The house of Batiatus hummed with activity. Slaves moved throughout bearing plates of exotic fruits, prepared meats, soft cheeses. In some hands were jugs of the finest wines, exquisite and imported from Rome herself. No expense was spared. This was going to be a party not soon forgotten.
And there would be more there for the guests than delicious food. Musicians and dancers were standing by, but the main event - the one everyone was there for - was when Batiatus would put his gladiators on display. They stood in a hidden corridor, absent chains or armor, and slaves attended each of them, pouring onto their skin fine, scented oil that would make them glisten. And to demonstrate the riches of the house of Batiatus, the gladiators were adorned with gold leaf, the stuff scattered across their shoulders and chest and down over their abdomens. Even in the low light, they shone like gods, and whispers of their beauty would travel far and wide.
Most would attend to see Capua's champion. The Bringer of Rain himself stood among the other gladiators, silent as he waited for the party to begin. Others were not so stoic; Agron was looking down at his own body, lifting a hand to push at a speck of the gold on his chest. "The Roman shits demand fucking show," he complained, "even outside of the arena."
The comment drew a wry smile from the champion. "They love nothing more than blood," he said, "though to see gladiators tamed and on display comes second." Spartacus turned to look at Agron, both eyebrows raised. "Expect their hands on you. One last touch before you are slaughtered upon the sands."
The German scoffed. That was one thing he would never be - slaughtered upon the sands. He hadn't died yet; every trip he'd taken to the arena had ended in victory, his opponent's blood on his hands and blade. Every trip had ended in the crowd screaming his name, stomping their feet to match the beating of his heart in his ears. He'd had a taste of the glory of the arena and he wouldn't soon tire of it, and that meant surviving. A thing he'd discovered himself quite good at, next to killing.
"If they expect to see me die, they will find themselves disappointed," Agron said, tone determined, and at that, Spartacus grinned.
Doctore's voice sounded from further down the corridor. "Hold your tongues," he said sharply. "You do not speak. You only stand as statues." At those words, all fell silent. They could hear a swelling of voices and music within the villa, and that could mean only one thing: the guests had arrived and the party had begun. It wasn't long before one voice rose above the rest to announce the arrival of the gladiators, news that was met with applause and sounds of wonder from the crowd.
So the gladiators stepped from the corridor and into the main room of the villa, and a hush fell over the guests. The lamplight made the gold flecked on their skin glitter, every movement making them shimmer as if from some other world. Not a single eye was turned from them, not for a long moment. The silence was only broken when a woman who looked quite overcome began applauding again, encouraging the rest to join in and begin speaking once more.
Many people milled about them, some stopping to admire and praise the bodies made spectacle. And as Spartacus had warned, some reached out and touched. Agron was intent on keeping his eyes forward and his mouth shut, though he found it difficult to do, because not all of the touches were innocent ones. Some explored his stomach and the sensitive expanse of skin just above where his subligaria began - but he was not aroused by this attention. No, nothing disgusted him more than soft Roman hands upon his skin. Hands that could wave and see him taken from this world, because to them, he was nothing more than a toy. At least in the arena there was glory to be had. A spectacle of blood, something he and his kin were well-versed in. This was different.
Batiatus himself was leading a Roman man down the line, stopping at each gladiator to exchange words about them with what was surely an esteemed guest. Soon, they stopped at Agron, and the Roman looked at him with some interest. "Ah," he said, eyes sweeping over Agron's body. "One of your newer acquisitions, yes? I recall seeing him in the arena. A bloodthirsty animal."
Batiatus grinned and clapped the man on the shoulder. "He shows much promise! A gladiator yet undefeated in the few matches he has fought."
The Roman's eyes weighed heavily on Agron. He felt caged by them. Trapped. The German shifted slightly, his gaze faltering in its stillness - but where it fell was not upon the one that scrutinized him. Instead, he found himself looking at a man that stood close behind the Roman. Dark eyes lifted to meet Agron's blue ones, and their gazes lingering for only seconds before the gladiator's attention was demanded elsewhere. "Where does this animal come from?" the esteemed guest asked Batiatus.
The lanista was quick to reply. "A German," Batiatus said, and did very well at feigning interest. "From a tribe East of the Rhine."
That Batiatus and the Roman were spending far more time in front of Agron than the rest of the gladiators was a thing quickly noticed by the German. He wanted nothing of this Roman's interest. He prayed to the gods that it was a fleeting thing, because much longer beneath such scrutiny would have him crawling out of his skin. Especially with the way the Roman's voice dripped with something dark and suggestive. "The savage is a fine specimen," he said. The man reached out brushed the backs of his fingers over one of Agron's arms, dragging tiny pieces of gold along the touch. "I wonder," he mused aloud. "Do the gladiators often sate their desire for flesh?"
Agron wanted to draw away from the touch but he recalled Doctore's words and stilled himself. He was a statue. If only he were made of unfeeling stone; then the Roman's hand would have no effect on him.
Though the man seemed to have endless questions, Batiatus was there with an answer to each of them. "When there is cause for celebration, they are allowed…" He trailed off, searching for the word. "…indulgence in drink and the company of women." Seeing the Roman's hand trailing over Agron's bicep, he added, "Or men, should they prefer." How good the lanista was at playing to his audience.
"Good Batiatus," the man said, turning his head toward the lanista, though his eyes remained fixed on Agron. "I would see him divested of his clothing." He paused, and Agron could see out of the corner of his eye that his lips were curled in a smile. "Naked as a savage should be."
Agron glanced to his dominus. Batiatus' eyes met the gladiator's and he nodded. That in itself was an order to do as the Roman requested, but when Agron didn't move right away, the lanista spoke. "Remove your subligaria." The words were said with finality; even if Agron had the gall to further question what was demanded of him, there was nothing he could do to stop it happening. He had to do the will of his dominus, and at that moment, the will of his dominus was to please this Roman shit.
Teeth clenched, Agron lifted his hands to undo his subligaria and let it slip from his body - but before he could get too far, the Roman lifted a hand. "Wait," he said. The fingers of the hand that had lifted curled, gestured. "Tiberius," the Roman ordered. "Come forward. Strip the gladiator of dress."
Confusion showed itself briefly when Agron's brows drew together. Tiberius? Who was—
But then he remembered. He'd forgotten those dark eyes, although the moment he recalled them he wondered how they could have slipped his mind. Disquiet at the hands of this Roman proved too great a distraction. Now that Agron had been reminded, though, he searched for those eyes again and found they were dark to match the rest of the man. Skin and hair were shades not found in Rome, nor found in Germania. This was a slave - a fact revealed by the collar around his neck - from lands far away. Syria, perhaps.
Tiberius stepped forward, quick to do his master's bidding. There was a fleeting moment, though, in which Agron thought he saw the slave's gaze flutter up to the gladiator's own, almost as if he wanted to ask permission for what he had to do. Agron was surprised to find that he would have given that permission, had he any say in it at all. This was what needed to be done. And there was something sort of sweet in the uncertainty those dark eyes had held.
The subligaria slid from Agron's body and left him naked at the hands of the slave. It was a fate preferred to being undressed by the Roman himself, to be sure; Tiberius's touch had been gentler than his master's, less predatory, and in it had been a warmth all its own. Despite the gladiator's charge to be still, statuesque, he couldn't help but let his eyes follow Tiberius as the slave stepped back and disappeared behind his master. It mattered not, because the Roman's attention had turned to the flesh that had been revealed; he would remain unaware of any long glances exchanged between the two.
After a short silence, the Roman spoke yet again. How demanding he was. How needy. How much he asked of Batiatus and his gladiators. "I would see flesh awakened," came his words, so very casual in their delivery, as if what he asked was commonplace. Agron's eyes flew to the man, and in that sweeping saw that the display had drawn a small crowd. So many witnesses to something so lewd. But Spartacus had warned him; their desire for this, for gladiators tamed by the invisible shackles of slavery and made to do everything asked of them, came only second to their desire for the blood of the same gladiators to rain down on the sands of the arena. "Tiberius," the man called again, and this time no order followed. It was obvious what was being asked of the Syrian.
Again, Tiberius stepped forward. When Agron looked down at the smaller man, he saw that those dark cheeks were reddened and no doubt, were he able to reach out and touch, that skin would have been hot beneath his fingers. But he was a statue, he reminded himself. Made of marble but flesh where he needed to be. Agron's gaze shifted forward, away from the slave that stood at his side if only to make sure none of the show was blocked from view, and looked at nothing. But he could still feel. There was Tiberius's touch, and the moment Agron had gone without it hadn't cooled it or made it harsher. Gentle and warm still, though it didn't fall where the gladiator had expected it to. No, those fingers were brushing over his lower stomach, making his muscles jump beneath them - and it was a moment before Agron realized what the slave was doing. There was yet that scented oil on his skin and Tiberius was sliding his hand through it, coating the fingers that would soon coax Agron's flesh to life.
Slowly, that hand lowered. Slowly, those fingers wrapped around Agron's length. Slowly, they began to stroke him. The gladiator wanted to be defiant; he wanted to will his body not to respond if only to deprive the Romans of their show but it was impossible. His body stirred, heart racing and blood rushing to awaken flesh, just as requested. "How quickly he hardens," came the Roman man's voice, pleased as it was. There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd that had gathered. "Do you enjoy my slave's hand on you, gladiator?"
At first, Agron didn't know he'd been addressed. Then the words that had seemed so distant in the wake of the pleasure coursing through his body repeated in his mind, and his gaze focused on the Roman. It flitted over to Batiatus, who nodded, and Agron parted his lips to speak - though it was difficult to find his voice, especially with Tiberius's hand still pumping. "Yes," he answered, and he hated the truth revealed in the breathless reply. He hated that anything given to him by a Roman would feel this good.
Another question was asked. "Given permission," the man began, "would you touch him? Taste his lips?"
Agron looked to Batiatus again, and again there was a nod. "Yes," he said, pulse quickening to a breakneck speed. And then came the words he was either dreading or hoping for - which, he couldn't decide.
The gladiator turned toward Tiberius. The slave's gaze didn't lift to meet his; it remained level and looked past him. Reaching out, Agron tentatively brushed his fingertips over the man's arm, his touch traveling slowly upwards: over Tiberius's forearm, his elbow, his upper arm, his neck. There, that had pulled a reaction from him; the moment Agron's fingers had reached the sensitive skin of his throat, the gladiator had seen the man's dark eyelashes flutter. Agron wrapped his hand around the back of Tiberius's neck and gently coaxed the man to tilt his head back, and only after their eyes met once more - this time Agron asking permission, though it wasn't his place to do so - did the gladiator lean down and close the distance between them, pressing their lips together in a kiss.
Initially, there was no response. No reaction from either of them. And then Tiberius's mouth moved. It was the smallest movement, scarcely there; his lips parted only slightly, but that was all Agron needed. He pushed into the kiss, deepened it, coaxed the slave's tongue to touch his own. He was overcome by pleasure in that moment; the hand wrapped around his length hadn't been idle and he'd missed the taste of another man's lips and he almost forgot that he was performing for an audience. Agron's fingers slid into the slave's dark hair, his palm cupping the back of his head and holding it there for the kiss. And gods, if there wasn't something between them in that moment. Something beyond what they had been forced to do. Something beyond the physical. In that moment, Agron felt in his heart something he never had before.
But it was something he could never have. Not from this body slave. Not from Tiberius, whose skin was too dark for such a fair Roman name.
Agron broke away from the kiss, though his mouth was still pressed against the slave's. A shaking, breathless moan escaped him. It was a warning; he'd find his release soon if that hand didn't let up. His hips were pumping of their own accord, thrusting to find the fingers wrapped tightly around hard flesh. Following the cue perfectly, Tiberius slowed his stroking, squeezed at the base of Agron's length to stave off his peak. To Agron's surprise, a gentle and soothing touch smoothed its way down his back; it was Tiberius's free hand, urging him to be calm, to hold off, to wait - because the show would have to go on for as long as the audience wanted them to perform.
Relief came soon. "You may finish," the Roman man said, his voice thick with arousal. But Agron didn't hear it; he only knew permission had been granted because Tiberius's stroking began again. The hand at Agron's back slid lower, followed the curve of it only to travel up again, this time dragging nails over the gladiator's slick skin. The things they would have done to one another, had they not been so restricted - Tiberius by the collar around his neck and Agron by the brand on his forearm.
The gladiator held Tiberius's face and claimed his lips in one last kiss. It was desperate; its purpose was only to taste as much as he could until it was taken away from him. And into that kiss, Agron gasped and moaned his pleasure, the noises halting and broken and there was one small part of him not lost in a haze of pleasure that meant for the sounds to be for Tiberius's ears. They were for the slave. Not his master.
And when Agron's release hit him, his head was bowed and his face was hidden against the hollow beneath the other man's jaw. The gladiator's golden body trembled and twitched and gave those watching everything they wanted, but the expression of pleasure had been seen by none and felt only by Tiberius.
It was applause that pulled Agron away from the other man, though he was reluctant in doing so. Briefly, he let his lips slide over the slave's in a secret and chaste kiss, so soft that it might not have happened at all, and with that, they were parted. Slowly, the gladiator straightened his body, though his chest still heaved with breath he had yet to catch. Tiberius's touch was gone and soon so was the slave from his side, and Agron mourned the absence of that warmth. The Roman man, the one that had asked all this of Agron, was looking on him with a pleased grin. "Good Batiatus," he said. "I am impressed." Agron cared nothing about whether or not the man was happy with the performance. It was a role he'd never wanted to play - but he'd forgotten his defiance in the act. Tiberius had stolen it from him.
Yet another nod from the lanista and Agron bent, picking up the subligaria at his feet and putting it back on. Were it not for the floor before him being stained with evidence of his release, it might have looked as though nothing had happened. Though there was one last thing that might have given it away. As Batiatus and his Roman walked away, Tiberius trailed behind, and Agron's eyes followed him, and he saw that on the slave's dark skin were flecks of gold.
Tiberius was almost out of sight. Agron's gaze had never left the other man, but not once had the slave glanced toward him. The gladiator found himself praying or perhaps begging in his mind. Look at me, were the words of his prayer. One last time.
Dark eyes lifted. They wandered at first but soon found their way to the ones searching for them.
And then they were gone.