Summary: The Conqueror leaves Greece to visit Cleopatra and meets a slave/gladiator named Gabrielle but all is not what it seems.
Disclaimer: See Part 1
Authors Note: If you want to email me, my address jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
The sun was finally starting to set as I leant against my balcony, watching as the sky was painted in a deep red and fiery orange. I could hear laughter and music coming from the city and I frowned slightly, thinking about the festival that would start in little over a week; the festival that would lead up to my wedding as the grand finale.
My wedding to a woman that had hesitated to save my life.
It was unsettling to think that the woman who guarded my back had paused when I was in mortal danger. I could feel my stomach roll at the very thought that I had finally pushed Alexandria just that little bit too far. I couldn't really blame her, considering that she had found me in my chambers with a woman she so desperately hated, even if I was half dead. But could she really be so angry with me that she would just let me die? Even worse, could she hate me so much now that she had planted the laced port in my room in the first place?
I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling as if my head would explode from the thoughts and emotions bouncing off the walls of my mind. It had been a while since I had felt so conflicted and I wearily acknowledged that the last time I had felt this way was back in Egypt when Alexandria told me of the slave's betrayal and I refused to believe her.
Which brought my thoughts back to Gabrielle.
The Amazon had left almost a candlemark ago to speak to her regent after our little talk. She had honestly surprised me with her information and the sincerity in her eyes when she said she wouldn't betray me this time. It had made me feel so giddy that I couldn't resist the overwhelming urge to kiss her and feel her lips pressed against mine. And Gods, it had felt so good.
Until I realized exactly what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I couldn't forget the memory of her betrayal so easily, and especially not the breaking of my heart that was only just starting to mend with the help of my second in command. It was just that my heart felt whole when Gabrielle was around, a feeling that Alexandria just wasn't able to instill in me.
Though, that didn't stop me from feeling guilty.
I groaned softly, leaning my forehead against the metal railing as I attempted to convince myself that Gabrielle couldn't be trusted, despite everything she had told me. It could all be an act, just like it was before and I could end up getting fooled again. But Gods, I wanted to believe in her.
I turned as I heard the door to my outer chamber open and then footsteps cross the floor to my bedroom. I leant back against the railing, crossing my arms over my chest and keeping a carefully neutral expression on my face as the door was pushed open and Alexandria entered. I let my eyes flicker for a moment to the cub that was trailing behind her, playing with the black leather boots that my consort wore before I looked up and met Alexandria's eyes.
Midnight blue eyes that were just as guarded as mine.
"I brought you dinner," Alexandria stated the obvious as she carefully put the platter she was holding down onto the desk in the corner of my room. "How're you feeling?"
"Fine," I shrugged, watching as Alexandria's eyes flickered to me wryly before she returned her attention to the meal she was uncovering. "My throat hurts a bit but I'm okay."
"I'm not surprised, considering you were calling for Gabrielle while you were out of your mind with fever," Alexandria replied blithely as she sat down in one the chairs by the table. "That was an extremely awkward moment, let me tell you."
I grimaced internally, letting my eyes flutter closed for a moment before I shrugged and pushed away from the railing. "Like you said, I was out of my mind with fever. I was probably remembering Egypt."
"Mm," Alexandria grunted as I seated myself in the chair across from her. "' Gabrielle, please don't leave me. I'll make things right, I promise, please. Please, Gabrielle. I love you. '"
My jaw clenched as I looked up into Alexandria's eyes, ignoring the amusement I felt at her perfect imitation of my slightly deeper voice as I let the shame wash over me instead. She shrugged her shoulders before reaching out and picking up a piece of venison that she popped into her mouth, the emotionless mask never faltering. I knew Alexandria well though and my guilt went bone deep as I read the emotion hidden behind her shifting shoulder blades as the slight increase of her heart rate.
"I'm marrying you, Alex," I stated quietly, watching sadly as the muscles in her jaw tensed. "I'm not marrying her."
"Yes, you're marrying me," Alexandria replied bitterly. "You'll marry me while always loving her. I'll have you to myself for a few moons but one day, you won't be able to resist her charm anymore and I will be left with nothing but a crown that means fucking nothing to me while you start making visits to the Amazon's to 'discuss treaties'."
I flinched at her words, remaining silent as she continued to her tirade, her voice getting steadily louder as her carefully constructed mask crumbled and her temper rose.
"And I will have to keep a perfectly happy face in front of the nobles while knowing that you're FUCKING the woman that betrayed us all and almost cost me two of the most important things in my life. I will die alone because I decided to give up my fucking happiness to marry you in a moment of weakness, thinking that I could make YOU happy! I'M GOING TO SPEND THE REST OF MY LIFE WISHING THAT I HAD KILLED THAT FUCKING SLAVE WHEN I CAUGHT HER ON THAT SHIP. I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING AND SHE GETS ALL OF YOU AND I GET FUCKING NOTHING! NOTHING, XENA!"
I watched silently as Alexandria's chest heaved, her hands resting flat on the table as her entirely body trembled with emotion. She had stood from her chair during her rage, knocking it back onto the floor with the abrupt motion as her calm words turned into hysterical sobs. Every word had been a slap in the face as I realized just how badly I had hurt my second in command without even knowing it. I had never in my life seen her lose her temper like she just had and I wasn't surprised to see she was just as stunned as I was with her momentarily loss of control.
The uneasy feeling in my guts turned into a violent twisting as I realized I might have created a very dangerous enemy. Despite my hearts objection, my mind couldn't help but think about how Alexandria knew every single weakness in Greece and in this palace and even worse, in me. The entire army followed my command due to respect and fear but they followed Alexandria because of their undying loyalty to her.
I wanted to just ask her, but I decided that now wasn't the time. I didn't want to push her more than I already had and there would be more than enough time later, when I had sorted everything out and Alexandria had calmed down.
First things first.
"I'm sorry," I said softly, watching as Alexandria averted her eyes and looked down at the baby panther that was hiding beneath the table. She shrugged her shoulders slightly, looking very much like the adolescent that had first followed me when I fought against Cortese so long ago, before looking up at me with sad eyes.
"Don't worry about it," The red headed woman murmured. My guilt was almost overwhelming as we stared into each other's eyes. Even though I was out of my mind with fever, I felt bad that I had hurt her by calling for the slave.
Wait a minute.
My eyes widened slightly as I stared at my second in command who was now dangling one hand between her legs so that the panther cub could sniff her fingers. "You were here."
"What?" Alexandria looked up in confusion.
"You were here," I stated. "Over the past few days, you've been here when I've been unconscious."
"Of course I have," Alexandria replied indignantly with a slight frown. "The only time I've left is to go to court until you woke up this afternoon."
"The slave wouldn't have known if I was standing right beside her, she was so immersed in watching you take every breath," Alexandria laughed mirthlessly.
I sat back in my seat, regarding the woman in front of me as she took another piece of venison from the platter she had brought me. I was confused beyond anything by everything that I was hearing. If Alexandria had been worried about me, then why was she acting so strange and guarded? Why had she hidden in the shadows when Gabrielle was here with me while I was out cold? Was she watching the former slave or had she been waiting for her to leave?
Who poisoned me?And what the fuck is really going on?
To Be Continued
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