THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
(post "A Day in the Life")
Xena: "I like to be creative in a fight. It gets my juices going."
Gabrielle: "Can we cook with your juices?"
G: "I almost got you that time."
X: "No, you didn't."
G: "What are you talking about? I was this close."
X: "You were this close ‘cause I let you get this close."
Hower: "Does Xena ever think about -- settling down and getting married?"
G: "No -- she likes what I do."
X: "I think a wardrobe change is in order."
G: "You could wear chain mail."
X: "Yeah, but I think that'd just attract a kinkier group."
X: "Are you sitting on the soap?"
G: "I was wondering what that was."
Minya: "No! It belongs to me! You don't get that concept very well, do you? The whip is mine. The frying pan's yours. Hower is mine! She's yours."
X: "That bunch up there looks like a big dipper."
G: "A dipper?"
X: "Yeah, you know -- like one of those cups that you draw water out of a bucket."
G: "It looks -- it looks like a bear to me."
-- A Day in the Life
It feels so good to have avenged Goliath's death. I mourned Goliath. I owed him a great debt -- he traded the lives of his family for mine. And then I offered his life in exchange for David's people. Turning against a friend -- that was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but it was for the greater good. I couldn't let him hurt innocent people all for revenge.
I suppose that sounds funny coming from someone like me, but I've been there and I know. Revenge is sweet for a season but not for a lifetime, and not at the expense of innocents. In the end, he knew I'd done what I had to do and he was at peace. And I think he forgave me for it.
But avenging him and preventing Gareth hurting other people -- that made things right. I know Goliath was watching from the other side and he's smiling now, with his family by his side. I finished what he wanted to do, but this time it was done the right way. No innocent blood spilled.
Everything feels so good. I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I'm awake, and not dreaming. Of all things, I'm walking around in a love-sick haze half the time. After everything I've done in my life, this is a gift I absolutely don't deserve.
If all my old enemies could see me now, I'm sure they'd be laughing at me, not with me. I can hear them now -- "When Xena falls, she falls hard." And don't I know it. I can't even admit to Gabrielle how silly, giddy in-love I feel.
I look at how we handled this whole thing with Gareth and Zagreas, and I just shake my head. It's a miracle we pulled it off. Gods. It's a miracle we aren't both grease spots in the road, stomped to death by Gareth's huge foot.
We spent the entire time acting like a couple of love-crazy kids. Arguing over a frying pan and a scroll. Tossing fish at her. Playing word games. Having a water fight. Dropping the soap on purpose so I'd have an excuse to get all goofy with her in the bath. I'm sure Minya wondered how in Hades the door to her bathing room got locked from the inside, or why we were both so pruney by the time we finished up. But it was her own damned fault, interrupting our privacy every five minutes to add more water. Still -- what in Tartarus was I thinking? No warrior worth their salt stops to take a hot bubble bath in the middle of making battle plans.
I barely recognize myself these days. It should be illegal to be this happy, and a part of me keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. When I was forced to leave home -- when I became what I became -- that angry young woman in constant rage at the entire world -- the woman who became a cold-blooded killer -- if you'd told me twelve winters later I'd be lying in a quiet grove at the end of a winning fight, chasing star patterns with my bard girlfriend, I'd have probably cut your fool tongue out.
I mean, come on -- star patterns for crying out loud! Seeing bears and pigs and lambs and ducks in the sky? Next thing you know, I'll be picking daisies and plucking the petals off while I recite poetry.
"Xena, are you coming back to bed?" Quiet footsteps approach me and I scoot over, making room for her on my moonlit boulder. "What's the matter?" She snuggles up against me and I tuck my arm around her. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Nothing's the matter." I kiss the top of her head. "Just -- too much stuff going on up here to completely settle down. But it's good stuff. Just needs processing is all." I tap my finger to the side of my head and she laughs.
"You know, I love watching your face when you're thinking." She kisses my cheek. Damn, even that simple gesture feels so good. "You can say a thousand things, Xena, without ever opening your mouth."
"You're the only one who ever bothered to get to know me enough to be able to read me that well," I comment quietly, a part of me wondering if the day will come she'll know me well enough, she'll decide it's time to leave.
Before I can think much harder, I feel her hand at the back of my head, and a gentle pressure, pushing me closer to her. I willingly go with it, turning to face her and searching her eyes in that split second before our lips meet. I realize, fuzzily, as she's kissing me senseless, that there was the deepest kind of love there. And then I stop thinking, long enough to return the kiss whole-heartedly.
I love feeling her body against mine. She's warm and soft and strong, all at the same time. One hand is at the back of my neck, the other running lightly down the top of my leg, her fingertips trailing against my skin, and then she squeezes me, kneading my thigh. I can hear her breathing, and these small almost inaudible noises she makes, not quite a sigh, telling me she feels just as good as I do.
She pulls back, her forehead and body pressed against me, our lips still almost touching. "Getting to know you has been the greatest joy of my life," she breathes against me. "I -" She traces a pattern along my chest with her fingertip, then reaches up, cupping my face, her thumb stroking my cheek. "I used to wish on the stars, praying to the gods that one day I'd find a place in the world I belonged." She smiles and quickly pecks my lips. "Those wishes were fulfilled in that clearing outside Potadeia. I just never dreamed the answer to my prayers would someday lie down next to me and wish on the stars with me."
"Lucky stars." I swallow a lump that has suddenly filled my throat. "To have you gazing up at them and making wishes." I stroke her hair. "Thank you."
"For what?" She's blushing at my compliment, something I find completely endearing.
"For giving some meaning to my mostly worthless life." She starts to protest and I hold a finger up, pressing it against her lips. "It's true, Gabrielle. You know it and I know it. My life was no good until I met you."
She's crying now, and I brush the tears from her cheeks. "Sorry." She sniffles. "I seem to be doing this a lot lately, but at least they're happy tears. You put them there," she whispers.
"Well." I muss her hair, trying to lighten the mood. "I'm glad I can make someone happy." I tweak her nose and she smiles and starts to tweak back, but I grab her fingers, stopping her. "Nuh-uh. Not after you bopped me with your staff. It's a little sore."
"Oh, gods." She covers her face with her hand. "Xena, I'm so sorry." She peeks out through her fingers. "I really did get you for real, didn't I? You didn't let me hit you."
"You really got me good, my bard." I smile, and take her hand. Her face is much too beautiful for her to be covering it up. "In more ways than one." I lace our fingers together. I don't know if I can explain what I'm feeling to her. It's not just that she smacked me in the face with her staff. It's that she's so far inside my defenses that I didn't even see it coming. There's no need to be on my guard with her. "I trust you, Gabrielle." I finally find the words. "I don't know if you understand what I'm saying."
"I think I do." She takes our joined hands and holds them against her own chest. "Xena, something I finally understood recently is that we -- you and I -- what we have is all based on trust." She shakes her head and smiles, looking down at our hands. "I don't know if I can explain what I think and feel, but we're together because we each trusted something in our gut -- something bigger than the two of us. Am I right?"
It takes me only a moment to understand her. "Completely." I draw in a deep breath, realizing there's no accounting for why Gabrielle and I are together at all. The odds are all against us -- who we are -- our backgrounds -- what we stand for, or maybe I should say what we stood for, before we met.
I reach over and tilt her chin up, studying her face for a very long moment. Then I brush my fingertips against her cheek and this close, I can see and hear and feel her. The catch in her breath -- just the slightest gasp -- the passion in her eyes -- the movement just behind her jaw as she swallows in reaction to my touch.
But there is something more in her eyes. A maturity that wasn't there before and a profound sadness behind that. For the very first time, I realize that perhaps for Gabrielle, trusting me was every bit as difficult as it was for me to trust her.
We've talked enough now that I know life for her in Potadeia wasn't easy. She followed me to get away. Her parents hated me, and still do. She's gone home twice now, and each time returned to my side, and I'm doubly the enemy in their eyes -- the one who corrupted their daughter and seduced her away from home. I have little doubt they know nothing of the extent of my relationship with their daughter at this point in time, and even less doubt her father would have a bounty on my head for kidnapping and rape if he did know.
And yet, they've never come after us, never called Gabrielle home. The most they've done is try to talk her into staying those times she's come back. Maybe on a subconscious level they do understand our relationship. And on another they just don't want to know.
Regardless, in my mind, they released their claim on her by their lack of action. And there is a part of me, on the deepest most primal level, that has staked my claim on her, as surely as she has laid claim to my heart. I would die for her if needed. But now, looking in her eyes, I understand she would do the same for me.
Despite who I am -- ex-warlord, murderer, selfish, stubborn, there is something more appealing to her about being with me, than being with her family. What kind of faith and trust did it take for her to choose me over them? What other choices did she have? Did she see in me a way out? I know in my heart, she did. How she came to see someone to love in me is beyond my understanding.
That's the part I don't think I can make her see. "You had me, you know, from the moment I laid eyes on you." I caress her cheek again. "You didn't have to love me, Gabrielle." I close my eyes, hoping I'm making sense to her, because to my ears I'm not.
"I know." She leans into my touch, then leans into my body, pulling me close. "I want you to hear something." She sits back and searches my face. "When I was hanging over that river of lava, I looked up at Callisto and Velasca fighting above me, and down at the fire below me, and then I heard you telling me to hold on. In that moment, I had a choice -- trust you with my life, or die. And then I was falling and you caught me, just like you promised you would. Just like you did back in Amphipolis, when you leaned over and took my hand and hauled me up on Argo's back. Xena, you've saved me so many times now, I've lost count. But you've never made me stay, and I'm long past being helpless. I chose you then, and I choose you now. Not because I have to, but because I can -- because I love you. I may have a choice now, but my heart doesn't. Maybe -- maybe I did follow you because it was a way out of a bad place, but I stay because I love you."
All I can do is hug her, so I do, pulling her close and squeezing her for dear life. I feel her arms around me, holding on just as tightly, and we both sigh at the same time, our breath warming each other's necks. "You never had to stay." I kiss her head. "But I'm glad you do." I find her lips and indulge myself in her for a long while. "I love you too, Gabrielle."
"Even though I traded your whip for a frying pan?" She laughs lightly, her eyes sparkling in our moonlit clearing.
"Even if you traded my horse for a frying pan." I hear Argo snort her displeasure from nearby, and Gabrielle laughs again.
"I know better than that." She slaps me on the arm. "But I can't believe you used my scrolls for your trip to the bushes."
"I promise never to do that again." I smile and press my forehead against hers. She reads to me from them, and sometimes she acts out scenes for me. I've never gone into her things to read them for myself, and a part of me wonders if there are things in there she might not want me to see. "Why don't you tell me a bedtime story?"
"Alright." She stands and takes my hand, leading me back to our sleeping furs. Soon, she's in my arms, her voice vibrating against my skin as she speaks. I love holding her while we fall asleep. Most of my dreams are good ones these days, due in no small part to her presence in my life. I smile, listening as her voice rises and falls, re-telling me the story of the divided souls. She embellishes it this time, adding parts about a young village girl and a lonely warrior, and we both know of whom she speaks. The stars aligned in a clearing outside Potadeia one day, and two lost souls found their other half. As I look up at the sky, I can swear her bear is winking at me.
Next in the BTL series - Baby Love (post "For Him the Bell Tolls")