Disclaimers: all characters belong to universal/MCA and have simply been temporarily conscripted by my keyboard for this story.
By: Amy J. Putnam
I know now that she is stone. I know that there is something deep in her core which is virtually impenetrable, certainly by me, and for her as well, I suspect.
When I started getting to know her, I had no idea what I was constantly butting up against. It was inconceivable to me, still is in some ways, that she could hold some things so tightly that it was like hitting a wall. Xena certainly wouldn't put words on it. Even in those bare, glimmering moments when those walls are not so tightly guarded, there are still places she simply will not go with me, subjects she will not discuss.
The first times I tried to get inside, over our first year or so travelling together, she simply ignored my attempts. She refused to talk about her past, about the years between Cortese's attack on Amphipolis and her fateful encounter with Hercules. A snippet might come through here and there when it related to some plan she was hatching, or something that happened on the road, but she'd always fall silent when I pressed her for more. If I tried to touch her, a hand on her shoulder or arm around her waist, I'd feel the briefest of shudders, fleeting and barely perceptible, and then a stiffness tempered only by the heat of her skin.
It was when we first met Callisto that something finally gave. Xena had been trying stubbornly to undertake her redemption without any help. She seemed to barely listen to me when I gave her encouragement, apparently certain that mine were only hollow, mortal words which would have no meaning when she faced Hades after her death. I felt at times that I was just along to bear witness to her attempt at salvation. I used to take it personally. I mean, while she stopped threatening to send me home after I had dogged her steps for a while, she was also not exactly the warmest, most inviting person. I never really knew if she listened to me, or just put up with my words as nothing more than sounds filling up the space she created around her with her silences. It took me a long while to completely understand what made me stick it out, to keep on her heels.
Then, Callisto. I had been with Xena long enough at this point to see that this whole encounter shook her from the start. First, it was the villager at the tavern who wanted Xena's head, certain that she was the one who had killed his little boy. Next, there were the tales along the road of other villages that Xena and "her" army had ruthlessly, recklessly, sacked. Finally, there was meeting Callisto face to face. Xena came up against all of her contradictions-the ruthless past that she was trying to supplant with a newfound benevolence, still uncomfortable in its newness. Callisto was more than the demons which tortured Xena's dreams. She was a flesh and blood reminder, a remainder, of all of the malevolence in her past.
That night at our campfire, I had my first real glimpse at what I have come to know as Xena's stone. It was black as night on a new moon, but gleamed, almost as if reflecting the light of the campfire. A dark, shiny surface, but hard, like a piece of obsidian. Yes, just like obsidian. Something that was once tumultuous, beyond hot, and always bubbling just below the surface, only a minor tremor away from explosion. Somehow Xena had controlled it, just as she controls every aspect of her existence. She stilled the molten, intense energy, and in it, she had encapsulated every thing that was too much for her to deal with on the surface.
For a brief moment that night, she allowed me to touch it. Well, I don't know if she allowed me touch it as much as the walls were simply down and I stepped inside. She knew they were down, and still she let me in, though she seemed afraid of how I would respond, what would happen when I touched it. When I didn't recoil, didn't pull back from what what was there, a very few tears escaped and rolled down her face. I don't think she had even cried at Marcus' funeral. There was no longer a well of lava inside her. The stone I found was, in a way, smoothly cool to the touch. Obsidian. The whole moment was over very quickly, of course, as Xena never loses control for long. But it was enough. It was a start. I began to understand the presence of the stone inside her. It was hard to watch her deal with Callisto, and I know she could hardly even feel the satisfaction of knowing that she defeated Callisto. The guilt of having created her was too heavy. But as hard as it was, I think this was a key moment marking Xena's real evolution toward a stronger, better future.
Now, don't get me wrong. I had not been travelling with an iceberg all this time. Our friendship had definitely been deepening all along, and I'd certainly borne the brunt of her sometimes wicked sense of humor more than once. But I always knew that I was getting only the surface of Xena, only a hint of the whole person.
I've seen changes happening every day. Xena doesn't believe me when I try to point them out. I think she either doesn't see them or thinks that they are negligible in the face of what her past holds. What she doesn't seem to realize is that everything she does now, no matter how small, marks change. I remind her of this with stories like the halter she bought for the blind mystic, but she brushes it off. I think, at times, that the stone inside her must weigh more than Mount Olympus.
The growth in our relationship has been the biggest change for me. With her in my life, I have gone from being a naive girl from Potideia to a slightly less naive woman who lives on the road and picked up Amazon royalty rights along the way. We really have both grown along side each other, it would seem. When we are alone, it's like I am with a totally different person now than at our start together. There is a private Xena, and a public Xena. Before, there was only one Xena. I am glad for this change. She used to be always, unflinchingly and without pause, on her guard, and was as stoic as a statue of Hera. Slowly, I could tell she had begun to relax.
For a while, anyway. Until I married Perdicas.
It felt like the right thing for me to do at the time. But I can see now that I respected Perdicas more than I really loved him. There was something about how he stood up to his warring life and simply walked away from it all. The stakes were different for him, of course. He certainly took his share of lives along the way, but in war, that unfortunately happens. Unlike Xena, he never took a village just because it was there. He never killed just to feel blood on his hands. Gods, it sounds like I'm condemning Xena. Maybe at the time, part of me was. I am glad that I never knew that part of her, and it still overwhelms my mind to try to comprehend how she could have done all that she did. Maybe because Perdicas' "redemption" seemed easier and took less for me to support, I was drawn to it. And I think we would have been happy for a while. But he was, at heart, still a farmer from Potideia and I had become a woman of the road. I was devastated when Callisto killed him, but I realize now that this was more because he was just another innocent who died needlessly.
Looking back, I think that my first inklings of my feelings for Xena happened right after the wedding ceremony with Perdicas, ironically enough. In the moment she took to say good bye-and despite her protestations otherwise, it was good bye because I knew, sadly, that Xena would never face missing me and come visit-I felt a connection between us that I never had before. Maybe it was because I had never before allowed myself. When she bent down to kiss and hug me, I didn't want to let go. I could feel hurt in her and I only wanted to soothe that hurt. Just as when I nearly died in the temple, she wouldn't let on how much she was affected by it. I could not grasp, then, the loss she felt, and she still won't talk about either event. She says now that those feelings are irrelevant because those seemingly irreversible ends had been averted.
After Perdicas died, Xena just stayed beside me. I think that was more because she didn't really know what to do, having only felt grief like that when her brother, Lyceus, died, and then closing herself off from then on. At least that's what she tells me now. Even Marcus' death barely registered as a blip before she kept going on just as she had before. But since then, as we have grown steadily closer, I really feel she is just learning now how to be truly close to, and open with, another person. In my grief over Perdicas, when I was not completely engulfed in my anger and hatred for Callisto, I was just numb. I was actually surprised when she simply let me "go home" while we were outside Callisto's lair. She seemed so unsure about how to help me that she just let me go. She couldn't engage that warrior's mind to figure out what I was really up to. And I was certain that I had it in me to kill Callisto, to make her pay for killing Perdicas.
But as I held the sword up to Callisto's throat, that haunting prayer that I had overheard Xena saying came flooding into my head. It was the most tender moment of hers that I had ever witnessed. I realized it was about us. Me and Xena. And that suddenly mattered to me more than anyone's blood. Xena had been exactly what I needed, when I needed it, and I could not violate that by taking Callisto's life, by perpetuating the violence that Xena herself had started so long ago. It started with her, and I knew it had to end with me.
Though our closeness grew much more intense after that, it remained unspoken by both of us. I knew she felt something. And I knew it confused her. That core locked inside was supposed to prevent her from feeling like that for anyone again. She had lost her brother, who had been just about her entire world, and she never wanted to risk that deep a loss again. On the night she told me this, on the night when we finally spoke of the rising tension, the increasing desire between us, I felt ambushed by emotion. Despite the intensity of my feelings, I was afraid and maybe unable to reckon with the reality. I loved Xena, more than I had ever loved anyone before. I was desperately afraid that she would reject this, ignore and repel the feelings. If she had, I knew I would not have been able to keep travelling with her. My emotions had been simmering, reaching a point where they either had to be shared with the one I had come to deeply love, or be lost forever, along with a piece of my own soul.
I had made my own stone. Losing Perdicas and witnessing the pure evil that Callisto embodied, I created my own place where I could lock away those emotions, those desires. Only, my stone was not so strong. It had not endured as Xena's had, and all it took to melt me was her word, her touch-the demonstration of her love....love for me. When Xena died, part of me died with her. I had lost the chance to tell her what she truly meant to me. When I told Iolaus that I had missed my chance to tell Xena that I loved her, he didn't understand the depths of what I truly meant. I had no way to convey that to him. And I didn't want to. That was between Xena and me. I didn't think anyone else could understand. But once at the Amazon village, when I could see the other pairings of women, I felt less alone. I still screamed inside with pain, but if I had to, when I was ready, I could find people to talk to who could truly understand my loss. It was then that I realized that I never really loved Perdicas, especially not when I compared it to what I felt for Xena.
When I saw her in the dreamscape, I was ambushed by my feelings all over again. Before I could let them go and tell Xena all that I felt, she stopped me. It was a good thing because I know I would have taken up all of her time remaining to tell her how I felt. I barely remember any of the events afterwards, when we got the ambrosia and brought Xena back, or when we fought and escaped both Velasca and Callisto. It remains a dim and hazy blur.
But that first day after, that I remember with vivid clarity. We hadn't travelled far away from the lava pit before we just collapsed into each other's arms. For the first time, I understood the value of Xena's silence, the ability to be emotional, unexpectedly expressive, without a word ever being said. Her walls were completely down. Not gone, but down. The stone was still there.
She took me for the first time. She touched me all over with her fingertips, then her hands, and then her mouth. I was naked before I knew it, though she still wore her leathers. She would not let me take them off, and made sure to distract me so that I forgot all about the effort. When I came to my senses a good while later, I could have cared less what she was wearing. I never even noticed that she never let me pleasure her. The smile on her face, the peaceful sound of her sighs as we lay wrapped in each other's arms...I knew she had found pleasure. She certainly had given it to me. I fervently hoped that we never be parted willingly, and prayed that to any god who would listen.
It was several months later before I could divest her of her leathers. She always insisted that pleasuring me was all she needed, but I persisted. I think she finally relented just so I would not keep pressing the issue. When we were first naked together as lovers, both of us completely naked, I had to reign in my senses so I could keep control and be there for Xena. I wanted to enjoy these new sensations with her, but I knew I had to be cautious and make the most of this first chance to prove that I wanted her as intensely as she had shown me time and again that she wanted me. I would not allow her to let this be my only chance, but I knew that it was not going to be easy.
When my hands roamed her body, slowly and lightly, I again felt that stiffening I remembered from so long ago. I knew that talking would draw attention to her discomfort, so I kept silent. I kissed her and nuzzled her neck. I paid very close attention to the shivers of her body. She let me go as far as finding the wetness between her legs before she would not let me continue. One tear fell from her eyes. I didn't try further that night. I wanted very desperately to win her trust, and I knew that would take time. She had been hurt in many ways over the years, and I could only wonder about what caused her to be so nervous when I was intimate with her. Part of me wanted to know, and part of me only wanted to help her heal, mindless of the reasons.
That was many months ago. She still won't let me give to her all of the wonders of physical bliss that she gives to me, so often and seemingly so easily. Sleeping together, we are never not touching in some way. The demons in her dreams come less frequently, but when they do visit, she will let me hold her now while she endures the quakes that wrack her body as they pass through again. I will continue to do whatever I can, at whatever pace she sets for us, to earn her deepest trust. We both know that we have each other's love. We both now realize how essential we are to each other.
The stone is still there. The walls are less guarded now, and she lets me in a bit more readily, but it is still there. I respect it more. I recognize the strength and energy it takes for her to keep control over that stone. I've seen the power of the demons that chase her, and I do not wish for her to deal with them in any way but how she alone dictates. The stories of her deepest, darkest fears and memories remained locked away, though she knows I will always be here to listen. And I know the stone has changed. It is no longer the dark, opaque night of obsidian. It is evolving, now more like a smoky quartz. Darkness still pervades it, but light is coming through where none was before. I know that Xena is still not convinced that she will ever overcome the evil of her past, but at least I can make sure she is not alone as she travels the way.
(c) 1997 Amy J. Putnam
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