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The Casting of the Wine

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He knows his childhood is over when Hadrian sets him aside. When he says the words, they are kind and well-meant, but he realizes instantly that he has made a mistake.

"Perhaps, you should get some rest."

He says it, and the world falls apart.

Hadrian looks at him as though he has been slapped, and then the cold fury that has become so much more frequent these days steels over his face. "I am perfectly fine, thank you, Antinous."

Antinous sees him grit his teeth against the pain, but he does not speak out of turn to the emperor again. He walks behind, following although it is not his wont to follow. Hadrian walks quickly but not so quickly that he cannot easily keep pace. At the room he has assumed as his study, Antinous pauses, knowing what is to come.

"I have work to do," Hadrian says curtly.

"I'll be quiet."

"No," Hadrian says resolutely, "I want to be alone."

So Antinous walks away. He has to make enquiries about getting himself a separate room. Perhaps, they sometimes keep a bed for him with the pages, but this time at least, they have forgotten. They seem confused and surprised that the emperor's favorite needs somewhere to sleep, and it stings. Antinous' pride is sore when he finally enters the little closet-like room they have found for him. His possessions, almost all of which actually belong to Hadrian, have already been brought there. He gets ready for bed and then sits on the edge of his, poised, waiting.

Finally, he must admit to himself that Hadrian will not want him tonight. He crawls into bed very late, still unsummoned, and wakes a few hours later when the light washes in through the unshuttered windows. The little room is cold, and he has forgotten the misery of sleeping alone. He dresses quickly and simply, knowing that it is not a day to flaunt his good fortune. Today, he has none.

And, at breakfast, he realizes that the entirety of Hadrian's entourage —if not all of Antioch— knows he is in disgrace.

He takes his customary place beside Hadrian, a place he is only given at breakfast but one which he cherishes when he has it, and smiles at the emperor.

"You're late."

Antinous' smile melts away. "I'm sorry," he says. He wants to tell Hadrian that he isn't accustomed to coming to breakfast without him.

"No matter." Hadrian bites into a fruit, chews thoughtfully, sneers, looks at Antinous, and spits the mouthful out. "Disgusting." Antinous wants to shout at him. It has been like this for months since they left Greece. Hadrian had been so well there after the long months of illness in Rome. In Athens, the sun had shone on them, only them, and it had been wondrous and strange. Antinous had felt young again.

Disgusting.

He eats quickly and goes without worrying that he will be missed. They do not see one another all day, and Antinous begins to realize how much of his time is spent with Hadrian, simply being with him, by his side, in his company. Antinous feels as though he is a shadow detached from a man, ephemeral and easily forgotten.

The next morning, at breakfast, the guard does not let him in.

It is inevitable after all: the fall from grace. Hadrian does not need to keep an aging lover. Antinous, who has always had the comfort of knowing himself to be the loveliest boy in the room, accustomed to the appraising looks and the lingering glances, has begun to lose his looks and, worse, to become a man. It began with his voice, the slow and inexorable shattering of its clear sweetness, reassembled into something lower and deeper and more clarion but not half so fine. Hadrian never mentions it and seemed not to notice. Antinous knows that he has, though. Antinous knows.

From then on, Antinous eats with the pages to whom he no longer belongs. He knows that Hadrian has replaced him with some other boy, likely one of those he dines with. In fact, there is a string of them, all fourteen or fifteen or sixteen, young and beautiful and keen. They are all still boys with soft feminine bodies, sweet and lovely and not innocent.

His body is long and lean now, the body of a young man and not a boy. He has lost his puppy fat, the high little breasts, so embarrassing, that Hadrian used to kiss. He does not look so different in the mirror, though, for all of it. He is not particularly hirsute, so he has not lost the precious hairlessness of youth yet. His features are still somewhat soft, dreamlike. He should be beautiful.

He isn't.

One of Hadrian's new boys is a rat that Antinous had hated when they were in the paedagogium together. He is blond and almost fat and has a nasty sneer that he endeavors to hide. He had begun a rumor when he was twelve and Antinous was fourteen, that Antinous would spread his legs for anyone, and Antinous, who had had just the one lover and was half terrified by guilt at the memory of it, had suddenly been inundated by propositions. Of course, it had not mattered in the end because Hadrian had fallen in love with him, and that had been that.

And now Hadrian has replaced him. It is there in Hadrian's every gesture, his every word, his every flippant comment to Sabina by his side. Antinous watches the rift between them grow again. She resents the endless parade of boys as much as Antinous does. The hatred burns in her, too. At night, lying alone in his little cot, Antinous is half sick with fear that Sabina will do something foolish. She is apt to. He thinks that she is probably too stupid to know who to ask, but if anyone gave her a little help— He tries not to think of Hadrian, dead.

He loves him.

If he had not been sure of it before, he is sure of it now, lying in the little bed, ignoring the plaintive ache in his groin, crying tears of self-pity and self-loathing. Antinous hates himself, hates the boy he was, hates the man he sees looking back at him when he crosses a river. He hates that he is helpless when the news comes that Hadrian has been stricken with his illness again. He sits alone and wonders if he should go to him. Hadrian is alone. He will have thrown out Sabina, and his boys, all the new boys, never repeated, will not dare to visit. Hadrian is alone with the doctors, and his Antinous is sitting idly by.

And he does sit. He has learned his place and Hadrian's temper, both at once, though the temper more than his place. He knows that it makes Hadrian cross for Antinous to do something improper when he is already irritable. Soon, Antinous will be inexcusable, no longer a boy and never a slave. It isn't done. The emperor does not fuck boys who are past their prime. He certainly doesn't fall in love with them.

Antinous thinks of taking another lover. He is not unknown after all. He may be losing his looks, but they are not gone yet. He should make the best of it. He tells himself that he is going to make the best of it. He flirts on occasion with the gentlemen in Hadrian's entourage, but he knows that none of them would ever risk it. He could pick any of the page boys as his beloved.

Antinous only wants Hadrian back.

They say that the emperor is dying. Antinous believes it. He saw Hadrian when he was ill in Rome. It had been squalid and miserable, and they had predicted his death then. Here, in the Levant, there is no hope of proper doctors or sanitary conditions. The very water, the very food, is probably poisoning him if only because his body is unaccustomed to it. And Hadrian drinks too much. As autumn comes on, Antinous fears that another emperor will die in the provinces without an heir declared until the very last. He wonders who it will be. He wonders what will happen to him. He is not so far from home. Is his mother still alive? He wonders.

And, then, in the middle of the night, it happens. There is a banging on his door. Antinous rises, terrified, from a restless sleep as he has slept every night since that certain day. "What is it?" he shouts, shivering with cold and something else.

"A message from Hadrian."

He stumbles to the door, not thinking, not caring, not bothering to dress. He yanks it open and blinks at the Praetorian guard with his torch in hand, looking faintly embarrassed to find Antinous naked. The guard is one he knows, a fellow named Lucius who has always been nice to him, better than he deserves. In spite of himself, Antinous snaps, "What?" It is ungracious and he ought to feel badly about it, but he finds that he does not care.

"Hadrian is asking for you."

Antinous finds himself oddly annoyed that he has been woken for this, that Hadrian thinks he can call him after ignoring him for a month, that Antinous desperately wants to go to him regardless. "Give me a moment." He puts on only a tunic, not bothering to belt it. Lucius looks askance at him, but Antinous knows that it will not matter in the end. They walk quickly, and Antinous can feel Lucius' eyes on him, slipping between the folds of his tunic when anything is exposed, seeking skin. Antinous finds it exhilarating. Tonight, he is wanted. It is magnificent.

The doctors are milling about in front of the door to the bedroom that Hadrian has taken as his sickroom. He has thrown them out and called Antinous instead. Antinous sucks in a breath and steels himself for the sight beyond the door. The guard opens it, shoos him in, and shuts it behind him with a snap. He gags at the smell, unwashed skin and sickness and sweat and urine. The air is thick with the smell of human rot. There is a little light from a single candle, but the windows are shuttered and he can barely see. He pauses, waiting for his eyes to begin to adjust to the light.

"Antinous?" a voice says faintly, coming from the depths of the bed, heaped with blankets. It sounds rough and old, so unlike Hadrian's clear one.

Antinous begins to cross the room carefully. "Yes, it's me."

"I asked for you."

"I know. —No, don't sit up." He watches Hadrian give up the struggle and lie back on the pillows. Antinous pauses at the foot of the bed and pulls his tunic over his head. He leaves it on the ground and climbs onto the bed, too high for comfort. He crawls over to Hadrian who is propped up in the middle of the bed. He kneels beside him. "Hello."

Hadrian, his eyes shut, smiles.

Antinous' breath catches a little. He has forgotten what this is like. (How could he forget so quickly?) He brushes away the hair stuck to Hadrian's forehead with sweat and presses a kiss to it. His forehead is hot, though he isn't burning the way he was in Rome. They had kept Antinous away then, and they aren't keeping him away now. Well, they both matter less. Hadrian is an old man, and Antinous is a young man, and neither is worth anything to anyone anymore. "Aren't you too hot under all these blankets?"

"I'm shivering."

"It's a warm night."

"I'm ill, Antinous," he says, whining. "Come to bed."

It's such a mundane command (how many times has Hadrian entreated him to come to bed when Antinous has been reading or watching out a window or daydreaming or washing up?) that it almost surprises him. His body obeys automatically, lifting up the blankets and scuttling underneath them. The oppressive air and the burning heat of the blankets stifle him. He curls up beside Hadrian. He hesitates for a moment, his head beside Hadrian's on the mound of pillows.

Not worth anything to anyone anymore.

He kisses Hadrian gently, warm and adoring, and he feels one hot hand tangle in his hair, and he is pulled into a sticky burning embrace that makes the previous weeks melt away. He lets himself be held very close, regardless of the risk to his health, tucking his head into the crook of Hadrian's neck. He is happy. Is that so wrong?

When Antinous wakes up, he is covered in sweat. Hadrian is sleeping, his breathing even and unlabored. The thick darkness, the stale air, the pressing blankets drives him from bed and Hadrian's side. He stumbles through the darkness, searching for his tunic at the bottom of the bed. He is too hot to put it on. He gasps desperately for air, for air, for air. Hadrian shouldn't be in this room. He stumbles to the windows, fiddling at the catch until one gives way, and he throws the shutters open.

The light blinds him. He gulps fresh air, almost shivering in the sudden cool breeze. It cuts across the room, and he sees Hadrian stir. He steps to the others and opens them as well. When he turns back, Hadrian is sitting up a little, his eyes blinking, watery in the sudden light.

"Shut them," he says. "They make my eyes hurt."

"Close your eyes. The fresh air will be good for you." There is a green pininess on the air that smells like his memories of home.

Hadrian repeats his command, louder and more cross this time.

"No." Antinous is trembling. He is defying the emperor. He could be killed for that, he thinks, considering the mood Hadrian is in.

"You will do as I say."

"Caesar, you are not yourself." There is something threatening in the way that Hadrian looks at him. He sits up and begins to rise from bed. "No, you mustn't. You aren't strong enough." Antinous is skirting toward him.

Hadrian snarls. He is almost standing now. "You goddamn little upstart. Don't you dare tell me what to do." Antinous watches him stand, trembling on weakened legs.

"Love, don't—"

Antinous scrambles out of the way as the chamber pot is thrown across the room at him. It breaks with an crash. Luckily, it is empty. Hadrian loses his balance and falls and Antinous, terrified, dashes for him and then the doctors are there and they are standing around them and Antinous is cradling Hadrian's head and they are all looking at him in the way that they are wont to do, goggling as though he were some sort of mad beast. He is naked. One of them touches his shoulder and coughs. "You ought to go—"

"No!"

"Get him out of here," one of the doctors snaps at an attendant.

No, Antinous isn't leaving him. They can't make him leave. They do, though, and he kicks and struggles and claws at them, trying to fight off the guards who are dragging him away. "No, please, you can't." He is whining and it is hopeless and he is outside the room now and Hadrian is inaccessible to him.

To his utmost embarrassment, he starts to cry.

A guard, one of the Praetorians, comes out of the room. He is holding Antinous' tunic, which he had forgotten in the room. He says Antinous' name softly to get his attention. Antinous looks up at him. It is Lucius, still on duty from the night before. "Oh," he says, "thank you." Before he hands it to him, Lucius uses a corner of it to dry Antinous' cheeks. Antinous pulls it on awkwardly. Lucius is smiling at him.

He isn't too old. He could take another lover.

Hadrian is only twenty feet away. He ought to be ashamed of himself. He touches Lucius' arm and smiles and decides to disappear for a while. He walks back to his room in the lightening penumbra, the flagstones rough on his feet. They had not hurt him in the middle of the night, but the blindness of fear has gone out of him.

That night, he sits on his bed and waits up, fully dressed, hoping that Hadrian will ask for him again. He knows in his heart that Hadrian won't, but he waits anyway, ever hopeful. There is a knock at the door when the night is at its deepest, and Antinous scrabbles to open it.

It is Lucius.

"What is it?" Antinous says, even though he knows.

"I thought you might want company."

This is not what Antinous was expecting. He stares at Lucius for a moment. He could and should say no, send him away, not think twice about it. He says, "Come in," and shuts the door behind him.

Lucius stands in the middle of the room, looking lost, as though he had only planned this far. Antinous holds his hands behind his back. "You weren't expecting me." He sounds almost sad.

"Not for the reason you've come." Antinous stoops to untie his sandals, lifting up an ankle and fussing with the straps. He ought to sit for this, but Lucius is between him and the bed, and he isn't sure he wants to invite Lucius to his bed. Not yet.

"I think he treats you terribly." Lucius crosses to him. He kneels and takes Antinous' foot in his hand, unlacing slowly. His hands are rough and calloused, but his movements are gentle and his palms are warm.

"It doesn't matter. I love him."

He takes off first the right and then the left sandal, kissing Antinous' ankles. "I know. It doesn't matter." His kisses move upward, up Antinous' shins and thighs and then beneath the hem of his tunic. Lucius unties Antinous' belt quickly and lifts the tunic off his shoulders, and then—

Lucius will be the third man he ever goes to bed with.

Antinous is naked. He sits politely on the bed and watches Lucius undress. Antinous self-consciously crosses his legs. He has had the same lover for nearly four years. There is something curiously unnerving at the thought of a new one.

Lucius is youngish, perhaps in his late twenties, handsome and tall. He has a dark complexion, and his features are a bit common, but he is charming and has a wonderful smile that he seems to like to flash at Antinous. He watches Lucius strip down in a rush, exposing tanned skin and scars. He has dark round nipples and a wonderful ass and a large cock that, Antinous notices, curves upwards. He bites his lip and tries to convince himself that he thinks that he wants this.

And then Lucius is naked too and advancing on Antinous and pushing him down onto the bed, and just the touch of Lucius' hand to his chest is enough to make Antinous heart beat faster. He is embarrassingly hard and desperate. He scrambles upwards on the bed, and Lucius straddles his hips, and they kiss. Lucius' kiss is aggressive and pushy and wet, and Antinous' fingers in Lucius' short scrabbly hair pull him closer. His tongue is hot and thick in Antinous' mouth, and one of his hands runs down Antinous' chest and keeps going, and Antinous' body is betraying him and practically begging. All he wants is to be fucked; it's been months. And then Lucius' hand is between the cheeks of his ass and a finger runs down the cleft there and, no, no, Hadrian, only Hadrian—

And Antinous throws him off.

Lucius looks confused. "I thought— Did I do something wrong?"

"No, I'm sorry, no, it's just— Get out. Please. Please, get out."

Lucius dresses and goes. Antinous is left alone in the darkness. He crawls into bed, ignoring his softening erection. He does not cry, but lies awake for hours until finally, sometime around dawn, sleep takes him.

The next night, he goes to bed alone. He sleeps lightly, but no one comes to interrupt his sleep. Hadrian gets well in leaps and bounds, but he does not ask for Antinous again. Lucius does not return. Antinous is alone.

The silence lasts into November by which time Hadrian is well again and Antinous is well forgotten. He is utterly assured of his total descent into oblivion (he does not even dare look at his reflection anymore) when the invitation comes: please join Hadrian in his study. Antinous dismisses the messenger and escorts himself there. He remembers the way. He knocks quietly on the door, and a voice shouts for him to come in.

Hadrian does not turn toward him when he enters. He coughs quietly. "Well, what is it?" he barks.

"Caesar, it's me."

Hadrian looks up. Antinous leans back against the door, half ready to run. Hadrian's expression softens into the look that he seems to save only for Antinous. "Hello. I thought you'd be longer."

"Did you want anything?" Antinous feels suddenly shy, pinned under Hadrian's gaze.

He pats the bench beside him. "Only your company."

Antinous crosses the room quietly and sits primly, expectant. Hadrian does not say anything. He is still working. Antinous relaxes slowly, wishing he had something to read. He lies down on the bench, staring out the window, daydreaming. Hadrian's hand on his cheek brings him back to the present. Antinous looks up at him. "Done with work?"

"For the moment. Come walk with me?"

Antinous rises clumsily, and Hadrian catches his arm and pulls him up. For a moment, they are very close, and Antinous realizes how much taller he has gotten, but then Hadrian lets go of his hand and pulls away, walking toward the door. What has happened to them?

The gardens are luxurious and still beautiful, even in winter, but they are not as splendid as Hadrian's at his villa and Antinous tells him so. Hadrian thanks him. They walk side by side, weaving through the little paths, talking softly about nothing at all. It is not as big as the gardens at Tibur, so they will have to retrace their steps soon. As they turn back, Hadrian says, as though realizing it for the first time, "I missed you."

"I missed you, too."

"I've been very lonely without you."

Antinous looks up, and Hadrian smiles down at him, and he waits for a kiss that doesn't come. "Me too."

"Sabina, bless her, is not much company these days. She never was." He squeezed Antinous' hand. "Not like you." Antinous ducks his head, and Hadrian pets his hair.

They do not mention the boys who followed. Antinous is almost grateful. He has been taken back graciously. He has already been given more than he ought to have expected. Hadrian tells him about his plans for the rest of the trip, about the economic troubles in Egypt, about his frustration with Sabina. When they go in and part ways for dinner, Antinous is still unkissed. He realizes that he has been treated like a favorite son all afternoon.

It is not such a comfort after all.

He goes to bed alone, having expected a relief from his thin, cold bed. At three, he is awakened by pounding on the door. He stumbles out of bed, but his visitor unlocks the door and it opens before he gets there. He cringes into the darkness as light spills into the room from a torch.

"Antinous."

"Publius?"

"Go back to bed." Hadrian shuts the door behind him. Antinous sits on his bed. The room is pitch black, and he cannot see. He feels the bed dip as Hadrian sits. "Lie down." Antinous, a little afraid, lies down on his stomach on top of the blankets. He hears Hadrian chuckle. "Dear, Antioch is warm, but don't you want to get under the covers?"

Antinous sits up and stares at where he thinks Hadrian is in the dark. Strong arms slip around his waist and pull him close. He buries his head in Hadrian's chest. He will not sob. No. He won't. He isn't a child anymore and—

"Shhhh. Antinous." He sounds almost reproachful when he says the name.

"I'm sorry," Antinous mumbles.

Hadrian puts his hands on either side of Antinous' face and kisses him, open-mouthed and devouring. The kiss is wet and sticky and consuming, and Antinous doesn't let Hadrian pull away, digging his fingers into Hadrian's hair. Their tongues lap at one another, and Antinous remembers the first time Hadrian kissed him, sweet and tender under a plane tree on Palatine Hill. They break apart, and Hadrian pushes Antinous down to the bed.

"The old man is tired, Antinous."

Antinous scrambles under the covers. After a few minutes, the blankets are pulled up again, and there is a breeze against his back, and then he can feel Hadrian leaning into him, his skin warm against Antinous's back.

"Scoot over." The bed wasn't made for two, but somehow, they both manage to fit, pressed close together. Hadrian curls an arm around Antinous' chest. Antinous' breath flutters. He has been waiting for this. He can feel Hadrian's breath hot on his ear. He swallows hard, ignoring his body's insolent response.

Because, in spite of everything, their embrace is chaste.

He falls asleep in Hadrian's arms and wakes up alone. For a minute, he thinks that he dreamt it all, but he can smell Hadrian on his pillow. He buries his face in it, breathing in the scent of him. He groans softly, one hand sliding between skin and sheets. He moves slowly, savoring the moment, knowing the smell will disappear soon, leaving him with only its memory. He gasps a little and bucks his hips and remembers Hadrian's lips on his.

Later, he dresses and emerges into the soft November sunlight. His birthday is coming. He will be nineteen soon. He cannot imagine being so old, but the years have come upon him more quickly than he expected.

He finds Hadrian in the gardens for his afternoon constitutional. Hadrian kisses him without thinking about it first, which pleases Antinous, and they stroll together, speaking quietly to one another about nothing at all. It reminds Antinous of summer days at Hadrian's villa. The watery sunshine pales in comparison to the burning Italian sun. Hadrian's smiles are generous, and Antinous feels for a short while that there is nothing for him to worry about at all.

And then Hadrian says, "When did you get so tall?", and Antinous remembers that he is all wrong and his body has betrayed him.

"In the last few months," he murmurs, but that's not true. He's been growing like a weed since he turned seventeen. Hadrian won't want him now. Too big, too gangly, too old.

"It suits you." He kisses the corner of Antinous' mouth.

Antinous brightens. Something uncurls in his stomach. Perhaps, perhaps— No, it is too much to hope for. He picks the flower before it can blossom. "Thank you."

Hadrian puts an arm around Antinous. "What's troubling you, darling?" He squeezes Antinous' shoulder. He is inviting confidence. He would not want to hear the truth because then he will have to confront it. He will have to realize that his favorite is growing too old to share his bed —not that they do much of that lately, anyway. So Antinous lies.

"Nothing, nothing. I find myself suddenly grown shy of you, that's all. A few weeks' absence—"

"Ah, yes, of course," Hadrian says sharply. His tone makes Antinous nervous. Has he heard the lie in Antinous' voice? "Are you so angry that I took other boys to bed in your absence?"

Antinous stares at him. He laughs. "No. Goodness, no." He realizes that he should have used that excuse. Hadrian was willing to believe it. He curses himself and his foolishness. He leans up the remaining two inches and kisses Hadrian softly.

Hadrian pulls away. "No?" He won't be distracted.

"No," Antinous says, his voice trembling slightly. He flushes. It always betrays him, but at least, it doesn't crack anymore. "It's not that."

Hadrian stops him with the hand on his arm. "Antinous. Tell me."

Antinous looks up at Hadrian who is furrowing his brow and glaring down at him. He tries to think of a lie. He can't. "I'm almost nineteen," he says and hopes that this will be enough.

"Yes," Hadrian says, sounding mystified.

"I— Well. Those boys, the ones you—" He coughs. "—They weren't nineteen, were they?"

Hadrian pauses to think about it. "I suppose not. Do you want me to fuck you and toss you aside, darling?"

Antinous is panicking. What has he done now? "No?"

"Then, I shouldn't worry about being nineteen if I were you." Hadrian kisses his forehead.

Antinous stares at him in incomprehension and struggling to remain level-headed. What is he playing at? Hadrian can never be easy. He needs the double-cut of his words to satisfy his listening ears. "I don't understand."

Hadrian sighs. "No, you're still too young." He tilts Antinous' chin up, so he has to meet Hadrian's eyes. "I'm still fond of you. I still will be when you've got a beard."

"I don't want to have a beard," Antinous whispers.

"I'll shave you myself, then. And, when the time comes—" He fingers Antinous' hair, thick curling locks still boyishly long. "—I'll cut your hair off myself, too. But I'll miss your curls."

Antinous swallows a lump in his throat. "Do you swear it?"

Hadrian gives him an odd look. "Yes. By Jupiter, I do." He pulls Antinous into a hug, and Antinous leans into him, smelling the same Hadrian scent that had been on his pillow earlier. He feels a large warm hand on his back, thumb rubbing little circles. Antinous knows that he is too old to be treated like a child, but really— Is there such a great difference between a child and a lover?

He presses a kiss to Hadrian's collarbone. "I love you, too. Even though you're—" It comes out of Antinous' mouth before he can stop it. No, don’t tell the emperor that he's old.

Hadrian gives a little laugh. "Well, if you're too old to be anyone's beloved, then I am certainly rather too old to be anyone's lover. I won't tell if you don't."

"My lips are sealed."

And they are because Hadrian kisses him. It is a slow and endless kiss, and Antinous wonders if he could be dreaming. There is a soft breeze that steels under his light tunic and makes him shiver, so Hadrian pulls him closer, Antinous' arms pressed up against Hadrian's chest.

Hadrian touches Antinous' lips. "I have a dinner party with some important citizens of Antioch, but— Will you wait up for me tonight?" Antinous nods quickly, trying not to blush. He was so accustomed to this before. It shouldn't throw him so much now. Hadrian kisses him again quickly. They walk together to the house, but Antinous stays in the garden, sitting on a bench until his head clears.

After he eats a light dinner, he goes to Hadrian's bedroom. He has to argue his way in, but eventually, the guard at the door accepts that he might, in fact, be expected there. (It isn't as though they've been lovers for the last three years. Oh, no.) Antinous slips in and undresses quickly, leaving his clothes folded on a table, his sandals below. He goes to where he knows Hadrian keeps the books he thinks Antinous might like (still there, even though Antinous hasn't been in months) and, taking a scroll with him, curls up in the big bed, propping himself up on pillows. He gets through a book of the Aeneid and the sky gets dark before Hadrian stumbles in, tipsy.

Hadrian laughs when he sees Antinous set the scroll aside. "How is my little Aeneas?"

Antinous stands and walks to the end of the bed. "Ready to found Rome."

"Ah, I don't think Rome would be very populous if we were to found it, darling." Hadrian unties his sandals, discarding them near the door. He crosses toward Antinous, discarding his formal toga and his belt and his tunic on the floor. He stands in front of Antinous, both of them naked.

"No, no, it wouldn't be."

Hadrian only comes up to Antinous' chest. He looks up at him and laughs. He says softly, "Come to bed." He wraps his arms around Antinous' thighs and picks him up, Antinous holding onto Hadrian's shoulders. He sets the boy down on the bed and climbs onto it over him, a knee on either side of his hips. Hadrian dips his head and kisses Antinous' neck, licking and nipping. Antinous whimpers softly, digging his fingers into Hadrian's bare back.

"You'll leave a mark."

"Let them see." Hadrian's voice is muffled against Antinous' skin, but he shivers all the same at the tone. Hadrian's mouth, open and wet and hot against Antinous' burning skin, moves down to his collarbone.

Antinous hisses softly, arching up, wishing to be touched. Hadrian runs a rough hand down Antinous' side, settling on his hip, thumb stroking the skin so close to where Antinous wants to be touched. "Publius, please," he whispers, hoping that begging will work in his favor.

Hadrian laughs against Antinous' chest. "Be patient with the old man, darling." Antinous whines, a low, pitched noise in the back of his throat. Antinous runs his fingernails down Hadrian's back, basking in the little gasp it draws forth from Hadrian. Hadrian bites one of Antinous' nipples, and Antinous squeaks in pain before Hadrian presses his tongue down on it, warm and soothing. Antinous curls the fingers of one of his hands into Hadrian's hair and moves his other hand lower, between Hadrian's legs. He strokes gently, feeling Hadrian settle onto his chest, his kisses erratic and distracted.

"Kiss me."

And Hadrian does, looming predatorily over him. His tongue darts into Antinous' mouth in rhythm with his thrusts into Antinous' fist. Antinous tries to catch it, suck on it, keep it in his mouth. He is making little murmured protests, fingers scrabbling at the side of Hadrian's face, trying to keep him close. Hadrian grinds against Antinous' hip, Antinous' hand still around him. Antinous gaps softly, lets go, clutches at Hadrian's side, doing his best to lift up his hips. A hand slips between the blankets and Antinous' back, moving down to massage his ass. Antinous sucks on Hadrian's lower lip and gives a little gasp as fingers slip between the cheeks of his ass, one teasing his hole, plucking at it and occasionally pressing a fingertip in. He is so close, warmth coiling in his groin. Antinous knows that they should stop. This isn't how he wants Hadrian to have him, not like this, not quick and desperate.

He pulls away. "Fuck me."

"Let me get something to—" Hadrian starts to rise.

Antinous grabs his arm. "No, please, just do it." He knows how he must sound, but his dignity is no longer particularly important.

"I'd hurt you," he says softly, "and it'll just take a minute."

He disentangles himself to the sound of Antinous' protesting mewls. The boy crawls across the bed on hands and knees, following Hadrian's movements across the room. Hadrian finds a bottle of olive oil among his medicine, so many lotions and potions and pills, on the table by the bed. Antinous stands up as Hadrian comes over to the bed. Hadrian's head is almost level with Antinous' cock, and Antinous sucks in his breath and bites his lip. Hadrian pauses in front of him. Antinous whispers his name.

And then Hadrian's mouth is hot and wet and around him and all-encompassing and no one has ever done this for him before and Antinous gasps and wriggles and thrusts into the welcoming heat and Hadrian's tongue flicks along the underside of his cock and Antinous digs his fingers into Hadrian's hair and pulls him closer and he feels Hadrian slip a finger in and his breath catches and, oh, he knows he shouldn't, but he fucks himself on Hadrian's mouth and then he's so close, rolling and slipping and falling over the edge of his orgasm— Oh, no, he can't. He can't. And then he does and he comes in Hadrian's mouth. The mouth of the Roman emperor.

Hadrian has a look on his face that Antinous hasn't ever seen before and he spits on the ground and Antinous is afraid. Hadrian pushes Antinous down onto the bed, and Antinous feels himself sinking into the blankets, eyes sliding shut. Hadrian is heavy on top of him, pressing a kiss to his jaw. Antinous' eyes flick open. Hadrian needs this. He fights the sleepy warmth that is spreading through his limbs. He nuzzles against Hadrian's cheek, and Hadrian catches his lips in a quick kiss. Antinous can feel Hadrian's erection against his leg and he knows that he's soft and, no, he has to fix this.

"Stop worrying," Hadrian says. Hadrian parts Antinous' lips, tipping his chin down, and presses their lips together. He runs his tongue along Antinous' palate. Antinous curls a leg around Hadrian's waist and pulls him down until their hips touch. Hadrian gives a little moan. He fumbles with the bottle of oil and seems to only be getting it on his fingers, which is just as well because Antinous is hardly hard again.

Hadrian sits up, and Antinous makes a little low noise in the back of his throat, suddenly feeling very cold. He kneels and pulls Antinous up to sit on his lap. Antinous wraps his arms around Hadrian's neck, and Hadrian smiles at him, secretive but happy. He presses a finger into Antinous' ass again, stroking slowly. Antinous groans into Hadrian's ear. Hadrian adds a second finger. There is a slight stretch to it, a burn. It's been too long. He thrusts down onto Hadrian's fingers, willing himself to want it. Oh, please, oh, please, and Antinous licks at Hadrian's ear, sucking on his earlobe. He slips a hand between them and strokes himself quickly, still half hard, swirling his tongue in Hadrian's ear. He feels Hadrian's fingers still and then his large hand joins Antinous' thin one. Their hands move together, and Antinous feels almost desperate, and Hadrian whispers into his ear, "I want to make love to you."

And, now, Antinous thinks that maybe, yes, they can. He presses his mouth to Hadrian's ear and whispers, "Please."

Hadrian lowers him down onto the bed. Antinous can smell the tang of olive oil. He wraps his legs around Hadrian's waist. "Relax," Hadrian says pointedly. Antinous tries, he really does. He can feel fingers spreading him and then—

He hisses when Hadrian thrusts in. He has forgotten that Hadrian is not gentle, never gentle, once Antinous lets his guard down and it burns, and he digs his fingers into the blankets. Hadrian pries the fingers of one of his hands away and kisses them and sets them back down on the blanket. Antinous stares up at him, gritting his teeth and pretending to enjoy himself, and doesn't realize what he must look like until Hadrian pulls out.

"No—" Antinous wants to hit something. This should be so easy. They've fucked so many times before. Antinous used to be so good at this.

"I was hurting you."

"It always hurts a little."

"That was not a little."

"It's fine, really. I can take it—"

"If you would just relax—"

"I was—"

"Antinous."

He cringes on the bed.

"I'm not angry with you. Don't argue."

Antinous turns his face away. "I'm sorry."

Hadrian leans over him and whispers into his ear, "You little liar." He thrusts into Antinous almost unexpectedly, but Antinous knows him too well. Antinous tightens around him once he's in, holding him there, keeping him. Hadrian gives a little groan by Antinous' ear, and Antinous knows that he has managed to surprise him. This is why Antinous is his favorite boy. They move together on the bed, and Antinous forgets that there is pain underneath the pleasure of it, Hadrian deep inside him. His thrusts are quick and hard and accompanied by little gasps from pleasure and effort. Antinous strokes his cheek and kisses him, messy and wet and often interrupted.

"Antinous, I'm going to—"

"No, please, make me come again first." He pets Hadrian's hair. "Please, darling." Antinous mouths at his jaw and whimpers softly, needily. Hadrian sits up, pulling Antinous up onto his lap again. Antinous shifts, so that he is kneeling as well. He rides Hadrian quickly, Hadrian's hand stroking Antinous' cock out of rhythm with Antinous' rough thrusts. Hadrian's breathing is ragged, and Antinous' groans are increasingly sharp and loud. Hadrian flicks his thumb across the head of Antinous' cock, and Antinous lets out a keening moan. He leans back just a little, lifting himself up and then, as he comes back down, brushing across the spot he's been looking for. He lets out a shout that he tries to stifle.

Hadrian says, "But I like you loud," and Antinous groans into Hadrian's hair, burying his face in it, riding him hard and fast and desperate. They are louder than usual, not bothering to keep quiet and disguise what they're doing. He does not think to feel badly for the guard on duty until later.

And then Hadrian says his name in a sharp strange voice and Antinous knows that it is all over and he tightens his muscles around Hadrian's cock and moans long and low against his lips as he kisses him frantically, not caring that Hadrian is too lost to kiss him back, and Hadrian whispers his name again and says the words that Antinous has been waiting to hear and Antinous wraps his arms around Hadrian's neck and holds on, so that he can stay upright.

Hadrian laughs at him afterwards, wiping the mess off their stomachs in spite of Antinous' offer to do it. Antinous is sleepy and happy and warmed and he only wants to stay, but when Hadrian shows signs of wanting to go to bed, Antinous gets up and begins his apologies and makes for the door.

"No," Hadrian says, catching Antinous' hand. "Stay." And he does.