DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, and Callisto all belong to RP and Universal. No copyright infringement is intended by this work. The story is copyright ©3/98 WordWarior@aol.com
NOTE: This was written in response to a conversation about the nature of the character of Gabrielle. In this discussion, it was postulated that perhaps the bard could be seen in a different light than most fanfic portrays her. I thought it was a fascinating theory and simply had to see what would happen if this particular mirror was held up before her. The following is the result.
Who Are You, Gabrielle?
I couldn't sleep. Xena had gone to foil some plan and she told me she had to do it alone. Truth is, I was happy to have some time to myself. I needed to think. However, when Xena's comforting presence isn't in the blankets next to me, I often find it difficult to sleep. Add to that the events of the past few weeks and slumber was almost impossible.
"What's the matter?" The question, asked in a petulant female voice, hung in the air a moment before she appeared.
Now I was afraid. With the powers of a goddess, Callisto was one of the most unpredictable and frightening entities out there.
And I was alone.
"What do you want?" I asked, filling my voice with bravado.
"Saw you here by yourself and thought I'd keep you company," she said in a reasonable tone. I hate it when she's reasonable. Scares me even more than when she's in her crazy mode. You just know she's up to something when she gets that innocent, little girl look on her face.
"Xena will be here any minute. I won't be alone for long, so you'd better leave."
"Oops. Almost forgot. Xena's going to be a little late."
I swear my heart fell into my ankles. My throat closed up and I saw spots in front of my eyes. It was the way she had said it. Very casual and unconcerned. Only thing is, Callisto is never casual when it comes to Xena. Her obsession with my friend was the single most important thing in her life and I knew right then and there that Xena was in very big trouble.
"What have you done to her?" I asked, reaching unconsciously for my staff.
"What a fascinating reaction," she said, and pointed to the hand that now gripped my favorite weapon. "Is your first thought always violence, dear? After all, I've come here out of the goodness of my heart to keep you company. I even gave you an informative message about your friend -- simply to put your mind at ease! I did nothing to warrant your anger. Yet you immediately reach for your staff."
"What have you done to Xena?" My voice was ragged with fear and worry.
"Relax, little girl. I haven't done anything. She's fine. Really. She just finished up with her little do-gooder thing and is on her way back. She was about two hours away when I saw her. See? I'm just doing a good deed, letting you know Xena's progress."
"I don't need anything from you. Now, get out of here, Callisto!" I said, my thoughts churning, my blood surging with adrenaline.
She sat for a moment, as if she was considering my 'request.' Then she smiled. "No, no, I think I'll stay. I want to have a little talk with you and we rarely get the opportunity. Xena is so very protective of you, wouldn't you say?"
I held the staff in front of me, now standing in a crouch, ready to swing.
"Oh, put that thing down. Sit, relax," she said, sounding exasperated.
"Not until you leave."
"Be that way. But you're going to get tired and I want your mind to remain sharp for our little chat."
"I'm not going to 'chat' with you, Callisto. We have nothing to say."
"Oh, but we do, Gabrielle! There's so much I want to know. I've grown quite fond of you, after all this time. And I just want to know more about you. That's all. I'll kill you another day. Tonight, I just want to talk."
I know it sounds strange, but I could sense that she was telling the truth. That she honestly didn't mean to harm me -- at least not physically. Warily, I sat down. But I kept my staff in my hands, resting it across my knees, my reflexes humming in readiness.
"What do you want to talk about?" I asked suspiciously.
"That's better. And I really just want to know one thing: Who are you, Gabrielle?"
The question caught me by surprise. My grip on the staff relaxed as I looked at her, confused. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I've been watching you. You and Xena. And it suddenly occurred to me that I have no idea who you are or what goes on in your head. Oh, don't get me wrong -- I know the basics. You were raised in Poteidaia and when Xena saved you from Draco's men, you decided to follow her. Let's start there: why? Why did you leave your home and family to follow a warlord?"
"She wasn't a warlord anymore. She was fighting for the greater good."
"Yes, yes, yes, I'm very much aware of her turn of heart. Saved a baby, met Hercules, blah blah blah. We're not discussing Xena. We're talking about you. You were a pacifist. Blood innocent. A nobody peasant. You could have easily lived out your life in that backwater town and never wanted for more."
"That's not true. I always wanted more. I wanted to be a bard and to do that, I needed to experience life." I was on the defensive and I knew it, but she didn't understand anything about my life in Poteidaia or about my life with Xena.
"I hear there's some sort of Academy in Athens for that bard stuff. Why not go there? Why run off to be with a murdering, sadistic, warlord bitch? Surely you can see that this isn't what most people would choose?"
I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. How did I explain? How did I tell her that something passed between us that day -- between that dark, intense woman wearing only a shift and the young girl who had never before known such fear? That this incredible warrior woman looked right at me, and it gave me strength I'd never felt before? That when she fought to save me and Lila and my friends, my life changed forever? "You wouldn't understand," I said.
"Why do you care?" I asked, trying to turn the conversation back to her.
Callisto just smiled. "Look, it isn't that I don't know the answer. It was Xena, right? Something in her sizzled your nerves and sparked your heart. Fine, I can accept that. She has that effect on people." The blonde goddess smiled, lust and need and feral longing written on her face. I shivered. "Awww, am I making you uncomfortable? Do you prefer thinking that you're the only person who can see her appeal?"
I was growing tired of her questions, my senses on overload from the danger of having her near. "What do you want from me, Callisto? Why don't you get to the point?"
"The point. All right, if you insist. I want to know why a pacifist ties herself to a murderer. I want to know why a bard learns to use a weapon. I want to know why you stay with someone who tried to kill you. I want to know who you are, Gabrielle."
On the surface, I found her questions ridiculous. They were twisted -- formed to make me seem hypocritical and stupid. I decided the only way to deal with her was to ignore her. I scowled at her in dismissal. "Go away," I said, airily, and turned my back to her.
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no," she said with a hint of laughter in her voice. "You don't get out of it that easily. What's the matter? Did I strike a nerve? Have I come too near the secrets you guard oh so closely? Secrets you keep even from Xena?"
I pretended not to hear her.
"Want to know what I think?" she asked. I gave her only silence. She laughed. "I wonder how long you can hold your tongue..."
I didn't move.
"Let's see, shall we? First question. Pacifist... murderer. I think it's simple. I think the pacifist wants to be the murderer."
"You're insane!" I said, twisting back to stare at her in horror.
"My, my -- it only took seconds! You're not even a challenge," she said, pouting. Then the smile returned. "But back to Xena. Admit it -- you love watching her do her thing. You get off on it. You watch that incredible, powerful, kickass woman in her tight leather with that cackling, joyous laugh and it gets you hot. You have seen her kill time and again and it drives you wild. You want that for yourself. That power. That invincibility. That orgasmic release when your sword slices through another's flesh. Who are you, Gabrielle?"
I was stunned. She didn't understand anything! I knew what it felt like to kill and it was the worst thing I had ever experienced! When the knife I held pierced Meridian I thought my own life would end right there. I wanted to die; I was so horrified that I could have done such a thing. And when Hope drank the poison... "Shut up!" I shouted. "You ignorant-- You don't know anything about me! How dare you presume to know what I'm thinking and feeling!"
"Which leads us to the second question: why does a bard carry a weapon? Well that's obvious enough. Because your own violent nature needed an outlet."
"It's for protection!" I shouted. I didn't understand why this was so difficult for her to understand.
"Oh yes, protection. Because Xena couldn't possibly handle any trouble by herself, could she? Did you carry that little stick with you from Poteidaia?"
"No, I got it from the Amazons."
"Really? What did you use before that?"
"Nothing. You traveled with Xena, led the same kind of life, ran into trouble, but had no need to 'protect' yourself. What changed?"
"Nothing changed. I just wanted to help her. I wanted to learn to use the staff so I didn't have to rely on Xena to save me."
"But you don't believe in violence," said Callisto. "You don't like watching her -- you told me how very much killing bothers you, and of course I believe you -- and you, personally, hate to fight. Yet you attached yourself to an ex-warlord and carry a weapon. I guess someone else has been using that staff all this time, beating people into unconsciousness on a daily basis. And when it comes to the people you love -- oh, let's take Xena, for example -- you would never show her anything but your sweet and gentle nature, right? I suppose it was a stranger who broke a pitchfork across Xena's back when she reverted to her old ways? And it couldn't have been you asking Xena for lessons in how to kill, prodding our delicious warrior in the gut with a sword. Maybe it was another bard who slapped a helpless prisoner, screaming at her to say the words that would ease that bard's conscience? And obviously it was some unknown double who pushed Xena off a cliff after this poor look-alike had been mercilessly dragged behind a horse. Who are you, Gabrielle?"
"You're twisting everything!" I screamed. My heart was racing and I could feel my hands tighten around my staff. The rage I felt was overwhelming as I stared at this monster who mocked me with every syllable.
"Last question. Why do you stay with someone who tried to kill you? I'll admit, this one had me a bit stumped. I mean, it's one thing to get all turned on by watching her murder other people, but what she did to you -- a whip around the ankles, dragged behind a horse over fire, rocks and water -- what could she have possibly said to convince you to stay after that?"
"Her son was murdered and it was my fault and then there was Ares' influence..."
"Is that what she told you? Ares? Sweetie, don't believe it. He may be a god but we gods can't make you do what you don't want to do. It has to be inside you already. For instance, I could make you kill someone right now, but they'd have to be threatening to butcher a bunch of innocents, or Xena herself, before you'd do the deed. I couldn't make you murder some stranger on the road for no reason. It's just not your style. You may want Xena's power to take lives, but you don't have it yet."
"You keep saying that but it isn't true!" I said, wondering when this living Tartarus would end.
"Even so, it doesn't answer my question, does it? Why would you stay with someone who tried to kill you? I mean, it could happen again, right? You make a mistake, Xena gets angry and bye-bye bardie. So why take the chance?"
"I love Xena and she loves me! What's so difficult to understand? We both made mistakes but that's in the past. We won't give in to hatred anymore. We're not like you, Callisto! We didn't let our hate devour our souls!"
"Oh, ouch!" Callisto said, laughing. "Want to hear my theory? I believe you love each other, of course. I'm not disputing that. But I think it turns you on, knowing that you're sleeping next to an explosion waiting to happen. The danger excites you. Her power over your life thrills you. And your power over hers -- the fact that most of the time you're with her, she's tamed by your influence -- that has to be a rush. Like a pet lion who kills on command but rarely bites the hand of her master. However, if you keep a lion for a pet, you do have to expect the occasional nip now and then -- so it's always a good idea to carry a weapon just in case. Or maybe slap the beast on the nose if it gets out of hand? Just remember: a lion is still a lion -- an unthinking animal which can't go against its nature forever."
"You make her sound like she has no choice..."
"She doesn't. Nor do you. Face it, Gabrielle, you don't have the guts to act on your own violent fantasies, so you live through Xena. You watch her twirl that sword of hers, give that lilting warcry and you own her rage. You own her skill. You own her power. You take it into yourself and you are on fire! Who are you, Gabrielle?"
"I've had enough of you, and your stupid questions and ridiculous theories," I said, barely able to contain myself. I wanted out. I didn't want to hear another word from that grinning fiend. I turned and began to run, hoping that the surprise of my action would be enough to allow me to escape.
I ran until I thought my heart would burst out of my chest. Finally, exhausted, I dropped to the forest floor, the only sound my labored breathing. I stayed there like that, on my knees, my head hanging low, for several minutes, waiting for the pounding in my chest to subside. When I could finally draw a normal breath, I looked up. Callisto was leaning against a tree, smiling.
I leapt to my feet and swung my staff with all my might. She spun out of the way, but I continued to attack. I caught her with several blows -- she never drew her sword -- and beat on her with all the hatred and rage inside me. Finally, she lay motionless on the ground. I stood over her silent body, every nerve and muscle on fire, my blood singing, my lungs bursting. And I exulted. It had felt wonderful.
It had felt wonderful...
"By the gods..." I whispered, falling to my knees next to her unmoving form. "Who am I?"
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