THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.17 -- No Fool
(post "Royal Couple of Thieves")
Auto: "You know, it seems pretty clear to me that Hercules doesn't know a diamond in the rough when he sees one. I mean--look at you."X: "Care to explain that?"Auto: "Well, Hercules could have any woman he wanted. Obviously, he just passed you by."X: "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"Auto: "No-- just a fact, but-- if he let someone like you get away-- then he must be a-- well, all right, yes, it-- was a compliment."X: "Hercules isn't as blind as you think; but neither one of us wants to fool ourselves."-Royal Couple of Thieves
"I still think it was a good trade." I look over at her and she smiles at me indulgently. She's been doing that a lot lately. "That merchant seemed happy enough."
She almost skips for a moment, something I've never seen her do. She's in a rare really good mood, although those have been present more often as well. She's leading Argo and every now and then she kicks at a rock in the road. Not in an angry way, but a playful one.
"Oh, come on, Xena. The ring was fake, with a sugar gemstone, just like the one we tricked Autolycus with in the first place. I should have known the king of thieves would out-thief me. But surely a pan flute is an equal trade for a lump of sugar, if not better." She turns, facing me, and drops the reins, leaving Argo to follow us of her own free will, which she does.
"Depends on how good your ears are," she mumbles.
"Xena!" I squawk at her in mock outrage, but I just can't seem to get mad at her over much of anything these days. "I'll practice. I'm not that bad, am I?" She says nothing, but I can see her tongue poking her cheek in an effort not to laugh. "Oh, you!" I leap forward, and launch myself at her, and she laughs and takes off.
I laugh too, and ball my fists up, and run hard, making sure my legs are doing more work than my lungs, just like Xena taught me. To my surprise, chasing her down isn't nearly as hard as it used to be. My legs are a lot stronger than they were when I left Potadeia, and I usually don't get out of breath anymore unless we've had a really good fight and I've had to use my staff a lot. Still -- those legs seem like they're twice as long as mine, and keeping up with her is always a challenge, even when we're just walking, unless she deliberately slows her pace for me.
This time, she's laughing and determined to make me work, those blue eyes gleaming in wicked merriment as she looks over her shoulder at me. I re-double my efforts and get within inches, and reach out. I just miss grabbing her skirt, when suddenly she leaps up and flies through the air. I'm so close on her heels that I don't see the boulder she used to launch herself from, until it's too late.
I have two choices, run into the stupid big rock, or use it the same way she did. Gods. I've not done any flips before, but here goes nothing. I jump high and plant one leg firmly on the boulder, then fly forward. I close my eyes for a second -- it's too high and fast, and I let out a yell, expecting to hit the ground hard.
Instead, I feel a pair of long arms close around me, holding me tight, and then we are rolling through the tall grass, tumbling over and over again until I'm so disoriented, I don't know which way is up anymore. "Whoa!" We come to a stop and my head is spinning. My eyes are still closed, and I decide to leave them that way until I'm certain I won't throw up from dizziness.
When I open them, two blue ones are peering back at me from very close range. I blink and swallow, and feel my tongue lick across my lips, but I'm mesmerized, and for a very long moment, I can't move. That is, I can't move until I realize I'm sprawled on top of her. "Oh, Xena. I'm sorry."
I start to roll off her, but she's still holding on, so I relax, and watch her smile. I love to see that smile. "If you wanted to learn to do flips, Gabrielle, all you had to do was ask." She tweaks my nose and then releases me, folding her hands back behind her head and flopping back in the grass in utter contented laziness. "That was the hard way."
"I . . . um . . . that is . . ." Why am I breathing like I've just run a marathon? And why in Tartarus am I still pinning her down? I slowly rise up, bearing my weight on my hands and locked elbows, hovering over her, still unable to form a coherent sentence.
"Hey." Her voice grows soft and concerned, and she reaches up, and touches my face. "You alright? You didn't hurt yourself, did you?"
"N--no." I manage to scoot partway off her, only to find one long arm wrapped around me. "I'm fine. Really." That arm is a lot stronger than me, and she pulls me down, until I'm resting in the grass next to her, lying on my back, my head cradled against her shoulder. I feel those long fingers stroking my hair, and my eyes flutter closed, as my heart tries to find its normal rhythm once more.
"Shhhh." She continues playing with my hair. She seems to be doing that a lot lately, too. "Just rest a minute. I shouldn't have picked high noon on a warm day to make you play chase."
"S'okay." I smile, and snuggle closer. "That was fun." I roll my head to the side and look at her. She has such a strong, fine profile. "I like playing with you."
She smiles, but continues to look up at the sky. It's interesting to watch. Her smiles light up her whole face, and even from the side, all those little muscles from her lips to her cheek to her ear twitch and move, giving her face a completely different appearance than when she's just thinking or fighting. "I like playing with you, too." She ruffles my head.
"Does the flute really hurt your ears?" I peer over at her timidly. I've no training, and have just been playing it by ear, but it's been fun, picking out some of the tunes I learned back home in the sheep pastures.
"No," she drawls. "Not too much, anyway." She grins and sits partway up, resting back on her elbows. She pats her lap and I know my eyebrows hike up to my hairline. "Come on." I scoot over and lay my head down in her lap, and she begins massaging my scalp and temples. Then she reaches under my neck and I feel it pop as she adjusts it back into alignment, much like she did after Sinteres gave me the headache from Tartarus, only this time it isn't painful It feels good, actually, and I close my eyes.
"Sorry," I mutter. "You sing so beautifully. Me, I can whistle. We all have music in our souls, Xena. The flute is just a way for me to express what I can't do with my own voice."
"No worries." Her voice rumbles against me, my ear pressed against her stomach. "Play to your heart's content. You've actually made a lot of progress in the few days you've had it."
I smile, and close my eyes again. It feels so good here, and it's a beautiful day, and I realize that there's a song in my heart just waiting to get out. "We taking a break for a while?"
"Yeah." She's humming under her breath, while she keeps up a slow steady stroking motion to my hair. It's hypnotic, and I feel Morpheus sneaking up on me. As I drift off, I feel her lips brush across my forehead, and I smile. Nothing can touch what I'm feeling right now. Nothing.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~NEXT in the BTL Series - post "The Prodigal"
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