We Live in the Hearts
We Live in the Hearts of those We Leave Behind

The (Little) Author's Note:

                (and Disclaimer)

First and foremost, they're not mine.  I only wish they were.  "Gladiator" and its characters are the property of Dreamworks.  I'm only playing with the toys, Mom, and I'll put them away when I'm done.  Neatly, too – I promise.

This is the sequel to my story, "Echoes in Eternity."  If you haven't read that, I suggest you do so first, but if you really don't want to, suffice it to say that this is an alternate universe which "Echoes" set up for me to play in.  All else spoils the story.  Oh, by the way, if you like Quintus, this is a good one for you.

Please R+R and let me know what you think.  I have lots of other ideas, so let me know if I should keep going.

Strength and Honor.

Robin

madwookie@prodigy.net

www.felixlegions.com

Prologue:

The room was full of silent onlookers, but only two hovered near the bed.  The old man forced a smile for his family; his goodbyes to his daughter and grandson were done, as were those to his estranged son, who stood far away, his back to the wall and avoiding all gazes that turned his way.  Not far away, a handmaiden led young Lucius from the room, aware that the end was near, and grandson of greatness or no, the boy was not yet nine.  Only the hardest words were left to be said to his true son, the man he had inherited, adopted, and embraced, though the two were tied by no blood.  For a moment, the old emperor reflected upon what might have been had Commodus, the distant and dark shadow backed against the wall, had sat at his bedside, but then shuddered at the thought.  Rome would die for him…

            "Marcus?" his heir asked worriedly, concern creasing his handsome features.  They both knew it would not be long, it could not be long, now.  Even the inevitable could only be delayed so much.  Weakly, Aurelius reached out to touch the general's cheek; a solitary tear was warm to his touch.  He smiled; now, there were no regrets, save that he had no more time to spend with them.

            "How many times," he mused quietly, "have you said that 'what we do in life echoes in eternity'?"  A slight smile touched the younger man's saddened face as the emperor continued.  "I see that now…and you are my legacy, Maximus.  You will be great."

            Maximus seemed to force a smile, barely controlled emotion rushing across his face, but the emperor knew him well.  He was more than ready for this challenge.  The dream lived on within him.

            "I will miss you," the younger man finally choked out, uncharacteristic emotion filling his voice.  Their eyes met, one set old and weary, the other young and alive – although both were saddened by what each knew must come, years of love and loyalty passed between them.  Time had wrought many changes in their world, but not this; never this.

            Wordlessly, they embraced, holding each other one last time.  Years of trust, dependence, and emotion surfaced for a final breath of life before drowning, and the emperor and his heir held on tightly, knowing there would never be a second chance.  Between them, then, a vision passed.  "Lead well, my son," the old man whispered.

            In his ear, the sorrowful reply came.  "Thank you for everything… Father."

            A smile again touched the wrinkled features, and then froze as the breath went out and the Marcus Aurelius went still for all time.  Despite raging emotions, the strong arms did not falter as they laid the old dreamer back upon the pillows.  Trembling fingers reached out to close the still open eyes.

            Wordlessly, Maximus bent to place the ritual farewell kiss upon the slack forehead.  Tears blurred his vision momentarily, as he realized that the future was his alone.  "Father…" he whispered one last time, then rose to gently wrap his arms around his wife, whose tears flowed as heartfully as his own.  Together, they stood, oblivious to the shadows filing out of the room.  From that moment on, both knew that their world, and the dream, was theirs' alone.