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Won't You?, January 67 BCE, Alaric Stilicho


Renna
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The markets were bustling, as usual, and people were looking, as usual, but what did Seia care? One of the few benefits of being widowed was being free to go where she wished, alone, if she wished, and even better, with a man, if she wished. Alaric had offered to take her shopping, with some grumbled sidenote about 'help finding something for Barbara', and of course she'd said yes. The German's company never failed to cheer her, and if she had to listen to him grumble about prices or how many clothes a woman could possibly need, or anything of that nature, it was a small price to pay. She'd learned at their first meeting that complaining words disguised a soft heart - maybe he really thought that women had too many clothes, but not enough to keep him from buying them for his daughter. It was all talk.

She rather enjoyed people staring, too. The rogue Seia Imperia, with her new man - "such a step down!" people would say, or "she's fortunate any man is even looking at her, with that tongue," or "she's blessed by the gods, why should anyone be surprised?". How people would talk! And with a thousand different opinions, too, the gossip veering off into so many different strands. She didn't care. She might have, once, but at the moment was so much happier than she'd been in ages the gossip didn't matter.

Seia turned to walk backwards, grinning into Alaric's face as she teased him. "I think we should play a game. Every time you grumble, you have to buy me something. If you aren't careful, poor Barbara won't get anything, and then you'll have two women irritated with you. I think it could break your habit."

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Their relationship had already ruffled many feathers. He was secure, favoured, and already incredibly smitten with Seia. At this point, Alaric was still a member of the praetorian guard and kept a hidden, watchful eye on the remaining Imperials. Who could have thought he had the skill to be discreet? Admittedly their relationship had progressed quicker than what was deemed appropriate. Not that he cared. They had met long before their relationship had progressed, yet this was the first time they had spoken was here at the market. Her defiance and willingness to defy Cyprianus was admirable. It endeared her to him, even though her late husband would have utterly despised him for who he was.

He had plans for the day. It was not necessarily as though he could speak to her father. Since he was not overly gifted in concealing his expression. He smirked wickedly at the thought and fortunately she had yet to turn. He dropped his facial expression to his usual neutral one. His pale eyes watched as she turned around and felt the sides of his lips itch to smile. Alaric chuckled, shook his head in amusement yet he was not someone who was willing to lose a wager. Or was unwilling to rise to challenge. Every day she gave him joy in these trying times...

"Ah, I see. And what do I win if I do not grumble? Hm?" He asked in return. "Considering the size of the wager it would need to be something considerable," Alaric answered, occasionally glanced to ensure she did not walk into anyone or slip.

Seia Imperia

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Seia feigned surprise at the question, opening her eyes wide in utter innocence. “Win, Alaricus? I should think that having approval and no one nagging you should be prize enough.”

She didn’t have much to offer him, anyway, but this teasing flirtation they had was enough of a game on its own. Seia had done her best not to allow herself to be too invested, tried not to spend too long daydreaming about that first kiss, because the reality was that the choice was his. If Alaric did not wish their relationship to go further, it wouldn’t, and she had a life to live and a daughter to raise whether he wanted her to permanently be part of him or not. This was all right the way it was, the friendship with it’s teasing hints and somber confessions. He could quite possibly form a better match, a more favored one, and he had children so I’d that was what he chose Seia could not bring herself to blame him for it. Children came first.

“Do you have a suggested prize?” She continued sweetly. “I have a particularly fine palla that would set off your hair just so.”

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Alaric came so close to grumbling in response. Fortunately he had caught himself on, chuckled and gave her a cheeky point of his finger to let her know that he was onto her.

And that she would not be the victor so easily.

Their kiss had been one that had haunted his dreams. He had loved the other women in his life, each was special in their own way. Yet Seia was different. She was a combination of all the women, she called to his heart and spending time with her was a blessing. Alaric could only hope that this question would not be too bold or would endanger their friendship. One that he had come to depend on these days more than he cared to admit. Alaric was a practical man and yet, here he was... day dreaming.

Her words brought him out of his daydream and exhaled sharply. He had never thought that much about his clothing. So long as it was clean, workmanlike and functional. It was all fine by him.

"Oh no, I would not dream of taking your palla. Do you want to risk that it would look better on me?" He joked (or rather, admitted to), raised his chin with pretend snobbery. Who could possibly compare to Seia? Alaric thought for a moment. A perfect answer that would allow him to give her a present, conceal what was coming, and be a later source of amusement for them both.

"If I give you a gift. You would need to accept it." He answered without a jest this time. Although Alaric hoped she would do so without the bet in mind for either of them.

Seia Imperia

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“Oh, I’m not worried.” Seia was smirking, and she turned about to walk the right way this time. “I’m certain you’ll be very fetching but I have a feeling the men won’t flock to you quiiiiite the same way.” At his offer, however, her eyebrows rose. Accept a gift from him? It seemed an easy wager, anyway...even if Alaric was thinking of a “gift” like a live beetle, he was likely going to lose. He nearly had already. “All right, you’re on, wager set.”

The woman shook his hand, firmly. “So then, my grumbling lion, what do you need help shopping for?”

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"Good, good." He answered.

His fingers curled to hold her hand in his, the tender gesture nearly made him lose his sense of purpose. Alaric had a goal in mind and he did not wish to lose it. In truth, he wanted her here as an excuse and looked around for that damned codex vendor. His stall must have been further along than they had reached.

"Well... besides getting some things for the household, I .. uh... thought to find some...," He said, glanced past Seia's head to see some Parthian carpets being sold by an overly excited vendor, and immediately added. "Carpets... for the house."

Smooth, Alaric.. real smooth.

Now all he had to do was find that book vendor....

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The clasp of his fingers around hers made Seia’s teasing eyes soften, and she couldn’t help giving his hand the lightest squeeze. It was a soft gesture, holding her hand. It delighted her, and she had no desire for him to let go. It made her feel safe, and wanted again, and treasured. That feeling was a treasure just on its own, and she wanted to hoard it. Marriage or not, he cared for her. That was worth something.

“Carpets?” The edge had gone from her voice, completely polished away by Alarics affectionate gesture. Seia glanced at the vendor, quickly. “I do love Parthia and they make such fine artwork... but maybe this vendor isn’t the best one to start with. He’s too enthusiastic. I’m sure he gets the best crowds because he’s easier to get to; perhaps there will be a stall deeper in the market that has better prices.” She tugged him along after her, sharp eyes scanning the stalls they passed. “I want to bring Imperia some honey. We love it.”

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He had a sinking feeling that they would be looking at many carpets. Hopefully it would not take him too far away from his goal, or he would be stuck listening to pushy vendors all day. "Yes.... carpets," He answered slowly, already he regretted his choice in random distraction. Alaric hoped the codex vendor was not in the opposite direction.

"Yes, he seems to be ... pushy.." Alaric answered, looked around and the pair of them had different goals in mind. He had to mentally fight the urge to grumble to himself -- he would not lose the wager!

"Honey? Hm... I believe there was one near a codex vendor. I could get some for the kids," He said, spoke about his children. Even Barbara who was certainly well beyond girlhood. Alaric was pulled along and walked, then grinned wide and pointed in the direction of the honey vendor. With the codex vendor beside it.

"There it is!" He exclaimed brightly and a little too enthusiastically for shopping for honey. A food that he did not particularly care for. "Come! Let's get it!" He said, took her by the arm gently and began to hurry over to it. His heart began to beat quicker in his chest.

Soon... soon he would ask.

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“Look at you!” she laughed. “Three minutes in and not a single grumble. I should have tried this ages ago.” But Seia smiled at him, and veered over to the honey vendor to inspect his wares. “Right next to one of my favorite things, too. It’s fate. I’ll have to take a look once I’m finished here.”

The woman began to browse, checking over the little earthenware jars in an inspection borne of habit - even in Rome there were some dishonest souls who would adulterate food, but as far as she could tell this stall was sound. “Fair warning, if you want to leave this market before the sun goes down, it is up to you to drag me away from the codices. Here, this one.”

Seia selected a pot, handing it to the vendor, and then another, larger. “And this one, for my friend. Thank you.” She fished in her bag to pull out a coin, paying the man. “Don’t fuss, Alaric, I can afford to pay for a pot of honey. Consider it thanks for being my escort.”

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Alaric was so tempted to grumble. The urge was strong yet he did not wish to lose the wager. He nodded and stood close to the codex vendor, fiddled for the ring in his coin purse and glanced in Seia's direction. Fortunately she was busy with the honey vendor and he nearly dropped it when she looked at him, he nodded and held it in his hand.

He hoped that his news would not cause her to run screaming away from him.

Normally he would have protested about Seia purchasing the honey for him. Especially after the financial issues she had been having. It did give them a moment to get to know each other, but still. "Yes, yes," He murmured, nodded his head to show he agreed and found a copy of a translated book on Parthian horses. One that would end up being lost to time. Alaric gestured to the vendor to come closer, whispered his plan in his ear and the vendor enthusiastically agreed to assist. No doubt wishing for some extra coin to help him.

He breathed deep, exhaled and ran his hand over his head. Going into battle was less nerve inducing than this! The ring was placed in between a few pages. It was a relatively simple and modest golden band.

"Seia? Do you like the look of this book? It is about Parthian horses?" He asked with a glance over his shoulder.

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“Parthian horses?” Seia perked up at once, looking for all the world like a hound that had suddenly caught an elusive scent. N’aschi and her foals were a lifeline, could still be a lifeline, if she could only learn more about caring for them. Artaxias was gone, now, no longer somewhere she could turn to him for conversation, but his princely gift remained with her - the finest horse in all of Rome. Another gift remained, too, a secret time spent in armor, standing guard over nothing so she could understand something of what it felt to be a soldier. That memory had lingered, and, she felt, helped her to understand the men she knew just a little better. He had been a good friend. Small wonder, then, that this codex made her light up like a sunrise.

The woman swiftly placed the honey into her basket and came over at almost a run, taking three long strides to get to the other vendor. “Let me see! Ohhh...”

Seia took it with something like awe, admiring, then opened it to look over the contents. Of course it fell open to one specific page, neatly divided by a simple gold ring.

Her first confused thought was that someone had left this behind, misplaced it while inspecting the merchandise. “Oh, look, someone's lost—“

She cut herself off right then as realization struck, a key turning in a lock, and slowly turned to look at the German with an expression that had never yet been seen in her eyes. Seia forced out a question, but could only manage a whisper. “Alaric, is this for me?”

It couldn’t be. The ring was right there but if she dared to hope, and it wasn’t so... oh, she could never bear it.

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Alaric had to admit that he felt a little smug knowing that his ruse had worked. And so quickly! He now realised what it meant for her to Although it was overwhelmed by the feeling his heart pounding in his chest, his gaze rested where hers did and looked where the page had opened up to. The gold ring. Alaric could have sworn that he had words yet no sound came out. Instead he managed a nod, finally able to murmur out.

"Yes... it is, yours if you want it," He answered and hoped in one action he had not ruined a precious friendship. The marriage and engagement did not follow proper traditions. He had not asked permission from her estranged father nor had they publicly declared the union with a public joining of hands. Nor was there the elaborate and ornate rings typically offered. Some with engravings, stones, and other prominent pieces of artwork. No doubt Gurges had given her a ring she would have been happy and proud of wear in the company of her peers. It probably grander than anything he was able to afford.

Alaric moved to stand closer to her. A calloused hand gently touched her elbow and he leaned down, their foreheads were close to touching. His throat felt so dry and he licked his lips. The crashing of shields was less nerve racking than this moment was.

"Do you want it?" He whispered.

Seia Imperia

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Did she want it?

The question was ridiculous. Almost before Alaric had finished speaking Seia found herself in sudden tears, she wanted it so badly. She had to remind herself that her friend didn't know that, though; she'd been trying to keep her feelings reigned in, to prepare herself for the eventuality that their friendship never became anything more. It wouldn't have been right, to throw herself at him, when he had a family to provide for and his name to worry about, and certainly not after how kind he had been to her. It would be terrible to repay his generosity by bringing him shame, so she'd held herself back. Seia supposed he might have some idea, if only because of how rarely she refused his company, and the things she spoke of to him, and the way she never hesitated to hold his hand, but he didn't know. Not the full extent of the secrets she'd been keeping only in her own heart.

She found herself momentarily mute, her voice drowned in sobs, but it occurred to Seia that such tears after a proposal could be taken as a bad sign and immediately shut the book on the ring, in order to safely whirl and throw her arms around Alaric's neck without sending the precious trinket flying.

"You have no idea." The words came in a whisper meant only for him, muffled against his chest, and were followed by a choking confession. "Yes. I've wanted it so badly."

The vendor was still too close for comfort, so Seia switched her language, to a halting version of the one Alaric had grown up speaking. Only he was meant to hear this, and she would be damned if she made it easy for any curious passerby to know her secrets. "If I...was lost," she ventured, "Lost ...all money, no hope for win..." She did not know the words for 'trial', 'court', or 'appeal', but based on the context of her life, which Alaric knew so well, Seia was fairly confident he would understand what she was referring to. "I decide, ask you - make slave."

She drew back to look at his face, and lifted a hand to her chest for emphasis. He would have taken care of her, and Imperia, and it was her darkest fear at one point that selling herself and her daughter would be the only option to repay her court-ordered debts. "Safe," Seia tried again, trying to explain. "You are safe. And to stay - with you - would give me happy."

He was given a smile, a shaky little one, and then her face was hidden in his shoulder again and she returned to Latin. "It isn't needed, now, but - gods -"

How could she say this? "It's still true that staying with you would make me happy."

So incandescently happy. Seia turned her cheek on his shoulder to direct her lips to his neck, pressing a kiss there. He had no idea how many nights she had made love to him already, daydreams born of a kiss that she could not forget. How many times she had wondered how it would be to brush her fingers through his copper hair, to smooth the worries from his face, to kiss that way again and not quench the fire that came after. It was better than dreaming of Titus, because for Alaric, there was still hope, however faint, that the ache could be filled. It was a hope rather than a memory, and this small thing had given her strength when she needed it most. And now, he had asked, and she could finally admit to herself how very much she loved him.

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Alaric could have sworn he heard his heartbeat in his head. Instinctive he stood closer, the sound of his sobs at first were mistaken. Perhaps he had made the wrong decision? When she shut the codex a part of him dreaded the question had even caused her offense. He wondered whether it had been the right decision. Then she spoke in his native language, and he could not help but smile briefly that she remembered it. Although it soon dropped to a more concerned facial expression instead.

The trial. A sign of both her bravery and her devotion to Titus. No doubt there were relatives who were still able to offer their support. It was one thing for a devastating trial; it was another thing to sell their daughters into slavery. Alaric shook his head in confusion, not wishing this for her and slowly the realisation of what she meant began to sink in. His hand moved from her arm to rest tenderly on hers when she explained. Finally he nodded in understanding. It may not have been wise politically. Alaric had spoken for Renius, he would try for Seia and ensure her safety.

Yes? Was that to the question? Or something else?

"Yes, safe. Always..." He murmured. Was she trying to let him down gently without hurting his feelings? Their friendship was not dependent on the marriage taking place. He would do what he could to protect them both, regardless. Alaric stared at her and waited while she continued to explain. There was no shaking the sound of his heartbeat in his chest, no doubt she would be able to feel it under her hand. He was well-versed in Roman manners and culture. Although there were times like now when he did not fully grasp what was happening at the moment.

Slowly but surely.. it was beginning to sink in.

It was going to happen. She would be both his wife and his best friend rolled into one.

The skin on his neck tingled with the softness of her lips. He held her close to him, his hand moved upwards to hold feel the her dark hair, and knew that this was home for him. With Seia he was home. She agreed! It may not have been overly appropriate of a noblewoman to behave like this. He did not care.

"Gods... Seia...," He murmured, smiled at her with tears of happiness in his eyes and gazed at her lovingly. "You have made me the happiest man in the world."

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His heart was thundering so strongly against her, it made Seia smile - it felt like his heart was beating for both of them, keeping them in the world, together. But she couldn't prevent herself from crying, not even when she caught a glimpse of the look in Alaric's eyes...no, especially not then. It made her weep harder, choking on a laugh mixed with a sob. He loved her. He truly, deeply loved her, and that was why he was asking, not out of pity, not out of kindness to an unfortunate widow. The kindness was there, certainly, but he wanted her, as deeply as she wanted him.

"I've wished you would ask so long," she wept. "I didn't think it would ever happen."

There was another wet laugh, and a sniffle into his shoulder, and poor Seia tightened her arms around Alric as if she was afraid he would vanish even while she was holding him. "Please, put the ring on my hand," she begged, "I'm going to drop it." Either from crying too much or kissing him too hard.

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He smiled and laughed. The question that plagued his mind and finally released had been the best thing he could have done. Alaric held her in his arms, fumbled a little and hoped he would not drop the ring in the process. Finally Alaric managed to get a hold of it before, got it behind his fingertips and gently slid it along her middle finger. The Romans believed that it connected straight to a woman's heart.

"There, there," He said, stared down at it. It did not matter to him about the family connections that he could gain (or later, that the wealth would be restored and the connections granted). All that mattered was here and now for Alaric. There may issues with his career and he desperately hoped his children would not be negatively effected. Either way, Seia and Imperia were his family now. He would do his best by them. Alaric silently rested his forehead on hers and contently gazed at her. He was finally home.

"Celebrations good Dominines!" The vendor exclaimed brightly, clapped his hands and smiled broadly. Clearly delighted by the situation -- but also in hopes of getting something in the way of coin. "Perhaps you would like to purchase the book that brought you both happiness?"

The first book of Seia's library.

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That simple ring on her hand at last made Seia smile so bright she thought she must be radiating, like sunlight through raindrops, and Alaric's brow pressed to hers was everything she needed. She would have been content to stand there forever, but the vendor cut through their moment. "Oh!"

She'd forgotten he was even there. "Of course, we'd like it. Thank you." The lady wiped at her eyes, waiting for Alaric to pay, but once that tome was in her basket she pressed herself right back to Alaric's side, whispering to him. "Can we go home now? Yours, or mine? I want to be somewhere quiet."

Where they wouldn't be bothered, where they could just be happy without the entire world acting as witness.

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Alaric paid for it the codex and an inflated price too. The book would always have sentimental reasons for them. It was another symbol of their connection. He placed it in Seia's basket, his arm was wrapped around her and held her smaller body against his. He had a feeling of what she wanted -- although it could be hard to say. Barbara and Alaricus were both at his house, and no doubt, Imperia would be at her house. Part of the choice of having children.

"I, would love to," He answered quietly. Alaric glanced over at the overly enthusiastic vendor still going on about their bliss, their happiness, and special offers on more of his various wares. He frowned over Seia's head at him, and managed to resist the urge to grumble.

"We will go back to my place," He murmured. If anyone asked they were friends and she was visiting his daughter.. yes, that sounded good. Alaric reached down to take her hand and began to walk through the streets. It wasn't the way things were properly done. With any luck, Barbara and Alaricus would both be out and would not later walk in on something they should not. Either way, whether the deed was done now or not. He wanted to be able to hold her, kiss her, and be away from so many prying eyes.

Seia Imperia

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How well she fit, just in the curve of his arm! It delighted Seia, and made her forget so many other things. She was content to walk without speaking for some time, daydreaming, but at length something occurred to her. Something important. “Do you think Barbara and Alaricus is will be upset?” She asked. “Imperia won’t, she likes you so much... but I’m so young, only a little older than your daughter. Titus’ family was not happy with me and I don’t want that to happen again, I like your children.” She really did. Like their father, they were Good People.

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Alaricus liked Seia although did not quite understand that his father liked her, or so he thought. Barbara he was sure was more aware of the flirtation between the pair of them. He chuckled, "Are you saying I'm old, hm?" Alaric jested, he had gotten older over the years and the Gods had blessed him with good health.

He did not know that Titus' family had not approved. Marriage to a beautiful and youthful woman from a good family was always favourable. He wondered whether or not they were jealous of the love Titus had for Seia. He gave her waist an affectionate squeeze, turned and kissed the top of her forehead. "They love you, they will understand and will no doubt welcome you to the family." He said, while he did not need the approval of his children. It was preferred to having conflict within his home.

He knew Gala would have been happy for them both to have found each other, as would Suetonia. Funnily enough through this, Seia would be joining Gala's family as well.

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" Yes, I am," Seia answered with a straight face, but the kiss to her forehead made her smile and rest her cheek on his shoulder, looking content. "Imperia likes you, too," she told him, "And Alaricus and Barbara. They are nice to her and she loves it when they let her play....I think....I think she will be happy. She doesn't remember her father at all, and I know she's wanted one."

The walk was too short, simply because she was so happy and could have revelled in walking with his hand in hers for ages more, but the sight of his domus quickened her pulse. Home. It would really be home. They were engaged. She could kiss him, and --

The slaves noticed first, hurrying out to greet their master. The sight of their entwined hands, though, the way Seia was cuddled into him, and at the first gasp, Seia's bashful revelation of her ring, made squeals rise through the home. This in turn made her blush, her skin turning bronze, but she smiled and hid her face against Alaric's chest like a girl. He was kind to them, for such opinions to be shown freely, and for these people to genuinely be pleased, and she hoped that her presence here would improve their lives even further. "Thank you," she managed to tell them, with her face still hidden shyly away, "I am so happy."

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He hoped all the children would get along. Alaric also hoped that Imperia would like him, he was lower status than her mother and in normal circumstances. It was unlikely for them to marry. He held her, squeezed her against his body and soon they reached his family home. The slaves had been Seia before, she had been a guest and yet, he had never embraced her so openly.

At first, Crispina, the older of the household slaves glared at Alaric disapprovingly before she saw the ring. Instantly she knew what it meant and clapped her hands in celebration. The household slaves fussed, happy and they liked Seia. All the slaves gathered around, a celebration was in order and it may not have been proper. Although these were difficult times.

"We still need to set a date, and it is not yet official in the eyes of the Gods," He admitted, chuckled and smiled. "But I present the Domina of the household to you all," Alaric said proudly, his arm still draped around her shoulder -- and he could have sworn that he saw Gala peeking around the corner. Smiling at them both.

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Seia beamed, thanking all the well-wishers with her smile and soft words, but after several minutes of this she gently shooed the attendants away. "Here, thank you, don't mind us now. We have much to talk about."

She watched them scatter, then turned back to Alaric and just tugged his hand to pull him into his gardens - outside, where she always loved to be. Seia didn't say a word, but stopped when she found a pretty spot and twisted to put her arms around his neck so she could kiss him, hard, her fingers twisting into the coppery hair she'd longed to touch for so long.

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Alaric was a little surprised when the group were sent away. Normally Seia wanted to spend a lot of time with them, even though she did not know them well yet. When she became the Domina of the household. She would.

His hand gently held hers as the pair of them walked into the gardens. Alaric followed her and thought she wanted to discuss what happened today.

He looked at the pretty and quiet spot she had found, smiled and he was about to speak when her arms went around his neck. Seia's lips soon met his, and there was not a chance he was going to refuse. His arms wrapped around her smaller frame, pulled her close to him and held her. Returning the kiss, his fingers in her dark hair and how long had he waited to do this? Slowly he moved her so she could lean back against the tree that would be infamous from now on.

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"You have no idea," she breathed to him, removing herself from the kiss just far enough to give herself room to whisper. "How long I have wanted this. Since that first kiss..." So long ago now, it seemed, how could have time have moved this far? "I've dreamed of it. Not just making love..." A smile, then, and then Seia gave him another quick, soft kiss. "Being able to hold you, and tell you that it will be all right, and ...and this..."

Seia lifted her thumb to very gently press at the furrow between his brows, smoothing it out, and slipping her hands back into his hair. "You always look so worried, just there. I have been aching to soothe it for you. And I can, now, as much as I want." This made her laugh, and she stood on her toes to kiss his forehead.

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