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'Hilarious,' Florus mumbled, burrying his face in Tranquillus' chest. There was still slight disbelief at the thought he was doing this at all, but it came so naturally that his incredulity quickly dissipated. He planted a kiss on the other man's skin, and squeezed him tighter.
'Says the best-looking man in Rome.' Tranquillus was handsome, kind, patient, smart, learned, well-read, and he could have had his pick of all the people in the city, and yet he'd chosen the young Briton gardener, who didn't talk to anyone and didn't know anything. Either the body slave had poor taste, either the young man was the luckiest man in the empire. And going with how he felt in Tranquillus' arms, he thought he ought to give thanks to Venus. She wasn't his goddess, but if she'd had a hand in this... Well, certainly she deserved a lot of praise.
Being this sweaty was usually something that bothered Florus. He didn't like the feeling of his own sweat drying on him, and washed himself every night and every morning as he finished and started his day in the gardens. This right here, though, it wasn't uncomfortable at all. It was something new, and it was good. And besides, if cleaning up meant he would have to get up and break this sweet embrace, then he wanted no part of it. Besides, he loved the sweat on Tranquillus' body, the feel of it under his fingers as he stroked the older man's stomach, and also the smell of it. It was so intensely Tranquillus, so intensely his smell...
When the older man said he loved him back, the young gardener held him even tighter. He'd be content to just be like this forever. 'I can't believe I thought you didn't see me.'
Florus wondered if humans could liquefy. He felt like it was on the verge of happening, but if it were at all possible, he was certain it already would have. Everything inside him felt soft and gooey, and so full of this wonderful feeling. If Tranquillus held him any tighter, though, surely he would burst and there would be goo everywhere. It was just a very comfortable, peaceful feeling, where the older man was all that existed in the world, and the knowledge of it coursed through his veins. It wasn't the same as the passion that had consumed the both of them only moments earlier, but it was sweet, and he liked it too. Gently he ran his hand on the body slave's stomach.
The gardener extricated his head from the embrace to rest his chin on Tranquillus' chest and look him in the eyes. 'Don't be,' he said with a grin. 'I liked it.' He gave the other man's chest a small peck. 'You couldn't make me go away.'
Florus settled his head back onto the other man's chest, and hugged him tightly, eyes closed. 'I love you, Tranquillus.'
Florus' only response for a very long moment was an equally long, contented mmmm. Did Tranquillus even realise that he was the one responsible for it all? That this was the most amazing thing the gardener himself had ever experienced in his life? As the body slave kissed his forehead, the young man gave the man's throat a clumsy kiss. Was he forever doomed to be in this state of hazy bliss? He wouldn't mind it that much. 'Yeah, mine too.'
Florus repositioned himself so that his head was laying on the other man's chest, ear pressed firmly down. 'I love hearing your heart beat,' he mumbled after a while.
Florus hadn't ever felt this good in his entire life. Their bodies moved so well together, undulating in ways he could never have imagined. He made sounds, and Tranquillus made sounds, that he had never heard before in his life. Sounds of immeasurable pleasure, uncontrolled contentment. And Tranquillus' warmth, the contorted, concentrated expressions on his face, and knowing he was responsible for them... At the release, he felt like he was the epicentre of an entirely new earthquake, this one a thousand times more powerful than the one that had brought the body slave to his chambers in a heroic rescue. He'd surrendered himself to the sensations.
It turned out that sex was exhausting. Covered in a sheen of sweat, still catching his breath, Florus nestled himself in Tranquillus' arms. He was happy there. He never wanted to move.
'Of course it's real,' he said after a moment, voice just as rough as the other man's. 'If it was a dream, I wouldn't have needed two tries.' He was a bit embarrassed, but honestly it faded away in favour of the amazing moments they'd just lived together.
Florus' breath caught in his throat as Tranquillus removed the last obstacle between their bodies. It was an odd thing, that in his fantasies he took the time to detail the older man's body, admire his anatomy... In real life, there was no time for that, because every second not spent with his lips and hands touching the body slave was a moment wasted. Of course, it wasn't as though there were any thoughts at all in the young man's head. Only his desire, his need for the other man, and Tranquillus' evidently reciprocated feelings. They were skin to skin, now, all of them, and the contact made him shiver.
Eventually the older man's hand found what it had been looking for, and Florus let out a sound he didn't think he'd ever made before. Feeling his knees unsteady, he let himself be led to the bed. Gods, he couldn't take this much longer. Lust was no longer just a random feeling. His desire had become a life necessity. He sat down on the bed, and pulled the other man to him, breathing unsteadily. Again he guided Tranquillus' hand to where he most needed it, and used his own hands to cup the older man's face, bringing him closer for a sloppy, eager kiss.
He was ready.
The way Tranquillus was reacting, the sounds he was making were just... they were nice. And Florus wanted more. He loved them. They seemed to make his skin more sensitive to the touch. He threw his head back as the body slave moved from his lips to his jaw, and then to his neck. His throat was exposed, and the older man was kissing him there, and he didn't even know if was a thing that was possible, only every single kiss felt so good it almost hurt.
And then of course there was Tranquillus' hands, which were touching him, and pulling him so close that the only thing separating them was a very thin layer of fabric, of which he was increasingly conscious. It wasn't much, yet it was way too much.
Tranquillus' breath against his neck tickled, and though it was warm, a shiver ran down his spine. Touch me, he wanted to say, or even you, it's you that I like. Anything would be good. But he was entirely tongue-tied, and though his body was on fire, his entire brain felt numb. All he could do was nod, and gently grab one of Tranquillus' hands, guiding it to his stomach, his navel, and the edge of his subligaculum. His breathing was fast, and his eyes flew open, looking Tranquillus in the eyes.
The split second that it took to remove Tranquillus' tunic was an unacceptable amount of time. Any fraction of time where the body slave's lips weren't touching his was absolute torture, by Florus' reckoning, and ought to be illegal. Thankfully, the older man's lips crashed onto his own quickly enough, and they were back to kissing, something which he assumed by now was the natural order of the world. That was what stasis was. As Tranquillus moaned, Florus found himself pushing himself into the other man more. It was a beautiful sound, and clearly it was a form of primal communication his body understood.
It didn't take long for the gardener's belt and tunic to go the way of Tranquillus'. The belt fell to the floor with a thud, but he didn't hear it, and already he was yanking off his garment, impatient at its getting in the way of obviously more important things. Namely, kissing. In the moment where they weren't kissing, Tranquillus spoke. Apparently the younger man had forgotten how words worked, because all he was able to muster was a garbled noise of pleasure, before he pulled Tranquillus back in, sloppily. Their chests were touching, now, Tranquillus' skin so warm against his own. One arm wrapped around the older man's neck once more, making sure he wasn't running away, and the other excitedly roamed across the other man's body, exploring its warm and excellent surface for the first time.
Florus nodded, and swallowed. He'd forgotten how words worked. He had none to say, and there were absolutely none in his head. In fact, his mind was entirely blank. All there was inside of him was this pulsating need for Tranquillus, And as Tranquillus kissed him, this time without any restraint whatsoever, Florus just abandoned himself to it, a hand on the body slave's waist, and the other wrapped around his neck. Gods, he'd never felt like this before. His fantasies were palid, insipid, in comparison.
Completely lost in the moment, he gasped slightly as he hit the wall. Good. This was nice. He was between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. There was nowhere to go except the kiss. And that was good. So good. Fumbling fingers once more grabbed at the body slave's belt. HIs eyes were closed, and he didn't know what exactly he was doing, except he seemed to be more successful than before. Maybe on account of his determination. He had wanted this for so long, fantasized about it. Eventually the belt was out of his way, and he tugged Tranquillus' tunic upwards. He'd seen him at the baths before, briefly, but not nearly enough. And now Tranquillus was his. His to have, to contemplate, to hold. To touch...
His hands found their way on the body slave's torso. He was so warm. Florus held him close, wanting, no, needing to have all of the other man touching all of him. He hugged the man's bare skin, tightly. This was wonderful.
Walking was not good enough, not nearly fast enough. They should at the very least be running, or, even better, flying. He remained silent for the entire distance they covered. There was nothing to say. There was absolutely nothing going on in his mind except the thumping of desire every new heartbeat brought to mind. He'd wanted this so much, had spent months fantasizing about it, sometimes in detail, but mostly vaguely, because he didn't know exactly how things would go down. But even in his mind he had never reached these heights. Now Tranquillus was by his side, and it was really going to happen...
The gardener swallowed as Tranquillus bolted the door behind them. This was really happening. 'Do... do you want me?' It seemed like a stupid question to ask, especially given the look in Tranquillus' eyes, but a confirmation would be nice. Florus closed the distance between them, and again rested his hand on the top of the body slave's belt, looking into his eyes, feelings clearly glazed over them. 'No waiting?'
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Two months were an eternity. Tranquillus usually welcomed the summer time outside of the city; the dominus was more lenient with free time in those months, and he had peace and quiet to read and think and study. But that had been before Samorix. Now, two months away from the city seemed longer than his entire life so far.
Not that Tranquillus had been idle. He did read and study, and spent some time on the beach when his dominus wanted to go swim. He also had... many interesting conversations with his fellow slaves. And lots of thoughts to occupy his mind.
Mostly thoughts of the young gardener they had left behind in Rome.
No letter arrived from Samorix, which was not surprising, given that he barely knew his letters yet, and Tranquillus did not really have the means to send him messages either. Without word from either side, the months passed with excruciating slowness. Tranquillus occupied himself with collecting small odds and ends he thought Samorix would like, and making notes of plants and flowers. All the while, a small nagging voice in the back of his mind kept telling him that the young man might come to his senses before he returns, and pick a more suitable lover for himself. Slowly, the voice got louder.
And now, here they were. The family returned to Rome in the cool of the fall weather. They were greeted by their household with the appropriate enthusiasm. Tranquillus' eyes scanned the group of slaves and servants, searching for one face only; his eyes met Samorix's only for a moment, but it was enough to send lightning down his spine. Gods, he'd missed him. Did he...?
There was not much time for reunions. The entire family returning home required coordination and organization as boxes and crates were moved and unpacked. Tranquillus was in the middle of it all, making sure his dominus had everything he wished for, everything he needed at his fingertips. The hustle and bustle of the arrival lasted until after dinner, then the family decided to retire to sleep off the long travel. And Tranquillus was finally out of things to do.
Slipping into the gardens, he inhaled the scent of flowers. The greenery was lush, as if some god of plant life had walked through it and blessed it; not many men in Rome would have a more beautiful garden to call their own. It had only been two months, two and a half since the earthquake, and the change was impressive. With the cooler weather the freshness of the trees and flowers returned, and there was already fruit on some of the citrus trees. Samorix had worked wonders while the family was away.
Maybe he found happiness here.
Tranquillus looked around, searching for the young gardener. He finally caught a glimpse of him standing under one of the trees. He looked like he was... waiting, lost in thought. Gods, he was beautiful. Tranquillus swallowed, fighting the rising voice: What on earth am I even doing here?...
It wasn't the first time Teutus had ever been drunk. It was the first time he'd ever been drunk as a free man, and it was definitely the first time he'd been so drunk he'd ended up slumped in the street without even making it halfway home. He fumbled a hand to his head and groaned at the stab of sunlight that assailed him as he opened his eyes the barest crack.
He was just wearing his tunic, and must have looked like some poor sap too poor even to be worth robbing - that was the only explanation for the fact that he still had his new gold signet ring on that his muddied mind could conjure up.
He cracked his eyes open again. There was someone standing there, and Teutus took a chance. It was daylight, after all, and even here in wherever this was (the Porta Absidata, gods damn it, if he hadn't managed to get nearer home than he thought!) nobody was going to rob anyone in broad daylight on a public road.
He hoped it was a public road not some stinking back alleyway, anyway.
The markets were bustling with activity, as they always were, but Florus didn't care. They made him uneasy, most of the time. Too many people, and too many things going on at once. Sensations, colours, noises, smells... Eventually it all set him on edge. There was a reason why his only outings generally were restricted to the baths, and why he preferred to stay in the gardens when it was possible. There was no peace outside. Not with so many Romans around, that was for sure. Not to mention everything else...
Today his mind was focused on something else, however, as it had been for the past two weeks. Tranquillus. Oh, he'd been thinking about him for a long time, now, but it had been two weeks since they'd shared their first kiss and Florus' world had become that much more beautiful. The world made more sense now that he had an anchor. It had also been almost two weeks since Tranquillus had left, and Florus missed him enormously. He hadn't known that he could feel so happy and so sad at the same time. Just as he had been able to touch the body slave, he had been taken away. It was so difficult.
The only thing he could do was throw himself entirely into his work. He'd been a devoted, caring gardener before, but now he threw all his energy into it, working all the hours where there was sunlight, and barely stopping to eat. He didn't really notice a difference in the outcome yet, but that wouldn't stop him from working. It was that, or sit around the gardens feeling sorry for himself. That had never been his type.
So he'd had an idea to make the domus more flowery. Large clay pots, which he had found in storage, somewhere, could be used to host plants and put around the doors leading to the gardens. It would be beautiful. And he'd even found a smaller pot, which he thought he might use to put beside Tranquillus' bedroom door.
All he needed to do was shop for the plants that would go in that pot, now. The young gardener browsed the flower and plant merchants, occasionally stopping to smell them. Interested, he pointed at a very nice iris. The merchant told him the price, smugly, and Florus exhaled incredulously.
'Are you serious? That plant is not worth that price!' He was indignant, now, and found his Latin to be failing him, so he reverted to Britonnic. 'Do you take me for a moron? You're a thief, that's what you are!'
After the night Florus had spent in his bed, Tranquillus and the young gardener were back to mostly avoiding each other. What was there to talk about? Florus had his eyes on something, and Tranquillus had errands to run and a dominus to follow around. The garden was slowly getting back to its former glory, and the summer was progressing with days full of heat over the city. Tranquillus buried himself in his work and his studies, hoping that maybe eventually he would forget about... whatever he needed to forget about. Florus' eyes, mostly. Or his real name.
It would have gone well too, it it had not been for the flowers.
He walked past the flower seller without looking, but the the word Britannia hit his ears and he turned to look. The flower, honestly, was not much to look at, squat in a clay pot and blooming with small white flowers. But it was something from the far north. Something that reminded him of Florus and his gardens, and Tranquillus could not resist the sudden inspiration to buy a gift. A gift could not be a mistake, surely?
Walking into the gardens, the air was filled with the buzz of bees. Tranquillus looked around, holding the pot of heather. Where did the gardener go? Lost in thought, he lifted the heather to his face. Did it even have a scent?...
The newt moment, a loud yell echoed through the gardens.
Flowers sometimes were a bad idea.
The moon was high in the sky, and Florus had spent the past hour in the shed, drinking the beverage he'd made out of fallen plums. They couldn't be used for the Roman's table, and he couldn't eat all of them at once, so he'd taken to storing them in the shed, in a small barrel he'd previously used for storing seeds. The seeds were all planted, now, and the barrell had been filled with water and plums. The heat had cooked it all, and it had ended up fermenting. It was some sort of alcohol, Florus had figured out as much from the smell.
And alcohol gave you courage. Courage to act on your desires. He'd only wanted to sample some of his drink, at first, but the more he drank, the more he wanted to drink. And the more he drank, the more he thought it was a sensible idea to tell Tranquillus how he felt. How he wanted him. How he filled both his days and his nights. How he wanted to touch his body, and how he wanted the older man to touch him. Yes, it was a great idea.
An hour of drinking, and he was no longer reasonable. The liquor was half gone, by now, and his brain felt like it had been wrapped in many layers of linen. But it was bathing in a comfortable haze, and told him he was ready. It was time to do this.
On wobbly legs, he made his way to Tranquillus' room, his tunic disheveled, and knocked what he was convinced was a sultry knock.
Trigger warning: mention of assault attempt
It had been weeks since Florus had met Cinnia out in the markets. Weeks, during which he'd been extremely busy. Busy with the gardens, first and foremost, but then also busy with figuring some very obvious things out. And, then, of course, after the earthquake, there was so much to do, so much to repair in the gardens. Trees to replant, new plants to order, the lack of rain to deal with, and the neverending battle against weeds. Yes, Florus had been very busy.
He had wanted to see the other Briton again, but chance had not favoured him, and for a while he hadn't thought about her offer anymore. Until one evening when he was returning to the villa from the baths, and a hand had violently grabbed his arm from a shadowy alley. Florus had said he wasn't carrying any money, but that hadn't stopped the stranger from pawing at his waist, despite his evident lack of a purse. He'd managed to turn around and shove the stranger away, and had run all the way back to the villa. The altercation had lasted all of ten seconds, but it had been really stressful. What if he hadn't been able to get away? Surely he would have gotten beaten up badly.
Since then, though, Cinnia's offer had come back to the forefront of his thoughts. She'd said there was a chance he could end up in a situation like this, and he almost had. Florus had to take it seriously. And he had to heed her advice.
This was why, on his next free day, he had walked all the way to the imperial palace, and, as Cinnia had said, asked for her by name at the servants' entrance. The gardener stood there waiting, his back straight, hands behind it, feet apart at shoulders' width, immobile.
In Britannia, the days of summer seemed to stretch into infinity. The sun set late, and the evenings, when they were clear, were surreal. In Rome, the days of summer seemed to stretch into infinity by way of the temperature. Every day was hotter than the next, and there was no limit in sight. The flowers were blooming, and everything was gorgeous, but Florus needed to water things a lot more than he did in the colder months. Still, even if he was being modest, they looked amazing.
He was finished with his labours for the day. The sun had set, and the sky was the deep blue hue of the hour when everything is a silhouette. Tranquillus had offered to teach him how to read and write, and Florus would be an idiot to refuse an offer like that. He might be too stupid to learn, he figured, but at least it was an excuse to spend time with Tranquillus, and that was something he enjoyed.
He'd been told where Tranquillus' room was, and he stood in front of the door, too nervous to actually knock.
'Tranquillus?' He finally called out.
Mid-July, 75 AD
It had been a few weeks since the earthquake that shattered Rome, although he had heard that other parts of the nearby country had been hit far worse than the city. Still there was rubble here and there and some buildings, that had been too old or too badly built, had crumbled. Luckily not the little insula he shared with his son! Lexus had been fine the day after, it seemed, although a bit shaken. Alexius hadn’t even been at home when it hit, he’d been at the ludus with an arm wrapped around the divine body that was Annis. As soon as he was able, he’d returned to his son and they had talked things through and went out to help where they could in the city.
Now that was a few weeks ago though and people had worked together to rebuild what was broken. Life went on in Rome, as it always had and always would in this eternal city. And he had returned to the ludus more than once to help out there too. Not today though; instead he went to visit one of his most familiar thermae, the one that was near the ludus and in the same region. The bath too had suffered some damage, but most of it was working once more and he thanked the gods for that.
He hadn’t thought much about what happened here so many weeks ago, when he met the handsome young Florus. They hadn’t met here, actually, but he had smiled at Florus for the first time and then caught him to share a drink. Sadly, after Alexius had dared to touch Florus’ hand, the youth more or less bolted out. He wasn’t very experienced and even still a virgin. Pity with that, Alexius would have loved to teach him a thing or two about pleasure. Luckily, there were plenty of fish in the water in Rome and Alexius wasn’t bored or unsatisfied.
Now he was back at the thermae, going through the less damaged baths and finished with a nice massage. After this he returned to the changing room and put his tunica back on – in the summer there was no reason to wear breeches, it was far too hot in Rome this time of the year. As he strapped the leather belt around his waist, another person entered the changing room from the baths and Alexius looked up at him briefly… and then looked again at the very handsome and very naked youth over there. What a sight to behold!
“Florus!” He exclaimed with a grin, recalling how they’d talked about drinking together again sometime, “How good to see you again.”
June 75, before the earthquake
Florus was still unsure whether or not he liked the market. Its hustle and bustle of constant activity gave some the thrill of being alive, but for him, it reminded him of the time where, as a child, he had looked into a beehive. There were so many people milling around, going about their day and doing the things they needed to do that it always made him kind of dizzy, gave him a vague feeling of uneasiness. He didn't like to be surrounded with so many people. He preferred the peace and quiet of his gardens, even if that peace was sometimes disturbed by the totally unwanted presence of a certain body slave. It was a distraction!
He had some time off, today, and was planning to go to the baths afterwards, but right now, his priority was finding pistachios. It felt like the general public didn't know, or maybe they simply didn't care, but there was really a lot to be done with the discarded seeds of the food market. And even the discarded scraps, come to think of it. With enough time, and quite some straw, scraps stopped smelling bad and became a rich compost, perfect to use as a fertilizer. He hadn't yet broached the idea with the Roman. He had a feeling most of his ideas would be shot down, anyway.
On his excursions to the market, Florus found he often liked to buy street food. It was a pleasant change from the slop Betua cooked up for the slaves. The sounds of sizzling meat and the enticing and inviting smell that came from one caupona was calling to him. He was but a young gardener. Who was he to resist the call of a delicious mutton skewer?
'I'll have one, please,' he told the cook.
Florus had risen up as early as he always did, but this morning was delaying going into the garden. After the earthquake during the night, and the extremely awkward moment he'd shared with Tranquillus after the body slave had saved him, he hadn't slept very peacefully. It wasn't really the reason he was avoiding his job, though. Walking away from his room and into the kitchens Florus could see the damage the previous night had wrought. Plaster and broken tile littered the floor, and already some of the slaves were starting to clean things up. Florus could only fathom the damage that had been done to his precious garden.
Eating a slice of bread slathered in honey, the gardener closed his eyes, and took a step forward as he turned the corner, not having the courage to look outright at the chaos that would surely be the gardens.