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He was holding her close with one arm around her, and felt the shudder, though he wasn't sure what had caused it - it was winter, to be sure, but she was from Britannia and must be used to far colder weather than December in Rome. He wrapped his cloak around her just in case she was feeling the cold though.

"No, I haven't," he said. He had seemed to be fishing for some sort of information from Teutus, or Antonia, but his sister had been oblivious, chattering on as young girls did, and Teutus had an abundance of caution the stemmed from his role as Tertius' confidential secretary and hadn't said anything that wasn't common knowledge or couldn't be easily found out from other sources.

"Pay? What in Jupiter's name did he do?"

 

@Sara

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"He's the cause of all this mess," She glanced up at him, gaze hard. "I...shouldn't have said what I said about your father to him, granted," That had been her own foolish error which she  had to live with now, "But he got it out of me and then sold what I said to dominus. Why do you think he took me to bed that first time?" She remembered it too vividly, even now, over a year later. She also remembered speaking with Teutus that dawn the morning after. "He did it to punish me, all because of what Helios told him." 

Granted, if it hadn't had been done to remind her of her place it could very well have happened later out of lust - but she chose not to consider that as a fact. "If you want to hold somebody responsible - it starts with him." 

 

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The mess that was Teutus' life had started years before Helios had spoken to Charis, years before Charis had been brought to Rome, even. He'd seen a close friend sold and been told of his parentage and received the first promise of freedom all when he was fourteen or fifteen, the sort of age a freeborn Roman would be taking his toga virilis and becoming a man.

What a coming-of-age all that had been for him! Extreme highs and extreme lows all mixed together, and a string of promises and reassurances he'd eventually stopped believing. And then Charis had entered the house and things had got worse, if it was even possible, though none of that was her fault. And then he'd been freed and nothing else could happen at all. Was it any wonder he just wanted to get out of the house, have as little as possible to do with its inhabitants? Only one of them had ever liked him for himself and with no reservations at all, and she was only a child.

He felt sorry for his sister, still living there and now without her brother who had been a constant in her life. Not sorry enough to want to remain there, though.

"I've said before, it doesn't matter so much what you do - just don't get caught doing it," he said neutrally. "If you think I'm going to do what he did, or that I condone what he did, I wouldn't. I don't expect you to believe me or to trust me, but I've never once told tales on anyone, not even when it would have been easy and might have made things easier for me. I don't do that - but Hector would, so watch out for him, too."

 

@Sara

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She looked up at Teutus with consideration heavy in her eyes. "I know you won't, I believe you." She affirmed. She did believe him, it was not in his nature - no matter how bitter and down he was now, she knew that. He'd taken her under his wing those first few weeks in the house - even after their arguments and spats. Theirs wasn't a friendship irrevocably broken down, and that he knew better than anybody what Tertius' wrath could do. She felt her secret was safe, for now at least. 

"I wasn't thinking that you would, I was thinking of Helios." She said with a gritted jaw and another glance skywards at her taller companion. "It doesn't seem fair to me that a man like that can wander through life earning gold for making others lives miserable." She clicked her tongue and sighed deeply, rage growing again like a poisoned pill in her stomach. "But how would I even the score?" She chuckled, a bit darkly, "I'm no good at revenge. I've never needed to be." 

 

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"I don't know, but seeing as he lives and works in a very different place, you're not likely to come across him again."

There was a bakery nearby and he pulled her across to it. "Two honey cakes, please," he said to the slave behind the counter, fishing in his pouch for coins to pay for them.

"There you go," he said, once they each had a honey cake. "Honestly, though, the best revenge is a life lived well, or as well as possible." He didn't think she would be much good at revenge, either; she was too good and innocent for all that kind of thing.

 

@Sara

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She reached an arm out of the cacoon of his cloak and took the honey cake with a wry smile. Honey cakes and Helios - that's what had caused this mess.

"I could engineer a meeting," She offered as she took a small bite - choosing to ignore his sage advice, "Or you could. I know where he works, I found out and they only deal in rich people." She chuckled - Teutus now counting among their number. "And no," She shook her head, "That's not enough. I can't..." She sighed and crumbled another bit of the cake in between her fingers, "I can't take it out on dominus," She swallowed, "I can't take it out on the men that came to my village and...took me away, but I can, I can take it out on Helios. You can't say he doesn't deserve it?" Or maybe he would, maybe Teutus was a better person than her. Gods - this was the most alive she'd felt in months. 

 

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Teutus sighed. "I want you to think very carefully about what you know about him, and what you know about yourself. Someone like him is going to be used to dealing with dangerous people and doing dirty work, especially if he sells information on others. That's the sort of person who will fight dirty and come out smelling of roses - don't go getting involved with any of that, you'll only end up hurt even worse. Maybe even physically hurt - you can't say he won't come up with something that'll get you hurt again, maybe whipped, or worse? Even if he has to lie to do it, he's the sort that would, isn't he?"

His words were likely to fall on deaf ears, of course; she was stubborn once she got an idea into her head.

He wasn't above fighting a little dirty himself, if it would make her see sense. "Think about your son, at least - don't do it, because what's going to happen to him if Helios hurts you somehow?"

 

@Sara

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Charis ground her jaw and exhaled sharply. "Your father wouldn't whip me," she offered weakly, but wasn't sure that was true. He'd certainly not used physical punishments on her before - he'd not even been violent or overtly domineering that first time he'd bedded her, but he had locked her up in her room for weeks on end. She could endure a beating, she'd suffered them on her journey to Rome, but the mental toll on being isolated for weeks on end had still yet to lift for her. sHe didn't doubt she wouldn't survive another round of it. But that was if he chose that route, he might well surprise her as he so often did and tie her up for a whipping. she swallowed the bile at the back of her throat. 

"He'd be safe," she mumbled and shrugged, wrapping herself into the lining of his cloak as her fingers played with the honey cake, "You're his guardian are you not?" She blinked up at him. It was awkward and uncomfortable but it was a fact, "And he'd have his father." Though what kind of man Tertius would mould Peregrinus to be without her was a question better remaining unanswered in her mind. 

"I just don't think it's fair, it's not fair that a man like Helios can pass through life with no comeuppance." 

 

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"No, it isn't fair - life isn't fair, and don't we both know it." Teutus shrugged. "Just think what a sad little life he leads, if that's the only way he can live, though. And," he swallowed, "babies need their mothers. Don't let him grow up with just my father, gods know what he'll turn out like if that's all he knows."

Chances of him growing up at all if Charis wasn't around were slim, but not non-existent; many children died before they were five anyway.

"It's in the past, forget him." Easy to say, of course.

He could quite happily shove Helios into the Tiber for hurting Charis, but that was neither here nor there.

 

@Sara

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Charis swallowed and shook her head. The thought of her son growing up without her there to watch over him made her nauseas. "Antonia only has him." She offered weakly, but she knew she was deflecting.

She blinked away her upset; "And whether I confront Helios or not there's no guarantee I'll be around for Peregrinus...what if he grows tired of me and sells me?" She choked, and glanced sideways at Teutus, "Is that not what happened with your mother?" 

She didn't mean to wound him with memories past, but history seemed to have a way of repeating itself in this family.

 

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"Antonia has me, too," he pointed out, though he was around far less to be able to influence her in any meaningful way now. A muscle twitched in his jaw as she mentioned his mother. "No - not like that." He took a breath; Charis knew some of his background but not (it seemed) all of it - she certainly didn't know it from Teutus' perspective.

"I was born when my grandfather was still alive - my father's father. He was the paterfamilias at the time, and I know you don't understand everything that means but he didn't do for me what my father did for your son. I was very young when my father went abroad to start his military career, and I don't remember him ever looking at me like he looks at your son, so there's that. Anyway, he came back to Rome at some point and went to set up his own home, taking me with him though he didn't take my mother - I think his father wouldn't allow it because of what had happened between them. And his father sold her when I was fifteen, he had nothing to do with it."

And if Tertius wouldn't free Charis - which wasn't for lack of trying, on Teutus' part - he was fairly sure that his father wouldn't sell her, either.

"He doesn't want you to leave, I'm pretty sure he's not about to sell you." He sighed. "But if he does, I'll try to buy you. I can promise that much."

Buy her, and free her - but that would be too much to admit out loud, it would raise her hopes too far, and he couldn't have her live in that sort of limbo as he had himself. He knew exactly how that vague sort of promise of freedom ate at a person.

 

@Sara

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Charis listened with a pensive look on her face as Teutus retold the tale of his mother. She'd never heard it, or nothing like this at least, most of the slaves considered it ancient history in Tertius' house and even Rhoda had simply shrugged and said 'she was sold' and that was it. The reality was so much worse and Charis felt sickness rise in her throat again. 

"I'm so sorry..." Was all she could mumble, eyes shining with tears. "Do you...do you know anything about where she is now?" She supposed she didn't know anything about his mother; not her name, not her age, not her looks...she was about to ask all of the above but something stayed her tongue. Perhaps he didn't wish to think of it, perhaps he didn't wish to find her. 

She smiled sadly; "He doesn't want me to leave now but things change Teutus," She sighed, shaking her head, "I'm not going to be young and interesting to him forever. There'll be other slaves to buy, prettier, nicer, more intriguing and less...complicated." She knew her use to her dominus extended to her looks and caring for her son. The former would fade with time and the latter...well. She didn't know how Tertius would react when his son started calling a slave 'Mama!' in front of important guests.

 

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"I think he loved her, for what it's worth," Teutus said and swallowed. What had happened had probably gone a good way to messing Tertius up - why care for someone who wasn't going to be around forever, after all? Though he wasn't sure whose decision it had been to sell Hector's predecessor - probably Antonia's mother's.

No wonder Tertius was so desperate to be in control himself now.

"If things do change like that, I promise I'll do my best to buy you," he said again. There was no guarantee he would be able to, of course - Tertius seemed suspicious of the friendship that Teutus had with Charis, but surely that wouldn't matter if he decided he no longer wanted her in the house.

"You're not the complicated one - that's my father and everything he does," he added. "And no, I don't know where my mother is now. Somewhere good, I hope." He sighed. "She's called Varinia. She was taller than you - I think I get my height from her, and my build. She's got dark hair and blue eyes - or were they grey? It doesn't matter. People did say I looked like her, though I've heard them say I look like my father, too, for what it's worth."

His hand went unconsciously to the neck of his tunic, where he'd worn her last gift to him for so many years. Except he'd given that to Charis, in the hope it might be luckier for her. He hoped she still had it.

 

@Sara

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Charis smiled sadly and nodded. When she was a girl she had never, ever imagined that her future would rest on the whims of men like Tertius Quinctilius Varus or his son. The best she could reasonably hope for now in her life was to be bought by another, to watch her son grow as a freedwoman. It was almost merciful that she had become so resigned to her fate that the thought no longer upset her. 

"I will keep watch," She affirmed with another wan smile to Teutus, "For her. Any news. I know dominus doesn't often  by slaves but the slave market isn't so far from the stalls I have to go to for Peregrinus' things. I will keep lookout, for any news." Charis was also start amassing friends in a great variety of Rome's houses. She made a mental note to ask Rufus and Cynane to start with, as to whether they'd seen anything or anybody close to resembling the woman Teutus described. Then again, tall brunette middle aged women were a dime a dozen in Rome. It was a needle in a haystack. 

"We should go..." She said with another sad little sigh, "Dominus will be wondering where we've got too and this..." Talking of his mother, over her fate, "Is not good for us, eh?" 

 

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"You don't have to," Teutus said. "Though... thank you. I appreciate the offer, truly."

He was vaguely glad that his father didn't often buy slaves; it meant that there were fewer slaves who had that next-to-no chance of freedom. He couldn't tell Charis he'd tried to persuade his father, twice, to free her and been shut down for it.

"Do you know where to find me, if you need to?" he asked as they began walking again, the thought only just occurring to him though he'd said she was welcome to find him if she needed. If she did get out of the house and wasn't expected to return immediately, of course - he'd had some flexibility himself, thanks to his neither one thing nor another position within the household, but he didn't know if she had the same.

 

@Sara

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Charis shook her head. She knew Teutus was leaving but hadn't been sure that he'd found a place or where it was. She'd not be surprised if dominus hadn't bought him his own sprawling domus out of some misguided attempt to bond with Teutus.

"No." She said quietly, "But it doesn't matter where it is. I have more of an excuse to go out now than I did when I was in the gardens." She could always claim she needed something for Peregrinus, or wanted to take him out to the gardens or to visit the children's baths when it was allowed. 

 

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"You passed it," Teutus said, with a smile. "It's on the first floor of the same insula where Alexius lives, one of those bigger apartments." His father hadn't been altogether happy that Teutus was moving into a place as common as an insula, but they had managed to compromise; Teutus hadn't needed a whole domus just for himself and would have been content with a one or two-room flat somewhere. A three-room flat in a decent insula in a good part of the city had left Tertius hopefully feeling not completely ignored and pushed out, and Teutus was settled in a place that did not feel ridiculously over-sized for just himself. Though he would probably move again if things went well; he was going to need a slave or two and a three-room flat would be on the small size for more than three people.

"I'm glade you can get out more," he told her. He couldn't help wondering if his father was allowing her some of the small freedoms that he'd allowed Teutus, simply because she was the mother of his son. Who knew what went on in Tertius' head!

 

@Sara

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"Me too." Charis said with a deep sigh. "He trusts me more now, after what happened. For now at least."

She felt like she'd been through a million rotations with Tertius. Her initial time in the house was spent sequestered in the kitchens and then the gardens. Then had come the time as his lover which had afforded her more freedoms than she'd dare to imagine and she'd used them, liberally. Then had come her confinement for weeks and weeks and weeks alone, locked up in her bedroom. Now, with Peregrinus alive and healthy and growing and free she had been afforded more liberties again. It was odd, but she wasn't going to take it for granted or think it would last forever. 

"And what of you?" She offered a half-smile, "Looking forward to the freedom that living alone has to offer?"

 

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"It's strange, though you're never exactly alone in Rome. There's always someone to bump into on the landing or yell at for being too loud upstairs - though I haven't got any problem with the upstairs people."

He wasn't going to boast of the freedom he had now, that he'd never truly had before - she'd once had the same and it had been taken away. He couldn't rub her face in that.

"I've got responsibilities as well, you know - I can't just pack everything up and head for Hispania or wherever. I think being out of the house has helped." He found he didn't want to leave Rome entirely and go somewhere completely different and thought that the slight distance between him and his father that even just living in an insular further down the hill had provided was helping. He wasn't sure it would help patch their relationship up, but they hadn't really had much of a relationship before so why would that change now?

"And how are you getting on with the others in the house now?" he asked, wondering if her relationship with the master had changed her friendship with the other slaves.

 

@Sara

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