A Motherís Love

(Going Home Chapter II)

by Nancy M

The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. Please do not copy without express permission of the author.

This story contains no violence. An adult relationship is assumed, however there are no sexually explicit or suggestive scenes, unless you consider a very thorough massage to be suggestive.

This story takes place in Season 4, immediately following the events in the story Going Home. However reading of that story first is not required for understanding or enjoyment of this one.




The hike back to Potidaea seemed endless. Gabrielle's feet throbbed with each step, and sweat stung her raw back. Gods, I must be getting soft, she thought, to let a two-day hike bother me.

Of course that two-day hike was preceded by four days of miserable captivity by slavers, horrific food, little sleep, and a brutal beating. Still, she thought, I shouldn't feel this bad. Even Lilla's loose blouse over her shoulders hurt.

Astride Argo, her sister was finally showing interest in her surroundings. The closer to home they came, the more light shone in the girl's eyes. She even spoke occasionally. Gabrielle knew now the girl's heart would heal. Xena rode in front of Lilla, mostly allowing Argo to follow her own lead.

"Gabrielle, you don't think your folks will mind if we rest a few days at their house? Argo could use the break after the past few days."

"Why not? They did say we'd be welcome." In truth Gabrielle had her doubts, but she kept them to herself. Besides, she could use the break herself.

"How 'bout you Lilla? Can you put up with us for a couple more days?"

"Sure," the girl smiled. "But I want my bed back."

"Uh huh." Lilla had surrendered her bed to Xena when Gabrielle had dragged the wounded and poisoned warrior to her parentsí house to heal. "We're used to sleeping out anyway." Gabrielle thought briefly how wonderful a soft clean bed would feel under her raw shoulders and back. Oh well. She'd survived the past six nights on the ground. Why change now?

Within half an hour they were walking into the yard of her parents house. Hector and Hecuba rushed out the door to greet them. Hector swept his younger daughter off Argo and swallowed her in an embrace, while Hecuba hovered, awaiting her turn.

"We just got word not three hours ago that you were safe. Oh Lilla, we were so worried. Did they...did they harm you in any way?" Hecuba stroked Lilla's hair and Gabrielle watched.

"No Mom, I'm fine. But Gabrielle..."

"Oh Honey, we're so glad. So many things could have happened to you out there."

Xena slid off Argo as Hector and Hecuba continued to fawn over Lilla. She came to stand next to Gabrielle, a tall comforting presence for the younger woman.

Lilla was trying to tell how Gabrielle had risked her life to stay with her, had been severely beaten, and how Xena had ambushed the slavers to rescue them both. But her words were lost.

Hector finally turned to Xena. "You can put up your horse in the barn. There's feed there, and water. Then come on inside." The words were without hostility, but also without warmth. Xena turned and led Argo away.

Hecuba bundled Lilla up the stairs, and Gabrielle hesitated. Hector turned to her then. "It's good to have you back Gabrielle. We worried about you, too." He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her tight. Gabrielle cringed and shrank away from his touch before she could stop herself.

"Hmph. Guess you're too old for a little affection from your father. No matter."

Gabrielle started to explain the fiery pain his hug had caused, but Hector had disappeared into the house before she was able to utter three words.

So she just stood there, looking at the house, until she heard Xena's footsteps behind her.

The warrior slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close for a moment. Then she tousled her hair and turned to face her.

"You okay?"

Gabrielle shook her head once, then nodded and looked up at Xena.

"I will be. I just don't know how to be what they want. I never have. Sometimes I think I frighten them." It felt good to talk but Xena turned them both toward the house.

"Don't change Gabrielle. I like you just the way you are. Even if you ARE a little scary. Come on, let's see if we can help with dinner."

Dinner preparation was strained at best. Hecuba and Lilla worked together like a well-trained harness team, never out of step or in each other's way. Gabrielle tried repeatedly to help with small tasks, but she diced the onions too big, the bread crumbled when she sliced it, and twice she backed full into her mother, causing her to stumble. Defeated, she retreated to the other side of the room and worked on a torn corner of her travel bag. Xena had wisely stayed out of the kitchen and Gabrielle could feel her gaze as she dejectedly picked at the rawhide stitching.

Xena was having her own problems. Despite Hector's earlier statement that she would always be welcome in his home, she felt anything but. He had been polite enough in a perfunctory way. But it was clear he resented her, and his grudging tolerance was only out of respect for Gabrielle's feelings.

When they all finally sat down to eat, Lilla tried to bring Xena and Gabrielle into the conversation.

"How's your back tonight Gab?"

Gabrielle had just taken a large mouthful of chicken stew, and struggled to chew and swallow before answering. Hector beat her to it.

"You have a sore back, Honey? It's no wonder, the life you lead, sleeping on the ground."

"Actually Dad, the reason my back's sore..."

Hecuba seemed not to hear her daughter. "Lilla would you pass the bread please?"

"I want it after you please," Hector chimed in.

"...is because Thelonius..."

"Oh that Thelonius. He seemed like such a nice young man. Didn't he Lilla? Who would have guessed," Hecuba fussed.

"...didn't like my attitude. Or maybe he did..."

"Gabrielle has always had a temper. Not like Lilla at all."

"...and beat me..."

"Lilla can you help me with the wash tomorrow?"

Gabrielle just shook her head and returned to her stew. Again she could feel Xena's gaze and it comforted her. "It still hurts, Lilla, but thanks for asking."

Lilla looked at Gabrielle with sympathy. "Sure Mom. We can do wash tomorrow."

The rest of the meal was much the same, Xena attempted to make conversation with Hector, but small talk was not one of her many skills, and Hector had no interest in chatting with the woman who had stolen his daughter away from home. It was apparent he would meet the standards required of civility, but little more. The meal finally over, Gabrielle and Xena retreated gratefully to their bedrolls in the barn.


While Xena rummaged through Argo's saddle bag, Gabrielle gingerly removed the blouse and stretched out on her stomach. The nightly sessions with the numbing ointment had become something she looked forward to. But tonight there was a different jar in Xena's hand.

"No Xena! Not the green stinky stuff!"

"Yes, the green stinky stuff. I should have started using it the first night."

Gabrielle started to pull away. Xena gently but firmly held her down, as she would a child she was about to punish.

"Now Gabrielle, you know how badly you'll scar if I don't use this."

"I know," moaned the bard, "but it hurts like Hades and I'm so sore and tired..."

"Shh. Shh. Just hold still."

Gabrielle clenched her jaw when Xena began and tried to imagine how the warrior's hands would feel on her back without the ointment burning into the scabs. The mental trick worked for just over two seconds. Then she squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away from Xena.

The warrior worked efficiently, but didn't rush. By the time she was finished it was all Gabrielle could do to not cry out. But she had born the original beating without a whimper (it was amazing the strength pure fury could give you), and she would do no less in front of the woman whose approval she so desperately needed right now.

"So you wanna talk about what's going on with you and your folks?" Xena asked as she capped the jar.

Gabrielle was startled by the question, coming from the usually taciturn warrior. She was emotionally and physically beaten, and now Xena's gesture of concern overwhelmed her. The tears she had fought for days welled in her eyes, but she blinked them back.

Xena put away the medicine and now just knelt beside Gabrielle, who remained on her stomach. They were silent for several moments, then Xena began very lightly massaging Gabrielle's lower back, careful to avoid the angry red lash marks. Gabrielle relaxed into the contact and began to unburden herself.

"My mother and I,..well, we've never really gotten along. I know that's not uncommon, but it's always felt as if I didn't really belong to her, as if I was adopted and she never really accepted me. I don't know Xena. It's hard to explain."

Xena was working a tight muscle knot just outside Gabrielle's right shoulder blade. "How about your father?"

Gabrielle raised her arm to extend the muscle for Xena. "Oh, we've always gotten along, right up to the day I left home. You know, sometimes I think he's just mad at that I left him to deal with Mom by himself." Xena chuckled, and Gabrielle continued. "She can have a bit of a temper. Daddy and I used to warn each other when it was safe to be in the house. We used to joke about it, even when I was little."

Xena moved on to Gabrielle's upper arms, palming the firm biceps and working her fingers into the triceps. "And then you left home. With me."

"Yeah. Daddy's not too happy with either of us."

"There may be a way to fix that, but somehow I don't think your father is the root of the problem."

Gabrielle was quiet for several minutes. Xena finished her arms, then shifted to knead the muscles in her neck. Gabrielle inhaled deeply, and sighed.

"Xena, I get so angry with her. Before you came along there were times when I just wanted to shout at her, tell her to look at me. And when she didn't I just knew it was my own fault." Xena's fingers were working deeply into the back of Gabrielle's head and neck. "I can have a bit of a temper too, you know." She could feel Xena's laughter through her hands. "But it was never okay to show it, to get mad at anyone else." She paused to absorb the sheer physical pleasure of Xena's caress before continuing. "So I took it out on myself instead."

Xena stopped the massage and turned Gabrielle's head toward her. She bent down to look directly into her friend's eyes. "Gabrielle, don't you ever be angry at yourself because of what someone else thinks or because you think you're not what they want you to be. Ever. You are too good, too selfless to ever deserve that."

Gabrielle gazed back into the piercing blue eyes and gave a short nod. "I understand that when I'm with you. You always see me for who I am. Even in the beginning, when you'd have to yell at me about following orders and stuff, you never made me feel like I was bad, or inadequate. Just someone who needed her behavior corrected. And needed to follow orders better." Xena grinned, and Gabrielle smiled ruefully at the memory of her early training as a warrior's companion.

Xena resumed the massage, working down the sides of Gabrielle's ribcage. After a few moments she spoke again.

"So how do you feel about your mother now?"

Gabrielle snorted. "I feel like a little kid who screws up everything. She can still do that to me. I guess I still want her to approve of who I am."

"So I noticed." Xena was working Gabrielle's left shoulder, gently manipulating the joint, pulling the arm back until she could feel the lats relax. "Can you remember being real little, and when you'd hurt yourself, running to her for comfort? Do you remember how much she loved you then?"

Gabrielle was lost in thought for a moment, and when she spoke, her voice was sad. "No. If I was really hurt or scared I went to Daddy. I never wanted Mom to see me cry. I wanted her to think I could handle anything."

Xena was working the right shoulder. "Well there's a trait you still have."

Both women were silent for a while. Xena moved down to Gabrielle's feet, rolling her thumbs into the soles, then bending the leg and extending the Achilles tendon. Then she moved up the ankles into Gabrielle's muscular calves.

"So you never leaned on her, just needed her?"

"No. Because I never did need anything from her. Except her approval."

"Maybe that's why she doesn't understand you. You never let her mother you."

"Xena, my earliest memory is of Mom taking care of Lilla as a baby. She was just so...wrapped up in her. Lilla was her whole world. She kept telling me I was a big girl and could take care of myself. I thought it was what she wanted, so I did."

Xena moved up Gabrielle's thighs, kneading her hamstrings, quadriceps, then her buttocks, and finally working her lower back again. This time she worked deeper into the muscles, almost to the point of pain, but somehow knowing just when to ease off. Carefully then, she began to work into the areas when the lash had left the red weals. Gabrielle started to protest her discomfort, but again Xena held her gently down. Gabrielle realized she had the jar of numbing ointment and was starting to rub it in. Gabrielle's protest turned to a low moan of pleasure.

"So you've always wanted to show your mother how independent you were, because that's what you thought she wanted you to be. When in truth she wanted you to be a dependent loving child who would be a dutiful mother to her grandchildren."

Xena rubbed Gabrielle's back and shoulders deeply, now that the numbing ointment had taken effect. She pulled and worked each shoulder blade, walking her thumbs down each side of the girl's spine.

"And instead," she continued, "you were a bold intelligent young person whose talents were more than she could comprehend and whose dreams were beyond anything within her understanding."

Xena worked a while longer as Gabrielle pondered the discussion. Gradually Xena eased the strength of her caress until just her fingertips ran over Gabrielle's back. The she stopped and shook her head.

"Silly girl. Of course you frightened her!" She swatted Gabrielle's rump soundly.


"Ow!"

"Come on. Time for bed. My hands are aching and you don't have a single tight muscle left in your whole body."

Gabrielle didn't move for several moments. Xena busied herself stowing and arranging their gear. Finally Gabrielle rolled off the fur to allow Xena to arrange it for sleeping.

"Xena?"

"Hmm?"

"Thanks."

"Hmm."


Xena held Gabrielle close as they waited for sleep. The girl still needed the reassurance of her touch. It had been an emotional week for Gabrielle, starting with Xena's poisoning, then Lilla's kidnapping, four days of captivity by slavers, a terrible beating, and worst of all, a return to a family who treated her like a stranger. She hugged her closer, wishing she could protect her from all the ills of the world.

Xena believed it wouldn't be hard to repair her relationship with Hector. The man wanted what every father wants - to be the most important person in his little girl's life. Little girls grow up and fathers eventually accept that someone else has become their hero. But the daughter will always need her Daddy to be there, to love her. Gabrielle would find a way to tell him that.

Xena's own relationship with Hector was a little more complicated. She would have to earn his respect and trust, and overcome his resentment. Normally she wouldn't give two dinars for someone else's opinion of her, but this was Gabrielle's father and the gulf between them must hurt her terribly. She thought she just might know a way to bridge that gulf.

Bt Xena could only hope that Gabrielle and her mother could reconcile. She wasn't even sure her friend had seen the resolution Xena had led her towards. She needed to find the answer herself. Xena could only start her on the path.

The warrior took a deep breath, and as she exhaled, Gabrielle snuggled against her arm, already asleep. Xena kissed the top of her head and closed her eyes.


Hector was alone in the kitchen the next morning when Gabrielle entered. He waited a moment to see if Xena was following, and then smiled hesitantly at his daughter when he saw she was alone.

"Hi Honey. I owe you an apology. Lilla told me about your back."

Gabrielle returned his smile. "It's okay Daddy. You didn't know. But I'll take a raincheck on the hug. I've been missing that."

Hector straightened and smiled fully now. "You got it Sweetheart. Come, sit, and eat some oatmeal."

It had been almost too easy. The two sat in companionable silence as they ate their breakfast. More than four years had passed since Gabrielle had felt this comfortable with the man she once worshipped.

"Can you stay a while, Gab?"

"A few days at least, Daddy. We need some rest."

Hector's face darkened at Gabrielle's choice of pronouns.

Gabrielle saw his reaction and felt her own defenses slip into place. But instead of retreating, she decided to talk.

"Daddy, I love you, but this is my life."

Hector nodded. There was no anger in his eyes, only sadness. "I know it is, honey. And I know Xena is your family now. And gods know she has done so much for all of us. I can see that now. It's just...I just...I can't get used to the idea of you traipsing all over the world, risking your life, associating with all kinds of rogues. There's so much good in life, right here. Honey, if you stay with her...with Xena...you won't ever have those things. Ever know the joy of raising a family."

"I had a daughter once. You saw how that turned out."

"Sweetheart, that never would have happened if you had been here at home, safe, with me."

Gabrielle shook her head. "I can't argue with you. It is dangerous out there. There are things that have happened to me that I hope you never know about. There have been times..." Her voice caught in her throat. "...There have been times I've cried myself to sleep, wanting nothing more than you to be there, to hug me, and tell me it's okay."

Hector's eyes glistened with tears. He made no move to brush them away.

"But Daddy, I was dying here. I am not the little girl you hoped I'd be."

Hector started shaking his head, and reached across the table to take Gabrielle's hand.

"I will always love you Daddy, and I will always need you. But I have to follow my own destiny."

Hector nodded and squeezed her hand. "I know."

They were silent for several moments before Hector continued.

"I wish I liked Xena better. It would make all this easier. Please don't misunderstand - I accept how important she is to you, and I even respect her abilities. I just don't...like her very much."

Gabrielle gave a lopsided grin. "Xena can be a little overwhelming, can't she?"

Hector snorted with sudden laughter. "Overwhelming? Gods, child, you do have a gift for understatement!"

"She takes a little getting used to," Gabrielle chuckled.

"Gab, she's just so damn competent at everything. How does anyone not feel like an idiot around her?"

"Well Daddy, I'll tell you a secret. She does have a few weak points, but she only lets them be seen by people she trusts completely."

"I guess I won't hold my breath then. Somehow I don't see us becoming great friends, which is okay. If she makes you happy, and you come to visit a bit more often, I can live with that."

"I love you Daddy."

"I love you too, honey."


The path was less rocky, and the branches hung lower than Gabrielle remembered. As she followed the ancient trail she found herself wanting to break into the run she had so often used to follow this same path when she was a child. But the uncertainty she faced at the end of the path slowed her.

When her father had described the spot to which her mother retreated, Gabrielle had stared in disbelief. First it shocked her that her mother would ever need a haven to seclude herself in, and then to realize it was the same glen she herself had hidden in as a child left her shaking her head.

But her father's directions were accurate. He had followed his wife one day and had lived to regret it. So now Gabrielle followed the worn path of her own confused youth, unsure of what she would find, but knowing she needed to face it.

And face it she would. For too long now she had buried her feelings about her parents. The resolution with her father had been a blessed relief to both of them, for they had always known each other well, and loved each other easily.

But Gabrielle knew her mother's heart would not so easily open.

The sun played shadow games on the path before her, teasing her to guess it's next move. An angry squirrel barked at her from a limb overhead, and in the distance she heard a hawk screech. These were things she understood, things she had known like second nature since she could remember. Why, then, was her mother's heart such a mystery?

The woods thinned now, and Gabrielle could see the small pond sparkling past the oak trunks. The glen was just a hundred paces beyond the pond. She slowed, to give herself time to prepare.

I can't let her make me feel useless, she thought. I need to stand up, to assert myself. I have nothing to be ashamed of, much to be proud of. She needs to see that, to see who I am, she thought. A deep breath, stand tall. She looked at the woods around her with a sense of mastery, summoning from the trees a feeling of quiet strength. She was ready.


But she was not ready for the sight of her mother. The older woman sat on a log, idly picking over a basket of berries, casting out insects. There was nothing notably wrong with her outward appearance, but shoulders slumped as if in defeat, and her hands moved with lethargy unfamiliar to Gabrielle. Her mother, who had always been quick, strong, and decisive about her movements, now seemed utterly without direction. She didn't look up as Gabrielle crossed the small clearing to her. The younger woman cleared her throat.

"Hello Mom. Daddy said you'd be here."

"Hello Gabrielle." Hecuba shook the basket.

Gabrielle searched for another opening line. "I thought you and Lilla were going to do wash today?"

"Lilla said she'd take care of it. She knew I wanted some time alone." For the first time, Hecuba looked up.

Gabrielle could hold the gaze only a second or two, then she looked away. "You're lucky to have Lilla. She must be a big help."

"Yes. She is."

A hundred responses flashed through Gabrielle's mind, some angry, most sarcastic, and all certain to aggravate the fragile situation. So instead she began looking for acorns, gathering two handfuls before her searching brought her back to Hecuba's seat.

When she looked down at her mother again, she was startled to find she had set aside the berry basket and was simply watching her daughter. Gabrielle flushed.

"What!? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Hecuba didn't answer right away. Instead she picked up the satchel she carried and started to rummage. After a moment she set it aside.

"I just can't get over how much you've changed Gabrielle."

Suddenly Gabrielle's entire focus was on her mother. She wielded her own gaze like a weapon.

"No Mom, I haven't changed. I just stopped trying to be something I wasn't, something I thought you wanted me to be."

Hecuba maintained eye contact with her daughter. Then she gave a small shake of her head. "Gabrielle, I never wanted you to be anything but yourself. Where I failed was that I could never understand, never reach the person you turned out to be."

"You were so independent, so brave even as a child, so full of imagination. You were everything I ever wanted to be but wasn't." Now Hecuba's voice started to break.

Gabrielle was at a loss, She had played this scene in her mind a dozen times, and had never anticipated that confession. Something Xena had said niggled at her mind, something about a mother's need.

"Gabrielle I love you. I always have. But I just didn't know how to show it in a way you could accept. You...frightened me sometimes. Eventually it was easier to just let you go, to walk separate paths, to stop trying to reach you."

"When, Mom. When did you stop trying to reach me?" Gabrielle's voice was a mixture of anger and confusion.

"I'm not sure. When Lilla was born she was sick most of the time. You took care of yourself and I was so grateful. I didn't have to entertain you, or watch out for you. You were a busy mother's dream. Then later, when I had time again, you were already lost to me, already full of your own dreams. If you hurt yourself and I tried to help, you pushed me away. When your feelings were hurt, you were too proud to let me console you. I got to where I didn't try because it hurt me to be rejected. I was so selfish." Hecuba took a shaking breath. "And I am so sorry Gabrielle."

Gabrielle knew she should embrace her mother, tell her she loved her, tell her it was all right.

But she couldn't make herself take that first step. A lifetime of resistance, of habit, wouldn't let her.

She stood awkwardly, searching for something to divert both of their attentions. Her gaze fell on the satchel her mother had set aside.

"Uhm. What's in the bag Mom?"

Hecuba gave a sad smile. Just some things that remind me of you. Look if you'd like."


Gabrielle hesitantly picked up the bag and opened it. Memories long dormant swarmed to her consciousness.

A ribbon she used to wear in her hair. A child's scarf. A rag doll, it's cloth worn thin from handling and hugging. A necklace of dried flowers she had once given her mother. She could feel a constriction in her chest.

And in the bottom corner, a wooden lamb, made by Senticles.

She realized immediately that this was her own lamb, not the one Xena had given her for Solstice, and she had then given to Hope.

But it was too late. The memory of her own daughter crashed in on her like a flood held back too long by a rickety dam. The child she had born in such pain, had nursed, had loved, had abandoned. The child whose evil nature was so evident, yet so irrelevant to a mother who loved her with all her heart. Gabrielle had loved Hope as only a mother could, without reservation, without qualification, with her whole being.

Just as her own mother loved her.

And she had been forced to kill that child, not once, but three times, the final bloody death occurring not ten feet from where she slept the night before. And each killing had shattered her heart.

Gabrielle didn't remember falling into her mother's arms. She only knew Hecuba held her, rocking her, kissing her as Gabrielle sobbed out the grief she had held for so long.

It was a grief Xena had been unwilling or unable to soothe. But as Hecuba cradled her child, whom she loved without qualification, Gabrielle finally loosed the agony in her heart and let her mother's love wash away the pain.

The sun had passed the zenith by the time Gabrielle's wracking sobs settled into an uneasy pattern of deep and shallow breaths. Gabrielle thought now about her own little lamb, in the satchel, that her parents, as poor as they had been, had bought for her from the master toy maker. She realized finally that she needed neither their approval nor even their understanding. She needed their love and it had always been there.

"I love you Mom."

Hecuba choked on a sob. "Oh Gabrielle. I love you so much."

They sat together for a long time, just holding on.


EPILOGUE

"Oh. No Gabrielle. Not the green stinky stuff."

"Yes, the green stinky stuff. You don't want an ugly scar on the back of your shoulder do you?"

"I don't care about a stupid scar on my shoulder."

"Well I do. Shut up and hold still."

Gabrielle rubbed the ointment into the cut while the warrior muttered something unkind about sailors. Gabrielle just grinned.

"Don't forget your turn is next," Xena growled.

"I know, I know. And if you give me another massage like last night it'll be worth it." Gabrielle capped the jar.

"Maybe you give ME a massage for a change."

"Maybe you explain how you got that cut, and tell me the truth this time, and maybe I will."

"Oh alright."


Lilla was checking the laundry on the line when Gabrielle and Hecuba had emerged from the woods that afternoon, arm in arm.

"Hello!" she called as they drew closer. "Laundry's almost dry, Mom. Looks like you spent your day productively." She smiled broadly at her mother and then Gabrielle.

"Yes," replied Hecuba. "We certainly did."

"Well the sight of you two together is the second most surprising thing I've seen today. And I still don't understand the first one."

It was Gabrielle's turn to be confused. "What are you talking about, Sis?"

"When you go inside, don't be startled by Daddy and his new best buddy. They've been into the ale for at least two hours, and the last time I was in the house they were having a dirty joke contest."

"Daddy? Into the ale?...Who?.."

"Just go look." Lilla shook her head.

The sight that greeted them made Gabrielle wonder if she herself had been into the ale.

Hector and Xena sat side by side at the kitchen table, a jug of ale between them. They were hoisting their mugs in toast.

"And here's to the rest of the Argonauts!" roared Hector.

"Here, here," answered Xena, and they both drained their mugs.

Gabrielle and Hecuba turned to each other in astonishment, then stared at their partners again.

Hector had seen them by now. "Hi hon, hi Gab! We've missed you!"

"We can tell."

"Join us for a mug. Or two."

Gabrielle just shook her head and smiled. "I think you two are doing just fine on your own. We'll go help Lilla."

Just then Xena twisted away to reach for another jug, and Gabrielle saw a bandage wrapped on her shoulder.

"Uh Xena. What happened to your shoulder?" she asked, then thought better of it. "Never mind, I don't think I want to know right now."

"It's jusí a scratch Gabrielle."

"That's right," chimed Hector. "Just a scratch." He emptied the jug into their mugs. "Hey, we haven't toasted Iolus yet!"

"Here, here," intoned Xena, while Hecuba and Gabrielle retreated from the house.


"So out with it, Xena. What happened to your shoulder, and what in Tartarus happened between you and Daddy?" Gabrielle was fulfilling her promise of a massage to Xena.

"First off, lower your voice. I have a headache."

"I wonder why."

"Do you want to hear this or not?"

"Okay, okay. I'll whisper if you want." Gabrielle had moistened her hands with oil and kneaded the warrior's back, feeling each muscle and working the knots out with her strong fingers.

"Remember you told me once that your father always sharpens the tools for everyone in Potidaea?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah. He's always been proud that his tools and knives have the keenest edges in the whole region. He's really good at it. But what's that got to do with you and him?"

"I asked him to sharpen my sword for me."

Gabrielle was stunned. No one touched Xena's sword, not even Gabrielle except in an emergency. She said as much now.

"Yeah, but your Dad has some nice sharpening stones, and my sword was pretty dull."

"Since when? You hone that thing every night!"

"Since I whacked that boulder behind the barn a half dozen times. Really can take the edge off."

"Wait. You deliberately dulled your sword so you could ask Daddy to sharpen it? Xena, what time did you start drinking?"

Xena ignored the question. "He gave me three shades of grief for letting such a fine weapon get into that condition. Really seemed to enjoy the lecture, too."

The vision of her father sternly lecturing a contrite Xena was almost too much for Gabrielle. She forgot the task at hand and rolled back on her heels.

"Hey! You're not finished yet!" complained Xena.

"Oh. Yeah. Right." Gabrielle resumed her work and Xena sighed with pleasure.

"So go on. How did your shoulder get cut?"

"Hm. Well. It's a little embarrassing actually."

The day had seen too many wonders for Gabrielle to let this curiosity slide by. "Hm. Well. You can just tell me anyway, or is it something you can only share with your buddy Hector?" She dug her fingers into Xena's trapezius muscles.

"Ow! Okay!"

Gabrielle relented, and now caressed the muscle instead.

"We were just messing around. You know. Hector had a sword in to sharpen for someone across town, and he was showing me the balance and heft in the blade. I was comparing it to mine, doing some spins and jabs, and then I went to sheath it."

"And?"

"And I forgot I wasn't wearing my scabbard."

"Oh."

"Hector was great. I wasn't going to make anything of it, you know how I am."

"Oohh yeah."

"But he took over and held the bandage 'till it stopped bleeding, then wrapped it. Then insisted we needed to kill the pain."

"You killed it alright."

"You're raising your voice again."

"Sorry."

Her curiosity satisfied, Gabrielle turned her full attention to her task. Neither woman spoke for the next twenty minutes as Gabrielle expertly worked the tension from Xena's entire body. The warrior breathed deeply, contentedly, sighing occasionally when Gabrielle's strong hands worked a particularly sore spot.

"Xena?"

"Hmm?"

"Thanks."

"Hmm."



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