THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
1.12 -- The War of the Exes
(post "Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts")
Perdicus: "You've taken good care of Gabrielle. I wanted to thank you for that."
Xena: "There's no need-- she's like family."- Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts
Well, I got to meet Helen of Troy. "Be careful what you wish for, Gabrielle." Isn't that what my mother used to always tell me? I have got to remember that not all fulfilled wishes result in happiness. This time I got a lot more than I bargained for.
Seeing Perdicus again was strange. And disappointing. Honestly, I never thought I'd see him again, and certainly not commanding the Trojan army in a war against his own countrymen. Perdicus wanted to be a farmer -- build a little cottage on the edge of Potadeia, raise some corn and sheep, and have a half dozen children. He's not a soldier, or at least I didn't think he was.
We've both changed so much. What at first seemed to be a happy reunion, in the end, left us both wondering when the world had become so different. When we had become so different. Funny, though, I never fancied myself a farmer's wife, and somehow I think Perdicus knew that. Every time he talked about those half dozen children, I'm sure the panic must have been clearly written on my face.
Maybe I haven't changed so much. Maybe I'm just finally able to be who I was all along, or at least be who I had the potential to be. I don't think Perdicus was real happy with the changes he saw in me. He made some snide remark about my Amazon clothing and my ability to fight with my staff. Xena left me in his care while she went to check out Mendeleus' army, but Perdicus later told me he didn't see why, since I seem perfectly capable of defending myself.
That surprised me so much, I at first didn't know what to say. I've spent so much time running to hide while Xena does the fighting, I haven't yet come to think of myself as a fighter too. He's right, though. Xena has taught me so many moves with my staff, and I suspect her skills with it are better than those of Eponin, back in the Amazon village, even though she's in charge of weapons training.
I told Perdicus about being an Amazon princess. I thought he was going to choke on the water he was drinking, and I had to slap his back pretty hard a couple times to get him to quit coughing. He made me repeat myself, twice, and then he got the strangest look on his face. It was a combination of fascination and disgust. He made some offhand comment about that "explaining everything," and he looked over at Xena with the same strange expression.
Then he said at least it wasn't him. I'm not sure what he meant by that. Maybe he'd been out in the sun for too long. I asked him again why he left Potadeia, and he said his dreams had changed the day I left. He said he had to go out and become someone respectable. I told him I'd respected him just fine the way he was, that I just wasn't ready to settle down and get married. He looked down at his weapons and armor, and asked me something like, "Oh really? Isn't this what you really respect, Gabrielle?"
Okay, that, I understood perfectly well. He was referring to Xena. What he doesn't understand is that Xena doesn't go looking for a war, just to have a reason to fight. I'm not stupid. I know she enjoys fighting, but she doesn't create reasons for it. We have plenty of reason in our various encounters with thugs while we're wandering around Greece together.
What Perdicus did is so different from what Xena does, and I can't seem to make him understand that. He left home and became a solider for a cause that had nothing to with him, in a war against his own people. I know that sounded harsh, but I had to point it out. He retaliated by stating the obvious, that Xena is Greek and she was fighting for Troy. He just doesn't get it. Xena only came to Troy to help her friend Helen.
Helen was also a disappointment. I pictured this noble, independent woman. True, she was beautiful, but she seemed so helpless. I wonder what will become of her and Perdicus in their travels to that city he mentioned? Will they end up together? It's kind of strange to think of that, but I can't help it. Perdicus obviously didn't want to travel with Xena and me. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about that. Relieved, mostly. Things were getting awkward between the two of us. Maybe Helen will be a better match.
"Xena?" I glance up where she is sunning herself on a rock several feet above me. We found this great little secluded camping area, right next to a pond that's surrounded by cliffs. It's a perfect day, with a clear blue sky overhead, not too hot and not too cold. We stopped early and Xena let Argo go, and we washed our clothes out and hung them to dry on some tree branches.
"Yeah?" She rolls her head toward me and opens one eye. She looks completely contented. Downright lazy, in fact, which is extremely rare for her.
"Do you think Perdicus and Helen will get together?" Her other eye pops open and both her eyebrows shoot into her hairline. So much for contented and lazy.
"Hold on." She stands and walks to the edge of the rock. I've come to realize I could watch her move all day long. She's all grace and sleek muscle, and she moves like a cat. It's a little bit awkward right now, because she's naked. Awkward for me, that is. I'm naked too, since our clothes haven't finished drying. I'm still getting used to being in her presence like this, and it sometimes embarrasses me a little bit.
Not Xena. She is the most comfortable person in her body that I've ever met. Just like that, she raises her arms in the air, takes a running leap, and executes a perfect dive into the pond. I wait, and sure enough, she pops up out of the water in front of me, and rises up, the water running off her and sparkling in the sunlight. Sometimes my guts twist in an interesting way when I see her like that. She's beautiful, yet doesn't seem to know it. She's just Xena.
"No." She grabs a piece of linen and dries herself off, wraps it around herself, handing me another piece as she takes a seat next to me. I follow her lead and cover myself. She doesn't seem embarrassed to be with me naked, but I suspect she realizes I am, and it's more for me than for her.
"No?" I scoot closer, noticing how her tan is evening out. The strap marks from her leathers are almost gone, after only a few hours out here. "Why not?"
"I just don't think they're a good match." She picks up a stick and draws lines in the sand.
"Why not?" I question her carefully, realizing I've drawn her off a perfectly good warm rock to come down here and sit in the dirt with me.
"Helen --" Xena pauses and glances over at me.
"What's wrong?" I can sense she wants to say something.
"Don't take this the wrong way, Gabrielle, but I don't think Perdicus is man enough for Helen." She releases a long breath and seems a bit sad.
I chuckle lightly. "Xena, why would I take that the wrong way? Perdicus wasn't man enough for me, remember? At least he wasn't enough to keep me in Potadeia."
She smiles at this and looks over at me again, shaking her head. "True." The sadness is gone from her eyes, and the sunlight makes them look really blue against her darkening skin. Helen has nothing on Xena, I realize.
"So. Helen needs a man more exciting than poor Perdicus, huh?" I can only imagine, considering the two men who were fighting over her all those years. Both of them ruthless, driven, and neither one really in love with her anymore, only in love with what she represented. "Helen was a prize to be won, wasn't she?"
"Yes, she was." Xena looks out, across the water, pursing her lips, and I realize she's drifted off somewhere I can't see. "At least she was to Menelaus and Paris, and Deiphobus."
"That's too bad." I tread carefully, wondering why the sudden change of mood. "Xena, has Helen always been so helpless? I was surprised at how much she seemed to depend on the people around her to tell her what to do and who to be. Even you."
"No. Not me." Xena stands and walks to the edge of the water, which is only a few feet away. I can still hear her, even though her voice has grown softer. The muscles around her shoulder blades bunch, and twitch for a minute. "I wouldn't let her be dependent on me to make her decisions for her."
"She wanted to travel with us?" This is news to me. "I thought she really wanted to go with Perdicus to that new city."
"No, not now. Back in Sparta, ten summers ago." She picks up a rock and hurls it savagely into the water. I see her face in profile after she drops her arm, and even from where I sit, I can see the tight clenching of her jaw.
I stand and walk over to her, cautiously placing a hand on her arm.
"Have I said something to upset you?"
"No." She glances at me and gives me a half-smile, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "No. Sorry. Come on." She nods her head back toward her warm rock, and I follow her, climbing up behind her, using the same footholds she does. When she reaches the top, she gives me a hand up, and we both take a seat, dangling our legs out over the water. It feels so free and light up here, and I make mental note to look for spots like this more often.
"I was very young when I met Helen." She fidgets, tugging at the edge of her linen wrap. "It wasn't long after I left Amphipolis, and I wandered my way to Sparta, hoping I could learn something from their army. Maybe even join up, or recruit from their ranks for my own army. Anyway, I met Helen there, and we became very good friends for a while."
"I thought you were still good friends." Xena won't look at me, and I can feel the tension rolling off her in waves. "You don't have to talk about this if it bothers you so much. It's hard to lose a friend."
"She's still my friend." She finds another small rock, giving it such a hurl it flies across the pond and misses the water completely, ricocheting off a tree trunk with aloud crack, and causing a flock of birds to fly up noisily, scolding us as they pass by overhead. "But not like she was. She was --" She lets out a breath of air in a huff. "She was everything. To so many people. Menelaus. Paris --"
"You?" I can't believe I just asked her this, and I scoot away, wondering if she will be offended.
"Yes." Her answer is so soft, I can barely hear her. "We spent some time together." She drops her head forward and her hair hides her face. "Does that bother you?"
"No." I reach out, and rest my hand on her leg. "Xena, I'm not so innocent, you know?" At this, she snaps her head around, her eyes wide as saucers. "Okay, so I'm still innocent, but I know a thing or two. I did spend some time with the Amazons while you went to talk to Tildus, remember? Just because I haven't done things doesn't mean I don't know about them."
"Oh." She nods her head sagely, and appears immensely relieved. "And you weren't put off by that?"
"Xena, love is love. Some of the women in that village have been together for years. As long as my parents have been." I reach up, pushing her hair back so I can see her face better. "I'm just sorry if Helen hurt you."
"That was a long time ago, Gabrielle. I'm over it." She pats my hand and then looks down at it, and shakes her head before she removes her hand. She draws her other leg up and wraps her arms around it. "Even back then, Helen wanted someone to tell her what to do. I'm glad I met her when I did. It was -- it was before I became what I did later. I hadn't yet learned the fine art of using people. If I had --"
"If you had, what?" She rests her chin on her knee, and I scoot closer, wrapping an arm across her back. Her skin is warm from the sun.
"I might have been tempted to take her with me just because she was beautiful. Because she was a prize. Menelaus had a kingdom to call his own. I had nothing but a horse and a stubborn streak a league wide. We both wanted Helen. She didn't love Menelaus, but she was attracted to his power. I think -- I think she did love me, and she wanted me to tell her what to do. It would have been so easy to tell her to come with me, but it had to be her decision. I laid it out for her - how difficult it would be to travel the road and do the things I wanted to do."
Xena closes her eyes, and I can feel her back muscles go tense for a moment. "So she chose Menelaus?"
"Yeah." She opens her eyes again, and glances over at me, and I can still see a little bit of the memory of that old pain in her eyes.
"She chose Menelaus, and I left Sparta, but not before I told her she could always call on me if she needed me -- that she could count on me to be her friend. I heard about everything that happened after that, but I didn't hear from her again until Maltiades found you and me."
"Really?" I didn't know this until just now, and had assumed Xena and Helen had corresponded some in the past ten years. I realize just how loyal Xena is to people she considers to be her friends, and I find that comforting. "Pretty big of you, considering she spurned you."
She shrugs. " Not really. At least she was honest about what she thought she wanted. She didn't use me, Gabrielle, and she didn't lead me on. She just made very bad choices, and hurt herself a lot more than she hurt anyone else. Everything turns out for the best. Helen wasn't suited for the life I led after I left Sparta. She's not strong enough for life on the road, and she certainly isn't capable of defending herself. She probably can't even cook. She just wasn't the right person for me." She sits up a bit taller and stretches both legs out again.
"Yeah, I guess it would take someone pretty strong to keep up with you, wouldn't it?" I stop, as she turns her head and looks over at me for a very long moment, her eyes twinkling just the faintest bit.
"Yeah, someone a lot stronger than Helen." She ruffles my head and stands, giving me a hand up. "Why don't you go start us a fire, and I'll find us some fish for supper in the pond. Sound good?"
"Sounds great. I think I have some wild cherries left in our bags too, for some of those little tarts you like so much." She smiles at me and drops her linen, and heads for the water. I watch her until she's in up to her waist, before I force myself to head over to our campsite in the trees.
Later, after supper, and after I've told her some new stories, we end up on our bedrolls, on the same side of the fire, looking up at the stars and enjoying a really nice evening. "Gabrielle?"
"Yes?" I look over at her, but she's still looking up at the sky.
"It really doesn't bother you to know about Helen and me? That I was with her like that?" She swallows, and I can see her jaw doing that clenching thing it does when she's preparing herself for the worst.
I reach over and brush the backs of my fingers against her arm. "Of course not. You're my friend, Xena. It's a part of who you are. Why would I judge you for that?" I've never cared for anyone the way I care for Xena. I hope she will understand someday that I don't care about her past. I only care about the person she is now.
"Thanks." Her voice is barely a whisper. She turns and faces me for only a second, allowing me a glimpse of something very vulnerable in those eyes, before she flops back down and closes them. I'm not sure what just happened between us, but the clenching at her jaw line is gone. "Goodnight, Gabrielle."
"Goodnight, Xena." I smile, and study more star patterns, wondering how many more there are that I haven't seen yet. I'm surprised when Xena's breathing evens out, slow and soft. She's asleep, really truly sound asleep. I don't think I've ever stayed awake longer than her. Then I feel a touch to my arm, and look down to see her hand resting against it.
I lift her hand up and kiss the back of it, before I press it back against my forearm again. I don't know why I did that, but it felt right. I hear her murmur contentedly, and look over to see a serenity on her face that I never see when she's awake. It makes my heart hurt for her, and wish she could know the peace I see now. Maybe someday
she'll see herself the way I see her. "Sweet dreams, Xena," I whisper to her, before I close my eyes and join her in Morpheus' realm.
NEXT in the BTL Series - Living A Dream (during "Athens City Academy of Performing Bards")
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