If this looks familiar to you -- it should. I'm moving many of my one-shots over to this account.

Author's Note: How sad is it that this fandom's only semi-active? It's a totally awesome movie. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll just be leaving ya'll with this little one-shot.

Disclaimer: Yeah, like I'm brilliant enough to create Gladiator. You flatter me.


He doesn't mean it when he says "I love you."

Not in reference to me, anyway. He says "I love you," and he means it with all his heart, but that whisper, hot from his breath in my ear, is directed at her. I'm not even a person to him. Only a stand-in; having no more amorous value than his hand would -- I'm simply ... more effective.

I was cursed with her hair color, and a similar shape of face and eyes. I was born a slave, and I have accepted my duty accordingly, I suppose. I would know no other way. One cannot deny the commands of a prince -- of the Emperor's own son; next to become Emperor, someday. One would think this would give me some level of power -- sharing a bed with the great and noble Commodus. But I am still nothing. And so is he.

I wonder at what the people would say -- at what the Senate would consider and plot -- if they all knew his secret sickening longings. We are Rome; a man who lusts for a woman not his wife is acceptable -- even a man who longs for another man -- but a sister? Even the twisted vision of normalcy here cannot quite stomach incest.

But they would, were Marcus Aurelius dead and Lucilla an unmarried woman. These two obstacles removed, my concubinage would be ended. Were Commodus Emperor now, all of Rome would have to open its throat a little wider and swallow the idea of its ruler bedding his own kin.

I doubt such a time should ever come. Oh, I have seen Marcus Aurelius -- watched his aging face and heavy eyes stare over his villa when he believes there is no one to see him, and come to realize the truly old man he is. The weight of an empire could break bones, and he has held up Rome a long while. In the next few years, I imagine he'll be in Elysium. I pray he finds rest there. I don't know why I feel affection for him.

He stares at me sometimes, with dark, hard eyes. Maybe he suspects I am a spy, or some kind of assassin. He overestimates me. I am nothing. I do not even attend banquets on his son's arm, nor gain the privelege of sitting in his company while he talks of matters vital or vain. Commodus does not like to see me in the daylight.

The shadows of an ending day must concoct the right shapes over my face. As the day slowly renders itself to night, he sends for me, and in the dark he must imagine he sees her in me. I feel the full extent of his love in the tenderness of his eyes and hands. When I'm away from him, sometimes I cry. Sometimes I cry for him -- that, had he only felt such love for any other woman, then he could truly be satisfied. But most of the time I cry for me. Because feeling the strength of his passion makes me jealous to have it for myself. I cry because he only loves her, even though I am the one that holds him far into the night. Sometimes I want to scream at him, "Is it not I in your arms? She is your sister, fool! And a married woman with a son besides! Can you not love me? Can you not even at least pay me the kindness of whispering my name?"

But it's always hers. Lucilla ... hot and passionate on his moist breath. Lucilla ... Lucilla ... Lucilla ...

He does not love me. He'll never love me. And if the occasion should come that he must take a wife, even then it will not be me. I am below him. And even if I were not, I would still be nothing to him.

Commodus will never marry. He loves her. He would make love to no other woman besides her, were it not for lusts of his mind that had to be satisfisied, lest it would drive him mad. I am only a stand-in. A replacement, because Marcus Aurelius is hanging on to his life by a thread, and Lucilla's husband is virile and strong. He will use me because he will never have the chance to truly get his own way.

But I suppose I am grateful for all this. He does not love me; he never will. But I experience his love and passion, and over the years of my servitude I have developed my own kind of imagined love-returned. In it, Commodus calls me by my own name, and he looks me in the eye in the sizzling brilliance of midday. I suppose I have come to love him; at some point, I must have let down my guard long enough to believe that his physical passion was secretly meant for me. As long as his father lives, I suppose I can keep on believing my hidden delusion. When Commodus is Emperor, many things could occur. He could have Lucilla's husband murdered, and take her as his own. She would be powerless; only as long as lifesbreath is in Marcus Aurelius am I truly safe to pretend I feel his love.

Long live the Emperor.