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August, 75 AD

Despite everything that had happened to him, he was still here. Since Salacia was gone, he’d been thinking about her a lot. And about what happened when they first met and even before that. He remembered his first wife, his son… he remembered it when he gave himself to slavery, because he had nothing. He remembered his first owners, and then the second. He remembered the beautiful Domitilla, whom he made the mistake of falling in love with and telling her. If he had never told her, he might still have been with her. But he had been passed off again, to Cyprianus, who gave him the undeserved freedom, which he still had.

And so much had happened since then. The past decade had however been quiet for Manius, right until the earthquake, where his life fell apart again. It was slowly rebuilding now and he even got himself a job - but he had all the memories and they weighed him down.

He had always liked to take walks while thinking and that was the same case today. A good, long walk through Rome to clear his mind. Still on his own, of course. As always. That’s when he saw it. A young woman near a market stall, picking something up when the stallholder was looking away. Then she hid it in her purse and hurried away.

Manius shook his head, this wasn’t good. It really wasn’t his job to follow her, but it wasn’t right to steal like that. And maybe the stallholder would pay Manius a reward for helping.

He decided to follow her until she stopped.

@Liv

Edited by Atrice
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The big earthquake from a few weeks ago had brought much change to Safinia's life. First, the insula where she had rented a cheap room had crumbled. Second, it had begun to do so with her inside. Third, it had taken all her possessions with it when it became a pile of rubble, save for the threadbare tunic she had been wearing. Fortunately the boss had let her stay at the stables even though she hadn't been able to perform the tasks she had been employed for, and thanks to the precious downtime the ugly gash on her head had faded into a reddish scar, easily hidden by her dark hair. Most of the bruising had healed or was was well on its way to.

However, it was only now, over a month after the earthquake, that Safinia felt well enough to venture out and test her healing leg. It still hurt when she put weight on it, but it was bearable if she wobbled just so... Her limp - the unbeknownst product of an ugly fracture shoddily reset - was quite noticeable as she slowly weaved through the market stalls, the excuse the young woman had given the Whites as to why she was going to the market turning out to have a grain of truth in it. The main reason, however, was restarting her collection of trinkets. Years of effort had quite literally fallen to pieces in the blink of an eye... but there was no time like the present to do something about it.

Safinia browsed a pyxis stall, eyes wide at the sight of so many colourful boxes - some made of glass, others of painted clay, others of bone, and others yet of wood. The merchant paid her little attention, busy as he was attending to two well-dressed matrons and their equally dapper slaves, and she seized the opportunity to surreptitiously take a tiny blue and green glass pyxis from its rightful place and shove it quickly yet carefully into her purse. The absence of a commotion told her nobody had caught her in the act, and so Safinia limped away from the stall, feeling quite pleased with the day's catch. It was a worthy start to her new collection.

Now that her desire for beautiful things was quenched for the time being, she figured it would be wise to go back to the stables as quickly as possible in case the merchant noticed the missing item. Taking the long way around through a sea of stalls, Safinia was almost out of the market when her bad leg went on strike and refused to carry her any further, searing pain shooting through it with every attempt at another step. Left with no choice, she leant against a wall and took a few deep breaths, hoping she could be on her way again soon.

Suddenly an unfamiliar man stood there, looking at her. Why?

Maybe he was a thief, keen on taking advantage of a woman alone. She shot him a disdainful glare, as if telling him there was nothing on her worth stealing.

@Atrice

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Manius kept following the girl, as she limped away from the stall she’d just stolen from. He could of course just have run over to her and grasped her by the arm and forced her to return the trinket right away, but she was limping and to him, she seemed so young and delicate. He could do better than any praetorian, he’d heard how they mishandled people in such situations. Manius would follow her and in the first round, try and talk some sense into her mind and make her return the trinket out of her own free will. She didn’t need it. And she did not need whatever punishment she’d get for stealing it. Actually, that’s what she needed least of all.

She took the long way around the stalls at the market, probably to try and avoid too many people seeing her, but Manius followed at a safe distance and never took his eyes off of her. At last, her limping leg forced her to stop and she leaned against a wall behind the many stalls. On the other side, the marketplace was busy and bustling. Back here, there was more silence.

Then she looked up and saw him and gave him a glare, but Manius lifted his chin and approached her with solid steps and an equally firm glance in his eyes. She was short and had dark hair. More or less the same as Salacia had been. But she had striking blue eyes and not hazel. And her skin was fair. She was so young, just a child, or almost.

It was better she learned now, than later. And it was better that he took care of it, than so many others. That she should not steal. It would go bad for her, if she went down that path.

He met her eyes then… “I saw what you did… what you took. You need to give it back.”

@Liv

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The man came closer - too close. His brown eyes did not scream aggression, but it was human nature for most women to be wary of such encounters. Going by his clothes and overall appearance, he seemed to be of Safinia's ilk, which was to say dirt poor. So why was he interested in her? Her eyes flashed in annoyance at his words, but she tried hard to keep her features schooled in the same scornful look as before.

"What are you talking about? Took what from where?" Lying was so easy, and always worth a shot. Perhaps he was just bluffing and used this trick on every helpless girl he came across. Safinia made her hands stay where they were, one on her hip and the other flat on her chest like when she had been catching her breath, successfully fighting the instinct to bring them to her purse; that would have given her away. 

And if he wasn't bluffing, well... She would make it up as she went along.

@Atrice

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She had that cautious look in her eyes when he approached her, as if a part of her was ready to get up and run the moment she had the chance to. As if she was afraid of him or what he'd do. Manius wasn't planning on hurting her. He just wanted her to give the trinket back before she got in trouble for it. Or give it back and teach her a lesson about not stealing at all. It was a bad path to go down and it wasn't a good idea to get started. She looked so young, it would be such a pity for such a young and probably nice girl to become a criminal. She didn't exactly look like someone wealthy, but she didn't seem to live on the streets either. She limped though. Which meant even if she wanted to run, she couldn't. That was good to know, at least. Not that he wanted to hurt her or make her want to run.

She seemed annoyed though, that he followed her and asked her to give the trinket back and she tried to play innocent.

"I'm not sure you need reminding, you know what I'm talking about. Or you wouldn't be so annoyed at my request." Manius pointed out to her. He had stopped within a couple of meters from her, close enough to speak, but not close enough at all to touch. It was safe, so far, for both of them... "Let's just go back and hand it over and you won't be in trouble for it." At least he'd try his very best to make sure she didn't get in trouble for it. He couldn't promise it though, but he could make an attempt. All she had to do was admit what she'd done and move on.

@Liv

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Numa's balls, it was looking like he might have seen her after all. Was this man some hired muscle for the pyxis merchant, even if he didn't look all that muscly? He could also be an opportunistic thief that took others' bounty by means of intimidation... or just some righteous sod. To his credit, though, he didn't step any closer and stayed where he was, although Safinia would have been exceedingly easy prey in her state.

"The only one trying to stir up trouble here is you," she hissed back at him, a deep wrinkle appearing between her brows as she frowned. For once, Safinia wished Azarion had come with her: with the way he was so easily distracted, he would have had no trouble getting this man to leave. Alas, she was alone and thus would have to rely on the man's wits as well as her own. "Leave me alone or I'll start screaming." It was a quieter spot they found themselves in, but not entirely devoid of passers-by; if she made a ruckus, somebody would probably come to investigate.

@Atrice

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Manius might not look like a huge bundle of strength, he wasn’t a gladiator. But in all these years, he still made sure to stay in shape. You had to, when you worked as a guard. Now he worked as a bodyguard, so he really did have to stay in shape and maybe it would be handy today too. Hopefully though, the girl would give in very soon and there wouldn’t be a need to manhandle her. She hissed at him though, saying he was stirring up trouble and she appeared thoughtful.

“I’m not the thief here.” Manius pointed out while she was thinking and then she suddenly threatened with screaming. He hadn’t expected her to be that smart. He held up a hand, looking at her, “Please don’t. There are other options. Better options.” Other options than her attempting to scream and Manius having to make a move and handle her to prevent it. He didn’t want to hurt her. But he did want her to admit her crime and give the trinket back, before she went down a path to a criminal life. Manius had dealt with thieves before and he did not like them. This girl should not go that way.

Still showing his hands to the girl, he inched closer towards her, “Just listen to me, please?”

@Liv

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There was no way out of this supremely unpleasant situation, it seemed. Chances were the man wasn't bluffing either and had in fact seen her take the small box. Forced to change strategy, Safinia schooled her face into what she hoped was an apprehensive, somewhat despairing expression - the look of someone who had had no choice but resort to petty thievery. Hopefully she had practised it enough that he would fall for it.

She shook her head as he came closer, but didn't break eye contact. Whilst it was nice of him to keep his hands where she could see them, his face would be more useful in letting her know if she was fooling him or not. "What options?" Safinia questioned him, clicking her tongue. "I don't see a lot of them when you're poor and crippled. Or are you suggesting becoming a prostitute is this 'better option' you speak of?" The accusation dripped from her lips like acid, the possibility forming inside her head at the same time as she spoke it into existence. It wouldn't be the first time a young woman of limited means was coerced into working at one of the dreariest brothels... Could those be the man's intentions? Her blue eyes bore onto him, determined not to miss a beat.

@Atrice

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She clearly didn't trust him - or maybe it was men in general, she did not trust. Manius didn't know the young woman's life until now or her experiences... why she limped and why she was so cautious of him. He hadn't done anything to her and that wasn't his plan either. His plan was to convince her to come back to the shop with him so she could give the trinket back and Manius might be rewarded, although that was only half the reason why he did this. The other was to talk her out of doing such things. What the stallkeeper would do with her, he didn't know. Hopefully he could talk to him too. Manius did enjoy fighting, but he did not enjoy making people suffer if there were other options. He didn't like other people suffering.

She kept her eyes on him, when he came closer, shaking her head at his words and then wondering what options he spoke of, other than her keeping the trinket and screaming if he didn't let her be. She claimed there were not a lot of options in her case and wondered if he spoke of her becoming a prostitute. Manius arched a brow, but then shook her head.

"That's not what I suggested at all... you are very pretty, but that was not my idea." Manius said, "Surely there are better ways to make a living than... this. Other options. You must understand, that I am not here to hurt you. I just want you to do the right thing."  Maybe she didn't have parents, maybe that's why she was so misguided, "If you give the trinket back to its owner... I'll help you. And I'll talk to the man, make sure he won't hurt you." 

@Liv

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Bollocks, all of it. Even the man's compliment on her looks did nothing to soothe Safinia's suspicions - words were cheap and easily twisted, anyway. "That's what it sounded like," she deadpanned, every bit still as wary of him as a minute prior. With tense shoulders she listened to his words, realisation slowly sinking into her. He just would not let this up. His reasons were obscure, but his determination was clear as day. Sensing defeat, Safinia sighed pitifully.

"I was... going to sell it. To buy food," she started in a morose tone. Sell such a pretty little thing? Never! But the man didn't need to know that. If her act was good enough, perhaps he would let her walk away with it. "I lost my home in the earthquake." That was true, although thanks to the boss's generosity Safinia had shelter at the stables. "And I lost my family too..." Years ago, more than once, and in unrelated events, but this nosy man didn't need to know that either.

"You see how I am now," she gestured down at her bad leg, hoping it would elicit some pity from him. "There are no other options." Thousands of petty thefts occurred in Rome every day; why was the man so hung up on this exact one? Jupiter should strike him down with a thunderbolt right then and there, but clear as the sky was, there seemed to be little chance of that. "The merchant had so many of them. He won't miss one of the cheapest."

@Atrice

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She was a tough girl, wasn’t she? Or she tried to appear it, even with her delicate appearance. Her eyes were somewhat hard though, he thought. As if she tried to be that, too. And now she claimed it had sounded like he thought she should become a whore, even if that was not what he meant at all. Just because a lot of men had dirty minds and would have thought exactly that, it was not Manius to be like that. But of course, she didn’t know that.

He suggested to come with her and help her out, when she was going to hand the trinket back to its owner. He would make sure she wasn’t hurt. But then she sighed and said she planned to sell it, because she had lost her home and her family in the earthquake. Well she wasn’t the only one, was she? Manius lost someone too, many people did. But while he knew he was to blame for his loss, he didn’t know about hers, of course. She went on about how she limped now and had no other options.

Manius was about to say something, when she then said the merchant would not miss one of the cheapest trinkets. That’s what gave her away, to him. She didn’t want to part with it; it was just an excuse, the rest of it, to keep it.

“It’s not yours to sell.” Manius pointed out, “And who knows, maybe you can pay back the merchant by working for him. And if you do it well enough, he’ll give it to you.” Manius suggested, trying his best to help her out here, “Besides, even if he would not miss it, that’s not the point. You say you lost someone, many others did too. But that’s not a reason to steal. Come on.” Manius held out a hand for her, hoping she’d come.

@Liv

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If Safinia was somehow earning the man's pity, she was having a world of trouble figuring it out. He wasn't particularly easy to read, this one, nor was she particularly skilled at it; it was more like the opposite. It left her in a bit of a predicament, but she decided to ride it out and try to gauge his reaction.

Ugh, so self-righteous. He didn't appear to be rich, yet here he was spouting all that preachy nonsense as though he were above such things. Who had appointed him to the cohortes urbanae, or given him the impression that he was one of them? "It's not yours either," Safinia retorted, eyes flashing in irritation. He probably just wanted it for himself! "I can't work like this, I can't stand long enough or move fast enough. And my arm's bad too." She felt like batting his hand away, but he might seize the chance to grab her and do the gods knew what to her. Taking it was entirely off the table too, so she just started contemptuously at it.

"The point? What point is there to living if you can't even afford food or shelter? With this coin I could buy food or maybe even see a doctor. Then I could be strong enough to work. Don't go assuming things just because you're healthy!" Was it even possible to be so pigheaded? "Why are you so concerned about this, anyway? The merchant your father or boss or something?" she questioned angrily, tucking a wisp of dark hair behind her ear.

@Atrice

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He could be stubborn when he needed to be - and he felt that he needed to be that right now. The girl was clearly stubborn, after all, so why should he give in? He was her superior, because he was older than her and he was not the one who had broken any laws today and stolen someone else's things. It was sad of course, that she had lost her family and her home. And he knew that such circumstances led many people in Rome into crime and prostitution. But she was so young! She had her whole life ahead of her and surely she could do better. Manius wasn't hoping for a better future for himself - but he could hope for one, for her. He tried his best to convince her to give the trinket back, saying it wasn't hers to sell and now she was upset, saying it wasn't his either. And then went on about how she couldn't work and her arm was bad. She didn't take his hand that he held for her though and he pulled it back again.

Manius wanted to tell her that her life was not worse than his. She had lost her family because of the earthquake, and her home, but surely that wasn't her fault. She was young, she could not be responsible for all that. Manius however, he lost his wife because he hadn't been there for her. It was his fault. The gods were not angry with her, he thought. They were angry with him, still. The girl went on, saying there would not be a point to living without food or shelter. She argued well for her case and at the end, wondered why he was so concerned.

"I don't know the merchant." Manius replied, "But I don't like thieves. I really don't." He had bad experiences with thieves in the past. Especially one called Julus, who caused him so much trouble back then! "It's not right. Besides... I am more concerned for you, to be honest. You steal a small trinket now, next time it will be something else and you will continue down that path, if you don't make it right, now. And before you know it, you're caught in a web of crime and... I would not wish that upon you." He explained and sighed. Was there really no way he could convince her? Maybe he should give it up... but it was too late, now he began. He couldn't quit now.

Then he had an idea. It wouldn't profit him very well, but it would help her, and that was the point of this matter, now. At first he had wanted to help out the merchant who had something stolen... but now it was more about her. It was a stretch, this idea, but he would not just leave her now, "Maybe... if you are so eager to gain coin, I could buy the trinket from you and hand it back to the owner." Manius said, looking at her face, trying to judge her reaction and because he had something more to add, "But... only if you promise to not do it again." 

@Liv

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So this utterly unreadable man was going through a world of trouble for a merchant he had no connection to? It beggared belief. Who cared if it was not right? Or if she moved on to more valuable objects? Safinia wasn't stealing from him. Groaning in frustration, she closed her eyes tightly, wanting to ignore his presence for a second and wishing he had disappeared when she opened them again. No such thing happened, naturally. 

She wondered why he was so intent on saving her from a life of petty crime. Guilt over past events, or some sort of projection? She would have to ask Bassus about when this whole thing was over. Bassus was a braggart, but he knew a lot about people. "What makes you think I would do this again?" Safinia asked, brow furrowed in suspicion. Had he spotted her before?! But as the man spoke on, it did not seem that way.

By the gods, what a preposterous idea! And yet, Safinia had to admit it was a clever one. She had been had. If she refused his proposal, he would know she had not stolen the little box to make money out of it, but for other purposes. Merda. After a few moments' silence, Safinia acquiesced with a heavy sigh. "All right." She would have to come back another day - though when that would be, with her leg in this state, was anyone's guess. Maybe she could fool Azarion into acquiring a pyxis for her, if he was sent on errands. "I... don't understand. Why would you use your own coin for this? And why do you care if I live a life of crime or not?" She shook her head, uncomprehending. "You don't know me, I don't know you. So why?"

@Atrice

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Manius certainly did not vanish while she was closing her eyes tightly – he just watched her and wondered why she did that. Meanwhile he also considered if she would take his offer… if he should buy the trinket from her, so he could sell it back to its original owner. The girl opened her eyes and wondered why he thought she’d do it again. Manius gave her a look, “At this point, I don’t see any reason to believe you would not.” He replied to her.

At last she sighed heavily and agreed to his deal, although she was still wondering why he was so concerned about this whole matter and why he’d do it, when he did not know her.

“You’re young.” Manius said, “You have so much life ahead of you… a chance to live a good life. Why should I wish for you to waste that?”

@Liv

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"So you accuse me of being a career criminal just like that? Well isn't that nice of you," Safinia drawled, full of animosity towards the man. He deserved a good thwacking more than Azarion. She almost took back her acceptance of his deal because of his comment, but he was like a dog with a bone who just wouldn't let go. What was a promise to a stranger, anyway? Rome was a big city and with any luck she wouldn't see him again. 

What did youth have to do with anything? The gods took no pity on children, nor did they have mercy. "And what do you think a good life is? Have you taken a look at me?" she asked, voice louder with disbelief. If he thought Safinia was a charity case, he could just give her money, walk away and spare her the sanctimonious speeches. Glaring at him, she held out a hand; there was no chance she was giving him the pyxis without hard metal in her possession first. "You first."

@Atrice

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Indeed he would not let go of this bone. He'd seen her steal and at first, he thought he might turn her in, but then he felt sorry for her and now he would help her. But she seemed to be constantly hostile and would not accept his help. When he said he didn't see any reason why she would not continue stealing, she claimed he was not very nice and he arched a brow. She wasn't very nice either, to be honest. Why he was still here was a mystery, but perhaps it was also a rare chance to help someone. Although it did not appear as if she wanted to be helped. Instead she wondered why he'd help her and he explained himself, how she had so much life ahead of her and she still had a chance to live a good life.

But she wouldn't believe it. She wondered what he thought was a good life and referred to herself, a young girl who limped and apparently stole too. 

"I have. But you still have a chance, I believe. If you'd put in the effort." Manius said and then she finally held out her hand and wanted the money he'd offered her to buy the pyxis with. Manius fished a coin of the right value from his purse and handed it to her, but he kept his eyes fixed on her. Not that she could outrun him anyway if she tried, "Now you." 

@Liv

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Was it possible for this loony idealist of a man to become even more aggravating? Yes, yes it was. Yet for someone who seemed to believe success was born of effort he looked tremendously unsuccessful himself. Taking his coin with a click of her tongue, Safinia rolled it in her hand, taking in its weight. It felt like an ordinary coin all right. "And why should I care what you believe? It's not like you look as though you practise what you preach," she grumbled, fiddling with her purse as she put the money inside it and took her sweet time fishing out the pyxis.

In the end she couldn't dally any longer and with an angry glare placed the tiny box in the man's outstretched hand. "There. Happy?"

@Atrice

 

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Why were they even discussing this? Why did she even question Manius, who was obviously so many years older than her and more experienced in life than she? But she did and she would not listen to his advice or anything. He was trying to teach her some valuable lessons, something to take with her into the world, but she didn't want it. Now she didn't even care what he believed and said he didn't look as though he had a lot of good luck or success in his life.

"It is no secret that I made some wrong choices, when I wasn't much older than you are. And it cost me... more than you can imagine. But you still have a chance. If you'll believe it or not." Probably not, it would seem. But she had taken the coin he gave her and deemed it to be fine enough, before she finally found the small pyxis and handed it over to him. Manius took it into his hand and looked at it briefly, before his eyes returned to the girl.

"Thank you... I'll make sure to return it to its proper owner." He simply said, avoiding to answer the question about whether he was happy, "I should be on my way. Please, for your own sake... consider what I've told you today." Not that he thought she would, not with her outlook on life. But now at least he could say he tried.

@Liv

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