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At the Crossroads
By Medora MacD
August 15, 1999
Legal Disclaimer: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess and all other associated with the television series of the same name are owned by MCA/ Universal Pictures. This is a work of fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
Subtext: This story depicts a love relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it.
Violence: No more than on the TV show. Possibly less.
Hurt/Comfort: Yes; appropriate for the story line.
Language: No expletives harsher than damn, used sparingly.
Timeline: Set early in Season Three, before Dahak and the Rift stories.
Sincere Thanks: To Lunacy, for providing a list of beta readers; to beta reader Gin, who did NOT take time away from her wonderful Xena the Conqueror stories to offer helpful suggestions (As the gods are my witness: any advice she gave me did NOT interfere with her own writing! Don't hurt me!); and to my family and friends for their love, advice, and tolerance of my ineffable weirdness.
Feedback: Send compliments, comments, and constructive criticism to email@example.com.
"Life is too short, life is too short..."
The fortune tellers words fit themselves to the cadence of Argos hooves on the stony path. Try as she might, neither woman could ignore them.
For Gabrielle, Treezas parting advice was an affirmation of her decision to demand that Xena allow their relationship to grow beyond its present bounds. "Life is too short to waste a single moment. Hold tightly to it -- and to each other. Nothing else matters." Not warlords bent on revenge, not murdering thugs, not a life on the road, not what her parents and others would think! By the gods, if only Xena could take those words to heart!, thought Gabrielle.
Xena, however, was hearing only the first four words of the fortune tellers admonition: "Life is too short." She agreed. Gabrielles life was too precious to be shortened by a single second or impoverished by another day of sleeping on the ground exposed to the elements, to hunger, to disease, to the horrors of Xenas past. She deserved a home and a family. People who could be counted on to stand by her day after day, year after year, rather than dashing off whenever some stranger asked for assistance. All things that Xena knew she could never give her.
All too soon, the travelers came to the crossroads. The branch on their right angled sharply up toward Mancor. The gently sloping road ahead to the left would lead past Amazon territory. The third alternative led north up the coast, to Kavala. A lush meadow filled much of the top part of the X formed by the trails. It had a gentle stream where horses and riders could refresh themselves and trees and boulders for shade.
The duo halted uncertainly. The moment had come. Buying a little time, Xena looped Argos reins over the saddle horn and slapped her on the hindquarters, directing her to the meadow. Silently, she crossed to the other side of the intersection and descended the set of shallow stone stairs that led to the cliffs edge and a precarious footpath to the beach far below. When she reached the bottom, she took a deep breath, sucking in the salt air, listening to the gulls wheeling overhead, watching the sun sparkle on the waves. Slowly she turned to face the bard, who had followed her down the steps and now stood a short distance behind her waiting for an answer.
At the sight of Gabrielles resolute, yet somehow hopeful face, Xena forgot the speech shed been rehearsing for the better part of a candlemark. The bard, in turn, studied the warriors face intently. She read in its stillness, the tightness of its jaw, the expanded area of white around those impossibly blue eyes the answer she had prayed she would not hear.
"Youre not going to do it, are you? Youre not going to take the chance." The bard spoke before Xena could marshal her thoughts. "Damn it, Xena! You can be such a coward sometimes. The gods alone know why I love you so." She turned to leave, fists clenched and jaw set.
"Wait a minute!" Stung by Gabrielles comments, the warrior grabbed her by the arm and whirled her back around. "Who are you calling a coward, damn it?!"
"Im not talking about physical courage, Xena, or what it takes to run an army or half the Known World. Or the moral courage to take responsibility for your actions. Youve got that by the boatload. I sometimes wish you didnt. The risks you take scare me to death."
She paused, choosing her words with even greater care than usual.
"I know youd never hesitate to put your body or your life on the line to save me or to serve the greater good. Ive seen you do it, time and again...
"But face it, Xena. Youre an emotional coward. Nothing scares you so much as a genuine feeling, especially one that you might be expected to reciprocate. Youd put your life on the line for me; youd just never risk your heart! Look at you! Your eyes look like Argos during a thunderstorm. Youd bolt for cover if it wouldnt just confirm what Im saying."
The cords of Xenas neck bulged, and her eyes flashed ominously. Recovering her voice -- and her wits -- she struck back.
"This isnt about courage, Gabrielle. This is about common sense. About what is, not what you wish things would be. Just how long do you think we can keep this up? How long will it take before I dont block one of those sword thrusts, dont see the guy sneaking up behind you?"
"I can take care of myself, Xena!"
"Yes, you can, Gabrielle. You are the best staff fighter this side of the Alps. But if you werent traveling with me, you probably wouldnt have to use a staff at all! And you wouldnt be sleeping on the side of a mountain, cold and wet, or wondering where your next meal was coming from and when."
"I told you before, Xena. Im not a child. I accepted long ago the possible consequences of our life together. Im prepared to be cold sometimes. Im prepared to be hungry. And Im prepared to die."
"Are you prepared for my death, Gabrielle?" The warrior was almost shouting. "I know what I promised, but sooner rather than later someones gonna be faster or smarter or luckier. I know what you felt like as you brought my body down from Mount Nestos, Gabrielle. I heard your thoughts. I am NOT ready to cause -- or to endure -- that kind of pain again! Are you?"
Gabrielle faced the question square on, putting her heart and soul into the answer.
"No, Xena, Im not ready to feel that pain again. I wont ever be. Nor am I willing to pretend that what I feel for you doesnt exist. Life is too short to waste a single moment, Xena. Thats what Treeza said and I believe her. I wont waste another moment being with you and not being able to love you fully and openly."
She gave a forlorn laugh. "You seem to think Ill find someone else. Been there. Done that. It wouldnt have worked out even if Callisto hadnt killed Perdicus. As Minya put it so well, youre the main thing, the real deal, the #1 attraction. The choice isnt between you and someone else, Warrior Princess. Its between you and anyone. If I leave here alone, I wont be leaving in search of some man or woman to take your place. Ill be leaving in search of a way to fill the days until we meet again in the Fields -- which will be about two heartbeats after I learn of your death."
Gabrielle watched as her words hit home -- and as Xena willed herself to dismiss them.
She waited another long moment, hoping against hope that the warrior would find the fortitude to overcome her fears. It was no use. It just wasnt going to happen.
"Ill get my stuff off Argo and go, Xena." She nodded grimly. "The gods be with you."
"Wait! I mean... What are you going to do? I mean, youll need a waterskin, other supplies..."
"Thats not your concern any more, now is it?"
Xenas flinch woke Gabrielle to the realization that this was not the way she wanted to remember this moment. This wasnt about hurting back. Nor was it about being nobler. It was about honoring what the two of them had shared.
"Id intended to head for Amazon territory," she said, studying the ground and the groove her boot was carving in the dirt. "I thought maybe... some time to sort things out. You know, something to keep me occupied. But I think now Ill take Oz and Treeza up on their offer. With any luck, if I hurry, Ill meet them at nightfall where the shortcut comes out on the road to Kavala. Being a stray worked for me once before," she noted wryly. "My sewings lousy, but they can always use another spear carrier. Who knows? Maybe one of those scrolls will turn out to be the next Oedipus Rex! And if that doesnt work out -- well, you said Kavala was booming. Ill find something." She took a deep breath.
"Goodbye, Xena. And thank you. You taught me more than youll ever know." She ducked her head. "And Im really sorry about that chopping thugs into itty-bitty pieces crack this morning. You didnt deserve it."
She looked up wistfully at the proud, pained face of the woman she loved, at the sculpted jaw, the lips that deserved to smile much more often than their owner would ever allow. It hurt almost beyond measure to think she might never see her again. Still... it was time to go.
"I love you, Xena, and I will miss you more than I can say."
She headed for the stairs and had climbed one or two when Xena suddenly spoke.
"Stop!" Gabrielle took another step up, then stiffened, sensing a tall, dark body closing in behind her. "I mean Please?"
She halted, turned to listen and found herself staring squarely into a pair of sky blue eyes -- eyes that blinked in shock, then dropped to the steps in a near panic. The stairs had negated the difference in their heights and it was throwing everything off -- at least for the warrior.
Now it was Xenas turn to stare at her boots while she scrambled to collect her thoughts. After a moment, she stammered, "Im sorry, too, Gabrielle. I wish I were able to... I mean Youve gotten closer than anyone else, ever, and if it were possible... well, youd be it."
It wasnt terribly articulate, but Gabrielle would probably know what she meant, the warrior reassured herself. She fixed her gaze on a point slightly to the left of Gabrielles right ear and continued her farewell, finally finding a way to impose order upon her fractious thoughts and words.
"You taught me as much as I ever did you, bard -- and more. From the beginning you brought light to my darkness and made it possible -- even necessary -- for me to do things even I knew were impossible."
She cracked a crooked smile and risked looking at Gabrielle. "Like getting you up in the morning with only a minimum of physical violence!" They managed to laugh a little at this small, safe memory, each knowing theyd probably weep later about so many others.
"You changed my life, Gabrielle. Ill never forget our time together -- or you. I promise always to try to live up to your faith in me. The gods be with you."
Xena stepped forward and clasped the young womans forearm in a warriors handshake. "Ill miss you, Gabrielle. I w..."
She started to make a "wish" with her lips, then, without warning, without conscious thought, did what her body had wanted to do almost since the day she had stopped outside Potadeia to bury her bloody past. She leaned forward and pressed her lips firmly against the bards warm, red ones.
So sweet! She took a deeper sip. Sweeter -- and more precious -- than any honey Ive ever tasted! I...
It hadnt felt like this, when shed kissed Gabrielle while occupying the body of their friend Autolycus. Not at all. This was more immediate. More real. And more intense. Much more.
Abruptly, she was back on the steps, her arm still clasping Gabrielles smaller, smoother one. Their eyes locked in surprise and wonder.
"I... Im sorry, Gabrielle. I didnt mean t... "
She dropped the bards arm as if scalded, straightened, and backed away from the stairs, waving her arms in front of her as if to brush away what had happened. Gabrielle dropped to the steps, her knees suddenly too weak to support her.
"Your mind didnt mean to do it, Xena, but your body seemed to know what it was doing."
And how! She gulped and then continued out loud, "Stop listening to your head, Xena. Start listening to your heart."
Xena continued to retreat, shaking her head. "I cant, Gabrielle... Its just too..."
"Stop, Xena! I mean it! Dont move another step!"
The terror in Gabrielles voice cut through the warriors own fear, and she halted as ordered. Slowly the bard advanced and extended an arm. Xena gawked at it dumbly.
"Xena," Gabrielle asked gently, "do you trust me?"
As the warrior nodded, Gabrielle grabbed a major handful of leather and metal and yanked as hard as she could -- pulling Xena away from the brink of the cliff, to which her panicky steps had unknowingly led her.
Xena gazed soberly at the rock-strewn base of the cliff, some 40 feet below, as Gabrielle traced soothing circles on her rigid back. "Its okay, Xena. Ive got you."
"No, Gabrielle," said the warrior regretfully, drawing slowly away. "No, you dont. This doesnt change anything. It cant. I meant everything I said..."
"And everything you did?"
"I dont know how But It wont happen again!"
"Thats too bad. I really liked it..." She stared at the warrior in wonder, remembering. "Your lips, Xena! They were so... sweet!"
Xenas head jerked at the bards use of that particular word.
"Please, Xena! Im not going to say anything else. You know how I feel. But you dont really seem to know how YOU feel. Give yourself time to find out." She glanced about quickly. "Take a walk along the shore, maybe? Please?"
The warrior wavered, looking at the beach below and then back at Gabrielle, who nodded encouragingly.
"Gwan. Ill take care of Argo till you get back."
Xena started slowly picking her way down the path to the sea and Gabrielle started praying.
The sea air and the crash of the waves werent helping at all, Xena realized. Her head still felt as if it were stuck in a hive full of fidgety bees -- an image that led rather naturally to thoughts of honey... and of honey-colored hair... and of lips as sweet as...
"Augh! This is getting me nowhere!"
Shed been pacing the beach for the better part of a candlemark and had whacked the tops off most of the scraggly weeds growing amid the boulders at the bottom of the cliff. Putting away her sword, she began to vent her frustration on the wave-washed stones scattered along the shore. Including a deeply buried one that kicked back, rather than splashing into the surf as expected.
Hopping about on one leg, Xena gave the gulls a demonstration of her impressive linguistic abilities. You couldnt run an army without swearing, she had discovered, and she knew at least one eye-popping profanity in every major language of the Known World.
She was surprised at how easily she recalled the words. She seldom got to use them any more. Shed let loose with some really colorful ones the first day shed been traveling with Gabrielle. And the shock on that sweet young face had reminded her that many normal folks lived their whole lives without making reference to the grossest of bodily functions or perverted sexual acts. Since then, she tried to confine herself to epithets of the mildest sorts.
It was liberating, in a way, to be able to express herself so freely now. To say "shazbat," an extremely potent oath shed picked up in the Far East, since that was, in fact, what she meant. Why, then, the unaccountable sense of melancholy that swept over her at the realization that she no longer had a reason to temper her language? She limped sourly to a boulder at the cliffs base to nurse her bruised foot and battered psyche.
"Way to go, Destroyer of Nations! Laid low by a rock -- and a green-eyed girl! Mind telling me again how you came to be in this dreadful fix?"
What if I hadnt decided atexactlythat moment to bury my weapons? If that valiant girl hadnt tried to save her friends? If she hadnt followed me to Amphipolis and stepped forward to save a woman who was ready to die at the hands of her former neighbors rather than continue to fight the guilt and the pain?
She rubbed her booted foot absent-mindedly, reliving the confrontation in her mothers inn, feeling anew the profound despair of that moment.
I was so... dead. Being stoned by the people of Amphipolis would have just made it official. Thats what I was looking for, I know. I was standing on the edge of a cliff then, too, and waiting for a breeze, any breeze, to blow me over, put me out of my misery. Gabrielle pulled me back somehow. By filling my days with innocuous chatter and finding patterns in the night skies that helped stave off the nightmares. By giving me somebody to take care of. To care for. By seeing something in me that Im only just beginning to...
She brought me back to life, damn it! Gave me the chance to know my mother again. My brother. Autolycus, Ephiny, even Joxer. And Solan! She shook her head in amazement, as the numbers continued to mount up. At one time, shed have needed no more than one or two fingers to count the people upon whom she could rely -- and who would care if she came to harm. She bowed her head in gratitude.
I cant have you, Gabrielle. But thanks to you, Ill have things I never dreamed I could: family, some friends, the "greater good."
"A lot more pain, too," another part of her mind warned her. "Pain that you wouldnt have felt before she came into your life! You thought it was bad when she left for the Academy in Athens? When she married Perdicus? That was nothing, Warrior Princess! This ones gonna hurt like..."
Like it did when Gabrielle died in Thessalonika, Xena admitted to herself. Because this is going to be forever. Were not going to be getting together for the Winter Solstice or swapping birthday presents.
And Im not counting on a reunion in the Elysian Fields either. Sorry, Gabrielle. With your help, Ive managed to make amends for some of my sins. But Ive spilled enough blood, my bard, to fill the Aegean Sea. And Ive paid off only one or two buckets worth. Much as Id love to see your beautiful face on the other side when its my time, I dont think were going to the same place.
"When its my time..." The words reminded her of another shore and another sweet young woman.
MLila -- you took me down from Caesars cross, threw yourself in front of an arrow for me, because you said it was not my time to die. I repaid your love and your sacrifice by raining death and destruction as far as my bloody hands could reach...
And when Nicklio was unable to save me the second time, when I died on Mount Nestos and hung on another cross, one of my own making, you told me I had a "destiny" -- but I had to choose it. You told me to listen to Gabrielles thoughts... and when I did, I knew I had to find a way to come back. Is this what you keep saving me for? This moment? This decision? Is this my destiny? Is this how I am to honor your memory?
MLila. Caesars soldiers had killed the beautiful brown-skinned stowaway before she had had the chance to tell her how she felt about her.
"What a pile of crap!" exclaimed the part of her mind that seemed to be in charge of keeping Xena honest, at least with herself. "Who do you think youre fooling, Queen of Denial? You had plenty of chances -- but you passed them by because you thought you had all the time in the world! Are you going to make the same mistake with Gabrielle?"
And what did us loving each other ever get MLila butdead?It wont matter how much I love Gabrielle if being with me gets herkilled!
"Or if you betray her love, the way you eventually did with all the others... Do you even have it in you, Xena, to be faithful to just one person, for the rest of your life? To love her, not just use her?"
Xena cradled her head in her hands, massaging her temples in a vain attempt to ease the pounding there. She fought to quiet the clash of her thoughts, to focus instead on the sound of the birds and the surf. An errant noise and the barest whiff of something foul alerted her to a more immediate threat -- but too late. Even as she recognized the danger, a net settled over her, pinning her arms and legs in place.
Unfazed, she used her body as a weapon, flinging herself at the nearest of the two rancid men trying to capture her. He dodged, but managed to maintain his grip on the rope that held the net closed. Xena was flat on her back on the sandy soil now -- though hardly defenseless. She kept them at bay with several well-placed two-footed kicks, all the while struggling to extricate her hands.
If she could stretch her fingers... just a little further... she might be able to reach her breast dagger and then
"Ooh, got a wildcat ere, Noxon. Some kinda Amazon looks like. Oughta bring plenty of dinars! Tip er upside down, shall we, and drop er a few times? See if she lands on her feet?"
The man with the rope tossed the end of it over the branch of a nearby tree and pulled down hard on it, inverting the net and the warrior suspended within it. Fatal mistake! Aided by gravity, the dagger at last slid free. A judicious wriggle or two brought it within reach of Xenas teeth. She bit into the handle and, with a quick slash of her head, severed the rough twine imprisoning her hand. Taking up the dagger, she ripped a hole in the netting big enough to drop through. A quick roll and she was up. With a feral grin, she flipped the dagger to her left hand and slid her sword out of its scabbard with her right. Her would-be abductors drew their own weapons and split to either side.
No negotiation now. No chats -- sensitive or otherwise. Just death. These guys were begging for it, from their poor personal hygiene to the cruel manacles that dangled from their belts and the string of human teeth the bigger one was wearing as a necklace.
Her blade whipped through the air. Teeth went flying as the cord of the necklace was severed -- along with a significant portion of the neck it had been encircling. Hot, coppery-smelling blood sprayed into the air, blinding her. The warrior stepped to one side, anticipating the rush of the remaining slaver. When he drew even with her, she ran him through with her sword.
Swiping the back of a hand across her face to clear her vision, Xena knelt to examine the carcass sprawled grotesquely in the dirt at her feet. Only one part of his noisome garb looked like it wouldnt generate disease on contact, the insignia affixed to his tunic. It was a blood red dagger overlaying a black star with five points. It was slightly less filthy than the rest of his clothing, suggesting that it had been added more recently. Xena was moving to examine the other man when noises from far above froze her in her tracks. She heard a distinctive neigh and a womans shout -- followed by the unmistakable sound of wood colliding solidly with flesh. Gabrielle!
There was no time to pick her way back up the rugged footpath. Hastily sheathing her bloody sword, Xena surveyed the cliffs face. There! That looked like the only possible route.
Xena returned the dagger to her right hand and started climbing. Time and again she buried the weapon in crevices of stone too small to be seen. Together with the nails of her other hand, she used it to claw her way up the rock. At times her boots -- and her hopes -- rested on little more than an exposed pebble or root.
The cliff wall bowed outward slightly. She pressed her body into it, filling the whorls of her armor with dirt and rock as she pulled past it. Her heart pounded in her throat: "Life is too short," it pulsed. "Life is too short." Calling upon any gods still willing to listen to pleas from her, Xena prayed as she climbed: "Give me one more chance. Please. Just one more chance to tell Gabrielle how I feel. I promise. I wont waste it."
With that she pulled herself up on a shallow ledge about 10 feet below the lip of the cliff. The sound of fighting was clearer now. Its very existence was reassuring; it meant that Gabrielle was still holding her own. Facing the sea, Xena threw herself upward and back in a mighty somersault. Powerful legs cushioned her landing, then pushed her into a twisting back leap that cleared the steps to the crossroads. Sword in hand, Xena flew toward the meadow, where she could see the bard, back against a tree, repulsing the attack of three thugs. A fourth was closing in from her blind side, however, sword drawn.
With a piercing cry, Xena vaulted across the open ground, reaching Gabrielles side in time to intercept a blow meant for the bards back. The slavers sword glanced along Xenas armor instead, then sliced cruelly into her left thigh, just below the protection of her battledress. It caught there long enough for Xena to send its wielder to Tartarus.
"Bout time you showed up," Gabrielle grunted, between swings of her staff. She was beginning to show signs of tiring. Her opponents, the warrior noticed, looked even more weary.
"Thats what you get for asking a warrior to think. You know how that slows us down!" retorted Xena. "Do you mind ?"
"Heavens, no," said the beleaguered bard. "Take as many as you want."
With a swipe of her blade, Xena transferred two of the slavers from Gabrielles To Do List to her own. With a few more flicks, she separated them from their putrid lives. Gabrielle, with a resounding thwack, smacked the weapon out of the hand of the final swordsman and sent him scurrying for the hills.
Xena turned to pursue him, bloodied leg and all, when her ears detected the characteristic whir of arrows in flight. She deflected the first into the ground with her sword, but the only way to thwart the second was by tackling Gabrielle. The arrowhead lanced into her right shoulder instead of Gabrielles torso.
Not a bad trade.she thought, forbidding the pain to register for a moment. Not bad at all.
Bending down, she scooped up the slavers abandoned weapon with her left hand and flung the sword like a javelin at a tree 20 feet away. The archer hiding there toppled to the ground with a satisfying thud. The sword had impaled him before he could reload, Xena noted with a savage pride.
A low groan drew her attention back to Gabrielle. The bard was lying crumpled on the ground, where she had been driven by the force of Xenas desperate dive.
"Are you okay, Gabrielle? Did they hurt you? Did I?
The bard slowly pushed herself to a sitting position. She surveyed the blood-soaked warrior in front of her. Xenas right side was covered in gore, some of it from the vermin shed just dispatched, the rest streaming slowly but steadily down her arm from the arrow piercing her shoulder. The slash across the top of her left thigh, below her leathers, was beginning to close, but blood had traced a grisly map on her leg as it had escaped. Her raven hair was sweat-soaked, and the swirls of her armor had somehow become encrusted with dirt.
She was a mess, the most beautiful, blue-eyed mess the bard had ever seen. Gabrielle smiled tremulously. "Im fine, Xena. Really. But you look like something the cyclops stomped."
"Just what is it with you and slavers, Gabrielle?"
The bard rose to her feet, dusting herself off. "I only do it to get your attention, Xena. You know that."
"Well, youve got it. Totally. You can stop now."
The sword dropped from the exhausted warriors suddenly nerveless right hand. She gawked at it, surprised, then stumbled to a nearby boulder and lowered herself down on it. "Whoa!" She swayed.
"Gods, Xena..." Gabrielle rushed to her side. Her hands fluttered uncertainly over the warriors battered body, not sure where to start.
"The shoulder first, Gabrielle. Weve got to stop the bleeding. Then the leg."
Xena appraised the shaft protruding from her shoulder. She gave a tiny shrug. Good, no sensation of wood grating on bone. It was a clean shot. She could tell by the way that the skin pulled along her back, however, that the point had not emerged fully. She contemplated smacking her shoulder into the trunk of the nearest tree, then decided shed faint before she got halfway there.
Not good. The Code of Conduct is quite explicit on this matter: warrior princesses are NOT allowed to fall flat on their faces -- at least not in front of witnesses. Totally ruins the image.
She sighed, then looked at the bard ruefully. "Youre going to have to push it through, Gabrielle, before you can break the head off. You know, same old same old. Well need my medicine pouch."
Belatedly, she registered Argos absence. Before she could ask, Gabrielle pointed to a nearby rise, to which she had sent the palomino when the slavers attacked. Putting fingers to her mouth, Gabrielle gave the sharp whistle that would recall the horse. She raised an eyebrow at her companion as Argo cantered to a stop beside them.
"Gabrielle of Potadeia, Bard, Amazon Queen, and Horse Wrangler, I presume?" said Xena, rebounding quickly from the surprise.
"I have many skills," Gabrielle responded in a very familiar tone.
"Including stealing other peoples lines, I see," replied Xena with a touch of asperity -- which she offset with a good-natured grin. She started to reach for the saddlebags -- abruptly changing her mind when the movement caused her shoulder to feel as if an entire legion of Roman soldiers were tap dancing on it. She slumped back on the rock.
Without a word, Gabrielle moved quickly to unlash the pouch holding Xenas medicines and lengths of clean linen. Placing them on the boulder where they could be easily reached, she moved in front of Xena and slightly to one side. She bit her lip in concentration and eyed the distance to the end of the shaft. Then mimed hitting it with the open palm of her callused hand, adjusted her position minutely, and braced her powerful legs. She waited for warriors nod. When she got it, she took a deep breath and struck as hard as she could.
Xena grunted harshly and bent over in pain. "Now the arrowhead, Gabrielle," she instructed through gritted teeth. With her left hand, she handed the bard her dagger.
Moving behind the warrior, Gabrielle studied the way the shaft protruded from her shoulder, quickly planning her moves. She nodded grimly. "Okay, Xena. Here we go." Xena clenched her teeth again and steeled herself for the pain.
Taking care to jar the shaft as little as possible, Gabrielle scored the arrow deeply about an inch behind its barbed and bloody point. Wrapping her right hand with the linen, she firmly grasped the shaft on either side of the groove she had notched.
With a swift flex of hands made strong by hours of staff practice, Gabrielle broke the shaft. Xena sagged back against her, unconscious. Taking advantage of the womans insensibility, Gabrielle balanced her partner lightly against her chest and, reaching around, in one swift, sure motion, pulled the remains of the shaft from Xenas body.
With a grimace, she tossed the arrow aside, then grabbed for another piece of linen. Wadding it up, she pressed it firmly into the exit wound on the back, where blood flowed most freely. With a quick flick of her wrist, she loosened the cloth around her hand and used it to secure the compress tightly to the shoulder, front and back. The leg needed cleaning and bandaging, too, but it would just have to wait until Xena revived and could sit up on her own. Till then...
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the woman she loved and, with a quiet sob, pressed her lips to the top of her head. It was so hard, sometimes, to be as tough as she thought Xena expected her to be. Healing wasnt something that came naturally to her. Shed never liked dealing with blood of any kind. She could catch fish and cook them; she just couldnt kill or clean them. In the course of their travels, Xena had showed her how to dress battle wounds. Shed learned well. She had to. Her thoughts flashed to the people shed tended at Thesssaly and when they fought the Horde. So much blood -- but none as precious as that now staining her hands.
Forget all those earlier requests about keeping us together,she told the gods. Just make her well again. Thats the only thing that matters.
Gabrielle prayed to Apollo and Asclepius to give her the strength and the skill to do whatever it would take to keep Xena alive. Then, having done all she could do for the moment, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to surrender briefly to the stresses she had been bearing for what seemed like centuries.
As Xena resurfaced, her mind registered first the rocking sensation, then the splash of something warm and wet on her neck and chest. A ship perhaps? Was she at sea? She listened for the creaking of the ropes and the crack of the sails. The next breeze, however, brought to her ear the sound of gentle weeping and wisps of red-gold hair that caressed her face.
The arms encircling her tightened, almost painfully.
"Xena? Thank the gods! I was afraid youd never... Oh, Xena! Im so sorry. I tried so hard not to hurt you, but..."
"Gabrielle, its all right. Im fine!"
She moved to sit upright, jolting her injured shoulder and setting off a tsunami of pain that threatened to put her under again. She groaned involuntarily, then finished pushing herself upright. The bard moved in front of her, prepared to catch her if she wavered again.
"I mean, Im obviously not all right... But Im a lot better than I would have been without your help."
"Xena, if it werent for me you wouldnt have been hurt in the first place..."
Xena rubbed a grubby hand across her face to cover the pain she knew must be registering there. It didnt work.
"Look at you! Ive never seen you in such agony, Xena. I cant bear it!"
"I said, I can. I have endured much worse. Ive just tried to never let you see it before," she declared, staring unflinchingly into Gabrielles disbelieving eyes. Thanks to the rock on which she was sitting, their gazes were once more level with one another. A flush moved through Xenas body. It was time to make good on her promise to whoever had helped her up that cliff.
"Gabrielle," the warrior said, enfolding the young womans hand in her own, "theres only one pain I cant endure -- being separated from you. It nearly killed me when you died in Thessaly. Hurt only slightly less when you married Perdicus." She turned and looked seaward, speaking to herself as much as to the bard. "I dont know why I didnt remember that this morning."
Gabrielle gulped, tried to respond, then decided that it was foolish to interrupt if the taciturn warrior had finally decided to speak. She managed to squeeze Xenas hand, hoping the older woman would interpret it, correctly, as permission to proceed.
Evidently, she did, for after a moment her gaze returned again to the bard.
"It doesnt make sense, Gabrielle. It makes you a target. Makes me vulnerable. And yet, when that scum ambushed me down there, the only thing I could do was pray that Id be given another chance to tell you..."
Xenas thoughts turned inward as she remembered that desperate scramble. "The pain was unbelievable, Gabrielle. It almost knocked me off the cliff."
Her partner gasped and looked at the warriors bruised fingers with their broken nails.
"No, not the climb, my bard..." Gabrielles eyes shone at the term of endearment. "The memories..."
Locking eyes again with Gabrielle, she continued. "It still makes no sense. And it scares me to death. I dont know if I can do this. How it can possibly work. But whatever the cost to either of us, I realized during that climb that you need to know. I need to tell you. I... love you."
Leaning forward, she shared a kiss with Gabrielle that started as a repeat of their tender embrace on the cliff, then grew in intensity. It ended only when Xena shifted to draw Gabrielle nearer to her and jarred both her shoulder and wounded leg in the process.
"Ow! Double ow! Hydra poop!" She managed to control her language, but her eyes were still watering when she finally managed to look up at the bard.
The bards eyes shone as she caressed the warriors face with the back of her hand. "Sorry, my love. We still have a few repairs to attend to."
"So I see," her companion replied, sheepishly. Reluctantly she dragged her thoughts back to matters more practical. She eyed the wound on her leg. "This should probably be sewn up -- or itll take a set of leathers as long as that old skirt of yours to cover the scar."
She glanced around, quickly sizing up their situation. "First things first, though. Its getting late in the day and at least one of those scumbags got away. He may bring back reinforcements to try to finish us off. Weve got to get out of here."
"Xena! Im not letting you off that rock till we treat your leg! Theres no point in dodging the bad guys and dying of blood loss on the trail!"
She is SO cute when shes mad. Thing is... shes right. A few minutes now to tend that slash will extend by half a day our ability to get to a safe haven.
"Okay..." She stretched her left hand toward her healers bag, noting with amusement Gabrielles astonishment at her capitulation. "When youre right, youre right, Gabrielle. Must have had an awesome teacher."
"She was... adequate," the bard retorted, trying to look as if she had known all along that Xena would give in. She grabbed the bag before Xena could reach it. "Nah ah! Thats my job. What do you need?"
"I need you to hand over that bag," the warrior growled, her fear of being dependent surfacing with a vengeance. "Before I have to beat you over the head with it."
Gabrielle held the bag high, glaring at her in defiance. "You and what army?"
Realizing that her "faster-than-a-speeding-arrow, able-to-leap-tall-huts" attitude was getting her nowhere fast, the warrior relented.
"Please, Gabrielle. I need to pull out some herbs to help clean the wound and keep it draining until we have time to sew it up properly." She put on the puppy dog face that she had always used on her mother. "I need you to get the waterskin and the wineskin from Argo -- so you can wash out some of the debris and pickle anything nasty that gets left in there. Then well wrap it for travel."
The bard handed over the bag -- without a trace of subservience, Xena noted a bit nervously -- and strode briskly to where Argo was patiently cropping grass. The mid-afternoon sun danced in her beautiful hair, played along her taut body, stroked those incredible abdominal muscles. Xena was mesmerized.
"Wuh?" She realized Gabrielle was standing in front of her once again. The bard was gazing tenderly at her and -- was that a smile?
"I said: what do you want me to do now?"
"Oh!" Xena shook her head. "Must be the pain. I kind of faded out of it there." She fanned herself and glanced up through fluttering lashes, expecting to encounter a guilt-ridden gaze. She got a full-fledged smirk instead. Gabrielle wasnt buying it. She was well and truly busted.
She flushed and gave a shy grin of acknowledgment, then wiped her forehead a bit shakily. It was beaded with sweat.
Damn. Youre not just love sick, Warrior Mushball. Youre sick sick!
She compared the symptoms in their varying intensities to other times when shed been wounded. Oh yeah! This was NOT going to be fun. Probably be delirious before its all over. Better warn Gabrielle pretty soon. Let her know what shes going to have to deal with.
She directed the grinning bard to flood the leg wound with water while she brushed at it gingerly with some relatively clean cloth. When the worst of the grit was removed, she had Gabrielle spray the area liberally with wine. She wasnt sure how it worked; she only knew that battle wounds soaked in wine seemed to fester less often, especially if treated with certain herbs.
Reaching into her medical supplies, Xena selected two of the dried herbs stored there. Crushing them together with her fingers, she sprinkled them over the oozing gash. Selecting a third herb, she washed it down with some water and a grimace. She took another long drink from the waterskin, thanking the gods that they werent dealing with an abdominal wound. Water seemed to help somehow when youd lost a lot of blood, but you had to avoid it when anyone had taken a sword in the gut. She wiped her forehead again and looked up at Gabrielle, whose grin was being replaced by an anxious frown.
"Xena? You look like dryad dung."
The warrior was surprised into a laugh. That was a new one. "Thanks, love. Thats about what I feel like. And its going to get worse before it gets better. This should hold it for a couple of candlemarks, though. Long enough for you to get us to shelter."
"Me?" squeaked Gabrielle. "What about you?"
"Im going to be too busy being feverish and out of my head. Its going to be up to you to get us to safety and keep us going for a couple of days until my body fights off the nasties."
"Im a bard, Xena. Not a healer or a scout!"
"Oh, Im sorry. I mistook you for the young woman who just removed an arrow from my shoulder. You know, the one who followed a wicked old warlord all the way from Potadeia to Amphipolis without so much as a map?"
"What about him?"
"Hes a healer. We could catch up with him on the road to Kavala and HE could take care of your wounds."
"In the first place, Gabrielle, it will take four or five candlemarks to find Oz-who-sias -- if he hasnt been delayed by more wagon trouble or waylaid by the slavers himself. We need to get to someplace secure long before that. The place Im thinking of is a rough ride, but its only two candlemarks away."
"But youre bleeding and "
"Theres nothing he can do that you cant, Gabrielle. Absolutely nothing. Besides, my body recognizes your voice, your touch. If things get as bad as I think they might, Im likely to kill or maim anyone else that tries to get near me." She gave a bitter laugh, remembering times when shed done just that.
The bards voice quavered. "But what if youre hurt worse than you think, Xena? What if something ? I couldnt get you to Mount Nestos fast enough that time and "
Xenas fingers stilled her trembling lips. "This is nothing like last time, love. Except in this respect: I trust you with my life. Youre a very strong, very smart, very competent woman. I cant think of anyone Id rather have in charge of taking us to my safehold."
Gabrielles eyes flashed, full of equal parts of fear and anger. "If Im so damned competent, how is it that you dont allow me to come up with my own plan? Take us to my safehold! Sounds to me like youre still calling the shots! The Amazons trust me to decide the destinies of not only themselves individually, but also their nation. Why is it that you cant trust me to decide what the two of us will do for the next few candlemarks?"
"I do!" Xena cried. And then, her innate honesty overriding tact: "Sort of "
"Ah ha!" said Gabrielle, confronting the warrior, hands on her hips. "Sort of?"
Xena hesitated. This really wasnt the time for this kind of conversation. She wasnt good at this kind of thing even when she wasnt bleeding. Gabrielle was strung as tight as a harp. The slavers could come back at any moment. And yet -- this felt like something they needed to do, something that would shape their future together. She swallowed nervously and tried to explain.
"Ive always tended to go things alone, Gabrielle. Even when I was running an army -- especially when I was running an army -- I required total control, instant obedience. There was only one person I trusted. Me! Everyone else I just used." Gabrielle stirred, started to say something. Xena shook her head.
"Its the truth, Gabrielle, and you know it. And then one day, I discovered someone else I could trust, a man who believed that somewhere inside the Destroyer of Nations was a human being. Someone who could help others as much as she had hurt them. Who wanted to."
"Hercules showed me the path, Gabrielle, but I always envisioned traveling it by myself. Alone." She gave a snort. "That lasted about a day and half. Till I ran into this stubborn girl from Potadeia who insisted on tagging along with me. I kept her at first because I was afraid the next cyclops would eat her -- and get terminal indigestion." Gabrielle smiled, reluctantly, at the memory of the first of her adventures with Xena. "And then because she had a way of knowing when people needed rescuing (or causing them to NEED to be rescued). And then because I couldnt imagine spending my days without her.
"For most of that time, she let me take the lead -- because I was older, scarier, more experienced -- or because thats the way weve always done it. And I left it that way, not because I didnt trust her, but because changing things might upset the balance in our unlikely relationship. I couldnt take the chance of losing her -- even though it sometimes gave her the impression, Im sure, that I didnt think she was as capable as I was."
She looked deep into the earnest green eyes across from her. "Truth is, Gabrielle, youre every bit as capable as I am. Just different. Your first instinct is always to bring people together to help. Maybe because youre not aware of your own abilities. Probably because youre so sure that other people are good and kind. More often than not, they rise to your expectations. But not always. In this case, I assure you, you dont need anyone else." Gabrielle started to object. "You may not think so, Gabrielle, but its true. Youre one of the strongest people I know. And one of the bravest. And one of the smartest "
"And if I really believe that " Xena sat back with the sense that she was about to do something unprecedented, yet something shed probably have occasion to do many times in the future -- if she were lucky. "You are right, Gabrielle. And I am wrong. You should choose the course we take." The bard gawked at her, unsure she had heard her correctly.
"Just promise me one thing," Xena added. "Go with your gut."
The bard looked at her blankly. She translated it into words Gabrielle might understand better.
"I mean, listen to your heart." She held up a hand to stave off Gabrielles astonished protest. "Yeah, I know. Look whos talking, huh? But honestly, Gabrielle, this isnt something you can weigh on a scale or put on some list, pros here, cons there -- your skills here, Ozymandias there -- two candlemarks vs. four. Its making sure you do whatever it takes so that, at the end of it all, you know, deep inside" -- she thumped her armored belly -- "that you did everything you had to."
"I do that all the time, Xena!"
"With others, Gabrielle. Not always with me. Because you think I know more than you do."
"I used to!" the bard retorted.
Her anger was beginning to abate, Xena saw. Hey! I think Im getting the hang of this chat stuff. Lets see how this works...
"And because I can be a little bit intimidating "
"You try, anyway " The bards eyes were beginning to twinkle now.
"And a little stuck in my ways."
"Try pigheaded." The put-down came with an outright grin.
"Just promise me that youll do what you really feel is best for me, for us, Gabrielle. Whether you think Ill approve or not."
"I promise." Gabrielle leaned forward and touched her forehead to the warriors. Its heat alarmed her, but she knew that making a fuss would be counterproductive at this point. "So I am right. Right?"
"Right," said Xena, preparing herself to endure a modest amount of gloating on the bards part.
"And you were wrong, right?"
"Right," said Xena, gritting her teeth.
"So I get to choose, right?"
"Right. Its your call," said Xena, vowing to herself that nothing short of an imminent threat to Gabrielles life would cause her to break that pledge.
Gabrielle grinned at her. "So-o-o-o-o-o-h "
Xena closed her eyes, admonishing herself to accept whatever the bards fertile imagination cooked up.
There was a tantalizing pause before Gabrielle continued. "Heres the way I see it, then." She took a breath. "Since we cant be sure of connecting with Ozymandias, we need to take refuge someplace where the slavers cant find us for a while."
Shed been thinking: it didnt make any sense to reject Xenas plan just because it wasnt hers. The warrior knew the area and her own physical condition better than she did, and it was clear that she really DID think that Gabrielle was capable of handling whatever might come along. She watched a relieved smile cross the warriors face.
"You wouldnt happen to know a place like that around here, would you, Xena?"
Xena was not at all complacent about how future encounters of this kind would end up, and she was careful not to suggest otherwise with her diffident answer.
"As a matter of fact, Gabrielle, theres a cave about two candlemarks from here. Its got water and plenty of pasture for Argo. I stocked it to use as a hideaway in case things ever got too dicey." She stopped.
The bard nodded, inviting her to elaborate.
"To get there, you ride down the trail toward Amphipolis until you reach a mountain creek. Ride up the creek until you see a small waterfall on your left. Up the bank directly opposite youll find a deer trail, beside a massive log, I think..."
Things were getting a bit fuzzy. She shook her head. "Anyway, follow the deer trail up the slope to a big outcropping of white rock. The caves entrance is just behind it, camouflaged with a pile of brush." She shook her head again, trying to clear it. "Got it?" The pain in her shoulder made her final words much sharper than she intended them to be.
The young woman flushed again with anger. "Yes, I got it. What kind of a bard would I be if I couldnt remember a few simple details like..."
Thats what I get for being civilized, she glowered, before noting Xenas growing pallor -- and the regret shining in her clear blue eyes.
"Sorry," the warrior whispered. "Thats not what I meant. Honest."
Wow, an admission that she was wrong AND an apology -- all in one day. She must really love me -- or else shes very, very sick. She looked at her partner more closely. Or both. Whatever. Well talk more about this later. Time to get a move on.
She gave the warrior a brief smile of forgiveness while mentally reviewing the instructions. Then she summarized them: "Down the trail toward Amphipolis to a mountain creek. Up the creek bed until I see a waterfall..."
"On your left..." Xena prompted. Her eyes were closed as she concentrated on staying upright and following Gabrielles synopsis.
"Right," the bard replied, hoping to inject a touch of levity into the increasingly somber mood. Xenas scowl scotched that notion. She returned to her recitation. "On my left. Up the opposite bank past a fallen tree to a deer trail. Up the trail to an outcropping of white rock. Around the rock, behind some brush, to the entrance of the cave. About two candlemarks from here. Okay?!"
Xena slowly focused on her. "Okay, then." A curt nod indicated her approval of the bards summary. "Guess its time to hit the road!" She extended an arm toward Gabrielle, asking to be assisted to her feet.
Gabrielle looked at her in dismay. "Arent you forgetting something, Xena?" The warrior looked puzzled. "Your leg?"
Xena looked down at her still unbandaged limb.
"Oops!" She paused. "Tear off another length of that linen. Well wrap it loosely. The ride will probably keep jarring it open, but the cloth will keep it clean until you can stitch it."
Using Xenas dagger again, Gabrielle cut off two strips of linen. She doused the first with water, then used it to tenderly wash away the dried blood on the warrior's surprised face.
"Thats better," she said. "You were lookin a little too much like a bacchae," she explained. "Not that that isnt a great look on you. But doesnt it get a bit... itchy?"
Without waiting for an answer, she dropped to one knee and began looping the second cloth around Xenas wound, marveling as she did at how silky the warriors thigh felt and how firm and... Confused, she looked up.
"What did you say, Xena?"
"I said: why did you stop?"
The bard looked down and discovered that her hands (Gods!)were encircling her partners leg, her thumbs gently stroking its warm surface. She stammered
"Ah... Im sorry, Xena. Its just... youre so beautiful. I..."
"Dont be embarrassed, love." She laughed dryly at Gabrielles predicament. "It certainly bodes well for our old age!"
"What?" The bard was still in a bit of a daze.
"Its nice to know you find my body... attractive... even when its caked with blood, sweaty, exhausted, and aching. Wrinkles and sags should pose no problem at all!" She patted the muddy, bloody hand resting on her thigh. It felt like it belonged there, almost as if it were part of her.
"Believe me, my bard. Id give anything to be able to continue this exploration right now. Id rather do it for hours on end, however, and that wont be possible if the bad guys ride up over that ridge and attack us. At this point I dont think I could even beat up Joxer."
She cupped Gabrielles face with her left hand. "But someday, love. When were in a safe place and when were both healthy..."
Studying the bards blushing face, she saw arousal, embarrassment, and... yes, apprehension.
"And when were both ready -- then, my bard! Then -- I will give you some details to remember!"
Xena thumbed the young womans cheek and tenderly pushed back a lock of red-gold hair. Little does she know that it will probably take longer formeto be ready for that next step than it will for her,she thought. As much as she ached to show Gabrielle how much she loved her, she didnt know if she could assure the bard that shed never desire another -- or act on that desire. And she knew that Gabrielle would accept nothing less, deserved nothing less.
"Promise?" The countenance that looked up at her was filled with love, anticipation -- and relief.
"I promise." She lightly kissed the tip of Gabrielles nose, almost positive that she meant what she was saying. "Now finish wrapping that leg and well figure out how youre gonna get me up on Argo. Then well start working on Requirement #1: Getting to a Safe Place."
With that inducement, the bard returned to her task. In short order, she patted the finished bandage, gathered up Xenas supplies and replaced them on Argos back. Grabbing the halter, she led the palomino back near the rock on which Xena was sitting, now looking a bit lost.
It scared Gabrielle more than she wanted to admit to realize that the warrior was not only putting her in charge, but also willing to let the bard see how sick she really was. At the same time, that willingness to be vulnerable was somehow reassuring in some convoluted way. Shed have to figure it out later. They had caves to find, slavers to avoid.
"Okay, now what?" she asked Xena in a determinedly chipper tone. "I fling you on her back with a mighty toss? I hoist you up on the rock and you make a frantic leap?"
"Frantic leaps are your specialty, Gabrielle," the warrior replied sardonically. "I was thinking of something a bit simpler, actually."
She used the bards staff to push herself to her feet. "Argo!" The palomino swiveled large brown eyes toward her mistress. Placing two fingers in her mouth, Xena gave a two-toned whistle that prompted the mare to slowly kneel.
"Hah! Didnt think youd ever seen that one, Gabrielle," she smirked when the bard looked at her in astonishment. "We old warhorses still have a few tricks up our sleeves, dont we, Argo?"
Using the staff as a kind of cane, Xena hobbled slowly forward. When she reached the side of her four-footed friend, she frowned. "Uh oh, this is going to take some figuring."
She didnt think her injured leg could bear her weight for the time it would take to swing the right one over Argos broad back. And her right hand and arm certainly werent going to be strong enough to grasp the horn and pull her onto the saddle.
"Allow me!" Gabrielle grabbed Argos reins, brought the horse to her feet, turned her around and led her back. When she tried to replicate Xenas whistle, however, the mare just gawped at her.
"Almost, Gabrielle. The second note needs to be a bit lower."
The bard whistled again, and this time, after glancing at Xena for confirmation, the horse once more knelt, presenting her right side to the warrior this time. Well, it was unconventional, Xena mused, but shed trained the warhorse to allow her to mount from virtually every direction -- just as shed trained herself to use her weapons with both hands -- and her teeth and toes if possible.
Havent done this in a while, though -- and never while Argo was kneeling. Ah well, nothing ventured...
Xena limped as close as she could to the mare. Nestling her right foot beneath the golden belly, she handed the staff to Gabrielle and grabbed the horn with her left hand. Before the bard could stop her, she swung her injured leg up and over -- almost. The weakened left leg failed to clear the back of the saddle. After slamming into the hard leather, it rebounded painfully. Xena would have toppled backwards had not Gabrielle caught the leg and lifted it quickly over and down, bringing Xena to rest behind the saddle. The warrior gasped and fought to clear a galaxy of stars from her vision.
"Damn it, Xena! Give me a little warning, will ya? I was going to help you get on, you pigheaded..."
"Its all right, Gabrielle. Really!" She blew out a breath. "Its probably just as well to get the agony over all at once!"
Then she realized where she was sitting.
" Course, now I have to figure out how to ease myself into the saddle without passing out." She winced. "No problem. Ill just " She braced herself for the effort.
"Oh no, you dont, Warrior Princess. I get the front seat this time!"
"Gabrielle!" The exclamation had a note of outrage in it.
"Correct me if Im wrong, oh Mighty One. Did you or did you not put me in charge of getting us to your safehold?"
Trying to ignore the throbbing that was building in her leg and the fresh blood seeping through the bandage, Xena reluctantly nodded: "Did."
"That means I have to see where were going, Miss-Im-a-Better-Door-Than-a-Window. And that means I have to sit up front, right?"
"Right, Your Runtiness," replied Xena with a lot of spunk, but a conspicuous lack of volume.
Gabrielle cut short the banter after a glance at Xenas face. It was as pale as parchment.
"Okay, then. As Treeza would say, Lets get this show on the road!" She gave Xenas sword a quick wipe and sheathed it for her and put her staff in its loop on the saddle. A fast circuit of the field of battle made sure they were leaving nothing behind. Gabrielle maneuvered herself into the saddle in front of Xena. After she gathered up the reins, the warrior gave Argo the command to rise.
Hampered by the double load, the palomino lurched up and forward, stumbling a few steps before coming to a halt. Feeling Xena listing to one side, Gabrielle reached hurriedly behind her and grabbed a handful of breast armor, pulling her back into balance.
"Cmon, Xena. Get with the program! Wrap your arm around me. Tighter! Thats right..."
Xena snaked her good arm around Gabrielles torso, settling a broad hand on the bards well-toned -- and toasty -- abdomen. "Umm, feels good..."
"Tell me about it," said Gabrielle, an unfamiliar but very pleasant glow enveloping her from head to toe. I could getusedto this. Oh yeah!"Lean on me if you get tired. And let me know how youre doing now and then. Okay?
"Okay..." The sick and weary warrior rested her head lightly on Gabrielles shoulder. It felt so good, that contact, that connection. "Love you," she muttered. She didnt know, she realized, if she were capable of living that love, at least the way Gabrielle expected, even if the rest of the world allowed it to be. Still, it was important to acknowledge the emotion. Gabrielle deserved to know that she loved her, whether or not that knowledge eventually led to heartbreak and despair.
It might not,she reasoned. Never before have things felt this... right. With that comforting thought, she let herself drift off.
"Love you, too, Xena," replied the bard, with a catch in her throat. "Nighty night."
Okay, thought Gabrielle. Things were going to be o-kay. She would get them to Xenas safehold, stitch up her leg, and watch over her recovery. And then Well, it was too soon to start thinking about that. It would be some time yet before they were ready to proceed to the next step in their relationship. Even though her partner had spectacular powers of recuperation, Xena had lost a lot of blood. She needed time to mend. And not just physically. She seemed to have something on her mind. There was no way to get at it, probably, until the warrior was more rested.
I could use a little rest myself. Whenwasthe last time I slept? Gods! To think that it was just last night I was agonizing about how all this was going to turn out! Much good that did... somehow it never occurred to me to worry about runaway wagons and actors and fortune tellers and slavers and Xena scaling a 40-foot cliff to save me...
"Well, as Xena would say, First things first. Cmon, Argo." She pointed the palomino down the path to Xenas hideaway. The big horse moved out surely and steadily. "Weve got promises to keep and leagues to go before we sleep."
Have to write that down when I get a chance. Fits so well with Argos gait. Hope I can remember it...
Argo moved forward, striding steadily through bars of dark and light created by the afternoon sun and the tall trees beside the road. Gabrielle gently stroked the strong arm wrapped around her waist and then went back to trying to find the rest of the words of that poem. They were just waiting for her to recognize them, she knew.
And when she did, she would inscribe them with her quill on crisp clean parchment. On the brand new scroll on which she would begin to chronicle the adventures of this day and all that followed. A scroll that she now knew held many more pleasant possibilities than she had ever dared to imagine.
Legal Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all copyright notices and disclaimers.
All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. Resemblance to persons living, dead, or fictional is strictly coincidental, as far as I know. If anything here resembles something previously published, it is strictly unconscious. Let me know and Ill fix it.
Resemblance of any poetry to that of my friend, Bob (Frost, that is), is intentional, but is not aimed at monetary gain and should be construed as a compliment. The name Ozymandias owes a little something to a poem of the same name by Percy Bysshe Shelley -- and to a "wiz" of a book written 100 years ago by L. Frank Baum. Ozymandias is the Greek name of the Egyptian king, Rameses the Second (1290 to 1223 B.C.).
Subtext: You betcha. Why? Because the story gets a lot more interesting and complex if Xena and Gabrielle share more than platonic love. You know, just like real life. But PG-13 in this particular case. So -- just to make it official: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Violence: Yep. She slices, she dices, she severs and impales -- but no more than on the TV show. And no one dies who didnt really, really deserve it. Again, pretty much PG-13. There are scenes of hurt/comfort appropriate for the story line.
Timeline: Set early in Season Three, before Dahak and the Rift stories. Why? Because angst is very, very hard to write. And unlike the great and powerful Good (Melissa, that is -- also known as the Greater Good), I havent figured out how to deal with that traumatic period or if I want to. Maybe I'll tackle it after I get a little better at this -- or maybe I'll just ignore it altogether.
Language Alerts: Sentence fragments arent the end of the Known World. Really. But if you want people to truly understand what you meant to say, spelling matters -- and so does punctuation. All my subjects and verbs are in agreement -- I think. If you find any that are bickering behind my back, let me know. Ill straighten em out.
Vulgarities: No expletives stronger than damn. Unless youre of the opinion that "hydra poop" actually does exist -- and are offended by it.
Medical Malpractice Alert: What little I know about the realities of ancient medical practices, I learned at http://www.indiana.edu/~ancmed/concepts.HTM Within this tale, wine is used for medicinal purposes -- and applied externally. Fewerfew, mugwort, pumpkin seeds, senna, and comfrey are all natural ingredients (probably certifiably organic, come to think of it) with medicinal properties. While using any of these substances in moderation probably wont kill you, you are advised to study a reputable book on alternative medicine beforehand. In any case, its a REALLY good idea to consult a doctor ANY time an arrow or germy sword pierces your body.
A Little Knowledge: Is a dangerous thing. Case in point: my knowledge of Greek geography. Ive never been there, but I have looked closely at a map. With the result that I had to totally rewrite whole passages to get the real places of Potadeia, Amphipolis, Mount Nestos and Kavala correctly oriented with one another. All other places are fictitious. Their names -- and the names of many of the non-XWP characters here -- were found in an atlas of the U.S. My thanks to the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Minnesota and several western Canadian provinces for their colorfully named places.
My Heartfelt Thanks: To my sister, the bank vice president, for allowing me to borrow the pen name were going to use if we ever follow through on our plan to write trashy romances. To the incomparable Lunacy, for providing a list of beta readers (http://lunacy.simplenet.com/beta.shtm). To my beta readers: Gin, author of a wonderful Xena the Conqueror series (http://xenite.simplenet.com/bards.html#gin), who counseled me to slow things down a bit; my son, David, a fellow Xenaphile, who giggled in the right places; and my spouse, Ken, who provided some extremely helpful advice based on his experience in courting of one of the worlds most inscrutable and elusive of women.
Inspirations: The music of Lucy Kaplansky (http://www.folkartists.com/kaplansky/), Ann Reed (http://members.aol.com/AnnReed/home.html), Kate Wolf, Bonnie Raitt -- and Tom Paxton. The mythic cowgirl art (http://www.snowgoosegallery.com/gwartis/howdon.htm) of Donna Howell-Sickles. And the example of my mother, who marked the approach of her 50th birthday by taking flying lessons and going white water rafting.
First Time Alert: No, not theirs. Mine. This is my first piece of fan fiction. Ive never even written fiction before. (Oh wait! I work in PR and marketing -- scratch that last sentence.) So, in the inimitable words of Llachlan, "if reading someone's first piece scares you as much as posting it scares me, skip this one." Feedback is welcome. Just... be nice. Ive got at least three more stories in me (and outlined). They wont come out if theyre scared.
Feedback: Send your compliments, comments, and constructive criticism to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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