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Quintus Flavius Theodorus

Home sweet what

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July 2nd, 74CE

Theo had never lived in an insula before, and he would have happily gone to his grave without ever having the experience. But then the earthquake shook Rome, and things changed in an instant: part of the ludus collapsed, including his rooms; he lost friends, worked for almost two days without sleeping, and was suddenly in need of a new home. Alexius suggested the cheap rooms at his insula, and since beggars could not be choosers, and several insulae had collapsed in the quake, Theo made a quick decision to take one. Since insule, in his understanding, were very bad places for someone as fire-prone as Astrius, he sent the slave to one of the other ludi to help out with the rebuilding (a prospect he was not happy about). Finally alone, bone tired, and sleep-deprived, Theo bundled up his few surviving belongings, and made his way to the insula that was now his home.

The past days were probably still written on his face. While he had washed off the grime and dust and blood best he could, he was still visibly exhausted. He made his way slowly up the stairs towards the top floor where his new room was supposed to be. Gods, the stairs were going to be a pain in the ass.

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Didia stifled a yawn as she turned to make her way up the stairs to her family’s rooms. Today had been long, families whose homes had been roused to rubble had sought the market to replenish their supplies and they’d done an exceptional trade today. She’d packed the money off with her brawniest (available) brother and slipped to the baths herself, returning to the insulae when the sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon, casting the eternal city in a glorious golden light. 

As she climbed higher into the building she heard a scuffle on the landing above her and wound up, round the corner until she almost collided with a man hauling something up the stairs. “Oh.” She blinked and took a step back, a flustered grin on her face. She knew most of the faces in the block by virtue of having lived here most of her adolescent and adult life. This face, however, was new to her. 

She swatted a stray strand of errant dark hair from her face and back into the linen strip she’d wound round it to keep it up. “Moving in or moving out?” She grinned and gestured with an inclination of her head to the bundles on the floor between them.

 

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Theo was not running great time getting up the steep stairs, even though he was only hauling part of his belongings on his back. When he heard footsteps behind him he did his best to move aside, and let whoever it was go on their way. Turning, he saw a young woman with dark hair and a friendly smile.

“Moving in or moving out?”

"It appears I am moving in" Theo returned the smile, although his looked a lot more tired "Top floor. I think."

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Didia winced in commiseration, "Ouch." She offered a light grin, "Don't worry - you'll get used to the stairs." She offered, "Or you'll be like the previous tenants and take to sleeping on the landings on the third floor after a night of drinking when you just can't face one more flight." She chuckled. They were layabouts, the last lot, and liked their wine too much but were generally harmless.

She cast an eye over the man and his bundles, taking him in. She didn't have any special perceptive ability but even she could see he was bloody exhausted, and not just from the hike to the top floor. 

She reached into the canvas bag and fished out a wineskin. "Water?" She offered it to him. Working all day in the heat made her have the good sense to pack it and refill it at the fountains whenever she could. She gestured to herself and then pointed at the floor above. "Didia Nonia, your downstairs neighbour it would seem. You are...?" She queried. 

 

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The young woman gave him a look when he mentioned he was moving in to the top floor. He knew there had to be a reason those were the cheapest rooms (and the only ones he could afford) and the stairs seemed to be a big part of it.

"Ouch. Don't worry - you'll get used to the stairs. Or you'll be like the previous tenants and take to sleeping on the landings on the third floor after a night of drinking when you just can't face one more flight." 

Theo chuckled a little, glancing up the stairs, but honestly, he could see the appeal of not climbing all that way when one was drunk. Or exhausted. Not that he got blind drunk that often.

"Water?... Didia Nonia, your downstairs neighbour it would seem. You are...?" 

It was a small kindness, but it brought a warmer smile to Theo's face. After the horrible days he'd had, it was good to meet someone like Didia.

"Thank you" he accepted the drink of water "Quintus Flavius Theodorus... Theo, for short. Nice to meet you. I'll... try my best to be a good upstairs neighbor."

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"Theo." She repeated with an inclination of her head in greeting. Fancy name for a pleb, she thought to herself but didn't say as much. "Oh you'll be fine I'm sure," She wave a hand and then took back the wineskin, taking a sip herself. "As long as there's no midnight orgies every day of the week I'm sure we'll get along just fine." She chuckled with an amused smile. The poor man looked beaten through, although she supposed the reason might be something to do with the earthquake - she'd seen plenty of equally exhausted and haunted faces over the last couple of days. 

She gestured to one of the bundles on the floor and then without asking, swept it up over her shoulder. "Want a hand?" It wasn't so much of a question given she already had hold of his belongings. "Come on Theo," She said with a wry smile of amusement and started to move up the stairs (they still had two whole flights to go!) "The sooner we're up the sooner you can catch your breath." She walked ahead of him, not checking to see if he was following. She was a cautious young woman, life in the seedier parts of Rome had taught her well, but the knife she kept stashed hidden in her belt and the fact she knew his new next door neighbour meant she was comfortable with going up alone. If they had any problems he'd either lose his balls from her knife or the neighbour would throw him over the balcony. Either way she'd be fine.

 

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"Theo. Oh you'll be fine I'm sure. As long as there's no midnight orgies every day of the week I'm sure we'll get along just fine."

"Nah, I do all my orgies exclusively in the early afternoons."

Theo was not even sure how, out of all things, that was the response that came out of his mouth. He was probably too tired to behave like a decent adult at this point. He realized the moment he said it that Didia knew nothing about him yet, and what was a joke to him might have been a real concern for her. He looked at her sheepishly. Great start, Theo. "... I don't have orgies."

"Want a hand? Come on Theo. The sooner we're up the sooner you can catch your breath."

She had already picked up his things, to Theo followed her up the stairs. He was ready to collapse and sleep where the dropped, but it was probably better not to spend his first night in his new building sleeping on the stairs. He had sunk far enough as is.

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Didia laughed loudly and genuinely at his quip, glancing over her shoulder at him with an arched brow. "That's good to know Theo." Bless him. He'd evidently had a hard few days but he could still manage a sarcastic retort. They'd get along, she was sure of it. 

As she worked her way up the stairs, deftly side stepping or avoiding the rotting steps that were perilous when carrying heavy goods she chattered to him. She angled her face to the side so he could hear her. "What brings you into our domain then Theo?" She knew what, the earthquake most likely and cursed herself. "I mean, how did you find this place?" She tried to backtrack and ask with a gentle smile. They were nearing the top and her cheeks flushed with the exertion. The poor man, his legs would be dead after a week of living here.

 

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"That's good to know Theo." 

Luckily, his quip did not turn her against him. Theo sighed as he walked behind her, watching his step. The stairs looked a little shaky. He would have to walk up and down them multiple times a day, a prospect he was not looking forward to.

"What brings you into our domain then Theo?... I mean, how did you find this place?" 

She was carrying his things, the least he could do was answer. And he would have to talk to someone eventually anyway. 

"Earthquake." he stated the obvious, a little out of breath "I work at the ludus, but the rooms caved in. A friend... lives in this building. He said there were cheap rooms for rent. Can't say I've lived in an insula before..." he noted, then caught himself again, muttering a silent curse at himself "... have you been living here long?

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Ludus? Didia paused perilously on a step and glanced over her shoulder at him. "Ahh. My neighbour may well be your man? Alexius? Big fella?" The size of a domus, she remarked in her head. Looking at Theo, unlike with Alexius, she couldn't quite see him as an ex-Gladiator. Not that was necessarily a bad thing, mind, but unlike with her...robust next door neighbour Theo's role with the Ludus was a little less clear. "What is it  that you do there?" She silently hoped that he was some sort of cook. A contract with a Gladiator school could be lucrative for their business. 

Done with studying him, and smiling a little to herself at his breathlessness, she shrugged and resumed her hike up the stairs. "Me? Oh ages. We moved from Hispania when I was a girl straight into this block and have never left. Gods that must be what? Sixteen? Seventeen years ago now?" It felt like a lifetime, certainly. She barely remembered Hispania now although she was hoping to go back at some point this year. She needed to keep an eye on the farms where the bulk of the produce was cultivated, and her father since his accident was less mobile than before. 

As she rounded the top of the stairs she came to a long corridor. She pointed at the two doors she passed, whispering to Theo; "A prostitute lives in that one, Lucilla she calls herself, although she'll tell you she's an apprentice laundress." She scoffed and pointed at the door next to it, "And your neighbours a man called Petro, good man, works in the warehouses - spices I think, he's a freedman." Imagine living your good years a slave and when you were finally freed this was where your master chose to set  you up. Poor sod. She didn't know everybody in the whole building through and through but she knew enough to give Theo a few names.

She finally came to stop outside a door and glanced to Theo, nimbly stepping out of the way. "This one'll be yours then, I imagine!" 

 

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"Ahh. My neighbour may well be your man? Alexius? Big fella?"

Theo smiled a little again and nodded. She stopped to look at him, looking down as she was further up the stairs. Theo could tell she was sizing him up against Alexius, and the thought made him chuckle a little. As if. "He's the one."

"What is it  that you do there?"

"I'm a medicus." That probably made a lot more sense than thinking of him as a gladiator. As they started up the stairs again, he asked about her. Was she a long time resident here, or just someone who moved in recently?

"Me? Oh ages. We moved from Hispania when I was a girl straight into this block and have never left. Gods that must be what? Sixteen? Seventeen years ago now?"

Hispania. She had been living in Rome longer than he had, and in this insula the entire time. Theo wondered what that was like. The day to day reality of thousands of Romans, it was a way of living that was entirely new to him. He had gone from the family home in Achaea to the legion camps, and then to the ludus. And now he was right here, with Didia and the other neighbors.

"A prostitute lives in that one, Lucilla she calls herself, although she'll tell you she's an apprentice laundress. And your neighbours a man called Petro, good man, works in the warehouses - spices I think, he's a freedman... This one'll be yours then, I imagine!" 

Theo smiled a little. He liked interesting people. He did not care much for their social standing, as long as they were friendly. And Didia was friendly. 

"This should be it" he noted, opening the door. The room... well. It was small. And plain. A simple bed, a table, a chair. Some jars and buckets. Some paint falling from the walls. Theo cleared his throat. "Um... I have seen worse?..."

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A medicus? Not quite as useful as a cook but infinitely more interesting. She stashed that piece of information away for later as they drew to his humble abode. And as he opened the door just quite how humble it was came into full view. Ouch. She squinted into the darkness and then took a step in after him. She gave him a rueful smile as she glanced around. Her families home seemed almost luxurious compared to this and she sent a little curse up their bastard of a landlord Spurius Fimus for his cheapness. She set down the little bundle at her feet and moved to open the heavy, mildewed curtain that hung over the solitary window. 

"It'll scrub up nice." She offered, although she didn't quite believe it herself. She glanced around and swallowed, "You could...um..." She narrowed her eyes, "Move your bed around this way, here -" She went to stand against a wall, "And put a curtain around it and the washbasin." She then glanced at the table, "And you could buy a smaller one and but a few bricks on to heat up some food? Next to the table? And some plants and it'll be like a palace, mark my words." She winced a little.

It was a drab place, but at least it was all his. She never missed her ex-husband but sometimes she missed the space she had in his apartment. Currently she was lodging with her nieces and nephews in one room1 barely big enough for a bed and a half and a small box of her clothes and one for the children at the end. She glanced at him again and tried to smile. "Do you at least have some things to decorate with?"

 

TAG: @Chevi

1For a diagram of Didia's apartment, please see here.

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Theo did not expect a very fancy apartment, but exhausted as he was the bleakness of the place still hit him. He had lived in legion tents and the ludus room was not exactly luxurious either, but this... was about as much as his tired brain could handle. Didia on her part walked in, taking charge of surveying the room.

"It'll scrub up nice. You could...um... Move your bed around this way, here - And put a curtain around it and the washbasin. And you could buy a smaller one and but a few bricks on to heat up some food? Next to the table? And some plants and it'll be like a palace, mark my words."

Theo gave her a tired smile. Under other circumstances, he would have been eager to befriend someone like her, friendly and cheerful. He could tell she wanted to make him feel better about the place, or about... him being here, in general. But he was at the end of his strength, and just wanted to collapse and sleep.

Plants. Something about plants.

"Do you at least have some things to decorate with?"

"Uh... can't say I do." he admitted, with a sigh, placing his things on the table and sitting on the bed. It creaked. "I lived at the ludus, and before that the legions... decoration has not been the main concern. You could say this is the first living arrangement of my own..."

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Poor Theo. She nibbled at her lower lip and took in the place. Legions too? Gods the man was full of stories no doubt and much as she wanted to hear them there were more pressing concerns. She set down the bundle on the floor and quickly moved back over to the door. "Wait right here." Was her only command. 

She slipped past him nimbly and moved quickly down the stairs and the corridor to her own familial home, hardly a palace but certainly better than Theo's dive. Her mother was flustering on the bricks and glanced quizzically at her as she darted around the place grabbing this and that. "Dare I ask?" the ever amused Suetonia asked and Didia only returned a wry grin, "New neighbour and Spurius has done his worst, the poor sod. I'll be back down once it's habitable." Her father quirked an impressed eyebrow and with her arms full, Didia flustered out of the room. 

Winding up the one flight she passed Lucilla and Petro's places and came back into the room. She set down the pile of assorted items on Theo's bed and the floor and promptly held out a broom for him to take. "If you sleep in here like this you'll die of suffocation from the dust before morning. Get sweeping." She said, but her tone was jovial and light. She could sense he wanted to sleep as quickly as possible but there was no way under the God's eyes that she'd let him fall asleep with the room in this sort of state. She'd be quick though, for his poor sake.

Promptly she set about throwing sheets over the lumpy old straw mattress (in need of replacement) and the thin pillow (a new one also required). "There's wine on the floor." She gestured her head to the pitcher and two wooden cups she brought up with her. "If that'll make this any more tolerable?" 

 

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How did one even make a home for himself?... Most men had a wife or a slave to do that. Theo had a slave, but his arrangement with Astrius was... a pretty loose one, given that the guy could not be trusted with anything that was flammable. So, for now, he was on his own. The pull of sleep was so strong he could have just given up and slept on the creaky bed, but Didia apparently had other ideas.

"Wait right here."

Theo did. He sure as hell was not going to go anywhere anyway, except going to sleep, which was an attractive possibility. Before he could lie down, however, the girl returned, drew the curtains, and pressed a broom into his hand.

"If you sleep in here like this you'll die of suffocation from the dust before morning. Get sweeping."

Theo blinked, too tired to argue, and stood up. He was going through the motions of sweeping more than anything, as Didia was unpacking other things.

"There's wine on the floor. If that'll make this any more tolerable?" 

Theo paused, looking at the cups, then abandoned the broom to pour some wine for both of them.

"This is very kind of you" he noted. The wine was watered and cool, perfect for having climbed all the stairs, and the dust he'd managed to sweep up. "I don't want to keep you from your family long."

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Didia merely arched a well shaped brow and offered a sly smile; “Oh please, keep me from my family as long as you’d like. Between my parents arguing, my brother snoring and the little ones asking for another story before their bedtimes, I’d rather be cleaning up here.” She shook her head with a little trill of laughter.

Having finished with the bed she crouched to take up one of the cups of wine. She didn’t feel nervous around Theo but she was pleased he’d had the forethought to (or was too tired to otherwise think about) keep the main door open.  

Satiated after a sip she moved onto opening up the sparse, single chest destined for his clothes. Grabbing a cloth to clean it down so his tunics didn’t get filthy after immediately being put away, she spoke to him although didn’t turn to face him. “You must have lived such an exciting life, a medicus at a ludus and being in the legions! Where were you stationed?”

 

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“Oh please, keep me from my family as long as you’d like. Between my parents arguing, my brother snoring and the little ones asking for another story before their bedtimes, I’d rather be cleaning up here.”

Theo remembered living with his family as a young man, before he joined the legions. They had a house, although it was small. He wondered what they would say if they saw his apartment now. Having been a member of the equites for a short few months, it was probably shameful for him to slide this far after all the 25 years of service in the legions. Not much to show for all of that.

“You must have lived such an exciting life, a medicus at a ludus and being in the legions! Where were you stationed?”

Theo chuckled a little. "Exciting was one word for it." he noted. He didn't know what to do, and he hated watching her work instead of him. "I'm from Achaea. Corinth. I was stationed at the eastern border first, then moved to Germania to the Rhine. It wasn't always as big an adventure as people think..."

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"Greece?" She beamed with an arched brow. "I've always wanted to go. You hear all the stories about it, apparently it's beautiful." Although her mother had politely told her short, olive-skinned daughter that her beauty wouldn't quite be favoured by the Greeks who preferred their women statuesque and fair-skinned. She'd pouted all evening. 

She chuckled at his words though as she finished wiping down the box, moving to stand from her kneeling position. "Any adventure is something to people like me, Theo." She meant it earnestly. She'd lived a life she'd loved, but hardly an exciting life. She ate, washed, slept and woke up all within the four walls of her family apartment and that was about...it, besides work, which was as monotonous as the rest of her life. To see the empire, even as a solider, was something. No wonder Appius dreamed of joining the legions. 

She went over to the table and used the cloth to wipe it down, pouring a drop of water on its surface from her wineskin to wet the cloth. "Working at the ludus must be interesting too, hmm?" She asked and inclined her head at the seat opposite her, "And it doesn't take a medicus to see you need to rest. Sit down before you fall down man." She grinned. 

 

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Achaea was not what it used to be in the legendary old days. Most Romans saw it as a strange province, a place to visit when one had a lot of money, and reminisce about philosophers and literature. Corinth, since it had been sacked by the Romans two centuries earlier, was not the famed city of Aphrodite anymore either. But it was still home.

"Greece? I've always wanted to go. You hear all the stories about it, apparently it's beautiful."

"It is" Theo smiled a little. He had not been back for many years, but it was still the home of his childhood.

"Any adventure is something to people like me, Theo."

He looked at Didia sheepishly as she said that, moving on to clean his table. She would not stop cleaning, and all the while she had time to remind him that his life in the legions was still adventurous to someone spending her life in the insula. He scratched the back of his neck, not sure whether he should apologize.

"Working at the ludus must be interesting too, hmm? And it doesn't take a medicus to see you need to rest. Sit down before you fall down man." 

Theo sighed, taking a seat in the only chair in the room. He was too exhausted to pretend otherwise. "The earthquake hit us hard." he admitted "I have been up for... two days, I think, caring for the survivors. It's not easy since my rooms caved in too. Hence... I needed a new home."

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Didia smiled to herself as he did as he was bidden, sitting down. All men were the same - whether twelve or eighty, all they needed was a firm word from a woman to put them in their place, and she was more than happy to be that woman for poor Theo right now. Finally, satisfied that the room was in a more presentable state, she moved to join him at the table - dragging the box over to sit on. She'd take the detritus he'd swept up with her and chuck it over the balcony into the courtyard, but the bed was made, the rubbish cleared away and he could unpack at his leisure. Her job was done. And now she'd finish her small cup of wine and leave him in peace.

"I...I'm sorry." She swallowed and shook her head, "I'm sure you did your very best." She affirmed. "You shouldn't take it on yourself - who'll they go to if their medicus drops dead of exhaustion?" Sometimes she was a touch too practical for her own good. "But you'll like it here," She offered and leaned in with a smile, "The sunsets you can see from up here are beautiful and we're lucky, most in the block are good people. It'll soon feel like home - promise." She arched a brow, "And if it doesn't, I'll get my mother to bring you round fresh honey cakes every day until it does." Suetonia would be delighted to - imagine that! A medicus - a professional in the building! She'd love to be a busy-body and get in with him on his good side, Didia was sure of it.

 

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Theo could see the look of pity in Didia's face. The ludus had been a place of grief and pain in the past two days, just like much of Rome wherever the earthquake hit the hardest. Being a medicus, with the power to help people, at least made Theo feel like he was doing something useful, but in the end, what he could do proved to be limited.

"I...I'm sorry. I'm sure you did your very best... You shouldn't take it on yourself - who'll they go to if their medicus drops dead of exhaustion?"

Theo smiled a little, acknowledging her wisdom. Of course she was right. If he had been talking to someone else in his place, he would have said the same thing. It was just always harder when it was yourself who was being stubborn.

"But you'll like it here. The sunsets you can see from up here are beautiful and we're lucky, most in the block are good people. It'll soon feel like home - promise. And if it doesn't, I'll get my mother to bring you round fresh honey cakes every day until it does." 

"That is tempting" Theo chuckled. Didia took a seat and drank the wine. She was good company, and at the thought of honey cakes Theo's stomach grumbled. "So... what does your family do, then? Are you bakers?"

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Didia grinned a warm smile as he chuckled. She had a knack for breaking down even the most stoic, grumpy of men into good humour - it just took patience. And seemingly the promise of honey cakes, in Theo's case. 

She shook her head and sipped her wine; "No, my father owns a produce business - fruits and vegetables, shipped from the plains in Hispania and some estates in Italia - we had the business before we came here, he thought it would be more profitable and it has been." She shrugged a little, "We have stalls in the markets and then do deliveries to some of the fancy nobles and such," She waved a hand, "Or do - my father had an accident earlier this year so isn't quite as sprightly on his feet as he once was, so my brother Appius and I do the rounds and man the stalls." She bit her cheek to prevent herself from complaining that her two eldest brothers should really be shouldering the burden, but that her eldest sibling was a criminal layabout and useless, and her second brother was too loved up and content to worry himself about a business. The fools. 

She offered a gentle smile, "I like it, I think I'd be awfully bored as one of those rich women that don't do anything but stitch and chatter all day, and I get to meet lots of interesting people - present company included." She sipped her wine, "I bet it sounds awfully dull to a man like you though?" 

 

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Theo was hung up on the idea of honey cakes now. Baked goods were always lovely, especially when they came to his door. He had to admit he had barely been eating in the past two days. And definitely not good stuff.

"No, my father owns a produce business - fruits and vegetables, shipped from the plains in Hispania and some estates in Italia - we had the business before we came here, he thought it would be more profitable and it has been. We have stalls in the markets and then do deliveries to some of the fancy nobles and such,"

A merchant family, then. A good, solid profession, and the gods knew Romans liked their fruit and vegetables. Theo wondered what his life would be like if he had been born into a family that did that, together. He loved being a medicus, but that did not mean he was not constantly curious about other ways of life. It helped him understand people better, and that, ultimately, helped him do his job better too.

"Or I do - my father had an accident earlier this year so isn't quite as sprightly on his feet as he once was, so my brother Appius and I do the rounds and man the stalls. I like it, I think I'd be awfully bored as one of those rich women that don't do anything but stitch and chatter all day, and I get to meet lots of interesting people - present company included. I bet it sounds awfully dull to a man like you though?" 

Theo chuckled, shaking his head.

"Boring is underrated." he noted over his cup of wine. He would have taken boring over the things he had gone through in the past days. Or even the battlefields, on any day. "Don't take it wrong, I do love my job. And I am curious to learn about... people, and how our bodies work. But meeting new people, that's something I enjoy just for the fun of it." he added with a small smile. "The ludus keeps my hands full even on a good day. But I still feel like I am helping people, and learning a lot in the process... I guess it runs in my family." he tilted his head "Are you going to continue the business?If you marry, I mean."

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Didia listened as her fingers flirted with the rim of the cup. She smiled in agreement and inclined her head. "Great minds think alike, Theo." She interjected. "I meet all sorts doing what I do, high born, low born, prostitutes, slaves, senators...everybody from everywhere." She grinned and set down her cup before she'd had a sip, too distracted by her chattering; "Should you ever wish for a change of career, you'd always be a welcome hand on the stall." 

She finally took a sip but as he mentioned marriage, she scoffed and had to cough to swallow the wine. When she finally caught her breath, she laughed. "Have you been taking conversation tips from Alexius? Tsk!" She chided him with a wide grin. 

Theo didn't seem quite as...intent as her next door neighbour, however, and she went softer on him. "I was married for a while, but what with my layabout siblings and that my parents were getting older, I still helped out with the business." She shrugged and raised her cup again, before realising what she said and clarifying; "Oh! He didn't die, my husband, just didn't have enough money to keep a wife and preferred the...more muscular sex." She chuckled and finally managed an uninterrupted sip. 

"Am I to presume there is no lady wife for lovely Theo? Hence why he looks so bloody exhausted and ill-fed?" 

 

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