Special thanks to GoldenRat for beta-reading and to my friend Shatris Lerrran for her eternal patience!
Once in Rome.
A/N According to Watcher CD, one of Rebecca's first known aliases is Xanthia of Miletus. She is going under this name in the following fic.
Rome, 66 BCE.
"The room is ready, lady Xanthia," the dark-skinned slave girl said. "Food and wine are served."
Girl's mistress, Xanthia the Fair, priestess of Venus Erycina, smiled at her, "Thank you, my child. You may go."
The girl vanished; Xanthia stayed, leaning on the temple column and looking at the city. Sunset painted Rome in different colors — it was quite an impressive view. Manius would be proud…
Manius Valerius, the noble consul, one of those who conquered for Rome her first province, the blossoming Sicilia… He brought not only grain and wine, but the cult of Venus Erycina as well. Memories of him still warmed Xanthia's heart. The fearless warrior had been half sure that the golden-haired Immortal had been the goddess herself and not just her humble priestess. He used to say that it had been much harder to win her heart, than the island.
Xanthia sighed. Of course, she would have preferred Sicilia remain independent and Greek, but the glory days of Greek civilization were over, Alexander the Great being the last spark. Younger nations fought over the world now, and for whatever reason she liked Rome more than Carthage. Romans were nearly relatives, and at least they were eager to learn. She had followed Manius to the new centre of the world and after his death stayed here, in the temple he had built for her on Capitoline Hill. She tried to make the Temple of Love as Greek as possible, a place where not only pleasures of body were sought, but also pleasures of mind. And she succeeded; after all, once she'd been one of the founders of hetaera's school in Corinth, she knew what she was doing. Her household, both slaves and free servants, adored her and the temple of Venus Erycina was respected throughout the city, even among the honourable matrons. She'd lived in Rome for almost two centuries now, either as chief priestess or hiding in the shadows of the temple to avoid unnecessary questions. Now was a period of openness and the most powerful and influential citizens of Rome considered it as an honor to be invited to spend an evening in the inner temple. Today, however, lady Xanthia expected a new person among her usual guests; Quintus Hortensius, one of the best Roman orators, had asked her permission to bring along his new friend, Ressius Lanius. He was one of Caesar's associates somewhere from south and was already known in the city, as a promising orator, good fighter, and judge of poetry. Xanthia had been curious, so she agreed.
Quintus and Ressius were the last to come and Xanthia felt an Immortal Presence as the servant announced them. She stood up, suppressing instinctive desire to reach for her sword — she was on Holy Ground and not alone. She knew most of the Roman Immortals, usually they clung to their family names, and there were no Laniuses among them. So either he was rather young or…
"Greetings, my lady Xanthia, let me introduce you," Quintus's rich voice filled the room, but Xanthia's gaze was fixed upon the tall man next to him. His hair was short, in Roman style, but his eyes were the same. They made her heart pound at a furious pace.
"Methos," she whispered inaudibly. Ressius Lanius bowed slightly.
That day Xanthia allowed her guests to persuade her to sing. She rarely did that, but today, with Methos sitting here, she just couldn't concentrate enough for philosophical conversation. So she sent for her small lute, tuned it a bit, and let her hands choose the melody. Unsurprisingly, she found herself singing an old Ionian song and her mind drifted to another time and place.
Outskirts of Miletus, Ionia, circa 450 BCE
She came home long after dawn, but she was sure he wasn't sleeping yet. A faint light, coming through library door along with Immortal Presence, confirmed it. She opened the door and saw him sitting in his usual sprawl, his attention focused on some dark papyrus.
"It's careless, to be so engrossed like that."
He raised his eyes.
"I heard it was you."
"Then it's impolite."
He smiled, got up and helped her take off the armor.
"How was the council?"
"As usual. A Lot of talking, little doing."
"And what was the talking about?"
"Don't pretend you're interested in politics, Methos the scholar. I know you are not."
"Then I won't," he agreed obligingly and leaned forward a little, pushed away hair from her temple and kissed it lightly. "You must be tired. Come, the bath and bed are waiting."
Rome, 66 BCE
Methos sat quietly in the corner, playing a fascinated novice. And even if he wasn't really a novice, but fascinated he surely was. He had been looking for this woman for nearly a century now. Not that he had questioned every passing Immortal or Watchers, but he had stuck to the Mediterranean, paying a visit to every extraordinary woman he had heard of. And finally she was here, as radiant as ever — and he didn't know what to do. He couldn't know if he was in welcome at her temple or in her life now. True, they had once had a happy time together, but their parting had been far from ordinary, even for Immortals…
Outskirts of Miletus, Ionia, circa 450 AD
There was some fuss in the palace, but Methos didn't pay much attention. If it was something serious, requiring Xanthia's presence elsewhere, she would tell him before departure. Methos smiled warmly, noticing couple of her hairs on the scroll and brushed them away. Fate had obviously been on his side, when it guided him here.
He came to Miletus, a once famous centre of culture and civilization, seeking knowledge. And though the height of the city's prosperity was behind it, there was still a lot to see and learn, from poetry to architecture. After some time he had been told about lady Xanthia, savior and keeper of 'the old library'. And though the woman was very likely an Immortal, he had taken a chance of visiting her and never regretted it. There were few people in the world Methos could honestly name his equal and Xanthia of Miletus seemed to be the first woman on that list. Mutual attraction and passion aside, they had a great deal to learn from each other, though he found it best to hide his experience as a warrior and strategist. To her, he was just a wandering scholar, tolerating sword as a necessary part of the Game. It was Xanthia and her men who took care of the occasional brigands and pirates, not that she needed his help anyway. The woman was more then competent, her men might be few in number, but they were well-trained and disciplined, and adored and nearly worshipped their beautiful leader. They had handled any troubles neighboring villagers had. But now something serious must be happening, from all these thorough preparations in warrior's wing. Methos got up and went to look for Xanthia; he found her in her study, musing over local map.
She pointed at circle on the map:
"This village was attacked yesterday. And I'm afraid it's just the beginning."
"No, it's not an army. Just another band of killers, looking for fortune but this time could be really dangerous. The messenger said they are led by the Four Horsemen."
"That can't be true," Methos answered and immediately knew that had been a mistake. Not the phrase itself, but the tone. Not a fearful denial, but a calm confidence of a man who knew for sure. And Xanthia was too perceptive to leave that unnoticed. Before he could think of anything correcting his slip, she asked, calmly and directly:
"You were one of them?"
He couldn't tell her an outright lie, so he merely nodded and then raised his eyes, waiting for a reaction. He knew that he had just lost a friend, but had he acquired an enemy? Of course, Xanthia had never posed herself as Justice, but she was old enough to have apersonal grudge against the Horsemen.
"This area was ravaged by the Horsemen once, you know."
He nodded again. Probably. There had been too many villages and areas.
"I need your help to protect it now."
He nodded for the third time.
Methos had a millennium experience of raids and attacks, this bunch of conceited youngsters could hardly invent something new. And so the band was destroyed rather quickly but not before doing its share of destruction.
In the aftermath of the battles, Methos felt rather strange. He remembered much better that he wanted to of how it felt — to kill both those who fought back and those who didn't. But he discovered he had forgotten how it was from the other side. What it felt like — to bury the dead, to heal the wounded, to restore the burned houses… the survivor's grief.
"Growing attached, brother?" the mocking voice in his head kept asking, but that wasn't the case. Those people were by no means his, and yet, something deep inside him, something that had died even before he rode with Kronos, that something was slowly becoming alive again. And he wasn't ready for it.
Finally, they did all they could do for the poor villages and returned home. Methos tried to avoid Xanthia, more or less successfully, but she found him in the stables, saddling his horse.
"Leaving?" she asked calmly.
It wasn't easy, but he met her gaze.
"Unless you are challenging me, yes."
"Methos, I'm not challenging you. You don't have to go."
"I'm afraid I do." He leaded his horse out; Xanthia followed him with her eyes silently.
Rome, 66 BCE
And now he was sitting in the same room with her, listening to her marvelous voice, and a song he had last heard nearly four centuries ago. The song ended, last notes merging with praises.
"What a lovely song, lady Xanthia", Quintus said. "What is it about?"
"It's about conversations left unfinished," she answered, locking her eyes with Methos for an instant.
The song actually was about the sea at dawn, but he nodded, acknowledging and accepting the hidden invitation. Not that he knew what he would say.
To avoid raising any suspicion, he had to leave with Quintus. The elderly man was expecting thanks for the invitation and Methos didn't disappoint him. Besides, his gratitude was quite sincere, even if for completely different reasons. At last, they reached the point where they would part their ways. Methos waited in shadows until the orator disappeared from view and returned to the temple, by another path, just in case.
He stopped near the temple entrance, not quite sure what to do next; then he suddenly saw a slave girl before him.
"This way, master."
She led him to a small, but cozy room and left him there. He stood near the table with wine and fruits, not daring to step further. He soon felt a Presence and Xanthia appeared from the opposite door.
"Methos," she stated, without any emotion in her voice or face.
"Xanthia of Miletus," he answered, voice equally even.
She came closer and asked, "Wine?" He nodded, she reached for a jug, and their hands met. Before he knew what he was doing, he pulled her into a close embrace and gave her a passionate kiss. He half expected to be thrown on the floor, but instead she returned the kiss, and… After all, they were in the Love temple.
"Why did you leave?"
Methos was pouring the wine; the question hit him like an arrow in the back. He took several slow breaths, and then turned around, a goblet in each hand and half smile on his face.
"I had a date with my conscience," he said, returning to the bed. "And she is rather jealous lady."
He reached out the goblet and held his breath, waiting. Because passion was one thing, but acceptance — completely another.
She looked at him intensely for a moment, and then took the goblet.
"I see," she tasted the wine and closed her eyes briefly, dismissing the subject and the four centuries between.
"So, how did you end up with Caesar?"
Methos felt that a huge lift was taken from his shoulders. His smile became genuine as he sit down and answered, "I was in Miletus garrison when he came there to gather a fleet against pirates. Felt curious."
"You were in Miletus?"
Methos had to look at the floor.
"I don't think you should go there anytime soon," he said quietly. A silence stretched, filled with memories. They both were old enough to know that nothing lasts forever; and Rome, too, would fall one day, victim of time. But hopefully that day would be far from now.
"And now you are staying here, to help young Julius in his quest for power?"
"For a mortal he isn't young, Xanthia. And he might be the person that this shaky Republic needs right now. But I think I've found a stronger reason to stay, more so than the politics."
She smiled. All Gods of Olympus, he'd missed that smile!
"Then welcome Rome, Ressius Lanius."
He leaned forward and kissed her temple lightly.
Miletus was an ancient city on the western coast of Anatolia (in what is now Aydin Province, Turkey).
Venus Erycina ("Venus from Eryx"), also called Venus Erucina, originated on Mount Eryx in western Sicily. Temples were erected to her on the Capitoline Hill and outside the Porta Collina. She embodied "impure" love, and was the patron goddess of prostitutes.
Sicily became Roman province by 242 BC, after 1st Punic war.
Both Manius Valerius and Quintus Hortensius were real persons. Ressius Lanius is fictional name.