by Eva Allen
DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena and Gabrielle, along with others who have appeared in the TV series XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, are the sole property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Their use in this story does not constitute the author's intent to make a profit or otherwise infringe on the existing copyright. The interpretation of the characters in this story is purely the author's own. Copyright for this fanfiction held by Eva Allen, May 1997.
Constructive criticism and any form of praise are always welcome!
BE ADVISED: While this story contains no actual sex, it nevertheless depicts a loving relationship between two women. If this offends you, please find something else to read!
Gabrielle woke with a start in the night and reached instinctively for her staff. She thought she had heard someone cry out, but now the forest glade was silent. Even Argo, tethered not far away by the creek, made no sound. The moon wasn't up yet, so they couldn't have been asleep more than an hour or two, she estimated. As her eyes searched the darkness, she made out Xena's huddled form nearby. The warrior woman sat on her bedroll, hugging her knees and staring out at the dark trees.
"I'm sorry," Xena said without turning. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Gabrielle let go of her staff and sat up. "Was it another nightmare?"
"Yes. I'll be all right--just go back to sleep."
Gabrielle moved over to sit closer to Xena. "Was it Cirra again?" she asked.
"Tell me about it."
"What's to tell? There was nothing you haven't heard before--the fire, the screams, the smell of burning flesh-- And all the time I'm frantically trying to stop it somehow, but I can't." Xena looked at Gabrielle for a moment, then turned away again. "I guess I'll just have to live with these nightmares the rest of my life. It seems to be part of my penance." With a soft sigh, she let her head rest on her knees.
Gabrielle put her arm around Xena's shoulders. "I wish I knew what to say to you at times like this. You've done so many good things. Surely you won't have to--" She stopped suddenly. "Xena, you feel really hot to me. Are you sick?"
"I don't know. Maybe." Xena's voice sounded flat and listless.
Gabrielle ran her hand across the strong shoulders and back. Xena's nightshirt was soaked with sweat, and through it, Gabrielle could feel the hotness of her body. She slid around to sit in front of the warrior princess.
"Let me see," she said softly. Parting the dark hair, she lifted Xena's face and smoothed back the tendrils that clung damply to it. She laid her hand in turn on Xena's forehead, temples, and cheeks.
"Your hand feels cool," Xena said.
"That's because you seem to be running quite a fever. No wonder you're having nightmares!" Gabrielle frowned and considered for a few moments, then asked, "How's that wound in your thigh?"
"Let me look at it."
Xena straightened out her leg, wincing as she did so. "You won't be able to see anything in the dark," she said.
"I'll get a light. Why don't you lie down again?"
Xena lowered herself back onto the bedroll and closed her eyes. Looking at her, Gabrielle felt a little chill of fear deep in her gut. She thought about the battle, two days earlier, when they had helped defend a village against a raiding warlord. While kicking out at one of the attackers, Xena had been stabbed with a dagger. That hadn't slowed her down, of course. The fight was over and Xena had already tied up the wound with some old bit of cloth she'd found before Gabrielle even knew her friend had been hurt. They had been busy afterwards--first tending the injuries of the villagers, then travelling to this secluded area where they hoped to rest for a couple of days. Xena hadn't mentioned the wound and Gabrielle had assumed it was not serious.
She walked over to the fire circle they had made beside a fallen log. There were only a few embers left within the ring of stones. Feeling along the ground beside the log, she located the small saucer of oil that served as their lamp. Then she found a stick, caught it on fire in the coals, and used it to light the twisted wick. Holding the lamp carefully in one hand, she picked up the waterskin with the other and carried it back to where Xena lay. The warrior princess stirred at Gabrielle's approach and opened her eyes. Gabrielle set the lamp on the ground.
"Do you want some water?" she asked.
Gabrielle lifted Xena's head and steadied the waterskin while she drank from it. Then she knelt beside the wounded leg.
"Okay," she said, trying to force as much cheerfulness as possible into her voice, "let's see how this looks."
She folded back the hem of Xena's nightshirt to reveal her thigh, then picked up the lamp and held it as close to the wound as she dared. What she saw made her suck in a quick breath. In the flickering light, Xena's thigh appeared grotesquely swollen, with ominous red streaks running up the inside of her leg. The skin felt hot and tight to Gabrielle's touch. The wound itself was not large--about the length of her little finger--but the swelling was worst in that area.
"How does it look?" Xena asked in the same curiously flat tone she had used before.
"Not so good. It looks like it hurts a lot." She looked at her friend's face. "Xena, I can't believe you didn't take better care of this wound--it's not like you to be so careless! If you had just told me it was getting infected, we could have done something about it right away, but now--" Gabrielle looked at the wound again. "I suppose it's all my fault because I didn't keep checking up on you!"
"Gabrielle." She felt Xena's hand on her arm and suddenly realized how hysterical she must sound. "Gabrielle, you're right. I should have taken better care of myself, but it won't help to blame me--or yourself--now."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and let it out again. "I'm sorry," she said. "What do we need to do here?"
"You'll have to lance the wound."
"You know, cut it open so it can drain. Use that little knife that's in one of the saddlebags--it's pretty sharp."
"Xena--" Gabrielle swallowed hard. "Xena, you want me to actually cut you? I don't think I can do that!"
"You'll have to, Gabrielle." Her voice sounded tired, weak, distant. "I'd do it myself, but right now my head feels like a roasted egg that's about to explode."
"Okay." Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and blew out her breath. "Okay, I can do it. Just give me a second to get used to the idea."
She got up and went over to the saddlebags. It didn't take long to find the knife, and while she was at it, she pulled out a couple of old pieces of cloth. The moon was coming up, she noted. Soon it would be high enough to shine into their little grove.
Returning to Xena's side, Gabrielle positioned the lamp on the ground close to Xena's leg. She tested the knife blade with her finger. It seemed fairly sharp, but how sharp did a knife need to be for this sort of thing? Tucking back her hair, she bent over the wound, and tried to steady her trembling hands.
"Well, here goes," she said through gritted teeth. She felt Xena tense up as she pressed the knifepoint against the swollen skin near the scab. To her relief, the wound broke open rather easily. There was a sharp intake of breath from Xena, but she made no other sound.
"You are one tough woman," Gabrielle commented as she mopped at the draining wound. "I'm sure I would have screamed my head off!"
She glanced at her warrior friend so see how she had taken this compliment, but Xena lay with her eyes closed and made no response. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. Gabrielle hurried to finish her task, fighting off a wave of queasiness.
"Xena," she asked when she was done, "is there some kind of poultice I could make to put on this leg?"
The warrior princess turned her head restlessly, but gave no answer. Gabrielle laid down the cloth she had been using and took Xena's face between her hands.
"Xena! Can you hear me? Talk to me!"
Xena opened her eyes and slowly focused them on Gabrielle.
"What kind of poultice should I make for your leg? Tell me what herbs to use." She spoke carefully and distinctly, as she would to someone who was just learning the language.
Xena stared at her for a long moment, then spoke slowly, as if the words were hard to find.
"We don't . . . have the right herbs. I used them all up."
"I can go get the herbs if you tell me what to look for."
Xena frowned and then said, "You can't find them."
"You mean because it's too dark?"
"No. It's not . . . the right place. They grow--" Xena stopped speaking, and her eyes began to lose their focus.
"They grow where?" Gabrielle prompted.
"Open country," came the answer finally, with much effort.
Gabrielle sat back. "And here we are in the woods," she said. Xena closed her eyes. After a second, Gabrielle leaned forward again to smooth the damp, black hair away from her friend's face.
"You're slipping away from me," she said softly. Then she bent and kissed Xena's forehead. "Just don't go too far. And don't forget the way back!"
Reaching for the lamp, she blew it out, then jumped up, grabbed the big cooking pot from the fireplace, and carried it to the creek to get cold water. The moon gave enough light now for her to see the way easily. When she got back, she found an agitated Xena plucking at her nightshirt and muttering. She set the water pot down and knelt beside her friend.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"Too hot!" she finally made out. "Get this off!"
"Okay. Sit up and raise your arms." She helped Xena into position, then pulled the shirt off over her head. "Now lie back down again." Xena sank back onto the bed. "You know," Gabrielle mused, "you're really obedient when you're sick. I kind of like that!"
She rolled up the shirt and tossed it into the grass nearby. "I'll wash that out first thing in the morning," she promised.
The nightshirts had been a thank-you gift from a woman whose daughter they had rescued from a slave trader. Simple, shift-like garments, sewn from soft, thick linen, they were especially warm and nice to wear on cool nights spent out in the open. In fact, Xena and Gabrielle agreed that the nightshirts were among the the best gifts they had ever been given.
Now Gabrielle pushed up the sleeves of her own shirt, dipped a cloth into the cold water, and began to sponge off Xena's face with it. Then, with long, gentle strokes, she bathed the warrior woman's neck, breasts, and stomach. The moon cast a pattern of shadows and light across Xena's bare, white skin.
"Your body is so beautiful, Xena," Gabrielle said quietly. "I've always loved it." She dipped the cloth in the water again and wrung it out. "But I probably wouldn't be saying that to you if I thought you were really listening," she added with a little smile. Xena moved restlessly under the cool cloth. "Hey, remember that first time we went swimming together? I was pretty shy about it, but not you! There's no reason to be shy about having a body like yours!"
Gabrielle was silent for a few moments, and her smile faded. "I can't help thinking about the last time I washed you like this," she said. "Except I don't want to think about it because I was doing it then so that we could--" She stopped with a shudder, as tears stung her eyes. "Bury you," she finished in a whisper. She rubbed her sleeve quickly across her eyes. "I really think it would kill me if I ever had to do that again."
An hour crept past. Then another. And maybe another. The moon was sinking into the trees again, and the only thing Gabrielle knew for certain was that she had made four more trips to the creek for cold water and had drained the wound twice. Her hands were cold from being constantly in the water, and she couldn't tell by touch whether there was any change in the fever. Xena's breathing continued to sound ragged; her pulse was fast and weak. She tossed and shifted restlessly, and pulled at the bedding, her hair, or Gabrielle. She talked sometimes, but Gabrielle could understand little of what she said, and when spoken to, she did not respond.
"This fever of yours is really starting to scare me, Xena," Gabrielle said at last. "I don't know if you can hear me or not, but if you can, please help me fight it! I know you're strong enough--you've just got to fight! Think how silly it would look if the great warrior princess died from a simple little dagger wound! Please, Xena! Please fight!" She hid her face in her hands and fought back the tears. She tried not to think about a young girl she had once known in Poteidaia. That girl had fallen ill with a fever and had survived, but afterwards, her mind had never been the same. Xena, the Simpleminded. No, Gabrielle could never let that happen!
She dipped the cloth for what seemed like the millionth time and turned toward Xena just as the warrior princess suddenly sat up. Staring intently into the dark trees, Xena said, in a perfectly clear voice, "Callisto, put that sword away!"
Gabrielle whirled to look in the direction of Xena's gaze, but she saw no one.
"This is not a good time for your tricks," Xena continued in a low voice. "You know I can't fight you right now, so have some compassion, for once!"
Her heart pounding, Gabrielle looked again at the spot where Xena's eyes were focused.
"Xena, I think you're hallucinating," she said. "Callisto's not here." The warrior princess did not respond, but a look of terrible fear came into her face.
"No. Not that!" Xena said. "Kill me instead!"
Gabrielle took ahold of Xena's arm. "Listen to me," she said.
But Xena seemed to hear only the phantom Callisto. Trembling now, she held her arms stiffly at her sides, making no move to defend herself. "No, Callisto!" she began again. "No! I beg you--don't do it!" The fear in Xena's face gave way to sheer terror.
"Xena!" Gabrielle grabbed the warrior by the shoulders and shook her. "Xena, it's me, Gabrielle! Callisto's not here--you're just hallucinating. Callisto won't hurt you. I won't let her! Can you hear me? It's me, Gabrielle!"
She was shouting now, but Xena's terrified gaze never left the dark trees. "No!" she said again. "Please don't. You'll destroy what I love most in the world!"
Gabrielle caught hold of Xena's face and forced her to turn toward her. "Xena, listen to me. It's Gabrielle. I'm going to take care of you. Callisto can't hurt you. You're safe. Please let me take care of you!"
Then, somewhere deep in the blue eyes, Gabrielle saw a dawning of recognition. "Gabrielle?" Xena whispered.
"Yes! It's Gabrielle. I'll take care of you. I love you. You're safe with me."
"I can't save you this time."
"It's okay. I don't need saving. Let me do the saving for a change."
Xena reached out then--slowly, as if she were trying to break free from some spell--and caught hold of Gabrielle's arms.
"Don't leave me!" she said.
"I will never leave you, Xena. I'll always be here for you. Don't you know how much I love you?"
Gently, she pulled Xena toward her, until the dark head lay against her breast. She held the trembling warrior tenderly, stroking her hair as she would a child's. "You'll be all right now," she said. "I'm not going to leave you. You're safe with me."
Slowly, very slowly, she felt Xena begin to relax in her arms. "I love you so much," Gabrielle continued. "I think I've loved you from the first moment I ever saw you. I could never leave you. I want to take care of you the way you've taken care of me so many times."
When Xena's trembling stopped at last, and she sank heavily against her, Gabrielle lowered her friend carefully onto the bed. Xena lay very still, her eyes closed. The breathing was still rapid, but seemed more regular now. Gabrielle touched Xena's face and thought the skin felt cooler than before. Was she just imagining that Xena might be better because she wanted it so much? Some crisis had passed, she was certain, but what would happen now? Did the path lead on to recovery, or did it lead to--
"I can't even say the word," she whispered. Sighing, she dipped the cloth, wrung it out, and began once more to bathe Xena's body with cool water.
The moon had vanished and the night was dark again. It can't be that much longer until dawn, Gabrielle thought. This must be what they mean by the darkest hour. She moved slowly now; she felt incredibly tired. If she could just lie down for a few minutes, she would be all right, she said to herself. If she could just close her eyes for ten minutes . . . that's all she needed, just ten minutes. She set the water pot aside, curled up next to Xena, and closed her eyes.
She awoke suddenly. How long had she been asleep? A few minutes? An hour? Xena was shaking her by the shoulder. "Gabrielle, I'm cold! Where are the covers? Why don't I have any clothes on?"
Gabrielle scrambled into a sitting position and reached out to touch Xena's face and arms. The skin felt damp and cool.
"You're cold?" she asked in amazement.
"Yes! I'm freezing!"
"Xena, that's wonderful!"
"Well, it doesn't feel wonderful. I'm shivering so hard that my teeth are chattering! I need my nightshirt, a blanket, anything!"
Gabrielle snatched up Xena's shirt, felt it, and tossed it aside again. "I can't put this on you--it's too wet. Sit up. You can wear my shirt."
In one swift movement, she pulled the garment off over her head. Then she slipped it on Xena. "It might be a little tight in the shoulders," she said, "but at least it's dry and warm."
"What will you do?" Xena asked.
"Don't worry. I'll be fine. Now lie down on your side--this one, so you won't hurt your leg."
Xena eased herself down and Gabrielle spread a sheepskin over her. Then she slid in under the cover and snuggled up to Xena's back, nestling her face against the strong shoulder. "We'll have you warm in no time," she said as she put her arm around the warrior princess.
By the time Xena had stopped shivering, Gabrielle was fast asleep.
The sun was high when she woke up. She opened her eyes just long enough to note this, then snuggled back down into the sheepskin cover which had been tucked so warmly around her. Gradually, memories of the previous night came to her, along with the realization that, although she had gone to sleep wrapped around Xena, she was alone in bed now.
Raising up slightly, she looked toward the fireplace. Xena, dressed in her leathers and a light cloak, sat on the log, staring into the fire. She held a mug cupped between her hands, and sipped from it occasionally. She seemed to be deep in thought.
Gabrielle sat up, holding the sheepskin around her, and then noticed her nightshirt lying neatly folded nearby. She put it on, walked over to the log, and sat down by Xena. "How do you feel?" she asked.
Xena looked up. "Kind of weak, but definitely better than I did last night. I think if we stay here and rest for a day or two I'll be fine."
"How's the leg?"
Xena set down her mug and held aside the cloak. "I don't know how it compares with last night, but take a look."
Gabrielle squatted down next to Xena and laid a hand gently on the thigh. "Well, it's still swollen, but it seems better than before," she said. "The wound itself is looking pretty good."
"I lanced it again this morning," Xena said. "I seem to remember getting a lecture last night about taking better care of myself," she added with a grin.
"And a well-deserved lecture it was!" said Gabrielle. She smiled as she sat on the log again.
"So you think I'll live to kick another warlord?"
"Yes, I do, but there were a couple of times last night when I wasn't so sure."
"Gabrielle." Xena laid her hand on Gabrielle's arm. "You took good care of me last night, and you probably did a lot more than I'm even aware of."
"You would have done the same for me." Gabrielle gave Xena's hand a little squeeze.
"Yes, of course I would have. But I still want you to know that I appreciate it."
Gabrielle squirmed and looked away. "Any time, no problem. Just don't make it too soon!"
"Do you want some tea?" Xena asked.
"Sure. I can get it."
"No, sit still. I'll get it. I feel the need to demonstrate the results of your good nursing."
Gabrielle smiled and watched Xena get tea leaves out of a small pouch and put some in each of their mugs. Then she got up and stepped to the fire to dip hot water out of the pot. Xena moved stiffly on the injured leg, and Gabrielle suspected that it hurt more than she was willing to admit.
"I need you to tell me some things," Xena said. She handed the steaming mug to Gabrielle, then filled her own and sat down.
"What kinds of things?"
"About last night. I remember some of what happened, but there are a lot of gaps. And I'm not even sure that what I remember really happened."
"You were out of your mind with fever, Xena. I'm surprised you remember anything at all."
"Tell me about it. What did I do? What did I say?"
Gabrielle blew on her tea for a moment to cool it, then took a little sip.
"Well," she said, "you thrashed around a lot, and you said you felt really hot. You wanted to take off your nightshirt, so we did that and then you spent most of the night naked while I kept putting cold water on you to get the fever down."
"Uh-huh. What else?"
"You talked some, but I couldn't understand much of what you said. I think you were already hallucinating then, but it got worse later on." She turned to look at Xena. "Do you remember that you thought Callisto was here?"
"Yes, I remember."
"Then I don't need to tell you that part."
"Yes, you do," said Xena. "I want to hear about it because I don't know how much I remember."
Gabrielle turned her gaze back to the fire and took another sip of tea. "It was weird, really. You just sat up all of a sudden and started talking to someone--to Callisto--except when I looked over where you were looking, I couldn't see anyone there. And you said things like, 'No, don't do it!' And you got really scared. In fact, I've never seen you so frightened." She looked at Xena, and the warrior met her gaze.
"That went way beyond fright, Gabrielle. It was terror, pure and simple. I don't think I've ever felt anything like it--" then she stopped and looked away again. "No, I'm wrong. I do remember one other time when I felt that kind of terror."
"When was that?"
Xena turned back to her. "It was that time when you were hurt and then you stopped breathing and I thought I had lost you."
"Really?" Gabrielle swallowed hard. "You never told me that."
She stared at Xena until the warrior dropped her gaze. "No, I never told you," she admitted. "But I don't think I knew it myself until just now."
Gabrielle looked down into her tea mug. She swirled the liquid, watched the leaves slowly settle, and then took a drink. The two women were silent for several moments, then Gabrielle asked, "So why were you so afraid of Callisto? You've fought her many times before."
"I was afraid because this time I couldn't fight her. I had no weapons; I couldn't even move. It was like I was paralyzed or something. The only thing I could do was plead with her, and you know how much good that does with Callisto."
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena again. "So she was going to kill you and you couldn't defend yourself," she said.
"No, she wasn't going to kill me. Not physically, anyway." Xena paused and looked directly into Gabrielle's eyes. "She was going to kill you."
Gabrielle blinked and shook her head. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Finally she turned away to look at the fire.
"I couldn't save you, I couldn't save myself," said Xena softly. "I was totally helpless, and that's what was so scary." She took a drink of tea. "But I need to know what happened after that," she continued. "When you saw that I was so scared, what did you do? How did you get through to me?"
"I just started yelling at you. And I was shaking you. I kept saying, 'It's me, Gabrielle!' and trying to tell you that Callisto wouldn't hurt you. I said I would take care of you."
"And what did I do?"
"You finally seemed to recognize me, and when you did, you started saying things like 'Don't leave me,' and I said I wouldn't." Gabrielle paused and looked at Xena again. "Why is this so important to you?"
"I'm trying to understand something. Just humor me, okay?"
"Did you say anything else besides that? Just that you would take care of me and you wouldn't leave me?"
"You remember this, don't you?"
"Maybe. But I want to hear it from you. Please, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and slowly let it out again. She didn't look at Xena. "I said I love you. I said I think I've loved you from the start, and that I love you very much." She waited, but there was no response. Looking over, she saw that Xena was staring at the embers, her face impassive. Gabrielle reached down to pick up a stick and poked the fire with it. Then she added a couple of small logs. She drank the last of her tea, dumped out the leaves, and set the mug down. Her hands were trembling, she noticed, and there was a dull ache in her heart.
"Do you want some more tea?" Xena asked.
"No, I guess maybe I should get dressed and think about what we're going to eat today. And I have to wash out your nightshirt." She stood up, but before she could move away, Xena took hold of her hand.
"Please don't go, Gabrielle," she said, looking up. "There are some things I need to say to you, if you'll listen. I'm just sitting here like a coward, trying to figure out how to get started."
Gabrielle sat down. Her insides suddenly seemed to be trembling just like her hands were.
"Now would you like more tea?" Xena asked.
"Yes, I guess so." She handed over her mug.
Xena got up to refill it and said, "Sometimes I still wonder why you stay with me, Gabrielle. I'm not an easy woman to live with. I'm always leading you into danger--not to mention being haunted by all these nightmares and demons from my past." She brought the tea to Gabrielle.
"Xena, you know why I stay with you. I've told you before--"
The warrior put her fingers on Gabrielle's lips. "Your job right now," she said with a smile, "is simply to listen and not talk, no matter how long it takes me to say this. Do you think you can do that?"
Gabrielle grinned as Xena removed her hand. "I'll certainly try," she said, "but you know how I am!"
"Yes, I know," Xena said with a wink. She dipped water into her own mug, then sat down and stared at the fire again.
"Gabrielle," she said, after a moment's pause, "you always seem to know how you feel about things, and you're so good at expressing your feelings. You say things that make people feel good, that inspire them. Sometimes I wish I could be more like that, but obviously, I never will be."
Xena blew into her tea mug, and Gabrielle watched the wisps of steam rise past her face. Xena had never talked to her quite like this before, and it made her feel oddly nervous.
"I guess a lot of the time I don't even know what my feelings are," Xena continued. "At least, I don't stop to think about them--I just act on them. That's why it was so scary for me last night in that dream, or whatever you want to call it. I couldn't act at all. I could only feel my terror, and I thought it would consume me. Maybe you could have talked your way out of the situation, but not me." She took a sip of tea, then looked at Gabrielle. "Is this making any kind of sense?"
Gabrielle nodded and smiled brightly. Then she placed her fingers on her lips, just as Xena had done earlier. Xena stared at her for a second and then laughed. Reaching over, she rumpled Gabrielle's hair.
"You silly thing!" she said. "I'm really glad you keep sticking around--even though, like I said, I'm not sure why you do. It must be really frustrating for you to be with someone who has so much trouble just talking about how she feels."
Gabrielle bit her lip hard. Not only did she desperately want to talk; she wanted to give Xena a hug. But fear of rejection stopped her.
After a moment, Xena began speaking again. "Last night when I was so scared and was feeling so totally helpless, something really amazing happened, and that's what I've been sitting here trying to understand. Right in the midst of all that terror, I started hearing a voice--your voice, Gabrielle--and it was saying things like, 'I'll take care of you,' 'you're safe with me,' and . . . 'I love you.'"
Xena turned toward her, and the intensity in the blue eyes was almost more than she could bear.
"Gabrielle," Xena said, "I'm the one who always does the taking care of people. I help people, I heal people, I rescue people. I'm used to doing it all, without asking for help from anyone. I guess it's just hard for me to believe that anyone would--or could--want to help me. I can't seem to trust people--though I'm not sure why."
"Xena, why wouldn't you have trouble trusting people?" Gabrielle broke in. "Look at all the times you've been betrayed! Your father abandoned you, Ares has tricked you more than once, Julius Caesar crucified you--" She stopped abruptly when she saw the warrior looking at her with one eyebrow raised.
"Oh my gosh! I'm sorry!" she exclaimed. "I forgot I wasn't supposed to talk."
Xena grinned. "It's okay. I knew you wouldn't last too long, but at least it gave me a chance to get started. And what you just said made a lot of sense." She gave Gabrielle a quick hug. "But I'm not quite done yet, so you'll have to be patient."
"Okay. I will be."
"The thing is," Xena said, gulping the last of her tea and setting the mug down, "last night when I knew how helpless I was, I realized I would have to try trusting someone else for a change--that I had to trust you to save me." She looked at Gabrielle. "I can't tell you how hard it was. It felt like I was throwing myself off a cliff without a rope--with only your arms to catch me somewhere, far below. I know it's the kind of thing I've asked you to do more than once . . . and now I appreciate how much courage it took to do it."
Xena reached out for Gabrielle's hand and cradled it between her own. Gabrielle felt her heart pounding. She couldn't speak; her eyes never left Xena's face.
"The amazing part about it," Xena continued, "is that when I finally did it--when I trusted you to save me--I suddenly felt so free. All the terror vanished. I could move again. It was beautiful." She lifted Gabrielle's hand and kissed it. "You're beautiful."
"Xena--" Gabrielle whispered. But no other words would come.
"It's taken me all this time to see it," Xena said softly. "Your love is my salvation. I've been trying so hard to save me from myself, but I can't do it. Only you can do it. I just have to let you."
Then she put her arms around Gabrielle and pulled her close. Gabrielle hid her face against Xena's chest and let the tears stream down her cheeks. "I haven't done anything to deserve so great a gift," Xena said, "but thank you. I love you with all my heart, more than life, more than anything in the world."
Gabrielle felt Xena kiss her on the top of her head. "Hey," said the warrior princess, "have I finally caught my gabby Gabrielle without anything to say?" Gabrielle nodded and looked up into the blue eyes.
"What are the tears for?" Xena asked.
"Because what you said was so incredibly . . . beautiful."
"My incurable little romantic," said Xena with a smile. Then she began to kiss Gabrielle's tears away.
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