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Late August, 75AD

Longinus was mulling. He didn't like these sort of parties at the best of times, but certainly not since his return from Greece where the news of his failed engagement was less fresh than before, but still simmered beneath the surface. He saw the pitying looks from friends, the preying glances from unmarried girls and the scornful look of the married matrons that milled through the party. So he'd retreated, as he often did in these instances, outside. It allowed him the fresh air he needed on these hot summer evenings, and a chance to stretch his legs. It also gave him space from the other party goers. Bliss. 

The sound of music and chatter and laughter filtered from the triclinium through into the garden and he sat on the bench, kicking stones with his sandalled feet. He'd made the effort tonight at least, given he knew Titus and or Aulus would comment if he didn't. Fairly clean shaven (with his perennial stubble not budging...), and cut hair at least. He'd dressed in one of his more formal blue tunic and pallium, but despite dressing the part, he didn't feel ay real mood to party. He continued to kick rocks as the laughter intensified and a couple came into the garden to join him, taking a seat on another bench with giggles - utterly unaware, or uncaring, that he was sat only a few feet away. 

Another figure drew out into the garden and he glanced up, hoping it was one of his friends and not another stranger. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, but he tried to effect a polite smile on his face. 

 

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Caecina, as she always was at a party, was in her element. She selected her social engagements carefully, in order to maintain her reputation of associating with the best and brightest of Rome, and tonight she had been invited to this party at the home of a well-to-do senatore family. Ever the social butterfly, the girl flitted from group to group throughout the night, teasing here, complimenting there, flirting with this boy and that who wanted her attention. She was happiest here, where she could be the center of attention. 

But even a social butterfly needs a break, and Caecina decided to do just that several hours into the action. Disengaging herself from a group of young women, who were senseless anyway, the young woman made her way outside to the garden, loosening her chiton slightly to let the air cool her skin. She eventually found herself approaching a sitting area with three people, a couple and a rather attractive man by himself. Interested as she always was at the sight of a man, she gave a bright, friendly smile and approached, pulling her chiton around her once again to feign a chill. "Goodness, but it's cold this evening! Luckily, it was getting rather hot inside." She sized him up again. "This seat isn't taken, is it?"

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Longinus arched a brow at her. Was she asking him...to move, or just to take a seat next to him? He blinked and shook his head with a light shrug, "No, not at all, be my guest." He indicated to the vacant seat with a sweeping motion of his arm, moving further down the bench as he did so, so as to not encroach on her personal space. 

He sat there awkwardly, quiet, and irritated by the endless sounds of giggling and whispers coming from the couple opposite them. He glanced sideways at his new companion, arching a brow as he studied her face. She didn't look familiar, but then again, after a while most of the young women at these parties with their immaculate hair and jewellery and clothes started to blend into one. Not really knowing what to do, he inclined his head, "I'm afraid I might have forgotten your name, my lady." He managed an amused grin that lit up his face as he narrowed his eyes on her face. 

 

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Caecina smiled graciously and sat with a flare of her chiton, spreading her skirts demurely. "Thank you very much." Her attention was briefly caught by the young couple and she nearly scoffed out loud before realizing that would be a rather unladylike thing to do. But really, the girl should have been more tactful and maneuvered her catch away from prying eyes - any practiced coquette would have done the same. 

She had remained quiet for a while, firstly because she wanted to rest her voice a moment and secondly to see if the man would speak first. And he did, she noted happily. "How very rude of me!" she said, shaking her head at herself. "Caecina Tusca. It is very nice to meet you, sir. May I ask your name?"

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Longinus chuckled at her exclamation. Ah! The famous Caecina Tusca, one time feature of a certain list compiled by Titus Sulpicius Rufus. "A pleasure, Caecina," He inclined his head, "Your reputation precedes you." There was an amused quirk on his lips. "Or your fathers reputation does, at any rate." 

"Lucius Cassius Longinus." He affirmed with a nod of his head and a little sigh. He rarely went by Lucius, unless it was his mother - or oddly...Aulus, talking to him. "You'll have to forgive me if we've met before, these parties have a habit of blurring into one for me." He was a man that liked energy and action; talking pleasantries over wine in shadowy corners was the preserve of better, more political men. He took a sip of the wine he was holding, purely out of habit, and then glanced sideways at his new company. "I trust you're enjoying the night though...? You might have to help me navigate it...I might not even know whose hosting this one, come to think of it..."

 

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Caecina smiled, obviously pleased with the compliment. It dimmed a little at the mention of her father, but she managed to recover quickly enough. "I should hope it is a good reputation," she said with a flirtatious grin. "And that my father isn't the only reason I'm known." She didn't like being associated with him, even knowing that their strained relationship was kept strictly under wraps per Juliana's request and the logical side of Caecina's mind. She knew it was never a good idea to go airing ones dirty laundry for everyone to see. "Do you know him?" She really wondered whether he had served under him in the army, since she'd recently discovered an interest in uniformed men. 

"It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Lucius." She noted the little sigh but ignored it, in a good enough mood where she didn't want to worry over other people's problems. Like the ninny on the bench opposite, who was stupid enough to let a man kiss her in public and not rebuke him cleverly, making him want more. Lucius spoke again and Caecina smiled. "I'd be glad to - events like these are my specialty, if I may say so. But they are not for everyone, I know." She looked toward the house as he said he wasn't sure who was hosting tonight, thinking for a moment. "Aurelia Gaia, I believe. She's sweet." Caecina fell quiet again, finding herself wanting to learn more about this man but not knowing where to start. 

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"Not personally," He shook his head, "I served in Britannia and he came across the sea after I'd already left, sadly." It was probably for the best, all things considered. His somewhat...maverick approach to strategies and organisation in his legion had always delivered exceptional results but were hardly by the book. The previous Proconsul, useless as he was, seemed to at least understand that and largely left Longinus to it. He wasn't so sure Tuscus would have done the same. Realising he'd missed out answering  the first question she'd posed, he chuckled and flashed a warm smile, "And of course it's an excellent reputation Caecina." Was it? He really didn't know. She was fishing in the wrong pond if she was after a conversation with somebody that kept up to date with gossip and reputations. 

He chuckled and inclined his head, "Then I'm at your mercy to help guide me through before I put my foot in it." Which was more than likely as he grew more and more bored. Although Caecina was at least providing some light relief for now. 

"Aurelia...Gaia." He frowned and then winced, "Can't say I've ever heard of her...Gods why am I even invited to these things?" He laughed. He knew why, of course; the paterfamilias of the gens Cassius, single, rich and recently left at the altar (or almost). And he was sure he could sense some meddling, either from his friends or family, thinking that such excursions would be 'good for him'. It really wasn't necessary; he was on sounder footing after his little foray into Greece with Attis, and parties certainly weren't the thing to cheer him up. Nonetheless, he was polite when needed and glanced at her again in the moonlight; "So...what does one do at these sorts of things that make them so brilliant, or brilliant enough to be your speciality?" 

 

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"Ah, I see. You must be terribly brave, serving Rome like that. I wish I had your courage," she said with a smile, hoping to stroke his ego to see where the compliment would take them. She really had no illusions about Britannia, having heard from her father's letters to her stepmother that it was a rather filthy place, filled with savages looking to get their fill of blood. Also, she'd heard that it rained there nearly daily - it wasn't her cup of tea, to be certain. But compliments showered upon a man were always useful in gaining his favor. At least, with the men who courted her; she used compliments like a weapon, bestowing them when she was pleased or using their opposite when her pride was bruised. And it was easily bruised. 

She smiled as he said it was an excellent reputation. "I'm sure my father is helpful in that regard, at least." Part of her realized how much she was at the mercy of her father's career to keep her afloat - what were beauty and charm when they belonged to a pauper or one not properly connected to the movers and shakers of Rome? Longinus admitted that he was at her mercy to guide him. "It would be my pleasure, naturally."

He laughed and asked why he was even invited to parties like these and she chuckled. "I'm sure there was a very good reason you were invited. And as to why I enjoy these so much, it all comes down to people." She spoke with a feigned, ironic note of wisdom. "People are what interest me, Lucius, and where there are people, there is information to be learned about them. If that isn't enough to satiate you, at least the wine and entertainment are tantalizing," she laughed. Mostly, her specialty was gathering young men about her, but one tired of being in the center of attention sometimes. 

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"Brave or bored, or...in need of a bit of discipline, in my case." He chuckled. Teenage Longinus had been a...bit of a hellion. No girl was safe, nor friends from drunken brawls. He hadn't, at that stage in his life, found a place for his endless, boundless energy and so took it out in bad ways. The military had been the best thing that he'd ever done for himself (not that he had much choice) but he had found he thrived in an environment with rules and structure, even if he spent quite a lot of his time trying to figure out how to bend them. 

He eyed her and tried not to laugh at her description of these sort of events as tantalizing. In the end, he managed to conceal it with a light chuckle and an arched brow. "And what sort of information do you go on the hunt for?" He grinned, despite himself, "The sordid sort, or the mundane, political sort?" He had plenty of both that he'd picked up just through conversation, although his interest was more on the former. He wasn't one for politics, after all. 

 

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"Ah, so you were a rabble-rouser, then?" she teased. She always found the more energetic, bad boy types to be more interesting - but it seemed like this man had mellowed out as he had aged, which was interesting as well. Caecina made very little discrimination in her choices of pursuits, whether they were older, mature men, or boys who would kiss her and she could lead around with just the promise of a kiss. Longinus was becoming interesting to her. 

She sensed a little bit of amusement at her proclamation of the various things one could learn at a party, and she wondered if he thought her very silly. That was the trouble with older beaux - they often thought of her as an immature girl, gamboling like a kitten. Some found that attractive in her - some did not. "You shame me, Lucius, suggesting I deal in petty rumors," she said with feigned indignance. But then she laughed. "But, yes, just about anything I can get my hands on interests me. Because people interest me. You don't know any fascinating gossip, do you?"

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He winced, "Just a little. I think the final straw was accidentally burning down a building on my grandfathers estate when I was seventeen, with a friend." He chuckled. Out of propriety he didn't mention that said friend was a girl and they'd lit a rudimentary fire to keep themselves warm after the act, which had spiralled out of control. Fortunately it was just a lean-to for the slaves to store gardening materials, but nonetheless he'd got the telling-off of his life.

He laughed, amused at her indignation, and held his hands up as if in apology. "Me?" He smiled, "Alas I don't move in the circles that deal in gossip much, I'm afraid." He didn't think she'd find the camp rumours of friends abroad particularly interesting and so scanned his mind for something that she could have. He smirked to himself as he came up with an idea. "There is, of course, the rumours about the Senator who has three wives." He kept his voice low, as if he was trading in some great secret. It was all utter bollocks, a complete lie, of course. But he was amused to see if she'd play along - acting as if she'd heard the tale - or call him out. "He married the first in Greece, I heard, the second in Aegyptus, and the third here. He keeps home in each province to visit them all, and nobody's the wiser." He tapped the side of his nose, as if letting  her in on confidential information. 

 

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Caecina chuckled as the man admitted to burning down a building when he was seventeen, surprised. He didn't seem the type of man to do such a thing, but Caecina had learned that appearances could be extremely deceiving in Rome. "Goodness, that's quite a tale," she grinned. She tucked the story away in her mind; perhaps she could use it as an example of why she was well-behaved when Manius tried to scold her again. She'd never burned anything down, so she couldn't be that bad, right? 

The man then went on to say that he didn't deal in gossip much. "Well, more for me," she said with a devious smile. Then he said something that caught her attention - a rumor about a senator with three wives? It was simply unheard of! Gullible with youth, Caecina's mind instantly latched on to the story and she resolved to find out who this mysterious man with three wives was - but then her disbelieving side alerted her to mischief. She regarded him with an amused, suspicious expression. "You know, Lucius," she said at length, "that is an interesting tale. But I do believe you are misleading me, a poor, innocent lady." Then she laughed aloud. "But if you want me spreading such a rumor, I might have to say that it is you who has caught three ladies in your net."

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Longinus grinned as she cottoned on. Good for her. He'd half expected her to take his word as gospel and start spreading it around the upper circles of Rome. To be fair though, it wasn't as audacious as it might seem. Given what some of his acquaintances got up to (wasn't Varus having his second child by a slave?) he could well imagine there were secret marriages out there. "Me? Mislead?" He snorted and then cracked a grin, "Never." 

He winced at her next words though. Presumably she hadn't heard of his misfortune which was both a blessing and a curse. "Alas, I'm not sure anybody would believe you." He chuckled and ran a hand across his jaw. "I've not managed one lady, let alone three beauties - no, if I were you I'd pin the story on another...you'll just need to figure out who you want to get your revenge on." He chuckled. The story wasn't a great deal in the grand scheme of things, not given have the vitriolic things already written on the walls of Rome about his friends. He hadn't quite realised until that moment that he'd just alluded to his marital status and winced. He wasn't ready for flirtation, and certainly not with somebody quite as young as Caecina. He only hoped she'd discretely brush past it. Besides, given her station she was likely already promised to another.

 

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