THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.21 – Foreshadows
(post "The Greater Good")
G: "Xena, are you gonna die?"
X: "It's not about me. It's about these people. That's why we're here . . . It's the greater good-- remember that.
- The Greater Good
I sit up in a sweat, my heart pounding so hard, I can feel it in my temples, and my throat, and in my middle. I gasp for breath, trying not to make too much noise. I don't want to disturb her, because she needs her sleep. She's usually such a light sleeper, but her body is still healing from the poison, and these past few days she's been exhausted. At night, she fights it, trying to stay awake, because someone out there is after her, but when she finally gives in to Morpheus, she sleeps like the dead.
And that's the part that keeps me frightened. I spend my nights torn between trying to keep watch while she sleeps, and tossing and turning, the nightmares licking at my mind until I think I'll go mad. Every night, I dream about it all over again, and then I wake up, and I have to check, and make sure she's breathing. It's easy enough to do. If our bedrolls were any closer together, we'd be sharing. I can't bear to have her out of touching range, especially when she's sleeping so soundly.
I scoot over and hold my finger just below her nose, and breathe a sigh of relief as I feel the steady trickle of warm air wash over it. My hand is shaking, and I withdraw it, lest I falter and touch her face and wake her up. I must have repeated this ritual a dozen times in two nights, and I have the dark circles under my eyes to show for it.
Slowly, I sink back down and stretch out, but I can't bring myself to close my eyes, just yet. If I fall asleep, I'll only dream about it again. Besides, my shift is soaked and now I'm shivering. Luckily, this night I've prepared, and laid a dry one out right next to me, so I don't have to get up and fumble in our bags in the darkness. The fire has long since died down, and this night is overcast, threatening rain by morning.
We are sleeping next to a tree under a low lean-two Xena constructed of some thickly-leaved branches. She always thinks ahead like that. Our bedrolls are laid out on a bit of raised ground. She took the time to pull out the shovel and created this dirt sleeping platform, packing it solid enough that unless we get torrential downpours, any run off should trickle around us, and leave us high and dry, so to speak. Of course she berated herself for not finding us a cave, but profuse praise for her ingenuity, and a few apple tarts lightened her mood considerably.
I wish I could find some apple tarts of my own.
I sit up again and pull the clammy drenched material over my head, and quickly tug the dry tunic on. Now I'm freezing, and scramble back under my sleeping furs, trying not to shake hard enough to wake her. I wrap my arms around myself and curl into a ball, but my teeth begin to chatter, and reluctantly, I scoot a little bit away from her.
I jump as that deep voice rumbles across to me. "I . . ." How does she know these things? I haven't told her about the dreams. Besides, I thought she was sleeping. "I'm fine."
"You're shaking." She rolls over and a warm hand strokes my cheek. "And freezing. Come're."
In one swift motion she lifts my furs and hers, pulls me close, and settles them back around us. Somehow, I end up curled against her, my head on her shoulder, with her arms wrapped around me. Now I can feel the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes, and if I shift just a little, I can hear her heartbeat. Finally, I remember to breathe myself, and then realize I'm wonderfully warm.
In utter relief, my body relaxes and my muscles ache with released tension. A few residual shivers work their way through my system, and I vaguely hear a low shushing noise in my ear, her breath warming my neck at the same time. Her hand comes up and she strokes my head several times.
"You gonna be alright?" This close, her voice rumbles inside of me now. I manage to nod, and feel her relax a bit.
How can I explain all of this to her? It will only make her feel badly, or worse, leave me. For one, terrifying moment, I knew what it felt like to lose everything. She died on me, and I did what I had to do, what she would have wanted me to do. And I did intend to take her body home, or die trying.
After that, I hadn't a clue where I would go, or how I could carry on. I didn't want to go back to Potadeia, and yet I knew, deep inside, that I'm not ready to be on my own. I've learned so much from her, but the thought of going on alone, without her . . . I have to stop thinking about that, or I might start shivering again.
When did she become my whole world?
I hated that she died all alone. No one was even there to hold her hand. A tiny part of me wanted Talmadeus to just go ahead and kill me, because then I could go be with her. And I don't care what she says, I would have found her. I know she believes she's going to Tartarus when she dies. Fine. If she had gone there, I was going in after her. Hades owes her one, after all. I'd make sure he pays up.
Argo comes over and nudges me, and I smile. She's been doing that a lot more lately. We shared a moment after I beat up a tree.
"What's up with her?" Xena tenses, just for a moment, and I can almost picture that serious puzzled expression she gets sometimes.
"We bonded while you were sleeping." I rub circles against Xena's stomach in an effort to soothe her, and feel those muscles ripple under my palm. All of a sudden her hand clamps over mine and she lifts it, giving it a squeeze.
"Why?" She lets go of my hand, and I simply allow it to rest against her hip, motionless, unsure if she wants it gone completely. Rubbing her tummy is a habit I've picked up during the times we've snuggled together at night. It's never bothered her before. She chuckles, a silent movement I feel, rather than hear.
"Just don't, please?" She strokes my hair few times and then I feel her lips brush against my forehead.
"Okay." I hate it when she won't explain herself, but at least she asked nicely.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry." Her arms tighten around me, almost imperceptibly, and I wonder if she realizes it.
"It's alright." I can't rub her belly, so I nuzzle her collarbone, just once, before settling my head against her shoulder once more.
"No, it's not." She shifts and rolls to her side, propping her head up on her hand, the other one still resting against my side. "There's something you need to understand." She swallows. I can hear it. "How many old warriors do you know?"
"Know?" I frown. "Xena, I'm not sure I really 'know' any warriors, other than you. At least not on a personal level. Maybe some of the Amazons, but some of them are old."
She sighs, her hand stroking my arm, and I smile briefly, wondering why it's okay for her to touch me like that, but not for me to touch her. She's so confusing sometimes. "The Amazons don't count - they don't take their warriors into battle when they get too old to fight. Besides, there aren't that many old Amazons, now are there?" I stubbornly shake my head, agreeing with her. "Let me put it differently. You've been in your share of fights now, haven't you?"
"Sure." She knows that. She's constantly praising my skills with my staff.
"How many old warlords, thugs, or mercenaries have we come across during our travels?"
"Old?" I think really hard, a dozen small battles dancing in my minds' eye. "Well, there was . . ." I wrack my brain. "Well, how about . . . ?" I know where this is going, and I flop down on my back, defeated. "None, alright. None!" I get up and pace around the cold fire ring. "And I don't care."
"Gabrielle." I know that tone. It's the one that is exasperated with me, but trying to remain calm in hopes I'll stop doing whatever it is that is pissing her off. I continue to pace. "Gabrielle, come on, now." Okay, I hear a bit more contrition. "Come on back under here, it's raining." Now the voice is no-nonsense, and no longer sugar-coated. I have to smile. She tries so hard, but she isn't very good at masking her feelings.
"Is . . ." a big fat cold drop plops down on the tip of my nose, and now I stop and can smell it on the wind. A few more hit my face, and I can hear more rustling the leaves and the underbrush just outside our clearing. Does she always have to be right? I sigh and after a long pointed stare in her direction, I give in, and crawl back under the shelter, where she holds the furs up long enough for me to scramble under.
"Look." She is curled up on her side, and I can just make out her eyes, pale in the darkness. "Gabrielle, I think I made my point."
"Yes, you did." I'm still angry with her, and my words are clipped and cold.
"People that do what I do, they don't usually live to be old. Someday, somewhere, someone is going to be faster, or smarter, or trickier. I'm going to have an off day, or I'm going to be tired, or, gods forbid, I might start to get too old to be doing this. I'm not immortal." Her voice softens, and she scoots closer. "We're past me ever sending you back to Potadeia, okay?"
"We are?" I think I knew this, but it's nice to hear it.
"Yes." Somehow, she ends up curled around me, and my anger just vanishes. "And I don't want to ever cause you pain, I hope you know that." I nod again, her closeness -- her warmth, her scent, and her voice -- permeating my senses, to the point I have to really concentrate on her words. "But someday, it's going to happen. Much as neither of us wants it to, it will. I'm not going to stop doing what I do."
"I don't want you to." I sit up a bit. "Xena, I know all of this. If I didn't before, I surely do now. It's not that. I think, if I ever have to face this again, I'll end up back at the Academy, or maybe with the Amazons. Maybe even back home. I don't want you to worry about that."
"Okay." She's utterly befuddled now, that one word drawn out, and I know she's frowning at me.
"That's not what this is about." I have to stop and collect myself, or I'll start crying. "It's about what I feel, and you can't do anything about that. I … I can't help what I'm going through right now, and you can't either. It's just something I'll have to work through, and eventually, I will. You . . ." I press my hand against her chest, just above her heart. ". . . I care about you more than I've ever cared about anyone, Xena. You're my best friend, my family, really. Back there in that village, for a while, I lost all of that -- I lost you. I'm not going to pretend that wasn't a very scary and lonely few hours for me. And I was so angry at you. Took it out on a poor, defenseless tree."
"Is that what happened?"
"Your staff. It's been looking a little worse for wear."
"Oh, yeah. It' just this." I place my hand against her chest again, for emphasis. "You talk about how selfish you were in the past, and how you did a lot of wrong things for the right reasons -- that all of this started because you wanted to protect your family."
"Yeah, and then it spiraled out of control."
"I think I know what that must've felt like, because when I thought you were dead, deep down inside, I didn't care about those villagers, or doing the right thing. I was angry at you, that doing the right thing got you killed. It was a different level of selfishness for me, Xena. Because I would've traded a dozen of those villagers to get you back." I swallow, and I can't stop the tear that escapes and trickles down my cheek. "You talk about the greater good. At that moment, you were my greater good. Nothing else mattered to me." I look down. "Is that so wrong?" I whisper.
"No." She pulls me close and hugs me, and I get lost in the warmth. "Every time we're in a fight, Gabrielle. Every time I see someone coming after you. Every time anyone tries to hurt you, I know exactly what you felt back there in that village. Somewhere along the way, those fights became every bit as much about protecting you, as they did about protecting anyone else."
I feel her shaking. Or is it me? "I think I knew that." And I did. She's been in just the right place to save me, way too many times. An arrow caught out of mid-air, here. A spear deflected at just the last minute, there. I just wish there was a way to make her understand that keeping herself safe is every bit as integral to my well-being as her keeping me safe. I'm going to have to work on that, but not tonight. We're both too tired and vulnerable.
It's raining harder now, but not enough to leak through our shelter. I pull back, just enough to search her eyes. I feel so many things these days, and it's all wrapped up in her. I can't help it, and my hand drops down, rubbing her belly like I did earlier. Maybe it comforts me more than it does her. I halfway expect her to stop me, but this time, she looks down and watches me, and I hear her breathing go all crazy.
Slowly, she looks back up, and she looks so lost and confused. And I know exactly how she feels. As if in a dream, as if I'm outside myself, watching, I draw closer to her until our breath is mingled, and then our lips meet. This time it's different, because I know exactly what I'm doing, and what I'm feeling. I need to be close to her like this. I don't know if what I feel is like what I saw between some of the Amazons. All I know, is we seem to be kissing more and more often, and I can't seem to get enough of it.
Her arm wraps around me, and she deepens the kiss, and I think I'm going to simply implode from the rush of sensation. It's soft and gentle, and at the same time it's intoxicating and sends my blood racing all over the place. By the gods, she doesn't need a sword. A few kisses like this and she'd have her enemies all on their knees, begging for mercy. I get completely lost in so many feelings, and then, slowly, she tones it down to little pecks at my lips, and pulls back, but she's still breathing hard, and I can feel her heart beating against my hand. "I don't want to stop," I whisper, not entirely certain what it is I want.
She presses her forehead against mine. "Neither do I." She laughs lightly, still out of breath, and then those lips brush against my bangs. "And that's why we're going to."
"But . . ."
"No." She kisses me quickly one more time, silencing me, and then tucks my head under her chin, as she slowly lies back down, taking me with her. We're both shaking now, but not from the cold. Her hand is wandering in idle patterns against my back, and I wait, wondering if she has anything else to say.
"I love you, Gabrielle."
With those words, I feel her relax, and magically, so do I, as those long arms wrap securely around me. For now, it's all I needed to hear, and I think, on this rainy night, I shall finally sleep, surrounded in peace.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~NEXT in the BTL Series - post "Callisto"
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