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Rus was sweating hard as he dismounted from Kuthar.

The horse belonged, ostensibly, to Rus, although it was hard to think of it as his, not only because he wasn’t used to owning things. It wasn’t part of his life as Kahar, but watching Adares’ shy smile as he presented the horse to him in the palace stables, Rus thought he might be able to get used to it.

It was just like Adares, too.

He took Rus down to the stables, dragging Rus behind him, his fingers wrapped tight around Rus’s. He looked giddy, like a little boy. They stopped in front of one stable. There was a beautiful grey horse with a white star on its forehead. It was sixteen hands high, and Rus was immediately in love.

“Do you like it?” Adares asked.

Rus stared at his lover. “Yes,” he said. “Is this the horse you want me to ride in the Colonial Games?”

“No! Well, yes, if you want to? He’s yours.”

“He’s… mine?” Rus asked, momentarily not comprehending what was happening.

“I got him for you,” Adares said.

Rus stared at Adares for a long moment, before turning his attention back to the beautiful horse. He ran his palms over its flanks, and let it snuffle at his hair, tied back in a braid. He had never owned a horse before. Never owned much of anything before coming to Tios, but Adares kept giving him things.

Rus hardly knew what to make of it all.

“As long as it’s not a bride price,” Rus told him later that night.

Adares briefly looked so guilty that Rus couldn’t keep in the laugh that bubbled up inside him. It was nice that Adares wanted to show his love and appreciation for Rus in the way he knew how. The old Rus may have felt like Adares was trying to treat him like Rus was something less than Adares, but it was abundantly clear that Adares cared about him in the way he would a wife, while still treating Rus like a man.

Rus still found that a tricky line to walk at times. While Adares always knew he would someday have a partner--even if he did expect that partner to be a woman--it wasn’t something Rus had ever let himself want. He was Kahar and he was separate.

Now here was Adares wanting him to always be right in the middle of things, and Rus couldn’t always wrap his mind around that.

He thought he liked it.

Now Rus was breathing hard after working the horse through the course. His muscles were pleasantly sore, and he was ready to head home after another good hard ride.

He led Kuthar into the stable adjoining the hippodrome, where the grooms would care for him before bringing him back to the palace. Rus would have preferred to do it himself, but it wouldn’t do for the Archon’s lover to be seen walking through the streets of Tios leading a giant horse.

Besides, he had to get to the temple.

He had taken Antiokles up on his offer shortly after their first meeting. Rus liked teaching and he was good at it. There were students from all different backgrounds there, and he didn’t feel like such a foreigner when he was talking about the Gods.

He was due to be at the temple now. He hadn’t meant to ride for so long, but he got caught up in the feeling of it and now he was running late.

Normally he would go back to the Palace to bathe before returning to the temple, but he wouldn’t have time to do that now. He briefly considered just heading straight to the temple as he was, but the public baths were right there.

Rus sighed. It was time to get over his aversion to them.

It was humid when he stepped inside, and the attendant nodded respectfully to him before handing over a small key and a towel. When he stepped into the next room there were men standing about in various states of undress. Rus did his best to ignore the looks and whispers as he undressed in front of a small cubby and placed his clothes inside.

He could feel the stares intensify and some whispers where he could clearly hear his name and Adares’s. Doing his best not to let it get to him, Rus walked into the room with the baths. The steam rose even thicker in here and Rus did his best to relax his shoulders as he stepped into the water.

He closed his eyes and let himself soak for a moment, giving the other men a chance to get their staring out of the way. When the whispers seemed to die down, he twisted around, reaching for the soap and began to clean himself. It wasn’t the same soap they used at the palace, the soap from home, but it would do.

Rus didn’t linger once he was clean. He pulled himself out of the baths, hyper-aware of the sound of his feet on the tile, the sounds of the water splashing as other men bathed, the voices around him that seemed to rise in a buzz.

If he hadn’t been so aware of his surroundings he might have missed it.

As it was, the sound of a quiet moan coming from a small alcove caught his attention. Rus’s steps automatically slowed.

At first he didn’t understand what he was hearing, but then there it was again: another quiet moan, accompanied by the sound of skin on skin. He felt himself flush, suddenly perfectly aware of his own nakedness and the other naked men around him.

The moans continued from inside the alcove, and Rus hastened his steps. He could feel arousal low in his gut and the last thing he wanted was to call even more attention to himself in front of all the other men bathing.

He dressed quickly, and dropped his towel and the key back with the attendant before making his way to the temple.

It was hard to keep his attention on his students after that, but Rus was committed to doing the job right, and he managed to keep his mind from wandering to what he saw--or heard, rather--back at the baths.

Was that normal? Did it happen a lot? And people were just alright with that kind of thing happening in a public place? And who were those men? Would Adares ever want him to do something like that? Would Rus? He didn’t know what to think about any of it, so he turned his focus back to his students, where it should be.

The day passed more slowly than his usual. Rus still found his students engaging and eager to learn, but he had to fight to keep his attention on his students. By the time he was ready to return home, his head was pounding and he felt more worn out than usual.

Adares wasn’t there when Rus arrived.

Most nights they would eat their evening meal together and share stories about their days, but it wasn’t always possible. Adares role as Archon kept him busy, and more and more often Rus found his own days increasingly full.

He liked it. He liked being part of this amazing place that Adares was building. He liked seeing the work come together to create something new. He liked being a part of it all.

He was still thinking about all that--and Adares--as he drifted off to sleep.

-

Rus was back at the baths.

He was standing in front of that alcove. Just like in real life he could hear the sounds of sex emerging from within. Except unlike real life, Rus found himself unable to move, helpless to do anything except stand there and listen to the two men within.

Then, suddenly, he was no longer watching.

He was inside the alcove. Adares was in front of him pressing Rus into the wall, one of his thighs between Rus’s legs as they rocked together. Rus could hear the sound of the water splashing as men used the baths. Their voices echoed off the walls until Rus felt like he and Adares were protected from everything that wasn’t just the two of them.

“Do you like that?” Adares asked, as he rocked his hips up.

Rus felt wild. The sounds coming out of his mouth were out of his control. They felt loud, too loud, everyone would hear them. They’d see--

He woke to the feeling of Adares climbing into their bed next to him.

“Did I wake you?” Adares asked.

Rus nodded. “I was dreaming about you,” he said.

“Something good, I hope?”

Rus smiled. “Very good.”

“Oh? Care to show me?”

Rus felt hot again, like he did in the baths, and like he had in his dream, imagining Adares pushing him down, what it would be like to be had by Adares in that way.

Rus pulled Adares on top of him, wanting to feel his steady weight above him. Adares, misinterpreting what Rus wanted, settled himself on top of Rus’s aching dick. Rus didn’t have the words to articulate what he’d been dreaming of moments earlier, and between the familiar weight of his lover and the sleep fog that was clinging to him like the blankets on his sweat slick skin, Rus let himself move with Adares, both familiar and thrilling every time.

The oil, always within easy reach, was slippery between his fingers. He pressed them up against Adares’s hole, finding him still slightly open from their lovemaking earlier that morning. Rus didn’t think he would ever grow tired of the way Adares’s body would give to his, the way he made space for Rus, even here, with his very being.

Adares put one hand down on the mattress next to Rus’s head, his torso leaning close until their chests were brushing. Rus loved the way Adares felt inside, the way his body was hot and seemed to cling to Rus’s fingers.

Not for the first time, he thought about what it would feel like for Adares to open him up the same way. Would he open up as easy, as desperately as Adares? Would he shake and moan the same way Adares did? Rus didn’t know, but he was just about ready to find out.

Adares sank down slowly, and Rus fought his urge to buck his hips up, to flip them over and fuck Adares hard. Like this, he could almost imagine that he was the one being taken. The thought sent him closer to the edge, and he had to dig his fingers into Adares’s hips, fighting for control.

Adares was beautiful above him. Rus wanted him in every way he could imagine.

He snapped his hips up, unable to resist any longer, and Adares moaned above him.

“Yes,” Adares gasped. “Yes, Gods, more.”

He rocked his hips down and Rus did as he was bid. He felt like it would never be enough. He could never have Adares enough.

They came in a rush of bodies, Rus following not long after Adares spilled hot and sticky between them.

Adares rolled to his side, propping his head up on his hand and just smiled at him.

Rus had to turn his head away. “What?” he asked.

“Was that what you wanted?” Adares asked, perhaps more earnestly than he normally would.

They were both breathing still breathing hard, skin sticky and hot.

Rus hummed. His eyes were closed. He could almost still see the phantom of his dream hanging in the air.

It was. It wasn’t.

-

Rus continued. He continued his work at the temple with his students. He continued to ride his horse. He continued to be Adares’s lover, and to make a home for himself in Tios.

He continued to think of home. More and more often it was because he wished to share something with Kuth or Genet, or Suthus, even his parents. Things in Tios seemed less and less strange and more and more like where he belonged. He wondered if they would love him, if they could see him here.

He hoped they would.

He still thought about those men in the bath and his own reaction to it, but he didn’t know how to bring it up with Adares.

He wished sometimes that Adares could just read his mind. That he would know what Rus wanted, even when Rus himself did not.

He managed to forget just how perceptive his lover could be.

“You seem quiet lately,” Adares said, over a private dinner two weeks later. “Is there anything on your mind?”

He looked patient and concerned. Rus knew if there was anything he wanted that was within Adares’s power, he would give it.

“Ah,” Rus said. “There is something.”

“Care to share?”

Rus knew Adares would listen. He even knew that Adares would understand. Yet despite knowing those things he still found the words hard to come by. Adares liked to say that Rus was a nitpicker, and maybe that was true, but he wanted his words to accurately reflect his meaning. He didn’t know if he could do that now.

“You don’t have to,” Adares said, when Rus remained silent.

It was Adares’s willingness to wait that finally unstuck the words from his throat.

“I saw two men at the baths earlier.”

“Oh? When? Anyone you know?”

“A couple weeks ago. And no. Or, I don’t know. I didn’t see them. They were in an alcove together.”

Adares was quiet for a moment.

“Is that common?” Rus asked.

“It… can be,” Adares said. “In certain places.”

“Have you done that?” Rus asked.

“Not in Tios.”

“In Pheme?”

“Yes,” Adares admitted. “When I was much younger.”

Rus didn’t know what to make of that, since Adares was already a young man.

“Was it bad?” he asked.

Adares paused. “No,” he said. “It was exciting.” He looked faintly embarrassed, and Rus couldn’t help but imagine the two of them again in that alcove together.

“I don’t think… I could…”

Adares didn’t look hesitant very often, but he did now.

“Because you are Archon,” Rus said.

“Well, yes,” Adares said, startled. Rus knew that they were not talking about the same thing.

“What did you mean?” Rus asked.

“Ah,” Adares said. He scratched the back of his neck looking embarrassed. “I thought you might like to be with other men,” Adares said. “Like that. I didn’t want to stop you, but I don’t think I could do it.”

“Other men? Why would I want that?”

“It’s just that when men go to the baths like that, there are often… multiple partners.” He laughed and shook his head. “But of course you would not have known that. I’m sorry, my love.”

“Multiple!” Rus said. “At once?”

Adares laughed, the last of the tension leaving his body. “You look intrigued and frightened. Does it not interest you at all?”

Rus paused to think it over. He could see how that idea might be exciting to some, but not to him. It was bad enough having everyone look at him under completely non-sexual circumstances. He didn’t think he could stand it in an intimate moment. Not if it wasn’t Adares.

“No,” Rus said firmly. “I only want you.”

Adares kissed him then.

“I want you,” Rus murmured against his lips.

“You have me,” Adares said, soft and sweet but still filled with the familiar heat between them.

“I want you to… fuck me,” Rus said.

It was really what he had been thinking about this entire time. The idea of the two of them together in the open was exciting, but it was exciting in the same way that standing together at an official function with Adares’s arm around his waist was exciting. Rus wanted to belong to Adares.

Adares pulled back. “Do you?” he asked. “You know I don’t care about that.”

Rus nodded. “I know,” he said. “I want to try for me.”

Adares smiled at him. “It would be my pleasure.”

Rus rolled his eyes and pushed at Adares’s shoulder, embarrassed by the honesty in his lover’s expression.

Adares took his hand and led the two of them through their rooms to the bed chamber. He stripped himself slowly, but with his usual unabashed demeanor, then reached for Rus. He put his hand on Rus’s hip, thumb stroking softly.

“We can stop at any time,” Adares said.

Rus rolled his eyes. “I know that,” he said. “Stop treating me like I’m delicate.”

Adares smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I’m just nervous.”

“What do you have to be nervous about?” Rus asked.

“Oh, it’s only your first time, and the experience you’ll compare everything else to, what could I possibly be worried about?”

Rus ducked his head to hide a smile, but he couldn’t help being a little pleased. Sometimes it was overwhelming knowing how many other lovers Adares had before him, wondering how he would stack up against them. It was comforting in a way to know that he was not the only one who felt insecure sometimes.

“I see you laughing over there,” Adares said. He dropped down onto the mattress dramatically.

Rus shook his head. It was laughable, in a way. Adares was beyond thoughtful as a partner and a lover. The fact that he immediately put Rus at ease only showed how much that was true.

“Come here,” Rus said.

Adares came, crawling between Rus’s legs and kissing him soundly. Rus lost track of Adares’s hands, caught up in the feel of his lips on Rus. Slowly Adares stripped him of his clothes, running his hands along each inch of bare skin as it was revealed.

“You don’t have to go slow,” Rus said. Despite the earlier brevity his nerves were back, and he could hear his voice shake.

“I want to,” Adares said. “If that’s alright with you.”

He cocked an eyebrow, but his eyes were soft, and Rus felt deeply cared for. He nodded, not trusting his voice.

Adares continued to kiss him. His lips, then his cheek, down the curve of his jaw. Adares’s lips travelled along Rus’s neck, lingering on his clavicle with just the faintest hint of teeth.

Rus let out a breath, his hands coming up to grip Adares’s shoulders. They were just as firm and steady as always. Rus hitched his legs up, letting Adares fall into the cradle of his hips.

He could feel Adares’s erection pressing against his hip, and the familiar weight of it, along with Adares’s hands on his body had him pressing up into the touch, wanting more.

Adares began coating his fingers with oil, and Rus spread his legs. His heart was beating so hard he was sure Adares would be able to hear it. Adares touched his knee with his clean hand, just a barely there press of his fingers and Rus felt himself relaxing further into the mattress.

The oil was slick against his skin, and Adares’s fingers between his cheeks sent a jolt of pleasure running through his body. Adares didn’t press into him, seemingly content to rub circles over his hole again and again.

Rus threw back his head, hips shifting on the bed, wanting more of Adares’s touch.

“How does it feel?” Adares asked.

Rus grit his teeth. “You know how it feels. I did it to you less than a day ago”

“I know how it feels for me,” he said. “I want to know how it feels for you.”

“It feels… hot,” Rus said. “Like you’re touching my whole body with just that spot. I want, Gods, I want them in me, Adares, please.”

Adares groaned above him. “Yes, I will. I will.”

The first press of his finger inside Rus felt huge. His hips pressed up off the bed, and he couldn’t tell if he was trying to get away or to get more. He looked up and Adares was watching him closely, eyes flickering back and forth between Rus’s face, and the space where Adares had his fingers inside him.

Rus felt his face heat at the thought of Adares looking at him there, but he remembered how much he loved to watch himself fuck into Adares when they were like this. He let his legs fall wider, and Adares finger slipped further inside him.

“Gods,” Adares said. His other hand was tracing the lines on Rus’s inner thighs, caressing up around his dick.

He pulled out, coating his hand with more oil and pressing in with two fingers. He moved slow, pressing in, in, in.

“I know what you need,” Adares said.

He twisted his hand and Rus shouted with pleasure. He couldn’t think or feel anything other than Adares’s fingers inside him, lighting up his entire body.

“Please,” Rus gasped. “I need you.”

Adares leaned forward and kissed Rus hard on the mouth. “You are the most wonderful man alive,” he said.

Rus blinked trying to clear his vision which was suddenly blurry.

“Turn over, love,” Adares said.

His limbs felt heavy, but Rus managed to get his knees underneath him. Adares was right behind him, with a hand on his hip, the other spreading Rus’s cheeks. Then, the blunt heat of Adares’s cock pressing up against his hole.

“Bare down,” Adares said, squeezing Rus’s hip. “I got you.”

Rus did, and then Adares was inside him, moving inch by agonizing inch. With his hips pressed against Rus’s ass, Adares leaned down and kissed the back of Rus’s neck.

“I love the way you look,” Adares said. “I love the way you feel. Does it feel good for you too?”

Rus nodded. It felt--big. Like the way it felt to jump a horse, or the moment before he threw the spear. Like great pattern felt big, or Adares’ love for him. Good was not big enough. Maybe nothing was.

“Yes,” he gasped. “Yes, it feels good. I want--”

Adares tilted his hips and his dick inside Rus reached that spot that sent pleasure racing through him. He reached under Rus’s body and gripped his cock.

“I’m not going to last long this time,” Adares said. “I’ll have to make it up to you. If you’re up for another round, that is.”

There was laughter in Adares’s voice and Rus loved him so damned much.

“You know I will be, you smug bastard.”

“It’s always good to ask,” Adares said, but his voice was high and breathy.

Rus knew what it felt like to fuck Adares. How hot and tight he felt around Rus’s dick. Now he knew the stretch and glide inside his body, it was hard to believe there had ever been a time when Rus thought this was wrong. Being with Adares was a good thing, maybe the best thing that ever happened to him.

Rus felt tears prick his eyes, and he came with a hot flush, making the bed sticky and wet underneath him.

Adares pulled out slowly, and Rus could hear the sound of his hand moving frantically on his cock, followed shortly by a wet splash against his ass and thighs.

“Fuck,” Adares gasped.

He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss on Rus’s lower back. Rus had to press his face into the pillows and just breathe for a moment.

Adares got up after a moment and came back to the bed with a wet cloth. He wiped the backs of Rus’s thighs, the cleft of his ass. Rus felt cared for and small, but also like he could take up all the space in this room, the entire palace.

“Are you alright?” Adares asked. “How do you feel?”

Rus turned over, smiling shyly at his beautiful lover. “If this is what my horse feels like after a good ride, I owe him some good feed.”

Adares laughed, sharp and bright. It too seemed to take up the entire room.

“Let me fetch you some dinner then, yes?” Adares said.

He turned to leave the bed, but Rus reached out and gripped his hand hard. Adares looked at him questioningly, but did not speak, giving Rus the time he needed.

“Maybe in another moment?”

Adares smiled, and settled once more on the bed. Rus held out his arm, and Adares fit himself into the crook of his shoulder, resting his head on Rus’s chest.

“Of course,” Adares said. “Whenever you’re ready.”

There was surely space for this love in the great pattern, he thought. The Gods would not leave this--or him--behind.