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November, 76AD

Once Lucius was on duty, he had no time thinking about whether he had made the right choice or not. This was it. He had joined the vigiles. Officially he was still a recruit, one that got a whole lot of suspicious and baffled looks both from above and from his comrades. But he was doing something to help people, to help the city - something new and exciting.

And extremely dirty.

It was late in the evening now, the twilight right after sunset, and his shift was just starting. They had already put out a smaller insula fire on the Esquiline. Lucius and some of the other recruits were tasked with clearing up the buckets on the street outside the building, as well as carrying out the burned bits that threatened to catch again or collapse, and then clearing those out of the way too. People were still standing around; some lived in the insula and were worried about getting back into their homes, and others were just standing around being disaster tourists.

"Clear the way!" Lucius raised his voice. "Residents of the insula only. Everyone else, shoo! Carts will be coming soon and the street needs to be clear. Either grab a broom, or move!" He was wearing the uniform of the rank and file vigiles, but it was already covered in dirt and soot. The cloth he used to cover his nose and mouth was pulled down around his neck, and he was sporting a burn on his arm. And he was ridiculously happy about all of it.

A litter came into view, heading for the wealthier houses up the Esquiline. The men carrying it hesitated as they came upon the slowly dissipating crowd and the debris on the street. Lucius walked out of the insula with some charred remains of a bed frame, and frowned.

"You are going to have to take another route." he told the men carrying the litter of some wealthy woman or man (he couldn't see from the curtains). "We are still cleaning up over here."

@Sara

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"And what are you cleaning up?" Ovinia asked, drawing back the curtain with a languidly swept hand. She could smell the smoke and remnants of fire from within her litter, but thought she'd pose the question to him nonetheless. It didn't even really register with surprise, not for more than a moment, when she heard his voice instruct her litter bearers. She assumed that this was Lucius' new hobby or venture. He'd tried farming, wine production, selling at the market, singing - why should cleaning up after yet another city fire be any different? 

She was on her way home from a party - her slaves dutifully walking behind her. Her father and brothers had opted to stay, and couldn't be convinced to escort her - even after she'd explained what had happened those weeks prior with the dreadful man and the knife - but they had, in their wisdom, sent for the vibrantly coloured litter and burly litter bearers to see her safely to their domus. It should only have been a short trip, and judging by the updates her slave - running along next to the litter - passed through the curtains, they were almost home. Or would have been, had Lucius not stopped them. 

"I'm tired and I'm going home," She said with an eye roll as she still held the curtain aside, "I'm not in the mood for your newest hobby getting in my way Lucius Vipsanius. Clear the road." 

 

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"And what are you cleaning up?" 

The curtain was swept aside, revealing Ovinia in all her patrician boredom. Lucius blinked, surprised. What were the chances? He was not sure she had heard about his new career yet, but she did not seem at all surprised to see him, dressed as the vigiles.

"Insula fire" he answered, for lack of a better idea.

"I'm tired and I'm going home. I'm not in the mood for your newest hobby getting in my way Lucius Vipsanius. Clear the road." 

He would have, if she had asked nicely.

"It's not a hobby, it's a job. Comes with a new name and everything." he smirked at her. "And you need to wait like everyone else until you can get through. We need to make sure this building is still safe for the people who live here."

@Sara

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Surprise crossed her face and settled on it. She blinked. And then blinked again. "What?" 

She didn't believe him, or rather she did believe him for a millisecond of dread before it passed and she assumed the comfortable familiarity of thinking this was one of Lucius' jokes or pranks. He had established - through several of their chance meetings - a fondness for teasing her, and she assumed this was no different. She rolled her eyes dramatically and shifted in her seat, not willing to step out onto the dirty street for a joke. 

"And what might your new name be?" She inquired, going along with the prank. "The vigiles uniform suits  you, by the way." 

 

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Maybe she was a little surprised. So, she had not heard yet. If she had, she would be mercilessly making fun of him by now. Or passing by without a second glance.

"And what might your new name be? The vigiles uniform suits  you, by the way." 

"Well, that... depends on which family agrees to adopt me. My brother is working on it." Lucius noted. He realized a moment later that he needed to add some explanation to that statement. "Can't be an officer in the vigiles as a patrician. Equites only. Right now, I'm just... learning the ropes."

@Sara

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Reality hit her like the ton of bricks threatening to fall from the insula above them. Her face levelled off, dropping the smirk of amusement to one of surprise mixed with...horror. He was serious? This wasn't a joke? She had to ask; "You're not joking?" She blinked.

And then she called out. "Put me down." The men holding up her litter dutifully did, setting her down gently before her slave stepped to the curtains to offer a hand to help her out. She didn't take it, and instead pushed herself up and out of the box by herself until she was standing in front of him wrapped in all of her finery. She didn't realise how inappropriate it was, to be dressed to the nines surrounded by people that had lost everything until a wolf whistle from a man in the crowd sounded.

"You're serious?" She didn't know why she was getting so irate. Maybe it was because nobody hold told her, but that didn't explain why she was so invested or even needed to be told about a man she'd only met a handful of times. "This...this is your life now?" 

 

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"You're not joking?" 

"Not this time, princess." He was sort of amused by the look on her face. She looked... he was not sure what she looked like, but the next minute she was out of the litter, looking down at him as much as she could while being smaller. And dressed for some very, very fancy party.

Someone whistled. Lucius' head snapped in their direction with a glare. "Get lost." He was already learning that the vigiles were not generally respected that much, but the glare did the trick.

"You're serious? This...this is your life now?" 

"Well, hopefully" he grinned, turning back to her. "Don't worry, I'm not going to bring shame on Gaius or his family. Hence, the adoption. He offered. He realized this is a much better career for me than the cursus ever could be."

"Lucius, where did you fuck off t..." another one of the vigiles called, poking a soot-covered head out the door, but when he saw Lucius talking to a finely dressed lady, he shut up. Someone needed to handle the patricians when they were inconvenienced by people's houses burning.

@Sara

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"His family?" She seethed with eyes flaming, "You mean your family?" She didn't know - not at that moment - why she was so irrationally angry but she couldn't calm herself down and his stupid, lazy grin wasn't helping her feel more relaxed. "A family you've chosen to abandon so you can what? Play dress up?" She indicated at his uniform. "How could you do this to him?" She liked Gaius. She'd seen him a handful of times now and things were progressing to a stage where a decision would need to be made one way or the other about an engagement. Ovinia wasn't sure which way she leant on the matter. 

Another young man piped up, swearing and Ovinia shot him a glare. He trailed off but she still added, for good measure; "We're having a conversation." in a tone that suggested Lucius wasn't going to be free anytime soon. There were plenty of onlookers here, but most seemed focused on the smouldering building rather than this little argument, which she'd be grateful for later. 

"I can't believe..." She let out a melodic little laugh, "I can't believe you." She shook her head, "So selfish." she added the latter quieter, meant just for her. 

 

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Lucius was honestly taken aback by Ovinia's reaction. For a moment, he thought she was going to slap him, in the middle of the street for everyone to see. What was her...?

"His family? You mean your family? A family you've chosen to abandon so you can what? Play dress up? How could you do this to him?" 

"What? The..."

The other guy went back into the building, muttering something. People's attention was now split between the insula, and the patrician woman having it out with one of the vigiles.

"I can't believe... I can't believe you. So selfish." 

"Wow, you are taking this way worse than Gaius" Lucius held up his hands. It didn't help they were covered in dirt. "I didn't abandon anyone. We are still on good terms. I just get to have a career that actually helps people right here in the city."

@Sara

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"Family should be more important than career." She glared at him.

 "And helping how?" She scoffed, folding her her arms across her waist defensively. "All the vigiles do is sit and gawk as buildings burn,  or better yet, they start them on fire themselves. Not to mention they're all in the pay of the Collegia." She shook her head. Her father had always warned her about going to them for help if she ever needed; their reputation was infamous. What was it that he said? That 'if the thief doesn't take your money or your modesty, then the vigiles would do the honours after'. She wrinkled her nose at the thought of Lucius in league with them. 

Self-consciously realising she had perhaps been a bit more overzealous than anticipated in her reaction (she was surprised and...she never dealt well with surprises) she cleared her throat. "Well." She gave him a smug, self-satisfied little smile. "I'd better let you get back to your important work, Lucius. I would say I'd see you around but...I suppose not anymore." Not at parties or events or anywhere she was likely to be nowadays. Equites were often invited, but not those that chose to voluntarily demote themselves. Did he have no shame?

 

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"Family should be more important than career." 

"Tell that to the family that needs me to have a career" Lucius shot back, folding his arms. He had been pestered all his adult life about starting the cursus, or becoming a lawyer. At least now he was doing something.

 "And helping how? All the vigiles do is sit and gawk as buildings burn,  or better yet, they start them on fire themselves. Not to mention they're all in the pay of the Collegia."

"Do I look like I'm gawking?" he gestured at the building. They had just put out the fire, they were cleaning up, and damn he had put in the work even though he was not even officially a member of the vigiles yet. He even had the burns to prove it. "Look, it's not perfect, but gotta start somewhere." And hopefully make things better from there.

"Well. I'd better let you get back to your important work, Lucius. I would say I'd see you around but...I suppose not anymore."

"I'll let you get back to your... partying." he shot back "I'll see you when I visit Gaius."

@Sara

 

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"You look like I used to, when I played make believe." She fired back with an irritated huff and a derisive glance up and down his frame. She should have been pleased for him; that he'd settled on a path but she couldn't help but feel aggrieved; like he was throwing something away that he should be so grateful to have in the first place. There was a sense of personal loss as well, but she didn't understand and couldn't think on that. 

"I was going home. Am going home." She rolled her eyes, "And don't." She shot him a little glare, "Marriage is nothing to make fun of - nor is your brother, not that I suspect you to understand that since you've just put any chances of a match for yourself up in smoke with that insula." She gestured to the smouldering building behind him. "And nothing is confirmed." She mumbled to herself, tossing her hair over her shoulder, "With Gaius. So in which case, I suspect this is the last time you'll have the pleasure of my company." 

There was that feeling of loss again, and she grimaced.

 

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He was still not sure what her problem was with all of this. Did she despise the vigiles? Possibly. Was she worried this would blow back on Gaius' reputation and her chances at a good marriage? Maybe. Was she jealous that he got to pick his own path? Maybe, Did she just generally hate him for no reason? Also possible.

"I was going home. Am going home. And don't. Marriage is nothing to make fun of - nor is your brother, not that I suspect you to understand that since you've just put any chances of a match for yourself up in smoke with that insula."

Wait, when did his chances get into the picture?

"And nothing is confirmed. With Gaius. So in which case, I suspect this is the last time you'll have the pleasure of my company." 

Lucius watched her quietly for long moments. Was she... not marrying Gaius? Why not? He was a decent man, and still a good match. He did not like the idea that she would drop the engagement plans because... what? But deep down, he also did not like the idea of seeing her for the last time.

"Well, that would be a pity." he said finally. Pity if she did not marry Gaius, but even more so if they never met again. "Gaius is a good man."

@Sara

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"Being a good man has nothing to do with it." She huffed, exasperated. "Although evidently he's as foolish as he is good if he's let you do this to yourself." She shot him a glare which could have been filled with daggers. 

"It's not up to me anyway." She shrugged, folding her arms over her chest, puffing it out as if to try and assert some authority - completely counter to what she was actually saying, "My father's view matters more and I wonder if he'll be quite as delighted to offer me up to a man whose brother voluntarily demoted himself. I suspect not." that was cruel. She doubted her father would care that much but Ovinia cared, and Ovinia had been on the fence anyway. She liked Gaius, she did, but there was something...missing.

 

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"Being a good man has nothing to do with it. Although evidently he's as foolish as he is good if he's let you do this to yourself." 

Lucius sighed, rolling his eyes as Ovinia pulled herself up, trying to add rank and class to what she lacked in height difference. People were no doubt trying to guess by now what she had to talk about with a recruit.

"It's not up to me anyway. My father's view matters more and I wonder if he'll be quite as delighted to offer me up to a man whose brother voluntarily demoted himself. I suspect not." 

Lucius winced. That was a shot that hit the mark. He cared for few things in terms of society and propriety, but he never wanted his actions to get in the way of Gaius' happiness. Whether that was with Ovinia or not. Surely, Gaius would have told him if that was the case, right?...

"I'm joining the equites, not the damn Britons" he frowned. "You'd think patricians would be happy that someone cares about keeping this city safe."

@Sara

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"You're not just joining the equites," She snapped, "You're disowning your family because you think you can't do it - when you're wrong, might I add, and because you want to play a hero." she shook her head. 

"If you wanted to keep the city safe you would have joined the campaigns against the Britons, or whomever else we're supposed to be fighting." She was getting frustrated and irate and she exhaled sharply through her nose, shooting him a dangerous glare; "Do you want a pat on the back and a 'well done Lucius' for taking the job some actual equite has been working to do? Or would you rather we just brush over that? Like we brush over the fact that you act as if we patricians are so dull and dreary and beneath you when we're not the ones living in a daydream. People...don't get to do whatever the hell they want. Well," she chuckled, "That's not true. You do, don't you?" 

She was making a scene but she didn't care. She was angry and jealous and embarrassed and filled with sorrow. She didn't know why she felt any of it, but she did. She was nineteen and much as she tried to act older; the mature young woman, she was just a teenager - entitled and spoiled and...scared underneath it.

 

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"You're not just joining the equites. You're disowning your family because you think you can't do it - when you're wrong, might I add, and because you want to play a hero." 

She was properly angry now. At him. For some reason. Lucius was still not sure why he was catching the brunt of Ovinia's frustration, or how he was suddenly the one to blame for their engagement not happening at all. He knew he was not playing hero. He was doing something unheard of, for sure, but he was not doing it for the praise and glory.

"If you wanted to keep the city safe you would have joined the campaigns against the Britons, or whomever else we're supposed to be fighting."

"That's not even remotely..."

"Do you want a pat on the back and a 'well done Lucius' for taking the job some actual equite has been working to do? Or would you rather we just brush over that? Like we brush over the fact that you act as if we patricians are so dull and dreary and beneath you when we're not the ones living in a daydream. People...don't get to do whatever the hell they want. Well. That's not true. You do, don't you?" 

"Well it's not my fault you don't!" he snapped back. Oops. Lucius let out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. This was becoming a scene, and that was not good at all. "I don't expect you to understand. But I also can't play along and pretend to care about politics. Gaius can disown me publicly for all I care. We put out an actual fire today. I'll take that over you opinion, Ovinia Camilla. No offense."

 

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She flinched as he snapped back; not out of fear, but because very few people who faced her wrath, actually ever retorted. It hurt as well. It's not my fault you don't get to do what she liked, translated in her mind to 'I don't care that you don't'. He didn't care about anybody but himself, from where she was standing; not his family or their name, not the people he could have helped in the legions, and certainly not her. Not that she really knew why he should care about her. But it stung that he didn't, which was...confusing. It was only confirmed when he verbally said it. I'll take that over your opinion, Ovinia Camilla.

"None taken." She replied in an even tone - taking on the cold, detached manner she'd seen a hundred matrons wear. She was done being angry. He'd made his position patently clear. Like a child who had been told off; frustration melted to sadness. "I was beginning to like you, Lucius." She said with a shrug and then flicked her eyes up to his face. "That was my mistake." She gave him the ghost of a real, sad smile before she wiped it from her face and turned to her waiting slave - standing awkwardly by the litter. She let out a breath; "Take me home. I'm finished here." 

 

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He knew he had gone too far. In truth, they both had. Especially for people who barely had anything to do with each other to begin with.

"I was beginning to like you, Lucius."

Why did that cause a twisting feeling inside him? She was pouting like a child. And of course she didn't like him. He was the annoying little brother of the man she was supposed to marry. And he had already gotten her into way too much trouble. And yet.

"That was my mistake. Take me home. I'm finished here." 

"You still have to wait till we clean up" Lucius grumbled, turning back to the building. Somehow, he was suddenly not feeling all excited about the day. But at least there was some charred stuff inside he had to break up anyway.

@Sara

 

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Two things Titus didn't expect when he came for his shift today was to see a full blown argument between some fancily dressed, scowling noble girl and a vigiles recruit. Nor did he expect the vigiles recruit to be a fancy noble himself. Titus had to blink once, twice and again as he watched the unfolding drama with the rest of the citizens and slaves on the street. 

Frowning as the girl snatched back the curtains and climbed back into her litter, and the man stalked back into the smouldering insula, Titus smothered a groan with his hands. He liked to do his work, help his people, lead his peers and go home to his brother. He did not like drama, and he did not like when it was brought to his doorstep. Rolling his shoulders back, he followed Lucius' footsteps into the building, snatching up a fire stick from outside. 

"Can't keep yourself away?" He called out into the dim stairway that led upstairs. "What are you doing here?" 

 

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"Can't keep yourself away?"

Lucius' head was still reeling from the fight, and Ovinia's unexplained anger, and the strange feelings they all stirred up in him. He wanted to break things, and also wanted to lose himself in his new job. He cursed under his breath and headed upstairs, until the familiar voice jolted him out of his fuming.

Titus.

"What are you doing here?" 

"Working." it came out more rude than he'd intended. He turned to look at the young man who had been the agent of the gods in bringing him here. He deserved better. "Sorry. Salve, Titus. It seems like we are working on the same team today?"

@Sara

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Working. Titus arched a brow and tilted his head to the side. He didn't take abuse or snapping from his peers, nor his betters. "Oh really?" He was cut off from his reprimand as the man turned around and he saw the sigh in his shoulders and his face. 

"No, you're not." He shook his head and depositing the firestick down on the floor, he moved to lean against the doorframe, arms folded over his chest. "Your not a vigile. If the centurion catches you, you're dead meat. So give me that-" He held out his hand for the bucket the man was holding, "And get out before you injure yourself." 

 

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"No, you're not."

With the fight he had just had with Ovinia, Lucius was not really in the mood for another one. And yet, Titus did not want to let it go, and he deserved an explanation for Lucius dropping into his life and his work like that. He put the fire pole down too, facing the other man.

"Your not a vigile. If the centurion catches you, you're dead meat. So give me that- And get out before you injure yourself." 

"I'll try not to injure myself. But I am a vigile." he sighed "A recruit, anyway. Eventually, I'll be a centurion... but I wanted to work my way up."

@Sara

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"What?" He deadpanned, with a frown so deep he would be surprised if he didn't have lines on his forehead hours later. 

Wasn't this kid rich? And being forced onto some...curse thing? He decided, of his own volition, to throw all that in the garbage pile to...clean up burnt bits of furniture and save grumpy old plebs from infernos? He was too surprised to take any pleasure in the fact the man was a kindred spirit. Titus liked his job immensely, but had never met somebody who enjoyed it in equal measure. Go figure it would be a rich boy playing freedman for the day. 

"You doing  this to impress your woman?" He quipped with a hint of a smirk on his lips, "She didn't look very impressed." Folding his arms back over his chest he shrugged, "Men like you can buy your way to Tribune straight away, you realise? No need for any of this." He gestured to the scorched room around them. 

 

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Titus went from snarky to shocked, as the truth sank in. Lucius was actually a recruit, as strange as it sounded. But if he thought this was going to improve the mood between them, he was sorely mistaken.

"You doing this to impress your woman? She didn't look very impressed."

"Woman?... Ovinia?" he blinked; it took him a moment to realize whom Titus was talking about. Also, how would any of this impress a woman? It did the exact opposite...

"Men like you can buy your way to Tribune straight away, you realise? No need for any of this." 

"Alright, first off, I hate politics, and I like helping people, so here I am. And second, she is not my... woman. She is my brother's... intended."

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