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March 77AD

It had been a week since she was last here but Ione felt...nervous. It was odd. In her months since she'd been taken from the slave market and forced into service in the Elysium she'd serviced too many men to count, but none of such quality. Usually they were bakers or legionaries home from service, thermopolia workers or warehouse thugs. Not a man that owned his own home, owned his own slaves and not a man that could have such an impact on her life.

It was why she had tried to look more presentable than usual this time. She'd spent an hour in the baths this morning, scrubbing and scraping her skin until it was virtually shining, hairless and smelled like the cheapest oils they sold; rose-hip and lemon. She'd curled her hair although by now, after the walk over, they were more waves than curls that fell to her waist. She'd foregone make-up - she could never do it right and she always ended up looking more like an actress than one of the rich beauties. She had donned a new dress though - loaned from Eris and so too big (fixed with a belt) - in a soft pink colour that complimented her colouring. Never had she put such effort in for a man, not even Wulfric.

Her guard knocked as was customary and then stood to the side as Linus greeted her with his now customary warmth, ushering her in and nodding at the guard that he should return in a few hours. The management knew she was seeing Spurius, so there was no arguments and he shuffled away with a final stern look to Ione. For her part she smoothed down the wrinkles in her dress and exhaled, trying to summon a smile through her nerves. She should have spent the week practicing with the other girls instead of paying for a massage lesson. She suddenly doubted that he'd be as receptive to her body as he was to her mouth. Linus placed an arm on her back to urge her forward, just as Spurius appeared. 

 

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Ione had become part of the household's weekly routine, and if Linus had formed an opinion on the fact that Ione had served their master more directly last time (for of course they all knew) he gave no indication as he ushered her inside. Movement at the doorway from the atrium indicated that at least one of the twins was hovering in the periphery, waiting for her arrival. But there was a certain hesitation in their movements, as though they weren't certain whether the routine was going to change now that their master was involved.

As though summoned by the unspoken thought, Spurius appeared at the far end of the atrium, moving from another room in the direction of his tablinum. He glanced in her direction and paused, taking in the view of the primped and preened Ione in her pink chiton, slim shoulders bare save for the long, light brown hair that fell past them in waves. She cleaned up well, surprisingly well; she was actually quite pretty. Not a great beauty, but certainly attractive when not clad in a shapeless tunica and air of downtrodden resignation. It was an agreeable change, and Spurius realised that she would have gone to that effort for him, as a wealthier client. He supposed it made sense, she probably didn't have any others of his class and neither would her colleagues.

That was the logical train of thought. The illogical one was rather more focused on how attractive she looked. Perhaps she wouldn't inspire any of the great sculptors, but as the sum total of women he'd been intimate with any time recently, and what with attraction being largely psychological, part of him that wasn't that logical definitely took note. Which he was certain was the point. The desire to simply have her now came up against years of experience of not being manipulated by slaves.

"Good, you're here." He acknowledged her. "See to the twins. Then when you've had your bath and your meal, come to my tablinum." He instructed, and then he was gone, disappearing into the mentioned room without a further word. He knew it was the right thing to do, to maintain order, routine and expectations. He was mildly irritated by the fact that it wasn't really what he wanted to do. But Spurius had an iron will - or stubborness - that you could bend horse shoes around. It was the reason he'd got where he was today. Exactly where he was.

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Ione glanced up, face hopeful and a soft smile on her lips as Spurius appeared. Her shoulders rolled back and her spine straightened, although she respectfully dropped her eyes back down to the floor. Which was fortunate, given what he said, so he couldn't see her reaction well. Oh. She blinked. She had thought things had changed and she fought a wave of pain that swept from her toes to her shoulders. She'd put in so much effort - which really wasn't all that much, but the borrowed chiton had been an expensive gift for Eris from a client - and the money she'd spent in the baths and on her hair hadn't been cheap...and it was for nothing. 

Any notion that he'd want her disappeared from her mind. What slave owner would want a girl like her after she'd been with his men? None. So this was pointless. Spurius, in her view, had evidently seen what she was and what she was worth and decided to renege on his proposal from last week. He'd probably hired a girl from the Venus to see to him instead. That was of course his decision to make but the disappointment burned her more than she could stand. She nodded silently and after a few moments of hesitation, slipped off her outside sandals and padded quietly over to the back stairs she'd become so accustomed to, following a buoyant Remus up to the room he shared with his brother.

By the time she appeared again from the kitchens, the carefully preened and polished image was gone. She was wearing the chiton again but the belt lay broken in her fingers. Remus hadn't meant to break it in his hurry to undress and had given her an as for its repair, but it did mean that the chiton now resembled a shapeless pink sack on her slim form. Her hair was piled up in a loose bun secured by a thin linen scrap, damp and curling at the ends and her cheeks were flushed with exertion. The bags of tiredness that hung under her eyes were her own though. She'd had to get up early after a long night of work to attend the good baths this morning (and with uncustomary bitterness, she mused it had been for nothing). 

She silently padded into Spurius tablinum and cleared her throat, her voice bland and quiet like any good slaves should be. "Sir. Your slaves are content. Was there anything else?" Probably not. Her guard, amused at her preening, would never let her live this down. 

 

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Spurius had already turned away, so he didn't see Ione's shoulders slump. Perhaps that was for the best. For himself he focused on his work in his tablinum whilst she went about hers, or at least tried to. He'd admit to himself that he appreciated the view that Ione had presented when she'd arrived, but he was quite certain that either she or her dominus - more likely the latter, he realised as he thought about it - had arranged it entirely deliberately. The more enthusiastic he was about her, the more he'd be willing to pay for her time. It was how Armenius would secure a wealthy client, he was certain. It was what he would have done, had their roles been reversed.

After all, she was just a whore, and a cheap one at that. She had multiple men a day, for money. It was easy to ignore that fact when she came up here to the house and discretely saw to the twins in their room, but it had been made blindingly obvious by what he'd seen during Armenius's enthusiastic tour of the Elysium brothel. Just a whore, he told himself. And he wasn't enthusiastic about whores. Perhaps that was even why she'd been sent all doled up. Because she did look good. And despite his somewhat conflicted feelings on the subject, Spurius was rather enjoying the anticipation, even if it meant he wasn't as focused on his work as he should be.

At last she appeared, clean but with flushed cheeks, in his doorway, but as Spurius turned to look at her the faint smile died on his lips. Her earlier bright demeanor was gone, her eyes downcast (as was proper) and her tone dull, much as the first time she'd come to the house. And there, in her hand, the belt of her dress hung broken. Spurius's anger was a slow coal, not a hot fire, but the twins knew the rules and there would be consequences.

"What happened?" He asked sternly, ignoring her question. "Which one hurt you?" He demanded.

It was the only logical explanation for her changed manner  in his mind. One of the twins, both big, strong lads, had hurt her. And he would not stand for that.

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The firmness of his words made her glance up quizzically, her expression struck dumb for a moment. What happened? Your slaves took their turns using me. No time for cuddling afterwards. She responded in her head with uncharacteristic bitterness. She, of course, would never say it out loud not that she had a chance as he demanded to know who had hurt her. Her eyes were back on the floor by now but her frown was fairly evident even with a bent neck. She self-consciously glanced at her body, shrouded in the sack of pink fabric. Did she look in pain? Her eyes caught the belt in her hand and supposed that didn't look great but it had genuinely been an accident, and gifts given by clients - like this dress  to Eris - were hardly going to be of exceptional quality or craftsmanship.

"Nobody hurt me, sir." she shook her head and gave a little shrug but vividly remembered his warning from weeks previously that he liked the full honest truth; "The belt was an accident as Remus undressed me. He gave me an as from his peculium to get it repaired." Her sewing skills weren't up to muster for that particular task. She shrugged again limply and raised her spare fingers to tuck wispy strands of mouse-brown hair behind her ears from where they'd escaped the loose bun. "I'm just tired." She offered, quietly. The twins were kinder than most but they were young and energetic and she'd had an early start that morning after precious little sleep. She just wanted to go back home, back to the brothel and sleep until sundown. Sleep always came easily to her when she was upset. She repeated herself, shifting from foot to foot as if itching to get away, feeling wrung out and humiliated as she was: "Is there something else I can do sir?" 

 

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She glanced up for a moment at his question, with an expression that he couldn't read, before lowering her gaze again, a faint frown on her lips. Something wasn't right. They routine was always that she saw to the twins, had her turn in the bath, had a plate of food, then sometimes spoke to Spurius if she had something to say and he was in the mood. Last time had been... different, but she hadn't seemed to mind. He knew the twins were young and enthusiastic, but she didn't usually look this worn out. And didn't she see customers all day? Certainly what he'd seen at the brothel the day he'd visited suggested that she did. Not that she seemed the type to take a lot of pleasure in her work, but surely she was used to it? It seemed odd that she was so tired today, but perhaps it was nothing to do with this household. Perhaps she'd had a busy night.

Is there something else I can do sir?

He looked at her. What had happened to the smiling girl who'd arrived earlier? "Yes, come here." He said more gently, gesturing her closer. "Let me see that." He held his hand out for the belt. It was the same soft cloth as the dress and he could see where the seam had split. Remus knew better, he would lose privileges for a few weeks. Spurius looked up from the fabric. "Corva!" He called. A few moments later the older woman appeared at the door of the tablinum, wiping her hands on a cloth. Yes dominus? She asked mildly. If there was one odd mannerism that some might note about both Corva and Linus it was that they didn't lower their gaze as often around Spurius as one might expect. But then they'd had a hand in raising him.

It occurred to him momentarily that Ione might have said something to Corva whilst she was eating. If that was the case he'd find out later. "Can you fix this?" He asked, offering the belt for her to inspect and Corva reached past Ione to take it, inspecting the stitching closely. Yes domine, though it will take a little while. She said after a moment. He knew she didn't sew fast, Corva's knuckles were starting to swell noticably with arthritis now and he was reminded that, since Tacita hadn't worked out, he needed to look for someone else to learn from her and start to take over her duties. But it was a fleeting thought. "Start it now, and see how much you can get done." He instructed. Corva bowed and disappeared with the belt.

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Doing as she was bidden, she stepped forward quietly until she was standing in front of him, twisting the broken belt in her hands. For a brief moment she wondered if he'd ask her to take her knees again for him. Last week she hadn't minded at all, it almost, in some sort of weird, perverse way felt like an honour. He was an important man and he had wanted her, so she'd done her best and he'd seemed satisfied. 

Now, it felt cheap. Logically she knew that's exactly what she was, she was just a cheap whore whose only real offering in this life was what was between her legs, but she thought she'd given Spurius more than that with their little chats, his advice and the aid she'd given to his leg. But the moment this morning that he'd dismissed her to fuck his slaves as he worked downstairs on his important papers and business, the reality of her situation and their relationship had dawned in stark relief. She felt humiliated for how much she had been looking forward to today, for her preening and pampering and the prospect of satisfying him now felt...wrong. She'd do it if he asked, of course, but she couldn't muster up an iota of enthusiasm for it.

She passed him the belt as he asked for it and clasped her hands together in front of her waist as he examined it before beckoning for Corva. She flinched at his call and then discretely took a step to the side as she bustled in and took the belt with her poor hands. Ione had asked if there was anything she could do last week, but the woman had just smiled softly and shaken her head. She liked Corva, although wondered today as she sat silently picking at her plate of food, whether she was as amused at her preening as the guard was likely to be when he picked her up. She shifted from foot to foot again. She just wanted to go home. Yet as Corva bustled away, Ione noticed Spurius hadn't dismissed her.

Silently, she placed the as on his desk next to him and cleared her throat. "If Corva fixes the belt I don't need Remus' coin. Will you give this back to him, sir?" She folded her hands back in front of her waist and asked; "Would you like me to wait in the kitchens whilst the belt is fixed?" Surely he didn't want her to linger around in the luxury of the nicer parts of his domus?

 

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Spurius glanced at the as that Ione set on his desk. "No, you keep that. Remember what I told you about saving your coin?" He admonished ever so gently. "Remus is in trouble for breaking your belt and he know's it, even if it was an accident." Remus had probably been hoping that his master wouldn't find out. Spurius provided that privilege for his slaves but he expected any woman he hired for them to be treated with respect. He didn't doubt that Remus didn't meant it, but the big lump still needed to be careful.

Would you like me to wait in the kitchens whilst the belt is fixed?

Spurius was torn. It would be so easy to just say 'yes' and dismiss her. She clearly didn't want to be here, though what had happened to change the vivacious image she'd presented on arrived to this, he wasn't sure. After all, they'd followed their usual pattern for her visits. Unless she'd thought he'd treat her differently after last week. Or her dominus had expected it, which was why he'd dressed her up, and now she was worried about being punished for failing his expectations.

She was a whore, and a cheap one, and if anyone had asked Spurius if he wanted a cheap whore he would have easily said 'no'. He could afford an expensive one if he wanted, one who was seductive and could probably give a really good massage. Except he didn't want to. The girls who tried almost too hard to be alluring didn't appeal to him. Maybe because his last one had been like that. But the sight of Ione in the pink chiton with her hair all curled had been very appealing, and as he looked at her now looking tired and downcast, he felt the impact of that change more than he thought he should. He realised that if he asked himself did he want Ione, then the answer was 'yes'. But not just because he could have her, he wanted her to want him.

The problem was that Ione was a slave, and a cheap whore. He worked with slaves every day, and maintaining his distance and the difference in social standing was key to managing them. But maintaining his distance meant... being distant. And that was the opposite of what he wanted here. That simple, contented feeling of holding her whilst she'd sat on his lap last week was something he had craved without realising it. He knew plenty of people developed close relationships with slaves, and he'd always looked down on them as blurring lines and crossing boundaries, and yet here he was, feeling oddly torn because Ione was clearly unhappy, whatever she might say to the contrary.

It would be easy to send her away to wait in the kitchen, to maintain the distance that he always did, to let her just keep servicing the twins, and let his bed stay cold. It was what he felt he should do, it was the kind of thing he'd always done, since Antonia had rejected him and the whore had laughed at him. But the difference between them and Ione was that, after a long drought, he had started to trust her. Perhaps it was her unassuming nature or her previous eagerness to please, but somehow he didn't think she would ever laugh at him. Was she just an excellent actor? Surely if that was the case, she'd be working somewhere better than the Elysium.

He had perhaps been kinder to her already than he would otherwise. His instinctive thought was that if he became attached to her, he would open himself up to exploitation by her dominus. Certainly he wouldn't trust the previous fellow as far as he could kick him, which given his bad leg wasn't very far at all. But Armenius had seemed almost... reasonable? And even if he put the price up, Spurius could afford it. Gods, he could afford to buy her if he really wanted, but he wasn't certain what he wanted yet.

Except that he didn't want Ione to just walk away from him.

"No, come with me." He said, after the long moment in which all those thoughts had flashed through his head. He could see a path diverging at this point, and he didn't know what was ahead, but he knew what would happen if he took the familiar path of distance and reserve. So instead he rose to his feet, grabbed his staff and beckoned her to follow. "I said I'd take you upstairs, and I keep my word." There was a different set of stairs, opposite the set she usually used, that led up to the floor above on this side of the building. The upper floor was all connected, but this was the side the family - i.e. Spurius - used, and the stairs led to the nicely furnished rooms. He made his halting way past the first few doorways, and at the end of the walkway was the largest room of all, the master bedroom. Spurius's room. It held a comfortable couch, a chest of clothes, a small desk and a bed well big enough for two. It had fine linen sheets, soft pillows and a blanket woven from fine wools dyed rich reds and blues. The walls had elegant paintwork on the plaster, all twining grape vines with yellow borders.

He gestured for her to go in. "There's a bed. I've paid for your time; you can sleep until Corva's finished." He said in quiet tones. "Just tell me one thing." He added, hazel eyes watching her. "What happened between when you arrived and now, that's made you look so sad?" He asked, part of him wondering why he cared, a somewhat atrophied part of him realising that he did care. He wanted to know. "Don't just say you're tired; I know it's more than that."

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She didn't feel right taking Remus' coin if she didn't need it. Spurius, despite how well he kept his slaves, likely didn't understand how important even a little money was to those in bondage and it had been an accident. Had Remus ripped off her dress in a frenzy of anger or passion, she would have pocketed the coin and thought no more about it, but it had been a flimsy bit of fabric in the first place and one wrong tug had sent it splitting. She palmed the coin again as instructed with a silent nod. She'd leave it with Corva or Linus to return to Remus before she left, not wishing to argue the point with the master of the house right now. 

Silence stretched on interminably and she felt like she dared not breathe lest she disturb whatever he was so deeply musing over. She swallowed the lump that filled her throat. Had she displeased him even more? Surely not, surely- and then he stood with effort and she cast a glance up at him, curiosity shining in her eyes. Upstairs? She blinked, surprise written over every inch of her features. She'd discounted the notion he'd want her - especially now. The artful waves of freshly washed hair and well fashioned dress of this morning had been replaced by a haphazard pile of hair tied in a loose bun on her head, and a shapeless billowing sack where the belt  had been removed. Not to mention the fact, despite scrubbing herself raw in his baths, she had still lain with two of his slaves. Why would he want her now? Unless he preferred the tragic ingenue she often was in this house, rather than the polished version she'd presented this morning?

It didn't make sense to her but she slowly and silently followed his limping form up the stairs. Armenius' words floated back into her mind. Very obedient. She was, to her core. If not to her father, then to her first owner, then to Armenius and all of her customers, including Spurius. She didn't have long to dwell on the implications of it though as he gestured for her to go into the nicest room she'd ever seen. She stepped over the threshold and spun around with slow steps, face-up, eyes wide, taking in the beauty of the wall paintings, how soft the covers and sheets and pillows looked, mouth gaping a little. "I..." she started, about to say she didn't know what she'd done to deserve such kindness, but he cut her off with a quiet, inquisitive voice. She didn't understand. She didn't understand any of this, and judging by his question, apparently neither did he.

Unnaturally for Ione, she met his gaze with a look of confusion and anguish and didn't lower her eyes. She opened her mouth as if to speak and then shut it again, trying to find the words. Silence bloomed and swelled for a moment before she shrugged a little limply, finally dropping her eyes respectfully to his chest, her voice quiet. Humiliation reared it's ugly head again, alongside embarrassment. She just didn't understand. "I...I am tired. I got up early this morning, to go to the good baths." Which were only open certain hours for women like her. It had still cost more than it should have though. That obviously wasn't all though, and he knew it as much as her. She was just struggling to put it into words. "I...I'm embarrassed. I wanted to look nice, for you. I wanted to please you and I...thought you wanted me too." She swallowed, her cheeks flushing pink, "And then you sent me to see Remus and Romulus and I..." She sighed softly, "I realised I was a fool. And it upset me. I'm sorry." She shrugged lightly again, the implication of her words clear; why would you want a girl like me, after all? "A-and now I don't understand. You're so kind to me but...you don't want me in return." Everything in Ione's life was transactional; a lay for a coin, a drink for a lay and so on and so forth. She liked Spurius for his kindness and would have been obliging had he asked the world of her, but the back and forth, confusing flip-flops made her doubt everything. She just didn't understand. 

 

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He watched as Ione entered his cubiculum and turned slowly, taking in the furnishings and the decorations. Even with her hair up and her dress billowing and shapeless, he thought that there was a grace to her movements, a prettiness about her. She stopped as he posed his question, and the look she gave him was one of such distress that he felt it as though she'd hit him, before she lowered her gaze and haltingly began to speak. And he listened, listened quietly whilst she spoke of having got up early to get done up, to look nice, for him. Those baths weren't free either, especially not with that kind of primping. Because she'd thought he'd wanted her.

A-and now I don't understand. You're so kind to me but...you don't want me in return.

He still couldn't help the feeling that it was all a calculated act, but following that was the thought that surely, if she was that good, she wouldn't be working at the Elysium. Which only left the supposition that she not only wanted to please him, but had spent her own money to do so. Perhaps as an investment, but still... she hadn't struck him as particularly canny that way, whatever his advice. Which left the far more simple, and far more bizarre conclusion; for some strange reason she liked him. Perhaps for his money, perhaps for his influence, perhaps because he spoke to her. He didn't know. In that moment he felt like everything that he expected about such interactions had been turned on it's head.

Then he mentally shook himself. She was upset and confused because he had broken one of his own rules; he'd given a slave mixed messages. Slaves were content and felt secure when they knew what was happening and what was going to happen; they felt insecure and became fractious when they didn't, because if they didn't know what was expected of them they couldn't anticipate the consequences of their actions. It was a very simple premise; dogs, children and slaves throve on structure and clear expectations, and he had not been clear with her, because he hadn't known himself. And here they were, both of them feeling lost and confused. After years of holding back depression and temper to carry on, denying himself companionship because of the implications, treating with slaves only as property, could he allow himself to break the habit?

Ione stopped speaking and Spurius nodded, silent acknowledgement of her words. "I guess it was easy to stick to our routine." He admitted. "I-"
I didn't know what else to do
I don't want to be taken advantage of
I don't let myself get close to slaves

I have to be strong, because being weak nearly killed me
I want you

I don't dare...

I'm afraid of failing

He swallowed. "I'm sorry." He said at last. He probably owed her that. "You looked very pretty this morning. I did notice. You... surprised me."  He admitted. She had, very much so. "And I thought that if I stopped you seeing the twins, then you wouldn't earn as much from your visit, which didn't seem fair." After all, she was here to make money, and if she only saw Spurius then that was one customer instead of three. He'd considered that point, in the intervening week. Much as he didn't want to share her, he knew he was sharing her with the butchers, bakers and candle makers of Rome anyway, so what did his slaves matter?

"You're not a fool." I am. "I do want you." I just don't know why.

The Gods knew he might be laughed at again, and this time he really would deserve it.

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I'm sorry. 

Ione glanced up, eyes filled with an utterly inscrutable look. Nobody had ever apologised, or not that she could remember. Her father hadn't when he'd sold her; he'd looked away in shame. None of her masters had, and certainly not her customers - not even the ones that beat her or cut her or smashed her lamps. And here was Spurius, looking wracked, apologising to her - simple, obedient girl that she was. Hilaera of Kefalonia to Ione of the Elysium, it didn't matter, nobody had done that for her before. 

His compliments rolled off of her, lost in the confusion she felt, until she shook her head hurriedly as he explained. "I-I don't care about the money." she clarified a moment later, "I know I should, you told me I should." She gave him a wavering smile, "But...it's not important to me." She'd never earn enough to buy herself unless she ran through all the men in the city every night, and she could save the lost coin from not bedding Remus and Romulus from other clients. It wasn't like she received it all anyway - her peculium was tightly controlled by her dominus. 

You're not a fool. I do want you. 

She still didn't understand. He wanted her, but was holding himself back. No man had ever held himself back in the presence of a prostitute unless it was a young lad on his first visit, and usually they were more eager than afraid. She gave him a gentle look and swallowed the lump that filled her throat. No doubt the other girls and boys she worked with at the Elysium would know exactly what to do in this sort of situation - they'd flutter their eyelashes and giggle and drop their togas. Ione wasn't such a woman - she was awkward and gangly at the best of times, and now standing in front of a man who'd sent her more mixed messages than an oracle, she did what felt right. What felt natural. 

She took a half pace towards him and softly, without asking for permission, raised her fingers to sweep over his cheek - those dark blue doe eyes searching his face. "I want you too." The look she gave him was so earnest, it was impossible to believe she was putting on any sort of act. And she wasn't. She did want him, because he had been kind and fair and considerate in a way no other man besides perhaps Wulfric had been, and he was likely long gone now the Spring sun shone. She wanted to thank him, and her body was a way for her to do that, the only way really. "I don't want you because you'll earn me more coin," She clarified, her voice soft, "I...like you. Sir." She added at the end, only faintly remembering her place in his household, in his life. She didn't want to break the moment by suggesting she get on the bed, or undress or do anything quite so cheap. She just stayed staring at him for a long moment before she regained some wits and dropped her eyes to the patterned floor beneath her bare feet. So beautiful, so out of her league.

 

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He'd been right, she really wasn't suited to being a prostitute. How could the money not matter to her? Silly girl. She should have been a happy wife on her island, married to some local craftsman, with a fat baby on her breast. And yet here she was, standing in his bedroom, looking lost and confused. Was it the ingenue aspect of her that appealed to him? Perhaps a little. He didn't like the overt prostitutes, perhaps because what he really wanted wasn't a prostitute at all, but he'd given up on having a wife. But didn't every man want to be a hero to someone?

He held himself back because he was accustomed to resisting the urge to indulge his baser impulses. When he'd first returned to Rome, crippled and unable to walk, rejected by his intended, he'd turned to drink and sulked, unable some days to leave his room to run his fledgling business. And it might have ended that way, if his father hadn't given him a piece of his mind the morning after one big night. And Spurius had realised he had a choice; he could be weak, and he would probably drown in an amphora, or he could push it all down and rebuild his life. He'd chosen the latter, but it had meant hard work, it meant pushing himself to use his leg despite the pain, it had meant putting every as into his business, to get it off the ground. Denying himself in order to succeed. It had become a way of life.

And it had paid off, he was very successful. He was one of those Plebians who were richer than some Equites. And he could afford to spend money, waste money, on things, but he didn't out of habit. Even if he showered Ione with coin and pretty dresses, he could afford it. She didn't have to be an investment to be worth money. Unless she counted as an investment in less material things. A wealthy man could be a patron of others; whether artists or businessmen. In return he got access to their services, and political support. The Senatores were the biggest patrons of course, but Spurius could afford a client or two. His brain, which was clearly riding the exponential curve of ridiculousness, wondered if one could be the patron of someone else's slave. He supposed it depended on how one looked at it.

All foolish thoughts aside, he did want Ione, and he admitted as much. He just wasn't certain what he wanted. Not an empty fuck periodically, something more. Which was stupid, and Spurius didn't tolerate stupid, especially in himself. And yet... Ione stepped closer, and ran her fingers over his cheek.

I want you too. I don't want you because you'll earn me more coin. I...like you. Sir.

Earning the admiration and loyalty of those slaves whom he could was one of his business skills. It made them so much easier to work with. Was that almost unconscious habit now leading him somewhere he didn't know how to go? Spurius smiled, then chuckled at himself and ducked his head, almost shyly, leaning against the doorway to take thw weight off his leg. What a situation. "You're a terrible prostitute, you know that?" He said, shaking his head slightly, not sounding at all displeased. Then he looked at her, hazel eyes meeting those oddly deep blue ones, that smile still lingering. "But I guess that's why I noticed you. I could see at a glance you didn't fit in." Which had annoyed him then.

Now what? He reached up and gently tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear in an affectionate gesture. "Bring another girl with you next week if you don't care about the coin, she can see to the twins." There. And he could have her time and the illusion that she was just his. "Did you save any of the money that I gave you last week?" He asked gently, suspecting that she'd spent it at the baths, or other things. It was flattering that she'd spent her money on him, because he knew she had so very little. But it was also very foolish. "You know you're not supposed to spend money on me, you're supposed to get me to spend money on you, right?" He spoke not with the stern tones of the previous week, but with a kind of exasperated fondness. She really was a terrible whore, and that might be what he liked about her.

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He ducked his head out of her touch, but the expression on her face was soft. She didn't think she'd heard him laugh before, not beyond a snort of amusement when she'd said something foolish. His words could have been an admonishment, but watching him carefully, she didn't take them as one. Instead she gave him an amused, almost shy smile of her own and chuckled, shaking her head. "You won't be surprised to know you're not the first person that's told me that." She was doing 'better' under Armenius' hawkish gaze than Titus' when he had run the Elysium but she still suffered through complaints, failure to land new clients when out fishing and poor reviews on the walls of Rome (apparently, not that she could read).

The gentleness of his gesture made her suck in a breath, the smile softening even further as she glanced up at him. She really was terribly ill-suited to the lifestyle in which she was placed. "I will. Thank...thank you." Should she be thanking him? She'd lose money, but that really wasn't a concern and in any case Armenius would earn double if she brought another girl, so that didn't factor into it. His question made her wince though and she shifted from foot to foot, choosing now as a moment to drop her eyes back down. "I saved some of it," she protested but there was a wry smile of amusement on her lips. "I used some for a lesson on massage, like you said. At the baths down by the Sparrow, it was good. It was useful. I'm going to try and go back next month, if I can." Although practicing on a sweaty older woman hadn't been ideal, at least she'd learned. The rest of it though..."I don't need you to buy me anything," she chuckled and glanced down at the billowing dress, "I'm not sure fancy clothes suit me anyway." That the simple chiton was 'fancy' to Ione spoke volumes. 

She glanced up at him, curiosity in her expression; "Speaking of the massage...sorry...how is your leg? Does it feel better?" 

 

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He didn't duck his head to avoid her touch, but because he felt oddly uncertain, and it wasn't something that Spurius was accustomed to. He had to be certain, in his line of work; slaves could sense when their master was anything but firm and fair. But in letting Ione in, just a little, he'd upset that surety in himself. Which had nearly created a disaster, until he'd admitted the one thing he was sure of with her, that he wanted her. Wanted that softness, that company. Well, that surety was somewhere to start. He was oddly fond of her, even as she admitted that he wasn't the first person to tell her she was an awful prostitute. "It's not your fault. A good slave trader would have made more of an effort to sell you a position suited to your strengths." Which was what he did. She should have been a house keeper, even a body slave, perhaps to a household with a young master who might take an interest in her. No doubt the man who'd sold her had just seen her youth, pretty face and probably her innocence. 

I saved some of it.

"Good." He replied with obvious approval, listening as she described what she'd done with her money, paying for the massage lesson as he'd suggested. So she was listening, was learning. That was good. When she protested that she didn't need him to buy her anything, he shook his head slightly, thinking that he didn't agree, but his expression was still fond. "But I can if I want to." He told her gently. "So can your other clients. A skilled prostitute can make her clients want to lavish gifts on her." And so make an extra profit. Of course, Iona had already said she didn't care about the money, which didn't help. "You enjoy the luxuries here, don't you?" He pointed out. "And this looks very good on you." He gently adjusted the fabric on her shoulder. Corva would fix the belt, and the billowy fabric would once again cling to her frame. She'd looked pretty, done up when she'd arrived. He suspected that if given the kind of treatment that the wealthy, free women of Rome received, she'd look quite stunning. Not that he needed her covered in makeup and elaborate hair styles. 

Speaking of the massage...sorry...how is your leg? Does it feel better?

"It does, thank you. You did a good job, and it's not playing up this week." Even though he had currently taken his weight off it by leaning against the door jamb. "It depends on how much I use it." He explained simply. "If I walk too far, the muscles seize up. But if I don't walk at all, I lose strength in the leg." So it was a constant balancing act that he'd been doing for years; even so he still occasionally got it wrong. She might ask well know, since he was certain he'd be asking her to massage it again before too long. But he didn't need it right now. What he did need, he decided, was to take charge of the situation, else they'd keep standing here like a pair of shy youths, and he was too old and his leg too sore for that. "Now, I do believe that I said you were to have a sleep." He re-iterated, gesturing again to his bed with it's soft wool blankets and inviting linen sheets. 

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Nobody had ever wanted to lavish gifts on her, but she didn't say that and instead gave an awkward little smile. Armenius had been good to his boys and girls and given them new mattresses and pillows, and painted some of the cells but they were still cells where her only worldly belongings were her lamp, her clothes and a small pot of kohl for her eyes (she tried it once, it didn't suit). She had no need for gifts, nor anywhere to put them, but she nodded all the same. He was right, she did enjoy the luxuries here and she glanced around the room again with a slightly softer smile. "I've never seen anywhere as nice as this before. Not even back at home." They had been a poor family, made poorer still by her father. She had thought such luxury was firmly out of her reach. 

The smile became softer as he adjusted the strap of the dress and she looked almost a bit...embarrassed; emphasised by her words. "I don't think I can borrow it next week." she admitted sheepishly, and with no ill-intent or suggestion that she wanted him to buy another for her, "So I will have to wear my usual tunica." Or a toga, but that marked her out as a prostitute straight away which she doubted Spurius wanted. "But I can do my hair however you'd like it done?" She added, genuinely trying to please him. She could offer him so little, it occurred to her. 

Massage, she supposed, was another way and she beamed as he said it had improved. Nimble fingers clearly made a difference and she nodded in understanding as he explained the injury. "I will keep practicing then, for the next time it seizes." She could afford another lesson or two, especially now Armenius had got the kitchens working again so she didn't have to spend her coin on food. She glanced at the bed though, the thought gone from her mind as he told her to sleep. It seemed almost...shameful to take advantage of his offered kindness but they had agreed on next week. That was enough. She nodded and moved to gently sit down on the plush bed. It felt like heaven. "If you're sure, sir..." She added quietly and then moved to curl herself up on it. She should have been trying to sell herself, sell a moment with him but she didn't want to. She didn't want  to ruin and cheapen this moment. She didn't know how tired she was until her head hit the feathered pillow. "Thank you. So much." she mumbled sleepily. 

 

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I've never seen anywhere as nice as this before. Not even back at home.

He supposed that she would not have. He knew little about her life on Kefalonia, but if her father had been a potter then likely they were not wealthy. In Rome many of the potters were slaves, only the master potter was free. She had at least been born free, much good that it had done her, but wealthy men didn't need to sell their daughters. He'd grown up very comfortably, by contrast, and continued to live in a manner that was comfortable but not ostentatious. But a little time in the comforts of his house was an easy thing to give her, that cost him only her fee. "Enjoy it then." He said simply. Why shouldn't she? Perhaps she'd even develop a taste for wealthier customers; it might even help her resolve herself to her new life. 

I don't think I can borrow it next week.

He finished adjusting the shoulder of the pink chiton, and smiled approvingly. "So you did borrow it. Smart girl." He'd thought perhaps she'd bought it, though if he'd really thought about it he would have realised that the coin he'd given her wouldn't stretch that far. Perhaps he might get her something. Her usual tunica wasn't exactly flattering but it was better than arriving in the obvious, gaudy toga she wore at the brothel. He did appreciate her discretion. She offered to have her hair done for him, and he thought of the artful arrangement she'd arrived with. It had been pretty, but didn't last long, and he knew that kind of thing was time consuming, and likely expensive for her since she had no bodyslave to do it for her. He remembered watching his mother have her hair done by her slave when he was young; it seemed to take hours then though he was certain some of that was the impatience of youth. "Wear it loose." He said simply. "I like it out." Even not primped and curled, the way it fell past her face was fetching. 

Even as he directed her she looked longingly at the bed, but also like she was torn. Normally she'd only be in another's bed for work, but she looked tired and he'd done without for years, he could wait another week. He'd rather she was rested and refreshed, so he simply nodded when she asked if he was certain, and that seemed to be all the encouragement she needed. He watched as she curled up on it, head on the pillows, her murmured gratitude already just a mumble, as though she was already half asleep. She looked so young. Just a girl, though likely one wed by now if she'd been free. He watched her for a moment, torn by the urge to climb into the bed with her and cuddle up to her, just to feel her softness and warmth. But she might well take that as a wordless request for something other than sleep, so instead he turned away after a moment and left her to it. When she woke she'd find a little as on the pillow next to her, and the master of the house elsewhere. It was better that way, he needed time to think. Time to somehow reconcile his usual detachment with slaves with the desire to have not just service from Ione, but affection. 

One his way back to his tablinum he caught sight of Corva, sitting in the peristyle and using the natural light to aid her sewing. Pausing to watch her working carefully, her fingers curled and her back a little bent, he supposed that Ione wouldn't be the first slave he'd made an exception to his rules for. The twins were the workhorses of the household, but his old nurse and tutor were with him beyond strict usefulness, because he was fond of them. He supposed he could allow himself to be fond of Ione too. 

--------------------

It had been a busy week, but Spurius had found himself anticipating Ione's visit. His bed had smelled of her when he'd retired that night. He was glad he'd asked her to bring another girl for the twins, she wouldn't be tired and they could have all to time they wanted to... well, he had ideas, but also reservations. Just because there was a sweet and attractive young woman around didn't resolve certain issues; it only made him wish it did. But they did say time healed all wounds. Only death removes the scars. He wasn't convinced that time was the greatest medicus, but he was willing to hope, whilst at the same time telling himself that hope was foolish. And then he'd get annoyed with himself for being distracted from whatever he was supposed to be doing. See? Nothing good comes of being soft on slaves! She's just a prostitute. He didn't even like prostitutes, not after the last one. But there was something about Ione. 

With three antsy men in the house Corva had made herself scarce, busying herself somewhere in the little kitchen garden out the back, whilst Linus was quietly doing some sums, tallying up the week's costs and income at his master's business and ignoring the fact that his master was being a little irritable. Spurius was going over his correspondence and trying to focus on it. 

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If Ione had been nervous last week then this week she felt she might explode as the guard escorted the two cloaked women towards the slave's entrance of Spurius' domus. Shedding the cloak and depositing them in his arms as they stepped through to the atrium, Ione tried to let out a steadying breath. It didn't work and it took a squeeze from Arrina's fingers on her own to shake her out of her worries. "Ah you'll be fine. And if you're not...well...I owe you for this, so drinks on me?" She whispered with a smirk before tossing her long jet black hair over her shoulder. She was a beautiful woman - voluptuous and curved with dark eyes and darker hair, her skin the colour of darkened honey. Mercifully, she was also nice. She hadn't wanted to bring Eris - the woman was her friend but Ione knew she would have thrown her under a litter if it suited her fortunes and she would have likely found or considered Spurius easy pickings. Arrina was new to this work, newer even than Ione and grateful for scraps of kindness. Perfect for this, and for the twins.

She was right she hadn't been able to borrow the chiton again but she had scrubbed the plain, sack-like tunica she usually wore as well as her body and so at least one of the stains and tears were diminished. She'd also brought a comb with her in the little purse she kept at her belt and so quickly set about smoothing out then waves of her long hair before Spurius appeared. And then he did, following Linus and she felt her heart flutter. She dipped her head in respect and dropped her eyes. She could tell Arrina didn't immediately (still so new to this life), and so Ione nudged her. "Two girls." She heard the guard behind her mutter with a chuckle, "As requested. I shall be back within the hour if that suits?" She risked a glance up at Spurius and tried not to let her nerves get in the way. What if he said no again?

 

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Two girls. As requested. I shall be back within the hour if that suits?

"Indeed." Spurius replied, politely but cooly, with the reserve he used with slaves and those who served others. He didn't much care for Ione's guard but he supposed the man had a job to do. Did he guard the girls when they trawled the streets or tabernae? Hopefully. He knew that she and her colleagues must do that of course, it was what prostitutes did, but mentally putting Ione into that picture was discomforting. But she was here, ill-fitting tunia and undone hair and all, and to his eyes she was a welcome sight. 

His gaze moved to the other woman with her. Dark haired, voluptuous and tanned, she was quite beautiful and, if one were being brutally honest, more conventionally attractive than Ione herself. She had to be one of Valerius's newer acquisitions, and it was good to see that the man was already improving his stock. One might have been tempted to take Arrina and leave Ione to the twins, but Spurius would be the first to admit that he hadn't chosed the girl purely for her looks. His first instinct was to focus on the new girl, get her sorted out, before turning his attention to Ione, but the memory of how well that sort of thing had turned out last week gave him pause. He still felt that odd awkwardness in the situation, but he gave a tight smile and held a hand out in Ione's direction. "Ione." The implication that she should come to him was clear, and once she did he put an arm around her, feeling her warmth through the course fabric of her tunic. 

Then he focused on the other girl. "What is your name?" He asked bluntly. "Did Ione explain the arrangement here?" It would make things so much easier if she had. Hopefully this girl would fit into their routines as easily as Ione had. He was cautious about welcoming a second girl in, but hopefully she'd be as grateful, and suit them well. "Romulus is upstairs waiting for you." He indicated the stairs that led to the storage rooms and slave quarters. "You'll just serve him today." Remus was in trouble for breaking Ione's belt last week, and had lost prostitute privileges this week. "Afterwards you can wash, and Corva will give you something to eat." That should be simple enough. "Do you understand?" She really was quite pretty, Spurius couldn't see that the twins could be too sour over losing Ione if this girl was her replacement. 

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She watched Spurius' reaction to Arran carefully, just for a moment before dropping her eyes back to the fine mosaic beneath her feet. She felt herself stiffen for a moment - the look in his eyes had been appraising and the same feelings of dread and shame crept over her as they had last week... "Ione." She flicked her eyes up as he held at a hand and those feelings melted away. The smile on her face was rather pathetic really, given her joy at the situation, but smile she did - a big beaming one that lit up her face and she gently padded next to him, fitting into the arm he wound around her slim waist. The comfort it gave was out of this world to her.

"Arrina, sir. And yes she did. I'm very grateful to you." Ione watched her friend, eyes down but shoulders square. She was not too proud for this work and was genuinely grateful. She was relieved when her fellow prostitute nodded quickly at his instructions and said in a firm voice; "I understand sir. Thank you. May I have leave to attend him now?" Whether it was her past life as a favoured house slave in an equites luxurious place or Armenius' work with her Ione didn't know, but Arrina seemed very at ease with the arrangement and in this place in a way that Ione wasn't. It still awed her. As the girl moved silently passed them Ione let out a little exhale. She knew she shouldn't probably speak before spoken to, but she chanced it all the same; "Thank you for this. I hope Arrina is good enough?" I hope I'm good enough in comparison too...

 

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The smile on Ione's face when he spoke her name was almost pathetic in it's obvious joy and lack of any calculation or guile, but in truth that was what he liked about her, and to see her smile so brightly was oddly warming. She was such a terrible prostitute, and fit so comfortably into the crook of his arm that Spurius felt an odd contentment as he held her. It just felt nice to have her there.

His attention turned to the other girl she'd brought with her as she answered his questions. Arrina. Not a name he recognised, but slaves acquired all sorts of odd nomens. She was appropriately demure and claimed to be grateful. He supposed that, like Ione, this was likely the most comfortably job she would do all week. And she claimed she understood; well and good. "You may." He responded simply, when Arrina asked his leave to attend to her duties. If anything she looked more confident in this space; either an experienced prostitute or someone accustomed to such surroundings. Either way Armenius had done well in her. He watched her move away, to the correct set of stairs, and nodded ever so slightly to himself. Good.

Thank you for this. I hope Arrina is good enough?

He was a little surprised when Ione spoke up, but she was only seeking his approval. "She should be, if she can fit into our routines as well as you have." He replied mildly, with a second glance at the stairs. Hopefully that would be the case. "Did you choose her, or Amenius?" He asked, interested. Either could have made a good selection, though if her master had picked the girl there might be more to that choice.

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He seemed surprised at her question but Ione was further surprised by the compliment...or sort of compliment that she took as one either way. She smiled a little to herself. Nobody had said before that she was good at her job, or implied it any way, not like Spurius and she felt a frisson of pride that a man as clearly important (to somebody like her) thought that she fitted in. His question made her blink up at him, just for a moment, before she lowered her eyes and settled back into his touch. She wanted to touch him in return but hadn't been given that permission yet so she held off. "I suggested her, sir. She's a friend. She's very sweet, and new...newer than me now." Which was mad considering Ione had only been there a few months but was now one of the more experienced girls of the Elysium. 

Now they were alone in the atrium, she paused, unsure of what to do. She wanted to thank him for keeping his word, and for the kindness he'd shown her the last time she was here - after her wobble and upset - but stayed quiet. She knew he ran a firm but fair household and gave his slaves boundaries. Not speaking unless spoken too was a central tenant in may households she'd come to understand. But she hated awkward silences, and she felt the urge to fill it with a helpful offer; "I've been paying for my massage lessons, sir. If you want I can..." She smiled, "Try and help again." 

 

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So Arinna had been Ione's choice. Or suggestion; same same. A friend, new and 'sweet' in the girl's words. And she confirmed his suspicion that she was a recent acquisition of Armenius's. "Well then, she should do nicely." If she was as pleasant and compliant as she appeared, she should do very well indeed. Certainly Spurius was satisfied for the moment. He doubted that the twins would compain. 

The girl had gone upstairs and Spurius's own slaves had made themselves discretely absent; suddenly the two of them were alone in the atrium. Oddly, Ione didn't seem able to resist speaking up again. Was she a natural chatterbox, or nervous? Perhaps the latter, given the events last week followed by the awkward and unexpected meeting at her brothel. He hoped the latter. There were times when silence was enjoyable. If it was nerves then that would be because she was unsure what to expect, and that was never a good thing with a slave. Now that things had changed between them, they needed to find a new routine, a new understanding.

Still, she'd offered to massage his leg again and that was not unwelcome. "I'd like that." He said simply, with a nod. "Come with me." Without further ado - and without much option given that his arm was around her waist - he led her towards the set of stairs that let up to the nicer parts of the upper floor, where she'd been last week. He had to let go of her then to negotiate the stairs; one hand on the wall and the other holding his staff. It was a practical necessity but one he regretted. Still, it was preferable to falling down the stairs. At the top was the familiar landing, and at the end Spurius's own cubiculum, with the familiar bed, chest and table. 

"I have something for you." He announced, once they were both in the room and the curtain drawn across the doorway. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he set his staff aside and picked up a pile of folded cloth that had been sitting atop the chest, which he then offered to her to take. "I'm afraid that they're probably ten years out of fashion," he added more quietly, "but the wool is very fine, from Hispania." When unfolded, the fabric proved to be a fine linen tunica - long in the body, clearly for a woman - dyed green, and a beautifully soft woolen palla, dyed a rich blue. They smelled not unpleasantly  of the herbs that were usually layered between clothes whilst they were stored. 

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She followed him, patching his pace and leaning into his side with a hum of satisfaction until they got to the stairs and she let him lead them up. Her eyes scanned the domus as they climbed (slowly) up to the second floor. It was still so beautiful (and novel) to her that it was almost difficult to comprehend. Why he didn't simply move his bedroom down to the ground floor also took up some of her thoughts but naturally she didn't say anything. Instead she just followed him into his spacious cubiculum and she swivelled on her feet to face him, her features open even as she didn't meet his eyes. Spurius gave her an extraordinary amount of slack, but some things had been ingrained into her since she'd become a slave and habits were hard to break.

She blinked, confused, as he said he had something for her and tentatively took the package, unwrapping it slowly and delicately on the bed. Her eyes widened in shock as she shook out the dress. "I..." It was the most fine thing she'd ever held, she was sure. The dress she'd borrowed for the preceding week paled in comparison to the wool between her fingers now. She couldn't help but stare at him, a little gormless. "I...I can't accept this." She managed and dropped her fingers back down to the fabric as she gently laid out the tunica and the palla on the bed, taking a step back to stare at both of them. "They're so fine." She said as her fingers gently brushed across the fabric, in awe. "I don't deserve them." She smiled to herself, absolutely no upset in her voice. She knew she didn't - things this fine weren't for girls like her. She still didn't look at him as she spoke again, keeping her eyes on the cloth. "But...but I can wear them for you now, if you'd like me in them?" that was surely why he'd given them to her, right?

 

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I...I can't accept this. I don't deserve them.

It was the first time that Spurius had actually rolled his eyes at Ione, but that eye roll had been a long time coming. "It's not about whether or not you deserve them." He said, exhasperated. "I am giving them to you, because I want to. You will take them and enjoy them. Just say 'yes, dominus'." He said, enunciating clearly as though for the slightly hard-of-thinking. How was this girl ever going to realise her dream of freedom if she didn't learn to take what she was offered? She should be soliciting for what wasn't yet offered. But at the same time it was her very gormlessness that made her so appealing. The fact that she was apparently fond of him, so she'd said, and didn't just see him as a source of money and gifts. 

"They haven't done me any good, sitting in a chest for so long." He admitted. "You might as well have them." But he did want to see her wear them. She was such a little thing, he didn't know whether they'd fit. "Go on, put them on." He said, a little more gently. Even if they didn't fit, they could be adjusted. But he was sure that, even if they were too large, they'd still look better than the shapeless tunica she was wearing. Which in turn was better than the prostitute's toga. It made her almost invisible on the streets, and that was to his preference. But now he wanted to see her. She'd looked very attractive to his eyes in that pink chiton last week, how well might she look dressed like a respectable young woman rather than a whore?

But respectability was only an illusion for a slave like Ione, and he would absolutely watch her undress. 

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She blinked, still staring at the fine fabrics and hurriedly nodded; "Yes, dominus." Fundamentally Ione was a girl who thrived when she was told what to do. So she picked up the small parcel of clothes and held them to her chest, smiling softly. It still felt like too much, and she would have to explain the gift to her dominus but...she ad libbed; "Thank you. I am very grateful." She hadn't ever had clothes these fine, not even when she had been free. 

Her curiosity was piqued as he explained they'd been sat here. So he hadn't bought them for her. She glanced down at them, desperate to know who they had originally been worn by, or intended for, but she dared not ask. Nodding again at his instruction she set them down on the bed next to him and moved to undo the the ties at her shoulders with nimble fingers. The plain, rough tunica she was wearing was quickly pooled around her feet, leaving her naked. For all that she was ill-suited to being a prostitute, she was at least comfortable with her own nudity. Living in a place where she spent more time naked than clothed had probably done that. 

She reached for the tunica first and slipped it over her head, pulling her hair out of the way over her shoulders. It was too big and looked somewhat shapeless on her but the colour suited her pale complexion and red-brown hair. She gasped a little as she ran her fingers over the fabric. She felt like she was tarnishing it just by wearing it. Then she picked up the palla and blinked at it. She'd seen the Roman women wear them, but she'd never donned one. Her family just scraped by when she was free on her island and here it was either nothing, a tunica or a toga. She frowned at it and set about  trying to wrap herself up like she would a toga. It didn't stay where it should and she sighed, embarrassed, cheeks flushing red. "Could you help me dominus? I...don't know how." 

 

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