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Formiae, late June 75 AD

After close to three days on horseback, Titus would have been lying if he said he didn't fancy a nice long walk to stretch his legs, and maybe even a massage. Attis had kept pace surprisingly well and without much complaining, or perhaps he had complained but Titus was riding too far ahead to hear it. His shoddy hearing helped with that, too - blessings in disguise, such were the gods' mysterious ways.

The villa in Formiae was very nicely kept, and not a thing seemed to be out of its proper place - testament that the master did not live there full time, as its current state would have been impossible to maintain had that been the case. The slaves, on the other hand, seemed displeased that yet more visitors had come to disturb their existence with even more needs to be attended to. 

Ignoring the doorkeeper's repeated excuses that his dominus was unavailable, Titus gave the man a look that could have made a legionary wet himself and brushed him aside to walk past, not bothering to wait for his friend's body slave to explain the situation to the doorkeeper. Attis could stay behind and elucidate the other slave or he could follow and help find his master quicker.

"Longinus!" he called out as he made his way to the atrium, ignoring the scandalised glances some slaves shot him. Good thing most villas had a very similar layout. "I'm here to return Attis to you, I can't stand him anymore!" And find out what in Jupiter's name has got into you.

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He could sense Titus' dislike of the silence and it made him smile a little more. That Attis was silent was disconcerting, but then he supposed he never really paid attention to his body slave when in

Attis closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Sulpicius Rufus was concerned for his friend, and rightly so. Attis was likewise concerned for his master. He had never known Cassius Longinus

"An excellent choice," Titus agreed, inwardly thanking whatever deity had inspired Longinus to make it. Few things sounded as unappetising at that moment than ending up covered in a layer of sweat mix

Attis gave a very brief explanation to the doorkeeper, with a promise to give a fuller one later. It helped that the man recognised him, but the door still closed behind them with a very pointed bang.

He rolled his eyes behind Sulpicius Rufus' back. He had not been as bad as that - and if he had, it just proved how dull and boring the man was. Three days on the road hadn't improved matters in the slightest and Attis had given up on him.

He glanced around what he could see of the villa. It was nice and neat and tidy. Too tidy. His master didn't have a neat bone in his body, and for a villa he was in to be this immaculate did not bode well. He could only hope that things weren't as bad as they seemed.

 

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Longinus groaned, removing the forearm that had been slung over his eyes as he had laid out in the garden - trying to doze. His sleep had been worse over the last few weeks, as bad as it had been when he had first returned home - every other night or so plagued by nightmares of some far off battlefield, the smell of blood, the screams of men. It had been soothed over recent months but that soothing presence had left him, so back they returned. He had explicitly asked for no visitors - he was in absolutely no fit mood to receive guests, nor did he want them in the first place. 

He largely spent his nights awake, trying to avoid the nightmares by keeping active; walking and pacing, moving furniture around until his agitation eased. By day he went on his long rambling walks or swam to try and shake out the mood he had been in since he had arrived. It hadn't worked, and he didn't recall the last time a smile had crossed his face. One certainly wasn't on his lips now as he stood with an ache across his legs and glanced dispassionately between Attis and Titus.

"I asked for peace, you shouldn't have come." A slave girl looked awkwardly between the three of them, unsure of whether to offer the guest a drink. Judging by the look of thunder on her dominus' face, she decided against it and didn't. He didn't say anything else, and instead just folded his arms across his chest - glancing in irritation between the pair of them. Let them feel unwelcome. 

 

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Good grief. Titus didn't quite know what he had been expecting, but finding Longinus in the garden in his present state wasn't it. His friend was back to his unkempt ways - probably hadn't had a shave or cut in weeks. The easy, sometimes irritating smile that often danced on his lips was gone too, replaced by a scowl that Titus decided did not really suit him. He was the scowler in their trio, not Longinus.

"I too asked for a great many things that ended up not happening," he retorted sarcastically, snapping his fingers at the anxious slave girl to bring him something to drink. He stood there for some moments, first glaring at Longinus with a mix of frustration and disapproval, then letting his gaze soften with concern after exchanging a quick glance with Attis. This was not normal. Everybody went through rough spots, but even in the period that followed Antonia's passing, Longinus had not looked so... defeated. He was sure Attis would agree, with his far deeper knowledge of his master's moods and routines.

The girl returned with a cup of wine, and though Titus took it from her he did not drink right away. "What happened?" he asked softly, as if he were talking to a skittish horse. "Did one of you get cold feet?" No way that pathetic dowry excuse had a hint of truth to it, not in this particular case. "Or... was it her father?"

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Jupiter, you look bloody terrible, Attis thought, before pushing the girl to go and get Titus something to drink. Longinus looked as though he'd slept in his tunic - worse, almost as though he hadn't taken it off in several days. His perennial beard was back and Attis couldn't help wondering what on earth might be trying to nest in his hair. And he hadn't been sleeping - Attis had only seen shadows like those when Longinus had had his sleep interrupted by nightmares of gods-knew-what. At least he might be able to help with that; he'd picked up a couple of remedies for various things during his years of service and would get one of them down Longinus if it was the last thing he did.

He needed someone to look after him and Attis hadn't been there.

Valerian root to help with the sleeplessness - provided Longinus wouldn't play the idiot and would actually drink it! - and willow-bark for the headache Attis was sure must be plaguing him. He silently dropped his belongings in a corner (he would retrieve them later) and followed the girl to the kitchen in search of hot water and a beaker, returning moments later with the willow-bark infusion.

"Drink this, Domine, it'll help with the headache," he said, going to one knee beside his master and offering him the beaker.

 

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Longinus' jaw worked and he glared fire at Titus. Attis was not spared his irritation either although he wordlessly took the cup - just to hold, not to drink - not now. He didn't even look at his body slave, but remarked; "You've trained him up I see." There was no trace of mirth in his voice however, and he waved a hand, turning his back to stalk over and sit down again on the couch he had previously been attempting sleep on. He didn't invite Titus to join him, but suspected the man would come over uninvited regardless. 

"And you can kindly fuck off." He retorted to Titus, tired eyes without any trace of amusement. "I didn't ask you here, I certainly didn't ask to be questioned." He mumbled and took a sip of the steaming liquid. It's tase made his nose scrunch up in revulusion and he set it down on the side. "Go put your things away if you're staying." He remarked blandly to Attis. In that moment, his mood was so dark he truly didn't care if his faithful man stayed or went. He glanced up at Titus; "And you can water your horse and then leave." He sighed and reclined his legs on the couch, rolling his head back until it hit a pillow - the throb of pain in his temples getting worse.

 

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Longinus was being a stubborn prick, but that was all right: Titus had plenty of experience being one too and was rather confident in his skills and endurance. If they had to be here all day trading insults, so be it - his legs had been through far longer rides. "I did say I would teach him a new trick or two," he riposted humourlessly without missing a beat. Attis must be sick with worry, going by the way he wasted no time in fetching Longinus some mysterious concoction. Might have been a hangover cure, except for the fact there was no tell-tale odour of a thoroughly pissed person wafting through the air. Maybe it was just something to cheer him up.

"No," Titus stated in the same final tone he used when shutting down an unreasonable request from one of his children. It would take much more than angry words to get him to leave, especially after bearing witness to the sorry state Longinus was in. "In case you haven't noticed because you're too busy wallowing in pity, you twat, your friends are concerned. I count myself amongst them, so..." He walked over to Longinus and joined him on the sofa, unceremoniously moving his friend's legs aside so he could sit more comfortably. Now that he thought about it, he should have brought Tranquillus along too; somehow his body slave always knew the sensible thing to say or do in spite of his placid looks. 

Titus glared back at Longinus, lips pressed into a thin line, before sighing and sending out a silent plea to Attis with a pointed look. Come on, back me up here. "Your mother's worried." Titus didn't know for sure, but imagined it was true. "Cassia is worried too." Of course she would be, poor thing, even if Longinus didn't have the best track record. "So is Aulus. And Valeria. And myself." He had no doubt Attis should be listed as well, but he would let the slave argue his own case to his master and with that strengthen their shared cause. "You can shut yourself away all you like, but you cannot stop those who care about you from worrying. And it's not like you to let this go on for so long, even more so with no explanation." 

There was nothing but seriousness in his features, and his voice was now calm and collected. As much as he wanted to literally smack some sense into Longinus' thick skull, it didn't feel like it would lead anywhere at this point. "So I'm only going back with another horse and you on it. If that's not agreeable to you, your slaves better get a guest room ready then."

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"Everyone's worried, Domine," Attis said. He beckoned one of the house slaves over and gave him instructions in a low voice to have some food prepared for the master, naming a couple of Longinus' favourite dishes. He was going to get his master to eat something even if he had to hand-feed him like some Eastern despot. "And I know it tastes horrible, Domine, but it's only willow bark - it really will help your headache. And don't tell me you haven't got a headache," he added wryly before he could stop himself.

If he thought Longinus would listen to him, he'd pack both senators off to the bathhouse for a proper soak and massage, and get out a fresh tunic for Longinus to change into afterwards. He wasn't about to come out with some stupid platitude like 'there'll be someone else', not at this stage of the game. He was not suicidal, after all, and that would be the quickest way to bring Longinus out of this funk into a towering rage in which he would see Attis nailed up to a cross in the garden.

Perhaps they should summon a medicus - for Longinus to be like this, his humours must be out of balance, and a medicus would be able to help restore the balance. He looked up at Sulpicius Rufus, a questioning look on his face.

 

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Longinus cast a deep glare at his friend as he unceremoniously dumped his legs on the floor, but said nothing. If they wanted to bother him, so be it, he knew he could be stubborn as a mule and he was not going to budge on this, he was not going back to Rome. 

He cast an unimpressed glance between Titus and Attis, arching a brow; "Everybody's worried that they don't have the latest gossip." He made tsk sound and rolled his head back down to rest on the pillow, his temples pulsating. Fine. He'd just call Titus' bluff. He glanced sideways  to Attis and waved a hand, "Get one of the shitheads here to set up a room for Titus then." He yawned and concealed it with the back of his hand. He felt exhausted and couldn't pin down whether that was because he wasn't sleeping, was over exercising or was just generally depressed. It was probably an unfortunate combination of all three.

He narrowed his eyes at Titus from his half-reclined perch, "So you two are just here to get the latest gossip for Valeria's sewing circle, or Horatia's book club - right?" 

 

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Titus' frustration was evident in the way he bit his lip and closed his eyes for a moment, counting to ten in his head before opening them again so that he might extract another small measure of patience from Jupiter knew where. If he was going to be staying at the villa for an undetermined amount of time, he would need a whole legion's worth of it. His eyes met Attis' and he nodded in reply to the unspoken question. Whatever the body slave thought was the best course of action at this moment, he should go and make it happen - and now Attis had the perfect motive to excuse himself for a couple of minutes.

The little barbed comment Longinus made hurt him more than he let on; was this really what his friend thought of him? That he had come collect information with which to feed Rome's ever-spinning rumour mill? He wanted to believe it was spite and annoyance talking, told himself it had to be so. He also wanted to believe those same emotions were responsible for Longinus' lack of interest in confiding in him, because the alternative was so much more saddening: that they weren't such good friends after all. Good for a night out drinking or exchanging legion stories, but not for when a wedding was cancelled practically the day of. 

He gave Longinus a look heavy with something between despondency and disapproval and shook his head briefly, holding eye contact. Contrary to what Longinus had implied - hoped for, maybe - Titus was not running away. "No." He ignored the rude bait - sarcasm and petty insults were low-hanging fruit, but he was serious. And he wanted Longinus to understand he meant it. "We came because whatever is plaguing you has had you shut off from everyone for close to a month. Because we care about you, Lucius." If this first-time use of his friend's praenomen didn't impress significance to his words, then he wasn't sure what could. "Do you trust us so little that you would rather suffer alone? That you think we would mock you or tell the world about your troubles rather than lend an ear and offer no judgement?"

Gods, now would be the perfect time for Attis to exercise the rash tongue that had seen him sent away and speak freely of his concern and devotion to his master's wellbeing. Titus thought he spied some movement out of the corner of his eye and prayed it was the slave, but didn't turn away from Longinus. 

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Attis closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Sulpicius Rufus was concerned for his friend, and rightly so. Attis was likewise concerned for his master. He had never known Cassius Longinus to devolve into such a funk before.

"Nobody has come to gloat," he said firmly, once he realised that the citizens were somehow dancing around one another as though they weren't old friends. "Or gather gossip or any such thing. Titus Sulpicius Rufus, whatever else he may be, is not one to gloat over his friend's misfortune, or gossip about it. Contrary to what you might think, domine, he's come because he's your friend and he's worried about you because you've high-tailed it here almost without a word to anyone."

He really was going to get himself crucified at this rate. Or sent to the mines. Or sent to the arena to take part in a wild-animal show as dinner for the wild animals.

"Now, before you run the risk of looking like a terrible host, I suggest you invite your friend to join you in the bath-house where he can rinse off the dust of the journey and you can get yourself a proper massage, and you stop trying to cut yourself off from people who actually care for you, the gods know why. And then you can have a nice friendly chat over dinner."

And I'll go and make ready to head to the Elysian Fields, if they let slaves in there, he added mentally. He didn't think he'd ever spoken quite so bluntly to his master - certainly he'd never done so in front of Sulpicius Rufus. Oh well. On the other hand, let's make that dinner followed by an early night probably after angry-sex with the body slave who's suddenly turned up. He can be useful for something besides running his mouth.

 

@Sara @Liv

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Longinus' attention was predictably caught be the use of his praenomen. Few people used it, he'd always just been Longinus (he supposed because there were so few Longini left in Italia). But it also caught his attention because one of the few other people who had used it was now locked in Carthage. He swallowed the lump in his throat.

About to respond, he was cut off by an interjection from Attis - and Longinus turned his attention to his faithful body slave. He'd never heard Attis speak to him like this, not ever. It riled him, but only because he knew the man was right. He stayed silent in his anger for a few long, drawn out moments, exhaling sharply through his nose. When he did speak, it was to ignore Attis and directed at Titus. "Fat load of good you did him." He jabbed his finger in Attis' general vicinity and pushed himself up from the sofa with a grunt - moving to find the pitcher of wine that had been left out for him earlier, ignoring Attis' willow-bark concoction. 

He was in no mood, however, to chide his body slave. He had missed him. But that didn't mean he was going to follow his suggestion. Sitting back down, he gestured for Attis to join them at a seat set apart which up until Titus had arrived he'd used to perch his wine on. "She left me." He said after a pregnant pause with a shrug, taking a deep sip of wine. "You want the whole story, or have the gossips in Rome already filled it in for you both?" He had no idea what they were saying in the city, but he didn't doubt that some of it would be accurate.

 

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As Attis produced his admittedly inspired speech Titus sipped his wine, secretly impressed by the seemingly heartfelt eloquence of it. The bathhouse suggestions was also a very sensible one, the sort his own body slave might have made - maybe a thing or two had rubbed off on Attis after all. He would have to quiz the slave another time on what else Attis thought he was, though, preferably out of Longinus' sight.

"Do you mean to tell me he was this reasonable before?" Titus quipped back from behind the cup he was slowly nursing. Longinus had not flat out denied his slave's words, but neither did he seem to have appreciated them. It was hard to say if his anger was abating. Titus shifted in his seat so Longinus had more space to get up and watched him intently. That willow-bark drink was no fan favourite by all appearances.

At the revelation that followed, Titus could only lower his gaze and look sad. He was sad, for Longinus. He had seemed so happy when the two of them and Aulus had gone out drinking... no wonder Longinus had become so grim, especially considering how it had seemed to be a mutual understanding between him and his bride rather than old men pulling the strings and donning the matchmaker's role. "I am so sorry," he offered, genuinely regretful. Longinus might take the words as empty platitudes, but they weren't.

His friend's insistence on gossip was starting to intrigue Titus. Why was Longinus so hung up on that? A flash of remembrance gave him a clue, and he looked at Attis for some assurance of sorts, that he was not recalling incorrectly. "Do yo-- did the graffiti have anything to do with that?" Nearly all of Rome had seen the very unflattering drawings and accompanying text depicting Longinus and Sestia Vaticana. "Did she leave to protect her reputation?" Retreating before more damage could be done was clever, but they were both free and about to be married, anyway - so why bother? It did not entirely make sense.

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Attis had run out of words and shut the hell up before getting himself into a world of trouble - actually, he'd probably already got himself into that but there was no use worrying about it. He dropped heavily onto the stool Longinus indicated as the words dropped stonily into the tense atmosphere.

"Oh, cock," was all he managed to say. The two of them had been happy together, they'd been perfect for each other. No wonder his master was so cast down.

"I didn't have anything to do with any of that!" he said, stung by the accusation that he might have been so crass as to graffiti his master's name all over Rome. He had more sense than to go spreading scurrilous gossip - and if a body slave were to do that, well! Anyway, he had pressing things to worry about than defacing the walls of buildings public and private (well, there had been that one tiny bit of text left near Longinus' house, but he knew better than to post hearsay about any free man. Especially his master.)

He shut up, as the realisation stirred that Sulpicius Rufus had not been accusing him of anything, but had merely been expressing his own confusion.

He didn't have anything that he could offer for heartbreak; he didn't fully understand the depths of emotion that Longinus experienced, preferring to keep his own emotions well hidden from anyone's view, even his own. Longinus was going to have to find his own cure for this, Attis could only offer what support a slave could. Even if he was a close slave and he wasn't entirely certain of that any more, not after the past two months.

 

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Despite his miserable mood, Longinus couldn't help but snort in amusement at Attis' timely interjection of 'Oh cock'. Trust his slave to find the best time to speak so indelicately. He waved a hand at his body slave. He knew the man wouldn't have been foolish enough to paint pictures across the city - and at any rate, he didn't think his body slave that talented of an artist. 

Well, better to be out with it - he thought. What did it matter now? "Mhm. Her father got wind of it," He sipped his wine, "And carted her back to Carthage. I tried to follow her but the weather meant no passage," He swallowed and shook his head, his hair falling across his forehead. "And by the time I could have gone, a lovely little letter arrived from her - the day before the wedding." He steeled himself. He did not wish to cry in front of his friends. "She thanked me for all that had happened, but let me know that she had miscarried our child, oh yes - you didn't know about that - she was pregnant, you see...and anyways she said that there wasn't much point in a wedding," He snorted derisively and shook his head, "And asked me not to write or visit or do anything. She wanted to forget." He chuckled darkly and drained his goblet and before he could stop himself, impulsively threw it as hard as he could at the opposing wall. The metal made contact with the plaster, shattering bits of the latter and denting the heavy weight of the cup before it clattered to the floor. 

 

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Merda. That was well and truly a clusterfuck, and Titus felt a pang of remorse at having probed so insistently. He stared down at his wine, feeling very much like a child who had done something wrong. Yet if that was how he was feeling after merely hearing what had transpired (albeit from the horse's mouth), he couldn't even begin to imagine the emotions that must have been swirling and festering inside Longinus for the past weeks.

All things considered, throwing a cup at the wall was a rather measured outlet for anger. Attis or another slave would undoubtedly pick it up soon and bring their master a new one. Titus opened his mouth to speak - of what? Offer condolences for the lost child? Claim he understood? He did not. Thank Fortuna and all the gods he did not, and hopefully never would. But he had suffered loss and disappointment and powerlessness throughout his life, and thinking back to those days, it had not been words that had comforted him. It had been reassurance, however flimsy it had seemed at the time. Empathy. 

Titus put down his goblet down with slow, measured gestures and gave Longinus a long, cheerless look before pulling his friend into a tight hug. Words weren't his forte anyway, but this much he could do. And if Attis or one of the others thought it a funny spectacle, he prayed that Jupiter took everything they held dear, violently.

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Attis ducked - that goblet had gone entirely too close to hid head for his comfort, even though it probably wasn't aimed at him and in all likelihood hadn't gone within two feet of his head. He had nothing to offer at this moment and had never felt more helpless. As Sulpicius Rufus put his arms around his friend Attis got to his feet to hiss at the slaves still hanging around, telling them to clear off and if they so much as breathed a word of this they would pray Jupiter strike them down with a thunderbolt because that would be better than what they'd get from him.

He was in an awkward anomalous position here - as a slave, he couldn't just offer condolences as Rufus was doing, and yet he'd known Longinus longer (he thought) and to see his master in such distress tore at him.

He reached out awkwardly to pat his master on the shoulder, wishing he had some clue what he ought to do or to say.

 

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Longinus did not expect this. Titus was his closest friend, not that he said as much to the man, but he was yet they'd never shared much emotional bonding outside of quick retorts and drunken moaning. This was different and he felt genuinely emotional as the man embraced him. Attis' hand on his shoulder did not go unnoticed either, and he did nothing to shrug it off. Simply being able to say out loud what had happened shifted the weight from his shoulders a little. Not completely, of course, it was still there and hanging over him like a dark cloud but having somebody to verbalise it to made it easier. 

Longinus pulled back first and pushed a hand through his uncombed hair. "You're a bloody woman. Next you'll be wearing a stola." He muttered with an arched brow, but it was a joke - the first he'd cracked in weeks. 

He sighed and let his head roll back until it was hanging over the back of the couch as he stared upwards to the ceiling. He spoke absently, not really to either of them. "Who'd have thought that night when we went for drinks I'd end up back where I started only a month a later, hm?" He scoffed. It was worse though, he wasn't back where he started, he was worse than before. He now knew exactly what he was missing out on, and that guttural feeling of loss. His eyes danced over the painted ceiling of the peristyle. "I want to get very drunk." 

 

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Oftentimes actions spoke louder than words (almost always, except where the Senate was concerned). This was one such time. He had half-expected Longinus to push him away amidst angry objections, but for once it was good to be proven wrong. And however the gesture made his friend feel... Titus hoped that for as long as it lasted, Longinus did not feel so utterly alone. Predictably, however, his moody friend soon extricated himself, and he made no effort to prevent it. Attis seemed to have dispensed physical consolation at some point too, given how his arm was drawing away from Longinus's general direction. Titus reckoned there would be more of that particular type of consolation after it got pitch dark and they retreated to their respective rooms. 

"If that's what you're into go to the Venus, I'm not doing that just to cheer you up," Titus grumbled back, at first making a show of being offended but finishing his sentence with a playful smile. All hope was not lost, even if it had not wanted to be found. 

He picked up his goblet again and took a cautious sip, saved from having to reply by it - although it didn't quite sound as though Longinus expected him or Attis to agree or disagree. The last comment, however, was easier to acknowledge. "Already working on it," he raised his cup towards his friend in something resembling a toast and drank on. "But Attis made a good point earlier about a nice bath." They had better get that out of the way before raiding the amphorae, lest they end up like old men from urban legends who drowned in the thermae after passing out drunk.

And after a nice bath, a nice dinner, like Attis had suggested. Plus a gloomy little chat. But it was better to pick at the wound and clean it to keep it from festering, however much it hurt, than to leave it to its own devices. "Speaking of which, when was the last time you had one? Or actually ate something?" Even if Longinus should grow stroppy now, hopefully his body slave had a few tricks up his sleeve to get his master to start taking care of himself again or letting somebody do it for him.

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"A nice bath and a clean tunic and dinner, and as much wine as you've got in the cellars, domine," Attis said. "And a proper massage, for both of you." Longinus' shoulder had felt as tight as anything under his hand, and that couldn't be helping his headache, either. And just how long had he worn the tunic he had on, too? Without anyone to actually look after him (had he brought Vitus with him? Attis hadn't seen any sign that he had!), Attis was pretty sure that he'd just been wearing the same tunic day after day.

Ah, Mercury. Had he even brought clothes with him, or had he just left Rome in a tearing hurry without thinking about minor inconveniences like that? Would Attis' spare tunics fit him? They'd be among the nicest clothing in the place if Longinus had just up and left.

"I'll make sure there's wine in the bathhouse ready for you, domine," he added firmly. He was not going to take 'no' for an answer this time.

 

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Longinus muttered a non-committal response of "Earlier." To the question of when he last ate, although truthfully it must have been some time yesterday. He had been known throughout his life for his odd habits and needless energy and exercised religiously to stave it off. Unfortunately, now his appetite was null and void but that daily habit continued he was looking wan and gaunter than usual. The question about when he last visited the in-house baths was not one that needed answering. 

Reluctantly, he pulled himself to his feet and snorted a; "Thank you mother.At Attis' insistence. He had missed his body slave, and felt comfort from his presence - as he did with Titus' - even if he was loathed or unable to admit it in his present state. 

He glanced dispassionately down at Titus on the couch and jerked his head. "Come on then, weary traveller." The slaves - he noted, had been standing around ogling their masters guest as they fluttered away as Longinus stepped through into the main portion of the villa - leading the way to the bathing facilities. His back was turned to Titus and he was relieved he didn't have to see the other man's face as he asked, quietly; "Does anybody believe the dowry story?" He prayed to Gods some did. His reputation didn't need denting. 

 

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Attis was making a lot of sense - one could only hope his master got the hint and followed suit. Wine in the bathhouse could be questionable if there was an excess of it, but Titus trusted that Attis would make sure they didn't get a near-unlimited supply before dinner. He did not need to be told twice to follow - the thought of a nice soak after scraping off the dust from the travel was an appealing one. 

"I suppose so. I mean, most people know you are not like that, but..." They don't know that she isn't like that, Titus completed the sentence in his head. The costly house renovation Sestia Vaticana had embarked in could very well have been a reason for such a disagreement had it been real. "If there have been other rumours other than the stuff on walls all over Rome, I'm not aware of them," he explained as he trailed after Longinus through the villa. He didn't care much for gossip nor did he actively seek it when out and about. "Attis may be better informed, though. Slaves hear a lot of things." 

The baths were spacious, and Titus wasted little time in making himself ready for them. The slave that took his clothes was smart enough to look downwards for the duration of their brief interaction, but gave in to curiosity moments later. Titus ignored it; they probably didn't see new faces round the villa often, and could quite literally be considered as much part of the furniture as a table or couch. Instead, he cast Longinus an expectant look. "What do you want to do first, soak or sweat?"

@Sharpie @Sara

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"People will believe all sorts of nonsense, domine; you'll never get the entire city to believe one thing," Attis pointed out, following them to the bath-house, feeling rather like he was herding cats. Well, one cat (Longinus) and who knew what Sulpicius Rufus was. "You can't believe the stuff you see scrawled on the walls, either," he added. There was certainly no point in wasting energy getting worked up about it - it'd all be painted over with the next five-minutes' wonder if you ignored it, after all. Or scrawled over with 'I got laid here' and various complaints of how the city's most famous gladiator was hung like a mouse.

He helped his master out of his tunic, balling it up and consigning it to the 'needs washing urgently' pile, sending someone to fetch the master a clean tunic from the things he left in storage in his room.

He hastily threw a towel over each of the marble benches in the caldarium, ready for when they wanted their massage, and stepped back out of the way.

 

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Longinus listened to the platitudes of Titus and Attis with vague interest. The dowry story was the easiest and most convenient thing he, and a very flustered and stressed Vitus, could come up with in such a short space of time. He had hoped it would be at least passably plausible. Then again - he supposed darkly - new gossip sprang up every day in Rome and by next week his indiscretion with Sestia; graphically depicted on the walls of the eternal city, would be very much old news.

He allowed Attis to help undress him - feeling the tension in his muscles and he pulled his hand across his neck to try and make it click. He'd been overdoing it on his runs and walks and swims and knew it, and his body was protesting. "Soak. If I steam my sweat will just be pure wine at this point." He muttered and moved, shamelessly naked, into the decent enough sized pool. Unlike his domus in Rome which contained all manner of eclectic things and decorations that he liked - much to the horror of his mother - he'd not really touched the villa. It remained largely the domain of his parents before his fathers passing, and then Antonia - and he smirked at the frescoes of lovers entwined as he sank into the water, but his heart caught. Hadn't Sestia mentioned something about visiting after the wedding, and helping him redecorate?

Trying to rid himself of the conversation and with absolutely no grace, he dunked his head under the water and came up with hair plastered all over his face. He moved to the side and held out his hand for a cup of wine. As Attis approached, he flicked his eyes between his body slave and Titus, referring to both as he spoke; "You two have a good time together then? At his place?" He jerked his head at Titus and glanced between them. He needed something to think about besides the conversation that now played in his head of the woman he was going to marry drawing up plans for the villa. The villa she'd never visit. 

 

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"An excellent choice," Titus agreed, inwardly thanking whatever deity had inspired Longinus to make it. Few things sounded as unappetising at that moment than ending up covered in a layer of sweat mixed with grimy road dust. He followed Longinus' example and entered the pool, slightly more reassured now that his friend had almost willingly gone from moping in his garden to making an attempt at personal hygiene. The temperature was just right and Titus stretched with abandon, groaning in satisfaction at the few pops and cracks that followed. Between the inevitability of growing older and the stiffness brought on by hours on end on a horse, letting the water work out the kinks and knots sounds as close to reaching the Elysian fields as he would probably ever get.

"Oh yes, we're the best of friends now." Titus looked up at Attis with a grin so fake even a statue's smile would have seemed more natural; yet there was humour in his eyes, as if daring the slave to contradict him. "I did say I couldn't promise he'd change his ways, but he stayed out of trouble as far as I know." He didn't think Attis would ever change - he was too set in his ways and his master, even if not directly encouraging, was certainly lenient. Titus sunk deeper into the water, closing his eyes like a cat as he savoured the feeling of the warm liquid lapping up round his shoulders. When he opened them again, it was to glance at Attis once more. He could hardly deny he enjoyed taking the piss out of Longinus' body slave for a little while, before irritation won over amusement. "Think he's quite capable of taking over for Cassia's nurse now, if needed. But why don't you tell your master about your time in my place, Attis?"

@Sharpie @Sara

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