You love it, don’t you?
Romano tipped his head back, giving a satisfied smirk as Antonio slumped against his chest. Antonio covered Romano’s sternum with hasty kisses, Romano’s name still tumbling from his mouth in short gasps. Romano wound his fingers through Antonio’s hair, kneading his scalp until his breathing was steady, and he buried his face at the juncture of Romano’s neck and shoulder.
He tightened his grip in Antonio’s hair, yanking his head up. Antonio gave a small gasp of pain, grinning, eyes shut in anticipation. Romano tilted his head and kissed him, loosening his grasp on Antonio’s hair so it wouldn’t hurt but not enough that he would pull away. Romano kept his lips on Antonio’s until Antonio couldn’t breathe and broke the kiss to gather his breath, settling on Romano’s lap. He gasped, sliding his hands up over his face and hair, dampened with summer sweat. Romano looked up through his lashes at Antonio, nonchalantly dragging his tongue along the tendril of Antonio’s cum winding around his inside of his wrist.
…knowing they’re desperate for you.
Antonio’s breathing returned to normal, and he continued staring at Romano. The copper shadows settled in the ridges of hard muscle on his torso, his waist, his thighs. Romano sat up, brushing the sides of Antonio’s thighs with the lazy evening in his eyes and movement of his palms. Antonio closed his eyes, enjoying Romano’s touch, sipping on the lingering euphoria until he was drunk off it.
“Do you feel better now?” Romano asked.
“Yes,” Antonio murmured, opening his eyes.
“Good.” Romano replied, taking Antonio’s hand to graze the hollow of his palm with his lips, then the spot beneath it where his veins showed. Antonio’s arm twisted and he giggled. He was the most ticklish person Romano knew, besides perhaps himself, but that was a secret he would guard with his life. “I’m sorry,” Romano said, smiling against his wrist. “I know you’re sensitive there.” Romano let go of his arm.
“I don’t mind.” Antonio smiled. “I haven’t laughed much the past month.” Antonio sighed, rubbing his temples.
“Right. Well, it’ll all be over soon, when you’re our new consul.” Romano said.
“Unless it’s your father.” Antonio said with a teasing grin. Romano didn’t smile.
“You’ve got a meeting tonight, don’t you?” Antonio puffed his cheeks out and exhaled with a nod, swinging himself off Romano and hurrying to clean himself off and get dressed. Romano rolled onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow and watching Antonio put his tunica on and touch his flushed face, wondering when the blush would fade.
He spun around and grinned at Romano, hopping to stay on one foot as he pulled his sandals on. “Thanks for the reminder. I would have forgotten without you.” Antonio said, finishing with his shoes and turning to leave. Romano had a dull tug of disappointment whenever Antonio left, and it felt worse today, a barbed hook underneath his ribs.
“Don’t I get a kiss goodbye?” Romano teased, sitting up and crossing his legs, leaning against the wall. Antonio dropped onto his knees, kissing Romano’s ankle and looking up at him with an adoration that made something flicker like licking flames in the back of his brain.
“I’ll see you next week?” Antonio added.
“Sure.” Romano said. “But be careful, unless you want people gossiping about how you often you come down to the lupunar. They’ll start muttering about your virtue,” he said, bouncing his ankle. Antonio kissed it again with a smile.
“No one knows I go here at all. It’s our little secret.” He leaned on Romano’s knee, still smiling at him with his distant reverence. Romano ran a hand over his hair, and Antonio closed his eyes, enjoying the attention.
“I love secrets.” Romano murmured, kissing the tip of Antonio’s ear. “Now go, before you miss your meeting.” He said. Antonio nodded, standing up to leave. Romano listened to his retreating footsteps and drew a heavy sigh, an out-of-place loneliness settling in as Antonio left.
Once he had disappeared from view, Romano got up, cleaned himself off, and dressed. He sank his hands into one of his pockets, a handful of denarios greeting his searching fingers. Guilt picked at him for accepting so much money from Antonio. Romano shook his head. He deserved money for his services; he didn’t work for free.
Then again, being with Antonio had never seemed like work.
Romano ran up the steps to see if Helen was there. They weren’t really friends, but Romano knew she appreciated some company at the end of a tiring day which she often spent lounging around in the small room upstairs. The brothel keeper complained of her laziness, though Romano suspected the reason for her lethargy was because she simply didn’t have enough energy to deal with the world anymore.
A freedwoman from Greece, Helen had started working at the brothel, she had been hoping to gain the funds to sail home to Athens. She had been there two years and still couldn’t afford the trip.
The upper floor of the lupunar was far worse than the downstairs where they met with clients, since only the prostitutes ever spent time on that floor. Helen laid on the couch beneath the arrow-slit windows after long days, waiting for the silent rapport of Romano getting his shoes. He asked her if she was all right despite her not wanting to ask and knowing she didn’t want to answer.
She was there today, lazing in the sun. She might have even seemed a little happy. Maybe she was dreaming of her city by the sea. Perhaps that was why she didn’t bother opening her eyes at first until Romano sat on the edge of the couch to put on his sandals. She cracked an eye open.
“You look proud of yourself,” she mumbled, rolling on her back.
“I saw my favorite client just now.” He said, leaning into the sunspot on the wall. Helen raised her eyebrows, and Romano allowed the smallest of smirks to slip onto his lips. “The son of a general from Hispania. The rising consul.” Romano added with a further smirk. Helen frowned, watching Romano take what she suspected to be a luxurious celebratory stretch. “He loves me.” Romano went on, shaking the remaining tension out of his shoulders.
“Everybody here loves you.” Helen said. She settled her hands over her stomach and turned back towards the sun, as if to signal an end of the discussion, but Romano scoffed.
“Yes, but that’s old men who can barely get it up. Antonio’s not quite the same. He’s so much more fun.” Romano added. Antonio had been his favorite for a long, long time. He was younger, leagues more attractive, far more giving, and gentler than everyone else. He listened when Romano wanted to talk, though Romano would never try to start up a conversation any other client but Antonio.
“I don’t understand how you enjoy this.” Helen murmured, her voice tired. Romano thought of her desperation to go home to Athens and decided he should shut his mouth. He finished with his sandals and leapt off the couch, stopping up short when he heard Helen speak. “You don’t find it strange?”
“What?” Romano asked.
“Antonio always coming to see you. It’s not as if he can’t afford the better brothels in the city.” Helen said.
“You just said so, didn’t you? I’m very popular.” Romano insisted. “Are you leaving?” Romano added. Helen nodded, pushing herself upright. They walked out into the fading sun together, parting ways a few blocks from the brothel. He counted the denarios Antonio had slipped him again, a little extra the brothel keeper wouldn’t touch. Romano smiled at the golden sky.
Seeing Antonio always made him breathe easier.
Romano lived alone, but he gave the overflow of money to his family, so he ventured to his family’s house first.
He had told them he was an architect working downtown on new baths. None of them disbelieved him, and if he came home sweaty and red-faced, he’d explain it away with a story about strenuous stone cutting had been that day. When he got hickies on his shoulders or some other inconvenient place, he would explain them as bruises from work. He didn’t know if they questioned that or not, but they at least never did to his face.
Romano opted to stay for dinner, because as of recently he rarely visited. Dinner wasn’t ready yet, so Romano went into his old bedroom. It was so small he could stand in the center with his arms out and touch either wall.
He flopped down on his bed and pulled the denarios out of his pocket again, turning them over in the dull light. He thought of the way the sunset had lit up Antonio’s tanned skin and made his eyes look like green onyx.
Romano rolled onto his back and gave a long sigh. “You’ve really gotten to my head, haven’t you?” He muttered. He closed his fingers around the coins and shut his eyes. “I wonder if I’ve gotten to yours.”