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Walk on the Wild Side


Jannus
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March, 74 CE

A pigeon flutters past Jannus's feet as he rushes through the streets. Navigating the city is a complex game of stopping and starting at the right time, knowing when to go and when to yield. For him specifically, he’s meant to weave around people more important than him and the occasional cart, a task not easily accomplished with his bulky frame. The people of Rome in this area are sleek and swift like sparrows, but he’s more of a plodding chicken if anything, his sandals grabbing at the edges of the cobblestones like ungainly claws. 

He rounds the edge of another building, then another. He knows he’s not that far from the Basilica, and the map of Rome itself has long since been engraved into muscle memory, but he navigates purely with kinesthetic memory, not by landmarks. It means he can find his way even in the darkest of nights, but when he messes up a turn, it’ll take him far longer to figure out the correct path. His movements become quicker and more frantic as he tries to retrace his route to find out where the correct building is. A vague yet heavy feeling of fear clouds his mind as he dodges a person here, walks along a sidewalk here, then racks his mind for the address.

Dominus wasn’t pleased the last time Jannus erred in his deliveries, and treated him to the sharp lash of the whip. Even now, Jannus feels a phantom ache along his back from where the leather had cut into flesh and twisted it to the side. It healed ugly, he knows. All injuries like that do. He feels the scar tissue pressing ever so slightly into his back at night when he rests, a permanent reminder of failure. Of the harsh sting of being given up. Of seeing the doors of what he thought was home slam shut in his face. Of everything he’s tried to scrub out. 

By now, he’s gotten far more lost than he would have been if he stopped. Jannus leans his arm against a wall, resting his forehead on the crook of his elbow. Why couldn’t he get this simple task right? His nearly faultless track record with getting things done made each and every mistake sting all the more.

@Atrice

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Helios was making his way back to the brothel as so often before. He'd spent the night with a Senator and his wife, and after a lovely meal they had continued in the bedroom. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but it was interesting to see them together and listen to their opinions on other Senators and important people of Rome. Helios had a good memory and he'd remember it all and tell it to his master, once he returned to the brothel. But he wasn't all that busy about getting there. It was still daytime, he'd been allowed to sleep in, in a very lovely bed and had been serviced by a lovely female slave in the morning. Not what he was used to at the brothel, which meant it was very nice. He wasn't in a hurry at all. 

Instead he took his time. The long and golden hair was loose and fell down his back and around his shoulders. He wore a pale tunica with blue details here and there and a new bracelet around his one arm, that the Senator had gifted him. Besides that of course, he had the payment for his master. 

As he was walking, he noticed a young man standing by a wall, seeming in distress. No one else seemed to care. Maybe he should help the young man, a slave it seemed... and maybe the slave would repay him with knowledge about anything in Rome, anything useful anyway. Helios' first master at a brothel had taught him well, he knew how to use people for his own benefit and without it seemed like it.

"Hey..." Helios approached the other man by the wall, speaking softly, "Is everything alright?" 

@Insignia

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Calm. Peace. He used to take such things for granted. Now everything’s changed, and his mind is in an uproar over it. When he was young, he used to look up at the buildings made from concrete and brick and picture himself leaping from rooftop to rooftop, unburdened by anything. The few trees he remembered as a child were easily dwarfed by such establishments. A shining city, full of shining people; he wanted so badly to be part of it, to be respected and to call upon others instead of the other way around. That dream is what it is, a dream. Little point in indulging himself in childish fantasies anymore, regardless of how beautifully rays of white light bathe the city in warmth.

None of the sun’s energy melts the icy chill of panic in Jannus’s chest. He can’t possibly fail, not when he had made so much progress to learn, so many promises to do better! 

A young man with light hair interrupts his thoughts. He asks if Jannus is okay. The sun casts his hair in a golden light, and his blue eyes have a spark of dignified sympathy. Jannus swears for a short moment that he has been visited by Apollo himself. No, it couldn’t be. Gods don’t visit barbarians like him. He squeezes his eyes shut before opening them and forcing himself to look at the man’s face. Whenever he got into these moods, making eye contact was difficult. Everyone around him had expressions contorted into ones of harsh judgment. It was easier to picture large blots of ink over their faces. He always felt better looking down.

“I’m afraid I’m lost, and I can’t afford to be later than I already am,” Jannus confesses.

@Atrice

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It was not the sun-god Apollo, but rather Helios, another god of sun and light, who had come to the young man's aid. Or perhaps it was just Helios the prostitute, named so because of his golden hair and his blue eyes that matched the sky. But he was willing to let anyone believe anything about him, as long as they would listen to him and let him listen to them especially. This young man here glanced at him, but then did not meet his eyes. Did he think Helios was a free Roman? In this outfit? It was sweet. He'd not yet seen a Roman man with long hair roam the streets of Rome. And especially not with it hanging loose like Helios had it. 

The other said that he was lost and couldn't afford to be late. Oh.

"Well... I can't fix time, but maybe I can help you find out where you're going? I've lived here most of my life and I know Rome very well." Helios said with a friendly smile to the other, "I'm sure we can work this out. I'm Helios by the way." 

@Insignia

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It dawns on him far too late that this unusually well-dressed man with long flowing hair most likely makes his living off of sex work. Even so, he carries himself with such a manner of dignity that Jannus feels compelled to yield before him. In a land of gods and monsters, Helios certainly looks the part of a deity. Jannus finally garners the courage to meet the other man’s eyes; those of Helios are a vivid blue compared to his own dull gray. If he were older and wiser, he would be businesslike in this encounter, asking for directions with little room left for personal conversation. However, Jannus is both young and naive, and he wants to know more about this world he’s supposed to love despite being so vulnerable.

“That-that would be great, thank you. I’m sure I’ll know the way eventually, just got turned around a bit here and there.” The corners of his mouth quirk up into a smile, not one of the false ones he displays (usually showing plenty of teeth), but a smaller and more natural one. “I’m Jannus. Do you know where the fifth alley from the Basilica is?” Once he finds the street, he’ll never fail again, so he promises himself. For the sake of both the skin on his back and his dignity.

@Atrice

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Helios would have been happy to know the other man's thoughts concerning his own appearance. Yes, he probably looked the part of a prostitute with his hair and the gold against his somewhat tanned skin, gifted by the client from last night. But he also looked to fit his name, which was just as natural to him. He was used to being around people of higher classes, even if he was a slave, so there was that too. And he was here, just willing to help out a lost soul in Rome. That's all he wanted. And then the stranger would owe him a favor someday. 

He introduced himself and the other did smile now, said he'd find the right way soon, but he got turned around a few times and now he was lost. The stranger introduced himself as Jannus and explained where he was going.

"Of course. Come." He replied cheerfully, "Just relax and try not to rush. I know that when you rush too much, that's when you lose your way and forget what to do." Helios said as he motioned for the other to come, "You're a house slave, I guess?" He looked the other over, tried to judge him by what he wore, "Is your master wealthy?" 

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Jannus rarely thinks to comment on another person's appearance. When he does, it is as a utility, whether it be one of his fellow slaves venturing to seek out a new paramour, or one of the female prostitutes from the poorer side of the city wanting to proposition him, anyone, to get a bit of money. It was disheartening, seeing them sell away their dignities for a bit of bread and some shelter. Then again, did those women really have any choice, especially when most were younger than he was? If a male slave like him couldn't get away, what made it easier for the fairer sex? The concept of a male prostitute, on the other hand, confused him. A delicious mire of subjectivity, and one that he's been forced to contemplate in the moment, no less.

He couldn't help but notice the way the sunlight made Helios look all the more beautiful. Curse his beating heart and the kind words. Hesitantly, he offers a watery smile. 

"Thanks, Helios," he says, testing out the name. It was true. All his hurrying only led to tardiness. Aware of how stupid he must look, Jannus follows Helios, eventually finding a pace where the two are walking side by side. "I run messages, mostly. And my master...I'm not sure. He keeps a lot of things hidden from us. But he must be, if he has more than one messenger slave." His back still stings. "Are things different for you?"

@Atrice

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Helios was selling his body for much more than bread and shelter. And he got much more than coin and jewelry as payment. He got people's secrets, the stories they'd tell their lover in a late hour or mumble in their sleep, after Helios had exhausted them. He serviced both men and women and he was not cheap. Sometimes he enjoyed it, sometimes not, but it was his lot in life and until he could earn his freedom, this was what it was. He would give his master and mistress what they wanted him to gain for them, whether it be money or secrets. Or both. And he'd gain his own profit then. 

Jannus here could probably not pay him with anything but stories and secrets, but that's what Helios would take then. This was Rome and nothing was for free, even if it seemed so. And Jannus didn't appear to suspect anything. He thanked Helios and as they began walking, he explained what he did for his master, but his master didn't tell him a lot of things. 

"I imagine he might be. If he has a large home and many slaves... he probably is wealthy." Helios said as they walked, "I guess things are different. Very, I imagine. I'm much more than a messenger." He replied, "I'm a prostitute." He then added, just to be clear, but he also wasn't afraid to admit it, "I hope you don't mind walking side by side with someone like me. You're free to leave, if you do. I'm used to it." 

@Insignia

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Oh, Jannus. Too many lives he's tried to live. First as part of his blood family, then a dear pseudo-son, now a lackluster messenger. He once heard that people who lived for too long never got to enter the afterlife. It cannot be true. Yet he worries no less. He gets enough food and water. A blanket always waits for him when he returns at night. His back does not sting anymore. His current life isn't the worst. It's just not the one he planned for. There is no talk of philosophy or social maneuvering, for those are too extraneous. Each and every day leaves him exhausted by the end of it. And in the case of Helios, it leaves him vulnerable.

Was it by chance or fate that the two of them met? Jannus chooses to believe the latter. If the former is a possibility, then it implies that there is no greater plan waiting for him, no outward thought given to him by the lowest of gods. The thought makes him feel even more alone. No, this was made to be. Helios is friendly, and cares about his life. Helios is the one good thing about this day. He tries to answer Helios honestly, but there are so many things he remains ignorant of. What did his master really do?

"I've been trying to climb the ranks and get into my master's good graces, but nothing I do seems to work," he admits. As for Helios's own confession? "No, I'd never. You're nice to talk to." More quietly: "What's it like, being in your line of work?" 

@Atrice

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Helios was very used to talking to strangers and also very used to saying the right things. It's what you had to do, when you were the kind of prostitute he was, whose master wanted more than coin when Helios showed up again. When your main trade was secrets and your body was just the way to get them, you learned how to say the right things at the right moments. Not that he felt he had to do a lot with Jannus, and he didn't even know if anything he said would be useful, but one could never know too much. At least not Helios. They walked side by side and Jannus seemed comfortable with him. He spoke of trying to get into his master's good graces, but nothing worked. 

"Being in our position isn't always easy. I'm sure you'll find out what to do. That's what happens when you have no other options." Helios said and had revealed frankly what he was and that Jannus could just leave. Which of course he knew Jannus would not do, but again, it was all part of the manipulation Helios did. The other would know what it was like doing what Helios did.

"It's... hard, sometimes. It can be satisfying. But mostly it's about satisfying others. Whether it is the patrons or your master, as long as they're happy, you're fine." Helios said and looked at Jannus, "Does your master take you to his bed?" Jannus was nice looking and it wasn't exactly uncommon that Roman slave owners would make good use of their slaves, whether the slaves wanted to or not. But Helios was curious. As he had to be.

@Insignia

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It's honestly astounding how Jannus remains this naive about the Roman world, the one made of lies and deceit, even though he's been a messenger for a while. If he were of a stronger state at the moment, if he didn't fudge the delivery as terribly as he did, perhaps he'd have the energy to be aware of what Helios was truly planning. How nothing, not even good words, comes for free. How even if somebody is kind, it doesn't mean they're a good person. And so he gets strung along like a puppet, nodding at everything Helios is saying and taking the prostitute's word for that of the divine. 

"I keep trying to do the same things over and over, only to get the same result. I don't know if I have the ability to think outside the box." That much is true. He is not a particularly creative person. Certainly, he can mind his p's and q's in a great house like the one his master lives in, but that sort of knowledge, in his case, does not translate well to neighborhood politics. Jannus has learned to wade in the seas of negotiations, but what happens outside the house is practically an abyss.

"Just when I think I'm doing well, something else trips me up and I'm left trying to catch up." For Helios's inquiry about what his master does in bed, the answer is a shake of the head. "He has other slaves for that." It is not as though his master is unattractive; he's young enough. But Jannus can't imagine handing over his dignity like a dish in the popina.

@Atrice

 

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Jannus seemed to be having a hard time being a slave and Helios wondered if he was captured and turned into a slave very recently. But his Latin was good, so he didn't think that was the case. He spoke like someone who had been speaking the language for most of his life. And yet apparently he had problems pleasing his master and doing the wrong things. 

"I'm sure you'll get the hang of it." Helios said with a comforting tone, "Else just... ask for help? Not from your master, of course, but from the other slaves. I know some slaves think themselves better than others, but really, we're all in the same boat." Some just had a better boat. Helios didn't think he was doing to bad, despite that he was a slave and even a prostitute. He didn't want to call himself a whore. They were the cheaper kind in his head, the nastier kind. Helios had a certain rank in the Domus Venus by now and he intended to keep it that way. If he couldn't climb higher, which he hoped to do. Jannus... didn't seem so lucky. But at least his master had not taken him to bed.

"I see. It was also just a thought. It's not like you're bad looking, Jannus." He said with a smile, "But not all masters are nice to their slaves in bed. So maybe you're lucky. You're a messenger instead. Is it an important thing you have to deliver today?" 

@Insignia

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Ever since his first master died, everything's been in turmoil. It's difficult for him to accept the ugly truth that regardless of the training he received from his first master on how to read and write, regardless of how much he might have been treated as something resembling a grandchild, he is anything but. Once a slave, always a slave. Always the scum of society collecting on the bottom of someone else's sandals. Second master is harsh. And Jannus's own proud reputation around the other slaves before he was subjected to the same treatment as the rest of them has made this quite the situation to salvage.

"I was one of them, you know." His words drift up and away like stray feathers. "I used to think myself above the rest." It was a mistake, all of it. He wishes he'd been more willing to mend fences. The past is dead, though. Only the present still lives, and he must make the best of it. "Now I pay for it." If only he could hold his head up high like Helios. Doing some of the worst work in Rome, and all with an air of strong and self-assured dignity nothing could remove, like a statue everybody on the street looked at but nobody dared touch.

Jannus smiles back, turns his head away when he hears the compliment (though it's painfully obvious he's quite pleased). "It's about what you make of it, I guess." As for the letter? "A message from dominus to a nearby business. I've no idea what for."

@Atrice

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Helios probably was one of those, who thought himself better than the others. Or maybe not. He just considered himself more lucky than some of his fellow slaves... and perhaps a little more clever, since he found a way to make further profit by using his body. He just wasn't free to call it all his own, but one day, he would be. One day, he'd spend his earnings on his own body. On buying his freedom. One day... but not today. Today, he was on his way home and he had company. Company that seemed to be with low self-esteem and beating himself up within because of it. 

"You'll come out on the other side I'm sure. Everyone has rough times, sometimes." Helios said kindly to the other and had complimented his appearance, when Jannus said his master had other slaves he took to his bed. It was true though, Jannus was not bad looking. But Helios wasn't for free and he was quite sure Jannus could not afford him. Then he'd owe Helios a huge favor, that's for sure. Something on the pain of death, or something. But he wasn't planning on seducing the other. Just talking. Yet Jannus did smile at the compliment and explained he was taking a message from his dominus, but didn't know what it was for.

"Maybe it would be useful, if you knew what your master was doing. Then you'd be able to help him and he would be pleased with you." Helios said, "Did you consider seeing what the message is? If you can read, of course..." Helios was a bad influence and he didn't care.

@Insignia

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Back when he was with the first master, he believed himself different from a common slave. After all, not every slave, especially someone as lowly as a slave-boy, got to learn to read from the dominus. They also didn't get old tunics right from the master himself and the chance to freely speak. What remained of Jannus's pride since those golden times has been slowly squeezed out like olive oil in a press. The prospect of freedom is so far away from what he once imagined. But if he were free, he'd become a writer and live by himself to have a space to let his ideas hang in the air. He hasn't written anything, not even words in the sand, for months.

"You really think so?" His eyes have a glint of hope in them. What a sweet thing, him genuinely thinking the two are now friends. When a cabbage has been frozen for years, it will remain cold and sturdy. With just a little bit of warmth, it'll quickly rot. Unbeknownst to Jannus, Helios may look like a deity, yet acts very different from one of the altruistic ones he'd heard about in stories. He's crafty and knows how to navigate the mire of politics permeating every corner of Rome, a far cry from the admittedly naive Jannus.

Helios's next idea, however, is poorly received. Well, somewhat. Jannus knows he has to be loyal at all costs. Truth be told, he's getting fed up about his master and wants to commit something mildly criminal. The lash scars against his back still ache from time to time. "He uses a seal, see." The message, indeed, has a glob of clay adhering the edges of the scroll together. "If I break it, the recipient will know."

@Atrice

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Helios nodded, "I really think so." He replied to Jannus, who seemed more hopeful now. See, Helios could do good things, like making another slave hope for better things. Those things might never come, but without hope, it would definitely never come. And it was better to hope than to give up, Helios thought. Even if making Jannus hope was just a part of how Helios was befriending him for later use, Jannus didn't know that. He was young and sweet and very clearly ready to believe anything to feel better.

But Helios had to try harder and figure out what Jannus and his master were all about. Was his master important? What was the message Jannus had to bring? But Jannus didn't wish to break the clay seal on the scroll. Damn those seals. But...

"What if you dropped it by accident? That could happen. People drop things all the time in Rome, especially if it's crowded. And your master and the recipient won't know the truth." Helios suggested. He could just make Jannus drop it, but he wanted it to appear to be Jannus idea too, just in case. Just so it couldn't be traced back to Helios entirely... "Aren't you curious?"

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Jannus smiles at that. At least someone has hope in him, and will tell him quite honestly that things will get better in the future. Through the toughest of days, he'll keep those words tucked away in his heart where nobody else can see them. Within everyone, he supposes, there's a person capable of surviving the worst situations. A person capable of doing whatever it takes to preserve their own life, then gaining the power to make a change. If he holds onto hope, it will come for him one day. It has to, because if it doesn't, what will he do?

Dominus wanted him to bring this scroll over as some sort of personal correspondence. Either that, or to the warehouse manager outside of ordinary business hours; today, the manager isn't supposed to be at the main office, which is why Jannus is running to the man's home. The clay seal feels like it's burning. He shouldn't. He shouldn't.

"I rarely drop anything. If I do just this once, won't it be suspicious?" Curiosity, stoked by Helios, distracts Jannus. He dearly wants to know what the message has, yet the fear of punishment keeps him reined in. 

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Jannus clearly considered what Helios was suggesting. Breaking the seal of the scroll somehow, so they could read what the message said. But he seemed hesitant, which was a pity. Helios would like to know more about Jannus' master, but Jannus was clearly much more uncertain and nervous than Helios was. Now he claimed he rarely dropped anything and that made it seem suspicious, if he did it this time. 

"Maybe it will. Well, it's your choice. The Basilica is not far now." Helios said and looked up, they really would be there soon. Maybe he should walk Jannus home afterwards, to find out more about him. One could never have too many friends in Rome, they might be useful someday, after all.

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His hands tightens around the message; he lets his arm fall by his side. Jannus hates getting in trouble. When he does, it's never a pretty sight to behold. Feels plenty painful, too. Frankly, he doesn't understand what his dominus wants from him. Never mind, he does. It's to do his job correctly and take the yelling with a straight face when he fails. If he follows the rules, he'll still be punished in many little ways. Little foxfires of things. If he rebels, he'll be hurt even more. Such is the way of life. 

The Basilica reaches out towards the sky with open arms. To think the trees could even come close to its grandeur. From here, it's a regular hop and skip down a few streets, and he'll be set. On an ordinary day, he could have found his way back with little worries. The transition period isn't treating him well, however, and his mind's been acting erratically as a result. One day, Jannus promises himself, he'll get better. "Thank you so much, Helios. I...maybe I'll try," he gestures at the message's seal, "another day."

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Helios watched Jannus with great interest, while the other slave seemed to reconsider Helios' idea with opening the message and seeing what it was all about. It really would be interesting. And no matter what happened, it did tell him a great deal about Jannus. He clearly didn't want to be found out, but he was curious. Yet too clever, because he chose to not do anything. Instead he thanked Helios and said he might try another day.

"As long as you're sure that's what you want." Helios simply replied and kept on following Jannus, "Once you've delivered the message... if you don't mind... I could walk you home? It's nice talking to you." He said, sounding almost a bit shy as he suggested it, but he wasn't. It would help though, if Jannus thought so. Helios wasn't exactly new to the game of pretense, after all.

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What was the message about, really? What did his master sell to others that was so important he simply had to have Jannus dash off during the hottest part of the day to deliver? And why is he staying in the poorer district for this contact? He's lit aflame with questions. Did his master even want the message to be delivered to a business contact? Was it a mistress being paid off? A worker on Helios's level, perhaps? No, it has the official seal. It must be a contact somewhere around this area.

"I'm sure," he responds, albeit a bit hesitantly. "If I get something less important, I'll practice having a look." His unsaid implication is that he'll work his way up, from seal-less messages to the official ones. Who knows, he may even indulge himself in learning how seals are applied so he can seal and re-seal them. Yes, he still remains afraid. Yes, he very much wants to act out, only in a way his master won't notice. Jannus doesn't mind having a handsome golden-haired man follow him home. "Yeah, uh, sure." He scratches the back of his head. "It's really no trouble if you have other things to do, but thanks."

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Helios just nodded when Jannus said he was sure he'd not look in the current scroll he had on him. But he might another time. Well, there was a reason to stay in touch with Jannus then - he could be manipulated into doing things he shouldn't, even if he at first said no. That was worth remembering. Both for Jannus and for Jannus' master, should such pieces of information ever come in handy. Helios didn't always collect and remember knowledge to use it right away. But he had it, should he need it. Good thing he had a good memory! But else he wouldn't be doing what he did.

He then suggested he could walk Jannus home after he'd delivered the message. Jannus agreed in his own way and Helios smiled, "I was just on my way home for a rest, but... I'm not in a hurry. I'll wait for you." Helios promised the other and lingered behind, once Jannus knew where to go and deliver the scroll. He kept an eye on the other of course, seeing which direction he went in and he might check in on it later. But for now, he was simply a new friend or something, waiting for Jannus to return to him.

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Posted (edited)

Is Helios really corrupting Jannus, or is he reminding the other of things he's long wanted to do but hasn't? Jannus has tried very hard to lock away the undesirable thoughts he gets from time to time. Notions of romance, of resenting not his master but the very city of Rome itself. Once, he dreamed he set his master's villa on fire and watched it burn. Instead of a pit of regret and despair, he felt free. He loved seeing those stupid scrolls light up and spread their flames across the floor and curtains. It made him wake up in a cold sweat. Jannus swore he'd forget it, but he hasn't been able to.

Bad luck might turn good sometimes. Sure, he got lost on a fairly simple route, panicked, and he'll most certainly be late to deliver the message, but a handsome man with hair that reflected the sunlight also approached him and helped. "Of course you can." His smile is smaller, isn't one of the ones that show his teeth for potential buyers, but it's natural. 

From here, it's quite easy to find the location of his master's contact. Jannus winds his way through the streets, wanders along the back of a house, and passes it off to another slave with a lot of fear yet little fanfare. The other slave only shrugs and takes it before closing the door; Jannus lets out a sigh of relief. The contact will surely mention Jannus's tardiness to his master the next day, but he can at least avoid punishment until then. 

After a short while, Jannus returns, hair slightly askew but looking no worse for wear. 

@Atrice

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Helios waited patiently for Jannus to return from his errand. Leaning against a warm wall with sunlight shining upon it, soaking up a bit of that since he was here anyway. People were looking at him as he stood there, all golden and pretty despite last night's adventures, but he either ignored them or gave them a little wink or a smile, if they seemed interested. One man even came over to him, asking if he was available, but alas, he was not. The wealthy looking man promised to find time to come and find Helios at the Domus Venus though. Well look at that, this was a good day!

And now Jannus reappeared, just as the man was leaving. Helios pushed from the wall and greeted Jannus with a bright smile. Once the other reached him, he tilted his head, "Good to see you again. Oh, your hair... if you don't mind?" Helios said and with one hand he flipped through Jannus' hair to make it fall properly into place again.

After that, he gave the other a smile, "So, lead the way and tell me about yourself." 

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