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Dresden. The balls. The music. Wine and songs, and the ever-blinding spin of waltzes in the air, soaked with the sweet smell of blood, perfumed with sweat and lavender. Dresden. Arjun and his companion were in the ballroom, not together but hunting, rather. She was wearing ochre brocard, rich fabrics that mirrored her honey eyes. Wild brown locks were tamed into an intricate chignon, a few rebel curls inviting touch at the nape of her neck.

She was dancing with a man - he was of no consequence. Handsome and sweet-smelling like the ripest fruit. Rosy and tender like perfectly ready cattle. She did not care. Propulsed through unlife only by the companionship of her dark-skinned Ephebe, she went and seduced the kill. She drank. She hid the body. She returned to the dance floor. Her lips were fuller. Her cheeks were pink.

In the crowd, suddenly, a familiar figure. Flavius. Her Flavius. Two hundred years of an incessant brawl, and still she was his, despite her flight, despite the words that cut like knives, despite how much they hated each other, or said they did. Nothing could take that away from her, from him. Eyes meet, inscrutable. She flees, again.

In the suite she shares with her lover, she is distraught.

"He was here."

"Who was?" Arjun is instantly at her side, demanding.

She says nothing.

"Flavius," he guesses. "That slave's git who made you. What will you have me do, woman?"

She says nothing, looking stoically into the night. She thinks of Lupercalia. Of Ovid. Arjun could not understand the depths that link her to Flavius. Even she cannot.

"He will want you to join him."

She says nothing, again, but a trail of blood sneaks on her cheek. She cries, utterly silent.

"I will not allow it," Arjun says, adamant, violent. "You are mine. You are mine," he repeats, over and over again. "My queen of the night, my beautiful, beautiful queen. My liege. Together we rule Dresden."

"Not with Marius here," she murmurs at last.

"Then we will leave."

Someone knocks on the door. A note is delivered. Pandora reads it, sighs, and stuffs it in her corsage.

"He wants you to join him, does he not?" Arjun's voice again is demanding, his hands grasping at her arms, holding tight on her cold flesh.

She looks away. "He does."

He kisses her neck, licks at her earlobe, tantalizing. She closes her eyes, falling prey to his sensuality, almost quickened. "Do not. If you go to him, I will go and await for the sunrise," Arjun murmurs against her skin.

She turns to look at him, frustrated, angry, glaring. "You would not dare."

"So I would." He moves, fast like a snake, kisses her fiercely. "I love you, Pandora of Antioch, my queen. Do not let me go." She can say nothing to that, and surrenders to his attack, kissing back, biting, even. His arms tighten around her, and she crumbles, abandoned in her lust for him, even if she knows... she knows....

Leaning against him, breathless and tired for the blood loss, she looks at him again. "Arjun, what will we do? He is Ancient."

"And so are you," he points out proudly. "You could take him, but you don't want to."

She looks down. "No, I do not."

"Then we will leave. And you will not go to him."

She nods, and sighs. Better to go with Arjun, who propels her, than to Flavius, who makes her angry - better to be dragged through life than to argue through it. Better to be free, than prisoner of failed love.

She left. The carriage took her away with her lover, disappearing into the night.

As Arjun nibbled on her earlobe, she tried to ignore the bitter pang of regret.

Chapter Text

In the cab, her body was as cold as her heart, or so she would have wished. For a moment, her mind lingered on her current situation – how had things come to what they were? How had her heart broken as it did?

Rome. The Coliseum. Marius, his impossibly green eyes, and how handsome he looked in his general's uniform. She was young. Very young, and his flesh was warm as she writhed against him, propped between him and the Corinthian column. "I spoke to your father," he murmured softly into her lips. "He would not give you to me. Come. Let me steal you away." She closed her eyes, let him kiss her, her body breaking with need, want, with something that exhaled more than desire in the way she touched him. His own need was pressed against her belly, and it made her shiver.

"Lady," the young slave girl murmured. "Your father..." Pandora dismissed Marius with more pride than she truly felt and sat at her dressing table. "Then make me presentable," she ordered dryly.

The girl was combing her rich, brown curls when her father entered the room.

"You will not see him again," he ordered without further preamble. She nodded, not meaning anything by it other than true submission to her father.

Events precipitated themselves. The young general had to leave before fleeing truly was possible, and she remained on the patio, to look at the plebs' manifestations. Caesar Augustus and his friends were doing well – too well. Her father was more and more questioned at the Senate. The letter came. Marius had fallen, they said, up, somewhere on the British Isles, or was it in Goth country? Did it matter? She cried for weeks, until her mind broke and more ill omens came.

"Ovid is dead," they whispered in the corridors. Nothing could be found of why he was, and before long, her support was known, and she had to hide. Her father died, and more grief came in his passing. Her brothers wedded, begot children. She remained steady and solitary, waiting.

One night, impossibly green eyes glimmered in the darkness of her room. She froze, not daring to ask. He glided more than he walked to her.

"Marius." She gasped his name, both a prayer and a breathed fear.

"I return, Lydia," he said quietly. "To make you my bride." His lips grazed the nape of her neck, so cold, a hand running in her lush curls, unbidden. Frozen, she could not reply, and he vanished before she could call a slave.

Back in the carriage, Pandora's tears were dry, long and dark streaks on her marble-like face, nigh a deathly mask. Arjun slipped his honey-coloured hand around her waist. "My Lady," he murmured, purred against her neck, where she had been kissed by Flavius so long ago. "Why cry for him?"

She shivered.

"I love him," she murmured. Arjun gritted his teeth, almost biting at her cold, hard flesh. "And me?"

"You," she breathed, "you give me reason to live, which he cannot give me," she said softly. "That is why I made you, my fledgling. So that you would keep me moving. Do your work, then."

Arjun withered a little at the memory – he often forgot that Pandora could undo him with almost a thought. She'd found him, almost dead, on the Tatar plains of Mongolia, in the wake of the Khan's mass massacres. She made him, gave him the means for his vengeance, gave him something to live for in her own need for someone to keep her striding through the centuries.

But she did not love him.