Naevia's hands used to be soft, the skin smooth and unblemished.
Born into servitude at the ludus, she had many duties over her life – cleaning, scrubbing, serving, preparing – but her tasks were vastly changed once she became body slave to the wife of Batiatus. The most trusted, most valuable, of all the servants need only concern herself with her domina's every wish. Dressing her, bathing her, fetching wine or food, did not entail the kind of physical labour that would turn young skin to leather, or threaten to draw blood. That was for other slaves; Naevia was meant to be beautiful, to show Batiatus' wealth. There were scores of slaves who could do the hard labour; her mistress could afford to keep her close.
Naevia's hands were not the only thing changed about her.
The scars were new, the product of not only harsh work in the mines, but of ill use and mistreatment. The whips of the guards, the points of their knives, even the jagged edges of the rock beneath her feet had conspired to mark her flesh, to leave lasting impressions in case those already left on her mind were not enough.
The visible marks were easy enough for her to overlook – she need only focus on the task she had been assigned instead of on the hands that completed it. She could also lose herself in practice, in the grip of her fingers around the hilt of a sword, and allow words of encouragement to spur her on. In those moments, she did not have to notice what was wrong with her. Even Crixus' gaze upon her did nothing to throw her back into unwanted memories where the hurts were many and the odds of survival low. When he taught her to fight, Naevia was neither the sheltered house slave, nor the woman crushed beneath the heel of Rome. She was strong, she belonged to herself, and she need fear no man.
It was in quiet moments that she could not escape it – lying in the dark with Crixus by her side, as he pretended he did not feel the raised flesh of her scars. His hands had once been comforting, the touch tender despite being untutored in such things during their short time together at the ludus. Now, it was hard to sink into the comfort offered, when every pass of his hands served as reminder of each imperfect mark, the barely-there stumble of his fingertips announcing their discovery as loudly as words shouted atop a mountain. He refused to admit she was different, that she was no longer the girl he gave his heart to, but in the dark, while they lay together, his fingers knew the truth even if his mind did not.
There was never a man so stubborn as Crixus, never one as determined as he to shape the world to his liking. That stubbornness fed his faith, which in turn fed his love. If he believed Naevia still his, still whole, then eventually it would be so. A fool might call the Gaul naive, but Naevia knew better. She had watched him recover from certain death to reclaim glory in the arena. This man – her man – was not wholly mortal. If not part god, then certainly beloved of them.
Perhaps he could believe enough for both of them, enough that the gods would take notice. If they willed it, they may even aid her on her journey. In the meantime, Naevia would continue to train, continue to look forward instead of back, and hope that between one clash of swords and the next, she might find some of her wounds begin to heal.