The rumours flow about him like the Tiber. They leave residue, algae and silt sticking to his bones, colouring his skin.
He is not Roman.
He is not a citizen.
These things are facts.
He hears words whispered, soft as water lapping at the river banks, harsh as waves at the mouth of the port. Greek father, mother a slave. Maybe. Mother maybe a slave. A freedwoman, from the north, the barbaric wastes that lie over the mountains. Dacia. Probably Dacia.
Wealthy enough to shun the insulae, a grand domus nestled in the heart of Ostia. And didn't they all wonder where such money came from, how the weight of all those aurei must lie heavy in his purse. Hand over fist, all those imperial portraits thick and hot to touch, solid, honest currency.
And beyond the slipping, sliding tales of low birth, and thievery, beyond even the ebb and pull of Mithraic gossip – an initiate, sun-runner, submission and feasting, spitting cherry stones, and being whipped until the blood runs fierce and red – there are the murmurs that swell about him of the men who visit him, healthy strong men, broad shouldered and curly haired.
He does not dally with youths, and they laugh and sneer at the fairness of his cheek, and the sweep of his lashes.
The rumours flow and Jensen does not mind them, lets them wash away with the dawn.
He eats quinces and mulberries, sips at wine, and waits quiet and still, reclining on a wide couch. Three men have visited him today, and he knows how his neighbours will gossip, the sharp snap of their tongues as they think on positions and sweat and bitten off moans. The tedium of business and commodities and messages dispatched the breadth of the Empire will not occur to them.
He eats, quinces, mulberries, drinks, sweetened wine, and waits.
All sound is distant, drunken men staggering their way home, the thin chirp of crickets, the water lapping.
The sun has set, and his skin begins to feel chill.
He dozes, wakes to a hand cupping his face, a mouth smudging warm and wet across his cheekbone and smiles. "You're late."
"You didn't even know I was coming." Deep rumble of voice, heavy sleepy eyes, scattering of grey in dark hair. "Marched in this morning."
Jensen arches back, head tilted to expose the line of his throat. "You're still late."
A laugh, and teeth blunt and hard down his neck and digging in tight over his shoulder. "If you say so." Hands flowing down to his hips, before sneaking up beneath the line of his tunic, nails scraping and teasing, finding the places where bruises once were and have long since faded.
His toes curl and his eyes shut and maybe in the morning there will be talk of the soldier who came calling last night.
Maybe they'll wonder at payment, a few sesterces given as legs are uncrossed.
He squirms as fingers tickle lightly at his sides, and wants to laugh.
They know nothing of him.
And nothing of this.