Aia heard Didia screaming her name as she was heading down the stairs with the other bucket. That was... not good. She broke into a run, flying down the stairs two at a time, hitting a door with her fist on the way down. Hopefully the medicus'. He couldn't see Didia in the courtyard so she headed for the alley, brandishing the bucket for lack of a better weapon. "Didia?!"
Aia and Decimus were settling nicely into the new apartment, but that didn't mean he could be there all the time. He still spent nights at the Castra more often than not when he was on duty. Aia didn't mind. She enjoyed time spent with Decimus - and in-between, she was making friends around the insula. Friends like Didia, who was always nice to chat with. They met on the landing of the stairs and walked down together for water, like many other times.
"Decimus left you alone to fend for yourself tonight?"
"Yep. Guard duty on the Palatine" Aia smiled.
"How cruel, making you do all the heavy lifting. But 'least he has an excuse. My family are just lazy shites. How's the new apartment?"
"Spacious" Aia grinned as they walked up to the fountain "You should have seen the walls before we painted them over though... oh, damn." Aia frowned and made an exasperated face, looking at her bucket. "This one leaks. I should just throw it out, I keep grabbing it on instinct... Gonna go get the other one." She left the bucket by the fountain and turned, heading back up the stairs. "Go ahead. I'll only be a minute!"
"I don't really care about being pampered. I also don't really care to redecorate or shop but...that's what women are supposed to do, women who are married to Praetor's. And yes. I suspect so. None have come calling yet but I don't doubt they will. I have nothing in common with them."
Aia chuckled a little. Here Erea was, a proper Roman wife in everything but name only, and she did not really like the idea of any of it. Sure enough, parties were usually a lot better when you partied with people you liked. "I hear those dinners are the worst."
"I imagine you went through something similar? When you had to learn...to be a woman again? Did lots of wine help? I imagine it might help me..."
"Lots of wine always helps" Aia grinned "Although I can't tell the difference, I drank as a man too." She added, laughing as she picked up some more cherries. "You are right, some of it is boring. And I don't really care about the shopping either... granted, I have less money. But hey, you get to sample better food and wine? And some rares spices?"
"Only when the imagery is pleasant" she grinned, winking at him as they both got to work with the brushes. Most of this imagery decidedly was not. They worked side by side to make it all disappear. The walls needed thorough painting, but the apartment would be good as new soon. "I think I like this place" Aia noted, glancing around as she took a break to breathe. "It's bigger... more space. To have... people over" she noted. And to live, in general. "I wish you could live here all the time. I bet the Castra is not this nice."
"You could say that" Aia smiled. She had found it - or rather, recognized it after a long time. And now she was glad she had.
"It is good to meet you, Aia. My name is Caturix."
"Pleasure to meet you, Caturix" she nodded, still speaking Britonnic. It was good practice, and her Britonnic was better than his Latin.
"What do you do in the city?"
"I teach languages" she grinned, then decided she should probably elaborate. "Rich people hire me to teach their children Latin, Greek, and Gallic or Briton depending on where they are headed for military service."
"He's treated me as a wife and is good to our son- I...have a son. Peregrinus. Tertius' heir, he freed him on his birth."
Being treated as a Roman wife was not saying much, but it was definitely better than a slave. Aia smiled, a little relieved that she did not have to figure out now how to ask about the baby. The baby, who was apparently son and heir to her dominus now. Her... sort of husband. "Well... that's good news, then."
"So...I...suppose I'm now trying to figure out what to do with my freedom. What to do with my life. I...can't do what I used to do. So any advice from a free woman is gratefully received."
"Well, um..." Aia blinked at the question. "I guess... it's a matter of what you want to do?" She'd never really thought about it before. "Like, you can go to the good baths now. And have yourself pampered" she added with a grin. "Does he... expect you to entertain guests?"
"Please do not tell me you live in the same insulae as Alexius...? And Teutus Quintilius Varus?"
Aia arched an eyebrow and laughed. "Alexius, yes. He's a good neighbor. Teutus... I think so? Haven't seen him around much yet."
Erea was a free woman now. Aia wondered how she felt about it.
"Odd... I waited three years for it but now it's here... I was manumitted but there are terms, I'm his...wife. Well...no, not his wife. His concubina...hence the clothes and the shopping."
"Oh." Aia's smile softened. So, the freedom, ironically, came with strings attached. This had to be the same man that was the father of her child. And now... he had her as an official consort. "Is he... treating you decently?"
"I'm glad for you. Where is your insula?"
"On the Esquiline. It's not a bad place. Lots of good neighbors."
"Yes please" Aia grinned, taking a seat on the bench next to her. Wine made for better conversation. Erea seemed to be uncomfortable with talking about the obvious... But she did manage to get around to it.
"So... I'm free."
"I figured" Aia smiled, looking at her. "Congratulations?... How are you feeling?"
Erea was not the open and chatty kind of girl, and Aia did not expect her to tell her all the news right after they had not seen each other in two years. Instead, she strolled along with her to a stall that was selling fresh fruit. "Cherries?" she smiled, paying a few coins for a bunch of cherries in a small basket. Now they just needed to find a place to settle down and talk.
"I don't want to talk about me. How have you been? Are you still with your soldier?"
"I am" Aia grinned. "We live together now, in an insula. Still not married, though, but I don't mind."
"Thank you. It's good to see you again. You look great." Aia hugged Erea, who was moving a little awkwardly in the palla and the dress she had on. She was not dressed like a slave anymore, and not wearing a tablet either. Did she... get her freedom? Aia looked her up and down, linking her arm into Erea's. "I am just looking around. Are you shopping?" she glanced at the expensive fabrics. "Seems like I have missed a lot. Come on. Let's talk."
February 77 AD The night following Falling Apart and Crime scene investigations
It was far from the first time he’d killed someone. And it had felt so good when it happened, the feeling of the knife penetrating the flesh, the way the man had doubled over, forcing the knife deeper, all the way to the handle. The way the blood had run over Marcus’ fingers. The way the other man died, the way Marcus touched the wound and the warm blood. Until he realized he needed to flee. The man wore white robes; the man was a Senator of Rome. It was not good. But Marcus was sure it could not be traced back to him…
Or was he? Somehow, what happened tonight made him think to everything else that had happened, since he attacked that girl at Saturnalia. She’d been so afraid. Her blood had been so red and warm. He’d almost wanted to fuck her after he cut her, but then he didn’t, because he thought he killed her. But he didn’t. She lived and she was with a guy named Alexius, who also knew the Egyptian who came to his shop, who knew a mute boy. A mute boy that Marcus thought he'd met sometime. He couldn’t be sure it was the same, but maybe. It seemed like a puzzle, almost impossible to solve, but he knew he had the right pieces. He just had to finish it. If all of this really was connected… it was very bad for him. He knew how they treated murderers. They’d often end up in the arena against some beast of a gladiator and Marcus wouldn’t win such a fight. And he had no death-wish. All he wanted was to do what he’d always done.
The next morning he woke up in his bed. He hadn’t changed, he’d been thinking about the murder until he fell asleep. Then he yelled for Manus to come and help clean him, and his female slave could get him a fresh set of clothes. There was blood on his tunica from yesterday. He told Manus to burn it. Once he’d cleaned up and wore clean clothes, he went down to open the shop as usual. Pretending like nothing happened last night. But then people began coming into the shop to be shaved or have a haircut. And there was gossip. About the important Senator that was murdered in the street last night. And the Vigiles were looking for the murderer. Many people were looking for said murderer. Marcus worried more and more. So much that he felt distracted.
He closed the shop early, locked the chest with blades and once darkness fell, he put his cloak back on. And went out into the night. Towards the Esquiline Hill. He had to solve the puzzle. And he had to attempt removing the people he thought might know too much. He could start with Alexius. Or Artemon, whom he had already shaved once. Artemon might be easiest. Not that he had not killed bigger men before, but why take a risk when you could be safe?
He hid in a dark doorway near the insula, watching the area. Marcus didn’t know if he’d kill them tonight, a murder two nights in a row might not be the best idea. But he needed to see them and needed to think about what he'd do. Then he might at least threaten them. Hurt them. Silence them. Something. And so he waited.
Charis had absolutely no clue where to start. She had been a free woman for closing in on three months now and had still not mastered what that actually, practically meant. She had slipped into her new role fairly seamlessly in the house but pastimes still eluded her. She had been told that most women liked to shop, and fashion. Charis had never cared for such trivialities - not in Britannia when she was free, not when enslaved and not now. Still, she didn't wish to raise Tertius' ire by complaining of boredom so she had taken herself (and a full coin purse) out of the domus and into the markets to try and find something to buy.
The stall was full of overflowing fabrics from every corner of the empire and beyond. Vivid colours and impossible textures assaulted her senses as the trader tried his best to upsell her; "Won't you be needing more than one stola, domina? Or a few palla's for the changing seasons?" Charis didn't know. The clothes she'd been wearing for the last few months had been gifted to her. She didn't actually know what she needed, and didn't know what she liked. She frowned at a bolt of pink fabric. "Is this my colour?" She asked the stallholder, holding it up to see if it suited her complexion. Gods this was mind-numbing.
Early March, 77 CE One of the many, many Roman Walls
The sun was up, the birds chirped and the Roman city was bustling. Caturix had been sent out to find goods for the feast tonight, however, he had more than gotten sidetracked with the amount of people and noise that compared to his vague memories of the rolling hills of his tribe. He moved through, a confidence in his walk not pertaining to a slave, as the Roman citizens looked at him; both disgust and fear in their eyes as they hurried on past the Briton.
It was the scribbles on the walls which had caught his attention, his brow furrowing as he swept a stray strand of blond hair dropped in front of his face. He stepped closer, his head tilting to the side as he brought a finger up to trace the words. There was a lot of it, whatever it said. He knew them to be words, for his Master had tried to teach him enough to get by in the local marketplace aside from what his already learned 'cock' and 'balls' that a small child had pointed out.
February 77 CE
Aia surveyed the empty room with hands on her hips. This apartment was only slightly bigger than the one they had been living in (inside the same insula), but it definitely looked to be in better condition. Or it would be, once it had gotten some renovations done. Mainly, painting.
Decimus and Aia had been living together at the insula for almost a year now (whenever Decimus was not staying at the Castra, that is). It was lovely, being together, surrounded by (mostly) friendly neighbors. But now that the opportunity arose to switch to a better apartment, they decided to take it. Moving up in the world, one small step at a time. Some of the neighbors made comments about starting a family, but Aia did not pay them much heed.
The walls of the new apartment were... not in the best condition. The paint was faded and chipped, and the previous owner apparently had a side business as a prostitute, with appropriate yet crude illustrations on one wall, drawn in chalk. Aia tilted her head, trying to make sense of some of them. They would be gone soon; she had the brushes and the whitewash and the paint to cover it all up. And then maybe decorate the walls with something better. Aia had no artistic training or talent whatsoever. But it was bound to be fun to try...
(End of the year, 76AD, after Winter walk)
Decimus was on duty, and Aia was out of work for the day, so it was a great time to spend a few hours at the baths. Living at the insula, Aia had grown to like the neighborhood, and wandered around the Esquiline hill until she found the best spots for everything. Best food, best markets, best views... and the best baths. Not the biggest or most fancy ones, but the ones that were clean, never overcrowded, smelled nice, and had good water.
As she walked from the tepidarium into the room with the hot water, she discarded her towel, and walked down the steps. Once upon a time, it would have been unthinkable for her to be naked like this around other people - back when everyone thought she was a boy. Sometimes, discarding her clothing still felt like a dangerous thing to do, even in a bath full of women. Not just because of her body, but also because of the scars. She didn't mind them anymore - and Decimus had given her ample reminders he did not mind anything about her body at all - but here in the city, far from the legions, they still got some curious looks from people. Mostly because it was clear there were cuts done by blades, not the usual lash marks of burns carried by slaves and freed people.
Still, she was used to it by now. Aia sighed a contented sigh, entering the hot water, letting her long red hair down.
Attis had grown used to the life of a Legate's personal slave with the Legions in Britannia. He was still growing used to the weather and the wet and the mud, but after that first time tripping over a grass hummock, he hadn't manage anything quite so ignominious again, certainly not where anyone could see. Oh, for paved roads again, though - they were building some outside the fort, but the fort itself was still a ditch, a wooden palisade and rows and rows of tents, with one or two more permanent structures like the bathhouse and the Praetorium and prison.
It hadn't taken him too long to find his way around, Roman army camps were laid out in nice neat straight lines with all the important buildings (or tents) in the middle and the less important ones outside of them and so on, right to the edges of the camp by the palisade. Which meant that at least his master's tent, one of the nice big ones, was near the middle of the camp.
Longinus was elsewhere at the moment, either on the parade square or in the Praetorium, and Attis wasn't needed, so once he'd finished his current chores, he ducked out of the tent for some air somewhere. He pulled his cloak around his shoulders; autumn here might be pretty but there was a chill in the air that he really wasn't used to, and he'd been told it would only get worse as winter wore on.
There was a familiar slight figure up ahead, the interprex Aius - Attis had seen him around, of course. Longinus didn't always dispense with Attis when he was doing Legion business, and occasionally had need of an interpreter while doing Legionary business.
"Salve," he said, stepping out of the way as Aius approached - Attis the slave was marginally beneath Aius the free peregrinus in the grand scheme of things. It seemed they were both going the same way, to the cookhouse for food. Of course.
The insula was definitely not as fancy a living space as a villa, but it was a step up from a military camp, and a lot less awkward than the Castra. After long months of meeting at taverns and hidden places, Aia and Decimus finally concluded that they needed their own place inside the city, even if neither of them could permanently move in just yet. Eventually, they would have a house. At least, Aia had her eyes set on a house now that she was to be a proper Roman wife. But for now, and insula apartment would have to do. And they found one for rent, in a place that was not horribly suspect.
Honestly they did not have a lot of stuff to move in. But Decimus had a day off from his praetorian duties, so Aia was excited to spend it together, exploring their new apartment. And hopefully making it more comfortable. Maybe breaking in the bed. Who knew.
The two of them stood at the bottom of the stairs of the building; Aia was carrying a basket of some pots and utensils and food, while she had passed on a larger bundle of bedding and cleaning supplies to Decimus. People were coming and going. Some of those people were likely their future neighbors.
"Well... let's see what it's like on the inside, shall we?"
The markets were bustling with activity, as they always were, but Florus didn't care. They made him uneasy, most of the time. Too many people, and too many things going on at once. Sensations, colours, noises, smells... Eventually it all set him on edge. There was a reason why his only outings generally were restricted to the baths, and why he preferred to stay in the gardens when it was possible. There was no peace outside. Not with so many Romans around, that was for sure. Not to mention everything else...
Today his mind was focused on something else, however, as it had been for the past two weeks. Tranquillus. Oh, he'd been thinking about him for a long time, now, but it had been two weeks since they'd shared their first kiss and Florus' world had become that much more beautiful. The world made more sense now that he had an anchor. It had also been almost two weeks since Tranquillus had left, and Florus missed him enormously. He hadn't known that he could feel so happy and so sad at the same time. Just as he had been able to touch the body slave, he had been taken away. It was so difficult.
The only thing he could do was throw himself entirely into his work. He'd been a devoted, caring gardener before, but now he threw all his energy into it, working all the hours where there was sunlight, and barely stopping to eat. He didn't really notice a difference in the outcome yet, but that wouldn't stop him from working. It was that, or sit around the gardens feeling sorry for himself. That had never been his type.
So he'd had an idea to make the domus more flowery. Large clay pots, which he had found in storage, somewhere, could be used to host plants and put around the doors leading to the gardens. It would be beautiful. And he'd even found a smaller pot, which he thought he might use to put beside Tranquillus' bedroom door.
All he needed to do was shop for the plants that would go in that pot, now. The young gardener browsed the flower and plant merchants, occasionally stopping to smell them. Interested, he pointed at a very nice iris. The merchant told him the price, smugly, and Florus exhaled incredulously.
'Are you serious? That plant is not worth that price!' He was indignant, now, and found his Latin to be failing him, so he reverted to Britonnic. 'Do you take me for a moron? You're a thief, that's what you are!'
Rome was freaking hot in the summers. Gods above, how did people handle it?... It was a question on theory, obviously, because anyone who could left the city for the summer months, and anyone who stayed probably had no other option. Even Flavia Juliana and her household visited less often these days, preferring the villa to the city, which was sad, honestly, because Aia had a lover in the city, and she was very displeased by how infrequently she got to bang him. Hopefully, this would only be temporary, until they got permission to marry. Then she could bang him all the time.
But right now, he was on duty, and she had some errands to run, errands that took her to the Forum Holitorium for some spiced olive oil and other delicacies. Aia covered her head with her light palla against the sun, and walked slowly along the market stalls, examining produce as she went. This place was stinking much less in the summer than the Forum Boarium close by; in fact the spices and herbs and oils had kind of a nice, if strong, aroma that tickled one's nose. Aia stopped to smell the scents around a spice stall, when she caught sight of a familiar face out of the corner of her eyes...
Decimus watched with relief as the young man finally left the tavern to seek entertainment elsewhere. In truth it was a godsend, he'd hate to sit at the bar for a few more hours while the love of his life was a few meters away. As soon as the last trace of the boy's fine garb drifted through the threshold back out onto the street, Decimus stepped from the bar with mug in hand to finally reunite himself with the love he'd not seen for damn near a month.
He wasn't too showy about it, strolling rather casually over to the table and pausing to look about for a moment before setting himself down in the seat once occupied by that nobleman.
"Hope you don't mind if I sit." he'd say, giving her a coy smile as he pulled another swig from his mug. "Who was that anyways? You got friends in high places now?"
Of course he knew it could have been anyone that lived in the house of Flavia, though he couldn't begin to guess who he might have actually been. It was either that or she was mixing and mingling with nobles on the side, and Aia hardly seemed the type to truly enjoy that sort of company regularly.