THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES

(or what happened between the episodes)

by Texbard

 

For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"

 

 

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2.7 Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

(post Intimate Stranger)

 

Gabrielle: "Wait. So, this is it? I mean, you're just -- in there -- to stay?"
Xena-Callisto: "Looks like it. Gabrielle, this can't be easy for you. If you don't want to come with me, I understand."
G: "No, it -- it's gonna take some getting used to. I mean -- of all the bodies to be stuck in, why did it have to be Callisto?"

 

- Intimate Stranger

 

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Every morning, I wake up and see her, and I almost scream. And she's learned not to ever lean over me or shake me awake. For that matter, she has learned not to approach me from behind without warning. I guess now I know how it feels to be her. She always says people who blind-side her are liable to get knocked into next week. I seem to be the one exception to that rule. She said she always knows when it's me, but I've never been able to get her to explain how. She says she just knows.

 

I, unfortunately, don't have those skills, especially with this new and unimproved version of Xena. I don't even keep my staff quite so close at hand at night, for fear if she does wake me, I'll grab it and clobber her. Xena's mind may be in there, but she hasn't quite adjusted to being in Callisto's body. She's still getting used to her reflexes -- different arm and leg lengths, and all.

 

She vaulted onto Argo from behind the other day, and flew right on over her head. Callisto's body is lighter than Xena's. Luckily some things kicked in fairly quickly, and she managed to turn a flip and land on her feet, although she had to take a few hops on landing to get her balance.

 

She hasn't once complained, and I think she believes she's being punished for letting Callisto die, and is willing to accept things as they are. I, on the other hand, would pound the Tartarus out of Ares for this, if he weren't a god and could pummel me. I'm furious. At him. At Callisto. I think I'm even a little angry at Xena for feeling guilty for what she did, or didn't do, I guess is more correct. Apparently her guilt feelings, right or wrong, allowed all this to happen.

 

We'd finally figured things out -- sort of -- as far as what's going on between us. Admitted we love each other. Admitted we're attracted to each other. I know we both have a lot of healing to do, and we had a few trust issues. But I am ready to put Perdicus and all the confusion behind us, and get on with our lives, whatever that might mean.

 

And then this had to happen.

 

I hate it. Hate it! I want my Xena back. My Xena, whose body is tall and strong, who can take command of a room by merely walking through the doorway. My Xena, who has long, thick, dark, silky hair. I love it when she asks me to braid it, or help brush it, although I suspect she could do those things for herself, and just likes the excuse to have me care for her as much as I do. My Xena -- who has the bluest, wisest, saddest eyes I've ever seen -- I could drown in those eyes and die happy.

 

And that's who I want. My Xena's hug is strong and solid, her kisses soft and sweet. Her arms, her body, her . . . gods . . . I've got to quit torturing myself. I'm not a kid anymore. I know where things were headed between us, and I think Xena had finally decided to let it happen.

 

I will always love Xena. But I'm having a hard time being attracted to this version of her. Okay, I'm NOT attracted to this version of her, and I think she knows that. She'd be stupid not to know it, and I know it hurts her. I can't help it. I love Xena, but when I look at her, I see Callisto, my worst enemy.

 

If we don't get her body back, I don't know what will happen. I'll stay with her, no question. And I'll love her, but I don't think I can make love with her like this. I just can't. I guess I'm shallow and superficial for feeling this way. Love is supposed to be about what's inside a person, right? But dammit all to Hades, I think you have to be attracted to them, at least a little bit, to act on that love on a physical level.

 

My hormones are not happy right now. No happy dance there. It only makes me regret my decision to marry Perdicus all the more, because none of this - None of This - would have happened if I'd just listened to my heart instead of running away.

 

Now we're both being punished all over again - Xena for her guilt and me for my cowardice. As if Perdicus' death wasn't enough.

 

I finish putting away the dishes I just washed, shoving them into our travel bag, and look up. It's reflex, now, to always have tabs on where she is. It was starting to be like that, even before the Callisto body-switch. It's not about trust -- it's just the comfort of knowing she's nearby, even if I can't see her.

 

We're camping in an old abandoned barn tonight, but we made our cook-fire outside, to avoid burning the place down. She went inside after dinner, at my urging. I couldn't take looking up and seeing that expression on her face much longer. She's hurting -- despite being resigned, I know she is. She looks at me with such regret, it makes my heart ache. I imagine by now she's running out of chores in there. You can only polish armor so many times in one night, after all.

 

She's taken some solace in Argo. Despite everything, once she starts talking to Argo, Argo knows who she is and treats her just the same as always. Can't say the same for the rest of us so-called "friends." Joxer hit the road. Callisto terrifies him. Not that either of us were sorry to see him go. We've got too much internal stuff to deal with, without having to deal with him on the external. He means well, but he always attracts trouble, even worse than Xena or I do.

 

I make my way inside the barn, and just as I suspected, I can hear her, talking softly to Argo, and brushing her coat. I tramp through the thick straw and cautiously approach her, leaning against the opening to the stall they're in. "Hey."

 

"Hey." She glances at me for the briefest moment, then continues with her task.

 

"That tail is going to look even better than it did when Diana brushed her." I laugh lightly, wishing for something, anything, to break the somber mood between us. She smiles at this, and I manage to smile back. Then her smile disappears.

 

"I . . . um . . . laid your bedroll out up in that loft up there." She gestures with her head toward a rough wooden set of steps nailed into a support post. "Seemed like a warm place and all. Figured you could get some rest and I'd bunk down here and keep watch."

 

I look at her gratefully. We've been sleeping on opposite sides of the fire again -- my unspoken choice. I've hated having her watch me drag my bedroll to the other side of the fire each night. That's just Xena. The thing is, I know she didn't make this decision to separate our bedrolls like that for her. Much as it's hurt her, she's done it for me, because she knows it hurts me, too, having to make that decision each night. She's sparing me the pain of having to hurt her. This is so messed up. "Thanks." I lightly touch her arm, and move to a window, looking out at the stars. "Nice night."

 

"Yeah." She joins me, leaning on the windowsill and looking out. "I used to love nights like this, growing up." She keeps looking out, those big brown eyes reflecting the moonlight overhead. Brown eyes. Gods. Will I ever get used to that? I close my eyes and try to focus on her voice, instead, as she continues to talk. "I'd finish my chores inside the tavern as fast as I could, and get out to the barn to help take care of the animals. It was a chance to get away from all the bustle inside and have some peace and quiet. I think it's why I've always gotten along better with animals than people." She smiles and glances at me. "Animals -- they don't judge you for anything more than how you treat them, and they know you by sound and scent. It's much simpler way of getting to know someone."

 

I know she's not trying to make me feel guilty, but she has, nonetheless. "Xena. I'm sorry . . ."

 

"Don't be." She looks down, tugging at the top of her skirt, just below her exposed navel. I don't think she much likes Callisto's armor choices, either. "I can barely stand to be with myself right now. I don't blame you . . ."

 

"It's not that." I touch her arm. "I still have feelings, you know?" I brush my thumb back and forth against her biceps, hoping she understands what I mean. "Just . . . it's going to take some getting used to."

 

"For both of us." She nods in agreement. "I've got to put some muscle on this frame." She laughs lightly. "Callisto is fast, but she isn't nearly as strong as me. I hope . . ." she shakes her head.

 

"It'll all come back to you." I withdraw my hand and lean forward again. "I know it will. You still have most of your skills. Gods, Xena, in some ways you haven't missed a beat. You can still turn flips and wield that sword like lightening. Still track animals and catch arrows, and you still know it's me walking up behind you, before I've said a word. Granted, lately, I'm the only one who would be walking up behind you, but it's still pretty amazing. I mean . . ."

 

"I'd know you in the middle of the Athenian market on trade day, with my eyes closed," she interrupts me quietly. "You wouldn't have to move a finger."

 

"But . . . how?" I finally look up at her and meet her gaze.

 

"Your scent." She smiles faintly and looks away, fidgeting with an arm bracer. "I know the sound of your walk, the swish of your skirt, even the thump of your staff if you're using it as a walking stick, but I don't need sounds to find you, Gabrielle. The smell of your skin and hair -- that's been imprinted on my brain for a very long time."

 

I let out a soft surprised breath. "How long have you been able to do that?" I swallow.

 

"You -- um -- remember when I pulled you up behind me on Argo that day?" Her eyes search mine and I realize she wants me to meet her halfway on this one.

 

I think for a long moment. She's pulled me up on Argo hundreds of times. Which time? I wrack my brain and suddenly it hits me. "After Amphipolis was going to stone you?" If that's true . . . gods, if that's true. "Xena, that long ago?"

 

She nods, but breaks my gaze. "Like I said, I've loved you for a very long time, Gabrielle. I -- when you found me at my campsite, after I defeated Draco -- there was a part of me that knew, even then, that there was not going to be any sending you home. Not on my part."

 

Everything goes blurry, as my eyes water up. I think about the Academy, and that stupid time I went home after I lost my courage, and marrying Perdicus. Oh, gods! What have we done to each other? "Xena, I don't know what to say I ."

 

"Neither did I." She sighs. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. For so many things. I just thought that someday, you'd find a life that would be better than the one you were living with me. It was the logical thing to think -- someone like you -- do you have any idea how bright and beautiful you are?" She glances over at me, and I look into her eyes, seeing the intelligence and emotion there that is all Xena, even if the color is all wrong. "The one thing I couldn't account for is that we were both obviously attracted to each other, and when I couldn't figure out what to do with that, I tried to ignore it."

 

"Because you thought it was wrong for me?" She nods. "Xena, listen to me." I take her hand. It's smaller than what I'm used to, and I look down, tracing patterns on it with my fingers. "I've had plenty of opportunities to go lead that good life you seemed so bound and determined to push me toward. It's not what I want. I want to be with you. I always wanted to be with you, from the moment I first saw you." I sigh wistfully, remembering those flashing blue eyes and long dark hair flying around as she fought off Draco's men in that clearing outside Potadeia.

 

"Even now?" She looks down, gesturing at her body.

 

"I --" I reach up, touching her face. "I need some time, okay? I am so in love with the person inside here." I press my hand against her chest. "But I need a little time to adjust to the package it's in." I ball my hand into a fist, pressing it against her harder. "I have no intention of leaving you, ever again, you hear me?"

 

Her eyes water up, matching mine, I suspect. I can see her soul in there, now, and it's comforting. "That's more than I ever hoped for, given the circumstances." Her voice catches, and she stops, and takes a deep breath, then reaches across and absently tugs at a lock of my hair. "We have all the time in the world. Just . . . be my friend. I could use one right about now."

 

Slowly, I pull her into a hug, and feel those lips brush across my forehead. It's as close as we've gotten since the body-switch, and she doesn't smell like my Xena, or feel like my Xena, but the words and the emotions behind them -- those are all her. "I'll always be your friend."

 

We pull apart, not lingering, and go about the business of getting ready to sleep. Finally, after a trip to the bushes outside, and a drink of water, I pull on my nightshirt, and climb up the ladder. It's dark up here, and I can hear Xena rustling around down below. At last, I hear her blow out the lantern and the darkness settles around us. There is still moonlight from the window below, and I can see it through a crack over my head. The wind whispers beneath the eaves and I can hear Argo snort as she crunches on her oats.

 

Finally, I hear Xena settle into the straw below me, and hear her sigh. Then I hear the slight rustle that I know is her laying her sword next to her. I know she's awake, and that that magical part of her that is always alert, even when she sleeps, will guard both of us, keeping us safe until morning. "Gabrielle," she calls softly to me.

 

"Yeah?" I crawl to the edge of the loft and peer over the edge at her. I can't really see her clearly, just the shadow I know is her down there.

 

"It's okay, if you don't ever get used to the package." My heart hurts hearing this. I know she's giving me an out both of us desperately hope I don't need. "It won't change how I feel about you."

 

"Thanks," I whisper back, and crawl back into the hay. "Xena?

"Yeah?"

 

"I've revised that story I started to tell you. You want to hear it?"

 

"Which story is that?"

 

"It started out with 'I sing a song of Perdicus -- the boy I knew -- the man I loved'."

 

"Um . . . Sure." She doesn't sound sure at all, and I can tell she's not keen on the story.

 

But she needs to know something. "You see, Xena, I think -- what I think, is that we -- you and I -- had to go through some very bad stuff, to get to a place where we could be honest with each other. So, I had to change the story. It wasn't an honest beginning." I swallow, and recite something I hope will go a long way toward healing, "I sing -- of the wrath of Callisto -- the pain of Gabrielle-- and the courage of Xena -- and the inevitable mystery of a friendship as immortal as the gods."*** I can almost hear her smile, as I continue . . .
 
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 *** See transcript for the 5th season episode, "Kindred Spirits." Xena finally gets around to reading Gabrielle's scrolls, and she comes to the story of the "Return of Callisto. The story has changed from the one Gabrielle told at the end of "Intimate Stranger."
 

Next in the BTL series - "Cherish" (post "Ten Little Warlords")

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