A Match Made in Heaven
by Nancy M
The characters in this story are the property of MCA/Universal Pictures and are used without their permission but with gratitude. No copyright infringement is intended.
There is no violence, however there is gratuitous disemboweling and butchering. If you are a member of PETA you might want to skip over Xenaís hunt scene. This story contains the seeds of a developing adult relationship, however there is no explicit material.
This story takes place in Season 2 after the events depicted in Return of Callisto, but before Destiny. For the sake of simplicity I have combined the locations of Olympia and Mount Olympus. It is the Xenaverse, afterall.
It was one of those days.
Gabrielle had awakened feeling bloated, aggressive, and snarly. Xena was already awake, looking dark and surly. They had been together long enough to recognize the signs, and they both knew they would both be better off anywhere but in each other's company. Wordlessly Xena picked up her bow, quiver, and hunting knife and slipped into the woods. She would find her relief in the discipline of the hunt and the primal satisfaction of the kill.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, lingered in the bedroll, watching two squirrels chasing through the treetops. She hated these days, when the chemistry of her body betrayed the logic of her mind. But there was nothing for it but to muddle through and try not to say or do anything that an apology later wouldn't fix. Xena always withdrew into herself at this time, banking the fires of her emotions to smolder in her heart. Gabrielle turned outward, flaming anything that crossed her. Which was usually Xena. Like most women who lived together, their cycles were synchronized, and their days of rage coincided.
Finally she rolled out, shook out the blanket and draped it over a branch to air. Several nocturnal insects fluttered out, confused by the light and the violent disturbance of their hiding place. Gabrielle swatted at them, taking some uncharacteristic satisfaction when she knocked one to the ground. Then she began her morning routine.
Soon she had a small fire burning on the embers of last night's blaze. She braced a pot of water on the fire rocks and sorted through the travel bags until she found the packet of herbal tea that would ease her taut emotions. She didn't hear the steps behind her.
Gabrielle whirled around to face the intruder, her hand already reaching for her staff.
"Whoa Gab! It's only me!"
"Perthidius?" She dropped the staff and stared. "Is that really you?"
"In the flesh," he laughed and opened his arms to embrace her.
"Gods, I can't believe it! I haven't seen you in years!" She buried her head in his shoulder and wrapped her arms fully around him, returning his embrace.
The hug lasted a moment, then Gabrielle pulled away to take a good look at her childhood friend and brother-in-law. "You've grown, Perth. You hardly had a beard when I left Potidaea."
"And you were just a girl with a head full of stories. Now you're a warrior in your own right. Oh Gab, it's so good to see you." He hugged her briefly again. "I haven't seen you since, well, since before, you know."
"I know, Perth. Since before Perdicas died. I hated that you were away for all of that."
"Me too. Gab, he was only home from war for a day and she killed him."
Gabrielle looked at him, sorrow in her eyes. "You never got to see your big brother one last time. I wish... I wish, I dunno, I guess I just wish we could have been a family for just a little while at least." Her voice was rough.
Perthidius returned her gaze, and a small smile twitched at his lips. "We're still family, you and I."
"I guess we are," Gabrielle nodded. "Come on. Sit with me for a while. I'm having some tea and biscuits. I can make you some too. Well, maybe a different kind of tea," she added hastily.
"No thanks. I just ate. But I'll sit with you for a while."
They reminisced about their childhood together, wistfully, as people do who regret its loss. Gabrielle drank her tea and felt her hormone-induced tension ease. After a time they were joking and laughing like the old friends they were, as if no time or pain had passed. Gabrielle felt at peace, comfortable with the man who looked so much like her husband and whom had been her best buddy growing up.
But the longer they talked the more she sensed something unspoken. After several oblique attempts to draw him out she tried a more direct approach.
"Perth, there's something you're not saying. I get the feeling you stumbling in here was no accident."
Perthidius took a moment before answering. "You're right Gab. I've been looking for you, or rather waiting for you here near Mount Olympus."
"We're on our way to the Olympiad celebration Perth. So are several hundred other tourists. Should be quite a show, this being the hundredth Olympiad and all that. That still doesn't answer my question."
"Why don't we take a walk," he replied. "We always talked best when we were in the woods, playing Greeks and Trojans, or whatever it was the three of us used to do." He smiled.
Gabrielle smiled too. "Okay. Let me douse the fire and rinse the kettle. Xena likes things secure."
"Xena. You're still with her? Never mind, I know you are." Perthidius kicked dirt onto the dying embers. "Do you really like traveling with her? Living that kind of life?"
"Honest answer? There are times I could kill her, but yes, I'm happy. Somehow we belong together. We fit. When I'm with her I know it's where I'm meant to be." She looked up at him as she swished water in the kettle. "Haven't you ever felt that way?"
Perthidius tapped the last of the coals into the dirt. "I belonged with Perdicas, Gab. You remember how we were as kids."
Gabrielle nodded. The two brothers had been inseparable. Whenever she had gone with one of them, the other found an excuse to follow. But more often it was the two brothers who ran breathless through the woods, chasing deer, making mock war on the tall oaks with their wooden swords. They had been two sides of the same coin, different but bonded as one.
Perthidius watched her as she remembered. The reminiscence brought a tug of grief at her heart. He gave her arm a squeeze. "Come on. Let's walk."
She took a quick look around. The camp was tidy. Xena would find no fault when she returned. They started uphill, away from the icy steam of snow melt that ran down from the mountain peak.
"Perth, you must have felt lost when Perdicas went off to war."
Perthidius was in the lead. They had unconsciously fallen into the pattern of their childhood explorations. "Gab, I was lost. First you left, then Perdicas. He never really said why, but I got the feeling that when you left, a part of his heart left too. It was only a matter of time before he followed it." The sun had risen higher behind them, and Gabrielle watched the dappled shadow patterns move on his strong back. It was a nice view. "But I never belonged to anything or anyone since then."
Gabrielle could still sense an unspoken issue. "Perth, youíre still my friend. Still my brother-in-law. As far as Iím concerned, you are part of my family."
Perthidius paused to hold a branch for her. She took it from him and passed it behind her, and they continued on for a ways in silence.
When he spoke again, Perthidius had a tone of resolution in his voice. "I belong to something now Gab. Something bigger, more important that anything we ever dreamt of as children."
Gabrielle rather liked the sound of his voice, the firmness, the rich baritone it had settled into. "Go on," she encouraged.
"Gabrielle, have you ever thought about this Olympiad? What it means?"
She shrugged. "Itís the hundredth, so I guess that makes it special to those who keep track. But itís a four-year, just like any other. Xena and I just like a good party."
They had reached a small clearing and Perthidius turned to face her. "Itís not like any other Gab. This is when the gods will judge man." Gabrielle raised her eyes skeptically. "Theyíre going to judge us Ė call us on all the stuff weíve done thatís not the way they wanted."
Gabrielle decided to play along. "And those things would be?"
"Gab, look at the way we used to be, back when Zeus first created us. Men farmed, kept to their villages. If we couldnít raise it or make it, we didnít need it. There wasnít any war."
Gabrielle seriously doubted there had ever been a time without war, but she kept silent.
"Now we trade and travel thousands of miles. Families separate. We neglect our temples." Perthidius was warming to his subject. "There used to be magic in the world Ė dragons, giants, and centaurs, harpies and dryads. The gods would appear in person. Thatís all gone now."
Gabrielle knew from personal experience that that wasnít all gone now, but clearly Perthidius was listening without question to someone he believed in. It was time to find out why.
"You said you belonged to something now. What is it?"
Perthidius paced the small clearing. "I belong to a group that has been called by Zeus to be the seed from which the human race will be reborn. After the cleansing."
Great, thought Gabrielle. My sweet gullible loving friend has got himself hooked up with a cult. Just great.
"Weíll live by the old laws, Gab, the way we were meant to." He stopped in front of her. "And youíll be part of it too."
Gabrielle was backing away, shaking her head. "Perth, I donít buy this. Letís go back to my camp. We can visit together. Maybe you can travel with us for a few days. Get caught up."
"No Gab, we only have a few days, before the Olympiad. And there is so much to be done to prepare. Donít you see? This is the work of the gods."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I donít think so. Look, Perth, just think about thisÖ"
Perthidius took her by the shoulders. "I have thought about this. You were right. Me stumbling by this morning was no accident. I need you with me. I needÖmy wife."
"Your wife!? Perthidius, Iím your sister-in-law, not your wife!"
"By the old laws you have been my wife since three days after Perdicas died. As his brother, you became mine."
Gabrielle stared at him in stunned silence. He dropped his hands from her shoulders.
"Gabrielle, I have to follow the old laws. Iím required to. I should have sought you out months ago, but I knew youíd come to the celebrations, so I waited. I canít wait any longer."
Gabrielle was shaking her head slowly, at a complete loss. How to say no to this man she cared so much for without breaking his heart. And how to convince him this judgment of the gods thing was a bunch of hooey.
"Come with me now. Live as my wife. Love me, as I love you."
As proposals went, it wasnít bad. His dark eyes were so compelling, so sincere. For a hormone-saturated moment, Gabrielle almost weakened. His cause might be bunken, but she just might be able to love the man, as she had loved his brother. But then she remembered who she was. "No Perth. I canít. I justÖcanít."
The woods rustled around her and she was suddenly surrounded by a dozen men. Perthidius shook his head sadly.
"You have to come with me, Gab. You already are my wife. We have no choice. Itís the law of the gods. I do wish you would join with me from choice, but you will join me."
Xena watched with satisfaction as the young stag pumped his life blood into the ground. Her shot had been perfect, the arrow thrusting downward at the base of the skull, instantly rendering him unconscious. Xena had leapt down from her tree perch to slice his throat, and the stagís still beating heart neatly emptied his blood. It was her preferred shot, and a difficult one. It guaranteed either a clean kill, or a clean miss. To strike and wound an animal caused it unnecessary pain, and often caused the meatís flavor to be tainted by adrenaline and lactic acid. This stagís meat would be tender and sweet.
When the blood flow had reduced to a trickle, Xena rolled the stag onto itís back and knelt between the hind legs, keeping them spread with her knees. She carefully cut the skin just below the breastbone and, angling her knife sharply towards her to avoid nicking the bowel, she slit his skin from sternum to genitalia. Another careful slice parted the abdominal muscle and his intestines lay exposed. The only blood was what little oozed from the skin. This was another reason Xena favored the head shot. No blood or partly digested food loose in the abdominal cavity.
Her surly mood had eased now. She rolled the stag onto its side and slid her hand into the belly, pulling the entrails out. She had to reach in with her knife to cut away the supporting ligaments, but was able to avoid slicing the aorta. Even so, some blood leaked from the vessels serving the kidneys, and her pile of gray entrails now sported traces of red. But no bowel nicks. Gods, it was amazing what partly digested leaves, acorns, and hickory nuts could smell like.
Next she cleaned the chest cavity. It was, by definition, bloody, and she had to reach almost up to her shoulder to cut the heart and lungs away from the aorta and trachea. The lungs she tossed on the heap of entrails, but she rinsed the heart, then wrapped it in a cloth and put it in her sack. Sliced thin and fried in pork fat, it would make a delicious lunch. Her mood was becoming positively cheerful.
Lastly she braced her knife on the pubic bone and pounded the back of the blade with a rock, splitting the bone. This allowed easier access to completely clean out the urinary tract and rectum.
She had chosen her tree perch with several considerations, and one of them was the nearby stream of snow melt. It both drew the game, and allowed her unlimited water to rinse the carcass and herself. She stripped and immersed herself completely, letting the bracing temperature shock the last of the hormone funk into retreat.
She had debated whether to butcher the kill here where she had killed it. But it was a dwarf species, and the dressed carcass weighed barely forty kilos. She knew she would do a more careful job back at camp with her smaller knives. So she dressed, packed her gear and hefted the stag over her shoulder, leaving the entrails to the eager vultures.
As she hiked back to camp, she wondered about Gabrielleís mood. The herbal tea the bard drank usually softened the edges of her tongue, and if they were careful the day could pass without altercation.
Xena often wondered why Gabrielle didnít just go kill something like she herself did. The silent release of the arrow, the sure knowledge of domination, the warm blood on her arms Ė now if that didnít put you in a right mind, nothing would. Xena knew she was never short tempered or unpredictable. What she put up with for the sake of the bard!
And there it was. For the sake of the bard. The girl was beginning to affect her sleep, and Xena knew her feelings were far from rational where Gabrielle was concerned. No one but her brother had ever crept as close to her heart, brought so much joy with a single glance, nor had the power to cut her to the quick with a single word. She loved her like her brother, yet somehow differently. She loved her as a friend, but somehow more. When Gabrielle had married Perdicas Xena had denied to herself the jealousy she felt. Watching the joy in Gabrielleís face had made it easier then. But there was no denying her feelings now. It frightened Xena that someone had that much power over her heart. And she found herself wondering if Gabrielle felt in any way the same.
She was surprised to find the camp empty. She supposed Gabrielle had gone for a walk, as she often did when the muse was nagging her to write. The fire was well secured, the pots put away, but the girlís staff stood against a tree.
Xena felt a quick flash of anger. Iíll have a piece of her hide for that, she thought. Gabrielle knows better that to walk alone unarmed. If anything happens to her Iíll kill her.
She recognized immediately that she was overreacting. Trust her, she said to herself. Sheís a grown woman. She most certainly is. Xena focused her mind with three deep breaths, and prepared to butcher the stag.
First she hung it in a tree by its hind legs and skinned it, starting at the heels and working down. When she had pulled the skin as far down over the neck as she could, she cut the head and skin away from the body and placed them aside.
Next she removed the tenderloins from within the abdominal cavity, behind where the kidneys had rested. The two muscles weighed barely eight ounces apiece, but made a perfect dinner for two. She cleaned the residual fat from them, rinsed them, and laid them on a clean rock.
Then she cut the back straps out. These muscles lay on top of the stagís back, nestled beside the spine, and ran the length of his body. Each one was the length and thickness of her forearm. These she would cut crossways to cook, perhaps marinating the cuts in some wine. Foe now she wrapped them, along with the tenderloins, in an oiled cloth, which she then wrapped in a waterproof travel bag. She sank the bag in the icy stream and weighed it down with two rocks.
The two forelegs were next. She did little but remove the lower legs and separate the limbs from the carcass. With more time and patience she would have cut the small muscled from the ligaments and diced it up for stew. But today she was short of patience. Let the cook worry about it.
She did take some time with the hind quarters however. Soon she had two nice rump roasts and a growing pile of smaller lean cuts. The roasts were destined for the same place as the forelegs Ė the Mt Olympus orphanage.
She paused to consider the skin. In truth neither she nor Gabrielle had the time or patience to tan it properly. It, too, would go to the orphanage, and serve as a carry sack for the rest of the meat. She cut the head from the rest of the skin and piled the forelegs and roasts on the inside, then closed the hide together and wrapped the bundle shut, making it into a pack she could strap over her shoulder.
Xena stopped butchering now and built a small fire away from the site of their campfire. When it was burning hotly, she piled a number of rocks in it, and then went in search of some small green saplings. These she formed in a dome-like frame around and over the fire. She filled the gaps with more green limbs and leaves, until the dome held more smoke than it let pass. Then she returned to the meat as the fire burned down.
She sliced the remaining meat into long narrow strips. These she rubbed with salt, and skewered on long green sticks. Then she suspended the sticks within the dome.
The fire had settled into a pile of very hot embers. She banked a berm of dirt around the perimeter, making sure the embers could still draw air. Then she began to shave pieces of green hickory onto the hot rocks and coals. Some flared briefly, but most just smoldered, sending clouds of smoke up into the dome.
Now it was time for her lunch. She rekindled the campfire and put the skillet over it, adding a piece of pork fat to sizzle in the bottom. Then she unwrapped the heart and slices several thin sections into the grease. While it cooked she secured the rest of the camp, cleaned up the residue from her butchering, and prepared for the hike to the orphanage. She hung the antlered head in a tree, out of reach of scavengers. She and Gabrielle would use some of the rack to make tools, buttons, and even jewelry.
When the meat had cooked, Xena ate it straight out of the pan. She chewed slowly, savoring the fresh tangy flavor. Gabrielle couldnít even watch when she ate hearts. Xena didnít understand. The heart was just another muscle, wasnít it?
The meal finished, she hefted the hide-wrapped meat onto her back, and picked up the flensed carcass, to dispose of a distance from camp. Then she started down the trail with a self-satisfied smile on her face.
Gabrielleís day wasnít going nearly as well. Without her staff, and not wishing to harm Perthidius, she hadnít even considered fighting or fleeing. The cultists didnít seem to be threatening her, and she decided to bide her time waiting for an opportunity to escape. Maybe she could use the time to understand this Ultimate Olympiad group, as they called themselves. With that understanding, maybe she could talk some sense into Perthidius. She had to try. She owed it to their friendship.
What she really wanted, however, was another cup of herbal tea. She had an irrational urge to slap Perth silly, and tell him to get a grip.
So now she sat, bored to numbness, listening to the grand Poo-bah of the Ultimate Olympiad hold forth on the evils of the ways of modern man. And woman.
She could sense from his posture that Perthidius still had more than a kernel of skepticism about the whole thing. But whenever he seemed to doubt a point, he would look around the group of man and women until he locked eyes with someone Ė anyone Ė and they would exchange a reassuring smile of affirmation. Pretty neat trick, thought Gabrielle. Train your followers to look for doubt and reassure each other with a group bonding ritual. Exactly the way to hold someone like Perthidius, who wanted desperately to belong to something or someone. This might be harder than she thought.
Still, no one seemed to be restrained by force. As she looked around one of the other women caught her eye and gave her the vapid, empty-headed, youíre-one-of-the-chosen-just-like-me smile. She returned it weakly. Oh brother.
Earlier she had helped prepare the noon meal. Apparently each of the members was expected to contribute their specific talent to the whole. When asked what her knack was, she had said she was a bard. This pleased no one. Then she said she was a reasonably skilled warrior. That brought guffaws of disbelief. So she admitted to being a fair cook and was immediately put to work peeling potatoes.
Later, as they sat together eating, Gabrielle asked Perthidius what his particular talent was.
"I fix things. I just seem to be able to look at something and understand how itís supposed to work. Then I fix it." There was real pride in his voice.
Gabrielle nodded. "Itís a good thing to find your niche, to find where you belong."
"You belong here, Gab. We belong together, you and me." He was so sincere, and there was genuine affection in his dark brown eyes. More and more he reminded her of Perdicas, yet with his own endearing quirks and characteristics. It wouldnít have been hard to learn to love him.
It also wouldnít have been hard to kill him for making her sit through this incredibly boring lecture. Gods, she wanted to kill something. For the first time she understood Xenaís need to hunt during the monthly days of irrationality.
She sighed. Xena. What was she doing now, Gabrielle wondered. How am I going to explain going off without my staff? Sheís gonna kill me. Curiously, the thought of disappointing Xena caused her more concern than any fear of her wrath. Her approval was coming to mean far too much to Gabrielle.
At long last the afternoon lecture was over. After a light meal the members of the group separated into smaller groups of friends or families for the night. Perthidius led Gabrielle about fifty meters away from the central area to a small lean-to under a large oak. The last glow of Helios faded in the west as Perthidius struck a flint to ignite the kindling he had laid out. Then he sat beside Gabrielle and wrapped an arm around her shoulder as they watched the flames grow and reach for the stars.
Gabrielle felt no fear. She knew what he hoped for, and, truth be told, she didnít find the thought of making love to him unappealing. He was strong and kind, and they had known each other well for most of their lives.
But there was something missing, and Gabrielle wasnít ready to commit herself in such a personal way until she knew what it was. She wished she could ask Xenaís advice. Gods, she wished she could just talk with her now, or see her gaze across the firelight. The thought of her warmed the bard, and she unconsciously leaned closer to the man beside her.
He responded, pulling her closer, and tipped her head up to face him.
"Perth, Iím not ready yet. This is all kind of sudden."
"I know Gab, I didnít expect you to be. Can we just be together tonight, and hold each other? Iíve needed that for so long."
Gabrielle felt a rush of warm gratitude and affection. She held his gaze for a moment, then kissed him.
It was a kiss of love, but not of passion. They held it for only a moment, each finding a solace for their grief, and the comfort and trust of friendship.
Neither saw the piercing blue eyes watching them from the woods, fighting their own grief.
Xena had returned from the orphanage quite a bit later than she expected to. Kalina, an old friend from Amphipolis who now ran the Mt Olympus facility, had thanked her most profusely for the meat, and in the next breath asked if Xena could spare just a little time to fix the roof over the kitchen. Then the mortar in the stove was slightly cracked. And while she was there, maybe she could look at the gutter that collected rainwater from the roof? Xena drew the line a shoveling out the outhouse. She didnít blame Kalina. The woman worked eighteen hours a day to give the kids a home. But Xena really needed to return to the fire she had left and the bard who had wandered off without her staff.
Xena had never been the maternal type. While she was certain it would be different with her own children, she viewed the orphans as little alien beings whose motivations and joys were utterly beyond her comprehension. Cute, lovable little alien beings, whose hands were always sticky and whose voices were too high and too loud. One little boy in particular almost drove her to the edge. He spent the afternoon tugging at her, holding a broken toy wagon in his hand and begging her to fix it. At some point, Xena was unsure when, tears had streaked the berry stains on his chubby cheeks. An endearing, loud, little alien being. Xena had paused briefly to examine the wagon, but it was more intricate than her abbreviated time allowed for. He had wailed plaintively when she left, and Xena wondered if he was Kalinaís secret weapon.
The camp was quite empty when she at last reached it. The fire still smoldered, the meat in the stream lay undisturbed, and Gabrielle was quite missing. Xenaís irritation and touchy mood were replaced by genuine fear.
She quickly wrapped the jerky and put it in her travel bag, and doused the smoking fire. There was perhaps an hour of daylight left and she couldnít afford to waste any of it. Within five minutes she was in the woods again, casting for Gabrielleís trail. Finding it she trotted off up the mountain.
And now in the deepening night she watched as Gabrielle kissed the man, unbidden and unacknowledged tears in her eyes.
The couple had watched the full moon rise, and after a while lain down to sleep. To Xenaís vast relief (although she would deny it if asked) there was no further behavior of a romantic nature, and shortly thereafter the man began to snore. Xena knew Gabrielle remained awake, since she lay on her back, and Gabrielle never fell asleep on her back. Xena wondered what she was thinking about.
Xena had decided to wait until Gabrielle fell asleep before departing. She wasnít sure what purpose that served, but she was having difficulty leaving without assuring herself that the girl would be safe. Safe from what? She couldnít give herself a rational answer.
It was Gabrielle who made the decision for her. She sat up and watched the man for a minute, then slipped out of the bedroll and walked straight toward Xena. Xena hastily backed deeper into the woods, lest Gabrielleís surprise awaken the man. Was she really sneaking away? Or just going to relieve herself, which Xena knew Gabrielle rarely did after settling in. Please let her be escaping, she pleaded.
As soon as Gabrielle was several paces into the woods, Xena whispered to her. To her credit, Gabrielleís surprise was silent. Xena took her hand and they sneaked further away before speaking.
"Gods, Xena, Iím so glad to see you!" the bard whispered.
"Well I would have introduced myself sooner, but you looked like you were enjoying yourself."
"What are you talking about?" Gabrielle bristled.
"That man. Is that how the cult initiates itís new members nowadays?"
"Xena, that man, as you call him, is my brother-in-law."
"Oh great. Thatís how I would treat all my in-laws."
"XenaÖ" Gabrielleís voice was low and angry.
"Okay, okay. I donít want a fight right now, especially since this is one of Ďthose daysí. Just tell me who he is, and how you got into all this, and why you left without leaving a note, and why you didnít take your staff and whyÖ"
"I thought you didnít want a fight."
Xena sighed. "Alright. Just the who part."
Gabrielle took a breath. "Thatís Perthidius, Perdicasí little brother. Iíve told you about him before. He was as close to a best friend as I had growing up."
"Thatís Perthidius? I always thought he was just a kid!"
"He was just a kid, back when I was just a kid."
"And now heís hooked up with this bunch of kooks?" Kalina had told her about the Olympiad cult.
"Yeah. Itís such a shame." She glanced toward the lean-to. "All he needs is to be needed, to belong to something. Perdicas and I were his whole world when we were young. I thought maybe I could talk some sense into him if I had a few days."
"And a few nights maybe?"
"Xena, damn it! He thinks Iím his wife now, according to the old laws. I was on my way back to tell you what was going on, that Iím spending some time with him. Iím going to ask him to come down to our camp tomorrow to see you. I did ask him to wait before weÖwell, you know."
"A few minutes ago it didnít look like you wanted to wait."
Xena realized immediately she had gone too far. The bard drew herself up to her full height and daggers flew from her eyes in the moonlight. When she spoke her voice was level and dangerous.
"Maybe I didnít want to wait. Maybe I thought a good toss in the hay would feel pretty damned good. Maybe Iíve been sleeping alone an awful long time and those strong arms made me feel things Iíd forgotten about. But, unlike some, I donít just gratify every urge that comes along."
Xena took the stinging comments like blows, but kept silent.
"I want it to mean something more, Xena. I want the thought of someone to excite me, not just a strong firm body. When I felt his arms around me, it wasnít him I was thinking about, you know what?"
Xena remained quiet. This was getting interesting.
"It was YOU, damn it! It was your voice I wanted to hear, your laugh, your touch which puts a thrill in the pit of my stomach like no one else."
"Iím not ever going to have sex, or make love, or do the weasel thing, or whatever you call it, with anyone who doesnít make me feel the way you make me feel, and you can shut your mouth before you get mosquitoes on your tongue. Iíll see you tomorrow, with Perthidius. Good night!"
And with that Gabrielle turned on her heel and stalked back to the lean-to.
Xena stood motionless for several minutes, her mouth still hanging open, before a smile tugged at itís corners. Yes, this was certainly interesting. Fascinating even.
She plotted how to rescue Perthidius as she made her way back to camp, and didnít even realize she whistled a bawdy tune the whole way.
Gabrielleís emotions the next morning felt like a bad hangover. Gods, what had she said to Xena? She shook her head and moaned. Perthidius still slept gently beside her, warm and dear.
In truth Gabrielle did remember what she had said to her friend. She hadnít even realized herself how she felt until all that came pouring out of her mouth. How can I face her, she thought. What must she think of me? It would take a doozy of an apology to recover from this one. Maybe I should just stay here with Perth, she groaned to herself, as she looked down at her brother-in-law.
Perthidius stirred, as if in response to her thought. "Good morning," she said softly. He opened his eyes and smiled at her, and reached up to touch her cheek.
"Good morning, Gab. Sleep okay?"
"Sure. But we need to talk. And I need to see Xena."
Perthidius shifted to a half sitting position. "Why Gab? I thought you were decided about this."
"I donít want to leave without saying goodbye, without explaining why. Perth, you know what itís like to lose someone without closure. I did that to you and Perdicas both when I left Potidaea. Donít make me do it to Xena. Please."
"I guess I can understand that. Would you like me to go with you? Help explain things? Carry your stuff?"
"Would you?" she said sweetly. "Thatíd be a big help."
They had been walking down the trail in silence for some time while Gabrielle tried to think how to broach the subject of the cult. She finally decided to be direct, as they had always been as children.
"Perth, do really believe these guys?"
Perthidius reached to rub the back of his neck. "I dunno Gab. When you sit and listen, it all seems to make sense."
"You mean as long as no one argues anything. I get the feeling you donít buy into it completely."
"All I know is that I feel like Iím part of something Ė that people care and Iím needed to make a better future."
"Perth, you donít have to be in a cult to make the future better. Xena and I do it every day, just making people safer."
"Xenaís a warrior. Iím just a fix-it boy."
Gabrielle stopped and took Perthidiusí arm to turn him. "Perth, you are so much more than just a fix-it boy. Canít you believe in yourself? Do you really need these sheep to do it for you?"
Perthidius shook his arm free, irritated. "You donít understand Gabrielle." He turned and continued down the trail.
Oh but I do, thought the bard.
Xena made a fine show of surprise when they arrived in camp and Gabrielle announced her "intentions". Some anger, some sorrow, a request to talk with her alone Ė all in all a convincing performance. Xena banged some soot from the bottom of the breakfast pots, and then she and Gabrielle walked a short distance down the trail while Perthidius busied himself with a broken buckle.
Gabrielle didnít quite know what to say to Xena. She had hoped to have convinced Perthidius by this point, but that hadnít occurred, and she assumed Xena would pick up where she left off. The warrior could be quite convincing. She was also completely embarrassed to be in the warriorís company after last eveningís confession.
She started to ask Xena why they had withdrawn from Perthidius, but Xena shushed her. "Just wait." Together they peered through the brush.
In a few minutes a woman appeared from the trail to town. "Xena! Are you here?" she called.
Perthidius rose to meet her, and as he did a small boy with berry stained cheeks emerged from behind her. The boy stared at the tall man with awe-struck eyes.
"This is Xenaís camp, but sheís not here right now. You can wait with me for her, if you want. My name is Perthidius."
The woman started to introduce herself, but the boy thrust his tiny arm out. "Hello Perthidiuth. My name is Geron. Can you fix my wagon?" A broken toy appeared as if by magic.
"Uh, sure, I can try anyway. Let me see it."
The boy handed over his prize with great solemnity and complete trust in his eyes. Perthidius accepted it with equal respect.
The woman just smiled. "Do you think Xena would mind if I made some tea while we wait?" Perthidius shook his head absently, his complete concentration on the wagon.. The boy crouched next to him, peering intently at every move, and Perthidius gradually started to explain the wagon to him, showing him the gears and how they made they wheels turn. With a little guidance from the man, Geron spotted the broken sprocket. Perthidius smiled.
Kalina suppressed a grin, watching the two as she brewed her tea.
"Good work! " Perthidius praised Geron. " Now what do you think we can use to fix it?"
"Can we make a new gear?"
"I guess so. What do you think itís made of?"
The boy studied the part carefully, his eyebrows scrunched up. "Bone," he pronounced. "Or maybe antler."
"Where can we get some?" Perthidius asked.
Kalina spoke now, as she poured tea for the adults. "Xena brought me some venison yesterday. I know she always keeps the antlers for making tools and things. Letís look around."
It was, of course, the boy who spotted the rack, as the adults made a show of looking everywhere else.
"Well letís see what we can do," Perthidius said, genuine eagerness in his voice. The boy just stared at him, adoringly.
Gabrielle felt Xenaís hand on her arm, and the warrior motioned for them to back away. When they had put twenty paces between themselves and the camp, she said "I think we can let things take their course now."
"Xena, that was perfect! How did youÖwhere did you find that precious little boy?"
"That precious little monster almost drove me insane yesterday. I did a few chores while I was at the orphanage yesterday with the meat. They really need some help there and it just seemed like Perthidius might be the man for the job. So I got up early and talked to Kalina. She waited just down the trail for my signal."
Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. Xena continued to amaze her. Then her face flushed with embarrassment again, remembering last night. Well, sheíd never run away from anything before.
"Xena, about last night, what I saidÖ IÖ"
"Hmm? What are you talking about?"
"Last night, when I said about how you make me feel, well IÖuhm.."
"Whatever it is youíre trying to say Ė out with it! I want to get back to camp."
Gabrielle could have sworn Xena was enjoying her discomfort.
"What I mean to say isÖ"
"Gabrielle," Xena answered, taking Gabrielleís chin in her hand. "Just shut up." Then she bent down and kissed her.
It was a kiss of love, of friendship, not yet of passion, but to Gabrielle, who was too stunned to respond, it was as if the heavens had stopped turning.
Xena backed up and grinned at her, then turned and walked away. This time it was Gabrielle who was left gaping, a smile beginning to tug at the corners of her mouth.
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