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A week after A Little Help

Didia struggled with her load, her arm dragging down, weighed down with the basket overflowing with goods but covered with a square of linen to try and be discrete. Appius had walked with her, both for protection and just because he wanted to see the Ludus but he had strict instruction not to bother Theo or the Gladiators, and instead sit in the free seats and see if any training fights were happening whilst she unburdened herself. He had been confused and queried why she was trekking all the way to the Ludus after the stall closing time, just to deliver a gift to a man she barely knew. She had explained that Theo had treated her friend Lucia for a minor infection, and was delivering it on her behalf. Appius had only half-believed her, but had been too interested in going to the Ludus to put up any more of a fight.

As they entered the complex (after some slight begging to the guards at the entrance) Didia's eyes widened in surprise. She didn't know what she was expecting but the...mundane barrack-type rooms and slaves milling around was not what she was expected. She pulled one aside to quickly ask where the medicus' rooms were, and the training ground and after a firm word with Appius not to cause any trouble, she let him be led to where he could watch a fight or two, whilst she diverted to Theo's work area. She snuck in a corridor, down past rooms (bedrooms?) until she came to a heavy oak door. She kicked it with her foot three times and said, in an inflated accent, disguising her voice; "Delivery for the medicus!" Gods she hoped he wasn't in the middle of surgery. 

 

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Today was promising to be a long day. The Ludus was still not fully rebuilt yet, but training was back to the normal schedule. Games were bound to happen sooner than later, to lift the spirits of the people of Rome. Therefore Theo was back to work too, in another room assigned to him as his original quarters had collapsed. He'd treated a few training injuries, checked on the people still suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake, and he was currently organizing his supplies, trying to see what he would need to get more of before the games. He jumped a little when someone banged on the door.

"Delivery for the medicus!" 

Delivery? He wasn't expecting anything. Was someone injured, and someone else being funny about it? The voice did sound vaguely familiar... Theo wiped his hands on a towel and opened the door. He blinked in surprise.

"Didia...?" it was indeed her, carrying a large basket and looking kind of sheepish "What happened? Are you alright?"

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Without saying anything, she shooed him out the way with her hand and poked her head in the door, blinking into the dimness to see if anybody else was there. Relieved to see he wasn't in the middle of some vile surgery, she exhaled and adjusted her grip on the basket. She glanced up at him, with a little self-satisfied smile and then arched a brow. "I'm alright, I'm alright. Aren't you going to invite me in? What a rude host." Her lips twitched, alluding to the fact she was only jesting. 

She didn't wait for him to invite her in before she slipped in between him and the door frame, the basket jangling as she did. She looked around the room with an arched brow, taking it in. Only then did it occur to her that he might be right in the middle of something important, even if there was no patients in view. "I'm sorry, I was only joking, you're not busy are you...?"

 

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Theo was suddenly glad he was not in the middle of some bloody procedure. He knew Didia didn't handle blood well, and he sure did not expect her to show up at the Ludus like this.

"I'm alright, I'm alright. Aren't you going to invite me in? What a rude host."

"I'm sorry... please come in?" Theo stepped aside as she walked in, wondering what she was doing here. She didn't seem scared or hurt. Was this just... a visit? He was surprised that she would come to the Ludus herself, knowing that she did not handle the sight of blood very well.

"I'm sorry, I was only joking, you're not busy are you...?"

"No... I was just organizing things" he gestured vaguely at the boxes and vials and bowls on the table. "This is not my normal work space... that one collapsed in the earthquake. Along with my room. So I had to set up here, and I'm... still figuring out the details. What brings you here"

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Didia smiled, relieved that he hadn't been 'busy' busy. Organisation was important, but hardly life and death. She nodded at his explanation and glanced around. It was sweet and very...Theo; organised chaos. The mind of a very clever man spread out in pots and vials and boxes. "Oh!" She exclaimed at his question and then triumphantly and with a great theatrical flourish, whipped back the sheet covering the top of the basket. 

She presented it with both hands to him as if she was a supplicant, "I wanted to see you and...For my very kind and talented medicus." 

In the basket he'd find; an overabundance of honey cakes and sweet buns, a ream of fabric for a new tunic, a small ornately carved wooden box for...trinkets or, in his case, probably medical supplies, some savoury buns and some oil for his skin (lemon scented, according to the trader she'd got a discount from). "Practical things, and things that you wouldn't buy yourself." 

 

 

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Didia made a show of uncovering the basket she was carrying; the sweet scent of all the goods in it made Theo's mouth water. She had completely spoiled him with honey cakes so far, and he was not complaining. Even though he felt a little sheepish, because she was still trying to thank him for helping her.

"I wanted to see you and...For my very kind and talented medicus. Practical things, and things that you wouldn't buy yourself." 

Theo stared at the contents of the basket. There were pastries, sure, but also something else that smelled sweet, and a box, and some nice fabric. He looked between the basket and the young woman, shaking his head. "Didia... I don't know what to say. You really shouldn't have" he smiled, but accepted the basket anyway; he knew she would be offended if he didn't. "This is... amazing. Thank you." He couldn't resist the urge to smell the honey cakes, and he picked out a piece as he set the basket carefully down. "How are you feeling? Are your wounds healing well?"

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Didia was delighted at his reaction and beamed. She'd always been...over the top with gifts and presents and such, and Theo would just have to get used to it. "You are very welcome. But don't scoff those honey cakes all at once, otherwise you'll need another medicus to sort you out." 

Without prompting she moved to sit down on a little stool in the corner of the room and took in her surroundings. "I'm feeling fine, the wound is closed and Alexius is on the case," She chuckled and then narrowed her eyes, "Although I'm not sure...I've never had stitches do I just..." She bit her lip, embarrassed, "Leave the stitches in forever?" She wasn't a vain woman, but it was mildly grim to see whenever she glanced down. She'd concealed the wound on her chest well enough from her parents and family - despite a near miss where her nephew tugged on her shoulder by accident. It was fortunate Appius was lacking in perception. 

 

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The honey cake was honestly the best. Theo loved the taste, and he firmly believed that no one else in the city could make them quite this perfect. He offered Didia a seat as he cheerfully munched on the pastry.

"You are very welcome. But don't scoff those honey cakes all at once, otherwise you'll need another medicus to sort you out." 

"I make no promises" Theo chuckled, taking a seat himself. He'd have to eat fast before one of the gladiators, or Astrius, caught wind of pastries hidden in the basket.

"I'm feeling fine, the wound is closed and Alexius is on the case. Although I'm not sure...I've never had stitches do I just... Leave the stitches in forever?" 

Theo blinked, shaking his head as he swallowed.

"Gods, no. They... sometimes they fall out by themselves. If not, I'll pull them out. Do you feel like your wound has closed? Does it still hurt?"

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Didia wrinkled her nose, "Pull them out? Gods..." That sounded more unpleasant than putting them in had been, which was...saying something. She merely eyed him suspiciously, the image of him plucking them out fresh in her mind, before she relaxed her face and shrugged. "I...don't know. It aches sometimes, but it doesn't hurt as much as when it happened, obviously. Unless my nephew accidentally hits me in the chest, as he has done." Her lips twitched in a small smile. She loved children but...not at the moment, when she was wounded.

She swung her legs from the seat she was on and then reached into his basket to pull out a honey cake for herself, grinning at him, "This is my delivery fee." She knew Theo was too polite to ask her to leave if he was busy, and was counting on that. She enjoyed his company, and there were only so many excuses she could give for going upstairs to visit him at home. She split the honey cake, pulling little bits off to eat as she swung her legs and glanced around at the room. "Do you not find it difficult to work in here? I had thought the medicus of a big fancy Ludus would have palatial rooms, loads of light, slaves to boss around..." She chuckled. Maybe she was just naive, but being a medicus was a respected profession, wasn't it?

 

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 "Pull them out? Gods... I...don't know. It aches sometimes, but it doesn't hurt as much as when it happened, obviously. Unless my nephew accidentally hits me in the chest, as he has done."

"I... can take a look when you feel you are ready to have them out." Theo offered. He was not about to suggest that she should undress right here at the Ludus. But the stitches would have to come out one way or another, sooner or ater.

Didia took a seat and a piece of honey cake.

"This is my delivery fee."

"You are welcome to it" the medicus waved a hand with a smile, munching on his own piece of cake. He watched as Didia looked around, taking in the room.

"Do you not find it difficult to work in here? I had thought the medicus of a big fancy Ludus would have palatial rooms, loads of light, slaves to boss around..." 

Theo laughed at the idea. It was amusing.

"I don't think anyone has palatial rooms in the Ludus" he grinned "Granted, my previous work space was better. And I don't really... like bossing slaves around. Gods, I can barely keep Astrius from setting things on fire. What I would need is an apprentice... but I doubt the ludus would pay one. Maybe one day someone will turn up." he shrugged "I'm making do with what I have, until the building is repaired. We don't have any big games coming up anyway..."

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Didia chuckled, "I need to meet this Astrius, I think...he sounds...interesting." She grinned, "Why d'you buy him if he's such a liability?" Given she knew how much rent was in their place, Theo couldn't have had that much disposable cash to spend on a slave, so why buy one at all? 

"Are they going to fix it soon?" She said as she munched on the cake, breaking off tiny pieces before eating them quickly so she could continue to talk, "I mean, it must be pretty grim for the gladiators to live in a caved in building like this? We're just lucky the insula's still standing, some of the others down the Aventine didn't fair so well." All they'd suffered was some suspicious cracks in the plaster and that was about it. All things considered, it could have been an awful lot worse. 

"And maybe I should send my brother to you, as an apprentice. I'm more than positive he's sick of flogging apples at the market, and he's obsessed with the games - he went for a wander as soon as we arrived, he's probably off trying to chat up some gladiatrix as we speak." She chuckled, only half joking about both. She was content to sit in silence for a little while as she finished her eating, legs swinging from the table and just eyeing his little domain here. It felt oddly...intimate, to be invited in (or...barge in) to his workplace, but she liked it, and she couldn't put her finger on why.

 

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"I need to meet this Astrius, I think...he sounds...interesting. Why d'you buy him if he's such a liability?" 

"Moment of weakness?" Theo chuckled "They were about to ship him off to the mines. He's a handful but he doesn't deserve that... I don't think anyone does." he added, lowering his voice, mostly to himself. It was not safe, saying things like that in Rome. The mines supplied most of the silver and other ore the Emprie was run on. And slave revolts were a smarting point in Roman history.

"Are they going to fix it soon? I mean, it must be pretty grim for the gladiators to live in a caved in building like this? We're just lucky the insula's still standing, some of the others down the Aventine didn't fair so well." 

"They are working on it. But it's going to be a while before everything is back to normal." Theo sighed, consoling himself with a piece of cake. He was still gireving the gladiators lost in the earthquake. And it was going to be a long while before he replaced the supplies, instruments, and books he had lost.

"And maybe I should send my brother to you, as an apprentice. I'm more than positive he's sick of flogging apples at the market, and he's obsessed with the games - he went for a wander as soon as we arrived, he's probably off trying to chat up some gladiatrix as we speak." 

"It sounds like he should be the lanista's apprentice, not mine" Theo grinned. "Patching up gladiators is not nearly as much fun as watching them fight. Although most of them don't usually kick me in the shin..."

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Didia raised her hands and let out a loud, cheerful laugh; "I'm sorry!" She grinned that infectious smile of hers, "In my defence..." She tilted her head and studied him, "You need to work on your bedside manner. When Appius was a boy, he fell and scraped his arm and had to have it cleaned out by a medicus," She winced at the memory of all that blood and dirt mixed in together and felt bile rise in her throat. "And that man distracted him with stories and chatter until Appius had completely forgotten it was painful at all." 

She swung her legs back and forward, only joking with him, but tried to keep up a look of seriousness as she spoke; "You should practice, I think - how to distract your patients, make them forget their pain." She arched a brow, a touch flirtatiously, before wiping the look from her face as quickly as it had appeared. "You can practice on me..." She left a beat and watched him, before breaking back into her wide grin, "Telling a story to me I mean." 

 

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"I'm sorry! In my defence... You need to work on your bedside manner."

"Do I now?" Theo smirked, amused, tilting his head with curiosity. Not many people talked to him about his bedside manner, mostly because gladiators cared more about getting patched up well enough to go back to fighting. 

"When Appius was a boy, he fell and scraped his arm and had to have it cleaned out by a medicus. And that man distracted him with stories and chatter until Appius had completely forgotten it was painful at all." 

"Uh-huh" Theo nodded, still amused. He wondered where Didia was going with this. 

"You should practice, I think - how to distract your patients, make them forget their pain. You can practice on me... Telling a story to me I mean." 

"So... after learning the secrets of medicine and healing, now I need to train as a storyteller?" Theo chuckled, sitting back as he finished his piece of cake "As I remember, I was being very polite while stitching you up. But sure, I'll do my best. What story would you like to hear?"

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Didia grinned, pleased that he seemed relaxed and at ease - indulging her. She couldn't wipe the smile from her lips as he leant back and queried her request. She merely arched a well shaped brow and leant her palm in her jaw, studying him. 

"Oh one I've never heard before," She countered, "Tell me about Greece? Or a story from the army?" She remembered that he had mentioned it in passing that he had served, but not much more than that. "Germania, wasn't it?" She pressed gently. "I remember I said at the time that anything as foreign as that would be exciting for somebody such as me." Didia wasn't sheltered - she'd lived in Rome almost her entire adolescence and early adulthood, but she'd never seen the wilds of the Empire. Not like Theo. "Oooor," She narrowed her eyes in thought, "Tell me about...the happiest day of your life." She smiled. It was an easy topic for somebody not used to polite conversation, and a topic she used on the slaves she met in the line of her work.

 

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"Oh one I've never heard before. Tell me about Greece? Or a story from the army?... Germania, wasn't it? I remember I said at the time that anything as foreign as that would be exciting for somebody such as me."

Theo chuckled, trying to think of a story to tell. It had been many years since he'd left Greece, and as for his service in Germania... most of those stories were not fit for a light afternoon conversation. Sure, there had been brighter days, and frinedships, but he was not sure which one of those would be interesting enough for Didia... The look in her eyes told him she was already having a better idea about all this.

"Oooor... Tell me about...the happiest day of your life." 

Theo blinked. He opened his mouth, but suddenly, he was at a loss of words. "Uhh..." he shook his head slowly, chuckling at her "... you have high demands, don't you..." Happy? Theo enjoyed many of his days, and was generally as satisfied with his life as one could be, but... happiest day? He could only think of one, and that was colored darker by things that immediately followed. Theo picked up another piece of cake. "How about I tell you about the time I was part of the nobility, instead?"

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Didia was relieved that he didn't seem offended by her probing questions. She had a bad habit of being too friendly too quickly, trying to get to know a person who was perhaps not altogether that keen on being known. Theo though - in his usual good humour - took her incessant questioning in his stride. Good for him. 

"I'm a high maintenance woman Theo, you'll learn." She beamed back at him, with humour and a twinkle of flirtation in her dark eyes. She watched him take another cake and was about to scold him for not savouring them, when he came out with his revelation. She frowned and her mouth fell ajar a little. "Nobility?!" She queried in a high-pitched voice. She did, however, manage to restrain herself from asking how on earth he'd fallen so low that he'd moved into their utter dive of an insula...

"Go on then," She said with a chuckle and a little grin, "Colour me intrigued, Sir." 

 

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"I'm a high maintenance woman Theo, you'll learn." 

Theo had never been good at guessing when a woman was flirting with him. Didia had been friendly, for sure, and she kept bringing him cakes; but she was also grateful to him for treating her wounds and keeping her secret, so there was no need to see more into her kindness. Either way, they both chuckled, and he decided to tell her something he had not told anyone in a long time. 

His revelation had the desired effect. Didia stared at him in surprise. 

"Nobility?!... Go on then. Colour me intrigued, Sir." 

"Well" Theo smirked, savoring the honey cake "You know I served in the legions as a medicus. And you probably know that people of the provinces, like I am, are granted Roman citizenship after their 25 years of service. With some land. So, once my service was up, I went from Theodoros to Quintus Flavius Theodorus, and I got some land... in Pannonia." he chuckled, shaking his head "On top of all that, ever since the great Augustus, when a medicus gets his military diploma, he also joins the ranks of the equites. So, I did. With the ring and everything."

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Didia blinked as she listened to him. So many questions! So many things to think about! Where did she start? She let him finish in his entirety before barrelling headfirst into wha was swiftly becoming an inquisition. 

"So...firstly, how old are you that you did twenty-five years service?!" She grinned, "And here I thought you were only a handful of years older than me!" Well...maybe a few more than a handful. She thought him mid-thirties, a decade older than her twenty-five years. She needed a follow-up question on what lotions and potions he used on his skin if he said anything other than 'I'm thirty-five'. She held up a hand to keep him from answering her first question before she'd rattled through her list; "And why did you laugh at Pannonia? And where is Pannonia?" She narrowed her eyes. She wasn't stupid, but a girl like her from a simple Hispanian family would have no need of he geography of the Empire. She grinned as she finished her questions, "And whatever happened to your ring and your rank?" 

 

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He knew that his story was not really adventurous - but probably still surprising for someone who knew him now, as the ludus medicus living in an insula, instead of a large home the equites lived in. Theo grinned over the bite of honey cake as he watched the curiosity dawn in Didia's face.

"So...firstly, how old are you that you did twenty-five years service?! And here I thought you were only a handful of years older than me!"

"I'm forty-four" he admitted sheepishly. He was quite a bit older than her, but it had never come up before.

"And why did you laugh at Pannonia? And where is Pannonia?"

"It's in the eastern parts of the empire. Across the mountains, along the Danubius." he made a vague gesture. That basically amounted to 'somewhere far, far away in the middle of nowhere.'

"And whatever happened to your ring and your rank?" 

Theo smirked, nodding. "Well, that's the less amusing part of the story... Turns out the land they gave me for my service, well... it was part rock, part swamp, and completely useless. Not that I would have settled down in Pannonia anyway... I took one look, and sold it for about as much as it was worth, and came to Rome. Except, the twenty-five years of service only get you the rank of equite. To keep it, you need to pay a certain amount of your income yearly... and I don't have that kind of income. So, I lost the rank, and I'm a plebeian again. That's it. That's the story." he shrugged and smiled, finishing the cake. He didn't mind his current standing much.

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Forty four?! Didia couldn't hide her surprise and muttered, "You don't bloody look it." She suddenly felt a little...embarrassed at her youth, and was relieved he didn't ask her how old she was. She liked Theo, she liked him a lot and didn't wish to make things...awkward. 

She let him talk then without interruption his tale of woe. Didia had always been expressive and found it difficult to hide her emotions and this time was no exception. When he was finished she couldn't help herself and reached out an arm to wrap him in a hug, squeezing his shoulder with one of her hands for a second before withdrawing and mumbling; "I'm so sorry, that's...shit." She presumed he was upset, devastated even and was trying to mask it with a smile and a shrug. She sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear, "That's so, so shit. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have pried Theo! But...it's not all bad! You have me! You have the insula now...!" What a ridiculous thing to say...the insula was shit itself. Good one Didia!

 

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"You don't bloody look it." 

Theo knew she was going to say something like that. It was kind of amusing; he'd never considered how much younger she was than him. Not that it mattered in a friendship at all. He had been very young when he joined the legions. He felt like that was a lifetime ago. To Didia, it must have sounded like he'd already lived a whole life somewhere else.

And managed to come out of it with nothing.

She gave him a half-hug, and Theo gave him a surprised look. 

"I'm so sorry, that's...shit. That's so, so shit. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have pried Theo! But...it's not all bad! You have me! You have the insula now...!" 

Theo chuckled, shaking his head. "I've made my peace with it a long time ago" he admitted "I... always wanted to be a medicus anyway. I wanted to come to Rome to learn. And now, here I am, doing something useful, instead of sitting in a swamp in Pannonia." he smiled at her "And I have new friends. Who bring me honey cakes. I'm not complaining."

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Didia blinked at him, perplexed. If it was her and she'd lost her rank and her fortune she'd be...well. She'd be more upset than he seemed! He might be telling her (quite directly!) that he wasn't upset but she didn't quite accept and raised her hand to squeeze his shoulder, a little smile on her face as she did so. 

"You deserve to complain though," She arched a brow and lingered her hand on his shoulder - not quite wishing to withdraw it just yet, "You should take your case to the magistrate, I'd say. Say that there was no feasible way for you to earn your keep and your rank, and that you'd like to lodge a complaint. I'll come with you for moral support." She grinned, jesting...mostly. She knew it wasn't that simple but she couldn't help but feel it was more than a little unfair that somebody as lovely as Theo was subjected to life as a pleb and their awful insula. 

Finally, she withdrew her hand and placed it in her lap, flexing her fingers to shake out some of the odd fluttery tension that ran through her. 

 

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Didia kept her hand on his shoulder. She had always been a friendly person, and now that she had that look of concern on her face Theo wondered if he maybe should get more upset about his loss of fortune after twenty-five years of service. Either way, it was reassuring to have her so invested in his story. It made him feel less alone in the world.

(Not counting Astrius, gods knew where he was)

"You deserve to complain though. You should take your case to the magistrate, I'd say. Say that there was no feasible way for you to earn your keep and your rank, and that you'd like to lodge a complaint. I'll come with you for moral support." 

Theo chuckled, shaking his head. Didia eventually pulled her hand back, and he felt a little bit disappointed about that. "I doubt it would do much good now. I sold the land, and it was not worth much anyway. It is not the magistrate's fault I am not talented in making money." he chuckled. "But thank you for the moral support, Didia. I really appreciate it."

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Didia shrugged and offered a half-smile. "Of course." She didn't know quite why she was so invested in him and his story, but somehow it all seemed so...unjust. Their family had no prospect of great wealth based on their business, but Theo did. She frowned quizzically at him. "Do you never sometimes think of working as a medicus for the rich?" She finished her cake and dusted her hands of crumbs. 

"I mean, surely the nobles of Rome would be crying out for medici who actually know what they're doing, and!" She glanced at him with a fuller smile, "And I know a few noblemen who served in the legions, well...I know their slaves, from my deliveries." She nudged him with her foot, "I'm sure they'd be delighted to have a medicus who served in the legions as their personal physician?" She sighed and tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear, "I could introduce you if you want but...then again, you do so much good work here...it would be a shame to give it up just for some more money..." 

 

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