THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.13 -- Living A Dream
(post "Athens City Academy of Performing Bards")G: "The family he had sought had traveled the world with him. The only family he had ever known-- ever needed-- was standing right beside him. I know the story."X: "Thanks for being my family. You're like a sister to me. Now, go get your dream."- Athens City Academy of Performing Bards
It was a beautiful night, that last night, with a million twinkling stars overhead. I think we stayed awake until past midnight, counting them, working out the patterns. She was surprised when I was the one who started it, pointing out the one she says looks like a bear. I think it looks like a dipper. We always argue about it, and we always end up laughing. It's just a game, and both of us win in the end.
Not so long ago, I told her about Helen. How we've managed to avoid talking about most of my past relationships is beyond me. She knows about Marcus. And Draco. And Hercules. Okay, so maybe we have talked about some of my past relationships. But telling her about Helen, I thought if anything might send her running home, even after all this time, that would.
Instead, she accepted it like it was no big deal at all, and offered up her friendship to me with no strings attached, just like she has from the very beginning. It's been so long since anyone truly cared for me like that. It's had my guts in knots at turns, wondering if my feelings are those of gratitude, or sisterhood, or something deeper.
Her acceptance of my past with Helen -- it was enough to give this hardened old heart some hope. I dare not think too hard about what I was hoping for. Sometimes I'm not even sure. She's so young. And she's innocent. It would be shameful for someone like me to tarnish a pure heart like hers, and so I don't allow my thoughts to dwell on anything beyond the deep friendship that has developed between us. She's the sister I never had, and the best friend I could never deserve. I'd never do anything to jeopardize that.
She kissed my hand that night, after we talked about Helen. She thought I was asleep. Everything was right in my world for the first time since … before Cortese. She'll never know just how long I lay awake after that, with my eyes closed, afraid to open them for fear I'd find out it was only a dream.
I woke up the next morning to find Gabrielle still sleeping by my side, and I understood for the first time that maybe it wasn't a dream that would go up in smoke. I dared to believe I'd found a friend I could keep forever. That one small kiss made a tiny little part of me wonder if maybe someday, a long, long time from now, after she's had time to grow up, if … I can't really go there. It doesn't matter now. Any hope I had was dashed in a tavern near Keremus.
She's gone now. She left behind an ache that won't go away. No matter how hard I run, or work, or fight, it's there, ripping me apart inside. I want to hate someone for that. There was a time when I would've rode into that village and burned that little tavern to the ground, just for being the place where she was when she decided to leave me.
I started to try to talk her out of going to the Academy, make her think she was doing it just to show up that guy's father. And maybe she was. But I stopped myself. How could I? After all she's given me, how could I be so selfish? If not for her, I would be dead. I still don't think she fully understands that.
She gave me a gift. I had to give one back. This is her big chance to study the storytelling craft. I don't know exactly what all they do at a bard's Academy, but I know what I have to do to hone my skills. Practice, and then practice some more, and watch other people, and learn new techniques. They don't have a school for what I do, unless you want to go join up with Caesar. But for what Gabrielle does, they do, and so I told her to go find her dreams.
But even as I told her to go get her dream, I realized that she was mine. So I took the coward's way out, and got up first and walked away. I knew I couldn't stay there much longer without breaking down. I got on Argo and rode until we were both exhausted, and ended up curled up in the back of this small cave I've been sleeping in ever since.
Tonight I didn't even build a fire. It's not cold out, and I'm not hungry, so there's no point. There's no point in anything anymore. I keep trying to fight the good fight, and I've helped a few people, but I'm just going through the motions. Everything reminds me of her. I ride around during the day, or sometimes I walk, and I keep turning around, expecting to see her walking along beside me.
I miss her voice.
I never thought I'd say that. She helped me see the world with the eyes of the child that is inside her. So many things I had taken for granted for a very long time -- she brought back a wonder of the world that I thought was lost forever. Every day with her was a new adventure.
Now I'm floundering, just like I was before I wandered by Potadeia and rescued some villagers from slavers. If not for her, I'd just go right back to that place I was. The darkness is closing in again, and it frightens me. I need her. I didn't realize that until she was gone, and now I don't know what to do with this loneliness. Or maybe I should call it despair.
Every night I end up back in this cave. If I'm not careful, I may move in permanently and start hanging curtains or something. I'm not sure why I come back here, but I think it may be that a part of me can't move on, and leaving this place, going somewhere new, will be admitting that not only is she gone, but she might not come back.
And that will mean I'll have to figure out how to live without her.
It suddenly dawns on me that I have got to start living again, or else I might as well die. Just as quickly, I realize I can't lay that on her conscience. It would be the easy way out, but she would hear about it, and she would know why. I can't do that to her. It's not her fault. I had no choice but to love her.
I suspect I always will. I can't make it go away, but I can take the steps necessary to put it in the place it belongs. We may be friends, but the days of traveling together are over. I know this, even if she doesn't. She thinks she will study for four years and come find me, and pick back up again where we left off.
The gods know that would be my dream come true, but it isn't fair to her. She's a good bard - one of the best, and that's without training. She will get into the Academy, and she will go places. I don't want her focusing on returning to a beat up ex-warlord when the whole world is before her.
No, she will be famous someday, and I'll pass through Athens or Rome, and go hear her tell her stories. Maybe we'll share a meal afterward, and catch up on our lives. But she'll have a family then, and kids, and me -- I'll still just be living, if I'm lucky. Or not so lucky. We'll talk and I'll move on again, and allow her to live her life.
Tomorrow I head toward Athens to say goodbye. It's the right thing to do. No popping in to visit these next four years. She needs to do what she does to achieve that dream, with no distractions.
My decision made, I crawl out of the cave to check the perimeter, and go get my bedroll. As I step out, I look up at the sky and spot her bear. It is my undoing, and I crumple to the ground, surprised at just how quickly the tears come.
It hurts so badly that all I want to do is go back inside that cave, close my eyes, and die. I hear a sob and realize it's my own voice. Damn her and damn Potadeia. Damn Draco for causing us to meet. And damn that kid and his father in that tavern.
Damn my foolish heart.
I don't know how long I've been crying, when I feel Argo nuzzle my hair. I reach up, clutching fistfuls of her mane in my hands, and bury my face into her neck. "I don't think I can do this," I mumble.
I hear a worried wicker from deep in Argo's throat, and she lips at the rawhide ties on my leathers. "Cut that out." I sniffle and finally push away from her, just a little. "Just you and me again, girl."
I take care of Argo, brushing her down and giving her a couple of carrots I dug up this morning from someone's garden. No Gabrielle around, and already I've stolen something. Okay, so she probably would've taken them too. She has a soft spot for Argo. She just won't admit it.
As I retrieve my bedroll, her blanket comes tumbling out of it. I've been sleeping with it, since she left it behind. It smells like her, and I hold it up to my face and close my eyes. I smell sunshine and flowers, and a trace of some of the mint leaves we were chewing on that last night while we counted the stars. All mixed in with those scents is what I identify as Gabrielle herself.
I can't help that. It's imprinted in my mind, as much time as we've spent together, often in close contact. Her scent invades my dreams, something that would probably mortify her if she ever understood just what it does to me sometimes.
I crawl back in my cave and curl up with her blanket. No earthy thoughts on this night. As I hold the blanket tightly against me, the tears come again, and the darkness closes in on me.
It is mid- morning, and I am nearing Athens. My heart is heavy, but I'm resigned, and I force myself not to think too much on what I'm about to do. I've decided after this maybe I'll go visit mother, or go travel with Herc for a while. Maybe I'll hop a boat to Alexandria and never look back this way again.
Over in the rushes, I hear a rustling noise, and start to draw my sword. Instead, my heart skips a beat and I stop, listening to a certain sound of material brushing material, and a distinct crunch of boots, and on the breeze that scent. It can't be. I am delusional. It's her. I force myself to simply keep walking, every fiber of my body standing at attention, waiting.
All of sudden she pops out onto the road and starts walking beside me, as if she'd never gone away. A million emotions rush through my blood, making my head spin. There is so much I want to say, but I find I can't speak.
"Hi." It is so good just to hear that one single word. She looks over at me with that smile, and my heart soars up above the trees. Then I realize that her being here must mean that she didn't get in. I try not to be glad about that.
Okay, I can be a supportive friend. "So who won?" I am trying so hard to sound normal, hoping my face doesn't give away what I'm feeling.
She won? Just as quickly as it rose, my heart comes crashing down into my stomach. So this is it. She's come to do exactly what I was going to do -- say one last goodbye. "Then what are you doing here?""Well, I know this is gonna sound stupid-- but I realized that while they're telling adventures, you and I can be living them."Stupid? It's the most amazing thing I've ever heard. I know I should feel guilty about her decision, but I can't help it. All I want to do is jump and shout, and run until I can't run anymore. I want to pick her up and twirl her around in my arms and …Whoa. I have got to put a halt to those thoughts right now. She came back. Now I need to do my best to keep her here, and that is not going to help anything. I swallow and force a normal expression onto my face. "Well, it's good to have you back." I know I'm smiling. Smiling is allowed, isn't it?We round the bend and come face to face with a band of thugs. I thank the nearest dozen gods. I am about to have to fight them, and that is going to give me a chance to cool my heels before I do something foolish.Gabrielle's eyes are gleaming. "This is gonna make a great story."Living adventures? Oh, kid. You don't know the half of it. I am living a dream. I draw my sword.
NEXT in the BTL Series - For Love or Money (post "A Fistful of Dinars")
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