Face ClaimBob Morley
"You never know what's going on inside their heads, do you? It's like they're nuts you have to crack. And some of them will never crack. Like her."
"I don't know, she looked ready to crack just now" Lucius sighed. Ovinia really was off balance with the whole Vibia thing. She had walked away, and more likely than not she was not going to talk to him again for the rest of the party. Maybe ever. And this time, it wasn't even his fault!
"Really, your brother? I hope he's in for the ride!... How's that going for you by the way? Do you remember our bet?"
"Of course" Lucius smiled "But next time you set me up, please let me know in advance. Saves a whole lot of awkwardness."
"Ah Lucius, so sweet you still think people like us will find love. Mavericks don't get love, mavericks get glory and infamy and such but...not love."
Glory and infamy. Lucius already had one of those, and the other, hopefully, he would have in a decade or two, if he could prove that he had made the right choice. Or he would be stuck with just the one. But he did not completely agree with Vibia. What was all that freedom worth in the end, if one could not even choose whom to love?...
"And me? Jealous? Oh sweetheart. Of course I'm jealous you'll get to go and find some new...cheap woman and leave me to my old Senators and such. Or you know you could bring your pissy patrician girl here. She could pay and I could show her what desire really is... Then maybe she'll figure out what she wants."
Lucius blinked again, looking down at Vibia, looking all seductive and clever and shameless.
"Ovinia is not my girl."
Well, that sounded wrong.
"And I know what I want." he added, for good measure, leaning down to kiss her shoulder again. Distraction.
"Yes. Quite. She was quite plain, from what I remember."
The words made Lucius' lips twist into a frown, but he shook it off. Ovinia was... not plain. She was a lot of things, grating among them, but she was beautiful in her own way, even if not as openly seductive as Vibia. Not that he wanted to argue that point. It didn't matter anyway.
"But you only have me for another few hours. You'll have to find somebody else when you're gone, and if it's not going to be the Patrician Princess, you'll have to find yourself a nice pleb. But don't go to the Elysium. Unless you want your manhood and coin purse to fall off."
"Well maybe I will find true love, and I won't go to any brothel at all." he grinned. He leaned down, pressing a kiss to her shoulder. No use letting those hours go to waste. "Good thing this is a business arrangement. Otherwise I might have accused you of being jealous."
"...That wasn't a no."
No. Just say no.
"Nor is her ruining her perfectly polished patrician reputation to yell at you, evidence that she doesn't like you. She clearly thinks enough of you to point out that you're being a fool... At least to some people."
The idea still sounded, and felt, utterly ludicrous. Lucius knew what it was like when a woman liked him, thank you very much, he had experience. And Ovinia was none of that. If anything, she was the direct opposite of all of that.
"Not much you can do if she's marrying your brother, and you're intent on this plan. But I don't know... Maybe you shouldn't be quite so hard on her at family gatherings."
"Well, I'm not going to be invited to those anyway." he shrugged. And Vibia was right. Whatever she thought Ovinia was thinking, she was going to marry Gaius. And that was one hard line Lucius would never, ever cross.
"And maybe you should distract yourself with other women."
"Well... you are other women" Lucius noted. Distraction. Was a good idea. He traced his fingers down from the hollow of her neck and between her breasts. "But nothing to distract from. Why would I want some pissy patrician girl when I can have someone like you?"
"I don't know about that, when I was a slave many years ago my dominus had a niece like her. She used to badger me with questions on everything from 'what does it mean when a man smiles at you' to 'why does he ignore me and tease me?'"
Lucius barely paid attention to the thoughts of young patrician girls Vibia seemed to intimately know after all; he got hung up on the fact that she had been a slave in a patrician household. That explained... so much, but left so much more unsaid.
"Girls like that are easily confused. You've got me in your sway. Imagine what you do to a naive, innocent, silly young woman. She might have a husband lined up but... There's always a bit of a thrill in the forbidden, no?"
Lucius' expression fell again.
Oh, shit. Gaius.
"So, it's my fault now?"
"You're telling me you don't like her?"
Lucius took a deep breath.
"The woman is infuriating. She is spoiled, snobbish, and vindictive. She got out of a litter to make a scene in the middle of a burn site when I was on patrol. She hates me for, and I quote, throwing my potential away, whatever that means." he huffed. "And she is marrying my brother."
Lucius stared at Vibia, a little incredulous; he even propped himself up from lying on her lap. This conversation had taken a turn he had not expected at all. He tried to picture it. Ovinia, liking him?... Vibia said she might not even realize it. If there was anything to realize at all, other than abject disgust and anger.
But Vibia made a point.
"Obviously that was not the first time." he sighed "She's come to visit before, and I've run into her... on occasion. Every time it seems like I annoy her more and more. Besides, why on earth would she want me if she's going to have Gaius as a husband? He's clearly the better catch." he tilted his head at her. "Maybe you are not that good at thinking like a patrician maiden."
"Girls like that don't know anything do they? Bless them - they're innocent little flowers who get married quickly and live a life of terrible, boring sex and even more boring husbands."
"Unlike clever women like you, who get to fuck all the boring husbands for money" Lucius noted, smiling as she ran her fingers through his hair. That was one of the reasons he liked Vibia: she lived outside the confines of polite society, and he was headed that way too. But what did any of this have to do with Ovinia's anger?
"Maybe she was embarrassed? Maybe she expected you to be kinder given well.... She'll get married to your brother because she has to but...all women, innocent or not have desires. That's why you're an idiot."
Lucius wrinkled his eyebrows as he looked up at her. She was having way too much fun with this. She claimed Ovinia was too innocent, and...
"You... you think she... what, wants me?" it sounded so ridiculous spoken that it came out with a laugh.
"Curious in a...curious way."
Vibia was clever, and she liked that she was clever. She liked playing games at Lucius' expense, which he usually did not mind at all.
"I don't think that's why she was bent out of shape."
"Oh? Do illuminate me" Lucius smirked. He and Marcus had never quite figured why she was so upset about Vibia's presence. Maybe Vibia had an explanation. He wanted to her her thoughts, anyway. Women were a mystery.
"To look at you I'd have thought you'd have plenty of experience with women. Enough to...you know...understand them. And not be an idiot."
"Wouldn't I be an idiot if I claimed that I understand women?" he shot back, shifting so that he could rest his head on her thigh.
He could tell that Vibia remembered, and finally put the name to the face. Ovinia had not been her best self at that party.
"Your brother's marrying her?"
"Ovinia Camilla. The very same." he nodded.
"Curious... Curious, curious, curious. It was unpleasant of you to tease her though mind. I'd understand if she did hate your guts."
"Curious how?" he arched an eyebrow. "And I did not mean to tease her. Marcus invited you, remember? It's not my fault she is so bent out of shape about singing in public. She really has a good voice."
She gave him the sad eyes and the pout she had given him before when he arrived, telling her this was their last time together. She played her role well, but she would find other clients, no doubt. As much as they enjoyed each other's company, Lucius did not think he was the best client she'd ever had.
"Maybe she's worried about her reputation. Because of your delicious scandal. But I'm glad your brother is taking it well. You deserve to be happy."
"I am happier than I've ever been before the scandal" Lucius grinned, tilting his head into her touch. "And yes, she is a stickler for reputation. Remember how angry she was at Tiberius' party when she found out you were not just a musician..."
Topics I Participated In
Vibia yawned and then stretched - elongating every muscle of her body with a satisfied 'mhmm' sound before collapsing back into the den of silks and sheets that made up her bed. Or...it used to make up her bed, in neat and orderly fashion but she and Lucius had left it in a heap that strew not only the surface but the floor...along with the chiton she'd been wearing, and his own clothes. Now safely ensconced within the sheets, fire in the corner of the room burning and incense sticks fragrancing the space, she felt utterly content. Well...content besides one particular bone she had to pick with the young man next to her.
Propping her jaw in her palm she shifted onto her side and peered down at him. "You're telling me that this is not worth staying a patrician for?" The smile tugged on her lips and she arched a brow, amused. "I have equite friends," A polite euphemism for clients, "Too you know. Just not bankrupt ones. You stay rich and this doesn't have to be goodbye." He hadn't told her his plans, they hadn't exactly had time before they got...down to things, but the news had reached her fairly quickly after it became public. He was one of her favourites; young, attractive, good in bed and fun which was a bonus very few in her profession got to enjoy. It was a loss to her - and not just financial, although she wasn't foolish as to get sentimental or anything about it.
"I trust you've paid for a full afternoon though, if you're set on this path. Make it a proper farewell."
He had to be careful, he knew. What he did reflected on his brother, and he would in no way bring any scandal on Titus Augustus. For there had been scandal, a Patrician adopted as an Equite, and it was someone he knew. Perhaps he wasn't even that surprised, following their brief conversation. Rather he was curious. But that care had led him to arrange their meeting in the Gardens of Sullust, rather than at the palace.
The weather was cool as the Roman winter began to set in, though the sky was clear and the weak sun gave a little warmth, but Tiberius had dressed warmly in multiple tunicas, with a thick woolen cloak over his heavy toga. And he was trailed by a Praetorian guard and several slaves, so was rather hard to miss.
He was looking forward to talking to Lucius again, especially in light of the apparent changes in the other man's life.
Once Lucius was on duty, he had no time thinking about whether he had made the right choice or not. This was it. He had joined the vigiles. Officially he was still a recruit, one that got a whole lot of suspicious and baffled looks both from above and from his comrades. But he was doing something to help people, to help the city - something new and exciting.
And extremely dirty.
It was late in the evening now, the twilight right after sunset, and his shift was just starting. They had already put out a smaller insula fire on the Esquiline. Lucius and some of the other recruits were tasked with clearing up the buckets on the street outside the building, as well as carrying out the burned bits that threatened to catch again or collapse, and then clearing those out of the way too. People were still standing around; some lived in the insula and were worried about getting back into their homes, and others were just standing around being disaster tourists.
"Clear the way!" Lucius raised his voice. "Residents of the insula only. Everyone else, shoo! Carts will be coming soon and the street needs to be clear. Either grab a broom, or move!" He was wearing the uniform of the rank and file vigiles, but it was already covered in dirt and soot. The cloth he used to cover his nose and mouth was pulled down around his neck, and he was sporting a burn on his arm. And he was ridiculously happy about all of it.
A litter came into view, heading for the wealthier houses up the Esquiline. The men carrying it hesitated as they came upon the slowly dissipating crowd and the debris on the street. Lucius walked out of the insula with some charred remains of a bed frame, and frowned.
"You are going to have to take another route." he told the men carrying the litter of some wealthy woman or man (he couldn't see from the curtains). "We are still cleaning up over here."
Late October, 76AD
Lucius walked into the Castra with a bit of hesitation. He had passed the building many times, being close to his own family's domus, but this was the first time he had ever been inside. He did so by Longinus' suggestion. Whether he was going to join the legions, or the vigiles, he needed to have some sort of a fighting experience - and who better to learn from than a trusted veteran of the legions, who currently served as praetorian? The guards at the door pointed him out, and Lucius walked into the courtyard where training happened, trying to look confident. He had always been at ease around all sorts of people, but the soldiers put him on edge. He walked up to the young man who, hopefully, had been notified of his impending visit.
"Decimus Rutilius Atellus?" he asked with a friendly smile, masking his hesitation.
Lucius took several deep breaths to calm himself before walking into the tablinum to see his brother. He had been putting off this conversation for quite a while, but the year was soon ending, and with it the deadline Gaius had given him for making up his mind. If he did not want to spend Saturnalia in a family feud, he needed to get the hard part over with. Which meant talking to Gaius. He knew his brother was home today, working as usual. Maybe he should wait... No. No waiting. He needed to get this over with. It had already been difficult enough to explain why he came home one night smelling like smoke and covered in soot. He'd insisted he'd gotten caught up in the crowds at a house fire. He was not sure Gaius believed him.
He rapped his knuckles on the door frame as he walked in.
"Gaius? Do you have a moment? I... got something to tell you."
Ovinia's voice was hoarse as she called out into the quiet of the night; "Tadia!" She squinted into the darkness, but there was no reply. Her daughter - now ten, had all the same precocious energy that Ovinia did at her age, but had none of the same father-instilled fear to abide by the rules of the house. She couldn't be precisely sure of what had caused this latest run for the hills, but suspected her daughter had overhead the disagreement Ovinia had with her husband - Spurius Tadius Opimius. It had been a stupid, trivial fight - one they'd had a hundred times in the fourteen years they had been married; Spurius had double-booked himself on an evening he was supposed to visit Ovinia's father and she had flown into a rage that he had equally matched. She'd heard the slave door in the garden bang open on its hinges shortly after and not ten minutes later a red-eyed, flushed-cheeked slave had reported her daughter missing.
She could have left this hunt to the slaves themselves, as Spurius had done, but she knew her daughter and she knew that despite her wilful, brave face she was a sensitive soul and was unlikely to be coaxed out of her hiding spot in the streets of Rome without her mother there. Still - she was flanked by a small army of the household slaves as they walked the streets around the domus. Spurius had insisted that they not go to the vigiles (it wouldn't look good, according to him, that the daughter of a Praetor run off missing in the middle of the night), and in any case both her parents were convinced they'd find the blue-eyed, brunette little girl soon.
"Tadia!" She hissed again and wrapped her arms around her waist as they walked. A noise up ahead set her jaw on edge but it was just one of the lumbering garden slaves coming into view, breathless and jogging; "No sightings out east, domina, but she couldn't have gotten far." She nodded quietly and resumed her walking. The last time Tadia had done something like this she had been found with one of her friends playing outside the girl's domus. But that had been in the middle of the day, not the darkness of the night, and Ovinia felt a pit of guilt and fear gnaw at her insides. The 'what if...' questions that swam in her head were almost too much to think of, so she decided not to think of them and instead keep her eyes peeled. "Sweetheart, it's okay...it's just me..." She called out and sighed. Silence.
September 76 AD
It was still pleasant out, though a little brisker than the height of summer, but warm enough that the gardens could still be enjoyed in the evening, the spaces set aside for the party warmed by strategically placed braziers and lit by taller torches. They gave a flickering light, sometimes gentle and sometimes casting odd shadows, but adding a playful and at the same time primal air to the event.
Invitees had never-the-less been encouraged to bring a warm cloak, toga or palla, just in case. But it was meant to be a relaxed evening, not a stuffy, formal event. In his ponderings over the illnesses of Caesar's past, Tiberius had developed a hypothesis that one potential cause could be stress, and so this evening was meant to be something of a stress relief, a fun and fanciful time with friends, particularly for Titus. He'd invited their siblings and cousins, along with their peers. None of the older generation, whom he'd been accustomed to thinking of as the 'adults', because suddenly he and his were adults. There would be other, formal events for all generations in the near future, he was certain.
Food had been organised, not a multi-course, reclined cena but rather platters of tasty, nibbly delicacies, carried by slaves or placed on strategic stone tables. Other slaves carried pitchers of wine, ranging from the vinyards along the Tiber through to Greek vintages, and elegant glass cups were available to drink from. Tiberius had asked Marcus Junius Silanus to organise entertainment, and already a flautist was playing a merry tune by one brazier, whilst nearby a juggler tossed coloured leather balls in increasingly complex patterns whilst balancing another on their nose.
The layout of the gardens meant that there were several spaces, corners for conversation or the central area for lively conviviality. Here and there Praetorian Guards were unobtrusive in the shadows, keeping an eye on their Imperial charges, whilst more screened entrants at the gates. Once inside, the gardens seemed almost magical.
(OOC: Open to:
Characters under 30, of Imperial or Patrician class, as guests Slaves of guests Hired entertainers.)
The gardens of private houses being relatively common areas for householders' friends to wander around in, somehow Attis was not surprised when his master's friend's brother came out into the sunshine after his conversation with Attis' master. He had enough warning to be able to take a firm grip on Rugam's collar and plant his feet; the dog was friendly and enthusiastic, and probably going to be the size of a horse when it stopped growing, juding by the size of its paws. He wondered if it would fill its skin out as it grew, or if the skin grew with it so it would end up just as wrinkly as ever. Like someone wearing a badly-arranged toga.
"I hope you don't mind dogs, sir," he called, trying to give fair warning (as if Rugam's barking hadn't been enough warning). "He's friendly."
He'd shut him away if he needed to, he didn't really know the man to know whether he ought to allow the dog to say hello, or not. (He tended to reserve the dog's most enthusiastic greetings for people he wasn't overly fond of, if he had some warning - the other day with Tranquillus had been more or less a fluke.)
Mercifully - and Marcianus thanked all of the Gods - the insula looked like it would hold. The fire was confined to the upper stories which meant the foundations - decrepit and decaying though they were - should hold. That fact, however, did not help those people - his sort of people - trapped on the upper floor, just above the fire line. As always in these situations a crowd had gathered outside the building, the richer (although this was the subura, so how rich could they be?) dwellers in the building had evacuating and barked orders at the freedmen Vigiles that were trying to salvage the building, whilst on-lookers from the nearby poppina's and taverna's came out, drinks in their hands and grins on their faces as if they were viewing some twisted form of entertainment as the poorer citizens of the block lost everything in a cloud of ash and smoke.
The muscles in his jaw worked as he watched them, tensing and flexing with hard eyes and a grim look on his ash smeared face. His hair - usually an unusual blonde - was almost black with smoke and dust and rivulets of sweat streaked down his face and neck. He'd been forced outside by his centurion, a humourless, useless man in his fifties who took as much pleasure in helping people as he did in socialising, which was to say, none at all. He'd had to have been yanked out by the back of his tunic and forcibly moved down the stairs, even as residents streamed past them. He'd been in the building too long - apparently - and the cough that rattled his lungs was testament to that, but as he eyed the building - the smoke billowing upwards into the night sky, he knew he couldn't sit idly by. The old and frail, the young and poor were still up there on the floors immediately above and below the fire, trying to find their way down in the smoke. He swallowed and felt as if his teeth might splinter from the set of his jaw.
Pushing himself up nimbly, he ducked down behind the crowd to avoid the glances of his superiors. His eyes caught Gaius' - a friend and a follower to the hilt - who judging by his grim expression and itching fingers, wanted back in as much as Marcianus himself. He jerked his head towards the south stairs and then the fire hooks which had been deposited there by the last of their century to leave the building for rest. He knew his friends, colleagues were in there still and surely the Centurion wouldn't notice his absence? He moved to reach Gaius and slip unseen back into the building but before he did, his shoulder collided with anothers and he glanced up - his face painting a picture of displeasure. "Go and gawk somewhere else, it isn't safe here." The building might not come down onto the crowd, but the people jumping from it might.
July 23, 76CE
It was a hot, sunny summer day, much in need of a little shade. In other words, a perfect day for the ancient festival of Neptunalia, only celebrated by a fraction of the city's people, but one of Lucius' favorites. It was still early in the morning as he headed out towards the Porta Capena, carrying a large bundle of green leafy branches on his shoulder. He was not the only one aiming for the Appian Road, and the green fields surrounding it along the Aqua Appia. Neptunalia was a festival popular with the common people of Rome, the ones that did not have the chance to flee the city for Baiae or their villas on the shore, and instead they spent the god's day in shade built with their own hand, celebrating the fresh water much needed in the summer heat.
Lucius carried a heavy bag slung over his shoulder, filled with food and wine, as well as the green branches. He could have brought a slave along to do the carrying, but he felt like the festival was better when one was alone, free to talk to people without looking like a patrician trying to mingle. Which he was. But he did not need to advertise it. And the slaves needed a day off too anyway.