"Well, I'd rather not have burnt polenta, and I like my vegetables to taste of what they're supposed to," Teutus said with a smile. Freedmen could become paterfamilias, of course, but right now, it didn't seem at all likely that he would. That was neither here nor there, though.
"It looks nice, though, and you've got more idea about it than I have - looking after it all, I mean. I'd probably end up killing everything, me." He could never remember whether things had been watered or not, or anything of the sort.
"How are you getting on with Antonia?" he asked, as the idea suddenly occurred to him. He hadn't really spoken to Antonia about Charis, mostly because he hadn't wanted to have any reminder about their falling out.
"Awkward - now, there's a good word to describe this whole mess," Teutus said with a bitter laugh. "Complicated would be another one. I wish you'd ended up in a better place, with better people around you than me. And..." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the tablinum, obviously meaning Tertius.
"No, you're not keeping me from anything," he said, aware that he had a little more freedom to manage his time than most of the others in the house, even if he was officially the same level as everyone else (apart from Hector and, ironically, Charis). "Am I keeping you from what you're supposed to be doing?" he asked in turn, looking back at the garden - it looked so much nicer now than it had in a long while, with the roses properly cared for and the other flowers well-watered and pruned and everything.
"You've done a very good job here," he said, indicating the garden with his free hand.
"I'm sorry," Teutus said again. It was going to be awkward, of course it was. Was he a horrible person for preferring it to be awkward if he got his freedom, rather than stay a slave with this easy companionship? If so, then so be it, he was a horrible person. Although, as he had told Charis, it would probably never happen.
He sighed. He did not want Tertius to have another child end up in his position if he could do anything to prevent it. "Of course," he said, and put his hand over Charis'. "I'm not so mean as all that.
"I did say if you want," Teutus said. "Really, though, you don't have to. And whether I want to talk with you or not, I probably won't be able to, because, well, for the look of it - and if that sounds stupid, it is, but people in Rome put a lot of weight on the look of things. More than they should, maybe, but that's how it is. I mean, if we'd started out with me being free, you'd find it uncomfortable talking with me like this, wouldn't you?"
She needed a friend in this household who wasn't him, that was for sure, but who knew how that could happen now. It was going to be worse - if he did get his freedom, unlikely though that was! - in the next few weeks and months as they tried to adjust to things. It would be easy for Teutus to stay out of her way for the most part, as he had in the last few months since their quarrel, but that wouldn't help, not really.
"I'm sorry," he added, obscurely.
"Hector is... Well, he has the wrong name, for a start - do you know the story of Narcissus?" Probably not; he didn't think that Tertius spent any time at all in telling her any of the old myths and legends. "It's an old story, I don't know if it's true. It probably isn't. But the story is that there was a very handsome young man called Narcissus, who caught sight if his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love. He loved his own reflection so much that he leaned down to try to kiss it, even." And fell in and drowned, but they could only hope the same might happen to Hector.
There had been Echo, who'd fallen in love with Narcissus, but he'd been so besotted with himself that she'd faded away to nothing but a voice that could only repeat the last thing anyone said to her, but that part of the story wasn't likely to cheer Charis up at all.
"And not every morning. Maybe once a week, if you want?" He smiled at her, trying to inject some cheer into things, though it was probably a vain hope. "I don't want to be the sort of master my father is; I'd rather be fair and treat my slaves well."
It wasn't as though Tertius was a bad master, he thought again. He was mostly oblivious, really, rather than deliberately bad or trying to upset his slaves. Though it wasn't fair to make a promise and not keep it, or not give any hint of when he would keep it.
Merda. "That's not... quite what I meant," he said, feeling extremely awkward all of a sudden. "I meant, if you wanted to , with me, only. Well, I wouldn't even ask you, now, because... " Because Tertius had stepped in and blithely ordered Charis to his bed without taking anyone's feelings into account, least of all Charis' own.
"I'm sorry. I just always seem to put my foot in it, with you," he added, feeling more awkward than ever.
"I don't think I want a girl right now, anyway, not with the way everything is," he said, honestly. "Wouldn't being bored to tears be better than the other sort of tears?"
He would be surprised if she hadn't cried herself to sleep since arriving in this household - maybe not every night, but more than once. "I wish... I wish I could do something to make it better for you, I do. I'm used to all of this and you're... not."
Statement of the century, Teutus, he thought to himself.
Teutus had never really felt comfortable at Saturnalia before, and wasn't sure he was likely to ever find the festival comfortable, or fun, or anything at all. He couldn't call Tertius by his name, being his son, but to call him 'father' felt too presumptuous. And naturally 'Domine' was out of the question for a festival where the rules were set aside and slaves and masters exchanged places.
So... it was going to happen. Teutus had to pinch himself to make sure that he was actually awake; after everything that had ever been said about it, he wouldn't have been at all surprised to find himself dreaming this whole thing.
He smiled at Charis and squeezed her hand in return as he followed his master - his father - into the atrium. There would be enough time for drinking afterwards; right now he wanted to be as sober as possible because he felt that if he had even the smallest sip of wine he would end up either laughing or crying, neither of which were suitable emotions for such an occasion.
He made a mental note to try to speak with Charis later this evening, if he could, before things got too difficult, while there was still the upside down nature of the festival that meant they were (although temporarily after tonight's ceremony) still equals.
'Domine' was wrong, tonight, and 'pater' felt wrong, so he hedged his bets and managed to wish Tertius "Good evening, sir."
Jupiter! His mouth felt dry as the desert!
"I think... the rules have changed. It still is 'this is right and this is wrong and do this...'" Teutus said thoughtfully. It was easier for him, this life was all he'd known, but for your world to shrink from what you'd known to the confines of someone else's house... He couldn't really imagine that. "We all have to do things we don't want, though some of those things are easier for people than others, and people react differently anyway. I'm sorry you ended up chosen for that, though. It's not... I mean, Hector likes it, why couldn't he just stick with Hector?"
He couldn't help looking a little abashed as she nudged him. "I never found a girl I would like... I mean, well. I would have liked to have asked you, only." He shrugged. Not once his father had stepped in - if he wasn't related to his father, he might still but now? Ugh. Sleeping with his father's concubine would be just... He couldn't find words to describe the sort of mess that would be.
"There would be problems if I did that and then he did finally follow through and manumit me," he said instead. "I think he'd like me to do all the things I would if I'd been freeborn, but freedmen can't hold any political office, so he's going to be disappointed - probably the only way I could would be if Quintus Augustus decrees it, and I don't know if he's likely to." Any sons Teutus had after he was freed would be able to hold any political office at all, but there would be a stain on their name, being the sons of a freedman.
"It isn't as complicated as this in any other household at all," he said. "Only this one. I wish you'd ended up somewhere easier, without all this mess to cope with."
"I don't... Things have changed, and they don't know how you might act towards them now - you could easily get them hurt, if you wanted, so they may be a little afraid of you, even." Something that Teutus knew all to well himself, being in that same position all his life.
"I remember," he said and fell silent as she continued. "Is life always so easy for you? I mean... not easy. Simple, maybe. Easy to understand." He had tried to be friendly towards her, that first day, even if they weren't outright friends, because he could appreciate that it could not have been easy for her to have been thrown headlong into the household of a Roman, in Rome, in a culture she knew nothing of, whose language she had very little understanding of.
"It's not that I don't have hope... I just, not hope for me, for my manumission," he said, trying to explain. "I carry on, for Antonia. For me, even, because the life I have isn't the worst life possible. He's not a bad master, when all is said and done." He could be a better father - but he doted on Antonia, and could not be described as a bad father to her.
Just to Teutus, then.
"No." Teutus slumped a little, resting his elbows on his knees and allowing his hands to hang, clasped loosely, between them. "No, it doesn't. It just... If I don't hope for it, I can't be disappointed when it doesn't happen, you see?"
He turned to look at her and swallowed. "And I'm sorry for... everything, that day. I know you'd rather do anything than... that. But it - gives you advantages the others don't have, because, well, none of them are ever so close to the master as Hector, and you. Even I'm not - I can't ask him for things, really, even though I'm his son, because he'll think I'm taking advantage of him or something stupid. But you... I don't know how long it'll last, but if you're careful and don't go overboard... You might be able to ask for things. Just try something small, at first - and don't whine, he really doesn't like that."
He sighed. "And don't... Look, neither of us know how long it's going to last, with you and him, let's be honest. Don't tell tales on the others, don't use your position to hurt them, and if it doesn't last, you'll still have friends. There's nothing worse than having no friends at all in a place."
Even if Tertius did free him, and Teutus couldn't see it happening, his friendship with Charis would change from necessity, though he couldn't see himself being overly strict or anything. Certainly not in the early days, with those he'd served alongside.
"I wish... I wish I could be as hopeful as you, Charis," he continued, looking back out at the garden. "How do you manage it?"