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STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
SPECIFIC STORY DISCLAIMERS: This story depicts the emerging relationship between two adults who both happen to be women, it's all pretty mild (probably doesn't even deserve a pg-13 rating), but if your under age (chronologically or psychologically) please find something else to entertain yourself with. There is no violence in this little ditty. Enjoy!
The Terms of Surrender
by Crystal Barrett
The forces of nature, unaffected by mortal emotions, refused to notice the confusion that was keeping a proud warrior awake. Standing just outside the ring of rocks that marked the beginning of her campsite; Xena was spending the pre-dawn hours contemplating a force that was stronger than anything she had ever faced. Clad only in her leather gambeson, she stood silently and stared off into the darkness. The light of dawn would reveal acres of trees, a stream off to the left, and a blooming meadow filled with native wildflowers. Inside the warriors camp the fire burned on. She had obsessively tended it from the moment she had awakened from yet another nightmare. Blankets, saddlebags, various pots and other cooking utensils, were neatly arranged next to the fire. Lying beside them, with all but her golden-hair lost beneath the blankets, was the Warrior Princess's travelling companion.
The young woman, lost deep in slumber, was unaware of the turmoil that was keeping her best friend awake. Every so often a hand or a foot would pop out from beneath the covers and then hastily pull back under to avoid the chill of the night air. Xena jumped every time the blankets would rustle, fearing that the young bard beneath those covers had awakened and discovered her brooding just outside of the camp. If Gabrielle were to awaken and find the warrior in this state, there would surely be questions. Questions that even Xena's strength in battle could not help her answer. The movement from inside the camp was merely the result of the bard's slumber. A smile appeared on the warrior's normally stoic face and she turned her eyes away from the darkness to watch the girl sleep.
How many nights had she sat here and stared at the girl? It seemed that her nightly watch had become a ritual. The nightmares were not keeping her awake, those she could deal with. She had learned from many years of nightly practice to simply wake up, re-orient herself, and go back to sleep. However, the problem she grappled with on nights like this was not so easily solved or swept out of her thoughts. Once she had been able to deny it, but that had only been an illusion that she had created to ease her tormented mind. Now events had transpired that no longer made denial feasible. Had it really been a month since she had watched Gabrielle plunge towards death in Dahok's temple? It seemed like yesterday, and the feelings of loss that had accompanied Gabrielle's presumed demise had never left her thoughts. A new element had risen along with Gabrielle's coming back to her. Xena could no longer deny her feelings for the Bard. Oh, she could keep up the cold, never give her heart to anybody routine, but she could no longer convince herself that what she felt for the girl was not real. That is what kept her up nights, not the nightmares, but the wrestling with her own desires. The warrior wanted so much to throw herself into Gabrielle's arms, confess her feelings, and never look back. For Gabrielle's sake, that was not a leap she was willing to make. She had already caused the bard more pain then any person should have to deal with. Adding this to the fire that was slowly consuming her friend's innocence would only sentence the young woman to a life of fear and pain. That however, left Xena to deal with these emotions on her own in the stillness of night.
The form beneath the blankets moved again under Xena's watchful eye. This time the young woman let out a soft sigh as she unconsciously shifted positions. The wool blanket that had covered her face fell away to reveal the bards youthful features. Xena's eyes were riveted to the object of her affection. Gabrielle's lips formed a soft smile, a lock of golden hair fell across her face, and her hand reached out to touch Xena's now empty bedroll. On nights when she was able to sleep until dawn, Xena had often awakened to find Gabrielle's hand curled around her own. At first, the gesture had driven Xena to tears. As she came to terms with her feelings, she had begun to take comfort in the fact that in sleep Gabrielle was free to express her feelings. During those times she was able to except the gesture and return it with a soft squeeze of the small hand she held. Even if it was only for the few moments before reality intervened and she had to leave that warm place, the warrior cherished it as one of her very few outlets for her emotions.
Xena watched as Gabrielle's hand squeezed reflexively around Xena's blankets and upon finding nothing there, retreated towards the bard's own bedroll. Xena let out a sigh that was heard only by the wind. She wished that just once she could acknowledge the depth of her affection for the bard when the young woman was awake, That would start them both down a path that could only lead to misery. So, Xena resigned herself to the fact that her only outlet for these emotions would come by the light of the moon. Her words of love would fall upon ears that were to entangled in Morpheous's realm to hear them. She knew that standing here outside the camp and whispering her thoughts to the sleeping bard was an act that was self-defeating. It could only make things harder on her, but she had found that saying nothing hurt more than the pain of not having the bard respond. At least now, she could say exactly what she felt without fear of hurting the young woman. It was a trick she had learned from Gabrielle, although the girl did not know that she had taught it to the warrior. Gabrielle's outlet for her emotions was her scrolls. It was upon those pieces of worn parchment that Gabrielle revealed everything. Her hand laid out every thought, every emotion, and every dream nightly as she sat by the campfire. Xena had never seen anyone so dedicated to her craft. The young bard was quite thorough in her self-appointed task of keeping records of Xena's heroics. But aside from that, there were the bard's daily journal entries, the place where the bard's soul was laid out for the entire world to read, although no one had ever read those personal entries. That is until that fateful day when Xena had believed that the young bard, her best friend, had made the one way trip to Tartarus.
Watching Gabrielle's eyes as she plunged to a fiery death had broken Xena's heart. She had seen in them a silent apology, fear, and an emotion that hurt worse than any battle wound ever could...regret. Xena had spent that night under a moonless sky. She did not bother to start a fire, she left Argo saddled and unbrushed, and her bedroll remained inside one of the saddlebags. The warrior could not bring herself to do any more than feed the mare, who had accepted and forgiven the lack of attention she was receiving. Sitting alone in that glade, Xena's eye had been unexplainably drawn to the bag that now hung off Argo's saddlehorn. It was Gabrielle's bag. Inside that bag were the only remnants of the life the bard had led. Upon seeing the bag, Xena had been filled with an overwhelming desire to see Gabrielle's words, to hear the voice behind those words, and to see the sparkle in those green eyes as she excitedly related a tale. Xena had gotten up from the ground, where she had dropped earlier from sheer exhaustion, and retrieved the bag. That night using nothing but the light of the stars, Xena had read every word the bard had ever written down. All their journeys had been recorded with out fail and everything had been included. Xena relived the fears, the happiness, the awe of their travels together through the eyes of a young girl who had grown into a talented bard, an amazon queen, and the only person that the destroyer of nations had ever truly loved. She cried that night in a manner that she had not done since she was a small child. However, she had not stopped with just the scrolls that told of their adventures together. No, she had continued through the night and despite the cries of protest from her own mind, she had read Gabrielle's journal. Then she had known what a mistake she had made. A mistake that she would never be able to fix. The words that Xena had been denying all along were written on those pages.... Gabrielle had been in love with her. Entry after entry showed the warrior princess just how foolish she had been to downplay the look she would sometimes see in Gabrielle's eyes.
Over the years that they had traveled together, Xena had held her suspicions that the young woman may have had a crush on her, but she had ignored it, telling herself that it was due to something other than love. Then after Thessaly, she herself had realized that she was attracted to the bard. She had forced herself to believe that these new emotions had arisen because of how close to death the bard had come. So she did the only thing that someone with her emotional deficits could do...she buried the feelings deep within the inner recesses of her heart, and they had remained there. Even through the hugs, the gentle teasing, the affectionate pats, and even when they bathed together, Xena had managed to convince herself that the feelings weren't real and that the look she saw in the bards eyes wasn't real either. Then Gabrielle had left her forever. Alone with Gabrielle's deepest thoughts and her own raging emotions, the walls she had so carefully constructed had come crashing down around her and for the first time in years she had allowed herself to feel that which she had always denied. But it was to late and the only thing she had left to cling to was that someone had actually taken her into their hearts and her arrogance had prevented her from giving the bard that which she wanted most. All it would have taken was one word, one sentence, one gesture and all that happiness and joy would have been hers. Gabrielle's eyes would have no longer been veiled, she would not have had to run away from that affection ever again, and she would have had her chance at forever. Xena knew that the regret she had seen in Gabrielle's eyes as she fell to her death had been the result of never having told the warrior how she felt, of never being told how Xena felt. The Warrior Princess had decided that night after reading Gabrielle's prayer for love, that even in death, she could give the bard that, she owed her that.
The journey to find Gabrielle's soul had begun that night. That had been one of the hardest things the experienced warrior had ever done, but it had all been worth it. Each night she silently thanked whatever god had been watching over Gabrielle that day for sparing the bards life. Still, Xena had never told Gabrielle about her feelings. Despite losing the bard and the pain that had caused, the warrior could not bring herself to face the fear that kept her up at night. She had her answers, she knew the bards feelings were true, she had admitted her own feelings to herself, but still she held back. The fear that would accompany a deepening in their relationship was something that Xena was not willing to accept. She had loss the bard once because she was following her emotions. If she took that step and let herself fall completely, there would be no turning back, it was a risk she was not prepared to take. Every day she came closer and closer to losing it though. Little things the bard would say and do would push her closer to the edge, and she knew one of these days it was going to happen. She did not know how it would happen or what she would say when it did, but she knew herself and with every smile, the bard directed her way, her resolve would lessen. So when the nightmares would awaken her she would take the opportunity to gaze unhindered at the bard, compose her thoughts, and even practice her speech occasionally on Gabrielle's unconscious form. Then dawn would come and the norms of their lives would return. Feelings would return to their corner of her heart and the words she had said the night before would no longer be remembered. Some times, she would awaken the bard with the intention of telling her everything, but the words never got past the planning stages. The next night she would contemplate the situation all over again. The same arguments would come up, the same answers would be found, still the action she would have to take remained just out of her grasp.
Xena's gaze returned to the bards sleeping face. She took inventory of her jumbled thoughts and realized that today was not going to be the day. A month of trying to force herself to talk to the young woman had resulted in nothing but failure.
"Some warrior I am," Xena thought "can't even bring myself to say three little words"
Those words would change everything,
A few hours after daybreak, Gabrielle was walking along side Argo talking non-stop about the stories she planned to tell when they reached the next village. The pair was running low on supplies and money, so Xena had agreed that at the next village Gabrielle could tell a few stories to earn some dinars. Xena rode atop Argo and tried to keep her attention on what Gabrielle was saying, but her thoughts kept taking off on their own path.
"Do you think I should tell one of the newer tales, or stick with the ones that everyone knows?" Gabrielle asked as she skipped a few times to keep up with Argo's pace.
Xena did not answer right away, and Gabrielle was about to ask again when the Warriors voice finally responded.
"I'm sure whatever you choose will be fine, Gabrielle" she said giving the young bard a smile
Gabrielle seemed to contemplate this for a moment before she spoke again, "I'm not sure, some people like hearing new tales, others like the older ones. It makes it difficult to choose you know."
"Yeah, well you better decide soon. We should be reaching the village just in time for lunch. The inn there is pretty busy, they get a lot of travelers passing through." She watched as the bard mentally ran through her list of possible tales to tell. "You should have no problems in charming the dinars out of them." This she added with yet another smile. A reaction that was no longer as rare as it used to be, the bard just drew that out of her and she felt herself doing it more and more if only to get a smile in return.
"Lunch sounds good. I'm starving" Gabrielle said. This was met with a chuckle from Xena. The bard's appetite never ceased to amaze the warrior.
"What else is new." Xena's words got her a light slap on the leg from the bard. Xena laughed again and received a smile from Gabrielle, despite her teasing.
The pair continued on towards the village in silence. The lull in conversation, caused by Gabrielles preoccupation with the task at hand, gave Xena the last thing she wanted...time to think. That mornings silent vigil of Gabrielle had not ended when the bard had awoken and breakfast was being prepared. Throughout the morning Xena had found herself watching the young woman and smiling despite herself. The words that she had been fighting to suppress kept creeping into her thoughts. The emotions came closer and closer to overriding her better judgement, and the bard wasn't helping matters any.
Gabrielle was now walking a few steps in front of Argo. Xena's relentless pondering of the situation had allowed Argo to dawdle a bit behind. From this angle Xena's mind took a drastic turn towards a very deep ditch. She watched as the young bards lithe form swayed from side to side as she walked. The muscles in her well toned legs contracted with each step, her golden hair hung loosely about her shoulders and a tanned hand reached out to her and rested upon her thigh. The bards lips moved, her green eyes twinkled, and her melodious voice drifted to Xena's ears.
Xena's eyes wandered down the length of her own body, stopping where the bards hand was now resting. The sudden jolt of pleasurable heat she felt radiating from the bards fingers almost caused Xena to take an unplanned leap off from Argo's back. Xena's eyes traveled the length of the bards arm and she found herself locked in that hazel gaze. Gabrielle's lips were still moving and it took Xena quite a few moments to realize that the music she thought she heard was actually the bard talking to her.
The Warrior violently shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. After several deep breaths, which she hoped the bard had not noticed, she turned back to Gabrielle and asked,
"What did you say?"
Gabrielle laughed at her companions obvious state of disarray, but she did not press the issue. The warrior had been doing this a lot lately, probably more than even Xena realized.
"I said." Gabrielle continued with a smile, her hand never leaving its resting place upon Xena's thigh. "I think I saw the tops of some chimneys not to far ahead. We must be getting close to the village."
Xena simply nodded her agreement. She felt like she should say something, anything to keep the bard this close to her. But everytime she would open her mouth to speak a little voice inside her head would begin screaming at her to keep quite.
So instead she muttered something about going on ahead to check things out and she kneed Argo into a full gallop not even waiting for a response from the Bard.
She returned several minutes later. Her no-nonsense demeanor was fully restored and the silence that usually accompanied these moods was in full effect. The pair continued the journey towards the next village in complete silence. Xena spent the time wondering if the bard had recognized her panic. Gabrielle was grateful for the silence and used it to try and figure out what she had done to upset the warrior this time.
They reached the village just as the sun reached the top of its arc across the sky. Once Xena had Argo settled in the stable the pair headed for the village inn. As soon as they entered the crowded establishment Xena made her way to an empty table towards the back of the inn where she could watch the comings and goings of the inns patrons. Gabrielle headed straight for the innkeeper and immediately began her usual speech about how useful her services, as a bard, would be to his business. The innkeeper agreed to the bards proposition in record time and soon they were both seated at the table Xena had chosen. They enjoyed their lunch of lambs stew, fresh baked bread, and a pitcher of ale in silence. Gabrielle was too caught up in her food to strike up a conversation. They had barely finished their meal when the innkeeper announced that Gabrielle would be performing. The crowd's expectant eyes turned to the bard as she stood up from the table.
"Why don't you go pick up the supplies, Xena?" she said to the warrior. "I know you don't like listening to me tell stories about you" this she said with a grin knowing that her description of Xena the hero made the warrior slightly embarrassed.
Xena nodded her agreement and watched as Gabrielle took center stage, all eyes were glued to the fair-haired woman. She felt her self joining the rest of the inn's patrons and she remained seated allowing herself the pleasure of watching the young woman launch herself into the telling of the story. She secretly enjoyed hearing how she looked through the bard's eyes. She basked in the light that Gabrielle brought to her life and was amazed at how the bard was able to pull these villagers into her world. To show them how she viewed the Warrior Princess. It not only did a lot for her reputation, but when the villagers would look back at her with glances that held nothing but respect, it made the past fade just a little bit more. Gabrielle did that for her and so much more.
Xena shook her head and got up from the table. She nodded and smiled as Gabrielle caught her gaze, never missing a beat in the telling of the tale. Gabrielle's words followed the warrior as she made her way to the door and out into the village square. Her first task took her to the stables where she spent extra time in brushing down Argo. She babbled incessantly as she stroked the mare's coat.
"What do you think I should do girl?" she asked the horse. Argo's only response was a quick glance back at her mistress.
"I can't keep this up, it gets harder and harder every day" Xena said as she continued the one-sided conversation. Argo simply continued munching on the bundle of hay before her.
"You like Gabrielle, Argo?" she asked the horse. She did not wait for a response before she continued talking. "I like her, I like her a lot. To much in fact." With that statement Xena wrapped her arms around the mare's neck and let out a sigh.
The warrior released Argo and gave her one last pat before returning the brush to the saddlebag, which hung over the stall divider. She checked to make sure the horse had plenty of water and satisfied that the mare did, she left the stable and made her way to the open air market to pick up the few supplies that they were low on.
Less than a candlemark later, she was back at her table inside the inn. Gabrielle had just finished with her last tale and she was excitedly entertaining the villager's questions and excepting the dinars they placed in her hands. As the crowd dispersed, the bard began making her way to Xena's table. She only got a few feet before a woman who appeared to be pregnant stopped her and began talking to the bard in a low voice. Gabrielle met Xena's questioning gaze and after saying something to the woman, the bard continued her trek towards Xena. The woman remained where she had stopped the bard, the hopeful look on her face had already convinced Xena to give her consent to whatever the bard was about to ask.
"What's up?" Xena asked when Gabrielle reached her
"That's Diana, she lives in this village." Gabrielle replied, turning towards the waiting woman "She's asked me to teach her how to read a little." The bard looked back to Xena to gauge the woman's response. "Do you think we can stay here for the night?"
The hopeful tone of the bard's voice was not lost on Xena. The warrior smiled at the bard's eagerness to help the woman. "Sure, Gabrielle. We can if you like"
Gabrielle grinned in appreciation and walked back to the woman. They chatted for a few moments and then the woman left the inn, giving Xena a small smile as she passed the table.
"She wants me to meet her at her cabin. Will you be alright here Xena?" the bard asked the warrior who was refilling her mug of ale and watching a few men arm wrestling with each other.
"I'll be fine," Xena said "I'll get us a room. Ask the innkeep when you come back which one it is"
"Alright, I shouldn't be long." Gabrielle squeezed Xena's shoulder and taking her bag she headed for the door leaving the warrior to sit and recover from the bard's show of affection.
Xena sat sipping on her drink and letting her thoughts run wild. It was getting to the point that she had been dreading. Her emotions were slipping away from her control and she was helpless to stop it. The thoughts and feelings kept popping into her head every time she glanced in the bard's direction. Still she did not know what to do. She had briefly entertained the thought of simply leaving forever. But she knew that would cause the bard more pain and that was not something she planned on doing ever again. Running away was not one of her options. Continuing on as if these feelings didnt exist was the only option she had left besides giving in and then helplessly watching her world spin out of her control.
Xena put the now empty mug down on the table and sat back in the chair. She closed her eyes and tried to rub away the headache that had slowly begun. She was massaging her temples when the innkeeper approached her table, bringing with him a full mug, which he set down before the warrior. Xena simply nodded her thanks and took a quick sip of the weak liquid.
The innkeeper took the opportunity of her silence to attempt to begin a conversation with this warrior woman. "Your bard tells a mean story, that she does." He supplied hoping the warrior would entertain him with a response.
Xena almost spit the ale back into the innkeeper's face, but she restrained herself just in time. She forced herself to swallow the liquid as her mind fully grasped the words the innkeeper had just spoken. "My Bard?" she thought. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, she met the expectant innkeepers gaze with a small smile. "I think I like the sound of that" she thought surprising herself with the idea
"She sure does" she finally responded to the innkeeper
Her response gave him the confidence to continue the conversation. "You'd think she'd actually seen all those things with the way she weaves those tales." He said
"That's because she has seen all of those things" Xena answered, surprised at her willingness to chitchat with the innkeeper. Talking, especially with strangers, was not something she normally felt inclined to do.
The innkeeper was shocked by this news and it showed in his expression. "A young thing like her witnessing all those horrible things." The innkeeper shook his head in dismay "'Tis a testament to her strength at having being able to survive all that and then tell stories about it." With that, the innkeeper walked off to greet a rowdy bunch of men who had just walked in the door.
Xena considered his words and thought to herself "Gabrielle is the strongest person I've ever known." Xena knew that despite her fighting abilities and the well-muscled body she kept in top physical condition, the real strength in this team came from Gabrielle. It was something she had always known and it had not been as hard to admit to herself as she thought it would be. Still she often found herself second-guessing that knowledge. Like now for instances. She could admit to a perfect stranger that she knew Gabrielle could face and overcome anything, but she could not follow through on that when it came to her own emotions. Maybe, it wasn't Gabrielle she was protecting at all.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the group of men who had just entered the inn sat down at the table next to her. Their loud voices ruined any chance she had of continuing to analyze her thoughts. From the smell that was drifting her way, she could tell that these men were obviously farmers. As the men settled into their table, she caught a great deal of their conversation, it was hard not to. The men's rowdy behavior and loud voices continued despite the death glare they were receiving from the warrior.
"...And they just surrendered?" one of them asked his companions
"They sure did...cowards didnt' even fight for their own homes" was the reply
The conversation intrigued Xena and she found herself eavesdropping on the men as they argued back and forth about the merits of surrendering. As their conversation continued she learned the details of the topic, they were discussing. Their debate focused on a nearby village, which had recently been visited by a warlord. Xena did not recognize the warlord's name, but made a mental note of it. The debate was centered on the fact that the village had chosen to give up without a fight. They surrendered to the warlord's army and gave him everything they had. The larger man at the table disapproved of this tactic and he was making his opinion known his bellows echoed off the walls and caused the eyes of the other patrons to wander back towards their table. The disapproving stares he was receiving from the innkeeper did not stop the man from continuing his rant.
"Should never surrender to scum like that." He stated "It just encourages them. How do we know that they won't come here next expecting us to do the same? And when we don't, then what?" He added
"But, they left the village alone, no one was hurt. Isn't that better than fighting against people they couldn't possibly have beaten?" one of the men asked. His words were not well received by the larger man. Before he had even finished his sentence, the large farmer had been on his feet, glaring at his smaller companion. Xena was standing at his side with a hand on his shoulder before he could act out the threat she saw in his eyes.
"You know, " she said with an icy glare that cut right through the larger man. "Your friend here is right. Sometimes surrendering is the only way to prevent a bloodbath."
The man eyed her wearily. He took in the leather, the armor, and the sword strapped to her back and decided against his first response to her having grabbed him. He merely allowed her to push him back into his seat.
"How would you know Warrior?" he asked despite his better judgement "Bet you've never surrendered to anyone in your life"
Xena eyed him and thought better of ripping his fat head off his shoulders. Instead she thought about his comment, and realized that he was right. She had never backed down from a fight, never given up, and certainly never surrendered to anyone for any reason. She realized that the men at the table were waiting for an answer.
"No, I haven't." she said taking in the knowing smirk on the large man's face. "But I'm not the surrendering type." She added with an evil grin that effectively silenced the entire table.
The innkeeper took that opportunity to walk over to the table and contribute to the discussion he had heard. He approached Xena and smiled at her as he spoke.
"Of course your not" he said surprising the rest of the tables occupants. "Youre a warrior, and warriors never surrender, right?"
His words were met with the Warrior Princess's steady gaze, but no verbal response.
"Warriors always need to be in control, Right?" the innkeeper asked not skipping a beat "Surrendering to anyone, or anything for that matter, would cause them to lost control, and we can't have that now can we?"
Xena's lips twisted into a snarl as the innkeeper's words registered in her mind. The older man's eyes never left hers as he spoke. He knew, was all Xena could think. She did not know how he knew, or why he was approaching her, but he knew. The way his eyes never wavered from hers and the satisfied twinkle she saw there gave his knowledge away. The thought she had earlier, before the rowdy men had interrupted her, returned to the forefront of her mind.
"Maybe it's not Gabrielle I'm protecting," she thought again.
This time the men seated at the table were silent and the innkeeper had walked off to deal with other customers when he didn't receive a response from the warrior. Xena stayed where she was, beside the table of farmers who had been having a discussion that mirrored the conflict that was raging inside her. The brief exchange she had with the innkeeper had brought the reality of her own emotions to light. She was afraid of losing control. Afraid of surrendering her heart and soul to the bard. There would be no turning back once she did that and the thought scared her. She knew that once she gave that part of herself to the bard, it would be Gabrielle forever. That was a leap into uncharted territory for the warrior, something that she would have no control over. There was no way to plan for that, no way to defend against it, and most of all nothing she could do to stop it. Xena looked up and met the innkeeper's knowing gaze. She exhaled the breath she had been holding and looked towards the door to the inn and then back at the innkeeper.
Xena decided that she had to know how the innkeeper had pegged her so well. The warrior knew that she was not the easiest person to judge. In fact, Gabrielle had told her that it was next to impossible. She walked up to the table that the innkeeper was busily clearing plates from. She waited for the man to acknowledge her presence before she spoke.
"How'd you know?" she asked
The innkeeper laughed deeply at her question, but immediately stopped when the warrior turned her ice blue eyes on him.
"It wasn't a hard task Warrior." He said as he stood next to Xena. "It was the stories, the light in your bards eyes as she spoke of you and the smile on your face when you gazed upon her." He patted Xena's arm and began walking slowly away. "A blind man could see the love in your eyes, but it takes a man whose been threw it to see the walls that are preventing that love."
"So what happened with you?" she asked before the innkeeper could get to far away
"I surrendered" his eyes locked with hers for a moment before he slipped through a door behind the bar and was gone.
Xena stood for a moment trying to wrap her mind around the man's words. Was it really that simple? She thought. For a simple innkeeper maybe it had been, but for her? A woman who had spent all of her adult life fighting and killing, could someone like that give in so easily? The sensible part of her knew that love was not something you had to fight against. The only thing she had to lose was her heart and she would gladly give that to Gabrielle without a fight. Still she fought it any way. Years of having people use her for their purposes and her doing the same to them had left its mark. The hatred, the violence, the lack of trust, it had all taken its toll on the warrior. Until Gabrielle came into her life and had all but eradicted those feelings. Her desire to always be in control remained, and despite all the rational reasons against it, she couldn't bring herself to give that control up, the fear was just to great.
The warriors introspective gaze returned to the present and she found herself staring at the door to the inn, silently willing her legs to move towards that door. She was a woman of action, and right now she wanted to run out that door, find Gabrielle, and lay all her cards out on the table. Her legs were refusing to obey her commands though. She remained standing in the middle of the inn her gaze transfixed on the door. Her mind was still racing with thoughts, but none of them seemed to make her take that step towards the door. All it would take was one step and she'd be on her way, she just couldn't force herself to take it.
Instead Xena turned around and ran up the nearby set of stairs. She had climbed them and was down the hall and into her room before she'd even realized what she was doing. Once inside the solitude of the room she let out a breath and began admonishing herself for her cowardice.
"What in Tartarus is wrong with me?" she asked the empty room. Not receiving an answer she went to the mirror that hung on the wall opposite the door. She gazed at her reflection taking in the dark circles under her eyes, the disheveld hair, and the lines of tension that streaked across her face.
"What a mess." She said to the reflection. She had kept up the facade for almost three years now. 'Why was everything falling apart now?' She wondered. Up until she had believed Gabrielle to be dead, things had gone along smoothly. She denied what she felt and made a conscious effort to never let Gabrielle find out. Now she was finding that it was no longer something she could control at all times. A choice had to be made, that much she was certain of, but could she make it?
Xena began anxiously pacing around the room. Her heart and mind were engaged in a full scale war and all she could do was let it happen. She knew that Gabrielle loved her that alone should have been enough to make her finally give in. But it hadn't been, not at first anyway. It had taken over a month for Xena to really begin mulling over the realization that Gabrielle truly loved her. And once she had started thinking about that, it had been all down hill from there. Her heart began latching onto that concept and fighting for Xena to accept it. Today, while riding Argo alongside Gabrielle, Xena had done just that. Her heart had given a silent cheer when Xena had finally accepted Gabrielle's love for what it was. Now all that was left was for her to act on it. The only hurdle left was Xena's own inability to just let go for once.
One more quick walk across the room brought the pacing warrior directly in front of the window where she could see the rows and rows of huts that made up the villagers homes. Gabrielle was in one of them right now, Xena thought. It would be so easy, just go down there, find her and tell the bard everything. Then her life with the bard could truly begin. She could finally give her entire heart to the young woman and accept her affection in return. Three words is all it would take and the door would open up on possibilities that Xena hadn't even allowed herself the luxury of dreaming about. All the warrior had to do was swallow her damn pride for once and admit that someone else held all the power. Gabrielle truly did at that. The young bard was the keeper of the warriors heart, even if she didnt know that she had been entrusted with such a gift.
From the village square directly below the window in which the warrior was standing a string of obscenities floated up to her ears. Xena leaned farther out the window so she could see what was going on and watched as the rowdy group of farmers were tossed out of the inn by an annoyed innkeeper. The larger man of the group made a rather lude gesture towards the retreating innkeeper and Xena chuckled as the innkeeper returned it with one of his own before heading back inside the inn. The smaller man in the group also laughed at the exchange, but his amusement was met with fury from the larger farmer. The brute dumped the smaller man on his butt and began shouting at the top of his lungs for him to get back up and fight.
To Xena's surprise the smaller man simply got up, dusted himself off, and began walking away from the group. He didn't even look back or respond to the calls from his former companions. Eventually the rest of the group stalked off in the opposite direction returning the village to its previous state of calmness. Xena was left once again with her thoughts, but the interruption proved to add yet another piece of insight to the equation. Maybe she had been thinking of this all wrong? Why was she up here driving herself insane trying to fight against something that she knew she wanted? She glanced at the now empty square and it dawned on her, she should never had fought it at all. The little man in the square had given Xena the key to the puzzle that she had been struggling with for over three years. If he had chosen to fight, it would have been against a friend. He was severely outnumbered, smaller, and most likely wouldn't have stood a chance. So he had done the only thing he could have, he just walked away. Because of that act, everybody would win. When his friends sobered up and went to work the next day, all would be well. There would be no hurt feelings, no broken bones, and most of all everyone would be happy. Xena had never been one to back down from a fight, but she had never fought a battle like this one. A battle that she was sure that she would lose.
'So why fight at all?' She thought.
Xena was tired of denying her feelings, tired of forcing herself to keep her distance from the bard, and most of all tired of fighting this when she wanted it so much. For once in her life She desperately wanted to give herself to someone else and have the feelings returned and have it all be for real. She no longer wanted to worry about what came next or what could happen. It was time to just give up, no more fighting a battle that she couldn't win, that she didn't want to win. It was time to take the risk, to let go of the control she thought she had over the world around her.
For some time now Xena had begun to realize that the control she had wasn't much more than an illusion. The more she had tried to control her feelings for the bard, the more the control had slipped away. Until finally she was left with nothing but her fears and the desperate need to end the fight. It would all be worth it, she knew that. She felt it within her soul and had that reaffirmed by Gabrielle's own hand- written words upon her scrolls. Everything that was holding her back, the fear, the betrayal, the dark side that she knew she possessed. Gabrielle own words had stated that she didn't care about all that. The only thing she saw was her Xena. The caring, generous woman who had made a commitment to fix the wrongs she had done. Gabrielle saw the hero that Xena couldn't see in herself. Knowing that someone had that much faith in her, that much love for her despite all those things had made all the difference. Xena was beginning to learn that where there is love anything was possible. Secure in that knowledge Xena had unconsciously allowed herself to go further than she had ever ventured before. Every passing day had brought her closer and closer to falling completely and turning over the keys to her heart to the bard.
As Xena continued to stare out into the empty village square a thought crossed her mind and without thinking about it she found herself smiling. "Today will be the day"
"In fact" she said to the empty room "right now is as good a time as any." She finished with a determined nod. The warrior did an about face away from the window and began striding towards the door to the room. She had her hand around the door knob when what she was doing finally sunk in. She pulled her hand away from the knob like it was on fire. The determined fighter in her had taken over for a moment and almost made her make one more rash decision that she would have probably regretted. Xena stepped back away from the door and once again regarded her reflection in the mirror.
"What exactly do you plan to say to her?" she asked herself
The answer was obvious. She didn't have a clue in Tartarus.
She looked back at the door and dejectedly hung her head as she began pacing the length of the room again. With each stride she would mumble something to herself and then shake her head as the words failed to convey what she wanted to say. Her brain seemed to freeze up on her and every word just didn't sound right to her. Finally the warrior sat down on the bed and let out a long sigh. This wasn't working.
Xena unsheathed the sword on her back and grabbing her sharpening stone from a nearby saddlebag, that one of the innkeepers son's had deposited in the room for her, she began to methodically sharpen her sword. An activity that always seemed to calm her mind. She continued to dissect the problem as she passed the stone down the length of the sword. She watched her hands move and the rhythmic motion did the trick. Soon her analytical mind had swung into full gear and was analyzing the problem from all sides trying to come up with a plan of attack. Moments passed before Xena's eyes refocused on the task her hands where undertaking on their own. Without any thought she had expertly sharpened both sides of the sword. The whole scene reminded her of preparing for an oncoming battle. The way she would sit all night and continuously sharpen her sword while her mind went over the problem at hand. The answers would always come to her by the time the sword was ready.
Xena held the sword up in front of her face and ran a finger down one of the newly sharpened edges. It didn't work this time. No new ideas had come to mind. Older ideas still didn't fit her needs. Xena stood up and tossed the sword on the bed, a look of disgust crossing her stoic features. She stared at the sword lying on the bed and it came to her. Their was no need to plan for this. It wasn't a battle that needed to be carefully laid out beforehand. No, she couldn't do this, that way. She would have to allow her heart to lead if she was ever going to overcome this. And so she did.
Refusing to think about what she was doing, Xena found herself walking out the door of the inn and heading towards the section of the village where the small homes were located. She had no idea which one Gabrielle was in. They all looked the same to her and she had not asked the bard for directions before she had left. If she had known that her resolve would have been crumbled in the last few hours, she would have had the foresight to do just that. For now, she resorted to the next best thing. Xena began walking down the path between the houses and yelling Gabrielle's name at the top of her lungs.
After what seemed like an eternity, she turned around after one of her throat numbing shouts, to see the young bard walking down the path towards her. Xena's lips twisted into a full smile and she ran with all the speed her legs could muster. She had made up her mind, and nothing was going to change it. Once Xena had made the decision it seemed to her that, every moment that passed until she saw Gabrielle again was a wasted one. When she reached Gabrielle, she barely had enough room left in her thoughts to make herself stop running. She almost took the bard off her feet as she reached out an arm to encircle her friend.
"Xena, What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked. Panic and worry was evident in her voice.
"Nothing." Xena stated as she held Gabrielle at arm length and smiled at her.
"You're out here screaming for me, and there's nothing wrong?" Gabrielle replied as she looked around at the now gathering crowd of villagers who had come out to see what all the fuss was about.
"I just needed to tell you something." Xena supplied her mind was running on its own momentum now and all she could think over and over was "tell her, tell her now."
Gabrielle reached up to touch Xena's forehead; she stroked her hand across it pushing the dark bangs out of her friend's eyes. "Tell me what?" she asked peering into her taller friends eyes. What she saw in them was a sight she had never before encountered. Xena's eyes sparkled like that of a child on Solstice Eve. The smile that seemed to be permanently etched on the warrior's strong features was lighting up her entire face. Gabrielle wondered what could have possibly caused this reaction in her normally emotionally restrained friend.
Xena looked around, noticing for the first time that her confession had become a public spectacle. She took Gabrielle by the hand and led her behind one of the nearby houses. Gabrielle continued to wonder about her friend's odd behavior. When they were alone behind the wooden structure she again looked deep into Xena's eyes and wondered at what had caused what she saw there.
"What's gotten into you Xena?" the bard asked
"You have" Xena responded, meeting the bards confused stare. Xena patted her chest, just above her heart and continued on "You got in here" she said and before the bard could speak Xena gently covered her mouth with her hand. "Wait, let me say this." When Gabrielle nodded, Xena continued. "For so long now, I've been fighting this, my love for you." Xena stuttered a bit here, her poor communication skills began rearing their head as she tried to put her thoughts into words that the Bard would understand. "Lately, it's gotten harder and harder to do that, to pretend the feelings didn't exist, until finally I just couldn't do it anymore."
Xena watched as hope and happiness took over Gabrielle's previously confused expression. The bard did not speak though and she waited for the warrior to continue.
"What I'm trying to say is...." the warrior swallowed, trying unsuccesfully, to dislodge the newly formed lump in her throat. She continued on "....Is that, today I gave up trying to fight it. I finally realized that you are what I need and want in my life and any reasons why I believed I shouldn't tell you this, just can't compete with that."
After a few moments of silence and a brief instance of fear on Xena's part, Gabrielle threw her arms around Xena's neck and hugged her for all she was worth.
"You don't know how long I've been waiting to hear you say that." Was all she said as tears began tracing a path down her cheek.
Xena returned the hug and when she released Gabrielle and saw the tears she wiped them away with a tender touch and said, "Yes I do, and I'm sorry I made you wait so long. Thank You Gabrielle for allowing me to be a part of your life and if you will accept it.... I surrender my heart to you."
Gabrielle's only response was the deep, emotional embrace that she pulled Xena into. When their lips met in a scene that had only been entertained in her dreams, Xena felt the walls crash down around her, but she did not care.
Thanks for allowing me to share my vision with you.
Feedback is always welcome, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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