Author's note: This is the final chapter, and it's a bit longer than the others. I've enjoyed returning to this story and engaging again with the main characters and the way they play off each other's sharp wit. That said, it is a relief to finish this story and tick that 'complete' box.
Catilina spent the first of their seven days alone while Cicero fulfilled his daily duties of seeing clients and visiting the Forum. Wisely, the Senator stayed in the study and skipped prandium, avoiding Terentia and her son. Cicero had been at pains to explain that Terentia was a sensible woman, not ruled by her emotions, but he had also let slip that she'd banned him from her bed while he continued to 'defile' himself with Catilina.
Tapping his finger against the scroll he'd been reading before Cicero broke the news, Catilina plotted. Terentia's ultimatum had thrown a spanner in the works. He'd made surprising progress with Cicero, but one week was not long enough to convert the Consul. He'd have to put his back-up plan into action and speed everything up. This second-best success would taste like failure, but it would work.
And if I put on a show for Lentulus, I might still win the bet.
Catilina smiled with half his mouth; an empty gesture. The bet meant little to him now. A vision of their private garden flickered in front of him. He remembered holding the orator, almost chastely, and the smooth flow of their conversation: the frankness of it. How easy it was to open Cicero up. And how difficult it was not to lay himself bare in return.
Eyes unfocused, he rubbed his thumb over the rough papyrus. He'd have to slip out of the house tonight and meet with Lentulus. The sneaking wasn't difficult. He'd become quite skilled at that since Cicero had shown him exactly how to do it a couple of weeks ago, passing through the servants' quarters dressed in drab clothes. It was a timing issue that plagued him now. No longer would Cicero be slipping back to Terentia in the middle of the night or the early morning, giving Catilina a precious few hours of activity. They'd be together all night, every night. In order to sneak in and out, Catilina would have to wait until his host was asleep. It was risky. Luckily, tonight would be the last time he'd have to chance it. After that, the next time he left the house would be with Cicero beside him.
Catilina closed his eyes. He was spent, but he wanted to enjoy the fingers stroking his shaft. He could get hard again, but he doubted there'd be much semen to expel. Not on his fourth orgasm of the night. Not at his age. 'Careful,' he warned now. 'Don't bite off more than you can chew.'
'Yes yes.' Cicero pressed his lips to the Senator's shoulder, tasted sweat. 'I know your virility knows no bounds. But mine… Well, I'm still going strong, and I want to make the most of our time together.'
Catilina groaned, though he wasn't sure if it was from pleasure or frustration. He'd been trying to exhaust Cicero, but the Consul, now sliding down the bed, seemed determined to suck him dry. If he wasn't so constricted for time, he would have reveled in the younger man's boldness, dragged out the debauchery. However, it would already be difficult for Lentulus to adjust to the new timeline – a single week was not a lot of time to arrange safe transit out of the city or to convince the others sympathetic to the revolution to either stay and manipulate the Senate or else to follow the others north. Catilina knew he couldn't delay delivering the news, not even by twenty-four hours.
He had to sneak out tonight, before dawn. But before that, he had to wear out his host.
Clasping the Consul's hand, Catilina removed it from his cock and rolled onto his side. He kissed Cicero passionately, firm fingers dragging up his partner's thighs. Then he turned onto his front, face on his forearms, and said, 'Maybe it's time we found your limit, then, Marcus.'
Cicero lay in the guest-room bed the night before Catilina's release, drawing comfort from the firm heat next to him and the primal satisfaction of bare skin on skin.
This week had been the longest and shortest of his life: sleepless and packed with blurred memories. He'd told the Senate that he would be releasing Catilina, thus appeasing those Senators who had been calling for his release the whole time. However, he had also stressed the suspicious lack of revolutionary activity during his containment, ensuring that Cicero would appear accurate in his accusations when the reports started surfacing of dissidents leaving the city following Catilina's release.
The victory was bittersweet. He craved the approval of the Senate and basked in the role of Rome's protector – but, for the first time, he was doubting his allegations. As Consul he had privileged access to information, and it felt wrong to obscure the news that the revolution hadn't stopped completely during Catilina's imprisonment. The first few weeks had made him more convinced than ever that the Senator was heading the plot, but in the past three weeks he'd begun to question his own vitriol. He told himself that his doubts were genuine and based on reasoning because he didn't want to entertain the alternative: that he was letting his feelings for the seductive Senator cloud his judgement; that he was being blindly led into a trap; that Terentia was right.
'Tomorrow, we return to being enemies,' Catilina murmured, stroking Cicero's shoulder. During the week Catilina had asked Cicero what he was saying in the Senate, and Cicero had shared his speeches, though he'd been embarrassed by the venomous rhetoric.
'Only in daylight, I hope.' Cicero imagined them in the Curia again, surrounded by a flock of white-garbed Senators. The idea of having to act hatefully towards his lover, and to receive spite in return, left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. He swallowed, and the tang spread to his throat. 'I suppose you're looking forward to it,' he said. Catilina was slick and charming and well-liked, with loyal supporters among the patricians. 'Everyone will fawn over you and clap your shoulder and congratulate you.'
'Enough of them.' Cicero chewed the inside of his cheek. He was fed up of posturing in front of Catilina. Sharing his speeches this week had been a step towards increased openness between them, a practice he wanted to take further. 'Heading the Senate has been too easy with you removed from politics. I've missed your antagonism. And yet…' Cicero hesitated, then took the plunge: 'I despise the idea of you sitting on the benches again, sneering at me and murmuring in Lentulus's or Cethegus's ear while I'm speaking.'
'Oh Marcus.' Catilina contracted his arm, drawing Cicero closer and holding him against his toned chest. 'Are you telling me that the reason Rome's greatest orator shouts so loud is to drown out his screaming insecurities?'
'The smallest dog has the loudest bark,' Cicero agreed, steering into the vulnerability.
Catilina chuckled lowly, his stomach vibrating. Shifting, he rubbed his thigh against Cicero's penis. 'Mm, no,' he said. 'You're certainly not the smallest.'
Cicero smothered his smile against his lover's pecs, smoothing his fingers over Catilina's skin and tracing the thin line of dark hair down his torso. He'd never felt this way with anyone before. He had loved Selene for possessing gifts he hadn't understood: her femininity, her grace, her kindness; her empathy; her smooth tongue and soft hands. Cicero knew that there were things he didn't yet understand about Catilina either, but that wasn't why he loved him. What he felt for the patrician was grounded in their similarities, not their differences: their shared career and political acumen; their quick-witted conversation; their sharp tongues and firm hands. Cicero appreciated the lust Catilina aroused in him, but more than that he valued the way Catilina matched his mind. In every sense, the Senator stimulated him as no one else ever had.
Cicero pushed back against the arm holding him, raising himself on his forearm so he could look down at Catilina. He wanted to kiss him, but before he could dip his head the Senator wriggled out from under him and exited the sheets.
With an enigmatic smile, Catilina reached under the bed and handed Cicero a bundle of dark cloth. 'Get dressed,' he commanded, eyes intense. 'I have to show you something.'
The night was spiky with frost. Catilina felt needles on his bare cheeks. He reached for Cicero's hand instinctively as they walked, but the Consul dodged his arm out of the way.
'Don't draw attention to us.'
Catilina grimaced. He'd told Cicero that they were returning to 'their garden' so he could demonstrate how to gain access to the house itself. The Consul was on edge, though, and full of questions.
'Can't you show me this when we next meet there?'
'What if you get there first?'
'Then I'll wait.'
'In this cold?'
'I'll dress warm.'
Catilina jerked his hand, fingers slicing air. 'Marcus, please. Humour me.'
Cicero fell silent, brooding, and Catilina exhaled a long cloud of relief. They were almost there. Not at the house – that was still some distance away – but at the street predesignated for the commencement of Catilina's plan. As they turned the corner, they heard the sound of a horse and cart clattering over the cobbles. Catilina flattened himself against a nearby building, heart palpitating, and yanked on Cicero's arm to bring him close.
'Keep your back to the street, like this,' Catilina ordered. 'I'm far less recognisable than you, my Consul.'
'We have hoods,' Cicero protested quietly. 'Let's keep walking. This will only draw attention to ourselves.'
'If we're otherwise engaged, they won't stop to greet us or ask directions,' Catilina countered. 'Now kiss me.'
When Cicero hesitated, Catilina dragged him nearer by his hips and joined their mouths. Their hoods melded together, cocooning them and obscuring the street. Catilina noticed his hands shivering on Cicero's back. Not just from the cold, either. He felt shaky inside and out, nervous about the approaching cart and disturbed by his conscience. Ignoring his feelings, he slid his hands higher and stroked Cicero's cheeks, temples, through his hair...pushing aside his hood and exposing him to the cart driver, who had stopped in front of them.
The Consul made a muffled noise, breaking the kiss and raising his hands to pull his hood back up, but Catilina grabbed his wrists. Taking advantage of his mute surprise, Catilina turned them around, pressing Cicero's back against the wall. He knew that those warm eyes would be wide and searching, but he avoided them. An acute shame clutched his insides, twisting his stomach and squeezing his lungs.
Lentulus's voice distracted him: 'You sly wolf, Lucius. I really thought you'd lose this bet.'
Cicero jerked his arms, and Catilina suddenly regretted everything. He'd been so focused on his plot that he hadn't acknowledged how he truly felt about the novus homo until now, when it was too late. Tightening his grip, he shuffled forwards to trap the younger man with his body. Then he whispered in his ear, desperately, 'I'm with you, Marcus. Believe me. Please. Play along, and I'll explain later.'
'How on Cupid's bow did you seduce the Marcus Tullius Cicero, moralistic upholder of propriety? I swear, Lucius, if you visited Olympus, Artemis herself would get on her hands and knees for you.'
'Stop giving me ideas.' Catilina smiled thinly. It was tough to be chummy with Lentulus and joke about their bet without tearing up the last shreds of Cicero's frayed trust in him. He shook his head at his rich friend when Lentulus held up a coil of rope. 'I was rather hoping that restraint wouldn't be necessary.' Meeting Cicero's hostile eyes for the first time since his betrayal, Catilina swallowed his lips and pressed them white between his teeth. 'What do you say?' he asked after enduring the heavy glare as long as he could. 'Will you come with me?'
Cicero glanced at Lentulus, and Catilina flicked his head at his patrician friend, moving him back several steps to stand by his horse.
'Come with you?' the Consul hissed, flexing the wrists still trapped by his shoulders. 'Where?' And then: 'What is this, Lucius? Explain yourself.'
Catilina winced at the resentment dripping from his stressed praenomen. 'I wish I could have told you earlier.' He sucked in icy air. 'I'm heading out of the city tonight, to join the resistance force in their camp up north. There are horses ready for us a mile outside the city wall. We'll hide in the cart, and Lentulus will take us there. It'll be a bit bumpy, but-'
'We?' Cicero was incredulous. 'You are not that delusional.' He shook his head vehemently. 'Of course I cannot-'
'Of course you can.' Catilina's jaw hardened. He cared for Cicero, couldn't deny it or hide it from himself any longer, but there wasn't time to explain everything now. 'I value your opinion, and I want to respect your wishes, but…' Their faces were so close, Catilina had to fight against the urge to kiss him. Cicero looked angry and confused, but the proximity brought with it learnt urges, and Catilina assumed that he was also feeling the pull. He brushed his lips over the Consul's cheek and closed his eyes. 'I'm sorry, Marcus. I want you with me, and I'm not taking no for an answer. I will truss you up and throw you into the cart, if needs be, but I would much rather hold your hand and pull you up beside me.'
Lentulus scuffed his shoe on the ground, and they both looked at him. 'We have to go,' he said, fingering the rope. 'I only have the one guard in my pocket. We can't risk them changing shifts.'
'Come,' Catilina said to Cicero, low and urgent. 'Please. We'll have the whole uncomfortable journey to talk through these uncomfortable topics. And I promise-' He paused, made sure to hold Cicero's gaze. 'I promise that if you want to leave me at the end of the journey, I won't stop you.' Hesitantly, he released the Consul's wrists and stroked over the pulse point there before sliding his thumbs up over Cicero's palms and intertwining their fingers. He gazed deep into Cicero's eyes, face close but not touching, and said, 'Trust me, Marcus.'
The reply was quick and fierce: 'What choice do I have?'
Cicero kept his fingers straight, refusing to hold Catilina's hands, and when the revolutionist released him, he took a long step away and hugged his arms. Lentulus hovered, ready to intercept the Consul if he ran, but he made no move to. Catilina pulled himself up onto the cart and held out his hand, but Cicero spurned it, managing to lift himself with some effort.
'There's my stubborn Tullius,' Catilina murmured, using the family name because, having become acquainted with Marcus Minor, he viewed the trait as inherited. Cicero avoided his eye contact, haughty. Behind the Consul, Lentulus raised an eyebrow, which Catilina ignored. If he could convince Cicero to stay in the camp with him, as he desperately hoped he could, he knew that he'd have a new awkward but worthwhile challenge to face: explaining to the other revolutionaries that their relationship was real and not a sick joke.
Lentulus helped Catilina upturn a large, empty crate so that it could cover the two men, and Cicero lay stiffly on his back beside Catilina, as instructed.
Thin slates in the wood allowed air and slivers of moonlight through, but the overall feel was one of compression. As Lentulus busied himself rearranging the other crates around them, Catilina listened to Cicero's shallow breathing and let his eyes adjust to the gloom. He didn't try to speak though until the cart began to rattle, wheels clattering on stone; horse hooves clap-clapping; Lentulus deaf to their conversation.
'Marcus. I want to be honest with you, but I'm afraid you won't believe me.'
The Consul scoffed wordlessly. Around them, the other crates bumped and scraped across the wooden floor they lay on.
'Will you let me explain?'
'Can I stop you?'
Catilina frowned, and the conversation stalled. The journey vibrated through them, small impacts juddering through their bones. Selfishly, despite the brittle barrier between them, Catilina was glad not to be alone.
When he'd offered to go into house arrest, he hadn't expected Cicero to say yes. The decision had caught him off-guard, and he'd had to put on a front, hardening himself and hiding behind a mocking indifference. But it had been hard to be separated from the thrum of daily politics. It had been harder still to be separated from the revolution, on which he'd been building all his hopes for redeeming the Sergius name and restoring his family to a position of power and respect.
Fucking with Cicero – quite literally – had started as a cruel game to pass the time. It hadn't taken long, however, for Catilina to find himself thinking about the orator when he was alone. He'd lain awake remembering their encounters, and had shaped his days around the Consul's schedule. He'd lied to himself, excusing this behaviour as a result of boredom: told himself that he was only obsessing about this man because there was little else for him to do.
Truthfully, though, each meeting with Cicero, each conversation, had sparked something inside him. He'd been with clever men before, but he'd never had a partner who suited his intellect and wit so well. Moreover, Cicero's inner conflict had intoxicated Catilina, who was too used to easy conquests. Cicero could cut him and comfort him in the same breath; could entice him even as he resisted him; could reject him so firmly while desiring him so fiercely.
To protect himself from acknowledging his own feelings, Catilina had snuck out of the house after Cicero had taken him to the Curia. He'd met with Lentulus and Cethegus. At night he'd distracted himself with thoughts of the revolution, but he'd still found himself spending his days in the Consul's study, waiting for him to return.
He'd hidden his emotions behind derisive concepts: a 'game'; a 'bet'. He'd taken Cicero to the house on the hill to further his seduction, thinking himself a great manipulator. But everything he'd said there had been the truth. That garden had been his private place, and sharing it with Cicero had been almost a confession, no matter how he'd blinded himself with fake motives at the time.
The more Catilina had plotted the next steps of the revolution, the more he'd begun to weave Cicero into his plans – and not as an enemy, either. He'd begun to think that he could talk him around, convince him to join the revolution. Not because it was essential to the cause, although it would have been a great achievement, but because he couldn't stand the alternative. Just as Cicero had said he despised the idea of going back to the antagonistic relationship they'd cultivated in the Curia, Catilina hadn't been able to picture them fighting each other, him heading the resistance, Cicero the city.
Terentia's seven-day limit had upset his plans. Catilina had barely broached the subject of the revolution with Cicero, much less admitted to anything or attempted to convert him, and he'd found himself paralysed against the clock. If he'd mentioned it and Cicero hadn't been amenable…that would have ruined everything. Still oblivious as to why, still spouting nonsense about it being best for the revolution, Catilina had decided that he had to have the Consul with him when he left Rome, willing or not. That he had to keep Cicero by his side.
'Marcus.' The air shuddered out of him at a jolt in the road. Catilina closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. He understood himself now. He understood why he'd done what he'd done, and what a blind idiot he'd been. What a bastard, too. He needed to share the revelation, and he needed Cicero to hear it, but the thought of rejection closed his throat.
Beside him, Cicero cleared his throat. 'Yes, Lucius? It's not like you to be tongue-tied.'
Oddly, though the words hadn't been positive, they were what Catilina needed. An invitation to speak. Something to reply to. 'It's not like me to be in love,' he said.
It felt freeing to say it out loud. Catilina didn't even mind that there wasn't an immediate response. He tasted the word on his tongue, and it felt right, and that was enough…for about a minute. Then he turned his head and tortured his lip. Cicero was staring straight up through the slats at the moving sky, but he registered the movement with a slow blink.
Finally Cicero said, 'You can strip me of my freedom, but I won't surrender my pride. I'm not falling for your false flattery. I will not be made a fool of twice.'
Which meant that Cicero had been a fool once. He'd developed feelings too. The revolutionist held his breath and let this sink in. There was still hope.
'I'm the fool, Marcus, not you. I thought I was blindfolding you, but I was tying it around my own head.'
'Is this really the time for metaphors?'
'What would you prefer?'
'Didn't you offer me honesty?' Cicero licked his lips, and Catilina felt a thrill from his scalp to his toes that had nothing to do with the cart's movement. 'Perhaps it's been a while since the truth graced your mouth. In which case, let me remind you: it tastes best without garnish.'
Catilina's lips quirked, and he felt his muscles loosen. He was too relieved to care about the soreness on his skin from their lovemaking and the bumpy road. It wouldn't be easy to convey his feelings or explain his reasoning, but there was still hope, and that was what mattered.
'When I offered to go into house arrest,' he started, 'I didn't expect you to say yes…'
Author's note: The end! Thank you for reading and reviewing. And a special thanks again to Luni, who prompted me to finish this after such a long hiatus.
Returning to this story has been a nice distraction from my other projects, but I am feeling the pressure again to write the book I'm working on. Perhaps at some point I'll go back through this story and edit the first 22 chapters, because I think there are some great sections but there's also lots of material that makes me cringe – which is bound to happen when returning to content from 10 years ago!
I still see every review, and it's a lovely feeling to know that my words are being read, so please do let me know what you thought of the story.