THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
2.19 Shades of Meaning
Xena: "You're a part of my heart."
I lean over the railing and empty my stomach again. Poseidon is beyond angry at us for helping Ulysses, and the trip back home has been anything but pleasant. Given everything that's happened, we could have been sailing on glassy-calm seas and the trip would not have been pleasant. Poseidon thinks he's angry? Let me tell you, I am boiling, mad right now. I'm not sure if my stomach upset is due to the ceaseless waves the size of Olympus, or the roiling I feel in my gut every time I think of Ulysses. And Xena. And the confusion I'm feeling right now.
I won't talk to her. She doesn't understand why. Or she's pretending she doesn't. Hah! And here, I thought she was intelligent. Warrior Princess of needs to buy a freaking clue. If she can't figure this one out, she's utterly hopeless. And I'm way too infuriated to attempt to explain it to her.
We've taken to sleeping on opposite sides of the hold down below. I have the hammock with the blankets and pillows. She has some wooden crates pushed together with a couple of empty grain sacks. I hope she's cold at night. And itchy. She's sure not sharing my bed anytime soon. If ever again.
That thought sends me running back to the rail once more, but I have nothing left to feed the fishes. My stomach muscles hurt from the dry heaves. I lean over, burying my face against my crossed arms, wishing I were anywhere but trapped on this gods-forsaken boat with her. "Maybe I should've stayed on Ithaca," I murmur. Except Ulysses is there and I'd just as soon kill him as look at him right now.
What if his wife wasn't alive? Would I be standing holding the flowers at Xena's wedding, like she did at mine? I don't understand, and it hurts so much, I feel like I'll break in two. I know I said I would be happy to see her happy, but I think we both know I was lying. I do want to see her happy. It's just -- I thought being with me made her happy.
And what about the intimacy that's grown between us? Does that mean so little to her? Was I mistaken in believing we were building a life together? I mean, she didn't send me away and she never intimated she might, but what did she expect? The three of us would settle down on Ithaca together? That would've been nice and cozy.
It suddenly occurs to me that I have no idea where I'll go after I get off this boat. I can't stay with her. Not knowing how easily she could throw our love away. Not knowing how little I apparently mean to her. How could she allow what's happened between us and just go traipsing off after the first good-looking warrior who can halfway keep up with her?
I feel ugly and used. And pretty damned worthless. What am I going to do? I look across the water, to the edge of the horizon. I think she said we'd be back to the Greek mainland by morning. Where am I going to go then? I could go to the Amazons, I guess, or maybe back to the Academy. I certainly have enough stories from our travels to keep me busy there for a while.
I feel completely hopeless, and finally the tears come. I've been keeping them bottled up since I heard them talking that night before we got to Ithaca. They thought I was asleep. I sniffle, swiping angrily at my eyes, hoping she's not looking, but no such luck. She's at the wheel, and I know she's been watching me for over an hour now. I can feel the proverbial knife wounds from being stabbed in the back by those eyes.
She hands the helm over to one of the crewmen and I hear her approach. I look away, gripping the railing like a vise. I can feel wooden splinters in my palms and I don't care. I just want to be alone! Away from her. Away from the ocean and away from everything I felt for her. Still feel for her. I want to hate her, but I can't.
"Gabrielle." I feel her hand at my back.
"Don't touch me!" I whirl around and step away from her. "Don't you ever, ever touch me again!"
"I owe you an explanation." She looks down, digging the toe of her boot into a knot in the wooden deck. "And I'm sorry. I thought you understood what I was doing with Ulysses. Then it all got out of hand. And by the time I realized you didn't understand, you wouldn't talk to me."
"Out of hand? That's an understatement." I step forward and give her a shove, but only succeed in making her grab hold of my arms. "Let me go!"
"Not until you at least listen to me." She waits and I look up. She does look sorry. And hurt. Slowly, I nod my agreement. "Promise?" I nod again and she releases me.
She turns to the rail and leans against it, and I cautiously do the same, making sure there is some space between us. I'm not letting her touch me and try to make it up to me by getting all sweet on me. "Okay. I'm listening." I release a huff of a breath, and I refuse to look at her.
"Something about Ulysses got to me," she starts to speak and I roll my eyes.
"No? Really?" My voice drips with sarcasm.
"It's not what you think."
"Then what in the name of the gods, was it?" I turn to her, feeling the heat of rage flushing my skin.
"He wanted to go home and defend Ithaca. He wanted to call it his own." She looks away. "I think I projected everything I feel about Amphipolis on him. I felt driven to help him."
"By marrying him?! Hmmpphh." I laugh bitterly. "That's some 'help,' Xena. You plan to 'help' every good-looking man we meet that way?"
"I was never going to marry him!" Now she's angry. And frustrated, judging from her tone. "Gods. Gabrielle, I love you. After everything we've been through, everything that's between us, how could you think . . . ?"
"How could I not?!" I turn, lashing out at her with my words. "You said you loved him!"
"I never said that." She looks at me with genuine surprise in those eyes. "What made you think that?"
"Did you take some 'make me stupid' herbs on that island?" I begin pacing up and down the rail, with her on my heels. "On the deck of the ship, right before we reached Ithaca, you said you would never have been able to feel for Ulysses what you felt, if I hadn't taught you how to love. What part of that was encrypted to mean something else, huh?!"
"I said -- oh, gods." She walks over to a crate and sits down. For some reason, I feel compelled to follow. "I did say that. And then Ulysses saw land, and I never did finish my sentence."
"Puleeeazzssee. By all means, do finish." I step across from her and lean back against the mast, crossing my arms and waiting for the next idiotic string of words to come out of her mouth.
"Gabrielle, he needed help. You saw him. He's a good warrior, but there was no way he was going to get home without us, or someone like us, at his side. Poseidon is a god, and you and I have had our share of dealing with them. I don't think Ulysses has. And the Sirens -- I knew he'd have to get past them. And fighting -- he couldn't have fought off those pirates alone. Not the ones on the beach and not the ones on Ithaca. He didn't even have a plan or a crew for his boat." She sighs heavily.
"Still doesn't explain how saying you loved him didn't mean you loved him." I tap my toe impatiently. "Piss or get off the pot, Xena. If you didn't mean you loved him, what did you mean?"
"I felt sorry for him. Like I said, I related to his desire to re-claim his home. Would to the gods I could do the same and hold my head up when I'm there. I didn't realize how he felt about me until that night in the hold. And I couldn't bring myself to turn him down cold."
"So you led him on instead? Xena, that's cruel." Finally, I move to sit next to her, still leaving some space between us. "Cruel to both of us."
"I thought you were asleep at the time." She glances cautiously at me and I look back, but I keep my expression neutral. She's going to have to work like a dog to get back into my good graces. "I know, I know. It still doesn't explain. There was such hope in his eyes. He needed that hope to do what he had to do when he got home. My plan was to help him re-claim his home and then let him down gently. It's no good to be distracted by matters of the heart during the heat of battle."
"The 'love' part." I stand up again, my hands on my hips. "Still waiting, Warrior Princess. You gonna fill me in or not?"
"You taught me to love. On so many levels. Gabrielle, I was never truly in love before you. Not like this." She smiles sadly and I bite my lip and look down lest I cave in and forgive her. "But you taught me to love people -- to care about them. You taught me to invest myself in them even when there's nothing in it for me. That's what I meant -- I felt for him in a way I would never have allowed before I met you. Gods. Before I met you -- and Hercules -- I would've gone with him to Ithaca and then taken it for myself on arrival."
She carefully places a hand on my leg and I allow it. "That's how much I've changed since meeting you. And I am so, so sorry you ever thought I was in love with Ulysses. You're the one I love, Gabrielle."
I want to kick her and kiss her, all at the same time. "You are maddening, you know that?"
"I know." She smiles at me, then looks down, fiddling with one of her arm bracers. "I guess next time I should make sure you're clear on the plan."
"Yes." I grab handfuls of her leathers, hauling her to her feet. "No more keeping the plans from the sidekick, understood? As for 'next time,' I don't ever want to go through ANY time like this, ever again, you got me?"
"I got you." She looks down where I've still got a hold of her. "Or I guess right now you've got me." She reaches up and caresses my cheek. "Always." Awww. My anger melts away and I close my eyes, right before she kisses me.
Next in the BTL series - The Path Taken (post "The Price")
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