The light from the single lamp on Phaedo's desk was nearly too little for writing, by the time the oil ran dry. It was well enough; a good hand does not survive bad light, and there would be time enough tomorrow.
The streets had not been pleasant in the days right after the overthrow of the Four Hundred, and Phaedo had stayed in Kriton's library as long as the oil would burn for two weeks now. Sokrates' company could perhaps free him from political concerns, as it always had; but perhaps again not. Phaedo's mind could not quite, in the days after blood ran in the streets, reach to abstracts. Phaedo had not lifted a hand in the coup or the revolution that undid it, but he still felt at such times superstitious, like the shadow of a death of a city clung about him. Sokrates would have welcomed him anyway, but he would go when he was again worthy of philosophy.
Going out of Kriton's home, he met Plato.
"I came to find you," Plato said, and let him be silent as they walked without aim toward the high city.
Phaedo sat on a bench outside an empty shop, and Plato sat beside him. "What news?"
"From Ionia, good. From Euboea, still greatest evil. They will recall Alkibiades, I think."
"And at home," Phaedo said. "Not good, but perhaps--"
"I will judge it better, if you will walk the city with your friends again."
Plato did not say He is gone; his easy nobility of spirit would not allow a subject so likely to fall to dispute. It would have been intended as a reassurance, but perhaps even Plato could not have schooled his reactions such that nothing else would show.
Kritias was gone, and perhaps Phaedo, in accepting Plato's quiet friendship and the reassurances he was too polite to say aloud, was failing in his own right to offer something in return. Personal enmity may drown out empathy; but Plato had lost perhaps more then Phaedo had gained in the revolution.
Euthydemos had said on Phaedo's fourth day avoiding the company of Sokrates, "He asks after you, and looks around at the moments you should have spoken," and it had not been Sokrates he meant.
"I don't suppose they're still conversing?" Phaedo asked. "I had a question about the virtue of moderation."
"We'll find them tomorrow, then," Plato said, with a nod that may have been thanks. "But I meant to ask you; will Kriton keep you on long?"
"He would keep me, but he will not have much need of me."
Plato nodded. He spoke easily and calmly, without the long pauses of one who is not used to choosing his words carefully.
"There was a youth today who came to Sokrates and asked about mathematics."
"And did Sokrates ask about the means whereby mathematicians derive truth?"
"He did, and the boy stayed to answer. But his father wishes him to learn mathematics, and he can pay."
Phaedo reached down to wipe the excess ink from his fingers on a pebble in the dust, so as to not show his face. Ideas never before entertained will make a ready mind give a leap like a horse from the starting line; that feeling was common in Plato's company. But he could not let this longing show on his face, the way he could let delight in a new logical demonstration show without fear.
It was a thing to play with, in his mind, the way his fingers played over the rough places on the rock. Teaching. Would it be possible? Most of the world did not operate on the meritocracy of minds that held around Sokrates; but then, the youths he taught would by now be too young to know his past occupation, and Plato's word would go far in some circles.
"It would be a grief to teach numbers without logic," he said, to cover the constriction in his breast.
"The teacher will teach what he pleases, so long as the fathers are satisfied," Plato said. "And Sokrates convinced you once that to learn to so much as throw a pot on a wheel was to do philosophy. And your hands are as clean as they'll be without water."
That last startled a laugh from Phaedo. He dropped his stone and sat back. "I cannot fault your memory or your observation," he said as he held his right hand before them, staring ruefully at the ink around his cuticles. "Perhaps if I return to our friends I will meet this youth."
"Perhaps you will; and perhaps others like him."
"Would I be correct to think many of those meetings would not be by chance?" Phaedo asked, and heard as he said it his voice become hard, ready to turn the barbs of charity or pity.
Plato looked straight ahead, perfectly composed as with a stranger, and opened his mouth to speak.
He comes in friendship, open-handed, and if I ask he will tell me his respect for my mind, to explain himself; I am not so desperate for the compliment that I will rebuff his kindness.
"And if they were not, I would be glad my friends had spoken for me," Phaedo said, and felt his armor slide away.
He prepared to stand, and laid his hand on Plato's shoulder.
At the touch, the corded muscles under his hand tightened a fraction. Plato did not flinch away or move closer, but looked over at him deliberately, with a little surprise and something of worry and something of joy on his face. "Friend," he said, still grave and polite, "I don't know--"
Phaedo pulled his hand from that broad shoulder as though from a live coal. "Never fear," he said, acid. "I am not looking for a lover."
"I know that to be found in a dark closet does not lessen the worth of an urn," Plato said, with as much hurt and reproof in his voice as Phaedo had ever heard him allow.
The reproof was well deserved. "But a jar that has held unclean oil might choose to stand empty, for a time," he said.
Plato regarded him for a long moment. What he found there must have soothed him, for the joy returned to his face. "I love you as bronze loves the polishing cloth, Phaedo, but in these past days I met someone."
"Euthydemos had heard so, but he put it down to gossip," Phaedo said.
"No more than gossip now, and perhaps for some time to come," Plato said, but he fixed a far-seeing stare down the darkened street, as though he were glimpsing beauty far greater than the fluted columns.
"When do I meet the dazzling youth who can turn you so quickly again from philosophy?" Phaedo felt no jealousy, but Plato's absence from Socrates' group so soon after he had discovered it would be cause for mourning indeed.
"Not away from; he concentrates my mind on all that is beautiful and good." Plato moved suddenly, as though rousing himself from reverie, and tore his gaze from his invisible target. As their eyes met again, Phaedo felt warmed in reflected joy. "But he will dance tomorrow, if you wish to see."
"It seems I have much to look forward to tomorrow," Phaedo said, and stood at last.
He turned and reached his hand down to Plato, quickly, while he was thinking of it and before he could fall to the habits of his body. Plato grasped his forearm, strong and sure, and allowed himself to be drawn to his feet.
It was dark as they left, but they walked close by the walls and their way was lit by the torches of the guards. As they walked they spoke of perception, in the eye and in the mind, and the nature of images, and the exact distance between the thing and the thing perceived, until at last they reached the turning where they must part.
Phaedo stopped abruptly, mid-sentence. The cultivation of habit is an important task, and perhaps the only way to eventually become what one has tried to seem; and so he laid his hand again, lightly, on Plato's arm. "Tomorrow with Sokrates, then," he said. "We must go over this ground again, to be sure we plowed our furrows straight."
Plato nodded gravely, and turned the corner to his home, and disappeared; and Phaedo turned as well, back to the home of Kriton, with a lightness in his step.