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Ludi

by Rin Katta

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/312249.html)

Mater had told him he was half-mad for training a lioness. He’d told her that the same must go for her if she’d given three of her five children the prenomen of Dorus. They’d amicably insulted each other’s talents in bed, then raised their cups.

Anyway, as the second Dorus, he’d once taken great pleasure in clobbering his elder brother over the privilege of being addressed by his given name, then announcing to Mater that he was Dori, just like the fortune teller by the fruit market called him: Dori, son of a proper Flavian, tamer of Fausta.

Although he did sometimes think that perhaps Fausta must have been the one to tame him. Hadn’t she taught him by swats just where she liked having her chin scratched? Didn’t he now let her beef sit out of the ice chest before he gave it to her, so it was warm, iron-smelling and, presumably, better-tasting, as far as lions were concerned? Dori hadn’t been impressed with the nibble he’d tried.

Most of the year, he still considered himself apprenticed to the Aegyptian couple who’d taught him that particular art of making wild animals sometimes listen to a human. He would spend his mornings keeping their current batch of students out of the jaws of any large cats, sometimes showing them a magic trick here, or an acrobatic twist there. A good act would bring them a job, but it was the flourish that found the next, as well as cute someones for after the show.

In the evenings Dori wasn’t himself occupied with one someone or another, he did private events. Fausta made for a popular greeter at dies lustricus festivities, especially those for girls. On those occasions, Dori would put a brass lunula around her neck and keep her just behind the gates of the family’s house so the guests could shriek and giggle when they came across her lounging on the lawn, only sometimes growling. The two of them also worked banquets and birthdays, at least one show out in the country.

Their real achievement though, that was performing in the ludi, the festivals of the empire celebrating that it had lasted these two-thousand years.

Dori and Fausta didn’t act for the Ludi Florales. Dori had a personal contract with the goddess Flora and her many secret consorts to make as much merry as he could in her honor that week. Besides, it helped him commit himself to what came next: the Ludi Apollinares. He could feed Fausta for months on what he earned there. (The rest of the year then, that was to keep him in domus and vinum.) After that, it was on to the whirlwind celebrations of the noble houses between that and the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, which always seemed sedate by comparison, but that might have been the summer wearing on people. At the end of all that, Dori would sleep for about a week, then go to see Mater so she could tell him he was half-mad.

~*~

First Encounter

It was the twelfth year of the reign of Caesar Gaius the twelfth, so marked by an abundance of bad puns on the topic as offered by the street comedians.

People packed into the circus despite the heat. Their cheers echoed for miles around the glistening streets. Once a chariot race had concluded and the winners been crowned, workers came out to smooth the track. After all, there would be a next race and a next, through until after twilight if the electric lights cooperated, or at least until any of the charioteers shirked their races in favor of competing in their beds.

Dori went out with his own rake in hand, but dressed in flashy drapes of color and with ribbons knotted in his hair. He swung himself carelessly around as he started on with the audience, telling them good afternoon and winking, asking a Sindhu woman in the stands about the naval battle in the amphitheater.

“Well, I heard everything sank,” she answered, laughing behind her fingertips.

“Who went down first?”

“Oh, it was all down by the time the smoke cleared. Does it really matter?”

“Going down always matters to me. I guess I’m a little strange,” he sighed, and scratched his cheek, doing his best not to show too much pleasure at the first rise of laughter. From there, he carried on a few more sideways drawls before he sang out, “Do you know?” and began a round of mostly made-up gossip, matters of who had slept with who else, mostly. “I’d imagine all the ships sank at that party too.” At that, he waved back to the Sindhu woman.

Some of the audience drank or chatted rather than stretch themselves to listen. Others looked on in idle sorts of ways. There was one person in particular who stood out among the spectators in their festival garb–a stately man in black gazing at him with the sort of intensity reserved for senators.

Dori figured him all the more reason to play himself up, crow at his own jokes. He made the afternoon sun his spotlight and the audience’s attention all his to betray. He was just sorting out another bad pun of his own when one of the winy chatterers on the top row went: “Umm. Lion.”

So instead he stretched, coming to a stop with his cheek on his shoulder. Fausta watched him from the distant arc of the track. A hiss rose from the stands.

Dori meanwhile whistled, “Well, I’ll be damned. Hey, guys. We got one out.”

No one answered, of course. The sweepers were long gone and the attendants had vanished. He cast around, searching just the same.

“Guys?”

No answer found him but the hush. Dori slunk over to one of the gates, rapping there, calling names. A clang of people rushing started up beneath him. Still, no one answered.

The lioness made her way through the spina, her afterimage stretching among the obelisks.

“Trainer should be here in a minute,” said Dori. “But, I mean, she’s probably not from one of the hunts. She hasn’t got a taste for blood, or…”

Closer she crept, fur rippling coppery along her flanks. Someone in the audience called for their own servants, hoping to get a message out. The rest waited, snagged on memories of the older, bloodier games.

Dori brandished his rake. This drew a long, sundering sound from Fausta and a couple of deep breaths from him. He parried at nothing in the showy way performers did. She only laid her ears back, swaying off to one side, the other as he rose at her again.

“Just go back, all right? I’m not food!”

Fausta pounced. She hit him, full force. They sprawled in the sand.

Dori had to go to liquid inside to pull that part off. He couldn’t train her out of being a lioness with the weight and muscle. As long as he wanted her knocking him down as part of his act, he could only let her lead as far as blows went. It was very much worth the bruises to come back to moving, there beneath her with her bloody breath in his face and the audience chattering like cicadas.

“Hey,” Dori asked, “did you hear the one about the salesman and the monk?”

She shoved her muzzle in close and snarled.

“Yes? Well, you must be some sort of goddess then, since I haven’t made it up yet.”

She repeated this sound, louder now, knocking him with her paw.

“Well, you’re beautiful regardless.” Dori threw his arms around Fausta, lifting himself up for a smacking kiss on the end of her snout.

She, on this occasion, responded by laying down right on top of him. Her tongue lapped into his hair.

The crowd roared too, but with laughter. Dori almost could have joined them, but he really was smarting by that point. Besides, his thrill of the matter came off a bit different than theirs did. He almost would have called it sexual, but it ran deeper, left him careening longer.

Besides, Fausta licked him again, right on the end of his nose. He gave her the let-me-go tap on her shoulder and picked himself up. Whatever he felt or he didn’t, whatever filled him in that moment: Gods, there was nothing like standing for the first time after a lion had sat on him.

He raised his dusty hands and he gave his thanks to Apollo and Dionysus and the Caesar of the year as Fausta lounged off to the side, her tail flicking.

The audience seldom threw anything for acts between main attractions of any circus, but there must have been a riot of flowers in the farmlands that year, since a few blossoms chased down around him. For that, he did bow, catching some and going through the motions of sniffing, even though they were old and scentless.

In lifting himself to the applause, Dori added, “And you. You didn’t really think I was hurt, did you?” He blew one kiss into the audience, aimed for the man in black. “That’s cute.”

Hurt as a matter of fact being part of the reason the whole thing went over so well. Fausta had teeth and claws, and no particular belief that Dori was anything besides another lion. She wounded him a little, every single time–scratches and bruises and nip marks.

It was nothing he hadn’t seen before. Lovers did worse to him often enough. With a human, he might have objected to a shoulder’s bleeding as much as his currently was, but with her, he not only forgave her, he hardly noticed his latest gash.

After one more wink, he and Fausta headed into the hypogeum. She trotted at his side to where the attendants had reappeared. Dori took the pole loop from one to guide her into the narrow halls beyond. Certain lionesses flopped right into their cells, having bowed out of the loop as if the damn thing hadn’t been offered at all.

Dori sighed and left her for the time being. He had people to lace into their performance pallia and wounds to tend.

He kept his stool at the far end of the hypogeum, where none of the electric lights worked quite right. From there, he could talk to Fausta through the portico if she got saucy with any of the other trainers.

“Yo, Dori! How’d it go?” called Cimon, striding past with one of Jasper’s juggling balls balanced on his fingertip.

Dori grimaced. “You didn’t watch?”

“I watched, but I couldn’t see. Not your ridiculous liongasms, anyway.”

“Try it or stop talking.”

“Never.” A few play punches shot off between them, only coming to an end when Cimon pulled his hand back just to find his knuckles red.

Dori hadn’t so much as winced at the blow, but water and tincture of iodine it was before anyone started on him about bleeding all over the place. Once he’d dropped the damp bandage into place (it smarted less that way, doing it all at once), he asked, “Anything worthwhile come in while I was out getting mauled?”

“Better you than a prisoner,” mused Verrity. “Prisoners got no showmanship.”

“Seriously?”

“Of course not. And we’re all out of condemned guys this year.”

Most of the hypogeum in earshot sniggered. The emperor hadn’t used the circuses for executions in a few hundred years. The amphitheaters had seen a few traitors, but other than that…

Someone rapped on the gate. The attendants did nothing to budge the thing, so Dori made his way over.

He was glad he did. That someone on the other side wore a familiar black tunic. Up close, the man had one of those thin, sharp faces so common in Albion, which made sense–he was fair and straw-blond besides, his sunburn just coming in.

“What was that for?” he sputtered once the gate had been taken out of his way.

Dori swallowed a huff and combed his fingers through his hair. “You had a seat in the front. It happens. All part of the show.”

“I don’t know you.”

“If you did, it’s news to me. Also, mea culpa, I guess. Most people like it when they get fished out of an audience.”

“There were literally thousands…”

Dori took this as his chance to rap the guy on his collarbone. “But I picked you. Go back to your friends and call me a horse’s ass if that’s what you want.”

“I’m here on business.”

“Going to the Ludi Apollinares all by yourself. That’s just tragic.”

“You went on stage by yourself.”

“I did not. Hey, Fausta! This guy thinks you’re not a proper citizen.”

At the sound of her name, Fausta lifted her head. Given no further call to claws, she put it right back down.

“And aside from, you know, audience members cutting in, we all know each other.”

The other performers who could hear him over their personal gossip raised their heads, hands, and makeup brushes.

The man acknowledged none of this. His attention remained caught on the shape past the cage doors, something halfway meditative in his poise, there to watch a lioness trying to sleep. “Is she really tame?” he asked after a while.

“No!” Verrity called.

“I meant–”

“I know,” Dori interrupted, nodding as he swooped off towards his partner. Cue her rolling her ears back. “Fausta, eh? She’s as tame as any show cat ever gets. Her avia’s the one they caught, so she’s never been wild. She doesn’t always remember that, though.”

The man turned to Dori, catching his gaze straight on. Even in the dim light, his eyes were so clear, bright green tinged with gold, glinting as he asked. “May I touch her?”

Dori wasn’t about to say no to a face that pretty. He took the man’s hand and shouldered the both of them through the gate to the cells, then up to the one which kept Fausta away from the goats. “Play nice, now,” he told the lioness.

The man gave only a murmur of protest. It might even have been surprise, the way he stood, glancing around the circus animals after. Dori took his contemplation to weave their fingers together, nudge him along the rest of the way. So when he reached out, the two of them went along together despite the warnings about lost hands the other actors had decided to share.

The man tensed under Dori’s touch, . He let himself be led to the lioness’s shoulder, pressed close into her fur even as she grunted. Dori guided him through a few strokes, a scritch, and one sideways ruffle to show off Fausta’s rich undercoat.

“Yeah, Juliana sees you doing this, you’ll both be fighting her for the next act,” Petrus added, stalking past.

“She feels more like a horse than a cat,” said the man, not seeming to have heard a thing outside of himself.

Dori turned to catch him gesturing to the cotton plastered to his shoulder, showing pricks of red between the tincture lines.

“So, that’s real blood?”

“Absolutely. Enjoying yourself?”

The man nodded. He moved on his own this time, sifting through the fur where his touch rested. “No one’s going to believe I petted a lion.”

“Hey, anybody says you’re full of it, tell ’em to ask Fausta. She’ll set ’em straight.”

“I will. Thank you.” He stayed longer than thank you might have otherwise implied glancing Dori’s way for a few more moments, his expression very much that he had worn in the stands.

“Not angry anymore?” Dori asked.

“I was never angry. Just confused.”

On that, he stepped off. Whoever he was, the attendant tipped their head to him and the afternoon drank him down soon enough. He vanished in the people shoving and laughing about who would get the best seats for the next round of races.

Dori put his hands on his hips and said, “The guy’ll pet a lion, but not me. How does that work?”

“It doesn’t,” Cimon answered, poking him on his bloodied bandage.

Fausta added precisely nothing to the discussion. She had nodded off.

~*~

Second Encounter

The Ludi Florales came around once more and Dori found himself half-asleep, wound in the arms of others and crushed petals besides, considering that soon enough it would be summer. The thought left him smiling. He didn’t tell anyone his wistfulness wasn’t about anything they had offered.

Before he knew it, he was back out in the circus. That year, Fausta came out dragging the remains of a peacock.

“You didn’t let us see her kill it!” someone shouted.

“You say that like this was planned!” Dori shot off towards one of the gates, calling for help as he went. His sense of urgency soon carried some weight to it. Fausta stood with the bird dangling from her jaws rather than giving chase.

In the thick of that, he saw him, the man in black. He sat almost where he had the year before, placid and intent. Their eyes met across the stands, the rustle of all of the others out there waiting for whatever was going to get ruined for their delight. The man tipped his head to the side and Dori, with his rake held over his head, charged his own lioness.

He hadn’t seen her move quite so fast since she’d been a cub.

His instant of true fear was only that. They met in a crash, her already full of the ticking sound she made in her chest where she could not purr. Tied up with that, they wrestled in the sand. Dori wound up covered in dirt and lion slobber by the time Fausta rolled over, belly-up like any other housecat.

He made as if to stab her in the heart. Instead, he tickled her. “How could I kill you? You’re beautiful.”

The applause soared. He gave his thanks and his lines for the lovely ones close enough to hear. Down to: “Of course it’s still real,” for the man in black, who quirked an eyebrow.

Then he and Fausta set off. She had the decency to pick up the peacock so he didn’t have to, bringing it into her cell without complaint from any of the attendants–though she did take to nibbling on it just as soon as he had closed her cell gate. Blue feathers wafted between the bars.

She was going to need a good scrubbing, but management tended to look down on Dori letting her roam the hypogeum. Him, he thought baths were better with more people and at least one oversized cat.

He returned to the corridors in a very western pair of trousers and nothing but. Juliana caught him as he passed close to the gate, snagging a ribbon in his hair with her fingers.

The man in black stood with her, the two of them engaged in a much-too-polite conversation. Dori shouldered his way in. “Break in to pet my lion again, did you?”

“Harass an innocent circus-goer for the second year in a row, did you?” responded the man.

“Absolutely. He gets the lashes, right? For being down here when he’s not supposed to? It’s not me for inviting him, because I did no such thing.” Dori cast a thumb the man’s way, though his attention was otherwise for Juliana, who at least pretended to consider the proposition.

The man flashed something silver from his pocket: “I used my badge.”

“You used your badge for pets. Nice.”

“To be fair, I didn’t realize it was good for that.”

“How about that you could also pet us?” suggested Cimon. There wasn’t much room to be had in the discussion, but he still wiggled his way in.

“I’m still thinking,” Juliana mused.

“We’re going to have to have a poetical throwdown about this,” sighed Dori, drawing himself up.

Cimon did not follow. Rather, he hunched further down and showed his teeth.

Before anyone so much as decided if this meant laughter or blows–at least Dori hadn’t–a trill went up through the very bones of the hypogeum. The performers lifted their faces to the ceiling, their breath quiet. They seemed almost to be searching the sky, though there wasn’t any to be found where they stood.

Even Dori, who’d felt the noise so many times in his life, followed. So, it took him a moment to realize that the man in black had gone into holding himself, his lips parted.

“Hey, don’t worry. It’ll be like petting Fausta again for the first time,” Dori assured him.

It earned him a frown, but the man did reach out. He had the softest grip of anyone Dori had ever touched, not that he went lightly about it. He hung on hard enough to shudder, but his skin was powdery smooth.

Dori made sure to hold him back just as tight as they raced out of the hypogeum. The halls already crashed with actors and musicians fighting their ways to the entrance.

Past that, the real sound of the cornu came through. The man lay his empty hand to one ear, staring up at the sunset where it had begun to flush. The charioteers had not stopped, but they circled wayward.

Rather than follow the other performers out onto the street, Dori pulled the man into the strands. People shouldered into them and swore. They made it, though, scaling all the way to where the seats met the walls. There, they went higher still, clambering onto the stone that hemmed in the circus.

All the streets as far as they could see streamed with people, bodies in bright colors, some of them still holding their staves or their theater masks.

The gush of sound had come from the amphitheater. It slipped away soon enough. From that way, someone shouted out, but the words were lost on the roar of the crowd. After came a deep silence, a few breaths of it anyway, before the applause poured out from the walls and the streets and the blushing sky itself.

“Is it really…?” the man seemed to be asking himself.

Dori answered anyway. “Yeah. Somebody just got killed.”

“I didn’t realize this part was so loud up close.”

“Sure. Don’t you guys up north see dead gladiators off with flaming boats and violins?”

“Well, if you want to know the truth, you just combined several customs into one.”

“Exactly.” Simpering that off, Dori gave a whistle into the throng tiding below them. “Hail whoever you were! I couldn’t hear from back here, but hail you anyway. You’re a great sacrifice. Thank you! I’m sorry!”

The man had gone still beside him, waiting with the evening breeze tangled in his hair. On that very last word, that ‘sorry’, he turned out over the crowd himself and he whistled too, fingers in his mouth to do it.

“Huh,” said Dori, rather than catching his breath like he’d meant to. “I guess I don’t know your name either.”

“Len.”

Name brought with it an expectation of at least three words. So–Len? That was it? He answered anyway: “Dorus, but everybody calls me Dori. Even the mater.”

Len shook his head. “Someone just died and I’m on top of a circus with a stranger named Dori. That doesn’t seem right.”

“I don’t know. What else are we supposed to do?”

He put his hand towards Len when he said so. Because he could–it made a good show across the shadows. Len took it.

They cheered with the rest until they were hoarse.

~*~

Third Encounter

In the fourteenth year of the reign of Caesar Gaius the twelfth, the polis was shrouded in storm clouds come the Ludi Apollinares. Between the bodies and the heat and the soaking air, walking the streets felt more like wading a river.

They put sails up over the circus, but those could only do so much. The track became a tangle of sandy streams. Dori got to watch the races–if they could be called that anymore, given the dragging mud–while crowded between Juliana, Petrus and Fausta, of course, since the attendants were too busy grousing about the weather to care that the animals were put away.

There weren’t any sweepers that year–no point in them really. Dori went out in an old-fashioned performance toga and started on a monologue as soon as he had reached the surface. He got about three lines in before he stopped himself: “Oh, and since Apollo wasn’t thrilled with the lineup for this year, of course we’re giving him some higher-brow comedy than two ships passing in a narrow canal!” From that, he went on through the sweeping pronouncements of who had lent what to who else.

Fausta meandered after him, stopping here and there to shake off her paws. He pretended not to see her, instead basking in the sounds of the audience trying to laugh. He even paused to thank them: “I didn’t write it! I’m just the vessel,” he cried here and there until they started pointing and screaming.

Fausta roared. He took off running, toga gathered in his fists and the words still rolling from his tongue: “And so the smith took the cucumber…” He might have made it a quarter of the way he’d intended; panting around poetry made the air seem heavier still.

But he caught sight of Len in the stands. Between that and the soggy ground, his pretense went crashing down. So did he, sliding in the mud with a damp lioness. At one point, Fausta made to drag him onto drier soil, only swat him instead as if put off he’d tried to make her let him go.

That wasn’t part of the act. It got him to yelp.

Besides, he saw between one fall and another that Len had made his way to the edge of the stands, watching from there with a curious frown on his lips.

Dori flung his arms around the lioness. Over and over they spilled. His foot caught and through that he ended up sprawled on her back to tell her how lovely she was. One more growl and the two of them lay there for a long few seconds, Dori peering up at Len from the ruin of his curls.

The applause started before he got to his feet. He lifted his muddy hands to his gods and his emperor once more. Then, to the man in black.

Len reached down, taking Dori’s fingers with his own in spite of how dirty they had gotten. He held him there for a few ages in the cheers, then clambered over the wall.

The two of them stood entangled in the ends of the cheers, by then cut with “Kiss him already!” and that sort of remark. What they did, though, was both offer one more thanks to Caesar before they turned and strode to the hypogeum, Fausta at their heels.

Dori brought her into the baths with him, management be damned. Len stayed outside, but it was nice to have someone to shout the match news to him as the runners brought it in. Mostly, they complained about the lackluster shows the sportsmen had put on.

“Why don’t they chase everyone into the theaters at this point?” Len sighed.

“Yeah right,” Petrus snapped as he came down from the circus proper, dragging wet as if he’d been flung into a lake. “How about, we’re being sent home by senatorial edict.”

All of the performers moaned: Who was getting paid what, and would the festival would go on one more day to make up for it? Were the races still on? Len turned over his shoulder, taking the whole fit in as if it quite escaped his sensibilities.

“You know, we always do this too,” Dori pointed out.

“Worry about it after the ludi are over,” Juliana cut in, knocking her way through bodies half-risen from their stools. Her little stomp quieted perhaps half of the complaints. “Also, come to my house if you want to commiserate over wine. I trust that everyone knows where it is.”

The complaints changed to scenes of touch and laughter that Len took in with just as much uncertainty. He turned to Dori, nodded, and tried to step off towards the gates.

Dori tugged him back into place. “You’re here. Come along.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s expected of you at this point, Mr. Lion-Petter.”

They still had to wait for the storm to quiet; otherwise, they’d have been staggering through curtains of water. On the field, the race after Dori’s performance had seen half of the chariots upset into each other. Most of the drivers had gone off to the edge of the circus, leaving their wheels to spin in the rain and the uninjured horses to nuzzle one another. Someone had been crowned the winner, but even he didn’t even seem pleased with the outcome.

Dori, Len and one wet lioness climbed into an autocarriage and began their creep around the narrow streets, places still flooded with merrymakers and prostitutes all intent on their own parades, rain or not. If he had to guess, Dori figured the cancellations across the polis were driving them out more than in. Some people, they wouldn’t be satisfied with the pronouncements of mere men.

Juliana’s domus, once they managed to reach it, was mostly atrium, tiled in white stone for the floor and aqua glass for the walls. Walking into it felt more like swimming, something the humidity compounded.

Beyond which, Juliana must have gotten a message to her cooks. There were bread and garum meatballs, dormouse cakes and honeyed fruit. An entire table showed off her collection of wine.

Len asked for some of the Gaulish red before he ever sat. When he did that, it was on the same couch as Dori, though Juliana and her extensive collection never came up short of places for anyone to relax (unless anyone happened to be Juliana’s cheetah, who lost her favorite rug to Fausta).

Cimon, from a nearby headrest, addressed himself to their guest: “Hey, let the servants get your drinks next time. Don’t you know how to lounge properly?”

“I don’t,” Len admittedly, though he hardly sounded sorry. “Excuse me.”

“I think he got the right couch for some lessons,” remarked Dori.

Cimon rubbed his chin. “Possibly. But, he should try them all in the interests of a full education.”

“I’m quite comfortable. Thank you,” said Len.

Dori took this as his cue, sidling in to prop his cheek on Len’s shoulder.

The other man countered by slinging his arm around him and stroking his bicep. Gods, those soft hands of his, they were amber electric against the wine coming out in Dori’s body.

Verrity raised herself from Petrus’s lap, and swung her cup their way. “Shove your way in again, why don’t you? What do you even do besides, er, that?”

“Me?” Len reached into his tunic, coming up with the silver he had showed off before: a medal emblazoned with a long-gone Caesar. “I’m in urban resource management for the Tamēsis area.”

Most of the atrium twittered about this. The holdouts were sticky with fruit or one another’s kisses.

“How exciting,” remarked Jasper.

Juliana herself asked: “Do you get to tell people what to do?”

“And name streets?” Cimon piped up.

Len looked from one to another and finally to Dori (who offered no help at all, as a grin did not count). “Are you all quite serious?”

“None of us do anything like that, so yes. We are.” In fact, Juliana raised her cup to the idea, drinking deep enough to make herself sputter.

It put Dori in just the place he wanted, where he could reach over and deal a poke to the other man on his lectus. “How do you keep ending up out here?”

“Well, there’s an informal gathering of people in my position during these particular ludi. We observe the traffic flows and how they change from celebration to celebration. It’s very important…”

“Celebrations? That’s really what they are to you?” He placed himself close up to Len’s face to ask that.

“Considering how you celebrate your dead, why shouldn’t I?” Len answered, smooth about the words.

No one seemed too surprised at the kiss blossoming in an instant after, a hungry thing with hands astray and fingers working on one another’s skin.

“You bite,” Dori concluded.

This brought him a nod. And another kiss.

Across the way, Juliana stretched out over her own couch, as well as Verrity. “Ah, that’s much better,” she said, and pecked other woman suddenly enough to have them both twittering.

Len lifted his head to take this in. His fingers lit on the crook of Dori’s neck. “Better as in… ah, nevermind.” Once more, they lost themselves to one another’s closeness. The Gaulish wine had left Len’s tongue sweet and his hands a bit loose in their wander over Dori’s back.

But Dori enjoyed it, every touch and taste and the glimpses of the others who hadn’t found their ways to anyone yet. Jasper, for instance, the little juggler, plunked himself right down on Dori’s other side and batted his black lashes. Not even Len’s curious pause brought their intruder to more than a smile.

Dori turned, snagging him by the chin. “This one likes a good show too.” He meant the remark for Len’s interest, and so for his own sank into Jasper to plunder his mouth. “But you can still do that to him.”

Len hesitated somewhat, then caught their Jasper by his long hair, bringing him in for a bite of his own. Jasper yelped. “You do that really hard!”

“Of course. But if you’re too sensitive…” The next time, they curled together over Dori’s lap, a kiss here, bruise there. “Though I do have my own preferences…” Licking his lips, Len moved in close to Dori who didn’t even have to ask him–you pull my hair too. Len did that, nipping Dori’s mouth and then baring his throat.

Jasper looked on, a smile on his wet lips. As he moved in to take another taste of his own, Len nudged him off. The second try got him bitten again. Dori’s hand settled on his back, as close to his ass as he could reach.

Len wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, then murmured, “Just a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Dori licked his cheek–lions marked each other that way–then watched him go through the midst of another kiss with Jasper. That was the way of wine after circuses, especially at Juliana’s. The woman herself had taken Verrity and Petrus for her own, each of them working on her hands as she pressed her mouth to one, then the other.

Dori and Jasper looked on, and they could not, through that, keep their hands from themselves or from one another. At first, it was just one more kiss, but then Juliana straddled Petrus’s lap, sighing deeply as she did so, not even her clothes off before she coaxed him into her body. Verrity clambered to the floor at their feet where she pushed up under her mistress’s skirts.

At the sight, Jasper fondled himself, then Dori made himself known on his lap soon enough, hands up the inside of his thighs, clothes in the way or not. That changed, hurried in the grasps between them. Jasper’s cock was thick and heavy. He fit in a fist and his breath always snagged when anyone held him that way, as Dori did, rocking his finger into the tender place beneath his head as he squeezed him.

“Patience,” he crooned.

Jasper met this with a frustrated mew. He pulled at his own hair and he looked like he might be stammering on please, at least trying to say something.

Dori purred at the sight of him. But they were both performers. They knew. It had to come down to a show, even when they played–which was to say that Jasper yanked Dori out of his trousers and began to stroke him, greedily from the first. They hung together on the couch, just a moment more, each of them exposed and flushed.

“I know what you’re after,” Dori sing-songed to him. “Can’t you at least pretend to wait?”

Jasper shook his head. Then he called over one of the servants and sent for some oil.

He stood before him after, stooped so that Dori could feel over his ass. Dori took a long while of dabbing and fingering and dabbing again before his body quite relented. When that settled in, though, Jasper didn’t wait for Dori to wipe off his hands before he flung himself to lap. His body clenched and he cried out.

So did Dori, which was all the more Cimon needed to finish himself off. They might even have caught Juliana away from her place entangled now with Verrity while Petrus and one of the servants watched.

Dori didn’t have to do much to take Jasper. The other man rode him hard enough to bruise, something he appreciated for the sensation on his skin, never mind the stories he could tell from it. It wasn’t every evening he got to hold still for someone else so determined to have themselves on him. Jasper ground himself to Dori’s cock, spreading and crying and holding himself between his little entreaties of yes and more, moans for the wordless things he wanted.

Dori snapped out of himself on one of those sounds. He’d done what he could to hold back, but his orgasm bled in bright. He didn’t more than gasp with it. Jasper, though, whimpered as if it had been his own, rocking hard against him until Dori was spent and sticky and slipped from the other man’s body.

Jasper himself still showed hard, weeping down himself. Dori flipped him over onto the couch, and there held him upside-down, cock in his mouth, until he had sucked him dry.

It wasn’t until the last thrill in him had slipped away that he realized: Len hadn’t come back.

~*~

Fourth Encounter

The year after, Dori’s days in the circus were clear and bright.

A restlessness hung over him, though. “Strictly out of curiosity, what do we do if nobody dies?” he mused, only mostly to himself as he waited on the cue for his act. It seemed to be taking ages for anyone to call anybody else.

Verrity sighed. “We turn Fausta loose on the senate.”

“That’s treason,” said Cimon.

“And it’ll never work. She’ll think they’re playing. She might not even maim anybody!”

A few of the actors nearby began to consider this out loud. It hadn’t been their conversation, but the topic of people being devoured by lions was just cheerful enough for them to intrude on.

Dori was still almost loath to leave them. Treasonous banter or not, ages of waiting of not, it was dark, cool and comfortable down there with the other performers. Then again, he gave himself almost the same reasons for rushing out when the attendants came for him.

He marched onto the sand, serious as any imperial herald. He looked east and he looked west. He pretended he might upend one of the obelisks in the spina for the sake of his searching. When nothing came of that, he shouted, “So, who died?”

After came a silence. The breeze sounded downright deafening against it.

Then, little by little, sparks of laughter rose up.

It took everything Dori knew as an actor to hold his mock consternation in place. He rushed about the lower seats, calling people out for mocking him. Most of the ones he tried laughed even harder. A few managed to tell him he was horrible. Until: “Apollo will have his vengeance!” someone called.

“Apollo will have my ass? Well! That sounds like… ah, damn!”

So they ran. Him and Fausta. She loped, anyway.

They’d only gone a handful of yards when Dori caught the rush of brightness and sand on his cheeks. Fausta seized him and the two of them toppled. She bit, and he snapped back at her. Together, they played cub and drunken apprentice until they dangled dusty on one another’s limbs.

Dori lifted his head, shouting so that everyone could hear, “I don’t know what this is about! You’re beautiful.”

The applause burst around him long before either of them picked their way to their feet. He gave his salutations and in spite of such things, he thought: There wasn’t anyone to find out there in the stands.

No, that couldn’t be true. Everybody lived there, waiting to be found and played and filled with joy. Besides, it was rotten luck to do anything the same way more than three times. Better no one in black wait for him. Better if he hadn’t gone out at all.

But Dori was there. His heart sang just the same. That year, he blew a kiss to an old man in the front row.

After, he washed off the glittering sand. It shifted like shore water in the gather of oil soap at his toes. The dripping quiet over that… it bothered him. So he hurried out to dress again, some hint of dust still tracing down from his knees.

There were footsteps all around him as he put on his clean tunic–not unusual. He shook his clothes into place and looked up, planning a quick so, who watches the nudists or something like that. Instead, he said, “Well, hail and well-met, stranger.”

“I got in late. I was in the back on the far side.” Len shook his head. “Hello.”

He had some mind to call him a liar. He should have been able to see him, even from that distance, all of the black he wore. But had he looked anywhere other than that place by the straightaway that Len very much seemed to prefer? Thought anything besides he won’t be here before the act was even a twinkling possibility on the edge of the race before?

He’d done no such thing.

“Hello yourself,” Dori added.

There wasn’t much of an answer to that, just the two of them drifting in the hall, soft out of one another’s reach. “You’re bleeding, for a change.”

“Yeah?”

They made their way to Dori’s bench. There, they huddled together, tincture and bandages between. Len used the tweezers to apply dabs of disinfectant, while Dori slathered on what he could and as he liked. His hands were already a mess. He didn’t think iodine stains mattered much. As for other things: “Look, I’m a circus person. That’s just the way it goes here.”

“Of course,” answered Len, hands closed on Dori’s scraped knee. “You put on a good show.”

“So, back you come and that’s all it is.”

That got him a long look.

“What? It’s fine. Why wouldn’t it be fine?”

“I don’t know. That was last year and I’m just not… that was too many people for me.”

“I’d have bitten anyone who got stupid with you.”

“I’m sure you would have. I didn’t want to stay. That’s all.”

“No hard feelings?”

“None.” Len shook his head, and when the clip he’d put in the bandage went a little crooked, he worked it out just to try another. “I may not be here to see the show, but I can still appreciate it.” His hands lingered for a while before he brought them back to fiddle with the tweezers again. “That’s all right?”

“You think I’m a stoic or something dumb like that? Of course it’s all right,” Dori teased.

“A stoic who works at a circus. That’s a proposition.”

“We used to have one. His act was he sat around and moped.”

“Interesting.”

“No, not really.” Dori could have gone on from there, explaining that what one did as an ordinary citizen and what one performed should come off different. Instead, he got to stumbling over some other words that hadn’t much come through his conscious mind. “Hey. Ah. Len?”

“Yes?”

“Have a safe trip back to Albion.”

“Thank you. But, I’m not leaving just yet, you know. You’re still all torn up and there’s this wine house near where I’m staying…”

Dori burst out laughing. “As long as you don’t serve yourself this time.”

~*~

Fifth Encounter

It was the first year of the reign of Caesar Livia the first–not the first woman to claim that title, but it had been a long while since the last. The performers and would-be champions of the empire flung themselves into the Ludi Apollinares. After all, it was one of the games a Caesar had declared. Even the narrowest streets overflowed with wine.

In a small circus on the outside of the polis proper, a place where olive trees lined every wall, a chariot race played out. Riders roared on, banking ’round each other on the torn ground. The air pounded with the sound of hooves. In the audience, people held one another’s hands and cheered.

At least one of the charioteers had a wish that he could see them, just see them, but he needed his horses to listen more than he needed that. He still wanted. He glanced off once or twice. He knew he did.

That might have been why, come the end of the cries and the racers spinning off into skids, he was the second to pass the final mark.

The attendants swept the horses to their stalls and the first three charioteers to the spina. The winner looked half-dreamy to accept his crown. He was the one who raised his hands; the thanks poured from him, more names and gods than most competitors would have given.

But since this was his small town, he stepped down into the arms of his sponsors and brought them with him as he went off to make his sacrifice at the temple, his thanks for all of the good fortune and the games at all.

Dori watched him go, then turned back to the member of the audience who had come down to stand at his side. “I’m probably too old to be changing careers.” He scuffed one boot towards the last retreating chariot. “But I wanted to try, you know?”

“Let’s be honest, I probably don’t know at all,” Len answered. “Where’s Fausta?”

“Downstairs. I bet she needs to stretch her legs.”

They found her waiting at the bars of her cell. The woman minding the hypogeum let her out at first sight of Dori, and so the three of them left through the remains of the crowd.

Funny thing of it all being no one seemed to notice the lion in their midst, though it was after the show. No one was looking to be astounded in those last few moments winding down.

The three of them walked the edge of the circus grounds, from there out into the vineyards along the road into town. In the distance, an autocarriage sputtered on its way to somewhere else.

Fausta turned her head to listen to it, then yawned and flopped onto Len’s feet. Somehow, this didn’t knock him over. He seemed to have some mind to ask her just what she thought she was doing, but instead he stooped and he put his hand to her shoulder. “When I couldn’t find you on the program, I thought you must have quit.”

“You think I’d give show business, nevermind my own, personal lioness, up for any money?” Dori snickered. “Caesar herself’d have a hard time with that one.”

“She’d realize that’s a terrible idea within about a minute of meeting you two. Even I did,” Len offered.

“Yeah. I just… last year, I kept thinking about how long I’d been doing the same thing.”

“That isn’t always bad.”

“Maybe,” Dori shrugged. “Anyway, you’ll never guess what else I’ve been up to.”

“I’m afraid to.”

“No, you’re not. What you are is a bad liar.”

“I think I know when to be afraid.” Belly rubs for Fausta accompanied this remark.

“I tried out for the Isthmian Games.”

“You did?” Len paused, and his head tipped just that one little bit closer to his shoulder. “So, when do you leave for Corinth?”

“I don’t,” said Dori. “I did get this wicked black eye when one of the other lion acts shoved me through a fruit cart, but that’s about it.”

“My condolences in that case.”

“Why? I was also the only guy in the riot right after who didn’t get fined or assaulted with a melon.” Call that much Dori fishing for a laugh. What else was that particular story of his good for?

Len winced up at him through the sunshine.

“I was thinking I might go anyway though. You know, and watch. At least the naked poetry contest.”

“I would have thought the pankration would be more your style.”

“We’ll see where the wine takes me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a letter after all and have to rush out there. My job’s not like yours, you know. Always sending me out in the middle of summer.”

“Actually, not this year.”

Dori got down to his knees, staring across Fausta’s belly and making a show of rubbing his chin.

Slowly, a smile came over Len. “I took a vacation.”

“And you’re still here by yourself.”

The space between them shrank away until there was only a streak of brightness left there.

“I really am sorry you didn’t get picked.”

“It’s not the end of the world. You see Pluto running his chariot anyplace nearby?”

Together, they looked out into the horizon. Len’s hair rubbed cool against Dori’s fingers as he drew him close, until they rested on one another’s nearness.

The lioness excused herself at that point, shaking her way off to a nearby puddle of sunshine. They laughed and they settled in without her. Len reached out on second breath, draping his arms about Dori’s middle.

Dori nodded, then raised his head. The kiss he dealt was quick and light. “So hey, maybe you’d like to head back to my domus. Just the three of us.”

“I’d like that a lot. But…” Len’s whisper trailed away.

“It’s cheaper than an inn.”

“I don’t look like most people under my clothes.”

Well, now you’ve gone and made me curious, thought Dori. He said though: “Nobody does.”

“In all seriousness…” Len shook his head. “You don’t do serious, do you?”

“No. I don’t.”

*

They headed back into the polis, Dori’s autocarriage drawing shouts from the revelers as the sun slipped away. The electric lights at the circus flickered on as they passed, amber and white stars beneath the last of the sunset.

Dori’s domus was just one of a long line of gleaming spaces along the street. Dori parked along the curb and led both of his companions through a small hallway to the atrium. Piles of cushions turned over between a few more traditional tables. A pool of clear water rested in the center beneath a gape of sky cut into the roof.

“Make yourself at home. I mean that,” he said.

Len, meanwhile, had paused, satchel halfway off of his shoulder. Fausta nudged against his side. “My Gods, how old is this place?”

“The stone underneath’s a couple centuries. But there was glass in the compluvium. I had it taken out.”

“Why?”

“I like the waterfall it makes when it rains. You want anything? I’m gonna feed Fausta and then I’ll be right back.”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

Dori nodded and went off whistling, not really caring who else in his home might realize how pleased with himself he happened to be.

Fausta padded after. She gave him such a look about the fact her meat happened to be cold, but she took it, slinking off to her favorite patch of grass in the peristylum, the one she kept littered with bones.

He watched her gnawing away. Not for long–she lifted her head and miaowed at him, her tail rapping impatient. Dori liked the way she thought.

Back in the atrium, he caught Len staring up at the sky, nothing between him and the aura of lights downtown. He joined him there. True, it was his home, but he could still take a moment to appreciate the sense of the other man’s fingers slipped in with his own.

“Doesn’t it keep you awake?”

“Not really. And besides…” Dori crinked a finger Len’s way. “Who says I sleep here that much?”

Len nodded, then stretched himself, further and finer about the movements than anyone just meeting him might have expected. He let himself be led after.

Dori’s room was painted over in verdigris green, the floor outlined in mosaics of grapes, a spot marked in vines for the lectus–a deep one with a headrest and high sides, bigger than most box beds.

Having tapped the lights on, he bounded past and jumped onto the mattress. There, he made effort to lounge as Dionysian as possible.

Len left his things by the doorway. There wasn’t any hesitation in him as he placed himself beside Dori and reached out to him, touch feathering along his forearm.

They lay there for a while in the small sounds of one another. Len shifted about the covers. Out of that, Dori trilled. He hadn’t really been expecting the kiss to happen so suddenly, or to wind so fierce. It left his mouth watering, sore for another.

After, Len eased back enough that they could focus on one another. His hand still rested on Dori’s cheek. “It’s really all right? After last time, I wasn’t sure.”

Dori turned enough to nip him on one finger. The nip became a nibble, another kiss, open-mouthed and twining.

“Is that a yes? You like being bitten? Or, is that part of your act?”

“It’s both.”

“Ah.”

The next kiss played out through Len’s fingers. His thumb settled on Dori’s lips to hold him open for a few moments after. The taste after was that of a bite, since he leaned in, pressing his teeth to the insides of Dori’s bottom lip. Len smiled afterwards.

It had Dori sighing to have someone pluck him quite that way. There lay a sharpness deep in his chest as the touch reached over, one rough kiss and then another down his chest. There would be gentleness too in the wisp of Len’s hair against him, the circling of his fingertips. When he could, Dori chanced on telling him yes, again down to the caress stolen just above his waistband.

Len sat back. He took a deep breath. And started off with his tunic.

Underneath, he had something like a corset, though higher on his frame. He’d worn leather in summer? The thought made Dori more curious still, so he couldn’t help it. He put his hand to the margin of skin beneath.

Len left him have that for a little while, kissing him on his palm as he lifted him away. The fasteners gave way. Underneath, he was flushed and damp, the seam lines showing where they had pressed into him. Len’s breasts were fair, battered-seeming, but soft to touch. He shrank away somewhat at any nearness there, though.

“No?” Dori asked.

His companion shook his head. As Dori had done before those ludi in their past, Len carried his fingers in, letting him close there on the buds. “It’s also both. You seem to like it when I touch your chest.” He put Dori’s hand into a squeeze. “But mine isn’t what I wish…” His words faded out wistful there.

Dori nodded. His own shirt sailed off to the floor.

After, it took only a little beckoning to bring Len back to the sheets–or rather, to him. Len, after all, climbed on top of him. He looked very much a conqueror up there, the kink of his lips and the bits of bruises already showing on his shoulder. He rode Dori, knees nudged between his legs. Not a bad way to ask for more leeway. Not a bad way to finally catch Len at all.

It wasn’t long before Dori hitched against him. Next instant he got swayed into, weight and warmth and teeth in his collarbone, the wet sound of Len’s lips parting from him after. He must have moaned, but the rustle of the other body against his own smoothed out his sense of his own sounds.

Len stole over his flanks, working his way down to Dori’s hips, finally taking hold of him there–palm first, nudge of his thigh after. He tugged Dori’s cock out of his clothes. Those silky hands went to him in such an obvious appraisal, stroking over until he had gone dewy. Len never took his eyes from Dori to do it, not even in the moment he dabbed his fingers to his lips, first to taste them and then to lay his wet hand to his shaft.

Dori poked him in the shoulder, rather clumsily no less. “So, hey. Do you suck?”

“I do,” Len answered, still caught on a stroke, “but there’s something else I’d like to try with you.” His thumb circled Dori’s tip, drawing him back bare and slick with himself.

“Yes.”

“I haven’t even told you what it is.”

“You wanna push my knees up to my ears. I know that look.”

The other man caught his hand again, squeezing him there. “If that’s all right, yes, I do very much.”

Dori grinned, propping himself up on his elbows. “Yes, Len. Let’s do that.”

They parted. Dori leaned over the side of the lectus, fishing a bottle of olive oil from his stash underneath. Len meanwhile took something wrapped in velvet from his satchel. They washed up together again after, limbs tangled on the covers.

Len put what he had taken to Dori’s lips. It was a glass cock, long, arching and pale blue given its thickness, smooth as surface tension. Dori couldn’t keep his mouth from it. He nudged up from the pillows so it slipped down his tongue.

Len smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”

Dori could have said that he didn’t only like. Instead, he sucked greedily over the tip and the bend slipping down the middle of the glass. When he placed his hands to himself, it was only for a stroke or two, just to hold him over, just so he could wait a moment more. Then he pulled his knees up and cocked his hips, reaching down after to show himself off.

Len’s slippery fingers met him there, brushing over at first before he took himself aside for more oil. At the next touch then, Dori pushed against him. His companion kept his strokes shallow, though, watching the writhe that played out beneath him the longer he waited, pressing deeper without really entering Dori. Come the time he did reach for him, Len wasn’t shy at all about reaching inside, fingers crooked. Dori stretched back, his grasp closed on his cock once more, his moan stirring his entire frame.

As Len slicked down the glass though, Dori asked him: “Don’t you want something? I mean…”

“You’ll see.” Len held the cock poised just off of his thigh. He took one more moment to snap the buckle on his belt and shove his trousers off of the bed.

Naked, his legs were so long. Where they met the center of his body, well, he didn’t look quite like anyone Dori had ever seen. He had thin netherlips, but the rosy folds showed a phallus as heavy as the pad of his thumb. Dori ached to touch him there, stroke him and listen to his breath tip unsteady. But Len soon guided the glass into him.

The first thrust bit into him so cool. It fell heavier inside of him than Dori was used to, more welcome because of that when the first deep slide poured through him. As sleek as the glass might have been, it made his skin tighten inside.

Len went deep, rocking more than driving so that one thrill and another flowed together. He took Dori’s cock in his hand besides, skimming the slippery lines of his erection as he moved with him otherwise; as he bent over him, he did settle his lips to Dori, just for a few instants. That past, he licked his lips and waited.

Dori began to protest. But the hand over his lips didn’t much surprise him. That, or when the next thrusts took him much, much slower than before. The glass settled in his body and the other man straddled him, taking the handle inside with a sink of his hips that ended on a sigh.

After, Len moved after with relish, all the thought between his movements working out steady and purposeful.

Dori held himself to breathing, but he knew, beyond the glass and the body buried up with his own, that he was being watched. So he said that he wanted to with the rise of his hips and his sighs; that he wanted to be taken and he was and he wanted, he just wanted all beneath that oh-so-steady gaze. Of Len, smiling above him, plunging on and not too sweet. Not too much anything, but there and hard and wanting back.

If they had been just a little different in their position, Dori would have wrapped his legs around him. Right then, he didn’t trust himself. There would have to be a next time.

It occurred to him besides that this first time had taken five whole seasons of celebration. He’d never been that patient with another body before. At least, not another human. He’d never even known that he could. But it seemed like if it had played out otherwise…

Well, he wouldn’t have had Len to lord over him quite like this. It wouldn’t have dawned on him just how fucked he was at that moment.

Dori shuddered, shifting on the sheets. Some citizens of older families though it poor taste to lift oneself to lovers that way. But he couldn’t help it. He ached, and he’d been aching, nothing to do with his wounds, but rather the flutter of the moment spreading up through his belly, the twitch in his cock.

Len sank on with him, picking up pace only as the first moan broke on Dori’s lips. Then he scratched against his side and put that glass cock to him until they were both panting.

Dori cried out. His orgasm had him in a rush. He writhed over the sheets, heels down and hands clenching on the headrest. He was slick white with himself by the end of it, popped up tight on Len’s cock even as it passed.

Len looked down at him, grinning now.

It made sense, even from the deafening thrill only just come to settle in Dori’s body; Len could do that, of course he could. But Dori fought with his breath a moment more, then said: “Did you come too?”

“Ah.” The other man blew at a hank of his hair that had brushed onto his cheek. “Not really.”

“Do you want to?”

“Yes.” It sounded more admission than anything else.

“Well then, finish up.”

Len didn’t need to be told twice. He was on him again in an instant. The glass smarted on Dori’s pleasure-raw nerves, but only so much as to keep him lit up inside. Len was still so careful, though the cant of his hips had changed some subtle way, more down and to himself. Just a little, and just not quite enough. He would moan and his eyes start to drift closed, but he kept slipping back after.

Finally, he took Dori’s hand, squeezing him into a fist and placing him at the skin above the root of the cock they shared, so he had his hot, slick skin there between his knuckles. Riding on that, his movements began to stammer.

Dori felt it when he came–the jolt in his own body as the cock slipped in so hard, the pulse broken on the other man’s skin. Len didn’t make much in the way of noise. Then again, he hardly needed to. He looked gone and it took so long for him to die down with himself.

Len. Gone. Now that Dori relished despite his own calm settling in.

He laid hold of his companion to make sure he wouldn’t fall right off the lectus, something Len apparently took as an invitation. He swung himself so that the glass parted from Dori and collapsed into his well of warmth. As he might have any other person on his bed, Dori gave the cock that had been inside of him a few long, slow parting strokes.

Len sighed. One last shiver played over his hips. Somewhere inside of that, he pushed gently and the dildo slipped into Dori’s hands. Without it in the way, he pressed himself to the other man’s thighs, his quivers winding down little by little between them.

He tried to keep his eyes open, but in time, his slow blinks came down to closed and he could only lie there, breathing deeply, his head on Dori’s chest.

Dori, at that point, might have been grinning himself. Like an absolute idiot. He didn’t think himself that there might have been too much left to say. Perhaps in a while, he’d offer wine and another round. Until then, he thought to himself, Ah, it’s one of my favorite roles. I’m a headrest.

Until then, Gods, that man in his arms.

Len whispered: “Enough of my life has been a performance. And I think that’s why…”

Why what? Dori wondered that too, even though he thought he might have caught the idea drifting past.

Len’s lips, still barely parted on the words he hadn’t said proved irresistible as far as kisses went and as far as certain lion tamers knew that night. “You’re here and it’s summer.”

Dori held him close and remembered.

Acta Est Fabula

See this story’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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