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(End of the year, 76AD, after Assemble)

Narcissus was still damn ugly. Lucius stood, looking at the paintings, remembering the day a mere half a year earlier, when he'd first met Ovinia Camilla at the portico. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Would he have done anything differently, if he'd known...? Would he do anything different now?

Ovinia had sent word that she was going for a walk. Probably under serious supervision, but her father wanted to keep up appearances. She would come here, because it was her usual place to walk, and today was a nice, mild winter day. Lucius was not wearing his uniform this time, just a plain tunica and a cloak, wandeling along the painting of the portico. Their meeting was not actually sanctioned by anyone. But he had news for her, she deserved to know. And he wanted to see her, see how she was holding up. It was still eating away at him that he could not comfort her after the attack.

@Sara

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Ovinia already hated this. It was her first time outside since it happened, which felt like years ago but had only been a week - if that. Her wounds were healing nicely, according to the medicus, although she felt the discomfort of the stitches in her hip as she walked, bundled up like a lamb before shearing. She'd claim it was for the cold, if anybody pressed her, but the chiton and palla drawn up over her hair and then a heavy, lined cloak on top of it was more to make herself the least enticing thing to look at possible. Her fingers clutched the cloak even tighter about herself as the crowds grew heavier on the walk through the gates that led to the portico. 

The argument, the day prior, with her father had been bruising. Not physically, of course, but she felt weighted down with the judgement in his eyes and the look of expectation on his face. She couldn't tell if the great Praetor Camillus blamed her for her misfortune, or was just frustrated that he could not fix it. Either way, his determination that they had to act like normal meant that she'd been told she should take her usual walk up at the Portico. It would be curious if she didn't. She was, apparently, also to attend Nessenia's domus that evening for cena. The thought made her stomach flip and an anxious, drawn expression to settle on her pale face. Her father hadn't listened when she'd said she didn't feel up to it. It was her duty, he'd been very clear. 

At least she was not alone anymore. As well as one of her female attendants, she was now trailed by an enormous, hulking man who had been tasked with following her every move, ten paces behind, to keep an eye. He spoke precious little, but despite initial reticence, she found the slave's company reassuring. No madman with a knife was going to get through him. Nor were they going to get through the man she was meeting. She felt herself exhale in relief as she saw Lucius, glancing at the paintings. She wanted to smile when she realised what he was looking at, but couldn't quite summon one. They were on awkward footing, she knew that, but it was made worse by her attendants. She glanced over her shoulder and offered a nod at the two slaves. The girl with her had been the one to hold back the centurion and she seemed to get the message. Her great big hulking man, however, didn't. "I know this man - he is the one who came to visit me after..." She cleared her throat, "With his centurion. He's with the vigiles." The man gave a little shrug and Ovinia, frustration rising, snapped; "You can stay, but stay thirty paces behind me." the man arched a brow, "Dominus said to stay ten..." Ovinia huffed, "Well your dominus isn't here, but your domina is!" The man recoiled a little and glanced at the slave girl for reassurance who nodded at him. Satisfied - for now at least, he let Ovinia walk ahead to Lucius. She gave him a wary, tiny smile. "Has your opinion on Narcissus changed much on second viewing?" 

 

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Ovinia, of course, had not come alone. She would probably never be alone in public again. Lucius remembered Saturnalia, but knew that had been a one time thing. Patrician girls like her, they did not have the luxury of wandering the city like he did. Still he smiled as she joined him at the portico, leaving her attendants a few paces behind. Enough so they could not overhear their words.

"Has your opinion on Narcissus changed much on second viewing?" 

"I still think he is ugly. But I am starting to feel for Hippomenes." Chasing a girl out of his league. He looked her over, searching for signs, but she was all bundled up. Probably for a good reason. "How are you feeling?"

@Sara

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She understood his meaning and despite herself, her lips quirked in slight amusement. He'd be the best read Vigiles if nothing else, with his education and his wit. She felt his eyes on her as she studied the wall paintings in front of her, and self consciously wrapped the cloak tighter, lips pursing. She had never really minded being looked at before, but now it felt desperately uncomfortable. 

"Fine." She bluffed. She didn't feel fine; the wounds still smarted when she moved wrong, and the nightmares were worse than they had been immediately following everything. The vanity she suffered with all her life was likewise bruised at the thought of the ugly scars she'd wear for the rest of her life. Her father was still musing over what lie he could concoct to explain them. She was not fine, and didn't look it. For somebody with Hispanian blood she looked pale and tired, although the fine clothes went someway to offset it, keen observers would see she wasn't herself. 

"I didn't know if you'd gotten my note." She said as she drifted over to look at the next panel. This was odd; as if she was playing out a scene from an ancient history. "or if you'd be working." She shook her head, vaguely amused by the thought of a patrician working"How is work?" She was trying to keep the conversation light, but that question had a double meaning. 

None of this was helped, of course, by just how bloody awkward she was feeling standing a polite distance away from a man that had kissed her like she'd never experienced before. But that, somehow, felt like a lifetime ago.

 

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"Fine." 

She was not. And no one expected her to be. Well... maybe her father. But he could go fuck himself if he did. They moved along slowly, as if they were just two casual acquaintances taking a walk, admiring art. All the while trying to hide the fact that he desperately wanted to hold her.

"I didn't know if you'd gotten my note. or if you'd be working. How is work?" 

"Dirty and exhausting" he smirked at her. In another time, she would have made fun of him. "But... I do have some news for you. Turns out, the vigiles are good for something." He hesitated. He was not sure if she wanted to hear, or talk about this at all. He glanced over at her again. "We don't have to talk about this if you don't want to."

@Sara

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She glanced sideways at him as he said he had news and stilled her fingers, bunching them into her cloak so they wouldn't shake. If it was serious news, would the buffoonish centurion not have come back to the Domus? Unless...they'd taken matters into their own hands. Which she wouldn't have been averse to - she only wanted to watch him suffer for what he'd done. 

"No," She tried to project a little bit of strength and gave him a wan smile, "I want to. I think the only thing that will make me feel better is knowing it is..." She winced, trying to find the right words, "Being dealt with." That was a diplomatic way of putting it, wasn't it? 

"So?" She prompted.

 

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He could see her steeling herself for the news. Brave little Ovinia. He just hoped things would work out the way she needed them to. And that he'd get to be the one to tell her.

"Well... I went and found Alexius. And then we went to find Jason. And his cousin, who is a charioteer... and this woman named Didia Alexius knows. They... have been attacked too. And we all got together, and put together what we know." It sounded ridiculous, lined up like that. But it really had been a determined gathering of people if nothing else. And they had made progress. "We think... we don't know who he is yet, but we know what he is. We think he works as a barber. The details fit." And if they were wrong, they could just circle back. "We are looking for him... we have help. We'll find him." He glanced over at her again, waiting for her reaction.

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Ovinia listened, steeling herself and moving on to stare mindlessly at the next painting to try and distract herself. When he was finished, she felt his eyes on her and she let out a breath, exhaling, shoulders falling slightly and a relieved expression filtering onto her face. They had made progress. 

"It fits." She nodded with a deep swallow and a sigh. She still didn't look at Lucius. "And...I don't know if it makes it better or worse that he's done this to so many people, Jason only mentioned his cousin." She bit the inside of her cheek and shook her head, "Were they alright? The others that he...?" She finally glanced to him, dark eyes filled with curiosity and fear. That he'd done this before, more than once, was startling but the fact that he had gotten away with it was moreso. "I presume these others are not patricians..." She said by way of an explanation as to how he'd carried on undetected. Nobody cared about slaves and plebs and freedmen being slashed in the streets. 

She glanced round to see her slaves, in the distance. It seemed her girl was engaging the man in conversation and for once, he wasn't looking at her. She took the opportunity to release her death grip on her cloak and lightly brush Lucius' hand. She didn't hold it, but the contact was enough to calm her. "You've made progress. I should have had more faith in you." she offered, as a small joke - her first in a week.

 

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He watched her as she processed the news. Progress had been made, but the story unfolding was more bleak than they could have imagined.

"It fits. And...I don't know if it makes it better or worse that he's done this to so many people, Jason only mentioned his cousin. Were they alright? The others that he...?" 

Lucius swallowed. He wanted to lie. He wanted to shield her, but eventually she would find out anyway. Those victims were going to take her place if this was brought to trial. Because she could not be mentioned.

"Not all of them." he said quietly, remembering the girl that the charioteer had lost.

"I presume these others are not patricians..." 

"No." he shook his head. She was clever, she knew what that meant. Why no one had raised the alarm before. She glanced back and so did he. The slave girl was doing her best to give them a moment of privacy. Ovinia's hand brushed his, and he felt a jolt go up his arm.

"You've made progress. I should have had more faith in you."

He smiled a little at her. "I told you I'd be good at this job."

They stood for a moment, but standing and staring at each other would soon be suspicious. Not to mention it hurt him to just look at her. So he started walking again, slowly. "How are your wounds? Is the medicus taking care of them properly?"

@Sara

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Ovinia felt her breath catch and she stared sidelong at him, with a hint of panic in her features and deep in her eyes. "People have died?" She felt close, that day. If he had not pulled her back from the wall she would have smothered, she knew that. Or if the knife had gone in any deeper...she felt the chill in her bones and having touched his hand, removed it to wrap her arms around her waist protectively in a hug.

"You can be smug another day." She offered with the hint of a smile, relieved that the conversation was flowing back towards normality, back towards the banter and barbs that felt familiar. She'd missed normality - everybody, save her father, was walking on egg shells around her at the domus and he was leaning too much the other way - pressuring her to go out, to act normal, to be normal. It was easier said than done though without somebody to help. Which Lucius was. "Fine," She replied stiffly, "He says the stitches can come out next week, and leave their ugly little scars." She shook her head and sighed, moving with him to the next panel, her eyes were unseeing as she took in the colours. She couldn't have even described what she was looking at. 

"Can we talk of something else?" She asked, body stiff. She didn't want to think about the stitches or the wounds or the scars. She could talk about what was happening to the man that had done it, but not what it had done to her. "How are the barracks?" She blurted out, desperate for another conversation topic.

 

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"People have died?" 

Lucius nodded. One, they knew of. But there were probably others. It hurt to see the look on Ovinia's face, realizing she was lucky. And that others weren't.

They walked on along the paintings. He wondered how much her wounds still hurt. Should she even be out here, walking?

"Fine. He says the stitches can come out next week, and leave their ugly little scars." 

He winced. She would have scars, and he knew it would be a constant reminder of what had happened to her. Even though they were hidden by her clothes... someone would see them, eventually. And then she'd need to explain. He wanted to tell her she was beautiful. But it was not the time. "Scars fade. They won't always be that bad." he added quietly. But it seemed like she wanted to change the topic.

"Can we talk of something else? How are the barracks?" 

"All fun and games" he smiled a little. "I even made a friend. I have almost convinced him by now that I'm not a rich boy playing vigiles."

@Sara

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She glanced sideways at him, a look of resignation on her face. They'd turn from ugly pink to silvery white, but they would still be there. In places she should never have been touched until she was married, at least for the one on her hip. "They'll still be there." She countered, and knew there was no arguing with that. They would be, and she'd have to live with them. The thought was almost intolerable.

"A friend?" She arched a brow and let out a deep breath, trying to reclaim some of her personality lost in the last week. "That's exactly what you are," She tutted with a shake of her head, but there was no heat in her words and instead the faintest smile on her lips. "Although you did a good job with my kitchen, my father has started to rebuild it but the pleb he's hired said the damage isn't nearly as bad as it could have been." She managed an eye roll, and felt herself warm slightly at the memory. It had been catastrophic at the time but the night had ended...better. She felt heat on her cheeks. This was better; this was awkward, but this was better. 

"I'm sorry about him," She gestured over her shoulder to the man who was now staring straight ahead at her and Lucius, "My father insisted." 

 

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"A friend? That's exactly what you are,"

Lucius rolled his eyes and managed a smile. He was still a recruit, waiting to be appointed to a higher rank. Until then, no one was likely to take him seriously. But at least no one was questioning much what he was up to, either.

"Although you did a good job with my kitchen, my father has started to rebuild it but the pleb he's hired said the damage isn't nearly as bad as it could have been." 

"That's good news" Lucius nodded. They had managed to put the fire out fast. At least there was a small sign that the vigiles did know what they were doing. "Next time, ask for some cooking tips." He added with a small smile. Glancing over their shoulder, they could see the bodyguard was glaring at them.

"I'm sorry about him. My father insisted." 

"No, it's good." he shook his head. "He will keep you safe. No one wants to pick a fight with... all that." They walked on, along the colorful walls, towards the corner of the portico. "I do wish we could be alone." he added, more quietly.

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She tutted and managed an amused huff, feeling more like herself. It was miraculous, really, how some simple teasing warmed her. "I won't be doing it next year, I'll leave it  to Viria." her sister-in-law. It did not occur to Ovinia that by next year she could be married and running a new household, and it was fortunate that she didn't realise it, lest her mood start to sour again.

"My father says he'll allow Alexius to attend events with me, but I need somebody day to day." She should have been offended by the insinuation she couldn't handle herself, but it was a fair enough assertion. She couldn't. His low voice and quiet words made her blink though and she glanced up at him, the heat of her cheeks increasing. "We should have gone to a temple," She surmised with a small smile, "I could have asked the slaves to wait outside." Here it was more difficult; her man wasn't going to take no for an answer, but they were far enough away now that as Lucius and she rounded the corner, they were out of side. If she knew her slave girl, she'd keep the man distracted for a moment so he wouldn't quicken his pace. 

She moved a hand down to Lucius' and felt something run the length of her spine before she tugged him into a recess. It was in public still, so not scandalous, but few paid any attention. Not that there were many people here anyway, on this grey, cold, dreary day. She didn't know what possessed her - maybe it was simply the need for something that she hadn't been able to have since the attack but she folded her arms around his waist in a hug. Nobody had hugged her since, not even her mother. 

 

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Next Saturnalia seemed like an endless ocean of time away. So many things could happen until then. Hopefully, the killer would be caught and dealt with. Ovinia's wounds would heal... would she be married? Lucius did not want to think about that.

"My father says he'll allow Alexius to attend events with me, but I need somebody day to day."

"Good. Alexius will make sure you are safe too." He clearly cared for Ovinia's safety. He seemed like a good person, and he was quick on his feet. Lucius was glad he was part of the mission to find the killer.

He could see her blush at his next words. It was hard, pretending to be acquaintances in public. She was hurt, she was afraid... Lucius wanted to be able to touch her. Words could only go so far.

"We should have gone to a temple. I could have asked the slaves to wait outside."

"Next time" he said with a small smile. For a moment, he had been worried that she would just tell him off for even thinking such things. But then they turned a corner, out of sight for a few moments. Lucius glanced around as she pulled him to a more secluded spot. Not many people were around, and none in their line of sight.

Moments.

He wrapped his arms around her immediately, at the same time she did the same. He made sure to avoid the injury on her back, but held her close in a tight embrace, burying his face in her shoulder. A deep sigh escaped him. He had been waiting to do this since the day at he domus. Words could wait.

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She sank into the hug, fingers feebly clutching at his cloak and the tunica underneath, bunching the fabric as she did so. She felt like a lead weight in his arms, but found the sensation so soothing it was indescribable. She choked, upset and clutched him tighter, desperate not to let go even though she knew she had to. "Thank you." She said in a weak voice, shaking her head against his chest as she pulled back. She moved one of her hands to her eyes to wipe away tears but the other moved down to grip his hand.   Familiarity like this, even a week and a half ago, would have been absolutely unheard of for her. But it wasn't just that it was him and the memory of their kisses sat heavy on her heart, it was comfort. Nobody had given it to her, and she so desperately needed it. For all of her bravado, she was still just a nineteen year old girl which nobody had held.

She squeezed his hand and finally pulled away, flexing her fingers by her side. Her slaves would be here soon; in moments and they couldn't see her like this. She wanted desperately to be back in his arms, as sad as it sounded, but she knew what would happen if she did and she was seen. She'd taken so many risks already. It didn't make it any easier though. With a sharp exhale she took a seat on one of the marble benches in the recess, wrapping the cloak tighter around herself. Her voice was small when she spoke and she felt a rush of awkwardness again, as if shed been too familiar. This was new to her - liking somebody and she felt doubt sew a seed; what if he was just being polite? What if he was just doing his job"I...tell me, what is going to happen next?" She dropped the palla from her hair - wrapped up in all her layers she was surprisingly warm - "With the barber?" 

 

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They held each other as long as they dared. He could feel her clinging to him, and he wished he could hold her for longer, hold her until she relaxed and felt safe in his arms. The scent of her hair filled his nose and brought back memories, but this was different... something deeper, more protective. She pulled back, way too soon, and held his hand for a moment.

"Thank you." 

"I'm sorry I could not do this sooner." he sighed, eyes still on her. Somebody needed to. Somebody should have. He wanted to be that person.

She took a seat on the bench and he did too, keeping a polite distance. It caused a physical pain in his chest to let go of her, but the slaves would be catching up to them now, probably panicked that their domina was out of sight.

"I...tell me, what is going to happen next? With the barber?" 

He took a deep breath. Get your head straight.

"We are chasing down leads. Alexius will go talk to more women who've... seen him. I'm going to look at vigiles records. And the others are going through the city, looking at barbers." he frowned. "Rome is a fairly big city. But we have more details now. Maybe we will get lucky. And if not, we will be persistent."

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She listened and nodded. They had a plan. She was not part of it - she couldn't be, not really. Her father only allowed her out to sanctioned events and in any case, what good would she be? All she knew how to do was talk and sew and host parties. She couldn't contribute anything meaningful besides money, at least so she thought. "I know but you should be carefu-"

"Domina!" The incensed voice of her man hit her ears and she snapped her  head up to see him, breathless and glowering at her and Lucius. He'd clearly been trying to find her. She could feel the anger and annoyance radiate off of him like a hot brazier. "You should stay within my sight. You are not to go anywhere alone I-" she scoffed and arched a brow, rolling her shoulders back. "I am not to? You would do well to remember your place." She had a different view of the enslaved class to Lucius, and had no qualms in putting uppity ones back in their box. "I am sat with a vigile," She gestured to Lucius a polite distance away, "Who is investigating my case. In public. With you and Lucia thirty paces away. Do you think I'm a fool?" The man looked annoyed still but she could tell he was beginning to get embarrassed, "Do you think I would put myself in danger?" The man bristled at that; "Sometimes danger finds young women-" Ovinia snapped; "I am well aware of that!" She choked and shot him a glower. She could feel her anger rising. She was treated like a child and of course, sometimes she needed it but now? With this man looking at her, glaring at her as if she had no sense...it was driving her mad. 

"Lucia will stay and accompany me home with Lucius here." She gestured to him next to her, her heart hammering against her ribs. "You can go back to the domus and tell my father exactly why you were excused." 

 

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The bodyguard made an appearance, and while everything he said was technically true, he managed to piss Ovinia off anyway. Lucius could relate to that - de desperately wanted to be left alone with her - but he could not really fault the man for doing his job. Also, if her father found out she'd sent her guard away, he was going to have a cow.

Lucius cleared his throat, glancing at her.

"O... Domina, maybe it would be wise to keep him nearby. It is his task to keep you safe. His attitude is unfortunate, but he is trying to do his job well."

@Sara

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Ovinia scoffed and glanced sideways to Lucius, bemused and irritated to be undermined. The man himself was standing with his spine straight and she swore she saw the faintest smile on his face. She bristled and tossed her hair over her shoulder. 

"Fine." She said through gritted teeth. "If my vigile companion does not think he is skilled enough to escort a lone woman home," She cleared her throat, "Then you may stay. But outside. Waiting for me. And you are not to speak." She didn't like him. She wondered if that's why her father had bought him, so she wouldn't go attached like she occasionally had to some of the slaves in her youth. The man merely held up his hands and nodded, stepping back and away. Lucia offered a weak smile. "I'll stay - but I'll wait by the statuette, domina." She liked her. She was far more pragmatic than most of the others, and could handle the unpleasant, uppity part of Ovinia's personality, taking it within her stride. 

"Was it necessary to cross me like that?" She snapped at Lucius once Lucia had disappeared from view.

 

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Lucius was not sure the large man was the best choice for the job either. But sending him away mid-walk would have been much worse on the long run. Ovinia must have seen that too, because she settled for both of her slaves waiting around, out of sight. Not without a barb at his own skills, obviously. He let it slide.

"Was it necessary to cross me like that?"

"Yes. Your father has seen me twice, and to him I am a useless vigile at best. If I walk you home again, he's going to have a fit." he pointed out. Sending her guard away and coming home with Lucius, that was the worst plan she could have come up with. Lucius sighed, reaching out so his fingers touched hers on the bench. "I really wish it was different. But it's not Saturnalia anymore."

@Sara

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Ovinia scoffed, annoyed and irate. Which was better than depressed and afraid, but not by much. "Oh because you know my father so well?" He clearly did, because irritatingly he was right. She might have thought that a vigile would be enough and she could explain the bad choice of a guard later, but her father was incredibly shrewd and would have pressed her and pressed her until she cracked about something, she was sure. 

She felt his fingers and let out a sigh, slowly letting go of the anger until...she blinked at his words. Heat immediately rose to her cheeks and she stared at him. Oh. She withdrew her fingers to her lap hurriedly. "I know that." She said striving to be neutral and pushed herself to stand. Stupid, stupid girl, of course he regrets it. You should regret it. "You're here on business, I understand." She cleared her throat. "You can send your centurion to the house next time you don't have to...walk with me. It's fine." She felt herself get upset. It was just Saturnalia madness to him. "As you said, you're just a useless vigile." She gave him a tight smile and let it linger before adding, "To my father." When upset Ovinia - most of the time - went to anger. It was a far more natural emotion for her.

 

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"Oh because you know my father so well?" 

"I know patricians pretty well." his own father had not been around for long, and Lucius was a man anyway, not a girl. But he was right about this one, and Ovinia knew it too.

His next words, somehow, managed to come out wrong. Ovinia blushed and pulled away from him.

"I know that. You're here on business, I understand. You can send your centurion to the house next time you don't have to...walk with me. It's fine."

"What?" Lucius blinked, not sure what he had said that put her so on edge.

"As you said, you're just a useless vigile... To my father." 

Lucius shook his head, baffled.

"What... what did I just do?" he tried to catch her gaze. Ovinia rarely made sense under the best of circumstances. This one was not one of those.

 

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She gave him a tight smile at his baffled look. Cute, as if he didn't know. 

"It's not Saturnalia anymore." She said as she cleared her throat and smoothed down the front of her chiton, a nervous habit but one she hadn't done for a while...and remembered why as her fingers brushed over the stitches on her hip and it made her wince. "I understand. Don't worry." Her voice was tight and even, her back arrow straight. Lucius provoked her in all sorts of ways - he made her rebellious and he made her care, but he also - more often than not - made her embarrassed and annoyed. He didn't even realise it, he seemed. 

"I'm being polite," She offered, "Offering us both a chance to save our dignity. You can go." She jerked her head to the exit from the recess they were in. 

 

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He caught the wince as she smoothed down her dress. Must have caught the wound on her hip. But other than that, she was suddenly all poised and regal. Which meant she was angry. For whatever reason.

"It's not Saturnalia anymore. I understand. Don't worry." 

"That's good because I don't" he noted. His comment about Saturnalia had hit a nerve. But... why?

"I'm being polite. Offering us both a chance to save our dignity. You can go." 

Lucius looked at her, trying to wrap his head around what happened. Save their... Oh. OH.

He glanced between the exit and her.

"I don't want to go." he stated, trying to catch her eyes again, and lowered his voice for the next part. "You think... you think I kissed you because of Saturnalia?"

@Sara

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