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Gay Romance Fiction

“Isn’t it remarkable?” Phil exclaimed, stepping up on yet another chunk of rock, with only the slightest groan as his ageing knees clicked. Neither of the men could tell if the rock was part of the ruins, fallen and slowly decaying into the earth, or part of the landscape, soil eroded by the harsh winds and dry weather of the place. Neither particularly cared, another set of footprints couldn’t hurt. It had survived the fall of empires, it wouldn’t be crumbled by a pair of flexible soled orthopaedic hiking boots.

“Yes, remarkable,” Beck agreed, as he had become used to doing with his partner. He could never be sure exactly what Phil meant when he started phrases halfway through like this, and found asking left them both upset, Phil with Beck’s ignorance of the ancient world (history! culture! heritage!), and Beck with Phil’s academic naivety. So the men walked quietly, each enjoying the site and the day in their own rights, without needing to talk. 

Phil clambered and climbed, touched every column and carving, eyes and mouth agape and heart racing at the chance to be in an archeological site that people were encouraged to use as the ancients had. Despite himself, and his doctor, and his heart, and his stiffening joints, he pulled himself up onto waist height ledges, stared down at once at once been agoras and stadia, he ran up the old street, still smooth marble, slippery and worn lower in the middle by centuries of feet. He stared up at the arches, ducked down to peer into what may have once been wells or latrines or storage, he put his face to the marble and the lesser, porous stone, as if it would whisper stories to him, tell him all about the sacrifices to Apollo or Zeus, about the weddings and the wars, the generations of people building on each others ruins then digging back down to discover them. The stone didn’t talk, and Phil wasn’t sad, he could talk for them. He’d read about it all on their days of travel, the budget airline, the road trip on which he stubbornly refused to take a turn in the drivers’ seat, the rest stop meals of lamb and beans and handfuls of nuts. Ancient stories, people visited by gods and made immortal, and the history! The continuous inhabitation for thousands of years! Even the smallest detail was a marvel, and he was lucky his husband liked to hear him talk. 

Beck enjoyed it in a different way. Eyes closed and enjoying the breeze, or wide open and watching Phil. He didn’t need to come all this far, and never would if not for his adventurer. He was as happy here as on the walk to the closest pub from their flat. Yes, he had to admit, the air smelled better, like the nature blossoming around them and the breeze coming in from the sea, and the warm air was a welcome change, but a walk was a walk and Phil was Phil, in Anfield or Anatolia. He was the only one to notice when the strays started following them, first a dog of unfamiliar breed, about the size of a golden retriever, but with a sense of pride and purpose rarely seen in one of those. Its black, pointed face looked up at him, calm and expectant, as it fell into step beside him, tail slowly wagging as it sniffed his hand, hot, dry breath mimicking the wind. The cat came soon after, weaving between Beck’s legs as he walked and occasionally stopping perfectly in place to trip him, little assassin. He was, by now, no longer afraid that the animals here would attack, nor quite so anxious about their wellbeing as he had been their first night. They were cared for, he was assured, fed by restaurants, treated for injuries by charities and the government.

Even without the exertion of Phil’s exploration, Beck was starting to wane. He knew he was to blame, a lifetime of lager with dinner and refusing to learn to cook meant that now, in his golden years, his heart was working double time just to keep him upright. He groaned as he climbed over a knee high pile of rocks to get Phil’s attention, where he stood staring up into the sky where a roof would once have been. A church, maybe? No, most likely a barn, Phil was quick to correct, pointing to a smaller ruined building nearby, a single room cottage, with a central fire pit almost perfectly intact. Wasn’t it remarkable, he started… 

A hand on Phil’s lower back was enough to distract, and guide him under the shade of two trees, to a divot between thick, ancient roots just large enough for the pair. Phil spoke about the trees as Beck unpacked lunch, pilfered from a breakfast buffet. One was oak, certainly, its crown recognisable to any self respecting Englishman, the other… harder to tell, grey bark, deeply ridged and pockmarked with pockets of hollow trunk perfect for nesting creatures. A linden, Phil guessed, but not if he was putting money on it.

“And if you were putting something else on it?” Beck teased, leaning in to peck his cheek as he popped open a tupperware of slightly sun warmed olives.

“A palm, naturally,” Phil joked right back, turning to meet the kiss. He always had a joke.

The strays hadn’t left them, only hanging back slightly while they settled in and unpacked their meal. Once the men were mostly still, heart rates starting to go back to resting, the creatures rejoined them. The cat first, bold, jumped into Beck’s lap as he was pouring water into folding cups. Perfectly cool, thanks to his thermos, an essential Phil had advised against packing. Without a thought, he emptied the sliced cheese into the container with the cold cuts, offering the cat the lid and the dog the container itself for a drink. Their whole walk from the car park to the acropolis, neither had seen a smidge of drinkable water. The poor strays.

They carried on as they started, for each bite of bread and soft fresh cheese, the dog was offered and accepted its own. It didn’t show much gratitude, but did trust the men, settling down on the root with its chin and the weight of its head supported by Beck’s thigh. The cat purred as it was fed slices of lightly spiced ham, and offered knuckle scratches to its ears and jaw.

“We packed more than we thought,” Beck commented, reaching for another smear of cheese on bread. His brow was still wet with sweat despite the rest and shade. He picked at the salad, remembering the advice at his most recent appointment, but continued handing little cubes of cheese to the dog even as he forced himself to try to enjoy slices of lightly dressed cucumber. His chest twinged slightly, when he moved to sit more upright, his arm feeling numb in this position. 

“You’re always trying to feed me,” Phil murmured back, closing his eyes and resting his head against Beck’s shoulder as he idly scratched the purring cat, freeing spring shedding fur into the wind. Sunlight streamed through the leaves of the towering oak, dappling their picnic and the fur of their new friends. Phil sighed contentedly. “Isn't it remarkable?” he murmured, leaning his head against Beck's shoulder, “to think people lived here, loved here, all those years ago? I wish we could stay here forever.”

Beck said nothing more, and Phil said nothing more, and as the sun set the strays walked away, leaving behind them red roses and a thriving rosemary bush, nestled together in the roots of the ancient trees.

June 01, 2024 17:17

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