He knows whose bed he shares. He knows this is not right. And he tells himself he does not care, but the truth is that he does.
Gaius Valerius Cursor is not the richest man in the entire Republic, but his name would appear were the foremost twenty of them listed. He is his parents' only heir and on their death inherited their near-obscene wealth. As such, it was not surprising that he had the funds to hand that he might purchase his own gladiator - the surprise of the situation was that he wished to do so at all. Once that fact was reconciled, the only point of wonder that remained was simply the man that he chose: when he could have had any of them that he wished to have, he wished to have one past his best. After all, the man who Cursor's money purchased had not earned the name Felix for his cheerful disposition; he had earned the name for his luck in having lived so very long.
It was on that basis that Cursor argued down the fee that Felix's lanista asked: the aging dimachaerus had had his day already. This was his forty-sixth year and although his body was still strong when viewed relative to ordinary men, the truth was that his many years' experience now only barely compensated for the lingering effects of his old injuries, perhaps especially in the face of ever more youthful competitors. His two swords still thrilled spectators, but one day soon he would meet his match and the ludus would see no further profits from him. The shrewd decision would be to sell him, said Cursor, ever the businessman, and he was ready to pay. And so, the lanista agreed the sale.
No one in the ludus asked why he wished to buy a gladiator, either a new rising star or an old aging champion so close to the end of his usefulness, at least not to Cursor's impressive face. Felix asked the others in the ludus when he was told the news, but no one knew enough to tell him. The man had no sons or indeed any other person in his household who might have felt the benefit of an education with the sword, and Felix had no other worth. The prevailing wisdom was that he wished to make of him a bodyguard, though with Cursor's robust frame and his own renowned swordsmanship, it seemed he hardly needed one.
"You are wondering why I had you brought here," Cursor said, once the men of the ludus had delivered Felix into his domus and then left him there, one late summer afternoon. His new master was sitting on a low couch by the impluvium with an untouched cup of wine on a table at his elbow and accounts spread out beside his hip, and when he stood he was almost as tall and broad as Felix was himself.
"I am," Felix conceded. "I wonder why you wish to own a gladiator, and why you wished it to be me."
Cursor nodded as he studied him. "I will explain," he said. "Later." He raised one hand; two slaves, one female and one male, appeared as if from nowhere, dressed as finely as anyone at the ludus had done. "I have business to attend to. These two will attend to you."
Cursor took a moment to look at him, assessing and intent, and then he left. The slaves - one of which he was himself, of course - took him away to wash and change into fresh clothes. Whether they could not or would not tell him their masters' intentions was unclear, but they spoke barely a word as they showed him to his room. He did not understand at all.
Later, much later, past dark when the moon was high and the house was quiet, he understood. He woke as Cursor entered his room. In the doorway, Cursor removed his tunic and made his way, bare, up to the bed. There were far worse retirements for men in his profession, Felix thought as he turned back the sheet, than ending his days having sex with a rich man with a taste for gladiators.
"I first saw you fight when I was young," Cursor said, as he knelt astride Felix's thighs and oiled Felix's cock with one warm, steady hand. "My father took me to the games and I watched avidly."
He moved, inching forward, his knees spread wide astride Felix's hips. He was a large man, a strong man, muscular from his sporting pursuits, and his cheeks flushed as he pressed the tip of Felix's oiled cock against his hole.
"I have seen very nearly every match that you have fought since then. The thrill of it has never left me." He pushed down and Felix gripped at the bedposts as he felt Cursor's tight hole stretching to admit him. "I learned to fight so that I might emulate you. My earliest thought was that I wished to be you." He paused for a moment, letting his dark eyes close and his muscles pull taut as he caught his breath. "It was not until some years had passed that I understood I wished to have you."
He chuckled lowly. He opened his eyes. "This is why I wished it to be you," he said. And then he rocked his hips and made Felix groan beneath him. He believed understood, and he felt that it would not be an unpleasant life, to be so wanted.
Cursor's life bustles with activity from dawn till dusk each day, then later still. He tends his business with the foremen of his two vast countryside estates and he meets with politicians, performs the necessary social niceties, hosts gatherings in the evenings with fine food and fine wine and the very best of entertainment. He is a handsome man, respected, popular, and Felix watches sometimes from behind the columns in the peristylium, or he sits in the kitchens with the other slaves, to whose class he belongs and yet also doesn't. They know what will happen in his room once the guests all leave. The walls have ears. Nothing is private. Everyone there knows that he was purchased for his cock, that he might put it in their master.
Tonight, there is no party in the domus. Tonight, Gaius Valerius Cursor has sent someone for him, and he walks naked and barefoot through the halls to enter the master's room. Warm lamplight burnishes his tanned skin a deep burnt bronze and Cursor looks at him, hotly, from the bed.
Everyone there knows that he was purchased for his cock. What no one knows is what Cursor murmured to him, one night as the spring turned into summer, as rain drummed against the tiled roof overhead and splashed down to the impluvium. What no one knows is what he said as Felix fucked him, slow and deep, hot skin to skin.
"My father told me a secret before he died," he'd said, with his fingers twisted into Felix's short hair, with his muscled legs wrapped tight around his waist. "I am not his son by birth. He could not father children. And my mother longed for a child of her own." He pulled Felix down lower, his mouth just by his ear and the awkward angle be damned. "Rather than fuck the slaves in her own house, they paid for the services of another man. A gladiator." He hissed in a breath, the sound of it at once rich and harsh. "You are my father. You who I had watched for twenty years with a desire that has only ever grown."
Felix came inside him with those very words. And after, when he tried to think back twenty years to a woman who might have been Cursor's mother, there were more blurred patrons' faces in his memory than he could have counted. But he did not - he does not - disbelieve him. He sees himself in him, though he is more than he has ever been.
He knows whose bed he shares tonight. That man is Gaius Valerius Cursor. He is his son.
And perhaps he feels shame, but he knows that shame and pride he feels inside only makes him want it more.