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Gaius Licinius Habitus

Evening Shade

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June, 75CE

Gaius reached his arms up to the sky, stretching the ache out of his back. He had just arrived back to the barracks of the Guard after a grueling shift at the palace, and he was ready for some relaxation. But peace and quiet was hard to come by in a tight space filled with loud, boisterous men, so he had to relocate elsewhere. Luckily, the Gardens of Sullust were nearby the barracks, and they provided the perfect place to get some walking in and perhaps afterward some sitting in the cool evening shade, so, dressed in a simple tunica, he made his ways to the gardens. 

The man wasn't particularly charmed by flowers, like most men, he expected. They were nice enough to look at, but weren't good for much else, except perhaps giving to a lady he fancied (if he ever found one). For a while, the man walked around aimlessly by himself, listening to the various nearby sounds. It was nice to be alone, but some company wouldn't be unappreciated. 

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Charis' freedoms had been relaxed over the past few weeks, for which she was grateful. Of course - Tertius still didn't allow her outside after nightfall, nor did he allow her to meet with friends (and she had no great desire to do so anyway, she had to be good for now - for her child). That wasn't to say she couldn't enjoy the freedoms she did have, however. She'd taken to using the baths the other side of the Gardens of Sullust which meant she could enjoy their beauty on the walk back. It was an excellent way to stretch her legs as well, something she knew would be limited when the baby came. Scarily, that was only three months away now. 

She moved through the gardens with a small smile on her face, breathing in the scent of the flowers at the height of their bloom. It was quieter now, but a few families still sat sprawled on the grass to enjoy the setting sun, and a few other lonesome people milled around near her. She purposefully avoided a secluded corner of the garden that was home to some particularly unsavoury memories and turned down a path leading to the exit closest to her district. A man was in the path ahead of her and she moved to step around him, but found him accidentally stepping in the same direction. She blushed and apologies in her accented Latin, "Sorry, sir." And moved to step the other way, which he also did. Embarrassed, she laughed a little. "We'll be stuck here forever at this rate, sir." 

 

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Gaius noticed a lovely young woman, a good way along into a pregnancy, walking toward him. She was evidently a slave, but he was stricken by her placid beauty all the same. As they approached one another, things became awkward as Gaius tried to move out of her way, her moving in the same direction. And it happened twice! "Uhm, sorry... Sorry..." The young woman commented that they would be stuck there forever at that rate and he laughed, blushing. "Well... I don't think that would be so bad," he remarked, blushing harder. Why did women make him so uneasy?! 

"Here. Why don't you stand still there and I'll walk around you?" Unless she wanted to stay and talk, which he wouldn't mind. She was lovely. He knew it was a cliche to say that women glowed in pregnancy, but he thought that was accurate about her. It suited her. 

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Charis grinned, noting his blush and moved once more to step out of his way as he did the same accidentally. As he made a suggestion she laughed a little and arched a brow; "You are so desperate  to be away from me?" She grinned but nonetheless made no move to leave. 

It had been a long while since she'd spoken to somebody out of the domus. Usually, to keep on her dominus' good side she came and went from the baths and the market without dawdling, or conversation with anybody. She didn't want to irk him and was already taking a liberty by walking through the gardens. She had come to realise she was no longer being followed. The man that had been in her periphery for the first few weeks of ventures outside of the house was no longer to be seen, which she took as a good sign of some flourishing trust between herself and her master. It also meant she was free enough to engage in some idle chit chat. It had been so long after all. 

"I...was just on my way home, did you come to enjoy the flowers, sir?" She asked with a mischievous smile on her lips.

 

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Gaius blushed again as she suggested he just wanted to get away from her, a nervous laugh on his lips. "Oh, no, of course not!" He scrubbed a hand through his hair and smiled again. "I mean, I'm not desperate to get away from you, that is." Gods, curse his tied tongue. Beautiful women always made him nervous and forget how to talk. But he didn't mind talking to her, even if he was nervous about it; she seemed pleasant and sweet as well. She explained that she was on her way home, asking whether he was there to enjoy the flowers. "Not quite. I'm a praetorian, just got off duty and... well, the gardens are pleasant enough, and quiet." He glanced down at her. "Not that I mind your company, that is. My name is Gaius."

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A man! Blushing! Now she had seen it all. She grinned at his flustering and arched a brow. Had she not been who she was, and in the state that she was in, she might have revelled in his flustering, encouraged by flirtation, but alas that was not the life the Gods had let her lead. Instead she offered a gentle grin. 

"A...Praetorian?" She queried with a frown in her accented Latin. She'd never heard the word and he didn't look like a soldier in his tunic, but then he didn't much look like her domine when he got dressed up to attend his court. "I...my dominus, he is a Praetor. Is," She frowned harder, "Is a Praetorian a junior Praetor?" She didn't much care if she sounded silly, how on earth was a girl who was brought up in the back of beyond in Britannia supposed to know all these odd Roman words? It was enough that she was finally fluent in Latin! 

"Gaius, sir." It didn't matter what his name was, if he was a citizen then custom dictated she call him Sir. Unfortunately. She inclined her head and offered a smile in return, "Charis." 

 

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Gaius had, of course, noticed her accent, recognizing it as Britonnic, which he would know, having spent years quelling rebellions and speaking to the locals when they were peaceful. "Sorry... no, I'm a member of the praetorian guard. We guard the palace and the imperial family." He had actually been promoted recently to optio, but women didn't generally find the military interesting, so he didn't bother mentioning it. He had a natural impulse to be up in arms about her heritage, since he had been injured several times by the brutes on that cursed island. But how could he blame such a sweet and gentle woman for the brutality of her countrymen? He couldn't. 

"Oh, please, just Gaius is fine..." he said with a crooked smile. He came from humble beginnings, didn't even own any slaves or property, since his parents were still living on the farm that he was slated to own. He had never been comfortable with anybody calling him 'sir' - except his soldiers when he was an officer, of course. But this woman was no soldier, that was clear. "It's nice to meet you, Charis. You are from Britannia, aren't you?"

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A guard? Like a solider? Charis frowned quizzically but decided against asking any more (for now). His job sounded important, but not on the level of the men she'd come to see in her dominus' house, and his dress matched that. She suppose she'd been spoiled and thus remained largely uneducated on the lower classes of Rome given her main contacts in the city were her fellow slaves and the important people that visited her master. 

She refrained from saying she felt awkward using his name but just nodded, with a smile. "It's a pleasure." She wound her arm around her middle and rested it over her bump. "I...am." She laughed a little and narrowed her eyes, "You have a good ear, sir. You have been?" It dawned on her then that the only people who visited Britannia from Rome were soldiers, for the most part. She felt uneasiness wash over her and tightened her arm around her middle.

 

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Gaius gazed at her as she frowned again, feeling a little guilty that he couldn't think of simpler terms to use. When he had been in Britannia, speaking with the natives was often difficult when words didn't translate precisely, leaving both parties frustrated and confused. When he urged her just to call him Gaius, he noticed that she looked a little uncomfortable. "Call me whatever you like," he said diplomatically, hoping that she would know from his tone that it didn't matter to him either way. 

Charis complimented his ear and he shrugged modestly. "Yes. I guess it's easy to recognize the language of the land you spent years in," he said. Her arm wound around her bump in a protective motion, much like what he had seen when his unit marched into a new town: women drawing their children closer. Gaius had never engaged in any extracurricular cruelty in Britannia. He was an honorable man and only fought those who tried to harm him or his men. But he felt bad that he was suddenly making her nervous. "It's a beautiful land, Britannia. So green." 

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She smiled and asked gently; "How long were you there for, Sir?" It was a safe enough topic she hoped. She'd not risk prying into deeper memories of the place if he hated it there, but years of service were safe bet...hopefully. 

Relief! She grinned and nodded enthusiastically; "It is, it's beautiful there - but Italia has a charm in its own way - even if it is so hot!" She chuckled. She knew she had to be careful about speaking of Britannia, her master didn't like her to reminisce. "I've been here a little over a year and I'm still not used to it!" She smiled and pushed her hair over her shoulder - the linen strip around the crown of her head doing nothing to help. She relaxed her posture a little, given his easy temperament she felt on surer footing somewhat, although the nagging doubt that this might be a ruse and he may take out some frustration at his service in Britannia on a slave from said land hadn't left her completely. 

 

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Gaius thought about it for a moment. "My whole military career, actually. A decade or so, I think." Honestly, he had spent so much time there, it had begun to be like a second home, though one he wasn't particularly fond of. "I came back about two and a half years ago, which is when I started in my current job." He didn't want to bore her too much with military matters, or scare her (since she still seemed tense), so the topic went on. 

She seemed excited about it, too, grinning enthusiastically at the topic of Britannia. He imagined she must miss it a lot, but that was the price of progress. "Yes, Italia is pleasant. My family owns a farm in the countryside. I don't live there, I live in the barracks - but visiting is very pleasant. And hot." He laughed a little. Next, Charis said that she had only been here a year and that she wasn't used to the weather here. "Only a year! Your Latin is excellent," he complimented. Many of the Briton brutes he had met flatly refused to learn the language, making things all the more tense with them. "I speak a fair bit of your language, but not very well." After all, he hadn't been an interprex. 

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She blinked at him. A whole decade? Her sister had been what - sixteen? Seventeen? When they'd all been cast to the wind by the Romans. She had only been nineteen. This man had lived in her land for over half her life, more of her sweet sisters. She must have looked surprised, but offered a kind smile nonetheless and added; "I'm pleased you made it back safely, sir." Both because her own people had a tendency to axe or gut those of his ilk in their lands, and she herself had endured that sickening channel crossing. It still made her stomach turn to think about. 

A farm in rural Italia sounded idyllic. From what she'd seen of the countryside on her journey by land through the Empire, it had its own charm. Not like Britannia of course, but nice enough, in its own way. 

His surprise at her Latin made her blush a little and she shook her head, tucking hair behind her ears; "I learnt a little before I came to Rome - I had a head start!" She grinned and then arched a brow at him, switching to speaking in Brittonic - very simply, as one would speak to a child; "You are glad to be back to Rome now then?" 

 

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She seemed surprised and he chuckled slightly. "Give or take some." Really, it was probably more than that, though for at least two parts he hadn't been fighting, having been almost fatally wounded by an ax. But he had made it back safely and proved himself to have the mettle of a praetorian guard. But she remarked that she was glad he had made it back safely. "That's very kind of you. I am too!" 

He saw that he had made her blush for a change and he wondered if he had said something wrong. But she still seemed happy and explained that she had had a head start, learning Latin before arriving in the city. He wondered briefly who her master was. "It shows! You speak very well." Then, she switched to Brittonic, using a slow and clear tone (which he was glad for - he had barely spoken it since returning to Rome!) "Hm... happy, yes," he replied, laughing at the loss of vocabulary he had experienced. "Can not speak much of your language."

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Charis flushed and inclined her head, smiling with a "Thank you, sir." Her Latin had certainly improved in leaps and bounds since those stuttered conversations with her fellow slaves and owners over a year ago, but every now and again new vocabulary tripped her up or confused her. Figuring out what a Praetorian was, as per this conversation, was just the most recent example. 

She laughed and grinned, genuinely amused and pleased to hear a Roman attempt (poorly, she might add!) to speak her mother tongue. She conversed in it with friends; Cynane and Aia, but hadn't heard a Roman try it since she'd left the country. Their accents were so sweet, bless them. She replied in Brittonic; "No, you are very good!" Before switching back to Latin; "It is not an easy language to learn, so I've been told!" She moved a hand to rest on her lower back, feeling a twinge of pain as he seemed to always do around this time of day. She was a slight thing usually, a slip of a woman, and suddenly carrying the weight of a child strained her muscles (or what little she had). She mumbled an embarrassed apology to the man; "I'm sorry...the baby is not always good for my back." 

 

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The woman laughed at his attempt at Britonnic and he glanced down at the ground, shifting with a grin. "Well, it's been a while since I had an occasion to speak it," he explained, though he managed not to be defensive about it. This woman made him feel he didn't have to be ashamed of himself, which was often his feeling around women. But she complimented him instead which made him feel a little better. "I've heard Latin isn't either. I guess it's easier when you learn a language from birth."

Charis pressed a hand into her back and he gazed at her in concern. He had heard that pregnancy was quite uncomfortable sometimes - it must be, having all that weight on the front of you! Like carrying a rucksack on your front for nine months. He did not envy her. "Do you need to sit? Can I help you?" He wondered if she was in a hurry to get home, but surely her master would understand tardiness if she couldn't walk comfortably? She was pregnant, after all. 

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"Latin was not so bad." She said with a half-smile. "You sort of have to learn...when nobody else understands you." She only thanked her Gods that she had a basic grasp of the language before she'd been shipped to Rome. Life would have been immeasurably harder had she not. 

His offer was sweet, she thought and she glanced up at him and then around for a moment. There was nobody here - or at least nobody she could see, but bad things happened to Charis in the Gardens of Sullust; her encounter with Helios, her intimacy with Tertius...neither of which she cared to dwell on it. She was hesitating, and it must have been obvious. But she'd be honest with Tertius about this, she just had to work up the nerve to tell him when she got home. After another moment she nodded and stiffly walked to a bench a little way off, easing herself down onto it slowly. It amazed her how muscles could spasm so quickly. 

"Thank you," She offered an embarrassed smile and mumbled; "Sometimes I forget I'm with child and then my body does something like this as if to punish me," She chuckled. She realised, however, that talking about pregnancy to a man - to a soldier - was probably unwise. "Sorry, sir...I forget that not everybody is quite as interested in it as me." 

 

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She had a point; it must be difficult to not understand anyone or be understood, so learning was the only alternative. Gaius was lucky that he had all his fellow legionnaires to talk with in Britannia, and between his own grasp of the language and the interprex, they had managed to communicate with the locals. And in battle, speaking wasn't really on your mind much. 

As he suggested she sit down, Charis seemed hesitant. He recognized a flash of fear, or something close to it, in her eyes. But after a moment, she nodded and walked to a bench. Gaius walked with her, but not too close, in case he accidentally made her uncomfortable again. She thanked him and then smiled, speaking about pregnancy. His face reddened a little, but he was more than a little fascinated. The powers of the female body were not really in his wheelhouse, having spent most of his life surrounded by men. "Oh, no, that's okay." He looked at her belly, a little embarrassed. "Your baby... does it kick a lot? Does it hurt?"

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She smiled a little and cradled the bump. It was sweet he cared! But then again she supposed it would be alien to him, especially if he was surrounded by men throughout his career. "It kicks and moves and hurts my back," She said with a little laugh and a shake of her head, "But on the whole no, it doesn't hurt...I understand that part comes later." She added with a wry smile. "This is my first so I don't know what to expect but..." But best not to get into it. She didn't wish to terrify the poor man with horror stories of births. Especially when she, herself, was determined to ignore the risks and fear as well. 

She arched a brow quizzically up at him though. He was handsome, but older than her she could tell - especially if he had been in the military for a decade and then some. "Do you not yet have children of your own, sir?" A very personal question, but she didn't feel overtly threatened any longer and risked it.

 

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"That... doesn't sound pleasant, if I may say so," he said with an ironic grin. He wondered what it must feel like, holding a new life within yourself, one that so depended on you. He thought it would be scary, having all that responsibility. But then, was it that different than leading a platoon of men into battle, knowing that your decisions as an officer would determine whether they lived or died? It was a bit different, he supposed, but it was his only frame of reference. "I hope it goes alright and that you are blessed by the gods." It was a genuine wish. 

He was a bit embarrassed to admit he was unmarried and had no children (that he knew of). He had yet to find a woman he even wanted to settle down with, let alone have children with. But he had often thought of bringing his new wife to his family's farm and living out a large part of his life quietly working the land there. Could he ever truly leave the military for that life? "No, unfortunately. Consider me the perpetual bachelor!" He laughed. "I haven't really had a chance to think of settling down, let alone finding someone to do so with."

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Charis smiled, relieved he hadn't taken her details as too much. "Thank you, think of me in September - that's when the scary part will be!" She was trying very, very, very hard not to think of what could go wrong at the birth. She was focusing on the little niggles of pain and the discomfort she was experiencing now, not the world-tearing pain that the birth apparently was, and all the associated risks to herself as well...

But her answer surprised him and she arched a brow. He was polite, well-mannered - even to a slave whom he had no need to be, and handsome. But his explanation made sense and she nodded; "Of course, that makes sense...I suppose there's not many women of marriageable virtue in Britannia...unless, of course, you chose a local girl." And she knew exactly how that would go down within various tribes...aka, not well. She also didn't know, of course, that soldiers couldn't marry even should they wish to without dispensation (a practice which seemed odd and barbaric to her). She smiled up at him, the pain and stiffness in her back easing; "Well then just as you hope the Gods bless me, I hope they bless you too and the perfect woman stumbles into your life sir." 

 

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Charis said to think of her in September and he smiled slightly. "I will certainly be thinking of you. What an honor, to bring forth new life..." He had never really thought about birth before, except for thinking about how much pain it must be.  He could take a sword to the arm or leg and live through it, but he had no frame of reference for the type of pain she would have to go through. 

Charis spoke about her understanding why he hadn't settled down and he gave a chuckle. "I don't think any of the local girls would have been falling over each other to have me. But I suppose I stand a better chance here in Rome." He had been hoping to have a chance to settle down when he arrived back in Rome, but so far, that had been to no avail. Even as a child, most of his time had been spent with his father and brother, though there were some girls from other farms he had fancied as he grew up. Now, there were many more options and his eyes were even more open to the attractiveness of women. Charis's wish for him was heartfelt and he smiled. "Thank you, Charis. That is very kind of you." Perhaps the perfect woman would stumble by soon. 

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Charis chuckled and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, "No...No I don't suppose they would have." she winced a little. Those girls that did fall into bed with a Roman or two were roundly ostracised, at least in her corner of the province. Ostracised if not killed. She remembered vividly the burial of a woman who had fallen with child of some legionary or other; she had been one of three attendees. She swallowed, trying to blink away the memory. 

She inclined her head at his compliment and shrugged thin shoulders, "It is nothing really. There is somebody for everybody, you can trust me on that." Of course in her case that somebody had been and gone from her life. She tried not to think of him. Immin was in the past, and her future was now and flourishing within her. Thinking of which, the sun was just about to dip below the horizon and great shadows loomed in the gardens. She glanced between the man and the entrance a little past her left shoulder. 

"I...should leave sir," She offered an apologetic smile, "My dominus does not allo-" She stopped herself, "Like me out after dark." 

 

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Gaius knew that she was thinking the same thing he was, about the ostracism faced by Briton women who got into bed with legionnaires. Really, Gaius hadn't ever fooled around with any of the girls he came across due to his focused loyalty to the legion as well as his urge to rise through the ranks. Who had time for silly girls and their silly concerns then? But now, Gaius was more a man than he had been then and was ready for a woman, not a girl. 

Charis assured him that there was someone for everyone and he smiled softly. "I hope that is the case." He wondered if the slave girl had found her one, since she was with child. But then he reminded himself of the all-too-often dalliances of upper-class Romans and put the thought off. It wasn't his place. Charis then seemed to notice the time and explained that she should be going. He thought she was about to say something else about her master, but she changed course at the last second and explained he didn't like her out after dark. "Certainly." He thought of offering to escort her home, but she surely couldn't be far from home in her condition anyway. "It was pleasant speaking with you, Charis. Have a good evening."

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