In the Interim
June 13, 1998
Disclaimers: I'm shameless, and that's all I can claim to be entirely mine own. I snagged Universal's characters once more just because I wanted to. <BG>
Author's Note: Blame this story on misfit, she's the one that triggered this story by asking the question "How are Xena's hands?" after finishing In the Darkness. This story is basically to fill in the blanks about what happened after Xena lost all sensation in her hands due to torture.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and pointed behind her with her chin. Fallia had lagged behind again. They waited until the woman caught up at her own pace, knowing she was exhausted after having trailed behind them for half the morning. The woman hadn't complained though. She was just too happy about being free to care about pushing beyond her meager strength.
Fallia realized that she had gotten woefully out of shape during her sedate prison stay. The lithe woman tucked her now silver-peppered dark hair out of her eyes and took a cleansing breath. She didn't want to slow down her newfound friends any longer than necessary. She caught up to the waiting pair with an apologetic smile, about to utter yet another 'I'm sorry', but was stopped by the younger woman. Gabrielle placed an arm around her shoulder and squeezed gently.
"Don't worry about slowing us down. We're not in any hurry at this point. Besides, both of you look ready to drop and we still have a little ways to go yet," the bard warned.
Gabrielle glanced at her tall friend, whose normally tanned face was pale and gaunt from what? Fear? Pain? Gabrielle didn't know for sure. All she knew was that Xena hadn't said a handful of words since they had left the village. The bard wished now that she had ridden Argo into the village this morning instead of riding behind Dantese on his wagon. Neither of the women looked strong enough to make it. The younger woman sighed and suggested a short rest before continuing. No one argued, so she pointed to a shady spot just off the path.
Xena sat at the base of a tree, leaning back on the large oak, closing her blue eyes. Fallia sat on a grassy patch, sighing softly with relief.
Gabrielle sat down next to her friend and peered intently at her face, trying to determine what was wrong. Xena rarely napped during the day, so closing her eyes must have been her way of avoiding any conversation.
*That's what you think Warrior Princess!* Gabrielle refused to let her friend fall back into one of her silent wells. The Amazon put her weight on one hand and shifted so she could touch Xena freely with the other. She placed her palm on the older woman's stomach, feeling the muscles clench slightly. The bard smiled. From riding behind Xena for the last few years, she had learned a lot about how Xena felt by the play of those muscles. What they told her now was that Xena was upset.
"Xena," she whispered, "what's wrong?" Xena clenched her jaw and pursed her lips, refusing to talk. The expression on her face would have sent most people running in fear.
"That won't work anymore, my friend. You can't intimidate me into leaving you alone anymore. Talk to me."
"Just leave me alone Gabrielle, that's all I ask," the warrior said stiffly.
"If I did that, I'd be a poor friend. Has the feeling come back to your hands yet?" Gabrielle watched Xena's face carefully, noticing the tightening of the warrior's jaw muscles. The bard knew the answer before her friend even spoke.
"No, I can't feel a thing."
Gabrielle wasn't sure what to say. The fact that her best friend seemed distant was enough to frighten her to the core. Without her hands, Xena couldn't wield a sword, throw her chakram, or even hold the reins to her horse.
Gabrielle sighed gently, placing her cheek against Xena's shoulder. The rough material of the peasant dress scratched her skin and the bard noticed her friend was overdue for a bath. She wrinkled her nose, ignoring the smell, and did her best to reassure the older woman silently.
Xena glanced self-consciously at Fallia when the affectionate bard snuggled into her shoulder. The warrior had gotten used to the displays from her younger companion, but wasn't comfortable when she did this in front of others. The warrior saw a grin being unsuccessfully hidden by the other former prisoner. Xena felt a bit of a flush color her cheeks.
*Oh well, another tough reputation shot to Hades, * she announced to herself. *If Gabrielle keeps this up, I won't be able to frighten a sickly squirrel.*
· * * * * *
Gabrielle opened the door to the small cottage. One of Kant's men had loaned it to them in gratitude for their help. The air was noticeably cooler inside and she took in a deep breath enjoying the sensation. She noted that their belongings sat on the small pallet in the corner.
The bard moved aside as the other two women entered the tiny lodgings and leaned her staff against the wall. She put Xena's weapons on the small pegs by the door. She shifted her shoulders; glad that the heavy weight was gone, wondering how her friend tolerated the burden all the time. The small storyteller turned to the others.
"Would you like something to eat? I know I'm starving."
"I would love something! But please, no gruel! I will never touch another bowl of that foul stuff again in my life," the woman said with disgust.
Xena remained silent. Gabrielle didn't take it to heart. She opened the sideboard and pulled out a wedge of cheese and leftover hunk of smoked ham. The bard found a bone knife, placing it with the food on the rickety table. Looking around, she spotted a few crocks on the floor. She lifted the lids and found pickled olives, dates, and summer-dried apples. Gabrielle removed some from each clay pot and placed them in a wooden bowl before putting them on the table as well. All she lacked was something to drink, so she retrieved the small skin of wine from Xena's saddlebags. She couldn't find any cups, so they'd have to pass it around.
Looking up, she noticed her friend hadn't joined Fallia at the table. She stood next to the window, peering out. The bard was about to fuss when she realized that Xena wouldn't be able to feed herself in her condition. She whispered into Fallia's ear that Xena needed some privacy and filled a platter with an assortment of food. She walked over to her friend and touched her elbow.
"Care to join me outside? We can have sort of a picnic," she asked gently. She watched as Xena's face expressed a gamut of emotions; embarrassment, gratitude, panic, and finally defeat. The warrior nodded ever so slightly and walked through the open door.
A large tree with overhanging limbs formed a shady area against a wall. Gabrielle thought it was a nice spot and settled down, using the wall as a backrest. Xena joined her, doing a funny little twist in order to sit. The warrior placed one foot behind and across the other while facing the wall then twisted and sat at the same time, leaving her facing the opposite direction, sitting crossed-legged.
"Show off," the younger woman teased. She almost got a smile from her companion. The bard decided that teasing her out of her worries might work. If not, then she'd fuss and give Xena one of her sensitive chats. If that failed, she'd take her friend out behind a barn somewhere and beat some sense into her.
Gabrielle took an olive and held it up, waiting for Xena to open her mouth. She didn't. Xena glanced at the offered morsel and couldn't do it. She felt like a baby bird, peeping for its mother to feed it. Unfortunately, the bard used a similar comparison in order to prompt her to open.
"Xena, I refuse to make childish baby noises to encourage you to eat. Open up," she commanded.
The warrior growled and rushed to her feet, only to be grabbed and held in Gabrielle's firm grip.
"Don't even think it," Gabrielle hissed, "Sit down and eat. You are NOT going to starve to death because of pride." Green eyes bore into blue, determined to win this war. Finally, blue eyes lowered in defeat, brimmed with tears.
"I hate this Gabrielle. I'm reduced to an invalid, just by losing my hands. I can't do anything by myself." Xena felt the tears of self-pity trail down her cheeks. She rubbed her wet cheeks against her shoulders of her dress angrily.
"I hate this, and you're going to come to hate me too. You should just leave Gabrielle. Let me end it before-" The warrior felt herself being yanked, turned to face a furious bard.
"NO! Xena, don't even go there. I won't let you give up. I WON'T!" Gabrielle's tone softened. "We'll make it through this somehow. I promise."
Xena broke into a sob and leaned forward, burying her face into her friend's shoulder. Warm hands soothed her back and quiet words murmured encouragement. Finally, the tears ended and Xena whispered wryly into red-blond hair.
"Gabrielle, I need to go to the bushes."
"You, uh gotta go to the bushes. Okay, we can deal with this. Yeah, right." Gabrielle patted Xena's back and indicated to the taller woman to stand up. She took a quick peek at her friend's face, noting a blush that probably mirrored her own. This was embarrassing and she couldn't look Xena in the eyes.
They found a good spot and stood around for a moment, both uncomfortable. Finally, Xena lifted her arms from her sides to give Gabrielle easier access.
"Let's get this over with."
Gabrielle took hold of the peasant dress to bring the hem up to her friend's hips. She felt awkward and uneasy. Sure, they've seen each other nude and even washed each other's backs, but this seemed like an invasion of privacy.
The bard glanced down momentarily then her embarrassment turned to anger. Bruises covered almost every inch of the warrior's body. The marks were a dark, swollen purple. Not simple abrasions, but deep wounds that needed to be treated.
"Xena! You told me they only punched your face a couple of times. Look at you! Why didn't you tell me about this?" the bard fretted, indicating to the bruises that were visible.
Her tall friend shrugged listlessly. It wasn't something that was important enough to allow the delay of getting out of the battle zone. The bruises were already healing, so her friend didn't need to worry about them. No sooner did that thought passed through her mind, that the smaller woman began unlacing her clothing, searching for further injury.
"Cut that out! Gabrielle, do you mind? I DO have other business to attend to at the moment," she growled.
"Oh, yeah, sorry. Hurry it up so I can see what else you've kept from me. I'm not letting you shrug this one off. Knowing you and the brutes we come across, you probably have cracked ribs as well." The bard knew she hit the mark when she saw guilt flash across Xena's face. The small Amazon sighed wearily. Some things never changed.
· * * * *
"Ouch! Damn it Gabrielle! What are you trying to do? Punish me? I'm sorry, okay? I promise never to..<wince>..never <hiss>..keep anything from <grimace>..you again!"
The bard finished tying the bindings around her friend's ribs. She straightened up and wearily pushed the damp hair from her eyes. Even without her hands, Xena had the ability to be as slippery as an eel when it came to being treated for her wounds. The older woman had dismissed her injuries like last week's bread and had done her best to get Gabrielle to let them be.
Only pure stubbornness on the bard's part had allowed her to inspect the bruises and to apply cold poultices to them. Xena had sulked like a grumpy child, leaving her smaller friend near the end of her patience. To Gabrielle, beating the warrior behind the barn was sounding better and better.
"Now, I think it's time you ate something," the bard said, her tone accepting no mutiny. Gabrielle fetched the platter and picked up a piece of meat, waiting for Xena to open her mouth. Once again, the dark-haired woman looked stubborn.
"Xeeennna!" Gabrielle grabbed a fistful of cloth and glared at her friend. Xena immediately looked contrite.
"Peep peep," she said meekly in a small voice. She opened her mouth and allowed the Amazon to feed her.
· * * * * *
Fallia returned from her short walk, grateful the noise from inside had lessened. After living inside virtually silent walls for several years, the chaos surrounding those two had been nerve-wracking. The former prisoner had sought the relative quiet of the nearby woods. She opened the door and paused, entranced with the sight before her.
The small redhead was playfully keeping a slice of apple just out of reach of Xena's teeth. Both women had huge smiles on their faces as they humorously continued the game. Xena clicked her teeth together with each miss, then chuckled deeply, saying she'll get it on the next try. Gabrielle giggled, enjoying the mischievous challenge of seeing how close she could dangle the morsel without letting her friend actually get a bite in. She had miscalculated earlier and gotten a painful nip for her carelessness.
Fallia covered her mouth with her hand, stifling the laugh that threatened to burst out. The older woman watched their actions, enthralled with the scene. The two friends seemed so at ease with each other, even involved in a competition. Gabrielle had one hand dangling over Xena's broad shoulders while she leaned softly into the warrior's side.
The bard gave a girlish yelp as strong teeth finally got hold of the fruit. She chuckled softly then complained good-naturedly that her companion had cheated. Gabrielle gave her friend a gentle squeeze and leaned forward, giving the ebony hair a quick peck. Xena chewed contentedly and let herself be pulled into a light hug, her eyes drifting shut.
"Sleepy?" Gabrielle whispered. A lazy 'hmm' was the reply. "Why don't you get some rest? I'll wake you up at dinner time," she suggested. She urged the warrior to her feet and led her to the pallet. The Amazon placed a wool blanket over her friend with a wish for pleasant dreams. Xena was asleep before her friend even finished tucking her in.
Fallia smiled ruefully, remembering how much she had despised the former warlord just a few days earlier. Funny, how seeing someone with their defenses down could take away the blinders of hate. She watched the tender scene, remembering her best girlhood friend.
She and Llana had been just as close until she had married and moved to another village. Now, seeing these two women with each other brought back those memories. Her girlhood friend probably thought the worst when she had stopped writing four years ago. Fallia vowed to write her as soon as she could.
Gabrielle turned around and spotted the older woman, seeing the glimmer of unshed tears in her eyes.
"Is something wrong?" she asked kindly.
"No dear. I'm fine. Just seeing you and Xena together brought back old memories. Good ones," she clarified.
"Maybe you could tell me about them," the bard suggested.
Fallia looked into the gentle moss-green eyes of the younger woman and smiled.
"I would love to."
· * * * * *
Kant knocked on the cottage door. He was dirty, sweaty, bloody, and exhausted, but he felt like he was on top of Mount Olympus. He and his friends had successfully defeated Gardan's mercenaries. Once the fighting had begun, many of the soldiers had turned against their former leaders, joining the revolting villagers. Many had been too afraid to fight back when the changes had begun and were galvanized to help overthrow those who had taken over.
The actual battle had only lasted about half of a candlemark, but the rounding up of those who had fled had taken most of the day. The only thing that had not gone according to plan was Gardan's death.
One of the men had spotted the Magistrate as he tried to escape and took it upon his self to be the hands of Justice. Gardan's death had been a messy one. The villager had hacked him to death with an ax. One of his men had come across the scene and promptly gotten sick. He then immediately reported to Kant what had happened.
The rebel leader then informed his men that Lathon would be captured alive if possible-or else. Someone was going to stand a fair trial in all of this. Other men who were in positions of power had to witness what would happen when power was abused.
Gabrielle opened the door and smiled, inviting him inside. He returned the smile and nodded politely at Fallia. Xena, he noted, was fast asleep. Kant saw her swollen face and winced, feeling guilty for asking for her help.
"What happened to your friend?" Kant asked, pointing at the bruises.
"Gandar's guards beat her before tossing her in her cell. She has a few cracked ribs as well. All in a day's work for Xena," the bard said with forced glibness.
"I'm sorry. If I had known-"
"You would have still asked, and she would have still accepted. Kant, she thinks a few bruises and a black eye are well worth the price of your freedom. Even if she thought she would have died, she would have still agreed, so don't punish yourself for doing what you thought was best for your people. Xena taught me all about the concept of the greater good."
Kant nodded, impressed by the bravery of both of the young women. He had heard from one of his men that Gabrielle had not only brought out her friend, but another prisoner as well. He found out Fallia's name and sent word to her family that she was safe. His messenger came back with a folded parchment.
"This is for you," he told the older woman, handing the letter to her.
Fallia opened it, her heart pounding as she recognized her brother's sloppy handwriting. She quickly read the letter, tears brimming in her eyes. She looked up and thanked Kant, telling them her brother was on his way. He would probably arrive tomorrow at mid-morning.
"That's wonderful!" the bard said, giving the slim woman a hug.
After a few minutes of polite conversation, the rebel leader left, needing to finish his duties. Gabrielle and Fallia sat down, continuing their earlier conversation.
· * * * *
Xena woke suddenly, as she became aware of an unpleasant sensation in her hands. She sat up and stared at them. She concentrated on moving them, but nothing happened, although the sensation continued.
"Xena, what's wrong?" her friend asked as she sat down next to her.
"My hands itch! They feel like a million fire ants are crawling all over them."
"Xena, does that mean they're healing?" she asked hopefully.
"I don't know Gabrielle. I still can't move them. Damn! Gabrielle, scratch them for me, will you?" the warrior hissed miserably.
The younger woman ran her short nails along the skin and long fingers of the warrior.
"Can you feel that?" Gabrielle asked.
"No, but the itching is getting better. Thanks."
The bard held onto one of Xena's hands and began giving it a gentle massage. She ran her thumb over the callused palm and softly rubbed each digit, hoping it would help. When she finished with that hand, she took the other and repeated the process.
Xena permitted it, knowing her friend needed both the contact and to feel she was helping in some way. The warrior sat there until she felt another itch along her back. She squirmed uncomfortably.
"I think you need a bath Xena," the bard commented.
"I know, but " her eyes glanced over at Fallia. Gabrielle understood. Xena didn't want another to see her being bathed like a child. Her pride had taken too many beatings already today.
"Perhaps tomorrow, after Fallia's brother arrives," she suggested thoughtfully.
"When did this happen?" Xena had her friend catch her up on all the news.
" that's it. Now, are you ready for dinner? I know I'm famished--and exhausted. I plan on sleeping late tomorrow, so don't you even consider waking me early," she warned her tall friend.
"Wouldn't think of it," Xena said with an indulgent smile.
· * * * *
Gabrielle poured another bucket of clean water over her friend. She had scrubbed Xena until she was pink, trying to remove the stench of the prison cell from her.
"Do I have any skin left?" the warrior joked.
"Yeah, though now it's just about every shade of the rainbow. Black, blue, red, and yellow. The only color not there is green. I know! I could tell you a gruesome tale that would sicken your stomach!" she teased.
Xena smiled, but knew her gentle companion couldn't tell her anything that could sicken her-not after her old life style. The older woman grunted then placed a forearm on the edge of the tub, attempting to rise. Gabrielle helped her stand and waited patiently as she stepped out.
The warrior suffered through a quick toweling and bent over to allow the smaller woman to put a clean shift over her head and arms.
"There! Now you smell a lot better," the bard commented.
"Hmph. Is that why you slept on the floor?" she said with a lopsided grin.
"Yes, though I didn't want to hurt your feelings and tell you that you reeked," she confessed.
"I already knew that! I was just too tired to care. At least now I feel a lot better too. I think I had a few stowaways aboard as well."
"That reminds me-I had better wash the bedding too," the bard mumbled to herself as she walked away.
"Ha_ha," the warrior said quietly, a sad smile on her face.
· * * * * *
For Gabrielle, The rest of the day consisted of doing small chores to fill her hours. She and Xena spoke little. There really wasn't anything they could talk about yet-at least until they knew for sure the warrior would recover the use of her hands or not.
The bard worried constantly. She knew the workings of her friend's mind and feared the possibility even more than the warrior did. Gabrielle had lost Xena to Death twice already, and didn't know if she could face losing her again. Not this way. She knew deep in her heart that if Xena never got the feelings back in her hands, she'd find a way to die. Xena would never be able to face life with any kind of handicap. Nothing the bard could do would be able to change the warrior's mind, and she knew it. So she fretted in silence, praying to the gods for help.
Gabrielle went about her chores and kept an eye on her friend. She quietly helped her friend when she needed it, doing her best to keep the embarrassment to a minimum. When she could, the small redhead had her friend help with chores. Such as holding the wicker basket in her arms while she hung the laundry on the strung rope outside. Gabrielle also had Xena follow her into the woods in order to help identify medicinal plants. They always needed them in their travels.
And when her friend seemed especially sad, Gabrielle would take her in her arms and hug her tightly. She didn't want Xena to ever forget she was loved.
· * * * * *
Gabrielle's eyes popped open in the middle of the night. Something had woken her but she didn't know what it was. The bard glanced at her friend who was plastered to her side for warmth, an arm and leg thrown over the smaller woman. Xena had been cold ever since her stay in the jail cell and couldn't seem to ever feel warm.
The warrior's eyes were closed, her face relaxed. Gabrielle wondered what had woken her. She strained her ears, but no unusual sounds could be heard. She relaxed and closed her eyes again, thinking it had just been one of those things.
The bard drifted back towards sleep. Then it happened. A small movement at her waist so slight that she almost didn't perceive it. Gabrielle concentrated on the sensation. Xena's hand was dangling there in her sleep; fingers slightly curved inward against her lower ribs. The movement came again.
Raising her head as best she could, Gabrielle watched the large hand resting against her side. There! A twitch from Xena's thumb grazed her side ever so slightly. The younger woman held her breath, waiting for another movement. It happened again and Gabrielle felt a bubble of happiness exploding from her.
With a happy whoop, she flipped to her side, pushing a surprised warrior onto her back. Xena woke and found herself with her arms full of delighted and celebrating woman who was placing several kisses on her cheek.
"Xena! Xena! Gods!..." she sputtered, unable to talk.
"What is going on? Gabrielle ?" Xena couldn't finish because she suddenly had a weeping woman on her hands. The warrior didn't realize they were tears of joy since she was still at a loss. She raised her arms and held Gabrielle close, stroking her hair. It was several seconds before the warrior caught on.
Her hand stilled in the soft hair. She could feel the texture of the reddish-gold hair under her fingers. Holding her breath, unsure if it was all a dream, she brought the other hand from around her friend and cupped her wet cheek. Hot tears greeted her long fingers. Xena raised the hand in front of her own face, watching it as she rubbed her fingers together, feeling the wetness upon them.
It sunk in. She returned the arm around her companion and joined her in joyful tears.
· The End
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