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Stefan

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    Berlin

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  1. Stefan

    Story

    It was one of those Autumn-nights. The leaves fell down with a soft rustle as they loosened themselves from the branches. I can hear them fall, just like I can see things other humans can't -- many things, through all the ages. It has been a long journey for me and my companions; my clique, my band. Clique. What an odd name to use for me, for us. When I had been born it seemed only natural to fraternize with other men. Later they called us sodomites and other less pleasant things. I must say, I am delighted to have reached this stage of time and this place in the world where to fraternize with my own gender is not worth any more of a mention than that given to a falling sack of wheat. I had experienced the start of yet another millennia, the second after the new chronology. And I wondered if it would bring any good. Considering the past - those gone millennia - had brought only mishap and wars, killing and unbelievable cruelty. Inventions, actually made to please our life, had turned against humankind. In the one hundred years of capitalizing, economizing and industrializing we have managed to enter the path of destruction. All within a short one hundred years ñ truly a blink of an eye for me. I slowed my pace and opened my senses . . . the entertainment district! Lights turned the nights to days. People crowded the streets. Noise filled the air. There was the reverberating drums of music . . . manly laughter . . . bodies hardly hidden behind corners, offering and waiting, finding relief for a minute and searching on for more. Dates were set up, disappointment followed. All things combined, there was too much excitement and diversion to hold on a moment, to be faithful, to love. We have something magical, my group and I. I know this. It is like a blurred glow surrounding us. People hesitate, recognize a difference and it unsettles them, but they don't know why. It is the ancient magic that still works its charms. Romeo next to me turned his eyes upward, seeing a round neon-light that advertised a dance-hall. My Italian comrade conjured a hunter's grin on his face. He smelled men. "That's it." Blue eyes fixed on me, then Leopold grabbed Romeo's waist and pulled him along. Leopold had taken over the work as guide. It was his town - Vienna - in a country called Austria in the heart of Europe. I watched his black, rustling overcoat blowing in the cool wind. He had bound back his hair into a Mozart-plait - as he named it - and left the job to me to remember all about this musician. I had learnt his language quickly; one of the fortunes of the kind of being I am. I learn fast. I went back in my memory to two hundred and more years ago, when the ballrooms of Vienna were famous. Hadn't I met this small young man with the big head and lace-covered breast at the premiere of his first Opera? Yes. It was a complete flop for him, but I had listened to the floating melodies with great affection. The memory caused a shiver. It is not so easy to take when the winds of millenniums touch me. Ahh . . . to master all my memories! They are like a hurricane in my mind at times, some are bright, some pale and on the brink of vanishing. Pictures passed my inner eyes; pictures in pale, powdery colours; yellowed, dusty, like the first Daguerreotypes. But one memory is clear and vivid as ever. In my dreams I still see him: my friend, my brother, my lover, my comrade. My mate. The wind tugged at my black cloak -- an old-fashioned tribute to ancient times. I know I look stunning enough to draw the attention of others. It makes it easier, the search that is. One of the my most peculiar features are my dreams. Back in Mesopotamia when I was a king I had dreamt of him, coming from the steppe into the town to challenge me. Those dreams never left me, no matter in which places I searched. Some dreams were useful; most of them were false. They led me to corners of the earth I'd have been better never to have known. Sometimes I thought to have found him, but a look in the eyes of the man told me I was wrong again. And my search would continue. Sometimes I stayed with the man to brighten my days, because he reminded me of him. But how long should I stay? To see this surrogate grow old while I remained young? I try to find him at dance halls that serve the longing to find a mate to sweeten the night. . . twitching, winding, steeled bodies. . . muscles beneath smooth shaven, shiny skin. . . beats and flickering light, impudent, challenging eyes. From time to time eyes would meet mine, but they were not the one's I sought. I wait still for that ultimate prize for which I seek endlessly. I had dreamt about it; eyes, meeting in darkness beyond all barriers, like two beams of searing lasers fixed on each other, causing looks that plough through your very being and rip out your heart; looks that I remembered from so very long ago. And I waited. So far it hadn't happened and I 'd been searching for so long. Was it 4.000 years? Or more? I reckoned it was rather more; I can not quite put up with the new chronology after the birth of Christendom. I wait for my twin, my soul mate; once found and then lost. I know I will find him. What does it matter if it was a thousand years or more? Leopold lead the way through the entrance, paid and got carried away by the writhing mass of sweaty bodies. Once he was a brief companion of my empty nights. He was quite young, so careless and proud. Sean, the Irish member of my group, lanky and pale, but black-haired and blue-eyed like all Irishmen I had ever met, muttered to himself. "Bad idea." I understood what he meant. I had found him recently in a pub in Dublin, looking miserable, unable to organize his life. "Women-lovers", he mumbled, "I can smell them." I opened my eyes - wet ponds of anthracite - and took it all in. Before me was the exciting gathering of humans ready for sexual adventures. "It just brings trouble , Sean said. I knew he despised hetero-orientated men. He unfortunately had fallen always for them. One of another fortunes of our group was that we could now determine pretty closely the sexual desires of the people we met. Call it a sixth sense or a little mind-reading. Today they call it 'Gaydar' only we were much more certain in our senses. In the old days of Uruk, when Babylon had not be founded yet, I had named it seeking for manly friendship. But that was when time was young and we were mortal. I knew the feeling to be the centre of attention all too well. We shed our coats and cloaks and threw them carelessly aside. It was like a rush of adrenaline blowing through the large, yet surprisingly cosy room. I smiled at Romeo as I pulled him close and placed a kiss on his red, Italian lips to leave no mistake with the party people that we were playing in the same league. I was deciding the crowd in "lookers" and "turn-aways". And then, it happened. My intestines received a strong blow, almost knocking me over and my eyes started to glow like a silver plate. I received a wave-like shock; an electric tickle that climbed from the soles of my feet up to my hair which flooded, black and silver, over my back and the white silken shirt I was wearing. Though I did not see anyone, the connection blasted me to my core. The walls shook and the lights went dim for a brief moment, enough to stop the music and to leave all in utter darkness. People started to scream, then stopped as the lights came on again. He was here. My heart pounded wildly in my throat. I had a bitter taste in my mouth from too much adrenalin and of blood because I had bitten the flesh inside. What would he look like? Which body had his soul chosen to be born again in? Would it be the familiar litheness of a cat; the dangerous glistening in his yellow eyes? I felt Romeo stiffen as he watched me. My hair crackled and I clenched my hands to fists. In the distance I saw Sean flirting with a boy who looked very uncomfortable at this blunt encounter. Music filled my whole being. It was the kind of dance music that made my feet start moving and gave me an exuberant feeling of joy. I relaxed immediately. He was here. Somewhere. And like iron drawn to a magnet I would figure him out. But what would happen to him then? Blue laser beams showed me the way when I crossed the dance floor. White fog hovered over the ground, hiding my boots. I had learned to walk softly with a springy, floating quality, like a hunter searching for his prey and I knew that all eyes were following me. An invisible breeze played with that which was my main pride ñ my hair. I had not cut it for years after his death even though each of my folk had expected me to shave myself completely as sign of mourning. What would he say? Would he believe the enormity of my sadness about his loss? And then, he was there in my sight! His amber coloured mane gleamed like a mass of spun gold as he sat casually against the wall, watching his territory as he might once had watched his herd of animals on the steppe. Orange light flickered over his face, making it appear as if it were chiselled in smooth stone; translucent like alabaster, cool like the surface of a quiet pond. His corkscrew locks had been tamed with a black hair band that gave him an unfathomable touch of feminine manliness. I stood and stared. How could I had thought he would look different? His soul had found again his body, the one I was so familiar with. He was man through and through. My man. The sun-shaped golden pendant hanging on the very thin chain around his neck was immediately familiar: the amulet of Shamash. Would I be able to see the old lines upon his skin? The pale black-red patterns; lines winding upon his arms like desert snakes, building words in a language that had always remained unknown to me? Was the Ibis on his shoulder blade? The one I had kissed so often? And was the secret line drawn down his smooth, hard belly, leading to the mystery that made us two lovers? I longed for him now as endless relief flooded my body. Relief and fear. My journey had ended. Here I stood, frozen, after a string of endless days and nights -- endless centuries! Who, of all these humans I was surrounded by, could understand this feeling I now had? I sensed Romeo's hand touch the small of my back. He looked questioning and knowing before a small smile appeared on his dark face. I nodded in silent agreement and he gave me a broad smile in return. The pressure of his hand increased and the moment of my hesitation was gone; it is just not my nature to be timid. I concentrated instead and opened my mind, erasing all thoughts not related to him. 'Enkidu! My soul mate.' He turned his head and I was drowned in his green-yellow eyes. His eyes sparkled like the steppe by night when the lion's pride gathered under a Jacaranda-bush, their eyes gleaming with satisfaction. I saw the change in his face as I approached. The light, now a pleasant, soft crimson, set his locks on fire; his skin was sun drunken like a peach. "Who are you?" he said with a voice, soft, like a tongue caressing the inner side of my thigh. My manhood hardened instantly. A quick look told me he was in the same state of excitement. But his embarrassment lasted just a small moment. He adjusted his elbows that supported his body, leaned back even more, opened his legs and offered his body to me. Brief thoughts of men's toilets and steamy encounters entered my mind. I had learned to value those acquisitions of homosexual freedom. The crowd closed around us again, chattering and laughing, as I made a step forward. We were alone, secluded from each of them. Yellowed pictures appeared again; faded picture memories of when I had seen him in reality for the first time, matching him with my foretelling dreams. He was more now. He was flesh whose heat blasted my own. "I have a gift for you," I told him quietly. "Immortality." His eyes flashed back like laser beams, and for a moment I thought he would laugh. "You mean the little death?" His lips curled. "I can show you." His head made an imperceptible yet unmistakable movement in the direction of the men's rooms. I stepped further forward, now standing between his legs, and my hands came to a rest on his thighs. As if by chance my palm brushed his groin, feeling the hardness that matched my own. I sighed. I could have him right now, but I would lose him in that very moment of satisfaction. Instead, I locked my eyes with his and spoke his name. "Enkidu." His eyes became glassy before he focused them on me again. "My name is Lucien." Lucien - a name like melting chocolate on my tongue. "Come to my place," I said. He rose instantly and willingly, forced by the power of my mind. I felt a little regret. He shouldn't need a prompt from my power, but instead, be the old Enkidu that I loved and lost; one that would need no urging. He'd always been a strong man of his own, with his indescribable youth and innocence . The contrast between strength and innocence always blended magically within him. He followed me and I heard his little gasp when he saw the flood of black hair covering my back . Sean was there, Leopold and Romeo also. I heard their whispers of understanding. I had rented a house on the outskirts of the city for I liked to be separate. Glow-worms tumbled in the night as we drove through the little park attached to the property. I felt like a nobleman bringing home his conquest. Lucien would not be the same by the time the morning dawned. He was silent but I felt his eyes on me in the mirror over the driver's seat. "I don't know your name", he said finally with his smooth-rough voice. Again I sensed his licks between my legs and my all too willing member twitched in anticipation. I needed all my willpower while this little plague in my trousers screamed and my mind scolded me. 'Idiot!' I searched for Lucien's hand lying beside his thigh and he let me have it. "You aren't Austrian. Which country do you come from ?" "From Mesopotamia." Why start our new life with a lie, I thought? I stopped the car and turned my head to him. There, under the calm facade, something seethed. I felt it, just like in the old days we had shared together. My wild man had been tamed by a trapper and a temple boy, but he still carried the smell of animal and I was crazy for him as ever. I leaned over and parted his mouth with my lips . . . there was nothing but pure fever. With a bolt, it all came back to me -- the heat, a temperature rising to burn myself to ashes. His lips' movements were the world to me, brushing and sucking; his smooth tongue caressing my own. I couldn't get enough. I had waited close to 5000 years for this kiss and I laid my complete soul in his. My body pressed him to the car's door and I saw his eyes widening . . . in recognition perhaps? It was the first lecture I gave him - a flashback for him to remember: the first kiss of his life. I felt him react and fight with me for domination -- like he had always done, playfully like a lion's cub, but with incredible power in his hands. I tousled his hair, removed the band and his locks fell into my palms like a ripped pillow full of downy feathers. Very softly I heard him moan, a growl from deep in his throat. I felt his palms pressing my head to his own and the kiss seemed never-ending. Then, as our lips separated, I came spontaneously into my underwear! Ah, but what did I care, this source was never-ending! He stared into my eyes. His face flushed. His lips, a luscious strawberry red, wet and glistening, parted slightly. Then he grinned diabolically at me and I recognized this smile. Yes, it was him. "Enkidu," I repeated, touching his lashes, black and thick, and kissed the short, wide nose. "My name is Lucien," he insisted, though with a hint of uncertainty. He searched my face for something indefinable, something he couldn't yet fathom. I felt the buttons of my trousers open and eager fingers pull at my penis. Surprised, but pleased, he looked up. "Are we staying here in the car or will you invite me in?" he asked, pointing to the dark house. I saw myself in the mirror of his eyes. I saw a longish face with dark complexion and eyelashes so black they framed my eyes like those of an Egyptian king. Ah! To have met those androgynous kings from ancient Egypt . . . but their time was over and I was still alive. I recognized the primal wildness in Lucien's eyes. He had never been able to hide it once we had been lovers. The candle's light, set in each corner of the room, made them glisten with the memory of a foreign country and the smell of the Euphrates whose waves licked softly at the shores. He had always watched me swimming, but never went into water himself. As with the lions, he was water shy; he had lived too long among them. I smelled burning wax and sensed the heat radiating from his body. He stood still, watching my face. I raised a hand and traced a line from his neck under his ear, over his collarbone and down into the neckline of his shirt. I opened a button and instantly old lines appeared; pale, ochre coloured lines, forming a bird. The Ibis. My fingertips burned with the heat. The lines vanished as soon as I removed my fingers. His gaze deepened and yet it was shy. Furtive. A little suspicious. "Why do you call me En . . . what was the name?" "Enkidu," I said low. It was a magic word. I had tried this name on several men, but each time I touched them the way I did now, the skin remained unblemished and without change. But then, I had never had this absolute conviction that this man was him, my lover lost so soon in our earlier life together. "Enkidu," he repeated as he chewed the word on his tongue. "What a strange name." "It's yours." He wanted to laugh again, but something stopped him. There, again, was that questioning look. He stepped away from me. "Is this your house?" he asked. I nodded. "Just for a short time. I plan to return to my home some day." What was I saying here? I can never return to my home. Mesopotamia doesn't exist anymore. Foreign people, with a foreign belief, have occupied it. The country was separated and covered with wars. And yet I yearned to see the soft winding of the rivers again, making the country bloom -- a small, green patch while the rest of it remains a barren and stony desert. The sun shone different there, the light was yellow and strong, but by night, the exotic scents wafted through the open windows. Here, in the heart of Europe, everything was pale and filtrated with a rough smell of civilization. "Return to Mesopotamia?" he asked surprised. "That's the two-river-land, right? Where civilization started." He pondered a moment. "Are you really sure? The war has just ended, are you a refugee?" Refugee. Yes, in some ways I was. I had left my home country after I had searched for him in every corner of the land before I started my journey around the world. He could be reborn anywhere and I feared I would miss the appointed time. But then, hadn't the old, wise man who had survived the Big Flood promised me that I would recognize him? His promise had now become reality, I just hadn't known it would take so long. I watched Lucien pacing the room, looking at modern paintings on the wall that didn't exactly match the massive, oak furniture. I had rented the house with them, and it just didn't matter to me. Nothing mattered except the completion of the task that was standing before me right now. "Have you ever been there?" I asked his back.. His broad shoulders shrugged. "Of course not." "Are you sure?" He turned surprised. "Of course I'm sure." His voice was growing impatient and he returned to me. He grinned a seductive smile, implicating the question I was waiting for. "We have the whole night, if you like," I answered his unasked question. "Good." He grinned broadly, revealing strong teeth of a dazzling white and started to touch me. I jumped away. I couldn't possess him without letting him know. The semen in my pants continued to dry with a coolness that made me shiver. He seemed to be disappointed. His arms hung empty beside his body and he frowned. "What's the matter with you?" "I need to tell you a story," I started with quivering voice. All my strength seemed to leave me. He laughed. "A story? A kid's good-night tale?" Playfully he approached me again. "You are beautiful," he murmured suddenly and ran his fingers through my hair. "Is this the fashion in Mesopotamia? Have you ever cut this long, beautiful hair?" I didn't answer. If I hadn't cut it, my hair would be as long as the distance from Vienna to Uruk. I just kept it in form because he once had loved my long hair. Again this intense stare covered his eyes as if he tried to remember. I saw the effort with delight. Perhaps the more he touched me, the more the memories would return. "Chocolate and silver," he mumbled. "How old are you?" Chocolate and silver. My hair still had the old colour and the waves, ending in ringlets, flooding over my back. But the silver was new, an exotic addition indicating my age. I was undying, but I could get older in the row of millenniums. Perhaps it was just a sign of grief and impatience. "Not a single year older than you," I said. He examined my face again, searching for wrinkles and lines. There weren't any, I knew. Just perhaps the skin that had been too burnt from the desert sun. He smiled. "Then tell me the story and hurry up." His hands brushed my groin, setting it on fire again. I guided him to a settee, beige with red roses. "Are you thirsty, hungry?" I asked, on my way already to the bar, examining the several flasks and bottles. Whisky would do me good, I loved the raw, smoky taste. "Whisky?" he suggested. I smiled and returned with two glasses. He took it and let the ice cubes jingle. Then he leaned over and brushed his lips with mine. He hesitated. "You taste ... familiar," he managed to say, before he devoured my mouth. The whisky sloshed. "Are you sure about the good-night tale? You can tell me afterwards." He set aside his glass, pulled me closer, buried his hands into my hair and chewed at my earlobe. "I want you. I've never met anyone like you." I fought the seething urge in my loins. Not yet, I chanted in my mind. Not yet. Not yet. "It was in Uruk, when the days were young," I whispered. "Uruk?" he whispered back.. Outside a night owl hooted. A soft breeze billowed the long curtains and a scent of rotten leaves wafted through the room. It was cosy. His kisses were promising. Why didn't he whip off his shirt finally? I thought impatiently. Show me your body. Show me the old lines. I touched his naked underarms and pale lines followed my stroke. Desert snakes. Winding and turning. A scar where the claw of a lion had hurt him. They vanished as soon as I removed my fingers. He opened the buttons of his shirt and his skin gleamed through the white fabric. I didn't dare to touch it. Gently, yet determined, I pushed him back.. "Uruk. The old capital of Mesopotamia." I dropped back to my dreamful voice. "I saw him in my dreams. They said he was the most powerful man ever. His charmed body was strong, the muscles long and lithe. A delicate fur of golden hair covered his whole body, a protection against the burning heat and the coldness of night because he lived outside Uruk, the kingdom town. He had grown up amidst wild animals and spoke their language. The night I had seen him standing at the gate that leads to the entrance through the thick town walls, I had sat up. He was waiting for me. But his body was covered now in clothes, a loincloth hiding his masculine attributes. His skin was smooth and gleaming with sweat. I saw the lines because the Gods had marked him." I guided my gaze back to Lucien to find him, mouth partly open, listening to me as a child would had done. His eyes reflected the golden shine of the candles gaining the brilliant colour of a peridot. "You have seen him?" he asked. "I mean, you dreamt of him? Who was he?" "A child of nature. A master of bow, spear and knife. He was eating grass from the hills and with his weapons he used to kill animals for his lion's flock. He used to hunt with the females and mate with the males." Lucien's lips curled. "Mate with the males?" His smile vanished. The eyes, a crystal peridot-shine, became stony like marbles of jade. The whisky glass in his hand trembled. "Mate with lions. That's gross," he mumbled, then said in a fainter voice, "No, it was necessary." I raised my eyebrow. Necessary? "Yes!" Lucien was suddenly very engaged. "Many do this to keep friendship. To protect the herd, to take away aggression. Didn't you know? It was bloody animal." Animal. "I watched and then I joined." Lucien's eyes were far away. His corkscrew locks hung to his shoulders, appearing like a lion's mane. "It was a ritual for us. They told me it was a great honour when the master of the herd joined their peaceful friendship." My heartbeat quickened. Was he about to wake up? I touched his face, but he didn't seem to notice. His eyes were getting a shade darker. "There was this trapper who saw me and then there was this temple boy, a courtesan from the temple of Shamash, the God of Sun." "He was sent from me to tame you," I threw in furtively. I didn't want to interrupt his memory. My glass was empty and so was his, but I didn't dare to move. "Why would you send a temple boy to tame this nature's child?" Lucien's eyes were again green-golden like before, oblivious to the memory. "There are two temples, for girls and boys. They were highly honoured because they served the Gods and to mate with one of them means to be accepted and blessed by the Gods. I wanted to tame the danger the strongest man of our world radiated." "And who are you? Why were you afraid of a hunter, living amongst animals? Speaking their language, eh?" Lucien smiled his enticing smile again and I longed to kiss him. But I did not. "I was not afraid. I wanted to put our strength on trial. See if he was as strong as they said." "And this temple boy? Was he pretty?" I was silent. Lucien should know if he was pretty. The boy had seduced him, making him lose his animal being to become a human man. Again I touched Lucien's face, wiping his forehead and the locks, so soft to my palm. I remembered them well. I saw them flooding over the pillows and the furs covering our bed state. "He was pretty. He was painted around the eyes, and his hands and feet had patterns of henna-paintings." Again Lucien's voice hesitated in delicate memories. I closed my eyes and saw what he saw: To the watering place they came: gazelles, zebras and buffalos, and finally Enkidu came to quench his thirst. He saw the boy with shining hair, pearls in his earlobes and golden rings around his wrists. Both stood and stared, then the boy shed his loincloth and stood proudly in the sun, his sign of manhood very neat and anointed, the testicles smooth like apricots. He circled the child of nature who sniffed at him and took in the scent of manhood. His penis rose and the boy opened his legs, kneeled down and offered himself. He would work a miracle to alienate the wild animals and make Enkidu a man. He gritted his teeth when he felt Enkidu's mighty meat entering him from behind, shedding his hot semen instantly. The boy was surprised, he hadn't even had time to get hard himself, but then he felt teeth pulling at his neck, a licking tongue, and the heavy, fur- covered body pressing its weight upon him, entering him again, shedding his semen, entering him again and again. Untiring like the lions he mated with the boy and with each time he lost his animal being and a man was born. "After seven days and nights of mating I woke up, satisfied and weak. I looked after my wild pride and they looked at me, but they didn't recognize me anymore. They went away and I was another person, something else completely; alienated and sad. The boy I had used to satisfy my frantic urge, lay beside me and I felt pity. But he was smiling. He rose and neared his face to mine, then he pressed his lips upon mine. I was overwhelmed and imitated his actions. He forced my lips open and played with my tongue. And I was on fire again. It was fever. It was wet and he showed me how to mate gently without haste. First, he guided me to the water hole and washed my body that had lost its fur. My skin was tender and white and he creamed it with an ointment of exotic scent, rose petals and cool cucumber, aloe and cinnamon. I watched him pull out a tool and with it he brushed my hair until it sparkled like fire and was soft and without dust and burrs, but rather smooth ringlets fell down my shoulders." I watched with fascination Lucien's face. It had changed. His eyes had become greenish- yellow like a lion's eyes and his skin blazed with power. Between his legs I saw a large bulge had built and I longed to stroke it -- make love like in the old days, when the temple boy had taught Enkidu to be a perfect lover. Gentle but keeping his lust, soft and wild. I could have jubilee. I did inwardly. He remembered. I took his upper arms. "Yes. The boy showed him how to kiss, how to love. He told him to eat with knife and fork. He taught him words. And Enkidu learnt fast. And then one day the boy wandered back with him to his home town. Uruk." "Uruk." Lucien woke up. "That's a very exciting story of yours," he said broadly grinning. "It's almost as if I was there. Now," he peered down at my crotch, "finish your story later, or how long do you want to wait?" He stood up and stretched out his hand. I could not follow. Or should I? "Wait a moment. I need another drink." Without waiting for an answer I refilled our glasses and sat down again. I could hardly tame myself, but it had to be. I didn't want to lose him. "Four thousand and seven hundred years ago, Uruk was the capital of the Two-River-Land that spread between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. That's where our so-called civilization started indeed." I had taken Lucien's wrist and pulled him beside me on the settee. He drank from the whisky that gave his complexion a healthy, rosy touch. Sun-drunken peach, I thought once more. "There were wonderful temples for the God of Heaven, Anu, and for Ishtar, the hermaphrodite God of love and fertility. The king of this city state was named Gilgamesh. Do you know what they say about him?" But I fell silent. Lucien had fixed his eyes on me, looking me up and down like a stranger. I saw this name awoke reflections. "I ... I have heard this name before. In school?" he suggested. "'Gilgamesh ... since the day he was born his name is splendid. Two thirds of him are God, one third is human. He is the wild bull, the perfect one, awe-inspiring...'" On the gate of the town wall Enkidu hesitated. He had never been in a town. But the temple boy dragged him along. Enkidu watched carts pulled by donkeys pass them. A market. Old men sat on the streets on carpets, drinking tea and playing a game with stones. He sniffed several scents -- roasted lamb and onions . . . fresh bread and sweet millet gruel. And then there was a festively dressed group gathered in front of a brownish brick stone house. They had decorated themselves with garlands of flowers and the ground was covered with fresh petals. The temple boy held Enkidu's arm. "Look, that's a wedding. Do you see the bride? And next to her is our king, may Anu be gracious with him and may he have a long life." He kissed briefly his fingertips and bowed his head. "What...," Enkidu cleared his throat from dust, "what is a wedding?" The boy's brown eyes sparkled. "It's a promise between two people to stay together for the rest of their lives, to honour and trust each other in good and bad times." Enkidu stared. One mate for the rest of the life? Just one? He could not understand the reason. Was it not the task of nature to mate with as many different beings as you could to have fun and to spread your semen? There had always been just one male in his flock, but many females. Enkidu's lips curled to a smile. But then, it was not Enkidu's nature to mate with the females. "Our king carries out his right of the first night", the boy continued. "After a wedding it is his right to deflower the newlywed." "Deflower?" "It's what you and I are not," the boy smiled. "A virgin." Enkidu watched the king from afar. He was taller than most. His splendid, brown hair was tied up with silver bands and a ring with colourful gems and jewels wound around his forehead. He appeared very strong. The white, shiny shirt clung over his muscled arms and chest; the rest of his body was hidden by a long skirt that reached to the ground coloured a deep, vivid blue, decorated with golden embroidery. Enkidu's innocent nature did not know any better how to behave in public and so the temple boy took notice that a hard erection strained Enkidu's loin cloth; it was impossible not to notice. Gilgamesh was about to enter the house with the newly- wedded husband when he turned. His eyes found the child of nature, standing calm with big, amber-green eyes, his face framed by a fluffy mane, a spear at his side. The king's eyes found the unmistakable outline of his hard erection and he let loose of the husband. He drew nearer and the people fell silent. The temple boy bowed deeply, but Enkidu just stood and stared unblinking. "You are Enkidu, the son of the gazelle and the wild donkey. Welcome to Uruk." The people murmured. This was the big warrior who lived with the lions and wild animals? "Please bring him to my palace," Gilgamesh said to the boy, "and be thanked for your help." The boy bowed again. "I have a task to do," Gilgamesh turned to the waiting husband standing in the doorframe when Enkidu took hold of the king's arm. "Do not," he said. The murmur grew louder. No one was allowed to touch the king of Uruk unasked. Surprised, Gilgamesh turned. "Why not? It's my right." Enkidu's eyes flickered over to the pale man waiting. "Will he enjoy mating with you?" "It's not about if he enjoys it, it's about that I enjoy it." Gilgamesh's voice was a sharp snap, but Enkidu didn't leave. "Then search for a man who will enjoy." Gilgamesh turned now fully to the wild man, the man he had tamed by a trick, and a little smile played around his mouth. His eyes stroked Enkidu's body, the lithe muscles, the pale lines where the Gods had marked him. The wild eyes. The straining erection, matching his own, he realized with surprise. He touched Enkidu's arm, embraced it and went on with him. "Taught him a lesson, that wild man did, huh?" Lucien said sleepily. I looked at my watch, it was past midnight. "He taught him you shouldn't need to fight to be friends, like the lions mate for friendship and stop aggression." I wondered about Lucien's quick comprehending. He emptied his glass and put it aside. "And then both went to the king's palace and fucked the brains out of themselves?" he said playfully. "That gives me an idea." He stretched out his hand and started to unbutton my white shirt. I didn't know how far his memory had recovered and I did not want to help him remember except with my words telling the story of myself and him. "They went straight to the king's bedroom," I continued slowly, "locked the door and undressed each other." Lucien's hands had finished their unbuttoning and pulled the shirt out of my trousers. He stripped it off from my shoulders and ran his palms over my chest. His eyes sparkled again with brilliant peridot-green flares as he locked them with mine and then a significant thing happened. My hair started to crackle from electricity and before my eyes Lucien's breath became laboured and over his face scurried shadows. "I know what you are talking about," he said quietly. "It is as if I have seen it. Was participant. Watcher. It's just... so funny. Such a strange feeling." To hell with my caution, I shouted at myself. I wanted him so badly. I couldn't wait any longer, even if I had waited 4,700 years for this moment. Lucien's fingers played between my legs, stroking my covered balls, his head tilted with a rapturous smile on his face. "First Gilgamesh's long skirt was falling and the loin cloth he was wearing was wet from the droplets of joy he had shed in anticipation. Wasn't it so?" Lucien's candid, innocent look broke my heart. Yes, it had been so. I rose to my feet, took Lucien's hand and guided him upstairs to the bedroom. I hadn't prepared anything, so I threw a red shawl over the little lamp standing by the bed and pulled back the covers. "And Enkidu's unblemished soul comprehended that the king of Uruk would make him the biggest gift: his body," I continued my tale, not without shaking legs. "Enkidu's senses, still intoxicated from the experience with the temple boy, remembered how to make love. He still had this unbelieving staying power, but, he thought, this would only be natural." Lucien laughed while he dropped my trousers, seeing my underpants wet from droplets of joy. "You live your tale, baby." I thought I was about to faint when everything happened at once. Lucien gave me a private strip show, his gaze never leaving my eyes, before he stood proud, naked and erect in the soft glow of the lamp. He approached me and ground his abdomen into mine. It tugged at my heart to the point where I could have screamed. Wherever my hands touched him, lines appeared. They followed my fingertips up his upper arms, over his shoulders, down his chest . . . as smooth as I remembered. He followed my hands with his eyes and I saw in their expression that he was seeing them too. He didn't seem to wonder at their appearance. We both had reached a state where past and present melded together. He hooked his thumbs into the narrow waistband of my pants and pulled them down. And then he started to kiss me. His fingers fondled up and down the shaft with oh, so familiar movements. He gave me a push and flung me on the bed leaving my lips as he devoured my manhood. "And Enkidu surely admired the king's size," he chortled indistinctly, chewing at my meat that filled his exquisite mouth. I was on fire, I was on the brink of explosion and I had to do something about that. Although . . . I knew very well my old lover was untiring. I struggled and removed carefully my penis from Lucien's sucking mouth, sat up and pulled him close. His member swung between his long legs, hairless like the rest of his body, except the trail from the belly leading to the abdomen because he had lost his fur on the threshold of becoming human. "Enkidu was not shy," I told him. "He remembered all the things the boy had taught him. Rimming for instance." I grinned and saw Lucien's eyes lit up. "Make it slow, raise the tension." I leaned him on his back between the pillows. "It was a four posted bed, covered with the furs of zebras, gazelles and leopards. Enkidu, now human without his animal friends, didn't object to the killing of them. He lay down on them and spread his arms and legs." Lucien spread his arms and legs and I kissed his rosy nipples, licking and biting until they were hard and big. "Do you see the little ibis? Enkidu had the same." My hands trailed along, over the curve of his waist, and the flat, hard belly. He was hard as ever when I gave his member a stroke. Long and rather thick it snuggled to his belly in a soft, leftward curve. "Gilgamesh loved the look of his new lover. He admired his powerful tool and the natural way with which Enkidu was moving in bed, like a courtesan, offering everything. He took his manhood between his lips and sucked slightly on the tip, tasting the crystal droplets..." I was copying the actions of my tale, and Lucien growled. It was so hard for me not to give in, let it end in the heat of a moment, take him, make him mine again, show him how much I loved and missed him. My hands caressed his ball sack, the silky surface, with its delicate heaviness and the velvet line beneath, leading to the place of my utmost desire. "Let me mount you," Gilgamesh whispered and Enkidu's ears jerked as if he had to scare away a fly. "Mount me?" he asked. "I was mounting the boy for seven days and nights. I don't know what it is like to be mounted." "Heaven," Gilgamesh said. "I will show you. You must follow my words." Enkidu blinked. "And my reward?" Gilgamesh's fingers had opened his hole already, massaging the little rough entrance, smearing some of the fluid oozing off his member around the wrinkled place of pleasure." Lucien moaned. He opened his legs wider and pressed my head between them for me to lick the tender skin. "Mount me," he hissed. "I've never done it before, I was just mating with lions and the boy." I removed my tongue and looked up. His eyes were open and glazed. Amber- green. "Please, be my king." He was here. Enkidu. Finally with me. I opened his legs even wider and smeared olive oil around his opening and on my aching penis. I knew how to do it and he knew instantly how to react. I leaned forward over him and pushed. And he pressed. "Enkidu, my love," I murmured, kissing his lips which opened like a flower for me to smooth the pain he was certainly feeling. I waited for him, withdrew and pushed again. He arched his back and opened his mouth in a soundless cry before the pain subsided. "Deeper," he demanded. I sat on my knees, shoved my hands behind his back and pulled him close to me. He rested on my legs, face to face. "Deep enough, my wild man?" I asked. His smile was answer enough. His locks fell into his eyes and I stroked them back. His gaze became unfocussed, as he moved gently up and down, placing my hand around his shaft. I teased him, giving it little strokes, tickled it with my nails, until he didn't know if to laugh or to scream for pleasure. "Seven days and nights you said you mated with the temple boy?" I asked him, feeling the climax building. "Seven days and nights. I was quick. It just lasted a minute each time." He moaned when he felt my lunges deep into his hole. "But then . . . then he showed me how to prolong, to hold on. Oh...!" I gushed my semen into his hole, not able to hold on. It shuddered my body, rocked him and he sprayed our bodies with white cream. "Let's do it again," he said after a while of blissful agony spent burying his hands into my hair, "you're so beautiful. So wonderful." He kissed me tempestuously, and it was more than I could take. He moved the muscles in his anus. "Stay hard, will you?" he whispered and I had to laugh. It was not hard to obey when the love of your life demands love. "And then let's go out and you show me the town. I've never been in a town. There is so much you have to explain." He swung his leg around my head and stretched out between the cushions. I was still hard as I had been before when I plundered his sweet hole again, pulling him tightly to my body and he let it happen as if he had never known anything different. I stroked his meat until it rose again and he gave little sighs. I was overwhelmed that all my old feelings for him were as fresh as they were on the very first day when we had met and shared the bed together. I found it all again, his heat, the surrender, the tender frantic coupling. I buried my head into his hair that smelled musky like his being and intoxicating like oriental roses. We found the perfect rhythm, as we had always done before and nothing could have separated me from him; not my second climax nor his release after I had turned him around to clamp my mouth around his spear giving him the intense feeling of contentment and utmost peace. His whole body heaved when I laid beside him. My fingers ran over his moist skin and with gratitude I protected his spent and satisfied private parts with my palm. "Am I the only one?" he whispered, eyes closed. "From now on you are." A long glance met mine. "I'm yours." He rose to his elbow. "And now we discover the town, right? I have never been to this temple the boy was telling me about." "Beloved," I said carefully, "look around. What do you see?" Lucien looked around. "A room, a bed, you." "Have you seen the furs? Have you seen me?" A bolt shot through his body. When he opened his eyes again they had their usual brilliant colour and he looked at me like at a stranger. "What's your name?" he asked sharply. He untangled his body from mine and I felt cold and alone. I longed for his warmth. "What have you done to me? Do you transfer your dreams onto me? I saw . . . no, I see that you and that stupid king you were telling me about are one and the same! Are you mad?" He stood there, hands supported on the bed, shouting at me. I sighed. This was harder than I thought for him to accept. "And why do you call me Enkidu?! That's the name of the wild man." "Because you are Enkidu." I decided to play it tough. It was now just a matter of time before he would remember everything. "I lost him and have now found him back." Lucien ruffled his hair in agitation. "But that's insane! How old is your tale? When has this king lived? Before Christ, wasn't it?" I watched him as he left the bed and began pacing the room. He appeared ethereal in the soft, reddish light. His hair blazed. I felt the urge to take a brush to smooth it. The muscles in his butt cheeks clenched with each step. I saw a glistening trail of oil and semen on his thighs. I was desperate. What was I to do? Should I influence his mind, transfer my memories to his own, so that my memories would now be his? It would never be the same. Somewhere, deep down under this all too handsome surface was hidden my old Enkidu. My lover, my world, my everything. All those men I had mated with in the flow of thousands of years could not stop the nagging pain of loss I had felt. And now, that I had found him, it should end in desperation? I had to try again, harder. "Lucien," I said softly, strived to calm him down and open his mind. "Look at me." He turned around, but his eyes didn't show any signs of memory. "You owe me your name." "Gil..." I hesitated. "Gil. It's Gil." He laughed. "You want to say Gilgamesh, right? The king of Uruk. Are you lost in a theatre-piece? Are you an actor, an author, who can't find the way out of his profession? Is it true that all of your types are schizophrenic?" He was serious. He stared, then he quickly gathered his clothes and ran through the door and down the staircase. I followed close on his heels. Downstairs, I saw a figure leaning against the doorframe to the living room. It was Sean, watching us with a cynical smile. Lucien stopped and looked confused. "I think I should go. A threesome is nice, but not tonight." He tried to pass my Irish companion, but Sean stopped him with a simple and quick movement of his arm. A questioning look at me from those Irish eyes confirmed I had made little progress. Lucien, his clothes still pressed to his chest, flashed at him and freed himself from Sean's grip, dropping his clothes. "I don't know what you're playing here, but I'm definitely out of this game." Sean didn't move. His blue eyes wandered over Lucien's body. Perhaps he saw the old lines there. Then, in confirmation, he stretched out his hand and touched the Ibis on Lucien's shoulder. Lucien stepped aside and his body hunched, ready to attack anyyone who would do him harm. I recognized the fluent movements with which he had charmed me once -- the underlying power and strength. Lucien was the hunter of the steppe, eyeing his prey. His body was coiled tight as a spring, the muscles in his backside clenched, like the ones in his thighs and calves. But Sean smiled. "You better listen to Gil's tale. It's not as creepy as you think. It's actually fascinating." Fearless, he moved his face nearer to Lucien's. Confused, I looked at the Irish man. There was something threatening about him. Something that had never been there before. "Do you believe in everlasting love?" he asked now. "Non aging love? Love that lasts through the ages, centuries, millenniums?" Sean's voice was intense. "Isn't it fascinating?" I saw his fingers glow where he had touched Lucien's naked breast. Now he slowly lifted his eyes and turned them directly toward me. For a single moment I saw an abyss and in its depth a golden halo, like the fire ring around a sun's eclipse. I had only seen eyes with that fire one time before - back in Uruk, nearly 5,000 years ago, and by Anu, this was not a pleasant memory. But then Sean blinked and the image in my mind vanished, yet my confusion remained. "Fascinating?" Lucien called out. "When he tries to creep into my mind? I thought we were having real sex instead of having sex only lived out in my brain." "Is that so?" Sean raised an eyebrow. Another face appeared at his side. Leopold. Sean wrapped his arm around his waist. "Don't be stupid, boy," Leopold said. "You'll miss the love of your life . . . of all of your lives!" I indicated for Leo to be careful. I knew it would be a shock for Lucien to be in the company of immortal men, but the shock would only grow bigger if I was not able to show him who he was. His mind had to awaken from the long sleep ñ his mind and his soul. A good way he had managed, but it was not enough. "Do you remember the lions?" I asked him, my voice low and calm. Lucien turned. He was still naked, as was I, but his body slowly relaxed; the threat was over. I approached him. "What did you see when we were together? You were asking me to show you the town. Which town did you mean?" Lucien looked confused. "I was born here in Vienna, so why should I ask you to show me the town. You are the foreigner here." "We both are foreigners. You asked me to show you Uruk. Where do you think these questions come from?" "Who are you? Are you playing a game without telling me the rules?" I gathered his clothes for him and pressed them to my chest. I shivered under his glare. I felt vulnerable. "There was this look of his, from those wonderful, innocent eyes, that did not know about harm, about the things humans can do to each other." My voice trailed along, becoming lower and lower as I spoke directly into his face. He was silent, his lips slightly pressed together, but he was listening. "He was trustful like a child, and in constant need for words for my little temple boy had not had time enough to teach him everything. Enkidu did not know about the Gods, but I saw the pale lines on his skin, a beautiful pattern I followed with my eyes. His exquisite mouth smiled trustfully at me and I knew I wanted him for my companion." I paused. "I am talking of you." Instantly I felt Sean's eyes on me. He flashed me a gaze that burnt through to my intestines as he looked my naked body up and down. We had never been bedfellows, for whatever reason. I felt distracted and lost my concentration. And felt immediately that I was losing Lucien. "Why don't you both go upstairs and take a nap," I said sharply. Leopold got the message and pulled Sean with him. "You were talking about me?" Lucien didn't seem to sense the interruption. As quickly as I could I crossed the room and took him into my arms. He was cold. My trembling hands traced along his back, over his butt cheeks where I felt the moist fluid still lingering -- my shed semen. "Look, you were in trance, you saw things of your past. My words just helped to arouse your buried memories." "But how can this be? If you are Gilgamesh you are ... ancient! And what am I then? The wild man from the moor who fucked with lions?" I nodded. He laughed unbelievingly. "It's impossible!" "Love, anything is possible! It's like magic, it's always there, you just have to learn to use it." "Magic! Wow," he sneered. "You're still into your kid's good-night's tale." "But you've seen them, the lions, the temple boy. You told me what he looked like and I swear it was the truth; painted eyes, henna-hands and gold around his wrists." "Right. Probably you used hypnosis," he said dryly. "Sort of, yes." I shook him a little. "What's there so mysterious about working with hypnosis. Have you never heard of people talking with foreign tongues? Or experienced lives they have lived millenniums ago?" "I think that's nonsense." "It is not." He was unsure, I sensed. Unsure of what to think and uncertain if he should leave me. He laid his head on my shoulder and I pulled him tighter to me. "Don't leave me," I whispered. "It is too good to hold you. I have missed you for so long." He lifted his head and looked me in the eyes. A little darker they appeared, like Enkidu's eyes. "Don't you feel it?" I continued to whisper. "We are connected from head to toe; warm limbs snuggling onto me, your fragrant body, still carrying a scent of a wild animal, ready to give me everything. You have been the master of sensual joy. You have taught me the act of love in its most delicious ways." "His name was Siduri." Lucien looked at me with enraptured eyes. "Whose name?" "The temple boy's name." "Oh. I didn't know that." My heart beat in my throat again. His manhood hardened at my thigh. "I had mated with him for seven days and nights and then he told me his name, as well as he told me my name." His look lost itself somewhere in the room. "Who has given me this name anyway?" "I don't know, Enkidu. Everyone knew this was your name." Furtively I started to stroke him again. My fingertips slipped down the line of his slender yet muscular thigh, over his hip and down his abdomen, outlining the contour of his hard penis. He didn't seem to notice, at least it did not reach his mind. "Tell me more," he said finally. But where to start? "Didn't you feel the initial attraction between us? Your body was on fire, I could see it. I sensed it." I started furtively and felt his body stiffening. "Yes," he said. "Happens sometimes." I gave him a sharp look and shook his body. "It happens sometimes? How often does it happen you go with a man you met two minutes ago?" "It happened." It happened? Then I had a more old-fashioned conception of . . . what? Sex? Love? Wasn't there anything more than just plain sex or an encounter for one night? The oddest thing I felt right now was Lucien, trembling as he clung to my body as if he was enjoying my warmth. It was chillingly cool in the living room and the fire was out. "Do you still want to go?" I whispered. "Are you still afraid?" His lips brushed my cheek when he lifted his head. I felt his hands raking through my dishevelled long hair. "Were you really born more than two thousand years before Christ?" I nodded. "But ... but ... how?" An unsure smile appeared on his face. "This happens only in movies or fantasy-literature. And what about the others, living here with you?" "Wherefrom do you think those writers get their ideas from? If you imagine it, then it's possible to become reality. Had anybody thought it would be possible to walk on the moon one day? And yet it happened." His head tilted a tiny bit and his eyes searched for more answers. "The others," he reminded me. "Like me. Undying." I held my breath. I had said it and waited anxiously for his reaction. "How?" he asked. His fingers untangled my hair, like Enkidu used to do after a night full of pleasure and fulfilled desire. By Anu, if he just would realize how familiar his movements were, his scent, his voice, the way he kissed me, the way he opened his legs for me with that innate innocence in his amber-green eyes. "How?" I repeated. "It's not the time to speak about immortality, love. Don't be afraid of me. All I want is to have you back. . . our shared memories, our shared life." "Then tell me more finally. Why do you think I'm Enkidu? What happened to him? Why had he to die while you still lived ?" Mentally, Lucien had made a step forward. He was accepting the miracle. I searched in his face, so close to mine. "I have seen that new God." I paused. "The son of a God, I should rather say. He was immortal like me. His name was Jesus and he walked through the desert on his mission. Though... I never heard himself claiming to be the son of a God. I didn't know which God he meant anyway, for he didn't even have a name." I smiled. "Do you remember Shamash, the brightest of all our Gods? He had given you an amulet to protect you from the wrath of Humbaba, the guard of the Holy Cedar." I touched the sun-shaped golden pendant hanging on the very thin chain around his neck. A tickle covered my body when I saw Lucien's wide open eyes. "This is ...? It's in my family as long as I can remember. Longer than that. It was bequeathed over the centuries." I realized his skin had raised into goose bumps. "You want me to remember, right?" he asked. "First I have to accept that something unnatural has happened. You speak of soul wandering? You think Enkidu's soul has manifested in my body? And where is Lucien then?" He pulled from me and watched me in silence, demanding an answer. I made a helpless gesture. "Lucien?" "Yes, Lucien, me, my being, my history, my life before I met you. I'm twenty two. Is this the age you met Enkidu? How can you suppose I can continue my life as a ... wild hunter of lions? Shall we go to Africa then? Or would you like to live here in Vienna with me? How have you managed your life through the ages? Where do you get your money from? Are you working?" I shook my head. Too many questions at once, but it was understandable. "I do have a boyfriend," he continued, unknowingly hurting me with this statement. "What about him? What if I don't like you? If I - Lucien - don't want to live with you? And what's the point anyway? You are immortal, I'm mortal." Suddenly a light appeared on his face. "Wasn't there a nice Greek story of Eros and Psyche, his butterfly? In the end both were immortal; the Gods can decide. Are you a God then?" My head still swirled. Somewhere I registered how odd our situation was. Both standing naked in the middle of a cold room with nothing to drink nor to dress. His clothes lay untouched upon a chair. "Your boyfriend first," I managed to say. "What's about him? Do you love him?" "No. He's just a boyfriend. Nothing that matters for too long." "It makes you shallow." "Shallow?" He laughed. "I'm sure you had a million men to satisfy you." His eyes touched briefly my manhood and I saw a glimmer appear in his eyes. "Have you lways been faithful to them?" "A million men?" Now it was my turn to laugh. "You have no clue, Lucien. Has it ever been so easy for us like it is today, here, in this place? While right now, that old man, who claims to be the representative of the nameless God of Christendom and to have a direct line to him, is preparing another smear campaign against us? Against us: the abnormal, the perverts all the others have to protect themselves from because we undermine the moral fabric of society. We are not worth living in his book. He should be ashamed of himself." I breathed through my nostrils like an exhausted horse. Hadn't I learnt to change bitterness into tranquillity? I forced myself to speak calm and low. "We are the ultimate sin according to them, aren't we. We are responsible for the negative results for society and morality. We are damaging the righteous development of humankind." I grinned. "I would laugh if it wasn't so sad. And so dangerous for us." Lucien stared at me, but didn't interrupt. "How many of us have been burnt or bashed to death or better yet, gassed in concentration camps? It is just a little over one hundred years ago since the British law sentenced one of their greatest poet to jail which meant the equivalent to a death sentence for him. Oscar was so ..." I screwed my eyes up in painful memory. "You've met him?" "Of course. I met each personage I was interested in. Oscar Wilde... he was brilliant, though very, very shy in bed. He was rather a watcher, not participant. His soul belonged to men. His heart belonged to that unfortunate young man who was no good for him." Lucien looked at me with unreadable eyes. Not even I could penetrate the unfocussed depth. Something told me that he knew what I was talking about; the other part of him remained in awe. "And what about all the other, nameless victims?" I said quietly. "And you ask me how many millions of lovers I had had? When we had to hide in grubby rooms of shacked houses? In backrooms of dubious repute, always on guard for police and informers? I won't mention the inquisition... And now, at the start of a new millennium, are things really easier?" I made a step in his direction, taking his upper arms, stroking my palms over the skin, up and down. "I learned my biography well to tell my lovers about what I am doing and where I come from. Those lies are nothing to be proud of. But how can I fall in love when I know right from the start that this love is bound to die? I can't hold on. I can't let myself fall into the arms of a man, cheating myself by saying this time it's forever. It is not. It is never forever with mortals." I took his shoulders. "But it could be." There was a long silence between us. Birds softly twittered sleep-drunken in the middle of the night. Again the night owl hooted. The candles were about to drown into their own wax. "I like you," he suddenly said. "You are right, my body was on fire the second I saw you. It never happened before. You are just so ... frightening, so dark, so mysterious." "I saw nothing of that when me made love. You were not afraid." Lucien nodded. "When you speak those names - Shamash - our God of the sun, Anu, the God of Heaven, or even Enkidu... it's as if I have heard those names before. They are part of my sunken life, my forgotten life. Something I see in the very distance, but the more I approach the more it blurs. You still have to tell me what will happen to Lucien and the life I lead." "Nothing," I said simply. "For the world you remain Lucien, but for me you are my lover lost, now found. It won't be difficult." "And your friends? Are they ...?" I nodded. Overwhelmed he sunk upon a chair at the table. "You're not pulling my leg, playing a dirty game?" "No," quickly I stepped to him, sinking to my knees beside him. "The more I tell you, the more you will remember. And the final story YOU will have to tell me." He looked down on me. "The final story? About how I died?" I nodded silently, stretched out my hand and took his. Together we rose and climbed the stair in mutual agreement. I poured two copper beakers full of scented, red, flavoured wine; white pepper, mint and cumin. Lucien took one, inhaled the aroma and drank. "Do I look like him?" he asked. "A part of you, yes. Your hair, your eyes ... sometimes. Your movements." I tilted my head and kissed his lips. "Your movements in bed. Your underlying power." I smiled. "You are my unbridled young man." My smile fell. "But now I know we roused the God's disappointment. They had sent you to me as my counterpart. They wanted to see a fight. I had become too strong." "What? We had to fight?" "Yes. But instead, we became lovers. We were spoilsports, so to speak." Lucien laughed his bewitching laugh. "But that's funny. And the Gods were pissed off, yes?" I nodded, unhappily. "That's when the tragedy started." I sank upon the bed, patting the place beside me, our beakers still in hand, drinking. I wished to lick the red wine from his lips, or pouring the liquid over his body, his backside, where it would trickle away in the moist crack of his cheeks, as we had done so often. "The tragedy?" Lucien said. "You mean the fight with Humbaba, the giant bird with the big ears?" I laughed softly. "You always said he was a bird with big ears! He was a daemon with big wings!" Lucien laughed with me. "Anyway. It was creepy!" He paused terrified. "Did I just say that? A bird with big ears? Humbaba, the guard of the Holy Cedar?" He shook his head. "Wow. I can see him. I can see us, as we were travelling far away from Uruk to Lebanon. It took us ages!" I took the beaker from his hand and leaned with him against the cushions, stretching our bodies side by side. "Tell me more," I demanded. "Yes. Those cedar-forests... I still have no clue why we desired this travel to fight a daemon. Do you know?" "Because we were able to do it!" I halted. "No, love. Because you complained about your lost strength and power. You had lost your ability to speak with the animals. You weren't their master anymore. You had lost part of your freedom in order to share your life with me. I was so thankful for your presence that I wanted to give you your reputation back. My people should love you as well as they loved me." "So fighting the Humbaba, taking away the Holy Cedar to bring it to Uruk would had been a piece of heroism?" "Yes," I simply said. "Hmm. We made a great door from it for the town walls." "Yes. A monument for the Gods." I leaned over. "Humbaba's cry frightened you to death, remember?" Lucien nodded. "We wouldn't have made it if Shamash hadn't sent terrific storms that blew the forest and kept Humbaba at a reasonable distance until we could circle and bash him." I searched in his eyes. "He cursed us before he died." A shadow floated over Lucien's face. I laid my hands upon his breast and felt his heartbeat was quick. "Why did Shamash help us?" he asked. "Perhaps he was so keen on the monument?" I smirked. "On a raft, we had made from other chopped cedars, we returned to Uruk." Lucien closed his eyes. "Yes... the Euphrates," he said, voice tinged with melancholy. "I remember the lazy flow, the brownish water, the palms along the shore, and the flat brick houses. Workers gathered mud and built brick stones from it, to let them dry in the sun. And there were workshops where the bell's pots were made." He turned to my side, propped his elbow and peered into my eyes. "You showed me everything, the mosaic- workers for instance. Their works were later attached to the temple-buildings. Your palace was full of precious things, carpets from Persia, incense from Arabia, spices and ivory from India, copper and gold from Egypt. Your town was full of craftsmen who knew how to make a sweet smelling soap, how to dye clothes, how to work glass. You taught me to understand the pictograms engraved into the stone." He paused. "And then HE came," he said. "I'd never seen him before." "He was a hermaphrodite." I remembered him. "Ishtar, the god of fertility, of love and war. He was the embodiment of both genders, he loved women and men." Lucien shivered. "Why do you speak in past tense? He's still there." I fixed him a look. "How do you know? I mean, why do you think so?" Lucien's face became tensed and closed. "I'm not sure. It's a feeling." He shoved his leg over mine and started to play with my hair. His lips were close. "Why can't we return to Uruk?" I stared into his eyes. Greenish yellow with dark speckles. Round and stressed with black, long lashes. Lion's eyes. My Enkidu was back. "Love, we can't return. It's not our country anymore. Mesopotamia is lost. It's parted. There's Iraq and Iran and both cherish great enmity for each other. Don't ask me why though. The world has gone mad." I halted. "No, the world has always been mad." "Enmity? But you're the king of Uruk. You can gather an army to fight against these occupiers." I laughed and kissed his nose. "Those times were long ago. Now I'm king of the world." I looked deeply into his eyes. "And if you want to be, you are my prince. My equal. My king." I grinned. "Immortal like me." "I don't know what it means to be immortal." I sighed. It was ten minutes before three in the morning and a deadly silence filled the house. How could I answer this plea for answers. What was it like to be immortal? My quest had come to an end. But the only possibility for me to stay with him was to convince him to live with me. For the rest of ... the world. "Gil?" he asked furtively. He had always called me this. "What is it like?" "I stood in front of the shrine in the white temple of Anu." I started instead of answering his question. "It was hidden at the top of the ziggurat. Stones, covered with colourful glazed bricks. I had to climb a ramp leading over several graded quadratic platforms guiding to his small sanctuary. I was alone when Ishtar appeared behind the altar." "How do you know it was her?" "Him. This time she was a he." I smiled. "Confusing. Sometimes he was both. An androgynous being with swelling breasts and a manhood we all would be proud of. In my case there was only the manhood. She knew I preferred men to women." "Ah! But how do you know?" Lucien insisted. "You will certainly recognize a God when he's in front of you, love. There was no mistake." "He was naked?" Lucien's hands stroked my body. "Not naked. Although the translucent clothes didn't hide much. Gold and green veils and jewels that sparkled out of his eyes that rested on me, examining my body. He spoke to me with honeyed voice, then with fire. He harried me, he told me how beautiful I was. How strong. How mighty. How could I resist?" Lucien lifted his upper body. "You betrayed me with Ishtar?" he called out. "No wonder you never told me about your meeting!" "Hey! Calm yourself. I haven't said anything about betrayal." "But of course! He was a God and how could you have resisted that manhood!" he hissed. "I was just a stupid guard of the animals, drinking water from a hole and pairing with the lions, not able to eat with fork and knife, not able to speak properly, biting your neck when I was mounting you." His lips had curled back and now he had an amazing similarity to an angry cat. I had to laugh good humouredly. I took his arms and rested my hands upon his shoulders. "Oh how I missed your little outbursts!" Fearless I neared my lips to his, kissed him and whispered "I love you. I have always loved you and always will." I felt my manhood rising against his thigh and sensed his palm closing around the shaft. It was a natural movement for him. "He was bigger than you?" he whispered back. "He tried to seduce you?" "Sure he did. He dropped his clothes, and told me to unite with him." I looked down, where Lucien's hands did a little administering, circling his forefinger around the head of my penis. The memory was still fresh after thousands of years. "Ishtar was humongous, colossal. Apparently this was his idea of how to seduce a homosexual man. He rubbed his body on mine, lifting my short skirt to feel what was under there, trying to make me hot. "'I'm not only going to make you mine', he said, 'but I will make you my husband. I offer you immortality. Be mine for all time and experience the most sensual life.''' "Never-ending sex?" Lucien suggested. "Probably." Lucien still rubbed my penis with tender hands. "But you surely got all this from me. What more was there for you to wish for? And besides, I don't think sex is so important." "Ah! That's not you", I said light hearted. "You were a little rabbit, you know. Mating with me for hours, non stop." Lucien's cheeks flushed. "Did I?" His hand continued to work its miracle and I started to shudder. He lifted his forefinger that had trailed around my member and licked it. "That's embarrassing", he said playfully. His eyes sparkled. "And what did you then? Spread your cheeks for him." "No! How should I have been able to take such a monstrous thing? I refused of course, in favour of you." Now I clasped my palm around his half-hard penis. "Of yours." He was still as youthful, smooth and straight as I remembered. A perfect size to fit into my hand and into my canal of love. But being offered to be immortal was another thing. Lucien moaned quietly and screwed up his eyes. I wiped his droplets over the head and outlined the rim of his rolled back foreskin. Now he shuddered. "And what did he do then? Take you against your will?" I closed my eyes. "Ishtar showed no mercy in his feverish urge to mate with me. He had promised me everything. There in the dark sanctuary of Anu, he pressed me, tried to force his member into me or persuade me with sweet voice to administer to his tool with my tongue. He promised me a taste of caramelised dates but I still refused. 'What is there so ugly about me', he asked me then, his face burning and flaming with anger and lust. 'What is there to prefer this hunter boy to me? We could live forever, we can reign forever. In love and war.'" Lucien knocked me over onto the bed and started to lick my penis, nibbled my shaft up and down, kneaded my balls until I came into his mouth. "You taste indeed like caramelised dates", he grinned when his face appeared over mine again, the corners of his lips white like the tongue he put into my mouth to give me a taste. "It was Ishtar who made you immortal? Why haven't you said it?" With sudden anger Lucien rose and came to sit on my lap. His penis was sticking out between his thighs, reddish, wet, quivering and longing for release. I came up again and started to stroke it. "No, you have it all wrong. It was not Ishtar who made me immortal. It was..." Myself. "Who was it then?" Lucien succumbed to my hands stroking him. "I'll tell you later." I know I was being evasive. I know I had had a naÔve imagination of what's it like to be immortal. Never-ending fun or sex, as Lucien expressed it? Never-ending love, never-ending health, the never-ending certainty you can't die and will be able to watch the struggle of humankind to survive. It sure was interesting. It sure was exciting to meet all those personalities of science, politics and arts. Who can claim to have talked to Nefer'titi of Egypt in person? I know the secret of her leaving her husband Akhe'naton, about her vanishing and the place of her grave. I could have made a fortune when I had joinedt those British archaeologists who dug the hot desert to detect finally Tutan'khamun's grave. But did I want it? I had had enough of glory and praise when I was still king in Uruk and honestly I believe in peace for the past ones. It was an amazing way to follow the developments. If I imagine the old days when life was so much harder, when the bodies were drained from too much of work, getting old before their times, when life was a trap, dependent on the quirks and power of the superiority held by landlords, dukes, kings and clergy. I followed the small steps humankind made with each century. I followed the slave-ships from Africa to the new detected continent which was called after Vespucci, the seaman; I followed the ships with their cargo of sentenced men from England to Tasmania, to see them work and die hard. I saw the turnout of the tribes in America and Australia and I saw Africa coming under the exploitation of the white man. But what had been useful of all this? There were very little things useful. Gutenberg's invention for instance. But nobody had told me about the never-ending pain to see people I loved suffering and finally going, leaving, dying. I couldn't recall the many times I fled, leaving my lovers and friends because I couldn't say good-bye. And they shouldn't know about the secret of my non-aging appearance. What was I suppose to tell them? Well, a few I told. Romeo from Verona for instance. And Lui-Sa from Edo, the old name for Tokyo. I left immortal men at each continent, but I had chosen them well. There once was a little French boy I had fallen in love with so much I wanted to have him around. He died at the river Somme in that terrible year of 1916; a gun had blown his head away and even an immortal men cannot live without his head. I took him and buried him in the garden of my house in England. And then a miracle happened. Lucien moaned softly, his head thrown back into his neck, his eyes half closed. He looked so, so absorbed in his own world of feelings that my heart threatened to blow for love. I had found him back, the love of my life, and all the men in between didn't mean a single thing. I had loved them, but nobody I had loved as much as I loved Enkidu. I stroked his penis up and down with a firm grip, the other hand I had laid around his waist to protect him from toppling over, until he came into my hand; large drops hit his chest and mine. Then he opened his unfocused eyes and smiled. "You're great as ever', he murmured. He wrapped his arms around me while I was gently and absentminded smearing the last of white drools over the head of his member. How was I going to explain to him all of this? About the history of world, seen from a walker through the ages? I appeared as young as I was when we had to part, but my eyes were ancient. They had seen everything. Quietly I continued my tale. "Ishtar had almost left me with his still stiff manhood between his legs, outraged and fuming that I wasn't submitting. 'You forget I'm two quarters God', I had called after him. He had returned quickly, piercing my eyes with his bluish pieces of glass he had instead of eyes. 'And yet you are mortal. That one quarter human blood makes you nothing. It ruins your blood and your power', he hissed. And then I had seen it: The abyss opening behind the pupils of his eyes. A blazing flame launched upwards until I was afraid it would slap my face." Abruptly I released Lucien's dick and sat motionless. A terrible suspicion rose inside of me. But Lucien embraced me and rubbed his semen into my skin, his flattening penis against my abdomen. "So you refused him in favour of me, yes? And then?" "He went away," I croaked. "Just went away?" Lucien asked disappointed. "What do you expect? A wrestling fight with a God?" "Fighting a God can't be worse than to fight a male lion." "Ha!" I laughed. "You're something. Gods can do magic." "And you? Being two quarter Godly? Weren't you able to do something for that?" "I did," I said simply. "We did together. Fighting the Bull of Heaven." I detected a blissful expression on his face, before I sensed an all too human urge. "Don't move", I said to him. "I need to go to the little boy's room." With pounding heart I slipped through the door for the bathroom ñ and there he was - about to enter the room himself: Sean, and instantly I felt the strange sensation of being watched by an abyss again. Sean smiled innocently. "Made progress?" "Yeah." Now he grinned abusively. "He's still as good in bed as he ever was?" "How do you know whaat he's like in bed?" "Well, why else should you be looking for him? Nobody can satisfy your demands." He tilted his head. "That's the reason you never slept with me?" I scanned him thoughtfully from head to toe. What was the reason for this banter? He had never suggested before that he wanted to sleep with me. "And now that I've found him again, you're getting jealous?" I asked, probing the borders. And there it was: the brief flash of the golden halo around the black pupil in his blue eyes. For a second I had the impression his face would melt into something else. I hadn't told Lucien everything. There had been a second meeting of me and Ishtar: the one that had led to the obvious hatred. I had seen him appearing at most unexpected places. He had become careless; he was walking as a living God among the crowd. In public he tried to corner me, seducing me in each appearance: as woman and as man, and each time he was a little bit more crazy. Then came the day when I started to fight back, to humiliate Ishtar openly, although I knew I couldn't win against a God. "You bring mishap to each of your lovers," I called to him, standing proudly with all his beauty in the market place. My folk started to gather and watch. "Do you want me to line up in the row of your unlucky or dead lovers? Possessing me and pushing me away after you had what you wanted? Me, the king of Uruk?" People started to snicker. Others stood in awe, ready to receive a divine sentence. Ishtar had the power to burn the town to ashes. His face was dark red with scorn. He moved his arms and vanished. But I had never forgotten the golden abyss, full of hate, in his eyes and from this moment on I lived in fear. So, what now? What if my fears would be real? What if Ishtar had occupied Seanís body to take revenge, now that I and Enkidu were together again; like Ishtar did before when he was possessing the snake, fighting with me for the Misty Rose? Sean opened the door to the bath room and my impression evaporated. I heard his soft laughter. "Are you laughing at me?" I followed him, standing in front of the toilet sink, fumbling with the slit of his pajamas trousers. He threw a seductive look at me over his shoulder and didn't answer. "You've never believed my quest, have you. And yet you must agree there's something magic around." I hesitated. "How is it that you are immortal?" I whispered. "It's only me who has admission to the herb. Have you stolen it?" "You don't have exclusive rights to immortality", he said coolly. He stowed his penis and turned to me. "How long will you need?" "I'm not halfway through" I said automatically, fixing his eyes. He wasn't his normal self. Sean had never been cynical. He had been unhappy when Leo had found him, and managed his life in the company of immortal men very well. But he had always refused to eat from the herb until he was absolutely certain he wanted it. What had changed? Was he Ishtar? Did the God chose my Irish man and waited for the ultimate fight? How could I protect Enkidu then? And myself? "Is Leopold the reason? Are you ready to share your endless life with him?" I asked low. Again that searing look that threatened to burn my soul. "No." He opened the door and left me. At least he had admitted his immortality. When I had relieved myself and entered the corridor, he had gone. Lucien stood at the window, looking out. He had pulled back the curtains, dressed only in his pants. His arms he had wrapped around his upper body as if he was cold. Silently I went closer until my body touched him. He jumped a little. "Lost in thoughts?" I asked quietly. He nodded and pointed to the moon, hanging full and bright between the branches of the chestnut trees. "It's so close tonight", he whispered. "Yes, it is. It never changes, just in its appearance. But its was always there, sometimes closer, sometimes wide afar. We loved to watch the moon, do you remember?" Lucien nodded. "Four thousand years ago it shone into our rooms in the palace." "And for four thousand years I remembered and wished you would be here with me." I kissed his neck. Stinging wetness started to fill my eyes and I had to blink. "And then came the day when a human set his feet upon it, whirling ancient dust and gravel, marking it with a flag as his own. I was excited and angry at the same time. What was the use?" Lucien turned in my arms. "Well, as Armstrong said: it was a tiny step for him but a major step for humankind." He smiled a little. "But what for?" I insisted. "I knew before that it is cold up there and without oxygen and without water and plants. And without the man in the moon." He was silent. "We do it just because we are able to. Aren't you curious?" "Not any more. I've seen too much." Lucien laid his head upon my shoulder. "Tell me about it." What could I tell him? If I spoke for a lifetime, it still wouldn't be enough to let him know about all of my experiences. Except... if he would join my undying being, then we could learn together. "We were born when Stonehenge was still young." I said, then continued. "But we hadn't any knowledge of its existence. They say, you only see what you know. So, afterwards... I had enough time to increase my knowledge to perfection. When you have an endless time ahead you have endless leisure without any need to rush. I visited the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven world wonders, as the coming generations called them. Babylon..." I paused and pondered. "Babylon rose to unbelievable power while Uruk fell apart after I had left it." Suddenly, I had to laugh. "You know, a couple of years ago I went to the capital of Germany, Berlin, to watch the old Gate of Babylon and its procession street that led into the town. It was amazing to see it again, protected in a museum, under a roof and with many visitors from all over the world. The deep-blue glazed brick stones were still there with the yellow lions. It looked as if it was hardly a hundred years old. I stood and looked and stared and was thankful that the archaeologists had been able to find it again, even if it is lost for our country." I paused. "It is the Ishtar-gate." Lucien's pupils turned to pin heads, but he said nothing. "After I had left Mesopotamia I settled down in Egypt where nobody knew me. I worked for the pharoahs as writer and translator. And I was witness to Moses' exodus from Egypt and the seven plagues the country experienced, sent from Moses' God..." Lucien lifted his head, his face a mixture of amazement and doubt. "The seven plagues? But that's just a legend, isn't it?" "No. They came. It was a terrible year. The locusts destroyed the harvest on the fields. Gnats and vermin plagued the people. Because the Nile had great high water, the red mud and silt was pushed through the water pipes and so it appeared red when it bubbled up into the fountains. That's when they said that water turned into blood." Lucien still looked at me with big eyes. "And there was an eclipse?" "Yes. The sign of horrid things to come. It was simply a bad year." "And the killing of the firstborn?" "A fight of tribes. I'm not sure who did it. The God's are brutal in their intentions and devices." Lucien shuddered. "Jerusalem had been founded, there on the chalk rock in the mountains of Judea, the town of three world religions and I lived there for a while to comprehend their belief and to study their history. I lived there in several appearances and under several names. Athens had been founded and much later Rome. All those useless struggles for power . . . It seems to be so ridiculous when seen with undying eyes. I lived in Jerusalem until the Romans came and conquered the land. Then I thought it's time to leave. And yet I hadn't found you. Not in Babylon, nor in Thebes. Not in Jerusalem, nor in Rome. You could be anywhere. But one thing the old wise man from the sea had told me: a soul needs seven years for a first re-birth. And if this happens I would feel the signs and it would guide me to the right place. So . . . all I had to do was wait . . . and travel. But you were never among the seven-years-course. The Gods left me waiting way too long. They were angry." "Angry," Lucien whispered. "Like they were when we were fighting the bull. The Bull sent from the Gods as another test for our love. Surely they had never thought it possible we could survive." "Yes," I said. "The Golden Bull from Heaven was mighty. He was so huge . . . so wild. Fire flew from his nostrils and his golden skin flamed. He rampaged throughout the and, with his first snort the earth cracked and a hundred young men fell to their death. He stomped with his feet and an abyss opened, killing another few hundreds of our folk. We had to do something to stop it." "It was fun, wasn't it." Lucien released me and started to walk across the room. "Ishtar had been furious about your refusal to love him and had asked his father, Anu, to kill us. But we were strong." "You were the greatest hunter on earth, love", I said quietly. "Skilful in movement and I was strong. We broke its neck and I cut out its heart, showing my trophy to the people and then placed the heart at Shamash's shrine to thank him for his faithfulness." Lucien stopped his pacing. "And then Ishtar appeared upon the walls of Uruk. A wavering figure with green-golden veils and blazing hair and he looked with great hate at me until I tore off the Bull's right thigh and threw it at him." "Yes, you did!" I had to laugh, although this was the last straw. "I saw him, standing upon the walls, arms raised enraged to heaven to call the God's wrath. His father, Anu, and all the Gods with him saw his shame and his refusal to quit . . . and his utter humiliation. And the people lamented with him, frightened to death. The prostitutes and courtesans came from both temples, girls and boys, and lamented with him or her because for each gender he had the right appearance. Dust swirled around, covered the dead Bull of Heaven, his golden skin became dull and blind. Blood still seeped into the ground until there was no more left. Ishtar then had raised him up to the heavens, leaving the spot where he lay empty and silent." Lucien, who'd been staring at me intensely, bent his head. "That night I had a dream in which the Gods were meeting in council, and Enlil, the God of Earth, was declaring that, because of our involvement with the deaths of Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven..." Lucien stopped. "I became weak", he finished his sentence abruptly. I took Lucien's hand and sat with him upon the bed, taking him into my arms. "You suffered from a high fever. You faded each day a little more. Now I know what happened. Enlil persuaded the others to do me harm. I had become too powerful and Ishtar still envied me my happy life with you. And so it was settled: It was not me who should die, but my pain should be the greatest ever known. They took you from me so I would know endless grief." A jolt went through Lucien's body. "I saw him, the bird with the red-golden plumage that circled around my head. Ready to take me to the underworld. I prayed to Shamash, cursing the trapper, and the temple boy who civilized me, and thus had led to my downfall. But Shamash, the golden mask over his face, reminded me of the good times I had had, and I repented my harsh words." "That's what you saw?" Lucien nodded once in my arms. "Then I was transformed into a bird myself and led to the palace of the Queen of Darkness. All the inhabitants of this dark place were clothed like birds, and they were once rulers of earthly kingdoms. The Queen of the Underworld was there, and the recorder of the Gods who held the book of death. She looked up and enquired as to who had brought me here. But then.... I woke up." Lucien looked at me. "Yes, you left me alone. I died alone." "Shsht, I tried to save you." "But I died alone! That's the reason for my sadness. Now I know it. There was something undone, a word I wanted to tell you, but you weren't there to hear it." "I feared death." "You feared it so much that you didn't want to hold my hand when I passed over to another land?" "No, no!" I soothed him. "I feared death so much that I wanted to save you. The Misty Rose. The herb that made old men young. Don't you know that this is my name? Gilgamesh: the old man is young. It was my destiny." "Destiny. Fate. What does it mean?" "Everything. It's the herb that makes you immortal. I crossed the country on my horse until I reached the great mountains of Mashu, and the gate that lead through them was guarded by two man-scorpions." Lucien's wet eyes shimmered like cat's eyes by night; golden saucers that reflected the light. "Man-scorpions?" he asked. "Did they harm you?" I shook my head. "Their bodies were hard and slimy at the same time, one was red and the other black. They menaced me with their big stings though. They warned me that no mortal man had ever done what I was to do. But then they opened the gate for me and I walked in total darkness for many miles until I found myself in the garden of the Gods..." I paused. "The memory is still strong, still with me," I continued low. "After all these thousands of years. I wonder if it is still there, the gems and riches, the meadows and palaces." "It is," Lucien whispered. "The Gods are still alive, but they fade away because nobody worships them. Nobody speaks about them to preserve their memory. Wouldn't you fade away when the memory of you was dead? Do you think anybody at Uruk or Babylon remembers your name?" I bent my head. It didn't matter. It was not important if my folk remembered me or not. They are not my people anymore. Our Gods are different now. "Shamash indeed wore a golden mask," I continued. "I came across him in his delicious garden by night, for by daylight I couldn't have stood the glorious brightness. Though he was friendly, he warned me. I wouldn't find eternal life. Nevertheless, he told me that across the Ocean an old man lived with his wife in the land of Dilmum, the garden of the sun. It was Shamash's own country and he had allowed the man to live there. Utnapishtim and his family had been the only ones who survived the Great Flood." I laughed quietly. "What a nice hotchpotch the book is the Christians call Holy Bible, Lucien. The Great Flood! I had met the man who survived the Great Flood. The Gods made the flood because they were angry with the raucous humans and thus agreed to exterminate mankind. But because the God of Water had pity on Utnapishtim - or Noah - as the Christians call him, he was given warning and so he made a boat and saved himself." Lucien smiled. "And remember, MY story is older than the Old Testament." "But what happened then, Gil?" Lucien's tears were dried. "Did you find the herb? The misty rose?" "Do I have to tell you? Look at me." "But how? And why haven't you returned to share it with me?" Lucien fell silent. He knew the answer for sure. "I did. I did return." How could I explain? I reached over to the nightstand and refilled our glasses with wine. This time I mingled it with wild honey, stirred it and Lucien took it. I watched his face, pale with feverish, sad eyes. When would he allow me to call him by his right name? Was I allowed to tear him out of his life? "Tell me the rest", he said after a while once he had finished his sip of wine. He motioned for me to lie next to him, then smiled uncertainly. "I feel very confused. There are moments when I'm not myself. I don't know what to do. I don't know who I am. I can't be Enkidu for you, although I feel you once were so important to me -- the ultimate love of my life. We were so happy, but somebody was always against us . . . I see all those pictures; faded and yellowed and I know they are true." His smile now winning out over his confusion. "Give me more time to rediscover you." I felt as light as a bird. He'd asked me for time! "Love, time is what I have in abundance", I said softly and pulled him close. Nonetheless I was at a loss. How could he deny his life as Lucien and continue a life as Enkidu, the hunter of Mesopotamia side by side with the former king of Uruk, whose history was engraved on 12 stone plates for the afterworld? I felt his pain and confusion deeply. My fingers stroked the skin over his chest. "Do you see them?" "The lines? Of course I do. The signs of the Gods. Can you do magic? Do you have these powers, these abilities to make me remember? To set me back in time?" "Yes, Love, I do. But I don't want to use them. You can see the lines on your body, that's good. It's a start. I won't pressure you." I pulled him even closer and started to speak softly next to his ear. "I loved you the first time I saw you. I knew you were the man equal to me. It was you who taught me to love instead of to fight, you were a great hunter and I had made you weaker and this was my punishment: the endless search for you to offer you my gift." I sensed Lucien's helplessness. "Immortality." I continued, "To live through the ages of the world with you. But before you decide, there is so much for you to weigh. It is a mighty gift and sometime you will feel it as a curse." A lock of his hair wrapped around my finger. Oh, how good it felt to be together. It was as if we never had been parted. He was my confidante for my days and my beloved man by night; I never had considered another. "My strong, fair Enkidu," I whispered. "Now, that you are back with me I cannot believe the wonder, the miracle. It's like a dream I dreamt a million times yet finally, now, the dream remains upon awakening; so vibrant, so real." I felt his skin glowing under my hands. Lucien leaned against me in absolute silence though I heard the blood rushing through his veins and the heart beating strongly; the physical process of cells duplicating and the brain working hard to produce pictures of a long forgotten time. And then the miracle happened. "The servants were there, waiting at the end of my bed." Lucien started to speak in our old language. He painted the words with Sumerian sound and I listened in awe. How long had it been since I'd heard them? "Your mother was cooling my hot forehead, I was burning inside. The fever pricked me with thousands of needles; eating me inwardly and the red-golden bird was with me again, circling my head, screeching into my ears: 'He never returns, he never returns'. It is horrible to die alone. I wanted to tell you that you are forgiven for taking my strength away. There had been though, enough of it left to fight with you, side by side, even if I had lost my friends, the wild animals." He moved off a bit from me to look into my eyes. His own shone like the sun-shaped pendant around his neck. Was Shamash showing pity? Furtively I touched it and turned it over. There was engraved the holy wisdom of Shamash: 'Hudash' - 'Live'. "I knew I would never see you again when I closed my eyes and drifted away to a colourful land." He finished very low. "Now it's for you to tell me the rest." I sighed and started to form the letters to the old language we used to speak. "Utnapishtim was a still young man, strong and terrible. He told me he would show me the place of the Misty Rose after I had stayed awake for seven days and nights." I glanced to Lucien's face. He seemed to understand me and listened with closed eyes. He lay as peaceful as he might have laid when he had been passing over to the colourful land. "But tired as I had been from the journey to Utnaphishtim's land, I fell asleep instantly and woke up seven days later. As proof of the time passing as I slept, his wife had baked each day a loaf of bread and placed it next to my head. I was terrified, not able to think of anything but failing you! I felt you were getting weaker each day that had passed. And then Utnapishtim showed pity and allowed me to dive into the sea to search for the herb. In the deepest depths of the green water I saw it, swaying, formed like a rose with many stems and long, thin leaves. I plucked it and drove back to the shore. I cupped it in my hands as if it was the most precious of all jewels, for it would make you healthy again and none of the Gods could hinder its power. Then, I tried it, put a bit of it into my mouth, chewed and swallowed. And then I was knocked unconscious. "I don't know how long I'd laid there, but my hands still clasped the herb when I awoke. The world had shifted its colours, they were now bright and shimmering. I wondered if I had followed you to the land of no pain and of oblivion, but my senses slowly came to the surface and I could touch and feel again. I clasped the herb into my fist. It smelled like ocean, green and wild and yet a little foul when I breathed its scent. It was like the bitter taste that lingered in my mouth after eating it. I stood, took my clothes and bag and then, the most miraculous thing occurred ñ I heard the dolphins sing. I understood the screeching of the sea gulls. They warned me to make haste, for you were about to pass into the other land. "I paused on my journey home only long enough to give myself the time needed to gather my wits. By the time I had reached the Euphrates, I stopped for a quick bath. I didn't want to feel the pain of losing you." "And then?" Lucien asked. His gaze rested upon me. Those curious, yet steadfast, round lion's eyes studied me with resignation. "You brought me the herb, but it was too late," he said, calmly and without blame. "Yes. Though I had almost lost it while I was fighting with a snake. She had eaten a great part of it, and there was just a tiny bit left for you." I paused and shuddered at the memory of the snake's metamorphosis and its hissing. "You can not win.. I will follow you." She had been right. I had come too late. Ishtar had won in the end. "Half-mad I followed the way of the carrier of the corpse to the place of your burial in a crypt. I again came too late. Uruk was painted white. Even the people wore white as sign of their mourning. The greatest hunter had died and the king of Uruk had vanished for good." I looked at him. "Did you know that you would return someday? Did you know I would wait for you? Our people believed in rebirth. In reincarnation. Did you have faith, Lucien?" "Lucien? My name is Enkidu. I was the greatest hunter in all of Mesopotamia." He raised his upper body and stared down at me. "Of course I had faith. Of course I believe in rebirth. But what took you so long?" By Anu, what have I started? He looked down on me like an avenging angel of the Christians. Then suddenly his facial expression twisted and I had lost my Enkidu again. "Do you still have the herb?" Lucien asked me in his normal language. I nodded, not knowing what to do. I found it hard to follow his sudden time-jumps. "Have you made all your companions immortal with that?" "Not only with the little I had. No. I needed a supply." "Supply? You went again to the land of the ocean and dived into the sea to pluck it?" I shook my head. It was too complicated to explain. Too supernatural, to fantastic. Outside the sun dawned. A fresh wind billowed the curtains and the morning birds started their first sleep-drunken songs. The night was over and I was tired to my bones. But Lucien seemed to be more awake than he had ever been. My mental energies were getting weak. "I always dreamt about being immortal," Lucien said dreamily. "What I would be able to do with all the time! When I had nothing to fear, when I could watch for life to develop. Which path humankind would take? What would happen to our planet? Would I be able to see aliens arriving someday? Or the final victory over diseases and hunger? Or the ultimate blow in wars and armament? Would I see the final destruction with hunger and pollution, when there's nothing left but cockroaches and viruses as the sole inhabitants of this planet? Would I still be alive then?" "We are closer to that than ever," I said. "But it was a long way for me. I told you about the curse. I am immortal, that's true. But I can die as well. The body is vulnerable. "What about AIDS? We haven't ..." "It cannot kill me," I said softly. "Only if you lose your head?" Lucien suddenly laughed out loud. "Like Connor McCloud, the Scottish Highlander!" I looked confused at him. "Don't you know the film 'Highlander'!? 'There can only be one'." "One what?" "One survivor. One immortal." Lucien said impatiently though his eyes belied real upset. Did he still think I was pulling his leg? "I know you aren't kidding me," he told me softly. "I believe you. It's magic. As you said, when it can happen in movies it can happen in reality. Magic is everywhere, you just have to see and use it. I just don't know what kind of magic this is." "I'm not a sorcerer," I grumbled. "Do you know what the prize is?" Lucien asked me, ignoring my miffed state of mind. "The prize for being the last one of your race?" He paused dramatically. "Mortality." "That's a stupid prize. All the fight would had been in vain then." "But that's the trick! That's the philosophical outcome. You fight to be the last of all to receive peace in the end." Lucien's eyes widened as if he just right now realized the meaning of his words. "It would mean you are unhappy being immortal." I said nothing, but agreed silently with a nod. "You are excluded from life," I mumbled finally. "From friends, from family. You carry your secret deeply within you and struggle all the time that nobody finds out. It's not exactly pleasant." "But you have money, haven't you?" "I have. In the nineteenth century, I had a large mine for diamonds in South Africa. The diamonds are well saved and if I need money I sell them in Amsterdam. Some of them are bigger than the Koh-i-Noor." "Wow. I should stay with you then." Lucien grinned a boyish grin, leaned over me and started to kiss my lips. "It was a joke," he whispered then. "I'm hungry. Another day has started already and we haven't slept for a single minute." He rose from the bed, pulling me with him. As I stood in front of him he ran his hands through my hair, untangling it again. "Isn't it pretty impractical, your long hair? How long do you need to wash and comb it?" "I have always someone who helps me." "I thought you had shaved it completely when I died, as our folk does," he said seriously in the old language. Surely I couldn't bear it. He was jumping from one person into the other without knowing himself. Should I ignore it? Should I help him to find a way out of this schizophrenia? "I had no time for that. I left Uruk without anyone noticing me except my mother. I said good bye to her, offering her the herb, but she refused. She must had known the mishap it would bring. She certainly had seen it in her dreams, but she didn't stop me from leaving. I had eaten the Misty Rose without thinking it over and now it was too late. The only way to stop it would had been to ask someone to cut off my head, but who was to do this?" "And jumping from great height? Stabbing yourself? Poisoning yourself?" I shook my head. "My body would heal instantly." I enjoyed his hands in my hair and embraced his waist. "Come down to the kitchen and I will tell you another story." I prepared the coffee machine and he sniffed at the spicy scent. "What is it?" Lucien asked. I turned, surprised. Who was he right now? Lucien or Enkidu? "Coffee," I said, "the Arabs brought it to Europe. Well, actually it was the Venetian merchants that brought it in the 18th century." "Coffee", Lucien said pensively. I poured him a cup full, added milk and stirred. "We only had tea, do you remember?" "Surely." He tasted furtively. "It's a funny taste. Bitter and full of aroma." He emptied the cup. "What is it good for?" I smiled. He reminded me of the Enkidu new to the civilized world. He had known nothing and I had been his teacher. Why not start all this again? "It's a stimulant for your circulation. It keeps you awake when you are tired. The people drink this usually in the morning or in the afternoon." "Funny." When I turned to get some butter and toast Sean stood in the door frame. His arms were folded and he had this new-found, cynical smile on his lips. "Good morning," he said, looking curiously at Lucien, standing, still only in his pants. His eyes lurked but he said nothing more. "Good morning," Lucien said cheerfully. "Did we meet before?" Surprised by the question, Sean sat at the kitchen table as Leopold followed and Romeo appeared around the corner. They all helped themselves to coffee and waited for the toast to be finished. "Don't you remember the night before? When Gil picked you up in the bar?" Romeo asked, chewing a bite of his toast. Lucien looked puzzled then his face lit up. "What's it like to be immortal?" he asked. "It's Great." "Annoying. " "Difficult." Lucien was confused. "Now, what is it?" "All of these and more," I said, trying to figure out which aspect of him was in front of me, Lucien or Enkidu. Judging from his questions it had to be Lucien. "Then you have to tell me what is the great part of it and what the difficult." "Lucien, I told you just now. Loneliness is the most difficult part. And the annoying part is that you have to lie all the time." "And the great part?" "The great part is to share it with somebody." "That's nonsense," Sean interrupted me. "You can't share your immortal life. You can never fall in love, except with an immortal too." He looked at me. Again I seemed to see the golden abyss in his eyes and I shuddered. My cup dropped to the floor and shattered. He grinned. Romeo rushed to pick up the pieces of pottery. "Ouch," he cursed and put his finger into his mouth. Blood seeped from the cut and d ribbled from his lips. Lucien took Romeo's hand and held it under water from the faucet. When he removed it from the stream, the cut healed in front of his eyes with a rapid speed. "You see, that's the fortune," Romeo said dryly. "Have you told him about the little French boy?" he asked me. "The French boy?" Lucien asked curious. "Was he immortal too?" I nodded. "There was a French boy that he was absolutely in love with, although he knew it wasn't the man he was searching for," Sean said sneering. "You see, he betrayed even your dead body." "Sean! What's that talk about?" I turned to Lucien. "You didn't think I was living like a monk through all the centuries, surely?" Lucien looked bewildered. "I knew him for so long and he knew my history, about you. Despite all of it he wanted to live with me as long as it took for me to find you. That was the agreement. He was so.... careless though. He thought he couldn't die and nobody could harm him. He was a daredevil in each place we went, in each war he fought. He became a legend... until the bombs were invented. He died on the battlefields of the river Somme." "How?" "He lost his head." I thought briefly about this movie 'Highlander' that Lucien had mentioned and how fiction can impact reality. "Sad. So you are be able to die. And yet you regret your immortal state?" Lucien asked, looking at Sean. But Sean remained unmoved, nonplussed. I wondered if Leo sensed his different personality too. "What did you do with his corpse?" Lucien wanted to know. "I took him to England. That's where I live. We buried him in the garden of my house." I didn't mention the miracle that happened after the passing of seven years from an immortal's death. "And you?" Lucien turned to Romeo. "How old are you?" "Hm." Romeo smeared butter ponderously upon his toast, following it with a heap of marmalade. "I have forgotten. I lived in Verona." "Verona! But you can't be THAT Romeo; as far as I know he died." Romeo was about to take a bite from his toast and stopped halfway. "THAT Romeo?" he said. "I was a contemporary of Shakespeare's Romeo if that's what you mean." "So the story is true?" "Sure it is. Just the end is wrong. Romeo and Juliet survived and lived in Ferrara. It was a sad story, my cousin told me. In the end they hated each other as much as they once had loved one another." Romeo leaned over the table. "You see, it was common to marry that young of age as Romeo and Juliet had been, but they forgot how long you have to be together then. Can you imagine being in love with someone for, let's say, forty years? When you breed one kid after the other, see then half of them dying and in the end there's nothing left but disappointment, a tired mind and a drained body? You end up in silence or in quarrel and love dies. That's when I regretted for the first time being immortal. I think Shakespeare knew the troubled end in store and tried to paint a brighter piece. Keep the romance. If you wish to savour the romance, you have to die young." Suddenly he laughed then finished his toast in one bite. "But do you all remember the time in Florence?" Sean remained reserved. He was not able to remember. I had met him twenty years ago and he certainly wasn't immortal then. Leopold joined his laughter. "All those randy artists! They picked us up from the streets, undressed us and claimed to be interested in our body parts just for artistic studies!" He laughed out loud and his little braid hopped. "It was really a good time, despite the Holy See in Rome and so. The popes weren't any better then either. You know," he said, turning to Lucien, "the real hard times started when the light of knowing flooded the people's mind -- the so-called enlightenment in science. It wasn't the middle ages when the funeral pyres burned, it was the time after, during the breakthrough in medicine and technique, when the church felt they lost contact. Their revenge was bitter." "You met the Florence artists? The painters and the sculptors? Michelangelo? Raphael? DaVinci?" "To name a few." Romeo chimed in. "The real horny ones pale a bit in contemporary memories. I could tell you stories! Orgies with monks in their monasteries; those poor lads had nothing but each other." "I remember the trial Leonardo had to suffer when he was accused of having a love affair with one of his pupils. He was careful afterwards, but we all know what was going on in his studios," I said. "Do you remember his painting of "Holy Sebastian"? Can a man be more effeminate? It's his self portrait, like everything he painted was a portrait of himself, including Mona Lisa. He just borrowed my long hair." Lucien stared at me. I could read his mind, his thoughts swirling uncontrollably, trying to sort out what was truth and what was pure invention. But none of this was invention; we had lived through these ages. "You should tell him about the young men's suicides when they recognized themselves gay and there was nobody accepting them." Sean said with stern voice. "I'm not talking about the old times. I was raised in an orphanage in Dublin. Do you know what this means? It was a catholic orphanage. I knew I was different right from the start, but there was no one to help. Instead, the nurses punished me when they found me playing with myself under the bed covers. I had to lay naked in their chapel, facing the altar, flagellate myself. I had nothing to eat for days. I ran away to find relief and other equal-minded men in parks and toilets and ended up regularly at the police station. I was forbidden to love while at the same time the priest was allowed to rape little boys for his pleasure." Silence filled the kitchen. What should I say to this? I knew his story. I knew the situation hadn't changed at all. "Don't forget about the young men they left dying in the fields after they had beat them because they were gay. Don't forget the rules and punishments in Muslim countries and don't dare to travel there. Don't forget the subtle humiliation even in this country. We are outsiders and remain outsiders." "Sean. This is not what it is about," Leopold said. "You can enjoy your immortal life despite your different sexuality. The gloomy days are over, at least here in Europe." "Ireland belongs to Europe!" Awkwardly, Leopold looked away. "We have lived through all this and survived. There's nothing more we can expect." "How poor." Leo took Sean's arm and guided him out of the kitchen. "It's raining," Romeo remarked while looking out of the kitchen window. "I'm off." Then he turned to Lucien who clutched his mug of coffee. "There is so much for you to learn, Lucien. If you get the chance take it. If you have found a companion keep him. The fortunes of being immortal are so much bigger than the misfortunes, believe me." He gave me an imploring look and left the kitchen. I didn't dare turn now to Lucien although all what I wanted was to take him into my arms. Everything that he had heard must have had frightened him. But then I felt him tugging at the sleeve of my bathrobe. When I looked at him I saw his bright eyes. "I know what I am, Gil. May I call you Gil? I know your full name, but don't you think 'Gilgamesh' is a tad too long?" His eyes twinkled and I nodded. "No matter what I have been in the past, I want to change my life. You know.... I've felt like a hunter all these years. I've looked for someone equal to me, not just those one night lovers I forget all too soon. I'm young, and so are you. I'm old in the mind, and so are you. We are meant for each other." He hesitated. "Where do you keep the herb? May I see it?" Silently I beckoned him with me to the living room. Romeo had stirred the embers in the fireplace and we were greeted with a cosy surge of warmth. I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. He was still unprepared. Was I being selfish? I could live with him without him being immortal like me. At least I could try and leave his decision for later. "Lucien," I started in hesitation, still having already opened the wooden trunk with my key I always carried. "I'm not sure about this." "What? The whole night you've spent telling me how much you loved and missed me and now that you've found me, you aren't sure?" he called out playfully. "I just want to see it. Please." I gave in, felt for the bundle and opened it. A grey-green, dry herb appeared. It still carried the scent of the ocean even though this wasn't the original. It had grown much later when my supply had been almost used up. Lucien stared at it with glowing, interested eyes. "Is this what the snake had left over?" I shook my head. This story I would save for later. Lucien stepped closer and touched it with his fingertip. It rustled and began to crumble away. "The greatest of power can be held in the smallest of things," he whispered. "It's a borderline," I told him. "Once crossed there's no return. Remember the trouble it would be to die. The burden you would place on someone's shoulders if it would be your wish to die, for you wouldn't be able to do it yourself. You will live through the ages until the end of the world, with all consequences you can't foresee right now." "But you are so wise. You are the answer to all my questions. You could be famous. You could claim to be a scientist with great, secret knowledge about all the things humankind has no answers to. I could learn so much from you . . . like I did in the old days, when our love was young." "Your family? Your friends, your boyfriend? How will you explain your young appearance when it's actually about time for you to be old and grey?" Lucien shook his head. "That's nothing compared to the possibilities you offer me." He touched the amulet around his neck. "You forget that Shamash is protecting me." Shamash couldn't protect him from the council of the Gods. He had to adhere to the sentence, so why would his power be still strong enough to protect Lucien now? And was he still there actually? I had renounced all God's worship, no matter which one of the new Gods it was. I had decided a life without religion was a better life. I was free. I placed the herb in a bowl that was sitting on the table in the middle of the room. We both stared at it, not knowing what to do. "You have time to decide, love. You shouldn't do it if you are not absolutely sure. What does it matter if you take it now or in ten years? We could settle down to our old life, see if we are happy together." My eyes betrayed my words. How could I tell him such stupid things? I had searched the world for him and then I told him I wanted to wait? He wasn't the only one for me? He wasn't the one I had saved my heart for? I stepped to him and took him into a tight embrace. His skin was warm although he seemed frozen. I longed to sleep with him, to savour everything that I had missed for so long. If he desired, we had all the time ahead of us we could want. Literally. "I love you," I heard him murmuring at my ear. "I don't need ten years. I want to stay with you." My hair covered us like a cloak. But then I heard the crackling sound and the silent blow to my guts telling me it was too late. Behind me I heard a sizzling sound, something was burning and it wasn't the wood in the fire place. With a jolt I turned, leaving Lucien's body to stand on its own, and I saw the Misty Rose burning in the bowl upon the table. In a flash it burnt to ashes, leaving me no time to do anything to stop it. I cried out loud and swore an old curse, but it was too late. Sean was standing in the doorframe, arm stretched out, his finger pointing to the bowl with the cindered, smoking herb. In a violent rage I tried to throw myself upon him, but some invisible barrier blocked my movement. I couldn't approach him. Before my eyes, Sean's appearance changed. His face melted into something very ancient. A flame flickered around his legs, licking at his genitals. He was naked. His eyes showed the golden abyss I had seen before, drawing me invitingly, the black hair shimmering like polished ebony, flat to his head, long and fluent. "You thought the old Gods are dead because you decided to live without them?" his voice sounded through the room. I darted a look at Lucien who stood stock still with a slightly opened mouth. Ishtar laughed and it sounded terrible. How could I have deluded myself indeed, with such naivety? "We have lost power this is true. But how can an immortal die? We are always there, although we lost influence. I just needed to wait." He stepped slowly closer. It looked at if he was rolling on invisible skates; flames still wavering around his feet. With disgust I watched his member grow to the abnormal and unnatural length I remembered from ages ago. He still hadn't learned. "It was just a matter of time until you found him." A look from the glassy- fiery blue eyes touched Lucien. "It was easy for me to occupy the body of this Irish man. He has the Irish spirit. He was sad and easy to manipulate without his knowledge." I felt the coldness of the flames as he approached me. "And you still prefer him to me? This minor hunter's boy?" His ringed fingers played with his erect member clearly visible through the silent flames. His eyes lured me, his unmistakable movements tempting my body against my will. I felt something strong tugging at the thoughts in my brain. 'Surrender', it whispered, 'and he will live. Surrender your body, surrender your whole being and he will be saved. Don't you want it? It is huge. It can give you the most absolute pleasure this world has ever known! And it will be yours. We can live as Gods throughout the millenniums.' I watched clear drops of his immortal essence trickling off the long shaft, dripping into the fire. 'It is your choice to save his life.' Aloud, he said "Now is the time for us - you and me, Gilgamesh. I will kill Enkidu's spirit once and for all time, just like I eradicated the last of the Misty Rose. It is completely withered now, finally. And it is dead also upon the grave. There is no chance you can revive it." I felt sick. There was no chance? Was I to choose Ishtar in order to save Lucien's life? My face contorted in a grimace as I prepared to fling myself upon the flaming god. I would sacrifice myself in an attempt to save that which was most precious of all things. "Minor hunter's boy?" I heard Lucien's growl suddenly behind my back, causing me to pause in my action. He moved around the table and approached Ishtar's glowing body. The God of love and fertility still mighty and powerful and still of a mind to possess me, shifted his eyes to Lucien, but before he could stretch out his arm with its killing power, Lucien threw himself upon him with a mighty cry, similar to a lion's roar. "I am Enkidu, the greatest hunter on earth. You don't dare to call me other names." My cry died in my throat. I was unable to move. Motionless, I could not stop his attack. I had found him and lost him all in one night. There was no way to overpower Ishtar. Petrified, I watched Lucien walk through the cold fire front, and saw Lucien attack Ishtar's body, nails bent to claws, his golden hair bristling and catching fire. He bared his teeth, ready to tear the God's throat, but still I had no hope. The moment Ishtar would stretch out his finger and use his power, Lucien would die. A fire wall blinded my sight and there was nothing I could do except to stare and pray and wait for the end. A lightning bolt shot through the glare caused by the flames. I saw the brief flash from the little, golden plate, then the fire parted and I could see again. Shamash's amulet had pressed itself upon Ishtar's forehead as the two writhing figures lay entangled upon the ground. It gave a hissing sound and a thin wisp of smoke appeared. Ishtar's body jerked and he let out a last curse then lay still. As Lucien rose to his feet, I saw the words "Ishari" - Die - burnt into Ishtar's forehead. Released, I fell to my knees. All power had left me and I felt weak like a baby. Finding my voice again, I sobbed. Lucien stood though and stared at the scene below him. The God Ishtar's body started to smoke and crumble, then it stood in fire and when the fume vanished Sean's trembling body was left lying there, eyes closed, unscathed outwardly yet seared internally from the inferno that was Ishtar. The body clearly was on the brink of death. His lips moved weakly. ". . . touched me with . . . power," I heard. "Bury me . . . you will . . . live." And then, he was no more. Lucien kneeled down to stroke his head and his tears dropped onto Sean's face. "He was so sad," he whispered. "Now we know why." Slowly I felt the power streaming again through my body. What had happened? Was Ishtar really dead. The undying one? Had Shamash, the God of Life, spoken a last mighty word to save us? But the herb was lost and there was no supply. I had lost Enkidu for ever. I had to let him go. Softly, very softly, I felt a touch in my hair. "Get up, Gil. It's over", Lucien said. "He said we need to bury him and we would live. What does he mean?" "I don't know." I rose and wiped my face. Calmer now, I said "The dream is over, love. If you want to go I won't stop you." "It was magic," Lucien said. "I fought for us, like we always had done. You fought for me and I fought for you. We can do this from now on, together." I shook him. "But don't you understand? The herb is gone. You can't become immortal." There was a tiny moment of sadness, but the next minute Lucien's eyes were bright as ever. I saw the Ibis upon his shoulder and the lines snaking up his underarms. "I'm Enkidu for you as long as I live. If you can bear for me to grow old, perhaps there is a chance for you to end your life with me." Yes. I saw it clearly. I was tired of living alone. I was tired of living without an end. Was there a better prospect than dying together after a life full of love and trust? I took his hand. Together we looked at Sean's dead body. In death, he looked more peaceful than he had ever looked in life. I sent a prayer to Shamash and Anu, wherever they would watch. Lucien's amulet was mangled and scorched. He tugged at it until the thin chain ripped and placed it upon Sean's chest. "We need to bury him." * Leopold and Romeo were with us when we departed to England, Sean's corpse with us in a coffin. There, in the garden of my house at Cornwall, we buried him under a white blooming rhododendron bush next to my boy from France. His grave had been destroyed. The remains of the growing herb were withered and burnt. Ishtar's revenge had been complete. But I had no time for mourning. Lucien accompanied me for a long travel through several continents. I initiated him into the secrets of life, the mysteries of history, and guided him to unknown places nobody will ever find except for us. We shared the secrets like two consecrated beings. No one ever knew what happened in the house in Vienna, when magic was close and alive. EPILOGUE It was the seventh year since Sean's death. I urged Enkidu to return home, giving in to my silent hopes. At one point in our travels, the mystery of Sean's final words became clear to me. Though it wasn't possible, was it? Sean had been mortal as he had ever been, just the possessing of his body by Ishtar had made him appear as if he would have ancient knowledge and power. Sean had been wrong. Ishtar's power had not transferred to his body when he was dying. Enkidu couldn't understand what I was waiting for. We still had the silent agreement to end our lives when it was the right time. And Sean's grave was bare of the Misty Rose when we arrived. I kept my secret to myself. The old man from the sea had told me once that the herb that makes men immortal would grow after seven years upon the grave of an immortal. Was there still hope? I had modelled our bedroom after the one we had in Uruk. Furs upon the large bed and candelabras beside and bowls made of alabaster from which scented mist wavered around. I held him when he was moving gently within me, remembering his strength and staying power he had gained again year after year. He still was biting softly my neck, whispering words of love and I laughed silently. There was nothing to fear for us. My first look the next morning was to Sean's grave. And there, a tender shimmer of first green had appeared. The Misty Rose. END
  2. Stefan

    Story

    Julian looked upon the sky that had lost its bright blue. Yesterday the world had seemed to awaken to a second Spring but now the sky had thickened to a radiant whiteness that was cold and crispy and from which it could start to snow any moment. Julian drew in the air while he stood upon the stairs that led to the Hilton Hotel, his hands deeply buried in the pockets of his coat. He felt tired and somehow diminished. No wonder after all those nights. His feet were hurting because he hadn't given them a rest after yesterday's performance. Neither he himself nor his feet were getting younger. Julian smiled to himself. He was young and yet there was time enough to enjoy life, to explore foreign beds and to live through many ecstasies. Well, actually last night didn't belong exactly in those categories, but... A black porter in red livery with golden braids and a pretty silly hat bowed and scraped, when a dark limousine arrived. Julian frowned. Modern slavery. Did the hotel just have to engage a black African for this work? Somehow his stomach reacted sensitively to it. Undecided he still stood upon the stairs and stared blindly at the wide place that opened in front of him. The old Gendarmenmarkt in the heart of Berlin had covered its cool classicist wings with little half-timbered houses with snow covered roofs, gingerbread displays and Christmas trinkets. The scent of mulled wine and cotton candy pricked his nose. Funny. He hadn't noticed the market yesterday when he had crept with Karim to his hotel room. He was some actor who thought he was something special. Well, Julian never minded a one night stand and Karim's dark skin and his moist almond eyes had hit him somehow right in his heart. At least in his heart was room enough and he had never married Patrick nor made big promises. Slowly he walked down the stairs and sauntered across the Christmas market. It was the late morning of the 24th of December and despite or perhaps because of this, many people shoved their way over the place in search of last minute presents. Yesterday evening they had had their last performance of Swan Lake and since neither he nor Patrick had a role in the Nutcracker Suite that would be performed over the Christmas holidays, he looked forward to a couple of days off. They would have it easy by the fireside. Julian froze. Did he long for coziness nowadays? For teenage fumbling under the blankets upon the couch while they were watching 'Kevin - alone at home' or 'Little Lord Fountleroy'? On the other hand, the baked apples Patrick cooked were very good... Christmas was the only time he slackened his diet plan and ate more than usual, low fat cheese and tons of fruits. Patrick envied Julian who could eat what he wanted, he never gained a pound, he lost enough during their performances. On stage he felt free, a complete embodiment of the music he heard. And yesterday had been no different... * * * A sound whirred high in the air and Julian followed with a jump upon the stage. An orchestral flourish, and Julian landed upon the springy planks of the stage of the State Opera House. He was light as a bird and led Natascha, the Prima ballerina safely to her turns and pirouettes. Her black tutu brushed his hips. Julian's gaze fell onto Patrick, who was standing beside the sets and ignoring them both. He looked magnificent in his red uniform, the strong legs, covered with black stockings and the blond hair, he was wearing nowadays pretty short. Patrick didn't smile. Assembled and concentrated he stared at a point in the audience near the stage. Moist almond eyes and dark skin... Karim. Natascha whirled with him across the stage; he held her slim waist tightly and the skinny arms. He didn't like the feel of it. More he liked to knead in the evening Patrick's muscular back and that which was beneath it. The cutest bum he had ever seen - except his own perhaps. Not always did this lead to what Julian wished because Patrick was often too tired and would prefer just to cuddle. Julian almost always pulled a face. They could cuddle enough when they were eighty. He wanted sex as much as he could get until he couldn't go on anymore and Patrick's gentle soberness pulled him each time back to the ground. None the less he stayed with him... Patrick jumped upon the stage, changed into Benno, Siegfried's gay and jealous friend, and Siegfried soon would surrender the insinuations of an envious soul. For a few seconds they stood side by side, panting heavily, before the Swan Lake theme sounded and Julian/Siegfried would be swept along again into a tumble of dust, sweat and euphoria... Patrick stated at Julian in the mirror of their dressing room. He watched how he removed the make up; the cotton wool pad with the white fluid smearing the mascara around his eyes. What was left was the young, grey eyed face with pouting, a little resorted lips, and the broken nose, there where Patrick's foot had hit him years ago. It couldn't be seen if one didn't know and Patrick was thankful for it. Julian was pretty vain concerning his looks. "Did you notice the stares?" he asked now in a casual manner. Their eyes met in the mirror. Julian easily pulled the hair band from his forehead that had held his long, blond hair. "Which of the many?" Patrick rolled his eyes. "All of them, man. There's nobody who isn't fascinated by Siegfried, the prince of the swans." "And by Benno, his gay friend. I ask myself if anybody knows about the deeper meaning." Julian bent down and massaged his hurting toes. "If you mean the almond eyes in the first row, yes, I've seen them." Patrick's eyes were lurking,, waiting for something soon to come. But Julian lept and made little jumps. Patrick sighed. threw on his coat and waited at the door. "When will you come home?" Julian avoided his look and pretended indifference. "Later", he said then and Patrick furiously opened the door. He almost bumped into the almond eyes, as he cursed and ran down the tight, fusty corridor. * * * Julian groped for a pair of twinkling stars between the display. They had always had a Christmas tree. Each year of their seven years lasting relationship - but this time Patrick had refused. He was sick of being down on his knees picking up separately each of the fir needles that had stuck into the carpet and anyway, he had to do all the work. Pah! Patrick and his cleaning mania. Julian's hand twitched back just in time before he crushed the filigree star. Today he would leave him alone with his potato salad and his sausages, as he accurately wrapped parcels, the artificial Christmas tree scent and the holiday's tie. Julian's attractive face hardened. He squeezed shut his eyes as he saw a figure, familiar since yesterday's night, passing the entrance of the Hilton Hotel. The almond eyes didn't see him. He was out of his range of vision and free again. Free for potato salad and slippers. * * * "Why don't you come in?" With a jump he was in and closed the door behind him. He unwrapped the scarf from his face and seated himself upon a stool. "What's this masquerade about? Are you singer of the opera and have to look after your voice?" Julian asked. Karim studied him from head to toe. From the naked shoulders, over the slim hips to the stocking covered legs. "You don't know who I am?" he asked finally in a clear tenor voice. Julian shrugged. "Am I supposed to? Are you famous from radio and TV? Sorry, but I hardly ever watch TV." Julian returned to his mirror image. "All the better." Karim stood up. "Are you coming?" "Where to?" The Gendarmenmarkt lay empty when they went the short distant on foot. Just the usual night owls streaming out of the noble restaurants. One time Julian had visited Borchard's with one of the lovers and had seen chancellor Schröder, who had behaved himself surprisingly normal as each one did here. Julian asked himself what the Hilton looked like from inside but all he cared for later was Karim;s cock, dangling in front of his face, twitching nervously. And his backside. "You don't do this often, do you?" he asked him indistinctly, while he was sucking at his tip and Karim emitted pointed cries of lust. "What are you actually?" he asked later, as he kneeled behind Karim and dug himself between his arse cheeks. Karim cried now from pain but Julian didn't bother. He just waited until Karim said to move on. "Are you looking for some fellows to suck your dick because your wife doesn't do it?" "She does it but not the right way", Karim squeezed out between his teeth. Julian grinned. What a poor ass. * * * Julian bought himself a hot mulled wine and clasped his cold hands around the cup. Karim marched across the market and passed near him. Even though he must have seen him, he ignored him completely. Julian sensed a very little sting. What an arse hole. Later he had wanted by all means to prove what some guy he was, but Julian had refused. Nobody fucked Julian except...... He swallowed the wrong way and coughed. Karim turned and their eyes met. Strange. In the cold, white light of the Christmas morning Karim's eyes had lost their beguiling effect. Now they examined him like an insect and Julian turned demonstratively. He drank the last drops and strolled along. He didn't have a Christmas gift for Patrick... Then he remembered that he didn't want to go home tonight. Patrick bored him to death and tonight he wanted to have something special. But what? Did the bars remain open on this evening? In his mind he checked all the bars he knew. Of course they had opened exactly on this evening, ready for the ball of the lonely hearts. Julian shivered as he left the wide place slowly in the direction of the Friedrichstrasse. Here there was even more bustling. He barged and was barged by smug looking women with their Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana- bags. Perhaps he should bring Patrick something from the Cerruti-shop then: A pair of socks or a briefcase? But the young cheeky little monkey Hadn't worked there for a long time. What was his name? Kay? Then he remembered that he didn't want to go home tonight. In front of a Swiss jewellers shop he stopped again. Patrick loved watches....Sighing to himself he turned off to the corner of the street which was covered by a large shop window, tastefully Christmassy decorated. He stepped closer and examined the displays. Small pieces of furniture, frames, paintings in a classical vein, carpets. His look roamed through the interior and was struck by a painting. It was painted with red and white chalk and showed the portrait of a man with a turban. Without hesitation he entered. A melodious bell sounded and out of the blue a young salesman materialized with a nice but slightly uncertain smile. His grey blue eyes sparkled while expectantly looking at him. Julian was aware of the catlike grace with which he moved. Everything else would have been a shame for his profession. He stretched his broad back and loosened his hands. "Are you looking for something special?" Julian nodded and stepped to the painting at the wall. "Oh, good choice. It's a copy." "Not original?" The young man smiled uncertain. "I meant to say, it was painted after an original by Michelangelo." Julian beamed. "Michelangelo! I thought he was just a sculptor." His opposite shook his head and rummaged from his mind everything that he had learnt recently. From a side room voices came to Julian's ears. Carefully he peered through the door and saw a pair seated around a table where Christmas cake was lying and steam coming from the cups. "Of course you might remember the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, do you", the salesman started, but Julian didn't seem to listen. So he left him alone. He appeared to be absorbed in his contemplation while he was watching the painting. In reality he listened to the talk that he could hear in the next room. Now, by appearing to stretch to see the painting better, he peeped over and saw both men putting their heads close together; and the older one playing with the fingers of the younger one. It was all too clear that both were a couple, everything was for it: the looks, the touching - and throwing a sharp glance to the young man in the corner - he asked himself if he belonged to them. All of a sudden, now wide awake, he examined him, but he was busy with pushing the price tags and leafing through a book. "And what's with your parents? Aren't you going to invite them for Christmas?" the younger of both asked. "My parents? I haven't seen them for two years. They send the obligatory cards and call to learn how's business." The younger man fell silent and then said, "Aren't they interested to meet me?" His voice sounded a little sad and Julian moved even closer to the door, pretending to be interested in an old chest of drawers. The black hair of the older man was shimmering in the candle's light standing upon the small table. He looked at the dark blond, young man. "You know, they were never interested to meet my partners. They knew Sebastian, and that was enough. Sebastian was the man that had messed up their boy, and all the other perverts could get lost." Julian saw him shudder and then he continued in a low voice, "I do them wrong probably. Actually they came to terms with my lifestyle. Although they don't understand they respect me and I've never heard a reproach." He disrupted himself and approached the young man by his side. "Would you like to meet them?" Julian watched his reaction. First he looked undecided, then a charming smile appeared on his face. "I'd like to see where you got your good looks from." He grinned and placed a pretty sounding kiss upon the lips of the older. Julian turned and looked nervously to the salesman who was waiting patiently in the corner of the room. He seemed to smile. Julian reciprocated but then it fell from his face. The same discussion he had heard before..... Again he stepped in front of the copy of Michelangelo's painting. "Do you wish to buy it?" Julian pondered that it would fit well into the bedroom and that he would have finally got the suitable gift for Patrick. At the same time he remembered..... The salesman took the painting carefully from the wall and carried it to the desk. "Nick, someone wishes to buy your painting", he called over his shoulder. Julian heard how the young man from the side room stood up and came over. "Tommaso dei Cavallieri", he said and gave his partner a smile across the room. "Good choice. It's an unique specimen." Julian smiled absentmindedly and pulled his briefcase. This was certainly the most expensive gift Patrick had ever received from him. "You've painted it?" he asked and looked for the signature. "Take good care of it. With time the value will rise." The older man leaned nonchalantly in the door frame, his arms folded across his chest. Julian gave him a deep look and something stirred within him. If he had been alone he would have turned on the old charm for one night with him. Julian showed his teeth and nodded. But the man didn't show any sign of interest. Bad luck today, baby, he said to himself. The best are taken already. At last he gave his good wishes and went. Somehow he felt sick when he left the shop and looked back for one last time. Both stood tightly embraced and seemed to whisper. Quickly he looked away and started to walk down the street in the direction of the railway station. The parcel weighed heavy under his arm. Their mutual Christmas celebrations had always turned into little disasters. Patrick's mother, a domineering widow of a civil servant, didn't care much for Julian and not at all for the profession both had chosen. Dancing was something for sissies, for weaklings and for gays anyway. None the less she came each first Christmas day and told them with a melancholy face about grandchildren she would have liked to shower with presents and squinted disgruntled at Julian she couldn't resign with as a "son-in-law". When Julian vanished - at the end of his tether - into his room, Patrick followed soon because his mother had gone and the foul mood spread all over the house. Only when they danced everything was fine. In the basement of their house that Julian had inherited from his aunt, they had sat up a dance studio. Planks and one wall completely covered with a mirror. For dancing Patrick's perfection was ideal; he had brought everything from Julian, that was to be brought. Deep in thought, Julian turned off to the Maritim hotel and took a seat in the restaurant. Bored tourists wherever he looked who passed the time with eating and business men who talked with hands and feet. Actually he didn't know how he should kill the time until evening came. He sighed and picked at his food. Just that moment Patrick was packing the gifts in his very own pendantic manner and if he would finally come home he would act as if nothing had happened last night. As always. Both dreamt about having their own theatre, or at least a place where they could make their wishes come true. Like to turn Swan Lake into a complete gay performance. Each part would be taken by male dancers. But this wouldn't work anyway. Julian hadn't enough staying power for this. Wistfully he thought about the Christmas tree that was waiting for him at home. Patrick had enough talent to decorate it so that it didn't look overboard nor like a tree from the discount. Then he remembered that they wouldn't have a Christmas tree this year and the anger about that made him gobble up his food without actually knowing what he was eating. He paid the bill and finally left the hotel. If possible the sky had gotten even whiter and the air smelled like snow. How long had it been since they had had a White Christmas in Berlin? Ten years or more? His view fell upon the building opposite. A high, white building with shopping windows stuffed with books. Upon the roof the red flag with the name of Dussmann flapped in the wind. People were streaming in and out, laden with bags and parcels. Julian wondered why everybody had to leave their Christmas shopping until the very last minute. Looking at his own parcel, trapped under his arm, he realized that he belonged to those people and he smiled. Since he had nothing better to do he crossed the street and entered the over dimensional house of books and music, of video and games. With that he entered a complete new world. He sniffed the air and passed the displays: left a pile of Harry Potter books and right 'The Lord of the Rings', both now out in cinema. Patrick had spoken about seeing them both but Julian had no clue about these books, for he never read. Another pile with historical fat tomes... Patrick loved books, the thicker the better, while Julian had never read more than 'The Treasure Island' - required reading for the English lessons. The cash desks wee besieged and the shop assistants seemed pretty stressed. Christmas music floated through the four floored house. It was a special day of the year and Julian felt a stab. Just that special day you have to leave Patrick alone? He embraced his parcel tighter and was about to leave when his gaze fell upon a man sitting in a chair and reading a pretty large book. Julian recognized him instantly although he hadn't seen him for years. While he was still thinking what he should say, his feet had crossed the distance. The man looked up. Still the water blue eyes and a new thin, pale scar across his cheek - the remains of his accident. The man blinked. "Julian", he said then pleased. "What brings you here?" Then, looking at the parcel under Julian's arm, "I see, you're doing your last minute Christmas shopping?" He pulled Julian next to him upon a chair and all the bustling people around vanished. Julian seemed he had found a small quiet island amid the roaring ocean and suddenly he understood what was the secret of reading. "Konstantin", he said and smiled at the elder man, still full in shape as he was when he was member of the dance ensemble Julian and Patrick still belonged to. "How are you doing?" he asked aloud while he wondered if Conny had found a partner he would spend Christmas with. "Quite ok, thanks. Sometimes I've been to the opera house. You both are fantastic." He shut the book and stood up. "Let me pay for this and then I'm free for you." He looked expectantly. "Do you mind?" Julian nodded. Actually he was glad that he had found company. He watched him go to the cash desk where he stood patiently in line and smiled occasionally at Julian. Shortly after Julian had joined the ensemble of the State Opera, Conny's car accident had happened and he had met Patrick. Conny's injured leg forced his withdrawal, it wasn't stable enough anymore to stand a performance. Julian wondered what he was doing now. "Care for a drink?" Conny stood beside him, ready to go. * * * "Hi hon, I didn't expect you today." The barkeeper fluttered with his long, artificial, silvery lashes. With blood red finger nails he stroked over his décolleté and smiled seductively at Konstantin, while at the same time throwing a jealous side glance to Julian. "How you doing?" Conny replied. "Ready for the final cut?" Angelina beamed and showed his stark white teeth. "In January, darling." He licked his lips and pushed two glasses of wine over the bar. "Final cut?" Julian asked while they took seats in a dimly lit corner. Some guys sat at tables, alone, checking each other out, asking themselves if the other would be worth spending Christmas holidays with. "You know," Conny made an unmistakable movement with his hand. "He has a lot of trouble behind him." He paused. "I really should say 'she'. Two years of testing the emergency case with the psychiatrists if he really feels like a woman, all those tests.... and she has to have changed her name officially then. She got the final positive report, so the health insurance scheme will pay for the operation." Julian felt a little taken aback. How could he be glad to get rid of the most precious part of is body. He didn't know what to say so he lifted his glass to Conny. "Happy Christmas. What are you doing actually?" Conny drank. "I'm running a ballet school. That's the only thing I can still do. I enjoy it." Julian eyed him and then nodded. He had learnt that Conny had been a hard-working man but Patrick was always quiet when he had asked about the ex-dancer. "As I said, you and Patrick are a great pair." Conny's eyes flickered. "Are you a couple" "Of course", Julian said and forgot that Conny couldn't know it. "Since you've left us." Conny took a hasty gulp. "The same once more, hon", he called to Angelina. "You're with the car, Julian reminded him, but Conny shrugged. Somehow his face seemed to be haggard. "Since seven years you're a pair? The damn 7th year?" His grin turned a little lop-sided. "Are you coming to my place?" Julian poured down his wine to gain time. To what would this lead? His heartbeat quickened. Briefly he remembered Karim, the dark skinned actor. Wasn't that enough of adventure in 24 hours? Conny waited and looked at him. "Come on, let's make it more comfortable." The guys around were still checking each other out, a pair left the bar together and from the loud speaker Chris Rea's 'Driving home for Christmas' sounded. Julian put back his glass and rose. One wall of Konstantin's living room was covered with a glossy print of Rudolf Nureyev in a dance position: the arms sideways over his head, and a leg spread apart. "Dancing was my life", Conny said pensively. "Now, I'm trying to train chubby girls their first steps. Their mothers dreaming of a career as a Prima Ballerina." "You said you enjoy it." Conny sighed - "At least I haven't left the profession completely." Julian had recognized that there weren't any signs that Conny was living with a partner like o second razor nor a toothbrush. "And you and Patrick? How do you cope with this unbelievable slut?" "Huh?" Conny looked at him. "Don't say he has changed. It's impossible. When we were living together here the flat looked like a pigsty. And so was his dancing style first: wild, uncontrolled and sluttish." "This flat?" Julian asked incredulously. "This flat. Oh", Conny examined him. "You didn't know that we lived here together?" He scratched his head briefly and shook the brown locks that were falling onto his forehead. Julian couldn't believe it. Patrick had never told him that he and Konstantin had been a couple. Why, he asked himself. And why had Conny said Patrick was a slut? "I'm sorry if I said something wrong", Conny poured him another glass of wine. His voice sounded sad but his eyes glistened dangerously. He outlined the thin scar on his face.. "No, you haven't, Julian hurried to reassure him. "It's just surprising that he never told me about it. And I don't understand what you mean with slut and pigsty." Konstantin had opened another bottle. The central heating steamed hot air into Julian's back and he started to sweat. "I don't know what you mean", Conny said. "Has he changed that drastically?" "Sure, Patrick and his cleaning mania are proverbial. He's getting on my nerves actually." Conny raised his eyebrows. "So? Surely he didn't want to be reminded what an arse hole he was. So he changed his habits, that's all. I was lying in hospital when the doc informed me that I would never be a professional dancer again. Patrick visited me but during the months in the rehabilitation clinic, I've heard nothing from him. When I got home he had moved out because he couldn't cope with a 'cripple'. Julian was speechless. Patrick should be that heartless? His orderly, loveable and quiet Patrick? Darkness fell over the town. Julian realized it had started to snow when he looked out of the window and his heart skipped a beat. He tried to shake off the alcohol and the effect of Conny's tale. One of them was lying here. He saw Conny standing in front of him with the bottle of wine. "Some more?" he asked. But then he pulled Julian from the couch and tried to kiss him. "I agree, Patrick is pretty boring, and the sex...." he sighed. "Gotta go home", Julian mumbled. Was it possible to have secrets after a seven years lasting partnership? What other secrets did he have? Suddenly he longed for the warm cosiness of their mutual home. For potato salad and sausages, for the accurate wrapped parcels and the holiday tie. He took the parcel with the painting. "Why don't you stay here?" Conny was again behind him and his voice sounded a little sharper. "I shouldn't have told you. Probably Patrick has changed. Turned from a slut into a cleaning apostle, how funny. Perhaps he wants to make up for the things he did to me." Julian turned. "No, you shouldn't have told me." Julian hastened to the next railway stop and waited for the right train. Snow flakes glued his blond hair. He watched old people, laden with parcels for the grandchildren. Expectant faces, red from frost; a scent of mandarines, baked apples and cinnamon hung in the air. The signalman in his little cabin upon the platform lit the candles on his artificial Christmas tree and drank a cup of tea. A homeless pair leaned against the wall, bags scattered around and shared a bottle of Vodka. At least they were together. A male couple sat close together in a corner of the train. Julian admired the long, black ponytail one was wearing. He couldn't avoid overhearing their talk. "Now, talk. What did your parents say when your book arrived?" the ponytailtailed one asked. "Mother called when you were out. She bawled her eyes out from excitement!" He chortled and the dimples in his cheeks deepened. "We've got an invitation for Sylt to their home." "We?" "Yes, we." The brown haired one pulled the other one closer. Marcus will be pleased. Perhaps everything will be all right at the end of this year." He fell silent. Julian watched the pair, envious. If the world could be this easy. His thoughts returned to Patrick. Why had he been so hard-hearted to finish with Konstantin when he had needed him the most? It was pretty miserable. He looked out of the window, took his parcel and left the train. The house lay in darkness except a dim light coming from the living room. Julian unlocked the door and tried to decipher the watch. Half past seven. Much too late. "Patrick?" Silence. Julian turned on the lamp on the ceiling and found Patrick in his suit and tie slumped in an armchair. He had opened the champagne bottle and cheered now to him. "Merry Christmas". He was drunk. He never drank a drop because he always watched his weight. "Can we eat now?" Patrick stood up and swayed a little. Then he shot into the kitchen. Julian followed him wordless. "Did you have fun with the almond eyes?" Patrick took the potato salad from the fridge and lifted the cover from the bowl. "Sausages or chicken legs?" Then he turned abruptly. "Did he fuck you good enough? Better than I?" "Patrick...." "Don't say a word!" Patrick hissed. His glazed eyes rolled in their sockets. "I don't want to hear." "Then why do you ask?" Furiously Patrick pulled out plates and cutlery and pushed them into Julians hands. Julian was getting angry. "I've met Konstantin." "Huh?" "Konstantin. Conny! You remember?" "Of course I do. Still great in bed?" Julian nodded. "So it's true, yes? You once were a couple. He told me interesting things. Why haven't you told me? I thought we shouldn't have any secrets." "Secrets?" Patrick laughed shrilly. "Don't tell me about secrets. What is there that others have that I don't have? Is my cock too small for your arse?" Julian raised his hand and hit Patrick's flushed face. The same second he regretted it. Patrick took the bowl with potato salad and threw its content into Julian's scared face. Then he passed him and Julian heard the entrance door shut closed with a bang. "Patrick! I'm sorry!" Julian cursed, took a cloth and wiped the salad from his face and pullover. The he ran into the corridor and opened the door. Patrick stood in the small front garden and the snow trickled down on him. "I'm sorry." Julian repeated. "Come back." Patrick didn't move. "Please. Let's talk." Slowly Patrick turned. "I was driving the car when we had the accident", he said suddenly. "Conny made me feel very bad about it. Constantly he told me that I am responsible for his ruined life." 'Dancing was my life'.... Conny's voice reverberated in Julian's mind. Cautiously he took Patrick's arm and led him into the house. There he went to the kitchen and brewed themselves a strong coffee while he pulled his dirty pullover over his head. Patrick hiccupped and sank upon a stool in the kitchen. "I thought I had forgotten it. Conny had drank too much and so I was driving the car, but he made fun and suddenly grabbed hold of the steering wheel. The car skidded, overturned and we slid down an embankment. His legs were penned in the wreckage and he needed a lot of surgery afterwards. Something in his mind disengaged when the doctor said he would never dance again." Patrick's head sunk and Julian squatted in front of him. He took his hand. "Why haven't you told me about it, hm? Seven years, good lord." Julian's voice was gentle. "It wasn't your fault. He told me that you had left him in the lurch. I couldn't believe it. Is this the reason you changed your life so drastically?" Patrick looked up an shrugged. "I don't know exactly. He told me I'm a slut and I could never do him right. Everything was wong that I did." Julian smiled suddenly. "You did well, honey. You taught me to dance.... You're a pretty tough teacher. But a good one." He held the full coffee cup in front of Patrick's nose. "Now, let's drink and then you'll tell me everything I don't know about." Patrick smiled haltingly and went with Julian into the living room. "Wait a moment." Julian vanished into the corridor and brought his gift. "Open it." Patrick emptied his cup and unwrapped the paper carefully. "Michelangelo!" he said surprised. "You know it?" "Of course. This was made with love", he whispered. "Yes, I met the painter. A young man - and his partner." Patrick looked up. "Closer?" he asked. "No, stupid, I just listened and watched." He took a deep breath. "You mean a lot to me. After all those seven years." They smiled at each other. "And besides: your cock isn't too small for my arse."
  3. Stefan

    Snow Fall

    Julian, dancer at Berlin's State Opera, comes from a one night stand, determined to leave his sober minded partner alone on Christmas Evening. He is looking for something else. But on his stroll through the city he meets people who make him change his mind.
  4. Stefan

    Epilogue

    Epilogue It was Autumn in South-Tyrol. The figs on the large trees with the finger shaped leaves were ripe to pluck. Leandro had known figs before but he had never tasted that ripeness fresh from a tree before, standing in Daniel's garden. It went well together with the white, creamy cheese Daniel had prepared for them. Lazily he stroked the young male shepherd dog between his legs, then he groped for the postcards lying on the oak wood table next to the window. His look fell upon the grassy mountains in the far distance. The light was sharp and cut the air like a knife. Each contour was clearly to be seen, like a cut-out. The river Passer twinkled with tiny waves where it broke at a mighty tree branch that had fallen into the water or where it whirled over light gray stones. He heard Daniel rummaging in the kitchen. He stared at the postcards from Berlin. It was Nicholas tiny handwriting and the other was filled with Simon's generous writing. Leandro smiled and took another card. It was a photo of the Pope posing in front of the Vatican, embracing the whole world. Only Kay could have had this idea. He turned it and read: "Hey sweetie, how's it going? Have you worn out Danny already? Everything's fine here. I've got an offer to pose for another underwear collection, would you believe that! George has left Italy and returned to London. His memory isn't fully regained but he has to come back to Rome to give his testimony for Cardinal Borghese's trial. It will start very soon and is all over the place in the newspapers. Well, he isn't cardinal anymore for the curia has expelled him. Andrea and Roberto are living together now, they have opened a shop where they are selling Tasso's underwear. From what they have told us, they are making a million ;-) I ask myself if I shouldn't ask for a job there! Tasso and Luigi have moved to Capri. Sebastian is receiving a card occasionally. He says that he feels like old Emperor Tiberius, standing at his villa, looking over to the Blue Grottos.... I wonder what he means. Perhaps we will visit them soon. And you both, of course. Well, hear you soon, give my love to Danny, Love, Kay" The photos, Nando had shot, had given the proof that Gianluca was the killer for they show that moment when he had tried to pull the plastic bag over Leandro's head. Added with the testimonies of the strippers he was found guilty. Gianluca didn't deny it anyway. He was broken. His mind had turned into something that wasn't exactly human anymore. The prison's doctors thought it was the effect of the Angel's Trumpets. Leandro found it a matching name: Now Heaven's Trumpets had blown to the final punishment. There was one letter left. It was from Vincenzo. Leandro had read it before so he pensively waved with it in front of his face. Vincenzo had returned to Volterra and his wife was pregnant. Good for him, he thought. Then he shook his head. "You are what your are. Nothing more and nothing less." He remembered Daniel's words clearly. And Vincenzo was one of those men who couldn't change his spots. He was a damn coward, choosing always the easy way. Daniel appeared with a tray full of fresh roasted maronis. He placed a glass with cooled wine in front of him and patted the dog, who still hadn't a name. Daniel started to peel one of the maronis and shoved it into Leandro's mouth. It was sweet and like a potato with a nutlike aroma. "What does Kay write?" he asked. Leandro handed him the card. "Good old Kay. He's still the cheerful lad we have known." Then he looked seriously into Leandro's eyes. "I don't want to start our relationship with a secret." He lifted his glass and drank. "We've spent a night together. That was when Sebastian and Kay had their quarrel and we both had felt very alone." Leandro wanted to say something but stopped himself. After a while he said "He saw you naked." He put his face close to Daniel's. "I'm pretty jealous." He started to smile. "Nothing more?" "Nothing more. Thanks for telling me." Leandro tried to picture this in his mind. Flashes of dancing bodies occurred. But then he put them aside. There was time enough to talk about it later. "Uncle Emilio was pretty surprised about my decision." "So? Did he say that it was stupid to give up such a good job?" "No. Well, sort of. But then he said he was happy for me." "Would you mind to visit your parents?" "My parents? I'm not ready to face them. Vincenzo wrote that his wife is pregnant." Daniel raised his eyebrows. "Congratulations. I hope he knows what he's doing." He peeled the rest of the maronis and ate a fig with some white cheese. The last sunbeams died outside the windows. Rapidly it was getting darker and cooler. Leandro shivered. He took up the puppy and pressed him onto his chest where he started to lick at Leandro's neck. He giggled. "He still hasn't a name." "What about Goodluckcharm?" "Sorry?" "Well... it's our choice." Daniel sat beside Leandro and patted the soft dog's hair. "You make me happy", he whispered. "I hope you mean me and not the dog", Leandro teased him and Daniel chuckled. "You don't want an answer, do you." He took Goodluckcharm and sat him down onto the floor. "It's like I've known you my whole life", he said then. His green eyes sparkled with desire and something more behind that only Leandro could read. He smiled at him and raked his fingers through Daniel's thick, auburn hair. "I still haven't managed to count all your little freckles upon your nose", he whispered. "Why don't you start right now?" Down in Meran the lights went on. THE END
  5. Stefan

    Chapter 7

    Chapter Seven Rome's Underground Sebastian nibbled at the unsalted Roman bread and drank a tiny bit of water. Who knew how long it had to suffice. Slowly he really wondered about his crackpot idea to come here. Had he thought that Andrea would wait for them just around the corner? Even worse, he had dragged Roberto into this undertaking and now he was responsible for him. They had reached the second level and actually, sooner or later, they must meet the tunnels that were open for tourists. For a while he listened for noises or sounds but couldn't hear anything yet other than Roberto's and his own laboured breathing. "Any idea how long Andrea could be here?" he asked Roberto, turning his head. "Four days I guess. What if he's run out of water? How long can he survive?" "Four days at most. But he wasn't so stupid to come in here without water, right?" That was more a statement than a question and Roberto didn't respond. He rose to his feet. His torch lit up the walls until he broke into a cheer. "Look, Bastian, here are arrows again!" Sebastian touched the scratched tuff stone. It was still wet, which meant that it wasn't an old sign. They doubled their efforts to go on, but then, they heard a cracking in the stone and tuff and ducked their heads. But it seemed to be far away. Roberto looked frightened at the high ceilings whose walls were covered with openings to lay the dead bodies to their last sleep. Roberto started to run but stumbled over the uneven ground and fell. He hit his head on one of the stones jutting out of the wall. Sebastian bent over quickly and saw blood at his temple. Roberto was unconscious. Great! Now the fat's in the fire. He opened the first aid kit and took out some gauze, wet it a bit and wiped over the gash. Suddenly he heard a faint hubbub in the distance. A dull trampling, as if a herd of bulls were trampling along the tunnels. He pricked up his ears and tried to locate where the sounds were coming from. Then it was gone. He slapped Roberto's cheeks but he didn't move. Without thinking he lifted Roberto from the ground in his arms and went with him further, leaving the first aid kid behind, only taking both rucksacks with him. Sebastian had again lost Andrea's arrows because he didn't pay attention anymore. He didn't know how to manage it, with Roberto in his arms and the torch crammed alternately under his arm or between his teeth until he broke down. He panted like a dog. He couldn't go on with this. Roberto's face was extremely pale in the yellow circle of light and his breath was shallow. We all will die here, it flashed through his mind. Perhaps next to a wall where there was rescue. Despairingly he sat down, Roberto in his lap and bent his head. He must have dozed off then he woke up to the sound of voices. He breathed in the muggy air and couldn't get enough of it. The torch was flickering. Feverishly he searched for Roberto's second torch but he must have forgotten it when Roberto broke down. Sebastian let out a hoarse curse, his lips were chapped and hurt, probably bleeding. It didn't matter of course. The voices came nearer and went away instantly. With all his remaining strength he tried to call but his throat was so dry that it came out just as a croaky, low shouting that nobody could hear. A last thought went out to Kay when he closed his eyes again. It could have been so wonderful with him . . . He conjured his face before his inner eye, the once blond dyed hair when he first met him, the reckless laughter, the small blue tattooed ring snaking around his arm. Everything merged together . . . Marcus, Nicholas, his house and the plans he had had for his life. Rome's Underground "Jesus Christ, Sebastian really thinks he can do everything on his own," Marcus cursed. "Yeah, that's him." Kay said behind him. "A real madcap. Now, let's go there. We're the last ones." They had attached themselves to a guided group of tourists at the catacombs of San Sebastiano. They had made the stop at George's house, found Andrea's note upon the kitchen table and knew now that their presumptions had been right. Marcus didn't want Nicholas to go with them and had a little fight with him and he had received a snap from his young lover that he would treat him always like a little child. Surprised, Marcus had to agree but was pretty apprehensive that he was two steps ahead now, illuminating the way with his torch although it wasn't needed. For now they had light from the small wall and ceiling lamps, but it was a murky sight. He imagined himself in Sebastian's shoes. Surely he would follow the signs Andrea had probably made into the stone and from George's house to the entrance of the catacombs wasn't a real long distance. Perhaps one and a half kilometres. But the net of the tunnels was much broader. If they were not back by the evening, Daniel and Leandro would sound the alarm. Marcus' watch told him that they had gone on now for over an hour. The spare light of the ceiling had vanished because this part of the catacombs wasn't in use. He feared that some of the walls would break in, or the ceiling, but it looked stable enough. Then Nicholas remained still abruptly. "Have you heard something?" Marcus and Kay listened. There was a faint knocking on stones. Or was it just imagination? Or the sound coming from the tourist groups? They were too far away actually. Nicholas shone his light into a tunnel where the sound came from. He made a few steps into it and went around a corner. Marcus started to sweat more than he had ever sweated in his whole life. "Nick, where are you?" He followed him, Kay in tow. A large heap of stones blocked the way, apparently it was broken off from the ceiling. "What . . ." "Sshhhh!" Nicholas listened and then the others heard it too. There was a scratching on stones and a whimper. "Sebastian?" Marcus called. And then a voice answered them. But it didn't sound like Sebastian. Kay was already pushing back the stones and sand; the tuff stone was wet and touch, he was incessantly calling for Sebastian. They shoved aside the stones like a mole would have done, until their hands were bleeding. "Bloody hell, watch your hands, Nick." Marcus shouted, but he himself didn't care about that for the moment. On the other side it had gotten silent so they doubled their efforts. It was difficult to move the stones but then they had made a small hole and Kay shone his torch through it. "That's Andrea!" he called out to them. Marcus and Nick looked at each other. And where was Sebastian? "Where's Sebastian?" Kay asked him breathless, but Andrea was too weak to give any intelligent answer. He still had his empty water bottle beside him; his throat was too sore to speak. He had lost consciousness somewhere and then the rumble of the breaking stones had awakened him. He was trapped because there was no way out backwards. Marcus gave him some of his water and wiped his dirty face with his hanky. "Have you seen Sebastian?" Andrea blinked. "Bastian?" he croaked and shook his head. He moved his lips and Marcus bent down near his mouth to understand him better. "Wrote letter to Roberto", was all that he could understand. "Roberto must . . . be here . . ." He closed his eyes. Marcus gave him more water. "We found your letter too, but Sebastian must be with Roberto then. Probably Roberto was the mysterious caller." Nicholas had sat down on the ground and leaned back on the wall, next to Kay. Kay had buried his head into his palms. Nicholas thought he heard him sob. Soothingly he pressed a hand upon his back and pulled him closer. "We'll find him, we'll find him." "Are you strong enough to walk with us?" Marcus asked Andrea and tried to pull him to his feet. "It's just about an hour to the exit." Andrea's legs wobbled but he nodded. Kay looked amazed at Marcus. "And Sebastian?" "You both follow the signs I've made and I'm searching on." "No way, Marcus," Nicholas said furiously; "I won't leave you here alone, have you lost your marbles?" A dragging sound was heard. It was close. Very close. Kay ran out of the tunnel to the main way and saw a dark figure shuffle along. He looked enormous and seemed deformed to Kay. At first he was frightened, but as he guided his torch light over it he saw Sebastian, upon his back Roberto, whose feet and boots were trailing over the ground. Subterraneous basilica of San Sebastiano Sebastian insisted on carrying Roberto although he could barely stand on his own feet. Andrea was much too weak to be any help. At one point Sebastian had to give up and handed over Roberto's unconscious body to Marcus. Nicholas and Kay carried their bags and the torches. Nobody spoke, not even Kay who had to support Sebastian from time to time and gave him water from his bottle. He hadn't thought that it would have been so serious and still his mind refused to believe that they all could have ended up dying. Then the lights started again and they knew it wasn't far to the exit anymore. They emerged in the remains of an subterranean church room, very dimly lighted by a petrol lamp standing in front of a bronze bust that showed the handsome face of a young man. There stood some old benches around. Sebastian remembered that here was the place where the guides held their first speech to the tourist groups to explain the meaning of the catacombs. They all sat down to rest a little before the steps started that would bring them up to the surface. It was stuffy and cold and Sebastian shivered. Kay was holding his hands, Marcus softly slapped Roberto's cheeks and his eyes fluttered. He was still bleeding. Andrea was sitting beside them and stroked Roberto's hair. Suddenly Kay turned his head. He thought he had heard a sound coming from the darkness that was in the farthest distance. A muffled knocking on walls mingled with faint animal sounds. Rats he thought or even worse. But then he heard it again and, looking at Nicholas, who had heard it too. Together they went over, guided their lights over the walls until they detected a line that was carved into the tuff. "Looks like a door. Look, here are small hinges", Nick whispered. "Marcus? Can you come over?" Marcus' hands slid over the reddish-brown stone. He flinched when the sound was there again. "Perhaps that's the ghost of the catacombs", Kay joked unhappily. "Or probably a man still alive after they buried him here." Marcus shushed him. He had found a small hole, poked his finger into it and tugged at the wall. It squeaked. Marcus rattled now and earth fell upon him from the ceiling. All three jumped back but a small crack had opened. Cautiously Marcus took Nick's torch and guided the light into the space. There was nothing at first, just darkness, torn apart from the circle of light. A little bat flew squealing along their faces and Kay choked. Walls, neatly white washed. A curtain and some furniture, chests. A faint whimpering. A bedstead. Clothes. A candle. A cup and a plate. An unbearable stench of urine. Then a figure that moved. Marcus took a step, then two and finally he walked up to the bed and illuminated a face that was haggard, bearded and had feverish, big eyes. The honey coloured hair was glued to his head, although somebody must had made the effort to comb it. George Rosenstock. His fist still leaned against the wall; probably he had heard their voices and tried to attract them. Marcus detected even a pot of water and a wet cloth beside him. "For heaven's sake", Marcus whispered. "What happened to you George?" He bent over and filled the cup with water. He held it to George's lips and he drank hastily, spilling most of it, the rest ran over his dry lips. George blinked. It was long ago since he had seen a light that was brighter than the small candle his visitor had always left beside his bed. He yearned for the hot tea he had always gotten. "Tea", he whispered. "What?" "He wants tea", Nicholas said by his side. He had taken Marcus' arm and clutched it tightly. "What happened to you?" Marcus repeated. "Who are you?" "It's me, Marcus Weidenbruch." Sebastian had entered the small chamber too. On his face was painted disgust and compassion. "Andrea?" he shouted. "We've found George. He's still alive." At least for now, he added in his mind. The nightly visitor at Via Appia 34 must have taken him with him. Probably for his private pleasure or for curiosity of watching a man dying of starvation or whatever. Sebastian felt sick. Very sick. He fought against the urge to vomit right here and now and turned away. San Sebastiano at catacumbas Nicholas sat dumbfounded on one of the church benches. George, Roberto, Andrea and Sebastian had been brought into the office where they were receiving first aid, Marcus and Kay accompanied them. His eyes which were gleaming through the layer of dirt upon his face touched the interior of the church house without seeing anything. They were berated heavily to walk there without any permission but the state the four men were in had quickly made forgotten the dangerous situation they brought themselves into. Nicholas sighed and stood up. He inspected his bloody hands, the nails were torn and dirty; his trousers frayed. He needed a wash himself. Absentmindedly, he walked over to a tomb behind a trellis work. A white marble figure of the dead martyr Sebastian was laying there, pierced with arrows. He was beautiful but Nicholas had no sense for it right now. He saw the carved statue laying relaxed and dead upon his marble bed and matched it instantly with the still living Sebastian. He didn't know what Kay or Marcus would have done if Sebastian would have died. And he himself, too. The he remembered that Marcus had given him his mobile phone to call Daniel. So he pulled it out and dialled Sebastian's house. Gianicolo Sebastian recovered relatively quickly but George, Andrea and Roberto had to stay in hospital. Andrea suffered from dehydration and Roberto had received a concussion. George had lost his memory the docs said, and was in a very poor state of health. Somehow the journalists of the yellow press had gotten wind of it and Sebastian's phone didn't stand still. "Isn't it great to be a person of public interest?" Kay teased him next morning. Sebastian shot him a sinister look. "Staggering", he growled. "You're a hero now." "Yeah, from a killer to a hero. I don't see any heroic things. It was stupid and if you hadn't come to rescue me . . . Kay stuck out his tongue and Sebastian smiled. He hadn't told Kay about his real feelings when he had quasi completed with his life, regretting to no end that he never told him that he loved him. But here and now he dragged Kay closer and pulled the bedclothes over their bodies. "I've never told you what you mean to me, sweetie", he whispered, listening to his own heartbeat. "I do love you." To his surprise Kay neither moved nor giggled. "I know", he said simply after a while. He brushed Sebastian's sandy hair out of his eyes. "I've waited long to hear that, you know." "Is that so?" "Yes. Right from the very day we met. But then . . ." "But then?" "Then you fell in love with Nicki." "I didn't fall in love with Nicki", Sebastian protested. "No?" "No. Or have you fallen in love with Daniel? You've spent a night with him." "Oh well. . ." Kay knew that Sebastian was right, although the relationship of Nicholas and Sebastian was a bit different. They had known each other longer and the attraction had grown. "Don't speak about Nicki or Danny. It's over." He searched for approval in Sebastian's glistening grey-green eyes. "I'd almost lost you." He brought his lips near to Sebastian's ear. "I love you more." "No, you don't, that's impossible", Sebastian snorted and started a little fight under the bed cover and then he finally heard Kay's familiar giggle. Fourty Seven Vincenzo had tried to contact Leandro but he wasn't at his work place for two days. His colleague had said that he had taken two days of holidays because of family matters. But Vincenzo didn't dare to show up at Sebastian's house, so he hoped to meet him at Camillo's "Fourty Seven". It was Friday night and something special hung in the air. The club was air-conditioned - a relief after the day's heat. Sometimes Vincenzo wished himself back to the town high above the ground where a cool wind was always blowing, might the day be hot as it wanted. But returning would mean returning to Lena, his wife. He caught a look from a man sitting on a stool at the bar. He was balding, although he still seemed to be young. Vincenzo felt a tingle under his skin. He wasn't sure if there were darkrooms here. Perhaps he would find out. He smiled at the balding head and received a wink and a nod to come over. Vincenzo climbed the stool and smiled again. "Want a drink?" he asked with a pleasant tenor voice. Vincenzo nodded. "New here?" "Yes, I used to visit Luigi's Bar." "Bad story about that, don't you think? I'm Cornelius." "Vincenzo." He received his drink from the barkeeper, Ginger Ale. He hated Ginger Ale, but he gulped it bravely. "Have you ever been at Luigi's?" he asked then. "Sure, too bad it's closed for good. Tasso was an eye catcher." He wiped over his head. "Occasionally I perform myself. I'm here to watch this location. Do you know Camillo per chance?" "No. I told you I'm the first time here. But if you'd speak to Tasso perhaps he could put a good word for you." Cornelius grinned. Vincenzo saw dazzling white teeth, fresh from the dentist, and grinned too. Then he swung around on his stool to watch the guests. Mixed audience like at Luigi's Bar. He tried to keep an eye on the entrance but the later is was getting the more people streamed into the bar. So far no sign of Leandro though. Vincenzo sighed. "The strippers are pretty good", he heard Cornelius say. "Oh yes, I've seen them. They've found a new engagement here." He finished his Ginger Ale and choked on the last drops. He had seen Leandro enter the rooms, accompanied with Daniel. Damn, still that auburn haired, strong man. He couldn't risk a fight with him, Daniel would easily take him for a ride. Cornelius held a package of cigarettes under this nose and Vincenzo took one. He took a deep breath and started to cough. Cornelius laughed. "What are you so nervous about, eh?" He looked him up and down. "Country bumpkin?" "Huh?" "I mean if you come from the villages." Vincenzo looked haughtily. "Do I look like a nitwit?" Then he saw the twinkle in Cornelius' eyes. "Sorry about that. I'm sure we Romans must make a terrible impression." "Right." Vincenzo held his cigarette that clumsily that the ashes burnt a hole in his white trousers. He cursed. Cornelius took the cigarette gently from his hand. "Why haven't you told me that you don't smoke. You don't have to be nervous." Vincenzo turned fully to the young man. "All right. I just waited for a friend." Cornelius raised his brows. "Friend or boyfriend?" "Hm." Vincenzo shrugged his shoulders. "Ex-boyfriend I'd say." "I see. Where do you come from then?" "Volterra." "Never been there. That's Tuscany, right? Beautiful landscape, I used to spend my holidays there several times." "I own a tobacco shop there," Vincenzo bit his lips. He surely owned the shop but if he would go back to submit his divorce . . . And what made him think this right now? Since Leandro had obviously decided to stay with Daniel there wasn't a chance for him. There were other guys too, like Cornelius for instance, just waiting for Mr. Right, like himself. He gazed at the other man; from the black, balding hair, to the dark eyes, over the lean body to the big hands and feet. "Are you alone here?" Cornelius nodded and inhaled the smoke from his cigarette. He saw somebody tapping on Vincenzo's shoulder from behind. A pretty handsome young man with dark hair and golden spots. Vincenzo whirled around. "There you are finally" he said, glancing at Daniel beside him. "You had family problems I've heard?" "Yeah, so to say. Everything is all right now. But what are you doing here?" A sideways look touched Cornelius. He nodded. "Well, I don't want to disturb you. Um, when are you going back to Volterra?" Vincenzo looked as though he had been hit with a cudgel. "Not yet. Does this mean. . . does this mean. . ." He stared at Daniel and Leandro nodded. He bent over and whispered "Did the Cardinal show up?" "Borghese?" Vincenzo's eyes widened. "It's Friday, the big day, holy cow. I've forgotten about your plan. So will you carry this through?" "Yes. If he will come, yes." "You want to go with him into the dark rooms to play the bait? Are there dark rooms here?" He turned round to Cornelius who nodded. "Jesus Christ. Watch out for yourself. I'm beside you when you need help." Daniel nudged Leandro. Cardinal Gianluca had just entered the room along with a rush of other guys. He dragged him aside. "What was this about?" Cornelius asked. He had finished his cigarette and was sipping at his Ginger Ale now. "Oh, just a private matter." "Bullocks, you were talking about a cardinal!" Vincenzo was reserved again. He didn't know this Cornelius and in fact, the murderer could be anybody. "Why does it bother you." He watched Cardinal Borghese from the corner of his eyes. He came straight in their direction, leaned against the bar and looked expectantly to the stage where the strippers were announced. He looked as casual as he could; surprisingly firm in his blue jeans and shirt. Vincenzo saw Cornelius staring at him. "No word from you, ok?" Cornelius nodded. "When are you going back to Volterra then?" he asked. Are you just doing holidays? Your ex-boyfriend seems to be lost for you." Vincenzo was taken aback by the bluntness of his statement. "Seems so indeed." The strippers had been welcomed with a loud cheering and soon their action started. Vincenzo remembered the night when he had been with Sascha, first their dancing, then their making out in the toilet and finally the dark room. He saw Nando, Sascha's brother, dropping the little bit of clothes he wore until he was naked, involved now in a sensuous play with his colleagues. Leandro and Daniel watched their performance from aside, constantly keeping an eye on the cardinal who was shifting from one foot to the other, the bulge in his jeans clearly visible. "He seems to be ready", Daniel whispered. As the final curtain fell he said, "It's show time." Nando had given both a silent sign, that he and his colleagues were ready to start the game. They would wait in one of the dark rooms for Leandro. Vincenzo suddenly showed up at their side. "Can I help you?" Daniel looked surprised. "Yes you can. Follow me and wait at the exit with me. He shouldn't have a chance to escape then." He turned to Leandro and pulled him close. "Watch yourself, honey. See you in half an hour." He pressed his lips upon Leandro's and gave him a resounding kiss. A long glance and he pushed Leandro in the direction of the bar. Then he dragged Vincenzo with him. "Glad you could make it, your Eminence." Gianluca's cheeks glowed from what he had just seen. The poison of the Angel's Trumpets coursed through his veins and his view was sort of blurred. He focused his gaze upon the young man of his nightly desires. He looked ravishing tonight. Gianluca almost lost it but he pulled himself together as well as he could. "Hello Leandro. How's it going?" Leandro was surprised by the casual tone. Gianluca's pupils were widened and upon his skin was a thin film of sweat. Leandro felt sick when he thought about the next step. Slowly he raised his hands to the neckline of Gianluca's shirt. A thick patch of hairs peered out. He played with them although his fingers were burning by this touch. "Have you something in mind, cardinal?" "Call me Gianluca", he answered huskily. The film of sweat formed into thick droplets although it wasn't hot in here. The dance floor was filled with pairs, dancing together or alone and the loud music droned in his ears. He felt Gianluca's eyes all over his body, followed by his hands, that fumbled at is butt and brushed the side of his leg. He felt really sick. Gianluca stared at the entrance to the corridor which led to the dark rooms. His body radiated heat. Unexpectedly he grabbed Leandro's hand and pulled him with him. Cornelius had watched in awe. Something was going on here. . . Very slowly he followed. Leandro opened the door to the room at the far end of the corridor. He knew or hoped that Nando and Christian were waiting for him there, well hidden behind a screen at the window. They had made sure that there was a candle already burning for a better sight, Leandro breathed out, relieved. Soon as Gianluca had closed the door he was all over Leandro, holding him tight and his hands roamed over his body. He didn't give him time to think, in a jiffy the buttons of his shirt popped off to the ground, his trousers followed and he was naked. Gianluca fought with his own shoes and trousers he dropped and stood there with a huge tent in his boxer shorts. Leandro's mind was racing. He felt nausea rising when Gianluca pushed him upon the bed, pulling out something rustling from his jeans pocket and dropped it to the ground. Then he ripped off his boxers and Leandro's nausea grew. That was the most humongus tool he had ever seen in his life and his body jerked involuntarily just by the mere thought that it could enter him. It was absolutely silent in the room, there were just Gianluca's and his own laboured breath. "Now, my boy, let's have some fun. I'm sure you've never seen that before." Gianluca giggled scarily. It sounded hollow and high pitched from lust. In the corner behind the screen Nando jumped. That was the voice he had heard several times. High pitched from lust. He peered around the corner to have a look. Yes, that was it. The monstrosity. He tried to make out the thing that was laying on the ground next to the bed, a patch of white, but couldn't see it good enough. Gianluca's body flung upon Leandro's and he was getting nervous. Then the image of his brother shot through his mind. He had also been laying helpless under the weight of this body and couldn't free himself. He gave Christian a silent sign to get ready. Leandro whimpered when Gianluca's tongue lapped his body. The huge cock slapped against his thighs and a sharp stench of sweat and desire stung his nose. His hands made involuntary defending movement but the cardinal didn't seem to notice. He breathed through his nose like a bull out of control. Soon, very soon he would feel the tip of that cock against his entrance. Nando should hurry up! Now he was busy with ministering to Leandro's balls, the long shaft rubbing against the inner side of his thigh, smearing it with its slimy lube; he bucked frantically and couldn't hold back. Leandro heard a loud cry and felt sprayed with a hot liquid all over his abdomen. His stomach heaved. Gianluca lay motionless for a moment. That wasn't planned he cursed, but then he lifted his head and smirked. There was nothing that couldn't rise again. He looked at the body beneath his own, trapped between his arms, saw the shock in those eyes and he covered his lips with a gush of spittle and pushed his tongue between them, to open the mouth. Leandro gagged. Gianluca giggled. He felt his cock risen again. Good boy. Slowly he crept to his knees and lined it up with Leandro's entrance. At the same time he groped for the plastic bag he had dropped beside the bed. Soon, my boy you will receive the most earth shattering climax you have ever received. Your first and your last one. Gianluca laughed now. Too bad he wouldn't have a picture of this. Such a beautiful boy and bound to die now. At the same moment the flash lights started. Gianluca couldn't decide if this was happening in his head or in reality. Another lightening. He screwed his eyes up. Leandro's scared face was clearly visible for a brief moment. He held the plastic bag and tried to unfold and open it when he felt two strong hands around his arms "Enough, cardinal. Stand up." A sharp voice sounded through the room. Dumbfounded he held still. Strong arms dragged him from the bed. Leandro closed his legs and curled himself together. Then he couldn't hold it anymore. His stomach heaved with the urge to vomit. He bent over the bed and let it come. Christian tossed him a hanky and his trousers while Nando held Gianluca tight. The cardinal's muscles had gone limp. He still hadn't realized what was going on here. "The police will be highly interested in the photos, cardinal." Nando spat out the words. "How about a good fucking session with you now?" He pushed Gianluca onto the bed, brought him to his knees and ripped down his own jeans. "No! " Leandro screamed. "What're you doing? Stop it." Nando glared at him hatefully. "Do the same what he did to my brother." He turned and bent his body over the quavering cardinal. Leandro had put on his jeans and tried to pull Nando away. It was that moment when Gianluca found his guts again. He rose unexpectedly, jumped from the bed and was behind Leandro. He wrapped his arm around Leandro's neck, strangling the windpipe and conjured a pistol from under the pillow. Neither Nando nor Christian had noticed that he had hidden it there. Gianluca giggled. Actually the bullet from his gun was intended for himself. Now it would be for another one. He pressed the muzzle against Leandro's head and rasped "Out of the way." He hesitated a moment. "Give me your clothes." His pistol pointed to Nando. Nando's hands trembled. Holy shit, holy shit, he thought. How could this happen? He undressed as quick as he could and tossed Gianluca his clothes. Gianluca hopped around to get into the trousers, all the time threatening Leandro with his gun he had held tightly against the area of his kidneys. He didn't bother with the shirt or the shoes. He pushed Leandro through the door and locked the room from outside. "One move and you're a dead man." He had slung Nando's shirt around the pistol. Leandro felt the cold muzzle in his back. Daniel would wait outside he thought and perhaps Vincenzo. But what could they do? He saw a young, balding man hanging around against one of the walls. That was the guy Vincenzo was sitting with. Cornelius made big eyes when he saw the state Leandro was in. Leandro tried to give him a sign, but Cornelius looked bewildered. But he followed them. They passed the room and the dance floor without Leandro having a chance to get rid of Gianluca. What could he do anyway? Gianluca was mad enough to start a massacre here. Both exited the bar and Leandro saw Daniel standing beside the entrance. On the other side he detected Vincenzo. He saw how Daniel flexed all his muscles to jump. "No, Danny. Stay where you are!" Gianluca grinned distorted. He lifted the shirt for a brief moment and Daniel saw the shaft of a pistol gleaming in the moonlight. Suddenly Leandro felt a punch and Gianluca started to run with him towards a car parked at the curb. He tore open the door, pushed Leandro inside and drove away with screeching tyres. In the rear view mirror he saw how Daniel and Vincenzo jumped into Sebastian's red Fiat and followed along the street that led towards Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill Leandro wiped his face. He still had the obnoxious taste of vomit in his mouth. Gianluca, next to him, still grinned. It was as if this grin had been carved into his face now for all time. This was a showdown as he liked it. Nobody, absolutely nobody could stop him now. He too had seen the Fiat behind them, but they wouldn't dare to step out and start a fight. Not with that weapon of his. Gianluca turned into the Piazza Venezia; the white marble building of the National Altar towered above them. He turned left and passed the only passage that was intended for cars, leading up to the Capitol, leaving the Mamertine Dungeon behind. He crossed the place in front of the capitol and stopped the engine. Then he opened the door and dragged Leandro out, his gun still pointing at his body. Leandro said his last prayer. If he was bound to die here and now he would have led a good life. He saw the red Fiat arriving at the place, but the doors didn't open. The silhouettes of Daniel and Vincenzo were dark against the dull light from the lanterns. Gianluca laughed out loud. "Come on out, you clever guys!" he shouted and still laughed. Then he pushed Leandro forward, between the Capitol building and the museum, through a tight passage between shrubs and bushes and small trees. Leandro recognized it as the place of the Jupiter Temple. Sebastian and his colleagues had set free the base of the temple two years ago. They were protected with wires, but Gianluca dragged him further. They reached the edge of the museum's building. To the left hand he had a free view down to the Forum Romanum, softly illuminated. In the far distance he could see the Colosseo. And then he knew where he was. It was the Tarpeian Rock. His memory flashed back to the very first day when he had arrived in Rome. George had stalked him, mentioning the place for hustlers high above here. But at this midnight hour the place was deserted. Gianluca stopped him. In front of them was a fence that was torn, under the small trees were strewn cigarette boxes, tissues and used condoms. The fence had bulges and was torn partly and Leandro started to hyperventilate. The Trapeian Rock was a steep rock reaching from the Capitol Hill down to the Forum Romanum. A good way to fly down . . . . He heard Gianluca's disrupted breath in his neck. "Now, my pretty boy, let's finish what we have started. Your friends there can't help you." And soon he fumbled at Leandro's zipper. "It's soft here, and I will be gentle, I promise." Again his voice was high pitched. Leandro started to fight. He rammed his elbow into Gianluca's bowels when he heard rash steps behind them. Daniel! he thought relieved but Cardinal Borghese swung around and held his gun outstretched. "Do not move further." Leandro turned around. It was Vincenzo! But where was Daniel? From the other side, hidden in the shadows of the museum's building he heard a sound of shoes, rustling over branches. Vincenzo lifted his arms high in the air. Then he lost his nerve, turned around and vanished into darkness. Gianluca laughed again. It shrilled terrible in Leandro's ears. He unbuttoned his jeans and then the zipper. The elephantine cock sprang out. "Let the fun begin, pretty boy." But then there was a panther like shadow that sprang out of the dark. It pulled Gianluca down to the ground, and Leandro fell with them. He couldn't make out the tangle and stared fixedly upon both men fighting. They rolled around the uneven ground, between bushes and approached dangerously near the abyss. Leandro tried to drag at Gianluca's hair, kicked him with his bare feet and searched for a stone. A loud bang tore the night. "Daniel!" Leandro shouted. He saw Daniel's arm bloody and started to scream. But Daniel hadn't noticed the pain, not yet. With all his strength he tried to shove and push Gianluca's body near the abyss. Centimeter by centimeter he succeeded, Leandro was helping him. Then Gianluca hung just with one arm and hand, dangling back and forth, and cried for help. Daniel rose to his feet, swaying. He stared down at Cardinal Gianluca Borghese-Caffarelli whose face was ash grey and the sweat poured down in streams. "Help me, I can't hold on longer!" Daniel and Leandro looked at each other. It was that moment when they missed the gun, Gianluca was lifting. He had clutched the shaft during their fight. "Watch out!" Daniel screamed. Leandro made a quick movement and trampled with all his might upon Gianluca's fingers who held tightly to the stones. With a loud cry, Gianluca fell. They heard a thud and closed their eyes. From the distance the wailing of sirens sounded. Daniel took Leandro by the naked shoulders and went with him slowly backwards to the large place in front of the Capitol. He was bleeding incessantly but he didn't care. All that was important was Leandro.
  6. Stefan

    Chapter 5

    Chapter Five Via Appia Andrea had snatched one of George's newspapers laying on the kitchen table. He couldn't believe it. Sebastian had been under suspicion of murder and was in custody for almost 48 hours. Since he was a man of Rome's interest, the newspaper reported it under the title 'local news' which Andrea always read first. The evening paper George had brought when he came home said that he was released this noon because another murder happened at Luigi's Bar. Madonna mia. He was just thankful that Roberto hadn't been there. But he knew that George had been out last evening and as usual didn't tell him where. Since George's phone wasn't working yet - Roman conditions! - he couldn't get in contact with Roberto. He hadn't had sex with George for three days, that was a record, Andrea grinned, and so George perhaps found his relief somewhere else. Perhaps at Luigi's Bar? But soon enough he felt George's laboured breath at his neck. He always walked silently as a cat, a most irritating behaviour. And soon his hands roamed all over Andrea's bare chest. It had been hot in the day and the air conditioning was out, for George was prone to colds. He pinched his nipples and bit into Andrea's neck, close under his ear. George didn't wait anymore for the long dong to come. He just thought about Andrea and his cock that was there always for him as long as he paid him even if he recently didn't want to sleep with him. But he knew how he could turn him on, and this thing never failed its effect. He pulled him from the chair he was sitting in and went with him to the spacious bathroom, where he undressed him completely. Surprised he noticed that Andrea didn't complain nor struggle; perhaps he was in need of money then? George grinned slyly, turned on the water hose, tested the temperature and started to spray Andrea all over with water, first his shoulders, over his chest, the legs and feet. Andrea giggled and George was so happy to hear this sound that he stepped under the shower with him, fully dressed, and started to move the hose over his abdomen, the ball sack and finally Andrea's penis. He knew the tickling of the water was exquisite and nobody could resist this. It was like a thousand tiny tongues licking and tickling and very quickly Andrea had a raging hard-on. George turned off the water, took Andrea by the hand as the bell rang at the front door. George froze. It was ten minutes to 10 p.m., who could be the visitor now? "Stay as you are, or better, wait for me in bed, sweetheart," he told Andrea and went to open the door. All that he saw was a cloak and a hood, pulled over a face that lay in darkness. Without a word he stepped into the hall and turned off the light. George has stunned. The hooded man passed him by, went to the living room and said slowly, "Turn off each light." He watched when George pressed a combination of numbers that shut the outside blinds. He knew that they went down for each room, so that his house was now a little fortress that nobody would be able to break in to. The combination he alone knew. It was now pitch dark in the house. Suddenly he remembered Andrea waiting for him in the bedroom. He would await him every minute. But then there was light, a lit candle in the hand of the visitor, and George shivered with excitement. Finally he would have everything again, the cock he yearned for . . . George went on to the guest room, the bed was invitingly large, a double bed, ready to jump in. The candle was placed on a table next to the door, too far away to see good enough, but light enough not to stumble. The cloak was falling down. George stared at the man. His face was covered by a mask, sort of a Zorro mask, that hid his eyes and nose. And his cock was straining up to the ceiling, long and red. Used. The man tossed him a package of condoms and a tube. "Undress." The voice was old. Old and demanding. George started to sweat, he tried to peel off his clothes, wet from the shower he had shared with Andrea. Andrea was still waiting for him . . . . Quickly George rushed to the door and locked it. Then he struggled with his socks and the trousers that seemed to be glued on his body. The cock was getting impatient. It bounced up and down when the man moved in the direction of the bed. George finally was naked, went to him, got on his knees and sniffed. His tongue darting out, catching a few drops of excitement. Circled around the tip that was peering out of the foreskin. Got it into his mouth, and moaned with pleasure. But the man remained silent, there was no movement, he just looked down and watched George's actions. And then he withdrew and lay upon the bed, George was above him in no time, kneeling between his hairy legs, going down on him like it would be the last time. His own penis was dripping and smearing his fluid all over the sheets and the knees of the unknown man. And then he felt turned over by a surprisingly firm grip, a finger was pushed into his ass, searching his insides. George saw stars exploding before his eyes when he hit the right spot. He spread his legs, mustered himself up for the large intruder but it didn't come. Instead he felt a tongue at his opening, darting in and out, like a second penis, leaving him in a puddle of saliva and spittle. And then he heard the first moan from him. A deep rumble, like a wolf. His penis vanished in the other's mouth, he felt his teeth grazing the sensitive skin, sucking. Sucking and sucking still until he couldn't hold on no more. A deep cry escaped George's mouth, quickly covered by a large hand. He was turned over once more, his ass stuck high in the air, only fingers greasing him, inside, around and under and then he felt it . . . a large, hard, soft and hot thing those width almost split his anus. But George pushed back, softly first, then more and more until the head slipped in. Once more a cry escaped George but this time the man let it happen. A stronger push and he was in. George gritted his teeth, the hands clamped around the bed linen. Another push, a long stroke, another and he was out again. George silently begged he might come back and bit his lips until they bled when he felt entered again. He was laying spread eagled upon the bed while the masked man fucked him like a hammer. He heard his panting, the breath upon his back, the sweat dripping upon his skin. Faster and faster, George thought his blood must be dripping from his anus, but still he enjoyed it. More and more. This very moment he felt hands approaching his throat. Large hands wrapping around his neck, strangling his windpipe until he couldn't breath. Something rustled. From the corner of his eyes he saw a white plastic bag. And in this last moment of highest ecstasy, when he drenched the sheets beneath him, he lost consciousness. Andrea waited in vain. He had enjoyed what George had done to his body, and was willing to give him a good fuck but then he wondered why George didn't appear. The blinds had went down and Andrea had awaited him every second. He had spread himself upon the bed, turned on the TV and must have dropped off, when he heard a cry from below. Something was going on down there. A burglar? Andrea cursed the fact that he had no phone, his cell phone George had taken away. He didn't dare to look, just tiptoed to the door and lay his ear to the wood. No sound. He opened the door, went out to the staircase and peered down. It was pitch dark. But then a small light appeared. Sort of a candle's light and then there was the shadow of a man, dressed in something wide, like a cloak. He dragged something heavy. Andrea's heartbeat went to his throat. Silently he slipped back into the bedroom. Then the clicking of the door told him that the man had gone. He heard the turning of keys. Locked. Andrea knew the door was too heavy to destroy it. The blinds were heavy too and strengthened with iron gates. The combination to open them was George's secret. That's for George's panic attacks that a burglar could break into his house. Andrea sat upon the bed. What now? And what happened to George? He dragged himself up, pulled on his jeans and went down the staircase. First he tried the entrance door. As feared, it was locked. He rattled, knowing it was in vain. The second bunch of keys, always hanging beside the door, had vanished too. Andrea entered the living room, then the kitchen, the guest bath and finally the guest room. He found the bed clothes disheveled, on the carpet a used condom and an open tube of jelly. The slimy fluid had ran out. This was getting mysterious. . . who was the secret, nightly visitor whom George let in, slept with and got knocked out finally? On the small table beside the door he found traces of wax. Perhaps it was indeed a candle he had seen. And where was George now? Was he still alive? And then he made the connection: George at Luigi's Bar - the murder - what if the nightly visitor and the murderer were one and the same? - George killed with a plastic bag. Despair spread out. Fervently he pressed the buttons for the blinds, just in case he could hit the right combination per chance. But nothing moved. Then he opened the glass doors to the garden and banged his fists upon the metal surface, he squeezed his fingers between ground and blinds with the result that his fingertips were bleeding. Then he took a chair and tried to smash the blinds - no luck. At least he wouldn't starve for the fridge and pantry were stuffed with food. He just hoped that Roberto would show up sooner or later when he didn't hear from him. Andrea once more started his restless walk through the house to find an escape. Luigi's Bar The rooms, usually bustling with life, were deserted and dimly lighted. Instead of using the stage for their practices, the strippers had gathered there: Christian, Claudio, Giulio and Nando, the brother of Sascha. They were silent when Luigi and Tasso entered the stage, joining them in their silence. "It's two of us now," Nando started to speak. "First Paolo, now Sascha." One moment Tasso feared that he would break out into tears. He had the same tiny locks like his brother, the same long lashes shading his eyes, but he was extremely well built, result of countless days in the workout studios. Tasso sighed and looked at his partner. "We have to tell you that we have decided to close this bar for good," Luigi started, more softly than the men had been used to. Everybody was looking at him. "We aren't sure if we will ever get our license back, that's the main reason." The guys started to protest and Luigi lifted his hand. "I've spoken to Camillo and he agreed to take you over as a group if you want. You're the best guys." He smiled a little. They looked at each other; Camillo's nightclub was one of the most luxurious in town. Luigi had paid them well, but perhaps Camillo would pay more. Their faces lit up. "Of course we will take over all costs of Sascha's funeral," he said to Nando. "I've heard you shared several nights with our mysterious man in chamber 4?" "Guess we all have. But nobody has ever seen his face. The night Sascha died I had seen him last when he entered chamber 20 with a young man - Vincenzo he called him when we met briefly in the corridor." Nando's head sunk. "That was the last time I saw him." Hastily he wiped his eyes. "But now . . . how can we find out when the bar is closed?" "You told me you have the film from the camera," Claudio threw in. "You should bring it to the police." "There's nothing important to see. Just material for a porn movie I'd say." "Nonetheless. The police might have better possibilities," Luigi said. "Do you know this Vincenzo?" Nando shook his head. "He seemed nice to me. Probably Sascha had just met him. I haven't seen him afterward, but that's not our man." He looked all around. "We all know since the long dong had started to visit the bar that everything had changed. Former chamber 4 was just a room for foursomes, but then it started to be an insider's tip." Claudio nodded. "It's just not the abnormal length, it's the thrill around, the candles, the silence and his skill. But he was out of control sometimes. I've seen how he strangled a guy, but thought it was just instinctive at the peak of his orgasm. Probably we've slept with a killer and have just been lucky." Luigi nodded. "Keep your eyes open then when you start to work for Camillo. I'll set a notice that you have changed your employer, perhaps he will follow you." Gianicolo Sebastian had taken his holidays for he still was in a state of shock. Not that the treatment had been bad but this definitely didn't belong to his good experiences in life. They all had picked him up this morning from the police station and he had never been so happy to see them, especially Kay. Since he had heard the new about the second incident at Luigi's Bar he had remained very thoughtful, trying to sort out everything that the guys had told him. How did everything fit together? Kay came with the news from Tasso; he had done his job there for some hours, mainly talked about Nando's opinion, the empty camera which didn't have Sebastian's fingerprints, naturally. His legs shook, and he rolled the whiskey in the glass, Marcus had bought him. He was glad that he had quit visiting the dark rooms since he had met Kay. "Leandro and Daniel had let us into their secrets, Bastian." Marcus sat beside him in a chair under a sunshade in the garden. "Seems as if he has an idea who our friend is. Do you per chance know a Cardinal Borghese?" "Gianluca Borghese? Sure I know him. Recently he took over the relics from Daniel's altar for the Lateran. He lives in his house that's now Galleria Borghese." "That was him?" Marcus asked surprised. "But do you know him personally?" "Not that I know. Why?" "Leandro is highly suspicious that he is the one and the same: the man with the excitingly long thing and the murderer himself." Sebastian was too stunned to say anything. "The bad thing is that Gianluca and Leandro stood face to face at Luigi's Bar. It must have been shortly after the murder. He held a stuffed plastic bag, Leandro said and looked pretty disarranged to put it mildly. Vincenzo told them . . ." "Stop, give me a break, please," Sebastian said. "Who is this Vincenzo actually?" "Leandro's ex-lover. He followed both to Luigi and hooked up with Sascha to go with him to the darkrooms. After some time two guys entered the room, one of them was our man, hood and cloak and a candle. Vincenzo was frightened and left the room, leaving Sascha behind." "Hmm. So it could be that the hood and the other guy were the last to see Sascha alive right?" "Right. But not necessarily." "And how are we supposed to find out?" Sebastian took another sip from his whiskey. It had a very relaxing effect. "Vincenzo gave his report to the police when we've picked you up", Marcus continued. "And then Leandro uttered his suspicions about Borghese." "Let me guess," Sebastian said calm, "they said they can do nothing because they can't investigate against a cardinal of the Vatican State, right?" "How do you know?" Sebastian just smiled. He saw Kay coming from the house and beamed. He made room on the bench where he was sitting and pressed Kay very close to his body. "I didn't sleep one minute," he told him. "Me neither," Kay replied. "Have you filled him in?" he asked Marcus. "Everything except about this Vincenzo. Marcus said it's Leandro's ex-lover? From Volterra? I've never seen him. Leandro must have hidden this secret from me." "Surely enough, he was hot for you," Kay said grinning. "So was Vincenzo in his way." "I don't think Leandro would do such sly things." "Vincenzo is married," Marcus added. "He left him to marry a woman to save the family set-up, so to say." Sebastian lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Well . . . how odd. And now he he changed his mind, yes? What's with Daniel and Leandro?" Marcus and Kay shrugged their shoulders. "I have the feeling they're about to figure it out." Kay nodded over to the men, vanishing around the house: Leandro and Vincenzo. "I really don't know how to handle this," Leandro was telling him. "Everything is in turmoil inside me." He pulled a leaf to pieces. "I even had to sleep alone this night. I need more time." Vincenzo's eyes lit up. "And Daniel didn't complain?" Sure he had, but not that much to change Leandro's mind. He felt pretty bad about it, but he hadn't promised Daniel anything. It was just that Daniel's closeness disturbed his mind from thinking clearly. Actually it wasn't the fact itself whether he had fallen in love with Daniel or not but just that the whole idea had disrupted all his plans he had made for Rome. Meran? He would be trapped in a small town again. But Daniel's sad eyes made his heart pound. If only he was a little more persistent... like Vincenzo was. To be serious he couldn't imagine Daniel being that jealous that he would lose his mind and get into a fight with his ex-lover. Although . . . "Perhaps we have to decide it with fists then. Just me and Daniel, like in an arena." Leandro snorted. "Gladiator, eh? And the prize is me." He stood and looked into Vincenzo's cornflower blue eyes. "What will you do now? How long will you wait for my decision?" Leandro suddenly felt the power of his words and the meaning behind them. He should feel flattered that two men would fight for him, but he couldn't. "Your welcome was pretty harsh," he heard Vincenzo saying. "You blew my mind, took the wind from all my sails and I thought I'd have no chance. But now . . ." He placed his arm around Leandro's waist and pulled him close. "Just remember. Close our eyes and remember our plans. I'll make them reality." It was hard not to follow his wishes. "With what? Where do you want to go?" "Stay here in Rome, you have your work and I'll find a suiting shop for the tourists. There can never be enough of them, right?" Leandro was about to nod. Daniel would return to Meran and would be out of sight. And out of his mind. "I won't give up that easily, I like you too much." That had been Daniel's words but Leandro wasn't sure to if he should believe them. He needed proof. But what about his own feelings? Surely he had fallen in love with Daniel. Daniel was somebody to trust, to restore his tired mind and body, and since Leandro wasn't a person who needed constant entertainment he seemed the right man for him. It was great to share his nights with him and Leandro hadn't missed Vincenzo for a single second of them. Daniel was a man; not the boy Leandro considered Vincenzo to be. He smiled a half smile. Glancing at his former lover he noticed that Vincenzo wasn't a boy anymore either, but in his memories he always considered him to be, like in the old days when they had shared their first kiss, heated from playing. Leandro wasn't able to change this feeling. Vincenzo would always be his childhood friend, a lover that had passed - somebody he was about to leave behind. On the other hand: did he know Daniel enough? Perhaps the old familiarity weighed more? "Give me more time," he said. "You have enough money to stay?" Vincenzo nodded, truly convinced that he would win in the end. Leandro peered through the kitchen window. Daniel and Nicholas were cooking together, preparing a welcome dinner for Sebastian. From the smell, coming through the window, it must be marvelous. Leandro saw them laughing, both had dressed in long aprons that reached to their ankles. Daniel was sure a solid man. He could rely on him, couldn't he? More than he could on Vincenzo? In his head formed a plan, but he needed Daniel for this, so he delayed it until the night. Daniel had seen Leandro talking to his old lover from the kitchen window. He saw Vincenzo talking non-stop to Leandro who was taciturn and thoughtful. Perhaps this very moment his destiny was sealed. Would their young love be strong enough to resist the old memories or not? Would he be forced into a verbal or physical fight? Would he fight? It had hurt that Leandro hadn't wanted to share his bed with him last night but what could he do. He spilled vinegar over his fingers instead of over the salad. Nicholas nudged him. He was sure he had seen them too and was thinking his own part. Although he was a bit shy of asking Daniel he thought it was important. He cleared his throat. "Danny, I think you should do something about this here", he said quietly. "I know", was Daniel's only answer. "I know... that's all?" Nicholas was getting agitated. He wiped his hands on his apron and looked closely at the older man. "The little time I've learnt to know Leandro I realised he's worth the fight." "Fight?" Daniel echoed. "Yes, fight. Man, you can't stand here and watch Vincenzo dragging his ex-lover into his arms once more. If you feel anything for Leandro you'll have to stand up for him." Daniel smiled at the young men's heat. "You've learnt something, right?" he said after a while. "I mean the days when you and Marcus..." Nicholas held his gaze. "Yes, I've learnt something. We both learnt something. If you're in love it's important not to waste any time. Let him know that you want him." Daniel was still smiling and nodded. "I know you're right. I've never had the opportunity to fight for somebody." That was nonsense he thought immediately. He hadn't fight for his relationship with Felix for instance. Perhaps it would had been possible for both of them to increase their feelings for eachother if he would had given them time. But he hadn't and it was over. And Daniel actually wasn't sad about it. He knew that he was a ditherer, completely different to his cousin Sebastian who always took the bull by the horns. He felt ashamed that this young man had to tell him this, but he wasn't angry. Nicholas was right. Vincenzo and Leandro had gone. And Daniel promised himself that he wouldn't sleep alone that night. Via Appia Roberto didn't show up. It was now the third day and Andrea was getting really despaired. Incessantly he had tried to smash the door and the blinds, leaving just bulges behind. He was able to lift them from the floor, and tried to squeeze himself through but was afraid to get stuck. Then he tried the attic, but the skylights were too small, so he took a sheet and wrote the word "Aiuto" upon it - help. This he hung out but since the opening was so small, nobody would be able to read it. This morning he had inspected the basement and came back pretty dirty. There was the oil tank and some old stuff from the former owner. But then he had detected a secret door behind a shelf full of old cans and empty glasses and bottles. He pushed the shelf aside and had been able to open the rusted door. There was a steep staircase leading down and Andrea was determined to use it. So he packed his rucksack with bread, salami and cheese, took a large bottle of water, a torch and some matches. He had absolutely no clue where the staircase would lead him, perhaps to the neighbour next door whose basements were connected, but he doubted it. Why would it be that steep then? He took a sheet and scribbled some words, then left it at the kitchen table. He gathered all his guts, opened the door and started to enter the staircase. Somewhere It was night, or was it day? He neither could make out the time nor which day it was. Whenever he opened his eyes he was surrounded by a steady dim light because the blinds were always shut down. Blinds. . . . he had closed the blinds, that's right . . . but what happened then? Another morning. Another evening? His tongue felt wet with a slimy, not exactly tasteful fluid, he feared to choke when his mouth was stuffed with a . . . thing that was pliable and hot. Spongy . . . His throat hurt, as well his head and his anus. There had been something but he didn't know what . . . . A weight upon his body helpless on the ground. A bed perhaps. He couldn't open his eyes, they were too heavy. Some more fluid, hot and bitter this time, but he drank thirstily and then . . . oblivion. Galleria Borghese The door bell rang. Gianluca, startled, lifted his head. He didn't welcome visitors. It was two in the afternoon, the museum was closed. And very few people knew the entrance door to his wing of the museum. Sighing he closed the book and tenderly wiped over it. Then he dressed into his cloak and went to open the door. The young man, Leandro, smiled into his face. Gianluca thought he would faint. He couldn't control his facial expression and was sure that it was twitching. "Signore Cardinal, scusi to disturb you. But I haven't seen you for so long I thought I would meet you at Villa Giulia. The Apollo of Veji, you remember?" "Si. . . si. I do remember." Gianluca's thoughts paced through his mind. Madonna, what could he want? He had seen him coming from Luigi's Bar. Not a suitable place for a catholic cardinal . . . "Umm. . . do you want to come in?" He stepped invitingly aside. "No, no. It's not necessary. What about a walk through the park? I've never seen the park of this house. I've read it's brilliant." "Oh yes, well, it is. Brilliant." Gianluca hesitated and looked wary. But then he decided to take the bull by the horns. If the boy wanted to blackmail him, he would find a solution. He closed the door behind him and walked with Leandro around the house. It was a nice baroque garden. In the middle of it was sort of a labyrinth, trees were formed to sculptures and the flowers in the beds were decorated as curled snakes. Some very fine specimen of Angel's Trumpets stood in groups, their large, yellow trumpet-like flowers hung in clusters from the branches, oozing an intoxicating smell. "How is the work, Leandro?" "Oh, fine, fine. I'm working at the copy of town Ceverteri, you know. It develops slowly, there's so much to think of." He stopped at a bench in front of a box tree hedge. "It's hot today, isn't it." Gianluca was getting nervous. That guy was beating around the bush. He took a seat and Leandro sat beside him. "To make it short, Leandro. You and I know what you have seen three days ago. What do you want from me?" Landro jerked a bit for Gianluca had changed the tone. It was now raspy and old. Cold. He was sure that he had walked slowly enough that Daniel and Vincenzo could follow him. If he just could know where they were hidden right now. Daniel wasn't excited about Leandro's suggestion in the first place, but Vincenzo had been all for it despite what he did was dangerous. Daniel.... last night he had met a different Daniel; there was no trace of hesitation on his side. Leandro wondered what had shaken him out of his reserve. But now was no time to ponder. "Well," Leandro said, "that's no problem, his Eminence. Your secret is well hidden with me." "Secret?" Gianluca's head flung around. He goggled at the younger man. "What secret?" "Well, what would a cardinal of the Holy Curia have to do in a gay bar?" "It was a gay bar?" Leandro couldn't help but laugh. That was hilarious. "Oh, you didn't know it was a gay bar? You've lost your way then?" "Surely I did. Actually I wanted to visit some of my lambs but must have gone to the wrong entrance." That was poppycock he thought instantly. How stupid must this young man be to believe that? So he changed the tactic. "Alright, you have me. I'm not the first gay cardinal and will not be the last. Where is the problem?" Leandro looked at him with an innocent look. "I don't see a problem, cardinal. You have changed it into one when you denied it." That had some reasons, Gianluca thought. "I really just wanted to know how you are," Leandro continued. Well we met a Luigi's Bar and I was surprised, yes. But it's none of my business. You didn't think I wanted to blackmail you? Betray your secret to the curia? Huh, how should I do that? And who would be interested? We all know how the Vatican handles things . . . probably you would be transferred to a small town? Perhaps not." Gianluca said nothing. He stared intently at his hands which had started to tremble slightly. "Do you know where to go, now that Luigi's Bar is closed?" "Scusi? Another bar?" "Yes. I've heard that the strippers have another engagement at Camillo's "Forty Seven." It's pretty posh. I think I will try it out. Do you?" "Was this an invitation?" Perhaps he was keen on old men? Gianluca measured him from head to feet. Could it be? Leandro gave him a deep look and Gianluca shivered. His cock started to raise. "When?" he croaked. "Let's say Friday night?" Another suspicious look. Gianluca rose and marched on, Leandro followed him. "I have to go, Signore Cardinal. My break is over." Gianluca nodded absentmindedly and stared into empty space. Rome's Underground His flashlight illuminated just a small patch of the unsteady ground. But, determined, he gripped his bag tighter and started to walk. He felt the burden of earth upon his shoulders; there was no sound, no insects, no mice rustling in the recesses while he went on. Andrea wasn't claustrophobic but the walls were so close together that only one person could pass. Each moment he feared that it could cave in or some creature, well hidden in one on the byways could jump in his way and dig his claws into his body.... He stopped. A crossways. To the left and right passages turned off, vanishing in the darkness outside the circle of light created by his flashlight. Andrea thought that he was pretty unsure of the meaning of this labyrinth under Rome's ground. He wasn't Theseus and Ariadne with a red thread was far away. So he searched on the ground and picked up a small stone with which he scratched an arrow into the soft Tuff stone that pointed straight on. He had decided not to change the direction. He passed several more cross roads and marked each one, then a draft of air touched his body. He pointed the flashlight to the left and saw a vertical shaft from which coolness poured in. Cautiously he stepped closer and guided the light into the shaft up and downwards. More tuff, and Andrea sensed that this tunnel he was walking along wasn't the last level, but that there must be more down under and more above. Suddenly a flash bolted through his mind: The catacombs! The catacombs stretched themselves hundreds of kilometers under Rome's ground. He shivered in the cool air streaming from the shaft. He could walk here for days without finding the exit. Would it be better to return and wait for Roberto? But it wasn't certain that he would show up. And perhaps the killer would come back for his next victim.... Determined, he walked on. At the next crossways he marked the walls until his way reached a dead end. Andrea's knuckles knocked on the stone. Crumbly and greasy. He turned back to the last crossways, took the right junction, another junction and yet another. Now the loculi started. Niches, open or closed with marble plates with withered inscriptions, where the dead bodies had been laid to rest. His flashlight detected more of them, carved into stone: a pelican, a fish - the sign of Peter - a peacock, the Good Shepherd and the sign for Martyrs and Christos Rex. He followed the narrow tunnels from both sides filled with loculi, his flashlight beam slid over skulls and bones or even complete skeletons. The people of those times must have been much smaller, he tried to distract himself with biological connections. Those small niches, almost made just for children .... Andrea lost his sense of time, his watch told him that he was just short of three hours in the underground but to him it seemed as if it must have been three days. Exhausted, he sat down and leaned his back against the wall, then he took the water bottle and drank; he was too excited to eat. It was warm; sweat had beaded upon his forehead and upper lip. The air was stale, musty and putrid and he couldn't bring himself to think about the consequences if he couldn't find an exit from this labyrinth. Someday, in hundreds of years, an archaeologist would find this way and would wonder about the strange and stupid tourist that had lost his guide and the way to end up in this ancient cemetery . . . Andrea closed his eyes and when he opened them again it was yet another hour later. Cursing, he jumped up and rushed forward. But abruptly he stopped. He wasn't sure from which direction he had come . . . he hurried in panic through the tunnels, then it opened into a hall, well a larger room under the earth with grave houses whose arcosols had been decorated with paintings, stucco and graffiti; decayed stones, the doors open so he could see the mummified bodies. On one side of the room was a small staircase leading, presumably, to the ground below this one. Andrea thought a moment. Sometime he must be able to find the area that was given free for the tourists, but as long as there wasn't a light meant there was no hope for him yet. His hate for George grew with each step he made in darkness. If he had had his cock under control and didn't fuck with everybody that rang his door bell he wouldn't be in this tight spot now. Instantly he regretted his thoughts though. George was dead. But this meant that George had know the nightly visitor for he never let strangers into his house. And the consequence was that Andrea would know him too. Was the killer one of the men George met at Luigi's Bar and had invited him to the house the other day? How mysterious this all was. When he entered the staircase he saw that there was another one, leading up. Pleased he followed. Perhaps he would reach the higher level to meet some workers, preparing the tunnel for tourists. Galleria Borghese He was sleeping. Gianluca had checked on him some hours ago. The room was locked, without a window, unreachable. Nobody else except his family knew about this secret place. When Camillo Borghese had become Pope Paul V, he had brought some of the family treasures here to protect them from all the wars that shook Rome and the land of Italy constantly. Paul V had given money for the restorations of this church. His descendants had also used it. It was owing to this place that Napoleon Bonaparte hadn't seen all of the large Borghese-collection to take it with him to Paris. The light that crept into this room was greenish like the tea Gianluca administered to him regularly. It was a dose that would knock him out, perhaps he would lose his memory, perhaps he would never awake. But Gianluca would have now one for his own, for his pleasure, to use like a sex doll. Oh yes, he had seen the lust in his eyes - nobody had been that eager to spread his ass cheeks for him without any hesitation or inhibitions about the length of his instrument. Gianluca grinned. He had always been proud of that. He stirred the greenish tea, made from the Angel's Trumpets standing in his Baroque Garden. It was a hallucinogen that would destroy, sooner or later, his nerves, or his brain cells or both. But Gianluca didn't care; he needed his kick, the pictures it created in his mind. Lovingly he stared at the woodcuts of the open book. He didn't need them anymore, like the porn magazines and video cassettes - finally he had a living body available next door, whenever he was in need of it. The small, normal operating part of his mind told him that nobody would understand the reasons he needed male bodies that way to be happy and at the same time hated them. Yes. He hated himself, like he did all hustlers, strippers, sluts, and faggots in particular, because he was a faggot himself. He leaned back in his chair and sipped at his tea. Pictures were building in his mind. The silent house in Rome's surrounding. Everything settled long before his birth: The first son inherited the house, the second was allowed to study and the third one had to become a priest. Each family had a priest. The Borgheses were a very old, traditional dynasty, well acknowledged not only in the village where they inhabited an old country house with servants and staff. This tradition belonged to the ancient family of the Borghese, brought forth cardinals and popes. And then there was he: The last one left for his brothers had died. A homosexual. Pictures in his mind, colourful; the brothers happily together. The fear by night. His father opening the door to the room he shared with his brother. He had been too young to understand. His brother whimpering, the father standing upright, with his pajama trousers on, taking the head of his son and pushing it to his belly, faster and faster. His brother's heavy panting because he could only breath through his nose. Gianluca didn't understand. He thought that his brother needed comfort so close to his father's body. Those blow jobs had been the only pleasure for his father - for women hardly do this - his brother had explained. But what did Gianluca know about blow jobs then? Another sip from the tea. He had learned to value the taste of cum when he was 12; his brother had moved out and left him alone to fulfill the desires of a cranky, horny old man. Gianluca thought it to be the right thing, because his father had said it would be ok. Just a secret between father and son, leaving the female side of the world out. He had accustomed to the rancid taste of his father's cum and to his cock he had put into Gianluca's anus. A new experience. Gianluca closed his eyes. Still he felt the large intruder - similar to his own now. Too large for a 14 years old. He hid the bloody underpants in the deepest corner of his wardrobe. He had to get on his hands and knees - the most animal position he knew for his father couldn't fuck him in a different style because he would have had to look him in the eyes then. Gianluca hated and loved it. Until today he didn't know which feeling was stronger. And he never had allowed any man to enter him again. Gianluca's hands wandered absentmindedly over the book's paper sheets. That was the only love he knew and killing was just the act of deliverance. He always killed his father. The paper rustled. Gianluca dug his nails in, tore the pages and Poliphiilo and his lover Polio shriveled to paper balls in his fists. He wouldn't let fiction he had made out of his life be destroyed by this young man named Leandro. If necessary he would kill his father again. Like he did each night, in every dream, in any occasion. Since the stripper Paolo had tried to force himself into his body the memories came back. Everything was fresh like in the days of childhood. He emptied his cup and went away to have a look at his booty.
  7. Stefan

    Story

    First: Gloom A grunt in darkness. A scratching of feet, senseless uttered sounds. Water drops falling softly; a wet coolness to soothe his longing. Somewhere in his gloomy brain a cry came off. Not human, just brutish. A roar, that craved for attention and feeding. His finger scratched on stone. Restless he crossed the labyrinth - his labyrinth - set up to hide him from human stares. A gnarl escaped his hairy throat and his short, strong horns thrust against the wall. His mind was tired, like his whole being, born out of a quirk of a horny woman. His memories remained pale: a scared cry when he was born and afterwards just twilight in which the King of Crete had condemned him to live. He wasn't proud of his son, oh no! He couldn't be. What would a bull-headed man look like upon the throne of Knossos? The white bull - this was his real father; a white bull risen from the depths of the sea as a gift from Poseidon to Minos, the King of Crete. At least that's what he figured out while he was locked up in a secret room at Knossos' Palace. Pasiphae, Minos' wife fell madly in love with the white bull; with his strength, power and beauty. With the help of Daedalos, the creative inventor, she was able to mate with him and the result was he - Asterion: a baby with the head of a calf. He remembered vaguely the brilliant colours. The red of the colour of old blood, the azure of the painted birds and of the dolphins on the palace walls. But, by Hades, what did he know about azure blue sky? His only entertainment was to look into the azure blue eyes of one of his victims. When he consumed them, inhaled them, his aching sex plunging deep between the youth's legs - spread apart by his force - the King was feeding him; first to satiate his sex drive and second to satisfy his permanent hunger. His bowels rumbled. It was time for supplies. But in the darkness time didn't count. There was no tomorrow and no yesterday; no morning, no evening. Just timeless loneliness. He still was cruising aimlessly; blindly finding the existence of the many ways. Something similar to laughter escaped. No human had ever found the way out. Not if he didn't want to. And he never wanted. His mighty cock jerked, but he withstood the urge to lay hand on himself. Saliva ran from his snout and he scraped it over the cold stone, licking the salty surface. It was time for supplies. . . time, time, time! Raving he stomped with his feet; his body shaking with desire and demand. With lust and longing. His ears pricked up. He heard the familiar sound at the entrance to the labyrinth. The gate was opened; he could sense fear. And something else: male flesh. Firm, delicious male flesh. He would take his time today. No wild frenzy of mating and annihilation. Not this time. He started to run, the muzzle torn apart widely, to the entrance gate and stopped abruptly. Carefully he peered around a corner and saw. Torch light was dazzling him but he saw. Light mirroring in shiny swords. Swords? Over the back cascaded a long, white braid. The eyes were scared and reflected the torch light like splinters of green glass. His companion was black as the night, dark as the labyrinth, locks tied up with a headband drenched with sweat. Again he smelled fear, but resolution also. His cock rose, beefy and urgent. He groped it with both hands and crept away. The game was on. Second: Desire This was Athen's Agora - the market place where there was everything to buy Theseus could imagine. Grain from Euboa, goods from Thracia and the north coast of the Black Sea. Silverware from Laurion. Wool and linen clothes, coloured and single ones, crockery made from burnt clay, amphorae with curved handles and pretty ornaments. Theseus sauntered along the fruits and vegetable stands. His fingers were itching to pick a bright yellow lemon or a velvet peach, thick like blood drops inside dark figs. He took a handful of black and green olives and breathed in their sunny scent. Then he detected the apricots, the sugar melons, the pomegranates, oranges and above all the grapes: saffron yellow or almost black. Women picked up water from the public wells and from the spring house and carried the jars upon their heads back home. Amidst the market place was another well on whose brink a boy stood, one foot upon the brim, carrying up a long rope on whose end the water bucket appeared, full with delicious, cool water. Theseus checked him. Far too young for his taste, but the broad shoulders and glistening breast were promising. He gave him a broad smile and the boy jerked in a sudden recognition. He bent his head in a mute greeting. Theseus went on; the young body had fired his desires. Fish monger gesticulated. Big heaps of mussels and little octopus hung over a thin rope. Beside them were stands with baskets woven from Sparto-grass, resin of the Storax-bush and healing earth from the isle of Lemnos, Theseus didn't know what it was used for. High above the town the Acropolis towered, dazzling white and red roofs. The pillars of the Parthenon glared in dusty afternoon sun. Theseus was thirsty. He strolled along the large Stoa, covered columned halls where the Athens' citizens made business and met friends. Theseus dove into the pleasant shade of sycamores. A humming of various voices filled the long arcades, people stood in groups, discussing animatedly. Another young lad was sitting upon a stool, writing with a stylus upon a wax tablet; he listened attentively to the negotiatons of two fat men, whose precious Togas revealed the rich merchant. His dark locks were held back with a band, like Theseus himself wore, just that it was made from a small silver band with ornamentations. The men interrupted their talk, looked at him solemnly and bent their heads. Theseus thanked them and smiled. Finally he stood in front of the Thermae. He longed for a bath for he felt dusty, dirty and smelling. And..., Theseus' lips grinned smug, ... there he would meet the men. He entered the dazzling white building and was greeted by bath slaves and breathed in the scent of hibiscus oil, camphor and rosemary. He was gently undressed and his clothes taken away. Instead he received two large towels. Hip baths from terracotta were grouped around a water basin with cooler water. Intense steam clouded the bodies of men, who were sitting in the tubs relaxing. Soft murmur was to be heard. Theseus' eyes wandered over the faces in search of familiars. Then he dropped his towel and stood naked. Ricos looked up and revealed a strong-toothed grin. His round baby-eyes scanned Theseus' body, firm and with lean muscles, just the way he liked it. His gaze feasted upon his lower waist and longing flushed him like the sea, stormed by Poseidon. He knew that Theseus cock could rise to an exciting length and his own twitched with anticipation. The hairless ball sack swung deliberately when Theseus stepped beside him and slid into the tub that was filled with hot water. He shovelled it over his body and sighed contented. A full minute he sat there, eyes closed, enjoying the water before he turned his head to look at his occasional lover. One of his lovers he corrected himself, because he doubted that there was a gay man in Athens he hadn't had in his bed. He reached out and stroked Ricos' smooth cheek. Unfortunately he had never fallen in love with any of his bed mates, so he fed his hopes always with the next, but if he had already had all of them who was left then? Rico took his hand and kissed it. Theseus withdrew his hand. He didn't like the subservience the men paid him. Him: Athens' prince. He rather preferred the fiery encounter, steaming sex, wet, hot and draining. "What's the news?" he asked. Ricos' round, amber eyes nearly popped out of his head. "You haven't heard?" "Heard what? You know I just came back from Marathon." Ricos' face appeared jealous. "Have you found a substitute for me?" "Don't be foolish, of course I have." Theseus grinned impishly and Ricos reciprocated through somewhat insulted. "So what do you mean?" Theseus continued indifferently. "The tribute to Crete is due this year. Your father, Aegeus, called for a gathering where each young boy will drop his ticket to learn who will be the seven that sail to Crete." Theseus looked excited. "To be sacrificed?" Ricos nodded sadly. "You, of course, as the King's son won't belong to them." Theseus fell silent. He knew of course the story. Hercules, his uncle once brought the Cretan white bull to Attica. It was one of his task for king Eurystheus. The bull created havoc on the land in his God's aroused rage, killed off Minos' son Androgeos until Theseus was able to beat the bull and sacrificed him to Apollo. The Cretan king went mad from sorrow for the loss of his son and demanded a tribute to Athens that was beyond all human pity. "There are rumours about a monster like being, locked in a labyrinth. Nobody returned though from Knossos to tell the truth." Ricos said pensively. In Theseus awoke adventurousness. "Why shouldn't I participate?" he called out. "After all I am the vincitor of Periphetes the beater, Skeiron the thrower, Prokrustes the stretcher and many more," he said proudly and not without self pride. His muscles swelled, outlining some old scars he had on his underarms and on his shoulders. "But you can't! You're Aegeus' only son. The king's fifty nephews will conquer the throne then!" But Theseus didn't listen. Excitedly he pondered the consequences. So far he had mastered each challenge with the help of Apollo, Hermes and Athena to whom he was truly devoted. He believed in the power of Gods and he considered himself as their favourite hero. His deep shaded blue eyes glistened. His cock rose and stuck out of the water. Ricos giggled. He had instantly forgotten the dangerous plan and reached over, ignoring the other men around and circled his forefinger around the reddish tip of Theseus' penis. Gently he played with the foreskin, pulled it back and forth until Theseus moaned and held Ricos' hand. "Come", he whispered, stepped quickly out of the tub, grabbed his towel and wrapped in around his waist. It left a wide tent but he didn't care. Impatiently he dragged Ricos behind him into a separated cubicula and closed the door. Fiercely he dropped the towel, tugged at Ricos' and kneaded his lover's balls. "You're still hung like a horse", he said seriously. "Sure", Ricos answered. "How could you forget this? Why don't you lay down and give me your sweet bum?" "What's gotten into you?" Theseus' brows furrowed. "I'm always the master here", he said snootily, took Ricos' shoulders and pressed him down until he felt his hot mouth engulfing his blood engorged member that indeed had grown to an exciting length. Theseus groaned and ground his teeth when he emptied himself a few seconds later. Ricos rose, grinning, his lips white from cum, fondling the king's son's testicles. "You're quick. You needed it certainly." He took Theseus' hand and jumped with him upon the soft bed that was standing in a corner for such occasions. Theseus wasn't over powered, he was young and his body full of sex hormones. He swallowed Ricos completely, rubbing his tongue over the underside of the shaft and encircled with his fingers Ricos' backside orifice. Ricos gave approving sounds, then backed away, taking the little pain Theseus' teeth caused on his penis. He kneeled in front of Theseus and stared into his eyes. Then he took a small jar and poured viscous oil into his palm. He smeared it gently over Theseus hard cock, the rest into the crack of his butt. He lifted himself and sat onto Theseus' lap, his back facing his lover, then let himself sink slowly and with it impaled himself on his lover's pole. A mutual gasp from two different throats and after a while of adjustment, Ricos started to ride him. Theseus reached around and worked Ricos' cock, rubbing slowly up and down, smearing the pre cum that flooded until he couldn't take it any longer. Ricos' loud moans made him crazy so he leaned forward, pushing Ricos upon the sheets until he lay spread eagled and started a serious fuck. Uninhibited he pumped in and out until both screamed with pleasure. Boys and boys again - Ricos had always been his best fuck mate so far, although he tried to mount him now and again. But as far as was this concerned Theseus was a virgin and determined to remain so. Nothing was better than to plunge between a cute firm bum. With a loud cry he came and broke down upon Ricos' sweaty back until their breathing gradually subsided. He didn't long to pull out from this warm nest, so he lay motionless until he fell asleep. When he opened his eyes again he was still buried in Ricos' arse, but he heard his voice. "Promise me to stay here and not go to Crete." Theseus was wide awake now. He wriggled and pulled out his cock. He lay beside Ricos and looked into his face. "Don't tell me you were faithful during my absence. I'm sure you were not." Ricos cheeks glowed and this was answer enough. "Don't hang your heart on me. I need air to breathe", Theseus was unusually serious. He rose, pulled Ricos with him and engaged both into a deep kiss. "You're the best", he smiled. Ricos took Theseus arm, opened the door and both stepped into another big basin of warm water to wash off sweat, oil and cum and to get aroused again. Third: Fate The High priestess' hand of Athena disappeared in the wooden voting box in which were gathered all the tags on which were written all names of Athens' youth. It was a question of honour and nobody, not the senators, nor rich merchants and farmers backed out of this ceremony that took place each seven years when the tribute was due. Except the slaves and freedmen who didn't belong to the noble class and had no need to attend. Incense wavered around the head of the priestess and his father Aegeus behind. Sunbeams broke upon the spear of the ivory-golden statue of Athena. She was standing there in full armour, smiling archaic, her sapphire stone eyes glistening coldly and dangerous. Here, high above downtown, on the Acropolis, he felt the breath of the Gods. The Parthenon and the Zeus temple, and there behind, at the sanctum of Pandrosos, he could see the branches of Athena's holy olive tree waving in the breeze. She once had let it grow with her spear when she was in a contest with Poseidon about the protecting power over Attica. Poseidon himself stomped his trident into the stone and a salty born bubbled up... Theseus listened. It was very quiet now. The mumbling had stopped. He knew that everybody was listening now... and there it was: the sea's roar coming up from the lowest level of the Erechtheion, there where Poseidon's salty well gushed... the wind was coming from the south and Theseus knew the Gods were with them. Right now. All this was sacred area and sacred action and it meant a lot to Theseus. He might be a boaster, proud of all his fulfilled tasks but he wasn't that foolish to believe, that he did it all alone. No, the Gods were with him always and he never forgot to thank them. So, this morning of the ceremony he had washed himself at Athena's well to wash off Ricos' scent, to clean himself from all the dirt, inwardly and outwardly. He had dressed into his best stark white tunic with the blood red himaiton above and fastened it with a emerald fibula, a gift from his father when he was a baby and grew up at his mother's house back in Troezen. Aethra, his mother was the daughter of the king there and Theseus was sired, while Aegeus was on his travels and left the pregnant Aethra behind. He had left a present for his son under a stone - sword and shoes - and directed her to take them from under it. The time had come, Theseus was then on his way to Athens and was finally acknowledged and declared his father's successor. Ricos was standing beside Theseus. He felt his friend shivering despite the warm sun. "You really have thrown your name into the ballot box?" Theseus nodded and listened to the name, the high priestess proclaimed. The young man whose name was called hung his head although some of his friends around cheered and patted his shoulder. For them it was one great adventure and perhaps they were certain that the gods would have pity on them and send them straight to Mount Olympus as heros. Theseus watched him. Yes, he had put his name into the ballot box although his father had forbidden him to do so. But Theseus didn't want to be different from the others and second he trusted the Gods. He just wasn't sure if he should believe that the Gods would excuse him or gave him the opportunity to prove once more his braveness and to become Athens' immortal hero. All youths that were called out were standing now beside King Aegeus in front of the bluish chalk pillars of the Parthenon when Ricos heard his name resounded over the place. He almost broke down beside Theseus and just his quick grip could avoid Ricos fall to the ground. Theseus shuddered himself. Unconsciously he prayed that the next - and last - name would be his own. Breathless silence when the high priestess called with loud voice: "Theseus, Aegeus' son, prince of Attica." First there was silence, then a sharp and endless sad look from his father met Theseus' eyes. Ricos, walking up the stairs, leading to the temple, halted and looked behind in Theseus' direction. The people were still silent, nobody spoke. But he could sense the exertion in each pore. He held his father's gaze while he entered the staircase himself, walked up with his head in the air and lined up between the now seven young men. It was as if the citizens just now realized the meaning of losing the heir to the throne and the consequences. Protest started, and embittered curses towards Crete and its merciless ruler. "To the weapons!" some called. "Let's declare war with Crete. We want to end this shameful act!" But the high priestess lifted her arms. "Citizens of Athens. Do not sin against the Gods. We are standing here in front of our patron goddess Athena. I know the ways of the Gods are mysterious and hard to understand. But wouldn't she stand for us - her own folk - if it wasn't the will of the Gods to sacrifice our youth as expiatory sacrifice? "King Minos of Crete has asked the Oracle of Delphi and it was Phytia who gave this sad answer to all of us." She proudly lifted her head. "The Goddess will accept this sacrifice. The highest we can give: Our prince. And end this all. Just believe. A servant threw myrrh into basins of flames and more smoke and haze covered the crowd standing in front of the stairs. When the haze had dispersed, she was gone. Aegeus was still there - a man in his best years, still black hair, a black beard, but he was slumped together, broken, sick. Theseus felt the urge to say something to his folk, but wasn't sure to find the right words, so he simply walked over to his father, and embraced him after a brief hesitation. "Father", he spoke low, "I promise to fight. I am not that lamb going to the slaughter without struggle. Give me an armed ship, weapons I will hide secretly and I will fight King Minos and the fate waiting for us. Look at the young men here. They are not bound to die young. I have killed so many monsters and even saved your life by turning out your evil wife Medea." His blue eyes pierced Aegeus'. "Have faith. I will return." Aegeus loosened his body from his son's and took him by the shoulders. Then he kissed his forehead. "So be it. I have no faith. But hope." The crowd cheered now. Seven young men and the crew of the ship were standing aboard saying motionless good bye while Athens' citizens were gathered at the harbour of Piraeus. Again the priests and priestess had lit fires and sacrificed rams to a happy return. "Hoist up a white sail when my son's mission is successful", Aegeus said to the captain, a pockmarked, old seaman. He nodded briefly, gave his orders to the crew and the ship left the harbour. Everybody on the beach followed it until it had vanished on the southern horizon. Fourth: Meeting The seas of Crete were clear. The sun directly overhead threw its light into the waters so there were some plants to be seen and many fish. Sometimes reflections of light sparkled like colourful diamonds. Theseus stood at the railing and looked down. Perhaps it could be golden ducats or shiny jewels from sunken ships. Perhaps it could be the iridescent scales of the goddesses of the sea. Maybe big mussels that had opened their mouths widely that Theseus could adore their treasures. But probably it was just the flash of huge fish swarms, caused by the sun. Theseus thought about all the weapons he had hidden in the depths of the ship's belly: spears, shields, swords, armours. But what was the use of them? Suddenly he wasn't so sure about the success of his plan. How to fight an Cretan army? When all that he had was six scared young men and the crew of the ship he wasn't sure they would participate? Just a trick would help him if he didn't want to have his own country involved in a war. Crete had mighty allies. He sensed a touch on his shoulder and he looked into Ricos' concerned face. Theseus lifted his brows, "I thought you're busy with a hot threesome down in the cabins with the two effeminate." Ricos frowned. "Don't be funny." "Funny? I have heard you too often. Are they allowing you to mount them?" "Sure." Ricos said dryly. "While you're too much of a sissy for that." With one swift motion Theseus grobed Ricos' toga over his chest. "Don't talk to me like this. I am not a sissy!" Ricos' face was haughty. "Sure you are. Don't worry, I won't ask you again. I just thought before we all die you'd like to have this experience. It doesn't hurt more than your several scars you've suffered. You want to die without having had real sex?" Theseus' hand went limp and he turned back to the sea. Ricos was right. He was proud of his virility but he was afraid of not having everything under control. To lay and wait until a man entered him was an imagination too much over the top for him. "It doesn't matter anymore", he said after a while. "Why? Have you given up? What's with your plan?" "I don't have a plan", Theseus squeezed out. "What? The great Theseus hasn't a plan? How's that?" Ricos mocked and Theseus eyes flashed spitefully. "I'm not invincible and the master of a thousand ideas." Ricos was bewildered. This was a new side. He always had known the demanding, yet giving prince, charming and cheeky. He was a Greek Fire in bed and Ricos forgave his childish fits of vanity. Yet Theseus wasn't the man of his dreams. "Hey", Ricos turned Theseus to him and put his hands upon his shoulders. "Perhaps Minos will set us free when he sees who's coming to be sacrificed. He has lost a son too and must know the sorrow and grief Aegeus is feeling. Above all, you're his only son." Theseus smiled thinly. "There are siblings Ariadne and Arian, right? It is said that both are seducing the victims before they are sacrificed." Ricos grinned. "If he let me mount him it's all right with me. The last fuck before I die." Theseus nodded. "And there's even some fun for the women lover. What do you think will happen?" A squeak interrupted him. Otos and Pallas came running up the stairs from the cabins, both pretty deranged and coal lined eyes smeared. Both were chasing each other across the deck. The sailors laughed. Theseus rolled his eyes. "Brainless guys." But then he had to laugh and Ricos joined him. "Let's enjoy our last days." The island of Crete shimmered violet in the distance. Nicos, the helmsman, pointed across the sea. "Crete!", he called. Wind puffed out the black sails. The low buildings were dazzling white and of a soft grey. They were grouped around the shore, building a harbour town. Otherwise the landscape was barren. White stones and low bushes on the shore, behind towered the grey mountains. Theseus screwed up his eyes for he detected a small group on the beach. Weapons flashed in the sun. The reception committee. Even Otos and Pallas were silent when they stood in a line on deck, watching the ship arriving in the harbour. On the double, the Cretan guards filled the ship, took the victims into their middle and guided them slowly down, through a crowd of people. Theseus saw them dressed differently to Athens' fashion with dark red clothes, like old blood, the ornaments he couldn't recognize. They were silent like Athens' citizens had been there on the Acropolis, watching and pointing with fingers at them. Theseus certainly had the feeling that pity hung in the air. "Look, those funny braids," Ricos whispered at his side. The guards, in full armour, had their long hair plaited into braids of all possible colours. He detected even blond ones and adored them. But there was no time left for them to ponder Crete's fashion style, for they had to keep pace with the soldiers. Knossos' palace was a wide area. Four wings arranged around a central courtyard. Round, thick pillars of the colour of the people's tunics - old blood - were supporting the roof. It was decorated with the double axe: the sign of mother Rhea. Behind him he heard the scared whispers of the other youths coming with him from Athens; he could smell their fears. Then he felt Ricos' hand sneaking into his palm and he held it tight. Hand in hand they passed the pillars and entered the palace. Flaming torches along the walls guided them until they stopped in front of a large wooden door. It was opened and they were pushed through it. Dazzling light from opposite windows. Old blood on the walls and azure blue dolphins swimming in a sea of white. To the left was a stone throne; in front of it three figures - tall and as stony as the throne. Just the eyes glistened. The man in the middle beckoned them to come nearer and the seven young men lined up in front of him. The large, black eyes examined them one by one, from head to toes and nodded. "Welcome to Crete". A resounding voice. "I'm glad your father made us the most precious gift, Theseus. I am pleased." Theseus' eyes scurried to the humans beside King Minos. To the right was a man. Blond braid, glass green eyes, a body firm as a warrior, naked upper arms decorated with broad golden rings, a thin ring around his forehead. Or was it a scar? The figure to the left was a woman, similar to the young man, presumably siblings. Her skirt fell straight from her hips and then filled out to a wide hem. There too was a belt around her tiny waist and above the skirt she wore a tight-fitting short sleeved bodice. Her breasts were entirely exposed with the bodice laced up below her bust. Theseus didn't know what to think; was this Cretan fashion? Her skirt had nature designs, fish and birds in brilliant colours that matched the colours of the throne room. A purple ribbon looped in her white hair and broad, golden rings decorated her neck and arms. Her face was haughty and her eyes were like two pieces of burning glass with which she pierced Theseus blue ones. He felt naked under this stare and helpless. He remembered briefly Ricos' words about their seducing the victims first. His look returned to the young man to the king's right side. He needed a hard, manly breast; and hips without the fatty softness of a woman. The young man looked straight into Theseus' eyes, motionless like a statue, but Theseus sensed no harm coming from him. Minos looked at Theseus' and Ricos' tortuous hands and smiled, amused. "If your father thought to appeal to my pity in sending his own son to be sacrificed, he is mistaken. This fate was promised by the Gods. I can't fight against the will of the Gods. Neither me nor you." His tone was a trace sharper. He approached Athens' prince. "Let this be a warning. No one ever escapes fate. Nor the labyrinth." "Labyrinth?" Theseus voice was rough as if he hadn't spoken in ages. Minos smiled. "You will see. Tomorrow." The siblings clapped their hands and the guards appeared again. The young man with the white braid joined them and together they went out of the throne room and the palace. "Follow me to the Little Palace", he said. His voice was smooth and low. But Theseus thought it dangerously low. "You all will stay here where I and my sister have our residence. Nobody shall ever say we treat our prisoners badly", he said to Theseus. Theseus thought he saw a faint smile around his red lips. Despite the lightness of his hair, his skin was bronzed and made the light eyes all the more remarkable. "I am Arian, the king's son", he continued. "What will happen tomorrow, Arian, Minos' son?" Theseus asked without awe. "You will see." "I prefer to know about the danger I throw myself into." Arian didn't respond. "The woman . . . your sister?" Arian nodded and made an inviting gesture. "Follow me upstairs. I'm sure you all want to refresh yourself. Slaves will be at your service soon." He turned and stood now chest to chest with Theseus. His breath was like rosemary. "Make no mistake. No thought about flight. The palace area is well protected but you can go where you wish with in these walls. Again Theseus thought he saw a smile in Arian's eyes, but then the prince of Crete was gone. "Phew", Ricos said when they were alone. "You have an extra room, the fortune of a prince. I have to share the room with Otos and Pallas." "Pure temptation", Theseus sighed and sat down on the surprisingly soft mattress of the broad bed. "Pretty luxurious, don't you think?" Ricos said. "You're pretty perky considering you'll be dead tomorrow at this time", Theseus said in a sinister voice.. "Well, I still rely on you." Ricos sat beside him. "We don't have a chance to bring our weapons from the ship?" "The captain and sailors will bring them but you heard what Arian said. The palace area is well guarded. They will probably be caught." The door opened without warning and Arian's sister entered the room. She carried a bowl of water and towels. Ricos and Theseus rose and the first one vanished quickly after receiving a sharp glance from her eyes. "I'm glad to meet you, Athens' prince," she said with a dark voice, putting down the bowel upon a table. "Thank you. Although I don't understand the comfort and the attention. It doesn't change our state as prisoner and condemned to death." She smiled. But the smile didn't reach her eyes. "We are not like those Spartans. Luxury is one of our joyful things. Enjoy the last day of your life." Theseus jerked as if he had burnt himself. "Is there no escape?" "Believe me, no escape." She approached him with the wet cloth and started to wipe him gently over his face, taking sweat and dust away. "I mean . . . I thought . . . you . . . perhaps . . . .?" Theseus' eyes pleaded, but she laughed. "Forget this plan. I'm the daughter of my father, the king of Crete. Who am I to question his orders?" Glass green eyes, near; open mouth, the tongue shimmering red, pushing now forward between Theseus' lips, when he realized that she was kissing him. Her hand snaking along his body, searching for his private parts. He felt disgust and without thinking he pushed her away. "You might be Minos' daughter but I don't know your name," he lied, but he was in high anger. He had to control himself not to wipe his lips where she had kissed him. She swayed a little and the smile on her face never returned. "So you are playing in my brother's league, yes? Is everybody in Athens a lover of his own gender? Is there nothing left for me?" "I'm sure there is. Just don't knock on the door of the two effeminate. The rest you can have except my friend Ricos." Theses almost ducked under her hateful stare. She dropped the towel she held. "I am Ariadne, princess of Crete. And I chose the men myself." She turned and closed the door behind her. Theseus sank sighing once more upon the bed. The last thing he needed now was an offended woman. He should gather his men to have a discussion but the slaves arrived and guided him to the bath where he fell asleep under softly kneading hands. Fifth: Fulfilment He woke up when a hand was touching him on the naked shoulder. Startled he rose to find Arian standing there. "Your friends are in their chambers again. If you like to talk with them, you're free to do so. But I assume you're hungry." Theseus took the bath towel, wrapped himself and followed Arian to his room. He was surprised to see this polite treatment. He felt almost like a welcomed guest to another cultivated kingdom. He couldn't deny that Crete was indeed a cultivated kingdom . . . despite all. Surprised, he saw the table filled with dishes; fried fish with a spicy sauce, fresh bread, olives and goat cheese, dates, figs and grapes; everything Athens gets from foreign countries. His mouth watered. But before he devoured the fish he took the bread, crumbled a piece of it to the ground and murmured words. And before he took the chalice full of Samos wine he sprinkled a little of it on the ground, praying to Apollo and Athena. Arian sat opposite and watched him. "Ariadne is keen on you. She always wants what I have. But there's no chance for her, she being the king's daughter." Theseus stopped chewing. "What do you have that she wants?" "Well, men for instance. It's not considered proper for a king's daughter to jump from bed to bed." Theseus had finished his fish and laid down the fork. "So it is true what they are telling. First you both rape the men before they are sacrificed. Arian laughed. A rich sound and long missed. At the same time both heard the moaning of a female voice coming from another room. Arian lifted his brows but said nothing. After the moaning had exploded into a randy cry he said, "No rape. Just entertainment." Theseus' heart started to pound. He rose and walked over to the bed. "Tell me about tomorrow." "There's a labyrinth. It was built by Daedalus, a most skilful artificer. The labyrinth is an edifice with numberless winding passages and turnings opening into one another, and seeming to have neither beginning nor end, like the river Maeander, which returns on itself, and flows now onward, now backward, in its course to the sea." "And what is hidden in the labyrinth?" "Your fate." His tunic was short. Very short. And when Arian sat down beside him on the bed, facing him, he had a glimpse of his bare buttocks. Beautiful firm buttocks, just perfect to take his manhood. Theseus shifted and gazed at Arian's blond, almost white hair he had bound into a braid, that fell over his back. Theseus imagined undoing this braid to see the hair flooding over the pillow beneath him. His eyebrows were surprisingly dark and made a perfect bow over his glass green eyes. It made the face clear in its structure, the mouth was soft yet had a hard line in it. It spoke of willpower, and the long scar that led across his forehead right under the hairline, made him look as if he was wearing a hair band, a ring around his head. Theseus liked it; he had several scars himself as proof of his adventures. "You're bound to die", Arian said, while taking a black olive into his mouth. "I'm not." Theseus told him, took the fresh bread and broke off a piece, watching Arian's raised brows. "You're not? How?" "You'll give me a sword and I'll kill the monster." "How do you know there's a monster?" Arian asked sharply. "It's a rumour that spread to Attica. None of the youths returned to my hometown; so we assume they are fed to a brute." Arian fell silent and chewed more olives. He drank from the spiced, heavy wine. Then he took the small leather bag he had brought and showed Theseus a red ball of wool. "What's this? No sword?" "You'll get a sword and this." Arian said solemnly. "We tie it at the gate to the labyrinth and it will lead us back." "Us?" Arian placed the goblet on the table and looked penetratingly at Theseus. "Us. My father promised to stop this unmerciful tribute once the Minotaur is dead." "Minotaur?" "A man with the head of a bull. Gloomy, fiery, brutal. A man eater." Theseus tried to keep his countenance calm and unchanged. "No one has ever survived," Arian continued. His stare was even deeper. "But I've never seen a man who came here that looked like you. Someone who has the power to fight. With me." He slid nearer. "Somebody who could fight with me. Together. All of them were just children. You're not." His hand reached to his shoulder and loosened the fibula that held his chiton. His upper body was revealed and Theseus swallowed. He sensed power when Arian approached him. This was the first man who could overpower him. Yes. Arian's green eyes were near. Big, clear, not blinking. The lips curled up and spoke a word Theseus didn't understand, but it was too late; the lips had pressed upon his own and engaged him into a kiss that made him lose his mind. Theseus hands were all over Arian's body suddenly, tugging at the chiton but the leather girdle stopped him. His hand slid along Arian's strong legs, creeping under the hem of the cloth, tickling the ball sack, hairless, smooth like the rest of his body. He loosened his girdle and the chiton fell to the ground. "You're coming with me to fight the bull?" Arian stood like a statue, looking at him. "Yes." Theseus said and then there was just a tangle of arms, legs, sucking mouths and licking tongues, showing the scars they had, the trophies of all their victories, rolling over the bed, mouths clamped around cocks, exchanging all fluids they had to give. Then Arian suddenly stopped the action when Theseus wanted to push his cock into the crack of Arian's buttocks. Sweaty and with loosened braid he sat upright. "I'm the master here", he said. Theseus sat speechless then started to laugh. "That was my part actually." He remembered Ricos' words about being a sissy. Perhaps he had met now another sissy. Arian's dark eyebrows jumped up. "Beat the monster and we toss coins for who is doing whom." His eyes were laughing. "Settled." "Settled." Theseus hadn't enough of his mouth though, so he pulled him closer again, his hands roaming over Arian's shoulders. "I always win." He muffled. "Do you? Me too." Arian slid into his chiton and Theseus looked surprised. "You're not staying with me tonight?" Arian shook his had. "No. I will see you when the sun is rising." Mount Olympus Rosy-cheeked Eos just arrived at the halls of Mount Olympus. She dropped down her blood-red chiton she was wearing when she played sundown for the human's down on earth and dressed into her comfortable robe. Then she placed herself next to Hera, watching her usually miserable face. She's getting old, Eos thought, amused that she had a couple of thousand years to stay very young - measured by earthly time. Even the Gods were aging when they didn't have their weekly portion of Ambrosia. And Hera - inflamed with rage at the dalliances of her husband, Zeus - had occasionally forgotten to eat. "How are things, my dear?" Eos said with honeyed voice. "Oh well, my dear. Those bandages are killing me." Hera pointed to her legs. "My dearest Asclepios came around to do his monthly visit and gave me this for my veins. Then he gave good advice for my sciatica." "You should simply keep it warm." "Of course it does me harm", Hera said reproachful. She didn't hear all that well lately. "And then look at this old horny chap." She pointed over to a God with wine-leaves all over his head, he had decorated himself with them. "That's really amusing. Did you know that the time is ripe for this Cretan prince?" Eos watched the God looking into a big, flat bowl of red wine as if he had fallen in love with himself, like Narcissus. But Narcissus was saved since Eros and Butterfly had redeemed his brother's soul to rejoin both in Hades' Underworld. Eos sighed contently. This had been an adventure the Olympic Gods had long to chatter about. "No, dearest Hera, let me know about our Dionysos. Has he fallen finally for himself because he's always looking too fondly into the wine-mirror?" "Oh no, my dear. He is watching the Cretan prince. You know that my husband, Zeus, visits Mount Ida each year on Crete where he had been brought up by the goat Amalthea when his father was after his life. Do you remember?" Eos nodded. Of course she didn't remember because it happened long before her time. "Well, Dionysos accompanied him once when Arian, the son of Crete's king, grew up to a stunning male beauty. Dionysos fell in love instantly. He told us that his beauty even matched Apollo's or his little friend Hyacinthos - may the Gods be gracious with him. Well, he's not my taste exactly." "And now? Dionysos indulges himself in adoration from a distance?" "No! I told you that the time is ripe to pluck him. Dionysos will abduct him to Naxos. You know that this is his favourite island. He's working on a love-nest." Hera giggled hoarsly. "About time that he vanishes. I have born him too long, this bastard." Eos remembered the old grudge coming from an affair Zeus had had with the earthly woman Semele. Hera in her rage, came to Semele and advised her to ask Zeus to appear in his real figure. Semele accepted and Zeus had vowed by the river Styx to fulfill Semele's plea. So he had to appear in fire and flame - his real figure. Semele burnt to ashes but Hermes quickly saved the unborn Dionysos, and sewed the baby into Zeus' calf where he grew until he was born. Hera's grudge wasn't calmed so Dionysos had to be raised up in the mountains, dressed as a girl, until Zeus had brought him here to Mount Olympus. After all he was his son - one of the many. Dionysos now took the bowl and carried it cautiously away, into his private rooms in the palace. His tamed panther followed on silent feet. There he stretched out on the feather bed beside his master. Dionysos didn't want to miss what happened in the palace of Knossos, especially now that Arian and Theseus were a tangle on the bed. He felt a tickle in his loins, so he tugged at his tunic until he lay naked on his stomach, the feathers tickling his wet erection. This Theseus was well equipped - this he had to admit and Dionysos forgave Arian's horniness. He couldn't wait until he would have Arian for himself to teach him the love of a God, to feed him Ambrosia, and... Ambrosia, holy Earthquake! He jumped up and rang a tiny, golden bell. A minute later a youth entered his room, decoratively dressed in a blue tunic, feet naked, the hazelnut eyes framed and underlined with a thin coal line: Ganymede, Zeus' private toy. Ganymede looked briefly at Dionysos' straining erection and the droplets running along the veined shaft. The tray he carried trembled a little and the small bowl with rosy Ambrosia threatened to slip down. Dionysos laughed quietly. "My shy Ganymede. Am I that exciting to watch?" He took the tray and put it on the table, then he stroked the youth's smooth cheek. "Come here, share this with me." He held out the golden spoon and fed Ganymede before he took some himself. His cock was quivering. "Is Zeus out and you are lonely? You know I don't interfere with the matters of my father, but . . ." "Zeus is out," Ganymede said with a young voice. He knew that the love of a God was pure heaven, so he never minded a side track with others like Apollo or Hermes. Zeus didn't have to know. His hand snaked around Dionysos' penis and he smiled when the God of the wine and grapes closed his eyes. Sixth: Battlefield Theseus didn't sleep much. All his senses were too aroused to find peace. He still smelled Arian when his head hit the pillow, rosemary and a little of wild animal. Sex, where the sheets were still damp from his juice. He also thought about Ricos and matched both. But Ricos - he was sure - would find pleasure tonight in the arms of Otos and Pallas. But he wasn't envious, for Arian was a man he had dreamt of for a long time. He was all man. Theseus almost forgot that he had just found him and had to leave him forever. Would he fulfil his promise and bring the weapons and fight with him against the strange man-bull? Theseus was awakened by a soft touch on his cock. Lips brushed the sensitive skin and when he opened his eyes, he looked into a glass green world. "Do this again, please," Theseus murmured still half asleep but the green world vanished. Arian pulled him up to his feet. "Next time," he said very low. "First we must save your life." Theseus saw a bowl with fresh water and towels and went naked to wash himself quickly. Then he took the bread Arian handed him, crumbled a little of it and sent a silent prayer to Apollo and Athena. He relied on them, no matter what, like he had many times before. Nonetheless his heart pounded painfully. If he should lose his life today it would be together with Arian. Perhaps. How brave was Arian, he would see soon. Crete's prince had stepped behind him, pressed his erection between Theseus' cheeks and embraced him. Theseus body responded despite his fear but Arian made no move to touch him. "Stay so. There's nothing better for a fight than a sexual arousal. We both will be great." Theseus swallowed the rest of the bread, turned in Arian's arms and felt his straining erection under the loin cloth. He wore nothing more, but his body glistened with oil. "Here," Arian tossed Theseus a loin cloth too and poured oil over his body. Theseus was used to it; the oil made it difficult for an assailant to catch him. He closed his eyes and enjoyed Arian's strong fingers before he felt his lips being parted and engaged in a firey kiss. He moaned and stroked over the prince's body, but Arian stepped back. "Come now." He gave him a sword and a dagger which he put into the belt of the loin cloth. Then he followed Arian. It was shortly before sunrise. Knossos' palace lay in silence still when they passed sleeping guards. Arian explained he had given them a sedative as a good night drink. The entrance to the labyrinth was a cave in the mountains. Arian stopped and pointed to an iron gate. "There will be some light inside coming from holes in the ceiling. The rest is by the entrance. Torch light." Abruptly he turned his head. "Ssht," he made and listened. Theseus heard nothing. "I thought I heard footsteps. Pull off your sandals," he said. Theseus did and stood then as Arian did: barefeet, oily and with a still aching erection. He didn't know what happened with him. And he wasn't sure what would guide him through this wicked maze: the excitement of killing a brute or the excitement to devour Arian afterwards. With skin and bones . . . Arian leaned against the iron gate and it swung inward. They were met with gloom, a foul smell, wet and filled with fear: the stench of men meeting death. Theseus curled up his nose and wiped over his hair band around his forehead. Arian tugged at his braid, falling down to his hips. "Did you never cut it?" Theseus asked. "Huh? Never since I was a baby." Arian smiled. "The game is on. Follow me." He entered the labyrinth, stopped shortly to bind the red woollen thread around an iron ring next to the gate and took a torch. Then both vanished around the first corner. A dark shadow moved between the small trees and sandaled feet followed their way. Water dropped from the walls. It was cool but Theseus sweated. At his side he saw Arian's body reflecting the light. Drops of sweat ran along his cheeks. He reached out his hand and stopped Theseus' walk. He listened again. "Don't you hear that?" A sinister sniffing. Theseus got goosebumps. "I don't mean this sniffing. There are human steps." "It can't." But Arian's senses were sharp. Nonetheless he went on. Again a sniff. Brutish swelling nostrils. Scratching in darkness, then stomping feet. "Funny," Arian shivered. "I thought he had no hooves. Just human feet." "Have you ever seen him?" "Yes." "Yes?" "Ssht!" Arian flashed at him annoyed. He carefully held the ball of wool and watched its run behind them. Theseus had not known the way back for a long time. Too many turns and corners. "You've seen him? Where?" he asked again. Arian stopped and leaned against a wall, made from square stones. "When he was a baby. New born." Theseus watched him attentively but Arian shook his head. "Come along, we have no time for a women's chattering." He peered around a corner but it was a dead end. They turned and tried another way. Wedged in those high walls that reached to the mountain's ceiling, Theseus felt sick. Already now he longed to see the sun and feel the endless blue sky above his head. Sweat drenched his loin cloth; his erection had gone long time ago. How could he have thought it would be a lazy walk? A roar sounded as coming from behind them, making both jump. But their swords didn't tremble in their hands. Arian just dropped the ball of red wool and it rolled away, Arian followed quickly. He rose again and saw a shadow on the wall. A horned head, big with an open muzzle, his beefy cock sticking out, strong and full of life. Arian gulped empty and beckoned Theseus, who crept nearer. He snatched a glimpse of the silhouette before it was gone. All that was left was a hoarsely breathing, hot and heavy. "The centre of this labyrinth must be near." Theseus sweated like mad. The handle of his sword was slippery. Again a roar, a scraping over cold stone. Near. Close. A cry. Running feet, splashing over stone and through water puddles. Blindly they ran behind, tripping over the red thread, but everything was silent again. "There!" Theseus' arm pointed to the center of the maze. A bed with dishevelled clothes. From the ceiling hung a rope with a bucket. Presumably someone was feeding him this way. Surely he couldn't live by eating and waiting seven years for a supply of young sacrificed men. Arian tripped over bones. Grey, strangely gleaming bones. Nibbled, clean and neat. Some of them still stood as the skeleton of the men they used to be. Arian and Theseus stood and stared, then both looked into each other's eyes. A shadow gliding over the walls. Horns, a hairy head, hanging throat, muscled arms, hands with nails, bent and strong like claws. He was chasing another man, jumping into the room like hole. "Ricos!" Theseus shouted. "Watch out!" But the Minotaur started to jump. He was over Ricos in a flash. Ricos fell to the ground, a fleshy, iron hard bull's cock pressing between the crack of his buttocks. "No!" A mutual scream from two throats; swords flashing in the torch light, sticking in fixtures on the walls. The red thread was used up and stretched. Arian noticed it in a small corner of his mind, then he saw Theseus running shouting to the brute, swing his sword. Ricos' movements were feeble, weak and finally subsided. The Minotaur must have broken his spine. He panted, slavered, licked with long, rough, red tongue on Ricos' neck and dug his huge cock into Ricos' body, his blood-shot eyes contorted and watching Theseus running to him with pulled sword. The blond one was coming from the other side. He smelled no fear, just resolution. He growled dangerously. "Up, you brute. Get up!" Theseus shouted. Arian nodded and slipped over behind the bull's back. Slowly he rose, Ricos' didn't move. "Ricos? Ricos? Are you all right?" Ricos' didn't move. Tears in Theseus' eyes clouded his vision. "You stupid thing. Why did you have to follow?" Minotaur roared, the head bent back. The walls were trembling. Arian and Theseus circled around him, the bull-man turned with them, carefully watching from which side the attack would come. The red thread suddenly lost it's ability to stretch and lay curled up like a long, red worm. Arian hesitated but forgot it instantly when the Minotaur jumped on him. He swung his sword and scraped Minotaure's shoulder. Blood splattered on him. Theseus attacked him from behind but missed him. "Do you know the way out, Asterion?" Arian asked suddenly. Theseus wondered. "Do you?" Arian shouted. Asterion shook his head in circles. It could mean everything. Arian made a jump, and pressed his sword against Minotaur's throat. Both fell to the ground, next to Ricos. Asterion panted. Saliva flew in tiny flecks from his muzzle. "Tell me and you'll live." Arian hissed. Theseus didn't understand but stepped over Minotaur's body, straddling it and threatening him with his sword. A wrong idea for Asterion kicked him in his private parts, Theseus whined, fell onto his back and hit his head on the ground; the sword flying away in a high arch. For a few seconds he saw stars and lost consciousness. When he awoke he saw Arian wrestling with the man with the bull's head. Theseus saw red and stormed up, couldn't find his sword and pulled out his dagger. He ran over and buried it deep into the place where he assumed Asterion's heart to be. "Theseus, no!" But Theseus didn't hear him; his senses were numb; he just felt the iron going deep into pliable flesh while he turned the hilt to make sure the monster wouldn't survive. "Theseus! What have you done? We're locked up here forever!" Arian shouted. Theseus stood dumbfounded. Arian jumped to his feet. "Do you see the thread anywhere?" he still shouted. "It's gone. Somebody has cut the thread and taken it away." Not believing Theseus searched the ground. It had vanished indeed. All was silent except Asterion's laboured breath. A gargle came from his mouth and bloody spittle. He moaned, his hand pressed around the hilt of the dagger. Arian knelt beside the dying creature and looked for the first time into the sort of human-like eyes of his half-brother. Theseus did the same and was about to pull out the weapon when Arian stopped him. "Please, the way out", he said. Asterion's mind was clear. Words were forming in his head. He felt funny, light headed while he felt his life ebbing away. He knew he couldn't do any harm anymore but the fire within him was still there. If he could just move... Oddly he still felt aroused, the horny feelings hadn't subsided since he had received the deadly wound. It didn't hurt at all. Perhaps he was dead already. He turned his head a little and looked at Ricos' mute body and felt regret for the first time. What was the difference between life and death? The place where he was bound to go now was just a change from one prison into another. "The way out." Arian's voice was sharper. "You know it." Asterion's body moved; he tried to get up. Just a small trace of blood made a thin red line from the dagger, leading down to his abdomen. Arian held his arm and helped him. He swayed but stood. "Take ... take him", came from his muzzle, more of a grunt, the thick tongue not able to form the words perfectly. "He ... must be ... buried." Theseus looked bewildered. "You can talk?" "It ... was ... curse ..." Asterion gargled. "Fate." "It was the guilt of our mother", Arian started. His voice was low and sad. "I'll explain later." And, looking at his half-brother, "You have killed too many youths. Perhaps you'll find salvation down in the Underworld. We pray to the Gods above. But you can do at least one good thing: show us the way out." Asterion bent his head. He still swayed a little but was determined to go. Arian stepped over to Ricos and lifted him from the ground. From his lips hung a thin bloody thread. Theseus lovingly wiped it away, as he did to the dust from his cheeks and forehead. Then he kissed him a last time. The man with the bull's head set one foot after the other, out of the cave and seemed to follow secret signs. Theseus had taken Ricos' dead body from Arian's arms while the Cretan prince took Theseus' broken sword and a torch. He tried to figure out what signs Asterion was following and he thought that the stones of the labyrinth seemed to have different colours - or there was a different style in which the walls had been built. Blood broke from the Minotaur's muzzle and he coughed bellowing. The torch threw his shadow on the walls: the hilt of the knife still in his breast - sticking out like his stiff cock used to be. Now he was beaten and he didn't regret it. It would all have an end now. The vertically built stones led them to the exit. A mindful visitor would surely have noticed but the youths who had ended their lives here hadn't been visitors. Asterion's senses dwindled. He was weak. Very weak. The light started to fade. He broke down, his heart too painful to pump blood through his veins but it started to flutter. Asterion bent beside him. He called his name. "Stones ... vertical .... follow." Asterion coughed again and blood streamed from his mouth. "I am ... sorry." His breath stopped. Arian remained several seconds beside his body, closed his brother's eyes and then heaved the body over his shoulder; he didn't want to leave him here without a burial and his soul without hope of salvation. Theseus took the torch and examined the walls. "Does he mean the stones are vertically laid? Look, all the walls here are vertical." They went slowly on, met several ways with horizontal stones and searched for the verticals. Arian wheezed, his brother's body was heavy, but then he saw light, the torch paled. Arian and Theseus let out a mutual sigh. More of a moan. Both were blood soiled and carried two corpses outside the labyrinth, as far away from the entrance as they could, hidden within a small forest. They lay down their burden onto the soft grass and stretched themselves out, backs leaning against a willow, eyes closed, thinking nothing. Theseus still held Ricos' body, slowly getting cold, and pain tugged at his heart. He wiped his face, smearing his blood all over and mingled it with Asterion's. "We must bury him", he whispered. "Both", Arian whispered back. Theseus shifted Ricos' body and slipped nearer to Arian. "What is your secret connection? You know his name. I didn't expect the Minotaur to have a name." "He has." Arian answered tiredly. "It was a curse. My father's sin. He sinned against the Gods. Poseidon." He turned his eyes to Theseus. "Poseidon once gave my father a white bull that rose from the seas. He was the living proof that King Minos was a protege of the Olympic Gods. Of course the bull should be sacrificed but my father liked him too much, so he let him live and sacrificed another instead. " Arian paused. He plucked some leaves from the tree and played with them. Theseus waited. He saw how hard it was for Arian to speak about it. "Well, Poseidon got angry and inflamed a shameful lust in our mother. The lust for the white bull." He spoke hastily now and bent his head. "Asterion was the result." "So you're half-brothers! That's how you saw him as a baby." Arian nodded. Theseus didn't know what to think. Of course the Gods are mighty and powerful. The humans on earth were just their puppets. Somehow he felt pity for Asterion. What a wasted life. Arian took a deep breath. "The curse is over. The Minotaur is dead and my father has to keep his promise: no more tribute from Athens." A thin smile curled his lips when he looked at Athens' prince. "I told you we would be great." From his shoulder dripped blood where Asterion's claws had hurt him but he didn't feel it. "Was he your lover?" he asked, pointing at Ricos. Theseus nodded and Arian pulled him into a tight embrace. His arms snaked around Ricos too and connected them all three, then he rose. His face had lost its softness. "Work to do, Theseus. Do you have any idea who could have cut the thread?" "Huh?" Theseus had forgotten the thread. He rose too and again took Ricos' body into his arms. He followed Arian who had stormed up, leaving the Minotaur behind, lying under the willow tree, the sun shining through the thin, long leaves, bathing his body for the first time in warm sunshine. Seventh: Departure Just from afar Theseus heard quarrelling voices; he quickened his steps despite the burden of Ricos' body. "You've almost killed us!" Arian shouted. When Theseus turned a corner that ended at the entrance gate of the labyrinth he saw Arian standing there, hands propped upon his hips with a red face, shouting down his sister. "So what?! You've killed our brother!" Ariadne shouted back. "I was close behind you, don't worry, I wouldn't have let you die. Just him." Her head pointed with an abrupt and angry movement at Theseus. "Shall I believe this?" Arian cried. "You're disgusting. Always you try to destroy what I love." "And you always get what I want!" She stomped with her naked foot. The siblings stood there with craned heads, the red woollen ball lay between their feet. "Since when do you care for our brother? Go back and slip into the bed of a man who appreciates a woman and leave the rest alone. You can tell our father that the curse is over like his merciless order to Athens." He looked briefly at Theseus with Ricos' body still in his arms. "After the funeral, I'm off." Theseus' heart pounded. Did this mean he wanted to go with him? Back to Athens? Arian stepped to him and took over Ricos' body and went on to Knossos' palace. There they were met by King Minos, his guard and the rest of the seven youths from Athens, ready to be sent to the labyrinth. Theseus was a silent spectator when Arian laid down Ricos to the ground in front of his father's feet. "Asterion's body lays under a willow tree. He is beaten and the tribute has an end, Poseidon hopefully appeased," he said solemnly, watching his father sharply. It was quiet. King Minos spoke nothing when he first looked down, then examined his blood soiled son then Athen's prince. From behind he heard Otos and Pallas sobbing. Then he straightened his shoulders and called: "You are free. Although Theseus had received help." Minos hesitated and turned his eyes to his son, looking him up and down. "It is surely against the rules, but so be it. Minotaur is dead. Sail back to Athens and give King Aegeus a message: From now on the tribute to Crete is fulfilled. He can be proud of his son. The funeral will take place tonight." With that he turned and vanished into the palace, followed by his daughter Ariadne, throwing a spiteful glance at Theseus and her brother. Both shared a bath while Ricos and Asterion were prepared for their long journey. Both were washed and oiled, then clad with fresh garments, the face uncovered. Then they were wrapped with waxen clothes and put into two coffins. Theseus and Arian, both clean and recovered, held coins in their hands. Theseus opened Ricos' mouth and placed his coin upon the tongue and Arian did the same for the Minotaur. This was a tribute for Charon, the ferryman, to ship them over the river Acheron where they hopefully would arrive in Elysium to live there forever. Well, Arian wasn't so sure about that where Asterion was concerned. But perhaps the under worldly Gods would show mercy. Theseus and Arian didn't speak much the whole day, too sad about Ricos' loss and the other remaining five where quiet as well. Just when Otos and Pallas came back from the king's audience, they broke the silence. Both had decided to stay in Crete for they hadn't anybody waiting for them in Athens. By nightfall they carried the coffins out of the palace area, following a road lined with tombs and monuments, steles and plates with three dimensional ornaments or scenes of Gods and the lives of the people buried there. At the end of the street they stopped and slaves, from the wood brought in, erected two funeral pyres where they placed down the coffins. Pines were giving deep shadows, lightened by the fire that burnt high, consuming the bodies. Theseus blinked his tears away. Arian held his hand and gave him comfort while Otos and Pallas cried openly. Priests of Knossos poured out their amphorae, brought as a gift for the Gods. Theseus knew they all had to take the troubles of a long and complicated cleaning ceremony now, like the palace had to be cleaned with sea water from the shadows of the death. "Tomorrow when the ashes are cold, we'll return to gather them," Arian whispered. He had promised that Theseus would bring back Ricos remains in a lekythos, a vase for ashes and bones, to give them to his parents. Asterion would have a monument, although Theseus didn't feel exactly well about this. The fire had burnt down and it was getting cold. Arian in his grey himaiton shuddered. "What did you mean when you said you'll be off from here?" Theseus whispered beside Arian. Both shared Arian's bed, but none of them had wasted a thought about having sex. They were mentally much too exhausted. "I can't live here anymore. I was waiting for you." Arian whispered back. "But your father . . . aren't you supposed to be his successor? He will never let you go." "My father isn't that old. He will still live many years if the Gods are willing." He opened his eyes. "And you? After you Athens' throne will be abandoned. Or do you have a son?" "No." Theseus was sick at the thought of how a son would have to be produced, but he knew that Arian was right. He pressed his body tightly into Arian's arms and tried not to think about it. The sun was already high when Theseus awoke alone. He still wondered when Arian entered his room, carrying a white lekythos and placed it upon a table. "Ricos," Theseus said sadly but Arian pulled him up and dragged him to the bath where they received a massage that made them feel new born afterwards. Mount Olympus Dionysos celebrated. With wine-befuddled brain he stared into the wine-mirror and mourned a little about Ricos but not seriously. He moaned while he was pushing in and pulling out his hard penis, using Ganymede's willing arse hole. Well, perhaps not that willing; but as the God's servant he had to obey and all the others Dionysos would like to fuck with weren't available. Beautiful Apollo for instance had only a sick smile for his offer and Hermes was always away. His movements went frantic and Ganymede still moaned. Dionysos tried to persuade himself it was lustful moans, but he knew better. Ganymede wanted this to end. One last plunge and he emptied his divine semen into the boy, then he pulled out and turned Ganymede to his back. His cock was flaccid and Dionysos was disappointed. Perhaps he should have given him wine. He watched the boy get up and leave wordless with legs apart to his private rooms. Oh well. Once he had Arian under him - the guy was still a virgin - it would be a feast. Dionysos groped for his glass and raised it to Arian's image in the wine mirror, sleeping peacefully in Theseus' arms. * * * King Minos let Arian go rather sadly, but he knew he couldn't hold back his son. That his daughter had tried to kill them both, he didn't know and Arian didn't bother to tell his father. May the Erinnyes haunt her. Now she had another entertainment for one youth of Athens was determined to marry her. He had lost his heart (or his brain according to Theseus) and Theseus hadn't objected. He might find out soon that he wasn't the only man to share the king's daughter's bed. So it came that just two remained to sail back with them to Athens: Lykos and Sandokos. It was night. Nicos, the helmsman moved the steering wheel very gently for the sea was calm. The sky was a velvet blanket; twinkling stars - blue and orange - appeared as though deliberately rolled from a giant's hand. Theseus saw the twins, Castor and Polydeukes, and the cancer: the dark secret gate from which the human souls came down to earth. Right over his head was the Little Bear, once the big hunter Arkas, grandson of Zeus, and the polar star, guiding the ship northwards to the shore of Attica. He was looking forward to see the Acropolis again, the Agora and all the places he had learned to love. His father was waiting impatiently for his return and he was proud to bring not only himself alive but a lover Aegeus could be proud of too. Arian was silent beside him and stared up to the firmament. "We have to get water at Naxos," Theseus spoke; Arian nodded. Starlight was upon his blond braid. Theseus still hadn't seen it open. He reached out and let his hand trail along to Arian's hips, where the hair ended; short before his protruding buttocks. He loosened the band and untangled the braid before he stepped behind and embraced him. He felt power streaming from the Cretan's body. Power that transmitted to himself and turned into a great affection within his soul. Arian's body relaxed, and he leaned against Theseus. "Do you remember the coin?" he asked. "Sure." Arian turned in his arms. "Not now. Not the swaying, rocking cabin where everybody can hear us." Theseus was surprised at his sensitivity. Arian - the warrior - had a gentle side and Theseus loved it because it woke this side in himself. He smiled. "Agreed. My rooms at Athens' palace are very quiet." Now he grinned, and covered Arian's lips with his own, sucked at the luscious under lip and traced it with his tongue. Arian purred. "It shouldn't stop us from doing other exciting things," he said and pulled Theseus with him downstairs into the ship's belly. Eighth: Poseidon's Game Naxos was a small island, usually visited by ships to gather water, food and fruits, so the island had a harbour, a small town and lots of gardens where the inhabitants grew fruits and vegetables. Nowadays there spread a rumour among them. About wild men, shoulders draped with fawn skins, with goat feet, carrying swords and serpents. They were flushed with wine and scared Naxos' people to death. They had gathered in a new palace that had appeared there amid a little olive grove from one day to the other and the people whispered about a God's miracle. They knew that Dionysos had selected their island as his favourite place but he always had come alone - just now and then accompanied by his old mentor Silenus, an extremely fat man, clumsy and always drunken; the nose a red chunk from all the wine he consumed. The whole crowd sang delirious verses and accompanied themselves with cymbals and flutes. The citizens locked up their sons for some of them had vanished and those who returned were hardly alive. They prayed to Apollo to take this plague away, but the master of the Muses, of singing and joy, seemed not to listen. When Theseus' ship arrived they were pleased and honoured Attica's prince highest, the more when they learnt that Theseus had beat another monster and freed Athens from its horrid tribute. Dionysos, propped upon his thyrsus - his ivy twined staff - bit into a bunch of blue grapes. He chewed while the juice ran down his chin and soiled his green tunic. "Now, Silenus, is the time. Arian has arrived - my promised man. I will make him happy. Make him my slave." "Slave?" Silenus croaked. He was slumped on a settee and fondled the tame panther behind the ear. Loud, deep purring filled the atrium of Dionysos' new palace. He drank from a golden goblet. "I thought you had fallen in love with him since you saw him years ago." "I have," Dionysos answered. "I meant, I will show him my divine love so that he will lay at my feet and never want to go away." "Show him your divine spear', Silenus giggled drunkenly. A tent built under his tunic. When he was filled with wine he was incredible horny but nobody wanted to fuck with him, so Dionysos brought him the caught youths from Naxos' village. He used them and handed them over to the entourage - their wild man - who certainly had fun with them. Silenus still giggled and rubbed his pole under the clothes. Dionysos looked disgusted at him and turned to a table where a big portion of rosey Ambrosia waited for him in a silver bowl. Young Ganymede had provided him with this because he needed it double for he wanted to look young and healthy and firm for his lover to be. "Stop that foolish giggling, Silenus," he said sharply. "And spare me the look of your old, used tool. If you need it that badly ask Pandrosis if he would lick it." He looked at the black panther, and another outburst of giggling followed. Silenus rose groaning from the settee and Pandrosis followed him into the palace. Dionysos emptied the bowl noisily. This brew was an uncooked mixture of honey, water, fruits, olive oil, cheese and barley - and a special "pink dust," prepared by Ganymede, that turned this rather unappetizing dish to a really divine tasting meal. Oh yes, he could feel it already: his skin taut, the wrinkles straightened, his flabby flesh got firm and he felt five hundred years younger. Then he took his thyrsus and another bunch of grapes and went out to the shore to watch Arian's arrival. Hidden behind a building he watched the arrival of a vessel. His cock enlarged almost against his will. Arian's light coloured braid fought with the sun's brightness and his body had his cock leaking like mad. Tonight, he thought. Tonight you are mine. He followed them carefully, watched them ask for a meal, for water and groceries. The sun was setting already when they had everything they needed. "I'll be back soon," Theseus promised, "and then we'll enjoy an evening on land." He twinkled at Arian who twinkled back. "Hurry up." Together with Lykos and Sandokos, Theseus stepped into the vessel and shipped back. Arian, meanwhile, strolled through the village, over the agora and was greeted with recognition. Of course they knew Crete's prince. They marvelled over his colourful clothes, the skirt and the broad, golden arm rings. Dionysos remained at a deserted shore, afar from the harbour and spread his arms. "Poseidon!," he called. "Poseidon! Your nephew Dionysos is calling you!" Silence. Little waves leaped at the sand. They they licked at his golden sandals. Later they played with his ankles. "Poseidon!" A water whirlpool built and among the swirling water appeared wild, white horses. Blue dolphins sprang. An ugly head appeared with hair from seaweed. Sea horses were glued in them. Poseidon heaved his mighty body out of the water, his long beard green, blue and dripping, his trident in one big hand. Dionysos bowed. "Dearest uncle." He tried a smile but was a little scared of his grudged uncle. He could never be sure about his moods. "What is your wish?" Poseidon roared; he had to over cry the splashing of his horses, that reared up around him. "Or do you want to hold small talk?" He swung his trident. "Oh ... no!" Dionysos shrunk back. "You now about the Prince of Crete." Poseidon laughed. Dolphins sprang. "Your beloved and adored Arian? Of course I know him. Me and his father still bear an old grudge. And Theseus caught and killed my white bull." "Right. Now I beg you to help me out. It seems as if Theseus wants to steal my promised one. But he belongs to me. How can we play a trick on him?" "Get him out of the way? Noting easier than this." Poseidon - like all Gods always up for a little joke - turned and faced the ship, anchored a mile from the harbour. He dove his finger into the sea and sprinkled water into the wind. It started as a rolling of waves. More wild horses shook their manes and kicked with their hooves. The waves rolled strangely from the shore to the wide sea, directly to Theseus' ship. It started to sway, then fiercely, until it rode on the crests of the waves for the anchor had broken. They heard scared cried from deck and now and again a shadow appeared, frantically trying to strike the sails for the ship drifting off to the high seas. Poseidon laughed and Dionysos joined him. "This will keep him away a while. Use your time, nephew." He submerged into the sea, the trident was the last to vanish into the whirlpool. The storm was still on, but the land didn't know about it. Dionysos grinned and wiped his hands. "Now, my beauty, just one thing to do and I'm coming." He pursed his lips and started to whistle - a deceptive imitation to a bird - until night swallows answered him. Dionysos went on, entered the village, the birds following, twittering away in the night. Wherever he passed, the people closed their eyes and started a stupid smile for Morpheus had sent them sweet dreams. He followed his father - Hypnos - from tree to tree until half the town was asleep, including Arian under an olive tree. The swallows sat beside him and changed into their usually human appearance. Young Morpheus with rainbow hair, colourful like all dreams; one side of his face smooth and calm the other side a nasty nightmare. He and Hypnos - the God of sleep - wore back robes to their ankles with silvery star dust. Hypnos - black wings on his shoulders - was more of a grey pulsating shadow, sometimes bright, then pale, in the rhythm of a steady, sleep drunken breath. Dionysos bowed once more. "Thanks for coming from Lemnos. I hope I didn't interrupt important things." "No damages if you make it short," Hypnos answered with gentle voice. Dionysos had the impression he heard it from afar, an echo of dreams, sand instead of water that ran through a clepsydra. Whenever he passed, the people closed their eyes and started a stupid smile for Morpheus had sent them sweet dreams. He followed his father - Hypnos from tree to tree until half the town was asleep, including Arian under an olive tree. The swallows sat beside him and changed into their usual human appearance. Black wings flapped around them silently. Young Morpheus with rainbow hair, colourful like all dreams; one side of his face smooth and calm, the other side a nasty nightmare. He and Hypnos - the God of sleep - wore black robes to their ankles with silvery star dust. Hypnos - black wings on his shoulders - was more of a grey pulsating shadow, sometime bright, then pale, in the rhythm of a steady sleep drunken breath. Dionysos bowed once more. "Lord over all mortal men and all gods . . . I'm thankful you came from lemnos. I hope I didn't interrupt important things." No damages if you make it short," Hypnos answered with gentle voice. Dionysos had the impression he was hearing it from afar, an echo of dreams, sand instead of water that ran through a clepsydra. Dionysos didn't have to tell him what he was pleading for. Unaffected he lifted the branch he was carrying. Honey coloured water dripped off it. It was the dew of Lethe, the river of oblivion. He lifted Arian's eyelids and sprinkled them. Arian's eyes didn't close again and Dionysos laughed joyfully. "You do it like with Endymion, your beloved one?" Hypnos raised one eyebrow, but then a smile scurried over his pulsating face. Hypnos' madness for the pretty shepherd boy was a source of gossip upon Olympus. He was that mad for him that Hypnos doesn't close Endymion's eyes even while he is sleeping, but lulled him to rest with eyes wide open, so that Hypnos may, without interruption, enjoy the pleasure of gazing into those brown pools. Hypnos soft voice whispered: "Sleep come, embracing all his limbs and with my wings fold him to my loving breast." "Hey, he is mine," Dionysos objected. "Of course. Arian will not remember Theseus when he awakes." Morpheus watched silently. Actually he should work his miracle now and give Arian sweet dreams, but he wasn't exactly pleased by this game. He looked scowling at the tent building under Dionysos' soiled green tunic. "Don't hurt him," he said, "he's a virgin." But Dionysos didn't listen. He fell to his knees beside the Cretan prince and sniffed him like a dog. From the hair, he tried to untangle from its braid, down along the arms and finally he lifted Arian's skirt to stare at the resting manhood, sleeping like the prince himself. Dionysos licked his lips. Morpheus threw nervous glances at his father who returned the stares. A wink connoted him to leave but Morpheus hesitated. One last thing he wanted to do for him: give him back his memory in dreams. Morpheus closed his rainbow eyes and concentrated. A pale shadow embraced Arian's body very briefly, hardly noticed by the horny God of wine. Then Morpheus and his father had changed back in to night swallows. Dionysos hardly noticed that the gods had left him, so concentrated he was on the things to come. But he didn't want Arian to be asleep when he would have the experience of his life. Dionysos snapped with his fingers in front of Arian's face and Arian awoke. The glass green eyes blinked, focused on a guy bent over him, lying almost between his legs. He noticed his skirt was turned back. He blinked once more. The long, brown curls were held by a ring of fresh wine leaves and his green tunic was rumpled. His face, though attractive, seemed a little unsteady, blurred, as if a second image lie over it. The eyes were lustful and the colour of amber wine. "Hello precious," he said. His voice was full sounding, with a touch of an echo in it, as it was the characteristic feature of a God's voice. "Look, everything is quiet. Just the night birds are singing their music to our celebration. Arian came up to his elbows. "Celebration?" "Yes, beloved," Dionysos cooed, his member expanding. Discretely he tugged at his tunic until his naked manhood lay exactly over Arian's. Arian crept over the feeling of something supernatural happening. Wasn't it the Gods who were supposed to have an echoing voice and sort of a golden aura around their bodies? "Tonight is our night, my promised one," Dionysos continued. "I've waited for you so long." "But . . ." Arian was stopped by Dionysos' long finger across his lips. "I brought you here for mutual pleasure. Look, the grass is soft and dry and here's a feather cover for us. I brought it with me from my homestead." Arian looked dazed. Homestead? Mount Olympus? But why was he chosen to be beloved by a God? He surely had come here but . . . A flash of a ship entered his head and instantly he looked over to see a shore and the wide area of water behind, but he couldn't find it. Dionysos turned his head around. "Look at me, beloved. You won't find anything else there." He started a slow moving, a rubbing over Arian's abdomen to sway his lust. Then he opened the felt to his skirt and cooed even more. Yes. If he really wanted to, he could be soft, although this didn't satisfy him. He didn't want to wait. Didn't want to take his time, wait for Arian until he was ready for him. Out of the blue he conjured an amphora of wine and two chalices. "Drink and relax." "What is it?" Arian sniffed and drank finally, but before he could swallow he had another vision: A cave. Darkness, highlighted by torches. Animal smell. The flash of a dagger piercing warm flesh. Arian coughed. Dionysos wiped spilled wine from his chin. He was worried. Somehow Arian seemed to be distracted. Did Hypnos drip too little water of oblivion into his eyes? He doubled his efforts. "You said we would throw a coin, do you remember?" And the amber eyes penetrated Arian's. He nodded slowly. Yes, he could remember. There was a night, no, an evening. A sexual encounter, full of promises. And he was so much in love . . . His heart started to pound painfully, but not without anticipation. "It's either me or you who will feel this." Dionysos' stiff cock poked Arian's belly. The silver coin flew high in the air and landed into Dionysos' palm. He closed his hand. "Head or number?" "Head," Arian said. Dionysos showed him the coin. Athena's head was there with her helmet and her owl. "You won and have to receive it." Dionysos knew he couldn't have lost. He emptied another chalice and felt the alcohol running through his divine veins. His eyes sent out a magic beam, meeting Arian and the Cretan prince forgot his queasy feelings and the flashes didn't return. Instead of his whole being was in turmoil, every fibre of his body was on fire, and he stopped thinking and trying to remember anyway. There was a great looking man - a God perhaps - wanting him and he would do everything to please him. Arian undressed him and saw what Dionysos wanted him to see: not the wine caused flabbiness of his body but one that matched Arian's firm warrior feature. Dionysos lay a hand over Arian's eyes, briefly, but long enough that his body relaxed and he was open and ready. Arian felt feathers behind his back when he lay back and opened his legs for Dionysos. Delighted the God bent over him and stroked over the prince's orifice, a magic wave, and then they were out of time. Cicadas chirped and nightingales sang so it seemed to Arian. But actually it was the wind in the trees around and voices from far away. He thought to see blue eyes instead of amber ones, but he could be mistaken. His aching penis vanished into a moist hole that was his lover's mouth, and at the same time he was filled with a bigness that stretched him well, gave him pain but that was just an underlying feeling washed away my music in his ears. He heard his lover talking to him but didn't understand the words. The stranger was moving in him, hitting a blissful spot while he had his legs wrapped around his lover's shoulders and he was doing it all at once: pounding him, licking his cock, biting his nipples, pulling out, turning, entering him again, shed his seed but remained hard and hard and hard again. What started as lustful dance became now pain and soreness but Dionysos gave him more to drink. Arian forgot the pain and opened his legs once more; he wanted it all, and the pain was dull, soothed by the God's magic spell. He wanted the game out of control until the larks announced dawn. Eos started her journey on her chariot and stared at the scenery beneath her on the isle of Naxos. She saw a white golden shimmering cloak of hair covering the back of a male straddling old Dionysos laying on the ground, enjoying the ride. She could hear the pants and uninhibited cries that sounded up to her. Her cheeks turned crimson from embarrassment and the morning dawn was exceptionally spectacular. Arian soiled himself with white semen, spots that joined the old, brief ones from before but he felt, this was the last. He was empty. In the near distance he saw a figure standing. Petrified, mouth half open. A shock of shiny half long, dark locks, a band around his forehead. Radiating blue eyes. Arian's tongue formed a word. A name. Without thinking he lifted his body. Dionysos' cock came out with a soft plop but Arian barely noticed. He walked up to the man waiting; his body sweat and cum covered, the hair loose, wet, full of feathers and matted. Shortly before he reached the waiting man, he turned and went away. Arian finally was ready to spill out the name. "Theseus!" Arian shouted. "Theseus," he whispered then. But Theseus moved on. Theseus? Arian thought. Where did this name come from? But then Dionysos was beside him and put his arm around his shoulder. "Come beloved. I promised you everlasting love. A place at my side. Never ending youth." Again he put his palm over Arian's eyes and Theseus' image vanished immediately. He looked at his lover, down his beautiful body, the long spent, drooling cock that had given him so much pleasure and so much pain. Dionysos must have seen it in his eyes. He took Arian in his arms and roamed his hands over Arian's buttocks. His fingers brushed the wound and swollen orifice and the pain subsided. "It will be healed when we have arrived at my home." "Home. Here?" "Sure. Naxos is my favourite isle. Come." Weak willed Arian followed him. Part of him was afraid of the love of a God for he didn't know what was waiting for him. The other part was delighted, drunken for wine and happiness to have found a counterpart that loved to love; mighty, without reason, without an end. Ninth: The Love of a God Theseus could have roared. He was so angry he stomped the grass under his feet when he walked back to the village, never seeing the people who wondered why they all had spent a night in uncomfortable positions like on a stool, on the threshold of their shops, behind a market stand. But they never cared because strange things happened before since the island had been occupied by a God. He didn't know what to do. What he had seen was too much to comprehend. Just yesterday Arian was so promising. And now he had spent the night in the arms of another, giving him his virginity while he actually had spared it for him. So much for the first love of his life. Now he had to carry on in finding a partner he could trust. He halted and looked to the ground. The storm that had shook his ship had come unexpectedly, like the discovery of this morning. They had hardly been able to hold the ship under control until the storm suddenly had stopped. Had this all happened per chance? And what had forced Arian to surrender to a foreign man? Unnoticed he had walked on and had reached the shore far away from the harbour. There she was sitting on a rock, her golden aura inflamed her peplos and the sun set her golden helmet on fire. He fell to his knees, dazzled, never able to look up. "My dear Theseus," she spoke with unearthly voice. "What bothers you? Speak." She looked friendly at him and he found the guts to look up into a pool of heaven blue eyes. He bowed very low, almost to his knees. "Protector of Athen's people and myself," he mumbled. "I didn't know that the Gods are among us." He heard a soft giggle. "We are always with you." It couldn't be right. If she would be there always, he wouldn't have to suffer. But he didn't dare to speak. "I know what your are thinking, Theseus." Athena rose and supported herself upon her spear. "But you have never lost the belief in us. I have seen it with my own eyes. I thank you for your faith and the sacrifices. "But I just did what others are doing." "This may be right. But you believe what you are doing. Now, listen. Eos told me what she had seen and she didn't like it. There's my brother who was often prayed to by the friendly people of Naxos." She pointed to a willow tree, where the God of the Muses leaned against, his Kythera in hand. Theseus didn't know what to do. His feature was dazzling him too, so he had to squint his eyes. But he didn't dare to come up to his feet although this position - on his knees - was uncomfortable and shameful. "Stand up, Theseus. The prince of Attica doesn't need to kneel." His voice had an echo and sounded loud over the land that Theseus seemed everybody in the village must hear it. But then, it was so soft, as if Apollo was speaking directly into his ear. "High goddess Hera decided to rescue you. We just follow her order." He smiled and Theseus seemed to sway. The smile stabbed his heart, then he had to smile himself. Of course. A god could work miracles. Even with his smile. "But . . . I don't understand. . ." he managed to say then. "What has it to do with goddess Hera?" "Well. . . our little brother, Dionysos. He is a nuisance." Apollo loosened from the tree and stood upright. Suddenly his face was dark and relentless. "It is time to learn a lesson." His eyes of a changing colour - once sapphire blue, then grey as a winter's morning - pierced Theseus'. Then they wandered over his face. Over his body, down to his naked feet. Theseus jumped from one foot to the other, for in his body awoke an ant's hill. He felt that the God liked what he saw but Theseus was too afraid to be pleased. After all, he didn't want to wake the interest of Apollo, God's gracious! But . . . "You mean . . .'" Theseus stammered, "You mean, it was Dionysos, who was . . ." Athena and Apollo nodded in unison. "He fell in love with the Prince of Crete a long time ago. He waited very long." They changed a view. "Surprisingly long. Perhaps he waited until Arian fell really in love so that his triumph could be higher. You understand?" Theseus didn't move. He wasn't sure if he had understood right. Dionysos? The God of wine? Had he made Arian drunken? Apollo laughed. "Not only drunken, my dear Theseus. It's a spell. Arian will not be able to loosen the spell by himself. Just when you love him. Really love him. And if you obey." Again Theseus felt the ant's hill when Apollo's eyes cruised his body. What would be the sacrifice for him? Apollo nodded. You know it, he heard the words in his mind. I can never resist a man's strength. Theseus returned the God's stare. This is the price? You are not better than Dionysos. Apollo broke out into a heartfelt laughter. It sounded like the wind in the trees. Well spoken. But think it over. You might enjoy it. Loudly the God said, "Be back when the sun is rising to another morning. Help will be here. This is promised." In the blink of an eye Athena and Apollo had vanished and Theseus snapped out of his trance. Instantly he wondered if this wasn't just a dream. But then his look fell upon the Kythera, that still leant against the willow tree. Apollo had forgotten it. Cautiously he touched the instrument and plucked a string. Instantly he held his palms over his ears, for it was a terrible sound. Deep like coming from Tartarus. Perhaps just a God was able to play it. Prove your heart, Theseus. Was Arian worth it? To surrender? To surrender himself and probably to a God that demanded tribute for his help? The invincible Gods were relentless and selfish and even the soft Apollo could be brutal and unjust. Think about Marsyas... He skinned him because he thought he could beat Apollo in playing the flute - or was it the Kythera? But then he could be soft as a summer's rain when he mourned his beloved Hyacinthos and changed him into a flower... But what would await himself? Stop being a coward, Theseus, he admonished himself. It's not about your own wishes and fright. Arian needs help and if you really want to keep him you have to bring a sacrifice. Apollo stressed the word really. If I would really love him. Do I? I'm not sure. Well, if you aren't sure, then you don't love. Was he worth loving? That's a stupid question. Love doesn't ask for worthiness. How many men did you possess? Definitely enough to learn that you loved none of them. Well, Ricos perhaps. Sort of. But they never matched yourself. Your counterpart. The other half. Arian did know it right from the start. He was so sure that he gave up his home for you and you took it for granted. He deserves better treatment and a little pain on your side. Unintentionally he plucked another string of Apollo's Kythera. This time it was like lark's twittering invisible in the sky. Such a sweet sound his heart ached. Was this Apollo's answer? Would he be gentle with me? And did he love Arian enough to go through it? Perhaps for the rest of his life? He shrugged. Who knows what was to come. Feelings are a fickle thing. But right now and here he could answer the question with yes and he meant it. He wanted to be happy and make him happy. And if a sacrifice belonged to it - he would survive. Chattering tore him off his musing. Looking up he saw Lykos and Sandokos coming up to him with some food and a bowl of fresh water. "Have you gone under the musicians?" Sandokos asked, pointing at Apollo's Kythera Theseus pressed tightly. Lykos squatted beside him. "Problems? Where's Arian?" Theseus sighed. He didn't know himself so weak and hurt. And it was hard to shake it off. What was the matter with him indeed? Lykos plucked a string and there was again the sickening, deep sound. Lykos and Sandokos pressed their palms over their ears, and pulled grimaces. "What is this, for Hades' sake? Where have you found it?" "Arian is gone," Theseus mumbled. But where to, he thought. Was he gone to Mount Olympus? No, Athena would have told him, and Apollo had given the order to wait here for him. "Arian's gone?" "The people are telling strange stories," Sandokos said. "About a God who has occupied the island. There's a place behind the oil grove." He pointed to the distance where Theseus had found Arian. "There?" Absentminded he stood and stared, then he started to run. "Theseus!" The calls died away behind him. * * * * The doors, leading to the Atrium, were closed as were Arian's eyes. He lay in a water basin; blue dolphins on the bound and a mosaic of wine leaves and blue grapes. Dionysos' hands washed him with a sponge, loosen his muscles and making the pain vanish with each wipe. The God was sitting behind him, embracing him while he felt the engorged member in his back. He had the feeling that this stranger was everlastingly aroused, but he couldn't tell if he himself was the reason or if this was just his natural habit. The door opened and several men enter the bath. They were naked except for furs they were wearing and put them on the ground. They carried plates with wine amphorae, grapes, nuts, bread and goat cheese. Arian's mouth watered. He watched the men of several ages entering the basin, grinning lasciviously and placing themselves around their pair. Arian was served a cup of wine he greedily drank and instantly the colours fluoresced. His head pulsated when he was fed grapes and white bread when Dionysos' hand started to crawl into the sparse hair at the base of Arian's member, Dionysos' own still one still poked the crack of his arse. He didn't feel pain anymore and this was a good thing. He always had been afraid of this pain - although a warrior should be used to it. He opened his eyes. How did he know that he was a warrior then? A greedy mouth engulfed the tip of his penis and it rapidly raised and enlarged to its full length. An involuntary moan escaped his mouth. But instantly it was covered with another pair of lips while he felt at the same time a cock enter in him from behind. Water splashed as more satyrs approached him, starting to lick at his balls, suck his cock and yet another bit his nipples. Arian was floating, not aware of his lustful cries, not knowing if he cried for pain or for pleasure. His hand groped around, found a mop of wiry hair, or a leg, a pole standing upright or a naked arse. His mouth was stuffed with a penis he greedily sucked at it. Dionysos' movements shook his body and from half closed eyes he saw the foreign, wild man mating frantically. It rang in his ears while the room was echoing from panting and moaning, from sounds of flesh to flesh. Then they were gone, leaving just the God with him, still filling his bowels with his powerful pole, never knowing an end. Arran saw white flecks floating away that was probably his own seed - or of the others. "This is what awaits you, beloved. Say yes, and you'll be immortal like me." Dionysos hissed into his ear. Arran saw a shadow from the corner of his eyes. There was a figure peering through one of the windows that led to the garden around the palace. The blue eyes were big and shocked. Motionless he stood there, never able to go away. He had a raging hard on but wasn't aware of it. What Theseus had witnessed was so over the top that he was indeed in a state of shock. Arian doesn't seem to recognize him - as Apollo had said. He was under a spell. The God of wine turned his head and looked directly into Theseus' eyes. A nasty smile played around his lips. Theseus saw one of his hands playing with Arian's cock, made it still again and Arian seemed to enjoy it. Theseus heart ached. Perhaps he should leave Arian where he was? Being a toy of a God couldn't be that bad. Could it? Was it? Of course it was bad, Theseus' inner voice told him. There was more than never ending sex. But what if Arian didn't want nor need more. Did he have the right to interfere? There's a spell Theseus thought. Arian never made the impression that he was just a sex toy. He had been waiting for him - Theseus - he had told him. Then, when they were fighting the Minotaur. Dionysos took a chalice and led it to Arian's mouth. Arian dank and sighed contentedly. His stiff penis stuck out of the shallow water, powerful, as Arians' being was. It jerked when Dionysos long fingers touched it. Probably the God was still in him from behind. He wouldn't leave much for Theseus when he was finished with him. Theseus felt anger growing. If Arian just would fight the spell! Theseus tried to enter the room by jumping through the window opening, but he couldn't. An invincible wall was hindering him. His palms were stopped when he tried to reach inside and once more the God's amber eyes met his. Now they were not smiling but had a relentless look, that reminded him of Apollo's face. You don't joke with the Gods, Theseus realized and despair started to spread over him. There was nothing that he could do, just wait until the next morning. Dionysos emptied himself again into Arian's body. This was finally the fulfilment of his dreams he thought. That Athens' prince had been a helpless witness just heightened the fun. It was more than fun he thought. If Arian would stay, the silent and weak willed toy, it would be like the Fields of Elysium. "I will call for Ganymede to bring us Ambrosia," he said low. His voice was echoing over the water. "Ganymede?" Arian asked dazed. He felt so tired yet excited. Every muscle seemed to be inflamed, but he didn't dare to complain. His arse started to hurt again when Dionysos pulled out of him. He was still hard and slowly Arian felt repulsed. This wasn't human indeed. He turned and stared into the God's amber eyes. "Who are you?" he asked seriously. Dionysos offered him the chalice of red wine. "Drink, you will feel better." Arian sat his lips at the cool bronze metal and felt better indeed afterwards. The pain in his body subsided. "Don't you like the wine?" Arian nodded. "I'm the God of it. And now you're mine." Dionysos pressed his lips upon Arian's and Arian just realized this moment that Dionysos had never kissed him before. He had been too busy touching other parts of his body. Arian didn't like it. His breath tasted like sour wine and his tongue was spongy and rummaged in his mouth as if he had lost something. Arian tried to escape but Dionysos' arms held him like a vice. He had surprisingly strength and Arian wondered why he wasn't able to free himself. He was strong himself. Then he had another flash: Soft, luscious lips were caressing his mouth, a tongue that outlined his lips. Tasting sweet like a peach. Involuntarily his eyes wandered to the window opening to see if the stranger was still looking but he was gone. Strangely he associated his flashes with the foreign man - what was his name? Theseus? But he couldn't remember wherefrom he knew it. Dionysos was still kissing him and Arian felt sick. The stiff penis was poking his belly. Should this be his future? To be pierced and impaled, pummeled and sucked off? His body never getting a rest, like the God's one never seemed to be in need for a rest? But the price was eternal youth. He had promised him Ambrosia. Wasn't this the dish the Gods were served there on Mount Olympus? Would he have a chance to fight him? Fight a God? No. The Gods are invincible. Dionysos bit his under lip and Arian tasted blood. With a jolt he loosened his body. Dionysos looked a little befuddled. He certainly had too much wine ... and too much sex. Arian's face blurred. But he didn't notice that the Cretan Prince was unwilling. "Where got you this from?" Dionysos outlined the long scar around Arian's forehead. "A hit from a sword", Arian answered instantly. Dionysos looked mistrustful at him. Why he could remember while he actually shouldn't? "Whose sword?" he asked. "I don't know." Dionysos wiped over it with his finger and it vanished. Lovingly the God watched his work and found it good. But Arian still wondered who had given him the scar. I don't know about you, beloved, but I 'm still terribly hungry," Dionysos said with a sly grin. Arian was certain that he didn't mean the desires of an empty belly. Again nausea rose. He couldn't go on. He would die here. Fucked to death so to say. He threw a sharp glance into the God's face but couldn't say anything. He touched his forehead where his scar used to be. He had never felt annoyed, it stressed his state as Cretan warrior but now that it was gone, he was pleased. He smiled at Dionysos. "Where am I going to sleep?" he asked. "We." Dionysos corrected him and took him by the hand. Their naked feet left wet foot prints on the ground. Dionysos' bedroom housed a bed with feather covers and fluffy pillows. Wine leaves covered the walls. When Arian touched them, they appeared living plants growing in huge buckets, winding around wooden supports. Beams of the setting sun lit the walls. "I'll show you Olympus, beloved. You'll see then what you are looking for," Dionysos said enthusiastically and filled a dish with red wine and wiped his hands over it. The he pulled Arian to his side. There were golden and crystal rooms that seemed to hover on clouds. He saw goddess Hera swinging a white cow skin, a tamed peacock by her side, watching her attentively. Behind her three crystal steps led up to her ivory throne. "What is she doing?" Arian asked. "Look." Outside it started to rain softly. "She's making rain when her husband is too busy." Again he wiped over the surface and another picture appeared. Bearded Zeus amused himself with a young man in his bed. Arian blinked. "Ganymede," exclaimed Dionysos, not without jealousy in his voice. "I have a go with him from time to time." He closed his eyes and concentrated. Ganymede, on his back, opened his eyes and looked directly into Dionysos' eyes. "I called him to serve us Ambrosia." Arian watched in awe when another picture appeared. This time it was Apollo in a pine tree grove. He was engaged in a talk with nine males, different ages, in the distance Pegasus, the winged horse, peacefully grazing. Upon Apollo's shoulder sat a white mouse. It knew the secrets of the earth and whispered into the God's ear. Apollo turned his bluebell's eyes and smiled, his gaze focused upon Arian. Arian jerked back. "Does he know we are watching him?" "Perhaps." Dionysos wiped over the surface and the pictures vanished. "Ganymede will be here very soon. What are we doing until?" Dionysos grinned lasciviously. Both were still naked and the God's pole already started to rise again. Arian stepped back quickly. He was tired and exhausted and sad. He didn't know if he wanted all this. His heart couldn't forget the foreign man at the window. Theseus . . . Then he had another flash . . . a promise to give his cherry to him . . . throwing a coin who would have the favour and the pleasure . . . Pleasure? Well, yes. It was pleasure. Or it should be, he corrected himself, when his heart would be connected. Now all he had was a tired body that needed a rest. He felt Dionysos' hand trying to arouse him, but he failed. A deep wrinkle appeared between the God's eyes. "Do you have enough of me?" Do you want a chalice of wine?" Arian shook his head. "So what else?" Dionysos embraced Aran, thrusting his hips forward, poking his belly with the stiff tool. "I'm sure you love a God's approach, nobody is better on earth. I offer you everlasting pleasure so I demand a little responsiveness from your side." His voice was sharp and Arian flinched. Dionysos sensed it and he laid his palm upon Arian's eyes. Instantly Arian felt better and the sexual drive started again. His penis enlarged and Dionysos giggled. "Much, much better." But from outside there was bird's wings overdrew the rain's rustle in the night. A ruby eyed, golden eagle, big enough to carry a man, landed in the garden outside and Ganymede stepped from it. He stroked the bird's neck, the eagle unfolded his wings and rose in the air. "Ganymede!" Dionysos called pleased. "How do you feel about a threesome?" Ganymede pulled a face. "I had my share already, Dionysos." "So? You're never averse to a little dalliance, are you?" Dionysos said crossly. "Let's have Ambrosia," Ganymede answered quickly. Arian was frightened. He didn't want to eat, he didn't want to be immortal. Not so soon. Not yet. Not without a talk with the stranger. He looked pleadingly at Ganymede who returned the stare. Arian seemed to see pity in his hazel eyes, understanding and a conspiracy perhaps. Ganymede blinked. Was this a silent sign? He conjured a silver box from his bag he carried and golden spoons. "Let me fix it quickly," he said and walked over to a corner were he placed the box and picked two plates. Arian couldn't see what he was doing but Dionysos whispered into his ear, "It is a special mixture the secret Ganymede knows exclusively. And Zeus of course. It will taste heavenly, I promise you." Arian's heart pounded. What should he do? Refuse to eat? He was sure Dionysos would force him. And then? He would be immortal for always and forever; he didn't know that it was possible to reverse the effect. After all Ganymede had eaten it too, once a mortal human, just because Zeus fell in love with him and brought him to Olympus for his private pleasure he now had to serve all the Gods. And this until the world would fade. Was this his destiny? The price? The price for what? What had he done to arouse a God's interest? He wasn't that great of a beauty, there was nothing interesting in him. Was there? Ganymede turned, reaching out two plates with a rosy dish. It looked too pink to eat but Dionysos eagerly grabbed it, held a spoonful under his nose and sniffed. He gave approving sounds and in a second he had gobbled it up. "Now you'" he said, licking his lips. He held out another spoon but Arian didn't open his mouth. Instead his eyes were fixed on Ganymede. The young man nodded and smiled a little. Perhaps he could eat it, Arian thought. And he opened his mouth and swallowed. It didn't taste that good as Dionysos had promised. When he ever had expected that he would feel funny afterwards, like having a stomach ache or something, there was nothing. He didn't feel strange, nor immortal. Dionysos' eyes blinked sleepily and he yawned. "Bedtime, beloved." He wanted to say something else but suddenly his body fell over and landed upon the feather bed. Arian looked dismayed at Ganymede but the young man still smiled. "About time, Arian," he said. "He'll sleep until the morning when Apollo comes." "Apollo?" Arian didn't know what to think. "Can I flee?" "No. You have to wait here. Don't be afraid. Apollo will come to your help." "But, I have eaten this . . ." "This was nothing. No Ambrosia. Dionysos is so easy to deceive in his wine befuddled brain." He laughed. It sounded like a bell. "Apollo will come and everything will be good. This is promised." With that he left the room and Arian didn't see him anymore. He didn't know what to do. He stared at the snoring God, laying there upon his bed like a beached whale when a panther slipped through the ajar door. He stretched out beside his master and started a deep purring. Arian didn't move. He watched the lithe animal until the blackbirds announced another morning. Tenth: The Sons of Memory Blackbirds sang their twittering songs, greeting Eos on her chariot, riding over the sky. Theseus rose from a drunken sleep and wondered how he had been able to sleep anyway. He found himself under an olive tree not far away from the palace. He wiped over his face and heard water's mumbling. He looked around and saw a little spring between stones, gargling over moss and tiny, white flowers. Thirstily he drank until he felt he wasn't alone anymore. Muffled steps, like from a horse, crossed the meadow. Looking up he saw a winged horse, white as snow at the mountain's peak, shaking his mane, the wings glistening silvery in the sunshine. Two males were stroking it, unusually tall and clad in long tunics, that, when parted, revealed long legs. Theseus rose to his feet and watched them turning to face him. "Theseus," one spoke and his voice was melodious like a song. He had violet eyes, hair of changing colour from gold to reddish, but Theseus thought it might be the sun that hit his hair. Flowers grew in it. "Apollo is late, but I see you have saved his Kythera." He pointed with a long finger to the instrument lying in the grass. Theseus took it and pressed it to his body. "Who are you?" he stammered. This was all too much for him, although he was prepared for Apollo's appearance. But these two males couldn't be human too. "I am Eraton," he said with his melodious voice. "The muse of love's poetry." "And I am Euterpe," the other male said, "the delight." Theseus saw long chains around their necks with a lyre and a flute as golden, little instruments. Euterpe's silver eyes contrasted with his long, straight, chestnut-brown hair. "Here he is." he said nodding behind Theseus. "Indeed, my dear, just in time, am I?" Apollo said amused. "I saw you got friendly already. How have you spent the night?" He didn't await an answer actually for he knew that Theseus was anxiously waiting. "Dionysos played a little game last night with us. But I knew he was watching, showing Arian Mount Olympus and trying to feed him Ambrosia." "Ambrosia?" Theseus asked scared. "Does this mean he is . . ." But instantly he remembered his discourtesy and bowed deeply. "I am sorry. I forgot who you are." Again Apollo laughed amused. "No formalities please. No need for thanks. I do what I want to do, like I always did and always will. Now it's time for our Dionysos to learn a lesson." He looked sharply at Theseus. "No thanks?" Theseus still stammered. He had been so afraid that the God would demand tribute. But apparently he wasn't interested anymore. "Eraton, Euterpe," Apollo said. "I will follow very soon. Leave us alone please." The Muses went quickly away. No, they didn't went. They danced. "Arian didn't eat from Ambrosia. I had a little deal with our Ganymede. Dionysos shall awake any minute and we shouldn't waste time." He stopped and looked at the prince. "Come nearer," he said. Theseus came closer, slowly and unsure. He feared the God's closeness. He was not human. Heaven knew what he would feel like. But Apollo stretched out a hand and pulled him even closer until he stood face to face with the God. "Are you sure you want the Cretan prince?" Theseus nodded weakly. "You are unsure, I can feel it." Apollo smiled his breathtaking smile. "What is the reason for this?" "I . . . I don't know." "Perhaps you want the love of a God instead of a mortal human being?" Apollo probed. Theseus shook his head. Now much more determined. Apollo's fingers brushed his cheek. He ran over his lips and his chin. Then he pressed his mouth upon Theseus' lips and Theseus felt a sharp burning. No, a soft raindrop. The touch of a flower's leaf. Or a feather fell from the sky. He struggled and Apollo gave him freedom. He still smiled. "I had to do this," he said apologizing. "I am sorry." Theseus eyes grew big. A God was apologizing? "What a pity," Apollo said. "But it is your decision. You are free." He stepped back and stretched out his arm, pointing at Dionysos' palace. "Your beloved didn't have such a decision. He is still under the spell." A bloodcurdling cry came from the palace window. Theseus jerked but Apollo smiled. "He looked into a mirror, I think." And he walked on, in the direction of the palace, Theseus following. "What . . . . . what in Tartarus and all Hades' beasts is this?" Dionysos cried, looking into the bronzed mirror hanging on a wall. A face looked at him, a face that couldn't be his own. It was old. Very old. Deep wrinkles appeared beside his nose, tearing down to the mouth that was dry and small, the lips vanished, pulled into the mouth whose teeth were rotten. Thick lachrymal sacks hung under his small and dull eyes and his long hair had vanished. Instead there were just some feeble strands falling along his forehead and his body felt weak and spongy and flabby. At the very moment music started. A flute was playing, soft and delightful, sad and joyful. Euterpe stood outside the window and next to him, Eraton, singing a song that tugged the heart. His eyes changed from violet to indigo and his hair had a soft blue tone; the more he sang about love the deeper his eyes grew, full of lust and love, and his hair had the colour of a blue bell. Dionysos turned and held his palms over his ears. "Stop it!" He shouted. "Stop that deplorable cat's music!!" He ran around in the room and kicked Pandrosis, the Panther, who hissed and tried to bite his master's calf. But Arian in a corner woke up. His ears filled with a heavenly sound. He saw another man, beautiful as Apollo himself, giving the singing man a Kythera which he plucked now and the heartfelt song became music made in Olympus itself. The flowers in Eraton's hair started to bloom, winding down around his neck until they covered his long tunic and he was flooded with sunlight. Arian went out of the room, out of the palace to see them better, not caring for Dionysos cries and shouts to stop the music and the singing. And then he was there; the stranger. No. Theseus. The prince of Attica, with whom he slaughtered the Minotaur. With whom he sailed away from Crete to Athens, to be the man at his side. Theseus smiled relieved. "Arian," he said. There was Ganymede again, in the arms of Apollo, enjoying his kisses and Arian felt he had to do the same. The Muses sang and played and Dionysos' curses vanished from his mind. "Let us go home," Theseus said. But Dionysos stood in the door frame, still holding his palms over his head. But was it Dionysos after all? He looked at least 1000 years old. . . . "His real age," Apollo said, stroking through Ganymede's long hair. "More that 1000 years. . ." he added dreamily. "Like me." Pegasus neighed from a distance. It sounded like laughter. "What is happening here?" Dionysos shouted. "Apollo, you brute. Give me back my old appearance!" "Well, you are old already. What do you want?" the God giggled but got serious instantly. "This shall be your punishment. Your manhood shall be sleeping a year long. I think it will only be thankful. One year no wine. If you try to drink it will taste bitter like poison. One year you should be the servant of the people of Naxos who have suffered enough. Your home shall be a stable among the sheep and goats. Then you are banished from this island. Like all of your entourage." He made a wide movement with his arm and the palace was gone. Left was just a place of meadow and pine trees. Apollo held a wine plant in his hand. "Plant this into the earth and the yield should be abundant." "But you can't do this, Apollo! You are not the only God here!" Apollo laughed. "Complain to Hera, my dear. It is sealed." He looked at Ganymede. "Come," he said. Together they went to Pegasus, got up and rose into the air. "Farewell, Theseus, Arian," he shouted. "May the Gods be gracious with you." Eraton and Euterpe were still singing and playing and Dionysos started to run. Pandrosis followed him, like the old, drunken Silenus who staggered behind them. Theseus and Arian couldn't help but laugh. It was so unreal they thought they were dreaming. Perhaps everything was really a dream and when they would awaken upon their ship, they would have the most heartfelt laughter ever. But the music never stopped and Eraton was now singing about a labyrinth on the isle of Crete and about two heroes who were fighting together a man eating brute. They slaughtered him and promised to stay together. Arian and Theseus looked at each other. "You did it for me?" Arian asked.. "No, for me," Theseus answered. "I didn't want you to be immortal. Better to have a short life but be your own master than to be a servant of the Gods. Don't you think?" Arian sighed. "Yes." His heart was full of hope and he thought as long as the Muses were playing, nothing bad could happen. He didn't imagine what would happen should they ever stop. But perhaps they wouldn't. In their hearts they would always play. Theseus led him back to the village. All of a sudden he was terribly hungry and Arian felt the same. After all he had just a spoonful of "Ambrosia" last night. They sat and ate and Theseus never forgot to bring a sacrifice to the Gods. He knew now it was never in vain. Arian pointed to an old man with a soiled green tunic who pleaded for lodging. He offered his work and help but nobody wanted to have an old man. It wasn't funny at all, but he knew Dionysos deserved nothing better. After a year the spook would be over and he would probably be the same as he was before. An all too horny chap, knowing nothing more than the satisfaction of his urge. In the late morning they entered the ship again and sailed away, leaving Naxos behind, to never return. "Do you remember the coin?" Theseus asked furitively when they were standing side by side at the railing, watching the island vanishing in the distance. "We haven't thanked the Muses," Arian said instead. "They need no thanks. They are free." Theseus answered, fully aware that Arian dodged an answer. "I know what you were going through, love," he said then. "I was witness to what Dionysos and the other men did to you," he said carefully. "I saw you standing there but couldn't remember who you were. Just your name. Sometimes." Arian said low. Theseus stroked his back and the long hair, he had brushed and combed and put into a braid again. "I need time, Theseus," he said and took a deep breath. "I'm not sure if I will ever be ready." Theseus nodded. It didn't matter. He could wait. Long. Even if it never should happen. But Arian should know that he - Theseus - was ready for it. It was promised and Theseus always held his promises. But it was more than a promise because Theseus would do it for love, not for a fulfilled promise. They slept chastely pressed together in the same bed and this was all that was needed. When the shore of Attica came into sight, Theseus felt light and safe and so happy he kissed Arian when the ship sailed into the harbour of Piraeus. The Athenians stood and cried, waved their arms and hands for joy to see their prince was safely back. Even Aegeus, Theseus' father stood there with a pale face and dishevelled hair. "Father!" Theseus shouted and jumped into his arms. "I almost died, son." Aegeus stammered through tears. "I saw the black sails and thought you dead. Just the strong grip of a soldier beside me stopped me from jumping into the roaring sea." Theseus looked guilty. He forgot to set the white sails for a happy return and he promised to have a word with Nicos. But his anger went up in smoke like mist in the morning. He was at home and Arian was with him. His father looked at the young man beside his son. "Arian? Minos' son?" he asked. Arian bowed. "Myself." "How do you know him?" Theseus asked surprised. "Why shouldn't I. You are not long enough in Athens. Not long as I am." Theseus looked pleased. "He accompanied me to stay here with me, father." He swallowed the rest he wanted to say. He wasn't ready for an open commitment, like 'I love him' or so. Perhaps he did, but the first one to hear these words wasn't his father. Aegeus looked surprised but kept a friendly face. Whatever his son's heart desired, it would be good. Days were passing where they had to tell everybody in town what happened, how they killed the Minotaur and how they escaped. But the very last adventure they kept for themselves. It wasn't reasonable and nobody who hadn't been present would understand a word. It was a secret they shared with the Olmpian Gods. Arian felt nervous. He longed for Theseus but was afraid of his closeness. The bad experience vanished with each day but he could remember the pain . . . and all the pleasure. But he never drank a drop of wine again. Theseus didn't mind. Not the lack of wine nor the lack of a fulfilled promise. But . . . he would fulfil the promise on his side. One evening he played with a coin watching Athena's face with the helmet and the tiny owl and smiled. She looked so differently to what the artist had imagined her to look like. He threw it high in the air and Arian snapped it on its flight down. "Is this an llusion?" he asked playfully. Theseus' heart pounded. "Actually not. "Well, perhaps yes." He rose and went over to Arian sitting upon the bed they shared in Theseus' rooms at the palace of Athens. Without a real thought he dropped his tunic and squatted in front of Arian. "I do remember the coin, but I don't think we need it." Arian understood and opened his belt. They stared at each other and then the lights went out and the music started once more. A Kythera and a flute, singing in the night. Theseus felt more than he saw Arian's body covering him from head to toe, first with his body and then with his mouth. He didn't know how long he bore this before he was a bundle of lust, wanting nothing more than to be taken. Why he hadn't had these feelings before? Why did he wait so long? Why had he thought he was too manly to be taken? He felt Arian's glans at his entrance and pulled up his legs. It wasn't easy, but it was getting better and the pain was short and overlaid by Arian's kisses and soothing words. And all that he could say was, "Come deeper. Deeper." Arian lay full weight upon Theseus, his cock deliciously clamped between their abdomens. His senses got mad, hovered somewhere outside his consciousness. "Deeper," he whispered hoarsely. Lips squashed his mouth, a tongue stroking his palate, his own tongue searching, battling and then came to a rest. "Deeper." Arian lifted his body and Theseus' penis was cold. It longed for a touch and was receiving a wetness. A warm and velvet surrounding, a sucking on the crown, a licking over the slit, drinking until it stopped. "Deeper." Theseus bucked his spine, the mouth open in agony and then Arian was gone, leaving an empty void that had to be refilled. Now Theseus opened his eyes. The glass green ones stared into his own: now a dark, jungle green from lust and he smiled. Theseus felt his mouth covered once more while their abdomens rubbed each other, writhing like snakes, lithe bodies, though heavy on weight; a virile dance. Arian teased him, purred into his ear and finally turned him over, Theseus' smooth buttocks in the air. He admired the two round globes, rubbed his mouth over the velvet, muscular orbs, licked a wet line in their centre, stormed the sweet bud of his hole until it opened again. This was pure heaven, Theseus thought and regretted the time he had wasted without any knowledge of it. Arian rolled upon him and rubbed his penis in the spittle wet crack of his arse, the arms beside Theseus' body and kissed his neck behind the ear. "Deeper," Theseus responded and came to his knees, his penis aching, heavy and wet from running fluids; panting when he sensed Arian's glans at his entrance again, pushing back a little, until he was filled like he was before. This time deeper he could imagine it would go, sighing lustful and clenching his muscles in there to increase the friction. Arian's hand sneaked around to play with his testicles, the fingers soft as a warrior's could be, finding the hard, warm shaft and giving it long strokes, painfully slow. But none of them was in a hurry. "Did you really see me . . . . then?" Theseus asked low. I mean when you. . ." "When I'd lost my memory of you? Yes. I saw you and didn't recognize you." Cautiously Theseus lay down on his stomach; Arian followed his movement and was stretched out upon him. He withstood the urge to move, to pull out and in, to achieve bliss. He just lay down and listened to the blood murmuring in his head. And finally he found he couldn't wait to feel what Theseus felt right now. Dionysos was erased from his mind. Just the Muses were still playing and singing. "Do you feel good?" he asked. "Not good. There's no word for this." Arian smiled. "I understand." "No, you can't. This . . . God . . . . didn't do it out of love. Keep on going now." In the last moments, Arian turned Theseus to his side, grabbed his penis and rubbed it with short strokes, in the same rhythm as his cock pounded Theseus' arse hole, until both fell into rigid, blissful agony, their bodies jerking, emptying and giving a mutual heartfelt sigh. "I can't wait, Theseus. I must feel what you feel. You are right, this God was nothing. He did nothing to me. Here." He touched the breast over his heart. Theseus stirred in his arms, not ready to let him go. The flute was still playing, an ethereal sound outside the window or perhaps just in their minds, but it seem to fill the room. Theseus felt gentle. More gentle that he ever had been his whole life. The music pierced his heart and he stroked Arian's damp hair that covered his own chest and a part of the pillows. The white golden hair, like spun silk. Funny thoughts entered his mind. Thoughts of leaving it all behind: Athens, his state as prince and the responsibility he was carrying for his folk and to settle down here for all eternity. There would be no more wars for them; they would have anything they need and they wouldn't need much. His cock was still hard and so was Arian's. He started to stroke it again, lazily, slowly, fully aware and full of affection. He heard Arian's quiet laughter before their mouths found to a passionate kiss. Theseus opened his eyes. The night was over and already the sun was setting and ending another day. He couldn't count how often they had united, never satisfied; but from the stinging pain he felt both in his cock and his arse hole, it was more often that was reasonable. But he smiled. Ricos had been right: He had been a sissy, not knowing what he had been missing. Arian stirred in his arms. The heavy hair tangled around them both like a silky blanket. Their skin was sticky and filled with dried white spots and smears, but Theseus had never felt so good before. There was the sound of a Kythera and a flute again in his ear and it made him happy. Perhaps this was Apollo's gift. Perhaps they would hear it each time they made love. "Do you hear it?" he whispered into Arian's ear. "Yes. The Muses are singing." The End
  8. Stefan

    The Lizard

    Florence, Italy. On the cemetery of San Miniato young Luca Montori meets Alessandro, the noble lad of the famous family Gondi-Lucertola. Both come from a very different origin, and yet they find a common base. After a mutual spent summer, Luca starts his apprenticeship at a workshop, and Alessandro starts his study at the university of Pisa. But then Alessandro is faced with a very difficult decision that will influence everything he believes in.
  9. Stefan

    Primavera (Spring)

    Two boys played with each other. Unfortunately one child hurt the other slightly with his sword. The parents sent out their boy to ask for mercy, but the father of the hurt one cut off the boy's hand and sent him back home with the message 'Tell your father that iron and no blabbering heals the wounds of swords.' Pistoia, anno 1326 San Miniato. The Cemetery of the Holy Gates. The mild breeze of a friendly day in May touches my body gently as I stand next to my favourite place. When I look down, I see the life-size God of Death - or one of his guards -- sprawled desperately over a grave plate; his face buried in earth, his naked buttocks exposed, one hand clenched in a fist as if he could not come to terms with the way all earthly life would go. His other hand carried a torch, still flaming, enlightening the way into darkness. Everything had started here. At the very beginning there was the angel of death. Only very much later we learned that there were other Gods with torches, there, in a gloomy chapel, deep under the earth beneath a Roman church. We were too young to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. It parted us and the only thing I had were his letters. Love letters, as I interpreted them. He is here. Sandro. The Prince of the Lilies. He is here, although I hadn't heard him coming. He walks still on silent feet. "Luca." His hand on my shoulder turns me around to face him and I see his face. The five years have hardly changed it. The mahogany locks still frame his aristocratic, pale face where the blue eyes shine feverishly with excitement. His lips twist into a heart-rending smile. And I am happy. PART 1 - PRIMAVERA - _________________ 1 _________________ Luca shaded his eyes with his hand. A glaring sun burned down upon the dazzling-white marble of the graves. Above him arched a violet-blue sky like a translucent cupola of glass, high and wide, so that he could look unhindered to the hills of Fiesole, leaving them clear without haze to refract and blur them in the distance -- Lo Sfumato, as Leonardo da Vinci had called it. Luca smiled to himself. His hometown of Firenze was full of beautiful things. A town made from the grey stone, pietra serena - - rejecting, obstinate, inaccessible. Firenze ... its inhabitants as hot-blooded, haughty and seditious as the stone, but it was his town and he loved it. Luca looked down to the town beneath his feet. A red-grey, stony desert, with the biggest cupola of the world towering above it. Luca had not spent a single day of his nearly completed seventeen years without its sight. As often as he could, he came up here to stroll between the graves and urns, and gaze upon the steles, marble angels and sculptures. His sensitive fingers touched the white, smooth polished Cararra-marble of the doors that closed the drawers where the coffins lay. Dozens of grave-houses stood together in rows. Each of them housing their own dozens of coffins decorated with golden letters, red flowers, picture-plates and candle fixtures. Surrounding the rows of grave houses was a field covered with common graves. Luca occasionally would visit the grave of il Collodi to study the Pinocchio-figure engraved into the tombstone. He knew them all. The cimitero of the Holy Gates, high over Florence, was full of marble ghosts like the town itself; dead gods and patron saints. Guards stood waiting for the daily invasion of the barbarian mob of the North, those squadrons of tourists coming in short trousers and sandals or boots, with marching rations and cameras, perpetually chased by their guides into the museums to gaze on Alessandro Botticelli's 'Birth of the Venus'. Pearly laughter escaped from Luca's throat, dying away as quickly as it had appeared. His town was the ultimate embodiment of frosty sex. Naked statues occupied each corner, each museum, but what it really meant to touch the same ground as all the artists from all of the ages had done, no one could really comprehend. Florence was a manly town. Straight and direct, it stood there without a shimmer of enigmatic secrets, without ingratiation or braids and trimming. Deeper within his view, the green band of the river Arno sparkled and Luca grasped the mustard and leather colours of Florence from the black-white of the Battistero to the dark green and white and gold of San Miniato behind him. He caught the touch of rose at the cathedral and Giotto's campanile, but the town was as stern and earnest as the big sculptors and architects had been who had moulded the view of the town throughout centuries past. They'd been bachelors, monks, holy men and soldiers, prophets and eremites ... always men. Women never played a role. Florence was the perfect town for Luca. He turned his back and focussed on the graveyard in front of him. Then he placed one foot in front of the other and let them guide him. There, just next to the path it stood -- a life-size god of death, made of stone. Partially moss-covered, it sprawled despairingly over a grave plate, torch still flaming with its face buried into the earth and exposing its naked buttocks for Luca to touch. He crouched closely. His fingers outlined the strong back, then fell down over the curve of the backside and remained there. His eyes remained unfocussed as they gazed into nowhere. What would it feel like to touch living, warm skin instead of cold, mossy stone? To see it move towards him, turning to expose the front side, waiting just for him? What would it feel like when his mouth engulfed his secret desire, to smell and taste it? Especially when this skin was male? He felt the rough stone. It was difficult to come to terms that he was an outsider, ostracized from his friends who whistled after the girls in short skirts. To avoid suspicion, Luca imitated his friends, flirting and laughing with them, but his heart remained cold and his eyes turned in different ways. Florence was a hard test for someone like him, because the town seemed to be blessed with dozens of pretty young men who knew about their beauty. Luca was too young to have the guts needed to visit the places dedicated for men like him. Florence was not a homophobic place, just the opposite. Here, homosexuality seemed to be at home and always had. From under the stony buttocks, a lizard appeared, then stopped to lay in the sun and warm her belly on the heated stone. Its light green back caught the sunbeams, and emphasizing the pale pattern of jewel-like scales. A noise sounded from the entrance of the graveyard and the lizard vanished with a few quick movements. The procession had started and Luca rose. He thought he saw a pair of blue eyes behind a pillar watching him, but the next second they had vanished. A group of trumpet players played a solemn melody as they walked in step in front of the group of mourners carrying a coffin covered with a white, silky cloth and a bouquet of flowers. A shadow slipped into the group to join the train of people, passing Luca who stood with his head bent respectfully. He knew the man who was carried to his last rest. Itwas Matteo di Ser Federico di Gondi-Lucertola, brother of the mayor and patriarch of the noble family of Gondi. He'd died suddenly of a heart attack. Luca shivered under the sharp look coming from a pair of blue eyes and was suddenly ashamed of his unsuitable, casual clothes. The eyes belonged to a young, haughty face ... one at once fine and noble in its structure with a sharp, Florentine nose and framed with a shock of mahogany-brown curls. Luca knew it was truly worthy of an Raphael-angel comparison. Yet, there was no smile, just a dangerous glistening in his blue eyes; a warning to stay apart and keep the place where Luca belonged -- the working class, who had no share of nobility and old-fashioned dignity. Luca stepped back and watched the train pass until it stopped in front of a family tomb. Emblazoned in golden letters was the family name over the heavy bronze door. The coffin and the closest family members vanished inside, the young man with them, while the others remained waiting outside. Luca didn't know why he stayed waiting, alone, but something held him. Suppressed sobs could be heard while tiny, lace-covered handkerchiefs were pressed to noses and black veiled faces. Luca waited until the young man reappeared, pale and silent. He waited until the last flower was laid and the music had fallen silent. He pressed his back upon the sun-warmed wall of another tomb, absorbing the youth's features with his eyes. The black Cut, the gloves and shiny shoes ... much too warm for this day of May ... the straight, upright line of his back. Luca watched the young man's hand run through his curls and he felt a twinge of excitement burn in his stomach. People passed him without taking notice. At last, his fascination came forward slowly, hesitating when he was at the same level with Luca. He turned his head and met Luca with an open look. The young man made a sign with his head and abruptly vanished between two grave houses. Luca rose, then followed. The youth stood nonchalantly with one leg leaning back against the wall while removing his gloves and opening his Cut. As Luca breathed in deeply and opened his mouth to speak, the lad made a quick movement towards him then pressed his lips upon Luca's. Heat and a flood of hormones rushed through his novice body as he felt the tongue, the foreign body, pressing briefly against his own - and then it was over. Harsh whispered words of "Tomorrow, same time" were uttered, then he was gone. Luca stumbled to the nearest wall and touched his lips. Dazed, he stared at the corner where the young man had vanished. Then he started to run, trying desperately for a last look, and saw the black figure in the distance. It didn't turn back. __________________ 2 ___________________ He ran his fingers through mahogany-brown curls that fell to the neck and he was allowed to play with them. The young man turned his head toward him and covered Luca's lips with feverish kisses, then ground their naked abdomens together until they appeared like one. Bluish, tender lids closed over stunning blue eyes; the lashes fluttered excitedly. And then ... with a jolt, Luca woke up. He had sprayed himself, his hand still clasping his penis. Embarrassed, though no one had witnessed, he jumped from the bed and fished a tissue from the package. The floorboards creaked under his soles. He listened, but everything was quiet. It was Sunday and the memory returned. Yesterday he had met the boy with the haughty face who had inflamed his body and stirred his interest. He was the son of a noble family, the nephew of the mayor and well known in this town. At nineteen, he was already notorious for his adventures; a real womanizer. Pah. Luca now knew better. He slipped through the door, crossed the small corridor and entered the bathroom. His grandfather had rebuilt the old house completely, but without modern tiles and fittings. There was still the old bath-oven which had to be heated with wood and paper, but at last, finally, warm water gushed from the pipe when Luca stepped into the bath tub. He washed off the shed of white drops with the hose, along with the sweat of sexual dreams he had so often of late whenever his dreams of men haunted him. When the water started to get cold again, he finished his toilet, dressed and descended to the kitchen and his mother, who was already preparing breakfast. His father was there too, bent over his thick books filled with photographs and drawings of patterns and stones. "Buon giorno", Luca said, trying to sound cheerful. His father looked up without really seeing him, but he answered his greeting with silent voice. The smell of cooked wafers wafted through the room. His mother gave him a loving glance, then pulled honey and marmalade from the pantry and placed them upon the freshly scrubbed wooden table that stood in the middle of the wide, dark room. The windows were narrow and large and grated with iron bars. It had been built that way four hundred years ago. The house hadn't always been in the possession of the Montori family, but was given to them as a present for their faithfulness by the last remnants of the Medici-ancestors. The windowsill was full of herb pots whose scent wafted throughout the entire ground floor. Whenever Luca thought about his home, he connected it with that scent. The interior had seen better days, but Lucas' mother reigned over the household with a loving, yet strong hand. She reigned unopposed since her husband wasn't of mind enough to stand his place. He was always too caught up in his work. "First day of your holidays, son", he said now, closing carefully the book he was leafing through. Luca had seldom seen him without a book tucked under his arm. "Yes." Luca sat down and poured thin coffee, strengthened with chicory for his father and himself. His mother placed a plate with wafers on the table in front of him and ruffled his hair affectionately. He hated it, but held his complaint. He wasn't a little boy anymore. Next week he would be seventeen and old enough to be considered a man. His brothers still slept, Luca assumed. Giano, the brother nearest to him in age, could sleep in each day because he waited for the start of the first semester at the University of Pisa. As if on cue, the door opened and a tousled Giano entered the kitchen, eyes thick from sleep and his shirt buttoned the wrong way. "Buon giorno", he said sleepily, then took his seat at the table and poured himself coffee. "Read too long yesterday evening?" Clarissa asked. "Or have you been out?" "Have been out", Giano said reserved, but Luca saw a brief redness scurrying over his face. Like Luca himself, he had inherited Clarissa's blond hair and her ephebian-like features. From their father, both had the large, brown eyes -- a nice contrast which always gained people's attention. Luca's thoughts drifted. He thought it funny that Alessandro's brown hair and blue eyes were reversed from their own. Nature at play. The thought of the young noble man made his cheeks flush as well, along with the memory of the dirty dreams he'd had last night. Furtively, he examined his brother, who was a year older than Luca himself and the pet of the family. "Meeting with friends?" Clarissa asked innocently, pouring herself coffee as she sat down to eat. "Yes." Giano bent his head over his plate and started to eat silently. He wasn't normally very communicative, but Luca had a closer connection with him than he did with his other brothers. They lived their own private lives with separate activities and constantly changing girlfriends. One primary thing connected each of them -- they worked at the opificio delle pietre dure, a famous, nationwide workshop for mosaics, intarsia, and the restoration of works of art. The family of the Montori had worked there for generations and Lucas' way was so booked. Not that he dismissed this work. He was actually looking forward to joining this honourable, worldwide high-acclaimed profession. He just wasn't sure if he could be as good as his father. "What are your plans now before you join the university?" his father asked, chewing at a wafer and licking honey from the corner of his lips. His bushy, grey hair always looked uncombed and gave him the aura of a scattered professor. "I trust you won't just lounge around and live off us, now will you." It was a sharp-tongued statement, not a question. Niccolò Montori belonged to the old Florentine generation, outwardly hard as a nutshell, and inwardly the same. But despite this, he had a very real passion -- the love and devotion for his work. "Or do you want to lounge around the hospital of Santo Spirito examining the intestines of corpses as that scoundrel, Michelangelo, did, eh?" Luca hid a grin. That was his father's favourite objection to his son's wish to become a surgeon. For his religious father, it was a crime to open dead bodies. Giano lifted his head and retorted heatedly. "And what if I did?" Father and son stared at each other. Clarissa shifted restlessly upon her chair. "Basta cosi," she said. "Giano has chosen this profession and I'm glad to hear about something different than stones, dust and squeezed fingers. Look at your eyes." She referred to the fact that Niccolò's eyes were perpetually inflamed due to the dust the cutting of the stones caused. Niccolò squelched a curse between his teeth. He couldn't compete with Clarissa's arguments. It was best to say nothing. "You've been on the cimitero yesterday?" Giano asked his brother suddenly. "Did you see the funeral?" Luca couldn't help but blush. "Yes," he said in a subdued voice. "How was it?" Clarissa asked with interest. "What did they wear? Black lace and veils? Was there lots of music and flowers?" "Have you seen the Prince of the Lilies?" Giano interrupted her. "The prince?" Luca croaked. "Alessandro, yes." "That good for nothing," Niccolò growled. "Good that he's off soon. He was the one who brought his father to an early death." "Niccolò!" gasped Clarissa and made the sign of the cross. "Don't talk like this." "I'm right," Niccolò responded. "He's a loafer and brings shame on his family. The girls are crazy for him. He turns their heads, I wonder how he's managed not to impregnate the whole town." Giano swallowed a piece of wafer wrong and coughed. "And what if you're wrong? It's not the girls alone." "Indeed so, son. He makes a lot of noise when he and his lot putt through the night on their motorbikes when a honest man needs to sleep. He bellows drunkenly under the windows and God knows what drugs he takes." He lowered his voice. "They even say, he goes with men, making them pay for a look at him in his Adam's costume, as bare as God has created him." He too made the sign of the cross. Again Luca blushed, but Giano laughed disdainfully. "And where did you hear this? Do they tell it at work? Or in the pubs?" "It's well-known, son." "What is well-known?" The door opened and Luca's oldest brothers, Dante and Marcello, stepped in. Both were appropriately clothed. It was an unwritten rule in the house of the Montori that you were fully dressed when you sit at the table. "That Gondi-Lucertola boy." "Sure, he's well-known to all of us. Isn't he?" Dante threw a significant look to his younger brother, Giano. "That faggot. Yesterday, I saw him down the river banks at the Villa Kazar. He let himself be touched by those dirty fingers of the queer Luciano. And he seemed to enjoy it." Luca didn't know how Dante meant his words. Either he was revolted or he enjoyed watching the offensive and obviously heinous actions. "Basta." Clarissa said once more. "I don't want to hear that kind of talk at my breakfast table. What this boy is doing is not bothering us, capisce? He's young." "And that's an excuse for those faggot-things?" Giano harshly placed his coffee cup on the table. "And that gives you the right to put your nose high into the air and feel so much cleaner than the so-called dirty faggot? Eh? What are you searching for under the skirts of the chicks? Fish?" "Giano! Out you are. Go." A steep wrinkle of anger appeared on Clarissa's forehead, promising no good. Giano pushed back his chair and stomped out from kitchen. " You are ready for church in ten minutes!" she called after him. Luca sat dazed. Alessandro, the bad guy of the town, had never been an issue in this house, nor the obviously homophobic opinions of his brothers. Dante and Marcello smirked silently and the rest of the meal continued in silence. Up in his room after breakfast, Luca fought with himself about whether or not to go and meet Alessandro. He had been at Villa Kazar yesterday? He'd been at the posh restaurant for the rich and beautiful, and the hangers-on who considered themselves as one of them? He was fondled by the queer, Luciano? And today he wanted to be fondled by him, by Luca? His thoughts spun on uncontrollably. 'And how many queers do you know, Luca Montori? Perhaps this is your way into the world of gays? And if you don't like it, you can always return to the odorous and fishy-smelling underwear of the chicks,' he said half laughing. 'Ugh.' ____________________ 3 _____________________ The lizard was there again. Sunbeams danced upon its light-green skin making it glisten like chrysopras. But with a few quick movements, it rushed between the stones and became invisible. Luca squatted beside the fallen angel. Or was it a god? Was there a god, holding a torch? Enlightening the path that led to eternal life? A shadow fell beside him. Luca looked up into Alessandro's face. It was tinged by a smile. Wordlessly, he pulled Luca to his feet and dragged him along, crossing the path and passing the tombs until he entered a very old and tattered looking crypt. It was cool when he stopped in the middle the room. Small beams of sunlight painted a pattern upon his skin. His eyes reflected the spots. "I'm Alessandro." He stepped forward, embraced Lucas' face with his hands and engaged him in an open-lipped, wet kiss. Luca moaned involuntarily, but did nothing to stop it, then finally reciprocated. Alessandro's lips wandered to Luca's ears and neck while his hands tugged at Luca's shirt, pulling it from his blue jeans. "What's yours?" His voice was hoarse and deep with passion. "Luca," Luca said indistinctly. His heart beat in his throat like a drum roll causing his blood to pound in his ears. Alessandro fell to the ground, taking Luca's trousers with him. Once there, on his knees, he pulled down Lucas' underpants then hesitated for a second to brush the tip of Lucas' member with his lips. From his mouth came a strange, approving sound when Lucas' penis rose within seconds firm with blood; pulsating and glistening moistly. Luca's breath through his mouth was laboured as he bent his head, closed his eyes and prayed to all saints he knew that this would never end. It was more than he had ever imagined ... to be touched by a hand other than his own ... to be licked by another's mouth. The tongue felt like fire until all of his life seemed to flood into Alessandro's mouth, then overflowed it. The last remains being licked from the corner of his lips. "You can open your eyes again," Alessandro smirked. "Where do you live?" "San... Santa Croce." Luca whispered. A surge of cool wind touched his now abandoned and exposed penis. He covered it with his palms, but Alessandro pushed them away and continued to stroke him. "Santa Croce? Old dyer's trade quarter? Going to school still?" Lucas' member started to rise again. "Opificio", he squeezed out. "I start soon." Alessandro whistled through his teeth. "You're good with stones and mosaics and intarsia?" Luca nodded. He thought that Alessandro was good with his hands too. "Are you often here?" Luca nodded again with gritted teeth. Alessandro groped his balls and stroked the length of his penis. Luca's hands embraced Alessandro's waist and tried to pull himself down; he needed a place to rest his shaking legs, but Alessandro held him upright. "Not here. Come to my place?" Luca eyes grew wide. "To your palazzo? No way." "Why not?" Alessandro pouted. He wasn't used to rejection. He let loose of Lucas' penis. "I'm not sure... your father... mother and all." Alessandro's face became like stone. Now he looked much older than he was. "I do what I like", he said haughtily, then continued in a more conciliatory voice, "We have some weeks before I go to Pisa." "Pisa?" "I'll study art history." He smiled a bewitching smile. "But before that we can have a lot of fun." He gave Luca's penis a last stroke, causing it to jerk and stand upright before he squeezed it back into the underpants - not without a look of regret. "He looks fine," he said excited. "He?" Alessandro pulled up Luca's zipper and patted the bulge. Luca didn't dare ask about Alessandro's state of excitement. Should he follow him and find out? "Where did you get that blond hair of yours?" Alessandro combed all five fingers through the abundant strands. "As a real, Italian macho you must be mad for blonds, right?" Luca joked and started to laugh his pearly laughter. Alessandro joined him. "Are you famous for that laughter?" he grinned, walking out of the crypt. Sunlight flooded his feature, making his hair shiny red and inflaming his skin. He spread his arms outward and bent his head back. "Life is wonderful, Luca. Share it with me, won't you?" Luca, confused by the outburst's vivid exuberance, didn't answer. "They call you the Prince of the Lilies," he said lowly. "Yes." Alessandro laughed. "And of the lizards. Whenever you try to catch a lizard it drops its tail and escapes." He looked at Luca. "Next Sunday, same time?" Luca nodded. Prince of the Lilies. Alessandro di Ser Matteo di Gondi-Lucertola. Life couldn't be easy when your name was lizard. Or was it? _______________ 4 ________________ "Budapest, Gennaro 1429 "His name was Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone Guidi di Monte Cassai and he descended from an old family of carpenters: cabinet- and chests makers. Even as child, he had been bigger and stouter and stronger than other children - opposite to me. His younger brother called him deprecatingly, Masaccio: the big Thomas, the colossus. He came into my workshop there in the town of San Giovanni Alt'ura in the fruitful ground of Tuscany. He came and I was lost. One look into his fiery, black eye and I was ablaze. Although the love between two men in the Republic of Tuscany was not scorned, the eye of the priest was omnipresent and the people easily influenced. I could have been his father, but we both did not mind. He considered me as his mentor when I taught him to guide his paintbrush or to use the pencil filled with the red powder from the Arabian town of Sinope to transfer his cardboard to the bare walls. He was sixteen when his wild and free-spirited mind desired to break free from the oppressive conditions of our village. It was Firenze that called him, the town where Maestro Giotto had worked as the true explorer of the old art, to paint a three-dimensional painting - height, width and length - and I knew it was just a matter of time when my Tommaso would exceed me. I had to follow him wherever he would go." Alessandro's hand lowered the worn book and pondered. He lay fully dressed upon his bed and devoted himself to his favourite business: the artists of Florence. He felt an odd affection to the wild inhabitants of his hometown and when anybody should think that the business of art was something for stay-at-homes and weak queers, he was badly mistaken. There was a whole conception of life to learn from them, and the inhabitants of Florence had enough self-confidence to demand only the best. Just like this town had produced the best of art, at least for two, short centuries. It was easy to learn about the reason for that. Foreigners naturally thought that the sunny, free landscape had been the inspiration even though the best pieces of art had been made under the pressures of wars, self-serving dukes and power- hungry popes. In the end, it must have been the special Italian genes. Alessandro felt his own genes were tired and fading. He was the last offspring of the Gondi-Lucertola's. He had no brother, nor sister anymore, and his mother wouldn't bear any new children with another man, now that his father had died of a heart attack. She was a belletrist, spending her time with piano playing, embroidering and painting the beauty of theMugello's valley. At this moment she prepared for the move of the family to their villa in the Fiesole's hills, to flee the beginning stream of tourists and later the quenching heat that filled the valley of the Arno, bringing mosquitoes and malaria. Alessandro's eyelashes fluttered. No, that belonged to another time. It wasn't Malaria anymore. It was the breath of the past that drove her out of town and the certainty that she was finally allowed to live her own life. Now that her husband had gone, she no longer cared about her son as she always had done. Now, her nights were filled with the bitter taste of absinth. He was glad to be leaving in a month, discovering a new town, being on his own. And he would make sure that everybody knew who he was: the Lily's Prince, ready to conquer the boys and not the girls. Florence was so boring for that matter. He knew each gay man by name because each weekend he encountered the same people ... except for that Luca-boy who had appeared out of nowhere at the cimitero. Luca was young enough to be innocent and young enough not to be broken when he would leave because there would be others left behind for him. A chattering sound rose up to the window of his room which sat under the roof. The design of the palazzo's roof, with the broad loggia of pillars that let the air in, also allowed the scent of wild rosemary from the hills to filter in even though the palazzo stood in the centre of town. The ‘Lizard-Tower', as it was known in Florence, was the remains of a large tower-house from the medieval ages. The windows were small and barred. On the outside, holes remained from forgotten staircases on the walls originally intended to allow entry to each floor separately. They were long gone now. If he hadn't received this book from his grandfather, he would be as sunken into 'dolce far niente' as his parents have been. He didn't even bother to hide his passion for art in front of his buddies. They had laughed at him only one time. For them, everything was taken for granted; the beauty in stone, the precious gift Florence was living from, even if it meant a lot of unpleasantness during the summer. Actually, he had never spent the summer in the seething cauldron of this town. That wasn't his problem. He was young, and he radiated the innate beauty of an ancient fresco -- and he was rich, rich enough to be a loafer, a bum, frittering away the time with whoring, drinking and stupid chatter. The deep bells of Giotto's campanile sounded. Alessandro jumped to his feet. He would not miss the chance to meet Luca at the cimitero. "Why do you always crouch beside that naked ass, eh?" he greeted Luca, kneeling beside the stony God with the torch. "You don't have an odd desire for corpses, do you?" His blue eyes glistened when they caught the sunlight. "You can have my ass to touch." Luca jerked his hand from the stone and turned. There Alessandro stood, red-flaming hair, curls falling onto his bare neck, the white, long-sleeved shirt that was tucked into his jeans was unbuttoned allowing Luca to see his navel. Luca's heart surged. Nobody was as sexy as Alessandro, not even the naked, flawless stone. "Have you ever been to our family chapel?" Alessandro asked, helping Luca up. Luca threw a furtive glance to the family tomb down the path. "No, not that. What I mean is the family chapel at Novella. Don't say you haven't a clue about your own town." Luca lifted his shoulders helplessly. Surely he had been to the church of Santa Maria Novella, but it was gloomy and there weren't any mosaics to admire, nor precious pietre dure works. Alessandro shook his head, chiding as they set off towards the exit of the cemetery. "How was church?" he asked, looking at the boy walking at his side. "The same as always", Luca answered, happy to leave the sensitive theme. He felt a little stupid. "Why do you want to show me your chapel? Haven't you been to church already?" "Gesù! You are worse than the pope himself. This is Florence! We may be catholic, but our minds are free." Luca thought about his father and saw him making the sign of the cross at Alessandro's words. "So, why do you want to go then?" Alessandro stopped at the balustrade that overlooked the town. A breeze moved his hair as he lined up with the tourists that stood in awe with cameras in front of their eyes. "Because it's a long way from here to there." He pointed to the filigree line, jutting out of the flatness of the town, indicating the church's clock tower. "And we have a lot of time until we reach it", he whispered. 'Time for what?' Luca thought. 'To make small talk?' He was disappointed. He had prepared himself to be kissed and sucked again, but Alessandro was behaving like a tourist guide. Then he fell abruptly silent, joining the foreigner's silence. It was impossible to speak when Florence lay flooded in sunlight at their feet. Luca felt a certain pride. He had never thought about what it was like to live in a living museum. He concerned himself with his own problems. Now, suddenly, he had a kindred spirit at his side and everything looked easy. He followed Alessandro as he sauntered down the long and steep staircase, crossing the PiazzaleMichelangelo with the copy of a verdigris-David, and meeting women with buggies on their way to the Boboli-Gardens. They continued down the snake-like way until they reached the embankments of the river. On this Sunday afternoon, the streets were empty because it was the time when Florentines either met with their family exclusively or gathered in parks. The yellow-washed building of Santo Spirito appeared and Luca remembered his father's words to Giano about not examining corpses as Michelangelo had. He had to grin. "I hope you're thinking about coming home with me, later?" he heard Alessandro say. "There's nobody around to disturb us. Madama Lucertola is busy with her preparations for the move to Fiesole." "You will leave with her?" Disappointment surged through Luca. "I thought you said you had a month before you go to Pisa. My brother goes later." Alessandro stood and gave him an attentive look. "Your brother's going to Pisa? What is he studying?" "Medicine. He wants to become a surgeon." "Surgeon." Alessandro's twisted his lips. "I can't see blood." "Me neither." Alessandro continued on in silence, his head bent as if he was counting the paving stones. A whistle from somewhere near made him look up. Luca saw a gathering of lads in jean jackets and leather trousers leaning against motorbikes. "So that's the reason you stood us up this afternoon, eh?" one of them shouted. Luca looked away, wishing that the earth would swallow him. They were all older than him, and they had a somewhat threatening aura around them. But Alessandro remained calm. "Don't worry, Nino. You won't miss a thing", he said relaxed and winked. "And we thought it was a chick you wanted to lay. Now we see ... this." "Shut up." Alessandro moved past them, pulling Luca with him. Lorries, with bottles of Chianti, crossed the piazza along with open carts laden with salad and chicken on their way to the grocery shops. "Were they your friends?" Luca asked after they had passed. "I don't have any friends", Alessandro said and Luca again sensed the arrogance. Suddenly, everything became clear: his loneliness of a misunderstood adolescent, alone, with his mixed-up feelings. "You don't want to have any", he said after a while. "My father thinks you are the reason for your father's death." "What?" Alessandro stopped abruptly and supported a hand upon the brown retaining wall which forced the river into its bed. "Excuse me, but your father talks about matters he doesn't have a clue about. It was my father that drove me out onto the streets." Luca saw that he wanted to say more, but Alessandro closed his mouth and seemed to chew on the words he kept from leaving his lips. Luca sensed that now wasn't a good time to insist on learning Alessandro's secrets - if he had any. But everybody had secrets, didn't they? "Do your... buddies know you are ... going with men?" Alessandro, ready to walk on, stopped again, turning his head to Luca in amazement. "I'm going with men? Who told you this?" Luca laughed despite his fear. "Come on! What is it that you want from me then?" "Sex," Alessandro said bluntly, not blinking. "Then go and find some smelly girl's underwear." First Alessandro looked as if he would hit him, then his face brightened and an outburst of heartfelt laughter filled the warm air. "You're something! You think that sex with girls and sex with boys is the same, yes?" He stepped closer. "Ever fucked a girl? No, you haven't, right?" "My father says that he wonders why you haven't made half of the town pregnant." "My father says, my father says!" Alessandro parroted. "Don't you have a mind of your own? What do you think I am? Sure, I don't work, I don't go to school, I lounge around with the lot making noise in the night. But I'm no vandal. Have you ever heard that I defaced the stones and churches and monuments? I just suffer from ... boredom!" "Boredom, huh," Luca returned. "Well, then we should hurry and you can show me your private chapel. It would be something for you to do at least." Determinedly, Luca went ahead, refusing to look and see if Alessandro was following him or not. It didn't take long before Alessandro was at his side again. "Are you interested in art?" he asked. "Sure. But I don't know much. Just the important facts, not the details. That's all. I know a lot about how to work stones into mosaics though. My father is a master. All my brothers are working there and now I'm the last to join." "So why does one of your brothers want to become a surgeon then?" Luca shrugged. "I don't know." Silently, he feared that Giano wanted to leave his home just to live alone. He was a rebellious young man, always with an opposing word on his tongue, but knowing him as Luca did, Giano was gentle as a lamb and, Giano didn't care what his father said. They crossed the bridge of Santa Trinità, then passed the marble head of the God Mars with his erased face. It had lain in the river after the bombardment of Hitler's troops when they were destroying the bridges. Luca knew that it was the explicit wish of the German Führer that Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge that shouldn't be destroyed because even he thought it beautiful. Rowing boats and canoes swam upon the Arno, reminding him of his time at Oxford, but Alessandro didn't stop to reflect and dream. Soon they had vanished in the maze of narrow streets, passing churches and Palazzi. "You haven't answered my question", Luca said. "Why do you leave for Pisa so soon?" "Because it's time to leave. There's nothing that holds me here." Luca felt a little pain. "And do you often go to gay meeting points?" "Want to join me?" Alessandro retorted. "They are always waiting for fresh meat. Everybody knows everybody; it's boring." Now Luca seemed to know why Alessandro wanted to leave the town. He needed something new. "What about me?" he asked quietly. "You as fresh meat? Why not." Luca moaned inwardly. Was he really that meek and thought himself so insignificant as to just follow this braggart like a puppy, ready to get his daily good pummelling and then to lick his hands afterwards? "You're nasty." The angry retort escaped him. "I sacrifice my time for you and you have nothing better to do than to laugh at me." "Huh? Sacrifice your time? Then go and jerk off alone." Alessandro went on with long steps. Luca watched him from behind, focusing on the gentle movement of his jeans-clad butt and the swaying of his hips. Alessandro walked on confidently, knowing that Luca would follow him. And, he did, but he didn't know why. It was so cool inside the church of Santa Maria Novella after the warm sunlight that Luca shivered when they entered. "It's a Dominican Church, founded in 1221." Alessandro said, automatically lowering his voice. "I know this. You don't need to behave like a tourist guide." Alessandro gave him an amused look over his shoulder. "But I want to become a tourist guide." Luca was surprised. He hadn't thought that Alessandro had wishes for any profession at all. "Why do you think I'm going to study art history?" "To fight your boredom?" Alessandro didn't answer, but pulled him to the left side of the chapel where a large fresco covered the wall. Almost solemnly, he said, "The Trinity of Masaccio. He painted it in 1425. It took one hundred years after Master Giotto's death to produce another hero like him. Masaccio studied his frescoes and quickly learned how to continue his work. Even more, he was the man, in the then modern times, who remembered the perspective painting." "Remembered? It was all forgotten, right?" Luca threw in, trying to re-call his art-lessons in school. Alessandro nodded. "It's called linear-perspective. Masaccio was the first to realize Brunelleschi's invention for architecture in a painting." He pulled Luca to a dark-red spot amidst the marble floor. "Stay put and study it." Luca did so and suddenly the fresco gained depth and three-dimensional view. The arch curved over the Godfather with his supporting hands above the outstretched arms of his son hanging on the cross. "Amazing." "Yes." Luca saw that the fresco was painted with a strange red colour like dried blood, a blue-green and the colours of brownish earth. "Looks somewhat wretched." He shuddered. "Those dead eyes..." "Looks like the Tuscan farmers he doubtlessly took as models", Alessandro said. "It was found again in the 19th century during restoration work. The pillock of Vasari thought the church was too gothic in style, meaning he thought it was barbarian, and so he remodelled it while tearing out the monk's choir, placing large altars to each side and over painted the old frescoes with white colour." Luca remembered Vasari as being the biographer of all-important Renaissance-artists and a personal friend of Michelangelo. He was sure that if Michelangelo had seen this disfigurement he wouldn't have been his friend anymore. "And this", Alessandro pointed to the fresco below, "was found a few years ago under all the layers of paint: the grey-in-grey Grisaille of a skeleton laying upon a coffin. Imagine, fifty years before Leonardo drew an anatomically exact skeleton, it was Masaccio who did it first. And how was he able to do it?" Luca shrugged. "He probably dug up the corpses at a cemetery." He read the inscription: "I was what you are now; what I am now, you will be." "Creepy", he said. "Creepy like Masaccio's death." A questioning look covered Luca's expression. Alessandro continued. "Nobody knows when and why he died. He just vanished from Rome's earth. He had gone there to follow his teacher Masolino. Perhaps the teachers at Pisa know more about that." "Why should they?" "Because Masaccio worked in Pisa as well. Come. Our chapel is the one next to the altar chapel." Luca followed him through the long, echoing hall. Florentines sat on benches praying silently with folded hands. Footsore tourists, tired from walking on the pavement and sated and confused from all the impressions, joined them. Luca was confused as well. He hadn't expected that Alessandro could have such a widespread knowledge of Florence's history where art was concerned. His steps echoed on the patterned marble ground. Luca felt oddly oppressed, but he couldn't quite explain why. His father said that the walls of churches and houses absorbed the spirits of people who lived and worked and prayed there. So, what if the spirit of the fiery Dominican monks who'd fought heresy, pride and gluttony still remained here? He knew he wouldn't want to visit this church alone. Alessandro had stopped in front of the large altar-chapel. Next to it was another, smaller one. "That's ours", Alessandro stated. Polychrome marble and porphyry decoration covered the walls, and the sarcophagi were modelled as benches on the sidewalls. "The most precious thing is this crucifix made by Brunelleschi, the Master of the Cupola. It is the first depiction of Christ without a loincloth. Our family made a great effort to see that he placed it in our chapel. Money I assume." He grinned slyly. "Are these your ancestors?” Luca asked, pointing to the sarcophagi. Alessandro nodded. "They were contemporaries of Lorenzo de' Medici in the 15th century. Silk-merchants. We had ships at Pisa's harbour.” "I thought you had enough of church going for today, nephew", an older man said suddenly next to them. He was of impressive stature with greying hair at the temples, and stubborn curls over his forehead. It had the same mahogany-brown colour as Alessandro's. His small, round eyes pierced Luca's, instantly leaving Luca feeling insignificant to the point of almost shrinking under his stare. Luca felt the barrier separating people like him with people like them. "Oh, zio. I just wanted to show a friend our chapel." "So? Is he a foreigner that you have to explain the treasures of this church? And since when do you have friends? Or more precisely, since when do you call your lot friends?" His voice sounded bitter cold. Luca stepped away and pretended to study the frescoes at the altar-chapel. He didn't want to meet any more relatives or so-called friends of Alessandro today. He'd had enough. He certainly didn't belong to this class and they made him feel it. He tried to eavesdrop though he couldn't understand a word of the harsh and quickly whispered words of uncle and nephew. When Alessandro tapped his shoulder, he jumped. "We'll leave. I hadn't expected to meet him here." "Who was it?" "The brother of my father.” At first Luca was confused, for the brother of Alessandro's father was the mayor. Obviously, Alessandro had more than one uncle. "He doesn't seem to be in the best mood", he replied furtively. "He hates me." He shrugged. Again Luca wondered about, but marvelled at Alessandro's indifference. Perhaps it was just a mask. It could not be easy to be the bad boy for everyone. He didn't ask why his uncle hated him, but followed him out into the sun-flooded piazza with the obelisk in the middle of it. "What are we doing now?" Alessandro asked. Luca had no answer. He knew he still wanted to be alone with him, to feel his decadent kisses. Then he saw Alessandro looking at his watch. "Listen, I have things to do. Let's meet next Sunday, alright?" Without waiting for an answer, he walked away, crossing the piazza and then vanished down one of the streets leading to the centre of the town. _________________ 5 __________________ Luca's tongue remained at the corner of his lips. Attentively he followed the lines his pencil drew upon the paper and saw Alessandro's face developing. He wasn't that good with sketching, at least not as good as his father was, but it was enough for everybody to recognize to whom it belonged. Now the body... with an open zipper, the erect penis jutting out from the slit of his underpants. He drew it longer than it was in reality and Luca grinned mischievously. There was a knock at the door and hastily Luca closed the bloc of paper to hide the drawing. "Come in", he said and Giano opened the door. "What are you doing here in the dark on this sunny day?" he asked. "Want to come with me?" "Whereto?" "Just walking." It was the middle of the week and tomorrow would be Luca's birthday. "Alright." Luca rose to his feet. "I saw you recently with the Gondi-Lucertola boy", Giano started once they were outside. The Montori-house was situated next to the river because it had once housed places for dyed clothes that had to be washed in the Arno. It once was a poor quarter for minority workers and Jews, but now, since the factories had vanished, it looked brighter and a lot cleaner Luca assumed. Black-dressed, old women limped to the church of Santa Croce, their black handbags pressed tightly to their flabby breasts. Giano and Luca made room for workers, carrying desktops, mirrors and wardrobes to pass. "Do you know him?" Giano shook his head. "I just know he isn't good for you." He briefly embraced Luca's shoulders and ruffled his fingers through Luca's thick, blond hair. Luca liked Giano's touch as much as he disliked it when his mother did the same, but he couldn't express why. Perhaps because he felt so comfortable in his brother's presence. "And how do you know so well that he isn't good for me?" he asked. "Luca." Giano stood in front of his younger brother and looked at him with serious, brown eyes. "I just know it. They and us - it doesn't fit together. They are different. You can't rely on them. One day they are your friends, the other they don't know you anymore. Please spare yourself a lot of trouble." "There's nothing between us, not even friendship." Luca defended himself. "He knows so much about history, and it's fun to listen to him." Giano looked flabbergasted. "He knows about history? That's new to me. I thought a boy like him wouldn't have had other interests than to be a plague for the world." Now Luca laughed. "You are the one who is snotty, my dear. YOU draw the lines that separate us, isn't that so? You know fairly well that aristocracy hasn't the power anymore, the times are over when a noble man could decide about life or death. And haven't you told me always that the common Florentine was a rebel, fighting each supremacy, no matter if it was a religious or an earthly one?" "The common Florentine once burnt a priest whose commemorative plaque you still can see in the pavement at Piazza Signoria! They tore apart the bodies of their enemies and ate them!" Luca rolled his eyes. "That's old-fashioned stuff! Can't we never begin again without it?" "Now, who was the one interested in history, eh?" Giano asked half-amused, tripped over an uneven kerb and almost had a crash with a Vespa. The driver shouted obscenities but Giano just grinned. "This town! About time I was off." "I'll miss you like hell", Luca said. "I'm not out of the world, piccolino. I'll have a lot of time in-between the semesters and will visit you. Or you'll come to me. It's just a cat's jump away." Suddenly it struck Luca. "Alessandro starts his study too, but in a month, unlike you." He saw Giano's dismayed face. "What is he studying?" "Art history, don't worry." "Well, then...." "Do you think you will like the university? I mean, certainly you'll have to share a room." Giano nodded. Actually this was the only thing that bothered him. He wasn't used to sharing his privacy, but he had to make the best of it. He couldn't afford to rent a room. But deep down he was relieved that his parents had allowed him to start studying at Pisa's university. Now he was out of the family's grip and could begin his own life - which was a privilege for an Italian boy who usually remained in the circle of the family until he married. To go from one prison into another, Giano thought. He would be the first medic medic in the family of Montori who were dyers in the medieval ages and delivered to the houses of the Medici clothes and fabrics. When this trade had died and was replaced by machines, they had joined the workshop that created stone-mosaics that were even exported all over the world. But Giano liked to use the skill of his fingers for a different profession. "Anyway", he said aloud, his brown eyes serious. "Watch out for yourself." He breathed deeply the fresh-muddy scent of the river. Luca remained silent. He didn't know what this special feeling was, he shared with his older brother, but it was very special. And then, when Giano left for Pisa, Luca would be alone. His friends from school-days were out of reach - emotionally. He couldn't share his feelings with them. He searched for Giano's hand and entwined his fingers with his brother's. Giano turned his head and smiled melancholically. "What do you wish for your birthday?" "A bit late for you to ask, it's tomorrow." Giano nodded, a little spark in his eyes, indicating it was just a rhetoric question. An Alpha-Romeo passed slowly on the street between the walls of the river and the house fronts. The last sunbeams sparkled upon the waves' surface; an orange- reddish glimmer, broken by the darker silhouette of Ponte Vecchio. Florence woke to a new life. People returned from their daily tasks, tourists strolled relaxed, tired from sightseeing, looking for a place to rest and to eat. The car drove along the river-way, until it appeared again deep down the quayside and came to a halt next to the river shore on a grassy bank. It joined other Alphas and bright red Ferraris. Luca and Giano squinted up their eyes. "The lot is gathering." Luca recognized Alessandro's dark shock of hair as he stepped out of the car. He didn't know what they were doing there, but it was a ritual that took place usually each Saturday evening. They gathered, chatted, had a drink for an hour or two and parted again. "Are you sure you want to be friends with him?" Giano mumbled. Luca shrugged his shoulders, still staring at the figure of the young man in the distance. He seemed to hear his laughter and the clinking of Prosecco-glasses. Florence' rich youth celebrated themselves. Youth and careless life. Luca doubted that he wanted to belong to them. * * * * * A multi-voiced 'Happy Birthday' greeted Luca when he opened the kitchen door the next morning. The table was covered with a fresh white cloth and a chocolate cake was standing upon it with 17 burning candles. His mother Clarissa stood with red cheeks behind it, next to her husband and Giano. The other brothers seemed to sleep still - as usual Luca thought a little bit sad. But then he detected the heap of wrapped gifts next to the cake and his face was charmed by a broad smile. Clarissa hugged and kissed him, Niccolò ruffled his hair and Giano shook his shoulders before each one of them burst into a happy laughter. "Actually it's you, Mamma, who should be congratulated", said Giano, "to give birth to that piccolino here." Clarissa waved him off and Luca grinned, before he closed his eyes and tried to blow out all the candles with one breath. He forgot to make a wish, but then, he didn't believe in wishes anyway. Everything came as it came and it would be alright. The fatalism of the Montori-family was well-known. "Unwrap your parcels, dear, and then we all can have a piece of that cake of yours", Clarissa said, while his father sat down expectantly at the table. Brand new shoes appeared and a couple of fashionable shirts he would need for the next summer. The heavier parcel hid a collection of tools. Luca looked up surprised, delighting in the old, but looked after and oiled chisels, drills, acute hammers sandpaper and grainer. "They're the tools from Grandpa", Luca said, turning and weighing them in his palms. "Yes, son", Niccolò said proudly. "They are always passed from father to son. Now it's you, since you'll join the workshop." Luca pondered why he hadn't given them to Dante or Marcello, then it dawned on him that Niccolò had high expectations of his youngest son. His stomach lurched. Could he hold a candle to Master Niccolò who was the boss of the workers? But he pushed aside his concern and enjoyed the obvious affection. "Open mine", Giano said and Luca unwrapped the paper and a metal box full with different kinds of pencils appeared and a book that guided talented people how to draw. "Lately I've seen that you started again", Giano explained, "and so I thought it can't harm that you know how to draw lines before you cut them into stone." He winked and Luca stuttered his thanks to all of them. It wasn't even his eighteenth birthday and he was showered with gifts. He wondered if he was worth them all. "Coffee-time!" Clarissa called, sat the pot upon the table and Niccolò started to cut the cake. They were in the middle of a joyful chat when a knock came at the front door. A minute later Dante appeared in the doorway, incompletely dressed, with mussy, black hair and rings under his eyes. His face showed his scorn. Behind his back appeared another figure. Luca gasped. "Alessandro!" he exclaimed involuntarily. "Happy Birthday, Luca", Alessandro said, bowing slightly in direction of Luca's parents, stepping into the kitchen, by pushing Dante away. He carried an obviously heavy bag. "You must excuse me that I burst into your home this way, but I have to deliver this to the birthday child." The words dropped like pearls from Alessandro's lips. Clarissa and Niccolò sat flabbergasted, not able to talk. Giano had pulled up his eyebrows and said nothing either. "Here, this is for you." Alessandro held out the bag. "You can open it here, it's nothing naughty." He turned to Luca's parents. "And then, Madama e Messer, I would like to ask you politely if I can take Luca with me. I have a surprise for him." Giano's eyebrows vanished under his mob of hair, due to the old fashioned noble addressing of his parents. He looked the young lad up and down, not knowing what to think. Alessandro was his age, but in his fine clothes, black silky trousers, and lace-covered jabot on the white shirt along with the black jacket he thought he could see a noble man that belonged to another epoch. Clarissa darted a glance to her husband who cleared his throat. "Well... young man. You act as if you would ask out our daughter for a ... date." Luca hid a snort with laughter. He still held the bag in his arms, not daring to pull out the contents. It felt heavy like a stone. "Pull it out", Alessandro said. Finally Luca did as he was asked. Between the colourful paper appeared a blue stone, bigger than his fist, and Niccolò gasped. He craned his head over the table and fished for his glasses. "Hand it over, son", and reached out his hand. "That's Lapis lazuli", he said after a closer examination. He looked up. "Where did you get this?" "That's my gift for the start of your apprenticeship", Alessandro said instead of an answer. "Make something nice from it." Luca stared alternatively at the stone, his father and back to Alessandro. Lapis lazuli was as precious as diamonds, well, almost. But in this size of the stone it costs a fortune. It could be ground to make paint of a heavenly blue the old masters had used for their frescoes, or it was used for intarsia and mosaics at his father's workshop. But no matter for what, the old masters of arts sold their lives for a piece of it, and the rich patrons of those times had been stingy enough just to buy an ounce. And now he stared at the biggest Lapis lazuli stone he had ever seen - and probably his father too. "You haven't answered my plea", Alessandro asked politely. "What have you in mind with my brother?", Dante said grudgingly from the door, eyeing the stone. "Nothing that will harm him." "Well," Niccolò said, returning the stone reluctantly, "if Luca likes to go with you..." "That was a scene!", Luca laughed, when they were outside the house on the street, meeting the usual old, black-dressed women on their way to Santa Croce. "They even forgot to take me to church, wow." "Indeed? Well, I usually only go to church when I want to look at the interior." Luca was silent. They stood again at the riverbanks, now sun flooded with sharp shadows and angles. "Can I ask you a question?" Alessandro nodded. He swung his arms while he walked on confidently, bathing in his bold success. "Why are you so interested in art?" "Aren't you? I thought it was natural as a Florentine child." Luca shook his head. "I don't think so. I take it for granted", he said in a sudden realization. "And", he hesitated, "I've seen better." "Better what?" Alessandro came abruptly to a halt. "Better towns. This one," he made a wide movement with his arm, "is so old, it's gloomy, it's... I can't explain. I feel sometimes choked from the shadows and the narrow lanes. The mud, the tiny pavements, the loud tourists. Had you never the wish to go away?" Alessandro gave a muffled sound of laughter. "I've been away and I always returned." He walked on. "Where?" Luca followed him excited. "And where are we going to? What surprise do you have for me?" "The surprise is for later." His blue eyes were deep. "If you want to go with me, that is." He'd got Luca of course on the hook and he knew it. They passed anglers lined up on the lower banks, sitting patiently upon their stools, reading the Sunday newspaper, puffing smoke into the warm air and sipping occasionally at a bottle of Grappa. "What about swimming?" Alessandro asked. "The Cascine park has opened again and the pool is heated." "I don't have any swimming clothes with me", Luca said shocked. And anyway, he didn't want to undress in front of this good looking guy. He caught a look from aside. "You don't have to be shy, we can borrow them", Alessandro said. "But it's not warm enough to swim." Alessandro rolled his eyes. "Then suggest another thing." Luca sighed. "What do you do usually with your friends? Just hanging out and riding the bikes?" "For instance." "Do you have a girlfriend?" Alessandro stopped and leaned his forearms upon the red-stony balustrade and looked down to the river. It shimmered milky green. "Why do you insist of me having a girlfriend? Because that's what the people say?" Luca copied his composure, leaning over the balustrade. "I just thought..." "I have a reputation to act as the people like to see me act. Sure there were girls." Luca swallowed. "And why... what has it to do with me then?" "With the things we did at the cemetery?" Luca nodded. "Nothing." "Right. But what are you then? You can't switch between boys and girls. You must decide." Alessandro's eyes were dangerously dark-blue. "I do what I like" he said, his standard- sentence. "It isn't such a difference. When did you notice that you're keen on cocks?" Luca flinched at the words. "I suppose your family doesn't know, right?" Luca bent his head. "When will you tell them?" "Don't know. It's too early. It's difficult. I don't know what they will say." He took a deep breath. "Last Sunday they talked about boys like you, and ... and about you being a faggot, and about Luciano..." Alessandro turned his body towards him. "Luciano, the whore known all over town, who goes with everybody that has two eggs, right? Do they know more people like him? No. They identify a faggot with a horny swine that gropes everything, including little boys." "And you ask me why I don't tell my parents?" Luca asked accusingly. Alessandro said nothing and Luca took it as silent agreement. "Our hometown was built by homosexual faggots", Alessandro spat out finally. "Each palazzo, each cathedral, each church and each sculpture. And does it look like a wimpy town? No. I've never seen such a clear, upright, dark and manly town. The rest is cliché." Luca wondered about his words. They sounded so mature that he didn't know what to answer. "That's the reason you're interested in all this?" "Part of, yes. Come now." Alessandro pulled Luca with him , aimlessly through the town, that was filled with the deep and clear sounds of the churches' bells, calling the people to Mass. They had a lunch at a tavola selva, a self-service restaurant near the cathedral, and Alessandro paid for him, accepting no objections. "It's your birthday today. Don't you have the intention to spend it with your friends?" "Friends? Well, yes. Actually." "Would you mind if I'd come with you?" For the second time today Luca was put out. Here was the hero of the Florentine youth asking him, Luca Montori, to join his celebration with his friends? Alessandro must have sensed Luca's confusion, so he said, "Sorry, it was a stupid question. Go and we'll meet again in the evening, alright?" "Where?" "Right here. I'm looking forward to it." Luca examined the face before him. The expression was serious enough for him to believe him though a little voice in his head told him not to be too hopeful. He still longed to be kissed by his lips, to feel his tongue caressing his own, not to mention the things Alessandro did to him the day they had met. He felt a surging feeling welling up in his abdomen. Alessandro's eyes were promising, but Luca rose and left the restaurant, looking back to a waving Alessandro. * * * * * The Tabasco Bar was the oldest gay disco bar in the whole of Italy and no girls were allowed, and the irony was that this lascivious and naughty place was just a few steps away from the Piazza Signoria, where yet straights, local and tourists were gathering, but just didn't know about this. Alessandro guided Luca there and even he didn't know that the Tabasco was a gay pub only, thus he looked around astonished, glad that he had dressed in his brand new tight fitting shirt and matching trousers. "Was it difficult to slip away?" Alessandro asked next to him while Luca was still standing, watching the neon and chrome accents and the stunning reflective, metallic ceiling, festooned with phallic light bulbs jutting out. The dance floor was empty and just a few guys was standing at the bar, clutching their drinks, trying to look as cool as they could. "Actually no. I said I was meeting with my friends again." "How was it?" Alessandro asked automatically, guiding his steps to the bar and ordering two Cinzanos. "Ok." The bartender winked at him, then at Alessandro. "Picked up fresh meat, eh, Sandro? The darkroom's empty." A salacious grin played around his thin lips. "Darkroom?" asked Luca when the bartender served another customer. "Heavens, you know nothing, do you," Alessandro asked amused. "That's where you and me could go to do whatever you dream of." Luca blushed and bent his head over the Cinzano- glass. The ice cubes clinked and he sucked at the lemon-slice. "Is it really pitch dark in there?" Alessandro nodded and Luca wondered how many times he had used it with other guys. "Been there?" "Sure." That moment Madonna started to roar up and filled the room with ear deafening music. Luca flinched but held his composure. As if they had waited for that cue the dance floor started to fill up and Luca stared at the writhing bodies where everybody thought he was a starlet, ready to be discovered by Giorgio Armani. After he had finished his glass Luca asked boldly "You want to go there with me?" "Huh?" Alessandro couldn't turn his eyes off the dancing, male bodies. "To the dark room." Finally Alessandro turned fully at him and examined Luca's innocent face. "If you like?" he raised an eyebrow suggestively, then he said, "No, you won't. The first time you should see it with your eyes." He paused. "It would be your first time, wouldn't it?" He saw Luca's face and got suddenly weak knees - a thing that hadn't happened in a long, long time for him. * * * * * Cool air wafted through the open loggia in Alessandro's room. "You can stay over-night." Alessandro went to the refrigerator standing in a corner, and pulled out a bottle of wine. "Like one?" Actually Luca didn't. He'd had enough of the two Cinzano he'd had to drink and felt a little dizzy. But Alessandro opened the bottle and poured two glasses. "Salute", he said, raising his glass and Luca did the same. "To the night." Luca just sipped and put the glass aside. "And where's my promised surprise?" he asked. Alessandro looked confused. "I thought the Tabasco Bar was surprise enough?" He let himself fall upon an old-looking chaise-longe that was draped with a red cloth with fringes. Luca was still sitting in the matching arm-chair. Alessandro's room was huge and filled the complete upper floor of the Lizard-tower, Alessandro's home palazzo. Luca detected old, faint frescos near the high ceiling but couldn't recognize what they should show. An odd looking fireplace covered one wall, with an arcane roof, the other walls were covered by framed paintings and drawings of naked men - works of art. Luca detected the Davids from Michelangelo and Donatello, views of tight buttocks of all kinds, except they were all male. In another corner hidden by a now pulled back curtain was Alessandro's bed. "You like it?" Alessandro asked. Luca asked himself with pounding heart why Alessandro didn't start. Neither he had kissed him nor did any kind of thing that Luca was waiting for. He took his glass and emptied it in one rush. Then he stood up, came over to Alessandro and sat beside him. "Why am I here?" he asked in a low voice. "Is there nobody else here in this large house?" "Just my mother and she will be dazed from absinthe already." "Absinthe? I thought that's forbidden?" "Not anymore. Since they reduced the poison in it, it's not that dangerous anymore. But Madame has her connections and she knows secret places where the old recipe is still made. I'm sure sooner or later I can visit her in the loony house." Luca was taken aback. How could he talk like this. "Don't you like her?" he asked, stretching out his hand furtively to stroke over Alessandro's chest. "No. But let's not talk about this tonight." Alessandro pulled his shirt over his head. Luca started to sweat when he started to undress himself. It was dark and so he was on the save side he thought, but Alessandro was watching him closely until he started to grin. "Luca, baby, let's get rid off that and hurry up. I told you last time you're looking fine." Luca froze in his movement of pulling off his socks. "I thought you meant him." He pointed to his open zipper where a patch of snow white underwear gleamed in the darkness. "This especially", Alessandro said, bending over to let his hand sink into the slit of Luca's pants. "Oh", escaped from Luca when the warmth of Alessandro's fingers met the heat of his awakening member. Alessandro played for a minute until the pants was soaked from excitement. Then he pulled Luca up, and hobbled with him over to the bed, stumbling over shoes and falling jeans. Luca stroked Alessandro's naked, smooth chest, over the flat stomach and shoved Alessandro's legs up upon the bed. With his face, bent over the erect, long cock, he remained in his position, crouched over Alessandro's legs, he took it all in. His first penis, and what was he to do with that now? He watched the red head, peaking out from the foreskin, the crystal drops building at the slit, showing Alessandro's excitement, the soft curve of pulsating, silky skin that covered a hard pole. Cautiously he lowered his head and started to lick until he absorbed himself totally into this lovely task, and he heard no more and was just feeling. He hadn't known of the intoxicating smell, how Alessandro's soft balls slapped his cheeks when he kissed them, until Alessandro was a wriggling bundle under his hands. "Fuck me", he groaned, reached out and tossed Luca a wrapped condom. Luca froze. He had expected Alessandro to fuck him. He panicked. He didn't know what to do. Sandro lifted his head "You haven't done it before, huh?" "Of course not." Alessandro's head fell back. "Just shove it in." Alessandro was too horny to give lessons. Impatiently he took the condom, ripped it open and rolled the moist rubber over Luca's penis. He didn't bother with lube. Then he straddled Luca, and let his pole slowly enter him. Luca lay on his back and felt very strange. Somehow it was wrong. He saw the pain in Alessandro's face and didn't understand his self-violence as he was riding Luca frantically. But after a while Luca didn't worry anymore, but surrendered to the sight of Alessandro's hand engulfing his own cock while he rode Lucas' and brought himself close to explosion with each stroke. It didn't last long until both reached their peaks and Alessandro freed himself, dropped the condom to the ground, and stretched out beside Luca. He murmured something, gave him a kiss and fell asleep. Despite all this Luca remained unsatisfied. Sleepless he lay beside Alessandro and listened to his steady breath. In the middle of the night he got up and stood in the loggia. A soft breeze cooled his face and body. He sat into the wicker chair and stared at the cupola of the cathedral, bathing in the moonlight. This was it? Just this? And for those few minutes he should fight so hard, betray his family and friends pretend that he was another, or, that he was exactly the same as his friends, trying to bed the chicks to find out it wasn't worth it at all? He could do better with his hand because he then had the imagination of a friendly, loving, tender hand. Suddenly he remembered Alessandro's words when he was asked what he wanted from Luca: 'sex' had been the answer. Only sex and nothing more and he got it. Disappointed he tiptoed back to the sleeping Alessandro, stood a while next to the bed and watched. This was his first man, but to be honest, Alessandro had used him for own satisfaction and didn't care one bit about Luca's. Probably he thought that what he did was enough. He didn't even kiss him the way he had heard of - and partly experienced too, there at the cemetery. But then his eyes caught the beauty of Alessandro's body, laying limp and relaxed under the light bedcover. His velvety skin had a light tan from the first sunshine; parts were darker such as his face, under arms and neck, the rest was lighter. He looked so innocent while sleeping, that Luca thought to see an almost different young man; the cocky look from his blue eyes hidden behind closed lids, the mouth, relaxed and the lips a little parted. Somehow the nose gave his face a matured touch - relentless perhaps; a family heirloom. His father had had the same, like the mayor had and the brother he had met in the church. But Sandro was a loner, despite all of his buddies; Luca didn't want to call them friends. They had fun together, no more. Mindless fun, as an adolescence had all the right to have. And Luca? He was at the football match with his friends this afternoon - AC Firenze versus Lazio Roma - the tickets had been a gift from his brothers, not knowing that Luca wasn't the least interested in football, but in the naked, muscular legs and butts of the player. He had almost given in and had slipped under the sheets next to Alessandro, to feel his body close to him again. He had never shared a bed with another. He was unfamiliar to another's breath, the movements of the bed and Alessandro's sudden closeness had scared him more than it had pleased him. Instead he looked for his clothes and put them on silently. He was startled by the touch of a hand on his shoulder. "Where are you going?" Alessandro said with husky, sleep drunken voice. "I said you can stay overnight." Luca turned so abruptly that Alessandro's hand fell from his shoulder. "You think I could stay away all night long? Father would lock me up." Alessandro looked unsure as whether to laugh or not. "Lock you up? For what reason?" Luca sighed and shook his head. Must have been due to Sandro's sleepiness that he didn't understand. "I've never been away for a whole night. Mother will think me in hospital." Alessandro said nothing, he was just staring. Luca sensed the warmth his naked body radiated, and had the urge to hold him tight. He wanted to press his body into the other, wanted to being held and comforted. "You didn't like it", Alessandro said softly. "What didn't I like?" "Sex with me." Luca turned away caught. "No, look at me", Alessandro said quickly, again putting his hand upon Luca's shoulder. "You aren't of age, I do understand that your parents will be afraid. On the other hand, since when do Italian parents bother with their kids going early to bed, hm?" There was the faint hint of a smile in his eyes. Eyes, big and gleaming black in the darkness of the room. "If you want, I'll take you home." "You don't have to, it's not that far away." Why was it so difficult to speak? he thought. And why couldn't he answer Sandro's question. Did he like the sex with him, or not? "Perhaps you expected a turn, I mean, you wanted to be fucked?" Alessandro suggestively raised an eyebrow and Luca blushed. He was thankful that it was dark in the large room. Alessandro lifted his chin to look him in the eyes. "Did you?" Slowly Luca shook his head. "I... just wanted to be close to you." From the distance he heard the bell tower chiming the second hour. What the hell... he would be late anyway, so it didn't matter if he stood here for another hour. He didn't protest when Alessandro undressed him again, this time carefully and without any attempt to arouse him sexually. Then he took his hand, pulled back the bed cover and pushed him gently between them. "Do you think I'm a sex maniac?" Alessandro grinned. "I am." He stretched out beside Luca. "But I do have another side, you know." Luca lay still and wondered if Sandro was putting on the attitude of the stud about town, hiding his soft side. A macho, he thought. A gay macho. He felt Sandro's hands upon his body, stroking his cheeks, his neck and his arm. "I didn't want to make it bad for you. Your first night I mean. You just turned me on." "It wasn't so bad", Luca managed to say. He gradually relaxed under the strokes. Thinking of it, it wasn't bad at all. He couldn't compare how it should be, considering he had no experiences. But what now? "You'll be going to Fiesole?" Luca asked. "No, of course not. Mamma is going alone, like she always did. My bro..." he closed his mouth and fell back between the sheets. He forbade himself to think about that, like he had done in all the years past. "Your... what?" "Nothing. I'll stay here until I'm off for Pisa. And, as I said, we can have a lot of fun until then." He peered into Luca's face. "Don't you think?" "And what then? You have your fun and go away." He remembered Giano suddenly. "My brother is going to Pisa as well, but later." "You said that before. How many brothers do you have?" "Three. No sister." "And he will study medicine if I remember right." "Yes, Giano." "Giano Montori." Alessandro pondered loudly. He surely remembered Giano Montori. The guy with the blond mop of hair like Luca. Standing in the darkest corner of the bars, where nobody could see him, but he could watch the action from aside, without having to participate. A sly grin played around Alessandro's mouth. He bet that Luca didn't know that. He bent over. "You're much too serious for your age, amore. Why do you bother what happens when I'm away? I never promise. So, if you would rather leave and search for someone you can live happily ever after with, I won't stop you. But one thing be assured: you won't find him. It's just fun. Sex." Luca swallowed. He knew that Sandro was right. Man was promiscuity, wanting to shed his semen into all four cardinal points and never cares afterwards. That's all. No, he didn't believe that seriously. What about his father then? Did he have other women for a change? And why was Sandro's conception of youth wrong? Luca closed his eyes. It wasn't wrong for sure. If he just could overcome his reluctance and be as Sandro was... "Why don't you let me show you how good it can be?" Sandro's words pierced his ears. He wished above all things in the world to be loved, but he was scared as well. Alessandro was still staring. Then he scrambled over Luca's body and stepped out of the bed. He crossed the large room to its other side; his naked butt gleaming stark white. Luca couldn't suppress a smile. He adored Alessandro's straight, long legs and the confidence with which he walked in all his nudity. He didn't suffer any inferiority feelings. He watched how Alessandro opened a drawer of a beautiful chest of drawers. Florentine intarsia, he recognized with narrowed eyes. Old. Very old. Then Alessandro returned with a linen cloth-covered book. When he pulled back the cloth, Luca gasped. "I found it in a secret layer beneath the drawer. There's a knob you have to press and the bottom vanishes, revealing another shelf." Alessandro hesitated. Why was he telling Luca this? He had never shared this secret with anybody. He briefly shrugged his shoulders and sat upon the edge of the bed, next to Luca. "It's a diary." He turned the first, brittle page. Luca detected a fine handwriting, flourished, almost impossible to read. The paper was a sort of a parchment, stained with dark brown blotches and an odd smell came from it. "The oldest inscription belongs to 1429", he said. Luca looked up. "And what is it? Who has written this?" "You remember the day at the Novella-church? The fresco I showed you, made by Masaccio?" Luca nodded excitedly and rose to a sitting position. "It's not his, but of his master Masolino." Luca had heard this name before, but couldn't remember who he was. Masaccio - Masolino ... those names were easy to mistake. "This chest is really ancient, you know. The intarsia were made by the workshop you'll soon be attached to, but many years afterwards. Nobody found the secret drawer though. At least I guess no." Then it wouldn't had been here anymore, Luca completed the sentence in his mind. "And what is the interesting part of it, besides that it is ancient?" "That it is incomplete. The last pages are missing. He didn't finish it, which is a pity because it stops at the most interesting part." Luca looked down again and tried to decipher the handwriting. Alessandro turned on a little lamp standing on a small nightstand. Then he started to read out loud: "Budapest, Gennaro 1429 His name was Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone Guidi di Monte Cassai and he was descended from an old family of carpenters - cabinet- and chests makers. Even as child he had been bigger and stouter and stronger than other children - the opposite of me. His younger brother called him, deprecatingly, Masaccio: the big Thomas, the colossus. He came into my workshop there in the town of San Giovanni Alt'ura in the fruitful ground of Tuscany. He came and I was lost. One look into his fiery, black eyes and I was ablaze. Although the love between two men in the Republic of Tuscany was not scorned, the eye of the priest was omnipresent and the people easy to be influenced. I could have been his father, but neither of us minded. He considered me as his mentor when I taught him to guide his paint brush, to use the pencil filled with the red powder from the Arabian town Sinope to transfer his cardboard to the bare walls. He was sixteen when his wild mind wanted to break free from the claustrophobic conditions of our village. It was Firenze that called him, the town where Master Giotto had worked, the true explorer of the old art to paint a three-dimensional painting - height, width and depth - and I knew it was just a matter of time when my Tommaso would excel myself. I had to follow him wherever he would go. He arrived at Florence with his mother and brother in 1417 and settled down at the parish of San Niccolò Oltrarno, me on his heels. He entered my circle of painters and we continued our collaboration of equal to equal - not of master and pupil. Tommaso was exceptional. He improved my more modest style of painting by introducing me tothree dimensional techniques. He wanted more. He wanted everything. His brother had found a work in Bicci's workshop as odd job boy. I was scared of him. When my Tommaso was glowing with artistic fever - Giovanni was glowing from something unnatural I could not grasp. But I was as much aware of that as Tommaso was unaware of it." Alessandro closed the book carefully and looked at Luca. "Masolino was a painter himself, but most of all we know his name for Masaccio - or Tommaso as he is named in this diary. It seems as if they did everything together." A spark appeared in his eyes. "You get the message?" Luca was confused. "You mean they were more than pupil and master?" "What more? Of course more. Masolino writes they were equal. They shared more than the workshop together." "The bed?" Alessandro nodded. "That is written down here? You must give it to the museum, Sandro. It's most precious I'm sure." Alessandro pressed the book to his naked chest as if to protect it. "It's mine. I found it." He looked into nowhere; out between the loggia's pillars, into the starred sky. Luca watched him curiously. "What do you suppose is missing in that diary?" he asked softly. Alessandro didn't answer. He rose, crossed the room once more and hid the book in the secret drawer. He already regretted haven given his secret away. Perhaps it wasn't safe now anymore. But a look into Luca's innocent, somewhat glowing face, soothed him. Luca wouldn't take his fortune from him, would he. He pushed Luca aside and lay beside him. Then, without a further word he started to kiss Luca's lips, made him moan until the pearly laughter of his appeared. Alessandro was not able to resist it. His body pressed upon Luca's, he slid and wriggled until their penises were aligned and enjoyed as well the growing excitement as Luca's gentle hands, stroked his back and buttocks. And Luca started to get happy about losing his shyness and fears. Nobody was going to hurt him. _________________ 6 __________________ In the early hours they returned to Luca's home; tightly embraced they walked through deserted streets. Just the early workers crossed their way as the rising sun met the multicoloured façade of San Miniato upon its hill among green trees on the other side of the river. The stark white marble gleamed like it was freshly washed, and so did the red porphyry and the green serpentine. In the stony doorframe of Lucas' house they kissed good bye with the promise to meet again that afternoon. Tired, but happy, Luca entered the staircase, careful to avoid any noise. He found a sleeping Giano upon his bed. Luca shook him gently. "What are you doing here? Waiting for me?" Luca's heart suddenly beat faster. Giano wiped his eyes and rose. "There you are! I told the parents you were with Rosso to celebrate." He looked his younger brother up and down. He couldn't miss his glowing cheeks and the different look in his eyes. Wary he said, "Where've you been then?" "Out." Luca retorted saucily. "That's your excuse as well when the parents ask you where you have been." "Don't mess with me, Luca Montori", Giano approached him, though half-laughing. "Got rid off your virginity?" Luca blushed furiously. "You know I don't meet girls." Giano's eyebrow rose but he said nothing. "Go to bed then, I'll excuse you from breakfast." He silently closed the door behind him. Sighing Luca stretched out upon his still warm bed while his eyelashes started to flutter in sleepiness. What a night. His first night with a man... The diary of Masolino... and ... his body jerked upright... the Lapis lazuli! He found the stone on the table beneath the window next to his other gifts, sitting amidst the colourful paper Alessandro had wrapped it with. It looked like an exotic flower, a pure dark blue, round with sharp edges now and then, bigger than his fist. Carefully he touched it with his fingertips, felt the cool, rough surface and wondered what he would do with it. So far he hadn't any idea how to work it, but he would learn soon. Perhaps the pieces that he had to cut off he would grind to fine powder; mixed with the white of an egg, glue and oil it would give a rich blue colour to paint with. Happy he returned back to his bed and wondered what life had in stock for him. He found out at noon, when the workshop was closed for a lunch and when he faced a sneering Dante just as he was about to leave the house. His brother pulled out a sheet of paper from his breast pocket, unfolded it very slowly and with a sly grin upon his face. "Who on earth could have painted this? Eh?" He held the sheet in front of Luca's nose. Luca stepped back and recognized his drawing of Alessandro. Naked upper body. Erect cock peeping out from his trouser's slit. Luca's face drained. "Were you rummaging in my room?" he shouted angrily and tried to snatch the paper, but Dante escaped with a graceful movement, like a Torero with his red cloth in front of a bull. Suddenly he stepped very close and hissed "What's this piece of faggot shit? Have you drawn it, or not?" "Give it back!" Again Luca fought to get the drawing; in vain. "My brother's a little queer, isn't he? Never had a girlfriend, just because his mouth drooled for the boy's asses." His facial expression changed. "I understand now, wow. That's the reason you're after this little fag of Lucertola. Want him to lay you, yes?" Luca's eyes filled with tears. "Please, don't tell father. It... it was just a try... of a drawing.... to see if I still can." "Rubbish. You'd rather draw big boobs then, than such a cock." He threw the drawing into Luca's face. "Our family was always clean. No obscenities, no perverts. Don't you dare to start with it." A last glowering look, then he vanished into the kitchen. Luca ran out of the house and stood for a while upon the low steps that led to the small pavement. After some minutes he decided it wasn't worth to getting frightened about it. He couldn't understand Dante's homophobic aversion, but he didn't want it to spoil his time with Alessandro. Dante would calm down, probably take it as a joke. He was just a hothead. Behind a group of Japanese tourists, hung with video- and photo-cameras, laden with bags and tourist's guides in their hands, the figure of Alessandro appeared. As always wearing a tight fitting shirt, whose long sleeves he had rolled up above his elbows. With his light blue jeans and white trainers he looked like a young Apollo. At least to Luca. Now, his eyes were wide open to the attraction of a male human, he recognized the signs. The walk, the proud angle of his head, the casual way Sandro had hung his jacket over one shoulder, held by his forefinger. The fiery look from his blue eyes, intensified by the tan of his face. Alessandro was the Prince of the town, the Prince of the Lilies, whatever that meant and for whatever reason the people called him that. Perhaps they sensed that there was no one like him. He smiled openly at Luca, reached out and pulled him into an entrance made of heavy stone. Pietra serena. Pushing him against the stone and kissing him was one and Luca's body flashed with heat. His penis strained against the denim of his trousers when he felt Alessandro's tongue wrapping his own, caressing, searching. The soft pressure of his lips against Luca's was almost too much for him. He moaned loudly before he pushed Alessandro away. "Don't be mad, everybody can see us." "So what", Alessandro licked his lips, "kisses aren't forbidden, are they?" He took Luca's hand and entered the street again. The Japanese were gone, but another tourist group marched along the riverquai, interchangeable like the one before, just chattering with a heavy, rough German language. Alessandro sighed. "Tourist's season started again... That's the curse of living in a museum. You'll never have your home to yourself. Do you know when the last time I was at the Uffizi? I can't remember. It's always blocked by those pillocks." "Hey", Luca objected. "If it wasn't so, our hometown would be broke. They bring in a lot of money." "Yeah." Alessandro still had Luca's hand in his. Luca felt awkward. His eyes darted around to see if anybody could see it, but apparently nobody noticed. Or if, they didn't bother. "Where are we going?" he asked. "What about Boboli? Since you have to pay fee I haven't been there too." "Because you're so poor", Luca teased him. The Boboli-gardens stretched out on the other side of the Arno and were attached to the Palazzo Pitti, once the palace for the grand dukes of Tuscany. They had always been open to the public since they had existed, but when lately kids vandalized sculptures and plants, the government decided to charge entrance fee and engage guards. They followed the slow walking groups of foreign visitors, lead by their guides, using umbrellas with funny pennants or artificial sunflowers raised high in the air, watched the beer bellied men or the middle aged ones in their sandals with black socks, Bermudas and sunhats. Luca shivered. It wasn't that warm and the sky was clouded. What would they do when they had to suffer a long, hot Florentine summer? Alessandro grinned at him. Apparently he had the same idea. Slowly they passed the Uffizi-yard, the loggia and turned left to enter Ponte Vecchio; the shortest way leading to the Boboli-gardens. The jewel shops had just started to open, the owners pulled down the heavy wooden or iron gates, and presented their treasures. Gold, gold and gold once more, a treasure- chest for each tourist. But Luca and Alessandro passed without looking, anxious to be alone finally. They balanced upon the small pavements with the traffic beside them; the Postal van, horse carriages, trucks with wine and groceries, taxies, even donkey carriages from the countryside with bags of grain. They passed maids with wicker's bags, lounging in front of the poultry shop touching dangling rabbits, until they reached the gigantic light brown facade of Palazzo Pitti, a tarred area in front of it. In summer it was almost impossible to cross it, because your feet would stick. Alessandro paid the fee for both - unpleasant enough for Luca who could easily pay for himself, but Alessandro wouldn't hear any argument - they passed an open-air theatre, a fountain with a basin and an obelisk claming to have stood somewhere in Egypt. Alessandro told him that was the truth and the Roman emperors had brought it to Rome. Luca rolled his eyes. "You really should join the tourist groups and demand payment, you know." he said half-laughing. "When will you stop instructing me, eh?" "Hey, I just want your best", Alessandro answered, climbing the steep, long staircase reaching to the café house, a yellow building with a wide terrace full of tables and chairs attached. "Thirsty, hungry?" Alessandro asked but Luca shook his head. His fingers were still intertwined with Alessandro's and they had already gained some stares. Not unfriendly, but curious. He didn't want to sit here but preferred to stroll through the park. The statue of the Abundanza, a large female figure with a cornucopia in her arms greeted the visitors, and this park was filled indeed with an abundance of shady trees, large, rolling parkways, little artificial lakes and lots of antique- trimmed statues of gods. Luca almost had forgotten the incident with his brother. "Sandro?" he asked. "I haven't thanked you for the stone. I... I don't know why you've given it to me. It's really too much, and..." Alessandro soothed him. "It's not too much. It was just laying in the house in a glass cabinet. Nobody cared for it, so why should it gather dust there when you would have use for it", he said, breathing in the cool, moist air under the trees. Nobody was here. The tourists were busy with their sightseeing, and the few locals were spread all over the place. From afar they heard children's laughter. "But it is too expensive to give it away so easily, for sure", Luca insisted. Alessandro stopped in the middle of the walkway and pulled Luca to his chest. He pressed his lips upon Luca's and he - who was glad that his erection had subsided - started to get another. He felt intoxicated by closeness, by warmth and taste. He loved Alessandro's smell, a scent coming from his clothes, fresh like a baby, clean and innocent. Everything that Alessandro actually was not. When they heard footsteps on the crunchy gravel they broke the kiss, parted and started to walk on. Luca didn't know what to say. Would it be always like this? Imperceptibly the sky had clouded over and it didn't last long before the first tiny drops of rain started to fall. Neither was bothered, but then the drops became thicker and both searched for shelter. Alessandro spread out his jacket over their heads. "Come", he said and started to run down the hills, along a labyrinth of box trees until he reached the entrance to a grotto that was closed with red-white striped plastic tape. "No entrance" it read, but Alessandro stepped over and Luca followed. He knew they were in what was called the Grottos of Buontalenti, the man who had built them for the pleasure of Duke Cosimo several hundred years ago, but since they were not used, the town fathers had closed them. Artificial stalagmites hung from the moist ceiling. A stuffy, musty smell came from the cave behind it. Nonetheless Luca followed excited, passing odd looking faces of stone, chiselled from the walls. Faces with open mouths and wild, matted hair, eyes torn open in shock. "Michelangelo's slaves were placed here", he heard Alessandro whisper, "to the amusement of the noble people. The slaves were half-finished figures, peeling themselves out of the stone. Slaves to the material, so to say." Luca was for the first time thankful for Alessandro's explanations, for he felt a little shiver. It was gloomy in here, and both were soaked from the rain. Their bodies steamed. "There must be a lake somewhere." Alessandro stopped and turned. Then he pushed Luca against the stone and grinned. "Nobody will find us here, don't you think?" While he said this, he unbuttoned Luca's shirt and pulled it out from his waistband, unzipping his jeans and let them slide over Luca's hips. His fingers found and massaged Luca's erection, before he fell to his knees and continued the massage with his mouth. Luca groaned, his head pushed back, his arms searching for support. Again he felt he needed to lay down because his legs wouldn't hold him upright any longer, but Alessandro's palms were clasped around his buttocks, holding him steady. A few sucks and Alessandro got the prize, careful, that Luca didn't fall down. "The more often you do this, the longer you can hold out", he mumbled then, wiping his mouth and coming to his feet. "Was that a complaint?" Luca said panting. "Sort of. Why not start having a lot of practice? Right now." Alessandro’s eyes gleamed in the shadows. "Here?" Luca asked a bit shocked. He couldn't imagine lying down here on the stony, wet earth. "At home of course. Will you?" Alessandro’s voice sounded eager. Luca had to admit that he would do everything Alessandro wanted him to do. He pulled up his jeans and stuffed the moist shirt into the waistband and both looked to see if the rain had subsided. It had, all that was left was a drizzle. "Were you caught this morning?" Alessandro asked when they exited the park. "Yes, by Giano. He was waiting for me but backed me up." "Ah. Good boy. You both get along well?" "Yes." Alessandro nodded. He didn't know what Giano was doing in the gay bars, but he thought he knew the answer. But he was sure that Luca hadn't the slightest idea about that. He wondered if Giano was still a virgin as Luca was. The street pavement was wet and slippery; the tourists had vanished like at a secret sign, waiting for the rain to stop in several restaurants and bars on the way to Alessandro's home palazzo. A stony coat of arms hung over the entrance. A decorative lily and a lizard. The thick rustica ashlars of Pietra Serena looked very unfriendly. Rusted rings for torches and to bind horses were attached, and some small stony benches inserted into the walls, made for ancient visitors. "What were your ancestors actually?" Luca asked while Alessandro pushed him through the gate. On the other side they reached a square yard with graceful grey-white pillars connecting the walls, carrying the second floor that was built as open balcony. Window boxes were placed all over, red and white geraniums and in the middle of the yard grew a palm, thin and a bit sad. At the side wall was parked Alessandro's Ferrari next to his motorbike. "Did you know that Leonardo was guest here during his stay at Florence?" "Really?" "Really. He painted "Mona Lisa" here. My ancestors gained their wealth in the 15th century when they were contemporaries of Lorenzo de'Medici. Lorenzo il Magnifico, if that tells you something. We were merchants of silk and we had ships at Pisa's harbour. Didn't I tell you this before? In 1406 Florence had conquered Pisa and thus the sea harbour, and then our hometown had unrestrained access to the oceans directly from the mouth of the Arno." Luca stood and pondered. "My ancestors were contemporaries of Lorenzo too. But we were dyers, delivering the court with clothes." "Really?" "Really." "So we do have something in common, haven't we." Alessandro led the way to a side entrance, then upstairs, directly to his large room under the flat roof. Again Luca was overwhelmed by the large size. He detected a coffered ceiling he hadn't noticed the night before. A fire was slowly crackling in the fireplace and the windows, leading to the loggia were considerately closed. "Good old Anastasia", Alessandro said. "That's our housekeeper. The only person that has some sense here." "She lit the fire?" Luca asked. "Yes. She does everything I'm too lazy for. What WE are too lazy for", he corrected himself. "Aren't you sad that your father isn't alive anymore?" Luca asked a question he had had in his mind for along time. Alessandro turned surprised. "Sad? Why should I be sad? Sure, he was my father, but..." He shook his head and vanished through a door. He came back with fluffy towels, tossed Luca one of them and started to rub his wet hair. Luca did the same, watching Alessandro. His hair, tousled as it was, curled up into lovely, brown locks, now without the reddish highlights of the sun, but lovely enough to eat. They fell over his ears onto his neck, stressing the tenderness of the skin. Luca got weak knees. How could he resist such a beauty? But, why should he? Alessandro for sure didn't want him to resist. "My father was the emperor of the house Gondi-Lucertola. Our coat of arms you've noticed is a mixture of the loyalty to the house of the Medici - thus the lily - and the name of the other side of our family, the Lucertolas. I know, it's an odd name. Probably one of them was a gardner, fond of lizards, I don't know." "The lily..." Luca started, hanging the towel around his neck, "isn't it a French sign?" "It is. Florence was friends with France - King Francis I and his followers - and the king allowed them to carry the lily in the town's coat of arms. That was long after Lorenzo de' Medici though. You remember certainly that Maria and Catherine de’ Medici were both Queen of France." "And since your family was loyal to the Medici-family, you could take it over, right?" "Right." Alessandro started to undress in front of him. Unconcerned of another human's presence he stripped down to his underwear - sexy black pants, as Luca noticed - and hooked his thumbs into the waistband, pulled them down, stepped out of them and crossed the room to his wardrobe. He tossed Luca dry, clean clothes. "What you're waiting for? You'll get a cold." He changed his clothes, not looking at Luca. "I'll get us something to eat", he announced then and left the room. Luca heard him on the staircase. Slowly and confused he started to undress himself, made a neat heap from his wet clothes and stepped into Alessandro's, enjoying the clean baby-scent oozing from them. They fit as if they were made for him. Not knowing what to do he looked around and examined the room. Dark blue curtains hung from the small windows, leading to the open loggia, reaching to the floor, held aside by heavy, bronzed fixtures, depicting faces with open mouths and eyes, reminding him at the ugly faces Luca had seen in the grotto. A complete wall was covered by hand-made book shelves, protected with glass doors. Silver candelabras decorated low chests, and all sort of boxes with locks, looking as if they were made from Florentine Art too, like the heavy chest Sandro had taken Masolino's diary from. A thick carpet covered the parquet floor; the bed was hidden with a pulled down curtain too, that matched the blue colour of the window curtains. Luca felt good in these surrounding. He stepped up to the fireside and stirred the embers, like he did always at home. These palazzi were good for a sweltering heat outside, but in winter they were cold. Amused he thought that the tourists would freeze their asses off in the cool spring rain today. It didn't take long before Alessandro returned with a plate, laden with tramezzini, Italian sandwiches, filled with tomatoes and cheese, chicken and tuna, salami and pepperoni. He pulled a bottle of white wine out of his fridge and opened it. Luca felt suddenly very hungry. He took the glass, emptied it and eat heartily. "You were starving, eh?" said Alessandro, biting into his tramezzino as well. "Nothing for breakfast, I slept too long." "Like myself." They sat around a small table, looking out of the windows. The clouds hung low, short over the top of the cathedral's cupola and Giotto's clock tower beside. The hills of Fiesole had vanished behind a gloomy curtain of drizzling rain. The pieces of wood cracked in the fireplace.. There was dead silence in the house. "You hated your father?" Luca asked quietly. Alessandro swallowed the rest of his bread and washed it away with wine. "I wouldn't say hate. It was more. I despised him." "Why?" Luca was startled. Why should anybody despise his father? Alessandro shook his head. He stood up, went over to a small chest, opened the doors wide apart and revealed a stereo. He pressed some buttons and low music sounded. "I don't want to talk about it." "Not even with me?" "Especially not with you." Alessandro rose. "Don't get me wrong, Luca. I'm not sharing my secrets." "But you shared the diary with me." "Yeah." Alessandro nodded. "But family is family." "Has it to do with your mother? Because she is drinking?" Absinthe, as Luca remembered. "No." Alessandro's voice was sharp. "It hasn't to do with mother." He stood for a while, then he refilled his glass and Luca's. "Come, let's not talk about old family matters. Have you decided what to do with your stone?" He lifted Luca from his chair, placed the glass in his hand and forced Luca to drink. It tasted delicious, light and fruity, and Luca drank more than was good for him. "My uncle has a villa in the surrounding area that he rents to foreigners. Right now a family from Denmark resides there over the summer. They care for the vineyard and the olive trees. That's where the wine comes from. Our house trademark so to speak." "Your uncle we met at the church? He wasn't very friendly to you. Do you despise him too?" Luca asked, bold from the drunken wine. Alessandro laughed. "Clever boy. You think I'm the brat of the family, living off their richness, snottily despising every member of it, right?" He placed his glass back upon the table. "You're right, amore." It was getting darker and Alessandro's body became nothing more than a shadow in the room as he stepped closer and took the glass from Luca. Luca was starting to lose his mind again when he felt Alessandro's lips. He felt himself being undressed once more. Giggling he thought that it must be Sandro's profession to undress other people, but he didn't stop him and was having a go at Alessandro's clothes too. Soon the fire was the only light in the room. The curtains of the bed were pulled back, revealing a made bed with a soft, handmade patchwork cover. Anastasia, Luca thought while he was pushed between the sheets, surrendering to experienced hands, that aroused him so much that after a while he didn't know anymore where he was, who he was and what was the reason he was here. Alessandro showed him, pulling him over his own body, opened the crack between his buttocks, and sliding his fingers between them, circling around the hole Luca still had had just one use for. It wasn't so difficult for him anymore to give Alessandro the same pleasure he gave to Luca himself. Once he got used to Alessandro's length he could take it into his mouth, enjoying each centimetre of it. He enjoyed the clear fluid, he enjoyed the hot shooting juice and laughed. Alessandro joined in his pearly laughter. He didn't object when he was turned over on to his belly, and yelped when he sensed biting kisses on his butt cheeks, then a tongue that started to enter his private entrance, but his hands grasped the sheets in a never experienced ecstasy. And then he learnt, why Alessandro had been so keen on something to stick between his legs, when he felt invaded by careful, knowing fingers, a cooling fluid being smeared and he was ready and prepared. "Push back, amore", Alessandro whispered behind him, holding his hips steady from behind, playing with Luca's erect penis to keep his arousal, and to make it easier. Luca pushed, but the stinging pain was hard. Harder than he thought to bear, but soon it was over, due to the greasiness around Alessandro's condom covered tool, and his penis - limp from the pain - started to rise again. "You see what it means?" Alessandro still whispered, moving gently in and out. Luca's mind exploded when Alessandro found the right spot deep within him. He felt the long curve of the penis, breaching his sphincter, grazing his bowels, rubbing his prostate, while Sandro's fingers caressed Luca's balls, slapping with each movement against his thighs and he started to love it. Indistinctly he urged Alessandro to move deeper, quicker, faster and Sandro did him the favour, although he had rather prolonged the pleasure. Had it been so good for him his first time? Certainly not. All he had felt was a great pain, nothing more. Luca fell down onto his belly, pulling Alessandro with him. Luca's legs were shaking; he could feel it. Sweat had coloured the hair on his neck a dark blond. "Don't go away", Luca whispered. One upon the other they fell asleep together. Darkness. A faint gleaming of fire in the distance. A scent of shared love. Luca pressed his nose between the pillows and tried to remember where he was. The sting in his arse reminded him. Alessandro was still behind him, his penis stuck between Luca's legs. Still in him, Luca thought and tried to explore his feelings. He had slept with a man. With a skilful and experienced man, though Alessandro was hardly one year older. He tried to move, causing Alessandro to stir. He loved the size of the shrivelled cock in his hole but he also felt Sandro move it out, holding the condom's rim. Sleepily he threw it under the bed. Luca rolled his eyes inwardly. How many condoms must have been lying there, for Anastasia to find them? He turned to face Alessandro who had his eyes closed, a content smile around his lips. "How many?" he asked. Alessandro opened his eyes. "How many what?" "Condoms? Men?" Alessandro pulled a face and wiped his eyes. "I'm a slut, amore, but not that much of a slut to gather used condoms under my bed." He suddenly grinned and showered Luca's mouth with kisses. "You're right, I should buy a trash can. From now on the amount of those things will rise!" He started to tickle Luca who squeaked and tried to shove Alessandro off his body. "You liked it?" "No. I loved it." "Good. Then it's your turn. Amore." Amore. Luca tasted the sound of that word in his mouth. It tasted like pure joy. He was lying naked in his bed and straightened out the crumbled drawing of Alessandro. Actually he hadn't been that exaggerated with Sandro's length of his private parts... he giggled to himself. He clenched his butt cheeks and felt the little sting. A pleasant pain though. Just the mere thought of all the things they did made him hard again. Lazily he stroked himself. What would Dante have said had he seen that? he suddenly thought. Dante would never feel like this. Dante would never have such good sex. Complacently Luca encircled the head of his penis and started to rub the length of it until he came. He had to practise to delay. A pearly laughter escaped his throat. Each day practice, was his last thought before he fell asleep. _________________ 7 __________________ "Those present may take their seats." The stern, old fashioned looking notary took his glasses and placed them upon his nose. His watery eyes, over the heavy lachrymal sacs, examined the row of people sitting in front of him, while he took the sheets of paper. Valentina di Gondi-Lucertola, the widow, clothed in black silk. The lace from her black Florentine hat covered her face. Arrigo di Gondi-Lucertola, brother of the dead Matteo, was sitting next to her. A heavy, stout figure with mahogany hair, like his nephew Alessandro, sat indifferently, with arms folded across his chest. Florentine's mayor and his wife, another brother of Matteo, self-restrained as ever, just his sharp bent nose, the family trait, twitched nervously from time to time. Anastasia, family jewel for more than twenty years, occasionally wiped her eyes. "We come together to witness the testament of the late Matteo di Gondi-Lucertola. Let us start." He cleared his throat and began to read out. "I, Matteo di Ser Federico di Gondi-Lucertola, in possession of all my mental and physical powers, declare my last will. The palazzo Gondi-Lucertola, Firenze, goes into the sole possession of my beloved wife, Valentina di Gondi-Lucertola, as well as our house at Fiesole. In addition I bequeath to her 100,000 Euro each year as steady income. "Anastasia Foggi will be bequeathed 100,000 Euros for her long time service in the favour of our house." The notary stopped to dart a glance at the audience. He met only unmoving faces, except for Anastasia, who looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes, filled with tears. He continued. "My son Alessandro di Ser Matteo di Gondi-Lucertola gets the lifelong right to live in our Palazzo. The monthly income of 2,000 Euros are still to be provided for his livelihood. Further my money as it is held in shares and cash are bequeathed to him, but is held on one condition." Alessandro turned his eyes surprised. He hadn't expected a cent of money. He was curious to hear the condition. "Before my son gains the year of twenty-one he has to be married, and delivered of a male heir for our estate. Since he is the last offspring of our old, honourable family, the line must be continued. If he does not succeed, all money goes to the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, to care for the poor." The notary took off his glasses and stared at Alessandro who stared stunned back. He hadn't expected money, and under these circumstances he didn't want any of it. The church could do what they wanted with that. He felt everyone's eyes on him. Waiting. Lurking. "Alessandro, your father's wealth is about twenty million Euros. I am sure you'd like to keep that in your family." Alessandro slid on his chair. Twenty million Euros? He had never been interested in the family's wealth, but this sum was exorbitant. He had known that there was money, but not in this extreme abundance. What could he do with that? Ten lives wouldn't be enough to spend it. And the church? What could, what would they do with it? Care for the poor? Build hospitals? Spend it for research? For the fight of diseases? Or decorate their order? The prior of Santa Maria Novella would be ordered to Rome when he could bring such a fat piece of prey... Then he swallowed hard. That would mean... he had to father a kid? How? And why? How ridiculous. His thoughts raced while everyone was still staring at him from all sides. Ideas of artificial insemination crossed his mind. He could do this. He could... yes, that was the only thing he could do. There was no way he would marry and fuck a girl. At the same moment Luca's face appeared. How much fun they had. Have. Could have. "Will you accept?" the notary was asking him. Alessandro heard it behind a thick cloud of thoughts. "You do not have to decide now. But if you accept, you are bound to all conditions." Alessandro nodded slowly. "I need time to think it over, please." "Good. Within a week we will meet here again to hear Alessandro's decision." The notary rose from his chair and shook the hands of all. Then he took Alessandro aside and handed him an envelope. "This is for you. Your father handed it personally to me, shortly before his death." Awkward silence. The rest of his family had gathered on the floor, whispering and glancing occasionally at Alessandro, leaning against the wall beside the group, reading his father's letter. "Alessandro, when you read this you will have heard my last will. You will find it very odd. But what did you think will happen? I decided to add this stipulation concerning you, when I felt my time was coming. My heart is weak and you did not do anything to help me improve my state of health. You are the last one carrying our name. Our family is weak to the final shoot. Washed-out by centuries. And perverted. You know what I mean by this. But our family has not survived to perish in shame and disgrace. It must be carried on. If you go and search for a woman that breeds children, be careful. Arrigo will watch you. It is YOU and only you who will carry on the family's name. It might be, that you will gain pleasure in this. Matteo di Gondi-Lucertola" Alessandro gave a helpless snort of disapproval. His father couldn't even bring himself to sign himself 'father'. He folded the letter and fanned himself with it. He knew he was being watched. Everybody was waiting for his decision. And if he going to throw it into the wind, he would have the scorn of his family for all time. His uncles would end up with nothing. No doubt it was on him to save the Gondi- fortune. He wouldn't have a single silent minute again. "You must not give away twenty millions of the hard-earned money of the family. Gained over centuries. Lost very little of it." He could imagine his uncles now. He had a life-long right to live at the palazzo, but that was all. His father had left no further money for him; everything was bound to the condition to marry and become the father of a son. A son - mind you. How many tries would it need to become the father of a son when it could be always girls? That thought amused him somewhat and he turned to his family. He met the compassionate, old eyes of Anastasia, a little, fragile woman with a little, black hat. The eyes of his uncles were empty. And his mother? The once beautiful Valentina, the princess of Firenze, now destroyed by alcohol whose signs she could hardly cover. Not even with her black veil. "What is there to grin about, son?" Arrigo snapped. "I'm not your son, zio. Your nephew, as you might remember. And its up to me to keep the money rolling in, isn't that so", Alessandro sneered. "What would you do if I refuse to produce the heir and the money goes to the church? To decorate our family chapel for instance? Or to reserve the Dominican parish of Firenze the biggest part in the heart of Rome's Pope? He would certainly be pleased." "Alessandro!" Emilio, the mayor, made a step forward. "You honestly can't do that. For heaven's sake, is it so complicated or beneath your dignity to marry to give us a heir?" Alessandro shook his head. It wouldn't be complicated, but it would be against Alessandro's concept of his life. He wanted to study. He wanted to become a historian. He wanted to be free. "And why isn't the money you have enough? You can live from your own income. What if I decided to decree explicitly for what my money should be used?" "Because it is OURS!" Arrigo roared. "Nobody will take it away." Alessandro closed his eyes. "I have one week to think it over. I'll let you know my decision." He couldn't be alone right now. His mind would go round and round without finding a way out. But he didn't want to talk about his sorrow either. He was the strong one who never ever needed anyone to help him out. On the other hand, there was someone who could help him. Not with his decision, but by his presence. He knocked at the front door of Luca's home, a palazzo like his own, though comparatively much smaller, and not with the same rich abundance of masterly worked stone masonry. He faced Luca's brother, thankfully it wasn't Dante. He didn't want to see that angry face. Heaven knew how that could be Luca's brother. Marcello looked him up and down, chewing at a tramezzino. Of course, it was the lunch break. Apparently the family gathered at home then. "What do you want?" Marcello asked. "You have the biggest talent for showing up at the wrong time." "Why? Isn't he here?" "Of course he's here." Marcello made somewhat of a bow and opened the door invitingly. "Come on in." Alessandro sailed along, directly into the kitchen. Each family member was gathered around the wooden table, eating cooked rabbit. Alessandro's mouth watered. Luca's fork fell onto his plate and he rose. "Sit down, son", Niccolò growled. "What do you want this time?" "I'm really sorry. I'll come back later." Alessandro looked suddenly so boyish, that Clarissa's heart was touched. "Sit down, Alessandro. Are you hungry?" She started to pull out another plate, knife and fork and moved another chair to the table next to her. She waved to it invitingly and Alessandro followed, though he didn't know what was happening to him. He felt Dante's glaring stare. He felt Marcello's curious eyes, and Giano's almost embarrassed look. Just Luca's face was glowing with excitement. Alessandro avoided looking at Niccolò. Silently he let Clarissa put him a piece of rabbit on his plate, a sauce with the scent of wild rosemary, decorated it with glazed carrots and a break off a large piece of bread for him. "There you have it, now enjoy your meal." She looked friendly and motherly. Alessandro's heart tugged, but bravely he took his fork and tried a piece. It melted on his tongue. "You're an excellent cook, signora." Clarissa was pleased. It seemed as if the chatter had died when Alessandro had joined the table. Everyone was eating in silence, passing an occasionally stare over the table to the unwelcome intruder. Luca winked at him from time to time, and Alessandro loosened up somewhat. With his bread he took the last remainder of the sauce and sighed. "That was the best rabbit I've ever eaten, thank you", he said as polite as he could. Niccolò eyed him. "And why have we the pleasure of your company?" he asked, reaching for his pipe, stuffing tobacco in it. "Well... I didn't want to disturb you. I forgot the time. I wanted to pick up Luca actually." Clarissa wondered about Alessandro. He had lost his cocky behaviour and appeared to be an actually charming boy. "Can I go with him?" Luca asked, already standing beside his chair. Dante left the kitchen. "If that's all...." Niccolò waved with his puffing pipe. "Wait for me, I'll be back in a minute", Luca said and rushed out of the kitchen. Alessandro followed him, but not without thanking the family for the meal. In the hall Dante was waiting for him. "What do you want from my brother?" he growled. He was a half a head bigger than Alessandro and looked somewhat menacing. "What do you want from me? Are you your brother's guard? Luca can go wherever he want." "He can't. He isn't of age. He still lives at our home. So, I ask you again, what do you want, you little queer?" Blood shot into Alessandro's face. "Nobody's going to call me a queer," he hissed dangerously. "I'm warning you." Dante just laughed. Luca came down the staircase, wondering about the scene in front of him. But Alessandro took his arm and shoved him out the door. "What was that? Did you have an argument?" he asked, watching Alessandro's angry face. "Nothing important." Luca stopped in his tracks. "Geez, I forgot to tell you. Dante found a drawing of mine. I mean of you. All naked..." he blushed and shuffled his feet. "Naked? Of me? Madonna, how could you leave it lying around?" "I didn't. Dante must have brought my gifts up to my room, snooped around and found it." "Next time you'll hide it better. I need a drink, what about you?" Without waiting he entered the next bar, sat at a table in a corner and ordered two grappas. Luca sat in front of him. "Do you still have the drawing?" Luca nodded. "Dante called me names. I don't know what's gotten into him. He has never act this way before." "He has never assumed that you're queer before", Alessandro stated, while the waiter placed two glasses of grappa on the table. Alessandro drank it down in one gulp. "Another please." Luca sniffed at the glass. He didn't like grappa but nonetheless he sipped a bit of it. Then he shivered. Alessandro grinned. "And what now?" he asked. "Will he tell your parents?" "So far he hasn't. But what will happen when he does?" "Your mother's a nice woman, about your father I can't tell. They surely won't hate you. You have enough brothers who can breed grandchildren." "Is that the only aspect of life?" Luca asked. "To breed children?" Alessandro swallowed the second grappa. "For some people it is. That's the concept of life. To survive. To carry on the family's name. To hand over your possessions." He shrugged. "To me it's not important. I didn't ask to come into this world. It's my life now. I don't feel a responsibility to society." "We don't live on an island." Alessandro looked up surprised. "I told you, you're much too serious for your age, amore." He leaned over. "That was a philosophical opinion. Tell me more." "What more? It's giving and receiving." For a moment Luca searched for words. "It's like a symbiosis of nature. We take fortunes from others. And the other can expect to receive something from us. That's all." Alessandro shook his head. "It isn't so easy. What if nature stops us from giving?" "How do you mean?" "Look. We both are men. We can't have children on our own. We need the female part as it is written in the book of nature. And what will you do when you want to have children?" "Adopt one." "Nobody will give it to you because you're a queer and will spoil the kid's soul. They think it's infectious. Homosexuality I mean. And after all, it isn't the same. It's not your own flesh and blood. I was talking about handing over your genes." "I know. But what's all this talk about?" he asked warily. Alessandro looked out of the window. Over the expanse in front of the church of Santa Croce strolled the usual groups of tourists, gathering in front of the monument of Dante Alighieri. "I've been to Will reading of my father." "You didn't tell me!" "No. It was this morning. You see the heir of to almost twenty million sitting in front of you." Luca was shocked. "No, you're kidding me." But Alessandro's eyes told him that he wasn't. Luca emptied his grappa in one go and coughed. "What will you do with it?" he managed to say. "Give it to the church." "What?" Luca laughed harshly. "The church? You?" "Will you marry me now that you know that I'm a good match?" Alessandro winked invitingly. "Right away, let's go", Luca said dryly. They stared at each other, not knowing what to say. "There's just one problem. I really have to marry." "Marry." Luca repeated. "Marry? Who said that?" "A clause in the Will. I'll get the money when I marry and have a son." "But, come on, that's ludicrous. Are we living in the middle ages where the father can extort his son?" "You don't know the noble families, amore." Luca shook his head. This was impossible to believe. "And who will get the money if you turn it down?" "The church." "The church? Was your father so religious?" "Of course he wasn't. It's a trick he plays on me. Even after he's dead. Take revenge for my heinous life. I bet he jerks off right now from pure pleasure at having me in a pickle." "And otherwise you'll have no money? But your mother?" "She'll have the houses and a bit of money each year income as well as I'll have. 2,000 each month." "So she certainly could provide you with some of it until you can stand on your own feet." "I'm sure my uncles will find a way to hinder that." They fell silent. "I have two and a half years to fulfil my father's wish, Alessandro said finally, throwing some Euros upon the table cloth. "Let's not think about it. I'll start my study soon anyway." "But..." Luca rose and followed Alessandro out. "You have to decide. You can turn down the bequest. I don't have much money either, and I can life off that." "Yeah. You. Next week my decision has to be made." Luca stood on the pavement. His head swirled. "What will it mean to us when you marry?" he shouted after Alessandro's back, not caring about the people passing by. Alessandro waited for him to come closer. "Probably nothing. I'll continue my life. But", he hesitated, "that's not what I want, you see? I don't want to live a life of hiding, of lies. It soils our relationship. It puts it into a corner where it doesn't belong. I don't want to become one of those cowards, living their real life in a fantasy world. Or in gay bars, carefully hidden in the darkest corner. I am out. I am gay. Everybody shall know." Luca said nothing, but he understood. "You've slept with girls before", he mumbled. Alessandro turned furiously. "And so what? Haven't we all before we realize what we really want? It wasn't a mistake. I won't say it wasn't worth it. It's not that different." "So..." "What so?" Alessandro snapped. "You say I should fuck the girl, get a son and live happily ever after with my twenty millions, right? That's the price for losing my soul?" "You could divorce after a while, pay the mother, take your son and live with the twenty millions happily ever after." Alessandro looked at him surprised. "I hadn't expected such corrupt ideas residing in your mind, gioia", he said calmly. But the idea had fallen on fertile ground. Could he find a girl to make an agreement with? Perhaps it wouldn't be that difficult when he could promise a generous compensation. "But the kid?" Luca asked. "Wouldn't you be interested? Having a son? Wouldn't you care for him?" "I'm a kid myself still!" Luca couldn't object. More than anything he wanted to comfort Alessandro. The ridiculous clause couldn't be the end of the world. "May I come to your place?" Luca rubbed Alessandro's back. "Sure you can", he responded softly. Alessandro didn't feel like himself. Nothing, absolutely nothing had been able to throw him off track like this. It concerned his future life, that was true. He sat with Luca on the loggia in the wicker chairs. After yesterday's rain the air was fresh and clean, and a mild breeze was getting up. He didn't want to end their days together this way. Their days before he started his study at Pisa. On the other hand, they hadn't made a pact. They were sharing the bed, that was true. But how much of his time was Luca allowed to give him? He, being the protected chicken of the family. Not of age, jealously watched by his big brothers. Admittedly, Luca was intelligent, and he had good talks with him he didn't dream of having with his buddies. Just the opposite. But was this the start of a real relationship? It couldn't be. Both of them were much too young. "I'm much too young to bind myself for all of my life", he said aloud. "Of course you are. That's why I suggested you marry and divorce. If you find a girl that agrees to it for money it should certainly be this way." Luca was agitated. "I mean, the facts are clear: she gets what she wants and you get what you want." Alessandro sighed. "If only it was that easy. You remember the kids of Michael Jackson? I guess he made a similar agreement. You don't believe in the slightest that his kids were sired in a natural way, do you." "You mean, he bought his kids?" Alessandro flinched. Could you play with humans? What if his son found out that he was fathered without love? Just to fulfil a monstrous last will? Because money was more important than the birth of a new human? Even if that new born would have the best conditions in which to start his life? Wealth, care, perhaps love in the circle of a family? And who would that be, eh? His drunken mother, who didn't care the least about other people? His uncles and their wives, who weren't able to breed kids themselves? Another idea crossed his mind. "What if I'd find a doc that proves I am infertile?" "What?" Alessandro leaned forward. "Yes. I can't father children, imagine that. And what then? Would the money be mine or the church's?" "You'll never find a doc to prove that. And how will you pay him? Your family will drag you in front of every doc they know of." Alessandro leaned back again. Luca was right. There was no way out. "But what will happen when you indeed turn it down? The money would be lost to the family. They would be cross with you, right. But they won't kill you." "I wouldn't be so sure about that", Alessandro said gloomily, and Luca laughed unkindly. "Now, where's that pearly laughter of yours, hm? Come, let's forget about this. My mother's gone to Fiesole and we have the house to ourselves. You haven't seen the rest of it." He pulled Luca along with him, giving him the grand tour. But it wasn't showing off, Luca sensed that. He just should learn more about Alessandro's household. He felt as if he was visiting a museum and he was glad when he could return to Sandro's room under the roof. Nothing of what he had seen was cosy enough to live in. "Come here", Alessandro said, taking Luca into his arms. Oddly enough he felt weak and Luca was the only person he would allow to sense it. He wondered why. Stroking Luca's back up and down, his face buried into the blond hair, he felt for the first time how good it was to have a friend. Even more, when the friend and lover were the same. Luca had so many questions still to ask on his behalf. He was very confused about the events. He couldn't grasp the wealth this family had gathered over the centuries. He couldn't even comprehend the change Alessandro was going through. It was as if he would turn into another under his hands. He pulled him to the bed, pulled away the curtain, and fell with him between the soft pillows. This at least was something he understood. A place for withdrawal. A comfort. A place of their own with no stares, no nasty names called, and reality could wait outside. It wasn't long before their sex drive gained the upper hand. It wasn't to see if Luca had learnt to hold out; it was a play, nothing more. And he could repeat it as often as he wanted. "That's the good fortune of being so young," Alessandro said indistinctly, sucking at Luca's cock, dangling in front of him, while Luca did the same for him. "That's called 69." Luca moaned. "No more of that education, please", before both burst out into a heartfelt laughter. _____________________ 8 _____________________ "In 1422 Tommaso enrolled in the Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali, as every Artist was involved there. Being a painter means you are a Chemist too, with special knowledge of paints and colours and how to mix them. Ingredients from foreign countries, such as Marco Polo had introduced to them. Ingredients shipped by from over the oceans for our pharmacies and kitchens and workshops of Art. We continued our work together and I became more and more influenced by my young pupil. Whenever I used this name for him in public his face grew angry. Having a healthy rosy colour on his own, it started to gain a fiery red and his black, longish hair stood on end over his forehead. He stressed that he was not my pupil, for whatever reason. Today I know he felt that he was so much better than I was. Together we worked on the panel painting of the Madonna with her child and Santa Anna, and thepeople said, it was as if the old kind and the new kind of Art came together. Melding. It was the first work to manifest from our relationship. It was the first time I learnt that there was something else outside my world as painter. It was at our workshop that Tommaso took the brush from me, opened my paint soiled work coat, and loosened the girdle around my waist that held the short skirt over my tights. "I need a model", he said seriously. "For my Saint Paul." I stared at the piece of wood he had ground already, which would be part of a polyptychon for the Carmine church of Pisa. He had outlined a massive three-quarter figure of the apostle. "I search for intensity, detail", Tommaso explained, undressing me further. My skirt had fallen, like a loose shirt and I was standing embarrassed with nothing more than my tights and shoes. "That's what I need." Tommaso said pleased, his black eyes scanning my body. After a time of measuring and watching, drawing lines and improving, he stepped closer again. It was as if needles were pricking my skin when his fingers outlined the contours of my body. "You are a masterpiece", he said and his voice had taken on a husky tone. Without being able to stop him, he had loosened the pouch that hid my genitals, cupping them in his palm. "I need a closer view for my professional viewpoint." And then... and then.... I cannot describe. My feather trembles and I fear to blotch the parchment. Not even here and now can I confess what happened. The unspeakable... that I longed for since I had first seen him. His youth. The gift of his body. Every night from then on." Alessandro and Luca, leaning tightly together against the wall, followed Masolino's diary. "You see, he admits it. Well, as if anyone hadn't suspected it." “What? I didn't." "That's because you've heard nothing of Masolino before." Alessandro kissed Luca's nose. "And what's the interesting part now?" Luca asked, eying the relatively thickness of the book. "Patience, amore. The interesting part is what they did together that Masolino didn't want to describe", he teased. "I've imagination enough." "Have you?" Alessandro put aside the book and closed Luca's lips with his mouth. "I bet you know just a fraction of what we can do in bed." He pushed Luca onto his back and started fooling around with him. * * * * * Spring spread a gentle pattern in many greenish colours over the landscape: the yellow-green of the young corn and wheat, the blue-green of the rye, in between long rows of silver-green olive trees and yellowish fig trees and bluish vines, while upon hills the black green pines and cypresses stood like guards against the light blue sky. Luca absorbed the forms of the landscape like a dry sponge. Sitting beside Alessandro in his Ferrari he enjoyed the drive up into the hills of Fiesole, the little, Etruscan village high above his hometown. He had been here before - naturally - but by bus, and not in this posh, bright red automobile from which Sandro had pushed back the roof and the air currents whirled in his hair. He didn't know exactly why Sandro had invited him to visit the summer-villa of his family, but it was all the same to him. He was with Sandro and that was enough. A short passage led them through forests of chestnuts, oaks and beeches, alternating with meadows in full bloom. Fairytale meadows as he called them in his mind. Thick carpets of grass and wild flowers, red poppy and blue iris, deep-pink gladiolas, violet anemones and blue cornflowers, wild orchids and the beautiful green-white blooming wild garlic. He longed to throw himself into them and breath the scent, but Alessandro didn't stop. He surely had an eye for this beauty, but actually his mind was on other things. "Do you know why Tuscany looks as it does?" he asked. "It's the touch of human hands. The olive trees, the grapes, the cypresses and pines, the villas with gardens, terraces and lemon trees. My family was once proud of their noble past. But what were we? All that we had was our unbearable arrogance. We lived in our castles in the valley of the Mugello." He pointed to a spot in front of them, where the hills opened, and a gentle rolling valley appeared, in its depth a tiny river sparkled. "We could hardly write our names, and had heard about Christianity but only from afar. From our castles we ravaged the landscape, plundered the monasteries and kidnapped the monks. We were nothing more than robber barons, Bevisangue - blood-drinker. And if the merchants of Florence defeated one of us, they set fire to our castle and forced us to live for a year in the town - to civilize us I guess. But it didn't help much, we introduced Vendetta and didn't give up the habit of building tower-houses, like animals following their nest-building drive. Hundreds of those tower-houses stood in Florence; the lion's tower, the flea- and snake-tower and of course, the lizard-tower." He flashed a brief grin in the direction of Luca, who listened attentively. Sometimes Sandro's tales were interesting. "Those towers weren't only expressions of the obstinacy and ostentacy of our families, but they were needed to stand firm in sieges, like we did in the mountains' olden days. We had constant feuds with the other families or with our own members. The Gondis didn't own just the so-called lizard-tower but many more in addition, spread all over the town." "Yeah, and then the whole clan entrenched in one of them and threw stones and burning pitch upon the rebels," Luca said. "The connected houses were destroyed with heavy battering rams and in the streets were built barricades and all the congenial inhabitants couldn't leave their houses. Right?" Alessandro grinned once more. "You did your homework well", he said. "But it was just this boundless thirst for power, that was the sign of the real Florentine. And the Pisan looked down on us like at a pack of wild mountain men, stingy, envious and proud as we had been." Alessandro stopped at a tiny, open piazza in whose middle the monument of Garibaldi meeting King Umberto stood. "The fight between aristocracy and merchants led to the strange silence and barren hills because the castles and fortresses were pulled down bit by bit”, he continued. "The towers of San Gimigniano, standing like a mirage at the skyline, are the sole survivors of a time when the landscape was sprinkled with a thicket of towers. We, the noble people, hadn't been anything more than highwaymen, charging private customs duty and plundering the caravans of passing merchants." Alessandro looked straight forward, still clutching the steering wheel. Luca looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Why are you telling me this?" Suddenly Alessandro burst out into a joyful laughter. "You love my explanations , don't you?" He leaned over and kissed Luca's lips. "I can't help it. Do you think I'll become a good tourist guide one day?" "Tourist guide? I thought you studied history to work in a museum?" "Perhaps. Perhaps not. I'd love to guide foreigners through the town to tell them all this." Luca shook his head. "I'm not sure about that. Tourists would soon grow bored if you stuff them with all this information." "Depends on which kind of tourists I choose." "Ah. How long will you need to study to become a historian?" "Four years I guess." Luca's heart sank. He couldn't imagine waiting four long years for Sandro's return. But he pushed the thought away. "You've told me this story to understand your history, haven't you. From a wild highwayman to an acclaimed member of your family. Mayor and all. Heir of a twenty-million-inheritance." Alessandro nodded slowly. "It means that we are little more than farmers. Noble blood means nothing. It's just a title." "And yet you still carry a lot of pride", Luca said in a low voice. He thought about their first meeting at the cemetery. The haughty look from Sandro's eyes that gave the silent sign to stay away. "I could tell by your eyes that you thought I was beneath you." Alessandro was silent. Secretly he agreed. And what had made him change his mind? He started the motor again and drove along a small street, passing the Etruscan museum with the wide amphitheatre and the excavations behind until they reached a driveway and, behind cypresses, a flat roofed villa, painted yellow, with green shutters. The staircase was flanked by lemon- and orange trees in buckets. "That's our villa, Luca. I guess mother is in the garden behind the house." Luca took it all in as he followed Alessandro around the house on a neat sandy path. He saw a bent figure in black crouching between the flowerbeds and a beguiling scent of rosemary and lavender streamed through his nostrils. He saw a row of strawberries and bluebells. The figure rose and wiped her hands, then she shaded her eyes. "Alessandro, is that you?" A lovely voice. But somewhat brittle. "Ciao, Mamma. Why are you doing this alone? Where's Fran? Fran is our gardener", he said to Luca. Luca looked curious. He didn't know what to expect. He had thought that Sandro's family would be upset to meet him, and he awkwardly stepped from one foot to the other. "This is Luca, my friend", Alessandro introduced Luca who stretched out a hand. Valentina didn't take it, but looked embarrassed. Luca felt, that he had done something wrong. "Your friend?" Valentina asked angrily and looked through Luca as if he wasn't there. "Have you decided, otherwise why have you come up here?" "No, I haven't decided." He shrugged his shoulders. "It's a wonderful day." Luca's eyes wandered between mother and son. Valentina was still dressed in black, but a big Florentine hat with artificial fruits and flowers shaded her face. He thought that her eyes were unsteady and a faint smell of alcohol streamed from her clothes. She led the way between the beds to a small table under a fig tree and sat down. "Help yourself, there's tea in the kitchen", she said, taking a carafe and pouring something in her glass. Alessandro turned up his nose and went in, pulling Luca with him. "She's drinking again. And what would she do with her long days anyway. Squander the money the best as she knows." Like you, Luca thought and was ashamed of his thoughts. But at least Sandro had a brain and he knew how to use it. He followed him into the kitchen, a wide room with pots and pans hanging along the walls, an oven in the middle of it and baskets full of vegetables, potatoes, glasses with spaghetti and sauces, pots with fresh herbs drying in lines across the windows. "Does she live here alone?" Luca asked surprised. "Yes, with Fran, the gardener and Anastasia who's the cook." He pulled out a jug with lemon tea and poured two glasses. "Alone with the ghosts." Luca choked on his drink. "With the ghosts?" "The ghosts of our family." Alessandro finished his glass and stared into Luca's eyes. "It's anniversary day. That's the reason I brought you with me." Luca felt as if he was being treated like a marionette in a play he didn't understand. "Stop talking in riddles, Sandro. Why did you want me to see this?" "Because you're the first to see this." "You use me for your rebellion against your family", Luca stated. "But I'm not the buffer between you and your family matters." He turned as a shadow had covered the sunshine flooding through the entrance door. Valentina stood there, glass in her hand, slightly swaying. "What do you want then, Alessandro, if it's not to discuss your family inheritance? Come back when you have decided and leave me in peace." Alessandro laughed. "In peace? You? So that you can continue to pour drinks until you fall unconscious into your bed? Like you always do?" "Alessandro! Language!" Her eyes pierced Luca. "And what is this about? Bringing your boyfriend to our villa. You know that your father would turn in his grave. You are a disgrace to our family." "Family?" Alessandro harshly set his glass back upon the marble work surface. "Do you care about the family? Come", he took Luca's sleeve and dragged him out the back door. It led to an area of the garden that was protected by box trees . He stopped at a low hill of earth overgrown with ivy and daisies. A small wooden cross marked the head. It had no decoration. "That's my brother Nardo. He died five years ago." Alessandro crouched and plucked dried leaves from the grave. "There isn't even a name. He died of AIDS." Luca was shocked and stared down. There wasn't even a name... "That's the family's shame. They did nothing for him. They hid him until he died a wretched death in a hospital for the poor. The Loggia del Bigallo cared for him, the white monks. It was at the time when uncle Emilio fought to become Mayor and he didn't need any scandal in the family. I suppose you've heard nothing about it?" "Definitely not", Luca mumbled. He was much too young to know about the disease, like Alessandro must have been. "I was thirteen, but I knew what was going on. I saw Nardo in hospital and I saw him dying. I was the only one visiting him. And Anastasia." He looked up and Luca couldn't read his face. It was closed. And sad. "My father abandoned him. He didn't want to have anything to do with the pervert. And now..." "...you carry on the family's shame", Luca whispered. "Right." Alessandro rose. And his mother started to drink, Luca thought. "That's the true face of the aristocracy, Luca", Alessandro said bitterly. "That's why I separate myself from them. I don't want to end up like him. I'm a slut, but I'm a careful slut. And when I take the millions I'll be free. I won't be dependent on their money. I'll have my own palazzo. My own villa up here, or somewhere else. Why not in the Roman Campagna? That would be far enough away from all this shit." Luca freed himself. "You intend to take up the inheritance then? Marry and have a son? For money? To get your own back on your family? But that's no use to Nardo. He will still be dead." Alessandro looked angry and turned his back on him. "Perhaps I want to show Florence that the Gondi's can do something other than to reign a town." “Alessandro?" Luca turned at the sharp shout. Valentina was standing there, a fresh filled glass in her hand. Alessandro passed Luca and stepped close to his mother. "Salute, Mamma. Drink as long as you can. And when you have finished you can lay beside your son." He sneered. "As a disgrace to our family." He walked away, not looking back. Luca stood dumbfounded for a second, then he ran after him. He reached him at the Ferrari, and hopped into it before Alessandro started the engine and drove away; spraying gravel from under the wheels. Luca coughed. "What was that? Why are you treating your mother this way? Is it her fault?" "Her fault?" Alessandro laughed unkindly. "It was her fault as it was the fault of all of us. She didn't try to stop what happened. She didn't care for her son because she was afraid to become an outcast. No, my dear. It is the men in the family. You've seen my uncle Arrigo. If I don't do what they want, I'm an outcast too." "But, that's what you want, isn't it?" Luca couldn't follow Alessandro's illogical thoughts. "Right." Alessandro clutched the steering wheel while he was speeding through the village, passing the monument on the piazza and along down the street. But this time he didn't choose the direction that would lead them back to Florence, but one directly into the valley of the Mugello. He stopped his car on a deserted country road. Swallows flew low over the meadows and larks twittered high above in the violet sky. Crickets chirped and the scent of bitter thyme and rosemary floated over the earth. Alessandro sat and pondered, then he got out and strolled through the meadow. Luca was fed up of being treated as a bystander. He jumped out of the car too. "What do you want then? Why have you dragged me along like a total idiot in front of your mother? Do you want to prove that you're the oh so pitiful last offspring of an old family whose life is oh so hard? What are you missing?" Alessandro turned furiously and gave him a baleful look. His cheeks were glowing. But he said nothing. After a while of silent mutual glares Alessandro's eyes became bleak and suddenly he looked miserable. "I'm sorry, amore. I hadn't planned to confront my mother this way. I..." he made a helpless gesture. "It was my way to show you my pain . Probably it was the wrong way to go." He sat down between daisies and anemones and looked helpless like a little boy. Luca sat beside him. "Are you serious? Do you really want to take up the last will of your father?" Alessandro nodded. Luca sighed and stretched out between the grass and flowers. A bee was humming over his head. The larks were still twittering. "Then we won't have anything in common anymore." Alessandro looked down at him, bewildered. "Yesterday you said you are out”, Luca continued. “You’re gay. Everybody shall know. And now this. Do you seriously think that you can tell the town you're a gay but are determined to marry a girl to father a son? They’ll think it ludicrous and will laugh at you." "Nobody has ever laughed at a Gondi." "Then you’ll be the first." "I won't be the first to marry and live a secret life." "For the people, yes", Luca said peeved. "And what about your soul?" "Hey. It was you who said I could divorce and start my real life." Luca sighed and shook his head. "That's not the same. And what will you do when you study at Pisa? You'll find plenty of young men as substitute for me. You won't waste a single thought about me. So, why is my opinion so important?" "And you? What if you find another boy? At the workshop for instance?" Luca laughed. "In front of Dante and my father to watch me? Pah. That's impossible." "Anything is possible, amore", Alessandro whispered. He bent over Luca and opened the belt, holding his jeans. He pulled down the zipper and stroked Luca's abdomen. It was more a soothing gesture than one to arouse his sexual feelings. Nonetheless it did that for Luca. "You think you can solve anything with sex", he grumbled. "You still need to decide. I don't believe you when you say you have already. You're still fighting with yourself. What if your uncle insists that you stay in Florence in order to chose a girl? What if you can't study?" Alessandro's fingers stopped stroking Luca's warm, raising meat. He hadn't thought about that. If the decision was to study or to accept the conditions of the last will, he knew what he would do. "If I can't study I'll turn it down", he said solemnly. "To become a historian is the only thing I ever wanted." "Is that a promise?" Alessandro nodded and closed Luca's lips with his own. * Luca plucked dried grass and leaves from Alessandro's hair when they arrived back at the town again. There, in the meadow, in Sandro's arms, it was easy to forget. But Firenze's gloomy presence embraced them and the warm Spring's afternoon was giving a cheerless touch. Although he did think that his hometown could shine in the sun, and make everyone forget the unfriendly, fortress-like appearance. A town where the tourists were driven through like a herd of swine, where the bars were filled up by noon, the shutters were closed to stop the heat and the shops were closed until late afternoon. When Luca and Alessandro arrived home, they found Alessandro's uncle Arrigo lounging in an armchair, staring into the empty fire side in the living room. "You’re finally here, nephew", he said, eying an annoyed Luca behind Alessandro's back. "I see you've brought your boyfriend into our house?" "You have your own house, zio", Alessandro said cool. "So why are you here?" "To have a word with you, in private." Alessandro restrained himself. What a chain of unhappy meetings, he thought. "Go up and wait for me", he whispered into Luca's ear, who then disappeared reluctantly. He waited though around the corner and listened. He didn't want to be dismissed like a servant. "Fine", Alessandro took his place in the other armchair and stretched out his legs. Revolted Arrigo eyed the grass spots upon his nephew's shirt. "We all wait for your decision, Alessandro. I don't have to stress that it is strictly a family matter. Nobody else needs to be involved. We gathered our wealth across the centuries and no cent of it should be lost. To give it to the church is unacceptable." "So why do you dismiss father's last will then? If you search for someone to complain to then go to his grave and complain there. He's the one that has put me into this difficult position and nobody else." Arrigo laughed. "That's an odd remark, nephew. Matteo knew very well what you would decide. We have nothing to do with the church, nor with the Dominican monks for God's sake." He made the sign of cross. Alessandro watched it taken aback. "I thought you at least had respect for our family chapel in the church that belongs to that order", he said. "How old is it? Eight hundred years? What do you think our ancestors would say if they could hear you talking like this?" Arrigo bent forward. A vein at his temple started to pulsate. "You couldn't even bring yourself to lay your other nephew to rest at our family tomb at San Miniato", Alessandro continued. "It's the anniversary of his death by the way. Have you been there?" "Your brother doesn't matter. He brought himself an early death. Deserved it by all means." Alessandro turned his eyes to the high, wooden ceiling. What for heaven's sake had he done to deserve such a speech. "May I ask you on which planet you live, zio? What have we done to deserve such hatred? Have you opened your eyes and looked around? When was there a time when Firenze wasn't homosexual?" "Eh? What are you talking about?" "And you don't want to ruin my reputation as the womanizer of the town, do you. Everybody believes that I could impregnate half of the town if I just wanted to, right?" "Then do what we want you to do, we expect nothing more. Go and fuck the whole female inhabitants of the town, I don't mind. But give us a son." Alessandro rose. "If you weren't such an empty nut you could had done it yourself already." Arrigo almost leapt from his chair and punched Alessandro's face. Alessandro jerked back and wiped his mouth. The corner of his mouth was bleeding. Revolted he turned. "That's all you can do, zio. Hit people. Congratulations." He stood at the door. "What will you do to stop me from taking up my study at Pisa? Do you want to hold me here until I've married?" "You can bet that I will." Alessandro turned and walked out of the room, up the stairs, passing Luca without seeing him. Arrigo stormed out of the room, bumped into Luca, gave him a push and slammed the door behind him. Luca ran upstairs, caught up with Alessandro on the staircase and looked into his face. "You're bleeding." "Were you spying from around the corner?" Luca pulled out a hanky and wiped Alessandro's lips. "It isn't bad", he said. Alessandro stopped him. "I hadn't thought your family was such a plague", Luca said quietly when they entered Alessandro's room. "Now you know. And how difficult it is to resist them? What shall I do?" "Act like an adult for the first time in your life and resist. For your own sake." "For my own sake", Alessandro repeated. "You've heard him. He will keep me here in Florence." "And how will he manage that? Kidnap you and hide you in his house?" "Perhaps." "But that's nonsense. I would know and then the police would know." Alessandro looked Luca up and down. "You don't know how the Italian government works, gioia. Nobody will care." Luca felt as if he was standing at an abyss. Was there really no way out? Surely there must be. Alessandro couldn't be right. Nobody could stop a young man who wanted to spend his life learning. Not even the old family rules. "Does this mean you'll give up?" "No." Alessandro shook his head determined. "I'll turn down the inheritance. Now I'm really going to show him." ________________________ 9 _________________________ It was the next to last week before Luca started his apprenticeship at the Opificio delle pietre dure. He sat in the open loggia of Alessandro's room and let his body cool. During the past few days it had become warm, but up here there was a pleasant breeze blowing. He leafed through Sandro's books which he had gathered on a table and upon his knees. He would have read on in Masolino's diary, but somehow, without Sandro's permission, he didn't dare to pull out the book although he knew where it was hidden. Over the past days it had become their habit to spend them together, strolling through the town, buying each other flowers from the grand flower market, listening to the music of the open air festival that began each year in May, filled the rest of the time with sex, which Luca couldn't get enough of, and tried as best as they could to repress thoughts of the day when Alessandro had to declare himself. What would the family say, when Sandro turned down the bequest ? His own family still held reservations about his new friend; but so far his brother Dante hadn't told them that Sandro was probably more than a friend. "Luca?" Luca jumped from his chair when he saw Alessandro entering the room, in one hand a bowl, in the other a bottle. "I made it." He said simply, beaming. "And your family? Your uncle? Didn't he want to kill you right away?" "Yes, of course. He was silent, but I felt the hate. And feelings of revenge. I bet he's wondering how he could still stop me." "And the church? Will the Prior be informed?" Luca asked excitedly. "I guess so. Tomorrow's another appointment with the notary. and with the proxy of the Dominican order." Alessandro grinned and swung the bottle. "Champagne to celebrate." He sat down the bowl. "And Tiramisu, enough to make you sick.” "Yummy." Luca opened the bowl and tried it with his forefinger, licking the soft, alcoholised cake. Alessandro conjured two spoons, two glasses and let the plastic cork pop. Luca drank and then sputtered "And the rest of your family. Aren't they angry, that the fortune is lost now?" "They have enough money of their own, so why do they need to bother with the rest of it?" He emptied his glass, licked the spoon and embraced Luca. "Celebrate with me, will you? I'll take you out." "Take me out?" Luca was already busy undressing Alessandro. "You'll have your private celebration with me first." Villa Kazar's entrance overlooked the illuminated river Arno. Dozens of coloured electric light bulbs burnt along the road that led down to the open shore, and to a wooden raft where a disc jockey played soft music while hot rhythms echoed from the rooms inside. It was the evening with the theme "The Fifties", and so everyone had dressed in white jeans, hooped shirts and tiny neckerchiefs; some with sailor's hats and white trainers; the girls with ¾ petticoats. Villa Kazarwas open to everyone, straight and gay, girls and boys and nobody cared if two boys danced tightly embraced upon the wooden planks, to Adriano Celentano's scratchy voice, a mandolin and a trumpet in the background. Luca and Alessandro, still aroused from too much amore, stick to each other like leeches and unable to be separated. Not even when Luciano showed up, wanting a dance with Alessandro. Not even when Alessandro detected two of his buddies, stumbling out of the entrance with flushed faces due to too much alcohol. They waved. "Hey, Sandro!", then they stood petrified. "What the fuck are you doing there? Are you stoned that you can't tell a girl from a boy?" Luca froze in Alessandro's arms. "Don't they know?" he asked. Alessandro giggled. "Of course not. Do you think they would have accepted me then as their leader, eh?" He waved back. Luca felt not exactly comfortable, noticing the stares Alessandro's buddies were giving him. "You'll get problems." "Nonsense." Alessandro pressed his body tightly to Luca's. "What do I care about those blockheads?" "There was a time you DID care, have you forgotten?" Alessandro stepped back a little to look into Luca's face. "I never cared, amore. I never needed them. It was just more fun to be in company." "What was more fun? To whistle after the girls? To lay them? To drive through the town after midnight?" "All of that." Alessandro's buddies had gone, and Luca was relieved. Perhaps they were too plastered to remember anything in the morning. "Let us go", he said. Considering Alessandro's state of excitement he didn't want to miss the night. Together they sauntered along the river; fading music sounded from over the other side of it. It wasn't so late that Florence was deserted. Tourists still strolled through the silent streets. From bars that had their tables and chairs placed outside on the streets sounded chatter and laughing. "It's good that Spring is back, don't you think?" Alessandro mused. "The town is dead in winter." "Yes." Luca said sadly. "But you'll not be here with me." Alessandro kissed his cheek. "I'll visit you as soon as possible. And you can come whenever you want. Stay over the weekend, it isn't far away." Giano had told him the same, Luca thought. He would have problems arranging all that. By and by the streets became more narrow, darker and emptier. They passed the tiny piazza of the even more tiny church of Santi Apostoli, the oldest church in town. It crouched dirty brown in the shadows beside a wall of houses. Luca heard footsteps behind them. He turned and saw a figure coming closer. He shrugged and was about to lose himself in thoughts again when another figure appeared in front of them. He couldn't help it but something deep within him warned him. He got goose bumps and stopped walking. Alessandro at his side didn't seem to bother, although he likewise stopped and turned to Luca. "What's wrong?" Then he followed Luca's stare. There were two dark figures meanwhile coming up on them. And, looking back, one behind them. "What is it with you? Are you afraid of night-time walkers?" Before Luca could answer he felt grabbed from behind. An arm was wrapped around his neck, strangling his windpipe. He gagged and was dragged to the ground, then he was released. When he looked up, Alessandro was surrounded. Black figures, in black balaclavas. "Had fun, faggot?" one started, the voice indistinct due to the mask. Alessandro flexed his body, ready to face whatever might come next. "What do you want...straight boy?" he said with his typical, fearless sneer. "Sandro, don't!", Luca shouted, but he received a kick between his ribs and fell back, coughing for air. Alessandro turned furiously. "I wouldn't move, faggot, if I were you." Alessandro was puzzled and tried to remember the voice. "Come, if you dare", he shouted now, "and receive the best fuck of your life from a faggot, and when I'm done with you, you'll beg me for more." His head was flung aside when it received the first hit, but Alessandro had learnt how to protect himself. He clenched his fists and started to prance. But he was without any chance. Luca had enough breath to stand up and get into a clinch with the third attacker, but after a silent fight, Alessandro lay flat on his back on the ground, bleeding from several cuts, his breathing laboured. Luca saw three shadows flee through the narrow streets. "Sandro?" He scrambled closer and tried to figure out Alessandro's face in the darkness. "Sandro? Are you alright?" "Sure I am", Alessandro mumbled, not exactly able to move his body upright. He didn't know what hurt more, his abdomen, his stomach, his hand, or the cuts on his face. "Jesus Christ! That's never happened before," Luca shouted. "Please, get up. I'll phone a taxi to the hospital." "No hospital." Alessandro moaned while he tried to sit upright. He was more than pissed at himself; that this time he hadn't been able to protect himself, or even Luca. "What's with you?" "I'm ok." Luca couldn’t feel the pain from his ribs. "Good. Then help me up, please." Luca crouched behind Alessandro and hauled him up. "Can you walk?" Alessandro could. Together they dragged themselves through the streets, passing people who thought that too much alcohol didn't go well with the youth of the day. From afar they heard the sirens of a police car. Up in the room Luca lay Alessandro upon his bed and started to undress him with trembling hands. He examined his chest and found blue-red bruises. Alessandro complained about pain in his abdomen, so Luca pulled down his underpants and gasped. One of his testicles was swollen and had turned a nasty red colour. "I'll call a doc, Sandro. This looks serious." "Yeah, one of those bastards got me there with his boots." He moaned from sheer helplessness. "Call the family doc, the number is at my wallet." The doctor diagnosed a broken rib, a broken little finger and a contusion of the testicles. He said that Luca should add ice to it as long as Alessandro would endure this and then it would soon go away. He put a bandage around his hand and said the rib would heal without any treatment, assuming, that Sandro didn't move too much. "You didn't recognize the guys?" he asked Luca, after an examination of Luca himself. Luca shook his head. "I'd go to the police tomorrow first, boy. That's not a joke. Any idea why they attacked you?" Luca looked down. Should he tell the doc that they called them names? Faggot? That it was homophobic related? A hot wire burned suddenly in his stomach. The guys at Villa Kazar... Sandro's buddies.... but they had been too drunk to do anything like that. Right? "Give him these tablets and take yourself one. You need to rest too with your bruised ribs. I'll come back tomorrow. Where's Signora Lucertola?" "Fiesole." "Anybody else in the house?" Luca shook his head. He received an concerned look from the doc. He lifted Luca's chin. "Go to the police tomorrow. Promise?" * Luca couldn't sleep. He lay beside the slumbering Alessandro who moaned occasionally in his sleep and he pondered. What if it had been Sandro's buddies indeed? They had seen them together and there was no mistaking that they were a couple. Could they be so annoyed that they wanted to teach them a lesson? Would that make sense? Not really. Who else? Bums who wanted money? They didn't search for money. And why would they call them faggots then when they couldn't know. He always came back to the same result. They must know Luca and Alessandro. Then he realised that he would have to stay overnight again, and his own family wouldn't know where he was. Luckily Giano owned a mobile, so he decided to call him. It sounded, as if his brother wasn't at home either. From far away he heard music playing, he was probably sitting in a pub. Luca told him where he was and since it was late, Alessandro had asked him to stay overnight. He tried to sound as casual as he could and he thought that Giano had swallowed his excuses. Then he went down to the kitchen to look for ice that he could place upon Alessandro's abdomen. He took the cubes out, crunched them, put them into a plastic bag, wrapped it into towels and returned. In the morning he searched in Sandro's wallet and found the telephone number of the house at Fiesole. Despite the early morning hour he rang and was answered by a fragile, tired voice. "House of Gondi-Lucertola. Anastasia is speaking." Luca cleared his throat. "Buon Giorno, this is Luca Montori speaking. May I speak to Signora Lucertola?" "Scusa, but the Signora is still sleeping. It is very early." "It's urgent." There was a tiny pause of silence. "Has something happened to Alessandro?" "Yes. Please, I just want to inform the Signora that he was hurt last night. He is doing better though." A gasp came from the other side of the phone. "I'm coming." A click announced that she had hung up. Luca didn't know if he had done the right thing when he returned to Alessandro and wiped his sweaty forehead. He seemed to had fallen into a deep sleep and this was actually the best thing he could do. Luca pulled back the bed covers and took away the bundle of crushed ice from Alessandro's abdomen. It was cold, but the swelling seemed to have diminished. But it was still bluish-red and Luca feared the worst. Hate boiled up in his stomach. Yes, he would go to the police as soon as Anastasia was here. He went downstairs into the kitchen and turned on the radio for the news. The weather forecast promised more warmth in the near future. He started to search for something to eat for himself, found bread and cold turkey, and made himself a tramezzino. He was drinking cold milk from the fridge when he heard a key turning in the lock of the entrance door. He rushed to the door, holding his ribs, that suddenly started to hurt again and faced old Anastasia, a head shorter than he himself, dressed in black lace, a tiny hat upon her head. "That's Luca?" she asked uncertainly. "Yes. Alessandro is upstairs, he is still sleeping." Anastasia took off her hat and went slowly into the kitchen. "The bus was late this morning", she excused herself. "Now please tell me what happened last night." * "Thank you for being there for Alessandro", she said, after Luca had finished his story. She looked miserable, pulled out a handkerchief and blew her nose. "What a sad story. A fight on an open street does not often happen, but then, horrible things have happened before", she said mysteriously. Luca thought instantly of the mysterious murders of couples in the close surrounding of Florence, that made had headlines for over a decade "Do you have an idea who it was?" Luca was silent. He had a suspicion, but how could he prove that it had been Sandro's buddies? He couldn't slander them without proof. Perhaps Sandro had more enemies. His uncle Arrigo for instance. Or the mayor. Anastasia watched him with watery eyes. "You are pretty", she stated. Her voice sounded calm and approving, as if she was his granny. "No wonder Alessandro has fallen for you." Luca blushed furiously. "What do you mean?" he stuttered. "Well, boy. I might be old, but I'm not blind. I don't share the family's opinion. Alessandro is a good boy, even if he is a bit wild and rough. He has a good heart, believe me. He does not deserve to be beaten down on the streets." She rose slowly from her chair and groaned a bit. Luca took her bony hands to help her. It was a natural impulse because he felt great sympathy for the housekeeper of the Lucertola-family. He followed her into the hall where she started to climb the staircase that winded up into the roof. Despite her age she was astonishingly quick. "We have a lift, but it's out of order", she explained, looking over her shoulder. "Matteo had it built; some stupid rattling thing of iron and wood." She seemed to grin and gathered up her long skirt. "But I prefer the staircase. It's keeping me fit." Luca smiled sheepishly and rushed to follow her. Alessandro was still sleeping, though he seemed to have had bad dreams for he had pushed away the blanket. Anastasia took in the sight before she approached the bed and sat down. With a cloth that lay beside she dabbed the sweat from Alessandro's forehead and examined the cuts in his face. One eye was blackened and the cut at the corner of his lips could be clearly seen. "That finger is broken", Luca explained quietly, "and some ribs bruised." Instantly he felt his own pain. "And this?" Anastasia pointed to the cloth at his abdomen. "Well, a contusion..." Anastasia snorted disapprovingly. "Bastards", she mumbled. "Kicked him with a boot, yes? Poor boy." She looked at Luca, apparently knowing what was going on in his head. "It will heal soon, don't worry." She sighed though and took the cloth. "Bring me some cool water, will you?" Luca rushed out. "I have heard about Alessandro's decision", she said. They sat on the sofa in the farthest corner and talked quietly. "What a pity. Probably the old, old family of Gondi will die out now. Sandro is the last. But since he does not seem to love the girls...." Luca didn't know how to answer. Probably it was his fault... What if he were to leave Sandro's life so that he would turn to the girls and have a normal life? The next second he suppressed a laugh. Surely Sandro had been gay before he met Luca. "What are you grinning about?" Anastasia asked interested. She had provided some tramezzini and two pots of coffee. "Well, I just thought the same. I mean, that it is pity... that he isn't interested in girls..." Anastasia looked unconvinced . "You're kidding me. No one can change their spots. Sandro was looking at boys as long as I have known him." She poured another cup of coffee. "You know, it didn't matter if we spent our holidays at Fiesole or at the sea. He was always the prince of his friends. That's where he got his name. He was the Prince. And as he grew up, I knew his eyes didn't follow the girls in their small bikinis. No." A tiny smile appeared in her eyes. "His head followed the boys when they strutted along the shore in their small trunks, their adolescent bodies slim and legs graceful like a stork's; their movements awkward and clumsy. But his eyes followed them.. That there were girls in between was due to his growing up. Too much of the hormones." She winked at Luca and leaned back comfortably. "You don't seriously think that if you left him that he would marry afterwards?" "Er... no" "Good. You know, I'll tell you something. Do you remember the 'Monster of Florence'? You must have been little then. Anyhow", Her voice was suddenly small and old. "My son was the last victim." Luca's face was a question mark. The so-called 'Monster of Florence' had killed straight couples over decades. "The murderer had mistaken the couple as being a man and a woman. But my son had long, blond hair and he looked like a girl from behind." Luca forgot to eat and slowly it dawned him. "He was gay?" Anastasia nodded. "Walking with his boyfriend on the road up to Fiesole." She took his hand. "Believe me, I know how you feel. My son was a sunshine. He couldn't kill a fly. But at least he wasn't murdered for what he was." Her eyes found Alessandro's body now lying peacefully under the bedcover. "But this here was done for what Sandro is." Her head flung back. "When will you go to the police? I'm coming with you." "Police?" Luca stuttered. He was sure that he couldn't manage that. Anastasia's watery eyes looked expectantly and somewhat relentless. "We can't leave him alone." Wouldn't his mother come to look for her son? "What about Signora Lucertola?" he asked shyly. Anastasia shook her head. "Tell you what, I'll call the police. They will come and interview us. One thing that the old family's name should be good for." Luca went to Sandro's bed and took his hand when he saw that his eyes were open. "You're awake?" Alessandro nodded. "Yeah, what have you been whispering, there in the corner? Talking about me, eh?" Luca, glad that Sandro was back to his old nature, smiled. "Sure. Talking about you. How are you? Have you pain?" "Only when I laugh. Gosh, my balls feel like pulp. Have you looked to see if they are still there?" "The doc said they will heal soon. Can you bear more of that ice?" "For a while it's ok. I must look terrible!" Luca shook his head and stroked Alessandro's hair. "You look fine as ever." Alessandro grimaced. "I hadn't expected you to call my family", he growled. "But I'm all right with Anastasia." He took Luca's hand. "Did she tell mother?" "I'm not sure but I doubt it." "She wouldn't bother anyway." Luca didn't want to argue with him, but he couldn't imagine that a mother wouldn't be bothered about the welfare of her son, but he kept his words to himself. "Well, Anastasia is going to call the police." He soothed the started Alessandro. "Calm down. It must be done. Do you want them to get away with this?" Alessandro fell back into the pillows and held his ribs. "And I was looking forward to a hot night with you." Luca's cheeks reddened. "Me too", he whispered. "Hurry up then and get well." He heard Anastasia return and planted a hasty kiss on Alessandro's lips, but Alessandro held his head and kissed him deeply. With beet red face Luca passed Anastasia and went down to crush more ice. It hadn't been easy to deal with the police's interrogation, but with the help of the resolute housekeeper it went politely and smoothly. No, he hadn't recognized any of them, yes, it had been three, no weapons except fists and boots and no, he wouldn't recognize them again. Alessandro had fallen back to sleep and Luca had rung his parents and told them that he would eat out. He patiently endured his mother's arguments, but he remained strong. He didn't want to leave Sandro. In the kitchen Anastasia had fixed them both pasta. Luca wondered why she didn't call Sandro's mother to tell her the news but he didn't dare to ask. He ate silently and felt Anastasia's eyes on him. "What do you think about Sandro's decision?" she asked suddenly. "He turns down twenty millions to be free." Luca put down his fork. "That is the point. It's too much money to be turned down. But it's all settled." Anastasia rolled the last spaghetti around her fork. "Valentina will have the palazzo and the villa. And the money goes to Sandro. Matteo's brothers end up with nothing", she said almost triumphantly. "Valentina is severely alcohol-addicted. The absinthe makes her lose her mind. If she has to go into a hospital it might be that the houses will go to Sandro, too." "But you'll have your money, yes?" "Right, sunshine", Anastasia said cheerful, patting his hand. "Yes, but it's not about me, it's about Sandro. He's free, he still has the monthly salary and I'm sure Arrigo will provide money for support." "You know them well." "I do, sunshine. I do." She rose and put the empty plates together. "Go and look after Sandro, I'll take care of this here. Oh," she said, turning, "don't you have to go home? Your mother will worry." Luca shook his head. No way he was going back. "Signora?" he asked. "Call me Anastasia please", she interrupted him. Luca hesitated. "Well... Anastasia, thanks for being here. Sandro appreciates it too." Anastasia smiled. Luca had removed the ice-bag and was pleased to see that the swelling had subsided even more. There was still a nasty blue colour though. Anastasia had fixed Alessandro a meal when he was awake, though the pain killers made him so tired that he couldn't stay awake for very long. Luca was considering finally going home and prepared himself for a row with his parents. "Fancy a dolce?" Anastasia asked him and he couldn't resist. Again both of them had retreated to the sofa in Alessandro's room. "Have you informed his mother?" Luca dared to finally ask but Anastasia shook her head. "She will know he's in good hands", she simply said. "I've met her." "Have you?" Anastasia said surprised. "When?" "Couple of days ago." Luca breathed in deeply. "I've seen the grave." Anastasia's fork sunk. "Nardo?" There was a minute of silence. "Sandro told you the story?" "Well, he told me why he had died. And about... his parents." "Sandro was little when it happened. I thought he wouldn't understand. But he did. What did he tell you?" Luca's tongue squashed the soft Tiramisu on his palate and pondered what to tell her. "He told me very little", he said finally. "Actually not more than he was left dying alone." He lifted his head. "But that you were there. You and he. And that his parents didn't care." A variety of emotions washed across Anastasia's face. "That's a short summary of all the pain." Her spoon scratched the empty plate. "Emilio was to be newly elected as mayor. He wouldn't endure a scandal." Anastasia snorted. "What ever that means. But a dying nephew he didn't need. Nardo disappeared from one day to the next. People were told he was studying in America." Luca understood the craziness and illogical events. "Why was the mayor considered responsible for his dying nephew? I mean, did the people care?" Anastasia looked at him. "Luca, they think AIDS is still the disease of the homosexuals. Nardo was not gay." "No?" "There you are, you put Nardo into the same drawer. He has AIDS so he must be homo-sexual." Luca nodded slowly. "Nardo was the same as Alessandro. The first prince. The crown prince. He wouldn't miss a party. He wouldn't miss on out a girl. Heaven only knew what he would do to satisfy his drive. And he was punished bitterly." She paused. "Pater Ridolfi thought it was a punishment from God for his excessive lifestyle. He called it the French disease, the French vice, like plague and yellow fever. Matteo threw him out of the house." She put aside the spoon. "Why do you think his uncles are so angry at Alessandro? He's a mirror of his older, dead brother. Only he is worse." She leaned closer. "Sandro is a homosexual", she whispered, "and that's the worst. It leads inevitably to death." "But." Luca shook vehemently his head. "The people can't be that stupid anymore. They are well-informed, aren't they? They tolerate and accept." Anastasia looked somewhat pitifully at him. "You would think that, sunshine. But if you look behind the façade... Florence is an enlightened town. Always had been. And yet..." Instantly Luca thought of his brothers. Dante. Marcello. Giano. His father. Dante had openly offended him. Marcello confined himself to teasing him nastily. Giano had... well, Giano had said nothing. He searched the face of the older woman. He couldn't imagine talking openly like this with his mother. "And yet the people are short-sighted. What they don't understand frightens them", Luca concluded. Anastasia nodded briefly. "That what it is all about. Nardo had a personal nurse when the disease became noticeable , so they could hide him in the palazzo. Later he was brought to the hospital of the Loggia del Bigallo. The brotherhood of the white monks cared for him. To Valentina and Matteo he was dead. It was just me and little Sandro who saw him fading away, each day a little bit more." Her voice had become brittle and she seemed to be fighting tears. "Do you know what was the worst? Eyes that lose their sparkle, becoming dull and empty. The morphine made him say funny things and I'm sure he was without pain. But his eyes..." Vigorously she wiped her face and asked in a completely different voice. "How old are you? Underage? You do know that Sandro will study at Pisa? I suggested one of the splendid Institutes at Florence, but Sandro wanted to go away to start a real degree course that would guarantee employment in a museum or at an institute for research." She shushed him with her bony hand. "I ask too much, I know. But if you had Sandro's mother as sole companion for a day you'd either start to talk to yourself or bombard the first one you meet with questions. Excuse me." She smiled uncertainly. "You aren't of age, are you." Luca was hurt that he looked so young and not manly enough. "You'll grow old before you know", she said, winking at him. "No worry about your appearance. I said you're pretty boy." Luca didn't ask what she thought about his and Sandro's friendship. Nor what would become of it when Sandro went away. Anastasia rose to remove the ice from Alessandro's lap. She was careful but he woke up. "I need to go now, Sandro", Luca said. "Parents will be angry." Alessandro nodded, disappointed. "I'll stay with you." Anastasia patted his arm. "That's not exactly who I'd like to have to cuddle with, Sia" Alessandro teased her, using her old name from the time when he was a baby. Anastasia threaten him with her forefinger. "Perhaps I'll come back later", Luca called to him over Anastasia's shoulder and saw his eyes light up. _______________________ 10 ________________________ At the kitchen table Luca found the newspaper whose last page told him that the so-called Prince of the lilies, Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola, had been beaten up last night in an alley near Santi Apostoli. He himself wasn't mentioned. Luca pulled a chair under his bottom and sat down. There was a relatively long article about the family. Luca wondered how the journalists had found out about the incident of last night. Had the police talked to the press? His mother stood at the oven and pulled out home-make cakes. She was silent and Luca sensed a threatening thundercloud over his head. "Have you been out with the Prince?" she snapped out of the blue. "Huh?" Luca looked up. Clarissa pointed to the newspaper. "The beating. Were you with him?" She placed the cakes upon a plate and then propped her arms upon the table. "You've been with him all the time lately. You could have been murdered!" Luca laughed a bit too shrill. "Well, Mamma, I'm still alive. They did nothing to me." Except kicking me in the ribs with their boots and almost strangling me, he thought. Clarissa flashed at him with her blue eyes. "The newspaper doesn't say what it was about. Were you robbed?" "No, I..." The door flung open and his brothers entered the kitchen, coming in from work. "Ah, there's our little prince consort", Dante sneered. "Or the prince's flunkey, I should say." Giano pushed him hard. "Stop that foolish babbling", he hissed. Dante looked at him completely astonished. He was bigger than Giano and bigger than Luca. Bigger and bulkier and stronger. Marcello took Dante's arm as if he knew what would follow. "Basta!" Clarissa shouted. "What's the matter with you lot? I don't recognize you anymore." She rolled her eyes like an angry horse. "Dante! Giano! What is this quarrel about?" "Well, that little queen of a Gondi-boy was beaten up last night, right?" Dante started. "Served him right. He and his boyfriend were making out on the streets." He snapped off his hand and parroted a queen, tiptoeing through the kitchen and swung an imaginary handbag. Marcello screamed but Clarissa slapped Dante furiously in his face. "Stop that." She wiped her hands at her apron. "You should go into the variety show if that's how you imagine a homosexual man is like." Giano and Luca looked at each other, then at their mother. "Hey, Mamma," Marcello chimed in, "why does it bother you?" "And why does it bother you, eh?" she shouted back. "Madonna mia! What have I done to deserve such a flock of sheep! Couldn't I have a nice little girl, that would help me through all this, talking nice and sweet to me. but no! I have you on my plate. And this in four times over night! And a husband who doesn't care a flying fart about anything." The brothers looked dumbfound, then all four of them burst into a peals of laughter. It didn't take long until Clarissa joined them, but her eyes were still furious. "Beware, ragazzi! I meant every single word of it." Dante's disgusted look touched Luca. Despite his grinning face Luca knew that Dante had also meant every single word as he had said it. Luca shuddered when a sense of fear rose within him. "Was it the Gondi-lad you've been with the whole time?" Giano asked when he followed Luca to his room. Luca nodded and opened the door. "So, it's true what the newspaper said, yes? Were you hurt too?" Luca turned to him. "Well, just a bruise. Sandro got it all." "You were at Villa Kazar last night." "How do you know, were you there too?" "Should I sit here and wait until you come home?" Giano quipped. "You're not my body guard." Luca was pissed. It was bad enough when Dante spied after him, but Giano too was way too much. "And what were you doing there, eh? Were you watching me?" A traitorous redness covered his face now. What had he seen? He searched his brother's, calm and handsome face. "Your secret's save with me", Giano said quietly, hiding his eyes. "What secret?" Luca shouted, more out of surprise than in anger. Giano shook his head. "You don't have to shout. Mother might innocently defend the diversity and freedom of mankind, but you don't have to lie to me, piccolino. How is he? Who's caring for him right now?" "The housekeeper", Luca said softly and sat upon his bed. "I'd called her and she called the police." "Police?" Giano sat beside him. "Well, yes. The doc said I should report it to the police because of his injuries." He lifted his head. "Do you think I can return to him?" Giano looked attentively into his face. "You've got it bad, haven't you." A small smile appeared around his mouth. "Alright, go when it's getting dark, I don't think anybody will notice." Luca hesitated. Should he tell him everything? About Dante and his threats? About the drawing he had found? Giano saw the emotions in his brother's face. He could understand what was going on in his head. The confusing muddle. And he worried as he thought about the time when he and the Gondi-lad would start their studying at Pisa. Would he be able to avoid him? * Anastasia had retired to her room when Luca arrived at the Palazzo Gondi. Alessandro lay comfortably in his bed, cushions stuffed behind his back , watching TV, an empty plate and glass beside him. He beamed when Luca entered his room. "I wasn't sure I could made it", he excused his late appearance. "You're here", Alessandro said and patted the empty space on his bed. "Mother was pissed that I had got into trouble because of you", Luca said a bit breathless. "And Giano found out about us", he added. "Found out what?" Alessandro pressed a button on the remote control and switched off the TV. "Well, you and me." Alessandro's eyes glistened. "And what does he think?" "Seems to be alright." Luca detected a book on the bed. Masolino's diary. "You've been reading? Are you not too tired? How are you anyway?" "Better. Though this," he stretched out his arm that now had a hard plaster cast covering his hand and wrist, "is annoying. The doc was here again. He was pleased though that the swelling has gone. But what about you? Let me see." He rose to a sitting position, grimacing with the pain and lifted Luca's shirt. The bruises were blue-brown and covered the left side of Luca's chest. "Gosh, you should do something about that. There's an ointment laying on the nightstand that the doc left." Luca fished for it, but Alessandro took it from his hand. "Lay back." Luca hesitated, then he pulled off his shoes and crawled onto the bed, beside Alessandro who removed his shirt and started to apply the cool ointment. Luca moaned a bit. "It helps, believe me. What have you told the police?" "I couldn't tell them much. Did you recognise one of them?" "I'm not sure. Now, are you going to bed like this?" He pointed to Luca's jeans. "Off with them. Go on", he said, when Luca stopped at his pants. Sheepishly Luca pulled down his underwear and slid under the blankets. "Much better", Alessandro said satisfied, but Luca felt the covered abdomen by his side. "Your balls still pulp?" "Not really. I can feel them again." Alessandro grinned. He came closer and started to kiss Luca, though the movements caused both pain and his plastered hand was always in the way. Unsatisfied Alessandro groaned with frustration. "When do you think this will be over? I mean, I was really looking forward to a hot night." Luca sounded his pearly laugh again. "You can cuddle with me, isn't that enough?" "No." Alessandro fell back and closed his eyes. "Would you read out loud to me?" He pulled out the book from under his buttocks. "Perhaps it will be easier then to sleep. I slept for the whole day and now I'm not tired." Luca stroked his pale cheek and examined Alessandro's black eye. Despite all his injuries Sandro kept his good looks, at least for him. Sighing he finally carefully opened the book and turned the brittle pages. "Budapest, Febbraio 1428 Tommaso and I had gone to Rome for the Jubilee. It was Holy Evening, and the start of the Anno Santo of 1423 was being celebrated. There was an indulgence to be gained. A confession with a Holy Communion afterwards for those who had visited the basilicas of San Pietro and San Paolo fifteen times. The only entrance to San Pietro was via the Angel's Bridge, and the pilgrims jostled that much that many of them fell into the Tiber's muddy waters, where they paddled helplessly and drowned along with their donkeys and carriages. The ways were treacherous and slippery from the horses and donkey's refuse, covered with cabbage, litter and rags. I covered my nose and mouth; Rome was a cloaca. The people oozed an unbearable stench of poverty and sickness while amongst them colourful and clean dressed gentlemen and ladies tried to force a way through the inferno. Despite that pope Martin had ordered the enlarging of the gate through the Leonid wall we struggled, were pushed and hit, before we were carried to in front of the basilica, a plain, irregular place on whose farthest end the church stood, a facade with mosaics on golden ground. A nasty wind blew rain drops upon our heated faces, but Tommaso was laughing. He made the sign of the cross and I prayedsilently that we would gain release and blessing in front of the eyes of the Lord. Was he not praying the love on earth? The love between humans? Cries echoed up to the cloudy sky, vanishing in the mists of drizzle that came down on the pilgrims. Many of them fell onto their knees and covered the way to the entrance of the church, crawling on the dirty sand and mud covered earth. Tommaso, strong as he was, made room for me and himself until we saw the tomb of San Pietro with high gates and twisted marble pillars. One altar had been built above the other so that nobody had access to the grave below. A multi voiced singing started. A chant wafting through the cold room, breaking itself at the apses with Constantine's mosaics. I fixed my eyes on the lamb holding the cross. Fixing my eyes on the four rivers streaming to its hoofs. Saw the phoenix and the eagle, the bull and the angel. People sobbed, their heads laying down in the dust, muttering words; others had thrown away their crutches and walking sticks, I saw missing limbs, wrapped in dirty, suppurating bandages, pockmarked faces, empty eye sockets, scabby noses and mouths. Figures carried on stretchers, moaning, not able to find peace. They all gathered in a long row, ready to give confession and receive revelation, health and the prospect of a new and better life. Well-dressed ones stood aside, waiting for the air, pregnant with illness, to been blown away, holding perfumed clothes in soft hands and I wondered from what heart complaint they had been plagued to come here to this heinous and blessed town of the representative of God. Tommaso had bent his head too and I heard him silently mumbling, his strong hands folded and I did so as well. I prayed for absolution for this unholy alliance that connected myself with him. But was I ready to give it up? I glanced at Tommaso's red-brown shock of hair that hung over his ears, his dirty face and the moving, soft, enticing lips. I could not. Christ would understand and forgive. We had gone as friends and became a couple by night. Everything was possible with him. He had shown me heaven. I craved for more and awaited each night with a feverish head that he knew to cool with a stroke of his hand. I could not give it up. I needed him like I needed air to live. If God was the omnipotent love then he had to understand. Was our love not worth living? Was it minor? Love is good. To love was everything we ought to do. And I loved. We dismissed the pilgrimage hospices and went to stay instead of at a hay barn in the hills behind San Pietro. Tommaso could not bear to be parted on a stinky, shabby wooden bed in a room we had to share with dozens of stinky, shabby men. Several times we were on the brink of discovery when the farmer came to look for his hay and even the Romans, depraved from their carnival, would have lashed us openly - or worse. But we both had been in a state of fever where the single thought did not count. Just the two of us. We spent the days walking alternating from San Pietro to San Paolo that meant a path across the town from west to east, behind the town walls, following the way all popes had to go from the grave of Pietro the fisherman to the Pope's own church, the Lateran, crossing Via Merulana and the ancient church of San Clemente. We wandered through streets, corners, alleys, staircases. Backyards with urns, ivy and altars for the Lari, the good Gods of the houses. We were driven away by a procession of pushing, rubbing, screaming and laughing, row of beggars in rags, rising their weak hands, a bowl with coins beside them until everything started anew. I made sketches for my tempera painting of San Giovanni and San Martino and Tommaso knew how to improve them. San Giovanni now looked like his Apostle Paolo he was about to finish for the Pisan church. My depicting of figures remained the same though, but Tommaso found a way to teach me how my objects could gain volume and a sense of perspective to the spectators, but what did I know about perspective? Now he was my model and I saw the heaviness of a well built young man and transferred it into my painting. I tremble. The candle has burnt down to a tiny stump. The memory...I could not bear to be without him. But I had to. Tommaso's patron would send him to Pisa to finish his polyptych for the altar of the Chiesa del Carmine. Ser Giuliano di Colino degli Scalzi was a wealthy man and we needed the money. After our happy return from Rome to our neat and tidy hometown we had to part. Tommaso's brother Giovanni had moved to Via dei Servi and came into possession of a part of a workshop at the Badia, but he insisted of going to Pisa with his brother. I had a very bad feeling when I watched them go." Alessandro breathed silently. His head had sunk aside and rested on his shoulder. Luca closed the book, put it aside and switched off the light. He seemed to have a bitter taste in his mouth from Masolino's descriptions of a medieval Rome. He had been to the capital before, when he and Giano had accompanied his father to the Holy Year of 2000, but what a difference it had made to Masolino's descriptions. Surely the town had been stuffed with pilgrims but they came now by car, bus, train and airplane. And the prices were double what they were at Florence and they didn't have to visit the churches fifteen times on fifteen different days. But all in all he had been happy to return home; Rome was much too big and too different for his taste. He snuggled closer to the sleeping body and ignored the pain in his ribs. When Alessandro's sharp tongue was slumbering, Luca felt protected, while by daylight he didn't know exactly what to think about him. On one side he was glad to have him at his side, while at other times Luca thought that he just used him for a private revenge against his family. He was like his name: Lizard. A lizard will lose its tail to be free as soon someone grabs it. _______________________ 11 _______________________ It was a radiant Sunday-morning one week after the incident. Alessandro had recovered so far that he was able to go out without having pain, just a green-yellowish ring around his eye and the plaster around his hand reminded of the assault. Anastasia had gone back to Fiesole to care for Alessandro's mother. The police still had not got any further in their investigation of the assault. Luca took Alessandro's good hand and walked with him to the viewpoint that overlooked their hometown. "Are you happy now?" he asked. "Now, that you're free of the stupid will?" "Uncle Arrigo has set up a family meeting. Without mother. I pretty well know what he's got in mind. Get her delivered to the hospital and gain the palazzi for himself." "And the rest of your family? Can't you stop this?" "Well, it means I would have to marry and have a son to get the money, so what is the use for me?" Alessandro protected his eyes with sunglasses. The sun burnt down on the bare buttocks of the fallen, torch-holding God. The green-golden lizard rushed from its favourite place as soon as it heard footsteps coming closer and rushed into a crack of stone. Luca knelt down and Alessandro watched with amusement. "I told you once to stroke the real thing instead of the cold stone, but that first time you turned me down." Luca grinned up at him. "As an upcoming tourist guide you can surely explain what this is all about, can't you?" "Sure I can." Alessandro sat carefully down on the sandy way and folded his legs. "Well, at least I can tell you my personal version of it. You know that the Gods aren't dead just because they have vanished from the believers mind", he said light-heartedly; more joking than serious. Luca knew that Sandro was a non-believer, thus he wouldn't be serious about the true appearance of God or the Gods that had populated the earth before the Christian God had been accepted by a good part of the world. To him they were fairy tales, and should have a place in the book of fairy tales of humankind. Nothing more. "Well, at the time of the Roman Empire the soldiers brought home the idea of a new God called Mithras, the sun-god. He was a sort of Sol, the Roman God of the sun, who was just an adaptation of the Greek God Helios, and as we know that the Romans were mighty, but completely without fantasy, they liked to take over the ideas and legends of all the folks and tribes they had conquered. As they did with the Persian sun god Mithras who became very popular among the soldiers. The Persians told Mithras' story that he was born in a cave or a stable on the 24th of December and of his ascent to heaven in his thirty-third year of life." "But..." Luca started. "Right. That's the same as we are told about Jesus Christ. Bear in mind though that the Mithras legend is much, much older. Well," Alessandro looked down and absentmindedly wiped sand from the rain washed holes in the God's bum, "there's also the idea of the trinity: Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, like God the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. Then there's a third coincidence ", Alessandro bent his forefinger, "the sacrifice of his own blood during the initiation of a new follower. The formula was exactly the same, "and you made us immortal by this shed blood". There's the sign of the cross, burnt into the forehead and the idea of the baptism. During the initiation they have cold water poured on them. Then there's the mutual supper with Apollo and the elements of death and ascension." Luca stared pretty disbelieving. "Well, so then all of the bible is just a fake? I mean, it's just a gathering and mixture of the ideas of foreign cults?" "Sort of, yes. And why not. Different cultures meet and stimulate each other. Take the best of it, shake a bit and ergo, you'll have a new creation." He grinned. "You just shouldn't take it too seriously." Luca pondered about the consequences. "So, it means in the end that Jesus didn't live? That it is just a tale?" "Sure Jesus lived", Alessandro hastened to answer. "But everything else is just legend. Why do you think we don't have a fixed date for his death and ascension? Because nobody had noted the date? No, because the catholic church built their beliefs on the beliefs of ancient times to make them forget. We still follow the moon in Spring as the people did when they welcomed Spring and celebrated the end of the long, hard winter, that's all." "Yeah", Luca said hesitating. "And... so what is this now? Mithras in a catholic church yard?" "Perhaps. No. Of course not. It's one of his followers. Cautopates, the man with the bent torch, symbolising sundown, or death. Mithras followers were the signs of sunrise and sundown. It's simple." Alessandro unfolded his legs, moaned a bit and tried to get to his feet. Luca helped him. "You know, it's an interesting myth, but Masolino had no idea of it when he and Masaccio were painting at San Clemente in Rome", he said mysteriously. "That's where his diary ends. He painted the chapel, until water broke in and they found a mithraeum deep down under the earth. At least that's what I suppose." "A what?" "A mithraeum. That's the subterranean temple for the cult of Mithras, very popular in the emperor's time until the Christian emperors erased them all. Well, some of them they had forgotten, like the one under San Clemente." Luca looked as if it was all Greek to him and Alessandro laughed. "I have great plans", he said then more seriously. "I've been to Rome too", Luca said excitedly. "For the Holy Year, you know." "Did you see the pope then?" "Yes, waving from his window. It meant a lot to father." "And to you?" Alessandro took Luca's hand again and started to go. Luca noticed it was in the direction of Sandro's family tomb. "It was impressive." Luca quickened his pace, turned a corner and entered the dark, gloomy and abandoned tomb where they had met together for the first time. Without a word he pressed his mouth upon Alessandro's and opened his lips with his tongue. Sandro's balls had healed though they were still very sensitive, so he avoided any pressure on them, but he found the way to his rising penis and chuckled. "Had feared that wouldn't work anymore, eh?" he heard Sandro's voice near his ear; felt him tugging at his shirt and jeans, before he fell with him onto the earth upon a heap of dry grass. Half undressed both had found release when they heard footsteps on the sandy way outside. They held their breath until they had passed. Alessandro sighed and Luca seemed to feel him tremble slightly. Surprised he peered into his face, and Alessandro understood the silent question. He shook his head. "I seem to become paranoid when I hear footsteps behind me", he said half-laughing, but his blue eyes remained serious. "Shit", he hissed. "I don't want this." He struggled to his feet, careful with his hand. Luca wiped the white stains from their jeans. "Useless coppers still can't find out who it was", Alessandro spat. Luca was beside him, then rushed to the entrance and peered out. "You know, I thought", he said when the coast was clear, "that you did think it was your buddies, right? Have you seen them again?" "No." Alessandro said muffled. Luca thought that they must be fine friends when they knew Sandro ill but had never made a visit and he knew that Sandro was thinking the same. "I don't care." Luca looked at him. "Don't stare at me", Alessandro snapped. "I don't need them. And anyway, if you think it was them..." "Perhaps it wasn't. I mean, my brother was furious enough..." Alessandro stopped in his tracks. "Your brother? The bulky one.... Dante?" He shook his head. "He wouldn't attack you, would he?" Luca was silent. The attack was meant for Sandro, not him, despite the violence he had experienced too. "And what about the other two then?" Luca shrugged his shoulders. He pulled Sandro along, away from the cemetery until they stood in front of the church of San Miniato, absorbing the burning sunbeams and the silent surroundings, interrupted only by the twittering of birds. No tourists were here at the mid-morning hour, just a monk with a black and white habit who passed behind them with long, regular steps. "I'll be back for the Gioco", Alessandro said out of the blue. "Since we both missed the Spring-celebration at Cascine..." Luca turned surprised. Yes, they had both missed the cricket festivity in the park, the annual big party of the town, but the Gioco took place on the day of the town patron, in late June. Alessandro would be in Pisa then. "What do you mean, return?" "Well, even Michelangelo returned home that day. Every time", Alessandro said, suddenly grinning. "But surely not to attend the Gioco." "'The football match is a public match between two non-mounted teams of young people without weapons, who try, purely for pleasure, to push an air-filled medium sized ball behind the opposing finish line, to gain honour'", Alessandro quoted with raised eye brows. "I've heard your brother will be playing?" Alessandro said with studied unconcern. "Dante and Marcello, yes. They played last year too." He still pierced Sandro's eyes. "Does this mean you want to play this year? I mean, come on, you're not in the condition..." "What condition?" Alessandro snapped. "I don't look like a rugby-player but I'm good enough for football." Luca turned completely to him and took his shoulders. "You're not gonna play, you hear me? They'll make pulp of you." Alessandro laughed unkindly. "We'll see." Luca shook his head disbelievingly. "Calcio in Costume" was a game that was played throughout the centuries, three times a year, on the large piazza of Santa Croce and accompanied by a middle-ages style street-party, which was fine, except that the game was brutal and was mostly played by the boxers and wrestlers of all of the four quarters of the town. Luca was worried. If Alessandro wanted to attend he was in danger. "You must be mad!" he insisted. "You can't do this." He shook him, but Alessandro stepped back, his face unreadable. "Is this one of your noble attitudes? Not to lose face? Hey," Luca shook him again. "This is not the middle-ages anymore. You don't have to protect the name of your family." Alessandro raised his eyebrows again and looked coolly at Luca. "It is not? I'm pretty sure it is. Your brothers will protect your name and your reputation. I will protect mine." Luca rolled his eyes to the cloudless sky. But then.... probably Sandro wouldn't get holidays from his university. Perhaps he would be so busy with his study that he would forget. Forget Florence, the Gioco and ... Luca. Suddenly weak, his arms fell and he turned his back on Alessandro. He stood so for a while before he felt arms wrapping around his upper body and a soft voice whispering into his ear "I won't forget the hours we've had, gioia. Pisa isn't the end of the world." Luca didn't move. * * * * * Luca cursed and fished for the alarm clock to stop it. What a nasty sound that early Monday morning. He yawned but jumped out of his bed; suddenly electrified. This was the first day of his apprenticeship. He rushed across the hall and hammered on the closed bathroom door. "Hurry up whoever is in there!" Marcello abruptly opened the door and Luca ducked away before it hit his head. "It's you", his brother said sleepily. "What on earth..." then it dawned on him. "Ah," he said grinning broadly. "First day. Welcome to the daily grind." Marcello trotted along to his room. Involuntarily Luca's eyes followed Marcello's large body; he examined his broad, naked shoulders and the play of muscles and wondered what they could do to Alessandro's lithe body. Then he vanished into the bathroom. The breakfast table was laid and a scent of baked waffles filled the kitchen. Clarissa stroked his combed blond hair lovingly and treated him like a boy on his first day at school. Luca felt awkward. He had brought the old tools of his grandfather that he had been given for his birthday, but his father had growled to him to keep them at home. "You can work with them when you've learnt the technique", he had said, slurping his chicory-coffee. "And leave your stone at home, son. No need for others to see it." Luca was disappointed. But then he thought that first he had to learn a lot before he could work Sandro's Lapis Lazuli. He knew what he wanted to do with it. A lizard. And a lion's head perhaps. There was silence at the table, until the brothers and Niccolò took their provisions and their tools and Luca felt his father's heavy hand on his shoulder. He followed them, saw Dante and Marcello taking their bicycles but he remained at Niccolò’s side and started to march through the town, passing the back of Palazzo Vecchio, the cathedral and the Accademia until they turned into Via Alfani, an old Renaissance palazzo with the inconspicuous plate 'Opificio delle Pietre Dure - museo e scuola'. "Ciao, Niccolò!" greeted several workers, some of them already dressed in grey overalls with briefcases, portfolios and bags under their arms, streaming through the entrance, while Luca still hesitated. Somehow the importance of this work made him shy. What if he wasn't good enough to learn? That was his biggest fear. What if his father, the leader of the stone cutters, was disappointed with him? Niccolò though seemed to sense his son's apprehension. He patted his shoulder and forced him into the entrance hall. "Don't be afraid, son. Nothing's going to harm you. Nothing to be worried about." Niccolò’s composed statement seemed to be contrived, though it soothed Luca. Straight on were the show rooms for visitors and the museum with the displayed work, examples of used stones and materials, with copies of works of art that the museum had restored. This institute was alongside the Roman institute for restoration; the biggest and most important workshop in Italy. It received objects from all over the world for treatment and its employees were the busiest in the whole of Italy. Luca felt himself shoved up a staircase into a wide room under the roof with many desks and chairs, that led into another room full of work benches and showcases hanging on the walls. He felt his heartbeat going faster. Several young men and women waited like him, eyeing each other for familiar faces. He saw here and there one that he had seen before, but didn't know their names. "Have to leave you, son", Niccolò’s voice sounded next to him. "I'll come looking for you after, I promise. Break is at one, so we shall meet then." He gave him an encouraging smile and Luca was left to a short man with a silver half-spectacles, a blue smock over his short legs, a rim of silver hair around his round skull. He rocked on his toes, back and forth and had folded his arms behind his back. "Come closer ragazzi", he shouted, while everybody was pushing through the door, "and have a seat." Luca sat down on the next best chair and laid his bag at his feet. While he was listening to Dr Coppo Travisero's treatise about the foundation of the institute, its importance and its glorious successes in restoration and creation Luca's eyes wandered through the room. He counted nineteen freshmen, most of them were lads of his age who looked as awkwardly around as he did himself. He listened to the explanation of the several departments - restorations of clothes, of wooden material, of paintings - when Coppo finally started to explain the work of stone inlays, this was department Luca had chosen to learn if he was good enough. It was the most masterful of all of the departments, he knew that very well. He followed Coppo into the next room, stood excitedly in front of the showcases and examined the stones of achat, porphyry, diorite, obsidian, onyx, alabaster and carneol and tried to absorb as much as he could. "Principal current interventions are a basin of oriental alabaster, Roman workmanship from the Boboli gardens", Coppo explained, "for which we need the exact same alabaster to replace the cracks and missing pieces. We need the alabaster fiorito, from Asia Minore, not the one we usually use from the area around Volterra." Coppo pressed his lips and seemed to grin. "But later more about the special classification of the stones." He rocked again on his toes. "First we'll start with a tour around the museo." He indicated to the crowd to follow, down the staircase and into the museum that was still closed for visitors. "Aren't you the boyfriend of Alessandro Gondi?" a boy next to him squeezed out between closed lips while he pretended to look at a bouquet of flowers made of colourful stone. Luca jumped and stared at him. He didn't know what to say. "I'm his friend, yes", he finally said. "Was beaten up lately, eh? It was all over the place." "Er..." "Raniero", the boy said. His eyes had an unhealthy yellow-brown colour which matched the colour of his hair. "Friend of mine said you follow him like a little lapdog", he smirked. Coppo hissed in their direction but continued with his explanations. Luca stepped away and looked at a vase of rock crystal. "The department for restorations of mobile paintings started the Masolino-Masaccio project in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts of Philadelphia and the National Gallery of London", Coppo said over the heads of the pupils, pointing to a copy of a fresco of the Brancacci chapel, showing the Expulsion of Adam and Eve opposite to the Fall of Man. Luca could tell who painted what, because he recognised Masaccio's explicit search for a new, plastic energy through his figures which gave a strong sense of spatial depth. "Masaccio concentrated the basis of his naturalistic revolution: space seen through the laws of perspective, light and shade to bring bodies into relief, and his deep emotive intensity." Coppo made an effective pause. "The great Michelangelo said that a good painting has to be like a good sculpture: fluid. Three-dimensional. This is what we try to gain with our stone-inlays. While we sort out the suitable stones from quality and above all colour, we give our mosaic-intarsia three-dimensionality so that the viewer comprehends it as something he can grab, turn and see from all three sides." He looked over his half-moon spectacles into the face of each new pupil. When his look fell on Luca's face a spark of recognition appeared. "Break", he said and approached Luca. "We'll meet in the class room at 2 pm." The pupils scattered in all directions. "Luca Montori?" Coppo asked and put his arm around Luca's shoulder. "Glad to welcome you to our institute. Your father is extraordinarily." Again an inquiring look from over the spectacles. "You'll have to learn well. Was it your choice to join us?" "Yes.... Professore", Luca added shy. "It's just Coppo", Coppo answered friendly. "I'm an old friend of your dad." He padded Luca's shoulder and set him free. "But this doesn't mean that you're getting preferential treatment, sonny. Want to join us at the cantina?" When Luca exited the museum at five, he saw Alessandro on the other side of the street, leaning nonchalantly against his motorbike. Luca felt a push in his side "He IS your boyfriend", he heard Raniero, the boy with the yellow-brown, inflamed eyes whispering into his ear. He saw his salacious grin and blushed. At the same time he was angry at himself and pushed Raniero back. "Not your concern", he hissed and bravely crossed the street. "Luca!" Luca turned and saw Dante and Marcello standing by their bicycles. "Going to go home?" He saw how Dante threw a nasty look at Sandro; that it was returned. "No, go on. I have an appointment", he shouted. "A date!" Raniero answered, likewise shouting for everybody to hear. Pleased Luca saw Raniero receive a blow to his head from a lad that was a half head larger and saw Raniero clenching his fists. "Trouble?" Alessandro asked when Luca had arrived at him. He was still staring into Dante's face. "You could be right. His build could suit." "What build?" "Of the bastards that attacked us." "Oh come on, leave it." Luca strapped his bag onto the trunk and sat behind Alessandro upon the motorbike. "Where are we going?" "Wherever you like." "They've started a Masolino-Masaccio project, did you know?" Luca said instead of answering. "No, really? What is it?" "Don't know. I'll ask father. Let's celebrate my first day." Luca wrapped his arms around Alessandro's belly and didn't care about the stares anymore. ____________________ 12 ______________________ Padre Castruccio sat relaxed in the chair that the notary had offered him. Stefano Fergola, notary and lawyer of the Gondi-family, had invited the Gondi family to his home. He licked his lips and put his glasses upon his nose. "Well," he looked around. Madama Gondi-Lucertola was missing, but that was what today was about. "I have here a hand-written letter from Valentina di Gondi-Lucertola, telling me that her brother-in-law will take over her matters concerning the inheritance of her late husband. She will retire to a hospital for a while to cure her several ... health matters." "But that's not what this is about", Padre Castruccio chimed in with a high, grating voice. "I take it from your letter of the 22nd of May that it is the Order of the Dominican Church that will take over the inheritance." He shot a malicious glance at Alessandro. "Since the other condition was not fulfilled, and the real heir dismissed his inheritance, it was us who gained it." "Yes, yes." The notary chose his next words carefully. "But you know, that the main heirs are Matteo's wife and their son Alessandro." "That is not correct", Padre Castruccio interrupted the notary once more. "Our lawyers have told me if the heir turns down the inheritance then it falls back to the second choice. So", he swung his arm, "this is obviously the case." "You have heard nothing", Arrigo said sharp. "I can't remember you being present at the opening of the will." His brother Emilio nodded. "Signor Fergola", the padre turned to the notary. "Do you have a private minute for me?" He had already risen from his chair and his dark eyes were narrowed to slits. The notary hesitated for a moment, then followed the padre into the hall, and the dining corner where both took seats. "Well, Signor Fergola", the padre started, "the matter is this…” Fergola examined the man opposite him. He was reminded by him of the haggard Dominican monk named Savonarola who had haunted the town five hundred years ago. He had the same big, bent nose and the strong chin, and in his eyes burnt the same fever that indicated that he'd stop at nothing. "You surely know what this amount of money would mean for the charity of Christ. And I am convinced that it was a sign from God." Castruccio put his fingertips together. "So, I would like to present you an offer. As the lawyer of the family and owner of the original last will you are in the position to read the will correctly, aren’t you. Do you agree that Alessandro Gondi is willing to turn down his father’s inheritance? Let’s face it, Signor, the Gondis are morally corrupted and the last offspring follows a dissolute, unhealthy, perverted lifestyle. He will never marry.” Fergola didn't move. He had put on his best unreadable lawyer’s face and listened. "My question is whether you could force his official decision. Of course it would not be to your disadvantage." Stefano Fergola leaned forward a bit. "How am I supposed to understand that, padre?" "Well, I know you are not as rich as a lawyer can be. Although the Florentines are quarrellers and argue about the last egg", a small grin curled Castruccio's lips and he looked like a cat who had found the cream. "You want to offer me money, padre?" Castruccio made an uncertain movement with his hand but continued to stare slyly. "You offer me money to persuade Alessandro to turn down his inheritance so it would fall to you and your order, is that correct?" "Correct." "How much?" "Well, five percent?" Fergola calculated quickly in his head. If he started from twenty million all in all.... his mind swirled for a moment. Then he felt the lurking, burning eyes and tightened his body. "You forgot one thing, padre", he said slowly. "We cannot know how Alessandro will develop. Though he has dismissed his inheritance there is the possibility that he will marry and become a father within the next few years. And then it is for him to fight for his inheritance again, this is for sure. And he will win, because this was the absolutely last will of his father." He paused and waited for an reaction. Wrinkles appeared on the padre's forehead. "I'll suggest to you something different", Fergola continued. "If Alessandro hasn't got a son within three years - his 21st birthday - the inheritance falls back to you; until then it belongs to Valentina Gondi-Lucertola and her son Alessandro. The supervision of it goes to her brother-in-law Arrigo. You will be informed about each step where the money is going. We can put this down in writing instantly, padre." He rose. Padre Castruccio almost jumped from his chair, looking insulted and indignant. "Well, padre. My father worked for the Gondi-family, and his father before. Loyalty is the first sign of a good lawyer, don't you agree, padre?" Padre Castruccio sailed out of the room, his long, black habit billowed around his legs. With feigned equanimity he took his seat again, next to the family while the notary Fergola explained the agreement. Arrigo and Emilio grinned satisfied, only Alessandro was sort of flabbergasted. He hadn't thought that along with his mother's inheritance would come money for him as well, a reasonable part of it at least each month, but he listened to Fergola's explanation. In his thoughts he pictured a celebration for today. Out of the house he entered the next tabaccheriaand bought the Quir, a bimonthly gay and lesbian magazine to find out what had been happening. "Satisfied?" he heard a voice behind him and startled shut the magazine. His uncle Arrigo had followed him. He bit a chunk off his new bought cigar and eyed the picture on the magazine in Alessandro's hand. A vein on his temple started to pulsate. "Are you still into this shit?" he growled. "Didn’t you understand Fergola's agreement? If you'll have a son the money is all ours." Alessandro swallowed. "But we do have it already", he said uncertainly. Arrigo laughed nastily. "Yeah, sure. But the clause of Fergola's agreement doesn't allow us to use it to our liking. Three years it is on ice so to speak." He pulled his nephew out of the tobacco shop and stood with him upon the small pavement, where they were pushed by people in their way , tourists and workers. "The Dominicans are mighty, son", Arrigo whispered forcefully, "and they have powerful lawyers, Fergola will look like a wimp in comparison, believe me. They will appeal against the last will and fight until the Constitutional Court to get their rights. Unless you'll have a son." Arrigo's pitch-black eyes pierced Alessandro's body. "Am I asking too much, eh?" He put an arm around his nephew and started to walk with him. "Listen, if you don't want to lay a girl we have other possibilities." "You mean artificial insemination?" Alessandro spoke out, and Arrigo shushed him. "Of course." "But I still have to marry." "Madonna! We'll find a girl for you, I'll take care of that." Alessandro closed his eyes and clutched the magazine in his fist. His uncle's hand weighed heavy on his shoulder. He followed him to a little espresso bar, felt himself pressed upon a stool and waited for the double espresso his uncle ordered a minute later. "Listen, Alessandro. You owe your family. You are the last of us. If you fulfil the last wish of your father you will be free afterwards. I don't care about your ... likings. Do what you want. But I won't watch our money going into the greedy hands of the Dominican monks. You know that our family was always Ghibellini and had nothing to do with those preaching scoundrels." Alessandro watched his uncle slurping his hot coffee. Absentmindedly he poured sugar into his own and stirred. "Fergola has done his best. If the last will stood the money would go straight to the monks. Now it looks as if we have a good chance to get it back, despite your dismissal. The offer is still there, thanks to Fergola." "Does this mean we can't spend the money?" "Of course we can. But we have to disclose what we use it for." Alessandro burnt his tongue on the hot coffee. "And if I do what you want me to do... you'll leave me in peace, doing what I want to do? Studying and having my own lifestyle?" Arrigo nodded. He was the last Gondi, Alessandro thought. That was for certain. And blood was thicker than water. "You'll get the twenty million and more if you want. But remember the family bonds. Let's do it like in the old days." "Alright then." Alessandro heard himself saying. "You'll take care of the... agreement and I will try to do my best." Seeing Arrigo's face beaming he felt as if he had sold his soul. The magazine in his lap was heavy. But one sacrifice wasn't too much. Was it? * Alessandro held the microphone and tried to follow the lines on the teleprompter. He sang, roaring with Gloria Estefan, loud but out of tune but he didn't care, nor did the others care, and they cheered him until Alessandro broke into laughter, jumped from the stage and plopped upon the stool next to Luca. On the video wall flickered music videos, alternating with soft porn. Luca leaned against an artificial pink flamingo where the pub on the top floor of the Tabasco Disco got its name from and grinned. Alessandro emptied his cocktail glass and pulled Luca from his seat, downstairs to the disco , flirting with a few guys as they passed them. Luca felt a stab of jealousy, though he was proud that it was him, Sandro was with. The bandage around his hand gleamed white in the blue light; Alessandro was glad that the plaster had gone, but then his eyes met Nino, one of his buddies and next to him the rest of his so-called friends. Nino approached him while he was darting wary looks at Luca. "You have been ill, I've heard?" he asked in passing, holding a glass of whisky. "Yeah, and you stronzos never showed up", Alessandro cut him short. He saw Nino eyeing Luca curiously and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Luca stiffened. "What you're doing with the little fag here?" Alessandro looked innocently around. "What fag?" Then he looked at Luca and said "Sorry, buddy, but those dumkin call everyone a fag." Nino laughed artificially and drank from his glass. Then he wiped his mouth. "Well, seems you survived." Alessandro pulled Luca with him without saying a word. "I'll drive", Luca said outside, breathing the fresh air. It was a quarter to 2 am, but the streets weren't empty. Couples were passing by and late tourists, coming from a theatre or opera performance, or simply enjoying the sight of the illuminated buildings by night. "You can't drive a bike", Alessandro snapped. "Sure I can. Giano taught me." Although his brother didn't have a motorbike, one of his friends had and Luca had driven it occasionally. "You've had too much." Without ado Luca sat upon the bike and kicked the pedal. Finally Alessandro crept behind him and wrapped his arms around Luca's belly. "Avanti!" he shouted and the bike jumped forward and swayed through the streets before Luca got a grip on it. Alessandro laughed behind his back and tried to balance the bike with his legs. "You think your friend knows everything about us?" Luca asked, while they were driving slowly forward. "I don't care", he shouted. "Watch out!" Luca had just missed the post on the street that stopped cars entering the road. The bike lurched around and came to a halt in front of the Lizard-Tower. Luca wiped the sweat from his forehead and waited for Alessandro to open the heavy bronze door that led into the yard. He drove the machine in and stepped off. "How was it?" he beamed. "Stupendous", Alessandro grinned, took Luca's hand and ran with him all the way upstairs to under the roof where he started to remove Luca's clothes as soon as they had shut the door. "Geez, what is that?" Luca asked when his fingers caressed Alessandro's buttocks and found a hard, plastic thing, sticking out of his hole. Completely puzzled Luca stared but Alessandro just laughed. "Come on, I needed some pleasure during the time we were apart." "When we were apart?" Alessandro kicked off his shoes. "When you didn't sleep with me", he accentuated, hiding his slurring, tipsy mumble. "It wasn't my fault", Luca protested, "mother wouldn't let me come." "I know, I know, gioia. But now you're here and can replace this plastic thing with your wonderful satin, warm, hard .... thing." He laughed and let himself fall onto the bed, arms and legs stretched out, his erection nestled over his belly, while Luca still felt irritated. But Alessandro's laughter was infectious, and so Luca jumped up beside him. "You sure are a randy slut, aren't you. Doesn't that hurt?" "Hurt? No. I had a hard-on all the time, that's all." Luca's pearly laughter filled the room. Alessandro hadn't told Luca about Fergola's agreement. Well, he hadn't told him the complete truth. Now, as he was holding Luca, both laying on their sides with his penis still buried between Luca's butt cheeks, he thought it a mistake. But he didn't want any ramblings or reproaches. Although he had given his word to Arrigo, he was still unsure what to do. Was it really up to him to save the family's money? It was clear he had to save the family's name though. Slowly he caressed Luca's arm and entwined his hand with his own. Luca was a pleasure while they were together, but did it have a future? No. Alessandro knew himself too well as to be certain he could live like a monk for four years until he had finished his study. And he wouldn't demand it of Luca. Luca clenched his muscles and Alessandro jumped a bit. He heard the low pearly laughter he had fallen in love with. Just one more week and they would part. And what then would follow? ________________________ 13 ________________________ Three days later Luca entered the Opificio workshop and saw a new lad standing in the way. He passed him, wished him a good morning and sat at his table which he shared with two others. The guy stood until Coppo Travisero arrived and rushed him to the free seat opposite Luca. Luca smiled and made a little room for him. "Missed the first days?" he asked. The guy's dark-blue eyes widened. "I've been in hospital. Tonsils." "Ouch." "Tristano", the guy said. He had blond hair like Luca. Sun-kissed, his mother would say, because it was golden at the parting. "Luca." At their places lay little bowls with different kind of stones, all marked with little tags describing the contents. "This is an example of our extensive stock of antique marbles and rare stones like hard stones or semi precious stones", Coppo started to explain. He took one stone from a bowl and held it high in the air. "This is Imperial Egyptian Porphyry. We call it Porfido rosso. It has similarity to the porphyry that is used at several churches in our town, though it was mined from quarries in Tuscany." He looked around. "Now who of you can tell me which churches it was used for?" Luca was reluctant though of course he knew the answer. "For Giotto's Campanile", said one, "for the facade of the cathedral", "for San Miniato", and each time Coppo nodded. "Fine. Of course it was used for the Baptistery too. I'd like you to learn the differences. This one here has a finer structure and is a shade darker than our porphyry so that it resembles a fresh slice of roast beef." Coppo grinned, and took a stone from the second bowl. "Serpentine", he said. "This dark green example was used for the multicoloured facades of the same buildings you have mentioned before. White, green and red, these are our national colours. And this," he lifted another stone, "is Nero Antico, that is quarried in Belgium, thus it is commonly called Belgian Black." Luca stared at his bowls and grabbed a blue stone, Lapis Lazuli as he knew. It was a small stone with sharp, white edges, though the fractured surfaces had a deep, vivid blue. While Coppo was musing about Antique Alabaster, Malachite and Giallo Antico Luca was watching the new guy opposite him. "Have I missed a lot?" he whispered. "Well, we are still beginning. Today we start with the different kinds of stones. You missed the grand tour." "My family has a carpenter's workshop", Tristano explained later at the cantina. "I started to carve figures from wood and my grandpa said that I'm talented. He has a stand at the flea market with all kind of antiques, both fakes and genuine. The entrance exam was really heavy, wasn't it." "Yeah." Luca answered. Though for him it was easy. He just hoped that it wasn't his father's influence that gained him the place for his apprenticeship. Looking into Tristano's eyes he thought them like two plates of Lapis Lazuli and he had to grin at the comparison. "And your family?" Luca was reluctant to speak. "My mother's at home but the rest of the family works here." "Here?" Tristano asked excited. "Stone cutters?" "Well, yes, my brothers. But my father is the master of them. He works the stones into marquetry. You know," Luca leaned over, suddenly engaged, "my family worked on the chapel of Principes at San Lorenzo. The Medici-burial place, you know it." "Yes, I know it!" Tristano's eyes sparkled. "Wow. So you're famous, yes?" Luca laughed. "Not me." "Not yet!" Luca grinned at him and his enthusiasm. "Look, there he is." Tristano followed Luca's finger and saw a stout man with dishevelled, black hair, accompanied by two guys that looked similar though a head taller. "My brothers", Luca explained. He caught a nasty look from Dante, and saw his eyes scurrying over Tristano's features. Luca was getting hot. What if he thought that... "You don't look like them", Tristano stated and turned to his unfinished lamb. "I take after my mother", Luca mumbled, picking at his food. Suddenly he had lost his appetite. "Do you think you can become as good as your father?" Luca shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure. What if I don't? Though I love stones and working with my hands, I don't know what to do either." "That's a good sign. If you love what you do it'll be fine." Luca stared at Tristano and his surprisingly adult statement. "I know", he said simply. "What're you doing afterwards?" he heard Tristano asking and was startled. "You could give me the grand tour I missed." "Well," Luca couldn't resist the pleading eyes so he nodded. Luckily Alessandro wasn't waiting for him when they exited the museum. Luca hadn't known how to explain his staying after work with a lad unknown to him. "See you tomorrow, Luca", Tristano said and grinned sheepishly. "My girlfriend's waiting. I promised to go to the cinema with her." Luca nodded. "Thanks again", Tristano shouted from across the street. Luca took his bundle and trotted home. Four more days and Alessandro would be gone to Pisa. What was he supposed to do then? Return to his old buddies to talk about football and girls? He had neglected them enough to raise suspicion but they all referred this fact to him having his first girlfriend and not wanting to tell her name. Luca let them believe that. Their teasing was easier to bear than to tell them the truth. When a hand closed around his neck from behind, Luca jumped and turned. It was just his father. He had forgotten to take off his overall, but he had clutched his folder under his arm. "It's just me, son. Had a good day? Coppo satisfied with you?" "Pappa, you will know better how I'm doing since you're the pal of Professore Coppo, eh?" Niccolò laughed. "Professore Coppo! He would laugh if he could hear that. Surely enough you're just starting, I just want to know if you're attentive and if you enjoy the lessons." "I do." "You don’t sound too happy about that, son." Niccolò eyed him over his glasses. "You've forgotten to remove your glasses." Luca took his father's arm. "You'll trip over in the streets." "Oh gosh, and there's still the overalls." Niccolò chuckled. "Your mother will throw up her hands." Then he became serious. "What about the Gondi-lad? Why don't you invite him again for dinner? Your mother was asking, you know. Seems as if she likes him for some reasons." Luca's cheeks reddened and he looked down. He waited at the low curb for motor bikes to pass. Manly laughter sounded from the open door of a bar and thick billows of smoke streamed out. "Sandro will soon be gone to Pisa", Luca said depressed. "Ah, for his study? What is he studying there? I wonder why he has to go to Pisa for it, since there are dozens of good institutes here." "History of Art. He wants a real course with a professional exam. And probably he likes to be out of town." Niccolò raised his eye brows, surprised. "An official exam? I hadn't thought him capable of so much enthusiasm and staying power. I thought he was a happy-go-lucky sort with lots of nonsense in his pretty head." At the piazza beside Giotto's campanile the street painters had set up their easels and were busy with tourist’s portraits. Luca saw caricatures of politicians, most of them were Silvio Berlusconi, George Bush and Gerhard Schröder. Kids played with balloons and scooters, Japanese tourists listened to their guide, staring up to the bell tower, armed with huge cameras around their necks, photographing everything that came in front of their lenses. Another group was positioned in front of Ghiberti’s bronze plates covering one of the four entrance doors of the Battistero, while the guide tried desperately to drown out the traffic noise on the street beside them. Others were licking ice cones or held a half-eaten pizza in their hands, squinting against the sun. With their Bermuda-shorts, socks and sandals they outed themselves as non-Italian and Luca had to grin. He pictured Alessandro guiding them through the town, in his posh jacket and neat blue jeans while he was flirting with the young men in his group. Although... Luca couldn't imagine Sandro having such a bad taste. "He isn't a happy-go-lucky sort", he said then. "He has a lot of intelligence. I think he can become a great tourist guide. He knows simply everything." "Ah, that's what you talk about all the time then?" "Yes... That Biancone there", Luca pointed to the large marble statue of Neptune standing in a basin surrounded by naked nymphs, "the people say he's the mighty god of the Arno who was turned to stone because he disdained, like Michelangelo, the love of a woman..." Luca swallowed his saliva wrong and coughed. What was he saying here? He wished he could stuff his words back into his mouth when his father looked oddly at him. "He's telling you this?" Niccolò chewed on his under lip. "Odd story. I've never heard that Neptune was a fag." Luca flinched at his father's words. "Not Neptune, the god of the Arno", he said quietly. "Under the light of a full moon he walks at midnight in the piazza and talks to the other statues. Well, wasn't half of Florence gay in the olden times?" he asked then cautiously. Niccolò nodded his head vehemently. "Right, son. It wasn't a crime to have a boy in your bed when you were lonely." His stare was intense. "Has the Gondi-lad done kinky things with you?" "Kinky things?" Luca blushed once more. "What do you mean 'kinky'?" "You've got me, son." "Surely not. It's... it just the stories of the town." Niccolò continued. "There are rumours you know. Seems as if he's playing in both teams." Niccolò breathed out. "But he'll be gone soon as you said. Have you made friends with the other pupils?" "Well, a few of them." Blushing Luca remembered the words of Raniero, the guy with the inflamed eyes. What if he told his father of the rumours about his own son? That he was Alessandro's boyfriend? And Sandro wouldn't be there to stick this out with him. "Luca! Luca!" Luca searched for the voice and found one of his old friends, waving at him from a table in a trattoria. He held something high in the air. "Go, son, but be home for dinner, alright?" Niccolò pushed him gently in the back. Luca, although he wanted to go to Alessandro, had no alternative than to go to the table where he was greeted cheeringly. "Look what we have", a short one with fire-red hair that he had styled into all possible directions said. "Five tickets for the UEFA-cup next Wednesday, AC Firenze versus AS Monaco!" he was literally screaming. "I got them via internet and offered the highest price on eBay. You're going with us!" Luca tried to look pleased although he wasn't in the least interested in football. "That's great", he tried to cheer, patting his friend on his back. "Let's have another coppa." His friend called the waiter and ordered ice-cream for everyone. "Haven't seen you for a while." Rosso, the boy so called because of his red hair and his freckles, eyed Luca suspiciously though his green eyes were still sparkling for joy. "Well, my apprenticeship started", Luca said into the circle of three other of his old school-friends. "What, so soon? And I thought you was enjoying the Spring! Or the summer. What are your plans?" "For summer?" The ice-cream cups arrived and Luca scratched the sweet cream from the top. He hated sweet cream and spooned it into Rosso's cup. Giuliano stood his sun glasses up and played with the ear pieces. He was the typical Italian heartbreaker. Black hair, black eyes, a red swelling mouth and an Elvis-like grin that put dimples in his cheeks. "Yes, for summer. We're going to Forte dei Marmi, laying on the beach", Rosso said. "Pah, Forte dei Marmi", Michele chimed in, "we're going to Ostia, to the bath." "Ostia?" Giuliano said disdainful. "That's just a sewer. Everybody goes to Ostia". He parroted in nasal tone, "Très chic!" He stretched out his little finger and stood his sun glasses up again. The others laughed. "That's something for queens and queers." Michele gave him a slap on the head. "Then you would be at the right place." Giuliano whistled after two girls, passing the trattoria in short skirts and high heels. "Who's the queen, eh?" he said. Luca stared after them, watching them doing fare bella figura in the late afternoon-sun, wagging their arses, darting looks back and giggling. Luca inwardly rolled his eyes. They could get lost. He remembered Sandro's butt plug and started to giggle too. They all had no idea... "That's the old Luca", Rosso stated, mistaking Luca's laughter. "Now, do you want to join us at Forte?" "I'm not sure", Luca mumbled, "the workshop and museum are closed during August, so... but I don't know about the money." "Ah, money." Giuliano could talk because his parents had a posh hotel and money was always there for him. "Braggart", said all three in unison and laughed. Luca though wondered what he would do at the beach, lying mindlessly in the sun, whistling after girls in bikinis, playing volleyball? His parents had never had a real holiday, they just stayed where they were, trying to bear the Florentine hot summer as best as they could. "Perhaps I'm going to Pisa", Luca heard himself saying. "Pisa? For god's sake why do you want to go to Pisa? To study the pendulum rules?" "Well, I've never been up the tower since it's allowed to go up it again." He saw that all three were rolling their eyes. "Our little Luca has become a professore." "Ok," said Rosso, finishing his ice cup, "You come to Forte and visit Pisa, it's a cat's jump away, d'accordo?" "Ok", Luca said dejectedly. "Listen, gotta go. Thanks for the ice-cream and see you Wednesday at the stadio." He hastened to leave without looking back. _________________________ 14 _________________________ Luca felt really unhappy because he sensed Giano was just getting ready to leave. By and by he had sorted his stuff; clothes and books, notes and pictures. Although he wouldn't go at the same time as Alessandro, Luca's brother had already started to pack his things. Luca wasn't ready to face the fact that both - Alessandro and Giano - would leave him very soon; the day after tomorrow, at least his boyfriend. Luca's pencil went astray. He was supposed to be sitting over his books to learn his lessons, but instead of that he was doodling, forming body parts and faces that always looked the same: like Alessandro. He tried the word boyfriend on his tongue, but. Luca found it strange to think of him like that. Was Sandro really his boyfriend? Lover at least? Or just a friend with whom you would share some exciting sexual experiences that meant nothing more than a short relief because 'the real one' wasn't present and was still to be waited for? Sandro had never told him that he liked him, nor that he would be faithful, nor that he would wait for him. And how could he demand it of him, being so young, almost still a kid. But one thing Luca was sure of: he would miss Sandro like hell. During the past weeks he had gained confidence from the noble boy about the fact that his life wasn't minor, that he was talented, that he was a pleasing lover, that he was attractive ... Luca grinned and closed his eyes, lost in a day dream. Sandro would pick him up later; he had promised, but wouldn't say what surprise he had for him. Perhaps a dinner for two at a secret place? Was it that Luca was dreaming of? He missed the short knock at his door and opened his eyes in confusion, facing Dante, the oldest of the brothers, arms braced on the table Luca was sitting at, his face bent over the sheet of paper which Luca had scribbled on. A deep wrinkle had formed between Dante's eyebrows. "Dinner's ready", he growled between almost closed lips, at the same time grabbing the sheet of paper and staring at it. Luca tried to stop him, but Dante had already seen everything. Luca peered, trying to have an eye, "Give it back, man. Why do you always have to spy around my stuff?" Luca had jumped up and tried to snatch the sheet. "You're still into this", Dante growled, eying the naked body parts; arms, feet, abdomen, prick, a hand that grabbed it, stroking. "Those are examples of your pervert lover?" Dante sneered. Suddenly he dropped the sheet as if he had burnt his fingers. "Listen, piccolino. I don't know what this guy is doing with you, but it's not right." Dante let himself fall upon a chair opposite his brother. "You aren't one of them. You're a nice looking little boy who has gone astray." A sly grin formed upon Dante's face. "Nothing wrong with a little exercise in a mutual jacking off-session, but once you've grown out of it, you should know which side you are on. Right?" Dante's dark eyes were dead like the eyes of Godfather in Masaccio's fresco of the "Trinity", Luca thought. Dead and emotionless with dark rings under them. "But you don't belong to them, you got me? In time you'll find a girl to fuck the brains out of ." Luca moaned inwardly but endured Dante's reproaches. "Or have you become used to it, eh?", Dante continued, leaning forward over the table. "Geez, I know what they are doing, believe me. They all just want the same, your cock, a LARGE cock, mind you. When they have had it they go on to the next cock, that's all." Luca had to laugh. "That's all? You're well informed indeed." "Sure I am", Dante hissed. "You think I haven't met them? In men's rooms? Trying to corner me? Grabbing my ass? Offering themselves for a good fuck? Jesus Christ, I'm not one of those shit-stabbers." His eyes flashed. "And what about you? Shit-stabber or the girly-bottom?" Luca's face burnt. He briefly closed his eyes and thought now or never. This was the time to face his brother. "You know, Dante. You reduce homosexuality to sex. Why is the practice of sex all you think of? Perhaps I have fallen in love. Isn't that a good thing? But what else can I expect from a guy that just has fucking in his hollow brain?!" Dante's face clouded over so much that Luca considered keeping his mouth shut, but bravely he continued. "What about you? All you know is how to pick up girls, "fucking the brains out of them", as you put it, then go and look for the next prey. Is that your conception of life? Is it any different to searching for the largest cock? You're an adult man, why haven't you found your own family instead putting your feet under father's table still? Eh?" Luca fended off Dante's protests. "And those gays obviously liking what they see, grabbing you, do nothing different than you do with your chicks. How does it feel being harassed like a woman?" Dante opened his mouth but shut it again. He didn't listen much to what his little brother had to say, but he was genuinely astonished that he would say anything like that at all. He examined him like an insect, not sure if he liked the new discovery or not. But then something kicked in. He threw his hands up. "What do you want? Don't you dare give excuses for being a pervert! This guy has abused you and you claim to like it? What kind of boy are you? What will the parents say if I'd tell them?" "You say nothing to them, Dante", Luca growled now like his brother. "Or you will regret it." "I'm scared shitless. Who will you send out to me, your perverted little Gondi-Boy?" Luca bent likewise over the table. Their faces were close. "Watch out, Dante. One day we'll turn tables on you and I'll take revenge for the bashing on the street. I know it was you with your louts." He saw a flicker in Dante's dark eyes, His brother rose slowly from the chair, looking down at him. "Prove it", he said. "But be certain, if that guy doesn't stop misusing you, guiding you the wrong way, I'll guarantee nothing." Luca turned heated "What do you want anyway, he'll be gone Monday." "Good for him", Dante mumbled, leaving the door open as he went out. "Tell mother I'm not hungry", Luca yelled after him. And anyway, he would be meeting Sandro in half an hour. Perhaps he could eat with him. * "Puccini?" "Yes! "Tosca!" Alessandro appeared from behind the open door of his large wardrobe. "Don't say you've never seen an opera." "Where and when?" "But you must! Every music-summer the guest-performances come to play. My family always gets tickets for the musicians from Milano's Scala." He turned ecstatically his eyes. Luca laughed, eying the naked Sandro. Was Dante right when he said that gays only looked for the next extra-large cock? His cheeks reddened in anger when he recalled the names Dante had given him. Shit-stabber? Girly-bottom? Did he really think that a fishy cunt did smell or taste better? "Chambre separee", Alessandro said, smirking. "Chambre what?" "A room just for the two of us, so to speak," Alessandro tossed Luca some of his clothes. "A box, sweetie", he said. "The Gondi-Lucertola box. We'll have a splendid view from that." Luca caught a black suit with thin grey pinstripes and shortly after that a white shirt made from a rustling, heavy material. "Terrific with your blond hair", Sandro said, examining him briefly. Luca touched the fabric cautiously, then gasped when Alessandro held a stark white suit in front of himself. "Black and white - what do you think?" Luca thought it marvellous; the shimmering white made Sandro's eyes sparkle like a blue aquamarine and stressed the darkness of his hair and skin: a wild, daring beauty. "We'll be the prettiest pair tonight. Come on, change your clothes or we'll be late." Luca felt the unfamiliar stiffness of the rustling silk of his clothes and thought himself a terrible misfit. But Alessandro's confidence, as he walked with his head in the air through the illuminated entrance to the Teatro della Pergola, swept him along. He felt heads turning and soft murmurs behind their backs. Without looking aside, Alessandro guided Luca upstairs through the festively dressed crowd to the hallway of the first circle where a guard waited beside a white, ornate door, bowing and opening the entrance to the separee of the Gondi-Lucertola's. "Is that you, Alessandro Gondi?" suddenly a female voice almost shrieked, ignoring the silent dignity of the place. Luca turned and saw some girls of his age approaching them, terribly overdressed in pink and apple-green, covered in diamantes like a Christmas tree. The chandeliers above their heads painted crimson spots into their cheeks and revealed their sparkling silver eye shadows scattered all over their faces. Alessandro looked slightly revolted when one of the girls took his arm, and like a flash he was encircled by three loudly chattering chicks who appeared to be sulking because Alessandro hadn't taken them out for a while. Luca stood rooted to the spot, not knowing where to go. The guard still held the door open for him, so he decided to enter the box, followed by a gush of high pitched laughter and artificial pouts. Uncertainly he stepped forward until he reached the landing of the box, passing the red-velvet covered, comfortable looking chairs. He had an extraordinarily view over the stage, still concealed with a night-blue curtain and the orchestra pit where the musicians made a cacophony of sounds. For a moment he watched them, dressed all in black suits, then the conductor's baton knocked harshly upon his music stand, and everything suddenly seemed to fit. A first harmonic accord sounded up to him, interrupted shortly after by another knock of the conductor. The room was filling with colourful dressed, elegant people, and Luca suddenly felt less of a misfit. Nobody would recognize him here up in the box of the old, noble family. Alessandro's laughter wafted through the open door. Luca turned but couldn't see him. Not him nor the guard watching the door. Probably he had discreetly drawn back. Luca propped his elbows upon the railing and again watched the audience. Rustling fabrics, fresh dressed up hair, naked female shoulders and breathtaking views into powdered décolleté . A wave of different perfumes stung his nose when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Assuming it would be Sandro, Luca turned but he saw one of the importunate girls. Luca peered over her shoulder, but Alessandro was nowhere to be seen. "Are you the new friend of Sandro?" she chirped, pressing a yellow handbag to her tiny breast. "Well, yes", Luca stammered for a moment, surprised that she was addressing him. "Something wrong?" "No", she tried to grin. "I was just curious. You know..." she fluttered her eyelashes and more of the silver sparkling eye shadow trickled down to her cheeks, "we were just wondering.... is it a new girlfriend?" "Pardon?" "Because he neglected each one of us; so we thought it's another girl." Luca all of a sudden had the wish to laugh into her face. "I don't know anything about a girl", he said confidently. "Go and ask him." She pouted, turned abruptly, so that her long skirt slapped his trousers and rushed through the open door, ignoring Alessandro who now entered the box, looking a bit deranged. "Who was that?" he said. "Who was who?" Luca snapped. "An admirer of yours. Asking me if it's a new girl behind your recent behaviour." He stepped forward, playfully menacing his lover. "You've neglected her." Luca rolled his eyes. "Oh, have I?" Alessandro stepped to the landing and looked down. A deep gong sounded, reminding the audience to gather in the room. The artificial chandeliers flickered. Alessandro turned. "You like it? It's very private." He went, closed the door, and turned the key. Luca, still waiting for an explanation, felt himself grabbed and pulled down to a chair close to the railing. Alessandro pulled out opera glasses and started to examine the audience. "Ah! Emilio's there with his young lover." The glasses in his hands moved on while he was constantly muttering to himself, counting acquaintances and friends. "Is this the place for your mother?" Luca asked. "I mean, actually the tickets are for her, right?" "Madama's in hospital, enjoying her life. Or to say it better: to bring her life back in order." "You mean she's having a withdrawal treatment." "That's what I wanted to avoid saying." Luca eyed him for a moment. Whenever Alessandro was talking about his family he donned a mask.. He asked himself if he would ever fathom the real Alessandro. A second gong sounded and the chandeliers were slowly dimmed down until they were out. At the same time the curtain lifted, revealing the scenery of a church. A suppressed little cough, a nose was blown, a chair shoved, a whisper sounded up to the box, and then quietness before the conductor knocked softly on his podium and the first Violinist put the bow to the strings and others joined in. Luca saw Cesare Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, rushing into the church of Sant' Andrea della Valle, to hide in the Attavanti chapel. It was dark in the box and Luca had a surreal feeling as if the tenor was singing only for himself. He had never had such a surge of emotion and he was absorbing each sound, each exaggerated gesture and each step of the singer that he soon forgot who he was. He followed the Sacristan and Cavaradossi, the painter, taking out a miniature of the singer Floria Tosca, his lover, until he vanished again behind the stage. Alessandro next to him, leafed through the program although it seemed as if he would know the libretto almost word by word. He glanced at Luca, saw his profile against the light coming from the stage, his glowing cheeks and the blond hair, framing his face, unruly, because he always tried to smooth it in vain, and took his hand that was lying limp upon his thigh. The choirboys sang their Te Deum, but their excitement was silenced by the entrance of Baron Scarpia, chief of the secret police; his baritone voice filled the auditorium deceiving on Tosca in making her think that her lover Cavaradossi was faithless and waking vengeance in Tosca's bosom. The curtain fell at the end of Act 1 and Luca woke up from his trance. Unconsciously he pressed Alessandro's hand and his eyes were clouded. Alessandro grinned at him. "You don't have to tell me that you liked it", he said. "Wait a minute." He unlocked the door and vanished, coming back with a tray of two glasses and a bottle of champagne, already open. The gentle sparkling fluid ran like oil down Luca's throat while the auditorium was gradually emptying, a soft murmur floating up to the box. Luca felt like floating. "I never thought I would like it, but those voices..." "The best the Scala can offer", Alessandro finished his sentence. He emptied his glass. "You don't have to worry about those chicks. It's only you." They locked eyes until it was getting dark again and the curtain lifted once more for Act 2, the Farnese Palace, where chief Scarpia anticipated the sadistic pleasure of bending Tosca to his will, having her lover arrested and interrogated so his silence of the whereabouts of his friend and escaped prisoner Angelotti was broken under torture. To end all this Tosca revealed Angelotti's hiding place, fought the police chief and stabbed him to death. During all the misunderstandings, singing and killing on stage Alessandro pulled Luca to his side, carefully hidden in the darkness, stroking him and as the voice of a shepherd boy sounded, while church bells tolled the dawn, and Cavaradossi awaited execution at Castel Sant' Angelo, Luca was almost in tears. He had never heard such a beautiful song though it was of course familiar to him. The singer in his dark, muddy coat, the white, loose shirt torn and bloody, he fell to his knees in the gloomy cell of his dungeon, lit by torches, desperation on his face, 'E lucevan le stelle, ed olezzava la terra, stridea l'uscio dell'orto, e un passo sfiorava la rena...' [*] ----------------------------------- [*] "And the stars twinkled and the earth was fragrant, the garden gate creaked, and a footstep brushed the sandy path." 'The hour has fled... And I die in despair! And I die in despair... And life has never been so precious to me!' There was deathly silence when the bullets hit Cavaradossi while Tosca rushed up the battlement of Sant' Angelo, singing her heart out, explaining to the audience that she was about to end her life and jumped into darkness. Luca didn't know where he was when the curtain fell and after a brief pause the audience cheered and applauded, giving standing ovations, calling the singer again and again back on stage. He still was lying in Alessandro's arms, clutching his empty glass and hiccupping softly. Alessandro turned his face to him and started to kiss him. Luca struggled but then he didn't bother. Let everyone see. Of course nobody noticed, except three pairs of watering eyes staring from the stalls up to the box, not missing anything. The music and the strange surroundings had left Luca in a state of exhilaration when he followed Alessandro down and into his Ferrari, waiting outside. This was their last night together and no way in hell would he go home alone. Up in the large room of Palazzo Gondi alone he waited for Alessandro to follow him, but he was acting mysteriously. Luca knew why when two men came puffing up the stairs, carrying large covered plates with food and put them on a prepared table in the loggia. "Wow", Luca said, when they had vanished and Alessandro lifted the first cover. "Antipasti. And what's that there?" Alessandro tapped his fingers when he tried to lift the silver cover. Instead of he shoved a dried, marinated tomato into Luca's mouth, followed by an olive filled with cheese and a piece of artichoke. With the same movement he wiped his fingers and took off Luca's jacket. A bite of salami and Luca's silky shirt had gone. A piece of a pickled bean and Luca's trousers hung over the stool. Luca giggled, a bit tipsy. "The second round and I'm naked", he stated. "Wrong. With the dolci you're naked." Alessandro grinned sardonicly, never stopping feeding Luca and himself, washing it away with another bottle of champagne. "Saltimbocca alla Romana!" Alessandro announced, lifting the second cover. "Alright, I think I'll have my socks removed then", Luca grinned, giggling to himself. And with the dolci, hot figs with green pepper and vanilla cream, Luca lost his underpants. * "Bath is ready" Alessandro shouted while Luca hadn't noticed his absence. He had to stop drinking for sure. He stumbled over his shoes when he tottered into the bathroom that was lit by thick candles Sandro had fixed on every possible surface. Luca gasped. He had never expected something like that from Alessandro. So, he could be romantic, he thought bewildered, while Alessandro had already dived into the fruity-sweet fragranced foam, pulling Luca with him. Water swept dangerously near the rim when Luca stretched out upon Alessandro's body, giving him a long nose from foam, and placed a funny heap of it upon his hair. "You look like Dwarf Nose." "Rather like Pinocchio." "Pinocchio only gets a long nose when he's lying", Luca throw in. "Are you lying to me?" "About what?" "Everything. That I'm the only one. That you're not interested in chicks. That you won't get married." Despite his tipsiness Luca sensed a stone falling into Sandro's stomach. But a moment later it was gone. "I never lied to you, gioia." I just didn't tell you everything, he thought. Luca felt Sandro's hands gliding up his body under water, soaping the cleft between his buttocks and he was hot in the blink of an eye. He sat upon Alessandro's belly, leaned back and sensed his erect member between his cheeks. Cautiously he lifted himself a bit, and found the right spot, then he let himself sink down, gasping a bit from pain for the slippery penis rushed all too quickly in, but Sandro grabbed for Luca's own prick, giving it gentle strokes and the pain was forgotten. Water leapt over the rim of the tub, but neither noticed it. After a while the room was swimming with water while the candles illuminated two boys in ecstasy. They left the bathroom swimming and hurried to the bed, where they started another play of love. Luca sensed the tip of Alessandro's tongue slipping into him and didn't know what he liked more - this or Sandro's concurrent massage of his member. He left his body to Sandro's fingers, occasionally purring like a tom cat spread eagled upon the soft mattress of the bed. Still moist from fluids it was easy to take him and Luca enjoyed Sandro's attention and his lust until they switched positions. ______________________ 15 _______________________ A nightingale lamented muffled into the silent night, while Luca's eyes started to flutter sleepily only to be awakened again by Alessandro's demanding tongue. The nightingale had been over taken by a lark, announcing the early morning hour when Luca awoke alone in the bed. His searching hand found nothing more than cold bed sheets and the imprint where Sandro's head had been. Luca though cuddled with his pillow, turned on his side, sleepily thinking that Sandro was just peeing and fell asleep again. Sunday morning in Florence was a silent hour. The tourists were still sleeping in their hotel beds, and the inhabitants did the same, before they prepared to attend church service and afterwards having an extended meal with Mamma's home cooking. The Italian Sunday belongs solely to family, but when Alessandro was crossing the street from his palazzo to reach his aim, he saw some pulled up shutters where the shop inhabitants had already prepared the displays for tourists, preferably shoes, bags and souvenirs. He breathed in the balmy air. Although the town was made from stone and not from trees and flowers, there was a spicy scent coming from the river, mingling with the dry smell of sunburnt stone and incense streaming from open churches. It was a beautiful morning and yet Alessandro's heart was heavy. This afternoon he would have to leave his home town and he debated with himself if it was the right decision, now that he had met Luca. He hated to leave him. But he loved to gain the education he was longing for. Perhaps it had been wrong to chose the university at Pisa when he could have studied here at one of the Florentine institutes. But they weren't universities and he wouldn't be able to get the right degree to work in one of the scientific institutes of the museums or as certificated guide for art-historical interested tourists. He would only remain a second class guide, showing the usual spots, giving as little information as he could, giving out tips for an evening's entertainment, for brothels and discotheque's and that would be all. He stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets. Despite all his gloomy thoughts his face radiated. He had spent a wonderful night with Luca and why should this be the end? They could see each other each weekend, and in August started the long break that they could spend together wherever Luca wanted; money wasn't a problem. Although.... Alessandro wasn't as rich as Luca seemed to think. He had the monthly income from his father's inheritance. The rest of it was under the management of his uncle Arrigo until.... until he would marry and father a son. Sure he could spend it right now, but he would have to give a report on what and why he would spend it, in case he didn't marry and have a son because then everything would fall into the hands of the monks. What an obnoxious thought. Not that he wasn't willing to give money for charity, completely the opposite. But he felt very queasy at the thought of seeing the hard-earned family money, gathered over centuries, in the possession of foreign people who would do God knows what with it. He stopped in his walking and held his face into the sun. A slight sting in his back entrance reminded him of the pleasures of last night. How would he manage to abstain from all of that? Could he trust Luca? Could he trust himself? He squinted against the sun and continued his walk, until he reached his goal. Palazzo Pucci, a similar monster of Pietra Serena like the one his family owned. Iron rings as fixtures for horses reins and torches, stony benches besides the bronze entrance door, rejecting and intimidating. Alessandro didn't hesitate, entered, crossed the square yard straight to the opposite door and stepped into a hall, not bothering with ringing or knocking. He knew that Emilio was always up in the early morning hours. The hall was decorated with huge modern paintings - an odd contrast to the Renaissance palace. A staircase led on the right hand side up to the other floors, but Alessandro turned left where a small plate of noble understatement announced 'Emilio Pucci - Fashion Designer'. He found Emilio and his young lover at the breakfast table near the large windows, that were covered with plants of all sorts. A large date palm needed the whole space of the corner and under it stood wicker chairs and tables where on them Emilio had put the coffee pot and plates with marmalade and honey. "Ah, there you are. You're early", Emilio said in his deep, somewhat dragging voice. His lover turned and beamed. "We saw you yesterday at 'Tosca' in the box with your little friend", he said. "But you didn't see us." "Surely I've seen you both", Alessandro answered. "Amidst the plebs in the stalls, why was that? Have you rented your box out?" He pulled a chair to the table and sat down. "Sometimes it's helpful to breathe the smell of plebs", Emilio said winking. "Snob." The young man - black hair and black eyes, a little goatee leading down from under the lip to his chin - pushed him a plate and toast. "Coffee or tea?" he asked. The connections of the Gondi's with the Pucci's have been legendary. Both families were one of the oldest in Florence, both had been silk merchants, and while the Gondi's could save their money over the years, the Pucci's name was only held by the recent wealth of their latest offspring, Emilio, world-wide acclaimed fashion designer with ateliers in Paris and London. But here, at his old family palace, he had his very own, private studio where he designed clothes and invented new patterns, shown on the catwalks in Roma, Milano, New York and Tokyo. "Vittorio, gioia, would you be so lovely as to bring it by? You know where it is", Emilio asked the young man who rose and left the room. Emilio turned to Alessandro, leaning over the table, his anthracite eyes under the bushy eyebrows searching. "It's for the young man you were withyesterday, right?" Alessandro nodded. "He'll look so pretty in those clothes." His fingers combed his ice-grey, thick hair. "I've never seen him, though. What's his name? He can't belong to the society." "Pah, society. I told you, you're a snob, Emilio. What's with him?" He made a movement towards the door where Vittorio had vanished. "Where did you pick him up?" Emilio laughed roaring. "He's one of my models from Milano." "Ah!" Vittorio returned, walking graceful like a dancer, shirt open to reveal his six-pack and the brown, hairless chest, that was decorated with a low hung chain with an artistic pendant. He carried a pack of clothes that was enveloped by a plastic bag and gave it Emilio who unpacked it carefully. "You said you were of the same figure and height, so I hope it fits", he said, lifting out a soft suede jacket of a light brown colour, with light-red and blue applications of a typical Pucci-pattern. Alessandro unwrapped the matching trousers. "Marvellous", he said, admiring the work. It snuggled perfectly to the hand. "Your farewell-gift?" "Sort of", Alessandro mumbled. Suddenly he thought it stupid. When would Luca be able to wear it? He shook his head. Of course he would have dozens of opportunities to wear it. When they would go out for instance. "You outdid yourself, Emilio, it's terrific. And now to the business side of things. Quanta costa?" Emilio grinned and winked at Vittorio. "Friendship price as agreed. One hundred Euros for the sake of old times. It's just the price of the leather." Alessandro knew that Emilio was understating, but he didn't want to hurt the older man. He beamed and nodded. "Great. For old times' sake." Luca was still sleeping when Alessandro returned on tiptoes, then kneeling beside the bed and kissing Luca on his cheek. "Hey, sleepy head, time to wake up." Luca stirred, turned on his back and sighed. "Where have you been?" he muttered, eyes still closed. Alessandro looked down and his heart hurt. He left the gifts where they were - upon the table - hurried to undress and crawled under the blankets. It was still early morning and they had plenty of time. Luca embraced him, cuddled with him for a while until both felt the familiar feeling of arousal again that needed to be satisfied. "I have something for you", Alessandro whispered, jumped out of the bed and went to his cupboard where he kept Masolino's diary, and opened it. He pulled out a package and a little, longish box and returned. While Luca was watching him, he remembered that this was their last day together, or worse, what was left of it. His stomach pulled together painfully when he saw Sandro's naked body, the long, straight legs walking and his equipment , that brought so much pleasure, hanging between. Then he laughed at himself. Was it just THAT which brought him pleasure? Or rather the whole young man? "What are you laughing about?" Alessandro looked down on himself. "Alright, it's still drooling", he chuckled then. "Probably because it's still not satisfied, eh?" Luca's cheeks reddened. "You're a slut. What do you have there?" He recognized Masolino's diary. "It's for you. Please take good care of it while I'm away, promise?" Luca swallowed with excitement. Finally he would be able to read all of it. "And here's something else." Alessandro pushed Luca aside and let himself fall between the sheets. Then he opened the long box and tickled Luca's nose with the pendant hanging on a long, golden chain. "That's the Gondi-cross. Everyone of our family has one." Luca grabbed it and sat upright. He stared wide-eyed at it. It was made of heavy, red shimmering gold and enamel in white and red. "You can't give me that", he stammered finally. "That's too precious. And it's yours. You..." "Shhh. It's mine, I can do what I like with it. And it's a promise to return." He bent down and kissed Luca's lips, still open in astonishment. Luca's fingers enclosed the cool cross as he sunk back between the pillows, embracing Alessandro's body while his heart beat loud and painfully. "You act as if you were going to America", he said indistinctly between kisses. "I know you'll return. Otherwise I'll come to Pisa and tell you off." "Sure you'll come to Pisa. What about next weekend?" Alessandro's fingers crawled upon Luca's body from chest to his abdomen, wiping away white stains. Luca's stomach jerked and he wriggled. Alessandro's forefinger stroked gently along Luca's soft penis, then to the surface of his smooth balls. Luca jerked again and chuckled. "Do you have a single room at the student's hostel?" he asked. "Don't know. I guess so." "You think I can stay overnight then?" Alessandro's head had went down, pushing the covers completely aside and gnawed slightly at Luca's shaft with his teeth. Luca's member rose within the blink of an eye to full length. "If that is still working that way when we're fifty..." Alessandro mumbled, taking it into his mouth. It was noon when both weren't able to do anything more. Both complained about pain and soreness, but took it easy. It was between coffee and the remains of the dinner from last evening when Luca pointed to the parcel. He had hung the Gondi-cross around his neck, left his shirt open, so that he felt the cool gold between his pecs. He looked almost like Vittorio, Alessandro thought, just with blond hair. Without a word he took the parcel. "Unwrap." Luca did and gasped. The suede felt extraordinarily soft. It would fit like a glove. But then he let the clothes sink into his lap and stared at Alessandro. "Why do you give me all this? You embarrass me. I've got nothing for you." "I thought you would like it." Alessandro sounded somehow disappointed, so Luca dashed around the table and knelt down beside his boyfriend. "I love it, Sandro, really. It's just, expensive gifts are given so seldom in my family. We don't have much, so those gifts are welcomed the more. And they embarrass me, you understand?" Alessandro looked at him. "Because you feel obligated now?" Luca nodded. Alessandro stroked his cheek. "That's the difference of our two worlds. For us, gifts are meaningless. You know, money can't be responsible for making an asshole of you. It's rather that money reveals your true being. With money you can act as you are. Treat people bad if you feel like it." He grinned. "But if you're good guy you please people." Luca grinned too. "So you wanted to tell me that you're the good guy, right?" "Right. No, I'm selfish." Alessandro smirked now and ruffled Luca's already dishevelled hair. "I want to see you in that outfit. Now." Luca rose and dropped his shirt and jeans. A minute later a young heart-breaker stood in front of Alessandro. "Where would I wear this?" Luca asked, turning in front of the mirror in the wardrobe. "When you go out with me, next time." Luca detected the label of Pucci inside the jacket and almost shrieked. "What's that? You're friends with Pucci, are you? I didn't know!" Alessandro laughed. "One of my secrets. If I don't watch out , Emilio will substitute Vittorio with you and I can admire you on the catwalks of Milano." "Huh?" "Vittorio is Emilio's young lover. A model from Milano. I met him this morning." Luca rolled his eyes. "And had a three-some, eh?" "Sure." Luca sighed deeply. "My parents are upset because I wasn't there for lunch. Giano told them I'm probably with you, not saying that I was out the whole night. They know you're departing today." "Good old Giano", Alessandro said. "When is he going to Pisa?" "Next week. Actually he wanted to go later, but then he changed his mind. Probably happy too to start a single life. Perhaps you'll meet." "Yeah, perhaps." Again Alessandro imagined Giano's features that looked so similar to Luca, just less boyish. "You have to pack I guess", Luca said, suddenly sad. Reluctantly he took off the jacket and the trousers, folded them carefully and put them back into the plastic bag. "I don't have much to pack. Just some clothes and books." Luca followed Alessandro downstairs, laden with the plates, into the kitchen. "I'm up for a last walk up to San Miniato, what do you think?" Alessandro said. "Say good-bye to the God with the torch." "Cautopates?" "Right. Cautopates. The finisher of days. And meanwhile you'll read the diary and tell me what you think about the story." "You said, you've plans with that. What plans?" "Going to Rome to find out what happened." Luca's face was a question mark. "Where will you go to find things out when none of the scientists found out?" "They never read Masolino's diary." * * * Florence was swimming in the afternoon-heat. A sfumato hung over Brunelleschi's red brickstone cupola of the cathedral, blurring the pointed bell's tower of Santa Croce into those surrounding Luca's home, and the battlements of the tower of Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. The slopes of Fiesole behind were of a dusty grey-green. Silver-grey where olive trees covered the slopes, black-green where pines and cypresses pierced the sky, planted in long rows, indicating the road that led up. Now and then red roofs and white washed walls were to be seen, where rich people of Florence had their summer's domicile. Alessandro and Luca stood tightly embraced and breathed in spicy air. The noise of the town was behind them and no passers by disturbed the peace. "Don't follow me home", Alessandro said. "I hate long farewells." He gave Luca a key. "Here you have it. Whenever you feel like you can then go to my room. And there's still your gifts to pick up. Promise me to look after the Palazzo? Fran will come every week too." "Fran?" "Francesco, our gardener and housekeeper. He's with Anastasia at Fiesole." He lifted Luca's chin. "Next weekend, I'm back." He kissed Luca, then he turned and went quickly away. He didn't look back. __________________ 16 ___________________ "Did you say good bye to your stabber?" Dante hissed when Luca came home. But Giano pulled Luca aside. "Nobody knows you weren't at home last night. I told them you left early this morning." Giano's gentle brown eyes were a little bloodshot. "Had fun at the opera?" his mother chirped, ruffling Luca's hair. Luca ducked away and mumbled "Yes". He wanted to be alone, away from Clarissa's cheerfulness, Dante's lurking eyes and Giano's concerned watchfulness. "You said the Gondi boy is leaving today?" Clarissa went on, while her agile hands washed the plates and cutlery from the supper. "There's rabbit left, if you like. Aren't you hungry?" "No", Luca mumbled once more and dropped his head. From the corner of his eye he saw Dante open his mouth, but he received a blow from Giano's elbow. "Have you nothing to do?" Dante, dressed in jeans and jacket with a scarf of AC Firenze around his neck, shot him a look and left the kitchen. Luca was reminded that on next Wednesday he had to meet his friends for the football match and he sighed inwardly. What a prospect. Without a further word he left and entered the narrow staircase. He felt Giano at his heels. Without being invited, his brother followed him into his room. "Has he left?" Luca nodded and dropped down upon his bed. "Thanks for lying for me", he said, not looking at his older brother. Giano squatted in front of him. "Next week I'm off too. You think you'll be alright?" "I will. Please stop treating me like a baby." A little smile curled Giano's lips. "I reckon he will return soon, won't he? Next weekend perhaps?" Luca looked up and suddenly tears welled up in his eyes. He couldn't stop himself from stretching out his arms and embracing his brother. He felt his soothing closeness. "Hey, I'm sure you'll survive a week", Giano whispered. He wasn't sure if the Gondi-boy was worth all the heartfelt pain. He had watched him long enough to know that Alessandro was a slut and a heart-breaker, with a remarkable talent to lure women and men to his side to play with them and then toss them away for the next one. He was angry that his brother could become one of them. But no way in hell would he tell Luca. He freed himself from the embrace and lifted Luca's chin. "You've plenty to do next week. Going to work, learning a lot, meeting with your friends, and you'll see, in no time it's Friday evening." He winked. Luca sniffed and felt consoled. How good it felt to have a brother to share his secrets with. "Has Dante said anything?" "No. I'll make sure he doesn't." But in two weeks you're gone too, Luca thought, and what then? * Alessandro put on his sun glasses to stop the sun shining into his eyes. He drove straight west, upon a country road that led between kiwi-plantations and vineyards, peach trees and tree nurseries. The Ferrari buzzed satisfied under his buttocks and he turned on the radio. A minute later he turned it off. It was disturbing his train of thoughts. Red statues shimmered through a hedgerow as he passed a workshop for terracotta. The sun inflamed the burnt stone to a deep crimson red. He knew that next to the country road ran the lazy flow of the Arno. Alessandro drove slowly and enjoyed the silence of the Sunday's late afternoon so much that he took detours to reach his destination. On the right hand side he passed Empoli and the junction that would lead to Leonardo's birthplace Vinci, all hidden between olive plantations, the black peaks of cypresses and large, wild meadows in between, now and then interrupted with houses painted with the colours of the south: dark terracotta, yellow in all shades, light ochre and faded orange. He met hardly any cars, at least not before he crossed the Arno again, approaching Pisa, the former almighty town at the Tyrrhenian Sea whose fleet had once ruled the world. Little was left of it. Alessandro's hometown Florence forced Pisa under its yoke, and this even without Leonardo's great plans to deflect the river to cut off Pisa from the harbour; it was nature and time that did it itself. The town was situated now ten kilometres away from the sea, because the river had shovelled great heaps of sand and mud to its mouth. The heavy anchor chains of the ships he had seen hanging at the walls of the great cemetery, and he longed to study all of them again. In the distance towered the Apuanian mountains, foothills of the mountains where the Cararra-marble was broken. The river snaked in a wide bow through the town when Alessandro turned into the autostrada, passing a stony gate that lead into the town. The water had a different colour, milky green, almost grey, from the gravel and marble the waves brought with it on its long journey. Cars streamed into the town returning from their Sunday trips and Alessandro orientated himself with the signs that would lead him into the centre, to the university. The last of tourist's busses jammed the streets when he arrived at the large, sandy coloured building. He stopped his car directly in front of it and entered the two story, square yard, similar to his own home's yard, just much wider. "Very few students here, young man", the old caretaker said, interrupting his meal of bread and salami. He poked around pieces of it between his teeth as he rose achingly, pulled on an old cardigan and shuffled in his baggy cord trousers next to Alessandro across the yard, through a hallway, to an attached building that was adapted to the old Renaissance-style of the university. "Kitchen is not yet open for the students, young man", he croaked, "but in the student's quarter you'll find lots of appropriate places for you." He looked Alessandro up and down, sniffing the air. Apparently he sensed Alessandro's rich upbringing, although he had tried to appear as casual as possible. Alessandro presented him his registration form and the old man nodded, still chewing at the remains of his supper. "The semester starts in two weeks, young man, but the library is open for kids like you. What are you studying?" "History of Art." The old man nodded again. "Bene. Like so many of you." He rummaged in the small bag he carried and handed Alessandro a plan of the buildings. "This might help with your orientation." Together they entered a large floor from which doors opened to the right. The left side was covered with windows, overlooking the Piazza dei Cavallieri, with the same named large palazzo. "There are fifteen students here, who didn't go home for holidays." He held Alessandro's registration form close to his eyes. "I see you wished a comfort-room. The single rooms are booked out." "Alright", Alessandro said, following the old man, wishing he would go faster for his bags were getting heavier with every minute. The room he was offered was attached to a kitchen in the middle; with two beds on each side, two wardrobes, tables and stools. "TV costs extra. But the use of the kitchen is free. And here's the key" he said, fumbling with a huge key ring and again raised it close to his eyes. "It opens your room, nothing else. I'm always there if you need help." Alessandro nodded. He signed for the key and let out a heartfelt sigh when the old man had shuffled away. He dropped upon the bed, and stretched his body out . A light headache was throbbing behind his forehead and his stomach growled. "Kitchen is cold", he remembered the words of the care taker, so he had to find out a place where he could grab something to eat for himself. On the landing he bumped into a lanky youth with stubbled hair, cut so short that it was just a centimetre long, covering his skull. He raised up his eyes and laughed then. "Hey, I didn't expect anyone else here. New?" He eyed Alessandro from head to toe, a brief, curious look. He stretched out his hand and said brightly "I'm Franco. What's your name?" "Alessandro." "Fine. Hungry? If yes, we have the same intention. What are you studying?" "History of Art." "Great! That's my direction too." Without any further ado, he shoved Alessandro down the staircase, along the hallway, through the yard and out of the university. Alessandro laughed quietly to himself. Usually he was the master of talks and actions; now he had found his master himself. Probably. He squinted against the setting sun when they were standing upon the street. "Look, there's the house of Galileo. He had a chair for mathematics here." Alessandro nodded friendly. He knew that of course. "Where do you come from?" Franco asked, starting a fast tempo directly into the old town quarter. Soon they were surrounded by the noise of Vespas and the chattering of people coming through open doors and windows, street cafes, trattorias and the smell of fresh baked pizze and vegetables hung in the air. Alessandro had classified Franco's dialect to somewhere in the north. "Florence." "Ah, I guessed so. I'm from a small village near Venice. I've no money to travel home for holidays, so I had to stay here. Well, it was a short break anyway. And you?" "What me?" "Why do you came so early?" Franco had led Alessandro to a pub in a narrow street, and to a gathering of youths sitting at little tables in front of it. "Well, why not. I have some things to do here." "Family? Friends?" "You're pretty nosy, honey." Franco gave him an odd stare from aside and shut his mouth. He pulled Alessandro with him though to an empty table and called to the waiter. Apparently he was good friends with him. "I'm starving", he said, studying the menu. "I'll think it's pasta." "I think it's a panzanella first", Alessandro said. "You'd like one too? Feel invited." Franco made round eyes and hesitated. "You know... you don't feel you have to." "I'd like to. It's my first day here." He waved to the waiter and ordered two panzanella salads, pasta for Franco and salsicce with polenta for himself. Franco remained silent and eyed Alessandro from aside. "Perhaps you'll gain some fat on your ribs then", Alessandro winked. Then he nudged Franco. "Hey, don't be so stubborn. The next time is on you." Franco's a little pock marked face lit up. "Alright then." Alessandro wondered how quickly Franco cleared his plates. "So you'll have started your studies already, yes?" he asked. "We won't be in the same class then." "Well, of course we can have some courses together. What are you interested in?" "The history of Florence especially. I'd like to become a guide. You?" "Well, restorer actually. I dream of an employment in Venice." Alessandro whistled through his teeth. "A never ending task." He pushed over his credit card and signed. Franco made big eyes, but said nothing. They sat for a while and finished their glasses of cheap wine, enjoying the atmosphere of low sounding music, quiet chattering, clinking glasses and cigarette smoke. This he had dreamed of, Alessandro thought, to be among kindred spirits, having a buddy he could have good talks with. "Where do you live?" he asked. "Single room?" "Hell, no, I can't afford that. Three-man-room, actually pretty stuffed, but what can I do." Alessandro felt a little ashamed of his money, but that wasn't his fault either. He rose and sauntered with Franco through the illuminated streets, making a big circle until they reached the campus again. "Have you a girlfriend?" Franco asked. "I left mine in my home town. Well, we haven't been together for that long, so..." "So...?" Franco looked frankly at him. "Well, how do I know what she's doing?" Alessandro was quiet. Yes, how did he know what Luca was doing? Suddenly he felt alone. "I left mine in Florence", he mumbled, almost involuntarily. "But she can come each weekend, it's just two hours away." They stood in front of Franco's room. "It's a he", Alessandro said. Franco lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh. Well... cool." He grinned and turned the key. "See you tomorrow then. What are your plans? We can have breakfast at the same spot. They offer cheap prices; they know students are always in need." Alessandro nodded, somewhat relieved. "Thanks for being honest", Franco said when he closed his door. Like a tiger in a cage Alessandro went from the bath to the kitchen and back to his room. It wasn't a very wise idea to come here so early, was it? He considered phoning Luca but remembered that he hadn't a mobile and that one of his parents would answer the phone. In the worst case scenario it would be Dante. Then he had an idea and made a mental note to do this first thing the next morning. So, he had plenty of time to explore the town, probably together with Franco. Or go to the secretary and pick up the list of possible courses he had to take. Visit the National Museum to see Masaccio's painting of San Paolo, the apostle, Masolino had mentioned in his diary. Finally he searched for bed linen in the wardrobes and made his bed. He pulled out towels and placed all his toiletries in the bathroom. Luckily he had his own that he would only have to share with his room mate. The bed was hard, but not uncomfortably. After a few attempts to stuff his pillow under his head the way he liked it, he stood up and opened the window. He simply had to get used to it all, the foreign smell, the noises, the sound the rustling bedcover made and his naked feet upon the carpet. Instead he pulled on a t-shirt and sat at the table where he leafed through his travel guide of Pisa. He had always puzzled in his head where the Carmine-church would be. He couldn't find it in any travel guides, nor on internet sites. Masaccio had painted his large altar piece for that church that had been taken to pieces and spread over Europe. The panels were all at Berlin, Germany, The Crucifixion at Naples, the Madonna at the National Gallery, London. Just San Paolo had remained here at Pisa. Alessandro remembered Masolino's mysterious words when they had parted. Masaccio on his way to Pisa to start the work of commission for the Carmine-church, his brother in tow. "Lo Scheggia" - the splinter - as his contemporaries had called him, for whatever reason. Why did they call a man The Splinter? Masolino had had a very bad feeling when he had watched them going. Alessandro smelled a family drama, that had its origin here in this place: The Pisan Carmine-church. With the help of some natives he should be able to find it. * Two days later a parcel awaited Luca when he came home from the Opificio. A cardboard box, wrapped with red paper coming from Pisa. Luca's heart beat faster. A parcel from Alessandro? And he hadn't even been away a week. Niccolò and Marcello, just arrived home from work and hungry, eyed curiously alternating between the parcel and the glowing Luca who would have loved nothing more than to unwrap it in his room. "You made close friends with the Gondi-boy, didn't you", his father asked, slipping off his shoes. Again he had gone home in his dirty overall, and Clarissa had laughingly scolded him. "Sending you parcels already." Marcello watched Luca silently. "Where's Dante anyway?" Niccolò asked him. "Date", Marcello answered monosyllabic. Niccolò shook his head. "I thought he would rather train for the Gioco." "You mean, sex isn't good for a sportsman?" Marcello asked, hiding his grin. Niccolò rolled his eyes. "Of course it gives you weak legs. And he needs his strength for the match, now our Quartiero is in the final." He sniffed and searched for his pipe. A wire burnt suddenly in Luca's stomach. The Gioco would take place soon and Alessandro had been determined to attend. He was in the Quartiero of San Giovanni, so he and Dante would probably be rivals. But, was it likely that Alessandro would be allowed to participate? On the other side: who would oppose the Prince of the Lilies? "What about your workout and training?" his father asked, eying his son. "We want to make sure the victory is on us this time, d'accordo?" Marcello mumbled something, still his eyes on Luca's parcel. Luca snatched it, pressed it to his chest and was about to leave the kitchen. "Dinner's ready soon", Niccolò called after him. Up in his room Luca hastily opened the cardboard box and yet another and then held a mobile phone in his hands. It was not just a cheap thing, but an expensive looking phone with shiny, silvery buttons and a blue display. A card was attached. "Gioia, This is something useful for us, don't you think? I would had phoned, but actually I don't fancy a talk with any of your family. Please phone me as soon as you can, my number is stored already. Alessandro" Luca's excitement peeled off. No "I miss you", no virtual kisses for him? He examined the mobile, found the place with the telephone numbers and Alessandro's and pressed the button. Alessandro answered immediately and sent a little stab into Luca's heart. It was good to hear his voice so close to his ear. "Wasn't that one of my brighter ideas, eh?" Alessandro chuckled into the loudspeaker, "You can talk as long as you want, it's all on me. So, how are you?" His voice echoed somewhat as if he was standing in a big hall. "Where are you?" Luca asked instead of giving an answer. "In a church." "Church? The big cathedral?" "No, the Carmine-church. That's where Masaccio worked." "Ah! Now, do you come home for weekend?" "Of course. Make sure you've plenty of time for me, capisce? Luca grinned and nodded. "I miss you." "Miss you too. Until later, ciao." Alessandro had cut off the call. With shame Luca realized that he hadn't even thanked him. By all means he would make sure that he had his weekend off, all day and all the nights. Before that he would go to Alessandro's home to make it comfortable for the two of them. That night he dreamt of a blazing torch that lured him into a dark tunnel deep beneath the earth. It smelled damp and mouldy and he heard water drops flow from silver shimmering walls. He knew it was Alessandro he was following because he heard his light foot steps. He walked on silent feet as usual. But Luca couldn't reach him, as fast as he was hurrying, stumbling over rubble, slipping in oily water puddles. When the fingertips of his outstretched arm almost reached the back of Sandro a flush of fire shattered between him and his boyfriend, parting them, causing Luca to yelp with pain. An arm, carrying a torch burnt in front of his face and took his sight. Luca shouted and screamed ... and woke up, bathed in sweat. He sat up and wiped the moist strands of his hair, then he rubbed his eyes. What was that crap? Tunnel, torches, fire. Sandro lost. Deep within him Luca knew that his subcon-sciousness he feared that he would lose his lover to another town and perhaps another man. Luca clutched his drawn up legs and stared into his morning dawn lightened room without seeing anything. To make the trouble perfect he had to go today and endure the football match. He sighed loudly and scrambled out of his bed. At least it would bring a bit of a change. Soundlessly he padded across the hallway to the bathroom and thought wistfully at Sandro's spacious bathroom, that was actually a separate room of Sandro's huge living room that was almost took up the whole length of the Palazzo. Luca fumbled with the bathroom boiler, put some more wood into the shutter and lit it. Tired and somewhat hung-over he sat upon the toilet seat and rubbed his face. What a dream. He jumped when the door opened and Giano peered in "Up so early?" he asked, entering the room. "Bad dream". Luca rose and made room for his brother who had difficulties aiming his morning wood into the toilet bowl. Luca grinned and stepped in front of the mirror. A pair of gentle brown eyes stared back, a little swollen from sleep. Another face appeared in the mirror behind him. Giano wrapped an arm around Luca's chest and leaned his face against Luca's hair. "Aren't we a happy pair?" he whispered. Luca leaned against his brother's body, feeling his hardness. "You certainly mean beautiful pair", Luca chuckled. "Better you find another place for that", and winked at Giano's mirror image. Giano winked back, though somewhat melancholic. "How come we are so different?" he asked. "You and me. There's no similarity to Dante and Marcello. Whether outwardly or inwardly." He pressed Luca tightly to his chest, still speaking to his mirror image. "Promise to tell me instantly if they harm you, alright?" Luca nodded. "But I can take care of myself, Giano." "I know you can. I just want to know what's going on." Luca hesitated for a moment. "Sandro has given me a mobile. If you get yourself one we can stay in contact always." He saw Giano's eyes brightening in astonishment. "Given you a mobile? Such an expensive gift? Wow." "He said he didn't want to phone me in case it's Dante answering it." "Since when is he so shy?" Giano answered. "He never avoided any conflict before." Luca pondered for a while. "It was Dante who beat us up on the street recently", he mumbled, avoiding Giano's eyes. He felt himself turned to face his brother. "Are you sure?" "Sandro recognized him. And anyway, Dante didn't deny it." "You've talked with him about that?" Giano asked surprised. "Not really. But I know it was him and some others." "Marcello?" "Don't think so." Giano stroked over Luca's cheek, then he untangled his hair with his fingers. What if the same waited for himself? What if he had came out earlier? Would he had prepared a smooth way for Luca then? He was not sure how his father would react - having two gay sons. And Clarissa? Would she still be the lovingly, innocent mother? Giano would be alright if it wasn't so, but Luca was still too young for that burden. "Does Sandro come over the weekend?" he asked instead. Luca had meanwhile started to brush his teeth and nodded. "You must do me another favour", he said indistinctly, white foam upon his lips. Giano put some toothpaste upon his brush and looked up. "Another night of freedom?" His brown eyes sparkled. Luca blushed and bent his head to rinse his mouth. "No need to feel ashamed, gioia", Giano whispered close to his ear. "Make sure it's safe, ok?" With a jolt Luca remembered that they hadn't used a condom the last time. But he trusted Sandro. His brother had died of AIDS, and he wouldn't be so stupid to be careless if he wasn't absolutely sure about his state of health. Would he? Giano eyed his brother in the mirror, saw the worries painted on his face, and then relief. He wondered what was going on in his head. Sandro had a large consumption of girls and boys; he knew that. How far had both gone? For Giano it had been just hand and blowjobs in a darkroom, or a wild fumbling in the park and somehow he envied his younger brother. At least he would have a bed to lay down with the Prince of the Lilies.. He chuckled. A bed of lilies. Luca had stepped stark naked into the bathtub and turned on the heated water. Before he could pull the plastic curtain to avoid setting the bathroom under water, Giano climbed into the tub and started to soap first Luca than himself. Luca enjoyed his brother's hands and it was hard to stop his body showing his excitement. Actually it was impossible since he heard Giano's chuckle through the beating of the water. "Surely I'll help you. Though it was close last time", Giano explained after a while. He rinsed off the water from his body and stepped out. "I guess Sandro has a better bathroom, hasn't he?" Luca heard the tease in his voice and grinned, while he wrapped himself into a towel. "How do you get along together actually? Doesn't he consider us as the poor workers who maintain his lifestyle?" "What makes you think so?" Luca said a bit angrily. "He hasn't any class snobbery." He has for sure, he thought immediately, but held his tongue. Giano smirked. "Hasn't he, ah. Well, then." He slipped into his tight boxer-shorts, combing back his wet hair with his hands. Luca thought his brother looked marvellous. Thankfully he missed the beefy stature of his two older brothers, but he had a finer bone-structure and his skin was smooth and shimmered like gold from the sun. His now soft penis and the low hung balls were clearly defined under the thin, blue material, and were identical to his own equipment. Which was looking good by the way, Luca grinned to himself. "Hurry up, I'm going to make breakfast." Giano was out of the door. * * * * * "Football?" Tristano repeated and frowned a bit. "I've tickets too, but actually..." "You've got better things to do? Going out with your girlfriend?" "No, with my sister. She's the one interested in football." Odd, Luca had thought that all straights were mad for football. Inwardly he rolled his eyes. Just another one of those clichés. Standing in front of the class, Coppo handled the slide projector, showing photos of the Chapel of the Princes at San Lorenzo, and high-defined details of stone inlays, counting the names of the stones. "So, we'll meet then, right? Let's say 7 p.m. at entrance C?" Tristano nodded. Luca could had sworn that there was a sparkle in his eyes, though it might be a sun's reflection that came through the uncovered windows. Suddenly he felt a wet sting on his neck. He turned and saw the stupidly grinning face of Raniero playing with a plastic straw. "Faggot" he mouthed and throw him a folded note. Luca caught it. "Another victim?" it read. Luca crumpled it and put it into the pockets of his jeans. Tristano gave him a questioning look but Luca shook his head. "These are the steps of an inlay picture. To the left side you see the finished model." Coppo pointed to a bunch of multicoloured flowers. "In the middle is the drawing model every one of you will have to make as a start. To the right are the suiting stones. Our first task is to get a feeling for right colours. Match your supply of stones with the colours of nature and you will see that everything is possible." Coppo peered over his spectacles and searched for the reason of the noise. His eyes stuck on Luca Montori who had turned his head. Coppo cleared his throat and Luca's head jerked back. Raniero couldn't hide his plastic straw and Coppo sighed. Once in a while parents sent him their kids who weren't suitable at all for the skilful task that was taught in this workshop. Certainly Raniero belonged to them, despite that he had managed the enrolment test. Coppo leaned his hip at the teacher's desk and focussed on the lad with the cheesy skin. "Ragazzi", he started low. "If anybody is among you who doesn't want to be here, then I am the last person to stop him or her from leaving. This workshop is honourable and the task will be difficult. It requires love and devotion. So, please, leave your private problems out of this room, d'accordo?" Fifteen heads nodded, but Luca bent his head. That fun was to come, he thought. But he was determined to stand up against intolerance, even if the cost was high. He was just angry that here was another one besides Dante who wouldn't leave him the way he was. When Coppo hurried them out for dinner break he caught Luca's sleeve. "Just one word, Luca", he said, taking off his glasses, pinching his eyes. He looked tired. "Any problems? It's between you and me and nothing that is said will leave this room." Luca's eyes widened but he regained confidence very quickly. "There's nothing, Professore." "It's Coppo", Coppo reminded him. "Well, there's nothing I won't solve by myself. I really like your lessons and I'm eager to start with a real task." Luca tried a grin. Coppo examined him seriously. "One after the other, Luca. Your father and I started our apprenticeship in the same class. He outdid me, so there was nothing left for me but to become a teacher, while he became the master of the stone cutters and then the leader of the inlay workers." "But you are professore and my father isn't", Luca objected. Coppo laughed friendly. "But that's not important. I was better with theory and your father with his hands. It means nothing." Luca smiled at the obvious understatement. "Um, Coppo, what did you have to learn to become a professore. I mean, I have a friend who starts his study at Pisa." "Ah, Pisa! I've studied there too. History of Art. I wanted a background. And geology, also a few semesters archaeology." "My friend is studying History of Art too. He wants to become a guide. Working in a museum perhaps." "An early decision about which direction he likes to chose would be useful", Coppo said. Then he nodded to the door. "I guess there's someone waiting for you." Luca saw Tristano lounging outside the room and his face lit up. Coppo patted his arm. "Enjoy your meal." "What did he want?" Tristano asked excited. They went down the staircase and joined the others at the cantina, standing in a row. "Apparently he had noticed, that there was something between me and Raniero." His eyes searched the room and found Raniero sitting and gobbling up his spaghetti like a pig. Disgusted Luca turned away. "What is between you and Raniero?" Luca hesitated. He couldn't tell him the reason. But then... what the hell. "He's envious." "Envious? What about?" Luca sighed impatiently. His stomach growled. "Do you know Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola?" "Sure. He was beaten up lately on the streets at night." "Right. I was with him that evening. I mean, I'm friends with him." Tristano's blue eyes stared at him. "Wow, aren't you shy with that guy? He certainly outclasses us." "Ah, Tris, you show the same class prejudices that separates us from people like him. He's human, nothing more." And he wipes his ass at the loo the same way we do, as his father had told him many times, Luca thought chuckling. "But, I mean, wow... he's so... he has a bad reputation." Tristano eyed Luca, apparently not knowing what to make of Luca now. "And that is the reason Raniero is envious?" he asked not very convinced. "Well, he thinks I'm a scrounger who made friends with a noble man to receive many benefits." "Like what?" It was Tristano's turn to receive his plate with spaghetti and another with a schnitzel and vegetables. Luca shrugged and took his own plates. What was he to tell him? The gift of an opera-evening, receive the precious Gondi-cross and clothes he would have to work some years for if he bought them by himself? Raniero grinned nastily when he and Tristano passed his table to sit at another, constantly peering at him and laughing his ass off. Luca moaned and rolled his eyes. Best to ignore him. * * * * * The letters "Artemio Franchi" were beaming over the stadium's entrance, but Luca had difficulty finding his way. He was here for the first time. It was Rosso who had told him that there would be an entrance 'C' everybody wanted to meet in front of. Fans of both clubs - AC Firenze and AS Monaco - stood in groups, drinking, laughing and bitching at each other from aside. Guards had separated them and lead them to difference entrances. "Oh no, the faggot again!" he suddenly heard a familiar voice behind his back. There was a harsh tap on his shoulder. "Since when faggots are interested in football? And where did you leave your stabber actually? Raniero was draped with blue-white shawls around his neck and hanging from his baggy trousers and he sipped from his beer bottle. Behind his sneering, pale face, appeared a few more with similarly stupid expressions. Luca didn't know what to answer. He tried to evade and to vanish among the swarm of fans, but Raniero followed on his heels. "You can surely tell me, or the whole class will know." Luca whirled around. "What will the class know? That you're an idiot? I can arrange that." "Gosh, a faggot with a courage!" Somehow Raniero wasn't intimidated nor could Luca shake him off. Desperate Luca tried to fight his way through entrance C until he finally saw Rosso's fire red hair. He waved. Luca slipped like a lizard through the fans where suddenly Tristano appeared, tugging at his sleeve. Luca panted a little. Cheering sounded behind him, coming from the blocks of fans, and hoarse battle songs. He regretted coming here. This was certainly not his cup of tea. But Tristano grinned at him and pointed to his side. "That's Isolde, my sister." Isolde, blond as her brother with coal-black eyes and a scarf draped around her waist, beamed. She obviously enjoyed the riot. "Tristano and Isolde?" Luca couldn't resist his tease and Tristano rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we've had enough of that, thanks." Rosso still waved and pulled him closer finally. "What took you so long? And where's your scarf?" "Scarf?" Luca asked stupidly and Rosso strangled him almost with his spare one. "Much better", he said. "Come on, Giuliano and Micky are already in." "What's your seat number?" Luca asked Tristano and noticed they weren't that much apart from each other. Together they were herded through the entrance where guards frisked the rucksacks and bags for fireworks and bottles. With glee he saw from the corner of his eyes, that Raniero and his louts were relieved of both of them and he rushed to follow his friends. The stadium was an oval bowl with flat seats, forming at the opposite side the writing "AC Fiorentina". The main stand was covered and despite the prices almost filled with people. Luca's heart started to beat fast when dusk fell and the first of blue-white fireworks started among the crowd. The opposite party answered with red smoke and when the stadium speaker announced the players he was as excited as the others were. Tristano and Isolde had changed their seats and sat now next to him, but to his annoyance Raniero and his buddies were right behind. Through Giuliano's binoculars he followed the ebony-skinned Nonda in his red-white shorts and he didn't care that he belonged to the opposite team. His home club was hopelessly defeated anyway. When the first goal fell for Monaco an ear deafening thunder clap went through the stadium, coming from the stand, and he heard Raniero cursing sharply. "What an eye catcher", slipped out of Luca's lips, as he followed Fernando Morientes' fast speed over the field, dark hair blowing in the wind. Immediately he sensed the stares from his friends. "Woo, Luca, gioia, you haven't joint the sweeties, have you?" Giuliano fluttered his eyelashes at him, and Luca tried to hide his blush - in vain. They all laughed and patted his shoulders. "That's alright, Luca," Rosso said, "I would give everything to have such a tight ass as Morientes has." Luca joined in their laughter, but thought he caught an odd look from Tristano. He couldn't sort it out, he just hoped that he wasn't thinking Luca was gay and despised him for being that. But then he saw his laughter and was eased. The time was almost over when Fiorentina was four goals behind and there wasn't much hope for the return match next week. People streamed out of the stadium, and a large whistling and booing rang in Luca's ears. Raniero had vanished. He saw him minutes later standing on the staircase parting groups of fans, where he tried to light a flag. His buddies helped him and in no time a fire was burning. Police came rushing, but then Luca saw the sneering face looking directly in his direction. A rocket shot at him and he was too slow. It detonated between the crowd, showering them with burning sparkles. People screamed and whirled around, trying to extinguish their burning clothes. Luca's hair had caught fire. Tristano hectically tried to cover it with his shawl. A biting stench hung in the air and a panicking crowd tripped over each other to the exits. Police and guards hastened to Raniero and his gang, who was still standing, laughing and interested in following what happened. Giuliano lay on the ground, coughing badly, while Michele patted his back; Isolde's jeans were scorched like her scarf. The stadium speaker admonished calmness. Luca sat upon his seat, let the crowd pass and fumbled with his hair. One side of it was scorched and smelled nastily and his jacket was riddled with holes. The culprit had been lead off and calmness returned. An ambulance man came through the rows, stopping by Luca. "Everybody alright?" Luca pointed to Giuliano who was still coughing badly. After a quick examination Giuliano was taken away and the rest of his friends followed. He was brought into a tent. "That's really much fun", Luca squeezed out. "Sorry, buddy", Rosso said. "I hadn't thought it would be that way." "Did you see, it was Raniero", Tristano said. "Bastardo." "Raniero? Do you know him?" Rosso asked. "Sure, he's our class mate." "Congratulations. I don't know about you guys, but I need a drink to wash my throat." They left Michele with Giuliano and looked for a stand offering tramezzini and drinks. Isolde took a handkerchief and wiped Luca's face. "You really look funny", she said. "Guess only a barber will help." Shit, Luca thought. Sandro is coming and you look a drooling yokel. "Ah, nonsense", Rosso chimed in, opening a water bottle. "It's not that bad, Luca. A bit has to be cut off, that's all." They all watched fans streaming through the exits, howling and whistling, and it would be a long party for all the fans of AS Monaco. "If she saw it on TV Caro will worry, don't you think?" Isolde said to her brother. Tristano pulled a face. "She never watches football, and this shit happens every time." "Caro?" Luca asked. "My girlfriend, I told you." He eyed the police car standing alongside. Probably Raniero was in there, being interrogated. Perhaps this would be enough to get him expelled from school. Clarissa raised her hands up when she saw Luca coming home. She lamented about this football crap and the fans especially and chided Luca that he had gone there. "Dante's always going and you don't chide him", Luca protested. "Basta. Sit down here." She took a scissor and furtively cut the tips of Luca's hair, while combing it. "You look like a negro. Wash your face then." Luca trotted into the bath and looked at himself in the mirror. Rosso was right, it wasn't that bad, now the scorched strands had vanished. He had a smoky line under his eyes and across his face and his clothes stunk badly. The jacket was torn anyway. He dropped his clothes and stepped into the bath tub. Clarissa had made a fire, so the water was warm when it washed away the remains of that unhappy evening. ___________________ 17 ____________________ It was Friday evening when Luca was on his way to the Gondi-Palazzo. Sandro would arrive this evening and he needed to prepare the room. To his surprise the heavy wooden gate was already open when Luca turned the key. He crossed the yard where Sandro's motorbike was still standing under an awning, but the large palm tree had received fresh water. He went further on and entered the hall. "Hello?" he called and jumped when a man came around the corner, wiry, with sun burnt skin and a straw hat upon his head. "You must be Luca", he said, his bushy, silvery hair poured from under the hat. "I'm Fran, the housekeeper and gardener. Alessandro told me that you would be coming sometime." Luca stretched out his hand but the long white lily he carried was in the way. Fran shook it. "That isn't necessary", he smirked and Luca felt embarrassed. "For Alessandro?" Fran took the lily carefully and examined it. "You need to remove the yellow anthers. I hope you haven't smeared your clothes. If you have, it will stain." Hastily Luca looked himself up and down. He couldn't dream what his mother would say if he came home with another set of tainted clothes, but he seemed to be clean. "Come into the kitchen." Luca followed and watched Fran slip into his gardening gloves and nipped off the anthers. "Alessandro has left money for me to fill the fridge. And I covered the furniture since the palazzo is deserted now." He turned. A dozen of wrinkles framed his eyes and the skin of his face was like leather; the result of years in the sun. "Anastasia told me about you." "How is she?" "Well, thanks. We enjoy the fresh air in the hills." Luca envied him instantly but he smiled. "Please give her my greetings." Fran nodded. "I will. Well, check the grocery if you're in need of anything else while there's still time. I'm off then." Luca went upstairs after he had examined the fridge and opened the door leading to the loggia. Fran had left a good feeling inside him. There were people still who didn't despise him for being what he was. Fran certainly knew the story of Anastasia's son. Luca checked the bathroom then, came back with a handful of condoms and lubricant and hid them under the bed clothes. The lily he placed upon it and grinned. His leather suit was still waiting for him in Sandro's wardrobe and so far nobody had noticed the cross he was always wearing. The chain was long enough to hide it. Two hours later - Luca was sitting in the kitchen where he could watch the yard - Alessandro opened the gate and drove the Ferrari in. Luca was out like lightning and draped himself over the closed car door, falling into Alessandro's arms. "I see you missed me." "You could have called to say when you'd arrive." "I'm here now." Alessandro looked at Luca. "What have you done with your hair?" He combed it with his fingers. "Oh, that's a long story. I know it looks shitty." "Certainly not. It will grow again, don't worry. But what happened?" Alessandro dropped out of the car. "Football match, I told you I was going." "Madonna! Did they start fireworks?" "Sort of. I'll tell you later." Luca pulled Alessandro through the door and into the kitchen. "Are you hungry?" "Sure I am. For you." He pulled Luca closer and unbuttoned his shirt. "I hope there are no further damages, eh?" He took the cross into his palm and smiled. Luca giggled when Alessandro unzipped his jeans and cupped his butt cheeks with his palms. He felt nothing. "Forgot your underpants? Ah, what's that?" He let Luca's trousers glide over his hips and revealed one of Alessandro's black strings. "Wow." "I hope you don't mind", Luca said indistinctly because his lips were covered by Alessandro's. He felt Sandro's fingers massaging the shaft of his penis and it was raising in his fist within a second. He tried to free his legs from his jeans but failed due to his shoes. Alessandro felt him struggling, so he bent down and tugged at Luca's shoes. But instead of coming to his feet again he devoured Luca's cock, that filled out the front of the string, lavishing it through the fabric, up and down like licking an ice cone. Luca moaned and dug his fingers into Alessandro's hair. "You should keep it, it looks better on you than on me." Alessandro left Luca suddenly, rose and chased him upstairs where he stopped in front of the bed, looking down. "A lily? How sweet." He took it and sniffed, but it was without any scent. "Prince of the lilies. I had some trouble because of that", Luca mumbled. Alessandro hadn't heard him. He turned, smiled and pulled Luca into an embrace. At the same time he tried to undress himself, and finally fell with Luca between the sheets. "Ouch, what's that?" Alessandro struggled to reveal what Luca had hidden under the cover. "Ah!!! You think we'll have any use for this?" He held up the tube of lubricant and grinned devilishly. Then he crawled upon Luca's body, naked except for the string, and started one of his first class seductions. Luca was on the brink of orgasm, but he tried not to bite into Alessandro's member that was dangling from above into his mouth. His hand stroked Sandro's bum and one finger was piercing his anus. Alessandro grunted with pleasure and Luca knew he mustn't stop now. The next minute a hot gush of semen flooded into his sucking mouth, flowing down his throat and he swallowed. How easy he got used to it, he thought briefly when a rapid series of convulsions shook his own body and he released himself into Sandro's mouth. Sandro fell aside, his face buried into Luca's abdomen, sucking white drops from the tip of Luca's penis. "I certainly missed this." "It's just been a week", Luca mumbled exhausted. Though he still hadn't had enough, and his aching penis yearned for more. He had forgotten how horny he could be. Even if it had been just a week. Sandro was still sucking gently, stopping Luca's penis to shrivel. Luca copied Sandro's actions, stroking his smooth buttocks and outlining the rim of his anus. Alessandro moaned quietly, but then he said "What caused you harm at the football match then?" "A hooligan who's unfortunately my class mate. He'd already made nasty comments about you and me." Alessandro lifted his head. "You and me?" Luca's penis felt cold without the caress. "Don't stop", he demanded. "Yeah, but what did he say? What does he know...?" "He knows nothing, he just guessed. Said I would be your lap dog who follows you everywhere." "And called you names, right?" Alessandro turned over to face Luca. He kissed him deeply. "Can you stand up for yourself?" "I do. I admitted nothing and since he didn't show up at lessons for the last two days, I guess he's still in custody. He started a fire", he added. Alessandro chewed at Luca's under lip and humped slightly into Luca's abdomen. Luca responded. "Well then, the first thing you have to learn is not to be ashamed of what you are. No matter what others say." Luca was silent. "With the result of being beaten up on a street?" Sshht, let's not talk about that now." His fingers had found Luca's hole, stroked and opened it. Then his head vanished between Luca's legs and started to lick. "Where did you put that lube?" Sated and satisfied Luca later purred in Alessandro's arms. He had put his head close to Sandro's and let his fingers wander over his lover's chest. "What's the name of that hooligan?" Alessandro asked. "Raniero .... why?" "You said he didn't show up again? Perhaps he was expelled from school then?" "I certainly hope so. Though Coppo said nothing about that." "Coppo?" "My teacher. Professore Coppo Travisero. He's a friend of my father." Alessandro freed himself from Luca's embrace and lay upon him. "So you already have good connections, eh?" he grinned. His hand had found Luca's member and stroked it again to full erection. "I could do this for the whole weekend", he whispered into Luca's ear. "Why not?" * * * "I've been here before", Alessandro said, as they passed Palazzo Torrigiani and its museum La Specola. "God, no, really?" Luca exclaimed. "You've seen those anatomic wax models of humans?" "Well, sure. I've seen the 'The skinned', it was a model for the lymphatic system." Luca muttered something, taking Alessandro's hand subconsciously. "Giano was here many times, but I guess, as dottore-to-be he's interested in such things. I would had vomited." Alessandro laughed. It was a cool day, and a welcomed change after the hot days at the start of June. After an extended brunch they had decided to take Masolino's diary with them to visit the main work of him and Masaccio: the chapel Brancacci at the Carmine church. "You think this was the family palazzo of Torrigiani?" Luca asked. Alessandro looked at him. "You mean THE Torrigiani? Michelangelo's classmate at the Medici-garden? I don't know. Perhaps." "I've read he was a foe of Michelangelo and broke his nose in a fight." "That's right, gioia. Right here in the Brancacci-chapel where they made sketches to learn about perspective. Michelangelo laughed at Torrigiani's sketches and they started to fight. He was burnt by the Spanish inquisition later. I think the free Florentine spirit didn't go well with the pious Spanish Catholicism." Alessandro avoided the area of Santo Spirito because this was the hang out of his buddies, so they made a detour through shady alleys and winding yards. Near the Carmine church he stopped and pressed Luca's back against a house wall, next to hanging, blue gloxinias. "Have I told you that I'm coming with Giano and mother to Pisa next week ?" Luca started, but Alessandro pressed his body to his own and started to snog with him. Luca gasped but submitted. It was at that moment when a boy and a girl stepped out of the archway two houses away. The boy stopped in his tracks and squinted his eyes. He saw two lads kissing each other and he clutched the hand of his girlfriend tightly. "What's the matter, Tris?" she said. Tristano stood rooted to the spot and couldn't believe it. It was certainly Luca who had his hands around the waist of the other guy who could only be Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola. His heart beat fast. "Gays, does it bother you?" Carolina said, pulling Tristano away. "Do you think your granny liked the chocolate?" Tristano said nothing, he was too perplexed and all of a sudden the day was hot like in August. His face flushed and he felt the presence of his girlfriend annoying. He wished he was alone. But then, Caro grabbed his hand and drew him away. "Great", Alessandro mumbled, not releasing Luca's lips. "I take it you'll stay overnight then?" "If I can?" "You have to. We'll find a place." He humped his abdomen into Luca's and Luca knew that Sandro was still horny, despite their activities during the night and in the early morning. Both hadn't noticed that they had been watched. The Carmine Church raised high and unadorned in front of them. It was a plain Carmelite church, rejecting with its brown pietra forte stone. The famous chapel had to be entered from outside and a group of tourists already waited in front of it. "Crap, always those tourists. We never have Florence for our own", Alessandro said. "Let's wait then until they have gone", Luca suggested, pointing to a street cafe. They ordered two waters and two cappuccini and Luca opened Masolino's diary. He had protected it with a plastic cover. "Did you know that the church had burnt down in 1771? Only the two opposite chapels survived, one of them was the Brancacci-chapel. Well, there was damage, the big wooden frames between the frescoes had burnt and the paintings were discoloured at the rims. Then they wanted to tear it down, but the German painter Menzel who was here in Florence begged the government not to do so, because it was something that was irrecoverable." Alessandro nodded, sipping at his coffee. "I know. The government of those times must have been idiots. Well, at least they relented and started to renovate the frescoes. Have you been here since the last renovation?" Luca shook his head. They had lasted for many years, and he had heard that it was a miracle. The colours were fresh as the day when Masolino and Masaccio had painted them. After twenty minutes they decided to have another try. Alessandro knew that the amount of people who were allowed to enter the chapel, was limited due to the humidity. When they had paid their entrance fee, the tourist group was still standing in front of the chapel, but were about to leave. "It is because of their narrative density and the perspective depiction that this cycle has such a high rating in the history of painting", Luca heard the tourist guide explain in a Neapolitan dialect. "Masaccio was never carried away by the graceful classical vein. The faces of his apostles are rough and powerful. Adam and Eve of his hand built a concrete opposite to the same pair painted by Masolino, who had never painted a more expressive Eve." Alessandro watched the tourists, standing a little aside, saw they were leafing through booklets, examining cards, fumbling with their cameras, although it was strictly forbidden to take photos, chattering low and looked as if they would like to be somewhere else. He sighed inwardly. The tourist guide wasn't at all what he hoped for himself to become. If you liked full attention you don't have to simply recount the facts. "From Brunelleschi Masaccio acquired a knowledge of mathematical proportion. From Donatello he imbibed a knowledge of classical art that led him away from the prevailing Gothic style. He inaugurated a new naturalistic approach to painting that was concerned less with details and ornamentation, more with simplicity and unity, less with flat surfaces more with the illusion of three dimensionality. Together with Brunelleschi and Donatello he was a founder of the Renaissance." Involuntarily Luca peered at the walls, to see if she was right. Of course she was right, he thought. He pulled out the diary. If the guide knew what he held in his hands she would jump for joy. The original diary of Masolino da Panicale.... the painter of this chapel they were standing in... six hundred and twenty two years ago. "Marzo 1429 I could not wait until he returned from Pisa. I had spent my time working at the Brancacci-chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine at Oltr'arno, on the other side of the Arno. I hadn't expected that Felice Brancacci, one of the richest merchants in town would give me the commission, when he returned from a visit to the Sultan of Egypt. Probably he had heard about my assistance in Ghiberti's bronze door of the Battistero. The theme he had prescribed was the tales of the New Testament, preferably the deeds of San Pietro. But it was a difficult task and I yearned for Tommaso's return. Together we could work miracles. But alone, I was worth just the half. Felice Brancacci agreed when I suggested Masaccio helped as my colleague, not as my pupil, with this task and I negotiated a good salary for him. I was making visits to Donatello's workshop, where he was working on two bronze statues at the same time. It was San Rossore and a over life-sized David, a delicate, girlish boy with his hand propped at his hip, the other carrying a sword, smiling down at the head of dead Goliath, a winged helmet upon his hair and a feather that stretched along his leg until it met his buttocks - more of a pagan Mercury than an old testament hero. His private parts though were undeveloped and tiny. Donatello was busy polishing it, and I knew this had taken some while to complete, probably a year. I wondered if this statue was ever to be displayed; it showed too obviously an androgynous being. Donatello said laughingly that I should not worry, he had noble people at hand, interested in it. His apprentice boy smiled sheepishly and with a jolt I recognized his smile upon David's face. The boy, small and with curly, dark hair, his feature fragile and girlish, winked at me. The day Tommaso returned from Pisa was a feast. Though he seemed to have changed. More than before his gloomy and fiery character appeared, and his eyes had a feverish expression. His whole face was beaming, yet not by his healthy, rosy gleam alone. His brother Giovanni didn't leave him. He lounged around when we prepared the utensils we would need, made lists about the day’s work we would be able to finish, the amount of ground plaster, Arabian Sinope, sand, chalk, parchment, brushes needed, and the colours. One morning, when I had gone out to bring us grapes and bread for breakfast I found them in an embrace under the ladder, both soiled with mortar, the prints of their hands clearly visible at their painter's coats. I dropped the bread that fell to the dirty ground and hastened to pick it up. At the noise they scattered apart and looked at me with reddened faces. I said nothing, but from then on Giovanni spoke to me impertinently and let me know that I was the old man who had nothing to say here. Tommaso allowed him to paint two heads of angels, that were to be placed next to the altar, one left and the other on the right side of it. We started at dawn and ended when the moon shrouded the chapel into darkness and the wax of the candles and the oil of the lamps weren't bright enough to see. I had started with Adam and Eve in Paradise, and Tommaso was working at the opposite with their Expulsion. He managed two day works a day and when he finished Archangel Gabriel swinging his sword over the pair who were expelled from Garden Eden, my brush started to tremble. It was a striking contrast to my Gothic scene which was lacking in psychological depth as I realized then. Tommaso's Adam - although a sinner - had not lost his dignity and the beauty of his body was a blend of classical archetypes and new forms of expression. My brush fell when my eyes wandered over Adam's exposed, private parts. They had neither similarity to mine nor to Tommaso's; with its exciting length and reddish colour it hung freely over the large, shaded testicles and I felt mine rise under my dirty leather apron. Tommaso turned to me and grinned impudently. "You think Felice will accept it? I painted it as it is written in the Old Testament: Adam and Eve, chided by their shame, naked, to show their sin." My eyes wandered further to Eve, now ugly faced and old, hiding shamefully her breasts and her abdomen. I did not want to see them anyway. My eyes were focussed on Adam, his brown-reddish hair long and strong like a horse's mane. Tommaso stepped down from the ladder and gave me a hand to do the same. When we were standing face to face, he undid the knots of my apron, took my soiled shirt and my skirt and caressed the pout bulging even more from the hardness that was hidden in there. I do not want to describe what happened then. This time it is the feather that trembles in my hand, and not the paint brush, that still lay on the ground of the chapel where we sank down to submit to sodomy. His brush was strong and pierced me to the tip of my heart, when I felt another weight upon me, and, opening my eyes, it was Giovanni, piercing Tommaso's entrance as he did mine. What a shame I felt. Sodomy and incest. In a chapel with the holy Apostles to watch. My face still burns at the recollection." Luca whistled through is teeth. "Wow. Had you expected that?" The tourist group had gone and they were the sole visitors. He pressed his knees to the low marble barriers that stopped him from entering the chapel, but everything was in good light. His eyes found Adam's respectable private parts, swinging freely, and he had to grin. "I hadn't thought that Brancacci would allow that." Alessandro smirked. "Well, perhaps he followed the same inclination and had hot sex in his chapel." Luca nudged him. His eyes brushed the fresco cycle from the 'Temptation', the 'Tribute Money', the 'Shadow Healing' until the 'Expulsion' - pictures he was familiar with from his days at school. "Some of them are by Lippi, right?" he said. "The chapel was left unfinished." Alessandro nodded. "Yes. Masolino went to Rome and Masaccio followed, to work on a commission. And then all traces of Masaccio are lost." He pointed to the diary in Luca's hand. "Read until the end, and then you tell me what happened." "I thought the last pages were missing." "They are. Though perhaps your imagination outclasses mine." Alessandro covered Luca's mouth with his lips. "If the creators did it here, it can't do harm to do the same", he whispered. "Are you mad?" Luca struggled free and pulled Alessandro out of the chapel. "Come home then." Luca slept through the third part of The Matrix while Alessandro was wide awake and absorbed the computer tricks, although he couldn't follow the action and abstruse pseudo-psychological babble. He found the film rather a disappointment. He held Luca's hand sitting next to him in the cinema seat and he woke him up when the film was finished. A velvety night greeted them, the wind had stopped and the illuminated Dante-Quarter was wet and silent. "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate..."Alessandro read aloud from a stone plate, attached to a house wall. "Inferno", Luca said automatically. "Do you think Masolino thought he would go to hell after his death for what he did? Sodomy and incest?" "Well, at least he wouldn't be accused of incest, just his boyfriend. But what does it matter." "But don't you find it odd, having sex with your brother?" "I don't have a brother anymore. What about you?" "Me? I doubt that Dante would let me", he said chuckling. "Coincidence. Dante Alighieri was 100 percent straight." "And seven hundred years dead." Alessandro took Luca's hand and sauntered with him through the narrow streets of the medieval quarter where Dante Alighieri had had his tower house. "Has Giano a girlfriend?" he asked. "Giano? Not that I know of. He keeps himself to himself." Alessandro said nothing. Except when he's lounging in gay bars, he thought. Luca didn't seem to know and he wouldn't tell him. That was Giano's job to do. They reached Piazza Signoria with the town hall whose clock tower pierced the nightly sky and was softly yellow illuminated. The place was bustling with walkers, tourists and youths, sauntering up and down. Alessandro pointed to the 'Rivoire', a good restaurant at the opposite end. "Fancy a drink?" Luca nodded. He had never sat here because it was too expensive to sit there under the sunshades and enjoying the view. But then he recognized a familiar figure. "Tristano!" he called and pulled Alessandro to the table where his class mate was sitting with his sister Isolde and another young man. "Mind if we join you?" he asked and was greeted. "That's Alessandro, my b... my friend." Isolde beamed and her boyfriend pulled another chair to the table for Alessandro to sit down. "What's up?" "Cinema. Matrix, what crap. I slept through the film", Luca said. Tristano eyed Alessandro from aside and was silent. "Have you heard from that hooligan that's your class mate?" Isolde said. She lifted her Cinzano glass and clinked with the ice cubes. "No? What's up with him?" "He's expelled from the Opificio. Our uncle works at the police station. He's being charged with arson and vandalism." "Just because he's lit a flag?" her boyfriend asked. "Well, he shot a rocket among the crowd", Luca said. "My friend is still in hospital. Smoke inhalation." "Your hair looks good", Isolde said in reply and winked at him. Alessandro had ordered two Cinzano and two ice cups. He could certainly feel Tristano's eyes on him and his instincts told him that there was much more to the blond haired boy that he would admit to himself. He searched for his eyes and gave him a smile. "So, you're Luca's class mate?" "And you're Gondi-Lucertola, right?" Danilo, Isolde's boyfriend asked all of a sudden. "I wondered where I knew your face from." Luca let his spoon fall. It clinked upon the table. And there it was: the question he feared: "Weren't you beaten up on the street lately?" "Yes. By homophobic arseholes." Tristano's eyes widened. "Why do you think they were homophobes?" Isolde asked. "They left no mistake." Under the table he pressed Luca's leg soothingly. There was a minute of silence where everyone made their own conclusions. "And you? Were you with him?" Danilo asked Luca. "I.... well..." "He wasn't with me", Alessandro said calmly. "Had better things to do, right?" Luca wondered why he protected him. If Alessandro was so out to the world, he shouldn't have problems to admit everything. Except, he was so sensitive to protect the privacy of others and didn't force their coming out. Now he felt Tristano's eyes on him and he looked down. Somehow he felt that Tris knew that Alessandro was lying. "He's a pretty lad, your Tris", Alessandro said into Luca's ear. He lay upon his belly with Sandro on top of him, who had brought him close to orgasm. "Oh, you think about others while you fuck me, right?" Luca mumbled through gritted teeth, but Alessandro just laughed. "He has the same blond hair as you, you'd make a pretty pair." His penis slid in and out with a fast speed, stroking Luca's prostrate so that he was squirming and saw red stars twinkling in front of his closed eyes. "It's the opposites that attract", he panted. "Black and white? I mean blond and dark?" Alessandro had slowed down his speed, but Luca couldn't hold on. He squirted over the crushed towel upon the bed sheet, and gave a loud sigh. "Hm... I love it when you come", Sandro giggled, but made no attempt to quicken his speed. Luca lay motionless and felt his anus stretched. Alessandro glided slowly and softly within him. "He's gay", Alessandro said. "Who's gay?" "Tristano." "No, shit. What makes you say that?" "Oh come on, Luca. You have tomatoes on your eyes. It's clear to see. My gaydar kicked in." Luca tried to look over his shoulder. Alessandro slid out of his hole. His penis, hard like a stone, stood upright, condom-covered, glistening with lube. Luca pushed away the towel, turned to his back and watched him. "I can't see it. He's got a girlfriend." He lifted his legs and pulled Alessandro upon him. His back arched when Sandro entered him again. "It's the way he looks at you. He just doesn't realize it." Luca sighed when he felt Sandro's balls slapping softly against the inside of his spread legs and their pubic hair was mingling. "That implies that he's in love with me", he teased, flexing his muscles inside, causing Alessandro to yelp with pleasure. "I'm sure he is." For the next ten minutes Luca said nothing more. He closed his eyes and devoted himself to Sandro's pounding that made him hard again, until they came together. He embraced Sandro with his legs, they fell to their sides and smiled at each other. "Sore?" Sandro asked. Luca raised his eyebrows. "Actually yes. But if that means you'll stop - no." Alessandro laughed out loud. "You're a slut." "I thought you were the slut in town. They all recognized you. Um, besides, thanks for protecting me." "I don't out other people." ____________________ 18 ___________________ Alessandro heard mumbling beside him. He sat in the last row of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce and listened to the mass on Sunday morning. He stared at the back of Luca's head, as blond as his brother's, Giano, sitting next to him. He would give a penny for their thoughts. The whispering beside him didn't stop and he occasionally saw a head bent forward to examine him. Alessandro lifted his chin and pretended not to see them. He knew what the reason was. Florence was strictly devided into four Quartieri - quarters - and to attend the church service of a Quartiero you doesn't belong to, was sort of a faux pas. Alessandro's eyes wandered over the heads of the family of Montori; the black hair of Dante and Marcello and of Niccolò, the father, whose stubborn, dishevelled strands were ran through with silver. Luca's mother Clarissa was a fragile bird compared to they first sons. She had tied a black veil over her blond hair and was apparently praying. Alessandro usually had nothing to do with the church. It was just an old habit that he followed the Sunday's mass and an tribute to Florence way of life. Now, that the family money was in danger because of the greed of the Dominican monks - again a foreign Quartiero his home place actually didn't belong to - made him dislike it more. Again he cursed his father, that he had chosen this odd way of teaching him lesson. And still he was undecided what to do. Give into uncle Arrigo's demands who put the family reputation higher than the happiness of their last and youngest member or to throw it all into the wind and start his own life, afar from wealth and social acknowledgement? Alessandro knew very well that noblesse didn't count in Florence. Not anymore. Even the old noble families had settled down to a normal life, living from a small income; working to have a living. But none of them were as famous as the Gondi's, one of the last really important families of this town. The Medici's had died out as well as the Pazzi's. The banks of the Bardi's, Tornabuoni's and Sassetti's had lost their money centuries ago. The Albizzi's and Corsini's had moved away and all that was left were their splendidly decorated chapels in the churches of Florence. Alessandro thought briefly about Emilio Pucci. He was the one who had given back his old family a last touch of splendour, but he too was working hard for it with his own brain and hands. And he - Alessandro? Should he carry on and continue his life as layabout, squandering the money as he did before? Luca had shown him another way. His family was poor as seen by Alessandro's own eyes. But they had more compared to others. They owned a palazzo, Luca's father was the acclaimed master of the inlay workers and Alessandro considered his income not so little. And yet they managed to live on a basis that made the family important, not the money. Despite that Luca didn't get on well with his elder brothers - Alessandro was sure that Dante would give his life for the piccolino of the Montori's. His wrath against Alessandro was proof enough. The people around him fell forward on their knees upon the hard foot supporters and started to pray with a lot of murmurs. Alessandro didn't move, nor did he fold his hands. He caught an astonished look from the priest's eyes, standing high over the heads of the congregation in his stony pulpit. Alessandro held his gaze indifferently until the priest looked away. When everybody started to gather their things, he rose and waited for Luca to pass by. Clarissa saw him first and looked surprised. Luca beamed at him, Giano raised his eyebrows, and Dante gave him his usual sinister stare. Alessandro lined up and followed the Montori's, pulling Luca aside finally just before the exit, next to Michelangelo's grave monument. Clarissa joined them. "Alessandro, how nice to see you. I'd heard you were in town." She ruffled Luca's hair. "I haven't seen my son for the whole weekend. How do you like Pisa?" Alessandro, a bit put out with the demonstrative joy shown in seeing him, smiled politely. "Very good, signora. But I felt a little homesick." Niccolò tugged at her handbag and cleared his throat. He nodded briefly to Alessandro but said nothing. "Why don't you join us for dinner?" Clarissa asked and Alessandro accepted. Of course he had hoped to get an invitation. He winked at Luca and followed. "How come you have changed your mind?" Marcello asked over the kitchen table where they all had gathered, waiting for the rabbit to be served. "Scusa?" Alessandro said. "Studying is so unusual for your family. I mean, I thought you had enough money to live on." "And who tells you that I study to earn money? Sometimes I do things for pure pleasure." He thanked Clarissa who had put a plate with rabbit in front of him. She served him some of roasted potatoes that smelled heavenly of rosemary. "History of art, piccolino said." Alessandro nodded. "There's no money in it", Dante grumbled, crouched over his plate. "Why? As far as I understand you're busy with art too." Alessandro dabbed his mouth with the serviette and tried a gulp from the herb white wine Niccolò had surprisingly offered. "I do something with my hands", Dante said proudly, briefly lifting his palms. "And you? What is there to learn anyway?" Clarissa shot him a look. "I'm sure, Dante, that our town lives from the many works of arts displayed here. Or do you fancy to work in a large industrial factory?" "Right", Luca chimed in, "You would be nothing without the museums here." And anyway, Alessandro thought, you're just a stone cutter, but he swallowed the words with a large bite of the tender rabbit Clarissa had spiced with black olives and dried tomatoes. "I'm not talking to you", Dante said, eyeing his youngest brother. Niccolò cleared his throat. He had said nothing so far since the family had arrived home. This showed his obvious disapproval that his wife had invited this layabout but for his holy Sunday's peace he held his mouth. It was bad enough that Luca was spending so much time with him. And what did Clarissa see in him anyway? The rest of the meal passed in silence, until Luca wanted to show Alessandro his room. He wasn't ashamed of it anymore. The Lapis lazuli was laying on the window sill, carefully protected with a cloth, Luca unveiled it. "Any idea what to do with it?" "Father said I shouldn't show it around. Later, when I've learnt the technique I can work with it. I think I know what to do." "What then?" "Secret." Alessandro smirked. "Secret?" He came closer and stroked Luca's neck and his thick hair. "Do you have any idea what we can do before I have to go at least?" Luca shrugged. Actually he wished for nothing more than to slip into bed with Sandro, despite the fact that his arse felt sore and so was his genitals. Alessandro seemed to have the same thoughts for his blue eyes started to sparkle. Without a word he took Luca's hand. "Wait", Luca said, "I need the loo urgently." Alessandro was still weighing the stone in his hand when Dante came and stood in the door way. "I thought I'd better check on you." "Huh?" Alessandro turned. "Before what happens?" he finished the sentence. Dante stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. "You still don't have enough?" he growled. Dante was a half head larger and probably 25 pounds heavier, but Alessandro didn't feel fear. "I've heard you're about to attend the Gioco? How do you intend to fight against my team?" He looked Alessandro up and down. "You're just a half portion, I'll easily break every single bone of yours." "We'll see. Weight isn't everything", Alessandro quipped. He came closer until he stood in front of Dante. "Better to exercise some abstinence. You know that fucking gives you weak legs", he sneered. "But I'm sure you're not having half of much sex as I earn." Surprisingly Dante broke out into laughter. "Have you? With your faggot friends? You don't call that sex, do you. It's like fucking with goats." Alessandro raised his hand and slapped Dante's cheek. The strike was heavy, and Dante's head flung back. Beet red he stared at Alessandro. Fury was boiling in his black eyes. "Don't you dare do that again, Gondi. I warn you." "I warn you, I warn you", Alessandro parroted. "When you're with friends you're strong, right? But alone you're just a little wretched sausage." He stood aside. "Come on, big one." He beckoned him. "Or are you afraid of a faggot. I can show you real sex." Luca stood in the door again, looking flabbergasted at his brother and his boyfriend, standing like two fighting cocks with ruffled up plumage. "What's the matter with you both? One minute alone and you start to fight." Quickly he tugged at Sandro's sleeve and pulled him out of the room. "What's the matter with your brother?" Alessandro asked when they were out on the streets. "Why this attitude?" "You mean his homophobic attitude? He says he has been groped by gays too often." "So what? I'd take it as compliment." "Pah, you don't know the straight macho man he is. Submitting to another male means defeat." "Why?" Luca shook his hand. "Honestly, I don't know. It's not about what the church says. It has a deeper meaning." Alessandro eyed Luca from aside. He didn't understand what he was trying to say. Probably Luca didn't understand himself. No gay man could understand this behaviour. Were they afraid of admitting that the male body had something alluring and beautiful? And why could a woman admit that another woman was beautiful without being accused of being a lesbian? He sighed. The world was hard to understand. Luca listened to Alessandro's purring as he sat leg's spread upon the wicker bench in the open loggia in Alessandro's room; his boyfriend kneeling between his thighs, deep throating and sucking at Luca's penis. He had come twice already and wondered about the never ending supply his body was providing. Never ending and never tiring - the fortune of being seventeen. He wanted to lay down, but Sandro's bag was already packed and waited down in the kitchen. Alessandro finally released his cock and crawled up on the bench, straddling Luca and sitting down in his lap. He took the cross, dangling between Luca's pecs and weighed it in his palm. "I'm glad you wear it", he said, rubbing his penis gently over Luca's belly. "I wear it always. Nobody has seen it so far." Sunbeams died upon Alessandro's naked skin, a last reflection met his hair, made it flaming red with a golden aureole. Luca felt cold despite the closeness. "When will you return?" "Next week you're coming to Pisa, sweetie", Alessandro reminded him. "You promised to show up with your family, you've forgotten?" "Hell, yes." Luca beamed. "Giano and mother that is." "So, we'll see each other then. What's the problem?" Luca said nothing. He watched Sandro stepping from his lap and walking into his room. His butt cheeks gleamed in the setting sun, rosy and ivory, the rest of his skin was bathed in a delicate bronze tan. Who of the guys would resist that beauty? And would Sandro's libido stand the parting? Luca sighed, clutched the cross with his palm and followed him. * * * * * When a knock came at his door, Alessandro didn't know at first where he was. He blinked at the closed curtains and felt the hard mattress under his back. Shit, if he had to spend the next few years in this bed he would have to buy another or his back would be sore. Another knock. "Come on in", he groaned. Franco opened the door and stuck his head in. "Buon giorno, sleepy head. Ready for breakfast?" he asked cheerily and Alessandro groaned. "Geez, it's in the middle of the night." "Not my fault you came back so late yesterday. Big farewell scene with your boyfriend?" he asked cheekily. "Sure enough." Alessandro pushed away the bed cover and stepped stark naked out of the bed. Franco looked a trifle embarrassed. His eyes followed Sandro crossing the room. "If you can wait a minute I'll be ready", he heard him saying before he vanished into the bathroom. By afternoon the university was filling up with students dropping back by and by after their semester break. There were even new students who would be starting their first semester like Alessandro. But no one was sharing his room, no wonder, since Sandro had made sure that there wouldn't be one, offering the caretaker a certain amount of Euros. He had his own plans and he was sure that Luca wouldn't agree. Franco made him meet some of his friends whose names Sandro always mixed up. There were too many Claudio's, Mario's and Tino's to be memorized. Somehow it was always Franco who crossed his path and he felt comfortable with. By Friday the longing for Luca was great despite that they were talking every evening on the phone. It just wasn't the same and Sandro was looking to tomorrow when the Montori's would arrive. "Up for a Friday out?" Franco asked him when they had finished their meal at the student's cantina that had newly opened. Sandro felt still hungry. Those meals were something for swines he thought, though Franco seemed to be satisfied. "If there's something to eat I'm with you", he retorted, catching an amused look. "Your noble stomach's pretty spoilt, huh?" he said. Alessandro had told him about his upbringing and that was a source for Franco's good humoured teasing. Alessandro had been furious at first, but over time he had gotten used to it. "Exactly." He eyed Franco's slim features and the stubble upon his head. "Don't you think you should grow your hair? You look like someone from the Russian army." He slapped Franco's stomach and laughed. "And anyway, where do you want to drag me too? Are there any gay bars in town?" Franco rolled his eyes and pushed him hard. "That's for the Russian army comment, bugger. Besides, I thought you'd be the expert in finding gay bars. You won't mind me following you, eh?" "Why not? Some guys are keen on trimmed hair cuts." Franco moaned. "Why don't you join the community club here? There are dozens of kindred spirits." "Indeed?" Franco nodded, but Alessandro dismissed the thought. He wasn't keen on displaying his sexuality and probably would be drawn into a class fight between the good straights and the pitiful gays, fighting for the rights the straights would assign them like crumbs for the dogs. "Not interested", he said. "Now, do you know any?" "Wait a sec." Franco returned with a gay guide he had borrowed from a fellow student. "There you are. The first one is in the student's quarter a few steps from where we used to have breakfast." "Great. Now then, hurry up." He slapped Franco slightly with the guide and was surprised that Franco obeyed. He returned in a pink shirt, and the tightest light blue jeans he had. "Good enough?" Alessandro stared speechless. "What funny ideas you straights have", he howled. "But come on. That's fine." "Isn't your boyfriend coming tomorrow?" Franco shouted into his ear. They leaned against a wall in the darkness, only illuminated by a red light from lamps that were hidden in all four corners of the small room. The dance floor in the middle of it was empty and just a few guys were lounging nonchalantly at the bar, trying to make small talk. "How's this for a wretched establishment? Has Pisa nothing better to offer? I mean, it's Friday!" "Ever been to a straight disco?" Franco asked him. "Sure. I even fucked a girl if that's your next question." Franco's eyes shot open. "Have you. Why?" Alessandro went to the bar and came back with two fresh beer. "Why? Because there was nothing better at that time." Franco swallowed his beer wrongly. "You're pretty cocky, my dear. What makes you think that girls are less worthy than your boys." "I don't mean they are less worthy. It's just less fun." Franco sipped at his beer. "Then let's get out of here. Along the street is another bar for gays." Alessandro followed him, leaving the beer. The Night In was stuffed, the music loud and the guys all dressed up from hair to shoes. Franco felt appropriatedly dressed with his pink shirt and relaxed visibly though he was outshone by Sandro's white, tight fitting pullover that emphasised his pecs and showed his nipples, not to mention the tight, black satin trousers. Apparently Franco had a lot to learn about the dress code. Abruptly he felt himself dragged into the middle of the dance floor, felt pushed by other couples and watched Alessandro moving to the music like a graceful cat. Madonna. But then the drowning music took the upper hand, he felt the beat in his guts and the bass in his abdomen and it didn't count anymore whether he was dancing with a guy or a girl. Panting and thirsty they ordered beer and disappeared into a corner to watch the entertainment. "So, that's what it's about?" Franco asked, watching guys snogging, hands shoved between skin and jeans, half undressed. "That's about it." Alessandro said with gleaming eyes. He had to bring Luca here tomorrow. He had always fancied sex on the dance floor. "That's where you would pick up your one night stands, eh?" "Don't you do the same with your chicks? What's the difference?" "Well... chicks usually don't go for a one night stand." "Don't they? You've met the wrong ones then." Alessandro said arrogantly. Franco shook his head in disbelief. "So it's true then, yes? Gays gave more sex. More, longer and better?" "Exactly." "And why?" Alessandro turned to Franco and looked at him meaningfully. "It's because you get what you want. I could show you what I mean, but what for? I don't want to confuse you." He paused. "But one thing you can explain to me. What is the reason behind a homophobic attitude?" "You mean you don't want to sleep with a straight because you're afraid I might like it?" Franco grinned. Alessandro shrugged. "Perhaps I don't want you to share my playground." "Alright, that's a compliment." "What about my question?" Franco caught stares and winks and looked away. He was overwhelmed by too much testosterone. He wouldn't know what to do if one of the guys came up to him and asked for a dance. Or worse... Worse? Why worse? It might be that Alessandro was right. You get what you want. Only a guy knows what a guy likes - as the saying goes. But that wasn't of course a basis for a relationship. What had he in common with another man? He looked at Alessandro searching for an answer. Well, friendship of course. Perhaps the same interests that went beyond shopping sprees, nail studios, hairdressers and marriage. "I haven't thought about that, honestly", he said then. "I've never been homophobic. Why should I be?" "Because a guy showed interest, asked you out, and you felt repulsed? What if I was to kiss you right here and now? Would you feel flattered?" "Flattered? Well, I don't know. Why should I feel flattered?" "Well, if it was a girl kissing you, you would certainly feel flattered." "Madonna, what's this about? I'm straight. I love girls. You and me - we can't come together. We have different needs." Alessandro looked back at the dancing guys. Franco was right. This phenomena wasn't to be explained. Some say, homophobes were afraid to show their feelings, or they were afraid they would find the same liking deep within themselves. Didn't they say that everybody was a bit gay? So why not let it out. "Alright," he said aloud. "Then you can dance with me for a while." He sat his glass upon the next table and took Franco with him. When they came home, a little drunken and in a joyful mood, a letter was waiting for Alessandro. It was from Florence and the sender's name read Luca Montori. Alessandro tore open the envelopment and a letter fell out, together with a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it carefully and saw a drawing of himself, in all his glorious nakedness. Alessandro laughed out loud. He could certainly see Luca's face when he had stuffed the drawing into the letter, grinning mischievously as he always did, with his pearly laughter upon his lips. "This is my evening occupation", he read. "And before you start to ask: yes, I'm jerking off as much as I can - afterwards. Hm... do you like it? See you soon. Luca" Alessandro pinned the drawing onto the door of his wardrobe. He hoped the next one would be a naked Luca. * * * When he saw him, his heart beat faster than it had ever done and he wondered what Luca had done to him. He had never been in love, so was this a sign of it? Luca waved out of the window of the train and Alessandro ran up to the wagon's door. Luca embraced him, though he could stop himself starting a long kissing session. Giano followed him, carrying two suitcases. "Books", he explained, shaking Alessandro's hand. "Where's your mother?" "Father has become ill, so she couldn't come." Giano said. "Oh, I hope nothing serious?" "Just a summer's cold. But he felt awful." Alessandro nodded. "So it's just the two of your, right?" His eyes sparkled. "Come on then." He stowed away Giano's suitcases into his Ferrari and they drove the short way from the railway station to the campus of the University. "Ever been to Pisa before?" "Sure, but a long time ago." "You were a kid", Giano throw in. Alessandro unloaded the baggage and parked his car in the guarded parking lot nearby. Luca and Giano stood in the large yard, the lawn in the middle of it was sprinkled with water hoses and they examined the impressive Renaissance pillars and -arches connecting the ground floor with the second, leaving a continuous balcony from which doors and windows branched off. "My room's in the building attached. Behind those." He pointed with his hand and took one of Giano's suitcases. "Everybody has to register with the care-taker who has the keys and a plan. Then we have to go to the secretary to make it official. No hurry of course." The care-taker, as always chewing at his slices of bread and sipping at his flask of wine, found Giano's name and put him into a four-bed-room. Alessandro flinched inwardly. He couldn't stand to live with three other guys in the same room, but Giano didn't show any sign of discomfort. Apparently he was prepared for it. In the afternoon he showed the brothers around and paid for their supper, both were uneasily accepting. Those Montoris were proud, he thought. A bit like him. Typical Florentine. It was of course no problem for Luca to convince his brother that since there was a bed free in Alessandro's room he would sleep there. "I see your beauty outdid my drawing a lot", Luca whispered and grinned while he was creeping into the bed next to Alessandro. It was small and nothing like his bed at home, but this was better than nothing. He pushed away the cover and revealed Alessandro's body, waiting for him. "What makes you think I'm beautiful?" Alessandro said with a hint of cockiness. "You're fishing for compliments." Luca stroked his legs up and halted at the fork of them, where Alessandro's equipment was about to rise. "Others say I'm too slim." "Hm. What do you mean? This?" Luca's hand embraced Alessandro's penis. "This certainly isn't too slim", he chuckled. "Dante said he would break every bone of mine", Alessandro mumbled, succumbing to Luca's stroking hand. "Dante's a pillock. He doesn't know how quick you can be." "Quick? You mean premature ejaculation?" Luca gave a snort of laughter. "Nothing that can't rise again." He stroked faster now while kissing Sandro's lips and felt his penis jerking and shooting, gushing over his belly and finally his hand. "That was indeed premature." Two filled condoms later Luca lay tightly pressed to Alessandro's body, letting his sweat dry in the soft breeze that came through the window. "Dante might be right," he started quietly. "I can't believe you're determined to attend the Gioco." "Too late, gioia. They've already put me on their list. They need a fast sprinter who's good with the ball. I can easily avoid Dante's stomping." "So, that's your plan?" "Right." Luca couldn't keep his eyes open. His mind glided into oblivion, guided by Sandro's stroking hands. He was woken up by a harsh knock on the door and its instant opening. "Sandro, there's your... oh..." Luca saw a head with short cropped hair that vanished at that very minute and the door was closed. "What's the matter?" Alessandro murmured sleepily. "There was a guy at the door", Luca said, untangling himself from Sandro's arms and legs. "A guy? Your brother?" "No." Luca sat upright and wiped his eyes. "Probably Franco", Alessandro said after his brain function set in. "He always does this. Early bird." "But he saw us." "So what. He knows about you and me." Luca fell back onto the pillow next to Alessandro's head. "That's good then. Friend of yours? Gay?" "No. Straight as an arrow. I could convince him to follow me to a gay bar, but he couldn't decide to say yes to a guy making advances." Luca was up again. "You've been to a gay bar? When?" "Yesterday. Is it forbidden?" Luca said nothing. Though he felt a small sting in his heart. "Of course not", he mumbled. Alessandro was stroking the skin of his back and pulled him down to his side. "No reason to worry. I did nothing." His eyes were milky blue from sleep. "He took good care of me." He winked and chewed on Luca's earlobe. "Guess we've got to get up." * * * They met at the ceremonious semester-opening in the Aula Magna - the assembly hall - of the university. The president - a relatively young man with a shock of black hair that was always falling into his eyes and he flung back with a swing of his head - greeted the first semester students, referring to the long history of the university of Pisa, founded in the 12th century and whose most-famous student had been Galileo Galilei who had afterwards held a chair for mathematics and physics. Alessandro, knowing all this, examined the students, sitting in rows on red, upholstered chairs. The walls were covered with greasy oil paintings showing previous rectors and presidents, and the windows were decorated with coloured bull's eye panes in a theme Alessandro couldn't decipher. He sat with Giano in the last row, and behind them sat and stood family and friends. He turned his head when the door opened and a girl entered the room, cheeks flushed with embarrassment because she was too late. Alessandro gasped. He knew her very well: Leoni da Firenzuola, a chick he was friends with and had laid several times, in the past. Actually they had met the last time at the Teatro Verdi when he and Luca was watching 'Tosca'. He cursed under his breath. What an unpleasant coincidence. She hadn't told him that she would be going to Pisa too. She sat next to him on the last free seat and breathed out audibly. Then she turned her head to him and fluttered her eye lashes. "Hi Sandro. I lost my way. It's all too exciting here." He mumbled something incomprehensiveable. With her orange dyed hair she looked somewhat like a carrot and he wondered why he had ever been keen on her. He must have been drunk then. But then, you could have a lot of fun with her if you liked to, he thought. Probably just the right chick for Franco. He wondered though what to do with her when the ceremony was over. Leoni could be a real leech. "What are you studying? You haven't told me", he whispered. "History of art, like you", she informed him, beaming. He moaned inwardly. This meant he wouldn't be able to get rid of her. "History of art?" he repeated aloud as the students streamed out of the Aula. She followed him to the big hallway where several marble statues stood. He knew Luca was waiting for him anxiously and he rolled his eyes at him, indicating that he was annoyed by the girl's presence. "What do you want to do with that? Become a tourist's guide?" "Perhaps? But not an outside tour guide, rather in a museum where it never rains." Alessandro's laughter was harsh and abrupt. "Well, then, good luck. I have to go." He turned but halted then. "Where do you live?" "I have a comfortable single room", she chirped. "Close to you, I've learnt." Just great. Alessandro nodded and went across to the waiting Luca and Giano. "So, honeys, what are we doing with the evening? Have you met your room mates?" he asked Giano. "Two of them. The third either didn't show up or he's coming later. Seems to be alright." Alessandro saw Luca's longing eyes and wished for nothing more than to take him to Night In for a nice dance, but what should he do with Giano then? "Well, I'm off", Luca's brother surprisingly said, as if he had sensed the situation. "Have fun both of you. I need to unpack my things. See you in the morning then." He gave Luca an odd glance that he couldn't interpret and went away. "Your brother's sensible." "Who was the girl you was talking to?" Luca asked when they were alone in Alessandro's room, getting ready for going out. "You've met her at the opera." Luca looked confused, then he remembered the three girls besieging Sandro. "Your school friend?" "Sort of." Luca stood himself in front of the undressing Alessandro. "What kind of ort of? You slept with her, right?" "Is it that obvious? Embarrassing." Luca raised his eyebrows. "I guess I'll have to send you a drawing of me so you won't forget how I look, eh?" Alessandro quickly pulled him close to his naked body. "Looking forward to it. But why forget? You're etched into my eyes." A happy laughter followed and Luca joined in with his pearly laugh. _____________________ 19 ____________________ The next week Alessandro was occupied with choosing the seminars and lectures he had to take. First he chose 'Basis of the Occidental Art', then a discussion seminar, and then he took all of the lectures that were concerned with the art of the Renaissance. It would give him as much background as he needed for his hometown, since the Renaissance was founded in Florence. The special lectures would have to wait for the next semesters, but he had a very clear idea of what they would be. To his great annoyance, Leoni chose the same lectures as himself. In fact, she was always crossing his path, and since they were using the same kitchen, attached to their rooms, it was hard for Alessandro to avoid her. Not that he was a good cook, in fact, he couldn't cook at all, but once in a while he wanted scrambled eggs, or a coffee and she was always sitting there with her nose in a book, stirring the sugar in her tea while smoking non-stop, or chattering with her friend Maresa. She always acted then as if Alessandro was her boyfriend and this was pissing him off no end. When he felt sort of lonely he wrote letters to Luca. He had found out that writing sorted his mind, and it was much more pleasurable than to phone, although hearing Luca's voice close to his ear made all of his hairs stand on end with longing. * * * Luca flung his body upon his bed and started to read Sandro's latest letter. He loved his idea to write rather than to talk. So he could keep his letters as a memory for always and ever. "Gioia, I think I miss you a great deal. I'm not sure if I'm coming to Firenze this weekend. I have so much to deal with. As you know, my knowledge about Florence's arts has a wide range but to start from scratch is somewhat exhausting. They want us to learn about the very start of it. And it simply didn't start in our hometown, but in the caves of France whose name I always forget. You know, those funny scribblings on the cave's walls of hunters and deer. Actually it's quite interesting but I spend more time in the library than is good for me. My tan is vanishing and the rest of my body matches the white of my arse now ;-) That reminds me.... Do you feel a certain emptiness there? I definitely do. What am I writing here... I'll try to come, but I can't promise. Your brother told me that his room mate is snoring so loud that he can't sleep at night. What is going on in my mind is this; I suggested to him to move over to my room. At least I don't snore as you know. So... what do you think about that? I suggested it but Giano refused. Stubbornness seems to be a Montori-thing. Perhaps you can persuade him. But in the end, it's not my sleepless nights. But Giano has rings under his eyes and he needs all his strength for his study. Medicine seems to be a difficult thing to me. How is your apprenticeship going? And did your friend finally get out of hospital? Have you been seduced by Tristano yet??? All my love and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Alessandro" Luca lay motionless for a while and pondered. Why wouldn't Giano move into Sandro's room? Shit, of course because he was so sensible to think that if he would, they hadn't a place for themselves when Luca visited Sandro next time. Right? That was true, but next time Sandro would come to him and they had room then. So, what the hell. He took a sheet of paper and started to write his brother. * * * Luca hadn't heard from Sandro for a couple of days. His mobile was turned off but Luca thought that he could hardly take it to his lectures. But he didn't want to worry too much. Sandro didn't like it when he was too much of a leech. He tried to occupy himself with the lessons he himself had to master, and this wasn't a small task. Coppo had given them drawing boards with movable protractors and right angles where they were supposed to draw grids. At home he struggled with complicated scale calculations and had to ask Tristano for help. Surely his father would had helped him out but Luca didn't want to ask him. Not that Niccolò wouldn't help; but Luca wanted to learn it his way. "We start with geometric figures, ragazzi", Coppo's voice drowned through the room. "I stress here that we don't start with curved lines but with straight ones. Imagine a square or a rectangle.. What can you build with them?" "Houses for instance", a girl piped up. "Yes, that’s one instance. I want you to draw a house. Squares and triangles. Please draw it in difference sizes. First the original, then in the scale 1:2 upon your grids." Luca blew out his cheeks. Not again the scale calculations. Tristano was looking at him from where he was sitting over on the opposite side of the table. Then he wrote the formula for the calculation upon a note and shoved it over to Luca. With that it wasn't so difficult anymore for Luca to draw the right proportions and Coppo was pleased. Luca put Tristano's note into his lesson book for later use. About time that he was memorizing it. "The secret of a pietre dure work is its exactness. At the end of the semester you will all be able to lay a simple ornament. At first without the stony background of course." Luca felt Tristano's eyes on him. In fact the whole week he had caught those stares. But whenever Luca went to ask, Tris acted normal again. Could it be right what Sandro had said? That Tris was gay? In love with him? Nonsense. Tris had a girl friend. Though he wasn't talking about her. In fact, he had never told him about her, at least not in detail. Luca's eyes smiled into Tristano's. Lapis lazuli blue.. "Do you know I have a lapis lazuli at home?" he whispered. "It's like your eyes." To Luca's surprise Tristano blushed furiously and looked down at his drawing board. Luca nudged his leg. "What would you do with the stone?" Tristano shrugged his shoulders, avoiding Luca's view. "Why did you have to say that?" Tristano said later in the cantina. "Lapis lazuli blue! Have you learnt this queer's behaviour from your friend?" Luca almost dropped his plate. A stab of disappointment pierced his heart. "Queer's behaviour? Because I said I like your eyes?" "You know I have a girlfriend, so you don't have to try it on with me." Tristano set his plate vehemently upon the table. Luca stood. "You speak surprisingly little about her. Can't be a big love then." He turned and sat at another table. But he would have preferably thrown the meal into the trash bin. Was he bound to lose everybody just because he was friends with Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola? Even the gentle Tristano? Luca left his untouched plate and exited the cantina alone. Outside Tristano was waiting and tapped his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Luca. I'm just .. confused." He stretched out his hand. "Forgive me?" Luca pressed Tristano's hand, then he walked on with him, into the small, square yard of the museum's building. It was a hot day, but inside the old palazzi it was always pleasantly cool. A laurel tree provided shade next to an old well in the middle of a piece of lawn. Luca sat upon the low stony balustrade that was connected with arches and pillars and Tristano sat beside him. "I know you're confused", Luca started quietly. "You don't know what to think, right? I'm friends with Alessandro Gondi, the faggot. And your conclusion is, I'm a faggot too." He darted a quick look from under his lashes to see Tris was looking down at his shoes. Luca wondered what he would say when he told Tris what Sandro had said about him. but that was sealed in his heart. No way he would tell him. Tristano was still silent. "Listen, if you don't want to be friends with a faggot, say it and I’ll leave you." Now Tristano looked at him, completely bewildered. "What makes you think I don't want to be friends with you anymore?" Luca eyed him and read the confirmation in his eyes, that Tris was busy with other problems. Suddenly Luca grinned. "So I'm allowed to tell you that your eyes are as beautiful as my lapis lazuli? Eh?" Tristano nudged his knee with his own. And suddenly Luca was very hungry. From that moment on their friendship had something magical. Luca could neither describe it nor comprehend it, nor express it to himself. There were unspoken feelings wavering between both young men, something Luca almost could grab. But they remained unspoken and Tristano never mentioned the incident again. Of course he left Luca in darkness about his presumptions concerning Luca's sexuality. Luca was the friend of Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola and Tris was satisfied with that. Though - when Luca caught Tristano in a moment of unawareness, the deep lapis lazuli eyes were unfocussed. Drifting off into nowhere. Sometimes they were watching Luca, as if to measure his body. As if he had never seen another male body apart from his own. And deep down - very deep down - Luca felt a tinge of power. When previously it had been he himself who had adored the noblesse of a Gondi, it was now a sensual feeling of being adored. Because that's what it was; Tristano was just too shy to admit it. "Carissimo, So, my letter to Giano helped, eh? I wondered what he was waiting for to enable him to share the room with you. Well, of course I know. In case he hasn't told you the real reason Giano can't afford the extra cost for the luxury room, capisce? How did you manage it so that he accepted? This guy really must saw a forest each night. Anyway, does he behave well? Do you behave well? Bad news from the home front. Concerning the Gioco, my old friend Raniero - the one who shot the fireworks in my direction at the football match - is back. He wasn't sentenced to jail but for charitable work, you know caring for flower beds and lawns, scrubbing walls and windows, delivering food for the sick and mending the pitch in the stadium. That also means that he's back in my school class and he has proudly announced his acceptance to play for the Quartiero San Giovanni - that's yours - at the Calcio in Costume. How do you like that? Concerning Tristano I guess you are right. We had a little tiff recently because I said I thought his eyes were like my lapis lazuli and he was embarrassed. But he apologized. I don't know what he thinks of me. If he thinks that I'm your boyfriend or just your friend... And he never tells me about himself. I'm sure he has dumped his girlfriend. Give my greetings to Franco. I hope to see you next weekend. I miss you. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Luca" * * * The kitchen was thick with smoke when Alessandro opened the door to get himself a bottle of juice from the fridge. Of course there wasn't any albeit he had bought several bottles of it. Leoni sat innocently at the table, puffing like a chimney. "Have you seen the juice? Yesterday there were three full bottles of it in the fridge." Leoni turned and fluttered her eye lashes. She had painted the lids with a thick green colour which she thought would go excellently with her carrot hair. "Have you seen where the juice has gone?" "Juice? Oh, that was yours?" Alessandro rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "All right. If we have to share the fridge I'd say we need some rules, all right? The upper shelf is mine, you can chose another and so on. I'll let the others know. And I'm putting a label upon the bottles." He eyed the ashtray. "Can I have one?" "I thought you had quit smoking." She tossed him a cigarette. He lit it and filled a glass with water from the tap. "You smoke like a steamroller, honey. It's healthier to smoke than to inhale yours." Leoni sat indifferent but was smiling constantly at him. "You're a good match now that your father is dead. He has surely left some money for you, right?" "That’s what you think?" Alessandro blew grey smoke into the room and pierced her eyes. Apparently the bush telegraph wasn't working as well as he thought. He joined her at the table and leaned forward. "Want to marry me?" To his great surprise Leoni looked down and blushed. Then she wiped her cheeks as if she was tired. "You know that we were promised." "When were we?" Her blue-green, slightly protruding eyes looked accusingly at him. "You've forgotten! Back in school we said we were engaged." Alessandro laughed out loud. "And you believed that? Honey, it was a joke, a child's game. You still act as if I was your boyfriend." He toasted her with his glass of water and drank. "You've got really funny ideas." "No", she snapped. "I know you've turned out to be a faggot. You'd rather sleep with boys than with me. Everybody's saying that." "Who's everybody?" "Whole of Firenze! You think nobody saw you when you was licking the guys' faces? And now you've found your private lap dog." She twisted her mouth, disgusted. "Ugh, I can't imagine what he's doing with your ... lap." Alessandro thought it highly amusing. He snorted into his water glass and wiped his mouth. "You're really too funny." Then he eyed her from her carrot hair to the small chin, over her small shoulders to her tiny breasts. She had always been way too thin. But probably that had been the reason that he was keen on her. She had the gracious, slender body of a male. Could it be that she would accept if he asked her to marry him? She would, he was sure. That would be easy. But what would come afterwards - sharing the bed with her, sleeping with her until she got pregnant? And if it was a girl what then? His stomach hurt. He had tasted from the male body too long to know where he belonged now. Uncle Arrigo had promised to take care of that. An artificial insemination probably. But would she accept it? Alessandro watched her puffing blue smoke. Of course she would with the right amount of money. Would she? Carrying a child wasn't that easy, nor give birth to it. And the Gondi-Lucertola's would claim the baby for themselves. Leoni being the mother was out of the question. What woman would accept that? "What are you staring at?" Leoni snapped suddenly. "Have I smudge on my nose?" "No, sorry. I was just thinking. Are you disappointed that I prefer boys?" "Sure I am, what do you think." She fluttered again her lashes. "No chance you could be bi?" Alessandro shook his head. There had been a time when he had thought he could have fun with both. He had been very young then. Hardly fifteen. But time had taught him that he had to decide. Playing in both teams was too exhausting. And it just wasn't fair. You had to hurt someone all the time. "So, would you please stop telling the others I'm your boyfriend?" "But you're the heartthrob of all the girls here, haven't you noticed? You're the best looking guy on the Campus." She almost knocked over her glass. "Can't you imagine how proud I am to know you and being known as your girlfriend?" She breathed hard. "But, sure. Now you've gone and picked up that guy and made him share your room. It's the brother of your little fag at home, right? Nicely done, Sandro. Now you fuck the brother. Is he better?" Alessandro went pale. He had never had any intention to fuck with Luca's brother. He might be a slut, but family matters were serious. He thought Leoni's comment wasn't worth an answer, so he stubbed out his cigarette and left her. He found Giano upon his bed, with a book in front of his nose. Alessandro saw photos of glasses with human parts. He felt even more sick but he smiled at Giano and went over to his own bed. "You smoke?" Giano asked casually. "Once in a while. Leoni's puffing away until the kitchen walls are yellow." Giano grinned. "You know her well?" He clapped shut his book and stretched out upon his bed that he had covered with a bedspread. "She tells everybody who wants to hear that you and she are a couple. That you will marry her when you've finished your study." "Does she?" Alessandro mumbled, likewise stretching out upon his bed, folding his arms behind his head and staring at the ceiling. "I guessed so. She told me about it right now." "What did she tell you? That she's your girlfriend?" Giano had raised his eyebrows and looked now like his youngest brother. Alessandro felt a little twinge in his guts. "Luca told me different things", Giano said. "You were talking about me?" "Luca was disappointed that you didn't want to see him this weekend." "That's no answer to my question." "It was." Giano was peering and Alessandro propped his elbow upon the bed and looked back. "I've seen you", he said slowly. Giano didn't answer right away. "I know", he said after a while. "Luca knows?" Giano shook his head. "So we can be open with each other?" Alessandro asked. "Of course. I know you've seen me in the gay bars. Thanks for keeping your mouth shut." Alessandro sat upright and folded his legs upon the bed. "So why haven't you told Luca? I mean, he would be the first to understand you." Giano twisted his lips. "Luca is bolder than I am. He has you. I have nobody." "You have me", Alessandro suggested. "That's the reason you want me to be your roomie? To get me into your bed?" Giano spoke softly, but Alessandro heard fear behind the words and a touch of eagerness. "You think me that cock driven?" "Exactly." Both grinned. "Don't be stupid. Leoni knows I'm gay. She knows about my affair with Luca. And she knows you. She thinks the same as you do." "Huh? That you want to start an affair with me?" Alessandro nodded. "Listen, Franco told me about a community club. Why don't you join?" Giano looked bewildered. "I'd never have the guts to go there." "But why? That's nonsense." Giano laughed harshly. "For you it might be easy, but not for me. Everybody is sizing me up. Staring at my arse and cock." "And what's wrong with that?" Giano gave a little, disapproving snort. "You don't understand. I'm not like you." He opened his book again and pretended to read. "Our parents would beat the shit out of us if they knew", he mumbled but Alessandro pricked up his ears. "You mean your brothers." "Them too. Luca told me about his suspicion about Dante and your beating on the street. I don't long to be the next victim." "Next time it's Dante who'll be beaten up." Giano looked up. "What do you mean? Dante knows how to fight." "And Marcello? Is he the same?" "He's his brother's lap dog - so to speak. He's always done what Dante says." "Funny." Alessandro sighed. "Let's work for a while. Tonight's a community meeting. Perhaps you'd like to go if I join you?" "As my guard?" "For example. Come on, don't be such a wimp. They won't do you any harm, quite the opposite. I bet you'll have ten boys at each finger tonight. Look at you." "What do you mean look at me?" Alessandro stood up and sat right next to Giano upon the bed. "You're almost as cute as Luca. Everybody will be mad for your blond hair." Giano raised his brows but then something started to glisten in his eyes. "Don't try to tempt me", he whispered. Alessandro laughed friendly. "I would certainly try." He lifted Giano's chin. "You've never done it?" Giano jerked back. "Of course not." Alessandro said nothing for a while. Then his look fell upon Giano's books. "I wonder why you want to become a surgeon? That's the worse, gioia." Giano blushed a bit at the tender address. "I have no talent for cutting stones or applying them into pictures." "How do you know when you've never tried?" "I've tried. And I'm not interested." "I can't stand the sight of blood." Giano laughed. "And you want to attend the bloody Gioco? How's that? I bet you'll see a lot of blood then." "As long as it isn't mine... I need to start a training programme", he said then. "Franco wants to join me running. What about you?" "Perhaps." Again Giano got absorbed in the pictures of preparation and anatomy. Sighing Alessandro rose and went over to his own bed. He opened the textbook about Protorenaissance in Florence. "When are we going tonight?" he heard Giano asking quietly. He looked up and winked at Giano. "And I also rather need a job to pay the rent for this room", Giano continued. "Perhaps Franco knows about something for me." Alessandro decided there wasn't a chance to talk about this with Giano because the Montoris were too proud to take money from others. Especially not from a Gondi-Lucertola. Giano had given himself Dutch courage at the student's cafe before Alessandro had picked him up to join the meeting at the community club Sardonic Grin. He felt a little dizzy in the head when they walked down the steps leading to a underground basement that was shrouded in red light. "Looks like a brothel", Alessandro mumbled. "That's probably the Pisan imagination of a gay pub. I wonder if they have darkrooms?" "Huh?" Giano looked at him from aside and had hold of Alessandro's hand for protection. He certainly was a wimp. He had imagined that the community club would be a platform for all too important discussions about their rights as homosexual students, with butches and spectacled, intellectualized swots. But to his surprise it was quite casual, no dressed up boys or girls, showing off a lot of skin and make up. In the background soft music was playing and around the round tables were grouped all sorts of students, drinking straight from bottles. Thick smoke filled the rooms. Alessandro felt instantly at home. He headed for the bar and ordered two cheap beers. Not exactly his cup of tea but what the hell. He knew that students were always short of money. He pressed one of the cans into Giano's hand and sat with him at a table that was already occupied by two boys and a girl of their age. He literally felt Giano's body tighten and wished he would empty his beer can in one go. Perhaps then he would loosen up. From the table next to them he listened to the constant chatter of a guy who was a bit round around his hips but was talking animatedly with feet and hands. His audience was laughing constantly. Alessandro watched him for a while then turned to Giano, grinning. "Like it here?" Giano shrugged. "Don't know yet." He eyed his surroundings, then his eyes examined his table-mates. The guys were absorbed with each other, and the girl was tapping her finger nails to the rhythm of the pulsating, low drums of the background music. She looked annoyed. Alessandro lifted a booklet from the desk and was leafing through it. "Announcements of activities in the coming months. Hey, they even have a pride week. Crap, that's the weekend of the Gioco", he said disappointed. "What about you? Are you coming to Florence for the Gioco?" Giano didn't answer. He had his body half turned to the next table and was listening to the guy talking. An amused smile was spread over his face. "Giano?" "Sorry?" Giano turned. "Are you coming to Florence for the Gioco?" "But of course. I won't miss your fight." "Don't paint it so black. I'm determined to win the match for our Quartiero." "For YOUR Quartiero. It's not mine." Giano winked at him. "But nonetheless I'll cross my fingers for you." He had emptied his beer can. "I'll get us another", he said, lifted his body from the chair and stood next to the guy he had been listening to all the time. He met amber coloured eyes glistening in the dim light, giving him a friendly look. "New here?" he heard the deep, accentuated voice he had been fascinated by the first time he had heard it. "I'm Tino", the guy said now. "Actually Celestino." A chuckle escaped his throat. "Embarrassing, isn't it." "Why?" Giano stuttered, forgetting the waiting barman, a skinny student in a T-shirt with the imprint Sardonic Grin. "The Heavenly. Probably your parent's wish." The amber eyes looked surprised. Then he nudged Giano. "Your turn." "Um, two beer, please." He rummaged for some coins. "That beer’s a pisser", Tino said. "I wish they had German beer, but that's too expensive." "German beer?" "The best in the world. My father's German. What are you studying?" "Medicine." Giano received the beer cans and was unsure what to do. He wanted to talk to Tino but he didn't want to ignore Alessandro. "Medicine! Me too! But you're freshman, aren't you? I'm about to start my clinical semester. You know pathology, neurology, pharmacology. And you're in the middle of anatomy I guess?" "The start of anatomy actually. Human compounds. I'd like to become surgeon." Tino whistled through his teeth. "I'll go for children's doc. Perhaps go to Africa later." Giano wondered at how easy it was to talk with another guy. And neither was his arse and cock stared at nor did he get any naughty offers. "Your boyfriend?" Tino pointed to Alessandro who didn't seem to miss Giano, but was engaged in a conversation with the two other guys at his table. "No, a friend." "You're from Tuscany, right? Firenze? Nobody else speaks such a clear Italian." Tino leaned against the bar and was sipping at his beer can. He had a slight spare tyre around his waist, but that made him somehow cosy. His middle fingers were decorated with silver rings that shone softly in the light. His hair was black and short, but curled. Giano bet that if he let it grow it would match Alessandro's mane. He nodded. "Right. Firenze. And you?" "Pisa's my hometown. I don't live on the Campus. I have my own digs." Giano's eyes rounded. Having his own 'digs' was seldom the case for an Italian boy. The rent was simply too expensive. "I work in a music shop as often as I can to afford it", Tino explained as if he had read Giano's thoughts. "What about you?" The beer can in Giano's hand was getting warm. "Excuse me one minute." He rushed to the table, placed the can in front of Alessandro and hurried back. He didn't see Alessandro's amused look. "I share a room with him." He pointed his head to Alessandro's curly head. "But it's way too expensive for me. You think they need another sales man?" "I guess so. Music and students always do well, and we have cheap offers. Shall I ask for you next time?" "That would be great." Celestino examined Giano for a minute with his heavenly eyes - at least Giano thought so. "So, you share a room with him", he tipped his head to the table, "and there's nothing going on?" Giano was happy that his blush vanished in the red light. "Certainly not. Alessandro has a boyfriend." He swallowed to say that the boyfriend was his younger brother. Tino looked as if he was saying 'That's a reason but no obstacle', but then he grinned. "Alright. And what are we going to do with the rest of the evening?" Giano swallowed his beer wrong. Was this the offer he feared? Was it going that way? You pick up a guy and got laid? "Well, I just wanted to see what's going on here", he said evasively, but Tino laughed. "Don't shy back. I've seen your looks." He gently touched Giano's arm. "Just for a drink, ok?" Giano wasn't sure. "Where to?" He searched for Alessandro's eyes. Surprisingly he found them resting on him and Giano made helpless gestures. Alessandro looked questioningly. "You need permission from your friend then?" Tino asked. "I've got a lot to learn still", Giano said quickly. "We can meet again, alright?" He stepped back and collided with a chair. Beer sloshed over the can and Giano knew that he had made a complete fool of himself. But Tino grinned and waved with his fingers. "Ciao ciao, bello. Until next time." He set back his empty beer can and vanished. Alessandro shook his head when Giano flopped upon his chair. "You weaselled out? My, Giano, what shall I do with you?" he asked good humouredly and patted Giano's knee. "I don't know him", Giano defended himself. "He didn't look as if he would rape you." "Who knows." Alessandro thought that Luca was indeed bolder than his brother. He hadn't been afraid of a first date. But then he thought it somehow lovely. The man who once got Giano would get a jewel. Giano sat indifferently with folded arms and was chewing at his lips. Probably he was an idiot. The first time at a gay club and he had dismissed his first chance. His first chance for what? he thought then. He didn't know what was expected of him. And he didn't want to appear as a bloody beginner. But everybody was a beginner sometime, right? "New here?" Giano jumped at the words and looked up. The words were directed at Alessandro from a guy, standing with hands buried in his jeans pockets and a tight fitting, white shirt. Giano saw his nipples protruding and a ring he had pierced through it. Ouch. "Right, new here", Alessandro answered. The other guy pulled up a chair and sat next to him. And after ten minutes Alessandro wasn't aware that Giano had left the club. Half an hour later he found him laying in his bed, with his short pyjamas on, studying his book of medicine. "You didn't say you were leaving. Don't do that again. I searched for you at the toilets and almost got raped." Alessandro chided him. But his eyes betrayed his words. They were laughing. "I bet you were. Look at you", Giano shot back. "Had fun?" "Fun with whom? You were gone." "Fun with that guy." "Sure. A quickie in the toilet, as I said", Alessandro said dryly. "A wank, a blowjob or a fuck?" Alessandro dropped his shirt as he was undressing and stared surprised at Giano. "Do I hear jealousy?" "No, anger. I thought you're with my brother." Alessandro kicked off his trainers, pulled down his jeans and socks and his underwear too. Giano quickly looked away. "None of that", he said calm. "In case you didn't know: I really like Luca. And despite the saying 'what he doesn't know doesn't bother him', I don't want to give myself a bad conscience." "You're a saint all of a sudden", Giano gave back ironically. "Then think what you want." Alessandro showed him his naked butt and strutted through the bathroom door. Giano had to grin. What a guy. He couldn't make him out. He wondered why Luca got on so well with him, and what Alessandro saw in his little brother. Sure, Luca was a sunshine, but he was wayward too. And he himself had dozens of experiences ahead. How was it to sleep with a man for instance. Giano sighed, closed his book and wiped his face. If you go on like this, you'll be a virgin for all times. Then thinking about Celestino's sparkling, amber eyes, he suppressed the urge to wank himself off. Not a good idea with Alessandro being around. * * * * * "Dearest Luca, How are you getting along with your life? I'm learning a lot, though it's tough At the start, but I do enjoy it. I love the freedom here, without seeing the brothers. And Alessandro is a great help to me, you know. I have a job in order to pay him the money for the room. A friend has gotten me the job in a music shop. I work there in my spare time that isn't occupied with seminars and lessons and I like it a great deal. I know I could have said all this on the phone, but I'm writing this letter to let you know something I haven't told you before now. It was Alessandro who forced me to write this. The friend I'm talking about I met in the community club of the university. It's a club for gays and lesbians. Since Alessandro wanted me to do something for my sex life he dragged me with him. You must be asking yourself why it had to be a gay club then. Well, the reason is obvious. I'm gay too. I wonder if you guessed it or not. If not, I must be a good actor ;-) I'm not sure why I had hide it from you, especially since you told me about yourself. I'm coward I guess. I don't know what to do. I wish you could be here to tell me what I'm supposed to do. And yet I am your older brother and should be the one you can lean on... but now I need your help. I'm coming home for the weekend, along with Sandro. I hope you aren't mad at me. All love, Giano" Luca lay dumbfounded upon his bed. 'Holy cow' was the only thing he could think. Giano deserved an Oscar for his performance. Luca hadn't dreamt that his brother could share the same sexual inclination. Although he had never gone out with girls - Luca hadn't simply thought of it. Suddenly Giano appeared in a new light. If he had had his coming out earlier then everything would had been easier - for both of them. They would have been a protection and a support for each other. A stab of regret filled Luca's guts. But it was as it was; now he knew and in his mind he thanked Sandro for his help. Once he was over the shock he could go on. He took the next letter laying on the blanket and opened it. "Gioia, I'm thinking of you all the time. This weekend I'm coming home, though I hope you don't mind when I have to carry on with my running programme. You want me fit enough to play against your brothers, don't you? Only two weeks and the big event starts. I'm looking forward to it. How are you doing? Do you miss me? Yesterday you told me on the phone that your friend Tris is depressed, but he doesn't want to tell you why. I told you that I know. He don't dare to admit that he's gay. He's afraid albeit he knows that you are too. He does know, doesn't he? I guess it's the fear of the unknown. He must have slept with his girlfriend, but now you are there and he's confused looking at you and wanting you. To touch you and to get touched by you. But perhaps he thinks that homosexuality is infectious and you are the big tempter who makes him think that way. Add society, upbringing and the perception the common hetero has of anal intercourse, and you have the answer. Which leads me to your brother. I know he has written to you about his big secret. Now here's another; He has made a big conquest and is afraid to give in. Has he told you? I bet he hasn't. The guy with the heavenly name Celestino is completely mad about Giano! He meets him every day, at the mensa, in the student's cafe, even at the community club, but Giano always refuses to go out with him. Can't you do something about it? I'm at my wits end. Celestino is studying medicine too but two semesters ahead. Giano learns a lot from him, but he doesn't want to learn about sex. So, what are we supposed to do with him? Celestino is a charming man and I know Giano is in good hands with him. Although.... perhaps I should have tried him out, before I allow him to lay his hands on your brother, eh? Just kidding. Anyway, talk to you on the phone soon... Ciao, amore, mille baci Alessandro" Luca grinned. Good old Sandro. Luca's trust in Alessandro was so great that he didn't think for a minute that he would try out the guy before he handed him over to his brother... which he would have doubtlessly have done if there hadn't been a Luca. But what was the problem with that guy Giano didn't want to go with? Having sex? Which lead to the next question; Had Giano ever had sex? Then he thought about Tristano and the brief draft of Tris' feelings. Probably Sandro was right. When you spend your whole life as a heterosexual, having a girlfriend, sleeping with her - and probably enjoying it - it must feel like a tornado when you suddenly realize that you are attracted by a man. Especially when you can't define this feeling and why you should feel so. Was Tris hating him - Luca - for making him feel that way? For tumbling him into that whirlwind of emotions? Certainly Luca did nothing to force it. And what did a heterosexual imagine about anal intercourse?? It certainly didn't hurt much more than to have diarrhoea on the toilet... Luca gave a snort with laughter. Madonna. He felt his member raising like it so often did when he thought about his boyfriend. Unfortunately he couldn't use the hot tub as much as he wanted and needed to find release. There was often just a cold shower for him to calm down his excitement. The imagination of a naked Alessandro luxuriously showering his body with a hot stream of water made him very hot in his pants. He took his mobile phone and dialled Sandro's number. A panting Alessandro answered him. "What're you doing? Jerking off alone?" Luca teased him. "No, you shit, I'm running! Third time around the green at the Piazza dei Miracoli!" The panting eased somewhat and Luca guessed that Sandro had stopped his running to speak with him. "Franco's with me. He's asking me all the time about the Gioco. He's keen on joining me. I mean, he's keen to come to Firenze to watch it. What do you think? Care to meet him again? We all can sleep at my home." Luca's head swirled with Sandro's enthusiasm. "Sure. That's fine with me." He hesitated. "And Giano? Will he bring his friend?" "Celestino? Ah, I see you got the letters. What has he written about his boyfriend?" "Boyfriend? He finally made it? "No, not what you think. He's still the old virgin you used to know." "Better that he is!" Luca laughed. "I mean better that than you tried him out! Or taught him something." "I'd never do that", Alessandro answered laughing. "Although Giano is a great treat, I can tell you. Especially since I caught him wanking under the shower." "No, shit! And you didn't join him?" "He looks so much like you, gioia", Alessandro whispered. "Listen, Franco is miles away and I have to catch him. Glad you take it so well. Talk to you tomorrow, alright? Kisses..." -- End of Primavera --
  10. Because all I ever wanted "Already here or are you still here from the yesterday evening?" Marcus smiled at Johannes who was sitting on his stool bent over a small wood frame whose bronze paint needed cleaning. He looked up. "Back again, Marcus. I'm an early riser, as you know." The attentive pale eyes behind the glasses examined Marcus and found him in the same bad condition as before. Marcus met his questioning eyes. "Nick was in Rome, Johannes, as you supposed." "Yes? And?" "Nothing more. We flew back together but ... he's at his flat now. I have no clue how it will continue." Johannes grimaced and shook his head. "What shall I say to this? It's not my business. But if I were you, I would go to him instantly." "Yes, you are right, it's not your business." Marcus said sharply. "Sorry for that. I'm confused and I'm tired. I need sleep, I guess, but the exhibition has to come first." "Apropos. There were some calls from the buyer of Nick's portraits. You remember Mrs. Schneider, the fidgety woman with the oppressive perfume? She bought the paintings of a young man with bleached hair." "Kay, yes. What did she want?" "She wants to engage him as portrait painter for her family." "Indeed? That's marvellous! I must tell him instantly. Oh ..." Marcus turned his back to Johannes. "Could you do it for me please? Don't want to speak to him right now." Again Johannes shook his head but said, "As you like." Marcus could feel the disapproval of the old man but there was nothing what he could do about it right now. Instead, he said, "All the invitations have been delivered? The press informed? Catering service called?" "All done." "Good. Good job." He looked into Johannes eyes. "Heard from Alex?" "No. Is there a problem?" Marcus shook his head. "Nothing important. I just thought you might need a hand, an assistant." Johannes looked amazed. "Someone to help me? All of a sudden?" "Yes. All of a sudden. Now, please, would you call Nick? Here's his number." Of course nobody answered the phone at Nicholas' home and Marcus was more than disappointed. Luckily he had the numbers of all his friends; insisting on it after Nick had vanished the last time. He was able to reach Matthias who told him that Nick was probably at Sebastian's flat. Marcus almost flipped. Was there no end to it! His longing for Sebastian was so big that he had to stay in his flat! Damn it. So much for "only one time" ... "it just happened"! Johannes watched Marcus' face - now a mixture of deep anger and disappointment. He quickly dialled Sebastian's number and got Nicholas on the phone after two rings. "It's Johannes, Nick. How are you?" "Oh, Johannes." Nicholas' voice sounded disappointed. "I'm fine. But how did you know that I was here?" "Marcus has the number of a friend of yours and he told him." "You mean Matthias, right? But why didn't Marcus call me himself?" Johannes sighed. "Listen, Nick. We have an offer for you. Remember the woman who bought your portrait of the blond? She wants you to paint her family. It's a good offer, boy. Good money. I'll give you the number and address. Promise me to call her, won't you?" Nicholas' mind swirled - Offer? Portraits? Money?- Vaguely he remembered a woman in grass-green pants... Sebastian had sold her the portrait of Kay for a horrid sum. "Yes," he stuttered, "give me the address. I will go there. Today? Is seven a good time?" "Calm down, Nick. First, call her, do you hear me? Such people don't like it when you just show up." "Can't Marcus go with me?" He bit his lip. "Forget that. Is he there?" Johannes looked at Marcus. "No," he lied and hated Marcus for it. "Now write." Nicholas set the pen down, staring at the sheet with the address and phone number. A commissioned work! Only for him! He flushed again. Would he be able to do it? He was still insecure with most rich people and their lifestyle, but surely the woman liked the way he painted and so there should be nothing for him to fear. He tried to figure out exactly where her residence was, but couldn't be sure. Rummaging through Sebastian's shelves and drawers for a map proved futile. He gave up with a sigh and turned towards his drawing from last night. Again he was captivated by the embracing male bodies and wondered if he had drawn himself in the right proportion. Pulling off his sweatshirt to confirm the picture's rendering, he was startled by the door bell. Letting the sweatshirt fall to the floor, he tiptoed to the door, peering through the peephole. It took a moment for his brain to realize what his eyes beheld. Marcus. He was standing right before him, separated by perhaps only three centimetres of wood. Slowly his fingers curled around the door handle. He was shaved, Nick noticed, hair combed and dressed in a black, thin pullover which suited him well. He looked like a dark angel. An avenging angel? Marcus' face clearly mirrored his emotions. "Won't you let me in?" he asked. Nicholas opened the door wide and Marcus passed him. "You owe me an answer. Actually two," he said. "Two?" "I asked you if it was ok to think about you and me for a bit, but you just hung up. I hate that. And second, why have you crept away here to Sebastian's flat? Were you longing to be near him?" Nicholas had led the way into the living room. Turning, he saw that Marcus was glaring over his shoulder. Without turning, Nicholas knew Marcus was looking at the drawing. His eyes wandered over Marcus' face trying to gauge his reaction. Marcus stepped by him, up to the easel. "You made this? Yesterday?" he muttered. "It's me. It's... you and me." "Indeed." Nicholas answered. "Did you really expect me to draw Sebastian?" he asked, bitterly. Marcus swirled around. "Stop it Nick. Let us talk like sensible men, all right?" "All right." Again Marcus examined the drawing, outlining every body part with his eyes. "It's splendid, darling. Outstanding. It's the best you've ever made." Nicholas' cheeks flushed; he knew Marcus spoke as connoisseur, not as a layman or somebody who only wanted to please him. Marcus' eyes found his and the look from them was gentle. "You still owe me an answer." "Yes." Nicholas breathed deeply. "You may have time, but I don't need it. I want you. You said nothing bad happened between you and George and I believe you. But you..." he looked away. "I'm not sure if you can forgive ME. It's... I was angry because you always valued YOUR desires over mine, or forgot mine altogether. You understand?" Turning his back to Marcus, he put his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "I know my failure weighs more. I'm afraid you will never forget it. That you have lost your best friend ... because of me." He sighed deeply. "What have we done?" If Nicholas had turned and looked at him, Marcus would have melted like frost in the early morning sun. As it was, he swallowed hard. "Nicholas," he whispered. "What can I say to you? What can I promise? I've thought a lot about it and I'm not cross with Sebastian. Not cross with you. I'm just tired." Nicholas turned. "And you've lost weight," he said. Marcus smiled. "A bit yes. I missed your cooking." "You will never see George again?" "Never!" Marcus exclaimed. "I haven't wasted a thought on him. Do you really think I did it because I fancied him?" He shook his head. "No. That's the point, Marcus. It wasn't that you fancied another man. It was your madness to possess something for yourself, something you didn't want anyone else to have! You forgot about the feelings of the people who love you." He echoed Sebastian's words. "Have you finally realized this?" Nicholas continued. "Yes, I have. But what do you want me to do? I love the job I do. It's been my whole life so far. I can't just stop it and do nothing." Nicholas went to him, taking his upper arms in his hands. "Sure you can continue your work. But without the madness. You lost Simon over it. You want to lose me too?" "I haven't already?" Marcus asked almost timidly. Nicholas smiled. "Can forgive me?" Marcus put a fingertip over Nicholas' lips. "Shsh. There's nothing to forgive." He pointed to the easel. "This drawing tells me everything." With one smooth motion he pulled Nicholas close to him and trembled at the touch of his naked skin beneath his hands. It was so different from the feel of a dead piece of wood and glass. It was hot and smooth and velvet and vivid. It breathed and pulled together into goose bumps. Nothing could compare this. Nothing. He dug his hands into Nick's old golden hair, pulling his lips close. It felt like the very first kiss. Nick's hands were all over him suddenly, trying to undress him but Marcus stopped his actions. Looking deep into Nick's blue eyes he whispered, "Not here. Not in Sebastian's bed." Taking Nicholas' small fingers in his hand tightly, Marcus told him, "Let's get your things together, sunshine, then I'll take you home." Nicholas was light-headed, as if he had drunk too much. As fast as he could he threw all his clothes into the bags, grabbed the painting utensils and pulled on his sweatshirt. "The drawing?" "Have you fixed it?" "No. I have no fixative here." "Then we'll pick it up later. Come." He stretched out his hand and pushed Nicholas through the door. Marcus would do the right thing for him, he was sure. Was it so easy? Just a few words and everything would be like it was before? As if there had never been a George, a screen, nor a tryst with Sebastian? Only the future could tell if this would last. But Nick wouldn't think about it right now. Marcus stopped the Mercedes in front of his workshop. With a broad smile he motioned to Nicholas to follow him. Just like their first meeting, Nicholas thought. Dust shimmered in the cross beams of the pale sun which had fought against the rain clouds and finally won. The sculpture of Mercury stood near the door, with his beautifully shaped legs and his polished dark skin. Beyond, the cupboards with dusty glass doors hid their contents so that only vague shadows could be seen. Broken spears were stacked against the wall and then there was the sword. "Do you remember?" Marcus asked in a low, husky voice. He pointed to Michelangelo's drawing at the wall. "Yes. I remember it all. You asked me if this was a woman or a man. You said it could be Tommaso dei Cavalieri." Marcus laughed quietly. "You remember this name?" "I told you, I remember everything," Nicholas repeated. Marcus took Nicholas' hand and kissed the fingers. "Sometimes it's not so good to have the memory of an elephant, darling. You have to forget. And forgive." "Memory prevents you from repeating your mistakes," Nicholas responded. "Quite true." Nicholas stepped up to the sword stuck in the rock. He grabbed the hilt with one hand and pulled lightly. It did not move. Marcus smiled and moved beside him. "Have I ever told you that I love you?" Nicholas swallowed and gazed searchingly into Marcus' dark eyes. Marcus put his hand tightly over Nicholas' where it still embraced the handle and pulled with him. Both men had the impression that the sword moved slightly. There was a cracking in the stone and a slight vibration in the metal. Or was it only happening in their imaginations? "If we pulled out the sword, it would be a miracle," Nicholas said. "But to answer your question, no you've never said it. Have I?" "Yes." Marcus kissed his lips. "You have. But I won't mind hearing it again. As for the other, miracles happen every day. You just have to wait and see." He loosened Nick's hand from the hilt and pulled him to the exit. "I can't wait, angel. Come home." He didn't have to say it twice. End
  11. On those cold nights Three days later Nicholas came downstairs and sat at the kitchen table where Anna had made the breakfast. He sat down and looked at the slices of bread and marmalade. There was nothing more. Nicholas sighed and went to the fridge, opened it and pulled out butter, sausage and orange juice. Anna was a great one for her gargantuan lunches but for breakfast she was stingy like the old man in Dicken's Christmas tale whose name Nicholas had forgotten. He heard Marcus coming down the stairs with his suitcase which he placed in the hall, and entered the kitchen. Silently he sat at the table and looked at his plate. "Hungry?" Nicholas asked. "Hm, not very. I see, Anna was economical again." "Yes, but I can make you something better." Marcus looked at the young man and smiled weakly. "You don't have to. It's enough." Listless he took a slice of bread and smeared butter upon in. "When do you have to go to the Academy?" Nicholas looked at the kitchen watch. "In about an hour." Marcus took a bite from his slice of bread and looked intently. "Promise me to look after yourself?" Nicholas looked up. "You mean Frank? Hm, what could happen? He certainly won't rape me on the floor of the class room! And if he tries, I'll scream bloody murder!" Marcus grinned. "Ok, watch out nevertheless. Always, promise?" "Yes, if you insist." Marcus was restless and couldn't sit in his chair. He rose and went into the hall to put on his coat. Nicholas followed. Marcus pulled him into a tight embrace, kissed his mouth and whispered, "I'd much rather stay here, especially now ... but ... don't let yourself seduced by other handsome men." He grinned, opened the door, turned and said, "I'll call you as soon as I arrive." Another long glance and he closed the door. Nicholas felt a bit forlorn standing there in the large hall. Slowly he entered the kitchen again and began to put the plates into the dish washer. The phone rang in the hall and Nicholas was startled for a moment. He went into the hall. "Hi, angel, Marcus still there?" he heard Sebastian's voice. "No, you've just missed him. Where have you been the last three days?" "In bed, most of the time..." "Are you ill?" "No," Sebastian chuckled, "actually very much alive, Nicki. So Marcus is gone already. What a pity, I thought he'd still be there for a couple of hours. Shall I come to you to play the baby-sitter again?" "Baby-sitter?" Nicholas frowned but knew instantly Sebastian was joking. "Yes, please, daddy, I'm feeling very lonely in the big house!" "Now, seriously, do you want to stay at Marcus?" "Yes. But now I have to hurry. I've got to register at the academy this morning." "Do you want me to come with you?" "No! What's the matter with you? Are YOU lonely?" "I had company for three days, thank you." "Kay?" Nicholas said excited. "Kay. He phoned in sick for work!" "Ah! Sick, eh? And which of you now needs a little soothing ointment?" "I was the top, honey." "Oh, poor Kay and his more poor ass! But shouldn't you actually in Rome?" "Rome? What's that? Ah, I remember vaguely. Well, actually I wanted to speak with you both, but now it will have to wait until Marcus' return. But whenever you feel lonely call me, ok?" "Will do. By the way can you give me Kay's number?" After Nicholas noted the number on the pad he hung up, drank his coffee, had a bite from the slice of bread and left the house. He used the suburban rail and the tram to reach the old, ivy-covered brick building of the academy of Arts. He stood a moment in silence in front of it and watched the young people going in and out. Marcus had told him not to go to the usual rooms where the registering took place, but into the office where everything would be arranged. Certainly Marcus had used his influence to get him a place but Nicholas didn't mind. He passed the long queue standing in front of the wooden door with the notice 'register here' and searched for the secretary. He smelled again the familiar and long-missed scent of paints and spirit, glue and floor-wax, passed lads and girls with sketch pads under their arms, in paint-blotched smocks and enjoyed the feeling of being there again. Finally he found the right door, knocked and entered. Ten minutes later he had filled in his register had learnt that he could start with the new semester beginning next week and felt happy. "Nick?" Nicholas lifted his head and tried to focus it at the man who was just came around the corner. He wore a white smock and had some sheets in his hand. He know the piercing light blue eyes very well and it gave him a feeling almost as if he had been punched in the stomach. "Have you lost your way or can I welcome you again into my working group?" It was Frank staring at him curiously. Nicholas cleared his throat. "If the price to be here is to work in your group then I will pay it." "Indeed you will? The last time I saw you you were running out of my flat! And leaving a very strange present for me at the blankets..." "You remember this? Must have left a very big impression." "Of course it did. I saved it as one of my trophies." Franks voice was derisive. "I hope you have built up an exhibition box for it!" Nicholas spat out. "How many other boys have you given the same treatment? And did they enjoy it as much I enjoyed it? You are certainly sick, man. Now, let me go, I have more important things to do." "Have you?" Frank's mocking laughter followed Nicholas to the exit. "Certainly I have. Don't you read the newspaper? Or watch TV? When was the last time YOUR name was in the headlines?" he shouted back. Once out of the building Nicholas took a deep breath of sharp, cold air. He looked at the cloud-covered sky and smelled snow. "What an asshole", he muttered. Actually he wanted to do a little shopping but the school wasn't far away from his parents' flat, so he took the next tram. By now it was early afternoon and his mother would had returned from work. How long had it been since his last visit? It was Christmas eve and all had been grey for him but then ... so much was happened to him and he felt for the first time in his life loved and protected and strong enough to face all shitty things which could ever happen to him. He rang the bell and his mother opened the door, still dressed in her coat. He looked her up and down and it crossed his mind that she needed a new coat and other clothes. His mother was an attractive woman and shouldn't wandering around like a grey mouse. He had Marcus' credit card with him as always and felt for the first time the need to use it. His mother beamed and dragged him into the small corridor. "Hi mum. Sorry, I should have brought you something but I've come straight from the academy where I registered and I thought I'd visit you on the way home." He peeled out off his leather jacket which his mother eyed suspiciously. "You wear expensive clothes, Nicholas. Does your ... friend pay for all this things?" Nicholas looked at the ceiling. "Mum, you know he does, we've already discussed it." "I don't like the idea a foreign strange man paying for my boy." She hustled him into the kitchen. "Your father's still sleeping. Are you hungry? I have some stew from yesterday." "Yes. It's long time since I had one of your stews." "What does this Anna cook? Only caviar and lobster?" Nicholas laughed. "No. Meat rolls in cream sauce and knuckles of pork and sauerbraten but for breakfast we only get bread and marmalade." "So? How long have you liked knuckles of pork?" "I don't like it, mum, that's the problem. Have you told father?" "Have I told him what? Ah, you mean... about our little talk the other day?" "Hm." "No, I haven't, you know that you must talk about it on your own." "But why do I have to tell him?" Instead of an answer Vera pulled out an old newspaper and shoved it under Nicholas' nose. She tapped her finger on an article. "Read it." ".... known to be homosexual - his newest boyfriend." Abruptly he lifted his head, looked amazed into his mother's face and then recognised the name of the newspaper. It was a typical gutter press newspaper, which concentrated on scandals, one Marcus didn't read. "Shit. Did father read it?" "Of course. And he had a row because in his opinion I seemed to be hiding things from him." She leaned forward. "And he's right. But I didn't give anything away, and now it's your turn to set the record straight." Nicholas stared sadly at his picture. The quiet creak of the bedroom door told that his father was coming. Vera put a bowl of steaming soup in front of her son, but Nicholas had lost his appetite. "Ah, look who's there!" his father exclaimed in a not unfriendly tone although there was something strange in his voice and Nicholas was alarmed immediately. "Hi, dad." Quickly he closed the newspaper and tried to hide it amongst the others lying on the table. "I want a few words with you, Nicholas', his father said and sat down at the table. He glanced at the newspapers. "You know I've read this. And I'm happy for you, the exhibition seemed to be a big success. Your mother told me there was a fire?" Nicholas swallowed a spoonful of soup. "Yes. A defective element or something." Rudolf Zellner nodded and scratched his head. "Then certainly you've read the section about this ..." "Marcus Weidenbruch?" Nicholas helped. "Yes. I know what lies these slobs of journalist sometimes write but is it true?" His eyes were searching. "Is what true?" Nicholas stirred the soup and fished some carrots out of it. "That the man is a fairy." "Fairy, aha." Now he sorted out the peas and made a pattern around the plate on which the bowl was standing. It was an old habit he had had since his childhood and his mother had to suppress a smile. "And? What's wrong with Marcus?" "Nicholas," his father looked seriously. "What this ... Weidenbusch IS doesn't mean anything to me. But if he ever tries anything nasty with you, then..." "What ... then?" "Good Lord! You know what I mean!" "Well, I think you have a completely wrong idea of a "fairy", dad." "Have I?" "Yes." Nicholas nodded and spooned the carrots back into the soup. "I want you to listen to me." His father's voice was all of a sudden sharp and Nicholas flinched. The spoon clinked on the bowl. "Is it true what the newspaper said?" He gazed deep into Nicholas' face and searched for something to tell him that it wasn't true. Apparently he couldn't find what he was looking for. "Say something! Is it true? Is my son a fucking faggot?" "Rudolf!" Vera shouted. "Please don't talk like that." Rudolf threw a threatening glance at his wife. Nicholas stopped eating. "And if? What then?" "What then?" His father's face flushed. "Are you telling me that it's true? Oh God!" He leaned back in his chair. "So it is true, yes?" he whispered and took a deep breath. Nicholas rushed on recklessly. "I've lived in his house since Christmas and I'm going back to the Academy. I just came from registering for the next term. It begins next week. And you will not stop me doing this whatever you think of Art and artists, nor stop me carrying on living in his house." His voice trembled a bit. "Yes it is true. I AM A FUCKING FAGGOT!" he shouted. He threw the spoon down upon the table, got up, shoved back the chair with his knees and went out of the door. In the hall he hastily pulled on his jacket, went out and slammed the door behind him. He ran downstairs and out of the house. The sharp wind hit him on his hot face. It was snowing, thick flakes already covering the streets. Nicholas made the snow and the wind responsible for the fact that he wasn't able to see properly as he tried to cross the crowded street with large steps, but it was rather the tears that filled his eyes. He heard a sharp squealing of brakes and barely avoided a car, slamming his fist upon the bonnet and running blindly on until he reached the traffic island in the middle of the street and the tram stop. With his palm he wiped his wet face. A tram pulled up, Nicholas stepped in and found an empty seat. After some minutes he pulled himself together and found he could think clearly again. The tram passed Matthias' home and Nicholas decided to make a quick visit. He had to speak to somebody. Tina brought a cup of hot tea and placed it in front of Nicholas who sat almost submerged in a deep, soft armchair pulling his knees to his chest. "So your father called you a fucking faggot you say?" she said after a while. Nicholas sniffed and searched for a handkerchief. Matthias gave him a fresh one. "I'm sorry Nick. But we feared what his reactions would be, didn't we?" "Yes." Nicholas head dropped. "What a shit." "And your mother?" Tina asked. Nicholas shrugged his shoulder. "Maybe she'll be taking the consequences of what I've done." "Rubbish. You haven't 'done' anything!" Matthias threw in. "Do you want to stay here tonight?" Tina asked. "This couch makes a good bed." "Yes! We could open a bottle of wine and you pour your heart out. And tomorrow things will seem so much better." Matthias' eyes sparkled. Nicholas sniffed again and looked thankfully at his friend. "May I?" Matthias smiled. * * * Nicholas stamped his feet to shake off the snow from his boots as they entered the "Moonbreaker". Last night he had spent at Matthias and Tina's flat and now they had decided to go to the disco again. Nicholas hoped they would meet Kay. He felt more than forlorn, especially as he had received a worried call from Marcus in the early afternoon, asking where he had spent the last night. He saw Kay standing behind the bar from a distance and Nicholas pulled out the plugs from his ears. Matthias laughed. "Ah, you and your sensitive ears! Look, Kay's there!" "Yeah, I've already seen him. Hi sweetie!" he shouted and Kay seemed to be more than pleased to see him. Nicholas looked at Simon's photo who was pinned against the shelves where stood all rows of bottles seemingly every possible alcohol there was. Silently he pointed at it but Kay shook his head in regret. Tina ordered her usual Bloody Mary and Kay passed both men two glasses of beer. "I thought you hated this place," he said. Nicholas leaned over he counter. "Heard from Sebastian?" "But of course!" Kay beamed. "He wants to pick me up at midnight." Nicholas was amazed. "He really wants to come here? Now, that's interesting." He wondered how this elegant man would fit into these surroundings of very young, shrill and sweating people. He watched Kay's lithe movements, how he walked on silent feet behind the bar, filling glasses and shaking cocktails. "Sebastian said he wanted to speak to Marcus and me." Kay nodded. "I know. But your beloved Marcus is away now." His grin revealed the little gap between his front teeth. "How are you bearing up?" The golden earring sparkled in the artificial red-blue light. "I would have gladly taken his place, but..." He left the sentence unfinished. "You are now occupied by Sebastian? Congratulations," Nicholas said. Again a little stab of jelousy seemed to hurt his stomach. He briefly recalled Sebastian’s' naked torso, undressed in front of him and again he felt the urge to ran his fingers over it, a feeling, Kay certainly had experienced already. "Sebastian is a wonderful lover", Marcus voice hummed in his ears. He still watched Kay as he slowly emptied his glass of beer. He would have liked to ask Kay about it and he was convinced, Kay would tell him everything. But finally Nicholas shook off the strange thoughts and feelings and instead of Sebastian's creamy marzipan-coloured skin he remembered the soft and smooth darker complexion Marcus had. Inwardly he shook his head. Was he that easily influenced by externals? Wasn't it Marcus' loving affection, his understanding, the care and tender lovemaking which counted more? But if he could get to know Sebastian more he was convinced that he also would had similar qualities, after all he was Marcus' best friend... In the meantime Matthias and Tina had disappeared onto the dance floor. Kay pulled out from his pocket a handful of pills and opened his palm. Nicholas saw tablets it all conceivable forms and colours. The pink one with the Playboy bunny upon it he had already tried. But there were some bluish ones with the Euro-label, a dove or a apple. Nicholas grabbed one with the label 'Killer'. "What's this one?" he asked. "Poisoned?" "No," Kay laughed. "They're mostly all the same. Wanna try?" "Hm, can I have it for later?" "Of course, take it when you're in the mood for it." Nicholas put the pill into his trouser pocket. The big hall was slowly filling until there was scarcely any spare room on the dance floor and as some pleasant music from the 70s and 80s sat in, Nicholas rocked with the time of the music. He had finished his third beer and leaned against the wall. "How is Sebastian actually?" he asked Kay all of a sudden. But Kay didn't listen because he was busy to fill glasses and taking money. Nicholas sighed and looked over the dancing people. The light changed in quick succession from a bright yellow to a deep prussian blue and a hazy fog swirled around the heads of the dancers. "Sorry, what did you say?" Kay wiped the metallic surface of the bar. "Sebastian. How is he?" "What do you mean? In bed?" Nicholas turned his gaze to the ceiling. "Yeah .... now, what's he like in bed?" "Great!" "Aha. What else. Everybody seems to be 'great' in bed." Kay looked confused for a moment. "You are not?" He hid a grin. Nicholas leaned over. "But of course I am, sweetie," he whispered in Kay's ear. "Shall I prove it?" "Ah, come on, perhaps you shouldn't drink so much." "But what about your little black present, you remember? Want to see how it fits?" Kay glanced him up and down. "I'm sure it fits very well", he said finally. "You have a nice arse." Nicholas burst out in laughter. "Thanks, you too." He set down his empty beer glass. "Give me another one. It's hot in here." "The last one, sweetie, or I have to take you home." Nicholas grabbed the cool glass, frosted with condensation and took a gulp. The foam left a white moustache on his upper lip. "Feeling very lonely at night?" he heard Kay's voice from a distance. Somehow he seemed to have cotton wool in his ears and his sight was blurred. The colours of the laser lights merged to a huge paint box. "Very," he nodded. "But now I have company," he grinned, "and actually I'm well. Apart from the fact that my father called me a fucking faggot, everything is fine." Kay raised an eyebrow. "He said that? Coming out, eh?" He nodded. "My parents acted the same way, but now they don't even bother about it. Give him time, he'll get used to it." "Hmm, I'm not sure about it." He glanced at Simon's impish grin. "So nobody saw him? That's really shit. Oops!" Nicholas had almost spilt his glass and his stomach heaved with a hiccups. Kay grinned. "Stop drinking, sweetie, it's not good for you." "Ah, shit. Don't tell me what I should do. I'm fine." He hiccupped. "When does Sebastian come?" Kay looked at his watch. "Around twenty minutes." "All right." Nicholas swayed lightly on his feet and shot forward suddenly, in the direction of the toilets. "Watch out for the mugger, sweetie!" Kay shouted good-humoured but Nicholas waved. A mineral water and 25 minutes later Sebastian turned up at the bar after he had shoved his way free from laughing, sweating people. Nicholas still leaned against the wall and had his eyes closed. With one hand he clung to the bar counter to prevent himself from falling. "What's the matter with him?" Sebastian nodded at Nicholas. "Drank too fast." Kay smiled. "Perhaps he's love sick." Sebastian grinned and looked around. "What an awful place! How can you bear the noise? It makes my ears ache!" Still grinning he leaned over and planted a wet kiss on Kay's lips. "Hi Bastian," Nicholas muttered. Sebastian looked at him and said, "Come on, honey. I'll take you home." And to Kay, "I'll be back soon, wait for me?" "Of course." The air was frosty outside and the crusted snow crunched under their footsteps. Sebastian firmly grabbed hold of Nicholas' upper arm and together they walked past young men and women swho had come out from the "Moonbreaker" to get some fresh air. The sharp cold air hit Nicholas like a slap in the face. His head whirled and he was thankful for Sebastian's firm grip. "Are you ok? My car isn't that far away, couldn't get any nearer to park unfortunately. Have you heard from Marcus?" Nicholas didn't really feel like chatting. He felt sick, but the fresh air helped his churning stomach. "Yeah," he began hesitatingly, "he called me this morning asking where I had been the whole night." Sebastian's face was a question mark. "And where were you? Not at home?" "No. I was at Matthias flat." "Felt that lonely?" Nicholas feet slipped and he would have fallen if Sebastian hadn't got hold of him. "No, not lonely, angry. I registered yesterday at the Academy and met Frank." He looked into Sebastian's face. "You know Frank?" "I heard all about it, yes. And?" "Well ..." he sighed, "actually nothing. He made some strange comments but I ignored him." "Good. But you're going to have to meet him again?" "I hope not. But if I'm in his working group then I can't do anything about it." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Is it far?" Sebastian looked around and turned the next corner into a small side street. Snow covered cars parked at the curbs and in the distance he could see the dipped headlights of a slowly driving car. "Soon there, just across the street." "And then I met my father." Nicholas said quietly. His stomach heaved again with nausea. They tried to cross the street, but Nicholas tripped over a stone at the curb and stumbled out into the roadway. The car, Sebastian had seen in the distance, was suddenly dangerous near. In the yellow light of the headlights he saw how Nicholas stumbled along ahead and the mudguard lightly brushed his jacket. "Nicki, what you doing," he shouted, "go on. I'm coming." He stepped into the roadway and heard the car turn with squealing tyres, pick up speed and drive directly at Nicholas, who stood petrified in the middle of the roadway, watching with staring eyes like a rabbit caught in the glare of the headlights. The motor roared as the accelerator was pushed down flat. "Nicki!" Sebastian shouted. With a jump he flung himself onto the young man, pushed him forward and fell with him into the slush. The car weaved, brakes screaming, stopped and turned again directly towards both men lying on the street. "He, look at this!" a man shouted from the other side of the street. He ran to them, ignoring the approaching car and bent over Sebastian. "What's happened?" Sebastian peered over his shoulder and saw the car avoiding them and racing along the street until it vanished round the corner. All three coughed from the stench of exhaust fumes. "Hit-and-run? The car hit you?" Sebastian lifted his heavy body from Nicholas lying under him. "Nicki, are you ok?" Nicholas gave a low moan and tried to kneel up. His right wrist gave way and a sharp pain stabbed through his hand. "Oh shit, something's wrong with my hand." "Show me," Sebastian took his hand with was scratched, dirty from the muddy slush and bleeding. "Where does it hurt?" Cautiously he tried to move the hand but Nicholas cried out in pain. "Shall I call the ambulance?" the man asked. "I'll take him in my car." "Oh God! What's this? I don't want to spend again a night at that damn hospital. Soon I'll be a regular there!" Nicholas shouted. He suddenly felt completely sober again. He sat on his butt and looked completely dumbfounded at Sebastian. "Did you see that? The car turned and drove straight at us again! Surely it was intentional?" Sebastian inspected his hands and knees. His trousers had some tears as did Nicholas'. "Look at the state of us. Can you stand?" Sebastian stood up and pulled Nicholas to his feet. Apparently his hand was the only injury he had got. Holding him around his waist, he walked slowly slowly with him to the other side of the street. Certainly he had seen the car and the strange behaviour of its driver. He cursed inwardly. Marcus had instructed him that morning to keep a look out for Nicholas and had told him all his worries concerning both incidents and the odd telephone call he had received. Now there wasn't any doubt that someone was trying to spoil Marcus' and Nicholas' life. He suspected Simon. Who else could it be? Ten minutes later both men found themselves in the same examination room again as that they had been in on New Years Eve. While Sebastian sat there with trembling hands Nicholas wrist had a X-ray and later got a tape bandage. It wasn't broken but sprained and needed absolutely rest for some days. "It's really a drag," Nicholas said, as Sebastian unlocked the door to Marcus' house. "It's the second time in two weeks that I come back here straight from the hospital. What's going on?" Sebastian remained silent, merely leading him into the living room. "Want a hot cup of tea or something?" Nicholas shook his head. "Your hand hurts?" "A little." "Do you want an aspirin?" "The doc has already given me some." "Good, the pain will soon be over then." He watched the young man, curled up in the armchair. How could he explain this to Marcus? He didn't want to call him, he would be too upset. He went to Nicholas, knelt down beside him and took his uninjured hand. "I'm sorry about this, Nicki." "But the car," Nicholas exclaimed. "It tried to kill me! Didn't you see it?" "Sssh, yes I saw it." Softly he stroked his hand. "I don't know who it was, I can't explain it." He looked into Nicholas' face. "Do you want me to stay with you?" Nicholas nodded slowly. "Come on then, I'll take you to bed." He helped him out of the chair and upstairs with him to the bedroom. There he motioned him to sit on the bed, took off his boots, then went for his belt, opened it, pulled down the zipper of his jeans. Nicholas lifted his buttocks and Sebastian pulled down the torn trousers. "Give me your pullover and shirt, I'll throw them into the laundry box." Without a word Nicholas did what he wanted and sat there finally only in his underpants. He watched a bit confused Sebastian wandering around from the bedroom to the bathroom and looked at his torn and dirty trousers. "You should take off your own jeans. They are ripped as well." Sebastian looked down. "Sure." Without hesitation he pulled them off and threw them into the bathroom. "What about a hot shower?" he asked. Nicholas nodded. "But what's about this?" He held his taped hand outstretched. Sebastian thought for a second, disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a plastic bag and some tape. He pulled it over Nicholas' hand and fixed it with the tape. "Now you are ready for the shower. Go." He gave him a slap on his buttocks. Nicholas stepped into the shower and closed the glass doors. He pulled down his underpants and let the steam surround him. Slowly he relaxed under the stream of hot water. Nevertheless his body trembled and he wished desperately that Marcus were there to take him into his arms. Finally he switched off the water, stepped out, grabbing the big towel lying over the rim of the bathtub. Sebastian entered the bathroom. He wore nothing other than a towel around his waist. "Better now?" he asked. "Yes. Better." But his face told Sebastian the opposite and he could see his eyes glistened with tears. Quickly he stepped closer and pulled Nicholas into an embrace. Slowly he stroked Nicholas' wet hair and whispered unintelligible words into his ear. Nicholas body got limp in the man's arms. He smelled the faint aroma of his after shave and some manly scent underneath, buried his face into Sebastian's neck and let out a sob. Strangely despite all the grieve he still felt a slight arousal in his groin. Wasn't this what he had furtively dreamt of? He felt the fuzz of soft hair against his own smooth chest and allowed his hands to roam over Sebastian's back until they met the towel around his waist. He pulled on it in an effort to remove it. Sebastian lifted his head, looked into his face and lowered his lips to Nicholas'. His grey-green eyes were near and huge until they narrowed and finally closed. Nicholas felt a pair of soft lips moving on his own, cautiously, tenderly until they became more urgent, searching for an answer. Nicholas opened his lips and a tongue slipped in, playing with his own. He sensed how the towel, clamped between their two bodies fell upon the carpet and Sebastian ground his own erection into Nicholas' crotch. Nicholas pushed back, kneaded Sebastian's ass cheeks and felt suddenly lifted from the ground and carried into the bedroom. Sebastian laid him down on the coverlet, crept on top of him and began to kiss his eyes, cheeks and along his neck. Nicholas purred and whispered, "What are you doing to me?" Sebastian's sole answer was a deep, barely audible laugh and a whispered, "What I dreamt of doing for an age, Nicki, honey. You can't imagine how long." Nicholas giggled. "Oh sure - and you've known me for years have you?" "To me it seems so." Sebastian kissed his chest and nibbled on his nipples which caused Nicholas' skin to turn into goose bumps. He wanted to stroke Sebastian's sandy hair he noticed that his hand was still wrapped in the plastic bag. He ripped off the tape and shook it off. Sebastian's body was heavy on his own. He could feel the light, blond hair on his legs stroking his skin, their cocks entwined and he arched his back in the effort to come even closer. His mind swirled and his body enjoyed the caress of the other man. Then suddenly Sebastian lifted his head and stared at the small trace of saliva his tongue had left on Nicholas' belly. His eyes were vacant and he seemed to be listening. "What's the matter? Don't stop, Bastian." "Ssshh. Did you hear something?" "No, there's nothing." He groped for Sebastian's face and pulled it down to him, but then he heard it too. It was ringing at the door downstairs. "Shit! Who can it be?" Both men looked intensely at each other before they exclaimed in unison "Kay!" "I'd completely forgotten him!!" Sebastian said, lifted his body and jumped out of the bed. Again Nicholas felt a sharp punch in his stomach. Without the other body he was cold and he shivered. Speechless, he watched how Sebastian looking for Marcus robe and quickly pulling it on. At the foot of the bed he stopped briefly and watched the young man, outstretched on the bed, very erect, flushed and shivering. A stab of regret filled him. He bent over, kissed Nicholas' lips a last time and ran downstairs. As he opened the front door a rather sulky-looking Kay stood in front of it, waiting for some explanations. He dragged him inside and made some hastily concocted excuses. "We had an accident in the street. There was a car, came directly towards us, Nicki could barely avoid it, but it turned and came once more. So I jumped on top of him and we both landed in the slush of the street. Can you imagine this?" "A car? It followed you? Wanted to hit you?" Kay's face was a mixture of disbelief and relief. "Are you hurt?" He looked him up and down. "But what you doing here? In a robe? Where is Nick?" "Sleeping finally. I was just about to call you to tell you to come over here." He pulled Kay into his arms. "I'm sorry. But I was very upset." "I can imagine." Kay said. "But you're sure you're ok now?" "Yes, we're fine." "I went to your flat first," Kay continued. "But you didn't answer so I thought you might still be here." He looked a bit suspiciously into Sebastian's face. Sebastian found it difficult to meet his eyes. "Yes, it took us a bit longer than I thought. I wanted to take a shower right now. Come with me?" Kay followed gladly but Sebastian didn't know what to think nor what to feel. God! What would he have done if Kay hadn't arrived? He felt sick all of a sudden but tried to hide it from Kay. Not only he had cheated on Marcus, he had completely forgotten Kay! Briefly he wiped his face. You shit! he cursed himself inwardly. He desperately wanted to have a look at Nicholas, but didn't dare. Instead he stepped with Kay into the shower and tried to enjoy the feeling of the young body. He studied once more the blue, abstract tattoo snaking around Kay's upper arm and felt his hand around his balls, the other one soaping his crack. God damn it! Almost brutally he pressed his lips onto Kay's and heard him giggling. "You are randy tonight, aren't you?" "Definitely", Sebastian panted between kisses. "Stop teasing me with your hands, sweetie and hurry up into bed." The LCD of the little alarm clock showed 3:10. Nicholas tossed and turned in bed and looked at the curtains where the soft light of the outdoor lamps painted silhouettes of leafless branches against the windows. He sighed. His gaze fell upon his painting of Marcus hung on the opposite wall. He only could see it indistinctly but it seemed to him as if Marcus' dark eyes pierced his very being and as if he was able to see through the painting what had happened here, even though if he was thousands of miles away. Marcus had asked him to resist all seductions and what was he doing? At the first opportunity he had fallen into the arms of Sebastian and if Kay hadn't have arrived the place beside him wouldn't now be empty but filled with Sebastian's warm body and his steady breath, not to mention that his ass would now be filled with other things... He was cross with himself. Marcus certainly trusted him, although he wasn't sure that Marcus was immune against other temptations... Nicholas still felt Sebastian's long legs entwined with his own, the thick cock stroking his own with every movement he made ... and was convinced Kay was now experiencing the same delights even though he couldn't make out any noise or sound from the guest room, but the walls seemed to be thick enough to swallow every sound. And then, he wasn't sure if he want to hear the noise of two lovers especially if one of these lovers was someone he would like to have in his own bed... He sighed again, rose abruptly and jumped out of the bed. His hand had began to hurt again. He pulled on his robe, silently opened the door and tiptoed cautiously to the opposite door and listed. He could hear nothing so he went downstairs into the kitchen, opened the fridge and got a bottle of mineral water. He poured a glass, sat at the table and remained there in the dark silence of the house. He pondered what to do. Should he call Marcus tomorrow? He shook his head. This was out of question. Marcus had certainly called already and was now probably upset again, because nobody had answered the phone. He looked at the watch and began to count. In New York it was shortly after 9 pm, actually time to call him. But what should he say? That some mad car driver wanted to kill him? Again? Nicholas flinched. Why had he thought 'again'? Was there a connection between the attacker with his ether-soaked cloth, the fire in the exhibition hall and now with the car accident? Weren't they all silly coincidences? He touched his taped hand and thought about the Academy he wanted to visit next week. What now? He wouldn't be able to draw. And he could only hope that there wasn't any lasting damage. He buried his face into the palms of his hand and felt tears building in his eyes. Why didn't you go with him, you idiot! Missing a few days at the Academy wasn't that big a thing. Eventually he stood up, taking the glass with him and looked for some aspirin in the bathroom. He found some tablets and swallowed them with the water. Then he went back to bed again. An hour later he fell into a restless sleep. A humming sound filled his ears, like the buzz of a mosquito or of a bumblebee. He windmilled his arms to scare away the annoying sound, but instead it grew stronger and louder and came nearer. There were flames around him, a cold, golden fire which burnt Marcus' painting to grey ashes in front of his eyes. He stretched out his arms, groped directly into the cold flames but couldn't reach it in time. The buzzing noise grew even louder. Nicholas tried to hide himself in the farthest corner he could find in the large hall, but the sound followed him. He fell onto his back, pulled his knees to his chest and held them with his arms in an effort to cut out all the sounds, the fire, the coldness and the emptiness. But then something broke through the fireball, shot to his direction. He could see a face behind the steering wheel, a pale face with piercing ice-blue eyes and a very wicked grin on pink lips. The driver suddenly turned into a stout woman in a red apron waving a soaked cloth triumphantly. From the distance he could hear the cheering and exaltations of a cowboy who had just won the cup at the rodeo in Calgary and he knew there wasn't any escape. He had to die now, alone in the cold-burning exhibition hall, either burnt to death or hit by the roaring wheels of the dark car. He pulled himself upright and closed his eyes, ready for the final hit. The car was near, dangerously near, he could smell petrol, the rubber stench of hot wheels and the sweet scent of chloroform and began to yell ... Yelling and crying Nicholas found himself sitting upright in his bed, his hair stuck down on his forehead and sweating immensely. Almost at the same time the door opened and Kay rushed into the room, fighting with the sleeve of his robe. He flung himself at Nicholas, sat on the bed and pulled him into his arms. "What have you dreamt, sweetie?" he heard his soothing voice. "Was it bad? You were yelling all the time." Nicholas lifted his head from Kays neck and saw Sebastian enter the room. He looked sleepy but very concerned and rushed to his side. Nicholas was embarrassed and would rather he'd been alone. "It was nothing, only a dream." His voice was rasped and cold and he avoided to looking into Sebastian's eyes. "Do you have often such dreams?" Kay asked and continued to stroke his wet forehead. "No. It's ... it's ..." Sebastian gently took Kay's arm and whispered, "Leave us alone for a moment, ok? Go to back to bed, I'll come in a minute." Kay gave him an odd look but vanished silently through the door. Nicholas pulled the blankets up to his chin and remained silent. Sebastian stretched out his hand and cautiously stroked Nicholas' cheek. "You shouldn't be alone this night", he whispered, "but what can I do? I'll be glad when Marcus comes back." "Ah! You are afraid of being alone with me, right?" Nicholas' voice was still rough. With a firm grip Sebastian wrapped his hands around Nicholas' upperarms. "Say you don't wanted it! Say it into my face!" Nicholas broke free. "Of course I wanted it!" he shouted, "but now go to Kay, he's waiting." Sebastian looked him up and down as if he was an interesting newly-discovered insect and nodded slowly. "If I were Marcus, I'd be standing here, not in America. He knows me; I never was able to resist anybody with trousers." He got up. "We should forget it, right? Try to sleep, Nicki. Tomorrow we'll tell Marcus and perhaps give the police a report. You can't remember the colour and type of the car, I suppose?" He stepped to the door. "Good night, try to sleep." And he was gone. "Now, what was that?" Nicholas was taken aback. How could he be so ... cold and business-like all of a sudden? He had expected some cuddlings and soothing words, but now Sebastian acted as if all the kisses and touchings had happened only in his imagination. What a strange man, he sighed. But then, there was Kay, and although Kay had made advances to him, he knew that now he was occupied with Sebastian and Nicholas didn't want to disturb the new relationship. He liked Kay too much for this. Nicholas stretched out under the blankets. The pain in his wrist was now only a dull ache. 'Try to sleep'! Sebastian could talk! How could HE sleep after all this? At 6 in the morning he heard the phone ringing in the hall, jumped out of the bed and ran downstairs. "Marcus?" he shouted into the receiver. "Yes, darling, where have you been?" Nicholas swallowed but he had to tell him now. "First in the hospital, then at home, trying to sleep but couldn't." "Jesus, Nicholas, why the hospital again?" "There was a car, tried to hit us and Sebastian pushed me into the snow and saved my life." All was silence at the other end of the line. Then he heard, "A car? When was it? Last night? Are you hurt? And Sebastian saved your life?" "Yes! Ask Sebastian." He paused for a moment. "Yes, I'm hurt, my right wrist is sprained." He saved my life. Yes. That was the truth, he thought. And now he would be responsible for my future life, as an old saying goes. "I'm so sorry, darling. You'll have problems at the Academy, what will you do if you can't hold a pencil?" "Don't know at the moment. That's the least of my problems." "I can imagine. I'm really sorry about that. And angry. Is Sebastian there? If yes, can I speak to him, please?" "He's still sleeping. It's 6 am!" "I know darling. But what are you ding in the middle of the night with Sebastian?" Nicholas felt a spurt of anger. "I was at the "Moonbreaker" asking about Simon's photo and Sebastian came to pick up Kay." He sensed that this was all Greek to Marcus. "Oh, by the way, he wanted to speak to us, but you were already gone." "Yes, I told him to take care of you." "Did you? Well, he took care...." "What do you mean?" Marcus asked. Nicholas bit his lower lip. "Like I said, he saved my life." "But you are ok, now? What do you think about the whole business?" Nicholas didn’t know what to answer. "Well, I'm not sure, but I'm beginning to have a feeling that somebody is doing this on purpose and that it is always the same man ... or woman." Marcus sighed again. "Yes, I have the feeling, too. I'll try to come home as soon as possible, ok? Now, honey can you please wake up Sebastian?" Nicholas nodded. "Yes, but can't you come home now? You cannot leave me alone here, I'm afraid that something really bad will happen soon! And I miss you." "Honey, I will come as soon as it's possible. I cannot at the moment, Sebastian is there to look after you. He will do anything, he has promised me. There are some problems suddenly and I don't want to come home without the screen. Now take care of your hand. I miss you too." Nicholas anger grew. How could Marcus dismiss him so easily. If he loved him, he would come instantly and nobody or nothing would stop him. Without a word and feeling very disappointed he laid the receiver on the sideboard and went upstairs again to wake Sebastian. He didn't dare to burst into the room straight away but first knocked and then opened the door. Both men lay there, spooned together, sound asleep. Quietly he shook Sebastian's naked shoulder until he stirred. "Marcus is on the phone. He wants to speak to you." Sebastian blinked. "Yes, I'm coming." He suppressed a yawn and stretched his body. Then he crept out of the bed and pulled on his robe. He gave Nicholas a thin smile and asked, "How did you sleep?" "Hardly at all." Sebastian stroked his cheek. "I'm sorry. Did your hand hurt?" Nicholas shook his head. "Go now, Marcus is waiting." "Hello my dear, what's the time in New York?" Sebastian spoke into the receiver. "Midnight. Morning, Bastian. What's happened to Nicholas? He told me that a car tried to hit you?" Sebastian cleared his throat. "Yes, it's true. We came out of the "Moonbreaker", I wanted to take him home because he had drunk a little bit too much and then there was this damn car. I certainly had the impression the driver wanted to kill us." Marcus sighed heavily at the other end of the line. "So it's true, yes? We weren't wrong in our suspicions? There's somebody out there... Do you think it could be Simon? Could you find anything out about him?" "No. Nobody has seen him. Marcus, I cannot believe it's Simon. I guess he's got other problems now. Why should he want to do it?" "Yes, yes, but can you think of anybody else? This Frank perhaps?" "Frank? The teacher at the Academy? Hm, don't know. I shouldn't think so." "But Nick is ok? He said his hand was injured?" "Yes, but apart from this everything is ok. He had a slightly shock as you can imagine. I think you should come home on the next flight. Nicki needs you", - and then I'll be free of this dangerous proximity, he thought. But Marcus fled into excuses. "There are some problems here. The seller isn't sure all of a sudden if he should sell his precious piece of Art." "Ah, he only wants to force up the price. But is it so important? More important than your lover? Come back now." "I cannot, understand me, Bastian. This is a screen I have been after for years! I can't give it up. Your are there, and you have promised me you'll look after him. Probably I can't come back before next Thursday. Would you stay at my house? Oh, by the way, what's this news about sweet Kay?" Sebastian was reserved. "Big love affair I would say." "Big love? Are you ill? Well, anyway, if you can't avoid it, then stay with him, but promise me to take care of my little boy? I don't want to hear that he's in the hospital again, understand?" "Yes, Sir. I understand." His voice was stern. "But still I can't understand your attitude, and I guess Nicki will be cross with you if you don't com home. Think about it, Marcus. I'll call you in the afternoon, ok?" While Sebastian was on the phone Nicholas has made coffee, taken out the butter of the fridge. Sebastian sat quietly at the table looking unshaven and tired. His eyes were dark with rings. He stared at the coffee percolator and watched the dark fluid dropping into the glass jug beneath it. "I'm sorry about last night. We shouldn't have done it." Nicholas said nothing. "You know I like you, Nicki", Sebastian continued, "but there's Kay and Marcus ... I don't want to hurt them. Let's just say, you needed comfort yesterday, can you be satisfied with this?" He peered over his shoulder to the young man standing with bent shoulders by the fridge and staring into nothing. "Yes," he said very low. "It's all right. It will never happen again. Right?" Sebastian nodded not very convinced. Actually he needed more time to think about it, but he hadn't time, because there was Kay who wanted his full attention and he couldn't simply dissapear back to Rome because he had promised Marcus to look after his boy. What a dilemma! he thought. "Where is Kay?" Nicholas asked. "Still sleeping I guess." "And what have you planned with him? Aren't you actually going back to Rome again? Will you be taking him with you?" "I haven't a clue at the moment. Yes I must go back sometime, I have some projects running in Rome, but at the moment I have to look after you, Nicki. I don't like the idea of you all alone in this big house." "Ah, baby-sitting again?" Nicholas' voice was scornful and Sebastian gave him a surprised look. "Listen, I'm doing this for you and for my best friend, because I know he's in love with you, but if you prefer to live alone that say it and I'll disappear." Nicholas went to the coffee machine to take out the jug. "I didn't mean to say that. Sorry," he said timidly. "I'm confused, that's all." "It's ok, Nicki. I'm sorry too." He grabbed Nicholas by the waist and pulled him onto his lap. "Forgive me?" he whispered into his ear and Nicholas got goose bumps again. He felt Sebastian's cock at his crack through the thin material of the robe and wriggled his ass a bit. Sebastian giggled. "Stop it, baby or we'll continue where we stopped last night." "Am I interrupting something?" they heard Kay's voice from the kitchen door. Nicholas wanted to jump up but Sebastian's grip was firm around his waist. "Oh, I only wanted to examine his hand," Sebastian said innocently. "And?" Kay said lurking, "how is it?" Nicholas wriggled free of Sebastian's arms. "It's better, but it hurts if I move my fingers." "Now that's real shit, sweetie." Kay searched for cups and plates. "Want to take a shower first, Bastian? You look as if you need one." Sebastian touched the stubble on his chin and nodded. "Save me some coffee." He was barely out of the door when Kay spun round to face Nicholas. "Is there something going on between you and Sebastian? Tell me before I get too involved." He said it calmly but his eyes sparkled with anger. Nicholas closed his eyes for a moment and leaned against the shelves. "I don't know if there is something", he said quietly. "And I don't want to think about it right now. There are more important things for me right now. Take Sebastian with you and be happy with him. I don't care. The only thing I want is Marcus but he's in fucking New York and won't come back to me." His blue eyes pierced Kay's. "What would you do if somebody was trying to kill Sebastian and you were far away?" Kay snorted. "Come back the next minute!" "You see! But this shitty ... screen is apparently a thousand times more important to him than me!" Nicholas almost shouted and his voice betrayed all his frustration and disappointment. Maybe he had chosen the wrong man. Sebastian cared for him ... at the moment that is. But was his 'care' only selfishness, because he was looking for someone to took care of his cock? "Oh shit!" Nicholas exclaimed, grabbed the nearest thing from the kitchen table and threw it onto the tiled floor. The coffee cup shattered into a thousands fragments. Kay gazed at him in disbelief. "Wow what a outbreak of temperament, sweetie," he said and looked for a brush and dustpan. "Leave me alone, I'm going home, I've had enough." And with this he ran out of the kitchen upstairs into the bedroom, pulled out his old suitcase and rucksack and stuffed all the clothes he could see into them. With the same speed he ran downstairs again, pulled on his jacket, grabbed the keys and slammed the door behind him. "What was that noise? Have you been arguing?" Sebastian asked as he came out of the bathroom and entered the kitchen. "He's gone." "What? But why didn't you stop him?" "Travellers shouldn't be stopped." "Bullshit!" He stepped closer to Kay. "Are you stupid? We cannot leave him alone. He's probably in danger!" Restless he wandered around the kitchen. "Don't you know where he live?" Kay shook his head. Sebastian ran out of the house onto the street but Nicholas was already disappeared. He cursed loudly. Marcus hadn't the address either, he was sure. While he went slowly back to the house shivering in his thin shirt he pondered about it. Then his face lit up. "Matthias! He must know the address of Nicki!" Then he stopped abruptly. "You are stupid, Sebastian. What about the telephone book?" He ran back, rang the bell and when Kay opened the door he rushed to the sideboard in the hall, pulled out the telephone books and leafed through. "Here it is but the address is missing", he exclaimed and wanted to dial. "Nick's telephone number?" Kay shook indulgently his head. "He can't be there already, Bastian. And who know's if he's going home. Perhaps he's off to Matthias." Sebastian looked thoughtfully at Kay. "Yes, you are right. I'll give him one hour, then I'll try. But do you know the address of Matthias? Or his surname?" "No.... but I know where he works." Relieved Sebastian pulled Kay to his chest and embraced hm. “But it's Sunday, we'll have to wait till tomorrow." "Oh, yes." Sebastian frowned. "Well, let's hope he goes home today." He sighed. "What shall I say to Marcus when I call him later?" Kay shrugged. "Tell him he's sleeping." "Oh man, you have for all the answers, haven't you? But this is not a game", he said insistently. "There were three incidents so far." He counted by his fingers. "One the mugger with the chloroformed cloth at the "Moonbreaker", second the fire in the exhibition hall where his painting was burnt and third this car accident now. Tell me this is pure coincidence and my name is Otto." "Ok, I will never call you Otto. Do you suspect anyone in particular?" "Marcus thinks it could be your brother." Kay raised his eyebrows. "Simon? That's nonsense. He would never do such stupid things." "Are you sure? When was the last time you saw him?" "About 10 month now. He rang me shortly after he had his AIDS-test and then...nothing. He left Marcus and disappeared Heaven knows where." Sebastian put his arm around his shoulders and went with him into the kitchen again. The coffee was cold by now and Sebastian's stomach rumbled. "Ever tried Turkish coffee?" he asked Kay. "Sure. You want some?" Sebastian nodded and sat at the table. "Now tell me the reason for you argument." "We didn't argue." Kay put water into the heater. "I only asked him if there was something between him and you that I should know before I fall head over heals in love with you." Sebastian peered over his shoulder at the young man. "Think carefully, man. I'm not sure I'm worth it!" "You didn't answer my question, Bastian. And," he bent down and gave him a quick kiss on the lips, "you are certainly worth it." Sebastian gave him a weak smile. "You don't know me, Kay", he whispered. "But I want to know you better. Now, is there something I should know?" Sebastian was in a tight spot. "You know, Nicki is a sweet guy, but ..." He threw an unsure look at Kay's back. "He's not free." Kay turned. "So you would rather have Nick as lover than me?" he asked hurt. Sebastian took a deep breath and raised his hand which almost seemed ot repulse him. "No, Kay, it's, shit, I can't explain it. Some things cannot be explained. At least, I cannot explain it. Understand me. And after all, I have a feeling you weren't so uninterested in him, either." "Oh," Kay said, and his cheeks reddened briefly. "You noticed? But now you are here", he said. "Yes. Now you are here. That's the answer." The water boiled and Kay poured it over the coffee in the mugs. He smiled relieved. Sebastian was right, he thought. Now Sebastian was there. A real man he was in love with and one who matched his own conception of life. He put the steaming mug on the table in front of his lover and smiled. "Now, after we sorted that out, what do we now? Did Nicki tell you about his father?" "His father?" Sebastian lifted the mug and blew the coffee grounds away. "Well, I remember he was about to tell me something when the car hit us. What's with him?" "Don't know exactly. Only that he called him a 'fucking faggot'." "Oh." Sebastian nodded. "Another father who can't get use to the idea that his precious son is a queen. I've met them." "You have? What about your parents?" "Run a pharmacy in Berlin." "Really?" "Yeah, actually several of them. Parents without time but lots of money. Usual stuff." Sebastian said sternly Kay shook his head. "Yes, but what did they say when they learned that you were gay?" Sebastian shrugged. "They didn't care. They never cared much about us children. Gave us money instead of love." Now Kay nodded. "I know this. You know that Marcus' and my parents were business partners." "Yes, I know. How did they take it, as Simon disappeared?" "Terribly. He was always the spoilt baby of the family." "Baby of the family? How old are you actually?" "Twenty six. He's four years younger than me." A sound in the hall made both men turn their heads. Anna Weyler stood in the doorway looking surprised. "Anna!", said Sebastian. "What you are doing here on a Sunday?" "Good Morning Mr. Sebastian." Her voice was more than cold. "Wanted to look after Marcus." She eyed the other young man very suspiciously. "Hi, I'm Kay." Anna looked back to Sebastian, but he only grinned. "Marcus isn't here as you know certainly, Anna. Off to New York. I'm sure he has told you. So there's no need to spy around." "Spy around?" If it was possible, Anna's voice grew even more icy. "I think I have a right to be here and to see if everything is all right." Her gaze made clear that she doubted that either Sebastian or Kay were permitted to be here. "If you are looking for Nicholas, he isn't here either. So it would be nice if you would leave us alone. Do me the favour, yes?" "But what's about a lunch?" Sebastian's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You want to cook for us? But, Anna, we can't accept. We are fine on our own. Go now, please. And," he added, "there won't be any need to come around next week. We'll be here to take care of the house, ok?" "Well," Anna said and stood undecided, but then turned and left the house. "Who on earth was that?" Kay asked, amused. "Anna, the good ghost of the house." "Ah, had a feeling she doesn't like you especially." "No, she hates me." "Really? You mean someone actually could hate you?" Sebastian whispered close to Kay's ear. "More than you can imagine. Think of all my ex-lover around the world!" Kay flinched back. "How many lovers?" Sebastian was amused by the concerned look in the young man's face and grinned. "Was a joke, baby. I can look after myself, don't worry. I learnt my lesson from Simon." "Good. And what we shall do about Marcus? Will you tell him that Nick has vanished without a trace?" "I have to, I guess. I can't understand why he won't fly back right now. I always had the feeling that he's so in love with Nicki. And I was happy that he'd found somebody after Simon. Somebody he could trust" He gazed at Kay. "Don't get me wrong, honey. But he's so completely different to your brother." "No need to make excuses, I know what you mean." Kay's stomach rumbled audibly and Sebastian laughed. "You are very hungry, aren't you? Well what could we do about this? Go out and eat something or shall I cook here?" "You can cook?" Kay ask surprised. "But of course. Can't you?" "No. But I'm too hungry to wait while you cook. Let's go out. And then you call Marcus, perhaps he knows where Nick lives." Matthias opened the door wearing pyjama shorts and looking very sleepy. Nicholas was embarrassed. He hadn't looked at his watch but Matthias let him in without questions. He took the suitcase from him and put it in the small hall. Silently he motioned him to go into the kitchen and followed. "Coffee?" "Where's Tina?" "Still in bed." "I'm sorry, pal. I didn't look at the time." "What's this?" Matthias pointed at his taped hand. "Little accident", Nicholas answered. "But it's your right hand. What about working at the Academy?" Nicholas shrugged. "I don't care. The Academy can get lost." Matthias looked his friend up and down. He looked terrible, deep shadows under his dull eyes, the shine was completely gone, and his hair was uncombed as if he had come straight from bed. "What's up, buddy? Watch the water for me, I'll be back in a minute and then I'm all ears. But I desperately need to piss." He vanished and Nicholas sat alone in the tiny kitchen whose small window looked out onto a square yard which resembled the yard where he used to live. In the centre grew a huge chestnut tree whose branches were still completely leafless. The kettle whistled and Nicholas jumped but Matthias came in from the bathroom and pulled off the pipe. Matthias remained in silence during the next half hour while Nicholas told him the events of last night. Now and then he proffered some remarks or questions, and finally shook his head in amazement. "I cannot belief you are so unimportant to Marcus. All what you told me over the last few weeks ... it sounded so ... happy and all right. And I was glad you had finally found someone. But now, are you sure that he's is the right man for you? I mean, he's someone from a totally foreign and strange environment and upbringing. Perhaps he can't understand your situation. Maybe he just doesn't care about anything else other than himself." He stretched out his hand. "I don't want to hurt you, Nick. But if I can help you I must tell the truth, do you understand?" His blue-grey eyes were pleading. "Of course I understand you, buddy. And I'm really glad I can talk to you about everything. I'm just surprised you understand me so well, I mean..." "You mean, especially because I'm NOT gay, right?" Nicholas nodded and Matthias chuckled. "But it was you who told me, what's the difference! I fancy women and you men. But the goal is the same." "So, what's the goal?" Nicholas asked quietly. "To be happy?" "Yeah, to be happy. But I'm afraid, I'm not happy right now." A little half grin appeared around his mouth. "I guess I should go now. I don't want to disturb your Sunday with Tina." He rose. "Thanks for being there for me. But I guess I must sort this out by myself." Matthias followed him into the hall. "Where are you going now?" "Home. To my old flat." "But aren't you afraid of the man who's after you? You have no protection if you are alone. You can stay here if you want." But Nicholas shook sadly his head. "I don't want to. I must be alone." * * * "Do you have to work tonight?" Sebastian lay relaxed in bed and stroked Kay’s hair. "No. I called while you were in the bath and said I had something better to do this evening." He turned onto his stomach and looked into Sebastian's face. "So? What is it, this 'something better'?" "Fucking you until the sun rises! What else?" Sebastian chuckled. "Ah! Fucking ME! Are you sure?" "What do you mean: Are you sure? Have you never been fucked before?" "But of course, sweetheart. But it's a long time ago." "I will be careful, promise." Sebastian grinned again and stroked a blond strand from of Kay's face. "What's the real colour of your hair? Like Simon's brown?" "Yes. You don't like the blond hair?" "You would look better with your natural colour. It would emphasize your beautiful eyes." "Do I have beautiful eyes?" "But yes." Sebastian bent over and brushed the eyes with his lips. Kay giggled. "If you say so..." His gaze fell upon the little alarm clock on the nightstand. "Didn't you want to call Marcus? It must be now ... 8 in the morning, right?" "Yes," groaned Sebastian and rose with a sigh. "Why hasn't Marcus an extension next to his bed? I always have to run down into the hall." But naked as he was he went downstairs, fished the number of Marcus' mobile out of his jacket pocket and dialled. Marcus was instantly on the phone. "Good news, Bastian?" "The good news would be if you came home, my friend. Nicholas is gone." "What - gone? Where?" "Home, I guess. You don't have his address, do you?" Again there was an alarmed pause on the phone. "You tell me seriously that Nicholas is gone and you don't know where? God Sebastian! You cannot take care of him for a single day?" Marcus was shouting and Sebastian held the receiver away from his ear. "Well, that's another reason to come home," he said finally. "What have you done with him?" "Nothing! I told you he would be cross. He feel abandoned, that's all. Now move your ass here, right now." Again there was silence and Sebastian knew Marcus was fighting with himself. "Ok. I'm coming. But I don't have his address!" "Doesn't matter. Kay knows where Matthias works and he will certainly know his address. But we can't ask him until tomorrow." "Yeah, Sunday, I know. Listen, Bastian. I'll take the next plane to Germany, don't know which one and when I'll arrive. I call you when I'm on the way, ok?" "Good. So this wasn't such a hard decision, was it?" Sebastian asked ironically. But Marcus had already cut the line. * * * His flat greeted him with its familiar disorder. He put down his suitcase upon his small couch which was also his bed and opened the windows. The sound of a loud radio which echoed over the tiny yard, pierced his ears and brought him back to the realization that this had been a very short trip into nonchalance and happiness. He sat upon the couch and let his head drop. The walls around him seemed bare and cold because they were empty of all his paintings and with a little stab of loss he remembered the mask Marcus had bought for him and which still hung in Marcus' bedroom. He would had given everything to have Marcus come through the door right now, to embrace him, to kiss him, to undress him, to comfort him and a dry sob escaped his throat. Annoyed he wiped his eyes. But why make such a tragedy out of it? Marcus has to work to earn his money, which he also spends on you, you dunderhead, and what are you doing? You reproach him because he isn't there, bawl because you can't live without him! Since when aren't you use to living alone, huh? He stood up and walked across the room to the kitchen. In the fridge he found a bottle of beer, opened it and drank. But then, what had happened wasn't just a joke. His life had certainly been threatened and Marcus didn't care a fuck about it. What should he do now? Above all there was the Academy of Arts which he was determined to attend whatever happened. His hand would heal soon and he could go on Tuesday to look around, to get to know his classmates and his teacher. Hopefully it wouldn't be Frank. He wasn't sure if he could stand his presence now without the strength Marcus gave him. Nicholas felt the alcohol circulating warmly through his veins and a certain lightness in his head reminded him that he had eaten nothing that morning. Frustrated he shuffled to his little, old fridge to find that there was nothing eatable there anymore. The butter was rancid, cheese and bread mouldy. The only thing he found was a tomato, perhaps four weeks old but still red and full like a rubber ball and likewise inedible. Genetically modified crap obviously, Nicholas muttered under his breath. He searched the shelves for something eatable and found a tin of tomato soup and a torn open box of pasta. Well, better than nothing, he thought, he could thicken the soup to a sauce. While he stirred the red sauce in the pan, he asked himself how to continue. Give up Marcus because they were too different as Matthias stated? He shook his head. They had got along so well together these last few weeks, there wasn't any sign of class differences. Marcus had never let him sense that Nicholas wasn't good enough for him, too stupid or uneducated. Rather the opposite. And the meeting with Sebastian and Kay had brought so much light into his life; he missed them now so much that he almost felt a physical pain. Nicholas shoved in the pasta without tasting. The only thing he could think was that he couldn't lose Marcus and had behaved like a little, defiant child. But he would only show up at Marcus' house when he was back, in the meantime Sebastian had called Marcus for sure, but what would he do? Nicholas pushed away the only half-empty plate. The beer had made him tired. He closed the windows and stretched out on the couch. But the ringing of the telephone made him jerk upright. Quicker than he thought possible, Nicholas jumped to answer it, but there wasn't any sound as he listened. But nevertheless he sensed that there was somebody on the other end of the line and he finally yelled to fuck off, slammed the receiver back and jumped upon the couch again. He woke up with a jolt, rubbing his eyes and noticed that it was growing dark outside. He rose, went slowly to the window and stared from the first floor, where he lived, over the yard and up to the countless bright, small windows around it. One thing he always had appreciated was that Marcus had no building overlooking his and they could be very uninhibited, doing exactly what they liked without feeling watched. His wrist began to hurt again but he had forgotten to bring any aspirin with him. Dejectedly he went into the kitchen and pulled out the last bottle of beer of the fridge. Maybe if he got drunk the pain would subside, and not only the pain in his hand. He heard his neighbour above him stamping with heavy steps through his flat and knew in a few minutes he would switch on the TV and perhaps the VCR to watch some of his stupid porn. He decided to turn on his own TV and let himself sink into his old armchair. It didn't take long before he was sound asleep. Again he dreamt about a dark shining car with screaming brakes whose headlights dazzled him, tasted the choking petrol in his throat mixed with the sweet scent of chloroform. He wandered alone through unknown deserted streets and felt himself followed by a man in a long coat and a hat pulled low over his forehead. In the middle of the night he woke up again, turned off the TV, listened and turned back to the couch were he fell asleep again. * Sebastian drowsily lifted his left eyelid and moaned very quietly just on the point of shooting load into Kay's ravenous sucking mouth. Kay peered into Sebastian's almost relaxed face and redoubled his exertions to get the prize which was not be long in coming. "O man," Sebastian panted huskily, "you're like a greedy cat, honey, but I love it." He grinned like the famous Cheshire cat as Kay stretched himself over his body at full length and pressed his semen-flecked lips on Sebastian's. "Now how do you feel?" Kay whispered, "after this long fuck?" he added. Sebastian tasted the bitter-sweetness on his tongue. "Want any more?" "Heavens, no!" Sebastian shouted and rolled Kay onto his back. "For the present I've definitely had enough, baby, I guess my asshole is loaded with fire now", he said grinning. "But you are good, lover boy, almost as good as Marcus." "Am I in a sort of an competition?" Kay frowned, "why don't you go and fuck him like crazy if he is THAT good?" "Oh," Sebastian regretted his words instantly. "You are too sensitive. But I'm sorry. I only wanted to compliment you." He kissed Kay's nose. "Forgive me?" He felt Kay's hardness between his legs, straining against his belly and began a gently humping, which conjured a smile on Kay's face. Sebastian had fallen in love with this smile but then the thought of Matthias hit him and he remembered that he wanted to go and ask him for the address, so he quickened the hand job until he felt Kay arch his back and his hot white cum flood into and over his hand and belly. Then he lifted the giggling Kay up from the bed and vanished with him in the bathroom. * * * This shopping centre was certainly not one of Sebastian's favourite places so he plodded rather grouchily through the departments, looked more or less interested at the displayed products and studied the directions. It took a while until he found the right place, entered the escalator and proceeded upstairs. It was hot under the shining lamps and he felt dazzled at this early morning hour. Sebastian grinned. It was just after nine am - definitely too early for a man like him. He noticed the back of a young man between several shelves which looked very like Matthias, approached him, cleared his throat and asked innocently, "Excuse me, Sir, do you have bulbs in stock?" Matthias spun around, stopped short for a moment and then a broad grin spread over his face. "Sebastian!" But instantly he frowned. "Has something happened to Nick?" Sebastian nodded. "Have you seen him?" "But yes. Yesterday he was at my house but wanted to go back home." Sebastian sighed. "Good. We thought he would go to you first, but do you have his address?" "But of course. Wait a minute." He went to the counter, and scribbled something on the note pad. "Here, have you a clue where this is?" Sebastian narrowed his eyes and tried to read the address. Then he shook his head. "No clue, but I have a city map in the car." He smiled at the younger man. "By the way, Marcus is on the way here, could be that he's already at home and waiting for me." "Indeed?" Matthias beamed. "You persuaded him in the end?" "Sort of, yes. He's a damn stubborn bugger." He looked at his watch. "And you?" he asked then, "everything ok? How do you like the work here?" "Well, I could image something better, but it's ok, yes. But how's Kay? Do you want to take him back with you to Rome?" Sebastian looked at him as if he said something stupid. "Not a bad idea, my friend." He smiled. "I must go, take care of you. Hope we'll meet again sometime." * Nick woke up because he was freezing. His hands and feet were ice cold and he searched in his suitcase for a thick pullover and turned on the old gas heating. Again he looked out of the window to find it was drizzling outside. He yawned. Weather to match his own mood. His stomach felt empty which reminded him to buy something to eat, luckily he still had Marcus' credit card and wouldn't hesitate to use it. After all, it was Marcus who paid for this flat, his telephone- and TV-bills, although he never understood the reason why Nick had insisted to keep his flat. Well now he would know: for cases like these. While he had a lick and a promise in the bathroom he pondered what he would do first, and the more he thought about Marcus the more he missed him and his mood improved considerably. He turned on the radio, listened to the newest horror news from all over the world and was ready for a hot cup of coffee. He was sure somewhere was a little left. But then the telephone rang again and Nicholas was instantly on the line. First he heard nothing like the call last night, but then there was a hollow, male voice said, "Are you already prepared for a long journey?" "Huh?" Nicholas didn't understand what he meant. "What do you mean? Who are you? What journey?" Silence. Then, "You will see. Soon." "Hello?" Nicholas shouted into the receiver. But the line was dead. Confused he stared at the receiver in his hand and jumped as the doorbell rang. Frightened he gazed at the brown painted entrance door and his heartbeat quickened. "You will see," echoed in his mind. "Soon." Was he there already? The bell rang again. Nicholas tiptoed to the door and laid his ear against the wood. He cursed that the door didn't have a peephole to look who's there. Somebody hammered against the wood and Nicholas jumped. "Who," he cleared his throat, "who's there?" he asked. "It's me, honey, come, open the door." "Marcus!" Nicholas' trembling hands fumbled with the key, unlocked it finally and tore open the door. It was like a blow to the stomach to see his lover again and with one smooth motion he grabbed him by the arm, dragged him inside and pulled him into a tight embrace. "What are you doing here?" he murmured close to Marcus' ear. "I thought you'd never come again." "Nonsense", Marcus said softly, "why are you so mixed up?" Marcus gently broke free and looked deeply into Nicholas' eyes. "You don't look good, honey, slept badly?" He looked at the rings under his eyes and ran his fingers through his lover's dishevelled hair. "But how do you know ... why do you ... are you ..." Nicholas stuttered until Marcus laughed and went with him into the only room of the flat. "Sebastian got your address from Matthias. He went to the shop this morning." "Sebastian?" Nicholas asked doubtfully. "He called you?" "Yes. And he certainly put me straight. Thoroughly." Marcus sat on the couch and pulled Nicholas beside him. "See, I'm sorry for all." He took his right, bandaged hand into his own. "But tell me first all about the accident. Sebastian said you had drunk to much and stumbled in the street..." "So you think I was drunk and therefore the car hit me?" Nicholas said excitedly. "No, Marcus. I wasn't drunk nor was this an accident. The car turned twice to return and came directly to me. If Sebastian hadn't been there I would ... I would..." he left the sentence unfinished. Marcus blinked and stroked his hand. "Does it still hurt? But, baby what about the Academy, the new term starts tomorrow, what will you do?" "But that's not important to me at the moment. Understand." "Yes, yes, it's ok." Marcus leaned back and pulled Nicholas' to his chest. "Now I'm here to take care of you, it will never happen again." "You will protect me 24 hours a day now?" He peered up into Marcus dark eyes. "That's impossible, and you know it. The only thing I want to know is if all the incidents - the mugger with the cloth, the fire and the car - were the same person and if so, why he's doing it. I doubt you can help me with this, or have you any idea. Sebastian said he wouldn't know about it." Marcus stroked the blond hair and remained silent. He debated with himself as to whether he should tell him his suspicions concerning Simon or if this would Nicholas frighten furthermore. He decided against it. "Really, honey. I don't know if there is a connection." Nicholas broke free from his embrace. "But surely there must be," he exclaimed. "You must be blind not to see it! Why do you take it all so ... calmly?!" "Sssh, I'm not taking it calmly." Marcus tried to soothe him. "But I don't want to upset you with things which we don't know about. It's only ... suspicious circumstances so far." "Suspicious circumstances? You have somebody in mind? Who?" Marcus shook his head. "But yes! Tell me! And stop treating me like a little child!" "We think it could be Simon," Marcus said quietly. Nicholas looked at him in disbelief. "Simon?" he croaked. "That's absurd." Abruptly he remembered the call. "I had a call just before you arrived. Two calls," he correct himself. "A call? What call?" "A man, asking me if I was prepared to make a long journey." Marcus gazed at him. "A long journey? Did he say anything else?" "Hm, nothing. It was strange, but then you were at the door and I was scared shitless that it could be him." He thought a moment. "But the voice sounded older, it couldn't be the voice of Simon. I'm sure." Marcus dropped his head and Nicholas wiped a strand of black hair out of his eyes. "But now tell me all about yourself. Are you hungry? Thirsty?" Marcus had come straight from the airport it crossed his mind and he was probably dog tired. "Want to sleep a bit?" Marcus lifted his head and grinned. "I'm fine, darling." He looked around. "Now, this is your flat." He stood up and went to the window. Then he turned and sized up the room with one look. "I know it's not exactly the Charlottenburg castle but it's cheap." And noisy and dirty and empty, he added for himself. Suddenly he felt ashamed and avoided Marcus look. "Hey," Marcus said good-humoured, "it's a great flat. But the walls look a bit empty because all your paintings are now in my ... our house. Don't you want to come with me? Right now? And on the way you can explain me why you ran away so fast and without any good reason." Nicholas watched the sleeping Marcus lying bent together in the corner of the couch. Sebastian had gone with Kay to his own apartment and had left a note for them. He was thankful that he hadn't had to face the man. While he was looking at his lover he couldn't understand himself anymore. What did Sebastian have that Marcus didn't? Was it only his presence while Marcus searched around the world for a precious screen? Marcus stirred a bit and his eyelashes fluttered. Nicholas knelt beside him and gave him a little peck on his cheek. "Hey, sleeping beauty", he whispered. Marcus smiled and rose into a sitting position. "What's the time?" "Past eight." "Past eight? Man, that late already?" He focused his gaze on Nicholas. "You must be hungry." Nicholas shook his head. "Not hungry." He bent over and kissed his lips. "Can we go upstairs?" Marcus nodded. In the middle of the bedroom he stood and rummaged in his still-unpacked suitcase for a little box. He handed it to Nicholas. "What's this?" Nicholas looked at the box wrapped in blue paper. "Open it." Nicholas ripped the paper and opened it. Then he looked amazed at a silver coin which had a little hole and through it a very small leather ribbon. The soft light of the lamp mirrored in it and Nicholas could make out an imprinted head. He looked up into Marcus' smiling face. "What is it? It's beautiful." "An old Indian coin, sort of a peace medal which scouts used to wear." "Indian scouts? It's authentic?" Marcus nodded. "It's a good luck charm. I think you could need it." He stepped closer, took the small leather band from the box and fastened it around Nicholas' neck. It was short and the medal felt cool upon his skin. He turned Nicholas to face him. "It suits you well." And without any further word he began to undress him and Nicholas let it happened with growing anticipation. "I have missed you, honey. So much", Marcus murmured into his ears while he continued to undress him, allowed his jeans fall to the carpet, sat him upon the bed, kicked off his shoes, his socks, his pants and began a tender excursion first with his mouth, then with his tongue and finally with his hands. Nicholas let himself fall back upon the bed and almost lost his mind. The only thing he could feel was the warmth of the mouth and the breath upon his skin and a brief interruption let him know that Marcus had undressed himself until he felt again a heavy, hot body upon his own, licking every inch of his body, beginning with his collarbone and ending in the area of his groin. Nicholas felt as if he was in a warm bath, graced with warm water, with loving caresses and surrounded by a deep, seductive voice, telling him to turn over onto his stomach where he felt a lithe, wet tongue sneaking into the crack of his ass, searching for his hole, wetting it, pushing lightly inside, making him moan in delight while one hand was rubbing his erect meat, the other was spreading his ass cheeks. Another interruption and Nicholas knew, Marcus was searching for lube in the drawer, turned again to his back but never opened his eyes. It was a strange feeling to lie there in absolute darkness and to see only with his senses. He felt Marcus' mouth on his cock, sucking lightly, wandering beneath to inhale his balls and as he thought he couldn't stand it any longer he felt his legs lifted and the big, yielding tip of Marcus' penis at his entrance. A cautious push and he slipped inside, stopped and pressed his mouth on Nicholas'. "Are you ok?" he heard his voice and opened his eyes slowly. The gas lamps from outside mirrored into Marcus' black, burning eyes. Slowly and without obstacles his cock sank in and caused Nicholas a moan which came deep from his throat. He never lost his smile while Marcus made love to him, to mesh his soul with his, to connect their bodies, licking stray tears from the corner of his eyes, to share suppressed cries and finally to fell asleep together. When Marcus awoke, Nicholas' body was lying almost on top of him, the head heavy on his shoulder, his breath steady and calm. He enjoyed the warm body and asked himself if he ever had such a peaceful feeling. Certainly not with Simon. His eyes found Sebastian's face in the painting. With him? Yes - sometimes. Marcus wouldn't have minded if he and Sebastian had remained together together for a lifetime, but ... his friend couldn't be faithful, he was always searching and never finding and Marcus wondered how long Kay would be able to hold him. He stroked the soft down on Nicholas' back and pondered about the events, the accident and about all the calls. Someone was following him and his lover, had learnt his name to search for the telephone number to make his frightening calls. "Prepared for a long journey"... This could surely only mean either a kidnapping or ... death. Marcus' grip tightened around Nicholas' naked shoulder. Whoever he was had obviously tried both. How could he protect him? He thought briefly about reporting to the police but rejected the idea. It would be useless. He pressed his lips into Nicholas' hair. Now, lying so close to his lover he couldn't understand himself - his stupid eagerness for an old wooden screen. It seemed so ridiculous to him now to put this above the life of Nicholas. But he knew himself; he possessed that same hunting fever that his father and grandfather had, a nose for possibilities and the skill at negotiation which always got what he wanted. He knew certainly that it was exactly this instinct that had scared Simon away from him to search for happiness in other beds and he was well aware that he was the reason for all the things that had happened to his ex-lover. Nicholas bandaged hand stirred and wandered around Marcus' chest, he sighed deeply and lifted his head to peer into his face. "Hi, angel," Marcus said. "Morning, lover." Nicholas yawned sleepily. "Why are you awake so early?" Marcus chuckled. "Early is good. It's past ten." "Really?" Then reality hit him and he sat up. "I have to go to the Academy! Shit!" He was about to jump out of the bed, but felt himself held back. "Stop it, baby. There's no need to rush. You can go in the afternoon." "Do you think so? Well", he said sighing. "You are right, only introduction events anyway. I don't need them." He lay back into the pillows and Marcus bent over him and nuzzled his neck. "The medallion suits you really well, baby." he whispered. "Oh", Nicholas' fingers embraced the silver medal. "Do you think it will work?" "What will work?" "As a good luck charm." Marcus stared intently into his face. "I'll stay with you until we find the man who is after us, I promise you." he said seriously. Nicholas lifted his hands and stroked Marcus' hair at the nape of his neck. "The most terrifying thing is that there is somebody watching me. Someone who knows everything I'm doing, where I'm going to, knows my number, my address. And I have no clue why!" Marcus bent down his face to kiss his dry lips. "I understand you, darling. I feel the same. Let's think about it - can you remember the car? What colour, type, number plate or anything?" Nicholas shook his head. "It was night and the car was dark but that's all I know." "So you really think Simon is out of question? I mean the voice ... he could change it, make it deeper perhaps or there are two persons." "But the reason, Marcus. As long we don't know the reason we can't sort it out. Simon could be cross with you of course. An abandoned ex-lover, suffering from AIDS." He paused. "Frank. A vicious game he plays. But I don't really see the reason for him to do it. He had me and forgot me. This was his sole intention. He made a fool out of me, and it's long time ago." He gazed into Marcus eyes. "Alex? A dismissed employee. But why he should after ME? I could understand the fire at the exhibition to harm you, but me? Or do you have any other enemies? Some sick persons who want to destroy you by destroying me?" Marcus sighed and rolled onto his back again. "Believe me," he said, "I have thought about it again and again, but nobody comes to my mind. I always play fair, there's no one I could imagine I have hurt that much." He pulled Nicholas into his arms. "How is your hand?" he asked. "Better. It's stopped hurting. But only as long I don't move it. Doc said I have to go for a check in few days." "But there will be no after effects?" "No. I don't think so." Nicholas looked at Marcus' painting at the wall. "I want to paint more portraits of you, you know." "Do you?" "Yes. All naked. More exciting." "Ah!!" Marcus grinned and ruffled his hair. "Tell me about Sebastian and Kay. There's something between them isn't there?" "Oh yes. Kay came here after the accident and Sebastian brought me home and ..." "And?" Nicholas bite his lips. "I mean, we were upset and Sebastian had forgotten Kay was still at the Moonbreaker. But certainly they've reconciled since." "So he took good care of you, did he?" In Marcus' voice was a strange undertone. "Did he try anything?" "Huh?" "You understood me." "Well, no..." "Sebastian is after everyone in pants, you know." Nicholas changed the theme. "He told me Anna hates him." "Oh, Anna. Well, 'hate' is too strong a term, I'd say. She use to have terrible quarrels with Simon, he was a pretty slut and changed the house during my absence into a cave of robbers, invited suspicious people to parties. And I had to take the consequences when I came back." While he spoke, his eyes gazed at Simon's picture at the wall. The sparkling, dark eyes, the impish grin, the round butt, peering out of the towel. Briefly he remembered their wild nights on the carpet in the living room, their fucking sessions in the bad tub and on the big table in the dining room or on a summer night in the garden on the bare earth between the sweet smelling grass and flowers. He could still smell the scent of the joints he brought sometimes after which all the colours around them were brighter, all sounds more transparent, all feelings more intense and Marcus felt he could fuck him forever. "His clothes were spread all over the house." he continued. "I forbade him to enter my little studio under the roof and that was the only order he ever respected." But last night ... this was not a 'fucking session'. This was ... love. Marcus head cleared. "He cannot paint?" Nicholas suddenly asked. Certainly it was love. Something I've never felt before. God, Marcus Nicholas nudged him with his knee. "Have you fallen asleep again?" "Uh, no he couldn't paint. Hey," he bent once again over Nicholas. "The world doesn't consist only of painters, darling." He smiled. Nicholas smiled back. "But you never told me why she 'hates' Sebastian." "But I told you she is jealous. I grew up with her, and I know her better than my mother, you understand." "Wasn't there an incident after you and Sebastian came home for a holiday from Switzerland?" Marcus narrowed his eyes. "Who told you that? Bastian?" Nicholas nodded. "Chatterbox." "But why? He seems to be a bit sad when he told me about it." "Sad? Sebastian?" Of course, he thought then. Sebastian had a remarkable talent of hiding his real feelings. They never talked about this incident which seemed a thousand years ago as both were little more than children and had only just begun to express their love for each other. Marcus always had the feeling that this was the real reason for Sebastian's restless character, that he couldn't be faithful, searching for a silent place to rest ... for the man he could settle down with, but was always afraid there could be another Anna... He sighed. "Yes, Anna told my parents what she had seen and Sebastian was forbidden to enter the house or to see me again. But I fought for him. Did you know that my head is harder than granite?" he grinned. "I suspected as much. But what finally parted you?" Marcus shook his head. "I don't know exactly. Circumstances. We lived together." "Here?" "No. In Sebastian's flat. The one he still lives in. But we couldn't live together. I can't describe it. He looked for other men and I couldn't bear it... or something." "But why did he look for other men? I would never..." Nicholas suddenly went silent. "Yes, you would never." Marcus kissed his lips and smiled. "Do you feel better? Shall we completely scare away the nasty thoughts?" He rubbed his hardening cock over Nicholas'. "Every time", Nicholas panted. * "Mum? It's me. How are you?" Nicholas patted his full stomach and lounged on the couch. "Nicholas! I'm so happy you've finally called. I felt very bad after you had he argument with your father. He didn't mean to say what he said, you must believe me." "I believe you, mum. But said is said. I cannot speak to him seriously. It's useless. He thinks a faggot is a monster or somebody who rapes little children or something." "Nicholas. Please, don't say that. It's ... I tried to talk about it with him." "And? Successfully?" "No." Her voice was low. "But how can I live with this? I don't want to lose you." "You don't lose me, mum." He thought quickly whether he should tell her about the accident but decided against it. He didn't want to upset her more than necessary. "This afternoon I'm going to the Academy to start again. I want to get my final exams." "And how long do you have to go for?" "Another year I guess." "A whole year! And how will you live in the meantime? You are certainly out of money!" "Yes. But I get some support from the Academy. And I have the money for my sold paintings. That's enough." "It's , Nicholas. Will Marcus pay for you?" Nicholas sighed. "Yes. You know that, and it's ok." "You ... you get along well?" "Yes. Very well." Nicholas grinned. "Bye, mum. I'll call you again." He put back the receiver and sat there pondering. He didn’t feel good about his father. It hurt more than he wanted to admit. To be called a faggot was one thing - but from his own father it was another. Surely underneath he didn't change, after all he was still his son and he had loved him until he learnt that his son was gay. What had changed then, where was the difference now? He heard Anna rummaging in the kitchen, stood up, put the telephone back into its place in the hall and went upstairs. Marcus lay crosswise over the bed and studied a rather thick book. Nicholas sat beside him and peered over his shoulder. "Still there?" Marcus asked. "I thought you had already gone. Without a kiss good-bye!" He grinned. "Just called my mother." "And?" "Fine." "What fine?" Nicholas shrugged. "My father is upset about me." Marcus face told him he didn't understand. "I had a row with him. He found out that I'm living with you. And that I'm gay", he added. Marcus look dismayed. "How did he find out? Somebody told him? Your mother?" "No, not my mother. He read it in the newspaper." "Newspaper?" Then his face lit up. "Ah, the report about the exhibition. But I don't quite understand thought." "There was a report in the tabloids, mentioned your gayness and that I'm your newest conquest." "Oh." Marcus sat up and pulled him into an embrace. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "He took it badly, yes?" He kissed his cheek. "It's all right. You can't help me with this. What you are looking for?" He gestured at the book. "Screens." "Screens? Is there a photo of the screen you were after?" Suddenly Nicholas realized that Marcus hadn't said a word about it. "What about the Burne-Jones screen? You've lost him? For my sake?" Marcus shook his head. "Not for your sake. Nothing could be more important to me than you." Nicholas' cheeks reddened briefly. "But the man will sell it to someone else, right?" "Carlisle, yes. I don't know. Suddenly it seemed he wasn't sure if he should sell it anyway. But I made him an offer he could scarcely refuse and he wanted to think it over." "But then I interfered and you lost it probably." "But no, darling." Marcus stroked Nicholas' cheeks. "I don't care about it. It's not important." "Is it in this book?" Marcus took it to his knees and leafed through the pages. "Look here." Nicholas saw a folding dark wooden screen whose upper part consisted of painted glass. There were four people, probably two men and two women, he couldn't make out the androgynous forms exactly, in wide flowing gowns apparently busy with home- and field work. "And Burne-Jones painted this, right?" "Right. It's the only screen he ever painted." "And how did it get to America?" Nicholas looked at his watch. "Oh shit, it's getting late. I have to go. Tell me later all about it, OK?" He was already out of the room and running upstairs, as Marcus jumped up. "Wait, I'll drive you," he shouted. Nicholas fastened his seat belt and Marcus started the engine. "I promised to look after you. It's not a good idea to let you go alone." Nicholas smiled at him. "Now, tell me about the screen." "Well, the screen once belonged to a rich Jewish surgeon until the Nazis gassed him and his family in Buchenwald. The screen was confiscated and survived the war in a cave along with some other pieces of Art. There some American soldiers found it and took it home. But now the heirs want to sell it, actually to a museum." "And you heard about it and made him a better offer, right?" Nicholas asked. "But wouldn't it be better to put it in a museum where everybody could see it? Especially as it's the only screen he ever made?". Marcus looked at him sideways. "Actually I suppose yes." "But?" "My selfishness tells me I want to have it for my own. That's all. It would look marvellous in the bedroom." "Where only I could see it", Nicholas added. "And perhaps other lovers..." He grinned. "And other lovers. Right." Marcus gave him a playfully slap on his thigh and then said, 'Have I ever told you that I'm happy with you?" He took Nicholas' left hand and squeezed it. "No, you haven't," Nicholas said quietly and looked at him. "Did I ever tell you that I'm happy with you?" Marcus smiled and turned into the next street. They drove in silence until they reached the brick building of the Academy. There weren't too many people around and it gave a rather deserted impression. "It's now half past one. When shall I pick you up?" Marcus asked. "Hm, do you really want to?" "But of course." "I have no idea when I'll be finished. Perhaps two hours? Can you wait that long? Or do you have other things to do?" "Actually no. But tell me, you said you used to live around here?" "Yes. The other side of the street and then the next turning right. Nr. 12. Why?" Marcus bent over and kissed Nicholas. "Take care of yourself. Good luck." He watched Nicholas going into the building, started the engine, drove slowly along the street and turned into the next street. Then he parked his car, got out and looked for Nr. 12. He never had been in this area of the town before, although he had been born here. He looked at the old barrack blocks of flats with their peeled plaster, saw a Turkish merchant selling vegetables and women with scarves around their heads, shoving prams in front of them. Most of the houses were smeared with coloured scribbling, the window sashes were rotten, balconies dilapidated and useless and from the backyards there came the sounds of kids playing. He stopped at Nr. 12 and looked it up and down. He felt rather out of place in his light brown lambskin jacket and expensive boots, and entered the heavy, dirty door hesitantly. He turned up his nose as the urine stench met him, an old, decayed smell of rotten furniture and something more. His eyes looked at the mailboxes for the name Zellner and found it. Third floor. Nobody passed him as he climbed up the staircase and stopped in front of the door to Nicholas' parents' flat. He listened for a moment, then determinedly pressed the button. Vera Zellner opened the door but as she saw Marcus she frowned a bit. "Excuse me, Mrs. Zellner. Do you have a little time for me? But if it's the wrong time..." "No, no. It is all right. Come in, please." She made room for him to enter the tiny hall. "Actually I thought it was my son." "Sorry. I took him to the Academy and then I remembered Nicholas told me about his father, so... is he here?" Vera sighed. "Yes he's here. But he hasn't much time because he has to go to work soon." "But is it possible to speak to him? To both of you?" Vera realizing she was impolite to leave him standing there in the hall, motioned him to take off his jacket and to come into the living room. "He's just changing his clothes, but I'll call him. Can I offer you something to drink? Coffee? Tea?" "I'd like to have a coffee, please." Vera disappeared into the kitchen and Marcus stood in the living room and looked around. He felt very uncomfortable. All he could see was ... poverty. Worn out furniture, unfashionable; bulky rubbish in his opinion. But it was carefully cleaned and the curtains in front of the window were freshly washed. Now he could understand Nicholas shyness and aloofness. His house must had hit him like a thunderclap compared to the place where he had grown up. Vera entered the room again with a tray with three cups and plates, a coffee jug and a cake which she had already cut into slices. Marcus helped her to arrange it on the table. "Please, sit down Mr. Weidenbruch. I've told my husband and he'll be here in a minute." "Call me Marcus, please." He took his plate and tasted the yellow cake. "Delicious. Homemade?" Vera nodded anxiously, darting very brief looks to the young man sitting relaxed in the armchair, holding the plate under his mouth and enjoying the cake. "My son is well?" "Oh yes." Marcus was determined not to mention the unpleasantness that had been happening recently. "He's fine. I hope he will enjoy the lessons at the Academy and find some friends." Vera cleared her throat with a gulp of coffee. "And your friend?" she ask cautiously. "Friend? Oh, you mean Sebastian. Yes, he's fine too." "What does he do for a living?" "Well, he works for me, so to speak. He studied history of Art and keep up with the collectors in Italy." "Italy?" "Yes, in Rome." "Italy." Vera looked down pensively at the faded table cloth. "Yes. Where lemon- and almond trees are blooming... to quote our Goethe." He grinned but said then, "I'm sorry. I suppose you've never been to Italy." Vera shook her head. Then she listened and heard her husband coming from the bedroom. Marcus put down his plate and stood up as Rudolf Zellner entered the room. With a quick glance he sized him up and down and noticed that Nicholas wasn't at all like this small, almost bald-headed man, but the grip of his big hand was very firm. Vera filled a cup for her husband and pushed a plate with cake in front of him. "So, Mr. .. er .. er .. Weidenbusch, what brings you here - to us?" Rudolf avoided to look into Marcus' face. He had seen the elegant jacket hanging in the hall and after one look at Marcus black silk shirt Rudolf felt himself unimportant and inferior. "I want you to get to know me. That's my only motive to come to you. And I wanted to know you both. I'm not quite sure if my name means anything to you but I'm working as promoter of modern- and collector of ancient pieces of Art." "I know very well who you are," Rudolf threw in. His gaze was unfriendly. "Can you make a living out of that?" Vera looked doubtfully at her husband but Marcus grinned and showed his white teeth. "Of course I can." "So my son is now your newest toy as I read in the newspaper", Rudolf spat out contemptuously. "I never realized that he was ... gay." "Do you have any problems with that? If yes, why?" Vera looked constantly at Marcus' face and wondered how he could stay so relaxed. Perhaps he had endured many such similar conversations and was very aware what to say and answer. "Of course I have problems with it, like every NORMAL man." Marcus snorted. "So you think I'm abnormal, well," he shrugged his shoulders and took another bite from the cake. "I'll have to come to terms with that, right? But I shall tell you that I don't mind what you think about ME, Mr. Zellner." Marcus' eyes were suddenly piercing and almost black. "But it matters a lot to me what do you think about your son. And," he looked at Vera, "I'm sure Nicholas' mother would be unhappy to know that father and son have a row and don't speak together." His voice was hard. "So, I ask you again. What is the problem?" Rudolf bent over the table. "The problem is that it is ABNORMAL to ... to fuck with a man." He shot a glance at his wife. Marcus raised his eyebrows. "Ah! It's abnormal to fuck with a man! Do you see it the same way, Vera? Is it abnormal for you to share your bed with a man?" "But she's a woman, you..." Rudolf raised his voice. "So she must know how it is to love a man. Am I right? To me it makes no difference." Marcus emptied his cup. "Well, the only thing I wish is that you try to understand us. I like your son." He shook his head. "More than this. I want to live with him, he is," he searched for words, "very important to me. And I promise you I'll take care of him." The last words he spoke to Nicholas' mother and looked deep into her eyes. Vera nodded imperceptibly. Marcus rose. "Ok. Now you have seen me, I guess it was necessary," he said in a conciliatory tone. "I hope you get used to it sometime, Mr. Zellner." Vera stood up and accompanied Marcus into the hall where he put on his jacket. "I'm sorry about this, Marcus." She made a helpless motion. Marcus would had liked to pull her into an embrace but didn't dare. Instead he said, "I'll take care of him. He is ... a real sunshine." Vera smiled. * * * Nicholas stood in front of a huge glass framed notice board hanging in the white painted hall and studied the register lists. There were surprisingly many names and he pondered briefly how Marcus had managed to get him a place too. On top of the names of the students and the number of working groups were written the names of the teachers. Nicholas looked for Frank's name but couldn't find it the first time. Just as he was about to breathe a sigh of relief he found his own name and looked through the others to see whether he could find a familiar name but failed. Then he searched for the name of the teacher and cursed loudly. "Something wrong?" he heard a voice behind him. A young man was coming along the hall and had stopped beside him. Nicholas looked into a pair of hazelnut brown eyes covered by thin, black spectacle frames. His lips were full and red and he was slightly unshaven. His long jet black hair was tied together into a ponytail. "Are you new too?" Nicholas asked. "No." The young man came closer. "Any problems in finding your name?" "No, no. I got it, I just found out the teacher." The hazelnut eyes looked questioning. "So who is it?" "Frank Neumann." The face of the other lad lit up. "Frank? That's great. Then we are in the same group. But I thought you were new?" "Yes, no. Not actually. I interrupted my lessons and want to continue where I stopped." "I see. And what's wrong with Frank?" "I had him before." The other lad came closer. "I'm Ben. Benedikt actually." "Nick. Nicholas actually." Both grinned. Ben motioned with his head to one of the class rooms. "Want to come with me? The lesson has just began. You are late." "I know. Overslept." He grinned again. Few moments later they entered the high room and Nicholas smelled again the familiar scent of colours, of solvent and floor-wax. About fifteen people were gathered in the room in a circle. They held their sketch books on their knees or on supports and drew in silence a still-life of a plate full of fruit, arranged on a little table. Frank walked between the students with his arms held behind his back, watching them and now and then giving them advice. He looked up as the door opened and recognized Nicholas. On his face appeared a broad grin. Ben went straight to him and whispered, "That's Nick. He said he was in your group before." Frank grinned condescendingly. "That's true. Welcome back, Nick." Nicholas gazed into his pale eyes but said nothing. "Where are your working utensils? Forgotten them?" "No. I only wanted to see who's my teacher." His voice was icy. "Big surprise, isn't it?" Frank's gaze fell upon Nicholas' taped right hand. "But what's happened to your hand?" "Little accident, but it will be ok in few days." Ben didn't know what was going on, but he could feel the tension between the two men. Confused, his look scurried back and forth. "When does the lesson begins tomorrow?" "I'll give you a plan, wait a minute." Frank went to his desk in the corner, pulled out some sheets and handed them to Nicholas. "So with your hand you won't be able to draw but I think you can listen and watch. And don't be late, my friend. See you tomorrow at 9 am." Nicholas nodded briefly and gave Ben a smile. "See you", he said and left the room. Outside the building he took a deep breath. All his fears had came true and he clenched his fists in his pockets. But then, so what? He didn't care a fuck about Frank and he wouldn't be able to destroy the fun he certainly would have at the drawing lessons. He thought about Ben and found he liked him. He seemed to be a nice lad. At the curb he recognized Marcus' black Mercedes, peered into it but he wasn't there. He looked up and down the street but couldn't see him at first, then he saw him coming out of a book shop. He had a heavy parcel under his arm and another one in his hand. He smiled as he saw Nicholas and quickened his pace. "Now, how was it?" he asked, unlocked the car, got in and opened the door for Nicholas. "Exciting. Guess who's my teacher?" Marcus glanced at him. "Frank?" "Right." "Shit." Nicholas waved it off. "Doesn't matter." He climbed into the car and closed the door. "You saw him?" "Yes. That damn grin again." "I guess there was a time when you loved that grin." Marcus said. "Did I? Well, perhaps you're right." Marcus stowed the parcels away on the backseat. "What does he look like actually?" "Not half as good as you." "Wow," Marcus rolled his eyes. "What a compliment! Now I can see him clearly!" He laughed but waited for an answer. "Very blond. Very blue eyes. Very thin lips." "So? That's the absolute opposite to me. And yet you fancied him?" "Are you fixed on a certain type?" Marcus thought briefly. "No. Probably not. But I melt whenever I see blue eyes!" He bent over, "especially when I see YOUR eyes." His kiss was lingering. As he broke the kiss, Nicholas said, "There was also a very likeable lad named Ben." "So?" Marcus frowned. "Also very blond and very blue eyed?" "No. Come Marcus. Don't pull my leg. Tell me instead what's in the parcels you bought." "Books." Marcus turned the key and drove away. "Ah, books! I never have guessed. Which books?" "It's such a long time ago since I was in a book shop, darling. I bought everything I liked." Nicholas sighed. "It's great to have so much money to buy everything you like," he muttered. Marcus gave him a quick glance. "I went to see your parents," he said then. "You were - where?" Nicholas exclaimed. "Your parents, calm down, honey. I thought I had to talk to your father." "And was he there?" "Yes. We had a cup of coffee and a slice of the wonderful cake your mother made." Nicholas stared at Marcus' calm face. "And then?" he asked impatiently. "Nothing. He told me it's abnormal to fuck with a man." "Ha!" Nicholas almost yelled. "He said that? Those were his words?" "Exactly." "Great." Nicholas ran his fingers through his hair. "So you saw where I used to live. And probably didn't like it." Again Marcus took Nicholas' hand into his own, and pressed his lips on it. "It's ok, honey. I think I understand you better now." Nicholas nodded slightly. "And mother? What did she have to say?" "She seemed to enjoy my visit, I think." Then he looked seriously. "You'll have to sort it out with your father some day. Otherwise it will be a constant pain." "Yes," Nicholas said and sighed. "Some day." Nicholas put down the heavy parcel on the sideboard in the hall, took off his jacket and hung it in the wardrobe. From the living room he heard voices and entered it curiously. He found Sebastian sitting on the couch in a tight embrace with Kay and both seemed to be enjoying themselves. He cleared his throat. Both heads swung around. "Hey sweetie, how's it going?" Kay exclaimed. "What are you doing here?" "Sorry we used the keys, but we have to talk to both of you." Sebastian said and straightened his pullover. He looked at Marcus as he entered the room. "Sorry Marcus. You don't mind our being here?" "It's ok. So, what's up?" he looked at the empty wine glasses standing at the table. "I see you've helped yourself already. But I need a drink too." He turned to Nicholas. "What's about you?" Nicholas nodded. "Beer?" "Yes, please." Marcus disappeared into the kitchen. "How's your hand?" Sebastian asked. "Better, thank you." He sank into an armchair. "I've just come from the Academy." "Academy?" Kay asked. "Academy of Arts. I registered there to continue my studies." "But why on earth do you want to go back to school again? I was happy enough to leave it behind!" Kay said. "But I enjoy it. It's important to learn more." Sebastian was amused by the talk of the two lads until Marcus appeared with two bottles and and looked for glasses. "I have no beer glasses!" he said then. "Never noticed it before." "Because you never drink beer." Sebastian said. Finally Marcus took some other ones and opened the bottles. Nicholas took them away from him, "Let me. If you pour in like that you'll only have foam in your glass. Do it like this." Marcus grinned at Sebastian. "He's already taken over, eh?" "Apparently!" Marcus burst out in laughter. "Now, tell me, what's so important that you both broke into my house, hm?" Sebastian took the wine bottle and poured himself and Kay a glass. "The matter is this: Somebody saw Simon at a club the other day and recognized him from Nicki's photo in the "Moonbreaker"." "Yes!?" Nicholas and Marcus exclaimed together. "Yes. We want to look for him tonight. Do you want to join us?" "Tonight?" Nicholas looked at his lover. "I have to get up early tomorrow." Marcus blinked. So he was still alive he thought relieved. But he wasn't sure if he wanted to face him again. "It's up to both you guys", he heard Sebastian's voice. "But we have to go by all means. And there's something more." He paused and looked at Kay. "Yeah," Kay took a deep breath and looked at Marcus. "You remember of course Simon told you about his brother, but you never actually saw him, right?" "Right. But what..." Kay lifted his hand. "Let me speak. I'm his brother. I was always amazed you never recognized the resemblance between me and Simon." It took a time till the message sank into Marcus' mind. Then he looked at all three men in disbelief and finally his gaze was struck by Kay's brown eyes. He took in the body, the movements, the hair the lips, the smile. Was there any resemblance? Not at first sight. There was a tense silence in the room and all gazes were fixed on Marcus. He grabbed his glass and took a long gulp and wiped his mouth. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked quietly. Kay's eyes searched the ivory carpet for bits of fluff. "I don't know." He looked up again. "I'm sorry, Marcus. I didn't think it was so important. Here." He pulled out a letter from his pocket and handed it Marcus. "It's the last letter I got from Simon." Marcus hands trembled a bit as he took the letter and read it. "Did you go there?" "Of course. But he wasn't there anymore. And since then I've been searching for him." He looked at Nicholas. "And then you came with the picture and I thought it was a good idea to display it at the Moonbreaker. I want to apologize for it." His eyes were pleading. Still Marcus stared at Simon's letter. "He's broke", he whispered. "How long have you had it?" He waved the sheet of paper. "Since October." Marcus gave the letter Nicholas to read. "Come Marcus, say something. I said, I was sorry", Kay's voice was abashed. "It's OK, Kay. Apology accepted." He tried a weak smile. "Now it's important to find him. Heaven knows where he's living and ..." What he looks like now, Nicholas finished the sentence for himself. He couldn't believe it. But now there was hope, if somebody has seen him. Suddenly he was eager to go with both men to the club that night. "Shall we go with them, Marcus?" he asked. "Shall we?" "I guess it's better you stayed here if you have to get up early tomorrow, Nicki." Sebastian said. "Perhaps we won't find him and it will all have been in vain. We'll ring you tomorrow, ok?" Nicholas nodded. All he wanted to do now was to embrace Marcus and to comfort him and he wished the others would go. Sebastian rose and took Kay's hand. "We'll leave you alone, now." He stepped closer to Marcus and ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm glad you're back, darling." he whispered so that only his friend could hear. "Take care of the boy, will you. Any other incidents so far?" "Two mysterious calls, said Nicholas." "Calls? But who could have his name and phone number? That's pretty odd. It must be somebody who knows him well or has engaged a private detective." Amazed Marcus lifted his head. "Bye now. Have a nice evening. And an even better night," he winked. They were barely gone before Nicholas stepped up to Marcus and embraced him. "Do you want to see him again?" he asked. "I'm not sure." "Do you still like him?" Marcus looked into Nicholas face. "Of course I still like him, but not the way you mean. I want to know how he's living now. If I can help. But I don't love him." He stroked Nicholas' hair out of his eyes. "Believe me?" "Of course. I really hope they will find him." Marcus gently broke free and began to carry the empty bottles and glasses into the kitchen. "What are we doing now with the rest of the afternoon?" he asked. "You are not mad with Kay?" "No. I don't know. I know nothing." He fell into a chair, propped his elbows on the table and buried his face in the palms of his hands. Nicholas sat next to him. "I can't understand it either, Marcus. But as he said, it's not important anymore." He stroked his hands. "Can you find any resemblance to Simon?" "No. Well, a bit if I think about it. But it would never have crossed my mind..." "No, never. What do you think, has the disease has already broken out?" Marcus shrugged his shoulders. "I guess it takes longer. But I can't stand the idea of him living on the streets without money. Simon! Without money! That's an image which is over the top. Nor can I understand why he never came to his brother to ask for help, or to me..." "Maybe he was too ashamed." "God! Simon and ashamed!" Marcus laughed bitterly. "That's a strange thought." "He was completely different to me, yes?" "Yes. Completely." Marcus put his hands down on the table and Nicholas grabbed them. "Do you want to show me your books?" he asked softly. * It was half past seven and bright enough to turn off the light. Nicholas had listened to the news on the radio and the weather forecast which had promised rain again and now waited impatiently for Sebastian's call. Maybe he was still busy doing more exciting things with Kay and had simply forgotten. He sat down again at the table and emptied his mug of coffee but was too excited to eat. He decided he had got up much too early. It had been a fitful night for both of them; Marcus was very confused and Simon's picture on the wall hadn't helped to calm down the situation. Nicholas sensed for the first time that his lover's mind was far away and not with him and there was little he could do against it. Nicholas sighed and looked for the 10th time in two minutes at his watch. Then he opened the book beside him. It dealt with the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelites to which Edward Burne-Jones had belonged. He looked into the face of a beautiful woman with long red hair and admired the bright colours. To bad, Rossetti wasn't gay, the men he painted then, would had been wonderful. The telephone rang in the hall. Nicholas jumped up startled and almost knocked over his mug. "Yes", he said breathlessly. "Sweetie?" Kay asked. "Yes, good news?" "No, I'm sorry. We waited the whole night until the club was closed, but he didn't show up. But there were several boys who knew him, and told us other places. All gay-clubs." Nicholas nodded disappointed. "Sweetie? You still there?" "Yes, sorry. That's a shame." He saw Marcus coming downstairs, dressed only in his faded jeans and with bare feet. He looked questioningly at him, and Nicholas shook his head. Marcus grimaced and disappeared into the kitchen. "We didn't like the hangout Nicki, it was a grunge-club and I guess a favourite place for dealer. I only hope Simon isn't into it deep, but then, as long as I can remember, Simon was always in deep shit. The time he and Marcus were together was the only time he seemed to be happy." He interrupted himself. "I'm chattering too much. How's Marcus?" "Not too good. We had a disturbed night." "I'm sorry about that. Is he mad with me?" "No, I don't think so. He worries about Simon." "Can you get him on the phone? Bastian wants to speak with him. Are you going to the Academy now? Good luck." "Thanks. For everything." There was a pause on the line until he heard Sebastian's deep, sexy voice. "Nicki? Still there?" "Yes." "Marcus up?" "I'll call him. Bye, Bastian." "Nicki," Sebastian shouted into the receiver, "Wait. Is everything ok with you two?" "Why do you ask?" "You know why I'm asking." "It's all ok, Sebastian. Really." He put the receiver down beside the phone and called Marcus who rushed out of the kitchen and picked up the receiver. Nicholas wanted to go but he held him tight around the waist and pulled him to his chest, pressed his lips on Nicholas' and said then "Yeah, Bastian. What's up?" Nicholas hands roamed over Marcus' naked, silky skin, down to the round globes of his ass and gave it a light pinch. Involuntary Marcus twitched a bit and grinned. Nicholas gave him a quick kiss and went away. "What did you say?" he asked. "Hey, otherwise occupied at the moment?" Sebastian teased. "No, no. Tell me all about it." "There isn't much to tell. Evil establishment, as Kay would say. But we have some addresses we'll visit in the next days. Perhaps the weekend will be a better time." "Too bad. Listen, I'm not cross with Kay, tell him that. It hasn't changed anything, if I had know it or not. It's only a bit strange to realize that they both are brothers and I can't quite understand the reason he never told me. I mean I often went to the shop and there have been many possibilities to tell me." "Yes, I can't understand it either. I guess it was sort of a quirk, so better forget it." "Is it going to be serious with both of you?" It was quite on the line for a moment. "Maybe. He's a good boy." Then he snorted. "Jesus, I sound like my own grandfather. He's only three years younger than me!" Marcus joined in with his laughter. "I'm happy for you. What about Rome? Or do you want to stay here for the summer?" "Haven't figured it out yet. Kay doesn't want to stop his foolish work because he enjoys it, so ..." "You have to wait until his holidays? My, if I were you I'd kidnap him and take him away by force!" "Ha! That's an idea. Must stop now. Call you tomorrow, ok?" Marcus found Nicholas in the kitchen, still leafing through the book. He embraced him from behind and nibbled at his earlobe. "Like Rossetti?" "Yes, I wish he'd painted young men though. Have you seen the originals?" Marcus nodded. "Yes, but they are spread all over, London, Birmingham, Manchester..." Nicholas leaned his cheek against Marcus'. "I would like to visit your working hall again, meet Johannes." "Good, I want to go there anyway. Come when you have finished your lesson." He stopped. "Oh, I guess, that not a good idea. Where's your timetable? Of course I'll pick you up." "But no, you don't have to. I can take care of myself." "Can you?" Nicholas knew it was meant seriously. "I'm finished at 2 pm. You can pick me up in front of it, ok?" He grabbed Marcus' hand and whispered, "I wish I didn't have to go right now." "Me, too, angel. But it's good for you, you know." Nicholas' sighed. Of course he would enjoy the atmosphere of the Academy again, but now... He thought about Frank and the grin at his face. Certainly now that he had managed to join his working group, he wouldn't want to change and make trouble; he had to face it. Aloud he said, "If you want to drive me I guess it's better you get dressed or do you want to go half naked?" Marcus grinned. Nicholas watched him go out and his fingers were itching to grab a pen and capture the figure of his lover on paper. One hour later Nicholas stepped out of the car and entered the red brick building. He found the high working room easily where most of all students had gathered and were unpacking their utensils. He gave them a slight smile and his face lit up as he saw Ben entering the room. Ben went instantly to him and smiled. "Hi, Nick. How's your hand?" "Better every day. Have to go to the doc in two days but I guess it will be ok. It's only sprained." "You should take better care of your hands if you want to become a great artist, my friend. Frank showed me some of your paintings. There are really good." Nicholas looked amazed. "Did he indeed? They are still there?" "Yes. In his flat and look, here!" He pointed at the back wall of the room where several sketches and complete paintings were displayed. But Nicholas didn't see them because the phrase 'in his flat' still reverberated in his ears. He shot a sharp glance at Ben's innocent face. The thick, black hair was combed from his forehead. A thin, dark ribbon held it at his neck and his black glass framed spectacles suited him very well. He could easily imagine that Frank was after him. "Are you dreaming?" Ben's voice brought him back to reality. "Yes, I see, they are still hanging there. I'm only surprised after such a long time." He turned to face Ben. "You were at his flat?" "But yes. What's wrong with that?" "Nothing", he said shortly. "Have […] a girlfriend?" "Huh?" Ben's ears reddened briefly and Nicholas bite his tongue. What a jerk! he thought. Now it must be obvious for Ben that he - Nick - was interested in him. So he tried a harmless smile and added "I mean, if you are interested, I have a friend who has lately broken with her boyfriend, so I thought it could be a good idea to meet after school or at the weekend, what do you think?" Nicholas wondered about himself how easily these lies came to his lips. "Um, well," Ben struggled for words. Nicholas patted his shoulder. "Think about it, you don't have to." Frank entered the room in his usual stark white smock. He looked around, and beckoned Nicholas to him. As all went quiet he said, "I want to introduce a new student. Nicholas has attended this working group already but broke up because of ... family problems some month ago. Now he will be continuing where he stopped. And," he gave Nicholas a very bright smile, "I'm happy about it, kids. If you turn round you can see some of his work on the wall." All heads turned as if on a secret command and then back to the slightly embarrassed young lad. Frank had put his arm around his shoulder and the touch was burning like fire through his T-Shirt. He croaked a "Hi" to the students and tottered weakly to a free place next to Ben. "Until now we have learnt to know water colour in its purest form. But today we are going to start with gouache colour, it's a mixture of covering and also white pigments." Frank's voice scarcely reached Nicholas' ears. He was aware of Ben's closeness and his thoughts raced through his mind. What could it mean, that Ben had obviously visited Frank at home. Was he another 'best student' Frank picked out to show around his paintings? Or was there more behind it? "Gouache is more thicker than the transparent watercolour and has a high degree of saturation. A big advantage is the possibility to achieving every form of colouring with an addition of white and to paint with gouache like with oil paint; covering other colours which is of course impossible with water colours." He watched Ben's profile from aside. He had taken off his glasses, twisting the ear pieces between two fingers and seemed all ears. To ask him about a girlfriend was a very weak idea Nicholas thought, and a stupid one, too. He looked at Frank, polite and likeable as ever, standing in front of the students who gave his lectures relaxed and casually and apparently without any effort. Now and again his look met Nicholas and then he could see how a spark twinkled in his eyes. Nicholas' anger grew. Frank's touch on his shoulder seemed to have burnt into his flesh and he wondered, if anybody else around here was able to look behind Frank's mask. Outwardly he was always the good friendly, comradely teacher, but were was the other being Nicholas had certainly experienced. He tried to concentrate at Frank words but failed most of the time. All he could do was listen anyway, but as the students opened their colour- and brush boxes he watched Ben intensily at his first attempts to mix two colours together and then three as Frank suggested. Together with Ben he looked at the result and found it good and almost as it was instructed. Ben smiled at him. "I'll make two of these attempts, one is for you to have a look at home, ok?" Nicholas smiled back. "Thanks. Would be very useful for me." He still looked at Ben who had put on his glasses again and met his gaze. "Is there something wrong?" he asked. "No. It's ... I'm trying to figure out..." He bit his lower lip. "How well do you know Frank?" "Oh, he gives me private lessons because he thinks I'm good enough to." Nicholas nodded. "Problems?" he heard Frank's voice behind his back. Without turning he said a short "no". "Have you bought everything you need?" "Not yet." Nicholas wished he would go away and leave him alone, but he felt the heat his body was radiating behind him. But then Frank bent down to Ben and whispered "I have to speak with you, can you come to the office during the break?" Ben nodded pleased. It wasn't difficult for Nicholas to find his way again in the large canteen, there had nothing changed and it resembled the one in his shopping centre. The same smells, the same noise. With his plate he searched for a free seat and recognized some of his class and sat with them. Actually he wanted to speak to Ben but he was nowhere to be seen, so he sighing dived into his soup. "Why did you break up your studies?" Nicholas looked into the face of a sturdy, short lad with curious pale green eyes. "Family problems. But they are solved now." Unsatisfied with the answer the young man persisted. "I saw you in the news paper." Nicholas choked, the soup going the wrong way and suppressed a cough. "News paper?" he managed to say then. "Yeah, together with Weidenbruch. The next day the press commented, that there was a fire the following night." "Yes!" a girl joined in. "You were standing in front of your painting, some yellow-haired lad. Was it burnt?" "No. It was sold and we had taken it into another hall with the other sold ones." Nicholas felt slightly uncomfor