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Good news, bad news


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October, 76AD

Lucius took several deep breaths to calm himself before walking into the tablinum to see his brother. He had been putting off this conversation for quite a while, but the year was soon ending, and with it the deadline Gaius had given him for making up his mind. If he did not want to spend Saturnalia in a family feud, he needed to get the hard part over with. Which meant talking to Gaius. He knew his brother was home today, working as usual. Maybe he should wait... No. No waiting. He needed to get this over with. It had already been difficult enough to explain why he came home one night smelling like smoke and covered in soot. He'd insisted he'd gotten caught up in the crowds at a house fire. He was not sure Gaius believed him.

He rapped his knuckles on the door frame as he walked in.

"Gaius? Do you have a moment? I... got something to tell you."

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Gaius looked up. And blinked. His brother was entering his tablinum, of his own volition.

Something was wrong with this picture, and he surreptitiously poked his leg with his bronze stylus. He was awake all right. That meant that something was wrong with the picture presented to him and he didn't have a chance to work out what was going on. And when he did, he probably wasn't going to like what he heard. Saw. Whatever.

"You found a girl you want to marry? You've taken in a runaway slave and now his master's come looking for him? We're out of garum?"

Any of those three was possible, of course - this was Lucius they were talking about, after all.

"Don't tell me the girl you want to marry is the runaway slave?"

 

@Chevi

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Poor Gaius, he knew he was in for a surprise, and he tried to put on a brave face as he braced himself for impact. Lucius felt a little sheepish about having conditioned his brother to feel this way.

"You found a girl you want to marry? You've taken in a runaway slave and now his master's come looking for him? We're out of garum?... Don't tell me the girl you want to marry is the runaway slave?"

Lucius chuckled. Gods, he had really done a number on his brother's expectations of him.

And he was about to make it worse.

"Well... I have good news and bad news." he said, taking a deep breath "But no, they do not involve women, or slaves. Or garum. Wait... why did you think we were out of garum?"

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"Why did you think we're out of garum?"

Gaius let out an exasperated sigh and threw down the stylus, which rolled unheeded to land on the floor with a tiny clatter.

"Because, Lucius. Because this is you, and I might as well get the report from the kitchen from my brother as any of the slaves who actually have chores to do there. And knowing you, that might just be the bad news and you're about to recommend me the most amazing garum I've ever tasted sold by your best friend Gaius Something-or-other who just so happens to have several amphorae he can't wait to offload on an idiot patrician who doesn't know he's being charged ten sestertii for something that costs perhaps five asses at most."

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "If it isn't women or slaves, or slave women, or garum, enlighten me."

 

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Lucius blinked at his brother.

"That's... very specific." He did know a man who sold good garum. Not at that ridiculous price, though. And also not the time. Gaius was already miffed at him, which did not bode well for the rest of the conversation. But he was in it now, and if he tried to back out, it would just look worse.

"If it isn't women or slaves, or slave women, or garum, enlighten me."

He did not pick bad news or good news. Lucius sighed.

"I... think I have made up my mind. About what I want to do."

Here goes nothing.

@Sharpie

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"O Jupiter Best and Greatest, I render thanks that my brother has finally come to a decision."

He poured his brother a cup of wine and after a moment's reflection, poured one for himself as well. Whatever this decision was, he was probably going to need it.

He consciously let go of the frustration his brother raised in him and nodded. "Very well, you have made a decision regarding your future. By the sounds of it, you think I am going to disapprove, so I take it that was your good news. What is the bad news?"

Slave dealer? Gladiator? Actor? Male prostitute - he rapidly discarded that idea, Lucius was too old and not that way inclined. Gaius hoped, anyway.

 

@Chevi

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"O Jupiter Best and Greatest, I render thanks that my brother has finally come to a decision."

Lucius rolled his eyes, and accepted the cup. He did not bite back; Gaius was allowed his sarcasm because he was soon going to be dealing with worse. And they probably both going to need the wine by the end of it. He waited until Gaius was ready to hear what he had to say.

"Very well, you have made a decision regarding your future. By the sounds of it, you think I am going to disapprove, so I take it that was your good news. What is the bad news?"

"Actually... the good news is, I decided I want to be a tribune." Lucius launched into his news, deciding that doing it all at once was probably the best course of action. "... The bad news is, I want to be a tribune with the vigiles."

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Gaius wasn't entirely sure what to think, or to feel, at his brother's announcement. It wasn't some sort of stall-holder in the Forum - Jupiter had been merciful enough to spare Gaius the sight of his brother hawking olives or takeaway food or some sort of tourist tat ('my friend went to Rome and all I got was this lousy stylus') but on the other hand...

"Aren't the vigiles merely a collection of freedmen?" he asked. Freedmen and probably escaped slaves calling themselves freedmen. "Is the tribune a plebian or an equite position?"

It had crossed his mind that his brother might prefer to be adopted into a family of a different social rank, but it hadn't been a serious thought. Apparently it should have been.

Gaius was going to find an amphora of his best wine later and try to discover what the bottom looked like after it was drained dry.

 

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Lucius was fully prepared to dodge any object thrown at his head (or even the entire desk), and somewhere deep down he knew he would have deserved it too. But Gaius seemed more resigned than angry. Maybe he was in shock? Or maybe his expectations had been even lower?... Lucius was not sure which one bothered him more.

"Aren't the vigiles merely a collection of freedmen? Is the tribune a plebian or an equite position?"

"Mostly, yes." he nodded. There was no need to sugarcoat it. "I think the officers are equites... I know the praefectus is." There were unspoked questions there. How would a patrician fit into all that? "But whatever they are, the centurion I met was definitely not doing his damn job."

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Gaius set his cup down, pushed his paperwork aside, moved his chair back enough to give himself room and dropped forward enough to allow his forehead to contact the desk. What had he done to deserve a brother like Lucius? Which god had he angered and could he appease that god?

Probably not.

He let out a long breath, trying to regain his equilibrium before pushing himself upright again.

"You think?" merda, that had sounded sarcastic. Not what he was going for.

"Well, let's start at the beginning... What made you decide on the vigiles?" He tiredly indicated the seat across from him; at least Lucius had showed enough sense not to risk sitting down until invited. This time, anyway.

 

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Gaius rested his forehead on the desk in a meticulous fashion. If one of those things was going to break, it was gonna be the desk.

"You think?"

Ow.

"Well, let's start at the beginning... What made you decide on the vigiles?" 

Lucius took a careful seat, moving the chair back from the desk. Some distance between the two of them probably couldn't hurt right now.

"I... saw an insula go up in flames. I was just walking by, but there were all those people, and the vigiles were trying to get everyone out. But some were still trapped in there. And the centurion ordered everyone out. He said they would let the building burn." He was still angry about that. People had been in danger, and the centurion acted like the did not care at all. "There were these vigiles... one of them went back in to save the people. He was in a bad shape already, all the smoke... But he went in. So..." Once again, he was ready to duck. "I went in with him to help." Duck. "... We got everyone out. Two women and their old father. Before the building burned. And listen, I know, it was insane, and reckless, and totally below my station, and all those other things, but listen, Gaius, I have never felt like I have done something important like that. Never. We saved three lives!"

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Gaius wryly noted how Lucius moved the seat away from the desk, setting it at an angle before sitting down to tell his story.

Well, whatever else Lucius was, his brother really did like helping people. It was one of his saving graces, and there were few enough of those. "You went into a burning building, with a man you didn't know, to save more people you don't know?" He found a reed pen to hand and threw it at his brother.

"You could have died, you.. you..." Apparently, Gaius did love his brother. Even if he was the cause of a great deal of the stress Gaius felt at times. "You just went in? Please tell me you didn't just go in, without thinking things through."

 

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"You went into a burning building, with a man you didn't know, to save more people you don't know?" 

Lucius ducked the pen. It was a half-hearted attempt at best. Gaius looked shocked and exasperated, but not abject furious. Also, his summary of the situation was mostly correct. When he put it like that, it did sound extremely dangerous. Not that Lucius had been thinking much at the time.

"You could have died, you.. you... You just went in? Please tell me you didn't just go in, without thinking things through."

"Well..." he wanted to lie, he really did, but Gaius knew him too well. "There was no time. People were going to die. But I did go in with one of the vigiles. And he gave me orders."

Yikes. He heard it the moment he'd said it.

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"He. Gave. You. Orders." He found another pen to throw at his brother. "You are a patrician. You would rather take orders from a vigilis you don't know than become the leader you should be by right of birth?"

Had he gone stark staring mad? Had Gaius gone stark staring mad to have allowed his brother so much licence this was where they'd ended up?

"I suppose I can thank the gods you at least have enough ambition to want to be vigiles tribune and not one of the rank and file vigiles. There's only one way it can happen, though."

If Gaius were to allow it to happen at all, which he didn't need to. Though Lucius had animated when telling his story, and not in the overly jocular way he usually did. He'd been serious, for once, and alive, and it was a side of his brother Gaius hadn't seen before. He wished Lucius could have felt that way about something more appropriate to his rank, but he wasn't going to make his brother happy by forcing him into something he just wasn't suited for.

 

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"He. Gave. You. Orders."

Lucius dutifully ducked away from the second projectile.

"You are a patrician. You would rather take orders from a vigilis you don't know than become the leader you should be by right of birth?"

"In my defense, he was the one with the expertise." Lucius noted, drinking the rest of his wine before the cup was knocked out of his hand. What he had done was asinine, but it would have been even worse if he had tried to give orders to the man who ran into burning houses for a living.

"I suppose I can thank the gods you at least have enough ambition to want to be vigiles tribune and not one of the rank and file vigiles. There's only one way it can happen, though."

"I actually want to be praefect." Lucius noted. He was dead serious about it too, which probably came as a shock since it was the first time in his life he actually voiced direct ambition. "And I know." He said, more quietly. He knew what Gaius was referring to. Up to this point, it had all been about family honor, and career plans. But the rest... it was a much more personal decision. "I can't do it as a patrician."

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Gaius sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, leaning back in his seat with his eyes closed. "What is the career path of a vigiles prefect, pray tell?"

Naturally, Gaius had no knowledge at all of what such a career path might look like, and why should he? His own path was clear, and his brother's would be equally clear if he was anything like Gaius and every other patrician in Rome.

Lucius would be giving up his rightful position as a member of gens Vipsania to do this. There was no way at all for a patrician to hold such a rank and do such a job - there were several such positions open to ambitious equites, but they were all barred to patricians.

Gaius had heard such ambitions voiced before and in a similar serious tone, but never by his brother, and never with reference to something only open to members of a lower social order. It was... interesting to hear it in Lucius' voice and Lucius' words.

 

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The fight had gone out of Gaius. He was done throwing things now, and apparently it took all his strength to wrap his head around the new idea of his brother dropping family duty for the sake of something very dangerous and not much appreciated.

"What is the career path of a vigiles prefect, pray tell?"

"Well, um..." Lucius was not prepared for technical questions this early in the conversation. He had asked around and figured out the basics, but it took him a moment to remember. "... I would probably start as a centurion, first. I... doubt they would trust someone with commanding a thousand men right away? Tribunes command entire cohorts, that's two regios of the city. So... I'd have to work my way up, I assume. And from tribune, to praefectus... that has to be appointed. By the emperor."

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He reached for his wine and downed half the contents of the cup before setting it back down. He supposed even equites had their dignity and didn't want to run around with the plebs and freedmen who made up the rank and file of the vigiles.

"You do know most people think very little of the vigiles and you're not likely to be greeted with rousing cheers and accolades everywhere you go?" he said. "You like people to like you and you're not going to get many people liking you if you're a vigiles officer. It isn't all going to be wonderful - they get some pretty grim things to do."

He sighed. "I will give you a week to consider. Do some research, find out what they do, what steps you will need to progress to where you want to be, and I will find someone to adopt you into their family so you can. Just remember - adoption is absolutely final, it can't be reversed."

Equite, or even a senatorial plebian family would suffice. Probably. If Lucius was serious and wasn't going to change his mind about it.

 

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They both needed to drink more wine. Like, a lot more. But Lucius had a strange feeling the worst part was over. In a way. And another hard thing still needed to be dealt with. He waited for Gaius to find his words.

"You do know most people think very little of the vigiles and you're not likely to be greeted with rousing cheers and accolades everywhere you go?"

"I don't..."

"You like people to like you and you're not going to get many people liking you if you're a vigiles officer. It isn't all going to be wonderful - they get some pretty grim things to do."

Gaius did know him better than anyone. Most of the time it was incredibly annoying, but Lucius was still grateful to have a brother like that. "... fair point."

"I will give you a week to consider. Do some research, find out what they do, what steps you will need to progress to where you want to be, and I will find someone to adopt you into their family so you can. Just remember - adoption is absolutely final, it can't be reversed."

Lucius looked at his brother silently, for a long time. Actually, it felt like a very long time. There was a lump in his throat, which was weird and annoying. But Gaius, in his own way, was actually taking care of him. Again. Not yelling, or trying to ban him from doing something that would have made any other patrician paterfamilias turn grey overnight. And, ironically, the price to pay for all this was to step out of the family.

"That's the only part I don't like." he said quietly. "I know I mostly exist to make your life harder, but you have always had my back. I know that. I like having you as a brother."

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"Well, despite everything and probably against good common sense, I like having you as a brother, too, though gods know you drive me mad," Gaius told him. "If this really is what you want and you do still want it in a week's time, I won't stop you, though probably everyone will expect me to. You will always have access here and if I can't be a brother to you, I can still act like one - you can come here any time you need to talk."

He wondered if Lucius would make a better client than dutiful brother. He would not require him to show up for the morning salutatio - that would be a step too far and it would doubtless interfere with whatever duties vigilies officers had.

 

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Lucius felt the lump in his throat again at his brother's words. Gaius was not obligated to say any of this, or even to entertain the whole insane idea he just had. And yet, he was willing to allow it, and even help in the process. Lucius realized he had not been giving his brother enough credit. And it made his heart well up. 

"Thank you." he nodded, with a genuine smile. "I promise I'll think about it. I don't want to run into this blind."

But he was going to run into it, more likely than not. Something was already in motion. It felt both terrifying and exhilarating; like there was suddenly purpose in his life. He had found a third way. He probably owed the gods some kind of sacrifice for this later. Lucius grinned at his brother.

"Can we have more wine?"

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Why Gaius was prepared to allow Lucius this, and without putting up much of a fight over it, he couldn't say. Maybe he was just tired of fighting his brother and realised that if he didn't allow it, they'd end up fighting a lot more. Maybe, when all was said and done, he just didn't want his brother to be miserable for the rest of his life, which he would be if he tried to fit into the traditional senatorial career path.

"I want - whether you tell me all your findings or not is immaterial, but I want you to really look at this, properly and carefully. Because if you start down this path and hate it, you'll be stuck in your new position in society. Adoption is a serious thing."

He could probably find someone who would be willing to take Lucius into their family, though what they would want in return was something Gaius did not want to think about right now.

He topped his cup up and held the jug out to his brother. It didn't matter whether Lucius merely wanted to drink to celebrate, Gaius needed the wine to be able to face this whole change. Right now, sobriety was extremely over-rated.

 

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Gaius refilled their glasses. They both needed the drink, although for different reasons.

"I want - whether you tell me all your findings or not is immaterial, but I want you to really look at this, properly and carefully. Because if you start down this path and hate it, you'll be stuck in your new position in society. Adoption is a serious thing."

"I know." Lucius nodded. Honestly, that was the part he had thought less about in the past days, while he was considering his new career option. But there was no way around it, except for him leaving the family and the name. And if he failed at working with the vigiles, he would still be of equestrian rank, for good. One more reason not to fail. "But imagine, what this city could be, if the vigiles did their job better. Houses catch fire all day every day, and the security in some of the districts is abysmal. And there are good people that can do the work. As long as the officers care to lead them."

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There was that enthusiasm again. Why he couldn't have had that when thinking about a political career - which would have served a similar purpose within the greater reach of the Empire - he didn't know.

"And how frustrated will you be if things within the vigiles don't change, if people are too possessive of their own territory at the detriment of others and perhaps even of the city as a whole?" he asked. He didn't want to dampen his brother's enthusiasm - well, yes, he did, but not in a mean way. He just wanted Lucius to face the realism of what he was considering, without the rosy view of things that he had now.

Why was he going along with this insane idea, that would see Lucius leave the family? He answered his own question: Because it was the first time he'd really seen Lucius this serious about anything, he couldn't continue the way he had been going and he was growing increasingly frustrated by the limitations imposed by his rank as a senator.

Anyway, equestrians could do almost as much as patricians. Gaius Maecenas had remained an equestrian, eschewing a career in the Senate, and was renowned as a patron of the arts and a close friend of the Emperor Augustus'. It was not a disgraceful position in society.

He could still feel the weight of censure that was no doubt to descend on his head for allowing his brother to pursue this particular course. Well, none of those judgemental people had to put up with Lucius' shenanigans over the past several months. Years.

"And what if you reach your desired goal and people still don't pay attention and make the changes you want to see?" he asked. Did Lucius have the drive necessary to deal with that?

 

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"And how frustrated will you be if things within the vigiles don't change, if people are too possessive of their own territory at the detriment of others and perhaps even of the city as a whole?"

"Very." Lucius admitted, wrinkling his nose. His brother knew him, and knew that he would not stand by if he encountered something that personally annoyed his sense of justice. And yes, there was very little chance anyone, let alone himself, could reform the entire system of the vigiles all over the city. Even with the best intentions. Lucius was enthusiastic, but not naive. Not that he liked being called out on it.

"And what if you reach your desired goal and people still don't pay attention and make the changes you want to see?" 

"Well, in that case..." he trailed off, considering it for a moment. Was he rushing into this with hopes too high? "... in that case, there will still be individual people we save. Criminals we get off the streets. Fires we put out. People to help. Maybe... that would be enough for a good day's work."

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