I awoke to find Lysis, propped on one elbow, watching me. I smiled and said something (I know not what), and he kissed me in response. It was just a light kiss but there was such joy in it. After yesterday’s angst, now we found happiness our reward.
We made our way to the palaestra, where Lysis sparred for a while with Autolykos, and I ran several laps. I finished first and stood watching them wrestle. They were well matched; one would toss the other, only to find himself in the dust the next turn. This, I thought, is beauty itself: the rhythm of healthy exercise by two men in their prime. I turned to find Phaedo watching; his dark gaze knowing.
“I see you have found the cure.”
To another I might have pretended, so newly had I realised the truth. But one never could pretend to Phaedo, whose eyes pierced through subterfuge in his demand for honesty. Truly that was his passion now.
“I have found more than mere cure,” I answered, turning back to watch Lysis throw Autolykos once more.
“You have come home.”
“Yes,” I replied, “without having realised before that I was wandering, lost, far from my family.”
“See to it you are faithful to him then; for after waiting so long, he is not one to cope if your affections alter.”
I turned back puzzled, and a little shocked at this admonishment. Why the warning? What had I said to make him think me faithless? But, true to his own nature, and the technique he learned so well from Sokrates, Phaedo had already moved on; I saw only his back retreating from me.
Involuntarily, I grunted as I hit the ground hard, and spat dust from my mouth when I rose to meet Autolykos again.
“Concentration, Lysis!” Autolykos warned. “Your mind isn’t on the task this morning.”
He twisted out of my grip and reached for my left calf, trying to flip me; but I was ready for him, and rolled to come up from underneath. It was he who fell heavily this time. He was right though: I wasn’t concentrating today. I was too conscious of those eyes watching me. They took me back years to that time when I had been the watcher – had stood in that same spot, eyes eagerly following the display before me. Now I was the one watched.
Alexias did not appear to notice my distraction, though. When later I joined him, fresh and clean after my bath, he congratulated me on the match eventually won. Once again, I was reminded of the past, though one more recent. Much had happened since that day Sokrates brought him to me for advice about unwanted suitors: our patrols together in the hills; that time he nursed me after the games in Corinth; and, of course, our boar hunt yesterday. Once he had wanted to swear to me; I had eschewed this. Now, in my insecurity, I wished I had accepted that oath. Inwardly I vowed to overcome this fear of mine. He was honourable and true; I must trust in this.
We dined with my father that evening. He could see quickly that matters had changed between us; I could see it in the glances he sent my way from underneath his eyelashes. But he said nothing. Instead Myron held forth strongly about politics and the likelihood of renewed war; Lysis answered him politely, giving him due respect for his years, without pandering to his bitterness. As the evening came to a close my father rose and poured another libation to the gods before handing the cup to Lysis to finish the offering. My mother brought our cloaks. It was as we made our farewells that Father said it.
“None of my house has ever proved untrue, Lysis; you can trust in this. You are my son now, too.”
They grasped hands and hugged and gave each other the kiss of peace – the kiss of kin. I thought nothing more of it. We went on our way to a friend’s house where we drank and debated the nature of joy. Lysis shone at this debate; how could he not when joy radiated from us both? It was late when we parted for our respective homes, having made arrangements to meet the next day for a ride out to the hills.
I woke early – too early – in a cold sweat from the lingering effects of my dream. It was nightmare more like. I shuddered, praying this sending from Morpheus had come through the ivory gate. For so long I had doubted I could love again. Against all my caution, though, I had been drawn to Alexias. I had yearned and hoped, then despaired. Now I loved again, and in my affections, felt off-kilter and uncertain. I must put my doubts aside. Alexias was not Alexandros, no matter that the names were similar. And I was not the youth I had been those years ago; I knew my worth now. I had heeded Sokrates’ advice in the past when he warned me against approaching Alexias too soon. He had spoken about fostering vanity and folly; but I had known it was not simply of that he thought, even though, with unusual tact, he had said nothing more. He was old enough to have known my past lover and to have heard the story; he must have seen the resemblance between Alexandros and Alexias, no matter the huge difference in their ages. Was I drawn to a particular type? No, I could not believe their natures were the same, whatever their looks. Alexias was true. So unlike Alexandros was he, he had even been somewhat slow to realise my physical needs – and his own. My hands travelled down my own body, stroking over my belly, smoothing my thighs, scratching lightly at the hair of my groin, as my doubts resurfaced. Once again I had not initiated the physical side of love; once again it was my lover who had taken the lead.
I approached Lysis’ home eagerly in late morning. Demokrates greeted me cordially, offering me wine and olives while I waited for Lysis to be ready. I was surprised. Always before I had been made welcome, but there had been a reserve in his manner toward me. I had thought some difference of opinion with my father lay behind it; now I realised his reserve had been for me. It seemed he had doubted my regard for his son. Now that was over; and he became more open and warm toward me. I felt in his company an affection I had never felt from my own father, no matter the respect we showed one another. Truly, Lysis was fortunate in his kindred; and I was fortunate to have attracted his love. I went to him as he entered the room, and embraced him. It was a decorous greeting; neither of us given to public display, not even in the privacy of his home. His father was present after all; and more would not be seemly. But I noticed how tired he looked, and wondered at the drawn look to his face.
I had brought Phoenix. A slave brought his bay gelding round; and we mounted and rode out. Helios shone bright; the day could not have been more beautiful. Lysis led the way, as we rode out to his family farm. There we left the horses at the farmhouse; and, after enquiring briefly about the progress being made by the latest litter of pigs, we made our way to the olive grove where we sat underneath an old tree and ate bread and cheese.
“You look tired, Lysis,” I said, broaching the concern that had been in my mind since I’d first seen him that day. “Is anything wrong?”
“It is nothing.” He dismissed my query; and I did not press him. Instead I let my actions speak my concern for him. I reached for an apricot, ripe and sweet, and bit into it, before bringing the other half to his lips. He smiled, and bit too. A little juice spilled over his lips, and I leaned across and used my tongue to clean them. Lysis reached for me, pulling me close. His body strained, arms gripping me hard, as he kissed me somewhat forcefully.
“Something is wrong,” I said, pulling back slightly. “Tell me....”
He drew back too, then braced himself, back stiff against that tree, as if readying himself for execution. I waited in silence for several moments before he began to speak.
“I had a dream this morning that you were with someone else, having decided you loved me no longer.”
“A dream? Is that all?” I asked. But then I thought better of my scoffing. Dreams can portend much or little, and clearly this dream troubled Lysis. He was not a man to be troubled for no reason. I reached for his hands – clenched fists on his thighs. Carefully I unfurled his fingers, then threaded my own through his and drew them to cup my face.
“Who could want a dream with the reality of you here before me,” I said, then kissed his fingers first on one hand, then the other. “I am the most fortunate of men to have won your affection. I only pray to the gods to prove worthy of it.”
A smile broke over his face, and he reached for me. This time his kiss wooed, and we stretched out together on his cloak. His hands stroked my hair while I began to fumble with our clothing.
“No wait,” he said.
“You do not want...?” I was surprised. I could feel the strength of his desire pressing against my own.
“I must explain....”
Lysis’ voice trailed off though. Whatever explanation he thought he owed, clearly it did not come easily. I trailed my hand lazily over his chest, drawing swirling patterns around his nipples, while I waited. He laughed, head thrown back, and caught my hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing my fingers in turn, even as I had kissed his a few minutes earlier.
“Years ago,” he started, “I was in love...or thought I was.”
I was surprised. Surely Lysis had told me he had loved no other youth before me.
“No, not a youth,” he explained when I asked, “I was the youth. He was older than me, and my trainer. At first I just watched him at the palaestra; but then he took an interest in me and showed me several throws. In the end he took me to his bed – for a season. I adored him. But next season it was another lad whose affections he sought; and I learned that was his way: to take a new favourite every year.”
“Lysis!” I cried out, appalled his affection had been so misused.
“I was reminded yesterday, when I saw you watching my match with Autolykos. I began to doubt.”
I looked into his eyes. Always I had thought my friend the wiser. He had carried himself with confidence and I had taken his outward assurance at face value. Now I saw otherwise. It was not I he doubted; it was himself. He did not trust his own ability to be a man worthy of holding my regard. Erastes he might be; but nonetheless I moved swiftly to lie on top of him, stretching out my full length over his body, putting my arms round his torso, holding him firmly.
“Never doubt,” I said, as I bent to kiss.