Warning: Set after the finale - spoilers abound.
Notes: I couldn't help it, as soon as I saw the last episode this morning. It looks like I'm the first to actually write this (and if I'm not, please tell me where!), but there had better be more soon, longer and better - I want a whole sub-genre, damn it.
Incipit vita nova
“What will you do now?” Octavian Caesar asks him. “There will be work for good men like you in the new Republic.”
“Thank you, sir, but with this money,” he jiggles the purse, “and what I have from the Aventine, I thought I could retire. Get a house somewhere out in the country, keep sheep. Fruit trees. You know Vorenus’ children are like my own: I thought I’d take the younger girl with me. The boy’s apprenticed already.”
“Yes.” Octavian’s eyes are narrowed – his mind is already elsewhere, spinning: wheels and pulleys and gears. “I really am sorry for your loss.”
When they get back, Caesarion – Aeneas, as he is now – is still sulking. He says he doesn’t believe him – calls him all manner of names, from infidel dog on down. At the threshold, he runs off to his room without another word.
Pullo looks after him, then shakes his head and goes upstairs, diverted from one worry by another. “And what are you doing sitting up?” he demands.
“I tried to tell him,” Lyde says. She’s cutting bandages by the window, her head bent, and she is smiling.
“Well, tell him harder.” He is already by the bed, easing down pillows. “He’ll never be strong enough to move at this rate. By all the gods, one disobedient child in the house is bad enough.”
“I’m right here, you know,” Vorenus protests on a shallow breath. “I can hear you.”
“Oh, you hear all right,” Pullo says, his hands gentle. “You just never listen.”
Spring in the country is muddy, and busy, and teeming with life. There’s too much to do, and Caesarion refuses to do any of it, until Pullo is afraid that he might have to beat him. “Go bless the fields or something,” he says instead, frustrated. “At least we might get some use out of you.”
He comes back late that evening covered in dirt, and carrying a bird’s nest and a lizard. But he still won’t touch the plough.
“Lucius has a holiday next week. Maybe he’ll talk some sense into him,” Pullo says, without much hope.
Vorena the younger comes in with a slave to clear the table. She’s a good housekeeper, just as she had been at the collegium – she saves every scrap of money, where Pullo might have spent it all by now. They still have plenty left, after buying the land and house and tools – even if the harvest doesn’t go well this year, they’ll do fine.
“She’s getting older,” he remarks, watching her with satisfaction. “Should start thinking about a marriage.”
“Already?” Vorenus says. He’s been dozing in his chair – he still tires easily, though he’d never admit it. The first time Vorena smacked his hand away from the stewpot, he’d beamed as though she’d kissed him. “We could get her betrothed to your boy, then.”
He tries to say it as much as possible, because they’re still not used to the new name, and for the way it makes Pullo light up each time. Now his entire face splits in a grin. “I’d be honoured, of course – he’s only a bastard, you know, and she’s a girl of good family…”
“Your family is as good as any I could get for her,” Vorenus says firmly. “Though I don’t think that…Aeneas is going to see it the same way.”
“There’s still time, I guess. He’ll come round. He’s a good boy really.”
“I know exactly how good he is. I raised him for you, remember?”
“Well, I raised yours, then! Guess that makes us as good as married, doesn’t it?”
There’s a pause, because marriage has brought grief to them both, and then Vorenus grins back. “Married or not, you’d look ridiculous in a dress and veil.”
“Hey! Who said I was going to wear the dress?” He raises his hand to smack him on the shoulder, but pulls back just in time.
“I’m not made of glass, you know,” Vorenus grumbles, noticing.
“That’s not what you were saying six months ago.” He peers down into his winecup. “White as a sheet. Was sure I’d lose you.”
He reaches over to touch him now, hand warm on the back of his neck, and Pullo looks up with one of his quick changes of humour: “No; damned clever of you, that was, to start issuing dying orders and then making it after all.”
“It worked out.” It couldn’t have, they both know, any other way. The life they have now was balanced on a knife’s edge – Vorenus exiled on one side, dead on the other. It’s enough to make you believe in the gods, all over again.
“Well, we’re all glad of that.” Pullo puts down his cup and turns to help him out of his chair. “Off to bed with you now.”
“I swear, Titus Pullo, you’re as bad as a brooding hen. I can walk perfectly well by myself.”
“The steps were wet!”
“Yes, wife,” Pullo says, slinging an arm carefully around his shoulders to pull him up. “Whatever you say.” And they walk up the stairs of the house together.