Pompeii Passions

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 3

Philandros Meets Sextus

The journey was taking much longer than he had planned...with the cart, they had had to take the road around Herculaneum, since wagons were banned during the day...riding Bucephalus, Philandros could have been at Pompeii in two hours at a nice walk...with the laden cart, it would be afternoon.

Having cleared the tombs outside the Pompeian Gate of Herculaniensis, Philandros settled in for a slow ride...exchanging comments with Tellus and Corinna occasionally. No, I've not seen the house....I'm sure it will be fine....Pompeii has fine markets, I'm sure.... Gods, would it never end?

Just past noon, a rather handsome man on a large horse caught up with them from Herculaneum...his dress marked him as well-off, as did the horse. His voice was friendly and deep as he spoke to Philandros about the journey. He gave his name as Arrius Flavius.

He managed to drag his eyes away from the man's physique - impressive - to meet the gaze of this stranger. "My name is Philandros Cleanthes...I'm taking up residence in a house left to me there by my father." He reached across and clasped Arrius' arm in a firm but friendly clasp. He could not help himself from holding his grip just a bit longer than custom called for.

"The house once belonged to Marcus Lucretius, and is located on the Cardo Maximus near the Decumanus Superior." Philon, withdrew his hand, voice a trifle unsteady.

Arrius smiled mysteriously, it seemed to the young man. "We'll be there in no time...it's the second block on the left, heading toward Stabiae...near the center of town. There is a baker just a few doors down...that will be convenient for you!"

Arrius Flavius took them straight to the entrance of the house...walls painted red on the lower several feet, white above. The door was of good oak, stained a dark brown. He even assisted them in unloading the cart's contents into the atrium, with the assistance of the caretaker...who showed up from the garden area with a small shovel. Though not spotless, the house was clean, and the unpacking went smoothly and quickly with Arrius' help.

To Philandros' enquiries, all he said was: "Got a note...all set up." Corinna and Tellus set off for the kitchens with their supplies, to be stopped by Arrius.

"I'm taking your master to Sextus Manlius' villa for dinner...don't bother cooking for him! Your man, Grumio, will show you where the markets are, and I'll have Philon back in the morning...if he has no objections?"

Philon looked at the man with a shy smile, "Why...no! That will be fine! I look forward to making new friends here...." He hoped Arrius did not see the blush which reddened his cheeks.

The pair set off for the home of Sextus Manlius...Green Acres Arrius had called it...Iugera Viridans...it sounds nice! Fifteen minutes of idle chatter found them outside the gates of this villa, and Philandros gasped to see the place: a central block with a wing at either end...it was obviously undergoing repair!

"Are you sure he won't mind my visit?" he asked uncertainly.

Arrius Flavius clapped him on the back, and shouted out to the villa's entrance, which was open. He then turned to the young greek and gave a quick laugh. "I am certain that Sextus won't mind!"

As they dismounted, their horses were led away by a servant, and Philandros caught first sight of their host...a tall man with dark hair, a faint moustache, and a nicely muscled chest accented by his tight-fitting tunic. He seemed to be only a few years older than himself...no more than 21? His eyes sparkled as he took in the visitor, and approached with his hand outstretched in welcome.

As Philandros took his host's hand, sparks seemed to jump up his arm, and he couldn't take his eyes from those of Sextus Manlius. With a hint of embarrassment, he also felt sudden stirrings beginning in other areas as he stammered out a greeting.

Sextus' voice was warm as he led Philandros into the villa's atrium. "Arrius...who have you brought to visit me? You must stay for dinner!"

Sextus Manlius welcomes his old friend Arrius and Philandros to the villa, giving him an appraising look as they enter - he is glad for the new company.

Philandros took in the state of the villa as he was led through it to a small room set up for dinner. He saw that many of the walls were in the process of being repaired, and that some of the floors could use work also. At least the dining room was in good shape, though it sported only two couches rather than the usual three. Before the question of who would share could even be mentioned, Arrius spoke: "Sextus, I've been riding all day...do you mind sharing so I can stretch out?"

Philandros found himself on the central couch, next to the arm in the position of honor, with Sextus taking the place next to him. His host rang a small bell, and while waiting for the courses to begin, he washed his hands, and handed a towel to his guest. Philandros noted a scent of...what? Some eastern spice as Sextus leaned closer to hand him the cloth. This man is very...friendly! he thought with a blush. By the time the first course had arrived, Sextus had turned to Arrius and made some inquiries into his business in Herculaneum, and how he had met Philandros.

Having told of their meeting with a smile at Sextus, and of how he had helped him unpack at his new home...Arrius added that he thought the boy needed some friends in his new town, and thus the invitation to dine at Green Acres was given. "I hope this was alright with you, Sextus?"

Philandros could not interpret the look which passed between them, but it seemed that Sextus Manlius agreed that being friends was the best thing for him, and that the boy could visit his villa any time he wished. At this point, the first course of eggs and soup arrived, simple but well-presented. During the next several courses, chicken, beans in pepper, flat cakes with honey, and fruit - the conversation ranged over various topics: weather, the trouble with moving, what hobbies Philandros enjoyed, whether he had any other interests or plans in the 'big city'....

The boy adjusted his clothing occasionally during the conversation...pulling the hem of his chiton down...being next to the arm of the couch caused it to rise up, and the close proximity of the attractive young man next to him had its own set of problems, pleasant ones in this instance! Sextus seemed pleased to hear that besides riding, Philandros was also interested in swimming and wrestling...and Arrius mentioned that those were two of Sextus' favorite sports.

By the time the last course was finished and cleared away, it was well past sunset, and Philandros felt an intense desire to stretch his arms and relax as he was used to doing at home - but he found himself wedged between the arm of the couch and his host with no room to spare. He managed a small stretch, but found that his legs had come into contact with those of Sextus from the hips down in the process. Sextus looked at him with a small smile, and Philandros felt his face turning crimson with embarrassment and - desire.

In standing up, Sextus pressed back against the boy, momentarily molding his entire body to that of the greek, and gestured with his wine cup. "Might I suggest we finish our wine in the garden? The weather is very nice tonight."

Philandros got up very carefully, holding his cup before him...while Arrius made no move to go outside. "If you don't mind Sextus, I'm a bit tired and will just lie here for a while."

With his heart beating quickly, and pulse racing, Philandros followed Sextus into the garden. The smell of flowers and fresh earth was everywhere about them, and a sliver of moon did little to dampen the light of stars overhead. The path led through beds of oleander and violet, past a few benches and even a fountain as yet still dry. Toward the far end, a wall of trellis separated this area from the wilder lawn beyond which had a grove of fruit trees.

The two walked mostly in silence, only an occasional word breaking the night air. Philandros didn't know what to say...his only real conversations had been with his mother and grandfather, and one or two friends he had known since childhood. Sextus was his first complete stranger...besides Arrius...and words came hard. He felt himself attracted to Sextus, but had no idea how to express it...or even if Sextus might also be interested. He swallowed hard several times, starting to say something, then stopped.

Toward the end of the garden, flowers gave way to a section of grass which was open to the skies, and he looked up at the constellations as they moved slowly overhead. When he turned to Sextus, the other was smiling faintly, eyes gleaming in the dim light. The sound of a lyre could be heard coming from somewhere inside the villa, and faint stirrings of a breeze in the nearby trees.

"You miss your home?" Sextus said softly...seeing the wistful expression in Philon's eyes.

When he replied, his voice was almost inaudible. "Yes...I'd lie in the garden, looking up at the stars...listening to the sounds of the house gradually fade as people went to bed...." his voice trailed off into the sighing of the breeze, just slightly chilly, but not enough to be cold. When he looked around, he saw Sextus sitting on the grass, hand outstretched.

"Here...sit. Let me see what I can do to make you less homesick."

Philandros sat, being steadied by Sextus' guiding hand. Sitting side by side, Philandros thrilled to find their knees touching. Sextus set his wine cup aside along with his own, and put a hand on the greek's neck, feeling the tenseness there. Idly, he began to rub with gentle fingers. Once much of the bunched up muscles had relaxed, he pulled the boy back with him so that they were both lying on the grass, watching the stars spin.

"The stars are very beautiful," he said quietly.

Philandros was unsure if he said the next words, or only thought them to himself: '...so are you, Sextus...'

Arrius brought Philon to distract Sextus from himself, and Sextus and Philon talk; Sextus realizes Philon's inexperience, and tells him that they need to get to know one another before things go further. Reluctantly, Philandros agrees.

Confused thoughts went through his head as Philandros listened to Sextus' soft voice. Did I do something wrong? Doesn't he feel the way I do? He thinks I'm a child! These thoughts lost ground as Sextus went on...it seemed he did like him, his only concern being that Philandros know what he was getting himself into before going further - get to know Sextus, and himself better before taking the next step.

Philandros settled into the crook of Sextus' arm, snuggling close to him as they talked, occasionally toying with Sextus' curls as they spoke of many things: the gods, the stars, sport and theatre...of almost every topic now except that which he longed to discuss most. I want to talk of it...but he says wait...if I can't even do that - he really will think of me as a child!

As the air cooled, Philandros felt the grass beneath them begin to dampen, and he shivered slightly. He stared sleepily into Sextus' eyes, and lightly brushed his lips against the older man's cheek. "It's a bit chilly...can we go in now?"

Philandros got to his feet with Sextus' aid, and they re-entered the house. He didn't see Arrius, and wondered where he might be. Sextus led him to a large bed chamber, and sat down with him on the large bed. Philandros removed his boots, and was unbelting his chiton when Sextus started to get up. He looked back at the russet-haired boy, who was now down to his loincloth and sliding under the warm blanket.

The look in Philandros' eyes was pleading, but he didn't say anything except a muffled 'good night', as he turned to face the far side of the sleeping couch.

Sextus stood indecisively...Arrius would be in the room across the hall...'their' room when he was staying at the villa...but he would prefer to sleep on his couch alone. Here, was a young man who wanted his company...but had clearly resolved not to force it further than he already had...to try his best to be what Sextus wanted....

As Sextus stood there in the darkness, he heard a stifled sniffle from the couch, and turned to see the faint starlight glint in a tear on the greek's right cheek.

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