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A Thousand Words

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It is rare indeed that Asterius finds any reason to question the king’s ideas, as unpredictable and inexplicable as they can sometimes be. After all, it was by mere whim that Asterius is allowed to reside in the divine pastures of Elysium. (Theseus swears it was all by a carefully constructed plan of his own brilliant design, but Asterius has a suspicion that it was a lucky coincidence that his king fell into Erebus and stumbled across him.) It’s really no bother; that Theseus is a being of pure impulse is one of his most charming traits, and he rarely steers Asterius wrong. There are whispers through Elysium that he is the son of Lord Poseidon himself, and Asterius is inclined to believe them: only a god would be so controlled by his whims, and only a god would have Theseus’ luck to not fall upon ill fortune because of it.

All of this is to say that when Theseus reveals his most recent plan to Asterius, the Minotaur is taken aback by it, but he’s not especially surprised that such words have come from Theseus’ mouth. Still, the king’s request is unconventional enough that taking the advice of a third party into consideration seems prudent.

“Would it be typical,” Asterius asks, “for two men, devoted partners in the afterlife, to pose for a portrait together in the nude?”

The shade of the great warrior Achilles blinks once, twice, three times before answering, as if he is surprised to be approached by the Minotaur alone and downright baffled by the peculiar nature of question. But Achilles recovers quickly, accustomed as he is to hearing about the king’s whimsies.

Achilles and Theseus are not friends, per se, but since the former has begun to visit Elysium, the pair has had several somewhat strained conversations in which Theseus has been a braggart, Achilles has been stiltedly polite, and Asterius has stood to the side and attempted not to get involved. To be certain, Achilles doesn’t know Theseus half as well as Asterius knows him—nobody does—but he has become familiar enough with the king’s unique approach to life.

“It’s not so unusual,” Achilles finally answers. “It’s about what I’d expect of your companion, really. But I wonder, Asterius, have you ever had any sort of portrait painted before? I imagine you’d never had the opportunity in life, though the Champion has informed me that you, too, are of noble blood.”

Asterius shakes his head. Indeed, nobody other than Theseus had ever seen it fit to preserve his visage.

“I see. Well, if you’d ever like to have a normal one made as well, I doubt even Theseus himself would find any reason to object.”

It is moderately reassuring to be told that Theseus’ suggestion was “not so unusual”, but when the time comes, Asterius still has his doubts.

The shade that stands before them taps their foot, or the equivalent thereof, and stares impatiently at their subjects. They are in the arena, a place that Asterius has occupied countless times before, with hundreds if not thousands of eyes on him. Only now, in this group of three, does the Minotaur feel shy. The pounding of his heart in the midst of a blood-boiling battle is a gift, a source of motivation. Now, his heart pounds for a different reason.

Beside him is Theseus, nearly nude. His body glistens with oil even more so than usual. Around him flows the cape that is his only garment, sky-blue and long enough that it’s almost touching the arena floor. It’s fastened with a clasp that bears a bull-head symbol, the same one that he's just told Asterius he chose to wear in life. Such a revelation does odd things to Asterius’ heart, and he is more sure than ever that his devotion to the king is not misplaced.

Asterius’ own outfit mirrors Theseus’, only made in a larger size and fastened on the opposite shoulder. Despite the similarities, he doesn’t look half as regal as the king does: what is on Theseus a splendid display, perfectly framing muscles that might as well have been sculpted by Ares himself, looks like more of a farce when draped upon a Minotaur’s body. It’s a mockery of the very title of “king”; it is pearls given to swine, and he feels downright foolish to be play-acting like this. It is Greece’s greatest heroes that ought to be showing off their bodies, not its monsters.

And yet while Theseus had been the one to suggest such a thing, Asterius had readily agreed. He can never deny his king anything. He has sworn his loyalty to his first and only king. Though Theseus has sworn in turn that Asterius has no obligation to do anything he does not wish to, the king’s satisfaction is a greater reward for Asterius than any other could ever be.

So he allows Theseus to poke, prod and pose him, until the two of them are standing side by side just so, with one of Theseus’ hands clasping Asterius’ and the other holding his spear. The king is the very picture of strength and nobility, as ever, and his oiled skin shines in the sunlight like gold. Subtly, Asterius shifts his body, hoping to take focus away from his own massive form.

“Just think, Asterius!” Theseus says, “Soon we shall have our own portrait together, a thousand times more magnificent than the outdated scribble that the daemon has displayed in his halls. He mocks me, displaying me in the nativity of my youth. Why, back then I barely knew you, and hadn’t even begun to earn your companionship! It is despicable indeed that he seeks to portray me when I was at my most distant from my dearest friend.”

Asterius already understands Theseus’ reasons for this project, but doesn’t mind hearing them again—it takes his mind off of how ridiculous he feels, if nothing else. The thought of Zagreus commissioning a solitary nude portrait of Theseus does not stir any jealousy in Asterius, but that Theseus has taken such offense to it is nonetheless flattering. He’d have been happy to leave it at that, but Theseus has never done things by halves, and so he has decided that the best show of protest is to commission a second, better painting, to be displayed in his personal chambers.

This is all well and good, but it does little to assuage Asterius’ fear of making such a crude display of his body. Even in the labyrinth, when he was closest to beast and furthest from man, he did his best to cover himself, salvaging what fabric scraps he could to fashion crude outfits. He does not enjoy looking at himself when he is faced with mirrors; why, then, should anyone who happens to find their way into Theseus’ chambers be expected to tolerate viewing his partner’s monstrous form?

The painter shade does not notice Asterius’ hesitation, and at first neither does Theseus, so focused as he is on making sure that both Asterius and the shade know precisely how important this project truly is. But Asterius cannot hide anything from him for long, and soon the lack of shared enthusiasm gives Theseus pause.

“Asterius, you never cease to amaze me!” says Theseus, loudly enough to echo in the large, nearly empty room. His tone is honey-sweet, or what Asterius recognizes as his version of it, though his words are far from a conventional complement. “Does nudity make you shy? There is, I assure you, nothing to be ashamed of, for the masters of portraiture study the human form in great detail.”

“It is not that, King,” Asterius replies, though he’s not sure if he’ll be able to find the words to elaborate on why it’s not that.

“Then what? Is this choice of pose uncomfortable? Do you need a rest, a drink of water? The day is warm indeed!” Theseus says, though the day is precisely as warm as every day is in Elysium.

The king knows him well, but not so well that he can always understand what he is thinking. Asterius will have to explain himself eventually; best to do it now.

“This portrait will be better if it is of you alone,” Asterius says.

“Why, Asterius! What madness is this? You don’t feel you are above being painted, surely.”

“It is the opposite. My presence will only serve to tarnish your beauty. I should step back, lest any viewers be forced to ask why the king of Athens has chosen to depict himself alongside a beast.”

It took what seemed like decades for Asterius to come to accept that he had earned a place by Theseus’ side, and still there was a time after that when he had thought of himself as second to the king: an assistant, a servant, an accessory. Theseus, surprisingly patient when he wished to be, continuously reassured him that he was wrong, and Asterius had slowly grown to believe him. But still, it seems wrong to put his body on such brazen display, as though it compares favorably to the king’s in any way.

Realization dawns in Theseus’ eyes. He is not so incapable of understanding Asterius’ worries when he tries, and when they are laid out so clearly in front of him. “You think that you are not beautiful?”

He is infinitely kind to even ask a question with such a clear answer. Nobody who was quite sane would think for even a moment to describe Asterius as a beauty. He is too tall, too broad; his eyes are beady, he is covered in coarse fur; even his manhood, soon to be on display for all to see, hangs heavy between his legs, far thicker than any human’s.

Every inch of Theseus’ body is perfection: it has been designed by the gods and sculpted with years of dedication, and now it is framed with the finest of silks, nearly the same color as his eyes. Beside him, Asterius is a parody of a man.

Yet Theseus reaches for him, and Asterius leans down automatically, allowing his king to easily cup his cheek. “Asterius, you are the most beautiful creature I’ve encountered in all of my years. Why do you shy away from me now, when I have seen you in your splendor so many times before?”

Asterius’ response is only silence; he is never sure how to respond to praise, for he never knew praise in life. Polite denial will not be satisfactory for his king.

Theseus is nothing if not stubborn—wonderfully, beautifully stubborn—and so he continues even without a verbal response. He can feel how Asterius leans into his touch, can hear how he gasps softly as Theseus begins to move his hand downward, grazing his neck, his collarbones, and down to where Asterius’ heart would have beaten if he were still alive. It is the same place as a man’s would be; this, Theseus knows without asking.

“What will it take for you to understand the majesty of your form, Asterius? Have I ever, even for a moment, averted my eyes from it, or shied away from your touch? I have banished lovers from my bed for the smallest of transgressions, but you—you have never displeased me.”

Asterius’ breath hitches in his chest. He’s sure that his heart would have skipped a beat, had it been possible. It’s true: Theseus welcomed him as a lover long ago and has never once been anything but enthusiastic about Asterius’ clumsy displays of affection. But it is easy to imagine a man overcome with a lust for battle that is expressed through a lust for his partner. For Asterius to imagine that Theseus cares for him... that is not so simple.

He tries, though. And in turn, Theseus tries to make his own intentions clear.

Where Asterius is silent, Theseus is verbose, and he is content to slowly run his hands across Asterius’ body. “Your chest,” he says, “so broad, so warm when you hold me against you in the night. I enjoy your fur, you know. It provides me with a soft place to rest my head.”

Asterius grunts, his own display of attentiveness if not of agreement. His fur is a reminder of who his father is, and so he cannot love it, but it is a part of him nonetheless and he can at least come to accept that Theseus enjoys it.

Theseus’ hands stop, finding a resting place on each of Asterius’ nipples. They’ve hardened, though the room is not cold, and Theseus allows himself to feel them, to stroke, to pinch. Asterius is sensitive here, and each touch sends a jolt of pleasure through him.

“You never knew what satisfaction you could gain from this until you met me, did you?” Theseus continues. “I’m honored to be the one that showed you the joys of your body, Asterius. Without me, you might never have known.”

It’s a bit self-congratulating to be sure, but Asterius doesn’t mind—especially not when Theseus begins to sprinkle kisses on his chest. When they’re both standing, he’s the perfect height to lavish attention on Asterius in this manner, and he stops when he reaches one of his nipples to run his tongue around it.

“King, ah—” Asterius stifles a groan. “The painting? There is another in the arena with us.”

Theseus, as always, only pauses in the midst of pleasuring Asterius when he wishes to speak, and now he punctuates it with a click of his tongue. “Let them watch how we consummate our love! Or let them leave, whichever they prefer. We have eternity together to have this silly artwork finished.” he says, waving in the vague direction of the painter shade. “Now I wish to show my appreciation for you.”

Asterius thinks he sees the shade roll their eyes as they are dismissed. It’s hard to concentrate when Theseus is reaching his hands around Asterius’ back, not groping, not removing his clothes, just... feeling. Running his hands over his muscles, rubbing circles into his back. Theseus seems unembarrassed by his own lack of modesty, his own willingness to romance Asterius like this for anyone to see. Asterius supposes its part and parcel of being a king: if the entire city-state has its nose in one’s business, one might as well get some enjoyment out of it.

He can't help but let his thoughts wander to what the king’s former citizens would think if they saw him now, his head against the chest of the very creature he had once slain, his arms reaching around Asterius but unable to meet each other. Theseus is impressive enough in statue, standing tall among the other shades, but nobody in Elysium comes close to matching Asterius’ height, and thus even Theseus himself looks small next to him. It makes Asterius feel like a brute, sometimes; now, as he wraps his hands easily around Theseus’ waist, it makes his cock stir.

“You are handsome indeed, Asterius. And—you are beginning to grow hard now!” Theseus announces, though there was really no need to say as much out loud. “A welcome turn of events, to be sure! Perhaps we ought to find a better place to continue.”

“Here,” grunts Asterius. The alternative is to go elsewhere and risk all of Elysium seeing them in their ridiculous garb—or lack thereof—though Asterius suspects Theseus wouldn’t mind much. He pulls away from him to seat himself on a nearby chaise, one of several items Theseus had insisted on bringing to the arena in order to experiment with various poses and promptly abandoned because they “took away from the focus of the composition”.

“A better position, then,” Theseus says, straddling Asterius’ lap when the Minotaur sits. Theseus, too, is growing hard, but h seems concerned only with Asterius’ satisfaction, and continues his barrage of complements. “Your thighs—a majestic achievement of form, strong and steady. They are the perfect place to rest my head after a long day, and the perfect place to sit as you make love to me.” There’s a suggestion in that last statement, one that does not escape Asterius.

“Your thighs are just as much of a wonder,” murmurs Asterius, his hands drifting to them as he speaks. They’re still covered in oil, like the rest of Theseus’ body, and it’s easy for Asterius to be reminded of past memories of pleasing himself between them. “Like they’re chiseled from marble. You might commission a statue of yourself, instead of a painting.”

“I thought I was the one offering complements today, Asterius. It is you who is like a work of art.”

“Do you deny my own praise?”

“I do not! But I wish to focus on lavishing attention you today, and then perhaps you will be able to agree with me that you deserve to be painted by my side. What say you?”

Asterius still struggles to ask for what he needs, even when desire burns so strongly within him as it does now. It feels wrong to ask such things of a king, of a human, but Theseus is so lovely, so kind, so willing.

“I would like that,” Asterius admits, and Theseus’ grin stretches from ear to ear.

“Have me, then. I wish for you to take your pleasure from me.”

Asterius has half a mind to ask him to reposition himself, but there’s an easier way. Theseus doesn’t object when Asterius lifts him off of his lap and turns him around so that his back is to Asterius’ chest, only offers a murmur of approval when he’s done. He likes being manhandled this way, he’s explained—likes feeling like he’s at Asterius’ mercy as Asterius makes love to him.

“Are you sure?” he asks, grinding against Theseus experimentally. “You’re always so fearsome in battle, and yet so willing to receive in bed.”

Yes,” breathes Theseus. “Please, do it already.”

“You are too good to me, King,” Asterius breathes into his ear, and he can feel Theseus shiver against him as he spreads his legs apart easily.

Theseus cries out loudly enough to wake the dead as Asterius makes the first thrust between his slick thighs. Asterius’ own large cock rubs against Theseus’, giving him some relief, but most of the pleasure is the Minotaur’s. The king has never been a quiet lover, and now he continues to speak as Asterius ruts between his thighs.

“And you to me. Never has another been able to so thoroughly debase me as yourself, and yet do it with such tenderness. Sometimes I wish we would give up fighting entirely, and spend our days nothing but fucking, so that I might spend the rest of my days devoted only to enjoying you.”

“You would miss the arena eventually,” Asterius grunts between thrusts.

“Perhaps. But when your member rubs against me me like this, I can think of nothing else.”

“It’s not so impressive.”

“You are too humble. It is— oh, Asterius!”

Asterius keeps his large hands on Theseus’ thighs so that he can lift the whole of Theseus’ body just slightly, using him like some kind of toy for Asterius’ own pleasure. This, too, Theseus cries out for. Asterius hadn’t believed him the first time he asked for it, but each time he fucks Theseus like—well, Theseus had described it as “like a common whore”, a phrase Asterius had not been familiar with—Theseus groans and writhes and Asterius takes and takes him.

“Asterius,” Theseus groans, “More—please!”

If this pleases the king, Asterius has no reason to object. He would do anything Theseus asked to help bring him to orgasm; that what he asks is for Asterius to have him like this is merely a bonus.

It is times like this when Asterius most believes Theseus’ praise. As Asterius thrusts and grinds between his thighs, Theseus babbles without end, yelling out his name and screaming for more and calling Asterius lovely, gorgeous bull, my partner, gods yes. It’s almost too much to bear; even now, Asterius feels tears well up in the corners of his eyes as he spills his seed between Theseus thighs.

For a moment after he comes, Asterius cannot open his eyes, he cannot think, he can barely even hear. But soon he hears Theseus once more, slick with oil and sweat and now with thick ropes of Asterius’ come as well.

“So much,” Theseus murmurs, wonder in his voice as though he hasn’t seen such a thing a hundred times before. “Asterius, you never cease to amaze me with your prowess, even when it comes to this. Why, I’ve never seen a man come even half as much as you do.”

Asterius might have felt himself blush if he was capable of it. “I understand, King. You needn’t praise me any more.”

“I’m telling the truth, you know,” says Theseus, pressing a kiss to where he can reach on Asterius’ chin. “You satisfy me like nobody else has ever been able to, even when you’re only fucking my thighs. Have I not said it enough that you’ve etched it into your memory? If not, I will say it again and again, until you believe me!”

Asterius lets himself settle against Theseus, confident that the king is strong enough to hold him like this, his weight against him and his chin nuzzled into Theseus’ shoulder. “I believe you. It is... difficult for me, sometimes. But your words are stronger than any of my doubts.”

“I’m glad to hear as much, darling Asterius!”

They sit there content for many moments, Asterius no longer feeling exposed in his nudity. Then:

“I wonder,” says Theseus, “if there is a shade willing to capture this in a painting.”