Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess (nor any characters ever featured in the shows Xena or Hercules) is not owned by me. I claim no copyrights to the show or characters, and this fan fiction is merely a fan effort of support and love.
Summary: Virgil learns that Caesar had him kidnapped, and Eve confronts Augustus about their past.
Author’s note: Beta services for the rest of this story would be greatly appreciated. If you have any interest in helping, please contact me. caina_fuller AT yahoo.com.
He could almost make out shadows through the thinning material of the black sack that had been shoved over his head, but straining to see only made the dull ache at the base of his skull hurt worse. Virgil’s biggest worry was staying on his feet. His captors pushed him in one direction on one step, and then another direction in another direction on the next step. To make matters worse, the road was old, the stones jutted up unevenly, making him trip every few steps. Whenever this happened his guards would have to pull him up by the arms, straining his muscles. It wasn’t so bad now, but he knew he’d be sore later.
Suddenly the cloth was pulled from his head. The blinding light of the sun sent piercing pain stabbing through his eyes. He blinked rapidly and squinted, trying to adjust his eyes.
They had come to a stop outside of the Forum. Many steps led to the entrance, which was so far up that the doors could barely be seen from street level. One of the guards had pulled out a flask of water, making Virgil’s mouth ache with need. He had been traveling for two days without a drop of water or a bite of food. His lips had blistered from lack of water, and cracked open and bled.
"What are you looking at?"
Virgil swallowed what little spit was left in his mouth. "Drink," he said, his voice rough and dry.
The guard gave him a cruel, mirthless smile, and poured the water into the soil. His fellows laughed sycophantically until Virgil lunged forward, attempting to catch some of the water from the flask into his mouth. This earned him a punch to the kidneys. He cried out in pain and dropped to his knees.
Virgil looked up to the familiar face of Augustus Caesar, a frown upon his face.
"Caesar," said Virgil. "H-help—"
"Silence!" said the guard who’d poured out the water. He cracked a whip across Virgil’s back.
"Stop," said Augustus. "He is to be detained, not abused."
Augustus took Virgil’s chin in his hand and looked over the damage of his face.
"Sir," said Virgil. "I’ve done nothing wrong. I swear it."
"I know. I ordered your capture."
It was like being kicked in the gut, hearing those words.
"But…you knew my father…you knew his best friends, Xena and Gabrielle—"
Augustus betrayed no emotion when he looked Virgil in the eye and said, "Joxer is dead. I repaid my debt to Xena tenfold. I owe you nothing." He looked up at the guard. "He’s not to be beaten by anyone, for any reason. He’s to be given the best cell, the best food and drink. Have a physician look over his wounds. That’s the best I can do for you."
Stunned into silence, and weak from lack of food and water, Virgil didn’t protest as his captors led him away from Augustus.
"Ledricles has given me Virgil," he heard Augustus say. "This means Livia isn’t far behind."
The best cell turned out to have a man already in it. He was, almost literally, a giant. Virgil estimated he was six inches taller than himself, and a good forty pounds heavier. He’d also wager that 95% of that extra forty pounds was solid muscle.
"A gift for me?" the man asked, leering at Virgil.
"Don’t put me in with him," Virgil said. "Caesar won’t like it."
The lead guard looked at the big man in the cell. "Sit on your bunk until we get this one inside."
The man in the cell moved back and sat on his bunk, as ordered. Virgil went in without struggling. He was weak from lack of food and water but he didn’t want to reveal that fact to his new cell mate.
"Don’t touch him, either," said the lead guard, locking the door behind Virgil, who thought that this was pretty poor protection, a half-hearted warning.
"Bottom bunk is mine," said the big man. "But you’re welcome to share mine if you’re bothered by heights, or if you get lonely."
Virgil looked away from him in disgust. "Bring food, water, and wine," he said to the guard with authority he knew full well he didn’t have. He wanted to impress his cell mate, hoping to make the man believe he was more important than he was.
Once the guards were gone, the big man stood up. "You give orders to the guards? How does that work, then?"
"I’ve been detained on Caesar’s orders to stage a trap for a traitor. Caesar favors me. Once the traitor has been captured, I’ll return to my place at the palace."
"What are you then, one of his lovers?"
Virgil didn’t answer. He didn’t want the man to think he was interested in men sexually, but he did want the man to think he was very important to Caesar.
"I’ve answered enough of your questions," said Virgil, hopping onto the top bunk.
The guards came an hour later, pushing a cart with a feast that was fit for Caesar himself. He forced himself to eat slowly, lest he make himself sick. Once he was sure he would be able to hold the spicy foods down, he stuffed himself full, and slipped a carving knife beneath his pillow. He felt somewhat better knowing he was at least armed, should his ruse with the big man watching him eat fail and he had to fight.
"So," he said, once the food was gone. "What’s your name?"
"Good name for a good-looking man."
"You just remember the guards orders, Telephus, and keep your distance."
Virgil lay back, knowing he wouldn’t sleep deeply, but hoping to get some rest. He went into a shallow sleep praying that Eve would find a way to come through and get him the hell out of the dungeon.
As Eve followed Ledricles through the palace, she was struck by the lack of change in the place. Every curtain, every statue, every piece of furniture, even every guard, was exactly where they had been when she’d decided to leave behind her role as Caesar’s champion. It was a strange experience, almost as though she had made no progress in her life, and everything she’d done in the past two years was a dream.
They arrived at a cross section of the corridor. Straight ahead would lead to the servant quarters, while a right turn led to Caesar’s private rooms. The entrance to this corridor was barred by a heavy set of wooden doors and two guards who stood stiffly at attention. Upon sight of Ledricles, however, they moved aside without hesitation.
Eve knew their final destination long before they arrived: her old chambers. Ledricles pushed open the doors and stood aside, beckoning her to enter. She walked inside and felt a mixture of awkwardness and disbelief. Her room, like everything else in the palace, was exactly as she’d left it. A pair of underpants lay on the floor at the foot of the bed, making her remember the day she’d taken them off. It had been the morning of her fight with her mother in the Arena. Her night dress was also hanging half off the bed, where she’d stood to change into her uniform.
"Get bathed and dressed," Ledricles said. His voice still contained that air of disdain, only now it was more pronounced than ever. "You look like the peasant you stupidly insisted on becoming. That won’t do for a meeting with Caesar."
"If he wants to see me, he can see me as I am."
"You’ll get dressed, and you’ll do it now."
"Fine, leave the room."
Ledricles snorted disdainfully. "And give you the chance to escape? I’m not going anywhere. And don’t worry, I won’t get any thrills from seeing you naked. You’re not my type."
Eve moved past him. He was beginning to damage her calm, and calm was something she’d always had in short supply.
It wasn’t until she was fully in the room that she realized they weren’t alone. A servant was inside, standing beside a window. In her arms was a beautiful toga—the same toga she’d seen in her vision. The old woman smiled.
"Mistress Livia. I’ve prepared a bath for you."
"My name is Eve," Eve said, correcting her.
"Yes, mistress, but Caesar has given the order that all of his slaves are to refer to you as Mistress Livia."
Eve didn’t push the subject, since she knew the woman had to obey Caesar’s commands over her wishes.
"I’ll show you to the bath."
"Don’t bother. I remember where it is."
Bathed and dressed, Eve once again followed Ledricles, crossing the short distance from her old chambers to Caesar’s private dining hall. She expected to find Augustus alone, but there were two young men Eve didn’t recognize. They were the first thing different that she’d seen since arriving in Rome. Weary from traveling, Eve felt the start of a headache begin to throb behind her eyes. It was forgotten, however, when Augustus realized she was in the room.
His insincere smile to one of the men fell off his face. He looked at her as though she were a goddess descending from the heavens.
"Ave, Caesar," Eve said with a resentful bow.
"Leave us," Augustus said.
The men looked at one another, unpleasant surprise at being so abruptly dismissed written upon their faces. They stood without word, however, bowed, and left. Ledricles remained planted beside Eve. This earned him a stern look from Augustus.
"I was speaking to you as well, Ledricles."
Anger smoldered in Ledricles’ eyes, but he bowed and left silently. Augustus moved around the table and came to a stop before her.
"Not much of a dinner party with just the two of us," said Eve.
"I’d intended more company but upon seeing you…I…Welcome home, Livia," Augustus said. He leaned toward her, but she turned her head so that his lips connected with her cheek instead of her lips.
"You look happy to see me," Eve said.
"Why wouldn’t I be?"
"I betrayed you with Ares. I left Rome and took some of your best soldiers with me without your permission. I disgraced you—"
Augustus held up his hands. "All of that is in the past, Livia. I’ve forgiven you."
"How kind of you. I would prefer to go by my real name, Eve."
"Livia is your real name. I gave it to you."
Eve watched him closely. Augustus had a strange light burning in the depths of his eyes that was akin to madness.
"My name is Eve," she said again.
"Very well, then. Eve."
He took one of the divans opposite her and clapped his hands. Servants flooded the room, bearing platters of food and flagons of wine. The smell of roasted meat and vegetables, and freshly baked bread filled the room and made her stomach grumble. She took only the vegetables, much to Augustus’ amusement.
"Vegetarian now, are you?"
"I understand the Elijan reasoning behind eating meat, but you didn’t kill this lamb, so you’ve committed no sin."
"It’s true, I didn’t kill the lamb, but I would be condoning the murder of this poor creature if I partake of its flesh."
Augustus laughed. "You can’t murder an animal, Eve, especially if you’re killing it to eat. It’s basic survival."
Secretly she agreed, but she wasn’t going to admit that to him.
"Take a bit of it. You know you want to."
"I’ve learned that life isn’t always about doing what you want, but what you believe to be right, no matter the sacrifice."
She began to eat, tasting some of the fat from the lamb on the vegetables, and she wanted more than ever to spear some of the sliced meat and stuff her mouth with it. Augustus stared at her as she ate, and she wanted to tell him to look at something else, but she kept her silence. She knew how much Augustus loved her. She hadn’t cared before she’d changed, and she couldn’t honestly tell herself that she cared now, but she did understand his feelings. She had never been in love with him. She’d never even been able to feel anything good, or warm, for him.
Once they’d eaten their fill, Eve relaxed against the divan and regarded Augustus.
"Now that we’ve enjoyed dinner and polite conversation, why don’t you tell me what you want, and why you felt you had to take Virgil hostage to get it."
"I want you," Augustus said readily. "Back here, in Rome, as my wife and my champion. I want things the way they were before Xena came back into our lives."
"That would be a nightmare for me," said Eve.
"A dream come true for me."
"That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? What you want, what makes you happy. I’d almost forgotten how selfish you are."
"I am Caesar."
She went to the window and looked up at the sky; it was the clearest she’d ever seen it. The stars twinkled, and they looked so close to the earth that she almost believed she could reach up and pluck one from the heavens. She imagined that what she would find in the palm of her hand would be nothing more than a crystal of ice that would melt in the warmth of her hand.
"You know what my answer will be," she said, sensing the warmth of his body behind her.
"Which is why I took Virgil—to persuade you to consider my request without dismissing it out of hand."
"I believe an honest translation of what you just said would be, ‘To force you to submit to my demands.’"
The weight of Augustus’s hand came to rest on her shoulder. A powerful sense of déjà vu flooded Eve as she turned to face him, wondering if the was the moment that another part of her vision would come true, but she was struck by the vulnerability in his eyes.
"Was there ever a moment, even in its smallest measure, when you loved me?"
"When I was a child. If you had raised me, or allowed Aunt Octavia to raise me near to you, I’d probably have never known Ares. I would have loved you like a father, and we would not be where we are now."
"I meant as a woman loves a man."
Augustus flinched at her words, as though she’d made to slap him.
"You were lying the entire time we were together? Every kiss, every sigh, every touch?"
"All a lie, yes," she said, being brutally honest. "You wanted me, I wanted power. Everything I did with you, or said to you, was a means to an end."
"That’s all you ever were to me, a chariot to carry me to the throne of the Roman Empire so that I would be the first Empress with control, the first really powerful woman in the history of the world—"
"Stop it! Why are you being so cruel?"
"I’m being honest."
He looked deeply saddened when he said, "Nothing quite hurts like the truth, does it?"
Eve nodded. "But isn’t that why you forced me here, to hear the truth?"
"Yes, but I believed the truth to be something else. Something…well, never mind."
Eve leaned against the window sill, her back to the panoramic view of the city. Augustus paced before her, looking old and tired.
"I can understand why you would not want to lead my legions. You’ve lost your thirst for power. As my wife you could do a lot of good, Eve. You could enact laws that would protect the Elijans. You could change the heart of Rome. You could make her honorable and loving."
"You could do all of those things without me," Eve said. "An honorable and loving Rome isn’t what you want."
"Of course it is."
"You want to possess me, Augustus. You want to own me. It’s always been like that."
Anger flared inside Augustus. "I saved you from the gods. I saved you from certain death—"
"Only to leave me to be raised by a hateful woman who showed me nothing but contempt. When the gods suspected I may still be alive and came looking for me, you let them murder another innocent child in my place. Then you dumped me at the Academy to be raised by strangers while you went out to secure your hold on the Senate."
"I took you to the Academy so you’d be safe—"
"And Ares found me. He drove me to hate and kill. You knew something was wrong with me but you did nothing to help me—"
"Help you? I did help you. I helped you rise above the station of a mere woman. I gave you the chance to become as great as any man in history—"
"When you should have been my father, not my commander. And sure as hell not my lover!"
Silence fell between them, filled mostly by the sound of their breathing, which was heavy from shouting. Augustus broke the silence first.
"I wanted you to have it all."
"I did. And look what it did to me."
"There’s another who wants what you walked away from."
"Ledricles. I know."
"Yes. He’s almost as good as you, but he’ll never have the love of the people the way you did, Eve."
"So? Make him your Champion. Announce Ledricles as your successor."
"I could, but you would be—"
"I don’t want to be your warrior, Augustus."
"You don’t have to be. Marry me. Ledricles will lead my legions, and Virgil will be set free."
"You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you? I don’t love you, Augustus."
"But I love you. As long as you’re here, I’m happy. Agree to this arrangement."
"Or I turn you over to Ledricles to do with as he pleases."
Eve laughed derisively. "Not much of a threat, considering he doesn’t even like women."
"There are still many tortures he could visit upon you."
Augustus took her by the shoulders, and in that moment she knew what was coming. She wanted to move, to resist, to try to break the prophetic vision she’d had at Eli’s temple, but she couldn’t. She felt as though she were stuck on some kind of path that she couldn’t step off of, no matter how much she wanted to.
"You claim to love me in one breath, and threaten me in the next."
"I do love you," said Augustus.
"No. You’re just obsessed with having what’s out of your reach."
"I am Caesar," he said softly, but fiercely. "Nothing is out of my reach."
He kissed her deeply, roughly. Eve endured it, but as with all intimate encounters she’d had with Augusts, the moment seemed to stretch on forever, as though time itself were grinding to a halt.
He finally released her and stood back.
"Go back to your room and consider what I’ve said. I’m sure a good night of sleep will help you to see the wisdom of accepting my proposal."
"Sleep won't change my mind, Augustus, but I’m glad we had this talk," said Eve. "I’ve wanted to say those things for years."
Augustus didn’t respond as Eve left the room; she was grateful to be away from him. He brought back too many memories of a past she wanted to forget completely.
If there were no guards outside of her window, she decided, she was going to try and find Virgil. She would go to the secret passage that led to the dungeons from the main hall. To her dismay Ledricles stood in the hall, arms crossed, his usual sour expression firmly in place.
"Surprised to see me?"
"Yes," said Eve. "Disappointed too."
"Well, life is full of disappointments."
He led her to her room and opened the doors.
"I’ve had thorny bushes, as well as guards, put outside your bedroom. Guards will stand guard outside of your room, as well. I wouldn’t want you to try anything stupid, like trying to escape Rome with your friend Virgil."
To Be Continued
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