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Immediately after Just One Night

"Charis! Charis, please wait - please!"

But she didn't, she kept moving. The crowds were slow and sluggish, the aftermath of the night before had made them so and they moved at a languid pace in a crowd that she found nightmarish given her pressing need to get out of here and certainly not be caught up to by Teutus Quinctilius Varus. It was all so fucked, that was her only real thought. The night with Alexius had been her one moment of glimpsed normality since the afternoon she'd eaten cakes and drank wine in the gardens with Cynane, well over a year and a bit ago now. That was all she had since she'd been forced to Rome; two snatched moments, one ruined by Helios, the other by Teutus. The thought made her feel sick it was so intolerable. 

A cart was passing causing a blockage of people at one end of the street as they couldn't pass it. She came to a stop and glanced around, looking for another escape because despite her desire to hurry home, Teutus was taller and had a longer stride and would be up on her in no time. She saw an opening a few feet ahead. It was an alley that led to nowhere it seemed, but it was out of the crowds, and hopefully out of Teutus' eye line. She exhaled a breath and leant against the wall, swallowing raspy breaths heavily. 

 

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"Please wait!"

But she didn't, merely lengthening her stride, determined to be away from him, from anything and everything that he represented, disappearing around a corner and out of sight.

He reached the corner, expecting her to be long gone, but she was leaning against the wall, trying to catch her breath.

He slowed, trying not to spook her into running off again, not that there was really anywhere to go - it seemed to be a dead end, and she would have to pass him.

"I just want to talk, we haven't talked since... Charis, please don't be angry with me."

 

@Sara

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As predicted, she hadn't shaken her tail and he appeared looming next to her. She flinched and cast him a glance before dropping her eyes to the muddy floor opposite her on the other side of the back-street. Why could he not just take a hint. 

"I'm not angry," She swallowed and shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she leant against the wall. She pulled her face up and back, resting her head against he wall behind her. The run-walk here and the emotion of this morning, and last night if truth be told had taken it out of her and she felt wrung out and exhausted. The fact that she had to go back to her life as before in just a few moments, back to the domus and her dominus made the tiredness bone aching. 

"Teutus we were friends but..." She shook her head, but resolutely didn't look at him, "We aren't anymore, are we?" 

 

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Why had he come after her? He didn't know, now. All he knew was that things had gone wrong, very wrong, between them and it had started since before his manumission.

"You need a friend. What's happened... wasn't your fault."

He felt wrung out, drained and tired, with no emotion left, just a numb feeling like being swathed in a cold wet blanket. He sagged a little, held up by the wall behind him, the rough painted plaster cold under his hands and against his tunic.

"I'm sorry. If it means anything to you, I'm sorry."

He should have let her go without following her.

"I'm sorry for what my father's done to you, sorry for - everything." He sighed. "What I said, earlier - I didn't mean, don't do it. I just meant, don't get caught doing it. I wish - I wish you could be happy."

Whatever happiness looked like, he didn't think he'd ever really known for himself. But Charis had, she'd been happy once. Maybe she could be again?

 

@Sara

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"Stop saying sorry!" She exclaimed, close to tears and moved reluctantly to face him. She'd been on eggshells around him since that day, the day her son had been picked up from the ground and declared Tertius' natural, freeborn son - usurping the position Teutus should have had his whole life, and frankly, she was sick of it. 

"I was an idiot," She choked, "For what I did with Alexius but I just wanted to...be normal," Her face crumpled for a moment before she pulled herself together - reminiscent of a pragmatic, rational Charis from years ago, a Charis that had been lost to her for so long. "But it was reckless and I-I can't take it back." She swallowed.

"But I can't stand...this, Teutus." She was being more candid now than she had been since he'd been freed - perhaps besides the moment when she asked him for money. She wondered if he had ever realised what it was for. "You hate me, I know it, you know it, you hate that I had his son, and I know you do - you barely even look at me in the house, it's why I was so afraid in there," She waved a hand at the vague direction of the insulae, "I just want you to be honest, I just...I don't know..." She laughed bitterly, "I don't know what I want..." 

 

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"I don't! I don't hate you, Charis," he said, startled into the declaration. "I just - it feels like a knife in my heart when I see your son, because of what he means for me, and I can't bear to be near you because of it, but I don't hate you. It wasn't your fault, none of it."

He thought he could have loved her, once, and now he didn't know what he felt. He hated her son, as much as anyone could hate a baby who hadn't done anything at all in life, but not for that fact of who or what he was. If his own place had been secure, he probably wouldn't have felt anything. He didn't even really hate the baby, he couldn't feel any sort of emotion at all for anything any more.

"I wouldn't do anything to you. You don't have to be afraid of me."

It was just words, really, easy to say. "I won't even be in the house much longer, you won't ever have to see me again."

It wouldn't make it right for her, but it might make it easier for both of them.

"Fortuna go with you," he said, and took a breath, pushing himself upright and turning for the street they had just left.

 

@Sara

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She swallowed, her throat and mouth feeling like a desert. "I know," She admitted with a shaky breath as he spoke of her son. She understood - she did, not that she excepted Teutus to believe her. "You have every right to hate him," The words stung her, her son was only a baby but she was a realist and she knew that wounds like those inflicted on Teutus over his life were opening anew with Peregrinus in the house. "I thought I'd hate him too." She admitted with a glance towards him, a mournful, pleading look. "I thought he'd be the image of your father, and I'd feel...nothing for him but that hasn't happened and..." and in a way that made it worse. She loved her son, with every fibre of her being and every bit of breath in her body but every day she felt like a traitor for it. 

She reached out to take hold of his forearm to try and tug him back and prevent him from leaving. Her eyes were watery and cheeks flushed at the emotion of the moment. His words had helped alleviate some of the tension, but not much. 

"You can't keep running from all of this Teutus," She said and gave his arm a squeeze. She swallowed again and exhaled deeply, her shoulders and arms still trembling with anxiety and emotion. "Everybody wants you to b-be happy, even him." Tertius of course. And you have the time, money and resources to do that for yourself. I don't.

 

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He allowed her to tug him back. "Be a good mother to him, he'll grow up better than me," he managed, and choked back a bitter laugh as she continued.

"He wants me to be happy? He's got a funny way of showing it. He doesn't talk to me, or share anything with me and just expects me to go along with ideas I haven't the faintest idea about. You're not the only one who can't read him." He sighed; spilling his emotions, such as they were, was not going to help her - she seemed as lost and fraught with emotion as he was. "If I'm not in the house, won't it make it easier for you? You won't have to keep worrying I might walk in - it's got to be easier for you as your son grows up. And I can't keep on living there, not on my father's charity and good intentions. Not when he's got a real heir to think about."

It might be running away, but he needed time and space, none of which were to be found in the Varus household.

"If you need anything I can give you, I'll let you know where you can find me," he added. None of this was her fault at all, why should she need to be as miserable as he was?

 

@Sara

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"He..." Neither of them could say his name, "He is trying, I think? In his own way?" She offered. Of course his own way wasn't good enough - it wasn't good enough for Teutus who had been left to float by himself, attached the family by a string, and nor was it good enough for Charis who seemed to oscillate in his mind between a good mother and the worst slave he'd ever owned. "He is letting you move out, giving you funds for your business..."

She didn't want Teutus to leave though, selfish as it might sound. She let out a little choke at 'I'll let you know where to find me'. "I wish you'd stay." She swallowed, "I wish we could be friends and you would stay. Then maybe I'd not feel so alone, maybe you'd not feel so alone." The house was filled with Tertius' people - nobody openly questioned him, and about the same number commented privately on his changeable moods (aka nobody). She felt like she'd been cast adrift. 

She managed a weak smile, "But if you do leave - you'll let me visit?" Even just a few hours of normality would be good. Anything that she could cling onto would be good.

 

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Oh, merda. He put his arms around her, offering what little comfort he could. He'd buy her, if he thought his father would let him, buy her, and free her, and couldn't say as much because he knew Tertius wouldn't sell, and he wouldn't want to get Charis' hopes up - and what would happen to her son? Tertius would insist the baby stay with him, which was absolutely break Charis' heart.

"I couldn't bear to stay, Charis," he said. "It feels like torture, the death of a thousand cuts. I can't bear to be in the same room as your son and it would only make things worse between us if I stayed."

And if he left, she might be able to come to see him, on ground that wasn't his father's, where they could be friends again despite everything. She needed a friend, badly, and so did he. "Of course you can visit. And I will do what I can for you, even if it's not much."

 

@Sara

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She supposed he was right. In the reality where Teutus stayed, he'd live under the thumb of his father, avoid her at every possible opportunity and grow to hate little innocent Peregrinus even more. In the world where he left, perhaps he could find his own joy, and when she saw him - if she ever did - it would be out from under the roof of his father, away from the source of his antagonism. 

"You've done so much already," She swallowed and looked down. Those first few months when her Latin was poor, when she was shunned by the other slaves, he had been a companion of sorts. She still remembered and saw the day they danced in the garden in her dreams, even if it felt like an eon ago. She reached out and squeezed his hand, fingers wrapping around his palm. "Do you think it will ever get better? Our lives?" 

 

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"Do you think it will ever get better? Our lives?" 

He squeezed her hand back. "I don't know. I hope so." She deserved so much better than she would ever get from his father, but Tertius didn't have a good record when it came to freeing his slaves - Teutus couldn't honestly recall the last slave who was freed before him, and if he wasn't Tertius' son, he would still be a slave. Perhaps it would be better for Charis, being the mother of Tertius' freeborn son? Who knew!

"You deserve all the good things in life, Charis, and I'm sorry you haven't had them." She'd lost everything, far more than Teutus had - he hadn't had anything to begin with, and now it seemed where his fortunes were improving, hers were not.

He wanted to protect her, to get her out of his father's house, but that was an impossibility. She would just have to stay strong, things might get better for her in the future.

 

@Sara

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There was of course, one way  to make everything better. One way so dark she didn't even think of it, she stopped herself whenever the thought came into her head. It would mean crucifixion for her, and who knew for Teutus, she wasn't learned in the ways of Roman law. If Tertius was gone, he would have the domus as the guardian. He would own her, in a manner of speaking. She could be freed. She swallowed the thought away as she usually did, not that it came to her often. Nobody would risk it, not when Tertius was - by most views - a fine master to live under. 

"I have Peregrinus," She offered with a wan smile, attempting to lighten the mood; "I know he doesn't make you happy, but he makes me happy." He did - and it was torturous in a way that he did. 

"You deserve it too," She offered to him giving his hand another squeeze, fingers interlocked with his. "You deserve your business to flourish, and a house somewhere with a nice wife and a gaggle of children all of your own." It must have seemed a pipe dream when he was younger and enslaved, but now that was the reality to him. 

 

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"I'm glad he does," Teutus said. And he was, obscurely, despite his own personal feelings about it all. He wasn't likely to ever want to hear updates about him, but at least Charis had something to brighten her days, at least.

What Teutus deserved... He'd dreamed, sometimes, of the day he would be free and able to pursue what he wanted to do, and now that it was within his grasp, he wasn't sure how he felt about it. He didn't deserve it, though; he couldn't see that he deserved anything nice, not really. He'd get there if he worked for it - maybe he would have the nice house and the family, and feel differently about it all, but right now, he just didn't feel anything about anything.

"I'm glad you can be happy." He was, too, she needed good things in her life - gods knew she hadn't had that many in the year and a half since she'd come to Rome. "Maybe I will have all that, one day. Something to work for, I think."

 

@Sara

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She hadn't dealt with somebody like Teutus before, she considered in that moment. His sadness was palpable, even to her. She didn't want him to happy for her, or stand there and say that one day he might be too. He had the opportunities to have what he wanted now but couldn't see it. Had she understood a modicum of what he was feeling, or see that he was in the grip of a depression that he couldn't shake, she'd be a little less harsh on him. As it was she sighed, shaking her head. 

"Teutus what more do you want?" She asked him, genuinely pleading. "If a slave can be happy, even in a house like your fathers, why can't you?" What is wrong with you, "What makes you happy?" 

 

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"I don't know - I don't want much, I don't need much." If his father had been less closed off to him, Teutus might have stood a chance, but as it was, he didn't even have a measurable metric for what he did any more - at least as a slave he'd known how to produce good work, could measure his success as a tutor in seeing how Antonia learned what he taught, could see the visible letters he'd written for his father. None of that mattered any more now that everything was so nebulous and Tertius made him - and everyone in the household, really - jump through hoops to attain his commendation, which he rarely gave. Teutus had been left floundering like a man swept away in a flash flood, and had no way to express it in words.

He had to find his own way of producing and measuring his work, and that meant living his own life outside of Tertius' domus, even if he was still at Tertius' beck and call as his freedman and client.

"I need to find myself, Charis - I don't even know what I like," he said, trying to smile for her. "Simple things - hot cakes fresh from the oven, sitting in the garden. Stupid things, maybe."

Maybe they were, but maybe he should take the chance to indulge them a little more? It might be a start.

 

@Sara

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"Not stupid," She said with a wavering smile, shaking her head. She had things once, things like that that made her smile; the walk to her friends village, market day to tout their wares, dinner cooked by her sister, her brothers smile when he made a terrible joke; things she had mourned since the day she had been put into that cart and set out on the journey that had brought her here. 

"You need to find yourself," She agreed with a sigh and ran the back of her hand under her eye to wipe away her previous tears, trying to pull herself together. "We both need  to find a little joy." She swallowed and looked up again to try and breathe some fresh air, to try and settle her nerves. The sun was already high and she should have been home at dawn. Swallowing she glanced back at him, "Walk me home?" Even if he chose to stay out, the walk would clear the air and their heads...and cynically provide her with an excuse to Tertius, should he notice her missing. 

 

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"Not to you, maybe," he allowed. She had always been a woman of simple tastes, at least to his knowledge. "Come on, then," he added, and gave her a brief hug, such as they hadn't shared in too long. "I'll buy you a cake fresh from the oven, if you like - you need to have something for breakfast, it might as well be something nice."

And if Tertius said anything to her, Teutus would just claim he'd sent her on an errand or something. No need to make his father any more suspicious than he already was likely to be, after all.

"What would you like - globi, placenta, a honey cake?"

 

@Sara

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She fell into his hug with more want than she thought she'd needed. When was the last time they had hugged like this? Or even been this close? Or even wanted to be? Months, at least. She offered a smile for him and nodded her head as they began the walk back to the domus. It wasn't far, but after her...exertions for most of the night and the emotion of this morning she felt wrung out. 

"Honey cakes," She chuckled, "I will allow that as the one thing that Rome has done right." Her smile didn't quite reach her eyes, but she was trying to find the humour anyway. "Will you go back to Alexius?" She queried up at him as they walked, "He's probably tearing his hair out in there...he needs to know it wasn't his fault." 

 

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Even with the strange absence of real emotion, Teutus managed a smile. "And as a true Roman, I am mortally offended at such an insult to our cuisine, but I will allow that a British barbarian can't possibly know any better," he said, keeping his arm around Charis' shoulders as he steered her back out of the dead-end alleyway. "Honey cakes are as plain and simple as you can get, there's no skill required in making them and they are absent of all the most exquisite flavours."

He liked them himself, of course, but a little friendly teasing wouldn't hurt. He grew serious again, sighing. "I told him it's not his fault, and I'll go back and see him tomorrow - I really do want his opinion on this warehouse and chances are if I don't get it, someone else will. It's in a good position for what I need, and it's not too big, or too small. But he might see issues that I haven't. A second opinion is always good to have, I think."

 

@Sara

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Charis managed a chuckle at his rebuke, and sank into his arm as he steered her out of the alley and into the streets. It felt natural, and oddly comforting. Teutus had always been a relative stranger to her, even when they were supposedly friends and short of that day she had taken him to dance in the garden, they hadn't ever really been this close. She smiled to herself at the thought - perhaps adversity really did bring people together? Mind you, all things considered, she'd still rather do without the adversity at all. 

"He'll appreciate that, I'm sure. He's a good man." She sighed and glanced up at him as they walked, "It really was the first time," She said as if he still didn't quite believe her. She shook her head with a sigh, "But I've known him for almost all of the time I've been in Rome. He seems to have a habit of saving me or directing me right when I need it." Perhaps today was one of those days? She studied his face, "Maybe it's good you were there...maybe we needed to talk." 

 

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"May we did," Teutus allowed. "But I still wish I hadn't walked in on you. My father makes things awkward because he likes to, I think. I make things awkward just by being me and being around, and I always have done. I don't suppose that's going to change, however much I'd like it to."

He wished he'd had a chance with Charis, but that was another thing his father had done, made any sort of relationship between them supremely awkward just because he'd got there first. Perhaps it was better that he hadn't had that chance; what sort of life would his son have, if he'd slept with Charis and got her pregnant instead of his father's doing so?

"I think Alexius is good at saving people from themselves," he said, willing to take her lead in the change of direction for their conversation. Jupiter knew he needed the distraction. Though what Alexius had saved Teutus from would lead right back to awkwardness between himself and Charis - it had been the day Tertius had declared her son free.

 

@Sara

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"You don't make me feel awkward," She rejoined although it wasn't the complete truth, "You make me worry though." She cast a glance up at him, her eyes still watery from her earlier, uncharacteristic crying. "Worry selfishly for me, and you." He wasn't himself at the moment, anybody could see that. She'd not seen Teutus happy much but that dance in the garden had been a vision of a happier young man. Now it seemed as if the bitterness was rotting him from the inside out. 

Nodding, she wrapped her arms around herself as they walked. "He intervened with Helios," She chuckled, "He was the one who told your father I was gossiping about him in the gardens...it's what started all this mess, I could have killed him," And she meant it - she'd never taken a life but had been fully prepared to that day, "Had Alexius not been there and stopped it from escalating." She considered him for a moment and frowned, "How do you know him?" 

 

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"How do I know Helios?" Teutus asked, momentarily confused. How did Charis know he'd met Helios - if it was the same Helios, even, which was unlikely but possible. It was an unusual name even among slaves, after all. "I took Antonia to the temple of Apollo because she wanted to ask him to heal her friend's sprained wrist. Or do you mean Alexius?" He let out a breath. "I met Alexius in a caupona the day my father - the day you - that day."

It had felt as though his father has taken a sword and stabbed Teutus straight through the heart, although with a great deal less blood than if he had actually done that, and Teutus hadn't been able to bear watching it for a second longer. He'd gone out with the aim of getting very drunk indeed, and managed to get halfway there before Alexius persuaded him to come to his apartment instead. At least he'd saved Teutus the hangover.

 

@Sara

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Charis blinked and glanced up at him, "I meant Alexius..." And the story about how Teutus had met him sounded accurate. She ignored the shudder that ran the length of her spine at Teutus' insinuation. What a mess; she bedded Teutus' father, and now she'd bedded the same man as Teutus himself? 

But that Teutus knew Helios was a fact she couldn't let lie. "He sells secrets as well as himself," She cautioned Teutus, "Have you seen him since?" Rome had done many things to Charis - it had made her a widow, taken one child before its birth and given her another...but above all it had given her a new streak for petty revenge. She narrowed her eyes and glanced up at Teutus, "He should pay for what he's done." 

 

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