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Lessons in leadership


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April, 77AD

Lucius stood in the courtyard of the castra, facing seventy-five vigiles whose looks ranged from bored to exasperated. Mathematically speaking, they were significantly short of an actual centuria, but no one really paid attention to details like that. He was fast learning that, in fact, no one really paid attention to many details when it came to the vigiles. Including the vigiles.

And gods help him, he was an officer now. Responsible to each and every one of these men, and one very sarcastic-looking Titus.

This was awkward for everyone involved. For the men, because the recruit just became their boss. For him, because he didn't actually have military... or even leadership experience. Titus, because he probably would have made a better centurion. And both his families, because if he cocked this up, the whole adoption thing would end up being a public laughing stock.

No pressure.

"Well then." he cleared his throat. Some of the men folded their arms. This was not exactly... an organization with military discipline. "This is ridiculous" he muttered to himself, before he raised his voice. "I'm not going to pretend all of you don't already know who I am." He paused. "I'm the idiot that quit being a patrician and decided to be a recruit with the vigiles." Someone chuckled. Thank the gods. "And now this idiot is your centurion. Gods help us all." A murmur ran through the crowd, although he was not sure if it was a good thing or not. Lucius cleared his throat again. "I wanted to be a recruit, because I wanted to learn everything from the basics. From you. And you all taught me things. And you will teach me more, I don't doubt. I wanted to start there, because I don't want to make anyone do anything I have not done. I have run into burning buildings with you, and I will continue to do so. I have even tasted Marius' cooking... and I choose the burning building." Alright, so he may not have planned this speech very well, but at least this one earned a decent laugh. If he failed as a vigile, maybe he could have a job in entertainment. Lucius glanced at Titus.

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Titus was fuming, but he'd long learnt over his years as a slave that anger and annoyance was better served by balling it up and shoving it down deep rather than exploding in anger. The whip marks on his back bore testament to the latter approach and it wasn't something he wished to repeat. So he stood stock still, eyes glazed over in boredom but muscles in his jaw tensing and working as Lucius stepped up and started his bumbling speech. 

He didn't say anything in return, or offer any sort of indication he approved of the appointment (he didn't), or enjoyed the speech (he didn't). From what he could tell of the men around him there was a mixed reaction. Some men snorted in amusement at the jokes, others were murmuring between them and Titus could have sworn they were taking bets on how long Lucius' would last. He really should get in on that action. Folding his arms over his chest he merely gave Lucius a quirked brow as the man looked to him for...something. He just wanted to get back to work and stop this charade. 

One of the men piped up from the back; "Are we dismissed yet or is he going to keep droning on?" 

 

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Lucius had been with the vigiles long enough to know how things worked. Officers came and went. Most tried to do as little actual work as possible, and treated their men as if they were expendable. Because, as far as the Roman system went, they were. Lucius knew that some young guy showing up and trying to do better was going to be an uphill fight. But he had wagered his literal life and future on it.

Titus looked like he did not approve. Which hurt, because Lucius respected him.

"Are we dismissed yet or is he going to keep droning on?" 

"Excellent question, Gnaeus. I'll keep droning on" Lucius quipped, earning a mix of laughs and groans. He had also spent long enough time among the men to understand their language. Or so he hoped. "Look, everyone, we have two goals here, and I intend to honor both. One is to keep the people of Rome safe. The other is to keep everyone here safe. We are responsible for each other, and as of now, I am responsible for all of you. And I will aim to do my job well." He folded his arms. "The vigiles are important to me. The work we do, the people we help, this entire city, are important to me. I hope you'll learn to trust me. I intend to earn it." He looked over the men, with their mix of emotions on their faces. He sighed. That was enough in one go. "Dismissed."

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The very clear problem that crystallised in Titus' mind as Lucius continued to speak was that whilst his ambitions were all very well and good, it wasn't just that he was the one speaking them. Titus should have been glad that they finally had a centurion who would protect the people of this city rather than the property of the wealthy, but he wasn't an analytical man and his emotions frequently  got the better of him as they did in this moment - causing him to seethe rather than be grateful. Practically he knew it changed very little - he was unlikely  to follow Lucius' orders if he disagreed with them, just as he hadn't followed the orders of the last idiot who ran the centuria...but somehow this was different. The fact that he knew and had, in his own way, respected the man that now stood in front of him made him uncomfortable. 

As Lucius dismissed them, Titus stood still for a moment. Others went back to their dice (illegal but tolerated) or back into the barracks to prepare for the night shift. He should have joined them and with a sigh, he followed a group of others back from the courtyard and into the building, offering Lucius a sarcastic; "Yes, sir." As he moved past him, shaking his head a touch as he did. 

 

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"Titus." Lucius nodded to him, calling him aside. He did not want to see him just walk away, as much as he already knew that his friend liked to stew in silence. If there was one man in this centuria whose advice he respected, it was him - so whatever he had to say, Lucius needed to hear it. He stepped into the portico of the courtyard alongside Titus. "Something tells me you have an opinion to share." He noted with a small smile.

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He suppressed a groan as Lucius said his name and drew to a stop with a sigh. He shouldn't have been sarcastic but he couldn't help himself and now he was paying the price...an uncomfortable conversation. Rationally he knew he should be polite and commend their new glorious leader for his work but he couldn't. Titus had never been all that rational anyway. 

He stepped into the portico with Lucius and folded his arms across his chest, surveying him. The small smile irritated him more than it should have. He arched a brow. "Are you ordering me to give my opinion, sir?" He asked with an inscrutable expression. 

 

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Lucius sighed; his smile faltered. Being friends with his men and playing favorites was not a smart thing to do; but he and Titus had history. He would not be here without this man. It hurt him that Titus did not seem to approve of him.

"I am not ordering you. But you know I value your opinion. I'm asking."

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He could sense that this was not the reaction Lucius had been anticipating, and he seemed wounded. Titus felt a knot of guilt in his chest but pushed it down. Lucius had changed everything by what had happened, and Titus tried to assure himself that he shouldn't feel guilty for a validly held opinion. That was difficult though, with the way Lucius was looking at him. 

He shrugged limply, arms still folded. He was never much known for beating around the bush; "I've lost respect for you. Now you've done this. Chosen this, or agreed to it. It's also angered me that you have friends in high places that you claim, as you just did to the rest of the men, you've given up but who will somehow sponsor the previous centurion being removed and you promoted in his place. That is the start of it. Would you have me continue?" 

 

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Lucius frowned. He had arguments he wanted to make - the previous centurion had been an asshole, and as an equite, he was always supposed to be an officer from the start. But looking at Titus, he knew arguing would get the opposite result from what he wanted. He pressed his lips together. "Yes. Continue."

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Titus shrugged and sighed, unfolding his arms. He knew he should be careful but Lucius wanted the truth? Fine. He'd get the truth. "Very well. You've taken one of the only positions available for men who have actually worked for it. Sacrificed for it. Been through enough in their lives as slaves and earn nothing. You've never sacrificed anything in your life - you claim you have but you aren't doing this for the money, you have that already and the friends and the domus and the life, but you're taking from people who deserved better. From the people you claim you're trying to help." 

He shook his head with a deep sigh and shrugged again. "And I know when it comes down to it, you don't care. And you think what you're doing is right so fuck the rest of us. And our opinions. You've been a recruit for what? Six months? You've done the graft and now you're just about advancing your career. It's predictable. And I thought better of you." 


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The words were hard to hear - but it was harder to know Titus thought of him that way. Lucius, usually honest to a fault, hoped that at least some people would understand him. Undestand what he was trying to do, and the kind of man he way. For Titus to... not see that, that was hard to bear.

"I am sorry to hear you say that" he said, more quietly. "I know you won't believe me, but this is not about a career. If I had that kind of ambition, I'd be a senator. But yes. I did accept this position." For better or worse. "And I hope to use it for good. I know, I know, call me a fucking idiot, you won't have to believe it until you see it. But Titus." He looked at the other man. "I know you. I know you are one of the best men here. And you deserve the position to lead. But six months here were enough to see that no one - including our centurion - was advancing by merit around here. Especially not you." Because Titus had a tendency of... alienating his superiors. To put it nicely. "I want better for the vigiles. But I had to start somewhere."

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Titus scoffed and shook his head. 

"And you're chatting shit, sir." He laughed, rolling his eyes. "You are advancing your career. To Tribune and then Praefect probably. You don't have to be in the fucking Senate to be doing that. Senator or Centurion, you're still stomping on the people that have worked hard to get where we are." He shook his head. "I hope you're better than the last fucking idiot but you'll forgive me if I hold my breath on that one." He tilted his head to the side and then shook it. 

"It just baffles me that you don't get it." He waited for a beat before continuing. "When you look at these men you see cowards and laziness. Maybe you'd understand why they want a break and won't risk their lives for men and women like your friends, if you had spent your life working in the fields until your hands bled like I did, or somehow surviving the mines like Marius whose cooking you love to mock. Or Gnaeus, having to wait on bended knee for men like you at parties you might well have attended." He shook his head again. "How do you expect it to change when you have no idea what it's like? When you literally don't understand?" 

 

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It's not true.

Lucius felt the tension in his jaw. It was unfair. He did not see cowards in these men, and he was not here for a career, and he had absolutely no way to make Titus believe that. But it was unfair. To be accused.

"No. I don't. I don't understand." he admitted, shaking his head. "And that is going to be a flaw I will always be aware of. But Titus... what do you want from me? Truly? Honestly?" He looked him in the eyes. "What is it that you think I should do? Leave? So you can spend the next ten years with shit centurions and shit tributes, grumbling about how they should be men that care about the job? Or daydreaming about how you'd do such a better job if anyone ever put up with your shit attitude and promoted you?"

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The problem was that he wasn't sure what he wanted Lucius to do. But the last comment caused him to tense and he glared at Lucius, muscles in his jaw and neck flaring. "I'd like a centurion who isn't a privileged shit who thinks he's done some great big noble sacrifice whilst rolling in gold, fucking some rich woman and going to parties with Senators." He snapped. He had gone too far, but it was hard to row back from. 

"Having some self-awareness might be nice." He offered, cooling a touch. "That's what I think you should do; try and understand that six months debasing yourself as a recruit only to then jump up the hierarchy like every other self-serving shit that's come before you, that might be nice." He waved a hand. "But it doesn't matter. You'll be Tribune in a year I'm sure, and me and my shit attitude, which is in no way caused by men like you, won't be your problem anymore." 

 

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"I'd like a centurion who isn't a privileged shit who thinks he's done some great big noble sacrifice whilst rolling in gold, fucking some rich woman and going to parties with Senators."

Lucius winced. He didn't want to, but he did. Titus knew his secret, or part of it anyway. A lesser man, a man that really wanted to hurt him, would have already used that against him. For all his anger and salt, Titus was actually not vindictive. That gave him hope.

"Having some self-awareness might be nice. That's what I think you should do; try and understand that six months debasing yourself as a recruit only to then jump up the hierarchy like every other self-serving shit that's come before you, that might be nice. But it doesn't matter. You'll be Tribune in a year I'm sure, and me and my shit attitude, which is in no way caused by men like you, won't be your problem anymore." 

"I don't give a fuck about your attitude" Lucius stated, folding his arms. "Although a break would be nice, every once in a while. But you're still one of the best, whether you like it or not. And I am self-aware. That's why I'm asking you, if you haven't noticed. I will need your help if I'm going to do anything right around here. But here. I can make you a promise." He looked at Titus, making him know he meant it. "If I fuck this up beyond salvaging, then I will use the connections you hate so much. And I'll make sure the centurion following me is one you all think deserves it."

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Titus glared but some of the heat left his body as Lucius spoke and gave him a pointed glare. "Fine. I'll hold you to that." He said with a shrug of his shoulders and he folded his arms back over his chest. 

He still couldn't help but shake his head with a small smirk. "Pay me more then. Then I'll help." As Lucius had put it. He shrugged. "I'm not a slave in your domus, Lucius. My advice doesn't come for free." He'd asked his previous centurion for a pay rise plenty of times and had been laughed out of the room. But with few other skills and a genuine desire to help people, he remained with the vigiles. "This is what I mean - about you not understanding. Case in point, actually. You want my help? Fine. But your praise and your good opinion of me doesn't pay to keep a roof over my brothers head, or food in our stores. You've never had to think about it before, I guess?" 

 

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"Done." Lucius nodded, without hesitation. Because he knew Titus was right, and because he finally saw a crack in his armor. He needed money, and he wanted to take care of his family. That was a start. "I'll pay you. But I can't pay you more than any of the other men of your rank. So, here's your choice: I make you my aide. Officially. Or I pay you out of my private money for your private counsel." He knew if the men ever found that out, neither of them would hear the end of it. Titus knew that too. But he probably hated the idea of serving Lucius as an aide just as much. "Or I look into raising pay for the entire centuria. Which will take time." Titus had probably been waiting for something like that long enough. But that was the most equal option for the men. Lucius wanted Titus to choose. And he was curious what he would say.

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Titus ground down hard on his jaw, watching Lucius closely. All of those options were terrible. And Lucius knew it.

He tilted his head to the side. "I'll take options two and three. I'll tell the men myself you are paying me more because you're a fucking moron and I don't want it to be a secret. And you can use some of those contacts of yours to get their pay equalised." He shrugged. He did not tell Lucius that he didn't need a substantial increase, be he reckoned if he gave him one (rich men didn't know the value of money, after all), he'd just split the remainder with the rest of the century. 

"Are we done?" 

 

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"Fine." He would have to suck it up, and try to make things happen. That was the job he signed up for, after all. "But tell them also that I'm not paying everyone for their advice. So if they have any, they have to go through you." And Titus could decide if he wanted to pay them or not. That was up to him. Lucius gave him a little smile. "We're done." For now. He was going to be the new goddamn Sisyphus before this was done. But he liked the challenge. "And Titus?... Thank you." He meant it.

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"Joy of joys." Titus smirked. Dealing with men that wanted an extra as or two for shit advice about how to use fire sticks correctly was going to the bane of his life but worth it, if it meant he could give a little more to Caius each month. 

Titus turned around to leave but stilled as Lucius thanked him. He paused and glanced up at him. He sighed, a heavy sigh that left his chest and then rolled his eyes. "I only cared so much because you are decent. Most of the time." He admitted, clearly uncomfortable in admitting it. "And..." He huffed. "I was out of line. Perhaps. With one or two of my comments." He offered. "But I am not calling you sir." 

 

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