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April, 77 AD

 Another day in the life had begun and began to speed up as the morning progressed. Get up, wash, get dressed, begin cutting vegetables and setting the slaves to work too. Her mother was not well today and would not leave bed. Her father helped a little, but mostly he also tried telling the slaves what to do. Melissa did most of the work and she told herself she was happy to do it. If she didn’t do it, then who would? Just the slaves? No, that would not do.

 The hours before noon easily passed and then came the warmer part of the day. It was no longer winter and with spring came warm days. Sure, some days were warmer than others, but this was one of the very warm ones. They decided to close the thermopolia for a few hours after noon, because most people would spend that time going to the thermae or relaxing instead. Such was the life, at least in the area where she lived. Melissa thought it a good day to visit the thermae, it had been a few days since last time. So with a towel of her own in a simple bag, she set off towards the nearest thermae. Luckily, there were a few of such in the Esquiline.

 After taking her time in the bathing areas, she finally got dressed again and went to the surrounding gardens of the thermae to sit down by a fountain. Melissa felt she was not busy and the warmth made her feel a bit lazy. She leaned over to touch the water in the fountain and thought she might taste it, when someone came walking by, startling her so she almost fell into the water. Luckily, she caught herself and looked around to see who was in such a rush.

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Titus hated to relax, that much was obvious to most that knew him. If he was not at the Castra or on patrol, then he was busying himself with exercise or seeing his brother, or tending to problems of his neighbours. Leisure time for the purpose of leisure had always - or at least since his days as a slave - baffled him. How did people find time, or want to relax when they undoubtedly had a list of unfinished business a mile long that they had better tend to? 

It was why he was so avoidant about the baths. The barracks had bathing facilities but they were rudimentary and cold to say the least, and largely only used by those that needed to get the grime of a fire off of their skin as quickly as possible. He'd used them last night after a bakery had caught alight and had scrubbed himself as clean as he could. Unfortunately, the injuries he'd sustained in said fire - namely a bruise that stretched from hip to shoulder from a falling beam needed warmth to heal. Besides, he could still smell the smoke on his skin despite the scrubbing. 

But as usual, he'd been a brief as he possibly could be and now he was marching across the adjoining gardens, hair still dripping rivulets of water, determined to head back to the barracks and pick up mending the wheel of one of the carts they used. He didn't even see the woman peering into the fountain, so focused was he on getting out of this hellscape of relaxation - that when she stumbled and almost fell he had to do a double take. Blinking, he glanced down at her, dripping water from his drying blonde hair. "Sorry." He muttered and then frowned. No sane woman would be sat here trying to drink from a fountain, right? Was she ill? "You alright?" He asked briskly. He was a man of few words.

 

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Melissa liked to take these moments for herself and to relax, she just rarely had much time for it and honestly, she felt a little guilty. She really should get back to the thermopolia, she'd been away for long enough already. But just a moment more, that's what she wanted. That's when a stranger startled her by walking quite close to the fountain, almost brushing her sandaled feet, but not quite. Se almost fell, but managed to catch herself, now sitting in a bit of an awkward position with both hands on the edge of the fountain leaning over it. She turned to see a handsome guy there, apologizing and wondering if she was alright. Rather briskly. Melissa wasn't sure if he was nice or not, but she'd find out.

She swung herself down from the edge of the fountain and brushed the back of her chiton, "I'm alright, I think. You just surprised me. Really there's no need to rush in a place like this." The thermae were meant for cleansing and the gardens for exercise or relaxation. He didn't appear to be exercising though, not with how his hair was already dripping from a trip to the thermae. So why was he in a rush?

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Titus shifted between the balls of his feet and his heels, itching to leave the serenity of the gardens. Never one to admit a fault, he nonetheless knew he had a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Olympus about relaxing and using services that were generally kept for free citizens of Rome, not for Gallic freedmen like him. Besides, he was too busy to relax. 

The woman seemed to have different ideas though and he quirked a brow, the faintest hint of a wry smile on his lips as he took her in. "I have things to do." He muttered. There were plenty of reasons to rush in a place like this, he glanced around pointedly - gesturing to the slaves hurrying between the neat rows of flowers and hedges carrying towels and linens and other such stuff for use in the thermae. "They look like they're rushing." He pointed out with faint amusement. She was probably a citizen, maybe somebody fancy, she probably had no idea what it was like to be busy - at least from his ill-infomed perspective. He moved to step round her, shaking his head. "Enjoy your...fountain." The judgement in his tone was quite clear.

 

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The man was shifting in his spot, as if he was anxious to get away. Well he was the one who startled her and now he wanted to get away? What kind of behavior was that? Melissa was brought up to be kind to other people, she was not brought up to act the way he did. He smiled faintly and said he had things to do and that's why he was in a rush. He looked around and then gestured to slaves hurrying along the pathways in the garden and said they were rushing. Melissa rolled her eyes and slid off the fountain to stand - but at the same moment as he tried to step around her, causing her to almost land right in his path.

She stepped sideways to avoid a colission. 

"They are working, that's why they are rushing." She said, nodding towards the slaves, "I'm not and you're not." She added, he didn't look like someone at work, not with his hair wet like that... Melissa decided she'd not give up so easily, whatever it was she was supposed to give up on... "And it's your fountain as much as mine. I was just trying to get a quiet moment, before I'm going back to work too." It probably was, according to him, if he was busy about going somewhere, so busy that he had to startle her and then almost knock her over as he tried to step around her.

@Sara

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Another almost collision and Titus had to stifle the grunt of annoyance and smother it with a fake cough instead, plastering on the clearly very fake smile he used when his centurion or their Tribune were chatting utter nonsense. 

She worked. Intriguing. He quirked a brow and then glanced at the fountain. It was just some marble with some water splashing into it - he didn't see the appeal, personally. Still, he was being an oaf and he knew it and she clearly was not going to give up. He threw up his hands and pointedly sat down on the bench she'd just risen at, staring at the fountain bemused. "It's a...beautiful fountain." He said dead-pan but there was a ghost of a smile on his lips. "Where do you work?" She didn't look like a slave, but he supposed you could never tell. 

 

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He coughed when they almost collided again and Melissa wasn't sure she bought it. Usually she had nothing against men, plenty of them came to her thermopolia and they liked sharing stories as much as the women did. Oh, that's of course what she did wrong. She failed to make this all about him. That's why he was so upset. Some men, not all men though, like talking about themselves and preferred attention was on them, and not the woman. Maybe he was one of those. She'd explained though that she was working and it wasn't her fountain as he claimed, but it was his too. 

The man then threw up his hands as if he gave up, and then he sat down near the fountain. Calling it beautiful and wondered where she worked. Oh so now he was suddenly interested in her and not in a rush? How the world changed sometimes in a matter of moments! 

"It is, isn't it?" She agreed though, not sure she was too impressed by him, "I work at a thermopolia at the Esquiline. Alethius' thermopolia... he's my father. Although I do most of the work now." Melissa explained, remaining on her feet though. Recalling what she thought about before, she thought this strangely started conversation might take a more interesting turn, if she was reading him right, "What do you do, that makes you rush so?" 

@Sara

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A genuine smile, small but there, tugged on the corners of his lips as he glanced between the fountain and her. "That's where I recognise you from." He encountered plenty of people in his line of work, but the proximity of the Castra where he spent most of his time, his small one-room apartment with his brother and Alethius' thermpolia meant he frequented it often enough. Usually he took a cup of wine and a plate of something to go, or if he was not rushing (rare), he sat in one of the darker corners to eat in silence and peace. No wonder he'd never had a proper conversation with her before. "Your food is good." He managed as a compliment. Again, a rarity for him. 

Shifting on the bench he let out a little sigh and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm a vigile." He braced for fury. Much like the urban cohorts, vigiles were either loved or despised depending on if your home had burned down, you'd been robbed or otherwise accosted by them. He'd had plenty of both reactions, and nothing would surprise him so he pre-emptively added; "It's honest work. We saved the hospitia not far from your thermopolia last week." As if to demonstrate their utility. Of course, with shite leadership that he was itching to change, the actual value of what they did depended on who was on shift together. "And I need to go and fix the water cart. Hence the rushing." His lips twitched and he glanced up at her again. "But I can take a few minutes." 

 

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She smiled when he said he recognized her from the thermopolia and and then he even complimented the food. Now she was not so upset with him, since apparently he was not only familiar with her but also with her food, "Thank you. We serve the best we're able to." She replied with a smile. If he continued being nice to her, she might give him an extra bun next time, but he'd still to really impress her. Titus wasn't trying very hard to charm her, which she was unsure of was a good or a bad thing. Some men were too charming. Other men, not enough. It was hard to find the perfect one.

Then Melissa had asked what he did for a living, and he was a vigile. That surprised her, she didn't see that one coming! He had sighed, as if he was tired of it or maybe tired about being asked about it? She'd never personally known a vigile, but then he mentioned a hospitia near her thermopolia they saved recently. She nodded, "I remember that! You were all over the place! But if you hadn't been there, it would have gone worse, right?" She then added, she didn't dislike the vigiles, but she didn't love them either. They were just there, as a part of Rome, just like all the other parts that made the whole thing function. Without the vigiles, Rome would have burnt down many times by now. Then he spoke of a water cart he needed to fix, but he could take a bit of time.

"How kind you are." Melissa replied with a grin and a wink, "You like fixing things then, if you were in a rush? Or is it more you'll get in trouble if you don't? If so, don't let me keep you." She would not have him get in trouble because of her, but it was nice of him to sit down and talk to her. Melissa liked that. And now she could say she'd met one of the vigiles. 

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He smiled faintly as she remembered the fire in the hospitia and he nodded. Had he not been there, and his colleagues who took very little notice of what their idiot of a centurion chose to do, people would have died. They'd gone in when they shouldn't have, when they'd been ordered not to and plucked people out of the inferno. He still bore the bruises and burns from that one too. "It would have been worse." He agreed quietly. As it was, the landlord was furious and had to rebuild but the people were safe. In his line of work, that was pretty much all you could ask for.

"I don't care about getting into trouble." He wafted a hand with a little shake of his head and a shrug. He didn't. He wasn't a slave anymore which meant the consequences for disobeying orders or otherwise causing issues were far, far less serious. For one, he wouldn't lose his life or the skin on his back. But he hadn't been instructed to fix the cart, he was doing it out of habit, out of a desire to keep busy. Maybe he should listen to her, maybe he should take some time. It felt oddly unnatural for him. 

"What do you do? To relax?" He asked briskly, as if he needed guidance in the art of doing nothing.

 

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The vigiles were often in the way, but when they were there in time to actually stop a fire from spreading and saving lives, they were good men. And this one didn't seem to be the worst of them, at least. She'd judged him to begin with, but then he sat down and now they were talking and things were improving. See, you just had to talk to people. Get to know them. It might even be good for the vigiles that he chose to speak to her and not just leave. She nodded when he said the fire would have been worse, "Good for everyone that you came then." She said and had then wondered why he was in such a rush to fix a water cart. If he liked it or if it was a chore and he just didn't want to get in trouble. But he didn't care about that, which made her chuckle.

"That can be good or bad, not caring about that." She said, still smiling and leaned back against the edge of the fountain again to relax. And he asked what she did to relax... "I do this, for example. I come here. And I take my time. At home, there's no time for relaxing." Melissa explained, "I'm Melissa by the way. What may I call you, vigile?"

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"In my experience," She said with a faint smile, "As long as you don't hurt anybody, who cares so much about the rules?" If he followed every rule in his life he'd still be a slave most probably, rotting away on some farm. All the people he'd saved with his colleagues in the vigiles would be long left to burn had he not been there. Titus was a modest man by nature but even he could see hthat. 

"Titus. Or Marcianus." He used to go by Marcus, and Marcianus had followed but he found most Romans used his unfamiliar praenomen now. He was too ambivalent to argue about it. "You work a lot?" He queried, going back to her previous statement. "I..." He shifted uncomfortably with a little chuckle. "Find it hard to relax. Sitting here, doing nothing...I have a list a mile long in my head about what I should be doing instead." He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "People have told me to find a hobby." He snorted as if that was ridiculous. "Any recommendations?" 

 

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Melissa arched a brow, he was a vigile but he didn't care much about the rules and the law? She wasn't quite sure she agreed with that, "But rules are there for a reason, aren't they?" Maybe that's why the vigiles were often so disliked in Rome, despite their good deeds. They didn't care about the rules. If this man here didn't, who was to say the others were very different than he was? He shared his name then, Titus would be fine, she thought.

"Good to meet you Titus." She replied with a smile and then he'd asked about her work and said he found it hard to relax. Apparently he needed a hobby.

"I know many men are very fond of rooting for certain gladiators, or follow the races." She said, "I suppose drinking can be a hobby too? Many certainly dive deep into that. I salute you if you don't, though." She smiled, "But I don't know what other hobbies there might be for men. I don't suppose you're married?" Because that could kind of be a hobby too? Caring about a family, playing with your kids. He didn't act like a man who was married and honestly she wasn't sure if the vigiles could marry? They probably could though. Not that she'd suggest herself for it, she was bad luck for husbands or potential husbands and she didn't have time for it anyway. Who would look after the thermopolia if she was to have a husband and even children? She had no time for that.

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Titus chuckled at her list. None of it sounded hugely appealing, although he was a fan of the races if he could afford a ticket to go and watch. He didn't make his support for the whites plain though, given the vicious rivalries that erupted at a moments notice.

"I'm not married." He shook his head, vaguely amused and with another furtive glance at her. Was she asking because she was interested or because she was trying to be helpful? He'd had flings, of course he had, but he had no intention of settling down any time soon. He had his brother to look after, his work to keep him busy and friends to see. A wife wouldn't fit into that, and nor would children. He'd be a burden which is something he resolved never to be. "Are you speaking from experience?" He asked with an amused look in her direction. She seemed young but then Romans married their women young didn't they? "Children to keep you entertained...or in need of respite at this fountain?" 

 

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He chuckled at her mention of hobbies, maybe those were not his kind of hobbies, but there had to be something, right? She wondered if he was married then, because married people could care about their families and that was something too. But then he said he was not and wondering if she had any experience in that department. But she lowered her gaze for a moment, "No, I'm not." She said and looked up at him again, "Marriage yes... children, no. My husband never gained that much." Not that he hadn't tried, but he had not succeeded. Luckily, she thought, but she would never say that out loud.

"I don't know what other hobbies there are for men. I suppose you could maybe learn something new?" She then suggested, "Something you've always wanted to do, but never tried?" 

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He watched her as she lowered her gaze and sighed, musing that he'd hit a nerve most likely. He was about to apologise but she started speaking and he pressed his lips together in a thin line. He offered her a half-smile when she was through. "I'm sure they're in your future." He said mildly. That was what women wanted to hear, right? Granted, not the women he dealt with but respectable married women surely? 

But the conversation deviated and he arched a brow. Learn something new? "I...I suppose I'd like to learn my language again." He swallowed and cleared his throat. "I was fourteen, when I left. I've...forgotten more than I thought. My brother was younger, he's forgotten almost all of it and I...never use it anymore." He sighed and shrug, "Don't suppose you know anybody teaching languages from Gaul?" He glanced at her. Long shot, and even if it wasn't he'd likely never be able to afford it. "Besides that..." He chuckled, "I've always wanted to learn to cook." This was the most honest he'd been in a while. And he somehow didn't mind.

 

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Melissa shrugged when Titus said he was sure children were in her future, "Maybe... we'll see." She might like to have children, but could she have them without a husband? Just her and the kids? No, that didn't seem very likely. And since she had such bad luck in the husband department, maybe it just wasn't meant to be. They strayed from the topic though, towards Titus instead, who really seemed to be in need of something else to do than his line of work. She suggested he could learn something new and then he spoke of his own language. That he had more or less forgotten because he didn't use it. She gave him a sympathetic look, feeling a bit sad on his behalf.

"Maybe I've heard of one. I can look into it." She suggested with a smile. There was a redhead coming to her place and she was sure that woman had mentioned Gaul at some point. And that she was a tutor. She would ask her next time. Then Titus chuckled and spoke of learning how to cook. Which caused her to smile too.

"See that, I can teach you, if you don't mind trying it in a thermopolia." She said with a grin, "It's very basic though. Not that hard." Said someone who had been doing it for most of her life, but she really didn't think it was. If a slave could learn it, maybe Titus could too. Oh was that why he'd left his lands and had forgotten his language? Because he'd been a slave? Well he seemed nice enough after she got to talk to him. 

"How come you visit one evening, after cena. There's always a lot of people rushing in there, but after... there should be time. If you have time." She added, if he was a vigile, he was most likely busy at night.

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His brows rose in surprise as she said she'd heard of somebody and she'd look into it. That was unexpected. He'd met a few people from his homeland over the years but the majority were either enslaved or freedmen like him, and none had countenanced tutoring as a way to make a living. There was very little appetite, after all, in learning their language amongst the people in Rome. Not now that many in his homeland spoke Latin. "Thank you." He said a touch awkwardly after a bit of a pause. 

And then it got even more awkward and he found himself on edge. She was being far too kind to a perfect stranger. Life had taught Titus that kindness was weakness and there to be taken advantage of. At least for himself. Few people had given him any in return. He glanced at her, awkward, and cleared his throat. "I...don't wish to trouble you." He said with his eyes back on the fountain not her. Had she just offered...a date? Was that what this was? "You barely know me." He added with a small half-smile. "Are you always this kind to perfect strangers?" 

 

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Titus seemed surprised when she said she'd heard of someone who could teach him his own language. Well this was where working in a thermopolia really came in handy! You heard a lot of things when you were there, both straight from the horse's mouth itself and through gossip. Melissa liked this part. She knew things. So many things. And she had a good memory. He thanked her, sounding a bit awkward, but then she went on. He said he'd like to learn how to cook. She could teach him! 

But he cleared his throat and didn't want to trouble her. She tilted her head, "Well I offered it." She said with a smile, wondering why he would say such a thing. Suddenly he seemed so modest, almost shy! Not at all how he was like when she first spoke to him! But then he wondered why she'd do that when she barely knew him.

She chuckled, "Are we still perfect strangers, Titus?" She asked, "I admit I wasn't so keen on you at first. But you seem like a nice guy. Why shouldn't I be kind to you?" Maybe she was being naïve, but she didn't get any wrong vibes from him. He appeared genuine and now they'd spoken a little, he was even nice to talk to. Of course she knew Rome could be a dangerous place, but... you came a long way with a little bit of kindness.

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Titus' lips quirked ever so slightly into a thin smile and he ducked his head so she might not see it - training his eyes on the fountain instead. Few people in this city, in this whole goddamn empire were kind. He'd learned that the hard way, and was learning that even further during his work as a vigile. People despised them, despite the help he and a few of his colleagues offered. Men like his centurion - lazy, interested in bribes and shirking his duty - had sullied their reputation into dirt. 

"Because people abuse kindness." He said with a deep sigh and then leant back against the backrest of the bench and glanced sideways at her. "Most people I know here are only interested in themselves. There's no time for favours or kindness." He shrugged. It felt wrong  to him, but he put on a hard facade to the world and didn't show it. "But..." He felt awkward, ill at ease, but pushed himself to talk, "But if you're sure." He swallowed, "I can visit you in a few days time. When I have time off." Gods why was he being so awkward? 

 

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She felt a bit sad for him, when he sighed and spoke of how people would abuse kindness and that there was no time for favours or kindness at all in Rome. Of course she knew what a vicious town Rome could be, just think of how dangerous it was to walk out after darkness here... but still, Melissa had brought up to be a friendly and openminded person, because how else would you bring new guests to your thermopolia? And how else would you make sure that people returned, if you weren't nice to them in the first round? So she was. 

"Well... there's time for it now." She replied with a smile to him and then he agreed to visit the thermopolia in a few days time. He seemed a bit nervous as he said it, but she decided it was best to pretend to not notice. Else he'd feel even worse. 

"I am sure. I'll teach you some basics. Really it's not so hard." She promised, "Not that I think you couldn't manage, even if it was hard. But it isn't." Melissa added with a grin and glanced to the sky, "I suppose I'll see you around then." And she would have to try and remember the name of that woman, who knew something about the Gaulish language. Maybe Titus was on his way to find his new path, who knew? 

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