That evening, she and Lucius sat on the balcony in a vain attempt to catch a stray breeze. He played the rebec softly while she dozed against his leg. Finishing, he sat the instrument aside and leaned down to kiss her. She sighed as the kiss deepened, his hand running down her throat while his other hand pulled her to her knees and between his legs.
He lifted her left hand, drawing it to his mouth, circling her palm with his lips, then with his tongue, before moving to her wrist, then to the hollow of her elbow. A little sound of pleasure escaped her lips at the feeling of his mouth against the sensitive skin. "Do you like that?" he asked her in a voice that was as warm and soft as the summer night. She could only nod in reply.
He slid onto his knees next to her, drawing his mouth down her collarbone then to her breast, circling his tongue over her nipple through the cloth of her tunic. The friction sent tingles of feeling up and down her spine. His hands slid under the tunic to caress the bare skin beneath before pulling it over her head in one swift movement. She returned the favor, deftly unfastening his toga. He lay back, pulling her down with him so that her breasts pressed into his chest. Slowly, he ran his hands down her back to cup her bottom.
Sliding her body against his, she kissed him languorously. "I thought you said it was too hot to make love?"
Smiling, he tangled his hands in her hair. "I changed my mind."
"So am I."
They ate their morning meal at dawn before the heat could take away their appetite.
"I think it may rain today," she commented. There were clouds in the sky and the heat was even more oppressive if that was possible.
"Perhaps enough sacrifices have been made to the Gods for them to send us rain." Lucius took her hand. "I don't want you going into the city until the weather breaks. There may be riots and the fevers are getting worse."
"As you wish," she agreed, knowing when to argue and when it was pointless. And not going to market would keep Janus from hounding her.
He squeezed her hand. "Send one of the house slaves down if you require anything." As she nodded, his eyes narrowed, noticing the bruises on her arm. "Where did you get those bruises, Dionysia?"
For a moment, her heart seemed to stop beating before she remembered what she planned to tell him if he noticed. "It's nothing, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going and I stepped out into the road, right in the path of a wagon. Someone grabbed my arm, pulling me out of the street. I'm sorry, I know I should be more careful. The heat…." she offered, trailing off.
His fingers traced the bruises. "I think you are lying." His words fell into the stifling room, hanging there. "Thomas!" he barked. The slave entered, waiting. "Thomas, tell me what the guard reported to you."
She could only sit frozen in shock as Thomas recounted the report. "She was seen with a male slave belonging to the household of her former mistress. He embraced her, they spoke, and then kissed."
Lucius nodded grimly. "Take her to the garden. I will join you shortly." He strode from the room, not even looking at her.
As Thomas and Dionysia entered the garden, she was still too stunned to react. She was only sure that she was going to die here. He would never believe she hadn't betrayed him with Janus. Would it be quick or would he make her suffer? She shivered in the blast furnace heat of the garden. She wasn't really surprised to see Janus already restrained against the wall. They would die together.
Lucius entered the garden, accompanied by a guard carrying a whip. He looked down on her, his eyes like ice. "Did you give yourself to him?"
"No," she choked out, "I have never betrayed you, I swear it."
"Then his advances were unwelcome? You lied, thinking I would not believe you?" He was giving her an out, but one that would condemn Janus.
"He was upset, he didn't mean to hurt me. I think he must have been fevered, otherwise he never would have done what he did! It would have never happened again. Please believe me!" The blood was roaring in her ears, black spots dancing in front of her eyes. She fought to hold on to consciousness. "Janus was kind to me after I was brought to the Lady Lydia's. I was honor bound to return that kindness."
"Kind? He was your lover," he snapped, laughing humorlessly.
"Yes, he was, but he isn't anymore. I have been faithful to you." Gods, how could she convince him of her loyalty? Especially after she had lied.
"But you lied for him." His words mirrored her thoughts, as they so often seemed to. Sliding his hand against the back of her head, he pulled it back, forcing her to meet his eyes. "I told you before that I required more than just your body, did I not? How faithful has your spirit been to me, my little slave?"
She licked her lips, trying to find the words to convince him. "I give you my oath that thoughts of no other man have ever been with me while I have been with you." Her voice sounded weak and terrified even to her own ears, not the confident voice she would have preferred when swearing an oath.
He stared down at her, searching her eyes, his expression hard and cold. "I believe you," he finally said, releasing his grip on her. The iron band around her chest eased and she could breathe again. "But he laid hands on what is mine, damaged you and made you lie for him. For that he must be punished." He pointed to the guard with the whip. "Twenty lashes! And I want him conscious for every one, no matter how long it takes!" he roared.
The guard nodded. "Yes, sir."
"No!" she screamed, horrified. Twenty lashes would likely kill Janus, especially in this heat. She threw herself at Lucius' feet, prepared to do whatever it took to get him to rescind his sentence. "Please, I beg you, don't do this! It was my fault! He didn't know till I told him that I was never going back. He wasn't prepared for that. He thought we were going to be together. We had a life planned before I came to you." She fought back the sobs that threatened to overwhelm her.
"But you would still have had one -- once you were free," Lucius said, half to himself.
"He didn't believe that," she whispered. She held out her hands beseechingly. "If your honor demands punishment, then punish me. It was my fault. Mine, not his." She hung her head, her hair falling around her face, masking it. "Please, master." This time she didn't choke over the word. "I beg you."
"Don't beg, Dionysia. It is distasteful."
"Then what? Tell me what you require and I will do it."
He pulled her to her feet, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Are you sure you are willing to pay my price?" He looked over his shoulder at Janus, then back to her.
"Yes." She took a deep shuddering breath. "I'll do whatever you want."
He had a calculating look in his eyes that made her feel sick. "Very well. Your punishment -- and his -- will be to deny you both what you most desire." The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach spread through her body. A crack of thunder rent the sky above them as if anticipating her doom. "Your freedom." A flash of lightening tearing across the sky met his pronouncement.
Her legs wouldn't hold her; only his grip kept her on her feet. The fear had turned to numbness…a nothingness that left her empty.
"Your choice, my Nysia: your heart's desire or your lover's life. Which is it to be?"
She looked past Lucius to where Janus was bound. For just a moment she considered leaving him to his fate, the lure of freedom almost too much to resist. He had twisted his head back to look at her, but she couldn't bear to return his gaze. Looking back up at the man who held her, she made her choice. It was the only one, that in the end, she could ever live with. "His life," she said tonelessly.
Lucius nodded. "Release him," he ordered the guards, his eyes never leaving her face. "If he ever touches you again he will die. Know that. And know that there will be nothing you can offer to save his life. I already have everything you can give."
She sat down across from Thomas at the kitchen table where he was cleaning the General's weapons. It had been three days since the incident with Janus and she hadn't seen Lucius in all that time. He was probably with Seline. She wasn't sure why that bothered her as much as it did.
"You've been with him for a long time," she said, toying with a bit of leather.
"Fifteen years," Thomas replied, not looking up from the sword he was polishing.
"And you're content." It was a statement and a question.
He looked up at her. "Yes. And you can't understand that, can you?"
She shook her head. "No, I don't think I can."
"It gives my life purpose," he told her as if that should explain everything.
"But you aren't free. How can you be content, belonging to another?" She really wanted to know -- needed to know.
"Free to do what, Dionysia? Free to toil in the fields? Free to fight as a common foot soldier in the Empire's unending wars? I have more freedom as the General's slave than I would ever have as a freedman." He put the sword down, looking at her earnestly. "You've never been poor, have you?"
"I don't understand."
"I was, before I entered this household. Unless you've lived my life, or the life of a peasant, don't judge." He sighed, leaning back against the wall. "There are far worse things than being a slave, far worse."
"Perhaps," she allowed, "but I'm willing to take that chance. Not that I'm ever going to have it now." Her final words were bitter.
"Do you really hate him that much?" He leaned towards her, intent. "Let me ask you this -- do you really think he was unaware of your meetings with Janus all these months?"
The look of stunned shock on her face was totally genuine. "He knew?"
"He was concerned for your safety in the market, so you were almost always followed." He shrugged. "It was only because he trusted you that nothing was said. And you never gave him cause not to trust you."
"Until I lied to him," she whispered.
"Yes. And, if you are honest, you know you got off easy. He didn't have to allow you to bargain for Janus's life. It was his to take, as was yours."
"I have my whole life to regret it," she said, suddenly tired.
"Is your life so terrible here?"
"That's the point, Thomas; it isn't my life!" she said angrily. "It's his!"
"Only because you make it that way."
"That isn't true!"
"You stayed with your old master, after he freed you, didn't you?" he asked seemingly out of nowhere.
"Yes," she said, puzzled.
"Did you ever think you might stay with the General, after you were free?"
"Because it just never occurred to me." Her forehead creased, perplexed.
"And you don't think he didn't know that?" Thomas asked quietly.
She shook her head. "Why would he care?"
"I think that is a question you must answer." He stood. "Our master is a proud man, a powerful man, and, yes, he can be cruel. But he is also capable of great kindness, and even love. Think on that, before you judge him."
She could think of nothing to say to that as he left her sitting there, alone with her thoughts.
One of the house slaves woke her, as she had instructed, to tell her the Master had returned home. It was late, but she had wanted to be notified no matter the hour.
She quickly brushed out her hair, working in the scented oil that he had given her as a gift. She loved the way it smelled, and so did he. She smoothed down the almost emerald green silk of her tunic and with one last comb through her hair, made her way down the corridor towards the bath room.
Lucius had been called to Rome before he had returned from Seline's. It had now been three weeks since she had seen him. And in those weeks she had realized, with some surprise, that she missed him. It had also given her plenty of time to consider Thomas' words, time that had led her to the realization that there was a great deal of truth to what he said. Though she would never accept that she give up on one day being free.
His absence had made her see just how much time that they spent together; and not just in bed. There were the meals spent discussing the latest gossip of Pompeii's leading citizens, the evenings on the balcony listening to him play the rebec, or the afternoons in the garden debating some Greek philosopher. How had he managed to become so much a part of her life? How had she allowed herself to love him?
Stopping at the entry, she saw him, his back to her, lounging in the bath. Motioning to the body slave, she indicated with a nod that she wished to be left alone with him. The slave backed away as she came up to take his place, kneeling behind Lucius, kneading the hard muscles of his shoulders with her fingers. Her heart pounded so loudly, she was sure he must be able to hear it. Would he reject her? Did he still want her in his life? Or just in his bed? She knew now she wanted to stay in his life.
His hand reached up, snagging her wrist. "Playing at peasant, Dionysia?" he asked in that smug voice she hated. "I'm sure if I could see your eyes they would be spitting fire," he told her, thoroughly amused.
He was laughing at her! She fought down the angry words that were hanging on her lips. She would not let him make her lose her temper. "And what else but fire would I feel in your presence, General," she asked in a voice so sweet it was cloying.
He laughed aloud at her totally insincere tone. "What indeed?" Before she could come up with a suitable retort, he reached back, pulling her head down, shifting so his lips met hers.
She laid on the edge of the bath, clutching his shoulders for support and leaning against his chest. His mouth devoured hers, hungry and demanding. When they finally came up for air, she only had a split second to see the most evil look in his eyes before he tugged her back, dumping her into the bath. He did keep her head from going under, but she was utterly drenched.
"Ohhhh!" She clutched at his arms trying to keep from falling in again. He put an arm under her, holding her steady till her knees found the ledge that ran around the inside of the marble tub. She glared at him, trying to ignore the feeling of his hands sliding down the wet silk that plastered her body.
"If you are going to bathe me," he commented, pulling her sodden tunic over her head and throwing it to the side, "then you need to be much closer." He was totally unrepentant.
"And naked?" She tried to keep a disapproving look on her face.
"I didn't realize it was a requirement."
"Only in the most special circumstances," he whispered in her ear, tugging at it gently with his teeth.
"If I'd realized, ahhhhh, before, I'm sure, ohh," she managed to gasp, her fingers clenching his shoulders as his hands roamed her body. “I would have volunteered before."
Pulling her closer, he slid his wet body against hers as she linked her hands behind his neck. "I'll be sure to add it to your duties," he growled.
"Mmm, fine," she breathed before pulling his head down, capturing his lips, and kissing him. Giggling against his mouth, she added, "I look forward to your instruction."
As the first light of dawn glanced through the windows, the two lay curled together in Lucius' bed. She ran her fingers up and down his chest, eyes unfocused, chewing on her lower lip.
"What are you thinking about that is so serious?"
Startled out of her reverie, she looked up at him, not sure what he asked. "What?"
"What are you thinking about that makes you so serious?" he repeated.
She pushed herself up, sitting back on her calves, twisting the bed linen in her fingers. "I thought of many things while you were gone," she finally said.
"And, I'm sorry. I should have told Janus from the beginning that I was never coming back."
His expression tightened a bit at the mention of Janus, but he betrayed no other reaction. "Why didn't you?"
She looked down at her hands. "Because I was afraid. Afraid that he would somehow convince Lydia not to agree to your offer. He has been with her family since they were both children; his pleading might have swayed her."
"I gave you my word; was that not enough?" He got up, sitting across from her.
"It should have been, I know that now. But the thought of having my freedom snatched away again made me panic." She looked at him. "I allowed it to take reign, to make me ignore what I knew to be the right thing to do, to ignore the good things in my life. I couldn't see them for my obsession." Sighing, she stroked his knee. "And there were good things. I have finally been honest enough with myself to admit that I would miss you in my life, freedwoman or slave."
Taking her hand, he looked into her eyes. "Were?" he asked softly.
"There are good things in my life," she amended. "I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive. It is over, we move on." He squeezed her hand.
"But--" she began to protest.
"Dionysia," he interrupted sternly, "I have said we move on. What do you want of me? Punishment? Is that what you seek to assuage your guilt?" He made a sound of frustration at her intransigence. "Very well. You desire punishment, then you shall have it. I reinstate our agreement: your freedom in two years."
She shook her head, trying to comprehend what he had just said. "No! I don't want it. I didn't do this to make you change your mind--"
"Be silent!" he commanded. "Are you saying you don't think me wise enough to tell the difference between true repentance and one created to gain favor? Well?"
She looked at him with wide eyes, shaking her head. "No, I didn't mean that."
"Good. Then your punishment is to feel guilty for my generosity in the face of incredible irritation and annoyance -- caused by you. Is that clear?"
"Yes, General," she managed to choke out, torn between laughter and tears.
"I didn't hear that."
"Yes, it is very clear, General," she said a little steadier this time before tears won out, and she collapsed against his chest, crying.
Sighing, he put his arms around her. "By all the Gods, you are the most infuriating woman I have ever known."
December brought preparations for the winter feasts, most particularly the Feast of Mithras. This year, the household was even in more of an uproar as they prepared for the move to Byzantium, where Lucius had been appointed military advisor to the Roman governor.
Dionysia was thrilled about the move. Though Lucius teased her, she hated the mountain that towered over them, rumbling and growling. She felt it was like some great animal waiting for its prey to grow lax before swooping down to devour them. Their child would not be born in the shadow of Vesuvius, and for that she was grateful.
Their child -- she was still getting used to the sound of that. It had come as a complete surprise to her that she was with child, even more so when she realized she had been since July. The heat, the emotional distress of the incident with Janus and its aftermath, those were what she had assumed accounted for the changes in her body. It wasn't till her reconciliation with Lucius that she had realized it was much, much more. At least now she knew why she had been so emotional, so unlike herself through the summer.
Lucius had been elated with the news, immediately contracting the services of a birthing woman for the long trip to Byzantium and purchasing extra slaves to assist her through her pregnancy. He spent every evening, ear to her bare stomach, listening for the first sounds of the child she carried. But his greatest gift to her had been the parchment that declared her a freedwoman and his wife, already witnessed and signed. He had actually arranged it right after their rapprochement, but he had been saving it to give to her as a Solstice gift. At the news of her pregnancy, he had presented it to her, declaring that it was a greater occasion than any Festival day. Their child would not be born a slave.
She hadn't thought she could be any happier, until she read the parchment that had been delivered to her today. It was from Gaius and his wife, telling her that they had escaped death for their beliefs and were once more with their children. They had finally tracked her down, and were sending the proof to her current master that she had been freed and unlawfully resold into slavery. They were going to settle in Sarum, in the south of Britain, but would wait to hear from her, hoping that she would rejoin their family.
They would be surprised, but pleased that she had found some measure of happiness in her life here. There were still moments that she thought herself a traitor for being happy when so many had died. But she was realistic enough to realize she could do nothing for the dead. She had to make the best of what this turn of the great wheel had ordained for this life, this time. Maybe in the next life, she could make a difference.
Smiling, she slowly descended the steps that led from the orchard terrace to the garden below. Lucius would be home soon and she couldn't wait to share her news with him. Knowing that her friends were alive and safe was the crowning jewel in her happiness.
With no warning, an arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her back. She screamed, struggling against her captor, but her advancing pregnancy made her clumsy and unable to leverage herself away.
"Don't be frightened, my love. I've come to free you," Janus said in the calm voice of a madman.
"Janus, what are you doing? You know it's your death to be here. Please, let me go." She struggled again. "You don't want to do this," she said, trying to reason with him.
"I need to take you and our child away from here, away from the monster that holds you. I know you've been waiting for me."
He ran his arm over her belly. Terrified, she realized he had a knife. "Janus, please don't hurt my baby."
"Our baby, our family as it should have been." His voice took on a singsong quality. "Soon, we'll be together."
She heard the sound of running. Looking down the stairs she saw Thomas and several of the house slaves. "Go now. Find the Master and send for the guard," he ordered. "It will be all right," he assured Dionysia. "Stay calm; we won't let him hurt you."
"Silence!" Janus screamed, waving the knife. "She knows I won't hurt her or our child, but I won't let them fall into your Master's clutches again," he warned threateningly.
"Please. Let me go!" He would kill her to save her. She had to get away from him. The baby. No! I have to stay calm, have to, have to.
"Release her, slave," she heard Lucius bellow. "Harm her and you will pay dearly!"
Janus laughed hysterically. "I already have a death sentence. There is nothing you can threaten me with!"
"There are many ways to die, slave," he warned ominously.
"Lucius, please don't let him hurt our baby," she pleaded.
"No!" Janus shouted. "Mine! It is mine! You are mine!" His arm slipped up around her throat, choking her.
She clawed at the arm, ripping at the skin with her nails. "Janus... I... can't... breathe...."
Lucius changed tactics. "If it is your child, then you don't want to harm either of them," he said calmly. Janus loosened the hold he had on her. "I don't want her if she bears your child. If she would risk all this to be with you, then I will let her go. I will let both of you go. Put down the knife."
Taking her cue from Lucius, she said, trying to keep her voice calm, "You see? We can be together, just as you've always wished. Please, Janus."
For a moment, she thought it might work, feeling him relax slightly, the hand that held the knife dropping to his side. Then he snapped. "NO! You're trying to trick me! I won't let you have her!"
Knowing this was her last chance, she pulled her legs out from underneath her, letting her weight drop. With his arm around her throat, he didn't have the leverage needed to control the dead weight of her body. One arm finally free, she drove her elbow back into his ribs, breaking free. But the momentum pushed her away from her only support on the steps, leaving nowhere to go but forward. She didn't even have time to scream as she tumbled down the stairs.
She lay on the bed as Lucius stroked the hair from her face. "I've sent for the birthing woman. It will be all right," he assured her softly.
"It isn't all right, Lucius, something's wrong." She gasped in pain as a contraction wracked her body. "It's too soon!"
"Shhhh, you must stay calm."
The birthing woman arrived, shooing Lucius out of the way. "Don't leave me," Dionysia begged.
"I won't. I will be right here, but you must let the woman care for you." She nodded, allowing the midwife to do her job.
Thomas had come in with the midwife and waited to give his report. Lucius motioned him over. "The slave Janus is dead by his own hand."
Lucius smashed his fist into the wall. "He deserved to suffer for what he has done," he said in a white rage.
He looked over to the bed. "I'm sorry, General, for everything."
The birthing woman came over to where the men stood, leaving a slave to bathe Dionysia's sweat-slicked body. She motioned Lucius farther away from the bed. "General, there is nothing I can do. She is losing the child and we may lose her as well; she has lost so much blood."
"No! That is not acceptable, do you understand? You will not let her die!" he said fiercely, eyes blazing, making the woman shrink back.
Screams from the bed stopped any reply the woman might have made as she and Lucius raced to Dionysia's side. "She is going to need your will to keep her in the world of the living," the woman told him. "Sometimes it is what makes the difference in these things."
He took Dionysia's hand, nodding. "You are going to be fine. Listen to me -- you must concentrate on staying here with me. I will not allow you to leave."
She looked at him out of pain-filled eyes that were already partly in the world of the dead. "Don't let him hurt our baby, Lucius, please," she begged.
"He can't hurt you ever again. You're safe now." He avoided mentioning the child. Squeezing her hand, he tried to will his strength into her.
Her body arched off the bed in a spasm of pain and a sudden clarity appeared in her eyes. "The baby! It's dying! No! Stop them, Lucius! Stop them," she sobbed, almost hysterical. He tried to keep her from struggling but she was frantic.
"We need to get this draught in her. She must be sedated or she will damage herself irreparably!" the birthing woman instructed. Lucius held Dionysia while the woman poured the bitter drink down her throat. "There; it will begin to work in a few moments."
"The baby, the baby," she kept repeating over and over, still struggling against his hold in a frenzy. "Noooo, don't let them, please, Lucius...."
"I'm losing her!" Dr. Beverly Crusher told them. "Some reaction to the probe that the others didn't have, and I can't seem to break it. Her neural functions are shutting down!"
"Doctor, in the dream, her persona was having a miscarriage, hemorrhaging, dying. Could that be affecting her?" LaCroix asked, his face a study in dread.
She looked up at him sharply. "Severe mental trauma, coupled with your people's psychic abilities, maybe." Triona began to thrash wildly, calling out in Latin for the baby, as the monitors above her head dipped dangerously into the red. The doctor seemed to reach a decision. "I'm going to sedate her, heavily. Maybe it will allow her mind to break the cycle."
"Will that save her, Beverly?" Picard asked, worried. LaCroix waited just as anxiously for her reply.
She looked up at the two men. "It may kill her, but doing nothing will most certainly kill her at worst and at the best she'll suffer irreparable brain damage."
"Then do it, Doctor," LaCroix told her. "Save her, you must save her."
Triona sat up in bed. She was well enough now that Dr. Crusher had allowed her to return to her cabin. LaCroix, as he had been every time she awoke, was sitting by her side. "What happened? I remember everything about her, and you, and.... Janus, but what actually happened is a bit hazy."
"An alien craft, seeking knowledge of new races, used some form of energy to probe our minds," he explained. "I believe that it locked on to us because of the heightened emotion we were experiencing at the time."
"You mean because we were fighting." She managed a small smile.
He arched a brow. "Yes." He then continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Add to that, the holo-simulation which was of a period in my life that evoked strong, almost violent, feelings. When it happened, Picard was in a public area and was taken to sickbay; they were unaware of our own predicament until he regained consciousness. They were able to convince the alien that their probe was causing harm and it finally released us."
"But you and Picard came out of it immediately?"
"I think our bond intensified the effect and the ordeal your persona was experiencing left your mind defenseless when the probe released you." He brushed her cheek softly with the back of his hand. "It was a near thing. Doctor Crusher thought you might be suffering from irreversible mental trauma -- something I knew your being an Immortal wouldn't protect you from." There was still an edge of fear to his voice, remembering how close he had come to losing her.
"Why did it have to happen that way?" she whispered. "I finally have the experience of carrying a child and it...." She broke off, scrubbing at her eyes. "So now I have the memories and knowledge of a woman that never existed." She saw a look pass across LaCroix’s eyes. "It was all an alien-induced fantasy wasn't it? Lucien? Wasn't it?"
He closed his eyes. "No, it wasn't a fantasy. It was my past, pulled straight out of the depths of my darkest memories, with you and Picard cast in the roles of Dionysia and Janus."
"Oh god, Lucien." She leaned over holding his face between her hands. "I'm so sorry. To have to relive...." Tears slid down her face.
"I would have relived it a thousand times if I could have spared you the experience." His lips traced the path of her tears, brushing them away.
"Did she... did she die? I'm sorry, but I need to know."
"No, it's all right. She didn't die. She was far too stubborn in the end." He smiled a little, remembering. "Only one of several similarities you share." He cupped her cheek, kissing her lightly.
"What did she look like?"
"She was similar in complexion, but her hair was a little lighter, and she had blue eyes instead of green. All in all, similar enough that there have been times I've wondered if she weren't your ancestress. Not that it's likely, but it pleases me to think so on occasion."
"Lucien," she said softly, placing her hand over his against her face. "Would it be unbearably painful for you to tell me what happened to her? I can't explain the desire I feel to know. I was her, in my mind. It still seems so real...." She stopped, not knowing how to explain.
He pulled her into the crook of his arm and began his tale, not needing an explanation for why she needed to know. "We went to Byzantium as planned. By the next winter, she was once again with child. It was a girl, as beautiful as her mother. We named her Perpettua. It seemed fitting somehow.” He smiled a little at the bittersweet memory “At the end of that assignment, I was given command of the Ninth Legion, and we moved to the new Roman fortress of Eboracum."
"Yes, what is now York. It wasn't yet the jewel in the crown of the Empire as the capitol of Northern Europe, but it was not without its charms. Dionysia loved it there and the two years we had together were blissful ones. Then came the Gaulish uprisings and I led Rome's troops into battle. It was the last time I saw her, my child, and my child yet to be born...."
Eboracum, 79 AD
She giggled as he laid his ear against her belly; his fingers splayed across her bare skin.
"Shhh! I can't hear!" he scolded.
"It's too soon to hear anything, Lucius!"
"It will be my last opportunity for a long while to hear my son." He was sure that this child was going to be a boy and always referred to it as such. "So I will listen," he pronounced.
Suddenly serious, she stroked his head. "I know."
Looking up at her, he smiled reassuringly. "I will return to you before his birth. I promise you. It will be a swift campaign," he said, all confidence.
"I can only pray you return safely to me and our children," she said, eyes sad.
"Hoping at the same time that my troops are defeated in battle." He sighed. She didn't deny the truth of his words. "I do my duty, my love."
"I know that, but it doesn't make me feel any less a traitor to my people, or allow me to wish you success in the destruction of what is left of them." She traced his face with her fingertips, memorizing every plane and curve. "Come home to me, Lucius. Just come home."
He pulled her down, crushing his lips to hers. "I will never leave you...."
"But you never came home," Triona said sadly.
"As I had anticipated, the campaign was bloody, but swift. So I decided to return to Pompeii, having heard that Divia was ill," he explained, "and to tell Seline I had decided to take my daughter back with me. She was a diffident mother at best and I was sure, with some persuasion, she would agree with no unpleasantness. Dionysia and I had discussed it previously and we agreed that Divia would be better off with us. You know what happened after." He fell silent.
She nestled closer, stroking his chest. "I know. But you didn't. You still blame yourself, don't you?"
"On some level I do. If I had chosen differently...."
"What happened?" She could tell from his voice there was more to the story.
"Once Divia was...gone, I returned to Eboracum. I'm not sure really what I intended to do once I saw her again. But I never had the chance to find out. I arrived to find her five years dead." She squeezed his hand comfortingly. "She had tried to stop a drunken centurion from raping a Briganti child. He knocked her to the ground and she struck her head."
She was crying softly. "Oh, Lucien, I'm so sorry."
"Gaius and his family had settled in Eboracum in the years since my death, once more taking on the role of Dionysia's family, even taking our children into their care after their mother's death. I presented myself to them as a friend of the family; not at all sure I wanted my children associating with Christians. But they were happy. Perpettua was a beautiful young woman and Lucius was growing into a strong young man. I was the stranger and I decided I did not want to touch them with the darkness I had touched Divia with."
"That isn't true!" she protested angrily. "You loved her! I know that."
"Perhaps. But at the time, I was not willing to risk my two remaining children." He seemed lost in thought, falling once more into silence. Finally, he continued, "She never accepted I was dead, not once in all the years we were apart. She insisted I would return one day, and she was right," LaCroix's voice broke, "except she wasn't there to welcome me home."
"She knew you loved her -- knew you would have come home if you could," she said fiercely.
"How can you know that?"
"Because I would know that."
He leapt off the bed. "She died alone! I should have been there, should have protected her! And then I could not even honor her memory enough to keep her in my thoughts. I blocked all of it out: my children, Dionysia, and most especially Divia. I turned my back on what was left of my mortality and embraced the darkness." His voice was fierce, and sounded very old.
"Which is what you've always told me a vampire has to do to survive! How could you bear to watch your children, and their children, grow old and die?" She got out of bed, walking purposefully to him. "You couldn't have, so you gave them the greatest gift you could -- the ability to lead their lives, their mortal lives, just as Dionysia would have wished. They were able to fulfill the promise of your love for each other. How can you hate yourself for that?" The look she gave him was one of sadness, exasperation, and the long love they had shared. If he knew her innermost soul, then she knew equally well his heart.
He shook his head. "I can always trust you to shine the light of your belief in me into the darkest parts my soul. How do you do that?" he asked, pulling her to rest against his chest.
"I could ask you the same thing," she said softly, "but it's a question we can only feel the answer to, I think."
"I can only hope then that it is an answer we will never tire of," he said just as softly in a voice like warm feathers.
"Never, I promise you," she replied before reaching up to kiss him.
"This is awkward," Picard admitted, sitting across from her in his Ready Room.
"It is, a little, even though it wasn't us. It was the alien manipulation of our mind," Triona reassured him. "I don't blame you for what happened."
"Was that all it was? I'm not so sure." He handed her a datapad. "I did some research," he said noncommittally.
She looked at him sharply, unease apparent on her face. She began to read the information he had given her. Finishing, she was quiet for a moment. "What of it? So there was a General Lucius Cerealis Perpetuus. I'm sure the aliens accessed the same data bases you did,” she said, her voice the utter calm of years spent hiding what they were.
"They didn't. I checked."
"And you're sure that you would be able to tell if a technologically advanced alien race had tapped your data banks?" She laughed, feigning disbelief. "And even if they didn't, who knows what other sources they had probed before they got to us." An amused smile on her face, she stood up, handing him the datapad. "Really, Captain."
"Don't pretend, Triona. You know as well as I that isn't what happened!"
Suddenly serious, she put all the weight of her age into her next words. "Whatever you know, or think you know, Captain, I suggest you forget about it. Heed me well, this line of thought is pointless, not to mention futile."
"And if I don't?" Picard asked stiffly.
"Then don't say I didn't warn you." Her eyes were like cold marble. She had to stop this, and now.
"Is that a threat, Minister?" he asked with a hint of heat.
"If my threats are all you ever have to deal with, then you can consider yourself fortunate."
"Definitely a threat," he snapped, momentarily losing his well kept cool.
She practically growled in frustration. "I -- we -- have done nothing to deserve this mistrust. And since we have not, common courtesy demands you do as I ask, trusting that I have ample reason to do so!"
Sitting next to him, she softened her tone. "Listen to me Jean-Luc. Imladris will guard its secrets. If we feel threatened, we will withdraw completely from all dealings with the Federation. LaCroix has been against our new openness from the beginning: he will need little excuse to slam shut the gates once more. That is all I will say on the subject, other than to say that if you doubt me, speak to Guinan. If even that does not suffice, then let the future take care of itself." She prayed he would listen to her, because if he didn't, she knew she wouldn't be able to save him.
"I did as you suggested." Picard stood with her in the transporter room, awaiting LaCroix's arrival. With their business completed, they were to transport to an Imladrin ship for the trip home. "I spoke with Guinan."
"And?" She mentally held her breath.
He smiled slightly. "Let's just say I won't be asking you any more questions. I apologize."
"No apologies are required, Jean-Luc. I only wish...." A flash of sadness passed across her eyes but was quickly shuttered. Shaking her head, she stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers.
Capturing her hand he raised it to his lips, brushing her knuckles. "I do too," he whispered. "Whether or not what happened was an alien-induced fantasy, reality, or a mix of both, I know that the relationship you have with LaCroix is as complicated as the one Dionysia had with Lucius -- and with many of the same undercurrents. Maybe one day...."
"I'm sorry, I thought I could make it all work…." She felt LaCroix's approach and knew this brief moment of her life was almost over. There was sadness, but also the comfort of knowing that there were some things that were a constant. She continued, "But it just can't be."
The door whooshed open. She leaned up, kissing Picard gently on the cheek, giving him a small smile. "Maybe not in this life, at least," he whispered. That earned him an even bigger smile.
She didn't reply, just reached back to take the hand she knew was waiting for her.
"Are you ready to leave, my dear?" LaCroix asked.
Squeezing his hand, she turned her smile to him. "Yes. It's time to go home."
Nodding, he led her to the transporter pad. Once they were ready, Picard told the transporter chief to initiate. As they shimmered out of existence, Triona raised her hand in farewell, knowing that they would meet again.