Come Sail Away

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[Historical Fiction comp] Heir to the throne of the Roman Empire, Aelius Hadrian's fascination is not with his own country, but rather, with Greece. He dreams of its beauty, and when he finally gets to visit, he is not disappointed. However, it is not only the land which catches his eye, but also the gorgeous boy whom he meets there and convinces to return to Rome with him despite Aelius's impending marriage.

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9. Chapter Eight

    Sabina is beautiful, was Aelius’s first thought. His second was that she was nowhere near as beautiful as Antinous. Her face was pale where his was tan, and where he was all graceful angles, she was soft curves. Her dark braids fell to just below her shoulders and swung at her movements. “Welcome,” Trajan said from Aelius’s side, addressing Sabina’s father. Aelius did not acknowledge any of them, instead glancing around in disinterest. He could feel Antinous’s comforting presence just off his shoulder, and focused on that. 

    “It is good to see you, Marcus Trajanus,” the older man said, smiling. “And your ward - he has grown to be quite a man.”

    Aelius inclined his head in thanks for the compliment, but said nothing. 

    “Indeed he has,” Trajan said, waving one arm. “Come, you must be tired from your travel. We will get you settled, and the betrothed can acquaint themselves over dinner.”

    Sabina kept trying to catch Aelius’s eye, but he avoided her. Trajan nodded to some of the servants and they stepped forward to unload the horses and show the guests to their quarters. Aelius didn’t move from his spot until the courtyard had cleared, then he turned to Antinous and let out a pent up breath. “You will sit next to me during dinner.”

    Antinous studied him for a second, looking as if he wanted to ask whether it was allowed. Aelius suspected he knew the answer to that. “I will,” he agreed. 

    “Thank you,” Aelius muttered, taking a seat on one of the stone benches. 

    “She is very pretty,” Antinous offered. “You could do worse.”

    Aelius met Antinous’s eyes. “I could do better.”

    “That is true of all people at all times,” he brushed off. “Perhaps you will not need to suffer through your marriage as much as you thought. Perhaps you will learn to love her.”

    Aelius was silent. It could be true; he wasn’t cynical enough to think that it was impossible. What was more important was that he did not want it to be true. He could not become a person who would settle with above average when absolute perfection sat next to him. 

    After a few minutes, Antinous stood and walked off, heading towards the shore. It didn’t take long for Aelius to follow, and when Antinous stopped a few hundred meters from the water to lay in the grass, Aelius did the same. They were quiet for a long time. Eventually, Antinous spoke, his eyes squinting against the bright midday sky. “Everything passes.”

    “Pardon?” Aelius asked, caught off guard. 

    “Your second lesson,” Antinous answered, turning his head to look at Aelius. “Nothing remains the same. Everything passes.” He paused. “Sometimes it is better that the current is not the permanent, but sometimes it is regretful. But regardless, whether you want it to or not, nothing can last. To live as I have, you must keep this in mind to lessen the suffering and heighten the enjoyment.”

    Aelius frowned at the sky, squinting at the sun. “What is this, then? Am I to remind myself that this day will soon be over? It won’t matter - I will be shackled to Sabina for the rest of my life soon enough.”

    “You are to remind yourself that laying here on a beautiful morning next to me is not something that will last. You have two choices: you can ruin it with worrying of what is to come, or you can breathe in the salty air, feel the grass on your back, and,” Antinous said, making eye contact as he finished, “enjoy what is before you.”

    They stared at each other unabashedly for a moment when Antinous spoke again, his mouth the only thing that moved. “Which will you choose?”    Aelius shifted his arm so the back of his wrist brushed Antinous’s. Rather than pull back, Antinous moved closer, pressing their arms together in a line of warmth and comfort. Letting out a little breath, Aelius closed his eyes and focused on nothing but the warmth of the day and the sensation of Antinous’s skin against his. 

    

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