by Dani Sheldon
Disclaimer, warnings, etc.: see part 1
“C’mon Gabrielle. Wakey, wakey.” The familiar waft of tea and Xena’s rough voice brought the Bard slowly to consciousness. She rubbed sleepily at her muzzy green eyes.
“That time already?”
“‘Fraid so,” Xena said with a wry grin.
Tales of the Warrior Princess spoke of her viciousness, her strength in combat and her genius as a battle commander, but none would ever sing of her most consistent trait since taking up with the Bard of Poteidaia. Each morning since they had become intimate, no matter where they were or whom they were with, Xena tried to bring a hot cup of tea, or whatever hot beverage the situation allowed, to Gabrielle when she woke her. This way her companion had the extra time it often took her to get rolling in the morning and something warm and stimulating to wake her up. It also demonstrated that Xena wasn’t only interested in the younger woman’s body, as she often liked to pretend, but was equally devoted to Gabrielle in her own gruff way.
The Bard yawned mightily, sat up and accepted the steaming cup Xena presented to her with a mock flourish. She took her first sip of the smooth, sweet tea.
“Thank you,” she said with a sleepy smile.
The warrior found Gabrielle the most alluring at these somnolent times. Her disposition was adorable, with her blond locks in disarray and her lips particularly rosy, begging to be kissed, so Xena did just that. It was just a brief kiss but toe tingling. She followed it with a smile and replied. ”You’re welcome.”
Gabrielle took a few more sips of her warming beverage as she watched Xena, already in her armor, walk out of the sheltered area of their camp and start some familiar stretching exercises. Even in the cold morning, she worked out without so much as a cloak on, breath puffing white in the dawn air. The warrior told her quite often, at my age Gabrielle, there is no down time.
Once done with her tea and having completed her morning ablutions, the Bard preferred to start her day with some meditation exercises Eli had taught her. While she had started to spar with Xena and practice with her new sais after she and Xena were resurrected, the drills were no longer a part of her routine. She found herself avoiding them and she realized that it was increasingly difficult to touch any weapon. She sat cross-legged, close to the fire, with a cloak draped over her shoulders for warmth, and closed her eyes.
The Roman soldiers she had struck down in her protective rage at Mount Amaro often troubled her thoughts, and today was no exception. While she knew it was necessary, she could not believe the ease in which she had given into her rage.
However, the fact that she didn’t agonize over the loss of all those lives, bothered her most of all.
Gabrielle had them ready to depart by the time the warrior had finished her brief sword drills. Xena stowed a last item, buckled her pack, donned her dark fur cloak, and fastened her sword and scabbard to her back. She glanced at the Bard who was seated on the log by the smoldering fire. The young woman was leaning forward, elbows on her knees and hands clasped around a steaming mug of tea, eyes fixed on the surrounding trees.
“Everything okay?” Xena asked.
“Hmmm?” She looked at the warrior with anxious green eyes.
“I asked if you were all right?” The dark haired woman had more than a note of concern in her low voice now.
Gabrielle replied a bit too emphatically. “Of course.” She stood and faced the warrior.
One of Xena’s dark eyebrows rose and she asked, “Why am I not convinced?”
The warrior strolled over to the blond woman’s side, sat on the smooth log and patted the spot next to her.
The Bard took a sip from the tea and offered the cup to Xena. “This was supposed to be yours,” she said apologetically as she sat.
The warrior slipped a leg over the log to face Gabrielle and shrugged indifferently, accepting and sipping from the partially empty mug.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
The Bard mimicked Xena, tossing a leg over the log to face her. She fiddled with a loose thread on her cloak as she tried to find words to explain her disquiet.
Finally she looked at the warrior. “I can’t seem to stop thinking about the mountain,” she stated gravely.
There was no need for her to explain to Xena what she was talking about. As far as they were concerned, there was only one mountain in their vernacular, Mount Amaro, the end and the beginning, site of their crucifixion by the Romans.
Xena placed the cooling mug of tea on the ground. “What about it?” she asked.
“All those men died by my hand.” Gabrielle faltered a bit.
“There was nothing wrong with fighting to save us,” Xena stated with fervor. “You only did what you had to do.”
“Oh, and a fat lot of good it did, I didn’t even save us!” Gabrielle exclaimed. “Those Romans died for no reason. Eli is the only reason we are here today, not because of anything I did.”
“I believe in you, Gabrielle, and I am infinitely proud of you.” The warrior reached out and clasped one of the Bard’s hands between her own, wanting to ease her suffering. “We do the best we can in a crisis. It’s easy to sit here at our leisure and dissect an event, but at the time, you had only moments to react. There’s no need to feel guilty.”
“That’s the problem, Xena,” Gabrielle said softly.
“I don’t understand.” Xena looked in confused concern at her friend’s obvious distress.
“Xena, I chose the path of love, of a higher good and at my first real test, I went berserker. I’ve killed before, but never like this.” The blond woman tugged her hand away and tapped her chest. “I didn’t feel anything here, no remorse, nothing. This time I was happy to kill!” The Bard looked intensely ashamed.
“You killed trying to defend us, not because you were happy to do it,” Xena said forcefully.
The Bard shook her head. “You’re right, you don’t understand.”
“I don’t understand? The Destroyer of Nations, killer of innocents, with blood on me so thick that I can never wash it away?” The warrior stood, eyes gelid, breathing hard.
Xena took several deep breaths to calm herself and kept her focus on Gabrielle. “You want to feel like you did the first time you took another person’s life, but you don’t.” The warrior’s voice had a steely edge. “You never will again. Now you’ll feel worse, because you had dedicated yourself to protecting others.”
“If that’s true, why do I feel nothing at all?” the Bard asked bowing her head as if from a great weight.
The edge left her voice as Xena replied with a sigh. “When a person is wounded badly, at first they don’t feel the pain, it’s numb. That’s you right now, hurt so bad you don’t even know you’re hurting and the pain lingers long after the injury has disappeared.”
The Bard remained, head down, clenching and unclenching her white knuckles.
“That explains now. But what about then. I enjoyed it, Xena. You saw it,” Gabrielle said bitterly.
Xena let out a deep breath in exasperation. “That wasn’t joy that I saw. I only saw a woman desperate to save my life.”
Gabrielle looked unconvinced.
“Did you feel like you wanted to kill everyone and never stop? No, wait, you did stop. Do you feel like you want to go out and kill someone now?” Xena asked.
Gabrielle looked at Xena in shock. “No, I don’t want to kill anyone!” she said emphatically.
“Then you have nothing to worry about. Remember, I’ve been where you fear you’re headed and you are nowhere close,” Xena stated reassuringly. Gabrielle looked more hopeful.
“It’s never wrong to protect yourself or someone you care about from being killed or injured.” Xena moved to where Gabrielle sat and laid her hand on the Bard’s blond head as if in absolution. “You’re the one who convinced me of that,” she said with tender sincerity.
Gabrielle lifted her head, and saw the same tenderness on her face as Xena’s hand slid down to her cheek. The Bard’s green eyes glistened with tears.
“Is this why you gave your sais to Amarice?”
The Bard nodded. “I had started to fear what carrying them meant I’d become.”
Xena’s hand dropped to her side. For all her encouraging words, there was discernable pain on her face at the Bard’s confession. What does that say about me?
The dark woman’s eyes reminded Gabrielle of swimming in the Aegean sea, so clear a blue that she could see all the sorrow and guilt down to the very bottom. She stood and placed her arms around the warrior, wondering if they would ever be free of the pain that was always just beneath the surface.
“There is no shame in your path, Xena, You’re not that person you were before. Now you fight for the greater good.” Gabrielle laid her cheek against the warrior’s chest and held her tightly. “I am infinitely proud of you as well.”
Xena couldn’t help but smile, albeit infinitesimally, at the use of her own words. She wrapped her arms around the Bard. “I thank the God’s everyday that our paths are together.”
“Forever.” Gabrielle replied, her voice vibrating through Xena’s cloak and armor to be felt in the warrior’s mighty heart.
“Do you feel any better Gabrielle?” Xena finally asked her hopefully.
“I do,” the Bard answered safe in the tall woman’s comforting embrace. “I don’t feel I’ve completely resolved everything, but talking to you has helped.”
Xena pulled away, placing both her hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders. “I don’t know how you’ll feel about this.”
“About what?” Gabrielle asked.
“I found this while I was stocking firewood.” Xena let go of her and kept talking while she walked to a nearby tree. “I knew there was something going on with you so I waited. I didn’t know if I’d give it to you at all.” She reached behind the tree and paused.
The blond woman demanded impatiently. “All right already, what in Poseidon’s nipples is it?”
“Honestly Gabrielle,” Xena stated, looking a bit put out and offended.
“I apologize,” she said and then asked with a demure expression. “May I please have a look?” The Bard’s twitching lips were the only sign that she was completely insincere.
Xena ignored her and pulled out a very plain, but stout looking stave.
Gabrielle’s eyes went wide.
Blanching, the warrior wondered if she’d just completely misjudged how the young woman felt after their conversation.
“Look, you can just lean on it. I assure you it’s not a weapon unless you want it to be,” Xena said quickly.
“Let me see it.” The Bard held out her hand, her face inscrutable.
The warrior carefully handed over the staff, with the fleeting fatal thought; she might very well use this on me.
For a moment, the Bard held her arm out with the stave clutched as if it were some sort of vermin. It wasn’t like holding a sword, or even the sais. It had a much more benign, organic feel to it.
Gabrielle finally hefted it with both experienced hands, taking its measure. “It’s a little rough,” she commented with a slight frown.
“Yes, well I didn’t have a lot of time…” Xena began to explain before noticing blond woman’s facetious smirk.
“Gabrielle,” she growled.
The Bard turned serious once again. “I’ll keep it, Xena, but I can’t guarantee I’m going to use it like I did before.”
“That’s what frightens me,” Xena replied.
Gabrielle shifted the stave down to lean against it. “Why?”
“What if I’m not there to protect you and something happens?” the warrior asked, obviously distressed. “Or if I’m just a bit too slow?”
“You’re anything but slow warrior,” Gabrielle proudly assured her.
“You see the gray?” Xena brushed a hand through her long dark hair. “I’m not getting any younger my Bard.”
“Two gray hairs do not an old woman make,” Gabrielle stated obstinately.
Xena scoffed, “There’s a few more than two.”
“Look, I’m not the impetuous young girl I was either. I can talk my way out of most situations and when I can’t…” Gabrielle finished with a mischievous expression. “I’ve gotten pretty inventive.”
They both looked at each other stubbornly until Xena finally spoke. “All of our actions have repercussions, perhaps not immediately and it’s up to us to carefully weigh all the outcomes. I just want to be sure you understand that.”
“I do understand Xena,” the Bard reassured her.
I certainly hope so. Xena thought, but said aloud. “We should get going,” she said as she turned away to pick up their meager belongings
They waited for breakfast until they had reached the road. The scramble back down the hillside under the overcast sky at times took both their hands and feet. They could hear the river again long before they reached the narrow path. Once there, Xena listened until deciding it was safe to proceed.
They washed up in an icy mellifluent brook near the lightening damaged tree. After filling their skins, Gabrielle doled out the rough bread, cheese and some dried fruit. “That’s the last of the bread and cheese,” she said.
Xena nodded absently, gaze already focused up the trail.
Gabrielle shook her head knowing her companion would be far too distracted to be any company at all this day. They ate, walking in silence, each deep in their own preoccupations.