"Livia," Octavia said. "What a surprise."
At least she did not try to pretend the surprise was pleasant, Livia thought. Not even Octavia could have made that lie believable. "Octavia. May I come in? After all, we're kin."
"If you must," Octavia said, but she stepped aside.
Livia walked in and moments later, both of them were settled comfortably in the atrium. It was a sunny day and the golden light brought every colour of the murals into vivid life. Octavia had wine brought to them.
"Why are you here?" Octavia asked.
"My condolences for your husbands," Livia said.
"You never knew the first and you despise the second," Octavia said. She drank her wine slowly.
"As do you," Livia said. Her wine was untouched.
Octavia shrugged. "If you say so."
"I do say so. I would know," Livia replied. A more blatant opening she could not make.
Octavia shrugged again. "I've no interest in politics. My brother is... who he is and he will become what he will become. I imagine they'll give him a triumph."
"He can call himself First Citizen all he will, the people will hear nothing but king, still," Livia said.
"You married him, not me." Octavia raised her cup and smiled over the rim. "And he is Caesar, after all."
There was poison enough when she spoke the name to drown the world.
Octavia drank more wine. Livia did not. The silence stretched on. It would have been the perfect moment for the sky to darken or for it to start to rain, but the sun remained as shining as ever and the wine remained as tempting as ever.
The silence grew worse and worse, but Livia would not be the one to break it. Octavia would have to talk politics or be known as a bad host.
"I hear you're remaking your villa," Octavia said. "Have you given any thoughts yet to the garden?"
"I have, quite a bit. Perhaps some plants from Egypt?"
Octavia hummed. "I wouldn't hold an entire garden with those. This is Rome, not Egypt."
"Although, they do have gardens, in Egypt," Octavia said. "But no doubt my brother has told you all about them."
Livia snorted. It was utterly inelegant, but her husband cared nothing for shrubbery. If she wanted to hear about these gardens, she'd have to ask Maecenas, or perhaps Agrippa, but not her husband. But Octavia was here and Octavia knew. "It is as desert country as can be. What more would you tell me?"
Octavia talked. Livia listened. It was a garden and a beautiful one, at that, but far too foreign for Rome. The idea of it, though, a garden behind walls, she could do something with that.
"You're sick of politic?" Livia asked. She was not foolish enough not to have caught Octavia's subject change, but she did like gardens.
"Yes," Octavia said. "It is a game for other people -- my husband, my brother, you."
"For shame. It's no game."
Octavia shrugged. "No? You're making it look like it is. Caesar, Mark Antony, my brother... In the end, Rome remains."
"It remains Rome. But in what form?" Livia asked.
"That's your business," Octavia said.
Livia nodded. Octavia's neutrality was better her becoming Livia's ally. Allies could so easily turn to enemies.
She drank the wine.