The Eyes of a Stranger
The moment I saw you in the arena that day, I could have died. The Coliseum was a thoroughly wretched place – I hated it so, even then – and I had been trying so hard to pretend I was anywhere else. But I had no choice in the matter. Commodus was there, so I was as well. Oh, how good that looked to the crowd – who did love him then, you know; until that day, it seemed that they would always love him. Until that day, there had been no way out of the predicament Rome had been in, no way to avoid the inevitable destruction. I, too, had been living in a prison of fear, putting on my best smile and being strong for my son, yet my world was hell from the day you died. The day my father died.
At that point, I did not understand why you had refused my brother's hand. I only knew that you were asking for your own death, and taking away everything that had ever meant anything to me. First my father, and then you; I was losing my world so quickly, even though you had not been a part of it for years, you had always been in my heart. What you did made no sense to me, and I wept as much for your rash actions as I did for my father. The Empire, I knew then, was doomed. You had said to me that you would always serve Rome… and so you did. I weep now for the fact that you did so well…
My heart almost stopped when I saw you that day. Instead, I forced my wooden legs to carry me to the edge of the Imperial box so that I could see the truth my ears proclaimed… and yes, it was you – risen from the dead, and revealing yourself. I had thought Lucius' precious "Spaniard" familiar; little did I realize he was you. Still, I should have known from the way every move you made was so completely confident, so controlled, and so you. Foolish of me not to see the truth until it was right before my eyes. But even then, I did not understand.
"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius," you had said with vicious pride. "Commander of the Armies of the North. General of the Felix Legions. Loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
It was then that I knew my brother would die.
Later, I began to realize other things, but not then. At first, I only saw your beautiful eyes, cold and dark in ways I had never seen before. They were like the eyes of a stranger. In the hours following, I began to realize why my father had to die, and why your loyalty – or lack of – was so important to Commodus. You called my father the true emperor, implying that my brother was not. I did not catch that until much later. Once I did, though, I had to see you. And it wasn't only because Lucius wouldn't stop talking about you. Nor was it because you could save Rome. No… Your presence and your defiance had awoken a piece of my heart that I had thought long dead and gone. I needed to see you.
But you clearly did not want to see me.
I was afraid of you, then, and I never had been before. I had never seen that side of you in the past, though I did know that caged animal existed within you. But I had expected you to do anything but what you did. Only my fear for my son's life stopped me from leaving then and there, and hating you forever. Or, no, I would never have hated you. I understood in ways you could not comprehend. You had lost your world because of my brother, and even then, you must have blamed me for a part of it. After all, I had done nothing save lie to you.
Still I tried to reach the man I knew was still inside you. I tried to reach the man I had once loved, and who had loved me back, before our hideous mistakes had taken over… Did I still love you, even then? I don't know.
I was a fool. I assumed you were the same; I forgot how hurt you had to be. So I was coy, acted the perfect little spoiled princess, right to the core. I deserved the anger you showed me, especially when I tried to lie. It was only a half-hearted lie, anyway… I knew they were dead, but I knew not how, and even though I did not know until after that horror, I still deserved the hatred. You had lost everything. I still had a son.
And when you pulled me close, it was like looking into the eyes of a stranger. I no longer knew you.
"I am a slave. What possible difference can I make?"
Maybe the pain was why you didn't hear a word I said. Only your pride and your anger responded to my arguments. I tried everything I knew, including appealing to your love for my father, and how he had loved you… oh, he loved you. More than anything, Maximus, did you ever know that? Even more than Rome… He would have given anything for you. I am sure, wherever he is now, my father hates Commodus for what he did to you. You were more his son that my brother ever was, and not only because he loved you. You were always there for him, and he for you.
It almost worked… you seemed to soften, for one moment, to forget the hurt man who had lost everything, and to remember who you were. For one moment, it seemed as if you had remembered the great man I knew. I almost hoped, for that moment, when you said I could help you. My heart broke when you said never to come back. I could have cried when you said the man I knew was dead.
I believed you, then, even as I turned away with tears filling my eyes.
I cried myself to sleep that night, weeping for not only my father's dream, but for you. Yes, I wanted to fulfill that vision, especially now that I knew it had to be you. But my tears were not for the dream my brother had beaten, they were for the man he had killed. I, who was unable to cry for fear of Commodus, wept like a child who had lost her home. For I had lost, then… I had lost dreams I had not known I'd held. Even though you had killed them, I wept for the hell I knew was your life.
From the gaping hole in my heart, then, I knew I loved you.
From that stranger's eyes, though, a miracle came. His name was Cicero, and I could not believe it when I saw him. Not recognizing his voice, at first, I almost ignored him – until he said your name. Your name, Maximus… did you ever know what that meant to me, or was I too afraid to show you? I missed you, for all those years we spent apart; did you realize that?
You had changed your mind – I couldn't believe it! So I introduced you to Gracchus, and even then, he was caught up in it. Did you know how easy you have always been to believe in? I was impartial, then, because I had to be. What would the old senator think of me if he knew I was in love with you? He would never have supported you, then. He would have thought I was doing it for you, rather than Rome.
The funniest part was that I would have. Had you wanted the throne, I would have gladly given it to you. Not only were you the best man for the job, you had the heart. You would have been great. You would have been what Rome needed so badly… but that was not in the cards. Maybe the gods loved you, but the fates still hated you, Maximus. You were everything to us, but in the end, they let you be nothing. They took you away, and left you in peace. Why must I mourn since I know that you are happy?
In the end, I found the man I had once known. Was he always there, or did I recover him? I think your strength enabled you to return and find the heart to give one last time. You were so strong for me, that night. I needed you so much, then, and you were the rock that steadied me. I wanted to tell you my feelings, then, but I was so afraid. Little did I know that I didn't need to. You already knew; I felt it when you took my hands. One kiss was all we needed to share and mend all those lonely years. Together we opened our hearts, and it seemed that everything might have been all right.
Until I betrayed you.
I was never able to say how sorry I was, my love. Did you know, in those last moments? There was never time… and I am so sorry. I don't even know if I made the right choice. Did I, Maximus? Or should I have fought for Rome, as you did, and give everything up? Would I have still lost you? I am so confused, now, so lost…
Your last words to me were that Lucius was safe. How could you say that? You gave so much for Rome and for my son – my son, who should have been yours! …And now I cannot even repay you, because you are dead – because I made a mistake. I weep now, for you. I see your face, and I know you are gone forever to me. Why must you have died? I have never felt so alone in my life… because even before this, I knew you were alive somewhere.
But I should not think so, should I, Maximus? You are happy. It is over. You're with your family, and don't the gods know you deserve that peace? I am sorry I'm so selfish. I just miss you terribly. I just wish you were here with me now.
I wish I had not betrayed you; I wish I'd somehow said I was sorry. Now I must live with the fact that I did not, and I must face that I killed you, in my own indirect way. No, I will not commit suicide, although I thought of it, and yes, I will go on – I have a son, don't I? – but I mourn you every day. I am sorry for what I did and did not do…
You died on the sand four weeks ago, and I have cried myself to sleep every night. The republic is failing. It will not survive, and then, will you have died for nothing? I am leaving Rome tomorrow, but I will carry you with me. Juba buried your figurines in the sand, but I bear your pendant still. Now it is close to my heart, just as you should have always been. I weep for the past, and grieve for all that might have been. I will always remember you, Maximus.
I will always love you.