled even more so since their love-making. "What is it, dear friend?"
The tears finally came, no longer being held back by resolve. "Oh, Giton! My only possible excuse is gone – Hylas and Sextus didn't – Sextus has remained loyal, while I...you...." Sobs choked any further words Philandros might have spoken, and Giton sat next to him on one of the dining couches. He held his friend against his chest, allowing the sobs to work their way out...as they eventually did. Giton then lifted his friend's chin with a finger, so they were looking eye to eye.
"Shall I speak to Sextus for you? Will that help? You know...we were both drinking and confused by our dreams...and you were still more than half asleep – I will tell him that the fault was entirely mine...anything to ease your pain, dearest friend!"
Philandros kissed his cheek, but shook his head. "No...I can't lie to Sextus, even by omission...I will just have to hope that our love is strong enough to survive this..." Philandros almost said 'mistake', but even though it had been entirely unplanned, he did not want to hurt Giton by implying any regret or blame on either boy's part. "...situation. You understand, don't you, that my heart belongs entirely to Sextus...that – until Sextus or I die – my feelings for you can't be more than those of one dear friend to another, with or without the physical aspect?"
Expecting something else, Philandros was surprised by Giton's soft laughter. "Dear Philon – I realized that the moment you said you had a lover! You always were the dramatic one – perhaps you should have gone into the theatre instead of me!" He ruffled Philandros' hair with one hand, and lightly kissed him on the lips. "We will remain friends...don't worry about this...it was fun, and I expect nothing more – I am just glad that we met again!"
Philandros smiled, and hugged Giton for several minutes, then stood up to find Hylas. "You were always my closest friend; say, do you have a place to stay here in Pompeii besides Renatus' villa?" Giton shook his head...and that reminded him that he hadn't planned on being out all night...and Renatus might be angry that he didn't at least send a message! Philandros saw his friend's eyes narrow and his smile vanish for a moment.
"He will be mad at you? Because of me?" Philandros did not accept Giton's denial...it was too quick. On impulse, he took his house key and pressed it into his best friend's strong hand. Giton looked at it, and hung his head. "Giton...take it – just in case! I would like someone to look in to see that things are safe until I return to town...there is trouble brewing, and I'd feel better knowing you had a refuge should things go bad between you and Renatus...and if Pompeii has other troubles." He also told Giton where he had hidden his small amount of coinage from his father's inheritance...but Giton swore he'd not need it – after all – things would calm down in a few days!
Philandros set out to the stable, where Hylas had their mount saddled and waiting. At his questioning look, he said that Giton was not coming to Green Acres, but would be looking in on the house for him while they were gone. Hylas avoided his eyes as he assisted his master in mounting the white mare, and then jumped on behind with his master's aid.
The ride out of Pompeii was silent, until they passed through the Herculaneum Gate...where the guards had looked at them more intently than usual, but did not stop them; of what harm were two greek youths on a white horse? The silence continued until the tombs lining the road disappeared, and they had put distance between themselves and the other travellers. Philandros could feel the arms of Hylas about his waist, and the boy's chest pressed tightly against his back. Knowing the horse would carry them both, Hylas had left off the wooden saddle, using only the stuffed pad beneath...and because of this, Philandros could feel the erotic excitement which the ride was causing in the slave.
Philandros tried to avoid this pressure against him, but gave up as the horse's gait made this impossible. His tormented thoughts at length demanded attention, and he turned his head slightly to speak. Hylas leaned forward to hear better, thereby increasing the contact between their two bodies. "Hylas..."
The slave gave a tentative smile, which Philandros couldn't see since this horse wasn't trained as well as his Bucephalus – he dared not take his eyes off the road ahead. "Master?" He couldn't help the smile...he felt somehow – superior – to Philandros now that the boy had cheated on Sextus; this, despite the fact that he himself had never been faithful to a lover his entire life – he would not think of the fact that he had never been offered that opportunity. "You wish me to remain silent about Giton?"
His hopes rose, and then were dashed as his master completed his sentence! "Yes, Hylas...say nothing – for I am going to tell Sextus as soon as we get back to Green Acres. I can only hope that he will understand – it was an accident – I thought it was Sextus, otherwise I'd not have assented."
As Hylas listened to the details of the boys' dreams, and the subsequent events, his heart lightened – he had never intended any harm for Philandros...it was just that he thought the boy had consented willingly, knowing that it was Giton he was with. He was gladdened to know the truth was otherwise, but now he worried what Sextus would think of it – was the roman as forgiving as Philandros hoped?
Both boys gaped as Memnoch rode past them, giving them a pleasant smile and wave as he trotted by. Hylas had never seen the man smile before! What had happened that caused Memnoch to smile so? He had obviously spent the night at Green Acres....
A short time later, they entered the gates of their destination and Philandros slid off the horse, leaving Hylas to take it to the stables and Julius' capable hands. Philandros strode up to the villa's double doors, and was about to knock when the left door opened. Hermes glanced for a second behind him before bowing slightly and stepping back so the greek could enter. His hair was freshly combed, and his tunic clean and neat.
"Hermes?!" Philandros could not suppress the exclamation...then he saw Archelaus standing at the other end of the vestibule, a short olive rod in one hand, eyes watching every move the young Hermes made.
"Master Philandros...w-welcome home! Se-Master Sextus is in the study..." The boy's stutter was worse...but his manners were much better. No doubt the effect of Archelaus' intense scrutiny...the stuttering would pass as the boy gained more confidence; he looked back at his tutor again, who gave a nod and raised one eyebrow in question. Hermes thought for a moment – he was forgetting something, but what? Ah...! "Shall I announce you, sir?"
Archelaus gave a nod, and the briefest of smiles. Philandros shook his head, and told Hermes he would go right in...and that they were not to be disturbed unless called for. Hermes sagged slightly in relief as he closed the door quietly and watched Philandros go into the atrium. He saw Archelaus frown, but Philandros said something as he passed his steward, and the old man nodded. As Hermes passed him to see about lunch, he was stopped when the man placed his wand in the boy's path. Not knowing what to expect, Hermes began to tremble slightly. This did cause Archelaus to frown.
"Hermes...I will never beat you – if you don't learn, it is some fault of the teacher, and another method must be found which works. You did very well; the stuttering will disappear as you gain confidence in your abilities – and I will give you some exercises to improve it as well. Let us arrange lunch, and I will show you the way to set table and conduct a meal...then you may take some time for yourself until dinner. Lesson Two: Reward The Diligent."
Having crossed the atrium, Philandros approached the study with trepidation...he had to talk to Sextus, but was afraid what effect his words would have on their relationship...it could very well end it then and there. He knocked quietly, and entered when he heard Sextus call. Sextus looked up from some account tablets on his desk, and his face was all smiles as he rose and approached his lover with open arms.
Much as he wished to, Philandros could not relax into the welcoming embrace wholly, and his return kiss for Sextus was only half-hearted. Sextus stepped back half a pace, but did not release his love. His wonderful greyish-blue eyes probed Philandros' green ones with worry. "Philon...what's wrong? Was there trouble in Pompeii – something with your house?"
At his nod, Sextus guided him to a reading couch, and pulled him down to sit next to him. He clasped the boy's hands in his own, and kissed his cheek gently. His voice was the barest whisper of breath against freckled skin. "Tell me..."
Philandros turned so he could look Sextus in the eye...and froze! How can I tell this man I've been unfaithful? Zeus, there was trouble at the house...and it was all my doing! He bit his lip so hard, that it began to bleed, and still the words would not come. He would not cry! That would complete his humiliation before the man he loved with all his being... He bent his head, unable to look Sextus in the eye any longer – not after what he had done!
Sextus dabbed at the blood with a piece of cloth from the desk, and tried to get Philandros to raise his head again. Whatever this was, it must be bad. he thought with a frown...then he remembered how dramatic his lover could be. "Come, my love...it can't be that bad – I'm here to protect you!"
Philandros shook his head from side to side, head remaining bowed despite Sextus' assurances. When he spoke, his voice was almost inaudible...and Sextus had to lean in close to hear his tortured words. "My love...it's the worst that could ever have happened...I...I..." his voice went even quieter, if that could be possible. "I cheated on you!"
Sextus sat quietly during this confession...yes, his dearest was definitely dramatic...but this was a serious matter, on the surface at least. "Hylas is hard to resist..."
He had to lean forward again to catch Philandros' next words.
"It...wasn't with Hylas...." And between tortured breaths and with many pauses, Philandros told of how he had been taken by his old friend Giton...both of them not fully awake and confused by dreams from the gods or the wine could not be determined...and how he had only consented because he was sure it was Sextus next to him....The only thing he did not say was that he thought Sextus had taken Hylas the day before by the stream – that would look like an excuse, and Philandros knew that there was no excusing his behaviour.
Sextus tells Philon that one accidental indiscretion won't break them up; Archelaus assigns Hylas a room – saying he should not share his masters' bedroom; Memnoch plans to worm his way between Philon and Sextus.
Philandros did not remember how he and Sextus had gotten from the study to their bedroom – but then, when Sextus was in that certain mood, he forget almost everything. He smiled at Hylas when the boy came in, and accepted the cup of wine with a 'thank you' and a lingering touch to Hylas' fingers. He was surprised when he didn't pour a cup for himself...and in fact looked like he wanted to leave the room.
Was Hylas still upset over the ride back from Pompeii? Philandros didn't have a great deal of experience, but it seemed to him that Hylas had been troubled before that...then he remembered the tone he had used in reporting that Sextus had refused him by the riverbank...That was it, surely!
With a brief glance at Sextus, Philandros got up, took the wine jug and poured a glass for Hylas...then pulled him over to the bed with them. "Hylas, you know Sextus didn't make love to you because I wasn't there to agree...or to join in – it doesn't mean that he – or I – don't want you...never that!" He placed an arm about the boy's shoulders, and hugged him close.
"You are a wonderful person, Hylas! Beautiful, thoughtful and sensitive to others – besides being intelligent and resourceful! Any man would be considered fortunate to be your lover, and a fool to turn you down!"
Sextus added his own words of agreement, and urged Hylas to drink his wine. Philandros smiled broadly and winked at his lover...then proceeded to trace his fingers down Hylas' neck and across his chest. His lips followed this trail which his fingers blazed, and Hylas let out a deep moan as Philandros tongue began to caress his left nipple. He nearly choked, so great was his haste to finish the last of his drink.
"Oh...sir!" Hylas moaned in ecstasy.
Philandros interrupted quickly: "No – in this room, or when we are alone – there is no master or servant – just three spirits joined as one romantic being! Now...put that cup down...it's getting in the way of my plans!"
Hylas found himself pressed back onto the bed by Philandros' soft but strong hands...and felt caresses also from the rougher fingers of Sextus against his right thigh. He gave himself up to the manipulations of his two masters...and when he tried to take a more active part in the proceedings, Philandros put a finger to his lips, before laying his own body atop that of the other greek.
"Relax Hylas...this is for you – no work for you today, just pleasure and joy. We are here for you now...just give yourself up to your dreams!"
Philandros took Hylas' face in his hands, and kissed him deeply...sliding his body along that of the other until they were positioned just right for Philandros to lower himself into the realm of bliss. He felt a touch to his own back, and saw Sextus smiling down at him...then sighed as Sextus settled his own weight onto his lover.
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