Disclaimer: The XWP characters mentioned herein belongs to RenPics and those folks, and sadly not to this little banshee. But I can pretend they do, for a moment at least. ^_^
Subtext: Is, as always in my stories, maintext. Perhaps a bit more in detail than is my wont, almost bordering on graphic in a section or two, but hopefully it's not too bad.
Generally speaking this fic is not an attempt at something comedic, and might seem a bit darker in comparison to my other stories, well, the short ones anyway. Also, it contains some mention of violence.
This fic is a bit hard for me to define. To me I suppose it is a Conqueror fic of sorts, the same way the episode When Fates Collide is a Conqueror episode to me. I'm not sure though, you be the judge.
As always, feedback is very much welcome at email@example.com.
by Carola "Ryűchan" Eriksson
I am waiting.
Others share this dark, dank pit that I could call my home, but will not as home is forever lost to me. They are waiting too, but their wait is filled with emotions and mine is not.
They fear. They want. Someone might even still harbour some kind of hope in here, I really could not tell. There are even those that feel ambition in this putrid dark.
I feel nothing.
I have not felt in a long time. Not since that day.
Who am I? That is a pointless question, for I am no-one. Just another body waiting to die here.
I sit with the cold stone at my back, and the packed dirt beneath me, just one among many in these man-made caverns. I breathe. This is all I do.
I have claimed a spot with the stone at my back for a reason. I am a beast, surviving by instinct although I no longer have the passion in me to live, and the wall at my back is such an instinct. I am a beast that has long ago lost all passion for the kill, but the other beasts that moves in this dark would gladly see me dead, and so my instincts continue to serve me, as even in sleep I am ready to defend this unwanted life.
My passion. I lost my passion a long time ago. An eternity and a day, or so it seems. I have stopped counting the passage of days, but my heart tells me it has been a lifetime.
I was another person then. A woman with a reason, a purpose, life. All of that died.
I no longer dream. I have faint recollections that she, the woman who once were, used to have dreams. Perhaps they were even vibrant, I will never know. Now, when I close my eyes all I see is these two hands covered in blood.
Her blood. Their blood. Just blood. It matters not.
I have killed to many to count. Men, women, beasts, it makes no difference, they will all bleed and they will all die.
Like the beasts that shares my darkness. There is not one among them that would not slit my throat if they could, for no more than the worn leather armour that I wear. And yet when we are brought out of our cages on this day, we will stand in the light above to fight together, side by side, as if we were comrades.
Today, I am expected to die for them if need be. Yet tomorrow any that lives through this day will face me from across the killing field, as my opponent.
I care not. And neither do they. One does not make friends here.
As if I still had a capacity for that.
With the other beasts, those on four legs, it is easier. I am not expected to protect them, just kill them spectacularly or die a gory death. So far, I have been the victor, and my body is covered in the scars to prove it. One day I too will be killed, and my carcass will be thrown down that pit to feed the lions. Whether on the arena or under it, I shall die here.
Such is a gladiator's life. And I regret it not.
Why then, since life is but a word that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, do I continue? Why do I not end it all when they hand me my weapons as I enter the arena?
There is… a reason.
New movement in the dark, and the beasts are rattling their cages. It is time. Guards come to prod us up that long, steep, narrow tunnel into the light.
The steep passage has been trampled so often that the dirt feels like solid rock underneath my scuffed leather boots, and the passage from the darkness below to the light above is, as always, difficult. The light cuts into eyes like tiny daggers, yet no-one reacts. It is the way things are.
The gates that would bar us from the arena have already been drawn aside as I step upon the red dirt of the killing field. Some newcomers will whisper in the dark that it is the blood of the gladiators that have dyed the dust to this rusty shade, as if the arena itself would bleed with us.
Those newcomers never survive long.
The arena, that gladiators know as the killing field, is called by another name by the nobles. Coliseum. And the walls that surrounds this piece of blood-soaked dirt is almost always filled with them, lusting for our blood, our deaths. But the ones that take the time to notice them where they sit will not live long here. Focus on the dirt where you are, and the air around you, and maybe you'll survive the day. That is how it works.
I receive my weapons from a faceless shadow while the others with me choose theirs from the racks. The worn handle of my sword is comfortable to my hand, and the helmet I wear has a red tassel on the top. These are signs of my rank. I have survived long enough to win the spectators' favour, and so I have earned things of privilege. A good blade, better leathers, and a helmet with a tassel so that those that watch for me will not have to strain themselves to find me when the fighting begins. When the dying begins.
I raise my hand with all the others as we shout the words that frame a gladiator's existence towards the box with the blue canopy. We who are about to die, salute you.
It is one of the rare times that I use my voice. Everything else is usually silence.
The opposing team come in on horseback. Perhaps I should wonder if I have fallen out of the audience's favour, but I care not. A gesture of my hand, and the others take their places beside me. Preparing. Then the riders arrive, and although I am silent the roar goes up around me.
The wait is over.
I fight. I kill. I notice that my opponents are doing what they can to lure me to the far end of the field, separating me from the others. I care not.
Another dies by my blade as I am netted. The gladiator on horseback drags me across the last bit of distance before I pull him down on the ground with me. I take the moment to cut the net off me as he regains his footing, then we battle.
Suddenly the design of this trap becomes clear to me. I know it before the roar cuts across the noise of steel meeting steel, and I grab my opponent and spin him. The great paw rips through my human shield with ease, and the fangs close in to finish, but the sick sound the gladiator makes as he dies means nothing to me. He served his purpose.
The lion relishes in his kill, giving me time to back away and observe him.
He is new here. Young, frightened, confused. I appreciate that, as he will be easier to kill this way.
I abandon my sword, as it will not help me right now, and I run. He follows me, roaring. It is just a few steps, but it is enough, as I grab the chains that binds him to the stone column behind us. I rush towards him, and in his confusion he does not react fast enough. I spin, I duck, I tumble.
And then I am upon his back, holding on with the strength in my legs, as I use the chain to strangle him. He leaves his mark on me, and then we both fall to the ground, hard. But I do not release him yet, and he continues to struggle.
It isn't until we hit the ground that I discover that my helmet has been torn off, leaving my head unprotected from the impact. My body wants to succumb to unconsciousness, but I have long since learned not to. Instead my grip tightens, and with one last heave he goes still.
I get to my feet, forcing unsteady legs to carry me, and look around for my next opponent. To my surprise the field is clear of all but corpses, the surviving gladiators already pulled off the arena to give me the spotlight. It would seem that I am still in favour after all.
The sunlight burns on my skin as I realize that today's entertainment was meant for one person only. My struggles have brought me almost directly under the ornate box that only ever hold one person and whatever guests she chooses to bring. The ruler of everything. I realize also that the lion at my feet is not yet dead, just unconscious. Perhaps he is even dying, but he is not there yet. I know what is expected of me.
I retrieve my sword. I turn. I face her.
This is my reason. Not the victory, not the kill, but this moment.
I stare at her, closer than I can recall ever having been before. She stands, surprisingly, right at the end of her balcony, staring right back at me. She looks pale. I wait for her order.
She is the reason.
I cannot see the color of her eyes even though I stand this close, and for a fleeting moment I… feel something. Was it regret? I do not know. I wait.
And continue to wait.
A murmur rises around us, the nobles want the finish and she seems to have forgotten that she must give me the sign. But she continues to merely stare at me. The expression on her face seems peculiar, I do not know what to make of it.
She summons one of her advisors to her side, and speaks to him quietly. But her eyes never leave mine. Then, almost as an afterthought, she gives me the sign. The audience roars in relief.
I grip my blade with both hands and bring it down, twice, upon the lion's neck. He had begun stirring, had she waited much longer I would have been forced to fight him again. Now he is truly dead, and I lift my blood-soaked sword up for her inspection. The nobles cheer at my victory as if it had been their own. She just looks at me. Then, after a moment, she gives the signal that I may leave the field.
My heart is hammering in my chest, and I do not know why. It is not exertion, not anymore, and I am confused. But the moment passes, and I walk across the killing field, not giving notice to the corpses that are being dragged of it as I walk. The arena is being cleared to make way for the charioteers that are up next. And I approach the guards waiting for me at the entrance to the darkness below.
They take my sword, but to my surprise I am put in shackles to hand and foot, and other guards step up to take my arms. I had expected to simply be allowed to stumble my way back down into the dark, find a wall to sit by, and wait for the guards to bring me a bowl of water and rags to tend my wounds with. This is new.
I do not resist as they drag me on, out through a gate I have not seen for a very long time. The gate that leads out from the Coliseum. The thought briefly enters my mind that I have been sold, but that does not make sense. Once a gladiator at the Coliseum, you die there. No-one is ever sold off, and no-one ever leaves. Ever. Even the dead are thrown to the lions or burned in the incinerators.
So why this? I wait, knowing that the answer will come eventually.
A wagon drives up to us, and I am put on board, secured to two large, burly men. As if that and these chains would stop me if I wanted to kill. They just do not understand the concept of a gladiator outside the arena, I realize, but it makes no difference. I will not try to escape. There is nowhere to run to.
We travel this way for quite a distance, until reaching the castle. There I am delivered to another group of guards and taken through corridors that seems endless. Until they do. And I am brought to a bathing facility.
I am stripped of my leathers, and the dirty rags worn underneath them, and then I am bathed. A roomful of female servants under the supervision of the guards, clean me from head to toe, even in those intimate places. But I have lost the capacity to feel shame as well, and keep still. The women titter nervously as they go about tending my wounds and putting sweet smelling things on my skin, my scarred and muscular body must be something very foreign to them. Then they are done, and I am supposed to be dressed. But apparently my leathers are offensive to them, although whether it is the smell, the splatter of blood and dirt on them, or the fact that they are clearly worn when looked upon up close, I cannot tell. So instead a short white toga is located, much like the ones the servant women themselves wear. And I am taken away.
I am not naïve.
I know now what this is about, it is far from unusual for noblewomen to indulge in brief carnal acts with a gladiator. Or noblemen, for that matter. Although I have not been chosen for that purpose before, I do know that this is not how it usually happens. There are rooms under the arena where such nobles can find their entertainment with gladiators, no-one is ever taken outside, much less to a noble's home.
I am led to another chamber, a large luxurious one, and said to wait. Bathed, clothed and still in my shackles, I wait.
My mind has already mapped the path I entered, the number of guards, what I can use as weapons and how, all I should need in case of an escape. Yet I wait.
I feel the air move as she enters somewhere out of sight. Then she is there, gliding towards me from across the room. Her eyes lock with mine. She has that expression again.
Her eyes are blue.
Somehow I knew they would be. They pull at something deep in me, something unknown, unnamed. For a brief instant I wonder if I should run. But then she speaks.
Her voice is deep and melodious, but it trembles just slightly as she asks me what my name is. It takes me a moment to reply, and when I do my own voice feels rough and coarse to my ears. I tell her I do not have a name. That I have not had a name for so long that I can barely remember what it used to be. So she asks me who I used to be. And I remember.
Gabrielle, I say, from Poteidaia.
And all I can think of is how soft her skin must be.
How these things bore me.
As I am a warrior, and a ruler who gained her power through battle prowess, I am expected to find pleasure in watching other creatures fight to the death for sport. I do not.
I admit that if I had a blade and stood down there to fight myself, my pleasure would be much greater, but merely watching was never my forte. Although I realize, in the secret confines of my own mind, that I am not that formidable a warrior. Maybe I was once, but that was long ago.
I am a strategist, a leader, a thinker now. A ruler.
Ruling sounds good on papyrus, but reality is another. There are demands that must be met, responsibilities to shoulder. And you end up changing yourself to carry the crown rather than the other way around. Things that used to please me has mostly lost their appeal, or I as a ruler can't indulge in them. There is always so much to consider.
For political reasons I must sit here today, in this heat, and watch people beat each other to bloody pulp. All for the entertainment of the mindless nobles of Rome. Oh, they state so grandly that the Coliseum is for all citizens to enjoy, but the only ones that come here are the upper class citizens of this city. Politics require more or less regular visits, so I do. At least there will be chariot races later.
Many ascribe the building of the Coliseum to me, but in truth it was not I who thought this place up. It was Caesar, and it was Caesar who had it completed just in time to have Pompey slain there. Caesar always had rather pathetically barbaric taste, underneath all that ego. No matter. I plan to get some work done while under the pretence of watching anyway.
Then they tell me that there is something special planned, and bring out the lion. Despite myself I am intrigued, as they tell me of the female gladiator that the team on horseback will try to lure into a fight with the lion for my entertainment. Her record is impressive, and I wonder how much of it is true, if anything.
Most likely I will have first row seat to witness her gory death, but now I fear I shall watch her struggle all the same.
She enters and stand to salute me, among the others that are her team for the day. I recognize something about her, and realise that I have seen her before. And that she is formidable.
And I watch.
I find myself watching every move she makes raptly, at the edge of my seat, and I feel a sense of anger against those that engage her in combat. This is curious. As she takes a hit I find myself gripping the armrests to my seat hard enough to make the gilded wood groan, to suppress the urge to swoop down and take retaliation. But retaliation for what?
Then she is dragged towards me, and engages the lion.
I do not even notice that I stand and walk over to the edge of the balcony, gripping the railing so hard that my knuckles grow white as I watch.
She is magnificent.
The sun that beats down on the scene below enhances the colours, making the lion look golden on a field of red. As she drops her helmet I gasp. Her hair, short and unkempt, is turned into a blinding white torch before my eyes. She straddles the lion as if she was a hero from the tales bards would tell, and by her strength he falls.
I hold my breath until she rises.
Slowly she turns to face me. Our eyes meet, and the jolt that surges through me has me clinging to the railing for a completely different reason.
I am suddenly panting as if I have run a race in this heat, and my heart is hammering in my ears.
By the Gods!
I want her.
That is easy enough to discern, but there is something else in me that calls for attention. I know not what it is, and this confuses me. She is still staring at me, waiting. For a brief moment I imagine that she is waiting for me. Waiting to join me. Then reality sets in. I must be gawking open-mouthed at her like some village buffoon, how embarrassing.
And the crowd around us is calling for blood. After a moments hesitation I summon one of my aides over to me. In brusque words I tell him to have her sent to my bedchamber at the palace, ignoring the embarrassment I feel when he starts and glances at me in a telling way. Only noblewomen of questionable repute dallies with gladiators, and even those do it with discretion. What I am asking, no, ordering now will be all over the city by morning as surely as if I had announced it at the forum.
So be it.
I give her the sign, and watch as she swiftly delivers the killing blows. Then she turns to me for the last signal.
Although I know I will see her soon, and in fact I am practically quivering with excitement because of this, I am reluctant to see her go. I do not wish to. How silly. I give her the sign, and she turns to walk away from me.
My eyes follow her all the way, until she is out of sight behind the gates.
I return to my seat and watch the chariot race without seeing it. All I can think of is her. What does this mean? It most certainly is not merely physical attraction, because she would not be the first I have felt attracted to. But I have never experienced anything like this reaction before.
It is intriguing. And a bit unsettling.
I consider her and the enigma she symbolizes for the remainder of the chariot races. Then I make my excuses as swiftly as I can, not quite aware what I say or to whom, and leave in a hurry.
My chariot awaits me as I step out from the Coliseum, to take me back to my palace or wherever else I may wish to go. I want to be in my chambers, now, and with her. But I will settle for a speedy journey there.
My heart is pounding again, at the thought of seeing her. Why does she affect me so?
I blaze through the halls of the palace, barely listening to the aide that tells me that the gladiator is being prepared for my presence. I understand from his speech that he means that she has been brought to the baths to be cleaned up, and I almost snap at him for the implied suggestion that she is unclean. Unworthy. The thing that stops me is the thought that she might have enjoyed having a bath to wash away the blood and the dirt, as I know I have in the past.
A servant meets us as I approach my chambers, she has been prepared and brought there I am told. I order them to leave us, overriding the protests of my aide. I wish to be alone with her I tell him, letting him know by my gaze just why I do not desire further company. He looks appalled and backs off. Before he leaves I reach out and seize a small set of keys from his hand, wondering what they are for.
They have put her in shackles. And I am angry at the thought.
Instead of arguing further, as this would mean waiting even longer to see her again, I just wave them away. And enter the chamber quietly.
I see her before she sees me, again.
Whether it is by coincidence or design, she is standing right in a ray of sunlight pouring in through a window, and she… glows. Her hair looks soft and radiant, and her skin is a darkened bronze that contrasts nicely to the simple servant garb she wears. She is truly a magnificent creature.
She looks at me, and I cannot stay away.
Her eyes are green, but they appear dead. No, not dead, upon closer inspection, but rather like her face in general, frozen. They should sparkle with laughter. And I wish I could cause them to.
She is lovely up close.
Full lips, a face of soft lines that can only be described as beautiful, and the pale blond hair that frames it gives it an almost impish appearance. She is shorter than I would have thought for one with such a commanding presence, much shorter than myself. But then again, I am taller than most.
I walk up to her and speak. At first she merely watches, and I briefly fear that she will not respond. I ask her for her name. After a moment of hesitation she tells me that she has none. Her voice, though clearly not often used, is surprisingly sweet and warm. Somehow I expected it to be deeper pitched and hard, like the life she has no doubt been forced to live.
I ask if she can remember the name she once had, and now she answers. Gabrielle. How beautiful. And how appropriate. She stands before me as the light itself, and I could gladly fall to my knees to worship at her altar at this very moment.
I see the shackles around her arms and feet. The keys are in my hands.
Welcome Gabrielle, I say, I am glad to meet you. And then I reach out and unlock the manacles around her wrists. An expression of surprise pass over her eyes, but she remains unmoving next to me.
She is so close it is all I can do not to take her in my arms and kiss her right now. Yet I resist. I give her the keys and tell her to unlock the chains at her feet as well. Bending smoothly at the waist she complies.
I touch her face. I feel a shiver, but I can't tell if it is her or me that caused it. Caressing her face I ask if she knows why she is here. She answers that she does, the look in her eyes suggesting that it is true. And that it is not entirely unwelcome.
I reach for the clasps where her garment is held together, but then I hesitate. I want to continue so much it actually frightens me, yet there is something I want more.
I want her to know me.
It is a vain wish, and I know it. She may not be averse to sharing a moment of physical closeness with me, but what I ask for would be impossible. I think it might be impossible for us both. I undo the clasps and watch as the clothing falls to pool at her feet. I take a step back to encompass all her glory with my eyes
I cannot stop staring.
She is glorious. She is all solid, rippling muscle and smooth planes, yet the woman is not lost underneath the strength of the warrior. The alluring curves of her hips and bust beckons me, and I ache to answer their call. But first there is more to see, and I am spellbound by her.
I see that her skin is not bronzed all over, there is a part of her that she has kept hidden from the harsh sun and the skin there is paler than my own. The discovery thrills me. She is covered with scars, even more so than I am. Some are barely visible, old, faded, and others are new and bright. There are even a few that she earned today, wounds that will be scars when they've healed. I want to know each and every one.
The scars make a map across her form, and I am almost trembling as I realize that soon, very soon, I will follow that map with hands, lips and tongue. I want to touch her everywhere, know everything. Then I hear her speak.
She knows that she is very scarred, she says, as if expecting me to be appalled. I look at her face and suddenly it is clear to me that she is shy. She mistook my hungry stare for disappointment somehow, and now she is waiting to be dismissed. She probably doesn't even notice how one of her hands move slightly as if to cover herself before it stops and clenches at her hip.
Her chin lifts slightly, and her guard is back up in full. I had not even realized that she had relaxed it for a moment, and I feel like such a brute. I step forward, close enough to touch although I only touch her shoulders lightly, and lean into her ear.
I tell her how beautiful she is to me, and how her splendour makes me feel. How intoxicating she is and what I intend to do to her. I try to speak softly, calmly, although I am light-headed with her closeness. I move back slightly and look into her eyes again. The expression is the same, but something in those eyes seems to have softened somehow.
Lovely, I breathe almost upon her lips, then I back away a step or two.
release the straps and fastenings on my own dress, allowing it to fall down on it's own before stepping out of it. Another movement, and my undergarments joins it on the floor. I am now as naked as she is, and I stand still to let her eyes wander my form as I did hers.
I understand why this troubled her. Suddenly I am wondering if I will appeal to her still. I too have scars, though not nearly as many as she, still it is not those that concern me. But then I look at her face.
Her eyes are wide as she stares at me. Her lips are parted slightly, and her breathing comes faster now. She looks a little flushed, but that could be merely my imagination. I smile as I have all the confirmation I need that I was, indeed, found appealing.
I cannot hold back any longer. I close the distance and pull her against me.
Sweet gods! Her lips are so soft, so sweet, and I am moaning into the kiss. At first she does not respond, remaining very still in my arms. Then a trembling goes through her, like a moan without sound, and she responds. Hesitantly her arms move up to wrap around me, and her lips move and open. I am lost in bliss.
Her combination of soft and hard feels right in my arms, I do not wish to let go. Only when we both are desperate for air do we part slightly, and panting I look into her eyes. They have darkened, gone a smoky green with her desire, and are wide open for me to see.
Suddenly I realize that she is young, much younger than I had thought. My heart wants to break at the thought of how harsh her life must have been. And I wish to protect her.
As if I am completely ignorant to the fact that it is because of people like me that she has had to live such a harsh life. And as if I do not already know that the strength and skill she possesses surpasses mine. I shake these thoughts from my mind and take her hand, leading her into the other room where the bed awaits us.
The curtains are drawn but the windows are open, leaving a faint breeze moving through the room and direct sunlight closed out. Still the room is bright, but that is well, I wish to see her clearly. She seems hesitant as I lay us down on the bed. I let our kisses persuade her, and everything else melts away, leaving me lost in her anew.
We touch. We move.
I do not know for how long, but it seems forever, yet not nearly long enough. All sentient thought has already abandoned me. I need her, all of her, and have not the patience to wait. I reach out. And stop short when I encounter resistance.
The shock sobers me from my fevered haze.
Bewildered I look at her. She meets my gaze with a calm one of her own. Accepting. I try to be gentle, but I am sure there is pain regardless. Yet she shows no sign of hurting. Tears cloud my eyes and spill down my cheeks in her place.
I strive to be tender with her now, gentle. Caring. Less desperate in my need.
She makes no sound. None at all, not even when her back arcs under my touch and her mouth fall open as if to scream. But if her lips are silent, then her eyes, wide and luminous, scream all the more. Right into my soul.
She wants me to share the sensation, but does not know how. I tell her, and she finds confidence in her movements sooner than I would have thought. And if her scream was silent, then mine is loud enough for both of us.
I know not for how long we continue this way, but when coherent thought returns to me the light in the room has turned to dusk and the air has cooled. I hold onto her, still unable to let go.
She curls into me, in a way that make her seem surprisingly vulnerable. She hesitates as she pulls her arm across my waist, so I secure it there with my own, lightly caressing her arm. I speak.
I had not intended to, but I find myself telling her things. Little things. Irrelevant things. My feelings about the Coliseum, how I met my favourite horse, funny little episodes from my childhood. What my day was supposed to be like, and what I was supposed to do tomorrow.
She draws back.
Alarmed I turn on my side, leaning over towards her. Quietly she asks me if she should go. The stab of pain in my heart at those words makes it difficult to breathe. No! No, she cannot leave, I cannot bear to let her go! Pride be cursed, I will beg. And I do.
Stay. Stay with me Gabrielle, I plead desperately. Don't leave me, stay. Please stay.
My words seem insufficient to my ears and they probably are. I have never begged before. So I kiss her between pleas, kissing is good, kissing I know. I can do kissing.
Until she stops me. Her hands holds my face, keeping me still. I meet her gaze, fearful of what I will see.
Her eyes are no longer guarded against me, but open. The words she does not speak are all in there, in that warm green regard. My vision grows unclear for a moment as I realize. She will stay. She wants to stay. I close my eyes and force the need for tears away. When I open them again I see the most amazing sight.
She is smiling.
Just a faint curling at the edges of her lips, but it is there. Her gaze is warm. She nods slowly at me. And I could shout my joy from Mount Olympus for all to hear. Instead I close the small distance between us, needing to make love to her again.
Yes, love. I finally understand. She reached across that field of red and laid claim to my heart. And here I scarcely knew I had one.
There will be problems, objections, hindrances. People will try to separate us, and there might even be those that tries to threaten her. But by the Gods, I will never let her go again!
I cannot recall when last I was self-conscious about my body. Yet here I stand, naked before her. And I want to cover myself from her eyes.
I have never considered my looks before. Why should I? Survival is not about looks when you are on the killing field. This hard, muscular body is my weapon, my shield that lets me live. These scars are signs that I survived yet another battle, yet another encounter.
These scars. It strikes me suddenly that I am covered in them.
No wonder that she stares at me so. I must not be what she had bargained for. Like receiving a new blade only to discover that it is already chipped and cracked all over. Any minute now she will speak, to tell me that she has changed her mind.
And I will grab the borrowed toga at my feet and leave, so she need not look upon me any more. Without meaning to I take a gladiator stance, the one I use when waiting for a blow I cannot or may not block. Ready to endure pain. How strange.
Instead she comes closer. Touching my shoulders. Her hands have sword calluses, but they are still soft. Then she speaks softly into my ear. Sweet things. Sweet words. Words of beauty. Mine? How can I be beautiful?
No matter, she could read me a weapons inventory with that velvet voice, and I would still react.
She almost kisses me, but then draw back. I am surprised I feel faint disappointment when she does.
I take a moment to consider. She has not told me her name, but she does not need to. I am neither illiterate nor deaf, I hear her name shouted from the charioteers nearly every day. And even when she is not present, I swear the gladiators oath to the banner with her image on it. With her name on it.
Why she should choose this, with me, is beyond my understanding. So I do not try to understand it. What concerns me is that I have not done this before. I do not know what is expected of me.
I never did like going into battle blindfolded.
She takes off the last of her clothing, and for a moment I forget to breathe. The next I am breathing much too rapidly. She is… I have forgotten words that could describe her.
I take in all I may see of her. Those long legs, the supple strength hidden under softness, the smoothness of skin several shades paler than my own, yet not pale as nobles tend to be. The gladiator in me still notices that her muscular build is of someone who was once a warrior, but does not fight any more. That she has a few scars herself from some time past.
I remember a word she said to me moments ago. Lovely. Yes, she is lovely. And I feel sensations I have never experienced before.
She pulls me close and kisses me.
I know not what to do, so I remain still at first. But instinct serves me well in this capacity too, and I begin to respond. And it is sweet, oh so sweet.
I have no idea how much time passes until she withdraws from me slightly, needing air. I want to continue until I see her eyes. Did I think that her eyes are blue? How inadequate of me. The half-lidded gaze that bores into me scorches me with it's heat, and like a newcomer before his first lion, I stand still and let her.
She shakes her head slightly, and for a moment I wonder why. Have I done something wrong? But she takes my hand and leads me to another room, so I assume I have not offended too much. Her hand feels nice.
I am confused. Perhaps I should not think so hard, but instinct can only do so much. She leads me to a bed, so large and soft that I for a moment wonder who besides her sleep in it. But then I remember who she is. Of course she would have only the largest and finest at her disposal. Which once again makes me wonder what she wants with a battered gladiator like me.
I am unsure what to do when she lays me down. She follows and cover my body with her own before kissing me again. I need not decide what I am supposed to do quite yet, and after a moment, I do not think of anything at all.
What happens next is surprising. Instinct lets me match her movements, but the sensations is too much for me. What am I to do with all these feelings? It reminds me of drowning, like when I was almost drowned by another gladiator in a water tournament, and I feel it may sweep me away completely. I never did learn to swim very well.
She stops. She stares at me with an expression I for once do understand. She is surprised and disbelieving. I know why. It is unusual for a female slave to remain… unused, so far into adult age. I may not know my age, but I am an adult, so her surprise is understandable. And there has been those that tried, but even before I was brought to the arena I was a ferocious fighter.
It was the reason I was sold as a gladiator in the first place. The things I did to the man who tried made me unusable as anything else. And instead of killing me, I was sold to the Coliseum. I have wondered which fate was worse.
She moves so carefully. There is a small amount of pain, but it is nothing compared to what I am used to. I ignore it. Strangely she weeps as she watches me, and I understand not why. Then she moves again, and I am well and truly lost.
I would have thought that there could be nothing so pleasurable as what she did to me, but then she tells me how to touch her. And it is more. It matters not that I am no-one. All that matters is touching her, and I do. And she screams.
She screams that name, so loud, and every single hair on my arms and my neck is standing up in reaction. I shiver as the shock runs through me.
She screams for Gabrielle. And I so desperately want to be Gabrielle, her Gabrielle, the Gabrielle that she is screaming for. I know with blinding clarity that Gabrielle would love her. With all she was. And I hurt so much knowing that I am not her.
A long time and many turns later we finally come to rest. I feel different. Changed. I do not want to be apart from her, but I am hesitant to ask if I may touch her like this. She pulls my arm firmly around herself, as sign surely that she approves. My head rests on her shoulder. I can feel the beating of her heart.
She speaks. She tells me stories about herself, I know not why. But I listen. Despite myself I close my eyes as I listen to her velvet voice, but the dark image I would have expected does not come to me. Instead I see a little girl, thin and slightly dirty, with skinned knees and unruly hair. She has brilliantly blue eyes.
Then reality comes back, and tears me away.
She tells me of the things she has forsaken to be with me today. And of the things she has yet to do before the morning comes. I feel cold. I understand. She is trying to tell me that she has no more time to spend on a gladiator. She is working up to telling me to leave.
I turn away. I can do nothing else, because I hurt. How can I hurt so deeply? But she has made me feel. And so I hurt.
I ask her if I should leave now. It is rude of me, but I cannot stand to wait and listen until she gets to the point when she can tell me to go. Strange, but I feel really cold. And there seems to be something wrong with my eyes, because they sting so badly.
She leans over me. The expression in her face, in her eyes, threatens to stop my heart. I stare. I know this look, I have seen it before. In the eyes of slaves that has realized that the only thing that made living bearable is about to be taken from them. And she is pleading with me, begging me.
Stay with me Gabrielle, she says.
I do not need to hear the rest. She wants me to stay with her, I need not know anything else. Because I realize now. The feelings overwhelm me.
I will stay as long as she will let me. As whatever she will let me. And in the end I am surprised to find that maybe, just maybe…
I can be Gabrielle again.
Not the same Gabrielle as before, too much has happened since. But a Gabrielle. A Gabrielle that loves her. And I can be home.
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