THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.14 -- The Greater Good Begins
(post "A Fistful of Dinars")
Xena: "You almost got Gabrielle killed by what you did."Thersites: "Is that what you're upset about? Ah, yeah-- what's the big deal? She's worthless-- she hasn't got any clues. I say--the more for the rest of us."Xena: "If she dies-- you die. See, I don't care that much for treasure."- A Fistful of Dinars
I can't bring myself to look into her eyes. She was right. And she was wrong. I did exactly what she told me not to -- let Petrecles' smooth lines fool me and reel me in. She was right about that part. And I think now that he was using me to get to Xena. That's the part she was wrong about, and in the end, it seems that he was still carrying a torch for the Warrior Princess.
I just wonder if she still carries one for him. She was stunned when she found that wedding bracelet. He'd been carrying it around all those years, even after Xena left him. She went through -- gods, she went through Marcus and Draco and Iolaus and Hercules. I'm sure there are others. Helen. Now that was a surprise in some ways, and in others it wasn't.
But Petrecles . . . he wanted Xena and she thought he just wanted to use me to get to her clues for the Sumerian treasure. And she was afraid he would dig the secret of the ambrosia out of me. He was smooth as silk, too.
Only, I think there was more to it, even than using me to get to Xena. Sure, he could use me to make her jealous--make her watch her best friend fall for him--see if he could get a rise out of her over him going after me. At the same time, he could get a little ego boost by winning me over.
I don't care if he was pure on the one level in going after an old love. His methods weren't pure in the least. He did the honorable thing in the end, and saved my life. I hate that. I hate being beholden to someone who wanted to hurt Xena in order to get to her. And I really hate being beholden to the dead.
Mostly, I hated seeing the anguish on her face when he died. It's the same expression she had when Marcus died. I didn't get a chance to meet Marcus, but somehow, I just sense that he had a good heart. Petrecles, I'm equally convinced wanted Xena selfishly. I lied to her, a tiny lie, and agreed with her when she said he was a good man. I think parts of him were good, but I think ultimately, he wanted Xena any way he could get her.
And Thersites. Ugh! I think I came close to understanding hatred, because after Xena got me safely to the other side of that ravine, it's just a good thing I didn't have any deadly weapons on my hands, or I just might have finally spilled some blood. I wanted to hate him. No, I should be honest with myself. For a moment, I did hate him.
Xena risked herself to save me. How she managed to fly across all that open space and land in exactly the right spot to help me is amazing. She could have died, and she shrugged it off as if it were nothing. She still won't let me fawn over her for that, and I think she's upset at me about the incident between Petrecles and me.
I should come clean--tell her about him kissing me, and tell her I didn't want him. Really, I didn't. He intrigued me. Like he said, he managed to talk Xena into getting engaged to him. He's part of my best friend's past. He knows things about her that I don't. Part of me wanted to get to know that part of her. Another part of me, I'll admit, didn't want to be treated like a kid.
I realize now that Xena was trying to protect me, not restrict me. It seems every time I don't listen to her, I end up regretting it later. Maybe some lessons I'm destined to learn the hard way.
We stopped off in this village to replenish supplies, and Xena immediately took off for the tavern. She said she needed a few drinks and to meet her at the inn next door to it after I pick up some herbs we need, both for food and for her healer's kit. And I need some new boot laces, and I think she needs a couple of those little brass hooks she uses to clip her armor together, but I'm leaving that to her to find. I don't know if I would get the right thing if I tried to buy them for her.
It was pretty clear she wanted to be alone for a while. That stung. I'm always afraid she's regretting me traveling with her when she does that. But I know there's nothing I can do if she does decide to leave me behind. At least now, I think I could probably make my way in the world without her if I had to.
It's just . . . I don't want to. It's more than learning things from her. I want to be with her, just because. I don't understand it myself. Yeah, she's my best friend, and I'm closer to her than I've ever been to anyone. We seem to belong together. I only wish I felt secure that I bring as much to our partnership as she does. Certainly she could cook and shop for herself, even if she isn't as good at those things as I am.
I hope this whole Petrecles thing hasn't ruined it all. Maybe I should just concentrate on shopping and get back to that tavern before Xena drowns her sorrows over him a little too much. I've not seen her drunk. I don't even know if she gets drunk. I have a feeling it wouldn't be a pretty thing, though, even if she herself is-- pretty, I mean.
I make my way from stall to stall, shaking my head. Most merchants in most villages price their goods way too high. It was true in Potadeia, and that's where I learned to haggle. Neither father nor mother were ever very happy with me if I came back from the market with none of the dinars left they had given me. It was kind of a test, I think, to see if I could get the most for our money.
I suppose it was another wifely skill they wanted to instill in me. Funny that the only person it's ever benefited outside my own family turned out to be Xena. Come to think of it, she's as much a family to me now as my real family is. Maybe more.
I finally find the last thing we need, a roll of clean bandages, and get a large bunch for only a couple of dinars. As I round a corner, I spot Xena, not drinking, but wandering aimlessly from stall to stall, picking up things and looking at them. I don't think I've ever seen her just window shop, and I stop to watch her for a few minutes, mesmerized.
She looks sad, her head down a little more than usual, that long dark hair hiding her face much of the time. Even her shoulders are a bit slumped, and her steps are slow and dragging some. I can't imagine that shopping is going to make her feel any better, since I know it's an activity she doesn't necessarily enjoy.
She stands at one stall for a long time. It's so far down the aisle that I can't make out what the merchant is selling there. Finally, she digs around in her belt pouch and appears to place some dinars down on the stall counter. The man nods in approval and wraps something up for her, and she takes it and starts wandering again, this time toward the tavern.
I pick up my pace and casually fall in behind her. Spying is rude, and I try to think of how to make my presence known. "Fancy meeting you here," I hear myself say. Oh, yeah, that's original.
"Thought I heard you back there." She turns around and her smile is at once happy and sad, if that's possible.
"What do you mean you heard me?" I come closer and end up next to her. Without thinking, I bump my hip against hers. This gets me a real smile. A bit of a shocked one, but at least the sad part is gone.
"I have sharp ears." She taps the side of her head with one finger, just below her earlobe. She has delicate-looking ears, all out of keeping with her reputation, but most of the time her hair covers them up. "Your skirt has a distinct swish to it when you walk, and besides, I could hear the thump of your staff. When you walk, it mixes in with everything else in a unique pattern. I'm just used to hearing it, I guess. She shrugs, and I am simply amazed all over again at her skills.
"Uh-huh." I shake my head in wonder. "Did you already get that ale you wanted?"
"Um, no. I figured I'd pick up a few things I needed." She ducks her head a little bit, but not before I catch a slight blush coloring her cheeks. What's up with that?
"You get those armor clasps you said you wanted?" I tug at one of the worn ones just below her shoulder padding.
"No. Not yet. Guess I should do that in a little while." She changes direction, and cuts through a side aisle, and I follow her. "How about we get a couple of mugs of ale?"
"Okay." She's acting strangely, but I've learned with Xena to feel my way carefully if I want her to let me know what's going on inside that beautiful head of hers. It's a bit like squeezing water from a stone sometimes, but well worth it when she finally does open up.
We step inside the tavern and Xena orders our drinks, while I go stake out a corner table next to an open widow. It's nice outside today, with warm sunshine and a nice cool breeze to temper it. I wish this particular tavern had outdoor tables. That would be nice.
Xena joins me, and nurses her mug slowly, not looking at me much, although every now and then we both glance up at the same time and just as quickly glance away. I decide I've had enough of this dance of avoidance. If she's that angry with me, might as well get it out in the open and deal with it.
"I'm sorry if I hurt you." There, I've said it. Her head snaps up and she appears completely surprised, her eyes wide and her lips parted slightly.
"Y--you didn't hurt me. What are you talking about?" She reaches across and touches my hand, a rare thing for her. I clasp her fingers for a moment and squeeze them, before I let go and she quickly draws her hand back. She studies it for a moment then drops it back down on the table surface.
"Petrecles." I watch her face for any sign of affirmation. "Xena, he kissed me. Bu--"
"I know." It's my turn to be shocked, and that sad smile returns to her face, reaching into the depths of her eyes. "Sharp ears, remember?"
"It wasn't what you think." I try to recover my composure, and can feel the shame burning on the surface of my skin. "I didn't expect him to do that. I didn't want him to like me like that. I mean, I didn't like him like that. Am I making sense at all?"
"He was a good man, Gabrielle. It's alright if--"
"No. He wasn't. Xena." I push my mug aside and lean forward, getting as close to her as I can with the table separating us. I have to make her understand. "He may have been sincere in what he wanted--you. But he wasn't pure in his methods. He was just using me to get to you--to make you jealous. And it worked. I heard him. My ears aren't so bad either. I wasn't asleep when he said exactly that, that you were jealous."
"I--" She trails off and looks down. "I can't deny that, Gabrielle, but that also isn't what you think."
"Sounds pretty clear to me. Your feelings for him were re-kindled, but he was putting the moves on me. Jealousy would be a natural human emotion. Don't feel badly about that, Xena. I'm the one who should feel guilty. It was wrong of me to let things get to the point they did between Petrecles and me. I'm sorry if you thought I was going after the man you love." I touch her hand and she closes it around mine.
"I don't love him. I haven't loved him for a very long time." She closes her eyes and sighs heavily, then opens them. She's still holding my hand, and she looks down at it, brushing her thumb across my knuckles. "Gabrielle, I was jealous because I thought he was going to take you away from me."
"Oh." My brain jerks to a halt and takes a turn down a different path. All this time, I've been afraid she was going to leave me behind. I'm just starting to understand that maybe she feels the same way. And after what I did to her, running away to the Academy. Oh, gods. I thought she was about to cry when we said goodbye that day, before I left for Athens. But then I thought I must be mistaken. Maybe I wasn't. "Oh, Xena, I'm so sorry." I hope she understands that I'm apologizing for more than Petrecles.
"You're my best friend, Gabrielle." She lets go of my hand and looks back up at me. "If I'm going to lose you to marriage someday, I want it to be to someone who deserves you, not someone like Petrecles. Y--you deserve so much more than what someone like him could offer you. Warlords aren't really the best people to be building a life around."
"Oh, I don't know. So far it's been a good thing traveling with you for me, and you used to be a warlord." She smiles at this. "I wish I'd said something sooner. I've spent the past few days thinking you were upset with me because you were in love with Petrecles."
"No. And here, I've been thinking you were mad at me for what happened with Thersites. He almost got you killed, Gabrielle. If anything had happened to you at his hand, I don't think I could ever forgive myself. I'm so sorry I ever put you in the position to around him at all, much less have to work with him."
Her eyes are sparkling and I realize she's on the verge of tears. I reach across and catch the only one that escapes. "Let's go outside, shall we?"
She nods her agreement and we both quickly drain our mugs, and step back out into the friendly sunshine. I think it's time we found a private place to finish this conversation. I lead her over to a bench under a tree. The village well is on the other side of the tree, but at this late afternoon hour, no one is around. "Xena." I take a seat and pat the space next to me. She takes the invitation and drops down, her eyes not meeting mine. No more of this. "There were no easy choices with Thersites and Petrecles. I understand that."
"I had to get to the ambrosia before they did. Once I knew what was going down, there wasn't much else I could do." She looks over at me, her eyes begging forgiveness. "I hate that you were exposed to that part of my past. It's pretty ugly."
"I'm proud of you for what you did." I reach over and push some of her hair back where I can see her face better. "It would be unthinkable for Thersites to have become a god. The first thing he wanted to do was bring a plague upon the entire world to make everyone fear him. You had to stop that Xena. We had to stop that from happening. It was the right thing to do."
"A few years ago, I would have taken that ambrosia for myself." She lowers her eyes in shame.
"You're not that person anymore." I touch her cheek, and urge her to look at me. "If you ever needed proof of that, you have it now. You tossed it in the lava pit. Now the world is safe from people like Thersites having too much power."
"That wasn't the only ambrosia stash." Her expression is curious. "But the other, for now, is in a safe place. The gods wouldn't have put some of their food here below Olympus if there wasn't some purpose to it. But I'm pretty sure they didn't intend for hack warriors to have it."
She smiles and I draw her into a hug. "Thank you." I squeeze her harder.
"Oof. Careful there, scrappy. You've gotten a lot stronger than you used to be." She ruffles my head as I release her. "What are you thanking me for?"
"For saving my life. Most of all, for being my best friend." I ruffle her head back.
"Hey!" She playfully bats my hand away. I love this side of her, and am glad to see it resurface after two days of both of us brooding. "In that case, I have something for you." She reaches into a travel bag at her belt, and pulls out the package the merchant wrapped up for her back in the market area.
"Xena?" I slowly take it and look over at her while I unwrap it. It's a small round ivory tube, with all kinds of flowers and birds and animals etched on it. It has a cap on one end, and I pop it off. Inside it are a half dozen sharpened quills of the highest quality. "Oh, Xena, it's beautiful. It's not my birthday or solstice or anything."
"It just seemed like something you should have." She looks down and if I didn't know better, I would think she's gone all shy on me. "You keep squishing the ones you carry loose in your bag. I figured maybe that would protect them better."
"I love it." I open my arms and hug her again. This time, I feel her lips brush against my cheek as we part. I look up and I can't read the expression on her face. It's like seeing into the depths of her soul, and it's too much. I have to look away.
"How about we go find a room in that inn, and see what the dinner special is?" She lightens the mood, and knocks the backside of her hand against my stomach, giving me a hard time about my almost constant state of hunger.
"Sounds great." I stand and take her hand, drawing her up from the bench. As we walk toward the inn, I swing our hands between us. I can't remember the last time I was this happy. Maybe playing with some of my girlfriends by the stream just outside Potadeia, when I was little. Then again, maybe never, because I've never had a best friend before Xena.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~NEXT in the BTL Series - post "Warrior . . . Princess"
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