THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
2.6 Double Trouble
(post Warrior . . . Princess . . . Tramp)
X: "Well, I take it you're not looking for a kiss."
Al: "No, I want your heart."
X: "You're not my type."
- Warrior . . . Princess . . . Tramp
I'm beginning to wonder if my father got around out there, once he left us. It's the only logical explanation I can come up with. First Diana. Now Meg. Unless it's some trick of the gods to try to make me crazy or get me in trouble.
Whatever. I don't want to think about him right now. I'm too busy putting back together the shattered pieces of a life I almost lost.
Gabrielle and I talked some, once we figured out what was going on with Meg. She treated Gabrielle pretty badly, and the poor kid . . . no woman . . . thought it was me. She admitted it was a little unsettling, given everything we've been through. Can't say as I blame her, and I feel badly, even though I wasn't the one who tossed her in the dungeon and said some really ugly things to her.
There are other, more important things, which we haven't talked about yet. I'd thought we might get it all out in the privacy of our chambers in Diana's castle, but as usual, outside circumstances changed our plans. By the time we were done, all we wanted to do was get out of there to someplace peaceful, and as Gabrielle put it, someplace she could be absolutely certain I am me.
I had to laugh at that. I was pretty damned tired of running into myself around every corner, so I can only imagine how frustrating it was for her and Joxer. At least I always knew which one was me. Joxer has snuck back into the castle by now. The thought of him with someone who looks like me is a little unsettling. The knowledge he thought it was me the first time he was with her is enough to make me toss up the perfectly fine breakfast Gabrielle cooked this morning.
Ah, well, if he's with Meg, maybe he will quit following Gabrielle around like a love-sick puppy. That's my job. Right now, I'm following her gingerly, cautiously, careful not to push her. What Meg did, while Gabrielle thought she was me, hasn't helped much.
We're both pretty fragile right now, and she's grieving, if not the loss of a husband, the loss of a friend. She said she didn't love him, and I understand . . . at least I think I understand, what she meant. I haven't asked. It was so hard for her to admit to me she didn't love him, and I'm afraid to pressure her for more until she's ready.
Things hinted at in the darkness are often much more difficult to speak aloud in the harsh light of day. I can tell something is eating away at her, and I have a pretty good idea what it is, because the same thing is eating away at me.
When she walked out that temple door with Perdicus, my heart broke into a million pieces. All I could think, was that I would never see her again, never hold her again, and it was my own damned fault for pushing her away. I know I did. And with each little push, I pushed her right into his arms, and ultimately, pushed her into the grief that now absorbs her.
I wandered around in the woods that night after her wedding, until I was exhausted. I didn't eat. Didn't build a fire. Didn't do anything but curl up under a tree and cry my eyes out. I haven't cried like that since I gave up Solon. There were so many things I didn't say to her, and it was too late. My whole world walked out that door with her, and suddenly I had nothing to live for.
I should thank Theodorus, I suppose. If he hadn't been bumbling around following me, I might have done harm to myself. And I should thank him for not lying to me, because if he had, Callisto would have killed Gabrielle instead of Perdicus. And that . . . I would have either become the monster I promised her I wouldn't, or I would have killed myself, after killing Callisto.
I have a guilty secret or two. I know I allowed Callisto to die -- know I could have saved her. But after what she did, and given the prison she escaped from, I didn't think there would be any place safe enough to confine her, short of Tartarus. I'd like to think I sent her to justice and prison, just a more permanent sort of prison, but I know, deep inside, what I did was akin to murder.
But that's not what weighs most heavily on me. I hate seeing Gabrielle in mourning. I hate what she's going through. But I have to admit to myself that there is a very small part of me that isn't so sad Perdicus is dead. I know I can never share that with her. I would never have wished him dead, never have wished for the anguish she's suffered, but it's given us a second chance. That I would find any measure of comfort in his death, I know that I deserve Tartarus for that, alone.
"Xena?" I set my sword and whetstone aside, and look up to see her standing in front of me. "I'm sorry, I think I burned the fish." I sniff the air and have to agree with her. I was so lost in my thoughts, I hadn't noticed until now. "I can't seem to do anything right, lately."
"It's alright." I take her hand and pull her down next to me. "I wasn't very hungry, anyway."
"Me neither." She snuggles up and rests her head on my shoulder. This is something she seems to need, lately, to be held and hugged, even if we haven't been able to talk it all out just yet. She looks so lost, all the time, and suddenly, I want us to move past all this, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone. "So, you didn't love Perdicus?"
She stiffens against me, and then I feel her nod her head. "I loved him," she corrects me. "Just . . . I wasn't in love with him."
"Oh." I ponder that, wondering if I've been off in my estimations these past few weeks. "Well, sometimes falling in love comes with time, after the marriage. I'm sorry you didn't get that chance."
"All the time in the world wouldn't have made any difference." She sits up and wraps her arms around herself. "I loved him like a brother, but falling in love with him . . . that wasn't going to happen . . . I . . ." She shakes her head sadly and trails off.
I take a step out on a limb, hoping she'll meet me halfway. "That night, after I left, I thought about so many things, Gabrielle. Things I wanted to say to you. I almost came back, just to have one last heart-to-heart, before I left."
"You wouldn't have left alone." She looks up, her eyes brimming with tears. "If you'd said just one word . . ." She begins to cry and I reach out, taking her into my arms. "I'm so sorry," she sniffles. "I shouldn't blame you. I just want so badly to find a place to put all this pain and guilt. Xena, I was such a coward, and now Perdicus is dead because of it."
sobbing now, and I rub her back, trying to soothe her. "Shhhhh.
You're no coward. You're one of the bravest people I've ever known. Standing up to a Cyclops. Facing the tests of Morpheus. Taming Titans. Following a former warlord halfway across
This earns me a small, pained laugh, and she draws in a deep breath, her tears beginning to subside. I find a rag in the bag next to me and hand it over, and she dries her eyes and blows her nose. "Why is it, that I'd rather face that Cyclops again, than face my own feelings?" She searches my eyes earnestly, and I know it's now or never.
"For the same reason I'd rather have run the gauntlet again, than face mine." I reach across, stroking her hair as I speak. "All I ever wanted, was for you to be safe, and to have all the things you deserve, especially happiness. I thought, being with me . . ."
"Stop." She touches my lips, silencing me. "First of all, I am happy with you. And second of all, there's no place that's safe. I was almost taken as a slave, and watched my husband be murdered by a mad woman, right there in the village I was born in. No, I take that back. There's one place I always felt safe. . ." She looks down and plucks at her boot laces, then looks back up, her expression as open as I've ever seen it, her eyes full of hope. "By your side." She swallows and whispers, "In your arms."
"I love you, Gabrielle. Been in love with you for a very long time, now." I pull her to me, holding her as close as I dare, without squishing the breath from her lungs. "I'm so, so sorry, sweetheart, that you had to go through all of this, for me to say it."
This sets her to crying again, shaking, and I hold her, just rocking her back and forth. We sit there in silence, save her quiet sniffles, and the hoot of an owl in the tree over head. After a while, she grows quiet, and I feel her nuzzle my neck, her hand clutching at my side where her arm is wrapped around me. I look down and kiss her forehead.
She looks up, her eyes searching mine, and I move lower, reaching up and cradling her face with one hand, the back of her head with the other. I take my time, kissing her slowly. This is not about lust. It's about healing, and restored trust, and making her understand that she can believe me when I tell her I love her.
She wraps both arms around me, molding herself against me, and only when I hear her begin to whimper, do I pull back, pressing my forehead against hers, and tracing her jaw line with my fingertip. "I'm in love with you, too, Xena." She smiles shyly. "In case you were wondering."
"I kinda figured." I tilt her face up and kiss her again at the same leisurely pace, regretfully pulling back only when the need to breathe becomes paramount.
"I want . . ." She smiles again, that same shy smile. "I know what I want. I just don't know if . . . right now, I mean . . ."
"Shhhh." I peck her on the lips, this time to silence her. "We've been to Tartarus and back again, both of us, and we're still healing. And probably both a little overwhelmed right now, no?" She smiles and nods her agreement. "We have all the time in the world. There's no need to rush. Right now, I think it's bedtime for both of us."
"To sleep?" I smile and nod, and she hugs me tightly, nuzzling my neck again. I could get used to that. "Thank you." She kisses my cheek. "For making me talk. I wanted to . . ."
"Now there's a first," I tease her with my tone. She pulls back and frowns in question, studying my face. "Me having to make you talk."
"Xena!" She laughs and playfully slugs me on the arm.
"Ow." I rub my arm in mock pain, but it worked, and we're both smiling, some of the grief and tension drifting away on the night breeze, with our laughter.
With that, we busy ourselves about the camp, laying out our bedrolls and tossing the ruined dinner. Hunger fled long ago, chased away by emotions that are at once familiar and strange. As I lie back, she automatically presses against me, her head on my shoulder, and I wrap my arms around her, just like dozens of other nights, but this time it's different.
This time, there's no more question of how we feel. I know some night soon, I want to show her just how much I love her. But not on this night. On this night, the knowing, and the closeness is enough. We're both exhausted, but after weeks of uncertainty and sadness, peace finally settles over us, like a warm blanket on a cool spring evening. I feel her kiss my shoulder, and I press my lips against the top of her head in answer.
Oh, yeah. Way more than enough, for now.
Next in the BTL series - Serenity, Courage and Wisdom (post "Intimate Stranger")