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Cottia does not look like a man.

Not even in braccae, not even with her breasts bound and her tunic hiked up and belted tight, not with her long hair tucked back under the hood of her cloak. It is not, then, a matter of clothing. This she knows, as she considers her appearance, or what she can see of it, distorted in the little bronze hand-mirror she has in her room. The light is good today, and likely she could catch her own reflection in the impluvium water, but she does not dare the rest of the house, not in these clothes.

They are Marcus' clothes, Marcus' old clothes that he had left behind, worn enough that Aquila's slaves had considered them past mending. But she was watching when they went to throw them out, and she had rescued them, had stolen them safely away. Cub had sniffed at them a little, recognizing Marcus' scent, though to her they smelled like nothing but wool. They were easy to put on, and she had thought maybe that that would be the trick of it, that she would be transformed, that she could have looked a man and followed Marcus.

But she still looks like Cottia, wearing Marcus' clothes. It is not the answer.

The issue is not her size, either. Oh, she is not tall and queenly, like so many British women -- like her own mother, she thinks jealously -- but she is hardly short. She has met men shorter than her. Of course, all of them were Romans.

Marcus is likely shorter than her, she thinks, and she bites her lip as she knows she has found the heart of the problem. She shakes the cloak hood back, pulls out a hairpin, and then lets the rest of her hair fall. It had been pulling at her scalp, anyway. She remembers Marcus' face as he left, pressing the armilla into her hands. She has grown now, even in these months; she fancies that the bracelet does not look quite so outlandishly huge on her thin arm. She is taller, too; if Marcus comes back -- when he comes back -- she is sure she will be taller than him. Perhaps he will not expect that. Perhaps he will expect her to be forever the same, while she has been waiting. As if staying here means she will not have grown up.

She could have gone with them.

She should have gone with them.

It is something about her face, about her eyes or nose, or the set of her cheekbones, and that she cannot conceal. Perhaps it is the way she holds herself. Something fixed, immutable. Nothing she could have disguised, and it is foolish to think she could have.

But even that should not matter. It is not as if women do not live in the north; why, they could just as easily tell anyone that they were married. And if they are called upon to fight for Marcus' Eagle -- why, Cottia can stab as well as anyone, and run and hide too. Likely Marcus and Esca are hiding right now.

But he did not ask her to go. He would never have asked.

So she is here with Marcus' bracelet, and Marcus' wolf, and Marcus' clothes that actually do fit her rather well, pretending a thing that cannot happen. And Marcus will come back -- there is no point thinking of the alternative -- and he will be changed too. He cannot avoid it. Neither of them can. But it will be a good life with him, she is sure of that.

She only wishes she could have gone.