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Quintus Flavius Theodorus

Customer satisfaction

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Paying a visit to Justinia was the highlight of Theo's week. Not for the same reason as her other patrons - he was probably the only man in Rome who did not go to Domus Venus for physical pleasure. Ever since the night when he had been called in to treat one of the girls, Theo had been paying the occasional visit, first to check on his patient, and then to meet a friend. As strange as it sounded, Justinia became one of his few true friends in Rome, and even though he had to pay hefty sums for an hour of her time, the medicus felt like it was worth it. An hour of conversation, some wine, and Justinia's kind smile were something to look forward to in the long days in between. 

No one would have faulted him for spending such money on a prostitute. Most men did it, more or less frequently. Theo's secret was an entirely different kind: he had been buying Justinia's time, but not her services. In the short hours they spent together she could relax, eat, drink, and talk to him as a friend. They had conversations about anything and everything, and if Theo occasionally worried about getting her into trouble, she kept insisting that it would be alright. She was a fascinating, clever woman to talk to, and in her company Theo felt allowed to relax and just be himself. You could buy sex in Rome practically on every corner, but the time spent with her was something more precious. Or so he thought, anyway.

Someone was bound to catch on, eventually. The people of Venus were keeping a keen eye on their customers, first and foremost for safety reasons, but also to ensure that they left completely satisfied, and sang the praises of the house around the City. While Theo tried to act as satisfied as possible every time he left Justinia's company, he knew he was not a good enough actor to fool the eyes of people who saw dozens of customers every day and night. So, when on his way out a tall freedman stopped him, he was only startled, but not surprised.

"Domine, a moment of your time" the man said politely.

"Yes? Is there a problem?"

"Not a problem, domine. We appreciate that you return to visit us so often." that was halfway a lie, since Theo did not have the money to visit often. But, he thought, apparently often enough to gain some attention. "I merely wanted to make sure that everything was to your satisfaction."

"Oh, completely." Theo mustered up his most satisfied expression "Justinia is a very... satisfying girl." Uh, that sounded wrong.

"She sure is, she sure is. But still, domine, if you don't mind me saying so, I would really like to make sure that she is doing her very best to please you. We would not want our girls to do any less than their best for our treasured customers."

Oh, gods.

 As he was talking, the man steered Theo politely but firmly back towards Justinia's room, and opened the door after a brief knock. Theo felt his face flush, and he shot an apologetic look at Justinia over the man's shoulder.

"Justinia, I would like to talk to you about this gentleman you have been serving."

@Sydney

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Very rarely did Justinia like the customers she entertained. She tolerated them, just like anyone would tolerate a customer at a job. But there was one person she always looked forward to: Theo. He had paid for her time just to chat with the girl, which she felt so thankful for. She had never seen so much kindness in a man before. There was never anyone that Justinia called a friend, but Theo might have been the first. 

The times she spent with the man were cherished; she thought he was the smartest and most interesting person in Rome. He had many stories to tell, and she would always listen. Justinia was never worried about getting into trouble: they weren’t doing anything wrong or illegal. He was buying her just like anyone else had. 

After Theo left on one of his many visits, Justinia started to clean up the plates and cups they had. A slave boy would pick them up shortly and she would have her next customer. She was happy after her visit with Theo. 

Instead, a knock ensured. There weren’t many who knocked at the Venus. She opened the door to see Faustus, one of the freed slaves that acted as one of the security for the brothel. She never spoke to him much—he was threatening and scary, which she thought that might have been the point. 

Her eyes turned to Theo behind him and the color faded from her face. Faustus asked to talk to her about Theo and she nodded. “Yes, of course. Faustus, Dominus, please come in.” She said, holding the door open until they both came in. She was terrible at hiding her emotions, as she was trembling. “Is there something wrong, Faustus? I had not heard of any complaints from Theodorus,” she said. 

@Chevi

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Theo could see the fear in Justinia's face the moment the door opened. She had mentioned that they would get into trouble for what they had been doing, as unfair as it sounded, and now here they were. The man named Faustus had been polite to him, but that did not mean that he was going to be the same way with Justinia, if he decided that something was amiss.

“Is there something wrong, Faustus? I had not heard of any complaints from Theodorus,” 

"I really have no complaints" Theo promptly confirmed as they walked in. He tried to seem calm and in control; as the patron, he was the most important person in this situation in Faustus' eyes. Or at least he hoped so.

Faustus narrowed his eyes at Justinia as she used Theo's name instead of referring to him as dominus. Theo cringed, but the man carried on, deciding to file the mistake away for later.

"That is very generous of you, domine. Still, I want to make sure that she has been fulfilling your wishes to the best of her abilities."

@Sydney

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Justinia wasn’t prepared to get in trouble. She was a terrible liar and even worse at controlling her emotions. She knew she was completely screwed, but she would try to be normal—for Theo’s sake. The last person she wanted to get in trouble was him. 

Faustus spoke again, Justinia looking at Theo and back at the tall man. “Dominus, this man keeps coming back. If I was not satisfactory, would he keep paying money for me?” She said in more of a bold tone. Justinia wasn’t exactly lying, but she was hiding the whole truth. 

Faustus glared at her. Justinia looked away. He then turned his attention towards Theo. “You seem tense. If I may say so Domine, the men that come in here are never tense after a session,” he said to Theo. Justinia figured that they already lost. She pursed her lips, waiting for Theo’s response. 

@Chevi

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“Dominus, this man keeps coming back. If I was not satisfactory, would he keep paying money for me?” 

Justinia was making a good point in an effort to help Theo, but the medicus was none the less worried that she would get into trouble herself. If things had been different, if she was a hetaera and not a Roman prostitute, they could just have confessed that he paid for conversation instead of sex. But the way things stood, with her being a slave and her owners being Roman, talking too much would just draw more suspicion. Slaves were not meant to be too clever.

Faustus was also not the sharpest man in the house, but Theo could see the suspicion in his face. Indeed, why?

“You seem tense. If I may say so Domine, the men that come in here are never tense after a session,” 

Theo felt like his brain was burning up, trying to land on an excuse that would pass as acceptable. He was not a poet by a long shot, but he had to try.

"Well, that... um, well, that is intentional" he ventured, already feeling like the worst actor ever as Faustus gave him a confused look "It's... it's a pretense that I asked Justinia to play. See, I am originally from Greece, and the idea of... um, the idea of pursuing a courtesan, it is... arousing to me. It's a Greek thing."

@Sydney

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Justinia wondered if Theo could get out of this. She always heard the Greeks had a talent for using their words, whether it was poetry or through music. She hoped that was a talent of his. He was a medicus, so he had to keep people calm when they were hurt or comforted them, right? 

The dark-haired girl heard Theo’s reply. If it were any other situation, she would laugh. Justinia wasn’t certain of a lot, but she was certain of one thing right now: she was absolutely screwed. She just looked at him like a deer in headlights. Justinia wasn’t the best with social cues, but his response was...something that was much left to be desired. 

Faustus couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re excused, Dominus. I think we figured out the problem. Justinia and I will fix what she’s been doing wrong,” he said, his eyes turning to Justinia. She couldn’t look at Theo. 

“Dominus,” she said, her attention at Theo and dropping to her knees. She was expected to apologize, and she hoped it would lessen her punishment. “I apologize for not being satisfactory to your needs. I will fix what I am doing wrong.” She could only muster that out. Her eyes looked are Faustus. Justinia wasn’t sure what punishment she would get. A beating? No food for a couple days? Sleeping outside? She couldn’t tell. 

@Chevi

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Theo knew that he was not a great actor, and an ever worse liar, but he had to try. Telling the truth would have gotten the both of them in a world of trouble, and Faustus was already primed to blame Justinia for everything regardless of the circumstances. Theo could not really come up with a better explanation at a moment's notice. Sadly. Faustus laughed in response to his excuse. Maybe he'd buy it?

“You’re excused, Dominus. I think we figured out the problem. Justinia and I will fix what she’s been doing wrong,”

"Wait, what?"

Justinia dropped to her knees. Theo could see that she was scared of what might happen next.

“Dominus, I apologize for not being satisfactory to your needs. I will fix what I am doing wrong.”

"But..." oh, this was an absolute nightmare "I just said she didn't do anything wrong! What is there to fix?..."

@Sydney

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Justinia didn’t know what to do. Theo was right...she didn’t feel like they were doing anything wrong. But it wasn’t up to her. She was a slave. She heard that every prostitute got in trouble at least once; she hoped that this was the only time. 

She stayed kneeled. Justinia was frozen in fear. Faustus just rolled his eyes at Theodorus. “You are a terrible liar, Dominus.” He said with some amusement in his voice. “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.” She rose to her feet, feeling a little relieved. 

Faustus cleated his throat. “You two will be watched. Any more of this...talking, and I will report to my domina. And neither of you want that.” Justinia quickly nodded. She wondered what changed Faustus’ mind. 

@Chevi

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 “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..."

@Sydney

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Justinia's heart was racing more than it had been in a long time. Not since she was with her former Dominus was she more scared and fearful. She didn't want to be sold again, and no doubt she would be sold as a body slave to a Senator--that would be her price, after all. That was the most terrifying thing she could think of. She went through it once, and she wouldn't want to go through it again. At least here, she knew what to expect. Or she thought she knew. 

Theo let out a breath but Justinia tried to hold back tears. She hated that she was terrified, but it was the first time she had gotten in trouble here. She hoped Faustus wouldn't tell their Domina. If he did, she'd get in trouble for sure. 

"It's not your fault, don't be sorry," she said, shaking her head. "We didn't do anything wrong. At least, I didn't think we did..." She took a breath. 

@Chevi

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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."

@Sydney

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Justinia didn't think it was Theo's fault at all. She actually believed it was her fault--she knew the rules and she decided to break them. Theo was the customer; there should be no fault to him. The fact that she got Theo in trouble made her feel worse than if she was just in trouble. He was innocent in this whole situation, and she got him wrapped up in all of it. 

"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. " She had seen so many different things in the Venus. They protected the girls from really bad guys, but money goes a long way. Even now, he was kind. He had every right to be angry but he wasn't. 

When he spoke again about not coming back, her eyes sank. Gods, she was going to cry. But she couldn't. Not now. "Please come back. Please," she said, her eyes looking back up at him. "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..." Her voice choked up. If he stopped coming back, she wouldn't know what to do. She'd keep doing her best at the Venus, but she would have nothing to look forward to. 

@Chevi

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"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."

@Sydney

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Justinia had no idea what to do. Things were never this complicated for non-slaves, were they? She had never disobeyed the rules. She always watched other people get in trouble, though she rarely deserved it. But they were caught, and she was the one who got in trouble. Justinia wondered what would happen the next time they were caught. A beating? Being shamed in front of everyone? The possibility of being resold? She knew just how wicked some of the slave owners could be, but she wasn’t sure about the ones here.

Theo hugged her, and she wrapped her arms around him. He was so nice, and she wondered why more people weren’t like him in the world. He wanted to help, but helping meant leaving. That was the last thing Justinia wanted.

“I know,” she said, her voice trembling. She didn’t want to let go. “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.”

@Chevi

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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.

@Sydney

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Justinia wanted nothing more than to be treated like a human, and Theo was the only person that made her feel like she existed. He spoke to her like she assumed any other person would speak to a non-slave. And he hugged her in a way that made her feel like maybe she mattered. Not in the sense that she was powerful, but in the sense that she was there and thought of by him. 

When he spoke, she sighed. It didn’t matter what she deserved—she knew that. Maybe nobody deserved to be treated like property, but that was the difference between her and him—when she deserved didn’t matter, only that she deserved it. He went on to say that he would fix their situation. She was worried for him.

“You are so kind.” She managed to say. “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.” She couldn’t imagine seeing Theo in physical pain or indebted to someone. His life was more important than hers, and she thought he should treat it as such. 

@Chevi

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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.

@Sydney

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