THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see"Looking for Trouble"
1.8 -- Of Gods and Thunderbolts
G: "Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads. And then the gods threw down thunderbolts, and split everyone into two. Each half then had two legs and one head. But the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited. Because they each shared the same soul. And ever since then, all people spend their lives searching for the other half of their soul."
She has got to be the most confusing person I've ever met, and I've met my share. She's angry with me, but I can't figure out why. Given the terse responses and cold shoulder Iím getting, I can't understand why she didn't just stay with Iolaus. They sure looked cozy enough. The way she gets around every cute stranger we meet, it's only a matter of time until she leaves me for one of them, and I can't help it, I'll probably worry about her when that time comes. At least I know Iolaus is a good man. He seemed pretty taken with her as well.
She doesn't know how close we came to joining Hercules and Iolaus for a while. Herc and I discussed it and he's right, we make a good team. We just don't make a good partnership. He already has a good partner. And traveling in that particular group of four could get a little messy, given the history between us.
What I honestly thought would happen is we might travel with them for a while and then I'd watch Gabrielle and Iolaus take off together - leave the road and go live a normal life - settle down in some village and raise a family. They'd have cute little blonde kids together, and they'd both make great parents.
I'm not sure what would have happened between Herc and me after that. I don't think being together or even traveling together would have become a permanent arrangement. Yeah, we kissed a few times, but it seemed more sentimental than a representation of anything we presently feel for one another. We gave each other some wonderful gifts. He set my feet on the right path, and I helped him see that he could find love again after losing Deianeira..
More and more, though, I think of him as a mentor or an older brother. I'm not the right woman for him. I think we both know that. It would be a little strange too, if I were to become Ares' sister-in-law, much less Zeus' daughter-in-law. My life is complicated enough without becoming a relative to the gods.
I talked to Gabrielle about it, though. I wanted to be fair to her. If there was something growing between her and Iolaus, I wanted them to have a chance to be together for a while and see what might develop. She looked at me strangely and didn't have much to say, other than that she was ready to travel again, just the two of us, without them. Then she turned right around and took off with Iolaus for a while.
Herc and I talked some more, waiting for them to return, and he was pretty convinced Iolaus was completely smitten with Gabrielle. We were both puzzled at her reaction to the possibility of traveling together. He finally smiled, tossed up a hand and muttered "Women!" I agreed with him completely and got my second strange look of the day. Herc knows a lot about my past, but there are some things he doesn't need to know.
We finally got tired of waiting, and went looking for them. We found them sitting under a tree talking, and looking very friendly. I halfway wondered if she had changed her mind, but after Herc and I said our goodbyes, she and Iolaus joined us for one more round of hugs, and then we went our separate ways, Gabrielle and me in one direction, and Herc and Iolaus in the other.
She's apparently been angry with me ever since. It's going on two days now, and it's getting a little old. We had yet another round of biting comments after we stopped for lunch this afternoon, and she stormed off ahead of me and Argo. I figured she needed some time to stew in whatever she's boiling over, so I dismounted and led Argo at a slow pace behind her.
She got so far ahead, she never even noticed when I pulled off the trail about an hour ago. I figured at some point she'll notice and turn back to find me. I'm not too worried about leaving her alone for a while. The road we're on is fairly well-traveled, and not prone to thugs. If she doesn't notice I'm missing, she'll end up in the next village by nightfall. They have a nice inn and she has our dinars in her bag. She'll be okay.
Honestly, we've argued so much the past couple of days, maybe we both need a break for a night. I've made camp, laid out my bedroll, brushed Argo, sharpened my sword, and now I'm eating a bit of bread, cheese, and fruit we picked up in a village yesterday. It's been warm in the evenings and I didn't feel like a hot meal. Truth be told, I'm not very hungry.
It's getting on to dusk now, and I'll admit I'm just a little worried about her. I'll hear her if she comes back by. The road is only a stone's throw from here, and Gabrielle couldn't be quiet if she tried. Her skirt alone swishes loud enough for me to hear her walking at twenty paces.
I feel a little guilty at disappearing on her, and am considering packing up and riding into the next village and catching up with her after all, when I hear a familiar mutter out on the road. "Gabrielle." The muttering stops. "Over here." I yell loud enough for her to discern my direction. The muttering starts up again, much louder, and I can't help but smile for a moment. Gabrielle may not always speak up right away and tell me why she feels a certain way, but there's usually no mistaking how she feels. I hear a hornet's nest crashing through the brush, coming my way.
"If you wanted to be rid of me, you could just say so." She barges into the quiet of the campsite and lands in a huff, taking a seat on a log across the fire ring from me. There's wood there, but no fire yet. I'll start it after sunset, when it's cooler.
"You were the one who stormed off ahead of me." I keep my tone neutral, merely pointing out the facts.
"Yeah." She looks at me a bit sheepishly this time. "Well still, you could have at least told me you were making camp."
"The way you were acting, I figured you wouldn't mind being away from me for a while." I reach across and hand her the rest of the bread and cheese. "Dinner." I nod at the bundle.
"Thanks." She slices into the cheese with a pretty determined stroke of the knife. I hope she doesn't cut herself. She looks tired and a bit disheveled, and I wonder if she ran part of the way back. As I study her more closely, she looks up for a moment, and I see a profound sadness in her eyes.
"You wanna tell me why you've been snapping my head off at every turn?" She looks up again and it appears she's about to say something, but instead she clamps her jaw down tightly, and tackles the loaf of bread instead. Something occurs to me, and I know I have to clear the air. "Gabrielle, listen, if you wanted to stay with Iolaus, we can go back and find them. Just because I don't have those feelings for Hercules, doesn't mean you shouldn't follow your heart. If -- if you feel obligated to me, don't. If being with Iolaus will make you happy, I'll be fine."
She looks up at me with such utter shock and confusion, I realize I'm way off the mark. "No, it's not that." She shakes her head sadly and takes a listless bite of her dinner.
I feel my own anger rise anew, and try to put a damper on it before I speak, but without much success. "Then you wanna tell me why in blazes you keep looking at me and yelling at me like I'm Hera's twin sister?"
"I haven't --" She stops and sighs loudly. "I'm sorry." She looks down and quickly finishes her meal, then folds her hands in her lap for so long, I begin to think I'm getting an apology with no explanation. "Xena, I asked Hercules to tell me the story about how Prometheus was freed. I wanted to know so I could add it to my scrolls."
"So?" I take a swig of wine from a flask we picked up along with the bread and cheese, hoping it will take some of the edginess off. Neither of us is cycling and the moon isn't full. There's no logical explanation for the mood that's been between us.
"He told me what you did -- knocking him out and all. You were planning to die up there." The anger returns to her voice and to her eyes, although thank the gods, she isn't yelling this time.
"Gabrielle, at the time, I thought one of us had to die. Hercules has done so much good for the world, while me -- it was the right thing to do." I feel chilled, and pull out my flint and striker, and kneel down to start the fire.
"No!" She stands and begins pacing back and forth across from me, in as much of a rage as I've ever seen her in. "Xena, I needed you. I was scared in that cave, sitting in the dark, and Iolaus was delirious from his wound, and he --" She sits back down and crosses her arms and hunches over, not looking at me. "I was so afraid Hercules was going to come walking back down from that mountaintop alone. I saw what happens to people who strike that sword. There would have been nothing left of you but charred leather and brass."
"Gabrielle, Hercules would have made sure you were taken care of. I asked him to, right before I took him out. And you had Iolaus. You would have been fine. I saw you kissing him. Seems to me like there was something there between the two of you." I get the fire going and move around to sit next to her.
"He kissed me." She picks up a stick and pokes at the fire. "It's complicated. You wouldn't understand."
"Try me." It occurs to me for the first time that perhaps Gabrielle doesn't return Iolaus' affections.
"Xena, I care about him very much, but not like that. Talking to him probably kept me from going insane with worry while I waited for you or Hercules to free Prometheus. But then he died. Not for long, but for that one long moment, I was completely alone in the darkness, with a dead man in my arms, and I didn't know if I'd ever see you again, either." She shivers and hovers closer to the flames.
I shudder along with her. Iolaus dying is new information to me, and I suddenly realize how horrible our latest adventure must have been for her. I scoot a bit closer, until our legs are touching, and I reach up and brush my hand over the back of her head, just once. She looks so lost and alone. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I didnít realize --"
"I didn't tell you or Hercules. I thought that was something Iolaus would want to tell him, when he's ready." She leans into me a little bit and I feel her still shivering, so I wrap an arm around her. "Xena, my feelings for Iolaus are complicated. We talked about so many things, and we shared something very special and personal in that cave. It's not often someone dies in your arms and then comes back to life. He went to the Fields for a few minutes. He said it was a beautiful place."
"I'm sure it is." I say nothing more to that. I'm pretty certain I'll never see those Fields, but she doesn't need to know that.
"Anyway, sharing all that made Iolaus and I grow very close. But I think he feels differently for me than I do for him. I learned a lot from him, but I think of him more as an older brother. It was very difficult to tell him I didn't want to travel with him. He asked me to." She glances over at me. "But I knew it wasn't right. You said I'd know when it's right, and it didn't feel right with him."
"I see. I'm proud of you. I know that couldn't have been easy." And I am proud of her. Damned proud. I think back over the moons we've been traveling together, and realize just how much she's grown up during that time. Then I frown. All this talk still doesn't explain why she's used me as a verbal punching bag for two days. "If you're happy with your decision, I am. But Gabrielle, if you donít want to be with Iolaus, why have you been so angry with me?"
"Xena, it's not fair. I know that. You did what you thought was the right thing, but your choice terrified me." She turns to face me, and I see tears swimming in her eyes. "The whole time Iolaus was professing his love for me, I was still shaking inside at the thought that you almost died. If not for Hera's silly bird --" She sniffles and looks down. "I almost lost you."
I tilt her chin up, and she begins to cry in earnest. I've seen her cry, but not like this. I do the only thing I can think of, pull her close and let her cry it out. She's sobbing now, and I feel her tears against my skin, and how warm she is. Crying does that. "Shhhh. It's okay." I smooth her hair back and rock her a little bit, and hear a few hiccups as she starts to wind down. "It's all going to be okay."
Slowly, she pulls back and I can tell she's embarrassed. She moves away and I get up to retrieve a water flask, to give her a minute to compose herself. "Here." I hand her the water and I can't help it, I reach up and dab at a few tears that are still on her face. "I'm sorry you had such a hard time, Gabrielle. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?"
"Well." She looks up from drinking and blushes, and swipes her hand across her eyes. "I haven't slept very well the past couple of nights. I keep having nightmares about you striking that blow."
"I know." She looks at me in surprise. "I mean, I know you haven't slept well, but I didn't know what you were dreaming about. Iím sorry. I wish --"
"Could I move my bedroll next to yours?" She touches my arm and I clasp her hand, much as she grabbed mine back in that cave. "Part of not being able to sleep comes from when I wake up and you're on the other side of the fire. Sometimes I can't tell for sure if you're there or not. I get so scared until I see you, that I get too woken up to fall back asleep. Maybe if you were next to me, I'd go back to sleep more quickly."
"Sure. We can do that." I touch her cheek for a minute, then I get up and untie her bedroll, and lay it out next to mine. We have no dishes to wash, and the sun has set while we were talking. I take my armor off and stretch out on my bedroll on my back, my hands behind my head. There are lots of stars out tonight, enough that we really could see pretty well without a fire.
I realize she's taking her time, and I look over to see her sitting back on the log again, staring into the fire, lost in thought. "Gabrielle." I pat the space next to me. "You look tired. Let's get some sleep. We can talk about this some more in the morning, if you need to."
"Sure." She gets up and slowly makes her way toward me, and lies down a polite distance away from me. "Thank you." She rolls to her side and I do the same, facing her.
"No problem." I touch her hair one more time, pushing a lock out of her eyes. I've got some complicated feelings of my own, but it's nothing I can't handle. Gabrielle is still finding her way in this world, and I don't want to get in the way of that, or of her finding her happiness. "Goodnight, Gabrielle."
"Goodnight, Xena." She closes her eyes, but I'm not sleepy yet. I roll onto my back again and study the star patterns, remembering the ones I used to use to navigate on the water, and ones that led me home when I was lost. I can tell Gabrielle is already asleep, a good thing, considering everything she's been through. I feel a touch and look down, to find her hand curled around my forearm, even as she sleeps. I realize for the first time that she feels safe with me.
It's perhaps the sweetest moment of my life. I'm not sure if I've lost something, or found something. One thing has become clear. My decisions no longer affect just me. I have a partner now, just like Hercules. Whether I'm lost, or I'm found, I look up at the stars again. Maybe I'll find some answers there.
NEXT: One for Death the Hard Way (post "Death in Chains")
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