Attis shivered at the memory of those British winters. Cold and wet or cold and snowy... There were days he was surprised that he hadn't had anything snap off in the cold, though by the end of it his master had been living in a stone-built fort with proper heating in every building (or at least, in the major ones, which had included the master's quarters).
"It's not all bad here," he said sympathetically, having noticed the other's momentary look of shock. He didn't know Sulpicius Rufus well enough to guess at what Florus' chances of freedom would be in the future,but he didn't seem the sort who'd not give his slaves the chance to earn it, or peculium to save up to buy it.
"I just thought you might like a friendly face you could talk to on occasion," he said. "Everyone needs a friend, after all."
Attis couldn't hold back a laugh. "I've been with him for ten years, and with his family for... eight or nine years before that. Something like that, anyway. I was born a slave, and - Well, you get to know where the line is when you've been a slave that long. I just crossed it, that's all." Once, in a lifetime.
"It's got to be different, from farming, though. And in Britannia, too."
He'd been with Longinus in Britannia for most of those ten years, and it was strange trying to get used to Italia again, with the bright sunshine, vivid colours and the heat. He wondered idly if he somehow had more in common with the barbarian-born gardener that he was talking to than he did a native-born slave like some of Titus' house slaves.
"I think... Well, I'm his body slave, or I was, at least. That means I was close to him, the line was in a bit of a different place. I wouldn't say the same sort of things to Sulpicius Rufus, anyway, and not just because he's not the same sort of person my master is."
Attis sighed. "I gave him the finger. I never have before, and I don't know what made me think it might be a good idea then. Slaves shouldn't swear at their masters, it's not a good look. Because it means that the master will end up punishing the slave who does. I'm here because I messed up, like I said."
He had another bite of cake. "It looks really good - the garden, I mean. You're more skilled than I am, I end up killing plants."
"Didn't get sold - thank Jupiter! I got lent, though I don't know when I'll go back so it may as well have been sold." Attis broke a bit off the other honey-cake. "I told Cassius Longinus something I shouldn't have said - or rather, in a way I shouldn't have said it." He shrugged. "You'll get used to me, maybe. I'm the snarky one." Did Britons even understand sarcasm? Attis had no clue, even after all the time he'd spent in Britannia with Longinus.
"I'm supposed to be here to learn to mend my manners - at least, around free people." Titus Sulpicius Rufus could learn not to be so uptight, though - he probably hadn't had his leg over anything good in years, if ever. And horses didn't count.
The gardener had been part of Longinus' spoils from Britannia, Attis was almost sure of that, but he hadn't had much to do with the slaves Longinus had claimed as his own personal spoils of war.
"How have you been finding it?" he asked, trying to keep his Latin simple, just in case Florus' language skills weren't as good as he thought.
"You can ask Betua if you want, but they won't keep warm for long and if you won't have one, I'm perfectly happy to have both. Anyway, once they're gone, there's no evidence of anything." He shrugged, and grinned. The other slave was obviously still trying to place him from when he'd been at Longinus'. "I'm Cassius Longinus' body slave - or at least, I was until I let my mouth run away with me once too often. He figured it'd be easier to punish me for it by sending me here for a while."
He tipped his head to the side as something occurred to him. "Do you miss it there?" he asked, nonchalantly, offering the plate again.
It was nice to sit, for a short while, and the gardens did look good. Attis' smile gre wry as he thought what destruction he would have wreaked if Titus Sulpicius had put him to work here rather than the kitchen (at least it didn't matter what the parsley looked like when chopped up so long as it was small enough for Betua to stir into whatever sauce she was making with it).
"It's not better or worse, just different. Different people, different rules. Doesn't make it better, or worse, though."
He preferred Longinus' house, for several reasons, but that didn't mean this place was bad.
"If seems all right here. It could be worse." A lot worse.
He relaxed minutely. "So... How did you end up here, Zia?"
"Yeah," Attis said with a wry grin and a shrug. "Got time for a cake?" He lifted the chipped plate in invitation.
Life sucked sometimes, but it was much better with friends, and if Attis couldn't see his own, then he could make new ones (had that not even occurred to Longinus? Attis had never found it too hard to make friends, after all).
"It's just a quick break, for lunch. Not that we're supposed to get lunch, probably. But they got burned and it's been a long morning, so there we are. Fresh honey-cake."
His grin was more genuine as he shifted aside to make room for the other man to join him, if he wanted. "You're the gardener, aren't you? It looks good, the garden."
Attis had been busy with various things - not all of them had been chores summarily handed to him, either. Despite what Titus Sulpicius Rufus might have thought of him as a person (if he thought of him as a person at all, which was debatable!), Attis was no shirker. It was a nice day and he found himself in the garden of the house, with two honey-cakes that had scorched at the edges enough that Betua was not about to allow them to be offered to the master. Attis had been there and had been able to rescue them, so with a chipped plate in one hand and a beaker of water in the other, he found himself looking for somewhere to take a few minutes in the shade.
He found a corner where he could keep an eye on the garden entrance of the tablinum, enjoy the shade, and not get sneaked up on by the Dacian woman (who had, strangely enough, at least warned him that she was going to be tattling on him to the master!)
The gardener was out here today, doing - something that Attis couldn't see, and he waited until the other was a bit closer before getting his attention.
"Hey! It's Florus, isn't it?"
"Charm and being nice. Skills you evidently need more practise with," Attis replied. She should stick her head in the fire, it might improve her manners. After all, they refined silver in the fire by burning away the dross, didn't they? It might work with barbarians bitches, too.
He supposed he should feel lucky that the only one who'd laid hands on him that way had been Lucius Cassius, who hadn't done anything until Attis had made it clear that he'd enjoy the interest. And he'd been careful to instigate it only where the attraction was mutual - Metella and Vitus were the only people other than Lucius Cassius that he'd regularly tumbled with. Not that this ice queen needed to know any of that.
"Let me guess. People have only had sex with you because it was that or their own hand," he added dryly. "Some of us don't have any problem getting on with other people. You should try it one day."
"If you think any slave has never been fucked, you've spent your entire life under a rock. Zoe."
Roll the dice, come up threes. Attis had never served in Titus Sulpicius Rufus' household, but he was friends with Attis' master, and close enough that Attis had spent time in the same room as him. He was as thoroughly Roman as Lucius Cassius or any other patrician male, though Attis had never heard that he'd used sex himself to keep anyone in line. That didn't mean that he hadn't, though. And the use of the word boy to refer to Attis simply rolled off his back; spend enough time in military camps as a slave (even if your master was the legate) and you'd get addressed as boy by anyone from the Tribune to the newest recruit. Water off a duck's back.
"I reckon I could give him more satisfaction in bed than you could."
If she thought that the threat of sex would scare Attis, she obviously was unaware he'd entertained his own master in bed, and rather enjoyed it. (He'd prefer not to, with Titus, but the prospect didn't exactly scare him.)