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Saturnalia thrice blessed [M]


Quintus Flavius Theodorus
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"Io Saturnalia!"

The cheers and laughter echoed in the hallways of the insula, and outside on the streets. It was the most joyous of Roman celebrations, one that Theo truly learned to enjoy since his move to the City. Even though they were a small household, a mere apartment in the insula, he and his wife were happily preparing for their first Saturnalia together. They did not own slaves who could have turned the day around on them, but there were still sweets to eat, spiced wine to drink, games to play, and gifts to give. In the spirit of the festivities, Theo was trying to do his very best in preparing said sweets, with honey and flour and walnuts. A plate of fresh pomegranates stood on the table, one of them already opened and spilling ruby red seeds. As soon as Didia returned from running some errands, they would have the whole rest of the day to themselves. The games would not start until the following day, which gave the medicus leave from his usual work at the ludus.

When he head the door open, Theo glanced over his shoulder, grinning with a smear of flour on his face.

"Io Saturnalia!"

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"Io Saturnalia," Rufus said, pausing in the doorway. He had Didia right behind him but still felt a little odd at intruding on the two of them. It wasn't his fault if his own place had developed rather alarming cracks in one wall - he'd merely mentioned to Didia in passing that he'd be looking for a new place after the Saturnalia was over, and she'd been her typical friendly self. 

It helped that he got on with Theodorus, too.

He couldn't help the smile that came to his face as he noticed the flour streak the other was wearing. 

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Didia had a busy day. This was her first Saturnalia as a wife, well - a wife to a man she actually liked - and she wanted to do it properly. She'd paid a visit to her family downstairs to ensure they stayed out of the way for the rest of the day and had been to the market after work to ensure she had all the supplies. She'd tentatively left Theo cooking which could only really spell disaster, but he was sweet and had wanted to, and who was she to argue? 

But the Gods had other plans, and she'd practically tripped over poor Rufus on the stairs. A brief conversation had ensued and Didia, being Didia, was not going to take no for an answer and had marched the redheaded young man to the top floor of the insula where she lived with her new husband and had practically pushed him through the door (or would have, if she wasn't laden with various goodies from the market - including an entire sack honey cakes as a present for a certain somebody). 

"You're both sounding very festive," She grinned as she squeezed past Rufus into the room, leaning up to leave a kiss on Theo's cheek before pulling away and hurriedly brushing the flour from his face. "I...found a stray outside." She gestured to Rufus with her head and then looked back at Theo pleadingly, "Either the poor man stays here tonight, he sleeps on the stairs, he sleeps in his room and risks the plaster collapsing on him or he spends a night at my parents place and is subjected to my mother..." She grinned as she set her goods down and gestured for Rufus to make himself comfortable, "And you know what she's like, so I offered for him to stay here..." 

 

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The voice that answered his initial greeting was deeper than what he'd expected, and the first person through the door was most decidedly not Didia. Theo blinked at the red-haired guest.

"Hello, Rufus!" they'd met before, on occasion. Didia knew the man from the days when he had been a slave, and it was her doing that he managed to get a room in the insula after he was freed. She knew him better than Theo did, but the medicus trusted his wife's judgment of people.

Talking about Didia: she wept into the apartment after their guest and kissed his cheek. Theo smiled at her. 

"I...found a stray outside."

"Just one?" Didia had a soft spot for all kinds of strays. In a way, Theo was one of them. It was a lovable quality, even if on occasion a bit surprising. 

"Either the poor man stays here tonight, he sleeps on the stairs, he sleeps in his room and risks the plaster collapsing on him or he spends a night at my parents place and is subjected to my mother... And you know what she's like, so I offered for him to stay here..." 

"If it ever comes down to a choice between the plaster or her mother... choose the plaster. It's quicker." Theo grinned at Rufus, fully willing to get smacked upside the head by his wife. The mother-in-law was not a bad person... but she could be a lot to handle. "Then again, these sweets might be the worst option of all." he admitted, looking down the half-formed honey cakes on the table. 

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"Hello, Theo," Rufus replied, belatedly stepping aside as Didia squeezed past him.

"I can keep out of the way," he added. "You won't even know I'm here. And what's the matter with them?" He looked down at what had been the focus of Theo's attention just a moment ago.

 

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Didia dutifully slapped her husband round the face, and managed to wipe more of the flour of his sweet cheeks as she did so. "You say another bad word about her, and you'll be spending Saturnalia downstairs." She waggled her eyebrows but then her face split into a grin and she shook her head at Rufus. "You'll do no such thing, you can't spend your first Saturnalia as a free man standing awkwardly and silently in a corner. Tsk." She shook her head.

"You tried your best." She said through smothered laughter as she looked down at the cakes. "But I have brought back-ups just in case." 

She set down her bag on the table and began to unpack, watching the two men talk with a rueful smile on her face. She eyed the pitcher of wine that had already been decanted and queried to her husband. "How much of this have you had?" She arched a brow, "Because you had best poor lovely Rufus a cup." 

 

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Rufus was here to stay. Theo didn't really mind... well, not much, apart from some definitely private plans he had been entertaining for his wife later. But Didia was a very social person, and Saturnalia was all about spending time with friends.

"I can keep out of the way. You won't even know I'm here. And what's the matter with them?"

"If I knew, I could fix it." Theo sighed, giving up the attempts at shaping honey cakes out of the dough. "They are not supposed to taste salty, are they?..."

"You tried your best. But I have brought back-ups just in case." 

"Smart woman."

Didia was an expert of honey cakes. Theo taking her place in the kitchen was nothing but a Saturnalia joke, really. He would have been the most surprised if he had succeeded.

"How much of this have you had? Because you had best poor lovely Rufus a cup." 

"You wound me. I spiced it and mixed it, but I'm not going to drink alone on Saturnalia, am I?" Theo pointed out as he poured a cup and handed it to Rufus. "I'm much better at this than the cakes." he added with a wink. 

"So, Rufus... how is your first independent Saturnalia so far?... Apart from the falling plaster?"

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"It's better with company," Rufus admitted, accepting the cup of wine he was offered. "I hope I'm not disturbing you, or interrupting or anything? I don't mind taking my chances with the plaster if you'd rather spend time alone. Together. Um."

They made a very cute couple, anyone could see that. Didia had done well for herself, and he would admit that he was a little jealous of Theo for being the one who'd got her. Admittedly, he'd started off better placed than Rufus, but even slaves could dream - and some dreams could come true, as evidenced by the fact that Rufus was now Octavius Flavius Rufus and a freedman (upon whom the names 'Octavius Flavius' did not sit well! He'd always be just plain Rufus to himself and his close friends, and he hoped he would always count Didia, at least, as one of those.)

"Is there anything I can help with, at all?" he asked. "I wouldn't want to inconvenience you or anything." He was bound to be enough of a burden as it was; they weren't exactly rich (although Didia could be, if things remained as they had been replaced...)

 

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Didia grinned and poured her own cup, arching a brow at her husband that he hadn't poured one for her - only Rufus. She said nothing though, a look was all she needed to give. Rufus' sweet words made her chuckle though and she glanced back over her shoulder, "Don't be silly. It's one night of a long festival - by tomorrow we'll all be roaring drunk still and we'll forget you're even here Rufus." It was a joke, and she grinned as she said it. 

"Why don't you plate up these?" She said to Rufus as she finished unloading the bag, finally taking a sip of the wine she had poured herself. In front of her were an array of items; honey cakes, fruit and cheeses. "You can slice up the fruit," She said as she handed him a bundle of assorted delicacies and a knife, "You worked in a fancy house, you can do it in a fancy way so we can forget we live in an insula for a night." She chuckled and took a seat at the table, setting about unpacking the honey cakes on a different plate. 

"Did you not want  to go back to your old masters house for Saturnalia, Rufus?" She queried and reached out to tug Theo's hand - making him sit as well. The man would work himself to death if he could. She pushed the cakes to him and nudged him so that he'd start setting them out as well, "Theo here had to be dragged away from the Ludus." 

 

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"II hope I'm not disturbing you, or interrupting or anything? I don't mind taking my chances with the plaster if you'd rather spend time alone. Together. Um."

"Don't be silly. It's one night of a long festival - by tomorrow we'll all be roaring drunk still and we'll forget you're even here Rufus."

Theo nodded in agreement as he poured more wine. Having company over was what Saturnalia was all about. Granted, he had been hoping to get to do some things with his wife that did not require an audience, but they would have time for that later. Didia loved Saturnalia, and she was highly amusing when she got drunk in good company. 

"You are always welcome here." he nodded "Plus, you dying under a bunch of plaster would bring down the value of the insula by a lot..." he added with a smirk. Rufus offered to help out, and Didia found him stuff to do, slicing fruit. Theo sat down when she pulled on his had, sipping his wine, and trying to steal a piece of fruit without Rufus chopping his finger off.

"Did you not want  to go back to your old masters house for Saturnalia, Rufus? Theo here had to be dragged away from the Ludus." 

"I didn't have to be dragged." Theo protested "I just had... stuff to finish before everyone at the ludus goes Saturnalia crazy. Last year they ran out of alcohol and got into my tinctures, and let me tell you, it wasn't pretty."

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Rufus absently smacked Theo's hand away. "You can wait for my masterpiece, surely?" he said. "And no. I mean, I could have gone back to his house, but I've spent so many Saturnaliae there, and my old master's house, and I preferred to spend this one somewhere else. Like with my friends. And surely the resale value would be affected by the hugs patch of wall that suddenly didn't have plaster on it, rather than what was under the plaster strewn across the floor?"

He looked up at Theo with a grin. "You may have some fig, I think I may have done too much. And I hope you put your tinctures and everything away safe this time. Drunk gladiators..." He gave a theatrical shudder. "I mean, they're crazy at the best of times, I can't imagine what they'd be like drunk."

 

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"Mhmhmm." Didia arched a brow, "No wonder the Gladiators love you, plying them with free, medicinal booze." She chuckled as she stowed the honey cakes with one hand, lightly stroking Theo's free hand with her other. 

She chuckled as Rufus chastised her husband and smiled coyly at him as she arranged her cakes. "I hope the Ludus actually gives them the night off." She glanced at her husband, "Not that I know any of them really...whenever I visit him," She gestured with her hand - covered in honey, "I get in and out as quick as I can. Blood makes me..." She shuddered. "Well...let's just say I'm not going to be his apprentice any time soon." 

 

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Theo gave Rufus a mock hurt look as his hand was smacked away. If he had not been successful at all in the kitchen (other than making wine), he surely had permission to steal from others' hard work, didn't he?

"You may have some fig, I think I may have done too much. And I hope you put your tinctures and everything away safe this time. Drunk gladiators... I mean, they're crazy at the best of times, I can't imagine what they'd be like drunk."

"Drunk is one thing" Theo nodded, taking a fig and tearing it open. He turned it inside out, biting into the sweet flesh of the fruit. "Hungover gladiators. Now, that is bad."

"I hope the Ludus actually gives them the night off. Not that I know any of them really...whenever I visit him. I get in and out as quick as I can. Blood makes me... Well...let's just say I'm not going to be his apprentice any time soon." 

"Hard to say who would be more distracted, Didia, me, or the gladiators" Theo pointed out. He caught Didia's hand, bringing it to his mouth to lick the honey off. Alright, so he might have been sampling the spiced wine before. "So Rufus, what part of your Saturnalia as a free man are you most looking forward to?"

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"Hadn't thought about it, to be honest," Rufus replied, grinning at the pair of them. He'd never truly had a chance with Didia, but when she and Theo made such a cute couple, it wasn't hard to be pleased for her. "I suppose, oddly, knowing it's not just a week for me any more. I haven't really got any plans for how to spend the time this year."

Mostly because anything he could do during Saturnalia, he could do at any other time, now. 

"What about you two? Have I interrupted anything in particular?" He was perfectly willing to disappear if it turned out that he had.

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Didia couldn't disguise her giggles as Theo nibbled the honey off her fingers, though try as she might to wrestle them free from his grasp. Her grinning was only cemented as Rufus spoke. Bless him, so sweet! "No, no you haven't interrupted anything." She giggled and placed her cup of wine (already nearly empty...) down to use her free hand to slap her husband gently on the cheek in jest. 

"My husband obviously has no boundaries, you should ignore him completely all evening Rufus, you'll never have a civilised conversation with him." She stopped protesting Theo's grip on her fingers and instead relaxed her fingers into his touch. "And you shouldn't have such a dirty mind," She chuckled, "Married couples don't spend their whole days just ruthlessly screwing, Rufus." She grinned. "Well...plebs don't. Not sure about all the orgies you must be used to in your old domus." 

 

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"Hadn't thought about it, to be honest. I suppose, oddly, knowing it's not just a week for me any more. I haven't really got any plans for how to spend the time this year. What about you two? Have I interrupted anything in particular?" 

Saturnalia was traditionally a time when slaves got some time for themselves; time when they could celebrate, feast, and take advantage of a glimpse of freedom. No doubt Rufus was used to seeing that side of Saturnalia, more than the side he was on now, with the free but otherwise not distinguished citizens of Rome. Theo was glad he found his way to their apartment. Spending the day alne would have been worse.

"No, no you haven't interrupted anything." 

Theo got smacked upside the head and he huffed, eventually releasing Didia's hand.

"My husband obviously has no boundaries, you should ignore him completely all evening Rufus, you'll never have a civilised conversation with him. And you shouldn't have such a dirty mind. Married couples don't spend their whole days just ruthlessly screwing, Rufus. Well...plebs don't. Not sure about all the orgies you must be used to in your old domus." 

"Wait, what?" Theo looked at his wife, indignant. "Why does the nobility get all the orgies? If I've been told, I would've kept my title... damn." he made a mock disappointed face. Saturnalia was also a time for saucy jokes, and he was drinking his way into the mood. He was not completely wasted, though. "Please do excuse me, Rufus. We are happy you are here."

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"Octavius Flavius Alexander is above such things as orgies," Rufus said loftily, and grinned. "Shame, really, but there we are. And I apologise for having a dirty mind - but I doubt I'm the only one." He couldn't help winking at Theo as he spoke. "I honestly don't think anyone talks with me with any hope of having a civilised conversation, I'm no Greek philosopher, you know. I suppose I could make an effort at it - anything to make you happy, Didia."

He put the knife down and turned to kiss her on the cheek.

Just how strong was that wine? It couldn't have been watered nearly enough - Theo was probably going to kill him. Ah well, it would have been worth it!

 

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Didia snorted most inelegantly at Theo's joke and swatted him on the arm. She sometimes liked to tease him, that she was married to an equite and really had gone up in the world, but most of the time let his past lie. She wasn't a woman that cared about fancy things or a big home. She was happy with a husband that loved her and food on the table. That he was attractive, caring, charming and funny were only additional, bonus points in his favour. 

She smiled sweetly at Rufus as he spoke of civilising influences and that he wished to make her happy. She had liked Rufus, and maybe still harboured a crush, somewhere deep down and buried. She had been conflicted between the two men for some months and it had vexed her. She had ultimately been happy with her choice, but very occasionally she had the what if... dreams but she tried to blink away such thoughts, especially now in the company of both of them. 

Unfortunately Rufus made that almost impossible to do a he leant across to kiss her on her cheek. She blinked and stared  back at him, before whipping her head around to Theo. She'd never seen him as a jealous man but felt oddly unnerved all of a sudden, and she couldn't help herself...she laughed. Whenever in an awkward or uncomfortable situation she found the same nervous giggling erupt and it happened now, leaving her grinning and laughing as she glanced between the two men. 

 

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"Octavius Flavius Alexander is above such things as orgies. Shame, really, but there we are. And I apologise for having a dirty mind - but I doubt I'm the only one."

Theo rolled his eyes. Why would someone even want to be nobility, if they were not taking full advantage of the possibilities? He was sure that orgies could be tasteful too, if organized well... not that he was an expert on any aspect of this. Still, this was an entertaining conversation, and at least no one expected him to be very eloquent. Didia certainly didn't, giggling like she was.

"I honestly don't think anyone talks with me with any hope of having a civilised conversation, I'm no Greek philosopher, you know. I suppose I could make an effort at it - anything to make you happy, Didia."

Rufus leaned over and kissed Didia on the cheek. Theo blinked, surprised. He had a suspicion Didia liked Rufus in some way, but she had chosen him as a husband, and he was not going to contest her decision. Still, she giggled, looking between them, making Theo aware that whatever happened next would be mostly up to his immediate reaction. He looked at his wife, then at Rufus. Oh well, Rufus was not a bad person to have around. 

"Um... Io Saturnalia?"

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"Io Saturnalia," Rufus replied easily, with a grin. "Don't be jealous, Theo - you were just talking about orgies. Or you were the first to mention them, anyway." He looked between the two of them. How was he planning to celebrate his first Saturnalia as a freedman? With friends, of course, getting rowdy and merry.

"I could always give you a kiss too, if you're feeling left out," he added, somewhat daringly, letting the wine do the talking.

He was about to get thrown out and have the door barred in his face, he was sure of it. Which was a shame, he still liked Didia and Theo was pretty cute, too, in his own Greek way.

 

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Didia reached across to her husband - blinking after an awkward Io Saturnalia and left a soft kiss on his lips and then on his forehead as Rufus spoke to diffuse the minimal tension in the room. That Theo was a good man, an honourable one had made him a perfect choice for a husband. The fact that he was so easy going only made it better. 

She glanced across to Rufus as he offered Theo a kiss, and she couldn't help herself and let out a peal of laughter - raising her hand to cover her face as it settled into giggles that shook her shoulder. The fact that she was just as easy going as Theo made their marriage perfection. "Don't," She warned Rufus with a finger jabbed in his general direction, "I'll have to become a jealous wife if you did that...like the time Lucilla - she's our...lady of the night neighbour - propositioned him on the stairs in front of her flat. I slapped her! Me!" She grinned drunkenly. "Although you're far nicer than her..." She glanced between the two men with a studious expression on her face, already tipsy, and trying to work out who would be...where in that situation should the kiss escalate. 

 

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His reaction might have been the right one, because Rufus visibly relaxed, and Didia giggled (the spiced wine was doing its work). Theo earned a kiss from his wife, which was always a good sign. 

"Io Saturnalia. Don't be jealous, Theo - you were just talking about orgies. Or you were the first to mention them, anyway." 

Theo arched an eyebrow at Rufus again. This was one of those cases where there was a whole lot of difference between theory and practice.

"I could always give you a kiss too, if you're feeling left out,"

It seemed like Rufus was intent on pushing this as far as he could. Not that he was an unattractive man. Didia, thank all the gods, jumped in before Theo had to answer that.

"Don't. I'll have to become a jealous wife if you did that...like the time Lucilla - she's our...lady of the night neighbour - propositioned him on the stairs in front of her flat. I slapped her! Me! Although you're far nicer than her..." 

"Well, to be fair, Lucilla also wanted money for her services." Theo pointed out. Didia was very attractive when she was playing the jealous wife. Most Roman women didn't get to play that role very often. Theo drank from his cup, flashing a cheeky smile at Didia. "On the other hand, we have a perfectly good Rufus right here who is... free..."

If that pun did not earn him a smack upside the head, nothing would. 

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Rufus groaned at the pun, though he'd leave it to Didia to smack Theo upside the head for it - he might be friends with the pair of them but he wasn't about to overstep his bounds as a friend and do that.

Besides, Theo was standing on the other side of the table and Rufus would have to stand up and move, giving him plenty of opportunity to get out of the way.

"Free, and willing," he said instead. Perfectly willing, not that he thought anyone would really recognise what he meant, or take him up on it if they did - which was a shame but he would live, and their friendship would remain intact. 

If only he could keep from dropping hints and things that they wouldn't get. It had been too long, he should probably think about heading to a brothel at some point just to get his mind off it. 

"What are your plans this Saturnalia, then? I hope I haven't interrupted anything in particular," he said instead, though whether or not the conversation would return to safer topics was anyone's guess. That ship had probably sailed by now.

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Didia would otherwise of slapped her husband upside the head had she not been so thoroughly enjoying the generously spiced and suspiciously unwatered wine. As it was, she snorted in amusement and only managed to keep the wine from spilling out of her mouth by swallowing and then coughing through her laughter. 

She moved both of her hands out to poke both men in the shoulder; "Willing to ruin things, huh Rufus?" She arched her eyebrows and glanced pointedly between them. "You are my husband and I love you," She said to Theo, "You are my friend and I love you." She said to Rufus, "And let's not ruin anything hmm?" Because even in her less-than-sober state, she knew she didn't want to jeopardise anything with either man. Much as deep down she might want to. Shut up inner Didia!

"We were going to fuck," She said with a grin and an arched brow at Rufus before breaking out into a wide grin, "That the sort of thing you were looking for?" She wiggled her finger at Rufus before continuing after a pause, "We were actually probably going to get an early night." She snorted in amusement, "It's awful being a grown up and I have to be at the stall tomorrow." She groaned and slumped down, pouting.

 

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Free and willing. Theo was somewhat surprised to not get smacked upside the head. The wine must have been working. Then again, it was Saturnalia. Romans did go more than a little crazy for this holiday.

"Willing to ruin things, huh Rufus? You are my husband and I love you. You are my friend and I love you. And let's not ruin anything hmm?" 

"I'll drink to that" Theo noted, and he did. Hence, it was his turn to snort spiced whine up his nose at Didia's next comment.

"We were going to fuck. That the sort of thing you were looking for?... We were actually probably going to get an early night. It's awful being a grown up and I have to be at the stall tomorrow."

"Wait, which one of those was the joke? I need to know, for reasons" Theo looked at her, trying to look concerned. "You know what, Saturnalia still confuses my sensitive Greek self. You two need to educate me."

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