Duo practically ran to Thalia's house. He waited impatiently for the slave to announce him, but his time, he insisted on waiting in the atrium.
"Duo! You're back soon!" she greeted him happily again until she noticed his expression. "Is something wrong?"
"Thalia, can we talk privately? It's about Stella," he told her. She led him to a room off the atrium and closed the door.
"Stella's being badly abused, Thal," he said seriously, "is there any way you can convince your husband to buy her? She's desperate. I think she might do something dangerous soon."
Thalia put her hand to her mouth to cover a gasp. She pursed her lips in thought. "He won't want a redhead," she answered, shaking her head.
"Can you explain the situation to him?" Duo asked.
She looked troubled. "I doubt he'll be sympathetic, Duo, you know how Romans are. She's a slave."
"Come on, Thal, there must be something you can do," Duo urged her.
"Duo, you know I want to!" she said sadly. "But even though I know Marcus loves me, I'm just a freedwoman. Even to him, you know? I'm his wife now, but I still don't hold that much sway."
Duo nodded. He understood the position she was in. Even after being freed, slaves fell into the lower social class of freedmen.
"I don't know what kind of help I can be to you, but you must have tons of contacts, Duo," she said. "Of course I will ask Marcus if it comes down to me, but there must be someone else you can ask."
He didn't even have to think twice. "There is someone I can ask," he said as he went to the door. "You're brave, Thal. I'll come back if I need your help." He kissed her hand and rushed home.
When he got there, Heero was already at the table and Baltus was serving him a late lunch. He was about to reprimand Duo that his wanderings were getting out of hand, but the youth rushed in and knelt next to his chair.
"Get up, Duo," Heero told him, alarmed. It made him uncomfortable to see Duo kneeling. "I'm not that mad at - "
"Heero, I need a really big favor," Duo interrupted nervously.
"What do you mean?" Heero asked.
"A friend of mine is suffering terrible abuse by her master. Would you buy her? You can sell her again, you know to someone you know would be fair to her, or use her around here, but please! Can you do something? I'll give you all the money in my account and start from scratch! I'll do extra work! I'll do anything!"
Heero' expression turned troubled. "Duo," he sighed, "I can't just go rescuing all your friends."
"Not all of them, just this one! Just this one time! Please!" Duo begged.
"Duo, you know as well as I do that he would just buy another slave and abuse her," Heero reminded him.
"I know. I know that, but at least I wouldn't know it was my friend!" Duo replied. "You can stop paying me for chores here! You can collect all my earnings and not put them in my account! I'll make it up to you, just please help her! I'm afraid she'll do something terrible! I can't stand to know she's living like that!"
Heero was torn. He wanted to help Duo, but it was not a very orthodox thing to do. Would that be too lenient? What kind of precedent would that set for Duo? He was already very indulgent of Duo, what if his requests only got more outlandish? He had to draw the line somewhere. He was all set to say no, but when he looked at Duo again, into those pleading blue eyes, something in him softened.
"All right, Duo, I will inquire tomorrow," Heero relented.
"Oh thank you!" Duo cried. He leaned up and hugged Heero's arms to his waist, maybe a little too hard.
Heero seized up in surprise. Duo's arms were strong and it felt nice to have his face pressed into his chest like that... It suddenly made Heero very nervous. "Now, just calm down and eat something, will you?" he managed to say, unsure of what kind of tone it came out in.
Duo let go and stood up sheepishly. He berated himself for being such an idiot as he took a seat. Heero was doing something nice for him, and he had to go and act like that. Heero had totally gone rigid when he had hugged him. He felt a little pang inside. Heero could never like him the way he wanted Heero to. More and more, he found himself thinking about Heero, especially at night. It still made him feel weird, and he tried to make himself stop, but he just couldn't. Heero always found a way in, even this last week while he was trying to distract himself with other friends. Still coming to grips with his new feelings, Duo's fantasies centered around simple things, just kissing and touching. What would it be like to touch Heero's skin? Would it be as smooth as it looked? What would it taste like? Uh oh, those were very bad thoughts for right now! Duo looked across the table to see if Heero had noticed he'd started to blush. Didn't look like it.
Duo was silent for a bit, and Heero assumed he was thinking about his friend. He asked Duo to tell him everything he knew about the situation and thought about how to handle it. It would be more appropriate to send another slave to inquire about the girl, but he couldn't let Duo, and he didn't want to have Baltus do it. Besides, in person, he might be able to intimidate the stonecutter.
In the end, he just went himself. The name Rutilia perturbed him, but he had forgotten to ask about it. He found his way to the shop and asked the slave in the storefront to see the master.
A short, middle-aged man appeared. He clearly had not shaved in a while and his clothes were dirty with stone dust.
"Can I help you?" he asked gruffly.
"I am looking to expand my household, and your slave Rutilia has been recommended to me. How much would you sell her for?" he asked casually. He was treading a fine line, here. He could not let on that he wanted the girl no matter what, or he would be overcharged, but it would be difficult to explain why he was so interested in her without letting on.
The man grunted. "And you are?"
"Excuse me for not introducing myself, I am General Heero Winner Yuy," he said curtly.
"Eh?" the man grunted again. What was a rich and powerful Winner doing in his shop? It seemed he was asking after a slave he'd never seen. If that were true, he could ask a price he'd otherwise never get for the redhead.
The stonecutter named a ridiculous price, which Heero met with a much lower one. They bargained back and forth until Heero offered a final price.
"I do not have to have her," he warned the man, "take it or leave it."
"Nothin' doin'," the man sneered. He was going to squeeze as much out of this as he could. Who knew the little shit would actually be worth something to someone.
"Fine then, good day," Heero said and turned to leave. He made it to the door before the man stopped him. He tacked a little more onto Heero's price and the General agreed if he could have her immediately. In the end, he had pushed the stonecutter to a surprisingly low price, which pleased him.
The stonecutter barked at his slave to watch the store for a bit while he took Heero to get her. The house he led Heero to was modest; Heero guessed she was probably one of the only domestic slaves the man owned.
"Rutilia!" the man shouted as he rummaged through his things for her deed to give to Heero. When he found it, he gave the General the deed and took the money.
A girl appeared, cowering in the doorway. Heero refused to allow his face to show the astonishment he felt. She had red hair. The price was low for a healthy young female slave, but double what he could sell a redhead for. The stonecutter grinned at Heero when she came into view.
"Sir?" the girl queried.
"You're going home with this man here," he said, gesturing to Heero.
"Sir?" she asked in confusion. Who would offer to buy her?
"You've been sold, nitwit," he said to her, "now get out of my sight!"
Heero turned fully for a better look at his purchase. She was looking terrifiedly at her master. Her hair was an auburn copper color with the accompanying pale skin. Duo had not been lying about her treatment, he too noticed bruises on her shoulders and arms as he approached her.
"Follow me," he said as he passed her.
"Good luck to ya!" the man cackled from the office. Heero ignored him and left the house quickly. The girl followed right on his heels.
"I am Heero Winner Yuy," he told her, once on the street. He was trying to be civil to her despite how angry he was becoming. Duo had conveniently lied to him and the stonecutter had swindled him.
"I know who you are, General," she said timidly. "Is this for real?" she asked, sounding bewildered.
"Yes, I own your title now, although I don't yet know what to do with you," he told her.
His statement puzzled her. She wondered why he had bought her then, but she was too nervous to ask. The General, although young, was very imposing. Could this be her savior? Could Duo really have sent this rich and powerful person?
She did not speak as he led her into his house, which was large and tastefully decorated. She had not seen such fine things since the palace where she had been a handmaiden. She'd almost forgotten what luxury was like. She spotted Duo pacing the peristyle.
"Duo!" she cried. He turned and they ran to embrace each other. "You said you would do something, but this is..." she nearly sobbed into his neck.
Heero summoned Mona. "Get Stella some better clothes and a place to sleep," he told her, cutting the happy reunion short. "Duo, my office, now," he ordered, heading there himself. Mona led the girl off and Duo joined Heero in the office.
"You did not tell me she was a red head," he said, anger boiling in his words.
Heero was standing instead of sitting at the desk, meaning he was pretty pissed. Duo squirmed. Not telling Heero that important detail was like lying, like not telling him he was buying a lame horse. He hated to do it, but he felt it had been necessary.
"I'm sorry," Duo winced. He could think of only one time when Heero had been angrier than this - when he'd refused to hold still while Howard put the collar on him.
"You must know I will have trouble selling her," Heero continued, "I paid nearly double what she is worth!"
"I know," Duo cringed, trying to ignore that Heero was assigning a worth to his friend, "but I've been thinking about that, Heero. Stella was a superb performer, probably better than me. If she could practice, and be retrained, you could probably sell her to a performing school. Her red hair might even be a good thing there, you know, she'd be, like... exotic..." He trailed off at Heero's unconvinced expression. "Listen," he sighed, "just let me work with her, let me have a little time with her when I'm not working for you, and I promise you'll have something near worth what you paid. And I'll cover any difference from my account, ok?"
"One week Duo," Heero said shortly, "you have one week." He did not need another slave, and did not want to pay for her upkeep.
"Yes sir!" Duo grinned.
Heero could not help feeling less mad when Duo smiled so big. He just couldn't stay angry at Duo, it was aggravatingly impossible for him. He wished that smile were for him, but it was for Stella.
Duo found Stella in the spare room next to his, putting linens on the pallet. He explained to her what he had proposed to Heero.
"I don't know, Duo," she said reluctantly.
"Stella, what's the matter? You were great, a natural! If you work hard, I'm sure one of the schools will make an offer! Maybe you'd go to the one Sara is at!" Duo tried to encourage her.
"I don't... feel like dancing," she tried to explain, the pain in her eyes obvious to Duo. It made him incredibly sad. Leave it to some stupid asshole to terrify her and squash all her natural sensuality. He took both her hands in his and pulled her close.
"Stel, I'm gonna do everything I can to make you feel like dancing again," he promised.
"Thanks, Duo," she whispered, hugging him.
"Get some sleep tonight, ok? I'll wake you tomorrow, and you can help me with my chores, and then we'll start after lunch," he told her.
She said goodnight and Duo went to check on the animals and clean up the kitchen before bed.
That night, alone in his room, Duo found himself thinking about Heero. Again. He felt very guilty about tricking him. Lying to his friend had been wrong, and he could not stop himself from imagining a few things he could do to make it up to him. He thought of something he'd always liked when the girls did it - sucking on his dick. That had always felt good, whether they did it as foreplay or until he came. He had liked returning the favor to them as well, but he'd never considered having a dick in his own mouth. Could he do that? Would he be totally disgusted? He imagined looking up at Heero from between his legs, the soldier's face twisted with pleasure, his skin flushing with arousal, the sheen of sweat covering his body... Oh, yeah. He could do that. Then he envisioned that spiky mop of dark brown hair bobbing up and down between his legs, Heero giving his cock the concentration he gave all of his tasks... Duo squeezed his eyes shut. Oh, gods...
Duo woke Stella the next morning and she helped him with the animals before serving breakfast. When they were finished in the barn, they prepared breakfast.
"You eat with him?" Stella puzzled when Duo explained the arrangements.
"Yeah," Duo shrugged with a smile, like it was no big deal to eat with the master.
"Wow, he must really like you!" she exclaimed, still not sure what to make of it.
"He seems a little gruff, but he's good person," Duo told her. "I think most people here are pretty decent. Not everyone's as terrible as the guy who owned you."
She was quiet after that and Duo wondered if he had said something to hurt her. "That's why we're gonna get you a new start, right?" he said cheerfully.
"Right," she chuckled at his goofy smile.
He brought the food out to the table and sat down, fully aware of her watching him from the doorway. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Baltus pluck her from her station and drag her back to where the slaves ate.
"Good morning, Duo," Heero greeted him. Duo grinned. It sounded like Heero had forgiven him. It still struck him as funny how glad Heero sounded to see him every morning, even after how mad he'd been last night. It was quite a change from his first week, when he'd been so nervous he couldn't shut his mouth. Heero had been telling him to shut up about every ten minutes.
"Morning!" he replied cheerfully. "Say, Heero, did you want to go to the palestra before or after I have my first session with Stella?"
"I thought you could stay here and work with her," Heero said, "I can go by myself." He had thought that was the wisest course of action for today, maybe even for the entire week. Duo would probably not want to leave his friend while she was here.
Duo's mouth opened but no sound came out. Was this punishment for lying? He really wanted to go, but he didn't want to contradict Heero. "Uh, ok, are you sure you don't want me to come?" he hinted.
Of course he did, but he didn't want Duo to feel obligated. "I'm sure," Heero answered. "You have to take care of my investment, you know."
Duo tried not to look too disappointed. "Right!" he quipped.
The first day went fairly well. Duo worked on getting Stella limbered up again and helped her remember the old dances. Duo played instruments and gave instructions as she worked. He put the lyre down a few times to show her the exact steps or the right angle of her arms.
Hearing the music, Heero was pulled from his paper work and found himself at his office door, watching them. Usually, Duo practiced in private, but he must have needed the space of the peristyle. Duo. He was so graceful and talented. Stella danced in much the same style as Duo did, and she was also very good. They laughed and took turns at the lyre, the entire scene seemed so intimate. Heero ran a hand through his unruly hair and decided to go to the palestra a little early.
The second day, Duo noticed Heero leaving for the palestra without him again, shortly after he started his session with Stella. He was annoyed, but he told himself to be frustrated later, he had to be with Stella right now. He had noticed that her singing and playing was as melodious as ever, but her dancing was lackluster. He missed the passion with which she used to dance.
"Stel?" he asked after about two hours. "I don't feel like you're really throwing yourself into this. I get the feeling you're holding back, especially with the dancing. Is there something wrong?"
Stella looked away. "No, Duo, let's just continue," she said quietly.
Duo rolled his eyes. There was obviously something wrong. Women. Just how stupid did they think men were? "Tell me, Stel," he pleaded. "You still don't feel like dancing?"
She shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. Duo looked on in alarm, realizing he'd hit a nerve. Maybe he shouldn't have pushed, but it was too late now.
"Tell me what's wrong," he pleaded again, guiding her to a chair and sitting her down.
"It's just..." she said, sniffling and trying to remain under control, "when we danced... you and I, all of us... we were so erotic, Duo. We knew how to... to be like a fantasy, to make people desire us," tears spilled now, "I don't ever want anyone to desire me again! I don't want to - to be sexy, or make men want me!"
Duo knelt by the chair and hugged her as hard as he could as she let go and cried openly.
"It's ok now," he tried to comfort her, "let me tell you about something that happened to me. After one of my performances, some creep followed me until I was alone, and then he pushed me against the wall and groped me. I was scared that he was going to do a lot worse."
Stella gasped through her tears, "Duo, that's awful!"
"It was," he agreed, "I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt dirty, gross... like I had done something to encourage it. I guess having someone who wanted to protect me helped, but I had to overcome those feelings on my own so that I could perform again. Do you understand? Performing is something I do for myself, because I like doing it, and because it's going to help me go free one day."
"Who protected you?" she asked with a hiccup.
"Heero did. He was so mad, I thought he was going to kill the guy! But he was subtle instead, which I was relieved about. But that's not the point! You know what I think you should do?"
"What?" she sniffled.
"Reclaim yourself, Stel," he said urgently, gripping her shoulders. "You were a vibrant girl just boiling with sexuality! You can be like that again! Don't let that monster hurt you anymore. Be yourself. You were abused, but I know you can spring back, better then before!"
"Do you really think so?" she asked, wiping her eyes.
"I know so!" he insisted. He leaned in to give her a very gentle kiss on the lips. She did not pull away or become rigid, so that was something. He pulled back and saw she was smiling. "Giggle, Stel," he grinned at her.
"Duo!" she almost laughed.
"Come on, you know you want to," he teased, "I can see it in your eyes! You always giggled!"
"Quit it!" she giggled.
"That's my girl!" Duo exclaimed, pulling her out of the chair, "Now, dance for me, Stel."
He sat down and played while she went through the routine again.
On the third evening, Duo paced the peristyle waiting for Heero to come home. He had gone to Trowa's for a small gathering. Duo had been a little miffed he hadn't been asked along, but he'd put it out of his mind for the moment.
"Heero, can we talk?" he asked when Heero got in.
"It's a little late, but of course, what's on your mind?" Heero asked, leading Duo into the office. It seemed Duo had been up waiting for him.
"She's gonna be ready, Heero!" Duo said excitedly. "I was a little worried at first, she's kind of traumatized, but she is going to do great!"
"That's good news," Heero nodded, "I will ask my brother if she can perform a party he's throwing five days from now."
"Actually," Duo said, "I was thinking we could perform together. I think it would make quite an impression.
"I don't see why not," Heero agreed. "She will need a costume of some sort?"
"Yeah," Duo agreed.
"I will make an appointment," Heero made note. "I will also be sure to invite representatives from several performing schools."
"Great! Heero, you are not going to be sorry you did this, I promise!" Duo swore.
Heero smiled just a little. "Now, that is your end of the bargain to keep up," he said.
On her fourth day, as they brushed the horses, Stella asked the question that had been on her mind since she got here. "Duo, why do you wear a collar? I mean, Master Heero really seems to favor you, I don't understand."
Duo didn't say anything for a moment, he didn't even know the answer himself. Only Heero did. Duo forgot about the collar most of the time, except for when someone mentioned it, like Domiodes had.
"Well, when I first came here, Heero was convinced I was going to run away, so he had it put on. But now..." he trialed off and then sighed. "I guess I don't really know. He said he'd take it off when he trusted me, but I know he trusts me now. I sorta don't even notice it anymore, I don't really mind it. At first, it bugged me. You know, like wearing a big sign that says ‘Hi, I'm a SLAVE,' but remember how I told you Heero went after that asshole who touched me? Well, the collar's kind of like a shield, you know? It tells everyone of my link to Heero, and no one will mess with me.
"Sure, I'd like him to take it off, but I guess I don't complain anymore because... we're friends. Ok, this might sound weird, but if it makes him feel better or more secure that I wear it, then that's ok with me. Maybe you think, ‘well, Duo, if was really your friend, he'd take it off.' But it's not that simple, Heero isn't like other people," he tried to explain as he brushed Ala's flank meditatively.
Stella had been quiet, just listening to him talk. "Duo, you like belonging," she said after a moment of silence, "that's why you don't mind it."
"What?" he snapped, turning around to face her. "If you're implying that I ENJOY being a slave and being ordered around and not allowed to have free will, then - "
"No no, Duo," she quickly amended, "I meant you like knowing that you belong somewhere. Of course you don't like that you belong to someone, but clearly you're important to him. All the time I've known you, everything you told me about your childhood and the mercenary group, Duo, you never felt like you really belonged anywhere. You fit in with us, and we loved you, and you loved us back, but you could never truly be one of us. You couldn't wait to get out of there! You may resent that you are a slave, but perhaps you still enjoy this sense of belonging. That's nothing to be ashamed of."
Duo gave her a questioning look as he pondered this. She was definitely right about him not feeling he'd ever belonged anywhere. He patted Ala's rump and moved to the other side. He knew Heero wanted and needed him here. Perhaps he did feel like he belonged here, and maybe the collar was some weird representation of that. He caught Stella smiling at him over the horse's neck. He smiled back. No matter what weird psychology was at work here, Stella wasn't going to judge, he knew that much.
Duo and Stella trained very hard all week. Duo was as supportive and affectionate with her as he could be, he even rewarded her now and then with kisses. They choreographed a whole new routine, and practiced diligently, while Heero busied himself making arrangements and trying to be out of the house. He knew it was stupid and possibly juvenile of him to feel slightly jealous, but he couldn't help it. Duo was excited and happy all the time, and it was all because of that girl. Again, he had to remind himself that Duo was not his alone. He wondered how Duo would feel when Stella was sold.
-Freedwoman/freedman: even after gaining freedom, ex-slaves were still very low class. Some freedmen were substantially wealthy, but the high-class and prestigious still looked down on them. It was even a damper to be the son or daughter of a freedman!
There was a saying in Rome: "Being fucked by the master is the slave's lot and the freedman's duty." O_O Soooooo... that should tell you something (whether or not ‘fuck' is used in the literal sense!).
-Barn: Romans did have animals (horses, mules, dogs etc) but whether or not they had what we would consider a "barn" attached to the house is, as far as I know, still unknown. Remember, this is a CITY. I imagine that Heero has three stalls (Diana and the puppies are in one!) and an equipment room right at the back entrance of the house, by the slave quarters.