Somewhere in Northern Africa, 252 BCE
They were soldiers on either side of the First Punic War and their battle was intense. Under the hot North African sun, Carthage locked blades with Rome. Their swords dented and dulled with each blow. Rome refused to fight fair and resorted to hitting Carthage between the legs, knocking him to the ground.
And as Carthage lay dying, he looked up at Rome and grasped the other man's bare leg.
"You will not escape me," he gritted out. "I will hunt you down. I will kill you. No matter how many times it takes. No matter how many lives I have to live. I will destroy you."
Rome leaned down and spat. His smile wasn't a smile. It was a challenge.
"See you in the next one."
That was their first life.
Their second life was in the Second Punic War. Rome was a woman, that time. A prostitute in the camps. Carthage killed her during a night raid.
Their third life was not the Third Punic War. They were Anthony and Cleopatra.
Their empires burned. The world continued.
Chang'an, China, 709, Tang Dynasty
Rome was a mother. She smiled down at her little girl, glad she was a girl. Maybe she would make it to adulthood. Maybe she would be a scholar. Maybe she would be a general's wife. Maybe she would live to adulthood.
She handed her newborn daughter to the wet nurse and leaned back, staring at the ceiling as her qi faded. Mere seconds after she died, Carthage found her.
He knelt at Rome's side and closed her eyes, one hand fisted in the sweat soaked bed linens, teeth gritted in rage for having not dealt a killing blow.
In the next room, a baby began to cry, and Carthage found his new form of revenge.
Moscow, Russia, 1240,
Rome knew Carthage was near. It was a like he had an internal compass for them.
A soldier again, with a sword in hand.
Rome dismounted and sent his steed away. This battle was truly a toss-up, and if he died, he didn't want his beautiful mare to become the property of the monster that was his enemy.
"I killed your daughter." Carthage raised his sword.
Rome's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"But first," Carthage grinned maniacally. "I married her."
Rome's scream of outrage was lost in the din of battle.
The Coast of Southern France, 1349
Carthage rode hard and fast. She had to get to the French army before the English could. A fence was dead ahead and she squeezed her thighs, warning her horse. He jumped, and she barely managed to hold on. The moonlight illuminated the path ahead and in the far distance, Carthage could see it. The firelight of a military camp. She hoped.
Rome was near, she could feel. Not on her heels, she prayed.
Her thighs ached and she could feel the heaving flanks of her horse, warning that he was reaching his limits too.
"Almost there," she panted. "One last run. We can do this." A firm press of her thighs and off they went.
As they approached the camp, several soldiers shouted warnings for her to stop. Carthage forced her mount to slow so they could see she was not a threat. The soldier that approached her was Rome, and she was glad to see him.
With aching legs and lungs short on air, she stopped her horse and slid from the saddle, collapsing into his arms.
"They're coming," she gasped, her hands fisting in his shirt. His hand found the wound on her lower back.
"I need a doctor!" He shouted.
Carthage shook her head and yanked on his shirt. "The English are coming!" She repeated, nearly shouting. "They destroyed my village!"
Rome nodded and held her steady. "Tell me everything."
She poured it out to him in short, sharp sentences. "Please," she begged him, her knees giving out. "Don't let them win."
"I've got you." He cradled her. "I won't, I promise."
She looked into his eyes and saw an iron resolve. She nodded, her head swimming and black spots obscuring her vision.
"No no no, stay with me!" Rome shook her. "This isn't how it's supposed to be!" They're not supposed to be on the same side. She isn't supposed to die at the hands of someone else.
But there he sat. Knelt in the dirt, holding her as she faded.
Somewhere along the coast of Korea, 1443
Rome drowned as a child. Carthage was born two days later.
Somewhere in Western Germany, 1525
Rome was an aristocrat, and Carthage was a farmer. They both died in the same battle, but not by the other's hands. In fact, not until they were dying, did they see each other.
Rome smiled, his eyes closing.
"Fuck you," Carthage hissed.
"Fuck you too," Rome said without opening his eyes. "And your horse shit."
"This is your fault."
"No, its yours."
"Next time, I swear to God, I'm going to bash your head in with a rock."
"I look forward to it."
Somewhere in what will be Brazil, 1565
They both died before ever meeting.
Holy Roman Empire, Saxony, 1628
Carthage found himself in Saxony, extorting money from small villages and liking it. It was not something he would be proud of later, but when he pinned Rome to a barn door and killed him like he promised, it felt good.
He didn't expect to live again after that. He had killed Rome, after all. As he had sworn so long ago.
But then it happened again. And again. And again. Until he forgot the promise. Until he forgot he was Carthage. Until Rome forgot they were Rome.
But that hadn't happened yet. In 1628, a village blacksmith never returned to his forge, and a soldier deserted.
Lesnaya, Russia, 1708
He had to find Carthage and get out of Lesnaya. This war was not something he would die for. Rome stuffed some bread and money into a sack and threw it over his shoulder before running out into the streets.
A cannonball struck the house next to him and Rome went down, covering his head. Rubble fell on him and he was buried beneath it. But there was no time to think about digging his way out. A second cannonball added dirt and the smell of fresh blood and a voice he’s never been so happy to hear before penetrates the din.
"Carthage!" He shouted as best he could. “I’m here!”
"Rome!" Small, feminine hands pushed aside the boards and dirt and Rome nearly cried at seeing Carthage. But he knew she would have to go on alone.
"Carthage," he whispered. "My leg."
It was mangled and bloody. The chimney had fallen directly on it.
"Go." He shoved the pack at her. "Get out of here. Get out of Russia. Go to Turkey if you can."
"Not without you!" Carthage hissed.
"There's no time! Please." He pulled a knife from his belt. "Make it fast."
Yorktown, Virginia, 1781
He was a French troop. He was an American foot soldier. They died fighting side by side in the trenches, Rome’s hand clutching Carthage’s.
Somewhere in Southeastern France, 1805
The house was disturbingly still, not even the baby's cry he heard could break it. He carefully slung his gun over his shoulder and headed for the half open door he could see.
She was barely alive.
"It's you," he whispered, kneeling at her side.
With great effort, her eyes opened. She would be gone soon, he knew. There was no point in fetching the troops' doctor.
"My baby," she whispered, her head rolling to the side. He lifted his head and saw the infant. He couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl, just that they were stronger than their mother. With weak arms, she pulled the baby closer and began to try and lift them. His hands flew to hers, helping to support the child's weight. "Please. Save him."
A boy then.
Her hands dropped and she took in a shuddering breath.
"But I—" he said helplessly, bringing the baby to his chest, mindful of the strap of his gun.
"No one," she wheezed. "No one else I can trust... more than you." Her eyes closed for good.
Somewhere in Confederate America, 1863
"You're going the wrong way." He wore a gray uniform, and there was no reason to trust him. But he did.
He made it to Canada. He was executed for being a traitor.
Somewhere in Eastern Germany, 1916
They never met.
Somewhere in Northern France, 1944
They died, yards away from each other, on the same side again.
San Francisco, California, America, 1969
She twisted her hands in his uniform and his mind overlaid the same image as seen by torchlight in a French field centuries ago. She shook him slightly, anger in her voice as she demanded "How long? How long have we—?"
"Too long." His hands found her neck and his fingers sought out her pulse point without thought.
"Plagues. Wars. Too late, too soon." His hands smoothed out over her shoulders and he craved to see her naked. "I can't even remember our first lives anymore. But I remember the first time I loved you."
"When?" Her voice cracked.
"France, during the Hundred Years Wars. I was a soldier. Your village was attacked by the English and you were sent to find soldiers. You died in my arms."
"America. The Civil War. I was executed as a traitor to the Confederacy. You were part of the Underground Railroad."
"1440’s, so far as I can guess. I drowned before you were even born."
He laughed and crushed his mouth to hers. She bit his lip and his blood tasted like home.
"Too many times," he whispered into her mouth. "I can't remember the years anymore. Korea. Germany. Brazil. Canada. England. China. All of them. Too sick or too old or both. Children handed over because how fucked up is the universe that the only person we could trust them too is the one we keep killing?"
She laughed, and raised a gun to his head. He raised one to hers.
"Will this do it?" She asked. "Will this end it all?"
"Only one way to find out."