"Well, nobody really expects a slave to wax eloquent about philosophy in Greek, unless that's exactly what they were purchased for,"
The comment came out more than a little short, and Felix dipped his head in a nod, the way he used to do in the household when someone snapped an order at him. Why did he feel like the words stung now? He had never thought they were anything out of the ordinary before. People made comments like that, and much worse, about slaves all the time.
Titus seemed to catch himself a moment later.
"It's definitely a plus that you speak it, though. One can never have too many eyes and ears in circumstances like this."
"I will do my best, dominus." Felix nodded again. The rest of the plan was not up to his decision, or even opinion. That had been made clear.
Well, that was good, at least. Felix let out a small sigh. As long as he could keep doing his duties to the best of his abilities, the rest was really none of his master's concern
Except he was concerned anyway, for whatever reason.
"Restless? In what way, restless?... You haven't been confined to the house, you know."
Felix looked at him a little awkwardly. Restless was not a good word to use for a slave. Rebellious slaves were few and far between, the Romans made sure of that, but there were limits to even the most benevolent master's trust.
How to explain this feeling to Aulus? Felix could barely explain it to himself. A free man his age would be somewhere else in his life: have a family (Felix didn't even know if he'd want one), a job (of some sort), a home. But as a body slave, Felix was beginning to feel his permanent state of neither here nor there, and fully dependent on his master's decisions about his life.
... No. He was not going to put that into words.
"I know, dominus" he nodded. He was not confined. He could go out if he wanted, as long as he was not needed in the household. "It's just... I don't really know where I'd go. Being back in Rome, it feels like... It feels different. Less like home. It's hard to put words to it. It's probably just a passing mood."
There was a pause; Felix was beginning to think that Aulus just wanted some company to sit around and share a drink in silence, when his master finally spoke up.
"You have seemed... unsettled, since our return to Rome,"
Felix winced as the words rang true. He had been unsettled, but also hoping that he could carry on without Aulus noticing anything. He was a favored slave, but a slave just the same; he could not allow his mood to affect his duties. And yet, Aulus had noticed.
"I apologize" he said honestly, looking down at his cup "I have been... restless. I hope it didn't cause an inconvenience."
"Fetch yourself a cup, and a seat, and join me,"
Felix nodded, then pulled up a chair, poured himself some wine, and took a seat, at a comfortable distance from Aulus. They had shared drinks before, and conversations. Sometimes Aulus just wanted to muse, and sometimes he wanted Felix's opinion on something, which he did his best to offer. Sometimes he just wanted company. Felix wondered which mood he had tonight as he tasted the wine. It was good wine, the kind reserved for the master of the household, carefully mixed with the right amount of crisp water. Every once in a while, being Aulus' chosen body slave had its perks. Felix was slowly getting used to them. He sighed, enjoying the moment, as he waited for Aulus to speak.
They had been back in Rome for months now, and somehow Felix was not finding his place. He had been halfway around the world with Aulus since that night that they first had to run from the city, and he went from a household slave to body slave to his master. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Now, back in the house where it had all started, but feeling like a completely different man, Felix tried to fill his days with work. He did his duties as always, stayed nearby in case Aulus needed anything... but when all was said and done, he was at a loss of what else he could do. The slaves that remembered him from his youth looked at him differently. Even the women looked at him differently. Felix found himself wandering when he had nothing better to do. The City was vast and full of marvels, but he was not sure where his place was in it. Other than by Aulus' side, of course.
Felix jumped a little at the sound of his name, and turned around, noticing Aulus under the shadows of the colonnade. He changed directions, walking over to him. Whatever else might be making him uncomfortable, it was never his master's company.
It took quite a long time for Felix to catch his breath. Everything was a blur of sensations, mixed with emotions and thoughts he could not even begin to disentangle. Aulus didn't need to take his time the way he did, and Felix knew that. He had seen another side of the man he had been following since they left Rome behind. He would not fall for the illusion that his master cared for him more than he cared for any slave... but that did not make what they just did together any less pleasurable. Felix allowed himself a drowsy half-smile as Aulus turned to look at him.
"Very pleased with you. You may spend the night here, if you wish."
Very pleased with you too
"Thank you, dominus." Felix got up from the bed, stretching his muscles gingerly and picking his tunic up from the floor. There were some extra blankets in the tent; he could make a comfortable cot for himself on the floor by the bed. He would not presume that Aulus would let him share the bed with him. It would have been far from appropriate to fall asleep like that, after all.
"You haven't so far."
Despite his nervousness, Felix couldn't help but chuckle a little. In light of where the conversation stared, back when they talked about Felix needing to learn new things, he would have never thought he would be learning these things tonight.
With both of their tunics gone, Felix could feel the heat of Aulus' body as he pulled him down for another kiss. He responded more readily this time, cautiously allowing himself to enjoy the contact and the sensation that came with it. Felix was not a terribly experienced kisser, especially when it came to men, but he was, as he had stated before, a quick learner. Especially in things that interested him.
The strangeness of kissing his master aside, Felix found himself enjoying the kiss. It went against his natural instinct to give up initiating anything; with the excitement drumming through his veins, had Aulus been someone equal to him in standing, he would have been a lot more forward. As things stood, he was glad that his master was not more... impatient about all this.
"Take your tunic off,"
He did. Aulus had seen him naked on occasion during their travels (usually the occasions when they had a chance to bathe), but he never looked the way he did now. As a slave, most of the time Felix was invisible to free men. He winced, once again holding back from starting something he was not supposed to start. He cleared his throat instead.
"I hope I won't disappoint you."
Aulus was an attractive man. Not just because of his highborn Roman features, or the way he carried himself; he was also clever and attentive, and Felix felt a kind of fierce loyalty to him after the weeks they had spent together on the road. He felt drawn to the look in Aulus' eyes. He was not as dumb as the household used to believe; he knew what his master wanted was not an emotional connection, or seduction of any sort. He also knew Aulus could have ordered him if he wanted to. He would have felt differently about all that before traveling halfway around the empire with him. But that was then, and now was now. And even after all that, it was sort of mesmerizing that Aulus actually kissed him.
Felix knew how these things worked, in theory. He had some experience with women, but not men, and none at all with doing any of this with someone so high above him in standing. He was slightly taller than Aulus, so he tilted his head as he was pulled down into the kiss. He responded instinctively, kissing him back; excitement coursed through him, and his hands hovered at Aulus' shoulders. The pleasant feeling of the kiss made him slightly dizzy, but he was not so completely distracted that he wouldn't keep himself still. It was Aulus' right to initiate things, and he would follow.
Aulus made a satisfied sound as Felix worked through the knotted muscles. There was something unusually familiar about the scene. Had he been a slave trained for this kind of service, it would have been just that, a slave doing his job following the master's wish. But after spending a long time on the road, relying on each other with the kind of trust they would not have needed otherwise to survive, there was a bond between the two men. Felix would not have presumed to call it friendship, but he also felt a sense of satisfaction at helping Aulus feel better.
His master eventually stood, turning to face him. The look in his eyes was one Felix had not seen before. The light touch at the side of his face made his breath hitch in surprise.
"Have you ever been with a man?"
Felix's eyes widened slightly. It was a simple question with a lot of implications. The simple answer was no, he had never been intimate with a man. Not that he didn't feel attracted to some of them occasionally, just as he found some girls attractive. As a house slave, he'd fooled around once or twice with some of the slave girls in secret, but the men... did not seem to take a second look at him.
And now Aulus was looking straight at him.
Felix swallowed, his lips suddenly dry.
"No. I haven't."