THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
A Matter of Trust
(post "A Necessary Evil")
X: "Hold on!"
G: "Do it! Xena, I can't hold on!"
X: "Gabrielle--don't take your eyes off me!"
X: "I got'cha! I got'cha!"
- A Necessary Evil
It's a beautiful day. A glorious one, in fact. We're in this village, which is holding a festival in celebration of a large merchant caravan that has stopped by for a few days. Its streets are full of vendor carts and happy shoppers, and at one end of the square they've set up a roasting pit, the scent of slow-cooked pork and beef making my mouth water. As if on queue, a kabob stick appears in front of my face, loaded down with chunks of sizzling meat and vegetables. "Thank you." I accept the treat and look up and over my shoulder, to see Xena's smiling face.
"My pleasure." Her eyes are twinkling, partly because we're having fun and partly from the two mugs of ale she's consumed. She takes my hand and we continue to walk slowly through the market area, stopping whenever and wherever we please. The village may be celebrating, but for Xena and me it goes a step further. Callisto and Velasca are as good as dead -- their immortal bodies entrapped in a river of lava I hope spills directly into the deepest pits of Tartarus.
Callisto killed Perdicus. Velasca killed Melosa. I know, in my heart, they deserve what they got.
I think I allowed myself all of an hour of self-indulging guilt for being happy about their fate, before the greater relief of knowing they can't hurt us took over. That was, of course, after I worked through about two hours of misdirected anger at Xena for forcing me to have to deal with Callisto again. After a while I got over it, hopefully with a minimum of hurt feelings on her part.
She even knew exactly what was going on. It hurts my heart even now, her apologies echoing in my mind -- "I'd have given anything to find another way out of that Gabrielle, I hope you know that. Anything. I had no other choice."
The thing is, I know that. Know it as surely as I know her. After all that's happened to us recently, intentionally hurting me -- I don't think she's capable of it. I think pulling Callisto out of that shaft hurt her every bit as much as it hurt me. I know all the guilt she felt at Perdicus' death -- at my pain -- all that came back to haunt her. I could see it in her eyes.
After a while, I was able to sort that all out. So much of it was fear and a sense of helplessness on my part. People have gone after me before, because of my association with Xena. This was the first time someone went after me because of who I am. Some of my fellow Amazons died because someone was after me. A god, no less. I was terrified. As Velasca put it, you can't hide from a god. Not me. Not Xena. Not even Hercules, and he's a demi-god.
I really thought I was going to die, and I was ready to get it over with sooner, rather than later, if it would spare anyone else. It was another unfair moment, thinking that once again, Xena and I were going to be ripped apart much too soon in our journey. Of course I should have realized she wasn't going to let that happen. Not if she could think of any other way.
We both had to make difficult choices. Xena bucked it up and stepped around her own guilt feelings and my resentful hurt, and just did what she always does -- executed a carefully-calculated plan to save our butts and our friends from the bad guys. Me -- I think I know now more of what it feels like to be her, in those times that someone is being hurt because of her.
And I made an important discovery. With Xena and me, it's all about trust. Knowing we have each others' best interest at heart, even if it means the other person may have to take a leap of faith to believe. Even if it means temporary hurt for long-term comfort and safety. Even if it means picking the lesser among evils, if there is no goodness to be chosen.
Most importantly, I understand now more than ever, that my place is by her side. I think I may understand that even more than she does. No matter what life or the gods or other assorted enemies may throw in our path, I belong with her. When the going gets tough, I choose her, and that means I choose to trust her.
Trust her plan to enlist Callisto. Trust her to defeat Velasca. Trust her to catch me when I'm suspended over a river of lava, about to die. Trust her with my life. Trust her with my heart.
I think of what set us on this crazy path together -- her stepping into a clearing, unarmed and wearing nothing but a shift, trusting in her own abilities to save a bunch of strangers from Draco's slavers. Me, packing up my stuff and sneaking out in the middle of the night, trusting that a better life awaited me at the end of that road to Amphipolis. Her, reaching out and pulling a naive, rag-tag kid onto the back of a horse, and that rag-tag kid grabbing hold of the hand offered, both of us trusting in a gut feeling that was greater than any common sense will ever be.
We have each other and a love that can overcome death, because we were each willing to do a very scary thing -- trust a stranger. And yet, was she ever a stranger to me? My heart felt as if it had always known her, from the moment our eyes first met.
I look over at her and our eyes meet, just like back then, and I get lost in her gaze. I can feel this thing between us, and I can see it -- she feels it too -- this current of emotion that runs so close to the surface for both of us. She squeezes my hand and I reach across, offering her a bite of the spicy pork on a stick. Her lips close around it, her teeth tearing at it, and just watching her, my gut clenches in the best of ways, my body reacting suddenly and unexpectedly to a simple, primal act. She chews and swallows, and grins at me. "Thanks. That hit the spot."
"My pleasure," I echo her words. "Really."
Her grin turns feral and she winks, my meaning not lost on her. My nostrils flare, her warm enticing scent washing over me in the late afternoon sunlight. Gods, how many times has she teased me, telling me she can find me with her eyes closed? I think I understand that now. There's so much more I understand about her these days. Maybe that's what love does.
"You warm, my bard?" Her fingertips trail across my cheek. "You look a bit flushed."
My eyelashes flutter closed, savoring her touch. Warm? Both warm and cool, in a good way, pleasant chills chasing up and down my spine. "Um." I hear her chuckle and I open my eyes, my brain still trying to formulate a response.
"You too warm to dance with me?" We've reached the edge of the village, where a group of musicians is set-up beside a flat open area. Several couples glide around in a circle, throwing long lively shadows about the area, dust puffing up in small clouds at their feet.
In answer, I lead her toward the revelers and before I can blink, I'm in her arms, as she guides me in a traditional set of steps we've both know since we were children. We haven't danced together since Diana's wedding. Gods, I remember that as if it were yesterday. It's so obvious to me now, looking back, just how much we were already in love with each other. Even back then.
The music slows and so do we, but not our heartbeats. I look up at her and for a moment I'm that tongue-tied kid at that wedding, knowing my emotions are written all over my face. She pulls me forward, her lips brushing across my cheek and then her breath is warm, her voice vibrating in my ear, "Reminds me of Diana's wedding." Her lips close around my earlobe for an instant, and if we were alone in our room at the inn, I know we'd be naked by now. "But I didn't have the courage to do that back then."
She laughs low and I join her, resting my head on her shoulder, her cheek pressed against me. "I was just thinking of that. Of Diana's wedding."
"Were you now?" I nod and feel one of her hands drop down, resting just above my backside. "Good thoughts?"
"The best." We dance on, completely oblivious to the others around us. As the song ends, she pulls back, just enough to capture my lips in a slow sensual kiss. My toes curl and I go back for more.
"Gabrielle." I'm floating in her arms, needing no music, and I reluctantly look up. I realize the musicians have switched back to a rather lively tune, the others dancing around us, shooting knowing glances at us as they pass by.
"I don't know this dance." I look around, trying to pick up the steps.
"Me neither." She takes my hand and we move to the edge of the circle, watching for a bit. It becomes clear that one of the steps requires the men to pick up their partners, swing them around, and then toss them in the air and catch them. Some of them are throwing the women pretty high and with each toss, giddy laughter reaches my ears. "I think I have it now." Xena nudges me.
"Yeah?" I watch a minute longer. "I think I do, too."
"Tossing them pretty high, huh?" I nod and she squeezes my hand. "Trust me?"
I turn and look her full in the face, reaching across and cupping her cheek with one hand. "Always."
Her eyes light up even brighter than before, and she leads me back to the middle of the dancers. Then we are off, spinning and leaping, hand in hand, joining in the merriment. I hear the bars of music that lead up to the toss and I let go, as she takes me and swings me around in a circle, my feet flying off the ground. I laugh and then I'm airborne, the rush of it bringing tears to my eyes. Just as quickly she catches me and I wrap my arms around her neck as she spins us around.
Trust? Absolutely. At this moment, in her arms, I know it's the safest place on earth.
Next in the BTL series - Lucky Stars (post "A Day in the Life")