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Early December, 76AD

It felt like it had been forever since that party in November. She had tried her best to be a good daughter to her father and her family in general. She went to the social events they wanted her to go to, she socialized, she’d even met with her cousin Horatia, which had been interesting. After that she’d been a bit more careful, because Horatia now knew a secret of hers. She hoped her cousin wouldn’t tell, but why would she? What would Horatia gain from ruining Sosia’s future, by telling her family that Sosia was in love with Tiberius? Nothing, she thought. And so she hoped it was still a secret to anyone, what happened that night at the party.

Now that was another reason to try her very best to be a good daughter and honor her family. Yet she could not forget the way Tiberius kissed her, the way he held her and the words he said to her. He thought her pretty and sweet… and he liked her. And he kissed her. And said he’d never forget her and they’d see each other again. Already before they kissed, he’d promised her that he would show her the gardens of Sullust and she hoped he would keep the promise. He said he would not forget. He said he wanted to see her again. But when?

Then suddenly there was a messenger from the palace. For her. Tiberius had a date set and she was invited to join him for a walk in the gardens. She could barely wait. But what to wear? Gods! Oh she prayed to them too, asked them to help her, asked them to make sure she’d stay on the right path today. But she also prayed that Tiberius still liked her. Despite that her father had set up more than one meeting with possible suitors, wealthy and older men, who were probably nice, but… they were not Tiberius.

But the day came. A day in the gardens in the winter. She dressed in a light blue gown and wore a light yellow palla with it. A few pearls, and she had her body slave Helia bring her a few evergreens to decorate her hair with. She wore the green leaves almost like a crown on her hair. Her body slave told her she was very pretty and she believed it. Then she went to meet Tiberius outside the gardens. Helia came with her, and a guard too, but they promised to keep their distance. She wished they didn’t have to come, but her father said anything else would be improper. Now she stood there, waiting. Hoping. Sighing. Until she was distracted by a rare flower, growing just near the gates to the gardens and she crouched down to pick it, maybe to decorate her hair with.

@Sarah

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Tiberius hadn't forgotten - how could he forget that night? - but his life was busy and full of commitments, as Horatia Justinia had found when trying to align their calendars so that he could join the family dinner. But he had not forgotten! It was a month before a gap opened up that he felt he could secure, but once it did he sent a messenger to the domus of Gaius Horatius Justinius, asking that she meet him in the Gardens of Sullust, as promised. He wanted to see her, very much so, but he also held her cousin's subtle warning in the back of his mind. She was right, of course. Ruining Sosia's reputation was the worst possible thing that he could do, and for a young woman for whom he wanted only the best. He resolved that he would share her friendship, and be glad of it.

As an Imperial, Tiberius never went anywhere without an entourage, and sure enough, like a comet passing through the skies, he entered the gardens with a tail of slaves and a Praetorian guard trailing behind him. They were of course accustomed to his walking conversations with his peers and occasional petitioners, and would not draw close unless needed. But all was proper, and Tiberius knew that was how it should be. How it would be. After all, she was only here in Rome because her father was looking to see her wed, and it would be years before Tiberius sought his own bride. He wanted only the best for her, which meant the best marriage, which meant not interfering in any way.

And then he saw her. Standing by the gates against the darker greens of the winter garden, she was like a rare bloom in her pale blue and yellow, a glimpse of summer. Or perhaps a nymph gracing this quiet spot, with her crown of leaves, distracted by a lone rare bloom. His heart lifted, she had come. He had feared that she might not, once sense had surely visited with the morning light, as it had him. He regretted nothing - longed for more - save the possibility of harm to her. But here she was. He smiled, warm and welcoming. "Sosia, it is good to see you." He said simply.

@Atrice

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Sosia had just crouched down to pick that rare beautiful flower, when she heard footsteps approaching and looked over her shoulder - only to see Tiberius appear. Only she was a little disappointed, because he wasn't alone. Sosia also had her guard and her slave with her, but Tiberius had so many more that it would be impossible to catch a moment alone with him. And maybe she had hoped for that. Of course, it would be better if they could not be alone. Last time they were alone, they kissed. They shouldn't have, she knew. But oh how she'd daydreamed about that kiss and his arms around her, again and again, and it turned better every time she thought about it. And he was so handsome. How could she not adore him?

She picked the flower and stood there with it in her hand, when he finally reached her, smiling beautifully at her and greeting her.

"It's good to see you too, Tiberius." She said softly, looking up at him, trying to not think about the way he kissed her... which only made it worse, really, because then she was thinking about it. 

"It feels like I have been waiting forever." She added with a small smile, that was not meant to be an insult or that she was angry at him, only that she grew impatient because she was finally going to see him. The morning had taken forever to pass and so had the time she waited here. But now he was here. All was good, now. 

@Sarah

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It feels like I have been waiting forever.

"I know; I'm sorry." She probably didn't mean it as a reprove, but he was well aware that he had promised her a walk weeks ago and not delivered. "I would far rather be here with you than at some tedious Senate session." He said, with both honesty and a touch of guilt. His participation in the Senate was important for the good of the Empire, which he lived to serve. This... this was entirely selfish. He didn't allow himself many selfish things, but enjoying Sosia's company was one of them.

His gaze dropped to the rare winter bloom that she held twisting in her fingers. Like her it was a bright and joyful relief; it from the cold harshness of winter and she from the political machinations of those around him. And both were beautiful.

"A winter bloom, so rare to see

Fair promise of the spring to come

Yet still not quite as fair as thee

Thou bright reprieve from all that's glum."

He gave her a shy smile, and then he blushed. The words needed work, ideally pondered for hours, but he was no philosopher with that kind of time. He had to make do with spur of the moment.

@Atrice

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She smiled at him, wanted to touch his hand to make sure she wasn't really blaming him, she had just really waited for this day to come. And now it was finally here. So it did feel like she'd been waiting forever and especially this morning had taken a long time to pass. But now they were here. And Tiberius said he'd rather be with her than at the Senate, "It is important that you show up in the Senate, I understand." She replied softly, "But I'm glad you're here, now." She added, looking up at him and he was looking at her. But his eyes dropped to the flower she held and then suddenly, he was reciting beautiful poetry to her. 

And his shy smile and blush afterwards said it all. He was in love with her too, wasn't he? And to think that he had such an important position in Rome and sat in the Senate, yet with her, he was blushing so sweetly.

"That was beautiful, Tiberius." She said, "I didn't know you were a poet too." Sosia grinned, but wasn't laughing at him. She just thought he was the most charming man she'd ever met. 

@Sarah

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He'd looked forward to this day too, happy to see her again. He knew their time together wouldn't last. She'd no doubt been brought to Rome to find a husband, and it wouldn't be him. Then she'd have a man in her life and a household to run, and no time for him. And that was as it should be. But he would treasure this time now, and try not to regret too hard that this was how it had to be.

But he wished it wasn't.

His words felt awkward and unpolished, being spur of the moment, but Sosia grinned at him as he blushed.

I didn't know you were a poet too.

"Not much one one." He said, looking aside and running a hand through his hair bashfully. Then he glanced back at her. "But given the right inspiration..." He trailed off. She was definitely the right inspiration. "Shall we?" He gestured to the gates and the gardens lying within. He had promised to show them to her. "I know it's winter, but I still think it's beautiful. Some things are always beautiful."  He met her gaze as he spoke. Some people too.

@Atrice

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It was sweet of him to recite poetry to her, although she wasn't sure if it was something he just made up or something he read. And it didn't matter. Tiberius said those words to her, naming her more beautiful than a rare winter bloom, like the one she picked up. How could she not compliment him and how could she not adore his words? He said he wasn't much of a poet, unless he had the right inspiration. Sosia found herself blushing a bit by his words, but smiled brightly at him none the less, "Am I a muse then, perhaps?" She suggested and he invited her to walk into the gardens with him.

She gladly followed, wanted to link her hand through his arm or rest hers on his, but he would have to invite her to do so. Anything else would be improper. They weren't alone here, they had all of his slaves and his entourage and Sosia was also accompanied by a slave and a guard. If they kissed again, someone could easily tell. Unless she could be alone with him. Gods she wanted to be alone with him. Even more when he named the garden beautiful and then that some things were just always beautiful. As he looked at her. She felt almost shy under his gaze and cast her eyes down. Did she even deserve such attention he gave her?

"Beauty withers." She said then, "And yet... spring comes after winter and flowers bloom after all." Sosia looked up at him. She was not alone with him. She could not do the thing she wanted most. So perhaps... getting to know him was the next-best thing... "Do you have a favorite season, Tiberius?" 

@Sarah

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Am I a muse then, perhaps?

His poem was a bit clumsy, written on the fly, but Sosia didn't seem to mind. In fact she seemed to enjoy it, smiling and blushing adorably. The colour in her cheeks made her look so warm and pretty, compared to the cold winter's day. "You must be, you inspire me so." He replied, rather liking the thought of Sosia as his muse. "I'd believe you're a goddess, incarnate." He added with a whisper as they moved through the gardens. Ah, but which muse? There were a great many named over time, each with their own personal focus. Perhaps she could just be his. 

Tiberius's entourage gave them a respectful distance, but they were definitely not alone. The young Imperial told himself it was for the best, especially for her sake, however much he might want to be alone with her again. If there was one thing that had been drummed into him from a young age it was that he existed to serve, and not to use his influence for selfish reasons. Never before had it seemed a burden. 

"Beauty can wither." He agreed. "Or it can change, like a garden in the seasons." He was of course thinking of the garden as a metaphore for a person. Some people lost their beauty, in others it matured. And he was of the opinion that beauty wasn't only in one's appearance. But she asked if he had a favourite season. "I do enjoy summer." He said. "The hot weather when everyone seems to slow down a little bit and just enjoy life." Because it was too hot to get over excited about things. "Do you have a favourite?" He asked in turn, interested.

Further into the gardens the manicured paths wound between the carefully tended plantings, and between some of the bushes and trees a stone wall was visible, and beyond it a tiled roof with fancy, painted finials on the peaks and corners. Tiberius pointed it out. "Did you know that there's a villa as part of these gardens?"He asked. It seemed like a simple question.

@Atrice

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Sosia did not mind his poem at all, she was flattered by it and when he spoke of needing the right inspiration for such words, she wondered if she his muse then. Tiberius said she had to be and she felt her cheeks warm again, how was he so good and sweet with her? She felt she had to look away, or else she would make a fool of herself. But he continued, now she was not just a muse, but a goddess. This time he whispered it, as if such words were meant for only her and she looked up at him again, “You flatter me too much, Tiberius.” She said and then she’d tried to change the subject, since they were not alone at all. Gods if he continued to flatter her so much, how was she ever going to be a good wife to anyone else?

 They spoke of seasons and how beauty withered or maybe it would just change? She understood what he was saying. People changed too. Oh she hoped he would never change. Then she’d asked about his favorite season and he explained why he enjoyed the summer.

 “I enjoy the summer too, but even more the spring, I think. After the cold season of winter, everything blooms again and the birds chirp. And the people… their yearning for good times grow. Their longing… grows.” Hers did too, every spring it seemed, she felt she wanted to do things, explore, learn, meet people. Her longing was already growing though. Tiberius changed the subject though, as they came further into the garden and the paths somehow looked cleaner and the plants were tended to. Tiberius spoke of a villa in the gardens.

 “I didn’t know that… but there is a lot I don’t know, still.” She said, looking at the building that seemed to grow in the garden like the trees and the statues here… “Who does the villa belong to? It must be joyful, living with these gardens just outside your door?”

@Sarah

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You flatter me too much, Tiberius.

Tiberius blushed slightly and looked away, knowing that what she said was true. "I know." He said quietly. "You're right to chide me." He had promised himself that he would restrain himself, do no more than what a good friend would do. The friend he should be. And yet as soon as he saw her all such promises fled his mind. How did she do that to him? He could hold his own on the floor of the Senate, but somehow in her company he lost all sense. It would have been frustrating, if it wasn't also so enjoyable.

Her favourite time of year was spring, when the earth sprang to life and the flowers bloomed. He could imagine her with a selection of spring flowers in her hair, some baby animal in her lap. A young Demeter. Or was she Prosperpine, to be stolen away by Hades as the year declined, and the world mourned. Probably not a good comparison, certainly Tiberius didn't want to see Sosia stolen away, though he knew that she would surely be seeing suitors soon, if she wasn't already.

Instead she spoke of the people yearning for good times as the year brightened, and of their growing longing. Longing for what? He almost asked. But he wondered whether he might be able to guess. Or perhaps that was only his imagination, and he'd strayed too far down that path already. So he changed the subject. Was he a coward? Or was he prudent? He wasn't sure.

Still, the villa seemed to catch her interest as he pointed it out to her. "I thought it might interest you." He said with a smile, ignoring any possible suggestion that she didn't know enough. She was new to Rome, and he was helping her learn about it. Because that's what a friend would do, show her the parts that might appeal to her. "Both the gardens and the villa belong to the Imperial family; my family." He replied. "We granted Sullust the land, and he built both, but eventually it came back to us, and we made the gardens a public hortus." Not him personally of course, it was before his time. "But the villa we've kept. I'm going to move into it in the new year." He told her, wondering what she might make of the information. Then he grinned. "Then I'll be able to tell you whether or not it's joyful with the gardens at he door; I'm sure it will be." It was one of the things that he liked about the place.

@Atrice

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He was so sweet when his cheeks turned rosy, she thought. And then he commented that she was right to chide him, when he flattered her too much. But oh, that’s what he felt she was doing? “I didn’t mean it like that… I… like your words.” I like you... even though she was sure no man would ever be able to flatter her and charm her the way Tiberius did it. Even more so when they spoke of seasons, he about the summer, where everything slowed down and you’d just enjoy life. And Sosia spoke of the spring and longing for good times. Like longing for another kiss from Tiberius…

 Thankfully then, he changed the subject, speaking of a villa in the gardens and Sosia already dreamt of it, living in the gardens, so close to so many green things. It might be one of the few places in Rome where she really felt at peace. These gardens. With Tiberius. And he smiled and explained that the gardens and the villa belonged to his family.

 That caused her to look up at him with interest, as he continued telling her more. He was going to move into the villa? Sosia looked at the slightly hidden building again.

 “I’m sure it will be.” She repeated and had a thought, “But you don’t live there yet, do you? Could we… explore it? I do like exploring things with you. I would love to see it.” She did like going to explore things with him. Like the way they’d explored the area near the garden at the palace, where he showed around and showed her that beautiful sight over Rome. And then himself. She was terrible, wasn’t she? A bad daughter, but was it too much to ask, a little time spent alone with someone like Tiberius? Before her life would change forever and she might be chained to a man she barely knew… was it too much to ask for?

@Sara

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I didn’t mean it like that… I… like your words.

If anything, Tiberius's blush deepened. "Well, I'm glad then." He replied, somewhat lost for words which was an uncommon experience for the young Imperial. But somehow Sosia seemed quite capable of short-circuiting his brain, or at least any sense he had in it.

Uncertain, he changed the subject and they spoke of the seasons and the things that they enjoyed, and she almost seemed to relax as they walked further into the gardens, as though she found the stone and wood buildings outside claustrophobic. Perhaps she did.

One building became visible through the greenery, and Tiberius explained about the Villa Sullusti and how he was planning to move into it.

But you don’t live there yet, do you? Could we… explore it?

"Not yet no." He'd planned it for the new year, thinking that Jannus might bless the 'new year, new you' outlook. But the Villa was maintained for the use of the Imperial family. If Sosia wanted to see it, why not? It was an excuse to show her around, and the thought that she'd enjoy it made him smile. "Of course we can." He replied warmly, changing their direction to the path he knew led to one of the garden gates into the villa complex, a slave hurrying forward to have it opened for them.

Beyond the gatehouse was the front courtyard of the villa, a fountain trickling in the midst of carefully pruned topiaries. Wide steps and columns framed the front entrance, the finials on the shaped red tiles on the corners of the roof painted gold and gleaming in the winter sunlight. "It's not one of the palaces, but I like it more in some ways. It actually feels like a home." Which was one of the reasons he'd chosen it, and now they were inside he was excited to show it to her. Hold out a hand to Sosia, he smiled warmly. "Come with me, I'll show you my favourite parts." He offered.

@Atrice

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He was sweet, when he seemed a bit embarrassed and it only made her care more for him. It only made her like him more. They turned to a safer topic of conversation though, the villa in the gardens and Sosia thought it very interesting. She liked learning new things and she liked exploring. Just like they'd explored the palace that night, at the party. That turned out to be more than what she had hoped for, she had experienced the feeling of his lips too. Did he wish to do it again? He'd kissed her twice that evening. Not just once, but twice. It had to mean something. One was still allowed to dream and hope, right?

So exploring sounded like a good plan. She wondered if they could go into the villa and he confirmed that he didn't live there yet. And that they could go inside.

"Thank you, Tiberius." She said as they made their way towards one of the gates leading into the private area around the villa. A slave hurried forward to open the gate and she smiled, seeing the villa and the fountain. It seemed so calm and relaxing here. Sosia could not help but smile and Tiberius said it felt like home. And then... then he held out a hand to her, accompanied by a warm smile. She placed her hand in his, "It's so exciting... that I get to see your future home. It must be nice... being able to do what you want to do, like that." Sosia could never move into a house of her own, she had her family and her duty to her family, she was a woman and she couldn't just do what she pleased. Not all the time anyway. Maybe her father would also judge her for going in here with Tiberius, but she was perfectly safe with him.

@Sarah

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It's so exciting... that I get to see your future home. It must be nice... being able to do what you want to do, like that.

Tiberius's warm smile faltered at Sosia's words, even as he saw the truth in them. She would always be in someone else's house, whether her father, husband or brother's. Even her son's one day. "I guess it is." He said, a little quietly, though in some ways this was the first time in his life that he had been able to do what he wanted. Most men lived under the authority of their pater familias.  That was the way of it of course, unless... "I know it probably seems along way off, but the jus trium liberorum states that if you have three children, you are no longer subject to your father or husband's authority." Then she could do what she wanted. Not that Tiberius really wanted to think about Sosia marrying, even though he knew it would happen and sooner rather than later. He hoped her father chose a good man for her. 

"What would you do, if you could do what you want to do?" He asked, wondering what Sosia would do with her freedom, if she had it. The simple way that she chose her words suggested that there was something she wanted to do, and couldn't. 

Across the front courtyard rose the main building, the doors opening in the hands of Tiberius's slaves, to reveal the cool marble within.

@Atrice

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She saw how his smile faded at her words and she hadn't meant to make him sad. This was just the way things were, for women. She could always dream about another life, but this was what she was meant for. To not be able to do as she liked, to always belong to either her husband, her father or her brother, should her father pass away. She found herself thinking about her youth and her childhood in the countryside near Capua. She'd been pretty free then. Now it was different. But at least she could allow herself to feel a little free together with Tiberius. She trusted he'd let her.

He then spoke of some law that said, that if she had three children, she could be allowed more freedom. She looked up at him with slightly parted lips, surprised... she didn't know that, "Really? Not that I wouldn't care for my husband or that I don't care for my father, but... it doesn't sound too bad." She said and smiled, speaking in a lower voice, "Don't tell I said that." Maybe she should have three children then. Her cousin Horatia had two and another on her way. Oh did she know about this law? Maybe Sosia should tell her. Then Tiberius broke into her thoughts again, wondering what she wanted to do, if she could.

She looked at him, surprised again... "I... don't know." She said at first, before she had taken her time to consider it. But as she looked up at him, it became obvious what the right answer was, at least in this moment with her fingers wrapped around Tiberius' hand as they entered his home, "I think, that I would do what I do now. Spend time with you." 

@Sarah

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