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November, 76AD
Villa of Secundus Quinctilius Varus, Tibur 

Horatia was firmly ready to get out of the carriage by the time they finally drew to a stop outside of the complex that housed her sister, her husband and now her nephew. Now in her own six month of pregnancy, the journey was more trying than she remembered and with every jolt in the road or slide of the carriage in the mud, she winced, the pain in her back intensifying. It was dark now and she'd left before dawn, but she was here. Finally. Thank the Gods. Nobody was outside to greet her, which smarted her already frayed personality but she composed herself for a moment, neatening the stola she was wearing and wrapping the furs closer over her shoulder. Even in Italia, the November nights were hardly warm.

Hopefully this would be a quick coo over the baby, a small dinner and then to sleep, but as she stepped into the villa a deafening silence greeted her. She blinked, frowning in confusion. If not her sister herself, then she at least expected her brother-in-law or a helpful slave to show her through the labyrinthine corridors of the place, but nobody stirred. She cleared her throat and frowned at her own slave girl who scurried away hurriedly  to find somebody. When she did appear, with a willowy older woman in tow, the woman was full of apologies. "Where is my sister? And your dominus?" Horatia asked without giving her the chance to explain. "The dominus is away, mistress. I-I'll show you to domina. She's with the baby." 

She tried to imagine it, in her head, as she followed the woman through into the more private rooms of the villa; her sister the mother. She knew her sister had craved it, and she also knew how hard it had been for her. Their argument was still burned in her mind, as had the frosty tone of the scarce letters they'd exchanged since, but she was genuinely elated for her younger sibling. When she was led to a door and the slave gently knocked before pushing it open, despite her tiredness and her own condition and the tensity that had marred her relationship with Livia, Horatia had a wide, beaming smile on her face. "Livia!" 

 

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Night had fallen early and quickly as it tended to do when winter approached, leaving the small room and the rest of the domus to rely on a profusion of oil lamps, braziers and fireplaces. The wet nurse had retreated to the kitchens for a well-deserved meal - the only other resident to eat as well as her employers thanks to her status as single source of nourishment for their precious heir. Livia remained leaning over the cradle, holding a rattle that little Faustus followed with rapt attention as she shook it and waved it back and forth just above his face. Sometimes when she looked into his little curious brown eyes she thought she could see Aglaea's gentle ones gazing back at her. Other times she wondered if this was how her husband's eyes had looked like before cruelty had taken over him, if there ever had been such a time.

A knock on the door interrupted their routine, and Livia had scarcely turned round to glare at the slave for daring to disturb them when she was met with her older sister's vivacious greeting. "Horatia," she replied automatically, "how good to see you." A frown of confusion marred her face for a second, disappearing as remembrance smoothed it over. She was supposed to have sent a letter cancelling the visit because of some made-up indisposition, but it was only now hitting Livia that she had not actually done it.

"I am so sorry, I totally forgot you were coming!" She put the rattle down by the baby's feet, stomped the urge to roll her eyes and instead faced Horatia with open arms, crossing the short distance between the two of them. "Babies make you so forgetful, don't they?" An unusual prominence as they hugged had her quickly glancing down, the confirmation of her suspicions making her release Horatia and take a terse step back.

Of course she would do this. How very typically Horatia. Of course she had to show off the flawless matron she was, the consul's perfect wife. Of course Horatia would parade her own fertility in a visit ostensibly dedicated to her nephew, even after all Livia had been through! She smothered the words on the tip of her tongue and replaced them with honeyed, venom-laced ones in a tone that could be interpreted as keenly interested or mocking or both, depending on the listener. "Did my baby make you miss a new one of your own? Or are you and Aulus already planning for a reelection?" Nothing screamed more dedication to Rome than managing to conceive a future upstanding citizen amongst all the duties that surely kept a consul very busy.

"Oh, but where are my manners?" Livia smiled, gesturing for her sister to take a seat before raising her voice towards the open door. "Caenis! Bring us food and wine!" The silly slave should not have gone too far. "You must be so tired after your journey! Is there anything in particular you would like?" she asked her sister as she sat next to the cradle where Faustus was making gurgling noises typical of his age, and very much expecting Horatia to bring up some inane craving she was having.

@Sara

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How...had Livia forgot? She blinked in confusion before her own features were schooled back to neutrality as quickly and easily as a matron well practiced in it. "They do." she chuckled and moved to embrace her sister with an unusual warmth. She was thriving, and that was worth more to Horatia than her petty annoyances at being forgotten...or not invited to support her during the birth. Livia, however, seemed in no mood for forgiving and forgetting and Horatia noted the cold tone immediately. Her hands self-consciously came to rest on the neat bump at her middle. 

"I don't think you can plan these things." She offered with a firm look which denoted that she was absolutely not going to be rising to her sisters bait...or argue. "I would have written to tell you but...well..." She shrugged and sighed, "I wanted to make sure everything was well first; I'm not as young as I was and the midwives said the older you are the more likely things...won't last." It was a pitiful explanation but was, in part, genuine. The other part was that she simply didn't want to give her sister another excuse to ignore her letters. "Besides," she said as her smile returned, "I wanted to come and meet my nephew and that's far more important than this." She gestured at herself and moved as Livia did to peer down into the crib. 

She waved a hand at her sisters question, completely distracted by the little figure in the crib. She moved a hand down to tenderly stroke the little boys cheek. "Oh Livia, he's beautiful..." She glanced down at her sister with tears in her eyes and moved her other hand to squeeze Livia's shoulder gently for just a moment. "Congratulations." She said it with such rapt sincerity it was...most unlike her. Usually every word and emotion was carefully controlled but not now..."And," She said with a more conspiratorial chuckle, "He's more handsome than Publius' boys." 

 

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Preposterous. Livia nearly snorted at the blatant falsehood, but curbed the instinct just in time to produce a less obviously doubtful reaction. "Silphium is said to help with such plans, although I imagine it is no obstacle for the gods' will if they have other designs," she countered, holding Horatia's gaze as though she had not got the message. She was no little girl to be scolded anymore, not even by a consul's wife. Besides, what could a letter have changed? Absolutely nothing other than giving Livia more time to digest the news; her response would still have been the same.

"No, I suppose you're not. The older the mother is the harder it becomes for both, isn't it?" Livia mused, managing to infuse her tone with some sympathy for Horatia's self-inflicted situation. "Does it not scare you?" She took her sister's hands into her own, genuinely wondering if Horatia's hubris made her unafraid of the risks childbirth at any age entailed. Would the gods stand for it? Or did they perhaps support it? "That you might leave Titus and Calpurnia bereft just as they approach adulthood and will need your guidance?" Livia's eyes grew moist, though not out of concern for her niece and nephew -  it was the never-quite-healed sadness of having been robbed of Livia the elder's presence for her own milestones and the unsuitability of the two substitutes: Aglaea present and faithful until she wasn't and Horatia too full of self-importance. She let go of her sister's hands, all of a suddent fed up with the contact. 

It was all too easy to shift focus back to the small form that gurgled at the hand touching his cheek, making Livia grin despite herself. "Isn't he just?" He was beautiful, yes, but most importantly, he was hers, Secundus be damned. The outburst of emotion from Horatia was unexpected, confusing Livia with its genuineness and leaving her to stare wide-eyed at her sister before her hand took on a mind of its own and briefly clasped Horatia's mid-air as it retreated. "Thank you," she swallowed the lump in her throat that had appeared out of nowhere before it could grow any bigger. An enraptured glance at the little boy confirmed Horatia's statement, and Livia found herself chuckling along. "They looked like rosy little frogs when they were babies, it's not hard to be more handsome than that!" Truth be told, Faustus had also looked a little squashed in his first few days of life, but had thankfully gained a cuter and chubbier mien quickly - not that Livia would ever admit to having thought of her son in such an undignified way.

The candid atmosphere was disturbed by the slave from earlier rushing in with platters of fruit, cheese and olives, followed by another diligent slave carrying bread and wine. They were swiftly dismissed much to their relief, but knew not to wander too far in case they were needed again. Livia pensively eyed an olive for a few seconds before finally plucking it and popping it into her mouth. "When does it get better?" The look she gave Horatia was one of anxiety. "When do you stop fearing he's going to catch a fever and die, or stop breathing in his sleep, or get dysentery, or anything, really? How do you know he will be fine?" It was hard to imagine the bouncy baby next to them as anything but healthy, but Livia knew how quickly things could change. For the first time she acknowledged Horatia's bump with no malice, her gaze descending for a moment before meeting her sister's blue eyes again. "Aren't you afraid something won't be right?" Why subject oneself to that torture again after two healthy and mostly grown children?

@Sara

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"Livia.Horatia gave her sister a stern look with flashing eyes as her body stiffened. She was in absolutely no mood after her travels to be reminded of the very real peril she was facing, which she had feared for over a decade enough to keep such a significant secret as her silphium from her husband. She knew her sister to be spiteful when hurt, but this was a new low. The memory of their bitter argument at her domus in Rome flashed back and she swallowed her own bitterness with a gulp. "Please. Let's not." 

She was grateful her sister was almost at once entranced by her child and Horatia let out a sharp exhale of breath, trying to calm her own annoyance. Few people in the world could get a rise out of the cool, calm and collected Consul's wife but her sister most certainly could. She even managed a chuckle at Livia's comments on Publius' children. She wasn't wrong. "But we still said they were adorable. This time I mean it." Faustus was a handsome little thing - all dark eyed and dark haired. "Father said you named him Faustus?" She cast a quizzical look in Livia's direction. It wasn't a name form their side of the family, nor did she think it belonged to any of Secundus' ancestors. An odd choice but it undoubtedly suited the little boy...and his peculiar parents.

The calm was shattered by the arrival of some harried looking slaves and Horatia sighed at Livia's obvious anxiety - she could hear it in her voice, even without glancing up from the sweet boy in his cot. "You never stop worrying but...soon enough he'll start sitting and then crawling and walking and talking and your mind will be so preoccupied with the love you have and the pride you feel the fear will lessen." She reluctantly glanced down at Livia, "I promise. And..." She swallowed, one of her hands self-conciously moving to her bump. "Of course I'm afraid." She exhaled deeply and swallowed, trying to collect herself, "But I have a life I have to get on with in the meantime...if I think on it  too long then..." She trailed off. Then the fear will overtake me.

"Why didn't you send word when you were nearing your time?" She glanced again at her sister, an imploring look in her eyes, "I would have been here for you." 

 

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Indignation shone in Livia's eyes at the sharp tone Horatia used, not expecting to be scolded as though she were a child and her sister a know-it-all teenager. For once she was honest in confessing her concerns, like she might have done to their mother had she been alive. So much for trying to to appeal to Horatia's humility, of which there was clearly none. Focusing on Faustus again was a welcome distraction, and Livia simply gave her sister an exasperated nod.

Did she really mean it? If Horatia had lied with Publius' offspring she could certainly do the same now. But it didn't matter: her son would always be the most adorable baby in Livia's eyes."Yes. Unusual, isn't it?" To think she had dared defy tradition and select a name neither her nor Secundus could find in their family trees. Much to her amazement, her husband had not objected to her suggestion and had even mumbled his approval. Perhaps fatherhood was having a positive effect on him."But it felt fitting. We are indeed very fortunate to have him." She stroked the little boy's cheek fondly, distracting him from the momentous task of trying to fit all his fingers into his tiny mouth.

"I can't wait for those days," Livia grinned, already picturing them in her mind's eyes. Would Faustus try to chase after her with his chubby little legs? What would come first, words or steps? Provided he wasn't robbed of them by the gods, and Livia along with him. She peeled her eyes from the baby and stared gravely at her sister for a moment. "I'll hold you to that promise." Since Horatia was on such good terms with the forces that ruled the world of mortals...

"After what happened last time, I..." She averted her gaze, willing them to stay dry. No matter how much time had passed, Livia did not think she would ever be able to mention the subject without feeling emotional despite social expectations, nor did she think she would ever be able to put it behind her. It would always hover about in her memories like a faraway cloud on a sunny day.  "... I didn't think I would have been able to handle disappointing people again," Livia admitted in a guilty whisper. Had she birthed the child herself she would have rather kept Horatia at arm's length anyway regardless of how caring and supportive her sister was - if things went well, she wanted to learn to know her baby first-hand rather than have matronly wisdom shoved down her ears; if they went wrong, there would be only her own grief to manage and not coddle somebody else's.

She took a sip of wine and glanced at her sister's bump, fleetingly wondering if the outcome would be a positive one. "Would you want me to come for you?" Would Horatia want her younger sister to see her at her most vulnerable? Probably not. Livia moved on to a slightly different kind of speculation . gently teasing the other woman. "I imagine Aulus wants another boy, as all men do. What are you hoping for?"

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Horatia sighed but nodded. "You would not have disappointed people." She affirmed confidently. Horatia had only touched on her own struggles in that blazing row very subtly, but she hoped and trusted her sister knew she was speaking from experience. It was moot for now though, Livia had a healthy son who looked as happy and hearty and such topics - in Horatia's opinion - were best left buried and far from both of their thoughts. It would do neither of them any good to dredge up the pain that so often accompanied trying to become a mother. 

As Livia offered...or talked around an offer of company for her own upcoming childbirth Horatia blinked and settled a hand on her bump. So long for leaving painful topics behind. "Of course...if you'd come." She swallowed and exhaled a shuddery breath. "Calpurnia was not...easy. I would not wish to put you in a position where you might regret coming." But equally, difficult as her relationship with her sister might well be, she didn't wish to be alone. It had been terrifying and haunting that time thirteen years ago and she couldn't suffer it again. "And to be honest," She started as she drew up a chair probably usually reserved for the wet nurse and sat down with a soft sigh, "As long as we are both healthy I wouldn't mind either. Given the gap, I'm sure you can appreciate its a bit of a surprise." She chuckled and her hand habitually played with the fabric over her bump. "But it would be nice if the two cousins," She gestured to Faustus and then at herself, "Could perhaps see more of one another. Does Secundus ever mention coming back to Rome?" 

 

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