Disclaimer: This is a bonus scene not found in A Spartan Love. As such, it has not been edited and for all intents and purposes is a rough draft.
Theron hefted the full wineskin he had "acquired" as Andreas so carefully referred to his foraging. Both words were merely euphemisms for the theft that had kept him fed for years. But if that made Andreas more comfortable in his presence, so be it.
The wine would be his sole contribution tonight. But ever since Andreas had admitted he wouldn't be able to trade to replenish his stock until after the harvest, Theron had been looking for a chance to bring him some.
Ahead he could see Andreas' hut silhouetted against the fading reds and deepening purples of the setting sun.
Now he would have to wait until darkness made it safe to visit the helot. If someone had told Theron that he, a kryptes, would be here to dine with the man, he would have been offended. Kryptes existed to spy on helots and kill them if necessary, not befriend them.
But Andreas had changed all that with a single meal. A bowl of barley gruel left on a stool beside his door for the kryptes who had pursued him into his home and doubtless scared him half to death. Stunned, and not just at the novelty of the meal—no one had bothered to feed him in nearly a year—Theron had returned night after night. And night after night, food had awaited him. Until the night Andreas invited Theron into his home.
He had set Theron's world on its ear—natural born enemies breaking bread and sharing salt. Theron now had obligations to his host and friend. Obligations that were at odds with his training and responsibilities as a kryptes.
Excited at the thought of a tipsy Andreas, he'd arrived a bit early. Leaning back against a handy tree trunk, Theron wondered what Andreas, the worse for wine, would be like. Would he laugh more? Become more affectionate like Coridan had the one time Lysander had given him his share of wine?
Warmth filled Theron's chest at the thought of Andreas touching him. Would he be able to get the man in his arms? All those hard muscles pressed up against him. Theron shuddered. He couldn't wait to find out.
Finally, Nix covered the sky with her star-studded cloak. Glancing carefully around, Theron held his breath, listening for any indication he was not alone. Nothing but the evening breeze, some snuffling from the goats, and the rising drone of the cicadas.
Using the cover of the goat pen, he made his way to Andreas' door. He glanced down at the stone likeness of Priapus at his feet. "Keep this house safe," he murmured and slipped inside.
The warm scent of food, wood smoke, and animals met him. A smell that was quickly coming to represent "home" to him.
Andreas had just placed a bowl of olives on the table. He glanced up, relief and pleasure shining in his eyes. "You made it."
Theron didn't even try to keep the smile off his face. "And I brought this." He held out the sloshing wineskin.
"Wine?" Andreas asked.
"I haven't had any in months. This autumn I'm going to get twice as much."
Andreas accepted the offering and poured some into both cups. He carefully watered the wine, swirling their cups to mix it. With a smile of his own, he handed a cup to Theron before raising the second to his lips.
The sweet, red liquid slid down Theron's throat and warmed his belly. He rarely drank wine and even then only sparingly. Drunkenness disgraced not only the man but Sparta as well.
Licking his lips, Andreas set his cup on the table. "I'd forgotten how good that was."
"Yes," Theron agreed. "I haven't tasted any since the Karneia." In a few short months, he would be called back to Sparta to celebrate the most important of Apollo's festivals. As all Spartans were required to attend, he'd see his mother again, and most likely his younger brother as well.
Speaking of the gods…. Theron stepped over to Andreas' hearth and the household gods arrayed there. "Guard and protect us," he requested of the deities as he poured a libation.
When he turned back to the table, Andreas was draining the wine from his cup. Andreas blushed. "It really is good."
Theron smiled and added more. "I'm glad you like it. I'll bring more next time."
Sitting at the table, Theron perused the food spread across its surface. He was always amazed at the sheer volume and variety Andreas provided. Andreas ladled lentil soup into bowls. Olives and a stack of the ever-present rounds of flat bread sat within easy reach.
A plate held Ictis' favorite roasted eggs, still in their sooty shells.
As if on cue, the furry beast pawed at Theron's leg. The distinctive scent of musty honey followed him.
"Hungry, little warrior?"
"He's always hungry. You should see what I have to go through to protect your dinner from him."
"That's all right," Theron assured the ferret. "I'll see that you get fed now."
Only the work of a moment, Theron peeled an egg and offered it to Ictis. He held the ferret's dinner so he could take the initial bite. As the egg was bigger than the creature's head, he usually had to pursue the oval until he managed to trap it in a corner first.
"You should have just let him chase it. That would have kept him busy for a while. Now he will be back for more soon."
Theron shrugged. "Let him." He liked the silly beast.
Andreas carefully removed the lid from one of his pottery cooking dishes. A roasted rabbit lay steaming inside, nestled in a bed of turnips. The mixed aroma of meat and garlic had Theron's stomach rumbling.
"Did you find some time to take Ictis hunting?"
"Yes. I just wish the rabbits wouldn't make their warrens in my fields. I have to be careful when I till the ground so I don't step in one and break a leg."
"Which field?" Theron asked, alarmed. If Andreas did break a leg, he could die without someone to help him. If wolves found him alone and unable to escape….
Andreas pointed to the hills to the northwest. "The field is up that way. But I'm not ready to work the ground yet. I'll let the goats graze it down first so I can see what I'm doing."
Theron breathed a sigh of relief. He would keep a close eye on the man once he started on that field.
He drew the bronze knife from his girdle and carved the rabbit. Two rounds of bread served as plates. He pushed one to Andreas and drew the other across the table for himself.
When Theron groaned at the succulent taste of meat that wasn't simultaneously burnt and raw, Andreas flushed and reached for his wine. He emptied the cup again.
Refilling the wine, Theron noticed Andreas' flush hadn't subsided and his eyes were beginning to sparkle. Theron had never seen Andreas so relaxed and happy. The wine was working its magic on the man. He would most definitely do this again.
Dinner disappeared at a steady pace, but nothing like those first few times when he had shoved the food in so fast it was a wonder he had tasted anything. Theron was used to shield-brothers who would swoop in and devour everything, if he wasn't quick enough to get his own share. Over the course of the past few weeks, he'd learned to savor every bite.
And savor was the only word appropriate for Andreas' cooking. Theron had never in his life tasted so many varied and flavorful dishes. Not in his mother's house and definitely not since leaving for the agōgē. The gods knew he couldn't cook.
"I never knew bread could be soft and so good." Theron waved the golden round at Andreas before taking another bite.
"Uh…. Thank you." Andreas blushed more easily this time and hid behind his wine again.
Theron grinned and Andreas gulped, his throat moving fitfully with each swallow.
Retrieving the wineskin, Theron poured the last of the wine into Andreas' cup.
"I can't drink it all!" Andreas objected. "You should have some."
"I've had some." Theron raised his cup. When he finished here tonight, he would slip back to his hidden campsite. He couldn't risk dulling his senses.
Before Andreas could argue further, Ictis jumped onto the table and made his way toward the last egg. Theron chuckled.
"Oh no, you don't!" Andreas grabbed for the ferret and swiped Theron's cup instead.
The vessel hit Theron. Wine spilled down his chest, pooling in his lap.
"Oh no!" Andreas leapt up and dashed across the single room. He returned with a scrap of cloth.
Theron pulled his sticky chiton away from his skin. Andreas gripped Theron's bare shoulder and dabbed at the liquid on his chest. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to…."
His fingers flexed and slid down Theron's arm. The cloth brushed over Theron's nipple and Theron fought to keep a groan from breaking free. He was enjoying the rare touches too much to risk startling Andreas into releasing him.
Theron knew that Andreas wasn't ready yet to admit to the attraction growing between them. He probably feared allowing Theron to see his need. But Theron felt it too, a desire that could be deadly to them both.
But the danger did not prevent Theron's cock from thickening. Andreas patted Theron's belly just a handsbreadth away from the rising head of his cock. Theron reached out and gripped Andreas' shoulder as a shudder swept through him. He hoped Andreas was too distracted to notice.
Andreas was still muttering, "Sorry" and "Just let me…." His gaze followed the red trail of spilled wine over Theron's wide girdle where it mimicked the trail of hair the leather hid and Andreas' hand stilled. He swallowed very audibly and pressed the cloth into Theron's hand.
"I…. Um…. I can't…." He swallowed again. "You'd better finish." He stepped back, but his eyes followed Theron's hands as he wiped himself.
Now that Andreas had already released him, Theron didn't see anything to be gained by hiding his attraction from the man. Once he removed as much of the wine from the skirt of his chiton as possible, he reached under the cloth and rubbed himself dry.
He couldn't help becoming even harder with Andreas' gaze riveted on him. When he finally dropped the rag, his erection tented his chiton in a fashion neither one of them could deny.
With a shudder, Andreas tore his gaze away. "We should see if Ictis left us anything." He sat back down, staring at the table.
With everything turned awkward, Theron tossed about for something to restore the happy, relaxed atmosphere. The cause of all this was still on the table.
Ictis nudged an egg around the earthenware pitcher filled with water. The egg wobbled and rolled in a half circle before dropping over the edge. The crack as the shell broke was unmistakable.
The ferret jumped from the table to Theron's lap and then down to the floor. He chased the erratically rolling egg until it came to rest against Theron's foot.
"All that and you still can't eat it?" Theron leaned down and picked up the errant egg. He held it up and examined the pattern of cracks in the shell.
Jumping back into his lap, Ictis placed one paw on Theron's chest. His nose twitched as he stretched, attempting to reach the egg.
"Do you want this, little warrior?"
"More like little thief," Andreas muttered.
"Does he know any tricks?"
Andreas shook his head. "I've never tried to teach him any."
"I bet he would be easy enough to train," Theron mused. Could he convince the little clown to do something that would make Andreas laugh again?
Theron moved the empty dishes toward the center of the table, clearing a space in front of himself. He placed the cracked egg on the table. While he peeled it, Ictis nosed around his hand, climbing up on the table top and circling.
"You can't have it yet. You have to earn this one." He chuckled.
Ictis tried shoving his nose between Theron's fingers, chittering with annoyance when he couldn't get to his treat.
"I think I have his attention now." Theron glanced at a puzzled Andreas. At least he no longer appeared uncomfortable.
Closing his hand around the egg, Theron lifted it above Ictis' head. "Stand," Theron commanded. The ferret stood on his back feet and stretched his forelegs up to rest on his fist.
He raised a brow and shared a pleased glance with Andreas. "Good boy." Theron wondered who he was praising as he relaxed his hand. Ictis tore a bite from the egg, and still standing with his paws on Theron's fist, chewed happily.
When Ictis attempted to take another bite, Theron moved his hand and said, "Walk." With his paws still on Theron, Ictis took a partial step forward. Theron rewarded him with some more egg. He repeated this until Ictis had "walked" across the cleared space and Andreas was chuckling just as happily as Ictis.
"Here. You've earned it." Theron opened his hand and held the remains of the egg as Ictis finished it.
"I didn't know he could do that." Andreas' eyes sparkled with delight. "I'll see if I can teach him some other tricks."
Theron stood. This part of the evening always came too soon. "I have to go. The moon will be rising soon and I have to be gone before then."
Andreas rose hurriedly. "So soon?"
"Selênê will not stay her path for the immortals. What hope have I?"
"Then at least take this." Andreas pressed the last of the rabbit wrapped in flatbread into his hand.
At the door, Andreas grasped his forearm and pulled him into a brief, one-armed embrace and thumped him on the back. Andreas released him and stepped away so quickly it was over before Theron could respond.
"I'll… uh… see you soon?"
"Every chance I get."
Theron slipped through the door, letting it close silently behind him. He made his way swiftly back into the sheltering cover of the forest.
Nothing can keep me away.