THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.9 -- One for Death the Hard Way
(post "Death in Chains")G: "Talus, this could be dangerous. You should go back."
I learned a hard lesson this time. Sometimes doing the right thing means sacrificing your own desires for the greater good of other people. I just didn't know that's what we were doing until it was too late. I know releasing Celesta was the right thing to do. I saw the people suffering who couldn't die while she was chained up. I think Karas understood that too, and that's why she was willing to help Xena, even if it meant she would lose Sisyphus.
What if I had known Talus was dying? Would I have tried so hard to help Xena rescue Celesta? I'd like to think I would have. And Talus had a good heart. He helped too, even knowing he was facing his own death.
Before I left Potadeia, Perdicus was about the only man I'd ever thought about in a romantic way, and in his case, I knew I didn't want to marry him. It's partly why I left home. He wasn't the right one. Since leaving Potadeia, I've met several men I thought of in that way. Sphaerus turned out to be a warlord. I almost gave my virginity to Phyleus. Even Iolaus - he was a good man and I know he had feelings for me, even though I didn't exactly share them. But Talus, I thought he might be the one.
Obviously he wasn't, and now I find myself pondering what it all means, other than I really do have bad judgment when it comes to men, even if they are good ones. Xena has talked to me some about all of this - about making sure someone is worthy of me and all of that. She said I'd know when it was right. That's why I didn't go with Iolaus. It didn't feel right. Talus and I seemed to have a lot in common - our love of philosophy, literature, and storytelling.
Talus and I were getting along so well, I had assumed he would probably travel with us for a while. I think Xena did too, and she's been extra gentle with me these past few days. After I quit crying, I became angry with him for not telling me he was dying. That in turn made me cry again because I know the dead can hear our thoughts, and I didn't want him to hear me mentally yelling at him. I know he's in a better place, and I know we did the right thing by Celesta, but it's still depressing and unfair.
Xena said he probably just wanted to be treated like a normal person, and that's why he didn't tell me. Pretty insightful for her, and I have to admit she's probably right. I remember how I treated Iolaus when I thought he was dying, so I probably would have handled Talus with kid gloves too, had I known. Instead I had a wonderful time discussing all the great mysteries of life with him, and sharing stories that I know I'll remember for the rest of my life.
"Hey, hope you're hungry. I asked for cups of the stew. You don't want to see the bowls, trust me." Xena takes her seat at our table in the corner of the inn we're staying in tonight, and sets two huge bowls of venison stew down on the table.
I'm glad for the diversion, as I eye the super-sized portions and then look up at her skeptically. "You're sure these aren't the bowls?"
"Nope." She nods toward a table nearby where two burly men are digging into containers the size of tureens. "Those are the bowls. These are the cups." She grins that silly smile she gets when she's in a goofy mood, and starts to devour her meal with some gusto. We skipped lunch today in order to get here before sunset.
I carefully turn my bowl around in a circle and do indeed locate a mug handle. "Good grief, Xena. This would feed me and half the Athenian army."
She pauses in the middle of dunking a chunk of bread in her stew, and gives me a poke in the ribs. "Nah. I've seen you eat. You can handle it."
"Hey!" I try to poke back but she dodges me with a laugh. She's in a rare mood tonight, and I half-suspect she's trying to keep my mind off Talus' death. I've had a few bad dreams about it, and once she even got up and woke me during a particularly scary one. She just gave me a hug and sat with me until I must've dozed back off again. When I woke up the next morning, she had moved her bedroll next to mine and was sleeping facing me.
She's been doing that more and more, ever since I told her about Iolaus dying. I think sometimes she feels badly for some of the situations we've been in, and blames herself for some of my bad dreams. I wish I could find a way to make her believe I wouldn't have it any other way. The wonders of traveling with her - the places I've seen, the people I've met, and the things we've done, far outweigh a few bad dreams. I'm living life now, instead of watching it pass me by.
And I have a best friend. I can relate to Xena sometimes in ways I couldn't even relate to Lila. Sure, Lila's my sister, and I'll always love her. She'll always be my family, but Lila didn't share my dreams. She listened to me, but she never encouraged me to actually follow them. Xena actually listens most of the time, I think. Sometimes she even says nice things, like that she likes my stories or that she thinks I was brave in certain situations we've faced. It's nice to have someone in my life who seems to believe in me, even if she would rather sharpen her sword than discuss Sophocles.
Sophocles. Now there's someone I can take a lesson from right now, while I'm missing my friend Talus. "I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living: in that world I shall abide for ever."
"Antigone." Xena looks at me and keeps eating her dinner without missing a beat.
"You've read Sophocles?" I almost choke on a piece of carrot in my stew, both at her knowledge of the quote, and in embarrassment that I spoke it aloud. I didn't mean to.
"No, I knew Sophocles." She pauses long enough to drain half a mug of ale, smacking her lips in appreciation. She sits back in her chair and crosses her ankles, looking rather pleased with herself. She does this whenever she reveals these little impressive tidbits about herself that she's been withholding from me.
"You - you knew Sophocles?" I put down my spoon and lean forward, resting both hands on the table. "You knew Sophocles and are just now getting around to telling me about it? Xena, I even told you I met a man on the road to Amphipolis who knew Oedipus. If you knew Sophocles, you must have heard of Oedipus."
"Yeah. So? Knew him and Antigone too." She gives me a deadpan look, and then raises an eyebrow, before she empties her mug and looks around for a refill.
I can't decide whether to slap her for sins of omission, or hug her for the good stories I know I am going to dig out of her. "Do tell." I finally decide to let her off the hook.
"Who do you think told Sophocles about Oedipus and Antigone, hmmmm?" She smiles and nods her head in appreciation as a barmaid makes the rounds with a fresh frosty pitcher.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I shake my head in incredulous admonishment, but manage to smile nonetheless.
"Oedipus and Antigone were both fools, and you know I don't suffer people like them easily, Gabrielle." Her expression grows more thoughtful. "They were both so busy worrying about things they had no control over, they didn't fully live their lives."
"Maybe Sophocles was trying to get that message across when he wrote about them." I shake my spoon at her for emphasis.
She grabs it from me and shakes it back. "Maybe. But I don't think they were worth parchment and ink, myself." Her expression grows wistful. "Such a waste."
I realize she's speaking of more than Sophocles' subject matter. "Xena, I'll be okay. It'll just take time."
"I know." She pats my hand and then crosses her own hands over her stomach. "I'm sorry, though. Knowing what I knew, it made freeing Celesta a very difficult choice."
"Because Talus would die?" I sip at my own ale, pacing myself. I can't keep up with Xena and have learned not to try.
"No. Because it would cause you pain." For some reason, just knowing she cares that much makes my sadness that much lighter. I reach across and take one of her hands, giving it a firm squeeze before I let her go, placing it back on her stomach.
"Thank you for caring." I sniffle a little bit and dab at my eyes, determined not to cry when we talk about him this time.
"It's tough, losing someone you love." She looks down, that long hair obscurring her face.
"Love?" I tilt my head until I can see her eyes. "I hadn't had time to fall in love with him. I was curious about him, and we seemed to get along well and all, but I was too busy worrying about getting to you, to warn you not to touch Celesta, to think about much else
"But, I thought --" she looks up and strangely, she appears relieved.
"He was my friend, Xena. We shared common interests, and we worked together to help some people. Not too different from what you and I do together much of the time. But I don't think he was my tree in the forest or anything." I take a deep breath, feeling the truth of that statement, even as I make it. "If it was meant to be, he wouldn't have died when he did."
"Oh." She sits forward and starts nursing her ale again. "Well, I'm sorry you lost your friend, even if you weren't in love with him."
Our eyes meet and something passes between us, reminding me of just how deep our friendship has become. Much deeper than what I shared with Talus, I suddenly realize.
"So, you wanna tell me all about Sophocles?" I decide to leave Talus in the back of my thoughts for tonight, and take some of Xena's advice, and live in the present.
"Sophocles?" She snorts. "Sure, I can tell you about him, but the real story is everything that happened at the Festival of Dionysus, where I first saw him perform. My friend Sappho was there."
"Sappho! The Sappho?" She nods at me like an imp, and I settle in, my attention focused solely on her face. If Xena is going to tell a story, I don't want to miss a single word.
NEXT: Fit for a Queen - (post "Hooves & Harlots")
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