Description Lucius, an ex-ancient Roman whose peculiar curse involves the beauty of the men around him, suddenly finds that everything he thought he knew about his uncontrollable abilities has changed when he's discovered by a trooper one night sleeping in his car on a lonely stretch of Midwestern highway.
|Updated||16 Mar 2019|
Luke was startled out a very nice dream by a brusque tattoo of sharp, impatient raps at his window. Disoriented, he looked up to see, framed in shadowy silhouette against a midnight black sky, a dark, looming figure who was, Luke could tell with absolute certainty, an arrogant prick devoid of the slightest consideration for anyone but himself, a fact Luke could easily discern by the way the asshole was shining his flashlight right in Luke’s eyes.
Luke was annoyed, and not just because the unknown prick was trying to blind him where he sat. The dream had been very nice, vivid and debauched, full of sweet, beautiful men of every taste and flavor enjoying his, and each other’s, company with increasing recklessness and abandon. His heart was still pounding, and certain other body parts were also very much still in the moment. It was the latest installment in a series of frankly erotic dreams he’d been prone to over the last year. Delightfully and, at the same time, slightly unnervingly, Luke had become aware that the dreams had been slowly increasing in both frequency and, er, intensity of content. He wondered if all that meant something, that some game-changing fate was looming on his horizon. He was not one to discard signs and portents lightly.
Especially he would not, given that the singular man who’d filled his vision and senses in the moments just before he’d awoken, a dark-eyed, bronze-skinned apotheosis of male beauty who’d leaned over him as he lay in lush heather seconds from sharing with Luke the most passionate of kisses, had been, shockingly, the perfect spirit and image of Sebastianus, the one true love of Luke’s very, very long life.
Luke gathered his thoughts. He’d need to roll down the window and try to be pleasant. He reached for the window crank before remembering with an inward sigh that cars didn’t have those anymore. Instead he used his other hand to turn the keys in the ignition one notch, enough to power the window controls on the armrest, and then listened as the window whirred slowly down to disappear inside the door of his cobalt-blue, late-model Sonata. He’d only had the car a few months, ever since he’d impulsively decided he needed to move on from Cincinnati before that dickhead Renfro dug any further what was really going on with all the rafts of increasingly smoking hot guys languidly populating Luke’s last three apartment buildings. (There is nothing worse, Luke had recently decided, than a bored, up-and-coming Youtube star who’s decided something’s “up” with you.)
And now this. As he looked up, squinting, into the harsh glare of the flashlight, Luke experienced a pang of irrational disappointment that his shiny new car had already been rendered flatly mundane by an encounter with local fuzz.
“License and registration,” the looming form said. It was a surprisingly pleasant voice, warm and with a rich timber, and Luke thought that it would be nice to listen to if it weren’t ordering him around. And, he thought as the bright light continued to spike through his eyeballs, if it weren’t attached to a Grade A dick.
He made an effort to be polite. “Is there a problem, officer?” he asked. It had been a while since he’d had occasion to engage in this particular ritual—the constabulary pull-over—and he was struck again as he retrieved the documents from his wallet and glove compartment, respectively, how pointless the words were; he was surprised all cops didn’t automatically respond “No, I just pulled you over for fun” in a voice dripping with snark. Perhaps cops knew that a lot of people were fairly dim and wouldn’t recognize the joke. Anyway, most ritual greetings since time immemorial were made up of meaningless words. These days, people always said “How are you?” and were never more shocked and irritated than when someone actually told them.
This cop chose to say nothing, snarky or otherwise, but he did do Luke the incidental and unintentional favor of shifting the glare of his flashlight away from his retinas and onto the identification papers Luke had handed him. There was a moment of silence while the cop, whose features Luke still couldn’t make out thanks to the one-two punch of dazzled eyes and lack of other available light in the stretch of country midnight highway where he’d pulled over for a quick nap, reviewed Luke’s papers, and Luke rested his hands on the wheel where they’d remain visible and let himself enjoy the steadying comfort of creaking crickets and singing cicadas, occasionally interrupted by an angry-sounding owl, seeping from the deep woods on either side of the empty, four-lane road.
“Can’t park on the highway,” the trooper advised him belatedly in a distracted voice. Before Luke could respond with a bland excuse—something involving only intending to stop for a few moments, only to accidentally nod off (or some such)—the uniformed man went on in a more serious tone, “‘Lucky-us Anthony’? Is that your name?”
“Lucius,” Luke corrected, pronouncing it with the “sh” sound in the middle people tended to use nowadays: Lu-she-us. It hadn’t always been sounded that way. “Lucius Antony.”
“Lucius?” the cop repeated, turning the light back in Luke’s eyes. “Like … Lucius Malfoy?” Luke thought he heard a smile and an arched eyebrow in the trooper’s voice as he asked, “You a wizard, Mr. Antony?”
“Absolutely,” Luke said gamely. It wasn’t quite true, and he had been getting tired of various riffs on this gag. Evidently the long-haired villain from the Harry Potter movies was the only “Lucius” anyone could think of anymore, for all that it had once, long ago, been the personal name of practically every other man in Italy. Most of his residual affront over the Lucius thing was canceled out though, in this case, by the trooper having attentively taken in the corrected version of his family name. For some people, at least in America, it seemed to be an impossible endeavor, despite an enduring, lingering awareness of Luke’s distant, Cleo-smitten cousin, the dope—though Marcus Antonius had lived and died well before even Luke’s time.
Luke tried to focus on the trooper. He had the strange, and unaccountable, sense that he’d truly like this man under other circumstances. More than that: for all that Luke could see nothing of the man beyond a general shape, darkness against more distant darkness, over the course of their exchange Luke had become unnervingly aware of a visceral, subliminal attraction to the cop that was edging toward unexpectedly potent despite being based literally on nothing at all, since it was even separate from the cop’s sexy voice. No, it was something else, something ethereal and uncanny, as if something inside him—his heart maybe, or something even more mysterious—knew that this man would be so beautiful to Luke as to be a compulsion. It was as if he were in the presence of a man whom Luke would find so attractive, so carnally compelling, that it was bleeding through into a completely blind encounter out of sheer proximity. And it was building, minutely but steadily, ramping up in intensity even over the few minutes they’d been talking.
Maybe he was just horny. Those dreams he’d been having lately—
Suddenly, Luke realized he was still achingly, demandingly hard. He shifted in his seat, desperate to adjust himself in his (fortunately) loose dungarees and at the same time painfully aware that the slightest move of his hand toward his shadowed crotch would be marked, and judged, by the unconsciously sex-radiating trooper currently towering over him.
This wasn’t good.
Between one breath and the next Luke found himself cast adrift in a dream. It wasn’t the dream he’d been having when the trooper disturbed him, dozing in his car along the shoulder of a forgotten stretch of U.S. 182, far from anywhere. In this dream, Luke was in a tent. He was a military commander, as he had been more than once in his life, but this vision seemed to have taken him all the way back to his earliest years, when he was still a lowly junior officer, a centurion in the army of Marcus Aurelius.
He looked around him. The day was late, but it was still light enough without a fire to see his armor and equipment close at hand, though he himself was naked and alone. It was hot, dry rather than sultry, though he thought he knew the campaign and if he was right they were far in the north, fighting German tribes who were filled with resentment and scorn for Rome. Sweat beaded his brow. He was kneeling on the packed earth, he realized belatedly, head slightly bowed, though he knew not why, naked and aroused—his manhood stood proudly large and rigid, waiting, as he was. He should have been confused: Lucius had never knelt to anyone. Even the emperor would not ask such subjugation, not from a citizen—the princeps of Rome was no Eastern despot. But in this one moment in all of time, Lucius felt it was right to kneel, and right to have found himself kneeling in this moment, this vision.
A man stepped into the tent. Distantly aware he was immersed in a dream, Luke—Lucius Antonius—expected Sebastianus to be the one entering. But it was not Sebastianus. Sebastianus belonged to another time, to his reckless youth before his curse, when Luke was no more than one young, handsome noble scion among thousands in a vast empire, and there was little meaning in a dalliance with a well-muscled Anatolian stable-boy with dark, shining eyes … broad, strong shoulders … large, skilled hands … dusky bronze skin … What he and Sebastianus had done, what they had been to each other, was a matter of no one’s concern but theirs. He still recalled the simple joy he’d known at the shuddering thrusting within him of the most attractive, most sensual, most perfect man since the impossible heroes of Ilium.
The man who came into the tent was someone Lucius did not know. He appeared to be perhaps a decade older than Lucius’s now-eternal twenty-eight summers; flecks of silver were just visible in his black hair, and beside his clear, light-brown eyes were the traces of laugh lines. His form, though, was handsome and hardy, and the smile he offered Lucius was wide and warm. He was dressed not in military garb of any rank but in a simple, knee-length linen tunic dyed a rich, dark green, secured at the waist by a belt clasped with a peculiar, star-shaped brooch made of polished, cast iron.
He moved to stand before Lucius, smiling down at him. Lucius looked up and met his eyes, though he remained kneeling, his shaft urgent and jumping against his naked thigh.
“You’ve been waiting for me, Lucius Antonius,” the man said approvingly. He pronounced it the correct way, of course, the Roman way: Lu-kee-us. (Soft “c”s and soft seas, a modern linguist once joked, many centuries later, the Romans knew neither, though Lucius had in fact observed the slow introduction of the soft “c” into what had once been his native tongue, traveling the old provinces of the collapsing Western half of the empire not many centuries after his own time.)
For a moment, the other man and Lucius stared into each other’s eyes. Then, with a shocking suddenness, Lucius felt his curse—specifically, the second bough of his curse—start to well up uncontrollably within him. A squall of panic jittered around the fringes of the intensifying sensation of his mighty, desire-drenched animus swelling, expanding, revolving around his heart in a greater and greater maelstrom, ready to be loosed wildly, heedlessly, without recall on all the unsuspecting men within a hundred strides.
Lucius’s confusion and alarm was churning just as strong. The time was wrong. The release of his second bough, the beautifying, man-changing release of the cyclone of his sybaritic animus, was bound to the full moon, even as the first bough of his curse—the reversion of his physical body to the shape it had been given upon the occasion of his unwilling initiation into this strange curse foisted on him by a strange, unremembered god—was bound to the setting sun.
Lucius stared wildly into the handsome, older man’s eyes. “I don’t understand—” Lucius stammered. “The moon is new, and yet—!”
“And yet it is time,” the man said. And with that assurance, Lucius calmed, even as the tempo of his animus simultaneously sped and strengthened, a storm trapped within his chest. And then without warning it burst forth violently from him in a massive rush. Lucius felt as though he had exploded. He was filled beyond endurance with lakes, seas, oceans full of Greek fire—and then in a narrow moment of infinite ecstasy he was shattered, sundered, flying brutally apart in countless shards, the fire of his curse searing out from him in a thousand directions, flashing unstoppably through the brawn and bone of hundreds and hundreds of hard, strong men around him, palpably and indomitably like fierce sunlight through sheerest gossamer—flying out from him, further and further, beyond sight and sense, until its potency faded and fell and his power ebbed away.
Every time, Lucius found himself surprised to be alive, surprised to be whole, surprised to be a simple man and not a blazing star come to earth. Every time, as now, Lucius came to his senses in wonder, aware that he was flushed and sweating and doused with his own hot, copious seed, but enjoying the simple wonder of being a man of flesh, blood, and—still, always, endlessly deep within him—unquenched, unending fire.
He grinned up at the other man, saturated in euphoric feelings. The other man was smiling, too. Every time, there was this, too—unbridled lust, kindled within him and within the men he changed. Lucius drew in a deep breath, drinking him in. The man had experienced the full force of his animus, as would anyone who stood so close before him when he experienced that marvelous obliteration. The man—he no longer looked older, but rather a young man in his prime. His hair was black and thick, his eyes brighter, his smile wider and more beautiful. His torso was magnificent, godly even, straining the simple design of his formerly loose, green tunic. His shoulders bulged and swelled, his mighty chest pushed out the linen fabric. His arms were now thick with strength and power, and so beautiful that Lucius wanted to touch them, to kiss them, to lap up the fine drops of sweat that stood against the hard, packed, powerful muscle.
For the first time he could remember, Lucius found himself wondering what this apparition of male desire would look like, would feel like, would taste like if Lucius were to release the full force of his animus upon him once again. And … no, but yet … if there could be once more …
Lucius realized that the other man was swiftly removing his tunic, so that already by the time he shifted his eyes back from the mighty arm he’d been watching jump and squeeze, the godly chest was bare, the rigid abdominals with their fine tracing of black hair was exposed, and below that—
“Please, Lucius,” the other man begged suddenly. “You must.” He pushed toward Lucius a weeping tool as massive as any Lucius had ever seen, hard and straight and thick enough to be the bole of a young oak, but flesh—needy flesh, flesh that must be licked, tasted, fervently embraced by mouth and ass. “Lucius,” moaned the formerly green-clad man as Lucius accepted the massive, perfect, animus-beautiful cock into his hot, eager mouth. The other man groaned and cried out, already straining on the verge of spilling his bitter seed.
L u u—k—k—s h—s h—
L u u—s h e—u u s s
The dark, indistinct figure of the trooper loomed over him.
He was in the car. There was no light but a harsh, narrow glare aimed right in his face, though now it was at least diverted from his eyes. Luke frantically grappled at his spinning thoughts and sensations, struggling to bring himself under control. It was now, again. Twenty-first century. The middle of the night, the middle of nowhere.
What was that? A vision? A … memory? A time-skip?
He’d seen stranger things. He’d outlived everyone, even the crooked priest who’d saddled him with this incurable condition, possibly even the forgotten Etruscan goddess the twisted man had summoned and invoked in that painful midnight ritual many long ages ago. He’d outlived them all, and he’d seen some very strange things indeed.
Are you a wizard, Mr. Antony?
He was flushed and warm, panting a little. Had he—released? Conventionally, or—otherwise? He felt, from the shaking euphoria seeping through him cell and pore, as though the second bough of his curse had come upon him, and he had released his animus. He shouldn’t have. It was the wrong time—it was, indeed, the new moon, as he’d told the green-clad man. It had been the wrong time in the vision, too, and yet, the unwonted release of his animus in the vision had somehow felt more natural, more necessary, than most of his rigidly scheduled releases.
Irritatingly, he still could not see the trooper’s face, so he couldn’t tell if the man had been transformed from … whatever unknown he had been, into something … more arousing. His men were always more arousing, more stimulating, more … provocative.
He remembered he had been feeling aroused by the trooper, even without seeing him.
His cock was still hugely hard. Had he cum? Had he … released?
Are you a wizard … ?
“Are you with us, Mr. Antony?” the trooper said sternly.
“Hm?” Luke sputtered, shaken. He tried to gather his wits. “Yes, sorry, officer,” he rasped.
The shadowed trooper seemed to give him a hard look. “There’s a reason I asked, Mr. Antony,” he said finally. Luke realized this was actually following up on the “wizard” crack. He felt a flicker of surprise that the officer had had a line of inquiry when he’d brought it up in the first place. Then, as he got his thoughts in order and returned fully to the present, there came a wash of dread as a sudden premonition told him what the cop was about to say. The ID, it was always the ID these days.
“See, you look to me to be a man in his late twenties,” the cop was saying, his voice still warm, rich and soothing even as he spelled out just how much of a hassle tonight was going to be. “I’d say thirty, tops.”
“Thank you,” Luke said automatically, offering him what he hoped would be taken as an abashed smile. Damn it! He’d known this was bound to happen, but no. He had to put it off until he reached Montana—”That’s very kind.”
“And yet,” the man persisted as if Luke hadn’t spoken, flicking the light back down as his identification again, “this license here, which has your current picture on it, says you were born in 1957.” The light was on his face again. “Care to explain?” the trooper asked.
Luke smiled weakly. “Low carb diet and lots of shark cartilage?” he joked.
The trooper said nothing.
Luke pursed his lips in frustration. He was having a hard time seeing his way past this, and if his second-bough release was going to be unpredictable all of a sudden after nearly two gods-damned millennia, finding himself locked in a jail cell indefinitely, releasing his animus over everyone around him over and over again, was not an ideal situation for an essentially immortal Roman cavalryman’s son who craved nothing but peace, comfort, an occasional good fuck, and, above all, sweet anonymity. One life out of a few billion souls, lived quietly, and, all right, with the carefully controlled release of a fiery, pulchrifying, magical radiating wave of transmutation every full moon or so. Was that truly too much to ask?
Luke prided himself on having endured a life that … what? It was, he was increasingly sure, the kind of life mortals had never been meant to live: centuries upon centuries, a life where the sense of identity you learn and accumulate through stiff, warm bonds of community, family, and friendship is constantly broken, wrecked, and reformed, like a wound that heals only to be reopened over and over, until identity and self can no longer be formed that way.
Luke had made it through by accustoming himself to the tempo. The rhythm of his curse was critical. At the setting of every sun he himself transformed, relapsing minutely, muscle by muscle, cell by cell, to the form imposed upon him in that cursed curse ritual: a stunning man, deliberately remade as the image of tragic Antinous, a mortal godling who attracted not only ardor, not only lust, but—unexpectedly, and beyond the warped intent of priest, if not goddess—love, devotion, trust. And at the rise of each round, white moon, he swelled and exploded, a Vesuvius casting a fiery rain of beauty and need upon the unsuspecting mob below.
That tempo, that rhythm, was everything to Luke. It had become his identity, in the place of all others. And now—
He’d known a grizzled and gouty philosopher once who’d held forth endlessly (at elaborate and well-supplied banquets that could, thankfully, be thoroughly enjoyed quite apart from the rambling discourses of their host) about life and fate. His special obsession had been what would in English be called “bottleneck” moments, when the contours of one’s life converged, forcing change. Luke, now, was starting to suspect, with more than a little unease, that this might be one of those moments. The problem with squeezing through an impossibly narrow space, old Flautus had wheezed, grinning and confessional after his fifth bowl of unwatered wine, is that you’re seldom the same shape on the other side. It seemed ironic to Luke that his own unwilling, mostly unwanted capacity to reshape others was putting him in a squeeze that would, at least metaphorically, tell the new shape of his life to come.
Luke shook himself inwardly. He needed to get past this moment. The question was: how? If only he could see the other man’s eyes, he might be able to influence his thoughts a little, enough to get out of this little jam. That had helped him plenty of times before—it had even earned him the ID that was now putting his feet in the fire. Though it didn’t always work on everybody … or for very long. It wasn’t an actual ability of his, so much as a bizarre and unanticipated side effect of his being as old as he was and as comely as he was. He’d discovered he could sometimes suggest ideas to others only gradually over the centuries, and he hadn’t really perfected the technique of it yet. It definitely wasn’t one of the two theurgic boughs of his curse, both of which were clearly defined, carved into the universe, and unforgivingly explicit. All he really knew about this latent capacity for mild and fitful glamor was that eye contact seemed to be necessary, though not sufficient, for him to get even a residual effect. And that it helped if the other person was attracted to him. At least that part only stood to reason, Luke thought, knowing more than most the effect of attraction and beauty on reason and even volition. Fortunately, thanks to the things that had been done to him on the night the curse had been imposed on him 1,900 years ago, a lot a lot of people were attracted to old Lucius Antonius Rufus, once the pride of Apulia, lately a perfectly ordinary and seldom-seen part-time web designer residing until recently in a very nice refurbished loft in Cincinnati, Ohio—a city that, he had been delighted to discover on his arrival there, was conscious and proud of the great, ancient Roman name it bore.
He couldn’t see the eyes, but Luke decided to take a shot at doing a glamor anyway, since … well, really, he had no other options. He responded in a bright voice, working hard to send really good believe me, trust me, I’m totally harmless brainwaves in the general direction of the trooper’s invisible eyes as he spoke.
“Actually it’s a funny story,” Luke said, more or less grasping at random for something even remotely plausible. “See, when I got the license back in the mail, I saw they had gotten my birthday wrong. Crazy typo, right?” he prodded, as if such wacky snafus happened all the time with the goofy pranksters at the stolid Ohio BMV. The officer remained silent. Evidently even the concept of “remotely plausible” was beyond his reach at the moment.
Luke could hear exactly how lame he was sounding, but he continued on doggedly. “Anyway, I kept meaning to do something about it, but then it slipped my mind until suddenly I had to move. So I figured, I’ll just fix it when I get to Bozeman!” That part was true, anyway. He offered the cop a helpless, whatcha-gonna-do shrug. “I mean, sure, I realize I should have done something about it before,” he said, trying to sound chagrined at his lapse, “but I promise I’ll take care of it as soon as I get where I’m going.” Luke really hoped that the truth of that statement would snag on something in the cop’s cerebellum and take hold there with positive effect, whatever else the man thought of the situation.
It was a forlorn hope, however. Only a couple of heartbeats and a stubborn hoot-hoot from the nearest irritated owl passed before the trooper replied with a flat “Uh huh.” Lucius almost spoke the next words along with him.
“You’re going to have to come with me, sir,” the trooper said.
Luke sat in one of the basement holding cells of the state police substation off exit 32, near the flyspeck farming village of Brixton. He tried not to fret. Normally being locked up, and under a new moon, would be little cause for concern. He’d seen more than a few sets of iron bars in his time, and most of the cells he’d been tossed into, whether out of some magistrate’s pique over a besotted son (or father or brother) or for more serious offenses, had been not nearly as nice as this. Gods, he’d stayed in hostels and inns that weren’t as clean and well-provided for a night’s sleep as this cell.
But it being the new moon seemed no longer to matter. Everything was wrong. Luke’s compass was reeling. He could feel it within him, as if the full moon were moments away, the burgeoning of his animus, ready, even eager to explode from him again as if it had been weeks and not minutes. He knew now that he had released himself during his vision, even if he could not understand how, or why. But what intensified his confusion and alarm as the unmistakable feeling that it was going to happen again, soon, at any moment—he would release his fire on everyone around him, including on the trooper who had already been dosed more effectively than almost any recipient of his gift he could remember.
The moment Luke had seen his face…
The ride back in the trooper’s prowler was brief, and Luke had spent it mostly distracted by his own disorientation. He’d paid little attention as the uniformed man stowed him in the back, gotten in himself and pulled out, calling in the arrest and putting in for the tow for Luke’s stranded Sonata.
After a few quiet moments, the trooper had tried to make conversation. “So if you’re headed to Montana,” he said, half over his shoulder, half toward the rear-view mirror where he seemed to be eyeing Luke curiously, “what brings you this way?” At Luke’s slight furrowing of his brows the trooper added, “Most people would go by interstate.”
Luke shrugged. “I’m in no hurry,” he said. “I like small towns.”
The trooper nodded, then asked, “I’m pretty good with accents, but I can’t place yours,” he said. “You almost can’t tell it’s there.”
Luke frowned, his self-preoccupation pushed aside somewhat by the trooper’s solicitous curiosity. “I was born in Italy,” he admitted at last. “But I’ve lived in America for quite a while.”
“Oh yeah?” the trooper asked, glancing at him again in the mirror. “What brought you to the States?”
Luke shrugged. “I prefer to travel, when I can,” he said. It occurred to him that this statement might mark him as a suspicious drifter to law enforcement ears, but he let it be and went on, “I’d wanted to come to America for a long time. There were a lot of things about it that reminded me of home.” He smiled fondly to himself. All those classically obsessed “founding fathers” … If only they taught in schools the things he knew about Tom Jefferson and Sam Adams, he thought wistfully.
Luke fell back into his own head, and the trooper didn’t ask any more. Moments later they were at the barracks. The trooper got out, closed the driver’s side door, and then stepped to the back to let him out—and there, in the bright floodlights of the barracks’ rear parking lot, Luke got his first real look at the trooper’s face. He held back a gasp.
Firmly aware of all the tropes of fiction—gods, in his youth he’d studied works of Aristotle on the subject that were so ancient they were now lost forever in the mists of time—Luke might have expected to see the playful, dusky bronze face of the sweetly beautiful Sebastianus, or the strong, handsome features of the unknown green-clad man from his vision. But this face belonged to neither of those two men.
It was the priest.
Staring down at him from under a broad-rimmed state trooper’s hat was the face of the Caerian priest who’d cursed him from pure vindictive spite nineteen hundred years ago, consumed with rage at Lucius’s ability to attract the priest’s own buried lusts and possessed by a need to make him pay, by the perverse formula of surrounding him with more male beauty, more mutual carnal desire, than he or any man could endure, pulsing out from him over and over, progressively, relentlessly, bit by bit changing those around him into enchanting, arousing creatures of wonton desire, forcing Lucius Antonius Rufus, out of self-protection and compassion for the unwilling victims of his own fate, into a rootless, friendless, loveless life that would never end.
Only … the face of that priest, last seen ugly and mottled, twisted with humiliated fury that had given way, by horrifying degrees, to sneering triumph, was now frowning in gentle concern at Luke’s dismay.
And beautiful. So fucking beautiful. The priest had no right to look that … captivating. On seeing that perfect face, those shining, dark, ocean-blue eyes under dark eyebrows, that jaw dusted with dark stubble, Luke felt an almost irresistible need to move toward him, to cup that check, to brush it with his own, to kiss those full, frowning lips—
Instead he’d frozen, and the trooper, impatience edging into his voice, said, “Come on,” reaching out a hand. Dropping his gaze from the man’s inexplicable face, Luke took in the well-packed uniform, passing across the nametag reading WEXLER almost without registering, before staring at the strong, pale hand being extended to him.
Luke shook himself back to conscious action. He managed to climb out without taking Wexler’s proffered hand, and once the trooper had shut the car door with a soft clack they strode silently into the barracks.
Luke was still preoccupied as a dour, matronly officer, Sergeant Booth, took over and processed him, taking his photograph and fingerprints and entering all of his information into a government laptop. Much of his C.V. was made up at this point; Luke now gave his “correct” birthdate of 1987, repeating the gag about the “crazy typo” to the uninterested Booth, who already knew he was being held on suspicion of identity theft or related fraud. He remembered just in time that he’d revealed his Italian origins during the ride back to the barracks, and so he had to offer up as a place of birth his actual hometown, Siponto in Apulia. He was able to convince Booth at the same time, in a rare moment of female glamor, that, contrary to her apparently instant suspicion, he was a perfectly legal, naturalized American citizen.
Luke thought about his old home. It was a nice place, Sipontum: an ancient Greek colony consumed by Romanization centuries before he’d been born there, in his father’s villa estates outside the city. The clan estates were long gone, of course, but there was still a large olive grove there, or at least there had been the last time he’d checked. It was an unexpected pleasure to be able to give his real birthplace for once, though of course he couldn’t give the real year, even if he’d known it by the Christian calendar. All that was certain was that it had been sometime during the reign of Hadrian—whose lover’s face of storied beauty, by a quirk of fate, he himself now bore.
And apparently his was not the only visage from the long-lost antiquity that now graced this modern world of driverless cars, clickbait, and Donald Trump. Luke stood up from his bench and began pacing the length of his little cell. What did it mean that the image of the man who’d done this to him was now real again, in the world again, nineteen centuries later? The priest himself had gone to his grave and dust countless lifetimes ago, his own athame shoved deep into his heart as a final fuck you from the very man the priest had hated most. Had old Sufenas found a way at last to claw his way out of the underworld, bent anew on unholy revenge? And Luke was now in his clutches, caught completely unaware. Or had that bitter, unloved Etruscan goddess that Sufenus had called upon to forge Lucius’s bonds, the glaring, hollow-eyed Malaviskh, now unexpectedly awakened from eternal slumber, called on by some entity intent on devising a still darker fate for the wandering Lucius… or with dark thoughts of her own toward the man who’d long ago murdered her last, lonely acolyte, generations after all her other worshippers had forgotten her name?
And, if this man, Wexler, bore the face of his ancient enemy, why were those fathomless, dark blue eyes filled with interest, compassion, and, he could not help sensing, a feverish desire, mercilessly suppressed? What had been the meaning of his recent dreams, and of that vision tonight in the tent? Who was the man in the green tunic, and what did he have to do with this stupid bottleneck moment and the convergence of all the crazy contours of his crazy fate?
“What in the name of cattle-loving Hercules is going on here?” he burst out.
“Cattle-loving what?” replied a sleepy, irritated voice.
Surprised, Luke looked up and noticed for the first time that he was not alone in the dimly lit basement holding facility. The walls of his camped cell were cinder-block, but the front was a tight grid of narrow horizontal and vertical bars, into which was set the similarly designed door to the cell. Across the narrow corridor was another cell. A young, dark-skinned man was peering at him from that cell, looking as if he’d just been roused from sleep: his loose black hair was disheveled, and his navy polo shirt and dark, immaculate jeans looked rumpled. He was staring at Luke, as if he’d never seen anything quite like him. Luke knew that stare: it was the fascinated gaze of a man in whom interest in another male was being awoken for the first time.
Luke sighed inwardly, then decided to accept the other man as a distraction. He was South Asian, Luke figured, probably Indian. Early twenties, good looking, and fit in the manner of someone who biked or ran religiously and took care of himself. He was watching Luke with great interest, and tracked his movements as Luke moved to the front of his cell.
When Luke didn’t respond to his question, the man asked, “Did you say ‘cattle-loving Hercules’?”
Luke shrugged. “It’s an expression.” It had been an expression, anyway, in times only he of all the inhabitants of the Earth now remembered.
The other man grinned. “So you think Herc was a cow-fucker?” he asked.
Luke gave him an answering smile, and, because he’d dropped his eyes in time, actually saw the man’s crotch swell as his dick responded to Luke’s sure-fire ability to arouse. His eyes met the other man’s again. “Bulls, more likely,” he said, shifting his eyebrow up just slightly.
The other man licked his lips. “I’m Rahul,” he said.
“Luke. What are you in for?”
Rahul let his gaze rake down Luke’s body as he answered. “Too many speeding tickets,” Rahul admitted, sounding exasperated at the picayune nature of his crime.
“Not drunk, I hope,” Luke said, letting Rahul take him in. He knew that when he was the focus of another man’s attention, he could feed that man’s arousal just by concentrating a little, letting a tendril of his animus slither out to the other man and grab him by the balls. Only, his animus had been awakened to near-full-moon potency. It was burning already, churning within him as if he was due for an eruption; and the force of that meant their erotic connection was far more powerful than normal. Their eyes met again across the corridor and locked. Luke pushed the connection onto him, and Rahul drew in a long, shuddering breath.
“No,” Rahul gasped. “Never.” He licked his lips again, his hand twitching, clearly needing to grasp his now obviously rigid erection. “What-what about you?”
“Oh,” Luke said casually, “I’m just an immortal ancient Roman cursed with an uncontrollable ability to spread lust and beauty.” He drove his gaze into Rahul’s and the other man tightened, stiff from head to toe with accelerating need.
“Oh yeah?” Rahul rasped. He attempted a grin, as if all they were doing was bantering from one cell to the next. “Is that illegal now?”
“Not in most states,” Luke growled. His own dick was stiff and hard, shoving against his loose jeans. He felt an urge to rut against the unforgiving bars of his cell. Instead he tried something he’d only been able to do a few times in his long, strange life. He let his vision fill with Rahul’s eyes, knowing Rahul was doing the same with his. “You can feel me, Rahul,” he spoke into those eyes.
“Yes,” Rahul said. They were both breathing hard. A bead of sweat slipped down Luke’s back, tracing the path of his spine.
“You can feel my body against you,” Luke said. “Feel me pressed against you from behind you. My arms around you. My hard body up against yours.”
“I feel you,” Rahul agreed. He was so responsive. It was more this time, more than he’d ever been able to realize. Luke realized he could feel Rahul’s body against him, too, as if they were pressed together, nude and in heat, impatient to fuck. Tight abs and strong chest under his roving hands. Broad shoulders pressed needily against his firm, sculpted pecs. Hard, round ass against his raging dick. “I feel your cock,” Rahul breathed.
“Yes, Rahul. Feel my hard cock pushing between your cheeks,” Luke commanded. He was aware of sensations he could not possibly be feeling. Rahul’s body under his hands, against his skin, writhing, pushing, …
Luke was too consumed by lust and want to care that he was galloping far beyond what he had ever known to have happened before. “I’m ready to fuck you,” Luke said. “You’re ready for me, too.”
“Need you,” Rahul pleaded. “Need you in me now.”
“Feel my big cock, Rahul,” he said. How many times had he said these words? Only it had never been like this, fucking a man he could see but not touch. It was as if he had reinvented touch, as if his magic had revolutionized the very idea of tactile sensation so that intimate proximity was no longer necessary. His hard dick was slipping between Rahul’s firm globes, its wet tip seeking that hot, flexing pucker, craving entrance and, past that, submersion. “Feel me pushing … into … you.” He thrust as he said it, and, to the astonishment of whatever was left of his rational mind, he could feel it just as much as Rahul could. He could feel his thick cock shoving inch by inch into Rahul’s virgin ass, feel Rahul pushing onto him, wanting more, needing more, until he was balls deep in Rahul’s furnace-hot ass, their hearts crashing wildly against their chests as they fucked. Luke’s arm seemed to wrapped tightly around Rahul’s torso as Rahul reached back with both hands to grab Luke’s pale, perfect bare ass, as if he could force Luke to fuck him harder through the application of raw strength. And Rahul’s raw strength was building. He could feel his partner’s torso swelling, building, his back firming and widening against naked chest, the pecs Luke was cupping firmly with his left hand thickening as they pounded against each other. And Rahul’s cock—! He’d gripped it with his right hand as soon as he’d felt himself enter his lover’s tight ass, and with every thrust, every shove of Luke’s marvelous dick deep, deep inside Rahul, a dick about which fucking poems had been written in all eras of Western humanity, Rahul’s own cock seemed to swell a tiny bit more, thickening and lengthening until Luke started to wonder if he’d even be able to stroke it effectively with just one hand.
“God! Luke!” Rahul cried out. “Lu-she-us! Lu-kee-us! Fuck me! Fuck me! Make us cum!!”
Even as Rahul said the words Luke felt both their orgasms swell and build as one, starting where they were joined where Luke’s godling cock was shoved to the hilt into Rahul, and then it swelled unstoppably, and they were both cumming, hard and long, jets of cum soaring across universes. Luke kissed Rahul’s sweaty neck, and Rahul twisted to give him a crushing, mauling kiss as they finished shooting their massive loads.
It was some time before his eyes refocused. He still felt as though he were embracing Rahul, both arms now wrapped firmly around his heaving chest; but reality swam into view alongside it, and in the reality he was sure he was supposed to be in lay that moment where he and Rahul were separated from each other by a narrow corridor and two sets of iron bars.
As he realized what he was seeing Luke couldn’t stop himself from muttering an ancient Latin oath he didn’t know he still remembered.
Rahul had changed.
One of the saving graces of Luke’s curse was that the transformations he induced in others were generally subtle, and for the most part there was an element of built-in glamor so that it wasn’t really a noticeable thing for either the people affected or those around them that they were now humpier, sexier, more erotically evocative than before—though of course Luke, the subject of the original curse, knew only too well. It was only with repeated exposure that the changes started to become impressive enough, the men so beautiful and built and full of raging sexual ardor, to keep Lucius and the young bucks he was changing so hard and so horny for each other that Luke had no choice to move on, leaving behind a legion of uncannily attractive men, or a little farming village, or an apartment building in a busy city, or (once) a remote monastery full of men he’d made much more beautiful than he’d intended while on pilgrimage, when he’d been preoccupied by solitary contemplation. But the changes took place in increments; even something like the vision he’d had that night where he’d made the green-clad man into a significantly sexier man because his proximity had given him the brunt of his transformation wave, was rare, and usually more subdued in real life.
But Rahul had changed. Luke stared across at him, gaping.
The other saving grace was that, until tonight, for nineteen fucking centuries, Luke had never actually changed someone except during the explosive release of his animus. And—again, until tonight—the explosive release of his animus had never, ever taken place except in the moment of moonrise on the night of a full moon.
That protection, too, was gone.
Rahul was staring down at himself. His jutting dick had been freed from the fly of his new jeans and was resting, still hard, in Rahul’s meaty hand, dwarfing it. It was wide and long and thick as fuck. It looked like Harrier jets could hand on that thing. Luke was reminded of a tall tale that had been passed around in his youth about Gaius Caligula, that he’d had a pointless three-mile causeway constructed across the gulf of Baiae at Neapolis by lashing together uncounted boats and pontoons just so that he could gallop across it and return, all to get back at a sour old astrologer who’d once said Caligula had had as much chance of becoming princeps as he had of riding his horse across the gulf of Baiae. If Caligula had had Rahul’s cock, he wouldn’t have needed all the boats.
And it wasn’t just his cock that Luke had escalated. Rahul’s formerly merely fit body was now so packed with hard, powerful beef that the seams of his polo on both his massive shoulders were starting to open, exposing dark, chestnut skin stretched across massive delts and traps. His waist was still incredibly tight, so the polo hung loosely there, but in between the taut fabric was straining across flaring lats and what might have been, and this was saying something, the most impressive, most bonerific pecs in size, shape, and definition that Luke had ever seen. The other man’s once-relaxed jeans were now crammed with so much muscle that Luke was certain that Rahul would have to literally cut the pants off to get out of them. And his ass—Luke couldn’t really see Rahul’s new muscle ass, and he was kind of glad, because he guessed that if he did he wouldn’t be able to keep himself from starting their glamor-fucking all over again.
Luke had never changed anyone this much, ever. Not all in one go, and usually not even after repeated exposure. He’d glamor-fucked before, making a guy feel him and bringing him to orgasm without even touching him. But glamor-fucking had never been like this. He’d never felt the fucking himself before, for one thing, but that paled against the fact that glamor-fucking had never, ever brought about even the tiniest change in his partner. Even actual fucking had never done that. But Luke was coming to understand that all his “never”s were suddenly washed away, and now, for the first time since he’d emerged blinking from Sufenus’s blood-spattered grotto, he was entering a world where he did not know the rules.
Luke was still hard himself, he realized. Bizarrely, however, his pants were not soaked with cooling jizz, as he’d expected. He knew he’d cum more powerfully than he could recall in recent memory, but the cum—he glanced up at Rahul, and realized that his cum must really have shot deep into Rahul’s tight, cherry ass. And then, as he mentally stepped back and let himself take in the other man, Rahul’s deep, dark eyes met his, and Luke felt a powerful new orgasm surge suddenly and uncontrollably within him. Frantically he pulled open his jeans and, with some difficulty, wrested free his rigid dick in time to stroke it to an irresistible orgasm almost as massive as the one before, his jets of cum shooting through the bars into the empty corridor.
Luke stared at Rahul. Rahul stared back at him, eyes wide. Luke let the stunning realization sink slowly into his brain: He had made Rahul so beautiful, so uncannily attractive, that just looking at him could make a guy cum, if that was what Rahul wanted. Even Luke. Not even Lucius Antonius Rufus, that deathless purveyor of lust and beauty, was immune to what Rahul had now become.
Luke found his voice. He needed to do something about this. He’d given Rahul power over other men, power that would sway any man’s sensibilities. Staring hard into Rahul’s eyes, Luke spoke carefully, impressing his words on him. He had to make this count—he’d probably never see the young man again. In fact, it might be better for Rahul if Luke didn’t encounter him again.
“Use it for good,” Luke commanded.
Rahul nodded fervently. Then he looked down at his massive cock. “Fuck,” Rahul muttered, wrapping the other hand around it as well. His hands were plenty big, Luke knew, but they both looked small compared to Rahul’s causeway dick.
“Be very careful about that, too,” Luke warned, letting wry humor edge into his voice.
Rahul looked back up and grinned at him. “You bet I will,” he said, and Luke felt a flutter of new arousal in his heart, not to mention his balls and his still-hard prick. He wrapped his hand around his own tool thoughtfully, and realized something else.
He stared down at his own prick, focusing on it properly. He felt a new curl of amazement and a little dismay wind through him. He knew his prick with unsurpassed intimacy, having spent the last two millennia in its domineering presence. And he knew that what he was now staring at was … his own dick, slightly augmented. His heart pounded. His own body had never changed so much as a whisker since the bastard priest had molded him into the perfect form of male beauty as part of his curse: stunningly handsome, ideally muscled, and more generously hung than men in the ancient world were accustomed to imagining. And this was definitely that fat, generous cock, only a little bit fatter, a little bit more generous.
Luke drew in a deep breath as he watched his hand move slowly up and down his rigid, slightly enhanced tool. Everything had changed, nothing was certain. And yet, as Luke was starting to realize, as indeed he had long known, change was not necessarily a bad thing.
Luke lay uncomfortably on the unpadded bench in his holding cell. He was staring up at the smooth, whitewashed ceiling and trying to take stock of what had happened to him. Though it was deep into the night, silent save for the background buzz of fluorescent lights and the soft whoosh of forced ventilation through this warm, scentless underground tomb, sleep remained far away.
It wasn’t just that his thick cock remained stubbornly hard in his loose, worn dungarees. Or that his whole body, from his boot-clad feet to the roots of his close-cropped, golden-brown hair, was tingling with a fierce arousal left unslaked by not one but two earth-shaking orgasms. Rahul, the recently transformed inciter of those gut-wrenching releases, was out of sight in his own cell across the hall, his newly extreme allure palpable but shrouded, as if he were already somehow finding a way to shutter the blinding erotic radiance with which Luke had gifted him without meaning to. But his body could still feel the man, like the warmth of a cloud-hidden sun, caressing his eager skin and gently brushing along his rigid, impatient erection under his clothes. Rahul was a living distraction, but even if he had been alone, Luke would still be restless and ill at ease.
Something was happening to him, something urgent and unprecedented. His world was disturbed from stem to stern, like the upturned hold of a capsized ship. He felt like he was in that hold with the storm still raging, and Luke didn’t know what was coming at him next.
He was accustomed to routine. His curse was all about routine, and he’d shaped his long life according to its dictates. The first bough of his curse, which preserved his unchanging beauty, was bound to one cycle, the setting sun. And the second—the one that incrementally enhanced the beauty of the men around him, spreading his animus outward from his heart like a subtle shockwave of raw exaltation? That had been bound, too, to another cycle, not to the setting sun but to the rising full moon. That had been his curse, but one that bore an edge of blessing. Every lunar month for nearly two thousand years, Luke had felt the throbbing tempo of sybaritic energy well up dangerously within him like the fiery lust-blood of the gods, churning and roaring inside him with all the inhuman passion he could contain and more, and then burst forth in a cataclysmic release, dousing all the men within reach of his radiating tremors of his spreading god-fire, infesting them with the seed of “more”: more strength, more beauty, more appetite, more of everything that makes a man crave, and be craved by, other men.
That cruel Caerian priest had wanted Lucius Antonius Rufus to suffer endlessly and force him always to move on before he’d created too much change, surrounded by the beauty he desired and must eventually abandon. And the metaphorical knife of the priest’s eternal spell had found home in his guts, as surely as had the very real, finely carved ceremonial athame Luke had rudely driven straight into the priest’s venomous heart. Luke was inherently rootless, forever errant in a wide world in which his lust was impossible to avoid, and where love, with its impossible-to-heed call to tarry, was the only danger an undying, unkillable man could possibly fear.
Yet there had always been something he could always take comfort from: the simple, cathartic regularity of his reshapings. The reassuring cadence of was like a twin heartbeat, assuring him he endured. Setting sun, and white, rising moon. As it had for humanity itself, those two long, steady pulses had thrummed the simple, cyclical beat of his life from what these days felt like the dawn of the world.
And now, in the course of a single night, everything was wrecked.
His stomach twisting, Luke reviewed recent events again in his mind. He’d had that strange vision, back in the car, a vision that felt like a memory of something that had never happened. He’d been waiting in a Roman legionary tent to deliberately use his animus on a commanding older man in a green tunic and his waiting troops. In the vision, Luke had submitted to the man in green, whether willing or duped he couldn’t be sure. The thought unsettled him. From the moment he’d killed the twisted Caerian priest who’d cursed him, Luke had vowed never again to subject himself to any man’s will. And yet in the vision he’d been kneeling unabashed before the man, obeying the other man’s desire to be transformed, by the orgasmic detonation of his curse, from handsome man to stunning demigod swollen with hard muscle and glinting eyes. Even now he could taste the vision-man’s fat, rigid cock, the cock Luke had accepted into his mouth and against his throat. He could feel its firmness filling his heated mouth as he pressed his lips around it, lathing it with his long, practiced tongue.
Luke’s own cock surged in his jeans, and across the way he heard a soft moan from Rahul seep into the silence, as if the young speeding-ticket collector in the opposite cell were sensing Luke’s arousal even at a distance, as inexorably as Luke was feeling his.
And Rahul. Hercules! What the celestial fuck had that been about? His trusty glamor-fuck, always before mere illusion, had felt like real fucking this time. And he’d changed Rahul, without the explosion of his animus. Somehow the raw, primeval, conjoined nature of their mind-blowing fuck had conjured rapid, uncanny changes in his partner, changes so extreme that Rahul was now more imposingly stunning, more imperatively arousing, than any man Luke had ever changed even after a year or ten years of proximity to the slow, monthly eruptions of Luke’s accretive, beauty-magnifying life-force. The towering amount of transformation unleashed in their lovemaking had been so great, it had even rebounded on Luke.
The terrible priest, in his perversion, had made Luke himself perfect and captivating in a straightforward, idealized way, so much so that the old man had been unable to look away when Luke had turned on him in that singular moment of rage. Never before had Luke felt the kind of transformation he had become fated to visit on others. Now he knew what it felt like to hold in his quivering hand a rigid, hungry cock that was fatter, and longer, and more achingly in need of fucking than it had ever been.
Luke heard Rahul moan again. He sensed that the other man was giving up on sleep and was slowly starting to pleasure himself. He could almost feel the movements of Rahul’s strong hands along the steel-hard magnificence of the man’s oversized shaft, as if the motions were stirring the living air around them. Even from this far away, Luke could follow Rahul’s stroking of his monster erection as if it were Luke’s own chiseled, deeply sensitive body that were being stroked and lovingly brought to release.
Beads of sweat dappled his hairline, and he felt warm and flushed all over. His heart pounded hard in his chest, aching for another rush of ejaculation, and his newly enlarged cock strained against the denim of his dungarees like a chained animal. It was desperate for touch, for mouth, for heated channel. Luke also became aware that his own anus twitched and flexed, and he realized there was a hot need growing inside him—one that he had not felt in decades.
But it was not Rahul’s massive, captivating cock he yearned for.
Unbidden, the heated, ocean-blue eyes of the trooper filled his mind. He saw Wexler’s face as he gazed at Luke unwavering, and his expression, Luke was startled to see, was one of aching want. They watched each other, frozen and unmoving, in a moment stolen out of time.
They were aboard a ship somewhere, becalmed in the cool, still air of a bright afternoon. A mountainous shore hazy along the horizon, but they were otherwise alone: beyond the railing nothing else but that distant coast was to be seen around them but miles of empty, rippling, blue-black water. The salty tang of sea air drifted around them, tightening their naked skin as they stood a few feet apart from each other on the creaking, well-scrubbed deck under their unshod feet. It was a Roman quinquereme, Luke noted without casting his gaze away from his partner’s, a big warship built for speed and maneuverability; but he could sense they had it, for the moment, to themselves. There was no sign of the strong, sweaty banks of oarsmen, nor of the ship’s crew or soldier-marines. Just themselves, two paragons of masculinity, their hard cocks rampant and pointing directly at each other’s hearts.
Luke took in a shuddering breath. Suddenly there was no distance between them, and Luke’s powerful golden arms were wrapping around Wexler’s pale, wide back, even as Wexler’s large hands grabbed the globes of Luke’s perfect ass. Their raging, leaking cocks rutted together as they kissed each other’s necks, their eyes closed in bliss and their hearts beating against each other’s chests. Luke brushed his lips against his partner’s ear. “What are you doing to me,” he moaned.
“That’s what I was going to ask you,” the handsome trooper growled into Luke’s ear in return. “I feel like we’ve done this before, but—”
Suddenly Luke couldn’t bear not to be kissing him, and Wexler must have had the same thought because their mouths were instantly crashing together in a ferocious kiss. They grabbed onto each other’s amazing bodies as they made out with animal passion, their cocks grinding urgently against each other in the hot, slippery crush between their bodies. After several heartbeats they broke the kiss to stare at each other, panting hard, their hearts slamming against their chests as one. Luke was feeling captivated by the other man’s dark, arresting gaze like he had never been before, and he realized with shock that he was already close to a monumental release. Wexler had said something, something that hadn’t connected properly in Luke’s head—what had it been? But his eyes fell on Wexler’s lips, and his thoughts foundered, and need suffused him.
Luke moved to resume the kiss, but the heat in Wexler’s eyes told him something else was about to happen. Abruptly the trooper’s strong hands were grasping Luke’s bulging shoulders and he was being turned around and bent toward the railing that was now directly before him. Luke understood instantly, his body reacting with desperate want. “Yes,” Luke panted, not wanting Wexler to hesitate even a second. “I need it, Wex. I need your cock. I need you in me.”
He gasped as his partner shoved up against him, his long, extra-wide cock shoving along the crease between his cheeks. Then Wex reached around under Luke, but instead of grabbing Luke’s rigid, weeping dick he collected all the copious precum off Luke’s brick-hard abs. Between that and what was to be had on his own deep-carved eight-pack Wexler had plenty of lube for what he did next, which was to shove a thick index finger deep inside Luke’s hole.
Luke gasped. “You don’t—” he tried to say, “You don’t have to—” But Wex cut him off.
“I’m big,” the trooper admitted in his warm baritone, a voice that would have brought Luke close to the edge all by itself if he weren’t already there. He sounded a little abashed, like he wasn’t quite accustomed to the size of what he had jutting out from his crotch. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. He pulled his finger out, and then pushed two fingers in together, a little harder than before, like he was dying for it as much as Luke. Luke grunted, so flooded with pleasure he wasn’t sure how much longer he could last.
“Fuck me,” Luke insisted. “Do it. Castor and Pollox, fuck me now!”
Instead of answering, Wex gripped Luke’s golden hips hard with both hands, and then he was inside him, thrusting fast and deep inside him. “Yes!” Luke cried out, holding hard to the railing as he stared out at the rocky horizon. Luke was normally not this vocal during sex, and anything he did say was usually involved him being the leader, the instigator, as he had been with… with… He struggled to come up with the name of the dark-skinned man who’d filled his thoughts only moments ago, in another place and time halfway around the world. He’d recognized where he was: this was the Adriatic, and that was the coast of Apulia, his homeland. He fancied he could catch the scent of it on the barely moving air. Olive trees, and heady earth. He hadn’t seen it in literally two millennia, but he recognized it as though it were imprinted on his soul.
Was it then, or now?
He felt tremors of his earliest days, the then that the shore before him reminded him of. A mischievous childhood and a randy pubescence. All his youth back then, before the curse, he’d dreamed of being filled with hot, fat cock as euphorically as he was now. The curse had changed that. He took a fucking from someone else only when he felt like he was in control. But now, in sight of the rolling lands where he’d lusted after the long cocks of comely shepherd boys and the well-made many garrison soldiers, the base need for his partner’s cock welled up within him. He needed to be fucked, and it could only be one man.
“Fuck me, Wex,” he rasped again.
Heat gushed though Luke’s already fevered body as Wex pulled back and then pistoned in again. His third thrust, however, was slower, as if Wex was fighting his instinct to drill Luke as hard as he could. There was more to this than fucking, and they both knew it deep inside. Luke’s pounding heart seemed to swelling inside him. “Jesus, Luke,” Wex said, voice breaking. “Jesus, I can’t—”
Luke knew the orgasm signaled by the roiling of his balls and the tingling at the base of his spine was about to rip through him. There was no stopping it. “I’m close!” he shouted. That was all Wex needed. He pounded Luke hard, again and again, and Luke’s gasp of pleasure transformed into a cry of release as he shot ropes of thick, white spend over the timbers of the deck, without having touched himself once during the whole encounter. Wex grunted and froze suddenly, and then he was cumming too, filling his channel with hot jizz. Wex let his hands slide slowly up Luke’s sides and then wrap gently around his torso, as he rested his forehead against Luke’s sweaty back. They were both breathing as hard as if they’d just completed a footrace. His long, wide cock was still hard, still thrust deep inside Luke, and Luke’s own impressive member was just as rigid as it had been all night.
“I feel so connected to you, and I don’t know why,” Wex murmured into Luke’s back between gasps. Luke blinked out at the sea, unseeing. He knew he felt bound to Wex, and not just because his inexplicable resemblance to a beautiful, de-eviled version of Luke’s personal villain meant he was tied up in the threads of Luke’s attenuated fate. He could feel the emotional fetters twisting gently around his heart, securing him as if to a mate for all they’d barely even met. But he hadn’t expected the other man to feel the same. Luke didn’t know what to think, or feel, other than the perfection of Wex inside him, literally and not so literally.
Wex snorted against Luke’s back. “I don’t want to let go of you,” he confessed, though he, too, sounded at a loss as to why that would be the case.
Tim Wexler stood with his back pushed against the tile wall of the small locker room attached to the trooper’s substation, trying to force his swimming thoughts into some kind of order. He felt as though he were surfacing from a dream, or from hours spent lying at the bottom of a warm, shifting lake.
His eyes were closed and he kept them that way, feeling warm and unsteady. He tracked backward in his memories. Arresting that man … the man that did things to him, twisting his cock and balls, and squeezing his heart and making his whole body feel like it wanted to expand in some kind of wild, full-body erection. He’d gotten Booth to do intake out of sheer embarrassment at what that man, the man whose bogus ID gave his name as Lucius Antony, did to his body and to his desires. He wasn’t sure what had happened after he’d given Lucius over for processing. Paperwork. But thinking about him the whole time.
He remembered going off shift and taking a shower, and then… then there had been… there had been a ship? A ship, and …
Fuck. He felt exactly as he had moments ago in the vision, after his stupendous release inside Luke’s hot, tight hole, feeling their naked bodies twisting around each other as he rested his head against Luke’s beautiful back. Breathing rough. Sweaty all over, his skin heated. The feel of Lucius’s hard-muscled, perfect golden form under his hands, Tim’s wide cock shoving between his tanned cheeks. That heart-stirring voice asking him, begging him, crying out in pleasure. Strange memories he could not place, blurring and indistinct, impossible to grasp. The ecstasy of an amazing fuck and a release that had sent them into unimaginable pleasure.
But more than a fuck. The connection he felt to Lucius Antony—no, to Luke…
No, that wasn’t right either. Lu—kee—us…
He heard a noise and opened his eyes, only to see Mort Delaney, a tall, lanky, red-headed new trooper who worked early mornings, sitting on one of the benches in front of the lockers gaping at Wex in unadulterated awe. Wex realized, to his intense mortification, that he and Mort were both naked, they were both hard, and their equipment were both the cherry red of cocks that had recently cum. In fact the sound he’d just heard in the silent locker room, Wex realized, was rough breathing combined with the splat of cum against Mort’s well-defined chest, even though the other man’s hands were planted on the bench to either side of him and nowhere near his thick club of a cock. Of his own release Wex could see no sign, either on himself or on the dark ochre tiles around his oddly large-looking feet. He felt like he’d been standing there against the wall, experiencing the fuck (that was more than a fuck) only in his mind. Though the release had been real, and if the cum wasn’t there, spattered over the cold tile before his feet, there was only one place it could be.
“Jesus,” Wex blurted out. His eyes met Mort’s again. He thought he should bolt, get out of this room and this strange moment. But now he felt rooted to the spot, pinned to the cold tile wall by Mort’s awestruck stare. “Jesus, Mort,” he murmured again, more out of astonishment than admonition at the man’s salacious impertinence.
As if freed to speak by Wex’s expostulation, Mort said, “That was amazing.” Unexpectedly, the normally shy tenderfoot trooper stood up and walked slowly toward him, crossing the distance between them until he was standing before Wex, looking up into the taller man’s eyes. He tentatively reached up and then, as if nerving himself, gently clasped the thick brawn of Wex’s upper arms with both hands. Wex couldn’t meet Mort’s avid gaze, but when he dropped his eyes he found himself frowning at Mort’s cum-strewn torso. Had Mort been that cut and defined before? They’d crossed paths in the locker room before, and Wex thought he remembered an abdomen that was kind of soft, and just the hint of pecs marked with a smear of rusty hair between; but now Mort had a definite six-pack, and the pecs and shoulders and arms were those of someone who knew his way around a gym, or at least enjoyed a demanding course of push-ups and other intensive exercise on a daily basis.
“I saw you just standing there, looking amazing,” Mort breathed, as he tenderly worshiped Wex’s arms from shoulder to wrist. Wex looked up to meet his eyes again, and they were earnest and full of wonder. “I couldn’t look away, and then before I knew it…” he trailed off, not needing to say the rest.
He seemed to be waiting for Wex to say something, but Wex was struck dumb, so after a moment Mort bit his lip and said, “You’re all sweaty. Do you want to…?” He left the sentence unfinished again, nodding hopefully toward the showers Wex had just left.
Wex shook his head minutely, and Mort shrugged. He took a step back, letting his hands fall to his sides. Wex saw that they were both still hard. He looked away.
“I can tell there’s someone that matters to you,” Mort said shrewdly. Wex looked back at him, and saw that Mort had a gleam in his eye. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to get in the way. But I won’t stop appreciating you, Tim Wexler. And I won’t be the only one. Get used to that in your life.” Then, to Wex’s amazement, he gave him a quick wink and then sauntered slowly out if the locker room. A moment later he heard a shower start up, and to his dismay Wex felt an actual temptation to follow after him and let Mort “appreciate” him at close range with those long-fingered hands and what were no doubt talented, full lips and a wide tongue, as they stood in the wet tile bathing cubicle together, misted in the fringe of warm water of the station showers.
But that wasn’t what he truly wanted. Or what he needed, either. Before he saw the man again, Wex would find out just who Lucius Antony was, and what the fuck was happening to them both.
Luke woke from an unexpected nap. He sat up part-way, the arm he’d had flung over his face to fend off the relentless yellow-white illumination of the basement holding facility slipping behind him so he could rest on his elbows. Something was different, and after a moment he realized what it was: Rahul was gone. His pulsing, cock-brushing allure—the overblown glamor Luke himself had given him, though the gods only knew how—had departed, meaning that sometime during his nap someone had come down and released him. He hoped it was the sour, imperturbable Booth, just because he liked imagining her suppressing her shock at the sight of him. Rahul’s beauty and libido was soon to be thrust on an unsuspecting world. Luke could only hope that the fast-driving young man had had some success at the shielding exercises he’d felt him doing.
Luke knew he was alone now in the echoing cinder-block labyrinth beneath the trooper station, but the fact was that he did not feel alone. Somewhere above him, moving through the rooms and corridors of the building’s main floor, was Timothy Wexler, the man who’d brought him here, the man who’d been transformed by an impossible, arhythmic eruption of his sybaritic animus into a beautified, devillainized, unnervingly attractive version of the vindictive priest who’d cursed him to be eternally surrounded by beauty of Luke’s own making for all eternity.
Normally the changes he made to the men around him were mild bumps in attractiveness and sex appeal, enough that most people didn’t consciously notice the changes in themselves or other guys but still found themselves appreciating each other more and feeling strong and sexy. Maybe a little surprised pleasure when they glanced in a mirror, especially if Luke had been in town long enough for a guy to get more than one dose, though there seemed to be something in the effects of the curse that eased their own path. The changes were just noticeable, but in a way most guys were quick to accept. Would Wex accept what he saw, assimilating it into his self-image just as thousands of men had done before him?
Luke couldn’t get a grip on it. How much had he changed him? He wasn’t even sure. Wex looked like Sufenas now—a bumped up version, but Sufenas all the same. Could that be a coincidence? Had he looked like the priest before tonight? The fact that his face had been in shadow was so much more frustrating now than it had been at the time.
Even if he’d already looked like Sufenas beforehand, Wex had been shifted just enough that he was now someone almost as distracting handsome as Luke himself. There was something distinctive about it, unlike his usual transformations. Rahul, in his new form, provoked an automatic carnal response, a mindless physical reaction. But with someone like Luke, and now Wex, your mind churned. You made plans, fantasies, storylines involving long hours of languid lovemaking on grassy slopes, or… well, fucking on the deck of ship in the gently rolling Adriatic.
Drew, one of his web design colleagues back in Cincinnati, had had a fondness for puns, and Luke could almost hear the smirky twink drawling, “Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase arresting officer.”
Luke snorted, trying to sort it out in his head. This change was definitely singular, in a way even Rahul’s, in the end just a gross exaggeration of his usual effect, was not.
What really told him things were different with Wex was his awareness of the man. An unlooked-for connection to a random trooper who’d hauled him in for possible identity theft—it was kind of funny. At nearly two thousand years old he was used to two things: constant entropic, anarchic change in the world, and rigid continuity in his own life, both proceeding with a relentless thrum that seemed to Luke like the heartbeat of the universe. If anything, that made the uniqueness of Wex all the more compelling, for all that the disruption of the rhythms of his long life disturbed and alarmed him. Luke found himself drawn to him, all the more so in the wake of the phantasm-sex they’d shared on an otherwise-empty naval vessel drifting in the calm, blue-green waters of the sunny Adriatic. He’d have written it off as a dream… except the phantasm-sex he’d had with Rahul had been real, and this encounter had been real, too, especially if the very real spunk he’d felt shooting deep into his own tight ass was any indication. He had felt Wex, Wex had felt him, and the awareness they had of each other was as impossible to ignore as the bars and locked doors that kept Luke from him.
There was something that pulled him toward Wex, and, unless he was very much mistaken, the same bond tugged Wex toward him as well. It was confusing and intoxicating. For all his centuries Luke had never experienced anything like it. It was different from the simple, boyish, uncomplicated love he’d had for his sexual playmate, Sebastianus, back in his never-forgotten idyllic youth; and it was different, too, from the implacable carnal undertow he’d felt on occasion toward men he’d made intensely appealing through repeated exposure to his curse. Even Rahul, whom he’d somehow pushed far beyond any others, had yanked on his baser instincts. Neither his reason nor his emotions had anything to do with the primal need he’d had to orgasm just from being exposed to the full measure of Rahul’s overcranked animal magnetism. The sensitivity he had for Wex (stationary now, one floor up from him and maybe fifty feet to the southeast) was focused, intense, and had everything to do with both reason and emotion.
Luke lay there, still propped up on his elbows, and tried to understand what he was feeling. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the awareness. No sooner had he sought to picture Wex in his mind than he saw him, as if his imagination had become so powerful it could see what was alongside what might be and what cannot be. The trooper was sitting at his desk, apparently paused in the act of filling in a stack of paperwork; he was chewing a white ballpoint pen, lost in thought. Luke decided to use the opportunity to really see him. The first time he’d gotten a good look at him Luke had been too thrown by the shock of seeing an altered version of Sufenus’s face; and on the ship they’d both been too deep in the throes of passion. Now, although he felt the pull of physical attraction, and his own inexplicably size-bumped dick thickened and filled again as the mere image of him came into his mind, Luke thought he could at least try to attain something of an objective stance.
He bit his lower lip, considering, as he took in the handsome man gnawing at his pen, his heavy biceps shifting against the close-fitting fabric of his uniform shirt.
When he’d first seen Wex he’d been overcome with dismay. Partly this had had to do with the sudden and unwelcome resurgence of a gruesome and horrific day long past, the seared-in memories of which had never left him even after the passage of nearly two millennia. But as soon as his brain had started ticking again an even greater fear had swelled below the surface of his consciousness: had the priest Sufenus himself returned to the land of the living, 19 centuries after Luke had viciously hurled his shade into the underworld? Had the Caerian priest’s malevolent, vindictive spirit returned behind the face?
The more he regarded Wex, however, the more he felt sure that this was not the case. Sufenus had been twisted by his own malice. Even in the short time they’d known each other, Luke had seen it—the baleful effect of hate on a comely visage. And Sufenus had been comely, after a fashion, before the end.
Luke had arrived in Caere, a northern city that still felt its Etruscan heritage in a world that was being progressively reshaped in Rome’s image, in a moment of youthful wanderlust born of ennui after his lover Sebastianus departed, most likely never to be seen again. The strapping stable groom had reluctantly decided to try his chances in the emperor’s legions, not wanting to leave Luke’s loving arms but knowing he needed the pay and booty to clear the crippling debts on his mother’s tiny holdings in Anatolia and keep her well in her final years. They’d parted with many tears and kisses and a final, ferocious fuck, and Luke was still missing him six months later when he’d clopped into Caere looking, in his innocence, for one of the last of the Etruscan priests who was rumored to still be practicing there.
A voracious reader in his youth (and still today), Luke had plowed through the emperor Claudius’s already obscure Etruscan history, which he’d found fascinating if dryly written, and had set out from his family’s homestead in Apulia traveling in search of Etruscan art. Once, he’d been that impulsive, acting as the mood struck him. A philosopher he’d read some years before, as he’d reclined on a sunny day under an olive tree in his family’s rambling grove, had seemed to have the answers Luke wanted. The author had instructed all young men seeking their place in the world to find their fate in whimsy, letting the winds of destiny waft them where they might. The advice had appealed to a young Lucius Antonius Rufus, who often found himself smiling wistfully at thoughts of distant places and strange lives he’d never seen, and of all the manly men in the world who might appreciate the ardent, sultry kiss of a sandy-haired, well-built and reasonably handsome lower aristocratic scion from olive-strewn Apulia. He was romantic enough to want a true love match, a mate to live out his days with. His love awaited him, somewhere; and it occurred to him that setting his feet to the winds might be as good a way of letting the gods find the meeting of their paths as any.
He traveled north and west, bypassing Rome itself and crossing the Tiber upstream from the sprawling capital. In Veii, Rome’s first Etruscan conquest, he’d found little to interest him: most of the Etruscan art there was hidden away in private homes or replaced with Roman imagery, though he was able to admire some of the architecture that had not yet been replaced by Greco-Roman pillars and colonnades; but he’d heard tell of a priest in Caere who had helped other noble seekers of lost Etruria and who might, with perhaps a bit of of financial inducement, serve him as a guide to the surviving secret treasures of these earliest of Italians.
At first they’d been boon companions. Once the remuneration was agreed on, Sufenus was an eager guide, leading him through abandoned buildings and secret tombs where every wall and doorway was adorned with painted depictions of a lost Etruscan world. They spent days and evenings walking and riding together. Sufenus was such good company he mostly forgot his lingering heartache from Sebastianus’s departure, and even he found himself becoming intrigued by the priest’s dark, ocean-blue eyes, his cautious smile, and his devotion to a people, ways, and language that had even in those days been all but stamped out by the Roman boot. His physique was undeveloped but not unappealing, his ruddy olive skin a shade or two darker than Luke’s had been then, as if the blood of the priest’s ancestors ran true in him. Luke was introduced to Sufenus’s fiancée, Sethra, a haughty white-skinned slip of a girl from an ancient family. Luke found her beautiful but cold. She seemed pointedly uninterested in their boyish explorations of the past and removed herself from their presence after one formal and uncomfortable introductory meal together, leaving Luke and Sufenus to get on with their excursions without her.
Though increasingly nervous and occasionally jumpy for reasons Luke didn’t consciously understand, Sufenus willingly spent almost all his time with him. He even stayed over more than once in the little house Luke had rented in Caere after they’d stayed up late talking about old Etruscan sculpting techniques or how arcane Etruscan symbolism could still be found here and there in the city’s architecture. For his part, Luke found himself enjoying not just the priest’s eager company but his pleasant good looks and well-proportioned frame as well. The awakening of his libido after months of mourning frankly cheered him; so he let his eyes linger on the man’s stormy blue eyes and dark eyebrows and the firm line of his jaw, and wondered what it would be like to be with someone not for love but for the sheer animal pleasure of two randy, well-made men rutting together. He didn’t miss the priest’s fleeting glances and stray touches, either, and he once caught the man staring hard at the faint bulge of Luke’s crotch that was just visible under his belted, saffron-colored tunic as they sat eating on the floor bread together in Luke’s room, though he seemed not to realize he was doing so.
Finally Sufenus took him to his own concealed grotto just within the old city walls where he alone worshipped and served Turan, Etruscan goddess of love and beauty, and her retinue, including Malavisch, goddess of the marital bond, as his fathers had done for uncounted centuries. This one in particular seemed important to Sufenas, though he was obscure enough to Luke, who hadn’t come across her in any of his readings so far; but here there were gold and silver talismans and simple frescos devoted to her, and when Sufenas spoke of her Luke thought she seemed more real to him than the others, as if she were the only one who still spoke to the last priest of the Caerian gods. Sufenas spoke of her almost like a lover; and it seemed, as much from the warm, prickling atmosphere in the grotto as he talked as from Sufenas’s words, that the old goddess responded to him like one, too: he imagined her as generous, fond, and protective of Sufenas as the tenuous continuance of a once-vibrant bond with a people that had moved on to other gods. Perhaps even Etruscan deities could be lonely.
Though he insisted that his priesthood’s many secret and powerful rituals, most ancient beyond words, could not under any circumstances be shared with outsiders, after a bit of prodding Sufenus agreed to perform the familiar rite of haruspicia for him in its traditional Caerian form, sacrificing a small sheep on his altar and examining the entrails for portents of Luke’s own future. Watching over the priest’s shoulder, Luke was delighted to see an unblemished liver, which he knew from Claudius meant that no gods opposed him. Spontaneously he clasped the priest by the shoulders and kissed him squarely on the mouth.
At first, Sufenas had kissed back, and he and Luke shared a moment of sweet passion, the release of a sexual tension they’d only half-realized had flickered between them. But it was only a moment. That night Luke curled up in his rooms, stomach knotted, the insults he hurled at himself for his thoughtless impulse mirroring the vile imprecations Sufenas had hurled at him as he’d shoved him backwards, his face pale and aghast, hard thrusts to the chest with sacrifice-bloodied hands forcing him awkwardly backwards step by step until he turned and bolted from the grotto. He shivered, remembering the priest’s red face twisted in fury, all his rough beauty contorted into a mask of rage made all the more gruesome by the obvious and hefty erection Sufenas was perversely sporting under his clothes as he screamed.
Luke was already thinking he had never made such a terrible mistake. He had burned the blood-soiled tunic, but the moment stayed with him.
He stayed eight days more in Caere, though he seldom left his rooms and kept to the markets and stalls furthest from both Sufenas’s home and his sacred grotto. He still had a bucket of books he’d borrowed from local nobles through Sufenas, and he wanted to read as much as he could before the priest remembered them and took them back; but he found his attention wandering as he pored over the closely scribed Greek and Latin texts. His mistake had jarred him, making him question himself, and it had also spoiled the whimsy that had brought him here. He was no longer sure of his path. He’d planned to head for Tarquinii when he was done here in Caere, but his quest seemed meaningless now; returning home to Sipontum, though, seemed similarly anticlimactic. He dithered, dejected and uncertain.
Sufenas came for him at midnight on the eighth night.
Loud noises startled Luke awake from a strange and seemingly urgent dream he could not remember. His eyes adjusted to the moonlit dark just in time to make out Sufenas’s rage-twisted face—and the heavy, studded bludgeon he’d raised directly over Luke’s head. A moment later, everything went painfully black.
He came to in the grotto some time later, though how Sufenas had gotten him there, whether by cart or hauled through the night streets over the priest’s square shoulders like a side of beef Luke could not say. He was naked, lying on rough, cold stone, his head and shoulders propped against the wall where it met the stone floor as if he were meant to witness whatever came next. He was sick and miserable, his head splitting with pain from what must have been a serious blow to the side of his skull, but already his instincts were warning him that the worst was yet to come.
Though his head throbbed relentlessly his vision cleared quickly, and he took in his surroundings with growing unease. A fire burned in a brazier behind the altar, the only light in the dark, underground space and bright enough to make Luke blink and look away, his mind recoiling in pain. The priest was there, kneeling before the altar, and Luke saw he was wearing white ceremonial robes and a thin gold circlet that he had only shown Luke before but never worn, claiming it was sacred to Turan and, especially, to Malavisch, who held sway over bonds both emotional and carnal. He was muttering indistinctly, casting something granular from a small dish in his hand into the brazier at intervals, causing the dancing flames to hiss and sparkle. By his knees to his left was a dark sack with something large and round in it. What it could be Luke could not guess, but it looked disconcertingly to be roughly the size of a human head.
Disturbed, Luke made to rise from where he lay, and it was at this point he discovered he could not move. His limbs would not answer. Either the blow had damaged him enough that his brain could no longer command his body, or some sort of paralytic toxin had been introduced into his system. The seriousness of his situation was becoming clear to him.
“Sufenas—” Luke croaked.
The priest did not turn, but growling in a low, dark voice, “Do not speak… fellator.” He pronounced the word coldly, each syllable distinct. He carried on with his rite, murmuring in the lost Etruscan language and punctuating his verses with further casts of the pale granules into the brazier’s bright fire.
Luke stared at him. He was used to Roman hypocrisy in some circles when it came to sex between men, ancient superstitions allowing for such pleasure in secret as long as you’re not caught being “the woman”; but Etruscans, almost as much as the Greeks, tended to laugh at Roman anxiety over such matters. A pure-bred Caerian, immersed in Etruria as it had once been, was almost the last person he’d expected to venomously spit the word “fellator” at him.
He tried to make his aching head sort out what he needed to do. “Look,” he said, “I am sorry. I did not mean—”
Sufenas stiffened, his back still to him. “You have ruined everything,” he hissed.
Luke’s pulse was racing. He knew he had to deflect whatever the priest had planned, or he would very probably die a sacrifice to Malavisch. “Sufenas, I—” he tried again, but the priest spoke over him.
“You invaded my thoughts,” he spat, still not turning. “My mind is infected with you. My mind, my heart, even my cock betrays me. I cannot even get it up for my fiancée, a woman Malavisch in her grace and love made beautiful for me surpassing all other mortals—but you! For you, it rises!” Finally he turned his head toward Luke, glaring at him over his shoulder, and his sneering face was so contorted with unspeakable bile Luke would have quailed back from him in dismay if he could have moved his arms and legs even a little.
Luke blinked at him, wide eyed, his heart hammering in his chest. “S-sorry,” he sputtered weakly. “I’m so—”
Sufenas fixed his malevolent gaze on him. It seemed almost to sear his exposed, cold flesh. “You like sex with men?” he jeered in a guttural voice, his lips curling in raw hate. “I will give you so much, it will be a torment!”
Sufenas held his gaze, as if he were willing Luke to remember everything the priest had revealed to him about ancient Etruscan curses visited on hapless mortals by betrayed kings, lords, and priests with the help of their vindictive gods, who found lasting affliction preferable to death and the escape it offered into the underworld. Luke had found them fascinatingly twisted and inventive, the stuff of a mythology even more baroque and cruel than the old Greek fables jovially retold and embellished by Ovid and his set. Now Luke realized, with a coldness in his guts, that the death he had feared might be something he would soon long for. Sufenas watched the realization dawn and smiled an ugly smile. Swiftly, he turned back to the altar and cast the last of the granules into the brazier’s flame, which sparkled and grew in brightness and potency.
Tossing aside the dish onto a nearby cloth, Sufenas raised his arms in supplication. “Malavisch!” he called. “Malavisch, it is I, Sufenas Meclasia son of Sufenas, your servant! Grace me now with your divine presence!”
The air in the chamber seemed to quiver and thicken, and Luke’s heart seemed to thud heavier. It was difficult to draw breath, and yet vigor flowed through him, as if the energy surging through him was too concentrated for his body to handle properly. His exposed cock even twitched, and his skin felt warmed, as if the little brazier were a roaring fire. The atmosphere around him filled with awareness. Luke was sure he was in the presence of a god even before the severely handsome female face roughly painted on the dark stone wall behind the altar moved and came to life, its black eyes shifting to stare straight at Luke.
Fear tore through him like lightning through a wooden tower. Those black eyes were more malevolent even than Sufenas’s—they were the eyes of someone intent on righting an unforgivable wrong. Jupiter save me, he thought. All this for a kiss? He stared back at the painted goddess, but her attention had already shifted to Sufenas. Her expression was now one of fierce determination—of devotion, he would almost have said, if it were possible for a goddess to be devoted to a mortal. Everything about her spoke of a past so distant, so primeval, as to be profoundly alien.
Sufenas lowered his arms. “My goddess,” he said, “this Roman has betrayed me. The injury he inflicted on me will never heal. I ask for vengeance, a retribution mete for the crime committed. Allow me to pronounce my curse on this man, through the power of my beloved goddess.”
Luke swallowed. Sweat pricked his brow. He wanted to protest, but he knew without trying that Sufenas was beyond reason, and Malavisch would never listen to the words of a Roman who had betrayed her own cherished priest.
Out of love for thee, thy prayer… will be granted. The words weren’t Latin, or Greek, but were in the Etruscan tongue, which Luke did not know but somehow understood anyway. Luke wasn’t sure how he had heard them, or if they had even been spoken at all. His throat told him he himself was speaking, and his ears that Sufenas did likewise, the two of them intoning the goddess’s response in uncanny unison; but Luke was also sure he had not said the words. It was as unnerving as anything that had occurred that night.
Sufenas took the head-shaped sack in his hands and rose, finally turning fully to face Luke. Luke’s stomach twisted at the shape of the rigid erection his ceremonial robes did nothing to hide, but what made his blood run cold was the murderous look in the priest’s dark blue eyes, the more so as Luke knew he plotted what he thought would be a fate worse than death.
From the sack Sufenas drew a tinted plaster bust, exhibiting it to Luke, and to his surprise Luke recognized it even in the red light of the brazier’s flame. It was clearly Antinous, Hadrian Caesar’s famously beautiful Bithynian lover, whose sunlit hair, bright blue eyes, ready smile, and perfect form caught the attention of all who saw him; who had devotedly trained his muscles to drive himself closer and closer to the Greek masculine ideal; and whom the emperor had created a god of the Nile on his untimely death. Luke had seen more than one rendering of the impressively attractive young man; the late emperor, though convinced no imagery could truly capture Antinous’s beauty, had dared the artists of the empire to attempt this impossible feat nonetheless, and many had risen to the challenge. What Luke did not understand was what possible role the face of Hadrian’s ill-fated lover could possibly play in what was to come. He would soon find out.
Your curse will be an eternal tree of two boughs, he and Sufenas said together, the priest’s voice rough and angry, Luke’s low and weak. Behind the priest, the painted mouth of the goddess spoke Sufenas’s curse with them through their lips. The first bough is this. Your face and form will become that of the man all men find most beautiful. The priest lifted the bust, making sure Luke understood, then cast it aside onto the pile of cloths like he had the dish he’d used earlier in the rite. Luke’s eyes flicked from the bust to the priest’s flame-lit sneer. He was aware, just past Sufenas’s, of the goddess’s frowning visage painted in the undressed stone, her eyes, like the priest’s, fixed on him.
To his horror he felt the curse already taking effect. He felt his body shifting, his flesh and muscle moving. It was like the crawling of ants under his skin. He had never been more terrified. “Su-Sufenas—” he tried to say, belatedly attempting to appeal his fate, but the goddess took over their voices again, speaking Sufenas’s curse with the force of divine will. The feeling of transformation subsided suddenly, and with it came a surge of strength and wellbeing—but the fear did not subside.
None will be able to ignore your beauty, they said. With every setting of the sun you will return to this form, (and here Sufenas gestured to his prone body), strong and unspoiled, forever drawing the ardor of men. Following the priest’s gesture Luke glanced down at himself and goggled. His ordinary, if well-made, form had been replaced by a tanned, muscled physique of truly classical proportions—Apollo made flesh, he thought, knowing such words had once been spoken of Hadrian’s lover, too.
His eyes met Sufenas’s furious ones, and he remembered he was being given no gift. Sufenas was cursing him to draw the lust-darkened gaze of all men to him, wanting and demanding sex from him, without surcease until the end of days. It was retribution for kindling an unquenchable fire in Sufenas’s man-loving loins, and Luke knew he wasn’t done yet. His blood ran cold at what might remain.
The second bough is this, their voices said, still in perfect unison. Sufenas stepped closer, his flame-lit face more contorted with cold rage than ever. With every rising of the full moon you will spread beauty and lust on all men around you. With each cycle, their allure and passion will increase, desiring you and each other more each time. The priest stepped closer still, now only a few feet away, his eyes fixed on Luke’s, waiting for him to understand.
With horror Luke grasped the priest’s malicious intent. Because of the first bough his beauty would draw all men to him, but the second bough meant that each full moon would dose the men around him with beauty and lust. No doubt the effects would be subtle, at first, but the cumulative effect of multiple full moons could change entire communities. If he stayed in one place for any length of time…
Sufenas’s terrible smile widened, and Luke’s heart hardened into stone. “You bastard,” Luke whispered, all weakness gone.
Love. He would never know love. All his encounters with men, for all eternity, would be meaningless, the puppetry of false ardor and the shallow glamor of beauty. He would never know the tenderness of intimacy born of friendship and affinity. He would never live out his days with the man he chose to give himself to. He would be rootless and alone, forced to forsake one community of men for another, for century after empty century. The cycle of his future life stretched before him, and in that moment he was as filled with hate as Sufenas was.
This is the curse of Malavisch and her servant Sufenas Meclasia, son of Sufenas. Luke now felt nauseated just at the thought of his own lips being wrapped around the man’s hated name. The secrets of your curse will never leave this chamber and will be known only to you and the priests of Caere. Remember your crime, wretch, and know that you have received the justice of the gods. With that, the strange unison-speak seemed to end. With a glance he saw that the rude fresco of the goddess had returned to its former impassivity, and the air seemed to lose its charge. He turned his rage on Sufenas.
“Justice!” Luke howled, sitting up. “How can that be—” His words faltered as it registered that Sufenas had pulled a finely carved ceremonial athame from a hidden fold in his robes. Luke recognized the knife—it was the same one Sufenas had used to deftly lay open the sheep’s liver in the sacrificial rite they’d practiced a little over a week before. Luke knew from that occasion that it was singularly sharp, and also that Sufenas knew how to use it. The blade glinted redly in the dancing light of the brazier.
Sufenas took another step forward, malevolence still lighting his eyes. It seemed visiting a miserable, life-altering curse on Luke had not sated his desire for vengeance in the least.
“Wh-what are you going to do with that?” Luke asked, a little unsteadily. He knew Sufenas couldn’t be intending to kill him after all this. But that was the point, wasn’t it? It was never about the easy escape of death.
“Do not worry, Lucius Rufus Antinous,” Sufenas said with an evil, mocking grin. “Your beauty will return—” The grin widened. “—with the setting sun.”
Fear washed through him again, but Luke was done being a victim of this man. He turned his mind toward his own vengeance. Two things occurred to him in that moment. For one, he could move. The paralysis had worn off, or perhaps had gone the way of his old body and its more conventional appeal. For the other—
Luke rose smoothly to his feet, his loose curls, so captivating to a generation of sculptors, brushing the low roof of chamber as he straightened to his full height. Sufenas hesitated, his eyes fixed on Luke. He was just a bit taller now, and the priest was looking up at him. He saw lust spread in those glittering ocean-blue eyes, amidst the hatred and, he was pleased to see, a growing uncertainty. Luke was naked, and his beauty was so great it truly was impossible to ignore. So the goddess had spoken.
It was his turn to sneer.
He advanced on Sufenas. The flame in the brazier was dying now, leaving them with little light in which to see each other, but it was enough. The priest seemed rooted to the spot, his eyes flitting down to Luke’s full, kissable lips, and Luke knew they wanted to go lower still. “Look at me,” Luke commanded, in a smooth, tenor voice he did not recognize. Sufenas’s eyes met his, and Luke could see the fear and lust churning in them, fighting for balance.
“You are truly a weasel of a man,” Luke said, taking another step forward, grasping the priest’s shoulder with his left hand. “You have abused your affinity with the divine, Sufenas Meclasia. You have sown the goddess’s retribution on another for what you will not accept in yourself.”
Sufenas’s eyes were still fixed on his. Even in that terrified gaze he could see the relishing of Luke’s touch, the pleasure his proximity gave him, even the hope Luke might kiss him. Luke was tempted, but he was not that cruel. He took the athame from the priest’s trembling hand. “You will curse no more innocent men,” he said coldly. With a vicious jab he shoved the blade deep into Sufenas’s chest, feeling the strength of his new, gymnasium-honed muscles. Blood spurted from Sufenas’s chest as he found the villain’s heart, spattering hot and thick across Luke’s bare torso, and he grimaced as he drove the blade deeper.
Life slid from eyes Luke had once admired and vanished. The priest’s body abruptly slumped like a capsized ship diving beneath the waves, and Luke let it collapse to the ground in a heap, the athame still protruding rudely from the gore-soaked chest. He stared at it, the knowledge he’d put it there shuddering through him. Instantly the fever left him. His guts turned cold and liquid, and it was all he could do not to retch.
He tore his eyes from the corpse up to the roughly painted image of the goddess behind the altar. He knew the curse was Sufenas’s, and that probably the primeval goddess had only granted the man’s prayer because he was the last of her servants; but he found he could not quite forgive her. He did not fear her—he placed his trust in Jupiter, and Mars, over any minor and forgotten goddess of the vanishing Etruscans; but neither could she have anything to fear from him. Except that he might outlive her, he thought wryly.
He moved himself to speak to her, wondering if he would be the last of all mortal men to do so. “You allowed this, lady,” he said gravely to the still, unmoving visage, “though you must have known the flaws lay in him.” He swallowed, not looking down at the man he’d killed. “Your voice is dead,” he said hoarsely, after another moment had passed. “I pray you do not find another.”
Whether by coincidence or otherwise, in that moment the flame brazier sputtered and died, filling the chamber with a foul smoke that mixed noxiously with the stink of human ichor. Hurriedly, Luke turned and stumbled his way out of the stony grotto, relying mainly on touch and memory. Outside in Caere it was still deep in the silent hours of the night, so there was hardly any light to help him even when he gained the final passage; but he soon made his way into the calm streets of the city. He felt like Orpheus, reemerging from the underworld with his hopes and dreams all turned to dust.
He was aware of the stench of blood on his bare chest and hands, and he stood there a moment, trying to steady his rebellious stomach. He could barely believe the night’s events had happened, much less the disturbing consequences yet to befall him. He vowed to himself that he would never again allow himself to be in the power of another like that; but that was easy, and the horror of the incident in the grotto had already shifted for him from Sufenas’s actions to his own. He wanted desperately to make a second vow, that he would never kill another man. But the world… the world was too brutal, he knew even then. And, in any event, it was very likely he would need to take up arms as a soldier at some point, if he was to live a transient life for all eternity. He settled for a simple prayer to Jupiter that he would never again feel he had to kill a man who was not under a soldier’s oath, even if the man had delivered himself into malice as deeply as Sufenas had, and that vengeance would never again drive his actions.
He looked up at the sky. It would be light in a couple of hours. He should return to his rooms now if he wanted to bathe, pack, retrieve his horse, and get under way before the streets were clogged with morning traffic. It might not be rational, but he wanted to be a long way from Caere and Malavisch’s grotto before the next full moon.
Tim Wexler sat at his desk feeling distracted and uncertain, the shaft of a half-forgotten cheap ballpoint between his teeth. There was something about this Antony guy, something he hadn’t figured out yet. He sure had a hold on Wex’s dick—even now it was chubbing rapidly just at the thought of the man, with his fascinating locks of dark-blond hair streaked with sunlight, his gleaming blue eyes, those wine-red lips. And fuck, those shoulders, the perfect chest, that exquisite ass…
God damn it, he was completely hard now. If this guy stayed in the station lock-up he might never be able to move from this desk again.
He seemed to catch something out of the corner of his eye, and he turned his head toward it. He pulled the pen from his teeth, frowning. It looked like… it was almost as if the man, Lucius Antony (or whatever his real name was), stood before him, not ten feet away, lounging languidly against the wall of filing cabinets by the swinging double doors that led out to the main lobby. But that couldn’t be right, because Lucius Antony was downstairs in holding cell B—he could feel him down there. Or, rather, he knew the guy hadn’t been released and was still detained. Unlike Speedy Rahul—Booth had gone to discharge him an hour ago, and then she’d disappeared. Lunch break, probably.
No, Lucius Antony was down in the cells. Only, there he was, almost. The face, the blue eyes, they were pinned on Wex. He felt weirdly like he was being examined, like the guy was trying to figure him out. “What are you…?” he started to ask, surprised to hear his own voice—he hadn’t meant to speak at all.
Mort Delaney paused in the act of putting on his hat. He was standing by the desk that was between him and the double doors, and he was giving Wex a funny look. “I’m puttin’ on my hat, Wex,” he drawled, one rusty eyebrow raised. “You’re paper-working, which means it’s me on patrol, right?” He nodded pointedly at the blank forms currently being pressed into Wex’s desk blotter by his hefty elbow.
Wex flicked his gaze from Mort’s oddly engaging grin and intriguingly bumpy shoulders over to where he’d sort of seen the image of Lucius Antony, but the man wasn’t there any more. If anything, that was more unsettling. Wex didn’t want to be so hung up on a guy he was actively hallucinating him.
He sat back abruptly, tossing his pen at the forms on his desk. Why some forms were computerized and others weren’t he would never understand.
“Yeah, go on,” he said. “Hey, do me a favor, check and see if Antony’s car is in impound yet. Late model blue Sonata, Ohio plates.” He wanted to check that vehicle for some kind of… something, and the clock was ticking before the feds took the case, and the Sonata with it. Interstate suspected identity theft meant the feds as a matter of routine, but he wanted to hold onto this as long as he could. Antony had him at a disadvantage somehow, and Wex didn’t like not knowing what was going on. Especially when his dick seemed to know more than he did.
“You bet,” Mort said, just an edge of concern in his smile. He turned and headed for the double doors, still adjusting his hat, and Wex found his eyes drawn irresistibly down the strongly tapered back to the young trouper’s very nice, tightly rounded butt. A little frisson of surprise went through him as he did so—he’d never clocked Delaney’s butt before… and he was pretty sure the reason was it hadn’t been worth clocking before today.
He turned back to his computer, chewing his lip. The plates on the Sonata pulled up an Ohio registration matching the license. Lucius R. Antony, born February 6… 1957. The scanned image of the license was still up on his screen, the improbably handsome face peering out at him like it might wink at him at any moment. Wex’s hard dick pulsed against his hip, trapped in his uniform trousers and begging to be let out.
“You look damn good for your age, Mr. Antony,” Wex told it sourly. He scratched his chest—his shirt was feeling a bit tight across the shoulders and under the arms. He’d have to go up a size. This body put on muscle like…
Wex caught the thought and frowned. Was that right? He felt like he remembered not being able to put on muscle. He shook his head, confused.
The driver’s license picture was still staring at him, blue eyes boring into him like they knew all the answers. Grimacing, he leaned forward and turned off the monitor. The screen went dark, the bright display replaced with the muted, dim reflection of Wex and the rest of the small bullpen behind him.
Wex’s brows slammed together. He leaned forward, staring into the reflection. Was that… him?
His gut told him it was him. The dark brows, the ocean-blue eyes, the firm, stubbled jaw… that was all Timothy Wexler, a face he knew from every mirror he’d ever looked into. Only…
His stomach fluttered. His grandmother had used to talk about feeling like someone was walking over her grave, and now, for the first time, Wex thought he knew what she’d meant.
He stood up abruptly, his rolling desk chair skidding back away from him. His hefty club of a dick shoved at his trousers, and his chest and shoulders pulled at the almost-too-tight uniform shirt as he straightened his stance. It was all evidence. He drew in a sharp breath. Something very, very strange was going on, and the answers were all waiting for him downstairs, with the too-fuckable man in holding cell B.
At that moment, Delaney reappeared, pushing open one of the double doors enough to poke his head in. He caught sight of Wex’s raging stiffy and quickly lifted his gaze up to meet Wex’s. “Uh… Sonata’s in impound,” he reported, unsuccessfully suppressing a smirk.
“Thanks,” Wex said meaningfully, nodding his chin toward the exit behind Delaney.
“All right then,” Delaney said. “Uh… don’t have too much fun without me!”
“Out!” Wex barked, but Delaney was already gone, the door swinging in his place.
Wex took another breath, reconsidering his plan. He’d check over car over first—the Sonata, at least, wouldn’t be trying to do him before Wex got any answers. However much he wanted to make love on a boat with Mr. Fuckable (again?)… however much he wanted that, and he really, really wanted that, he wanted answers more. He headed for the impound lot, his unhappy prick protesting every step of the way.
Davis Renfro, scion to a margarine empire and up-and-coming YouTube star, grinned his trademark Renfro grin into the Canon Powershot G7X II his buddy-with-benefits and loyal videographer Toby Park was holding as they exited their room at Mom’s Bed & Great Breakfast! just outside the tiny town his impromptu road trip had unexpectedly landed them in.
He hadn’t told his followers the purpose of his unexpected westward journey in his cute little droptop Shock-yellow Camero, of course, because he knew the comments would be all “dude, stalking, not cool” and then there’d be responses like “whats ur problem, stalking is totally ok if uv got good reason”, blah blah blah—honestly the comments were the best and worst parts of this gig all in one. So he’d announced it as a sudden whim, literally like, “Hey, Tobe, let’s skip Cincinnati for a few weeks,” and since then he’d been posted only the stuff he’d shot so far that lined up with the bored, amusement-seeking platinum-blond rich kid shtick that most people fell for like a toppled redwood. All the rest of the footage he was saving for the videos he’d start posting once he’d finally uncovered the truth about his mild-mannered, stoic web designer and secret… well, what Luke Antony secretly was Renfro had yet to determine, but he knew when he was right, and he was right about this.
“Morning, Frobies!” he said cheerily to the camera, though he kept his voice down to a near-whisper—it wasn’t even dawn yet, and in case “Mom” had any more guests in the rooms down the narrow hallway he didn’t want to be the asshole that woke them up. He moved toward the even narrower stairs that curved down toward the even narrower stairwell that curved down and around to the cramped main lobby and the common room beyond it. Toby followed, still shooting. “Here we are in Brixton—heck, what state are we in, Tobe?” he asked, interrupting himself.
Toby smiled, and Renfro was glad he knew better than to shrug and risk jostling the shot. “Dunno, Ren!” Toby said. “I suck at geometry.”
Renfro’s toothy grin widened. Toby loved pretending to be ignorant to feed Renfro’s monologues and rants, despite the fact that he’d probably invent whatever replaced YouTube in a few years. “Me too,” Renfro said. He started down the stairs, Toby close behind him, and kept his eyes in the lens as much has he could and still avoid tumbling down the curving stairway. “So here we are in Brixton, Wherever, population one thousand forty-five, I think the sign said. Between you and me I think that figure is—” and here he descended into a stage whisper, putting the back of his hand next to his mouth “—slightly exaggerated.” Toby snickered. “Anyway we saw some old barns and a cool-looking abandoned-looking mill or factory thing as we drove in last night, so we might do a little urbex while we’re out here.”
“Just watch out for ghosts, Ren,” Toby teased. “There’s always ghosts in those abandoned factories. And you aren’t too keen on ghosts.”
Renfro raised an admonishing finger at the camera. “That was one time,” he said. “And that feral cat would’ve made anyone scream like a little girl, bolting out of the closet like that.”
“Uh-huh, sure,” Toby said, amused.
Renfro had in fact spotted the dark hulk of some kind of industrial edifice off the highway last night, and it might work as a cover if they needed to stay here a couple days, but that wasn’t the sighting Renfro was occupied with. Out of all the things he’d kept in his own head, the most sensitive was the GPS tracker he’d mounted in the wheel well of the inconspicuous dark blue Hyundai his mark was driving before Antony had left Cincinnati. Even Toby, who knew the real purpose of their road trip hinged on Renfro thinking there was something strange, even surreal, about the “golden god”, didn’t know about the tracker, and he sure hadn’t posted about it. That would definitely have excited some unwanted comments on his channel, not to mention the likely acquisition of a pair of steel bracelets; but he’d known instinctively that just following Antony wouldn’t cut it. The man had a lot of practice slipping away from places, he guessed, and Renfro needed to be a step ahead of him.
It had all started when he’d made his first “How hot are the guys in my apartment building?” video. He’d started noticing that his moderately priced but uniformly nice complex was weirdly full of very good looking guys—all different kinds, from slim to stocky, from twenty-somethings to fifty-somethings, from office workers to bike messengers. Guys with sexy smiles, sexy walks, sexy eyes… even the doorman/handyman who sat at the front desk was surprisingly hunky. So Renfro had started shooting videos where he walked up to guys as they sat sunbathing shirtless in the courtyard, or doing their laundry in the big white laundry room downstairs, or heading into the residents-only fitness center, and just point-blank asked them how good-looking they thought they were, and if they’d noticed how there were a lot of attractive dudes around for one apartment building. Renfro was an ace with people, naturally setting them at ease, and the guys he approached mostly went with it, winking at the camera and even a quick, casual bicep flex or a shirt-lift to show off nice, tight six-pack abs.
Then there was that one night that changed everything. Because he felt it. All of a sudden, while he was sitting in the video space he’d set up in the second bedroom filming to-camera links for the latest “hot apartment guys” video, he felt it. It was like sex and allure and primal male beauty just sort washed over him. His dick swelled, and he felt his blood heat up. He was staring into the camera, but then his eyes shifted to Toby behind it, and he froze. “Dude,” he said.
Toby was staring right back at him, not at the tilt-up flipscreen showing what was being recorded as he usually did while they were shooting. He was also licking his lips. “What?” Toby said, sounding distracted.
Renfro looked his friend over, not sure what he was seeing. It was like Toby had suddenly gotten one notch better looking. He’d been kind of cute before, in a skater-boy-next-door kind of way, but now… now Toby was definitely cute, with a clean jawline and—he wasn’t sure. Were his cheekbones just slightly enhanced? There was something about the eyes, too—those brown eyes of his seemed just a bit brighter, more likely to draw you in. His hair seemed nicer, too, just a bit thicker, and there was a faint hint of dark bristle dusting around his chin and upper lip.
Renfro let his eyes drop, and he was even more unsure what was going on. Toby had been just skinny before. But now Toby was firmed up, not quite buff but defined, with a clearly outlined chest under his snug tee and the beginnings of biceps and delts clearly ready to bloom with the slightest effort.
“I think we’re going to need to turn the camera around and do one about you,” Renfro said, still scoping his friend.
“Chah,” Toby scoffed, his eyes on Renfro’s chest, which seemed to be pressing very aggressively against the plum-colored polo he was wearing. “I’m not one of the hot ones,” he said, lowering the camera, though without stopping the recording. “Not like you.” He swallowed and guiltily brought his eyes back up to Renfro’s, adding, “Besides, I don’t even live in the complex.”
Renfro bit his lip and said, “Want to?”
Toby’s eyes were burning into Renfro’s. There was no mistaking the lust kindling between them, promising to pleasantly escalate their close friendship. “Chah,” Toby said again, a little nervously. “We haven’t even fucked yet,” he joked.
“Want to?” Renfro said again. He twitched his eyebrows in ironic invitation, but the pull they were both feeling—Renfro knew it was no joke.
Toby swallowed again. “Can I… can I kiss you first?” he asked. “I kind of really want to kiss you. A lot.”
“Oh,” Renfro said, getting up, “there will be kissing.” Toby got up too, setting aside the camera on the computer desk next to him, and they moved toward each other, instinctively shucking their shirts before crashing together, matching their tight embrace and duelling erections with a deep, sensual kiss.
The next morning, as they headed out hand in hand for an early brunch, Renfro stopped in the lobby as he caught sight of the day handyman, Ernesto, who also lived in the building, as he headed out of the mailroom toward the front desk. At first Renfro wasn’t sure what he was seeing. He just knew that something had changed. “Hey, Ernesto,” he called, and when the doorman turned and gave him a bright, ravishing smile, Renfro almost had to take a step back. Ernesto was very tall and muscled like a welterweight boxer. It was the kind of physique Renfro noticed, and looking at it now, fully on display thanks to a clingy black tee shirt, Renfro knew—knew—that those muscles had gotten a bump up since their interview for the video series two days ago.
Toby was looking at him funny. He realized he was still staring as Ernesto sat sorting through the building’s mail. He glanced at Toby. “Ernesto look… different to you?” he asked, low enough for just them.
Toby’s dark brows drew together. “No,” he said. His lip curled up at one corner. “He’s still hot, but not as hot as a certain video star,” he said, his tone suggesting he thought Renfro was vainly trying to confirm his own superior good looks. Toby kissed him tenderly and Renfro laughed it off, and they headed out to brunch as planned. The whole time they were shooting Renfro’s bits-of-strawberry-in-every-waffle-hole challenge, though, Renfro was sifting through what was happening in his head.
Two things were clear to him. First, there was some kind of hotness upgrade washing over the guys in his apartment building. And second, he was seeing things that other people weren’t. He saw the hotness upgrades—in Toby, in Ernesto, and, strangest of all, in his own mirror. Maybe they were subtle enough that people didn’t notice, though Renfro guessed there was more to it than that. Maybe it was a part of it that you didn’t notice, at least while the changes were minor.
But Renfro noticed. And maybe, just maybe, he was the only one.
Or maybe not. The next afternoon he was dumping his trash in the bins out back when he spotted the elusive golden god in 5D heading for the back parking lot with a pair of very old-fashioned suitcases, a much newer-looking laptop bag slung over his shoulders. Toby was doing family stuff that day, and the camera was up in the apartment, but Renfro gave chase anyway, hoping to secure a future interview date. “Hey, wait up,” he called after him.
The golden god in 5D glanced over his shoulder but kept walking, heading for a dark blue midsize sedan. “What do you need, kid?” he said.
“Kid”. Hardly a kid anymore, Renfro thought. He caught up to his quarry as he was popping open the sedan’s trunk. “I’ve been doing these YouTube videos for my channel, about how hot all the guys in the building are,” Renfro said, looking the man over. Fuck, this guy was sex on legs. He was wearing new jeans, brown boots, and a thick white tee-shirt with “I Heart Italy” on it in red and green lettering, but he might as well have been wearing nothing—the clothes seem to fade as you took in his stunning beauty. Everything about him was perfect, almost literally so. His sculpted muscles, his stare-at-it-for-hours face… even the way his loose, sun-streaked curls shifted as he bent his head lifting the first suitcase into the trunk was perfect. The eyes, though—they were blue and beautiful, but they’d seen things, and even that was a major turn-on. There was something in them that spoke of… Renfro wasn’t sure. Something constant, like the Earth itself. Along with that, though, was something more, a fathomless carnal fire, as though he possessed a limitless capacity for saturating any man he captured and held with his piercing, all-knowing gaze with raw, unending, animal pleasure.
Renfro realized he was suddenly and completely hard in his khaki chinos, though he hoped the dark, heavy fabric would hide his considerable tool. “You would definitely be the best example yet,” he said. He was a little awed at how much of an understatement that was.
“Thanks,” the golden god in 5D said blandly. He finally looked at Renfro, thoroughly checking out his face and body in a quick glance before minutely shaking his head and turning to load the other valise and the laptop bag in the trunk. Renfro stared up at him in wonder, actually feeling his eyes widen. He sees it too, he thought, and he was completely certain he was right. He fucking sees it too!
“You’re too late, though,” the golden god went on, flashing him a sunny smile. “I don’t live here anymore.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “New place across town.” With his other hand he slammed the trunk closed without looking, and Renfro tried not to jump.
Something didn’t add up. “Wait. Didn’t you just move in here, like four months ago?” he asked. He remembered gossiping with Ernesto about it, the young handyman having been very admiring of what was obviously an athlete’s meticulously crafted physique.
The golden god shrugged those wide, bulging, perfect shoulders. “I like to move around,” he said dismissively as he turned away, moving around the car to the driver’s side door.
“And they just let you do that?” Renfro persisted. He was ninety-nine percent sure that this complex did not offer any kind of month-to-month or short-term leases, and it seemed pretty unlikely that a guy driving a Hyundai could afford to just break his leases and putter off to new digs whenever he felt like it.
The man turned partly back to him, side-eyeing him. “I can be pretty persuasive,” he said slowly, as if he weren’t sure this was the tack to try with Renfro.
“You mean, like if you tell some guy who wanted to interview you to leave you alone, they do it, right?” Renfro said.
“That’s usually how it works,” the man mused. He faced Renfro properly, offering his hand. “I didn’t catch your name,” the golden god who evidently no longer lived in 5D said.
They shook. “Renfro,” he said. Yeah, go ahead, look me up, he thought with a mental smirk. Two can play at that game.
“Luke,” the golden god returned. He flashed him another heart-stopping smile, and Renfro felt the power and heat behind it, like he was shaking hands with someone with a tiny, fist-sized star blazing away inside him. “Good luck with your channel, Renfro.” They released hands, and the god—”Luke”—turned away toward the passenger door.
“You know,” Renfro said to his back, “I could really use a website.” This was one of the things Ernesto had told him—that the golden god was a web designer and developer. He’d even asked Ernesto to spread the word that if anyone in the building needed web design they should knock on the door of 5D. “To support my channel, you know,” he continued.
Luke stopped and reluctantly turned back around, his expression that of a man fairly certain he was making a bad decision. “What did you have in mind?” he asked warily.
“Merch,” he said randomly. He had been thinking about it, but it hadn’t been a priority. It wasn’t like he needed the money, it would mainly be for subscriber buy-in and promotion. “I’d need a store set up, interlace with the channel, premium memberships… that kind of thing.”
“Uh huh.” Luke rubbed the back of his neck. The wary look was still there. “You pay your bills, kid?” he asked, as if he was weighing his doubts about Renfro against his need for a good gig.
Renfro gave him a sly grin. The golden god wasn’t the only one who had game in the stunning smiles department. “Oh, I got funds,” he said. “I pay my bills and then some.”
Luke nodded. He twisted his mouth to one side, then nodded again. “Let me have your phone,” he said curtly. Renfro gave it to him without a second thought, but Luke just texted himself and handed it back. “Send me the info on what you’re looking to get, and I’ll draw up a contract.” Renfro nodded, and the golden god got in his car and drove off, leaving Renfro standing there in the parking lot, his phone in his hand and a giant hard-on in his pants.
Renfro had had his suspicions that afternoon in the parking lot. But when Luke’s neighbor at his new building, who always seemed to be decked out in blue spandex heading either to or from a run, went from handsome and built to way handsome and shredded between one in-person web-design meeting at Luke’s spartan new digs and the next a couple weeks later, Renfro knew. He didn’t know what he knew, but he knew. And from the way Luke watched him watching the neighbor as he headed down the corridor toward the elevator that last time, he guessed Luke knew he knew whatever it was he wasn’t sure he knew.
A few weeks later, Luke announced he was leaving town for good. “I’ll still be able to support your site as contracted,” he said over video chat. In fact the website Renfro hadn’t really needed was up and running, and the first sales of Renfro-branded merch had already started trickling in. “I’ll still be on board as needed, just not in Cincinnati.”
Renfro stared at the gorgeous, slightly troubled, face on the screen, flicking down to avidly drink in the curves of his amazing shoulders currently being hugged by Luke’s heather gray tee-shirt. He seriously contemplated pulling out his very hard, very rampant erection and stroking himself just out of sight of his webcam. There was something fiercely compelling about Luke’s beauty that went far beyond surface appearance.
With an effort he forced his brain to stay on task, that task being figuring out the man on the screen in front of him. “What’s got you spooked, amigo?” he asked.
Luke shook his head slightly, but his expression cleared and became blank and unreadable. “No spooking involved,” he said. “Like I said, I move around.”
Renfro, however, wasn’t letting him go that easily.
After a fairly brief wrestling with his conscience, he found and purchased the kind of GPS tracker spyware that could be mounted firmly and inconspicuously in, say, the wheel well of an automobile, then made a production of visiting Luke’s one last time with a final check, an ice-cream cake, and a gift of an appropriate nature for a web designer, a supercapacity external drive suitable for backups. They shook hands, Renfro against having to force himself not to try for a hug and maybe a little making out. Instead he just smiled his Renfro smile at him and closed the door behind him. He left via the underground garage, having located the Sonata and done his dirty deed, then he went home and waited.
A week later the tracking app said Luke was on the move, and Renfro’s spontaneous road trip was launched the very same day.
They were on the main floor landing now, and though they’d been expecting it to be empty it turned out the proprietor, a short, stout, silver-haired woman in her sixties, was already up and bustling around behind the long, polished-walnut counter, even though it wasn’t quite light out beyond the big glass front window yet. She looked up at them in surprise, and Toby shifted the camera in her direction. “Oh, good morning,” she said cheerily. “You’re early for breakfast, boys, but I’ve got some coffee and muffins out in the common room.”
Renfro headed over to stand next to her, conscious as always of whether he was in frame. “Thanks, but we’re just heading out to do a little exploring,” he said, gesturing toward Toby and the camera. “We’ll be back to show off your famous breakfast.” It was Renfro’s gift that statements like that, which from any other entitled-looking kid would sound snide and condescending, actually sounded genuine.
The proprietor glanced over and noticed the camera. “Oh, that’s nice. You boys filming everything for the folks back home? Or so you’ll have a keepsake of your trip?”
Renfro gave her a friendly smile. “A little of both,” he said. “Wave hi to everyone, … ‘Mom’, is it?”
“Oh, pshaw,” she said. “The ‘Mom’ on the sign was my mom, this place has been here forever. I’m Julie. Hi everyone!” She waved at the camera, then turned back to Renfro. “Won’t you be cold, though, dear?” she asked, glancing down at his torso.
Renfro glanced down at himself. He had on one of his high-end silk collared shirts, this one a rich brick red, and he was wearing it completely open to show off his right, bumpy abs and muscle-twink pecs. It was his newest trademark, and the fans already loved it. It was like he was offering everyone a two-inch-wide glimpse of a body that only he fully understood had been somehow bumped up a couple or three notches by some as-yet unascertained force that was in some way associated with the golden god. He looked back up at Julie and gave her another wide grin. “My blood runs pretty hot,” Renfro said evenly, and it was all he could do not to wink at the camera—or at Toby, for that matter, who knew first-hand just how heated up he could get.
“Well, it’s a lovely town,” Julie said unflappably, “so enjoy your little morning excursion. Now, you won’t be able to go yet, because it won’t be open, but later on you have to make sure you check out the lemur museum.” She turned back the camera long enough to confide, “You can’t come to Brixton and not visit the lemur museum!”
“There’s a lemur museum?” Renfro said, not having to feign his delight at such a quirky attraction being hidden away here.
“Oh, I know how strange it sounds,” Julie said affably. “Old Mr. Horton—that’s him as run the old factory by the highway—his father was obsessed with lemurs and all, and this was long before that movie, you understand. So when he heard tell of a stuffed ring-tailed lemur for sale in some newspaper’s classifieds he bought it right up, no questions asked, and put it up in his house in town in a special room and stared into those big weird eyes for hours at a time, they say. And then he bought another and another, and soon all manner of folk were coming to him with stuffed lemurs, so as by the time he died he had more lemurs than he did family. And he left the house to them! The lemurs, I mean. Old Mr. Horton had to build a new house for himself and his bride. He turned the old house into a museum, and that’s how it stands today. Young Mr. Horton runs it now, though I think he’d rather be out playing rugby with his friends than stuck in there with all those dusty lemurs.”
Renfro glanced at Toby, grinning wide, just to make sure he was getting all this. Toby was watching the feed he was recording in happy astonishment. To Julie, Renfro said, “Are you shitting me? It’s okay if you’re shitting me, that was awesome.”
“Not even a little,” Julie said smugly. Clearly she was proud of how extra batshit her town was compared to all the boring ones up the road. “Go this afternoon and see for yourself!”
“Oh, we will,” Renfro assured her. There was no way he was not shooting in that museum, no matter what else happened with his main quarry. And it sounded like meeting “Young Mr. Horton” might be interesting, too. “And we’ll be back for pancakes, no worries. Bye for now!” He headed for the big oak door by the front window, waving back at Julie, and she waved back as they left.
Outside the world was still clinging to night, the pink glow of dawn only just cracking the eastern horizon. Toby gave him the raised-eyebrow query that meant, “Keep filming?” Renfro shook his head, and Toby stopped recording, swapping out the memory card for a new one. “Where to?” Toby asked.
“Remember that state police substation back toward the highway?” Renfro asked. “That’s where we’re going.”
“Why?” Toby said. “Is that where ‘he’ is?” His eyes were glinting, as if his mischief-radar was pinging and he couldn’t wait to share more hijinks with him. The look was so adorable on him that Renfro leaned in and gave him a long, appreciative kiss.
“It is indeed,” Renfro said, gripping his buddy by the back of the neck as they headed for the Camero. “Let’s go mystery hunting.”
Tim Wexler stalked through the impound lot, spurning his distractions like they were some else’s yappy dogs. He did not think about how acutely conscious he was of his own body, and how it filled almost to straining his thick, oddly tight trousers and the rough, durable extra-large uniform shirt gently grasping his heavy, square shoulders, the draw of flesh against skin cushioned by a soft, thin undershirt so closely nuzzling every inch of his powerful, hard-muscled torso that the dark hairs of his chest and abs felt ready to thrust through the bleached-white fibers clinging avidly to his body, germinating through the snug cotton as though through a second skin. He disregarded his heavy, clublike erection, wrapped alike in its own tight cotton embrace, shifting rhythmically against the coarser blended fabric of his trousers, and how its hugeness had plagued him his whole life, yet also how it seemed as though that night his always fat erection had somehow become half again as massive in the space of a few heartbeats. He forced from his mind the unnerving sense of self overlapped with other he had seen in his own absolutely familiar, frighteningly alien reflection.
Most of all he ignored, with all the considerable strength of will he could manage, his soul-level, core-struck, unshakable awareness of that man, that Lucius Antony with the searching, brilliant blue eyes and the smile that shook him to his toes. That man, who’d been sleeping by the side of the road, adorably beautiful even in his flashlight’s glare; whom he’d arrested for looking too young for his age,;whom he’d made impassioned, deeply affectionate love to on a Roman warship under an endless blue sky; and whose thoughts even now reached for Wex from where he now lay in his bunk, fifteen feet under Wex’s boots and something like 75 feet behind him. He was like a magnet pulling at him, and even as he marched resolutely in the other direction he knew exactly where that magnet was, and exactly how hard it tugged at him.
His exuberant dick bucked at the thought of him, remembering his ass and how hot and tight and deep and sublimely perfect it had been, so that climaxing with Luke, unloading inside him, was like the sex of a thousand lifetimes. His lips, his mouth, his tongue—they all ached with unslakable desire, begging him to find Luke and join their mouths again in kisses as deep and satisfying and amazing as the world-changing ones they’d shared on that ship. His hands twitched to hold him again, to clasp his torso and run fingers through his sun-streaked, dark-blond curls, and even his chest longed to press itself against his golden back again, to feel their hearts beating against each other, with nothing but skin between them.
He knew he had never been on a Roman warship in the middle of the dark turquoise calm of the Adriatic. He knew he had never fucked the man currently secured in holding cell B, for all his besotted cock and his missing jizz and even the tightness from a bit of Mediterranean sun on the back of his neck told him otherwise. He knew that the center of this uncanny vortex was one Lucius R. Antony, real name unknown, late of Cincinnati, Ohio; and the hard-assed cop in him told him that uncovering what that man had to hide would turn questions into answers and expunge enigma for transparency. That’s what he needed to have happen more than anything his body was slavering for. And it wouldn’t happen by itself. Cops had to make it happen, and Timothy Wexler was as determined as he had ever been to get to the bottom of Lucius Antony.
He stopped abruptly in his tracks, boots grinding on the gravel surface of the back lot, and cringed. No, not ‘get to the bottom’, he thought. Bad choice of words. ‘Expose’. He needed to expose—no, goddamn it. Fuck. Fuck!
That’s right, his dick seemed to tell him. Yes. We need to fuck—!
Wex practically growled to himself. He gritted his teeth and resumed his march, fists clenching tightly as he tried to clear his mind entirely so he could do his damn job and figure out whatever the hell was happening to him.
The rear lot was mostly empty now that Speedy Rahul had reclaimed his tricked out pickup—seriously, who amassed that many tickets in a pickup?—with only Antony’s cobalt-blue Hyundai in the far corner of the fenced-in lot, furthest from the security floodlights mounted on the side of the building. It had been long enough since Wex had stopped for a possibly abandoned vehicle out on 182, halfway to Youngscreek, that by now the night was perceptibly lifting. Not that long before his shift ended, he guessed. He checked the sky, and sure enough a rosy-fingered dawn was starting to feel its way over the eastern horizon behind the dark silhouette of the big, oblong Brixton water tower. He’d still need the flashlight he’d brought out with him, though, and he flicked it on as he approached Antony’s vehicle, its bright beam dancing over the dusty lower panels.
Pulling out Antony’s key ring from his pocket he clicked the car unlocked with the fob and opened the driver’s side rear door. He shined his light in and saw nothing, not even a fast food bag. He shut the door and opened the driver’s side front door, flicking his light in both footwells before climbing in. His body tried to tell him it felt even bigger in the enclosed space of the mid-size sedan, but he ignored this too and checked first the between-seat compartment (empty) and the glove compartment (registration and user’s manual). Nertz. Well, what was he expecting? A hefty, detailed hand-written journal with “Cocks I Have Hardened” scrawled on the front?
He reached under the seat and popped the trunk, climbing out again. Only then did he notice a dark figure leaning against the chain-link fence not three feet away, arms folded, watching him.
Mentally, he confirmed he had his side-arm with him without reaching for it, and the same for his phone in its special pocket on the side of his trouser leg. He raised his flashlight, held habitually in his left hand to so his right hand was kept free, and illuminated the stranger. He didn’t wince and glower, like Antony had, but kept his steady, amused gaze on Wex. Instinctively Wex noted his description. He older than Wex, but visibly young and full of vigor, with lush black hair worn long, like a mane, and intelligent, light-brown eyes. He was wearing heavy boots, black jeans, and a dark green hoodie that hinted at a lithe, muscular physique not unlike Antony’s. The light from his flashlight glinted off a watch on his left wrist, unusual in this day and age on someone apparently under thirty. Even Antony hadn’t been wearing a watch. “A fine steed,” the man said conversationally. His voice was naturally confident, like he was accustomed to command when the situation called for it. “What do you hope to learn from it?”
“This is a restricted area, sir,” Wex said in his official-sounding cop voice. “You need to leave this area immediately.”
The stranger straightened from where he’d been lounging against the fence, but instead of leaving he took a step toward Wex and the impounded Sonata, arms still crossed. “I ask,” he said, as if Wex hadn’t spoken, “because the answers you seek are not here. They are in your—what is the word? Dungeon? Hoosegow?” He clicked his tongue and added, “Lockup,” sounding pleased.
“Sir, I repeat, you have entered a restricted area,” Wex said. He was slightly flummoxed—his cop voice was, ordinarily, unfailingly effective.
The stranger smiled and shook his head. He strode casually forward, aiming for the opened trunk, not Wex. Wex thought of his weapon again, but oddly he could not reach for it. That was okay, he told himself. This person is not dangerous—not to me. The stranger’s face was now gently from the trunk’s interior light, and Wex lowered his flashlight, keeping it ready at his side.
The stranger finally unfolded his long arms when he got to the large, smartly carpeted trunk. The interior light showed that it was mostly empty: just two large, well-used suitcases that looked like ones his grandfather might have used, all clad in dark brown leather and secured with both conventional bronze snaps and a set of built-in straps with buckles. Under the handle on both cases was a inscription in worn but durable gold leaf: L.A.R. For someone moving to Montana this guy was traveling awfully light, he thought. Wex conceded to himself that Antony might have a moving truck en route with a houseful of furniture and knickknacks, but even as the thought passed through his head he was pretty sure he knew better. Car included, Wex was probably looking at all Lucius Antony owned in the world, and if he lost any of it he most likely wouldn’t be too put out.
There was also a much more contemporary-looking heavy-duty laptop bag. It was lying on its side, the top unzipped, and Wex could see there wasn’t much in it besides what looked like a newish 15-inch MacBook and the associated cords. The stranger nonetheless righted it and peered in, as if he might start rifling through it. Wex eyed him narrowly. The man was attractive—more attractive than he could see, Wex thought unaccountably. He remembered his still-hard, still eager club of a cock, but he set its presence aside again in his mind. “Who are you?” he asked.
The side of the stranger’s mouth twitched. “Someone long forgotten,” he said softly, half to himself. He reached into the bag and pulled out a large but not-very-thick cloth-bound book from behind the laptop. Wex was fairly sure that book hadn’t been in there before, but in all this mess he was not longer sure of what he was sure of.
The stranger abruptly looked up and fixed his own light brown eyes on him, and Wex shivered, though he tried to hide it. Beneath the mundane veneer there was something inhuman about this man. Alluring, yes, and commanding, too, but most of all alien to the human experience—alien, and yet complementary, as if the stranger and Wex somehow represented two sides of creation.
He handed the book to Wex. Without looking away, Wex took it with the hand the should have already been gripping his service weapon. He kept his eyes on the stranger.
“Go to Lucius,” the stranger said. He said it the old way, Wex noted, Lu-kee-us. The Roman way, he thought, though he did not know how he knew that. The reminder of the man made him aware of Lucius’s presence, a hundred feet and fifteen feet down from where they stood.
The stranger’s expression became more serious, as if he were looking to impress on Wex something of vital importance. “All is not well,” he said. “His cadence has been disrupted—the rules that have kept him balanced for so long. He will need your protection, and mine.”
Wex shook his head, very slightly. “Who are you?” he repeated in a whisper.
The stranger smiled sadly. “I watch over Roman travelers,” he said. “My brother and I. My name… my name matters little now. It will mean a great deal to Lucius Antonius, true, but when the time comes I will share it myself.” A mischievous look came into his eyes. “Give him something from me, though,” he added. It was not a request.
Wex blinked. “The book?” he asked, somehow knowing that it wasn’t.
The stranger’s smile widened only slightly. “No,” he said. Then he moved forward and pressed his firm, sweet lips against Wex’s. It was only for a moment, but Wex’s entire body responded as if he were feeling immense, compelling arousal for the first time. He closed his eyes, automatically seeking to deepen the kiss, but then the lips were gone, and when he opened his eyes he saw that the stranger was gone, too.
Wex looked around, knowing he would not see the dark-haired man. As expected, the gravel lot was empty from fence to fence. What have I been pulled into, he thought dejectedly. His sole saving grace in that moment was the knowledge that the stranger could have made him cum and had not done so. He was glad, because without him knowing it had become a simple truth for him: his seed now belonged to Lucius alone.
He will need your protection.
He felt a weight in his hand, and belatedly he remembered the book. He lifted it up to examine it in the light of his flashlight. It appeared to be a good fifty to seventy-five years old. The worn, blue cloth cover was blank, but the spine had a title, THE FACES OF ANTINOÃúS. Further down was the author, SMITH. That seemed disappointingly banal. Setting down his flashlight in the trunk for the moment, he bent and began flipping through the book under the trunk’s interior light. His stomach did a slow fall as he turned the glossy, almost plate-thick pages.
The book was mostly filled covered with large, full-sheet photographs of classical, Roman-era busts and full-length sculptures in marble, bronze, and even gold—all of the same beautiful young man. They were in various states and conditions, from pristine pieces that might have been carved yesterday to some so heavily damaged that they could only be recognized from the eyes, the curls, the twist of the lips. One bust, recovered from a then-recent excavation of the Etruscan city of Caere, drew Wex’s attention, not for the adeptness of its depiction but for the lurid, bloodstained hand-print across its cheek, soaked so deep into the ancient stone that it still survived nearly two thousand years later. It looked almost unnervingly supernatural, like the mark was the result not of an actual bloody hand gripping the bust, but something far more sinister.
Wex kept on paging through the book, gaping at every image. Each piece was fundamentally different in tone and aspect, he saw, as if dozens of sculptors had given all they had to evoke this youth’s unparalleled allure according to their gods-given talents and their unique, personal sense of the mortal and the sublime. Yet Wex knew that all those ancient artists had utterly failed, because he had seen that beauty in living flesh, and not the richest marble or the most exquisitely crafted bronze or gold, not the most talented or impassioned sculptor alive or who had ever lived, could possibly do it justice.
Wex had intended to toss the book onto the bench next to his prisoner and demand an explanation. But Luke, rising to meet him, had captured Wex’s gaze the moment he’d stepped into the cell, his uncanny beauty filling him with unseemly levels of desire. And when Wex found the strength to look away, they weren’t in the holding cell anymore.
He turned and looked around curiously. After the intense encounter on the empty ship, he was no longer too surprised to find himself somewhere else when he and Luke were alone. They were standing on a gentle, green slope evenly studded with short, stubby trees. They were all alike, with gnarled, twisted trunks that broke out lavishly in boughs and branches thick with long, narrow leaves. The sun was high in the sky, baking the trees and grass below, but a faint breeze passed through the trees, carrying scents that Wex did not recognize. Turning further, he saw houses scattered further down the long slope, coalescing into the semblance of a town as his gaze approached a distant white shoreline. Beyond it under thin shreds of cottony clouds was a vivid sea. It looked familiar to him, like a recent acquaintance he might be willing to get to know better.
He had a notion of being profoundly out of place here, with his uniform and weapons and all. But as the breeze brushed around his legs he felt it lightly riffling hair and skin, and he looked down to see that though he still held the book in his left hand, his uniform, service weapon, radio, and everything else were gone. He was clad in a simple linen knee-length tunic, bound at his trim waist. His cheeks burned as he took in how such attire did even less to hide his considerable hard-on than his uniform trousers. He cleared his throat and looked down hillside grove again. “Where are we?” he asked quietly.
“Hmm?” came Luke’s voice. He looked back at the man to see he was still staring at Wex, as if Wex were the epitome of masculine beauty, not him. Which was a little ludicrous, considering the picture Luke currently presented. His normal clothes were gone, and he was wearing only a wrap around his waist that was rudely lifted up in the middle by Luke’s prominent and powerful erection.
He raised his eyebrows at Luke, and Luke blinked, as if he needed to prod his consciousness into focus. He looked around briefly, finally responding to Wex’s question. “Apulia,” Luke said, turning back to Wex. He added, “The country of my youth.”
Wex nodded. “And… when was that?” he asked.
The lovemaking on the ancient warship before had already led him in this direction, though it had taken some percolation in the recesses of his brain. That, and the timeless driver’s license photo, and the stranger in green who called him Lucius Antonius, and the book he had somehow managed to bring with him into this latest vision, or dream, or out-of-body experience, or whatever it was. Being here, in this place, simplified things for Wex. Up in the squad room, or out in the impound lot, he’d felt like a cop, and Luke was a puzzle to solve. Here, though, all of that had gone the way of his uniform and weapon. Here, he felt as though his blood pumped with the connection he had to Luke, and the air he breathed was the life he and Luke could make for each other. Here, he could accept what had already been stealing slowly through his mind: that he was bound to this man, this Lucius Antonius, just as he was to Wex. The deal was already done, and all that had to be sorted out was the way forward from this moment.
Luke answered him a crooked smile. “Long ago,” he said wistfully. He moved over to the nearest tree and sat under it, and Wex did the same. Insects buzzed nearby but didn’t trouble the two of them. Luke noticed the book, and at his inquiring look Wex handed it to him.
Luke paged through it with interest. “Where did you get this?” he asked.
“First tell me what it means,” Wex countered.
Luke frowned, and turned the next page more slowly. “I am not sure I can,” he said reluctantly, without looking up. “That seems to be a part of it, that I cannot reveal the secret. I tried before, once.” He paused, then added, “But then, I am no longer sure of anything…” He trailed off as he turned another page and saw the blood-marked bust. He stared hard at it.
“I saw that one too,” Wex said into the silence. “It… I don’t know. Something about it upset me.”
Luke nodded, as if he were unsurprised at such a reaction. “I had no idea it had been found,” he said softly, as though speaking a thought aloud.
“You know that bust? That one in particular?” Wex asked. Luke nodded, still staring hard at it, as if he sought to penetrate through the glossy photograph to see the actual bust itself. “Is it… you?”
Luke shook his head. “No.”
“So you’re not this guy, Antinous?”
He said it the way he’d assumed it was pronounced, with three syllables equally stressed, but Luke corrected him. “An-tin-o-us,” he said. “No, I’m not him. Antinous died long ago.”
“But it’s connected,” Wex said doggedly. “Right? That bust. It’s connected to why you look like him.”
Luke met his eyes, and Wex knew. Luke didn’t have to answer. Instead Luke repeated, “Where did you get this?”
Wex found he was staring at Luke’s wine-dark lips, watching them ask that not-so-simple question. For a moment he contemplated how much simpler kissing was than conversation. “A friend of yours gave it to me,” he said after a moment, letting his gaze wander up Luke’s captivating face to find those riveting blue eyes again. He sighed. “I was out at your car, looking through your luggage, and a stranger showed up who seemed to know you. He found that book—” he nodded toward it with his chin “—in your laptop bag.”
Luke’s brows lifted at this, confirming, not that there’d been any doubt, that the book hadn’t been Luke’s and had definitely not been in that bag. “Who was this stranger?” Luke asked. “Did he give you a name?”
Wex shook his head. “He was cagey about that, for some reason. All he told me was that he looked out for travelers. Roman travelers,” he added pointedly. “Late twenties, 5-foot-10, muscular build, long black hair, light brown eyes. He called you Lucius Antonius.” This time he said it with the hard “c”, the way he now knew it was supposed to be said, or had been. He felt a little chagrin at how he’d said it the night before.
For the first time, he remembered the joke he’d made over the man’s apparently unaging appearance. Are you a wizard, Mr. Antony? It seemed strangely apropos now, and yet, he sensed, so far from the truth.
Luke nodded distractedly, accepting the name the stranger had used. He gazed off down the slope. “He… looks out for travelers,” he echoed thoughtfully.
“Roman travelers,” Wex emphasized again. As Luke seemed to be trying to puzzle out who the stranger was, he reviewed the encounter and found a detail he hadn’t mentioned. “Him and his brother, he said.”
Luke looked sharply up at him, his mouth in a surprised “o”. Then he broke in to a wide, brilliant grin, and Wex’s heart actually stuttered. “You are a rare man,” he said excitedly. “They appear only to us Romans, and only in times of need. Do you have any Roman blood?” he asked, eyes dancing.
“Heck if I know,” Wex said, bemused. “Maybe I’m just a Roman by… association.” He’d been about to say “injection,” but it had been Wex that had fucked Luke on the deserted warship, not the other way around.
“Maybe,” Luke said, still grinning, clearly guessing Wex’s line of thought.
“So,” Wex said. Having been patient long enough, he reached up and caressed Luke’s golden cheek. “Is this a ‘time of need’?” he asked, packing all the innuendo he could into the phrase.
Luke’s smile softened, and his eyes sparked as he stared into Wex’s. “Definitely.”
“Because,” Wex said, “your friend told me to give you something.” Before Luke could ask, Wex bent forward and planted his lips against Luke’s. Luke started to respond, but Wex pulled back and said, in a low voice, “That was from him. This,” he went on, “is from me.” He dove in for a deep, passionate kiss, and Luke eagerly reciprocated, but their tongues had only been sliding against each other for a moment before Luke was suddenly pushing him away with a hand to his chest. He was looking down in the direction of the book that still lay open on his lap, but his eyes were unfocused and his cheeks were flushed. He seemed to be struggling to master himself.
“What is it, Luke? What’s wrong?” Wex asked.
“You need to get away from me,” Luke said, closing his eyes. “Can’t control it. All the rules, the bindings, they’ve all been ripped away. You need to be far away from me.”
“No,” Wex said firmly. He knelt next to Luke, snatching up his hands and holding them tightly in his. “I’m not leaving you.” He said it absolutely, as if the secrets between them were irrelevant. He meant it, too, without question, though the decision had been made at some deep and vital level of his being. His rational mind cast about for justifications so it could align itself with this new truth. “I’m mixed up in this now,” he insisted. “You made love with me on a warship. You brought me here, to fucking Apulia. We’re connected now. I’m with you, and I’m not going anywhere. Plus,” he added, “he said you needed my protection. His and mine.”
Luke shook his head, not because he was rejecting Wex’s words, he thought, but because they didn’t address what was truly upsetting him. “Luke, please,” he begged. “Tell me.”
“I changed Rahul,” Luke blurted.
Wex frowned. “The speeding ticket guy?”
Luke nodded, still with his eyes closed and his face scrunched in concentration. “I made him bigger. Stronger. Sexier. So much, so much more than usual. Allure. Passion. Desire. The second bough, but too much. I made him…” He swallowed. “Irresistible.” His eyes flew open, and when they looked up to meet Wex’s he shuddered, overcome with a need to fuck, to love, to cleave himself to this man and never not be looking at him, feeling him, smelling him, touching him, hearing his sweet voice. “I already changed you, Wex,” he said. “It’s not supposed to work like this, but I changed you. Your body, your cock—”
“My face,” Wex whispered.
“I think so,” Luke agreed. He seemed almost frightened, and Wex gripped his hands tighter, not willing to let him try to flee. “It’s not normally like that, Wex, a different face, I swear to all the gods, the second bough isn’t like that. It’s allure, passion, desire. Allure… passion…” He was staring deeper into Wex’s eyes. “Desire…”
Wex’s mind was spinning. He was special—to Luke, Wex was special. In all this, he was different from all the others Luke had met. The stranger had come to him. Luke’s gift, or curse, was different for him. And there was a clue there he’d have to figure out later—no, they’d have to figure out later. Luke looked like someone else, and Wex… he now understood that creepy sense he’d had from his own reflection. Luke looked like someone else, someone from antiquity, and Wex? Wex did too.
Most of all, though, most potent in this moment, was a deeper truth, that he was drawn to Luke in a way he was certain no other man had ever been. Not just as a lover, but as a partner. And a warrior if need be, to fight alongside him.
“It’s all broken, Wex,” Luke rasped. “It’s all broken, and I’m scared, Wex, I’m scared for the first time in nineteen centuries. I’m scared because… because I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to change you.”
Wex gathered him into his arms, holding Luke’s powerful body tightly against his. This, this was the proof, he thought. Luke was strong, impossibly strong. He would never have broken down like this, not ever, not without complete trust and some kind of faith that Wex could help him. He didn’t know how differently he’d feel when he was a cop again. Right now, he was sure he would justify that faith or die trying.
“You won’t,” he said, and the growl in his voice permitted no objection. “You won’t. I am yours to protect, Lucius Antonius. And you are mine.” He bent and kissed him sweetly. “I have all the allure…” he said, and kissed him again. “…and passion…” Another kiss. “…and desire I could ever need.” He stared hard into those bright blue eyes, willing himself to be more convincing than he had ever needed to be. “I am who you need me to be,” he said. Whatever “changes” Luke spread around, they wouldn’t affect him. He saw it in Luke’s eyes, finally. There was wonder there, too, at finding a counterpart. Wonder, and relief… and endless, fathomless lust. Wex’s lips curled. “Specifically, I’m the man you’re going to fuck on this lovely hillside, you beautiful, perfectly gorgeous, impossibly sexy man, until you fill me up with your hot, magnificent cum.”
Luke laughed. And then, in a flash, Luke was on top of him, and neither of them had on any clothes at all.
“Where the heck is everyone? Fucking?” Renfro winked at the camera. “I bet they’re fucking.”
Toby smiled at his buddy. Ren seemed happiest when things weren’t quite to plan and he had to improvise. Like now. They were shooting banked video for the exposé of that “golden god” guy Ren was hung up on, and they’d already tracked around the substation grounds and spotted the guy’s car sitting in impound all lonely and forgotten and gotten a few minutes of Ren against the chain-link fence with the Sonata over his shoulder, talking about the guy definitely being in lock-up and how they were going to find a way in to talk to golden guy, or check out the car, or both using his winning smile and patented smarm skills. Only now they were at the front counter, and Ren couldn’t even charm his way in past the big four-foot-high front counter dividing the entrance area from the bullpen, because there was no one to charm. The place seemed completely abandoned.
A phone on one of the desks started ringing. Toby focused the camera on it as it rang and rang.
“Psst, Tobe,” Renfro said in a stage whisper. “Think I can leap this?” He had a hand flat on the counter, like he was ready to start vaulting at a moment’s notice.
Toby watched his buddy on the screen, trying not to fixate on the glimpses of lickable torso his loose, open shirt offered as he moved around, showing off his subtle, nicely defined abs and firm but still modest pecs. Toby was defined and tight in his own way, still looking more like a skater than the cover boy model Ren could easily be, but Ren seemed ten times hotter than he could ever be, and it was even worse when he was showing off bits of it than when he just went shirtless and let everyone gawk. Honestly, Ren said the open shirt trademark thing was for the fans and subs, but Toby was pretty sure it was all a ploy intended to drive him, specifically, nuts.
Actually, nuts was the word. He could almost feel his balls churning, building up wads and wads of premium spunk for his very hard, thin-but-hefty seven-inch dick to spit all over Toby’s chest or, preferably, Ren’s. “You want to answer that phone?” he asked, amused.
“Naw, I want to sneak back to the cells,” Ren said. “That’s gotta be where they’re holding our guy.”
Toby swiveled the camera to take in the steel security door on the far side of the bullpen. He zoomed in on it as he said, “I don’t think you’re getting past that door, man.”
“I could if there were actual people here,” he called out to the room in general, as if a bunch of troopers were all back there, hiding under the desks and snickering. “Hello?!”
Toby panned across the empty desks, and then back to Renfro, only to find that he was looking at Toby kind of funny. Toby, meanwhile, was suddenly struck with a wave of intense arousal as his vision filled with the way that brick-red shirt was snug across the shoulders and upper arms, while hanging loose to reveal Ren’s amazing, deep-carved six-pack and his bigger-than-you’d think pecs—fuck, the overhead lighting here was making a nice shadow along the lower reaches of his pecs, and Toby’s pulse sped up to mach 2 as he took in how hot that hard-won muscle torso looked in this light. And—shit, was that—what that the tip of his dick just sneaking up past the waistband of those khakis? Was Ren’s cock seriously, actually shoving into shot like it wanted its own fans and subs and views? Because it would fucking get them!
Toby realized he was panting as he stared at the screen, totally entranced by how phenomenally hot his boyfriend was, especially with a peekaboo dick maybe joining his coy open-shirt muscle scoping program. Sure, Tony was way more muscled than Ren, and taller, and his dick was easily half again as big as Ren’s, but none of that changed how much he was becoming infatuated with Ren, every inch of him, every smile, every touch—
“Uh, hey, Tobe?” Ren said. Toby finally tore his eyes off the screen to see that his guy was looking up at him with a weird mix of alarm and wonder.
“Yeah?” he asked. His voice sounded unexpectedly deep. He shoved his super-thick hair back from his face—fuck, it grew so fast it was a little annoying, but Ren loved his long hair and stubble and how it was such a contrast to his mostly hairless, naturally big and cut muscles. He drank in Ren’s beauty, loving the way his platinum blond hair was falling on his bulging traps, too. And the way that super-long tongue of his tended to sneak out past his lips whenever he was distracted by something. Like now. Though he couldn’t think why—Ren had seen Toby’s body a million times before, even naked, so it was a little bizarre for him to be staring at his bod like it was a nrw thing to him.
Ren looked up at his much taller, much wider friend and swallowed. “You, uh, feeling okay, buddy?”
Toby, weirdly, felt his eyes boring into Ren’s, like Ren couldn’t look away if he tried. Toby smiled, and Ren’s lips parted, his eyes utterly, unswervingly fixed on Toby’s. It was like he’d forgotten somehow that Toby only used his hypnotic beauty to make Ren happy. Tony smiled wider, because he knew it would cause a huge wash of pleasure through Ren, and sure enough the top three inches of wide, hard, leaking cock that had sprung free again (and which had almost made it into shot three times today) started bucking against the left side of Ren’s beautiful, precum-slicked abs. It wouldn’t take much now, Toby knew, and he sat the little camera on the counter without taking his eyes off Ren for a second. He knew the real sex-bomb was his voice, so he paused a dramatic moment before answering.
“Yeah, stud,” he said, in his growly, impossibly deep voice. “I’m feeling fantastic.” He was watching carefully, and as soon as he started speaking Ren’s dick swelled up and Ren opened his mouth to moan. Toby quickly dropped to his knees to swallow up the protruding portion of Ren’s amazingly thick and delicious tool just as the YouTube phenom started shooting hard into Tony’s mouth, unloading his fifth orgasm of the day (and still before breakfast!—today might be a record).
Kissing up Ren’s hard, stone-carved torso, Toby finally found his buddy’s sexy mouth, and Ren latched onto him with a huge, sloppy, and very cummy make-out session that lasted for a long time, using that stupidly long tongue of his with exuberant abandon. It was almost like he’d never kissed with it before, and Toby was enjoying the fuck out of it, almost as much as Ren was. Finally they broke the kiss and just smiled at each other, both enjoying being eye to eye for a change now that Tony was on his knees. “You know what?” Ren said. “Fuck the golden god for now. Let’s go somewhere and make some private videos just for us.”