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Dinner for Two


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February 77AD

Ovinia squinted at the hydraulis as it made yet another squeaking sound and withdrew her fingers from the keys in frustration. She'd had the thing for a little over a month and beyond picking up how to play a few easy tunes when alone, the enormity of the instrument frustrated and irritated her. She knew exactly why her father had given it to her; ostensibly to 'cheer her up' (his words) after what had happened to her, but the fact she couldn't move it to her room or take it anywhere in Rome suggested to her that he was content to indulge her love of music only in the privacy of the domus...where he could listen in from his tablinum on who she was playing it for. He hadn't purchased a longed for cithara for her, no that would have been far too portable and Gaius Ovinius Camillus didn't want his only daughter singing and playing tunes across the city like some common actress. She gave the tower of wood an apathetic kick in frustration and the slave who was operating the pump flinched out of the way. Ovinia waved her hand and the man scurried off. 

The domus was quiet - the only sounds now filtering into the small room that led off to the garden came from the water lopping over the sides of the fountain. She knew her mother was ill in bed, and likely to request of her father a trip to the villa to recover but the rest of her family...? Ovinia frowned and moved out into the quiet of early evening in the garden. Dressed casually (for her) in a thin tunica with a thick blanket artlessly wrapped around her shoulders to stave off the winter chill, she squinted into the twilight. It was nearly time for dinner and usually by this hour her brothers were bandying about the place harassing the slaves and changing their minds about what they wanted to eat whilst her father murmured quiet business with his secretary in the tablinum. But there was none of that today and she huffed, moving through the garden to the other side and into the triclinium. Silence still pervaded. 

A slave girl scurried in with her arms laden with plates and cups, which she almost dropped in surprise at seeing Ovinia. "Where is my father? And my brothers?" The girl hurriedly put down her load and straightened up. "Domine and your eldest brother are at a dinner, domina. Dominus Tertius said to Manus he would be out late with friends and domina Matia is..." Ovinia waved a hand to cut her off, "In bed. I know." She shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. Before the...incident had rattled her brain and left her a shell she had always had a good grasp on what her family were doing but now her distraction was evident. She hadn't even realised her brothers and fathers were out this evening, even though they'd likely mentioned it this morning. She needed to get her head on straight. Feeling awkward at the prospect of dinner alone, she turned to the slave girl; "And Lucius? At the barracks?" 

 

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As though summoned by the speaking of his name, the front door of the domus opened and Ovinia's middle brother appeared, the steel plates of his lorica segmentata gleaming and his helmet under his arm. Tall but slim, heart-faced and long-limbed, Lucius looked much like his sister and their mother, rather than their father, and perhaps least like an obvious soldier. Someone with his build should be a scholar or philosopher if they followed stereotypes, but that was not the path that had been put in front of him. And despite not being of herculean proportions, Lucius had survived his military service thus far, and acquitted himself well enough as military tribune.

It had been six years between Lucius's departure for Hispania with his Legate, and his return to Rome at the end of last year. A lot had changed, including him. He'd filled out somewhat, perhaps aided by the armour he wore, and he'd grown in confidence. He'd also seen parts of the Empire, and what life could be like in another household. And things had changed here. Gaius Minor's new wife had moved in, and their mother had grown ill, often taking to her bed for extended periods. And somewhere in there, his kid sister had grown up. Now she virtually ran the household.

All of which meant that settling back into the household hadn't been as easy as he might have hoped. Gaius Major, whom he respected as father and head of the household, never the less acted as though Lucius had never been away. Then there had been the disappointment over his failure to achieve the position of Quaestor in his year - part of the reason he'd come back to Rome with his Legate. So he was still serving as a tribune, all of which meant that he spent a lot of time at the barracks or his Legate's household. But, the dutiful son, he also came home.

"Are my father and brothers home?" He asked the slave who'd opened the door. No dominos, only domina Matia and domina Ovinia, the slave told him quietly. Lucius nodded, and let out a breath. "Please let my sister know that I am home." He said simply, before heading to his room, intending to get out of all his armour and into a lighter tunica. He unthinkingly handed his helmet to the next slave he encountered and headed further into the domus. His room was the same room he'd always had, but now there were no toys, only a small desk with his writing materials, wax tablet, and a couple of chests that held clothes and his few personal possessions.

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"Yes, domina I-" The sound of the front door opening signalled that perhaps her middle brother didn't intend to stay at the barracks and she grinned a beaming smile, gliding swiftly through the cavernous domus back towards where their rooms all laid in neat order; Gaius Major, Matia, Gaius Minor, Viria, then Lucius', Tertius' and hers. All laid out in age and rank order; very neat and orderly, very much like her father. She drew to a skidding stop outside of Lucius' room with her grin softening into a warm smile that she reserved for her favourite sibling. "Gracing us with your presence? We are so lucky." She chuckled and moved to embrace him with outstretched arms.

Her brother might have been back in Rome for some time but that hadn't meant much for their relationship; he was busy, she was busy, and then she was abed for some weeks after the...incident with that mad man. She couldn't quite recall the last time they had properly conversed, it had probably been back en route to Tiberius' party and besides, the litter hadn't exactly been conducive to lengthy conversation. She missed him, and it was writ large on her face. 

"Father and Gaius are out at some political dinner, and Tertius is..." She wrinkled her nose, "Being Tertius. Viria's with her parents and Mother," She swallowed, her face growing more serious, "Is unwell again so...it's dinner for two if you'll have me?" 

 

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His head whipped around at the voice at his doorway, and Lucius gave his sister a lop-sided smile. "Well, you know, I didn't fancy what they were serving for dinner at the barracks." He said mock-offhandedly, catching her in a warm if clanking hug as she wrapped her arms around him. He'd always been taller than her, and always would be, but she wasn't the tiny thing he remembered from their youth. She was a woman grown. And he was supposedly a man grown. Not that that meant he had any real sovereignty, not with his father at the family's helm. "Give me a moment to get out of all of this." He half-begged, and continued unlacing the metal plates and leather under-vest, with the help of the slave who served him as body slave when he was home.

Unbuckling his greaves, he listened as Ovinia rattled off where the various members of the family were, for a moment glad that he didn't have to go to the political dinner, even if the food would have been good. Tertius was the wild child, sort of expected for the third son, and mother was... mother. He'd made offerings to Asclepius in the hope he might help her.

The red tunic of the legions was both broader and longer than a standard civilian tunic, giving more protection to the arms and legs from both the sun and the amour that they wore. One he was down to that Lucius ran an idle hand through his hair, turning the flattened effect from his helmet into shaggy spikes. "I don't know, you look a bit under-cooked." He said, eyeing her up and down.

It was good to see Ovinia smile. She'd not seemed her usual self after the attack, and he worried about her. Like he worried about their mother. He just wasn't sure what he could do about it. "Dinner for two sounds markedly better than suffering my own company." He assured her cheerily. In fact it sounded wonderful. Time to chat with his favourite sister - just because she was the only, didn't automatically make her the favourite - and not have to mind himself around their terribly important and serious father or older brother. Who were no doubt doing terribly important and serious things, for the good of the family and the Empire. "What are we having?"

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She made a groaning sound at his terrible joke and moved to lean against the doorframe, watching him as he stripped off the armour that she was so used to seeing him don. "Please never go into comedy." Not that such a thing was even the remotest possibility of course, but still - the point needed to be made. 

"Whatever the slaves can salvage from the new kitchen." She wrinkled her nose again in distaste. "I asked for chicken but they assured me the new fire wouldn't handle it. You know what they are like in the kitchens," She rolled her eyes and sighed, "They love to complain." And had likely not forgiven her for ruining their domain from her Saturnalia fire. Well...she'd certainly learned her lesson - Viria could cook next year. Of course, it occurred to her briefly by this time next year she might be managing her own domus and no longer living here. At least she knew now, for wherever she ended up, that oil belonged in a pan and not directly on a flame. She flushed at the thought. 

"Come on," she jerked her head as if ordering him to follow her back across the frost-bitten garden back towards the triclinium. The slaves had finished setting the table for two and the space looked markedly...empty without the usual bustle of their wider family and her fathers towering presence. "I haven't seen you for weeks," She complained, "Regale me with stories of what excitement you've been up to?" She moved to curl herself on one of the couches as the slaves hurried to pour wine for the two of them. 

 

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"No fear. Father would lynch me himself." Or any of the Praetor's sons who might dare to think about going into the performing arts. Or daughter, for that matter. But that didn't stop him subjecting his sister to his terrible sense of humour.

Ah yes, the kitchen fire. Probably the less said about that the better at the moment. "Contrive to have them complain about the new fire in father's hearing. I dare say that he will ensure that it will handle chicken." He grinned. Either by arranging for a larger cookery, or by virtue of yelling at the slaves until they did it. There was more than one way to get what you wanted and arguing with the slaves was a very inefficient one. But Lucius himself wasn't a shouter except where the parade ground required it, and lacked the gravitas of their fater familias in this household. "I'm sure whatever it is will be delicious." The truth was he was ravenous and it had to be better than what they had on the march on campaign.

As he followed Ovinia at her command, he wondered whether his sister realised that she had a little of their father's presence, when she was feeling confident. Negotiating his lanky frame through the gardens, hobnailed sandles clicking on the paving stones, slipping into the triclinium behind her and flopping bonelessly onto one of the other couches. It was markedly peaceful and comfortable, with just the two of them.

"Excitement, excitement... hmm." He pretended to think seriously, staring at the ceiling whilst the slave poured the wine. "Well, there's the parchmentwork, and... more parchmentwork, and ordering supplies for the unit. Then we did some marching drills... and some horseback drills... and I picked the burrs out of the horse hair on my helmet..." He grinned across at her. "No, I tell a lie, I got a slave to do that."

He rearranged himself into a more proper pose on the couch and picked up his cup of wine, thinking about what might actually interest Ovinia. It was true that it had been weeks since they'd really had a chance to speak. She probably didn't want to just listen to him drivel. "We're still finalising some of the reporting from our time in Hispania." Which was probably boring in itself. The unit was refreshing and retraining; retirees passing out and new recruits passing in. He didn't know whether his Legate would continue in the position or not. "It's a beautiful place. Hot and sunny, and the people are lively and friendly." Particularly some of the young women, when you were a young Roman man from a Wealthy Patrician family. "I spoke to father briefly about possibly acquiring some land there. It's excellent olive country." And the Empire all but ran on olive oil, for all that it wasn't as sexy as gold or jewels. "And a villa there might suit mother as a respite."

"What about you? Apart from arguing with the slaves about the kitchen, what have you been up to?"

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Ovinia groaned and sunk down further onto her couch as he started to speak of his endless paperwork. It sounded like hell and she could well understand why people weren't taught, or didn't desire the skill to read if all they had to do with said skills was paperwork. She took her cup of wine after he took hers (even in relaxed company, her fathers drills on manners reigned supreme) and listened to him with a soft smile as he spoke of Hispania. She knew they had distant maternal relations there - it explained her colouring which was darker than even the native Italians, with olive skin and eyes as dark as pitch, but she knew no more about the place than that. 

"She'd like that." She mused with a little sigh at the thought, and cast a glance over in the direction of her room. It was predictably silent. "And it would give me reason to visit." Said with the melancholy of a girl who had never been further away from home than Greece, and even that she was too young to remember. "Do you think you'll go back, before your term is through?" She asked as she sipped her wine and leant back to allow the slaves to set down platters of meats and cheeses and breads ahead of the main course. Ovinia didn't have the faintest real idea of what a Tribuneship involved, despite two brothers having done one. It was surprise enough Lucius was away for so long. 

She chuckled at his jest and then shrugged. Since Saturnalia and her assault, she had not been the Ovinia he might once have remembered. She had used to endlessly enjoy parading herself in the Forums and with her friends, wining and dining and flirting, perhaps, but now that Ovinia had been replaced by a somewhat more timid, more mature young woman. She still went out (as her father dictated) and cherished her time with her friends and at Temples but she could never quite shake the urge to glance over her shoulder, to jump as people moved through the shadows...and stop herself from crying during the still frequent nightmares. At least the wounds were fading. 

"Not much. Temples and visiting friends and I won't bore you with details of their marriage woes or their children's strifes, don't worry." She chuckled and pulled for a piece of bread, rolling it between her fingers rather than taking a bite. "And trying to figure out Father's gift." She gave him an irritated look. "And here I thought I had a natural affinity for music. As it turns out, I just needed an instrument to prove me wrong." She grumbled and then set down the bread, untouched, leaning her jaw in her palm as she glanced at him. "I was thinking of asking Father to let me visit the cousins in Pompeii, just to get out of the city for a little while." And the memories that came with it, "But I can't get a read on his mood. Thoughts?" She asked, as she plucked a grape and tossed it in her mouth.

 

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He was being a bit of a brat, but as the middle brother it was his prerogative, eclipsed only by that of the youngest brother. And poor Ovinia was youngest of them all and had to put up with them. It was his way of starting with a light mood; things could be terribly serious in the Ovinii-Camilli household. But he was serious about Hispania. He'd very much enjoyed his time there, and a villa at the far end of the Empire, away from politics and stress, might just be what their mother needed. He smiled when Ovinia said that she would like to visit; he imagined that she would enjoy the novelty.

But would he be likely to go back? "I don't honestly know." He admitted. "That depends partly on what happens with my unit, and partly on my Legate." He said, as he helped himself to a piece of bread and a slice of cheese. "It also depends on my political career. I won't delude myself into thinking that us coming back to Rome in time for me to stand as Quaestor was accidental." But since he hadn't achieved that position in his year, it left some questions open. Ostensibly he should serve in the military for two years, which left this year and next, assuming he wasn't able to move up the ladder of the cursus honorum. He was quite comfortable in his current role. "I'd like to see more of the Empire, and there's a freedom in being out in the field." And away from their father, though of course he became part of his Legate's household. "But I don't want to miss so much of our family's doings a second time." He had been away for years and was taking time to adjust.

Regardless, his compulsory military term would come to an end in the next couple of years, and some decision would have to be made as to what he would do next. Their father expected him to follow the cursus honorum like his older brother, and the family was wealthy enough to support two sons as well as their father in political careers. He just wasn't particularly excited by the prospect of spending days arguing with people. Not that the military excited him hugely, but he was competent and comfortable in his role, plus it actually paid an income. He'd been quite interested in the estates and land management during his time in Hispania, but he wasn't the pater familias so that wasn't his role unless his father decided to delegate it to him. Perhaps something would come by and grab his attention; for the meantime Lucius was content to coast along and not worry too much about things he couldn't change.

He had noticed that Ovinia seemed a bit subdued since the attack, and he listened as she spoke of her recent activities, a little worried for her. He, who'd never feared to walk the streets of Rome, could only imagine how limiting that might be, to one whose life was already limited. Still, it was interesting what she said, and what she didn't. "Are all your friends married?" He asked, when she promised not to bore him with their marriage woes. It was past time that Ovinia herself married, but he knew that father relied on her to run the household when mother was sick. Still, surely she wasn't the only single woman in Rome?

Poor Ovinia, all she wanted was to play beautiful music and her father bought her that monstrosity. "I swear he found you the most complex musical instrument there is." He commiserated. And of course it was one that couldn't be moved easily. "It's probably much easier to learn something simpler." But he had faith in her ability. "Do you have a good teacher?" He couldn't think of anyone off the top of his head who was famed for playing that particular instrument.

Then she asked about their father, and her chances of escaping to Pompeii for a little while. This question he took seriously, thinking back on his observations of the Ovinii-Camilli pater familias. "It's hard to say, but if I had to make a guess, I'd say that father is disappointed. And maybe slightly worried." He admitted eventually. "He's always so focused on the family, and we're at a point where all of us are growing up and making our way into adult life, so it's not just him being the primary influence. But I failed to make Quaetor, and then you got attacked. Mother's ill and you're unwed. And Tertius is being, well, Tertius. Suddenly family life has a lot more complications, and not everything is going the way he thinks it should." And Gaius wasn't getting any younger either. He might be the stern figurehead, but he also worked tirelessly for the family, which prospered because of it. They were one of the wealthier families in Rome, and one of the more influential. And suddenly things weren't going according to plan, which would not sit well with their father at all. Lucius knew well how the man dealt with things not going his way in the household, but what about things that were beyond his control? That was an unknown, which didn't help Ovinia's desire to get away for a bit.

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"Our families doings are mind-numbing, I'm sure, in comparison to the field." She chuckled, "Mother will always be ill, Gaius will always be scheming, Viria will be away with her friends, Tertius will be...Tertius and father will always be watching." She rolled her eyes, "And I'll...well..." She shrugged, "I might not be here when you come back but I can't imagine father is going to ship me off to a man in the provinces, so I'll be a walk away." 

She didn't want to dwell on it but there was only so much she could stall the hunt for a match; after her refusal of Gaius Ovinius Camillus' suit and the attack, her father had given her some breathing room although she was suspected that was more so her wounds could heal, but she knew his patience was running out and the meetings with potential husbands would start to stack up again. She'd heard whispers that he'd planned some for the week after next, but tried to put the thought from her mind. Lucius' question didn't help. "Most of them." She said with a little shrug, "But some aren't, and some are widowed or divorced. But...the pool of fellow single women is getting smaller." She gave him a half-smile. In her youth she had been dying for marriage, excited for it beyond measure but now...there was a lump in her throat at the thought. She blamed one particular man for that. 

Taking a few olives in her palm, she chuckled and shook her head - briefly answering his first question before he opined on their families woes; "I don't have a teacher. I think that might be pushing it for him - it's a hobby, that's all." One she adored, but not one for investment - not like her beauty regime and dresses which kept her attractive for the men she was to woo. And then Lucius spoke and she listened, setting down her hoard of olives. She felt a chill dance across her skin at his very apt description of their troubles. She swallowed. "So we can all expect to be shipped into shape relatively soon." She gave him a half-smile. "Once I'm married that will ease his stress, I'm sure." She knew finding the right man, politically speaking, was weighing on him, "And quaestor well..." She wrinkled her nose, "You'll have another opportunity. Or you could try for the position in Hispania, couldn't you? Don't they have them there? Two birds, one stone." She chuckled, "Out of his eyeline and progressing up the cursus." 

 

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She was right, of course. They would all be here when he came back, if he spent a couple more years in the provinces. Well, some disaster not withstanding. He stifled a moment of annoyance when Ovinia said that Viria would be away with her friends as usual. "She'll be in for a shock when you wed then." He said, rather unkindly. As Gaius Minor's wife, she should be helping Ovinia to run the household in their mother's stead. And whilst Viria seemed nice enough and clearly was a good wife to Gaius Minor, if she was leaving Ovinia to handle all the work that was a mark against her on Lucius's slate. But the little, nasty thought occurred; Gaius Minor was so like Gaius Major, was a little time away a relief? As much as time at their villa might be for their mother? Not that Lucius would ever say a word against their hard working father; but he might think it.

It was a little disconcerting to hear that most of the young women Ovinia's age were married. Partly for her sake, and partly for his. "I guess that's what happens."He said mildly. "Which doesn't bode well for me, unless I want a very young wife. Father's been fielding Augustus's tax for me for the last three years whilst I've been abroad, but I just know that he's going to put the hard word on whilst I'm in Rome."Any man over 25 or woman over 20 who was unwed paid a tax. Ovinia would incur it next year, which was perhaps why their father had finally bitten the blade and lined up some suitors. Of course, they would have to be the very finest men, both because his sister was the very finest woman, and because their father would accept nothing less.

"What happened to that Vipsanius Roscius fellow?" He asked, pausing for a moment to search his memory whilst he finished his bread and cheese. What was his name again? Oh yes, of course. "Gaius! How could I forget?" The same as their father and brother. He was a good match, a little older but form what Lucius had heard he'd been focused on his career. He was pater familias and with a good marriage and the heir Ovinia could no doubt give him, he'd come fully into his own. She could be very comfortable with a man like him.

So we can all expect to be shipped into shape relatively soon.

"I suspect so." He agreed, mock-grimly, reaching for the olives. "So if you know any nice young women who aren't scheming minxes, ugly gorgons or the village pony, let me know?"He grinned. It wasn't a subject that he'd really given serious thought to yet, but he knew he'd have to before too long. And he trusted Ovinia to have a good handle on her peers. But she had thoughts on his career, and very perspicacious ones at that. "See? I knew you were smart." He smiled at her fondly. If he hadn't been lying down with a handful of olives, he'd have ruffled her hair like he used to do when they were children. And given the effort that had gone into it, she'd probably kill him. But the idea really was a good one. "I'd sort of assumed that father would expect me to go for one of the Imperial or Consul's quaestors." He said, popping two olives into his mouth. "But you're absolutely right, there are provincial ones, and any quaestorship would satisfy the cursus..." Which could mean that he'd get the political position and get out of their father's domus again, at least for another year. The thought of being able to escape to the country with a young wife was very appealing indeed.

Whoever married Ovinia would get a great ally, she could run a household and was already scheming.

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Ovinia chuckled and shot her brother an amused look; "You wouldn't like any of my friends anyway, even if they were unmarried - they're not the finest beauties in the city and even those that are well...their personalities could take some work." Her coterie of young female friends was rapidly dissipating as some became mothers and others, like her, remained on the precipice of girlhood - still living at home with her father, still in the shadow of him and with no wedding date (or groom) set. She was sure once she married and once she bore a child, things would come together again and she'd finally understand the hushed conversations that went on with her married friends.

Unfortunately, she had to get married first and despite previously yearning for it, at present she was in no hurry and Lucius seemed to sense why with his question. She looked at him with wide eyes, nearly choking on her olive before he corrected with 'Gaius'. She cleared her throat. 

"Oh," She cleared her throat again, "I...asked father to call it off. He..." Was a good man, stable and capable who promised her everything she had thought she wanted; a household to run, children, time for hobbies. But when push came to shove, she wasn't convinced that was what she wanted and so she'd called it off - whatever 'it' was, given they hadn't technically been engaged. And now she was stuck with the dawning realisation that what she did want, and who she wanted was an absolute fever dream of ridiculousness. Still, she couldn't exactly say that to her brother but her silence was telling in itself, so she added - hurriedly; "He was a good man but not right for me, I didn't think. If I'm being honest, I think perhaps I was being a little too choosey..." She winced; Lucius' words ran in her head; You want the fancy life, the domus, the children, the social standing, the respect. But you, Ovinia Camilla, also want to be in love. Yes. She did. 

"But the fact he let his idiot of a brother," she cleared her throat - she'd always been a terrible liar, "Ruin his reputation by becoming a vigile gave me an easy out." She swallowed down another sip of wine and rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. "But I'm sure somebody else will come along, don't worry about me." She gave her favourite brother a softer smile. "But do you have any friends that are strapping and handsome, and treat their women well and would hit fathers list of criteria?" Unlikely, but worth a question - she'd only been introduced to Gaius, after all, on the advice of their half-brother Tullius. 

She grinned, satisfied, as he confirmed her idea and tapped the side of her head in a mocking gesture; "Not just a pretty face, you see? And I could come and visit." She offered, not asking for permission, just simply stating it as fact. "Would you go back to Hispania or perhaps you could consider something further afield?" she wrinkled her nose in childish displeasure, "But not Britannia, I hear the weather is terrible." 

 

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Lucius grinned and rolled his eyes. "I don't need a stunning beauty, just a face I wouldn't mind seeing in the morning." And a body I wouldn't mind seeing at night. "But personality is important." He agreed. "No one wants to wed a harpy." Not that he was too worried about that. But he was a little disappointed that Ovinia didn't have an easy answer for him. He liked easy. His family had a tendency to be passionate perfectionists, always wanting the best of the best and everything just so, but Lucius was black sheep in that regard. He'd long ago realised that close enough was good enough and a lot less stress.

But he had time. Far more interesting just now was Ovinia's response to his casual question about her last marriage prospect. He swore she nearly choked, looking for a moment like a deer in the hunter's sight. He couldn't fail to notice that she had to clear her throat twice before she could even answer him properly, telling him she'd asked father to call it off. The question was why; the man had met their father's high standards so should be everything one might wish for. Well, from their father's point of view anyway. Obviously not from Ovinia's. Eating his olives, he listened whilst his little sister elaborated, noting the point about the brother. Not just a brother, but an idiot brother. Ah. "Lost potential there, you think?" He asked casually, spitting olive pits into his hand and dropping them into the bowl.

But I'm sure someone else will come along. Lucius wished he was quite so sure. He didn't want his sister to have to settle for some old man who'd already fathered his heirs. But she asked about his friends; strapping, handsome, kind and up to father's standards. "You don't want much, do you?" He chuckled, but the calculating look on his face said he was already running mentally through his catalogue of friends. "So I don't waste your time, what was it about Gaius Vipsanius Roscius that you didn't like?" He asked, seemingly idly but he wasn't quite ready to leave that alone yet. She'd admitted she might have been a little choosy, after all...

She was right on the money on his political options. "Intelligence to match your beauty." He agreed with a grin. "You could absolutely visit." It might be just the distraction she needed from her suitors, and it might be the push that Viria needed to step up in running the household. But if he could get a provincial Quaestorship, which province? "I don't know." He admitted. Back to Hispania would be nice, but there were many parts to the Empire. "Perhaps I'll apply for all of them and see where Fortuna sends me." That could be exciting. It would increase his chance of getting one of the positions, whilst also relieving him of the need to actually made a decision. Easy.

He'd heard that Britannia was cold and wet too; it was the main thing that people said about the place. Oh, and the people were really backwards, painting themselves blue and letting their women fight. "Would visiting me in Britannia be better than staying at home?" He asked, teasing gently.

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"Perhaps." She said noncommittally with a slight shrug to his question about the other Lucius in Ovinia's life. Lost potential indeed, although she had to admit that seeing the younger Vipsanius Roscius brother happy and fulfilled sent a heady mix of emotions through her; pleasure that he had found his calling, jealousy that she felt so adrift and frustration at...well...thought she shouldn't have had. She shook them from her head. 

"I'm...not sure." She admitted a little sheepishly and ducked her head, taking a sip of her wine as she tried very hard not to think of Gaius Vipsanius Roscius. He had deserved better from her. "It just didn't feel right...I think I've been reading too much romantic poetry," She chuckled, embarrassed and with a faint blush. "I'd like to...like him. Feel comfortable. Which I did with Gaius but...ugh...I don't know." She sank down lower on the couch, the very image of a petulant young woman. "I'm not my usual articulate self." She gave her brother a wobbly smile. She had, before a certain man had come into her life thought she'd be content with a good and stable man who gave her a family and freedom to enjoy her life. Now she wanted more, now she wanted love. She couldn't admit that though, not even to her favourite brother...and she could barely admit it to herself, given that it was never going to happen. She sipped her drink despondently. 

Her brother was a curious fish though. He was driven, she knew that, in his own way but also so...relaxed compared to the rest of them. Ovinia very plainly had her highly-strung moments like Gaius and their father and Tertius but Lucius always seemed so easy going. She wondered how he did it. "Do you not have any preference?" She frowned at him and nudged him with her foot, "Take an interest in your life Lucius." She said with a mocking tone not unlike her fathers. "And no," She wrinkled her nose. "I'm not unhappy here and I'd rather not be painted blue and see the savages thank you very much." She chuckled and stretched out to take a pastry, picking at the crumbs. "You could ask father to put his ambition onto Tertius and you could just stay as a Tribune?" 

 

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Perhaps.

That little shrug. Oh, it's nothing, it said. Which would have been expected except she'd been so vehement a moment before. And he'd known her since she was born, even if he'd been absent the last few years. His sister really was a rotten liar. But he started by asking about the rejected suitor. What hadn't appealed? His sister demurred and seemed to sink down on her couch. She looked so small suddenly, so uncertain, even slightly embarrassed. That wasn't normal for one of the Ovinii-Camilii, and especially for his sister. And she admitted to reading romantic poetry. Oh dear.

"Oh, Ovinianilla." He said, using the ridiculous diminutive he'd called her as a child, his tone part 'are you serious' and part sympathy. "Romantic poetry? You know men only write that to get up girls' skirts, right?" Surely she wasn't taking it seriously? And somehow Gaius hadn't done it for her. He lowered his tone to somethig a little more sympathetic and conspiritorial. "Was that what you liked about the younger brother?" He asked. Yes, it was a leap, but he had a feeling from the way she spoke that the rejection had been less about Gaius Vipsanius Roscius and more about Lucius.

There was no hard disapproval in his voice, not like there would have been from their father and older brother. He'd always been close to Ovinia, but like any big brother he was protective, both of herself and her feelings. He didn't want her to get hurt, and he didn't want her disgraced. And clearly she wanted him advanced.

Take an interest in your life Lucius.

"You know you sound like father, right?" He asked, grinned at her. "And I am taking an interest, I'm just not stressing about the things that don't matter." He explained, thinking that it was something the rest of his family could stand to learn. "You see, if I decide I want one specific Quaestorship, and only apply for that, there's a fair chance I won't get it. That's what happened last year." Because of course he'd applied for the most prestigious, Caesar's quaestors, as his father no doubt expected. "But if I apply for all of them, I have a much higher chance of getting one." A twenty-fold increase in fact, and a greater chance of success for less stress was a good angle Lucius's books.

But ask father to put his ambition onto their youngest brother? "Tertius? Really?" He asked, glancing at her. Maybe some responsibility would be the making of him, but right now he wasn't Lucius's idea of a responsible adult. Still, perhaps it was worth thinking about. What did he want to do, what didn't he, and what didn't matter that much? "It's not that I don't want to move up in the world, it's just that I'm not obsessed with the Senate." He admitted. "I'd rather be comfortable in a villa somewhere, with my lovely wife and a couple of fat babies, managing our estates. Gaius can argue with grumpy old men." There, he'd put his dream into words. Not in his father's hearing of course. But he would hardly be the first patrician to do exactly that.

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Ovinia wrinkled her nose and then launched a cushion at his face for 'Ovinianilla'. The stupid little nickname had been mocked far and wide when she was a girl and her family had tried to differentiate between herself and her slightly older female cousin, the other Ovinia Camilla. He deserved another cushion to the face for his description of romantic poetry but fortunately for him, there were no more in reach. He deserved a great deal more for his prying on Gaius Vipsanius Roscius' brother though. She blinked, her face blanching very briefly before a red-hot blush crept over her olive skinned cheeks. Was she that transparent? Or was Lucius just very adept at guessing?

She decided to brazen it out, worried that revealing anything more serious to even her favourite brother might land her in a great deal more hot water than she was prepared to accept. "No. The younger brother has nice arms and a good jawline." She commented with an amused, girlish smile. "But that wasn't the reason I said no to Gaius, so I'd appreciate if you didn't start a rumour on my inability to verbalise what precisely was wrong with him." When there was really nothing wrong with Gaius Vipsanius Roscius. He just wasn't...right.

But the conversation meandered back to far, far safer pastures and she listened with amusement and genuine interest as her brother set out his plans. They made sense. She couldn't quite fathom why he wouldn't be interested in the advancement and glory  their father and brother coveted, but she knew Lucius was not made of the same stuff as both men. She almost envied him for it - she'd, unfortunately, been cursed with the same ambitious streak that he had not been born with. His comment on his villa made her chuckle and her grin was broad. "Well, that sounds delightful." If impossible, knowing their family. A thought hit her though and she blinked at him before her face became more sly. If she couldn't give him a relaxing existence with little more than estates to manage she could at least give him the lovely wife. "I do have a friend you know, that might suit. Very pretty, a year younger than me, a patrician," She waved a hand as if that much should be obvious, "But a country girl who prefers the nature and flowers of rural Italia to the city. Might that be up your street, at all...?" She teased with a grin as she ate some grapes one at a time. "Horatia Sosia. I'd be more than happy to make an introduction." And it would give her friend somebody else to moon over other than the improbable Prince Tiberius. Not that she could picture anybody mooning over her brother. The thought made her wrinkle her nose again.

 

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Lucius ducked and snatched the cushion out of the air, then grinned at her and tucked it behind his back. "Thanks." Not that he wouldn't like to poff it back at her, or one of the olive pits he'd just cleaned, but the sudden look on Ovinia's face forestalled any thoughts of brotherly retribution. She went white, and then she went red. And then she blustered. Nice arms and a good jawline. "Handsome but no poetry, huh?"He teased, just a little, then sobered. "No one will hear it from me, I promise. Especially father." It would do none of them any good. So Ovinia had preferred the younger brother, and though she claimed that wasn't why she'd rejected the elder, Lucius would put a fair bet on it at least being a contributing factor. "And then the 'idiot' goes and becomes a vigile." Where he was no longer an appropriate match for Ovinia. "Rather than putting you first." He felt for her, really he did. But he also wanted her to see that she clearly hadn't been top of the younger Vipsanius Roscius's priorities. "I'm sorry 'nilla. That hurts." And he understood, perhaps more than she could know. He offered her the cushion back, by way of a peace offering.

But she moved the conversation on, poking him about his career, and he dared to lay out his dream situation before his sister, whom he knew could be just as cutthroat as their father and older brother. But she seemed to find the image at least amusing, judging by her chuckle and smile. Then her smile turned sly in a way that gave even her brother, several years her senior, pause. That was a look that meant a plan was being hatched. But when she sprung it, it wasn't what he'd feared. "You do?" Funny how she'd only just remembered this friend. What's wrong with her was Lucius's suspicious thought, but surely Ovinia wouldn't want anything bad for their family, it reflected on all of them, so he listened with interest. And this friend did sound perfect. Pretty, a little younger than his sister, but someone who preferred the country. "She sounds too good to be true." He admitted. Perhaps she was the harpy he feared, Ovinia hadn't mentioned her personality. But he could find out, right? "Horatia Sosia. I'd be pleased to meet her, with your recommendation."He could at least see what she was like, and if she was as good as she sounded, he could talk to their father. "Thank you."

He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "I need to talk to father." He admitted. "About my future. I just don't want the ear-bashing I know I'm going to get about the Quaestorship." But he was going to have to man up and deal with it. He'd been avoiding it, not knowing where to go with the conversation, but now Ovinia had given him a way forward. One of the provincial quaestorships, perhaps even a wife. And hopefully he and his father could discuss his expectations like grown men, and not like he was a misbehaving boy. It wasn't like he hadn't tried, he just didn't see things the same way. "But you've given me a solution to bring to him." And that could make all the difference. Suddenly he felt like he could manage the conversation.

Now, if only he could sort out his sister the same way. "Would you reconsider Vipsanius Roscius - Gaius, I mean - if he were open to reconsideration?" He asked suddenly. "He's in the legions and I know he's in Rome at the moment. I could have a quiet word with him, if you wanted..." The man was a very good match. A young pater familias, up and coming politician, with no children of his own so Ovinia would be mother to his heir and future head of the family. Plus Lucius had heard no indication that the man had any major vices or poor temper. Their father had done very well by Ovinia; which cruel God had cast her eyes in the direction of the younger brother?

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"You're reading it wrong." She bluffed and shook her head, but the colour was still high on her cheeks. Her brother was either spookily adept at guessing or was a better judge of character than she had given him credit for; he had read what had happened to the letter. Of course, he hadn't read in her face what happened after their ferocious argument in the street, including that fateful Saturnalia night. 

"She is real, I promise." She chuckled and smoothed invisible wrinkles out from her chiton before moving to pluck up a few figs, "Just very new to the city so unmarred by  the courting game the rest of us have to deal with. Perhaps she's a little...naive?" she shrugged, "But that's sweet in its own way." Ovinia had been in the city since she could remember and so had grown up hardened to the politics and glamour of it all. The countryside idyll that people like Sosia and Lucius had enjoyed in their youths sounded, frankly, horrific to her. And so uncultured. "I'll put something in the diary - invite her for wine and weaving or something and you can conveniently be home? Then you can mention it to Father to avoid that ear-bashing as well." Poor Lucius. He didn't quite have the weight that Gaius Minor had on his shoulders, but he was perhaps worse-prepared for the duties he did have. He'd always seemed far too relaxed for a family as uptight as theirs. 

His question made her choke down the fig though and frown at him. Reconsider? Gaius? She blinked at him for a moment and then shook her head, "No," She said gulping down her wine to clear her throat, "rejected him, why would I want to reconsider?" She was nineteen, still young, still the daughter of a Praetor, still beautiful, she could wait for something better...or for her mind to clear from other men...couldn't she? "Why?She repeated, more demanding. 

 

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People often underestimated Lucius. His laid back attitude and lack of conventional ambition made him seem like just another spoiled Senator's son, content to spend his stipend on women and wine and do nothing much with his life for as long as he could get away with. Except that Lucius didn't drink any more than was usual, and whilst he enjoyed women he didn't indulge in whores to any great extent. Content to go where he was directed, he often struck people as friendly, entertaining but otherwise a bit of a non-event. And he was quite content to have it that way, it meant less trouble for him. Plus there were certain advantages to people not realising that, as an Ovinii-Camilli, he was heir to certain innate politics talents, and was far more observant than people often gave him credit for.

Still, using those abilities on his sister was perhaps a little harsh, if done with the best of intentions. He certainly didn't think he was reading the situation wrong, not at all, and credited her protest with a raised eyebrow, a silent am I? and reached for a piece of cheese.

But Ovinia also had intentions for him. "She sounds sweet." He admitted, if what his sister said was true. "And a woman who isn't itching to be the next Consul's wife would be nice." He could imagine his sister being that woman, pushing her husband to greater political achievements. Paired with the right man she would make a great ally. And she was already planning the next step. Truly, if she had power or he had drive, they could almost be dangerous. "I dare say I can conveniently be home." Lucius agreed, quite happy to be complicit in his sister's plotting. "I'll let you know when I need to be out, and you can pick anything outside those times that works for you two." He had military duties and to his Legate, but otherwise he was hers. "Do you think it might impress her if I conveniently arrive home in full armour?" Like he had that day. He had no idea what this country girl might look for in a man, but he wanted to start with a good impression. Ovinia was absolutely right; one fared much better with their father if one presented him with solutions rather than problems.

Truly, it was fortunate that there were no sharp objects within easy reach, else Lucius's life might have ended in that moment, judging by the look on his sister's face. Why? He gave her a really? look. "Lets see. He's pater familias, he's never been married and has no sons so you'd be mother to his heir and the future pater familias. He's already a Quaestor, so he has political ambition, and with you at his side I'm sure he could go even further. He's not known to have a temper or any vices, and if his brother's cute he must be at least somewhat attractive." They were the same stock after all. "And you don't know why you rejected him." Which was perhaps the most important point in his eyes. "Except possibly for the crime of not being someone else." He amended.

Then he shrugged. "But I only asked the question. 'No' is an answer." And if she wouldn't reconsider even though Lucius, oblivious to the details, thought she was mad, then that was that. Another family trait tended to be stubbourness. "I'll have to see if any of my friends have nice arms and a good jawline." Yeah OK, maybe he wasn't quite ready to let that one go, but he would absolutely see if there was anyone else out there who was good enough for his sister.

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She wrinkled her nose and snorted (very unladylike) in amusement. "You might scare her off, traipsing in in your full armour. Maybe just bring your helmet?" Sosia was gentle and naive and she couldn't imagine she would be wholly impressed by a sweaty, towering Tribune bounding in to greet her whilst she was sipping sweet wine and weaving her wool. "And I'll find some time within the next few weeks." It'd do her good to stop mooning at unsuitable men like Tiberius, not that her brother needed to know about that. She loved him to the ends of the earth but he was hardly an Imperial Prince. 

She sunk down lower on the couch, groaning as he started to rattle through the list of Gaius Vipsanius Roscius' virtues. She knew all of them, it was nothing she hadn't considered herself although he was missing 'kind', 'funny' and 'too soft on his family' from his list. "Stoooop." she grumbled and held an olive aloft as if ready to throw at him. His quip about his friends didn't help improve her mood much either and she just led there, glaring at him, sipping at her wine. She did set down the olive though. Silence settled between them, but his words flushed colour onto her cheeks. Gaius really had been an excellent match, sourced both by her half-brother Tullius and her father. He would make an excellent husband, of that she had no doubt but...

You want the fancy life, the domus, the children, the social standing, the respect. But you, Ovinia Camilla, also want to be in love. 

"I...know it's stupid," She started with a wince and pointedly kept her eyes from her brother, "But a friend of mine...got in my head a little, as my meetings with Gaius progressed." She hadn't told her father this, she hadn't told anybody this but she was closest above all others with Lucius and maybe...just maybe he'd understand, "I know love isn't something you start a marriage with," She cleared her throat - Lucius Vipsanius had disagreed, "But I do...want...that." She sounded pathetic, really, "And Gaius was a good man but I didn't get a feeling that I would love him...not properly, which I know, I know is utterly foolish because I don't even know what love is supposed to feel like, but my friend got in my head and ugh..." She added hurriedly and downed another gulp of her wine, "Have you ever been in love?" 

 

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Scare her off? Was she that timid? If she'd grown up in the peaceful Roman countryside perhaps she wasn't accustomed to legionaries and appraised of the obvious appeal of a man in uniform. Oh well. "I can put some twigs in my hair and bring a chicken, would that help?" OK, now he was just being obnoxious. But as a brother and not the eldest, he maintained that was his prerogative. But despite the constant urge to tease or annoy his sister - because she did react so very well - he did appreciate the consideration and the fact that she'd organise the meeting for him. He'd rather at least go to his father with a suggestion, rather than settling for whomever the old man decided was best for the family's fortunes. Oooh, sudden insight? 

Except that Vipsanius Roscius seemed absolutely perfect. If he'd been a girl, Lucius would have done him in an instant, or so he thought. Maybe he'd think differently if he actually was one, but even Ovinia seemed to realise that the man was pretty hard to beat as he rattled off his virtues and she sunk slowly lower into her couch, finally threatening to throw an olive at him, since she'd run out of cushions, finally glaring at him and drinking her wine. Alas but he wasn't aware of the private little list his sister held that Gaius had failed to meet. 

I... know, it's stupid.

She looked so miserable then, Lucius felt sorry for her. And then she started to talk, to explain in a way, and he listened as perhaps only he might do. Someone, a 'friend', had gotten to her, whether with the idea of love, or the thought that she might love him. Someone had put romantic foolery into her head and, at the time and on the feeling that she'd not be able to love Gaius, she'd rejected him. Hooo boy. Yeah, that was not one to share with their father. But she wanted love, wanted it so much she'd made herself miserable, when she didn't even know what she wanted. 'Sweet' and 'silly' weren't words that Lucius would normally use in association with his frankly canny and organised sister, but he was thinking them now. 

But he was also thinking practical, very Lucius things. "Well, you know, we all make mistakes." He offered a faint half-smile. "Just, if you're going to make them, try to learn from them, yeah?" Hopefully next time she was offered a good man, she'd take him.

Then she asked him whether he'd ever been in love, and that half-smile faded. "I thought I was." He admitted quietly after a moment. He hadn't told anyone in the family, but Ovinia had shared with him... "This doesn't go beyond us." He said, pointing at her with his half-eaten piece of cheese. "But when I first went to Hispania I fell head over heels for this local woman, Estrella, who served at the fort and lived in the vicus." He revealed. "She was gorgeous, flirty, experienced." Everything a young man could want. He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "After a couple of months I knew she was the one, we had to be together. I went to my Legate and told him I wanted to marry her." Lucius's hazel eyes unfocused as he looked back seven years to when he was only a little older than Ovinia herself. "I thought I was going to get the ear-bashing of my life, and I was ready for that fight, but he just sighed and asked me if I knew she'd been all over Didius Armenius before I'd arrived?" The expression on Lucius's face showed exactly how well that had gone down, the idea that the apparent love of his life was only interested in him because he was of higher social standing than her last lover. "He then told me that it was important to understand the difference between love and lust." He said carefully. "That lust was what I felt for Estrella, and it is what you feel when you see someone attractive and think you want them, but that love grows over time, from knowing someone well, working with them and respecting and admiring what they are." Which had not been what the younger, hormone-fueled Lucius had wanted to hear at all, but the wisdom of his words had become apparent over time. "Then he sent me away to help garrison distant fort for three months." He chuckled, thinking back on how sour he'd been at the time. "When I came back Estrella was attached to someone else." But there had been other pretty things interested in a Roman in an officer's uniform. 

"So no. I've never been in love, even though I thought I was at the time." He admitted, sipping his own wine. "If I had to guess, I'd say that one could find one's self a lot of misery, searching for love. Better to find someone you're comfortable with, and maybe love will grow." Whatever that meant for each of them individually. Ovinia already knew his criteria; he still wasn't entirely certain on the specifics of hers. Perhaps he never would. 

"Does that completely fail to answer your question?" He grinned at her.

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The half-smile on his face and his words didn't help her feel much less foolish. Even her sweet-natured brother, the one she felt had the softest heart or at least the most romantic view of the world judging by his desire for a rural idyll in his life, thought she was an idiot. She sighed and dropped her eyes down to her almost empty wine-cup, embarrassed and flushing. It had only been a faint hope that he'd understand, but it felt like it was crushed and that feeling only increased as he started to speak.

She reluctantly dragged her eyes up as he directed her that this went no further. She nodded hurriedly and set down the olive she had been aiming at his head a few moments before, listening intently. The surprise on her face was obvious immediately, brows rising...and then falling again into a frown of disgust as he chose to make his story crude. Discussing lust with her older brother had not been on her list of priorities today and her cheeks started to flame red in further embarrassment. 

That lust was what I felt for Estrella, and it is what you feel when you see someone attractive and think you want them, but that love grows over time, from knowing someone well, working with them and respecting and admiring what they are. 

That was precisely the opposite advice to that which the other Lucius had given her and it further deepened her frown. She couldn't even manage a laugh at the thought of her brother being sent to nurse his wounds on some remote outpost, too distracted in her own thoughts. Yes she knew the road she was uneasily treading - turning down a good man for the imperceptible feeling of love  was a dangerous one, a miserable one as he astutely guessed but the thought of the alternative as he suggested it made a heavy sinking feeling grow in her chest, like a pebble dropped into a pond. 

"You know when you give advice you sound a lot like father." She said with a wan smile after some moments of silence after he'd finished. It wasn't the kindest thing she could say, but she felt defensive, on edge. She had been brought up her whole life with just the responsibility to marry who she was told to and bear them sons. That was it. Love or any real notion of it had never factored into the equation until her girlhood crush on Decimus had led to her first falling out with her father. She had done the right thing in cutting him off some months prior. But now, despite herself and the image of maturity she tried to project, it clouded her thoughts and caused a ripple of nerves to flutter her chest whenever her father suggested she was healed enough to start courting again. "I suppose I was just thinking about...more." She offered honestly, verbalising all of the maelstrom in her head over the last few weeks. It was an attempt at an apology as well for her earlier, slightly catty remark. "That I could do more or have more than just a random old Senator," Anybody over thirty was old to the nineteen year old Ovinia, "With whom I can make polite, superficial chit chat at cena and adorable pudgy children." She shrugged and drained her cup, placing it down on the table. "But that chit chat and those children are my future, I know that, I'm not an idiot. Not all of us can retire to the provinces and do as we wish." Okay, so back to being catty. She poured herself some more wine and chose not to offer any to him. She always got bitchy and defensive when embarrassed.

 

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Might he and Estrella have been deliriously happy if they'd been allowed to wed? Her because she'd got the rise in society and him because the sex was awesome? Would they have made the marriage work, had chubby babies and lived on an estate in Hispania, happily ever after? They'd never know. No doubt Lucius's Legate thought he was doing the young man - and his father - a favour, and after seeing Estrella latch onto the next hopeful when he disappeared, Lucius believed he saw the wisdom in his Legate's words. So had he ever been in love? Probably not. She'd asked, but as Lucius told his story, Ovinia looked more and more downcast, and that troubled him. He'd hoped his story would help his sister come to the realisation that what she was feeling wasn't what she thought, and bring out the incredibly practical woman he knew she could be, perhaps with a little laugh at the same need to learn and grow that they all went through, himself included. 

But it didn't. She just seemed to curl in on herself, though she did wrangle a wan smile as she informed him tartly that he sounded like their father when he gave advice. "Well, that makes two of us." He replied, letting any intended offence slide off his slim shoulders. "And last I checked with father I can't retire to the provinces either." So no one was getting what they wanted.

He'd always been the least likely of the four siblings to be described as like their father. He'd certainly considered himself to take after their mother, but both sides came through in different ways. Their mother was a good listener, and Lucius listened as Ovinia spoke of how the future she saw laid out before her didn't excite her. But their father was a good strategist, and as he listened he was already thinking about how the issue could be approached in a way that his sister might find more livable. After all, she'd helped him with his issue, probably time to stop being a brat and start returning the favour.

"This has really gotten to you, hasn't it?" He asked, with rather more sympathy than he'd shown earlier. much as he might rib her for being silly he didn't like to see her upset, and she'd had several things to be upset about recently. The fire and the attack certainly hadn't helped. "I just don't want you to make some decision you'll regret later." He said simply. "If you hadn't read poetry and listened to your friend, you'd probably have been perfectly happy with Gaius Vipsanius Roscius."  Maybe even fallen in love with him. But that was a story that wasn't going to get told. "But father always says that you can't change the past, you can only learn from it." And he was suddenly very businesslike. Some out there were perfectionists and expected everything to meet their expectations - *cough* father *cough* - but Lucius found it far easier to work with what he had, rather than what one thought there should be. 

"So, given that the man's brother very inconsiderately went off to be a vigile, is there anyone else who's caught your eye?" He asked, perfectly serious, even though it was often hard to tell with Lucius when he was being serious. "It's always better to go to father with a solution rather than a problem, unless you want your problem solved for you, his way." So perhaps they could find a solution that Ovinia could live with. "You said you didn't think you could love Gaius, but have you met anyone you think you could?" If love was what she wanted, and what would make her happy, then they should find it for her.

He picked up a piece of bread, pulled a tiny pinch off it, and popped it into his mouth, followed by another. It was an odd thing he'd done since they were children, leading their elder brother to growl 'just take a bite!' at him at least once. 

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She nodded mutely with a pathetic little sigh as he posed to her that it had really gotten to her. Yes, it had. Her meetings with Alexius and then Lucius had slowly, gradually thrown into chaos all that she thought she knew and wanted for her life. She hadn't even realised it until she was faced with the thought of sixty years with a nice, normal, stable man like Gaius and she felt herself yearning for something more...something different. The dawning realisation that what she actually wanted - fun, love, passion was most definitely not guaranteed was hitting her like a ton of bricks in this conversation. How could she have been so stupid? Yet even now, she couldn't quite dampen the voice in her head that trilled irritatingly; you deserve more.

She knew Lucius was trying to be helpful, which was sweet of him, but she wasn't sure it was helping. If anything it was making her feel worse. She shook her head dejectedly at his questions, his previous words still sticking in her mind like glue; father always says you can't change the past, you can only learn from it. But she wasn't learning, she was still craving something more even if it was ridiculous. 

"No." She said quietly, "I haven't met anybody." Else. Sighing, she pushed herself to stand and then held a finger up to him - "Wait here." Without another word she padded off to her fathers tablinum. She shouldn't have been snooping, but when her mother was unwell she often had to help her father with the organisation of household goods and accounts with his secretary. It made her privy to information she should definitely not be aware of, including a list and correspondence with men he was evidently angling to set her up with. She returned a few moments later with a tablet. On it, a series of names were neatly carved. She handed it to Lucius. "This is my future. What do you make of the men on that list?" 

 

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No. I haven't met anybody.

Lucius was about to open his mouth - and not for more bread - but suddenly Ovinia jumped up, admonishing him to stay put, and disappearing into the house. A few moments, and the rest of his bread, later she reappeared, a wax tablet in her hand, which she offered over. He took it, and immediately recognised their father's style. He silently raised an eyebrow at her, then perused the list as she explained that he was looking at her possible futures. Oh boy. Suddenly the tablet felt really heavy in his hand, but he tried not to let it show on his face.

Instead he focused his attention on her question. "They're all from good, Patrician families." He ventured after a moment. "I don't think any of them that I recognise have a father who isn't a Senator, and I'm pretty sure a number are themselves." Their father was, as always, aiming high. "Cassius Longinus is pater familias, was married but only has a daughter." So she'd have his heir. "I've heard that he's a bit free with his funds though." He added. "No idea whether he's a lover but I know he's a fighter." He'd been in the military. "Lucius Caecilius Metellus. Nope, way too old. Plus he's already got an heir." He'd personally rather that his sister was a first wife, but this wasn't about him.

"Who else..." Some of these were really outside options, if he knew them at all. "Publius and Lucius Horatius Justinius." His brows rose slightly. Maybe. "Very good family. Their sister, Horatia Justinia, is married to Calpurnius Praetextatus, the previous Consul. Lucius is the younger, about my age, I met him briefly at the military academy; nice fellow." Which was to say that he'd been friendly and laid back and they'd got along well. "He'd probably be my pick." But they were discussing Ovinia's future husband, not his drinking buddy. "Publius is the pater familias now. He's had a long military career, only just completed a provincial Quaestorship but he was already an elected Senator. Married previously and has a son and daughter." He said, trying to recall the gossip in the barracks. "I did hear that he was very fond of his wife, and took her death hard. Maybe there was love there?" He suggested tentatively.

But really, he had no idea who might appeal to his sister, who she might be able to love. Who might be able to love her. "At the end of the day, I think father's right." He said, then hurried to clarify because he knew that would go over like a dead rat in the store room. "You need to get out more. Meet some of these men if you can, see if any of them strike you as lovable." How would she know if she didn't meet them? "Maybe at some official event, like that party at the palace we went to. Surely there will be more like that, and you might be able to meet some of these eligible sons." And if she could form and opinion on them to take to their father, she might just get her way.

"Have you talked to any other women about this?" He asked suddenly. "I mean, there's mother." But he wondered suddenly whether there was any love in his parent's relationship. It wasn't a comfortable thought. "Or... I heard that Praetextatus speaks very highly of his wife, and she runs a reading club..." Maybe Ovinia could go along and find an opportunity to have a chat, woman to woman?

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Ovinia curled her legs underneath her and fiddled with the end of her long dark hair, twisting it around slender fingers as she bit her lip. She thought Lucius likely to be a better judge of character than her other brothers, and indeed her father, but he was likely looking for different things. As he rattled through the list, that much was obvious - particularly when they got to Lucius Horatius Justinus. She smirked at him; "Drinking the barracks out of wine does not a good husband make, brother." Not that Publius enthused her much more - a military husband, she suspected, would likely be institutionalised, and she had no great desire to play second fiddle to a long dead wife.

She groaned again, less enthused than she hoped she'd be and held out her hand for the list back. She'd stash it back in her fathers office later. "Lest you forget Tiberius' party was for those of us under thirty, and all of these eligible suitors are ancient. But a party isn't a bad idea." She shifted on the couch, uncomfortable at the thought since the attack. It was ridiculous of her, she knew, but trauma was a complex thing she was beginning to realise. She felt like a different woman to the one who had existed before she had been pulled into that abandoned shack.

"And no," She scoffed, "Most of my married friends would laugh me out of the room if I said I was looking for love. You almost did." She rolled her eyes, "It's fine," She tried to brush off her discomfort and the awkwardness of this conversation, "I'll be fine. I will. I promise. I just...need to get my head in the game. And reply to some invites for some parties, but I hope you realise you'll be tasked with chaperone duties." She gave him a smug smile and popped one of the dates in her hand in her mouth, munching down before she became a touch more serious. "I wish you could stay here all the time. I do miss having you in the domus." She gave him a little pout. "You leave me alone with Gaius and Tertius far too often. I don't get anywhere near this level of civility with them." 

 

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