Within You and Without You

by ArdenTly

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures/USA Studios and MCA. No infringement is intended.

Any and all offerings, burnt or otherwise, can be directed to me at ArdentTly@yahoo.com

She leveled the room with shards of ice, pinning all those who would meet her steely gaze, defying all who would challenge her will. The warrior's fierce demeanor belied the gentle humour that lay deep below the surface, bubbling up rarely and only in the presence of a certain 'camp follower'. Xena watched as a tangle of mercenaries cast a leering eye in her companion's direction and grit her teeth. With ease and economy of movement she disarmed one such lout, causing him to fall back in a heap against his comrades. A fight amongst them ensued as the warrior gently adjusted her greaves, seemingly oblivious to the uproar around her.

The bard continued on with her endless chatter, totally unaware of the ill wishes around them. Many would give anything to be able to hold a certain Warrior Princess's head on a spike for all to see; their reputations made in that one single act. Some had tried and all had failed. Xena knew it would be but a matter of time.

Pushing such thoughts away, she tuned back to what the young woman was saying and let the melodious rhythm wash over her. Not quite a seasoned bard, Gabrielle was already showing the skills it would take to stand her in good stead when they reached Athens. That the woman would one day be renowned was a certainty and Xena had little doubt it would transpire soon.

Could she be somehow holding the young woman back? Was her presence a deterrent to those that would and could offer the bard more than Xena ever could?

Her attention was drawn to the small hand that kept flitting back and forth from her forearm to table, so casual and yet so personal. Xena doubted the woman knew the effect she was having on the ex warlord. Dragging her gaze away from the beautifully formed appendage, the silken sun-kissed skin, the gentle shape of the woman's elbow...

She swallowed once and quickly brought the tankard up to her lips, guzzling down a few mouthfuls until the ache receded in her belly. How could the gentle touch of such an unassuming woman render her a trembling fool? How could such softness tame that which other, stronger and decidedly fiercer hands couldn't?

Her eyes wandered up the woman's torso to the gentle turn of the bard's jaw line. Xena found herself almost waxing poetic as she dissected each part of the woman before her. The exquisitely shaped face, bowed lips, slender neck and shoulders, the small well-formed hands and feet, the petite yet plump well-endowed figure; all surely blessed by the gods. That such unassuming beauty could be found within this young wide eyed peasant was so surprising to her. In her time as a warlord, the Great Xena, Lord over half of Greece, had been offered such breath taking beauty with the purest of pedigrees as to bring Kingdoms to their knees with want. Her desire for just a mere slip of a girl would surely make even Hades laugh with merriment.

As she partook of the woman's seashell ear, her eyes feasting on its convolutions, she wondered just what drew the bard to her, and what made her stay.

Images of screaming faces, bloody bodies stacked high in the tall grasses and the forlorn hopeless eyes staring back at her from women and children assaulted her senses and she quickly pushed them away. Could she ever hope to be worthy of this young woman's respect let alone...

Xena dropped her chin to her chest wearily. Many such evenings were spent going over scorched earth, the results always the same: No. The warrior's past was so dark, so dismal that it might take her ten life times to atone for it all. But she would. For Gabrielle's love. It was this smallest glimpse of hope that floated within her psyche and urged her on; why she denied the ache both in her body from battles gone by and in her very soul and got up every morning to face a new day of personal torment. Having the bard so near was becoming almost more than she could bear.

Xena blinked as she felt a warm hand on her shoulder and nodded, the question unheard but answered nonetheless. The bard seemed satisfied with her response and so the warrior went back to wool gathering.

If she bared her heart, her soul to the woman would the response be revulsion and condemnation? Certainly the friendship the bard was offering was enough? Surely having someone care for you in any manner after years of brutality would be welcomed? And yet, in her heart, Xena knew it could not and never would be, enough.

Her gaze once more fell upon the effervescent blonde beside her, trapped by ruby lips and sea foam eyes. Would the bard ever look at her with eyes clouded by passion and love? She lived in the hope it would be so. One day.

Feeling the woman's hand once more upon her arm, the warrior found herself unable to resist the urge to hold such a thing of beauty. The bard stopped in mid sentence and looked over at the warrior in confusion.

Looking down, Gabrielle wondered at the grace and fluidity of such a strong well formed hand. Would such a woman ever use such hands upon her body? Could the warrior ever think of such a lowly bard as anything more than an irritant? She sighed as the answer raced through her brain before the question was even fully registered: No.

She had tried over the past few months to hone her skills in protecting herself and had even managed to be less clumsy but they all seemed to go unremarked. In fact, the warrior seemed all too eager to leave her with villagers at every opportunity. Dissuaded from using the sword, the bard felt unable to win the warrior over with her prowess as a fighter and had decided to spend time on her craft as both cook and storyteller. At least Xena seemed to appreciate her efforts in those areas.

Gabrielle sighed as she thought of the many ways she had tried to win the warrior's respect and, dare she hope, love. For her, it had been an easy thing to have adoration turn to feelings of love.

She had been captured as surely as a rabbit in a snare by the warrior's beauty and strength the first moment she'd laid eyes on the woman. It was that but so much more. Xena represented everything she'd been taught was unwomanly. The warrior was brave, fierce and independent, all the things she wanted, needed to be. The more she learned of the warrior, the easier it became to look past the stoic faŤade and see the honourable and caring individual that lay buried.

The bard shuddered at the mere thought of not obeying that little voice that told her to follow after the warrior. Life in the small town of Potedaia was mindless at best; her life and death already planned with little joy to be had between times. The mere presence of the warrior shone like a beacon to her, offering more than freedom; the compulsion to follow the light that radiated from Xena seemed as natural to the bard as breathing. It felt so right so destined that they should meet.

She watched as a few words fell from the warrior's lips and nodded, their meaning totally obscured by the pounding of her heart. She had tried so hard to convince the woman to let her stay and lived in fear that one day she'd be sent home. To die. She wondered what the warrior saw in her and why she was allowed to stay.

A man came to the table bearing their meager supper and each woman watched as he filled their vessels with cider. Neither was aware that their hands had remained in contact, happy to display to the world that which they dared not declare to each other.

And so the dance continued, each filled with longing and desire, ebbing and flowing as the violent world swirled around them; islands of calm and beauty in a sea of discord.

Copyright by ArdentTly

July 3, 1999

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