Saturnalia was one of the strange Roman customs Theo was still getting used to. The city was letting loose in ways that would have seemed quite dangerous to any normal person; Astrius had claimed the slaves' right to do whatever they wanted in these days, and promptly disappeared, probably to get shamefully drunk and set things on fire. Theo looked for him in a few popinas but soon had to give up the search. One couldn't even tell slaves from free men in the crowds. Besides, whatever Astrius did, at least in these few days it wasn't on him.
As for Theo, he was not a man of excess. He enjoyed good food and games, but even that became straining after a while, so he returned to the ludus, taking advantage of the relative peace and quiet (and the absence of Astrius). He reorganized his supplies, cleaned his tools, re-shelved his books, and gave himself some time to just muse and sit around.
That is, until a visitor arrived. Theo noted the woman's shape from the corner of his eyes as she appeared in the doorway.
"Domina, I'm afraid most of the gladiators are aw..."
The medicus turned, his eyes growing wide as he recognized the voice. For a moment, he was at a loss about how she could be here, the his brain caught up. Sautrnalia.
"Justinia!" his face lit up in a bright smile as he walked over to her "Happy Saturnalia! I didn't... expect to see you here? Is everything alright?"
It felt good to hold Justinia just for a moment. It felt like the only thing he could do to let her know that she was important, and that he cared about what was going to happen to her. It was foolish, and barely anything, but it was what he could do in the moment, so he did it.
“You are so kind. But do not do anything that would get you in trouble. I want you to be alive when I see you again. So promise me you will not get in trouble. If you did and it was because of me, I couldn’t bear it.”
"I promise I won't do anything foolish" Theo said, and he tried to mean it. There had to be a good, normal way to fix this. Something that had to do with honor. Or kindness. Or money. Or at least one of the three. He was going to figure it out. One way or another.
Even if he did get into trouble for it.
"Maybe one day I see theatre."
"You should" Theo smiled. The theater was not only good entertainment, but also a good way of learning about Rome, Greece, the world, and the people in it. And no one actually died on stage, save for a few accidents.
Theo finished up the bandages, and made sure they fit well.
"All good" he nodded with a smile "Try not to put too much weight onto your ankle for a day or two. I know it's probably difficult, with your training... but it will be better on the long run." he held out a hand to help Aeneas up "It has been a pleasure meeting you."
"Which Ludus do you work for?"
"The Ludus Magnus" Theo noted with a small smile. It impressed some people when he said that (unless they were hardline fans of another ludus), but Alaric did not seem like a person that easily impressed. "But I occasionally get called over to the other ludi to help out when they have a lot of injuries."
Even if there was a lot of rivalry for show, and a decent amount for personal reasons, Romans still knew how to run a good business, and a good medicus was a part of that. He assumed it would be the same for the races as well.
"A lot of coin involved in it. My wife sells horses to the racing team sometimes,"
"That's interesting" Theo arched an eyebrow "Seems like a wise investment. Are we going to see any of them in the race today?"
Hugging, in this case, was not only ironic, but also definitely counterproductive. And yet, Theo did not let go, and Justinia seemed to burrow into his arms to hide from the world of trouble they'd gotten themselves into, at least for a little while.
“I know. This is my life, dominus. I have nothing to my name. If I get in trouble for spending an hour with someone that actually cares, I don’t care what we do or what happens. All I want is for you to feel comfortable and not feel guilty because of my choices.”
It was not much to wish for. It was not a great ambition or a dangerous dream. It was so simple that it made it even more painful that it could not be fulfilled. Theo sighed, resting his chin on her head.
"They were both our choices." he noted "And you deserve to be treated better than that." It was easier to say that than do anything about it, but it needed to be said. "I'll figure out a way to fix this. One that doesn't involve you giving anything you don't want to give." Again, easier said than done. But he'd have to try.
"Don't be sorry. I told you it isn't your fault and it really isn't. With the things that go on in here, talking should be the least punishable offense. "
On the surface, she was right. The rules were wrong, and someone like her should have never ended up in a place like this. Even if there were many worse fates for a slave, Justinia shone through the Domus Venus, and was a delight to talk to. It was hard to see her in a place where talking was a mistake. Then again, talking could be more dangerous than any weapon, especially among slaves.
Theo had resolved himself not to return, to keep her out of trouble. Lacking money and power, that was the only thing he could do to help, and the last thing he wanted to do.
"Please come back. Please. You've been the only kind person to me in years. You treat me like a human, not just some piece of property. If you stopped coming back, I don't know..."
Gods, she was so close to crying. Theo sighed, losing his battle of self-control as he wrapped her in a hug. Once again, the irony was not lost on him: Somehow he managed to find the only place in Rome where being found having sex with a woman was expected, but being seen hugging one would bring a world of trouble on both of them. Then again, they had always been on borrowed time anyway.
"If I came back, you'd have to do things I didn't want to make you do." he muttered "They'll be keeping an eye on us from now on. I don't want that."
Theo could see Justinia was truly scared, but struggling not to break down in front of him. She probably knew better than him, or anyone really, what kinds of punishments would be in store for her if she broke the rules. She had probably known way before this, but she was playing along for Theo's sake. And he had no idea of the damage he was causing with treating her like she was a free woman to be friends with.
"It's not your fault, don't be sorry. We didn't do anything wrong. At least, I didn't think we did..."
"We didn't." Theo shook his head. Her eyes were shining, she must have been very close to crying. Theo stepped closer, he wanted to hold her, which was ironic, gods, really ironic, since that was the whole reason they were in trouble, and now it felt wrong anyway. "It was my fault. You told me we'd get into trouble eventually, and I didn't listen. I'm so sorry, love." he tilted his head, hoping to catch her gaze. "I... I think I shouldn't come back."
“You are a terrible liar, Dominus.”
Blood froze in Theo's veins. What was going to happen next? They could not really do anything to him, he was a citizen, even if not a very important one. They could ban him from the Domus, at worst. But Justinia? If this man decided this was her fault, they could do anything to her.
“But consider this your only warning to the both of you. The property in here isn’t here to talk. They are here to please. On your feet, Justinia. You two will be watched. Any more of this...talking, and I will report to my domina. And neither of you want that.”
Theo watched, frozen, as Faustus left the room, no doubt to allow them some time to gather themselves, and understand the weight of what just happened. Justinia got to her feet again, looking shocked by the close call. There was no guarantee she would not be punished anyway, the moment Theo left. Faustus did not look like a kind man. The medicus let out the breath he had been holding once they were alone again.
"Justinia, I'm so terribly sorry..."
"I was going to be forced into the arena before the Gods decided that they had different plans for me."
What a strange thing Fate was, on its best and worst days. Avoiding the arena as a slave, that was something one would give thanks to the gods for, over and over again. Alaric might have done well for himself as a gladiator... or he might have made one small mistake, and bled out in the sand. And yet here he was, enjoying the finer things in Roman life. Theo sent up a silent prayer to the gods to favor him at least half as much.
"I do not enjoy them, and my wife prefers the races. What about yourself?"
"I don't have a wife" Theo admitted with a smirk "And the games feel too much like work... since it is what I do for a living. Besides, I hear more skill goes into racing. I guess I shall find out soon."
Theo was, in general, and emphatic person. He knew that what was a luxury to him was a job for the slave, however kind, that he might not have chosen if he had a choice at all. Most Romans managed to disregard this problem, or simply accepted that slaves lived their lives the way they did. But after having a nice conversation with another human being, it was hard to pretend that they solely existed for one's pleasure.
"Thank you, Helenus."
“You’re quite fortunate, that you get to come here as a patron, Dominus. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Well, that was a very diplomatic response. The boy was clever. Theo sighed, enjoying the relaxed feeling in all his muscles for a few seconds longer before he sat up.
"No, thank you. I think I will go and soak a little bit more. I will leave you some coins in my cubicle when I leave. Thank you for the excellent massage."
There was no reason not to be kind to someone just because they were a slave. Theo smiled as he hopped off the table, and headed back to the warm water. His shoulder was already feeling better.