THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
2.13 - A Mile in Your Boots
(post "The Quest")
G: "Xena -- look. They made me Queen. Me -- the little girl you found in Potadeia. It's time that I let you go. See, I -- I have to find my own life. Just as you were searching for yours. You know, there are two kinds of tears -- tears for those who leave you -- and tears for those who you never let go. And I won't say goodbye to you, Xena -- 'cause we’ll be together again -- one day."
- The Quest
G: "Xena, I can't lose you again."
X: "Gabrielle, I'll always be here."
- The Quest
G: "Promise me that you'll never die on me again."
X: "Oh, I promise."
G: "You know, for a few moments, I knew what it was like to be you."
G: "It was warm, friendly, loving --"
X: "Gabrielle, it was a fight."
G: "I felt protected. The world needs people like that -- right?
- The Quest
I take a deep breath and close my eyes, listening to the birds in the trees overhead and the babble of the brook down below. I can feel the sun-heated rock beneath me, warming my crossed legs, and a light breeze brushes over my skin, lifting the fine hairs on my arms and ruffling my bangs. I smile, as a familiar patter of bare feet approaches me from behind.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle sidles up next to me and sits down. I wrap my arm around her and give her a squeeze, and she squeezes my leg in return.
"Living," I reply softly. And I mean it. I don't ever want to take the good turn life has tossed my way for granted, again.
"Hmph." She laughs lightly. "Sounds like something I would say."
"Maybe a little of you rubbed off on me, while I was in there." I give her bare belly a pat and she takes my hand, holding it in place. I caress her stomach lightly and she rests her head on my shoulder.
"I like having you out here, thank you very much," she whispers against my shoulder, then brushes her lips against my collarbone.
I look down and duck my head, capturing her lips in a long, leisurely kiss. She pulls me close and we continue for a while, as I lower her down onto the rock and spend a long bit just exploring her all over again. Even this, as much as I am aroused, I want to take my time, feeling the softness of her skin, the beat of her heart, and the sweetness of her lips against mine.
Her fingertips trail pleasantly down my back and arm, and on down to my thigh, as she pulls my leg across her hips, getting as close as we can without removing our clothing. I understand, in the back of my mind, that this is about re-connecting, not making love. There will be plenty of time for making love later, in our hut in the Amazon village, curled up on that nice, soft down bed, and not on this rather hard, rough rock. We told Ephiny we’d stay on for a few days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sneak away for some time alone. We both need it.
After a while, I slow down and roll onto my back, curling my arm around her so that she rolls with me, ending up with her head resting on my shoulder. I stroke her hair and nuzzle the top of her head, inhaling her scent, grateful beyond words to be alive and sharing this moment with her. I kiss her forehead and hear her sigh, so softly it is almost inaudible.
There are things we need to talk about and hurts that need mending. I heard her thoughts -- every last painful one of them. Her anger. Her fear. And gods, her grief. It broke my heart. I never meant to cause her that kind of pain. I saw other things, too -- while I was inside her -- a brave and selfless young woman lives inside her, a person I'm honored to call my friend. "You're the reason, you know." I broach the subject cautiously
"Reason for what?" She rolls onto her stomach, her chin resting on my breastbone, her face so close I can feel her breath.
"That I came back." I close my eyes as she scoots up, sampling my lips again, then kisses each cheek and each of my eyelids, before rubbing her nose against mine. I feel a tear hit my face and I open my eyes and reach up, brushing more of them off her skin.
"Then why did you leave me?" She sniffles and I can feel her trembling against me. "Why the long trip up that mountain? What was that all about, Xena?"
"Oh, Gabrielle." I sit up and she follows suit, rearranging ourselves until we are side-by-side again. "I wasn't leaving you. My brain -- something happened inside there when I got hit. Things got all mixed up and it took me back to a time long before I met you. That little girl I saved -- the last thing I remember seeing before the log hit me was her necklace -- it was a Gaelic piece. Reminded me of one a friend of mine wore a very long time ago."
"Friend or lover?" I hear the question and knew it was coming, for some reason.
"Mmm. A little of both. M'Lila was a stowaway on my ship. She was a mentor of sorts -- taught me many of my fighting skills. But she became my slave, Gabrielle, once her presence was discovered. Do you understand?"
"Body slave?" she asks incredulously.
"Something like that." I can't look at her right now, knowing this is definitely something she never knew about me. I can feel my cheeks, red with shame. "It was complicated. I don't think we did anything she didn't want to do -- I never forced myself on her. That's not my style. We did care for each other, even if we didn't speak the same language."
Gabrielle is looking down, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around
them. "I can accept that. But what did that have to do with you giving
up on life in the here and now?"
"All the way up that mountain, I was back in that time, re-living some very bad memories." I swallow, trying to decide how much to tell her. "When I left Amphipolis, after Cortese, I was just a punk raider for a very long time. I attacked nearby villages, making sure they knew not to mess with my home village. Things progressed and I ventured further and further from home. And sure, I had taken lives, but when I lost M'Lila, something snapped inside."
"She died?" Gabrielle's voice catches, full of sympathy, and I realize her own recent memories are coming into play. She scoots closer and tentatively hugs me. I don't resist, and she pulls me close, resting her head on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Xena."
"Yes, she died, and it was -- she was -- this selfless person who cared for me, beyond all sense or reason. Come to think of it, you and she share a lot of qualities." I press my cheek against Gabrielle's head. "I had done nothing to earn her love or her friendship, and yet she saved my life. It cost her her own."
"So she died saving you?" Gabrielle looks up at me, pushing my hair out of my face and behind my ears, before she touches my cheek. "That must be a guilt that's hard to get over."
"Yeah, and I acted out on that guilt in all the wrong ways. She took me to Nicklio. My legs were broken. Long story. He set them and while we were there, soldiers broke in and killed her. She took an arrow that was meant for me." I have to stop for a moment. I can still feel the rage and sorrow I felt that day. "A good and decent person died for my sorry ass. It changed something, deep inside, and after that I became a monster, out for revenge on the world for the hurt I had suffered."
"You're not that person anymore." Gabrielle studies my face earnestly. "You're not."
"Maybe," I halfheartedly agree with her. "But that blow to my head -- inside, I became that person again, and seeing Nicklio, I think that triggered all that old stuff even more. When I died -- when I gave up -- in my head I was that evil, selfish, murdering bastard of ten winters ago, Gabrielle. I was something I've come to loathe, and in my mind there was no point in living. It was as if -- " I release a breath of frustration and sit up taller, searching for just the right words. "It was as if, in my mind, if I could just die, I could erase everything I did in the ten winters after M'Lila died."
"Even if it meant erasing us?" she asks angrily.
"Gabrielle." My heart is tight in my chest. "That's not --" I trail off, at a loss for words.
"I'm sorry," she replies softly. "I guess that wasn't very fair. You did have a head injury at the time."
"I want you to understand something." I turn, and cradle her face in my hand. "Meeting you. Loving you -- in my whole life that is the one thing I will never regret. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I felt your pain, Gabrielle, even before I was inside you. I'd give anything if I could go back and make it so you never had to go through that."
"I was so lost," she answers, her voice very small. It hurts, and I can feel that loneliness she felt all over again.
I pull her close, into a tight hug. "I know. And I'm so very sorry, sweetheart. I was so proud of you, through all of it."
"You were?" She sits back, holding both my hands in hers, her thumbs chafing my knuckles.
"You would have made a find Amazon Queen. You handled everything with courage, grace, and dignity, my bard. It was a fine, fine moment, watching you take that mask." I hesitate, but only for a moment. "If you ever decide you want to live here with them --"
"Not now." She cuts me off. "Maybe someday, but not now, and not unless you live here with me -- " She smiles, her eyes looking deeply into mine. "Now, I just want to live my life by your side." She leans closer, inches from my face. "It's all I've ever wanted, for a very long time now."
"It's all I want, too. I just want to be with you now, Gabrielle." I lean in and kiss her softly. "I don't much care what we do or where we go."
"Me neither." She tugs me down, until we're reclining on the rock again. This time, there is no mistaking the need in her touch. She slowly undresses me and takes her time, caressing me everywhere, until I'm on fire.
I manage to remove her skirt and top, and carefully roll her onto her back. "Rock's kind of rough," I apologize, as I slowly make my way across her shoulder and down to her breast, tasting every inch of skin along the way.
"What rock?" she answers, her voice husky and deep. Her eyes are a dark smoky green, her passion rising, as I slide a hand between her thighs and nudge them apart. I begin lightly stroking her, deepening my touch, as she whimpers and sighs at turns, her hands clutching at my back, urging me to continue.
A while later, she's shaking in my arms, crying out her release. I hold her close, her weight fully on top of me as I recline on my back. "Shhh. I got you, sweetheart." I rub her back, her body boneless against me. "I got you, and I'm never letting go."
"Wow," she murmurs against my neck, rubbing her face against my skin. "That was intense." She looks into my eyes and I fall in love with her all over again. They've gone all soft and they crinkle at the edges as she smiles. I decide I want to see that smile as often as possible.
"You okay?" I bounce her up and down, making her giggle.
"Yeah." She dips her head and kisses me -- a series of quick pecks to my lips. "It just felt so good to feel you -- to know you were in my arms again and very much alive."
"That feeling is more than mutual." I gasp in surprise as she shifts, slipping a leg between mine, pressing against me, her intentions more than clear.
"Now," she purrs against my skin, kissing a slow path down between my breasts. "Let's see if I can make you feel even more alive."
I groan in anticipation, lying back and letting her take the lead. I realize, fuzzily, that coming back from the dead was a really, really good thing. Then I give up thinking altogether, and just feel.
Next in the BTL series -- A Matter of Trust (post "A Necessary Evil")