THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see"Looking for Trouble"
1.3 -- STONES IN THE POND
X: “And the moment you kill--”
G: “The moment you kill-- What?”
X: “Everything changes. Everything.”
G: “Xena-- I could have killed someone. I mean-- I was capable of it.”
X: “We’re all capable of it. The point is, you didn’t cross
G: “But I got close enough to peek over. And what I saw scared
X: “See how calm the surface of the water is. That was me once.
And then -- The water ripples and churns; that’s what I became.”
G: “But if we sit here long enough it will go back to being
still again. It will go back to being calm.”
X: “But the stone’s still under there. It’s now part of the
lake. It might look as it did before, but it’s forever changed.”
She's been awfully quiet, especially for her. I spent a few moons wandering alone in silence after I left Hercules, but Gabrielle and I have been traveling together longer than that now, and I found to my surprise that I've gotten used to hearing her talk. And talk she does, constantly, or at least she did up until her encounter with Morpheus' mystics. It starts with early morning chatter while we're breaking camp, and continues with all sorts of questions as we travel. Most nights end with her talking about the day, or looking up at the stars and talking about them, or sometimes she practices telling stories. I'll secretly admit I like those nights best of all.
She's a good storyteller, and naturally gifted at it, since she's had no formal training. When she tells a story, she doesn't just talk, her voice rises and falls with the story, and her facial expressions become involved, and she gestures with her arms. After she tells one, if she thinks I really liked it, she will hurry to write it down in her scrolls. I like all her stories.
She's curious about everything, and it's that curiosity I fear will get her in trouble someday, especially if she keeps traveling with me. Up until her encounter with Morpheus, she was increasingly interested in my weapons. That morning she picked up my sword during a fight, she saw just how quickly it makes her a target, and I hoped then that the matter was settled.
So when she turned right around and bought herself a dagger -- I -- I just don't want her to go down that path. There's no way I can make her understand how irreversible it is when you kill. It hardens the soul, even if you do it in self-defense. I should know.
I don't see Gabrielle ever following in my footsteps, even if she were to kill. But I don't want her to know what that feels like. I see the hero-worship in her eyes, and I've watched her trying to do things the way I do them. That's fine if we're fishing, or building a fire, but she doesn't need to be like me when it comes to fighting.
She can throw a mean punch, as she proved when she slugged Manus. After that, we began the long journey back to Elkton's village. He was right -- it took a couple of weeks to get out of there. Morpheus' lair was hidden deep in the woods way up in the mountains above the village. By the time we got back to the village, Elkton had his eyesight back and everything had changed for those people.
Anyway, about half a day out from Morpheus' lair, I noticed she kept rubbing her hand. Turns out she'd sprained her wrist on Manus' jaw. So we stopped, and I wrapped it up for her. I have to admit it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing it when I tied off the bandage. I don't know why I had the urge to do that, but as I looked up into her eyes, I saw a goodness that goes to the depths of her soul. I felt something then -- this fierceness, like a felioness with her cub. I wanted to protect her from the things I've seen and done, and from those who would hurt her or take advantage of her innocence.
She's not ignorant or clueless. Far from it. She's extremely bright and notices far more than I do at times. But there is something inside her that is so pure and untouched by the ugliness in the world. She sees the good in everyone, and cares about them all -- children, old people, dogs, horses -- even a beat-up ex-warlord. In a world where I tend to automatically think the worst, she takes the opposite path. Each new day is an adventure to her, and each new stranger a potential friend.
I don't want her to ever lose that at the wrong end of a sword.
There is a part of me that still believes it would be in her best interest to take her back to Potadeia, although I'm not sure it would be a good idea for me to go back there. I half-suspect her parents may think I kidnapped her, although she assures me her sister knows she left of her own free will. I've become somewhat resigned to letting her hang around for as long as she wants. The few times I've suggested she would be better off back home, she reminds me she'll run away, with or without me. I think she'll grow tired of it, eventually. It's a hard life, sleeping on the ground, never knowing if dinner will be feast or famine, always having to deal with guys who want to mess with us, either to take our possessions, or take something more.
That's another thing we haven't talked about. I saw her all doe-eyed over Sphaerus. Thank the gods nothing happened between them. She was shocked when he turned out to be the warlord whose men put that arrow through me. Definitely not the right guy for her. Neither was her fiancÈ. What was his name? Perdicus? But the right one is out there, somewhere. Sphaerus and Perdicus are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but there has to be someone in the middle of them. She'll meet him, and that will be the end of life on the road.
I think I'll be glad to see her safe and taken care of. I know I'll miss her, though, and I try not to think about what it will be like to travel alone again. I love Argo, more than I care for most people, I'll admit, but she doesn't tell stories by the fire at night.
While we're on the road, I hope Gabrielle learned something from Manus' challenges. She can get herself out of danger without drawing blood. When she told me what all she'd been through, I was more than impressed. It takes a lot more to think your way out of a situation, than to fight your way out. I only hope her desire to learn to wield a sword stays buried after this.
I still do my sword drills each evening, and even now, I'm sweating, almost at the end of one of my tougher routines. Before Morpheus, I enjoyed doing this, partly to show off a little bit, because Gabrielle would sit there, mesmerized by it. Now, I do it because I understand that I have to be good enough and fast enough and sharp enough to protect us both. Another life is at stake now, besides my own.
I do one last difficult round, twirling my sword and combining it with a series of back flips. I land and look back toward the fire. She's watching, but the sparkle is not in her eyes. It saddens me. No, she didn't kill, but she said she understood that she was capable of killing. I don't think she understood that before she met me, so just like that stone in the pond, being with me has changed her some already.
I'm not sure it's a good change.
"Xena?" She rolls up a scroll and tucks it into her travel bag. As she looks at me, I see this lost expression and it makes me want to do something to fix it, but I can't figure out how. I've seen this particular expression more than once these past few days.
"Yes?" I go over to where I've stashed our gear, and slide my sword into the scabbard. I cleaned and sharpened it already tonight. Normally, I would wipe it down again after drilling, but it will keep for one night. She's got that look on her face -- the one she usually has when she's finally puzzled something through. It's the same expression she had when she sat beside that pond outside Elkton's village.
"I talked to Elkton before we left." She draws her legs closer to herself, and wraps her arms around them. I make no comment. There's nothing for me to say, just yet. "He said you could have died searching for me in the dream passage."
"That's true." I take a seat across from her, enjoying the warmth of the fire against my slightly damp skin.
"Actually, he said you were almost killed." She looks at me, her eyes full of wonder. "Did you know that, going in?"
"Yes." I shrug a little bit. What am I to say to that?
"But you came after me anyway." I risk looking up again, and see something more in those eyes, something beyond hero-worship. "You risked your life for me. I mean really risked your life for me. Xena, this was more than fighting off a few slavers. You crossed over into a different realm for me."
"You were in danger. It was nothing, really." I'm still waiting, simply glad she's talking again.
"No. It was everything." Her voice grows soft, and she looks up at the sky for a moment. It's a clear night, full of stars. "You almost died rescuing me. Xena, my own family hasn't even bothered to come looking for me."
"Maybe they're afraid to, because of me." I've thought about this myself, more than once. I don't know what kind of people her parents are, but what I do know is this -- they've let their daughter run off with a known murderer. If I had a daughter and she was with someone like me, I'd hunt her down, and I wouldn't rest until I had her safely home. Of course I can't say any of this to Gabrielle. It is her family, after all.
"Oh, come on." She shakes her head sadly. "Let's be honest here. My own father just let me leave. We've not even traveled all that far from Potadeia, yet we've heard no word anywhere to indicate they're looking for me. Yet you --" She still looks so lost, and I don't know what to do about that. "Xena, you've known me less than a season, and you were willing to die for me."
I think about all the people I've killed, and I look away. It hurts so much I can hardly breathe, because I don't deserve what I see when I look into her eyes. She's the one person I've met who accepts me for what I'm trying to be now, with no thought of my past. No judgment. It's a gift I could never repay, were I to die a thousand times for her.
"Xena?" I realize I've been staring into the fire and she's moved around now, kneeling in front of me. She places a hand on my knee and it's warmer than the fire. "Why?"
I still don't know all the reasons why she left home, but I am starting to understand, just a little more than I did before. Maybe in her own way, Gabrielle was just as lost and lonely as I was, before we met. In a way, she's become part of my reason to get up and go on in the mornings. Maybe I do have some small thing to give her, after all, as well. I reach across and brush a strand of hair back off her face, and in a startling moment of clarity, I realize there won't be any sending Gabrielle away. "Why?" I find my voice and withdraw my hand, resting it on the knee she's not touching.
She nods and I close my eyes for a moment, remembering that first morning after she slept beside my fire. "Because you're my friend." I don't think she understands just how profound it is that anyone should call me their friend, but as I open my eyes, I see hers brimming with tears, and find myself catching one as it trickles down her cheek.
She laughs in embarrassment and sniffles. "Sorry." She dabs at her face with the edge of her skirt, and she sits back, crossing her legs and looking down at the ground. "Didn't mean to get all weepy on you. Don't know what's gotten into me."
"You're about to cycle." I watch her blush, a pretty pink in the firelight. "Been almost a moon since the last time."
"Oh. I guess that's true. I lose track of things like that sometimes." She frowns and loses some of the blush. "Xena, I don't think carrying a sword is for me."
"Good." I feel a weight lift from my shoulders and realize I just might sleep well for the first time in weeks tonight.
"But I feel so useless most of the time." Her shoulders slump, but she looks up at me, silently begging for reassurance. My mind scrambles for something to say. I know I look like a deer in the torchlight, and she continues, giving me a few more moments to think. "Xena, it seems like all I've done so far is cause you trouble. I couldn't even stay out of trouble long enough for you to fight off those guys when they came after me in Elkton's village."
Ah. I say a rare silent prayer of thanks to whatever god just knocked me over the head with an idea. "Gabrielle, you saved the people of Elkton's village."
She looks up in surprise, and then just shakes her head. "You saved them. All I did was get kidnapped."
"True, but if you hadn't been kidnapped, I wouldn't have come after you, and if I hadn't come after you, Manus and the mystics would still be terrorizing those people. Whether you realize it or not, Gabrielle, you were instrumental in helping that village be able to live without fear for the first time in a long time." Whoa. I take a deep breath, hoping I just made sense, because I don't know if I can repeat all of that a second time.
Her eyes widen, and I see her truly smile for the first time in days. "I did that?"
"Yes, you did." She sits up a bit taller, and continues to smile, peering at me cautiously. "Is that what it feels like to be you?"
I'm taken aback. I hope she never knows what it feels like to be me. "No." I shove those thoughts aside. "It's what it feels like to be you." I reach over and ruffle her head. "Hey, you wanna make yourself really useful?"
"Sure. Anything." Her face is so hopeful, it reminds me vaguely of a puppy. I think if she had a tail, it would be wagging.
"Tell me a story." She smiles and I watch her go into her story-telling stance, her face lighting up and her body taking on this tension it gets when she's prepared to be all animated.
"Alright." Her eyes meet mine. "Once upon a time there was this lonely girl, but then she met this friend. It changed her forever, like a stone tossed into a pond …"
I sit back and cross my ankles. I'm not sure if she's about to tell my story, or hers. Maybe both.
NEXT in the BTL Series – “Teamwork” (post “Cradle of Hope”)