THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
2.5 Fall into Grace
(post Return of Callisto)
Author's Note:† "Return of Callisto" was the first Xena episode I ever watched.† The kiss at the wedding was nice, but it was this scene, where Xena turns here sword to the ground in that clearing, and kneels, and prays for her friend, that "got" me . . .
X:† "If anyone's listening -- you know, I'm not much for praying.† But I don't know what else to do.† I was ready to give up once, and -- and Gabrielle came into my life.† Please -- don't let that light that shines out of her face go out.† I couldn't stand the darkness that would follow."
-- Return of Callisto
Everything hurts.† My heart.† My conscience.† The grief in her eyes.† Gods, I've seen her mourn before, but nothing like this.† I may be the one who lost a husband, but I'm not sure which of us is hurting more right now.† I think she's blaming herself for Perdicus' death, and worse, she thinks I blame her for it.† In her mind's eye, she is responsible for my pain.† I don't know if I'm brave enough to tell her the truth.†
And I know I hurt her deeply as well.† I asked her to teach me to kill.† As if she needed that weight on her shoulders after everything else that has happened.
I wish . . . Gods . . . I wish so much.† I want to go back to that fight in that village where I decided to marry him and undo . . . just . . . everything.† I've made one bad decision after another.†† Perdicus decided in the middle of that fight to lay down his sword and go home.† And me, I was an idiot, and saw that as a sign that following him was the right thing to do, and a way out of my own situation with Xena.†
I thought . . . I thought that I could make myself fall in love with him, and out of love with her.† That being away from her would ease the pain and confusion I've been in for so long.† Guess what we talked about on our wedding night?† Xena.† I knew then I'd made the wrong choice, that no amount of time was going to change my feelings for her.† Most people don't discuss their best friend's welfare on their wedding night.
I was so worried about her being out here alone - worried about the pain I was causing her.† She looked so lost when we said our goodbyes.† And I know her.† She said it wasn't goodbye, but I don't think she would have been by to see me again.† I could see that she was hurting, and I realized, much too late, that seeing me with him was only going to hurt her more.
Perdicus was sweet, and gentle.† He knew it was my first time.† I put him off as long as I could, dreading the moment he would make love to me, when I wanted it to be with Xena.† Now I've given him something I wanted to give to her, and I can never get it back.† I guess that sounds petty, to mourn the loss of my virginity, when Perdicus has lost his life.
I tried to be in that moment with him.† I tried so hard.† But all I wanted to do was cry.† I've heard that old phrase, "you've made your bed, now you have to lie in it."† I knew I'd made mine.† I knew I'd made a mistake, and it was too late.† Now it's too late for Perdicus, and that's all my fault.† What's worse, if the dead can hear our thoughts, he's sure getting an earful right now.† I only hope he can forgive me.† But what I've done is unforgivable.
How could I have been so blind?
If I could step back in time to that one moment, and take a long hard look at everything.† That one crossroads where I chose the wrong path.† I'll pay for that choice until the day I die.† I lied to everyone, including myself.†
Perdicus was no Xena, and in some ways, even I am stronger than he was.† I realize now that not only did I not love him, there is a part of† him I didn't respect.† How in Tartarus did I think I could fall in love with him?† And even if I had loved him, two pacifists don't belong together in this world.† I can see that now.†
Much as I want to believe I'm right about not taking lives, the fact is, someone has to be willing to.† Someone has to be willing to do the dirty work of defending those of us who can't or won't do it for ourselves. Xena is that person, and I realize now it must be a thankless job.† And me, I'm supposed to be her best friend, and I was the least grateful of all.† I took so much for granted.
I . . . I just self-righteously walked away from her and foolishly thought I could make a life with Perdicus, and neither of us carry a weapon.† If I'd just had my staff, he might still be alive.† If I'd not married him in the first place.† If only I'd followed my heart and not my head.† So many 'ifs.'† So much regret.†
I begin to cry again, and lay my head down against my upraised knees. I hear her get up, and walk around the fire, and feel her presence at my back.† "Hey."† She kneels down and places a hand on my shoulder, and I turn and before I can think, I'm in her arms.† She's holding me so close.† "Hey," she kisses my head.† "You're freezing."† She grabs my blanket and wraps it around both of us.† I burrow into her, wishing I could make all of it go away.
"You haven't been eating."† I nod, feeling her fingers splayed against my ribcage.† "Gabrielle, I know it's hard, but a few more weeks like the past two, and you're going to make yourself sick.† You have to keep up your strength. Everything will be alright, I promise."† Her words only make me feel worse.† I know she needs comfort as much as I do.† I'm not the only one who hasn't been eating.
"I'm so sorry," I whisper against her neck.† She's warm and safe and I start to cry harder, realizing what had to be sacrificed for me to see the truth.† This time Perdicus paid with his life, I gave up a piece of my soul, and I hurt the person I love most in this world.
"Shhhh."† She rocks me a little bit, her arms wrapping more firmly around me.† "You have nothing to be sorry for."
"I . . . I asked you to teach me to kill.† Xena, I asked you to do something that was going to hurt you, just so I could take revenge."† I choke up, unable to speak anymore, and she begins to stroke my head.
"It's alright." Her voice is rough, and soothing at the same time.† "It's a natural reaction to want to strike back when someone hurts you."
"But I made you promise not to do that very thing."† I look up and she reaches over, wiping the tears from one side of my face.† I lose myself in her touch for a moment, the comfort more than I know I deserve.† I swallow and make myself continue.† "Xena, I wanted to do something I made you promise not to do. Remember?† The first time we met Callisto?† I asked you not to become a monster.† Well, look what I became."
"Gabrielle." She sighs.† "You're not a monster.† After what Callisto did, I don't blame you for how you felt.† Don't beat yourself up."† She shakes her head.† "I think I broke that promise anyway, so let's just call it even."
Her words confuse me, and she's no longer forthcoming, her body still, her eyes far away, the fire dancing in them, turning them a cool silver.† I think about this, and can only conclude she thinks she broke her promise by going after Callisto.† I can't let her feel that way.† "No.† No, Xena, I may have asked you to go after her."† I grasp her shoulder, enforcing my words.† "But you would have done that anyway, to bring her to justice.† You can't help it if she fell into quicksand.† Maybe that's Hades' way of making things right."
"Maybe I played judge, jury, and executioner."† Her eyes are full of grief, and I can feel her trembling.
"I don't understand."† I search her face and she closes her eyes. "Callisto did fall into quicksand, right?"
"Yes, but I could have saved her," she whispers.† "I didn't.† I thought about it, but I didn't.† I . .† ."
"Because of me?"† She nods.† "Oh, Xena.† Are you sure?† Quicksand can be tricky -- you had to be careful not to fall back in yourself, right?"
"I'm sure."† She stands up abruptly.† "I'm not even all that sorry, Gabrielle.† You loved him and she killed him.† She hurt you, and I can't stand to see my friends hurt.† I can't help it.† I'm going to Tartarus anyway.† I might as well make sure she doesn't ever do it again while I'm on the way."
"Gods."† I get up and move to her side, and tentatively place a hand on her arm.† She doesn't shrug me away.† "Xena, I'm so sorry.† I . . . "† She doesn't know the half of it, and I burst into tears again, afraid to say the things I know I need to.
"Gabrielle."† She takes me into her arms again.† "Maybe I shouldn't have told you all that.† It's just . . . this isn't your fault.† She went after you to hurt me, and when I intervened, she killed Perdicus to hurt you, knowing watching your pain would hurt me.† I was the target, not you.† I don't want you to blame yourself for this."
"But it is all my fault."† I look up at her, and I know my face is a mess.† I realize I can't let her take the blame for this one.† "Xena, I lied.† Perdicus died because I lied."
She grows very still, and her eyes meet mine for a very long moment.† "What do you mean?"
My limbs turn to water, and I'm suddenly afraid.† "I . . . Xena I married him because . . . I'm sorry . . . excuse me."† I pull away from her and start walking down the path toward the creek where we bathed earlier.† I just need to breathe, and find my courage.† Before I know it, I'm running in the darkness, blindly batting away the low-hanging branches in my way.† I stumble a few times but keep my footing, feeling the cool night air wash over me, hoping it will clear my head.
I don't know where I'm going, or what I'll do when I get there.† Or how I'll find my way back to that campsite.† Maybe she'll just turn in and be asleep.† Maybe she'll pack up and leave me, and I won't have to face her.† Because now I truly understand the full repercussions of what I did.† Xena sold her soul for my lies.
I hear her behind me, calling my name, and I run faster.† Something grabs my foot, and I trip, my foot caught in a tree root in the path.† I reach out, and tumble, the wind knocked from my lungs as I hit the ground hard.† I'm embarrassed and frustrated and angry with myself, and I can't even cry.† All I can do is just lay there, trying to breathe.
And then I feel her next to me, her arms reaching out, feeling automatically for injuries, just like she always does.† "Are you alright?"† Her voice is anxious, and I can't answer to reassure her.
"I . . . "†
I gasp, still trying to catch my breath.†
Suddenly her arms are under me, and the world spins, and she lifts me
up.† I can't even protest as she carries
me back to the campsite.† All I can do is
close my eyes, remembering what this feels like -- this security -- this safety
-- the few times she's had to carry me.
"Not until I have you in the firelight so we can make sure nothing's broken or needs stitching."† She shifts a little, stepping over one of the logs that rings the clearing.† "Did you twist an ankle?"
"No," I answer ruefully.† "Just fell almost flat on my face, but I guess my hands and chest took the brunt of it."
She doesn't answer, but simply lays me down on my sleeping furs, and removes my boots.† She cleans up my hands, and helps me into a fresh shirt, and carefully checks my feet, legs, and arms, then cups my face.† "You're going to have a shiner by morning, my bard."† Her thumb brushes across my eyebrow and I can feel it throbbing.
"I think I hit a rock."† I look down.† "Guess that was a pretty stupid thing to do, huh?"
She's kneeling by the fire, heating some water, and she glances over at me, but doesn't comment.† I can smell the bitter dusty scent of herbs, and I groan, realizing what she's doing.† "Xena, Iím fine.† Really."
"You need to sleep."† She takes a pinch from one of the pouches in her healer kit, dropping the crushed leaves into the pot of water.† "You haven't been doing that, either, and when you do, you have nightmares.† Would that I could . . ."† She lowers her head and trails off.
"There is something you can do."† I ease closer, finishing her thoughts.† "In my dreams, I keep seeing Callisto, only this time, she's stabbing you.† I wake up, and you're across the fire.† And I have to get up and check, and . . ."
"I'll move my furs over here in a minute, okay?"† She turns, placing a hand on my arm.† "Maybe you should go home for a while, and rest, like we talked about."
I grasp her hand and squeeze it, and I can feel her trembling again. "Xena, I need to say something, and Iím not proud of it . . . of things I've done."† I lower my head, afraid to meet her gaze, but then I feel her fingers against my jaw, making me look at her.
"I want you to think about what you just said, and who you said it to."† Her eyes are sad, but she smiles, nonetheless, waiting as I mull it over.
"Yeah."† She lifts my hand and brushes a kiss across my knuckles.† "You're in good company in that department."
"Guess I am."† I swallow, and then take a deep breath.† "I didn't love him."† I slowly raise my eyes and meet hers, and find nothing but compassion there.† "I . . . "† At that moment my insides twist all up, and I feel sick, and get up, and just make it to the brush at the edge of the clearing, retching up what little dinner I did manage to eat.† Gods.† I swipe my hand across my mouth and once again she's there, helping me back to the bedroll.† "Do you understand, Xena?† Perdicus died because I lied."
"What I understand is that you need to quit punishing yourself, and rest."† She eases me down, placing Argo's blanket under my head, and tucking my furs around me. I lie back, and watch as she adds more herbs to the pot.† "For your stomach."† I nod, still feeling too weak to argue.† My head is spinning, my mind racing.
After a bit, she kneels down next to me again and slips her arm under my shoulders, helping me sit up.† I see the cup in her other hand, and I raise my own hand, holding her back. I can't fall asleep yet.† "There's so much I need to say to you."
"I know."† Her eyes are sad but warm.† "And me to you."† She draws the cup closer.† "And we will, soon, I promise you that, my bard."† She's called me that twice tonight, and I smile, despite my queasy stomach and my aching body.† "Just not tonight, alright?"
I nod my agreement. "Can I just say one thing, please?"† She tilts her head and grows still, listening.† "You said maybe I should go home."
She lowers her head.† "Yeah.† I can have you there by nightfall tomorrow if that's what you wa . . ."† I touch her cheek and she slowly looks at me, her eyes brimming with tears.
"It's not."† I brush her hair back.† "Xena, I am home."† This earns me another sad smile, and one of those tears escapes.† I catch it with my fingertip.† "I don't want to run away anymore."
Her eyes are glowing now, and some of the sadness recedes, as she tips the cup to my lips.† I swallow it all down, my eyes never leaving hers.† She's added honey and mint, and I don't taste bitter herbs.† All I taste is love.† I feel the drugs hit my bloodstream almost immediately, relaxing me, my empty stomach urging them along, and I lie limply back, closing my eyes.†
I hear her, milling about, settling things for the night, and then I feel the fluff of air as she spreads her furs out next to mine, and crawls under.† Immediately I scoot into her arms, sighing in contentment as she pulls me close.† She brushes her lips against mine, just once, then tucks my head under her chin, before kissing my nose and then my forehead.† I feel her hand at the back of my head, stroking my hair, and then my back, and I begin to float away, though whether it's the herbs, I can't tell.
"And I don't want to give you reason to run," she whispers.† "I'm so sorry, Gabrielle."
Next in the BTL series - Double Trouble (post Warrior† . . . Princess . . . Tramp)