For Disclaimers see Ch. 1
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Letting Go Ch 2
* * *
So by the morning light
We'll be halfway to anywhere
Where love is more than just your name
Gabrielle wandered up to the practice yard which was surprisingly empty except for one lone figure. She stood there a moment watching Eponin practice her staff forms with fluid grace and precision. Seeing her move, Gabrielle could well understand why she’d been chosen to be weapons master to the Amazons despite her young age.
Eponin executed a final sweep, spinning around and coming to a stop facing the young queen. She let her staff fall, drawing in several deep quick breaths, bowing slightly. “Queen Gabrielle, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Please Eponin, I don’t really stand on formality.” Gabrielle strode up to her, holding up her hands, a slight smile on her face at the other woman’s use of her title.
“Of course my queen.” Eponin nodded, resting her staff against the ground.
Gabrielle chuckled, her smile growing. Of all the Amazons, Eponin was the most reserved with her and often the toughest nut to crack. “Really Eponin, you can call me Gabrielle. As a matter of fact I insist.”
Eponin smiled slightly, a bit unsure but willing to give it a whirl. “All right, so Gabrielle, what can I do for you?”
“Well, Xena’s busy with Ephiny right now and I don’t have a lot to do, so I thought maybe I’d take you up on your offer to spar.” Gabrielle walked over to a nearby weapons wrack, looking over the staffs leaning against it. She grabbed one, thumped it against the ground a couple of times and turned to face the dark-haired weapons master.
Eponin shrugged as she stepped into the center of the practice yard. “Sounds good to me.” She twirled her staff a few times a sudden memory of the last time Gabrielle had been in the village coming to her. “I promise to go easy on you. I know you haven’t been practicing for long.” She took her stance and waited for Gabrielle to join her.
Smirking, Gabrielle took her place. “You might want to rethink that one. Don’t forget who I’ve been traveling with for the past year. She’s been a great sparring partner.”
Eponin paused in thought as she was reminded of the tall, dark and deadly woman who was the young queen’s friend. “Point taken, shall we?”
With a wicked smile Gabrielle nodded and launched the first series against her opponent.
* * *
I have dreamt of a place for you and I
No one knows who we are there
After their talk, Xena left Ephiny alone in the throne room and found herself wandering around the village a bit. Looking for something to occupy her until she needed to go collect Gabrielle from her sparring practice, she let her feet and her mind wander as she walked.
And just as they had that morning, her thoughts drifted back over the events of the past several days. Despite the severity of the situation they’d found themselves in, Xena could not help but chuckle as she recalled the sheer persistence displayed by the demented newly born goddess. That was what had saved them in the end really. Valesca had been far too single minded, far too focused on her thirst for revenge to see the canyon closing in around her. The fury of her rage had blinded her to nearly everything around her.
All that mattered to her in the end was finding and killing Gabrielle. Everything else paled in comparison to that driving need. Because somewhere along the line, her ambition to revive the Amazon nation to its former glory had changed and festered into a seething, hateful need to see it burning at her feet.
Xena supposed it was the woman’s brush with death that changed her. It was possible; after all she had seen far stranger things happen. But it seemed far more likely that Valesca’s violent transformation into a goddess, being pulled from the very brink of death itself, somehow snapped her already fragile mind. Whatever its cause, that insanity, that touch of chaos that entered her mind gave them the advantage they desperately needed to defeat her.
Of course it had helped that everyone involved had played their part to the letter. Almost as if they were following a script she’d written for them. Somehow despite the complex and convoluted nature of her plan, it had played out without a hitch. And the end result had been far more pleasing to all involved than Xena could have hoped for.
Valseca and Callisto were both trapped, bound to fight each other in the midst of their molten prison until the end of time. In Xena’s mind, two threats had been removed with one fell swoop.
Xena was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of running feet and her name being loudly yelled from behind her. She stopped, turning to face Altara, the Amazon healer.
“Xena, I’m glad I found you.” The slightly shorter woman stopped in front of her, her face worried.
A twinge of fear cut through her and Xena resisted the urge to grab the woman and shake her. “Is everything all right? Has something happened to Gabrielle?” She kept her tone as light and neutral as possible.
Altara shook her head, seemingly unsurprised at Xena’s questions. “It’s not the queen. I need your help.”
Xena mentally breathed a sigh of relief as she nodded. “What’s the problem?”
Altara indicated that Xena should come with her and the two of them fell into step as they walked back through the center of the village.
“The scouts on the western border brought a woman in with a very strange illness. I’ve never seen it before; I was hoping you might know what it is.” Her voice was tinged with fear; all they needed now was an epidemic sweeping through the village.
Xena nodded suddenly all business, the unspoken message of a possible outbreak getting through loud and clear. “Tell me about her, maybe I’ll figure it out by the time we get there.” And they hurried off towards the healing hut and the new patient.
* * *
Almost an hour later, Xena left the healing hut much relieved. Where before she and Altara had feared outbreak of an unknown illness, they now knew was a simple case of accidental poisoning. Xena knew it the moment she began examining the strange woman; she’d seen it several times before. So she gave a list of explicit instructions with the Amazon healer for administering the antidote and left her in Altara’s capable hands.
Free once more and having managed to kill a great deal of time, Xena decided to go to the practice yard and collect Gabrielle for lunch. As she walked up, she noticed that there was quite a crowd surrounding the yard. She smirked slightly as she realized that Gabrielle and Eponin’s sparring match was the likely reason for the audience.
She pushed her way to a clear spot in the crowd where she had a good view of the practice yard and its two occupants. She stood there a moment, simply watching the young bard expertly maneuver Eponin around the yard, looking for the chance to take her down and disarm her.
From the look of concentration on both women’s faces and the amount of sweat flying off of them, Xena guessed that they had been going at it for awhile. She crossed her arms over her chest, watching the bard’s performance closely.
She had improved a great deal in the past year. Her movements were sure and precise and at least two steps ahead of Eponin’s. That had been the hardest skill of all for her to acquire, to think ahead of her opponent, to anticipate their next moves.
When it came to verbal sparring, the bard had no equal; at least none that Xena had ever seen. The young woman was beyond gifted in that arena, she could talk an Amazon out of her feathers if she really tried. But physically, well that was a different story.
When they first began sparring together, she admired Gabrielle’s persistence and determination to learn but that pride had been overshadowed by worry. Before Gabrielle’s adoption into the tribe, she had been merely a peasant girl, nothing for a soldier or warrior to find threat with. But when she began carrying her staff, an obvious weapon, she changed from a simple peasant girl to a threat.
And that had caused Xena a great deal of anxiety in the beginning, something she would never admit to anyone; not even Gabrielle. Before, she merely had to keep track of Gabrielle to keep her safe. But once the young woman was considered a threat, it made her job much harder. She was not only forced to keep track of Gabrielle and her opponent, but to also keep an eye on Gabrielle while she fought, on the off chance that Gabrielle found herself in over her head; which in the beginning had been quite often.
Xena smiled as Gabrielle executed a reverse sweep and knocked Eponin off her feet before following through with a hold to the throat. Now, that was no longer such a problem.
Xena walked towards the two women as the other Amazons slowly began walking away. “She’s good, isn’t she?” She said loudly as Gabrielle backed off, releasing the hold.
Eponin frowned slightly as Gabrielle offered her a hand up. She took it, dusting herself off as she stood. “Yeah, she’s improved a lot.” She gave Xena a rueful grin. “I forgot who’s she’s been traveling with.”
Gabrielle and Xena both laughed. “Yeah, we get that a lot.” Xena looked at Gabrielle, crossing her arms over her chest, smirking slightly. “Are you done beating up on the other Amazons?” She lifted an eyebrow in the bard’s direction.
Gabrielle chuckled. “Yeah, is it lunch time yet?” Her stomach took that moment to give a soft growl.
Xena chuckled and threw her arm across the young woman’s shoulders, leading her away from the practice yard as she smiled. “Close enough, let’s go see what we can find.” As they walked away, Xena spoke up, loud enough for her voice to drift back to Eponin.. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to play nice?” She heard a faint chuckle from behind them as Gabrielle softly slapped her side.
“I play nice with you don’t I?” Her tone was indignant and teasing.
Xena laughed. “Only because you can’t beat the tar out of me yet.”
Gabrielle wound her arm around Xena’s waist, leaning into the taller woman slightly as she snorted. “Give me enough time and I think I can give even you a run for your money, oh Warrior Princess.”
Xena laughed loudly giving the young woman a one armed hug as she led her off to feed her bottomless pit.
* * *
All I want is to give my life only to you
I've dreamt so long I cannot dream anymore
Let's run away, I'll take you there
A short time later, after they had stopped at the queen’s hut for Gabrielle to wash up a bit, they walked into the food hut to find Ephiny and Eponin already there.
Ephiny looked up as they approached, smiling a bit. “Hey guys.”
Gabrielle smiled at them as they walked up to the table. “Hey Ephiny, Eponin. Mind if we join you?” She asked even as she grabbed an empty glass of water and took a deep drink.
Eponin snorted slightly, waving her hand. “Help yourself.”
Xena gently pushed Gabrielle onto the bench. “Take a seat your majesty, I’ll get the grub.” She walked off.
Gabrielle sat down across from the regnant and the weapons master, cradling her half empty glass in her hands.
Ephiny grabbed a nearby pitcher and refilled Gabrielle’s glass knowing full well just how thirsty the young queen was after her extended staff bout with Eponin. “Did you have a nice sparring session Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle nodded, taking another deep drink. “Yeah I did.” She gave Eponin a sheepish grin. “Sorry about that last hit Eponin.”
Eponin waved off her apologies. “No worries; I’m sure I’ll get sensation back into my backside before the day is out.” She reached out to rub the afore mentioned body part
Ephiny and Gabrielle laughed at the weapons master’s pained expression. Xena’s return interrupted their laughter as she walked up to the table with several plates, each heaped with food. There was silence around the table as she set the plates down in front of Gabrielle. Setting down the last plate, she slid onto the bench next to her friend.
Ephiny eyed the amount of food on the table and gave Xena a long, appraising look. “A little hungry are you Xena?”
Xena snorted, snagging an apple. “Hardly; this isn’t for me.” She waved her hand over the large amount of food on the table. “Here you go Gabrielle, a feast fit for an Amazon queen.” After her talk with Eponin, she was bound and determined that Gabrielle regain what she’d lost in the past several days.
Eponin looked at the plates in shock. “You’re not really going to eat all that are you Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle smiled but before she could speak, her stomach gave a loud growl. There was stunned silence around the table.
Xena chuckled. “If she doesn’t we might have to fight the beast she calls a stomach.”
Everyone but Gabrielle began laughing. For a moment she was surprised by the teasing display, somewhat disconcerted that Xena was displaying a side of herself that the Amazons had likely never seen. But something inside her urged her to follow her instincts and she decided to play along.
She snorted slightly and she jabbed a thumb in Xena’s direction. “Hey you try keeping up with long legs Mcgee over here and see how much you eat in a day.”
Xena snorted. “You’d walk fast too if you heard that thing growling behind you. Half the time I’m afraid you’re going to eat me.” Ephiny and Eponin were both laughing loudly at this point. Xena continued. “And don’t blame this one on me, according to your sister, you came out of the womb like that. Family legend has it that you could swallow a sheep whole by the time you were two.”
The two Amazons lost it completely, leaning heavily against the table as they laughed at the annoyed expression on their queen’s face.
After a few moments, the laughter trailed off as Eponin stood. “Well seeing as how Gabrielle has half the food hut at the table, I guess I better get over there and get my share before she goes back for the rest of it.”
Ephiny stood, still chuckling. “Same here.”
“You better hurry, my stomach thinks my mouth is on strike here.” Gabrielle yelled after them. She turned to Xena. “Is it pick on Gabrielle day and no one told me?”
Xena scoffed, shaking her head. “Nah that’s next week.”
Gabrielle began eating slowly as she laughed. “So you’re a comedian now too huh? Swallow a sheep whole, where do you come up with this stuff?”
Xena shrugged. “I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.”
Xena watched the young woman eating. “So I take it you had a good sparring session.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Yeah, I did. Although I think I surprised Eponin.”
Xena chuckled. “Yeah, I saw you knock her flat. I can’t believe she fell for that reverse sweep like that.”
Gabrielle shook her head chuckling herself. “I know; you never do.”
Xena finished her apple and grabbed something else from a nearby plate. “Then why do you keep using it?”
Gabrielle smiled slightly. “Cause not everyone I fight is you.”
Xena shrugged, watching Eponin and Ephiny come back. “Point taken.”
The two Amazons set their plates down and for several long moments there was silence around the table as they ate. The three of them finished after only a short time and turn to watch as Gabrielle continued eating.
Eponin watched in Amazement as Gabrielle cleared another plate and turned her attention to the final one. “A dinar says her stomach explodes before she finishes that last plate.”
Ephiny chuckles. “Make it two and you’re on.”
Gabrielle paused long enough to give them both a hard look. “Look I know you guys are hard up for entertainment sometimes but betting on your queen, how cheap can you get?”
For a moment they both looked well and truly chastised. But the look was ruined when Xena broke in. “Five says she can finish the entire plate and still eat dessert.”
Gabrielle looked at the taller woman in disgust. “Hey whose side are you on?”
Xena shrugged. “The winning side; I’ve got a sure thing here.”
Gabrielle refilled her glass. “You shouldn’t encourage them.”
There was a loud snort from Xena as she took another drink. “Who said anything about encouraging them, I’m trying to make us a little travel money here.”
Gabrielle leaned over, looking deep into Xena’s eyes examining them closely, Ephiny and Eponin forgotten for the moment. “Are you feeling okay? Did talking with Ephiny this morning cause some internal bleeding or something?” She laid her hand on Xena’s forehead feeling for fever.
Xena smacked her hands away. “Hey, hey, hands off the merchandise. Concentrate on your lunch; you’ve got a bet to win.”
The two Amazons looked on in amusement, both marveling at the close teasing friendship their queen shared with this deadly ex-warlord.
“I don’t know why I let you talk me into these things.” Gabrielle muttered softly, turning her attention back to her plate.
Xena smirked. “Cause they’re fun.”
Gabrielle continued eating. “I was thinking more along the lines of mental instability.”
“Yours or mine?”
Gabrielle shrugged. “Does it really matter?”
Xena shook her head. “At the moment, no.” She thought for a moment. “We could take turns.”
“Fine, you finish this week, I’ll take next week.” Gabrielle took a final bite, chewing with relish.
Xena looked over the empty plates critically, pleased and somewhat surprised by the amount of food the bard had eaten. “So have you had enough now? If not, I’m sure they’ve got a few chickens in the back they might have overlooked. Or better yet, we can send out an emergency hunting party.”
“If she’s staying with us for awhile, that might not be a bad idea.” Ephiny spoke up from across the table.
Gabrielle ignored her regent, giving Xena a sheepish look. “Well, I could use something sweet.”
Xena stood, holding her hand out to Eponin. Scowling slightly, Eponin dug out 5 dinars and slapped them into the taller woman’s hand. Xena tucked them away and went to grab something sweet for her traveling companion. After a moment, she came back with some berries and a dumpling stuffed with some kind of red filling.
Gabrielle grabbed the plate, stuffing a dumpling in her mouth. Looking as if she were a starving woman having her first bite of food in weeks rather than the well-fed bard they all knew she was.
Her eyes closed in as she chewed the dumpling, humming in pleasure. “By the gods, Xena you have to try these, they’re fantastic.” She held one out for the warrior.
Xena, without thinking simply leaned forward and took the morsel from Gabrielle’s hand with her mouth, chomping it with relish. She munched on it for a moment. “These are good; we should get the recipe.” She looked over at Ephiny and Eponin who were staring at her with the strangest expressions on their faces. “What?”
Ephiny shook her head, nudging Eponin under the table and gave the warrior a smile. “Nothing.” She turned her attention to the bard. “So Gabrielle, are you ready to help me this afternoon?”
Gabrielle nodded, finishing the last bite of food. “Sure thing Ephiny, I’m ready whenever you are.” She looked at her companion. “What are you going to do this afternoon Xena?”
She shrugged. “Don’t know yet. Thought I might take Argo out for a nice long ride; we’ve got some catching up to do.”
Eponin spoke up. “If you’re looking for something to do, we really were planning on hunting this afternoon. You’re more than welcome to join us Xena.”
Xena shrugged. “Sure why not.”
“At least this way you can ensure we get enough food to feed starving Marvin here.” Eponin laughed as she jabbed a finger in Gabrielle’s direction.
Xena let out a deep breath, leaning across the table her voice low and serious. “That’s a tough job Eponin. Are you sure you’re up for it?”
Eponin bowed slightly, hand over fist. “Anything for the queen.”
Gabrielle started laughing despite herself. “Now that the two of you are done smearing my good name, Ephiny and I will be leaving now.” She stood, leaning over speaking softly into Xena’s ear. “Try not to make them look too bad okay? I don’t want to be smoothing ruffled feathers all afternoon.”
Xena gave a soft sight, her eyes twinkling. “Ruin all my fun why don’t you.”
Gabrielle touched her shoulder. “Xena.”
Xena reached up to touch the bard’s hand, squeezing it. “Alright, alright, no promises, but I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks.” Gabrielle reached up and ruffled her hair slightly as she walked away to join Ephiny.
* * *
We're leaving here tonight
There's no need to tell anyone
They'd only hold us down
Over an hour later, Ephiny and Gabrielle sat in throne room still discussing the treaties and going over other issues that needed to be dealt with within the next few days.
Ephiny leaned back feeling the tension in her neck and shoulders. She stretched a bit as she gazed over at Gabrielle and decided a break was in order. She also decided that it was time she got some information out of her friend too.
She set her parchment aside as she turned her attention to the young queen, her mind wandering back to what she witnessed at lunch. “So you and Xena seem…okay.”
Gabrielle sat back, stretching a bit herself as she smiled. “I’m really glad to have her back Ephiny. I was really lost without her.”
Ephiny touched her arm lightly. “I could tell. And for what it’s worth Gabrielle, I’m glad she’s back too.” She stood and went to a small side table to grab something to drink. She brought Gabrielle a full glass as well.
Gabrielle smiled as she took the cup, regarding her friend. “I wanted to thank you for helping me, giving me a place to stay.”
“Gabrielle, this is your home. You’re our Queen. More than that, you’re my friend. You will always have a place here.” Ephiny sat back down, trying to hide the exasperation the young queen’s words caused.
Gabrielle studied her cup for several minutes as she waited for the lump in her throat to subside. “I realize that now. I’m sorry things got so difficult.”
Ephiny chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. Besides we have a theory on that one.”
“Yeah, we’re calling it the Gabrielle effect.” She chuckled again an impish light in her eye.
Gabrielle laughed ruefully knowing full well what Ephiny was referring to. “I do seem to attract trouble sometimes don’t I?”
Ephiny snorted. “Sometimes?”
“Okay, okay quite a lot actually.” Gabrielle allowed. “But Xena always seems to be there to bail me out. Even when she’s…” she trailed off the light dying in her eyes as the memory of those horrible days came back to her.
Ephiny, winced at the pained expression on Gabrielle’s face and reached out, squeezing her hand again. “Gabrielle, you did great on your own you know. And everything’s fine now. She’s alive and she’s here.”
Gabrielle looked at her, unshed tears shining bright in her eyes as the emotions became overwhelming. “I know that Ephiny. But sometimes, I’m afraid that it’s just a dream and I have to remind myself that it’s real.
“Sometimes I close my eyes and I can still see it. I’m back on that gods be damned mountain watching her die, begging her to come back. And I’m afraid to open my eyes and see her coffin lying next to me.” She sniffled slightly her voice trailing off as she tried to bury the pain and loss she stillfelt at Xena’s death.
Ephiny reached out and embraced Gabrielle. “Oh Gabrielle.” She released the younger woman slowly.
Gabrielle reached up, brushing the tears off her face. “It’s not so bad at night, because she’s there and she chases the nightmares away. But sometimes during the day when she’s gone, I can still feel it, still see it.” She shuddered as the dark memories rolled over her.
Ephiny walked back over to the side table and grabbed a cloth and offered it to the bard. “Have you talked to Xena about this?”
Gabrielle shook her head. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Why not?” Ephiny couldn’t hide her surprise. The two of them seemed so close, it seemed strange to think that there was something Gabrielle couldn’t discuss with the dark warrior.
Gabrielle hesitated for several moments before speaking. This was something she’d hoped to discuss with Xena but they simply hadn’t gotten around to it. Now, she was being given the chance to discuss it with someone else and she found herself suddenly desperate to do just that.
“Something strange happened between us while she was dead. And I don’t know what to make of it.”
Ephiny sat next to her again. “What do you mean?”
Gabrielle took a deep breath, releasing it in a rush. “When she was in Autolycous’s body, she told me to close my eyes and think of her. So I did and it was like, it was like she took me to wherever she was. And she was standing there telling me to get the ambrosia.
“And I was upset and crying and asking her why she left me. She smiled at me and told me she’d always be there for me. And then she kissed me.” She reached up to touch her lips gently at the memory.
“She kissed you?” Ephiny repeated wanting to be sure she understood.
Gabrielle nodded her eyes still thoughtful and distant. “But I’m not really sure if it was her or not. Because when I came back to myself I was kissing Autolycous. I haven’t asked her about it. I thought maybe it was me, making up stuff because I was upset, I don’t know. But then things happen, and I wonder.” She knew she was rambling but she didn’t care.
Gabrielle ignored her and kept talking. “I want to believe it was real, I want so much for it to be real but I don’t know if it was. And I know, if I ask her about it she’ll deny it; just like she did the first time.”
Again Ephiny couldn’t hide her surprise. “The first time?”
The question seemed to pull Gabrielle back into the present and she looked at Ephiny. “You heard that she destroyed Bacchus right?” Ephiny nodded. “Before she killed him, I was turned into a bacchae. Xena had to destroy Bacchus to free me and the only way to could do it was if she became a bacchae. So, I bit her.”
“You turned her into a bacchae?”
Gabrielle smiled at the puzzled expression on the regent’s face. “Ephiny, if you keep repeating everything I say, I’ll never finish. I am trying to make a point here.”
Ephiny threw her hands in the air feeling just a bit frustrated. Getting information out of the normally talkative bard was proving to be very difficult. “You just keep throwing things at me from out of no where, it’s hard to keep up.”
Gabrielle chuckled slightly. “Well to answer your question, yes, I did.”
Ephiny nodded. “Then what happened?”
Gabrielle shrugged. “She destroyed Bacchus and all the woman under his spell were freed, including the two of us.”
Ephiny waited but Gabrielle remained silent. “Why do I think I’m missing something very important here?”
Gabrielle smiled slightly. “Because you are.”
Ephiny threw her hands in the air in frustration resisting the urge to start tearing her hair out. “Care to share the rest of it with me? I can’t help if I don’t have enough information.”
Gabrielle sighed. “I’m not trying to be evasive, It’s just a little personal that’s all.” She was quiet for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts, remembering what the experience had been like. “When I bit her, when I turned her into a bacchae, it was like I was part of her. I could feel her breathing, hear her heartbeat and I felt everything she was feeling.”
“That must have been strange.”
Gabrielle nodded, it had been strange but strangely comforting as well. “A bit but it was also kind of nice. I got to see a side of her no one else ever has. The first thing I remember feeling is that she was afraid she might be able to save me. That somehow she’d end up failing and we’d both be trapped as Bacchus’ playthings.”
“But that didn’t happen.” Ephiny began to understand.
Gabrielle shook her head. “No, it didn’t.”
Ephiny looked at the bard closely, touching her arm again. “Gabrielle, what else did you feel?”
Gabrielle sighed deciding to let go and finally admit out loud what she had felt in that moment. “She’s in love with me, so much so that it made my heart ache to feel it.” She took a deep breath feeling tears sting her eyes again. “Up until that moment, I’d always wondered you know. There were so many things that didn’t make sense until then. Why she let me follow her, why she put up with me even when I screwed up and nearly got us both killed and why she was so upset when I nearly died.”
She sighed again, pulling herself together. “But then I asked her about it and she denied it, made a joke out of it to save me from being hurt. I didn’t have the heart to drag the truth out of her.”
Ephiny couldn’t help but hear the hope and frustration in the queen’s voice. Suddenly several things clicked for her. The quiet meaningful glances when they thought neither one was looking, the casual easy touching between them that bordered on something more, the display in the dining hall. “Gabrielle, do you love her?”
Ephiny’s soft tone nearly brought her to tears again and she nodded wordlessly swallowing against the lump in her throat. “Yes I do. I’ve been in love with her for awhile now.” And as she admitted it she felt a great deal of weight lift off her shoulders.
“You need to tell her.” Ephiny told her quietly but firmly.
Gabrielle nodded. “I know that I should but I can’t bring myself to say it to her.” Even as she spoke, all the doubts, all the reasons she gave herself for keeping it to herself came to the surface. “I can’t seem to take that last step. Because once I take it, it’ll change everything between us.” She let out a quiet, heavy breath as she admitted the truth of her worst fear. “I’m not sure if I’m brave enough for that.” Her softly spoken words were nearly inaudible in the large room.
Ephiny gave a sharp bark of laughter at that. “Not brave enough? Have you been paying attention to the past several days?” Ephiny looked at her as if she didn’t recognize the other woman. “You faced down Valesca and her entire faction to claim the Queen’s mask. You threw yourself onto Xena’s burning casket to rescue her body. And you let yourself be used as bait to trap Valesca in a burning lava pit just a few days ago. I don’t know about you but those don’t sound like the actions of a coward to me.”
Gabrielle knew Ephiny was right but she was still so afraid. “How do I tell her? Do I just blurt it out, do I just let the words fly out of my mouth, what? What if I say them and she doesn’t understand what I mean? I know she loves me, I’ve known since I turned her into a bacchae. But telling her…I’m in over my head here Ephiny.” Gabrielle ran her hands through her hair, resisting the urge to pull on it as her frustration mounted.
Ephiny rolled her eyes. “And she claims to be a bard.”
“Not really helping.” Gabrielle hissed.
Ephiny chuckled softly. “Sorry I couldn’t resist.” She sobered a bit and looked at Gabrielle as she spoke. “Look, I’m not a poet. I don’t claim to know the words that you need to tell her how you feel. But I do know that if you listen to your heart, and you follow it, it’ll never steer you wrong. Just let go Gabrielle; the rest will just fall into place.”
“And she claims she’s not a poet. That was pretty damned poetic Ephiny.” Gabrielle said softly, surprised at the softer side Ephiny had just shown her.
Ephiny shushed her a bit. “Don’t spread it around, I do have a reputation after all.”
Gabrielle smiled unable to resist a dig of her own. “Well you wouldn’t if you’d make an honest woman out of Eponin.”
Ephiny’s face paled as she looked at the queen in sheer panic. “Who in Hades have you been talking to? I swear by Are’s balls, I’ll string up the lot of ‘em.” Her face reddened as she pondered who to hunt down first.
Laughing out loud, Gabrielle touched her arm. “Take it easy Eph, it was just a joke. By the gods, a little sensitive aren’t we?” Ephiny grumbled softly and Gabrielle laughed again. “Well, it was just a hunch, something Eponin said during our sparring match today. I think it’s wonderful. I hoped you’d find someone again after Phantes.”
Ephiny sighed. “I appreciate that Gabrielle, really I do. But we’re trying to keep it quiet for a while, okay. So keep it to yourself.”
“If it gets around, it won’t be because of me.” She gave Ephiny a quick hug, feeling fresh tears at the realization of just what Ephiny had done for her over the past several days. “And thanks Eph, for listening I mean.”
Ephiny smiled returning the hug. “No problem.” She felt tears stinging her eyes at the gesture and pulled away. She grabbed the discarded treaty while wiping at her face. “Now, how are we coming with that damned hunting rights treaty?”
To be continued
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