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The perfect wingman


Artemon
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Artemon was feeling down for the umpteenth time that week. Things were not looking up at all. As he carried an amphora full of water up the stairs, balancing it easily over his shoulder, he ran the maths in his head once more. Numbers weren't his strong suit, but even a bad student like him knew that unless his luck changed - or Iophon's, for that matter -, keeping a roof over their heads would be no easy feat.

His thoughts quickly strayed to the topic of alternate lodging and then to his attractive neighbour Lucilla. She was so pretty and had such nice skin... hard to believe she was a laundress, her hands were never swollen and wrinkly! She must clearly use quality products and be paid well for them, since she could afford a better place than him and Iophon. If only she would give him the time of day...

Lost in his daydream, Artemon almost crashed into one of his neighbours that was going down the stairs, and after a few seconds of juggling and cursing the amphora was safely balanced between his shoulder and head again. "Sorry Alexius, I was very deep in thought," Artemon apologised to his downstairs neighbour. The man had always been friendly, so maybe he wouldn't be angry at the near-collision.

Wait a minute. Alexius was just the right person to ask! He was often in good-looking company. Looking at Alexius with big hopeful eyes, Artemon put a hand on the bodyguard's arm to stop him. "Actually, you're just the person I needed to see. I want your opinion. And your help," he added in a low conspiratorial tone. "What do you think of Lucilla who lives upstairs?"

@Atrice

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It was late in the day and Alexius thought he better go down and get something to eat for him and Lexus, once the boy returned from his job. It still annoyed him a bit that his son kept working in the house where Alexius lost his job from, but they were both smart enough to not really talk about it. Lexus could tell his father wasn’t happy with it and Alexius just let Lexus live his life then. The boy seemed very fond of the gardening, an odd to enjoy for a boy he thought, but if that’s what Lexus wanted… as long as he’d also pay attention when Alexius tried to teach him a thing or two about defending himself.

He had a bit of a rest and now he was on his way down the stairs to get out. He was moving down the stairs with fast steps, thinking about what to get tonight from one of the nearby thermopolia, when he ran straight into one of the newer inhabitants of the building. Alexius stumbled and the younger guy called Artemon did the same, but managed to balance the amphora he carried.

“No worries… Artemon, right?” Alexius said with a smile to the other man. Young and not bad looking at all, although he seemed a bit… inelegant, sometimes? As if his body was ahead of his thoughts, or something like that. Artemon then looked up at him, touching his arm and said he needed to have his opinion on something… and then asked about the girl called Lucilla, who lived up there on the top floor. Lucilla… how to tell him without saying too much?

“She’s very lovely and friendly, once you get to know her. But she works a lot, so… it’s hard to get close to her. You’re interested in her?” Alexius asked curiously. Lucilla really was lovely and friendly and she really did work a lot, so all of that was true. What she did for a living didn’t matter to Alexius though. He liked her for who she was, not for what she was - as it was with most people, that Alexius liked.

@Liv

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As expected, Alexius knew of Lucilla. Better yet, he knew her! Confirming his name with a quick 'uh-huh', Artemon listened with bated breath, his neighbour's words adding to the image of the lady in question that had formed inside his head the first day he had seen her, shortly after having moved in. She hardly ever looked his way, the few times they came across each other on their way in and out of their rooms. Iophon was the handsome one, he was well aware of it, but being ignored made his heart ache.

"I would like to be, but she doesn't see me," he admitted, hanging his head and dislodging the amphora just a bit in the process. "Last month I even offered her a discount - a big one! - on these medicinal oils I was selling, but she said she had no need for them." Artemon gazed at his feet dejectedly, feeling like the ugliest and most stupid person in the world. With a shrug that almost sent the amphora flying into Alexius's chest and a quick apology, he concluded to himself there was nothing he could do.

Still, Alexius might have a tip or two he could share. Putting down the amphora to avoid any more near-misses and trapping it between his legs, Artemon studied his neighbour intently, eyes bulging as he did. Alexius was attractive. Some might even say very attractive, and Artemon would be inclined to agree. With his big sculpted frame and infectious smile and friendly manners... No wonder he had a new piece hanging from his arm almost every night - at least that's what Artemon had heard. Sighing plaintively, Artemon gesticulated at him. "You're hot, Alexius. I'm not. Of course she let you get close to her! By the great Sobek, anyone would let you get close to them! But what can I do? I'm just a poor boy from a poor family..."

@Atrice

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Of course he knew her, he’d been living here for months now and as he came and left at odd hours, he met people at odd hours. Including lovely Lucilla, who sometimes needed someone who’d just hold her. And who was he to deny a woman who wanted a strong man to just hold her and comfort her, when other men sometimes weren’t half as nice as considerate?

He wondered naturally what Artemon was looking for… a friend, it seemed, and then Lucilla to be more than that. Alexius weighed the options, it was sweet that Artemon liked her, but it wasn’t a good idea to get involved with a girl like her. The younger guy went on about how he thought she didn’t see him and he had offered her a discount, but she didn’t want it. Alexius let out a little laugh, “That’s also a very strange way to impress her, I think. Some women do like to be bought… but others need more than just that.” Alexius said with a smile and noted how Artemon set down his amphora and looked Alexius over and then called him hot. How sweet, Alexius thought, while the youth went on about how he was not hot and couldn’t get anyone as easily as Alexius could.

It seemed like this might take more than a few moments and so Alexius leaned casually against the wall next to him by the staircase, “Don’t say such things… you’re not unattractive, Artemon. Besides, you know… although I will not be forgetting your compliment anytime soon, it’s not all about looks and size…” He said and grinned at the lovely young man, only happy to deal out some advice to someone who clearly yearned for it, “It’s also about who you are though… what you do. How you act. You know? And you seem like a friendly guy, so I wouldn’t give up if I were you.”

@Liv

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He had done the right thing by coming to Alexius, Artemon concluded, even if it had been nothing more than a stroke of fortune that they should meet on the stairway. If he had had papyrus and ink, he would have started taking notes, but being in the possession of neither he would simply have to make the effort to remember Alexius' tips. "So... you should not sell things to women? I thought they liked presents," he countered, scratching his ear and completely oblivious to the fact that if you bought something for yourself then it was hardly a present. But his neighbour was popular, and so Artemon would do well to listen. If he managed to regain his focus, momentarily distracted as he had become by Alexius' smile. Very attractive, he thought to himself once more.

Size?! Mother Isis, now he was truly done for. "Thank you, it's kind of you to say so... But I'll never get big. Or tall," Artemon shook his head morosely, sticking out his bottom lip in a childish pout. "And I'm not rich either." One day he would be, but that day was apparently a long ways away. "I just work at a warehouse... Do you think it's my job? It's not very glamorous, that's true." Maybe he should look for a new one. Again he gave his neighbour a keen look, wondering what facets of Alexius' demeanour he could try to imitate (because imitating his looks was very obviously off the table). 

"So what should I change? How do you think I should act?"

@Atrice

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It was interesting getting to know Artemon, who seemed to long for someone to hold onto, although Alexius still had to figure out how to tell the young man, that Lucilla was not the girl he ought to pursue. It would never end well. Someone would end up getting hurt and it most likely would not be Lucilla’s heart that was broken.

He smiled when Artemon spoke of presents and wondered why you should not sell things to women, “They do like presents, sometimes. But don’t offer them things. Give them things. And it must be something they want, although not necessarily something they need. Something special and something for themselves.” Alexius replied. It was so much easier to tell these things to Artemon than to his own son, he then thought. Lexus was not easy to talk to about women, because uh, he wasn’t like Alexius. He was still a guy who liked a girl though. And Alexius knew many useful things. Not that he claimed to know everything about women – what man could? Then women wouldn’t be such a wonderful mystery to explore…

Alexius had then spoken about how not everything was about looks or size, although it did matter, sometimes. For Artemon though, he thought he’d need to say something else, since the guy had such poor ideas about himself. Artemon kept complaining, saying he was not rich and had a less than glamorous job. He wondered what to change and how to act. Alexius felt a bit sorry for him, think to have such low thoughts of yourself. What was it with the people in this insula lately? Theo was also as nice and gentle as a duckling and Didia recently named herself an idiot too. There were a lot of things for Alexius to fix, it seemed! Good thing he was here!

“I doubt it’s your job or your lack of coin. I’m not wealthy either.” He said with a wink to the younger man, “And I don’t know what you should change or if you should even change anything. I don’t know you so well yet.” Alexius said and smiled, “But that, of course… is something we can do something about. I was just on my way down to get some food, do you want to join me?”

@Liv

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Artemon kept his ears open, nodding at what Alexius was saying. They made sense, but even something as easy as gift-giving had him more than a little confused. "Right, something they want but not necessarily need. But how am I supposed to know what she wants if she won't even talk to me?"  Couple that with them only liking presents sometimes, as Alexius had said, and Artemon was at a loss. Plus, given the sorry state of his finances, he couldn't very well be spending money on gifts that would be so far off the mark that they were refused. It was all so baffling!

He scratched his chin next. Again, his bulky neighbour had a point - they didn't know each other that well yet, despite the superficial familiarity that arose from living in that sort of dwelling. "I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm Egyptian? It's not as fancy as being from Asia or Macedonia, but someone's got to keep Romans fed," he grumbled, muttering something about the Nile and wheat in his native tongue afterwards for good measure. And speaking of fed, if Alexius was inviting him to get to know each other better over some grub, there was only one possible answer.

"Well, if it's no bother to you I'd be happy to!" He beamed and picked up the amphora at his feet again, hoisting it over his shoulder with a careful grip on the handle. "I'll just run upstairs really quick to drop this off." And with those words Artemon trotted up the remaining flight of stairs, opened the door to the small flat he shared with his brother, set the amphora on the floor against the wall under the window, shut the door after himself and bolted down the stairs, almost tripping over his own foot.

Fortunately Alexius hadn't run out of patience and left. Large eyes trained intently on the man, Artemon spoke up, his voice full of enthusiasm. "So where are we going?"

@Atrice

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Alexius let out a little laugh when Artemon was confused about how to give a gift to a woman and what to pick, “Women are tricky like that. But either you have to ask or… you could dare to guess. Some women are easier than others. I don’t know if Lucilla is so easy, when it comes to that.” Honestly Alexius never offered her anything but his company and actually, he didn’t really offer it, he was just there at the right time and she had needed it, apparently. Life was like that sometimes. Life and Fortuna. He wondered if Artemon knew Fortuna.

It didn’t seem like Artemon knew much at all, now he wondered if she didn’t want him because of where he was from. Poor guy. He seemed to have even less self-confidence than Florus had and Alexius didn’t know that it could be lower. The idea with inviting Artemon out for a meal sounded just about right and Artemon seemed happy to take the invitation. Alexius had barely confirmed it before Artemon had left. What an interesting turn of events – he always met such interesting people, didn’t he? Maybe there were things he could do with… uh or to… Artemon to help him being less insecure.

And while his thoughts had travelled quite a distance while Artemon went up and then down again, the other finally appeared and looked exactly as before – but very enthusiastic, “Well there are a few good places in our street, I think… over on the corner they make this delicious sauce with grapes and garum and then some bread to scoop it up. Want that? Grapes are good for so many things. We better also find some wine now we’re at it. And meanwhile you can tell me about yourself… you live with someone, don’t you? A brother?”

@Liv

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Artemon's eyes grew wide and round at Alexius' description of the dish, and he could feel his mouth watering at the same time. "That sounds really good," he agreed, nodding repeatedly in anticipation. "I haven't really checked out the places round here yet. I really should." Hopefully they would be on the cheap side. "Then I'll know where to take people out to eat." He would then make a good impression on them (hopefully), and then finally be together with the love of his life.

As he followed Alexius down the stairs and on to the street, he briefly considered the wisdom the other man had imparted moments earlier. He was absolutely right about one thing: some women were indeed easier than others. For some reason, Artemon seemed to be hopelessly attracted to the latter, and he had had the worst luck both asking and guessing. Perhaps he should stick to men from now on; they were generally more forthcoming. 

"Yeah, we're twins. I know, I know, we don't look alike," Artemon interjected before Alexius had a chance to comment on their family resemblance or lack thereof. "I'm the oldest, but Iophon's the smart one. He's a storyteller." And earned a pittance, but he seemed happy enough doing it. "We've got six more siblings back in Egypt." He paused thoughtfully, then looked up at his neighbour with huge protuberant eyes. "Have you ever been to Egypt, Alexius?"

@Atrice

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Alexius couldn’t help but smile at Artemon’s reaction, when he described the food they might eat. Then the other mused about how he should check out the places to eat and Alexius grinned again, “Exactly… and you’ll know where you find food too. Not many of the rooms have a fireplace.” And there was a good reason for that – no one wanted it burnt down, besides, you had to have good ventilation so the smoke could come out. Alexius’ room didn’t really have that. He had to go out if he wanted to eat, unless he bought some bread and stuff like that, to keep at home.

They moved down the stairs and into the street. It was late in the afternoon and there were people everywhere, so Alexius made sure to stay close to Artemon, so they wouldn’t come apart. Meanwhile Alexius had asked Artemon to tell more about himself, and he confirmed he lived with his brother, whose name was Iophon and he was a storyteller. Alexius arched a brow, a storyteller! Those were always interesting!

“You’ll have to introduce me to him properly at some point. Soon.” Alexius added, this pair of brothers sure were interesting, both of them. Artemon said they had no less than six more siblings in Egypt and wondered if Alexius ever went there.

“No… I’m afraid not. I’ve done my share of travelling, but never southwards. I was born in the opposite direction of you, I guess.” He said, “But I’ve lived here most of my life. You’ve not been here for long though, right? Ah, here we are… it smells nice.” Alexius said, inhaling a breath of the scents coming from the thermopolium, “Do you want to eat here or take it home? You’re welcome to come to my place to eat. I expect my son will be home at some point, but I don’t know when.”

@Liv

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As usual at that time of day, the street was bustling with people, and Artemon all but glued himself to Alexius' side so he wouldn't be swept away by the crowd - but even if he did, his companion's physique was easy enough to spot. The only problem would be going back to his side, short and scrawny as Artemon was. Maybe if he ate this grapey garum sauce often he would grow some more impressive muscles... Or maybe not.

"I will! Tell you what, I will invite you to a meal next week!" After he'd somehow magicked into existence the money needed for rent, plus something extra for food. "I'll tell Iophon we have a guest so that he'll stay home too. Have you ever had Egyptian beer?" He licked his lips in an unwitting gesture, again finding his stomach very much in agreement. "It's a bit strong but it's really good. If we get drunk you can sleep over. Iophon has some great stories for when we're drinking." Artemon spoke with the enthusiasm of a child who had just made a new friend, already planning how epic the night of feasting would be provided his finances cooperated.

He craned his neck to stare up at Alexius, confusion written all over his face. "The... opposite direction...?" Artemon thought hard, drawing on his meagre knowledge of wider geography. "Gallia?" He'd heard Gauls were big and ferocious, and while Alexius didn't look ferocious he was certainly big enough. "No, we only came last year", Artemon replied, taking in the delicious aroma coming from the food place. It was as promising as his kindly neighbour had suggested, and his stomach growled in anticipation.

"Ummm..." He gave it a few seconds' pause to make a decision, and went with accepting Alexius' generous offer. If they stayed at the thermopolium they would eat more and drink more and his money pouch would grow lighter and lighter, so going back to escape temptation seemed like the sensible thing to do. Artemon felt proud of himself for reaching such a well thought out conclusion. "If you're really fine with it I wouldn't mind going to your house. It would be nice to compare it to mine and Iophon's," he commented with a hint of self-deprecation. "So we know if the landlord's overcharging us," Artemon added in a deadpan whisper, brow knitted. 

@Atrice

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Size mattered often, but not always. Alexius did not look at Artemon and thought that he was short and scrawny – that’s just the way he looked, that’s all, and he seemed nice enough. And as he had tried to explain, it mattered more what you did than so many other things. What you were like. And Artemon was friendly and outgoing and Alexius liked that. Now the younger man promised he’d invite Alexius for a meal next week and make sure his brother was home too. He spoke about Egyptian beer and Alexius smiled.

“I think I had it before but… not in huge amounts? I’d like to taste yours anyway. I do prefer wine, but beer can be good too.” Alexius explained, “But no matter what, I’ll be in good company. And that, I always like.” He added with a grin and then they’d talked about travelling and where they came from and Alexius tried to explain, but Artemon did not really seem to guess it.

“Further North than that… I was born in Germania and I went back after I was freed too. And then I returned to Rome.” Alexius explained, not caring to go into detail about all that right now. Not that he was embarrassed or anything about being from Germania or being a freedman, but it didn’t matter right in this moment. They had arrived at the thermopolium and Artemon sure did seem to enjoy the smell of the food too. Alexius more or less invited him home and Artemon more or less said yes.

“Oh he’s definitely overcharging. But aren’t they all? This is Rome. Everyone wants to gain plenty amounts of coin for the least amount of work.” Alexius said with a smile and a friendly woman appeared behind the counter of the thermopolium, that was facing the street. There were fireplaces underneath the counter and on top were the pots with the stew or sauce or what you’d call it. Thick enough to scoop up with bread. He ordered enough for three people (he had to make sure Lexus was fed, so he’d also grow up to be stronger and taller) and waited for it to be scooped up into a large bowl to share.

@Liv

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Alexius was right. Of course half of Rome was out to steal from the other half, some through more underhanded means than others. Artemon couldn't blame them, or even the greedy landlord; he too wanted to make money! Preferably without having to work his whole life for it. He followed the woman's practised motions with an attentive gaze, satisfied with the size of the portion she was scooping up and not the least embarrassed by the sudden growl his stomach emitted. If anything it was a compliment!

"Wow, Germania's really far away!" To be entirely fair, Artemon wasn't even sure he could point it out on a map. He just knew it was at the very edge of the empire, and it was said to be cold. "How long did it take you to travel there and back? Can you go by boat or by land only?" The sailor in him was far more interested how to get to the mysterious land in than Alexius' life story, barely registering his neighbour's words on freedom.

The woman placed the full bowl in front of them and turned to quickly attend to another customer, which allowed Artemon to peer with curiosity into the bowl. The sauce was thick and fragrant, and begging to be eaten. It reminded Artemon of the stews back home, most of which went very well with beer. Too bad he and Iophon had run out, otherwise he could have gone upstairs and got some for them to have with the food. "I like wine too, but I prefer beer. It goes to my stomach rather than my head," he observed sagely, speaking from embarrassing experience. "We're out of beer now, but I'll make sure to restock for when you come to eat!" He would have to check with Iophon about the grub; they didn't have much in the way of cooking tools, but they were sure to come up with something.

@Atrice

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Artemon commented that Germania was really far away and wondered how long the travel took, “I went by land, I think that is most common?” He said thoughtfully, “It took a long while… almost 2 months each way, I think? We travelled by foot and sometimes carriage… I wasn’t alone, I had my wife with me. Without her, it might have gone faster.” He explained. He wondered if Artemon would now ask about his wife, although honestly it didn’t matter. He had barely seen her since they divorced and it was more than a decade ago. He knew she had married another man more fitting for her, who hopefully wouldn’t let her down as much as Alexius had.

Finally the bowl of food appeared and Artemon inhaled the scents, which Alexius did too. The woman also came with a loaf of bread and Alexius paid with a charming smile and a compliment about the food and the lovely lady serving them – and although she didn’t directly smile back at him, he saw her upturned lips and cheeks as she turned away. She wasn’t some young girl born yesterday, but why should you not make someone older smile, when you had the chance?

The discussion with Artemon went back to beverages, while Alexius picked up the food and he’d let Artemon carry the bread, “Just let me know when you have it. I don’t mind drinking almost anything.” He said with a grin while they walked across the street back towards the insula, “So Artemon… what do you do, for a living?”

@Liv

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Artemon busied himself with looking grateful - which he was! - as Alexius paid, and happily picked up the bread to take back to the insula. It was fresh and fragrant and he could hardly wait to tear off a piece and dip it into the stew. "Two months isn't that bad. I thought it would take a lot longer since it's so far away." He chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip, causing the skin on his face to stretch and make his eyes look even wilder. "You know, in the winter it took about three weeks to sail from where I'm from to Alexandria, and that's still the same province."

Finding good Egyptian beer wouldn't be too difficult; finding the money to purchase it, on the other hand, required more imagination. But Artemon was pretty sure that between him and Iophon, they would come up with something. Entertaining people was always fun as long as there was enough food and drink, and he found himself looking forward to it.

"As of now I work for this man named Gallus moving stuff between warehouses. Before that I worked at the harbour in Ostia, and before that I was a sailor." Any old leather-skinned seafarer would say that once a sailor always a sailor, but Artemon thought differently since he wasn't actually doing anything boat-related for the time being. Now he was just a... warehouse worker? He shrugged, casting Alexius a dejected glance. "It's steady work, but the pay isn't great. So I'm always looking for new opportunities to make a little more on the side," he admitted with a sheepish smile. Hopefully the day when he would come upon the opportunity wasn't too far off.

Come to think of it, Artemon didn't actually know what his neighbour did for a living. He had heard a comment here and a whisper there, but not all of it was equally believable. He felt brave enough to ask - after all, Alexius had been so nice and generous to him. "How about you, Alexius? Is it really true you get paid to protect ladies but also sleep with them?"

@Atrice

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Artemon didn’t think it sounded too bad with two months of travelling by food and carriage each way to Germania… but that meant almost half a year of travelling, since they also stayed up there for a bit and there was travelling around across the Rhine too. Which wasn’t as easy as on this side of the Rhine, because one thing he’d learned was that the Romans were good at making roads. In Germania, they were rarely as good. And while it had been summer, it was still a bit wet and windy at times. Not like Rome. Alexius had been born in Germania, but lived most of his life in Rome. That’s what he was used to. Coming back to his birthplace held many surprises and few of them were good.

But he tried to not dwell on it, since that’s not what Artemon asked. Artemon went on about how long it took to travel when you were sailing and Alexius looked a bit surprised, “Oh? I can’t imagine… shall I tell you a secret?” Alexius asked with a small smile, it wasn’t like it was really a huge secret or a secret at all in fact, it was just never something that came up before… he leaned a bit closer, “I’ve never sailed before.” He said then, that was the big reveal. Artemon had sailed but Alexius… never. He’d done so many other things though, there were few regrets.

He asked into what Artemon did for a living and he explained that he moved stuff between warehouses and had also worked at a harbor and been a sailor of course. He didn’t look like someone you’d mistake for a sailor, at all, but people often held surprises when you began talking with them. He smiled when Artemon said he was always looking for new opportunities to make more money, “Aren’t we all?” He said and then of course Artemon wondered what Alexius did and it would seem the young man had listened to gossip.

Alexius just let out an amused laugh though, “Is that what they say now?” He’d heard a lot already and this entertained him, “But… no. I suppose…” That had been kind of what he did with Oriana. Not that he was paid to sleep with her, but it was a nice benefit that she wanted him in her bed… “I work as a bodyguard, mostly. Looking for a more steady job at the moment. Of course I don’t say no if my employers want me, I like sex, so that would be stupid to say no to, right?” At least Alexius thought so, “But that’s not what I’m paid to do. I’m just… openminded and ready.” He added with a smile and leaned closer to the youth again, unashamed, “Besides, who would I be to require payment for something that benefits and satisfies everyone involved?” He winked to Artemon and looked up at their building as they approached it.

@Liv

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Artemon's eyebrows shot up and his mouth made a perfect 'O' of surprise as he processed Alexius' revelation. How had he never sailed?! Yet possible reasons why came to his mind almost immediately: since Alexius had travelled to Germania and back by land, he hadn't needed to sail; perhaps his neighbour had never had anything to do with merchants; maybe he didn't know anybody who owned a boat or could get him onto one; or he couldn't swim and was afraid he would drown. "Well, if you ever want to, let me know and I'll take you on a short trip," he said in a cheery tone, carrying the bread as if it were precious cargo. "I'm not working at the harbour anymore but I've still got contacts there." He nodded to himself in comical self-importance, feeling quite proud of his connections.

It didn't seem as though Alexius had taken offence at his slightly-invasive question, so Artemon laughed alongside the other man, not in the least self-conscious about his nosiness. "I heard some of the neighbours gossip about it the other day," he offered as an explanation of sorts. So bodyguards were sometimes invited to other activities by their employers... Not really a bad deal. Jolted out of his thoughts by Alexius' sudden proximity, Artemon looked up and stared dimly (stupidly, some might say) at his neighbour, not fully processing his words until a couple of moments later. "That's a bold claim. But I believe you can pull it off, Alexius," he nodded again as they entered the insula and began climbing up the stairs. "How can you be sure everyone is satisfied, though? What if you get some rich old widow to look after?" Artemon didn't see the appeal in greying or balding partners of any gender, but maybe they held secrets only Alexius was privy to.

They reached the third floor and Artemon waited for Alexius to lead the way, eager to finally dig in. "If you need money now I can ask Gallus if he can give you work. You're big and strong, so he'll want to hire you for sure. Bit like I said earlier, the pay's not good," he cautioned with a shrug.

@Atrice

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Alexius mostly meant the whole revelation about never having sailed as a joke, although it was true, but Artemon seemed genuinely surprised by it. The face he made was amusing and then after a few moments, he said he could take Alexius on a short trip and he had contacts at the harbor. Alexius nodded, “Sure, if you think that would work out. It would be something I’ve never tried… but I’m open to it.” He was open to most things to be honest. And he was even open enough when Artemon suggested what he did for a living. He’d heard the gossip about himself too, his lovers were often happy to tell him and he could only be entertained by it. And kind of proud too. Of course he heard bad things sometimes, but mostly he could just laugh at it.

Artemon laughed with him and then said he’d heard some of the neighbors gossip about him. Alexius nodded with a grin, wondering if he should ask whom, but maybe another time. Alexius kept on talking though, explaining what he did and how much he liked sex and wouldn’t say no to something that would satisfy all involved. Artemon seemed surprised, so surprised it took him a few moments to respond, then he said it was bold and wondered how he was sure everyone were satisfied. Was it bold though? The way people responded to what Alexius did to them… the way their bodies would react, the way they’d whimper and moan and that satisfied and calm looks on their faces afterwards… that told him they were satisfied…

“It would depend if she wanted me. And if we got along.” Alexius said, not that he’d ever slept with someone really old, but if they got along and it felt right, why not? “And is it bold though? Maybe…” He grinned, as he had a thought, “Are you not sure your partners are satisfied? I’m quite sure mine are, most of the time. I could teach you a thing or two… if you’d like…” He asked with a wink, because again… why not?

They arrived at their building and reached Alexius’ floor and then Artemon began talking about work if Alexius needed money too, because he could get a job since he was big and strong, “Thanks for suggesting it but… I think I’m good, for now. Taking small jobs until something bigger comes along. Plus, my son works too. So it’s alright.” He said while he placed the food bowl on the floor for a moment to find his key and unlock the door to the flat. Picking up the food again he opened the door with his arm and entered. Lexus didn’t appear to be at home yet.

@Liv

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Artemon followed Alexius into the flat, trying to sneak surreptitious looks around him without seeming too obvious and failing miserably at it. It was bigger than the one he shared with Iophon in the floor above, which made sense because Alexius was a big guy and thus needed the extra space, not to mention that he lived with his son who might just take after his father and also grow up to be big. It also wasn't as sparsely decorated as the twins' den, possibly because Alexius was better off despite his less stable job situation.

"Makes sense that he would. He's got to eat too, so he should earn his keep," Artemon opined, drawing from his own experience as a child in a big family. "Is he at work right now?" The flat seemed to be empty besides the two of them when he had looked around, but the boy could also have been sleeping - but if that were the case Alexius would probably wake him up to eat, and that hadn't happened. "What does he do? Is he in the same trade as you?"

He looked around once more, not quite comfortable enough to take a seat without being invited but feeling the tantalising weight of the bread he was carrying become harder to resist with each passing second. Any minute now and they would dig in, right? While he waited, and to take advantage of the fact that it was just them to, he could obtain more pearls of wisdom from his neighbour. "Um, sometimes it's hard to tell. With men it's easier, but women can fake it and you'd never even know about it. I can only be sure about myself," he admitted with a sheepish look. Perhaps he should take Alexius' offer to become more in tune with his partners - when he was lucky enough to have one. "How... how do you tell for sure?"

@Atrice

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Alexius walked into his flat first, setting the bowl of food down onto the table and Artemon followed behind him. The younger man seemed to take some time looking around, it was no doubt a larger room than what Artemon shared with his brother. Which just meant there was plenty of space for friendly guests like this one. Alexius explained that Lexus worked too, so he wouldn’t have to take too much extra work for now and Artemon seemed to think it made sense and wondered where Lexus was now. He also wondered what Lexus did for a living and Alexius smiled – maybe a tad bit resentfully – at his question.

“No… he’s not. He’s for some reason not so fond of violence. He works as a gardener.” He said, honestly finding it a bit of a strange job and especially for his own son. His son, the son of a former gladiator and now bodyguard and mercenary at times… worked as a gardener!

Artemon stood a bit awkwardly by the table and Alexius wondered why, but then remembered his manners, “Oh… please take a seat. Any seat you’d like. I’ll find us some plates.” He said and went to some shelves to pick a few flat and wooden plates. They’d break off pieces of the bread to dip in and scoop up the delicious sauce, but it was nice to have a plate to put the bread down upon. Then Alexius also found a pair of cups and a jar of wine. He always had at least one jar of wine somewhere in the flat, usually more.

His guest then continued on the conversation concerning pleasure and said it was hard to tell if someone were pleased and said women could fake it… and he could only be sure about himself. Alexius sat down, pouring some wine for them and broke off a piece of bread for himself while thinking, “Oh I know women can fake it. But you need to kind of… really study them? Pay attention to them. It’s about the whole experience, for them. It is for men too, of course, but with women, they seem to kind of need more than men? More care. If they moan so loud you can hear it down the street, but their bodies don’t react or if they avoid your eyes when you ask if it was good…” He said, it was kind of hard to explain, but he just felt he knew these things. He’d tried so many things, slept with so many people… it was not easy to explain though and honestly, some women were hard to figure out, “Not that I’ll brag about really understanding them. I don’t think any man ever can. Besides, it’s always fun to have a mystery to solve, right? What does she want? What does she like? What makes her special…” He said in an almost dreamy manner and dipped a piece of bread into the sauce. He just really liked women, didn't he? And what they did to him and what he did to them. 

@Liv

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Artemon wasted no time in doing as he was told and pulled out a stool from under the table where Alexius had placed the food, more than ready to dig in, and at the same time he wondered why his neighbour sounded a bit off - almost disappointed - as he mentioned his son's occupation. "That's not bad at all, it's decent and honest work. Be a lot worse if he was a thief and a drunk," he reasoned out loud in an attempt at cheering Alexius up. Artemon's own father was probably similarly disappointed in him, but then again, the old man's delusions were his own alone; even if Artemon had had the brain for more scholarly pursuits, he certainly hadn't had the interest and still didn't. Whatever expectations Alexius had for his son seemed not to be fulfilled, but that, he concluded, was a matter for father and son.

Once Alexius had topped up both their cups and taken some bread for himself, Artemon ventured to do the same, although despite his hunger he wasn't cheeky enough to tear off a big piece and instead settled for one a bit smaller than his host's. As the other man shared his tips with him Artemon grew pensive, his hand hovering above the bowl of sauce aimlessly as he held off on dipping the bread in it. "More care, huh... And loud doesn't always mean good..." There was a lot to consider and process later. "That's very good information. Thank you, Alexius." He finally dipped the bread into the sauce, though another thought interrupted its journey towards his mouth. "You know, I just realised that maybe you were just born like this. Some are very clever, others have a talent for music, and maybe the gods' gift to you is getting women!" he exclaimed, gesturing with his hands in his excitement and nearly sending a blob of sauce flying across the room.

With a sheepish smile and a 'sorry', he shoved the piece of bread into his mouth and chewed with gusto, enjoying the mix of flavours. "Mmmm! Dhish ish dewishioush!" He licked his fingers noisily until he was sure he'd got every tiny little bit of sauce and reached for the bread again as he swallowed the fod. "Of course, I'm not saying it's just your natural skill, I'm sure you also put a lot of effort into it! So what other signs should I look out for?"

@Atrice

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He didn’t know if he was disappointed with what Lexus did for a living so far, he just kind of thought that Lexus could do better than that. Having more or less grown up in Rome himself, he knew that most garden work was slave work and his son was no slave. He’d been born free, no matter the backgrounds of his parents. Artemon didn’t think the job was bad though and then compared it to something a lot worse. Alexius smiled at the comment, “You’re right, that would be a lot worse.” At least his son had a job. He should be thankful. But still, maybe he’d hoped that his son would be more like himself – have more in common with him. But it wasn’t so.

They’d sat down and dug into the food and Alexius tried to lecture Artemon more about women, and how you might guess if they were faking their pleasure or not. Some were really good, of course, but Alexius tried to only sleep with people who wanted him back, so why would they fake it with him? And besides, he believed he knew if they were pleased or not. He tried to explain it to Artemon, while the other ate and paid attention. Almost as if he were being schooled. Then Artemon suggested that Alexius had been born this way and his gift and talent was getting women. Alexius smiled again, “Maybe, who knows. Not just women though.” He added with a wink to his younger companion and poured wine for himself and his guest.

“I don’t really think of it as a skill, it’s just… part of who I am, I guess? I like to fight, I like pleasure. And I like this.” He added with a grin and tasted the wine while considering Artemon’s next question, “Hmm… I guess… just pay attention to them, as I said. And if they really don’t want you, leave them be. If there’s nothing you can do to make them smile, it’s a lost cause.” Although Alexius would go far to make sure it was a lost cause. He liked a good challenge and didn’t give up so easily. Enough about all that though, here they were, eating and drinking and talking about pleasure… “Do you only fancy women, Artemon?”

@Liv

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Artemon felt heat rise to his cheeks as Alexius winked at him and tried to hide any potential redness behind a sip of the wine his neighbour had just poured. If he winked like that at everyone, no wonder he was so successful with the ladies. "Then it's your talent. The gods decided to gift it to you when you were born, so it grew with you," he stated in dead seriousness as he grabbed another piece of bread and scooped up some more sauce with it. "I cannot learn it at the same level because I wasn't born with it, but I am very thankful for your tips and advice." Now it was his turn to wink just before digging in again.

"No, I also like men. Why limit yourself?" he shrugged as he reached for his cup and drank some wine. If he some day wanted to marry and have children, well, then it would have to be with a woman; but he felt like that day wasn't coming anytime soon, thanks to his rotten luck in Venus' domain. "Both have their upsides and downsides," he cocked his head thoughtfully, "but right now I feel like I can't get Lucilla off my mind." Too bad he was the furthest thing from hers. Heaving a sigh, Artemon stared down at his plate and proceeded to wipe it clean with another piece of bread. "I should do as you say and leave her be. I can't make her smile..."

Time to get some more expert advice from Alexius. "How do you get over people faster?" If Lucilla didn't want anything to do with him it was a waste of energy to spend his time thinking about her, but Artemon's usual strategy consisted of moping around until somebody else came along and caught his attention. Maybe Alexius would know of a better way.

@Atrice

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It was sweet that Artemon blushed at Alexius’ wink at the younger man. He liked that, but he made no mention of it, since he didn’t want to make Artemon feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. Instead the conversation went on, because Artemon suggested Alexius had a certain gift from the gods when it came to women (and men) and he kept thinking it. He said Alexius probably had it from birth and he could not learn it as well, because he wasn’t born with it.

 “I am always happy to share.” Alexius replied with a grin, as Artemon had winked at him and he thought that a very good sign… “I don’t know though, if the gods gift such skills or any at all, when you’re born. I don’t recall charming anyone before I became a gladiator and… had my first experience with pleasure.” But after that of course, things went fast. Alexius had liked it. A lot. And he learned fast and easy how to get what he wanted. Alexius went on about the women and then wondered what Artemon preferred. And he did like men.

 Alexius arched a brow when Artemon spoke of upsides and downsides, well that could be understood in more than one way! Artemon was thinking about sweet Lucilla though and while Alexius felt kind of sorry for the young man, that she wasn’t interested… he also wasn’t sure if Lucilla would be right for him at all.

 “I’m sure you can make her smile. But there’s plenty of fish in the water. It doesn’t have to be tough to find someone else.” Alexius said and Artemon instantly went on, wondering how Alexius got over people faster. That could easily turn this conversation very deep! Because he’d kind of just adapted to it – gotten used to it, that he had to move on, because so far, there had barely been one consistent lover in his life. Besides lovely Gaia of course. Sometimes he toyed with the idea of proposing to her. Just because they’d be a good fit. But he didn’t know if a lady like her would marry a freedman like him. Who would?

 Right, back to the conversation! “That’s a very good question, Artemon… how to get over people. I distract myself, I guess. As I just said, plenty of fish in the water. Plenty of pleasure to be had in Rome. So I just… do it. I move on.” Alexius said and downed some wine and looked at Artemon, “Perhaps you’re in need of… distraction?”

@Liv

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Even though he was not favoured by Venus or Cupid, his neighbour's friendliness made Artemon realise he was quite blessed in the matter of friends. There was Iophon, of course, his best mate since the womb, and all the sailors he had made friends with throughout his life, and now Alexius who had invited him to his home and offered him food and drink. The conclusion made him perk up and he grinned broadly at Alexius, romantic woes put aside for the moment.

"What a fascinating life!" he commented as he licked a blob of sauce off his finger. Gladiator, imagine that! Somehow it suited Alexius. And everybody knew how desirable, to put it that way, gladiators were. "Maybe the talent slept within you all along, but it was only when you became a gladiator that it woke up." It made sense to him: even the world's most talented musician could not be one if they had no access to a musical instrument. 

The little mental detour didn't last long, and Alexius' question had Artemon thinking hard, eyes narrowed and brow comically furrowed as though he were a hen struggling to lay a particularly large egg. Was he in need of distraction? What was that saying again about an idle mind? Or was it idle hands? "Do you mean... find someone new so you forget about the other person?" Mimicking the other man, he drank some of his wine, still pondering the question. "Maybe I am... I guess... but what if the same happens with that new person and they won't even give you the time of day?"

@Atrice

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