THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
- Warrior Prince
(post "Orphan of War")
G: "I don't know what it's like to have a son. But I do know what it's like to have a mother. And he should know that."
X: "Don't you even think about it. This is _none_ of your business. I'll handle it my own way."
- Orphan of
I can't believe we've traveled together all this time and she never told me about Solon. Not a hint. Not a clue. I think back to when we found Gabriel in the river, before we gave him to King Gregor, and her acting like a baby was a foreign object. I would've guessed she'd never held one. She seemed almost allergic to them.
I guess her reaction makes sense. After all, she had Solon with her for only a few days, I suppose, and she's carrying a lot of guilt over that. Maybe she just shut out all thought of children in her life after that. Maybe holding Gabriel or getting attached to him would have been too painful.
And me, I said something pretty harsh, if I recall, telling her I couldn't believe a mother would just send her child away like that. That must've hurt her feelings. No wonder she didn't tell me about Solon after that. She was probably afraid I'd think she's a monster.
And I suppose I kind of did act like I think that. I want to understand, but there's a part of me that doesn't understand. How can a woman carry a child, give birth, and then just give it away? And without so much as a backward glance? She hadn't been to see him for ten summers. I guess it is beyond my comprehension.
She's been awfully quiet since we left the centaurs. We're taking the long road to Amphipolis, to visit her brother's tomb. She says it's the anniversary of his death at the hands of Cortese's army, and she goes back every year to honor his memory. More guilt she carries around. I wonder what became of Cortese after he was taken for trial? Maybe Xena knows and didn't tell me about that, either.
Just like Solon. And Toris. It's like peeling her back, layer by layer, and she won't give anything until she's cornered. I knew she lost Lyceus. But had no idea she still had a living brother. Wonder who else she's got hidden that's going to appear out of nowhere and turn out to be someone really important? I wonder if she'll leave me behind someday and years later I'll show up and no one important in her life will ever have heard of me?
Then again, maybe I'm not that important. If she doesn't mention children and brothers, why would she mention the kid from Potadeia who kept following her around? I thought we were closer than this. I thought we were moving toward ... oh, I don't know. I'm so confused. Maybe I was wrong all along. Maybe she's just having fun with me, and the closeness I feel is only on my part.
Maybe she's not capable of getting close to anyone.
She's so confusing. I know she's been with women. We talked about that. I was silly enough to think she was attracted to me in that way, but ever since I died in the Mitoan war and we left Ephiny with the Amazons, she's been holding me at arm's length. She even spreads her sleeping furs out on the other side of the fire these days. I miss lying next to her and talking, and chasing star patterns. I miss being close.
I miss her touch.
I don't know anything about these things, but I know what I feel. Before I met her, I would have been ashamed of such feelings. But talking to her, and being around the Amazons, it doesn't seem strange at all anymore. I am attracted to her, a whole lot more than I was to Perdicus or any of the boys I've met in my travels with her. It took a while, but once I figured it out, it was like "duh, Gabrielle. You're falling for your best friend."
Is that such a bad thing?
And I was so sure she felt the same way. Not now. I know we're friends. I suspect we always will be. But if she ever felt that way about me, you sure can't tell it now. Maybe she kisses all her friends on the lips.
Not me. Not anymore. I'd swear she doesn't even want to be around me half the time. Like now. We stopped a little early because we reached a riverbank and it's a good place to make camp. She found a place in a thick grove of trees, and caught some fish, and I cooked us an early supper. It isn't even dark yet, and after we ate, she disappeared, and said she'd be back later. She's been doing that a lot lately, too.
Fine. I can keep myself busy. I haven't written out the battle with Dagnine. Xena saved the day again. She may not want to be close to me anymore, but she's still the best story fodder I've ever had.
I go to my bag and pull out my scroll and a new quill. Xena went hunting recently and shot a pheasant. She plucked several of its quills and sharpened them for me - just left them in my bag as a surprise. Seeing them makes me feel guilty for being out of sorts with her now. That she cares about me isn't in doubt. I know that. I guess I should quit feeling sorry for myself and be glad I have a friend who is thoughtful enough to do things like that.
I gather my supplies and head down to the riverbank to search for a sunny place to sit and write. It's pleasant out, nice breeze and not too hot, but not too cold, either. I use my staff to pick my way through some high marshy grass and when I part them, I spot a boulder a little ways down, with a tree next to it I can probably use to boost myself up.
Sure enough, there are branches low enough for me to climb, and I carefully make my ascent and with a little jump, I'm on top of the smooth, flat surface of the sun-warmed rock. It feels good on my bare legs, as I sit down cross-legged and scoot to the edge. As I start to open my bag, I hear a plopping sound from the water. I look out, and see a rock fly into the current, followed by another loud splosh.
I lay down on my belly and peek over the edge of my perch. Xena is there, sitting tightly against the rock, down on the bank, so close that I didn't see her when I was sitting up. I make not a sound, just watching, and then it dawns on me that there is no way she didn't know I was up here. Her senses are too sharp for that. On the heels of that thought, I realize she probably tossed those rocks to let me know she's there. She wouldn't have made any noise if she didn't want me to know.
I ponder this, wondering if this means she wants me to go away, or that she wants some company. I take a deep breath, hoping I'm making the right decision. "Hey."
Slowly, she looks up, those sad blue eyes studying me with great intensity. "Hey." She sort of purses her lips in and frowns, then looks back down. Oh, Xena. Those eyes were a little too bright in a bad way. I think she's been crying.
"I bet if I'm careful, I can climb down that crack over there." I point to a wide crevasse that starts on the side of the rock near where I'm sitting, and goes all the way to the ground. She shrugs and nods. "Here. Catch." I dangle my bag over the edge, and drop it down to her, followed by my staff. She takes my things and lays them down, and then she stands, as I crawl over to the crack and start to climb down.
Halfway down, I lose my footing, and start to fall, but quickly grab a niche to the side and re-gain my balance, but not before I feel a strong hand grab hold of my calf. "Careful." The hand stays there as I finish climbing down, and a few feet before the bottom she grabs me around the waist and swings me around and down.
"Thanks." I dust my hands off on my skirt. "Still getting me out of jams, huh?"
"You were doing alright." She looks down, then sits back down where she was before. "You could've done it without me, no problem."
"Well, yeah." I stake out a spot next to her, and draw up my knees, and wrap my arms around my legs. Writing will have to wait for another afternoon. "I mean, you showed me how to climb, Xena - how to look for the footholds and the handholds. And to make sure I always have at least one foot firmly planted before I move the other one to a new spot. But it was nice to know you were there to catch me if I fell."
She doesn't say anything, and the silence between us grows. I look out at the water, watching the slanting sunlight sparkle off the surface. Birds are singing evening songs and the wind whispers through the trees. It should be a happy place, but it isn't. I pick up a few pebbles and toss them into the water, watching the current rush around another large boulder in mid-stream. I decide she doesn't want me there and she's just being polite, and open my mouth to tell her I'm going back to the campsite.
"It was a difficult birth."
My jaws click closed and I am all ears. "Were you alone?"
"No." She doesn't look at me, but her profile is tense and I think she's trying to be brave on my account. I think, maybe, if she looks at me, she'll lose it. "No," she continues, "but no one in my army knew I was pregnant. I hid it with my cloak and long tunics. Being tall didn't hurt, either."
"But you weren't alone? Was Borias with you?" I hear her swallow and glance sideways, regretting it. She smiles, but it's the smile I've come to know as the bitter, regretful smile.
"No." She shakes her head and looks up at the sky. "My handmaiden, Satrina, was with me. She gave me some herbs and helped deliver Solon. We were under attack. As soon as Solon was born, she got me into a wagon and we drove away to a safe place."
"Did Borias know you were pregnant?" I brace myself, wondering if she hid it from him as well.
"Yes." More bitterness rolls off her. "But I kept him at arm's length. We started fighting early in my pregnancy. About all kinds of things. He wanted to be a family, but I saw the whole thing as a liability." She looks at me. "There was no room for love in my life. People who love me end up dying."
I digest this, wondering how it plays into her feelings for me, but I can't bring myself to ask. I don't want to interrupt her telling me about Solon. Finally, I say the only thing I can think of, that might get her to thinking. "Borias died anyway, so you might as well have loved him."
"Borias died coming back to save me," she responds, a bit too harshly. "So loving me did get him killed."
She cuts me off, and it's obvious she won't let me go where I want to go. Resigned, I sit back to listen to her. "I remember, hiding out in a cave, not too far from the Centaur village. I stayed there with him for a few days. Nursed him, found some linen strips among my things to make him some diapers. I had Satrina leave me some food and water, and then I sent her away so I could be alone with him to think. It was probably a stupid thing to do. I was still weak. If I'd been found, we both could've died. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if any of my enemies knew about him, they would come after him or try to hurt him to get to me. Solon didn't deserve to grow up with a mother with a dozen bounties on her head. I had thousands of enemies and no friends. Not a one. I couldn't even take him to my mother - he still would have been known as my son there. Made it tough to figure out where to take him. No one was going to love the son of the Warrior Princess."
I inch over, until our legs are touching, and cautiously put an arm around her waist. She doesn't reciprocate, but she doesn't shrug me off. "But you knew the Centaurs would love the son of Borias."
"It was my only choice." She picks up a rock and hurls it into the water. "I can't regret that choice, Gabrielle. You saw what happened the minute one of my enemies knew about him."
"They came after him and he got hurt." And suddenly, I understand, in a way I didn't before, and I regret how harshly I spoke to her back in that village. I give her a squeeze, and feel some of the tension drain out of her. "Xena, I know I already said I was sorry for butting into your business, but now I'm saying it again for a different reason, because this time, I do understand. You did the only thing you could do."
"I can't tell him who I am." Her voice is shaking, and she swallows a few times before she continues. "He's still a boy. I can't risk him not understanding that knowing who I am -- it has to be kept secret, for his own good. You saw him. He's not afraid of anything."
"I wonder where he got that from," I remark dryly.
This earns me a genuine, if sad, smile, and she leans over and wraps a hand behind my neck, and pulls my head down to kiss it. "Thanks for understanding," she whispers.
"Gabrielle." Her chin is resting on my head, and her voice vibrates through me. I'm not inclined to move, so I just listen.
"No matter what happens, if you need me, I'll always be here to catch you if you fall." I hear her sniffle. "I just want you to know that."
I don't say a word, but sit up, brush a tear off her cheek, and open my arms. She allows the hug and settles against me with a long trembling sigh. "Likewise," I whisper.
Next in the BTL series - "A Time to Kill" (post "Remember Nothing")
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