"I have wine if you'd rather."
"Over this whiskey? What am I, an influencer?" Lucius smirked, pouring generously for the both of them. It was her fault for letting him do it. He handed one glass to her.
"I don't think my body has ever felt this tired. My...mind though. I can't stop thinking about it. Why aren't you asleep?"
Lucius shrugged. "Same, I guess. And the sprinklers. 93 people saved must really look good for PR, because they should have kicked me out like three hours ago when I almost set the boss' desk on fire. Cheers."
Well, the greeting did not go very smoothly, but it was close enough. Friends meeting friends, right? At least Alexius was the kind of easygoing, likable person who could mitigate the awkwardness.
“See Ovinia, I told you there’s nothing wrong with your looks.”
"I didn't know if green was still in fashion this season, I asked Alexius' advice when we were shopping."
"Good choice. I value Alexius' fashion advice" Lucius nodded with a deadpan expression, but an amused glint in his eyes. Typical Ovinia, making a big deal out of nothing. She wanted to know if she looked good. She did. Was it for him? Lucius did not dare to assume that. His looked softened a little anyway. "Green does look good on you." Everything did. Nothing probably did, too.
“It’s good to see you too, Lucius. And here, even. Do you enjoy reading like Ovinia does? I admit it’s not my strongest skill.”
"I know you're not much of a reader Alexius, that's why I offered my services to read to you. And this is my day... Alexius lost a bet. And has to do as I say."
"So you are punishing him with the library?" Lucius grinned, mostly at Alexius. "I do like to read. There is always something interesting to learn... But I also like coming here for the atmosphere. And the company. What were you two planning on reading?"
Camilla looked about the same way he felt. It occurred to Lucius a little too late that he might be an unwelcome guest this late. But then she offered a drink and he walked in anyway. He nodded, following her to the balcony. He was wearing training pants and a plain t-shirt, and the new elbow-length gloves the Academy gave him. At least the balcony was quiet, and the air was cool and fresh.
The rest of the day continued to be a mess. They returned to the academy where the infirmary staff checked everyone out, giving them oxygen for the smoke inhalation and some high-tech drugs for the rest. Lucius was too out of it to question the cutting edge technology. Once they were cleared to leave, he marched down to the principal's office and almost set an entire desk on fire, yelling about putting the team's lives in danger; he got doused with water multiple times and threatened with jail again before he finally gave up. They marched him back to his room where he got doused a few more times. Showering at this point was redundant, but he did it anyway. It was late in the evening by the time he put on some dry clothes and walked up to Camilla's room, knocking.
"That whiskey better be top shelf."
Never this bad. Looking up, Lucius could tell that Camilla had been thrown for a loop by the whole experience. This was not usual, even by superpowered standards.
"No, you need a hospital" he sighed, struggling to sit to get the vest off too. "Stay put. Smoke inhalation is a bitch." he coughed, shaking his head. "And then we'll smuggle a fuckton of vodka into the school later."
"Oxygen" Lucius croaked, waving a hand towards the EMTs working the scene. Everyone and their second cousins had smoke inhalation around here, but their team probably more so than others, even with the masks. "Chopper better have some."
He opened his eyes and squinted at Camilla, who looked about as bad as he felt. She asked if he was okay.
"Not even close" he said, with another coughing fit. It was unfair, having fire powers but not smoke resistance. "They always... put y'll near death... or was this a special occasion?"
Lucius had lost his grasp on reality around the last floor. The world narrowed down to a tunnel of smoke and fire, something he was trying to keep at bay because something very, very bad was going to happen if he didn't. He wasn't sure how he made it outside, or if everyone else had; there was a blackout there for a few minutes before he started to come around, lying on his back in the grass. His eyes and throat burned from the smoke, and the drain on his powers felt like he had been scrubbed empty inside out.
Someone was informing them than they had done a good job.
"Fuck you" Lucius croaked to no one in general. It was a miracle they were still alive.
They returned to the fire escape and made their way down. Honestly, Lucius doubted they could do all the floors like this. They just didn't have the strength. He didn't have the strength.
And yet, there were people in there. People who were scared, and whom the firefighters could not reach. Lucius hated the responsibility, but also hated the idea of walking away.
"Remind me to tear someone a new one when we get back" he grumbled as they entered the next floor. On Camilla's count her focused his powers once again, sending the flames upward. It burned; not like the flames burned on his hands, but like muscles burn when they are overworked. "Get a move on!"
Sending the flames up was one thing; keeping them up there was another. The roof creaked under the heat. Also, the pull of Camilla's power affected Lucius as well; if he had not been already standing next to her, he would have moved too. As things were, it was already hard enough ton concentrate. She was distracting.
People did come out, though, and moved to the fire escape in a haste.
"We can't do this."
Too fucking late, princess.
"Well, we fucking have to, don't we" Lucius snapped, giving her a glare. "Go!"
He waited until all three of them headed for the stairs, before allowing the flames to come back down, and turning his focus to the next floor. The air was heavy with smoke; his senses were overwhelmed with the fire around them. It took all he had to keep some semblance of control on all of it.
This whole mission was a bust. What the hell had the Academy been thinking? Lucius would give them a piece of his mind the moment they get home.
They just had to get home first.
Camilla was not doing much, other than demanding that he do something. About an entire building on fire. Lucius swore. Fuck.
"I can do one thing, but you're gonna hate it." he snapped, taking a deep breath. God, this was going to suck. Focusing his powers, he raised his hands.
Fire wants to go up. It was a direction it followed more easily than any other; the flames rose to the ceiling, making the hallway look like it was suddenly upside down. The roof was not going to handle much of it, but for now, most of the space was free of flames, up to eye level or so.
Somewhere, in an alternate universe...
Lucius Roscoe swore under his breath as he was buzzed through the gates of the imposing five-story building. Press could dress it up any way they wanted, this place was a goddamn prison for powered people. Security cameras? Security doors? High walls and barbed wire? Damn. Were they trying to keep bigots out, or keep the residents in?
For him, it was definitely prison. Or as close as he'd get, for now. Having made a mess of things back home, he was now here as per his deal in court. Get a grip on his power,s straighten up and fly right, join an officially licenced (or unofficially accepted...) team, or else, he'd be sent to a facility that was qualified to hold powered people, and in all likelihood never see the light of day again. Part of him was still weighing that option.
He walked through the spacious grounds to the tall building. They were on the far side of New York City, but ground this big... still a luxury. Then again, probably no one wanted to be a very close neighbor with people who could create lightning and turn into jaguars and whatnot. Or... people like Lucius. Wearing torn jeans and a leather jacket, with a beat-up duffle bag slung over his shoulder, despite his young age he was the kind of person decent folks gave funny looks at. Even without knowing why he was wearing thick, elbow-length gloves in this nice spring weather.
Lucius whispered one last "fuck me" before he sighed, and rang the doorbell. This place was going to suck.
Early 77 AD
The Fates had a sense of humor sometimes. Back when Lucius had walked into a small jewelry shop, looking for a gift for Vipsania and Mother, he had scarcely imagined that sometime in the future he would be brother to the young, bored-looking bored girl that sold said jewelry. And yet, here he was. Adoption ceremonies complete, papers signed, one idiot Lucius handed over by his brother to his new equites family. There was no way back now. He had given up the highest standing in the empire, and decided to go fight drunk people in the streets and run into fires instead.
Gods help him.
Lucius was not new to having a sister, although Vipsania had been married off early, just when Gaius had left. He could see that Mania, attending the adoption celebration, had not been too impressed with having yet another brother (and no say in it at all). So now that the fuss was over, he took the time to go seek her out. What did someone even say to a young woman who was suddenly his sister?... He hoped that he'd come up with the words by the time he found her.
AU - 76AD
Everything stung. The pain of salt water mixed with fresh bleeding wounds dragged her back to the land of the living slowly, with groggy coughs that spilled more salt water onto the sand, and shaking limbs that tried to push herself to her back. Ovinia didn't understand where she was. The last thing she remembered was the darkness of the Ionian Sea stretching out menacingly before them, the white caps of waves illuminated by the moon and stars that twinkled overhead. Now she was here - (finally) led on her back on the sand of a beach, shivering in the warm sunlight of early morning, drenched, in pain, and...alone.
She tried to move her head and managed it with effort to scan her surroundings. Everything was blurry and she moved shaking fingers to wipe the sand and hair and water from her face. The effort caused her to cough again - her lungs burning. Nobody to her right; just wood broken up on the shoreline. She dropped her head back to the sand in effort. After a few breaths she managed to look to her left. She wished she hadn't. Bodies - only a couple, but that's what they were. For a brief moment she considered if they - like her - would rouse when their wounds started to burn but then she saw their faces - down into the water, their bodies still and she let out a strangled cry.
This was supposed to be a small trip; a surprise one, it's why she'd travelled alone besides her bodyslave and a guard. From Rome to Patara to visit her brother, it would have been two weeks or perhaps three, but they had been held in Taenarum and had, had to board a new boat. It had been a creaking thing, uncomfortable but fast and they had set off two mornings ago - lugging around the cape and into the sea dotted by islands that shimmered like jewels in the blue of the water. She wished she'd remembered and she shut her eyes again, dropping her head back to the sand as she tried to flick through memories of the night. She managed to claw back a memory of a creaking sound and a scream. Her eyes flew open in panic again. She had to move. Water was lapping at her ankles and she was shivering, even in the warmth of the sun.
"H-help." Her voice was a croak, barely audible. She prayed she wasn't alone.
February 77AD (Right after Falling Apart)
Blood still glimmered on the cobblestones in the light of the torches when Lucius got to the scene, but it was darkening fast. Even wrapped in a senatorial outfit, the body could have lied there for hours until a carriage bumped into it... but someone had seen a man running away from the scene, and the victim was found. Someone alerted the vigiles. Lucius, nearby just starting his evening patrol, hurried to the scene with the others. The news were spreading faster than a flame. A senator had been killed.
Stabbed, no doubt. Dead as a doornail, no hope of a rescue. The vigiles formed a perimeter around the body, but Lucius managed to convince the centurion to wait before bundling it away from the prying eyes of the plebes. The man had been stabbed, in the street. Not robbed, not beaten. Maybe, just maybe... but why a man? Why a senator?
Lucius sent one of the other recruits hurrying to the insula, for Alexius and Theodorus. Another one for Jason. The centurion was losing his patience fast, but dealing with the death of a senator made him cautious enough that he was willing to listen. That won some time, but not much of it. Lucius swore under his breath, standing by the body. he wasn't even sure what he was waiting for... but he wanted the others to see it too.
Late January, 77AD
Outside the Temple of Fortuna, in the Forum Boarium
Ovinia looked at the sky, trying to deduce the time as she stood on the steps leading into the Temple of Fortuna, with her slave girl and guard in tow. Was Alexius late, or was she early? She tried to focus on the feelings of annoyance at being left waiting and not at her deep discomfort at being outside of the domus. She pulled the palla which was over her hair, tighter about herself and crossed her arms under her chest. She had a very full day planned today and she hadn't expected to start it so late. They'd start at the Temple of Fortuna - for him - her guard leaving as soon as Alexius was in sight, and from there they'd walk to Temple of Hercules Victor, through the Forum - maybe taking in the markets - and then onto the Temple Apollo Palatinus and then the Library of Palatine Apollo, where she'd arranged to meet Lucius as well at sunset. Provided Alexius wasn't any later than he was already and they could fit it all in.
She was dressed in typical Ovinia fashion - trying to mask her enormous lack of confidence in a confident display of her wealth. She was wearing a deep emerald silk chiton, belted tightly, with a paler green palla edged with gold disks that jangled melodically in the breeze that whipped up the Temple steps. She was freezing, but at least she looked nice. The chill also gave her a healthy, rosy flush which her mother had always said looked pretty, so there was that. Her slaves were equally eye-catching, laden with offerings as they were. She'd told Alexius she'd deal with that part of their trip, and so her poor slavegirl was saddled with two bags. In one, for this first trip, there was a glass jar filled with the mixture of honey, milk and floral petals that their good Goddess apparently enjoyed, and an enormous cake in the shape of a cart's wheel. There was gold as well, to pay the priests and priestesses and for incense. Ovinia never did things by halves.
Finally spotting him working his way through the crowds (a benefit of his height!) she gave him a slightly bemused look, trying to bluster confidence she didn't feel; "Did you forget the hour of our meeting, Alexius? Or were you otherwise occupied?"
Lucius had been working with the vigiles for several months, but he had to admit he had never seen them hop to work so fast and with so much enthusiasm as when the news came in that the Venus was on fire. And it barely tampered their heroic spirit when they found out that the fire, thank the gods, was only near the Venus, but not actually in it. It also did not make them any less helpful to know that there was not a single man among the rank and file vigiles that would have been able to afford a girl or boy from the Venus. It was the principle, after all. And maybe a faint hope of reward.
The building next to the Venus caught from a cooking fire, as far as they could tell. The centurion on the scene immediately ordered the vigiles to start pulling down the burning parts of the roof, and sent some to cover the adjacent roof with water-soaked skins and blankets, to prevent the Venus from catching from the sparks. People stood by, watching the scene unfold; even some of the girls and the clients came out of the Venus, looking nervous.
Lucius was standing at the building's doorway, part of the bucket brigade that was passing down water from the nearby fountain. Smoke and sparks flew everywhere, and made him tear up, even with the scarf over his mouth and nose.
"Are we sure there is no one inside?..."
It had been Lucius' idea to come to the Gardens of Maecenas, for some reason of his own, and Gaius had agreed, it was neutral enough territory after the various conversations and disagreements they'd had over the last few months, culminating in Lucius' finally leaving the household to pursue his crazy idea of joining the vigiles.
Apart from that, Gaius wasn't entirely sure why he was walking in the Gardens of Maecenas in February; the last time he'd visited one of Rome's public gardens in the winter, the girl had finally decided to call it off. Not that it had ever really been 'on', so to speak, but he hadn't pursued the matter and her father had been willing to let it drop even if he had the right to carry on making arrangements for the marriage.
Gaius was rather glad he hadn't; he would rather not marry Ovinia if marrying him would make her unhappy. And there was the complication of his brother - the two of them knew each other somehow, that had been glaringly clear from the way they'd interacted at that dinner, although he hadn't been able to get anything out of Lucius about how, and of course it wasn't something he could have asked Ovinia.
"So, how are you finding life with the vigiles?" he finally asked, pulling his cloak a little tighter around his shoulders; he had elected not to wear his senatorial tunic and toga for this informal outing, but was comfortably clothed in a dark green woollen tunic with a warm cloak over his pallium.
Mid January 77AD
Ovinia hurried through the alley, hair still damp, curling against her neck under the heavy palla she wore up over her head when out in public now. She was trailed by Lucia and the brutish slave assigned as her guard but as agreed with her father, they were ten or so paces behind. They also stopped when she did, eyes down and watching the street ahead. She hated passing through here now, but hated even more that she smiled to herself at the memories the place held. What promptly wiped her smile, as always, was the crude handwriting scratched into the wall. It had caught her eye a couple of weeks before:
Sweet Saturnalia kisses here turned so bitter. Farewell, bitch.
She'd choked when she'd first seen it and Lucia had promptly hurried to her side, frowning intently at her domina and the writing. Ovinia had shooed her away and bid her and her bodyguard further up the road. She'd withdrawn a hair pin and hurriedly scratched back before she could find any sense:
The kisses weren't even that good.
She'd loathed herself after and spent most of the next few days brooding over her childishness. She shouldn't rise to it. To him. But she did. The embarrassment she felt that day at the Porticus Livae was only intensifying. He'd only kissed her because of the festival. He'd only come to see her because he'd been summoned by her father. She'd been so naive and so hopeful and she'd said farewell to an excellent match, in part, for a youthful infatuation that wasn't even returned. She rationalised that as the reason she'd scratched into the wall. That had to be it. It didn't explain why she had choked, incensed when she saw her message had been replied to a few days later on her way to the baths:
That's because you're frigid. Loosen up.
Lucia had, once again, rushed to her side and frowned at the writing. Ovinia's cheeks were burning red and Lucia had immediately gripped her hand, gesturing for the guard to stay back. "What do you want me to do?" Ovinia had played dumb, shrugging and denying everything as she went to the baths. She'd shaken her head and said she didn't know what it was and that she merely thought the graffiti in poor taste. Lucia hadn't been born yesterday though and it was only when Ovinia's eyes filled with watery tears that her slave had ushered her into a quieter corner of the baths, shrouding her with a towel and insistently asking what she needed. She didn't ask for details, merely what she could do to help. Ovinia knew there was a reason she had always liked the girl. She'd choked it out, embarrassed, upset and confused; "He's a bastard." Lucia had nodded and taken that as instructions, halting by the wall as Ovinia hurried through. She'd scratched back, Ovinia would see a few days later:
Bastard. You are a man with no honour.
The poor girl had not only scratched the words but had to deal with Ovinia's breakdown on it not a few hours later. She'd clearly been expecting it and had come back to the domus full of assurances that no; she wouldn't tell Ovinia's father and no, a kiss with a man didn't make Ovinia a whore. It had almost...bemused her, even as Ovinia refused to admit which man it was. Lucia could guess though. It had made Ovinia feel a little better. Just for a few days, just until she had seen the newest reply on her way to the baths:
Slut. You are a woman with no morals.
It did not occur to Ovinia in that moment that the Lucius she had known would never have been so crude, nor cruel. In her head, it had to be him. It was in this alley they had kissed so heatedly, on Saturnalia as the graffiti had said. It had shattered her, and steadied her hand as she penned her letter to the barracks:
If you do not desist in the slander on the wall of that place where we had shared a moment, I will have no choice but to escalate the matter to my father for his awareness. I will not hesitate to pursue all options to remedy your entitlement and cruelty.
I do not understand why you are doing this.
It had been delivered by a boy she had paid an as to two days ago and she had been hesitant more than ever to go to the alley. She hadn't looked at the wall on the way to the baths but now, hair damp against her skin, cheeks still flushed from the heat of the water and the steam, and body veiled in a palla, her eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the wall. No new writing. No reply. She frowned, relief washing through her but sadness replacing it swiftly. So it was him.
(End of the year, 76AD - after Winter walk)
Lucius was in a foul mood as he climbed the steps to Alexius' apartment. He should have been focusing on the search, on the information he had acquired about the barber and his victims. And yet, he could not stop thinking about Ovinia's parting words, the hurt look in her eyes. And even worse than that, he could not stop thinking about holding her and kissing her. He was going to drive himself mad, sooner than later.
He needed to talk to someone. Focus on the investigation, holding the plans together. Finding the killer. That was something straightforward he could work on, and drown his feelings. If that didn't work, he could always just get drunk. Alexius seemed to be a good partner for either of those.
"I hope you've got one, but if you don't, I've got money" he announced as he walked into the apartment.
(End of the year, 76AD, after Assemble)
Narcissus was still damn ugly. Lucius stood, looking at the paintings, remembering the day a mere half a year earlier, when he'd first met Ovinia Camilla at the portico. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Would he have done anything differently, if he'd known...? Would he do anything different now?
Ovinia had sent word that she was going for a walk. Probably under serious supervision, but her father wanted to keep up appearances. She would come here, because it was her usual place to walk, and today was a nice, mild winter day. Lucius was not wearing his uniform this time, just a plain tunica and a cloak, wandeling along the painting of the portico. Their meeting was not actually sanctioned by anyone. But he had news for her, she deserved to know. And he wanted to see her, see how she was holding up. It was still eating away at him that he could not comfort her after the attack.