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July 75 AD, one week after the earthquake

The earthquake was a week behind him now and slaves and workers were busy repairing most of Rome – including Tertius’ house, of course. The ceiling had to be improved, he wouldn’t forget how bloody Charis’ arms had been the morning the earthquake happened… and all because plaster from the ceiling in her room had fallen down. And her fellow slaves had not helped the pregnant and pretty young Charis.

And that was just one thing that had to be repaired. There were several others too. But that was his own home. Now however, he’d been sitting in the tablinium, deep in thought. He had not heard anything from his siblings after the earthquake. He hoped his sister and her grown children were alright, as well as Livia of course. And Secundus, he supposed, but he didn’t bother considering him much. Tertius had tried his best to be friendly with his brother, when he returned from Germania, but Secundus kept blaming him for returning to Rome and not searching for his captured brother. And he hadn’t liked how Tertius had run things while he’d been away. Things had just spiraled the wrong way and Tertius was only happy to marry and move away from his childhood home.

Since then, the brothers didn’t see each other a lot. Tertius still received visits from his sister and the children of course, but not from Secundus. Still, he was worried about his family and decided to go and take a look at the house of the Pater Familias of the Varus family. Hopefully Secundus was in the countryside, as he often was.

He didn’t bother to bring any slaves with him. The travel through Rome wasn’t long to reach the old house. It was kind of strange to knock here, but he did and a slave let him in. He just wanted to see how much damage had been done here and if Secundus even cared to repair it. The house where they grew up. He probably didn’t care. Quietly Tertius moved through the house and into the peristyle to take a closer look.

@Járnviðr

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News of the earthquake took time to reach Secundus. He delayed no longer than that. Around him, Rome was rebuilding itself, but he did not care about Rome. Rome was a means to an end. She was his mother, who had given his parents the chance to create him- so when she had abandoned him in Germania, the depth of his rage knew no limits. Now, Poseidon had unleashed his wrath on the city. Secundus surveyed the wreckage with a vicious glee. Still, he needed to check on their house.

His father’s house had gone to Tertius, when they had believed him and their elder brother dead. It was one of his younger brother’s innumerable betrayals. Secundus hoped to avoid Tertius today. The other man was in Rome more often, he thought, so surely he would have already visited if he intended to. Tertius was so impulsive, unreliable, and impractical that he half-suspected he would forget to check for any damage for a month. Secundus would have to look out for their family’s interests, once again.

It had been long enough since one of their arguments that Secundus found himself thinking somewhat charitable thoughts about his brother- he remembered the boy that Tertius had once been. He had potential. He shook off the thought. Tertius, the man, was worthless in every way that mattered. If their father were alive to see how far their good name had fallen, he would weep.

Secundus entered the house without knocking. It was his home, after all. As the paterfamilias, he had every right to be here. The slave that accompanied him joined the others. He lingered for a moment in the atrium, drinking in the sight of his childhood, destroyed. His family, gone. He had Livia, now, but that was a new family. The old family, the Varus name, their domus- collapsed. He shook himself out of his dramatics. The damage was not nearly so severe as all that. The walls still stood. There were just- cracks, now, that might turn into something more sinister later. He proceeded through the house, footsteps heavy.

@Atrice

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It did not seem as if Secundus had been here to inspect the damage at all – he was probably still sitting in the villa in the countryside, grumbling over some issue with his slaves or with his sweet and young wife. It had been a week now and Tertius had been busy with his own home, but because he doubted Secundus would take a look at their childhood home, he decided to do it. And while the few slaves that always resided here were already busy (as busy as unsupervised slaves could be) doing repairs, it didn’t look like they’d done much so far.

Sure, the house hadn’t fallen down! The roof had not crashed! But there were creaks and cracks in the walls and in the ceiling and some of the pillars too and not all of the wall paintings looked too great either. He just hoped the garden had survived and that there was still a small and functioning fountain out there. Tertius could barely remember when he last visited this house. Perhaps when Secundus married Livia? And that was a few years ago already.

He stood observing the garden, when he heard footsteps somewhere nearby – behind him. And although they barely saw each other now, he grew up with Secundus. He knew those footsteps. He sighed quietly, this was not part of the plan today!

Still he turned around to face his older brother, it was inevitable anyway, once the man came into view and Tertius greeted him with a polite smile, “Brother… what a surprise that you have come today too.” It was a surprise. Tertius just wasn’t sure it was a good one.

@Járnviðr

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Secundus nodded stiffly. He didn't smile at his brother. What was there to smile about? Their house had just barely survived, he thought, thinking about the way cracks in something could grow over time. At least the garden looked intact. Even the fountain seemed less shaken than the building. He marveled for a moment at Roman engineering. Their civilization was the pinnacle of achievement. Men like Tertius did not appreciate how wonderful Rome was, to dishonor her so.

"I am surprised to see you here at all, Tertius. Women can be so demanding when they carry children. Slaves must be even moreso, since that leaves no one to do the housework."

Secundus wondered how many of the families in Rome openly mocked the Varus name. After their string of failures and indiscretions, he wondered if anyone could respect them at all. His sister needed to be married soon. Unlike Tertius, she stood a chance of bringing some honor back to their family. Secundus himself still nurtured a fledgling hope that one day, he could have children that might provide recompense for his own mistakes. His political career was an opportunity all its own, despite his advancing age. He had time enough to be a good senator.

@Atrice

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At least Tertius was pretending to be friendly, open and polite towards his brother. The same could not be said about Secundus, who merely responded with a stiff nod and took a glance around the garden. Then he said he was surprised to see Tertius here and mentioned something about women carrying children and slaves. Was he talking about Charis? Trying to be oh so subtle about it while spelling it out in large letters at the same time? But he was not going to let Secundus get to him, not this time!

“I have plenty of slaves do carry out every order I tell them.” Tertius said, his smile fading. Why could things not be as they once were… before Germania? But it was now over 20 years ago since they left Rome to go there and there was no going back to the before. Not with Secundus still refusing to talk about what happened to him. Meanwhile, now, he just wouldn’t let his brother get under his skin!

“And of course I came to take a look at my childhood home. So much of Rome has crumbled… how is the villa? I suppose you didn’t bring your sweet wife with you here?” He hadn’t seen her since she came to visit in February, where she brought a gift for Teutus, claiming it was from both her and Secundus, but he really doubted his brother even knew about it. He felt sorry for sweet Livia, too young and pretty to be wed to a man like Secundus.

@Járnviðr

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Secundus smiled, now. Tertius was bragging about how many slaves he had. From a man who took most of them to bed, it was less impressive of a statement. How many were willing, he wondered? How many would have done whatever their master ordered? At least Secundus had found a proper wife. He found himself excited, now. The slaves would do the work of examining the family's house; he and his brother had more important things to discuss. It had been too long since he'd had a chance to challenge Tertius on how he had disrespected their parents.

"I apologize for leaving my house so unattended. My slaves are required by my wife. Our life can be lonely, you understand, and she appreciates their companionship; I appreciate their dedication to their work."

The fountain had been beautiful when they were children. Imposing, too, when they were so small that everything seemed big. Many a time, they had played in this peristyle. Secundus knelt by the fountain, tracing a finger along the stone. So much of Rome had crumbled, but the fountain had somehow escaped the damage. Their house had escaped much of it. Perhaps they had been spared for a reason. Perhaps the gods smiled upon them. His smile turned bitter, but then, when did they not? His mouth was always full of ashes, these days.

"Do not speak again of my 'sweet wife', Tertius, or I will teach you to hold your tongue."

@Atrice

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Tertius certainly didn’t take most of his slaves to bed, but Secundus couldn’t know that of course. Had he ever even visited Tertius’ home? He didn’t think so. Besides, Tertius didn’t even bed Charis anymore. It was only Hector now. Sleeping with Charis had only proved to him once more, why it was better to keep a male slave for his bed rather than a female. But the child would come and it would be his and he thought he might not make the same mistakes, as he did with Teutus. He wanted to be better now.

But Secundus didn’t comment on the talk of slaves again, instead he said the house was unattended because his wife needed the slaves. Really, sweet Livia needed all those slaves? It was more likely that Secundus needed them to tend to his ego. Then he said their lives could be lonely and Livia needed their companionship. That made sense, at least. Tertius could imagine she’d prefer their company over that of her husband.

“I’m sure she appreciates their company very much, then. I hope you reward them for their work.” Tertius added, while Secundus stepped further into the garden and to the old fountain, that had been there since they were both children. Tertius turned towards him, not trusting the idea of having his back turned to Secundus. Then Secundus suddenly threatened him, all because Tertius had mentioned his wife.

“Why should I not speak of your wife, when you speak so freely of those that are mine? I was just wondering why you didn’t bring your wife with you, especially if life can be so lonely sometimes? She must be lonely without you.” Tertius knew he was pushing it, but really, who was Secundus to speak to him like that? He might be the older brother here, but it was widely known in Rome that he was also the less sane of them. Besides, Tertius was a Praetor. It would be stupid to do anything to him.

@Járnviðr

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Restraint was not one of Secundus' strengths. He had already insulted Tertius more than he'd intended, but hearing the boy insinuate that his wife did not love him while pretending to be perfectly polite and ever inch the proper Roman- Secundus stood, jaw set. He should not have expected that Tertius had grown into something worth respecting. Every conversation between the two of them ended the same way. Secundus spoke from bitterness, Tertius responded by provoking him, and Secundus acted in anger. Such self-awareness always escaped him in the moment, though. His blood boiled, and he stepped closer to his brother.

"Loneliness is a far better destiny than the shameful things you have done with our name and our blood. How many children will your slaves bear for you before you admit that you have lost all sense of decency? Do you seek them out for their fertility? Do you select them with care? Do you consider what your children with them will look like before your passions inflame you, or are you so desperate that you cannot help yourself?"

@Atrice

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Tertius had said no such thing as Livia not loving her husband, but of course, he could not control his brother and least of all, the way he was thinking! Secundus stood in front of Tertius and then stepped closer to him. Tertius straightened too, bracing himself, half expecting Secundus would grasp him any moment now to start a fight. Instead Secundus continued to insult Tertius, claiming he had shamed their name and spoke of children born by slaves, as if Tertius planned it.

“You know nothing about those things. You don’t even come to my house. You have no idea how things function in my household.” Tertius said, “It is true, that one of my slavegirls is currently pregnant with my child… but it is more than twenty years ago since that last happened. Remember? It was half the reason why I went with you to Germania. Or have you forgotten everything?” Tertius asked. It would seem as if Secundus’ memory didn’t function quite right, maybe the people in Germania hit his head a ton of times or something and that’s why he had become such a madman? Still, it was no excuse for how Secundus was treating him now. Again Tertius found himself thinking that he almost wished Secundus really had died back then. Everything would be so much easier then.

“Don’t make it sound as if you know anything about my life. You’ve clearly been listening to gossip. I honestly thought you were above that.”

@Járnviðr

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As Tertius continued to speak, Secundus grit his teeth, clenched his fist, and smiled wider. The pulse in his head had returned; it came and went, but in moments of tension, he could reach for it if he felt the need. It was an anger not appropriate among senators. He had learned to control it, to control himself. When he was alone, or with family, he could not. They, unlike the clucking senators, could destroy him with an ill-placed rumor. If they only told enough people that Secundus was unstable- they could ruin his reputation. Tertius did not understand the damage he was doing to their family, and this- he had forgotten nothing! Secundus remembered every slight, every argument, every threat to him and his own.

This was not gossip. This was defending his very identity as a man and as a Roman. This was punishing his brother for his numerous transgressions, and for believing himself superior. This was an opportunity for Tertius, who had children, who enjoyed criticizing his treatment of their sister, who did not. Tertius had always been a naive child, but now he was an ignorant, mindless traitor to their name. If Tertius did not want to be a member of this family, there was no need for him to be in this house any longer.

"Brother, I recommend that you leave my house before I have reason to force you to. We clearly have nothing more to discuss."

@Atrice

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Secundus clearly didn’t like hearing the truth, as Tertius told it to him. His brother had no right to use Tertius’ children against him the way he did, offending Tertius and his entire household as he spoke. The truth was that Teutus was still his only child born by a slave and while he had another coming, that was the first since Teutus. And he’d been young and reckless back then. Things were different now. It was incredible that Secundus didn’t remember all that. Or maybe he did, he probably did, he just didn’t want to hear he’d been wrong.

He watched his brother as Secundus clenched his fist and smiled wider, but it was no happy smile. Secundus was violent in a dangerous way and Tertius knew that look on his face and in his eyes. See this was why he preferred to avoid his brother! So, Secundus went through some shit in Germania, but no one knew what it was and Secundus wasn’t talking about it. Instead he would just take whatever happened to him, out on others. It had happened before and Tertius could easily see it happening again.

Secundus didn’t answer a single thing Tertius had said, when he spoke. Instead he urged Tertius to leave as he thought they had nothing more to discuss. So it was like that, was it? Secundus would just barge in, throw insult after insult upon Tertius and then kick Tertius out for speaking up to him. It was his right, he supposed, as Pater Familias.

“If that is what you feel, then that’s how it must be.” Tertius didn’t feel like starting another fight with his brother, he had pushed it far enough. He walked towards the atrium again, but backwards, he was not about to turn his back on an angry Secundus. He’d rather see the bull coming if it truly was going to rage now… “Good luck restoring our childhood home. It deserves it.” Tertius said on the way, while keeping an eye on his brother.

@Járnviðr

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Secundus could not understand why his brother insisted that there was a difference between a slave bearing the child of his youthful indiscretions and choosing a slave to bear him a son. Secundus was now making a similar choice, after all, and it was no less disgusting to consider. Why had Tertius come here? Had he guessed, somehow, what Secundus and Aglaea had been doing? Leave it to his brother to sniff out another man's deviancy. The man enjoyed Secundus' failures, he knew. He wanted to punch the smug look off his face. Instead, he watched him go.

Backwards. Of course he would leave the peristyle backwards, refusing to turn his back on his brother. A coward and a traitor to their name, 'til the end. Secundus grimaced as he heard the parting jab about the house. He wondered whether Tertius had even been concerned about the home, or if he had merely come to challenge him. It did not matter. When it came to him, Tertius spouted off insults like an on overflowing fountain. Secundus turned away from him, his anger still keeping his heartrate up. He had nothing else to say to Tertius. He focused instead on yelling at the slaves to help him repair the house. They had work to do, and he needed someone to listen to him, for once.

@Atrice

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Secundus stood there, grimacing and watching him leave. As if he wanted to make sure Tertius left. Why wasn't Tertius allowed to care for his childhood home the way Secundus apparently did it? Or had Secundus only come because he ought to and not because this was a place he missed? He didn't think his brother missed any of it. Tertius had moved out the instant he got married, to get away from Secundus and now apparently his brother barely used this house. He preferred to reside in the countryside, as far as Tertius knew. Well he could stay there. Secundus was nothing but poison, he had grown toxic and Tertius had plenty to think about without having his madman of a brother involved. At last he reached the door and escaped out into the bright street, soon to be surrounded by people and he walked the short path back to his own house. He was glad that Antonia's family had let him buy the house and keep it, so that their daughter would have her mother's home to grow up in, at least. It had belonged to her brother, but he was deceased too. Antonia, Tertius' daughter, was all that was left now of the Antonii-Justii family. And he'd take good care of her. In his own home. Far from his brother. 

@Járnviðr

THE END

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