MOUNTAIN QUEST part7
by Eva Allen
Xena opened her eyes sometime later, surprised to find herself
staring up at the thatch of Elkton's cottage. Apparently, she wasn't
dead after all. The room was darker than it had been earlier. A dying
fire gave little light, but on the table, an oil lamp and several
candles burned cheerfully. There was a faint, acrid odor in the air
which Xena could not identify. Her ears took in the soft crackle of the
fire and the lowing of a cow out in the yard. But except for these
sounds, all was silence.
Turning her head to the side, she saw Gabrielle sitting on the floor
nearby, her knees drawn up to her chest and her head resting on them.
The golden hair spilled down, hiding her face. Xena slipped her hand
out from under the sheepskin that still covered her and touched her
lover's arm. "Gabrielle," she said quietly.
The bard lifted her head and smiled. She said nothing, but the joy
in her eyes spoke volumes.
"You did it," Xena said, returning her lover's smile. "You saved
"Yeah, I guess I did," Gabrielle said, and took Xena's hand in hers.
"How are you feeling?"
"Quite a bit better. It's amazing how much difference it makes being
able to breathe."
Gabrielle's smile widened and she squeezed Xena's hand. "How's your
arm?" she asked.
"My arm?" Xena considered for a moment. "Well, now that you mention
it, it hurts."
"That's good, Xena! Pain is good! It means that the feeling came
back." Gabrielle reached out and uncovered the warrior's right arm.
"Can you move it?" she asked.
Xena raised her arm slowly, cautiously flexing her fingers. "It's a
little stiff, but it shouldn't take long to get it back in shape," she
said with a grin. Then, raising the arm slightly higher, she studied
the bandage just above her elbow. "What have you done to me?" she
"Oh. That's where I cut your arm to drain the venom out. I haven't
stitched it yet, so be careful. I wanted to make sure every drop of
venom was out first."
"Good idea," said Xena as she rested her arm again on the pallet.
"He went out to milk the cow and take care of the other animals."
"How long has he been gone?"
"Not long, I guess. He left shortly before you woke up."
"Good," said Xena, pushing herself up to a sitting position. "Help
me get dressed before he comes back."
Gabrielle put her hands on the warrior's shoulders. "Xena, are you
sure you feel like sitting up?" she asked. "Not very long ago, you were
lying here practically dead, you know."
"I know, but I really feel much stronger now," said Xena. "I'll be
fine. It's not like I'm going to do flips or anything, and I promise to
lie down again if I get tired." She grinned and pulled Gabrielle close
for a quick kiss.
"Okay," said the bard with a smile of surrender, "but don't overdo
it." She reached for Xena's leathers and helped the warrior put them
on. Then, kneeling behind her, she began lacing the garment up.
It seemed to take her longer than usual, and by the time the laces
were tied, Xena could feel that her lover's hands were trembling.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" she asked, turning her head to look behind
Gabrielle didn't answer, but instead wrapped her arms tightly around
Xena and buried her face in the warrior's dark hair. Xena felt rather
than heard the sobs that shook the bard's body.
"Hey," she said softly, and pried Gabrielle's hands loose. Turning
around, she put a hand under the young woman's chin and lifted her face
to the light. "What's going on?" she asked. "Why are you crying?"
"I was so scared," Gabrielle said in a low voice. "I thought I was
going to lose you."
Xena put her arms around her lover and pulled her close. "I know,
Sweetheart, but it's all over now," she said, gently stroking the
red-gold hair. "Somehow we squeaked through again, and we're both still
alive and kicking, so let's just enjoy that, shall we?"
Gabrielle tightened her hold on Xena and pressed her face against the
warrior's neck. "I really thought I could let you go," she said. "I
accepted that you were dying, but I just wanted to touch you. And when
you responded to my touch, I started hoping again. Then you had that
orgasm and I really thought you were going to be all right." She
stopped speaking and pulled away to look at Xena. "But after that, you
just quit breathing and I couldn't find any pulse. "I thought--" She
swallowed hard. "I thought you were dead," she finished in a whisper.
"I guess I was," Xena said quietly, as she pulled Gabrielle into her
arms again. "Or at least I almost was. I got as far as the banks of
the Styx, but I didn't cross over."
"Why didn't you?"
"Well, a couple of things kept me from doing it. First of all, Ares
"Ares?" said Gabrielle, looking up. "I suppose he offered to save
you if you would just come back to him."
"You've got it," Xena said with a grin. "He told me I was going to
Tartarus and that I'd never see you again. He said I might as well come
conquer the world with him, since I was going to Tartarus anyway."
"How does he know where you're going? I thought that was Hades'
"It is. I think he was just trying to scare me. Anyway, I told him
I'd rather die than go back to him." She paused long enough to kiss the
top of Gabrielle's head. "And I also told him that even if I was
separated from you forever, I would still carry your love in my heart."
"Yes, Xena!" Gabrielle said, sitting up again. "That's exactly what
I was trying to tell you. I kept saying it over and over, but I didn't
know if you could hear me."
"I did, I heard you. I guess I just didn't realize until that moment
how true it was. At any rate, as soon as I said that to Ares, I started
hearing your voice again, and it was like I was being pulled back to
you." She smiled and reached out to wipe the remaining tears off her
"Xena, after you came back," Gabrielle said, hesitating a little,
"you had another orgasm. Did you know that?"
"Yeah, it was nice," she said with a half grin. "But that's the last
thing I remember."
"Well, I knew you were going to be all right after that because the
venom was just pouring out of you, and you were breathing normally
again. I called Elkton in to help me, right at the end. That poor
man. He was so worried about you, Xena. He was just sitting out there
on the doorstep, looking so sad and praying. You should have seen his
face light up when I told him you were going to live. He came inside
and held your arm while I cut it to drain the venom. Then we burned
everything. You can still smell it a little bit."
"Yeah, I noticed the smell when I first woke up."
Gabrielle reached up to touch Xena's cheek. "I'm just so glad you're
alive," she whispered.
"Me too," Xena said, leaning forward to kiss her lover. And as their
lips melted together, she thought it was one of the sweetest kisses she
had ever known. How long it lasted she wasn't sure, but the two women
pulled apart when they heard a sound outside. They looked expectantly
at the door, but it did not open, so after a moment Xena wrapped both
arms around Gabrielle again. She held the young woman tightly against
her, breathing in the warm scent of the gold hair. "It's nice to be
able to hug with two arms," she murmured.
"Mmm-hmm," Gabrielle returned. "And it's also nice to be able to
kiss you without worrying about whether I'm choking you."
Xena smiled into Gabrielle's hair and held her for several moments
longer, then said, "I hate to break up this little love fest, but I just
realized that I'm really thirsty. Do you think there's any water in the
"Oh. Yeah, there is. Elkton brought in a couple of buckets of water
from the well while we were cleaning up the venom. I'm sure there's
some left. I'll get it for you." She scrambled up and went to the
bucket sitting on the floor near the shelves that held Elkton's cooking
As soon as she was gone, Xena pulled herself slowly to her feet,
moving somewhat stiffly, and holding onto one of the chair backs for
"Xena," Gabrielle said, as she brought the dripping dipper to the
warrior, "I don't think--"
"Gabrielle, let me be the judge," Xena said, accepting the water.
"I'm not going to stand for very long because I still feel a little
shaky, but I'm not dizzy anymore. And I'm not going to pass out. I
promise." She winked and then lifted the dipper to her mouth and
quickly drained it.
"Okay," the bard said with a soft smile. "I guess I'm being a bit
overprotective." She reached up to wipe away the water that dribbled
down Xena's chin. "Want some more?"
"Yes, if you don't mind."
"Anything for the Warrior Princess," Gabrielle said with a grin. But
as she started back toward the bucket, the cottage door opened.
The women turned to see Elkton standing there, a basket of eggs in
one hand and a bucket of milk in the other. "What a beautiful sight
this is!" he said softly, smiling and shaking his head. He closed the
door and crossed the room. Then, setting the eggs and milk on the
table, he took the warrior's hand in both of his. "Xena!" he
exclaimed. "You're looking much better!"
"I'm feeling much better, too, I can assure you."
"This is like a miracle," he said, shaking his head again. "I really
thought we would be standing by your funeral fire tonight."
"Yeah, well, I kind of thought the same thing," Xena said, grinning,
"but sometimes things turn out better than you think they will. I owe
you my life once again, Elkton. Mine and Gabrielle's. That's a debt I
won't soon forget."
"No, no, no," he protested. "You don't owe me anything. There's the
one you should thank," he said, nodding toward Gabrielle. "She saved
you, not I. And you saved her up on the mountain. I've rarely seen
such wonderful devotion between two people."
Xena looked at Gabrielle and smiled.
The young woman moved closer and put a hand on Elkton's shoulder.
"It was your wisdom and knowledge that made everything possible,
though," she said. "I think that's what Xena is talking about."
"Well, I'm just glad I could help," he said, reaching out to clasp
Gabrielle's hand while still holding Xena's. He smiled broadly, first
at one of them and then at the other. After a moment, he released their
hands and quickly wiped his sleeve across his eyes. "Would you two like
some milk?" he asked. "It's nice and fresh. How about you, Xena?"
"Yes, I'd love some!"
"Let me just get a mug." He took a clay mug from the shelf, dipped
it into the milk bucket, and handed it to the warrior.
"Mmm, it's so warm and sweet," Xena said, licking the milk off her
upper lip. "It's not every day we get fresh milk. This is a real
"Gabrielle, do you want some, too?" asked Elkton, already reaching
for another mug.
"Yes, please!" she said, then slipped an arm around Xena's waist and
said to her, "Why don't you sit down, Sweetheart? You just look a
little unsteady to me."
Xena grinned and lowered herself into the chair Gabrielle pulled
out. "My healer has spoken," she said. "I must obey."
Elkton laughed as he handed the mug of milk to Gabrielle, then
stooped to roll up the pallet and lay it aside. "How about if I make us
some supper?" he said. "Is anyone hungry?"
"I'm famished," said Xena promptly.
"You ought to be. You haven't eaten anything all day," said
Gabrielle. "And I think I might be able to eat a little something
myself," she added with a grin.
"Good," Elkton said, peering into the basket of eggs. "I could just
scramble up these eggs with onions and maybe some cheese. Does that
sound like something you could eat?"
"That sounds wonderful," said Gabrielle. "I'll help you."
"No, you just sit down," he said, waving her away. "I don't need any
help, and you two should rest after all you've been through today.
Here," he added, taking a loaf of dark bread from the shelf and
unwrapping it. "This ought to keep you from starving until the eggs are
ready." He set the bread on the table, along with a crock of butter and
a small wooden paddle.
"Thanks, Elkton!" Xena exclaimed, seizing the bread and tearing off a
sizable hunk. Then she held out the loaf to Gabrielle. "Sit down," she
said. "Relax. Eat some bread."
The bard took the bread and held it thoughtfully for a moment. "I
was just thinking," she said, "that if Elkton doesn't need my help,
maybe I could go ahead and sew up your arm now. Or would you rather
wait until after we eat?"
Xena shrugged. "Now's fine," she said, her mouth already full of
rich, buttered bread. "Or later. I don't care."
"I think I'll do it now then," Gabrielle said, setting the bread on
the table. "Elkton, where did you put our saddlebags when you brought
"I just left them on the floor by the bed," he said, then turned to
the braided onions hanging from the rafter and cut two off.
Gabrielle looked around, seemingly confused. "Where's the bed?" she
whispered to Xena.
"It's in the little room over there," the warrior said gesturing.
"Just go through the curtained doorway."
The bard hurried away, and Xena reached for another piece of bread,
then noticed Elkton's puzzled look.
"Gabrielle doesn't remember anything much that happened while she was
under Ares' spell," she told him. "That's why she didn't know where the
The Mystic set the onions and a cutting board on the table, then
pulled out a chair and sat down. "So she doesn't remember being here
before? Or meeting me?"
"And she doesn't remember your fight with the serpent?"
"No, nothing before she ate the kaya leaves." Xena glanced up and
smiled as Gabrielle returned with the sewing kit and a hairbrush. "I
was just telling Elkton that you don't remember much of what happened
after you were drugged."
"Yeah, that's right," Gabrielle said to Elkton with a sheepish grin.
"It makes me feel kind of stupid, actually." She laid the pouch with
the needle and thread on the table, then went to stand behind Xena and
began to brush the dark hair with long, gentle strokes, stopping now and
then to work the tangles out.
"Well, Gabrielle," Elkton said as he deftly peeled one of the onions,
"I know how it feels when your memory isn't working right. But at least
you have a good excuse. Me, I'm just getting old." Then, before either
of the women could answer, he went on. "Now I don't know about you," he
said, looking up at Gabrielle, "but I would really like to hear the
story of how Xena killed the serpent. If she feels like telling it,
He looked hopefully at the warrior and she laughed. "Well, Gabrielle
is the real storyteller here, and she's heard the tale already, so maybe
she'll tell it."
"I only heard it once and that was a pretty sketchy version," the
bard responded. "So I'd really like to hear it again. Please, Xena?"
"All right," Xena agreed reluctantly. "Now that Gabrielle has made me
presentable, I guess I owe her a story." She smiled her thanks at the
bard, then quickly stuck one last bite of bread into her mouth, chewed,
and swallowed it. A long drink of milk served to wash it down.
Gabrielle, meanwhile, finished brushing the warrior's hair and sat
down next to her. "Put your arm up here on the table," she said. Then
she carefully unwrapped the bandage.
"Nice incision," Xena said, peering at the wound in her arm. "Very
clean and neat."
"She did a good job, didn't she?" asked Elkton. "And she didn't have
to cut very deep, either. The venom was right there under the skin."
"I told you I had many skills," Gabrielle said with a grin as she
pulled a length of thread off the spool.
"Yeah, but at the time I thought you were talking about something
else," Xena said, cocking one eyebrow.
"Just tell your story," Gabrielle said.
* * *
Xena laughed and took another sip of milk, then drew in a deep breath
and let it out, composing her face into an expression more suitable for
storytelling. "We started our journey at dawn," she said, "Gabrielle
and I leading Argo up the rough mountain track. It was so dark at first
that we could barely see where we were going." Then she told about the
attack by Hera's warriors and how she killed one of them, but kept
Gabrielle from killing another one. She did her best to keep her mind
focussed on the story so that she would not feel the sharp sting of the
needle piercing her arm. And by the time she began to tell how she had
convinced Gabrielle to go the rest of the way up the mountain with her,
the stitching of the wound was done. The bard leaned back in her chair
and devoted all her attention to listening. Elkton listened closely,
too, cutting up the onions and cheese meanwhile, and then breaking eggs
into a large bowl.
Xena went on to describe the battle with the serpent, throwing in a
few more details this time, but ending as she had before, by saying she
had slipped and that was how the serpent had escaped to bite her. "I
strangled it with my left hand," she said, "and you should have seen how
it flailed and flopped around. But I hung on like death until I had
choked all the breath out of it." She smiled grimly. "After that, my
right arm went totally numb and I couldn't move it anymore."
Pausing again to take a drink, she watched Elkton set a heavy, footed
iron skillet in the coals and drop a big scoop of grease into it.
"Xena," said Gabrielle, "there's something about this story I don't
"Well, you said you had the serpent trapped with the forked staff and
you were about to get ahold of it and then you slipped."
"But why? Why did you slip? It's not like you to be careless at
such a moment. I can't believe you would just 'slip.' Is there more to
this story than you're telling us?"
Xena was silent, considering what effect it might have on Gabrielle
if she learned what her own role had been.
But before she could decide, the bard, as if reading her mind, said,
"And you haven't said much about what I was doing this whole time. You
told me you might need my help to fight the serpent, but did you ever
really let me help?"
"Sure I did. You were a big help. You held things for me, like my
whip, and handed me whatever I needed."
"That's all I did?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.
"Well, yeah, I-- I couldn't let you get too close. I couldn't risk
having the serpent bite you."
"So I was perfectly happy just to hand you things?"
"No, not exactly. You got bored after a while and started talking
about going back to the campsite. But right after that, I finally
managed to trap the serpent . . . and strangle it."
There was a loud sizzling sound as Elkton poured the eggs into the
skillet and began to scramble them.
"Mmm, that smells wonderful!" Xena said. "I'm so hungry I think I
could eat a horse! But not Argo," she added quickly.
"Xena, don't change the subject," Gabrielle said. "You still haven't
told us how you slipped after you had the serpent trapped."
The warrior regarded her friend for a moment, then noticed that
Elkton was watching her, too, an expectant look on his face.
She sighed. "I slipped," she said, "because at the moment I was
about to get my hands on the serpent, you grabbed my sword and said you
were going to help by hacking the creature to pieces." She stopped and
took a deep breath. "I told you not to, but you started swinging the
sword anyway and I had to use my left hand to stop you. That's when the
serpent broke free and bit me."
Gabrielle stared at Xena, an expression of horror on her face. For a
few moments she didn't speak, but finally she said, "Didn't I know that
you had to kill the serpent without shedding its blood?"
"Yes, I had told you that, but I'm not sure if I told you why."
"But I knew that you couldn't use the sword to kill it?"
"Yes, I'm sure I told you that much."
"Then I'm responsible for your getting bitten," Gabrielle said
softly. "It was all my fault. I almost killed you."
"No, Gabrielle, it wasn't your fault," Xena said, laying a hand on
her lover's arm. "That wasn't you up there on the mountain. It was
someone else--a person of Ares' creation. In fact, there were moments
when I looked into your eyes and I could have sworn I saw Ares himself
looking back at me. He wanted me to fail in my quest to save you, and
he tried to stop me by using you against me. Don't you see that?"
"I-- I guess so, but-- I don't know. I just feel like it's still
my fault somehow."
"It's not your fault," Xena said again. "Don't think that even for a
"She's right, you know," said Elkton. "You're not responsible,
Gabrielle." He pulled the skillet out of the coals and onto the
hearthstone. Then he looked at the bard. "The young woman Xena brought
here two days ago was a very different person from the one who's sitting
at my table now," he said. "That Gabrielle was selfish and rude and
didn't seem to care about anyone or anything. I found it hard to
believe that she was the friend Xena had risked her life for in the
dreamscape passage." He smiled at her and then turned to take three
plates down from the shelf. "But the Gabrielle who came down from the
mountain-- That Gabrielle is a wonderful, caring person, full of
devotion and concern for others." He filled a plate with eggs and set
it in front of her. "That Gabrielle could never have been responsible
for Xena's getting bitten."
Xena squeezed her lover's hand. "I hope you're listening to this,"
she said, "because I couldn't have said it any better myself."
"Yeah, I'm listening," Gabrielle said. She smiled and squeezed
Xena's hand in return. "I feel better now," she added.
Elkton set a steaming plate in front of Xena. "Thanks," she said
with a grin, "and I don't just mean for the eggs."
"My pleasure," he returned. "Now eat up, you two, before your food
He filled his own plate and poured a goblet of wine for each of
them. Then three hungry people began to eat and there was no further
conversation for several minutes.
"This is so good," Gabrielle said finally.
"Oh, this is nothing, really," Elkton said. "Anyone can scramble
"Anyone except Xena, maybe," Gabrielle said with a sly grin.
The warrior glared at her.
Elkton looked from one to the other and then laughed. "Well,
anyway," he continued, "I hope you two will stay a few days so I can do
some real cooking. We haven't had much of a chance to visit, and I'm
always happy to have company."
Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Oh, could we stay?" she asked eagerly.
"It would give you a chance to rest up and I'd like to hear all about
Elkton's work as a Mystic."
Xena smiled and looked at Elkton. "Well, there's no place in
particular we need to be for a while, so we'd love to stay," she said.
"You and Gabrielle can trade cooking secrets, and maybe I can do a
little fishing and hunting to get you some extra meat to dry for this
"Oh, you don't need to do that," he said. "I'm just glad to have the
"You'd better let her do it," Gabrielle said, leaning close to Elkton
and speaking in a confidential tone of voice. "She'll get bored in a
hurry if she has to sit and listen to us talk about cooking."
"All right, Xena," he said with a grin. "I accept your offer."
"Good," said the warrior. "Is there any more wine?"
"Yes, of course," he said, reaching for the jug. "There are grapes
and figs, too, and I'll be glad to fry more eggs if you want them."
"Not for me," Xena said. "I'll just have some fruit and then I think
I'll be full at last."
"Same here," Gabrielle said. "But Elkton, I wanted to ask you, how
did you learn to cook? Xena told me you served a delicious meal when we
were here before. I just wish I could remember eating it!"
"Well, I'll tell you what," Elkton said, laughing. "If Xena can hunt
down some more partridges, I can probably recreate that meal for you.
And as to how I learned to cook, well, I used to like watching my wife
prepare food, and after she died, I had to do it myself, so I just
started experimenting and trying to figure out how it was done."
"When did your wife die?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh, it was a long time ago. Over thirty years now, I guess. She
died in childbirth."
"Did the baby die, too?" Xena asked quietly.
"Yes, unfortunately, it did," Elkton said. "And we had lost our
first child about a year before that to a fever, so it was a difficult
time for me."
Gabrielle reached out and put her hand over his for a moment. "I'm
so sorry," she said. "That's such a sad story."
He smiled at her. "Well, most of us know sorrow if we live long
enough," he said. "And even though it's painful at the time, in the
end, I think it has a way of making us more human somehow . . . more
able to help others." He pushed a large bowl across the table towards
them. "Now here, have some of this fruit," he added.
"Thanks," said Xena as she broke off a bunch of grapes.
"So you never remarried?" asked Gabrielle, reaching for a fig.
"No. I suppose I could have, easily enough, but I wasn't certain I
could ever love in the same way again. And anyway, about that time I
started getting involved with the Mystics. I became a priest and that
work became the focus of my life, rather than family."
"You must have loved your wife a great deal," said Gabrielle. "How
did you meet her?"
"We just grew up together, right here in this same little village.
We never got out to see the world, like you two have." He grinned, then
asked, "How about you and Xena? How did the two of you meet?"
"Oh, that's a wonderful story!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Would you like
to hear it?"
"I'd love to!" he said.
Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Do you mind if I tell it now?" she
asked. "Or do you want me to wait until you've gone hunting or
Xena spat out some grape seeds and smiled expansively. "No, go right
ahead," she said. "I'd actually like to listen because, as it happens,
I had to tell you this same story a few days ago when you had no memory
of it, and I want to find out if I got it right."
Gabrielle laughed. "Xena doesn't usually like to be around when I
tell stories about her," she told Elkton. "She says I exaggerate too
"Oh, I see," said the Mystic, smiling as he refilled their wine
Xena leaned back in her chair and sipped the dark, red liquid. She
felt pleasantly tired and wonderfully content, watching the way the
candlelight played off her lover's face and hair, and listening to the
emotive tones of Gabrielle's voice. Rarely had life seemed as sweet and
whole as it did just now. But if she had never met that young girl from
Poteidaia, what then? How would her life have been different? Would
she even still be alive? Gabrielle had saved her life today, but it
wasn't the first time she had done so. In the end, who could really
understand how the Fates worked to weave the tapestry of existence?
Lost in thought, Xena didn't realize that Gabrielle had stopped
speaking until she heard Elkton say, "You were right. That was a
"Well, there are plenty more where that one came from," Xena said,
grinning. "And with a little bit of encouragement, I'm sure they'll all
come spilling out." She winked at Gabrielle, then tipped her goblet up
and drained it. "Now, if you two will excuse me, I think I'll turn in
for the night."
Gabrielle reached out and squeezed her hand. "Go ahead, Sweetheart,"
she said. "I'll be in as soon as I've helped Elkton clean up."
"You go on to bed, Gabrielle," he said quickly. "I can take care of
cleaning up. If I'd been through what you two have today, I would have
been in bed long before this."
"No, I insist on helping," Gabrielle said. "I was once known as the
best dishwasher in Poteidaia, and I have my reputation to maintain."
"Well," said Xena, laughing as she stood up. "There's a story I've
never heard before!"
"Oh, did I forget to tell you that one?"
"Yes, you did. Especially on all those nights when you made me clean
up the dishes!" She bent and kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. "But
I'll be sure to remember it in the future," she added. "Good night,
"Good night, Xena. And the sweetest of dreams to you."
"Thanks," she said, letting her hand linger for a moment on
Gabrielle's shoulder. Then she crossed the room and ducked into the
curtained alcove. Unlacing her leathers, she slipped out of them and
climbed into bed. The blankets felt chilly against her bare skin, and
as she lay waiting for her body heat to warm them, she listened to the
murmur of voices and soft sounds from the other room. After a time, she
closed her eyes and drifted into the quiet realm somewhere between
waking and sleeping. But as soon as she heard Gabrielle's step in the
alcove, Xena opened her eyes again. "I'm awake," she said softly.
"I thought you'd be asleep by now."
"No, I waited for you." She watched her lover's silhouette against
the curtain as she unlaced her bodice and shrugged it off, then
unfastened and stepped out of her skirt. Xena turned back the covers as
Gabrielle felt her way to the bed.
"It's kind of narrow, isn't it?" the bard whispered.
"Yeah, but that way we have a good excuse for sleeping close
"As if we needed one," Gabrielle laughed as she slid under the
Xena snuggled up to her lover, wrapping her right arm around her.
"Just be careful about my arm," she said.
"Oh. Right. Is it hurting you, Xena? Do you want me to get you
some willow bark?"
"No. I'm fine. It hurts a little bit, but definitely not enough to
keep me awake."
"Okay. Are your feet warm?"
"Yeah, they're great," Xena said with a grin, as she tickled the
bottom of Gabrielle's foot with her toes.
"Hey! Stop that!" Gabrielle exclaimed softly.
Xena obeyed, laughing as she buried her face against her partner's
neck and breathed in the soft scent of her. For a few moments, neither
of them spoke, then Xena said, "That was quite a feat of lovemaking you
"Mmm, I was good, wasn't I?" Gabrielle said, running her fingers
lightly across the warrior's breast.
Xena raised herself up on one elbow and then leaned down so that her
lips were almost touching Gabrielle's. "You were excellent," she
whispered, bringing her mouth down to cover the bard's. The kiss was
sweet and deep, but after a short while, Xena broke away gently. "I'm
too tired for this tonight," she said, brushing a light kiss on
Gabrielle's cheek, "but I want you to know that as soon as I get rested
up, I fully intend to reciprocate what you did today."
"I'll look forward to that," murmured the bard. "But I did owe you
one, you know."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you forget? When we were making love at the inn and we got
interrupted and you said 'just remember who was doing what to whom'?"
Xena laughed. "Yeah, I had forgotten all about that. Well, I'm
still going to return the favor very soon," she said. Then she laid her
head on Gabrielle's chest.
In the other room, she heard Elkton unrolling the pallet again in
front of the fire. Then he put out the lights, one by one, and the
house settled into quiet darkness.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Remember when I came to you in that dream?"
"Yes. How'd you do that, by the way?"
"I don't know exactly. I just somehow realized that I could, so I
did. Anyway, I was wondering-- If this whole thing hadn't worked out
the way it did, would you have killed me, like I asked you to?"
"Maybe," Xena said slowly. "But I think it would have been the
hardest thing I ever did."
"What do you mean, 'maybe'? Xena, you promised me."
Xena raised up again, but she could not see her lover's face in the
dark. "I promised I would do it if there was no other way," she said,
"but I had another plan, too."
"What was it?"
"You're not going to like it."
"Tell me, Xena. What was it?"
"It was to go back to Ares--"
Gabrielle drew in a sharp breath.
"Wait. Let me finish," Xena said, putting her fingers over the
bard's lips. "I would go back to Ares, just until I was sure you were
safe, then I would get killed in battle."
"That's suicide," Gabrielle said softly.
"Oh, and asking someone else to kill you isn't?"
Gabrielle shuddered and pulled Xena back down against her, holding
her close for a few moments without speaking. Finally, she whispered,
"I still can't believe it."
"That you're lying here, alive and warm in my arms tonight, instead
Xena propped herself back up on her elbow and touched Gabrielle's
cheek with gentle fingers. "Don't go there," she said. "If we start
thinking about how things might have turned out, we'll go crazy. Just
accept the gift and enjoy."
"I'm trying to."
"Good. But I do want you to promise me one thing."
"The next time we run into a bard in a tavern, promise me you won't
talk to him, okay?"
There was silence and Xena knew that Gabrielle could not see her
"Xena, I can't promise that."
"You said you'd promise anything."
"I know, but not that. I'm always going to want to talk to other
bards, and most of them aren't going to drug me."
"Hmm. Well, okay. Then promise you won't talk to any bards who are
really Ares in disguise."
Gabrielle laughed. "Okay," she said. "If I see a bard who's really
Ares, I promise I won't talk to him at all. In fact, I promise I'll
start running the other direction as fast as I can!"
"Thanks," Xena said chuckling and laying her head down again. "I
feel better now that I have your word."
Gabrielle stroked the warrior's hair for a few moments, then said, "I
want you to promise me something, too, Xena."
"Promise me that if you ever decide to get bitten by a serpent again,
you'll pick one with a different color venom. That yellowish-green
stuff was really disgusting."
"Oh. Well, what color would you prefer?"
"I don't know. Just something more pleasant, like maybe lavendar."
"Yeah. Lavendar's a nice color."
"All right, I'll keep it in mind," Xena said, smiling.
Gabrielle yawned. "I'm getting kind of sleepy," she mumbled.
"Then go to sleep, Sweetheart."
"Okay. I love you, Xena."
"I love you, too. Good night."
Within moments, Gabrielle's breathing deepened, and Xena lay pressed
against her lover's warm body, listening to the steady heartbeat. She
knew that very soon she, too, would let Morpheus bear her softly away,
but for right now she was content to savor this beautiful moment . . .
this moment in which she felt so safe and warm, knew love was hers, and
that life was very, very good.
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