The following is an impressionistic view of how Xena and Gabrielle responded to events portrayed in the episode MATERNAL INSTINCTS. Though written last, it is intended to precede two companion pieces - "So Close, So Far: Reflections on CRUSADER" and "So Close: Reflections on IDES OF MARCH."


By IseQween


February 2000

One: Xena

I had such hope when we got to the Centaur village. It felt wonderful to hold my son again, even though I couldn't allow myself to become too attached to him. As I told Kaliepus, I hadn't come to claim Solan. I simply wanted to help the Centaurs and Amazons forge a treaty that would ensure my child an even brighter future than he had already with his adopted family. Gabrielle was with me, closer than I thought we'd been since Brittania and Chin. I was wrong. What happened at the Centaur village was so far from anything I'd imagined in her, in myself, that I could scream again just thinking about it.

We'd been there only a short while when a chill went down my spine. The damage done to those totems and dead Centaurs seemed like Callisto's work, but it couldn't be. Gabrielle and I had watched my nemesis plunge along with Velesca into that lava pit. Then Gabrielle brought that child in to warn me about some bad lady who knew my little secret and would take it to the grave. My heart froze. It was Callisto, and somehow she knew about Solan. I wanted to ask the child what else she knew, but she'd already disappeared. I had a bad feeling about that, too.

Still, I had hope that we could protect Solan. I say "we" because, as far as he knew, he was motherless and I was just a good friend. I'd had to rely on the kindness of strangers to care for him as I couldn't. I restrained myself in the shadows when Kaliepus grabbed Solan and scolded him for being careless. I owed my son's life to that honorable Centaur and former enemy who'd agreed to raise Solan. So I asked his permission to talk to my child and tried to explain to Solan why Kaliepus - why we - seemed so overprotective. "When you are a parent and your child is in danger, that is one of the scariest feelings in all the world," I told him. I said it meant you loved that child very much.

It wasn't until Gabrielle and I first encountered Callisto, then discovered the dying Kaliepus, that I began to be truly afraid. Not only had Solan lost the one parent he'd ever known, but I knew Callisto had help. An enemy in our midst I couldn't identify. I felt so conflicted when Solan said that everyone who ever loved him had died and he asked, "Is it me?" No! I said emphatically and came so close to telling him who I was. But I still felt he was better off with the Centaurs. Then he said what every mother wants to hear -- that he preferred living with me, someone he knew and cared about. "Take me with you," he pleaded. "Don't leave me." I looked longingly at the child I had abandoned and decided to claim him as mine at last. I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I told him to get packed, that there was a lot for us to talk about on the road. I rushed off with renewed vigor to rid the village of Callisto, anticipating the moment I'd let my son know me as his mother.

Next thing I knew, Gabrielle was telling me that the child, "Fela," had brought another message from Callisto, saying the deranged demi-goddess meant to kill all the children. I couldn't quite understand why Gabrielle seemed so confident about this child, who seemed to come out of nowhere and have a special pipeline to the woman who meant to destroy us. I demanded to know what made Gabrielle think we could trust Fela. As usual, Gabrielle asked what made me think we couldn't. I'd always known we were different when it came to believing in people. I can't chance the possibility that someone will do harm. She can't chance the possibility that they might not. With my son's life hanging in the balance, there was no question what side I'd fall on this time.

I tried to reason with Gabrielle, to get her to see that, whether innocent or not, Fela might be an integral part of Callisto's plan. Suddenly my partner becomes more defensive and resentful than I've ever seen her. "That is not true," she yells at me. "You were always so quick to blame her. She is not evil. She is not!" I wonder what's gotten into her. Then it dawns on me. Hope. "The child is Hope?" I ask in disbelief and cold horror, knowing the answer, even though that demon, too, is supposed to be dead.

I hear Gabrielle saying something about lying, about how my being a mother should help me understand why she had to save Hope. I *am* a mother. And a warrior. Whatever Gabrielle wants me to hear doesn't matter nearly as much as my focusing on some way to stop the monster my rage and Gabrielle's innocence spawned. Which I'd helped bring into the world and at first protected. Which Gabrielle had named "Hope" because I'd told her she would have hope again.

Hope's young, I consider out loud to myself; maybe it's not too late. Poison might still kill her. "Poison?!!!" my partner screams. "Xena, she is my child!" Gods! Hasn't Gabrielle been paying any attention at all? "She is *not* a child!" I remind her for what seems like the umpteenth time. "She is a body, a vessel for evil. That is *all*!" I realize now how much I took Gabrielle for granted - her word, her loyalty, her commonsense and respect for my judgment. It never occurred to me that she would continue to carry such strong faith and feelings for Hope. Now my shortsightedness had come back to prey on me. This woman before me wasn't my partner anymore. She was a lioness protecting the cub I meant to kill.

"You are wrong!" she spits at me again. "Hope is the victim in all this!" She glares at me as though I am the heartless hunter, which I guess I am. And then she nearly fells me with words that pierce my heart - that she'd sent Hope to Kaliepus' hut to be safe from Callisto, exactly as I had done with Solan. I feel sick. I want to scream at her for risking my son's life on the chance that Hope was good after all, but I can't dwell on that now. I tear out to Kaliepus' hut, carrying with me the thought that Gabrielle and I could never be farther apart than we were then. Oh, was I wrong. Again.

I'd seen Lyceus fall mortally wounded. Watched Marcus die twice, once by my own hand. Felt Gabrielle's heart stop beating, until I breathed and pounded the life back into her. But nothing I'd witnessed in my gore-filled life, no one I ever loved and lost had hardened my mother's heart against the emotions tearing around inside me at the sight of my son slumped against that altar. "Solan?" I call softly, still clinging to my hope, even as I pull his limp body into my arms and check futilely for signs of life.

I hear her at the door, intruding upon this precious moment when Solan is the only person I want near me. "Get out," I say, trying to control myself and this moment. She calls me again. This time I snarl, "Go!" to the friend I'd kept so close to my heart, who abandoned me when I needed her most and now dares to be with me when she is the last person I want to see. She leaves me in my grief.

I turn back to Solan, begging him to stay with me as we both wished he could. I caress him, hug him, finally tell him his mother is here after all. But I am too little, too late. Words fail, tears fall uselessly. Something primal in me uncoils, forces my mouth open and tears out screaming what sounds like "no" over and over again. When it's all out, it seems to have taken my insides with it. I am raw. As though someone took a butcher knife to my heart, cleaved my soul apart and stole the half that was everything I'd come to believe in. I'd let myself chance bright possibilities, only to have them scraped away by the very hand that had opened me to them. What's left are the lifeless bodies I rock as if they are merely asleep.

Ephiny knocks and sticks her head in. I tell her to go away too. She says they need my help. As though Amazons and Centaurs mean anything to me now. She persists. "I said, get--" I start to yell, then realize it is her son Xenon standing there, frightened by what he sees. He is only a child, like the one I hold, except he still has a chance. I gave him his first one, you know, when I had to cut him from his mother's womb. I gently lay down the child of my own womb, the one I couldn't help, who no longer needs me. I shroud him and what might have been. I assume my mantle as a warrior to face what is. I discover I am not as empty as I thought. The darkness remains. And the rage. I let them fill the space recently inhabited by the other half of my soul. I forge them into a shield and weapon to save someone else's child, as I avenge the death of my own.

I lead the attack against Callisto, impervious to the words she believes will make me suffer more than I already have or weaker than when I held my son's corpse. She is so far from hurting me - just a thing, like Hope, that must be destroyed. I follow her into the cave where she has seen the children go to hide. I tell her that it all ends here with me. She thinks I will let it go because she's discovered my pain wasn't worth to her what she'd thought it would be. "It's not that simple," I answer. "I won't let it be." I put everything I was and am into knocking her into the oblivion she doesn't deserve. She throws her bolts at me, which I dodge, and they crumple the pillars supporting the stone above us. I smile that smile. I will use her own powers to defeat her. She says I plan to trap us both. Maybe at one point she is right. But once I have her pinned beneath me, I tell her that, unlike her, I intend to go on living with my pain. I escape.

Ephiny and the children are outside, safe. She nods her thanks. I give her a small smile in return, of apology and acknowledgement. There's just one more loose end I must tie. I find Gabrielle and see that she has tied it herself. She looks at me, perhaps expecting something. An apology maybe, or an acknowledgement. Why? Because she finally did what should have been done a long time ago, regardless of how it came to be or who had to do it? Before it was too little and far too late? I leave her alone with her kill.

I stand in front of Solan's and Kaliepus' funeral pyres, seeing my soul go up in smoke. I am alone, though I know Gabrielle is there too, a short distance away. The small rivulet of water running through the mud between us might as well be an ocean. She tries to tell me she is sorry, but she's gone too far. I don't want to hear anyway. She's too good with words. She taught me the meaning of so many nice words, only to make a lie of them.

I know she didn't mean for Solan to die. I know that believing in Hope came as naturally to her as doubting Hope came to me. I know the difficulty of trying to serve two masters. I know all about guilt and being sorry. About lies. You'd think I'd be more understanding. But I also know that none of that is good enough to bring back the dead. How can I forgive her role in all this when it would also mean facing my own? It would be too much. All I have left is the bitterness and rage I started with. If I let that go, where else will I get the courage I need to go on living, to be less of a coward than Callisto?

I dismiss Gabrielle from my life with words of cruel recrimination. She says, "I love you, Xena" in return. I am gratified that she at least still has such words, whether she believes in them or not. I may not be the good person we tried to make of me, but I am human. She walks away. I feel the absence I told myself was there when I learned she betrayed me. I knew losing my child that way would be hard to overcome, but somehow I didn't realize until then what it would be like to lose her too.

Tears stream down my face. My lips tremble and part as though something else wants to come out. Maybe a whispered echo of her parting words. But I am afraid. Afraid of her, of myself, and no longer confident that I can do the impossible. She's gotten too far away. I am too raw to scream again. I cover my mouth and walk in the opposite direction. As far from that smoke, from her, from those blackened possibilities as I can get. So far maybe I won't ever have to worry anymore whether we should bring ourselves back together again.

Two: Gabrielle

I don't think I'll ever forget her scream. It broke my heart. Rent my soul in two and shredded the half that was me. Gods forgive me, as much as I hated to hear that scream, I envied it too. All I had was silence. Smothering, deafening silence. No comforting words, no dirges, not even recognition that something I had lost might be worth crying over. You don't think I wanted to scream too? To let out the awful pain and guilt from what I had caused? The shame that I couldn't protect my child from herself and her own mother? The horror that everything I had ever worked for was now so far from what I had ever imagined?

I envied Xena the child she could - despite everything - take for granted. His goodness, his happiness in a loving home, this chance she had to touch him, play with him, safeguard his security. And yet, when we entered the Centaur village, she focused on the treaty, as though the opportunity to be reunited with Solan was secondary. Maybe it was to her, but not to me. I loved him for himself - because and in spite of the fact that he reminded me of my own child. The one nobody knew about, except my best friend. Who'd helped bring my daughter into existence, even protected her at first, then tried to kill her and hasn't spoken of her since.

My heart twisted when Solan dropped from the trees into Xena's arms. It twisted again when Kaliepus said that the children had been invited because the treaty would mean a legacy of peace and hope. Hope. That's what I'd named my child. It all came crashing down on me when I ran into Ephiny, who at least noticed my pain when I saw her with Solan and her son Xenon. He was named in honor of the hero who had saved him as she had so many other children, except mine. I confessed to Ephiny that I had gotten into a bad situation in Brittania, that I had given birth to a child. I didn't say that the father was evil incarnate or that I'd set my daughter adrift in a river to avoid Xena's sword. I simply lied and said the child had died. "Don't blame yourself for her death," Ephiny said, assuming my daughter had passed over in her sleep. Another twist in my heart.

I felt some joy when I told Ephiny that I named my daughter Hope because I'd wanted to believe that, despite everything, this child would be worth it. At the time, I still believed that. I smiled when I saw Xenon's toy, recalling that Xena had given me a similar wooden lamb as a Solstice gift, and that I had given it to Hope. It felt good to share that moment of remembrance and normalcy with Ephiny, as though I too were one of the parents there to ensure a better life for our children. Perhaps that's why it didn't seem so strange to have that frightened child, "Fela," sneak into my room, why I needed to reassure her that I wouldn't hurt her or let anyone else hurt her either. Maybe I was thinking I could protect her as I couldn't my own daughter.

I took Fela to Xena so that my partner could hear what the girl knew. The message she brought was that the "bad lady" knew Xena's little secret and was going to take it to the grave. Xena and I both shuddered when she realized immediately that Callisto had somehow returned and knew about Solan. I was even more convinced that I should keep Fela close, but she had disappeared. It wasn't until I bumped into her later that I realized how right I was. She dropped a wooden lamb that she said she carried with her when she'd been found as an infant floating in a basket. I was stunned. I couldn't believe my prayers had been answered. I had a mission to complete with Xena, so I told the girl to wait in my quarters where I'd know she was safe. "I don't know why you'd care," she said bitterly. I cradled her for the first time since she was a baby, anticipating the moment she'd know her mother's love.

I rushed off to be a decoy for Callisto while Solan was being hidden away. My heart chilled when I heard her tell Xena she'd come to meet the precious flesh of Xena's flesh, bone of her bone, blood of her blood. I didn't like the smug way Callisto said she couldn't be in two places at once. Neither did Xena, who already suspected that someone was helping Callisto. When we found Kaliepus mortally wounded, I had to wonder if maybe I should pay more attention to that seed of doubt my partner had tried to plant in my heart about Hope. Now I rushed off to find my own child, disturbed for a couple of reasons that she wasn't in my quarters where she was supposed to be.

When Hope finally came in, distraught, she said Callisto was forcing her to use this mysterious "power" she had to move things. Despite my concerns about this, I embraced her anyway. And when she sobbed that Callisto had accused her of being evil, I said that was a lie, that she was *not* evil. I put my hand under her chin, raised it so she could see a mother's confidence in my eyes when I told her to never believe that. "My mother thought so," she cried. "She tried to drown me. She wanted me dead." Gods, this was not how I wanted her to know me. I told her I had no choice, that it was either the basket or watch her be killed. "I loved you," I said, hoping she'd someday understand that leaving or hurting Xena was also not a choice I could have made.

"You loved me?" she said in wonder, smiling through her tears. Yes, I said, pulling her to me, so relieved I could tell her at last how much I'd wanted her to survive. She admitted it was she who had freed Callisto and warned that Callisto intended to kill all the children. She was afraid of Callisto and even more afraid of my telling Xena. She said Xena hated her. No, I assured her, neglecting to mention that Xena thought her dead. "Xena just doesn't understand. Now she will see what I've known all along - that you can fight your dark side." Like Xena. I said I would take her to the safest place there was. "The safest place?" she asked. I studied her a moment, wanting desperately to see that I was right. "I promise," I told her. Now both our children would be safe.

It was when I told Xena of Callisto's new threat that I realized the depth of my partner's fear. "What makes you think we can trust this child?" she demanded. "What makes you think that we can't?" I responded angrily. There. That was the crux of our difference. Each of us had to believe as we did to be who we were. Xena could imagine this child as a pawn or worse. But this time I knew who the child was and Xena didn't. "That is not true!" I shouted. "You were always so quick to blame her. She is not evil. She is not!" It dawned on Xena that we were talking about my daughter. Hope.

I thought maybe now Xena would understand. I apologized for lying, appealed to her own instincts as a mother to appreciate why I had to save Hope, practically begged her to hear the silent scream I'd been holding all this time. She wasn't listening now either. Too busy devising ways to kill my daughter. "She's still young," Xena was saying to herself; maybe it wasn't too late and poison would do the trick. Poison?!!! Did she have any idea what she was saying or who I was? "Xena, she is my child!" I finally screamed. But all Xena saw - all she would ever see - was a thing, "a vessel for evil." "You're wrong," I repeated and told her that Hope was the victim in all this, that I'd sent her to Kaliepus' hut to be safe. The look Xena gave me as she tore out to find Hope said we could never be farther apart than we were then. I was wrong.

Gods, please don't let me be wrong about Hope, I prayed as I reached the hut moments later, only to see Xena cradling Solan, caressing his lifeless fingers. No, not this. It can't be. I call to her, torn between my own emotions and the desire to comfort her. I sense her walling herself in. She can barely speak to me, let alone look at me. "Get out," she says in a controlled voice. I try again. "Go!" she snarls. I feel sick. I leave her alone in her grief. Then I hear her scream. It is the sound of a wounded animal, but filled with human consciousness of regret, guilt and betrayal. I could scream like that too, except I don't have the right. Her innocent child is dead. My child, the presumed murderer, wasn't. Yet.

I knew what I had to do and how to do it. I suppose I should thank Xena for that. It's hard enough plotting to murder your offspring, without having to worry about motive or method. I wish I could claim I'd lost touch with reality, but I'm afraid the opposite is more true. I am calm, deliberate as I prepare the poison for Hope, just as my partner had suggested. My daughter comes running to me, saying she is frightened. I hold her as I would a leper, but she is still mine, so I dutifully stroke her hair and ask what she has done, like any mother who suspects her child of some great crime. I hear her say what any mother in that situation would want to hear - that it was a case of mistaken identity. The boy was already dead when Hope found him! Of course! Callisto killed him!

I pull her head to my chest, wanting so much to believe her. I think I do. Then she slips and refers to the dead child as "Solan." Even in my grief and joy, I feel that seed of doubt take root. It stills the hand stroking her hair. I ask how she knows the boy's name. She says I told her. I know it is a lie. I cling to my Hope a little longer, knowing she is about to die. Partly it's to fool her, partly it's because she'll take with her that innocent part of me I'd hoped to bequeath her. I had claimed both as my responsibility, and this seems the last chance I'll have to hold onto either of them.

When it is done, I caress her lifeless fingers and lift the poison to my own lips. My reverence for life had already cost three lives - four, if you count Perdicus. What was one more? I was empty of all that mattered to me. Except maybe seeing Xena again. I'd almost gotten her killed in Chin, if losing Solan this way didn't finish the job. Still, she's lived with her pain all these years. I could at least try to do the same. I pour the poison onto the ground. I hear someone. It's Xena. She sees what I have done, but the cold, unforgiving set to her face tells me I was too little, too late. I look away. I don't know what I expected. She leaves me alone with my kill.

I stand in front of Solan's and Kaliepus' funeral pyres, seeing my best friend, her child, my child, my hope all go up in smoke with only a tearing of the eyes to mark their passing. I doubt that anyone outside of Xena and myself knows the whole truth. But we don't console each other. We are beside and only a short distance from one another as usual, yet the small rivulet of water running through the mud between us might as well be an ocean. She has yet to even acknowledge my presence, let alone my pain. I face her again, this time saying out loud that I'm sorry I didn't listen to her, that these fires would not be burning if I had. She condemns me with hostility and finality that surprise me. I knew losing our children would be hard to overcome, but somehow I had not until this moment accepted that we could also lose each other.

It's ironic the motherhood we shared couldn't bring us closer together. We both conceived children we didn't plan and who turned out different than we would have thought, whom we couldn't claim or protect, whose greatest enemy proved to be the one person we trusted most. I suppose that's not the kind of bond you'd want to share. Certainly I couldn't honor her need to wipe out the possibility of evil when it came to her child, and she can't forgive me my need to believe in the possibility of good when it came to mine. Hope didn't create that schism between us. She simply let our different ways of loving our own child blind us to the point where Xena and I just fell in.

I gaze at her even after she has wordlessly dismissed me, partly because I hope this isn't the end, partly because this may be my last chance to see her. To tell her I love her, which I do. She says nothing, and I see now that I no longer exist for her. But words have always been important to me. I helped teach this woman of action the meaning of love, of trust and faith. I walk away from her gratified that she can at least grieve as a warrior, able to avenge and express her pain in her own way, using it to save the other children. She has her anger and honor to keep her going. I know I'm not a bad person, but I am human. I envy her for still having what she did when we first met. Me? I feel stripped of who I was, of what I taught her and then made into a lie.

For the first time since I can remember, I am afraid. Afraid of her, of believing in the impossible, afraid to run back and throw my arms around her and persuade her that love is enough. I meant the last words I spoke to her. I guess I do still have those. Words. I'd rather be like her and scream, except there's no body of mine to mourn, just the shell of a bad thing hidden away somewhere with an unfortunate piece of me inside. What right do I have to scream -- to memorialize a loss best forgotten, to release the anguish I brought down upon us, to convince myself I am still worth living even though I'm no longer sure that's true? I am so far from that now, from her, from myself, and getting farther away with each step. So far I'm afraid it won't matter anymore if we can't bring ourselves back together again.



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