Standard Disclaimer- These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.
Specific Story Disclaimers:
Violence –Oh yes.. there is violence. This is a combination story, and includes both Uber Xena sections, and Regular Xena sections. Regardless of time period, or current incarnation, our lovable Xena does tend to be a violent person. So, we have slicing and dicing, and crunching of bones… but no emasculation in this one.
Sexual Violence Alert - this section does contain first person recollection of violent sexual attack. It is in the Uber sections, so if this disturbs you, please don't read them.
Subtext - Subtext.. there's a debate going on at this point as to whether subtext is subtext or just plain maintext nowadays on the series. At any rate, this story does involve women who are in love with each other.. so if that puts your undies in a wad, please go choose something nice out of the general fiction area. There's lot's of good stories there.
And while we're on the subject, if you do read past the above warning, and are offended by the love described in the story, email me your snail mail address, so I can send you some German chocolate cake, OK? I feel horrible for you.
UberXena - Ok - this story contains characters of the Uber Xena genre. Some folks don't like to read that. There are sections of two characters that showed up in a previous story of mine (Bound) and they'll be mixed with sections involving our old friends, Xena and Gabrielle. Just want to warn you, OK? OK.
Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:
Reflections from the Past - Part 5
By Melissa Good
"So.. how many shirts do I have to pack for you, Ares?" Gabrielle asked, as she piled a selection on the bed and sorted through them. "Hmm?"
"Roo?" The wolf bounced up onto the bed's surface and sniffed the piles. "Arrghrrrooo."
"None." Xena commented, as she entered the door and kicked it shut behind her. Her arms were full of supplies. "I'm gonna leave him here with Mom this run…there'll probably be fighting where we're going, and I don’t' want him to be a part of that." She spotted a familiar outfit on the bed. "And you can pack that, my bard…it's too cold yet for you to be out there half naked." She bumped Gabrielle gently, and chuckled.
"Mm." The bard agreed, folding the top and skirt and tucking it inside a saddlebag. "Besides, it'll give me some time to walk off some of mom's cooking before I have to display the results of that to half of Greece." She patted her belly ruefully.
Xena snorted softly, and dropped her burden, then circled the bed and slid her arms around the bard. "Oh.. I dunno.. hasn't done you much harm.. in fact…" She let her hands trace the outline of the bard's waist. "I think mom's cooking looks pretty good on you." She leaned down and kissed her. "At least I won't have your sister accusing me of keeping you on a starvation diet."
Gabrielle giggled. "She won't have room to talk about that right now." She rested quietly in Xena's arms for a bit. "Any clue as to what the deal is with Hercules' message?"
The warrior shook her head. "Nope.. only that he's found out something about who's behind those necklaces, and he needs our help." She nuzzled the bard's ear. "I wanna hear Toris' mysterious story he keeps hinting about."
The bard smiled, and rubbed her cheek against the soft fabric covering her partner's shoulder. "Should be interesting… I'm glad he's back.. you know he was really worried about you."
A half grin from the tall warrior. "Yeah.. I know.. he acted like I was made of glass or something." Xena closed her eyes and rocked the bard gently. "I had to pick him up and dump him on his butt before he'd believe I was ok."
Gabrielle snorted softly into Xena's chest. "You're so bad." She gave her a squeeze. "Will you read those three scrolls with me tonight before we leave tomorrow? One of them is that long one.. and all three are really fragile.. I don't want to take them with us."
Xena let out a contented sigh. "Sure… sounds good to me." She mumbled. "One last night of decadence before we go back to harsh reality, right?" She nibbled the bard's ear, and was rewarded with a quick intake of breath. A low chuckle escaped her as she lifted the bard up a little, and dropped them both onto the bed. "It's gonna be a tough adjustment.. you've completely spoiled me, my bard."
"Oh yeah?'" Gabrielle queried. "Does that mean I can convince you to take it a little easier out there?" She let her fingers slip inside the warrior's shirt, and gave her ribs a little tickle.. "Hmm?"
"Maybe." Xena admitted, with a rueful sigh. "Probably for the best, huh?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Mmm hmm." She propped her chin up on Xena's shoulder. "For both of us."
The warrior stretched and gazed down at her. "Yeah.. I think you're right." She reached out and touched the bard on the tip of her nose. "We should finish packing."
The bard neatly snared her finger in a flash of white teeth and tugged. "Yep." Her hands slipped further up her partner's sides and stroked the soft skin lightly. "We should." She tilted her head up and captured her partner's lips. "Mmmm.." She was surprised by the sudden light pressure of Xena's hand tracing a route up the inside of her thigh, which sent a flood of warmth through her, and drove thoughts of packing or anything else completely out the window. "On the other hand…"
"Here's the shorter one." Gabrielle sauntered back over to the fireplace, where her partner was lounging on the thick furry rug, eyes half closed, nibbling on a bowl of dried fruits. "Hey.. save me some of those little bluish things."
"Sure." Xena agreed amiably, setting to work sorting out the fruits. "What about the yellowish stuff?"
"What is it?" The bard asked, seating herself cross-legged next to the taller warrior and peering into the dish.
"I dunno.. but it's crunchy, and sweet." Xena replied offering her one. "Here's a dried grape."
"It’s a raisin, Xena." The bard corrected her.
"It's a dried grape, Gabrielle." The warrior objected. "A dried apple is a dried apple. A dried fig is a dried fig. Why is a dried grape a raisin?"
A pause. "Is that a trick question?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously. "I mean, are you going to tell me now some weird story about how dried grapes saved Greece from something or other, and were given the honorary name of raisins?"
"It was rhetorical." Xena deadpanned. "How would you save Greece with a dried grape? Make some general choke on it?"
"You'd find a way." The bard assured her. "I have faith.. I can imagine it.. an entire, great.. huge.. invincible army.. flowing across the plains… " She waved her hands dramatically. "All is lost.. except… wait! The mighty general Xena has launched a catapult attack of… dried grapes! The enemy is stuck together! Greece is saved."
Xena started laughing, and ended up on her back holding her stomach. "Gabrielle… stop it.. you’re killing me."
The bard took the opportunity to lie down, using the warrior's belly as a pillow and crossed her legs at the ankles comfortably. She bounced her head once or twice, then glanced behind her with a mock glare. "You know, Xena.. with all this lounging around we've been doing, you haven't gotten a whole lot more comfortable to lie down on. "
Xena glanced down the length of her body and shrugged. "All that damn running, I guess." She yawned, and studied the parchment in front of her. "Not from lack of trying, though. Mom keeps stuffing me like a prize hog." She concluded, shifting a little to bring the parchment further into the light, and smiled. "Ready?"
Gabrielle popped a raisin into her mouth and chewed. "Yep."
My prayers to my Lady have been answered. Today I began my cycles, and so have not been sowed by the evilness that befell me. I mention small words to Elevown, and she nods, but I see the relief in her eyes, no less than mine own.
Children are the Lady's blessing always, I know it, but to bring a bairn into this world at this time, aye.. would be no blessing for it, of that I am sure. I have the herbs, and know their usage, but times there are that this course is not a wise one, and can do harm as well as help.
We have not ventured out into the world since she succored me back, Elevown keeping to her solitary hunting, and I go with persistence to mine favorite gathering spots, and fishing traps.
I have healed, so much as that I am able, at least in body so. The pain has left me, but never a night goes by that I am not visited by his ugly face, and feel again the terrors that had befallen me.
It disturbs Elevown,I know it. I feel her eyes on my face when I struggle awake in the dawn, restless and tired from fighting my long, and lonely fight with shadow terrors. But I am alive, and breathing, and expected that there would be a price for mine living, and so it is.
This night the darkness closes in swiftly, as a storm rolls in overhead, and constricts us to our cave. It is well, as we are working on outfitting the small, inner chamber Elevown's restless digging has uncovered, a snug place, but given to safety, and she has patiently worked with branches and boughs, and the tough, creeping vines to join them, in need to make us proper beds.
And so she does, this night she has finished her task, and wants my completion, and I go to her, our shadows dancing together in the torchlight, as she shows me her work.
She is clever, is Elevown, and tending to many small interests and here she has created a sturdy bower of tough, seasoned wood to hold us. Two pallets there are, side by side in the smallness of the chamber with good frames, and woven hemp ropes to set our pine filled mattresses upon.
We do such, and sit on them, with smiles upon our faces, and she hops a tiny bit, showing the strength of her creations. "Good?" Her eyebrows rise, and her voice as well, but there is an aching tone in it that is for me, I know.
"Aye, very good." I give her back, putting out a hand as is my custom, and stroking her arm. She does not move away, I realize, but her eyes drop, and the torchlight's crimson cannot excuse the rush of color that darkens her pale skin, causing me wonder at her shyness.
We sleep that night in our new chamber, and it heartens me, I confess, to have solid walls about me close and Elevown between my resting place and the small entrance. The gentle scent of pine needles colors us, and in the depth of the darkness I can hear her soft breathing, and the rustles as she seeks her comfort so close I could reach out and touch her.
And almost do, before my shocked senses pull me back and tuck me huddled in my blankets, wondering at my own actions. What is it I am seeking? Life's cruelty has taken from me any desire for physical satisfaction, it sickens me to think of touching, or being touched, lest that bring back in daylight what haunts me in the gray twilight of sleep.
And yet she draws me to her like a succulent flower draws the hummingbird, dancing, darting, afraid, yet intent on tasting the shyly offered richness of its essence.
Aye, My Lady, is this fair? You have darkened my soul to love, and yet set her beside me, making my heart reach out to hers for what purpose? I can almost feel her essence, so close to me, knowing she is still in pain from her memories and has no outlet for her feelings.
She will not speak to me of that night, again. She holds it inside her. As I hold my own darkness inside me, and will not speak of it to her. I realize, in consternation, that we do this not from fear, but from true affection, as neither of us wishes to bring the other to grieving remembrances.
I want to touch her, though. I want to pull her close to mine own self, and tell her it is all right, that time will ease her pain, her memories, surely as I would be speaking to my own heart. I fear for her reaction, truly though. She is all I have in this world, little though it is, and I do not wish to lose her.
At last I let the twilight take me, and dip into the well of my dreams, which seize me as they always do, and bring forth the horror of that torchlit hut, and the screaming, and his face.
I wake in panic, my heart racing, to strong hands on me, and gentle words in mine ears that slowly make me know that I am not back there. That I am here, in our home, and safe. I sense her warmth near me, and unable to stop, I head for it, joining close to her as my body shakes and she denies me not, pulling me closer with a determined grip until I am surrounded by her.
I can hear her heart beating, a powerful sound, and I focus on it as it slows, letting it become my world as I circle mine own arms around her, and find the comfort I had so desperately been seeking
She breathes a soft release and settles her body, and I feel the tension that winds her waking and sleeping relax into softness as she lets the warmth between us ease her.
As I do, not questioning the how, or the why of it, knowing only I have found a peace here that soothes some shattered part of me, and I am thankful for it.
Gabrielle rolled onto her side, and let out a long, contented sigh. "That was sweet." She smiled up the length of her partner's body. "They need each other so much."
The warrior gazed at her. "Yeah.. they do." She smiled a little. "Wonder if they know it."
Gabrielle closed her eyes, and remembered.
Only a couple of days. The bard had repeated to herself for not the first time. Don't worry about it, Gabrielle.. just a few days, you hang around here, have some fun, take a break.
OK, Xena.. well, as usual, things happened. I didn't mean to get involved with that miller who was trying to elope with the reeve's daughter, and end up spending the night in jail with a mule, but you know how it is.
Nice break. Now.. where are you?
Gabrielle had gone back to her seat at the inn's back table, resting her elbows on its scarred surface and trying to push the possibilities that kept popping up into her mind out of it. Xena was four days overdue, and that…
It could have been weather, Gabrielle. Or complications, like that never happens, right? Or maybe she stopped in to say hi at home. We're not far from Amphipolis.
And her thoughts had stopped cold.
No. Don't think about that, not now.. not after all this time, Gabrielle. We're friends - she wouldn't just leave me here and not say.. Gabrielle's chest had suddenly become heavy. Not say goodbye, would she? We've been through so much together… I know she likes me.. she wouldn't do that to me, would she?'
But the thought wouldn't go away, and the more she thought about it, the more logical it became. Maybe she did. She thought sadly. Maybe it was easier.. I would have argued until I was blue in the face. She knew that.
How could she?
Maybe she thought it would be easier for me. The bard had mused wearily. She was wrong. I can't take this.. I can't… doesn't she understand how much she means to me? How much I need her?
No.. she probably doesn't. Not like I've ever said anything, right? Funny.. how you don't realize what something means to you until you don’t have it anymore. I should have remembered that. Gabrielle had let her dark thoughts run free, as her mind imagined her going home, leaving the road, and life, and excitement… and a friend she'd come to hold dearer than family.
"No way." She whispered fiercely. "I'll follow you, Xena, I'll follow you just like I did in the beginning, and when I find you… when I find you… Her resolve crumpled. "I'll beg you all over again." She'd let out a small groan, and cradled her head in her hands, letting the sadness grow inside her until all she could feel was a dull emptiness.
Until a hand curled itself around her shoulder, and she looked up to see pale blue eyes looking anxiously back at her. "Hey!" Xena had said, dropping into the seat next to her. "What's wrong?"
What's wrong? Gabrielle's mind had numbly repeated. I thought you left me here like some bone tossed by a dog, that's all, Xena. I thought you abandoned me. "I.. um.. I have a really bad headache." She'd finally mumbled, which had been very true. "Um.. hi… what happened?" She had blinked away her confusion and looked the warrior over. "You ok?"
Xena had sat back, with a sheepish look. "Yeah.. yeah… I got involved in something… it was all this negotiating.. I finally had to just sneak out of town and let them figure it out themselves." She'd paused, and given Gabrielle a look. "I kinda missed having you there."
Funny how a headache could vanish in the blink of an eye. "Really?"
That quirky half smile. "Yeah..really." A hand came over and ruffled her hair. "Sorry it took me so long to get back… were you worried?"
"Me?" The bard had answered. "No way.. I mean, you can take care of yourself, right?"
"Oh." Xena had responded, with a surprisingly crestfallen air. "Well, yeah, I guess."
They'd both fallen silent, then Gabrielle had sighed. "Where do you think I got the headache from? Of course I've been worried." She'd given the warrior an exasperated look. "Do you know how much trouble you can get yourself into in four days?"
Blue eyes had peeked up at her, and a tiny smile had appeared on the warrior's otherwise grim face. "I know I can depend on you to get me out of it."
Now Gabrielle had smiled back. "I guess you can." And had felt a happy warmth come in and nudge her insecurities back into the cupboard she kept them in. She'd looked up, and taken a chance. "I missed you."
Xena had paused for an instant, her jaw working, then she'd glanced down at the table, before giving her head a tiny shake and meeting the bard's eyes again. "I missed you too." She finally admitted, then cleared her throat. "So.. tell me about this mule?"
"If they don't know now, they will soon. " The bard predicted, as she yawned. "One more.. before dinner?" She cast a glance over towards the door. "Now that we're all packed… ??"
Xena stifled a yawn of her own. "Cut that out… you're making me sleepy." She complained good naturedly. "Gods.. I've gotten so bad about that.. I'll be falling asleep walking in the afternoon out there if I'm not careful."
Gabrielle chuckled wickedly. "Nah.. we'll just find a nice.. shady spot… " Her voice grew coaxing, and she rubbed the warrior's belly gently. "And just relax.. and .."
"Gabrielle…" Xena protested with a sigh. "It's not funny."
The bard propped her chin up on one hand. "No.. it's not funny.. it's wonderful, Xena… there's nothing wrong with resting when you're tired, and I think I might have finally gotten that across to you." She smiled slowly. "Besides.. you look so cute when you nap. Especially when you suck your thumb."
Both eyebrows, straight up. "I do nothing of the sort, Gabrielle."
"Heh." The bard chuckled evilly.
"Gabrielle." A whole vocal tone lower, approaching a rumble that the bard could feel as well as hear. "I do not suck my thumb."
"Ok.. if you say so." The bard replied, brightly.
"Gabrielle." Now it hit that low register, making her inner ear vibrate where it was pressed against Xena's linen clad stomach.
"You know, I love when you do that." Gabrielle sighed happily. "It gives me goosebumps." She glanced up at the stormy eyes. "O.K.. you don't suck your thumb." She conceded.
Xena let out a low, rumbling purr.
"But I do sometimes." The bard added, capturing her hand and closing her teeth gently around the digit in question. She grinned at the wide eyed, startled look on Xena's face. "Gotcha."
Xena narrowed her eyes. "You little…."
The bard bit down. "Yeth?"
A deep sigh. "Ok.. you win. I surrender."
Gabrielle released her grip and gave the thumb a tiny lick. "For someone as competitive as you are, that's quite a feat." She rolled over, and selected the next scroll, rolling back and offering it up with her best wishing look. "Please?"
Xena broke into a smile. "Gabrielle, you take shameless advantage of me, you know that?" But she took the scroll and looked at it. "You can read these as well as I can now."
The bard settled her head down on its favorite pillow and sighed contentedly. "I know.. but I love listening to you read." She yawned. "You have a really sexy voice."
Xena looked at her.
"Well, you do." The bard advised her reasonably.
The warrior shook her head, and sighed. "If you say so, Gabrielle."
We go at last back into the company of our fellow humans this day. Things I have to trade and she as well, but she forgoes her bargaining, and sticks close by me, her eyes restless as bees above a new sprung meadow as they search here, and there for threatening motions.
All avoid her, and even tall, rough clad fighters turn aside at her approach, and do not bother us. Whether it is her nervous air, or the tales of her anger, I do not know, but I see her wrap her self inside her dignity, and give all that haughty, Northern stare I have come to know as her own shield to hide behind.
We have slept through the night this fortnight and more, two against the darkness as each other's close presence somehow pushes back the evil dreams, and lets healing sleep come to us. I do not claim to understand it, but I do not argue, just welcome the friendly warmth as we lie in each other's arms in the dim quiet of our cave.
We come to a cloth seller, and my mind goes back, to the bit of cloth I had found that fateful day, lost when I was taken, and I close mine eyes against the memory. A hand brushes my back and I turn to see Elevown perched there, hawk's eyes hooded and darting and she searched for what disturbed me. "Just thoughts, cariad, no more." I whisper, glad to call her such, though she does not know the full meaning of it.
She knows it is a friendly word though, and so, she smiles a little and nods, and lets her gaze consume the wares of the weaver. A bit of woven broadcloth draws her touch, and she lifts it with a hand, rubbing the fingers of it against the grain. It is a pale fawn in color, with bold blue stripes and minds me of the jerkins I saw aboard their longships.
She thinks of home, I see it in her eyes.
The weaver's mistress tucks her hand into mine arm, and draws me aside a bit. "That be the one who purged us that den of animals, no?"
I see Elevown's shoulders stiffen, as her sharp ears hear It, and my heart goes out to her, what little there was that was not already hers, that is. "Aye." I answer simply, and take my breath to defend her of it.
There is no need. The woman goes to her, and sinks to her knees, and takes Elevown's hand and kisses it.
No more eloquent a gesture have I seen in my days, and I feel myself glad for it, glad for the look it brings to those pale, gray eyes, a look of wonder, and surprise, and she looks to me in confusion not knowing what response to give. "What is this?" She asks in her language.
"Tis a thank you, cariad." I tell her.
"I have three daughters." The woman tells her. "They took my sister from me two moons ago… her body thrown back at us like a discarded rag when they were done with her." She kisses Elevown’s hand once more. "May the gods bless you."
Elevown takes her hand back and withdraws, and I see a hundred thoughts galloping behind those eyes before she turns and paces out, her steps unsteady.
I help the woman to stand, and smile at her. "You do a good thing there..she sees only the horror of what she did.. not the benefits."
The woman turns to me. "They say she went through there as though the gods possessed her.. as though Ares himself drove her hands." Her eyes go to the fabric Elevown had been holding. "Would you take this, as a gift to her, from me and mine?"
Take it I did, for my memory holds a picture of those rough hewn overlays, and I wished to give her this bit of her past in proper form. I go outside, and see her standing at the edge of the long road, the soft summer breeze pushing her hair back in a golden stream.
She hears me close, and turns, and I see her need to understand written clearly across her face. "How can she thank me for such as that, Ardwyn?"
I take her arm and put mine about her, as we walk down the road and leave this village behind. "She will not see the darkness that colors my life, and those others, shadow her children’s, my friend. This is a gift to her, one that you have given." I keep my voice gentle, for she is tender to the thoughts of this.
"How can such violence be a gift?" She wonders, leaning unconscious against me. "There was nothing inside me save anger.. I thought not to save future victims, but to punish those…" Her voice falters. "I became no better than they."
"No." I hug her close, and she does not resist me, our steps matching, as the dust of this earth rises up around our knees. "They thought to hurt only for their own pleasure.. I do not think it was pleasure for you."
She stays silent for several paces. "I.. I do not know which I was angrier for.. them for what they did.. or myself for not being there to stop it." Her eyes meet up with mine. "There was no pleasure in that for me."
I stop, and face her towards me. "Elevown, I would have died there." Her skin pales. "I wanted to." I tell her. "You brought me out of the darkest place my mind could ever imagine, and…you gave me reason to keep seeking the light. That is a gift, cariad, never doubt that."
Her attention absorbs me fully. "What means that?" She whispers. "What means that word you say?"
"I have told you…" I start, but her fingers brush my lips for silence.
"Yes.. it is what you call such as people you care for, I know that.. but what means the word?" She breathes with me, and the world around us waits in quiet sunlight.
My secret is out, I fear. "Love." I answer in gentle response. "That is what that word means."
She tips her head forward and rests it against mine, and wraps her arms about me. "Ja." She says, so very softly. "I do."
"Awwww…" Gabrielle rolled onto her side and sighed contentedly. "I liked that one." She sighed, and gazed up at the bemused looking Xena, who was studying the scroll. "Didn’t you?"
"Yeah." The tall warrior mumbled. "I did… " She rolled the parchment up and tapped her partner on the head with it. "C’mon… or they’ll send someone to look for us for dinner. "
"Hey.. I’m there." Gabrielle rolled to her feet, and offered a hand up to the still reclining Xena. "Let’s go." She leaned back and hauled the taller woman up. "Oof… who’s pulling who?" She walked over and took her cloak from the hook near the door, and handed Xena hers. "How’s your head feeling?"
Xena gently probed her healing head wound. "Mmm… still a little tender." She winced. "But not bad." She swung the cloak over her shoulders and fastened it, then circled the bard’s shoulders with an arm as she opened the door and guided her through it.
The inn was fairly crowded, as twilight darkened the windows and the torches inside were lit and gave off their smoky essence. Xena and Gabrielle entered, and were assailed with cheerful greetings, to which the warrior waved an amiable hand. "Back there." She motioned with her chin towards where her brother was seated, with Granella next to him.
"How are you feeling?" Toris asked, standing as she approached and studying her with a worried frown. "Damn, sis."
Xena stepped close and growled at him. "Will you cut that out? I’m fine." Her eyes flashed. "It’s just a bump on the head, Toris." She stepped around to the back of the table and took a seat. "Hi Granella."
The slim Amazon raised her mug. ""Lo, Xena." She took a sip. "Glad you’re all right." She exchanged a glance with Gabrielle, who waggled a hand out of her partner’s direct sight. She cocked an eyebrow in response, and sighed.
Cyrene appeared, apparently from nowhere, and settled herself at the end of the table, reaching over and putting a hand over Xena’s and squeezing it gently. "Well.. with you two leaving tomorrow, this is our last chance to get together over dinner for a while." She leaned over and gazed at them both. "I'll miss you."
Gabrielle smiled, and poked her partner under the table. "We’ll miss you all too."
"Yeah." Xena agreed. "So.. what’s this story you have to tell, Toris?"
Her brother’s answer was interrupted by a pair of servers who brought them pitchers of ale, and wooden platters with thick loaves of bread, along with a cistern of soup for them to share. "Oh.. well.." Toris started, carving the bread up and distributing it. "Here…" He handed the end piece to his sister. "I know you like that part."
Xena gave him a look but took it, and nibbled the end, taking a moment to appreciate the nutty, rich taste. It was, she privately admitted, really going to be a tougher adjustment than she had anticipated. She’d gotten uncomfortably used to being in relatively safe surroundings, with.. Her eyes roamed the table, and the inn. With her family around her.
She’d become used to seeing her mother, and even Toris’ sibling rivalry seemed warm, and familiar. Gabrielle leaned back in the chair next to her, relaxed and happy, her green eyes sparkling over something Cyrene was relating to her, and Xena felt the odd mixture of excitement over going on new adventures tempered with regret for leaving that had plagued her for several weeks now. The bard had let herself become part of this world with ease; she was well respected by the villagers, Cyrene adored her. Toris worshipped her…she appeared healthy, and contented… and here Xena was, about to take that all away.
Maybe I could just say no. The warrior mused quietly, chewing on her bread. Half her heart wanted to do just that.. forget about wandering the countryside, forget about paying for her past.. just.. stay here, and keep Gabrielle safe, and live.. as normal a life as she was capable of.
Maybe she was getting old. Xena considered the prospect. It wasn’t as horrifying as it used to be, she realized suddenly, and that caused a wry grin to force itself onto her face. She wasn’t willing, not anymore, to risk everything for stupid reasons. Not when a future, once never even considered, was now fuzzily coming into focus, and it involved this place, and her family, and this woman sitting next to her.
She’d actually sat back the other day, and realized she’d spent the past few months basically just being really happy. Other than the odd problem or two, it had almost been like living in a nice, warm dream world, except that she never woke up. Well, she sighed. Time to wake up, I guess… but gods, it’s been nice.
"So." Toris said, taking a big bite of bread and chewing it. "There we are, in Letansa, just sitting in the back of the inn minding our own business."
"Kind of like we are now?" Granella commented wryly, as she dipped a piece of the bread into her soup and popped it into her mouth. "Except the food’s much better." She mumbled around the mouthful. "They were serving some kind of lamb something there that smelled about six years old."
Winces around the table. "Anyway.. " Toris gave her a look. "So we were sitting there, and this group of scroungy looking guys come in, and sit down at a table near us… it was pretty crowded." He scooped up some soup and swallowed. "We were playing with our food, when we heard them talking." His eyes lifted and met his sister’s. "This guy, with a funny voice, was bragging about how he’d hired an assassin to kill you, and how this guy had already pitched you off a cliff."
Xena played with her bread, and rolled a bit of it into a ball, which she slowly put into her mouth. "Not quite." She answered tightly, and felt a gentle touch of fingertips against her leg.
"I don’t think I need to say that we were kind of upset to hear him say that." Toris said. "I’m.. um.. I was about to do something that probably wasn’t really smart."
"He wanted to jump them right there." Granella supplied helpfully. "I was wishing for my bow, let me tell you."
Toris smiled at her affectionately. "Well.. I never got the chance."
They all looked at him. "What happened?" Gabrielle asked, as she felt the rigid muscles under her fingertips begin to loosen.
"This guy stood up, at the table across from them… a big guy, with a scar across half his face. " Toris went on, glancing at Xena with an inquiring look. "He says, ‘Hey, scumbag, she’s a friend of mine.’"
A slow smile crossed the warrior’s visage. "Palamon." She exchanged looks with Gabrielle. "Has to be." Her eyes glinted gently. "We… um… he helped me out, a while back."
Gabrielle’s brow rose. Helped her out.. that’s a new way of defining that situation. "Right." She agreed. "He was nice."
Cyrene leaned forward. "Have I heard that story?"
"No." Both warrior and bard answered simultaneously, then glanced at each other.
"Ah." The innkeeper sighed. "One of those, hmmm?" She peered from one to the other. "So.. which one of you were in danger?"
Blue eyes met green. "Yes." Xena muttered. "It was… complicated."
Toris cleared his throat. "Can I get this story finished, please?" He glared at them. "Thank you… now, this guy stands up and challenges him, and I’m figuring, he’s nuts… but I'm kinda obligated so I get up and say me too, or something like that…"
"You said.. ‘That’s my sister you’re talking about you pig sucking half assed bastard.’" Granella interrupted calmly, leaning back in her chair with her bowl of soup and taking a spoonful. "I thought it was quite creative, and certainly colorful."
Toris sighed. "Eeeyah. Well…. " He gave Xena a weak smile. "I’m kinda fond of you, sis."
Xena rested her chin on her fist and gave him an affectionate look. "Same here, Toris."
Cyrene sighed happily.
"Right..so this tall guy looks a little surprised, but then both of us are surprised when who do you think walks over?" He glanced at them. "Hercules and Iolaus."
"Really?" Gabrielle laughed. "Popular inn."
"Yeah.. really.. and they’ve got these two guys with them.. one taller guy, with dark hair, and a moustache.. kind of classy looking.. and this other, shorter, kind of bald, kind of fat guy with a beard."
Xena's brow creased. "Autolycus and Salmoneus?" She looked at Gabrielle. "What the Hades is going on that brought together all those guys at once?"
Toris shrugged. "I dunno. But that's who they were, though I didn't find that out till later. " He paused. "Nice guys." He paused again. "Really miffed they missed the party." He picked up his mug of ale, and took a long drink, then set it down again, and played with it. "So then the funny voiced guy stands up and I get a good look at him, and I say something about he's a bad guy.."
"You said.. "Rurik! That's the brainless cowardly bastard who kidnapped Gabrielle.' " Granella drawled, accepting the plate of lamb shanks and steamed grains the server was holding out to her. "Thanks." She settled into her meal with a happy sigh. "That certainly got everyone's attention."
Gabrielle cleared her throat and took a forkful of the steamed grains, chewing self-consciously.
"Ah… yeah." Toris blushed a little. He fiddled with his mug some more. "So then we fought."
Xena winced. "In a crowded inn?"
"Like that ever stopped you?" Gabrielle commented in a low mutter. "Ouch…" She poked her partner back.
"It was a mess." Granella confirmed. "There were about a dozen of his guys, but we.. um…we kind of got the upper hand pretty quick except… " Her eyes fastened on Toris and she hesitated. "Rurik pulled a dagger."
"And?" Cyrene asked, in a low voice.
"And… " Toris took a deep breath. "And I'd spent most of the winter getting pointers from my sister, so… " He looked up and met Xena's eyes squarely. "So you don't have to worry about Rurik anymore." He fell silent for a long moment, their gazes locked. "I took the knife from him, and put it into his heart."
Utter silence fell, as Xena went very still, and just looked at him for a long time. Then she sucked in a breath, and let it out. "I'm sorry."
Toris reached over and covered her hand with his. "I'm not." His voice was peaceful. "He hurt two people I care very much about, and.. um.. .he won't ever be doing that any more."
Xena studied him in the total silence which fell again, her gaze on him, everyone else's on her. She knew it, she felt it, along with the solid, sure grip of Gabrielle's hand around her knee. My brother. Her mind mused thoughtfully. I never wanted this… but… She lifted her left hand up and cupped the back of his neck with it, squeezing gently. "Thanks." She said finally, simply, as she pulled his head over and kissed it.
"You getting all mushy on me, sis?" He whispered as their dark hair tangled together.
"Yep." Xena replied, just as softly. "You're the only brother I have, Toris.. I'm entitled."
They separated with quiet grins, and looked up, at the attentive group around the table. Identical eyebrows lifted simultaneously. "Problem?" Xena asked coolly.
Everyone found interesting things to eat on their plates all at once.
"So.. um.. " Toris cleared his throat. "After that was all over, we kinda… uh… well, sat down and all kind of.. um.. talked." He watched Xena stop in mid chew and grinned. "Exchanged stories. You know." The warrior looked up at him with a pained expression. "You've got a lot of fans, sis."
Xena let out a long sigh, and gave her partner a sideways glance.
"Don't look at me." Gabrielle waved her off. "It's not my fault.. they all know you in person, Xena… they've got their own stories.. not mine." She ducked forward and caught Toris' eye. "Did Palamon tell you.. "
The bard chuckled. "And what about Sal.. did he mention the seltzer thing?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Good." She ducked a glare. "She never lets me tell those." She glanced back. "And Autolycus.. I guess he.. " She hesitated.
Toris nodded, this time solemnly. "That one was a show stopper."
Cyrene leaned forward. "And you did remember to take notes, so I can finally hear these right?" She reached over and grabbed Xena's hand when the warrior drew breath to protest. "Xena! I'm not that fragile, for Artemis' sake. I spent ten years having to hear the bad stories, let me hear the good ones, all right?" Her voice was angry.
The warrior stared at her plate, very aware of Gabrielle's tense form in the chair next to her as the bard reacted to her upset. This is stupid. She decided. I need to lighten up. "Sorry." She raised her head and gave her mother an apologetic look. "Old habits." She tried a half smile on. "Um.. you might as well just ask my bard here.. she knows them all by heart."
Gabrielle felt her whole body relax at the words, and she exchanged a grin with Cyrene. "Of course, she says this the night before we're leaving." She commented wryly.
Cyrene leaned back with a satisfied smile. "We'll get to them.. now.. tell me this Pali..whatever.. one."
Gabrielle took a large mouthful of lamb and chewed it. "Mmm… " She commented. "Well.. ok.. at least you'll get to hear both sides. " She took another mouthful. "It started kinda quiet.. we were shopping…."
Xena concentrated on her dinner, letting the bard's words slip over her hearing as she spun out a tale the warrior knew intimately. Palamon.. brought back memories of a very scary time for her. A time of encroaching darkness, when only her will had allowed her to overcome an increasingly debilitating handicap and had driven her through all obstacles until she'd reached her objective.
It had all come down to saving Gabrielle's life, at the expense of remaining in darkness for the rest of her days. And when she looked back, it had been such an easy decision.
Darkness had settled around her, robbing her of even the slightest hint of gray shadows, and she'd known, as they entered the palace, that it was going to remain that way. She had no chance now, even with the antidote, to reverse the damage the oil had done.
But she'd thrust that aside, and focused on the one thing she'd had left. Chaos was around her, hammering her newly sensitized hearing with waves of sound, and bombarding her sense of smell with an uncomfortable range of scents ranging from the stone of the castle, to the brimstone odor of wood fires burning.
They'd gotten through the guards, her battle instincts holding true allowing her to place blows needing no sight, just relying on her hearing and body command to accurately target her opponents by their breathing, and the shift of their feet against the floor, and the smell of their fear when they spotted her.
Finding the furnace more by the increasing heat and the faint sounds of banging than anything else, and then getting her hands on a moving box of wood, which scraped her hands raw until she got purchase on it, and pit her body against the moving chain, coiling her muscles and shoving against the moving gears until she felt them seize up, and the coffin stopped its motion.
Wrenching the top open and having those same senses of hearing, and smell identify its occupant, and then her touch confirming it as she pulled Gabrielle up and hugged her in simple, mindless relief.
And felt the sharp, sudden intake of breath when she told her about the blindness that wiped out so much of her world, not the least of which was the knowledge she'd never see the compassionate eyes she knew were gazing at her again.
They'd made it back to the chamber they'd been holding Gabrielle in, while Vidalis went off to mix up some henna, which she sensed was going to be too little, too late, and she quietly settled herself onto a low bench near the window as the bard changed out of her court finery back into her familiar traveling gear.
Sitting there, the battle over, and won, it had hit her.
She was blind.
What does a blind warrior do? Xena's exhausted brain fed her the answer. They die. She was a walking target, unable to defend herself in any but the most basic manner. Unable to defend Gabrielle.
Which mean traveling with her now was out of the question. It was a matter of safety, she tried to convince herself. It wasn't that she didn't want Gabrielle to see her like this, not at all. No.. Gabrielle had to be safe. She'd understand.
A sound lifted her head, and she focused her hearing across the room, picking up the familiar sounds of her friend without any problem. Back in her regular clothing, because the shift and whisper of the gown material was gone, and she could hear the gentle rasp of familiar leather boots against the stone floors of the chamber. "Feel better?" She asked quietly.
"You know where I am, don't you?" Gabrielle's voice had drifted over.
Xena let her head rest against the cool stone, but nodded. "Yeah… I know where you are.. I know you finished changing, I know you put your boots on, but didn't tie the laces, and you have grapes."
Silence. "That's… amazing." The bard finally whispered, and walked closer, almost overwhelming Xena with the sudden barrage of warm, familiar scents, and the distressed sound of her breathing. She'd sat down next to Xena and let out a long breath. "I.. I don't know what to say to you." She started, in a small voice. "Maybe I'll save it for when Vidalis gets back with that stuff and you can see me again…. I don't.."
It fell into silence, and Xena reached out tentatively, and captured the bard's hand, enclosing it in both of her own. "Gabrielle… I.. I don't think it's going to work."
"Don’t say that." The bard had whispered softly. "It will work, Xena… if you knew you need to get this stuff, why didn't you.."
"Couldn’t risk it." Xena had said, feeling every inch of the darkness closing in around her. "I had to make sure you were safe first." She nodded a little. "You weren't. I was right."
"But.. " Gabrielle has started.
"No buts, Gabrielle. No buts, no what ifs, no second thoughts." Xena had clearly, and precisely spoken. "I don't regret that." She'd paused. "And I never will."
She'd felt the softness as Gabrielle laid her head against her shoulder, and then the warm moisture of the bard's tears against her skin. "What are we going to do?" Gabrielle finally asked, after a long silence between them.
She should just tell her. Xena had thought. Just.. it's logical, it makes sense.. until she imagined herself saying the words that would separate them and found she just couldn’t do it. She just.. could.. not .. tell Gabrielle she was going to make sure she got home, alone. "I.. I don't know." She finally answered. "I guess we'll think of something."
"Good answer." Gabrielle had mumbled. "Because if you'd said something like you were going to go off somewhere and not let me stay with you, I"d have been really mad." She'd tightened her hold. "Because I'm not leaving you, no matter what." She'd taken a shaky breath. "So.. so just get used to that idea, ok?"
She doesn't really mean that. Xena had told herself. And I'm not going to let her give up her dreams for me. But it had felt wonderful to hear, and she clutched it to her, holding it against the darkness that was pressing closer and closer.
They'd gone outside for the treatment, into the tree lined courtyard, where Xena could feel the dappled pattern of the sunlight through the leaves against her skin, and the cool stone of the bench Gabrielle led her to. She could hear and smell Vidalis near, but her attention was focused on Gabrielle, who was standing in front of her.
She could hear the gentle watery sounds of the infusion, and the quiet hiss as the bard rinsed off the small piece of sponge she was using. She could hear Gabrielle's breathing, which was faster than normal, and heavier with nervousness. She could smell the bard's skin, very distinctive, and the sharp, bitter scent of the contents of the dish. "Go ahead." She'd told her.
Warm fingers touching her jaw, tilting her face up towards the sun, then a trickle of moisture hit her eyelids, and she blinked, then gasped at the violent, harsh stinging in her eyes. She tried to move her head, but Gabrielle was insistent, and delivered another dose.
She'd clamped her eyes shut against the stinging, and felt the gentle, soft movement as the bard wiped the stuff off that had trickled down her face.
A quiet moment, when she'd heard just Gabrielle's tense breathing, and the sound of her swallowing a few times, as Vidalis shifted impatiently in the far background.
She'd blinked her eyes open, and had been shocked at fuzzy gray light, where there had only been darkness before. Another blink, and the gray was resolving into blurry colors, then a movement in front of her drew her attention and she focused on that.
And the motion became an outline, which slowly solidified into a very familiar face. She had, she later reflected, never realized just how beautiful Gabrielle's eyes were until she'd seen them sparkling in the sunlight of that late afternoon.
A sight for sore eyes. Oh yeah. She certainly was that.
Xena glanced up from her plate, realizing everyone was looking at her. "Something wrong?"
Gabrielle smiled, and captured her hand under the table. "Nope. .I just finished up the story. Where did you go off to?"
The warrior absorbed the looks she was getting from her family and shrugged. "Just.. remembering parts of it." She concentrated on her lamb for a minute. "Gave me a new perspective on some things."
Cyrene watched her in silence for a long minute, shaking her head. "Xena.. do you think.. after a while, you could have adapted.. to being blind?"
Xena glanced up, her fork in her mouth, and paused, biting down on it. "I don't know." She shrugged. "I didn't have to find out."
"Palemon said… " Toris ventured. "That was the most amazing thing to him.. he said.. after, he tried tying a blindfold on and walking around.. nearly killed himself." Her brother spread butter on a piece of bread and took a bite. "He said he could see you working things out in other ways…using your other senses, I guess."
The warrior nodded. "Basically.. yeah…you never know.. I spend time, now.. drilling blindfolded." She went back to her plate, oblivious to the startled looks around the table. "Just a matter of using what you have, more or less."
Gabrielle leaned forward. "She says that so… like it's nothing, right? " She chuckled a little. "You'd be amazed at what she can tell just by a scent or two."
Xena gave her a look, and a sultry grin, which caused a burst of a laughter around the table.
"Tch." The bard backslapped her shoulder. "You're so bad."
Her partner manufactured an innocent look. "I didn't do anything. You said it." Xena protested reasonably, finishing up her plate and leaning back with her mug of ale, taking a sip and trying to remember if this was her third mug or her fourth.
If you can't remember, it's your fourth. Her mind reasoned, and she put the rest down on the table, and paid attention to Gabrielle's next story.
The night was starry and clear as they left the inn, and headed home. Gabrielle yawned, and moved closer, hooking her arm through her partner's. "Mom's so cute.. she made those cakes for you that you like so much."
"Us." Xena corrected, with a lazy grin. "You like them as much as I do, and she knows it." She took in a deep breath of the cold night air and enjoyed the scent of pine on it. "Nice night."
Gabrielle looked around her appreciatively. "Yeah." She sighed. "I'm going to miss this." She glanced over when she didn't receive a response, and studied her partner's silent profile. "Are you?"
The night air showed visibly as Xena breathed out, then in. "I've been thinking about that a lot, Gabrielle." She mounted the few steps up to the cabin's porch, the wood echoing under their weight, and settled herself on the low bench outside the window, patting a space next to her for the bard to occupy.
Gabrielle sat down, and huddled against her gratefully as the warrior wrapped one end of her cloak around them. "You have, huh?"
Xena nodded. "Yeah.. I.. um… was thinking about what we were going to do after we finish up this thing with Herc…and I.. um…" Her eyes roamed the night, as she tried to come up with the right words to describe her feelings, never an easy task.
"You want to come back here?" Gabrielle supplied quietly, a faint hint of a smile on her face.
Xena leaned back and stared at her hands, resting on her thighs. "I'd.. like to try it, yes." She answered soberly. "I know.. things aren't going to stop happening to us.. there's always going to be situations like this.. or other things that need taking care of. " She went on. "But between that…" She shook her head a little. "I never thought I'd feel this way." She looked at her partner. "I never thought I could go home."
"And now you have." The bard whispered.
Xena nodded slowly. "Yeah.. and I've realized that maybe… this is what I want." She gazed at the floor. "I'm sorry."
Both blond eyebrows jerked up. "Sorry? For what?"
Xena's pale blue eyes drifted around the village, then back to her. "This isn't what you left home for."
Gabrielle gazed at her and sighed. "Your mother was right. You are an idiot sometimes." She cupped the warrior's cheek, and forced her to make eye contact. "Xena, you are what I left home for." She paused to let that sink in. "I love it here, you know that."
"You.. don't mind, then?" There was a growing confidence in the warrior's voice now.
"Um… no.. which brings me to something I… I've been wanting to talk to you about." It was Gabrielle's turn to regard the floor. "You… just made it a lot easier."
"I did?" Xena gazed at her. "Were you.. I mean.. did you want to make this a more permanent thing, too?"
The bard rubbed her jaw, and ran a hand through her pale hair. "Kinda." She looked up with a faintly sheepish air. "I don't know.. maybe it was talking to Lila…I.." She lifted her hands, and let them drop. "But I had a talk with Toris." A tiny smile. "He was… a little shaken up about the question.. but.. um.. he agreed."
Xena blinked at her. "He… agreed?" She repeated slowly.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah.. he um… I told him I was… um..interested in having a child..and.. I.. really kind of liked his looks." She blushed. "And.. he agreed."
Xena's jaw dropped. "Uh… w.. why didn't you… Gods, Gabrielle.. you coulda said something!"
"I didn't… " She laughed gently. "I didn't want to say anything.. not until we got back here after the summer.. but now that you've brought this up…I um.. thought it would be a good time to discuss it."
"Um." The warrior stopped, and started again. "Um…" A grin threatened to take over her face, and she just lifted her hands up. "Whoo.. I um…um..."
"You're speechless." Gabrielle laughed. "But I guess you like the idea because you're smiling, and you usually don't do that when you're mad."
"I.. I'm not mad, no." Xena eventually managed to get out. "But.. Gabrielle.. are you sure?" She took the bard's hands in her own. "Been there.. done that.. you sure this is something you want?" She gave the bard a wry look. "It's not exactly a picnic, you know."
Gabrielle smiled. "Everything worth having is worth working for. " She stated quietly. "I learned that." She gazed up into the brilliant blue eyes dancing close to hers. "Yes, I'm sure."
Xena smiled, and nodded acquiescence. "All right then." She sighed happily. "I wish I could have been there when you asked him, though."
Gabrielle grinned, remembering.
It had been a blustery day, and they were stuck indoors. She'd given a light staff workout to the few students who'd managed to get there before the bad weather hit, and she had just put her staff in its corner and caught her breath when Toris entered from the kitchen.
"Hey…" She'd greeted him, deciding it was a good moment.
He'd looked up. "Hey!" His face had broken into that weirdly familiar smile as he'd crossed the room, and offered her half of the freshly baked muffin he was chewing on.
She'd accepted, and sat down at the closest table. "Join me?"
Another smile. "Sure." He'd straddled the bench opposite her and put his elbows on the table. "Mom just finished with these… " He motioned with the muffin. "It's new experiment she's trying."
Gabrielle had nibbled a corner, then grinned. "It worked." She took a healthy sized bite, and chewed with enjoyment. "So… what have you been up to?" How do you ease into this kind of conversation? She'd wondered.
"Not much." Toris had answered, finishing his half of the muffin and dusting his fingers off lightly. "How about you? I heard the staff practice going on in here.. did you leave anyone standing?"
"A few.. a few.." She'd laughed, then cleared her throat, and checked the near vicinity for others. None. "Listen.. Toris.. I.. um.. I've got something I'd like to discuss with you."
His head cocked, and he interlaced his fingers. "Oh?" He looked around nervously. "Listen.. I know I was a little overboard on the teasing yesterday.. but she was ok with it, really."
"Um.. right.. no.. " Gabrielle patted his hand. "She was fine.. no.. that's not what I wanted to talk about." She ran through a couple of approaches in her head. "Toris… um.. how do you feel about kids?"
It was, apparently, the last thing he expected her to ask. He straightened up, and his brows scrunched. "Uh…well, we've talked, Gran and I.. and.. well, you… if we…and it looks kinda like we are.. " He blushed a little. "So.. well, after that, we'd probably… Gabrielle, why are you asking?"
She bit the arrowhead. "Well, see.. I've really been thinking about it.. and.. I kinda would like one."
His face cleared. "Oh.. well.. sure.. " He smiled, then hesitated. "Um… you.. do .. realize there's a.. um… well, a logistical problem with that…er.. right?"
She nodded, and folded her hands, leaning towards him a little. "Eeeyah.. I… um.. kinda did realize that.. but.. um…see, I really, really like Xena's looks."
A shrug of one shoulder. "Well.. sure.. who wouldn't?" Toris asked reasonably.
"Mmhmm… " Gabrielle agreed. "Tall, dark hair, those great blue eyes… " She watched the beginnings of comprehension start twitching across his face. "Make a real, real cute kid, doncha think?"
"Uh." Toris had swallowed so hard she heard it. "Are you… uh… you're not ask… you… uh…" He licked his lips. "Are you?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I am. "
"Oh." He said faintly.
She waited, watching the thoughts run through his mind. "Xena and I have already talked about it." She dispensed neatly with his first, most immediate concern. "She um… she lost the opportunity to be a part of Solon's life when he was a baby.. and while he grew up. I.. I would like to give that back to her." She met his eyes. "And.. Toris.. you're my brother… I love you.. and I can't think of anyone I'd rather be asking."
She'd seen him swallow twice, but his gaze never left hers. "All right." He'd answered very quietly. "I'm honored you're asking me." Then he'd nodded. "Whenever you're ready, I'll do it."
Gabrielle had smiled. "Thanks."
"I told Lila when we went out there that I’d already spoken to him.. " The bard confessed. "But it was seeing her.. talking to her…I think that kinda triggered something." She let out a quiet sigh, as Xena half turned, and wrapped her arms around her, settling her hands protectively around her middle. "It's.. kinda weird, and kinda wonderful feeling." She finished.
"Yeah." Xena's voice rumbled into her ears. "You got that right."
They sat for a long moment, just gazing out at the moonlight, which painted the courtyard in an unfamiliar silver and shadow. "You up to that scroll?" Gabrielle finally asked. "I think it's.. the one."
"The one." Xena repeated, nibbling on the bard's ear. "The one? Oh… that 'the one'" She chuckled softly. "Sure.. why not?" She scooped the bard up in her arms, and stood, tossing her up a little and catching her.
Gabrielle giggled. "You'd better cut that out.. you're going to hurt yourself." She wrapped her arms around Xena's neck, and let out a long, heartfelt sigh. "Xena?"
"Mmm?" The warrior seemed to be holding her breath, just standing with her eyes closed, and a smile on her face.
"Is it possible to be this happy?" Gabrielle whispered. "I feel like I'm going to explode."
Xena let her eyes drift open. "I was just thinking the same thing." She closed her eyes again and let it overwhelm her, a joy so intense it washed through her like water. In that one moment, she knew peace, and contentment, and love, and forgot to even consider whether or not she deserved any of it.
Then she gave the bard a little squeeze, and kicked the cabin door open, edging inside and closing it behind her with a booted foot. "Hey boy.. " She patiently waited for Ares to frisk out of the way before she continued on and deposited her partner on the bed. The wolf immediately jumped up onto the surface next to the bard and commenced a lick fest.
"Ares…" Gabrielle laughed. "Here.. go see mommy.. I think she brought you a treat in her pocket."
"Roo?" The wolf stumbled to the edge of the bed, and looked at her hopefully. "Arghrooo?"
Xena put her hands on her hips. "And how did you know I had something for him?" She asked the bard, raising a dark eyebrow.
Gabrielle flopped over onto her back and gestured at the ceiling. "Oh please.. Xena….you always do.. you’re about as predictable as the rooster who wakes us up every morning."
"Oh I am, huh?" The warrior asked, in a challenging voice.
The bard gazed up at her, lit in golden candelight and smiled. "Have I told you recently how beautiful you are?"
A wry grin creased her partner's face. "Not since you were half out of your mind on nutbread, Gabrielle." She sighed, and offered up the contents of her pocket to the eagerly waiting Ares. "Here you go, boy."
Gabrielle put her hands behind her head. "Gods.. I think it so often, you'd think it would come out of my mouth every other sentence." She paused. "I should say it more… you always say nice things about me…I guess I forget sometimes that even if it's obvious, I should say stuff too." She rubbed her temples a little. "Sorry.. I'm babbling… I think that last glass of ale did me in."
Xena finished slipping into a thickly woven shirt and dropped onto the bed, rolling onto her side and propping her head up on one hand. "That's all right.. you're cute when you babble."
"See?" The bard ruffled Ares's fur, as the wolf crawled up next to her and burrowed his head into her chest. "You always say nice things. " She paused. "That was nice, wasn't it?"
"Yeah." The warrior assured her. "It was." She idly rubbed Ares' back, then watched as Gabrielle rolled off the bed, and shrugged out of her own clothes and into a sleep shirt. The candlelight, she decided, did really nice things to her partner, highlighting the red tints in her hair, and catching the soft, fine down that covered her body in a golden glow.
Gabrielle slipped into her sleep shirt, and padded over to the desk, picking up her precious scroll, and hugging it to her. "We may not get through this whole thing.. " She stifled a yawn. "I'm a little sleepy, but…" She brought a tall candle with her to the bed, and set it down, then climbed up next to Xena.
The cheerful scent of the melting wax combined with the warm mixture of smells that were the bard put Xena in a pleasant haze until her cheek was patted lightly. "Huh.. oh. Sorry. " She grinned a little, and pulled herself up against the headboard, leaning back and letting the bard settle against her chest. She curled an arm around Gabrielle's middle, and waited for her partner to unroll the parchment.
As she did, she was conscious of where her hand was resting, and let her mind wander over the thought of her partner having a child growing in there. A grin appeared on her face, unseen by the bard. Her own pregnancy… The grin disappeared. Hadn't been a good one. She'd always been surprised that both she and Solon had survived it. But Gabrielle's… that would be different. The grin reappeared. She'd have an excuse to spoil her partner unmercifully, and she intended to take the opportunity. And her mother… gods. The grin grew wider, imagining Cyrene's delight.
"Ready?" Gabrielle's voice broke into her pleasant daydream, and she turned her attention to the scroll.
Once again the colors change here, as the sun begins its decent in to the dark months, and we prepare for the coming of the years end.
Our winter will be far more secure this time, I know, as we have laid in good provisions, and have things put by for the dark, cold months when hunting will be scarce, and the world calls in its bounty before the renewal of the spring.
I am well, as I can be, and I can scarce believe it has been a year since we have come up on this far off place, a year in which so much has happened, and so many things have changed.
A large town nearby, called Cirron by them will be having a harvest festival, and I have coaxed mine companion into attendance, as I feel the need to offer up a time of thanks for our survival of this year, even if they do homage to gods unknown to me.
So coax her I do, her grumbling halfhearted I ken, and down we go this bright, crisp morn when our breathing be barely visible before us.
The bold, striped colors do well on her, and contrast with her golden hair and gray eyes, and I find myself watching her as I am wont to do, as we walk our long path down, over river and through darkling woods, to the road which leads to Cirron.
As always, in these woods, mine eyes see shadows and whispers of things unseen, and I spin a tale of magic, and faiery for Elevown's interest as we walk.
She strides beside me, her longer legs held in check to keep us even, with that rolling gait that comes from a lifetime shipboard, or so she says, and our arms brush often as she leans close to hear my words.
"See you monsters everywhere, Ardy?" Her voice holds warmth as I finish, and she smiles at me, an expression I have seen more common on her face of late, as I find it more common on mine.
Curious, that is.
"Nay… " I forestall her. "But there are things around us, eyes watching, I feel it."
Her eyes take on a hunter's glint. "Ja. So do I." She takes this excuse to move closer, as if to assure me of my safety, and I find myself welcoming this with a quiet pleasure that starts the thoughts whirling inside me as it often does.
We find our way to Cirron as darkness sets down, and enter the town gates, where much merriment is already before us. The courtyard square is full of torchlit shadows, and music rolls on crisp air amongst the solid sounds of honest boots in dance steps.
I smell roasting meat on the air, and see Elevown's eyes light, as she spots a group of fighters rounded a stoked pit trading stories of battles. I expect her to wander, but she does a strange thing, she forgoes the rough language, and follows me close instead, poking her head into firelit merchants alongside me as we wind our way through the festive market.
Ah, she is gone, slipping through the crowd like a pale haired ghostling, returning as I am finding some of the fruits we both like and gathering them to my breast. Her gray eyes wink lightly, as she exchanges a cup to me for some of my coveted morsels, and I drink deep of the sweet, rich wine of the last harvest, and watch her do the same, as her attention roves far about us.
"Good, ja?" She holds up her cup and I nod. Aye, tis not like the mead of my father's hearth, but it is good enough. We carry our wine and wander, dodging the giggling children and folks making merry about us. I had always liked the harvest at home, a time for new beginnings as well as endings, when we celebrated the bounty of the Lady, and took care that plenty was laid by for the long, dead months to come.
This night three joinings were celebrant, and the dancing in the square was wild, and ribald, as the young people made merry, this, their last night of freedom from the bondage of family. Elevown lays claim to a table snug to the firelight, and we settle in comfort to watch the high spirits.
A hand laid on my wrist. "Hungry?" She asks, with a wishing in those pale eyes. For always she is, like a wolf never stopping, though her frame does not show it. "Aye.. a bit." I tease, for I know I smell boar roasting, and that is a thing she dearly loves.
A smile, and she is gone a hunting, and I settle my back and watch the bold dancers, as they whirl and move in a high sport with each other, so different than that which we did at home. I lose myself in it, until some little time as passed, and here is Elevown, making her way back to me, triumphantly laden with platters, which she bestows on the table with proud flourishes.
Ah, my Lady.. she has outdone herself in this time. A feast it is indeed, of all good things which grow and are grown in lands around. The roast is there, and long roots which they roast, and grains both cooked and within narrow loaves of dark, fragrant bread. Together with my fruits we make a fine dinner, and watch the dancing as the music winds its way through the both of us and spirals for the stars.
I find a bit of roast most tender, and knowing her liking, take it up onto my knife, and thence to mine fingers, and offer it over in jest.
Her eyes twinkle, and she bends her neck, and takes this tidbit, and I feel the touch of her teeth capture my fingers, and her lips close upon them.
And we are, for that moment, alone in Cirron. I would believe should a herd of wild beasts thunder past us, I would not know it. A moment only, and then the sound crashes back over me, and I am given my fingers back, and we are left wondering, as our eyes meet, and I see a fey smile shape her lips.
I cannot believe what I am feeling. I watch, as in a dream, as she slices off a bit of her own portion, and extends it to me, and I take it in silence, then feel the softness as her knuckles brush my cheek.
What road do we travel, we two? The past time just has shown me a change in her, a gentling I never expected to see, and it has brought to her a warmth, and a closeness that I cannot but delight in. She chooses my company even in the solitude of our cave, perching beside me as we work at our nightly tasks, and finding a favorite spot to watch our fire, with her arms thrown about my neck, and her chin resting upon mine shoulder in mindless companionship.
That there is love between us is undeniable, I know it, but of late I begin to wonder if we are not headed somewhere deeper, into waters uncharted by either our experience, and I do not know if I am capable, nor willing to open mine own self up to the memories that will freshen and bring up whole.
This night, though, this night, I find myself enjoying her attentions with a gentle giddiness that does not threaten my senses, and we sit in contentment, trading our portions back and forth, and letting the magic of the night roll over us in pleasure.
At last the moon sets, and the revelry quiets, and I am happy, though I have failed in my quest to coax Elevown to the dancing square. She is bashful of eyes watching her, though with her grace, and her skill at her steps, she has nothing to fear in the seeing of it. I cannot feel ill towards her though, she has tendered her apology most endearingly, by capturing for me a plate of the sweet honey cakes she knows I love, and so has pacified my indigence at her shyness as I allow her to buy my forgiveness with such.
We wander our way through murmuring crowds shifting homeward, to a place we have secured for this night and one other, to more fully sample the festival and so come to our resting spot, a well placed inn whose windows overlook the well ribboned festival square, and whose apple cheeked mistress greets us with warmth and fine intentions.
Tired, we both are, even my robust companion, who puts on her gruff front for our patron, but whose bodies lines and movements are so known to me, that I see the weariness in her with little trouble. I coax her out of her surcoat and weapons, and into her favorite crimson shift that I also love, to see its contrast with her fair coloring.
I go to the window, and stand quiet, gazing out to the square and its torchlit sparseness, until I feel a hand on my shoulder, and turn to see her perched behind me, following my eyes out into the darkness. "What see you?" Her eyes look up to mine own.
"That such as these are not so different than mine own kind." I answer in all mildness. "The customs be different, but still there is the thanking for the bounty of the year, which seems a goodly thing."
"Ja." She leans on the wooden arch which holds the window. "We do such also… especially the joining to make it more like to survive the cold winters."
Mine eyes covet her. "Were you such, cariad?"
A single shake no. "I was not thought seemly." Comes the quiet answer. "Wedded to Thor I was, no hearth would tame me." The faint, mocking smile I know well she uses to cover hurt appears. "My father told me to hone the skills that I have, for my strength was found appealing, though my looks were not."
I marvel at tiny, hidden child's hurt I see in her eyes. "Then your father be either foolish or blind, cariad.. for you are very beautiful."
Ah..I have caught her unawares, and she stands before me stripped of her defenses. "Think you truly, Ardy?"
"Aye." My simple reply.
"That is well." Her smile captures me. "For I think the same of you." Her eyes go out to the darkness, on a breath my startled eyes see as frightened. "What of you, Ardy?" She looks to the square, and its lingering dancers. "Were you such?"
I smile. "Not yet, but soon." I remember our longhouse. "My father had many offers, though that I ken had more to do with the advantage of joining to our household, than cares for my charms."
"They are fools, then." There is a gentle look to her eyes that snares me in. "I would not have cared if your father was shaman or beggar."
"Would you not?" I banter in faint tones. "What then of your ambition?"
Neither of us move, and yet, and yet we are so close now I can almost hear her heartbeat, and wonder if it's rapid beat matches mine own. I shiver, balanced on a knife's blade of fear, half of me wanting to hide from awakening my nightmares, the other half…
Ah, my Lady.
"I would lay my future down, without thought." Her answer comes, inevitable as the spring that comes after winter. Her hand cups my cheek in gentle entreaty, and I find myself unable to keep from closing with her, unable to chain my body's responses to her nearness. She bends her head and her lips brush mine, then again, then come home to stay, and my fear flies as a bird might, out into the night sky and goes from me.
It is unlike anything I have yet known, so gentle, and undemanding, but it fills my soul with such completeness it is though I have been waiting for just this thing all the days of my life.
Perhaps I have.
We end, and she pulls back to study mine face. "Do you fear this?" Her voice is but a tiny whisper. "Do I hurt you with this?"
Her asking stills what flutters I have, and I let my trust forward, risking, but unable to forestall it. "No..I do not fear this." My hands claim her in wonder, fingers spread against the solid warmth of her flesh felt through her clothing, and I feel her move to meet my touch, and her hands find me in feather’s brush against my neck, and then my shoulders.
It is so different.. her touch trails fire that travels across my flesh and raises it in her passage, and as we let our lips meet once again, our bodies feel each other’s wanting in a gentle ache that surprises me greatly.
I had thought that taken from me. Never I thought so easily to feel the hunger that my body feels for her rise in me, a soft wave that wipes from me the memory of my darkest moment as though a pass of the water wipes clean the sand it travels over.
My knees are growing too weak to hold me, and I guide her back, and we tumble onto the bed entwined in each other, and I find my hands running over her, seeking each smooth curve and hollow, as hers does mine.
Her fingers find my belt, and that pressure eases as I feel the fire’s warmth in the air which touches my skin when she leaves behind my garment, and I see the candle glow burnish her as I strip her of her own.
She is so very gentle with me, I feel like I am a thing of spun glass in her hands, so careful are her touches, her strokes, that I loosen my worries and surrender to her utterly, trusting my heart into her hands as she takes me places I have never been.
And I, in turn, make free to explore her in knowing detail, delighting in her clean, strong lines, and the childlike, almost hesitant vulnerability as she withdraws her shields and gives to me her secrets, her trust, that being the greatest thing she holds tight to, and accordingly the most dire of things she can gift me with.
We end with our bodies contented, wanting no further this night when we both feel the length of a long day, and tangle ourselves together in happy embrace. I find her curled around me, her head pillowing upon my chest, and I run my fingers through her hair, damp with our movements as she makes noises as tiny, contented puppies do.
I feel the overwhelming tide of sleep pulling at me and bow to it, having seen a change in my life this night unlooked for, though if I am truthful with myself my heart should confess it had long foreseen it.
I feel… complete.. in the security of her arms and the safety of her love I have found peace. Where this will take us I know not, I know only we go as one, and not two alone, any longer.
Xena peered at Gabrielle’s face, which was faintly contorted in thought. "What..are you thinking about that generated *that* look?"
"Mmm…" The bard put the scroll down and half turned, cuddling into Xena’s chest with a very contented look. "Just wondering what a tiny puppy sounds like, that’s all."
The warrior gazed at her impassively for a long moment, then made a little, high pitched sigh, followed by bitty sucking noises, and ending with a soft grunt.
Her partner giggled. "Ooo.. that is kinda cute." She put her head down and rubbed Xena’s belly gently, then gave it a pat. "I really liked that one…it made me feel good to see them happy." She smiled. "We barely made a dent in that pile of scrolls.. they spent a long time together, didn’t they?"
Xena nodded thoughtfully. "Yes.. they did." She leaned her head against the bard’s. "I hope the pile of scrolls you leave is twice that size."
The bard gazed up at her. "I can tell all your stories, then?"
The warrior shook her head. "Only if you’re in all of them." She gave the bard a lopsided grin. "That’s the deal."
Gabrielle considered that, her head cocked to one side. "All right.. I can live with that." She poked Xena in the chest. "But you’re not allowed to have any adventures without me, then."
"All right." The warrior chuckled. "It’s a deal." She relaxed, and rubbed the bard's back. "Better get some sleep.. I want to leave early."
Gabrielle assumed a smirk. "You tell me this? I'm the one who's had to drag you out of bed in the morning lately, partner. " She tugged the blankets up around them and settled down with a contented sigh, slipping a hand inside her partner's shirt and letting her fingers drift, tracing out familiar scars and contours. 'Xena?"
"Mmm?" The warrior mumbled, as she nibbled lazily on the bard's exposed ear.
"If… " She paused, as Xena gently bit down on her earlobe, and she lost track of her thoughts momentarily. "Uh… what I was saying was.. if we have a boy…"
"Hope he has your personality…" Came the throaty chuckle. "Boy with Toris or my personality's just gonna be trouble."
"Uhm… well.. " The bard got sidetracked again by a purposeful expedition across her collarbone. "Yeah.. but if … hey.. you're not trouble."
Xena stopped what she was doing, and leaned over her partner, staring down with two raised eyebrows.
"Well… ok.. I guess I see your point." The bard grinned, taking the opportunity to get her partner's shirt open. "But what I meant was.. if we do, is it ok with you to name him Lyceus?"
Xena let her forehead rest against Gabrielle's and sighed softly. "You have no idea how much I wanted to name Solon that." She opened her eyes and gazed directly into the bard's green ones. "It was too closely linked to me."
Gabrielle kissed her nose. "So.. is that a yes?"
"I was gonna say.. don't name your babies before they hatch.. but… " Xena sighed happily. "If that's what you want, sure.. I'd love it."
"Good." The bard kissed her, this time on the lips. "I have to think about a girl's name."
"Mmm… we could name her after you… that would make…. " Xena thought. "Three namesakes?"
Gabrielle paused, her brow scrunching. "Three?"
Xena nodded. "Yeah… Eph's kid… Pandora's kid… and… " She paused, remembering. "A little girl out in a small village somewhere near Jessan's territory.. she'd be.. oh… five or six now I guess."
The bard started a slow, gentle exploration. "Oohhh… when Wennid saw you." She nuzzled soft skin.
"Umm… " Xena blinked, then took a sharp breath. "Yeah.. yeah.. uh.. yeah. When you.. went home." She let her hands slide over her partner's body. "Only one that survived that.. nice little kid."
"Mmm.. am I a nice kid?" Gabrielle inquired, nipping lightly.
"Very nice." Xena gasped. "Whoa…"
"Heh." The bard chortled softly. "Gotcha."
Xena finished arranging her saddlebags on the chestnut mare she was borrowing from Toris, and patted the animal on the shoulder. "Good girl."
The mare looked at her, mildly interested.
The warrior sighed. "Ok..ok.. not a conversationalist, huh?"
"Got it." Xena adjusted a strap, and shook her head, moving over to the next stall to give Argo a farewell hug. "We won't be gone long girl.. I promise. " She let her hands slide over the mare's body. "Gods.. look at how big you're getting… " She pressed a gentle fist against a swollen flank, and felt movement inside. "Hey… feel that kick…"
The mare arched her head around, and butted her in the side, snorting softly.
"Yeah.. I know.. I'll be back for that.. don't you worry. " She gave Argo an affectionate squeeze around the neck. "You take care of yourself, ok? Don't let mom give you too many carrots."
Another snort. Xena laughed, and gave her one last pat, then unlocked the other stall door, and led the chestnut outside, where Gabrielle was loitering, chatting with Toris and Granella. "We ready?" The warrior inquired.
"Yep… " Gabrielle confirmed, straightening the clasp on her cloak, and hefting her staff. "Ready."
Xena handed her the reins. "Hang on to this for a minute." She ducked in the back door to the inn, and pushed open the kitchen door. "Mother?"
Cyrene poked her head out from the storage room. "You leaving?" She came out, wiping her hands on a cloth and crossed to her daughter, enfolding her in a big hug. "When can we expect to see you back?"
Xena hesitated, then gave an unseen grin over her mother's shoulder. "Probably sooner than you think." She admitted quietly.
Cyrene released her, and held her at arms distance. "You two coming right back here? Is that what that means?"
The warrior dropped her gaze, and gave a little shrug. "I… yeah. That's what that means."
The innkeeper beamed. "Scamp.. why didn't you say something before now?"
Xena smiled at her. "Well.. we just talked about it last night.. I guess we both kind of.. I.. um… it's been nice to have a stable place for a change.. and uh.. well, Gabrielle… she's kinda.. she um.. she wants to have.. um.. a child." There. It was out. Damn, if that wasn't hard.
Cyrene's jaw dropped. "Oh!" Then she studied Xena very closely. "Honey? Listen.. I know.. better than most people do.. that you have many skills, dear.. but.. um… "
"Ah.. yes.. well, I know - but that's one little skill my brother's consented to lend out." Xena managed to keep a serious face on. "We.. do look alike."
Cyrene sat down on the edge of the table, and held up a hand. "Wait." She cleared her throat. "You are telling me that you're coming back here, and starting a family, using your brother as a stud service?"
Xena crossed her arms. "Um.. yeah."
Cyrene chewed her lip. "I like it." She gave Xena a pat on the side. "'I'll get those clucky women to start knitting booties." She let out a soft laugh, then stood and hugged her daughter again. "Take care of yourself, honey, ok?"
"I will." Xena hugged her back. "See you soon." She released her mother, then pushed the door open, and walked out, throwing her head back and gazing up at the bright morning sun. A quick trip, a problem solved.. and we'll be back here. I like that. She smiled at Gabrielle, and took the chestnut's reins from her, pulling herself up in the saddle. "Wanna lift?"
Gabrielle took the proffered arm, and allowed herself to be hauled up. "Ooof." She settled into place, and wrapped an arm around her partner's waist. "Go."
They started down the road, into the dry air, of a cool spring morning. "I told mom." Xena called back over her shoulder.
"Really?" Gabrielle didn't have to ask what she'd told her. "What'd she say.. was she shocked?"
Xena snorted. "My mother? No.. she's gonna have the gossip circle knit socks for us."
"Oh great." The bard rolled her eyes. "That'll give them something to talk about."
"We aim to please." Xena commented airily. "Right?"
"Right." Gabrielle answered, and tightened her hold, as the chestnut mare broke into a canter, taking them into the future.
That be the end, folks.. thanks for reading. There is a break in time between the end of this story, and the beginning of Darkness Falls, which does start after the "Rift" that went on in the series.