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Early July, 75CE

Marcellus took a step back and sighed. The sun was beating overhead and making him drip with sweat. The whole team and their accompanying servants had turned out to help assess and fix the damage to the stables, and of course Marcellus was helping out. What else did he have to do, anyway? He could be out drinking, of course, but what was the point in that if he had to come back to the stables to sleep in an uncomfortable pallet on the ground? It wasn't worth it, though, for the hundredth time, he reminded himself to pool his money together and live in the insulae nearby. It wouldn't be a headache to commute to training, and he was a free man, free to live where he liked. 

But for now, he was taking a break from moving stones into the rubbish pile to have an apple and a sit-down. He couldn't work for hours on end without stopping - no human could. He made his way into an undamaged covered area and sat, sighing again. What a boring and difficult day. 

@Liv

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The earthquake had taken a heavy toll on the city, striking the poorest hardest as most catastrophes tend to. Safinia was one of those rendered homeless as the insula she had called home crumbled to dust, but she had had the good fortune of being allowed to make the Whites' stables her temporary abode. She had not escaped entirely unscathed either: one (now bandaged) leg glaringly broken and kept more or less in place by a splint, a very painful wrist that didn't bend like it should, and a nice big gash on her head, plus a multitude of aches and bruises in different stages of healing all over her body. Overall, she was blacker and bluer than the tunics of their rival faction.

She sat in the shade on a long wooden bench, legs extended in front of her and supported on a log serving as a foot rest. It was one of the safest areas to be, considering it had withstood the earthquake without incurring damage. There wasn't much Safinia was able to do in her present state, but next to her on the bench was a basket full of apples; her self-assigned task was to hand them out to anyone wanting to snack on one, excepting greedy horses and their mute human accomplices.

One of the charioteers came by and sat on the bench, the basket between him and Safinia. Marcellus, she remembered. Another freedman, like Bassus. What was it with freedmen and chariot racing? Wanting to look busy in case the boss happened to walk by, she took a decent-sized apple from the top of the pile and reached out over the basket, offering it to Marcellus.

"Want one? Gives you energy."

@Echo

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Marcellus had just sat down when he heard the voice of Safinia, one of the support workers for the Whites. Marcellus didn't know her too well, but she had always been a friendly face. He gave her a friendly smile, which, unlike most of his smiles, was not tinged with flirtatious intent. She looked like she could use a friend and nothing more at the moment. "Sure, thanks," he said, accepting the apple and taking a bite out of it. For whatever reason, the apple was like mana - had he been spending too much time around horses and picked up their eating habits? A question to ponder another time. 

He gazed at her as he swallowed the apple. "You look pretty banged up - you doing alright?" Marcellus had been lucky to escape the dangers of the earthquake with little damage to his person - only a few scrapes and a bruise on his head from when a tile had fallen on it. Many others in the city had not been so lucky, including Safinia here. It looked like she had a broken leg - Marcellus was thankful he hadn't been damaged thus, as it would've ended his career, more than likely. 

@Liv

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The simple gesture that was Marcellus taking the offered apple had Safinia's chest swelling with a wisp of pride. She was being useful even in her sorry state, she felt, and thus was earning her keep - or at least not being a moocher entirely, never mind that fact that anyone with a working hand could grab an apple out of a basket. Marcellus' scrutiny did not faze her, as his intentions were rather obvious. Like just about every other member of the Whites she had come across, he was taking in her less than hale appearance and drawing his own conclusions.

"Eh, could be better," she shrugged and immediately regretted the gesture when a small wave of pain hit her shoulder. "Could also be worse, I guess," she added matter-of-factly, giving Marcellus a candid look. "It's not the first time I almost die at home, and it probably won't be the last." Perhaps this was the beginning of some repeated fate engendered by the Parcae. Without moving her head, Safinia eyed the charioteer up and down; aside from a scrape here and there, he didn't seem to be hurt. "You're looking well. Were you awake when the earthquake hit?" 

@Echo

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Marcellus bit into the apple as she spoke about her injuries. "These are good, did you grow them yourself?" He was teasing. "You're doing an excellent job selecting apples." This was teasing also, but not in an unfriendly way. "You'll be back up and running around soon enough, I'm sure of it." Her comment about it not being the first time she'd almost died at home was concerning, but Marcellus didn't want to pry. 

Safinia examined her in her own turn and Marcellus chuckled when she said he was looking well. "I was asleep, actually - but I'm a light speaker and a fleet runner, so I managed to get out before much damage was done. Had to help get the horses too, though. That's when a piece of debris fell on my head."  He grinned, obviously thinking it was a laugh. "I wish it'd been a dashing scar somewhere else - don't women like scarred men?"

@Liv

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Safinia's good humour slipped rather quickly at the inane question Marcellus posed. "I don't have an apple tree," she said in confusion, looking at him with uncomprehending wide eyes. "I lived in an insula that collapsed." With her still inside. Maybe he didn't know that, or hadn't heard yet. In any case, only the very rich had enough money for a house in Rome with a garden and fruit tree, and she was not one of them; quite the opposite. His compliment, on the other hand, brought her mood right back up, and she gave him a serious nod. "I try to set the wormy ones aside for the horses."

She didn't know if she would ever be running around ever again, but for once Safinia accepted the positivism for what it was. It would be nice to be able to walk again, if running was off the table. At least it didn't look as though her leg needed to be chopped off anymore, which - again - was a positive thing. How very odd that Marcellus gave off these contagious positive vibes. As he told his story her gaze was naturally drawn to his head, and Safinia briefly compared his bruise with her own one in silence. It did not look too grave. "Those horses are more trouble than they're worth," she grumbled under her breath, knowing her comment to be a lie. Many of those horses were worth more than she would earn in a lifetime, so of course they would be kept safe.

"I don't know. I guess it's different for every woman. I don't mind them," she shrugged again, this time with her better arm only. "It's a good thing it didn't hit your face," Safinia added after an appraising look, as if Marcellus were one of the small decorated trinkets she was so fond of. "Do men like scarred women? I don't think you do."

@Echo

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Marcellus gave her a curious look when she seemed to miss his joke, but he laughed a little. "It was a joke, Safinia. I don't own an apple tree, either." He wished he did though. He wasn't bad off, but living in his own domus was probably out of the question. An insula, on the other hand, was within budget and would allow him some freedoms that he couldn't use living here. Perhaps he would look into that soon. 

Safinia then said she set the wormy apples aside for the horses and he smiled. "I'm sure they appreciate that. And getting fed by a lovely lady like yourself." Marcellus chuckled as she commented on the horses being more trouble than they were worth. "You've got that right. And some of them aren't very nice - I got bit a few days before the earthquake." He showed his hand, which was no longer bandaged as the rather savage bite was healing well. 

"I'm sure I've heard of women that like scars on men - soldiers, particularly. Shows they're tough." He shrugged, good-natured as always. "I don't know if anyone will be very fond of the scar that horse gave me, though."

@Liv

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Oh. So it was. One of the many jokes that simply flew over Safinia, but at least Marcellus was kind enough to let her know of it. "There's a lot of jokes I don't get," she commented with a one-armed shrug, but did not dwell on it. Best to let him know several attempts at humour were lost in her, in case Marcellus was the jokester type.

"I don't know about that, they're so spoilt." Stupid greedy horses, if she didn't keep an eagle eye on the pantry there wouldn't be any apples for the humans. "I don't think they like me. I sure don't like them," she muttered, looking about to make sure nobody overheard that particular bit. At least one of the beasts didn't like Marcellus either, and although the bite was healing it still looked quite nasty. Safinia examined it from where she sat, frowning and shaking her head. "Why did it bite you? Was it because you didn't give it an apple? I'd think the horses were used to you." And to the other charioteers as well, but maybe not all. Or it could have been a new horse, still nervous about its new stable. Bloody beasts.

"Well, then you should lie and say you got it in a fight. Protecting a pretty woman from bandits or something. Every girl falls for that," she nodded with conviction. Then again, thanks to his occupation and looks, Marcellus didn't really need to go out and charm the ladies - they would flock to him of their own accord, excited to get close to a famous charioteer. Safinia told him as much, only in not so many words. "Didn't you already get attention from the women, anyway?"

@Echo

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Safinia admitted that there were a lot of jokes that she didn't understand and Marcellus nodded, wondering how that could possibly be. Most of his life was made up of jokes - saying them to his friends, his friends responding with jokes of their own. He laughed about pretty much everything in his life. Perhaps he and Safinia were just very different people. Maybe he could teach her to understand jokes better. But maybe later. 

"Well, these horses are athletes. I suppose they do need the best to perform the best," he said with a noncommittal shrug. He enjoyed horses, especially the particularly impressive specimens they had here at the stables. "And, no, these beasts are quite high-spirited so they get spooked easily. Probably someone else in the stables moved too quickly or lost a bit of paper fluttering in the wind. Those kinds of things can spook a horse." 

Safinia then said he should lie and say he got his scar in a fight, and asked whether he didn't already get attention from women. "Ah, yes, I do," he said, chuckling. "But one can never get complacent when it comes to charming them - gotta look for new angles to keep them interested." He winked. 

@Liv

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Horses were bloody fragile creatures despite their size, that's what they were. More coddled and pampered in these stables than any lapdog, which made sense given they were at the core of many a worker's livelihood, Safinia's included... But that didn't mean she had to like them. "You'd think even horses would learn to recognise the people that are around them all the time and not be spooked by them," she commented with a judgemental shake of her head. She reached into the basket, took out another apple and, after a cursory look to make sure it wasn't wormy or rotten, offered it to Marcellus. "You also need to perform at your best. When do you think we'll be up and running again?" The sooner that happened, the sooner they could get enough money to complete the repairs and have it all back to normal, in her black-and-white vision of things.

She blinked at him, eyes wide and not entirely grasping why Marcellus would keep on putting in the work when he could simply lean back and let himself be fawned over. "Um... why bother, though? As long as you're a charioteer there will always be someone interested in you. Even if you're old and nothing special. I mean, look at Bassus. Even he has his fans."

@Echo

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Marcellus loved the horses even if he got injured by them on a regular basis; they were among the few things that he genuinely loved in the world. It took a certain personality to deal with them and understand them and while he couldn't quite identify with being so complicated, he understood them, making them simple to deal with. But Safinia obviously wasn't a fan, commenting that the horses should recognize those that were around them and not be spooked by them. "Well, they aren't always the most intelligent of beasts," he said with a laugh. 

She handed him another apple which he bit into thankfully. "Who knows? There's quite a bit of damage. They'll want to repair everything to the utmost before we move the horses back in, and start training again. Can't have shoddy craftsmen fixing the roof for cheap, only to have it fall in again." The conversation continued to Marcellus's pursuit of women and he laughed as she asked why he bothered. "Yes, Bassus does have his fans. But he doesn't seem overly interested in them." He gazed down at the apple, thinking of how to explain it. "I guess I just enjoy the pursuit. Not all women fall at my feet, after all - those are the ones that are the most interesting."

@Liv

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Truer words about horses had never been spoken, Safinia reckoned. Then again, Marcellus was being awfully diplomatic about the beasts, which, if she were to draw from her limited experience, had a good chance of meaning he was actually fond of the creatures but did not fancy an open conflict of opinions. Realising it was one of those situations where the polite thing to do was to agree to disagree, she nodded and chuckled along Marcellus' laugh, more for his sake than out of actual amusement.

He made a good point about the skills of the craftsmen; a cheap price was paid twice. "The roof falling on you is not a pleasant experience. I know." she commented sombrely, recalling the way the earth had shaken and made the building where she had lived collapse like a leaf blown by the wind. She had only just barely made it in the time to the lower floors before it crumbled entirely... but surely the stables were built of better and harder material than a dilapidated insula.

She fixed her gaze on Marcellus, studying him intently as he looked down at the apple. He seemed thoughtful, but Safinia couldn't quite tell why. His words weren't that enlightening either, not because of the content itself but because the sensation he was trying to explain was so unfamiliar to her. "So you... find it challenging? But not when she's into you? Isn't it better when both parts are in agreement?" Maybe better wasn't the right word - more like more adequate, or proper. 

@Echo

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