Commodus felt so alone, betrayed by his people. Surely, he'd taken them under his wing, to his bosom, and made it clear that he was their leader, their Sire, their Caesar. And what did they give him in return? Disgust, ridicule; anything but acceptance. The faith they'd held for his father barely shone a flicker for how they felt for him. Dismissed and exhausted, he returned to his room, bidding goodnight to Rome from his 4th floor balcony.
As he sat at his desk, he realized how much he wanted – needed – someone to talk to him, with him. The silence was deafening, causing ringing to sound in his ears. And as if by fate, it was at that moment that Lucilla appeared in his doorway.
"Sleep not coming easily to you once again, brother?" she asked, arms crossed against her chest, right hand on her left shoulder.
"When has it ever?" he replied with a question. Even with his head facing her, his eyes were downcast, slightly misty.
"Shall I prepare you another tonic, then? It helps you to sleep, does it not?" She made her way to the glasses, reaching for one as he spoke again.
"Not tonight." He walked to where she stood, effortlessly, a sheer contradiction to the tension on his face. His eyes stared into hers, below hair lightly tussled from the midnight breeze.
"Commodus, what pains you so?" Lucilla asked as she gently wiped the tears from his eyes.
He stayed silent, feeling her fingertips against his skin, almost as if to freeze the sensation into his mind. So loving and cautious not to harm him, once again bringing out feelings he'd been holding for so long. Most times, against his will.
"They do not accept me, Lucilla," he finally brought himself to speak. "My own children, aghast at the sight of me. Appalled by the thought that I am to be their father. They ought to bow to me and hold trust and love for me in their hearts. Instead, only contempt lies within them. I cannot have this of my people."
"Let me make you something to ease your troubled mind," she offered again. Seeming to hope, more so than offering, to ease her own conscience rather than his. But for a second time it was refuted, with the tension in the air building steadily stronger.
Commodus walked to his bed, shedding the last of his armor. He glanced out the opened doors once more, peering out over Rome . The stars flickered, as if teasing; the whole city slept while he feared sleep. The dreams had been getting increasingly more devastating, more horrific and much too real. The monsters in his head would most certainly drive him mad one day. He wondered if they had already begun. Dreams of his own death started to circulate, vaguely, but still there. Always waking before the task could be completed, he awoke fearing what prophecies they might be telling. His people may not care for him as of yet, but would any of them be so brazen, be so stupid, as to rid themselves of him? This fuelled the anger in him that he tried to hide so well, also conjuring up more of the forbidden thoughts and feelings he held just below the surface.
"Will you forever disregard my desires?" he asked his sister, standing yards away from him, holding to the robe over her nightdress as if to protect herself from an unseen force.
"If they are desires against what is natural and good, I shall."
He walked closer, pausing still several feet away. "And what if what is 'natural' cannot always be defined?"
"What's in your head is beyond comprehension, and most certainly defined by what is not right, brother," she said, hoping the last and key word would set some bells off in his mind. She swallowed hard, her eyes looking his way but avoiding direct eye contact at all costs. "Now, if you'll not have a tonic to help you sleep, I'll be going—"
"Don't walk away from me," he said, in a tone slightly more strict than his usual. Still, his appearance could be compared to that of a child, haunted by monsters under the bed. But Commodus' monsters were more than monsters, but demons. And they resided in the depths of who he was, and frightfully what he may become.
"I'm to go check on Lucius," she said, sounding strong but her voice showing a hint of fear. So unfortunate that her own brother could put such fright into her, and it had only gotten worse since Father had died. Especially since she'd heard rumors circulating that Commodus was responsible.
"I said, don't walk away from me!" Not a yell, but a voice louder than his usual timid speech. "Stay with me tonight. I need you to stay with me tonight."
"Brother, you think not of the realities of what you wish. Let me leave before you regret what's in your head." She walked towards the door, nearly leaving. But before she could walk out, Commodus was behind her, pulling her back into the room. He slammed the door with a mighty force, and whipped her around by her arm. He was much too strong for her to do much other than face him.
"You will stay with me, Lucilla. You will stay with me because you love me, and you want me well." He leaned closer to her face, intent brightly shown in his own.
"Commodus, don't," she begged, struggling to break free. No use.
"You love me," he whispered, closing his eyes.
With his left hand resting across her jaw, he pulled her face to his. His lips touched hers with a strength surprisingly tender, as she whimpered through it, her eyes staring into him. Pulling away she had a moment of prayer that it was all over, but his lips came back to hers once more, no longer so delicate. His hand slid from her face, to her shoulder, and began to untie the ribbon holding her robe together.
As he pulled away once more, he exhaled sharply, his mouth somewhat shaky. He opened his eyes to reveal a look Lucilla had never seen before. Not just the look of possibly oncoming tears, as she'd been witness to that an innumerable amount of times throughout their lives, but the look of genuine remorse. Intertwined with the guilt and sadness, she also saw fear; fear that stretched ever beyond his oncoming nightmares. For this, she didn't know whether to hate him for what he'd just done, or pity him that he needed to do it at all.
"Go," he whispered, overlapped by a sigh, trying to keep the tears in. He pressed his right hand to his mouth, then his left overtop, turning around and walking to his bed, sobbing. He couldn't believe what he'd just done. Lucilla was right when she said it was wrong, that it was unnatural. And he was also wrong to think it was what he'd truly wanted. He realized then how starved for love he was, but this was a sin. A sin he couldn't take back, couldn't wipe away from his lips no matter how hard he tried. As he sat on the edge of his bed, he suddenly understood why his people couldn't love him. His mind was lost in some state of confusion, and he knew how depraved he must be to have done what he just did. His tears ran down the hands still overtop his mouth, full of shame and disgust for himself and his actions.
"Commodus," Lucilla spoke, feeling some sort of pain for her brother, for how painfully ill he must be. She knew then his demons were far worse than she'd originally thought. She walked closer, nearing the foot of his bed.
"Go! Leave!" he cried out, turning his back to her. "Don't look at me. I'm a disgrace to the family and to my people."
Lucilla agreed but didn't dare voice it. She still did love him; he still was her flesh and blood. But she couldn't stop feeling his kisses, his hand moving down her body. God knows what else he would've done had he not been struck by a sudden attack of conscience. Even more horrifying was that she knew what he would've done, or would've tried to do. The very thought made her stomach turn and sent a chill down her spine.
"If you never cast your eyes upon me again, I would not blame you," Commodus spoke again, through his weeping. Now his hands were resting on his head, weaving through his hair. Lucilla could see the tear-stains on his right cheek, and watched as a single teardrop fell.
"I understand why you acted," she said, tightening her grip on her robe.
"How could you possibly understand? Or want to? There is no recompense for what I've done!" he sobbed.
Lucilla warily came to the edge of his bed. She hesitated before sitting, feeling so violated by the person she was about to comfort. Even as she ever-so-softly touched his shoulder, part of her wanted to slap him for trespassing on her so crudely. But she acted against impulse, putting her arm across his back. "Commodus," she said in almost a whisper.
"No," he whined, turning further to the left to block her view of his face. But still she kept her position, slightly rubbing his arm.
"Commodus, don't face away. Look at me." As the words left her mouth she suppressed a retch. She no more wanted to look at his eyes than he wanted her to, but at the moment she felt it wasn't about her. She feared him, she was sickened by him, she loathed him at this moment more than ever…but she felt mercy towards him, too.
"How can you sit beside me after…" he trailed off, putting his face into his hands.
"Rest upon me," she said invitingly, with the undertone of hoping he'd continue to refuse. He remained in place but the muffled sounds of his crying stopped. The silence was nearly deafening, the seconds feeling like hours. She wanted nothing more than to run out, run as far away as possible. But she knew that wasn't very far at all; no matter where she went she'd be within his reach. Out of the nothingness came his sharp exhale, breathing life back into the room, a life she wished would've continued to stay dormant.
"Rest your head upon me," she heard herself saying, with the sound of echoes in her mind. It all had become fantasy-like, far off and unreal. Maybe, just maybe, she'd open her eyes to see the ceiling of her sleeping quarters, having everything of the very recent past been a nightmare. Furthermore, maybe she'd awake to find Commodus was never ruler; maybe her father would still be alive. But she realized her eyes were open, the whole trance imagined, and she felt his head resting just above her chest. His breathing was fast yet weakened at the same time, the dampness of his tears on her skin.
A hesitant hand rose to rest atop his head, very lightly weaving through his hair. The hand was hers, though the touch barely registered. This was a feeling to which she'd become accustomed throughout the years, caring for her ailing little brother simply because it was right. What was right was not always fair, and surely this time was most unjust…but the obligation stung her. Fulfilling her sense of duty, she came to rest her own head on his, moving her hand up and down his arm once again. He inhaled unevenly, shivering at the sensation.
"Dear brother…" she began, trying her best to choose the words carefully. "I cannot fathom what drove you to suffer so, to imagine you'd discover the cure for your loneliness within me… While such an occurrence cannot ever be forgotten…I give creed to the fact that it was a moment of madness. A moment that will not ever present itself again." His head nodded softly against her body as he reached a hand up to wipe the lingering tears.
Lucilla exhaled soundlessly, glaring at him from above, hiding that very fact in her gentle caresses of his shoulder. "All will resume as if this night never took place. For the sake of your people." Taking his face in her hands, she lifted his head from her bosom, avoiding eye contact as she stood. Her first steps away from the bed were interrupted by the presence of his hand weakly grasping her right. His eyes were childlike and glazed, exuding apologies that could never have the same effect if put into words. The eyes staring into hers belonged to her little brother, but the hand holding hers belonged to the man who defiled her. The outrage could no longer be contained as she responded with a resounding smack on his right cheek. Her face filled with fear for a moment though remaining steadfast in her anger. Her rightful anger. His face turned back to hers, mouth slightly agape and eyes a mix of disbelief and resentment. The grip on her hand became tight for a second, then let go altogether. She saw the silent understanding in his eyes and backed away before turning to leave.
"I rightly deserved that and more," his words resonated into the room, forcing her to turn to face him from several feet back. "And after tonight this will all be added to the nightmares inside my head. The faster you leave, the faster this is merely a memory." He nodded, and she followed suit, putting her back to him as quickly as possible. The sound of her steps seemed to boom in the uneasy silence, surely being the most determined steps of her life. Just a short distance before the door, a sinister echo drifted through the room.
"But, Lucilla…" he spoke with calm voice and eyes dark, made even more evil by the near-smile spread across his face, "if you should ever even think to strike me again…I will have your head. And I assure you that your son will suffer before he dies." Her widened eyes stared the room's length into his. "Leave now. You need your rest. The morning light appears in a matter of hours," he said, as if oblivious to his just-spoken threat. He smiled her way before blowing out the flame near his bed. "Pleasant dreams."
The room turned pitch black in an instant, filling her with even more dread, reaching for the door and pulling with all her might. Once outside she leaned on the wall, more fearful than she'd ever been of Commodus. It was one thing to threaten her life, but another completely to threaten that of her son. She knew somehow she had to stop him, to dethrone him, and had to accomplish it all without his knowing one step she'd taken. She also knew in his advanced state of sickness it might take far less to agitate him, and that he may perceive any unintentional action as a danger. Something had to be done to keep him from making good on his warning, because Lucilla knew Commodus' threat was more than just a threat – it was a promise.