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61 AD - my love, my life

 

He cradled her clumsily but gently in his arms, taking care to support her head, unable to take his eyes off of her as he held her close to his chest. By what miracle of the gods had two ordinary people created such an extraordinary being? Twenty perfect little fingers and toes altogether. A tuft of brown hair, feather-soft and almost fur-like, a tiny little mouth that had been clamouring for food not long before but seemed now content to open and close occasionally with muted mewls.

Her small soft hazel eyes blinking lazily up at him before closing again, the tiny fingers that gripped his with surprising strength, her wrinkly and yet silky skin, so fragile-looking he feared a careless touch or breathing too hard might leave a mark, break her forever. What a thing of wonder.

He had known her for all of a few hours, and from the very first second his life had been irrevocably and permanently changed. He had known her for all of a few hours, and from the very first second he knew he would kill and die for her and everything in between just to see her happy and healthy.

Was it like this for everyone, the delightful terror, the breathtaking fascination, the never-ending awe? If they were blessed with more children in the future, would he have yet more pieces of his heart forever taken from inside his chest, swelling with pride and shrinking with fear? Had his own father felt anything like this when he was born, or his siblings? It was a herculean task that would never see completion, and he wanted it to stay that way – never finished, never done, never over with. Now that he had become it, he never wanted to stop being her father.

Up until that day, he had thought love at first sight was only for poets.

He had never been more delighted to be proven wrong.

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61 AD 

 

He was at his wits’ end.

He had gone through every trick in the book. Tickling had borne no success: she had twisted and turned and batted his hand away with her tiny chubby ones while crying all the while. She wasn’t hungry, either – Valeria had seen to that not even an hour earlier. Bouncing her on his knee while making clicking sounds resembling a horse’s trotting was effective for all of two minutes, during which Sulpicia stopped her wailing and looked up and around with watery eyes, waving her arms up and down excitedly and squealing in delight before whatever was bothering her won out again and the crying resumed. Rocking and shushing her to try and get her to sleep was as futile as teaching a monkey to read, and making goofy faces or cooing distracted her only for a few seconds. What else was he supposed to try?

Holding Sulpicia against his chest as he paced the room, Titus was beginning to feel like he too wanted to cry out in exasperation. Seeing his baby like that, ruddy-faced and eyes scrunched up in discomfort, if not pain, whilst tears ran down her plump cheeks and drool dribbled down her chin, was no crowning moment of parenthood. In fact, he felt like the most incompetent person in the world.

Could she be thirsty? She was a bit too warm too, Titus concluded as he softly pressed his lips to her forehead – but that could easily be thanks to this fuss she had worked herself into. A slave brought a small cup of water as commanded and made a respectful retreat. Sulpicia took only a few sips before turning her face away and starting to squall again. Titus put the cup down with a defeated sigh and bit his lower lip, willing his stumped brain to please come up with one more thing, or two, or ten.

It did not oblige. Defeated, Titus frowned and poked his daughter gently on the tip of the nose. “Are you hungry after all? Hmm? Do you want your mama?” Sulpicia replied with unintelligible pained babbling before grabbing his finger in a vice grip and bringing it to her mouth. When she began to chew on it with all the might and abandon of a starving man, Titus experienced an eureka moment.

Teething. The more he thought about, the more obvious it seemed. Babies were born without teeth – as they very sensibly should be. According to bits and pieces he had heard, they would usually make an appearance during the second half of the baby’s first year of life, should baby survive that long. Seemed as clear as V + V = X.

The second sudden realisation that followed the first one only lent it more strength: how could a baby’s gums be so hard and exert such force? Fearing for the integrity of his finger, Titus removed his spit-covered index from Sulpicia’s mouth before she chewed it to the bone. She gave him a puzzled, slightly betrayed look before knitting her brow and expressing her displeasure quite loudly.

Let it not be said he was a man who did not learn from his mistakes. Eager for silence to return, he offered her his pinky, vanquished yet relieved that the cause of her stroppiness had come to light. As Sulpicia bit and chomped away at his finger in delight, Titus wondered what could be a suitable victim instead. Soft leather? Wool? He might have to defer to the women in the family, and do it soon. He only had ten fingers, after all.

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