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April 75AD, evening, after what to do with you

The walk from Lucius Cassius Longinus' house in the Piscina Publica to the house of Titus Sulpicius Rufus on the Quirinal was a familiar one to Attis. Walking halfway across the city while burdened down with his few pathetic possessions and in the company of a hulking Dacian of few words, and not knowing when (or even if) he would ever make the return journey, was not something Attis would ever describe as 'fun' in any sense of the word whatsoever. 

He spent the entire walk cursing himself for being so impulsive, for not stopping before he went too far, for wishing that he hadn't thoroughly spoilt Metella's day for her- in short, for completely screwing up and stepping so far over the line that even a master as lenient as Longinus couldn't turn a blind eye to his actions.

He also thoroughly damned his master's apparent squeamishness - he would much rather have faced the direct punishment of the lash than this drawn-out whatever this was going to be. Lucius Cassius Longinus was bloody inventive when he chose to be, and damned vindictive with it. 

Attis' silent castigations lasted right up until they reached the slaves' entrance to the house of Titus Sulpicius Rufus, his home for... however long. 

 

@Liv

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Longinus' letter had been both entertaining and enlightening. That his good friend would send his body slave to him as punishment for said slave's misstep could have a number of different readings, but two were loud and clear: one, Longinus had let Attis get away with far too much for far too long and now saw himself powerless to change the status quo; two, both master and slave viewed a stint in Titus' household as powerful punishment. He didn't know if he should be proud or offended.

Another slave announced the expected arrival, and Titus put away the very early-stage draft of Landicus' newest piece he'd been having a look at inside a drawer. So long as Attis was staying, they would have to be more careful as to where such writings ended up - 'hidden in plain sight' wasn't good enough anymore. He didn't dislike Attis, but between the latter's natural tendencies to sass and an overly lenient master, it had been a given that sooner or later he would forget his place. Neither could he discard the possibility that whatever the slave came across and found intriguing would be reported back to Longinus, not out of malice but possibly gossip.

Two slaves came into view shortly afterwards: the Dacian brute he'd traded Longinus and who sauntered off to say hi to his friends as soon as Titus dismissed him with a lazy wave, and the disgruntled man of the moment. "Salve, Attis," he greeted neutrally, noting the lack of baggage. Good, so he'd already been shown to his quarters and left his things there.

"We both know why you're here, so we'll hop over that for now - but I'll be wanting a first-hand account later. I don't know what terrible stories Longinus scared you with, but as long as you're under this roof, you will be treated as an ordinary domus slave and beholden to the same rules as the others." Titus paused, allowing Attis to take in his words. He needn't be afraid of the whip just yet.

"However, there are two things you need to keep in mind for the duration of your stay. First," he raised a finger, "my hearing on the right side isn't great, so make sure I can hear you." Attis  probably knew this, but a reminder in case he'd forgotten couldn't hurt. "Second," another digit went up, "I most definitely don't have the same tolerance for bullshit as Longinus, so keep your fingers to yourself if you like the way they look on your hands. Any questions so far?"

@Sharpie

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Attis was not over-awed by the house; it was no bigger nor better decorated than the one he'd left - and he'd been here often enough, besides, when accompanying his own master during visits to his friend.

He knew Titus Sulpicius Rufus from of old, though not wit the knowledge that he was, for all intents and purposes, his slave to do with as he wished. At least it wasn't as though any of Lucius Cassius Longinus' friends were vindictive, mean sorts, which was one tiny mercy in this whole thing.

"Salve, sir," he said, and closed his eyes, swallowed and opened his eyes again. "Dominus."

This wasn't his master, but his master had decided to relinquish that role to him, at least for the time being so he was and Attis should treat him as if he was. And why hold off on getting that account? I fucked up and swore at my master in front of two other slaves wouldn't take more than, oh, a heartbeat's worth of time to say, after all.

He had been vaguely aware of Sulpicius Rufus' hearing, but having it clarified for him helped.

Any questions - it'd be pointless to ask what the rules were; the whole point of this meeting (quite apart from probably gloating over him - not that there was any visible sign of that in Sulpicius Rufus' face when Attis looked up) was to clarify the house rules, surely. As for not having the same sort of tolerance... that just boiled down to Keep your mouth shut, eyes open and jump when you're told. He'll tell you how high. And don't presume you have any friends here.

"No, si- dominus."

 

@Liv

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"Are you sure? I don't bite. Now is your chance, you have the excuse of being new." Short of engaging in mindless banter with Attis, he didn't see how he could put his temporary slave more at ease. The poor thing looked both contrite and apprehensive as Titus studied him with distant compassion. Reflecting on the ramifications of his behaviour was a very good thing to do, but Attis could stand to wait until they were done with their little chat.

He seemed to have dusted off his manners on the way from Longinus’, which was a good sign, and they would serve him well as long as he didn’t let his tongue get the best of him. “In that case…” Titus paused for emphasis, but also to allow himself a moment’s pause to think. “Well, I assume you’re passably familiar with my family. What they say goes. My youngest will probably follow you around the first few days, she’s always curious about new things. Indulge her.” If Valeriana was busy interrogating Attis about whatever preoccupied her young brain, then the rest of the household could rest assured she wasn’t up to mischief and destruction somewhere else.

What else did the slave need to know? Attis wasn’t new to servitude – just to this domus. He might be new to a few of the more menial tasks given how long he’d been tending to Longinus’ needs, but that was of no concern to Titus. “I expect you to do the tasks assigned to you properly and without dallying. Same if somebody calls on you. What you do with your free time and where is your own business, just don’t do anything you wouldn’t like me to find out about.” Titus folded his arms across his chest, now actively trying to hide an amused smile. “I trust that you’re quite capable of navigating household politics on your own.” Let him find out who snored and who liked to gossip.

And now that the pro forma were out of the way, Titus relaxed his arms, though he didn’t drop them, and shook his head with a chuckle. “Answer me this honestly: what were you thinking?” The only plausible answer was that Attis had not been thinking at all.

@Sharpie

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He hadn't been going to ask, but better to ask than to assume, end up not being able to ask and wind up fumbling around in the dark and get in even more trouble for guessing wrong.

"What are your house rules, sir - dominus?" Gods, it was going to take him forever to remember the right honorific; Titus Sulpicius Rufus had been 'sir' to him for nearly a decade. He didn't want to end up doing thing wrong just because he didn't know - and everyone liked things done differently, after all.

He was at least passably familiar with the other slaves in the household - some of them more than others, naturally. Whether or not he could trust any of them was another thing entirely and he had no intention of spilling any sort of gossip until he was a lot more familiar with them than he was right now.

Attis met his temporary master's eyes, briefly, before dropping them again, to the level of his chest (it was a very nicely embroidered tunic he had on; Lucius Cassius would be jealous if he saw it). "I wasn't, dominus."

He'd been too caught up in Metella's attempts to drag him off to celebrate Floralia, and Vitus' put-upon expression hadn't helped matters at all - and none of that mattered a jot. It had been one single unthinking moment - and slaves couldn't afford those, Attis knew that. He knew where the line was, intimately and despite how closely he'd skirted it over the years he'd never once crossed it. Until this morning.

He must have left more than the usual amount of his brain in his bed when Metella got him out of it.

One stupid mistake and a decade's worth of perfect service was flushed down the Cloaca Maxima. Learn to shut your fucking mouth, Attis, you idiot. And keep your hands busy.

 

@Liv

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Titus fought very hard to reign in a bout of amused chuckling, but it escaped him anyway. Their brief eye contact only made it all more entertaining. From being overly free, Attis was now being overly mindful, erring on the side of caution. How long would this repentance last, Titus mused, before the slave grew comfortable with his new environment and went back to his customary ways?

"No, I don't suppose you were." From what admittedly little he knew of Attis, and most of it came from distracted observation, the man didn't strike him as stupid. So what had possessed him to cross a line when his master was too lenient for his own good? Whatever the real reason - and if Attis did not want to reveal it for fear of word getting back to Longinus, that wasn't a bad thing -, now would be a time for reflection.

House rules... Titus preferred to call them 'common sense'. He'd already touched on most of them, but a summary was in order. "Do as you're told, do it quickly and do it well. Use your brain to anticipate needs, don't just wait around for orders. Stay out of trouble. Don't gossip. If you go out on your day off, be back before sunset. If you bicker with the other slaves, I don't want to hear about it - and if I do hear about it, that's not good news for you. "And, needless to say, mind your tongue and your hands." Just to be on the safe side, he might put that insufferable Dacian on Attis' trail for the first few days; the woman would doubtlessly be delighted to tell on any perceived slights.

"How long have you been with Longinus, Attis?" Close to a decade at least, since he had already been around during Titus' quaestorship. "What did you do before you became his body slave?"

A plan was quickly forming in his mind - one that would hopefully teach Attis some humility and the importance of biting your tongue when necessary, which for a slave was always. With any luck, he might even be returned to Longinus with a new skill or two. Titus just had to ascertain first what the slave could or couldn't do.

@Sharpie

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"I've been with the family since I was... nine or ten, dominus, and my master's body slave for..." he counted rapidly on his fingers. "About nine years now, I think. Since just before he went to Britannia."

He got a day off?! He filed that information away, taking in the rest of the rules - which were pretty much what he had expected. He had a very slight advantage in coming to this house he thought - his master was friends with Titus Sulpicius, a friendship that dated back to Attis' early days as his master's body slave. He was aware already of some of Titus' preferences. Not, admittedly, in the same way his own slaves knew them, but aware enough. It might help.

It might not. Attis knew he had a tendency to let his tongue run away from him, and would have to curb that tendency - but the more he could keep out of sight, the easier that would be. He hoped.

What had he done ten years ago? "Um. General chores around the house, mostly, dominus. Nothing special."

 

@Liv

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A lifetime's worth of privilege, then. Titus exhaled quietly, resisting the urge to shake his head. It would be impossible to undo over a decade of flippant behaviour, but with the Penates as his witnesses, he would do his utmost to whip Attis into a more appropriate shape.

"To begin with you will be assisting Betua the cook in the kitchens." If anyone could teach a spoilt slave discipline without resorting to the whip, it was the formidable Gallic woman with her aversion to inertia and mincing words. "You're to do whatever she tells you to - fetch water, stoke the fires, pluck chickens and whatever else goes on in there." A week or so of menial tasks should make Attis appreciate just how good he had it at Longinus' domus, and if he had experience with the aforementioned tasks from his pre-body slave times it would work in his favour. If he didn't - then he would return to his household an expert parsnip peeler.

"Then, if that goes well, you'll move on to childminding." A crooked, mischievous smile played on Titus' lips. He had no doubt Attis interacted with Longinus' daughter to some measure, but there was only one of her and the little girl was well-behaved and not prone to trouble-making as far as Titus remembered. Part of him wanted to let Attis find out what he would be up against when the time came, but the sensible - kind - thing to do would be to give him a heads-up already on the first day. "My oldest, Sulpicia, will probably have no use for you." She preferred Nymphias' company those days, perhaps because they were close in age. "Then there's my son Publius and my youngest daughter, Valeriana. I expect you to keep them healthy, entertained and out of trouble. As to how, you can figure that out yourself. Are you experienced with children, other than Cassia Antonilla?"

@Sharpie

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Assist the cook. In the kitchen. With women's work. Well, fuck you too, Attis thought, striving to keep his expression neutral. He was in enough trouble already, after all, which was why he was here instead of at home, hopefully spending the night with Metella.

"No, dominus," he replied in answer to the question. Really - did he look like the sort of person who had any experience with children? He supposed that Titus Sulpicius might classify Lucius Cassius as a child - he really could be, on some days, but it was Metella who was responsible for Cassia. She was good at it, too, from what Attis had seen, which wasn't honestly that much. As for keeping them out of trouble... Just why did Titus Sulpicius think Attis was here in the first place? He could barely keep himself out of trouble, never mind two freeborn children who'd probably know exactly what to do to dump him right in a steaming pile of shit with Titus Sulpicius.

At least, he supposed, staying in the kitchen would keep him out of the way. He might even manage to stay out of trouble for the time here was there.

And there's a bridge over the Tiber I'd like to sell you, Legate.

 

@Liv

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Attis' face maintained its half-apprehensive, half-ennuied look, but Titus couldn't help but get the feeling many wheels were turning behind the slave's scarred forehead. Probably telling Titus to kick rocks in much coarser terms. Still, as long as he didn't voice his thoughts or show them in any way - which was precisely what they were trying to correct -, there was no reason to punish him.

"Perfect," Titus retorted, flipping a hand palm up. "It'll be even better." Better for whom was up for discussion, naturally. 

"Gardening. Are you completely ignorant about that as well?" Let Attis try and navigate the subtleties of the ongoing feud between Florus and Betua to get a better appreciation of just how shielded he was from domestic quarrelling by virtue of his temporarily suspended duties.

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"My gardening skills consist of killing pot-plants, dominus. Despite all attempts to keep them alive." It might take sevaral weeks to do it, but every single plant Attis had ever had responsibility for had eventually given up and died, probably just to get away from his abysmal care.

Are you completely ignorant about that as well? Bloody Minerva! There's no need to sound so gods-damned scathing, you bastard. Rub my nose in the shit why don't you. Go and bugger a donkey. Backwards.

Attis had no idea about the various ins and outs of how the slaves in Titus' household did, or did not, get along, but he was more than aware of the sorts of squabbles slaves had. Titus obviously had no idea about his own long-running feud with his master's mother's body-slave, the bitch Ismene, who seemed to come up with another scheme every week to dump him in the shit with the master's mother. Or dump him in the Tiber.

She'd be bloody overjoyed he'd gone and got himself in trouble and landed up here.

 

@Liv

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Who would have thought he had something in common with Attis beyond gender and language? An abundance of destructive black thumbs within the household was why he kept Florus around, and the Briton was literally a gift that kept on giving. One mischievous slave infuriating his gardener was enough; no need to add Attis to the mix.

"Right. No gardening for you, then." Titus narrowed his eyes and smirked. "But you may be called upon to help fertilise the hortus." He conveniently failed to mention that for olfactory reasons most fertiliser was simple wood ash, collected from the kitchen every day. 

A forgotten request came to the forefront of Titus' mind all of a sudden. He did not hesitate in sharing it with Attis, who probably was aware of it already. "Before it slips my mind, a request from Longinus which will be enforced: you're not to go back to his domus until I receive word from him that you are allowed to. No visits on your day off, no errands that by chance take you thereabouts, no letters or messages, no arranging meetings outside with your friends. If you want to mingle, take it to the whores at the Elysium." A last resort if Attis had no luck making 'friends' amongst his kind during his stay.

@Sharpie

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Screw the donkey. Bugger a horse. I hope Dis cuts your balls off and feeds them to you while roasting you over a very hot fire. Slowly.

There were ways around that without going anywhere near the house, not that he was going to take any chances. It wasn't as though Attis went looking for loopholes, he just took advantage of them when he came across them (much like his master did. His actual master, not this jumped-up shit-eating bastard, who was definitely enjoying this far more than he had any right to.)

Anyway, Attis wouldn't touch the whores of the Elysium if they were the last people on earth other than him - who knew what diseases they carried. He'd have more fun with his own hand. Not that he was going to say as much, he was in enough trouble.

"Yes, dominus."

 

@Liv

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If their little chat was a lesson in facial expression control, then Attis was passing with flying colours. There was hope for his tongue yet - if he didn't go and ruin it all in the coming days.

And yet there was something slightly nerve-wracked and supremely annoying about Attis' impassiveness. Was he even paying attention or had he tuned out and was just spouting 'yes domine' and 'no domine' in alternating fashion? Time to throw him a little curveball.

Titus grinned. "Attis, you're calling me all sorts of names in your head right now, aren't you?"

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"Names, domine?" Attis had long ago perfected a look of innocence and deployed it, full-strength, now. Anyway, it was only one or two actual names. Mostly it was dreaming up all sorts of far more imaginative things for Titus to suffer in the afterlife. He wondered how many inventive things he could come up with in the next days. Weeks. Months. Years, if it took that long. For both Titus and his actual master.

"I wouldn't dream of it, domine." Because mere names are so unimaginative, on the whole. Actual insults, on the other hand...

 

@Liv

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Attis had been listening after all. How disappointing. Still, the innocent look on his face was revealing enough - a more dignified and respectful slave would have bristled at the suggestion. Even his placid body slave, who was never thrown off his rhythm by anything unless it had to do with the gardener, would have quietly expressed his outrage. 

Titus' grin morphed into his customary resting bitch face. "You need to become a better liar if you're not going to change your ways, Attis." He gave a deep sigh, mostly for dramatic purposes. Valeria's own little brand of eccentricity was rubbing off on him again.

"I think that's the gist of it. Any questions that are not 'when may I go back'?"

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Who the fuck said I was lying, domine? It wasn't names I was thinking up - how boring that would be. You could stand to grow an imagination. You might even like it.

If Titus Sulpicius wanted Attis' cynical side while he was here, he'd get it. Along with all the 'yes, domine' 'no domine' the man could wish for. It was all an act, anyway; he'd just find another mask to wear - like the actors did in the stupid plays they put on that he got to see sometimes when his master (his real master) was in a nice enough mood to let him go to the theatre.

And if he'd thought that Attis was afraid of a little hard work, well, that just went to show how much work that a body slave did went unnoticed by outsiders. He would probably return home to find his master's private room an unutterable disaster and half his tunics filthy, the rest creased as a ploughed field and half his togas torn to shreds or covered in filth from the streets. Vitus had a head for correspondence and dictation and could keep the master's records straight, but to keep the master's person looking half-presentable as well when Longinus never listened to him?

"No, domine." Nothing he couldn't ask any of the other slaves in the house, or learn himself through observation. Certainly nothing he wanted to ask of the man behind the desk - or that he'd want (or be able) to answer.

 

@Liv

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For all the agreeing Attis was doing, nothing gave off the feeling of having actually stuck with him. Titus suspected the slave would be on his second-best behaviour for a couple of days until he got a better reading of those in the household, masters and servants alike, and then would go right back to his usual ways armed with some knowledge on how to avoid detection. 

Fortunately for Titus, there was an equally (if not more) pig-headed slave, who was conveniently more reward-oriented too. And snitching on Attis should be right up Zia's alley - all Titus had to do was dangle the visitation carrot and she would tail Attis better than any hound if it meant she could go see her boy one more time. 

"Very well. Your day off will be a week from now, so long as you behave. Don't take it for granted. Now off to the kitchen with you, Betua will tell you what to do." Titus shooed Attis away with his hand as if he were batting a fly. This was going to be frustrating, but perhaps a little fun too.

@Sharpie 

____________

Shall we wrap it up here?

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Yeah, yeah, fuck you too.

Longinus needed to get better friends. Attis couldn't for the life of him work out why they got on with each other. Titus Sulpicius Rufus was as uptight as any matron. He probably wasn't getting anything in the bedroom department. Actually, that would explain a lot about him. Did Dis have any sort of punishment for the eternally uptight, he wondered. Sisyphus with his rock, Tantalus with his unquenchable thirst, Ixion on his wheel... Sulpicius Rufus eternally fucking and never coming was a nice picture to put alongside the others. Or being fucked? Why not both?!

Attis never took anything for granted, but wasn't about to say as much.

"Yes, domine," he said, for the last time that evening, and fucked off. He would have to see how the rest of the household worked but it might not be so bad after all.

 

@Liv

__________

Yeah, I think so - it was fun! Attis and Titus might not think so, of course. 😄

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