Before My Eyes
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
I wonder if Ill ever get over feeling responsible for Hope. That same day when my blood innocence died, was when the spark of her life took root within me. When you take a life, when you give birth to life, everything changes.
I was wrong about Hope and Xena was right, and I know she took no joy in that. The evil my child was about to unleash upon the world, the depths of the misery and suffering that would ensue, even now my mind can not begin to grasp the enormity of it all. And yet when Xena was poised to end it before it started, when Hope was still vulnerable, I would not let her. Later, her anger at my actions dissolved in the face of my despair, and she told me that she would gladly sacrifice her own life if it meant destroying Hopes.
I did not understand it myself, at first, but at last it became clear to me, and I knew it was a sacrifice I could never allow her to make.
I can see Xena before me now; I hear her call my name, just that, but there is so much more unspoken. The love, yes, as in all things between us, but I can see fear there too; hear it, in her voice. She is afraid of losing me, but this is my decision to make. It is my choice now, and I have made it, just as it was mine at the very beginning...
"Youve got to take me with you! Teach me everything you know. You cant leave me here!"
It was as if all of my life had been spent preparing, biding my time, waiting for that moment when I would truly begin to live. When I would finally find that place where I belonged. And when we were rescued from the slavers that afternoon, in the forest outside Poteidaia, I knew that day had come.
Of course, there were times when I missed my family; my parents, my sister Lila. I know thats only natural, it is the way of things. I carry the memories of them with me... I can see my mother standing by the hearth, I am barely waist high to her. The heat from the fire gives a not unpleasant flush to my chubby cheeks, and my mother warns me not to get too close to the flames. Shes showing me how to put just the right proportion of spices in the rabbit stew to make it the most savory meal this side of Athens. My stomach grumbles in anticipation, and just the scent of it makes my mouth water. How I look forward to seeing the smile on my fathers face when he comes home and samples it! I will recognize the look of love that passes between he and my mother, though I could not put a name on it then, and I will know what it is like to feel joy in my home.
My parents didnt exactly like the idea of my becoming a bard, but nor did they discourage it. I do believe I honed my skills on every single chicken and cow we ever owned. I loved being with the animals; talking to them, taking care of them, and though I told no-one for fear they would laugh, I secretly named every one.
In the early evening, after the chores were done and the evening meal finished, Id slip out to the barn and spin my tales to them. I can see them now, as I pace about on the straw floor; the goats and horses showing me interest only to the degree that I keep them well-supplied with sugary treats. The pigs were my toughest audience, and winning them over was always a challenge. I think it was my stories of Athena that finally did it.
I believe somehow my father must have known of my love for the animals, or perhaps my mother told him; regardless, I thought my heart would burst with gladness the day he brought Timpani home to us. He was my pony. I felt like such grown-up, riding through fields blanketed in sweet-smelling spring flowers, they softly waved a hello to us in the afternoon breezes. Such great adventures those rides were, although looking at them now I can see we barely ranged out of sight from our home. I didnt care. Timpani was mine and I loved him.
"Hes yours Gabby. Take care of him, now. He depends on you!"
And I did, with all my being, right up until the day he died.
"Its just what happens with the things that you love. Sometimes... they just leave you."
I hear myself saying those words to Xena about my pony, but we both know Im speaking of her. One of the greatest lessons I ever learned in my life, Xena taught me at a time when I thought Id pay the most terrible price for it. How many times since then have I replayed it in my mind... turning back that rough gray blanket, and seeing with my eyes what my heart could not accept - the deathly visage of a warrior I feared had left me forever. And I was angry, because it hadnt seemed to matter to her. It was the people of that village - helping them to vanquish an evil warlord - that mattered more.
"Its the greater good," she told me. "Remember that." And I always have.
There was another time when I thought Id lost Xena, forever. But somehow, whether it was the gods or the sheer force of Xenas will, she came back to me. I see her still form before me, lying on the cot in Niklios darkened hut. "Oh... do something! DO something!!" And as I hold her and plead with her, she does not feel the hot tears that fall from my face.
Mount Nestos. It was so cold there.
Our time together has not been easy, but the rewards have been well worth the journey.
Who would ever think Id become an Amazon Princess - there is my sister Lila, covering her mouth with her hands to stifle her laughter as I tell her! And I can see the thinly veiled pride in my Amazon sister Ephinys eyes, as she sees how proficient Ive become with the fighting staff she gave me.
My reputation as a bard has grown, and so have my skills at storytelling. I never let Xena forget that it was due to my way with words that I saved her life not long after wed met. Can you imagine - her own townspeople wanting to hurt her? And I remember all the friends I made at the Athens Academy of Performing Bards! Friends I hoped I would keep forever, even before I knew Id won the final competition. I can see their smiling faces - encouraging me, cheering me on. But I left the Academy, and returned to Xena. She was all the audience Id ever need.
"Well, I know this is gonna sound stupid, but I realized that while theyre telling adventures, you and I could be living them!" Some bard I was. I dared not put into words the real reason I left.
Life with Xena was never dull. Our days were filled with excitement and danger, as we traveled from town to town, fighting for justice and the greater good. I would never admit it to her, but I think it was the lazy, carefree days we spent that I enjoyed even more. Xena being Xena, those days were few and far between, but I treasure them all.
We are fishing or, rather, Im watching Xena fish. "Ill take salmon," I say, just to be difficult.
"Wrong kind of creek, wrong season, wrong--"
"Fine. How about eel?" After all, a warrior princess even on her day off needs a challenge. She got me my eel all right, in spades. Ugh!
Or days when wed simply stop and do nothing. Wed set up camp somewhere in a forest or by an inviting lake, and I would write and tell Xena stories, while she replenished her medicinal herbs or sharpened her sword. And we would talk. Those days she would say that Argo needed the rest, but I wonder. There she is, sitting by the evening fire she has built; the air is chilled, but I am warm. Our bellies are full from dinner, and I am tanned and tired from our day of comfortable ennui.
As the night descends, I am recording yet another one of our adventures in my scroll, and suddenly, I pause. I can feel her gaze upon me. I lift my head to her, knowing what I will see. Has there ever been a pair eyes more sapphire blue? Has there ever been a face more noble, or a heart more true? I put my scroll down. There will be no more writing tonight.
And now I do feel a shiver run through my body. It is because of the invitation she offers me, the feather-light touch of her fingers against my skin. I accept with a kiss, and her arms enfold me and pull me close. Before I know it, a raging fire has sparked deep within me, that only she can quench.
Tonight I am demanding, insistent. But Xena takes me to the precipice of satisfaction and then retreats; time and time again she teases me, a delicious torture that leaves me begging her for my release.
"Whats your hurry, my bard?" she says to me in a soft, low rumble. I see her hovering above me, the whiteness of her sly smile, the firelight glimmering off bronze skin peppered with the droplets of perspiration from her efforts. "We have all night!"
"We have forever," I tell her, and then the vision fades away.
Xena says that Ive shown her so much, that shes grown by being with me, and its true, I can see the changes in her. But I think those traits were always there, locked away deep inside her; they just had to be nurtured, coaxed into bloom. Make no mistake, Ive grown up too, in many ways. Not just in all the skills Ive learned, but in the way Ive learned to stand up for myself. Ive always spoken my mind and I think Xena appreciates that, even though sometimes it gets us into trouble.
No, what Im talking about is standing up to Xena.
She can be so overwhelming at times, and there is a side to her - the dark side, she says - that she always told me was there. A monster in her heart that she struggles to keep at bay. I remember the first time I saw it, when Ares tried to win her back, to lead his forces of evil.
"Kill them all!" she says, and my blood runs cold.
I fight against her in that village, willing to risk it all. "No! LOOK at me! Im standing up to a murderous warlord like I saw you do against Draco. But this time, the warlord is YOU!" I can feel the weight of the crude wooden crutch in my hands that Ive grabbed as a weapon. I can see my arms trembling, but I will not back down. I could not live with myself if I did. And later, when the fever has left her, I know Xena would not be able to live with it, either.
The darkness did not win that day.
There was another time when it was close. Too close. And the woman who had become my everything, suddenly unleashed the beast within her, so as to save our lives. Losing that noble part of herself shed regained was worth it, she said. I didnt think so.
I looked into the stranger in her eyes, and it frightened me.
"This is WAR! What did you expect? Glamour? There are no good choices, only lesser degrees of evil."
"There IS a choice... to stop fighting."
She was deaf to me then. The fighting did eventually stop, but not before more people senselessly died.
There were other times I felt the wrath of my warriors bloodlust, but I never thought she would harm me. Not really. I was wrong. And again, it was because of Hope - or at least in part. We were both hurting, and took cold satisfaction in seeing the other hurt as well. It wasnt until we both acknowledged that pain, and forgave one another, that we were able to begin the healing process. To move on. The land of Illusia. I never want to go there again.
I can see the times I hurt her. Funny how in the looking back, it all is so clear. I married Perdicus. I gave him my heart and my body, but withheld for another the passion he deserved. And I ended up wounding the two people I loved most. I see him now - Perdicus! How strong and brave you look, as on our wedding day. This is the memory of you I cherish!
For when Perdicus was taken from me by Callisto, I allowed my dark side to rage. I wanted to kill.
"Xena! Teach me. Teach me... teach me how to use a sword so at least I stand a fighting chance."
I am not willing to put my hatred aside. Unwilling to learn from the lessons Xena had shared with me. I can see too, the sorrow on Xenas face as we spar. The look which says that somehow, she has failed me.
"Teach me how to kill her, Xena!" I demand it of her and she at last gives in.
There are some lessons we never learn.
"You owe someone so much that you would just throw away these last few years?" I ask her the question, but my tone is flat. Im making a statement, for I already know the answer.
I can feel the chill of the unfamiliar landscape, see the steam of Argos breath, hear the incessant lap of the water against the wharf. My spirit, like the fish in the baskets outside the harbor-masters shack, is cold and dead. Xenas yes to that debt was a no to me - to us. My pride was bruised, my heart - crushed. How I wanted her to feel that pain too! And I got what I wanted, didnt I.
She is before me now, in that stultifying sewer that is the prison of Chin, bowed, but not broken. She impassively refuses to look at me, as I stumble through my apology. Great Zeus! Even as I hear my words tumbling out, they dont make sense, even to me. At last she slogs through the muck and stands in front of me.
"Scratch my nose, will ya?"
I dont know how she was ever able to forgive me, but she did.
We survived that, and more too, and we even made light of it at times, the harrowing daily existence that was our lives. I went to see a fortuneteller once, and just about scared the poor woman to death. Such gloom and doom she saw in my palm! A true litany of peril. Needless to say, I was enthralled. Xena was in a hurry to be on our way, so she came to retrieve me.
"Did you hear that? She just described every day of our lives!" I laughingly tell her, letting her know that I am aware of the risks, and accept them.
I will carry with me forever the image of the first face I saw, when she brought me back from death, in Thessaly. There she is now... so close I can almost touch her. I see the tears - why is she crying? My warrior who prides herself on restraining her emotions... she is stunned. Exhausted. Relieved. And the joy... I can feel it as she holds me. It chases away my fear. It was a close one, I can tell. She said it was my choice, but Im not so sure.
"How could I leave you? When we have so many wars to stop and despots to foil - youre gonna need my help!"
"I couldnt do it without you."
It was not my time to go. Not then.
She promised me she would never embrace the dark side of her soul again, if something happened to me, and I cling to that promise now. Otherwise, the sum of our life together will have been meaningless. I remember when we first talked about it. I can see her sitting alone by the fire and I walk over to her, and she tells me of Cirra. Of the wound inside herself she will not allow to heal.
I tell her... "Theres only one way to end the cycle of hatred, and its through love... and forgiveness!"
I know she feels she has not yet been able relinquish that part of herself capable of such rage. But I will not have it. I will not let her return to what she once was. She rebuffs me at first, trying to deflect my request: "Dont you go changing, Gabrielle. I like you just the way you are."
"No - no you promise me!"
And at last, I exact the vow from her: "I promise."
I hope she has the strength to keep it.
Ive heard it said that your life passes before your eyes when youre about to die, and now I know this to be true. I can hear Hopes screams - or are they my own? I cannot tell... wait... no - it is Hope.
For there is only one name on my lips, one face do I see before me, and it is hers.
Suddenly, my fall slams to a stop. I wait for the bone-shattering agony, steel myself for the searing heat of the flames, but I feel nothing. Somehow, blessedly, the sensation of the impact, that trail of feeling that should tell my brain to scream out in torment - has been disconnected. I can see it and I understand it all, yet I am pardoned from embracing it.
My world spins; I can see a kaleidoscope of images now, faster and faster they whirl, and I race to keep up. They are a part of me: the people, the places, the times of my life. I cherish it all, the good days and bad, the sorrow and the joy. There were aches and pains, and at times even hate, but mostly there was love...
"Now thats a sight for sore eyes!
"Dont you leave me!
"... you are the BEST thing that ever happened to me...
"Youre my best friend, my family... I love you, Gabrielle."
"I love you, Xena," I say, and I reach out to her. But the vision fades and blurs, until there is an absence of color, leaving only the light. I am looking at the essence of my life now, and it is that light, just as Xena always said it was. I belong here. It is so beautiful. I have no regrets. I have no fear. I am loved. Oh, such a love!
Comments are welcomed at: Belwah82@aol.com