NOTE: The following vignettes started out as a review of the "Ides of March," but ended up as imagined in-the-moment impressions of certain events in the ep, so contain major spoilers.


By IseQween,


May 1999

One -- Gabrielle

So close. My valiant warrior came so close. On her final mission, she really believed her best would be good enough. That's all I wanted, so for me, it was a dream come true.

You see, I never believed in Alti's vision, at least not the way she wanted. I guess I was supposed to see death and despair when she so unceremoniously shared whatever that was with me. She wanted my pain to hurt Xena, to cripple her in her way to fighting for good. I admit the witch came awfully close. But not close enough. My way is to see hope in the impossible, to have faith that love is always there between the lines. I know that makes me seem childish and na´ve, even though I've been to Tartarus and lived to tell of it. But, then, a lot of people don't know me very well. Alti sure didn't, nor did Ares, Caesar or Callisto. Which means they didn't know Xena as well as they thought, either.

I believed in Xena. I knew she would come. Oh, it felt so wonderful to see her, barreling through those prison guards, flinging the barred door open, hugging me, breaking Eli's chains, vowing that she wasn't going to let her worst nightmare be real. I knew then what I'd always believed - that when she believed in herself as I did, no power on earth could defeat her but herself. And I was right. It took all those supernatural forces of destruction - in small measure shaped and wielded by her own hand - to bring her to her knees.

I sensed Callisto before I saw her. The danger so close it sent chills down my spine. Before it broke Xena's. The look on my beloved friend's face told me she saw herself falling an eternity of inches short of her promise. She'd liberated Eli and his followers, yet all she saw was me. Me. So close to saving me -- us -- yet now helpless to protect the way of the one who would rather die than kill. It all came down to me: The girl who stood up to those slavers and inspired a lost warrior to unearth her weapons and fight by my side in a new way. The quick study who learned when to run, when to talk, when to pit the enemy against themselves. The Amazon warrior who felt what it was like to kill. Like Xena said, everything would change.

I saw that guard with his sword poised above my fallen champion, and all that I'd witnessed, sought and feared crystallized in that moment. Surprisingly, I found myself as clear as I'd ever been. My clothing was different from the peasant dress I had on when Xena and I first met, or the active wear I donned more suitable to my staff, but the instincts were the same. I wanted everything to change. To save Xena. She had come so close. It was up to me to take the baton now, to finish this race as a team. The spear would do. I picked it up surely. It felt right in my hands, and this time my aim would be true.

As to what happened after my throw hit home, it's all kind of a blur. I think I felt what I said I feared in Xena, but, truthfully, knew I had a wee bit of in myself. It sure was close enough that, at least from the outside, it would've been hard to tell the difference. I do remember seeing my partner struggle painfully but unsuccessfully to rise. I heard her crying out, "No!", just as I had done so many times when I was in her place. But I was so close to saving us, I couldn't - wouldn't - stop. And then I came back to myself - or at least what I'd imagined myself to be - once again stunned to see a bloody knife in my hand. I let it slip from my fingers. Everything had indeed changed. And Xena was alive.

I held her in my arms as though she were my world. I guess in many ways she was. I know I was hers. Still, I could tell when she came to that she was afraid. She wasn't sure who held her. She wanted it to be me, to know that I, too, was alive. But at what price? Would she see in my eyes the same darkness she'd called upon so often herself to save me? "Gabrielle?", she whispered tentatively, hopefully. I had to smile. For someone so determined and strong, she was such putty in my hands. I didn't want her to worry for even a moment. I cupped her chin gently, turned it so that she could look at me and know the love that held her. She rewarded me with one of those precious smiles, and though she told me not to cry, she knew my tears were clean, that they washed away any doubts that whatever had changed was all right. Or at least, close enough.

People think sadness fills those "sensitive chats" (as Xena liked to refer to them) you have when you're about to die. OK, I suppose that's what I felt, too, those other times when one or the other -- or both -- of us were in that situation. Maybe that's true when there's guilt, fear, uncertainty or a lot of other unresolved emotions or expectations. But those last few minutes between Xena and me were the most wondrously fulfilling of my life. It was as if all the time and space, all the sustenance, all the hopes we ever wanted or needed was right there. We knew all the good we had done and that would be our legacy. We knew we had forged a bond between us enduring enough to resist everything in the universe that tears people apart. It really was like we were the world and all that mattered was that we made it together.

It's kinda funny how Xena always made me out to be the philosopher. How she indulged my need to search out all sorts of ways to find myself. But she is wiser in that way than people give her credit. Despite our differences, she said a long time ago that I was her light, her way. I'm glad I had the chance to convince her that she was mine, too. And I ended up being the one to protect us, to cradle her spirit when she could be a warrior in body no more. But when she said, shyly, that she wished she'd read my scrolls, I thought I'd already died and gone to the Elysian Fields. Gods, that woman can be so sweet sometimes! She'd battled demons and gods, toppled empires, leaped across oceans of trouble, yet what does she cherish most in our final hours? My words. My stories about who we were, what we did, what we meant to each other and our world. *My* version. Not what others said. Not even what she said. I accepted this honor with such profound gratitude and, yes, pride when I responded, "You would have liked them." And I believed her when she said, "I know."

I'm not one to put a lot of stock in destiny like Xena is. If you can't change things, see more than what seems obvious, love the unlovable, or have faith when all seems lost, then nothing is important to do. I believe in the impossible, and Xena does it. Well, close enough. But you know, even "nothing" has a positive side I hadn't recognized before. I used to berate myself for sitting around thinking of how to break the cycle of hate and violence - looking like "a bump on a log," as Amarice would probably describe it. It went against my grain to stand around watching people get hurt. Deep down, I still felt kinda useless with my experiments in "nonviolence," even when I had some success with my powder puff and ropes. But in our last and worst moments, I wasn't thinking about that. I believe I felt that emptiness of will or negativity, that nothingness that Lao Ma and Eli talked about achieving before being completely filled with love. I believe Xena felt it too. We even smiled as we watched each other die, each doing nothing but filling the other with the pure love that spilled over from ourselves. Eli wasn't kidding. It was the most powerful force I'd ever experienced.

When it all comes down to it, I guess I'd have to say I'm not so concerned anymore if simply loving is doing nothing. It sure as Hades got us to those crosses. It brought us so close that even then we managed to hold together as one. So close. At least enough for eternity.


Two -- Xena

So close. I came *this* close to kicking that vision's butt. I actually believed I could do it, too. Even if I couldn't, I had to try. Only this time, head-on, focused, confident in my way as a warrior. Not running away from it or making me do something stupid. Ugh! Like leaving Gabrielle in the hands of some whacko.

Gabrielle. She never really believed in Alti's vision. If she ever thought about it, she didn't let it cripple her like it came so close to doing to me. Hah! In one sense, did. That bard is so stubborn sometimes, bless her.

All the while I'm agonizing over how my way will get her killed - letting *myself * get beat up and nearly sliced to death in the process - she's basically telling me she doesn't care what it meant. That what will be will be. That we can make it mean whatever we want it to. That what counts is facing it together.

That was so hard for me to accept. Every time I saw the part of the vision where Gabrielle … where Gabrielle is … where they …. Let's just say I could see nothing good in the fact that I knew I was tied up there too. Or that there were Romans involved. And probably Caesar. I figured I didn't focus more on me because I was so concerned for Gabrielle, so certain that I would be the cause of it, so determined not to let it happen at all. Like it had to me. Besides, it was my job to get hurt, to face death. Well, that was all true, but not entirely so. Why *was* I lying there anyway? Helpless. Doing nothing and smiling for all the world like that was OK. What could have made me surrender so willingly, so peacefully to such a fate - not so much for me, but for Gabrielle? That was my real terror. I'm not sure my partner understood that, because I didn't either until my own chakram hit me in the back.

My spine. My backbone. My pride. Callisto always did know where to hurt me most. I felt my world snap as my legs gave out, bringing me to my knees, pushing my face into the dirt. I tasted again what it was like to be weak, vulnerable, useless. Nothing. Like on those crosses. Sent shivers up my spine. Or what was left of it. Only this time I thought it wasn't just about me. This time I cared about me because somebody else did. I was a promise to Gabrielle - what I could do for good, what I'd said I'd be for her. I had come so close. Eli and his followers were free. With any luck, Brutus was taking care of Caesar. But as I fell, all I saw was Gabrielle. My precious Gabrielle. What good was close, when everything came down to her having to shoulder *my* promise?

I would have kicked myself if I could. I'd let my ego and single mindedness betray me again. I was wrong when I said I hadn't left Gabrielle this time. I did, with Eli and Amarice. Of course they weren't whackos or untrustworthy like the others. It seemed like the right thing to do to honor both our ways. Still, I should've known better. Gabrielle did. She was wiser in that way than I gave her credit. She recognized what Ares and Caesar and Callisto - all those enemies of mine my arrogance convinced me I could keep from touching her - counted on. That no matter how far away Gabrielle and I might be from each other, we were still together. That it was easier to get to both of us if we were apart.

I fell to the earth drinking in the sight of the last person I wanted standing there. Close enough that I saw what I was feeling reflected on her face. The horror. The disbelief. The love. And, for a brief second, the helplessness. "This is it." Then her gaze shifted, a little above and behind me. I had sensed the danger, but didn't take it in until, once again, I saw myself in her eyes. Not the broken me lying on the ground, but the strong dark one I'd struggled with, relied upon all my life. I could see her helplessness turn into resolve. She'd made her choice, and it wasn't the one I'd have gladly given my life to protect. A chill went through my heart. I felt it breaking, just like my worthless spine.

Everything was changing, and there was nothing I could do to change it back. Oh, I struggled to rise when she pleaded with me to get up. I would have done anything she asked of me, especially then. But we both knew this was one time I wasn't going to do the impossible, no matter how much she wanted to believe it. So she chose to do it herself. To save me. To save us. However bad I imagined I would feel on that cross, it was nothing compared to my anguish now. "No!", I cried out, as blood spurted again and again from her dream of a nonviolent way. She'd come so close! A little of me died with every stab, every kick and punch, even though - especially because - I knew they were all for me. Me!

When I came to, I knew it was she holding me. I could sense her even when I was blind. But as much as I wanted to look at her, I was afraid. Afraid of what I might see in those eyes. I so loved that purity and faith, that belief in even me after all we'd been through, even though - with a little help from me - she'd been to Hades and back. I should've known better. "Gabrielle?", I whispered. She turned my head ever so gently so I could face her, kissed the worry from my brow, and the way she murmured, "Xena," was music to my ears. I sighed in such profound relief. From then on, it was really just the two of us. Naturally, I still had a little guilt to get out, but she washed it away in the tears I told her not to shed. She healed my wounded heart, straightened my spine with the words I cherished so and regretted not paying more attention to. She redefined my world. If she said she believed that what had changed was all right, then it was all right with me, too. Or close enough.

"Rest," she'd said. My eyes darted around a bit, the last sign of a body accustomed to being guarded, in control, doing something. Then I remembered that didn't matter anymore, even the fact that I couldn't move if I tried. For once I listened to her as if my life depended on it. I did as she asked. And you know what? For the first time, I knew real peace. I refused it when Ares and Callisto tried to tempt me. I always said I'd never achieve it, didn't deserve it, had little use for it anyway as a warrior. I turned the little I'd had with Lao Ma into another weapon. Not until now did I know what it really meant. It seemed so effortless, lying there with Gabrielle, empty of all my rage and will to harness it, doing nothing but filling myself with my partner's love, so full of love myself that it overflowed into her in turn. If this was what being vulnerable meant, if this was the surrender I saw in that vision, then I no longer feared the joy I'd seen on my face. And, finally, I understood why it beamed so often from hers.

All that promise? Gabrielle's right - I came close enough to rest now. With her wisdom, her courage and sacrifice, we'd kept the most important one: Staying together. Being together. So close all the forces in the universe couldn't pull us apart. So close I have to do nothing but keep on loving myself, as that will mean loving Gabrielle, too. I believe even I can be close. At least enough for eternity.

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