Oh, and how ungrateful he
was. She had tried to save him, and
what did that bring her? Despair. Bastard. She'd never bother trying to show him what he'd lost, because he
clearly didn't know or care.
His heart ached madly. She'd thrown it all away, hadn't she? So easily broken his soul in two because he'd so heartfully given
it to her. He'd given her everything
and then had been delegated down to a level below the equal she'd always
claimed he was. He'd sworn an oath to
Rome – couldn't Lucilla see that? He
could not, would not, betray that oath.
It was duty. Maximus could not
fail Rome – even if it meant losing her love.
12 hours later…
What had once been a beautiful
morning had oh so quickly turned into an ugly and lonely evening. The battle long since over, Maximus wandered
listlessly through his camp, acknowledging praise and forcing smiles for his
exuberated men. He was the hero of the
hour, or rather, he knew, probably of their lifetimes. Only his swift actions had saved the battle;
the tactical genius had emerged in full force just in time to save Rome from
another hideous defeat in a war no one thought they would or could win. Rome's darling had saved them all.
by all rights he should have celebrated with them, he just drifted, pain
echoing from his heart to his mind to his soul. Never, not even in childhood, had he felt so lost… His anger,
though perhaps justified, in a twisted sort of way, had long since drowned
beneath the sorrow. What had he
done? Part of him longed to just forget
the past and move on – but he knew that was the cold and lonely part, the
section of his soul that had been grafted since childhood to feel no pain. Unfortunately, he had long since trained his
mind to follow that cold lack of emotion and use only sense and intellect for
guidance. What then, though, was he
supposed to do when his heart screamed so loudly?
between tears and screaming, and only holding onto her control by sheer force
of will, Lucilla still had refused to see anyone. Or rather, she had returned to the position she had held before
her father had intruded on her solace.
Telling him the story had only made the pain increase one thousand fold,
and just when she'd thought moving on was possible, her heart had broken once
more. Pride, though, kept her strong,
and the princess was beyond such foolish displays now. Her mind had always known that the match
would never work – even as her father's general, Maximus was still a minor
Spanish farmer. Yes, his family had
roots in Rome, in the senate, but that was certainly far from enough for the
Imperial princess. It was odd how her
father had humored their love, but inwardly, she knew he had to be rejoicing.
as politically minded as she was, and as accustomed to acting only in Rome's
service, why was she so bitterly disappointed?
Lucilla's cold and cynical side told her that it was better to fall
apart now, of their own violation, then to have their dreams shattered by
another, and watch each other die little by little in another's arms. It's better like this, she told
herself. Less painful in the long
run. Why, then, did her heart still
bleed so badly?
had carried him all over the camp, but finally he could take the stares of his
men no longer and headed toward his own tent.
They loved him too much, but none could understand. Only Quintus had ever even known of his
love, but even his old friend could never comprehend the heartbreak that consumed
him now. What did it matter,
though? There was no turning back. His road was now chosen; fate was now
sealed. A little voice in his head,
though, cried that it wasn't fair. A
small part of him reflected upon how foolish it had been…pride, anger, love…
acknowledge the tears that threatened to rise in his eyes and shoving the canvas
tent flap aside impatiently, Maximus stole into the darkness and relative peace
of his chambers. There, at least, there
was only his heart to torture him.
Thousands of faces didn't gaze worshipfully upon him, thinking he was
something he was not, and the loneliness was physical, which suited him just
fine, for nothing could fill the gaping crevice in his heart.
suddenly, drew his attention. "You did
a foolish thing today, Maximus," Marcus Aurelius said quietly.
vehemently, the general faced his emperor, schooling his features down to
complete control by the time he bowed.
though, he railed. There was enough
pain without this, too, and he knew what the old man would say. Lucilla was his daughter, after all.
waved his bow away with a dismissive sweep of his right hand. "Maximus…" he said quietly, then held up one
finger before the younger man could interject.
"I know I promised you to let this take its course, and I will admit
that, at first, I was furious that my daughter would fall in love with
you. But as time passed, I realized
that the traits that I admire and respect in you are those she loves, and a man
I chose as my friend was more than worthy of Lucilla."
approached, his deep eyes never leaving those of his general, and placed a hand
on Maximus' shoulder. "That was when I
began to realize how right you two were for each other. I never said a word, and I left you alone,
but I cannot say that I did not hope."
pangs of agony sliced through Maximus' soul.
First, he had lost Lucilla, and now… "I am sorry to have disappointed
you, sire," he said quietly.
not disappoint me, Maximus," Aurelius said with a gentle smile. "Not in the way that you think, anyway. Had you and my daughter rationally decided
to part, I would not be here.
"But I look
at both of you, and I see the same expression on two different faces. Pain…Loss…Pride… And I have to wonder if you
have done the right thing."
swallowed hard, staring at the floor, and struggling to keep tears from
forming. The pleadings of his heart
were bad enough without another voice, one he respected and loved so much,
echoing their cries. "I did not have a
choice, sire," he said quietly, knowing and hating that it was true. Thousands more would be dead now, if he had
not acted, and sometimes Rome demanded absolute service…
mean about the battle," the emperor replied.
"I mean your pride, and that you have not turned around, defied fate,
and picked up where you left off."
late for that," the general said heavily, wishing his heart would not pound so
loud. Nothing in the world ever hurt so
much as an absolute truth.
Aurelius challenged him. "When I spoke
to my daughter, I saw in her what I see in you: sadness, and regret… And a
person still very much in love."
Maximus finally dared to look up into the emperor's eyes. Hope he dared not feel…yet Marcus Aurelius
was offering it to him on a silver platter.
And in the long run, he had nothing left to lose…
her," Marcus said softly.
are you sure you want nothing?" the maid asked quietly, fearing another
explosion like the last, yet loyal enough to endure the wild seas if she had
Alicia, I am fine," the princess said quietly.
Her voice was toneless, though, and that worried her handmaiden and
lifelong friend. She had never seen
Lucilla this way; her mistress was always confident and relaxed, never
depressed, and certainly never lost. If
this was what love did to you, Alicia was glad she'd not found it. Quietly, she slipped from the bedchamber.
tent's entrance, though, a shadow blocked her path. The servant gasped, recognizing the general's form immediately,
and surprised that he'd dare show his face.
Despite her lowly station, though, she did not move out of his way. "The princess is not receiving, General,"
she said coldly.
expressionless face gave nothing away.
"I know," he said quietly, and Alicia fancied that his voice cracked…
perhaps all was not as it seemed. "But
I am talking to her anyway."
warning, Maximus slipped by her and strode into the tent.
heard the footsteps reentering her chamber, and sighed quietly in vexation to
herself. Would no one leave her alone
with her heartbreak? Had she not
experienced enough pain because of losing him? At the mere thought of her onetime lover, the princess was
tempted to burst into tears once more. Maximus… It had been easy to remain angry at
first. The fury had come hot, fast, and
naturally. Now, however, there was only
a painful emptiness in its wake. She
wanted him back so badly…
"I told you
that I wanted to be alone," she said wearily, not even bothering to look over
her shoulder at Alicia.
did not answer, and Lucilla began to wonder if she were imagining things. Perhaps no one had entered after all… If so,
good for them. She only wanted peace
and quiet, even though it meant that she would be wallowing in her own grief –
at least it would keep her busy. Busy,
yes; busy feeling sorry for herself.
came from behind her and startled her to the very core of her being. She knew that voice. She loved that voice… Longing surfaced
immediately, but was quickly replaced by anger. The bastard dared show his face here, in her tent, uninvited? It mattered not that he'd done so a million
times before; fresh in her mind was the fight they'd had in that very tent, and
the words he had said, the insults she had spat… How could he dare come there?
Didn't he realize how deeply she was hurt?
Damn him –
his voice was emotionless, as it almost always was. Again, he was controlled and calm, impenetrable. The perfect little Roman general, everything
her father wanted him to be. The hero
of the hour had arrived, for what? To
gloat? To say 'I told you so'?"
you want?" Lucilla asked bitterly, spinning on her old lover with a vengeance.
But he was
standing so very close to her when she turned… close enough to touch – yet so
far away, separated by their wide gulf of anger and fears. Fury flared immediately within her soul, and
Lucilla felt her fists clench in anger.
She didn't need to talk to him, or to hear whatever arrogant
things he had to say. Now was not the
time, not when her heart lay shattered in pieces at his feet. A thousand heated responses came immediately
to her mind, until she saw his face.
however, quickly dissipated when she saw the tears in his eyes.
"I came to
talk to you," Maximus said quietly, the legendary control gone. "I came to apologize."
could not stop the bitter reply.
"Whatever for?" Lucilla snapped.
"You were right."
flashed over his handsome features, and the sadness – had she imagined it? –
abruptly disappeared. Eyes narrowing,
Maximus faced her, cold and hard once more.
"I guess I was," he retorted.
"About more than one thing."
further word, he spun on his heel and stalked away from her.
heart crashed. Was she a fool, or was
she imagining things once more? She had
never known that love could be so hard to let go of… "And what is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
Part of her
expected him to keep walking, but, instead, Maximus whirled around to face her
once more. Pained anger captivated his
features in an expression the princess had never seen before. "You're not even worth it," he snarled, his
voice thick with emotion.
Lucilla shot back, her own anger rising to match his. Quite aptly, they were picking up almost exactly where they had
left off. The same pain, the same
betrayal, and the same desperation and ignorance of fate were once again
present. "Letting go of your precious
Maximus strode forward once more, grabbing her arms so roughly that it hurt,
and not allowing her to turn or to pull away.
"I came here to apologize!" he cried.
Then his voice suddenly died into a raw whisper, and a vulnerability
entered his features that she had never seen before. "I came here to say I was sorry…"
speechless, Lucilla could only stare as he continued. If I had only one wish…
She could feel his hands trembling on her arms.
"I came to
tell you that I love you, and I don't want to lose you." His words came out in a rush, but she saw
the features hardening into stone once more the moment the statement had passed
his lips. "I guess I was wrong."
As he pulled away, the princess'
world froze into that moment, and that decision. She could stand fast and be prepared to do her duty for Rome –
which would necessitate, she knew, marrying a man of her father's choosing, and
thus cause her to lose Maximus eventually, anyway – or she could simply throw
herself into the arms of the man she loved.
She could be a coward or take a chance in the name of love; she could
through her heart to the winds and pray for a fairy-tale ending. Lucilla stood motionless, watching his back
and feeling tears of her own rising hot in her eyes. In the end, though, it was a decision that only her heart could
Her voice caught in her throat as
she tried to call his name.
Matching tears were shining on the
general's face as he turned. He looked
to her, and, for the first time, the princess realized that his heart had
broken as well. How could she have
forgotten that, after all the love they had shared…? How could she have tried so desperately to remain wrapped up in
herself that she could so completely ignore the man that she loved with all her
heart and soul?
"Don't go," she whispered. "I don't want to lose you, either."
In three quick strides, Maximus
covered the distance between them, and before she even made a conscious
decision to act, Lucilla had thrown herself into his strong arms, which
encircled her with such warmth and love that her foolish mind could not
comprehend why she had ever left.
Burying her face into his shoulder, the princess allowed herself to cry
from relief… For suddenly, the future seemed so much brighter by his side.
"I love you," Lucilla said through
His answer was a deep and passionate
kiss that only broke apart when the biological need for air assaulted them
both. "I love you, too," Maximus
replied, and Lucilla felt his strong, but ever so gentle, hands brushing her
tears away. Smiling gratefully, she did
the same for him. "I will always love
you," he said.
Tightening her grip around his neck
once more – for indeed, Lucilla was almost afraid that he would disappear, and
this would all become such a sweet and ending dream – she said quietly, "Make
me promise you something, Maximus."
"Only if we both promise never to
let pride do that to us again," he replied, reading her mind. "I do not want to think about life without
Foolish though they were, the words
left her mouth of their own violation.
"And I promise that you will never have to."
If Maximus knew how impossible that
would come to be, he gave no sign. The
general only pulled her closer, and they stood, silently together, each lost in
hopes and dreams… The future would not come easily, but, somehow, it seemed far
An aging face smiled to see them as
such, wrapped in each other's arms, finally at peace once more. Perhaps, the future would show them how much
stronger they were together than apart, but for now, he was content to see them
happy. If I could only have one wish,
the old man mused, it would be to see them never be so foolish again. Silently, he prayed to gods he usually chose
to ignore. Let them be together, he
urged the skies. Give them both what they need so badly.
And preserve my empire while you're
You can't deny
what the heart wants –
No matter what life deems
Author's Note and Disclaimer: None of it belongs to me, as we all well know. I promise I'll put the toys back in the box
when I'm done playing, and since I go to a military college, the box will probably
be neater than it started out being… Oh, and yeah, I ganked the title from the Lonestar
song, "Love is Stronger than Pride," too.
Great song, but it doesn't belong to me, either. Don't sue me. I'm a poor college student who wouldn't be at Norwich without a
scholarship. By the way, I'd be
grateful for Reviews.
PS – foreshadowing, here,
anyone? Look for this sucker's "sequel"
of sorts, What Price We Pay…To See Our Dreams Fulfilled.