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Poetry Slam

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Jedediah hated to admit it, but there were times when courting a Roman general had its drawbacks. Not often, but there were times.

This was one of those times.

Most of the museum would be downstairs in the foyer, he thought wistfully, playing games and dancing the night away. And on any other night, he and Octavius would be cruising the corridors in their car, trailing the bone for Rexy.

Except tonight, the Romans, with all their strange obsession with being civilised, had decided to hold some sort of fancy do in their diorama, and of course, Octavius, being their leader, was the guest of honour. And as leader of the Wild West and Octavius’ “special friend”, Jedediah had also been invited. So he couldn’t really say no, now could he?

And that was how he’d ended up bored out his skull, sitting next to Octavius at a goddamn poetry-reading.

He’d tried to hide his horror, especially seeing how fired up for it Octavius and the rest of the Romans were. And hey, he liked a sing-song around the campfire as much as the next cowboy. But the moment that fancy-mouthed bedsheet-wearer had stood up in front of them all and started spouting off about sparrows and napkins and kisses, he felt his eyes roll into the back of his head and his head begin to nod. From time to time, he was vaguely aware of Octavius’ elbow digging into his side, but on the whole, he managed to do a fine job of blocking everything else out.

At least, until he realised that the poetry had stopped clogging his ears, and that the voice he could hear now was Octavius’.

“Huh?” He looked up, blinking. “Whaddya say, partner?”

“I said it is over. We can leave now.” Octavius was already standing, looking faintly amused. “Come.”

Sure enough, the poet had disappeared and the audience were dispersing. Octavius was taking off, and Jed followed.

“Y’know somethin’, partner,” he said, falling into step alongside him, “I think I liked you Romans better when I thought y’all were just about conquerin’ the world and standin’ in straight lines. Is that how you beat yer enemies into submission after the battles? You get Cat-what’s-it to read ’em poetry till they break down?”

“His name is Catullus,” replied Octavius, refusing to take the bait, “and his work is some of the finest ever written in its meter.”

“Guess I’m just too much of a barbarian to appreciate it,” said Jed with a grin.

“Quite.” Octavius smiled back. “He did recite some of his - ah - earthier pieces, which would have no doubt appealed to you, but you were asleep by then.”

“Well, can you blame me? All that talk about livin’ and lovin’... how namby-pamby can you get?”

Octavius raised an eyebrow. “I thought it a very fine sentiment.”

Jed grinned wider, unable to resist yanking the chain a bit more. “And ‘night is one everlasting sleep’? What was that all about, huh? Kinda missing the whole point of this here place, if ya ask me. For a poet, he ain’t very observant.”

Octavius opened his mouth to reply, then gave up and shook his head. “I see you have much to learn about the art of poetry, my friend.”

“Aw, c’mon, you call that poetry?” Jed exclaimed. Waving his hands dramatically, he quoted, “‘Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then another hundred, then another thousand...’ That ain’t poetry, Octavius! Hell, I coulda written that!”

“Mm.” Octavius nodded gravely, then smirked. “But you didn’t. Mind you, I’ve heard the sort of songs your people sing, filled with young women being murdered, interminable horse races, and inept bandits languishing in prison.”

“Yeah. Well. Them’s real things, that ordinary folks can relate to. Not like all them hundreds and thousands of kisses. That ain’t practical. Couldn’t be managed.”

Octavius suddenly stopped walking, and he turned towards him, eyes dark. “Oh, Jedediah. That sounds suspiciously like a challenge.”

Jed stopped short, gaping. He saw Octavius smirk ever so slightly, then, next thing he knew, his back was against a column and Octavius had a hand pressed against his chest. Thank the Lord all the rest of the Romans had sauntered off, he thought, as the blood rushed to his face.

Octavius leaned in. He brushed a feather-light kiss against Jedediah’s lips, agonisingly slow, then moved his mouth to his ear and breathed, “That’s one.”

Cottoning on, Jed leaned his head back against the column. “Hey, now, partner. Don’t you even think about it...”

Octavius ignored him, and kissed his temple. “Two...”

Jedediah bit down on a groan, his resolve crumbling fast. But he was still stubborn enough to insist, “I’m tellin’ ya, Octavius. It can’t be done.”

Octavius just smiled, then pressed another kiss just beneath his jaw.

“Three...”