Disclaimers: Not my characters...(well, most of them are not) and I only use them for the fun of writing this story. I put them back where they belong. One of these days...I will...really...J
Violence: Yes. Might get a little graphic, too. But nothing too gory.
Subtext: Yup! Rather subtle at the beginning but I'm getting there...<smile
A Final Note: Okay....again, this isn't what one might consider a 'typical' alternative X/G story. Seems I have a lot of fun coming up with alternative universes (Or xenaverses <smile) So, don't go looking for similarities with events in the show. They might be here but I gave them quite a twist so please consider yourself warned! And this isn’t a light piece, either – please, be aware of that, too.
A Final Note - Part 2:This is the conclusion. Surprised myself there - the story was never meant to get this long. Hope you liked it anyway...<smile Are you going to like the ending? I don't know but I honestly hope you will....just let me know. J
Thanks for reading - and for all the feedback I've got!!! It does make the whole writing thingy a lot of fun! <smile
Summary: A young Amazon Queen who can’t remember her past. A former warlord trying desperately to leave her past behind. And a secret that can destroy them – or save them.
If you like to comment on the story, you are welcome to do so: firstname.lastname@example.org
Distances – part 4
by Grit Jahning
Go ahead and cry now
Go ahead and sail now
You're a long way from somewhere you call home, yeah
Go ahead and listen
You're a long way from somewhere you call home
Whatever it is that'll make you feel good
(*"100 Tears Away" written by Vonda Shepard, Paul Gordon)
- 18 -
A heavy scent of herbs and salves drifted through the small room. Mixed with the translucent steam of hot water. Small drops of the liquid curling along the smooth surface of cups.
The hut was lit by a few candles placed along a shelf. Bathing the interior in a warm, golden glow.
Footsteps and the rustle of clothes. Hushed voices and soft breathing.
"She is going to be okay?"
A grey head nodded slowly. Reluctantly. "She will heal, yes. But her legs were broken in too many places and I am afraid she will keep a limp...and she will be blind on her right eye." The husky voice of the healer didn't betray the anger she felt inside.
A soft breath.
"Has she regained consciousness, yet?"
Ira shook her head. "No. I mean...she was drifting in and out but wasn't able to say anything coherent. Gonna take a little while."
The older woman exchanged quiet looks with Ephiny who was standing beside her. "There was something, though."
Dull green eyes turned to meet her gaze for the first time since Gabrielle had returned to the village to find it in turmoil. Warriors getting armed and ready for an attack. Three groups of Amazons had been sent to scout the area to find the rest of Solari's patrol.
Ira studied the smaller woman for another silent moment. Then decided to keep her questions quiet for another time.
"Um...." She reached for a piece of paper Ephiny handed her. "It was attached to her."
A small hand took the piece of paper and unfolded it. She read it slowly.
"Well, little one, it does come down to you and I, doesn't it? You've got something that's mine and I really want it back. You can avoid more bloodshed...just meet me at the old temple. I am sure we can come to an understanding."
For a long time she just stared at the written words. Idly noting stains of blood that had soaked the parchment at its edges. For some reason the words wouldn't penetrate the fuzzy haze settling around her mind and she had to read it again.
"Velasca." Not really a question.
Ira bit her lower lip and seriously contemplated offering a chair to Gabrielle. Not only did she seem tired but almost frighteningly weak. Her face was pale and every step...every breath seemed to be difficult.
She took a step forward and touched a cold arm. "Queen Gabrielle...are you okay?"
Slowly green eyes met hers.
There was nothing. Not even a hint of their usual sparkle. No trace of life. They were just...dull and eerily dead.
"I'm fine." Gabrielle folded the note and then looked at Ephiny. "Meet me in my hut in a candlemark." Her voice as dull as her eyes.
Turned and left.
The two older women looked at each other. With a heavy breath Ephiny leaned back against a roof support. "She looks bad."
Ira didn't respond and turned around. Fiddling with a fresh bandage. Blowing a stray lock out of her eyes, she looked at the Royal Guard.
"This is killing her."
"I know...." Hazel eyes filled with silent despair. "And I don't know how to stop it."
The healer sighed and let go of the piece of clean cloth she had been folding. "She's going to meet Velasca...most likely she will accept the challenge."
Ephiny didn't say anything. She didn't have to.
"And we both know that there is no way she can defeat Velasca."
Still the blonde Amazon didn't say anything but understanding dawned in her eyes. Immediately followed by rejection.
Ira took a deep breath. Carefully choosing her words. "She needs a champion."
The older woman grabbed Ephiny's arm and came eye to eye with her. "Do you want to watch Gabrielle being slaughtered? Because that's what's going to happen....and I am not even sure Gabrielle would fight it...." A little silence. Her eyes pleading with the younger woman to understand. "She needs someone to fight for her....in every sense of the word."
Ephiny was still not willing to agree. It was obvious in her eyes. "They're leaving today....she left earlier this morning."
"Then ask them to stay."
A heavy silence settled between them. Outside wind was brushing along the hut. The old wood sighing wistfully with every gentle caress.
Solari's breathing was shallow and barely audible. Blending into the soft hissing of the candles.
Ephiny rubbed a hand across her face. For a moment her eyes lingered on Solari's still form. Her usually light skin was darkened by numerous bruises and angry cuts. And even in her unconscious state the remains of pain were visible on her face.
"I know you're right...." Her voice was soft. Tired. "But..." She looked up. Searching the knowing eyes in front of her.
"She is our and her only chance, Ephiny."
A deep breath. "What if she doesn't agree...after all, she left already. Probably happy that she got away...again."
Ira actually smiled and straightened a little. "She'll agree, all right. I'm sure she will."
The blonde head dropped. Of course Xena would agree. She knew that, too. She'll probably tear Velasca limb from limb if necessary....if that's what she had to do to protect Gabrielle.
She brushed back blonde locks with an impatient gesture.
"What about Gabrielle?"
Ira seemed puzzled for a moment. "What do you mean?"
Ephiny shrugged. "She has to agree."
The healer bit her lower lip. Admitting that this was the tricky part of her plan. Because there was no guaranty that Gabrielle would agree.
The road was dusty. Every step of dark leather boots stirring up clouds of dirt. Crunching loudly through the otherwise quiet morning air.
Tiny rocks were kicked and landed in patches of grass lining the road. Overhead leaves had woven a tight roof of green barely allowing the sun through...but providing enough light to see without difficulty.
It was chilly.
The breeze tickling leaves jumped and rifled playfully through long, dark locks.
The sound of heavy footsteps faded and for a moment the dark form that had been walking along the road stood very still. The dark head tilting a little as if she was listening to something far away.
Then red lips shaped into a cold smile. Exactly what she needed.
Turning around, she rested one hand on her hip while the other draw her sword. And then she waited.
For a long time there was nothing. No sound that didn't seem to belong here but then...
Hoarse voices. The distinctive sound of metal against metal...and the heavy scent of sweat and cheap ale. Through the trees a group of seven men stumbled onto the road. Laughing and talking in loud voices.
Pale blue eyes turned icy.
The men hadn't seen her yet but were close enough for her to wrinkle her nose in disgust at the stench drifting her way.
Oh yeah...exactly what she needed.
Suddenly one of them became aware of her and pointed at her. The rest of them turned and for a moment a collective look of disbelief covered their dirty, hairy faces.
Which quickly turned into saucy smiles.
"Well honey....did ya get lost? Need our help?"
Husky laughter and the cold smile on red lips broadened. With one smooth move she rested the blade against her shoulder and smirked at the men.
Lifting dark brows in an inviting gesture. "You wanna play?"
They laughed and took a few steps closer. Their leader rubbed his face and then adjusted himself. "You bet we wanna play."
Xena chuckled and released a long breath. "Then come and get me." And she willingly dove into the ocean of darkness and violence branding through her. Washing away any trace of pain and memory of ---
For the time being, anyway.
- 19 -
Cyane sat on the porch of their hut and silently watched her Amazons getting ready for their trip home. No one was laughing or even talking. Only now and then did someone ask for a piece of leather or something else...never in a loud voice.
The atmosphere was heavy and sad.
Arames got up from where she had been crouching and stretched. Her eyes for a moment tracing along the empty square before they settled on the Queen.
Scratching her jaw, she exhaled slowly. "Some mess, huh?" Her low, husky voice stirred Cyane from her thoughts and she looked up.
Blinking dark eyes before her mind registered what the Royal Guard had said. "Yeah...that's some mess."
Arames waited for more but then sighed. Might as well take the first step. "We could offer our help."
Everybody else got very still. Cyane felt Klarissa's curious gaze on her. Rian was scowling a little and it was obvious what she was thinking.
"Yes. Yes, we could offer our help."
Despite herself Cyane smiled and got up from the small chair she had been sitting on. Leaning against the railing surrounding the porch, she shrugged a little. Wondering if she looked as helpless as she felt inside.
"It really isn't our business....and if the Greek Amazons don't ask for our help..." She left the thought hanging.
Her Amazons were looking at each other. Most of them had enjoyed their time here. Had actually made friends in the few days they spent in Greece and the thought of leaving them in what obviously was real trouble didn't appeal to any of them.
And Cyane agreed with them.
But it really wasn't their choice.
Arames was about to argue as Ephiny mounted the stairs to the porch. Greeting them with a tired smiled. "...hey..."
Cyane smiled back and then looked at the Amazons standing around them. It took a moment before all of them caught the hint but then they grabbed their packs and entered the hut. Arames scowling a little, Rian obviously not happy with it and Klarissa excused herself and headed over to the food hut.
Cyane followed her with her eyes and then released a long breath.
"How's your friend...Solari?"
Ephiny perched on the railing and dropped her gaze for a moment. It was just past breakfast and slowly the sun rose from behind the dark wall of clouds that had lingered the whole night. It hadn't rained but the air was still heavy with its scent.
Hazel eyes noted idly the way her body threw a shadow along the porch. She wriggled her feet a little. Watching the pale grey shift into another form.
Looking up, she met Cyane's patient gaze. "Well, she lives." A tired shrug.
"Mmh." The Queen crossed her arms in an unconscious gesture. "So this Velasca woman did this to her? The one who killed Melosa and Terreis?"
The blonde locks moved in a silent nod.
Ephiny actually laughed at the question. A short, cold bark. "'Cause she enjoys it. I told you she is crazy...." Her voice got softer. "Always enjoyed killing."
Dark brows wrinkled in a confused frown. "But why would she torture her like this? What did she want?"
Hazel eyes met hers in a quiet look. "She knew it would torment Gabrielle."
The wood underneath them sighed and groaned softly. From somewhere birds started a cheery concert. From the food hut hushed voices drifted their way. Somewhere a door closed with a loud bang.
"Does she hate her this much?"
Cyane worried her lower lip. "She wants to be Queen, right?....And she doesn't care who she has to kill to get there." She thought about it for a moment. Then she looked up...understanding obvious in her dark eyes.
"She challenged Gabrielle, didn't she?"
A long breath as Ephiny hopped down from the railing. "Not officially, yet...but she will. Yes."
"Not officially? What do you mean?"
Ephiny ran her hands through her hair. "She asked Gabrielle to meet her at the temple back in the woods. I am sure she'll challenge her there."
"Is Gabrielle going?" Cyane's voice sounded as shocked as Ephiny still felt.
"I don't know...have you seen her again? Since last night?"
Cyane shook her head.
"I think she will accept. She's tired...and I am afraid she...." Ephiny fell silent and turned away. Her eyes tracking a leaf that was tumbling across the square. Then settled on the Queen's hut.
Felt Cyane moved closer. A warm hand on her back.
"She's going to let herself get killed. Isn't she?"
The small butterfly flapped its wings and took off. The flower it had perched on swaying softly as the weight of the small insect was gone.
It made its way across the wide open space between the huts and lingered for a moment in the air as it felt the first warm touch of the sun on its wings. Coming to a rest on a narrow window sill it sat still to enjoy the warm caress.
Tiny antennas moving back and forth.
Oblivious to a pair of green eyes watching it. But it did feel the gentle, featherlight touch of a fingertip on its velvety wings.
Then a slow breath stirred its small body and silently it flew away. Fading somewhere in a ray of bright sunshine.
Gabrielle didn't move. Not even noticing as the small insect disappeared. Her gaze reaching somewhere beyond the village.
Unaware of anything but the soft tingling of her lips. Still remembering the briefest...softest of kisses. The touch of a warm hand on her face. The frighteningly familiar scent of leather and warm body.
Green eyes closed.
No touch...no kiss...no caress had ever felt like this. Nothing Terreis and she had shared had ever felt like this brief closeness with Xena.
Gods, why does it feel so right?
She felt her entire body cramp with the sheer force of emotion. And still she was caught between fighting it and surrendering to it.
Tired. She was so tired. Of everything. Anything.
She felt the world crowding in on her and it got more difficult to keep everything from falling apart. Especially herself.
Why? Why did she feel so safe with someone who was part of her most horrible memories? Why did one look - one look from those blue eyes make her feel home?
Slowly green eyes opened.
That's what it felt like.
Coming home. Like she'd been looking for this one warm, safe place in her life. And for some time she had thought she'd found it.
She loved Terreis. And yet...there had always something been missing.
A chilly breeze brushed through the window and she felt her skin prickle from the unexpected cold. Hesitantly a hand reached up and touched pink lips. Trembling ever so lightly.
They had been so soft. So soft...
The rustle of parchment made her look up. Brushing a few loose strands of blonde hair behind her ear, she looked at the note Velasca had sent.
Even though she hadn't said it yet, Gabrielle knew that Velasca would challenge her. And most likely kill her.
She was good with a staff and she could stand her ground but she was still not fully healed from their first encounter and her entire body felt void of any strength. She hadn't slept in...pale brows wrinkled in thought...it felt like a lifetime and inside -
Inside there was no will left to fight.
A long, deep breath.
She got up and walked over to the table. Her fingers tracing the dirty, bloodstained parchment. She could almost hear Velasca's mocking voice.
Could still feel the weight of Terreis' dead body in her arms.
Green eyes moved towards the window. Silently studying the slow awakening of the village. Small groups of women on their way to breakfast or to start their guard duty. Leaving the village at the back entry was a group of hunters.
The sun lay like a warm, golden blanket on the wooden huts. The air still carrying the last traces of the night. A slowly fading scent of dampness.
On leaves and blades of grass sunlight caught tiny sparkles in drops of dew. A soft, dripping sound barely audible every time a leaf surrendered to their weight.
Somewhere in the treetops birds sang. Their cheery voices breaking through the lingering quiet of the day.
The pale blue of the sky was almost blinding in its clearness and the last trace of a star faded in the bright light of the sun.
She noticed Cyane and her group getting ready to leave.
A trembling breath.
It was supposed to be an easy treaty negotiation. Melosa had been looking forward to meeting Cyane. They all had been looking forward to the festival.
The ache inside got more intense.
No one had expected complications. She hadn't expected complications.
The small frame seemed to lose in height. Her forehead touching the frame of the window. She hadn't expected to fall in love. So fast and so hard.
She didn't move for a long moment.
Then a soft, hesitant knock at the door stirred her from the painful haze of confusion she was caught in.
"...come..." Was this really her voice?
A faint creak as the door opened and the slim frame of Klarissa entered. Pale brows wrinkled in surprise as she moved a little to look at the young woman.
"My Queen...may I have a word?" The young Amazon took several step forward.
Gabrielle released a slow breath and straightened as much as she felt capable of. "Sure...what is it?"
Klarissa swallowed and visibly collected her courage. Her gaze flickered to the blonde woman only to drop back to the floor. Her hands fiddling with pieces of leather on her skirt.
"I...." With a deep breath she looked up. Meeting green eyes squarely. "Xena isn't a bad person."
The words hang in the silent room for a small eternity. And for a moment Klarissa was afraid Gabrielle would yell at her.
But then a weak but gentle smile appeared on pink lips. "I know that, Klarissa. I never thought of her as a bad person."
The young Amazon obviously hadn't expected that reaction. She blinked at the Greek Amazon and her lips moved with silent words as she tried to come up with something to say. She was confused.
"But why did she leave? I thought...I thought you had asked her to leave the village. Because of her past and all."
Gabrielle didn't answer immediately and Klarissa cleared her throat. "She likes you a lot, you know."
It would have been funny...if it wasn't so painful.
The small blonde moved and sat down. Unconsciously folding Velasca's note into a small square. "She does, huh?"
Klarissa nodded. "Oh yes! And I am sure she can help you! I mean, she knows a lot about strategy and that stuff...she's a great warrior!"
The young woman fell silent as a pair of green eyes settled on her. She briefly wondered if she had ever seen eyes that colour.
Or filled with so much sadness.
"This isn't your problem, Klarissa." Her voice was soft. Without anger. "It's something my tribe has to deal with. I can't get you involved."
"But we could help you! I mean....we're all Amazons, right?"
This time Gabrielle's smile was genuine and she got up. Coming to a halt in front of the young woman, she briefly cupped her face.
"Yes, we are...but sometimes you need to face your demons all by yourself or they will never disappear."
Red brows wrinkled in confusion. "Demons, huh? I'm sure Xena can kick their asses, too!"
Green eyes turned away. "I'm afraid this time not even Xena would succeed."
Before Klarissa could answer another knock was heard and Ephiny's curly head appeared. She scowled at the young woman and entered.
The young woman took that as her cue to leave. She bowed briefly and slipped past the Royal Guard.
Ephiny took a step closer. Still frowning. "What did she want?"
Gabrielle didn't face her. Just leaned against the window. Wrapping her arms around herself as if to get warm. "Just saying good bye."
A brief silence settled between them. From outside voices drifted into the twilight of the hut. The subtle rustle of clothing and their breathing.
"They would stay if you asked."
Ephiny saw the small frame move with a long, deep breath. A ray of sunlight caught in the long, blonde locks...bringing out soft, reddish highlights.
This time Gabrielle turned. "I don't want to involve them into this."
"Why? They are already involved...if they want to or not. Hades, they all saw Solari and of course they're questioning us." She took a step forward. "We need all the help we can get, Gabrielle."
The blonde head tilted ever so slightly. "There won't be an attack like...like before. Velasca wants me."
Anger rose in her friend. It was obvious in the stiffening of her body. The way her hazel eyes blazed with unvoiced arguments. "Gabrielle...she'll challenge you! And you know damn well that you won't stand a chance against her. Not..." A small pause. "...not right now."
"Yes, I know that."
"Then you also know that you need help. And they could help us." Ephiny dropped her gaze for a moment and then straightened a little. "Xena could help us."
The only reaction she got was the way green eyes darkened with a mixture of emotions.
"I mean..." Ephiny took a step forward. "You could name her as your champion. No way Velasca would stand a chance against her."
Still no obvious reaction. Gabrielle just looked at her.
Ephiny exhaled sharply. "I am not going to stand by and watch you letting yourself beaten into a pulp and most likely killed, Gabrielle.....even if that's what you want."
This time the silence lingered for a long time. Settling between them like heavy mist.
When Gabrielle started speaking her voice didn't betray any emotion. "What do you know about what I want, Ephiny?....." One step and she was close enough to touch her friend. A small hand reached up and came to rest against Ephiny's chest.
"Do you have any idea how much I hurt inside?......Do you have any idea what it's like to be screaming and no one can hear you? What it's like to reach for someone to help you only to find that they are as lost as you?...Can you understand how I feel, Ephiny? I lost my lover of over three years and within a week I fell in love so hard and so deep I have no words to describe what I feel?"
Gabrielle didn't raise her voice. Hadn't taken her hand from her chest. Hadn't moved. And yet she saw her crumble into small pieces right in front of her.
And was helpless to stop it.
"I'm in love with someone who is part of the worst time of my life. And I know it's wrong...I know I shouldn't feel this way and yet...and yet even a brief look, Ephiny, the briefest look touches parts inside me no one...no one ever reached."
The small hand dropped. Leaving a cool spot on her skin.
"I am not naming her my champion. This is my battle...and yes, most likely Velasca's going to kill me. But you know what?"
Green eyes reached right inside her and Ephiny swallowed.
"I'm dying already....no, I died five years ago. And even though I probably won't be able to defeat her...at least I tried. It would be one thing in my life that would feel real. Right."
"This is my choice, Ephiny."
The Royal Guard took a deep breath. And moved her head in a brief bow. "Yes, My Queen." Formal. As cold as Gabrielle's last words had sounded.
Gabrielle took the few steps towards the door. "We should escort Cyane and her group to the first outpost." And left the hut. Leaving behind a heavy silence.
Ephiny stood for a long moment in the twilight of the hut and then dropped her head. "...you're not the only one hurting...." Her voice fading somewhere in the lingering quiet.
- 20 -
It was the heavy scent of blood that caused them to slow down.
They exchanged confused looks and Arames took a step forward. Squinting into the green darkness of the forest.
"Gods, smells like a damn battlefield."
Cyane didn't respond. She was trying to figure out if around the next corner was the small clearing they had stayed before they had arrived at the village of the Greek Amazons. She was almost sure. And that's why she didn't like this.
"Wasn't Xena supposed to meet us here?"
The Royal Guard looked around. Her dark eyes narrowing in confusion. And then widened in silent shock as she noticed the bloodied form of a man curled into a ball of human mass. "...good gods..."
Cyane followed her gaze and swallowed.
Slowly they walked forward. Hesitantly...reluctantly rounding the corner that gave way to a small clearing leading off the road.
There were at least six dead bodies.
All of them missing at least one body part.
The dusty earth was drenched in crimson-coloured liquid. It was almost eerily silent. No bird sang - even the leaves had stopped their soft whispers.
She sat on a fallen tree trunk.
The dark head hung between her shoulders. Her hands still holding her sword. The blood had dried by now and for a moment it seemed to be made of copper.
The Amazons didn't know what to say. They looked to their Queen, trying to figure out what to do.
Of course they all had seen Xena fight. There had been enough trouble around their borders but they had never seen...this.
Klarissa swallowed and took a step forward. Her hands shaking a little as she noticed an arm laying only a few inches away from her.
Slowly the dark head lifted. Tired, lifeless blue eyes looked at them. "...just trying to pass the time..." Her low voice broke after the first words and faded into a hoarse whisper.
She looked down at her hands.
A sickening sound as she finally let go of the hilt. Sticky from dry blood. The sword fell to the ground and for a moment they all looked at it.
Cyane cleared her throat. "There...there is a small river just down the small slope back there. Why...why don't you go clean up and we set up camp. I think we can use a break."
Xena didn't move for a long time but then she nodded and slowly got up. Heading towards the river without another look towards them.
"This is killing her."
Rian shook her head and came to a halt next to her Queen. "Look at her. I've never seen her like this. Not even...back then when she first showed up with Borias."
"I know." Cyane brushed her slightly trembling hands through her hair. Again looking around. "First we clean this mess up and then we need to talk with Xena."
Arames tilted her head and studied her thoughtfully. "You're going to tell her what happened back in the village?"
Dark eyes looked into the direction where Xena had disappeared. Then she nodded. "I know Gabrielle asked us not to get involved. And maybe she's right. But for better or worse...." She looked at her Amazons. "They belong together. They just need a push in the right direction."
Rian frowned doubtfully. Arames smirked a little.
Klarissa took a step forward. Shyly looking at the other, older women and then focused on Cyane. "They need each other, don't they?"
The blonde woman dropped her backpack and stretched a little. Then she exhaled slowly. "Yes....and I think, they know it, too."
- 21 -
The sky was a mosaic of fluffy white and clear blue. The sun playing hide and seek behind lazy clouds. Cutting the small clearing into pieces of light and dark. Caressing the weathered walls of an old temple.
It obviously hadn't been in use for a long time. Already nature was starting to take back what once was taken from her. Wild vine covering parts of the building. A fine layer of green hiding small statues carved into the stone.
A soft sound of sand running through fingers. Small clouds of dust drifting through quiet, still air. Low humming. Leather shifting as a dark form moved. Trying to get comfortable on the steps leading up to the entry of the old temple.
Rustle of leaves and the sound of feet hitting the ground.
"Is she alone?"
A cold chuckle. "Nope...Ephiny and Eponin are with her, of course. And I guess at least a handful of Royal Guards somewhere behind them."
A brunette head nodded slowly. Greyish-green eyes sparkling with mock-affection. "I can't wait to meet her again. My precious little Gabrielle."
Laughter as the group of women standing around her heard the words.
"Okay..." Velasca faced them. "You stay out of sight....and keep an eye on Eponin will you? I'm sure there are some hard feelings...what with Solari and all."
Again the group of leather-clad and armed women chuckled. Their faces hidden behind wooden masks. Then they cautiously moved into the forest.
Velasca took a deep breath of fresh, chilly air. A broad smile on her lips as she caught the first sound of footsteps behind her.
"Let's get the show started."
"I don't like this, Gabrielle."
Ephiny had the strangest sensation of deja vu and her fingers tightened around the hilt of her sword. Hazel eyes constantly scanning their surroundings.
Flickering for a brief moment to the silent form in front of her.
She seemed composed. Frighteningly at ease. Controlled. Only the slight trembling of each breath betraying the turmoil inside.
They stopped short of the clearing surrounding the temple.
Gabrielle turned around. Brushing a stray lock behind her ear, she exhaled slowly. She felt....pale brows wrinkled....far away. Distanced. Like this was happening to someone else - and she was just a spectator. Not part of it.
She wished it could be this easy.
"She won't be alone, will she?"
Ephiny snorted. "'Course not. The forest is probably swarming with her people...so, if you thought about going in there alone...think again!"
For the first time in days a real smile lit up those gentle features and Ephiny was suddenly aware that she had missed it.
A simple smile. And yet it was so much a part of Gabrielle that not seeing it was like....like a morning with no sunrise. Scary.
"I wasn't thinking about that, don't worry. No...I don't want to give her an opportunity like that.....but...." She turned a little to look at Eponin. "Velasca will do anything to provoke us." Quiet green eyes closed for the briefest of moments. "She will mention Melosa and Terreis...and Solari."
Eponin stiffened and her hands curled into tight fists.
"I know it hurts but don't let her see it. It will give her an advantage."
It took a moment but then, slowly, reluctantly Eponin nodded.
Behind them a group of six Royal Guards took position. They exchanged brief looks and then Gabrielle took a deep breath. Entering the clearing without another second thought.
The sun that had been hidden behind a cloud suddenly decided to take a peek and bathed them in warm, golden light. Blinding them for a moment.
Green eyes blinked and Gabrielle closed them against the brief flicker of pain.
"My, my....you are a brave woman. I give you that." The mocking voice sounded from somewhere in front of her.
Opening her eyes it took a moment to focus but then she saw her.
The scar on her face still wasn't fully healed. An angry, red line that split her smile into a cruel grimace.
It also brought back all the images from that day.
It took all her strength to push them back into the dark space inside her mind. Where she kept so many of them. Immediately the image of pale blue eyes and that smile flickered through her head. ...not now....not now....
After another long moment she managed to concentrate on Velasca. "Brave? Am I?" Surprised her voice wasn't shaking.
The taller woman chuckled and slowly stepped from the stairs leading to the entry of the temple.
"Oh yeah...but I never really doubted that."
Velasca came to a halt in front of her. Those cold eyes looking her up and down in a slow, taunting gesture. The smile broadening a little.
"Beautiful as ever."
Gabrielle felt Ephiny and Eponin move closer. But the woman in front of her just shook her head. Now focusing on the two women behind her.
"Don't worry...I'm not going to harm her. Well, not now, anyway." A short chuckle. "No..." Her eyes turned to Ephiny. "How are you doing Eph? Been promoted to consort, yet?...Now that Terreis is out of the way?"
Gabrielle didn't need to see Ephiny's face. She heard it in the subtle movements how hard her friend tried to keep from attacking Velasca.
Greyish-green eyes smirked at her. "Trained them well, didn't you?" Her gaze settled on Eponin. "Guess I don't have to try with you, do I? Although, I would love to hear how Solari is doing. Those legs looked really bad."
Velasca slowly turned to look at Gabrielle. "Yes, My Queen?"
"You wanted to talk to me. I am here. Talk to me!"
One step. And she was close enough to notice the subtle scent that was so much a part of Gabrielle.
Oh, if things were different...
"Yes, you are here....and don't worry, we will talk. Although, I am sure, you know what I want."
The blonde head tilted a little. Those green eyes shifted briefly into a deep blue. "You want the throne."
Velasca smiled. "I want the throne." She leaned forward and before Ephiny or Eponin could react, cupped gentle features in an almost affectionate gesture. Her thumb caressing soft, downy skin. "And I want your dead body laying at my feet."
Even their breathing was barely audible.
Velasca wasn't sure what she expected. Fear, maybe. But she didn't expected the smile shaping pink lips. Soft. Eerily gentle.
"Are you challenging me?"
Ooh, if only things were different...
But they weren't. Slowly she dropped her hand and straightened. The smirk disappearing. "Yes, I am challenging you."
Those green eyes looked at her for a long, long moment. Too many emotions to name them floating through their depths.
Of course she would. She hadn't expected any other answer and yet...She was surprised. It must have shown in her face because the soft smile broadened a little. The blonde head tilting in a questioning gesture.
"Great....perfect." Despite herself she took a step back. "In the village. Tomorrow at noon. And I want the entire tribe to be present."
Gabrielle nodded. The sensation of being a mere spectator getting stronger. Velasca's voice seemed to come from somewhere far away.
Was she still standing up? Was that her voice? Were they walking again? Where were they? Where was Velasca?
And then she was mercifully swallowed by an ocean of nothingness and darkness. Wrapping her into an oblivious haze. And safety.
He stopped touching her. Hurting her.
Oh gods, please....please....
Another voice. Footsteps.
His voice. Laughing. Joking.
Someone else was here. She felt her body curl into a tight ball as a gust of chilly air hit her body.
Oh gods, please....please....
The new voice again. Low but...A woman?
And then a warm hand grabbed her face. And she was looking right into...
Could eyes really be that blue?
The new face disappeared. The low voice saying something. Fear in his voice.
A sickening sound. So familiar. Immediately the scent of blood penetrated her senses and she was barely able to suppress a scream as his heavy weight fell on top of her.
Not again...please, not again...
And then she felt warm liquid on her skin. She tried to get away from him but his dead body was too heavy.
Again the footsteps.
His body disappeared. Those blue eyes....
They were reaching right inside of her and she almost, almost said something. But then her body curled away from the touch.
Trying to get away.
"I love you."
The blonde head in front of her tilted ever so slightly. Those green eyes looking at her in surprised puzzlement.
Terreis swallowed. Suddenly doubting if this had been the right time to approach the topic. But...it had taken her almost two years to finally make this step. And she was willing to accept the consequences.
"I know this might not be the right time but...."
Gabrielle released a slow breath. Pale brows wrinkled as she tried to fathom the words and everything they implied. Love me?
They were sitting in a small clearing near the village enjoying the sunset. Everything around them drowning in a soft orange glow. A gentle breeze rifled through their hair. A soft caress against their skin.
Gabrielle turned her gaze away.
An unconscious smile tugged at her lips. A strange fuzzy feeling warming her belly. She knew that being with Terreis made her happy and...
A brief flash of images, sounds and sensations flickered through her mind.
...and being with Terreis made the voices inside stop. Terreis made her smile. Laugh. Just hearing her voice -
She looked at the silent woman beside her.
Quite without conscious thought she reached out and smoothed out wrinkled red brows. Her belly fluttering as pale eyes closed at the soft touch.
Was that what love felt like?
Just being happy to be near someone? Wanting them to be happy? To make them laugh?
Did she love Terreis?
Yes. Yes, she knew that she loved Terreis.
But was she in love with her?
Grey eyes opened and peered almost fearfully at her.
It's been two years since she started living with the Amazons. They had become her family. The only family she remembered. And although there were still so many questions...she'd been happy.
The nightmares were almost gone. And physical closeness and touches didn't make her jump anymore. A slight blush as she admitted to herself that it felt nice when Terreis touched her. The look in her eyes sometimes....
Green eyes dropped as the blush intensified.
She looked at the Terreis' hand only inches away. Covering it with her own, she brushed her thumb over the soft skin.
When she finally looked up, a bright smile lit up her features. Which was slowly mirrored on the face in front of her.
And then, with a short, trembling breath she leaned forward. Brushing surprised lips with her own in a brief, hesitant kiss.
Silence as they all looked anxiously at the dark form opposite them.
Cyane had finished several minutes ago and Xena still hadn't said a word. Her face showed no reaction to anything her friend had told her.
And for the briefest moment Cyane wondered if they had been wrong.
But then the dark head lifted and pale blue eyes met her gaze. And any doubt left faded as she recognised the look in them. She was barely able to suppress a smile. Well, Velasca, I'd say you're in for a surprise.
"A champion, huh?" A large hand brushed still damp bangs to one side.
Cyane nodded. "Yup. Seems, it's an old tradition in case the Queen is for whatever reason not able to accept the challenge herself." She paused for a brief moment. Her voice serious. "And Gabrielle can't defeat Velasca."
A brief flicker of worry and pain shadowed the chiselled features and Xena rubbed a hand across her face. Her low voice strangely defeated.
"She'll never agree."
Arames frowned. Puzzled at the last statement. "Why ever not? You're going to save her life and her tribe! Why would she not agree?"
Pale eyes searched dark ones. Realising that Cyane hadn't told the others what had happened. She wasn't quite sure if she was glad or not.
Turning to Arames, she shrugged. "It's not that easy."
The Royal Guard was about to argue that point but stopped herself as she caught the look in Cyane's eyes. Getting the hint, she huffed and shook her head. But kept silent.
Klarissa cleared her throat. "Gab...Queen Gabrielle said that sometimes you have to face your demons by yourself. Or they will never disappear....That Velasca. Is she one of the demons she talked about?"
Xena exhaled. Avoiding the young Amazons' eyes. "One of them, yes." But not the worst, right? A mocking voice in her head chuckled gleefully.
Gods, what should she do?
Gabrielle had made clear that she didn't want her near. And the kiss....
She felt her skin tingle at the mere memory of this brief caress. The feel of Gabrielle's slim frame pressed against her. Her warmth. Her scent that reminded her of spring. Soft, warm rain. Sunshine.
Nothing had ever felt like this.
Nothing had ever felt so right.
And never had words hurt this much.
She should stay away. Not add to the pain she had already inflicted on Gabrielle's life. Lifting her head, she looked at the women waiting patiently.
Yup...her head told her that this was the right thing to do.
But her heart and her soul had already decided for her. A decision maybe made years ago. Lifetimes ago.
She exhaled slowly. And got up. Slipping her sword into her scabbard, she lifted dark brows in a questioning gesture.
"What are we waiting for?"
- 22 -
The warm water was like a gentle caress against her skin. Soothing. Comforting.
Closing her eyes, she leaned back against the back of the tub. Just floating on the warmth slowly making its way through her body.
Their first kiss.
She could still remember the almost shocked expression on Terreis' face. The deep blush that had spread across her face.
A weak, wistful smile tugged at pink lips.
Which faded as pale brows wrinkled in a slight frown. A flicker of pain crossed her features as she sat up. Wrapping her arms around her knees to ease the ache inside. Cool air brushed her back...goosebumps tickling her skin. Steam curling off her body. Fading in the damp air.
The clearing of a throat caused her to jump. She turned her head and managed to calm her heartbeat as she recognised the woman that had entered the hut. "Ira!....Gods, could you knock next time?!"
The healer smiled apologetically. "Sorry...but...I was a little worried. You've been in here for quiet some time and after this afternoon I wasn't taking any chances." Her voice became serious. "You still need to eat more than that bowl of soup."
Tired green eyes studied the older woman for a silent moment.
"I know." The pale head shook in a slight nod. "I couldn't even remember when I had eaten for the last time. No wonder I fainted."
Ira took this as permission to step closer and sat down on a chair near a window. "Mmh...you're lucky that Velasca was gone then...would have raised her hopes even more, wouldn't it? Knowing exactly how weak you are."
Gabrielle looked up. Surprised at the harsh tone in Ira's voice.
"What do you mean?"
The older woman shrugged and leaned back against the back of the chair. "Just that she might guess that she can beat you....would she have seen what happened on your way back..." Another shrug. "...well, she could have been sure of her triumph."
Guessing where this conversation was going, Gabrielle released a slow breath and got up. Wrapping a towel around herself, she stepped out of the tub.
Ira had dropped her eyes to give the younger woman as much privacy as possible. Waiting until she heard the rustle of clothes telling her that Gabrielle was getting dressed. Then she looked up.
Gabrielle had her back turned and the late afternoon sun highlighted fine, white lines on the otherwise smooth skin. Some of the scar had taken months to fully heal. Especially the ones on her belly and on her thighs....they were the most prominent ones. But they had healed. Even if they hadn't fully faded as they had hoped.
Gabrielle felt knowing grey on her back and swallowed. Pulling her shirt over her head, she turned. "Still look pretty bad, don't they?"
"They never bothered Terreis."
Green eyes turned away. "No...no, they didn't."
Ira took a deep breath. Not sure how far she could go. Only knowing that she would not let Gabrielle go through with this suicidal mission of hers.
"Do you think they would bother Xena?"
Slowly, Gabrielle turned her gaze back to her. Her face clearly showing the surprise and shock at the question.
"Do you think they would bother Xena?"
"What does that have to do with anything?!"
Ira smiled. Getting up and taking the few steps towards the small blonde. "I'm just trying to figure out why you don't want to agree to naming her your champion. You're right...usually it is someone who is very close to the Queen. A consort or lover..." She kept her voice deliberately challenging.
Green eyes darkened with silent anger. "Ira."
The healer was very aware that she was treading on thin ice but unable to stop now. She took the first step...might as well go all the way. "You're in love with her."
"Ira." The usually soft, gentle voice had dropped. Gaining a cold, angry edge.
"And you feel guilty. Don't you? How can you possibly fall in love with a stranger? Not only a stranger but the missing link in your past. How true and real could have been what you felt for Terreis? Who was butchered in front of your eyes only weeks ago."
The small frame in front of her started trembling. From anger or silent tears, she couldn't tell. Taking a step back, Gabrielle leaned against the tub.
"...don't do this, please..."
It was hard but Ira kept going. "So you decide to accept Velasca's challenge. Knowing exactly that she's going to tear you into pieces. The easy way out, isn't it?....No more pain. No more nightmares. No more dealing with the feelings inside....." Her voice softened. "No Xena."
Crouching in front of Gabrielle, she ducked her head to make eye contact. Taking small, trembling hands in her own.
"Gabrielle....what happened, happened. No one can change that. And no one asks you to forgive her." She searched teary green depths. "Although I don't think that was ever a question."
"But if Velasca wins she will tear this tribe apart. Those who won't follow her, and there will be a lot, will be slaughtered. And you know it. Those believing her 'vision' of a great, new Amazon nation will die in senseless battles. Is this really what you want?"
Gabrielle pulled her hands free. "Of course not!"
Ira got up. Suppressing a groan as her knees protested the abuse of crouching for far too long. "You are the Queen of this tribe! Start acting like one!.....What happened in your past and what role Xena played is something none of us will be able to understand." The grey head shook. "We won't be able to understand the pain you must be feeling...especially realising that you love her."
She saw Gabrielle start to protest but stopped her with a brief gesture.
"But! But you have a responsibility that goes beyond personal pain. We're talking about the future of your tribe! Of the future of all the children, young women and even us oldies! When you accepted the mask...you accepted this responsibility. No one said it was going to be easy but you know what?"
She waited until those green eyes met her gaze.
"You were chosen to be Queen because we trusted you. Because we knew that you're strong. Strong enough to lead this tribe."
Her hand cupped Gabrielle's face. "Don't disappoint this trust." In a quiet voice.
Silence as they studied each other for a long moment. A tear slowly traced down Gabrielle's face. Catching a spark of sunlight.
"...it doesn't matter what I feel, does it?..." Softly. Barely audible.
Ira ached for the young woman and shook her head. "Of course it matters! Hades, Gabrielle... the entire tribe would gladly lay down their lives to protect you. And you know that!"
Green eyes dropped. Her shoulders dropping in silent defeat. "...I know that..." A deep, trembling breath.
The healer nodded. "Don't decide now. I apologise if I hurt you but I think you needed to hear all this."
Gabrielle didn't respond. Her hands curled around the rim of the tub. She didn't lift her gaze as she said: "Send someone to look for Cyane and her party. Ask them if they mind helping us." A brief pause. "Tell her that all of them are welcome."
Ira waited for another moment and then nodded again. "I will do that." She turned and was about to leave but paused and turned back again.
"There is nothing wrong with falling in love, Gabrielle."
Still green eyes wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Terreis would tell you the same."
The small frame turned away. Clearly ending this conversation.
Ira exhaled and left the small hut. Outside met by an anxious Ephiny and other Amazons. Behind them she met dark and quiet pale blue eyes.
She focused on Ephiny. "I will never ever do something like this again. Even if this was for a good cause."
The Royal Guard swallowed. Knowing that she wouldn't have been able to manipulate Gabrielle like this.
"Did she agree?"
The older woman shrugged. "Not yet...but she asked me have someone bring Cyane back."
Grey eyes lifted and met hazel ones in a intense look. "She's hurting, Ephiny. And I think I just made it worse but yes, I think she will name Xena her champion."
Silence as they all avoided each other's eyes.
Ephiny released a slow breath. "We're trying to save her life, Ira. I didn't like this either but you know that we had to do something."
The healer sighed. Briefly meeting pale blue eyes. "I know....I know...."
Around them the clear blue sky slowly darkened in its colour. The sun already hidden behind tree tops the first clouds made their way across the sky. Announcing the beginning of another evening.
The air had started to cool down and a chilly breeze brushed past them as they made their way to their huts.
Leaving behind a heavy, uneasy silence.
- 23 -
Skip. Skip. Skip. Splash.
A smooth surface rippled in fading circles.
Skip. Skip. Splash.
Long fingers turning a flat stone again and again. A thumb brushing along its smooth edge. A quick move and the stone sailed through the air.
Hitting the calm surface of the river.
Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip. Splash.
A soft breath barely stirring the quiet air.
Another stone. A brief flick of the hand.
"...can't win 'em all, right?..." A soft, hesitant voice.
Xena didn't turn. Aware of slow footsteps coming to a halt somewhere behind her. Frighteningly aware of the soft scent drifting her way with every brush of the wind. Of the subtle sound of breathing.
She swallowed and released a slow breath. "No." She turned. "Guess, you can't."
Somehow beautiful just wasn't enough to describe the woman in front of her. She wasn't even sure if there were words to describe Gabrielle - or the intensity of the feelings inside her. The warmth spreading through her from just one look.
Above them leaves giggled in playful abandon. The setting sun bathing everything in a deep orange. An ocean of golden warmth encompassing the two of them.
Nothing else existed. Nothing beyond a pair of green eyes.
Gabrielle was the first to break their gaze. Wrapping her arms around herself as if to shield herself, she took a deep breath.
"They told you?"
It took all her willpower to stay where she was. Every fibre of her being begging her to take the smaller woman in her arms.
The pale head nodded silently. Another breath and she took a step forward. Avoiding pale blue eyes she felt almost like a physical caress on her skin.
"So you just came back." Not a question.
Xena shrugged even though she knew that Gabrielle didn't see the gesture. Her eyes following a leaf floating past them. "Yes."
"...yes..." Those green eyes focused on her. "Just like that?"
There were so many questions and emotions in the green depths. An obvious need to understand.
She leaned against the still warm bark of a tree. Pretending a nonchalance she really wasn't feeling. "You need help....That Velasca sounds like trouble and from what I heard I'm your best chance at defeating her." A brief pause. "So yeah....just like that."
The blonde head tilted ever so slightly. Green eyes searching her face. "No other reason?"
Xena released a slow breath. A flicker of unreasonable anger warming her belly. "What do you want me to say?! Hades!" She took a step forward. "You asked me to leave. I left. You need help and ask me to come back. I came back. What do you want?"
Gabrielle met her gaze for a long, silent moment before she turned away. "I just...I want to understand...." Her hands moving in a helpless gesture. "All of this."
She released a frustrated breath. "Understand? Gabrielle, I'm trying to save your life!"
The smaller woman spun around. "What life!?" It was the first time she raised her voice. The first time real anger sparkled in her eyes. "The one you took from me five years ago?!"
A bird's eerie cry echoed through the shocked silence.
The tall frame had gone very still and now she swallowed and took a step back. Unconsciously straightening herself. Her face betraying no emotion.
"The one you've been living for the last five years." The low voice distant. Cold.
Between them. A distance that went beyond the several steps separating them. And yet--- Even now they were reaching for each other.
Beyond the pain.
Their eyes met.
Like moths to a flame, right? The dark head tilted. Pale blue eyes taking in Gabrielle's small frame bathed in golden light of the setting sun. My flame.
"I don't expect you to forgive me, Gabrielle. But I am asking you to give me the chance to help you now....Please."
Gabrielle didn't answer. Taking the few steps, she sat down in a patch of grass. Brushing a few stray locks behind an ear. Her gaze lost in the steady rush of water. Beneath the surface she was able to make out the slim forms of fish. Floating in the current.
The soft crunching of dry leaves as Xena stepped closer.
She felt the warmth of her presence against her back and felt a shiver trace down her spine. Gods, how does she do that?
Pulling her legs up, she wrapped her arms around them. A dull pain in her chest reminding her that she was, indeed alive. Still alive...
"I loved her."
Her voice was soft. Distant. Fading shortly after the words left her lips. Tugged away by a gust of wind.
Xena swallowed. The muscles in her jaw moving with silent emotions. Okay, she really didn't need to hear that. But she couldn't walk away either. Her features set in an expressionless mask, she sat down next to the smaller woman.
Inside she tried to keep the walls from crumbling into pieces.
Green eyes turned and caught her. Tears tracing down the gentle features and she was barely able to keep from reaching out to brush them away.
"I loved her with all my heart." Gabrielle didn't break their gaze. Holding on to the pale blue depths. Afraid that if she let go, she would drown.
"But..." A trembling breath. "...she never touched my soul..." A bare, pained whisper.
And those green eyes reached inside her. Willing her to understand. Xena blinked. And slowly understanding cleared her features. "Gabrielle..."
The blonde head shook. "Why? Why do you want to help me?"
The taller woman exhaled slowly. Reluctantly breaking their gaze to collect herself. To find the right words to explain what was happening inside her. What had happened to her the day they met.
It wasn't that difficult, really.
But was it right?
She got up again and started pacing. Very aware of those green eyes studying her. Gods, she should have never agreed to accompany Cyane. She should have stayed home and taking care of the training for the young warriors. No complications there.
She stopped her pacing and brushed her hands through her hair in a frustrated gesture. And froze as she felt a soft touch against her back. Even through her leathers she felt the warmth of the small hand.
"Why did you kill him?"
Don't turn around! Don't turn around! Don't....
There were last traces of tears on her cheeks and without conscious thought she reached out and brushed them away. Her hand trembling as she lingered on the soft skin.
She dropped her hand. "He broke the rules. He knew the punishment."
The pale head tilted ever so slightly. Those green eyes looking at her. Just...looking at her.
A weak shrug. "I would have killed him sooner or later, anyway."
Quiet green eyes. "Why did you come back?"
She swallowed. The words were tickling her lips and it took all her willpower to keep them from spilling. It wouldn't help them - and most likely make things only worse. So she crossed her arms in front of her chest and shrugged again. "You needed my help."
Something sparkled in Gabrielle's eyes. And then she took a step closer. The wind tugged at a few stray locks. Brushing them along gentle features.
Only a step away, she came to a halt. "Why did you kiss me?"
She exhaled and finally surrendered to the inevitable. She hadn't unpacked yet, so she could leave within moments. Closing the distance between them, she felt a flicker of hope as Gabrielle didn't step back.
"I had to."
Pale brows rose in silent question.
"I couldn't leave without..." She searched for the right words. "I needed to know if it was real. What I felt."
Throwing caution to the wind, she leaned forward. Hesitating briefly before she touched trembling lips in a soft caress.
Green eyes fluttered close and she lost herself in the kiss. Gods...
Gabrielle felt herself falling. Into a dark warmth that felt so familiar and yet so impossibly new she didn't have time to be scared - or to question it. All she was aware of was the tall frame touching her body in its entire lengths and a pair of warm hands on her face.
Soft gust of breath on her lips.
"...I love you..."
Finally surrendering to the overwhelming craving inside, she let herself fall forward. Only to be wrapped into a warm, secure embrace. Holding her close. A rapid heartbeat hammering against her ear...in perfect harmony with her own.
And she held on to Xena. Her grip almost desperately as one thought flickered through her mind with almost startlingly clarity.
Soft rustles of leaves as Ephiny let go of the branch and turned away. Rubbing the side of her face to get rid of the light traces of a blush.
Meeting smiling dark eyes, she cleared her throat. "Um...I guess we won't have to worry about a champion."
Cyane smiled. Barely able to suppress a happy laugh. "I told you."
The Royal Guard shrugged. "I still don't know if it is for the best...." Her eyes dropped. "But I guess it's not up to us to decide that, right?"
"No. No it's not."
Cyane took a step forward and rubbed Ephiny's upper arm. "And I don't think that they really had a say in this, either."
Hazel eyes met hers. And then a weak smirk appeared on Ephiny's face. "Mmh...I guess, you're right. But really, I am sure there are easier ways to fall in love." A soft snort. "At least I hope there are."
The blonde head in front of her tilted and dark eyes sparkled with gentle amusement. A dark brown that in the setting light of the sun almost seemed black.
Ephiny cleared her suddenly dry throat again and made a vague gesture towards the village. "I think, we should head back." Hoping against hope that the blush on her face wasn't too obvious.
Cyane smiled and nodded. "Yeah...I'm sure they still need to talk about a lot of things."
Their eyes met.
Answering the smile with one of her own, Ephiny agreed. "Yeah...I'm sure there are."
"Are you warm enough?"
The low voice tickled the back of her head and caused her to chuckle softly. In turn, she simply cuddled closer to the warm body holding her.
Warm? She didn't really worry about being warm. Pale brows wrinkled ever so slightly. Actually, she didn't worry about anything. Perfectly content to lose herself in the safety of Xena's embrace.
A deep breath. The scent of warm body, leather and something heavier that was just part of Xena.
Green eyes closed. Letting the low timbre of her voice reverberate through her soul. Loath to interrupt this moment with speech. Or just a movement. If there was eternity - let this be it. This one moment where nothing could reach them. No Velasca...no past....nothing....
She felt the taller frame move. "Are you okay?....Is this..." The embrace loosened ever so slightly. "...Is this okay?"
As an answer she wrapped her arms tighter around Xena and nodded. Knowing she would feel the motion. "...okay..."
Felt a touch on the top of her head. And a gust of breath stirring her hair as Xena exhaled slowly. Pale blue eyes deepening in colour as a gentle smile tugged on her lips.
She had no desire to move but she felt the chill of the descending night and remembered all too clearly how tired Gabrielle had looked.
Shifting, she brushed a nearby ear with her lips. "Are you tired?"
Soft hair on her neck. Warm skin against her own. "...don't wanna move...."
She smiled. "I don't recall asking you to move."
A surprised chuckle as she simply lifted Gabrielle into her arms. Amazed at how well they fit together. How right it felt to hold her like this.
Green eyes looked at her. A small hand reaching up to touch her face in a gentle, brief caress. Tracing along her jaw. Lingering on her lips for a small eternity.
"...feels so right..." The soft voice a bare whisper.
But she caught them. And felt something inside settle. She smiled and leaned forward. Claiming pink lips in another gentle, undemanding kiss. Feeling Gabrielle burying closer still.
"Yes, it does."
The village was dark except for a few torches barely shedding enough light to illuminate the square. It was quiet. Only warm wood sighing as it settled for the night.
The dark form stepped out of the shadows. Choosing her steps carefully to avoid stirring the small frame in her arms. Sound asleep.
Soft, deep breaths gusts of warmth against her chest.
It took her only a moment to orient herself in the dark and she headed towards the bare outlines of the Queen's hut.
Ignoring the outright stares of the Royal Guards, she entered the dark hut. Pausing as Gabrielle stirred only to release a soft, content sigh. Small hands tightening against her arms.
She swallowed against the avalanche of sensation branding through her body.
Locating the bed, she gently lowered her precious burden onto the cool sheets. Immediately a frown wrinkled pale brows and Gabrielle stirred as her mind recognised the loss of warmth even in sleep.
Xena sat down next to the bed and took a small hand in her own. "I'm here, Gabrielle."
The blonde woman calmed down and with an amazed smile, pale blue eyes watched as the small frame moved towards the sound of her voice.
Tilting her head, she simply studied gentle features. Outlined by a silvery glow coming through the window.
Long fingers gently brushing stray locks away. Losing themselves in warm, soft skin. Marvelling at the soft, fine hair they felt.
Moving a little to get comfortable on the floor, she tightened her hold on the small hand. Content to simply sit here and to do nothing but watch Gabrielle sleep.
Sunlight tickling her face.
Sunlight tickling her face and the warmth encompassing her hand.
That's what brought her back from the refreshing depth of sleep. She hesitated to open her eyes. Afraid that everything she remembered from last night had been a dream. Afraid that if she opened her eyes....
That there wouldn't be chiselled features and pale blue eyes looking back at her.
That everything had been yet another dream.
Through the window a chilly breeze brushed along the bed and brought with it a very familiar scent. Immediately bringing a smile to pink lips.
Please, don't let it be a dream, don't let it be a dream....
She looked so much younger asleep. Angular features completely relaxed and an ever so light smile on soft...oh so soft...lips.
Green eyes shifted and fell on their entwined hands. Wriggled her fingers and felt the larger hand immediately tighten.
Rolling from her belly onto her side, she used her free hand to brush dark bangs to one side. Cupping chiselled features in a gentle caress.
"...I love you..." A soft breath stirring the quiet air.
Waiting until sleepy pale eyes blinked open. Falling willingly and helplessly into their blue depths. She smiled. Which was answered on red lips. Lifting their still entwined hands, she briefly kissed them. Holding the gaze of darkening blue eyes.
"...be my champion..." A shy request.
Her answer was a broad, warm smile.
- 24 -
The sky slowly changed from early dawn grey into a pale blue. Last traces of clouds fading as the sun made its way across the smooth surface. Gaining in strength. Its warmth settling heavily on the village below.
Pearls of dew on leaves sparkled in an ocean of colours. The earth steaming ever so lightly as the dampness of the night crept away. Dissolving into warm air.
Ephiny took a deep breath. Brushing her hands through blonde locks to put them into some sense of order. Already she felt the humidity of the air settle on her skin like a fine layer of sweat and she sighed silently. Great. Just what they needed.
The village was still quiet.
Only the guards were awake. Lifting a hand to greet her.
Hazel eyes looked around for a long wistful moment. Tracing along the outlines of huts. Massive trees surrounding the village. The platform in the centre of the square. The flowers and colourful ribbons adorning it already fading in colour.
A soft breeze brushed past her. Stirring the air. Branches overhead rustling in sleepy annoyance.
Peaceful. A brief, peaceful moment.
A small smile tugged at her lips and she closed her eyes to simply enjoy the quiet. For a moment able to lose herself in happy memories.
She didn't move as the sound of soft footsteps became audible. Pausing for a moment and then she felt someone come to a halt next to her.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
The smile broadened and she turned to face Cyane. "Mmh."
The blonde woman leaned against a roof support. Dark eyes surveying the village to settle on the Queen's hut. Her brows wrinkling in a thoughtful frown. "Do you think they made it back all right?"
Ephiny followed her gaze. And felt herself scowl unhappily at the thoughts flickering through her mind. She cleared her throat. "Um....yeah, I am sure they did."
Cyane smiled and was about to answer as movement at the other hut caught her attention. Not quiet able to suppress a surprised sound.
She straightened. Her head tilting in an unconscious gesture as she studied the image before them.
It was eerie how right it felt to see the two together like that.
Xena's tall, dark form easily towering Gabrielle's smaller frame and yet they seemed to fit. Somehow. Light and Dark. They even...dark eyes blinked...they even moved together in a way that spoke of a silent understanding.
An understanding that normally would take years to achieve.
The two women walked down the stairs and slowly made their way to the food hut. Gabrielle said something and the tall frame at her back leaned forward a little. A small, gentle smile transforming her features.
Cyane shook her head. She had never seen her friend like that. An affectionate smirk played on her lips. Well, I guess, love becomes her.
Next to her Ephiny shifted and she turned. Frowning as she noticed the expression on the face of the Greek Amazon.
Hazel eyes made her gaze. "I'm fine. I was just...." A shrug. "I just thought that...she never looked so happy." A brief silence as she closed her eyes. "...not even with Terreis..."
Cyane swallowed. Not sure what to say.
"And I wondered....I mean, I know that she loved her. Really loved her....but seeing her now..." Her voice turned wistful. "What kind of love can make you glow like this? It's a little scary." She released a slow breath.
At the food hut Gabrielle and Xena paused for a moment. The smaller woman laughing at something Xena said. And then without so much as a moment's hesitation took a large hand into hers and pulled the taller woman into the hut.
For a long moment neither of them said a word or moved. Still caught in what they just witnessed.
It was Cyane who finally broke the silence. "Scary? Maybe....but right nevertheless, isn't it?"
Ephiny didn't respond immediately. Her mind still replaying the way Gabrielle's face had lit up just looking at Xena. That broad, happy smile. The way her small frame seemed to be wrapped in a light all of its own.
Slowly, the frown on her face changed into a warm smile and she nodded silently.
Right? Yeah...if anything than this was it.
- 25 -
"They're staring at us."
The blonde head in front of her turned and then mischievous green eyes sparkled at her. "They do, huh?...." A brief silence. "Does it bother you?"
Xena chuckled and traced her fingers along a gently curved cheek. "Nope." Losing herself in green depths the women standing around them became secondary.
Well, as secondary as hundred or more women crowding the space around them could get.
But somehow it didn't really register with her.
She knew that she was about to fight for her life. Her life. Gabrielle's life. The life of the entire Greek tribe. She knew it was going to be dangerous.
Still it couldn't penetrate the warm haze her mind and soul seemed to be floating in. All those facts couldn't compete with the pull a mere look from those green eyes caused within her.
Losing control? Oh yeah - and she was loving every moment of it!
She answered the smile on pink lips with one of her own and leaned forward. Close enough to feel Gabrielle's breath as a soft caress on her skin. Close enough to notice an ever so light golden hue to the dark green looking back at her.
Absently she noted that the carpet of conversation around them suddenly stopped. A very noticeable hush falling over the group of Amazons. Countless pairs of eyes practically burning against their backs.
"...they're gonna start hooting if you kiss me now..." A somewhat unsteady whisper.
"Mmh...would lighten the atmosphere. Would be for a good cause, wouldn't it?"
By now their lips were close enough to ever so lightly touch. A soft, impossibly gentle caress.
Whatever Gabrielle had meant to answer was swallowed by a piercing bird cry coming from somewhere near the village entry.
The silence changed in texture and an alarmed energy took hold of every single warrior.
Xena noticed green eyes shift from playful into fearful and shook her head. Her voice steady and serious. "It is going to be okay. I won't let anything happen to you.....Never again!"
For a long moment Gabrielle just looked at her. And then with almost startlingly ease an open trust entered her gaze. Small hands reached up and brushed dishevelled dark bangs to one side.
"Don't you dare die out there." A trembling but serious entreaty.
Xena actually smiled at the order. Stealing a brief kiss. "I promise."
And then the small moment where the world consisted of only them was gone and real life entered. Represented by a scout running up to them.
Beats of sweat tracing down a dusty face. "They're here!"
She really wasn't sure what she had expected.
But she had to admit that she was a little surprised at the sight of the woman entering the village. Velasca was smaller than she herself if not by much. Her long, reddish-brown hair braided at the sides.
Like all the Greek Amazons she was dressed in short leathers. Exposing a slim if not overly trim body.
Pale eyes lifted. For the first time meeting the steady gaze looking back at her.
Her eyes narrowing in an unconscious gesture as she noticed the sparkle of madness in them. Reminding her again that one didn't need physical power to destroy. It was enough to be convinced that one was able to tear down the world.
And Velasca seemed to be very sure of herself.
Greyish-green eyes dismissed her and settled on the smaller woman in front of her. She noticed the way Gabrielle straightened. Her body stiffening. Fingers twitching.
Velasca smiled and took a few more steps towards them. Oblivious to the Amazons closing in on her. Her attention solely on Gabrielle.
"My...isn't it a beautiful day to die? Mmh? What do you think, Gabrielle?"
The young woman surprised all of them by turning and looking straight at Xena. Her features warming in a soft smile.
"Yes. It's a beautiful day."
Pale blue eyes blinked and Xena cleared her throat. Her skin darkening ever so lightly. The only hint of the blush she felt warming her face.
Gabrielle turned back. Her smile never faltering. "And I have no intention of dying today, Velasca."
Dust crunching as boots shifted on the dry ground of the square. The soft noise of leather moving against warm skin. Against pieces of metal. A subtle carpet of sounds woven by countless sets of breathing and hushed whispers.
Velasca tilted her head and studied the odd pair standing in front of her.
Something wasn't right.
Her brows wrinkled. She had recognised Ephiny of course and a handful of other Royal Guards standing around that little, annoying.... But there were a few Amazons dressed in different sets of leathers that she hadn't seen before.
And who the Hades was that....her eyes narrowed as she felt a vague sense of recognition. Where had she seen that woman before?
The dark-haired Amazon moved closer to Gabrielle. Her hands coming to rest in a very obviously possessive gesture on the shoulders of the smaller woman. Pale eyes meeting her gaze. A dark brow raising in a mocking gesture.
And that's when she remembered. She hadn't seen the woman before - but heard of her. Hades, which Greek hadn't?
Chuckling, she shook her head. "Now that is rich, little one. Where did you stumble across Xena? Mmh? Someone dragged her out of your head?"
She took a step forward. Still ignoring the shift of bodies at the small movement. "Let me guess....she's your new 'toy'? My, you do have a perverted sense of humour, don't you?"
Studying the gentle features in front of her she pursed her lips in thought. Her eyes dancing with mocking affection. "Please tell me they told you who she is."
Xena felt her entire body tense with the sheer wish to strangle the bitch. Gabrielle had gone very still and she felt small shoulders tremble with silent emotions. She was about to say something as a small hand reached up to cover hers.
Recognising the unspoken request, she kept silent but kept scowling at Velasca.
"I do know who she is." Stepping away from the protecting and safe warmth at her back, she took a deep breath. "I take it so do you?"
Velasca chuckled. "Oh please, who doesn't know her? I heard of her, yes. And I would love to stand here and keep chatting but...." The smile vanished. "We two have some business to take care of."
Spreading her arms, she addressed the assembled tribe. Her voice easily carrying through the silence.
"I am here to take my rightful place as Queen of the Amazons. I am here to lead you into a prosperous, glorious future."
The warriors that had escorted her, cheered as the words drifted to them. Their shouts echoing eerily through the quiet air.
"By killing me."
The soft words cut through her speech with almost violent force even though Gabrielle hadn't so much as raised her voice.
Velasca spun around. Her eyes flashing with hatred and blank madness. "Yes! Unless you hand over the throne but..." The smile reappeared. Her face shifting from a hateful into a mocking grimace with frightening ease.
Closing the distance between them she was about to touch Gabrielle's face as something large, dark and really painful closed around her wrist.
"You touch so much as a hair of her and I kill you."
Greyish-green eyes blinked in honest surprise and she raised her gaze to find icy blue eyes stare right into hers. It took a moment to collect herself. Relaxing her hand she waited until the grip on her arm loosened.
"She does make a good guard dog, doesn't she?"
A deep growl and all that held her back from attacking Velasca was a small warm hand on her belly.
The Greek Amazon laughed. "And she is house-broken already. I am impressed, Gabrielle."
A brief wave of murmurs stirred the air and the Amazons shifted with restless energy. They wanted this to be over. They wanted this to be over to finally get back to their normal lives. To finally grieve the sisters, mothers, aunts and lovers they had lost.
They wanted this to be over to finally find out why Xena had kissed their Queen!
Gabrielle looked around. Noting the way her Amazons tightened their hold on their weapons. Saw their eyes narrow at Velasca.
Realising that they were close to losing their patience. And if that would happened than this would end in the bloodbath she so desperately wanted to avoid.
She wouldn't let that happen!
"That's enough, Velasca!"
The taller woman turned to look at her. A broad, questioning smile on her face. "Yes, my Queen?"
Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle held out her hand. Hoping that Ephiny would understand the gesture. It took only a second and she felt the familiar weight of the Queen's mask in her hand.
Holding it in front of her, she met Velasca's gaze. "You challenged me. You are here to fight me for the right of wearing this mask."
"Oooh, you betcha, little one."
Another low growl at her back. And despite the situation she couldn't help the rush of warmth the sound caused within her. A bizarre mixture of feeling protected and sensual longing that was more than a little distracting.
The next words she directed at the tribe. Meeting the eyes of every single one looking back at her. "I accepted the challenge. I accepted to proof myself worthy of the trust you showed me by announcing me Queen. I accepted because this tribe means everything to me....It is the only family I remember and I am not going to let you being led into a future that holds only violence and death."
She took a slow breath. Fighting tears she felt stinging her eyes. "I accepted the challenge to revenge the death of Melosa and Terreis... and so many of our sisters."
Now she turned back to Velasca. Unsheathing a short sword from her belt she offered the two items, the sword and the mask, to the other woman.
The warmth at her back returned and it took a lot of willpower to keep from leaning back. To let herself fall into the safety and warmth she knew waited for her.
Velasca was caught off-guard by the gesture and blinked at Gabrielle. Her eyes narrowing in suspicion. Should it be this easy?
Reaching out, she grabbed the sword first and was about to grab the mask, too as Gabrielle pulled it back. With one smooth motion putting it on.
Causing another wave of murmurs among the women circling them.
"You challenged me...and I accepted. As Queen I have the right to name a champion to fight in my name."
A brief silence as everybody made the connection. Velasca not quite able to hide the flicker of fear that showed on her face.
"I name Xena my Champion. Since you issued the challenge, Velasca, you may choose the weapon you'd like to fight with."
It took another long moment until Velasca realised what exactly had happened. Her hatred increasing tenfold as she noticed the small grin on Xena's face.
For a brief moment she considered objecting but then she studied the two women in front of her. They were obviously close. If she didn't know better she would bet they were lovers - killing Xena would most likely destroy Gabrielle. Again.
She still remembered her anguished cries as she held Terreis' dead body in her arms. Only killing Gabrielle could feel better. Well, killing her or...
Greyish-green shifted to the tall dark frame standing next to Gabrielle.
Noting the shift of muscles in her arms and legs. The way she held her body that spoke of assured confidence in her abilities. And of course she had heard the stories about her.
But that was a long time ago.
And damn, if she would let herself be stopped by some old legend. She wanted Gabrielle's dead, cold body at her feet. And nothing would stop her from getting it.
Letting the fire of hatred warming her belly slowly make its way through her body, she smiled and winked at Xena. Her skin tingling with the sheer energy crashing through her.
"Swords. I choose swords."
Accepting the one handed to her by one of her comrades, she raised her brows in a questioning gesture.
"Ready when you are." Xena twirled her sword.
Velasca nodded and took the few steps towards Gabrielle. Pushing the mask back, she cupped her face. Leaned forward and brushed pink lips in a brief, rough kiss. "When I am finished with that 'friend' of yours....you and I really need to talk, don't you think?"
She winked at her and then turned to Xena.
Chaos all around her. And so familiar that she didn't know how she managed not to scream. Or was she?
She didn't know. All she knew was that she had to find Terreis.
Her feet hit something warm and heavy and her stomach cramped violently as she looked down and met the blank gaze of one of the Royal Guards. What was left of her body was drenched in a bright red.
By the Gods...
She stumbled away from the body and looked around.
Everywhere people were fighting. Falling. Dying.
The air was filled with voices and the distinctive sound of battle. Arrows pierced through the air with hissing noises and again and again someone screamed. Only to fade in a choked grunt.
She had to find Terreis.
For a moment Ephiny appeared at her side. Cutting down one of their attackers. She hadn't even noticed the woman. She tried to thank her friend but the taller woman had already disappeared again.
And then she saw them.
Melosa seemed to be asleep. Her body lay that peaceful. But the pool of blood forming around her curled up form betrayed that thought. Her hand still held a sword...but had been neatly severed from the rest of her arm.
She swallowed against the bile raising in her throat. Melosa...
Only a few feet away from the dead body stood Terreis and Velasca. They were still fighting but by the amount of blood on her lover’s body and the way every move seemed to cause her pain - there was no doubt as to who was winning.
She wanted to move. She wanted to rush forward and help.
But she couldn't.
Her feet seemed to be rooted to the ground. All she could do was uttered a hoarse croak.
And she had to watch in helpless horror as Velasca out-stepped one of Terreis' hits and dropped to her knee. The smile on her face bright, almost cheery as she plunged the blade deep into Terreis' body.
The sunlight caught tiny sparkles at its tip as it protruded at the back.
An incoherent scream. That was her voice. Wasn't it?
For a long moment neither moved. And then slowly....ever so slowly....any strength left Terreis's body and she simply sank to the ground. Her face turned upwards. Dead eyes starring into the pale blue of the sky.
She had no idea how she ended up at Terreis' side. She didn't remember moving but it didn't matter.
Terreis was so heavy. She had problems cuddling her still warm form against her. Pale eyes looked right past her. Her face smeared with dirt and blood.
Carefully she brushed stray locks out of her eyes and sorted them into some sense of order. Rubbing a streak of blood.
"...don't...don't...don't...." The hoarse whisper barely stirred the air.
For a very brief moment Terreis's eyes seemed to focus on her but then - nothing.
A last gust of breath against her chilly skin and then there was -
The battle around her slowed as her screams pierced through the air.
She had no idea how long she simply screamed but her throat felt sore and her arms ached from the dead weight of Terreis' body.
One of her hands dropped and she felt something vaguely familiar nestle against her fingers. Turning, she noticed a sword.
And something inside snapped.
It almost hurt in its force.
Wrapping her hands tightly around the hilt, she got up. Her body ached and breathing hurt but she didn't care.
She just didn't care...
Her mind blank except for the wish to simply die right here. She just wanted to make sure she took Velasca with her.
Green eyes blinked and trembling fingers curled tightly around the armrest of the throne.
Although the sun was still shining it had got colder. The wind rustling through the trees nearby chilly against her body and she felt a shiver run down her back. Her skin prickling against the cold.
She had lost track of time.
She had no idea how long Xena and Velasca were fighting. Both women were circling each other. Now and then feigning an attack. Their bodies shifting in cautious movement.
Her eyes settled on Xena.
Her tall, dark frame seemed at ease. Almost relaxed as her head tilted a little to study Velasca's moves. Muscles shifting underneath the tanned skin.
She tried to compare what she felt then, holding Terreis' dead body and what she felt now.
And she couldn't.
It had broken her then, she knew. But –
- but she also knew that she would have been able to go on. Eventually.
Green eyes returned to Xena.
Seeing her get killed would not only break her it would destroy parts of her Terreis had never been able to reach.
It would shatter her soul into myriad of pieces. And she wouldn't be able to go on. She simply wouldn't. She would die along with Xena.
She knew that as sure as she knew that she loved the dark warrior with every fibre of her being. Losing her would mean to lose herself.
The realisation hit with so much force she had to lean forward with a soft groan.
Ephiny who had stood at her side, rushed forward. Alarm obvious on her face. "Gabrielle? What's wrong?"
She closed her eyes against the images her mind played over and over again. "...I can't do this..."
"What?...Gabrielle, what are you talking about?"
The Royal Guard had to swallowed as the young Queen turned to look at her.
"...I can't lose her, Ephiny..." An anguished whisper.
Her friend released a slow breath. Framing those gentle features with her hands, she tried to project as much confidence as she was able to. Pushing any traces of doubts deep down.
"You are not going to lose her. Do you hear me? No way will she let that bitch win, trust me!"
It took a moment but slowly green eyes lost their fear. Not completely but the look of pure horror had gone. "I'd kill me, Eph."
Ephiny felt something heavy settle inside. "I know."
She turned away. Hazel eyes tracking the two women now engaged in a serious fight. Her gaze settling on Xena. Don't you dare die, Xena! If I have to come down to Tartarus to kick your ass back up here I will. Don't you dare hurt her like that!
She watched in fascination as the tall frame parried an attack by Velasca and with almost sensual grace stepped around the other woman.
Within a blink of an eye the blade of her sword against Velasca's throat.
A cold, cruel smile on her lips.
A pulse beating wildly against her fingertips.
The distinctive scent of fear tickling her nostrils.
Ooh it felt so good. For a moment she even forgot why she was doing this. But as she lifted her eyes, she fell right into fluttering green pools – and she knew exactly why she was doing it.
The body in her arms struggled and she increased the pressure of her blade. Knew that its edge had cut the skin already. The subtle scent of blood drifting to her.
Velasca stopped her fight and went very still. Her hand holding the sword trembling a little but she didn’t drop it. Trying to move as little as possible she took a slow breath. Her eyes settling on Gabrielle who had got up.
Her face showing a mixture of emotions.
The small woman stepped down from the platform and came to a halt only a few steps away from her. Those green eyes never leaving her face.
But not quite ready to accept defeat just yet. "You’re just going to watch me being killed?"
A low voice growling right into her ear sent shivers down her spine and she felt Xena move closer still. She actually smelled the metal of the sword. Could see the blurry reflection of pale blue eyes on the worn blade.
Around them everything had gone quiet.
Countless pairs of eyes were starring at them and for a moment she considered giving her warriors the signal to attack. The words were already tickling her lips.
But she didn’t.
Gabrielle hadn’t moved and she saw her swallow. The sunlight catching tiny highlights in silent tears tracing down her face.
...if things only had been different.
The last thing she saw was the small frame turning away. From somewhere a butterfly fluttered past them. All but a blur of moving colours.
The last things she felt was the warm caress of sunlight on her skin. A soft breeze stirring the hair on her arms.
And a sharp, searing pain on her throat. The strangely comforting sensation of warm liquid running down her chest. And a low voice whispering to her.
"...no one will ever hurt her again. No one..."
Felt her lips move with silent words. And then her body lost its weight. She seemed to be floating and a bright white descended on her mind. Wrapping her in ---
Xena slowly finished the move and dropped her arm. Ignoring the prickle of excitement branding through her. Setting her skin on fire. Ignoring the enticing scent of warm blood. She felt Velasca’s lifeless body fell against her and with a disgusted sneer she took a step back.
Pale eyes watching in stoic patience as the dead form dropped to the ground. Clouds of dust whirling around her boots. To slowly settle again.
Her breath sounded eerily loud in the quiet that had wrapped itself around the village and as she looked up fear flickered through her as she noted Gabrielle still had her back turned. Small hands curled into tight fists.
Movement at the entry distracted her and she turned to glare at the group of women that had come with Velasca.
"You take so much as one more step and I’ll cut you all into little pieces."
She wasn’t sure if it were her words or the sight of Velasca’s dead body – or the Greek tribe finally coming to life again but Velasca’s warriors exchanged nervous glances and then dropped their weapons.
Taking a deep breath, she tasted the dust and the heat of the day on the back of her throat. Using her left hand, she brushed sweaty bangs to the side and slowly...hesitantly turned back around.
Afraid of what would happen next.
What happened was a pair of teary green eyes reaching for her. She had to swallow as she saw Gabrielle step down from the platform. Walking slowly but without hesitation towards her. Never breaking their gaze.
She barely had time to let go of her sword as small, warm hands curled against her stomach. Fair lashes blinked tears away and then Gabrielle simply wrapped herself around her. All she could do was to return the embrace as tightly as she possibly could without crushing the small frame.
"...don’t ever...ever let go again..." Soft. Warm breath against her skin.
And the words. The voice. And the feel of the small, trembling frame in her arms burned itself into her soul. Settling inside her like the missing pieces to the puzzle her life had been.
Pale eyes closed as she buried her face into blonde hair. Tightening her hold on Gabrielle’s warm form. Drowning in the scent that simply was Gabrielle.
"I won’t. Ever."
- 26 -
Sunshine. The scent of spring and warm rain. The scent of a warm, sleeping body.
Pale blue eyes blinked open. Idly noting the pre-dawn grey of the sky outside only to settle on the small frame cuddled against her.
Gabrielle lay on her stomach. Her head pillowed on one arm, the other stretched outside the blanket where the small fingers were wrapped solidly around her own. Her own taller frame was half-covering Gabrielle's smaller.
Red lips shaped into a gentle smile.
Slowly she moved. Resting her weight on her free arm. Studying the gentle features totally relaxed in sleep. The last traces of a smile still visible on pink lips.
She leaned forward. Burying her face in a mass of blonde hair. Drowning in the scent that was so much a part of Gabrielle.
A soft, contented noise.
Her smile broadened.
Gently disentangling her fingers, she used them to brush long, pale locks to one side. Revealing cream-coloured skin. Fine, white lines on otherwise smooth skin.
Chiselled features turned pensive and a finger traced one of the scars. Barely touching the soft skin. Replacing her fingertip with her lips, she lingered for a small eternity on the soft skin...then blue eyes sparkled mischievously and she playfully licked warm skin.
Another sound. And the small frame moved. Half turning and cuddling closer against her.
Quite without conscious thought her hand slipped around and came to rest against Gabrielle's belly. Gently caressing.
Moving her lips up, she nipped a cute earlobe - and waited.
Outside the world slowly took on colour. The grey of the sky dissolving into a shy blue. Clouds lingering from the night faded in the first hesitant rays of sunlight. Somewhere birds greeted the new day with a chorus of cheery voices.
"...why did you stop?..." A soft, sleepy voice. A small hand covering her own. Entwining their fingers.
The gentle smile turned into a smirk. "Stop what?" Felt the small frame in her arms move and was face to face with very sleepy green eyes. "Mmh?"
Pink lips shaped into a warm smile and gentle fingers reached up to smooth out dark brows. Lingering to trace down her cheek. Outlining the smile on her lips.
Green eyes darkening with a myriad of emotions.
"I love you."
Funny, how she never got tired of hearing those three words.
The smirk dissolved into a gentle smile and she brushed pink lips with her own. Lingering on their softness for a small eternity. Then she wriggled dark brows playfully. "You do, huh?"
Got a soft chuckle and a poke to her stomach for that. Which slowly turned into a teasing caress.
She had to clear her suddenly dry throat. Her skin tingling from the mere touch. "...they’re waiting for us..."
The small hand moved and she jumped a little. Green eyes sparkling in affectionate amusement.
She caught the traitorous fingers and held them in a gentle grip. Claiming pink lips in a deep kiss. Her body shifting as Gabrielle moved into her. Pausing for a moment but not breaking contact with soft lips, she fell into deep green eyes.
"...don't come complaining when they tease you about being late..." On an uneven breath.
Warm, small hands tracing along her back. The small frame melting into hers. "...won't..."
And then everything else became secondary as they lost each other in the feelings radiating between them. And nothing became more important than soft, gentle caresses. Whispered words brushing damp skin.
And a warmth that wrapped them in a world all of their own.
Two pair of eyes met and the Royal Guards, without as much as a change of expression stepped down from the porch and came to a halt at the foot of the stairs. Small, affectionate smirks playing on their lips.
At the square the entire tribe was assembled. The platform decorated with all kind of bright colours and feathers. The elders already preparing for the ceremony.
One of the guards cleared her throat.
"They're gonna be late."
A muffled chuckle. "Yup."
A brief silence as they surveyed the cheery atmosphere before them. Golden rays of light bathing the village. The pale blue of the sky promising a beautiful day.
"They're gonna be late for their own joining."
Two sets of chuckles. "Oooh....this is gonna be a fun week."
"Man besitzt nur die Seele, die sich uns gab; nicht die, die man sich nahm."
Thanks for reading! Hope you liked the story - and its ending. J (Now, how’s that for a happy ending?? <smile)
The quote by Walter Calé...it basically means: You can take someone’s soul. But it will never belong to you unless it is given freely. I found it in a book from the late 19th century and I just liked the meaning behind it - and it fit the story perfectly.
For those of you wondering what comes next: I am working on yet another X/G story and I also started writing on the sequel to "Fragments". But things are going to get really busy in the next few weeks since I am moving yet again and start a new job in Frankfurt. So there probably won't be anything new until late August or so....but I keep you updated. Til then!.....Grit......