The Next Day
The story belongs to me, the characters from XWP to MCA/ Universal
Gabrielle spotted the smirk on Xena's face and only by force of will alone, stopped herself from smashing the fruit in her hand into her face. She was in a bad mood, and wasn't about to let go of it. She still couldn't believe the nasty trick Xena had pulled on her! For almost a week, she had been left sweating, agonizing over Xena's temper--and the possible retribution her anger it would bring. THEN to tell her that she had no intention of doing anything at all--that she did it all to herself was too much. Just when she was going to give Xena a piece of her mind--she PUSHED her into the water.
Gabrielle's face was picture of indignation and anger. Xena could read every little emotion going through that mind of hers, and was glad her friend wasn't the violent type. (Though she had been sleeping with one eye open--just to be on the safe side ) The fruit in Gabrielle's hand was almost pulp.*If she keeps that up, she's going to starve to death.. She's been so mad, she can't eat. I guess I'll just have to make it up to her. She isn't in the mood for another apology.* Xena tapped her fingers, trying to recall the place she had mentioned earlier.
*Dulan? Julen? No! Wait, it was Eulan. That's it!*
"Gabrielle?" she said in a soft voice.
"What!" she snapped back.
" Grab your things, I have a surprise for you."
"Like what? You going to push me off a cliff this time?" she sneered.
Xena looked crushed, tears brimming in her eyes. She turned away from the hurt she felt at the harsh, ugly words. Within seconds, she felt Gabrielle's hand on her arm.
"Xena! I'm so sorry! That was a horrible thing to say! You didn't deserve that. Please, forgive me." Gabrielle watched as her friend turned around, the tears running down her face, and felt a shame like no other. She stepped closer to her and wrapped her arms around her friend's waist and hugged her. "I'm sorry, Xena" Xena squeezed her back and held her.
They walked silently, both lost in their own thoughts. Each feeling guilty over what they had done to the other.
For Xena, it was the realization that she didn't always show her friend the respect that she deserved. She often made fun of her in thought if not in words. Gabrielle tried so hard to be a strong and contributing friend to her. The young woman struggled so hard to learn how to use her staff, to learn everything she taught her about tactics and forest lore She rarely complained about the harshness of their traveling pace or the lack of civilized amenities. The bard took everything on the chin, and smiled through it all. She had stuck by her through thick and thin--even when she didn't deserve it.
Gabrielle stared at the ground without really seeing it. Her mind was on the fact that she had just spoken the most horrible words she had ever heard. She was grateful that Xena seemed to forgive her, but she was unsure that she could forgive herself. *Why did I say that?* Never before had she seen such hurt on another's face before. The sight of tears in her strong friend's eyes felt like a knife had been stabbed into her heart. With everything within her, she wished she could go back in time and erase that remark. But it had been said, and she'd have to make it up to her somehow.
"So, where are we headed?" Gabrielle said, breaking the silence.
Xena smiled slightly. "It was going to be a surprise. I had decided to head for Eulan--sort of an apology for pushing you in the water."
"Oh, Xena! You were try to..." Xena placed a hand on her shoulder.
"No! Don't say you're sorry. I'm the one who pushed you too hard. I brought it on myself. If anyone should apologize, it's me. I haven't been fair to you at all. I used you like a compost heap--dumping my bad temper and insecurities on you."
"Insecurities! Xena, you are one of the most self-confident women I know!"
"Sometimes. Other times it's a habit to act that way.' Don't let 'em see you sweat' philosophy. If they don't know you have a weakness--they can't use it against you," Xena confessed.
Xena's words rang through her head. She fell silent again, trying to make sense of the words and emotions revealed to her.
"Xena, may I ask you a question?"
Xena started to roll her eyes, then realized it was a habit she had fallen into. She winced inside, but forced herself to face Gabrielle with a straight face. "Uh huh. Go ahead," she said neutrally, fearing the question. The bard always seemed to rattle her cage lately with her 'questions'.
Gabrielle suppressed a smile. She saw Xena wipe the look off her face. She had to give her credit--she was trying. She gave Xena a break. The question she had would be one that would really test the strength of their friendship. Maybe later would be best.
"When are you going to feed me? I'm starved!" she said with a playfully hurt tone.
Xena stopped and stared at Gabrielle. She looked into her eyes, and knew that wasn't the original question. *She isn't so sure about us anymore.* , She thought with sadness. *I really messed things up, didn't I?* The warrior looked away and attempted to put on a smile for Gabrielle's sake. She placed her arm around her friend's shoulder and with a grand flourish of her arm, she pointed up the road.
"Will a few moments be soon enough for you, my amazon princess? Come now! Untold pleasures for the palate await you."
Gabrielle laughed with a carefree spirit at Xena's antics as she followed her towards the village.
"...so Lila was running from this enraged bull, and jumped over a stone fence in just in the nick of time. The only problem was--she jumped right into a thorn bush. She was so mad because the family laughed at her!" Gabrielle explained with a laugh.
Xena laughed too, but it was due to her friend's newly relaxed behavior. A filling meal and storytelling made all the difference.*I never realized until now that she needs that release. She can't bottle up all those thoughts and feeling like I do.*
"Do you need a room for the night? The sun has set, and it's too dangerous to travel now," the inn's owner said.
The two women looked out the window and saw that it was dark. without a full moon to see by, making camp would be difficult. They agreed to a room and followed him.
Xena awoke. She was freezing. The fire had burned out and Gabrielle had hogged all the covers and had the audacity to burrow up next to her for warmth. Xena attempted to pull the covers back over to her, but her friend had a death grip even in her sleep. She sighed and got up to restart the fire. The room felt icy and she stepped gingerly along the cold floor. Cursing under her breath, she relit the fire and fed it until it was blazing once again. The warrior returned to the bed and looked down at her bundled friend.
She wanted to be nice about this, but by Hades, she wasn't going to freeze! The tall warrior grabbed the covers from Gabrielle with a mighty pull. The bard awoke with a gasp.
"By the Gods! What are you doing?" she yelled.
"Trying not to freeze, you bed hog! Move over!" she commanded.
"Oh! I'm sorry Xena. Come here!" Gabrielle untangled herself and lifted the covers as she motioned Xena to climb in. Xena got in, and pulled the covers around her. She closed her eyes, attempting to fall asleep again, when Gabrielle giggled.
"What!?" Xena snapped. Gabrielle giggled again.
"'Bed hog!' That's so funny!" she said.
"Huh? You want to explain that?" Xena asked.
"No, not really---Goodnight sister bed hog," she snuck in under her breath. Xena rolled her eyes.
Gabrielle and Xena entered the town of Eulan. The Bard was excited, and once again thanked Xena for bringing her here. She just couldn't believe they were here! Once every year, the bards of the graduating class from the Academy gathered here to tell their stories and epic tales before going out into the world to earn their living. Eulan was just a half day's journey from Athens, and welcomed the bards with open arms. It was a time for celebration and feasting. It was held here, rather than Athens because one of the founding members of the Academy had grown up there. It was a reminder that great Bards didn't all come from large cities, but mainly from the smaller towns like this.
The town was decorated in flowers and silk streamers. Performers juggled and ate fire and sang songs at every available space. Venders tried to catch the attention of passing people, and children ran among the crowds laughing. Xena kept a tight hold on Argo's reins, and her eyes out for thieves. Gabrielle placed a hand on her arm, and pointed to a stable located behind an inn. Gabrielle ran into the inn and enquired about a room. They were full, but agreed to store their belongings until they picked them up later in the day. They left Argo at the stables and made their way back to the festivities.
"Oh, Xena. I just can't believe this! When you apologize, you do it with style!' she gushed.
"Then I'm forgiven?" she asked with a smile.
"Of course! How could I ever stay mad at you? You're the best friend I've ever had! I know you hate crowds, and yet you still wanted to do this for me. That tells me more than any words you could tell me."
"Then it's worth it. Come on, lets have our ears talked off," she teased.
They had been standing for hours, listening to the new bards perform until Xena felt like screaming. She couldn't stay in one place like this for much longer. The older woman leaned down and whispered into Gabrielle's ear.
"I need to walk around for a while. You can stay here if you want."
"That's OK. This guy isn't all that interesting. I'll come with you."
They worked their way through the crowds, though it didn't take much effort with the Warrior Princess leading the way. People naturally stepped aside for her. Gabrielle kept a hand on Xena's arm, not wanting to get separated in the mass of bodies around them. She felt Xena stiffen for a moment, then relax, not noticing the man with the bleeding nose on the ground. (Some guys never learn to keep their hands to themselves!) Xena continued until she reached a food vender. Gabrielle didn't argue. They paid for their meal and looked for a place to sit. Finding an empty spot next to a building, they sat on the cool ground.
They ate quickly, and sat back to watch the crowds. Suddenly, Xena asked a question that startled Gabrielle.
"What was the question you were really going to ask me?"
Gabrielle felt shock going through her like a bolt of lightning from Zeus' own hand. The young woman felt her heart pound in her chest, as she wondered how Xena had known she had not asked the real question, and then to dare ask what it was. Xena had been dreading the question, the blond had seen it in her eyes. It mirrored the same fear she saw now in those blue eyes. The bard weighed the consequences in her mind and heart, not sure if she was ready for the answer herself.
" Is it important I ask it now?" Gabrielle asked.
" It looked important to you. You have a way of asking painful questions, ones that I'd rather not face or discuss sometimes---" Xena looked steadily into her eyes, "but they are often insightful and healing to me. They're a catalyst in many ways. Don't be afraid of asking them, Gabrielle. I may not always answer, but they do make me think things through," Xena explained softly.
Gabrielle thought it over for several minutes, digesting what she had been told. She looked at her friend and spoke.
"You had told me that you 'never let 'em see you sweat' because no one could use your weaknesses against you that way," Gabrielle watched Xena nod, " Do you feel intimidated by me somehow?" Gabrielle finally asked.
Xena's face flinched, looking guilty and ashamed. She looked away and remained silent for quite a while. Gabrielle could only wait and hope she didn't destroy their friendship over this.
Gabrielle jumped at the suddenness of the word. All she could think of was, "Why?"
"Because deep down inside, I know you're a better person than I can ever hope to be," Xena said with a soft whisper.
"So you act tough, and try to hide the fact I intimidate you! Xena, that's the most outrageous thing I have ever heard! Don't you know how much I admire you? In many ways, I think you are the strongest person I have ever seen--on the inside. If anyone should feel intimidated, it should be me. You do what you think is right without compromise--regardless to the pain it brings you. I can only hope to become like you in some ways," she confessed.
"You don't want to become like me--a creature of such ugliness. The blood on my hands is there forever, with no hope of redemption. You, on the other hand, are a reminder to me of everything I've lost. And everything I can't regain."
"I cause you pain," Gabrielle said with sadness.
Xena grabbed her friend's hand, wanting to speak her heart for once. "Yes, but it's bittersweet pain, Gabrielle. I need the pain to keep me focused. I don't want to be left with nothing inside--and that's what would happen if I lost your friendship."
"Never in this lifetime, Xena. I need you as much you need me. Together, we're stronger than we could ever be apart."
Each embraced the other, happy that another bridge had been crossed without harm.
They left early, wanting to be several hours away from the festivities and possible trouble makers when they made camp. As they walked, they would often smile at each other, feeling like a load had been lifted from their shoulders. They were once more comfortable with their friendship. They didn't feel the need to fill the air with empty chatter and spoke only on occasion. They spotted a clearing near a stream and stopped for the night.
Xena spent time grooming Argo, feeling a little guilty over how much time she had been spending in the stable. She talked softly to the horse as she worked. Sometimes Argo made a good listening post.
"Have I ever told you that I enjoy listening to you two talk?" Gabrielle said without warning.
Xena gave her a lopsided grin. "Why is that?
"Because I can almost swear that Argo understands every word you say," Argo nickered in reply. "See? She talks back when someone includes her. She does it all the time," Argo tossed her head and butted Gabrielle gently on the shoulder. Xena laughed.
"I don't think so--I know so. I just didn't realize that you 'listened' to our conversations. How interesting could that be to you?" she asked.
"Because, you always show her your gentle side," she commented with a big smile. She didn't want Xena trying to apologize again.
"Uh huh," she said after a few seconds, " You don't abuse somebody that's capable of stomping you into the ground if she wanted to," she joked while giving Argo a hug around the neck. Argo nickered her answer.
"I think she said 'uh huh' in horse talk," said Gabrielle
"Hang around with me long enough, and you'll understand her too."
"Heading anywhere in special?" Gabrielle asked.
"Not really. I haven't heard about any problems in the area. I just thought we would just head down the coast for a while." Xena saw a grimace on Gabrielle's face. "What?"
"I don't want to see the ocean again. I had enough to last me years. How about the mountains? It's still summer, and it shouldn't be too cold.," she suggested.
"Sure. You want to travel by road or cross country?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle, not used to being asked, stumbled over the answer,"Uh...What do you think is best?"
"Probably the roads, but we will have to travel a little while on this road until it branches off. It won't add that much time, and there's more places to get supplies."
"Sounds good to me. You *do* know I like being fed on a regular basis," she said with a cheeky grin.
They stopped at a tavern since it was the only place to get a meal. Somehow, Gabrielle got *talked* into telling a story to the locals. Her story was about her exploits with the Amazons and the challenge with Queen Melosa. Xena tuned it out. She had heard it more than once. The warrior mentally planned the route they would take and the places they could camp at. There was several decent inns along the way. In spite of it being summer, she didn't want to spend all her time freezing outdoors--it got real chilly at night in the mountains.
The sound of someone placing a cup on the table snapped her out of her thoughts. Gabrielle had finished her story if the applause was anything to go by. Gabrielle placed some coins into her bag. Taverns were always good for tips.
"Almost ready to leave?" Xena asked.
"Sure, if we hurry, I heard about a great place down the road where you can get the best nut bread..."
"Not so fast, woman," a huge man stood next to the table, a cup of ale in his beefy hand. He sneered at Xena with contempt in his eyes.
"This friend of yours tells a pretty little story, but I think she's full of shit! There ain't a woman alive that could do what she claims about you. Ares wouldn't waste his spit on a broad," he told them. He didn't see the cold steel in Xena's eyes or the stiffening of her body. He continued with his insults as he stupidly placed his hand on Gabrielle's waist. " Hey, you're a pretty little thing. why don't we..," his suggestion was stopped cold by a sword held to his throat.
"Take your hand off her and move away," Xena said with a soft dangerous tone. Her eyes blazed in cold fury. He snatched away his hand and did as he was told. The patrons in the tavern watched in silence. Gabrielle moved out of the way, guessing what would happen next. Xena re sheathed her sword, knowing the idiot would suddenly regain his pride and try to get even. It was fine with her. He rushed her just as she took her hand off the pommel.
She twisted and avoided being grabbed by his outstretched arms, and kneed him in the gut. His breath came out in a whistling gush, but he didn't go down. Xena took a step back and grinned evilly, the smile not reaching her eyes. He was now angry and humiliated in front of his friends. She had to be beaten for pride's sake. Before he could rush her again, something hit him behind the knees, throwing him to the floor.
"This one's mine, Xena," Gabrielle announced. Her staff in hand, she winked at her tall friend. Xena smiled at her, and motioned to her that he was all hers. "Let's see if you can take on a 'little thing' before you take on someone larger, shall we?" Gabrielle mocked.
The man turned to Gabrielle, and was hit by a series of blows he never saw coming. He sat in a painful daze on the floor, bleeding from his forehead and nose. He didn't look willing to get up again.
"Hmmph!" commented Gabrielle, "That was too easy, Xena. Now--let's go get that nut bread."
Xena laughed and patted Gabrielle on the back."OK, Princess. Let's go before you have to teach manners to someone else."
"So, why did you decide to take him on? You usually don't have a problem with me thumping manners into bozos," Xena asked.
"Because I didn't like him saying I was full of..."
"Sorry. Besides, he was easy pickings. Don't worry. I won't make a regular habit of it. You'd start fretting about me becoming a big bad warrior like you if I did. I know you would, don't deny it.!" Gabrielle said with a smile. Xena looked sheepish.
"True. But if I thought for one moment that you would start enjoying the idea of hurting people, I'd send you home in no time flat. I won't see you turn into a merciless fighter. I like you the way you are."
Gabrielle smiled in pleasure, and playfully punched Xena in the arm.
"You're not too bad yourself, Xena."
Once again, Xena stared in awe at Gabrielle's ability to put away food. She was working on her second large plate, and wasn't slowing down. *It's a good thing she gets plenty of exercise!* thought Xena. She had been satisfied with a moderate helping, and stopped.
"Could you pass the nut bread, Xena?"
Xena grinned from ear to ear. "Sure__Are you certain you don't want me to get a pack mule? That way we could take the whole batch he baked and..."
"Xena!" Gabrielle said in a playful hurt tone."I'm not that bad! Am I?"
"No. But it is fun to tease you, you know. I don't know how such a little thing could put away so much."
"Huh? You want to repeat that?"
"You know, hollow legs. That's what my father used to say. I had hollow legs just so I could eat more," she said with a grin.
"Uh huh. I bet he complained about the cost of feeding you, too."
"Sometimes. But he made me do plenty of work to make up for it. I not only helped mother around the house, I helped in the fields as well. I think he just liked hearing my stories though. It made the day go by faster."
Xena smiled indulgently, "I bet it did at that."
"Gabrielle, why don't you ride with me? There's a special place I want to camp at tonight, but we can't reach it unless you ride."
Gabrielle, reached up and hauled herself behind Xena with her help. She didn't ride often, she was prone to motion sickness, but she didn't want to disappoint her friend. It had to be a good site, if Xena wanted to go there.
Xena 'tched' at Argo and Gabrielle held on tightly as she picked up the pace.
"Here it is," Xena said as she brought the horse to a halt.
Gabrielle leaned sideways to get a better view. They were in a glade, surrounded by trees. In front of them was a small pool with several small waterfalls emptying into it. Gabrielle was enchanted.
"This looks like a private nook to the Gods !" she said in wonder, "It's beautiful!"
Xena smiled, pleased with her friend's reaction. She had found this place by accident years ago, and never had shown it to anyone--until now. It was just as she remembered it. The sun sparkled on the water, and birds chirped a contented song in the trees. Peace filled the very air in this place. She felt herself relax from just being here.
Gabrielle hopped down and looked around for a while, then returned to Argo to start unpacking. Xena helped her set up camp. Once completed, she removed her armor and boots to fish. They were plentiful in the pool and wouldn't take long to catch enough for their evening meal. She waded into the pool and cocked her head, waiting for a likely victim to swim by.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle started a fire, and wiped road dust from her cooking utensils. She placed her stew pot on a tripod of sticks and filled it with water. The self appointed cook then added sliced vegetables and herb sprigs along with sea salt for flavoring. She heard a soft thud. One fish. Gabrielle took out the cloth-wrapped cheese and cut off several slices. Splash. Thud. Two fish. She tossed the knife over in the direction of the fish. Xena would clean them, she would cook them. She unwrapped the infamous nut bread and tore off a chunk to hold her until dinner was ready. Thunk. Two fish landed in her fry pan.
"You do too! Even when you were high on henbane, you were trying to kill bugs--at least that's the way I saw it," Xena said
"Well, I can't help it. I hate bugs. I refuse to sit down with them crawling around, or have them in my bedroll. And exactly what was I doing when I was under the influence of henbane?" Gabrielle asked.
"You were lifting the pillows in the room and thumping the furniture with your staff. If things hadn't been so crazy at the moment, I would have been rolling on the floor," she said with a smile.
"Yeah, right! The Mighty Xena on the floor with uncontrollable mirth with witnesses around," Gabrielle's mind tried to picture it, and she laughed at the image she saw.
"What?" she said in an irked tone.
"I just tried to see it. It *is* a funny picture, Xena.' Imagine--The Warrior Princess, lost in the silliness of her companion's actions, rolls on the floor with laughter, Onlookers watch in disbelief as she looses all control.'--waitaminute, I need to write this down." Gabrielle searched her bag for her parchment and quill.
"Xena? Can I ask a question?" she said with a sly smile.
"NO! Gabrielle, I swear I'm gonna..," she saw her friend's impish smile and stopped.
"Why you little...I outta ..," she made a fist, waving it in a threatening manner.
"Gotcha! You should have seen your face! " Gabrielle said in between giggles. Xena didn't answer verbally. She gave her friend the 'look' and let her eyes slowly look upon the pool--then back to Gabrielle.
Her friend caught on to the hint real fast.
"NO! Not that! Xena! Now wait a minute..," she slowly backed up as Xena approached her slowly like a hunting lion, a naughty smile on her lips. Gabrielle look for an escape route, but saw none. Trees weren't an option, Xena climbed even better than she did. Gabrielle decided on the time honored method. She pleaded for mercy.
"Not this time, Gabrielle. You_are_going_in! " Xena lunged for the bard just as she had turned to run. She grabbed her friend from behind and lifted her off her feet, carrying her kicking and screaming to the pool's edge. She waded into the water, and tossed her in.
Gabrielle came up sputtering and cursing.
"My, my. what a mouth you're developing, Gabrielle! If your poor mother could just hear you! " Xena mocked.
Gabrielle's answer was to grab her leg and yank. Both fell back into the pool. The water fight began. It was a mean and dirty battle. Both combatants took turns in getting dunked, both were pushed and shoved in the effort to best the other. Argo drew back, disliking getting splashed by default. She nickered her disapproval.
They dried off while laughing, Gabrielle tossed her cloth at Xena after she was finished.
"You know, you never let me ask my question," she said.
"The pool is still there, Gabrielle," Xena warned with a crooked grin.
"That was part of my question. I was going to ask if we could hang around here for a few days. It's such a nice spot," she told her friend
"And you got tossed in the pool for a harmless question. *But*, you only brought it on yourself--with that self-satisfied grin of yours--I didn't know you had a real question!"
"Well, it was my own fault. But to quote you 'But it's so much fun!' " she admitted.
"Uh huh. I have to admit, I've been more relaxed lately. I should have started picking on you alot sooner. It reminds me of all the roughhousing my brothers and I used to get into--except I was a lot rougher with them than I'm with you."
"Are you telling me that you think I'm a wimp to be coddled?" Gabrielle asked.
"No, I'm telling you that I'm unwilling to hurt you. Brothers are different. You smack them and bruise them with little remorse---but you don't do that with friends," Xena told her.
"Hmmph! Maybe I can use that to my advantage. What do you think, Argo?"
Argo gave off several snorts and nickers.
"What did she say, Xena?"
Xena watched herself in horror, she saw herself approach Gabrielle with outreached hands, grabbing her clothing and holding her in place as she struck her over and over. Blood trailed down pale skin and her face and body was bruised and swollen. The life within her was leaving, and she screamed at the ugliness of her own actions.
"Xena! Wake up! Xena! "
Xena opened her eyes in panic. Her breathing a painful gasping. *Gabrielle?* She felt her friend's arms wrap around her, and heard her murmur soothing words, though she couldn't understand them above the pounding of her heart. Gabrielle rocked her like a child, holding her close. Xena reached out and held on for dear life, trying to get hold of herself. *It was just a nightmare! Just a nightmare!*
"Xena, it's OK. I have you."
Xena closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Gabrielle looked down at her friend that slept in her arms. Her face was a picture of agony. Even in her sleep, she looked as though she was suffering. Gabrielle suffered right along with her in sympathy. Xena didn't suffer from as many nightmares as she used to, but each one was a heart-wrenching experience for her. Gabrielle, gently lowered her back to her bedroll. She softly brushed the hair from Xena's face and pulled the covers over her. The bard stood and touched her swollen face.
Xena had lashed out at her in her sleep, and she had foolishly forgot to duck. The young womanhad known better than to grab her friend too quickly during her nightmare, and now paid the price for not remembering. She took a cloth from her satchel and wet it with the cool water from the pool. Gabrielle held it to her face, her lip was bleeding from the blow and it stung from the water.
*Great, I finally got her to just be herself, and relax--now she's going to go back to being stiff again. I like the playful side of her. It shows how much she trusts me when she's that way.*
Gabrielle returned to her bedroll and crawled in. It was a long time before she fell asleep.
Gabrielle woke to the sounds of Xena preparing breakfast. Xena rarely did unless they were planning to stay for the day. Usually she was happy with a handful of cold leftovers or bread and cheese. Gabrielle delayed getting up. The covers still covered her face, and Xena hadn't seen her yet. She decided to prepare her before letting her get a look at her.
"Hmm? You're awake. Hurry up, the food is almost ready."
"Not just yet. Do you remember what happened last night--about the nightmare?" she asked with dread.
"Yes. I want to thank you, it was a horrible dream about hurting you. I'm sorry I woke you last night," the regret evident in her voice.
*Gods!* It was worse than she thought. It was going to be twice as bad as she feared.
"What happened in the dream?" she wanted to know.
"Gabrielle, I don't want to think about it. It was bad. Leave it alone," she pleaded.
"I can't. I did something really stupid last night, Xena. Something so stupid, that I'm afraid you'll try to take the blame for it," she confessed.
Gabrielle felt Xena touch her shoulder through the bedroll. "What happened, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle grabbed hold of her covers, afraid Xena would pull them away before she could explain.
" I heard you crying out in your sleep, and that's when I did it. I grabbed you without warning. I usually approach you slowly when you have nightmares, I talk to you first. Last night, I forgot. You tagged me a good one."
Gabrielle slowly pulled down her covers, and faced Xena.
Xena stared at her friends face, and she was appalled. Her lips was swollen and purple with bruises, and her jawline was just as bad. She felt ashamed. Xena gently touched Gabrielle's battered face, and tears came to her eyes.
"Oh, Gabrielle, .I'm so sorry..."
"No! I told you it was *my* fault, and I meant it. You are not to blame for this. It was just bad timing.You are a trained warrior and I grabbed you in your sleep," she tried to re-explain herself. Xena didn't deserve feeling guilty for this.
"But Gabrielle, I could have just as easily kill... hurt you worse, you know that as well as I do! How could you dismiss this as a... mishap?" she asked in a shocked tone.
Gabrielle shocked her further. She Laughed! Not a laugh meant to reassure, but a belly laugh that shook her whole body. She had tears running down her face, and couldn't seem to stop. Xena watched with her mouth hanging open, unable to believe her eyes. Before she knew what was happening, she found her self laughing right along with her. She had no idea what was so funny, but couldn't control her giggles. Finally, mercifully, the laughter ended with only an occasional giggle.They wiped the tears from their eyes, and tried to recover.
"Now what were we laughing about?" Xena asked.
"You. Talk about the master of understatement---you win the grand prize. Mishap? That was too funny. Now I want you to listen to me. It was my fault, not yours. I don't want you blaming yourself, or saying something stupid like you are a danger to me. I don't want you retreating back into your shell. I happen to like the Xena that has shown herself lately. That is what I was more afraid of more than anything. I've learned more about you in the last month than I had all year. Do you want to know what I learned?" she didn't wait for a reply.
"I learned that you are a caring, gentle person. You think you are a monster, but that was an illusion of the past. Your past is your nightmare. The here and now is your reality, and all you have to do is wake up and accept it."
Xena smiled at her friend and said softly, "How did you get so smart?"
"If I'm so smart, why does my face hurt?" she said with a cocky grin. She leaned over and tweaked Xena's nose.
"Now where's that food you mentioned?"
They stayed by the secluded pool for several days, spending time resting and talking. Gabrielle managed with her persistent reassurances, to get Xena to forgive herself for the accidental blow she landed on her friend. But Xena only pretended, she couldn't forget that she had done it, with the black and blue marks on Gabrielle's face even more apparent than the first morning. They were a constant reminder of her violent nature.
They were passing through a small village along the road. They wanted to pick up a few fresh supplies before moving on. The village was peaceful, and Gabrielle placed her staff into a saddlebag, wanting both hands free as she shopped.
They stopped at a small farmer's stall, looking over what was available. The farmer stared at Gabrielle for several minutes, a disapproving look on his face. Xena noticed it and glared at him.
"What is your problem?" she snapped.
"Nothing. It's none of my business that you abuse your slave," he said with contempt.
"She's not my slave! Gabrielle's my friend. Where did you get such an idea?" she asked.
He pointed at Gabrielle with a chin. "By those bruises. They only look like that from someone putting them there. It's hard to get marks like that by accident," he commented.
"It *was* an accident, though. She may be a warrior, but she isn't the type to own a slave, much less abuse them," Gabrielle piped in.
"Could have fooled me," he said.
Xena looked at the man with an expressionless face. The walls were back up. Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's elbow and pulled her away from the stall.
"Don't do this to us, Xena. Tell me what you're thinking," she demanded.
"That he's right. I used to own and abuse slaves, Gabrielle."
"But that was in the past. I thought we went over this already. You are no longer that evil warlord. Sure--you play a little rough sometimes, but it's not like I don't try to give as good as I get. Would you feel any better if I walloped you?" she said in attempt to lighten the mood.
"Actually, I would."
"Xena! Now you're being silly. What would that accomplish? Nothing. Besides, I did that once and almost broke my hand. Remember?" she said with a silly smile and a little poke to Xena's midsection.
Xena suddenly relaxed and smiled. "Yeah, I do. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to not laugh in your face that day. You were so funny."
Gabrielle laughed and gave her friend a long hug, not caring that people watched and stared.
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