He was seven when he first dreamed of his death. Octavian remembers it clearly and he remembers that he wasn't frightened. Everything was red and there were birds, black and large, fluttering through the room. He was alone, collapsed on a floor, his robes heavy and wet. He couldn't see anything except the sun through a window and the birds that flew everywhere. Underneath the squawking of the birds, he could hear his own breath coming sharp and ragged, and he moaned at one point, though he felt no pain.
The dream came back, weighing at his attempts to sleep nearly every time he closed his eyes. Every night he tried to see something, someone, tried to assign blame or reason, but there was nothing. He would wake, tossing, Octavia's wide, calm eyes staring down at him, her hand smooth and dry like sand on his forehead.
"You were dreaming?" she asked as her fingers traced circles over his temple, a gentle smile hovering at her lips.
Octavian swallowed air and shook his head, causing his sister's fingers to fall against the pillow. "I don't-- Perhaps." He didn't mean to lie then, not like all the times to come, and he'll never know why he didn't tell her about the bird and the blood and the lack of any feeling except confusion.
"Shh--" Octavia soothed, folding her hands in her lap. "I'll stay until you sleep again." She resettled herself on Octavian's mattress and tipped her head to watch him.
Octavian didn't sleep, just breathed slowly and rested his left hand on his stomach, eyes not-quite closed so that he could watch Octavia stare out the window and wait for him to drift off.
After a month of dreams and inconstant sleep, Octavian's nurse died and the dreams stopped, but Octavia still checked on him every night before retiring to her own chamber.
Octavian stands at the altar, the wedding contract in his hands. The sacrifice took place outside, but Octavian turns his eyes to his sister and he can still smell the pig's blood. Under her veil Octavia stares at the bottom of her tunic so intently that Octavian glances at it as well, but there is nothing to see but smooth flannel.
Octavian looks at the group of men gathered in his mother's house, all carefully still and Octavian wonders if they will be loyal to him when war comes or if Antony has already claimed them.
Antony coughs and grins, twisted and lopsided, and Octavian frowns as he presents the wedding contract. Antony nods, Octavia lifts her head and blinks, not looking anywhere but straight ahead. The men press in to take the contract from Octavian's hands, their togas fluttering as they all sign that they witnessed this marriage and blocking his sister from his view. Octavian swallows a moan and moves to clasp Antony's shoulder in congratulations.
"It is a good marriage," Octavian says and from across the room he hears his mother's laughter clatter against her wine glass.
Antony is still grinning and Octavian wants to know how Caesar felt when his closest ally smiled like a disloyal prostitute. "It has brought us closer together already, brother," he says. "The treaty will stand, the Roman world ours to share."
Octavia glides by, her shoes on the floor the same color as her veil. She nods her head at Antony and he follows her towards the breakfast table. Octavian knows that he will not be able to eat anything.
Julia Caesaris's funeral was a state affair, Senators and Patricians packed into the room, all serious set faces and somber attitudes. Pompey clasped Octavian's shoulder as he passed to the front to begin his oration and Octavian stared at Pompey's long, graying fingers. Before Octavian started speaking, he stared out at the crowd, watched Cicero fussily adjust his toga and understood that death was just another political affair.
After, Octavian couldn't recall anything he'd said, but all in attendance said that he'd given his grandmother a beautiful tribute. He nodded and resisted the urge to pull at his curls as each person pressed closer and closer to him, jockeying for favor he didn't know he could bestow.
"Senators," Octavia's voice was quiet, but from Octavian's angle it seemed to rend the entire crowd into three pieces, all moving away from her as she moved towards him. "My brother is still young and it has been a long day. Our uncle--" Here the crowd seemed to move again, surging like the ocean forward and then back as she continued, "has asked to see him in private."
Octavian nodded at the men around him, could see each one decide they'd been honored or snubbed depending on the way the sun reflected off his pupils or something equally insignificant as he said goodbye. Octavia gestured for him to lead her away and he did, one hand resting lightly on her elbow.
"Caesar wants to see me?" Octavian sees his uncle in conversation with Pompey and frowns.
Octavia laughs. "Not at all. You just looked terribly annoyed with that group of politicians around you."
"They think I can give them favor with our uncle." Octavian watches the way his sister's lips curve upward towards the shadows at the edge of her eyes. "Clearly, they do not realize that before today it is entirely possible he did not know he was my uncle."
She laughs again, but waves away the thought. "Be still." Her face falls and she stops him, pressing a hand into his curls and pulling at them. "It was a worthy speech, though. You spoke beautifully. Like poetry."
Octavian will never remember what he said about his grandmother, but when asked later he will always note that his sister felt it was a fitting tribute.
"Our mother killed my first husband." Octavia looks up from what she is reading and looks at the wall just behind Octavian.
He doesn't bother to say that their mother did no such thing because it was always ridiculously nave to believe anything else. He nods and waits for Octavia to continue. She doesn't, though, so he rests his hand on his knee and asks, "Yes?"
"It is something that I tried at great lengths to lie to myself about." She blinks and then rests her head against the wall. "I sometimes wonder how all these other things would have turned out if she had let him live."
Octavian rolls his eyes and doesn't say that he understands his mother's reasons. She may not have been smart, but she was as political as any other Julii. He can not say that she made the wrong decision, so he rolls his eyes and "That is a lot of time to relive," is all he says.
Octavia nods and turns back to her poetry. "And we avoid what causes pain and seek out pleasure." She has been reading Lucretius constantly.
"That poem is making you tediously melancholy," Octavian tells her and his voice sounds like a child's, so he expects her to frown, but instead she smiles, bright enough to make him close his eyes for a moment.
She tosses the book aside and stands up, "That is not what has made me melancholy." She pauses as she leaves the room and rests her hand on his head. "You had curls once."
Octavian nods, the feel of her fingers against his skull bringing up flashes of a past that he is barely able to recall. When his sister was younger, her lips were the color of sacrificial blood and her tears reminded him of the comfort of nightmares. He doesn't think she's cried in years and Octavian knows now that no sacrifice is ever enough. Octavia draws her hand back, smiles again, and walks out, her skirt whisking against the floor until Octavian is left alone in the sunlit room.