THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
2.12 Death Be Not Proud
Gabrielle: "Xena -- I know you can hear me -- wherever you are. I know you always told me to be strong. I can't be -- not now. You can't leave me. I know it's not your time. I can feel it in my heart. I feel this emptiness that I've never known before, and it scares me.† Xena -- above all -- just remember your destiny. Remember it and fight. Just, fight to come back. This world needs you. I need you."
Xena: "I have to go back."
I walk down the steep mountain slope in the snow, placing one foot in front of the other. I have to take my steps almost sideways to avoid falling, and I should be cold, but I'm not. I'm numb, from the inside out. I can't feel the wind, or the snowflakes hitting my face, and I don't bother trying to see much. It is all I can do to look far ahead enough to know where to place my foot for the next step.
All I can do is hear. I hear the wind, and I can hear Argo behind me, her hooves crunching in the cold packed stuff. Over all of it, I hear the gods-be-damned sliding of that sarcophagus. Nothing can shut it out, and if I plug my ears with my fingers, I hear Nicklio's voice, telling me to let her go. And that's a voice I refuse to hear. I can't and I won't.
Strangely, I can no longer hear my own heart. I know it beats within my chest, but it might as well take a rest. I am all but dead inside.
It is completely overcast and as cold outside as I feel within. There are no shadows, no sun overhead, nothing to mark the passage of time. Even hunger has abandoned my stomach. So I walk and try not to think. And pray that when I become too tired to keep moving, or it grows dark, that I can find a place to curl up and attempt to sleep, knowing the dreams will come and there will be no rest.
Maybe I should just push the sarcophagus up behind some rocks and crawl in after it and let the cold and the grief take me. I know I promised her I'd take her home to Amphipolis, but I think she'd forgive me. What she wouldn't forgive is leaving Argo to fend for herself in this desolate place. There are moments that silly horse is the only reason I go on. That and the knowledge that at least for now, she's my only friend. Xena might abandon her friends, but I won't.
I don't know why she had me bring her all the way up here, if all she was going to do was give up on life -- on us -- and die anyway. I was injured. It's not like it was an easy trip. It certainly wasn't a short one. The only thing that kept me going was thinking that there would be some miracle worker at the end of the trail -- that surely, Xena directed me up here because she would live if I brought her here. I had absolute faith in her.
All I got for my faith is a crushed and dying soul, and loneliness unlike anything I've ever known.
My leg is still killing me, despite the stitches and herbs Nicklio applied. I should look after them better, but I just don't care. Maybe I'll die of infection and go find her. And then I'll -- I'll -- I don't know what I'll do, but she keeps saying she's going to Tartarus when she dies. She wants Tartarus? Fine. I'll show her Tartarus when I get a hold of her and let her know what I think about her leaving me.
The slope grows steeper and suddenly I slip, and slide down, falling hard, chest first into the snow. My face is buried in cold wet darkness, and I just lay here for a long moment. Maybe I'll suffocate. But I feel Argo nudge my leg, and then she tugs at my fur hood, pushing it off my head before she nibbles my hair.
Slowly, I sit up and turn, and see that sarcophagus she's pulling. And the tears come again. They freeze on my cheeks and I swipe my hand angrily across my face. Argo nudges me again, and I strike out at her in rage, but I don't actually hit her, just push her away. She seems to understand and backs off, giving me time to get up.
"Sorry, girl." I stand and go to her, giving a scratch to her nose and between her ears. "This can't be much fun for you either, pulling her like that." I glance over at the sarcophagus and then hide my face in Argo's mane. Maybe when I look back again, it won't be there. "We'll take her home, you and me, Argo, and then we'll go someplace far away. Maybe we'll go back to that beach where we met Salmoneus last. That was a nice place."
And it was. I think about the cliff we camped on afterward, high up above the water, and the talk we had. Xena made me feel so beautiful. I don't think anyone has ever made me feel that way before. And she loved me. Gods, she loved me so much. It's not fair. We were so happy, both of us, and just like that, she's gone.
"Xena," I start talking to her again. I wonder if I'll become known as the mad woman, talking to the ghost of my dead lover for the rest of my life. "Xena, think about it. It can't have been your time. It's all wrong. I can't believe we would find the happiness we found and it be taken away so soon. I donít want to believe it. I want it to be a very bad nightmare, and you roll over and shake me awake, and hold me until everything is right again."
I look back at that casket, and I know it isn't a dream. It's the most painful reality I've ever experienced. What was it all for? Did we meet only long enough for Xena to teach me how to make it on my own? For me to give her the gift of true friendship? If that was all it was for, what cruel trick of the gods made us fall in love?
If she was just going to die so soon, after everything we've been through, what ever possessed me to follow her to Amphipolis in the first place? They could have stoned her to death then and then I wouldn't feel this pain. I hate thinking like that, but her dying now, it negates so much. Her bringing me back to life during the Mitoan War. Her surviving Callisto's poisoned dart. This new-found love that brought so much joy to both of us. What was it all for, really, if this is how things are supposed to turn out?
Her life wasn't finished. It wasn't complete. And yet I know this was exactly how she would probably want to go.
She wanted to atone for her past. I knew that. What better way than to die saving the life of a child, right? Saving villagers just like the ones she used to slaughter. Maybe that bought her a get out of Tartarus free card. It's the greater good, isn't it? Her diving in front of that log?
And she lived for so long after it hit her. So very long. All the way up this godsforsaken mountain in the blinding snow. Why did she decide to die, after all that?
Dammit! I want to be her greater good. Why couldn't she find the will to live, in us? In what we've found? What we share? I'm glad she saved that little girl. Now -- gods -- now she needs to come back and save me. I want to believe I'm enough to drive her spirit back to life.
I can't see now. The tears have started up all over again. I believe it will be dark soon. Somehow, I find a cave big enough for me and Argo. And Xena. I gather enough wood to build a fire, and roll out the sleeping furs. I'm too tired and too sad to care about dinner. I fill Argo's feed bag and curl up on our furs.
It's a two-edged sword. Close my eyes and dream the bad dreams. Open them and see her there across the fire, in that big wooden box. I can't write. There's no one to talk to. There's nothing but long, dark empty hours until morning, when I will rise and pretend to live.
And then it hits me. This is how it will be from now on. I really am alone. She's never going to be there to talk to again. Never going to wrestle with me or tease me or listen to my stories. Never going to hold me and kiss me senseless again. Never again will I lay my head on her shoulder and hear her heartbeat, and smell her, and feel her.
Oh, Xena. Where am I going to go, after Amphipolis? I can't go back to Potadeia. I could go to the Academy, but I don't think there will be any stories left in me after this. I could go to the Amazons, but I'm not one of them -- I'll never enjoy fighting and I can't kill. Maybe I should try to carry on the path Xena and I were walking.
And then the grief wells up, stinging my eyes and filling my chest so tightly it feels like I will split in two. She was my whole life. All that mattered to me. No matter how far I walk or how many good deeds I do, I'll be without her. I can see the long and lonely path ahead of me, and I have no idea where it will lead.
Is this what it was like for her after she left Hercules and before we met? Gods, I'm surprised she didn't kill herself long before she happened by Potadeia. And yet -- and yet I know this is not what it was like, because she wasn't in love and alone. Lonely, yes. But she hadn't had her very soul ripped from her. Not like this.
This -- I sob in grief -- this feels like it will always be with me. This sense of utter hopelessness -- that I will never be happy again. I can't imagine my life without her in it. I don't want a life without her.
"I'm taking you home." I speak aloud, as much for her benefit as my own. Saying it aloud firms it up. "After that," I whisper softly to her, "I don't know, Xena. I just don't know. Maybe I'll see you sooner rather than later."
Finally, I close my eyes. I'll try to live for the greater good but there is a way out, if I can't go on. She believed she was going to Tartarus. Perhaps if I take a life, even if it is my own, I'll go there as well.
Next in the BTL Series, A Mile in Your Boots (Post "The Quest")