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What Could Have Been?


Ovinia Camilla
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July, 91AD

Ovinia's voice was hoarse as she called out into the quiet of the night; "Tadia!" She squinted into the darkness, but there was no reply. Her daughter - now ten, had all the same precocious energy that Ovinia did at her age, but had none of the same father-instilled fear to abide by the rules of the house. She couldn't be precisely sure of what had caused this latest run for the hills, but suspected her daughter had overhead the disagreement Ovinia had with her husband - Spurius Tadius Opimius. It had been a stupid, trivial fight - one they'd had a hundred times in the fourteen years they had been married; Spurius had double-booked himself on an evening he was supposed to visit Ovinia's father and she had flown into a rage that he had equally matched. She'd heard the slave door in the garden bang open on its hinges shortly after and not ten minutes later a red-eyed, flushed-cheeked slave had reported her daughter missing. 

She could have left this hunt to the slaves themselves, as Spurius had done, but she knew her daughter and she knew that despite her wilful, brave face she was a sensitive soul and was unlikely to be coaxed out of her hiding spot in the streets of Rome without her mother there. Still - she was flanked by a small army of the household slaves as they walked the streets around the domus. Spurius had insisted that they not go to the vigiles (it wouldn't look good, according to him, that the daughter of a Praetor run off missing in the middle of the night), and in any case both her parents were convinced they'd find the blue-eyed, brunette little girl soon. 

"Tadia!" She hissed again and wrapped her arms around her waist as they walked. A noise up ahead set her jaw on edge but it was just one of the lumbering garden slaves coming into view, breathless and jogging; "No sightings out east, domina, but she couldn't have gotten far." She nodded quietly and resumed her walking. The last time Tadia had done something like this she had been found with one of her friends playing outside the girl's domus. But that had been in the middle of the day, not the darkness of the night, and Ovinia felt a pit of guilt and fear gnaw at her insides. The 'what if...' questions that swam in her head were almost too much to think of, so she decided not to think of them and instead keep her eyes peeled. "Sweetheart, it's okay...it's just me..." She called out and sighed. Silence. 

 

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It had been a long night - which was good. Because long nights meant Lucius did not have to deal with paperwork. Being praefectus vigilum, a rank he had achieved the year before, came with a whole lot of responsibilities that did not have anything to do with helping people. Not directly, anyway, as he was often reminded by his faithful (and patient) subordinates. Sometimes he wondered if it was worth it. Not the vigiles - he had never regretted that. But rather, rising up to lead them. Leading was exhauting.

There had already been a fire this afternoon, and another in the evening. His men had dealt with both, but Lucius went put anyway to survey the scenes, and help out. It was good for morals to be seen. And he enjoyed helping a lot better than he enjoyed giving orders.

At 38, Lucius looked the part. He had put on bulk in muscle, his hair was longer than in his youth, and he had a short beard that he kept forgetting to shave. He was dressed in uniform, but left the paraphernalia of his rank at the office; everyone recognized him anyway. Partly because of his hands on approach, and also because of the damn scandal it caused.

It was late at night now, and he was patrolling with one og his men. The neighborhood was quiet, avoided by the rattle of nighttime carts. It was a patrician neighborhood. Not much happened at night, but it bordered on some busier streets.

Suddenly, a girl came barreling around a corner, ran smack into Lucius' stomach, bounced off, and landed on her butt. She looked... well kept, seven or maybe eight. She had angry tears in her eyes, but she did not cry after the impact.

"Hey!" Lucius blinked, peering down at her. His look softened. "Hey. Is everything alright? Is someone chasing you?"

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Tadia blinked up at the man, the set of her jaw was not unlike her mothers as she glared him down. She nimbly got to her feet and swept her hands over her tunica, batting off the dirt. "I'm fine." She mumbled stubbornly. She wasn't - she'd grazed her arm on the cobbles, but even at ten she knew not to cry in front of strangers. "I...I want to get to the Esquiline." They were in Regio XII so she had a walk and a half. The girl whipped her head over her shoulder to make sure nobody was in earshot and then nodded at him. "N-not chasing, trying to get me. Take me to the Esquiline." It was a demand, not a question. Tadia knew her rank as the daughter of a Praetor meant most people generally did what she said. 

Unfortunately for Tadia, company wasn't too far behind. A slave appeared from around the corner and grinned - evidently relieved - as he saw his charge. "Domina, there you are!" Tadia took a step behind Lucius - using his frame to try and hide from the slave. "Your parents are worried sick - your mother is out looking for you now, D-domina! I've found her!" Tadia glanced up at Lucius with a glare, as if urging him to do something. 

 

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There was something eerily familiar about the girl as she glared at him, getting on her feet and biting back the tears. She did not look scared, just... subborn. She reminded him of someone.

"Take me to the Esquiline."

"May I ask why?" Lucius looked at her with an amused smirk. She was used to giving orders. Patrician. But what was she doing out here?

"Domina, there you are!"

A slave, very much out of breath, appeared on the scene. The girl hid behind Lucius. He let her. He was not going to hand a child to anyone unless he was sure they were to be trusted.

"Parents?" He arched an eyebrow, peering over his shoulder at her. "Want to tell me why you ran away? Must have had a good reason." He was not sarcastic.

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"I did have a good reason." She protested, mumbling and trying to dodge the glances of the slave who was approaching. The man's relief at finding his charge was quickly morphing into frustration at the situation. He was glancing around for his mistress, clearly and then at Lucius with an imperious look. "She has worried her parents greatly. I need to get her back to her mother." The man reached for Tadia, who backed away to Lucius' other side, out of his reach. The glare she shot the slave could have turned the man to stone. "Domina, please..." But he didn't need to protest for long because soon enough Tadia's mother was standing in front of the scene, lips parted, eyes wide at what she saw. 

Ovinia didn't remember the last time she saw him. It might have been at a wedding of a mutual acquaintance - one who hadn't shunned him - or another such event, but it had to be years ago. Maybe she hadn't even had Tadia the last time she saw him? Could it really have been ten years? Surely not...surely five...or six, or seven or eight...Gods. It might have been a decade. The years sat well on him though, and she recognised him almost immediately. Even with the longer hair and beard - she saw him clearly. She wondered, briefly and self-consciously, if she looked as well as he did. She wasn't a teenager anymore but she had been fastidious in her beauty and exercise regime over the years (there was little else to do as a bored housewife with no household to run, given her mother-in-law was in residence). She was dressed dowdily though - in the stola of a married woman with her hair up and a palla draped over her shoulder. She felt her stomach turn as she thought of the years that had passed by since she'd seen his face and adjusted the palla once again nervously. 

Fortunately she didn't have long to dwell on the incredible awkwardness given the look her daughter was throwing at her. "I'm not coming back." Ovinia rolled her eyes. "Yes, you are Tadia Opimia." She placed a hand on the curve of her hip and arched a brow, meeting her daughters glare with a stern look of her own. "And this is silly to be bothering the praefectus vigilum with, isn't it?" Tadia's eyes widened - evidently she'd not twigged who Lucius was. Only then did Ovinia spare him a glance. She swallowed the lump in her throat and offered him the shadow of a smile in greeting. 

 

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The man grabbed for the girl, but she circled around to Lucius' other side. The praefectus arched an eyebrow at the exasperated slave. The girl had to be a handful, even on a good day.

"I did have a good reason."

"I'm sure you did" he nodded, amused.

"She has worried her parents greatly. I need to get her back to her mother." 

"Whose household?" he inquired, but in that moment, a woman came rounding the corner with the same stride the girl had done. And out of all the women in the city of Rome, it had to be Ovinia Camilla.

Lucius stared at her. They had not seen each other in... the better part of a decade. Not since she had rejected his brother's suit and he had rejected being a patrician in general, and their social circles just... diverged. Sure, they had caught glimpses of each other from time to time, but even that dwindled after she married and became a proper Roman matron.

And, apparently, a mother.

"I'm not coming back."

"Yes, you are Tadia Opimia. And this is silly to be bothering the praefectus vigilum with, isn't it?" 

The praetor's daughter. Right. Ovinia had always aimed high.

The girl stared up at him, and Lucius gave her a lopsided grin. "Go to your mother. You've scared her half to death already." He looked up, returning her smile. Gods, she still looked beautiful. There used to be a time when he dreamed about her. "Should've known she was yours. Same glare."

@Sara

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Tadia glanced between the adults, but seeing that she was making absolutely no progress with Lucius, let out a scoff and a moan of childish frustration. She stomped her sandal clad feet back in the direction of her mother, but stopped short of Ovinia's outstretched arms which offered an embrace. Instead she folded her arms across her chest in a huff, and Ovinia felt self-consciousness eke back in. She wound her arms protectively around her waist. 

"I'll take that as a compliment." She offered Lucius with a weak smile. The banter was unfamiliar to her now. She cast her eyes down to her daughter, still sullenly glaring at the ground. "Are you going to apologise to the Prefect for disrupting his work?" Although why the Prefect of the vigiles was out patrolling was anybody's guess. Looked like the intervening years hadn't changed Lucius' irreverence that much. Tadia mumbled an apology into the cobbles. Ovinia arched a brow. "I don't think he heard that." The girl let out an exasperated sigh and cast a look over her shoulder at Lucius. "Sorry sir."  

"Thank you." Ovinia finally dragged her eyes back up to Lucius. She didn't make a move to leave though. The walk back to the domus was only ten or fifteen minutes from here and she really should be getting Tadia home before the neighbours started gossiping...more than they already would. But something else stayed her feet, even if it was making her feel uncomfortable in equal measure. "I suppose I should introduce you...Tadia, this is Lucius Vips..." She blinked and then glanced up at him, "I...suppose maybe it's not Lucius Vipsanius Roscius anymore..." Not since he'd been adopted into an equite family, "But anyway, he's the Perfect of the vigiles in the city. Lucius, this is my daughter - the very precocious Tadia Opimia." Tadia waved hello blandly. 

 

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"I'll take that as a compliment."

Now that he'd seen it, he could not unsee the resemblance. He had never known Ovinia as a child, but her daughter was every bit hers, with the pouting and the stubbornness. If she was not careful, it would cause her a world of regret.

"Are you going to apologise to the Prefect for disrupting his work?"

"Sorry sir."  

"There's really..." no need for an apology, he wanted to say, but realized in time that questioning her parenting was probably not the best move for a first conversation in a decade. He doubted the apology was very sincere, though. He smirked.

"I suppose I should introduce you...Tadia, this is Lucius Vips... I...suppose maybe it's not Lucius Vipsanius Roscius anymore... But anyway, he's the Perfect of the vigiles in the city. Lucius, this is my daughter - the very precocious Tadia Opimia."

"Lucius Manius Victorius" Lucius smiled, shaking his head. Ovinia did not even know his new name. It really had been a while. "A pleasure to meet you, Tadia Opimia." he raised his eyes at Ovinia again. "And you too, Ovinia Camilla. May we escort you home?"

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"Lucius Manius Victorius." She repeated. It didn't suit him as much. She must have heard his new name in passing or in a muttered derogatory conversation, but even all these years later he was Lucius Vipsanius Rosicus to her, and would remain so. 

She should have said no - that they could manage without an escort. She was sure Spurius would be enraged at the prospect of his neighbours and friends seeing his wife and daughter being escorted through the streets, but Ovinia was in no mood to deny Lucius her company. It was dark and it was late and she was tired. and she wanted his conversation, even after all this time...and despite the awkwardness. 

She nodded, "That would be kind - thank you. Tadia, why don't you walk with Helvia, she-" Tadia didn't need to be told twice, hurrying from her mothers side to a young female slave that loitered with the small group that now formed. She had been with the family since she herself was a girl not much older than Tadia was now, and had become her daughters firm favourite. It stung a bit, to watch her daughter freely embrace a slave, but she swallowed the lump in her throat.

Turning on her heel and wrapping the palla tighter around herself she set off on the walk home. She had a million burning questions but found herself utterly tongue tied. She swallowed and in the end, finding the silence unbearable, asked the most bland question she could; "How have you been?" 

 

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"That would be kind - thank you. Tadia, why don't you walk with Helvia, she-"

Lucius couldn't help but chuckle as the girl bolted off to the young woman who must have been her nurse or playmate. Ovinia looked stung. He felt the urge to reach out and pat her on the shoulder, but he was aware of the whole search party watching. He waved at his man, telling him to go back to the barracks and send the next shift out on patrol. He fell into step next to Ovinia, with the slaves walking behind them, keeping a polite distance.

They were quiet for a while. He was not sure what to say. It seemed like a lifetime ago that they had been... flirting. The building tension, whatever it had been, had been cut short when they passed each other, sailing in opposite directions. She seemed like she was musing about the same thing.

"How have you been?" 

"Busy?" he shrugged, smiling. "No one ever told me the higher you rise the more papers you have to fill out. It's a scheme."

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She chuckled. At least he seemed to be finding this easier than she was. Or at least he seemed to better equipped to deal with it. "I've heard that." She shook her head, "But I haven't said congratulations." She cast him a sidelong glance. She hadn't said a lot of things given it had been the best part of a decade that she hadn't spoken to him for. "On the new role. It's impressive." and that was about as complimentary as Ovinia Camilla got. 

She fell into step easily with him, but her hands still hugged her waist protectively and every few yards she cast a glance over her shoulder to see if Tadia was still there. "That was not the best introduction to my daughter," She muttered - cheeks flushing red. "She really is better behaved than that usually in polite company." That wasn't a lie. For all her stubbornness with her parents, Tadia was the model Roman girl when surrounded by Spurius' clients and peers. It was just a shame she chose to act out when she did. "She's a sweet girl." She sighed and pulled her eyes forward again, "You must understand..." Aka - you must surely have children of your own by now...

 

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"But I haven't said congratulations. On the new role. It's impressive." 

"Thank you." he said graciously. Not many people congratulated him, even when he rose to a rank of prominence. Most patricians found it hard to forgive that he had deserted them to chase criminals and fight fires on the streets.

"That was not the best introduction to my daughter. She really is better behaved than that usually in polite company. She's a sweet girl. You must understand..." 

"She seems like an adventure" he grinned, glancing back at the girl following them "Stubborn and smart. Must have gotten it from you." He did not comment on her assumptions. If she wanted to know, she would have to ask. "Do you have others?"

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"Unfortunately I think so." she said, amusement lighting her voice. Tadia was most unlike her husband in pretty much all respects, besides her eye colour and paler skin. The rest was pure Ovinia. Buts he suspected that was a consequence of Spurius' frequent absences at work or otherwise. 

His second question silenced her for a moment though and it took a moment for her to compose a full sentence. She swallowed the lump in her throat and rolled her shoulders back. "No. Just Tadia." And it was a point so sore, a wound so open that she dared not uncover it. She had wanted to be a mother of a whole brood for as long as she could remember. She even vaguely recalled telling Lucius something similar that fateful day on Neptunalia. Gods that felt like a lifetime ago. 

She glanced across at him to see if he'd take her bait and when he didn't, she rolled her eyes - her youthful frustration rising to the surface as it always used to do in his company. "And you...?" she arched a brow and studied his profile, "Do you have a brood of your own?" 

 

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He could tell she was not happy with his question. It was hard to see her expression in the fleeting light of the torches, but she looked awkward. Hurt, even. He suspected the answer before she gave it.

"No. Just Tadia." 

One child, and a girl. Most Roman matrons would have been displeased with something like that. Not to mention their husbands. And Ovinia... made a good other, he had no doubt about that. No wonder she did not like the question.

"And you...? Do you have a brood of your own?" 

He owed her an answer for that one.

"Not that I am aware of." he chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. "I... never got married, actually. Turns out you become a very ineligible bachelor when you quit your familia."

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She made a groaning sort of noise and rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the smile that tugged on the corners of her lips. He was trying to lighten the mood, she could tell, but fortunately for him it was working. She wasn't the ingenue she was when she'd known him all those years ago, and now knew exactly what he was inferring. The crassness made her smile a little more. 

That he was unmarried was a surprise though. "Ineligible for patrician, senatorial women sure," She affirmed - and not without a hint of malice in her words and a fleeting glance in his direction, "But surely not ineligible for equites or plebs?" Despite his newfound position, Ovinia ardently maintained that him abandoning his role and station and family was an utter mistake and a waste of a man that could have done some good for his people. Not that she was going to say that. At least not right now. "And you're still young..." She cast him another glance and then wrinkled her nose, amused, "Or young enough to have a family. My husband was in his thirties when we married. Actually, probably a similar age to you now. You could bag yourself a nice, young woman Lucius. If you want one that is." 

 

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He had earned a smile. Ovinia used to be too naive to catch innuendo like that, the last time they had a conversation. He wondered what else had changed, now that she was living the life of a married woman.

"Ineligible for patrician, senatorial women sure. But surely not ineligible for equites or plebs?"

"Never thought I'd hear you say that" he chuckled. Ovinia, suggesting he should marry a plebeian? Even now, that he was not a patrician, people were usually talking circles around the issue. Too high ranking for a plebeian, too shunned for patricians. He would have married a good woman from any rank just for the heck of it... but somehow such a woman had never come along.

"And you're still young... Or young enough to have a family. My husband was in his thirties when we married. Actually, probably a similar age to you now. You could bag yourself a nice, young woman Lucius. If you want one that is." 

He arched an eyebrow, looking down at her. Was she serious? She probably was. He tried to imagine courting a nineteen-year-old the way she had been courted. It felt... strange. He shrugged. "Honestly, I never got around to it. And with my work, I don't think a wife would be very happy about me..." Out on patrol, spending time among his man, running into danger. Most wives were not going to sign up for that. "So, as a nice young woman who was bagged... how is matron life treating you?" Alright, that might have been a cheap shot.

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"Well," She said with a limp shrug, "As I said, there's still time. If you change your mind. Or when you slow down in your old age." Her lips twitched in the hint of a smile. Seeing him - even just very briefly - with Tadia, it left the impression that he really ought to have a child or two of his own. It was Ovinia's greatest joy, and she felt sad he didn't share that. 

"I'll take young," She chuckled, "But I don't think you ever described me as nice.She glanced sideways at him, the flush still on her cheeks but hidden in the darkness. How was her life as a good Roman matron treating her? It felt like it had been her life forever, at this point, and she wasn't sure how to answer. There were highs; her daughter and watching her grow, and running a house when her mother-in-law was at the villa but there were also lows. Mostly it was just...dull. She spent her days weaving or visiting other married friends, attending dinners with her husband or chivying the slaves, always to fall asleep, wake up and do exactly the same the next day. The youthful ideals she'd had of marrying a man that would take her across the Empire had died when she'd married a Praetor set in his career. She'd never left Italia since her wedding day. She swallowed, realising she'd been quiet for longer than she'd intended. "It's good." She sighed, "It's...normal." She shook her head, "I mean - it's what I was brought up to do. I've got a decent husband and a beautiful home and a healthy daughter," She shrugged again, "It's good." But she couldn't say she was happy. 

 

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"I'll take young. But I don't think you ever described me as nice."

"No, but others did" he chuckled. She could always pretend to be a nice Roman lady when she wanted to. Men who courted her tended to see that side more often.

His ext question gave her pause. She was not offended by it, but... she didn't seem very enthusiastic either.

"It's good. It's...normal. I mean - it's what I was brought up to do. I've got a decent husband and a beautiful home and a healthy daughter... It's good." 

Yeah, well, that sounded like shit. But who was he to judge? When he did not sleep at the barracks he slept at Vibia's brothel. He had a household, but he was pretty sure the slaves were running some kind of a permanent party in his absence.

"Well... that's good." he really had nothing better to say. They were nearing the praetor's house anyway.

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His silence and the awkwardness that bloomed between them was palpable. She swallowed and then, glancing across at him - couldn't help herself. Even after all these years his tone and his face had an uncanny ability to get under her skin. 

"I don't need your judgement." She snapped, but quietly - lest Tadia heard. She'd already fled after witnessing one argument today, if her girl saw her mother quarrelling with a stranger, the Gods only knew where she'd run off to. Instead - she concentrated her annoyance squarely at Lucius - leaning in just ever so slightly. "I can see it in your face, and I don't want it. My life is good. It might be conventional - but there's a reason for convention. Not that you'd understand." Given he'd done pretty much everything in his power to fly in the face of it. 

 

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He had really not said anything bad, but he had said the wrong thing anyway. Ovinia gave him a look and lowered her voice. UH-oh.

"I don't need your judgement. I can see it in your face, and I don't want it. My life is good. It might be conventional - but there's a reason for convention. Not that you'd understand." 

"Now who's judging?" he arched an eyebrow at her, but lowered his voice too. "That's why we haven't met for years, you know? I am the reason for convention."

@Sara

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"That's not why we haven't spoken in years." She retorted with a little glare in his direction. It was the truth - at least for Ovinia. She didn't want to see him, especially as he started climbing the ranks to his current position. In her youth she'd always found his company uncomfortable for a reason she couldn't put her finger on. Now she was older she understood what those feelings were, and she found it and them and him intolerable. 

"And have some humility." She scoffed, gripping onto the sides of her stola with blanched fingers, "You're not the first man in history to be adopted down. But I wonder," She glanced across at him again - eyes hard, "Was it worth it?" 

 

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"That's not why we haven't spoken in years." 

"Isn't it?" He tilted his head. Most patrician families kept a distance from him after he left their ranks, and the more prominent equites also shunned him for taking up an opportunity that belonged to them. It had taken him years of hard work, above and beyond, to prove that he deserved his place. But his social capital definitely suffered from it.

"And have some humility. You're not the first man in history to be adopted down. But I wonder... Was it worth it?" 

"Yes." He answered without hesitation. He had asked himself many times and he never had a doubt. "I am where I wanted to be. And I'm helping people." That had always been the goal, and she knew it. He glanced at her again, realizing that his determined answer had other implications too. To her. "... but I do regret some things."

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The speed and surety in his 'Yes' jarred her and she swallowed down the lump in her throat. She couldn't blame him, not really. He was possibly the first person she'd met who was doing exactly what they had always wanted to do, and was enjoying it. She had always wanted to be a wife and a mother but the reality was grim compared to the stories she'd told herself when she was a girl.

"Regret is a wasted life." She retorted with a shrug and pointedly didn't look at him. She had a hundred regrets and she'd learned pretty swiftly in her adulthood that to dwell on them just made her sad. She had good things in her life - one of which was walking dejectedly behind her. That was enough. It had to be enough. "We're nearly home." She commented mildly, shutting down her annoyance and any semblance of banter. "You should come in and meet my husband," She didn't want him to. She really didn't want him to, "He'll hear we were escorted by the vigiles and probably would want to get the measure of the man who found his daughter." 

 

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"Regret is a wasted life."

Oh, she had them too. He knew she did. As comfortable and conventional her life had been so far, he could tell that deep down Ovinia had spirit that was hard to smother. But it was not his place to question that, not anymore. It was cruel to do so without offering a change.

"We're nearly home. You should come in and meet my husband. He'll hear we were escorted by the vigiles and probably would want to get the measure of the man who found his daughter." 

"Technically, she found me" Lucius chuckled "But it it makes your life easier, I am happy to introduce myself."

 

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Ovinia nodded. "She's been getting very into stories of the Greek epics." she commented mildly, "She was clearly looking for a hero to save her from her awful parents." She rolled her eyes and continued walking until they reached the door. She could hear Tadia stall behind her and made a mental note to get a slave to fix a lock to their door that was out of her reach. She didn't particularly want to cage her daughter into their domus, but she also didn't want her little hellion causing chaos in the streets of Rome alone, at night. Or bringing back ghosts from her youth into her life. 

"We can be quick." She said to Lucius, although didn't look at him as she ducked through the door and then into the atrium. One of the slaves must have ran back ahead of her because Spurius, along with her two teenaged step-sons were stood waiting for them. She offered them a weak smile and then with a grand gesture, swept her arm behind her to where Tadia stood - looking suitably guilty. "One lost daughter, safely returned." Spurius arched a brow and moved to Tadia, hands on his hips. He didn't look furious, more weary. He'd clearly forgotten what it was like to have a young child given his sons were nearly at their twenties. 

"And an apologetic lost daughter, I'm to assume?" 

"Yes, Tata." Tadia mumbled. Helvia must have had a word with her on the walk back and Ovinia was grateful. She let out a breath in a quick exhale as Spurius ruffled his daughters hair and bid her off to bed. Well...that was diffused, for now at least until she got an earful about letting her go. But Spurius would save that fro when she was alone. 

"And her saviour, I'm also to assume?" He cast a suspicious glance at Lucius with thinly veiled annoyance. "Vigiles?" He glanced at the uniform. "I told my wife not to bother, I thought Tadia wouldn't get far...it seems she thought better." His chuckle was mirthless and Ovinia winced. 

 

TAG: @Chevi

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