I. The Bath House
This was a mistake.
This was a terrible mistake.
The opulence alone was already far too overwhelming. The glassy white marble of the building slashed with natural flecks of grey and black, and thankfully covered to a degree with mosaics and frescos, were still a blinding reminder of how out of place Keith felt. His senses were overloaded by richly decorated surroundings of immaculately carved Corinthian pillars, perfectly intricate statues of deities and demi-gods. His lungs were filled with the thick mixtures of natural minerals from the flowing spring waters and the countless flavors of oils and soaps that wafted throughout each hall and chamber. He could hear the constant trickling of water as it dripped, flowed, and poured. It mingled with the low clamor of chatter and human interaction. It was that, in particular, Keith had trouble dismissing. The bathhouse was so much more active and attended than he had anticipated it to be.
Shiro had convinced him to make the visit. It’s a good experience. The building alone is beautiful enough to warrant a look. But the baths are incredibly relaxing and so refreshing. Keith scoffed to himself. This was way more interaction than he had hoped to deal with. Funny how Shiro managed to leave that particular detail out. Much to Keith’s dismay, he was already there, so he would at least attempt to make the best of it. If he kept his head low and stayed mostly to himself, perhaps it could actually be a decently pleasant excursion.
After spending a little while to gather his bearings and figure out the basic inner workings of the place, Keith managed to spend a lengthy soak all to himself in the caldarium. The hot waters helped to sooth the aches in his muscles and wash away the soreness left in him after his day of training. He nestled himself in a corner of the pool and was left largely undisturbed. Though, he did catch a whisper or two, along with several glances in his direction. He was at least accustomed to ignoring those by now.
He soaked fairly in peace, feeling every bit of tension melt away in the steaming waters. He shifted, careful of the solitary strip of cloth wrapped around his waist, easing lower into the pool. He felt his upper back and shoulders lax as he breathed a deep sigh. That was what he sought there. Swinging his sword again after months of nothing but recovery and healing wrenched at the tendons and joints that had forgotten what ‘work’ felt like. It was a recollection he was happy to do without, even as he knew it would be a familiar visitor until he was back into his peak performance again. Thanks to the caldarium, however, today, they would soon become but a simple memory once again.
After what was actually a lengthy bit of time, Keith removed himself from the mineral-colored waters. True, his skin was starting to prune and feel a bit over steeped, but his departure mostly stemmed from his growing discomfort to the rising number of on-lookers and whispers that began to fill the area around him. All he wished was a simple moment’s peace to tend to his weary bones. It was probably best he moved on from his spot.
Tradition would see it that his following step would be to the tepidarium to slowly bring his body temperature down from the cooked heat it trapped throughout his stewing. However, Keith felt that he had spent enough time in water and would simply allow the warmth to dissipate on it’s own. All he had to do was find a himself a new nook to nest in until he was ready to dress himself and leave.
There were countless options of rooms and chambers to choose from. However, he found them all rather raucous for his current mood. Though, he did help himself to a handful of green grapes that sat invitingly in a decorated bowl in a room he passed by. It was part of a rather lush feast spread in the center of the room. Perhaps it was a bit audacious of him to invite himself to the tables, but no one would miss a small handful of grapes. The gathered throng seemed more occupied with their celebration to truly care about his unsolicited presence at any rate.
Finally, he found a room that he deemed acceptable to his cool down. It was not lacking in occupants, but the crowd was well spread in the large chamber. The chatter seemed minimal and contained to hushed tones. The most enticing element was where his eyes fell. There was a perfectly empty nook before a large floor-to-ceiling window toward the center of a side wall. Perfect. It was a place to sit and rest as he reacclimated and the sun against his back would help continue to ease the aches. He tightened the wrapped cloth around his waist and silently made for his perch to finish the light snack in his hand.
“Oh, but you must sit with me for a while.”
Handsomely thin lips slid into a light smile at the insistence.
“How rare an occasion it is I am given the chance to see you, let alone a moment to actually speak with you.”
Lashes flittered in a blink as sapphire eyes looked anywhere but the present company.
“Come, Lance, would you truly deny a friend of your company and the chance to share the beauty of your mind?”
Lance’s smile brightened. Oh, if only my mind was what you truly wished to partake of.
“Kind Pericles, I would never deny you what is deserved.” Lance bowed his head kindly, finally turning to the man that had a gentle hold of his arm. “But, I apologize, I am otherwise engaged.”
“You have been alone for some time now.” Pericles tutted, “If you’re waiting for others, wait in my company. I promise to relinquish you upon their arrival.”
Lance could no longer find an excuse to break away from the elder man – though only by a small handful of years. His escapes had been closed off and his excuses were exhausted, all the best ones he had he already used in prior encounters with Pericles.
“Now Pericles,” Lance spoke in a playfully scolding tone, “One should not make promises without the absolute intention of keeping them.”
“When have I not kept any promise to you, my lovely boy?”
Lance grit his teeth in a feigned smile as he was led on. He should have stayed home today, he thought. He should have gone, perhaps, to the forum instead, or the markets to browse new trades. No, the bathhouse sounded pleasant. The bathhouse would be a nice catharsis for the day. When you know where the wolves hunt, it’s an errant fool that plays at their door. He sighed as he scolded himself mentally, taking a seat on a granite chaise next to Pericles after he patted the space at his side.
"How shall we philosophize today, gentle man?” Lance asked, rather generally, keeping his arms and hands close to himself as he crossed a leg tightly, “I’ve heard you have been expressing interest in out-trading.”
Lance’s attire was simple. He wore a delicately woven cotton fabric, edges embellished in a subtle color with intricate Grecian patterns. It was simply draped over his left shoulder. The ends of the cloth brushed just at the middle of his soft caramel thigh, and he had it loosely secured closed with a thin corded sash. His accessories were minimal since it was usually a hassle to remove them all when he would decide to slip into the pools. He only donned his bracers and a single hair-thin chain around his neck. The array of earrings hardly ever changed. Though, he had decided to throw on a gold anklet just for fun that particular day.
Pericles shifted closer, and Lance could feel his leg press up against his hip. The man slipped his hand around Lance’s waist and pulled at the knot in his sash.
“True. There is always opportunity for new trades and new trades are good for business.” Pericles answered, his less busied hand leading it’s fingers down Lance’s bare arm. “But I don’t wish to bore you with business philosophies, angelic youth.” Lance felt the sash fall onto his lap and the cloth he wore slacked, further exposing his chest, stomach, and thigh; skin simply bare and glistening in the steam that filled the room. Lance smirked, turning his head away as Pericles began to brush his lips against his ear, “I would rather this be a much more enjoyable visit between us.”
Lance’s bored eyes wandered up from the floor and then suddenly lit up. He turned to face Pericles and ran a lithe finger down the side of his face that elicited a rather pleased smile from his aggressive suitor.
“While you present me with a rather enticing offer, Pericles,” Lance tapped his nose lightly, “A promise is a promise, and my previous engagement has just arrived.”
Lance moved to stand, gravity taking hold of the ends of his cloth, draping it perfectly over the front of him, but leaving his entire left side bare. He smirked to himself feeling Pericles’ eyes all over him as he left him to his own on the stone chaise.
Keith was starting to think he might be able to try working a visit to the bathhouse into his weekly routine. Once he figured out how to work the crowd and avoid them entirely, it, honestly, wasn’t all that bad. The spot he managed to find in respite was actually pretty peaceful. He picked up a foot to rest on his perch and leaned his back against one side of his alcove. He sighed away the tensions that were left and popped a grape into his mouth.
As he chewed, he let his eye drift toward the room only to immediately fall on a figure as it stood. The movement alone only idly grasped his attention. When he realized he knew the face, it held. It was only when sharp sapphire locked onto his vigilant violet did he feel his pulse quicken. His eyes widened when he soon figured out that he was heading directly to him. Keith swallowed the grape clumsily and nearly choked on the remaining sugary juice in his mouth. He had to sit up and cough to clear his windpipe. He beat his chest with a light fist to help it and when he finally looked up, he lost any chance of escape.
He was trapped, physically and mentally. The subject of his anxiety was a mere few feet away. He had Keith captive, this creature that even Narcissus, himself, would lift his gaze to see. There was a small group of steps between the two of them and Keith watched him ascend with such grace, it could make even the great Hera weep. Keith couldn’t help but notice the sway of cloth so arbitrarily draped over his shoulder, doing so little in covering, yet still making a world of difference. Bodies were in no short supply in the whole of the country, whether in the arena or in this blasted bathhouse. But his was simply living art. Aphrodite must have had endless amounts of pride in this masterpiece. Keith was certain he was hardly the only one to wonder why the goddess had let this one leave her side. Instead, this walking sculpture, this Galatea of men, stood hardly a foot away from him, the weight of his body shifted to one side as his hand rested on a slim and naked hip.
Keith swallowed a wet breath, his lips wordlessly parted as his eyes crawled up to the face of his visitor. Caramel skin glistened flawlessly still – if not more so in the hazy atmosphere. His slender frame was filled out with lissome, but easily defined muscle. His long, graceful neck was decorated by that single gold chain that complimented the darkness of his flesh. His face was perfectly framed and held delicate features that somehow balanced the masculine confidence he was known for throughout the city-state as well as greater parts of Greece itself. The focus of those gems of sapphire and starlight on Keith caused him to swallow again.
“…Can I… help you?” He praised the whole of Olympus the question came out somewhat dignified. He could only hope that it read the same way on his face.
“Funny you should ask!” Lance answered smoothly. Suddenly there was a pleading smile on his slender lips.
Shit… What living creature could resist that?
“I need you to do me a massive favor and just play along.” His voice had lowered to a tone that only the two of them shared. “I need a hand in shaking a little unsolicited attention…”
“O…kay. Sure.” Keith had no time to change his mind or even regret his agreement.
Before he could ask what he would need to do, Lance leaned in, grabbed him by either side of his face, and planted his lips right over Keith’s. He froze. Lance pulled back and pouted slightly.
“Come on. You have to be convincing.”
“What in fucking Hades are you doing?!” Keith whispered hoarsely, still tense, his eyes focused tersely on Lance’s face – acutely wary of his every move.
Lance shifted his hands away from Keith’s face and rested them on either side of his seat, leaning in further to whisper.
“The one on the bench that I walked away from…” he described, “With the blonde hair.”
Keith glanced over Lance’s soft shoulder slyly, every bit aware of its silky touch on his lips while Lance feigned kisses on his neck. Sometimes. Other moments were genuine brushes and presses and Keith fought to keep his attention straight.
“The guy that hasn’t stopped glaring this way or probably even blinked yet?”
“If I don’t seem to have a legitimate reason to walk away from him, I won’t get a second chance…” Lance nuzzled and brushed his lips at Keith’s ear pleadingly.
Keith studied the man who sat, fixated on their interaction. He looked the type to not let go of something he deeply desired – which would naturally spell bad news for someone that didn’t want to be had.
This was such a terrible mistake.
“…Fine.” Keith conceded, “What do I have to do?”
“Thanks, Hero.” Lance kissed his cheek, “Only a few small kisses. Nothing salacious.”
Lance looked at him with a curious pause.
“Unless you want to…”
“No!” Keith retorted immediately, face beginning to flush red, “And are you crazy? Here?”
Lance gave him an incredulous blink, “Where do you think you are? This is kind of where ‘salacious’ happens.”
Keith felt his heart lodge into his throat and his eyes began to pan slowly across the broad room. He was greeted by visions of people in intimate corners, quiet conversations, and countless carnal activities. Men and women alike seemed to have paired off to engage one another in pleasures of the flesh and Keith suddenly realized why this particular chamber had been far less occupied than the rest. This was a room of Eros. This was a room Keith would be avoiding for the rest of his mortal days.
His eyes shut tight and he groaned, scarred by visions he wished he never saw. “Oh, Great Zeus…”
He heard Lance laugh softly and looked at him with a slight scowl. “Your indignant innocence is precious.”
“Keep it up.” Keith growled lowly, “I just might let him have you.”
Lance smiled brightly, and Keith knew he never would.
“Put your arm around me.” Lance instructed as he shifted to take a seat next to him. “Never mind everyone else.”
As Lance took his place, Keith did as told, slipping his arm around his waist, his fingers and thumb brushing over the bare silk of Lance's hip. He felt the weight of Lance against him and he was uncomfortable. He watched Lance's calm expression as he slid in close, afraid to look anywhere else and see everything he felt. Lance draped an arm around his shoulders and reached for the last grape in Keith's hand, crossing a leg over the other.
Lance gave a pointed look to Pericles, still sitting alone on the cold stone seat where he left him, and bit half the fruit, smiling lightly as he ate. Keith couldn't help but look over to Pericles, watching as his brows knitted tightly, until Lance grabbed his attention by his chin and fed him the other half. He was toying with the man. Keith furrowed his brows.
“If you're trying to start a fight, I'm done with your game.” He warned between chewing.
Lance sighed reaching for Keith's face as he held his close, “I promise, I'm not. Pericles is harmless, but he deserves to know that his grasping control only extends so far.”
Keith grimaced. Rumors and hearsay spoke of Lance being of a type to dance at cliff edges. It was enlightening to experience that personality first hand, and yet, he was hardly surprised as well.
Lance smiled again at the face he made before pressing his lips against Keith's again. This time, Keith was prepared. He pressed back slightly, softly. Chaste.
Lance pulled away again, amused. “Never kissed anyone before?”
Keith flushed with a scowl, “You want an out or what?”
Lance smirked, letting Keith play it off. “Fine. Convince me then.”
“I thought he was the one we were convincing.” He motioned toward Pericles with a subtle tilt of his head.
“If I'm convinced, he will be.”
Keith sighed deeply, attempting to squash his nerves before Lance could pick at that too. He reached for Lance's face gently and kissed him with parted lips. Lance answered as just as coyly before edging in encouragement toward much more fervent kisses. Keith worked diligently to oblige, matching the openness and pressures of Lance's lips. He must have been doing well enough to earn what sounded like a pleased hum from his partner.
It was motivating to Keith and he found himself feeling rather please with his intimate success. Bolstered by it enough he hardly flinched at the feel of Lance slipping his tongue into his mouth. (Though, at that point, he was lost at how to respond.) Lance took the lead, leaning in and gradually heightening the pace. Keith could feel his skin begin to tingle and grow warmer, falling dangerously into the quiet whispers of Eros. He felt the delicate glide of Lance's hand move between his knees and up the inside of his leg. There, he broke away.
“Nothing salacious.” He reminded.
Lance gave a breathy apology, “Turns out, you're pretty persuasive.”
Keith smirked with a light shake of his head. “Time to go.”
Lance blinked, his wits gathering as Keith took his hand and stood. He followed suit, waving idly at Pericles as Keith led him out, fingers woven together.
Pericles sighed heavily as he watched the pair exit. He motioned for a servant. “Fetch my consort. She has work to do.”
The servant nodded curtly and immediately left to carry out his command.
They dressed in silence. Keith made sure to never let his eyes wander away from his shelf of belongings as he did. Lance, however, did himself no such favors. But he was at least kind enough to make them very subtle and discreet glances. When they were through, they exited together. Lance stretched his arms upward as they stood outside the doors with a giant breath.
“Well, that was a nice, refreshing visit. Don't you think so?” He grinned as he rested his hands on his hips in a strong stance. “Same time tomorrow?”
“Not a chance.” Keith shook his head, arms crossed tightly over his chest and plain chiton, “I'm never coming back to this place again.”
Lance chuckled. “Thanks for the rescue. I would expect no less from the Red Lion.”
Keith scoffed. “Try and keep yourself out of trouble. You got lucky I was there this time.”
Keith started down the steps on his own after that without a word more or even a backward glance. Lance watched him as he left with a curious look before smiling to himself.
“Don't worry…” he mumbled softly, “I don’t think I’ve run out of that luck just yet.”