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December 15th, 75AD

The villa in Baiae was a balm for Horatia's soul after a busy few months (years, really) with her family. She'd spent many happy months here during Aulus' long absence, with her in-laws and children and by herself, and always revelled in its serenity. She'd never asked her father-in-law whether he'd purchased the property himself or inherited it but either way it must have been worth a small fortune given its proximity to a sheltered beach and the lush orchards that stretched to the distance. She knew Titus and Calpurnia enjoyed it as much as her; Titus she suspected because he could pester his grandfather into telling stories from his youth, and Calpurnia because she felt like a proper grown-up in the company company of her refined grandmother. For Horatia it was the peace that she enjoyed the most. 

She sat in a cluster of rooms designed, many moons ago, as the womens domain but they opened up into the rest of the house not unlike her father-in-laws tablinum. She'd spent the morning with her mother-in-law in the pursuit of womanly virtue. Calpurnia, to her embarrassment, had taken to bed. Her courses had started the month before and unused to the light-headedness and aches that accompanied it, had withdrawn to curl herself into her blankets in her room. Horatia tried to ignore the knot in her stomach that the start of her monthly bleed meant her daughter was well and truly becoming a woman, and weaving with Aurelia was a perfect distraction. It was not one of her favourite pastimes (although she vastly preferred it to the monotony of spinning the wool), but it was distracting and allowed her to concentrate on nothing but the interlacing and placement of the threads. She knew her family and their reputation would be under intense scrutiny on their return to Rome if Aulus' position as Consul was confirmed and she needed to keep her mind occupied so as not to dwell on it. 

Aurelia had excused herself a little over an hour ago for her own respite and a lie down. Horatia, however, ever the perfectionist had decided to occupy herself with unpicking the threads that lay at odd angles and re-doing them from scratch. She worked in silence, errant strands of copper hair falling into her eyes which she had to swat away. She was dressed informally in plain stola and her hair artlessly done up, the very picture of relaxation. She suspected her husband, son and father-in-law out on some boys errand and was not expecting company when the sound of footsteps echoed and she turned her face up, her features melting into a relaxed smile. "Do not mock me," She warned with a gentle grin - she was not known for her weaving prowess and exclaimed her disinterest in it on more than one occasion to her husband, "And do not think I'm suddenly going to take up weaving every day when I'm back in Rome." 

 

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It had been too long since Aulus had been to his father's villa at Baiae - many years since he had left Italia as a Tribune and returned as a man and an experienced soldier and commander. His mother had retreated to her own room, and his daughter had barely left hers all day. His father had taken Titus out for an inspection of the fields and orchards and olive groves. They had invited Aulus to join them but he had declined the offer - he had carried out far too many inspections of his own over the last few years and while looking over the land was a pleasant prospect, he would rather spend today at his leisure, doing nothing at all that was reminiscent of military or civic duty.

He had spent some time in the garden in a quiet conversation with Felix, before deciding to see what had changed in the house itself during his absence. His feet naturally led him to the part of the villa that was where his mother and wife and daughter spent most of their time, although the house was by no means divided into the andron and gynaikon as most Greek houses were.

Despite that, Horatia was standing at her loom. The shuttle lay discarded to one side and she seemed to be frowning at the cloth, occasionally pushing hair out of her face. The plain stola was Horatia's preferred clothing when in private, and seeing his wife dressed thus always brought a smile to Aulus' face.

It merely widened as she turned, obviously having heard his footsteps. He wondered for a moment if she had thought him an errant slave, though she smiled on seeing him.

"Mock you? I wouldn't dream of it," Aulus said, crossing the room to clasp his arms briefly around his wife's waist and drop a kiss on the side of her neck. "But I find you are indeed Penelope for I see you have waited until you're alone to begin unweaving the days work." He peered at the cloth on the loom. "Or at least I think so, as uneducated as I am. As for thinking you might begin weaving every day, you have slave girls for that sort of thing, and if you don't, I'm sure we can find some in the market who might possibly live up to your exacting standards."

 

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She chuckled and relaxed into his touch and kiss. "It's not right." She said by way of an explanation, as if he would have any notion of what he meant. Her husband was educated in a great many fields but she suspected stitching and weaving was not one of them. "This," She pointed at some pink thread, "Is twisted, you see? It makes it messy." It looked perfectly serviceable, of course, but once she had noticed it she couldn't un-see it and it bothered her. Much as she enjoyed Aurelia's company she knew the woman wouldn't have understood Horatia's need to refine it so quietly unpicked her progress when alone. Or at least she was, until pleasantly disturbed by her husband. 

"And how am I supposed to live up to the virtuous Livia herself, if you let me just use my slave girls for weaving and I don't partake myself? Tsk." She grinned. All women, of all social classes should master the basic skills although of course those of her station could weave and stitch and sew for pleasure rather than out of necessity. When she wished for new clothes she simply summoned fabric sellers and seamstresses, and didn't spend hours at her loom or crouched before needlework doing so herself. 

Wriggling free from his embrace she studied the pattern, trying to remember exactly what things she needed to fix before embarking on a conversation with Aulus. She had an excellent memory but Aulus had a habit of distracting her, after all. "You did not want to go with Titus and your father?" She asked over her shoulder, gesturing as well for him to sit down before she turned her attention back to her work and mentally totted up the tasks left to complete on the loom. She knew when Aulus had first returned home there had been a little friction  between both sets of fathers and sons. Tiberius had been a father to Titus for over six years when Aulus could not, although fortunately for all that particular tension had eased. 

 

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Aulus peered at it and couldn't see anything amiss. "If you say so, columbina mea. I can't tell. And no - I've had my fill of inspecting men and gear, and even looking over the orchards and olive groves to see what might be amiss is a little close to being an inspection for my liking right now, though I daresay I'll go with Father on his next tour of the farm."

He gave her jaw another kiss and obediently went to sit down, perfectly happy to sit in silence and watch his wife at her own work. It was not as though he had much to contribute to it in the way of suggestions or anything, but he liked her company and had a sneaking suspicion that she didn't mind his, either.

She had blossomed since he'd first met her. She had always had a sharp, inquiring mind, but since their marriage, she had developed in other ways - not least of which was as the mother to two children, both of whom were growing into adults, drawing near the age when they would be running the Empire (or married to someone who would be running the Empire - under the Emperor, naturally).

Aulus felt old suddenly - how was he father to a son so close to taking the toga virilis? It did not seem like yesterday since he ad done so himself! Though he was not in his dotage yet; he was about to enter the Curia as one of this year's Consuls, for whom the year would be named, and he had many healthy years ahead of him, if he followed his father in this as he had in his political career.

 

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Horatia listened to his explanation and smiled. Aulus had as soft side that she suspected few actually saw besides the family. She'd never teased him about it - knowing the male ego to be a fragile thing - but she'd never forgotten his flustering and stuttering in the garden that day in Greece. It flushed her cheeks and made her chuckle even now, as she recalled it. "Sensible, and it gives time for Titus to pester your poor Father." She made no comment that she, herself, would probably enjoy a tour of the orchards and groves to see what was amiss - it suited her personality and her skills, but it wasn't her place. Instead she made do with critiquing her own handiwork on the loom. 

Satisfied with the mental list she'd drawn up of things that needed fixing, she picked up the threads and needle, and begun pulling the pink line back through the rows, unpicking her handiwork. She glanced occasionally at her husband, musing in silence as he sometimes did. They had been married long enough for her to recognise him thinking deeply on something or other. She called over as she worked; "You should be careful thinking so deeply my love, if you frown like that and the winds change, your features will be frozen into stone and you'll look permanently troubled for the rest of your life, as if Medusa herself had visited." She arched a brow over her shoulder at him and continued to unpick the pink thread with her needle. "What's troubling you?"

 

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He couldn't help laughing at Horatia's words. She had clearly solved her problem and picked up her tools to begin unpicking in earnest.

"I was just wondering, how have I got so old that my son is nearly a man and my daughter... How is Calpurnia? I haven't seen her since breakfast."

His daughter was very nearly a woman and that meant her courses would surely begin soon - although Aulus knew very little about all of that, and didn't particularly want to know, either. All of that was women's business and far better dealt with by Horatia, his mother, and the slaves. He would have to begin to think seriously about a potential husband for her, even if she didn't marry right away. A list of potential candidates could hardly hurt, after all.

 

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Horatia arched a well shaped eyebrow at her husband, a rueful smile on her lips as she did her mindless work; "How do you imagine I feel? You're almost a decade older than I am, I'm not even thirty three and I have two teenagers." She shook her head, "Where have the years gone?" She asked to nobody in particular. 

She noted the inflection in his voice as he asked about Calpurnia and supposed it was a conversation they should have. She hadn't told him when her daughter's courses came last month as she knew that things could be a little irregular to begin with and there was no point flustering him unnecessarily. But despite poor Calpurnia's misery, it had come again this month and she sighed, considering her words carefully. "She'll be fine, getting used to life as a woman, unfortunately." She didn't look at him as she spoke - instead pretending to concentrate on unweaving the pink thread, "Her courses started properly this month and she's suffering for it, but the slaves and your mother are being good to her and she'll adjust with time." It was an odd time - simultaneously a child but at the same time a woman. "Don't worry," She said as she glanced up with a knowing smile playing at the corners of her mouth, "I won't bother you with the details." It baffled and amused her in equal measures that a man that likely saw his fair share of bloody wounds and catastrophic injuries in various battles over the year, should be so squeamish about a natural part of a woman's life. But such were all men. 

"I did, however, speak to her last month when things were beginning and although she didn't say it, I think she's concerned that now she's a woman - of a fashion - she should be packing up her bags ready to depart for a marriage." She chuckled, "I told her in a roundabout way it won't be so quick but I'm sure she'd appreciate a calming word if you find a moment." Her daughter had been brought up as a well rounded girl, but with the ultimate aim of course of securing a good match. Now that it was upon her, however, she seemed to have faltered a little. 

 

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"I'll talk with her - once she's feeling better," Aulus said. He supposed that Calpurnia would be worrying, although he had done his best not to make her feel as if there was any pressure or expectation on her. He might well not have done as good a job with it as he'd hoped, though. "I am absolutely not going to marry her off to some ancient decrepit old senator who's old enough to be her grandfather. And I'm not going to force her to marry someone she can't stand the sight of, even if he's the most suitable possible match for her otherwise."

He might have to have a word with his own father as well, Tiberius being the paterfamilias and therefore the one with the very final say in the matter.

"And how are you, my sweet? Baiae doesn't have the happiest memories for you, I know." Precisely what those unhappy memories were, Horatia had never divulged, and Aulus had never pressed. He would be ready if she ever did choose to speak of it but until then, he hoped that she knew she could trust him not to pry, to let her have her own private concerns.

Theirs was a strong marriage of two people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and concerns and confidences, and he trusted her. He didn't need to know every tiny detail about every insignificant thing - or even every single significant thing - in order to be able to trust her.

 

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"I know you won't." She said with an impish smile, "As if I'd let you." Aulus and Tiberius, of course, didn't technically have to listen to her but she knew her opinions would count in this matter. Over the years she'd gathered the respect of her father-in-law and obviously Aulus. She also, likely, had better access to gossip about various families and eligible young men; women did love to chatter at their sewing circles and her own book club. She wasn't sure men liked to indulge in such matters in the same way.

She glanced up at him curiously for a brief moment before glancing back down at her work as her fingers nimbly unpicked the thread. She wondered if this was his way of gently enquiring about said memories, but decided it wasn't. He usually had more tact, and it'd been many, many years since those days and he'd never pressed in all that time. "Ah, but it has plenty of joyous memories too," She said - deftly sidestepping his words, "Calpurnia took her first steps not two paces from where you're sitting." She smiled to herself at the memory - the usually composed, reserved Aurelia beaming with joy at seeing the first awkward toddles of her granddaughter. 

"But I'm fine," She said with a little shrug and a glance up at him, "Pleased to be here, that we can all spend some time together before..." She waved her hand, "You know - it all gets so busy." Her lips twitched in amusement. She was immensely proud of her husband, but would not let it go to his head. An imminent Consulship (Gods be willing) was no mean feat, but he was still just Aulus - the awkward, tongue-tied young Tribune who had proposed marriage after just shy of twenty minutes in her company in that garden in Greece. The sweet fool. 

"Do you have no plans today?" She queried gently. 

 

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"I'm sorry I missed all of that," Aulus said. Calpurnia's first steps, and er first words - and Titus' too. He had missed far too much of their young live and returned home to find that he was a complete stranger to them. He had tried to repair the distance between them, and thought he had managed to, at least for the most part.

He couldn't believe he'd proposed marriage to this cool, calm collected woman within minutes of meeting her properly. There were times he had to pinch himself that she'd accepted - she had seemed so far out of his class and beyond his reach, especially as he'd fallen over his own words in what must have been the clumsiest proposal since Romulus had ploughed his furrow around the seven hills.

He shook his head, smiling. "I don't, particularly, as shocking as that is. No meetings of the Senate, no speeches, no trials, no tribunals, no need to inspect walls or military outposts or anything. No plans, other than to spend time with you if you will let me. Although you must have plans of your own - don't let me interrupt them. I shall find a straw hat and spend the afternoon smelling roses in the garden and getting under the gardener's feet if I have to."

 

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She arched a brow, "No clients pestering you with letters to fix this, or provide funds for that?" She grinned. "You're a man of leisure, Aulus Calpurnius Praextetatus, is this what your retirement will be like?" If he made it that far, of course, the Gods willing. Although Horatia had a suspicion that even if he did make it that far, he wasn't the sort of man to sit on his laurels and enjoy an easy life. 

"And I have no objection to your company - I'm trying to relax whilst I'm here so have nothing pressing," She grinned - although at present she had objections to some of his company. She had - for whatever reason - forgotten to pack her silphium, like an absolute fool. She'd sent a discrete slave girl into town, and another farther afield to Napoli to seek some out but both had returned empty handed. She felt like an idiot for forgetting it, and wondered if he'd noticed her distance. The last couple of his advances she'd turned down with a feigned; 'I'm tired' or 'I've got a headache' but there were only so many maladies she could fake without arousing suspicion. She was half tempted to send Callista back to bloody Rome to get the silphium so she could actually enjoy her husbands company without worrying that every sly smile would turn into another rejection, frustrated night and a ruined mood. She had even, on the odd evening, wondered if she should just risk it and let herself be carried away by the lust and passion he still incited, before chiding herself. She did not wish for another pregnancy, she did not wish to feel that fear again - not that she'd ever admit her secret to anybody if she could help it. 

Distracted by her own thoughts she blinked and glanced up at him, as if coming back from a million miles away. "Sorry, I was thinking of how I can put you to use." She managed a smile, "Come here - I hope you have nimble fingers, I could use them with this. You'll end the afternoon a professional weaver." 

 

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"They aren't urgent," Aulus replied. "Really, clients know their patrons aren't around for winter, and Father has more to do with them than I do, seeing as he's the paterfamilias and they're all his clients anyway."

He got up and crossed to her, putting his arms around her and resting his chin on her shoulder. She hadn't welcomed his advances since their arrival at his father's villa, and he hoped that was merely down to the journey, or the memories. He couldn't think what else would cause it, especially as she seemed the same around him in every other respect.

"I fear if you want truly nimble fingers, you'll have to summon one of your girls, although I will help if I can - don't be surprised if I break the thread, though. It will only be by accident if I do."

He hair smelt of roses - she must wash it in rose-water. How was a man supposed to resist that lovely smooth skin under her ear? Aulus wasn't made of stone, and couldn't help kissing it.

 

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Horatia relaxed into his arms, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be embraced. "You never struck me as a quitter," She glanced up over her shoulder at him - with a sly smile on her face, "Making excuses for shoddy work already? Such things wouldn't fly in a legion I'm sure." She felt her stomach flutter and flip as he left a kiss under her ear and managed to squirm out of his arms, "And flattery of that sort won't get you very far with me as your teacher either, I can assure you." 

She grinned and tried to settle her thoughts, reaching out to take his hand and guiding it to the frame. "You see the pink one?" She brushed her own fingers over it. It sat between three woven rows of blue; above and beneath it. It was fiddly work to unpick - it was a large frame. "You sit round the other side and poke it through, and i'll take it from this side and do the same until we've unwoven the whole row, and then we'll have to re-do it by hand." She glanced up at him from the stool, with a worried glance. She didn't like to let things go, the perfectionist streak in her was pervasive, and she tried to ignore the hilariously inappropriate thoughts that her husband was going to ruin her work. 

"Don't look at me like that," She grinned, "This is going to go on the floor of your fathers tablinum according to your mother, so it better be up to scratch." She warned him and passed him a small hollow needle, "To help with the unpicking if you need it." She suspected his fingers weren't as deft as hers. She sat back on the stool and patiently waited for him to attempt to start, musing to herself; "I was going to ask you, by the way, if you'd had any conversations with your father about his plans." She arched a brow up at him, "Whether he'll be coming back to Rome, when we return?" Tiberius and Aurelia were infrequent guests to the city which had helped in the early days of her and Aulus bonding once more after his absence, although she had mourned their loss when they had excused themselves to the Villa. They had been her companions for over six years when she should have had her husband, and their bond was as strong as iron from those yeas. 

 

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"Me, a quitter? I should hope not," Aulus told her, with a smile. "I wouldn't be on the verge of becoming consul if I was! Though I don't mind telling you I've had to pinch myself once or twice at the realisation. I don't suppose you ever saw yourself as the wife of a consul, either."

He dropped a kiss on her head and went where directed, taking the needle she passed him - a far smaller and more delicate tool than anything he had used before - and squinted at the woven cloth. "Who chose pink at this point, anyway? And listen to me, sounding as if I know anything about any of this!" He couldn't help laughing, and then sobered, to try to help. 

"No, I haven't spoken with Father yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to come back with us - it isn't every day you see your son take the curule seat as consul, and I know I'll want to be there for Titus when he does in his own turn, gods willing."

 

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Horatia's lips twitched into a hint of a smile, "Wife of a Praetor maybe, not a Consul. But maybe my teenage self just lacked ambition?" She came from an ancient family, a well-respected one. She knew she would marry well, but she hadn't counted on marrying somebody with as much drive as she herself possessed. 

"Your mother chose it." She said and managed to mask the roll of her eyes just in time. She and Aurelia got on very well - all things considered. She'd heard horror stories before her wedding and afterwards of the friction that could so often be felt between mother in laws and their newfound daughters. It was perhaps one of the only benefits of Aulus' long absence; that she had gotten to know her in-laws so well. That being said, Aurelia Faustina was a forceful woman and there would always be disagreements; most recently on Horatia's decision to employee a tutor in the arts for Calpurnia. Her daughter had an eye for beautiful things, but not necessarily in the vain and vapid ways many teenagers did. She was largely nonplussed about beautiful jewellery, but could spend hours stood before a fresco taking it in. It was a trait, her love of the arts, that Horatia had wanted to nurture - women of their class were so restricted in their hobbies that she had been thrilled when Calpurnia had found her own passion. Aurelia disagreed, finding it odd that her grandaughter spent so much time simply...observing a fresco or mosaic or ornately carved bust. The disagreement was tolerable though, and had largely been smoothed over - helped in part, by Horatia's decision to engage her mother in law in her own preferred hobby; weaving. 

As the conversation meandered on, Horatia kept a watchful eye on her husbands work - a relaxed smile falling on her face. "Of course." She said in response to the idea that her father-in-law would return to Rome. She had thought she'd bristle at living with her in-laws, but enjoyed their company (for the most part) more than she expected to. "But alas, if only I could see you take your seat." She grinned at him, "You shall have to reenact it at home for me." She examined the thread that Aulus was pulling loose, "Else I will have to disguise myself and come and watch it for myself." 

 

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