THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.18 -- Taking Risks
(during "The Prodigal")
G: “I can’t endanger you. Don’t you see that? I’m just a liability.”
X: “It’s a risk I think I can take.”
She left me again, and this time I don't understand why. It was one thing for her to want to go to the Academy. It was part of a dream. But going back to Potadeia -- it's the place she wanted so badly to get away from. Sounded like it was more of a nightmare than a dream. I can only conclude that life with me was even worse than life in Potadeia.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Life with me sure hasn't been a picnic, and it doesn't seem to be helping in her quest to become a bard. Sure, she tells stories in the taverns we visit, and makes a few dinars while she's at it. And she's always so proud to share those with me. She told me it made her feel like she was contributing something to our partnership.
If she only knew.
The little girl from Potadeia is quickly becoming a woman, and much as she may have needed me to protect her from time to time, and to teach her how to survive in the wild, I'm the one that needs her more, when all is said and done.
It's tough to describe exactly how I need her. I can cook if I have to. And bargain for deals on a room or in the marketplace. I don't need her for all those things, although it's nice to have her around to do those things.
She is my light. For every time I think I can't go on, and for every time the past haunts my dreams, Hades, for every time the past haunts my waking hours, she's there beside me. She cannot begin to fathom the darkness in my soul, nor all the ways she helps to heal me.
But somehow she always knows what to say, or do. She's there, with a cup of tea, or a hug, or some funny observation about something, and she always manages to make me smile. Her smiles warm me in the deepest and darkest parts of my heart. I'd give a million dinars to have her here right now, playing that silly pan flute and talking about moving mountains with it.
She can move mountains. She moves me.
Perhaps the greatest gift she's given me is acceptance. Here was this person who cared for me, despite all the ugliness in my life. This person who has never judged me. And I want to believe she loves me. It feels like she does, and I see it in her eyes, even if it isn't the same kind of love I share for her. Being a sort of big sister or a best friend was good enough. More than I could ever have dared hope for. It was nice to think that in all the world, and for all I've done, there was still one person who might need me.
Guess I was wrong.
What do I really have to give to her? She's right, you know. Since meeting me, she almost got eaten by a Cyclops, betrothed to Morpheus, smashed by a Titan, and nearly fell into an abyss. Great story fodder, but tough to tell stories when you're constantly running for your life.
So, I saved her from the slave traders and taught her how to survive on her own. Maybe that's all I was ever meant to give her. It's obvious when she's feeling most unsure of herself, she can't come to me to talk about it. She had to go home for that, to a family that hasn't bothered to come looking for her since the day she left, as far as we know. Guess I know where I fall in the lineup. After all we've been through together, maybe there's nothing more I can give.
I want to give her so much more.
I don't know what to do with all these feelings. Feeling like this has caused entire villages to burn and fall, and men to hang on crosses. In the past when someone hurt me, others paid the price. I can't do that this time. All I can do is sit here and feel, and I can't find a way to make it stop hurting. It's not a betrayal, but it hurts as much as anything I've ever felt. It hurts more than Caesar, more than losing M'Lila. Even more than giving up my son.
I never let any of them get inside of me like she has. My mistake. But probably best for her to leave now. People who get too close to me have a way of dying. Borias came back for me, and look what happened to him. All of Valhalla was changed for the worse because a god was blind enough to fall for me.
She can't know about those things. I suspect she would've left me anyway, had she ever found out about any of them. With what little she does know, I would think she would find me repulsive. But each time she found out something new, she just came back with more of that acceptance. I've seen no judgment in her eyes.
I'd come to count on her. Bit by little bit, she was putting the shattered pieces of my soul back together. And that was so unfair to her. No one should be responsible for something that impossible to do. Yet she was doing a very good job of it.
I'd started to actually sleep without nightmares. I'd begun to see all the little things around us because she pointed them out. And I was foolish enough to fall in love with her.
I always did choose impossible relationships.
I don't know what to do next, or where to go from here. The only place I really want to go is Potadeia. Maybe if I can talk to her, make her understand that I don't mind taking care of her, or protecting her. I don't mind anything, as long as she will stay with me.
What am I going to do? Beg? I can't do that. She wouldn't understand why. But talking. That's something she understands, even if I'm not so good at it. I've got to get to her, before her father marries her off to someone.
I used to think that was what was best for her. But she's meant for things much greater than being a shepherd's wife. Even if she's not meant to be with me, being with me will get her closer to the great things she deserves, than running back to Potadeia. If she changes her mind about the Academy, or if she wanted to study with Sappho, or become a true traveling bard, I can at least help her get there. Her family isn't going to support her dreams.
I'd make any of her dreams come true, if it were in my power.
But if I'm going to do that, it's time to pack up camp and go to a place I suspect I'm not much welcome.
(After the reunion on the road, and the second fight with the baddies . . .)
"Why do you keep looking at me like that?"
I just smile and continue to sip a cup of tea. She made it and brought it to me after we finished dinner. A pile of logs is burning brightly, our bedrolls are on the same side of the fire ring, and all is right in my world again. She came back. I didn't even have to talk her into it.
"Xena, come on." She scoots closer to me on the log we are sitting on, and places a hand on my shoulder. "I said I was sorry for just taking off like that."
"And I said it was okay." I look over at her and our eyes meet, and we both smile. She snuggles up against me and lays her head on my shoulder. She'd just started doing that a lot right before she left.
"I just needed to find my confidence again."
"I know." She told me all about defending her village, and I saw her vault over that cart with her staff. It hit home all over again how much she's changed and grown since we first met. "I'm proud of you."
"I wish you could've seen us fighting those raiders." She curls a hand around my upper arm, and I feel her fingertips stroking my skin. It's torture. But I wanted her back, now didn't I?
"I wish I could've seen it too." I look over at her again, and I know I have that dumb grin on my face. I can feel it.
"What's with the looks?" She grins too, and looks down. Then she looks back up, and this time she's biting her lower lip. "Xena?" She reaches over and fluffs my bangs, and I close my eyes. If I don't close them, I'm going to do something I'm not prepared to explain.
I take a deep breath and open them again. She's still there, way too close, expecting an answer. "I missed you, Gabrielle." I look down, between my boots, and reach down and pick up an acorn. I study it for a minute and then toss it in the fire, where it sparks green before it begins to burn. "I'm glad you came back. I'm sorry you didn't get to see your parents."
"I . . ." Her voice trails off, and I hear a sniffle. "They went with a bunch of the older villagers to hide in the hills from the raiders, before I got there."
"But you could've waited to see them, before coming back here." It's a piece of the puzzle I haven't been able to figure out. I know she wanted to see Lila, and she did.
"Lila said something, Xena, and she was right." She sniffles again, and without looking at her, I sit up and wrap an arm around her, and pull her against my side. She snuggles up and I feel a dampness against my shoulder where her cheek rests.
"Gabrielle, don't cry. We can go back and see them, if you want to." I kiss her head and kick myself for being selfish.
"No. It's not that. It's what Lila said. I belong with you." I feel her lips brush against my collarbone, and it takes all my willpower not to wrap her in my arms and take her down to our sleeping furs. "I didn't want to see them."
"Why?" I forget about the furs, and tilt her face up so I can see her eyes. I see a lot of love, a lot of confusion, and a bit of sadness.
"They just let me go, and there's a part of me that is angry with them for that. You and I have talked about that, but I thought about it some more while I was walking back to find you. When I first left home, if they'd tried to come after me, or begged me to come home, it would have been so much harder. When I went back, I realized I wasn't ready to see them, for their sake as well as mine." She blinks, and a few more tears scatter down her cheeks. "I want to be with you. But sometimes it hurts to think they didn't fight at all to get me back. And I know I hurt them too, even if they didn't come after me. It's just hard sometimes."
"I know. And I want you to understand something. You're not a liability to me. " I brush her tears away with my thumb, and can't help but brush it across her lips in the process. She closes her eyes at my touch, and I hear her swallow. With no further thought, I lean down and kiss her. It's soft and light, and as chaste a kiss as I've ever shared, but it reaches deep inside and through me, and takes my breath away.
Slowly, I pull back, and watch her eyes flutter open. She blinks at me, and smiles shyly, and I know my smile pretty much matches it. "What was that for?" She reaches across and touches my face.
I break our gaze and look down, still feeling her fingers against my skin. "I'm not good with words, Gabrielle." I glance over at her, and find those eyes really close again. "Saying 'I missed you' again didn't seem adequate."
"Oh." I feel those fingers guiding my face until I look at her again, and then she leans in, and kissed me back. I think I am going to die from not breathing before this is over. "You're my family now, Xena."
Before I can find what's left of my brain, she pulls back and stands, and holds out her hand, and I take it. Tough to think with no brain left. She guides me over to our furs. I know it's not for the same reason I would be guiding her there, but somehow this means so much more.
I'm not sure how, but we end up under the furs, and she's in my arms with her head against my shoulder. She's got one arm around my middle in a death grip, and I can feel her shaking. "Shhh." I kiss her head again, and begin stroking her hair. "We're going to be alright Gabrielle. Everything is going to be alright."
"It has to be." She releases a long trembling breath, and then she quits shaking, and simply relaxes against me. "It has to be, because we're together, and whenever we're together, everything always works out."
"Goodnight, Gabrielle." She pats my stomach and I continue to hold her, until I'm certain she's asleep. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Xena." She pats my stomach again, and sighs.
She wasn't asleep. My eyes pop open, and once again, I stop breathing, even as her breathing deepens and this time she really does appear to be falling asleep.
Me, however, I won't be sleeping a wink.
NEXT in the BTL Series - "About Nutbread" (post "Altared States")