We Live in the Hearts of those We Leave Behind

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Chapter Seven: Driving ON

            I think I'm too drained to hate.  Maybe it's too son – this has all happened so fast.  Though I know I'm not nearly so good a man as you; I'm not too good to hate.  Not even so good as not to feel it in a burning and all consuming way.  I know this; it's happened before.  I cannot ever forgive him, so I think that the hate will come later.  I know it will come strong.  But right now all I can feel is sorrow.

            Is that why I did what I did – merely because I am overcome with sorrow?  Or did I do it to prove that I am a better man that Commodus?  Did I do it to show him that I will never be consumed by my hatred, as he once was?  Or maybe I acted simply to prove that I could.  Any of those reasons could be the case, but inside, I think I know the truth.  I showed him compassion because he was your son.  He could have been your legacy – he was your son.

            I miss you greatly, you know.  That's why I'm putting these thoughts on paper rather than struggling to communicate to you in some other way.  Eyes are everywhere, and as you taught me, an Emperor can never appear weak.  I learned my lessons well, and so I write…I do believe that you can hear me, though.  I know you're there somewhere.  Maybe I did it for that reason, too.  Because you're watching me, and I've struggled for years not to disappoint you.  But I'd like to think that I did it for you.

            You passed a legacy on to me, Marcus, and it was more than just Rome.  Why you, a philosopher, chose a warrior as your heir is something that generations will ponder, but I always saw your pain, and I know how Commodus hurt you.  You did not say it in so many words, but I knew.  He never became what you needed him to be, never even tried.  But you loved him, even though you never understood, and never knew how to show him.  I remember, once, how you told me of your guilt, of how you'd wished you had been a better father for him, but I don't believe for one moment that the way he turned out was your fault.  Commodus was an unbalanced man; in the end, you knew that.

            But that's not the point, is it?  I did not think I had it in me to show him such compassion, but maybe you helped me some there.  In the last year, Marcus, you made me into such a better man – a kinder one, and one far more suited to rule Rome.  You and Lucilla did that…And I never could thank you enough for how you forced us back together.  Without her, I'd be lost now.  Sometimes I think she's the only thing holding me together; her and Lucius.  You always did so much for me, and I felt an acute need to pay you back.

            So, against all my heart, I went to see your son, a man I had always hated and whom I'd done battle against for years.  From the beginning, I'd loathed his arrogance, his superiority, his cruelty.  Later, I despised the ideas he'd stood for, how the ends always justified the means, and how Rome, which I hold above all, was only an object of power.  And I did feel that burning anger for how he hurt my family – one, his sister, another his nephew…and Julius, who was cheated out of a life that wasn't Commodus' to take.

            Grief makes it hard to hate, now…maybe that's because of the life I've led.  I've watched so many die, so many hurt, and I've always dreamed of saving my son from the loneliness and pain I felt.  But now I'll never be able to do that; I've lost him forever.  It's all the might have beens that are killing me.  And I'm too sad to hate him…Or at least I was after that day in court, when I saw the insecure and lost man – a child, almost – that existed beneath the arrogance.  Lucilla told me later of how he feared the dark and being alone.  I never knew that, and was prepared to hate him until the real Commodus crept out from underneath the mask and the insanity.  In that moment, I think I realized that I needed to end it in some way other than hate.  Because I felt your pain.

            I've lost my son, but you had, too.  And I think that, somehow, I wanted to try to give him back to you.  I don't know if I succeeded, but I had to try.  And I feel better knowing that I did – not about Julius' death, but about executing your son.  It was the right thing to do, I know, but it would have not been if I had let him die without some kind of closure.  I certainly did not do that because I'm some sort of all-forgiving god – even if they were, I'm not.  My reasons have always been much simpler than that. 

            I don't write this to explain myself, because with you I rarely had to.  But this confession helps to clears my mind.  The only person who knows I spoke to Commodus before his death is Lucilla.  Anyone else would misinterpret it all; for an emperor, what I did is taboo.  Perhaps I will tell Lucius some day.  He, too, deserves to know. 

            Are you smiling at me, old man?  I can almost hear your voice now, reminding me that I shouldn't lock it all inside.  But I haven't.  I've wept.  Just not where others can see me.  What else am I to do, Marcus?  You know the rules.  I am the emperor, and now that dictates every move I make and every breath I take.  Otherwise, I'd gladly let myself wallow in grief.  As it is, I can't afford that release, nor do I think it would be good for me.  Quintus is surprised that it has not hit me harder, but Lucilla knows it has.  Only with her can I show how much it really hurts.  To the world, I must present strength.

            But to you I can say that it hurts.  To you I can tell how I wept, alone, when Lucilla lay sleeping, thinking that I finally had as well.  I love her, and I trust her, but she was grieving too.  So I let her think that I slept, and slipped away to stand on a balcony, alone, staring out at the city, and wondering if Rome was worth it.

            When I regained control of myself, I walked inside and began to write.  And I do see your frown, father, for that very act of control.  But you know me – there was but once in my life that I completely let pain and emotions loose and allowed myself to lose control.   That was long ago, though, when I was not an emperor…just a young and lonely general, grateful to have someone to lean on in a cold Germanian winter.  You were the only one I ever showed that side of myself to.  Maybe I shouldn't hide it from Lucilla, but she knows it's there.  What's more, she understands.

            Maybe that's why I'm missing you so much right now.  You were the only father I've ever known, and I could desperately use your kindness now.  I know I should let go, but it's not easy.  And it's my legacy not to feel comfortable doing that with anyone but you.

            So now I sit alone, in the dark, with only the moon to light the page.  It's bright enough outside.  I have no worries about that.  But I find no comfort in the loneliness.  I've lost my son, and I know that I will feel the pain for the rest of my days.  It will fade in time, but some things never go away.  Some things never should. 

            Sometimes I wonder why you had to pick me – or, if not you, why the gods had to detail me to such a painful life.  But I suppose it had to be someone.  But what about Julius?  What did he do wrong?  Why did he have to suffer for what I am?

            I don't know the answer to that, really.  I don't think I  ever will.  But I know what's being said about me now – a few call me callous, to sacrifice my son to Rome.  Many call me strong, but what would they say if they could see me now, tears in my eyes, writing in the moonlight?  Honestly, I don't care.  There's so many questions that I don't know the answers to and never will.              But I do know the answer to one I've been asking myself for days.  Seven, to be exact; ever since the moment Julius disappeared. 

            She's worth it.

            The dream has to be.

            Maximus placed the quill by the side of his scroll, scarcely surprised that the last few lines were blurred and malformed.  They were still readable, but barely.  For the first time, though, he recognized the warm wetness on his face and realized that he'd been crying since almost the beginning.  Without warning, a shiver snuck its way down his spine.    The presence might have been merely his imagination, but it was almost tangible.  He could feel the sudden warmth in the room, the sudden change in his heart…and the sudden need to let go, to really let go, in a conscious release.

            Letting his eyes slide shut, Maximus wept.

I am sorry, Julius…I never wanted this for you, and if I could change everything, I would.  I love you, my son.

Taking a deep breath after he knew not how long, the Emperor stilled his tears.  It was over – so many things were – and the time for mourning had passed.  He had to go on, if not for the sake of his family, for his own.  Wallowing in his grief would not heal the wounds he knew he had.  The only thing that could do that now was time, and time he had.  He opened his eyes, and glanced around the darkened room.  Sunrise was fast approaching; even now, the sky began to glow.  It was time to end this. 

But he also knew something else.  He would have done it all over again, even knowing the results, if he had to.

I am a Roman of the Romans.  I am the Emperor of the world's greatest nation.  I know no equal and I am what I am.  Above all else, I have a duty to Rome.  It is a duty of honor and loyalty, and requires that I put Rome above all.  I know what I am, and so be it.

I am Rome, and Rome will not fall.

Hesitating, he lifted the paper again, thinking to destroy it now that it had served its purpose.  Venting his feelings, although in such a quiet and unaccustomed way, had perhaps done what nothing else could.  The words he could not bring himself to say aloud came easier now.  And he would go on.  He had no choice.  Rome was eternal.

I learned that from you.