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Early July, 74ad

Vibia was trying to sleep. The heat was up in the city and it had driven the clientele of the Domus Venus into languor in the days, but the evenings had been a constant stream of patrons. Fortunately for the young freedwoman, she had been excused from servicing said patrons and had instead been instructed to simply play her cithara, to entertain the waiting guests. It was a little dull, but given how quickly the drink was flowing, she wasn't particularly keen on the other side of her job either. She tried to enjoy that side of her work as much as was possible, but given how freely the clients were knocking back the wine, she doubted she'd have a particularly satisfying evening. 

It was a little after midnight, and wrapped in a thin sheet, and with the sounds emanating from the other workers rooms, sleep seemed an impossible fantasy. Propping herself up on her bed she cast a quick glance around the room; noting with despondency the overturned pitcher that should have been full of wine had she thought to replenish it. With a groan, she swung her legs over the side and pushing back long blonde hair from her face, stifled a yawn. 

With some effort she stood on wobbly, sleep-deprived legs and sauntered to pick up the pitcher. Haphazardly she threw on a thin dressing gown to cover the tunica she hadn't bothered to remove when she had collapsed into her bed some hours ago. Padding on bare feet she unlatched her door and crept down the dimly lit corridor, past rooms with sounds that would make even the hardiest of Roman blush, into a back room where she took a seat at a table. She could have summoned one of the slave boys to refill her wine but her room had felt like a prison in the heat and she needed the air. Sitting herself down in the darkened room, and pouring herself a cup of sweet watered wine, she sighed. 

This had...not been what she imagined freedom to feel like. She was still at the beck and call of others; both the domina of the brothel, the wider Syndicate and the Collegium of course. Still, she had her health and wits, and it wasn't a particularly onerous job. She suspected she'd only be here for another year or two before her worth diminished and she could actually be free. But what she'd do with that freedom was anybody's guess. Startled from her reverie by another figure moving into the small side room, she arched a brow and grinned at who she saw. "Can't sleep either?" She leant forward to place her face in her palm, surveying him, "You should complain to Titinia that none of her girls or boys could satisfy you to sleep." It had been some weeks since she had seen Marcus, but she wasn't about to turn away company. Gesturing with her head to the pitcher she asked, "Wine?"

 

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It had been some time since he saw Vibia.

Admittedly, he was not supposed to bed the courtesans at the Domus Venus and instead were supposed to visit the Elysium. If his lovers charged him the rates they asked their clients, he would never be able to afford it and would soon find himself in a sorry state. Marcus had been doing his rounds. The sounds of the brothel filled his ears, when he was not 'in the mood' he found it more tedious and difficult to listen to. He saw Vibia stumble and it was not like her. Marcus followed her both to ensure she was well and make sure she lived up to the reputation of the establishment being of quality. She was incredibly beautiful and articulate. 

He chuckled, shrugged and nodded before he sat down to join her with the offer of wine. "No, I was doing the rounds to make sure all of the pretty flowers are nice and safe," He included her among the number, naturally she was one of his favourites and especially so since she did not charge him. "You know what she is like. I am too lowborn to purchase any of the intimate trade here. I cannot afford you, except for your charms that you give to me willingly." Marcus answered, reached over and lifted her hand to place a kiss on the top of it before he turned it over and kissed the soft, delicate wrist. His stubble teased her skin as he did so. His eyes remained on her, she was beautiful and his eyes wrinkled as he smiled at her. 

"Mmm, nothing like wine," He said, pushed two cups towards her and fortunately this part of the establishment was quiet. Otherwise they would find themselves in a rather compromising position. "So, how has business been going?" Marcus asked, only half-interested in what she had to say. He liked the sound of her voice, it was soft and beautiful. The cup was lifted to his lips and he sipped the liquid within. 

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Posted (edited)

"Mhmm." Vibia murmured with a roll of her eyes, "I give you more than my charms, you should count yourself blessed." It was hardly like bedding him was a hardship, however. And he was useful, in some respects. Snapping her hand back to the table at his kiss, she grinned. She liked the games she played with him' she couldn't be like this with the clients of the Venus for the most part; most wanted seeing to and to be back on their way. This was different and it sent a little shudder up her spine, despite her better judgement. 

Pouring two generous cups of wine, she shrugged her shoulders but felt tense at the talk of work and her voice belied it. "The heat isn't helping, they're rowdier than usual...as I suspect you heard on your rounds." Her lips twitched into an impish smile, "But she's just got me playing music to entertain them while they wait, most of the time...I suppose it's better than having a balding old man larger than a whale on top of me but..." She shrugged again, "I'm not earning much." She didn't know if it was  because she was free, and so was less profitable to keep than the slaves, but Vibia's patience at the madame was being tested. 

Taking a deep sip of wine, she returned her hands and the cup to the table and reached out to gently stroke his forearm. "I haven't seen you for a little while." There was no malice in her voice, but suspicion lingered. She knew how pretty some of the other young women were, and how easily controlled. She thought herself made of harder stuff, and failed to see how she herself was being manipulated, both by the gangs that kept her and uncomfortable feelings of lust for a man she really should have no business dealing with, sat opposite her now. "The wife distracting you at home?" She arched a brow, amused, "Or has another of the girls been...giving you her...charms?"

 

TAG: @Gothic

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Marcus grinned at the thought of more of Vibia's charms. She was beautiful, charming, and utterly engaging. He loved a challenge. Even when he was a youth he had enjoyed it. Vibia's company was excellent, and especially moreso when she poured him a generous cup of wine. Marcus tasted the liquid once more, smiled at the flavour and continued to listen to her when she answered him. He nodded slowly, listened to her talk about the heat and nodded again. Marcus had long learned that the nod was an ideal answer when it came to dealing with women, and men on occasion. Marcus had seen her several times while she played music to entertain the guests. He was also sure that there were much better ways she could be earning her coin at the Domus Venus.

"Not earning much? You, dear Vibia, should be earning a King's ransom every night." He answered, and rested his hand on hers as it rested on his forearm. Vibia was beautiful. Skilled at the erotic arts and there was no denying how she was pleasant company. The music she provided no doubt benefited both the establishment and the workers who were able to have the music in the background while they earned their coin. 

It had been a long while since he had seen her. Marcus visibly stiffened when she mentioned his wife and gave her a strained smile. It was never good to mix business with family life. They both needed to be kept separate. The brief moment of concern passed and he gave her a charming smile again. "Aww, have you missed me?" He asked. Took her hand again, lifted it to his lips and again, the stubble caressed her delicate skin. "I will have to spend extra time with you. Work has been, well, it has been a lot." Marcus said, and did not elaborate about what else his work involved. 

 

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She rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the sly grin of pride that spread across her face. "Mhm." She assented, still lightly stroking his forearm as his own hand moved over hers. "I'm having to make do with listening to others get their money." She didn't know what she'd prefer though, in truth. Sweaty men groping her, or not earning money. It was a close call. Jesting, she arched a brow, "Do you think I'm losing my looks? An old and haggard whore is good to anybody." She was a vain woman, and religiously inspected the small mirror in her room for lines on her face, every morning. She was relieved most days, to see no new ones appear - although she was trying to smile less. Apparently that only encouraged ageing. 

She didn't fail to notice the way he stiffened at her fleeting joke at his wife's expense. Her eyes narrowed and she studied him. Curious - that one in his line of business could still have some...sensitivities. She couldn't imagine a life with boundaries any more. When you lived and worked in a brothel, your concept of privacy rapidly diminished she supposed. 

"Missed might be a strong word." She rolled her eyes but cursed herself at the little shudder that shook her shoulders and ran the length of her spine as he kissed her fingers. "You can spend time with me as long as I don't get a better offer." Some of her regulars were good bedmates, and a few were even her type. Still, Marcus provided a welcome distraction from the falsity of it all. Still, she leaned forward, leaning her face into spare palm - the other still running circles over his skin. "So secretive." She grinned, but was genuinely intrigued. "I don't think you've ever told me what you do...when you're not skulking around here, listening to people fuck.She grinned. "What do you do?" Even if she wasn't being tasked with uncovering the Syndicate's dirty little secrets, she would have likely still asked.

Something about him, despite her better judgement, was fascinating to the young woman.

 

TAG: @Gothic

 

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There was no way anyone could consider Vibia could be ugly. She was still as beautiful as the day he met her, and knew that there were many women who were insecure about their looks. Marcus was a bastard at times, and was not above using people's insecurities against them.  Again he squeezed her hand in order to reassure her concerns, "Losing your looks? Never, you are utterly beautiful," He praised her, smiled and noticed the change in her when he mentioned his wife and family. Marcus thought she knew better than to mention or pry into his family life. But soon the thought was forgotten as she rolled her eyes at him. 

"Uh huh, you missed me," He teased her, grinned and around his eyes creased as he did so. Smug was an understatement. Marcus loved watching her reaction, and only occasion did he feel a pang of guilt over leading her on. Still.... he could not help but enjoy it. Marcus could not prevent himself from grumbling at the mention of a 'better offer'. He was glaringly aware that he could not afford to gift her what any of the patrons managed to do so. Vibia was here to work. However, those fingertips of hers soon distracted him from the sensations they gave him. 

Marcus raised his eyebrow at her question. Surely she had seen him deal with customers who did not wish to pay? Or ones who got too violent with the workers? Or the varying escorting duties? Essentially, a majority of his duties were associated with the Domus Venus and the Domina, Titinia. Rather than his official boss, Marcellus Severus Minor. Still... he did not suspect her motives at this time and could not resist an opportunity to gloat. 

"Oh, surely you have seen me. Keeping you nice and safe from any rough customers, escorting them out," He continued, code for roughly showing them the door and encouraging them to return when they remembered their manners. "Keeping an eye on things. Nothing you need to worry your pretty head over." Marcus said. Ideally he should be willing to ask her what she did but he knew already. 

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"I missed certain parts of you." She acquiesced with a little grin, "But your talking is not one of those parts." She was jesting. She'd found few decent conversationalists in the Venus - or rather - few that she enjoyed the company of. Marcus was a rare exception and certainly brightened up what could often be a decidedly monotonous existence. 

She eyed him in silence as he spoke, trying to gauge him. Absently her fingers went to the rich gold necklace she had forgotten to take before she had collapsed onto her pallet. It had cost her most of her wage of the previous month but what women didn't enjoy the finer things in life? Still, she concentrated carefully on him. "Of course I've seen you." She rolled her eyes, "And my pretty little head knows that you keep all of us lovely flowers safe but...is that...it?" She offered a little laugh, perhaps cruelly and dismissively. Vibia had a shockingly high opinion of herself given her own station, and it was only natural she held those in her life to the same standards. 

Amused, she pulled her hand away from his and folded her arms across her chest. Tilting her head to the side, she arched a brow. "A grown man and all he does to earn his glory is...guard some rowdy whores?" She laughed again, cruelly and arched a brow. She liked to goad others, but sometimes didn't realise the sharpness of her own tongue.

 

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He could not help but grin at that comment. Marcus' ego was easily stroked, and she knew exactly how to do it. Marcus winked at her, and for a moment he felt guilty for treating her like this. Playing on her insecurities for his own goal. He did care for her, and love her. She was a friend and made the hours of work go much quicker than he thought it otherwise would. There were many things he did associated with the gang that required discretion. The bossman and boss lady did not appreciate nor tolerate loose lips. Kept them shut or lose them. 

Marcus' ego absolutely felt rustled when his contributions were treated as though they were minor, and then the second part. He felt his body stiffen with agitation and while he was not the sharpest of men. Marcus was cunning, and he knew when he was being lured into a trap. Her words certainly found their mark! He took a mouthful of his wine and needed a moment to decide what was best to say next. "Oh I do a-plenty, but, again, nothing to worry your pretty little head about." He said, wanted the point to be made clear. Work and pleasure would not be mixed. 

Again, he lifted the wine from the table up and sipped it. Marcus enjoyed the flavour and the taste of it, one of the best perks of the job was the access to good quality wine. Fortunately for him, he could barely taste the difference in the quality. 

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Vibia grinned, pleased her words had found their mark as his body stiffened and he took a sip of wine. Men it seemed, in her experience, often enjoyed being baited. Most would assume those that came into the Venus were looking for a quick fuck or a docile young lover, but in her experience many came in expecting witty or cruel conversations. Then again, maybe it was just the men she attracted. After all, she was no retiring wallflower. 

As he deflected again, she only rolled her eyes. "So secretive." She demurred with a little grin. "What are you doing? Pushing men into the Tiber? Robbing rich Senators?" She rolled her eyes again with a little laugh, but was genuinely intrigued. Decisively, she pushed herself up from the table. "My, my...they have trained you well...keeping that lovely mouth shut...even just to a silly young whore who wants to hear all about your glory." She eyed him. It was a dangerous game, and she wasn't about to push her luck. Better to make a joke out of it, try and make it seem like she was just bored - just in need of a good tale, rather than anything more sinister or devious. Yet she was acutely aware that her value to the Consortium was diminishing - she'd provided them almost no useful information. 

Gently, she padded round to the other side of the small table and took a seat next to him. Without missing a beat, she moved to place an arm round his shoulders but given their difference in size, her hand rested on the nape of his neck. "Tense?" She asked, although it was bollocks as she wasn't one of those women skilled in massage to really know. She lent in a bit as she moved to take her cup of wine from the other side of the table, "I hope I don't make you tense...do I?"

 

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Oh, she was good. She was very good. 

They were usually trained to slowly and discreetly pry secrets from men to keep a horde of secrets. Marcus raised his eyebrows, chuckled to himself and could not resist a grumble into his cup. He could feel himself squirm in place, she knew where to hit him and hit him hard. He was not about to get up to leave. Not yet. Marcus had missed her touch, soft words and gentle touches were all used to try to pry men of their secrets. Getting a man to boast was one of the best ways to see what he would do, if, he had the chance to do so.

"Tense?" He chuckled, turned to look at her and smiled. Normally, Vibia made him feel many things, and it was the same for all of his lovers. Especially Calvunus. Oh, he wanted nothing more than to boast and tell her everything that he did in protect the gang or to follow orders. He wanted to tell her about the danger, the thrill of hearing a man's neck snap or the power he felt when he did his work. Yet... it opened Vibia up to getting harmed. Something he could not do. 

"You know how you make me feel. There are better uses for your mouth than trying to me to confess things I cannot," He winked at her, any considerate thought or gesture was followed by his typical dickish behaviour. Men could not be soft in Rome. "Talking too much can cause lines to form on the face," Marcus said, reached out and ran his fingertip close to her eyes. Of course, she was as beautiful as always and Marcus was being a git. 

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She smirked at is words, hand still lightly stroking his neck. "My mouth usually costs, you should be flattered you get my words for free." She arched a brow in jest, but knew she had almost crossed the line. She was not a natural spy, nobody had told her how she should obtain her secrets and she had assumed using her gender and...particular skills gained from her employment, would be enough. Evidently with a man as confident and cocksure as Marcus Falco, they wouldn't be. 

Slapping his hand away, however, at his veiled insult, she shot him a glower but said with a lightly teasing voice that didn't bely the anger that was simmering; "Then your wife is no doubt a wrinkled crone by now, talking to your children all evening because her husband is too busy talking to beauties in brothels than being at home." She cocked her head to the side and dropped her hand from his neck, instead moving  it to pour more wine. 

Sounds of pleasure drifted down from the engaged rooms and her colleagues within them, and she smirked to herself. She was in the mood, but Falco had irritated her and she could happily see to her own needs later without him. She did, however, enjoy his company however frustrating it often was and needed a distraction. Leaning forward to place her jaw in her palm, she eyed him. "Tell me a story to send me to sleep...I need to be fresh and rested for tomorrows patrons and lack of sleep can cause lines just like talking." Her lips twitched in amusement, "The only stories the girls here tell are of their clients...I think my tales of you have sent plenty of girls to sleep...so it's only fair you tell me one to send me to my bed..."

 

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Oh, he knew her mouth usually costs. Marcus had marveled at the sight of the amount of coin that had been passed over in order to purchase a night with one of them. He had also witnessed those with light fingers, often they would have no fingers to worry about in the end. Still, why the sudden interest in his affairs? She knew the routine and how things went. 

Marcus could not resist a smirk in response to her slap. His wife was still pretty, in a plain and somewhat boring way. He would never call her wrinkled or old. However, she often glared at him in agitation and frustration. Not that he could blame her. Despite their differences, she remained his wife and he was obligated to defend her. Still, he said nothing, and knew she was still trying to lure him into that trap. The sounds of the Domus Venus were not uncommon. At first, they had been exciting and now it had become the usual part of daily life. 

Marcus groaned and arched his back while he stretched in the seat. There were many stories that he could tell her. Would he? Absolutely not. "Your tales of me sent them all to sleep?" He asked, raised an eyebrow and laughed. "Perhaps I will see them later to see. As for a story," Marcus reached out, stroked her soft cheek with his fingertips and used that hand to lift his cup to his lips. "Actually, I have one. Would you like to hear it? It is a bit of a life lesson." 

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Vibia grinned a little, impishly. "They're snoring before I even get to the good parts." She arched a brow. That wasn't strictly true...she had never let on that she had degraded herself by sleeping with a Plebian...she knew plenty of the other workers had (and it irked her) but it was another thing to admit to it. She enjoyed the aloof pretence that she cast over her colleagues; charming, cold Vibia - lover to the Senators and the elite...not lying underneath Marcus Falco (much as she enjoyed it). No...it was better they didn't know. 

She leaned into his touch a little, pale blue eyes watching him. She nodded, "Tell me...and draw it out, I'm already feeling tired and your voice is soothing." She admitted. She moved her own fingers to take her own wine and took a sip; that was at least a benefit of the Venus, the wine was far preferable to the lora she had as a slave...even if she didn't feel particularly free now. She had wondered, over the last year, whether she should let anybody in on her little secret. She had been half-tempted after an ill-fated run in with her other employers, the collegium, where they had expressed her dismay that she'd learned almost nothing of value about the Syndicate in her time here, and could only offer them baseless secretes of Senators. It was growing...concerning, and she knew her time was running out but what could she do? It wasn't like she was high-up in the organisation, at least not high-up enough to learn anything especially useful, particularly when Marcus Falco was so careful about what he said. And she had thought her feminine charms would be enough for him to loosen his lips...

 

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Marcus had to admit that he felt better knowing that they fell asleep. Still, surely they wished to hear more about his sexual prowess? Later on, he made a mental note to reach out to them to see if they knew and his vanity demanded that he ask. Just.. in case they wanted to know all about it. Admittedly, it had caught him off guard and caused his frustration to leave him temporarily. 

There were many things Marcus would have liked to do to her, and assist her to a nice, restful sleep was not one of them. He grumbled to himself in frustration, was about to get up and finally decided to agree. Again he sighed and looked to the heavens as though some deity would offer him assistance. Yet none came, nor would they come to his rescue. He grumbled under his breath, pulled her to rest against his chest and exhaled slowly. "Fine," Marcus grumbled, thought of one of the many stories and decided on one that he tended to tell his children during the rare times he actually saw them. Even rarer was when he was there to tuck them into bed at night time. 

"Once upon a time, there was an adventurer who lived with a group of friends. Each of his friends was beautiful in their own way, and they would all enjoy each other's company. However, a darkness appeared on the lands that threatened to spoil everyone's fun... so, the Queen sent the Adventurer and the," He paused, thought about it for a moment, "Musician, out to go and kick shit seven shades of shit out of the bastard." 

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As he pulled her against his chest, she settled there with a feline grin before shifting to lie on her back over his lap, looking up at him inquisitively. Such familiarity was rare for her, but she felt comfortable with him in a way she wasn't with others - even if their relationship was one of perfunctory sex and banter. It was more than she got from most of her colleagues and clients, after all. 

She fluttered her eyes shut and her face relaxed as he started his story, but she couldn't help the small smile that tugged at the corners of her lip. Imagine this! Marcus Falco regaling her with a bedtime story! She wondered if anybody would believe her if she said this had happened...probably not. Her little smile cracked into a broad grin, however, at his abrupt end and she laughed genuinely. 

Cracking her eyes open she raised soft hands to his face, "No, no...she wouldn't send a musician." She ran her fingers over his jaw and arched a brow at him, "Our hands are much too precious - the Gods have blessed them with skills you couldn't possibly imagine...the Queen couldn't risk damaging them by getting a musician to batter the shit out of the dark!" She laughed and dropped her hands to his shoulders, winding her arms around his neck. With an arched brow she studied his face, "You're really very sweet you know...you might not think you are but look at you...telling me a bedtime story..." She grinned, "Are you going to carry me to bed as well, like any hero of one of your stories would?"

 

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