Love Deprived, Full of Hate

 "Maximus, Maximus, Maximus."  Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus sighed as he picked up a small wooden figure of a man and placed it in the center of his model of the Colosseum.  The wooden figure was far too tiny to clearly bear the likeness of the new emperor's seemingly resurrected rival, Maximus Decimus Meridius.
 Commodus would never forget the way he must have looked, standing there before his enemy whilst the latter revealed himself in the arena, that day, all of Rome watching, his eyes wide, his lower lip trembling involuntarily, his throat suddenly too dry to manage speech, cold sweat beading on his forehead.  The young man bit his lip as he recalled the series of emotions he'd experienced, so many and all in only a matter of minutes.
 At first he was shocked, rendered completely speechless upon hearing Maximus' deep, husky voice and seeing his face, streaked with sweat, anger emanating from his dark eyes in waves.
 My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander to the armies of the north, general of the Felix legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius  Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.
 He was hurt because he'd been lied to, and he was furious at Maximus for still being alive when he was supposed to be rotting in some forest in Germania, dead and forgotten.  Yet there he had stood, his head held high, the mob that was Rome cheering him on as if he were some kind of god.  Each "Maximus!" they cry out like a sharp knife, stabbing through Commodus' heart, twisting and wrenching it's way deeper inside, tearing the tender muscle to bloody shreds.
 He was confused and betrayed.  Betrayed by his own trusted guards.
 If they lie to me, they don't respect me.  If they don't respect me, how can they ever love me?  These were the very same guards that had served his late father so well, so faithfully, and all for the "Greatness of Rome."  Commodus scoffed at the very thought of it.  The greatness of Rome.  Well what is that?  While his sister had provided an acceptable answer, Maximus was providing an even clearer one.  He was slowly but surely proving to the people that the greatness of Rome was something that their Emperor would never be able to show them.  Commodus had not slept in days.  The thoughts he'd managed to push back to the dark corners of his mind were resurfacing.  How could he enjoy a full night's sleep while Maximus was still alive, encouraging the people to defy and hate their Emperor, just as the gladiator, himself defied and hated his Emperor.  It would have to end, sometime.  Sometime soon.
 Commodus shook his head and stalked over to his balcony, looking out at the sun setting over the great city of Rome.  His city.  Presumably, at least.  Maximus had been taking everything that belonged to Commodus and claiming it as his own for the whole of the monarch's life.  Rome, the respect of his people, the love of his sister, the admiration of his nephew, and most of all, the respect and affection of his father, Marcus Aurelius.
 I search the faces of the gods for ways to please you, to make you proud.  One kind word, one full hug, when you pressed me to your chest and held me tight, would've been like the sun on my heart for a thousand years.  What is it in me that you hate so much?  All I've ever wanted is to live up to you, Caesar.  Father.
 Tears brimmed Commodus' weary eyes as he remembered the look on his father's face as he'd spoken to him, unable to control the choking sobs that welled up in his throat, making articulate speech extremely difficult.  The tears spilled forth as he recalled the overwhelming sorrow that had washed over him as he tried to make his father understand.  Another tear for the memory of the muffled wheezing against his chest and the hands clawing desperately at his back as he choked every last breath from his father's feeble body till it ceased it's struggling and went limp in his arms.
 I would butcher the whole world if you would only love me!
 He remembered Maximus' eyes burning into his own as he refused his hand and walked away.  They taunted him, still, depriving him of sleep and causing him to consistently peer over his shoulder and jump at shadows.  It had turned him into a paranoid insomniac.  I know what you've done, I know what you've done! those dark eyes so filled with hate seemed to say.  It was driving Commodus mad.
 In the beginning, when he'd first been appointed Emperor, he'd felt as if he'd a firm grip on his domain.  The people, the land, the politics, the law, all of which was rapidly slipping through his fingers.  All of it was changing because of a single man.  A gladiator.  A slave.  A man who, according to Commodus' father should have been emperor instead of his naive, immoral son.
 Maximus, you are the son I should've had.
 Although Commodus had not directly heard these words spoken with his own ears, he had seen them reflected in how his father had behaved around the former general.  Whenever Marcus Aurelius had looked at Maximus, Commodus had seen a deep and unconditional love, there.  A love from a father to a son, and it left him with a feeling of extreme jealously.  Whenever he had looked into the steely gray eyes of his father, he saw no signs of warmth an affection.  No love.  Not once in his twenty one years of existence.
 Commodus was supposed to be the most powerful man in the entire world, and yet he felt just the opposite.  So small in comparison to the great Maximus, who, unfortunately for the Emperor, was more than living up to his name, and getting famous for it, as well.
 The Emperor had heard of little amateur plays which were performed by commoners near the Colosseum.  Plays in which he was depicted by a midget whereas the part of Maximus was played by a giant.  Plays in which the former was always defeated and humiliated.  And then the people laughed and cheered.
 Commodus stormed over to the model of the Colosseum that rested on a table in a far corner of his bed chamber.  Then, picking up the small figurine he'd placed in the center of the replica, he said, "I never wished this upon you, Maximus.  I never wanted it to come to this.  But you have wounded me beyond the point of forgiveness.  I offer you my hand," he said, rolling the figure between his thumb and forefinger, "and you defy me by refusing.  I try to be merciful, and how do you repay my mercy?"  He held the figure up to his face, his blue-green eyes dark as storm clouds, seething hatred swirling in them like a torrent in a mighty sea, his thin lips curling into and angry sneer, and the edge present in his voice capable of cutting through stone.  "You defy me yet again."
 Grinding his teeth together, Commodus took an elaborately decorated dagger from the polished tabletop, it's six-inch blade glinting dangerously in the dim candlelight.  The thought crossed his mind if only for a moment.  Would anyone even care?  He quickly shook himself out of it and banished the thought from his head.   No.  I will not be a coward.  I am not afraid, and I will not yield.  He raised the figurine to his lips and and kissed it, then, baring his teeth, he threw the piece of wood to the table and stabbed it through it's tiny chest, working the blade deeper and deeper into the soft wood. "Nemo me impune lacessit*," he whispered through dry lips.  Then, he turned to a lit candle and held the dagger above it's flame, the wooden figurine impaled on the tip of the blade. Commodus imagined Maximus' bright red blood on the blade and smiled  to himself.  "You shall not get away with this treachery, brother, not again.  I will watch you suffer as I have suffered, till the flames of my hatred have consumed you and can burn no more.  The injuries you've inflicted upon me will not go unpunished.  I promise you."
 Just then, a strong and sudden wind came in from the balcony, rustling the curtains on Commodus' canopy bed and causing the candle to flicker, then finally go out, altogether. He stared at the extinguished candle, thin ribbons of smoke rising to the ceiling before disappearing into thin air, the smell of burnt wood wafting up to his nostrils.
 The lump of wood which was once in the shape of a man was still glowing brightly, the embers refusing to burn out, just as the man for whom it stood still lived, refusing to surrender, refusing to die, ever burning  Commodus' dignity as if it were a mere piece of paper, and smothering his pride as if it were Marcus Aurelius, himself, pressed to his son's chest, gasping for air and finding none.
 As Commodus flicked the figure to the floor and stuck the dagger's blade into the table, a single tear fell down his cheek and onto his crimson tunica.  "If you would only love me," he whispered, closing his red-rimmed eyes.  "If only."

*no one hurts me without paying for it