Author's Note: I've been suffering from severe writer's block for the past few months, so I'm very happy to be getting this story up. I rediscovered my intense love of Rome while re-watching my DVDs of the complete series and found myself extremely miserable again that they'd cancelled such a great show. This story is for any other Agrippa/Octavia fans who felt jipped by the series finale.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, not Rome or any of the characters mentioned in this story.
All is Never Lost
"…I know you very well. You are kind and full-hearted…and beautiful. And I would tear down the sky for you if you asked me to." - Marcus Agrippa, Rome (Heroes of the Republic)
"Caesar, Caesar!" The roar of the crowd was deafening as the doors leading to the podium in the Forum were opened and the most important women in the newly deemed Octavian Augustus' life descended into the chaos and madness below. The cries of the people were heard most keenly by Octavia of the Julii, so accustomed to events such as these that she could have performed her duties in her sleep. Her gray eyes only briefly scanned the mass of bodies and fluttering blue, green, yellow, and white flags as she took her seat of precedence behind Octavian's throne. Caesar, Caesar! It was once her uncle this fickle sea of Romans was cheering for. Now it was her baby brother. Well, not such a baby anymore, she thought to herself as Rome's new emperor ascended the podium from his chariot of gold and silver. Such a charade, just as Mother said, she thought with a shake of her head, turning her eyes to where Atia of the Julii sat, looking surprisingly displeased, beside her son.
Octavia sat rigidly in her seat, already developing a headache from the people's shouts. She could feel the beads of sticky sweat rolling down her spine and the tiara in her hair was beginning to irritate her scalp. But not for a second would a soul attending the parade of Emperor Caesar Augustus see her discomfort. She was a lady in the public eye and that had its consequences. She'd borne the weight of that responsibility her entire life and had more than once felt the vicious sting of punishment when she dared step out of line. Divorce from Glabius had been thrust upon her when he was no longer useful in her mother's plan of raising their family to new heights of importance. And when she had continued to see him afterwards, Atia had had him killed without a moment's hesitation. Of course, Octavian had told her it was unlikely. It was unlikely that their mother had sent an assassin after Glabius. Then there had been that goddamned orgy she'd attended with Jocasta. For heaven's sake, she attends one wild party and suddenly she's being accused of sucking slave cock and threatened with exile. Then there had been him-the foolish, stupid brute who had kidnapped her from the orgy and brought her home to mother. That ignorant pleb. That stupid boy. That awful creature that had stolen her heart and never returned it. She hated him. She hated him for leaving her, for choosing his goddamned honor over her. She hated more that she still loved him, even now. And above all, a part of her hated her brother, would always hate her brother, for not understanding. As soon as that vile snake Maecenas had told him about her affair with Marcus Agrippa, Octavian had made sure to keep her apart from that stupid, silly boy that she now hated so much.
Oh, how she had loved him. Octavia had never felt such passion as when she loved Marcus Agrippa. She had yearned for him constantly in his absences, her loins aching when he was out of sight. And when they were together-well, when they were together she finally understood why some called it "making love." For when Agrippa had made love to Octavia, it had felt to her as if the heavens themselves were opening up and Venus was smiling down upon her. Oh, how many nights after Agrippa had left her, after Octavian had forced her and Atia into seclusion, had Octavia laid awake dreaming of the night that Agrippa would sneak into her mother's villa and take her away, somewhere far away where there would be no public to face, where they could make wonderful love all day and night and never have to answer to anybody, not her brother, not her mother, not anyone.
With so many thoughts of love and sex and Agrippa cluttering her mind, Octavia had barely realized that the physical feeling of yearning she had always experienced, the feeling she had worked so hard to numb over the years, had returned with a vengeance, almost taking her breath away in its path. She held her hands in her lap, taking a deep breath and trying to calm her fraying nerves. It was only at that moment that she seemed to remember he was here. He had to be here. He was Octavian's best friend and one of his most trusted generals. That meant he was not only here, in the thicket of all these weeping people, but that he was here on the podium. Startled by the realization, Octavia quickly turned her head to the left, expecting to see him right beside her. But of course it was only Livia's mother sitting there, as she had been since the start of the parade. With a sigh, Octavia turned her tired gray eyes back to the triumph celebration. A flag whipping through the air to the right of her caught her attention after a moment and she turned her head to look at it. It flew through the breeze, carried by the cries of the people. Caesar, Caesar!
A cough startled her out of her reverie and when she glanced towards the source of it, her breath caught in her throat. So that's where he was on the podium. He stood, not more than ten feet away from her, looking as handsome as ever in his uniform. She briefly thought back to a time when he would been more than obliging when she had wished to rip that uniform off him. Octavia realized a moment too late that she had been staring when his blue eyes, still so piercing and beautiful, looked back and caught her gaze. Mortified, she turned her eyes back to the crowd, cursing herself to Pluto for having allowed herself such a stupid privilege. She cursed herself again for her weakness when she couldn't help but steal one more glance, sighing heavily when she saw that he had already turned away from her. She wondered, with a flash of envy, how many lovers he had taken since they had parted.
As if by some strange cue prompted by Octavia's thought of lovers, the float carrying the effigies of the now dead Cleopatra and Mark Antony glided by, much to the glee of the insatiable Romans. She glanced at her mother with a pang of sympathy, but Atia's expression was ambiguous and unreadable. So Octavia turned her gaze back to the man who had been her husband and her daughter's namesake, despite the fact that Antonia had never known the man. Deep down inside her, she knew there had to be something wrong with the fact that she could watch the "dead body" of her husband and the supposed father of her child pass by without so much as a single feeling. She didn't feel sad, she didn't feel happy. She felt absolutely nothing. And that had to be the worst reaction of all, for feeling nothing meant that he had meant absolutely nothing, good or bad, to her at all. She had been a pawn in a phony agreement between Octavian and Antony and their marriage had been a sham from the start. If anything, her love for Agrippa and her desires for their affair to continue had only grown during her marriage. She had felt nothing when she had looked into Antony's dark brown eyes, but in Agrippa's awe-inspiring blue ones, she had seen the world and all the opportunities it held for her.
Octavia was ripped out of her thoughts once again, this time by her mother.
"Octavia, how many times must I repeat myself?" Atia demanded, looking imposing as ever as she stood over her daughter in her black toga with her dark red veil. "For Jupiter's sake, the parade is over. The charade is to continue at your brother's home. We're returning inside now."
"Of course, Mother," Octavia replied, rising from her seat and following her mother back to where they had appeared from. Heavens, how long had she been talking to herself? The podium was already practically cleared, except for those few respectful guests who were waiting for Atia and her daughter to take their leave. Among them, Octavia noted with a pang, was Agrippa. She thought she could feel his blue eyes on her as she left, but she brushed the idea aside as a simple fantasy.
Hours later, Octavia paced the atrium of her brother's villa among the throng of important officials and socialites that had crawled out of the woodwork for Octavian's triumph. It was the same old thing, the same old song, and Octavia was bored. She'd been to hundreds of parties exactly like these in her lifetime and she could predict exactly what was going to occur. The ladies who counted themselves among the most important at the party would lounge together off to the side, nibbling on nothing more than figs, grapes, pomegranates, and melons. The men would get drunk off honeyed and spiced wine and devour the venison and the sucking pig and the swordfish and the lamb. Then, maybe if they were still feeling adventurous after that, they would take the simpering women who had only eaten the pears and chestnuts to bed.
Not in the mood to watch the same things happen at Octavian's party that had happened at every other party she had ever attended, Octavia slipped out of the banquet hall and headed towards the small garden behind the atrium. She really wanted to return home, to return to her little girl, but she knew Atia wouldn't have it. It would be considered too much of an insult to Octavian and if there was anything that her mother had taught her, it was that appearances were everything. There could be no question of Octavia's loyalty to her brother and to the new Roman Empire. Still, she could no longer stand the smiles and hypocrisies of the guests at Octavian's feast. These were the people who would have condemned her for carrying on an adulterous affair behind Antony's back, yet who now expected her to laugh and smile about her husband's demise.
Octavia sighed as she entered the garden, pulling her tiara out of her hair and running her fingers through her curled honey-brown locks. She passed a number of bushes with multi-colored flowers, vines twisting this way and that along the pathway. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure no one was approaching, she slipped one of her shoes off and daintily stuck her toes into one of the small reflection pools over by the portico. "Mm," she murmured to herself, a refreshing feel rushing over her as her shoulders relaxed.
"It is a lovely night, is it not?" came a voice from behind her.
Octavia's eyes widened and she turned around immediately. She didn't have to, of course. She would've known it was him without so much as a backwards glance. "Yes, it is. Only the best for Caesar," she replied stiffly.
"You must be very proud of your brother," Agrippa said, an awkward formality in his tone.
"How could I not be?" Octavia asked, putting her shoe back on quickly and taking a couple steps toward Agrippa, while still keeping a safe distance between them. "He has clearly accomplished a great deal."
"Yes. Yes, a great deal," Agrippa agreed, clearing grasping for any line of conversation he could follow.
"Your return to Rome has been pleasurable, I trust," Octavia said, sounding like nothing more than a perfect hostess.
Agrippa hesitated for a moment, before nodding. "Of course. Your brother has been most accommodating and has seen that all his men have been taken care of."
Octavia almost scoffed. "Yes, of course. My brother always accommodates friends." Never sisters. At Agrippa's comment, she was reminded of the last time she'd spoken to him privately; the time she'd told him he was a coward for choosing the power Octavian could give him over her.
Agrippa's thoughts seemed to echo hers, for he was silent for a moment. "I am sorry for your loss," he finally said, looking down at his feet. "Your widowing."
This time, Octavia did scoff. "Oh, yes, I am the widow of Mark Antony. How shall I go on without him?" she asked, almost smiling a little bit.
"Your daughter is without a father now," Agrippa stated, unsure as to whether he was allowed to share in Octavia's smiles anymore.
"Please. Antonia was always without a father," Octavia said, looking Agrippa in the eye for the first time since his arrival in the garden. "He was away her entire life. Though, the more time wears on, the more I see him in her; her eyes especially this time of year. So blue."
Agrippa started, daring to take a step closer to his former lover. "Octavia…," he breathed, uttering her name for the first time.
In response, Octavia turned away from him. She wouldn't dare to get her hopes up, wouldn't dare to dream about him again, only to have those dreams dashed. She didn't know what she would do if he rejected her a second time, so she said nothing.
"You were right, Octavia. When you called me a coward, you were right. I was afraid. I was foolish and afraid to run away with you, afraid to betray your brother and take on his wrath. But in the end, what I did was much worse. Because in the end, I betrayed you." Agrippa took another step towards Octavia, brushing his fingers against the soft, bare skin of her arm. "I will never forgive myself for that."
Octavia was silent, heart beating against her chest like the fist of a gladiator. When he touched her, she felt goosebumps fly up her arm and that all too familiar yearning burning within her. She finally turned, her gray eyes meeting his blue ones. For a moment, with her eyes locked on his, she thought he would take her into his strong arms and make love to her right there, right on the floor of Octavian's garden. But the moment passed when she broke the connection, casting her gaze down to the floor. By the time she dared to look up once again, she was smiling just the smallest bit. "I am sorry I said you weren't worth a brass obol."
Agrippa was not afraid to laugh this time, reaching out to deftly touch a lock of her long hair. "Octavia, I want…"
"Octavia? Octavia, there you are!" Atia called, shaking her head as she stood at the entrance of the garden, in the hall between the atrium and its outer region. "For heaven's sake, what are you doing out here? It's your own brother's party. He wishes to introduce you around. It's your place now as the sister of the emperor to make time with these people," she ordered, only briefly glancing at Agrippa.
Octavia looked from Agrippa to her mother, sighing to herself. "Alright, Mother. I'll be there in a moment. I'm sure my brother's friends will still be there in a moment's time." She looked apologetically at Agrippa, who remained silent and looking slightly abashed.
When Atia left to return to the feast, Octavia turned to Agrippa. "Forgive me, but I must be returning now," she said quietly, heart sinking as she walked away from him and did not sense him following nor trying to stop her. Perhaps that glint in his eye had been nothing more than a trick of light. Perhaps he was still the same Agrippa that had been too scared of his own goddamned shadow to run away with her.
From his spot in the garden, Agrippa watched his old lover, the mother of a child who was rightfully his, disappear into a crowd into which he sometimes feared he'd lose her forever. "I love you, Octavia," he murmured into the air, praying somehow the soft summer breeze would carry the words to her ears.
Whether Venus had answered Marcus Agrippa's prayers, it cannot be certain. After all, how could it be possible for a woman to hear the faint strains of "I love you" floating through the air at a celebration for the triumph of Rome's first emperor? Maybe instead it was just a feeling, woman's intuition. Whatever it was, it had Octavia of the Julii smiling, genuinely smiling, for the first time in what felt like ages as she returned to her brother's banquet. Antony's death, Octavian's triumph. All these things brought with them change and on the wings of change, she knew that she would somehow be reunited with her love again. After all, all is never really lost.