Author's Note: I feel like I haven't written anything in forever, which is somewhat true considering I haven't written anything in quite some time. Basically, I just love Rome and Agrippa and Octavia, so I wanted to write another story about them. This is pretty much a sequel of sorts to my first Agrippa/Octavia story, All is Never Lost, though it could stand on its own as well. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own Rome or any of the characters in this story.
Let's Start Again
"It's true—I won't deny it. I love your sister." – Marcus Agrippa, Rome (A Necessary Fiction)
Marcus Agrippa was acting perfectly ridiculous. He was the right hand man of Octavian, now Octavian Augustus, the new emperor of the equally new Roman Empire. He was a top soldier in the Roman army. He had led countless men in battle and seen things that would cause even the sturdiest of men to flee. So why, he was trying to understand, was he currently pacing outside one of Rome's most luxurious villas like a skittish schoolboy? Perfectly ridiculous. For the fourth time in the past fifteen minutes, he stepped forward and raised his hand to rap on the front door and demand an audience with the ladies of the house. And, for the fourth time in fifteen minutes, he quickly stepped back and paced once more.
"Get a hold of yourself, man," Agrippa chastised himself, running one strong hand through his dark hair and wringing a scroll with the other. The damned scroll was the cause of all this damned turmoil he realized, looking down at the wrinkled missive. Well, no. He couldn't blame the scroll. He was the damned fool who'd brought this trouble upon himself. Octavian had intended to send a simple messenger boy. Agrippa was the idiot who'd volunteered to deliver the note himself—something he was seriously regretting now.
What had possessed him to think of doing this? Why did he ever believe this would be a good idea? Octavian would have been much better off sending his message with a delivery boy. At least the delivery boy wouldn't have been panicking and pacing like a moron outside the home of the women of the Julii. Perhaps he could just leave the scroll with a slave at the door and leave. Yes, that would be much easier. He would be able to complete the mission he had volunteered for and he would be able to avoid seeing Octavia. An excellent plan. Except for the fact that it would be shameful to leave the message and run off like a dog with its tail between its legs.
Not to mention how very much he wanted to see Octavia. She had been so very beautiful at the Triumph—but then she was always beautiful. It had taken all his self-control and respect not to grab her right there on the podium and kiss her…hold her…make love to her. No, but she hated him. Or did she? There had been a moment, just a brief moment, when he had seen a familiar look in her lovely eyes when they'd shared a moment in the garden. But then her mother had shown up and ruined everything. Oh, he wanted her. He always had and he always would. No, he couldn't see her now! He couldn't trust himself to see her, be in her company, talk to her and not tear her clothes off. He would never admit it aloud, but he was frightened by his desire for her. She made him lose all sense of logic and self-preservation. He could think of nothing when he lost himself in her gaze and when they were in bed together, he forgot all his duties and responsibilities. Octavia of the Julii was a dangerous woman indeed. But then, he had always known that and he had still always loved her.
"Venus, save me," Agrippa begged, looking skyward as if for guidance.
That's it. His decision was made. As cowardly as it may appear, he would leave Octavian's message with whichever slave answered the door and he would get off the premises as quickly as possible. Octavia was just too much of a hazard to his sanity. With a new sense of purpose, Agrippa stalked toward the front door of the villa and raised his hand to knock quickly and succinctly. Before he could, however, the door swung open and loud, bubbly giggles could immediately be heard.
Blinking, Agrippa stared in front of him but could see no one. Glancing down, he found himself staring at the golden head of a child. He opened his mouth, but could think of nothing to say.
"Antonia!" a voice from inside the house could be heard. "You naughty girl! How many times must I tell you—" Octavia stopped dead in her tracks when she saw her daughter had opened the front door and she stared with wide eyes at Agrippa.
"Mother!" Antonia laughed good-naturedly, glancing up at Agrippa and then running back to her mother. She hid behind Octavia's legs, though she didn't seem particularly shy as she stared curiously at the man outside her home.
"I…I…" Gods, he had no idea what to say. This had not been part of the plan. No, not at all. Where were the slaves? "Forgive me," he finally managed, offering a small bow to Octavia and her daughter. "I did not expect…well I…I have a message for you. From your brother."
Octavia only stared at him for what felt like hours. Then she said, "Of course. How rude of me. Come in," she offered, reaching for her daughter's hand. "Antonia, this is Marcus Agrippa. He is a great friend of your uncle's."
"Hello, Marcus Agrippa," Antonia laughed, beaming up at him.
Agrippa was caught off guard by the child's charming smile. She looked so much like her mother. "Hello, Antonia," he replied with a lopsided grin. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
Antonia laughed again, scampering off almost as quickly as she had come.
Octavia sighed, looking after her daughter. Agrippa quickly entered the villa and shut the door behind him.
"I apologize. Antonia is particularly full of energy today and I employed several of the household slaves to keep their eyes out for her. I didn't think she would go for the front door," Octavia explained, leading Agrippa toward the closest sitting room. It seemed Antonia had thought ahead of her mother, for she was already there, perched on one of the couches and digging her little fingers into a plate of figs. "Antonia," Octavia chastised once more, removing the little girl's hand. "No."
Agrippa awkwardly sat on the couch across from the pair, glancing between them before clearing his throat. "I don't mean to keep you. Only to give you this," he said, holding out the scroll Octavian had entrusted him with.
"Yes. How is my darling brother these days? We see so little of him," Octavia said wryly.
"He is well. Busy, as I'm sure you can imagine. But he wishes to keep up with his family," Agrippa told her, indicating the scroll that now lay in her hands.
"Keeping tabs on us is more like it," Octavia muttered, carelessly tossing the scroll aside. At Agrippa's raised eyebrows, she added, "My mother is in town today. When she returns, then I will open it."
Well, at least he wouldn't have to deal with Atia during this visit.
Out of nowhere, Agrippa suddenly felt a presence at his side and he turned in surprise to see Antonia playing with his armor. This child certainly did move quickly. He saw Octavia about to call her back, but he put up his hand to indicate that he didn't mind. While the little girl was so engrossed in examining his attire, he took the opportunity to study her a little bit. In the garden, Octavia had said…well, she had made it seem as if…well. Antonia was the picture of her mother. Same hair. Same coloring. Same smile. But when she looked up at him, his breath caught in his throat. She had neither her mother's gray eyes, nor her namesake's brown ones. Rather, his own blue eyes were reflected in her gaze. Octavia hadn't been lying. Then again, he'd never for a moment believed she would have.
Ever since his return to Rome, ever since their moment in the garden, Agrippa had felt a pull of possessiveness over not only Octavia, but her daughter as well. Antonia may have been named after Mark Antony and she may be called the product of that failed union, but both he and Octavia knew the truth. Antonia was his. And he wanted her. He wanted her and her mother. He wanted them to be a family. The truth of it scared him a little bit, but he wouldn't run away. He wouldn't abandon them as he'd done before.
Agrippa looked up to meet Octavia's knowing eyes. She nodded slightly, as if she had read all his thoughts. She always had been able to do that—see right through him and know exactly what he was thinking, how he was feeling.
"Why don't we take a walk?" Octavia suggested suddenly, eyes never leaving his face.
Agrippa felt his mouth go dry and his heartbeat picked up significantly, but all he did was nod and give her a slight smile. Octavia called for Antonia's nurse, who appeared mere seconds later to entertain the little girl. She dropped a kiss on her daughter's forehead, then indicated for him to follow her. Once they were far from the room and the rest of the slaves, she said simply, "Antonia is yours."
"I know," Agrippa replied, a warm pride in his voice that surprised them both.
"She doesn't know, of course, but she does seem quite taken with you," Octavia went on, walking through the maze of the villa to a premeditated destination.
"She appears to be quite a good girl. Sweet and beautiful, just like her mother," Agrippa said, staring at Octavia as she walked a bit ahead of him. He longed to reach out and brush his fingers through her hair or caress her shoulder. She was still so beautiful, even after all these years.
Octavia laughed, turning back to fix him with a skeptical look. "I'm not sweet and we both know it." Her gaze softened slightly. "But thank you. Antonia is rather rambunctious, but I have to say that's my only complaint."
"It is not a bad one," Agrippa told her, fearing an awkward silence as they came to a stop outside one particular room. He glanced up, but could find no significant reason for their delay.
"Come with me," Octavia said, her voice filled with something he hadn't heard in forever. He hadn't even realized how much he'd missed it until he heard it now. He did as he was told, following Octavia into the room, which was empty of everyone except for them. He glanced around quickly and blushed when he realized they were in her bedchamber.
"There's no need to be embarrassed just because this one is new," Octavia said, leaning against her bed. "You frequented my old bedchamber without any difficulty."
He knew her too well. He could sense in her voice, despite her calm exterior, a feeling of doubt and worry. He could tell she was starting to think this was a mistake…that he would reject her again. How could she think that after what they had shared in Octavian's garden? Didn't she understand how much he loved her? How, despite all the ways she drove him crazy, he wanted her and needed her?
"Octavia," he murmured, stepping toward her and carefully brushing his fingers against her shoulders. He leaned down as she looked up, his lips brushing carefully against hers. Desire exploded inside of him at the contact and he immediately grabbed her to him, pressing his mouth more firmly against hers as she snaked her arms around his neck. Her soft groans drove him crazy as he kissed her fervently. "I love you. I want you," he told her, panting as the words poured out of him. "You and Antonia. I want us all to be together."
Octavia only nodded, clinging to him and kissing him again as she ran her fingers through his hair. All other words fell away as they fell onto her bed and made love to each other, expressing all the love and passion they felt and had been feeling ever since their separation. And afterward, when they lay in each other's arms, exhausted and glowing with pleasure, Agrippa could only thank Venus and all the other gods he could name that he had volunteered to deliver that damned scroll.