Summary: Continuation of the fic that was written for the September challenge, Non-Musical Related Jobs. I had chosen Roman Centurion/Slave.
Forsan miseros meliora sequentur
For those in misery perhaps better things will follow. (Virgil)
"Surely you know," Docila murmured to Patricius as she displayed the order and the food with which Petronus liked to break his fast (the centurion would certainly ignore the green sheafs of lettuce and pick out the poppy seeds, as he always did), "about these Romans, how they are with their property."
"Yes," Patricius sharp low tones, arranging the flat slices of crusty brown bread to one side of the platter. The cook hovered impatiently, and Docila flapped her hands at him in annoyance; he huffed his way back to the fire. "The dominica potestas. Absolute power over the slave."
Docila pursed her lips at him, and Patricius flushed, polished bright strands sticking to a slightly damp brow.
"Many of them are...unfair to their posessions," Docila said low, picking up the tray and putting it carefully in one of the young slave's hands. "But our Pete is very good to us. He is a good man."
"I shall have to take your word for it," Patricius bit out. "My new master belongs to the horde that destroyed my town, and separated me from my parents. They might be dead, for all that I know."
Docila stared at him, her lips folded in on themselves, trying not to voice her reproach. The anger fairly oozed out of the smooth skin, a deeply set loathing that she did not understand nor could relate to. She had been raised with Petronus' family, a child of servants herself, and he had been put within her care from a very young age. Aurelia, his proud mother, claimed she adored the child, but he was always in her way. Petronus contrived to keep the distance as she desired, going as far to live in the house his father left for him when the general had died.
Now, here was another one without family, and Docila's mothering instinct roared to life.
"Did you have any brothers? Sisters?" She asked, taking up the earthen jug and placing it carefully in his free hand. Patricius turned slowly, with a species of stiff-backed grace. He gave her an unreadable look, the expression those strange light eyes still closed, hard.
"I was an only child. An heir. Now, I am nothing."
He swept out into the open-aired space of the peristylum at the rear of the house, which was so much plainer than the wooden elegance of the atrium, and made his way rapidly along the side-corridors to the tablinum. The master's study.
Petronus did not look up as the tray was placed with care at his left arm and container of water beside it on the fine round table the centurion was seated at. He could feel the waiting presence of his servant, but made no move to acknowledge him, continuing to scratch idly with a bit of coal at the crackling parchment beneath his rough fingers.
Patricius remained extremely silent.
"Are you quite comfortable?" Petronus asked suddenly, still not looking up. He could actually feel the wary shock emanating from the servant, and fought to supress a mischievous smile.
"My...yes. I am comfortable, master."
Petronus struggled with an sudden uncontrollable urge to laugh. He had taken this one as his personal servant, what he had always considered unnecessary for his daily activities (his mother would violently contradict this. Aurelia once said she needed a different servant for every hour of the day). But he was discovering a sort of strange extreme delight in the thought of having the fair-haired one always next to him.
"And you recall your duties to me?" He made sure his speech was haughtily drawled, much like Aurelia when she gave her absolute orders.
"I do, master."
There was a small pause; Petronus could sense the servant gathering himself, and Petronus was admittedly pleased. There was much to be said for a man who would strive to keep his composure under duress.
"I must always see to your...comfort. Be at your side in public and at...home, so I may be of service at all times. Your bath...my responsibility. When you are a guest in other homes, I must take care of your sandals while you eat-"
"Bene. That is enough," Petronus interrupted swiftly, finally looking up from his armless chair. The servant was standing closer than he thought, and he widened his eyes, pulling back a little in reflex.
Patricius himself took a large step back, his own eyes fixed upon the centurion's face.
"Sit over there, beside the couch. I will soon rest." He returned to his parchment and listened to his servant rustle quietly. He spoke again, almost muttering as soon as the movements ceased. "Know something of me. I will not harm you unless you provoke me to it. Running away will do you no good, as I would be forced to punish you harshly when you are returned by the slave hunters." Petronus paused and then turned his head to look at the little highborn. "Do you understand?"
The look in Patricius' eyes was politely cool.
"Yes, master. I understand."
Petronus tried his very best to burrow further in his sleeping-couch, ignoring the shrill sounds of his mother finally pushing her way past Docila to his cubicula diurna, his daytime resting-room. As Aurelia snapped aside the heavy curtains imperiously, her sharp dark eyes fell upon Patrick sitting stiffly on a stool beside her son. The servant could hear Docila's scandalised mutterings retreating back to the peristylum, probably to grouse at the cook, and get some sort of midday meal prepared. Aurelia raised her eyebrows and then shrieked without provocation at the centurion, who was pretending to be asleep. Patricius jumped.
"Arise, child! Have you no shame? The day is at its peak, and here you lie. Get up!"
"Have you no shame?" Pete came back with grave petulance, turning over and facing the tall back of the wide couch. "I have been fighting for too many months. Let me rest!"
"And what is this at your side!" Aurelia continued with disgustingly high-pitched tones, her gold bracelets clinking sharply as she advanced on the young slave. Petronus sat up straight in his couch, turning to watch warily as his mother bent and peered into Patricius' face. Much to his credit, Patricius allowed his eyes to fall, and Aurelia snorted in disdain, beckoning to her own line of servants behind her.
"I brought a new tunic that you simply must wear under this toga I had made for you," she announced smugly, and Petronus growled at her. She knew how he hated those awful things. It was so bulkily hot, always needed to be clutched under his right arm. This was his sword-arm. If it wasn't free to move, he would be driven mad.
Aurelia ignored his sound of complaint and snatched a massive pile of material from one of her servants, and then dumped it into Patricius' lap. As the servant gathered up the cloth wordlessly, Aurelia decided that he was moving in a manner far too slow for her liking, and grabbed at his pink ear, tugging at it so that he was forced to stand up in front of her. Patricius tried to make no sound, but still winced.
"Mother, stop that," Petronus said flatly, swinging his legs off the side of the wide couch. His mother had a bad habit of abusing her own servants, but he didn't battle for so long at the northern borders to be afraid of her little power-struggles still. "I'll thank you to keep your hands off him."
"Is this your personal servant now?" Aurelia demanded, releasing her pincer-like hold on Patrick's ear and rounding on the centurion with all the power her slim figure could muster.
"That he is. And so he will dress me, Mother." Petronus began to pull at his own tunic and then gave Aurelia an expectant and blank stare. "Oh...you would rather watch?"
Aurelia gave a low-pitched dramatic scream, and whirled out of the cubicula, her palla floating about her with much flair. Petronus sighed, and continued to pull off his tunic as her servants stampeded out after her. He stood up in front of Patricius absolutely naked, and scoffed as the servant averted his eyes.
"Come, now. What is it that I have that you don't?"
"Only that you are dark all over," Patricius replied softly, an acidic shadow of a smile playing at the edge of his lips. Petronus was suprised into an incredulous laugh, now muffled as Patricius stepped forward and pulled the new tunic over his head with quick efficiency, just the way Petronus preferred. He found a narrow strip of cloth as Petronus was shoving his arms out the openings, and tightened it around his master's slim waist, hitching the tunic a bit over this belt. Patricius then took up the long material of the toga, and folded it in half lengthwise, his fingers nimbly inserting pleats into this fold. Petronus watched these pale fingers dance across the cloth, and was entranced. Docila had probably taught him this (obviously she had taken quite a liking to him, constantly exclaiming over his hair) and it was quite clear he was clever enough to have caught on so very quickly. He stepped closer and drapped it over the left-side of the centurion's body, positioning it over the left shoulder and then reaching around to pass it under Petronus' right arm. He was standing very close, close enough for Petronus to feel the warmth radiating off that pale skin as he worked to wrap the toga securely.
Patricius stepped back and cast a critical eye, that of a perfectionist, and darted forward to smooth down a pleat, only to lean back again, tilting his head.
"I despise wearing this," Petronus told him, his voice rough and sudden, and Patricius' eyes, now coloured darkly in deep concentration, flickered up at him in surprise. He licked his lips before he spoke in a matching lowered pitch.
"I would suppose so," he replied. "It is very heavy. But...possibly you may have to relax your right-arm more. Do not hold it out so stiffly. Pull it more into your side."
The centurion hesitated, and then did as he was told, slowly pressing his arm more, and finding that the toga didn't feel as if it was in danger of slipping off. He nodded in amazed appreciation and Patricius inclined his head in with that same chilly deference as was his apparent wont, his smile smaller, but less bitter.