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Part One

As Traveller happily munched on some hay in the corner of her stall, Laura stroked the mare's
dappled flank, pleased with how the horse's coat shone with a healthy glow. Over the months
since she had arrived here, Maximus had taught her how to take care of his beloved horses,
and now she finally felt comfortable enough that she could meet the General's exacting
standards. East had kindly agreed to let her borrow Traveller whenever she visited, since wasn't
a good enough rider to handle a mount like Argento or Scarto yet.
Horseback riding had become a major part of the daily routine when she visited Crowe's Tavern.
Maximus loved to ride, enjoying the freedom of the wide open spaces in the surrounding lands.
And Laura enjoyed being with him, wherever he was. During her visits, she spent a lot of the
time away from the hotel, staying with him up at their special place in the forest. She was able to
spend more and more time at the Tavern now, since she had made arrangements at her office
to telecommute and do her work remotely. Real Life still kept the couple apart the majority of the
time, but it was much better than the occasional weekend visits when they first met.
"Are you ready?"
She turned and smiled at Maximus. "Yes, I'm done; she's all settled in."
"Good." He nodded, smiling back, swinging open the stall door for her, and she walked out,
sidling up next to him and giving him a quick kiss, knowing that East was about. She found it
endearing that even after all these months, when it was common knowledge that they were
lovers, Maximus still preferred not to overtly display their affection in public. It had become
almost a game to them both, staying reserved around the others but saving their passions until
they were alone.
They walked back to the hotel, holding hands. "I want to go over and see if Doctor Giraudeau
has arrived yet -- why don't you come with me after we get cleaned up?"
"That's the third time you've said that in the last hour. You certainly are anxious to meet him...
Should I be jealous?" Maximus teased.
She smiled. "Maybe... if he's good-looking," she teased back, squeezing his hand tighter,
giggling softly. She'd been doing a lot of giggling lately; they'd spent the last few days up at his
tent in the woods, hardly making it out of bed most of the time. "I'm just curious because NJ has
been so excited about the whole thing. She's put a lot of work into setting up the clinic, and
convincing the Doctor to come here. She told me she's known him since they were kids -- I want
to see what he's like."
"I'm surprised he agreed to come at all, once she told him about all of us."
"Uhm...." She hesitated, looking down at the ground, and his brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't

think she told him that yet."
"Why not?"
"Because she probably thought he'd turn it down. She wanted him to meet everyone before he
had a chance to get any preconceived ideas in his head... We really need a doctor, Max -- we've
all agreed on that. We're lucky we haven't lost anybody yet, what with all the crazy things that've
gone on around here."
He nodded reluctantly. "Yes, we do need one.... I just hope he doesn't change his mind once he
meets Sid, or Hando."
"Yea, because if he met Sid right away, he'll probably be gone by now!" she laughed, and he
chuckled as they neared the hotel.
"...I'll wait for you out front," Laura said to Maximus as she pushed open the front door of the
hotel lobby. He nodded, then turned back to Cort, who had asked to talk to him for a few
minutes before they left.
As she went down the steps and wandered towards the parking lot, she spotted Norma Jean
walking from the tavern towards her car. Waving to her, Laura called, "Norma!"
Norma Jean looked up and smiled, waving back, and the two women hurried forward to greet
each other, hugging.
"Hey, its great to see you!" Laura said, "You're just the person I was looking for."
"Really?" Norma Jean asked. "How come?"
"Maximus and I wanted to meet the new doctor -- we were just going to head over to the clinic.
Are you going there now too?"
"As a matter of fact, I was -- want a lift?" Norma Jean offered.
"That'd be great. Max'll be out in a minute; Cort wanted to talk to him about something. Can you
wait?" Norma Jean nodded, and Laura continued, "So how'd it go -- did you tell him all about the
guys and Russell yet?"
"It's going ok so far. He's a bit overwhelmed, but he's still here -- no thanks to Sid though," she
said, rolling her eyes.
"Oh, no," Laura groaned. "He met Sid? On his first day?"
"Uh-huh," Norma Jean nodded.

"Do I want to know what happened?"
"Uh-uh." NJ shook her head, chuckling.
Laura sighed. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised -- anyone new is like fresh meat to Sid.... Well,
I have to give the man credit for not letting Sid scare him off... So what's he look like? Is he
handsome?"
"Yea, I guess he is... But it's funny; I've known him as a priest for so long, I almost forgot what a
nice looking man he is," she said, giggling softly. She glanced over at her car. "I have a picture
of him in the car; I was going to get an ID made for him so he could use the medical facilities in
town." Laura followed her to the car, and took the manila folder Norma Jean handed her. "It's in
there."
Laura opened the folder, then flipped through it, brow furrowing in confusion. "Are you sure? I
don't see it."
"But I'm sure I had it..." Norma Jean took the file, opening it to the front. "... There it is." She
pointed to the small passport-sized color photo that was clipped to the first page of an
application form.
The man was indeed handsome, with dark wavy hair and piercing green eyes... And his face
was very familiar. Laura looked at her friend strangely. "NJ... I think maybe you've gotten his
picture mixed up with some 'Gladiator' stills. That's Commodus."
"Commodus...?" She looked at the photo again. "No, that *is* Anthony," Norma Jean insisted.
"...What?" Laura brought the picture closer to her face, studying it closely, realizing the man in
the picture was wearing a priest's collar. "Sorry; my mistake." She turned back to Norma Jean.
"Don't you see the resemblance though...? He looks just like Commodus in the movie."
"Really...?" Norma Jean took the picture back, staring at it. "Oh my... You're right! He does look
a lot like him -- I can't believe I never noticed it before." She shook her head, chuckling slightly.
"I guess that explains why he looked so familiar when I saw the movie."
Laura laughed too. "Well, that answers my question about whether he's good looking or not; he
*is* a handsome guy.... I was just teasing Max that he might have reason to be jealous if this
new doctor is good-looking. Wait until he hears this...!"
The women laughed more, but then Laura abruptly stopped, face paling slightly as she turned
sharply towards the hotel. "Oh my god... Max...."
"What's wrong?"

"I can't believe this..." She glanced at Giraudeau's picture again. "Our new doctor looks like
Maximus' worst enemy."
Norma Jean's eyes widened, and she put her hand over her mouth for a moment. "Oh my
god..." Laura was shaking her head, beginning to look a bit ill at the idea. "But he's not *actually*
Commodus -- Anthony's not like that at all. I'm sure Maximus will realize that once he gets to
know him.... Do you really think this will upset Max?"
"I don't know... Probably." Laura sighed, staring at the hotel door. "Commodus was responsible
for murdering his family and destroying his life... He's the devil incarnate as far as Max is
concerned.... It's going to be a bit of a shock, especially at first."
"Yea, I suppose you're right... But Anthony's a very gentle, kind man -- he used to be a priest.
He's dedicated his life to helping people. That's about as opposite from Commodus as you can
get."
"True, but -- " She stopped when the hotel door opened and Maximus emerged, walking quickly
down the steps and coming over to join them.
His expression was troubled, eyebrows drawn together as he frowned. "Sorry I kept you waiting,
but Cort just told me something very disturbing...." He said hello to Norma Jean, and then
paused, noticing Laura was upset also. "What's wrong? Did Norma Jean tell you about the
letters too?"
Laura looked puzzled. "What letters?"
"Someone's been sending some very strange letters to Michelle." Before she could respond, he
continued, "If it's not that, then why are you upset?"
Laura exchanged glances with Norma Jean, and then she said, "Before we go meet the doctor,
there's something I have to tell you." She turned to the other woman, handing back the folder.
"Can you wait a few more minutes? I think it would be good if we went with you."
"Sure, no problem. I'll just wait in the car." Norma Jean walked away as Laura led Maximus over
to a bench and sat down.
"What's the matter?" he asked, obviously concerned.
"It's about the Doctor. There's something important you should know before you meet him." He
nodded for her to continue. "He.... he looks like someone you know... from your movie."
When she hesitated, he asked, "Who?"

She took a deep breath, sighing, "It's someone you don't like very much."
He was puzzled, trying to think of who she might be referring to. "... Quintus?"
She sighed again and moved closer, putting her hand on his shoulder. "Oh, Max... I don't quite
know how to tell you this, but... it's Commodus. I just saw a picture of Doctor Giraudeau -- they
could almost be twins..." She held her breath, watching him closely, waiting for a reaction.
The light in his eyes died as the name registered. "Commodus...?" he said in an
uncharacteristically quiet tone. He sat silently for several long moments. "...The new doctor... is
Commodus!?" Shock turned quickly to outrage, and he spoke the name with a hostile tone.
"No, no! ... It's not the same person at all. Dr. Giraudeau is NOT Commodus. NJ says he's a
good man -- he's a healer, and a man of God. A very spiritual man... Physically, they're very
much alike, but I'm sure that's where the similarities end." She sighed yet again, rubbing his arm
comfortingly. "I knew you'd be upset.... Are you going to be okay with him living here?"
Maximus was quiet, struggling to comprehend how his tranquil, peaceful world could possibly be
invaded yet again by the ugliness Commodus represented.... But yet he was hesitant to judge a
man he had never even met. "I want to meet him, to see for myself."
"Are you sure? We could wait a while, and -- "
"No," he interrupted, rising quickly to his feet. "I want to see him *now*." He held his hand out to
her, and guided her towards the car where Norma Jean waited.
Laura followed without comment, and got into the backseat with Maximus. "Everything okay...?"
Norma Jean ventured hesitantly, glancing behind her at the two. Maximus just nodded as Laura
replied, "We're fine -- ready when you are."
"Oo-kay...," Norma Jean said as she started the car, a bit uneasy. She looked into the rearview
mirror, watching as Maximus turned away from Laura, a distraught look flashing across his face
for a moment.
Laura took his hand in hers as they drove off, and asked, trying to dispel the awkward silence,
"So tell me... What's this about some strange letters to Chelle....?"

Part Two
Anthony watched from the open doorway as the delivery van drove away, disappearing down
the road. He walked slowly back inside, shutting the door behind him, and surveyed the scene
before him. Over a dozen large boxes were scattered across the floor of the living room, and he

scratched his head for a moment, wondering where to start first.
He sat down on the sofa, opening up a box, discovering that this one was filled with his medical
books. He pushed it towards the hallway on the other side of the room, and soon three more
boxes joined it. The hallway led to his office in the clinic, and the boxes contained most of his
professional effects.
That left about nine boxes, containing all of his worldly possessions.
Nine. He was 32 years old, and his whole life was packed up in only 9 boxes. Even the furniture
wasn't his -- luckily Norma Jean and Michelle had arranged to have the place furnished for him,
so at least he had a place to sleep. He didn't even have that many clothes -- he had brought
those along with him in his car, but they hardly even filled a third of the closet in his bedroom
upstairs.
But then again, what did he really *need* to have around anyway? He had never been
concerned with money or worldly goods. His whole life had revolved around his medical practice
and his service to the church, leaving precious little time for anything else.
But now that he was on his own, he could have gone to work at a regular hospital, or set up a
practice elsewhere and been on his way to making a great deal of money. He knew most of his
colleagues in the medical profession would have laughed at his choice to set up practice *here*,
with a mere pittance of a salary, when he could be living in style and luxury.
But that didn't matter to him at all. He wanted his privacy now more than anything. He needed
someplace quiet, where he could think and pray and sort things out. He had a great deal more
questions than answers these days, and this remote little community seemed like the ideal
place to settle down while he tried to make sense of his life.
He sighed quietly. Starting over seemed like such a daunting task sometimes... But he knew he
could do good work here, in this unusual community. These people needed his help, and he
was committed to doing just that....
A bird chirping loudly just outside the window broke him out of his internal reverie, and Anthony
shook his head, looking to the task at hand again.
Grabbing a box, he hoisted it into his arms with a grunt, and carried it to the stairs that led up to
his bedroom and study....
".... I can't imagine why someone would be sending notes like that to Michelle," Laura said as
they all got out of Norma Jean's car. "I hope they find out soon who's doing it."
"I will have to speak with Bud and Zack when I get back to the Tavern," Maximus said. His
words were meant for Laura, but he was already staring at the building as they approached the

new clinic. It looked like an ordinary residence from the outside, but it actually had been
constructed with the clinic in front and a modest apartment in back for the doctor to live in.
Laura noticed that Maximus was looking at it suspiciously, as though it were an enemy
stronghold now, and she took his arm, trying to distract him a bit. "So Anthony's all moved in?"
she asked Norma Jean, hoping that using the doctor's name would help reinforce the fact that
he was *not* Commodus.
"Not completely. The rest of his things were supposed to arrive this morning. He's probably still
unpacking.... It'll be a little while before everything's up and running." She started up the steps,
Laura and Maximus trailing behind.
Before she got to the door, however, Norma Jean paused and looked at Maximus. "Max....," she
said hesitantly. "Anthony has no idea that he looks like .... that -- that person." She was afraid to
even say Commodus' name in front of the ex-gladiator. "I'll tell him about it later, but for now....
don't say anything. He's my friend, and I really want him to feel welcome here..." She looked up
at the Spaniard with pleading eyes.
"Norma Jean.... I can assure you I would never do anything to offend your friend... unless he
gives me cause." NJ raised her eyebrows at that. "Don't be concerned," he said, giving her a
small smile. "Being a general requires a man to be as much a diplomat as a strategist. And I am
sure that he merely resembles the emperor's son in some fashion -- I just need to see for
myself. And I have been curious to meet the man who will be looking after our health."
"Anthony is a very gentle man -- he wouldn't hurt a fly," Norma Jean assured him as she turned
the doorknob and pushed open the front door.
Laura entered after her as Maximus ushered her in, following closely behind her. She had major
misgivings about all this, considering that Anthony seemed to bear more than just a passing
resemblance to Commodus. She just hoped Maximus wouldn't be too upset.
"Anthony....?" Norma Jean called loudly as she moved through the room that would be the
reception area. "Its Norma Jean. Are you here, Anthony...!?"
"In here....!" a voice replied from a room in the back.
As Laura followed, walking beside Maximus, she couldn't help but notice the Spaniard's stiff
posture, or the fact that his eyes were darting everywhere, taking in every little detail of the
place. She knew he had very little experience with modern medical equipment, but she couldn't
help but feel that his soldier's mind was also analyzing the place, looking for escape routes.
There was the sharp sound of pounding coming from the back room, and Maximus tensed
more. They passed by three treatment rooms, a storeroom, a lab, and another room with a
hospital-style bed that seemed to be meant for overnight stays. Norma Jean walked through the

last door at the end of the hallway, entering what seemed to be an office.
Laura and Maximus walked in behind her, and found a man standing on a chair, hanging a
framed diploma on the wall. The room was half-empty, with a bare desk, empty bookshelves
and a few cardboard boxes on the floor. It smelled of fresh paint, as did the entire clinic.
"Hello, Anthony," Norma Jean said, knocking on the doorframe.
"Just a minute," he said, adjusting the diploma until it hung perfectly straight. He was wearing
slightly baggy gray sweat pants and a faded blue sweatshirt. His clothes were streaked with dirt,
and some dust had also made its way into his tousled black hair. "The rest of my things were
delivered this morning, so I decided to get started on things in here." He set the hammer on the
bookshelf, then stepped down, turning to face them. "I -- " He stopped, a bit surprised to find
three people standing there. "I'm sorry -- I didn't realize you brought visitors," he said
apologetically.
Laura was grateful that she'd seen his photograph beforehand, but she still couldn't suppress
the shiver that went down her spine. In spite of his disheveled appearance and a Loyola
University seal on his sweatshirt -- which matched the one on the diploma -- Dr. Anthony
Bartholomew Giraudeau looked uncannily like the treacherous Roman emperor from 'Gladiator'.
And even his voice was somewhat like his alter-ego's.
She didn't have time to dwell on her own reaction to him, however. She had felt Maximus' body
go completely rigid when he saw the doctor's face, and she squeezed his arm reassuringly as
she casually leaned against his side, looking up at him.
As a general and a frequent visitor to the Imperial court, Maximus was adept at hiding his
emotions. As he stared at Giraudeau, his face held a neutral expression, but his eyes were cold
and hard. To Laura, he looked very much like he did in 'Gladiator' when he had stood in the
middle of the Coliseum, surrounded by Praetorians, as Caesar taunted him.
Norma Jean must have noticed the tension level rising too, as she quickly said, "Sorry; I didn't
mean to surprise you, Anthony," she said, glancing at Maximus and hoping Anthony hadn't
noticed anything odd about the Spaniard's behavior. "But I wanted to introduce you to a couple
people you haven't met yet. They were away when you got here..... Laura, Max -- this is my
friend, Dr. Anthony Giraudeau, who's going to be setting up his practice here with us." She
smiled at Anthony, who nodded in response. She moved towards Laura, stopping right in front of
Maximus, who had no choice but to take a small step backwards. "This is Laura -- she's one of
the women who first told me about this place and encouraged me to come here," she said with
a smile.
"Pleased to meet you, Laura," Anthony said, smiling warmly, starting to extend his hand towards
her. When he looked down, however, he realized his hand was a bit dirty, and withdrew it. "Oh....
Wait a minute," he said, grabbing a rag from the top of the desk and wiping off his hand. "That's

better," he said, smiling again as they shook hands. "I know I'm not making a very good first
impression, but I've been unpacking all morning," he explained.
"Oh, that's quite all right --- I understand completely," Laura said. "We probably should have
warned you we were coming."
"Uh... Anthony?" NJ said, clearing her throat. "Speaking of first impressions...." She brushed at
her hair, and after a moment he got the hint, running his hand through his own hair and brushing
away the dust.
His face flushed slightly in embarrassment, and he smiled, "I suppose now I've done permanent
damage to my image as a dashing young doctor."
He chuckled, and Laura and Norma Jean joined in. "Not at all," Laura said. Anthony's smile was
warm and genuine, and she found herself taking an immediate liking to the man. Physical
appearances aside, Anthony was nothing like Commodus. The emperor was haughty and
arrogant, dangerous and cold, with the eyes of a snake, whereas Anthony had a gentle strength
about him, his eyes mild and a bit melancholy, his expression unguarded.
"Do you live here too?" he asked.
"No, I don't -- I visit as much as I can, but my 'Real World' home is in the Midwest, near
Chicago."
He shook his head. "I don't quite understand how the visitors are able to come and go so easily
from such faraway places... but I suppose I'll get the hang of it eventually."
Laura laughed. "Then you'll be ahead of me, because I've been coming here for nearly a year,
and I *still* don't understand it," she joked, and NJ and Anthony laughed also.
Conspicuously silent was Maximus, who had been observing the whole conversation, watching
every move the doctor made. Anthony was finally starting to notice it, and he made eye contact
with Maximus, having to look up slightly, owing to the fact that he was a few inches shorter than
the Spaniard. "Max, was it....?" he said, extending his hand towards him, and Norma Jean and
Laura moved aside slightly. "You must be Maximus -- some of the others mentioned you.
Pleased to meet you."
Laura could tell Anthony was a bit nervous -- but who wouldn't be with the 'gladiator's death
glare' Maximus was giving him?
"My name is General Maximus Decimus Meridius," he said in a low growl, and both Norma Jean
and Laura looked at him, trying to pretend they didn't notice he sounded exactly like he did at
the end of the Battle of Carthage, and both half-expected him to continue, 'Commander of the
armies of the North...'

But he didn't, his face softening slightly as he looked at Norma Jean, finally remembering his
promise to her. He reached out hesitantly, and grasped Anthony's still-extended hand. "Its... a
pleasure to meet you, Doctor," he said, respectfully bowing his head for a moment.
Laura slowly let out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding, discreetly patting his back in
relief and reassurance.
"General...?" Anthony's brow drew together in puzzlement, and he looked to Norma Jean. "He
must be the soldier you were telling me about." Norma Jean nodded, and Giraudeau looked at
Maximus again. "From ancient Rome...?" he said with a mixture of disbelief and amazement.
There was also a slight bit of apprehension, but to his credit, Anthony didn't seem to be letting
Maximus' underlying hostility get to him.
"Yes, I was born in what you call the 2nd century," Maximus answered rather curtly.
It was obvious the doctor was struggling to comprehend that fact, and Laura offered, "He
doesn't know exactly how he arrived here. None of the other men -- his 'brothers', as well call
them -- know how they got here. I don't understand it either -- its one of the many mysteries of
this place that we all learn to accept," she explained. Then she looked up at Maximus, smiling
for a moment. "But we're all very grateful that they are here." The smile Maximus gave in return
was guarded; he never took his eyes off Anthony for a moment. "I know this all must seem very
strange to you, but I hope in time you'll come to love this place as much as the rest of us do,"
Laura said to the physician. "We're very happy to have you with us, Doctor Giraudeau."
"Thank you, Laura" he said with a grateful smile. "But please -- call me Anthony." Laura nodded.
"I hope I can be of assistance. One of the reasons I decided to accept Norma Jean and
Michelle's offer to set up practice here was because of how isolated you are. From what I've
seen, everyone seems to be quite healthy, but accidents do happen unfortunately, and
preventative medicine is always very important." He turned to Norma Jean. "I've been thinking
that it would be a good idea to run physicals on all the residents, to set up a baseline to
compare with later on." Norma Jean nodded, and he spoke to Maximus again, "Would you be
willing to come in for one after we open up the office?"
Maximus' brow furrowed. "What is a... 'physical'...?" he asked.
Anthony's eyebrows nearly rose to his hairline in astonishment, and Laura gave a wry smile.
"Doctor --" she paused, smiling self-consciously. "Sorry ... Anthony, I think its safe to assume
Maximus has never had a physical."
"Oh my..." He seemed quite amazed at the idea. "Well, then it does seem as though I *am*
indeed needed here. Although..." he said, studying the Roman and noting the well-defined
muscles that were visible beneath the tight t-shirt, "I don't think I'll need to give you any lectures
on the importance of exercise to keep healthy." There was a light tone to his voice, and Laura

gave the man a few mental points. Maximus was being less than friendly, but Anthony was
meeting the situation with humor and courage. And she noticed that Maximus relaxed slightly; it
seemed that the good doctor might be able to win him over after all.
The girls laughed. "No, I don't think we will," NJ said. "Max works out more than anyone else
here."
"If anything, I have to tell him to take it easy," Laura said. "He's a definite believer in 'no pain, no
gain'."
"A man should always be prepared to defend himself," Maximus said, still wearing a somber
expression.
Laura groaned inwardly. Then again, maybe it was going to take a little while longer for Maximus
to warm up to Giraudeau.
Anthony looked a bit bewildered as to why Maximus was acting this way, and Laura said, patting
Maximus on the arm, "You've been a soldier too long, Max... I think you're scaring the poor
man," she said jokingly, but with just a hint of admonishment.
"Yes, Max -- be careful or Anthony might think you don't like him," Norma Jean added with the
same tone.
Maximus lowered his eyes, not saying anything but looking decidedly uncomfortable with just
being in the same room as the doctor.
Anthony broke the awkward silence. "That's quite all right, ladies. Over the years, I've seen
many patients who did not care much for doctors," he said. "I'm used to it," he added with a soft
smile.
"Yes, I'm sure that's it," Laura replied, wanting to explain the real reason but knowing she
couldn't do that in front of Maximus. She could tell that Maximus wanted to leave, but she didn't
want to hurt Anthony's feelings by just running out. She paused a bit, looking around the room
for a moment. "So how do you like this place? Do you have enough room in your new
apartment?"
"Oh, yes -- in fact, I think I have much more room than I need." He walked over to the other door
in the back corner of the room and pushed it open. "This leads to the living room in my
apartment. I'd show you around, but its quite a mess at the moment. And even when I'm done
putting everything away, there won't be much to see. I have very little in the way of personal
things. I sold what few pieces of furniture I had before I came here -- they were old, and they
weren't worth what I'd have to pay to ship them here. The apartment's going to be rather bare
for quite a while, I think," he said with a resigned sigh.

"I've been thinking about that," Norma Jean said, grateful for the change of subject. "Once you
get settled, Mannie and I are going to help you throw a housewarming party. We'll invite
everyone, and they'll all bring you some things to fix up the place and make it more homey."
Anthony looked embarrassed. "That's really not necessary, Norma Jean. I'm just fine with the
way things are."
"But we want to help you out. You're like family now -- once you're here a while, you'll find we're
a pretty close-knit group.... with a few exceptions, like Sid," she added.
Anthony nodded. "That's very kind of you.... I suppose it probably is a good idea -- if I'm going to
be living here, I should start to become part of the community."
"Yes, you should," Laura said, "We want you to feel at home here." Maximus was still quiet,
fidgeting a bit at her side, and she looked at her watch. "Well, it looks like you have plenty of
things to do, Doctor, so I think we'll get going now. We just wanted to stop by and say hello," she
said amiably.
"All right then -- it was nice meeting you. Both of you," Giraudeau said, looking at Maximus, who
merely nodded, then turned and went out the door, pulling Laura along with him.
"Nice meeting you too!" Laura called over her shoulder.
"I'll walk you out," NJ said, hurrying after them.
Maximus didn't say a word as he walked quickly towards the front door of the clinic, opening it
and ushering Laura out before him. He hurried down the steps and into the parking lot, slowing
down finally when he was well away from the building.
Norma Jean called after them from the porch. "Do you need a ride back!?"
"We'll walk," Maximus said.
Norma Jean stopped at the top of the steps. "Uh, Laura, wait...! There's one more thing!" she
called out.
Laura stopped. "I'll catch up with you in a minute," she said to Maximus. He nodded and kept
walking slowly down the road.
Laura walked back to the house as NJ came down the stairs. "Is Maximus going to be okay?"
Norma Jean asked quietly, thankful that Maximus could not hear them.
"I'm sure he will be once he gets used to this.... But it seemed like it was such a shock that he
didn't know what to say." Laura sighed. "NJ, I am *so* sorry -- please try and explain to Anthony

why Maximus was being so rude. You know he's not usually like that... Although I'm not sure
*how* you're going to tell him he looks like a monster like Commodus.... I don't envy you that
job...." She shook her head. "And its almost eerie just how much he looks like Commodus -- I
really don't blame Max for being at a loss for words."
"I'll break it to him gently... after all the crazy things I've had to tell him in the last few days -- like
Sid being a mix of 183 serial killers -- he may just take this in stride... At least I hope so," she
said, holding up her crossed fingers.
"I hope so too," Laura said, looking back down the road. Maximus had stopped and was now
sitting down on a rock in the shade at the side of the road, staring down at his shoes. "I'd better
go. I'll talk to you later." The two women hugged, and Laura rejoined Maximus.
She sat down beside him, slipping her arm around his waist and laying her head on his
shoulder, but not saying anything. His arm went around her, pulling her close, and he held her
against him for many minutes.
"Are you okay....?" she whispered quietly.
".... No...." came the reply after a long pause. "... Why *him*...? Why did he have to come
*here*...?" His voice was so full of pain it brought tears to her eyes. "How is it possible that they
look so much alike...?"
"I don't know...."
"I cannot believe Norma Jean brought him here without saying anything. Why would she do that
and never mention he looked so much like Commodus...?"
"She didn't see the resemblance until I pointed it out to her. She's known him for years, Max.
She wouldn't bring someone here who was going to hurt you... I - I actually like Anthony. He
seems like a very nice man."
Maximus did not look convinced. ".... You know.... I was in favor of bringing a doctor here -- we
do need one... But surely there is *another* doctor willing to come here who does *not* look like
that butcher..." He got up suddenly, walking towards the middle of the road.
She watched as he paced back and forth. "Yes.... maybe we could find someone else..." she
said. "But I doubt we'd find anyone as accepting of this place as he is. NJ told him about you
and the rest of the Boyz, but it doesn't appear to have phased him all that much. He could have
run off screaming, or even brought the Real World authorities or the media down on us. But he
didn't -- it seemed to me like he's settling in already.... If it weren't for the way he looks, he'd be
absolutely perfect for this place... Max... I know you'll like him once you get past his physical
appearance...."

He didn't look terribly optimistic about that idea, continuing to pace. She sat there, waiting as he
walked off some of the anxiety, until finally he stopped a few feet in front of her, putting his
hands on his hips as he lowered his head, looking down at the ground. "Norma Jean must be
angry with me for being so rude to her friend," he said in a remorseful tone.
"No, she's not -- she understands how upsetting this must be to you," she said as she got up,
moving to put her arms around him. "She's going to try to explain to Anthony what happened...
and who he looks like."
He didn't say anything, holding her close, staring back in the direction of the house. She ran her
hand up and down his back, not knowing any other way to soothe his pain at the moment.
"It is fortunate you told me what he looked like before we met," Maximus said after a long
silence. "If I had walked into that room and seen his face, and been unprepared...." He let out a
heavy sigh. "I'm not sure what I would have done... But I doubt that it would have turned out well
for the doctor," he admitted.
She looked up, and cringed inwardly at the look of pain in his eyes. "Lets not even think about
that, ok...?"
But he wasn't listening, continuing, "Or if I had seen him alone, without knowing who he was..."
he shivered slightly, and she held him tighter. "I -- I might have killed him, thinking that perhaps
Commodus himself had found a way to escape here from my movie too...."
"Oh god..." she whispered, realizing he was very serious... and realizing that such a thing could
indeed have happened if the two men had crossed paths before being introduced to one
another. She paled slightly, and slipped her arms around his neck, pulling his head down to
hers. "Maximus, please -- don't torture yourself like this." She kissed him softly. "Commodus is
*not* here... Anthony is nothing like him." She kissed him again. "Give it time... I'm not saying
you'll get used to this overnight, but just take it slow. Give the man a chance."
He pulled her against him, kissing her back, holding her close. "I will," he said softly when their
lips parted. "I'm sure I will become accustomed to it eventually... But it would be much easier if
he did not look *so* much like Commodus..."
"I know... I know," she whispered, swallowing past the lump in her throat as he heaved a heavy
sigh. "We'll get through this... together."
He gave a melancholy smile, whispering back, "Together..." He kissed her again, then drew
back to arm's length. "You must be hungry -- we should get back to the Hotel and have
something to eat."
"Sounds good," she agreed. "But I vote we go by the Tavern first. I think you could use a drink
right now."

He grinned wryly. "Yes, that is certainly very true..." He put his arm around her shoulder, leading
her back down the road to the Tavern.
Part Three
Anthony was staring out the window of his office, looking down the road, when Norma Jean
returned. "When you said that some of the residents here could be 'difficult', you didn't mention
him," he said as he turned away, moving closer to her.
"I wasn't referring to Maximus when I said that -- he's usually one of the friendlier guys around
here," she explained.
His brow furrowed. "Then... did I do something to offend him?" He mentally reviewed their
conversation, but could think of nothing that would have upset the other man.
"Yes, but not intentionally... It's, uhm... your face," she explained, knowing that that would only
confuse him more.
And it did. "What...?"
She sighed. "Anthony... Is there any iced tea left in the kitchen? I think you should be sitting
down when I tell you this...."
"...Anthony...?" Norma Jean looked worriedly across the kitchen table at him. "Are you okay?
Say something..."
He was just sitting there, his mouth half open, staring at his glass of iced tea, a look of stunned
disbelief on his face. "So... what you're telling me... is that I look exactly like some insane
Roman emperor... who killed Maximus' family and sent him into slavery... and *that's* why he
looked like he was ready to kill me...?"
She cringed slightly. "Well, uh, yes.... But Commodus didn't actually kill Maximus' family himself
-- he just gave the order for it."
"But this Commodus... he *did* murder his own father..." NJ nodded, and Anthony shuddered.
"Norma Jean, when you told me this place was 'unusual' and 'different', that was definitely an
understatement," he said, shaking his head. "I understand that you wanted me to meet these
people first and judge for myself... But you should have mentioned *this* before I met Maximus."
His voice held a note of reproof, and Norma Jean was mortified. "Oh, Anthony, I'm so sorry -- if I
had realized it beforehand, I would have said something. But I truly didn't see the resemblance it
until Laura pointed it out a little while ago. I wasn't trying to hide it from you."

Anthony instantly regretted his tone, and said gently, "It's all right, Norma Jean; I believe you."
Her face was still flushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I - I just don't want you to think I lied to
you."
He reached across the table and took her hand. "I don't think that. I'm just having a hard time
believing all this." He shook his head again. "Maximus is a 2nd century Roman general....? And
I look like his worst enemy...?" He looked to her again for confirmation, and she nodded
hesitantly. "And its more than just a story -- 'Gladiator' is an actual movie, something I could go
to the video store and rent...?" She nodded again. "... Perhaps we should do that..." he muttered
to himself, eyes dropping to the table. Then he looked up at her, saying firmly, "Yes, I would like
to see the story for myself."
"...What?" Norma Jean sat bolt upright. "Uh, Anthony.... I really don't, uhm, think that's a good
idea."
"Why not?"
"Because, uhm..." She tried furiously to think of a logical reason and failed. "It would be very
disturbing. Commodus is a very... nasty person. And that's putting it mildly."
"All the more reason to see it. If this Commodus character is going to affect my relationship with
Maximus so severely, I think it's important that I understand why he feels the way he does. He's
one of my patients now, and I'd like to attempt to have a good relationship with him, in spite of
this."
"But you never expressed an interest in seeing any of the other Russell Crowe movies. You said
you didn't want it to influence your opinions of them."
"Yes, I know, and that still holds true. But this is different -- Maximus' experiences directly affect
how he sees *me*. I can't deal with him properly if I don't know what he's been through... Do you
know where we can get a copy of the film?"
Norma Jean fought back a smile. "Yea... From just about every woman in the place, including
me. We must have about 3 dozen copies around. The same goes for just about every Russell
Crowe film ever made."
"Oh..." He seemed a bit bewildered by that fact. "... If you don't mind, could we watch it here,
right now...? At least that way I'll actually get some use out of the TV and VCR you've provided
me with," he added with a smile.
"See, I told you it would come in handy." She'd been teasing him the day before about never
watching TV or going to the movies. "I have a copy back at the hotel, if you can wait a bit while I
drive over and get it."

"Don't go to too much trouble though," Anthony said apologetically.
"Not at all. Like I said, there are tons of copies around..." She paused, thinking. "You know... we
also have our own little movie theatre, with a huge screen to watch it on. We could watch it
there instead -- it's much better to see it on a big screen."
He shook his head. "For something else maybe, but I'd rather watch this in privacy with you."
"Yea, you're probably right." She finished her iced tea and stood up. "I'll leave now...." She took
a couple steps towards the living room. "You're *sure* you want to do this...?" she repeated.
"Not really," he admitted with a sigh. "Considering that you seem so nervous about it. But now
that you've told me, I do need to see it with my own eyes.... It isn't a secret, is it? Something I'm
not supposed to know about?"
"No, it's no secret. In fact, 'Gladiator' was one of the most popular movies last year. It won 5
Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And Best Actor for Russell Crowe."
His eyebrows rose slightly. "Really... I guess I have been 'living under a rock' these past few
years," he said with a slight grin.
She laughed half-heartedly at the reference to their conversation about Russell a few days
before. "Yes, I think you have." She walked out of the kitchen and headed back towards the
door to his office. "I'll be back in 20 minutes..." As she was leaving, she turned and said, "But I'm
still not sure this is such a good idea..."
Anthony watched her leave, then wandered over to the large TV in the corner of the living room,
slowly running a finger across the top. "I'm not so sure either..."
An hour later, Anthony and Norma Jean were sitting quietly on opposite ends on the living room
sofa, watching the beginning of 'Gladiator'. Anthony had said very little, other than a muttered,
"Oh, my..." when he first saw Commodus. Otherwise, he had watched the film intently, with
Norma Jean keeping a watchful eye on her friend.
The opening battle in Germania had come and gone, as well as the aftermath, with Marcus
Aurelius' announcement that he intended to name Maximus as his heir. Norma Jean was getting
nervous with what was to come, however, and when Commodus appeared alone in his father's
tent, she hit the pause button on the remote.
"Have you seen enough yet? It is amazing just how much you look like him, but we really don't
need to watch more, do we...?" she said nervously, knowing she didn't sound very convincing. "I
already told you the story, right...?"

"Yes, the resemblance is quite astonishing, but I would like to see more." He noticed how
uneasy she looked, and glanced at the frozen image of Commodus on the screen. "Is
something bad about to happen?"
She nodded. "Yea, I was just trying to spare you from seeing it, Anthony."
"I appreciate that," he said, reaching over to pat her hand. "But please, turn it back on. I know,
you've warned me, but I want to see it anyway."
She sighed. "All right then..."
She hit 'play' on the remote, and the rest of the scene unfolded.
Anthony's face paled as he watched Commodus suffocate the life out of his own father, Marcus
Aurelius, but said nothing, mesmerized by the images on the TV screen. He sat transfixed as
Commodus acted the part of a grief-stricken son, only to order the execution of Maximus and
his family. When Maximus escaped from the death squad and rode hell-bent across the
countryside to reach his family, Giraudeau started to squirm in his chair a bit. He put his hand
over his mouth later as he witnessed Maximus' discovery of the charred bodies of his wife and
son, a soft sigh escaping him.
When the flower-adorned gravesites appeared, with an exhausted Maximus passed out beside
them, he finally turned to Norma Jean, and in a choked voice whispered, "Turn it off... please."
She quickly grabbed the remote, and the scenes of unconscious Maximus being borne across
the desert by the slave-traders disappeared. Anthony was still a bit pale, and she said, "I knew
this wasn't a good idea."
"The poor man..." Anthony said quietly. "What a terrible tragedy..." He shook his head. "Now I
understand why Maximus looked at me that way -- he must have thought he was seeing a
ghost...." He turned back to Norma Jean. "There's more, you said? He becomes a gladiator, and
eventually meets Commodus in the arena?"
She nodded. "Yes. The movie ends with a fight to the death... But they both end up dead from
their wounds," she explained.
His brow furrowed. "But how can that be? If Maximus died before the movie ended, how can he
be alive here?"
Norma Jean scratched her head. "I can't answer that, because I don't know. The men all say
they just woke up here one day, after the events of their movie, no matter how it ended. Several
of the other characters didn't live through their stories, but they're all here with us now.... Its just
one of the many strange things you have to get used to around here."

"Strange doesn't even *begin* to describe this place," Anthony said with a wry smile. He rose to
his feet, walking to the window and pulling open the curtains. He stared out into the distance,
noticing a moment later he could see his reflection in the glass. His resemblance to Commodus
was even more striking than he had thought while watching the movie, and he turned away
abruptly.
"You're right about that," NJ said, chuckling softly, trying to lighten the mood. "It's all just an
extraordinary coincidence," she continued. "When Maximus has a chance to calm down, he'll
realize that. Laura will help him understand too."
He nodded. "She seemed like a very nice woman.... Is that his girlfriend, or perhaps his wife?"
"Girlfriend. They're seeing each other, but they aren't married." She watched for his reaction,
wondering how the ex-priest might feel about all the 'sinful' goings-on in Crowe's Point.
But he nodded matter-of-factly. "Its good that he will have help dealing with this.... But as far as
it all being a coincidence.... I can't help but wonder..."
His voice trailed off, and when he failed to complete the sentence, NJ asked, "Wonder what?"
"...If this is all part of God's plan... The odds of *me* coming here to settle down when there's
such a strong association with Maximus seems like more than mere chance...." He glanced at
the crucifix that was on the wall next to the kitchen. "... But then... I'm not sure what our Lord
intends for me anymore," he added softly, almost too quietly for her to hear.
Norma Jean still didn't know what had caused Giraudeau to leave the Catholic priesthood, and
had never asked. Even now, she knew it was far too intrusive to ask what he meant. So she
stayed silent, and eventually Anthony seemed to catch himself, realizing he had said too much
out loud.
"Well then," he said, clearing his throat. "It certainly seems as though I have my work cut out for
me in getting Maximus to trust me as a physician. But my hope is that once he gets to know me,
and realizes I am definitely not this other man, that he will overcome his reservations."
She relaxed slightly, glad to see that Anthony was not too disturbed by what he had seen on the
TV screen. "Yes, it will be hard. But not impossible -- we all just have to give him some time for it
to sink in. Just wait; I'm sure you'll be friends in no time," she said optimistically.
He smiled at her enthusiasm. "I hope so." He glanced at his watch and whistled softly,
commenting, "Well, so much for finishing up my office this morning. I'd better get back in there
and get to work, or this clinic will never open."
"Yea, I'd better get started on the reception area," she said, and they both walked back through
the door to the clinic.

"... So finally, after about 3 phone calls and emailing all the technical specs, I managed to
convince the guy I was *right* all along." Laura shook her head as she sat across from Maximus
in the hotel restaurant, finishing the last of her salmon dinner. "I think he must have been one of
those men that don't think women have a clue about anything mechanical." She set her fork
down, reaching for her wineglass as she glanced at her partner. He was nodding absently, not
really listening, but then he often did that when she started talking 'shop'.
She was about to change the subject when the waiter approached the table.
"Can I take that?" Rick said to her, gesturing at her empty plate. She nodded, and he moved to
pick up Maximus' plate, but stopped when he realized the food was only half eaten. "... Is there
something wrong with your dinner, Maximus?" Rick asked.
Maximus looked up. "No, its fine." He'd been using his fork to absently push the food across the
plate, and he set it down now. "I... suppose I'm not very hungry," he said.
"Well that's certainly got to be a first around here," Rick joked -- the Boyz were all known for
their bottomless stomachs. But when Maximus' expression didn't change, Rick turned serious
again. "Sorry... Can I take that for you then?"
Maximus was slow to answer, and Laura said, "Why don't you wrap that up for us? He'll
probably eat it later."
"Sure, I'll do that right now," Rick said as he collected the plate.
"Thanks, Rick," Laura said as the waiter left. She looked at her companion with a worried eye.
The Spaniard was being uncharacteristically quiet, as he had been all through dinner. Even in
the Tavern earlier, he had kept to himself, hardly saying a word, nursing his drink, as she
chatted with Andy and Jeff behind the bar.
"Max...? Why don't we call it a day and go up to my rooms...? We can relax and take it easy; it'll
be just the two of us." She reached out and put her hand over his. "Is that okay?"
He managed a small smile, but she noticed it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Being alone with you
is always 'okay'," he said.
He trailed behind her on the stairs, arriving at her door when she had already unlocked it and
had gone inside. She watched him close the door behind him as she went to the kitchenette and
put their doggie bag into the refrigerator.
"I'll be with you in a minute, Max, but first I have to check on my office. I sent some faxes out
earlier and I need to see if I got any answers." Maximus nodded as she went into the adjoining
room. This suite was different than the one she had originally occupied when arriving at the

hotel. It was larger, with an extra room that had been set up as her office, and had a balcony
that ran from the living room windows to the bedroom.
When she emerged nearly a half-hour later, Maximus was not sitting on the sofa as she
expected him to be. The doors to the balcony were wide open, however, and she wandered out
onto it.
There she found him leaning on the railing, staring out into the distance, the soft breeze ruffling
his short dark hair. It was a beautiful summer evening, not too hot, with the sun shining brightly
as it crept lower towards the horizon. She joined him at the railing, leaning on it too, following his
gaze.
And she stiffened slightly, sighing softly, when she realized he was staring in the direction of the
clinic. She could just make out the outline of the roof through the swaying trees, but Maximus
seemed to be transfixed on it, lost in a world of his own.
It was obvious he didn't want to talk about it, and she knew from experience that pressing him
would only upset him more.
So she took his arm, gently tugging on it. "Come back inside, love," she said quietly. His eyes
slowly turned away from the clinic, and he blinked a few times, coming back to the present,
before nodding and following her into the living room. She swung the French doors shut and
slipped her arms around him, laying her head against his chest. His arms came up around her
waist, and he laid his head against the top of hers, and they stood there like that for a long time,
just holding one another.
After what seemed like hours, she whispered, "I love you, Max.... I'll help you get through this
any way I can. I'll never let anything -- or anyone -- hurt you.... He --"
She stopped when he pulled back and put his fingers over her lips. "Shhhhh... You shouldn't
worry so much. I'll be all right." She gave him a skeptical look, and he continued, "I'm not saying
it will be easy -- his likeness to Commodus does make me uncomfortable. But I do know Doctor
Giraudeau is not the emperor's son. He has come here to help us, and I respect him for that."
Laura was relieved by his words, but at the same time was unconvinced. There was something
in his eyes that told her he was far from "all right" with the whole situation. In spite of her
misgivings, however, she smiled softly at him, "I'm very happy to hear that. And NJ will be happy
too when I tell her."
He nodded, smiling back. "I hope so." His arms tightened around her as he pulled her into a
long, slow kiss. "So tell me, are you all finished with your work for the day? Do I have your
undivided attention now, or must I compete with those infernal machines in there?" he asked,
gesturing towards her office.

His beard tickled as he nuzzled her neck, and she laughed. "Yes, I'm finished."
His smile was genuine this time, and full of amorous intent. "Good... very good," he muttered as
his hands dropped down to her butt, pulling her hips against his, letting her feel his awakening
desire. She moaned quietly, as did he as she rubbed her body against his. "Do you realize how
long its been since I've made love to you?" he whispered in her ear as his hands went under her
shirt. She shook her head, and he continued, "Ten whole hours... We have to do something
about that, don't we?"
She giggled and moaned as he picked her up, carrying her towards the bedroom. "Oh, yes, we
do. That's far too long....!"
Stretching to relieve a cramp in his back, Anthony put the last book up on the shelf behind his
desk. It was already dark outside, and he decided it was definitely time to call it a day. Norma
Jean had left with Mannie quite a while ago, but Anthony had continued working. Now he was
bone-tired, and ready to get some rest.
He turned off the lights in the clinic, then closed the door to his office, retreating to his
apartment. He sighed as he looked over the mess that still remained there, vowing to tackle it
first thing in the morning. As he headed for the kitchen, he noticed that the VCR was still on. And
that Norma Jean had left the tape of 'Gladiator' behind...
He walked slowly over to the TV, and picked up the video's box. He'd been working hard all day
long, but the movie had never been far from his thoughts. He was still trying to wrap his brain
around the fact that the character of Maximus that he'd seen on the screen was indeed the
same flesh and blood human being he'd met earlier. More difficult still was accepting the fact
that Commodus and he could be twins.
He looked at the VCR. The tape was still in it, the movie only half-watched. Norma Jean had
told him how the story ended, but that didn't quite explain everything. He knew that actually
seeing it would be a different experience altogether.
Especially if he had to watch 'himself' die...
Swallowing hard, he set the video box down suddenly, and went into the kitchen.
A half-hour later, after a long hot shower, he entered his bedroom, drying off his short hair with a
towel. Slipping off his robe, he shut off the light and climbed into bed.
He closed his eyes, but sleep would not come. He couldn't get the movie out of his head. After
45 minutes of staring at the ceiling, he threw off the sheets with an exasperated sigh, and got up
again. In a few minutes, he was sitting on the sofa downstairs, the TV on, with the remote in his
hand. He sat there for several minutes before finally working up the nerve to press 'play'.

The movie started up again, as a wounded Maximus was taken across the desert by the slave
traders, and Anthony settled back into the sofa, getting more comfortable....
Two hours later, bleary eyed but wide-awake, Anthony watched the credits roll across the
screen with his hand on his throat.
Now he knew why Norma Jean had warned him that he might find the film too disturbing.
Commodus was a case study in the theory that absolute power corrupted absolutely. He was a
vile man, seemingly devoid of conscience and compassion. Giraudeau reminded himself that it
was only a movie, and that Commodus didn't really exist. And that, physical appearances aside,
he had nothing in common with the man.
But it had still felt terribly personal when he had watched Commodus die on the sands of the
Coliseum with his throat slit, killed by Maximus before the gladiator himself also succumbed to
the mortal wound from Commodus' dagger.
But in stark contrast to Commodus, Maximus had proven himself to be an honorable man to the
end, retaining his humanity and morality in the face of terrible circumstances.
There were tears welling in the corners of his eyes, which seemed almost silly considering he'd
met the man this very morning, and Maximus was very much alive. But the depth of his love for
his murdered family had touched him deeply, and he had a great deal of respect for the Roman
general.
The Spaniard's behavior when they had met this afternoon made even more sense now, and it
left Anthony a bit shaken to realize he was probably trying to resist the impulse to attack the
person who was -- or at least appeared to be -- his mortal enemy.
Gaining Maximus' trust would be a difficult task indeed, Giraudeau thought with a sigh.
Then he looked at the clock, and groaned when he realized how late it was. He got up slowly,
turning off the TV and VCR, and climbed the stairs to his bedroom, wondering how he was ever
going to get to sleep now...
Snuggling against the warm female body beside him, Maximus sighed, brushing aside his
lover's long silky hair as he nestled his face against the curve of her neck. He'd been dozing on
and off for most of the night, unable to fall into a deep sleep. He had thought that spending the
evening making love with Laura would have tired him out enough to sleep through the night, but
that had not proved to be the case. His mind was too restless, continuously bringing forth the
image of Commodus into his consciousness. As soon as he closed his eyes, all he saw was that
evil smile and those cold green eyes.
He shuddered involuntarily, and Laura stirred in her sleep. Her hand sought out one of his,
holding it gently and pressing it against her warm body, and she smiled for a moment, then

settled back down into a deep sleep. He envied her, that she could sleep so peacefully, and
dream about pleasant things.
He sighed, pulling her more securely into the curve of his nude body, closing his eyes and
reliving of the moments of bliss they had spent together earlier as he tried to let sleep overcome
his troubled mind...
He slept fitfully, tossing and turning, rolling to the opposite side of the bed from Laura, and he
began to dream....
....Faces floated past his mind's eye: Selene, Quintus, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Haken,
Lucilla, little Marcus, Proximo, Juba, Lucius. Memories flowed and ebbed, disjointed images
moving by in a blur...
"Commodus is not a moral man.... He must not rule... He will accept my decision..." Marcus
Aurelius' voice whispered in the darkness, and then Maximus found himself looking down at the
emperor's lifeless body. "You are the son I should have had...."
Tears stung his eyes, but as he bent down towards the old man, a voice said, "The Emperor
asks for your loyalty..." He turned, to find himself staring straight into the remorseless eyes of
Commodus.
He took a step back, and the scene changed abruptly as Commodus disappeared, and he
blinked in the strong sunlight, now standing on a hilltop near Trujillo. He smiled for a moment as
he recognized his farm, but that quickly faded as he saw the squad of Praetorians riding away
from the smoking ruins of his house.
He took a step forward... And stumbled as he looked up to find the charred, twisted bodies of
Selene and Marcus nailed to the beam above him. Trembling, and tears flowing freely, he
reached out towards his murdered wife, and fell to the ground beneath her, overcome with grief.
Voices echoed around him as he lay there.... "... Your family will meet you in the afterlife....
Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.... You will remove your
helmet and tell me your name..... What am I going to do with you? You simply won't die..."
He let out a choked sob, scratching at the earth beneath him. His hands encountered raised
mounds of dirt, and he raised his tear-streaked face to discover the graves of Selene and
Marcus in front of him. Fresh tears flowed as he reached towards the flowers that lay atop his
beloved's grave, but his hand shook and fell back to the ground, and he bowed his head, griefstricken.
He didn't have time to mourn, however, because hands grabbed at him, pulling him up, and he
found himself not among the Bedouin slave traders, but in the Coliseum itself. The roar of the
crowd was deafening, and he staggered back again as tiger came charging at him. He looked

for a weapon, but there was none, and he threw his hands up in front of his face, trying to
protect himself.
He braced himself for the inevitable deathblow, but it never came, and he opened his eyes
again, lowering his hands. The roar of the crowd had disappeared, to be replaced by the cries of
seagulls, and he turned around to discover he was in front of the Hotel in Crowe's Point now. He
breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he was safe here, but then he noticed a figure walking towards
him.
The man was dressed in gray sweatpants and a blue sweatshirt, and Maximus just stared as he
approached. "... I'm Dr Anthony Giraudeau. Pleased to meet you," he said with a warm smile,
extending his left hand. Maximus reached forward and grasped it, and Anthony pulled him into a
hug. "... Smile for me now, brother," he hissed in his ear, and Maximus turned his head in time to
see a glint of metal in Anthony's right hand.
Then pain exploded in his side.
He gasped as the dagger was jerked out, hot blood immediately beginning to stream from the
wound. Maximus' knees buckled under him, and he sank down to the ground, clutching at his
side.
He looked up, the word, "Why...?" dying on his lips as he saw not Anthony, but Commodus
himself, dressed in his white armor, standing over him, the dripping dagger still in his hand, a
wicked smile on his face. He reached forward and grabbed a handful of his hair, jerking his head
back.
"Since you won't die, I'll just have to kill you myself," he said as he brought the knife downward
towards Maximus' throat in a deadly arc...
Maximus' eyes flew open, a strangled cry caught in his throat. He gasped for air, eyes trying to
adjust to the dimness and determine where the hell he was. He clutched at his side, expecting
his hands to come away sticky with blood... But there was none. And there was no knife wound
either.
Grasping the sheets around him in tight fists, his wits returned in a rush, and he sank back
against the pillows.
Gods... it was a nightmare. He was in bed, in Laura's room, at Crowe's Point. He struggled to
control his erratic breathing. Gods, what a dream...!
Laura stirred beside him, obviously awakened by his movements. "Max...?" she said softly, her
gentle voice gravelly with sleep, reaching for him across the bed. "Is everything ok...?"
He didn't answer right away, still struggling to calm down. "...Yes." He wanted to say something,

but he just couldn't find the words at that moment. "It's... it's just a muscle spasm," he lied.
She made a small noise of sympathy, sliding over towards him. "Let me help..." She laid her
hands on his flank, rubbing his skin. "Where...?" She was half-asleep, but still fell into the
familiar pattern; his workouts often left him with strained muscles and cramps.
He guided her hands to his side, which still seemed to ache from the knife. As Laura massaged
the muscles, he relaxed into her touch, his breathing slowing. But he realized that she would
surely know something was wrong -- he was sweating heavily and still shaking slightly. "Max...?"
he could hear the concern in her voice, "what is it...?"
He squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't talk about it, not even with her. He pulled away,
muttering, "Bathroom..." as he rolled off the bed and headed for he lavatory.
He shut the door quickly behind him, flipping on the light. Blinking against the sudden
brightness, he turned on the cold water in the sink full blast, waiting until the water had gotten
icy cold before splashing his face with it several times, waking himself up fully.
He leaned over the sink, hands braced on the counter-top, as the water dripped off his face and
ran down his nude body. The images from the dream began to assault him again, and he
squeezed his eyes shut again, shivering. They were so real, he lamented. So real he could
smell the odor of burnt flesh as he entered the shattered remains of his house in Trujillo. So real
he could taste the earth as he lay beside his beloved's grave, waiting to die. So real he could
almost feel the knife slicing through his body... "Selene..." he whispered to the air, "I'm sorry I
could not protect you..." Tears mixed with the water on his face, falling down into the basin.
He bent over, splashing his face again. "Why did he have to come here?" he muttered to
himself. It had been months since he'd had any nightmares like this, and he knew it was hardly
a coincidence that they started again the day that Anthony Giraudeau arrived... Gods, how was
he supposed to deal with a man who's face was etched into his memory as the very devil
himself...?
Maximus remained there for many minutes, trying to calm down, but that only made things
worse, and soon he felt as though he was ready to put a fist through the wall. Climbing back into
bed with Laura and going to sleep would be impossible now. He had to get out of here...
After drying off the water that had run down his body, and relieving his bladder, he turned off the
light and left the bathroom. First giving his eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness again, he
went to the closet and quietly took out a set of workout clothes. He slipped them on, and was
putting on his shoes when Laura stirred.
"Max....? What are you doing?"
He sighed to himself. "Going out.... I need to do some training today."

She rose up on one elbow, peering at the clock. "At 4am..??" She flopped back down on the
bed with a groan. "Its too early... Come back to bed..."
"I can't sleep," he admitted, "and if I stay here I'll only keep you up." He finished tying his shoes
and stood up.
When she sat up again, he knew his voice had betrayed his emotions. "I'll stay up with you then;
I don't mind."
"... I just need to get some air. Please.... go back to sleep," he said, trying not to sound
impatient. He knew she was only trying to help, but there just wasn't much that she, or anyone
else, could do for him right now.
"Oh... okay..." she didn't sound hurt, and he was grateful for that. He wasn't being very
cooperative, but he hoped she'd understand.
"I'll be back later -- I'm not sure when," he said, and started towards the door.
"Wait..." He stopped as she climbed out of bed. He walked back to meet her as she came to
him, putting her arms around him and hugging him tightly. "I love you so much," she whispered
as she stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "...If you need time alone, that's ok.... Just remember I'm
always here for you, no matter what..."
That drew a small smile from him, as he held her warm, naked body, hands drifting over her
smooth skin. "Thank you.... I love you too..." he said as he kissed her softly. Then he reluctantly
pushed away from her. "Now go back to sleep; rest, my love...."
She nodded, kissing him on the nose before going back to the bed, and he went out quietly into
the hallway. He walked to the tavern, retrieving his sparring weapons before heading to his
practice site.
Part Four
*...Lament with me, Brother. Our Great Father is dead...*
With a snarl of rage, Maximus hacked at the figure before him, the blood singing in his veins,
filling his ears with a deafening roar. Hand and arm and sword became one, cutting a deadly
swath with each swing.
*... The surgeons say there was no pain; his breath gave out as he slept...* Green eyes, as cold
and hard as an emerald, swam in front of him, and he lashed out at them, trying to extinguish
their evil gaze. Back and forth, back and forth, the sword sang as it cut deep, rending flesh from
bone in his mind's eye, covering him in the warm spray of blood.

*... They tell me your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross...* A war-cry tore
from his throat, and he hacked mercilessly. *... and your wife moaned like a whore when they
ravaged her, again and again and again...* The emotions engulfed him, and he lashed out at his
tormentor, unable to see beyond the red haze of anger and grief that had descended over his
brain.
*... Did your friend smile at his own death...?* The image of Marcus Aurelius, pale and cold and
silent, filled Maximus' mind until his eyes swam with tears and his lungs burned. A choked sob
escaped his lips, stealing the breath from him, and he took one last half-hearted swing at the
figure, his strength finally failing. Sinking to one knee, he struggled to breathe, sweat rolling
down his face and body as he drove his sword into the ground, using it to support his aching
body, allowing his exhausted muscles to rest at last.
But his mind continued to churn, and as a semblance of rationality filtered through the rage, he
had to remind himself that this wasn't Germania or Rome or the Coliseum.... It was Crowe's
Point. He had been living in this special place for nearly a year, long enough to finally find peace
and a sense of belonging and contentment that he had seldom felt before. The horrors of his
former life had faded with time until they had become only a distant echo, nearly forgotten in the
warmth and love he had found here.
But all that had changed in a single day, a single moment, when he had looked upon the face of
pure evil once more. Nothing seemed the same now; the bright morning sky seemed gray and
forbidding, the sea hostile and cold. As he had walked down here from the tavern, he had
looked over his shoulder constantly, vigilant against an unseen, unknown enemy. Never before,
even when Sid had been at his worst, had he felt such unease here in this place that had
become his home.
Powerful emotions swirled within him, threatening to overwhelm him at times. Hand in hand with
the blinding rage went profound sorrow. The sight of "Commodus" had re-opened the old grief,
and he mourned his beloved family once more. They had been innocent victims of Commodus'
evil, enveloped in the storm of hatred and bloodlust that the madman had unleashed on the
Empire.
He doubted that anyone here -- not his 'brothers', not even Laura -- was capable of
understanding how profoundly shaken he was by yesterday's revelation. Yes, they had all seen
his film and knew the events of his life, but that did not mean they could ever truly understand
his pain. If they did, they could never expect him to welcome the new doctor with open arms and
accept him as one of the 'family' here.
But at the same time, he knew he was being unreasonable, that it was wrong to judge a man
solely by his outward appearance. But the face that Anthony Giraudeau bore was that of the
devil himself, and Maximus doubted that anything could ever erase the association from his
thoughts.

Sweat rolled into his eyes, stinging, bringing him back fully to the here and now, and he blinked
rapidly, using the sleeve of his t-shirt to wipe his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he climbed slowly
to his feet, looking around at what was left of the practice dummy. It had been hacked to bits,
stuffing everywhere, and he moved forward, using the point of his sword to skewer what
remained of its canvas-covered head. He slowly raised the sword, staring at the figure's painted
eye. "Why are you here...?" he whispered quietly.
"I think you got 'em, Max."
Maximus turned quickly, dropping into a defensive stance and raising the sword, but
immediately relaxed and lowered the weapon when he recognized the new arrival. "Hando," he
said, nodding to his brother as he turned again, banging the flat edge of the sword against the
dummy's support pole to dislodge the stuffed head.
"Guess you got an early start this morning," Hando said as he walked around the practice area,
stepping over the scattered stuffing and canvas of all the destroyed dummies that littered the
ground.
"I woke up early," he explained, avoiding eye contact with his student. "Since I haven't worked
out for a few days, I thought I'd get in some extra time."
"I was thinkin' the same," Hando said, "I wanted to practice my sword-work, but that'll be a little
harder now without one o' these...." He gestured at the mass of straw and stuffing that had once
been a practice dummy.
Maximus looked around, surprised to discover that in his anger and rage he had hacked apart
every single one of the eight dummies. But nonetheless, the anger still boiled within him, and
despite three straight hours of a punishing workout, he was still itching to fight. "You can work
on it with me," he told Hando. "It will give me a chance to see how well your training is
progressing."
A grin turned up one corner of Hando's mouth as he headed eagerly towards the box that held
their training weapons. "I've been practicing hard, ya know. This might just be the day I beat
you, General," he said as he retrieved two shields and a sword.
Maximus looked at him with an appraising eye as he took the extra shield. "You think so? We
shall see..." He moved to the opposite side of the training ring from his student, and the two
faced off, bowing respectfully to one another before shifting to an attack stance. After a short
pause, both moved forward, swords raised, and the match began.
They fought with barely controlled fury, the sound of steel against leather filling the air as sword
stuck shield with shattering force again and again as they pummeled one another. Normally
Maximus was the one who stayed in control while his student let his emotions get the better of

him, but this time he lost himself in the fight as well, wielding his sword as though he were
facing a rival in the Coliseum. Hando had learned much during the months of training, and held
his own, matching the gladiator blow for blow. Fortunately they were using training weapons,
with blunted blades, for otherwise the bruises and scratches that they both sustained as the
fight progressed would have been much more serious.
Eventually both lost their shields and then their swords, but they continued fighting, winding up
on the ground, rolling in the dirt, wrestling and punching, each struggling to gain the upper hand.
Maximus was determined to win, so when one of the discarded swords came within reach, he
grabbed it and rolled in one fluid motion, pinning Hando beneath him.
Hando could see the bloodlust in Maximus' eyes as the sword came closer and closer to his
throat. The Spaniard held the blade in both hands, pressing it down as Hando struggled to push
it away. The blade was dull, but a little more force and a few more inches downward and it
would crush his larynx.
"General," Hando growled. "Fight's over."
Maximus didn't seem to even hear Hando, putting even more weight down on the sword, and it
pressed against Hando's throat. "Fuck!... Max...!" That didn't register either, the murderous
gleam in Maximus' eyes continuing unabated, and Hando realized his life was truly in danger. A
surge of adrenaline flooded his system, and Hando fought back with all his strength, managing
to free one leg from beneath Maximus. His knee came up, jabbing sharply into his mentor's left
side.
Maximus gasped in pain, and Hando took advantage of the break in his concentration, pushing
him off and tossing the older man halfway across the practice ring.
Hando scrambled to his feet, rubbing his throat, breathing heavily as be backed away. "Bloody
hell, Max... Ya tryin' to fuckin' kill me!? This isn't the Coliseum!"
Maximus laid there on the ground, blinking quickly, and Hando watched his face slowly lose its
savage snarl. Pressing an arm against his side, Max sat up, panting quickly, sweat rolling off
him. He glanced sideward at Hando, muttering a quiet, "Sorry..." He gasped for breath, wiping
his arm across his forehead. "I... forgot where I was."
"No shit," Hando grunted, rubbing his throat again.
"Are you all right?" Maximus asked, noticing the red mark on Hando's neck.
Hando nodded, shrugging it off. "I'll live..." He watched as Maximus moved gingerly, favoring his
left side. "*You* ok, General?"
Maximus nodded. "I'll live," he said with a smile as he raised his sword slightly, saluting his

student. "You fought well. You have indeed been improving."
"Thanks," Hando grunted, turning away for a moment so that Max did not see just how pleased
he was at gaining his mentor's praise. He went over to the bench and picked up a water bottle,
squeezing some into his mouth before dousing his head with the liquid, trying to cool down and
wash the sweat off. He picked up a towel, blotting his face. "So what'd the asshole do this
time....?"
Maximus' eyes narrowed in confusion. "Who?"
"Sid. The bastard's always up to somethin', ain't he? Doesn't take a genius to figure out that
something pissed you off." Maximus shook his head, indicating Sid wasn't the problem, and
Hando held up his hands, backing off a bit, "... Hey, sorry.... Didn't know you two were having
problems," he said and moved off to retrieve his practice sword.
Maximus stared blankly at him for a moment. "What....?" Then he got it, shaking his head again,
"No, no... It has nothing to do with Laura either."
Hando nodded, but didn't say anything else, obviously uncomfortable that he had intruded on
the Spaniard's privacy.
Eventually Maximus stood up and moved to the bench too, picking up his own towel. "It's the
new doctor... Have you seen him yet?"
"... Doctor?" A shadow seemed to fall across Hando's face for a moment, and the sword nearly
fell out of his hand. He turned away quickly, wiping the sweat from his brow again. "No, haven't
been near 'im... Why?"
"I met him yesterday. He's... not what I expected. I was in favor of bringing a healer here, but
now that I have seen him, I...." He twisted the towel between his hands, knuckles turning white.
"I want him to leave. Permanently." He took a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut. "If you
haven't seen him, you probably don't who he looks like..."
Hando had opened up his gym bag, reaching into the bottom of it to retrieve a pack of cigarettes
and lighter. His hands shook as he struck the lighter, but Maximus was too wrapped up in his
own pain to notice it, or the fact that his student was smoking in the middle of a workout. A long
silence fell as Hando took a long drag on the cigarette, then finally asked, "Who does he look
like, Max?"
"Commodus," the Spaniard growled, his voice managing to express a range of emotions -loathing, contempt, sorrow -- in a single word.
Hando's brow furrowed for a moment, knowing the name was familiar but not being able to
place it at first. Then he grimaced, "I'll be fucked... The son of a bitch looks like that crazy-assed

bastard who...." He stopped himself before he said anything about Maximus' family, lowering his
voice, "who did all that shit to you....?" Maximus nodded. "How the fuck did that happen...?"
"I have no idea...." He heaved a heavy sigh. "Giraudeau is a friend that Norma Jean knew when
they were children.... I don't think she'd seen him much recently. She only knew that he was a
doctor who wanted to set up a new practice, and he liked the idea of joining a smaller
community." He sighed again, rubbing his forehead. "We do need a doctor -- we've had too
many close calls -- but why the gods would send *him* here to us is something I cannot
comprehend..." Voice trailing off with a pained expression, he wrung his hands together.
There was a long pause as Hando puffed on his cigarette, holding the sword in the other hand,
staring at it. "Then you ought to send him back the way he came... We don't need the bastard;
we've done just fine up until now without one around... Just give the word, General, and I'll help
you chase his ass right outta here."
Maximus glanced up quickly, and for a moment it looked like he was considering it. Then he let
out a long breath. "No, that is not the answer... We do need a doctor, and the others are very
happy with him.... Even *Laura* likes him..." he said with a scowl.
Hando grimaced. "A bitc--" Maximus looked up sharply, and Hando corrected, "a woman ought
to stick up for her man."
"Its not that simple, Hando. From her point of view, there is no reason for her not to like him....
He says he is here to help us. And we *do* need help. We've been lucky that the accidents
we've had haven't killed one of us yet, but what about the next time...? We need him here," he
said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than he was Hando.
Hando tossed the sword aside, staring at the ground as he puffed on the cigarette nervously,
lighting a second cigarette with the first when there was nothing left but the filter. "Just 'cause
he's got a fucking title doesn't mean he's actually gonna be any help," he said quietly, breaking
the long silence. "People treat doctors like they're gods, but they're not..."
There was a strange tone to Hando's voice, and Maximus finally noticed his student's odd
demeanor. "You don't like doctors...?" he questioned. Hando looked away, shaking his head
slowly. "Why?"
The skinhead tossed the cigarette butt down on the ground, grinding it out with his heel. "I've got
my reasons..." His voice was barely above a whisper, but his tone was not one that invited
further inquiry. Maximus respected his brother's privacy and let it drop. An uneasy silence fell
between them again and they both stared in the direction of the sea, listening to the waves
pounding against the shore in the distance.
He had thought that talking to Hando might help somehow, but all it seemed to be
accomplishing was making him feel worse, and Maximus rose slowly to his feet, wincing at the

pain in his side. "I'm through here for today," he said, gathering up his practice weapons and
returning them to the storage box. "You keep working out though." His student nodded, and he
looked around at the destroyed practice dummies and sighed. "I suppose we'll have to clean
this up and replace them."
Hando looked up and said, "I'll take care of it, Max." The older man didn't even acknowledge
that, and Hando watched as he walked away from the exercise ring, heading towards the
beach. When he had disappeared from sight, the Aussie leaned down, clasping his hands
behind his neck as he rocked back and forth, muttering to himself, "Fuck, fuck, fuck...."
When he finally sat up again, his face was ashen, twisting into a grimace. "Fucking idiot... Get a
hold of your fucking self..." Fists clenching, he tossed the lit cigarette aside and dropped to the
ground, starting to count off push-ups as he began a punishing series of calisthenics.
Part Five
Norma Jean climbed out of the cab of the truck, swinging the door shut behind her, pausing
briefly. It was a beautiful morning, the sun starting to appear above the trees behind the clinic,
the clear sky an incredible shade of blue, the air cool and crisp and clean, with the familiar tang
of salt from the ocean.
She looked towards the house and saw the curtains in the window beside the door stir, and
Anthony peered out, waving at her. She smiled back and moved towards the house. As she
walked up the steps, the door opened and Anthony stepped out on the porch to meet her,
sipping on a mug of coffee. His black wavy hair was neatly combed, and he wore a pair of faded
jeans and a loose-fitting green shirt which brought out his jade-colored eyes. "Good morning,
Norma Jean. Can I get you some coffee?"
"Morning. Yes, coffee please," she said, following him inside and into the kitchen. The curtains
of the large bay window above the sink were open, bathing the room in the golden morning
glow. She glanced outside, noting how beautiful the forest looked with the sunlight filtering
through the trees. "How are you this morning, Anthony?" she asked, turning back to him,
troubled to see the dark circles under his eyes. She'd been thinking about him all last night,
wondering how he was adjusting to the news that he looked just like a corrupt Roman emperor.
"Fine," he answered, but a little too quickly, it seemed, and he had trouble meeting her eyes.
Then his face brightened noticeably. "Very good, actually. Maggie came home this morning," he
said with a smile. He went to the coffeepot and poured her a cup.
Norma Jean paused for a moment, then smiled too. "Your cat?" Anthony nodded. "That's
wonderful; I know you were worried about her. You said she ran off into the woods right after
you got here." She spooned some sugar into her coffee, stirring it in before taking a sip.
"Yes, I'm afraid she did. I assume she's been off exploring this whole time." He shook his head,

sighing with exasperation. "You should have seen her; I heard a noise outside when I came
down this morning, and when I opened up the door, there she was. Just strolled in and headed
straight for her food bowl, demanding to be fed, as if she'd never been gone."
"I'm sure you're glad she's back though."
"Oh, yes. She's wandered off before and turned up days later, but this place is so unusual I
wasn't sure what would happen if she wandered off too far."
"She'd be fine, I'm sure." Norma Jean looked around, but saw no sign of the feline. "Where's
she at?"
Anthony gestured towards the ceiling. "Last I saw her, she was up in my bedroom. She's
probably sitting in the window in the sun. She loves to do that."
"Most cats do. Well, maybe I'll see her later." She took another sip of coffee. "So, are you ready
to go to work, Doctor? Where should we start today...?"
"I'm going to finish up the treatment room this morning," Anthony said, and Norma Jean followed
him out of his apartment, through the short hallway and into his office. Moving around his desk,
heading for the main hallway of the clinic, he paused briefly, gesturing towards the tape of
'Gladiator' that lay near the edge of the desk. "You forgot your tape last night; you can take it
back now."
Norma Jean stopped, but Anthony kept going, disappearing into the hallway. As she picked up
the tape, the cassette slid out of its protective jacket, and she noticed that the movie had been
stopped at the end. Which she thought was very strange, considering they had turned the film
off right after Maximus had buried his murdered family.
She followed him to the treatment room, pausing in the doorway. "Anthony...." she said
hesitantly, and he turned. "You watched the rest of it, didn't you...?" She held up the tape.
He turned back to what he was doing. "Yes," he said casually.
She watched as he took packages of gauze and bandages out of a shipping box and put them
into a cabinet. "And...?"
He put down the box and stared at it, unable to meet her eyes. "And it was worse than I'd even
imagined," he said quietly.
"Oh, Anthony," she said, walking over to him and laying a sympathetic hand on his shoulder,
"You should've let me watch it with you."
"You're probably right. But last night, after you left, I noticed the tape was still in the VCR... And I

was curious about how it ended." He sighed. "Its very difficult to believe all of this, you know.
That the Maximus I met yesterday is the same Maximus on the TV screen... Its terrible, just
terrible. I don't know how he endured it, being made a slave and a gladiator. And its no wonder
he looked at me the way he did, considering how cruel Commodus was, taunting him about his
family." He shook his head. "I've read histories of Rome and how corrupt the Emperors were,
but its quite a different thing when someone sees *me* as though I were one of them... I must
admit I'm at a bit of a loss as to how I can overcome such a strong prejudice."
"It'll take time, Anthony. Maximus is an intelligent man, enough to know you had nothing to do
with what happened to him." She smiled softly. "I'm sure when he gets to know what a kind,
gentle man you are, that you could even become friends."
"Perhaps, in time..." He pursed his lips, shaking his head. "But not right now. He looked as
though he'd seen a ghost, and in essence, that's exactly what he saw. He didn't see *me* -- he
saw a reminder of his past... I think it would be wise not to force the issue, but instead just let
him get accustomed to seeing me around."
"That sounds like a good idea." She patted him gently on the arm. "I'm sure the movie was
pretty disturbing, but keep in mind how Maximus retained his basic goodness in spite of what
happened to him. He's still that person."
"Yes. He was -- or rather, he *is* -- a remarkable person to have survived such an ordeal with
such dignity..." He paused for a while, looking down at the box again. "But let's forget about that
for now, shall we...?" he said. "There's certainly plenty of work left to be done around here... Did
you have time to finish with the reception area yesterday?"
Even though it was obvious that Anthony was still having trouble adjusting to this latest bit of
strangeness of his new home, Norma Jean kept her doubts to herself, deciding not to pursue
the matter for right now. "No... I have some more organizing to do, and Mannie's coming by in a
bit to help move some of the furniture around.... I think the idea you had for the layout will work
much better than what we've got now."
He nodded, "Good. I'll finish things in here while you take care of that...."
"We've been over every inch of that distributing frame, and there's no way to do what they
want," came the voice from the other end of the phone. "They've either got to give us some new
block assignments, or mine at least a hundred old cables."
"I know, Jim; I've been there myself," Laura said as she sat in her office in her hotel suite, talking
on the phone to her company's field rep for Wisconsin. She was working virtual office this week,
leaving the Real World behind for a while, but that didn't mean that problems didn't follow her
here to the Point. And this project -- putting in a whole new digital telephone switch exchange
into an old, congested building full of other telecommunications equipment -- had been a
problem from day one. "Cable's already piled up to the ceiling; you can't get 30,000 lines

through there. They want us to wave a magic wand and just make it work; someone needs to
tell them the customer is NOT always right.
"Tell me about it," Jim griped. "I think we need to get everyone together at the office again -you, me, the PM, and as many of their people as we can, especially the COE and the space
planner. Plus Maria in installation too. Then they can all see for themselves how bad the office
conditions are. I think we can do it day after tomorrow. You can make it, right?"
"Wednesday?" she frowned. Now was not the best time to leave the Point... and Max.
"Yea. You working virtual this week?"
"I *was* planning on it."
"Where're you at? Home in the city?"
"No. I'm..." she thought quickly. "I'm at my boyfriend's down south, past Joliet. Racine is quite a
haul for me."
"Sorry. But we need everyone to convince them they need a plan B. If we have to run cable up
through the second floor and back down on the other end of the frame, they're gonna have to
sign off on it.... And don't forget this is million dollar project -- we have to make this work."
"I know..." She sighed, rubbing her forehead. As nice as it was to be able to work virtual office,
there were times that her physical presence was necessary to interface with the customer. And
as the engineer for the their largest customer in the area, covering all of Illinois, Wisconsin and
Indiana, she knew she had to go. "I'll be there, Jim. Just let me know when."
At that moment, she heard the front door open and close again. She glanced at the clock, noting
that it was 10:30am. She was happy that he was back, but concerned that he had been gone so
long. She knew it was Maximus -- no one else would just walk in without announcing
themselves.
"Okay," Jim said from the phone. "I'll call you when it's all set."
"Good." She pushed her chair back as far as it would go, trying to see around the corner. "I'll
work on putting something down on paper in the meantime.... Anything else?"
"No, not right now. I'll let you go then, Laura."
"Ok. Bye, Jim." She set the phone down, getting up out of the chair. "Max...? Is that you?" She
looked out into the living room and down the hallway towards the bedroom and bathroom.
Max stepped partway into the hallway. "Here," he said as he pulled off his dirty t-shirt. "I need a

shower; I'll be out in a while." He turned away and closed the bathroom door behind him.
She stared after him, sighing. There was still something wrong; she could hear it in his voice.
Whatever nightmare he'd had last night, it had shaken him to the core, and it wasn't difficult to
imagine what the subject had been. She hated to see him in pain, and she thought briefly of
joining him in the shower. But he usually left the door open when he bathed, and this time he
hadn't, so she reluctantly went back to her computer and tried to continue working.
It was nearly 45 minutes later when she heard the shower turn off and the bathroom door open
again. She left the computer, walking out into the living room just in time to catch a glimpse of
Maximus' naked backside as he went into the bedroom. Smiling, she followed him, and walked
into the bedroom just as he was slipping on a pair of boxer shorts.
The flirty comment she was about to make died on her lips, however, when Maximus turned to
go to the closet, and she saw the abrasions and black-and-blue marks all over his body.
Wincing, she shook her head and said, "Let me guess -- you must've had a *really* good
workout this morning, right?"
He turned and looked at her, raising an eyebrow in question. "Why do you say that?"
"One thing I've noticed around here is that the number of bruises and cuts you come back with
is directly proportional to how great a workout you say it was... Actually, I think that applies to
most of your brothers too. This whole business about enjoying it when you beat the crap out of
each other -- Is that a Russell thing, or is it just a guy thing?" she asked, a slight grin tugging at
the corners of her mouth.
He smiled softly, chuckling briefly. "I would say that it is 'a guy thing'," he replied.
"I always thought so." She came over to him, slipping an arm around his waist. His skin was
warm and damp from his shower, and he smelled of soap and musky cologne. Her fingers
stroked gently over his left side and the large bruise there. "This looks pretty nasty. Who were
you working out with? Hando?"
He nodded. "The boy is improving... But I'm fine; its nothing," he said as he went to the closet
and picked out a clean tunic.
She suspected that he wasn't quite 'fine' by the stiffness in his walk, but she could always tell
when he wasn't in the mood to be fussed over, and this was one of those times. Instead, she
said, "I was thinking about getting something to eat; care to join me? Have you eaten this
morning?"
He shook his head. "No, I haven't. We'll go down to the restaurant then -- just give me a few
minutes to finished getting dressed."

"Sure. I've got a couple things to finish up on the computer, but then I'll be free."
"For how long? Don't you have to work this afternoon?"
"Nope," she smiled. "I got a lot of work done this morning, so I can take the rest of the day off."
Actually, she hadn't been able to sleep after he'd left at 4am, and had been working ever since,
so she'd put in a full day already. But she didn't want him to know she'd been worrying about
him ever since he'd left.
"Excellent; I was hoping we'd be able to spend some time together this afternoon," he smiled
back, coming forward to kiss her quickly on the forehead. "Now go finish your work."
She nodded and turned away, her smile fading as she left the room, wondering how he'd react
when she told him she had to leave tomorrow.
Maximus escorted Laura downstairs towards the dining room, but stopped when he saw a figure
heading out the back way. "Hando," he said loudly, and the other man stopped. Maximus turned
to her, saying, "Go inside and sit down; I'll join you in a few minutes."
Laura nodded, but lingered in the hallway, watching curiously as he went to talk to Hando.
"What is it, General?" Hando asked. Cradled in his arms were some fruit and bread, wrapped up
in a large linen napkin, that he had carried off from the dining room.
"I... I wanted to make sure you were all right," Maximus inquired, a bit hesitant, looking at
Hando's throat and the small bruise that had formed there.
"Me?" Hando asked, suddenly defensive, thinking that his mentor was asking about his odd
behavior earlier. "I'm fine; why wouldn't I be?"
Maximus sighed softly. "Because I wasn't thinking very clearly earlier this morning. I lost control
of myself during the fight; I could have injured you quite seriously." He raised his hand towards
Hando's neck. "The bruise -- its from my sword, isn't it?"
Hando took a small step back, relieved that Maximus seemed to have forgotten, shrugging off
the Spaniard's concerns. "Its nothing; I'm fine," he repeated. "Just another fight, nothin' special."
"Good." Maximus nodded, doubtful that Hando would admit it even if he had been injured. "But
remember, there's something to be learned from every fight. Learn from your mistakes -- and
learn from mine today. Always leave your emotions behind when you enter the arena. You may
think that your anger gives you an edge, but it doesn't. It hinders your judgment, and makes you
do foolish things.... Like nearly taking the head off of your own brother," he said with a wry smile.
Hando grinned back. "But you didn't, 'cause I knocked you off, General," he said proudly. "It was

a good fight, a real one this time, 'cause you weren't holding back like you usually do - " Hando
stopped and bit his lip, regretting his words as soon as he'd said them.
Maximus looked at him appraisingly, raising an eyebrow at the implied criticism. "You think I've
been holding back with you?"
Hando shifted from one foot to another. "No... uh, well... yea, General. I know I still have a lot to
learn, but today's the first time we *really* fought one on one. I get frustrated sometimes
because you pull your punches and I can't tell how I'm really doing," he admitted.
Maximus looked at his student with pride, nodding. "You *are* learning... So you think you are
ready to progress to the next level?"
Hando raised his chin, meeting his mentor's eyes. "Yes, General."
"Very well then," Maximus said. "Give yourself a few days for your body to heal, and then we will
begin. But do not forget that sparring in practice is only a small part of learning to be a soldier
and a warrior. Training is the key to everything, and we will begin by taking *that* to a new
level."
Hando showed no outward emotion, but groaned inwardly. Maximus' drills and exercises were
already brutal and punishing -- he wasn't sure he really wanted to know what other tests the
Roman had in store for him. But out loud, he said only, "I'll be ready."
"I would not be so sure of that," Maximus said. Then he took a step back, gesturing at the food
in Hando's hands as he said, "Now go eat, and get some rest. You'll need it," he added with a
wicked grin.
Hando just grinned back. "I will." As Maximus turned to go, he said, "General...?" Maximus
paused, and he continued, "Don't forget -- if you need help with that... other stuff..." He lowered
his voice, glancing towards where Laura stood, even though he knew she was well out of
earshot, "let me know. I'm with you if it comes to that."
Maximus moved closer, his smile fading, lowering his voice also. "That will not be necessary.... I
should never have said anything this morning. I let my emotions get the better of me, which is
exactly what you should *not* do. I will deal with this on my own, without violence, if possible,"
he said. "But I'm sure I don't have to tell you not to speak of this with anyone else."
"Hell no," Hando said. "I'd never do that."
"Good; it would only disturb the others if they knew." He stepped back, a small smile appearing
on his face. "I have to go now; Laura is waiting for me. I'll talk to you later."
Hando nodded and walked away, heading out the back door with his bundle of food. Maximus

returned to Laura, who looked at him oddly, asking, "What was that all about?"
"Nothing," he said a little too nonchalantly, "I forgot part of the lesson this morning, that's all." He
lightly put his hand against her back, guiding her towards the dining room, but as she walked
beside him, Laura couldn't help but wonder what he wasn't telling her.
Part Six
Laura and Max arrived in the dining room as the staff was starting to clear away the last of the
brunch buffet, but Maximus took care of a good deal of it for them, finishing off the eggs, bacon,
sausage and potatoes, filling his plate 3 times as he made up for his lack of appetite the day
before, and then some.
After eating, they headed over to the tavern, sitting down at a table with Terry, Bud, Jeff and
Rick. The place was quiet, with it being a Monday and most of the ladies having gone home the
night before.
The two soldiers started telling war stories, and Terry ended up entertaining the group with tales
of his more colorful adventures with Dino in his K&R days. Maximus laughed and joked along
with him, making Laura happy to see his brooding moodiness lift.
"The tools you have in this century are truly magical," Maximus said when Terry had finished.
"Machines that can talk to other machines in the heavens," he looked up at the ceiling, "to tell
you where you are...?"
Terry nodded. "GPS -- Global Positioning System. When we got dumped in the middle of that
jungle, we probably never would have made it out alive without the GPS receiver Dino had
managed to hold onto. I'd give you a demonstration, Max, but GPS doesn't work here at the
Point. We're outside the normal world; we don't exist in any specific place."
"Its too bad that it doesn't," Bud said. "Not that any of us would need it, but it might keep some
of the newer visitors from getting lost or something."
"The place isn't *that* big," Rick said. "Would we really have that much use for it?"
"Probably not," Jeff said, "But considering that this place seems to get bigger every time
someone new arrives, it certainly wouldn't hurt."
"Kind of a moot point, isn't it though, mates?" Terry said, sipping his VB. "Like I said, it doesn't
work here."
"But the safety of ourselves and our guests is always important," Maximus said. "We should
never become complacent about that." There was an unusual intensity in the way he spoke,
Laura thought, but as she glanced around the table, she was the only one that seemed to

notice.
The front door to the tavern opened, and she groaned inwardly as she recognized the three
figures that walked in. Oh shit... Not now, she sighed.
"No, we shouldn't," Terry said as he looked up, smiling at the new arrivals, "but I think we've
done quite a lot lately to see to it that we're all a bit safer around here. And he just walked in."
He waved them over, raising his voice as he called to them. "Come join us; plenty of room."
Maximus, his back to the door, had looked over his shoulder at the first sound. He did not move
or say a word as he watched Anthony walk in with Mannie and Norma Jean, but Laura could
sense the change in him. Her hand rested lightly on his forearm, and when he saw Anthony she
felt his body tense, the muscles in his arm bunching. She patted his arm reassuringly, and his
eyes slowly shifted from Anthony to her. He answered her worried look with a brief upturn of one
corner of his mouth, and she released the breath she had been holding.
He sat back in his chair, moving closer to her as the trio came to the table. "Hello." Norma Jean
smiled. "We're not interrupting, are we?" Her question was directed to the whole table, but her
gaze lingered on Laura and Maximus
Terry was already pulling out a chair. "Have a seat." Bud and Jeff, however, looked at each
other and then Maximus, having heard about the Spaniard's reaction to Anthony yesterday from
Mannie.
"You're not interrupting," Maximus said to Norma Jean, motioning towards the chairs. He looked
at Mannie, nodding briefly, and finally looked at Anthony, nodding at him too.
Terry and Rick looked bewildered as the palpable tension lifted. As Norma Jean and Anthony sat
down, Mannie remained standing, asking if they wanted something to drink.
Anthony asked for coffee, and NJ for Pepsi. Mannie went towards the bar, looking around.
"Who's working today?"
Rick moved to get up, but Jeff put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down. "No one.
Everyone's got the afternoon off. You're on your own -- Pepsi's in the fridge, and coffee's right
there. Should be enough."
As Mannie poured the coffee, Terry turned towards Anthony. "How're things going with the
clinic? Everything set up yet?"
"Well, we're not quite ready to open for business," Anthony said, "although we could handle a
small emergency if necessary. But with Norma Jean and Mannie's help, it should only be a few
more days now."

"Bonzer," Jeff commented.
Anthony's brow furrowed in confusion, and Rick spoke up, "That means 'good'. With all the
Aussies around here, you'll have to learn to speak the language, like I did when I first came to
work here."
"So I've noticed," Anthony joked, smiling. He looked around the table and added, "And another
thing I'm going to have to learn is how to tell you all apart."
"I'm sorry," Norma Jean said as Mannie returned with the coffee and two Pepsis, "I should have
introduced you again." She gestured towards her left, "Bud," she said and continued around the
table. "Rick, Jeff, Laura, Maximus and Terry."
They all smiled and nodded to Anthony, except for Maximus, who nodded but did not smile, his
eyes never leaving the doctor.
Rick spoke, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Doctor. And I have to say that I'm very glad that you've
come here. Its not easy for the.... uh..." He paused, wondering how much Anthony knew about
the Point. "... the 'residents' here to get medical treatment."
Norma Jean looked at him and said, "Its okay, Rick; he knows everything."
"Oh," Rick said, smiling with relief. "Yea, well, like I was saying, if any of them - " he pointed to
Bud, Jeff, Terry, Mannie and Maximus " - get sick or hurt, it'd be nearly impossible for them to
get medical care outside, not without raising too many questions and endangering their
existence." He stole a glance at Jeff, but didn't outwardly show his affection, not knowing yet
how the former priest might feel about homosexuality. "So we're all very glad to have someone
around to look after them."
"Yes, we definitely are," Laura said, laying her hand over Maximus' and squeezing it gently.
"I'm glad I'm here too," Anthony replied. "I became a doctor because I wanted to help people,
and this seems to be a place that is very much in need of my services. Plus," he said with a
smile, "I get to live here in this lovely resort -- I have the ocean, a golf course, riding stables, an
ice rink, an airstrip. Its all so peaceful here and quite beautiful... and unique."
"Unique doesn't even begin to cover it," Terry joked.
Anthony glanced briefly at Maximus, "You're quite right about that," he said with a sigh. "Norma
Jean has explained it all to me, but I must admit I'm still struggling with the concept."
"I know what you mean," Rick said. "It took me a while too. But eventually, you really learn to
love this place." Jeff smiled warmly, rubbing Rick's thigh underneath the table, without looking at
him. "And you won't want to see anything happen to any of them... well, except maybe Sid," he

added with a grimace.
Bud chuckled. "Amen to that." They all chuckled at that, except for Maximus, who only smiled
for a moment.
"You won't have Sid as a patient," Norma Jean said to Anthony. "He's not human -- and he can
heal himself, as long as there's some glass around."
Anthony looked bewildered, and Mannie said, "We'll explain that some other time. If we can,
anyway. I don't think any of us really understands it, at least not me," he admitted.
"Its not just you, mate," Terry said, "I don't get that sci-fi stuff either."
"Let me guess," Anthony said, "Its part of the 'magic' here."
"*Now* you're gettin' it, Doc," Jeff said with a laugh. "If there's something that doesn't make
much sense around here, just figure its magic and don't even try to figure it out. Makes for a lot
less headaches."
"I'll remember that," Anthony said with a grin.
"Or ask one of us about it," Bud offered, "But just don't ask us explain how the sun can rise
*and* set over the ocean."
Anthony blinked. "Yes, *that* will take some getting used to."
Terry held up his hand. "Let's not confuse the man anymore than he already is, mates," he said.
"So I'll change the subject, if you don't mind."
"Good idea," Norma Jean said.
"Are you getting settled in all right?" Terry asked. "You need anything, or need more help getting
the clinic ready?"
"Thank you for the offer, but we're doing all right," Anthony said. "As I said, we'll be ready to
open for business in a few days. The time when I'll really need your cooperation -- from all of
you -- is in getting up and running. In order to truly be of help here, I need to see all of you
before something happens. I'll need medical histories from everyone, and a complete physical
to establish a baseline for future reference. I'm sure it's been a very long time since some of you
have had a routine examination, if you've had one at all." He looked at Maximus, who was
staring back at him, but the Spaniard continued to stay silent.
Jeff and Bud were groaning, however, and Terry and Mannie were making faces. "A physical?"
Jeff said, "Sorry, Doc -- don't take offense -- but that's not exactly high on my list of favorite

things to do. I don't know how well that's going to go over with some of the other blokes either."
"No offense taken." Anthony smiled amiably. "I've heard it all before. But it is important... and it is
what I came here for," he said a bit pointedly.
"Fair dinkum, mates," Terry said. "That is why we brought him here." He shrugged. "Won't be so
bad, I suppose. In my SAS and K&R days, I've been to dozens of doctors, but it was rarely the
same one twice. Might be nice to have the same one looking after us all, who knows us and
might actually be willing to make an honest-to-god *house call*." He chuckled, as did the others,
especially Anthony.
"Yes, I'd certainly be willing to leave my office to look after someone, as strange as that may
seem in this day and age," he joked.
Maximus was puzzled, and leaned closer to Laura, whispering, "What is a house call?"
"It's when you're sick and the doctor comes to your home to treat you. Modern doctors don't do
that anymore -- you have to make an appointment to see him at his office during regular
business hours. If it's really serious though, you go straight to the hospital."
"A healer will not come to help you if you are too ill to leave your home?" he asked, and Laura
shook her head. "And they say my age was 'uncivilized'," he scoffed, eyeing Giraudeau critically.
"I do not understand modern life."
Laura shook her head. "If it's any consolation, it doesn't make any sense to me either."
"Medical science has advanced quite a bit since your day, Max," Terry said, "They may not
come to your house, but they don't use spells or herbs or leeches anymore."
"Well, actually, leeches *are* still used in certain situations." Everyone turned to look at Anthony.
"For reconstructive surgery and limb reattachment. Their saliva has properties that aids the
blood flow to the damaged tissue, which cannot be adequately duplicated with drugs or other
surgical techniques," he explained. "We're finally learning not to dismiss the knowledge of the
past. Sometimes the ancient remedies work as well, or better, than all our modern technology
and drugs."
"I'll be damned," Terry said. "Sorry, Max -- sounds like this is a case of the more things change,
the more they stay the same."
Maximus nodded. "Just because something is from an earlier time does not mean it is irrelevant
and archaic."
"Exactly," Anthony agreed, earning a nod from Maximus. "We should not ignore our past."

"Well, that may be so," Bud said, "But, Doc, when you put together my medical history, make a
note: NO leeches please." He shuddered slightly. "That's disgusting."
The others laughed, as did Anthony. "I'll do that -- Bud, isn't it? -- " The cop nodded. "I'll do that,
Bud, but I doubt the circumstances will ever arise where I would have to use them, on you or
anyone else."
"Well, I bloody well hope so," Jeff said.
Mannie nodded. "We've already had more than our share of trouble around here."
Anthony's eyes narrowed. "What sort of 'trouble'?"
The Boyz all looked at each other. "Nothing," NJ said quickly. "Nothing at all. No more than the
usual things you'd see with a group of 22 men running around."
"Oh, right; blame it all on us. Like you sheilas have never caused any problems around here,"
Terry said.
"Right -- its like a bloody soap opera around here with all the heartache and angst that goes on.
Not to mention a few life-threatening disasters," Rick said.
"Life-threatening?" Anthony scowled.
"He's exaggerating, really," Laura said, giving Rick a warning glance. "Yes, we've had a few...
accidents, but I think most of your patients will be looking for hangover remedies," she joked.
Anthony looked more disconcerted, and Jeff said, "Not that we're always drunk, ya know. We,
uh... We just like a good party... now and then.... but not that often...." His voice trailed off and
he looked away, rubbing his hand over his eyes.
"Uh, I think we ought to quit while we're ahead," Rick said, "before the doctor thinks that all we
do is have parties and get drunk and have crazy, angsty things happen to us."
Norma Jean and Laura looked at each other and tried not to fall off their chairs with laughter.
"Oh, no... things like that *never* happen here at Crowe's Point," Laura snickered.
"I think you'd better keep him away from that archive of yours," Bud said to NJ.
"Archive?" Anthony looked totally confused now.
Everyone was smiling and stifling a laugh, including Maximus. "Do yourself a favor, mate, and
don't even ask," Mannie said.

Anthony started to smile too, shaking his head in disbelief. "Somehow I get the feeling that you
should have hired a psychiatrist instead of a GP," he joked, provoking more laughter, particularly
when he looked at Norma Jean and said, teasing, "What have you gotten me into, NJ?" He tilted
his head, listening with some degree of amusement to the quadrophonic sound of Bud, Jeff,
Terry and Mannie laughing together with a distinctive, almost giggling cadence.
Norma Jean chuckled, "I told you this place would never be dull, Anthony."
As the others continued to laugh and joke, Laura leaned closer to Maximus, whispering, "You
doing okay?"
"I'm all right," he whispered back, giving her a reassuring smile. He noticed that her glass of iced
tea was empty, and he pointed to it and asked, "Can I get you more?"
"Yes, thank you," she said, and he took her glass and got up out of his chair. As he moved
towards the bar, she got up too, following as she said, "I'll help.... Anyone else want anything?"
she asked the table. They all shook their heads, and she joined Maximus.
"I think I can manage one glass of iced tea by myself," Maximus said to her as he took a pitcher
of tea from the refrigerator.
"I know; I just wanted to see if you're okay... with Anthony I mean," she said softly.
As he poured the tea into the glass, he replied, "I'm doing fine. You were right earlier."
She waited for him to continue, and when he didn't, she asked, "Right about what?"
"That it'll be easier once I get to know Anthony." He glanced towards the doctor. "He's not like
Commodus at all, is he...?"
Smiling warmly, she leaned against him, rubbing his arm affectionately. "No, he's not. I'm glad
you see that... Did you notice his upper lip too? He doesn't even have the scar that Commodus
did."
He nodded. "Yes, I've noticed. It is difficult to see the differences between them, but not
impossible." He handed the glass of tea to her, and was about to say something else when the
doors to the tavern opened.
Arthur walked in, clutching a handful of papers and receipts, going over to the bar. He looked at
Maximus, saying, "I didn't know you were working today, Maximus."
"I'm not; I'm just getting Laura something to drink."
Arthur glanced around worriedly. "Then who is?"

"No one, Arthur," Jeff answered from the table, rolling his eyes. "Its Monday, remember?
Everyone went home last night. It's quiet, so we let everyone have the day off."
"Oh dear," Arthur said nervously, "No, that shouldn't be. What if someone comes in?"
"Then we'll take care of them. But no one's due in, and its basically just us guys today," Jeff
explained. "Calm down, Arthur. The place won't fall apart if someone doesn't get a drink right
away."
"But there is someone new," he said, spotting Anthony.
"That's right," Mannie said to the physician. "You haven't met Arthur yet." Anthony shook his
head, and NJ said, "Arthur, come here and let us introduce you to our new doctor."
"Doctor Giraudeau?" Arthur said, smiling happily as he came over. "I'd heard you'd arrived."
Anthony stood up as NJ said, "This is another of the residents, Arthur Baskin. He helps keep
things organized and running here."
"Like a bloody slave driver," Jeff grumbled, not so quietly, to Rick.
Arthur gave him an exasperated look before turning to the doctor. "Welcome to the Point,
Doctor," he said.
"Pleased to meet you," Anthony said with a warm smile, extending his left hand towards
Arthur's.
Still standing by the bar, Maximus gasped softly, and Laura turned to look at him. "What is it?"
she asked worriedly, watching the color drain from his face.
He didn't answer, lost in emotion and memory as the dream from the night before flashed into
his mind...
"... I'm Doctor Anthony Giraudeau. Pleased to meet you," he said with a warm smile, extending
his left hand. Maximus reached forward and grasped it, and Anthony pulled him into a hug. "...
Smile for me now, brother," he hissed in his ear, and Maximus turned his head in time to see a
glint of metal in Anthony's right hand. Then pain exploded in his side....
Maximus shook his head sharply, trying to shake off the dream, but for a moment he could feel
the knife-blade in his side again. He looked at Anthony, seeing him clothed in white armor, and
the blinding rage rose to the surface once more.
He turned away, squeezing his eyes shut, telling himself, Commodus is dead. This is not real.

The doctor is *not* Commodus.
He felt a tug on his arm, and looked down into Laura's frightened eyes. "Max...?" she whispered
worriedly, "What is it? Are you okay?"
He closed his eyes again, taking a deep breath and clearing his head of the jumble of emotions.
When he opened them again, he looked at the group, seeing Anthony as just Anthony once
more, and the pain in his side faded and disappeared. "It... Its nothing," he breathed.
"Nothing...??" She looked at him incredulously. "Max, something is obviously wrong. Please,
talk to me," she implored, whispering and glancing at the others, but no one else seemed to
have noticed Maximus' odd behavior as Arthur chatted with Anthony.
He shook his head slowly. "I'll be all right. Please, just let it go," he said firmly.
She started to reply, then stopped, biting her lip. "Okay, Max, okay...." She glanced at Anthony.
"Maybe we should leave... go for a walk on the beach or something."
"No," he said. "I'm not leaving."
"But - "
"I will not let him drive me out of my own home," he said snapped. Laura's eyes went wide, and
he knew he'd let too much of his anger show. He softened his voice, continuing, "I meant... I'm
not going to keep running out of the room every time I see him." He opened up the refrigerator
again and pulled out a bottle of ale. "There's no reason not to go back to the table. I'm fine," he
tried to reassure her.
The color hadn't completely returned to his face, but Laura nodded anyway. "...Okay." She
hooked her arm through his and they walked back to the table, taking their places as though
nothing had happened.
The surf swirled around her bare feet, filling the depressions her footsteps left behind, quickly
erasing them from existence as Laura wandered along the beach, looking for seashells.
They had walked for nearly two miles after leaving the Tavern. She and Maximus had stayed at
the table with Anthony for another half-hour -- until Giraudeau, NJ and Mannie had gone back to
the clinic -- but Maximus never said another word to anyone, merely observing the conversation.
Laura sat at his side, trying to make small talk, never revealing to anyone else how deeply
troubled she was at his sudden mood-shift.
As they had walked here, he had been silent and uncommunicative as well, answering
questions in monosyllables, and when they had finally stopped, finding an idyllic spot to rest, he
had rebuffed her subtle attempts to get him to open up, retreating into a stony, brooding silence.

She'd gone hunting for shells as an excuse to give him some time alone, but she hadn't been
able to stay away long. Her path turned away from the surf line, moving further up the beach,
drawing nearer to Maximus. He was sitting in the same spot as she'd left him, one leg tucked
beneath the other, staring blankly into the surf. His tan skin glowed in the sunlight, the soft
breeze stirring his dark brown hair, and she smiled briefly, thinking to herself that no one could
be handsomer than her beloved Spaniard. But his rugged good looks were marred by the
melancholy look in his eyes, and she slowed as she approached him, not wanting to disturb
him.
She stopped at his side, lowering herself quietly as she settled beside him. She glanced
sideways at him as she clasped her hands around her knees, but he did not look at her, so she
sighed quietly, turning to look out at the rolling waves too.
Countless minutes passed as they sat together, unmoving, as the sun slowly crept across the
sky. The motion of the waves was hypnotizing, making her sleepy, and she was nearly ready to
lie down and take a nap when she heard him whisper, "Thank you..."
She turned, meeting his eyes as he turned to her too. "For what?"
He reached up and brushed a lock of her hair out of her eyes, sweeping it back behind her ear,
letting his fingers brush across her smooth skin. "For not asking. For staying with me but not
trying to make me talk about it. I know I have been terrible company lately; you deserve better,
but I... I need time to adjust to all this."
Her hand sought out his, small fingers slipping between his larger ones, closing and entwining
together. "I know. I can't even imagine how difficult this must be. But we're a lot alike, Max -- you
know that I'm not the type that needs to talk out my problems either..." She sidled closer, laying
her head against his. "But don't forget that I'm here for you, when you do need to talk. I know
you don't like to burden me with your troubles but.... don't shut me out. Let me help; let your
brothers help if they can. Don't try to deal with this all on your own."
"I won't," he said, managing a small smile. "I do need time, but I will be all right. A change like
this is difficult to adjust to, but if I could get used to life here at Crowe's Point, I can get used to
anything." He leaned in to kiss her softly. "So don't worry; I'll be all right." This time when he
smiled, it reached his eyes.
"I know you will," she said, smiling back as she slipped her arms around him, melting into his
embrace. They kissed again, his lips soft and yielding as their mouths opened to one another,
tongues caressing in playful dance. As she drew back, her hand went to his face, stroking his
beard as she said, "I'm glad to see you smile. I feel like everything's all right with the world when
you're happy." He beamed at that, but his smile faded as he saw hers fade first. "I just wish I
didn't have to tell you some bad news..." she admitted.

She could feel the tension return to his body as his brow furrowed. "Bad news?"
"Yea. Nothing terrible really, but its just that I won't be around this week like I thought I would be.
There's a problem with that big project I've been working on, and I have to go to a meeting
Wednesday. Which means I have to leave in the morning to get ready for it."
"Leave? Now?"
She sighed, troubled at how distraught he looked at the idea. "I know, the timing sucks, but I
have no choice. It's my job; I have to go. I figure I'll be gone about a week. But that's only seven
days."
"And seven nights of an empty bed," he complained, pulling her against him. "You know I hate
waking up alone."
"So do I," she sighed again. "But you know this is how it has to be; we're lucky I can work virtual
office as much as I do."
He nodded, grimacing. "But that doesn't mean I don't miss you when you're gone," he said. His
frown disappeared slowly, replaced with a resigned look. "But I understand. Go and do what you
must, and I'll be waiting for you. And do not concern yourself with me -- as I told you, I'll be all
right while you're gone."
"I know you will," she said, but inwardly wasn't sure if she believed it. Leaving him alone for
seven days in the state he was in was not a wise thing, but the choice was not hers to make.
"But I'm not leaving right now, of course. We still have tonight..." she said seductively, her hand
sliding across his thigh.
An amorous glint appeared in his eyes. "Indeed we do... And I will see to it tonight that you will
be very anxious to return for more."
"Yea?" she chuckled. "Well, why do we have to wait until *tonight*...?" Her lips brushed across
the side of his face, moving to tickle his ear as she ran her tongue over the shell of his ear.
"We're all alone out here, General..."
"So we are," he chuckled back, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her down onto the
sand.
Part Seven
John came in the front door of the Tavern and scanned the room, obviously looking for
someone. He frowned, then headed towards Andy who was working behind the bar. "Have you
seen Max around, Andy?"
Looking up from the glass he was drying with a bar-towel, Andy shook his head. "Nope, not

today. Haven't seen much of him this week."
"Neither have I," John said, his frown deepening. "In fact, I don't think I've seen him at all, not
since Laura left." He walked towards the tables and said loudly, "Has *anyone* seen Max in the
last few days...?" His eyes swept over the room.
Alex, who was sitting in a corner with his feet up on the table, watching a baseball game, shook
his head. "No, I haven't either."
Bud and Colin were at a table playing poker. They looked at each other worriedly. "No," Bud
said, laying down his cards. "You think something's wrong, John?"
"I don't know... Could be...." He looked over at the far corner where Sid was sitting at a booth by
himself, nursing a glass of wine, pinning away for his absent lover, as he usually did while she
was gone from the Point. "Have you seen him, Sid?"
Sid glared in annoyance, obviously irritated at being disturbed. "Thankfully no. As long he's not
around here throwing his weight around, I really don't care where he is."
"Your concern is touching, Sid," John said with a touch of sarcasm, then turned towards Terry,
who was hunched over a book in a nearby booth with a pint by his side. "Terry?"
Terry glanced up. "No -- haven't seen him," he replied, turning his attention back to the book.
"He's probably gone up into the hills to that special spot of his," Colin said.
"That's what I thought too," John said, "But I was down at the stables a while ago, talking to
East, and both of Max's horses are still there, and have been all week. Max asked East to look
after Scarto and Argento, but apparently Max has still been around to do stuff -- but in the
middle of the night -- because East has never seen him come by." Bud's frown deepened and
he got up, walking over to John. "I've been looking all over for him today, but I can't find him
anywhere -- the stables, the hotel, his room, the beach, the practice ring, the ice rink, the golf
course, the airstrip, the grape groves, the wheat fields.... he's nowhere. I talked to Hando, and
apparently *he's* the only one who's seen him, early in the mornings for a workout, but he said
Max didn't stick around long, just gave him instructions and left. I got the impression Hando
knew more than he was saying, but I don't know for sure." By now, Alex and Colin had joined
Bud. "Tina told me Annabella had mentioned that food's been disappearing from the kitchen in
the middle of the night too -- its gotta be Max too since he hasn't been around for meals....
Question is -- *where* the hell is Max disappearing to?"
Bud sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets as he stared down at the floor. "I hate to even
suggest this...." He looked up at John, "But have you asked around at the clinic? Has NJ or
Anthony seen him?"

John sighed. "I thought of that too. But no -- Mannie, NJ, Anthony -- none of them has seen Max
at all." He shook his head. "I don't like this, guys.... With Laura gone, I don't know what to think.
What could he possibly be doing?"
"Maybe he's just sick of all of you -- have you ever thought of *that*?" Sid said sarcastically.
John gave him a long-suffering look. "Yes, I have, Sid. But he usually just goes up into the hills
and camps out. He didn't do that -- he's *here*.... somewhere."
Colin said, "If we can't find him, that probably means he doesn't want to be found, mates. If
Hando's seen him, at least we know he's not lying in a ditch with a broken neck or something.
Best let him be for now, I say."
"Maybe so," John said, "but I'd still feel better if I could talk to him, see how he's doing. If he just
needs quiet time, then fine, I'll leave him alone. But in the meantime, my gut is telling me
something's not right with all this."
"Sorry, John," Terry said, looking up from his book. "But I'm with Colin -- Let him be. I'm sure
Max knows what he's doing. I realize he has a lot to deal with right now, but he'll work through
it," he said, "Give him time."
John turned and looked at Alex. "What's your opinion?"
"I agree that it's a bit odd," Ross said, "but it's only been a few days, and Max isn't the type to go
off half-cocked. He obviously needs some privacy, so I say we leave him alone."
"I'm sure Max is fine," Andy said. "He'll turn up again eventually."
"Well, something about this just doesn't feel right to me either," Bud said. "Max didn't seem like
himself the other day when Anthony came in here -- I think it's harder for him to deal with
Anthony's resemblance to Commodus than we realize. He might need our help."
John nodded. "I wish I'd been there to see how he reacted to Anthony."
Sid snorted. "Do you think its possible for you to keep your nose out of everyone else's
business, Biebe? If you want to play referee, try the hockey rink instead. Let the two of them
deal with it." A smirk appeared on his perfect features. "It would certainly be interesting to see
them go after each other, I must admit -- this place has been far too dull lately, you know."
Bud's face darkened as he walked towards Sid's table. "You just see to it that *you* keep your
nose out of their business. The last thing we need is for you to stir up more trouble between
them."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Sid said with mock innocence.

Bud rolled his eyes and turned around, shaking his head. It was difficult sometimes to control
his temper, but he knew Sid was just trying to get under his skin, as he usually did, so he
managed to suppress his natural urge to deck him.
"Well," John said, ignoring the two, "We'll just have to wait until Max turns up."
Fuck you, Hando, Terry cursed under his breath as he jogged along the path, heading away
from the practice arena and back towards the tavern. He'd gone there as part of his early
morning exercise, hoping to find Maximus and perhaps talk to him a little, but he had found only
Hando as the former-skinhead worked out. Hando had been less than cooperative, only telling
him that he had seen Maximus earlier but had said nothing else, stonewalling any attempt at
conversation.
Every time Terry thought he had Hando figured out and could actually talk to him, Hando acted
like an ass and pissed him off, like just now. You can take your attitude and shove it, Terry
fumed as he ran past the tavern, turning and heading west, jogging at the side of the road
where the over-hanging trees gave some shade from the bright morning sun.
Terry took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, clearing all the angry thoughts from his head as he
jogged, concentrating on the beauty around him. The trees grew thicker, green and lush, as the
road wound through the forest, eventually heading past the new clinic and leading into more
pristine forest. Terry had declined an offer from Jeff to go running with him -- sometimes he liked
having company, but other times he needed to get away from his 'brothers', enjoying the
solitude of an early-morning run. And this was definitely one of those mornings, Terry thought,
wishing he hadn't even bothered trying to talk to Hando.
His thoughts were interrupted by an ache in his leg, which quickly became a shooting pain, and
his jogging came to an abrupt halt. "Bloody hell!" he cursed, hopping around on his left leg as
the right cramped painfully with a nasty charlie-horse. Swearing colorfully, he tried to walk it off,
but to no avail. He hobbled off the road, heading for the nearest tree, where he leaned up
against it and waited for the cramp to ease. But it just got worse.
"Bugger," he cursed, looking around for somewhere to sit down. But the ground was still wet
from the morning dew, and when he spotted a fallen tree trunk about 50 feet away, he headed
towards it.
He collapsed on the tree trunk, reaching down to rub down his aching leg, trying to work out the
cramp. Slowly the cramp subsided and he walked around on it, working it out, then sat down on
the tree trunk again to rest for a few more minutes.
This is what you get for not warming up enough, Terry muttered to himself as he flexed his foot,
gently stretching the calf muscles, still feeling a slight tightness in them. After a time, though, he
felt ready to continue running.

But before he could get up, the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly rose, and Terry knew he
was being watched; 15 years of being a soldier had given him a sixth sense for these things. He
pretended he hadn't noticed anything, however, and casually glanced around, looking for the
source of his unease. There was nothing in front of him, however, so he got up slowly,
appearing as though he was going back to the road, but scanning 360 degrees around him.
And then he saw it. About seventy feet further into the forest, up at the top of a low hill, there
was a clump of bushes arranged around a tree, but they didn't look right. They seemed a bit too
symmetrical, too artificial. And there was a figure there, lurking in the shadows, crouched down
behind the bushes, and Terry dropped to one knee, instinctively reaching for a weapon. But, of
course, there was no longer one there on his belt, and his eyes narrowed, trying to figure out
who could possibly be skulking about. Just then, however, the figure moved out of the shadows
and into the sunlight, and Terry's jaw dropped.
It was Maximus.
The Roman was dressed in camouflage gear, his face smeared with dirt, and Terry stared in
shock as Maximus stared back at him. Then Maximus looked down, sighing, and motioned for
Terry to join him. After hesitating briefly, Terry moved forward, growing more confused when
Maximus motioned for him to stay low. So he dropped down again, moving in stealth mode,
favoring his sore right leg, glancing around to check for anyone else. Terry couldn't see another
soul in the quiet forest, however, and when he reached Maximus, crouching down behind the
bushes with him, he whispered sharply, "What the hell's going on? What are you doing out
here?"
Maximus looked uneasy, Terry realized, increasing his confusion. And his one word answer,
"Observing", didn't help.
"Observing what?" Terry questioned.
Maximus turned his head, motioning to his right. Terry's eyes followed his, through the gaps in
the bushes, down the gently-sloping hill, through the trees, down to the small white house about
a quarter-mile away. It was the clinic; Terry could even see a figure, which he assumed was Dr.
Anthony, moving around in the kitchen through the open curtains of the bay window.
Anthony...
Bloody hell.
Terry tore his eyes away from the house, looking around at the immediate area, even more
astonished at what he was seeing. He'd done enough surveillance in his day to recognize a
stake-out when he saw one. The area looked lived-in, as though someone had spent a great
deal of time here. The 'bushes' were actually tree branches which had been carefully arranged

to hide Maximus but allow an unobstructed view of the house. There were two pairs of
binoculars, one regular and one with night-vision, laying on the dark green canvas tarp that
covered the ground, as well as a water jug, a Styrofoam dinner plate with the remnants of
breakfast, camping gear, a bed-roll... and a sword.
Closer inspection revealed that most of the gear was very familiar -- it was actually his old K&R
equipment, including the clothes. Maximus had somehow managed to sneak into his closet and
take them without his noticing.
Laura had been gone for four days, and now Terry knew where Maximus had been keeping
himself all this time.
Terry looked his brother in the eye. "I might not have minded if you borrowed my gear -- *if* you
had asked me first." Maximus continued to stare back, showing no emotion, and Terry asked,
"Why do you have Anthony under surveillance? Has he done something I don't know about?"
"No... Not yet."
"Not yet...?" Terry was bewildered. "Mate, I know he looks like that bloke Commodus, but
Anthony is a doctor. And an ex-priest. What's the worst he could do? Try to convert you?" He
had a pretty good idea what Maximus was afraid of, but needed to hear him say it.
Maximus scowled. "I knew men in my day who called themselves physicians, but they actually
knew far more about dealing out death through poison than they did about healing."
Terry shook his head in disbelief. "Poison? Anthony? Are you nuts?" Maximus looked indignant,
and Terry softened his tone. "You're wrong about him, Max. If he looked just a little different, you
would have no reason at all to feel threatened by him."
"But he *does* look like Commodus," Maximus insisted. "I know that he appears to be an
ordinary man, and that all of you find nothing wrong with him. But *I* do not trust him, and I do
not intend to wait around for something to happen. I must see for myself that there is nothing he
is hiding. What use am I to this place and the people here if I fail to protect them?"
The soldier in him understood that; Terry could relate to the need to be proactive and not just
wait for something to happen. But this went beyond that, and it disturbed Terry. "Max, I'm not
gonna sit here and say I understand what you're going through, because I don't. But I do know
you can't hold Anthony responsible for what happened to your family. It's a bloody odd
coincidence that he looks just like Commodus, I agree.... But, mate, he's NOT Commodus. I've
talked to him a couple times, and he's harmless. Wouldn't hurt the proverbial fly. I was a soldier
too, remember? All those years of K&R gave me radar for people who were trying to bullshit me,
and fair dinkum, Anthony's not one of 'em. You're wasting your time here if you're hoping to
catch him at something."

Maximus paused before answering. "Perhaps I am. But it is my time to waste."
"You're right. It is. If you want to spend your whole bloody day sitting here in the forest, that's up
to you. But sitting here watching Anthony's every move through a pair of binoculars is NOT
okay. What do you think the girls and the rest of our brothers would say if they knew you'd
suddenly turned into a stalker?"
"Stalker?"
Terry sighed; sometimes it was hard to have a conversation with the Roman because there was
still a lot of slang that he didn't understand. "It's the kind of shit Sid would have pulled in his
movie -- watching someone, following their every move to the point of obsession, and doing it
without them knowing about it."
Maximus straightened, anger in his eyes. "What I am doing is nothing like Sid. I'm trying to
protect the Point. How do you know for certain that he truly is as he appears? You may be
willing to take it on faith, but I am not. Commodus was a monster and a butcher, and I will not
have him destroy this place too. Norma Jean may think she knows him. But I once thought I
knew Commodus also. Even though he was immoral and without honor, I never imagined he
would murder his own father, or butcher my whole family in his lust for power. I made that
mistake once -- I will never make it again. I do not trust him, no matter how benevolent he
seems."
The vehemence in his tone disturbed Terry further, and he shook his head, rubbing his
forehead. "Max... for god's sake, Anthony's only 'crime' is that he looks like that other bastard.
Not trusting him because of it would be no different than not trusting *me* when I first came here
because I look just like Sid."
Maximus paused briefly. "That's not the same thing at all," he finally answered, "we all look like
Sid, even me."
"Yes it *is* the same thing. We've all got the same face, but we're 22 different personalities. You
can't assume that Anthony is like Commodus any more than you can assume Arthur is just like
Hando because they have a similar face." He stopped when it looked like he was finally getting
through.
Maximus was silent for a while. "Perhaps I am not being... rational about this. But I need to do
this, to see for myself that he is nothing to fear and he isn't hiding anything."
Terry saw a glimmer of hope, allowing himself a slight smile. "You might try actually talking to
him instead. You know, sit down at the bar and get to know him over a couple of pints..." Max
stared blankly at him, and Terry sighed. "All right, maybe not. But you can't keep spying on him
like this. It's not right. 'Chelle would be pissed if she knew about it, and Norma Jean would be
hurt. And Laura -- mate, what do you think she would say if she saw you doing this?"

Maximus raised his chin, staring at him in defiance. "She would understand."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that. I doubt the others will either."
"You're not going to tell them, are you?"
Terry paused. "Right now, no. I understand about having to get things out of your system
sometimes. But if anything happens, I'm sure as hell not going to cover for you, got it? And I
won't let anything happen to Anthony either."
Maximus nodded. "Fair enough." He lowered his eyes. "I will not do anything rash, I promise. I I just need some time, Terry."
Terry finally felt like he could relax, reasonably confident that Maximus -- and Anthony -- was
going to be okay. He nodded, patting his brother on the shoulder as he smiled briefly. "All right
then, I'll take your word for it. And I won't tell anyone." Maximus nodded back, and an awkward
silence fell. Terry looked around, asking, "Should I go back the way I came? I was going to run
another couple of miles this morning."
Maximus grunted. "That's fine." Both looked down towards the house, but didn't see anyone
moving around inside anymore.
"Don't forget to return my gear," Terry said as he stood up. "And next time you want to borrow it:
Ask."
Maximus nodded. "I will."
"And do us both a favor -- put the sword back in your room where it belongs," he said, pointing
to the gladius which still lay beside Maximus. "Even if something happens where you think you
need to use it, you come to me *first*, and we'll work it out together." Maximus didn't respond,
and Terry continued, "I'm not leaving here until I have your word on this."
Maximus let out a long breath and said, "You have my word -- I will not do anything without
consulting you."
Terry nodded. "Good.... I'll see you later. At the tavern, I hope. Come by tonight and I'll buy you a
few pints."
"Perhaps."
Terry realized that was as good as he was going to get at the moment, and waved slightly as he
turned around, walking back to the road to continue his morning run.

Part Eight
"I don't understand it -- where could he be?"
"I have no idea," Michelle sighed. She walked along the path with Laura, heading back towards
the tavern after leaving the stables. "I haven't even been able to find him to let him know you
were coming back today. I left a note on his door, but as far as I know, he hasn't been around to
read it."
Laura shook her head. "I don't like this; I don't like this at all. I can't believe no one knows where
Max is."
"Hando seems to be the only one who's talked to him lately, but as usual, he hasn't been very
cooperative."
"I doubt if he'd talk to me either," Laura grimaced. "I've never gotten the feeling that he likes me
-- I think he just tolerates me because of Max." She sighed. "I'll just have to wait until he turns
up."
"Are you still planning on going to the open house at the clinic this weekend?" Michelle asked.
"I'd like to -- but I'll have to wait and see if Max is in the mood for it."
They walked the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the tavern steps, Laura hurried
up them ahead of Michelle, opening up the doors quickly and looking around the bar hopefully
as she walked in. But her expression fell; there was no sign of Maximus.
Colin came over as Michelle walked in, slipping his arm around her and giving her a quick kiss
on the cheek. "Any luck, luv?"
Michelle shook her head, giving Laura a sympathetic look. "No."
"I take it no one here has seen Max either," Laura said, trying her best not to get too worried
when Colin said they hadn't. She looked around the room again, forcing a smile as she waved
to Bud, Zack, Terry and Alex at a nearby table. The men waved back, their concentration
diverted from their poker game. Terry in particular listened closely to the conversation between
the three.
"So what do you want to do now?" Michelle asked. "We can try to find Hando and see if he'll tell
us anything."
Laura looked at Michelle and Colin. Michelle had been with her for the last two hours, helping
her search all over the Point for the absent Maximus, but Laura was reluctant to ask her friend
to spend any more time searching, especially since she knew the couple had plans for the

evening. "Thanks, 'Chelle, but I'm wiped out -- I had a long day before I even got here, so I think
I'll just go back to the hotel and unpack and wait there. Maybe if Max comes around and sees
my car in the parking lot, he'll finally turn up."
"Are you sure?" Michelle asked.
"Yes, I'm sure. You and Colin should go have dinner like you planned -- I'll be fine," Laura said
with a forced smile.
Michelle patted her arm and said, "He'll turn up soon, I'm sure of it, once he realizes you're
back."
"That's what I'm hoping," she sighed. She took a small step towards the door, saying, "I can
walk myself back. Have a nice evening; I'll see you both later."
"Okay." Michelle hugged her. "If we see Max, we'll send him right over. Take care."
Across the room, Terry watched as Laura went out the door, and Alex shook his head. "Poor
woman. I wonder what's gotten into Max these days?"
Terry didn't say anything, staring at the door as it swung shut, then abruptly laid his cards on the
table. "I'm out," he said, pushing his chair back and rising to his feet as he tossed his cigarette
into the ashtray.
"What?" Zack said, looking up at him in surprise. "You just raised 5 bucks -- how can you fold
now?"
"I'm out," he repeated. "I'll be back in a while, guys," Terry said as he hurried towards the door.
"Hey! You can't leave in the middle of a hand," Alex protested, but Bud laid a hand on his arm.
"Let him go," Bud said, eyes narrowing as he stared after Terry. He rose to his feet also, and
walked to the window, watching as Terry ran to catch up with Laura. The two talked for a few
moments, then climbed into Terry's car and drove off.
Bud turned away, walking back to the table and taking his seat again. "What's going on?" Zack
asked.
"I don't know," the cop said as he gathered up the chips that were his now that Thorne had
folded. "But I get the feeling Terry knows more than he's told us."

Terry hurried down the steps of the tavern, heading towards the hotel, following after Laura.

"Laura -- wait!" he called to her, and she stopped. He ran up to her and said, "I think I might
know where Max is."
"You do?" she said, her face brightening. "Where?"
Terry paused. "I saw him yesterday, but I don't know for certain if he's still in the same place.
Chances are he is though; I'll take you over." He pointed to his BMW. "Hop in," he said, and she
nodded and followed him to the car. He drove them down the road and into the forest, but pulled
over to the side after traveling only a half- mile.
Laura looked around. "Why are we stopping here?"
"You'll see in a minute." Terry paused, staring out the window into the forest as he turned off the
engine. "He may take my head off for this though," he muttered.
She looked confused. "What?"
"Nothing," he sighed, turning towards her again. "Truth is, I brought you here because I think
Maximus needs you, luv. He's, uh.... having a rough time right now."
She nodded, frowning. "I know -- he was so upset about Anthony. I *knew* I shouldn't have left,
but I had no choice. I need to keep my job, Terry -- I never would have left him otherwise."
"No need to explain. There's no way you could know what he's been up to since you've been
gone," he said as he opened the door and got out.
She got out too, brow furrowing worriedly. "What do you mean? What's been going on?"
"I'll let him tell you himself." He motioned for her to follow, and she came around the car, walking
into the trees, trailing a few feet behind him. She was confused about where they were going,
since she knew there was nothing but forest out here, and couldn't see anyone around. Even
when they had gotten about 60 feet into the trees, and Maximus suddenly appeared from
behind a thicket of bushes, she didn't have a clue what Terry was talking about.
She stopped when Terry motioned for her to stay behind, but he kept walking as Maximus came
towards him, gesturing angrily. "Why did you bring her here?" Maximus demanded. "You told me
you wouldn't tell anyone."
"If there's nothing wrong with what you're doing, you shouldn't care if she knows or not." Terry
stood his ground as Maximus advanced towards him, stopping a yard away. Folding his arms
across his chest, Terry continued calmly, "I also told you I wouldn't cover for you. Why are you
still here, Max? Yesterday, I thought we had an understanding. I let you stay out here because I
thought you were through with this bullshit, and you were going to give it up." He paused,
looking over at Max's camp, shaking his head in disbelief. "But here you are -- it doesn't look like

you've moved since then. You're damn lucky I didn't bring all of our brothers with me instead of
her."
"You should not have brought her here," Maximus said, and Laura looked at both men,
bewildered by the anger and tension that hung in the air between them.
"She's been looking all over the Point for you. I wasn't going to sit back and let her worry herself
sick. Everyone's been wondering where you've disappeared to, Max, not just her."
Laura looked back and forth between them. "Terry, what's going on?"
"Go and stand in his camp over there, and look down that way," Terry said, pointing off to the
west, "and then ask him to explain." He and Maximus stared at each other. "I'll be very surprised
if you actually can make her understand, mate, because I sure as hell don't." Terry took a few
steps back, moving over to Laura. "I'm going back to the Tavern; I'll see you later, luv. If you
need anything, just ask." With one last glance at Maximus, he turned on his heel and left,
getting back in the car and driving off.
"Max?" Laura said as she approached him hesitantly, "What was Terry talking about? Why are
you upset?" She walked past him, standing in a small clearing behind some carefully arranged
branches, and looked out the way Terry had pointed.
Through the gap in the trees, she could see all the way down to a small white house, which she
recognized a moment later as the new clinic. Her brow furrowed in confusion, but then a cold
chill went through her, her breath catching in her throat as she raised a hand to her mouth. She
looked at Maximus, noticing the binoculars that hung from a strap around his neck. "Oh my
god...." When he wouldn't look at her, she suddenly felt sick, muttering "Oh god" again as she
sank to her knees in the dirt. "Max...?" she whispered in a shaky voice, "What are you doing...?
Why... why are you spying on Doctor Giraudeau?"
He knelt down beside her. "It's not what you think."
She shook her head, putting her hands over her mouth. "I had no idea... God, I'm sorry -- I
shouldn't have left. I knew something was wrong, but you said you were okay about Anthony,
that you just needed time to get used to it."
"I wasn't lying. I need time to see for myself that he is who he says he is. I have been watching
him to make sure all of us are safe here at the Point."
"'Chelle told me that no one's seen you at all for days... Oh, Max... Have you been out here ever
since I left?" He didn't answer and she sighed, tears appearing in the corners of her eyes. "Don't
do this to yourself. There's nothing to be afraid of."
His head jerked up. "I am *not* afraid," he said defensively. "I am a soldier -- it is my

responsibility to protect people. You, the other women, my brothers. When I see a threat, I act
on it. Commodus destroyed everything in my world -- I will not allow him to do the same here."
"Anthony isn't a threat, and he's not Commodus," she insisted. She looked towards the clinic. "In
all the time when you've been watching him, have you seen anything suspicious?"
He shook his head, reluctantly. "No. I have seen nothing to indicate he is anything different than
what he claims to be," he admitted.
She reached up and caressed his face. "Then you have to know that he's nothing like who he
appears to be. He's not a threat to you or me or anyone... He's not Commodus."
"How can you be so certain of that? Perhaps you are willing to accept it as fact, but I am not. I
cannot -- I would be derelict in my duty as a warrior to ignore a potential danger."
She sat there for a few moments, not knowing how to respond to that. "Have you talked to
Anthony at all since I left? Gotten to know him better?"
"No."
"And you don't want to get to know him, do you?" His silence was her answer and she paused
again. "Max.... NJ told me something while we were chatting on the computer a few days ago.
She and Anthony watched 'Gladiator' together." He looked up in surprise. "He'd never seen it
before, so he didn't know why you were so hostile towards him the day you met. She didn't go
into much detail, but she said now Anthony understands what's going on... And he's as
surprised as you are at how much he looks like Commodus." That knowledge did not get the
reaction from him that she had hoped, and she continued, "I know you said you need time,
but..." She sighed again. "I guess this is going to take a bit longer than I thought...." She looked
down at her hands, not quite knowing what to say any more, her mind churning as she tried to
understand what was happening to him.
Maximus watched her as she sat there, wringing her hands together nervously, unable to meet
his eyes. She looked as upset as he'd ever seen her -- upset with him, he knew. She was
worried and scared, and obviously shocked to find him here. It disturbed him to see her so,
especially when he detected a note of fear in her eyes.
Laura was afraid... of *him*.
Gods, what was happening to him?
He squeezed his eyes shut, swallowing past the lump in his throat, wondering how it had come
to this. He had never intended to still be out here when she came back. He had never intended
to be out here at all.

The day Laura had left to go back to her job in the Real World, he had been at loose ends, not
knowing what to do with himself. He had walked alone for hours, eventually ending up in the
woods near this spot, within view of the house, trying to make sense of this whole bizarre
situation. But while he had been sitting there, he'd noticed that all the curtains and windows
were open in the house, and he could see Anthony and the others moving through the building
as they worked on the new clinic. Day had turned to night, and the others left, leaving Anthony
alone in the house, and still he had stayed, strangely drawn to the newest resident of the Point.
Hour after hour passed, and yet he remained long after the doctor had retired for the night,
unable to bring himself to leave.
In his head, he knew that Commodus was dead, and that Anthony's resemblance to him was
merely a cruel coincidence. But in his heart, the hatred he bore for his wife and son's murderer
still burned bright, and for their sakes, and for the sakes of his new-found family here at the
Point, he could not afford to ignore the unlikely possibility that Anthony's similarity to Commodus
was more than skin- deep.
And so he had set up camp out here, borrowing Terry's surveillance gear in order to keep a
close watch on Giraudeau even in the dead of night. He slept only in brief stretches, which
thankfully seemed to keep the recurring nightmares at bay. Hours stretched into days, and
although he never saw anything that appeared even remotely suspicious, Maximus remained
vigilant for fear of missing something when his back was turned. He knew he should have given
up long before now, but the desire to make absolutely sure that the Point and all its inhabitants
were safe from harm had become overwhelming.
He had resolved to stop before Laura returned in a few days, but instead she had returned
early, and to his embarrassment he could not adequately explain, even to himself, what he was
still doing here.
What nagged at him more than anything, however, was something Terry had said yesterday -that what he was doing was no different than the kind of sick behavior Sid was capable of. He
had dismissed it at first as being ridiculous -- he was nothing like Sid -- but yet he had begun to
wonder more and more if it were indeed true.
He lifted his head, turning his eyes towards her again, finding his voice once more. "Perhaps I
am wrong...." he whispered, and she looked up. "Terry said something yesterday, and I want to
know if you agree with him." She shifted closer to him, listening intently and he continued, "He
said that what I'm doing -- watching Anthony without him knowing about it -- was the kind of
thing that Sid would do. He called it stalking." He saw her eyes widen as she took a deep
breath. "Do you agree with that?"
"Terry said that? That he thought you were stalking Anthony?"
Maximus nodded. "He did not say *I* was guilty of it, but that if Sid were in my place, he would
call him a stalker.... Do you agree with him?"

Laura turned away from him, looking down at the ground. "Uhm... its not that simple," she said
evasively.
"Please, tell me the truth," he said.
With a heavy sigh, she looked at him again. "Yes, I do... This is exactly the kind of thing Sid
would do. In fact, he's already done it, to *us*." Maximus' eyes narrowed. "Don't you remember?
When we first met, and we had all those -- " she hesitated, looking away for a moment, " -'problems' with Sid. When he kidnapped me and tried to rape me, he was able to set the whole
thing up because he put that microphone in my room so he knew exactly what we were doing.
You were furious that he was eavesdropping on us, and with good reason." She paused, letting
him think about that for a moment, then added, "Max, if the circumstances were reversed, and it
was Anthony who was hiding outside the tavern watching you morning, noon and night, you'd be
pretty upset, wouldn't you?"
Maximus sat down on the ground, staring at his hands. So it was true -- he was behaving like
Sid. He remembered how outraged he had been to find out Sid had been listening to their most
private conversations, and the comparison was sobering. His motives were far different from
Sid's, however, and he looked up at Laura. "But it is not the same thing -- Sid's intent was to
harass us, and harm you. I'm here to protect the Point."
She shook her head as she said, "I know you mean well, but that doesn't change the fact that
this is wrong. You can't do this. You have to stop... Please, Max."
She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, worried hazel eyes imploring him, and his heart ached.
He hated to argue with her, or cause her undue distress. "It will not happen anymore; I promise.
You and Terry are right - I should not be doing this," he admitted with a heavy sigh, reaching out
for her.
Laura smiled with relief and moved towards him, letting him envelope her in his strong arms,
holding him tenderly, not speaking for several minutes. Then she heard him whisper softly, "I'm
very glad you're back... but I did not expect you until at least tomorrow."
She looked up at him. "I was worried about you -- Michelle emailed me and told me you had
disappeared. I left straight from my meeting this morning and drove out here to be with you."
"There was no need to worry," he replied.
"I'm not so sure about that," she said solemnly, looking around her at the surveillance gear
gathered around them. But at least he didn't seem to be armed; there wasn't a sword or a knife
or a gun in sight. She raised a hand to his face, stroking his beard. "But we can talk about that
later. I came back too so I'd be here in time for the party this weekend... but I have a feeling you
probably won't be in the mood for that right now."

"Party?" His brow furrowed. "What party?"
"You don't know about it?" He shook his head, and she remarked, "Well, I guess if you haven't
talked to anyone all week, you probably wouldn't know.... Norma Jean is helping Anthony throw
a housewarming party and open house for the new clinic. A housewarming is given by someone
who just moved in to a new house -- sort of a welcome to the neighborhood type event -- plus
it's a way to say that the clinic is officially open for business now. NJ's done most of the
planning, so we're supposed to come by and say hello and bring a gift for Anthony; a present is
traditional at a housewarming. I picked one up before I left home... I was hoping you'd come
with me, although under the circumstances I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't want to."
He gave her a pained look, and she knew now was not a good time to discuss this. "Look, we
don't need to talk about this here, not now... not when I just got back. I haven't seen you for a
whole week," she said as she looked up at him, a gentle smile softening her worried expression.
He looked at her contritely, "I know; I've missed you." He pulled her closer. "How was your
week? Did your meetings go well?"
"Yes, eventually," she said with a smile, grateful to have something else to talk about. "But the
whole week's been crazy -- 10 hour days at work, plus running around doing personal errands.
Then traffic leaving the city was terrible -- it took forever to get back here." She relaxed against
him, laying her head on his shoulder. "All I could think about was being with you; the last thing I
wanted was to get in an argument with you the minute I got back."
"It's the last thing I wanted too," he sighed.
She glanced towards the clinic, saying, "You can't stay here. Come back to the hotel with me. I'll
unpack, we'll have some dinner, and we'll talk about this... Okay, Max?"
He nodded slowly. "Of course; you're tired and you need to relax." His arms tightened around
her. "I'm sorry if I've upset you." He looked over at the clinic and said, "You're right, I don't need
to be here anymore. I've seen enough." He sighed heavily. "I'm not saying that I trust him, but
sitting out here is accomplishing nothing. I just need -- "
She put her fingers over his lips, silencing him as she finished, " -- time... Give it time, and we'll
talk about it later." He nodded, and they held each other for a while, her hands stroking his back
soothingly. The tail of his shirt wasn't tucked in, and her hand slipped underneath, gently
caressing his bare skin. "I've missed you so much," she whispered. "We don't even have to talk
if you don't want to..." She kissed him lightly behind the ear. "Every night I've slept alone I've
dreamed of being in your arms again, in our bed." He grunted his agreement, and she drew
back, saying, "Come on; lets get out of here."
He nodded and let go of her, starting to gather his things, and she looked him over, wondering

where he had gotten the camouflage shirt and pants. She hesitated, then said, "But you can't go
back looking like this -- people might figure out what you've been doing all this time."
He looked down at himself, grimacing. "Yes, you are right," he agreed. He crawled over to a
duffel bag that lay nearby, and pulled out a maroon tunica and a pair of soft shoes. She watched
with thinly concealed admiration as he stripped off his shirt and pants, revealing his tanned,
muscular body. As he slipped the tunica over his head, she found a cloth and his canteen,
wetting down the cloth, motioning him to come closer. Gently she wiped away the dirt and grime
that covered his face, then lightly kissed him, melting into his arms as she whispered, "Lets go. I
want to be alone with you, General," she glanced briefly towards the clinic, "but away from
here."
He quickly gathered everything in the duffel bag, then moved the branches and brush that hid
his encampment, returning the area to its normal appearance. "I won't be coming back here," he
told her as he picked up the bag, and she smiled as he slipped his arm around her waist,
walking slowly away from the clinic, heading towards the hotel as the evening sun began to sink
towards the ocean. "Lets go home."
Bud, Alex and Zack looked up as Terry came back into the tavern, returning to the seat he had
vacated a half-hour before. "Deal me in." The three glanced at each other, and Alex silently
dealt him into the game again.
Bud looked over his poker hand and casually remarked, "So what was all that about? Where'd
you take Laura?"
Terry studied his cards, answering, "For a ride." He picked up one of the cigarettes he had
borrowed from Colin, lighting it and taking a quick puff. Smoking was a habit he'd given up years
ago, except when he played cards.
"A ride? That's it?" Bud questioned, and Terry nodded absently. "You know where Max is, don't
you?"
Terry looked at Bud with a neutral expression. "Are you going to talk or play?"
"Call," Bud said, not taking his eyes off Terry.
Terry tossed a chip into the pot. "I raise you five," he said, taking another drag of the cigarette.
The others tossed in more chips, and Bud turned to Alex. "Two," he said, laying down two cards,
and taking the pair that Alex dealt him. "Are you going to answer my question?" he said to Terry.
The Australian pulled a few cards out of his hand and laid them down on the table. "Three," he
said to Alex, and as he collected the three replacements, he said to Bud, "Yes, I know where
Max has been. But, no, I'm not going to tell you -- Laura's with him now, and that should be the

end of it. If Max wants you to know what he's been doing, he'll tell you himself." Bud started to
speak, and Terry added, "End of conversation, Bud. And I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't say
anything to anyone else. Max is going through a rough time, and he doesn't need everyone
asking a ton of questions."
The game paused as Alex and Zack looked expectantly at Bud, who asked, "Then you're saying
Max is okay?"
Terry hesitated just a bit too long. "Yes... I think so."
Bud's eyes narrowed. "You *think* so? What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means he's having a hard time adjusting to Anthony being here, but Max is a reasonable
man. I'm sure he'll get used to it in time, with some help from all of us. He's not the type to act
irrationally."
Zack spoke, "But everyone's got a breaking point, even Max. We all know what losing his family
did to him once -- this must be like rubbing salt in the wound."
"But he isn't in Rome anymore; he knows this is different," Alex said, then hesitated, looking at
the others worriedly. "At least, I hope he does. We've all seen him fight; he's like a damn killing
machine with that sword."
"Only when he had to defend himself," Terry said, "or do his job as a soldier. Max knows how to
fight better than just about anyone I've ever seen, but he's *not* a murderer."
"Of course he's not," Bud agreed, "but I just don't want to see anything happen to anyone here."
"Neither do I," Terry said. "But things are under control. Laura's back, so I'm sure that'll settle
him down."
"I hope you're right," Bud said.
"I am... Now can we get back to the game? I'm down 30 bucks, and I intend to win it back," Terry
said.
They all looked at each other, and Alex laid down one card. "All right then, I'll take one."
"One?" Zack said, raising an eyebrow as the group relaxed, settling back into the rhythm of the
game. "What're you holding, Ross?" he muttered as he looked over his own cards.
"Guess you'll just have to pay to find out," Alex said, smiling as he tossed two chips into the pot.
"Ten."

The other men grumbled but ended up calling the bet, tossing more chips into the pot, and the
game continued.

"I'm glad you changed your mind and decided to go to the party," Laura said as she waited in
the front room of Maximus' suite in the tavern. "We don't have to stay long though -- just let me
know when you want to leave." She was sitting in a chair facing the door, and when she heard
his footsteps coming out of the bedroom, she got up and turned around. "Are you read--dy...?"
Her voice trailed off as she caught sight of what Maximus was wearing. Over a dark-red tunica,
which was one of his best, he was wearing brown leather armor, along with leather wrist guards
and sandals. It wasn't his general's uniform; it was more like the protective armor he wore as a
gladiator and the kind he often used here while working out. But this was more elegant, with
finely- tooled leather and brass fittings, giving a rich appearance. She had always loved seeing
him dressed like this, the leather molding itself around his lean, muscular body, the shortsleeved tunica showing off his large biceps, the long protective leather strips hanging from his
waist down to mid-thigh appearing incredibly masculine, giving no hint of a feminine 'skirt' as
Bud often joked.
He was almost as breathtakingly handsome in this as he was in his general's uniform -- at least
under normal circumstances. But for Maximus to wear this tonight, of all nights... "Oh, geez,"
she muttered under her breath.
He frowned, looking down to check for anything out of place. "Have I forgotten something?"
"No, that's not it. Max..." she began hesitantly, "you know I never try to tell you what to wear. But
you've always asked me to let you know what types of clothing are appropriate in various
situations, depending on the customs of the modern world.... And so I think you ought to know
that I don't really think you should wear that tonight."
"Why not? I thought you liked it when I dressed like this."
"I do; you know I think you look very handsome like this. But..." she sighed. "The whole point of
this evening is to welcome Anthony to the Point, and make him feel at home. If you go dressed
like that, it'll just remind him -- and yourself -- of how much he looks like Commodus. It wouldn't
be very... respectful or polite."
"There is nothing wrong with what I am wearing," Maximus said. "If he is going to live here, *he*
will have to be respectful of my brothers and I, and we should not have to hide what we are to
suit him. I am a Roman, and he will surely see me like this on other occasions. I see no reason
not to wear this now."
"I'm not asking you to hide anything. But... but now's not the time to remind him of anything
unpleasant. You wear 20th century clothes all the time -- why not tonight?" He didn't respond,

and she added, "At least leave the leather here, and just wear a tunica. You look so much like a
soldier right now."
"I *am* a soldier," he said. She started to speak again, but he interrupted, "I am not changing my
clothes."
There was the hard edge of finality in his tone, but Laura persisted, "Max -- "
"I am a Roman, and I will dress as a Roman," he said. "I allow you to dress in this manner,
according to *your* fashion," he gestured from her head down towards her feet, over her blouse
and pants, "yet you cannot do the same for me."
There was a strange, almost patronizing tone to his words, and she blinked. "You 'allow' me to
dress this way?" she said, wondering if she'd heard him right. "What is that supposed to mean?"
He seemed to realize that his words were ill chosen, yet backed down only slightly. "A Roman
woman would wear something more formal for such a social occasion," he said.
She stared at him. "You mean a... a dress?" she said with distaste, and when he nodded, she
looked at him incredulously. "Max, what has gotten into you?"
She couldn't understand what was happening to him. Ever since Anthony had arrived he'd been
acting so out of character. Or at least he was in comparison to what he'd been like since he had
come to the Point. It seemed that Anthony's presence was bringing out the Roman in him.
He'd been particularly moody since she'd gotten back. When she'd found him out in the woods,
at first he'd been apologetic about his behavior, and they'd spent the rest of the day together in
her suite, away from all the prying questions everyone had had. After a quiet dinner, he'd swept
her off into the bedroom, playful and affectionate as they'd made love late into the night, and
she'd felt more confident that he was going to get through it all okay. But then he had woken up
in a cold sweat once again, haunted by nightmares he would not talk about, and she began to
worry about him again.
She had planned on spending part of that morning logging some hours in the air as she
continued her flying lessons with Lachlan, but Maximus had been reluctant to let her out of his
sight, so she had stayed with him, ending up spending most of the day out horseback riding. His
mood improved by nightfall, but once again his sleep had been disturbed, and he had been
sullen and moody all day today. And yet, surprisingly, he had agreed to escort her to the open
house and housewarming at Anthony's new place.
But now he was bringing up the whole clothing/dress issue, and she was mystified at his
attitude. "I don't understand this -- we settled all this months ago, when I first got here. You know
how I feel about wearing dresses and all that frilly crap. You said you understood that the
traditions in this day and age were very different, and we both agreed that we had to respect

each other's traditions... Why would you bring that up now, after all this time? If it bothered you
that much, you should have said something before. Or were you just humoring me when you
said you didn't care what I wore?"
"No, I... I truly do not care," he said apologetically, "you should wear whatever you are
comfortable with. But," his tone grew defiant again, "I see no reason why you should object to
me wearing this if I wish it."
She rubbed her forehead, holding back any further comments, realizing this could easily erupt
into a serious argument. "Look.... maybe you were right. There's no reason for you to be at the
party tonight -- I'll go by myself, give Anthony our gift, hang around a little while and then I'll
come back. You don't need to make an appearance. You obviously don't want to go. I -- "
"No," he said emphatically, interrupting her again. "You are not going near there without me."
His vehemence startled her, and she didn't like how controlling he was becoming. "Max, I really
think it's a good idea if I go alone," she said as she moved away from him, going to pick up her
purse.
He stepped in front of her. "No, I will not allow it. We either go together or not at all."
Her jaw dropped, and she wondered if she knew him at all anymore. "I'm not one of your
soldiers, and I don't take orders," she said tightly, trying to keep lid on her anger. She moved
around him, and this time he did not stop her. She grabbed her purse and went to the door. "I'm
going to the party -- if you want to come with me, that's up to you," she snapped.
"Laura," he hurried after her as she went out into the hallway, "wait."
She stopped, throwing him an angry look, and he said, "I am not ordering you." She looked
unconvinced, and he sighed, continuing in a softer tone, "I just don't want you to be there with
him alone."
Her anger faded and she looked at him sympathetically. "I wouldn't be alone. All your brothers
will be there, and lots of the girls. Besides, there's no reason to worry about Anthony - I keep
telling you, he's *not* a threat to you or anyone else." Maximus looked as unconvinced as ever,
and she moved closer to him, slipping an arm around his waist. It was impossible to stay angry
with him, especially when he was going through such a difficult time. "Look, if you don't want to
go, I won't either. We'll stay here and have a nice quiet evening, just the two of us. They
probably won't even miss us at the party."
His arms encircle her, and they held each other close. "No. You want to go, so we'll go. You
keep telling me that I need to get used to seeing Giraudeau, and you're right. I cannot
guarantee how long I'll want to stay, but we can at least have something to eat."

She nodded, smiling up at him. "And a few drinks. We'll just hang out with everyone for a while,
and the minute you want to leave, we'll go, I promise."
"And I promise I'll try not to ruin your evening," he said. "I will be a perfect gentleman around
him." She looked relieved, and he added, "And I'm sorry about what I said earlier -- there is
nothing wrong with what you're wearing. You know I think you look beautiful in anything," he
said, raising a hand to her face as he smiled at her.
She blushed slightly, smiling even more. "If I wear a dress, its always for your eyes only,
General."
"And it is duly appreciated," he grinned, "but considering how little time it actually stays on you,
it hardly qualifies as 'wearing' a dress, my love."
She giggled. "Yea, I know. That's the idea."
He chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind next time." He lowered his head to kiss her affectionately,
then drew back, offering her his arm. "But its time we left; we're already late, aren't we?"
She briefly considered telling him again that she thought he ought to change clothes, but under
the circumstances, she thought it best to keep quiet. "Technically, yes, but its only an open
house; we wouldn't really be 'late'. Besides, I have a feeling the party will be going on half the
night," she said as they went downstairs and outside into the parking lot, getting into Laura's car
to head over to the clinic.
Part Nine
"So what do you think of tonight?" Aurore asked. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"Oh yes, very much so," Anthony replied enthusiastically. He stood in the middle of his living
room, a glass of champagne in his hand, his apartment and the adjoining clinic filled with people
for the combination housewarming/open house party. "It's certainly overwhelming. Everyone's
been so generous; you're definitely making me feel right at home," Anthony said, glancing at a
table that held the unopened gifts.
The past month had been so busy and hectic -- packing, moving, unpacking, setting up the
clinic -- that he'd barely had time to think about what was going on. But today he'd been nervous
and apprehensive, wondering if he'd made the right decision to come here -- if he was truly
moving on with his life rather than running away from his past -- and if this community would
accept him. But the turnout today was more than he had hoped for, with everyone showing up,
all of them friendly and helpful and genuinely happy to have him here. It didn't matter what was
in the gifts and envelopes nearby; he already had everything he needed in the warmth of the
welcoming smiles of these wonderful people.

"We're very glad to have you here," Michelle said.
"You're probably tired of hearing me say this, I'm pleased I can be of help," Anthony smiled. He
knew this probably wouldn't be the most challenging job for a physician -- everyone seemed
quite healthy -- but these people truly needed him, and that was what mattered most.
He looked around the room, particularly at the men, which included John, Zack, Cort, Jack, East
and Bud. This was the first time he'd seen all of them together in one place, and it was a bit
confusing as to who was who. "But I must admit its going to take me a while to get acquainted
with everyone." He turned to Michelle. "I have to ask -- How do you manage to tell them all
apart?" he asked, "without the name-tags, of course." John was standing nearest to him;
although he would have known who he was without seeing "John Biebe" written on the white tag
on his flannel shirt, the other men were more difficult to identify.
The girls laughed and the men looked amused too, Anthony included. After first being taken
aback at the idea of 22 nearly-identical men, he was now beginning to see the humor in it.
"Once you've been here for a while, it's actually quite easy," Michelle explained. "There are a lot
of differences between them, age for one. Andy, Dominic, Jack, Johnny and Arthur are younger
characters, but some are quite a bit older -- Jeffrey Wigand is the oldest; he looks like he's in his
50's." Anthony nodded; he had met Wigand and had been a bit surprised at the contrast with his
younger brothers.
"Then there's nationality," Michelle continued, "The Australians are Colin, East, Jack, Terry,
Andy, Johnny, Jeff Mitchell, Dominic, Lachlan, Kim, Mannie and Hando. The Americans are Bud,
Zack, John, Alex, Steve, Jeffrey, and Cort. Arthur is Welsh, Maximus is Roman and Sid is..." she
paused, smiling, "Well, Sid is just Sid. You can't mistake him with the expensive suits -- usually
purple or green -- and perfect hair."
Anthony smiled. "No, I do not think I will forget Sid," he said. He still found it difficult to
comprehend that he wasn't human, but instead some kind of computer creation out of a science
fiction movie.
"And Hando's easy to recognize," Aurore said. "He's the neo-Nazi, with a shaved head and lots
of tattoos."
"I must admit I find his presence here rather unusual," Anthony said. It was still a struggle to
understand how any man could be filled with that much hate, and even moreso that such an
individual could co-exist here with all these gentle people. But then, he was learning that
Crowe's Point was filled with many contradictions and surprises. "But we are all God's children,
of course." He looked around the room. "Is he here tonight?"
"No, he's not the most sociable person at the Point," Norma Jean said. "And I doubt you'll see
much of him at the clinic. He wasn't too happy with the idea of bringing an outsider here to start
with. I don't think he cares much for doctors either."

He nodded. "I'll remember that." He looked out through the windows at the men and women
who were milling around the yard talking and laughing, eating and drinking. "Have I met
everyone yet? It certainly seems as though the whole community is here."
"Well, not everyone. Some of the ladies couldn't make it this weekend. But all the men are here,
except Hando. And... Maximus." Norma Jean hesitated briefly. "Laura said they'd be by
sometime this evening, but I haven't seen them yet."
Anthony felt an involuntary shiver go down his spine; the only dark spot within this idyllic place
was Maximus. He could not easily forget the hell the Roman had endured at the hands of a man
who could have been his twin brother. Even though Maximus had seemed a bit more
comfortable with him that day in the tavern a week ago, Anthony knew it would be some time
before he would fully accept him as part of the community. "Well, I hope they do make it," he
told Norma Jean. "I want everyone to feel welcome at the clinic." He set down his champagne
and walked towards the door that led to his office, saying, "Well, if you'll all follow me, I'll start
the official tour of the clinic."
Darkness had fallen by the time Laura parked the car on the lawn across the road from the
clinic. Multicolored lanterns had been strung up around the back and side of the house and into
the trees, bathing the area in a warm glow. People were clustered together, some on the front
porch, others alongside the house, and the rest could be seen inside the clinic or Anthony's
apartment.
"Looks like everyone's here," Laura remarked as she shut off the engine. Maximus didn't
answer, staring out the window at the clinic, and she waited a few moments before continuing,
"You can still change your mind -- we can go back home... If you want to."
He turned. "No. We shall stay." He leaned towards her, a soft smile tugging at the corner of his
mouth. "There's no reason you shouldn't enjoy yourself tonight. And I promise that I will not do
anything to upset you or anyone else. I am quite capable of controlling myself," he said as he
kissed her softly on the cheek. "You do not become an officer serving the Imperial Roman court
without knowing how to hold your tongue when it is required."
She raised a hand to his face. "I know... But this isn't the Imperial court. This is your family -and Anthony's going to be part of that family from now on." He scowled briefly, and she added,
"I'm not asking you to like him; just give him a chance, okay?"
"That is what I'm here for," he replied with a bit of an edge, and pulled back, reaching for the
door handle. "Let's go," he said as he opened the door and got out. Laura sighed softly and got
out too, reaching into the back seat and bringing out a medium-sized box wrapped in
multicolored paper before shutting the car door. She followed after Maximus, walking across the
road towards the men who were gathered on the front porch.

As she drew nearer, she realized that several of the Aussies were there, talking and laughing
together, and each of them had a hand-written name-tag on their shirts. Andy, Lachlan, Jeff,
Rick, Terry and Colin waved towards her, calling out a warm welcome. She smiled, waving back,
and joined Maximus who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. She noticed that several of
them were looking oddly at Maximus' outfit, but none said anything. Instead, Jeff said, "There
you two are; we were just wondering if you were going to make it tonight."
She glanced back at all the other cars. "Are we the last?"
"Yea, but no worries, luv," Lachlan said, "you haven't missed much. It's been a bit quiet tonight."
"In other words, we were all warned not scare off the new bloke," Colin joked.
Laura laughed. "I can't imagine why."
Terry smiled, chuckling softly. "Neither can we." Out of the corner of his eye, he watched an
uncharacteristically-quiet Maximus. "What's in the box?" he asked Laura.
Andy leaned forward. "A prezzie for Anthony?"
"Yes, it's a cell phone, one he can use here at the Point."
Colin nodded. "Chelle said you were busy yesterday working on the phones."
"That's a great idea," Andy said. "We don't want to have problems getting a hold of him if there's
an emergency."
"Exactly. And it beats the hell out of giving him a boring blender," she joked, subtly moving
closer to Maximus, hooking her arm through his, as he stared absently at the house, still
standing at the bottom of the stairs. "So what's with the name-tags? Are they to help Anthony
learn your names?"
"Yes, I think it was Arthur's idea." Terry's eyes turned towards Maximus as he continued, "You'll
need one too, Max. Go on inside the clinic, and Norma Jean will give you one and show you
around."
Maximus gave him a blank look. "What?" he said, obviously not having heard a word that had
been said.
Laura exchanged an uneasy look with Terry and tightened her grip on Maximus' arm. "We need
to go inside and get you a name-tag like theirs," she explained, pointing at Terry's chest. "And
then NJ can show us around the clinic."
"As you wish," Maximus said quietly after a long pause, and an uneasy silence fell.

Jeff glanced at Rick, exchanging a concerned look, then took a sip of his beer, a mischievous
grin appearing as he said, "Ask Terry what he thinks we ought to do with those name-tags."
Laura looked at Terry, starting to smile. "I'm afraid to ask."
Terry grinned. "Now that Anthony's met everyone, I thought it might be fun to change them
around." Laura's eyes narrowed in puzzlement, and Terry walked over to Jeff. "Like this." He
peeled the paper tag off his shirt and Jeff did the same, and the pair traded tags, so now Terry
had a name-tag which read "Jeff" and Jeff had "Terry".
The two men chuckled as she shook her head. "You're really going to get him confused now."
"Anthony won't mind, I'm sure. Besides, this party needs a little livening up, luv," Terry said with
an amused glint in his eye.
"I suppose it's too much to ask to have a quiet party around here."
"I think that's impossible," Rick said. "Ever since I've been here, I don't think there's ever been
an uneventful party of any kind," he teased, smiling at Jeff.
"Of course not," Lachlan said, "not when you've got a bunch of Aussie blokes living here. We
know how to have a good time, don't we, mates?" He raised his can of VB towards Andy, and
the two tapped the bottles together.
"Hell, yea!" Andy agreed.
She laughed and started up the steps, tugging on Maximus' arm. "Come on, Max; lets go inside
and find NJ. I think its about to get pretty deep around here."
The men laughed. "You're probably right about that," Colin said with a smile.
"When you're done, come around back -- there's plenty of food and drink," Terry said as he
watched Maximus slowly ascend the porch stairs, trailing after Laura.
Maximus looked at him and nodded, not saying a word as he followed Laura into the clinic,
shutting the door behind him.
The smiles and laughs faded as soon as the door had shut, and the Boyz looked at each other
with worried expressions. "What the hell's wrong with Max?" Jeff asked. "It was like he didn't
even know we were here."
"Yea, and why's he dressed like that, tonight of all nights?" Lachlan added.

"Bud's really worried about him," Andy said. "He thinks Max isn't adjusting too well to Anthony
being here."
"I thought Bud was overreacting," Colin said, "But now I'm not so sure." He turned towards Terry,
who was staring at the closed door. "What do you think, Thorne?"
Terry paused. "I think Max is going through a pretty rough time. This can't be easy for him, but
I'm sure he'll be okay once he gets used to Anthony," he said, deciding not to voice his own
concerns just yet.
"Yea, Max'll be okay," Andy said. "He's a strong guy -- he'll be fine."
The other's nodded, agreeing, but all knew there were still a lot of unanswered questions.
Terry moved forward, walking towards the others. "Yea, Max'll be okay, so lets get this party
going." He peeled the name-tags off Colin, Andy, and Lachlan's shirts, grinning as he switched
them around.
"Hi, Laura!" NJ hugged Laura for a moment as Maximus, trailing a few feet behind her, paused
at the entrance to the reception area. "I'm glad you made it."
"After all the work you've done, there's no way I could miss this," Laura said. She saw NJ's eyes
shift, smile fading, and Laura cringed inwardly, knowing that NJ was having the same reaction
she'd had to Maximus' choice of attire tonight. NJ seemed startled and a bit apprehensive to see
the Roman dressed in his soldier's uniform, and she looked at Laura again, eyes filled with
unspoken questions. Laura kept her back to Maximus, discreetly shaking her head and
mouthing the word, 'Later'.
Maximus came nearer, and Norma Jean forced a smile again, saying, "Hello, Max. I'm glad you
could come tonight too."
"I would not miss it either," Maximus said in a warm voice. "Everyone's done a wonderful job of
constructing this place, especially you and Mannie, and the doctor of course. You should all be
very proud."
Laura turned slowly towards him, managing to hide her surprise at Maximus' sudden change in
mood. She looked at his face, discovering him smiling amiably at NJ, with none of the
uneasiness he had displayed in front of his brothers only a few moments before.
Norma Jean seemed relieved to see him acting like his normal self, in spite of how he was
dressed, and replied, "Thank you, but it wasn't just the three of us, of course. Everyone
contributed to building the house, including you, Max. Its wonderful having so many helpful,
talented men around." Her smile was genuine as she turned to Laura. "Don't you think?"

"Oh, most definitely," Laura agreed heartily as she laid her hand on Maximus' arm, smiling too
as she looked up at him. In spite of his easy-going demeanor, the muscles of his arm were
tightly bunched and his eyes belied an alert wariness, and Laura squeezed his arm reassuringly,
giving him a supportive look before she turned back to NJ.
"I'm so glad you came," she was saying to him. "I know you're not familiar with modern medical
practices, so I want to make sure you understand how everything works. Some of the
equipment may look a bit intimidating, but everything we do here is intended to help people, and
keep everyone at the Point healthy for a long time."
Maximus nodded, "Yes, I would like to understand more about it. But I'm afraid it may take a
good deal of explanation; I have tried to learn about such things, but it often sounds very much
like magic to me."
"I'm sure it does. So why don't I give you the grand tour?" she said, gesturing towards the rest of
the clinic. "This will be the waiting and reception area, but if you come with me, I'll show you one
of the examination rooms first."
"Where's Doctor Giraudeau?" Laura asked casually and felt Maximus tense up slightly.
"He's in his apartment now," NJ explained. "He was here earlier, but he left to join the rest of the
party... I can ask him to come back if you want."
Although Maximus did not say anything, Laura could feel the muscles in his arm tighten, and
she said, "No, that won't be necessary; let him enjoy himself."
"All right," NJ said, and began to lead them down the hall towards the exam room. They hadn't
gotten far, however, when the front door opened and Terry came in.
"Norma Jean?" he called out as he strolled up to the reception desk. "Are you done with these
now? Can I have the rest?" he asked, pointing to the pile of blank name-tags that were sitting on
the desk along with several markers.
"Well, Max needs one, but I suppose you can have the rest if you want them. Everyone's arrived
now." Her brow furrowed briefly. "What do you want them for?"
Terry grinned softly. "You'll see," he said enigmatically.
"Uh-oh," NJ said with a slight smile, "I know that look; you Boyz are up to something."
"Who, us?" Terry said with an innocent look, then grinned, winking at her.
NJ rolled her eyes briefly. "Just don't embarrass Anthony, ok? I want this evening to be perfect
for him."

"I wouldn't dream of it, luv," Terry said. "Just having a bit of fun is all."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Norma Jean said, and Terry laughed.
"Boys will be boys, NJ," Laura said with a chuckle as she let go of Maximus' arm, joining Terry at
the desk. "I'll get your name-tag, Max. You two start without me."
Maximus nodded and followed NJ into the clinic. Laura stared after him for a moment, a worried
frown tugging at the corners of her mouth, and Terry asked, "Everything all right, luv? How'd
things go after I left?"
Tonight was the first time she'd seen Terry since that day in the woods. "It was a bit tense at
first, but it turned out ok," she answered quietly, so Norma Jean wouldn't overhear. "I convinced
him to quit watching the house; he won't be back, he promised me that. You don't have to
worry."
She didn't continue, but still looked troubled, and as Terry watched her write 'Maximus' in bold
black letters on the name-tag, he said, "But...?"
She sighed. "But he's still not happy about having Anthony here. It's hard for us to imagine how
difficult this is for him, Terry, but I know he'll adjust. Just give him time." She decided she did not
want to worry Terry further by telling him about the argument she and Maximus had had earlier
and changed the subject. "So what are you going to do with those?" she asked.
Terry just smiled and picked up the marker she had set down, writing the names of a few the
Boyz on the tags. But as he added another line in smaller print beneath each of the names, she
began to laugh.
COLIN -- Elvis Impersonator
JEFF MITCHELL -- Resident Poofter
KIM -- Pain in the Ass
SID -- Royal Pain in the Ass
BUD -- Check my blood pressure, Doc!
EAST -- Ask me about the Barn Scene
"Oh, geez," she chuckled, "you're going to do that for *everyone*, aren't you?" Terry's answer
was a mischievous smile. "Is Sid here?"

"Have you ever known him to *not* show up when there's a party?" They both laughed. "He's
out back, I think. But Lady and Tonya are here -- they'll keep him in line."
"I hope so. I wouldn't want him saying anything to upset Max," she said quietly, glancing towards
Norma Jean. "I'd better get going."
"Don't forget, food's in the back. Annabella's done a great job, as usual," Terry said as he
gathered up the stack of name-tags and pens. "See you later," he said, grinning as he headed
for the door.
She chuckled and picked up the name-tag for Maximus before rejoining him and NJ, putting it
on his tunica near the collar.
Laura stayed at Maximus' side as NJ gave them both the official tour of the new clinic. She
knew how uneasy he was just to be in the building, but he managed to keep it hidden from NJ.
And he seemed to be genuinely interested in the medical information she was explaining to him;
in spite of his misgivings, he was trying to adapt and adjust to the situation.
After about a half-hour of explanations, Norma Jean paused, then said, "Well, I can't think of
anything else. Did you have any other questions, Max?"
Maximus shook his head. "Perhaps later I will, but for now, I think I have heard enough for one
day." He smiled softly. "Obviously I have a lot to learn; we knew so little in my time."
"Any time you have questions, I'd be happy to explain, or Anthony could."
Maximus hesitated before replying, "Perhaps."
NJ looked at him sympathetically. "I know I can't really comprehend how hard this must be for
you, but I want you to know I would *never* bring anyone here to the Point that would hurt you
or anyone else. Anthony is a wonderful man who's come here to help us. In time, I know you'll
come to realize that too."
"It is difficult, yes..." Maximus gave a soft sigh. "But I would never question your intentions,
Norma Jean. As I have told Laura, I need time to adjust." He paused, his somber expression
softening. "And I promise you, I will not do anything to ruin the party tonight."
A soft smile appeared on his lips, and NJ smiled back. "I didn't think you would."
"Angel?" A masculine voice came from down the hall, and they all turned to see Mannie appear
from Anthony's office, followed by Trisha and Wendy. "There you are." Mannie came over and
slipped his arm around her. "Are you finished here yet? Anthony's going to open his gifts soon."
The girls looked a bit surprised at first when they saw what Maximus was wearing, but Trisha

came forward, smiling. "Max, Laura -- hi. We were beginning to think you weren't going to make
it."
"The opening of the clinic is a big occasion; we wouldn't miss that, would we, Max?" Laura
looked up at him.
"Certainly not," Maximus agreed amiably, smiling. "Everyone's done a fine job here; I'm pleased
that we'll all be much safer now."
"Yes, this is a very important day for all of us," Wendy agreed. "Do you want to come back with
us and say hello to Anthony?"
Laura looked at Maximus who replied, "We'll be in later, after we've had something to eat."
"All right then, we'll see you later," Trisha said.
"Come on, Angel," Mannie said.
"Just give me a minute, Mannie," she said, "I want to straighten up a little first."
"Okay, I'll wait," he said. Wendy and Trisha went back inside, and Laura followed Norma Jean
back to the reception area. As she gathered up the papers and discarded plastic beverage cups
on the desk, Laura came over and picked up Anthony's present from a chair.
"Could you take this in with you?" Laura asked. "I don't want to be dragging it around while
we're trying to eat."
"Sure," NJ said. "Is this the cell phone?" Laura nodded. "Great; he'll definitely appreciate this."
She paused, glancing back towards the hallway where Mannie was talking with Maximus. She
turned back to Laura, lowering her voice. "Is everything ok? How's Max doing? I wondered why
he's wearing that uniform, but he seems pretty normal."
Laura knew he wasn't exactly 'normal' tonight; beyond their fight over his choice of clothing, she
had a nagging feeling that something else was a little off about how he was reacting to the tour
of the office. But since she wasn't sure exactly what was wrong, she decided to continue to keep
things to herself. "He is having a difficult time with Anthony, but at least he's trying. He did come
tonight, after all."
"Yes, I was very happy to see him; it wouldn't be the same without you two anyway."
"Thanks. You and Mannie and Anthony have done a great job; I'm happy to see this place finally
open. But I don't want to keep you any longer. I'll come say hello to Anthony later, but I have a
feeling we won't stay too long tonight."

"Okay," NJ said as she finished straightening, "We'll see you later then."
Norma Jean left and joined Mannie, and the two disappeared into Anthony's office, heading
back to the party in the apartment. Maximus came over to her, and she slipped her arms around
him, giving him a hug.
"How are you doing?" she whispered. "Its tough, I know."
"You know I do not feel comfortable in this house, but it is becoming easier now that I have been
in here a few more times." It seemed he was going to say more, but then he stopped abruptly,
the tension returning to his body.
The nagging feeling she'd had for the last hour escalated into warning bells in her head, and
she looked up at him in confusion. "A few *more* times? We haven't been here since that first
day we met Anthony -- " Abruptly she stopped too, eyes widening. "Max..." she said hesitantly,
"have you been in the house since then...?" She swallowed hard. "While you were watching
Anthony....?" His eyes shifted away from hers and he didn't answer; she moved closer, laying
her head against his chest. "When?" she whispered. "How many times?"
"...Only once, when they had gone." A chill went through her and she clutched at his arm as he
continued, "Norma Jean and Mannie drove into town with him -- I knew they would be gone for
hours, so I decided to look around for myself. No one saw me, and I was gone long before they
came back," he explained.
She wasn't sure what she was more appalled by, the fact that he had done it, or that he had not
told her. Shocked -- and deeply worried -- she managed to stay calm in spite of wanting to
chastise him for such a serious invasion of Anthony's privacy. Keeping her voice neutral, she
said, "I understand how suspicious you are of him... but you can't just walk into someone's
house without permission."
"The door wasn't locked. And if he has nothing to hide it should not matter if I looked around," he
said, a bit defensive.
"But it's not right -- at the very least it's trespassing." She struggled to keep her composure;
getting upset with him again would surely make things worse. "You agreed that watching the
house was wrong. This is no different. In fact... it's a lot worse."
He looked like he was ready to stubbornly dig in his heels, but then looked away, sighing. "I
know. But I needed to know if there was something I was missing, something I couldn't see from
outside. It was necessary."
"So did you find anything...? Anything to indicate Anthony wasn't exactly what he claims to be?"
"...No." He shook his head.

She held him close. "You see; that's what I've been telling you all along... Now promise me you
won't come inside this house again without permission."
She felt him stiffen and she looked up into his eyes, surprised to see a hint of anger in them.
"Do not speak to me as if I were a child," he said in a tight, clipped tone. "When I said I would
not watch this house anymore, I meant it."
It was getting harder and harder to talk to him and control her temper, but she kept telling
herself that she needed to be very patient as he worked through his problem with Anthony. "I'm
not doubting your word," she said calmly. "But you never told me you were in the house until just
now. You can't really blame me for asking whether you'll do it again, can you?" She looked at
him pointedly, and he didn't answer. "So why didn't you tell me before?"
He sighed. "Because I didn't want to upset you."
"Well, you have, by not telling me."
A protracted silence fell, and he had trouble meeting her eyes. "Can we talk about this later?" he
asked. "Neither of us has eaten."
"Okay, Max... okay," she said, patting his arm soothingly, burying her frustrations, knowing now
was not the time to hash this out. "Let's go out back and eat... And I could certainly use a drink,"
she said, heading towards the door.
He laid a hand on her arm, stopping her. "Wait." He drew her closer, caressing her face before
he leaned in to kiss her softly. "Don't be upset. As I told Norma Jean, I won't cause any
problems tonight."
She melted into his arms, holding him tight; she hated arguing with him. "I'm glad to hear that,"
she smiled. She kissed him back, then said, "Come on; lets eat."
He smiled back and put his arm around her waist, leading her out the door.
Terry was alone on the porch, sitting on the railing and sipping on a VB, when they came out.
"Finally going for a beer, eh?" he said.
"Yes," Max agreed, "I have lost time to make up for," he grinned.
Terry smiled back and said, "Can I talk to you for a minute, Max?" he asked casually.
Laura looked at Max and said, "Go ahead; I'll fix you a plate."
"Thank you," Max said.

As Laura started down the stairs, she looked at Terry's name-tag and laughed: "John Biebe -Official Point Referee"
"You guys are crazy," she said as she shook her head, stepping down onto the ground and
heading behind the house.
Terry's smile faded as he looked at Max. "We haven't had a chance to talk -- I just wanted to
make sure we're ok and there are no hard feelings." Max gave him a cold look, and Terry
continued, "She needed to know, Max."
Maximus was quiet for a while, his expression softening, then said, "You were right; I should not
have been there. The last thing I want is to behave like Sid... But yes; we're 'ok'. You did what
you thought you had to do. And you needn't worry; it won't happen again."
Terry smiled again. "I didn't think it would, but I had to be sure. Nothing personal, mate, but *I*
have to think about the safety of everyone else here too, ya know."
"That I do understand. And I appreciate your discretion as well."
"I don't like keeping secrets from everyone, but I know you're a man of your word." Terry sighed
with relief and got up, clapping Max on the shoulder. "All right then, mate; consider the matter
closed... Now go find your lady, before she has time to miss you."
Maximus smiled. "I will." He turned and left, heading around to the back of the house.
Part Ten
"Andy, give that to me this instant!"
Laura turned from her conversation with Wendy and Jeffrey to see a red-faced Arthur trying to
snatch the nametag off Andy's shirt. As Andy backpedaled away from Arthur, Laura caught a
glimpse of what was written on the tag: 'Arthur -- Welsh Baptist Virgin'.
"Relax, Artie," Andy giggled as he kept out of Arthur's reach, "Its not like its a bloody secret
around here."
Arthur's face got even redder. "Its bad enough that everyone does know without the lot of you
shouting it from the rooftops!" he snapped. "And I doubt that *he* knows, so you've no right to
tell him!"
"What are you worried about? He used to be a priest -- he'll probably pat you on the back."
"That's not the point!" He grabbed at Andy again, this time catching hold of his shirt long enough

to pull the name-tag off, then proceeded to rip the paper into tiny bits. Then he dropped the
pieces on the ground and glared at Andy.
But Andy laughed and said, "Guess I'll just have to get another one from Terry." He started
running towards the other end of the house, with Arthur in hot pursuit and yelling, "Andy!!" and
before both disappeared into the darkness, Laura noticed Savannah and Jennifer take off after
the pair too.
She looked at Wendy and Jeffrey, and the trio dissolved into laughter. "Never a dull moment
around here, is there?" Jeffrey said, smiling.
"No, there isn't," Laura said, looking at his nametag -- which read 'Terry: the bloke who started
all this tonight' -- and chuckled again.
Her eyes drifted over to Maximus, who stood with East, Cort and Mannie as they too watched
Arthur chase Andy around the yard, smiling along with everyone else. Then the men resumed
their conversation about a minor ailment which had been plaguing East's horse Nero.
She'd been out here in the yard with Maximus for over an hour, mingling with the other Point
residents and visiting the abundant buffet several times, but neither one had set foot in
Anthony's apartment yet. She'd made a couple subtle suggestions that they go inside, but
Maximus had ignored both, so she'd been waiting for him to make the first move. But it was
getting late, with the party starting to wind down, and now it was becoming obvious to her that
Maximus wasn't going inside again tonight. She wasn't about to force him to do it, however, so
she decided she'd go in alone, give Anthony his present and then say her good-byes and take
Maximus home.
She turned back to Jeffrey and Wendy, saying, "I think it's about time I went inside. If Anthony's
opened my gift, I need to explain to him how it works."
He looked puzzled. "I thought you said it was a cell phone."
"His is different," Laura said. "I've set up our own little 911 emergency system, and his cell
phone is tied into it." Jeffrey looked intrigued, pushing his glasses up his nose as he leaned
closer. "We'll explain how its going to work to everyone in a few days, once we test it out. I
haven't had a chance to do that yet."
"I hadn't heard anything about a 911 system," Wendy said.
"Neither had I," Jeffrey said.
"The only ones I've talked about it with are NJ and Chelle. It seemed like a smart thing to do,
now that Anthony's here, so we can reach him quickly in an emergency. I only had to add a little
extra software in the phone system to do it."

"Wonderful idea," Jeffrey said, nodding approvingly.
"Thanks," Laura said, then glanced towards the clinic. "Well, I'm going to go inside. If Max is
looking for me, tell him where I went."
Wendy nodded. "We will. And if we don't see you before you leave, have a nice evening."
"You too. I'm glad you could make it, Wendy. Jeffrey's always a lot happier when you're here,"
she teased the older man, watching the familiar blush that all the Boyz shared creep into
Wigand's cheeks.
"That's probably because I *am* a lot happier," he said as he drew Wendy closer, and the
couple smiled at one another.
"You know I'd visit more often if I could," she replied, looking up at him as she caressed his
back, and Laura slipped away discreetly, leaving the two lovers alone.
She strolled across the yard towards the door of Anthony's apartment, glancing behind her once
to see if Maximus had noticed. But he was still deep in conversation, and probably wouldn't
even realize she'd gone.
As she went into the house and looked around Anthony's living room, it became apparent that
the party was indeed winding down. Although no one had left yet, people had settled into small
groups, talking and laughing quietly. The Boyz definitely seemed to be on their best behavior
tonight -- outside of Terry's prank with the nametags, the evening had been relatively quiet by
Point standards. During a quick look around the first floor of the apartment, she discovered quite
a few of the guests -- John, Colin, Steve, Dominic, Alex, Jack, NJ, Kath, Annabella, Irene, Lady,
Terry, Trisha, Roberta, Lisa, Lachlan and Sy -- milling around.
Anthony, she discovered, was upstairs with Tina and Michelle, giving a tour of the second floor,
so after a quick trip to the bathroom, Laura wandered through the apartment, looking it over.
The decor was spartan, with very little in the way of personal possessions, but tonight's party
would help change that a little, making the physician's home look a little more lived-in.
Scattered around the room were various gifts that had been brought, including baskets of fruit
and food, and in the kitchen there was a new microwave oven, a joint gift from several of the
couples. But mostly there had been offers of services -- skating lessons, golf outings, horseback
riding, plane rides, plumbing work, computer lessons and equipment, photographic services,
auto maintenance and free dinners in the Hotel -- all to help the new doctor get settled in at the
Point.
She was noticing that the present she had brought had been opened, the cell phone and pager
sitting in the open box, when Terry strolled over.

"Hello again," he said with a smile. "Having a good time?"
Laura nodded. "It's a nice party," she replied, eyes widening as she looked at the nametags on
his shirt. There were five of them, placed haphazardly across the front of his shirt:
Lachlan -- Not a bloody Kiwi Hando -- Mr. Sunshine Jeffrey -- When's tee time? Alex -- The dog
ate the sausage...?? Cort -- The gunslinger who became a preacher, the preacher who became
a lawman
She chuckled, continuing, "And obviously you've been having a good time."
His eyes twinkled mischievously. "Just having a bit of fun. Have you seen them all yet?"
"No, I don't think so," she said. "Did Andy find you? Arthur ripped up the one he had on with
'Welsh baptist virgin'." Terry laughed. "Then Andy said he'd get a new one from you, and Arthur
started chasing him around," she grinned.
"I'm sorry I missed that," Terry said. "And, no, I haven't seen Andy."
At that moment, there was a commotion from outside, and they both saw Andy run past the
window, laughing, with Arthur in hot pursuit. "I take that back," Terry commented, then laughed
again, shaking his head.
"See what you started?" Laura teased.
Terry just smiled and took a sip from his bottle of VB. He looked down at her empty hands and
asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Yes, thank you," she said, pointing to the bottle of VB. "I'd like one of those myself."
"Coming right up; there're some in the kitchen," Terry said, disappearing for a minute or two and
returning with a bottle of VB and a glass for her.
"Thanks," Laura said as she filled the glass halfway and took a drink.
"Good turnout tonight, isn't it?" he said. "Its great that everyone came." He paused briefly and
frowned. "Everyone except Hando, that is. You'd think he could manage to show up; if Max
could make it, there's no reason he couldn't."
Laura shrugged her shoulders. "I stopped trying to figure out Hando a long time ago. He's
gotten better since Max has been working with him, but he's still pretty moody at times."
Terry rolled his eyes slightly. "Moody, my ass," he muttered. "Hando's just an anti-social bastard.

He's always got a bug up his bum about something."
Out of the corner of her eye, Laura saw Trisha -- who was standing nearby talking to Annabella
-- turn her head towards Terry. "Sounds like he pissed you off," Laura said.
Terry nodded. "I asked him something the other day and he gave me an attitude, like he couldn't
be bothered to answer a bloody question.... He should have at least put in an appearance
tonight."
Trisha stepped closer. "Stef isn't here, Terry, so he probably didn't want to come alone."
He turned towards her, replying, "That's not much of an excuse. He wouldn't be the only one
without a sheila. He usually listens to you, Trisha. Did you ask him if he was coming?"
"Yes, I did," Trisha said, then hesitated for a moment. "But Hando doesn't always listen to me. I
couldn't drag him here if he didn't want to come."
"I've noticed you can be quite persuasive when it comes to Hando," Terry said with a slight grin.
"And I thought the whole point of tonight was to have _everyone_ here to make Anthony feel
welcome." Trisha hesitated again, looking a bit uncomfortable.
Terry seemed to pick up on it immediately. "Is there something else I should know about
Hando?"
"No, nothing," Trisha said, perhaps a little too casually, and Terry's eyes narrowed. "I just
thought that no Hando would be better than an annoyed Hando, not when he's meeting Anthony
for the first time."
Terry was about to say something when Kath called out to Trisha from across the room,
motioning for her to come over. "Looks like Kath needs me; I'll talk to you later," she said,
quickly excusing herself and joining Kath.
Terry looked at Laura. "Do you get the feeling that there was something about Hando she's not
saying...? Or is it something everyone else knows but me?"
Laura shook her head; Terry already seemed so much a part of this place it was hard to believe
he'd arrived only a few months ago. "I don't have a clue either, so its not just you. But you're
right; it seemed like Trisha knows more than she's saying about why Hando didn't come
tonight."
Terry seemed to relax a little at hearing that. "Sorry if I sound a little paranoid, but it's tough
when you're the new guy. Especially here. When I arrived, everyone knew a lot about me and
my life, but I didn't know a thing about anyone else's, or what had gone on here before I
arrived."

Laura smiled sympathetically. "Give it time. It's only been a few months."
"I know; that's what everyone keeps telling me. It's still a bit strange though." He glanced around
again, lowering his voice. "That's why I understand what Max is going through."
She was about to ask what he meant by that, but as Colin walked by, they looked at each other,
realizing they needed to be careful about being overheard. Both eased over into an unoccupied
corner, and Terry continued quietly, "One day I'm in Tecala, then the next thing I know I'm here
at the Point, finding out that my whole life was nothing but a movie." He took a long sip of VB,
then continued, "But at least I knew what a movie was. It seems amazing to me sometimes that
he's been able to cope as well as he has. But now to have Commodus' twin show up here must
be doubly difficult to comprehend." He shook his head. "I know Bud is going to be angry with me
for not telling anyone else about where he disappeared to last week, but I know that the last
thing Max needs right now is everyone jumping down his throat over it. He needs to work it out
for himself. Bud and the others, they've been here so long they've forgotten what it's like to be
new and confused about how this place works. I haven't."
"I appreciate that you've kept quiet; so does Max. Eventually we may have to tell people, but for
now it'll stay between us."
"I don't have a problem with that; your secret's safe with me. Just make sure you let me know if
anything else happens."
She paused, briefly chewing on her bottom lip. "In that case... I probably ought to tell you we
had a little argument before we even got here, over him wearing that uniform." Terry's brow
furrowed in concern. "I told him it might not be appropriate, but he flat out refused to change.
Then he got all macho and wouldn't let me go when I wanted to come alone; he doesn't like me
being around Anthony without him."
Terry sighed softly. "He's a soldier; he's just doing what comes naturally. Being a little overprotective is understandable right now."
"But it's ridiculous. It's a party for heaven's sake; there's nothing to worry about."
"I know, but it's hard for him to see it that way. Have patience with him, luv. He really needs you
right now."
She paused, sighing. "I know; I'm trying... We should've stayed home," she admitted. "He hasn't
even been inside to see Anthony yet. He only came tonight because _I_ wanted to go to the
party... But I won't force him to talk to Anthony; if he doesn't want to come in the house, we'll just
leave."
"That's probably wise," Terry said. "When I talked to him earlier, he gave me his word nothing

would happen, and I know he'll keep it. But there's no need to push him."
"Exactly. I'm just going to say hello to Anthony, make some small talk for a while and then I'll ask
Max to take me home."
He nodded. "Good idea."
They heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs from the second floor, and Laura
moved away from Terry, saying, "That must be him. I may as well go say hello right now and get
it over with."
Terry smiled, "Have a good evening then."
As she moved towards the stairs, Laura heard Tina's voice from upstairs. "I really love how the
house turned out; this place has a lot of possibilities."
"Yes, it does," Michelle's voice said, "But, if you don't mind my saying so, Anthony, it definitely
needs a woman's touch." Michelle and Tina came into view, followed closely by Anthony. He
looked quite relaxed and at ease among his guests, with the two top buttons of his white dress
shirt unbuttoned and a stray lock of his black hair falling across his forehead. "Of course, you
won't have any trouble getting that kind of help around here," she smiled.
"No, I don't mind you saying so," Anthony replied with a smile. "Interior decorating isn't exactly
something they teach in the seminary." He followed the two women into the living room from the
staircase near the kitchen. "But I'm certainly open to suggestion. Being a life-long bachelor, I
don't have too many personal possessions, particularly 'home-y' sorts of things."
Laura thought she detected a wistful look in the eyes of the former priest, and she couldn't help
but wonder if he had a prayer of finding anyone special here at the Point, given that every visitor
from the Real World was a rabid fan of Russell Crowe.
"There's a lot of furniture and lamps and things in storage in the basement of the Hotel. Feel
free to stop by sometime and take a look around; whatever you want is yours," Michelle said.
"Thank you; that's very generous of you," Anthony said.
Colin walked over to them, a beer in his hand, saying, "Be careful, mate -- they'll have the whole
place decorated in frilly lace and flowers if ya don't watch it." Michelle rolled her eyes at him,
and he chuckled.
Laura smiled too, laughing along with the others, and as Anthony turned in her direction, their
eyes met, and she saw that he recognized her.
She raised one hand for a moment, waving at him. "Hello, Anthony."

He moved towards her, smiling warmly. "Laura, isn't it?" She nodded. "Thank you for coming
tonight; I'm happy you could make it."
"So am I. I really should apologize for not coming in to say hello sooner. NJ showed us around
the clinic quite a while ago, and we went to get something to eat. I don't know where the time's
gone tonight," she explained. "Now its getting late and we'll have to be leaving soon."
"That's quite all right; you're here now and that's what counts. Is Maximus with you?" Anthony
asked, looking around the room, and Laura thought for a moment that he looked a bit nervous.
"He's still outside, talking shop with East and the others about horses. He'll be around later," she
said vaguely, then quickly changed the subject. "I'm sorry I wasn't here when you were opening
gifts. Did anyone explain about the cell phone to you yet?"
"No," Michelle said. "We thought we'd let you do that."
"The phone and the pager are very nice," Anthony said, "But I don't know if I can accept them -they're far too extravagant. You really shouldn't have, especially since," he hesitated, looking a
bit embarrassed, "well, since I already have a cell phone."
"I know you do," Laura said, "But have you tried using your phone here? Were you able to get a
call through?"
"Actually, now that you mention it, no I haven't. I thought perhaps we were out of range here."
He stopped when he saw them all looking at each other and grinning. "Is there something I
should know?"
"Yes," Laura said, "we are out of range here -- WAY out of range as a matter of fact. Regular cell
phones won't work here. When I came here a year ago, all we had were landlines that had been
run to the Hotel. I work in telecommunications, so I was able to help out by putting in cell phone
service. I had some contacts who got me a used cellular base-station and antenna for next to
nothing, and I hooked it up into the hotel's phone system. So we can use cell phones now, but
the catch is they have to be specially programmed to go through the hotel's telephony
equipment." She went over and picked up the cell phone and pager. "That's why I'm giving you
these. You can use the phone however you want, but the pager is going to be for emergencies
only. And while I was programming in your phone, I set up a 911 emergency system also. If
there's any kind of medical emergency, we can dial '9-1-1' from any phone in the Point and it'll
go straight to you."
She walked over to him and handed him the phone. "That's a wonderful idea," he said as he
looked at the phone more closely. "I didn't realize you could do that here. I had thought about
setting up some kind of emergency procedures, but it seems you've already taken care of that."
He pushed the power button and the phone's display lit up. "Is it working yet?"

"No, not completely. I haven't had time to test it. I've set it up so that when someone dials 9-1-1,
your beeper will go off and it'll ring the clinic at the same time. If no one answers at the clinic
within 5 rings, it'll try your cell phone. If there's no answer there, it'll go to the Hotel desk, and
then the Tavern. Hopefully by then, someone will have answered it. But I wasn't able to do a fullscale test with everyone; I'll be doing that in a few days. Hopefully in the interim we won't have
an emergencies."
"Yes, god willing," Anthony said. "There's one thing I don't understand though. If we're outside of
the normal world, and regular cell phones don't work, then how were you able to connect a
telephone line here?"
Laura glanced at Michelle. "Uhmm..." she scratched her head. "That's a good question; I wasn't
here when the Hotel was built, but it all has to do with -- "
"Let me guess," Anthony interrupted, "Its 'magic'."
Laura chuckled along with Anthony and the others. "Something like that, yea. Actually, there's a
relatively stable interface between here and town, and they were able to run a landline out here.
I've gotten chummy with the woman who's the COE there -- the central office engineer -- so
there won't be too many questions asked about our setup out here."
Everyone else in the room had gathered around them as she explained about the phones, and
now John came forward, stepping up to Tina's side. "A couple months ago, Bud and Zack and I
were talking about this very thing -- setting up some kind of emergency system. But we didn't
think it was possible to do that here with our small group -- I'm glad to see we were wrong," he
said with a smile.
"It's just a matter of changing the switch software," Laura said. "Normally that's not my area of
expertise though -- luckily I got some help from a few colleagues at work. Of course, I was
deliberately _very_ vague about what I wanted it for."
"Good idea," John said. "But while we're on the subject, do you think we might be able to add
something in for non-medical emergencies? We don't need to involve Anthony in some of the
other 'incidents' that go on around here."
"I hadn't thought of that," Laura said. "Maybe we should have a meeting about all this to decide
exactly how this is going to work -- it's no trouble at all to add to or modify the 911 system."
John nodded. "I'll take care of organizing a meeting later this week. Sounds like you've already
done more than your share with this."
"Its no trouble," Laura said, shaking her head. "Its what I do for a living -- I'm glad I can help
out."

"Well, I'll repeat what I said before," Anthony said. "This is very generous of you - thank you so
much, Laura. And I'll have to remember to thank Maximus when I see him."
"It's the least I could do to thank you for helping _us_." Laura glanced outside, but it was difficult
to see into the darkened yard. "Speaking of Max, I should go back out and find him. We'll
probably be leaving shortly."
Anthony frowned. "So soon? You can't leave yet -- you haven't had any champagne."
"Champagne?"
"Yes, John and Tina brought it to celebrate our grand opening. There isn't much left, I'm afraid,
so you must have a glass before its all gone," he said. Judging by the flush in Anthony's cheeks,
he'd already had a few glasses himself.
Laura hesitated, debating whether to accept. On the one hand, see knew how reluctant
Maximus was to come here at all, and it would probably be wise to leave early. On the other
hand, she didn't want to appear rude and leave so soon after saying hello to Anthony. Also in the
back of her mind was the fact she was tired of walking on eggshells around Maximus and
welcomed the chance to relax and enjoy herself, especially in light of the small argument they'd
had earlier.
She turned away from the window, smiling, "I love champagne."
"Excellent," Anthony said, smiling back as he led her towards the kitchen. "So you said you've
already seen the clinic?"
"Yes, I have -- Norma Jean gave us the grand tour a while ago. It looks fantastic -- you've done
a wonderful job." Anthony beamed as he poured her a glass of champagne. "But I haven't seen
the rest of the house. You're probably tired of showing people around, but maybe you won't
mind one last time."
"Not at all," Anthony said graciously. "There's not much to see just yet though -- just a lot of bare
walls." He looked around the kitchen, saying, "I suppose I should start here. Its a pity its not light
out. It looks much better in here during the day, especially in the morning. The view from the
window is very beautiful, and very serene, with the morning sun filtering in through the trees."
Standing next to the new microwave with a big red bow on top of it, Laura looked out the big bay
window. It was too dark to see into the woods, but she knew that the spot where Maximus had
camped out to watch the house was at the top of a nearby hill.
"Yes, I'm sure it is," she said, then turned away, forcing a smile. "So lets see the rest of it," she
said, and followed Anthony out of the kitchen.

"It's amazing; you men could talk about horses all night, couldn't you?" Roberta teased as she
came alongside Cort, slipping her hand into the crook of his arm as she interrupted his
conversation with East, Maximus and Mannie. "I think you're talking about the same thing when
I went inside."
"Yes, we probably could." Cort looked at her, embarrassment coloring his face as he said to the
others, "I believe its time to break it up, gents, before the ladies start to feel neglected."
"Sorry, luv," East said to Roberta, "I didn't realize we'd been talking so long." He turned to the
other men. "Thanks for the advice, mates; I'll let you know how Nero's doing, but right now I'd
better go find Kath while she's still speaking to me." With a nod to Roberta, he headed off
towards the back of the house.
Mannie looked at Maximus and Cort, saying, "I should go too and see if Norma Jean needs
anything."
"Please tell her thank you for me," Maximus said. "She was very helpful in answering my
questions earlier about the clinic. You both should be proud of the fine work she has done with
preparing it."
Mannie smiled. "I am proud of her; I wasn't sure at first that bringing someone from the outside
was a good idea, but she's certainly made it work."
"Everyone's done a wonderful job here," Roberta said, and Cort echoed her sentiments.
"She'll be very happy to hear that," Mannie said with an even broader smile. "So I'd better go
find her to tell her."
He headed off in the direction East had gone, leaving Cort, Roberta and Maximus. "Looks like
you're missing your lady too," Cort said.
"I should see if she's ready to leave by now; she was saying she was tired earlier," Maximus
said with a nod. He bowed slightly to Roberta, saying, "Good night, and keep well."
"Evening, Max," Cort said, as did Roberta.
Maximus headed across the yard towards the spot where he had left Laura talking with Wendy
and Jeffrey, but he quickly discovered that none of the three were there. He looked around,
wandering over to where the kitchen staff was packing up the leftovers from the buffet dinner,
but he could not find Laura.
A frown creased his brow, and he wondered for a moment if she might have left without him. He
knew she was not happy with him after their earlier argument -- perhaps she had been right that

they should never have come. He also knew she was very disturbed to learn that he had gone
inside Anthony's house without permission. Under the circumstances, he wouldn't be surprised
at all if she had gone home.
He wanted to explain to her what was wrong, but the fact was he himself did not understand the
confusing array of emotions that had plagued him ever since the day he had met the Point's
new doctor. Realizing that he was behaving like Sid was indeed a shock, and he knew he had
been wrong to watch the house as he had. But knowing that did not change the fact that he still
did not trust this man who bore the face of evil incarnate. Even though he would have preferred
not to come here tonight, he could not allow his beloved Laura to set foot in this place
unprotected. He trusted his brothers with most things, but when it came to the safety of the
woman he loved, he and he alone was responsible for her life.
He was aware that he was being difficult and overly-demanding lately, but in time she would
realize that he was doing it for her own good and because he loved her. He had been a soldier
too long to be able to trust the newcomer without question. He was a peaceful man, a farmer
and a lover -- but he was also a warrior, a commander of the Legions of Rome, something the
others here at the Point seemed to have forgotten in this idyllic paradise.
It saddened him that Laura did not seem to understand why he was in uniform tonight. Anthony
_needed_ to be reminded of who and what he was; all of them needed to be reminded that he
would defend this place against any threat with every bit of strength and cunning he possessed.
His happiness had been stolen from him once, ripped away in the blink of an eye, and he would
never allow it to happen again.
He walked towards the front of the house, stopping when he could see the cars parked across
the road. Laura's red Viper was exactly where they'd left it, so obviously she was still here,
somewhere. He walked towards the back again, glancing inside the clinic through the open
windows, but there was no one there. Where had she gone, he wondered?
As he rounded the back corner of the house, a voice said, "Lose somebody, Max?" and he
stopped.
Zack and Bugdog were sitting together on a lounge chair, partially hidden by the darkness and
overhanging branches of the trees. "Yes," Maximus said as he took a few steps towards them,
forcing a smile to his lips, "I seem to have misplaced Laura."
"Try Anthony's apartment," Buggy said. "I think I saw her go inside a while ago."
Maximus' thoughts whirled. Inside...? Alone?
He turned back towards the house, rounding the corner fully, and what he saw through the open
windows made his blood run cold.

The living room of the apartment was far from empty, with many of his brothers and their ladies
there, talking and laughing together while soft music played in the background. But he barely
saw anything besides Anthony, who stood mere feet from Laura as she chatted with Colin,
Michelle, Tina and John.
For a moment, the world flashed a blinding white, and he saw not Anthony, but Commodus
himself, dressed in fine black silk as he mingled with the politicians and soldiers after the battle
at Vin DiBona in Germania. An instant later, the world blinked again, and he was back at the
clinic, staring at Anthony through the window.
The tendrils of fear that gripped his heart and squeezed the breath from his lungs quickly gave
way to anger. Alone, with him? How could she!? He'd already told her he did not want her to be
near Anthony without him there to protect her. Didn't she understand how much danger she
could be in?
His first instinct was to storm in and take her away from here. But he forced himself to take a
deep breath, relax and _think_. The words of the others rolled through his mind over and over -Anthony was not Commodus and there was no reason to distrust him. He also reminded himself
that he had given his word -- to Laura, to Norma Jean, and to Terry -- that he would not cause
any problems tonight. Above all, he was a man of his word.
He took more deep breaths, calming himself before he went inside.
"Max...? Is everything ok, Max?"
Maximus turned slowly, realizing Zack was speaking to him, and that he had been standing
there, staring at the house, for quite a while. "Yes," he answered, giving a half-hearted smile.
"I'm fine. But its getting late and I think its time Laura and I were leaving. Have a good evening,
both of you." He bowed slightly to them both, then turned and headed towards the door with a
purposeful stride.

"Yea, you too, Max," Zack said, a frown pulling at the corners of his mouth as Maximus walked
away.
"Bye," Kelley said, equally uncertain, and the couple glanced at one another. They both looked
towards Bud, who had been standing nearby, watching the whole thing.
"I don't like this," Zack said to the cop.
"Neither do I," Bud scowled, setting down his drink, and followed after Maximus. He was about
to head up the steps into the house when he stopped, seeing trouble with a capital 'T' coming
towards him in a flash of purple.

Sid.
Bud moved in front of him. "And just where do you think you're going?"
"To watch the fireworks," Sid giggled as he gestured towards the house. "Or maybe a fight -now _that_ would be fun! I've been waiting for the 'great' General would finally lose it -- looks
like tonight's the night." There was a maniacal glee in his eyes as he licked his lips and rubbed
his hands together in anticipation.
Bud shook his head slowly. "Forget it, Sid -- you're staying outside. Remember what I told you
when you got here? If you cause _any_ trouble, I'll kick your ass all the way back to the tavern."
"It won't be _me_ causing problems this time," Sid replied. "I just want to watch."
"You? Keep your mouth shut? Not likely."
"Sid?" A woman's voice interrupted, and both men turned to see Tonya approaching. "You're not
going inside, are you?" She stopped beside him, slipping her arm inside his, giving him a stern
look. "You promised you wouldn't bother Anthony."
"But -- but I haven't done anything!" Sid whined.
"_Yet_," Bud added, folding his arms across his chest.
"Come on, Sid," Tonya said, tugging on his arm and pulling him away from the house. "Stay
away from Maximus; it's been a nice, quiet party so far and we want to keep it that way."
"But I just want to watch," Sid continued to protest.
"I'll take him home," Tonya said over her shoulder to Bud.
"Thanks," Bud said, breathing a sigh of relief as he turned and followed Zack and Bugdog into
the house.
Part Eleven
Humming along with the soft jazz music that was playing on the stereo, Anthony picked up an
orphaned wineglass as he carried an empty tray of appetizers into the kitchen. In spite of the
lateness of the evening, most of the guests were still here, and even though he was exhausted
from the long day, Anthony was reluctant to have it all end.
He felt foolish now for all the worrying he had done over the occasion. He had been up before
dawn, obsessing over every little detail, wanting to make a good impression on all his new
neighbors. He had met most of them already, but this was the first time they'd all see the

finished clinic, and he had to make sure everything was in order so nothing would make them
lose trust in their new physician. But everything had come off without a hitch, and without
exception, the men and women of Crowe's Point had been warm and friendly.
As he set the glass and tray on the kitchen counter next to the sink, he smiled as he thought of
the little joke the men had been playing amongst themselves, switching nametags and adding
odd little descriptions to them. If they felt comfortable enough around him to play jokes, he must
be doing something right. When some people learned of his former life as a priest, they tended
to treat him with undue formality, as though he were still a cloistered monk with no sense of
humor. It warmed his heart to feel a sense of acceptance from them... even if he was a bit
confused as to what all the comments on the nametags meant, as well as having an even
harder time remembering their names.
He paused at the sink, eyeing all the dirty glasses. A little bit of dishwashing right now was
probably a good idea; there were only a few clean ones left. He turned on the hot water, using a
soapy sponge on each glass before setting it to dry on a towel alongside the sink.
"What are you doing?"
Anthony turned to find NJ standing in the doorway. "Just tidying up a bit while I'm in here," he
explained.
"Don't be silly; we'll take care of that later," NJ said as she came over and pulled him away from
the sink. "We still have guests. Don't worry about cleaning up. We'll help you out later after
everyone's gone home, or just wait until morning. I'll talk to Arthur and have him send a few of
the men over to take everything down and clean up the yard and the house."
"Thank you; I certainly would appreciate the help." He went to the refrigerator and took out the
last tray of veggies and dip. "Everything's turned out quite well, hasn't it?"
"It certainly has -- Didn't I tell you not to worry so much? Everyone's very happy to have you
here," she said with a smile.
Anthony nodded in agreement, following her back into the living room, setting the tray down on
the table and rejoining the party.
Anthony was sipping on his cup of coffee, listening to Norma Jean and Laura discussing how
the new phone system would work, when the oddest feeling came over him, a chill running
down his spine. A moment later, he heard someone coming in the open front door. The volume
of conversation dropped noticeably too, and he turned his head slightly, looking towards the
door.
Maximus had arrived.

Anthony couldn't help but stare for a few moments, taken aback at the sight of his Roman
uniform. In the few times they had met before, he'd only seen Maximus in modern clothing, and
because of it, it had been much easier to ignore the fact at Maximus was a Roman general.
But now he couldn't help but notice just how imposing Maximus looked when dressed as a
soldier. Even though he was virtually identical to the other men here at Crowe's Point, right now
Maximus seemed taller than the rest. And he definitely seemed stronger and more muscular in
the short-sleeved tunic.
Maximus' face was expressionless as his eyes quickly scanned over the people in the room.
Anthony's breath caught in his throat for a moment when Maximus looked at him, but the
piercing blue-green eyes quickly moved elsewhere. Maximus' gaze stopped at Laura, and he
headed towards her. Anthony watched her for a moment, thinking that she seemed a bit nervous
too, even though Maximus was smiling now as he said, "Ah, there you are..." He put his arm
around her waist loosely, bending briefly to kiss the top of her head. "I was wondering where
you were. You didn't tell me you were going inside."
Anthony couldn't see the man's eyes as he spoke, but there was something about the way
Laura reacted that gave him the impression that Maximus was not pleased with her, in spite of
the nonchalance of his manner. He wondered if it might have something to do with him, but
chided himself a moment later for being so negative. The couple could have had an unrelated
argument to account for the tension between them. And it was also very possible he was seeing
things that weren't there -- there was no reason for Maximus to be hostile, not in the middle of a
party. The last time he had seen Maximus, at the tavern a week before, he had seemed
friendlier than the day they had been introduced.
But if Laura was upset, she didn't show it, answering, "I came in to use the ladies room, and I
just stayed to chit-chat. You were busy talking with East and Mannie and Cort, so I didn't want to
bother you."
"We're finished with that now, so I thought I'd join you." He turned away from her, eyes quickly
scanning the room before settling on Anthony again. "Have I missed anything?" For a moment,
there was a flicker of some unnamed dark emotion behind the soldier's eyes before his
expression became neutral again, and another chill went down Anthony's spine.
Laura nodded. "Anthony already opened our gift, and I explained the new phone system to him."
Anthony tried to ignore the bad feeling he had and answered, "That was a very generous gift,"
he said to both of them. "Please accept my thanks, Maximus. And thank you for coming tonight
-- I'm so glad both of you could make it."
Maximus bowed his head respectfully, replying, "You are quite welcome, Doctor. I cannot take
much credit for the telephone, however -- that is Laura's area of expertise. And as I've told
Norma Jean, all of you are to be commended on doing such a fine job. The clinic will be a very

useful addition to the Point."
Maximus' words were innocuous, but there was a subtle shift in his body language as he spoke.
He was standing behind Laura, his arm draped possessively across her waist, hand on her hip,
while the other hand rested on her shoulder. If he didn't know better, Anthony thought it was
some kind of warning, as if to say: 'She's mine - stay away'. But then Maximus moved again, his
hands dropping to his sides though he still remained behind her.
Anthony was puzzled at his attitude. The last time they had met, Maximus had seemed fine.
There was no reason for him to react like that. Perhaps he had been drinking, Anthony mused.
*Or perhaps you're imagining things,* he thought. Ever since he had seen Gladiator, just being
around Maximus made him nervous, and no doubt he was projecting his own fears onto the
other man.
"Thank you," Anthony replied. "As I've told everyone else tonight, now that you've seen the clinic
and know more about what we do here, I hope that you'll feel comfortable coming here in the
future. I am here to help." Out of the corner of his eye, Anthony noticed two more people had
come in, Bud White and Zack Grant. Both were watching Maximus closely, with slightly worried
expressions, making him wonder if his fears were indeed justified, especially since everyone in
the room was listening to their conversation now.
Maximus nodded. "I do not yet fully understand how modern medicine works, but if Norma Jean
is as patient in future with all my questions as she was today," he smiled softly at her, "it will not
be long before I do understand."
NJ smiled back. "Considering how little was known of human biology in the 2nd century, I'd say
you've done amazingly well in grasping 21st century science. You're very intelligent, Max."
"Indeed you are, General," Laura added, patting him affectionately on the arm. Anthony watched
them closely. In spite of his self-conscious smile, Maximus seemed ill at ease, and rather cold
towards his girlfriend.
"I came in to see if you were ready to leave," Maximus said to Laura. "You asked me to remind
you about the call you have to make early in the morning."
"What call?" NJ asked.
"A conference call, for work," Laura said. "Actually, its on NetMeeting. I have to get up bright and
early to get ready for it, so I guess we should be going now, Max." Anthony couldn't help but
notice she didn't even look at Maximus as she spoke.
"Aw, come on, luv; ya can't leave now," Colin said. "Sit down and have another drink. Chelle and
I haven't seen you and Max for a while now. Besides, what do you need to get ready for? They

can't see you on the phone, can they? Just sleep in a bit tomorrow and have Max chase you out
of bed right before you need to make the call."
Laura grinned, glancing at Maximus before answering, "Its not that simple; my boss and my
boss' boss will be in on that call, along with one of our major customers. I have to have plenty of
time to go over my notes and have a couple cups of coffee before the meeting. Being hungover
would *not* be a good thing."
"It's a party, mate," Colin said to Maximus. "Can't you talk her into staying?"
Maximus glanced at Laura before answering, "Its up to her; she knows what she needs to do."
Laura looked at Colin and shrugged. "Sorry, cousin; I really need to get a good night's sleep
before this meeting. Its pretty important."
"Cousin?" Anthony asked, wondering if he'd missed something during the introductions. "Are
you and Colin related?"
Colin chuckled, as did Laura. "No," she said, "we're not; its just a little joke. We have the same
last name -- O'Brien."
"Ah, I see," Anthony said, feeling only slightly less confused. "I suppose it would be impossible
for you to be related, since you're not re--" Anthony stopped abruptly, face flushing with
embarrassment as he realized what he'd nearly said. "I -- I mean..."
"Not real?" Colin finished for him, still chuckling. "No worries, mate. We all know we only exist
here; we can't exist in the real world. You can say it; no one takes it personally."
Anthony looked around at the others for confirmation, thinking that perhaps Colin was only
being polite. But the other men looked amused too. "He's right," John said as he stood beside
Tina. "None of us really understands how we got here, but we do know this place is special, and
we can't exist outside in the real world. You can talk about it; it doesn't bother us."
"I'm glad to hear that," Anthony said. "I wouldn't want to offend anyone."
"It takes a lot to offend people around here," John said with a smile. "Don't worry about it."
"Speaking of the Real World," Colin said, "Have you ever thought of leaving that job and coming
to live with us full time, Laura? You wouldn't have to worry about things like meetings anymore.
And I know Maximus would be very happy to have you around 24/7."
"I have thought about it, but I can't," Laura said. "I still have a life in the real world. My family
already wonders what's happened to me in the last year and where I keep disappearing to. I
need to stay connected to them, and even though my job can be a pain, I like what I do. And I

still need a paycheck; I don't think we have much use for a full-time telecomm engineer around
here anyhow. But since I was able to start working virtual, I don't have to go running back home
when the weekend's over. Of course I'd love to stay with Max all the time, but we've worked
things out."
"Yes, we have," Maximus said. "When I was a soldier, I was often away from my family for long
periods of time. I understand about needing to honor one's responsibilities."
Colin nodded. "Well, only you know what's best for both of you. I just thought it would be nice if
you could stay all the time." Michelle, Tina, John and many of the others nodded in agreement.
"Of course it would. But for now, I have to keep a foot in both worlds."
Anthony only half-heard the conversation, becoming a bit unnerved at the way Maximus kept
looking at him; the man wasn't staring at him openly, instead glancing at him from beneath a
hooded gaze, watching every move he made. It finally stopped when the Roman spoke to
Laura, "I believe it is time we left then, so you can prepare for your meeting."
Laura nodded. "Yes, you're right; I need to go." She turned towards Anthony and smiled. "Thank
you for the invitation, Anthony. It was a lovely party."
"You're welcome. I'm so glad you could come. And thank you again for the cell phone. I assume
you'll be coming by soon to finish setting up the 911 system."
"Yes, very soon. I'll let you know." Anthony noticed Maximus was tugging on her arm slightly,
moving subtly towards the door. As she moved with him, she looked around, saying, "Good
night, everyone."
John and Tina moved closer as Maximus passed by them. "Good night, Max," John said. "Don't
be such a stranger; we haven't seen much of you lately."
"Yes, you've been missed," Tina said. "And you ought to wear that uniform more often, Max. You
look very handsome tonight."
Maximus stopped and bowed slightly. "Thank you, Tina; I believe I will do that. Good night."
"'Night, Tina," Laura said, hurrying towards the door again as Maximus led the way. Anthony
watched them go, relieved that Maximus was gone.
Maximus' fingers dug into the flesh of Laura's arm as they left the house. A fake smile was on
her face, the same one she'd been wearing since Maximus had come into the house. The story
about needing to be up early for a meeting had been untrue, a small white lie she and Maximus
had decided on earlier to let one another know it was time to leave.

As they got further away from the house and closer to the car, the smile faded, a frown pulling at
the corners of her mouth. She glanced at Maximus, sighing inwardly at the frown that was also
on his face. He stepped in front of her when they reached the car, opening the driver's side
door. She climbed into the driver's seat and he shut the door for her. Without a word, he came
around to the other side the car and jerked the door open, dropping down into the seat.
When he closed the door, he yanked it shut with such force that the whole car shook. She
looked over at him, not at all surprised to see the anger in his eyes, and said quietly, "Not here.
Wait until we get back." He glanced at the front of the house where people were still milling
around, then nodded to her, turning to look forward. She suppressed a sigh again, knowing that
this was not going to be pleasant. Reluctantly, she started the car and drove back to the Hotel.
"I'm going out for a beer," Colin said to Michelle. "Can I get you something, luv?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine, thanks."
"Be back in two tics," he said, kissing her quickly on the cheek before he strolled towards the
door.
"I could use one too," Jeff said, trailing after him.
Colin nodded, reaching into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes as soon as he was out the door;
no one was allowed to smoke in Anthony's apartment or the clinic. As he walked across the
yard, he lit up and took a puff, turning to Jeff as he exhaled. "Well, that went pretty well. When
Max first walked in, I thought we might have a problem. But Max seems to be adjusting to
Anthony ok."
"Are you nuts?" The voice came from behind them, and Colin and Jeff looked back to see that
Bud and Zack had followed them also, along with Terry. "Max is *not* okay," Bud continued. "He
looked like he was this close - " he held up his hand, thumb and forefinger held a quarter-inch
apart " - to taking someone's head off. He couldn't stand being in the same room with the guy;
couldn't you see that?"
"Shit, Bud, you always have to see the worst, don't you?" Colin said, stopping in front of the ice
chest and pulling out a couple of bottles of beer. "Sure, Max isn't happy about the way Anthony
looks, but nothing happened in there. Give the man a little credit." He handed a bottle to Jeff.
Bud snorted. "No, nothing happened -- THIS time. The man's a powder keg just waiting to go
off. You didn't see him before came in the house. When he heard Laura had gone inside without
him, he looked pissed as hell. I thought we were going to have a major problem on our hands."
"But we didn't, did we?" Colin said. "Maximus is one of the most level-headed people around
here. He doesn't fly off the handle... unlike some people I know." Colin flicked his cigarette
ashes in Bud's direction. "Just because you might have taken the guy's head off doesn't mean

Max would."
"Fuck off, O'Brien," Bud scowled. "This isn't about me. I know Max has a good reason to be
upset, but the fact is he's acting damn strange lately. We still don't know where he disappeared
to for an entire week." He glanced towards the house and saw John approaching. "John maybe you know."
"Know what?" John said as he too went to get a bottle of beer out of the large ice chest.
"Where Max disappeared to last week. Have you talked to him yet? Did he tell you anything?"
John sighed. "Yes, I talked to him, but no, he didn't tell me anything. When I casually asked him
where he'd gone off to, he gave me some vague answer about being around the Point and
needing time to think, but he never told me specifically where he'd been at. It was obvious he
didn't want to talk about it so I didn't push it. I don't think there's anything suspicious about it
though - He's probably found some quiet spot that he doesn't want anyone else to know about."
"He just needs time," Colin said. "He'll get used to Anthony eventually."
Bud was shaking his head. "I'm not buying it. I don't like this; I don't like this at all. Zack, you
saw him too before he went in, you tell them."
Zack rubbed his bearded jaw. "I don't know, Bud. Yea, he was pissed, but he behaved himself in
there with Anthony. This isn't easy for Max, but I think he'll get used to having Anthony around in
time." He paused, sighing. "Then again, everyone's got their breaking point, even Max."
"Exactly!" Bud said, "and if this isn't enough to rattle Max, I don't know what is. We all know who
he 'unleashed hell' on in his movie." The group was quiet for a moment as they pondered that.
Bud turned to Terry, who had been listening quietly, sipping on a VB. "And you - You know
something, don't you? You know where he was that week."
As the others turned to him, Terry wished he had stayed inside. "I told you before, Bud -- Max
can handle this. He gave his word that he wouldn't cause any problems tonight, and he kept his
word. He's smart enough to know Anthony's resemblance to Commodus is only skin deep, and
as time goes by and he gets used to having him around, Max will settle down."
Bud stared for a moment, then replied, "You know, that might be a little more believable if you'd
answer my question about where he was last week."
Terry stared back. "All right, fine -- Yes, I do know something about where he was, but I gave my
word to Max that I'd keep it to myself. And I intend to keep it. He doesn't need the lot of you
nosing around in his business right now."
"You'd better make damn sure you're right about that, Thorne, because if anything happens to

Anthony, or if Max takes it out on Laura instead, so help me I'll take it out of *your* hide, right
after I take it out of his," Bud warned.
As Terry glared back, Jeff stepped forward, saying, "Hey, hey; come on guys. Cool it. We're all
concerned about Max, but that's no reason to fight over it. And Max would never hurt Laura or
any woman; that's crazy, Bud. Even after what Sid did last summer, the only fight they got in
was when Sid attacked him first. He's a soldier; he knows how to control his emotions."
"Well, for everyone's sake, I hope you're right and I'm wrong. But I saw the look in his eyes
when he saw Laura inside the house with Anthony, and trust me on this -- Max is *not* okay." He
was about to continue when he saw several of the women coming towards them. "Shit," he
whispered, "Don't tell any of this to the ladies; we don't need to worry them too."
The men nodded in agreement, and Michelle came within earshot, shaking her head at Colin as
she said, "I didn't realize 'two tics' was such a long time. I should have known you just wanted a
smoke."
"Yea, you got me there, luv," Colin said as she snuggled up to him, putting her arm around his
waist.
Tina joined John and Buggy joined Zack. Buggy noticed how quiet the men were all of a sudden
and said, "What's going on? Did we miss something, Boyz?"
"'Course not," Zack answered, smiling at her. "So what's going on, hon? Ready to leave now?"
"Nope. Just wondering where you disappeared to."
"And we were talking about Max and Laura," Tina said, "They seemed a little strange. We
thought maybe they'd had a fight earlier -- did any of you notice anything?" she asked.
The men were silent; Bud looked over at Colin and Terry and gave them an 'I told you so' look.
John slipped his arm around his girlfriend's shoulders and said, "Max isn't quite himself lately,"
he explained, "but I'm sure everything's fine. I wouldn't worry, darlin'. We ought to go back in the
house though, before Anthony thinks we deserted him."
"That's true," she said, letting him guide her back towards the house. "We can talk about Max
later."
The others followed.
The icy silence was beginning to unnerve Laura by the time she and Maximus climbed the stairs
to the second floor and went into their suite. She walked in first after he opened the door,
flipping on the lights, tossing her keys on the table by the door before moving across the room
to shut the balcony doors and draw the curtains. If they ended up in a noisy argument, she

didn't want the whole place to know about it.
When she turned around, Maximus was standing near the door with his arms folded across his
chest. "Why did you go into the house without me? You knew I didn't want you to be alone with
him."
Her temper rose at the dictatorial tone of his voice, and she had to remind herself of Terry's
advice. She knew how difficult it was for Maximus right now, so she ignored the fact that he
sounded like he was talking to a misbehaving schoolgirl. "You said you didn't want me to go to
the party alone, and I understood that. I waited outside with you for an hour; I asked you twice if
you wanted to go in, but you didn't say anything. So I went in to use the ladies room and talk to
Anthony about the phone." He started shaking his head as she added, "It was getting late, and it
would have been rude not to have gone in to talk to him."
"I should have been at your side; I don't want you to be alone with him!" he snapped.
"There's no reason to raise your voice," she said calmly, even though what she really wanted to
do was yell back at him. "Can't we just sit down and discuss this rationally?"
"There is nothing to discuss. You cannot go near him without me, and that's final."
She turned away for a moment, slowly counting to ten. She knew he came from a different
culture and time, where a husband's word was law to his wife and family, but Maximus rarely
treated her like this. "You're not being fair," she replied. "The house was full of people. I was
never alone with him. And even if I was, there's nothing to worry about; Anthony is harmless. We
talked about this before."
"*I* do not trust him! You are my woman, and you will do as I say!"
The anger flared, and she snapped, "I'm not going to be 'your' anything if you keep talking like
that!" They glared at each other, but she turned away again before she said anything else.
Maximus was struggling to deal with a very difficult situation, and arguing with him wasn't going
to help. And her heart ached for the pain inside him that must be driving his erratic behavior.
She turned back towards him again and said softly, "Please, I don't want to fight with you." She
walked towards him slowly, saying, "I'm not even going to say that I understand what you're
going through, because obviously I don't. If I had any idea that being around Anthony was going
to upset you this much, I never would have insisted that we go. When I went inside the house, I
assumed that you had changed your mind about talking to Anthony; I was honestly trying to do
you a favor by saying hello to him by myself so we could leave early."
She got close enough to him to lay a hand on his arm, looking up at him. She watched the
hardness in his face ease as he said, "You should have told me you were going inside."
"You're right; I should have. And I'm sorry." She ran her hand up and down his arm. "I didn't

mean to make it harder on you." He let her move closer. "But this is hard for me too, you know.
I'm trying very hard to be understanding, but its difficult when you won't even tell me exactly
what's bothering you. You haven't even told me about those awful nightmares you keep having."
He glanced away, unable to meet her eyes. "What's wrong? Talk to me, and tell me what you're
feeling; that'll work a lot better than yelling at me."
"There is nothing wrong," he said. "I am simply trying to protect you and the rest of the Point."
She rolled her eyes, looking down so he didn't see it. Men of his time would rather die than
admit to being anything less than in total control. Discussing how he felt had never been easy
for Maximus, now more than ever. She slipped her arms around him, holding him close as she
said, "Its okay; we can talk about this when you're ready...." His arms tightened around her.
"Just don't shut me out. Don't push me away. I can help if you just let me." She paused, but
there was no reply. "You shouldn't worry so much. I can take care of myself, you know.
Remember what happened with Sid, when he kidnapped me? I got away from him, all by
myself. I'm not a weak, helpless girl; you don't have to protect me."
He moved back, holding her at arm's length. "What Sid did to you is exactly what I'm talking
about. It never should have happened, and if I had been more vigilant, it wouldn't have. I failed
you, but it will never happen again."
"You didn't fail me -- Sid was out of control. It wasn't your fault."
"Yes, it was. I underestimated him, and you suffered for it. I will not make that mistake again. I
will not rely on anyone else's word about Giraudeau -- I do not trust him, and I will not
jeopardize your safety."
She embraced him again, holding him tight. "I hate seeing you like this... I'm sorry I pushed you
into seeing him. We won't go near him or the clinic again until you're ready. We can even go
away for a while if you want -- give me a couple days to rearrange my schedule at work, and
we'll ride up into the hills and stay at our special place. I won't go near him again myself without
you either... Will that help?"
There was a long pause before he responded, "Yes," in a soft whisper against her ear. He held
her close, stroking her hair softly, saying nothing more.
"I love you," she whispered back. "I'd never do anything to hurt you. Don't ever forget that,
Maximus."
"I love you too," he replied, nearly crushing her against his chest as his arms tightened across
her back. "You are my life; I will not lose you..."
Tears moistened her eyes. "You won't lose me." She clung to him, and they stood together in
the middle of the living room for many long minutes, neither speaking.

Faces floated past his mind's eye: Selene, Quintus, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Haken,
Lucilla, little Marcus, Proximo, Juba, Lucius. Memories flowed and ebbed, disjointed images
moving by in a blur...
"Commodus is not a moral man.... He must not rule... He will accept my decision..." Marcus
Aurelius' voice whispered in the darkness, and then Maximus found himself looking down at the
emperor's lifeless body. "You are the son I should have had...."
Tears stung his eyes, but as he bent down towards the old man, a voice said, "The Emperor
asks for your loyalty..." He turned, to find himself staring straight into the remorseless eyes of
Commodus.
He took a step back, and the scene changed abruptly as Commodus disappeared, and he
blinked in the strong sunlight, now standing on a hilltop near Trujillo. He smiled for a moment as
he recognized his farm, but that quickly faded as he saw the squad of Praetorians riding away
from the smoking ruins of his house.
He took a step forward... And stumbled as he looked up to find the charred, twisted bodies of
Selene and Marcus nailed to the beam above him. Trembling, and tears flowing freely, he
reached out towards his murdered wife, and fell to the ground beneath her, overcome with grief.
Voices echoed around him as he lay there.... "... Your family will meet you in the afterlife....
Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.... You will remove your
helmet and tell me your name..... What am I going to do with you? You simply won't die..."
He let out a choked sob, scratching at the earth beneath him. His hands encountered raised
mounds of dirt, and he raised his tear-streaked face to discover the graves of Selene and
Marcus in front of him. Fresh tears flowed as he reached towards the flowers that lay atop his
beloved's grave, but his hand shook and fell back to the ground, and he bowed his head, griefstricken.
He didn't have time to mourn, however, because hands grabbed at him, pulling him up, and he
found himself not among the Bedouin slave traders, but in the Coliseum itself. The roar of the
crowd was deafening, and he staggered back again as a tiger came charging at him. He looked
for a weapon, but there was none, and he threw his hands up in front of his face, trying to
protect himself.
He braced himself for the inevitable deathblow, but it never came, and he opened his eyes
again, lowering his hands. The roar of the crowd had disappeared, to be replaced by the cries of
seagulls, and he turned around to discover he was in front of the Hotel in Crowe's Point now...
Laura had fallen asleep enveloped in Maximus' arms, but now something disturbed her slumber,
drawing her back to wakefulness. She noticed immediately that Maximus no longer held her,

and she opened her eyes as the bed shook slightly.
Maximus lay beside her, on his back, but he was far from restful, his head moving from side to
side on the pillow, hands clutching at something. When she touched his arm lightly, his skin was
clammy with sweat, and she knew he was having another nightmare. This time she could feel
his distress as if it were her own, the emotions rolling off him in waves, and she knew his fear
and anger and sorrow, even though she did not know the source.
"Oh, Max," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes and spilling down her cheeks, wondering if
she should wake him up or not.
Maximus breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he was safe here at Crowe's Point, but then he
noticed a figure walking towards him.
The man was dressed in gray dress pants and a white shirt, and Maximus just stared as he
approached. "... I'm Doctor Anthony Giraudeau. Pleased to meet you," he said with a warm
smile, extending his left hand. Maximus reached forward and grasped it, and Anthony pulled him
into a hug. "... Smile for me now, brother," he hissed in his ear, and Maximus turned his head in
time to see a glint of metal in Anthony's right hand.
Then pain exploded in his side.
He gasped as the dagger was jerked out, hot blood immediately beginning to stream from the
wound. Maximus' knees buckled under him, and he sank down to the ground, clutching at his
side.
He looked up, the word, "Why...?" dying on his lips as he saw not Anthony, but Commodus
himself, dressed in his white armor, standing over him, the dripping dagger still in his hand, a
wicked smile on his face. He reached forward and grabbed a handful of his hair, jerking his head
back.
"Since you won't die, I'll just have to kill you myself," he said as he brought the knife downward
towards Maximus' throat in a deadly arc.
But the knife stopped at the edge of his neck, and Commodus smiled cruelly. "But first you
watch *her* die."
A woman's scream split the air, and Maximus turned towards the Hotel, looking on with horror as
two Praetorian guards held Laura between them at the bottom of the steps. Two wooden
ladders stood near them, propped up against either side of the heavy wooden beam above the
front of the hotel.
"No!" Maximus gasped, pressing his hand against the wound in his side as he scrambled to his
feet. But he seemed to be moving in slow motion, and Commodus had already reached her.

Laura screamed again, struggling to escape as Commodus came towards her with the bloody
knife.
"NO!!" Maximus shouted, unable to make his feet move as he watch Commodus look back at
him and smile once again as he handed the knife to one of the Praetorians. Then he took hold
of the flimsy dress she wore, ripping it off her body, leaving her naked, her femininity exposed to
the leering eyes of Commodus and the guards.
"But before you both die, we will have our sport with her," Commodus laughed as he began to
strip off his armor.
Maximus struggled valiantly to reach them, but more Praetorians appeared, holding him back as
Laura screamed again...
"No!" Maximus yelled out in his sleep, eyes still closed, trashing about in the bed now, and an
alarmed Laura put her hands on his shoulder and shook him.
"Max! Max, wake up...!" She shook him harder. "Maximus!!"
The Praetorians held him fast, clutching at his arms and shoulders, and he lashed out at them
with his rapidly failing strength...
His thrashing became more violent, arms and fists flailing about, and Laura drew back just in
time to avoid his clenched fist. She let out a yelp of surprise as it barely missed her face, instead
smacking into the heavy oak headboard behind her.
The pain from his bruised knuckles and her cry finally jarred him awake. He blinked, panting
hard, struggling to see in the dim light, looking at his clenched fist in horror as she cowered on
the other side of the bed. "Gods..! Did I --?"
"No, I'm okay... I'm okay," she said in a shaky voice. She crawled back towards him slowly.
"What's wrong...? You were having another nightmare, weren't you?"
"...Yes..." He rolled away from her, to the side of the bed, collapsing to the floor as he gasped for
breath, a cold sweat covering his body.
A worried Laura scrambled off the bed, kneeling beside him on the hardwood floor, frightened at
the violent trembling in his body as she put her arms around him to comfort him. "It's all right; it's
all right... It's only a dream," she whispered as she ran her hand soothingly up and down his
arms, kissing him softly.
"No!" Startled by the volume and sharpness of his voice, she jumped. "It is NOT all right! Do you
see what he has done to me...!? I want him gone! I want Anthony to pack his things and leave!
NOW!!"

"Maximus..." she sighed, laying her forehead against his cheek. "We can't ask him to go... He's
a part of this place now."
"No!" he protested. "He is NOT! *I* am a part of this place! He is a part of YOUR world, and I
want him gone! He can come and go as he pleases, he can live anywhere he wants. He does
not have to stay here. But *I* cannot leave. If he stays, I will never be able to get away from him
-- I will have no choice but to see him and be reminded of the horrors that madman caused!"
The pain in his voice was so raw it brought tears to her eyes. "But he's not Commodus...
Commodus is dead and buried."
"Do you not understand!? It does not matter! I cannot bear the sight of him! I will demand that
the others respect my wishes and ask Anthony to leave the Point! I have more rights here than
he does!"
"Its not that simple. He --"
"Do NOT take his side, woman! I will not have it!!" he shouted.
She was taken aback at the anger being directed at her. "I'm not taking his side," she said
calmly. "I told you, I'd never do anything to hurt you," she said as she moved closer, embracing
him tightly, pressing her nude body against his. "I would like Dr Anthony to stay... But I can't
stand to see you in this much pain," she whispered, voice choked as she fought back her tears.
"We'll figure something out, together."
"Then you will stand with me if I go to Michelle and the others and demand that Anthony leave
the Point?"
She sighed and reluctantly answered, "If you want me there, I'll be there... I love you, and I'll
always be there for you." She hugged him tightly, and they embraced in the dark for several
moments. "But..." she continued quietly, "But how are we going to explain this to everyone else?
What are you going to tell them?"
"He looks like Commodus. What more do I need to say?"
"My love... I'm afraid you're going to have to say much more than that if you want to convince
them to tell Anthony he has to leave. He's a friend of NJ's, so she'll be upset if we ask him to
leave after all the trouble she went to in order to bring him here in the first place."
"I am sorry for that, but she will understand why it must be so."
"Will she? Will the others?" she asked gently. "You'll have to tell everyone how much this upsets
you, if you want them to do something about it." She couldn't see his face clearly, but she could

feel the hesitation. "You're going to have to tell them about these dreams." She left unsaid the
fact that he had yet to even tell her what the nightmares were actually about.
He said nothing, but the change in his breathing told her that the emotions of the dream were
fading and he was beginning to think more rationally. "Then what is to be done?" he finally said.
"I don't know... Maybe you should think this over for a while longer before you decide this is
what you really want. We'll go up into the hills like we talked about earlier, and you might be able
to think more clearly without him around. But whatever you decide though, I'll help you, you
know that..." She caressed his bare chest with her fingertips, blinking back more tears.
He gently stroked her hair as he said, "You would go against the others if necessary? For me?"
"Of course, my love," she said in a choked voice, the tears spilling down her cheeks. "I hope it
would not come to that, but I would do anything for you."
Her warm tears fell on his bare chest, and he pulled her closer, cradling her in his arms.
"Shhhh... " he said, kissing her tenderly on the forehead, "I would not wish to ask you to stand
with me against everyone else... But I cannot live like this any longer. This is my home, and until
now, I have known true peace here... I know he is not Commodus, but every time I see him, it as
though someone has put a knife in my heart..." he admitted, his voice so quiet it was almost
inaudible.
"I know, I know," she whispered back. "But please, for me... give it a little more time. Make sure
this is what you really want to do, because it could cause a lot of problems for everyone at the
Point if we try to have Anthony kicked out."
He sighed heavily. "I know...." Another long silence fell, and she began to feel subtle changes in
his body. The slight trembling stopped, his muscles relaxing as he shifted to hold her less tightly.
"I'm sorry if I have troubled you -- A dream is a foolish reason to upset you or anyone else." His
voice was stronger now, more like his usual self. "I will wait, and consider this further before I do
or say anything, I promise you." He took her face between his hands and kissed her softly.
She kissed him back, clinging tightly to him. "Come back to bed..." She felt him hesitate, and
added, "The floor is cold. If you don't want to go back to sleep, we'll stay up and talk if you'd
like... or we'll just hold each other all night."
He rose to his feet with her in his arms, and set her back down on the bed, settling her beneath
the soft cotton sheets before sliding in with her, face to face. He enveloped her body with his,
holding her protectively.
"Does it hurt?" she asked, taking his right hand between her own and bringing it to her lips. The
knuckles were bruised and slightly swollen, and she kissed each one softly, lips caressing his
skin.

"It feels much better now," he said, staring into her eyes as she stroked his hand, the touch of
her fingertips feather-soft. She let her fingers trail down his arm, over his shoulder and down his
flank, trying to soothe his fears and help him calm down.
He laid there and stared at her in the darkness, his body slowly relaxing, the tension melting out
of him as she caressed his body. "I love you," he whispered as his hand moved to her shoulder,
sliding down her back. He pulled her to him, kissing her again, and as his body pressed against
hers, she could feel the length of his aroused manhood pressing against her thigh. "I need you,"
he whispered huskily. "I need you *now*."
"I'm here," she whispered back as she raised her leg up over his hip, "I want you too."
There was a desperate urgency in him as they made love, and she knew it had little to do with
physical need. The nightmares had shaken him deeply, leaving him unwilling to be parted from
her, needing reassurance above all. He stared down into her eyes as his body possessed hers,
and as he lost himself in the physical pleasure of the joining of their bodies, she saw all the
naked emotions mirrored in his eyes - sorrow, uncertainty, love, tenderness. But above all there
was fear -- fear of losing her, fear that the tragedies of his former life might follow him here to
the Point.
They communicated without words, expressing their love with bodies and hands, but most of all
their eyes. Nothing was hidden, and she could feel him draw strength from their connection.
Their passions peaked in unison, their cries blending together as one voice. His breath was hot
against her neck as lay atop her, breath slowing gradually as they remained intimately entwined,
basking in the warmth of the afterglow. "Never lose you..." he whispered as they lay together.
"Nothing will ever take you from me."
"No, nothing ever will," she whispered back. "I love you, Maximus." Wrapped in each other's
arms, they lay together for the rest of the night, neither able to fall asleep again.
Part Twelve
beep... beep... beep... Beep... BEEP... BEEP!
He rolled over with a groan, an arm emerging from beneath the bedsheets, groping towards the
nightstand and the offending alarm clock.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
"Shut the fuck up..." he muttered, pulling himself towards the ear-piercing noise. With a final
smack, he hit the top of the alarm, knocking it to the floor and silencing it in the process.

Terry managed to open one bleary eye, looking down at the clock. 6:01 AM it read. He groaned
again and muttered, "All right... Get your sorry ass out of bed, ya lazy bastard..."
He lay there a moment longer, then suddenly rolled onto his side, throwing the covers off. Sitting
up on the edge of the bed, he bent down with another groan, picking up the clock and setting it
back on the nightstand. Eyes still half-closed, he stumbled towards the bathroom.
Standing beneath the shower as the hot water cascaded over his head and down his nude
body, Terry was sorely tempted to crawl back into bed. Last night's housewarming party at
Anthony's clinic had ended early, but he and some of the other Boyz had moved the party to the
Tavern for a few more rounds. A large bottle of water before bed had kept him from being too
hungover, but it didn't make the idea of going out for his daily workout any more pleasant.
It would be easier to just lie down again, stay in bed all morning and finish sleeping it off. But
here, in his new home, that choice could have serious consequences. It was more important
than ever to stick to his schedule.
When he'd first arrived, this place had seemed like a paradise. After the emotional roller coaster
that had been life in Tecala, he had welcomed the quiet, idyllic life here at the Point. But then it
had begun to sink in that his new home would be his *permanent* address.
He had refused to believe it at first -- a dozen times he had tried to leave, in a dozen different
ways, but he was never able to escape the confines of the Point, not even as a passenger in
Lachlan's plane. In spite of being told how dangerous it was to venture outside the Point, he had
needed to experience it for himself, badgering Michelle into taking him across the threshold into
the 'normal' world.
A dozen of his brothers had accompanied them, not allowing him to stray more than a few
hundred feet from the boundary, the rest remaining just inside the Point. It had proven to be a
life-altering experience -- and all it had taken to convince him of the truth was one short hour. By
that time he had barely been conscious, the life draining out of him at an alarming rate, as his
brothers carried him back within the safety of the Point's boundaries.
When his strength had returned, with it came a profound understanding of how special this
place was, and how connected he was to it and all his brothers. He mourned the loss of his
freedom and his former life, but at the same time he knew he had gained a new family,
unorthodox though it might be.
There was also the consolation that he could go back into his movie whenever he wished, so he
wasn't separated from his son Henry forever. He was slowly learning to control his visits, so that
he would arrive only in England but nowhere near Tecala... And Alice.
The Boyz had been watching him ever since he'd tried to leave, as they probably watched all
new arrivals. It was covert of course, but his soldier's instincts were still too finely honed to miss

the obvious signs. They were watching for indications that he was losing it -- drinking too much,
withdrawing from the group, letting himself go, etc.. But he was determined not to let that
happen. Granted, this new 'paradise' had its pitfalls, but he could adapt. And he wasn't in the
habit of wallowing in self-pity. He wasn't quite sure yet what he was going to do here to keep
himself busy, but in the meantime, he was determined to stick to his usual schedule, no matter
what.
Even if -- he braced himself as he abruptly shut off the hot water, the ice-cold spray shocking
him into full wakefulness a moment later -- he was hung-over from a long night's partying.
Drying himself off with a soft towel, he walked naked into his bedroom, picking through the
folded clothing in the drawers, looking for something to wear. One by one, he tossed the items
onto his bed -- white briefs, khaki running shorts, black tank top...
His stopped, then put the tank top back into the drawer, picking out a baggy blue T-shirt instead.
When he'd first arrived here, he'd been surprised -- and pleased -- at the reaction he got from
the ladies whenever he wore that particular tank top. But soon the novelty had worn off, leading
to a certain level of annoyance and discomfort after one night when a lurker (after a few too
many VB's) had rambled on and on about that scene in his movie, bringing back far too many
unhappy memories. He hadn't worn a black tank top since then.
He stood there, lost in thought, until he abruptly turned away, shaking himself out of his reverie.
"Oh get over it, Thorne," he muttered to himself, "Stop stalling and get your ass outside."
He dressed quickly, in the blue T-shirt, and went into the kitchen, fixing himself breakfast: a
vanilla-flavored protein shake. The rest of his cupboards were practically bare, and he made a
mental note to stop by the hotel kitchen on the way back to stock up on some supplies, primarily
fresh fruit.
In fact, stopping by before his run for a quick snack and bottled water sounded like an even
better idea. Slipping on his running shoes, he headed out the door.

"Nice job with the food last night, luv," Terry said, finishing off the last of a banana as he stood in
Annabella's kitchen, watching her make an omelet. "One thing you can never complain about
around here is the food."
"Thanks," Annabella smiled, "It's nice to be somewhere where everyone's so appreciative...
You're sure I can't make something for you now?"
He shook his head. "Maybe later. Can't run on a full stomach, but thanks anyway." He tossed
the banana peel into the garbage pail, then picked up his bottled water. "Gotta go. Ta."
Annabella waved as he went out the back door, and he headed out into the gardens behind the

hotel. He walked briskly along the stone-paved paths, stretching as he walked, warming up for
his run, admiring the beauty of the plants and flowers as the sun glistened off the morning dew.
He was nearing the back gates and the path that led down to the beach when a sound caught
his ear, and he stopped. Someone was crying. More specifically, a woman was crying.
It wasn't a sound he often heard here, and he moved towards the noise, quietly following a path
off to his left towards one of the many wooden benches hidden behind tall hedges.
The weeping woman was Laura.
Terry's heart sank. He'd managed to forget Maximus' odd behavior at the party until now, but
judging by the distraught look on Laura's face, something else had happened between her and
Maximus last night. He approached her slowly, but with her hands over her eyes she didn't see
him. From about ten feet away, he said quietly, "Morning, Laura."
She turned quickly, obviously startled, trying to discretely wipe away the tears. Her clothing was
disheveled, there were dark circles under her eyes, and he suspected she hadn't slept much the
night before. "Terry...! Sorry, I didn't see you there. Good morning."
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she nodded, forcing a faint smile. "It -- it's such a beautiful morning, so I thought I'd
come out here and sit for a while. But I should have stayed inside -- my allergies are acting up a
bit."
His eyes narrowed; as excuses went, that one was rather transparent. "You've never mentioned
having allergies before." He walked over and sat down next to her, setting the water bottle on
the ground. "There was no conference call this morning... was there?"
She looked away, sighing, as the fake smile transformed into a worried frown. "No... It was just a
little white lie we came up with ahead of time, to have an excuse to leave early."
He waited for her to say more, but when there was nothing, he continued, "Did something
happen last night after you two left the party? Things seemed a bit... strained." She wrung her
hands together, pursing her lips, but still kept silent. "You're obviously upset -- tell me what
happened, and maybe I can help," he said, lightly touching her arm.
"Terry, I -- " She hesitated. "I really want to tell you, but I can't... One of the few things about this
place that really annoys Max is the lack of privacy. He doesn't like it when I talk about personal
things with the other ladies, and he certainly won't like it if I tell you about last night."
"Laura, I already know what's been going on with him. I agreed to keep quiet because I thought
he just needed a little more time, and that things were getting better. But if that's not the case, I

need to know. I'm sticking my neck out for him, but I'm not going to keep doing it if he's getting
worse.... Is he getting worse?" She didn't answer, and he continued, "Would it help if I went and
got one of the other ladies out here, maybe Tina or Chelle."
She shook her head vehemently. "No. No, I don't want anyone else involved."
"Well I'm already involved, so tell me.... Is Maximus getting worse?" he repeated. He wasn't
about to let her go without getting an answer to that question. If the usually stoic Roman general
had become a loose canon, action had to be taken.
She bowed her head, finally whispering, "Yes... I thought he was getting better too, Terry, I really
did. But now I don't know what to do or what to think. You already know we had a fight over him
wearing that uniform and me wanting to go to the party alone." Terry nodded. "Well, after we
went home last night, he was just as angry with me for *talking* to Anthony without him. It didn't
matter that there were 20 other people in the room -- he insisted that he needed to be there to
protect me. He was ordering me around like I was a servant, telling me I could *not* go near
Anthony again without him. Then *I* got angry, and I wanted to tell him to shove it... But I bit my
tongue and let it go because I know this is so hard for him. After what happened to his family, I
think he's paranoid about it happening here too."
"He's afraid of losing *you*."
"I know. I know he is, and that's why I've been patient. But I just don't know how to talk to him
anymore; I feel like I have to watch every word I say. And after last night, I'm clueless about how
to handle him." She paused. "He... He wants to have Anthony thrown out of the Point."
Terry's eyebrows rose. It was worse than he'd thought. "Bloody hell," he said sharply, "What
brought that on?"
"He just can't handle seeing Anthony; it's too vivid a reminder of all the terrible things he went
through at the hands of Commodus."
"I realize that... But telling Anthony to pack up and leave, after all we've gone through to bring a
doctor here, is a bit extreme. When we voted to invite Anthony, the decision was nearly
unanimous -- Max voted to invite him too."
"I know, but nobody told him Anthony looked like Commodus either."
Terry shook his head, "I knew he was having a tough time, but I didn't realize it was this bad....
Was there anything else that set him off?" She averted her eyes, looking down at the ground.
Damn, there *was* more. "Laura.... You have to tell me everything or I can't help."
She rubbed her forehead. "He'll kill me if I tell you..." She paused, and he was about to
encourage her to continue when she added, "But I supposed I don't have much choice." She

looked up at him, moisture welling in her eyes again. "He's been having awful nightmares. He
wakes up in a cold sweat every night, and he can't go back to sleep. He won't tell me what
they're about, but it's not too hard to guess." She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Last
night was the worst. He was thrashing around in his sleep, and he almost hit me by accident.
When he woke up, I - I'd never seen him like that. He was scared, really scared. That's when he
started saying he was going to demand that Anthony be asked to leave. Anthony can come and
go as he pleases, but Maximus can't leave the Point and get away from Anthony. It was awful;
I've never seen him that upset." She wiped away another tear. "Once he calmed down and I
reminded him how much trouble it would cause to try to have Anthony kicked out, he backed off
and said he'd think about it. But I can't help but wonder if we've asked too much of him -regardless of whether Anthony is a good person or not, seeing him is still like a slap in the face
to Maximus. If he decides he does want to have Anthony kicked out..." She let out a heavy sigh.
"I'll probably have no choice but to stand by his side. I can't turn my back on him when he's
hurting so badly, Terry; I just can't."
He sat there for a moment, digesting what she'd told him. Dear god... Was seeing Anthony
causing Maximus to relive his film here at the Point? Was the strain slowly pushing him over the
edge?
Whatever the answer might be, one thing was clear -- It was imperative that Maximus not be
allowed to suffer in silence any longer. It had to be brought to the attention of the others. "You're
right; this is too much for you to handle alone. I have to talk to him and convince him he can't
keep this a secret anymore."
"Well, I hope you'll have better luck than me - he won't tell me what he's really feeling. I guess it
must be one of those macho guy things; because I'm a woman he can't tell me that he can't
handle it."
"That's probably true. In his time, men didn't get 'in touch with their feelings'."
She smiled briefly. "He does have his sensitive moments, but with what's been going on, he's
been General Maximus Decimus Meridas 24/7.... I thought about the two of us going away for a
little while, up to our spot up in the hills. It would probably help him short-term, but I have a
feeling nothing will change when we come back and he sees Anthony again. I hope you can talk
some sense into him, but I have serious doubts as to whether you can."
"Actually, I do too; Max and I haven't known each other very long. But he has to talk to
someone; if not me, then one of the others. He and John are close, aren't they?"
She nodded. "When Max arrived, John was the one who helped him get acclimated."
"Then I'll get John involved.... Where is Max now?"
She gestured towards the beach. "He went running. He'll be gone for quite a while, at least

that's what he said."
"How long ago?"
"Just a few minutes before you found me."
"Then I ought to follow him and see if I can catch up," he said as he rose to his feet.
"You're going to talk to him *now*?"
He nodded. "We can't let this go any longer. Leaving him to work this out on his own obviously
isn't working. The others are starting to notice too. Last night everyone was concerned about
you two. Bud's been suspicious for quite a while, and it looks like he was right. Bud will have my
ass if Max crosses the line and does anything to Anthony, and I'd probably deserve it." He
looked away, putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head. "I never should have kept
quiet about this for so long."
She stood up too. "Don't say that; you've helped a lot, Terry."
"Have I?" he said, "Or have I made things worse by letting him brood over it?" He was angry,
angry with himself for letting this get out of hand. Christ, he really had gone soft. Before she
could reply, he continued, "I'd better get going while I still have a chance of catching up with
him." He picked up the water bottle, then laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, luv;
we'll take care of him."
"I hope you can help him." She sighed. "Just don't tell him I told you about the nightmares. He's
going to be pissed enough that I told you anything about last night, let alone that."
He nodded. "I'll let you know what happens," he said as he moved away, breaking into a sprint
once he left the gardens, following in Maximus' footsteps.
Part Thirteen
Breathe...! Keep moving, dammit!
Lungs on fire and leg muscles turning to jelly, Terry ran down the ocean shoreline, forcing
himself to keep up his grueling pace, concentrating solely on putting one foot in front of the
other. For miles he had followed the footprints in the sand, and Terry marveled at the other
man's stamina as his own was on the verge of giving out.
Just when he thought he could not run another step, the beach started to slope gently
downwards, and he caught a glimpse of a figure up ahead. Someone was swimming in the pale
green waters of the shallow lagoon, and a few more strides confirmed it was indeed Maximus.

Thank Christ...!
Terry veered off to the right, following the shoreline of the lagoon towards Maximus, slowing to a
brisk walk. He stopped beside a small pile of clothing in the sand, leaning down, hands on his
knees as the sweat dripped off him.
"Good morning," Maximus called out.
Terry merely waved, collapsing down onto the sand in exhaustion. "I'm fucked," he muttered,
trying to catch his breath, watching as Maximus swam to the other side of the lagoon and back
again.
When Maximus emerged from the water, he was naked. Terry glanced at him briefly, but then
his eyes drifted skywards. Around here, it was definitely a case of 'seen one, seen 'em all'.
There wasn't much point in checking out the competition when every bloke in the place had the
same package.
Maximus walked closer, bending down to pick up his clothes and shake out the sand. "Going for
a swim?"
Terry shook his head, still panting. "Just let me lie here and die."
Maximus grinned as he slipped on his underwear. "Too much ale last night?"
"How did you guess?" Terry said with a groan.
Maximus laughed. "But yet here you are. I'm pleased to see you've taken my advice."
"Max, right now I'd say your advice sucks," he complained.
"When the body becomes soft, the mind soon follows. As a warrior, I know you understand this."
"I'm not exactly much of a warrior these days, am I?"
"I no longer have troops to command, nor battles to fight, but yet I retain my skills and keep
them sharp." He pointed to his head. "So I stay sharp here."
"I know..." Terry started to get his breath back and sat up on his elbows. "That's why I'm here
and not sleeping in my cozy little bed."
Maximus nodded, putting on his tunic. "I was nearly ready to head back. Care to join me? I
would welcome the company."
"Yea," Terry said reluctantly, sitting up all the way. "But give me a few minutes; otherwise I won't

have a prayer of keeping up with you."
Maximus nodded and sat down on the sand nearby.
Terry looked at him out of the corner of his eye, knowing this was the best opportunity he would
have to talk to Maximus. Alone, miles from everyone else, they would not be disturbed.
He took a deep breath. "So what did you think of Anthony's party last night?" he asked casually.
He saw Maximus stiffen at the mention of the doctor's name, his relaxed mood quickly
changing. "It was fine," he said in a clipped tone. "Everyone appeared to have a good time."
"Yes, they did." He turned towards Maximus, eyes focused on his face as he added, "Everyone
except you, and Laura."
Maximus turned towards him, and the soldiers' eyes locked. "You have something to say?"
Terry nodded, sitting up straighter. "I do. It wasn't an accident that I found you out here -- I was
looking for you."
His eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Why?"
"I ran into Laura this morning." There was a long slow intake of breath. "Whatever happened
after you two left the party has the poor woman in tears, mate."
"What did she tell you?"
"She didn't want to tell me anything, but I dragged it out of her." Anger began to creep into
Maximus' features, and Terry added quickly, "Don't be upset with her; I wouldn't take no for an
answer. She was obviously very upset, and I wasn't about to walk away without finding out why."
The anger reached his eyes. "You had no business interfering; this is between she and I."
"The hell it isn't my business. I've kept my mouth shut about you watching Anthony, because I
thought you needed a little extra time to adjust, and that you wouldn't bother Anthony anymore.
But if you can't accept him, and want to have him asked to leave the Point, then we have a lot to
talk about."
Maximus' mouth dropped open in surprise for a moment, but then his jaw clenched and his gaze
darkened. He moved restlessly then leapt to his feet, pacing across the sand. "She should not
have told you that."
"You're right. I shouldn't have had to drag it out of her -- *You* should have come to me and told
me yourself." Terry held his eyes as he stood up also.

"It is far from being decided. I merely mentioned it to her, in private, as a possible option. There
was no need to tell you or anyone else."
He shook his head. "You have to realize how upsetting it would be to everyone to know you
were even thinking about it. That alone is reason enough to tell me what's going on."
"No -- it is reason enough to keep it private," Maximus insisted, his voice rising, continuing to
pace up and down the shoreline. "I do indeed know how much it would upset people; I would
not make such a request unless there were no other alternatives."
Terry knew he was treading on dangerous ground; he had decided earlier that the direct
approach was best in confronting Maximus, but things had reached the point where
antagonizing him further would only make him withdraw and stop communicating. "Look...
Believe it or not, I'm not looking for a fight here; I'm trying to figure out what's going on," he said
calmly. "What's changed to make you consider such a thing? Is seeing him so terrible that it's
worth turning this place upside down?"
Maximus stopped pacing, staring out at the ocean waves as they rolled in towards the shore.
"You do not understand," he said in a normal tone after a long silence. "None of you can... Think
how you would feel if a woman came here who looked exactly like Alice from your film.
Someone who came to live here, who would be here everyday, reminding you constantly of your
past life... Imagine that, and you will know but a fraction of what it is like for me to see *him*."
It was Terry's turn to lapse into silence, uncomfortable with all the emotions stirred up by the
mere mention of her name. "I have thought about it before... that's why I've left you alone for so
long, because I can imagine what it must be like. But I also know that something like this is too
big for you or me or any one of us to handle on our own." Another silence fell, and Terry
continued, "I haven't been here very long, I realize that. If you don't know me well enough to
trust me with the details of what you're going through, I can understand that too. But I do know
that there are others of us you do trust. Talk to John about this, talk to Cort, or Jeffrey. Talk to
anyone you like, but just don't carry this around by yourself anymore." Maximus said nothing,
but the expression on his face gave Terry hope that he was making some headway. "I'm not
going to leave this alone, Max, not this time. You need help from your brothers -- there's no
shame in admitting that. I understand why you can't talk to Laura -- she's your woman; you need
to be strong for her." Maximus nodded. "But at least trust your mates to help you out. I know
what it's like to be in command -- you should never show weakness. A lot of the others look up
to you, and it must be hard to admit you need help. But we're family here, in some crazy way;
you're not alone... Let us help."
The silence continued. "Perhaps you are right," Maximus said eventually. "It is true; I have not
been myself of late. To have another's counsel might be useful."
Terry realized he had been holding his breath, and let it out slowly. "I'm sure it would."

"But I will trust John, and John alone, with this." The hardness returned to his voice. "No others
need know."
Terry allowed himself a small smile. "John will help, I'm sure of it. I'll see him when we get back
and set up a meeting."
Maximus glanced at him sharply. "Today?"
"No time like the present," Terry said casually, but refused to back off at the glare he got in reply.
"I will see to this in my own time."
"Sorry, mate -- I can't do that. This has gone on long enough; it needs to be addressed here and
now. I have a responsibility to the others here too, you know. You may not be aware of it, but a
lot of the others are worried about you. Bud knows something is going on, but he hasn't figured
out the details yet. He'll have both our asses in a sling if anything happens."
Maximus looked indignant. "And just what is it that you think will happen?"
"I don't know. And I don't think you know either, do you? A soldier acts on instinct sometimes,
without thinking."
"I would not allow anything to happen."
"Well, I hope you're right. But in the meantime, you need to talk to John. Do I have your word
that you will, today if possible?"
Maximus paused, but then finally replied, with a nod of his head, "Yes, you have my word. I will
see if he has any wisdom which has eluded me these last weeks."
"If he doesn't, someone else will. We'll figure out a solution to make this bearable for you. It's
just us and the girls here; no one wants to see you suffer. They'll understand about Anthony if
you'll just be honest about it."
He shook his head. "I will talk to John and John alone," he insisted.
Terry held up his hands. "All right; sorry. I won't push anymore. I'll find John, and we'll go from
there."
Maximus was staring out to sea again, not saying another word. An awkward silence fell yet
again, and Terry could tell Maximus was not happy with being forced into this. He didn't envy
John at all.

After several minutes of standing there, Terry said, "I'm ready to head back now. You coming?"
"No. I would prefer to be alone for a while."
"That's fine; I'll see you back at the tavern later." Maximus didn't respond, and Terry started to
walk away. But before he began the long trip back, he turned and added, "Don't blame Laura
either -- she didn't want to tell me anything. But I was a negotiator for a long time, and I know
how to get people to talk to me. Don't take it out on her, mate -- she's worried sick about you,
and she thought I could help." Maximus continued his silence, still staring out at the ocean, and
Terry sighed. "I'll see you later then." He walked down to the surf line, breaking into a run as he
headed back the way he had come.

There was a knock on the door as he reached behind the sofa, and Anthony retrieved the
wadded-up paper napkin, calling out, "Come in!"
As he stood up, Norma Jean entered his living room through the screen door. "Morning," she
said with a smile.
"Good morning," he replied, smiling back as he tossed the napkin into the trash can. She had
arrived just as he was finishing straightening up the house after the previous night's party. "You
were right."
She looked confused. "Right about what?"
"That I survived," he grinned. "I certainly worried myself for nothing."
She laughed. "See, I told you everything would be fine." She looked around the room for a
moment. "Well, I came to see if you needed help cleaning up, but everything seems to be back
to normal," she said. "Did some of the boys come by to get the rest of the things outside?"
"Yes, they were here bright and early this morning. Although I noticed they didn't seem to be too
pleased to be working so early. Four of them came with a truck -- Jeff, Andy and Colin carried off
the tables and cooking equipment while Arthur was giving instructions." He smiled again. "The
only one who seemed happy was Arthur. I do think he enjoys 'supervising' everyone and telling
them what to do."
"I think he does too," Norma Jean said. "He does a great job of helping run things around here.
Ask him if you need anything for the office, and you can be sure he'll take care of it."
"I've noticed that already," he said, nodding. He liked the young man; he was pleasant and
respectful, if a bit high-strung. Arthur was certainly the most atypical of all the men, shy and
unsure of himself socially. Yet he didn't seem to have much of a problem bossing the older men
around, which had been an amusing thing to watch this morning.

"Well, Doctor, how does it feel to be officially in business?" Norma Jean asked, breaking his
train of thought.
"To be honest, it's a relief -- all the work is done on the clinic, I've met everyone, and now I can
concentrate on medical issues. And I'm definitely looking forward to having some time to
myself."
She nodded, "Some peace and quiet after all this activity? I can understand that. And it looks
like you'll have plenty of free time for a while; no one's lining up to come in for their physicals."
"I'm not surprised." Dislike of doctors was common, and something he'd long since learned not
to take personally. "But some of them did tell me they'd be coming in soon -- they've been living
here for quite some time and were curious about their health." Jack and Lachlan in particular
had spoken with him, and he'd been encouraged by the response he'd gotten from several of
the others.
But some of his new patients weren't going to be quite so cooperative. "Last night helped me
establish a very good rapport with most of the men, but I'm afraid that doesn't apply to
everyone," he frowned. He glanced at NJ, wondering how she would react to what he was about
to say. "I doubt that Maximus will be here any time soon. It's obvious the man dislikes me. Last
night, I bent over backwards to be gracious, but he -- " Anthony paused, "well, frankly, I thought
he was very rude last night." At the time, he'd tried to rationalize Maximus' behavior, but it had
bothered him more and more since then. "Don't you think he was rude?" he asked Norma Jean,
hoping she would validate his opinion.
"Well," NJ hedged, obviously uncomfortable with the question, "I don't know if I'd go so far as to
say that Max was rude... but he wasn't very friendly to you either, I admit."
"I can't help but feel sorry for his girlfriend Laura. He practically dragged her out of the house.
And I had the distinct impression he did *not* like her talking to me. I don't know what else I can
do to convince him I'm not a threat."
"It's like I've told you before," NJ said, "He just needs more time to adjust, that's all. They did
come to the party after all. He's trying."
"From what I saw, she was the one who wanted to come, not him." The whole thing had left him
with an uneasy feeling. When Maximus had appeared dressed as a Roman soldier, it was an
unpleasant reminder of the images he had seen on the TV while watching 'Gladiator' just a few
days ago, particularly after the coldness he had seen in the man's eyes last night. "It might have
been better if he'd stayed away." Norma Jean did not seem to know what to say, and he sighed,
"I'm sorry if I'm putting you in a difficult position, but I really didn't like the way he was acting
towards me. Or Laura either. She's supposed to come by and finish setting up the 911 system -I hope he doesn't get upset with her about that."

"I wouldn't worry, Anthony. Give things more time to work themselves out," NJ said. "Forget
about Maximus -- sit back, relax and take it easy for a while. You deserve a rest."
Anthony smiled. That was certainly true. "Learning how to relax is going to be more difficult than
I thought," he admitted, pushing aside any lingering unpleasant thoughts about Maximus. "I'm
so used to the activity of a big hospital." He glanced towards the door to the clinic. What he
didn't say was that it was a little frightening to be on his own now. He was definitely looking
forward to the challenge, but he still lay awake some nights, wondering if he'd made the right
choice by coming here.
"I think you'll be surprised at just how quickly you'll get used to the quiet life here. It's a whole
different world, in more ways than one."
"I'm beginning to see that."
"So do you think you'll need me today?" she asked. "I left Mannie at the stables; he could use
some help if you're ok here."
"Well, the only thing I was going to ask you to do this morning is stay for coffee, so no, I don't
need anything. By all means, spend the day with Mannie. You deserve a rest too, Norma Jean,"
he insisted.
"I won't argue with that," she said. "And I'll have to take a rain check on the coffee." She took
few steps back towards the door. "You sure you won't be lonely?"
As she pushed open the screen door, there was a soft 'meow' that came from the doorway, and
they both looked down as Maggie walked in, heading right over to Anthony and rubbing against
his leg.
As he bent down to scoop the cat up into his arms, he said, "As you can see, there's no need to
worry about me being lonely." He winced as the cat climbed up his shoulder, her claws digging
into his arm. "And where have you been, little lady?" He scolded Maggie as if she were a small
child. "Didn't come home last night, did you?" He turned to Norma Jean who was grinning at
him. "She disappeared yesterday when people started showing up for the party. I hadn't seen
her since." Maggie meowed loudly, then jumped down from the back of his shoulder, running
towards the kitchen.
"I think she came home to be fed," NJ said.
"You may be right," he said, putting his hands on his hips. Cats could be such annoyingly
independent creatures.
"I'll leave you two alone then," Norma Jean teased as she stepped out onto the porch. "Have a

good day, Anthony."
"I'm sure I will," he said as he trailed after her, watching through the screen as she hurried down
the steps and over to her truck.
Maggie meowed loudly from the kitchen, and he paused, waving to NJ as she drove off.
Maggie's meowing got louder and more insistent, and he walked towards the kitchen, saying,
"All right, all right, Maggie. I'm coming...!"
Part Fourteen
As her fingers flew across the keyboard, she heard a knock at the door. "Door's open!" she
called out, still continuing to type an email.
The hinges squeaked. "Laura?"
The accent was Aussie, and she jumped up, hurrying out of her office and into the living room.
"Terry?"
It was indeed him. He was still wearing his jogging clothes, hair damp with sweat, dark stains
under his armpits and down the front of his shirt. She waited until the door had shut, then spoke
in a rush, "Did you talk to Max?"
"Yes, I did." They moved closer to one another, but Laura recoiled when she got a whiff of him.
"Sorry," Terry said with a lop-sided grin, taking a step back too. "I haven't had a chance to
shower since I got back."
"That's ok," she said, "just tell me what happened."
"Well, the good news is that I was able to get through to him, and he didn't try to take my head
off. He realizes he needs to talk to someone. He wouldn't open up to me -- I didn't actually think
he would -- but he did agree to talk with John."
"That's wonderful," she smiled. "If anyone can get through to him, it's John." He seemed a bit
uneasy, and she asked, "So what's the bad news?"
He frowned. "Max wasn't exactly happy about it. He's upset with me for bringing it up and
forcing it out in the open, and he's upset with you for talking to me. I tried to take the blame
because I insisted you talk to me, but I don't think he was satisfied with that. Sorry if I've caused
problems for you, luv."
"That's all right. I knew he wouldn't like it, but eventually he'll realize I did what I had to do. So
what's next? Should we talk to John now?"

"That's the other bad news," Terry said. "John's not here -- he and Tina left early this morning for
a trip out in the country. 'Chelle said they probably won't be back until very late, possibly
tomorrow morning."
She groaned. "Hell. I forgot about that. Tina told me about it yesterday." She sighed. "I guess it'll
just have to wait until tomorrow."
"I know," Terry said. "I left messages under his door and Tina's, so hopefully he'll get a hold of
me as soon as he gets back."
"Good... You seem as anxious about this as I am. When you saw Max, did you think he was
acting a little strange?"
"He's not himself; that was pretty obvious, yes. I don't think we should give him the chance to
put off talking to John."
She nodded reluctantly. "I know. Thank you, Terry, for helping us."
"Don't thank me yet. There's still a lot of work to do. I've done the best I can; the rest is up to
Maximus."
She held up both hands; the index and forefingers were crossed. "Here's hoping John has
better luck than the two of us."
"I'm sure it's going to work out all right in the end. I think we got to him in time, before this gets
any worse."
"I'm sure you're right," she said hopefully, although inwardly she didn't feel very hopeful. She'd
seen Maximus in a cold sweat last night; Terry hadn't. "Where is Max?" she asked. "Did he
come back with you?"
"No, he stayed behind. I caught up with him by the lagoon that's a couple miles south, and we
talked for a while, but then he said he wanted to be alone. So I came back by myself, and I
haven't seen him since. He's bound to turn up soon though; he can't stay out there forever." She
nodded. "Look, I need to go and get cleaned up. If you see him before I do, tell him about John
and that we'll set something up for tomorrow."
She followed him as he moved back to the door. "I will," she said.
"Chin up, luv. He'll be apples soon enough," Terry said with a smile, winking as he stepped out
into the hallway. She closed the door behind him, leaning against it for a long moment, a feeling
of dread washing over her as she imagined what Maximus' mood might be when he returned.

Beneath his feet, the grassy path began to give way to a foot-wide strip of well-packed earth.
Over the next rise lay the training area and beyond that, the Tavern. Maximus abruptly slowed
his pace to a brisk walk, then stopped. He took a few steps back the way he had come, then
turned around again, pacing back and forth.
He was angry. Angry with Terry, angry with Laura, angry with Anthony. Angry with the gods for
putting him in this impossible situation. During his morning run, he had finally managed to forget
about last night's bad dreams, but Terry had forced him to confront the issue once again. He
could not bring himself to admit it to Terry, but his fellow soldier had been right. This had
become more than he could deal with on his own.
He knew his behavior had been erratic of late, driven by the flurry of emotions that assailed him
whenever he thought about Anthony and Commodus. He had managed to take the strangeness
of the Point in stride up until now, but this had taxed him to his limits.
He had always harbored a secret suspicion that the Point was actually a part of Elysium, and
that being here was yet another level of some grand plan that the gods had for him. Convinced
that Anthony's presence was a test of his character, he had to concede that he was on the verge
failing that test. And he had alienated Laura and Terry, drawing further and further away from the
rest of the Point's residents.
Yet being forced to speak with John about it was humiliating, no matter how well-intentioned
Terry was, or how much help John might be able to give him. In time, he would have come to
such a decision on his own, but now he doubted if it would have much effect when done under
duress.
Still, there was a chance it might bring some revelations he had not previously considered. John
was a reasonable man, who's opinion he respected, who had been of considerable help when
he had first arrived at the Point. Adjusting to this strange new world had been difficult, but he
had managed it, with John's help. Perhaps John could help again with the new reality of
Anthony's residence here.
Continuing to pace back and forth over the same ground, he tried to work off some of the
frustration he felt. But it wasn't working quickly enough, so he set off towards the training area.
Hando was there already, practicing with a sword, and Maximus almost kept going towards the
tavern. He was in no mood to talk to anyone right now.
But Hando heard him approach and turned. "Good morning, General," he said, bowing
respectfully. "I didn't think you were coming, so I started without you."
Maximus grimaced inwardly, wondering what was happening to him. He had completely
forgotten about their scheduled training session today. He had worked hard to instill a sense of

responsibility in Hando -- adherence to duty, to a schedule, and to punctuality. It was a poor
example he was setting by forgetting their training routine himself.
"My apologies," Maximus said. "I have been... distracted lately."
Hando grunted. "Distracted? No shit." He paused for a moment. "It's him, isn't it?" Maximus
stiffened. "It ain't right, what he's doing to you. If you want my help gettin' rid of him, just say the
word, General."
The warrior in him understood the violence that lurked behind Hando's eyes, and was pleased
that someone else shared the darkness within. But another part was ashamed. Brute force and
violence were all Hando had known for most of his life, but he had worked hard these past few
months to show the lad there were more positive ways to channel his aggression, and that
violence was only to be used as a last resort.
Yet with regards to Anthony, his own actions and words had shown Hando the opposite, and
thus had undermined a good deal of what he had been trying to teach. He sighed heavily,
reason once again warring with the primitive impulse to do exactly what Hando suggested and
rid himself of Anthony's presence once and for all.
Reason won. "No, Hando," he said emphatically. "Whatever my problems are with Anthony, they
do not involve you. I should never have said anything to you, or suggested we take matters into
our own hands."
"But you don't want him here; I know you don't. He ought to get the sack for that reason alone."
"There are many other people that live here besides me. It's not up to me to dictate such a
decision."
"The way I see it, you've got a hell of a lot more say in this than anyone else. And this is our
place, not his. You've got my vote if it comes to that."
Maximus almost smiled at the irony of having to defend against the very arguments he himself
had made against Anthony. In the cold light of day, he began to see the foolishness of his own
actions, and how much he had let his fears and his emotions control him.
Yet those fears were still very real to him, in spite of Terry's or Laura's words. If there was a
chance, however slight, that Anthony was a danger to this place, he could not afford to let his
guard down. Perhaps John or one of the others could find a way to assuage his fears, but until
that time, he would need to remain vigilant. Above all, he had to keep her safe.
But Hando had no role in that. "It is not your concern," Maximus said in a tone that did not allow
for further discussion. "It is my business, and I will deal with it." He walked over to the weapon's
box and picked out a sword. "Concern yourself with me, not him," he said as he squared off with

Hando across the practice ring.

Pacing back and forth in front of the window, Laura watched the comings and goings across the
way at the tavern, but there was no sign of Maximus. She hadn't seen him since he had gone
out jogging in the early morning, and she was getting worried. She'd spent the whole day
working, resisting the urge to track him down and explain her side, knowing he would need
some time to himself.
But now dinnertime had arrived. Deciding that she couldn't put off this conversation any longer,
she left the suite and headed over to the tavern.
She approached Maximus' door with trepidation, hesitating before she knocked. "Max...?" There
was no response, and she tried the door handle. Finding it locked, she knocked again, louder
this time, calling out, "Maximus? It's me, honey." There was no reply, and she reached into her
pocket for the key. She was about to open the door when she heard footsteps on the other side
and the locked clicked. She waited for a moment, but the door didn't open. "Max?" Opening it
cautiously, she peered inside, just in time to see Maximus sit down at his desk on the opposite
side of the room. As she walked in, he didn't even look up, instead picking up a gladius from the
desk and continuing to polish it. There were other swords and daggers there, and judging by the
tools and other paraphernalia scattered across the desk, she had interrupted him as he cleaned
and sharpened his weaponry.
It was obvious from his rigid body language and stony silence that he was angry with her, but
she spoke casually, "I came to see if you're ready for dinner. It's getting late."
It took him a long time to answer. "I'm not hungry."
"We could go back to the suite and have a late supper. I can wait." She came over to him,
leaning down to kiss his cheek. But he turned aside, concentrating on the steel in his hand, and
she sighed, taking a step back.
"I didn't go looking for Terry this morning, you know," she began to explain. "He happened to see
me in the garden right after you left to go running. He already knew so much about what's been
going on that I felt I had to tell him about last night. I'm worried about you -- I thought Terry could
help."
"So you betrayed the privacy of our bed?" He finally looked up, and there was a coldness in his
eyes that made her shiver.
"I haven't betrayed you," she countered. "I was trying to find some way to help you. Terry was
very understanding before, and I'm sure he could help now too."
"I can handle this myself. I do not need his assistance."

"My love... after what I saw last night, I don't think you can handle it anymore."
"You obviously have no idea what sort of things I can handle." He dropped the gladius, and it
clattered onto the table. "I have one bad night, and you take it upon yourself to tell him such
personal things? Why would you do that?"
"It wasn't just one night -- you haven't slept through the night since I got back. And I've tried to
talk to you, but you keep saying everything's fine. Well I'm not blind, and I know you aren't fine. I
thought it might be easier to tell Terry the things you can't tell me."
"There is nothing to tell," he insisted.
"If that's the case, then why did you agree to talk to John?"
He hesitated only briefly. "If I hadn't, Terry wouldn't have left it alone."
She turned away, taking a few steps towards the door, trying not to scream out in frustration. My
god, what is it about men that makes them so damn stubborn? Why can't he just tell me what's
bothering him?
Knowing she wasn't going to get an answer to that question tonight, she ignored her emotions,
and turned back towards him. "I'm sorry if you're upset. I was only trying to help. Can't we just
go to dinner and talk about this later?"
"I told you, I'm not hungry," he said coldly, folding his arms across his chest.
"All right," she said in a clipped tone, letting her emotions show now. "Fine. If you don't want to
talk about this, I'll just go back and warm up some leftovers for dinner. If you change your mind,
you know where to find me."
She had nearly reached the door when he spoke again. "How is your work coming?"
The oddness of the question made her stop. "Why do you ask?"
"You have spoken several times of needing to return to your office for an extended period. Is
that still true?"
She had a bad feeling about where this was headed. "Yes, it is. I should put in some face time
at the office for a while, so they don't forget about me." Plus there were a lot of clients she
needed to meet with personally, and do a bit of traveling as well. "I haven't done it yet because it
would mean being away from the Point for quite a while. But you already know all that, so why
ask?"

"Because under the circumstances, I think that now would be an opportune time for you to
return and take care of such things."
Her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach. "Exactly what 'circumstances' are you talking
about? Are you -- ?" She swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Are you asking me to leave?"
She looked into his eyes, but his face was an unreadable mask, perfected after years of
soldiering. "If you cannot respect the privacy of our bed, then I believe it is best if we spent time
apart."
She was speechless with shock, then managed to whisper, "For how long?"
He didn't even hesitate. "Indefinitely."
Shock turned to hurt and tears stung her eyes. "So that's it? We have a few arguments and you
throw in the towel? Last night you said you needed me, and now you're pushing me out the
door?"
She moved closer, staring at him, and for a moment his steely gaze wavered. "It is best for both
of us. If my behavior upsets you so much, then you should go. For once, do not question me
and do as I say."
"In case you've forgotten, I don't take orders, General." A myriad of emotions were flowing
through her brain, anger coming to the surface now. She let out an exasperated breath, pacing
across the room. "I don't understand what the hell is happening, but there is absolutely no way
I'm leaving now. After what happened last summer, didn't we learn anything?"
"That has nothing to do with what's happening now."
"Doesn't it? Sid was making our lives miserable, we weren't speaking to each other, and things
got so bad that I thought you would be happier if I left. I thought Sid would leave you alone, and
that it would solve everything. But it didn't solve anything, did it? I thought I was being smart, but
in reality I was taking the easy way out and running away from our problems. But you didn't run
away -- you came after me, thank god, and made me realize we were worth fighting for because
we loved each other. But my leaving almost cost you your life in the end, and I vowed that I'd
never give up on our relationship again without a hell of a fight." She planted her fists on her
hips and walked towards him. "So if you think I'm leaving you now, over something like this,
when you need me more than ever, you've got another thing coming, General Maximus. I'm not
running away this time -- I'm staying here, with you, whether you like it or not."
During her speech, he had been silent the whole time, watching her. "You are a stubborn
woman."
"Damn right I am," she said solemnly, "when it concerns our relationship." She moved towards

him again, her hands leaving her hips, reaching for him. She moved slowly, sitting across his lap
and draping her arms around his neck. He didn't say anything, but she took it as a good sign
that he wasn't objecting. Her arms encircled him, and as she nuzzled her head against his, she
said softly, "It's because I love you that I'm worried sick about you. I've felt so helpless, and
Terry was the only one I could talk to. I never meant to hurt you." He did not respond, and after
a long pause, she asked, "Do you really want me to go back to the Real World?"
His arms slowly tightened around her waist. "I do not wish to be apart from you... But I also do
not wish any harm to come to you either. It would be better if you went back to your world where
I know you will be safe."
She could hear the tension in his voice, and it broke her heart. She held him tightly. "That's what
this is all about, isn't it? You want me to leave because you want me away from Anthony." He
didn't reply verbally, instead holding her tightly, nodding once. "Then why couldn't you just tell
me that?" He still didn't answer. "Please, talk to me and tell me what's going on."
"Laura, I need for you to leave. I may not understand what is happening to me, but I do know
that it will be easier for me to sort out how I feel about Anthony if you are someplace safe, away
from here and away from him."
She didn't point out that since Anthony was from the Real World too, theoretically he could
follow her anywhere. If it hadn't occurred to him, it was best left unsaid. "I can't go now, not
when you're hurting. I'm not walking away to leave you to face this all alone. We will get through
this together. Even if I leave, there's no guarantee things won't start all over again when I come
back. At least talk to John, and see what he has to say before you're sure you truly want me to
leave. But I have to tell you, I still won't go without a hell of a good reason."
There was another long pause. "I do not see what difference John will make, but all right: I will
wait."
"It's going to work out, you'll see." She hugged him tightly. "And I promise I won't talk to Terry, or
anyone else, without asking you first." She brushed her lips against his. "I love you, Maximus. I
know you're worried about me, but please try to accept the fact that this is not Imperial Rome,
and history is not repeating itself here. Commodus is dead and buried -- he'll never hurt anyone
again."
"But you cannot deny it is a cruel coincidence that Anthony looks just like him."
"No, I can't. But you can't blame Anthony for things Commodus did." She could tell from his
breathing that he was getting agitated again, so she added, "But let's not talk about him
anymore. John won't be back until tomorrow -- you don't have to talk about it again until then.
Please, let's go have a quiet dinner, and then maybe a nice hot bath together." Her fingers
caressed the side of his face, then trailed down his chest and rested on his hip. "And then I'll
give you a massage... How does that sound, hmm?"

"Like bribery actually."
She pulled back, stung. "That's not fair. I'm just trying to help."
He was obviously still very conflicted, and she held her breath. But then his rigid embrace
softened again, and he added, "It may be bribery, but I am not averse to it." She smiled to
herself and continued caressing him. She wasn't averse to it either, if taking care of him tonight
would make him feel better for a while. "A long massage, with warm oil?"
"If that's what you want."
"It is."
"Right now you're coming back to the Hotel with me, so I can feed you and take care of you
tonight, General." She kissed him softly, then stood up, pulling her with him. "Let's go."

An insistent knocking woke him up, and Terry pushed himself up off the couch. "Just a minute,"
he called out, shuffling groggily towards the sound. He turned off the TV as he passed it, and
when he opened the door, he found John standing outside.
"Terry, what's going on?" John asked. "I leave for a few hours, and when I come back and there
are all these notes." He held one up under Terry's nose. "What's so urgent?"
Terry stepped back, holding the door open. "Come in, mate, and I'll explain."
"Sorry to wake you," John said as Terry shut the door, "but the note said to talk to you no matter
what time it was."
"It's not a bother. I'm glad you came. You and Tina just get in?"
John nodded. "About a half hour ago. We found the note on her door at the Hotel, and then I
stopped by my room and found this." He waved the note again. "You've got her worried, and
me."
"I'll get to the point then." Terry took a deep breath. "We've got a situation, John. It's Maximus."
"Max? What's wrong with him?"
"That's the problem. I don't know what's wrong with him. And that's where you come in. You
need to talk to him and find out what's going on."
"Going on with what?"

Terry hesitated. "I really can't say, not yet. You'll just have to talk to him and see."
"Does this have something to do with him disappearing for a week? Am I finally going to find out
what you know about it?"
"Yea," Terry admitted. "But I can't tell you now. And I have to ask you not to say anything to
anyone else, preferably not even Tina."
"You sound like this is some kind of covert military operation. Why all the secrecy?"
"You'll understand when I tell you. Until then -- "
"I'll just have to wait," John finished for him, frowning deeply. "I don't like this... So `when do you
want to do this? It's a bit late for it tonight."
"I was hoping tomorrow. I don't have anything definite set up with Maximus. Will you be free?"
"Yes, we don't have any plans. Do you want me to talk to Maximus on my own, or wait for you?"
"Wait for me. I'll set up a time and a place -- if he's still talking to me," he quipped.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just one more thing I can't explain yet," Terry said with a smile. "Sorry, mate."
"But you'll tell me everything tomorrow." Terry nodded. "All right; I'll try to contain my curiosity
until then. Hopefully it won't drive me crazy in the meantime." He fought back a yawn as he took
a few steps towards the door, adding, "Now I just have to figure out what to tell Tina."
"As little as possible. Its important to keep this within a small number of people."
"I couldn't tell her much if I wanted to -- you haven't told me a damn thing," John complained.
"Good night then."
"Good night, John. And thanks." John nodded and went out the door, leaving Terry to wonder -for the thousandth time -- how in the hell he had gotten in the middle of all this.
Part Fifteen
"It's a bit early to be looking for him."
"I know -- He's not due for nearly an hour," Laura said as she turned from the window and sat
down beside Terry on the sofa. "But I can't help it. I'm nervous. If this doesn't help, I don't know

what else will."
"You need to think positive. Personally, I think the fact that he agreed to talk to John at all is a
good sign," Terry said.
"True."
"And I'm glad he wasn't too upset with you for talking to me."
"Well..." She had not told him much detail about last night and intended to keep it that way. "We
did argue for a while, but we managed to work things out, or at least something close to truce.
This whole thing has him so stressed out. I managed to get him into a nice hot bath to relax for
a while. A long massage helped too, and -- "
Terry held up his hand, grinning, "That's OK, luv; I get the idea. You don't need to give me
specifics."
"Someone's mind is in the gutter," she grinned back. "There aren't any details to give, Mr.
Thorne. Max was asleep by the time I was finished with the massage. There's something about
those oils that really put him at ease. Reminds him of home, I guess. He was even talking about
wanting to build a real Roman bath-house here at the Point."
"You mean the kind with saunas and different temperature pools and rooms?" She nodded.
"That sounds like a fantastic idea," he said with genuine enthusiasm. "I'm sure he'd love that.
And he wouldn't be the only one. I'll bet Mitchell would jump at the chance to be involved."
"I know; it would certainly be a nice project for everyone here. But as far as last night goes, I
fussed over him long enough that he was able to forget about Anthony for a while.
Unfortunately, it seems to be impossible for him to get a decent night's sleep anymore. He only
slept for a few hours before he had another nightmare and was awake for most of the rest of the
night. And, of course, so was I." She sighed. "I'm hoping that if he tells John what they're about
and gets it off his chest, he'll quit having them."
"Let's hope so," Terry agreed.
She looked over at the clock and let out a grunt of frustration. "God, I can't sit here for an hour.
I'm going to go over to the tavern and wait for him to come back from his run," she said as she
stood up.
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Terry said as he rose to his feet also. "Give him a little
space -- he'll be here. He said he'd meet us after he takes a shower and changes clothes.
John's just down the hall, so as soon as Max gets here, we'll sit down and talk."
"I'm sure he won't mind. Besides, if you and I are both sitting here waiting for him, it'll be just as

awkward. And when Max leaves the tavern, I can call you and give you the heads up that he's
on his way."
"All right, I suppose you're right. Although I don't fancy sitting here alone for an hour either. I
may step out for a bit and get some air, but I'll definitely be here waiting when he comes over."
She nodded, walking towards the door. "Boy, am I glad I told the office I wouldn't be around
today -- there's absolutely no way I could get any work done."
He nodded. "Once I get Max and John settled, I'll come over to the tavern and let you know that
they've started talking."
"Yea, then we get to sit around and spend more time waiting and wondering," she complained,
then held up her hand, crossing her index and forefingers. "Good luck."
"Thanks. We're definitely going to need it," Terry said as she went out the door.
She walked quietly down the hallway to the main staircase, and had descended a couple of
steps down to the first floor when she stopped suddenly, hearing voices coming from the lobby
below.
One of the voices was Michelle's, but the other voice was Anthony's, and right now he was the
last person she wanted to talk to. She didn't want to have to pretend everything was fine while
they made small talk, so she waited at the top of the stairs, hiding in the shadows.
"Take care, Anthony," she heard Michelle say. "And feel free to come by anytime."
"Thank you. And of course, my door's always open. People don't have to be sick to come by the
house," Giraudeau replied.
"I'll remember that."
Laura heard footsteps, and she watched silently as Anthony appeared. He walked across the
lobby and headed towards the front door, but fortunately he did not see her. She let out the
breath she had been holding as the door closed behind him, then she waited a few more
moments before slowly continuing down the stairs. She strolled out the door, lingering on the
porch as she watched Anthony approach his truck. But then, to her dismay, he looked down at
something in his hand and abruptly turned around.
Anthony noticed her as she came down the porch steps, and he waved at her and smiled. She
waved back, forcing a friendly smile on her face too. For a moment, she felt sorry for Anthony;
he was blissfully unaware of all the stress he was causing.
Both slowed as they drew closer to each other. "Morning, Anthony. Forget something?"

"Good morning, Laura. Yes, as a matter of fact, I did." He held up a silver ballpoint pen.
"Michelle needed me to sign some paperwork for medical supplies, but I accidentally walked off
with her pen." He rolled it between his fingers, and she could see the engraving: 'Michelle'.
"She'd obviously miss this, so I thought I'd better return it right away, or I'm sure it'll get lost
somewhere in my office."
She nodded. "I think one of the girls gave it to her." She definitely wasn't in the mood to chitchat, so she conspicuously looked at her watch, continuing, "Well, I need to get over to the
tavern. Have a good day, Anthony. Nice seeing you again."
As she started to walk away, Anthony reached towards her. "Wait a moment." She stopped. "As
long as you're here, I wanted to ask you about the phones. Have you had a chance to test them
yet?"
The 911 system -- she'd completely forgotten about it with everything else that was going on.
"No, I haven't. I've been so busy with other things. But I'll let you know when everything's ready.
Your phone and pager work, and the system is programmed, so if something happens, people
should still be able to dial 911 and get a hold of you."
He must have picked up on her impatience, because he seemed a bit uncomfortable now.
"Sorry to bother you. When you have time, let me know. My schedule's quite light at the
moment, so I'm available whenever you are. And thank you again for doing this in the first
place."
She felt bad about being brusque with him. "It's was no trouble at all. Sorry if I'm not being very
friendly, but I've just got a lot going on in my life right now."
She couldn't quite meet his eyes, and he hesitated before asking, "Does this have something to
do with -- ?" He stopped, brushing his dark hair out of his eyes. "Never mind. I'm sure it's none
of my business," he said, then held up the pen. "I'd better return this now."

He was early and he knew it, but he wanted to get this over with. Terry and Laura were
constantly nagging him about this talk with John, so the sooner they started the better. He had
cut his daily workout short, quickly showering and changing into clean clothes, taking care to
choose modern pants and shirt..
Waving to Andy behind the bar, Maximus walked out of the tavern. The sun was shining in a
cloudless blue sky, and he paused at the bottom of the front steps, taking a long deep breath,
drinking in the fresh air. He wasn't looking forward to meeting with John, but he had resigned
himself to it. And he had given his word that he would do it, so there was no turning back.
There was the cry of a seagull overhead, just like the one he heard every night in his dreams,

and a shiver ran through him, souring his mood further. So many things reminded him of the
nightmares, even a normal everyday noise like this. If the dreams would just stop for a while, he
might be able to find some peace.
He started walking again, his attention turning from the sky to the Hotel. And when he had gone
far enough down the path to the to see the front door, what he found there made his blood turn
cold.
Laura was standing near the front steps, only a few feet from Anthony. He saw a flash of
something metallic in his hand, and last night's dream burned through his mind with painful
intensity...
.... Commodus smiled cruelly. "But first you watch her die."
A woman's scream split the air, and Maximus turned towards the Hotel, looking on with horror as
two Praetorian guards held Laura between them at the bottom of the steps. Two wooden
ladders stood near them, propped up against either side of the heavy wooden beam above the
front of the hotel.
"No!" Maximus gasped, pressing his hand against the wound in his side as he scrambled to his
feet. But he seemed to be moving in slow motion, and Commodus had already reached her.
Laura screamed again, struggling to escape as Commodus came towards her with the bloody
knife....
Fear gripped him, but it quickly exploded into white-hot anger. By the Gods, it would not happen
again, not here! Adrenaline surged through him, and he ran towards the pair.
"No!!!'

Terry strolled down the stairs and into the Hotel lobby, fingering the pack of cigarettes in his
pocket. He rarely smoked anymore, but in the last few days, with all the crazy things going on,
he had felt an overwhelming urge for a few puffs. It wasn't a habit he wanted to pick up again,
but lighting up just one cigarette might take the edge off before the meeting.
As he went out onto the front porch, he took the pack of Marlboro's out of his pocket, hunting for
the book of matches in his other pocket.
Then he looked up and saw his worst nightmare begin to unfold.
Anthony and Laura were a few feet away, talking, apparently oblivious to the fact that Maximus
was watching them from the pathway to the tavern. Terry saw the glint of metal in Anthony's
hand a moment before Maximus started running towards the two. "No!!!" Maximus cried.

"Fuck," Terry said, dropping the pack of cigarettes. "Anthony -- Move, goddamit!" he yelled at
the two. Both were frozen with shock as Maximus charged towards them, and Terry reacted
instinctively. He launched himself off the porch, rushing to reach them before Maximus did.
There was no time for explanations. He shoved Laura out of the way, throwing her against
Anthony, and both were knocked to the ground, Laura landing on top of Anthony. Terry turned,
but there wasn't enough time to properly prepare himself before an enraged Maximus slammed
into him.
Both men went down together hard, rolling across the lawn. The breath was knocked out of his
lungs for a moment, but Terry hung on, keeping a firm hold as Maximus struggled against him,
screaming, "Let go of me! He's going to kill her!!"
"Max, no! STOP IT! She's fine!" He wrestled with him, trying to pin him to the ground, but an
angry ex-gladiator was a formidable opponent. Terry avoided a couple blows, but one caught
him in the side, and he gasped.
"He has a knife -- Let me go!!"
"There's no knife!" Terry yelled, loosing his grip as Maximus tried to crawl away. "Don't do this!"
As he scrambled to get a firm hold again, he caught a glimpse of Anthony and Laura. The doctor
was still lying on the ground, stunned, but Laura was sitting up, holding her arm as she looked
on in horror.
"Get off me!" Maximus growled, fighting against him, and this time his outflung elbow caught
Terry squarely in the nose. He saw stars, but still he refused to let go, fighting back harder,
managing to get an arm around Maximus' neck.
"There's NO knife. Stop and I'll prove it!" he yelled, the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.
Laura was screaming now too. "Max! No, I'm all right! Stop this, PLEASE! MAXIMUS!"
Terry fought harder, rolling around on the ground, trying to get Maximus as far away from
Anthony as possible. As the two traded punches, Terry looked over at Laura, shouting,
"Whatever he had in his hands, something silver -- Find it now!"
Laura looked around frantically as Maximus continued to fight him. "Fucking hell, Max! Stop this!
I won't let anything happen to her, I swear!" Terry blocked another blow to his face only to
double over when Maximus' knee connected with his groin.
"I found it!" Laura said, and held up the silver pen.
Despite his pain, Terry managed to pull Maximus around. "Maximus, look goddamnit! LOOK! It's
a fucking PEN! A pen, NOT a knife!"

Maximus looked towards her, but it didn't seem to register, and he bellowed, "Laura, get away
from him!! He has a knife!"
Laura did move away from Anthony, but only to bring the pen closer. "No, Maximus, there is NO
knife! Trust your eyes, and trust me! He did NOT try to harm me!"
Maximus struggled, but then his eyes finally focused at what Laura had in her hands, and he
stopped, staring. "No..." he whispered. "No, it is not possible. He had a knife."
Terry wondered how a life-long soldier could make such an amateur mistake. "There was no
knife," he repeated, still hanging on tightly. "You saw what you wanted to see."
"It's true, Maximus," Laura said. "He never threatened me, I swear. He didn't hurt me."
Maximus reached for the pen, and Laura handed it over tentatively. As he held it in his open
palm, the color drained out of his face.
Terry noticed that several people had gathered on the porch. "Terry, what the hell happened?"
Michelle asked. "Are you OK?"
"Stay there!" he shouted commandingly. "Everyone just stay where they are." They all obeyed,
obviously shocked by the scene before them, and he turned his attention back to Maximus. "If I
let go, you gonna behave yourself?"
Maximus nodded, still staring at the pen he held in a trembling hand, and Terry loosened the
death grip he had on him, releasing him.
Terry finally felt safe enough to turn his attention to Anthony, who had struggled up into a sitting
position. "You all right, mate?"
"I - I think so," he said in a shaky voice, staring at Maximus with wide-eyed fear.
"What was all the noise?" There was a new voice from the porch, and Terry glanced over and
saw John move to the front of the group gathered there, which now included Chelle, Annabella,
Rick and Tina.
John looked at the scene on the lawn in disbelief. "What the fu-- " Terry held up his hand, giving
John a look that commanded silence. And John stopped, watching with the others.
"It was a knife," Maximus said, drawing Terry's attention once more. Terry watched his eyes shift
towards the physician. "I was defending Laura," he said, in an apparent attempt to explain
himself, but Anthony was speechless, still frozen with shock and fear. Maximus looked away,
guilt and shame shading his features.

Laura crawled closer, laying her hand over his, looking as though she were on the verge of
breaking down into tears. "We were just talking, Maximus," she said softly so that only the four
of them would be able to hear. "Anthony had Michelle's pen, and he was going to return it to her.
See?" She touched the pen, her own hand trembling, rolling it so that the engraving was visible.
"It belongs to her."
Maximus said nothing, his head bowed, his breathing ragged and shallow. "It was the dreams,"
he finally replied, dropping the pen. Terry had to strain to hear him. "I cannot -- " His voice
faltered, and his eyes shifted towards the group on the porch, his jaw tightening as he struggled
to regain his composure. And Terry cursed inwardly, knowing that Maximus would never finish
that sentence now, not with an audience watching him. The Roman's self-control was as
tenuous as he'd ever seen it, and Terry knew he would need more than just a few moments to
pull himself together.
He leaned towards Laura, whispering, "Take him out of here." She looked questioningly at him,
and he added, "Take him around back, or up to your suite. Get him somewhere quiet and calm
him down and let him get his head together. Do it now, before it gets crazy around here." He
picked the pen up off the ground, slipping it into his pocket.
She nodded. "Okay," she said, pulling herself together too. "Are you all right, Terry? Your nose -"
"I'll be fine. Just go."
"Come on, Max," Laura said, taking his arm and helping him to his feet. As he straightened up,
Maximus looked at Terry, then Anthony. "I am sorry. I have made a terrible mistake," he said
before Laura pulled him away, and the two headed towards the back yard of the Hotel.
As they disappeared from sight, Terry closed his eyes, muttering, "Bloody fucking hell." What a
fiasco it had all become. He had tried so hard to avert a meltdown, but yet it had happened
anyway. And he shuddered to think what might have happened if he hadn't walked out onto the
porch when he did.
As the surge of adrenaline that had fueled him during the fight began to ebb, Terry felt the
effects of the fight for the first time. He reached up to touch his nose, but drew his hand away
quickly, wincing, his fingers tipped with blood. He looked down, realizing that the front of his shirt
was spattered with blood also. "Terry," John said as he came down the steps, followed closely
by the rest of the group, "Are you all right? What happened with Max? What the hell were you
two fighting about?"
Terry paused, trying to figure out how to answer, but it was Anthony's reply that drew everyone's
attention. "It... It was about me." His voice trembled again, and he took a deep breath, steadying
himself and his voice. "He might have killed me if Terry hadn't stopped him," he said.

Terry heard the gasps of disbelief from John and the girls, and tried to do some damage control.
"He must've thought you were trying to harm Laura. He was only trying to defend her," he
explained.
"I don't believe what I'm hearing," John said. "Why on earth would Maximus do something like
this? He -- " John stopped abruptly, staring hard at Terry. "Wait. This has something to do with
the talk you wanted me to have with Max, doesn't it? Terry, I think you damn well better explain
what's been going on."
"I will," Terry said. "And so will Max when he settles down."
"You don't seem surprised that he did this," Anthony said. He had dusted himself off and gotten
to his knees, apparently unhurt in the melee, and Terry was grateful for that.
Terry had a hard time meeting his eyes. "No, I'm not." He tried to stand up, but winced as his
body protested.
Anthony's eyes were full of questions, but he paused and said, "As much as I'd like to hear the
rest of this, I think its best if you let me take a look at you first."
"There's a first aid kit in my office," Michelle said. "Come inside everyone, and we'll sort this
out."
"Very good," Anthony said. "And he'll need an ice pack as well."
"I'll go get some ice," Rick said, hurrying back inside.
Terry needed John's assistance to get to his feet, and he limped inside the Hotel, followed by
the rest of the group.

Maximus collapsed onto a bench in the garden, bent over with his face buried in his hands, and
Laura sat down beside him, laying her arm across his shoulders. He was shaking as he said,
"Now do you understand why I wanted you to leave the Point?"
Laura was beside herself with worry, still reeling from what had transpired. "Tell me what
happened. Did your nightmares have something to do with it? What did you see, Maximus?
Why did you attack Anthony?"
He drew a shuddering breath, looking up at her. Blood was streaked across the left side of his
face from a small cut below his eye, with a good deal more on his shirt, which she assumed had
come from Terry. She half-expected to see tears in his eyes, but all she found there was
anguish. "Are you all right? Were you hurt during the fight?" he asked.

"No. No, I'm fine. When Terry pushed me, I landed on top of Anthony; he broke my fall. He's fine
too... But you didn't answer my question. What happened?"
"I - I cannot say, not here. We must leave -- I do not trust myself to be near him anymore."
"Please, you can't keep putting me off. Tell me what happened. You just beat the hell out of
Terry. Why?"
Maximus shook his head vehemently. "No, there is no time for explanations. We must leave
immediately. I will go to the stables and saddle the horses, and you must go inside and pack
something to stay up at our place in the forest for a few days. Don't worry about my things -pack only what you need. Meet me at the footbridge, but do not take more than 20 minutes. I
will gather what food I can, but we must leave quickly."
"What?" She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "No, Max, we can't leave. We have to stay.
We owe the others an explanation. Terry -- "
"You are not listening. I cannot stay!" he insisted. "Terry will have to talk to the others, and when
I explain everything to you, perhaps you will understand why I do not trust myself near Anthony
any longer. Come with me now, and we will return in a day or two, and then I will face the
consequences of my actions today. But now, we must leave -- do not argue with me any further,
I beg of you." He took hold of her wrist, pulling her close and staring deeply into her eyes. "If you
love me, you will do this."
The look in his eyes was desperate, and after what she'd just seen him to do to Terry, she had
no choice but to take this very seriously. "That's not fair. Of course I love you."
"Then trust me and do as I ask. Please."
Maximus wasn't the type of man to run away from a situation like this, not without a hell of a
good reason. In spite of her better judgment, she knew she had to do what he was asking. "If I
go, you have to swear to me you will tell me everything that's been going on. Absolutely
everything. Give me your word, Maximus."
"You have my word -- I will withhold nothing from you."
"All right. All right, I'll go pack my bag." She hugged him. "I love you. I'll do anything I can to help
you."
He held her tightly, kissing her softly on the side of her neck. "I love you too." But after a few
moments, he pushed her away. "We must hurry," he said as he stood up. "Meet me in 20
minutes. No longer."

She shook her head. "20 minutes? That's not long enough."
"Then come as quickly as you can. I must go and get the horses."
As he hurried off through the gardens towards the stables, she went around to the back door of
the hotel, moving quietly up the back staircase and reached the rear door of their suite unseen.
Her hands were shaking as she dashed through the apartment, grabbing various belongings
and tossing them into a pile on the bed. The cellphone went into its charger to top off the
batteries, and she tossed the two extra battery packs into the pile as well, then went into the
bathroom. Toiletries were scooped off the vanity and into a travel bag, then clothing was pulled
off hangers. Undergarments and socks were next, and despite what he had said, she picked out
some of his things too.
After a few minutes, she hurried to the bedroom window, craning her neck to see the wooden
footbridge along the path that led to the stables where they were to meet. There was no sign of
Maximus, but she knew he'd be punctual. She felt like a chicken with its head cut off, rushing
around with little rhyme or reason, still in shock over what had happened a few minutes earlier.
She stopped in the middle of the living room, wiping the tears away with the sleeve of her shirt.
What was wrong with Maximus?

Terry sat with his head back, managing not to flinch as Anthony finished cleaning up his face,
gently touching his injured nose. Maximus' punches and kicks had definitely hit their mark and
his rage had given him considerable strength. Terry had concentrated more on restraining
Maximus than defending himself, and had paid the price. Besides his nose, there had been no
serious injuries, but he knew he'd be a mass of bruises by tomorrow.
"I think it may be broken. I'll be able to tell more when the swelling goes down," the doctor said.
"Wouldn't be the first time its been broken," Terry said.
"Here, put this on it," Anthony said, handing him an ice pack.
Gingerly arranging the pack over his face, Terry sighed gratefully as the cold began to numb the
pain.
John stepped forward. "I know you're hurt, but I think we could do with that explanation now,
Terry. I'm sure Anthony would like to know more than any of us."
Terry looked around him. He had an even bigger audience now -- Colin, Trisha and Arthur had
joined the group, and he knew it wouldn't be long before word spread around the Point and the
lobby was filled with people.

"I don't want to have to tell this story a half dozen times to a half dozen groups. When Maximus
is ready to talk, gather everyone together and we'll tell you all at once." He turned his attention
to Anthony. "Sorry, mate, but its best this way. In the meantime, you oughta sit down and try to
relax." The doctor was covering nicely, but Terry could tell by the shell-shocked look in his eyes
and his shaky hands that he was still rattled. He turned back to the group. "Somebody get the
man a drink."
This was insane.
20 minutes? How the hell did he expect her to be ready to leave in 20 minutes? And why the
hell was she doing this in the first place?
Laura frantically typed 'out of office' messages for her work and personal email accounts,
desperately trying to tie up loose ends before she left. Voice mail had been changed, a
conference call had been canceled, but it had all taken up valuable time. She clicked the button
to turn on the 'out of office', then jumped up and ran across the apartment to check the bedroom
window yet again. This time she saw Maximus leading two horses the edge of the clearing next
to the footbridge. He caught sight of her and waved. She waved back.
Damn. Out of time.
She rushed back into her office, shutting down the computer, then hurried back into the
bedroom, stuffing everything into the dufflebag and zipping it shut. She grabbed the bag and
went out into the hallway, sneaking down the rear staircase and out the back door.
She had only gotten a few steps when she realized that once she left with Maximus, no one
would have any idea where they had gone. And given what Terry knew, he'd probably send
everyone out looking for them. She had to tell someone they were leaving.
She set her bag down on the ground, then went back into the Hotel, tiptoeing through the
hallways. She passed the kitchens and the restaurant, then cautiously looked around the corner
towards the front desk and the lobby. There was quite a group gathered in the lobby now, and
any thought of discretely talking to Terry was discarded. But John was talking on the phone at
the front desk, alone.
"... don't know exactly what happened, but Terry damn near got his nose broken, so if you want
to hear the details first-hand from him and Max, you better get over here right away. And tell
anyone else you see to come too."
As he spoke, he turned slightly, looking in her direction now, and Laura motioned for him to
come to her. "John!" she whispered.
He looked surprised to see her, staring for a moment. She motioned again, then put her finger to

her lips, indicating he should keep quiet, and he nodded, speaking into the phone again.
"What...? Look, just get over here, OK?"
She moved back into the empty hallway, and a moment later John came around the corner. She
led him farther back, out of earshot of anyone, and he said, "What's going on? Are you all right?
Where's Maximus?"
"I'm fine. I haven't got a lot of time here, but I wanted to let someone know that we're leaving.
Maximus and I are riding up into the hills and staying at the tent for a few days." John started to
object, but she continued before he could speak. "I know its crazy, but Max was adamant that
he had to get away from here -- and Anthony -- right away. He's very upset about what
happened."
"You can't leave. Anthony said Max tried to kill him. This is no time to go riding off. Everyone's
waiting for him to explain."
"This isn't a discussion, John. We are going. I just wanted someone to know where we'd gone
so no one worries."
John looked incredulous. "And you think we're not going to worry if you just up and disappear?
There's obviously something wrong with Maximus, and I'm sure that has something to do with
why Terry wanted me to have a talk with him, and why he disappeared that week. It may not be
safe to be alone with him right now, Laura."
"He would never hurt me. In fact, it's partly because of me that this all has happened. He was
trying to defend me from Anthony just now. He has a lot of problems with Anthony being here at
the Point -- Terry will have to explain when we've gone. He knows almost as much as I do about
how difficult this whole thing has been for Max. John, its very important that Max gets away from
here right away. Tell Terry I'm sorry for leaving him to deal with this alone, but it can't be helped.
I have to go now -- Max is waiting with the horses as we speak," she said as she started to back
away, moving towards the back door.
"This is crazy," John said, grabbing her arm. "At least stay long enough to tell everyone else that
you're leaving."
"I can't," Laura said, pulling free. "Max is out there right now waiting for me."
"Let him wait."
"I have to go," she insisted. "Please, don't stop us. And don't send anyone after us. Give me 48
hours to sort things out and calm him down. It's Sunday morning. If we're not back by Tuesday
noon, then you can send out someone to get us if you all decide that's what you want. But in the
meantime, just let us go. When you hear what Terry has to say, you might understand better."

"You know, I'm getting fucking tired of all these cryptic remarks, especially when I have the
feeling that when the whole story comes out, its going to blow the lid off this place." She tried
not to react, but when John's eyes narrowed, she knew she hadn't been successful. "What the
hell is it? What's the big secret?"
"There's no time, John. I have to go right now. I'm sorry," she said, hurrying towards the door.
Thankfully, John didn't follow, and she went outside, grabbing her bag as she rushed to meet
Maximus.

To be continued...

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