Chapter 1: I. Captured
The smell of death and decay filled the air as those who were cut down in battle slowly began to bake in the hot summer’s sun. Blood covered the village clearing, staining the dirt a deep crimson as it tainted a place that used to hold so many warm and pleasant memories. Now, all it would ever hold was despair. It stuck in their throat and made them choke on their hope, and as a young Amazon of barely sixteen winters finally began to rejoin the wakening world, she found the stench and taste of it unbearable.
The girl squinted against the harsh light of day as her eyes began to focus on an Amazon who cried out as she was backhanded in the face. The blow brought her to her knees and she was spit on, jeered at. Varia’s stomach began to grow sick with fear as a terrifying woman bathed in red barked orders at her army of soldiers, screaming at them to watch the faces. ‘Auction’ was the only word that Varia heard, her blood beginning to pump loudly in her ears as she slowly rose to her feet.
She was terrified. It was her first battle, and she had never killed before. Yes, she had been trained; she had been trained since birth to fight and yet no one had prepared Varia for what it would feel like to make the decision to end someone’s life. There was no choice however, no thought; the second Varia had seen her little sister in the line of Amazons waiting to be collared and herded off like cattle, her hand was wrapped around that dagger.
Stealth had always come naturally to Varia as she was an excellent hunter, but it was the slow part that did her in, in the end. It gave her time to think, time to realize the extent of what she was planning to do. If she had just rushed the monster Livia, perhaps she would have been able to make the kill. But she didn’t, and so she couldn’t. Instead, Varia’s fear and hesitation choked her like a vice, and within a moment she found herself flat on her back with a sword in her face.
This is how I’m going to die.
Livia’s sword rose.
“No, Tura!” Varia cried desperately, watching the girl break away from the line of Amazons to hurl herself towards her older sister. Tura flattened herself over Varia’s form, shielding her body from the monster’s forthcoming blow. Livia’s scowl twisted into an amused smile at the gesture, and Varia could feel her sister tense on top of her, no doubt expecting her death.
“Pathetic,” Livia spat, lowering her sword. But instead of the blow that both sisters expected, nothing touched either of them. Varia opened her eyes, seeing the sword pointed at her once more. “Get them back in line!” Livia ordered her soldiers with a jerk of her sword, prompting two of them to roughly grab the pair of Amazons off of the ground. Varia struggled, but to no avail; the vice-like grips on her arms were sure to leave bruises, and she winced.
“Two less Amazons are two less bags of gold that I need to finance my march on Greece; so I expect all of you to make certain that none of these savages do anything stupid enough to warrant their deaths,” Livia ordered as she sheathed her sword. “And check the dead; I’m not in the mood for any more surprises.”
Varia expected to be hauled into the line of Amazons, but an unexpected hand lashed out then, twisting in the Amazon’s hair as she was brought to her knees. The soldier that was holding her left her to Livia’s devices and the woman sneered, looking positively aggrieved with the realization that it would be more pertinent to keep her alive. “You might think you got lucky, Amazon, but believe me… where I’m sending you, death would be preferable. I hear most slave girls become crippled within a matter of a week, if they’re not too busy getting brutally raped by their masters. It’s not the fitting end I’d like give you, but I suppose it’ll have to do.”
Livia released her as she shoved her to the ground, allowing Varia to tumble into the blood-stained dirt beneath their feet. The Amazon coughed hard as she struggled to breathe, the wind momentarily being knocked out of her by the force of it. Livia was much stronger than she appeared, and that made her all the more frightening.
“Chain them,” the monster ordered, and as Varia was grabbed from behind, she was suddenly thrust into a world that would, in time, shape her into someone she never thought she would become.
The largest slave market was off the shores of Northern Africa, and so that was their destination. The ship was dark and dank, the cargo hold smelling faintly of animal manure and human filth. The once-fierce Amazons were chained to one another against the far wall, unable to bathe or privately relieve themselves during the ten-day journey to Ptolemais. Humiliation took a back seat to despair however, and barely anyone spoke during the trip as they reflected on their failure as a tribe.
They had been beaten, enslaved… they were an embarrassment to Artemis and to the word ‘Amazon’.
The stairs creaked as two men descended into the hold, their faces contorting in disgust as the smell hit their nostrils. “Should’ve given them a fucking bucket,” one grumbled. “To hell with what the Commander said. I don’t want to be the one that has to clean the piss and shit off of them to get them ready for Auction once we dock.”
“Go against her if you’ve got the stones then, Marcellus, but I rather like my head attached to my body,” the other said before grabbing a molded loaf of bread out of the bag and tossing it towards the women chained to the wall. Like starving animals, they began to grab for any piece they could get. “Disgusting,” he noted, watching them. “They really are savages, aren’t they?”
Rage began to rise up in Varia’s chest at the man’s words, but her hunger overrode anything else as another loaf was tossed her way. It had been at least three days since they had last been allowed to eat. She grabbed it, splitting it in half before giving the other part to Tura; even amidst her starvation, she still remembered her little sister. After their mom passed a couple years back, Varia was all that Tura had. Even if she couldn’t look out for her in the way that she wanted to now, she could at least do something. Anything.
They were given water after they were fed, but it wasn’t ever enough. Varia always felt like the back of her throat was dry, and she had to cough to clear it a few times after the soldiers had left. When she stopped coughing she heard a soft sniffle though and looked over to see Tura wipe the wetness from her cheeks as she looked down into her lap. Varia’s heart clenched in her chest, feeling awful that she wasn’t able to protect her; what kind of Amazon was she if she wasn’t even able to protect her family?
“Tura…” Varia breathed sadly, bringing her hand over to cover her sister’s knee. It was the only comfort she could give her in this place, and even that fell flat.
“What’s going to happen to us?” Tura asked, her wide eyes that were once filled with so much innocence, now growing darker as they were robbed of their light. A part of Varia wondered why it took Tura so long to voice that question, but perhaps it was the fear of the answer.
“I don’t know,” Varia answered honestly, hating herself for not having all the answers. Once, she used to relish venturing into the unknown; the thrill of not knowing what was coming next excited her. Now though, all that seemed to be on the other side of Varia’s story was fear and heartache. “We’ll be sold into slavery, at the very least. That… that bitch needs us to finance her invasion, and money seems to be all we’re worth to her. I think right now though, the best we can hope for it a merciful owner, or if we’re really lucky… a very stupid one that will be easy to escape from.”
Tura swallowed hard, nodding her understanding. Then, quietly – almost barely above a whisper the words were so soft – she asked, “…Do you think we’re going to die?”
Varia’s heart broke.
“No,” she told her strongly, grasping onto her sister’s hands as she held them tight. “We’re Amazons, Tura; some of the strongest warriors this world has ever seen. Wherever we find ourselves at the end of the journey, we will get out of it. I promise you,” she finished passionately, giving her sister a reassuring smile as she gently tucked a piece of hair away from the young girl’s face, “this is not the end of our story.”
“Don’t lie to her like that, Varia.”
Varia’s head snapped around, a glare etching across her features as she stared at the woman who dared to shatter a little girl’s hope. “I am not lying to her,” she seethed, infuriated that that kind of negativity was trying to seep into what little hope they all had left. If they allowed thinking like that to flourish within them then it would corrupt their hearts and leave them to rot.
Varia couldn’t think like that. She wouldn’t.
“Look at where we are, you stupid girl,” the woman, Hedda, snapped. She pulled on the chains that bound her wrists, making them clank against the wooden base of the ship. “The fierce Amazons, beaten and enslaved by a bunch of Roman soldiers. We no longer bear our tribe name, no longer have our honor. We’re slaves now; believing anything but is foolish and cruel.”
“Hedda!” their Princess, Marga, exclaimed forcefully. She should be Queen now, as the one who came before her was struck down during the battle with the Romans. Without the ritual though, she was still just their Princess, unable to grasp the destiny that was meant for her. “Unfortunate as it is for the rest of us right now, you still bear the title ‘Amazon’. Despite what you may believe and despite how shameful it is that you’re so quick to give that honor away, no one can take that from us. We may have been bested in battle, but that does not mean that we’re not strong. I agree with Varia; this is not the end of our story.”
“Open your eyes, Marga!” Hedda shouted, too lost in her own despair to see any other options. “We’ll all be slaughtered if we try to raise a hand against Livia and her army; look at what they already did to us!”
“Yes, perhaps if we were foolish enough to go up against the Romans, we would be slaughtered,” Marga agreed, which at least made Hedda lose her retort for a moment. “We let her sell us,” she decreed, using her leadership as Princess to give them a direction; to give them hope. “Getting away from slave traders will be much easier than trying to get away from a platoon of Roman soldiers, especially on a ship with nowhere to run. When we escape and regroup, we will build our tribe strong again. We will avenge our fallen sisters one day; that I promise.”
Most Amazons nodded their heads at their Princess’s words, feeling the strength and conviction behind them. Varia was among them, feeling a renewed sense of hope that maybe this wasn’t the end after all. She had promised Tura they would get away, but even as she had said it, she hadn’t felt it. She hadn’t believed it. Now though, looking at the fire behind Marga’s eyes, Varia finally felt a sense of hope she hadn’t thought she would ever feel again.
They were Amazons, and they would survive this.
Varia gasped hard as ice cold water was thrown directly in her face, making her shiver and cough as she tried not to breathe any in. Apparently, this was the soldiers attempt to ‘wash’ them. They were stripped of all their garments on the deck of the newly ported ship, but the embarrassment of their nudity being on display for any to see was overshadowed by the desire to finally feel clean again, even if this barely constituted. Varia scrubbed at any part of her skin that her chained hands could reach, trying to get the layer of dirt and grime off of herself.
“There’s a slim market for Amazons,” a man told Livia, who’s lips were starting to purse into a thin line at the news. “They tend to be… a little too feisty.”
As if on cue, one of the Amazons spat at the soldier who had thrown water on her, causing the man’s hand to connect with her cheek before he kicked the inside of her knee, bringing the woman to the floor.
“I said watch the faces!” Livia screamed at the soldier before she turned around, her hands slamming on the railing of the ship, making the newly arrived man jump in unease. “I did not come all this way to hear your excuses, Tobias! You will find a buyer, or it’ll be your head I bring back to Rome in exchange for the gold you promised me!”
“I… well, that is—I… Commander, I didn’t think you were going to bring me—” the man stuttered, clearly feeling blindsided by being brought Amazons instead of peasant girls. One sideways look from Livia shut him up though and he swallowed hard, shuffling through his papers as he tried to find a solution that didn’t end with his head on a stick. “We—we may be able to make a deal with Borgus the Brutal. He seems to enjoy beating his slave girls to death; I heard he goes through at least one a day. He might like them on the feisty side; I’ll send word to him immediately to see if he’s interested.”
“See that you do. And make it quick; I don’t want to have to be in this cesspool of a market any longer than I have to be. The stench here is overwhelming,” Livia told him, causing the man to scurry off as quickly as though his ass was on fire. “Marcellus!” she shouted then as she turned to one of her soldiers who was still in the middle of ‘washing’ the Amazons. “I told you to clean them, not throw water on them and hope that it does the damn job! No one’s going to want them if they stink like animals, so use that useless head of yours, get out the soap, and scrub!”
For a moment, it actually looked like the soldier might argue with her; after all, it was he who had been complaining a few days back that the Amazons had been left in this condition in the first place. That urge disappeared though, the look on Livia’s face seemingly fierce enough to ward off those who would argue with her. Marcellus’ face soured, but he answered dutifully with, “Yes, Commander…”
Livia pulled aside what looked to be her second in command then and said, “If we can’t find a buyer, then we sail back to Rome and dump them overboard. We can make the gold some other way.”
Fear gripped Varia’s chest at those words, and as foreign hands began to hold her down and scrub in places no soldier should ever touch an Amazon, for the first time in her life, she found herself praying to become a slave.
Their bodies had been wrapped in loose fabric, the ‘clothing’ meant to only cover their modesty and not much else. Sex appeal would sell them, Marga had noted bitterly, as slaves around these parts were not just used for labor, but for pleasure. Varia had recoiled at the thought; she was still pure from another’s touch, and she couldn’t fathom sullying herself for the twisted pleasure of another. Virginity had never much mattered to her, but she had never believed it would be violently ripped from her before either.
Now, Varia found she very much cared.
“Borgus will take them,” Tobias told the Commander, looking relieved on his own behalf. Apparently, he seemed quite attached to his head, even though Varia wished she could rip it from his shoulders right now. She had hoped for slavery, yes, as it beat the alternative, but Borgus did not seem like the type of master they would survive either. She was angry, she was frightened, and it made her feel weak. “He said he would find great sport in breaking an Amazon tribe.”
“Good. You just spared your life, Tobias,” Livia told him, condescendingly tapping his fat cheek as she passed him, assessing her goods for one last time.
“There is… ah, something else, however,” the man squirmed, looking uncomfortable with having to bring this up to the woman, as he no doubt wished to just have their business be concluded so he could be on his way. Livia turned sharply towards him, and Tobias swallowed. “Gurkhan has expressed interest in two of them.”
“Gurkhan? The man who takes slaves as his wives?” Tobias nodded and Livia looked a little intrigued by the prospect. “I heard he pays well for those he buys. Which ones is he interested in?”
“That one,” Tobias responded, pointing at Varia. The Amazon’s eyes widened in surprise. “And that one.”
Tura. Finally, Varia felt as though she could exhale the breath she was holding. Neither she nor her sister would be subjected to the brutal whims of Borgus, but would live in a palace as wives of this Gurkhan. Surely that would be much easier to escape and maybe, just maybe, Varia would be able to keep her promise to protect her sister after all.
Livia’s expression darkened. “No,” she told Tobias, causing the man’s eyebrows to shoot upwards in disbelief. “Tell Gurkhan he can have the child, but that one,” Livia spat, pointing at Varia, whom she apparently still held a grudge against for attempting to kill her back in the village, “is not for sale.”
“What?” Varia exclaimed before she could think better of it, causing the soldier behind her to bark at her to be quiet as he hit the back of her knees. The Amazon to crumpled to the floor. Her hair falling in front of her eyes, Varia cried out as she hit the deck with her fists, feeling lost and helpless. The soldier told her to shut up again as he grabbed a fist full of her hair, pulling Varia’s head up so she could look defiantly into the eyes of the woman who would surely destroy her life.
“I’ll relay your message, but I don’t think Gurkhan will be pleased with only getting half of what he asked for.”
“You can’t do this!” Varia screamed at Livia, not caring about being taken away from Gurkhan’s life of luxury for his slaves, but being taken away from her sister. In the end, that was far more important. She had promised Tura she would protect her, but she couldn’t do that when she was dead; and after this unexpected outcome, Varia was fairly certain that that was the end that Livia had planned for her. “She’s my sister, you can’t separate us; she’s just a child!”
Livia however just looked amused by her outburst. Compassion, it seemed, did not exist within her.
The Commander turned then, ignoring Varia’s pleas as she addressed Tobias. “Gurkhan will accept my counteroffer or get nothing at all. This conversation is over; take all the slaves you need to trade to market. I’ll be leaving right away.”
Tobias inclined his head politely after he had handed Livia the gold which was promised from each trader. “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Commander.”
“As always, I’m sure,” Livia responded dismissively as she turned from the stout man and replayed her orders to her soldiers. “Leave the others in his possession. Take her,” she directed, pointing at Varia’s crumpled form on the deck of the ship, “with us.”
“No!” Varia screamed as she was handled roughly by two guards, unchaining her from the binds that connected her to all of her Amazon sisters. She tried to fight against the men, but she was either too weak from malnourishment, or they were too strong. “Tura!” she yelled helplessly, seeing her sister’s wide and frightened eyes amidst all the other women who would be carted off in the opposite direction.
Varia felt sick. She felt frail and she felt helpless and no matter how much she tried to remind herself of Marga’s words and the hope that they had instilled in her down in the cargo hold of that ship, Varia knew in her heart that that would be the last time she would ever see her little sister.
Because she was going to die today.
Chapter 2: II. Chained
I know I said I’d be updating once a week but I got impatient. I’m sitting on a lot of chapters right now, lol.
“What do you want us to do with her, Commander?”
Varia struggled against the man’s fierce grip, her face contorted into a snarl despite the fear that gripped her chest. The soldier barely even seemed phased by her attempt to escape though, as his grip failed to loosen despite Varia’s many attempts to free herself from it. She was too weak, her strength waning due to her body’s cries for proper nourishment.
However, feeling emboldened by her strong desire to not die today, Varia changed tactics and stomped hard on his foot. That caused the Roman to loosen his grip in surprise as he hissed in pain, allowing Varia to slip out of his grasp before elbowing him in the face. Varia heard a crunch before his nose erupted in a spray of blood, and the Amazon ran. She had hoped to be able to jump off the edge of the ship and swim to shore as they had only just left the dock, but a terrifying war cry cut through the air as a woman front flipped over her, landing squarely in Varia’s path to freedom.
Before Varia could even raise a hand to her, a fist collided with her jaw and she was on her back on the deck of the ship. “Do I have to do everything myself?!” Livia screamed before she kicked Varia in the abdomen, preventing her from trying to stand. Varia coughed in pain, spitting blood onto the wood beneath her. She had had her chance, and she had failed. Some Amazon she turned out to be.
“Somebody chain her back up before I lose my fucking investment; I didn’t keep this one just so she could throw herself overboard!”
Varia felt multiple hands grab at her this time, completely snuffing out any hope of escape. Varia looked towards the shore as her hands were chained behind her back, watching it shrink in the distance. Her eyes filled with angry tears and she looked straight in Livia’s hateful eyes, spitting blood in her direction as she wheezed, “Just kill me and get it over with, you bitch! What are you waiting for?!” She spit at her again, but it only landed at Livia’s feet. Varia didn’t even have the strength to make it to her face, and it enraged her.
Livia just laughed. It was all the acknowledgement that Varia was allotted.
She was looked at like she was less than human by everyone around, and it showed. Livia didn’t even spare Varia another glance as she turned to one of the men holding the Amazon in front of her. “Bring her below to my cabin and chain her to the rafters; I’ll deal with her when I’m ready.”
This, however, seemed to be a strange request. “Your cabin, Commander?” the solider repeated, sounding confused. No doubt he expected what Varia had; to have her chained back up in the cargo hold.
“Did that blow to your head rattle that tiny brain of yours, or are you really questioning my orders?” Livia countered, her voice hard as she stared down the soldier that Varia had managed to escape from not moments previously. “Yes, my cabin, Atrius; if you can manage that without letting a child hurt you again.”
Varia scoffed. Child. Livia was, at best, a handful’s worth of winters older than herself; just because she liked to play dress up in her flashy armor with her big sword, didn’t make her any more of a woman. She was just an entitled little brat with a superiority complex, and Varia loathed her. She loathed that she was terrified of her, that she had been bested by her. She loathed her for ripping her away from everything she had ever known, and she loathed her because in that moment, Varia had no idea what the other was planning to do with her.
Varia didn’t like that. It unnerved her far more than she liked to admit.
She had expected to be killed and yet instead she was thrown into the Commander’s cabin, her hands being forcefully chained above her head. Varia didn’t go quietly, but it didn’t matter. In the end, her fate had been decided. They were too far from the shore now, too far from Tura and the rest of her tribe, and the only hope that Varia had now was that whatever Livia had in store for her, it would include a quick death.
Somehow though, she doubted it.
Once the soldiers had left her alone, Varia took a moment to take in her surroundings. If she ever planned to escape, she had to know what was around her. The problem was, even if she did manage to escape, where would she go? It would be another ten days until they would reach Rome, and she couldn’t take on an entire ship full of Roman soldiers by herself, let alone commandeer a ship of this size and then sail back to Ptolemais. So perhaps in the end it was futile, but Varia still allowed her eyes to roam the cabin, falling back on her training despite the odds.
There was an adjoining room with a large oak door, which Varia assumed to be the Commander’s bed chambers, as the room she was currently in only held a large table and quite a lot of maps. Perhaps this was her war room, although she wondered how appropriate it was to bring Generals this close to her private chambers.
Varia didn’t wonder about that very much though as what caught her eye was a large dagger that was driven into an area on a map spread out across the table. She looked up at her restraints then around the room once more, trying to formulate a way to escape. If only she could get to that dagger, maybe she could have a fighting chance once they finally forced her off of the ship.
Still, that meant she would have to survive ten days on this boat, and Varia had no idea if that was even possible.
Varia didn’t know how long it took, but after what seemed like forever, Livia finally entered her cabin. The large door closed heavily in place behind her and Varia watched as the woman turned, inserting her key into the lock. Apparently, she wanted to make certain that her Amazon captive could not escape. When Livia faced her once more, Varia watched as she placed the key down her breast plate, between her cleavage.
Livia’s brow quirked in challenge as she noticed Varia watching her. “Tsk. Don’t go getting any ideas, Amazon,” she chuckled, as though the thought that Varia might even try amused her. “The last man who went down there uninvited lost a hand, and I’d hate to remove one of yours. They still have uses to me.”
“And the last woman?” Varia countered, trying to prove that just because the last man who did so ended up on the losing end of an axe, didn’t mean that she would be. “The last Amazon?” It was meant to sound like a threat, although it probably lacked bite due to her current predicament. Still, men may be biologically stronger, but women were much quicker, and Amazons even more so. Last Varia checked, that quality aided a successful escape more times than not.
An amused smirk began to spread across the Commander’s face. “I’ll admit, I’ve never had a woman go down there uninvited,” she acknowledged, although it sounded as though Livia was having some kind of private joke with herself, more than having a conversation with the captive in her cabin. “And never an Amazon; uninvited or… otherwise.”
Varia’s eyes narrowed, wondering if Livia meant to make that sound as sexual as it did. She didn’t like being toyed with, especially with things she knew nothing of; it made Varia feel patronized. Perhaps that was Livia’s point though.
Whatever private joke Livia was having in her head though ended and she crossed the distance between herself and her captive. Her eyes were suddenly hard and judgmental as she grabbed the young brunette’s face in her hand, forcefully moving it from side to side as she inspected her prize. She then looked down at the Amazon’s chest, noticing the necklace she wore; it was from her tribe, with a stone representing each of her sisters. Livia fingered it for a moment before she wrapped her hand around it, and with one hard tug it snapped off of her neck. Varia snarled.
“What is your name?”
Varia did not answer, refusing to play whatever game Livia planned to make her the main event of.
That was apparently the incorrect thing to do however, and suddenly the back of the Commander’s hand hit her face with enough force to bring Varia to her knees. The movement stretched her arms uncomfortably above her head, and Varia groaned in pain as she spit blood onto the floor. So much for ‘watching the face’ now, although with that punch earlier, she should have expected it. Looking pretty was for the auction, and the auction was over.
She was Rome’s property now.
“You will answer me when I address you!” Livia barked, no longer playing whatever coy game she was attempting before. “Your name, Amazon!”
The younger girl’s eyes flashed, but she begrudgingly answered, “…Varia.” She pressed her tongue to her cheek then as she rose back to her feet, feeling where her tooth had cut her cheek. It stung uncomfortably.
Livia made no indication that she had even heard her, nor that she even cared, despite having asked in the first place. “Gurkhan, the man who wanted you, takes slave girls as his wives. They live in this beautiful palace, with all the luxuries in the world.”
Varia stayed silent and just continued to glare at her, wondering what her point was. She had already inferred all of that, after all.
"You tried to kill me; tried to stab me in the back like the coward that you are,” Livia continued, getting so close to Varia’s face that she could feel the woman’s breath on her skin. She wanted to snap at her, to rip off a piece of her cheek and spit it back into her face, but she also wanted to know what this woman’s plan for her was, and that required allowing the other woman to talk. “I was not about to let you be rewarded for something like that.”
“So then just kill me and get it over with!” Varia exclaimed strongly, unable to take this waiting, this uncertainty anymore. Livia just took a step away from her though, looking a little amused by her outburst.
“No, Amazon. I’m not going to kill you. That would make it far too easy.”
She reached out then, gently brushing the hair out of the Amazon’s eyes. The gentleness of the gesture unnerved Varia and made her feel incredibly patronized, and so she finally snapped her teeth at Livia, just wanting the woman out of her space. The Roman chuckled at the act of defiance, but did put her hand down.
“I’ve been meaning to get a servant girl of my own for some time now,” she casually admitted, causing the pit of Varia’s stomach to sink. The woman had murdered and enslaved her entire tribe, and now she expected her to serve her? “Someone strong, capable, but also someone who would keep me on my toes. I don’t like feeling too comfortable – I find it makes people weak and compliant – and the lingering threat of your assassination attempts might make for some interesting nights, don’t you think?”
She smiled then, like this was all some kind of game to her, and Varia looked at her with an angry, disbelieving expression. “You’re insane,” she spat, not bothering to water that down any. “And I would die before serving you, so I wouldn’t expect much use out of me if I were you, Roman bitch.”
That was a stupid thing to say, and Varia knew that. It was just in that moment she was filled with so much hatred, so much anger towards the woman in front of her and the situation that she put herself in that she didn’t know how to stop herself. However, she knew, logically, that the best thing for her to do was to wait this out. If Livia intended to keep her as a slave, that meant she meant to keep her alive. Being alive gave her the option of escaping and finding Tura, and that had to be Varia’s priority.
More than her anger. More than her hatred.
So when Varia was hit across the face once more for her insolence, she took the blow and said nothing. “That may be,” Livia responded cruelly as she grabbed the Amazon’s hair in her hand, forcing Varia to look back up at her. She could feel her eye swelling, but that was nothing to the trail of blood that was now falling from her nostrils. “But until that happens, I’ll take such pleasure in breaking you, Amazon.”
She roughly let go of her head then, causing Varia to choke a little on her own blood as the abrupt motion made it flow down her throat instead of out her nose. Livia laughed at the sound of her gagging as she strode out of the cabin, leaving Varia there to think about her predicament… and how to ultimately get herself out of it.
“Livia, what,” the God of War drawled dramatically, pointing towards the Amazon girl chained on the floor in the corner of the cabin, “is that?” The way he asked though made it sound like he already knew, and it was obvious that he certainly was not happy with it.
It had only been a day since they had left port and Varia had not been allowed to move from the spot where she had been chained. The only difference was that she was attached to floor now instead of the ceiling, allowing her to get some proper rest. She was also provided with a bucket that would frequently get changed and a grand total of one meal so, all in all, it was better than being chained in the cargo hold. Still, Livia would not look at her nor speak to her. It was like she didn’t exist, which was strange considering Varia had believed the woman had wanted her to serve her.
Perhaps this was just her way of breaking her though.
“My personal servant girl,” Livia answered flippantly as she poured over the map laid out in the table in front of her, her gaze focused as she searched for whatever answer she believed the parchment held. Ares circled the table, coming to rest at the Commander’s right side.
“I heard Gurkhan was willing to pay for her, is that true?”
“Yes,” she replied, still sounding rather distracted as she continued to stare down at the map in front of her. “We should invade Greece from the east; the forests there provide good cover during the night, and it allows us to choose our battleground. Here,” she told him, pointing to a specific point on the map.
Instead of looking though, Ares slammed his hand down on the map in front of Livia, the dramatic gesture causing the woman to snap her gaze towards him in annoyance. “You can't invade Greece until you get more money!” Ares exclaimed, infuriated by the selfish choice the woman had made. “You were a fool not to sell her to him, he pays three times for one girl what the others do; with that kind of money you could’ve afforded to invade Greece and Britannia!”
Livia clenched her jaw, obviously trying to control her temper. It probably wasn’t smart to take the God of War head on, but then again, Varia did find the fact that they had any kind of relationship at all very strange. She wasn’t even the head of his army. “We have enough money to start the invasion, Ares,” she explained, her voice dangerously calm. “When we take the first province, we will be able to get more supplies and money. It will finance the rest of our invasion.”
“But what was the gain in keeping her?” Ares challenged, shooting a look at the woman in the corner. Varia stared right back at him, refusing to play subservient to any of them yet. She may have never seen a God in person before, but she wasn’t going to cower in the corner like some kind of peasant either.
She was an Amazon. She may not be a creation of Ares, but she was a creation of his sister, Artemis. That made her more important to the Gods than someone more common, and so Varia did not cower, did not shy away. She stared defiantly at Ares until the man turned his attentions back to the woman next to him, apparently still trying to make heads or tails of why Livia would risk being unable to finance her invasion for only one young Amazon.
“She tried to murder me. I was not about to let her live a life of luxury.”
“You’re a fool,” Ares reprimanded, his tone making Livia set her jaw even further. Varia could see her eyes darken and her fist clench; she was pissed. “Don't let your petty vendetta against this child ruin your good sense.”
“The decision was not yours to make, Ares, and besides, turning back now would only waste more time and money that we don’t have,” Livia pointed out, her tone growing more hostile the longer this conversation continued. Apparently, she didn’t like to be told she was wrong, which at least fit into Varia’s ‘entitled brat’ theory.
Not that she was surprised.
“Fine,” Ares relented after a long, tension-filled pause. “Keep the silly Amazon child. But when you end up beating her to death within a day – when you could have made a small fortune instead from selling her – don’t come crying to me telling me that you regret your decision.”
He was gone in a flash of blue light then, leaving Livia to slam her hands on the table as she exhaled a sound of frustration. It seemed Ares could really get under her skin, and Varia filed that information away to use later.
After all, you never know when knowledge like that could come in handy.
Six days. That’s how long Varia lasted without any kind of human interaction.
Sure, soldiers came in to dump her bucket, to give her food, but they must have been instructed to not look at, touch, or speak to her, because no one ever said a word. No one ever did anything even when Varia would spit in their faces, scream and kick at them should they dare to ever come close enough. No one regarded her as even existing, and it was starting to drive her a little insane.
She didn’t like feeling like she was part of the furniture. And yes, perhaps she should have lasted longer; perhaps only lasting a week of this strange torture was weak but she was young, she was hungry, and she was scared. Varia had been ripped away from everything she had ever known, and now she felt like she wasn’t even a part of the world around her anymore.
It made her feel disconnected. Lost. Hopeless.
“What the hell is your game?!” Varia shouted when Livia finally exited her private chambers. Livia didn’t look at her though, just as she hadn’t the handful of other times that Varia snapped at her. She was in loose-fitting garments, her hair still wet from what must have been a private bath. The fabric was wet which made it a little sheer, and it stuck to her form as she crossed the room to grab her armor.
Varia barely noticed in the wake of more important things, but she did notice. It just felt like more games though, which infuriated her even further.
“Just stop!” she begged, hating herself for doing this but unable to take being ignored any longer. “Alright? You win, is that what you want to hear?! Just look at me, say something to me, do anything, please!”
Livia noticeably stopped.
She turned then, and for the first time in nearly a week, someone actually acknowledged that Varia existed. The Amazon exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, feeling an unknown weight relieve itself from her shoulders. She was alive. For a moment, Varia wasn’t even sure of her own existence anymore.
Livia’s mouth formed into a slow, victorious smile.
“You’re so much more appealing when you beg,” she told her, her tone making Varia uncomfortable for reasons she couldn’t explain. Livia tilted her head then, appraising her. “Do you need my acknowledgment, Amazon?”
Varia wanted to say no, but there was a part inside of her that was concerned that she’d get more of this kind of torment if she continued to be defiant, and she wanted to be sane when they docked at Rome. If she wasn’t, then she most certainly would never escape. Still, she couldn’t help but not give Livia everything she wanted as she skirted around the answer she knew the Roman wanted with, “…For the moment.”
Livia chuckled at her answer. “Not good enough yet, but it’ll have to do for now. Get up,” she ordered her, gesturing for her to do so with two of her fingers. Varia just stared at her though, her brow creasing as she tried to understand what it was that Livia planned to do to her.
“Do you want Ares to be right?” Livia asked her, her voice raising an octave or two as she stared the girl down. “Do you want to be beaten to death within a matter of days? I said, get up.”
Varia stood. After all, she needed to get out of this alive.
“Good girl,” Livia cooed as she approached her. Varia stood stock still, quickly weighing the pros and cons of attacking the bitch once she got close enough. Unfortunately, the cons column was winning. “Now, if you play nicely and promise to keep your hands to yourself, I’ll let you out of those restraints and allow you a bath. Would you like that?”
Varia said nothing, her eyes narrowing. What was the catch?
“Yes,” Varia said quickly, not trusting this in the slightest, yet not stupid enough to miss an opportunity to be unchained. Besides, she was far overdue for a bath. Maybe this was for Livia as much as it was for her though; after all, this was her cabin that she was invading. Even with the frequent changing of the buckets, it didn’t smell as good as it once had. Varia often wondered why Livia didn’t just get tired of it and shove her back in the cargo hold, but perhaps the smell never wafted into her bed chambers.
Livia withdrew a key and Varia immediately extended her hands, allowing the woman to unchain her. There was a moment, just as the metal clattered to the floor, that Varia thought about taking her on, but it was gone as soon as it came. It wouldn’t have been wise.
Livia seemed to see it too, and when nothing happened she seemed to mark that as some other kind of symbolic victory for herself as she patronized Varia with, “Very good, Amazon. I really didn’t want to have to you killed this early; not when you have so much potential.”
“Potential for what?” Varia dared to ask as she was directed into Livia’s private chambers. She stopped in the threshold though, her brow rising at what she saw. Lush comforters and silken sheets covered the bed in the middle of the room, and it was decorated like no other chamber on the ship. Fit for a Roman Empress, no doubt. Varia had heard the soldiers talking. She knew of Livia’s ambitions to one day marry the Emperor and to rule Rome.
And her taste in decorations proved it.
Livia didn’t answer her though. Instead she just directed her to a copper basin in the corner of the room that was already filled with water. Her own used water, no doubt, but Varia rationalized that it was at least better than having buckets of water being thrown at her by soldiers who tried to cop a feel as they scrubbed her down.
“You’re lucky I decided to see if you were feeling a little more agreeable today before I had my bath water dumped,” she told her, her tone like she expected Varia to thank her for the thought or something. “Get in.”
“Would you rather I have one of my men watch you bathe?” Livia countered, knowing that the other woman paused at the thought of being so vulnerable in front of her. Not that the rags she wore now provided her with much armor, but it was the only thing she had. “Because that could be arranged.”
Varia was still wary, not understanding why she was being shown this type of kindness; if one could even call basic human decency by allowing her to bathe kindness. Still, she knew she would feel even more uncomfortable with this should one of Livia’s leering men be locked in the room with her, and so Varia finally began to pull the fabric from her body.
When she submerged herself into the large basin, the water was cold. Still, Varia sunk into it, finding more comfort in this than she had the last time the Romans attempted to wash her. Livia watched her carefully as she did so, the expression on her face unreadable.
“What you need to understand is that you aren’t just a slave to Rome,” Livia began to explain to her, watching the Amazon start to cover her arms with water so she could scrub the grime off of them. “You are a servant to the future Empress and as such, you must be presentable. You may not get all the liberties you would have been provided should I have chosen to sell you to Gurkhan, but you will be dressed in finer clothing than others of your low-born status. I expect you to be grateful about that.”
Varia scoffed, she couldn’t help herself. “I thought you kept me because you wanted me to suffer. This doesn’t quite seem like suffering to me, Livia.”
Livia seemed a little intrigued by the bold use of her name; which is perhaps why she didn’t reprimand her for using it. “I did,” she admitted, yet failed to elaborate.
“But now you don’t?”
“Don’t mistake my decency for kindness,” Livia warned her, not wanting Varia to feel too comfortable. She rose then, peeling the flimsy fabric off of her body before she grabbed her armor, beginning to dress herself as she spoke. “You are still a slave. But Ares was right; it was foolish to allow my vendetta to interfere with my plans, and so I’m trying to make the best of my mistake. After all, you aren’t the first person to try to kill me, and you certainly won’t be the last. You didn’t even get close.” Livia paused then, turning to face Varia as she took a moment to assess her. “You’ve never killed before, have you, Amazon?”
Varia set her jaw, running her fingers through her hair as she tried to untangle the mess that this nightmare had made of it. It was her silence though that spoke louder than words.
“That’s what I thought.”
Varia looked at her sharply. “If you like, I’d be more than obliged to make you my first,” she said without much thought to the consequences of her words. Despite her desire to stay alive, she was still so angry, lost, and so very, very confused. She didn’t like not understanding what was going on, and she still had no idea what the point of this even was. Did Livia truly want her to be her personal servant? That seemed stupid, considering how badly Varia ached to enact vengeance on behalf of her tribe.
Livia just laughed at her threat, obviously not taking it seriously. “If you’ve never killed before, Amazon, it wouldn’t be wise to try to make me your first. You wouldn’t make it out alive, and I think you know that. You’re too young, too inexperienced. At best you may wound me, but I have my doubts even about that.”
Varia clenched her jaw. All this woman did was patronize her, like she was some silly little pet, and she was getting tired of it. “You’re barely older than me,” Varia countered, not enjoying being addressed like she was a child by someone who probably had yet to see twenty winters. “Or is it just that you were bred to be psychopathic since birth? Because if that’s the price for ‘experience’, I think I’ll pass.”
That seemed to finally be too far.
Livia was behind her faster than Varia could even see her move, and suddenly her head was being shoved under the water. She was held there with a grip that was deceptively strong and Varia kicked out her legs, her arms, anything to try to get herself out of the other woman’s grip and find some semblance of air. Her throat was starting to scream as she suffocated, but just as her head started to cloud over she was finally released, allowing Varia to come to the surface and desperately gasp for lungs full of air.
But instead of sounding infuriated with her, all Livia said was, “I think you’re going to be such fun, aren’t you, Amazon?”
Varia didn’t understand what she meant by that, but then again, she could barely think. All she could comprehend was her desperate need for air, and as such it took Varia a long time to realize that she was suddenly left alone in Livia’s private chambers, the woman having strode out of the room the moment after she had made her final comment.
Varia didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know what was going on, but in the end… that was probably Livia’s goal. She liked playing games, it seemed, and Varia just happened to be her newest, shiniest toy.
Chapter 3: III. Rome
The rest of the journey to Rome found Varia unchained and left to her own devices within the Commander’s cabin. She still was not allowed to leave it, nor was she allowed into Livia’s private chambers unless otherwise invited, but it was far better than being chained to the floor with little to no human interaction for days on end.
Not that Varia would consider Livia good conversation by any means, but being acknowledged as something that actually existed now helped her sanity tenfold.
Anything that could be used as a weapon had been stripped from the Commander’s cabin, leaving Varia with little options when it came to her plan to escape once she set foot on Roman soil. Not that she had even the forming of a plan to begin with though, as she assumed her limited freedom would be short-lasting and that once they docked, she would once again be chained. She had no idea how she would escape that, let alone what she would do after she did. Varia often wondered if it would be more pertinent to wait it out, but she also worried that escaping from the Roman palace would prove to be even more impossible than escaping once they reached land.
“What are you thinking about?” Livia asked her on the final day of their journey, noting the Amazon’s pointed silence as she helped the Commander put on her armor. Varia felt absolutely degraded as she did something the woman could obviously do herself, but if she wanted to eat and keep her strength up then she needed to start acting like the personal servant that Livia expected her to become.
It, honestly, took all of Varia’s self-control to not just strangle her where she stood, but she had Tura to think of, and she couldn’t save her if she was dead. Somehow, it just didn’t seem plausible to strangle a Commander of a Roman legion and escape a ship in the middle of the ocean unharmed.
Call it intuition, if you will.
“Escaping,” Varia deadpanned, pulling the lace on her tunic a little more forcefully than normal. Livia smirked at her answer, hearing the truth despite Varia’s attempt to make it sound more sarcastic than anything else.
“Every new slave thinks of nothing but freedom,” Livia told her, her tone indicating that Varia wasn’t special in the slightest for constantly thinking and wishing for a better life than what she was given. “Eventually though, I hear that the desire to leave wanes. Give it a few years and your entire world will revolve around me, Amazon; you’ll be begging for my approval, if not my cunt.”
Varia snorted in disbelief as she picked up the woman’s belt. “And here I thought you chose me as a personal servant because your twisted sense of pleasure would somehow find enjoyment in trying to escape an assassination attempt,” the Amazon countered, paraphrasing Livia’s own words as she wrapped the belt around the woman’s waist. “Now you plan to tame me? I really wouldn’t hold my breath over that if I were you, Roman.”
Livia’s smirk widened at the younger woman’s words, although perhaps more specifically the form of address, as it echoed what Livia called her as she addressed her by her nationality and not her actual name. “I don’t really know why, but I am strangely enjoying the way you think you can speak to me. Maybe it’s because you’re young, or too savage a beast to know your proper place in society. Or maybe, it’s just because I’m bored with getting my ass kissed every goddamn day. Still, I’m finding that I happen like your complete disregard for formalities. It gives you a bit of bite; makes you less boring than any other slave that’s served me, in any rate.”
“And Gods forbid you ever get bored,” Varia mumbled under her breath, grabbing the woman’s breastplate and encouraging her to turn around so she could easily slip it over her arms. When Livia faced her, she tilted her head a bit to the right, one eyebrow quirked at Varia’s back-talk.
“’Gods forbid’ is right, considering I tend to kill anything that bores me,” Livia responded, a lingering threat behind her words that Varia completely disregarded, as she was already learning that the thing that made her not boring was her completely and utter dislike of the woman.
The Roman was insane, of that there was no doubt, but maybe she also had just been pampered and praised her whole damn life that all she craved now was some honesty, even if it wasn’t very kind. Either way, regardless of why, Varia preferred it to having to kiss the woman’s ass. And honestly, she didn’t think she’d keep her sanity very long if she was made to do something as degrading as that.
“But you were right, before,” Livia continued as she turned back around, moving her hair out of the way so that Varia could clasp the back of her breastplate into place. “I did keep you because I would find it fun to coexist in the same space with someone who wants to kill me. But I also believe that that feeling will fade in time; eventually, we all forget who or what we once were, and become part of Rome.”
“And who were you before Rome?” Varia challenged, sounding skeptical as she believed Livia must have been born to Rome, yet the woman did not answer for a long moment.
“…I don’t know,” she finally responded, voice softer than Varia believed she had ever heard before. “But that’s the point, isn’t it?” The honesty in Livia’s tone kind of threw Varia for a moment, and as she let go of the last clip of the woman’s breastplate, she heard something snap. Varia looked down.
“Regardless,” Livia continued, not noticing that Varia had stopped dressing her momentarily. Her voice was stronger now; almost too strong, as though she had something to prove about who she ‘really’ was. “There are many ways I could get entertainment from you, Amazon, and making you submissive to Rome, to me… would certainly top the list as well.”
Varia didn’t think, she just reacted.
The large clip on the back of Livia’s breastplate had snapped, no doubt from a combination from overuse and the sheer abuse it was put through. It was barely hanging on and so Varia grabbed it, snapping the rest of it off as she quickly wrapped her arms under Livia’s, pinning the woman back against her chest with the jagged end of the clip pressed against the carotid artery in her neck. Adrenaline was pumping in Varia’s veins, her breathing coming out in short bursts as she finally realized what the hell she had just done, and yet all she could feel was this sense of victory over the other woman, no matter how small it may end up becoming in the long run.
Livia however, barely even seemed surprised, let alone concerned with the position she was in. She just allowed herself to lean back against the Amazon, her tongue gently snaking out to wet her bottom lip. “Hmm… where does your plan go from here, I wonder?” she softly mused. “Will you pierce my neck, let me bleed out…? But then, where will you go? You must know that there’s no escape from this ship, Amazon. If I die, you die with me.”
“Maybe I don’t give a damn about that,” Varia hissed in her ear, gripping the woman tighter in her arms. A part of her feared this had been too easy, and what that actually meant. “Maybe it’d be worth it to die, just so long as I take you with me.”
“But it wouldn’t be,” Livia countered in a breathy tone as the clip scratched along the sensitive skin of her neck. She didn’t struggle against her though; she barely even moved. It honestly unnerved Varia a little. She should feel like she was in control in this situation, and yet suddenly she wasn’t so sure. “Not for you. Do you want to know how I know that?”
Varia didn’t respond.
“Go on, ask,” Livia goaded, but when Varia’s only response was to dig the clip further into the woman’s neck, enough to start to pierce the skin, yet not enough to cause lasting damage, Livia just chucked. “No? Well, I’ll share my little theory with you anyway. You see, when I asked what you were thinking earlier, you told me you were thinking about escaping. That, Amazon, means you have something left to live for. It’s your sister, isn’t it? You want to escape, to save her… all those fanciful ideations that you and I both know will never actually come to pass.”
Varia’s face began to flush red; from anger, from embarrassment. She was the one who had a weapon to Livia’s throat, and yet she felt bested. “You don’t know what I’m capable of, Roman.”
“Maybe,” Livia casually admitted. “But I do know what you’re not capable of… and that’s murder.” Suddenly, Livia was out of Varia’s grip faster than the Amazon could even comprehend her moving. The abruptness of it all startled Varia so badly that she didn’t even have a chance to react, and before she knew it she was the one shoved against the cabin wall with the jagged clip against her throat.
Varia barely dared to breathe.
“At least… not yet,” Livia finished pointedly before she shot her a challenging look, throwing the clip to the other end of the room. Varia exhaled the breath she’d been holding, but it came too soon as suddenly she was hit across the face with such force that it momentarily blinded her as she crumpled into a heap on the ground. The Amazon swore, pressing her hand to her cheek and feeling it come back sticky with blood from one of Livia’s sharp rings.
“See, I knew you would be fun,” Livia goaded as Varia checked one of her teeth, hoping that it really hadn’t been knocked loose. When she felt the blood begin to fill up in her mouth though she spat, feeling one of her far back teeth be expelled from her body.
She felt like such a pathetic failure, but the thing of it was that Livia was right; Varia did have something to live for. That’s why she couldn’t kill her. So whatever her endgame was just then, she honestly wasn’t even sure of herself. Maybe she just wanted to show Livia that she was capable, but she also knew that she was about to pay dearly for that little show of strength.
Or at least she thought she was.
Instead, Livia just grabbed the Amazon’s face in her hand, squeezing so hard that Varia hissed in pain from where her tooth had been knocked loose. “That was your one free shot, so I hope you enjoyed it,” she hissed in her face, apparently really treating this like it was all some type of game. It made Varia feel like nothing more than a joke, and she hated that. “The next time you try to kill me though, you best come prepared, Amazon, or the repercussions that will follow will make sure that you never take trying to assassinate me lightly again.”
She practically threw her back on the ground then, making Varia cough and spit out blood. Livia laughed at the sight of her, and the younger woman’s blood began to boil.
Oh, don’t worry, Varia thought, hatred growing steadfast in her heart. I will be.
She was back in chains, but that wasn’t a surprise.
Livia made sure that escape was impossible when they docked in Rome, ordering four soldiers to box Varia in as she chained both her hands and her feet. She could barely walk, let alone run. It made the trek to the palace agonizing under the hot summer’s heat, and Varia fell quite a few times as she tried to keep up with Livia’s horse.
The bitch was parading her. She was riding through the gates of Rome with a chain in her hand and a slave on the end of it, showing to the world that she was the one who came out victorious. Varia tried to ignore the stares and the whispers as she was led through the streets, but Livia wanted her people to know exactly who she was, or rather, what she was. She had been dressed back into her traditional Amazonian garments and Varia’s cheeks burned with shame as the Roman people pointed and whispered about ‘the Amazon captive’.
It made her not feel like a true Amazon, honestly. No true Amazon would allow themselves to be captured and paraded around like this. No true Amazon would have hesitated – twice, no less – to kill the woman who had murdered and enslaved her tribe. And so as she was forced down the roads of Rome, Varia felt as though each step forwards was truly a step backwards in her life; shredding her identity and forcing her to become something she never thought she would be.
When they entered the palace and the cheers for Livia’s triumph finally died in Varia’s ears, they were met by the Emperor of Rome. Augustus Caesar greeted Livia warmly with a kiss on the cheek, which the woman accepted with a small, victorious smile. It seemed she had been laying the groundwork for some time to become this man’s Empress, and that she believed that it was only a matter of time until it came to pass. However, Varia took note of the man’s body language and the way that he looked at his Champion, and it seemed far more paternal than romantic.
She doubted Livia very much cared though. She wanted power and clearly did not care what lines she had to cross to get it, which only proved to Varia what a despicable person she truly was.
“Livia,” Augustus greeted warmly, briefly placing his hands on the woman’s forearms in a gesture of pride. “Congratulations on your conquest of the Amazons; there truly is no one that can stand in the way of our army now that you’re at the forefront of it. You have my thanks, and the thanks of a grateful nation.”
Livia gently inclined her head. “Anything to serve Rome, Lord Caesar.”
Varia outwardly scowled scoffed but unfortunately it wasn’t as quiet as she thought it was, and with one hard tug from Livia’s end of the chain she was on her knees in front of the Emperor, uncomfortably pulling at the brace around her neck. Augustus’ eyebrows rose, finally noticing that they were not entirely alone.
“You took a conquest,” he noted, although the tone in his voice was hard to decipher.
“I took a slave,” Livia corrected, pulling on the chain again to encourage Varia to get on her feet. She stumbled once, but she did finally stand, not allowing her gaze to rest anywhere but on the floor.
Varia may not have known much about Rome and their ways, but she very much doubted that slaves were permitted to look upon the Emperor. Besides, if she got punished for disrespect now then she wouldn’t be able to look about the palace later and discern its strength and weaknesses, and a way to finally get out.
“I’ve been in need of a personal servant for a long time now, and if I’m too be quite honest, I absolutely relish the challenge in breaking an Amazon.” Livia paused for a moment then, perhaps remembering her place as she ended with a request. “That is, of course, with your permission, my Lord.”
Augustus murmured a noncommittal sound at first, giving Varia a once over. “Are you sure that’s wise, Livia?” he finally asked, obviously worried about her well-being. “I could easily find you a personal servant that does not have a vendetta against you. You slaughtered this child’s tribe and sold the rest into slavery; I very much doubt she’ll be forgiving about that.”
Varia’s jaw clenched, her eyes alight with fire. He was right about that.
“With respect, my Lord, if I had wanted something easy, I wouldn’t have chosen an Amazon.”
Augustus pursed his lips, obviously still wary about her choice, but he eventually relented with a nod. “You may keep her then, but I do hope you know what you’re doing.”
Livia smiled her thanks, and all Varia could think was how she very much did not know what the fuck she was doing. But her mistake was Varia’s advantage, and so all she did was stay quiet and made sure to keep her expression neutral. One way or another, be it while she was here or when she came back with an army of her Amazon sisters, Livia would live to regret her mistake. Of that Varia was certain.
Livia snapped her fingers then, causing Varia to look at her in disbelief because surely she didn’t think she was about to just come when called like some kind of pet, but instead one of the other servants that lined the walls with their heads bowed came over at the call. “Bring my new slave to my chambers; teach her how I like my bath drawn, my clothing laid out. I want her to know my nighttime routine by sun down and if she does it wrong, I will hold you personally responsible.”
To Varia’s disbelief, the young woman just bowed her head to the threat and responded with an obedient. “Yes, Domina.”
Varia felt the collar around her neck fall away, and click after click finally freed her hands and legs from the chains the Roman Bitch had had her in for more than half a day. Varia rubbed out a kink in her neck but made a point to say nothing at all as she followed the other slave away from one fresh hell and into another one entirely.
Livia’s quarters were quite large, consisting of a bedchamber, a bathroom, and a place just for keeping her clothes that could have easily slept three people. A large bed was in the center of the main room against the far back wall, covered in all kinds of different animal skins. All of this was behind large mahogany double doors that were carved with golden Roman crests and more bolts and locks on the inside than Varia deemed truly necessary. Apparently, the Emperor was very concerned with his Champion’s safety.
It was exorbitant, and it was wasteful, and it was entirely disrespectful to what the Gods gave them as they used parts but never the whole, but Varia supposed that was just how royalty in this part of the world was.
Selfish. Self-absorbed. The amount of mirrors Livia had in her chambers could attest to that one, at the very least.
When the door closed behind them, the serving girl leaned against it and pursed her lips, appraising the former warrior in front of her. “What is your name?”
Seeing no need to be hostile to her, Varia’s answer held no animosity. After all, it wasn’t this girl’s fault that she was currently serving the Champion of Rome like some kind of dog. “Varia.”
“My name is Lucilia,” the girl introduced, her voice as meek as her demeanor. Her hands were clasped in front of her, her head bowed. It was as though she was so used to never looking anyone in the eye that even when she was in the presence of someone she could, she instinctively chose not to.
Varia did notice the girl’s gaze take in her attire however, so she wasn’t surprised when Lucilia asked, sounding almost as though she were in awe of her, “You… were an Amazon?”
“I am an Amazon,” Varia corrected fiercely, not ready to lose her identity just yet. Livia may have successfully broken her spirit a few times, but that didn’t mean she had lost herself yet. Battles won could still mean a war lost, and Varia still planned to prove that to the Roman bitch.
“Beg pardon, but whatever you were, Miss Varia, you best forget it. You belong to Rome now.”
That was debatable, but certainly not worth debating now.
Varia’s brow creased though at the unfamiliar form of address, not expecting it. “Why do you call me ‘miss’? I’m down here in the shit and piss just as much as you.” Well, perhaps she wasn’t currently in the shit and piss as Livia’s bedroom was too extravagant to ever be called something so vile, even if it would fit her personality. Still, the metaphor stood.
Lucilia finally caught her gaze full on then, looking surprised that Varia did not know. “The Domina has chosen you as her personal servant; that is a great honor,” she told her, which took Varia momentarily aback. It definitely didn’t feel like a great honor. “Even amongst fellow slaves, you still hold a position higher than us. Usually one has to work for the position, as great loyalty is traditionally involved, but the Domina has always done things differently than the others.”
Well, if that was the criteria, then Livia certainly did do things very differently. Or very stupidly. No wonder the Emperor didn’t understand her wishes to take Varia as her own.
“Why do you call her ‘Domina’?” Varia asked as she followed the other girl into the adjoining bathroom.
“She is our owner, of course,” Lucilia answered, as though it should have been obvious. Perhaps the girl didn’t understand that it was a Roman word, unused by any others. “Anyone of the royal family is our Domina or Dominus. You must always address them this way, or they will cut out your tongue. Please do not forget, I can no longer bear the screaming. They make all of us watch.”
Varia found that to be a hideous punishment, but she didn’t have much time to think on it. Instead she was too busy gawking at the size of the in ground basin that Livia used as a bathing area. There was even a fireplace in the room so that the servants didn’t have to carry the heated buckets of water very far. It was that which Lucilia was directing her towards now, instructing her, “The basin holds fifty buckets of water. Thirty five of those must be very hot, the remaining fifteen cold. That is how the Domina likes her baths.”
Varia hated herself for trying to actually remember that, but considering that Livia said that she would hold Lucilia personally responsible if she didn’t get it right, Varia didn’t want the girl getting hurt on her behalf.
“She dines with the Dominus at sun down, followed by a meeting with their advisors,” Lucilia continued, needing Varia to know her charge’s schedule. “After, she will return here and have her bath. You are expected to wash her—”
“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking joking,” Varia sneered, unable to take the thought of it. Doing all this was one thing, but having to clean her was quite another. Lucilia looked taken aback by Varia’s language though, and especially her hostility.
“Please, don’t argue,” she begged. “The Domina is very kind when we do things the way she likes it, but when we do not…”
“I’m not looking for her to be kind,” Varia bluntly interrupted, shaking her head in disbelief. “Do you know what that monster did? She murdered half my tribe. Sold the other half as slaves. ‘Kind’? Whatever you think she shows you, Lucilia, it’s definitely not kindness. At best, it’s just another one of her fucking games.”
“With respect, you are wrong, Miss Varia,” Lucilia told her, her voice actually holding more conviction this time. “You are new here; new to this life, new to the Domina. When I came, I hated her as well. Yours was not the only family she slaughtered, you know. But I’ve seen how other servants are treated, and I assure you, it is far worse than anything the Domina does. Her requests are simple and few, and she even sometimes talks to us; like we matter, like we’re there. Most people… they do not even see us. We are property, not humans.”
Varia scoffed, finding all of that to be cold comfort. So Livia sometimes showed basic human decency, big deal. That didn’t earn her any kind of medals for her minimal effort.
“The person you’ve seen is not the person she truly is,” Lucilia promised her, despite her words falling on deaf ears. “I have forgiven her for what she has done; in time, you will too.”
Varia looked at her disbelievingly. Was this what Livia meant when she told her that she could break her? Was this her past experience, or was Lucilia simply not right in the head? Her family was slaughtered by Livia and by Rome, she was enslaved, and yet she forgave her for that?
“If that is what you need to believe right now, I am alright with that,” Lucilia responded, the calmness of her tone frustrating Varia even more. “But just know that you are luckier than most. You won’t be grabbed in the middle of the night and violated by the soldiers. You won’t be beaten out of boredom, or thrown in the dirt for laughs. You are protected, and it is her name which protects you.”
Varia really did not like the way that Lucilia spoke about her life as a servant; she spoke of those horrors all too casually, and like it was just something she was expected to accept as a slave.
“Because I’m her property?” Varia asked scathingly, not wishing to owe the woman any favors in that way. No one should be subjected to those things, and not being subjected to them was not deserving of gratitude.
“Yes,” Lucilia responded simply. “Because you are hers, no others will be allowed to touch you.”
“You say this like you actually believe that Livia will not do these things to me herself. She has still beaten me, Lucilia. She has still chained me and acted as though I do not exist. Whatever you think you know about how she will treat me, I guarantee that you are wrong.”
“The Domina,” Lucilia corrected hastily, fear in her eyes as she desperately grasped onto Varia’s arm. “Please, do not say her true name. Please.”
Varia did not like the idea of calling Livia that, but she also didn’t want Lucilia to worry that she would get punished should she not comply. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. She did not want others to pay for her mistake. “I misspoke. This is all still new to me.”
Lucilia noticeably relaxed, letting go of Varia’s arm and stepping back.
Getting back into her role as instructor, Lucilia told her, “After the Domina’s bath, you will need to brush all of the tangles out of her hair. She wears it long at night. You must already have her sleeping attire laid out before she gets back from her meeting with the advisors; I will show you where it is. She usually isn’t very picky about what you choose.”
Varia stayed silent, but did take in her words.
“As she dresses you are to dump her bath water. Then, you are to wait. If she requests your services, you are to stay until she has finished with you, or you must fetch the person she is in need of. If she does not require company for the night, then you may retire to bed.”
Varia’s brow knit, not understanding exactly what she meant by that. “What do you mean? How would she require my services after that? Or any other person’s, for that matter. Won’t it be late?”
Lucilia gave her a look like she was being naive. “I meant, if she requires a nighttime companion.”
Varia nearly choked on her breath. “I’m sorry, what?” she stuttered, not at all having pictured something like… like that. She was still a virgin, and she would be damned if she had to give that up to the likes of a monster like Livia.
Lucilia looked a little perplexed by her reaction. “Servants of the royal palace have always been expected to serve our masters in any way they see fit. It is not uncommon. And surely, being an Amazon, you are familiar with the idea of two women together.”
“Of course I am, but I would rather die than let that monster lay a hand on me! How can you let her touch you after what she did to your family? Gods, this isn’t right,” Varia exclaimed, looking horrified by the revelation. “You say you don’t like being violated in the middle of the night by the soldiers, but being ordered to lie with someone is still rape, Lucilia! If she takes away your choice, she takes away your will.”
“No, you misunderstand,” Lucilia corrected, as though Varia had some vast misinterpretation of who Livia really was. “She requests us. We are allowed to decline; at least with her. But there are advantages to letting her have us. Once she lies with us, we are no longer allowed to be sullied by outside hands, save anyone else in the royal family, of course. But she orders her army not to touch us. Believe me, it is not a cruelty.”
Varia shook her head in disbelief, unable to fully believe the other woman’s words. She believed her to be brainwashed, so Varia had her doubts that Lucilia was seeing things as they truly were, and not how she wished them to be. Still, if that were true, it did provide Varia with a small comfort. She did not want to be ordered to lie with her, nor with anyone else. That part of her was hers, and hers alone.
“I don’t understand why she needs servants anyway,” Varia continued, her tone still a little hostile in regards to the subject. “I thought she was supposed to become Empress; shouldn’t that mean that she should only lay with the Emper—I mean, the Dominus?”
At least she was learning, despite wishing she never had to.
“Oh no, the Dominus and the Domina are not… not yet,” Lucilia told her in a hushed tone, her cheeks becoming patched with pink for some reason. Perhaps she just did not like to gossip. “The Domina has her political and personal desires, but they have yet to come to fruition. I think it because she is still too young.”
“Then why do you call her Domina?” Varia asked again, but this time for a different reason. “I assumed it was because she was romantically involved with the Dominus, but if she’s not than how is she considered part of the royal family?”
“Oh, you do not know?” Lucilia asked, clearly surprised. Apparently this was something of common knowledge. “The Domina was brought to Rome by the Dominus when she was very young. From what I heard, her mother abandoned her on the side of the road to Greece, and that was where she was found. She is considered to be his ward.”
“Tartarus on earth,” Varia swore, immediately disgusted. “Are you telling me that he’s her adoptive father?”
“Oh, no,” Lucilia was quick to clarify. “The Domina did not grow up in Rome, but in the provinces. She did not even lay eyes on the Dominus until four winters ago; or at least, not that she could remember. Still, as he was the one who found her, she is still considered to be his ward and therefore part of the royal family. It is very different relationship.”
Whatever she called it, Varia still find the whole thing repugnant.
Lucilia did not allow anymore talk though, as one glance out the window at the beginning of the setting sun caused her to grow a little pale. “Come, I must walk you through this before she gets here, and it’s getting late.”
Despite herself, Varia nodded. In the end, if she wanted to find a way out of this, then she needed to learn how to play the game. So while patience was not her strong suit, Varia tried to settle herself into a routine that she had no desire to be a part of because right now, her one and only priority was to get out of this alive.
Tura would never forgive her if she did not.
Chapter 4: IV. Honesty
When Livia returned from her meeting with her advisors, everything was prepared as she had asked. It took quite a lot of willpower from Varia to hold her composure as she stood by the in-ground bathing area, head bowed in a gesture of submission. It was the way Lucilia instructed her to act though, and since Varia did not want her mistakes being taken out on the other girl, she did as she was told.
But oh, did it make her blood boil.
“Your bath, Domina.” The word stuck in Varia’s throat, but she tried not to let Livia see how much it bothered her to call her ‘master’.
Livia was silent for a long moment, and Varia wondered if she had somehow already done something wrong. Still, she did not dare to look up and assess the other woman’s expression; despite hating her place, she did know it. “No,” Livia finally said, and Varia’s heart sank. She wouldn’t be able to forgive herself if something happened to poor Lucilia because her anger and hatred towards Livia overshadowed all else.
But, apparently, that wasn’t it at all.
“Ugh. Gods, no,” Livia responded, sounding disgusted for reasons Varia did not understand. “If I had wanted my serving girl to kiss my ass, I would have chosen one of the girls who lap at my cunt. When we’re behind closed doors, do not address me as Domina; do not engage in any overly submissive behavior. Honestly, the sight of it fucking disgusts me. Were you not a warrior once, Amazon? Act like it.”
Varia’s jaw clenched and she looked up at the woman across the bathing chamber, her eyes flashing dangerously. “If I acted like a warrior, Roman, you and I would be having a very different conversation.”
Livia smiled at the threat, seemingly content with the response; almost as though it put her at peace, as strange as that sounded. “And one day we will have that conversation,” she promised, her voice more sincere than Varia would have expected. “When you’re ready. For now though, I require you to disrobe me.”
Varia hated the implication that she wasn’t yet ready to take her on, even though a part of her knew it was true. Despite being an Amazon, she had only participated in one battle in her entire life, and had yet to even have her first kill. By comparison, there was no contest. But that didn’t mean that Varia was incapable of learning. She was once a very good hunter and because of that, she knew she should not spook her prey. Perhaps then, if only she played the good little servant to the Bitch of Rome, in time she could get the woman to trust her.
After all, trust could open up so many doors… including the one to Livia’s demise.
It was a good enough plan on parchment, but in reality it would take a lot of self-control that Varia wondered if she even had. Whatever she planned to do though, she knew it didn’t include getting out of Rome any time soon. Unfortunately, if Varia even had a hope of ever succeeding, then she needed time to scope out the palace, to know the ins and outs of the guards’ schedules. She needed supplies and she needed a real plan and right now, Varia had neither. All she had right now was her self-control and some near-futile wish that she be strong enough to keep it.
So Varia did what she was instructed, and slowly walked over to her mistress.
Each layer of armor that was peeled from the older woman was placed in a neat pile on one of the chairs next to the fireplace. Part of Varia hoped the woman would have been stupid enough to bring a weapon with her, but the other part rationalized that even if she had, she still wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. There was nowhere to run.
And so, Varia tried to push those kinds of thoughts from her mind. She needed to have patience. Her escape would come in time, but it definitely wouldn’t be within the next coming days, or even the next coming months.
She had to be strong.
Varia tried not to stare as she peeled Livia’s smallclothes from her body, folding them neatly to lay atop the woman’s armor. The Roman stepped away from her then, slowly walking down the steps to submerge herself in the water. When she looked up though she saw that Varia was pointedly not looking at her and a deep line etched itself in her brow.
“I thought you were an Amazon,” she mentioned, grabbing the sea sponge from the side of the bath. “Surely laying eyes on the female form doesn’t embarrass you.” She said it like she was making fun of her, and Varia scowled.
“Of course not.”
“Then why do you look away from me?”
“Because I don’t want to humanize you,” Varia snapped back, allowing her eyes to finally rest on the face of her enemy. But that was the thing of it; stripped of all her defenses and of all her armor, Livia looked… young. Innocent. She looked like a person, and not like the monster that Varia knew.
Livia’s tongue pressed against her teeth as she smirked at that answer. Outstretching her arms to either side of her, she laid them on the edge of the bath just enough so that her breasts would fall above the water line. The contrast from the hot tub and the cool air made her nipples tighten, and Livia’s smirk widened as she noticed Varia noticing.
“You mean you don’t want to sexualize me.”
Varia was embarrassed for allowing herself to walk into that trap, but she just rolled her eyes at her and scoffed in response. “Sexualizing you would make me see you as an object,” Varia explained to her, and for once, she was the one being patronizing. She may not know much about sex first hand, but her tribe at least educated her on the matter, and it was obvious that because of that, she had a much healthier view of it than Livia. “Believe me, that would be far preferable to humanizing you right now, at least for me.”
Livia’s brow knit, and it actually looked like she was considering her words. Finally, she allowed her arms to drop and the rest of her torso slip back under the water, hiding it from Varia’s view. The Amazon watched her, part of her intrigued because it seemed like Livia actually listened to her, but another part of her wary because she didn’t know why she even would.
“What do you want from me?” Varia asked suddenly, needing to know. “Why me, of all of your conquests? Is this really all just some stupid game to you? My pain, my anger; does is amuse you, Roman?”
Livia looked up at her, her expression unreadable as she slowly dragged the sea sponge along the length of her arm. She was quiet for a moment, as if trying to give her the most honest answer she could. It was a little unnerving, as it wasn’t what Varia had expected.
Finally, the woman spoke. “I’m tired.” Varia looked at her with disbelief, not understanding how that was any kind of proper answer, but Livia continued before she could ask. “Everything comes easy for me,” she told her. “My whole life, I was good at anything I tried. People loved me and even when they didn’t, they pretended to. I’m sick of everything falling into place. For once, I want something to be difficult; to be unpredictable. To be honest.”
Varia’s expression twisted into something bordering disbelief and suspicion. “What the fuck is that supposed to do with me?”
Livia looked up from her bath then, catching Varia’s gaze. “Do you hate me, Amazon?” she asked curiously, as if she really didn’t know. Or, perhaps, she was just wondering if Varia would dare to say the words out loud. In the end, she was still a slave, and no slave should ever speak ill of their masters.
But Varia didn’t plan to be a normal servant to the Roman bitch, nor, did it seem, that Livia even wanted one. “Yes,” she responded, her voice cold as she stared down her enemy. “I loathe you, Roman.”
Livia wet her dry lips, nodding at the answer. “See? That’s ‘why you’. I’ve beaten you and I’ve chained you and yet you still do not fear me. You can still look me in the eye and be honest, and that is why I want you around.”
“So you want someone that hates you to be your personal servant so they can, what, bring your ego down a peg or two?” Varia exclaimed, her tone disbelieving and, honestly, a little offended. “You’re a fucking mess.”
“You wouldn’t understand what it’s like,” Livia responded dangerously, but Varia wouldn’t hear of it.
“Oh, poor you,” she goaded, even more angry now that she knew the truth of Livia’s intentions with her. “Your life is so easy that it hurts you to live in it. Meanwhile, the trail of bodies you leave behind destroys the rest of us in ways someone like you will never understand. You want to compare pain? I will bury you in it, and honestly? A part of me fucking wants to. That is the brattiest thing I have ever heard anyone say in my life.”
Varia’s chest was heaving when she was finished, her anger running hot through her veins like fire as she heard this… this child complain about what she thought constituted as unhappiness. It was disgusting and as much as Varia wished she could, she could not control herself. She was supposed to deal with this, to have patience, but Gods, she hated this woman more and more every day.
Livia said nothing, but her jaw was clenched like she was trying to suppress the anger that those words elicited in her. Varia laughed disbelievingly as she watched her. “Is this what you want; is this the honesty you need?” she goaded, still so furious with her. “Are you having fun yet?”
Livia pursed her lips, taking a deep breath. The longer she stayed silent though, the more Varia’s anger started to give way to concern; although she did exactly what Livia had asked of her, she was still worried that she would be punished for it, mostly due to the fact that it seemed that whatever Livia had been expecting, it hadn’t been that.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Livia spoke. “…Join me,” she offered, referring to her bath. Varia snorted.
“You have got to be joking.”
“I’m not,” Livia responded, but her tone held a bit of an edge; a warning. “Nor was it a request. I may want your honesty, but I still expect your obedience, Amazon.”
Varia stared at her for a long moment, suspicion and anger showing in the lines of her face. Still, she didn’t feel like getting beaten today and so she disrobed herself almost violently, throwing her garments into a heap in the corner. Livia stared at her body, and Varia stared at her. She was much too angry to become embarrassed by the other woman’s gaze, which was probably about the only thing she was thankful for right now.
As she began to submerge herself into the tub, Varia made her thoughts clear as she told her, “I hope you aren’t expecting me to lie with you tonight.” Because honestly, if the woman tried to make her, then no amount of self-control in the world could stop Varia from strangling her in her sleep.
That apparently took Livia so off guard that she actually laughed, her gaze leaving the curves of the Amazon’s body to rest on her face. “I thought I had made it clear that what I expect from other palace servants, I don’t expect from you.”
“Then why look at me in that way?” Varia asked, tone still incredibly hostile.
Livia looked a little amused as she sunk further back into the water, casually rolling her head to the side as her eyes drank up what little of Varia’s form she could see on the surface. “Because you are beautiful,” she responded simply. “Surely you know that.”
Despite herself, Varia blushed. It made her even more furious and she exhaled a disbelieving breath and averted her gaze, not wanting to see the self-satisfied smirk on the other woman’s face. “I hope you’re enjoying your little games, Roman,” Varia responded, hating how out of sorts she felt with her new situation. “Because I assure you, in the end, you will be the one to lose every, single, one of them.”
The corners of Livia’s lips twitched at that, but the amusement gave way to contemplation as she responded softly, curiously, “Honestly? You may very well be right, Amazon.”
Varia’s back hit the wall of the slave quarters hard, a knife being pressed against her jugular as one very angry girl attempted to pin her, threaten her, without having a single lesson in true combat. Her form was a mess and there were far too many openings for Varia to dislodge herself from the position they were in and yet she stayed still, more than a little curious about why this girl thought she could manhandle her like that.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” the girl practically growled in her face, causing Varia’s brow to rise in amusement. She had been here nearly a fortnight now, and while she had noticed the sideways looks and less than friendly stares from the other girl, she had never actually expected it to come to something like this.
“I think the real question is, who the fuck do you think you are?” she countered, voice much calmer than her attacker’s. It seemed to enrage the girl even further.
“I’m the one the Domina favored; me! I’m the one who should be wearing silk robes and serving her every need, and yet you come along and—!”
“Octavia!” Lucilia cried as she came into the slave quarters, dropping the basket of soiled linens she had been carrying. She sounded concerned at the amount of aggression she was showing Livia’s personal servant, and for good reason; just not the reason she believed. “Please, stop; you’ll get whipped for such disrespect! It’s not her fault that the Domina chose her!”
The distraction was all Varia needed, and within moments she was out of the other girl’s hold, her fingers gripping Octavia’s wrist as she held her thumb hard to the pressure point in the center. The girl cried out and dropped the knife immediately, giving Varia the opportunity to shove her away so hard that she landed in a heap on the floor. She looked up at Varia, astonishment showing behind her dark eyes.
“You want the Domina?” Varia responded, disgust rising up in the back of her throat by how jealous the girl seemed to be of her. “You can have her. If you think I want this, you’re fucked. I don’t know what’s wrong with all of you, but she is not some kind of prize to be won; at best, she’s a spoiled brat with no concept of what it means to truly be unhappy, and at worst she’s the monster that will slaughter you as soon as she looks at you.”
Octavia’s face etched with rage. “You ungrateful—”
“Please, stop, both of you!” Lucilia cried, looking more and more scared the longer this altercation went on. It was obvious she didn’t want anyone to hear the way either of them were speaking; about one another or about Livia. It was still early in the day so they were the only three in the slave quarters, but that didn’t mean it would be private for much longer.
Here, it seemed even the walls had ears.
Which was proven much later that evening when Livia strode into her chambers for her evening bath and yet instead of ordering Varia to disrobe her, she strode right up to her and backhanded her across the face. The blow wasn’t as hard as the others had been though and so Varia didn’t fall to her knees, but she did press her knuckles to her rapidly bruising cheek and glare at her mistress with a fierce hatred in her eyes.
“When I said I wanted honesty from you, Amazon, I meant only within the privacy of this chamber,” she spat, apparently having been told what Varia said about her. “I should have you whipped for the disrespect you showed me in front of another servant today. What made you think you could say those things about your Domina?”
“The fact that it’s the truth,” Varia responded despite knowing that was probably not the correct answer. She was hit again and this time there was much more strength behind it, causing her to stumble back against the wall of the bathing chamber. Her eye was beginning to swell, Varia could feel it, and yet she couldn’t find it within herself to care.
“What is it about you?” Varia exclaimed, beginning to grow angry as she picked herself off the ground. She didn’t care about being whipped for her missteps right now; she knew she would be punished eventually for something. It was only a matter of time. “What have you done to these women that they think you’re some sort of prize? Do you have ambrosia stuffed between your thighs, or have you just beaten the common sense out of all of them?”
“Care to find out, Amazon?” Livia growled, her eyes alight with fire as she advanced on her.
“Do I have a choice in the matter?” Varia countered, standing at full height as she took in the other woman’s tensing form. She could see the muscles rippling in the Roman’s arms; she was readying herself for a fight and yet, unfathomably, she had yet to strike. “Because if I do, I’d rather be whipped than be raped.”
She was slammed hard against the wall after that comment, Livia’s forearm pressing against her windpipe as her furious eyes searched Varia’s; almost as if a part of her were desperate for her to see the truth hidden behind them. “I do not rape them!” she shouted at her, Varia having apparently hit a nerve somewhere.
“Apologies… Domina,” Varia wheezed out, her voice strained with sarcasm. “But brainwashing them enough to want to lie with you is still… very much… rape.”
Livia let her go enough to rear her arm back to elbow her in the face. The blow blinded Varia for a moment, but she lashed out anyway. Her fist connected, but she wasn’t entirely sure where it did. It didn’t matter though, as Livia tripped her not moments later and she went tumbling into the bath that she had just drawn for the other woman. Varia came out of the water sputtering and swearing, her sight a little disoriented. She heard another splash though, indicating the other woman had jumped into the bath with her, and suddenly Varia felt herself being pushed up against the edge of the tub, a hand on her throat.
“Don’t,” Livia began dangerously, her voice thinner than Varia had ever heard it sound before, “ever say that about me.” Varia’s vision cleared and, if she didn’t know any better, she would have sworn that Livia’s eyes were filled with furious tears. But they were soaked, she was half-blind, and Livia did not show that kind of emotion. Or, at least she hadn’t in the fortnight that she had been there.
“You can say… anything,” Livia continued, her chest heaving and her grip tightening. Varia gasped for air, her fingernails digging into the other woman’s arm as she tried to pry her off of her. “But not that. Never that. Do you understand me, Amazon? I am not— I do not do that.”
She let go of her throat then and Varia coughed as she tried to fill her lungs with much needed oxygen. She nodded though, knowing she wasn’t strong enough to take her in an actual fight one on one. That much was painfully obvious.
“Good,” Livia responded strongly, her expression a mix of fury and upset before she hit her once more, for good measure. Varia hissed in pain and spit blood, watching it dissolve into the water around them. She expected more of a beating and it never came though, and so Varia watched in disbelieving silence as Livia climbed out of the bath, her armor weighing heavy on her body.
“…Who hurt you?” Varia asked softly, realizing that Livia took so much offense to it for a very specific reason. The look on her face said enough, and despite every fiber of her being knowing that she should never feel sympathy for such a woman, a part of Varia still ached. Maybe it was merely the woman in her connecting with the woman in Livia, but still.
Livia was silent for a long while as she wrung out the water from her hair, the droplets making loud smacks against the marble flooring. Gone was the pain from her eyes, and all that existed now was hardness as she slammed every single wall she had back into place.
“No one that’s still breathing,” she responded, her voice devoid of the emotion that it once had. She turned, looking at Varia; her expression was unreadable. “You are not to speak about this,” she instructed. “Not with me, not with anyone. You have a fortnight to remind yourself of what lines you can and cannot cross, Amazon. I suggest you use the time wisely.”
“What?” Varia asked, confused by what Livia meant until the Commander yelled for the guards, and the younger woman’s mouth dropped open. Despite still being hit from time to time – although more in public than anywhere else – Varia still had this idea in her head that she could get away with quite a lot. For some reason, Livia needed someone to hate her, to unkindly give her the reality that everyone else hid from her in order to spare her feelings or get into her good graces, and so she hadn’t yet found that line she couldn’t cross.
“Take her to the dungeons and chain her,” Livia ordered her guards as they hauled the soaking wet Amazon out of the bath water. Varia sputtered her protests, but they fell on deaf ears. “And bring me a new servant… it seems like I’ll be in need of a replacement for a little while.”
Chapter 5: V. Confidant
That was not the only time that Varia had been thrown into the dungeon or punished over the next few years, but they did end up becoming fewer and farther between as time wore on. In the beginning, she had tried to escape twice and had tried to assassinate Livia one last time before Varia slowly began to realize that whatever life she hoped to live was gone.
For better or worse, this was her life now.
The escape attempts were punished publicly, but the assassination attempt was dealt with in private, because according to Livia, if anyone ever knew that Varia had tried such a thing, she would have been executed without the right to a trial. Varia had tried to kill her, and in turn, Livia protected her. She hadn’t understood at first, but the longer she served her, the more she got to know Livia and, in turn, the more Varia began to understand why she needed her around so badly.
Simply put, she was lonely.
Livia, it seemed, did not have a single relationship with another person that wasn’t politically motivated. Whatever friends she had as a child were left in the providences while she was carted off to the capital and trained to become the greatest warrior Rome had ever known. Varia had become the only constant in her life outside of the soldiers she commanded, and she ultimately grew attached. She grew accustomed to the company, and now she didn’t know how to live without it.
Understanding the Roman woman however, did not mean that Varia had forgiven her. Livia had still killed and enslaved her tribe, but the problem was that the more time had passed since it happened, the more Varia’s anger waned. It still existed of course; it probably always would, but by now her life was steeped in so much routine by then that sometimes it was hard to remember what came before all of it. In the end, it made Varia’s heart ache every time Livia called her ‘Amazon’, as she didn’t know if she even was one anymore.
It made it even more difficult when Varia seemed to learn to work within her boundaries, and therefore was no longer beaten for her missteps. It was a strange feeling, to long to be beaten again, but even when Varia feared that she was becoming just another one of Livia’s compliant sheep and pushed the envelope as far as she could push it… nothing happened.
That was that day that Varia realized that Livia feared loneliness far more than she had ever realized.
Varia had thrown every insult in her face, brought up her ‘raping’ slaves again, told her she was nothing more than a spoiled infant with a really big sword, and Livia just… she left. She stared at her for a long moment, her face expressionless before she finally turned and left the chamber, slamming the heavy door in her wake. Varia later heard that she had burned a village after that for not paying her tribute, and Gods, that made it so much worse. While Varia was left alone to scream and cry and hate herself for starting to be okay with her life, Livia had gone out and destroyed other people’s lives because, for some reason, she no longer wanted to destroy hers.
Varia hated herself. She hated Livia for doing that to those innocent people, and for winning whatever game they had been playing. Because it had been a game, hadn’t it? She told her that one day she would break her, and it seemed she finally had.
“What is it?” Livia asked one day into the second year, noticing her servant’s expression in the mirror as Varia stood behind her, dutifully brushing her hair. She sounded like she was actually concerned, but that was the thing; she had been sounding an awful like she gave a shit lately. It was like she had actually grown to care for her; like all the times Varia told her she hated her, that she was an awful human being, made Livia appreciate the only source of honesty in her life, making it manifest into… whatever this backwards relationship they now had was.
Not friendship, not even close, but… companionship, perhaps. They spent so much time with one another lately that sometimes it felt like their lives were constantly woven between each other’s.
Varia could feel her esophagus constrict, angry tears burning the back of her eyes as she realized why she was really upset. “You’ve won,” she admitted finally, hating herself for confessing that; hating herself for allowing it to happen. “But you knew that already, didn’t you?”
Livia’s lips pursed into a thin line and then, to Varia’s surprise, a hand clasped around her own, stilling the brush in her hand. Varia’s watery gaze met Livia’s in the mirror, but she didn’t see the look of triumph she had been expecting.
“No,” she told her softly, sounding a little defeated for reason’s Varia could not understand. “I really haven’t, Amazon.”
At the time, Varia didn’t know why she would believe that, but she eventually came to understand what she meant.
A few months after that – as it had been quite a very long while since Varia had tried to attack her, or that Livia had had to discipline her for either disrespect or a mistake – Varia was finally permitted personal quarters. All of the royal family’s servants had them, but apparently Augustus had warned Livia against permitting Varia them in the beginning, as she held a very obvious vendetta against her. Traditionally, the servant’s personal quarters were attached to the room of their Domina or Dominus, to better serve them by being with them every moment of every day. Come to find out, the space that Livia had been previously using to keep all of her clothing was actually supposed to be where Varia slept.
Livia moved some of her clothing to make room for her, but not all of it. Varia didn’t mind though; in the end, it was much better than sleeping with the other slaves. Mostly due to the fact that she was still permitted some luxuries for being the Domina’s personal slave; it was right in front of them, and some became very jealous. There were fights, but after Livia began punishing those slaves that touched her, they stopped. Still, Varia hated the whispering and the fact that not many other slaves wanted to even hold a friendly conversation with her.
At the very least, that girl Octavia did not come after her again – as she had certainly been the worst as she had used an actual weapon – but Varia was certain the woman didn’t feel the need to as it was her that Livia still called to her bedchambers late at night. As long as Octavia still got to fuck her, it seemed everything else just wasn’t as important.
But even that privilege seemed to be slipping from Octavia’s grasp.
Varia could hear them. She could always hear them whenever they fucked, and tonight was no different. She was laid out on the abundance of animal skins that Livia had provided her as bedding, covering her ears as she tried to block out the sounds coming from the Roman’s bedchambers. She had started trying to not hear them all together once she noticed that the sounds they made were beginning to make her feel a little funny in places she would rather… just not. Not in regards to Livia, or even the slave bitch she was with.
Varia knew it was probably just an instinctual reaction to her body hearing something it had been denied her whole life and was curious about, but she didn’t care how or why it was happening. It was enough to know that it was, and that she had to put a stop to it because it made her look at Livia in a way she didn’t like the next morning.
“Fuck… fuck,” Livia groaned, causing Varia to roll her eyes and press her hands over her ears tighter. Why she always had to put on some type of show, she would never understand. But this time was apparently different as the next ‘fuck’ that came out of her mouth seemed more frustrated than anything else, and then suddenly Varia heard her demand, “No, this isn’t working – get out.”
“I… did I do something wrong, Domina?” Octavia asked, sounding so terribly perplexed by the abrupt change in atmosphere. Varia took her hands off of her ears, her brow furrowing. She had never heard that happen before either and despite herself, she was intrigued.
“I said get out!” Livia bellowed, causing Varia to tense up. Whatever the hell just happened, it obviously wasn’t good. She heard Octavia scurry out of the bedchamber, the large door being closed with a heavy thud.
Varia sucked in a sharp breath. It had been years now, and never once had Livia addressed her by her actual name. She didn’t even think that she remembered it, as she had never asked for it again after that first day. So for Livia to say it after all this time made Varia’s entire body freeze up in such a way that she wasn’t sure if she should be expecting something good… or something very, very bad.
“Varia, I know you can hear me.”
Varia exhaled the breath she had been holding, steeling her nerves as she sat up in her bedroll. “I am not finishing you, if that’s what you’re about to ask,” she told her, surprisingly keeping her voice steady as she laid down whatever rules she knew she was allowed to have.
“Not even when I whispered your name oh-so-sweetly?” Livia countered sardonically. Varia’s expression leveled and she said nothing, but it didn’t matter because Livia told her, “Relax. I just wanted to invite you to drink with me.”
The crease between Varia’s brow etched deeper, as that certainly wasn’t normal behavior from her either. Still, she could admit that she was curious and so she stood, exiting her quarters. When she entered Livia’s, she saw the brunette sitting up in her bed, the covers bunched around her waist with her naked torso being covered only by the hair that was draped over her right shoulder, hiding one of her breasts.
It certainly was not the first time Varia had seen her naked though, considering she bathed her quite frequently, and so her nudity barely registered. The light flush of her cheeks did though, as that was new; although probably just an after affect of the sex she had been attempting to have.
Varia folded her arms across her chest as she stood at the foot of the Commander’s bed, her eyes narrowed in suspicion as she watched Livia grab a bottle of Gods-only-knows-what from her bedside table. “How do you know my name?” she asked, voice hard. A part of her didn’t trust this, but another part of her was so bored with her daily routine that she needed something different to happen for once.
Livia looked amused by the question. “You’ve been my personal servant for years now and you honestly thought I didn’t know your name?” The bottle went to her lips then and she swallowed something that didn’t entirely seem pleasant, as she made a little face before offering the bottle to Varia.
The Amazon did not touch it. “You’ve never used it before.”
Livia exhaled a little frustrated sigh, dropping her arm. She seemed to be fighting with something inside of her as she took another swig of the liquor, swallowing it hard. Varia just stared at her though, waiting for a proper answer, and finally Livia begrudgingly admitted, “I used it because I wanted to… talk, and I assumed you’d be more open to the idea if I humanized you a bit more.”
That confession seemed to disgust Livia as much as it perplexed Varia, but Livia barreled onwards with, “I looked at my life, and do you know what I realized? That you are the closest thing I have to a friend. Isn’t that pathetic? I know you still despise me, I know you just learned to tolerate me, and yet you are still the only person I feel like I can be honest with, and who will be honest with me in return.”
Varia just stared at her, a part of her unable to comprehend that those words had actually left the Roman’s lips. And so, when Livia looked at her like she expected her to say something, all Varia could respond with was, “That’s… yeah, you’re right; that is really pathetic.”
Livia snorted, bitterly amused at the situation. “I’d watch how you define it, Amazon, because I’ve known the ins and outs of your activities for the last couple of years and you know what I think? That I’m the closest thing you have to a friend too.”
That made Varia’s brain come to a full stop because no, that was ridiculous; she had—no, but maybe… Gods, even the girl that was nice to her when she first came, Lucilia, didn’t really speak to her anymore. In the beginning, she was afraid Varia was going to say or do something that she would be accused of being involved in, and even after Varia assimilated to the servant’s lifestyle, most everyone of her status were bitter and jealous of her. Looking back on it, the only thing that could pass for a social life was the conversations she had with Livia.
Varia heavily sat on the edge of the bed, feeling like a bag of boulders were weighing her down. She knew she wasn’t supposed to use the Domina’s furniture but at that point, it was either she sat there, or she landed on the floor.
Noticing the look on her face, Livia offered her the bottle once more.
Varia took it.
The liquor burned and she coughed, trying not to vomit. “Disgusting, isn’t it?” Livia mused, and Varia wasn’t sure if she was talking about the liquor or their fucked up sense of companionship. Perhaps both.
Varia handed her back the bottle and it was taken from her grasp and set back down on the table. She half-expected Livia to tell her to get off of her bed, but the order never came. Varia looked at her then, taking in the other woman’s demeanor before she warned her, “You better not want to talk just to complain about how your life’s too fucking perfect again.”
“No,” Livia assured her. She was silent for a moment, staring off into the distance before she ran her fingers through her hair, allowing it cascade down her back. “Although I will admit, a part of me did want to complain about how my relationship with Augustus is progressing at an agonizingly slow pace—”
Varia abruptly stood, her frustration and disbelief evident on her face. “You really are fucking pitiful—” she began to exclaim, absolutely tired by the other woman’s ‘poor me’ routine, but before she could go anywhere her wrist was grabbed, Livia having gotten on her knees and letting the bedding fall from her body.
“Varia—” she tried, but the Amazon ripped her hand out of her grasp.
“Who do you think you are?” Varia demanded, infuriated with how much this woman expected from her. It had been a long time since she had thought about her life before, but anytime Livia complained about what she had, it reminded Varia of how much she took from her. “Do you understand what you did to me?” she asked, temper rising. “Do you understand that you destroyed my life, and the lives of countless others? You tore me away from my family; you sold them into slavery and yet you think you can sit here and try to fix that by using my given name and offering me liquor? Fuck you, Livia. We are not friends, and we never will be.”
Varia’s chest was heaving with emotion, her eyes filled with unshed tears as the anger inside of her began to rise to the surface. Livia just stared at her for a long moment and, for a moment, it seemed like she actually regretted trying this in the first place.
Finally, she spoke. “I can’t change the past,” she began, her voice low. The moonlight from the window bathed her body in a light glow and Varia hated how innocent and soft it made her look, because it made her want to believe the things she was saying. “But what good is holding onto it?” Livia asked her, genuinely curious. “This is your life now. I can’t fix what I did before, but I can change how you live now.”
“Why?” Varia demanded, not understanding why she cared so much. Was she really that lonely? Maybe she was, but how was that Varia’s problem?
She may not have any friends either, but that didn’t mean that she planned to latch onto the first person who held their hand out to her.
“Because you won, can’t you see that?” Livia told her, the absolute defeat in her voice taking Varia aback for a moment. “You told me that I did once, do you remember? But you must know by now that that isn’t true. I didn’t break you, I didn’t manage to twist your worldview until you thought that you needed me, that you desired my attention, my affection. Instead, it’s been me who has come to rely on you. That’s why I left that day, when you screamed all those shitty things at me, because I realized I didn’t want to do anything that could make you leave me. As disgusting and as pitiful as it is, Varia, I need you; right here, just as you are.”
“Do you not understand the concept of ‘slave’?” Varia spat, unable to accept anything that the other woman was saying, because it might make her think that she had some sort of power, and Varia knew that she did not. “You could have beaten me, chained me and not fed me for days, and I still would have come back to you. I don’t have a choice.”
“And if you did?”
Varia kept her gaze, voice unwavering. “I would leave, and I would never come back.”
Livia looked… almost disappointed by that, as ridiculous as that was. “That is why I cannot let you leave,” she responded honestly, even though it only made Varia angrier.
“You are… the most selfish fucking person I have ever met,” Varia seethed. “Don’t you have enough?!” she asked, throwing her arms out to indicate the palace the woman lived in. “Why do you need me, Livia? Why me?!”
Livia didn’t say anything for a long moment, but perhaps she didn’t even know the answer herself and had to take a moment to find it within her. Varia just watched her, waiting desperately for an answer that might actually make sense, but then a cloud passed over the moon, causing the light that shown over Livia’s nude form to make darkness dance across her skin. Varia’s gaze dropped to watch it pass across her abdomen, her breasts. It made her look beautiful; it made her look normal.
It made her not look like the monster that she was.
Varia looked up at her, disbelief etched between her brow. “If you think I desire you, you’ve got another damn thing coming, Roman.”
“No,” Livia explained, her tone much softer than it was previously. “I know you don’t want to touch me. But sometimes – usually when I’m bathing – you look at me and I know you can see something else. I can tell because it’s written all over your face; whatever you see, you hate yourself for, because you don’t ever want to see me as anything more than a monster.”
“Just because I can look at you and sometimes see the beauty or the innocence in your form, does not mean that you are beautiful or innocent,” Varia corrected harshly, watching her words actually sting the other woman a little, even though she tried not to show it. “And even if you want me around so you can somehow learn to see yourself in the fleeting ways that I sometimes do, that’s still about you and what you want. Everything— everything that you do, everything that you say, Livia, has always been selfish to the core.”
Livia was silent, her eyes falling downcast as she exhaled a slow breath, falling back on her heels. Gathering up the sheets to finally cover herself, she admitted, “—You’re right.”
Varia exhaled the breath she didn’t know she had been holding, feeling a weight lift from her shoulders. She knew she was right, and while it didn’t change anything when Livia admitted it, it still felt good to have her feelings validated.
Livia looked up at her then, conviction in her eyes. “So then what you do want?”
Varia blinked. “—What?”
“So that this isn’t one-sided; what do you want, Amazon?”
“I’m sorry, are you trying to bribe me into being your confidant? Is this a joke?” Varia asked, exhaling a disbelieving laugh. Would this woman never learn? She was three years older than her, and yet somehow so very far behind emotionally. “You want to know what I want, Roman? My freedom.”
“…You know I can’t give you that, Varia.”
“Well then I don’t think I can give you what you want either, Livia,” Varia shot back, taking a few steps back from the bed. Whatever this was, Varia was certain she didn’t want to be a part of it anymore, and so as she headed back into her chambers, Varia redrew all the lines in the sand that they should have had between them since this thing first started.
“Your pathetic crush on that child is going to get you killed, Livia.”
Varia froze outside the war room, hearing the voice of the God of War filter out through the crack between the door and the threshold. They hadn’t closed it all the way, although Varia was certain that that wasn’t intentional. Still, she knew she shouldn’t be spying; she had a basket filled with her Domina’s clothing and she was supposed to be washing it before she got back.
Instead, curiosity got the best of her and Varia looked up and down the hallway before silently pressing herself against the wall. It wouldn’t hurt to listen for just a second, after all. If Livia had feelings for someone, then she wanted to know about it; it gave her an advantage.
“What crush? What child?” Varia heard Livia ask, sounding both flabbergasted and amused by the insinuation. “Whatever rumors you’ve been hearing, Ares, I assure you they’re false.”
“So you didn’t beg your servant girl a few nights ago to be… what was the word she used? Ah, right, your ‘confidant’?” Ares goaded, his voice dripping with judgement and sarcasm. Varia’s eyes widened, not having expected that; he actually thought…?
Livia slammed her hands on some kind of hard surface then, as all Varia heard was a loud bang. “I told you to stop spying on me! What I do in my private time is none of your business, Ares.”
“So you don’t deny it then.”
“Why would I?” Livia countered furiously. “You obviously heard me, although I’m sure I didn’t beg her to do anything. I asked, she declined. That was the extent of it.”
“Do you realize how weak you’re making yourself?” Ares pressed, apparently content on making her realize what a terrible mistake she was making. “You asked a slave girl, Livia. You asked. Do you hear yourself?”
“My relationship with my servant is, again, none of your business,” Livia snapped. Varia could hear the frustration in her tone, the underlying warning for Ares to drop it. “And for your information, wanting someone to be honest with you does not equal having feelings for them. I get my cunt licked by enough women, thank you.”
“Ah, ah, and there you go confusing sex and emotion again, Livia,” he patronized. How Livia hadn’t punched him in the face yet, Varia had no idea. He seemed awfully cocky. “Haven’t we had this discussion? It’s why you’re not Empress yet. That, and your annoying obsession with women, which I’m sure Augustus doesn’t find cute anymore. I told you to stop that.”
“I did,” Livia responded dangerously, her teeth grinding together. “I kicked that girl out of my bed the other day and haven’t had another since, so now the rumors can stop, alright? I’m done.”
Something in the pit of Varia’s stomach began to swirl uncomfortably as she began to realize who Livia really was. Over the last couple of years, Livia never once sent for a male slave to pleasure her; it was always women. And now she planned to, what? Give up what she actually wanted in life, just to whore herself to men for power? She knew in the end that it was Livia’s body so ultimately it was her decision, but that made Varia feel terribly uncomfortable about the whole ordeal.
“You better be,” Ares warned her, which Varia was sure didn’t sit well with Livia. She could practically feel her irritation through the door. “And I really hope you’re being truthful with yourself about how you feel about that girl, because if you’re not and she finds out, she will use it to destroy you and everything that we have built together.”
Livia scoffed. “How?”
“How?” Ares repeated, and Varia finally peeked through the crack in the door to see the God of War advance on her, leaving her very little space in order to make his point seem bigger, more important. “You enslaved her tribe, Livia. You killed her sisters, or have you forgotten? Wait, no, you couldn’t have, because you were reminded of it the other day, weren’t you? When she screamed in your face.”
Varia watched Livia set her jaw but she did not move, did not retort.
“You might trust her enough now to let her sleep adjacent to your own chambers, but I guarantee she is playing you,” Ares warned her. “And the second you let your defenses down and let her into your bed, will be the second your blood covers the sheets.”
Livia’s gaze went downcast, the muscle in her jaw tightening. She still wasn’t saying anything; why wasn’t she saying anything? Varia watched her, watched her expressions, and the more she stared, the more she saw.
Something Ares had said had struck a nerve.
“Mark my words, Livia,” Ares finished, walking away from her as he began to disappear in a flash of blue light, “this will end badly.”
“Can I trust you, Amazon?”
It was the first time Livia had spoken to her that night, having begun her nighttime routine in complete silence after she had left her usual dinner with Augustus. Varia did not initiate conversation when she came back, having enough to think about anyway after she had overheard Livia’s conversation with Ares earlier in the evening. So she disrobed her and helped her bathe in silence, but now that Livia had slipped on her night robe and was having her hair brushed, it seemed the quiet was beginning to eat her alive.
Still, Varia had made a promise to herself after that night. She was not going to be what Livia wanted her to be without getting anything in return, so she gave her a line that she knew would frustrate her. “Of course, Domina.”
Livia wrenched her head away from the brush, turning around in the chair to face the woman behind her. “I told you to stop calling me that.”
But Varia wouldn’t be so easily swayed. “With respect, Domina, it is my duty to address you in such a manner.” Each and every word of ‘respect’ that fell from her lips sounded terribly fake, but it didn’t matter. It did its job.
“If you’re going to continue to act like this, then what’s the point of even keeping you around?” Livia fumed, abruptly standing from her chair. The force of the movement was so quick that it actually knocked it to the ground, but since Varia expected her to act this way, she didn’t even flinch. She just calmly took a step back and clasped her hands in front of her, head bowed in submission.
Because that was the thing about Livia; she was a brat. When she didn’t get what she wanted, she lashed out. It was predictable, it was immature, and it was her greatest weakness.
“Do you want me to strip you of your status?” Livia threatened, trying to sound fierce when they both knew that she was on the losing end of this battle. “They’ll eat you alive in the slave quarters without my protection, Varia; believe me.”
Varia said nothing however. She did not move, did not look at her. She just stood there, statuesque as ever, just as a ‘good’ servant would.
It drove Livia absolutely mental.
The woman exhaled a frustrated sigh that sounded more like a scream than anything else, beginning to pace as she ran her fingers through her wet hair in aggravation. Varia just waited, and true to what she believed, it didn’t take long.
Varia looked up at her then, but she still did not speak. She wanted clarification.
“Five more years of serving me, and then I’ll free you. Alright? Is that what you want?”
It took everything in Varia to contain her excitement, her hope, her joy. Once, she dreamed of leaving this place, but after years of being there, that dream slowly faded into nothing. A part of Varia actually believed that she might die a slave, but now, looking at Livia and the desperation on her face, she knew that she wouldn’t.
In the end, it seemed that Livia’s chronic loneliness would actually be Varia’s salvation.
“Three,” she countered, keeping her voice level as she stared at the woman across from her, knowing that she could lower the number. Livia made it far too obvious.
The other woman’s eyes flashed, clearly irritated that Varia was aware of just how much power she had right now. “Four.”
Livia exhaled another frustrated breath before staying quiet for a very long time. Too long a time, as far as Varia was concerned. And so, putting the final nail in the coffin, she respectfully bowed her head to her mistress and departed with, “Goodnight, Domina.”
That did it.
“Alright!” Livia shouted, her anger at being read so well making her lash out as she pushed a decorative case right off the table, causing it to smash to pieces on the floor. “You win, is that what you want to hear? I’ll draw up a contract; in two years, Amazon, you will be free. I give you my word.”
Varia didn’t know how much that was worth, but then again, that was probably what the contract was for; so she would trust her on it.
“But in return,” she continued as she advanced on her, trying to look foreboding despite only coming off so terribly lost, “you must be—you... you have to…” But in the end, it seemed like Livia didn’t even really know how to word what it was that she wanted. It didn’t matter though, because Varia knew. She had been around the woman for years now; she knew exactly why this mattered so much to her.
“You won’t be lonely anymore, Livia,” Varia promised her softly, speaking the words she knew the Roman needed to hear as she reached out, gently touching the other woman’s arm in a gesture of comfort. “You have someone now. You have me now.” Something in Livia cracked at that, and it seemed like the mask she wore finally slipped off, only to reveal the broken shell of a human she really was underneath.
She was not happy. Livia, the ‘Bitch of Rome’, the future Empress of this palace, had absolutely everything she could ever want… and yet felt nothing at all.
If Varia was being truthful with herself, she would admit that that saddened her on some level. But on another level, one much closer to the surface, a sense of victory was rising up inside of her so quickly that she could barely contain her joy, because Ares was right. Not about Livia having feelings for her, because Varia doubted that was what this was, but about how her desire to have any kind of relationship at all with her made Livia weak.
Ares was right, and as the Amazon watched relief pass over Livia’s expression after that declaration, for the first time in years, Varia finally felt like she had some real power.
Chapter 6: VI. Lies
Varia could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Being promised her freedom did a lot for her emotionally. While she had accepted her life as a slave many years ago, she could not find happiness within it. Perhaps no one could though, given the nature of the status, but now, with two years so close and yet so far, Varia couldn’t be anything but happy. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had smiled, and yet now she seemed to be doing it all the time.
Which, to be honest, helped tremendously with her Livia predicament.
Livia, at the end of day, craved companionship. Her entire life, it seemed like she had existed for the sole purpose of what she could offer Rome. She was treated like a tool for the empire’s successful reign, and that eventually took its toll on her. People kissed her ass left and right, telling her anything that she wanted to hear, so that in the end, she could never be certain what the truth was. She could never be certain of what was real.
Until Varia came along.
Varia was not nice about it, not nice to her, but Livia had been so deprived of the truth for so long, that she relished it. She found solace in Varia’s attempts to hurt her. She found comfort in the fact that Varia was not shy in telling her that should she have the chance, she would kill her for what she did to her, to her tribe. It was fucked up, but considering that Livia was nothing more than a broken creation of the empire that had shaped her, it wasn’t surprising.
Now though, Livia did want more and it was strange, as it seemed to contradict everything Varia thought the other woman craved.
Because she must have known that Varia was being much more agreeable during their conversations solely due to their accord. And maybe it was terrible that a relationship based in truth had become something shrouded in lies the moment that Livia found she needed it, but Varia did what she had to do because she already understood exactly what it was that the other woman needed right now. Just as she had requested of her before, Livia needed someone to talk to; she wanted a confidant, a friend for lack of a better term, and apparently it didn’t matter anymore if it was false, as Livia could somehow convince herself that it was real. And Varia, in turn, needed to convince her of it as well so that she wouldn’t go back on her word. She had to keep Livia happy so that one day she could leave this place, find her tribe, save her sister.
In the end, Varia realized that some things were far more important than honesty anyway, especially when Livia was practically begging to be lied to for whatever reason.
But that was why her happiness helped; it allowed her to speak to Livia with more ease than she would have before. It allowed her to listen and respond more thoughtfully than she would have if she didn’t have something to hope for, because she still didn’t like her. She didn’t loathe her with every fiber of her being anymore, as sometimes long-term exposure of someone can make them grow on you in strange ways, but she still did not forget nor forgive what it was that she had done. She couldn’t.
But Livia didn’t need to know that.
“Do you ever wonder about her?” Varia asked her months later while she was helping the older woman dress for the day. “Your mother, I mean.”
Varia found that the more questions she asked, the more she initiated conversation, the more content Livia was. In the end, it seemed all the other woman wanted was for someone to take a genuine interest in her, and not what she could offer them, or offer Rome. Even the slaves that used to lie with her were only using her for protection, or for status among the others. Not that Varia wasn’t using her for her freedom, but at least she had the decency to not make it obvious.
Either that, or Livia really was just so desperate for some type of companionship that she refused to see just how much this, just like every other relationship in her life, was a lie.
Livia sharply turned her head to look behind her, a little defensive over the question. “Why would you ask that?”
Varia placed a gentle hand against the small of the other woman’s back, feeling her tight muscles begin to relax. In all honesty, Livia was easy to play so long as you knew what strings to pluck. “You dreamt about her last night,” she answered. At the confused look she was greeted with, Varia gave her a soft smile and informed her, “You talk in your sleep.”
Because that was the other thing: Varia no longer slept in her quarters, but in the bed with her. It wasn’t sexual nor romantic by any means – which Varia was eternally grateful for, seeing as pretending to be her friend was one thing, but pretending to be hers in that way was quite another – so it was more for Livia’s comfort than anything else. She had to stop sending for slaves to warm her bed at night due to her desire to become Empress, and it was clear that she hated being alone at night. At first, she had just asked Varia to stay with her for a little while, but then one day the Amazon drifted off and Livia did not move her.
Instead, the next day she told her she could stay… if she wanted.
It was sad, honestly. It was sad and despite everything, despite all the horrible things Livia had done to her and her sisters, Varia couldn’t help but feel badly for her. In the end, it was hard to keep seeing her as a heartless monster when every day now she saw something entirely different. Varia had not once left the palace since she had arrived, so she hadn’t bore witness to the terrible things Livia had done in a long time. Instead, all she saw now was this woman, and it made it harder to remember who she was outside of these walls.
So yes, because she hadn’t seen cruelty or hatred from the woman before her for a very long time, Varia couldn’t help but feel badly. And what made it even worse was that she was perpetuating the lie, perpetuating Livia’s loneliness by giving her something false, but Varia had to justify it. After all, Livia had done far worse things to her than Varia had done in return.
“No,” Livia finally said, the lie evident in her tone. “I don’t.”
She stepped away from her then, grabbing her smallclothes and armor so she could dress for the day. Varia moved to help, but Livia pulled away. “I can do it myself,” she told her shortly, which wasn’t a first by any means when she got defensive in a conversation, but it also wasn’t true at all. Varia shot her a disbelieving look.
“I’d love to see you try to clip that breastplate on then.” It clipped in the back, and there was no way she’d be able to reach it.
Livia shot her a look like her comments weren’t appreciated, but in the end she knew she was right so when she finally got to that part, she begrudgingly huffed and turned around. Varia smirked.
“We don’t have to talk about her if you don’t want,” she told her, not wanting her to think she was pushing anything. “You just never talk about her, and I was curious.”
“You and me both,” Livia muttered bitterly. After Varia had done her up she stepped away from her, sweeping her long hair into a ponytail on the top of her head. “Why even ask?” she asked suddenly, rounding on her. She looked upset, but that wasn’t a surprise given the topic. They had never broached it before though, and this was apparently why. “I’m sure you’ve heard the stories. I was abandoned. Whoever my mother was, she didn’t love me.”
A part of Varia actually ached at Livia’s assessment of her mother, but she suppressed the feeling. She couldn’t start feeling badly about this; not on top of everything else she already felt bad about concerning Livia. “I’m sure that’s not true.”
“Don’t—!” Livia started before she stopped herself, took a deep breath, and tried to calm herself down. She had been doing better with her temper lately; at least when it involved Varia. She still met her servant’s gaze though before she said, her tone much more level, “I appreciate you giving enough of a shit to ask, I do, but I don’t want to talk about this, alright? Rome is my mother, Varia; that’s enough for me.”
It wasn’t and they both knew that, but Varia dropped it. Upsetting her was the last thing she wanted to do anyway, considering what the repercussions could end up being. They had a contract yes, but Livia had power and Varia did not, and could still easily go back on her word should she need to.
A few weeks later, Livia came back to her chambers much later than she normally did. She was drunk, stumbling, and half undressed. Immediately thinking something horrible had happened – especially considering the fact that she hadn’t allowed herself to lie with anyone for months – Varia scrambled from the bed they shared to meet her halfway.
Livia almost fell into her and it took all of Varia’s strength to keep her upright. “Are you alright?” she asked, surprised at how much legitimate concern she actually had for the woman right now. But Livia’s hair was mussed, her small clothes were bunched into her fist, and one of her breasts was still exposed. The pit of Varia’s stomach sank, praying to any God that would listen that someone didn’t do this to her when she wasn’t willing.
Livia may be an excellent fighter, but Varia doubted she would be able to hit a slow moving target in the state she was in right now, and that was why she was concerned she may have been taken advantage of. Varia may not like the woman, but she wouldn’t wish such a thing on anyone.
“I’m—I’m fine,” Livia insisted, her words slurring a little as Varia helped her back to the bed. “I did it,” she told Varia as she sat down on the edge of soft mattress, violently kicking off the singular shoe she was wearing. It flew across the room and hit the wall with a loud thunk. She touched the Amazon’s face then, trying to look up at her even though her eyes weren’t focusing. “Varia, I did it.”
“Did what?” Varia asked warily, helping the woman get undressed. She didn’t look bruised or anything, so at least there was that. Still, nothing about this screamed ‘fun’; if it had been, then she wouldn’t have had to get absolutely piss drunk to deal with it, or maybe even to do it.
“I fucked him,” Livia breathed, sounding like she won something despite looking like she had only managed to lose a part of herself in the process. “I fucked him, and Rome is going to be mine.”
That mental picture absolutely disgusted Varia, but she kept that opinion to herself. So instead of mentioning how she really felt, she forced a small smile and lied, “I’m happy for you.” She looked away then, busying herself by putting her dirty clothing into the basket in the corner of the room. Varia went to grab Livia a robe to sleep in then but when she looked back, Livia was already lying down with some animal skins thrown over her pale form.
“Do you want me to get you some clothing?” she asked, just in case. Most of the time Livia slept in something, but there were a few times where she preferred not to. Mostly on particularly hot days, but drunken days sometimes had the pleasure of nudity as well. Varia didn’t actually mind, seeing as Livia’s body wasn’t anything new to her, but she wondered if it was good for the woman’s mental state if she stayed naked after that… ordeal.
Gods, look at her; it was like she actually cared or something.
“Come here,” was all Livia said in response as she outstretched her hand, which apparently meant she didn’t care about clothing. Varia exhaled a small sigh but crossed the room, crawling into the bed with her. Gods, she really hoped Livia didn’t vomit on her in the middle of the night; that was truly the last thing she wanted to deal with.
But as she laid down and faced her, Livia didn’t look sick. Instead, she just looked sad. “You’re not though, are you?” she asked softly, reaching out to touch her face again. It was like she was tracing Varia’s expression with her fingers, as perhaps it helped her see a little better. “Happy for me, I mean.”
Varia took Livia’s hand in her own, patiently pulling it away from her face. “I’m happy if you’re happy,” she placated, but that didn’t seem to be the right answer, and Livia violently pulled her hand away from her.
“I asked for you to always be truthful with me, Amazon, or have you forgotten?”
Varia pursed her lips into a tight line, saying nothing for a long moment as she settled herself next to the other woman under the covers. She looked at Livia, really looked at her, and the amount of sadness and vulnerability that shone through her crystal blue eyes began to upset her, because this was ridiculous. How Livia expected to live this way for the rest of her life, she had no idea.
“No,” she finally confessed, her voice stronger with her upset, her disbelief. “I’m not happy for you. Look at yourself. You don’t enjoy being with men, Livia; that much is abundantly clear. So why are you doing this to yourself?”
For asking for the truth, it didn’t seem like Livia was ready to emotionally hear it. Her eyes began to mist over with furious tears and for one, brief, horrifying moment, Varia realized she had never seen the woman cry before. But it was too late; she had opened this door, and now she was going to have to deal with whatever was on the other side of it, even if it humanized Livia in a way that Varia never wanted to see.
“You wouldn’t understand,” Livia breathed sadly, turning on her back so she could look up at the ceiling. She inhaled a sharp breath and closed her eyes, desperately trying to not let her tears fall. Even now, even at her lowest, she refused to show the weakness that they both knew she had. “You couldn’t.”
No, perhaps not. But she didn’t have to understand that, because she understood so much more.
“I understand that you don’t feel like you’re worth anything unless you have power,” Varia told her, and the truth in that statement actually made Livia turn her head in surprise. “I understand that you think you can’t get it unless you’re with him. But what you don’t understand is that if you go down this path, you will never be happy. You may have influence, you may have power… but you will never have love. You will never have acceptance.”
Livia’s jaw clenched then and despite the Roman’s attempts to hold it inside of her, Varia watched as one, singular tear finally escaped from the corner of her eye to rest in the dip of her nose. Something broke inside of the other woman then and she instinctively reached out, wiping away the sorrow of the woman she once would have loved to see suffer. It was different now though, here, in this moment. Right now, Varia didn’t see the monster who destroyed her life, destroyed her home. She didn’t know how to. Maybe she was weak, or maybe it was just basic human compassion being directed in all the wrong places, but all Varia knew in that moment was that Livia was hurting, and she needed to be comforted.
“Don’t you want to be happy?” she breathed, gently cupping the other woman’s face in her palm. Varia could feel the wetness against her skin as more tears fell from Livia’s eyes, and so she gently wiped them away from her cheeks, allowing her thumb to trace the length of her jaw.
Livia inhaled a shuddered breath, her lips turning up into a sad smile as she looked at the woman across from her and confessed, “…I don’t think I even know what that feels like.” It seemed crying sobered her up a little and she wet her dry lips, silent for a long moment before she turned on her back again to look at the ceiling. Varia slowly withdrew her hand, watching her.
“Ares tells me I confuse sex and emotion,” she admitted with a soft laugh, wiping the remnants of her sorrow off of her cheeks. “But… I think sex is the only time I’ve ever been close to an emotion. I miss it. I miss… feeling something.”
“You just had sex an hour ago,” Varia gently reminded her, but Livia just scoffed at the claim.
“Men are for power, Varia,” she told her bluntly, not at all shy about sharing what she thought of her last encounter. “Women are for pleasure. I know you’ve never experienced another’s body in that way, but believe me… there is a difference.”
“For some,” Varia corrected, as she had heard some of the women in her tribe talk of being with men in a much different way. They seemed to actually enjoy it, while Livia seemed to view it as just a duty she had to perform in order to succeed in life.
“No,” Livia told her, the word coming out harsh as she dismissed the idea that someone could actually enjoy such a thing. “I learned when I was very young the difference between men and women. Men… they take their pleasure from you; they rip it straight from your soul and leave you nothing in return. Your body becomes an object, a tool for their own desires. It doesn’t feel like you were given anything; in the end, you just feel robbed of something you never knew you had before it was gone.”
Varia inhaled a shuddered breath, realizing that she wasn’t talking about what had happened with Augustus. She didn’t say anything though, didn’t prod for any more details because quite frankly, she did not want to know. Whatever had happened to Livia when she was young had scarred her, had twisted her view of sex and of the world, and Varia had no idea what to say to her to make it better. She doubted she ever could anyway.
“At least tonight, I got something in return,” she breathed, justifying her desire to do something that she clearly did not enjoy. “I slept with a man who had something I could take from him, that could benefit me, and not just him. That’s why I did it, Varia; I don’t need pleasure from him, because I can take his power. I can take it, again and again, until I no longer have need him; until I suck him dry, and he has nothing left to offer.”
“Once I’m Empress,” Livia finished as she looked over at her bedmate, her eyes alight with all the power, all the influence she dreamed of one day having. “I don’t need an Emperor. Augustus is a means to an end; nothing more, nothing less.”
Varia pursed her lips, knowing that sounded like a path that would only lead to her self-destruction; emotionally, but probably politically as well. A part of her wanted to let her go down that path because she probably deserved it, but another part of her wanted to pull her back from the edge before she tumbled over it. The conflicting feelings tore Varia up inside, and she didn’t know what to do. “And until then?” she asked softly, not knowing what else to say, to ask.
“Until then… I do what’s expected of me. It’s all I can do.”
Varia stayed silent, her heart aching for a woman she was supposed to despise. But this was her decision, her choice. It was her mistake.
“But women,” Livia began anew as she turned her entire body to face the Amazon, leaving only a sliver of space between them. Her eyes were alight with something different this time; something real, something that she was passionate about and clearly excited to share with the one person she knew would listen. “Women, Varia, are so much different than that. It isn’t about what you can give them, but what you can give each other. It’s… softer,” she told her, her brow furrowing in remembrance as she gently reached out, running her fingertips across the exposed skin of Varia’s shoulder. Her gaze followed her hand’s path intently until she fell into the dip of the other woman’s collarbone, her thumb brushing her clavicle. Looking up to meet Varia’s eyes then, she finished softly, “…It’s much more honest.”
Varia didn’t move when Livia touched her, despite knowing that she probably should have. Instead she just felt her breathing increase as she tried, and failed, to suppress her nerves. She wasn’t entirely sure what Livia was doing, but maybe it was merely because she was drunk; maybe she had just touched her to make her point about how much softer women were than men. Varia didn’t know, and she didn’t know how to ask.
“The slaves you laid with though,” Varia breathed, realizing that she had somehow lost her voice along the way. It came out scratchy, wavering. “That wasn’t honest. They were using you… just like you used them.”
Livia gently shook her head. “You misunderstand.” Her hand began to move again, this time making its agonizing decent down her chest, through the dip in her breasts. Varia was frozen, unable to move or think as she just stared at her, watching Livia gently bite down her bottom lip.
“Everyone has ulterior motives,” she breathed, playing with the hem of the Amazon’s cropped top. “But it’s not about that. What’s honest is the feeling it gives you. A woman will touch you and you’ll feel the fires of Tartarus burning inside of you. She’ll touch you…” Livia continued, her voice barely above a whisper as Varia began to realize that she was much, much too close. The other woman’s lips were barely a breath away from her own now as she felt every single word Livia uttered go straight through her in a way Varia didn’t know words even could. Livia’s hand was still descending down her body and Varia shuddered beneath her touch, feeling the fire that the woman spoke of ignite within her.
“She’ll touch you,” Livia repeated breathlessly, her hand coming to rest on the base of her abdomen, feeling the heat and the desire that radiated off of skin that had never known a touch like that before, “and Poseidon’s waters will flow through you, right here, crashing wave after wave upon the shores until you can barely stand it. It’ll consume you, destroy you. And when you finally think that you can’t possibly bear anymore… Zeus will throw his lightning down to you, giving you that jolt,” she hissed, grasping just shy of the Amazon’s mound in a way that made Varia exhale a sound she never even knew she could make, her heart beating a thousand paces an hour as she felt her body begin to betray her mind, “that will make you see stars, Varia… you will become part of the heavens themselves, and all of Olympus will reign their blessings down upon you.”
Varia didn’t know what was happening. It was like her body ached for something her mind screamed to stay away from, and all she could do was lie there, her chest heaving and lips parted as she waited for something she knew was coming, yet feared it’s arrival.
Livia’s gaze dropped to her lips then, the hand that had been dangerously close to crossing a line coming back up to gently cup the younger woman’s cheek. “I know it’s a lie,” she breathed finally, her lips dusting against the Amazon’s in a way that made Poseidon’s waters begin to flow between Varia’s thighs. Her gaze found the other woman’s once more, and she gently searched her eyes. “I know you just want your freedom, and that is why you have been pretending to care for me this way.”
Varia inhaled a sharp breath, not knowing what to say to that. It was true, yes, but now she was feeling something else that didn’t exactly feel like a lie. It conflicted with everything that she believed, everything she thought, but perhaps that was the curse of the mortal form; sometimes, despite every reason it should not, the body still craved things it should not have.
It craved them so very, very desperately.
“I don’t care about that,” Livia softly assured her, her thumb tracing the edge of the other woman’s lips. “I know that I should, but I knew that it would happen, and I know I deserve your lies. But let me… let me offer you something honest anyway. Something real,” she breathed, slowly eradicating the space between them as Varia realized, in one blinding moment of clarity, that they were about to embark on something that she could never, ever take back. “Something you can touch…”
Varia felt as though her breath were being stolen from her as Livia’s lips gently covered her own, kissing her in a way that was so unlike what she had expected of the Roman woman. It was soft, exploratory, and everything Varia had wanted in a first kiss save the person who was actually kissing her. It made Varia feel weak, for desiring her in the way that she did; because she did… right then, she desired Livia more than she had ever desired anything in her life. Her whole body ached with need, and all Varia could think of was how badly she wanted to be touched by the one person who had destroyed near everything in her life.
It made her want to cry. It made her want to scream.
Instead, she just kissed Livia harder, almost angrier, her nails digging into the older woman’s back as she pulled her flush against her form. In the end, perhaps she deserved this; perhaps she deserved this trip to the heavens that Livia described, so long as she took the trip alone. She didn’t want to give the woman who took everything from her something else; she had already stolen enough from her. But Varia… Varia rationalized that she deserved something in return. And Livia deserved to be the one to give it to her, as she had been the one to take so much from her in the first place.
“I can’t return the favor,” Varia told her through labored breaths, feeling the other woman begin to undress her. She grasped Livia’s hand then, stilling it just shy of the hem of her smallclothes. She needed her to understand what this was, and what it wasn’t; what this never could be. “I won’t.”
“I know,” Livia breathed as she looked up at her, catching the other woman’s gaze. They both hesitated for a moment, and then when Varia finally saw the honesty and understanding in the Roman’s eyes, she withdrew her hand from hers, and Livia began to slowly pull the other woman’s smallclothes down her thighs. “This is for you,” Livia breathed, slipping her fingers through the Amazon’s folds as she buried her face in her neck. “Not for me. Not right now.”
It almost sounded as though she was apologizing, but Varia couldn’t think about that; if she did, she would only grow angry, as sex did not make up for what the woman had done to her. It didn’t even come close. Livia was so incredibly stunted in that way though, her world view skewed by the way she grew up. She no doubt did believe that doing this would help atone for what she had done, as on some level it seemed that Ares might have been right about how the other woman felt about her. But that was her mistake, and her problem.
Because right now, Varia was so terribly tired of having to correct her screwed up way of thinking. Right now, she wanted to be taught something; she wanted to be shown the one thing Livia could offer her, the one thing she found she actually wanted from her, despite knowing how much she should not.
Varia exhaled a shuddered breath as she felt the woman gather up her wetness on her fingertips, gently dragging it across her hardening nub in such an agonizingly slow pace. The Amazon groaned and closed her eyes, feeling the other woman grasp the side of her neck with her free hand, bringing it to her lips. The way she bit and sucked at her jugular could have easily been predatory, but it wasn’t. Livia’s uneven breaths danced across her skin before she dipped her head further down, tracing a long line from the base of her neck to her ear with her tongue.
“It’s okay that you don’t want me,” Livia breathed into her ear, the words causing a shiver to roll down the Amazon’s spine. Her flesh erupted in goosebumps, and Livia pressed down on her center a little harder, eliciting a needy whimper from the woman in her arms. “My desire for you is enough to sate me.”
She pulled back to look at her then, her free hand coming up to brush away the stray strands that hung in front of the Amazon’s eyes. The way she looked at her almost made Varia feel like she was being studied; appraised. “You are so very beautiful, Varia…” Livia breathed, almost sounding as though she was in awe by it. It did something to Varia that she very much wish it did not.
“Don’t,” Varia begged, not wanting to hear her say those things. They confused her, tore her apart inside. She turned her head to look at her, hand coming to rest on the Roman’s lips as she gently leaned her forehead against hers, eyes shut tightly closed as though it could block out the world. “Please don’t…”
Because she didn’t understand. How could Livia hold such a deep desire for her, when she already knew everything about their relationship had been fabricated since they had made their accord? Did she even really feel for her, or did she just trick herself into believing she did, just because she wanted to feel something good for once, and Varia was the only convenient one around? Because it was all a lie now, all of it; and yes, before, it was honest, but it wasn’t good either. It was filled with hatred and resentment and yet maybe that was the truest thing Livia had ever felt in her life and so latched on to it, but that wasn’t a good thing. None of this was good or healthy for either of them, and yet they were falling into it all the same.
Livia’s brow creased at Varia’s request, but she silently nodded her head in understanding all the same. Her gaze dropped to the hand that was pressed against her lips and taking it into her own, she encouraged two of Varia’s fingers into her mouth. Varia exhaled a hard breath as she felt the Roman’s tongue swirl around the tip of her fingers, then down to their base. She spread her legs wider on instinct, giving Livia’s other hand more room as it slid further downwards, towards a destination that both ached and trembled.
Livia stopped at her opening though, allowing Varia’s fingers to fall from her lips so she could look up at her question. Varia knew what she was asking, but she didn’t know how to answer. Was she truly about to lose her virginity to the woman who had murdered and enslaved her tribe? Did it count as losing her virginity, so long as she didn’t allow Livia inside of her? She didn’t know, and her confliction and panic must have shown on her face, because Livia took her hand away.
“There’s something else I can do,” she told her softly, making Varia exhale a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. “Something that will still make you feel as good as I described, I swear on all the Gods.” Varia noticeably relaxed, nodding her consent for Livia to do something that didn’t include penetrating her. She just didn’t know how to rationalize it if she allowed her to do that; whereas if she let her do anything else, Varia could still say that she had her virginity.
Technicalities, it seemed, would end up being the salvation to her sanity.
“Lie back,” Livia instructed her, coaxing the Amazon to move flat on the mattress. The animal skins that had once covered the Roman’s form slid off of her as she got on top of her, her long hair cascading over her left shoulder as she looked down at the woman beneath her.
Varia found she couldn’t breathe.
The moonlight from the large window that overlooked the bedchamber cascaded beams of light across the Roman’s skin in a way that made her just glow. She looked ethereal; born of the Gods, of the light. Whatever darkness that lied within her was well hidden now beneath soft skin and delicate features. Varia didn’t know how she hadn’t noticed before; maybe it was the armor, maybe it was her attitude or the mask she wore to uphold it, but she didn’t look as sharp, as hard as she had before. She looked… different.
She looked beautiful.
And it ached, it did. It ached to feel those things, to think those things, when Varia knew she should not. She felt like she was betraying her tribe, betraying herself, and yet all she could do was groan softly as Livia lowered herself onto the base of her abdomen, streaking her stomach with her desire. Varia grasped her hips as Livia’s lips connected with her own once more, pressing her further into her so she could better feel her heat, her passion, her power.
Livia hissed her pleasure against the Amazon’s lips as she gave herself some minimal relief, pressing and sliding down the woman’s body until her own mound got to the soft patch of hair between Varia’s thighs. She didn’t stay there though; or, at least, her sex did not. Instead Livia slid further down her body, encouraging the woman beneath her to part her legs a little further.
Varia did as she was instructed, watching Livia settle herself between her thighs. Her brow creased a little, unsure what the other woman planned to do, but it didn’t take long for her to find out. Cradling her legs in her arms, Livia brought the Amazon’s hips to her, allowing her mouth to connect with her searing flesh. Varia gasped hard, her hand coming to her mouth as she arched her back and stared up at the ceiling, hardly able to believe what the other woman was doing, and how it felt.
Because, oh, Gods… how it felt. It was like nothing Varia had ever experienced before, and she reveled in it. It made the rest of the world melt away around her, it made her mind go completely, gloriously blank as the feeling of Livia’s mouth on her consumed her entire being, lightning a fire within her that spread from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
Varia shut her eyes then, her hands going from her mouth to her eyes before they tangled in her hair, the feeling overwhelming her so much that she hardly knew what to do with herself. She arched her back and spread her legs further, exhaling her praises in the very same way she used to judge Livia for. “Oh Gods… oh my fucking Gods…”
Because now she got it. Now she understood why Livia was vocal, because this was… this was something to scream about. This was something to get lost in.
Livia licked a long line straight up her center before she momentarily replaced her mouth with her fingers, sounding a little amused by Varia’s reaction as she husked, “I told you so.”
“Don’t talk,” Varia shamelessly begged, looking down at the woman between her things. She may not be well versed in the area of sex, but she just learned very quickly what it was that she wanted from this experience. “Just… just keep doing that. Please.”
Livia smiled. Not a smirk, not an amused twitch of her lips, but an actual, wide, beautiful smile that made her look like a different person entirely. It made Varia realize, in one, brief, horrifying moment, that in three years, she had never once seen Livia smile. Horrifying because the sight of it did something to Varia, made her feel something she knew she would have to stomp out, and so she groaned, tilting her head back as she placed the heels of her palms over her eyes and begged her, “Just fuck me.”
She didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to think about anything. She just wanted to feel.
Livia obliged her though and as she placed her mouth back on her, Varia willed herself to think of nothing but that; nothing but the feeling of Livia’s tongue drinking up everything she had to offer, nothing but the way it would make her legs twitch and her insides clench. She groaned in pleasure, one of her hands instinctively finding the top of the other woman’s head, encouraging her to stay there, there.
“Oh my Gods, there!” Varia exclaimed, her tone coming out desperate because Livia couldn’t, she couldn’t move. It was beyond anything Varia had ever felt in her life, and as Livia allowed her tongue to rapidly flick against the spot that made the Amazon’s head spin, Varia felt this incredible pressure in her abdomen that threatened to rip her to pieces should she not be able to let it out.
“Please, please…!” she begged, completely overwhelmed by what she was feeling and fearing that it would get to a point that she wouldn’t be able to handle it. It was too much but still not enough and Varia grasped onto the skins beneath her, bunching them into her fist as she made sounds she didn’t know she could even make. They were like halfway between a desperate whine and a threatening growl, and suddenly, suddenly, everything inside of released at once.
Varia’s mouth fell open, this animalistic sound releasing from her lips as everything that had been tightening inside of her suddenly let go, making her insides contract rapidly in a way that made Varia see stars. It was a lot though, Gods it was a lot, and something inside of Varia broke and she released a shuddered sob of pleasure, of sorrow, and of loss, as she quickly placed a hand over her mouth to stifle it.
She shouldn’t have done this. She shouldn’t have done this…
Varia’s thighs quaked as tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes and suddenly the wool-filled mattress shifted, Livia coming back up to rest beside her. A gentle touch took Varia’s hand into her own, slowly coaxing it away from her mouth. Varia looked up at her, feeling like something had shattered within her as she realized she hated herself. She hated her.
“I hate you…”
Varia covered her mouth again as she sobbed, rolling over so she didn’t have to face her; didn’t have to face her mistake anymore. Livia was silent for a long time, but then she reached out, gently touching the woman’s shoulder whom she had destroyed in more ways than one.
Chapter 7: VII. Weak
It was hard to look at her.
It was hard to look at herself.
Varia averted her eyes away from Livia while she was in the bath, only to have them land on a mirror. She wanted to smash it. She felt dirty for what she had done, and the shame was evident on her face and in her body language. Livia said nothing though, perhaps knowing that there was nothing she could do to make it any better and knowing that, if anything, she would probably only make it worse. The way she looked at her though made Varia want to cry, made her want to cry and scream and strangle the life out of her, because she knew what that look meant.
Livia wanted her. She longed for this sense of companionship that was barely even real, and Varia felt that it was easily the worst thing Livia had ever done to her. Because why? Why did she have to do this? It was selfish, and it wasn’t fair. Livia wanted to feel something so badly that she took what wasn’t hers, not caring who she hurt, or what was left in its place.
No, Varia thought, sickness swirling in the pit of her stomach as she allowed herself to admit the truth. She didn’t take it; I gave it to her. She gave it to her without much of a fight either, and that was the worst part of it all.
Because maybe it wasn’t just Livia who was lonely. It had been years since Varia had been taken, and in that time, she had no one. But did that justify it? Did that make it okay to sleep with her worst enemy? She should look at Livia now and feel powerful, but she didn’t. It didn’t matter how badly Livia seemed to want her or how easily she could take advantage of it, because the fact that she enjoyed what they had done sickened her to the core.
She wasn’t an Amazon anymore; she was the property of Rome, and Rome had had her way with her.
“You don’t have to stay here, Varia,” Livia finally said, no doubt feeling the discomfort radiating off the other woman. Varia said nothing in response, but did immediately stand up and walk towards the door.
“Wait,” Livia called out just as she got to the threshold, apparently having remembered something. Varia steeled her jaw and turned to look at her, still completely silent. She watched Livia’s eyes flicker downwards for a moment before she told her, “I know I don’t deserve to ask a favor of you, but please don’t tell anyone about last night. I’m not… supposed to be doing that anymore. With women.”
“You do realize you could just order me to stay silent, right?” Varia responded in a flat tone, reminding the woman that regardless of how she may look at her now, that she was still a slave.
“You’re only asking because you think I’ll oblige you,” Varia responded, knowing the woman all too well. “I know what’s important to you, Roman, and whatever fucked up feelings you may have for me now still rank lower than your ambitions. If I said I was going to tell someone, you would order me not to. Don’t pretend that you respect me now just because we slept together; we both know that it’s a lie.”
Livia said nothing, and it spoke volumes. She at least had the decency to look ashamed of herself, but that was cold comfort.
“I didn’t sleep with you just for the pleasure of it, you know,” Livia told her, apparently thinking that because there was something behind it other than orgasms, that it made up for the fact that she was still a shitty person who would pretend to request something solely because the outcome would be the same as if she had ordered it.
“Oh, believe me, I am more than aware,” Varia seethed, because that was the part she hated. “Because somewhere in that fucked up head of yours, you decided you needed something more in your life, so you tricked yourself into thinking you feel something for me. But it’s a lie, Livia. There is no fathomable reason you should want me, save the fact that you’re lonely, you don’t like your life, and you miss a woman’s touch. You used me.”
Deep lines started to etch in Livia’s face as she began to grow angry. “Don’t you dare tell me how I feel—”
“I have to because you’re emotionally stunted!” Varia shouted as she advanced on her, jabbing a finger in her direction. She should have just left; Gods, she should have just left. “You grew up without a real family, and so you’ve never known love; you were touched when you were young, so you never learned how to trust; you’ve been placated and serviced your entire life, and so you don’t understand honesty. You whore yourself to men to gain their power, Livia, and so even your view of sex and relationships are warped and wrong. You are broken, and that is why you don’t know how you feel – because you’ve barely felt anything real for as long as you’ve lived. But that doesn’t excuse you; that doesn’t make it okay for you to act this way. It’s time to stop pitying yourself and grow up.”
Livia didn’t say anything, but Varia could see that each and every word cut deeper than the last. The pain was evident on her face, her eyes brimming with furious tears before she abruptly stood from the bath, unable to bear this any longer. But Varia wasn’t done.
“Tell me, Livia, why you believe you really feel something for me. If you truly don’t think your feelings for me are fabricated, then tell me why.”
“There is no why,” Livia spat as she exited the tub, angrily wringing out her hair and making a large puddle on the floor. It was no doubt some childish form of ‘payback’ because she knew Varia would have to be the one to clean it up, and the Amazon’s expression leveled. “There just is. I just do, although I’m beginning to wish I fucking didn’t.”
“What I’m asking is what you like about me. Surely you can tell me that much at least,” Varia clarified, thoroughly frustrated as she threw a linen towel at the other woman. Livia caught it easily, but shot her a glare for it regardless.
“Have you never looked in a mirror before?” Livia shot back as she began to dry herself rather aggressively. “Honestly, Varia; don’t be an idiot.”
“…That’s it?” Varia responded, a chuckle of disbelief leaving her lips as she shook her head. Of course it was. Livia was an incredibly shallow person, so it was no wonder that she didn’t know how to scratch the surface of things. “Nothing about my personality? Or how I’ve been the only one who’s been nice to you in your entire—oh wait, that was the thing, wasn’t it? You didn’t want nice. You didn’t want your ass kissed, and so I told you at every chance I could get how much I hated you, and yet now you want me. Do you see how that doesn’t make sense?!”
“I wasn’t the only one in that bed last night, Amazon!” Livia shouted suddenly, throwing the towel to the ground before she advanced on her. “I might be lonely, but I’m not the only one. So what if I tricked myself into having some kind of actual affection for you? I’m fucking miserable – I’ll admit that – and last night was the closest I’ve been to not being unhappy in a long while. Why is it so awful that I want to feel close to someone? Don’t you?”
“Yes, but I want it to be real!” Varia exclaimed, not understanding why that didn’t seem to matter to Livia. “I don’t want to pretend to like you anymore than I already have to just because you have a warm body and a nice touch; I don’t want to pretend that it’s okay that you only want me because I’m convenient. I am literally the only person around you that’s a constant in your private life, and what’s more is that because I’m a slave, you know you can do as you wish with me without anyone else having to know.”
“If I had just wanted a slave, Amazon, I had plenty of other options; options that actually want to please me.”
“No,” Varia corrected, shooting Livia a look like she was disappointed that despite all of this being thrown point-blank in her face, she still couldn’t see it. Still couldn’t accept that whatever she was feeling right now, it wasn’t real. “You don’t. You can’t have slave girls sent to your chambers anymore if you want to become Empress, but I’m… I am always there. No one would notice a difference so long as we kept our relationship behind closed doors. That’s why you want me Livia; because I am literally your only option.”
Livia said nothing, her lips pursing as her wet hair trailed water droplets down her body. Her gaze hit the floor as her jaw began to clench, and Varia knew what was going to happen before it did. “…Get out.” Because Livia, for wanting the truth so badly in her life before, had been content with a lie. And when that lie shattered, so did she.
And she didn’t want anyone around to see it.
“I said get out!” she screamed when Varia didn’t move fast enough. She pushed past her and swung open the door, making it collide heavily with the wall. Varia didn’t say anything; there wasn’t much left to say anyhow.
So she just turned around… and she left.
Varia slept in her own bed that night. She was also dismissed the next morning, Livia claiming that she wasn’t an invalid and could get ready for the day on her own. Varia didn’t know why it took her this long to realize that she was an adult and capable of dressing herself, but it was of no matter. She didn’t want to be around her anyway.
She did hold some concern about their agreement now though, considering Livia wasn’t exactly happy with her. Varia hoped that she wouldn’t go back on their arrangement since it seemed her services as a ‘confidant’ were no longer required, but since it wasn’t her who had initiated crossing the line and making their relationship into something it never should have been, she hoped she wouldn’t get blamed for it.
But then again, Livia was an emotionally-stunted brat of a woman, so Varia worried.
While Varia was in the middle of polishing the woman’s armor as per one of her weekly duties, she heard fighting going on in the training grounds. She didn’t think Livia would be fighting without her armor as that was incredibly dangerous, and yet when she looked she saw the woman absolutely tearing apart two of her soldiers wearing only a long tunic that was tied around her waist. Varia actually found herself briefly concerned that she would get hurt doing that, but then she watched as Livia sunk her sword into one of her soldier’s legs and he cried out in pain and surprise, collapsing on the ground.
She obviously wasn’t supposed to have done that though and so she threw the sword on the other side of the training grounds in a wave of fury before she stormed out, leaving the other soldier to deal with his fallen brother.
It wasn’t unlike Livia to take out her aggression by fighting, but that was the first time that Varia had ever seen her be so purposely reckless. It made her wonder how she could have such a power over the other woman; through her eyes, she should seem like nothing, and yet it seemed that Varia could get under her skin better than anyone else ever could.
Livia disappeared the rest of the day. Varia had no idea where she went, nor did anyone else, it seemed. Usually everyone in the palace knew if she was going on a raid or to conquest this that and another province in the name of Rome, but she wasn’t supposed to go anywhere today.
“Look who’s fallen from grace,” came the voice of that bitch of a slave girl Octavia. She was leaning against one of the large pillars in the terrace overlooking the gardens as Varia had passed by. Her voice, however, made her stop. “I heard you can’t find your Domina. You must be a terrible lay, for her to just cut you out of her life like that.”
Varia flushed in anger despite herself, her fists clenching at her sides. “I’m not sleeping with her,” she lied, because honestly? Even if Livia didn’t order her not to say anything, she wouldn’t anyway; she was ashamed of it.
“Yeah, right,” Octavia scoffed, not believing that for a second. “I know the Domina’s appetites and how frequently she likes them sated; you forget, I was what she craved before you began sleeping in her room, Miss Varia. You were fucking her, but now she’s tossed you aside. So sad.”
“You’re an idiot,” Varia responded, not bothering to water that down in the slightest. “The Domina stopped sleeping with you and any other slaves because she’s sleeping with the Dominus now, and he doesn’t seem to care for her desire for women. Or did you really not know that?”
That made Octavia hesitate for a moment, her brow furrowing. Varia didn’t much care for what she had to say though, so she just told her in parting, “I’d get over your jealousy if I were you, Octavia. She was just using you anyway. Give that part of yourself to someone that cares, because believe me; she never will.”
Varia truly believed that too; not just when it came to Octavia, but when it came to herself as well, which was why when Livia finally returned to the palace late at night and fell into bed without a word to Varia, the Amazon was not surprised.
However, that changed the next morning.
“…What is this?” Varia asked, her voice filled with trepidation as she held a small box in her hands that had been given to her by the one woman she was certain didn’t even want to see her today, let alone give her gifts. It made her concerned about Livia’s motives.
“If you just open it, you’ll see,” Livia responded impatiently. She was fidgeting a little, like she wasn’t able to keep still, and it made Varia narrow her eyes suspiciously. She had never seen the other woman act like this before and that put Varia even more on edge.
Because please tell her that Livia wasn’t trying to… to woo her or something. That would be much too fucked up for her to even begin to process.
“I thought we had an understanding,” Varia said slowly, shooting a wary look at her Domina as she turned the box over in her hands. “If you’re trying to sway me—”
“For the Gods’ sakes, why are you always like this? Just fucking open it; it’s not a gods damned marriage proposal or anything, it’s just a box,” Livia snapped, now thoroughly annoyed by the reaction she was getting. But how did she expect anything other than this? Yesterday she wanted absolutely nothing to do with her, and today she brought her this.
Varia did as she was told though and opened the box, only to have her hand freeze the second she laid eyes on what was inside. It was her tribal necklace; the one Livia had stolen from her that first day in her ship’s cabin. Varia held her breath as her fingertips dragged across each of the beads; she really thought she would never see this again.
But then she realized why she did. Why she could.
“…You kept this as a trophy.”
Livia pursed her lips as she sat on the edge of her bed. “Yes,” she admitted, at least having the decency to sound ashamed about that. “I’m… I’m sorry about that.” The apology was awkward; not because it seemed ingenuine, but because it was probably the first time Livia had ever uttered that word in her life. She was clearly not comfortable using it.
Emotion rose up inside of Varia then; something dark, and angry, and sad, but she didn’t yell at her for it. She couldn’t. She was just so tired of trying to explain to Livia that small gestures could never make up for what she did to her. She couldn’t give her presents and give her orgasms and expect that somehow things would magically get better; it was unrealistic, not to mention ridiculous. And quite honestly? A little offensive.
“Why… why did you give this back to me?” Varia asked softly, the tears that had gathered in her eyes beginning to fall down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away with the back of her hand though, not wanting to look weak. She was angry; she was so angry and yet she was so emotionally exhausted when it came to Livia that all she could do was cry.
“Because it’s yours.”
The answer was so simple, yet caused so many complications. But before Varia could say anything more, Livia spoke again.
“I know you think I just did this because I’m trying to get you back into bed,” she told her, and she wasn’t wrong. “I’m not. I know you feel nothing for me, and I know that I was latching onto you because you were my only option. I left yesterday, and I didn’t let myself come back until I admitted to myself what I was really doing. I know that I’m unhappy, Varia; and I know that it’s entirely of my own making. But this is who I am. This is who I need to become. If I don’t do this, I won’t have an identity, and I cannot go through life like that. I can’t be nothing more than a lost orphan girl again. I won’t.”
Varia swallowed hard, unable to look at her as she gently fingered the necklace in her hands. She didn’t know what to say to that; it was perhaps the only honest things Livia had ever said in regards to herself, and it was a much more mature response than she had been expecting. Wherever she went yesterday, whatever she thought about, it did her some good.
“I know giving this back to you doesn’t change anything,” Livia continued softly, her gaze landing on the necklace before finding the Amazon’s face once more. “But I don’t think I should keep it anymore anyway; especially since it hasn’t felt like I conquered you for a very long time now.”
Varia still didn’t say a word as she saw Livia get up from her peripheral. The other woman walked behind her then, placing a gentle hand on the Amazon’s shoulder. Another tear fell down Varia’s cheek. “If you don’t want to be my personal servant anymore, I’ll release you to the kitchens until the duration of your contract. I’ve already taken enough from you, and I’m tired of breaking everything I touch. Just… let me know by tomorrow.”
And then she was just gone, leaving Varia alone with nothing but her necklace and a very big decision to make.
But, in the end, she never even got to make it.
Livia hadn’t returned all day, leaving her chambers to Varia so that she could do some thinking in private. Varia had appreciated that, but then before the day was out, she found herself unexpectedly wishing that Livia had never left at all.
The doors to Livia’s bedchambers we slammed open, two guards storming into the room. Varia’s eyes went wide and she immediately stood from her place at the vanity, not knowing what this was but knowing by their aggressive behavior that it wasn’t anything good.
“Grab her,” one said to the other.
“What? No! Get off of me!” Varia shouted, trying to fight her way free. It was of no use though; it had been years since she had properly fought, and she was rusty. Her stomach and arms were soft where they were once hard, causing her strength to wane considerably. “Stop! My Domina will have your heads for this!”
Because she feared they were going to rape her, just as they apparently did to the other slave girls. But that wasn’t what they were doing. Instead of being wrestled to the floor and violated, she was being carted down to the dungeons.
“Why are you doing this?” Varia screamed as she was thrown headfirst into a place she hadn’t occupied in a very long while. “What did I do?!” As far as she was aware, she hadn’t broken any rules. She didn’t do anything that warranted being treated like this, and that scared her. It scared her even more that the guards wouldn’t even tell her what was happening; they just threw her in there and closed the cell door behind her, locking it before leaving her there to rot.
Varia didn’t know how long she had been in there. Hours and hours passed while Varia screamed to be let out, pulling at the steel bars in vain until her arms hurt and her throat felt scratchy. Finally she collapsed in the corner, weak and exhausted, and all she could do was cry. She didn’t understand, and that was truly the worst part of it all. Why was this happening? Why her?
And then she got a visitor.
“I have to admit, seeing you in there pleases me much more than I thought it would.”
Varia stood, her stomach constricting as she realized who it was that had come to see her: Octavia. Anger rose up inside of her so fast that it gave her a burst of strength and she ran towards the cell door, slamming her hands against it as she looked upon the face of the girl who had always been jealous of her. “What in Tartarus have you done?!” she shouted, her expression filled with furious disbelief. “Is getting back into her bed that important to you that you’d risk your life to do this to me? Because I assure you, when the Domina hears about this, she will destroy you for what you’ve done to me.”
But even as she said the words, Varia feared that in the end, she may not. Livia may have softened a little towards her, but Varia was still a slave. It could just be easier to get rid of her this way, so that she never had to follow through with the deal she had made. Varia didn’t want to think like that, especially after Livia had attempted to show a small bit of kindness lately, but the fear was still there.
“She’s being kept busy,” Octavia told her, sounding so terribly smug as she leaned against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest. “Seems I’m not the only one who doesn’t like you. So if you’re really expecting to be rescued, I’d shelve that hope if I were you. No one is coming for you. No one ever will.”
Varia’s throat began to constrict, her eyes brimming with furious tears. She was terrified of that prospect, but she didn’t want to show it and so she held back her upset, not allowing her tears to fall. “What did you do?” she asked again, needing to know. She needed to know what this was, and what lay at the end of it.
“I told them that I overheard you recruiting other slaves to assassinate the Domina,” Octavia told her, shrugging lightly. “Guess they didn’t take too kindly to that. Imagine.”
Varia’s stomach dropped. That held a death sentence.
“You delusional bitch!” Varia shouted, banging on the bars once more. She wanted to kill her; she wanted to strangle the life out of her, because she had been so close. She was so close to freedom and it was being snatched away all because some slave was jealous of her. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, and Octavia deserved to suffer for that. “The Domina isn’t going to let you back into her bed just because you get rid of me! I told you already why she wasn’t sending for you anymore; there’s no point to this!”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” Octavia told her, a little smirk pulling at the edge of her lips. “I don’t care about being the Domina’s bedmate anymore; it was nice while it lasted, but I have my sights on grander things now. You make her weak, Varia, and apparently that bothered the wrong person. I’ve been promised the world so long as I get rid of you, and I plan to make good on that arrangement. Nothing personal, of course.”
She made Livia weak? How could she have possibly known that, if not for…
The realization made Varia almost fall over, because how was she supposed to go up against a God? But it had to have been him; he could easily spy on Livia, as he had proven once before. And he obviously did not approve of how Livia treated her, as he had explicitly told her so a few months ago. If he had been watching this morning, he would have seen her give back her necklace, hear her utter an apology; something she had never done before. So of course he wanted her out of the way; Livia couldn’t be his frightening war hound if she had started to lose her bite.
“By dawn, you’ll meet your fate at the noose,” Octavia told her, growing smugger as she watched Varia begin to fall apart in front of her. If a God wanted her dead, then what hope did she even have? Varia realized she was going to die tomorrow, and there was nothing she could do about it.
It broke her, and it showed.
“I’d make your peace with any of the Gods whom you believe still smile upon you,” Octavia suggested as she began to walk away, leaving Varia to crumple into a ball on the ground. For the first time in her life, she felt so very helpless, and so very, very small. “Because come tomorrow, you’re going to meet them.”
“Stop! No, please— I swear to Zeus I would never!” Varia futilely screamed as dawn broke in the sky, and she was hauled off to meet her maker. It was a lie, obviously, as she had, but it had been so very long ago that she had tried, and Livia knew that. She trusted her, and yet Varia was about to get executed for something that hadn’t even crossed her mind in a very long time. “Get Livia! Get my Domina! That girl is lying!”
She probably shouldn’t have said Livia’s given name though, as it was something she was never supposed to utter, out of respect. It didn’t matter now though, as Varia realized that nothing she said made a difference. No one listened to her; no one even looked at her. She was a slave; she was nothing to them, and certainly not worthy of the risk it would mean should they keep her, just in case the rumors had been true.
Varia was pushed onto the trap door, a noose being wrapped around her neck as the executioner announced, “Slave to Rome; executed for the planned assassination of Rome’s greatest champion, Livia.”
Slave to Rome. It seemed that even her death didn’t warrant the privilege of being addressed by her given name. In this end, this was all she was.
The fear of what was coming next began to suffocate her, and the faces of the people watching her execution blurred as Varia saw the executioner raise his hand out of her peripheral. A dark figure in black began to move through the crowd, their face covered with a cloth that had been wrapped around their head. Ares, no doubt, coming to watch the fruits of his labor without being recognized. Varia’s vision was blurred though and she could barely focus on the person, despite wanting to look into the eyes of her murderer when the time came, as she futilely hoped it would haunt him.
She didn’t get the chance though.
The executioner’s hand dropped and so did the platform, causing Varia to fall to her certain death without a last word or goodbye. But when she expected to feel her neck snap, all she felt was the cold hard ground as she landed in the dirt. The crowd went crazy. People were screaming, the executioner was yelling at the guards to get her, yet all Varia could do was cough and look up in confusion, not knowing how this happened.
Until she saw the dagger embedded in the plank of wood behind her.
“Get up!” a woman screamed, and Varia knew instantly who it was. She looked up, seeing the figure in black atop a horse as she held her hand down to her. She hadn’t thought it was her, but now that she thought about it, the figure had been much too short to have been a man. “Varia, get up now!” Livia screamed at her, urgency in her voice as the guards began to rush at them.
Varia scrambled to her feet, pulling the severed noose from her neck and leaving it in the dirt. Livia pulled her up onto the horse easily before she swung her sword down, fighting off those who would stop them. Varia just held onto her, watching in disbelief as Livia’s sword sunk through the torso of a man who fought in her army. She was fighting her own men. For her.
Eventually though, they escaped the city. Livia was good, and anyone that was on horseback who could follow was cut down before they left. And so they rode for what seemed like forever until Livia believed there was no way she could have been followed, and finally slowed the horse to a stop. “Varia, what happened?” she demanded as she slid from the horse’s saddle, her feet resting on the ground.
She held out of her hand for Varia to take, helping her dismount. Varia did so, sliding from the horse in almost a daze. “How… how did you know?” she asked, not understanding how she had been there, or why. Octavia had said that she was being kept busy.
“When I told Ares I needed to get back last night, he told me not to worry about you. The tone in his voice made me worry,” she said simply. Varia’s brow furrowed, searching the other woman’s eyes. She couldn’t believe she had done that for her; she was no one. She was just a slave. A slave that might make her weak, yes, but still a slave.
“He promised Octavia something so long as she got rid of me,” Varia told her, anger and hatred rising within her. “He wanted me dead, because ‘I make you weak’. Do you realize who you’ve allied yourself with, Livia? That is fucked up.”
Livia’s lips pursed into a tight line. “I know; and I’m not justifying it, I’m not, but I think he only wanted what’s best for me. He knew I was going to save you when I left, but he let it happen.” Varia looked at her incredulously, hardly able to believe that after everything, she would still defend the man. He had her warped. He had her fucked. “He wanted you out of the picture, one way or another. I guess this was just the other.”
“You are justifying it!” Varia shouted, looking at her like she was mental for ever thinking otherwise. “You’re very much justifying it! He tried to kill me, Livia, and because you think he did it because he wanted you stronger, that it was right?”
“No,” Livia insisted, grasping for the other woman’s arm. Varia pulled it away from her though, her eyes shining with furious tears. Livia, at least, looking as though she felt terrible. “Varia, I am sorry. I know in the end that this will mean nothing to you, but I couldn’t let you die in Rome; regardless of what you may think of me, I still know that you deserve so much more than that. I took away your life once, so let me… let me give it back to you now.”
The tears finally began to fall from Varia’s eyes and Livia shot her a sympathetic smile as she reached out, gently touching the other woman’s face. This time, Varia didn’t move. She just exhaled a small sob as she closed her eyes, not knowing how to process this kind of kindness from the woman who had once destroyed her.
Because this wasn’t selfish in the slightest. This was anything but, and it didn’t track. None of this did.
“Go,” Livia breathed, encouraging her to find a life that didn’t include her, despite how badly she had always said she needed her. She was letting her go; before her contract, before Livia was even emotionally ready to live on her own. “Take the horse. Find your tribe, save your sister. Live, Varia. This is your chance at true freedom; just take it.”
And so with one last look at the woman who had gone from her captor to her savior, Varia swallowed hard and nodded, still not understanding why this this was happening, but grateful all the same.
Chapter 8: VIII. Home
Listen I know Eve went from zero to sixty in accepting her new identity in the show, with ‘Motherhood’ being the only episode showing her conflict and transition, but since I find that ridiculous and unrealistic, we’re not going to do that here, okay? Okay.
Nearly two years had passed since Varia had escaped Rome, and despite hoping to hear otherwise, Livia’s reign of bloodshed continued. Varia had wished that Livia would have continued to nurture the compassion inside of her but if anything, the stories about her only got worse. It seemed Ares had truly taken her this time, and she was lost in his ways. Varia heard the stories even in the far corners of Greece, where she finally found what was left of her tribe.
Most of them had escaped Borgus relatively unharmed; Marga had formulated a plan not too long after they had arrived and they were able to overthrow Borgus and his men as early as a moon into their slavery. Acquiring a ship to back to Greece had apparently been harder than escaping, but eventually they made it back to their lands, Marga was appointed queen, and they began to rebuild anew.
Their numbers were still few, but it wasn’t the end of them, and that was what mattered.
But because they were still much weaker than they should be, Marga put extreme emphasis on training for battle. She knew that if they got attacked again and they weren’t ready, then it would truly be the end of their tribe, and she refused to let that happen on her watch. Varia took to it with a renewed vigor that she didn’t have the first time she had called herself ‘Amazon’, and she quickly became the best fighter that their tribe had. Marga named her second in command, gave her rite of caste, and told her that she understood why she was training so hard; promising that one day, they would destroy the monster Livia and avenge their tribe.
Because Varia couldn’t tell them the truth; she couldn’t tell Marga that Livia had let her go, because then she would have to tell her why. So instead she said she escaped, allowed them to believe that the woman had been nothing but cruel to her during her entire stay in Rome, because quite frankly… she was ashamed. She was ashamed that she had slept with their tribe’s greatest enemy; ashamed even more that she had liked it. The thing of it was though, that despite everything that Livia had done, despite how selfish of a person she could be, Varia could see that she had it in her to be something better than that.
Especially since after had she escaped Rome, Tura was bought and then set free by an anonymous buyer.
Varia knew it was Livia, as she was the only one who had money like that and would have a reason to care. But that ended up fucking Varia up more because she didn’t have to do that. Varia would have found a way to free her anyway, and she didn’t understand why Livia would go out of her way to be kind towards her, when all she was hearing from the stories that reached Greece was of how much of a monster she still was. She was slaughtering the followers of Eli like sheep, yet doing something kind for Varia at the same time, and frankly, the Amazon woman didn’t know how process it.
So she just ignored it. When Tura made her way back to their tribe, Varia didn’t tell her who she believed had set her free; she just let her think that it was the kindness of a stranger, perhaps someone who visited Gurkhan’s palace and felt for her situation. In the end though, Tura didn’t seem to care to know the identity of the person who had done that for her, as she was inspired by their kindness regardless and believed that that was enough. She only came back to the tribe to see if Varia had made it out alive, and when she found that she did, she was relieved.
Tura felt like she had a purpose in life now though and should she have found that Varia was still being held captive, then Rome was going to be the first place she went. Tura wanted to spend her life freeing slaves, as she had received the kindness of a stranger in that way and wanted to pass on the opportunity for others to live their own, their best lives. Despite how badly Varia wanted her to stay and be with her sisters, she could tell Tura was not the same girl she was when they had last seen one another. Tura was almost a woman now, and she had her own life to live. Marga assured Tura that should she ever want to come back home then she still had a place with the Amazons, and then Varia watched her little sister set off to change people’s lives.
Varia was so proud of her, but that didn’t mean that her heart didn’t ache when she watched Tura turn and walk away from the life they had once shared together.
It seemed their lives were destined to take two very different paths though, and it was a few moons after Varia’s twenty second birthday that she heard that Livia had been defeated and was believed dead. It was said that Xena, the legendary warrior princess who had disappeared twenty-five years ago had returned to rid the world of Livia and lead the followers of Eli to victory against their greatest enemy. It seemed like a ridiculous tale, but when no other news came of Livia, and it seemed she really had been defeated, their tribe celebrated.
Varia tried to be happy about it, but the news of Livia’s probable death filled her with too many conflicting feelings. While she was glad the woman’s reign of terror had ended, she had also seen a different side of her. The woman had freed her, freed her sister. It was hard to celebrate the death of someone who would do that for her, and so Varia spent a lot of her time after that alone and isolated as she mourned the sliver of compassion and the person Livia could have been, in peace.
And then, one day, Xena came.
And she was not alone.
A platoon of Ares’ soldiers had been marching through their forests and while they had attacked first, the Amazons quickly became overwhelmed. They were about to retreat when three women emerged from the forest and began fighting on their side, which was a welcome help as now they stood a fighting chance at driving away the invaders. Still, Varia was suspicious of their motives, because why would anyone get involved in a fight that was not their own?
And then she heard the war cry.
Varia nearly fell straight over, because it couldn’t be; she was dead, she was gone, and the blur of a woman amidst the chaos of the battle didn’t really look like her, and yet her fighting style didn’t leave much question to who it was, as Varia had seen the woman fight like that all the time in the arena, in the training grounds.
A rush of emotions hit her all at once and it nearly cost Varia her life as one of the soldiers thrust his sword at her. Varia moved, but due to the distraction of possibly having Livia fighting by her side, she was too slow. His blade sliced open her bicep, and Varia cried out in anger and pain before she slashed at him with her own weapon. He dodged it but he couldn’t get away from the woman who heard her cry out and came up behind him, subduing the soldier with ease despite the fact that she was completely unarmed.
They looked at one another then, and Varia couldn’t breathe.
It was her.
Except, it wasn’t. If Varia hadn’t seen her day in and day out completely stripped of all of her defenses, of her makeup, of the mask she wore to the public to make her appear threatening and cold, then perhaps she wouldn’t have recognized her. Livia had cut her hair, wearing it in loose curls that framed her face. Gone was the armor bathed in red and silver, and instead she wore loose fitting clothing in bright and vibrant colors. She looked softer, younger, and absolutely fucking terrified.
Because she had recognized Varia too.
But the Amazon didn’t have time to contemplate why she was there, or why, for the first time in many years, she saw Livia show legitimate fear; they were still getting attacked and so Varia got back on her feet, trying not to think about who had just shown up looking like a whole different person in her lands. Her arm ached but she ignored it, helping the rest of her tribe drive off the invading soldiers.
And then the ‘strangers’ introduced themselves.
Xena, Gabrielle, and… Eve. Varia said nothing as she looked over at the woman she knew as Livia, only distantly hearing Marga welcome them to their lands, and recognizing Gabrielle as a fellow Queen. Livia… Eve, whoever she was now, stared back at Varia in turn, her arms wrapped around her midsection as she begged her with her eyes not to say anything.
Varia could hardly believe it.
Because this wasn’t Livia; at least, not the Livia that she had known. The Livia she knew exploded outwards, not retreated inwards. She was outspoken and she had to be the center of attention, and yet now it looked like all the other woman wanted to do was fade into the shadows. It was perplexing, and Varia couldn’t figure out what had happened.
There was also a part of her that wondered how nobody else could see that it was her. Had it really been that long ago? Did she really look that different? Did Livia’s armor and her terrorizing personality overshadow her beauty so much that no one could see that when wiped away, this would be the person underneath it all?
“Varia?” Marga asked, noticing her second in command had her attention elsewhere. “Is there a problem?”
“No,” Varia said quickly, turning away from the woman she once knew to face her Queen. She didn’t want to tell them who Livia was, as she knew it would no doubt expose the truth of her time there, and she was not ready for that yet. Besides, despite everything that Livia had done to her, she had saved her life. She had set her sister free. The truth could wait, at least for a little while longer. “It’s just strange; having the legendary Xena and Gabrielle in our forests. We heard the rumors of your return, but they seemed exaggerated. How could you have disappeared for twenty-five years, only to show up looking as though you barely aged?”
“It’s a long story,” Xena answered, which was a vast understatement, considering who they now traveled with as well. Perhaps the rumors of Livia’s defeat were true, but she certainly was not dead. Varia couldn’t help but wonder why. How.
“And one we would like to hear, if you’d like to return to camp with us,” Marga offered, inclining her head in respect. “You fought at our side today; the least we can do is offer you a hot meal and a bed for the night.”
Xena and Gabrielle shot one another a look before the former bard smiled, accepting Marga’s hospitality. “We would like that, thank you.”
The travelers told Marga their incredible story when they returned and, in turn, Marga told them about the problem they now had with the God of War, asking for their help since, as rumor had it, Xena now had the ability to kill Gods. After Xena assured her that she would do what she could, Marga also made a point to thank them both for their defeat of the monster Livia, as word of her victory had spread to their tribe. When Marga explained what had happened to them many years ago, Xena looked at Livia sharply, but the other woman’s gaze would not meet hers. The warrior princess looked concerned for a moment that Marga might recognize their traveling companion, but it seemed that she did not, as neither her nor any other Amazon gave the woman known as Eve a second glance.
Except for Varia.
Livia had excused herself after that, claiming that she wished to attend to the wounded. Xena nodded her understanding to her, but shot her a look of warning that Varia did not miss. Varia, in turn, offered to show Livia where the medical hut was, and Marga gave her permission to accompany their guest, completely oblivious to her second in command’s true motivations.
Varia’s hand subtly grabbed Livia’s arm then, squeezing hard enough to make a point yet not obvious enough that anyone who would give them a second glance. “Go into the forest and wait for me there,” she ordered, knowing that if the woman didn’t want to be exposed, then she would do as she was told. “I’m not letting you near our wounded until I know why you’re here, and what the hell is going on.”
Livia said nothing, but she did stop her movements and rest her gaze on the woman next to her. The expression on her face was difficult to decipher, yet she gave her a quick nod of acknowledgement and walked off into the direction of the forest. After Varia watched to see if anyone had paid her any mind, she followed after her. In the end, it seemed her tribe was still far too concerned with the aftermath of the battle they had just had to be concerned with what else was going on. Besides, those who were really curious were currently around Gabrielle and Xena, listening to them tell their tale.
When Varia found Livia waiting for her by a large fir tree she quickly launched herself at her, pinning her up against the trunk with her forearm pressing against the older woman’s throat. The wound in in her bicep tore deeper and pain shot up her arm but Varia ignored it, as it paled in comparison to what was going on. She didn’t know if she could trust whatever this was, and it frightened her; mostly because a part of Varia already felt like she had betrayed her tribe again by not telling them who Livia was the second she had recognized her.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Livia?” Varia demanded, her eyes searching the Roman’s. She didn’t see anger or malice in her gaze anymore though, and that by itself was strange enough. The desperation though, that was still there, but perhaps for an entirely different reason. Livia still looked so terribly lost, but it felt strange now, unfamiliar, despite how familiar the woman really was to her.
“I didn’t know these were your lands,” Livia tried, actually sounding remorseful. She also made no move to free herself from the Amazon’s hold, which was strange because Varia knew she could get out of it. “And then when I realized, I was too ashamed to tell my mother what I had done, and why I couldn’t be here.”
“Your mother?” Varia asked, because Livia didn’t have a mother. She had been very clear on that in the past, going so far as to say that Rome was her mother, as she didn’t feel like she needed a real one. But maybe, despite everything, she did end up finding her birthmother; but even if she had, why would she need to tell her what had happened here? Unless…
“Xena,” Livia explained, her voice coming out strained due to the pressure on her windpipe. “Xena is my mother; that’s why I took the name Eve. It was the name I was born with.”
Varia stepped back from her, disbelief etching across her features, because she realized now why that name seemed so familiar to her. They had heard the stories, heard about what happened so many years ago to the prophesized Messenger of Eli. But she wasn’t dead. She was here. “You’re the Bringer of Twilight,” she breathed, hardly able to believe that of all people, Livia was the prophesized one. “That’s why Xena can kill Gods. Her power comes from you.”
The other woman said nothing, but her gaze rested on the ground. She seemed almost ashamed of that, and as well she should, because how dare she. “You slaughtered Eli’s followers, and yet it was you all along? The one they prayed for, the one they needed?!” Varia exclaimed, absolutely horrified by that revelation. She may not believe in the one God herself, but those people did, and Livia… Eve, whoever the hell she really was, was supposed to be their savior.
And yet instead she sent so many of them to their deaths.
“I am not proud of it,” the other woman seethed, angry tears beginning to brim her eyes at the brutal slap in the face Varia’s truthfulness had been for her. “I didn’t know; Ares had told me—”
“I warned you about him!” Varia shouted, slamming her hand against the trunk of the tree, right next to the former Roman Commander’s head. Livia didn’t wince though, instead she just stared defiantly into the other woman’s face. “I fucking warned you, Livia; and yet you followed him down that path all the same. You won’t get any pity from me when it comes to him, because you knew all along what kind of God he really was, and what kind of person he would shape you into.”
“Stop calling me that,” the woman with two names begged, grasping onto Varia’s wrist; the grip a little too tight for it to just be a plea. “If anyone in your tribe hears you call me that, they’ll string me up. I know you owe me no favors, Varia, but please stop.”
“Maybe you deserve to be strung up,” Varia hissed, but even as she said it, she didn’t feel it. Despite everything, for some reason, she couldn’t bear to be the demise of the woman who had saved her from the noose.
“I do,” agreed Liv… Eve, Varia reminded herself in her head, because she was right; she couldn’t keep calling her by her other name. “I do deserve it, Varia, I know that; but I can’t make up for the things I’ve done if I’m dead. And I want to; I need to make amends with those I’ve hurt. I need to pursue the path that I was meant to walk, because if I don’t, Eli’s cause dies. I can’t have that happen, not after everything I did to try to eradicate his followers and his teachings in the first place.”
Varia looked at the other woman, not understanding how the person she had known had turned into the one that now stood before her. The Amazon shook her head in disbelief, turning away from her. “I can’t trust this,” she told her. “I want to, but I just can’t.”
Eve didn’t say anything, but her lips pursed in upset as she averted her gaze.
“I thought you might change once,” Varia admitted, her voice getting a little choked up with unexpected emotion. “I saw you display kindness and mercy in a way that I never believed someone as selfish as you would. You saved my life, you freed my sister—” Eve looked up at her in surprise then, as no doubt she assumed her ‘anonymity’ would keep her identity a secret. “Oh please, you honestly thought I wouldn’t know?” Varia countered. “You were the only one with that kind of money; you were the only one who would care enough to do that for me, although I still don’t understand why you did it, or why you weren’t looking for credit.”
Eve did not answer those questions, but she did softly ask, “…How is she?”
“She’s… Tura’s good,” Varia told her, her tone dropping to something a little less hostile as she took a deep breath. “What you did inspired her to do the same for other slaves; she wants them to get back the life they were robbed of. I’m… I’m very proud of her.”
Eve looked relieved by that information and she nodded her understanding. She was silent for a moment though, before finally her brow furrowed and she asked, “You told her it was me who freed her…?” Because it sounded like that, even though that wasn’t what Varia had meant.
“…No,” Varia hesitantly admitted, this time being the one who looked ashamed. Her gaze dropped away from Eve as she confessed, “No one here knows what you did for Tura… or what you did for me. I said I escaped on my own, and I allowed Tura to believe that it was just a kindness from a stranger.”
Eve didn’t say anything, but Varia felt as though she were being attacked anyway. “I couldn’t tell them,” she insisted, her voice growing a little strained as she met the other woman’s gaze again. “You need to understand that. They’d wonder why you’d show me a kindness, and I couldn’t… they can not know that you and I slept together. At best, I’d be banished, and at worst…”
She didn’t even want to say it. Having relations with her, despite how they came about or the motivations behind it, was treason. Plain and simple.
“I didn’t do that for you just because we slept together, Varia!” Eve insisted, actually sounding a little offended by that. “All the time we spent together, and you still think the only influence you had in my life was when you offered me your cunt?”
It was such a harsh word coming out of the mouth of someone who was supposed to be so soft now, and yet the familiarity gave Varia some comfort. It made the person in front of her finally seem like the one she had known. “You said yourself that you knew what you thought you felt for me was a lie,” Varia reminded her, jabbing an accusatory finger in her direction. “So what else was I supposed to think?”
But Varia didn’t actually give Eve a chance to answer as she barreled onwards with, “And you know what? Don’t you dare stand there and pretend I had any kind of influence on you. You may have done some kind things for me, but I heard the stories, Eve. I know the death and destruction you rained down upon the neighboring providences after I left. I thought you’d change and you didn’t, so why should I believe this now? You may take off the armor and the makeup, Roman, but that doesn’t change who you are underneath.”
That looked like it stung, but defiance shone behind the woman’s eyes as she smartly shot back with, “Actually it does, because come to find out, I’m actually Thracian.”
Varia stared at her in disbelief at that childish technicality, but in the end, of course she would say something like that, because it was so… Livia. It was so the person she had known, and a part of her wanted to see the person she knew, and Varia didn’t understand why. Livia was horrible and here was this new and improved version of her named Eve in front of her, and yet all Varia wanted was the familiarity back.
It made more sense than this.
Varia glanced behind her, beginning to grow concerned by how long they had been gone. “We can’t do this; not now. We need to get back,” she told her, not having the effort or the time to argue with her right now. “If they notice us both missing, there will be questions, and I don’t think either of us want to answer those right now.”
Eve pursed her lips. “I can leave—”
“No,” Varia responded quickly, shutting that option down. “We need Xena right now, and somehow I doubt she’ll want to stay if you leave. Just… keep your head down. Don’t talk about your past. Just… just stay out of our way. This is an Amazon matter, and you are not an Amazon.”
Eve looked like she was about to say something to that but thought better of it, her eyes going downcast once more. It was that that Varia hated most of all, because Livia always looked her in the eyes. She understood that the other woman might feel guilty now, but that didn’t mean she had to act submissive either. She would respect this Livia/Eve hybrid before her much more if she could consistently look her in the eyes, but it didn’t seem like that was going to happen.
Whoever this woman was before her now, she was a pale imitation of what she used to be, and the worst part was that Varia didn’t even know if that was a good or bad thing now.
Later that night, Varia heard the leather flap that was covering the doorway on her private hut be thrown open, and she immediately whipping around to face the unexpected intruder with a dagger drawn. When she saw who it was though, she quickly exhaled an irritated breath, lowering her weapon.
Xena just stared at her, rather uncaring about the fact that she had obviously startled her. “So,” she began, her arms crossing over her chest as she looked down at the younger woman. Her stature was intimidating, but Varia was a strong warrior now, and she would not be pushed around. “You know my daughter.”
Varia’s stomach clenched uncomfortably, but she did not confirm or deny the claim. “Is that what she said?” she asked, sliding the dagger back into her boot.
“It’s what you said when you couldn’t stop staring at her,” Xena told her in a low tone, not wishing to be overheard as she crossed the room to the other woman. Varia pursed her lips as she inwardly kicked herself; she hadn’t wanted it to be too obvious, because no one could know that she recognized her, that she allowed Eve to walk amongst them. “I noticed how stiff you became when your Queen mentioned the name ‘Livia’. At first I wondered how you could recognize Eve when no one else in your tribe seemed to, but then Marga told me the story; she told me you were taken into Rome as a slave and kept there as Livia’s personal servant. You saw her, day in and day out, for years; that’s not a face you would easily forget. What I still don’t understand though, is why you haven’t said anything.”
Varia didn’t want to talk about this though. Not with her, not with anyone. “Ask your daughter.”
“I’m asking you.” Xena’s tone left little to argue against, and a hand wrapped around the Amazon’s bicep as Xena pulled her towards her. It wasn’t rough, but it certainly wasn’t gentle either. “Do I have to be worried for Eve’s safety here, Varia?”
“Do we have to worry about ours?” Varia countered, ripping her arm from the other woman’s grasp as she glared up at her.
“No,” Xena said simply. Like… like it was just that easy.
“Then you have nothing to be worried about either,” Varia told her, as she certainly didn’t plan to reveal Eve’s identity. At this point, revealing it would dig herself into a hole that she didn’t want to end up dying in. She had certainly made some poor choices in her life and even with knowing better, it seemed she continuously made the same mistakes over and over when it came to Livia. Varia wished she knew why.
“If you’re still looking for a ‘why’ though, you’ll have to look somewhere else,” Varia told her, still not planning to reveal anything about her past with Livia; especially with her mother. “All I’ll tell you is that I’m ashamed of it, which is why you can count on my silence.”
Xena looked at her then, her eyes narrowing a little as though she were studying her. Varia just set her jaw and stared back though, keeping her face as unreadable as she could. She ended up succeeding, or perhaps Xena just choose not to reveal her findings. Either way, it seemed the interrogation was over.
“Gabrielle and I will deal with your Ares problem,” Xena negotiated, meeting the Amazon’s eye. “In return, you will let the three of us leave peacefully when this is all over. I won’t bring Eve back here; you have my word.”
For some reason, that didn’t entirely sit well with Varia. She couldn’t put her finger on why though, although it was probably because it seemed like Eve was getting off too easily. Still, there were complicated feelings involved with all of that, and so Varia assumed that perhaps it would be best to just accept Xena’s terms, because the longer that Eve stayed there, the more danger they were both in of having their pasts revealed.
And so when Xena held out her arm, Varia grasped onto it tightly, nodding her accord.
Chapter 9: IX. Apology
The next morning, Xena went alone to Ares’ camp to speak with him while Gabrielle helped Marga go over their defenses. Normally that would be something that Varia sat in on, but when Varia had followed them into the meeting hut, Gabrielle had turned and requested that she stay with Eve instead. Apparently, although Eve was ‘capable’ of defending herself, she had grown upset with herself for participating in the last battle. The Messenger of Eli was meant to be non-violent, and if Varia hadn’t been concerned about anyone knowing why she had, she would have snorted out loud at the irony in that.
The Bitch of Rome… was a pacifist now. What a ridiculous twist of fate that was.
Gabrielle must have known though; she must have known that Varia knew exactly who Eve was. Xena no doubt told her, which was why she looked to be the perfect candidate to follow Eve around. That way, if the former Roman accidentally did something to reveal herself while they were there, nothing would happen, as Varia already knew the truth and had no desire to reveal it herself.
Still, it didn’t sit well with Varia that she had to be the woman’s babysitter, especially because she knew that Eve was more skilled in combat than she was.
Gabrielle was worried for Eve’s safety though, and Varia couldn’t help rolling her eyes a little at that, because Eve was not a child. She may not want to resort to violence now, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t capable of surviving anything that was thrown at her. Varia knew that firsthand.
Unfortunately, Marga allotted Gabrielle’s request for a personal bodyguard for Eve, and so now Varia was stomping through the village in an attempt to actually find her. She was to be queen one day and instead of preparing for that and learning battle strategies, she had to protect a woman who didn’t even need protecting. It was frustrating. On the outside, Varia knew that Marga only did it out of respect for Queen Gabrielle. She was a legend, and if the legend needed her lover’s daughter protected, then who was she to deny the request?
If anything, it gave her more of a reason to send her best warrior.
After not finding her in the village Varia expanded her search outwards, heading towards the lake. It was there that she finally found the former Roman, her body half submerged in the water as she bathed herself in the brilliant light of the mid-morning sun. She was alone, and Varia stopped and stared at her for a moment on the water bank, memories of the past coming flooding back.
Because finally, she looked the same as she always remembered.
“Missed watching me bathe, Amazon?”
That snapped Varia out of it and her expression leveled. “Don’t flatter yourself, Thracian,” she responded, using the nationality that they both knew she was now, instead of her usual retort. It was safer in the end anyway, in case anyone ever overheard them. “Your second mother sent me; apparently, since you can’t be bothered to pick up a sword on your own behalf anymore, I’m the one that gets to do it for you.”
“What?” Eve asked as she abruptly stood in the water, actually looking surprised by that. Apparently, she hadn’t been let in on the plan either. “No. The last thing I want is another person getting hurt because of me! Especially…” She hesitated for a moment then, chewing gently on the inside of her cheek as her brow creased in distress. “Especially you,” she finished softly.
While Varia understood why she wouldn’t want that due to the history between them, the pit of her stomach still churned in an uncomfortable way. She didn’t like being singled out in regard to ‘Livia’s’ past; it wasn’t just her that she hurt, and yet it seemed that Eve was more concerned about tipping the scales in Varia’s favor more than anyone else’s. She didn’t understand why.
“No Amazon should have to lay down their life for you,” Varia corrected strongly, and she watched Eve swallow her own discomfort as she nodded her understanding.
“You’re right. They shouldn’t.” She sunk back into the water then, submerging her body up to her neck. She didn’t look at her. “I’ll tell Gabrielle or my mother to lift the order when I’m through with my bath. You can… you can go, if you want.”
“Actually, until the order is lifted, I can’t,” Varia reminded her as she headed towards the edge of the water. She began to peel off her leathers then, causing Eve’s brow to rise a little as she watched her. “I’m due for a bath anyway,” Varia explained shortly, deciding to make good use of the time she had to be down at the lake anyway. Besides, it was a beautiful day and, at the moment, all was calm.
And she doubted it would stay that way for very long.
She could feel Eve’s eyes on her as she disrobed, and while Livia’s gaze never really made her embarrassed, for some reason Eve’s made her flush a little. Perhaps it was because Livia had been so predatory and predictable and at the moment, Varia had no idea what to make of Eve. She was still Livia in some ways and then in others… so very, very not.
“You’ve grown strong,” Eve mentioned as she took notice of the muscles that showed throughout the Amazon’s tight form. Her gaze was appreciative, as though she felt privileged to look upon her body or something. Varia waded into the water and tried not to notice the look she was giving her though, as she didn’t really understand it; it wasn’t exactly like she was attracted to her, and yet it was. And it wasn’t a surprise by any means; they had still had sex once, so of course Eve found her attractive. But it felt different this time somehow, and Varia wasn’t sure if she liked it.
Mostly because it was yet another unfamiliar thing regarding the former Roman.
“That’ll happen when you’re not enslaved,” Varia deadpanned, and that completely shut Eve down as she instantly looked ashamed of herself and averted her gaze. She was silent for a long time, and then the moment Varia knew would come eventually was here.
“Varia, I really am so—”
“No,” Varia interrupted as she turned towards her, her body ridged and tense. “Do not apologize to me. I can’t… I don’t want to hear it right now. I know you’ve had this ridiculous fucking personality transplant, but that doesn’t mean that it should be easy for you. And quite honestly? It bothers me that you seem to care more about making amends with me than you do about making them with my tribe. I am not the only one you hurt.”
“I don’t know how,” Eve hissed as she turned to face her fully, distress and frustration slipping into her expression. “I don’t know how to make it up to them when my mother tells me I can’t tell them who I am; that if I do, then I throw away the destiny that I was meant for – the destiny that’s supposed to help thousands, if not more. But how am I to atone for the things I’ve done, when your tribe doesn’t even know that I was the one who took everything from them? How do I even the scales when they aren’t even aware that they’ve been tipped?”
Varia didn’t know how to answer that. The simple solution to getting even with someone had always been the other person’s death, but if Eve really did have this destiny that would help so many, then who were they to take that from the world? And Gods, it wasn’t fair; it wasn’t fair that the woman who had murdered and enslaved them was getting a free pass just because some prophecy said she should, but that was exactly what it felt like.
“Do you think I’m okay with this?” Eve asked her, voice choking in emotion that Varia hadn’t expected, as the woman she had known before had only showed this side of her when she was intoxicated. “I am disgusted by myself. Eli showed me ‘the way’ and yet all I can ever fucking think about is how far I strayed from it. I don’t deserve to be this person; this savior and hope for so many. The fact that I grew up without a family, without knowing how to trust or what true honesty was, does not excuse how I used to act, and I hate myself for believing that it did.”
“But that’s the thing,” Eve continued, moving through the water so she could stand toe to toe with Varia. She looked serious as she searched the other woman’s eyes, needing her to understand what she actually meant to her. “Eli was not the first person to show me that. You were, and that is why I feel like I owe you more than any other. You were honest to me in the most brutal, unapologetic way, and although at the time I wished it hadn’t, it resonated with me. Maybe it wasn’t enough to change in the beginning, but you need to understand something, Varia.”
She took her hand in hers under the water, and Varia didn’t know what to do. Should she allow her to touch her, or should she pull away? The tone of the conversation was weighing heavy on Varia, and Eve continued to make it even heavier as she told her, “I needed to recognize the flaws within myself in order to accept Eli’s light, and I don’t think I would have ever been able to do that if it wasn’t for you. I knew…” Eve laughed softly, almost a little bitterly, and yet not quite, “everything that was wrong with me because of you. I knew everything I needed to change in order to be the person Eli needed me to be, and while I know I’m not there yet, I am trying.”
Varia was silent for a moment as she took that in and then finally, slowly, she untangled her hand from Eve’s and stepped away from her. “I want to believe you,” she admitted softly, the pit of her stomach swirling with emotion. “But it’s a selfish desire. I only want to believe you because then maybe I won’t feel so terrible about doing… what we did with one another. In my mind, if you’re truly a good person underneath, then it absolves me from wrongdoing. But it doesn’t. It never will. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you are now, because you weren’t that person back then.”
“And I don’t… I don’t want to be the person that made you open to change,” Varia continued, growing upset at the idea of it. “I don’t want you looking at me like I’m some sort of savior for it, when the only reason I said those things to you was because I was angry, and because I was tired of you. I was so fucking tired of you, Eve. You exhausted me in ways you will never really understand.”
Eve’s gaze fell downcast, but she did not argue with her. “I wish I could change the past,” she told her. “But I can’t. All I can do now is try to shape a better future; for you, for this tribe, for Eli’s followers and everyone else that I hurt. But I’m not… I don’t feel like I’m there yet. I’m still filled with so much anger and hatred, except this time, I’ve turned it inwards. So I understand if you don’t accept my gratitude for what you did for me, or my attempt at atonement. It’s probably far too early for either anyway, because I’m not the person I need to be. Not yet.”
Varia agreed with that but the thing of it was… would she ever be? Would there ever be a time where Varia could look at her, and not see the person she used to know? She didn’t know, but in the end, they both knew only time would tell.
“I don’t need a bodyguard, Mother.”
“You do, and now you have one,” Xena told her daughter later that day in the guest hut that the three of them shared. “I’m sorry, Eve, I know this isn’t ideal for you, especially because of who Gabrielle asked to watch over you and the past you share, but until this situation is resolved with Ares, I need you out of harm’s way. Varia is a good warrior and while neither of you will tell me why she won’t tell her tribe who you really are, I have my theories, and that is why I believe she will adequately protect you.”
“Exactly what theory do you think you have?” Varia interrupted, frustrated by this turn of events. Eve had assured her that she would be able to convince Xena that she didn’t need to be watched over, but the conversation didn’t seem to be going in that direction at all.
Eve, however, seemed to understand exactly what Xena thought though and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Varia was not my lover, Mother. She barely tolerated me; although I can’t blame her for that.”
“I’m sorry, you thought I was her what?” Varia asked, aghast. Okay, yes, she might have shared a bed with Eve once, but that didn’t mean that any actual feelings were involved, so if that’s why Xena thought she would protect her, than she had another damn thing coming. “Are you joking? I was her slave. I mattered about as little as the shit beneath her boots.”
The former Roman shot her a look like that last comment was unnecessary and extremely punitive. “Varia, you know that that’s not true—” Eve insisted, but Varia put up her hand to stop her and she fell silent.
“I don’t care,” she interrupted harshly, still upset that Xena would think something like that. She might have slipped up once, but she still had standards when it came to her romantic partners.
Or, at least, she believed she would. While she had taken a few women to bed in her time away from Eve, none of the encounters could really be considered ‘romantic’. She just hadn’t found someone she thought that way about, but it didn’t matter because even if she did, she was certain that it would never be Eve.
“Varia said that she was ashamed of whatever happened between you both, and so I just assumed,” Xena responded unapologetically. “Regardless, this conversation is not up for debate. Ares has gone insane, Eve, and while I’m certain it’s the Furies, I can’t be positive yet. I don’t want you anywhere near this.”
“The Furies?” Varia asked, confused. “But they can only inflict their insanity on mortals.” Xena and Eve shot each other a look, and Varia’s eyes widened. “He’s mortal? Then we don’t even need you to kill him!”
“No, but you do need me to stop this,” Xena told her strongly, not wanting her to believe otherwise. “Ares gave up his immortality to save Gabrielle and Eve, and that is why I do not want this to result in his death. Whatever he’s doing now, it isn’t of his own volition; the Furies are toying with him and if I can stop them then I can stop this war without any more bloodshed.”
“So what, just because he did one good deed, he’s suddenly worthy of living?” Varia asked, anger beginning to rise up inside of her. “He tried to have me hanged in Rome because he thought I made your daughter weak; he tried to kill me just so he could make sure his loyal dog had a big enough bite. He thought nothing of me then, and he thinks nothing of the Amazons now. He loves destruction and death and he turned her,” Varia pointed angrily at Eve, “into a fucking monster, and if the rumors are true, he once did the same to you as well. How can you justify that?”
“Because death doesn’t always call for death, Varia,” Xena snapped, rounding to face her more fully. She towered over her and it only infuriated Varia more, as it felt like she was trying to intimidate her. “Not everything is solved by vengeance and if you don’t stop the killing somewhere, then it’ll only continue. Is that what you want for your tribe? For your sisters? A never-ending vendetta that will only destroy everything that you’ve built? You need to be better than that, Varia. Sometimes, strength is knowing when to not use violence.”
Maybe that was true, but that didn’t mean Varia wanted to hear it right then. Ares had been a part of her problem for a long time now; first with Livia, and now with her fellow sisters. Even if the cycle of violence needed to end somewhere, that didn’t mean that it had to end here.
But Varia knew that neither of them were going to listen and so she just stormed from the hut, yelling at Eve, “—Do not follow me!” because she saw the look on her face, and she was starting to learn what that meant; that for some reason, the woman actually cared how Varia felt. But she didn’t want her to care, she didn’t want her around because she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel about her anymore, and so she watched Eve stop from her peripheral, and Varia took off to find somewhere she could take out her aggression.
Livia had taught her one thing: that sex was an excellent way to forget the world around you – at least for a little while. The problem was, as Varia had learned the first time she had partaken in this act, that once the high wears off, reality came crashing back. Xethaedra, the Amazon she had taken to bed tonight, thankfully knew what this was and what it was not already as this hadn’t been the first time, and as they both tried to catch their breath, she looked over at Varia, who was still flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling.
“Feel better?” the other woman asked, to which Varia snorted defeatedly.
“No,” she admitted, stretching her back as she ran her fingers through her hair. She wished it was that easy, but nothing ever was. “Yes, but… no.”
“Don’t worry,” Xethaedra responded with a small chuckle. “I wasn’t offended. I know you still have a lot on your mind.”
“Understatement,” Varia mumbled before she groaned a little, rolling over before sitting up and getting the hair out of her face. She felt sticky, but at this point she wasn’t entirely sure if it was from the humidity or from the sex. “Thanks… for relieving me of it for a little while. I appreciate it.”
Xethaedra smirked, getting up herself, as she knew that was her cue to leave. “Anytime, Princess.”
Varia rolled her eyes at her, hating being called that. It never felt right. Although she had Marga’s right of caste, she still didn’t feel much like an Amazon princess. She hadn’t grown up that way, and so it was an odd title. Then again, Varia had been thrown into so many different roles in her life that it’d be a miracle if she had an easy time identifying with any of them.
After Xethaedra left, Varia began gathering up her clothes. She should probably get some real rest as it was quite late now, but she still felt very much awake. While she was debating whether or not she should even dress for bed considering the weather, there was a soft inquiry of, “Varia?” outside of her hut.
Varia would know the voice anywhere.
“What?” she responded flatly, but Eve apparently took that as an invitation to enter and she pushed the flap of the entrance open before she took notice of Varia’s state of undress and froze in the threshold. “…Oh,” she said, realizing what she had been doing not moments previously. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know the woman that had just left was your—”
“She’s not,” Varia responded, now realizing with annoyance that she had to put on clothes. Eve had seen her naked enough times as it was, and she didn’t need to keep giving her an eyeful, because at this rate, she would always be the person who saw her body more than anyone else. “What do you want?” she asked as she stood to pull on her smallclothes.
“My parents are fucking,” Eve told her, the bluntness in that actually making Varia burst out laughing, because Eve looked so incredibly disturbed by it. She must have heard them, if not walked in on them. All three of them were supposed to be sharing a hut, after all, and while Eve was certainly not shy regarding sex or sexuality, it must have been a very different experience to witness her parents doing something like that. “And I don’t… know anyone else. If you let me stay here for a night, I promise to make it worth your while.”
Varia’s laughter died down, and she shot her a sideways look. “I’ve already had enough orgasms for one day, thanks.” Besides, she didn’t need the moral-headache that always came after she did that with her. “Also, I’m pretty sure the Messenger of Eli shouldn’t be whoring herself for a roof over her head, but maybe that’s none of my business.”
Eve rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant, although I am pretty damn certain that I could do it better should you ask; whoring myself or not.” Varia’s brow rose at that, not having expected that retort from a woman who was supposed to be this holy vessel… or whatever the hell it was that Eli meant for her to become. She still wasn’t entirely certain on the matter.
“Aren’t you supposed to practice humility?” She could have sworn she heard another follower of Eli preach that whilst on the road back to Greece.
“And this is why I’m a work in progress.”
Despite herself, Varia smirked a little in amusement. Eve returned the gesture, and it made Varia’s stomach tighten with that damn feeling she didn’t like again. So she cleared her throat, narrowing her eyes as she got serious again. “So what is it that you’re supposed to be offering me in return for my hospitality?”
“The truth,” Eve told her as she stepped forward into the hut, letting the flap fall back into place behind her. At Varia’s furrowed brow, Eve explained, “I can see the way you look at me; I know it’s been hard for you to figure out how I came to be this way, and what kind of person that really makes me. I’m offering you the whole story, the good and the bad, so you can maybe learn who I really am, and figure out how that makes you feel.”
Varia looked up at her, lips pursed into a thin line. Was it really that obvious that she didn’t know how to look at her, what to think of her anymore? So maybe it would do some good, but the problem was that Varia was worried that it would do too much good. What if she heard the story and began to forgive her? Was that not like betraying her sisters all over again?
Still, she had to know.
“Okay,” Varia agreed softly, gently nodding her head towards a place Eve could sit, watching the other woman move towards her designated spot.
Gods, she hoped this would be worth it.
The truth was ugly, there was no denying that. After Varia had left Rome, Livia had been so starved for any shred of attention and affection that she started sleeping with Ares, which of course did about as much good in her life as you would imagine. She started spiraling, and she began to destroy herself as much as she destroyed others. She became engaged to the Emperor, was on track to have everything she ever wanted, but that, like everything in her life, eventually shattered.
“I missed you,” Eve had admitted, causing Varia’s brow to rise in surprise. “I didn’t know why at the time, because I thought I could just get another personal servant, order her to be honest with me, and ultimately replace you. But no one could replace you, Varia, and for a long time I hated you for that. I felt empty and alone and I blamed you for it.”
Because in the end it had been true; despite the ugliness and the hatred in their relationship, Varia had been the closest thing that Livia had had to a friend. It didn’t make sense but, then again, not much did.
Eve told her about when Xena came then, and how it made everything so much worse. She had spent her life trying to belong, only to find out that she was meant to be the opposite of what she had become. She went on a murderous rampage of the followers of Eli then, burning down entire villages even if there was no temple there, as she said they hid amongst decent people like vermin anyway. She killed her parents’ best friend. She had tried to kill Gabrielle, and then when she was just about to strike the final blow against her mother, the heavens opened up, and Eli showed her ‘the way’.
Eve looked at Varia then, telling her that in that moment, she felt as though it was easily the worst thing to have ever happened in her life.
Varia didn’t understand how she could say something like that, but Eve explained that while it had good outcomes, at the time it felt like she had cracked all the way down the middle. She felt disconnected from herself, which made her feel like she wasn’t even real. She questioned her own mortality and she ran, with no other goal other than to eventually kill herself or let someone kill her, because in that moment, Eve felt like it would have been easier than dealing with the repercussions of what she had done.
“You’re always so melodramatic, aren’t you?” Varia scoffed, but in a way, it was comforting, because she was. “Wandering the desert screaming while tearing your armor to shreds? Who was that show for?”
Eve clenched her jaw, apparently resenting the implication that it was some kind of theatrical performance. “I was hurting—”
“Who was it for?” Varia repeated, because she still didn’t believe her.
Eve was silent for a long moment. Then, she finally admitted, “I knew my parents were right behind me.” Varia snorted, because she knew it, but Eve strongly continued as her voice heaved with emotion, “Look, I may have always taken things to the extreme because I never learned how to express normal emotions, but do not belittle how I felt. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and every time I tried to figure it out, I despised anything that I found. I may have gone a little too far in how I expressed it, but my desire to die was very, very real.”
Tears were falling down Eve’s cheeks then, her eyes brimming with her furious upset that Varia would demean something like that, and the guilt Varia felt was like a pang to her gut. She believed her, because for better or for worse, she knew her, and she could always tell when Eve was being genuine. That made her feel awful for practically making fun of her, but it was just so dramatic that she couldn’t help it. No matter what name she went by, Eve never did anything half-assed, that was for sure.
“…I’m sorry,” she finally apologized, reaching over to gently cover the other woman’s hand with her own. Eve looked down at them, her free hand wiping away the remnants of her sorrow as she nodded her acceptance of her apology.
And then she told her about how the Gods came to kill her, about how the Furies made Gabrielle go insane so that she would stab her, and how her mother’s chakram hit her lover in the back of the head in her desperate attempt to save Eve’s life. Most of the Gods were slaughtered, Ares gave up his immortality to make sure that Eve and Gabrielle lived, and despite all of this being prophesized, Eve still hated herself for it.
“Why?” Varia asked softly, looking over at the woman across from her. They were lying side by side now on the animal skins that the Amazon had spread out on the floor. The only light in the hut was the one from the flickering candle in the corner that had almost burnt out completely. It was very late.
“As an Amazon, do you not pray to Artemis?” Eve asked softly, sounding so terribly apologetic for what her existence had robbed her of. “I took her from you. If I hadn’t been born, you would still have her.”
“If she had not tried to kill you, then she would still be here,” Varia corrected, seeing the pattern in Eve’s story. “The prophecy was self-fulfilling. If there had not been a prophecy at all, the Gods would have never come after you, which would have never led to their deaths. It is their own fault for letting the Fates trick them.”
“Besides,” Varia exhaled, rolling onto her back to look up at the ceiling for a long moment. “The Gods were not who I once thought they were. Ares proved that to me in Rome, and it made me realize how self-serving they all were, and how little we mattered to them. I don’t need Gods to pray to; I just need to believe in myself, and in what I can do. That’s enough.”
“You’re much stronger than I am, Varia,” Eve told her softly, causing the Amazon to turn her head back towards her in surprise, because she wasn’t. “I mean emotionally,” Eve told her with a small, amused smirk. But then she got serious again and told her, “You’re so certain of the things you do, of what’s right and what’s wrong. You know exactly who you are, and what kind of person that makes you. I envy that.”
Varia scoffed at that claim, rolling back over on her side to face her more fully. Propping her head up with her hand, she bluntly told her, “You’re wrong.” Eve’s brow rose a little while Varia’s creased in distress, looking down at the space between them. “I’ve been so many things that sometimes I don’t know where I fit anymore,” she admitted. “And part of that is your fault, but part of that is my own; I accepted my worst role too easily, but then my best – being Princess of the Amazons – I still have trouble connecting to, because part of me wonders if I could ever really lead my sisters after the betrayal I dealt them; that I am still dealing them, by not telling them who you really are.”
Eve’s brow creased, the corners of her mouth turning down into a frown. “Varia, when we slept together, it wasn’t your fault. I seduced you and you were—you were barely more than a child who had never experienced sex before. It was easy for me to get you to do what I wanted because you had never been that turned on before, and it was obvious that you didn’t know what to do with it.”
“I still made a choice, Eve,” Varia reminded her, because it wasn’t like she was taken advantage of; not really. “You didn’t order me to do anything; you may have opened the door, but I was the one who wanted to walk through it. And that’s why I really hate myself for it, because I had wanted it. I looked at you in that bed, without your makeup and with the soft moonlight shining across your body, and for a moment I actually had the thought that you were easily the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And it sickened me to think that; to think about you, to think about what we did, and realize that I liked it. I liked it far more than I should have, and despite how much I hated you and hated myself for it, there was still a small part of me that wanted to do it again.”
Eve looked at her sadly for a long time before she finally reached out, hesitantly touching the other woman’s cheek in a gesture of comfort. It was that that made Varia close her eyes, allowing herself to openly feel the shame that memory brought her as a tear slipped down her cheek. “I am so sorry I did that to you,” Eve breathed, and the apology was real; it was honest and it meant something, and it was then that Varia realized that this person in front of her was truly different, and how that made her feel. “I destroyed you in so many ways with my selfishness, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t realize that that would easily be the worst. You deserved so much better than that, better than someone like me for your first time. I am so sorry I stole that from you, Varia.”
Varia opened her eyes, the sorrow in her heart making them gleam with tears as she realized she believed her, and what that meant.
“I forgive you,” she breathed, because she couldn’t hold onto this; she couldn’t hold onto this rage and hatred anymore, as Varia already knew that Eve hated herself enough for the both of them. If Varia wanted to move forwards with her life, with her tribe, then she needed to let go of her past and look towards the future, and that didn’t come without forgiving Eve… and forgiving herself.
Because she had just been a child when she was taken. And yes, while she may have technically been an adult when they slept together, she was only just barely. She was stunted emotionally due to not having any other interaction outside of the woman who had enslaved her, and that had messed her up. And so she did what she thought she had to, did what she needed to in order to feel a sense of closeness that had been long denied her.
It hadn’t been real and yet, just as Livia had, Varia had fallen into it all the same. She just saw the truth in it before her, and had rejected it faster than the other woman had. But it was then that Varia realized that for being so different back then, there were parts of them that were very much the same. They were both so lonely, so isolated, and so terribly, terribly lost. And in the end, they dealt with that in the only way they thought they could, and they had made a mistake. They both knew that now.
And so as Varia looked over at the woman across from her – the woman who looked the same and yet was so very, very different – she realized that despite how long it took them both to get there, that perhaps they were finally on the paths that had always been meant for them, and Varia smiled.
Because maybe now the hatred and the regret that she held inside of her all these years would finally be over… and she would be free.
Chapter 10: X. Celebration
“Are you alright?”
Eve was watching Gabrielle wrap warm furs around Xena’s body in the medical hut, rubbing her arms and her legs in order to keep the blood flowing. Varia had noticed the look on the other woman’s face when she had followed her parents into the hut, and that was why she approached her. Forgiving Eve wasn’t necessarily synonymous with caring about her of course, but the look on the former Roman’s face made her ache, and so she felt she should comfort her.
Basic human decency, or what have you.
Eve looked down for a moment, then turned to face Varia who had come up from behind her. “She always does this,” she told her softly, sounding pained. “I’ve read Gabrielle’s scrolls; she always risks her life in so many stupid ways. I’m afraid one day I’m going to lose her for good, and I’ve only just found her.”
Xena had succeeded in defeating the Furies, but only at the cost of nearly drowning in the ice cold river. Still, it had made Ares withdraw his army, and Xena was a hero for ending the war without having it result in anymore bloodshed. Varia was grateful for that, despite still believing that Ares should have gotten what was coming to him. Still, as she looked at Eve and saw the distress on her face, she wondered if there had been another way.
“Maybe you should say something to her then.”
Eve pursed her lips, her gaze hitting the floor. “I can’t,” she responded, her tone dejected and rather distant. “You know who she is; what she’s done. Who am I to tell her to stop taking unnecessary risks, when they have always worked out for her? I might be her daughter, but the truth is that she barely knows me. I doubt my opinion will hold much weight.”
“She loves you,” Varia assured her, watching the two women on the other side of the hut. “They both do. Believe me, it’ll hold weight.”
Eve glanced back at her, shooting her a small, appreciative smile. She looked back towards her parents then before she began to make her way towards them, no doubt to help Gabrielle attend to her mother. Varia watched her go, her staring match so intense that she didn’t even hear Marga come up behind her. She actually physically jumped when she felt the hand on her shoulder, and the Queen chuckled at her lack of awareness.
“I wouldn’t go getting too attached if I were you, Varia.”
“What?” Varia asked, not understanding what she was referring to as she turned to face the other woman. Marga gave her a look like she should know better than to try to pretend she didn’t know what she was talking about, but the thing of it was that Varia really didn’t know.
Marga’s gaze shifted pointedly towards Eve then, which then made Varia’s eyes go wide with disbelief, because what?
“They’ll probably only stay another day or two; once Xena has rested and is feeling better, they’ll be on their way.”
“I know that,” Varia responded in a low, irritated tone. She didn’t want Eve – or anyone else, for that matter – to overhear the conversation she was having with her Queen. “Whatever you think you know though, believe me, you don’t. Eve just… she reminds me of someone that I used to know, is all.”
Varia shot her a look. “Don’t, Marga, okay? I said I wasn’t interested.”
Marga held up her hands in a light surrender. “Alright, I get the picture. I just wanted to warn you in case you were getting any ideas though, that was all; I don’t want to watch you get your heart broken.”
Varia practically rolled her eyes at that. Get her heart broken over Eve? No, thanks. She may be a different person now, but they still had a past, and that was a hard thing to overlook. Marga didn’t know that of course, but still; just because she was staring at her didn’t mean she wanted to get into her smallclothes.
She already had once before anyway. Or, rather, Eve had gotten into hers. Regardless, that wasn’t new territory by any means, and there certainly weren’t any romantic feelings involved.
Varia left after that, deciding to busy herself with hunting for the feast they planned to have later in celebration of Ares’ defeat. She had mixed feelings when Marga had reminded her that their guests would be leaving soon; while she had made an accord with Xena, a part of her didn’t want Eve to leave and never come back. It wasn’t that she was interested in her romantically as Marga had assumed, but the change that Eve had undergone fascinated her, and while Varia never cared to get to know Livia, she now found that she very much wanted to get to know Eve.
The problem was that the longer Eve stayed there, the more at risk they both were for the truth to be exposed. That was the last thing that Varia wanted.
“Can I join you?”
Varia turned around to see Eve behind her. She shot her a skeptical glance though as she hoisted her quiver of arrows over her shoulder. “Do you even know how to hunt?” Eve had grown up in a palace and given every advantage; it was very unlikely that she was taught how to find her own food when it was always on the table for her regardless.
“No,” Eve admitted, however picked up a bow from the weapons rack and turned it over in her hands. “But I am an excellent shot. Besides, no time like the present to learn.” She looked over at her then, her expression becoming a little more vulnerable, as though she was half-expecting to be denied her request as she finished, “That is… if you’re willing to teach me.”
Varia didn’t say anything either way for a moment. Instead, she asked, “What about your parents?”
“Mother’s resting now, and Gabrielle is watching over her,” Eve explained, her gaze shifting towards the medical hut. “Besides, I know the Queen is preparing a feast for your victory. I’d like to help. It’s… the least I could do.”
Well, that was true at least.
Besides, she would be lying if she said she didn’t want to spend more time with her. It was just strange to see the change instilled in Eve, and Varia wanted to know how deep it ran. Underneath it all, was she still the broken woman that she had known, or was she finally beginning to heal? Was she still emotionally stunted, or was she learning to mature? What, if any, parts of Livia remained inside of her?
Varia needed to know, and so she agreed to have Eve come along with a quick nod. Eve smiled, and it made the pit of the Amazon’s stomach tighten in response. It was strange, seeing her do that; before, when she was Livia, she hardly ever smiled. She was always so miserable and never had a reason to. That seemed to have changed, and if Varia was to be honest about it, she was glad.
And maybe that made her a bad person; wanting to see the woman who had enslaved and murdered half her tribe all those years ago be happy. But every time she looked at Eve now it became harder and harder to connect her to Livia and her past, despite having lived it herself. The only thing that ever continued to stand out was Eve’s obvious unhappiness, and so it was nice to see the woman smile now.
“You step too heavily,” Varia criticized as she watched Eve scare off yet another possible meal. She may be an excellent shot but until Eve stopped coming at this like a warrior, she wasn’t going to get to show off her acclaimed skills. She needed to be stealthy, and it just didn’t seem like Eve was wired that way.
For being this religious pacifist now, she still tended to charge at things like a raging bull.
Eve exhaled a frustrated breath and put down her bow, allowing the string to slacken. “I honestly can’t see how I could be any quieter.” Varia blinked at that, looking at her in amused disbelief.
“Please tell me you’re joking. I’ve heard children be quieter than you, although that really isn’t hard.”
Eve shot her a look to let her know that she wasn’t funny. “I’m serious. I’m stepping as lightly as I can; I just don’t understand how you can move through here like a ghost while I’m over here somehow managing to step on every single twig in this damn forest.” She ran a hand through her hair then, pushing it out of her face as her expression etched into one of frustration.
Varia wasn’t surprised though. She remembered Livia telling her once that everything always came easily to her; it must be maddening for something not to for once. Still, perhaps her failure would help humble her, if nothing else.
“You were a warrior once, right?” Varia asked rhetorically. “You’re probably not used to being aware of your surroundings without the adrenaline of a fight coursing through your veins, but you do know how to be aware of them, which is better than you trying to attempt this from scratch. You just need to learn to heighten your senses even when you’re not in danger. And, of course, how to walk correctly. Here,” she continued, holding out her hand in offering. Eve took it without hesitation. “Let me show you.”
Guiding Eve to stand directly to her left, she instructed, “Watch,” as she began to very slowly demonstrate. “You have to walk heel to toe,” she told her, letting go of the other woman’s hand as she gestured to her that she should follow along with her. “Place the heel of your foot down first, and roll your foot slowly and gently toward your toes onto the ground. You see how quiet that is?”
Eve nodded as she did what she was told, her bottom lip trapped between her teeth as she focused entirely on what she was being taught. “Now, as you walk, rotate your hips slightly to make your steps even more controlled,” Varia told her as she demonstrated, making sure she was doing it slowly enough so that Eve could follow along. The other woman did almost perfectly, and it made Varia grin; she had never really taught anyone anything before save fighting techniques and it made her swell with a sense of pride. “See? It’s not that hard.”
Eve looked up at her then, her bottom lip still between her teeth as she smiled in return. Varia was suddenly struck by the realization that she really was terribly beautiful when she did that, and so Varia quickly looked away from her and tried to ignore the twisting in her gut. She was beginning to grow concerned about why it was happening, and every reason she thought of she disliked more than the last.
She immediately rationalized it just as her fascination with Eve’s transition though, and left it at that. It was safer that way. It was saner that way.
Still, Eve noticed the abrupt shift in her behavior as Varia looked away from her and cleared her throat, suddenly hyper focusing on the task at hand. The Thracian’s brow knitted and she gently reached out to the other woman as she asked, “Are you alright?” But Varia did not want to be touched; not right now, and certainly not by her. So she kind of flinched away, trying to make the move away from her seem natural and yet failing at that miserably. The lines in Eve’s expression etched deeper; she looked a little hurt, and Varia hated how that made her feel.
“I’m fine,” Varia dismissed though, her voice lighter as she tried to convey a sense of casualty that she did not feel. She picked up her quiver, hoisting it back over her shoulder. “I just think we should keep moving; we won’t have a lot of time to prep the meat if we don’t finish this soon.”
Eve didn’t say anything for a moment, but her expression said enough. She knew that somehow there ended up being a shift in the air, and that she wasn’t wanted anymore. Or, at least, that was how it obviously felt to her as she responded quietly, “I’m… I’m slowing you down. It was selfish of me to ask you to teach me to hunt right now because you’re right, we don’t really have a lot of time. I can just go back to the village if you want.”
Varia wished she understood the feeling inside of her right then. It was like something was beginning to upset her, but she didn’t know why. She couldn’t look at Eve and instead stared out into the forest, silent for a long moment. Finally, she tried to push down the tension inside of her as she swallowed and told her, “…Maybe that’s best.”
It hurt to do that though, and Varia wasn’t sure why making the rational decision caused her to have such a terrible pang in her gut. Maybe it was because even without looking at Eve, she could still feel her; she could feel the rejection and the pain that the surprising shift in tone caused her. But it wasn’t that she wasn’t wanted; that really wasn’t it at all. It was actually quite the opposite, which was why Varia thought it would be best if they just had some space from one another, especially because of the confusing way she kept feeling when the other woman would do something so simple as smile at her.
The problem with their relationship was that they had once been so intertwined and so now, even years later, it was hard to see one another as separate entities. Varia realized she was drawn to her, and with the constant reasons Eve kept having to spend time with her, it was obvious the other woman felt the same way. It didn’t seem natural though; instead, it felt like just remnants of their past lives coming back to haunt them. Varia didn’t want that.
They both had to move on from that. Just because they were familiar to one another, didn’t mean that they should do the easy thing and find comfort in it.
“—Hey,” Varia said as she reached out then, grasping onto the other woman’s wrist before she turned to go. Eve looked up at her surprised, especially since it had seemed that Varia didn’t want to be touched by her before. Perhaps she just wanted to control it though; or maybe Varia just knew that she had to be sincere, and this was the best way to do so. Honestly, she didn’t analyze it; she just did what came naturally.
“It’s not because I don’t want to be around you,” she told her honestly, figuring she owed her that much. Or maybe she really didn’t owe her anything at all, but Varia still didn’t want the other woman to feel rejected by her, because that wasn’t her intention at all. “I… do, and that’s the problem.”
Eve’s brow furrowed then, her expression of upset making way to one of perplexion. “I’m not trying to confuse you, Varia,” she told her, voice filled with apology, as she clearly believed that she had. “I just… wanted to spend time with you. I never expected for it to mean anything more than that. I know I don’t have a right to ask for your friendship.”
Friendship. Varia wished it was that simple, but maybe on some kind of subconscious level… Marga had been right.
It wasn’t romantic feelings though. Not really. There were feelings yes, but it was more this pull that Varia couldn’t understand. It was like something inside of Eve reminded her of home, but that was fucked up, because Rome had never been her home. Or maybe it was just that she had seen bits and pieces of this side of Eve once before and now that the other woman was in front of her, Varia wanted to help nurture it and allow it to grow in a way that she had failed to before; like a project left unfinished.
Problem was, Varia was beginning to realize that she was very physically attracted to this project; this version of Eve. The way she smiled lit up her face in a way that made Varia realize she had never once before seen anything so beautiful, and that was… well, it was confusing her, to say the least. Before, when she was Livia, Varia only ever found her beautiful when she was stripped of all of her defenses, and that wasn’t very often. Now though, it was a constant. Maybe that was the entire problem though, and should Varia only learn to separate the woman’s physical appearance from the rest of her, perhaps she could finally look at her in the way that she needed to.
“We’re just too familiar to one another,” Varia tried to explain with a soft sigh. “I’m afraid that’s fabricating something between us, and the last thing either of us need is to hold onto the past.”
The lines in Eve’s brow etched deeper; either she did not feel it, or perhaps had just not acknowledged it yet. “Fabricating what between us?” she asked, sounding almost a little disbelieving; like whatever her theory might be, it was so far from what she would believe to be true.
“Just—I... I don’t know,” Varia lied, but more because she didn’t know how to explain it. “It might be nothing; I may just be twisting things because of our past, and the fact that I never really know how to feel about you now. Let’s just… I need to get this hunting done, okay? I’ll… see you back in the village.”
Eve peered at her for a long moment, almost as though she were trying to figure her out. It seemed she couldn’t though and so she just nodded, shooting the other woman a small smile of understanding before she turned, doing exactly what was asked of her as she gave Varia the space the Amazon found she so desperately needed.
The celebration of Ares’ defeat was loud and joyous that night. A bonfire roared in the middle of the village clearing as people danced, drank, ate, and sang. Xena was up and walking around finally, although she did look a bit worse for wear and spent a large portion of the night sitting. Gabrielle was dutifully by her side, smiling and laughing and coaxing Xena to sing along to the songs because the woman had a beautiful voice and it was only right that she lend it to the celebration.
Varia had spent most of the night by Marga’s side, but as the warmth of the liquor and the fire began to kick in, her eyes kept wandering over to the other side of the clearing to look at Eve. The woman was sitting next to her parents, looking so terribly out of place; the smile on her face was forced and Varia didn’t understand why until Gabrielle tried to coax her adoptive daughter to get up and dance with her; to relax and to have some fun.
But Eve declined with a polite shake of the head and suddenly Varia understood; the other woman didn’t believe she had a right to celebrate or dance with the Amazons. And perhaps she was right about that, but in that moment something in the pit of Varia’s stomach twisted uncomfortably, because Eve looked lonely.
And quite frankly, she had had enough of that to last her a lifetime.
So without much thought Varia crossed the clearing until she stood in front of Eve and extended her hand. Eve looked up at her in surprise, as though she would have never thought in a million years that Varia would ever ask her to dance with her. In her peripheral she saw Xena and Gabrielle share a knowing look, but Varia ignored them; they could think whatever they wanted about this, but Varia just didn’t want to watch the other woman feel like she didn’t fit anywhere because it reminded her too much of a past that she knew they both would rather forget.
She was being kind. That was all.
“Come on; everyone has to dance at least once,” Varia encouraged once she noticed Eve hesitate. No doubt she was wondering why Varia was doing this when she implied before that they probably needed space from one another. She did eventually take her hand though, letting Varia pull her to her feet. Eve smiled shyly at her, using her free hand to gently push hair behind her ear, and Varia’s stomach did a little flip that she quickly attributed to the amount of liquor she had consumed.
They danced for a while around the fire, the warmth and the music flowing through them as they both began to smile and have fun. Varia took the other woman’s hand in her own, lifting it above their heads as she tried to twirl her. Eve’s foot got caught on a rock though and she practically fell on top of her, laughing. It made Varia feel good, to see her that way; it was probably madness and maybe even a little masochistic, but a couple drinks and a couple dances later all Varia could even look at was her.
Because they were drawn to one another, there was no denying that. And while Varia doubted it was healthy for them to find something comforting in the familiarity they gave to one another due to the horrible past that they shared, in the end, did it really even matter? Varia had been so concerned with not allowing herself to get wrapped up in it that she failed to realize that it wouldn’t change anything even if she did.
Eve was leaving in a day or two anyway, and it was doubtful they would ever even see one another again. Whatever consequences Varia was fearing would never come to pass, as they wouldn’t have time to. The only thing she truly had to worry about was any of her tribe finding out about Eve’s past and thus far it had been rather easy to hide it, so what was she even concerned with?
She wasn’t going to fall for her or anything. It was just… magnetic. Chemical. Frivolous. She was just having a bit of reckless fun, because everyone deserved to every now and then.
Whatever the definition though, one thing it definitely was was obvious. After Varia had been showing Eve how to do one of their traditional dances she asked Eve to show her something and Eve smirked a little as she closed the space between them, her hand delicately cupping the side of her head as she whispered in her ear, “You know the only dance I know is too sexual for an Amazon gathering.”
Because Varia had served Roman parties before; she knew they were practically orgies. The women danced lewdly, everyone was half dressed with their faces painted and their bellies full of wine. Varia remembered how Livia danced to get the Emperor’s attention and while that disgusted her back then, now, with her belly full of wine and her cheeks flushed a light rose, there was something very appealing with having Eve dance for hers.
She knew this was treading a dangerous line but there was just something about not caring about what was smart or sane for a moment that was beginning to pull her in. Varia placed her hand over Eve’s that was in her hair, tangling their fingers together for a moment before she brought them downwards, her face turning to only be a breath away from the other woman’s as she softly requested, “…Show me.” Eve’s brow rose a little, but Varia’s gaze shifted, taking in the amount of stares they were getting. “Just not here.”
She understood the gossip aspect of it, of course. It was fascinating that their Princess seemed interested in a stranger, but that didn’t mean that Varia wanted to be the center of attention either; especially due to her and Eve’s past. So she took the other woman’s hand in hers and led her away from the celebration, trying not to notice the hole that Eve’s parents were practically boring into her back.
They walked down to the edge of the lake where they were relatively alone. On the other side of the bank, Varia could see two bodies intertwined as they kissed one another, but since they definitely seemed much more into each other than their surroundings, Varia didn’t really concern herself with the company. Instead she just looked back at Eve with a playful smirk, telling her, “Here.”
The way Eve looked at her was somehow both in wanton anticipation, yet it was also cautious… careful; no doubt because she wasn’t entirely sure what this was or why it was coming about. Her brow raised, needing clarification as she asked, “You… want me to teach you?” But Varia just shook her head as she bent down, settling herself in the grass at the top of the slope leading down to the water’s edge. She looked up at the woman standing over her then as she stretched out her legs before her, leaning back on her palms.
“I want you to dance for me,” she told her, voice suddenly much lower as her intoxicated gaze began to drink up the curves of the Thracian’s form. Still, Varia knew better than to push for something, especially because this was probably utter madness. She still didn’t really know why she was doing this, but that was probably due to the fact that she stopped thinking a while ago. “That is… if you want to.”
Eve licked her lips a little in trepidation as she stared down at the woman below her, no doubt trying to gauge what exactly this was supposed to be. It was clear what Eve wanted it to be; her desire for something like this was written all over her face, now that she was too drunk to try to hide it. It seemed there was a still a part of her that very much desired the Amazon, despite how very long it had been. “You mean like how I used to for—?”
“Exactly like how you used to,” Varia interrupted, knowing what Eve was asking. And perhaps it was going too far, to ask for something like that, but the Amazon was intoxicated and Eve was looking at her like she wanted to and Varia knew that there would just be something so powerful in having Eve be the one to do something like that for her, considering their history. Because it wasn’t just a dance; it was, but the ones in Rome never ended with her being entirely clothed and it was far more sexual than the two of them should be entertaining, and yet Varia watched Eve’s gaze darken a little as she lightly bit the inside of her cheek and nodded her compliance.
She started slow with just a light sway of her hips. The moon was behind her and it made her form almost look like a silhouette as Eve’s body rolled to the soft sound of music still coming from the village clearing. It was different from Rome, yet still very much the same; she may not be covered head to toe in makeup to make her skin paler and her lips much too dark, but her body’s movements were all too familiar to Varia. Despite not wishing to watch Livia do this stuff for Augustus, she had seen her do some of it before and always found it fascinating how the woman could almost separate her hips from the rest of her body. It was like her entire body was still save that part of her, and it was mesmerizing to watch.
Eve didn’t break eye contact as she continued to move to the music, allowing her body to slowly get closer to the ground in almost this wave-like movement. When her knees hit the grass she began to slowly crawl over Varia’s body, her movements strong and precise like a panther as her gaze bore into her prey’s. Varia felt her breathing shallow at the look in Eve’s eyes as her face grew closer to hers, because it was familiar. It was sexual and it was absolutely predatory; something Varia had once known all too well, and yet this time Varia wasn’t afraid to just fall into it, because Eve was a different person now.
She was different, and this was fleeting. Temporary. Meaningless.
Or at least she hoped.
Varia hissed softly as Eve allowed her hips to land heavily on her thighs before she began grinding them against her, getting closer and closer to her lap until she was directly on top of her. Varia still didn’t move though; her fingers were starting to curl into the grass behind her as she stared up at the woman on her lap but she still wouldn’t move because now Eve was slowly untying the red cropped shirt that covered her breasts, a small smirk tugging at the side of her mouth before she brushed one of the ties against Varia’s parted lips in offering.
Varia’s gaze flickered up to meet the other woman’s gaze, just wanting to make sure she understood what she was being offered. Eve was giving her a playfully seductive look though, and with one quirk of an eyebrow Varia leaned forward, took the fabric between her teeth and pulled.
The top fell away from Eve’s body, exposing her breasts to the cool night air. And it wasn’t like Amazons were shy about sex or anything (nor Romans, obviously, considering public sex seemed be the theme of most if not all of their parties), but for one brief moment Varia was thankful that they were relatively alone as she knew she didn’t want anyone to see the way she was now looking at Eve. And it was stupid because it wasn’t as though she had never seen the other woman topless before; she had seen all of Eve many different times in many different ways, but something about this time was just… so unlike all the others.
Suddenly, Eve wasn’t dancing anymore; she wasn’t cocky or predatory, she was just… just sitting there, her chest beginning to heave as her breathing picked up substantially due to her unexpected onset of nerves. Varia hadn’t really noticed that she had moved but one of her hands was now hovering over one of Eve’s breasts before the Amazon swallowed, not knowing how far to actually push this, and placed it on the other woman’s rib cage instead. She could feel Eve shudder slightly beneath her touch.
The air around them felt heavy.
“I just realized I’ve never really… touched you before,” Varia breathed, her gaze meeting Eve’s briefly before falling back down to her breasts, watching the other woman’s nipples begin to tighten in the cool night air. “Not like… this.” Her nails gently raked up the Thracian’s side then, causing Eve to whimper softly and close her eyes. She still didn’t touch her breasts though; didn’t go too far, as she still wasn’t certain whether it was smart to indulge that much.
Could they really cross that line now, and have it not matter as much as the last time they had barreled right through it? They were both different people; one of them much more than the other, granted, but was it enough to make it alright this time?
Once Varia had stilled her hand once more, Eve was silent for a long moment as she carefully watched the woman beneath her, noting the expressions that passed over Varia’s face as she began to really take in every inch of the body atop her. Eve’s tone was low, curious, when she finally dared to asked her, “…Do you want to?”
Varia didn’t answer; at least, not verbally. Instead she wet her dry lips and began to slowly move her hand to her destination. Before it could get there though Eve snatched it in her own, garnering the other woman’s full attention as she looked up in surprise. “Do you want to?” Eve asked her again, apparently needing a verbal answer. The former Roman swallowed a little uncomfortably then as she finished, her tone a little dejected, “…or are you just drunk?”
“It matters?” Varia asked stupidly because yes, she was drunk, but she still should have known better. Eve’s expression crumpled a little and she turned her head away from her as she grasped for her red top off the ground. She tried to get off of her then but Varia reached out with an apologetic, “—Wait, Eve,” as she grasped onto her wrist, because she didn’t mean to hurt her.
“You must know that I feel something for you,” Eve suddenly told her, the bluntness of the statement taking Varia aback for a moment, because she really didn’t expect it. “And maybe it is just another fabrication, or leftover remnants of our fucked up past, or maybe just the fact that I feel that you helped me in some way, but I… do. I don’t know why, and I honestly hated when you asked me that last time because you and I both know that I’m not the most articulate or understanding when it comes to emotions, but you know what? I do at least know that if you asked right now, I’d certainly give you a much longer list of reasons other than your beauty this time. Still, regardless of why it is, I just… I just do, and so I can’t— I won’t take advantage of you, Varia. Not again.”
Eve got off of her then, taking her top with her as she stood. Varia was frozen on the grass though as she watched her, not really knowing what to say, how to feel. Her stomach was all tied up in knots and suddenly everything hurt and she wished she knew why. Maybe it was just because she was drunk. Maybe it was because of something else. But whatever it was, Varia wasn’t ready to stop feeling it because even though right then it was awful, it was intense, and that meant that it meant something.
“Eve, stop—please,” she begged as she pushed herself off the grass and stood, not wanting the other woman to just run and hide on her. Eve had already tied her shirt back on but thankfully she didn’t move to leave after Varia’s request; instead she looked back at her with the most vulnerable expression the Amazon thought she had ever seen on the other woman’s face.
It did something to her.
Varia didn’t really know what to say. She didn’t know how she felt, she didn’t know why she was doing this or even if it was a good idea, but the urge was there and she was too intoxicated to know how to stop it, so she crossed the distance between them. A gentle hand rested on Eve’s cheek as Varia’s lips met hers in a hesitant kiss. It didn’t last long and it wasn’t more than a soft press of the lips, but the feeling that erupted inside of Varia was more than she would have ever expected for something so simple.
And fuck, did it scare her.
Varia’s breathing shallowed as they parted and Eve must have seen the look of panic in the Amazon’s eyes, because she reached out to take the other woman’s hand into her own, her brow etching in apology; somehow, some way, she was still managing to blame herself for this mess, but it wasn’t her fault at all. This was all Varia’s doing.
The Amazon immediately untangled their hands though as she stepped away, suddenly feeling incredibly sober. “I’m sorry,” she apologized softly, feeling foolish for allowing herself to get so caught up in this. Varia knew it was a bad idea, and yet she did it all the same. Apparently, she never learned. “I shouldn’t have brought you down here. You should go back; enjoy the rest of your night with your parents.”
Because Varia didn’t at all feel like it was Eve who took advantage of her. After all, she wasn’t the one who was asked to dance topless and then almost get groped. Varia could tell that Eve was still attracted to her; she knew it ever since she saw the other woman watch her while she was bathing, and even if she hadn’t, the subtle, yet hesitant flirting didn’t leave much to interpretation. But that’s honestly all she thought it was: attraction. It was just supposed to be something physical, but it wasn’t, was it?
And the worst part was that Varia knew it wasn’t for her either.
It didn’t make sense given who they used to be and yet there they were, the slave that became a warrior and the warlord that became a religious pacifist. Things were different now and despite it only being a very brief time, Varia couldn’t see the monster that Eve used to be anymore when she looked at her. Instead all she saw was this brave, lost young woman who was still so broken inside and yet was trying so very, very hard to be better than what she had been the day before. She was strong and she was beautiful and she was hopeful despite having every reason not to be, and Varia liked that.
She liked her.
But that was foolish, that was dangerous, and so when Varia told Eve to go back and rejoin her parents she didn’t react to the crestfallen look on the other woman’s face, despite how badly she wanted to. In the end, it was better for Eve to believe that she regretted what they had done down there than realize that she might want to pursue some misguided attempt at romance with her, because how could they?
How could they, when it wasn’t safe for Eve to be around her tribe for very long? They were already flirting with a dangerous line and there were only so many times they could get away with it before someone found out and they both ended up dead.
It just wasn’t worth it.
No matter how much it hurt, it just wasn’t worth it…
Chapter 11: XI. Tension
“How you are feeling there, champ?”
Varia groaned, Marga’s voice all too loud as she turned over in her bedroll, covering her face with her pillow. “Get out,” she moaned, feeling the telltale signs of a headache begin to pulse through her skull. Marga just chuckled through, always one to harass her when she woke up the next morning with a hangover, and so Varia just swore, grabbing the pillow out from underneath her head and chucking it at her without even looking.
“Why do you always do this?” Varia complained as she attempted to open her eyes and join the waking world. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, her vision still fuzzy as she looked up at the ceiling. “Can’t you just let me suffer in peace?”
Varia didn’t have to look at the other woman to know that she was smirking; she could hear it well enough in her tone. “Now why would I do that, when I could instead stay right here and get all the juicy gossip about the woman you slept with last night.”
Varia bolted upright faster than she thought she ever had in her life, suddenly finding herself very much nude in front of her Queen. The younger woman quickly grabbed for a blanket to cover herself, as Marga and her were just—they weren’t like that, but that fact paled in comparison to the realization that whoever she slept with was no longer there anymore.
Worse, she had no idea who it was either.
“Oh Gods,” she exclaimed, instantly thinking the worse. “Oh Gods, please tell me I didn’t.” Because if she had somehow gotten sloshed enough to fuck Eve after that whole mess at the lake, she didn’t know what she was going to do. Also, there would be a very large part of her that would be infuriated with herself for not remembering it either, but it did at least pale in comparison to how awful she would feel if she really did take advantage of her like that.
“Relax,” Marga responded, crossing one leg over the other in the chair she sat in in the far corner. “If you think you drunkenly violated the Warrior Princess’s daughter, you didn’t.”
Varia looked at her sharply, not liking that she knew that that was what she was worrying about.
Marga, however, just gave her a look like she had to be kidding her. “Don’t give me that look; neither of you were very subtle last night. I did warn you, Varia.” Yes, yes, Marga was always right. Varia was getting really tired of that. “I’m assuming you made a move on her, she declined because they’re planning to leave soon and that’s not exactly a recipe for a relationship, and you, unable as you are to deal with rejection of any sort, got completely hammered and fucked the first woman you saw. Am I close?”
“Maybe,” Varia responded with a groan, running her hands over her face before bringing her fingers up to her temples, rubbing them in slow circles. It wasn’t exactly what happened, but Marga didn’t need to know that. Besides, they both bore the same result anyway, so what did the details matter?
Varia still ended up a drunken, pathetic, whore of a mess either way.
“It was Ysope, in case you were curious. I saw her leave your hut before I made my way over here.”
“—Shit,” Varia swore, exhaling a long sigh. Ysope was a couple years younger than her and had had a crush on her for a long time. Varia never slept with her before though because she didn’t want to give her the wrong idea, and yet apparently that didn’t matter, because she ended up doing it anyway. Way to fucking go. “I’m going to break her heart, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are,” Marga agreed, no hint of apology in her voice as she told Varia the truth of the matter.
“Did you just—” Varia began in annoyance, wiping the hair out of her face as she looked at her friend. “Did you really come in here just to say I told you so? Because I kind of hate you a little bit if you did.”
Marga smirked, causing the frown lines in Varia’s face to etch deeper. “Partly,” she admitted, because of course she did. “But I also came to tell you that last night’s festivities apparently wore heavily on Xena’s recovery, and they asked to stay a few more days. I guess the Warrior Princess isn’t as indestructible as the legends have said, although honestly I find that comforting. Makes her seem a bit more human.”
That, or Eve asked them to stay longer. She probably didn’t want to leave with her and Varia being in this… this weird place that they were. But maybe Varia was just overthinking things; maybe Xena really was still having a hard time regaining her strength after such an ordeal, and Varia was just making everything all about herself.
Which, ironically, reminded her far too much of Livia.
Gods, how did she get here?
“I just wanted to check that you weren’t going to make things awkward for our guests.”
Varia looked up at her sharply, a little offended by the insinuation. “Come on, Marga; I’m an adult.” Marga just shot her a look though, and Varia rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine, I didn’t exactly handle anything well last night by any means, but at least I’m sober now. I tend to make better decisions that way, so you don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Good,” Marga responded as she finally stood to take her leave. She hesitated though, looking down at her friend as the corners of her lips turned down into a small frown. “I… am sorry that it didn’t work out for you though, Varia. I truly am.”
Cold comfort, but Varia accepted it regardless with a silent nod. In the end, Marga was right; it didn’t work out, despite the fact that they both seemed to have something resembling actual feelings for one another. It was upsetting but it was expected, as how could she ever embark on a relationship with a woman who had done all those horrible things to her tribe in the past? She may be different now, but that didn’t matter in the eyes of Amazon law, so they would always live in fear of someone finding out, which was no way to live at all.
So while it hurt, Varia accepted it. In the end, it was all she could do.
Having to break the news to Ysope that she had only slept with her because she was drunk and upset did not go as well as Varia would have hoped. She tried to do it delicately but the other woman still fled from her in tears, making Varia feel so much worse than when this all began. It was one thing for her to participate in self-destructive behaviors on her own, but quite another to drag someone else down with her.
Varia felt foolish, honestly. She felt foolish and she felt childish for even reacting in that way when it was she who had basically shut Eve out. She was drunk though and to be fair, she didn’t have the best track record of making the most sound decisions when she was intoxicated. Still, she shouldn’t have reacted that way. It was just that realizing she had some kind of actual feelings for Eve freaked her out and quite honestly, she had no idea how to deal with it.
Varia felt dirty; not just metaphorically but physically, so when she went down to the lake to bathe she just enveloped herself completely in the water, a part of her just wanting to disappear. Her head dipped under the surface of the water and she held her breath for a long time as she looked up at the sky, watching the sun dance across the water’s surface. It was calm and it was relaxing; everything Varia felt that she wasn’t in that moment.
When she resurfaced she slicked the hair back away from her face before wiping her eyes. When Varia’s vision returned though she noticed she was no longer alone; Eve was half undressed as she stood at the bank of the lake, looking a little surprised by Varia’s sudden presence. The Amazon felt something stick in her throat.
“I’m sorry,” Eve quickly apologized, starting to gather up her clothing. “I didn’t know you were—I didn’t know anyone was here. I’ll come back later.”
“No, don’t—” Varia started, the words coming out a little tense as she suddenly stood, not wanting the other woman to leave on her behalf. That wasn’t fair. Eve turned back towards her in question then, and Varia swallowed a little. “Please just—just stay,” she begged, her voice much softer than it was before; more sincere. “I should… I owe you an apology.”
Understatement, but there it was regardless.
Eve looked a little perplexed by that, but she did eventually set her clothing back down to resume her task of undressing herself. Varia tried not to stare, but it probably looked even more awkward that she was trying to look anywhere other than the other woman’s body, considering how many times she had seen it in her lifetime already. Still, Varia made a point not to look back at Eve until she heard her get into the water, and when her gaze finally met the Thracian’s, she noticed the strange look on the other woman’s face.
“You don’t owe me anything,” Eve told her, apparently believing that Varia had nothing to be sorry for, which was utterly ridiculous. She was there last night, wasn’t she? “Besides, I think you already have someone else you owe an apology to, if the gossip around the village is true.” Varia’s stomach sank at those words, hearing the slight bitterness in Eve’s tone as she finished, “You seem to have quite the fan club.”
Varia groaned, sinking a little bit more into the war. “See, just the fact that you heard about that means that I definitely do owe you an apology,” she told her, thoroughly ashamed of herself. She ran her wet hands over her face briefly, sighing softly. Varia couldn’t believe that she would be this stupid; she was supposed to be an adult, wasn’t she? “And I did, by the way; apologize to Ysope. I really didn’t mean to lead her on; I was just a mess last night.”
“Who you sleep with isn’t any of my business, Varia,” Eve reminded her, but even as she said it, the words seemed to stick in the back of her mouth. She tried to hide it by clearing her throat a little and sinking into the water, allowing it to cascade over her arms. She wouldn’t look at her now, and something in the pit of Varia’s stomach ached.
“No… I guess it’s not,” she agreed softly, even though that wasn’t what she wanted to say at all. A part of her very much wished that it was Eve’s business, but she knew they shouldn’t go down that road. They were too intertwined already with their shared past, and with feelings obviously being involved, it would make it harder to part when the time came, and Eve had to leave. It was for her own safety.
“Still, after… what we did last night, it isn’t okay that you heard about my drunken mistakes from a third party. I’m really sorry.”
Eve pursed her lips and didn’t say anything. She did nod her understanding though, still avoiding eye contact as she bathed herself. And it was strange, seeing this side of her; when she had been Livia, she would have demanded answers as to why she had acted that way last night, would have probably felt entitled to finish whatever it was that they had started, but now Eve just let it go without any proper explanation as to why she basically just kissed her and ran, and then went off to fuck a whole other person than who she actually wanted to sleep with that night.
And that wasn’t okay.
“I know you—” Varia began, but hesitated a moment in order to get Eve’s attention. The other woman finally looked at her, and Varia’s brow crinkled in apology as she moved towards her a little. “I know you think you don’t deserve an explanation which is why you’re not demanding one, but you do. I didn’t mean to lead you on; honestly when I brought you here last night I meant to go through with… whatever it was that we were going to end up doing. If—if you had wanted to, anyway.”
Eve wet her drying lips before her gaze hit the water, then rose once more to find Varia’s eyes. “Then why didn’t you?” she asked, finally helping Varia cross the distance between them as she slowly waded towards her. “I thought I made it pretty clear where I stood. And I know—I know with our past that even something as simple as sex is messy and complicated, but I—”
“It’s not though,” Varia interrupted once they had finally gotten within a foot from one another. Nerves were beginning to swirl in the pit of her stomach as she realized that once she said these things that she couldn’t take them back, but Eve deserved honesty, and so she clarified, “As simple as sex, I mean. I wish that it was, because that… that ended up being the problem. It’s why I left.”
Eve exhaled a little disbelieving laugh at that, shaking her head as she looked away. “You don’t have feelings for me, Varia. You can’t.”
One quick glance around them made Varia certain that they were absolutely alone before she countered softly with, “Why? Because you captured me as a slave? Used to beat me when I didn’t comply to your little rules? Because you owned me?”
The harsh truths hit Eve hard and she noticeably winced, her eyes beginning to brim with regretful tears of absolute self-loathing. But Varia just grasped for her wrist, pulling the other woman towards her; she wanted her attention, needed her understanding. “Yes, you were horrible to me once,” Varia told her honestly, still keeping her voice low. She was certain they were alone, but it didn’t hurt to be extra careful when talking about these things. “I won’t ever deny that, and neither should you. But that was a very long time ago. I won’t forget it, but I have forgiven it. You’ve done so much since that proves you aren’t who you once were and so when I look at you now, I don’t see Livia at all. I see Eve, and her… you, I feel for.”
The tears that had been brimming around Eve’s eyes then began to fall, and Varia tentatively reached out to wipe one away, her heart lurching in her chest at the sight, because that wasn’t all she needed to say, and this next part was the thing that truly ached.
“But it is—it’s messy. You were right about that. It’s messy and its dangerous because you can’t stay here, Eve. You just can’t,” she told her, tone apologetic and so terribly regretful, because this wasn’t what she wanted to do at all; Varia was supposed to make it easier for them to part ways, not make it harder, and yet she couldn’t stop talking and making it worse. “And… Gods, pursuing some misguided attempt at romance isn’t something we can do long distance, so what’s the point? It doesn’t matter what either of us feel because you have… you have your own life and I have mine, and they just don’t mix, so why should we even—?”
Varia was rambling at that point, her speech having sped up as she talked with her hands, but suddenly she was cut off by warm palms on her cheeks and a searing kiss that left her breathless. She could feel the other woman’s tears against her skin as Eve deepened the kiss, drinking up the last of Varia’s feeble protests as she began to make way for the Amazon’s inevitable defeat.
Because she wanted this. She wanted this so very desperately.
But no matter how badly she wished to indulge in this, Varia feared for Eve’s safety in this village far more; and should they start something romantic between them, Eve would no doubt be coming here more and more often, and that left them open to exposure. If the Amazons learned the truth, one if not both of them would be dead, and nothing was worth that.
And so Varia regrettably ended the kiss, pulling away as she gently touched the other woman’s lips with the pads of her fingers, softly leaning her forehead against Eve’s as she breathed, “I want to, I do. But we can’t. You know that we can’t.” She dropped her hand then and pulled back so she could look into the other woman’s eyes, watching Eve’s gaze search hers. She seemed… lost. Upset.
Varia felt the same.
“It’s just not worth it. I’m not worth the risk you’d be putting yourself in to be with me, Eve. I’m just not.”
But it seemed that was the thing that caused Eve to finally stop her automatic understanding and acceptance of everything that Varia told her, because she looked up at her sharply, her expression having changed into something fierce, something strong.
“No. You don’t get to tell me what I believe to be worth it,” Eve demanded, her eyes searching the Amazon’s for a sign that she understood what she was telling her. Her voice was filled with conviction and with honesty, and the strength of it made Varia’s stomach tighten in response, because it meant something. “Because if you were to ask, I’d tell you that you were. You’re worth the risk, Varia; you always have been.”
Varia’s breath shallowed at those words, realizing that Eve wasn’t just talking about now; she was talking about then. She was talking about the risk she took treating her like more than just a slave, despite Ares’ extremely vocal disapproval of the matter. She was talking about how she still wanted to sleep with her – to touch her and to make her scream and shake and come – even though she knew that if Augustus found out it would destroy all of her political ambitions, and everything she had ever strived to become.
But even those things, despite the risks, were still selfishly motivated. There was one though… one that wasn’t. One that could never have been. So most of all Eve was talking about saving her; she was talking about how she fought against her own army and committed treason against her state and her masters just to save a slave from the noose that day, and until that moment, Varia hadn’t really realized the magnitude of that.
It was big, she had known that, but it had been a blur and it was deserved due to all of the bullshit Livia had put her through over the years, but separate from that – from what was owed and what was repaid – it was just… big. If anyone had ever found out, she probably would have been killed. Because it wasn’t her army that she cut down that day, not really; she might have commanded them, but they served Rome, not Livia. And if Rome suddenly turned its back on her, so would each and every man that used to be under her command.
And she would have been slaughtered.
Varia swallowed heavily as she looked at the person she once thought of as a monster, seeing nothing but a woman now; a woman who cared for her, who wanted her, who knew the ugliness inside of her and yet didn’t judge because she found her own to be much worse. And maybe it was, but the thing of it was that the beauty inside of Eve had begun to overtake the darkness within her, and Varia didn’t know how to see anything else anymore. She knew who Eve was; she knew what she had done and she knew how awful it all was, but she also knew her sadness. Her pain. Her regret.
She knew everything that Eve was now, the good and the bad, and yet despite all of that, there was still something there; something that she didn’t know how to let go of. Something… that Varia didn’t want to let go of.
But before she could tell her that, they were interrupted.
Varia turned around so quickly she nearly gave herself whiplash. Xethaedra stood at the shoreline, holding out her hands in a hapless gesture of disbelief as she stared at the two women in the water. “What the hell have you been doing? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Varia blinked, not understanding why the other woman had been looking for her before suddenly it hit her, and she nearly smacked herself on the forehead in realization. “Shit,” she swore, remembering that she had prior commitments. “I’m so sorry, I’m—I have a fucking hangover and I forgot.”
“Yeah, I bet you do,” Xethaedra responded dryly, although did look at least a little amused as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Ysope’s been bursting into tears randomly all morning. You really fucked her up, you know. You should have just come to me if you needed to get one rubbed out, Princess; least you know I wouldn’t go falling in love with you.”
Varia inwardly cringed. It wasn’t as though Eve didn’t know that she had slept with Xethaedra before as she had seen the woman leave her hut once, but still; all this talk of her sexual partners was starting to make her sound a little… well, loose. And honestly, that was the last thing she needed discussed in front of Eve; not because she was ashamed or anything, but because the whole Ysope mess came about because of Varia’s inability to deal with her desire for her, and Varia didn’t want Eve wondering how she was going to deal with leaving things like this between them, because they clearly were not finished.
“Just—shut up and give me a second, okay?” Varia asked a little impatiently as she waved her friend off with a pointed look. Xethaedra rolled her eyes but did move up the bank a bit to wait for Varia at the top of the hill while the Amazon princess turned around to face the woman in the water. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, hoping it encompassed both the fact that she had to leave and that she had to hear all that. “I forgot that I had to lead training today. What you said though, it… it meant something.” It meant a lot of somethings, if Varia were to be honest with herself. “Can we… talk later? In private, because…” Her gaze briefly flickered over to Xethaedra, who was watching them closely. That was precisely why Varia made sure to establish physical space between them before she turned and spoke to Eve; nobody needed to know their business. “Well, you know.”
“Of course,” Eve responded, giving the other woman a soft, tentative smile. Varia returned the gesture, thankful, but before she could turn to leave, Eve got her attention with a, “But—!” which made Varia look up at her in question. Eve didn’t look shy per say, but she did look a little hesitant to ask, as she didn’t seem entirely sure of the outcome. “Can I… watch you train for a little while? Do you mind?”
“Seriously?” Varia asked, not understanding why Eve would be hesitant to ask such a thing. But then the other woman subtly licked her bottom lip as her eyes began to drink up the Amazon’s form and, oh, she got it now.
Eve was going to get off on it.
Despite herself, Varia flushed a little, and that was so unlike her. It seemed to amuse Eve though and she smirked, which only caused her face to heat up more and, Gods, was this what this woman was reducing her to? This was stupid; she knew how to flirt with women! “Fine, just—don’t distract me,” Varia told her in a rush as she turned around to leave, now embarrassed by her embarrassment and, okay, this was officially a mess.
The smirk on Eve’s face widened as she sunk lower in the water, watching Varia go as she told her, “Believe me, Varia, I think if anyone’s going to do the distracting, it’s going to be you.”
Varia’s insides clenched in anticipation and it took all of her strength to not show on her face how turned on she was getting by Eve’s tone as she exited the lake, because Xethaedra did not need to know what was going on between them. Varia barely knew what was going on between them. Hell, she barely even knew what day it was right now, because Eve had fucked her head all up.
When she got to the shore she quickly redressed herself before joining Xethaedra on the hilltop, and she wasn’t surprised at all by the smirk that her friend wore. “You want to tell me what that was?”
“Nothing,” Varia dismissed, knowing that was probably a stupid thing because clearly it was something, but it was complicated, and Marga already thought she had been shot down and honestly, neither of them even knew what they were doing yet, or what this even was. It was just too complex, and Varia didn’t… she didn’t want anyone to know. Not yet. Maybe not ever, considering the circumstances. It was making her a little anxious.
“Looked pretty intense for ‘nothing’,” Xethaedra noted, which was… not great. Varia had hoped she wouldn’t have been able to tell from that far away, but apparently that was not the case. “I heard you crashed and burned last night with her, but honestly? When you got out of the lake, that woman looked like she wanted nothing more than to be able to bend you over and—”
“Xe!” Varia interrupted, feeling like her head was going to explode. She appreciated her interest – she appreciated even more that she wasn’t jealous, as that would have made things worse – but right now she didn’t want anyone even thinking that her and Eve could be a thing. “Believe me, it’s not going to happen. I tried, I failed; let’s not keep reliving it. I was just… apologizing to her for making things awkward last night, since Marga told me they’d be staying a few more days.”
Xethaedra looked skeptical at that, but at least dropped the conversation with, “If you say so,” which was good enough for Varia at the moment. Still, they had to stop being obvious with whatever it was that they were exploring, because until they figured out what it was and what they wanted to do about it, it was just safer that no one knew.
Unfortunately, allowing Eve to watch her train was not conducive to that goal in the slightest.
She was training the younger Amazons, all of them between the ages of twelve and seventeen. While all Amazons were trained since childhood to fight, this was the age that weapons training came into account. Generally, the younger generation used staves while the adults trained with actual weapons, and today was no different as Varia sparred with a few of her fellow sisters, trying to teach them a few new techniques with their staffs.
But Eve was staring. She hadn’t looked at a single thing other than Varia since she had gotten there, and the intensity of her gaze was, well… a little distracting, which was exactly what she asked her not to be. Problem was, Eve knew exactly what she was doing and seemed to be amusing herself with it. She was leaning against a tree as she casually sat back and watched, one leg propped up while the other was stretched out in front of her. Her elbow was resting on her knee, her hand near her mouth as she absentmindedly chewed on her thumbnail, which really should not have been as attractive as it was, but there was just something about how casual it all was that kind of did it for Varia. That, and every time she looked at Eve she would smirk around said fingernail and it was… really fucking sexy.
And it was so Gods damn obvious, which was the other problem. Varia hadn’t had a chance to really tell her to keep it a secret for now, although she thought that was implied when she told her she wanted to talk in private later. Maybe it wasn’t though, because now that Varia was thinking about it, it was one thing to discuss the possibility of a relationship in private and another to flirt in public. Maybe she should have been more specific, because now Marga kept shooting her looks that Varia couldn’t exactly decipher, but she was certain if they could project sentiments verbally, they would be saying something along the lines of, “What the hell?”
Because the official story was that she had been rejected, yet Eve was now watching her train, looking like she wanted to eat her alive and was being in no way subtle about it, and honestly it was giving Varia anxiety when suddenly she looked over at Eve, saw the woman “casually” brush some invisible dirt off of her leg so that her skirt would hike up and show more thigh, and suddenly Varia was on her back in the dirt.
The girl she had been training looked a little surprised that she had been actually able to do that, but what struck Varia was Eve, who started giggling unashamedly. Turned on, anxious, and irritated, Varia suddenly sat up in the dirt and looked over at her, demanding, “You think you could do better, Thracian?”
All of the younger girls began to murmur, a few covering their mouths in shock and excitement. Eve stared at her for a long moment, her tongue placed behind her teeth as her lips slowly rose upwards into a smirk. She stood. “Is that a challenge, Amazon?” she asked, even though she knew damn sure that it was.
It, honestly, reminded Varia a lot of Livia. It was probably very fucked up then that it was starting to get her wet, but as she watched Eve move towards her she rolled back and jumped to her feet before grabbing another staff. She threw it at her, and Eve caught it easily. “Come on then,” she goaded, twirling her own staff as she backed up, allowing the other woman to enter the training grounds.
“Oh yeah, that definitely looks like nothing to me,” Xethaedra mumbled behind her, sounding amused. She had been practically snickering the entire time they had been training the younger girls though, having noticed how distracted Varia was getting. Varia had ignored her before, but now this time she shot her a glare and hissed for her to shut up, because she wasn’t helping.
And there were a lot of eyes on them now.
“This is only for training purposes,” Eve reminded her, twirling her own staff as she approached her. “I may not fight anymore, but it’d probably end up being a waste if I didn’t teach someone a thing or two before I finally retired my weapons.”
“You think you’re going to teach me a thing or two?” Varia responded in disbelief, even though, to be quite honest, she knew Eve was more skilled than her. Easily. Regardless, she wasn’t about to just accept that in front of witnesses and so she just scoffed, “Please.”
Eve smiled then, this wide, excited and almost feral gesture that got Varia’s blood pumping and her hair to stand on end as she realized quite suddenly that this was probably about to feel as good as sex. Her stomach tightened, her smallclothes started to feel the first droplets of the oncoming flood, and Varia lunged.
Problem was, Varia remembered quite at the last second who Eve really was, and that posed one very huge problem. Before, when they had been fighting Ares’ army, everyone had been too distracted to watch Eve fight. Now, however, their little sparring session was drawing attention, which made fear grip Varia’s chest so violently that when their staffs crashed together she knew Eve could see it in her eyes as she quickly hissed, “Don’t give yourself away,” because if she did, then it was all over. She had no idea what some of the older Amazons did and didn’t remember about Livia, but if they were to remember something, then it would certainly be about her fighting techniques.
Thankfully, Eve heeded her warning.
The techniques she used were fairly standard, and she thankfully held back her signature war cry. She was, however, still much faster than Varia was, and what looked effortless for Eve was making Varia’s muscles bulge and her forehead break out into a sweat. But she was determined, and Eve had yet to gain enough of the upper hand to land her on her ass, which was something.
“Do you wear out this fast in everything that you do, Varia?” Eve goaded, noticing the Amazon begin to breathe a lot harder in an effort to keep up with the other woman. “Because I feel like that could become very disappointing for me later.” There was no denying the double entendre behind her words and Varia’s mouth dropped open in surprise and offense, hardly able to believe that Eve would bring up her sexual stamina during sparring banter.
Where there were witnesses.
Implying that they were actually going to fuck later, no less!
Xethaedra was about as shaken as Varia though as she covered her mouth and murmured appreciatively of the low blow, “Oh damn…” as she watched her friend get bested in more ways than one.
And something in Varia just snapped.
A burst of adrenaline raged through her like nothing she had ever felt before, and it was like she got her second wind; however, it seemed this one was much stronger than her first. She caught Eve off guard with one blow that connected, followed by a quick second that unsteadied the former Roman as it connected with her shins. Then, with one final leg sweep she finally had Eve on her ass, her staff pointed at her throat as Varia’s chest heaved and sweat dripped from her brow.
Eve looked impressed.
“All that, and I do it better behind closed doors,” Varia responded breathlessly before she looked at Xethaedra, throwing her staff to her. The other woman caught it easily with a smirk, and Varia looked down at the woman below her, who, finally looked like she was the one who was helplessly and pathetically aroused. Eve’s breasts were heaving as her eyes darkened in desire, and Varia watched as the former Roman’s tongue briefly snaked out to wet her bottom lip before she held out her hand, helping Eve to her feet.
“Come to my hut tonight if you want to find out,” Varia offered once they were both standing, their proximity a mere breath away. Thankfully, it seemed no one else heard her, but not like it mattered; after this, there was no denying that they were interested in one another. By the time the sun went down, the whole damn village would know.
They might as well get out in front of it.
Eve’s gaze dropped to her lips, then went back up to search her eyes. They still hadn’t unclasped their hands. “…You’re serious?” she asked. Suddenly, it seemed like all of her playful cockiness was dropped in wake of the reality of the situation, and Varia actually found her hesitance somewhat endearing. She smiled.
“Yeah… I’m serious.”
Because talking could wait, honestly; they had both proven with glaring obviousness that the sexual tension between them was beginning to override their good sense, and that could become dangerous if left unchecked. So maybe it would be better if they just got it over with and fucked, so that maybe when they next talked they could do so with a clear head, and an actual plan about how they expect for this all to work out between them.
Because right now, despite how badly she wanted Eve and how badly that desire was returned in kind, Varia had no idea how this could ever become something that was built to last.
Chapter 12: XII. Revelations
Varia spent the remainder of the day avoiding absolutely everyone.
After her and Eve’s little display in the training grounds, Varia knew there would be questions; mostly from Marga, although Varia hoped to avoid everybody else who might have a curiosity or an opinion. And while Varia doubted that Eve’s parents would come to her when they heard what was going on between them – as they would probably bombard Eve instead – Varia definitely wanted to avoid them too, as that would just make things far more awkward than they already were.
Because this was a mess. An absolute mess. Neither of them had any idea what they were doing or how they would even begin to make something like this work with their pasts and their secrets and the long-distance thing and yet now, because neither of them knew how to keep it in their pants, practically the whole village knew that they were about to be… whatever the hell they were about to become. That was really not good.
And so Varia worried.
It was probably embarrassing, how many times she paced back and forth inside of her own hut as she waited for Eve to join her later that night. She wanted to talk, but she also knew that wasn’t going to happen until after they released some tension. And it wasn’t like Varia was nervous per say because she had had sex many times before, her first time being with Eve herself no less, but she also wanted this to be different and to maybe mean something because that would probably make it better, but the thing of it was that Varia had no idea how to go about doing something like that.
She had never once had a romantic partner; all of the other women… they were just sexual. Friends, or just meaningless one-offs. Eve was neither of those things. She was… she was something different.
She was something better.
Flowers? Flowers were romantic, weren’t they? Varia felt like an absolute idiot but she followed that hunch anyway and went out and grabbed as many flowers as she could before she returned to her hut, having somehow successfully avoided running into literally anyone at all along the way. Probably because they were all at dinner, but still. Varia was too anxious to eat and so she stopped in the threshold of her personal hut, looking around at what it had to offer. It really wasn’t much.
It was then that Varia remembered Xethaedra having joked once about ‘making love atop a bedroll of rose petals’, and her nose scrunched up a little. Was that really something women wanted, or was it just ridiculous? More importantly, would Eve like it? Maybe, but even if she didn’t, Varia did know that the other woman would definitely appreciate the effort, so she should probably do it anyway; it showed that she actually wanted this to be something more than just some sweaty fuck fest.
After Varia scattered the flower petals along her bedroll, she bit down gently on her bottom lip. Maybe she should be a bit more prepared for the other woman’s entrance. After all, if Eve came in and just saw her standing there amongst a bunch of shredded flowers, it wouldn’t exactly have the same effect than if she came in and… and saw Varia naked in her bedroll. Yeah, that made far more sense.
So Varia did exactly that.
She was in the middle of trying to figure out positioning though when the door flap to her hut opened, revealing… not Eve. “For fuck’s sake!” Varia exclaimed as she watched none other than Eve’s mother walk into her hut, completely uninvited. Varia grabbed the nearest blanket she could find and instantly covered herself, feeling herself start to flush in anger and embarrassment. “You could have announced yourself!”
Xena, however, just looked a little amused at the state she found the Amazon in. “Well, I definitely can’t say that you don’t put enough of an effort in for my daughter,” she noted, her gaze resting on the flower petals that were scattered all over the hut. “Although you may have gone a bit overboard.”
Varia scowled, clutching the blanket to her chest. “What do you want?” she asked dangerously, not enjoying this unexpected visit.
Xena looked down at her, her expression growing serious. “I spoke to Eve,” she told her, which still didn’t explain anything at all, so Varia just looked at her expectantly. “I’m… grateful that you care for my daughter, Varia; especially because you know the whole truth of who she is and what she’s done, and you still choose to see the good in her anyway. But you must know that this place is dangerous for her. I indulged her request to stay a few extra days before—”
So her hunch had been right; it wasn’t that Xena needed more time to recover at all, it was because Eve asked her not to leave yet.
“But that’s because I thought she wanted to do what she could to help out for a little longer; to begin to atone for what she had done to you and your sisters. And while that has been part of it, she finally admitted to me earlier that she was mostly here because of you, and how she felt about you.”
Varia wanted to ask, “So?” but the word stuck in the back of her throat, because she already knew why Xena was telling her this. She had the very same fears that Varia had regarding Eve staying or frequently returning, and her stomach began to sink in defeat and realization as Xena continued.
“All I want for her is to find love, to be happy, but it can’t be here,” Xena told her apologetically. She actually, truly, sounded sorry about that, and that’s what pierced Varia the most as she clutched the blanket to her chest harder, wishing she had listened to her instincts the first time around. “I’m sorry, Varia, but you know what will happen if your sisters find out who she is, and I’m afraid if she gets too attached to you, then she’s going to want to stay. She still has a lot of good to do in this world, and her journey can’t end here; Eli’s followers need her.”
Varia swallowed hard but nodded her understanding, her eyes going downcast. She should have known better. She should have fucking known better than to get caught up in this, because how else could it end?
“We’ll be leaving at first light,” Xena told her, but Varia still wouldn’t look at her, or even acknowledge anything more that she said. She just felt so… so completely devastated. “If you really care for her, Varia; please… let her go.”
And then Xena was gone, leaving Varia alone and naked in her hut with nothing but her blanket, flower petals, and her… unwavering sadness.
She should have known.
She should have known.
Varia didn’t want to stay in her own hut. She didn’t want to look at nor clean up the mess she had made – metaphorically and literally due to the flowers everywhere – and so after she redressed herself she fled her hut and went off into the woods to be alone. She just didn’t want to see or talk to anyone so she could mourn her failed relationship in peace. And maybe that was stupid as they hadn’t really been together or anything, but they could have been, they both wanted to be, and so Varia still felt like she lost something as she climbed the tallest tree, coming to rest on the sturdiest branch she could find.
Varia had been up there for quite a while, her cheeks wet with tears and her heart swimming with regret, when suddenly she heard branches snap beneath her. She looked down, peering into the darkness. There was a figure down there, but she couldn’t make out who it was until they came close to the bottom of the tree.
It was Eve.
Varia looked away and closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the tree as she tried not to start crying again. She knew the other woman would be able to hear her if she did, and Varia knew it was best if they just didn’t see one another tonight, as it would only make it harder when Eve had to leave in the morning. Unfortunately, in her attempt to not cry Varia sucked in quite a bit of air to try to calm herself, and it wasn’t as quiet as she would have liked.
Eve looked up into the trees.
“…Varia?” she asked, noticing there was someone up there. Varia cursed every God that was still alive, pinching the bridge of her nose before wiping the remnants of her sorrow off her cheeks. She said nothing. “Varia, I can see you. Please just—just talk to me, okay?”
Her voice was strained with emotion, which meant her mother had no doubt spoken to her and told her that they were leaving in the morning. Varia assumed Xena had spoken to her first, as if she hadn’t, she probably would have heard it from Eve first. The woman was the type to not listen, which was why Varia wasn’t surprised that she had come looking for her, despite knowing that she should not.
“Just go back to the village,” Varia responded dejectedly, not wanting to do this now. “Nothing you say is going to make a difference, so please don’t bother wasting your breath. It doesn’t matter now.”
Eve pursed her lips, her brow crinkling in distress as she looked up at the woman in the trees. “I… saw what you did for me. In your hut,” she clarified, her words causing a deep unrest in the pit of Varia’s stomach. She wanted to cry again, but managed to restrain herself. Barely. “No one’s ever done anything like that for me before. I wish… it could have been our first time. I think it would have been really nice.”
“Second,” Varia corrected, her voice strained with emotion. Eve’s eyes fell downcast at the leaves beneath her feet. “Even if I didn’t reciprocate, you still took my virginity.” Because there was no use pretending the past didn’t exist, and it wasn’t as though Eve forced her. Varia may have been young and inexperienced, but she had still chosen to give herself to her willingly because she thought she was owed something.
“…Right,” Eve responded softly, her toe digging into the dirt as she was silent for a long moment. “Do you regret it?” she asked finally, needing to know. She didn’t sound as terribly self-loathing as she normally did when they discussed their past, but the regret of her own was still there.
“I did for a long time,” Varia told her honestly around a long, soft sigh. She looked out at the sky, seeing it littered with stars. She could still remember that night so clearly in her mind. “I don’t now. You were still gentle with me, still respectful of my boundaries. So I’m glad it was you, I just wish… you would have been more like this back then. That’s all.”
Eve’s lips pursed into a thin line before they turned down into a frown. “…Me too.”
A branch snapped and Varia looked down at the other woman in amused disbelief. She was so upset that in that moment, all she could really do was find something to laugh about. “You really would make a shit hunter, you know. You’re barely moving and you’re still making noise.”
A strange look passed across Eve’s face for a brief moment but then it was gone, her own amused smile gracing her face as she wrapped her arms around her midsection. Her smile faded as quickly as it had come though as her gaze took in the forest around her. Eve looked up at her then, tone much more urgent now as she begged, “Varia… please. Please come down here. I really don’t want to have to come up there after you.”
Could she? That was the real question. Eve was athletic, of that there was no doubt, but Rome didn’t really have these kinds of trees, and she doubted the woman had spent her childhood climbing them even if they did, as it wouldn’t have been “proper”.
Still, it didn’t sit right with Varia that she was making Eve beg for her attention. Maybe she just had to grow up and realize that she couldn’t just ignore things in an attempt to make them easier on herself. Maybe sometimes she had to face the hard things, and allow them to hurt.
So she climbed down.
The second her feet hit the earth she could see Eve clearly now, she could see the tears on her face and heartbreak in her eyes, and suddenly the other woman’s lips were on hers as she kissed her fiercely, desperately. Varia’s back hit the tree from the force of it and though she knew she should stop her she did not, and instead grasped onto the woman’s hips and pulled her closer to her, wanting to feel something good before it was all ripped away from her. Eve’s hands were tangled in her hair, her breath uneven on her lips, and Varia’s heart ached terribly as she realized this was probably the last time she would ever be able to do this.
It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair.
“I’ll come back for you,” Eve promised, her tone breathless and determined as she pulled back a little, her palms cupping the Amazon’s face possessively. Her eyes searched hers and the amount of sorrow in them broke something in Varia, and another tear slipped down the Amazon’s cheek. “I’ll always come back for you, Varia, I promise…”
“You can’t—” Varia tried, her voice hitching in the back of her throat as she told the truth they both needed to hear, yet didn’t want to acknowledge. “Your mother…”
“My mother doesn’t own me,” Eve told her strongly, wiping the tears off of her lover’s cheeks before she gently tucked Varia’s hair behind her ear. “I make my own decisions, I make my own choices, and I choose you, Varia. I want to be with you…”
Gods, she should have just stayed up in that tree.
“Eli’s followers need you,” Varia told her regrettably, because there was such a strong part of her that wished that they didn’t. But that was selfish, and she couldn’t be that way. Eve had a destiny that was greater than that, and Varia couldn’t be the one to take that away from the world.
“And I’ll be there for them,” Eve told her, voice still full of so much conviction. She thought she could really make this work, and that’s what broke Varia’s heart at the moment. “But I can come back. Every now and then… I can come back and we can just—we can be normal, just for a second, you and I. I can’t bear not seeing you again, Varia, I just can’t. You’ve been the only good thing in my life for a long time now. I don’t want to let that go. I don’t want to let you go.”
But Varia, her heart weighing heavy with distress, just shook her head at that. “I haven’t. I haven’t, and you know that,” she told her, not wanting Eve to romanticize their past. “You even admitted back then that you realized you had just latched onto me out of convenience. Maybe we’re just latching onto each other now because of familiarity, I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t even real, maybe it’s just something easy and fucked up, and—”
“Do you honestly think I missed you because you were a convenience?” Eve countered, reminding Varia of what she had admitted that night in her hut. “I thought you were right when you told me why I wanted you back then, but you weren’t. I missed you and it hurt and I was angry and the first fucking thing I did when I got back to Rome was…” Eve’s expression masked over in pain then as she remembered her past, and the type of person that she was. “I gutted the slave girl that lied about you. Personally. Because I was… I was furious that she had taken you away from me. It was all I could think of.”
Varia inhaled a sharp breath at that. While she never thought that Octavia had made it out alive after what she had tried to do, she believed that she had just gotten the noose, not that… not that Livia would personally execute her. And while that was absolutely fucked up, it made Varia realize that maybe Livia did feel something for her after all, because anger was how she expressed her feelings back then. It was the only way she knew how to.
“No, you were never kind to me. Not when you were honest with me. And you shouldn’t have been; I enslaved you and I did horrible things but God, did I love it when you lied to me,” Eve told her, her tone wistful and sad. “And maybe it was just because I was lonely at first, but I… I grew fond of you, Varia. I legitimately enjoyed your company, I enjoyed… talking with you, having you next to me when I slept. I was furious with myself for screwing that up by fucking you because despite how badly I wanted to touch you that night, if I had known what would happen, I would have chosen not to. I didn’t want things to change.”
Varia swallowed hard, realizing the magnitude of that because of who Eve was back then. Livia was such a sexual person and she was already so deprived of what she wanted just so she could become Empress, so for her to say that back then she wouldn’t have slept with her if she had known that it would change things between them? That… that meant something.
“I had feelings for the person you pretended to be so you could be set free, and maybe that person wasn’t real back then,” Eve told her softly, finding the other woman’s hands so they could tangle their fingers together. Eve squeezed, accenting her point as she caught Varia’s gaze and finished, “But… but she’s real now, and those feelings haven’t gone away.”
Varia looked at her a long time, her heart softening at the honesty in the other woman’s declaration before she realized that she didn’t care if it hurt, she didn’t care if it made things worse. Varia closed the distance between them and kissed Eve with desperate force, the strength behind it causing the older woman to retreat a few steps until her back collided with the trunk of a tree. Eve’s breathing hitched in the back of her throat as she held on to her, and Varia couldn’t wait any longer.
Who knew if they were ever going to see one another again. Who knew if this would end up becoming something real and something good. Right now, all they had was this moment, and Varia resolved to take advantage of it before even this too managed to slip from her grasp.
“Part of me is afraid I will really never see you again,” Varia breathed against the other woman’s lips, her fingers grasping for purchase as they went from her hips to her breasts, one making its home there while the other tangled in Eve’s hair, encouraging her to expose the vulnerable flesh of her neck. “And I know…” she began, lips dusting beneath her chin as she felt Eve’s breath stick in the back of her throat. “I know that this will hurt so much fucking worse if that ends up being the case, but I don’t care. I just don’t fucking care anymore…”
Her mouth covered the older woman’s jugular then, sucking the tender flesh into her mouth as Eve gasped in pleasure, her fingers tightening around the fabric that covered Varia’s body. “I just want to touch you,” the Amazon told her once she had pressed her lips to Eve’s ear, feeling the other woman shudder slightly beneath her. “I want to be the one to make you reach the Heavens this time, even if it’s just this once.”
Eve exhaled a needy groan at that, and yet despite her obvious desire for that, she still breathlessly questioned, “…Here?” because she needed to make sure that Varia really didn’t mind that they weren’t inside somewhere. Varia didn’t though; the forest may not be private as anyone could come walking along any moment, but it was fairly secluded and at least out of hearing distance from the village. Right now, all she really cared about was one thing, and she planned to get it.
“Here,” Varia eagerly confirmed, her breathing coming out uneven and labored as she pressed their lips together once more, allowing Eve’s tongue to drink up absolutely everything that she was. When she pulled back a little, a tiny smirk graced Varia’s lips as she finished, “Now,” her hand falling between their legs, grasping Eve over her smallclothes in a way that made the woman trapped against the tree whimper and careen towards her.
When Varia had first met Livia, she had assumed the other woman would be domineering in bed; she seemed the type, after all. She loved power, she loved control, and yet when Varia started sleeping adjacent to the other woman’s chambers, dominance and demands weren’t something that were often heard. Livia had much preferred being taken than to do the taking herself, and she never really wanted anything rough or hard. It was like in the back of her mind she was trying to convince herself that lying with her slaves actually meant something, solely due to the fact that she was incredibly lonely and didn’t know how to deal with it other than to feed herself a steady diet of lies.
It was why Octavia was called most often; she had been the best at lying to Livia, at making her seem desired and special, but even that ended up having an expiration date as Livia’s frustration with all the bullshit began to outweigh the benefits of the lies.
This, however, was not a lie. For the first time it seemed in Eve’s life, someone was touching her because they wanted her, and wanted her to feel good. It was why Varia didn’t want this experience to be like all her others, and her hands quickly snatched Eve’s wrists, pinning them above her head as the Amazon pressed the length of her body against hers. She saw Eve’s eyes dilate, her breathing shallow, and Varia’s lips slowly curved upwards into a wicked smirk.
She leaned in then, just enough so that she could gently trap Eve’s bottom lip between her teeth. She pulled on it briefly before allowing it to snap back into place, her smirk widening as she watched Eve practically squirm beneath her grip, one of the woman’s knees pressing hard against the apex of Varia’s thighs as though she was silently begging her to just get on with it. “What do you want me to do to you?” the Amazon breathed, wanting Eve to be the one to tell her, to be the one who actually had the control, despite what their positions may indicate.
Varia wanted something different for her, which was why when Eve answered desperately with, “—Anything,” Varia immediately tsked her and said, “No. What do you want, Eve? Tell me.” Because the other woman always just lied back and let others take from her sexually, whether they were good experiences or not. Varia wanted her involved; she wanted her to choose. Even when they had sex the last time, Livia was so goddamn concerned with making it into something it wasn’t – making it all about Varia, as though the act had actually mattered in some kind of real way – that every emotion it elicited was nothing more than another façade built to mask the former Roman’s misery.
So this wasn’t going to be about Varia. Not tonight. Not right now.
Eve took a moment to contemplate that, her gaze flickering to the Amazon’s mouth briefly before coming back up to rest on her eyes. She wet her bottom lip. “I want you on your knees,” she finally admitted, but then it seemed she had second thoughts about that as she revised, “But if that—if that makes you feel too submissive to me, then you don’t have to—”
“Shh,” Varia hushed, letting go of one of the older woman’s wrists in order to place gentle fingers against the other woman’s lips. “Stop, okay? Just stop. I’m doing this because I want to. Please remember that.”
Eve looked a little ashamed of herself for almost ruining the mood with her consistent fear that she was going to do something wrong again, but she nodded her head in understanding, at least accepting what Varia was saying. Varia smiled at her reassuringly then before she began to slowly sink to her knees, taking the other woman’s smallclothes with her as she gently peeled them down Eve’s thighs. The ground beneath them was uneven and a little rocky, but Varia barely felt it as she leaned in, placing small kisses to the inside of the Thracian’s thighs.
The woman above her trembled at the light touch, her hand coming down to curl in Varia’s hair in anticipation. Varia bit her inner thigh then, softly, yet enough to make Eve jump a little. The Amazon’s lips turned up into a small smirk then before she allowed her tongue to trace up the length of the woman’s leg, the pace so completely agonizing that finally Eve couldn’t stand it anymore as she tightened her hand in the Amazon’s hair, the grip hard and demanding. “For God’s sake, stop teasing me and just fuck me, Varia!”
Varia chuckled. She loved hearing the desperation in the other woman’s voice, but she also didn’t want to be too cruel. So with no more pretense Varia finally wrapped her mouth around the woman’s aching sex, her tongue sliding between her folds in such a way that it caused Eve to release a guttural sounding groan.
Once, Varia had asked the other woman if she had ambrosia stuffed between her thighs, as she hadn’t understood why all the slave girls always fell all over themselves to be with her. And while Varia found there was nothing very special in regard to the other woman’s taste or anything, Varia still felt as though she were drinking the nectar of the Gods because there was just something different when she did this for someone she truly cared for. It made the experience special and so there was a part of Varia that just ached to please her, needing to devour everything that Eve had to offer her as she continued to pleasure the other woman with her mouth, hearing the other woman swear and moan and beg.
“Shit… shit… Varia, oh my God,” Eve panted, her nails digging almost uncomfortably into the Amazon’s scalp. Varia didn’t feel it though; she didn’t feel or see or hear anything other than the other woman, so caught up in what she was doing that she knew that the world could start burning around her and she would barely even notice. “Fuck, I want—I want to kiss you, but… oh…”
Well, she certainly couldn’t do both in this regard, but that was okay. Varia compromised as she slid two of her fingers into the Thracian’s tight passageway, causing Eve to inhale a sharp breath before Varia rose to her feet, her lips stealing the moans that quickly followed as she began to move within her. Eve grasped her face desperately as she kissed her, her uneven pants being littered against sensitive skin before Eve admitted, “God, Varia, you—you have no idea how long I… I… fuck…”
“I know,” Varia softly assured her, her fingers tracing the other woman’s jawline, her lips. “Believe me, I know…” Because it wasn’t exactly a secret that Livia had wanted her back then, no matter how fucked up the situation was. Now though, they were different people, yet still seemed to hold the same desires and needs as Eve clutched onto her, her forehead lightly banging against hers as she let herself get fucked hard up against the tree.
Because it was now – hard. It was hard and it was fast and it was rough and though Varia’s entire arm began to hurt she barely acknowledged it because Eve was crying out as she desperately clutched on to her, her face making the most beautiful and erotic expressions Varia thought she had ever seen in her life. Eve had given herself completely over to her, and it was easily the sexiest thing Varia had experienced.
She never wanted it to end.
There was only so much Eve could take though and as her nails began to make crescent marks in the Amazon’s skin she shouted loudly, the pleasure finally overtaking her as her insides tightened and then released, leaving nothing more than a trembling, whimpering mess in Varia’s arms as Eve rode out the high she had waited years to feel with her.
It took Eve a few moments to collect herself, but once she had her lips were on Varia’s again, the kiss that no doubt started as gratitude gradually becoming heavier, more wanting. But Varia broke the contact, grasping onto the other woman’s hand as she breathed, “No, we’ve given the animals in this forest enough of an eyeful for one night. Let’s… let’s go to bed.” Her eyes searched Eve’s then, all the longing and desire being portrayed in her gaze because if they were going to do this, then they were damn sure going to do it until Xena and Gabrielle dragged Eve out of the village kicking and screaming.
Varia wasn’t going to waste a moment. Not anymore.
Eve briefly bit down on her bottom lip before she smiled, her hand tightening in Varia’s. “Yeah?” she asked, like a part of her still wasn’t sure she wasn’t imagining the invitation, even after something like that. It was madness, but then again, the woman’s self confidence had been shot to hell due to her own self-loathing. So Varia returned the smile in kind, wanting her to be reassured that she still wanted her. That she was probably always going to want her.
After Eve gathered up her smallclothes and redressed herself the two women left hand in hand, heading back towards the village. They were smiling, leaning into one another, their grip tightening as they allowed themselves to bask in their happiness. Unfortunately, however, it did not last long.
They had almost reached the edge of the village when they saw four Amazons following Marga up the hill. They were heading straight for them and Varia’s stomach dropped in her gut as she took in the expression on her Queen’s face when she spotted them, and Varia just knew. She knew what they were doing, who they were coming for, and why.
And it didn’t make any sense because… how? But it didn’t matter how right then because it was happening regardless of an explanation, and Varia’s feet ground to a halt as her grip on Eve’s tightened so hard it must have bordered on painful, because the other woman stopped too, apparently too caught up in her haze of joy to really process what was happening until she saw the look of sheer panic on Varia’s face.
“Run,” she told her, the word almost sticking in her throat by how dry it had become. But Eve didn’t move fast enough and Varia’s instinctive desire to save her suddenly overrode all else as she let go of the former Roman’s hand, practically pushing her away from her as she screamed, “Run!”
“No—no I’m not leaving you!” Eve told her strongly once she realized exactly what was about to happen. The other four Amazon’s were now running up the hill, having heard Varia’s order for Eve to flee, but the other woman wasn’t moving. “If I escape they’ll kill you—if I stay at least you have a chance!”
“No, just go! Just go, please!” Varia begged as she tried to push her away again, her esophagus tightening as tears began to brim her eyes. It was too late though, and suddenly they were both grabbed and wrestled to their knees as the Queen approached them, her face set into a stony expression as she pointed towards one of the Amazon’s holding Eve.
“Let me see her face,” she demanded, her hand holding tight to a torch. Varia’s eyes were closed tightly shut as she bowed her head in upset and shame, but it seemed the Amazon Marga had ordered to do what she asked had hesitated, because Marga’s furious voice rang out as she insisted, “Xethaedra!”
Varia looked up sharply at her friend, the other woman’s gaze set on her instead of her captive, an apology clear in her eyes. But there was something else there as well; this sense of betrayal, of sadness, and of loss. Xethaedra didn’t want this to be true, but it seemed that she already knew that it was, and because of that, she didn’t know how to feel. She had a duty, but it was obvious it tore her apart.
Eventually though Xethaedra did as she was instructed, her hand tangling in Eve’s hair before she yanked it up, forcing the other woman to face the Queen. Eve wouldn’t make eye contact with her though, instead choosing to stare at the ground and stay completely silent. She knew if she spoke it would only make it worse and Varia watched with a heavy heart as Marga brought the torch closer to Eve’s face, her expression leveled as she began to carefully inspect her captive’s features.
Varia knew it wouldn’t take long.
Marga exhaled a sound of absolute fury as she turned to Varia then, grabbing onto her clothing as she forced the Amazon to her feet. “You knew!” she accused, her voice catching a little in the back of her throat as the reality of Varia’s betrayal washed over her. It completely devastated Marga to realize that someone she trusted so deeply would do something like that to her, to all of them, and Varia felt so terribly small tears finally began to make their way down her cheeks. “I trusted you, and you knowingly let that monster into our home, into—Gods, Varia, into your bed…!”
She sounded absolutely disgusted by that, and Varia choked back a sob. “Please, Marga, you don’t understand—” she tried, but it was of no use. Marga wasn’t in the mood to hear why she had done what she had done, and Varia was backhanded so hard that it brought her to her knees.
“No, don’t you dare try to justify it,” Marga warned her, too furious right then to even contemplate hearing her out. Varia stayed silent, knowing it was useless; at best, the only time she would be able to speak now would be at their trial, and she doubt that even then she would be heard.
“Throw them into a cell,” Marga instructed the women holding them both. “They’ll be dealt with in the morning. I want a guard on them at all times and under no circumstances are they to have visitors; that includes the Bitch of Rome’s mothers. I’ll deal with Xena and Gabrielle myself before they catch wind of this, but I want you all prepared for a fight because something tells me they won’t let Livia go easily.”
“My name is Eve,” the other woman finally said, the conviction in her voice strong and unwavering as she looked up at the face of the Amazon Queen.
But it didn’t matter; it didn’t matter who Eve was now, only who she was then. Livia and Eve were probably going to die come morning, and no matter how badly Varia wanted to, she had no idea how she was going to stop it.
Chapter 13: XIII. Trial
So this is the end of our little story. Thank you so much to all of you that favorited, reviewed, and gave kudos! It might be awhile till I'm back with another XWP story but I've written for many pairings and many fandoms so if you like my style of writing, please don't hesitate to check out my other works :)
Varia knew it would end this way.
She knew and yet she flirted with chance time and time again so no, the fact that it all came tumbling down around her did not surprise her. Nothing in this village was soundproofed, so it was ridiculous to assume every single time they spoke about something like that that no one could hear them. They had gotten too comfortable, had once again become wrapped up in each other’s orbit, and stopped seeing anything outside of themselves.
It had been foolish, and it ultimately became their undoing.
Eve was sitting in the corner of her cell, her shoulder leaning against the bars that separated them, because of course Marga didn’t want them in a cell together. It was close enough though as Varia sat on the other side of said bars, her hand slipping through to hold Eve’s. Neither of them said anything as they listened to Xena yelling at Marga outside; it was loud and it was furious and Varia honestly expected the woman to come barging in there regardless of what the queen wanted. However, it seemed that Gabrielle eventually got her to calm down; she explained to Xena that she would have a chance to speak on her daughter’s behalf at their trial, and reminded her that they should do this in the most nonviolent way possible, because the Amazons were their friends.
Varia doubted it’d make a difference though.
Marga hadn’t seemed ready to hear Varia’s reasons for doing what she did, and she didn’t think one more day would make her more open to the idea. She understood how she felt though; they were friends, Marga trusted her, had given her her rite of caste, and yet… she did this. But what else was she supposed to do? She couldn’t have condemned Eve to death by revealing who she was outright; not after she had saved both her and her sister. But then again, it wasn’t like Marga knew about that either.
Maybe keeping all of these secrets hurt more than it helped after all.
Eventually, the woman who was meant to be guarding them left, and Xethaedra entered, no doubt to take over the other Amazon’s duties. She wouldn’t look directly at Varia, but the other woman straightened her spine anyway, knowing that if she was going to get answers out of anyone, it would be her.
“Xethaedra,” she called to her, yet was ignored. Untangling her hand from Eve’s, Varia got to her feet and crossed to the other side of her cell, saying her friend’s name again. Nothing. “Xe!” she shouted, which finally made the other woman look at her.
“What?” she asked, trying to sound angry and yet falling incredibly flat. She was upset, yes, but it wasn’t because she was furious with her; she was sad that it had come to this, and that’s what tore Varia up inside.
“Xe, you know I would have never done this if I didn’t think Eve was a different person now. I would never purposely endanger any of you. You must know that. This tribe is my family.”
“What I know is that whatever happened in Rome, it fucked you up,” Xethaedra responded, her brow creasing as she looked at Varia like she was wondering if she was even the same person she once knew. “I’ve heard of people falling in love with their captors as a way to cope with their enslavement, but you never seemed…” She trailed off then, her gaze landing on Eve in the corner, her expression turning blameful. “Not until she came along.”
“She’s not brainwashed.”
Eve sounded offended by that, and rightfully so. Still, Varia held up her hand to her lover, halting her words momentarily as she pleaded, “Please, just let me—Xethaedra is my friend, and without an explanation I’m sure it… it seems that way. But it’s not,” she insisted, her attention turning back to the other Amazon. “Xe, it’s not. Rome was… complicated, I’ll admit that, but we weren’t lovers and I definitely did not feel for her in that way.”
Xethaedra scoffed, her upset making way for her anger. “Don’t pretend that you weren’t fucking her before. Don’t lie to my face like that, Varia; I heard you. I know.”
Varia inhaled a sharp breath at that, the pit of her stomach sinking as she realized that the entire reason they were even in this predicament… was because of her friend. Xethaedra clenched her jaw, shaking her head before she averted eye contact. She still looked angry, but another part of her looked ashamed of herself.
“I was just… taking a walk,” she admitted, although still wouldn’t look Varia in the eyes, “to clear my head. I wasn’t even looking for you, or for her, and when I came across you both I was just going to leave and give you both privacy, but then… then you said something about that woman taking your virginity, and it didn’t make sense because I thought you both had just met, so I stayed. I listened.” Her eyes went downcast then before she admitted, “A part of me wishes I didn’t. I didn’t want to be the one to do this to you, regardless of this whole… Livia bullshit, because I wasn’t even part of this tribe back then, and I didn’t feel like it was my place.”
No, Xethaedra had not been there when Livia’s army had attacked. She didn’t even grow up an Amazon; she was a runaway from Thebes, and Marga had taken her in when she expressed interest in joining. They needed to rebuild their tribe, and so Xethaedra was not the only non-Amazon who had joined later. Still, because of this, she had been very disconnected from the horror Livia had inflicted upon them, which must have put her in an awkward position after what she overheard. She didn’t want to do this to her friend, but she also had a duty to her tribe.
She had to choose her loyalty and, honestly, she had chosen right. Varia couldn’t deny that. Xethaedra had no idea of the history between them, had no idea how much Eve had changed, and so it would have been stupid for her to choose her friend over bringing a murderer to justice, especially since she thought Varia was just brainwashed from her enslavement.
“I did sleep with her,” Varia admitted, not wanting to lie to her friend; she had done enough of that as it was. “Once. If you ask Eve, she’ll tell you that she took advantage of me, but I still made a choice; a choice that I may have immediately regretted, but a choice nonetheless. I wasn’t in love with her though, and I definitely didn’t do it just because I wanted her attention or affection; in all honesty, I barely fucking tolerated her, so believe me, none of this was because I was ‘brainwashed’. I just… she just showed up here, and she was different; she was something I knew she could become long ago, but assumed she never would be because she didn’t have the strength to actually follow through with it. I’m glad I was wrong.”
Xethaedra didn’t say anything for a long moment, but she did eventually find her friend’s gaze once more. “I don’t know what to believe, honestly,” she finally admitted, and Varia’s stomach sank a little deeper. “But it doesn’t even matter what I think, so you shouldn’t waste your breath on me. You’ll have your chance to say your piece tomorrow for the Council; they’ll be the ones to figure out what to do with you, so I hope for your sake you have a convincing story, Varia. I really, really do.”
For both of their sakes Varia hoped she did as well, but even as she thought it, a part of her knew that it’d be a miracle if only one of them come out of this unscathed… let alone both of them.
Their trial was held the next morning in the queen’s hut. Varia and Eve were silently escorted from their cells to the large column in the center of the room, being roughly bound back to back on either side of it. Most of the tribe now looked at them like they were vermin, and it sliced Varia to pieces because this was her family. This place, these people… they were her entire world. Xethaedra was about the only one who didn’t look at her like she was something foul, but her gaze still wasn’t kind or understanding either. Even Ysope, who at one point held actual romantic feelings for her, now looked at Varia like she couldn’t believe that she had ever seen her as anything other than somebody traitorous and horrible.
In the corner of the hut, Varia could see Xena, her expression set into a deadly glare that the Amazon was certain would turn into something violent should Eve be sentenced to death. Gabrielle seemed to realize that too, as she stood next to her lover and placed a comforting hand on her forearm. She didn’t want her to do anything rash; at least, not yet. In the end, despite Gabrielle’s place amongst them as a Amazon queen, Varia didn’t have any doubt that if she needed to, she would get Eve out of there the hard way.
She was glad for that, at least. Varia didn’t want anyone to get hurt over this, but she couldn’t just stand back and allow her sisters to murder Eve either.
Marga sat down on her throne, her expression unreadable as she stared at the two prisoners. Varia swallowed hard, feeling ashamed of herself for what she had done to her friend. “Eve, formerly known as Livia, you are charged with the murder and enslavement of an Amazon tribe. How do you plead?”
Eve’s gaze fell away from her mother, only to land on the ground. “Guilty,” she responded softly, because despite everything else that had happened since, she still was very much guilty of those crimes.
Marga’s expression did not change, and it unnerved Varia a little. “Varia, former Princess of the Amazons—” Former. So that was how Marga was going to tell her that she had stripped her of her rite of caste; in front of everyone, like it was nothing. Varia felt sick. “You are charged with treason, how do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” Varia responded strongly, starting to grow angry and upset with all of this. She didn’t endanger them, she didn’t. A strong murmur of confusion and outrage swept through the hut, but Varia just continued to look her queen dead in the eyes as she told her, “I didn’t allow Livia to walk amongst us. I didn’t allow someone who was dangerous to coexist with us; Eve is the messenger of Eli now, a messenger of peace. She’s trying to redeem herself for all the horrible things she has done, and if you kill her for that, then it’ll all be for nothing! She was fucking prophesized for the Gods’ sake—”
“Yes, by the One God, whom Amazons do not follow,” Marga reminded her strongly. And yes, that may be true, but just because they didn’t follow the One God, didn’t mean they should dismiss his servants either. “Her relation to Eli and his God is meaningless to us.”
“Her God is the reason we don’t have Gods anymore!” Varia exclaimed strongly, needing Marga to realize the magnitude of that. “You may not follow the One God, but you should at least respect him, because he is far more powerful than ours ever were. How can you not fear what he will do to you if you kill his messenger?”
Some of the Amazons began to look a little worried, but then Eve had to open her mouth and ruin the entire thing.
“The One God isn’t vengeful,” she contradicted, apparently more concerned with how the Amazons viewed her God over her own life. Varia closed her eyes and banged the back of her head against the pillar she was tied to. Of all the times for Eve to finally start preaching, why did it have to be now? “He is love, he is goodness—”
“He had her murder Artemis,” Ysope interrupted, shooting a blameful look towards Xena. Apparently, not everyone was alright with the changing world order. “And many more of our Gods. He is a murderer, just like you are. People say the One God is Light to Dahak’s Darkness, but they seem about the same to me.”
“Don’t—” Gabrielle began furiously, her entire expression changing into something dark and furious and sad at the mention of Dahak. Varia didn’t know why, but whatever it was, it certainly was not good. “Don’t talk about Dahak,” Gabrielle told Ysope slowly, dangerously. Xena’s hand went to the small of her lover’s back in a silent attempt to calm her. “You weren’t even born when he had power; you weren’t there for the pain and the devastation he caused. Eve’s God is not like that; not even close.”
“Eve’s God is not on trial here,” Marga reminded them all sharply. “She is. Eve… Livia, has admitted her guilt; therefore it is not in question. Sentencing will be decided after we get a verdict on Varia, and since she seems to think she has done nothing wrong, we are obligated to hear her side of it and decide for ourselves.”
Everyone looked to Varia then as Marga demanded, “What really happened in Rome, Varia? I want the truth this time.”
Varia swallowed the lump in her throat. She always knew, in the back of her mind, that the truth would eventually come out, and today seemed to be that day. So she straightened her back, looked towards her queen, and told her. She told them that originally she had only been kept as Livia’s personal servant as a punishment for trying to kill her, and because Livia somehow got some twisted fun out of having someone who wanted to assassinate her become a constant in her life. She told them that she was chained, she was beaten, and she was psychologically fucked with during their voyage back to Rome, but that Ares had eventually convinced Livia that her petty vendetta was foolish, and so when they got to their destination, things changed.
Varia spoke of the strange way that Livia wanted her to act; that she didn’t want her submissive or subservient to her when they were alone, but instead wanted her to be brutally, unapologetically honest with her, because no one else in her life was. And while there had always been a part of Varia that didn’t want to give Livia what she wanted, in the end she still found something freeing in not having to pretend to respect her. She was free to tell her that she hated her and that she wished she was dead.
“And I tried to,” Varia admitted, needing them to realize that she hadn’t just laid down and accepted her life as a slave. She didn’t just abandon her roots as an Amazon, nor did she instantly forget or forgive what the woman had done to her tribe. “Kill her, I mean. Once on the boat to Rome, and another a few months later. But Livia said nothing to anyone; instead, she just punished me herself, because she knew that if anyone else knew that I had tried that I would be put to death and, for some reason, she didn’t want that. I didn’t understand it at first, but… as the years went by, I began to realize how lonely she was. For better or for worse, I was the only source of company she had who wasn’t trying to kiss her ass or get something out of her. It made her… dependent on me, for lack of a better term, regardless of my obvious dislike of her. Because of this, she offered to free me in two years, so long as I continued to be what she needed.”
Marga’s face was still unreadable, and Varia wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing. “And was one of the things she ‘needed’ sex?” she asked, probably wondering now if Varia had just begun to whore herself for her freedom. “Xethaedra told me she overheard you say that you lost your virginity to that woman, and yet you’re still claiming you did not like her. I fail to see how that correlates, unless you were merely doing it to be set free one day.”
“I seduced her,” Eve interrupted, shifting the blame onto herself. She sounded ashamed of herself, of what she had done. “I never required my slaves to service me sexually; that was a cruelness I would never inflict on anyone, because I… I know how it feels to be stripped of your choice in that way.” The admission was soft, quiet, and Varia saw Xena stiffen in the corner.
“But I was drunk that night and I… I said some terribly lewd things to her, I touched her in ways I never had before, and she… did what I manipulated her into,” Eve told them, her tone remorseful. “It was not her fault. She was young, she was confused, and I just… I had been told that I could no longer lie with women if I wanted to become Empress, and since Varia was always in my chambers, I knew no one would know if I lied with her. I used her, and it was selfish.”
“Stop saying that; I told you I made my choice, and I meant that,” Varia told her, not allowing Eve to paint herself into more of an awful person, as most everyone in the room already saw her that way anyway. She looked to her queen then, telling her, “You need to understand something, Marga. I was kept in Rome for years in that palace. I didn’t see the outside world. I barely knew what was going on, or what Livia did when she was gone. Instead all I saw was this broken, miserable person day in and day out. I knew she was horrible, I knew who she was, but after a while… it just didn’t connect as well as it used to.”
“So yeah, I lied with her… but it wasn’t because I grew to care for her, or because I somehow tricked myself into believing she was better than what she actually was,” Varia explained, because it wasn’t that simple. Nothing was. “Regardless of how hard it was for me to connect with my anger towards her back then, I still had it. I still felt like I deserved something from her because she had ripped everything away from me in the first place, and so when she offered me a ‘trip to the Heavens’ I took it, and gave her nothing in return. It was supposed to be some backwards form of vengeance but in the end, all it ended up doing was making me feel sick with myself.”
“After that, I offered to release her from my personal service for the duration of her contract,” Eve told Marga, making the queen’s gaze rest on her instead. “It was obvious she didn’t want to be around me anymore, at least more so than usual, and it… hurt, honestly. But it didn’t matter anyway, because a couple days later was when…” She trailed off though, unsure if she should be the one to tell it. Marga’s brow rose.
“When I escaped,” Varia told her, filling in the blanks. She gently chewed on her bottom lip though, finally admitting the truth. She knew Marga wasn’t going to be happy that she had lied, but maybe she would understand the reason why now. “Or… rather, when I was rescued. I didn’t leave Rome on my own Marga; I couldn’t. That place was a fortress. I know—I know what I said, but I lied because… because if I told you that she saved me; that she saved me from the noose because Ares wanted me dead, that she cut down her own damn soldiers just to allow me to live… you’d wonder why. And I couldn’t—I couldn’t tell you that we slept together, because I knew you’d get the wrong idea. Eve just… she got attached, and honestly I’m glad that she did, because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be standing here right now, and I would never be able to see the kind of amazing person she has finally allowed herself to become.”
Varia felt Eve’s fingers gently brush against hers after that, their tied hands not allowing much movement. Eve still tried though and hooked one finger around hers, trying to silently thank her in the only way she could in that moment for her words. Varia meant it though; she may have regretted what they had done immediately after, she may have hated Livia for how she looked at her and how she acted towards her after they had slept together, but in the end, it was Livia’s strange attachment to her that saved her life.
Marga still had more questions however, and her brow knit as she asked, “Why did the God of War want you dead?” Because yes, it probably seemed strange; after all, Varia was nothing but a slave. Why should she mean anything to him?
“Because she made me weak,” Eve answered for her, voice soft. “Because I was starting to learn compassion, I was starting to care about another human being other than myself and my own ambitions and he… he had no use for that. He needed me angry and alone, and entirely dependent on him.”
“Believe me,” Xena interrupted, causing all heads to turn in her direction. “Ares is good at manipulating people to his own ends, but he needs them isolated to do so. It’s why he’s always hated that I have Gabrielle, because she keeps me grounded.”
Marga was silent for a moment, considering their story. But it was another council member that spoke up instead, addressing Eve as she asked, “Why did you come here? You must have known what would happen. Because the… angry part of me wants to believe that it was just to gloat; to see how badly you destroyed us and thinned our numbers when you came here so many years ago, but you… instead, you helped us in battle. You tended to our wounded, helped us hunt and gather for our feast. I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t know these were your lands,” Eve admitted, glancing over towards her mother and Gabrielle. “If I had, I would have never come. I know I have no right to be here, but while I was, I wanted to… I needed to do something to help. And I know nothing I could do could ever make up for the horrible things I’ve done to your tribe, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t still going to try. I know so many of you see me as a monster, and I know that I deserve that, but I really am trying to be someone better; I’m trying to correct the wrongs that I made as Livia, because I am sickened by the person I used to be. I fucking hate myself for what I’ve done, and I know I will for as long as I live.”
The council seemed to be considering her words. Some looked convinced, but others still did not. Varia held her breath, looking towards her queen. Marga took a moment before deciding, “Varia’s guilt is still in question. Before we convene with sentencing, we must decide whether or not she is guilty of treason. Those of you who believe that she is guilty, stand and be counted.”
There was a noticeable hesitation. Then, finally, out of the twelve council members… only two stood. Varia exhaled the breath she was holding, hardly able to believe her eyes. Even Marga didn’t stand, and Varia hadn’t thought for a second that she was even willing to really hear what she had to say, let alone accept it.
“This is ridiculous,” Ysope exclaimed, as she was one of the two who did stand. “Varia is guilty of treason; that isn’t a matter of opinion! She slept with the enemy and willingly and knowingly let her into our home!”
“Treason is committed with ill-will towards the tribe; what Varia did was not,” Xethaedra countered strongly to her peer. “She honestly believed us to not be in any danger with Eve around and… frankly, I believe her. I know I wasn’t here when Livia did all those terrible things, but Eve has been here for nearly half a fortnight and all she’s shown us is kindness and help. Besides, the only reason you’re so pissed off, Ysope, is because Varia broke your heart. That’s not fair, and I move to dismiss you from this trial based on your biased opinion.”
“What? You can’t—!”
“Motion approved,” Marga responded immediately, which only made Ysope’s mouth drop open, aghast. “I’m sorry Ysope, but you haven’t made it any secret how you feel about Varia, and how slighted you felt after she apologized for making a mistake and sleeping with you. Xethaedra is right; you should not be here.”
Ysope looked furious, but she did turn away and stomp out of the hut after Marga dismissed her. In the end, she was still a member of this tribe, and when her queen gave an order, it was expected for her to follow it.
“By majority, Varia is found to be innocent; all charges are dismissed. Release her,” Marga ordered, and it was Xethaedra who was first to get up, quick to untie her friend. Varia felt relieved, thankful, but this was only half the battle; Eve’s guilt was not in question, and so she still needed to be sentenced. As there was little chance that Marga would pardon her completely, anxiety began to pool in the pit of the Amazon’s stomach.
“Varia,” Marga addressed her, causing Varia’s eyes to tear away from Eve to look upon her queen. “Understand that just because your charges have been dismissed, that does not mean that you will reclaim your rite of caste. That is a privilege that I bestow on someone, and until I feel as though I can trust you completely again, you will not have it back.”
Varia’s gaze hit the ground at those words, but she nodded her understanding. The controversy surrounding this wouldn’t allow her to lead anyway; there would always be people who did not trust her, or did not like her, so Varia was not surprised. Maybe… in the end, it was for the best.
Only time would tell.
“The law is clear,” Marga addressed the council then, regarding Eve’s sentencing. “Death or banishment for crimes committed against the Amazon Nation. If you believe the accused deserves death, stand and be counted.”
Xena stiffened, readying herself for a fight. Gabrielle’s hand went to her lover’s forearm, squeezing it tight, and Varia held her breath and tried not to vomit as she watched the Amazon council look around at each other for a long moment.
Not a single soul got off their chair, and Varia nearly collapsed in relief as tears began to fill her eyes. They were going to let Eve live. They were going to let her live.
“You are not the same person you were,” Marga told Eve, who looked almost as though she couldn’t believe that she wasn’t going to die today. Gabrielle’s arms were wrapped around Xena then, who finally looked as though she was able to breathe. “We can see that. That does not, however, mean that you are forgiven. Do not come back here, Messenger of Eli; because next time, it will mean your death.” Her gaze rested on Xethaedra then, and she ordered, “Release her.”
Xethaedra did as she was told, and Varia wasted no time wrapping Eve up into a fierce hug once she was released. She didn’t want to think about what banishment meant in that moment, because Varia knew that would ache just as badly. Right now, all she cared about was that she wasn’t going to be put to death. Right now, all she cared about was that they had survived this, because Varia never thought they would. Not in a million years.
“You have until nightfall to leave the village,” Marga told her as she finally stood from her throne. Her gaze shifted to Varia then, noticing the look on her former second in command’s face. “Be sure to say your goodbyes before then.”
Goodbye. Varia didn’t want to say goodbye to Eve, but what other choice did she have? In the end, this was better than the alternative, but either way, it meant that Varia would never see Eve again, and that did not sit well with her.
That did not sit well with her at all.
“I’m trying to be happy,” Varia breathed sadly as they sat in her hut, their hands clasped together as they leaned into one another’s forms. They still had a few hours until the sun went down, and so the two of them decided to hide themselves away from the world in order to spend their remaining time together. “I know this is better than death, but…”
Eve gently leaned her forehead against her lover’s, a sympathetic expression crossing her face as she weaved their fingers together. “I know. And I know it may be madness, how attached I’ve become to you over such a short period of time, but maybe this had just always been a long time coming; at least on my end. I just… I just wish we had more time.”
“Me too,” Varia breathed before she pulled away to look in the other woman’s eyes, her hand untangling from hers so she could reach up and delicately place an errant piece of hair behind Eve’s ear. She shot her a sad smile then before she leaned in, gently kissing her as she tried, with everything that she was, not to cry.
Because Eve was right; this was insane. They shouldn’t feel this kind of attachment to one another, not after such a short time. And perhaps it was just their shared past that allowed them to skip a couple steps, or the realization that they really could have something good and real with one another, so long as they had the time, but Varia didn’t want to let her go. It just seemed like she would be throwing away something that she had waited quite a long time for.
But she was an Amazon, and Eve was not. She was here, and Eve was banished. So how…?
Outside of her hut, Varia could hear another woman spit and accuse, “Traitor,” as she walked by, and Varia pulled away from Eve, sighing heavily. An innocent verdict clearly did not sit well with everyone, and because of that, Varia was concerned about her place within the tribe. She wanted to be able to earn her rite of caste back, but would that even be the best thing? How could she lead, when not everyone trusted her?
And if she couldn’t flourish here, if she couldn’t become the person she wanted to become, then what was the point of staying?
Varia froze a little at that thought, turning it over in her mind a few times.
What was the point of staying?
“Just ignore them,” Eve gently pleaded, taking the other woman’s hands in hers once more. “They don’t know you; they don’t know what’s in your heart. Please don’t let it bother you; they’re just trying to make you feel like you don’t belong.”
“No, I…” Varia began, a solution beginning to form in her mind as she looked over at the woman beside her. “No, but that’s the thing, isn’t it? I don’t belong, not anymore. I may still have friends here, but I don’t think any of them trust me fully anymore. And I—I wanted to be somebody, Eve; I wanted to make a difference, but because of all of this… I know I won’t ever be granted a position of real power again. No one would trust me with it.”
Eve’s brow knit, her eyes searching hers. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying…” Varia began slowly, making sure she really meant what she was about to say. And, after a short moment, she realized that she did. That, in the end, if she wanted to live the life she wanted, that this was the only viable solution. “I’m saying I think I should leave. Some Amazons travel between tribes, and I can… I can find another, settle down there and maybe make something out of my life. I can… I can make something out of my life somewhere where—where you could actually come visit, from time to time, if… if you’d like.”
Varia’s gaze hesitantly met the other woman’s, and all she found was this emotional look of amazement and disbelief as Eve stared at her, hardly able to believe that Varia would even consider that an option. “Are you… you’re serious?” she asked breathlessly, needing to double check.
“It’s not just for you,” Varia told her, needing Eve to know that no matter how badly she did wish that they could continue pursing whatever it is that they had started with one another, that she wasn’t basing huge life decisions on it. “I just… I need to be somewhere where I can make a difference, and I don’t… think that’s here anymore. And it sucks and it hurts but… that’s just the way it is. I’m not trusted here anymore, and I can’t be somewhere where people look at me like I’m something vile.”
Eve seemed to understand that, and she covered the Amazon’s knee with her hand as she leaned into her. “I’ll come with you,” she offered, not wanting her to be alone on this journey. “Just… until you find somewhere, if you want. It’s dangerous to travel alone.”
Varia smirked, placing her hand over the one that Eve had atop her knee. “You don’t even pick up a sword on your own behalf anymore, so it’s not like you’re offering extra protection or anything.” Eve just shot her a look like she was being dumb.
“I know that, but I’m not the only one that would be coming. You didn’t think my parents would let me wander off with you alone, do you? They seem to feel the need to protect me, to keep me safe, so wherever I go… they go. Is that—are you okay with that?”
Eve sounded a little unsure that Varia would be, but Varia just chuckled a little, squeezing the other woman’s hand. “Yeah,” she told her. “Yeah, I’d be okay with that.”
Eve smiled wide before she bit her lower lip and then rose up a little, placing a gentle kiss on Varia’s cheek. “So we’re really doing this?” she asked, sounding amazed that her life played out in a way that wasn’t awful for once. Varia felt the same, as she was certain this road didn’t have a happy ending attached. Maybe though, for once, she had been wrong. “Are you scared?”
Because this was a big change, a big step, and there was so much unknown on the other side of it that it did, honestly, give Varia a lot of anxiety. But then she looked at Eve, looked at the reassuring smile the other woman had on her face, and suddenly those anxieties calmed, only to be replaced by new ones that were just as terrifying, but bore the chance of becoming something greater than she had ever known.
So Varia smiled, brought their clasped hands up to her lips, and kissed the other woman’s knuckles. “Fucking senselessly.”
And Eve seemed to understand that she wasn’t talking about the change of tribe, or the vast unknown that was out there waiting for them, because her smile matched Varia’s then, breathing, “…Me too,” as she squeezed their hands together and leaned into her shoulder.
It was a risk, but it was a risk they were taking together, and as Varia looked down at the woman whose head was now on her shoulder, Varia smiled, for she realized she wouldn’t want to take this kind of risk with anyone else.