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December, 76AD

The winter winds whipped the edge of her palla as she jostled through the streets towards the familiar building that hosted, at her last count, three of her friends; Alexius, Aia and Teutus. She hadn't been here for a year, not since last Saturnalia and she felt guilt and shame well up under her skin, flushing her cheeks. What a difference a year made. This time last year she was waking up in Alexius' bed, coddled in his arms and then discovered by Teutus. She remembered the ripple of fear that shook her to her core that Teutus would say something, jeapordize everything and yet now she was standing outside the businesses occupying the street-level, a free woman. His step-mother in all respects. 

She cleared her throat, trying to summon courage she didn't feel and wrapped the pale pink palla tighter around herself. The stola she was wearing felt dowdy, ugly even, compared to the simple tunicas she'd grown used to in her years of slavery in Rome. The painful twirls of her her hair, likewise, sat uncomfortably under the palla. If she was supposed to look like the respectful wife (come concubine) of a Praetor, she certainly didn't feel it. She felt like an actress playing a part she was wholly  unsuitable for. Still, there was no time like the present and she steeled herself to climb to the first floor, drawing outside of Teutus' door. It was only when she knocked once she realised his mother might be home and felt a wave of nausea rise in her stomach. She considered backing away but then it swung open and... "Io Saturnalia." She offered with a weak smile.

 

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The others had gone out somewhere, at Teutus' insistance and his mother's gentle urging. She had tried to persuade him to go with them but he had demurred; whether or not the party remained together or went their separate ways, they were still his slaves and he was still their master and would only inhibit them. He'd given them spending money and told them to have fun, before adding more wood to the brazier and returning to his comfortable seat by the window. He'd been reading... something, but the scroll had dropped from his hands as he'd fallen into a daydream, only to be brought back to himself by knocking on the door. Just a tap, but enough to rouse him thanks to his years of service and needing to be alert all the time.

He tossed the scroll aside onto the table and went to answer the door; it was probably someone wanting to borrow some flour or something because the shops were shut. He was not expecting Charis and blinked down at her in surprise before he managed to find his voice.

"Charis?" He stepped to the side to let her in, if she wanted to come in. "I didn't expect you to - Io Saturnalia. Come in?"

 

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Relief washed over her when she saw it was Teutus who answered the door. She tried her best to make her smile more genuine. It didn't work and the resulting twisting of her lips was more unnerving than joyous. 

"Thank you," She nimbly slipped past him and into the apartment. It was quiet and she exhaled in relief. "Is everybody out?" Meaning, is your mother out? She presumed he had other slaves - in the sparse time she'd seen him over the last year, he'd been accompanied by one or two unfamiliar faces. "You're not celebrating Saturnalia with them?" 

 

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"Yes," he said, closing the door behind her. "And no; I'd only get in their way and confuse them." If the truth were known, he'd never really felt comfortable celebrating Saturnalia, despite it being wildly popular among most Romans. Or with their slaves, if not with them.

There was a jug of mulsum kept warm by the brazier's embers and he found her a cup, pouring some for each of them.

He'd been free for two years now, though sometimes it felt far longer and sometimes it only felt like a day or so. He liked being on his own, something he'd not really had much chance of in his life.

"How are you?" he asked, sitting back down and indicating that Charis should sit too. "I would have thought you'd be out wit your friends."

Why had she come to see him? They weren't that close, not any more, for many reasons. Several of those reasons began 'Tertius' and ended 'Quinctilius Varus' but by no means all of them - Teutus was busy with his own trade, and Charis was no doubt kept busy with her baby and everything else, of course she didn't have time to go visiting.

 

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Posted (edited)

She did as he indicated and took a seat opposite him. Three years as a slave was plenty to drum obedience into her skin, even if she was slowly trying to recover her lost personality of before. She accepted the wine gratefully and glanced around, a smile twitching on her lips. "What friends?" She had Cynane, whom she saw semi-regularly, as both of their owners allowed, and then Rufus and Aia but it had been months, years even since she'd seen the pair of them. The others in the house, even before her freedom, were never friends. Her constantly changing position in their dominus' estimation made that almost impossible. 

"I..." She cleared her throat and took a sip of her wine, grateful for it. She picked at the stola self-consciously. "I'm free." There. Better out with it. "Yesterday, he freed me." The 'he' in that sentence required no explanation at all. "He wants us to be man and wife, although I know we can't be, not legally, not properly but he said there was a term for it1..." She swallowed and took a sip of the wine again. "I thought you deserved to know." 

 

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concubinatus

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"Well..." He shut up and shrugged. She probably had the same friends he did - none. Or very few, which was more than he had. "Um. There was one woman who accosted me in the street when he wouldn't let you out. And there was the one who wrote to you that time." About her mother or sister - sister, that was it.

He managed a smile, raising his own cup in a silent toast. "Well, congratulations, then. It took him nine years, near enough, before he got round to it for me - he's getting quicker."

He didn't tell her that he'd never known his father to free any slave before Teutus' own manumission, he didn't need to. Nor did he say that he'd said Tertius ought to free Charis, at that disastrous dinner with Wulfric.

"Why does that sound so familiar?" he asked ruefully, although he knew exactly why it did. Because there wasn't a legal and proper way for Teutus to be his son and heir, that was why.

"I hope you don't expect me to call you Mother," he managed with an attempt at a smile that just came out crooked. "You're younger than me, after all."

 

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She smiled at his sarcasm, chuckling to herself into the rim of her wine cup. She shared a dry sense of humour with Teutus and was relieved that there wasn't any immediate anger or fury in his tone, just a smile and a quick wit. She felt relief wash over her like a wave on a sandy beach. 

"I don't," She managed her own crooked grin, almost embarrassed at the thought, "It's only been a half-morning and I already hate the others calling me domina." As per Tertius' terms of the 'marriage', they were required to. It sat uneasily on her. "I...know it should be a relief," She offered with a sigh, slender fingers fidgeting with the stem of the cup, "But it feels as if I've traded familiarity for something wholly unknown...and potentially more dangerous." She cautioned a glance up at him. After the...events of last Saturnalia, she had found being honest with Teutus the best approach. There was nobody else that understood the chaos of the house as well as he did, after all. And his feelings on his father were clear as day. "I...also have no idea what to do or how to act." She lamented as she took a sip, slumping down in her chair a little more..."I'm sorry, I sound so ungrateful I know..." She was doing this for Peregrinus. That didn't mean it was easy, of course.

 

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"Well, there's a familiar story," Teutus said and topped her cup up. "Hold on, we've got some dates somewhere, I think. Or globi, if you prefer." He pushed his seat back and stood, to go and look.

She was British, he had an inkling she thought dates were too sweet and sticky, or something, but it was a holiday, there wasn't a better time to be eating sweet sticky food.

He brought over a plate of each and put them on the table, sitting back down. "Help yourself, if you want."

It would help stave off the drunkenness that would be the inevitable result of too much mulsum on an empty stomach.

"I don't hate being called domine," he said. "It's not comfortable but I don't hate it... but it's different, when it's people you've been a slave with. I hated it from you and the others."

He rested his elbows on the table, clasping his hands around his own winecup. "He's a patrician, couldn't you just... pretend you're the wife of a chieftain or something, when you're out with him?"

 

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She was about to interrupt and suggest she didn't need anything, that she wasn't hungry after the overindulgence of last night but he left anyway to fetch some food. Much like her, she imagined even after two years of freedom that it was hard for Teutus to shake off the mindset of needing to always be busy, to be useful. She sighed and smoothed down the fine fabric of the stola she was wearing. 

"I think that's the problem," She commiserated and picked up a date, looking at it a little suspiciously, "Overnight everything has changed and unlike somebody I know," She shot him a vaguely amused glance, "I can't simply move out." It was in the terms of their union, after all. 

"And it's not that," She shook her head, wincing as one of the hairpins tugged on her scalp. She set down the date to massage the spot, wanting to take down the fancy up-do and replace it with a practical braid instead, "He's...been good to me. To Peregrinus." The complexity of her feelings for Tertius were a chasm a mile deep. "But I still remember what he's done to me. I still remember my husband." Her first husband. Her actual husband. Whose gift to her, that bracelet, sat in Tertius' desk drawer, locked away. "I just need time I think...to process it." She gave him a smile in understanding and sighed, "But...now I can leave the domus of my own volition," Without Peregrinus that was, "I was hoping...we could spend more time together. You might be the...only person in this city that understands what I feel. Or even a fraction of it." 

 

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Posted (edited)

"It's a date, it's not going to bite you," Teutus told her, amused. "Just spit the stone out, all right?"

She'd probably be more dainty and remove it from her mouth with her fingers, but there was nobody watching.

"It was different, for me," he said, preferring a ball of globi just in case she thought he was incredibly uncouth for suggesting spitting date stones out. "He promised me, for so long... Soon, Teutus, I promise. Next month... next year... soon... and it never was. And then..." He sighed. "It wasn't just the manumission he kept promising, either, of course. Almost right up until you gave him a son he could call freeborn from the very beginning."

He leaned back, looking up at the ceiling. He didn't really think about it any more, it was safer not to, and he had his own income and his own small household now, he didn't need to think about it. The emotions still got him when he did think about it, though.

"It wasn't my father who took your husband away," he said in the end, bringing his gaze back down to meet Charis' eyes again. "I don't... he's not cruel, not like that. Just..." A lot of things. "Controlling. He wants very badly to be in control and doesn't understand why it's like trying to hold a handful of water."

 

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She sighed, shifting awkwardly in the chair as he recounted his woes. She knew she'd played a part on them - or Peregrinus, unknowingly, had. He had almost had it all and then suddenly it had been snatched away from him in favour of a newborn boy. She couldn't imagine what that had felt like, been like. She didn't want to. 

She met his gaze levelly when he finally pulled his eyes back to hers, challenge flaring in her face, her brow quirked; "When he first bedded me it was in punishment." She reminded Teutus. He had comforted her the morning after. "And do you not recall him locking me in that room, when I was pregnant, for months." Until she had completely lost her mind. She wasn't convinced she'd ever be quite the same again. "Do you not think that cruel?" It was certainly about control, of course it was, but there was something else there in Charis' mind. "And the way he treated you, and the way we treated..." she sighed, shaking her head, "Poor Wulfric." She swallowed and took a sip of her wine. "But he's promised me he'll be a good husband. Decent. I...feel so many things when I look at him," She frowned to herself, "I can't even explain it." Hate, love, anger, confusion, pain, respect...all in one man. "But I'll need your help," She chuckled, "To learn what to do and what not to do. I...have no idea how to be free." 

 

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"I'm sorry," he said, though he didn't know quite why he was apologising. "Like I said, it's all about control, with him."

He sighed, again. "There's a reason I don't come round any more." Mostly it was to do with he son and being confronted, every time, with the reminder that he couldn't be any more than another freedman client (not that Tertius had any other freedmen, although he had plenty of clients).

"I could wish Wulfric had been related to anyone else - he didn't deserve to have Tertius for a father and get treated the way he was." He would have to find his brother before he left - hadn't he said he was going to leave in the spring - and see if he could find some way to maybe attempt to make up for things.

"I don't have any advice for the future," he said. "Don't set your expectations too high, maybe? Maybe he'll be a better husband to you than you think - I hope he'll be a better father to your son than he was, is, for me."

He managed a laugh of his own. "If you think I know the first thing about being a free woman, you're wrong. I'll do what I can though, what do you want help with, in particular?"

 

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She bristled uncomfortably both at the mention of why Teutus didn't come around any more, and Wulfric. She was to blame for both and she felt a surge of guilt for both the son sat in front of her, and the other, somewhere in Rome. She was half tempted to reach out to Wulfric, to try and explain but shut that idea down quickly. He was still a threat to her son, even if she now had her freedom. Tertius would be in his sixties by the time Peregrinus came into his majority which meant there was about 16 years to go whilst Wulfric roamed the earth, a potential heir. 

"I think he will," She said with a complete lack of confidence, "He seems intent on a proper marriage. On being a proper husband. He mentioned his late wife...and what a good match they had." And she believed him. And believed he wanted to make a proper go of it. She knew that he rarely freed slaves and so to do so for her was fairly monumental. She wasn't going to waste the opportunity by doubting him...much.

She chuckled at his own laugh, grinning as she sunk lower into her chair like a petulant school child. "I...don't know how to act around dominus....Tertius' clients. His friends. Fancy people. They won't respect me..." 

 

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"Well..." She looked like a scared mouse. Or Antonia Varia being petulant and stubborn, so not scared as much as sulky. Did mice sulk? Probably not.

"Not like that, at any rate," he said, trying not to laugh. "Come here."

He got up, and took her hand to pull her up out of her seat. "You just stand up very straight and you look down your nose at them as if they stepped in something absolutely unspeakable outside your door and now they're going to track dog shit all over your clean floors. They probably won't expect you to be there for the morning salutatio, at least, and you can practise being a proper Roman lady for formal meals, that's easy enough."

 

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She groaned but managed a little laugh, letting herself be tugged up to standing by him, although one hand still held the cup of wine loosely. She was amused. In his self-imposed exile from Tertius' house, she'd forgotten how fun Teutus could be. 

"Like this?" She asked as she straightened her spine and glanced down with a mortally offended look. It didn't have quite the same effect as his own stance had of course, given her diminutive height. She sighed and her posture shifted again as she looked at him uneasily. "Is it easy enough? I know nothing about their lives, what on earth will I talk to them about? All I know is how to be a slave in Rome, and how to be a blacksmith's daughter in Britannia...neither of which, I'm sure, are suitable conversation topics..." 

 

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"Keep your back straight, that's half of it, or more," he told her. "And I'll tell you a secret. You ask about them and act interested in what they have to say and they will think you are the most fascinating person they've ever met. And you won't have to say very much at all if you don't want. Let them rattle on all night about their wife and their unspeakable children and laugh at all the utterly dull jokes they've told a thousand times. Everything you've probably done as a slave, I know. Except this time you get to make all the uh-huh and umm and oh, really? how very interesting noises you could possibly want to."

He pulled her over to where there were two couches set up to one side of the room and he reclined on one, leaving the other for her. "This is the bit you'll find the hardest, I think. Cup in your right hand, tuck that bolster under your left elbow. Everything's done with the right hand."

That was conversation with the men dealt with; they would be easy enough to flatter into thinking she was interesting and a good hostess. "The women, on the other hand... You've got a son, you can talk about him. If you can persuade my father to take you to the theatre, that'll give you something else to talk about. Maybe the races. Probably not the games, I don't think you'd like watching gladiator fights." Or worse, and what generally took place during the intervals between bouts could be unspeakably worse, this being Rome and all.

 

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She followed him, amused, but taking in what he was saying. It was not wildly different to when she was a wife in Britannia - Immin had courted various acquaintances for his work who she was required to host. She tried to tell herself that this was no different...despite the fact that Immin hadn't been important and Tertius was one of the pre-eminent men in Rome. 

She glanced at the couches but sat down, shifting the voluminous material of her stola so she could lie down properly. It felt uncomfortable. Even on Saturnalia's when she'd been allowed on the couches she had sat down by virtue of all the salves crammed in, not reclined. She tried her best to listen to him and tucked a bolster under her left arm. It felt odd though and she tried to practice placing her wine down and picking it up. She only spilled a few drops. She had better practice. "The women I'm sure will be mortally offended dominus chose me, and not them." Apparently Tertius was quite the bachelor. She was sure they'd be offended he'd picked his slave girl and not some nice, virginal, well-bred young woman. "I've been to the games," She offered, "He took me to one between Alexius and Thessala - the Thracian witch..." she smirked at the epithet. "But you're right. I need something to talk about besides my son." She sighed and shifted so she was led on her back on the couch. She was sure this was not what she was supposed to do but still. "What do you like to talk about, with well-bred young women?" She asked glanced at him, teasing.

 

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He went to retrieve their snacks before settling back down and helping himself to a date. "Ah. I'm a freedman with my own business, I don't really talk to well-bred young women socially. Maybe when they come shopping, and then of course I need to know what they're looking for - are they redecorating the atrium or are they looking for a birthday present for dearest Pater, perhaps? Or spending their own allowance on pretty things for themselves."

He should probably start looking for a wife soon, but right now he was comfortable enough without getting dragged out to very dull social affairs and watching even duller Senators get so drunk that they needed the house slaves to dump them in their litters to be taken home to sober up.

Despite his words of earlier he removed the date stone wit his fingers, carefully putting it on the edge of the plate.

"I wonder... if my father is going to insist you're his wife and you're to be treated that way, maybe think about doing a bit of redecorating? That's something else you could bring up as a subject - you'll find your way, Charis, you always do."

 

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"You're the son of a Praetor," She countered. From what she understood, that mattered. "And you're young and handsome. I don't see any reason why you can't talk to nice well-bred young women, Teutus." She arched a brow. She'd often thought that a wife would suit him. Ground him. He'd had such little permanency with his own upbringing and his own parents that having a wife and a brood of his own would surely provide some of that stability that he craved?

She groaned and went back to staring at his ceiling at the thought. "I don't care about redecorating. I used to be...practical. Before this, before all of this." she sighed, her memories drifting further back to the before time"I used to run my father and my  husbands business. I'd take our work to the forts to sell, I'd handle the accounts, I'd entertain the clients." She sighed, "I cooked and I stitched and I spent time with friends. I...don't think this sort of freedom is the same. Roman women are different. And not in a good way." She glanced sidelong at him, "But I'll look into redecorating. And your father has suggested I could act as a temporary secretary for him, now I can read and write." Although she wasn't exceptionally proficient in either. "And perhaps I'll pursue some other feminine hobbies..." She winced, trying to recall one, "Shopping or something. What does your mother do, with her days?" 

 

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"The illegitimate freedman son," Teutus countered mildly. "And I didn't say I can't, I just said I don't. I haven't met anyone I'd consider marrying - let alone met one whose father would be happy marrying her to someone like me." He reached for a ball of globi and gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Let's face it, you're going to be the acknowledged wife of a Praetor, which outranks me by far too much, according to all the gossipy hens. If I could inherit, that would be one thing, but I can't so I'll end up marrying some plebeian girl, probably. That doesn't mean she's necessarily going to be a fishwife or one of a basket-weaver's dozen brats or anything. Even plebeians can be senators - Cicero was, if you've ever heard of him?"

He perked up a bit. "That's something, though - you'll be able to handle the household accounts and stuff, which is something Roman women do. I used to, after Antonia Justa died and he made me his secretary." He popped the deep-fried ball into his mouth and had to lick poppy seeds from his fingers before chewing thoughtfully.

"My mother runs the household here - though it's only small. She cooks - you wouldn't do that, but you'd probably end up discussing menus and things with Rhoda. She spins and weaves, very good traditional things for Roman women, though she does it because she likes it. She makes sure that everyone has clothes in good condition - you could do that, or delegate that or part of it."

He washed the cheese ball down with some mulsum. "You'd be a mother to my sister - what does Antonia think about all of this?"

 

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"I've never heard of him." Charis admitted sheepishly, which was an excellent example of how she was so unsuited to the role she now found herself in. But the way Teutus spoke prompted a quirked brow from his younger step-mother; "She can be nice and pretty as well as important. Or maybe you'll find just a lovely basket-weaver." She managed a weak grin in jest. Teutus deserved the happy home life he hadn't been afforded himself, she thought briefly. So did she, for that matter, but that would not be forthcoming any time soon. 

The small mercy of running Tertius accounts was something, it would keep her occupied and engaged with her mind which was something that had been sorely lacking during her time as a slave. It was generous of him, and she found herself relax slightly at the thought. She didn't want to be shunted off to a spare room to be forgotten about until called upon to look pretty and act the cultured savage at parties. His comments of his mother made her smile though. "She's delighted, Antonia I mean. She wants to take me shopping tomorrow." She cast Teutus a sidelong glance of amusement and then sighed, reluctantly pulling herself back onto her side. "I...would like to meet your mother properly as well. If you'll allow me to." She cleared her throat and sighed, shaking her head. "Did she tell you she came to visit Tertius? I think that's what prompted...this." She gestured at herself. "He seemed so comfortable around her. I...haven't seen him like that much before." 

 

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"He lived about a hundred years ago, he was a lawyer and a very successful one, he became a senator and rose to become Consul. There was a civil war between a man called Gaius Julius Caesar, on one side, and Cicero and some other men were on the other side. They lost but arranged to assassinate Julius Caesar." He watched her face and laughed. "I suppose it is all just as dull as it sounds, really. That was the end of the Republic, though, because Julius Caesar's heir was a man who took the title Augustus, who founded what we have now, the Principate. Which is why you might hear my father or other senators refer to Caesar, or the Augustus, because those have become titles that the Emperor uses."

He pointed his wine-cup at her. "If you think I'd marry someone just because she's rich and well-connected, you're wrong. I don't need connections, not like that. Well, not political connections, anyway." He sighed; maybe he would have, if Tertius had been able to do what he'd always said he wanted to do. But he couldn't, and Teutus hadn't been about to laze around on his father's generosity, reminding Tertius of yet another way he'd failed. He felt he was enough of a disappointment to his father - maybe they would have a better relationship if he'd been acknowledged at birth.

It was hardly surprising that Tertius fought so much to be in control of everything nowadays, considering how much his current relationships had been dictated by his father's actions.

"Antonia is... Well, I won't say she isn't spoiled, because she is. But she's generous and if she likes you..." His smile was perhaps a little watery; his own relationship with his sister was not without its own issues because he'd been a slave for most of her life and that was enough to tarnish anything. But he loved Antonia for her own sake - he really needed to make sure that relationship wasn't too damaged. "She's also young enough to drag you around to all of her favourite places and buy all of the things. Take her to Livia's Portico, you'll at least get a chance to sit down and look at the gardens when you need a rest."

He reached for a date, pausing as Charis mentioned Varinia. "No... she didn't," he said slowly, and had to pause again to remove the date stone. "I should have guessed she would though - and no, I wouldn't have stopped her if I'd known." He couldn't begin to think what sort of friendship Charis and Varinia might develop, if left to it. "Of course you can, why would I stop you?"

Gods knew Charis needed friends, and Varinia had always been the sort of person to befriend anyone who'd let her. He would let them find their own equilibrium between the two of them, the older woman and the younger, Tertius' former lover and his current concubina.

 

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Charis noted his weak smile and understood. She'd been ordered around by Antonia for the last three years, since she'd been in Rome, but the girl seemed to see Charis' freedom as a novelty now and she was going to ride that wave. It was convenient that she also doted on Peregrinus (again, she imagined as a novelty after so many years of being the only young child in the house). She  nodded at his instructions about the Portico. It was still so odd to her that she could simply come and go wherever she wished too as she pleased, with a full coin purse from Tertius' allowance. 

Curious that Varinia didn't mention it. She quirked an eyebrow at Teutus as he spoke. "Because it might be awkward." She chuckled, "I...have to admit when she visited the domus I wasn't best pleased. I hadn't seen your father look at somebody like that for well...ever really. I," she swallowed and shifted awkwardly on the couch, "I imagined he might pick up where he left off. He dismissed me when she came over, didn't even look at me, all he could see was her." Which was exactly how Teutus felt about Peregrinus she imagined and a wave of guilt almost knocked the air from her chest. "But now it's all resolved, maybe...maybe I could come over for dinner? I'd like to get to know her better, I think." Tertius was not invited to that.

 

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"I've lived with awkward for the last... oh, years. Why change the habit of a lifetime?"

She continued speaking, though, and he sighed. Well, that was exactly what he'd seen in his father's face when he looked at Peregrinus - with the exception that he hadn't replaced Charis with Varinia. Teutus and his mother were both excluded from Tertius' nice cosy family life, even if his father wanted to include Teutus in it somehow. It would never be on equal footing with his new child and surely he would come to appreciate the fact that Teutus was no longer there to make things uncomfortable for him and Charis and Peregrinus?

"Of course you can come for dinner - shall we say in a couple of weeks or so, once the Saturnalia nonsense has died down and everyone's got over their hangovers?" He hoped that she would not feel the need to bring her infant son with her, though.

 

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She smiled, genuinely relieved that he accepted the idea and she nodded. "Yes, please. I promise not to bring your father." She added with an amused smile. She wasn't sure if Tertius had ever visited his son in his own home, or whether he summoned him to the domus when he wanted to speak. Knowing the man, it was far more likely to be the latter. 

"I...could bring Peregrinus?" She offered with a wince, watching his reaction carefully. "Your mother inferred she'd like to spend more time with him and I know...I know how you feel, and I won't force it but..." She shrugged with a sigh, "He's an infant and he is your brother and..." She flicked blue eyes up to his, "He needs another man in his life who he can look up to," ...that is not your father.

 

TAG: @Sharpie

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