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Mid-November, during the Ludii Plebeii

Alexius had been looking forwards to this. Ovinia was a sweet and pretty young woman and her father trusted him too, which was important. Alexius just hoped he could trust himself. Well he could. He was quite sure that he could. Besides, he'd be distracted enough by the fights in the arena, to ignore her beauty. Well not ignore it completely, that would be unfair, but it wouldn't be a big deal. What was a big deal however, was that she had agreed to this idea. Lexus had gone with Alexius to a few games too, but he didn't seem to be so fond of it or interested. Maybe Ovinia would be?

He’d escorted her once or twice since they met, so she was more familiar with him and hopefully she felt completely safe with him. And she would today too, as he was he taking her to something she might not have been to before. The Plebian Games, which also included both theatre and competitions. They were held each year, but were mostly for the common people of Rome. But it was fun and interesting and maybe it would even be healthy for a noble lady like Ovinia to try this out. Besides, she was with Alexius. What could go wrong?

 He didn’t know whether they’d make her travel through Rome in a litter or by foot, but nonetheless, he stood outside her family domus and knocked on the door. He was dressed well, in his favorite crimson tunica and dark breeches and a cloak around his shoulders. He was a freedman, so he didn’t wear a toga. Patiently he waited in the atrium for Ovinia to arrive, after a slave let him inside.

@Sara

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Ovinia frowned at her reflection in the very pricey mirror on the table in her room. She'd never attended the Ludi Plebeii - why would she have, after all, she wasn't a plebeian and deciding what to wear was proving to be more of a challenge than it should have been. She didn't want to be overdressed and draw undue attention to herself amongst the commoners, even with Alexius there that seemed like a recipe for disaster but then again...maybe it would be aspirational for them? And in any case, there were rich plebs weren't there? 

She settled on a deep, dark yellow chiton and a pink palla embroidered with flowers in a darker pink thread and bedecked with drops of gold stitched on. It wasn't her finest set of clothes but it was certainly a cut above what she imagined most would be wearing at the arena. She reasoned a distraction - even catcalls - would be good for her. As her ornatrix finished weaving the simple twist across her hair - leaving the rest down to denote her unmarried status - Ovinia sighed. She had talked about this with Alexius months ago and had been excited but today all she felt like she could muster was a muted smile at herself. After clasping some gold bangles around her wrists she finally stood and glided out into the atrium to meet Alexius. He'd dressed up and with a self-conscious glance down at herself she realised both that; the colours of their outfits clashed and that his best clothes made hers look like a bloody costume. Still - she'd kept him waiting long enough and she thought her slaves might have a breakdown if she asked to change again. 

"Ready when you are. The litter is big enough for two." She offered him a smile, although knew the litter bearers would groan at the sight of Alexius and having to heave him to the arena. "Who are we seeing again?" she asked as she moved to the door, a distracted look passing across her face. 

 

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Alexius was smiling that certain smile at a female slave walking by, she'd looked up at him with surprise when she first came in, and now as she hurried past him, she looked away with a blush. Sweet. Well, he might return here, if he was to escort Ovinia again. Perhaps he should try and get to know the other residents of the house a bit better? That might be interesting. Very interesting. But then Ovinia showed up, beautifully dressed, although perhaps a bit overdressed too, compared at least to anyone else going to the same games. They were the plebian games. But he understood her effort, she wanted to look good and she did, no doubt about that. And as any lady with enough self-conscience, as she had, she said 'ready when you are'. As if he hadn't been ready all the time and had been the one waiting for her. But he smiled and it didn't fade when she mentioned the litter.

"You want me to ride in the litter?" He said, surprised, as they moved towards the door. Should he say he'd be just fine walking next to the litter? Maybe that would offend her, since she offered and that was kind of an invitation. Did her father approve of them riding in the same litter? Even if it was big enough for two, litters were rarely very large. But he didn't say no to the invitation, he wasn't going to start this off on a bad note. So instead he could answer her question.

"At first, there will be people warming up the crowd. Entertainment and such. I'm pretty sure my friend Thessala will be fighting there." He said with a fond smile, "And then they'll move on to the actual games. I think Magnus and Ludo are up for the first fight, but you'll probably not remember who's who anyway. Unless they impress you." He said with a grin and a wink and stopped outside the door as they waited for the litter. Should she or he enter first? He had been in a litter before, but that was under different circumstances. And it hadn't been moving. Or, it had. But not because it was carried. But that was not now. That was the past. Ovinia was the present and he'd most likely not be doing what he did back then, with her. He didn't have a death wish at the moment.

@Sara

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Ovinia blinked and looked at him. He was a freedman...was that...not normal? That she'd invite him? She knew how to deal with slaves and had dealt with enough of them ambling along next to the litter, but she hadn't really ever had a dealing with a freedman. She thought she was being polite, offering him a seat but regretted it somewhat. She'd be surrounded by slaves with her litter bearers...they'd attest to the fact that nothing inappropriate happened, wouldn't they? Self-consciously she glanced behind her to her body slave, lingering a few steps away. "Melia, you'll walk alongside the litter and then return with it to the domus." There. That way she had a chaperone but could get some alone time with Alexius once they were there. 

They walked through into the cold sun of the November day. She glanced sideways to him, trying to gauge how many of her questions were stupid. "How many fights will there be? They're not to the death are they?" She wasn't afraid of gore but the crowds in the death matches she'd seen years ago, were not to her tastes. Blood really brought out the worst in the plebs of Rome, she was sure. 

The litter wasn't long behind her question, hauled by six brawny slaves who were - despite the chill - wearing almost nothing but  thin tunics and slave collars. She glanced at it and then at Alexius, biting down on her lip. It would be a squeeze to put it mildly. She cleared her throat, as if anticipating that Alexius would offer a hand to help her in as they set it down, but then realised he wasn't a slave. He didn't have to. She blinked and coughed again so one of the litter bearers came running and held out a hand to help her in. Mercifully it was a small trip down to the arena but as she settled herself in and tried to press herself into a corner, she nonetheless looked a fraction...worried. 

 

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Apparently the invitation to join her in the litter was serious. So he’d not offend her by turning it down, although she gave him a strange look while he imagined himself in a litter. That was moving. Because it was being carried. With him and a beautiful young lady inside. Alexius was almost sure, that if he had a daughter as stunning as Ovinia, he’d not let his unmarried daughter ride in a litter with a man she was not related to. But, here they were.

She ordered her body slave to walk alongside the litter, which was a comfort, also to Alexius. And to think, this trip had been his own suggestion! But she’d seemed interested and why should he not want to teach her more about gladiators, since she willing to learn? That’s all they were going to do. Gods…

Ovinia asked more questions then… “I’m not sure how many matches there will be. And to the death… maybe the last one or the last few? But not all of them. It takes time to train a gladiator, so they don’t always fight to the death. It’s usually decided beforehand.” Although sometimes it wasn’t, sometimes it was decided while the fight was going on, by whomever Senator or high and mighty member of the Imperial family who was also present at the game. But he was pretty sure this would be like he just described.

He watched her as she glanced at the litter, as if waiting for something, and he wasn’t sure what. Did she have dust in her throat? Or… she couldn’t get into the litter herself? That was pretty cute, actually, that she thought she couldn’t do it without help. One of the litter bearers came to her aid then and once she was settled, Alexius moved to climb inside. It really wasn’t very spacious. He chose to sit across from her, leaning against the opposite corner so that he was facing her. Really they might be more comfortable for them both, if she would lean against him. But she would not and she also should not do that.

“I think I’m comfortable now.” Alexius said with an almost awkward smile to her, “I hope you are too?”

@Sara

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Ovinia was glad she was slim as she squashed herself into the corner of the litter. She heard the grunts of effort as the bearers picked up the litter and they slowly, very slowly, began to stumble down the road. She purposefully kept her hand on the side, keeping the curtain pulled back so her bodyslave could peer in, if required. She nonetheless returned Alexius' awkward smile with one of her own. "Yes. Thank you." 

She glanced sideways out to the streets beyond them. It was busy - probably because of the games and entertainment, and she let out a soft sigh, trying to distract herself in the music and the crowds that drifted past. It wasn't working though and she cast a cautious glance at Alexius. "I'm sorry, I'm not myself." She shrugged and wrapped herself tighter in her palla. "Lots on my mind." Like men and their idiocy and decisions she had to make, and make quickly. She wanted to enjoy today but every time she tried to drag herself into thoughts of gladiatorial match, they drifted back to the irritating imperial party, to a windy walk in the gardens of sallust and a scene outside a burning insula. She huffed, irritated at herself. "Distract me." She flicked her eyes to Alexius and as they crossed over a series of stepping stones, the litter jolted and her knee knocked his, "Tell me something that we'll do today that's fun." She didn't see the innuendo before, or after, she said it. 

 

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Maybe this was equally awkward for both of them. He should have just said they should walk. Ovinia had squeezed herself into a corner of the litter, keeping a hand on the side of it and the curtain pulled back and she looked out on the streets. Would she rather not be here? But he thought it would interest her. Hopefully it would, once they reached the arena. Then she wouldn't be bored. Then she'd forget that this was kind of weird. But then she suddenly looked up at him, wrapping the palla tighter around her body and said she wasn't herself. She had a lot on her mind.

"Oh... well..." Alexius wasn't sure what to say, so luckily, she huffed what was kind of an order. Did she really just say that? Alexius was very good at distracting people. He recalled distracting Teutus the day they met and that was quite nice. But of course, Ovinia didn't mean that kind of distraction. Surely she did not. Before he could answer, their legs had touched and she would know something they did that was fun. Was she... curious? What did she mean? Women were amazing, beautiful, stunning, tempting...  and mysterious creatures. 

"We're going to the arena, that's half the fun. The games." Alexius said, hoping that's what she meant. But honestly he was more curious about what else was on her mind.

"What's on your mind? If you need to talk... I'm a good listener." Among other things. But that's what she needed, he thought. Someone who would listen to her. And someone who would not lie to her. That's what all women needed, really. And so few men gave that to them. Which was why they'd seek out Alexius. Among other reasons.

@Sara

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He was right. The arena would be fun. It would be violent and busy and the perfect place to lose herself and stop...thinking, just for a moment. He seemed almost curious in a way she didn't quite understand, and unsure of his words. Were the games not fun...? She blinked, but before she had time to query it he asked what was on her mind. She huffed and shook her head, glancing back out of the window to the street. She didn't want to talk about it - didn't quite know how to talk about it and she barely knew Alexius.  For all she knew if she mentioned it to him, it'd be on the walls and streets of Rome in graffiti the very next day. She glanced back over to him and sighed. That wasn't fair. He had - for all she knew him - seemed a good man. And an honest one. 

"I am having marriage woes." She gave him a half smile, twisting up one side of her lips. "I need to make a decision on a man and I'm not sure what to do. And..." She shook her head, "I...embarrassed myself at a party, a few weeks ago, more than a few weeks ago actually but...I can't get it out of my head. And...ugh," She raised a hand and pressed her fingers to her forehead, "Life has become complicated." She gave him a sad, childish look, "In a way I never thought it would and...I don't know why. I..." She groaned again and slumped down a little in the seat of the litter. "I'm having a crisis, Alexius." 

 

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The arena would be fun and that was the reason why they sat here in this litter. Claiming to be comfortable, but Alexius honestly didn’t know if he thought it really was. It was much easier walking. But he supposed, people who could afford not walking might prefer that. Then they wouldn’t get their slippers or their fancy clothes dirty. Ovinia had very fancy clothes. And a lot on her mind, it would seem. He suggested she told him and she looked at him with surprise, but then sighed. As if the thoughts she had were some she could not avoid and so… why pretend? He already knew, after all.

 Alexius listened quietly to her story. About marriage and a man she liked and a party she had embarrassed herself at. He felt sorry for her, that she had these issues. He wished he could comfort her, but that was impossible with how they’d placed themselves. He thought it through, what she told him.

“A crisis… that you have to solve.” Was he any good at that? He knew all about wrecked marriages and spouses preferring another lover and all that. She wasn’t married yet. So, the question was… “Life does get complicated sometimes. It happens to everyone.” But everyone preferred it to not happen. Alexius hated complicated things. So he tried to stay away from them. She couldn’t, however. She was a daughter to a father, who sought to marry her off. Maybe to a man she didn’t like? He didn’t know yet.

“This man you need to make a decision on, is that a suitor?” Alexius then asked, because that was the next obvious question. He felt sorry for her, that she was unable to control her own life. It was so unfair to a pretty girl like her.

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She gave him a curious look. Had he had a complicated life? Besides the slavery business and the arena, of course, but she wondered briefly - pretentiously - how complicated that could have been, in practice. He surely had his every moment dictated to. In her more morose, ridiculous moments she wondered if it might be quite nice to be a slave - to not have the burden of worries that the free and the rich had to bare. 

She nodded with a 'hmph' sound and then tried to rearrange herself in the litter to face him better. She heard a groan of exertion from one of the carriers. Fortunately for all they were nearly there. "He is. He's a good man. I don't know what I'm doing really, being so indecisive. I feel like I might have lost my mind." She gave him a faint smile. Gaius Vipsanius Roscius was everything she thought she wanted in a husband; handsome, clever, ambitious, rich and strong. He'd said it himself - he'd give her everything she had wanted, but ever since that party and the infuriating run in with the younger Roscius brother (as was), things had been unsettled in her mind and she cast doubts on even her most basic of beliefs. It was immensely frustrating, for somebody like her, who was so used to doing the proscribed, predictable thing. 

"I..." She stopped herself with a small sigh and a shrug, choosing not to divulge her conundrum at this precise moment in time. She'd warm up the conversation a little first, as the litter made its final way towards the arena. "Have you been married, Alexius?" 

 

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He had not expected that she had a crisis and needed to talk about it, but honestly, they were going to spend the day together and if she was going to be distracted all day because something else was on her mind... well it wouldn't be very interesting or a lot of fun, would it? He'd rather help her, if he could. Or at least listen. Too few men actually took the time to listen to women. But Alexius was not such a man. He adored them, after all... the women, that is. And the men, some of them, but especially the women. This one needed him too, it seemed. She seemed a bit puzzled when he spoke of how everyone had complications in their lives, but the best thing to do was try and solve the issues if you could. And you could at least try.

At first she didn't seem too pleased about his question, but then she shifted and told him about her suitor. How he was a good man and she was indecisive. 

"Sometimes a man needs to be more than just a good man, to be a good husband, I think. Some are satisfied with it. But not all." Definitely not all, or how else would he have such an easy time charming lovely ladies even of the upper classes? If they were satisfied, it wouldn't be so easy. But it was. There were too many men there who were not good men, he knew that for certain. Ovinia then began asking another question, seeming a bit uncertain. He smiled when she did ask though.

"I have, once. It's many years ago now." Alexius said and felt she wanted more than that, "I had just been freed and needed a wife. So I met Ariella... I think she was about your age, when we got married. She was very beautiful and very sweet." And too good for him. It had been great, especially in the beginning. She had adored him too and been very eager in bed. She wanted to learn and well, how could he not love teaching her everything about pleasure? But being who he was, he eventually began to stray, despite how he cared for her. Especially after their return from Germania. It hadn't been fair, to her, not at all. He hoped that whomever Ovinia would marry, they'd be better to her than Alexius had been to his wife in the end... "Why do you ask?" 

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Ovinia made a noise of agreement. That was exactly her quandary - although why it was now such a quandary when before she had been more than content with a prospect like Gaius, she couldn't really say. Alexius was perceptive though, she'd give him that. 

Listening to him speak of his wife, her interest was suitably piqued. There was more there than he was saying, quite obviously. Like the fact  that he was referring to the woman in the past tense. She quirked an eyebrow and studied him; "She passed away? Or you divorced?" Both were common enough outcomes for a marriage, childbirth had its tolls after all as did desires. The fact that they were routine endings to a marriage didn't make her flippant tone any better though. She realised it herself and winced a little. "I don't mean to be insensitive." She bit at her lip, she had never been the most understanding of women. "And I suppose I was wondering how worldly you are." she chuckled and shook her head, "And if you'd understand. I...don't have many to talk to that have lived a life, or a life as exciting as yours I should say." 

The litter made a final heave and was promptly set down. She could hear the panting of the slaves from inside the curtains, and the noise of the crowds. She waited, as if it was obvious that Alexius should be the one to exit first and help her out. 

 

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It would seem that Ovinia might not be satisfied with her husband being just a good man. Although that was better than what some women of the upper classes got. But if she wanted more and needed more, of course, a good man was not enough. She was so young and beautiful. She deserved someone who would sweep her off her feet, carry her into the bedroom and ravish her until she could barely think or walk. He inhaled a small breath, trying to focus on the present moment, which was good, because then she asked a personal question to him. Although one he did not mind answering, even if it wasn't all happy memories. But he was honest, at least. 

Ovinia was clever, as he'd stated before. She noticed he didn't speak of his wife as a current one. She quickly added she had not meant to be insensitive, but she wanted to know how wordly he was. Alexius arched a brow, she wanted to know that? Before he could answer though, they'd arrived at the arena and Ovinia didn't leave the litter first. It took a moment before Alexius understood, but then, it made most sense that he left first, since he entered last. It also gave him a bit more time to think about how to answer her questions. Not that it helped much, but he tried? He left and held a hand for her to help her out, this time forgetting that a slave might usually be doing that job. He was just helping a lovely lady.

Once they'd left, he looked at her again, "I chose to divorce my wife. Not because she wasn't lovely and everything I should want in a wife." Alexius began, while he gestured for her to come with him towards the arena, "But because... well..." He trailed off, unsure of how to break this to her. Would she be offended? Or stunned or surprised? Or interested? Well, he didn't want to lie to her either. She wanted to know things and clearly, she had no one else to talk to. He'd promised he'd listen to her. And that included him being honest with her.

"My wife did please me very well, but it just wasn't enough, for me. I'm... how to say this... you could say, I'm easily tempted by others. Anyone, really." He looked at her, even she tempted him, "So I thought it wasn't fair to her, that I could not be true to her. I made her unhappy. There were also other issues, but that was one of the main reasons I set her free." 

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He divorced her. Interesting and she arched a brow, as if willing him to go on. The crowds jostled around them and Ovinia wrapped herself tighter into her palla. She was most definitely overdressed and tried to effect an air of confidence even as plebs gawked and smirked as the pair of them walked on by. 

When he did speak, it seemed to be after some great hesitation. His words immediately confused her and she blinked at him for a few breaths, a frown creasing her brow before the pieces slotted into place and she realised what he meant. Tempted. Right. She had asked for honesty and got it, but the thought still made her uncomfortable. She had always thought there must be a reason that she hadn't been told much of romance or sex or relationships beyond the simple reason that women of her class were supposed to be virginal and pious. But recently that had caused her more problems than it had benefited her. The party, in particular, still sat in her mind like a sore point as did the confusion that tugged at her chest whenever she thought of certain men. "I see." She managed to say as she weaved nimbly through the crowds on the way to the arena. 

"Alexius," She glanced sideways at him, realising if she was to foray into this conversation then it would pay to be bold, "Have you ever visited a prostitute?" No sooner had she said the word than her cheeks began flaming red.

 

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Alexius ignored the crowds around them as they came closer to the entrances to the arena. He was here with Ovinia and no matter how she was dressed, she was with him. It only occurred to him now though, that people who knew him might think she was with him. And not just here to accompany him. Because her clothes clearly suggested that he wasn't the one escorting her here, because she wasn't a plebian at all. And why would a woman of her rank willingly mingle with the lower classes, unless she was with a man who knew them well? 

She seemed surprised by his honest answer, but that's what she got. She blinked at first, frowned and then he could almost see on her expression that she pieced it all together. Gods, poor Ovinia. She didn't know about so many things. No one told her or taught her anything. She really did not deserve the treatment she was given. No women of her rank did. Fucking Romans. It took a little while for Ovinia to say more. And when she did, he could not help but look at her with a surprised grin. Really, that's what she came up with? He let out a little laugh, both at the question and how she blushed. See, this was how she tempted him! But oh, he had to be serious. Did she know what a prostitute did? Did she know that gladiators were prostituted too, at times... that it happened to him more times than he could count, when he was a slave? Probably not. She didn't know much. That's why she asked. 

"Depends on which reason I should visit them." Alexius then said, "I have friends, who does it for a living. But I've never paid one to do anything. I've never had a reason to." Because he could easily find lovers without having to pay for them. He felt sorry for the slaves who were forced to be prostitutes. Who had to endure whatever those who paid, would do, no matter how little they wanted it. Alexius preferred sleeping with people who wanted him for him and his body and what he could do... not for his money.

"Kind of an odd question to ask after speaking about marriages." Alexius then said with a grin, "After all, it's when marriages don't go so well that men visit prostitutes. Or, at least, that's one reason I think. Not that I did it though. You think your suitor would visit one?" 

@Sara

 

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Ovinia felt like an utter idiot and she pointedly kept her eyes diverted to the ground. Intrigue had got the better of her, as had Alexius' easy going nature but she shouldn't have asked, let alone in public. She opened her mouth to start an apology, but he spoke first. His answer didn't help her embarrassment and she didn't dare look at him. He knew them, men and women like the blonde that had taunted her with that feline smile at Tiberius' party. Was it more common than she thought? The profession? Or was it simply due to Alexius' class? She pursed her lips, finding it intolerable that a) she should be so embarrassed and b) that everybody seemed to be in the know but her. 

Dodging round the crowds she finally flicked her eyes up to him at his question. "No. I..." She narrowed her eyes and let out a huff of annoyance. "That's clearly not the only reason men go." She shook her head, but it was good to know that was a possibility, "I was at a party. An important party, and some of the men had invited a...prostitute, and pretended she was only there to play her music. I..." She exhaled again, "They were both unmarried, the men so they don't have the excuse of a poor marriage to know her. I don't understand," She darted and ducked between the throngs of people as they almost entered the arena, "Why they would waste their money on...that. Her." she corrected herself, "She wasn't even that beautiful." She added with a petty mutter under her breath.

 

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No one would pay any attention to what they talked about, everyone here were busy getting towards their seats at the arena, ready to watch the games. The only reason anyone would be looking was because it was obvious that Alexius was escorting a woman of the upper classes to the arena during the Plebian games. But his eyes were on her, both to keep her close and out of trouble and because they were talking. He may be a kind of guy who liked to spread himself around… but no matter who he was with, they had his full attention while they were together. Even if it was on a day like this.

 He spoke honestly with her too, more so than any other men she’d known, he imagined. Because he didn’t see why he shouldn’t. She deserved the truth as much as any lower class woman or even a slave. And he was her guard, at times… but he could also be her friend, and clearly, he was.

 He weaved them through the entry to the arena, wondering why she was suddenly asking questions about prostitutes. He had little experience with them as prostitutes, but plenty of experience with them as people. She said it wasn’t only when marriages didn’t go well, that men went to see such women. And then she told a story about a party she’d been to, where there had been a prostitute present and the unmarried men seemed to know her. She didn’t know why they’d do that though. Gods, so sweet and pure, wasn’t she?

 “Wasn’t she?” He said to her last comment, why would the woman she spoke about be present and popular at such a party, if she wasn’t beautiful? But Ovinia didn’t approve of her, so she didn’t like her. Well, Alexius didn’t know the woman, but he knew Ovinia, so he would not try and defend the other. Instead he thought it over briefly.

 “I suppose they’d waste their money on a woman like her… because women like you are still unavailable to them?” He suggested with a small smile, because that would definitely be one very good reason for noble young men to sleep with prostitutes, “They can give a man a…” He paused, unsure of how to tell her this without being too vulgar, “Sometimes… well… you know what a prostitute does, right? It’s easy, I suppose, if easy is what you want. There are no strings, no nothing, just pay and then leave hopefully satisfied.” He wondered if he should tell her there were male prostitutes too and they did take on female clients? In case she should ever need one. But no, only if she asked. While they walked, he led her up a set of stairs, further up towards the seats, until he was satisfied with the place and they could leave the corridors and enter the sunshine that fell into the arena, which opened up far below them. There were stairs leading up the steps with the seats, “Let’s go up here, it’ll be a good view to the arena.”

@Sara

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Ovinia listened. Really listened, eyes straight forward, cheeks burning until she couldn’t take it and she was glad of the cold of the coridoor and it’s darkness as Alexius led them up to their seats. 

She supposed it made it better…a little better at least, his explanation. That the women like the blonde at the party were just proxies for women of her own class who were virtuous and pure and thus unreachable. But it also made no sense. She knew men and women were different in so many ways, but surely not that different?  As she blinked into the sunlight, letting his words stew in her mind she bit at her lip, trying to find the right words which wouldn’t make her sound either moronic or…well…impure.

”You still haven’t explained why men go, when we women don’t need to.” She gave him a curious look. “We wait until our weddings and yes, I know, it’s partly so we don’t fall with child before but…” She swallowed, “I don’t understand the appeal.” Because she knew nothing of sex beyond the basics and it was how children were formed, “Men make no sense to me. Surely it’s not worth the price that the…women charge. Besides, I thought love and attraction were all about liking somebody…but how do you like somebody you’re paying?” 

 

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There were many people as they walked up the stairs and Alexius naturally came closer to her, making sure to have a hand behind her back, not touching her, but almost… and ready to do so, should he need it. She was his responsibility today, after all, and he’d keep her safe, as he had promised her father. Even though he wasn’t here as her guard today, but as her escort to see gladiatorial fights, he’d still take good care of her. All while apparently trying to explain why some men visited prostitutes, even though he himself never paid for them. To a woman, who had been raised pure and proper and knew next to nothing.

 When she spoke again, she wondered why men went and women didn’t and gave the explanation she’d probably been given… that women had to wait with pleasure until their marriage, which was a stupid idea by the way. Why wait? Why not explore before you were chained to one person only? Although Alexius also wasn’t sure why anyone would want to be with just one person in general, but that was another story entirely. Meanwhile, Ovinia didn’t understand the appeal of prostitutes.

 “Love and desire don’t have to be the same. Sure, you can love someone and share their bed. But you don’t have to love them, to do so. Sometimes, sharing a bed is just that and nothing more.” Alexius said, “And men, I suppose… have needs. And they’re… superior, here in Rome, as you know. But, women have needs too.” Boy did they have needs! Alexius knew that and he loved giving into them. What needs did Ovinia have? He glanced at her. Right, focus!

 “I think women deserve just as much pleasure as men do. It’s just not everyone who agree with that.” There, he said that much. Gods, would her father kill him for having told her about all these things? As he said, in Rome, men were supposed to be superior. And he imagined, to be honest, that one way to keep women inferior was to keep pleasure from them. Keep them from having a say in that matter. He glanced at Ovinia, she’d have to keep quiet about this conversation…

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"Do they?" She chuckled with a bemused glance at him as they finally made their way up the stairs, her legs burning, until they got to a few vacant seats. She nimbly folded herself into one, his words still ringing in her ears. "I don't know what needs the women of your class have, but I suspect they're not the same as women of mine." I don't have needs, she wanted to add but thought it implicit. It was as if he was talking in riddles. It was confounding and annoying and she narrowed her eyes down at the sands to distract herself. 

He chimed in again though and Ovinia snapped her face sideways to him, blinking. She blurted out, before she could form a coherent, less...overt sentence; "But it's not about pleasure, bedding, is it? It's for children?" She watched his face carefully as the puzzle pieces in her head clunked into place. "Oh." A blush heated her cheeks and she snapped her face back to centre again, eyes narrowed on...nothing, given the fights hadn't started yet. She felt stupid. And small. And like a child. She was a well-read, well-educated young woman with boundless confidence...besides one area, and now that the box had been opened, she felt idiotic for that knowledge gap. "It's...pleasurable for men. That's why they go to prostitutes." She summarised, now she realised what Alexius had meant, something that should have been obvious. But her mother and sister-in-laws harried words about the act had only been around how it was necessary for children and her duty. Never more than that. It was why none of the graffiti she glimpsed from her litter ever made sense, nor did the existence of women like Vibia. 

She wanted the world to swallow her up.

 

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As they reached a proper place to sit, she sat first and he sat next to her, draping an arm up to rest on the step behind her, because that was natural to him. Plus it would show anyone else she was with him, so don’t they dare irritate her. She looked at him as he spoke of women, who have needs and then she claimed women of his class had different needs. Het let out a little laugh, “Trust me, it’s the same. I know women of your class too.” Alexius said to her. But of course she would not know all these things, because she’d never been with a man. Poor thing. She had the best to come. Or, that’s if she married a man who could give it to her properly.

 Then he spoke of how he thought women deserved pleasure too, and she looked at him as if that thought was far out too. Alexius blinked, she honestly thought that? That’s what she’d been told? Gods, how they treated those women and girls, honestly! But then she suddenly blushed and looked away again, as if something fell into place in her head. And she concluded men must go to prostitutes because it was pleasurable for them. Alexius looked at the sands too, he imagined the gladiatrixes would appear soon to warm up the crowd. And he considered what to say next.

 “Right, so… bedding someone is not just for children. Sometimes yes, but women feel pleasure too.” It was almost the best part, sending them over the edge and knowing you did this to them. Alexius loved that… “It would be so much easier if I could just show you.” Alexius then said before he could stop himself. Fuck! He worked for her father as her fucking bodyguard, but not as her fucking bodyguard, not to her, “I mean… you’d understand better, that’s all.” Was that so much better? Just shut up, Alexius. Just… shut up!

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She blinked at him. Male pleasure seemed innate, now she'd finally bloody figured out what it all meant, but female pleasure less so. She opened her mouth to ask a question but slammed it shut at his...offer. She didn't think it was possible for her cheeks to grow any redder, but she was wrong and they did - flaming and burning. He seemed just as surprised as her that the...offer slipped out, as he tried to correct himself. She praised the Gods that nobody she knew was around to hear this conversation. 

"I understand it plenty now. Thank you." She mumbled with a fake-cough to clear her throat. She scrunched her fingers into her chiton, feeling more awkward than she ever had before. Not only was she a moron that didn't understand - seemingly - the most basic of facts, buts he was also now getting entangled in double entendres and offers of....service with men she had no business flirting with. She hadn't even meant to! "How..." She cleared her throat again, "How do you decide who you like then? Like enough to...bed that is? You don't have to wait until marriage." She glanced across at him, desperate to move the conversation on from where they'd ended up. She wanted the ground to swallow her up. 

 

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At least he was being honest, right? It would be easier if he could just show her that whole pleasure thing. Show her that women could definitely feel pleasure just like men could, show her how he could make her tremble with it if she'd just give into the feeling. But he was not supposed to do that and he knew that. Sure you could share pleasure without penetrating anywhere, but that didn't mean he should. Her father would surely have his head for that, and he'd not survived years in the arena and beyond, just to lose everything because he bedded a lovely young lady. He was quite sure he could seduce her but didn’t think it would be fair to her. That would be taking advantage of her. And he was not like that. He was just attracted to her, that's all. And that's not something he could control anyway. 

She blinked, blushing deeply at his question and then mumbled something about understand. Oh she didn't understand anything, he was quite sure. But he couldn't help her, that was something she'd have to find out on her own, for now. Maybe in five years, if they were still in touch and if her husband turned out to be dull or a bastard or maybe both. Silence fell and someone announced that the fun in the arena would begin shortly.

Alexius opened his mouth to say something about the fights and the arena, but she beat him to it and had another question. Gods, she was really not making this easier for him, was she? 

"I may not be the right person to ask. I like... a lot of people." He said, “But… I suppose it’s simple? It's the feeling you get when you see them. And if you like and want them and they want you, and you both want to do it. Then that’s it.” As she might be able to guess, he did not think that much about it - considering how he just literally offered to show her all about pleasure, because she was an attractive young woman and it really would be easier if he could just show her. And he’d like to, too. But she had to want it too, and that was kind of the deal-breaker for him, wasn’t it? If she didn't want him, it wasn't going to happen.

“What matters most though, that you both want it. If one doesn’t… then it’s not right, I think. I’d never force anyone.” He then said and his eyes fell back on the arena, as some people finally marched in, far beneath them, “Anyway, see… those are the gladiatrices. Female gladiators. They’re here to warm up the crowd and give them something to look at, while we’re waiting for the actual fights.” Alexius said, glad that something was finally happening, although he had a feeling that wouldn’t stop Ovinia’s questions.

@Sara

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Ovinia listened, biting hard on the inside of her cheek until she could taste the metallic tang of blood. He was trying, the Gods bless him, to explain. She hadn't exactly given him an easy ride and she glanced sideways at him with a sort of...apologetic look. 

"And...you know you like somebody when...your heart beats faster? You smile when you think of them?" She gave him a look. "I liked somebody once...I thought about him a lot, so often but...is that liking somebody?" Or was it merely a girlhood infatuation? She couldn't be sure. From the vague descriptions Alexius was giving her, it sounded like probably not. She bit her lip to smother a laugh and shook her head. "I don't think I'll be forcing anybody." She was a young woman after all. Who would she force? 

She glanced down at the sands as he indicated to the women now parading about beneath them, scantily clad. Alexius was clearly looking for a distraction and well...she would give him some respite...for now. He'd been good to her. "I haven't seen them before but the men of my family talk about them," she chuckled, "One called Thessala, I think. A witch. Are they any good?" 

 

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He was indeed trying to explain, but did she have any idea how difficult it was to explain these  things to someone who didn’t know what he was talking about. Or, it was obvious she knew some things, but many were new to her. And he told her all of it. She was now curious about how you knew that you liked someone and then mentioned she liked somebody once.

 “I think those are good signs, that you like them. But also that you enjoy being with them, talking to them. Just being next to them. It’s not all about pleasure.” But a great part of it was, and if you liked someone and shared pleasure, well, that just made it even better. That’s how he’d felt with Achillia, and with Oriana. And he’d begun feeling it with Annis too. But that was all in the past now and he wasn’t going to dwell on it. Rome was filled to the rim with lovely partners after all. He smiled when she said she wouldn’t be forcing anybody, “I don’t think you will either.” He feared someone might do it to her though. A future husband. One of the bastard ones. He was Roman in many ways now, but that would never be one of them.

 He tried to distract them both by talking about what happened in the arena now and she looked down, amused about how the men of her family spoke of the gladiatrices. He chuckled too, when she asked about Thessala.

 “She’s the best, if you ask me. I spar with her sometimes.” He said with a smile, “So I may be biased. She’s popular though, so maybe it’s not just me.” Alexius added, “Often the females are as good fighters as the men. It’s such a pity they’re not given more credit for what they do.” But that was the lot in life for women in many situations in Rome.

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