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Aerial Acrobatics

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All he knew was blackness, blinding lights, sharp pains. All he could hear was a faint groaning from nearby and faint voices shouting from farther. His brain slowly rolled over as he tried to remember. He thought back, to the plane, and Rex's tail, and, oh lord, the wall! Jedediah tried to move, to check on Octavius and himself, but the pain blinded him, white hot flashes crossing his vision. Biting back the scream, he heard the whine that still escaped his lips. There was a pressure on one side; he wondered idly if it was Octavius. His other arm was quite numb, which probably wasn't a good sign. Blackness began creeping into the edges of his vision once more.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Rex had turned quickly and his long tail of bone whipped around into the side of the plane. The plane, in turn, had careened out of control, spinning into the wall. The crash seemed louder than even the thumping music. Larry and Ahkmenrah started running before it even hit the wall, knowing help would be needed. Teddy and Sacajawea hurried close behind. The two miniature leaders had been flying the plane and most likely were injured or at least in need of help. They had survived the remote-controlled car crash, but that had been in snow.

The plane had landed in one of the plants decorating the entrance hall. Standing on a chair, Larry freed the wreckage and placed it into Teddy's waiting arms. For a moment, they all stared in mute horror. The right wing was missing completely, severed by Rex's tail. The left wing and cockpit were smashed in - the plane had hit at an angle. Quickly grabbing a pair of pliers, kept handy for emergencies, Larry pried the damaged cockpit apart. After agonizing minutes, they were finally able to see the miniatures - neither was moving.

Jedediah was crushed up against the left side of the plane, hat missing, and his left arm at an unnatural angle. Octavius leaned against the cowboy's other side. Both were unconscious and covered in small cuts, most likely from the shattered windshield. Larry gently picked up the Roman General and placed him in Sacajawea's waiting hands. Laid out, they could see the damage much better. Octavius' armor had protected him from much of the debris, but he was sporting a darkening bruise along the side of his face.

Larry pointed it out. "Shouldn't his armor have protected him?"

"He is small, and in comparison to such, his armor is weak when up against objects such as walls." Teddy was correct. To them, the Roman's armor might as well been tin foil.

Cradling the Roman, Sacajawea moved aside. Larry turned back to Jedediah, still smashed in the plane. Jedediah had taken the most impact from the crash and Larry carefully used his pliers to peel the wreckage away. When he was finally able, he lifted the small cowboy into Ahkmenrah's hands. The damage made them all want to look away. The cowboy's hat was missing and blood stained his blond hair. They could tell his left arm was obviously dislocated and something, maybe his knee, was wrong with his left leg.

Quickly, and with grace and poise they each possessed, Sacajawea and Ahkmenrah hurried through the museum with their precious cargo. Larry and Teddy ran ahead to warn the other miniatures. Although many of the miniatures, like their leaders, wandered the halls at night, there would still be enough around to help. Teddy knelt to speak with a few Romans, while Larry did the same with the cowboys. Sacajawea and Ahkmenrah passed the leaders off to their men, who bore them into their respective healing houses. The four then settled in await news on their condition. It would be a long night.

Jedediah slowly struggled through the haze of his sleep towards wakefulness. He felt as if he were in mud or tar, and couldn't figure out why he had a nagging, fleeting thought of underlying panic. Octavius! How could he forget! The thought, the pure horror of the thought, propelled him awake and halfway out of the bed before pain crippled him. White-hot flashes arced across his vision. Strong hands caught him, gently lowering him back to the straw mattress.

As his vision slowly cleared, he was able to discern the face of Billy, his right-hand man. Concern welled in the man's deep green eyes. Jed tried to speak but his mouth felt like it was full of wool. Billy helped him sit up, offering a glass of water. "How ya feelin', boss?"

Jed just gave him a look. "Like I've been on the wrong end of a ragin' bull."

"Figured as much. You took it pretty bad. Been out rest of last night and half of tonight. Ya took one to the head and your shoulder's out. Leg too. But Ahkmenrah, he said that you'll heal fast since we ain't got real bones."

Jedediah observed his body - he had a big white bandage around his left shoulder and ribs, as well as a bandage around his knee and lower leg, with a splint over that. Small bandages covered the myriad of cuts and he was dotted with a few bruises. Lifting his hand, he gingerly felt around his temple. He could feel the stitches and his fingers came back covered in blood. He made a face, then looked quickly up at Billy, eyes wide. "Octavius?"

Billy wrinkled his nose. "Last I heard, the General's still out. Took a nasty hit to the head, but I think that's really it. Wait, where ya goin?"

Jed had risen, shakily, to his feet. "Now hold on there, boss! I can’t just let you go gallivanting on over there! You can’t even walk!" Billy threw his hands in the air as Jed stumbled across the room. Some clothes were laid on a chair for him. "Might as well be talkin' to the wall. Them's Luke's jeans. Had to find something bigger so you could get it over yer splint."

Balancing carefully, Jedediah pulled the borrowed pants on. Luke was both taller and stockier than him and the jeans settled loosely on his hips, cuffs touching the ground. Deciding to forgo the shirt on account on his shoulder, Jed attempted to slip into his boots. Giving up due to the splint on his leg, he headed for the door barefoot. Billy fell in step with him as they crossed the town, heading for the bridge. Larry had given them a bridge, connecting the two dioramas, as a sign of their peace and friendship. He hid it from his boss every dawn and put it out at sunset. Now, standing on the other side, stood 4 Roman soldiers. Three, using their shields, blocked the way into Rome. The fourth, a high ranking officer from the looks of him, stood before them. He stepped forward to greet the cowboys.

"Halt! You are not allowed to enter Rome."

"And on whose blinkin' orders is that?" Billy stepped slightly in front of Jedediah. He did not like the tone this Roman used and had seen his 'elevator eyes' when he looked at him.

"Mine. I have assumed command while the Legate is, shall we say, indisposed for the time being."

"We just want to check on Octavius. Let us pass."

"No. It is because of this fool the Legate is in his current state. You have obviously made him weak. The army will fare much better under my command."

"You have no right to say who he sees! He doesn't answer to you!"

"It is better for everyone that he no longer sees you. However, if it's a Roman you need, I would be happy to oblige." His grin was lecherous as his eyes roamed Jedediah's exposed flesh.

Shoving the Roman away, Billy led a disgruntled Jedediah back to the West. The remaining soldiers had not moved. "Boss, don't listen to him. He can't boss you or the General around. He'll be by for ya when he wakes. For now, you need to rest. Boss?"

Jedediah waved him off, frown marring his handsome face. Billy followed as he wandered through the town to the outskirts. Leaning against a fence, Jed stared out into the sea of sand, speaking to no one for the rest of the night.

The following night, Larry came looking for the cowboy. Jedediah had remained in the same place all night and day, waiting and thinking. Billy had relayed to Larry the entire meeting with the Romans and Jed's current condition. Larry also came bearing a gift - he had found Jedediah's hat. He offered it to the cowboy with a smile. "How are you feeling?"

Jedediah shrugged. "Stiff, but better than I was. Any word?"

Larry just shook his head, knowing the cowboy was asking about Octavius. "That Roman will not tell me anything, most likely knowing I'll tell you."

"If he..." Jedediah hesitated, taking a deep breath. "If he dies because of this, I'll seek the sun."

The night guard paused. "And if he doesn't come for you?"

Jedediah just turned back to the fence, hat low over his eyes. Larry left the cowboy to his thoughts, knowing he would get no further answers.

It was the next night that Octavius awoke. He felt well rested for once, waking from a dream instead of from his statuesque form every day. Which led to the logical question - why was he asleep in a bed? Slowly sitting up, he winced at the sudden pounding in his head. His body ached with scrapes and bruises. As he swung his feet to the floor, the door opened, admitting the physician. "Ah sir! You are awake. How do you feel?"

"Well enough, I suppose, but confused. Why am I here?"

"You were in the plane with Jedediah when it crashed into a wall. You have been unconscious going on the fourth night now. Do you not remember?"

Octavius winced, memories coming in flashes. He remembered flying by Rex, the skeleton turning, the plane spinning, the wall getting closer. The abrupt blackness. "Where is Jedediah? How did he fare?"

The physician looked nervous as he relayed the recent happenings. "I am not sure about his condition, but I know he is awake. However, I have been hearing from some of the men that the Tribune has stepped up and barred the cowboys from Rome. Apparently under the impression that Jedediah is bad for you, he told the cowboy that you were better off without him. In the same breath, he then offered to take your place in his arms. If you are well enough, I can say that you are needed, and sorely missed."

Octavius crossed the room to the reflective glass hanging on the wall. He looked a mess - the side of his face sported a lovely bruise, most likely caused by his helmet. His arms sported a few bandages covering cuts, and a few bruises littered the rest of him. He was a bit battered, but overall unharmed. Dressing the offered red tunic, Octavius tied his sandals. "Where is the Tribune?"

"I last saw him near the bridge. Be wary of how you feel, Legate, you are still healing." The physician saluted as Octavius stalked out of the room.

Octavius crossed through Rome, a man on a mission. Ignoring those saluting him, he approached the bridge. The object of his hunt stood there, ordering some of the men about. "Tribune! I demand a word."

"Legate! It is good to see you awake and well. Rome has flowered in your absence."

"If Rome has flowered as you say, then why have you barricaded the bridge, our route of trade with our neighbors? Rome is not so powerful that she cannot benefit from interaction with others. What other lies spill from your tongue, disguised with honey?"

"I speak no lies, Legate. Rome blossoms with the love of her leaders. You have been neglectful of late. Like a lover, she will not be scorned."

"I have only been neglectful of what Rome herself does not need; pointless wars and battles with our neighbors. The Gods smile on our peace. What have you told Jedediah?"

"Peace and trade is one thing. But what you have is a disgrace to the Gods and to Rome herself! You forget them in your quest for the cowboy!"

"You cross the line, Decimus Fannius, in your jealously. You seek both my position in the army and my cowboy! It is you who are the disgrace."

The Tribune growled, aiming a punch at Octavius. "You have become old, Legate, and fail in your tasks!"

Octavius moved as if he wore Mercury's own winged sandals. Dodging the flailing arm and grabbing the front of Fannius' armor, he threw a heavy punch into the man's face. As he reeled back, Octavius motioned for the soldiers to restrain him.

"Arrest that man! He has committed treasons against this legion, Rome, and the Gods themselves! Listen not to the lies that flow from his honeyed tongue, for he aims to lead you astray. He has already tried to usurp my rank and destroy our relations with the cowboys. Any more from you, Decimus Fannius, and I will do more than take your rank, I shall leave you for the dawn!"

"Now, clear the path!" The soldiers cleared the way from the bridge and took their now ex-Tribune down to the cells. Other soldiers saluted as their Legate, although out of armor, strode powerfully past them. Fannius had lied; this man was not weak.

As he crossed into the West, Octavius came upon, not the man he sought, but one who could help; Jedediah's right hand man, Billy. "General! Good to see ya up and about! What can I do ya for?"

"I seek Jedediah."

"If ya don't mind, sir, I might ask what you want?" Billy's nervous look told Octavius that he had been present at Jed's meeting with Fannius.

"I wish to correct a great wrong. One has already been fixed, for Decimus Fannius will rot in my cells until I leave him for Apollo's mercy. Now point my way."

Billy released the breath he had been holding. Pointing through town, he sent Octavius on his way.

Octavius stopped, staring, as he reached the edge of town. If Apollo's mercy awaited the ex-Tribune, his grace certainly smiled on Jedediah. The cowboy stood before him, leaning on the fence, only wearing loose, low-riding jeans, his hat, and a few bandages. The artificial sun shone down, glistening on tanned, slightly sweaty skin. Striding quietly over, Octavius slipped his left hand around Jedediah's waist, right cupping under his shoulder and across his chest. Jed stiffened from the gentle caress, but relaxed as the Roman spoke softly into his ear. "I hear, my love, that you have missed me. Please tell me that you did not believe his lies and are not planning to give yourself over to Pluto's everlasting embrace."

"If you had died from all this foolishness, then yes, I would wait for dawn. But you know better than ta' leave a fellow like that, partner." Jedediah turned in his embrace, lips meeting Octavius' as he hugged him just a little tighter than normal.

"Barbarian."

Jed just grinned at him. The Roman's lips found his earlobe.

"Next time, I shall fly the plane."