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The Dividing Line [Cyprianus]
The Calends of November, 62 AD
Immediately following The Devil’s Advocate

The session carried on about more mundane matters, but during it all Sextus did not forget Cyprianus.  When the proceedings at last came to a close, he was too strongly impelled to ignore the contention between them.  He rubbed his jaw, casting a surveying glance across the curia as senators began to gradually file down from the stands and migrate towards the exit.  Caesar had been the first to leave, flanked by his imperial guards.  There was practically none of the following circling Cyprianus as he once possessed in times past; a few might have given him a quick word, but mostly the rest skirted past him with hurried glances or a distracted nod, a testament that the ignominy that shrouded him had not quite lifted.
The consul pushed himself up and proceeded to move straight across the room to intercept him before he could exit with the rest.  In a short time, he would seek Alexander out in private and present to him a request to further mitigate Cyprianus’ attempt at rebuilding himself.  As it were, he needed to confront something that pressed against him a little more insistently, as the very nature of the debate demanded an acknowledgement.
“Senator Cyprianus,” he called, stopping the other and coming to stand before him, “an impressive display.  I want to congratulate you for attaining a praetorship.  Truly, a remarkable feat.”  He smiled at a passing senator who was looking their way, and then turned his head to meet Manius’ gaze directly.  There was sincerity in his compliment; he had always admired Cyprianus for his abilities and unshakable determination.  The fact was, he had few disagreements on policy, and thought him just the sort of man that Rome needed, but it was their differing interests that ultimately set them at odds. 
Even then, the mixed feelings he contained did not make this a simple exchange.  That guilt persisted against all logic continued an internal war within him.  He at the same time did not forget the residual bitterness that carried on after their last exchange, and it was some of that which silently tightened the cords of tension between them.
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Content with the outcome of his bid for a return to public office, Manius Cyprianus had kept a low profile for the rest of the session. That also remained the case after the session came to a close, as the nature of his victory meant he had no reason to linger about seeking support from other senators about. However certain though he was of that he had to keep a low profile for years to come, he was not so intent on isolating himself as to neglect the power of social connections. He had therefore stopped on the way out whenever quick interactions so required, and so had proceeded on his way slowly enough for the consul to catch up with him before he'd left the vicinity.

“Senator Cyprianus,”

It wasn't an encounter he desired particularly. That said he wasn't one to shy away from interactions, and would moreover not have it known that he was broken to the point of refusing to face the man who had convicted him upright. Therefore, though he could have pretended not to hear, he stopped and turned to face Sextus Ursus directly.

“an impressive display.  I want to congratulate you for attaining a praetorship.  Truly, a remarkable feat.”

"You honor me, consul," He responded dryly, all the while wondering what the other was up to. That he was in for some sort of thinly veiled warning or threat in response to his re-entry into public life seemed most likely. That he would take without flinching the slightest, but not so without first making as difficult for the other as the circumstances permitted.

"You'll note your narrative stands unchallenged," He started, before the other had time to say more. While a cryptic comment to passersby, to them it linked back to things that had been said when last they had talked. The stark contrast of their present surroundings to those in which that conversation had been held almost made it feel as if the referenced situation was a thing of the distant past. "Perhaps now you'll believe I'm a man of my word,"
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The cordiality was all pretense between them, as their ranks and publicity required. Neither were strangers to fake smiles or niceties, but this was perhaps not their most convincing performance to date, if only as that falseness was accented by Cyprianus’ noted dryness and Ursus’ own lack of conviction. Of course, in that was the irony that it was believable from an outsider’s perspective, for the stiffness between the two could only seem credited to their opposition in the debate and to the one having been prosecuted by the other. As such, it was only political nuances that seemed likeliest. While Ursus expected perhaps a disagreeable word from the other, he did not anticipate him to cut straight to their last contested issue.

Sextus measured Cyprianus with a straight-faced look for an instance before then shifting his stance and glancing around, noting how far the nearest group of loiterers stood from them, and judging who might be within earshot or even noticing. Some curious glances were naturally sent their way, and certainly a word or two would later be exchanged about the cool encounter between the consul and the convicted senator.

"Perhaps now you'll believe I'm a man of my word.”

His eyes snapped back to him. A perceptible acuteness was piqued, and could be seen in the flaring of his nostrils and the tensing of his jaw as he fought to contain it. It was the most sensitive issue between them, and Manius’ words ripped it raw not just in that they were spoken but because of the sting of truth they carried. Once more, Sextus found himself forced to face what he had tried so hard to deflect, ignore or abuse. There were things he wanted to say, and could have said, but the environment prevented such candid displays.

“So it would seem,” he said slowly. Quintus Alexander’s victory allowed the consul to openly celebrate his marriage to Cladius Caesar’s eldest daughter, and so there had been little cause for him to act in a manner that Cyprianus had last warned against. Even then, it was a testament of goodwill, that fair treatment of Claudia guaranteed the other’s silence.

“I trust that such… integrity will follow you into the provinces and beyond?” To a passerby, it might seem a conversation regarding the senator’s contested virtue, and whether that would be proven during his impending probationary period. However, Sextus was speaking instead about the subject of their last exchange, weighing whether the other would indeed uphold his pledge.

“It is heartening to see your repentance is substantial.” Though his words were flatly delivered, there was a sheen in his dark eyes that could not be masked for beneath the surface deepest pain and enmity churned.
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“So it would seem,”

The answer was unconvincing..

“I trust that such… integrity will follow you into the provinces and beyond?”

.. and the question, carefully worded to mask its meaning to bystanders, seemed to provide a more honest reflection of the other's attitude to his person than the words that preceded it. That however had less bearing on his life than on the other's, whereqas he had neither interest nor inclination to try to correct it.

“It is heartening to see your repentance is substantial.”

"I should certainly hope so," He responded, matching the double entrendres with a triple one of his own. Suffice it to say that he too had noted other senators' interest in their encounter, and so adjusted his communication accordingly--itself a marker of commitment to their informal arrangement. "I have every reason to want to keep our affiliation to a minimum,"
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He caught the hidden meaning to the other’s words. It reinforced what was already said.

"I have every reason to want to keep our affiliation to a minimum.”

…As did it cut. Sextus had harmed more than just the other’s political career and reputation. Of course Cyprianus did not wish to see him; it was such a simple yet heavy fact.

“Yes, I am sure,” he said, smiling ironically as he looked momentarily away. Were it any other person or situation, he would not have cared.

Returning his gaze to him, he added, “I assure you that it won’t come to that, other than what is necessary for our circumstances.” As of yet, the other might not realize what further necessities that entailed, for that was yet to be agreed upon by the emperor.

Once more, he noticed that the loiterers remained loitering, and he felt the pressure of his and the other senator’s publicity when he did not wish it. “Well, I am sure you have much to celebrate, so do not let me delay you.” In times past, they might have celebrated their victories together, but now the kudos seemed a hollow sentiment. Sextus needed to pull away, needed time to reflect upon what the other had said and to process it. What he might have sought in confronting the other remained unresolved, and here and now was not the time or place for it, nor was he ready.
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“Yes, I am sure,” “I assure you that it won’t come to that, other than what is necessary for our circumstances.”

"I expect nothing less," He interjected..

“Well, I am sure you have much to celebrate, so do not let me delay you.”

.. and bit back his urge to respond to the sentence that followed. Mockery was expected, and so could be easily dismissed. To do anything else would be to let his own pride impede his progress. He therefore let the comment pass, to instead reply with a token honorific. "Consul," With that he turned his back to the other, to resume his exit from the Curia. Though proceeding with dignity, it was likely evident from the frown on his face that the encounter had left him irritated. 

- The End -
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