The characters are the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal, and I'm just borrowing them for a while, without any violation of copyright intended.
This story begins an alternate timeline that veers off after 'The Debt'. In this timeline, the events of 'Maternal Instincts' and the subsequent Hope eps never happen. This story takes place very shortly after "The Debt." While it may quickly be superceded by "Bitter Suite," consider it my own version of a reconciliation of the rift between Xena and Gabrielle.
My other XWP and HTLJ stories are available at Giffstein Productions.
Feedback welcome at email@example.com
. . . But We're Not the Same
for Ruth, for understanding . . .
Copyright © 1997
On their boat trip back from the kingdom of Chin, Xena and Gabrielle both felt awkward and uncomfortable, deliberately avoiding conversation. Xena perused the book of Lao Ma's wisdom, her forehead creased in thought, occasionally shaking her head. Gabrielle was too absorbed in coping with her usual seasickness to pay much attention to what Xena was doing.
Once they docked, much to Gabrielle's relief, and Xena had retrieved Argo from the stable she had hired, they began the journey home. Their first night camping out, they sat silently by the fire. Periodically, Gabrielle would glance at Xena then look back quickly at the fire; in between, Xena would glance at Gabrielle, then look back quickly at the fire. Finally, they both glanced at each other at the same time and spoke simultaneously.
"Xena, I have something . . ."
"Gabrielle, I have . . ."
They laughed slightly, and Xena said, "You first."
"No, you go ahead."
Bemused, Xena said, "Gabrielle, this could go on all night."
"OK, I was saying that I have something to tell you."
"That's just what I was going to say to you," mused Xena. "Anyway, you go ahead."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, while nervously shredding blades of grass with her fingers, and spoke.
"My baby, Hope . . . I didn't kill her . . . I couldn't."
"I know," replied Xena gently.
"You know!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "How?"
"I think I know you pretty well by now," answered Xena with that affectionate and somewhat indulgent smile from one side of her mouth that Gabrielle so often provoked. "I hope what you did won't come back to harm you, Gabrielle. You know I think it was a mistake. But we'll deal with it when it happens. What did you do anyway?"
Gabrielle felt a small wave of relief wash over her. "I put her in a basket and sent her down the stream, hoping someone would take care of her. I just couldn't . . . "
"I know," nodded Xena.
"Um . . ." interjected Gabrielle, "what did you want to tell me?"
"I . . . " Xena's frowned, struggling with her admission. "I killed Ming Tien."
"I know," replied Gabrielle with a sigh.
"You know!" exclaimed Xena. "How?"
"I guess I know you pretty well too," said Gabrielle sadly. "You were so determined."
"I had to. Lao Ma left me the weapon, a sharp hair ornament that I had given her before as a gift. It was an unmistakable message. I had to obey her last wish. She tried so hard to achieve peace, but she couldn't harm her own son. But she knew what had to be done, and she counted on me to do it. I couldn't let her down."
Gabrielle was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees and shaking her head vigorously. She hadn't listened very closely to Xena's explanation. She burst out,"Why, Xena, why?"
Xena looked puzzled, then begin to explain, "He had amassed too much power, he was ruthlessly cruel . . . "
"No, not that! Why do we do this?"
"Lie to each other and pretend we believe the lies. I thought we trusted each other completely. And I nearly had you killed . . . That dungeon, those boards . . . " Gabrielle burst into tears.
Xena moved closer to Gabrielle, putting an arm around her shoulders. Despite her sobs, Gabrielle felt a comforting warmth from the muscled arm around her. While in Chin, she had been convinced that she would never again feel Xena's touch, the gentleness belying the awesome strength. Xena spoke.
"I forgave you for that Gabrielle, but" she added wryly, "I'll agree it wasn't one of your wisest decisions." Gabrielle sobbed more violently, and Xena realized this was a situation dry humor wouldn't fix. Patiently, she pulled Gabrielle closer and explained, "We do what we do because we care about each other. I don't want you to think less of me, and I expect it's the same with you." She paused, groping for the best way to explain what she meant. "And when you care about someone very, very deeply, you build a picture of that person in your mind. Maybe we pretended to believe the lies, and maybe you prevented me from murdering Ming Tien because we want to keep those pictures as flawless as we can." Gabrielle's sobs began subsiding, and Xena reached over to rummage in a nearby pack and draw out a scrap of cloth. She gently wiped at the tears, then let Gabrielle snuggle closer.
"And in many ways we're different people," Xena continued. She hated talks like this, but Gabrielle had to understand. "We're not always going to agree on the right course of action, especially when all the possibilities are ugly ones and there isn't a single right answer. You saved Hope, and you tried to save me from killing Ming Tien because deep down inside you were sure they were the right things to do. I killed Ming Tien for the same reason. What's right isn't always going to look like the same thing to both of us."
"I know," murmured Gabrielle miserably, new tears leaking from her eyes. "Sometimes I don't understand you at all, how you think, what you do, why you do it. It scares me."
"It's going to happen," sighed Xena, removing her arm from Gabrielle, "more and more. The longer you travel with me, the more you'll learn of my past. Who I was then didn't just disappear when I started doing good. She's still with me, always a part of me, a part that can't be denied, no matter how much you don't want to see or acknowledge her. And I know you don't, and I don't blame you. And sometimes my past actions will have consequences that I need to deal with *now*. *I* was responsible for Ming Tien becoming the monster he was; I was on my way to becoming such a monster myself. There are times I'm going to have to clean up the messes I've made, and it's not always going to be pretty.
"I can't just put my past self behind me; I have to live with the knowledge of everything I did, and I have to live with the consequences, and sometimes I have to pay . . . and pay . . . and pay. And however much I pay it will never be enough . . ." Xena's voice grew harder and more remote as she spoke. But she refused to give in to self-pity; as far as she was concerned, she certainly didn't deserve it. "And that's how it should be," she continued. "There's no ultimate absolution in this life. All I can hope is that I do enough good to begin to balance out the evil. But there's no magic finish line to cross; I'll never be done dealing with who I was."
"Oh, Xena," gasped Gabrielle sympathetically, fighting back further tears. While she certainly had had inklings of the full implications of what Xena was saying now, she had avoided facing them head on. Her love and admiration for Xena were so great, it was almost impossible for her to see *her* Xena and the past Xena as the same person. She wrestled with it frequently in her mind, but usually dismissed the problem as unsolvable. All that mattered was what Xena did *now*. But that wasn't *all* that mattered, it wasn't enough, and Gabrielle had to force herself to face the truth.
"You and I live in different worlds, Gabrielle." said Xena flatly, fighting to keep emotion out of her voice. We can never see things in exactly the same way; our experiences are too different. I love you, and I hope you still love me, but we're not the same. And look what I've done to you! If it wasn't for me, Callisto wouldn't have killed Perdicus, and you'd be living peacefully and happily with your . . . husband." The last word was hard to get out; Xena had to force it past an obstruction that seemed suddenly to lodge itself in her throat.
"Xena!" exclaimed Gabrielle, trying to push away a nagging thought that intruded at the mention of Perdicus as well as a renewed upwelling of grief. "You're not responsible for Callisto's actions or her mental state. Callisto is mad, deeply, deeply mad. Other people survive the deaths of their families without turning into homicidal lunatics."
"I know," said Xena patiently, struggling with the guilt that always threatened to swamp her when she thought about Callisto and particularly about Perdicus' murder. And she thought about them pretty regularly, punishing herself relentlessly. "I know she's mad. But I gave that madness a direction, a channel."
"She's going to be back, isn't she?" asked Gabrielle, shuddering.
"She's so powerful now. I worry she might . . . kill you."
"Callisto?" snapped Xena. "Kill *me*? Not likely. What would she have to live for if she killed me? Hating me gives her the only real purpose her life has. No, she'll never kill me. She'll just do her best to destroy everything I love, killing me a little bit at a time. But not entirely. She'd like nothing better than to make me immortal too, and spend eternity forcing me to face myself."
Xena sighed. She knew equally well that she needed Callisto, with that lethally malevolent childishness and that baby voice, as if her development had been arrested as a young girl, festering there instead of ripening into adulthood. Yes, she needed Callisto, her scourge, her reminder. It was easy to see herself reflected in Gabrielle's eyes, even as that reflection grew more flawed, less ideal. She needed Callisto to stop her from getting complacent or self-congratulatory.
Gabrielle's question broke into her thoughts. "How do you deal with it? All of it, not just Callisto. Doesn't it hurt?"
"Of course it hurts," returned Xena snappishly. Her own pain was not a subject that interested her very much. It was something to be bludgeoned away if it couldn't be ignored, just the way she could repair a dislocated shoulder by ramming it into the hardest available object. Her voice grew gentler, as she turned to Gabrielle. "I deal with it, in large part, because of *you*. You help me see that what I was then is not *all* I am. I couldn't do that without you. I *need* you. . . . But if not for me, if not for the hate I sparked in Callisto, you'd be happy . . ."
"Xe-na!" interrupted Gabrielle. "Please don't. . . . It hurts . . . and I feel so guilty."
"Guilty, why?" asked Xena, surprised.
Gabrielle sighed, staring straight ahead of her, "Because I *am* happy. With you. That's why the past couple months have been so hard for me. And I feel so guilty because I know I couldn't have stayed happy with Perdicus . . ."
*I could have told you that!* retorted Xena mentally, then reminded herself of all the reasons why she couldn't have told Gabrielle that.
" . . . I thought that's what I wanted," continued Gabrielle. "I didn't know who I was; I thought I was just imitating you, not being myself. And Perdicus was so gentle; I knew I'd be comfortable with him, and he wouldn't push me around the way some men do. But I was wrong. I belong with you--your partner. I couldn't have been happy living that life."
"I know," said Xena quietly.
"Why didn't you tell me?" demanded Gabrielle. "If he'd lived . . . I'd be there now. He didn't deserve what happened, and he didn't deserve a wife who could only love him as a brother or friend, not a husband. How can I buy my happiness with his death? Why didn't you stop me?"
Xena turned to look directly at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, you're an adult. Besides, your love life is none of my business."
Gabrielle muttered, "I wish it was."
Xena remarked, very quietly, "That makes two of us."
Gabrielle laid a hand on Xena's arm, gripping hard. "Tell me the truth, Xena. I'm not a child. Do you really want me . . . that way?"
"Yes, I do."
"So much," said Xena, "that I couldn't abuse my position by taking advantage of you. So you see, that puts me in kind of an awkward position when it comes to advising you about your love life."
"Oh, Xena," sighed Gabrielle.
"It's not been easy," growled Xena roughly. "I could have seduced you any time--like that!" She snapped her fingers. "I usually get what I want in that area, and you looked up to me so much . . . but I didn't want you that way. . . . And I'm not very good at dealing with what I want when I get it--I don't do relationships very well. I didn't want to hurt you; I still don't. I didn't want you in a position where you had no choice. So when you decided to marry Perdicus . . . I couldn't stand in your way."
Tears began to trickle from Gabrielle's eyes again.
Xena said, much more softly, "And if I failed you by not speaking, I'm so sorry. It wouldn't be the first time I failed someone I care about."
"No, Xena, you did the right thing," declared Gabrielle. "You're right. I was an adult then, and I am an adult now. And . . . I still look up to you, but I hardly think you're perfect . . . "
Xena suddenly grinned. "A good thing too."
Gabrielle laughed. "*And*, Xena, I'm in a position where I can make a choice. I've seen you at your best, and I know a whole lot about your worst . . . and I love you."
Xena took both of Gabrielle's hands in her own, lightly stroking the backs with her long fingers. "I love you, too. But is this what you really want?"
"Yes," said Gabrielle stoutly. "But I admit it scares me."
"It should," returned Xena. "You have to be strong, Gabrielle, strong enough not to let me swallow you up. And you have to be able to promise me that no matter what happens, you'll always be a part of my life--I can't lose that."
"I promise. That's the most important to me too. Now will you just kiss me, Xena? I'd rather do it without Autolycus' mustache in the way!"
Xena laughed, and Gabrielle joined her, like two friends together laughing at a shared joke, before their lips embraced.
Continue on to the sequel How Long Till My Soul Gets It Right?