Disclaimers: No, I don't own Xena and Gabrielle - I just burrow them. I'm putting them back were they belong, I swear...
Subtext: Yes, it is maintext in this story. Though it starts out innocent enough. Later on in the story there will be scenes of two women making love. If this bothers you - please don't read this story.
Violence: Yes. Nothing to graphic though. There will be scenes of domestic violence and child abuse. (no rape or sexual violence!) If this bothers you - please don't read this story.
A Note About The Story: This isn't a 'typical' alternative story. It isn't general fiction either. You could probably call it Uber in some ways. So consider yourself warned...
Language: I don't use English in my day to day life so I apologise in advance for any spelling or grammar mistakes. You're welcome to point them out to me, though (But please be nice...<smile>) (I will use 'proper' English spelling just thought I mention that, too. It just stuck with me after school.)
Any comments are welcome. My e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Grit Jahning
how could I know when I first met you
I'd be falling in love, never wanting to, cause out of the blue you came my way
so lost for words, don't know what to say
it's a craving
feels like I'm misbehaving
feels like I'm going crazy
only you can save me
<chorus>I'm falling but I can't stop - can't stop
a little bit of you is never enough
feels like I'm falling - falling
feels like a new day's dawning
try as I might I just can't hide
when you came you unlocked all I had inside
like a piece of a puzzle that slots in fine
you came in my life and you made it right
just a feeling - feeling
it's not just my heart you're stealing
you know all there is to know
cause you've seen inside my soul
you're on my mind all the time, morning, noon and night
without you, without love, I just can't survive no, it's a craving
feels like I'm misbehaving, feels like I'm going crazy
only you can save me
can't stop falling
(*"Falling" written by Gabrielle/Richard Stannard/Julian Gallagher)
- 1 -
The sun was just peeking out from behind treetops when a tall form on a narrow bed moved and groaned softly. The sounds of cheery birds floated through the open window and the form moved again; accompanied by a mumbled curse.
The bedding was lifted off and a head with long, dark and dishellved hair appeared. A hand rubbed a still sleepy face and a soft sigh stirred the chilly morning air.
Then still closed eyelids opened and a pair of pale blue eyes blinked at the dawning day. They blinked some more and with another heavy sigh the form got up. Long slender fingers ran through the dark mane and a yawn fought its way passed full red lips.
The head turned at the sound of footsteps and then the door opened as a small woman poked her head in the room.
"Xena? ... Oh good, you're awake. Hey honey, I need you to do me a favour."
The woman entered the small room and looked at her daughter, smiling. At the age of fifteen Xena was already as tall as her elder brother - which meant she was towering over her mother and Cyrene was constantly amazed when she looked at her daughter. So different from all the other girls in the village.
Not that she spent a whole lot of time with them.
No, the solitary teenager preferred to go out hunting or just scouting around. Usually dragging her younger brother with her. She liked to work on the fields with Toris, her elder brother, or work with horses. Having a remarkable talent with the beasts.
She hated everything that even sounded like housework which meant everything from cleaning to cooking or the gods forbid weaving.
Cyrene shook her head slightly. She watched Xena stretch her long frame and donning a light tunic that she belted at the waist. It was a dark blue contrasting nicely with her pale eyes.
The tall teenager turned to her mother and cocked her head to one side. A slow grin edging at the corners of her lips.
"Want me to get you something from the upper shelves?" she teased.
"Why, aren't we funny this morning." Cyrene scowled in mock anger. "No, nothing like that. Um... I heard that there will be a trading caravan passing through Potedeia in two days. You know I can't leave the inn because Toris is away to the market and someone has to be here because of Lyceus and I want you to get me a few herbs and some cloth."
Xena pursed her lips. Mmh. That sounded like fun. She could take one of their horses and be in Potedeia by early morning tomorrow. Hey, she could visit her uncle and maybe she could get herself a nice dagger or something. Yeah.
"Sure. I leave after breakfast. Anything else you need?"
Her mother nodded and handed her a folded piece of paper. "I made a list. It's not that much but the caravan won't stop here in Amphipolis and I forgot to ask Toris to fetch the things at the market."
Xena nodded and tugged the note away in one pocket of her tunic.
"No problem mum. It'll be nice to visit uncle Spyros again. He promised me to show me some new moves with the sword."
The older woman saw those blue eyes shine brightly as they always did when Xena was talking about fighting or battles or weapons. Sometimes it frightened her.
"Gods child, I swear one of these days you cut off your arm."
But she had stopped arguing with her stubborn daughter about these sort of things. She couldn't forbid her headstrong child to practice with weapons (having tried it more than once) and they had gotten in some very loud arguments about the topic already. An experience she had no desire to repeat any time soon.
"Mum, please...I don't cut myself. Well, not anymore. I've gotten pretty good with the sword." She straightened to her full height. "I'm already better than Toris."
"Whatever." Cyrene answered quietly. Avoiding her daughter's questioning eyes. Before she could say anything else though a voice bellowed down the hall.
"XENA!!! Guess who gets all the dumplings this morning!"
Cyrene wisely stepped away from the door as she recognised the voice of her youngest child and sure enough Xena raced through it without so much as a second glance at her mother. Yelling at the top of her voice; a huge smile on her face.
"Well, it ain't you, brat!"
The older woman shook her head at listening to her two offsprings and then followed Xena down into the inn.
Xena lay in the hayloft her eyes closed and just enjoyed the quiet time before her departure. The air was heavy with the smell of spring hay and the warmth of the horses underneath the loft. She heard their soft snorts and the shuffling of their hooves. The sounds of the village muted by the heavy wooden walls.
Here she could be whoever she wanted to be. She could be that great warrior; a hero really, who was fighting against armies and evil monsters defeating all of them easily. She sighed. Yeah.
Here nobody laughed at her or called her crazy.
She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, her eyes tracing the supports above. It was hard to be different. More so because there was nobody to share her dreams with. Sure, there was Lyceus and she loved the little brat but it would be nice to have another friend. A real friend you could laugh with and share your dreams and fears with. Not just someone to roughhouse with or to compete with. Something she seemed to be doing constantly with the other boys. She knew their were afraid of her because she could beat them up and bested them in almost every game.
And they didn't really want to befriend a girl - let alone a girl that was better than they were.
Another sigh stirred the air.
Sometimes she felt very alone.
She bit her lower lip and took a deep breath. You are not going to cry like some wimpy girl, dammit. You are going to be a warrior and the best there is. So there.
It helped some but didn't really do anything for the heavy feeling deep inside her chest.
She entered Potedeia just as the first rooster crowed. She had a blanket around her shoulders to fight off the chill that still lingered in the air.
The sun was already up and the misty air promised a hot day. She saw some people already moving around. And from somewhere she could hear the sounds of a blacksmith.
"Come on Argo, let's find uncle Spyros."
She guided her pale horse towards the back of the village where the small hut of her uncle, a former soldier was located.
She was just rounding a corner when suddenly a small form appeared in her way, startling Argo and causing her to almost fall of the tall horse. She managed to calm the horse and turned angry eyes towards whoever had caused the little scene.
Her eyes found a shivering form tugged against the wall of a house. Small arms were wrapped around a thin form and long blonde locks disguised the obviously crying face of a little girl.
Xena's anger died at the sight and she dismounted Argo and crouched in front of the upset girl.
There was no response and the tall teenager sighed.
"Hey you. You're okay?"
Slowly the head lifted from shaking knees and she heard soft sniffs and was then face to face with big, watery green eyes. She felt a strange tingling sensation chase itself up and down her spine and frowned briefly at the feeling but shook it off just as quickly. Without conscious thought she brushed a few stray locks away from the small face smiling reassuringly.
The small head bobbed up and down.
There was a moment of stillness and the blonde head tilted to one side ever so slightly but then shook in a negative manner.
"My horse didn't hit you?"
"Good." Xena straightened to her full height and almost laughed outright at the sight of those green eyes going all big and awed.
"I'm sure tall, huh?" She grinned down at the girl and reached for Argos halter. She smiled at another silent nod. She offered her hand and after some hesitation felt a small hand slip into hers.
The tingling feeling returned and the teenager was amazed at how right it felt to hold the small hand in hers. She shook her head at herself and helped the girl up.
And suppressed a smile.
"You, on the other hand, are sure small." That got her a pout and a scowl.
"So you can talk after all. My name's Xena."
Curious green eyes studied her intently and then a sunny smile lit up the small face.
"My name is Gabrielle. .... Nice to meet you." The girl added with a serious expression. Xena smiled again and shook the hand she still held.
"Nice to meet you, too, Gabrielle."
She let go off the small warm hand and regarded the girl for a moment. "You're really not hurt?"
The sunny smile returned and Gabrielle shook her head. "No, was my fault anyway. Sometimes I don't look where I'm going." She shrugged, a sheepish smile gracing her lips. She brushed her hair behind her ears. And Xena found herself smiling again at the gesture.
"I'll say. ... Glad nothing happened. Next time watch where you going, huh? Someone else might not react as fast as I did."
She mounted Argo again. Sure she must seem like a giant to the small girl standing next to the horse.
Gabrielle waved at her and smiled. "Bye."
Xena turned her horse and continued towards her uncle's hut but not without turning around to see Gabrielle still standing there. Though she missed the sight of a man walking up to the small girl and starting to yell at her. Waving his hands around and then grabbing one slim arm and drag the girl away from the alley.
Her uncle's hut smelled of herbs and old, well cared for leather as well as metal and Xena felt very at home here. Maybe because the old man never discouraged her in her wish to learn how to use a sword. He had taught her everything he knew about the craft. Entertained her with his stories about battles and wars he had fought in. And she didn't even mind that the numbers of enemies he had killed in battle seemed to increase with every new telling.
Just now they were sitting at the table in his kitchen and he was telling her about a war he participated in near Athens.
They had rabbit stew for dinner and she was taking a sip from the mug of ale Spyros had poured her. "You fight like a true warrior might as well drink like one." he had said. She had almost felt herself growing some inches at the remark. Feeling very proud and mature. Although mum sure would have a stroke if she knew I'm drinking ale. She smiled ruefully but nevertheless took another taste.
"....and they came at me. There were eight of them and I had just fought off five others. ...." her uncle's husky voice broke into her musings.
Xena rolled her eyes a little. Four month ago it had been only two and there were no eight others coming at him. Hmmh. She tilted her head thoughtfully. She hadn't seen the small girl then. She frowned. Why do you care?... I really could have hurt her today. Gods, I'm glad I didn't hit her. She's so small.
She had to smile as she remembered the awed look in those big green eyes. She certainly was small and all of five years old the teenager guessed. Her eyebrows wrinkled in thought. What was she doing outside at this hour?
Slowly she became conscious of the quiet and she looked up with a start. To see her uncle grinning at her.
"Oh, I'm sorry ... I ... um ... "
"You were miles away. What were you thinking about?" An impish smile wrinkled his face. "Some nice young man?"
"NO!" She winced at the way this sounded but fought off a blush. She contemplated for a moment to tell her uncle how she really felt. Whom she thought of at nights that she spent in the barn or outside in the woods. And it sure weren't nice young men.
Knowing grey eyes looked back at her and Spyros' voice became soft and understanding.
The teenager looked up with a start and swallowed hard. This time not being able to stop the blush that was creeping up her neck.
A large callused hand came to rest on her arm and she felt a light squeeze. "Honey, as long as you're happy...never mind the others."
Xena felt a weight lift off her chest she hadn't even been aware of. She took a deep gulp of the ale and looked up again.
"I don't care about the others ... It's just ... I don't know how to tell mum."
She shrugged and her fingers started tracing the cuts on the table surface.
Her uncle chuckled and released her arm with another squeeze. "She'll understand."
"Yup. ... So, were you?"
"Huh?" Xena frowned, puzzled.
"Thinking about some nice girl." her uncle added with a bemused smile. Those youngsters were so much fun and especially his niece who always tried to hide her emotions pretending to be that tough kid that didn't care one way or the other. But he knew better. Knew that deep down there was still a dreamer hiding. Someone who loved to watch a sunset or who would spend hours watching butterflies. Someone with a very vulnerable if caring heart.
She would get hurt easily, he was afraid.
Xena almost choke on her ale and coughed hastily. "No, well ... not exactly. It's ... Early today, when I arrived I almost run a little girl over. Really small with blonde hair and green eyes. I was ... just ... it's silly, really ... just wondering what she was doing out and about at that time."
She shrugged and avoided her uncle's gaze.
Spyros wrinkled his brows in thought. Small, blonde... "Oh, you mean Gabrielle? Yeah ... she's Herodotus' eldest. Cute little tyke. ... Maybe she was fetching something for her father. She's bright, that one."
Somehow that didn't ease the strange feeling of dread that worried her mind. She shrugged at the questioning look of her uncle and got up.
"I need some fresh air. See you in the morning." She left with a little wave and headed towards the stable to check on Argo. After making sure that there was enough hay for the mare she looked around the stable and spotted a ladder that led up to a hayloft. With a small smile she climbed up and dropped down in the soft hay. Nice.
She closed her eyes. Suddenly tired and weary from the day. She hadn't slept very well the other night and Spyros and she had been training the whole day and the hot sun hadn't help any. All she wanted to do now was curl up in a ball and catch up on her sleep.
She was just dozing off when a sound startled her awake again.
She sat up and listened intently. There it was again. She tilted her head to one side and then crawled to the back corner of the loft, peeking around several bags of grain.
There in the corner was a small form huddled. Holding a kitten close and whispering something to it.
The teenager got closer until she heard the small voice. "... and the tall warrior got down from the really tall horse and helped the fair princess to her feet. She got a real tingly kind of feeling in her hand from the touch and she smiled at her rescuer...."
The small voice broke and Xena heard the girl sniff and she saw a small hand come up to wipe at her eyes. Her frown deepened and she walked closer to get a better look but just then the wood underneath her creaked and the girl let out a small cry; clutching the kitten to her chest. Frightened green eyes fastening on a dark form across from her.
"I didn't do anythin', I swear." a shaking teary voice called out.
Xena felt the words and sight tug at a part very deep inside of her and she actually had to take a deep breath to steady herself. She dropped to one knee and tried to keep her voice soothing.
"Gabrielle, is that you? ... It's me, Xena."
The small chest heaved a deep sigh and the shaking slowed down some. But she didn't move forward. "Xena?"
Taking this as a permission to get closer the tall, worried, teenager dropped down next to the small girl.
The kitten meowed and tried to move closer to the warm body it sensed next to them. Xena offered a finger and the little cat sniffed at it eagerly.
"What's its name?"
She watched Gabrielle swallow a few time and then take a breath. "Tobias."
Xena smiled and ducked her head to make eye contact with Gabrielle. "That's a very nice name." That got her a shy smile and blinking green eyes.
The small girl released the kitten and watched as he sat down next to them. Curling up in a ball and closing his eyes.
"What are you doing here?"
Xena didn't miss the tearstained face and wondered what the child was doing up here all by herself. It was already getting dark outside.
Small arms settled around the small frame again and the teenager saw the girl shivering.
A slight nod.
She pulled Gabrielle in her lap and closed her arms around her. "Better?" Again a silent nod and Xena was reminded at today's morning meeting between them.
"You don't talk much, do you?"
That got her a sheepish chuckle. "Da says I talk a lot. Too much sometimes." Gabrielle fell silent and snuggled deeper into the warm nest she was resting in. That was very nice. Safe.
"So, what are you doing here?"
"I ... I don't like to be at home all alone. I wait ... my da's coming home later today. I wait for him here."
"Where's your mum?"
"Mama's visiting her sister. I ... I wanted do go too, but da says he needs some help and ... and .. he didn't allow me to go. But I really wanted ... and it's so dark at home .. I'm not allowed to light a fire ... and there are those real scary sounds and .. I thought ... because Tobias sleeps here .. that .. like ... he could keep me company ... "
The girl fell silent and sighed.
Xena smiled into the darkness that surrounded them. "I think your da was right. You sure talk a lot. And fast too."
The small frame in her arms stiffened and then tried to squirm away. Whispering: "...sorry..."
Xena tightened her hold and made eye contact again. "Hey, that's okay. I don't mind."
"No?" almost inaudible.
"Could I .. I could .. like tell you ... maybe if you liked ... a story.." Hopeful big green eyes met pale blue and again Xena brushed pale locks from the small face. And the teenager found herself unable to deny Gabrielle the simple wish.
"I'd like that."
The smile that followed literally lit up the barn and before she could add anything Gabrielle was off. The words tumbling from her lips. Her voice excited and her eyes all bright and shining.
She told some short funny story about the time she watched her da chase the pigs around the yard and then a tale she heard a bard perform at the local inn two months ago. Her whole body was moving while she talked. Her hands describing one thing or another and her small frame constantly squirming in Xena's arms.
But she didn't move away nor did the tall teenager release her.
She didn't know how long they were sitting in the dark but warm hayloft when Gabrielle suddenly stopped talking and cocked her head slightly. Even in the dark they sat in, the only light the moonshine that shone through the roof here and there, Xena saw Gabrielle's face go pale.
She jumped up almost knocking the teenager over and raced to the ladder.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"I have to go home, now." The girl stopped at the top of the ladder and turned to Xena. She ran back and threw her small arms around Xena's neck and hugged her very tightly. Then she gave her a kiss on the cheek and smiled at her new friend. "Thank you so much."
And then she was down the ladder and out of the barn before the teenager could recover from the unexpected hug and respond.
Xena spent three days in Potedeia and got herself a new dagger and a new sheath for her sword from one of the traders.
But she didn't see Gabrielle again and she admitted to herself that she was worried about the small girl. She could have asked her uncle where she lived but she didn't. It was just a little girl; she met her only two times she wasn't her concern.
On her last day she waited a few hours on the hayloft in the stable hoping that Gabrielle would maybe come looking for her or the small kitten she had petted the other night. But she didn't found the cat nor did Gabrielle show up.
She saddled Argo absentmindedly, now and then looking up and around if she might spot a pale head but she didn't see anything.
The tall teenager didn't know why but she was disappointed that Gabrielle didn't come to say goodbye. Gods, look at you! She's just a baby. What do you want with her, anyway? Get on Argo and leave all right?
She mounted her horse and guided her towards the southern road that left the village. The sun was up already and she closed her eyes briefly to enjoy the warmth on her face. Then she urged Argo into a faster pace and they trotted out of the small village.
Never seeing a dishellved blonde head and sad green eyes following her from behind the barn.
Never seeing the large dark bruise that covered half of the small face.
Never heard the small voice whisper: ".... bye Xena ... "
- 2 -
Cyrene poured another mug of ale and then turned worried eyes towards her brooding daughter again. The teenager sat at a table in the back of the inn. Her chin resting on her fists and a somewhat lost expression on her face. Now and then her brows wrinkled in thought and her face turned into a scowl.
She had been that way ever since she returned from her trip to Potedeia three months ago. She was even quieter than usual for her and Cyrene started worrying.
The worst possibilities running through her mind. But Xena has assured her that everything was okay.
She watched as the tall teenager ran her hands through her black mane, pulling her long locks into a loose tail at the back of her neck. She wore dark leggings and a deep red, long-sleeved tunic - her choice of clothes Cyrene had given up arguing about.
Not that she could imaging her daughter in a frilly dress, anyway.
Xena got up and gave her mother a little wave.
Blue eyes gazed at her and for a moment Cyrene was sure her daughter would open up to her but then the tall teenager simply shrugged.
"Yeah ... Listen, I'm taken Argo for a ride, okay? I'll be back for dinner."
Cyrene nodded and sighed as Xena left the busy inn. Something's bothering her. Why won't she tell me?
Just then Lyceus came bouncing down the stairs, looking around the inn frowning.
"Mum, where's Xena?"
"Taking Argo for a ride."
Lyceus' frown turned into a pout. "She went without me?!"
"Oh sweetie, she just needed some time to think about a few things. ... Next time she'll take you, too."
Cyrene smiled and hugged her youngest child. "Hey ... gonna help me?"
The boy sighed and nodded. "Sure, mum."
The water was cold and had a strong metallic taste but the tall form swimming out to the middle of the lake didn't seem to mind.
Xena let her tall form float, her eyes scanning the cloudy sky above.
Although it was late autumn the day was surprisingly warm and she had decided to take a swim. Maybe the cold water would help to clear her mind.
Three months and she still couldn't get the little girl from Potedeia out of her head. There was something about her that just felt wrong. She just couldn't put a finger on the vague feeling she had. Maybe something about those eyes...?
She closed her own eyes and turned around, her long arms stroking easily through the water.
Mum's gonna kill me. She grinned as she climbed out of the water and wrapped herself in a thick blanket she had brought along.
Argo was standing nearby, grazing contentedly. Now and then gazing at her mistress.
Xena dried off and put her clothes back on; the leggings and her tunic feeling nice and warm against her chilled skin.
Gabrielle had been really cold. That small body ... so thin ... The teenager sighed and took a seat on a nearby rock using her blanket against the cold stone.
Those last three months had been difficult in so many ways.
Besides being unable to stop thinking about the small girl, Marisa - the girl she had a serious crush on - and her parents had moved to Athens three weeks ago. She had expected it would hurt more than it actually did but she had felt strangely relieved. That last kiss they had shared in the barn had felt nice, though...
And then Toris and she had gotten into a fight. She had knocked him to the ground. And there was a part of her that had really liked that feeling and almost wished he would get up again. It was like a part of her had been swallowed up by darkness and a strong need for violence.
It had frightened her.
As a result, she started to keep even more to herself. Trying to sort through those strange feelings. Not even Lyceus could get her out of the quiet depression that had settled around her like a dark cloud.
A hawk's cry pierced through the quiet she was sitting in. A soft breeze tugged at her slowly drying hair and brushed through the leaves overhead. Causing them to whisper ancient, silent secrets.
The sounds of nature were like a balm to her hurting heart and she wished that she could just stay out here. Where things were simple and there was nobody but herself to worry about. Yeah - just living out in the woods. Campfires. Fighting against bandits. She smiled ruefully to herself. Yeah, right.
Suddenly a sound interrupted her musings and she jerked from her rock, instinctively reaching for the dagger in her right boot. She had heard a strange noise somewhere in the undergrowth to the left of her. She walked slowly towards the place; the dagger in her hand shaking ever so slightly. Get a grip, it's probably only a rabbit anyway. It didn't stop the shaking, though... She crouched in front of some bushes and peered through them to the other side of the clearing.
At first she couldn't make out a source for the noise she'd heard but then ---
Her pale eyes grew wide and she rushed through the bushes.
It was scary.
Being in the forest all by yourself. And it was getting dark, too.
Gabrielle heaved a deep sigh and brushed tears from her face. And her tummy was growling again.
Her feet and legs hurt and she was getting cold. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to go look for the nice tall girl. Maybe she should have asked someone from the village for help. But she didn't want them to see her like this.
They hadn't believed her before.
But the tall girl would. She had liked her stories. Nobody had said that before. No one.
She sniffled again and looked around. She didn't know where she was. If she was even close to Amphom ... Amphili...no ... Amphilop.... to the town Xena lived in. But she couldn't go back, now. It was past dinner time already and da would be really angry with her.
She had tried so hard to be good but there was always something she did wrong.
The small girl dropped down on a fallen tree trunk and started crying again. Her tummy hurt where da had hit her and her face felt really hot and her left arm hurt really bad, too.
It was dark all around her. Strange noises floating past her. She yelped as she heard the echoing sounds of an owl above her.
And then she froze as suddenly a dark form was rushing towards her. Oh gods, da had found her.
A soft cry left her throat and she curled into a ball, trying to shield her already hurting tummy.
"...please ...I'm sorry ... really ...."
Xena dropped to her knees next to the cowering form.
The shaking got even worse and Xena put a worried hand on a shivering shoulder. Just to pull it back as the small girl let out a hoarse cry.
"Gabrielle, it's me. Xena."
Anxious green eyes peered at her and after a tense moment recognition lit those eyes and the girl propelled her small frame into Xena arms. Sobbing uncontrollably.
The tall teenager couldn't think of anything else but to rock the small body and whisper soothing nonsense words. "Ssh, little one, I've got you ... sssh .. it's okay ..."
The small arms clung almost desperately to her and Xena tightened her hold. Willing her racing heart to slow down. Gods, she' freezing ... okay first things first ... Gotta get her home.
"Come on little one, I'm taking you home."
The small body stiffened and teary eyes blinked at her. Dirty blonde locks moving wildly as Gabrielle shook her head. "Please ... don't take me back .. please ... I ... I ... "
Xena's brows wrinkled, confused but then she understood. And she hugged Gabrielle again. "No, no I meant, I'm taking you to my mother's inn. It's too dark to ride to Potedeia anyway."
She stood up taking the small girl with her. Keeping her cradled in her arms. She returned to Argo and wrapped the girl into the blanket and seated her atop the horse.
"Hold on tightly to the saddlehorn."
Tired eyes blinked and Gabrielle nodded. Xena mounted behind her wrapping one arm securely around the painfully thin waist and then urged Argo towards Amphipolis. Feeling Gabrielle doze off after a few silent moments.
What were you doing here, little one?
- 3 -
Cyrene smoothed out the bedding covering the small sleeping body and brushed a few stray blonde locks from a fevered forehead. Replacing her hand with a cold rag.
It had been four days since Xena had found the girl in the woods and earlier this morning her fever had finally broken. Which also meant that Xena got finally some sleep. Her daughter hadn't moved an inch after they had settled Gabrielle in one of the guestrooms upstairs. She had refused to sleep in her own room choosing to sleep on some blankets she'd placed next to Gabrielle's bed. To be close to the sick girl who had caught a bad case of coughing sickness. Her whole body shaking violently with every cough.
Cyrene was astonished at the amount of tenderness her usually aloof daughter showed towards the younger girl. She'd fed her and held her in her arms whenever she was scared awake by fevered nightmares.
It was a behaviour, Cyrene was honest enough to admit, she hadn't expected her daughter capable of.
They had sent word to Potedeia to let the girl's parents know that Gabrielle was safe but so far there hadn't been a response. Cyrene suspected that the sudden change in weather was responsible. The temperature had fallen considerably and last night it had started to snow heavily. So much so actually that it was impossible to navigate a horse or a wagon over the road that connected the two villages.
One day later and the child would have frozen to death. Cyrene shivered at the thought. Imagining Xena coming across the dead body. Her daughter obviously cared very much for Gabrielle. It was strange because from what Xena had told her they had met only two times.
Cyrene let her eyes roam over the small frame tugged into the bed. The sleeping face with its soft downy skin and round cheekbones and slightly upturned nose held an innocence that was almost painful to look at. There was a....shine about the girl that made you simply love her. Filled you with the need to protect her just by watching her sleep.
Her left arm was enclosed in bandages and two flat wooden boards to support her bone. She must have dripped during her walk through the forest and had broken her arm.
The older woman heard heavy footsteps outside the door and looked up in time to see Toris' dark head poking into the darkened room.
"Mum?" He kept his voice low although Gabrielle was sound asleep.
"What is it?" Cyrene got up and motioned her eldest son to follow her down into the inn.
"A message from Potedeia came just a moment ago. ... I guess it's from her parents." He handed his mother a thin rolled up note.
Cyrene sat down and carefully opened the piece of paper. Her eyes scanning the writings silently. After she finished she pursed her lips thoughtfully; a slight frown wrinkling her eyebrows.
"It's from Gabrielle's parents." she said to a patiently waiting Toris. "Her father thanks us for taking care of her and asks if we could keep her with us until spring. His wife is due with another baby next week and he is reluctant to leave her because of the weather."
"Mmh." Toris brushed his hand through his short dark hair. "I'm sure we can manage that and Xena will be happy about having her here for a longer time. She seems quite taken with the little tyke." He chuckled softly. "I think Lyceus is jealous."
Cyrene smiled and nodded. "Yeah you're right ... Actually I'm glad she'll stay. Gives her a chance to heal up fully and I can get some meat on those bones. ... I doubt that it is healthy to be that thin."
"Want me to tell Xena the news?"
His mother got up as the first customers entered the inn and then shook her head at her son.
"No. Let her get some sleep first. I'll tell them at dinner."
"Fine. ... Oh ... If she awakes before then, could you send her out to me? I need some help with the fencing at the back pasture. Some sheep escaped last night."
Cyrene nodded again and, after her son left, turned her attention towards her customers.
"I can't do it!"
"Centaur poop - sure you can. Trust me."
A soft snort.
"You will not. I won't let you, okay?"
A heavy sigh. Followed by the soft rustling sounds of clothing, splashing of water and tiny yelping noises. A throaty chuckle stirred the air. More splashing followed by louder indignant yelps.
Winter had been mild despite its harsh beginning and by early spring the days were already warm enough to go without an over tunic.
Xena smiled as Gabrielle dropped down into the water and started to throw water at her. Laughing happily.
This was their last week together and the tall teenager found herself reluctant to let the small girl go.
She had gone through the coughing sickness not as easily as the healer had hoped though her arm had healed up nicely. After she was strong enough to be up and about again she had started helping Cyrene in the inn. Bringing so much childish energy and light into the inn that the customers came just to watch her running around or helping Cyrene.
Xena's smile got wider.
Lyceus had been jealous at first but after a week he had been as charmed by her smile, shining green eyes and gentle nature as the rest of them. The reason he wasn't with them today was because he had reading lessons.
Xena ducked under the water and surfaced with a flourish letting the warm water run down her long hair and back. She was glad that the spring was heated by an underground source otherwise she wouldn't have risked Gabrielle's health. But she wanted to keep her promise to teach her how to swim.
"Okay, little one. ... I'm going to stretch my arms out and you are going to float on them stomach down."
The small girl smiled eagerly and did as she was told.
"Perfect. Now ... you start to move your arms and legs just like a frog would, okay?"
"... um..." The small arms and legs started moving slowly but with growing confidence.
"That's it Gabrielle. See - isn't that hard is it?"
The blonde head shook; a very serious expression on the small face. Xena could see just the tip of a tongue sticking out between slightly parted lips. A gesture the teenager had become familiar with over the past months. It usually meant the younger girl was concentrating really hard. She did it when they were practising writing or reading - a project she had started two months ago.
Ever so slowly Xena started to move her own body and the smaller one resting on her arms along the shore, making sure to decrease the contact between Gabrielle and her arms with every step until Gabrielle was swimming all by herself.
"See? I told you, you could do it, little one."
The wet blonde head turned to her and big green eyes got even bigger as they saw her tall friend several steps behind her.
The small body was immediately swallowed up by the water.
Xena laughed softly and lifted her easily back up.
"I swam?" An unbelieving voice sounded up.
Before Xena could react she had her arms full of small, warm body that was hugging her with all its might.
Haven gotten used to those surprise hugs the dark haired girl simply hugged Gabrielle back. Noticing with satisfaction that her younger friend had finally gained some weight.
They practised for another candlemark until Gabrielle's growling belly reminded Xena that they had brought lunch. She helped Gabrielle to dry off and then did the same for herself stopping when she felt curious green eyes on her.
Dark brows wrinkled in confusion. "Why's what?"
Gabrielle cleared her throat and the five year old started blushing. Something the tall teenager thought was endearingly cute.
A small hand pointed but her eyes refused to meet Xena's questioning gaze.
"You have ... there ... is hair down there." By now Gabrielle was obviously embarrassed and started fussing with her dress.
Xena's eyes followed the pointing hand and she barely caught the laugh that threatened to escape.
"Oh ... yeah well ... um, that happens when you grow up, you know?"
The small girl had put on her dress and finally met Xena's smiling face. It put her at ease a little and she took a step closer. "Does it tickle?"
This time it was the tall teenager who blushed. "No...no it .. um doesn't tickle."
She belted her tunic after putting on her leggings and dropped down on the blanket they brought so Gabrielle wouldn't have to tilt her head all the way up to look at her when they were talking. The small girl was only reaching up to her hip.
Before Gabrielle could sit down as well Xena motioned her to stand in front of her and then helped her into her own thicker over tunic.
She smiled as she had to fold up the arms several times and saw the hem of the tunic fall past the small girl's feet. She would have to lift it up to avoid stumbling but Xena wasn't taken any chances with Gabrielle's health.
The blonde girl snuggled into the oversized tunic - a huge smile on her face.
"When you grow older your body starts to change and it'll look different than it does now." Xena continued her explanation.
"Oh." The smaller girl cuddled close to the tall body next to her and felt a long arm settle across her shoulders. Nice. Safe.
"Is that why your chest is so swollen?"
"You .. um... " Xena cleared her throat hardly believing that she was explaining this to her young friend. "You could say that. And I'm not .. swollen, they're called breasts and women get them because they need them when they have babies."
Among other things. A hidden smile played around Xena's lips.
Bright green eyes pondered that and then blinked in understanding. "Oh ...like with baby cows?"
"Well, yeah ... something like that." A thought suddenly popped in her mind and the teenager winced inwardly. Oh gods don't let her ask me where babies come from.
"Do you wanna have babies?"
Xena wasn't any less speechless and actually had to think about the question. Babies? I wanna be a warrior not a mother. It was true. Her plans for the future had never included a family.
"I don't know ... Certainly not now. ..." She fell silent not sure how much to reveal to Gabrielle. It was odd but she felt more comfortable talking to the small girl than she felt with anyone. Gabrielle had a way of simply listening to her and giving her the feeling of being understood no one ever did. And she did understand a lot of things although she was only five year old. It was very odd sometimes...
"I will ... I will enter a competition next month to enter the Academy for Military Education in Sparta." Pale blue eyes gazed across the lake, shining brightly. "I wanna be a soldier."
Gabrielle closed her eyes. Imagining her tall friend in shining armour protecting helpless blonde princesses. She smiled.
"You're going to be a great soldier."
Xena didn't know why but those innocently uttered words meant a lot her. It felt so good to be accepted without reservations.
"Thank you, little one .... what about you?"
Gabrielle was silent for a long moment. She never told anyone about her dreams but ... she knew that she could trust Xena. She wouldn't get angry.
"I wanna be a bard." she answered in a small voice. Unconsciously stiffening her small frame. Xena felt it and turned towards her. She cupped Gabrielle's face in a large hand and smiled. Her voice very serious.
"You are going to be a great bard. You are going to grow up into a beautiful, caring woman and you're going to tell the best stories. ... I just know it, little one."
For a moment Gabrielle didn't know what to do. Only remembering how to breathe and then she throw herself at her tall friend and started sobbing.
No one ... no one ever had said anything like that to her. There was so much she wanted to say to her friend but she couldn't think of any words. She hugged Xena even tighter and whispered: "I love you, Xena."
Those words wrapped themselves like warm hands around her heart and Xena closed her eyes. "I love you too, little one."
- 4 -
It was already dark outside and pale green eyes watched as a full moon appeared and disappeared behind fast moving clouds.
A small chest heaved in a silent sigh. Tomorrow her da would come to take her back home. She would meet her new baby sister. And see her ma again. But somehow she just couldn't feel happy about it.
Those last months had been the best time in her young life. There was nobody yelling at her and she didn't have to do so much hard work. Nobody hit her when she did something wrong.
One night she had dropped a plate and she had been so afraid that Cyrene would punish her for it but the older woman had ruffled her hair and said that they had enough plates. She hadn't hit her or yelled at her. She was even allowed to get something to eat.
Da had never done that. He said that she didn't deserve to eat if she was bad. And she had been so hungry most of the time. But here... She got three meals a day. Three! And every day at least one warm meal. She couldn't remember when was the last time her tummy had hurt because she was so hungry.
She really liked being here. And she loved Xena so much. Maybe she would visit her.
Another sigh and this time the tall body next to her moved. Gabrielle smiled and snuggled closer. Xena had allowed her to spend her last night in her bed.
There were times when she was very close to tell Xena ... things ... but then she remembered what her da had said. That no one would believe a little kid. And fathers have the right to punish their children. Maybe with the new baby he would be nicer to her. And she could try to be very good. Maybe he wouldn't hit her so often. Her fingers traced over her left arm. Remembering this awful sound it had made when da had twisted it.
Yeah, she would try to be extra good. Take care of her baby sister and help ma a lot. Maybe then da would let her visit Xena. Oh, but Xena is going to Sparta.
But maybe it wasn't that far away. She'd have to remember to ask her tall friend that tomorrow.
She closed her eyes and thinking about dark haired warriors fell asleep.
The tall teenager looked down at her small friend who was holding her hand in a very tight grip.
"Sparta, is that very far away?"
Xena thought about that and finally nodded. "Yeah, it's quite far. You have to travel a couple of days to get there." Her eyes caught the dejected slumber of the small shoulders and she dropped to a knee in front of Gabrielle.
They were standing in the town square waiting for Gabrielle's father who was due any minute now. The small girl had been quiet all morning and Xena had started worrying.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
Pale green eyes filled with tears looked at her. "Does that mean you won't visit me?"
"Oh, little one." She pulled Gabrielle in a hug and shook her head. "I'm going to write you letters okay and I will try to visit as often as I can, okay?"
The sounds of an approaching wagon filled the air around them and Xena saw a bit of the light Gabrielle's eyes usually held fade.
"Okay?" she repeated.
Sad green eyes blinked at her for a long silent moment and then Gabrielle nodded. She hugged her tall friend just as her father came riding into the square. "Promise you won't forget me?"
Xena felt those words almost like a physical blow and she actually had to swallow before answering.
"Never, little one. I promise."
A small hand stroked her cheek ever so lightly and then Gabrielle turned and walked towards her father's wagon. Climbing up next to him with one last look at Xena. The tall man nodded at the still kneeling teenager and called out a thank you.
Xena simply nodded and watched numbly as the wagon and her small friend left Amphipolis. She was startled to feel tears on her face and wiped them away with an angry gesture.
Her mother's voice sounded from behind her but she refused to turn around. She couldn't face her; not now. She felt a part of herself falling apart and she needed some quiet time to sort through her feelings.
Without turning around she said: "I'm going to take Argo for a ride."
Cyrene watched her daughter head towards the stable. She could only guess how much Xena was hurting. She had seen how close the girls had grown over the past winter and now she didn't know what to say to make Xena feel any better. She knew that she would miss Gabrielle very much, loving the little girl almost like her own child.
She sighed and with another look at Xena turned around and went back into the inn.
Neither of them knowing that it would take five years for Xena and Gabrielle to see each other again.
- 5 -
It's been my first month here at the Academy and I enjoy every minute of my time. I know it was the right decision to come here. I learned so much already!
And to ease your worries - no, I'm not the only girl here. There are four other and we get along quite well. You know me... My instructors are very pleased with the progress I'm making, especially in fighting with the sword. Seems uncle Spyros' work is finally paying off, huh? I still can't believe he died two days after I left. But I'm going to make sure that he'd be proud of me.
The lessons they are teaching us here are very interesting. I really like Strategy and my teacher was very impressed with some of the ideas I came up with. Said I'd be a natural. ... Pretty cool, huh?
But what I like the best is the time we spent at the exercise courses. All the running, weightlifting and hand to hand fighting is a lot of fun.
How are things at home? I hope Lyceus isn't missing me too much. Tell him I'm thinking of him every day and I'm sending him a shirt with our Academy logo on it.
By the way ... I won't get a leave before next year. They told us new cadets have to stay here for at least six moons without breaks. This means I won't be home for solstice. Sorry.
Will you let Gabrielle know that I won't be able to visit her before next year? I wanted to write her but remembered that her reading skills are still pretty limited.
I have to finish up here because my next lesson starts shortly. I'm looking forward to hear from you.
Thank you so much for the heavy shirts and tunics you sent. I can't believe how cold it gets here.
And also thanks for the birthday wishes. Tell Lyceus I got his card. And I really liked the picture.
Wow, four moons have passed. But time is flying by here so it doesn't really feel that long. From the looks of it I will finish this semester as one of the top three of our class. That feels pretty good especially because some guys gave me a hard time in the beginning - but boy did I ever show them.
Have you heard anything from Gabrielle yet? I started writing her letters just so she won't think I forgot her. So far she hasn't answered but I guess she's still trying to decipher them. Me and my writing...
I hope Toris is feeling any better.
And yes, I made some friends here. A few guys from around home and I are getting along really well. They're a lot of fun.
If you see Gabrielle tell her I said hello.
Til next time.
"Hi, little one,
Just wanted to wish you Happy Solstice!
Hope you got all the presents you wished for. I'm sending you a quill I found at one of the markets here. I thought you might like it and you do have to practise your writing.
How is it going, by the way? You still practise, don't you? Because I'm going to keep on writing to you and I'd really liked to get a letter from you soon.
How's your baby sister? Is she any fun?
Just wanted to let you know that I got back all right. I'm going to miss your cooking so much, though!
But I'm already up to my ears in stuff I have to prepare for and the final tests and competitions are coming up in three moons. After that I'm going to be an graduate of the Academy and can join any army at the rank of a first lieutenant. That's pretty cool!
Those two years here went by so fast.
No, I haven't heard from Gabrielle, either. But I left a birthday present for her with her neighbour because I missed her on my last visit. Her family had just left for a trip candlemarks before I came.
Okay, I have to finish. Take care!
"Hi, little one,
How are you doing? I guess you have better things to do than to write that silly old lady back in Sparta, huh? Naw, just kidding!!
But I hope you don't mind that I keep sending you letters. It's weird, but it makes me feel better, when I think that you might read them. I always told you what a great listener you are, didn't I? Although you were only five years old. You're seven now, did you grow any, yet? At least I hope you haven't lost any weight, again.
Just wanted to let you know that I have joined an army four moons ago. And last month we got in a war.
I killed. And I dream about it.
Our captain says it's only natural. He has killed so many he stopped counting and even he dreams about it sometimes.
That frightens me.
But what frightens me even more is the fact that during battle I enjoyed every minute of it. When I lie awake at night, all I can think about sometimes is that I could really need a hug.
Did I ever tell you that you give great hugs? You do, you know?
I don't know why I'm writing this because I probably won't even send the letter.
I miss you, little one.
Sorry, I didn't write for a long time but we were on our way out of Greece when I got your letter and we weren't allowed to send anything.
Yes, I have been wounded pretty badly a couple of months ago but I healed up all right and the wound isn't giving me any trouble. So please stop worrying, okay? I'm fine.
Toris is getting married? Wow, that's great news. Tell him, congratulations from me. I'm looking forward to meet my sister in law although I probably won't get a leave for another four months. With the promotion came a lot of new responsibilities and I'm taking my new tasks very serious. Did you know that I'm one of the youngest commanders in history? That's cool, huh? And I'm only eighteen and a half.
I know I keep asking and I know that three years and a half is a long time and maybe she forgot about me but did you hear anything from Gabrielle?
Just want to let you know that I'm coming home.
Half of my army was killed in our last battle and I'm just tired. Of fighting, of hearing my men die and most of all I'm tired of killing.
After five years I think it's time for me to think about my future. I mean, I'm twenty and although I enjoyed the life as a soldier if not the killing I need a break.
I hope to be home in a week or two.
I'm looking for forward to seeing you again. And of course Lyceus and Toris and my little nephew. Hope he doesn't look like his father...Just kidding.
- 6 -
The small room was dark except for the flickering light of a candle that was barely bright enough to light a small hand busily writing on a piece of parchment. Its light bounced of a bend head bringing out red highlights in otherwise blonde locks.
There were soft sounds of breathing; one set deep and even - obviously someone sound asleep. The other set was somewhat muffled and now and then broken by small gasps whenever the small frame moved.
A pair of pale lips bit the end of the very used quill and one trembling hand brushed through blonde bangs. Then the quill resumed its writing.
Today was awful. He started drinking early this morning and beat me ever since. Even if I didn't do anything wrong.
I hurt so bad but he doesn't allow ma to get the healer. It hurts when I breathe. I think, maybe because he kicked me in the stomach a lot.
Ma tried to help but he started yelling at her too. I'm glad he doesn't hit Lila. Yet. She's so young.
I hope you are all right. But I'm sure you are because you're a warrior now and have an armour and a sword.
You would be proud of me - my reading and writing is better now. I have to practise when he doesn't see me but I try to do it as often as I can.
I think I could even read your letters if you send them.
Sometimes I think about running away again but then I remember what he did last time. I couldn't sleep on my back for almost a week.
If you would come visit me and wear your armour I don't think he would hit me.
You would protect me.
I'm always safe with you.
I am ten summers now and he said he is going to look for a husband for me. That he is sick of taking care of me.
Would you take care of me?
I miss you so much sometimes my chest hurts from it.
I am not angry that you don't write. I know I'm just a little girl and you have all your grown up friends now. But when I feel really bad like today, I close my eyes and think of the winter I spent with you.
How you taught me to swim and to write and read.
And I feel better...
Because he can't take that away from me. Like he did with Tobias.
These memories will always be in my head. And maybe you think of it, too. Sometimes.
Today I wish you could just hold me. Like you did that winter. Tomorrow is my birthday and I think that's the only wish I have."
With a soft hiss the candle went out and Gabrielle was left in darkness. The air filled with the smell of the dying flame.
She brushed a hand over her face removing tears that had started falling again. She slowly folded the letter and put it in a small bag already filled with similar notes. The bag she hid beneath a loose floor board. After that she carefully climbed into her bed, curling into a ball hoping to ease the pain in her chest.
She tugged a deep red tunic close to her body and buried her face in the warm, worn fabric. Detecting the slightest trace of a familiar scent.
When she finally fell asleep she was dreaming of her dark haired friend and the day they spent at the hot spring five years ago.
The tall form lay in bed. Hands intertwined behind her head, pale blue eyes gazing at the windows across the room.
Sounds of birds and sheep as well as the occasional laughter and bits and pieces of conversations drifted up into the small room. Filling it with a carpet of noise that was strangely comforting.
Gods, she had missed that.
After five years of learning how to fight and to kill. And actually doing the fighting and killing a quiet peaceful morning was so alien to her now, that she didn't quite know what to do with herself.
But for the first time in over three years she hadn't been dreaming about people she killed but of a beautiful early spring day. When she had taught shining green eyes how to swim.
She smiled again at the memories.
Today she would ride out to Potedeia just to see if Gabrielle still lived there. And maybe she would say hello. Perhaps the small blonde girl would remember her.
She hadn't expected to miss her as much as she did. Not a day had passed when she didn't think of the small girl. There were so many things she wanted to tell her about. The places she had seen, the people she had met.
She could almost see those green eyes go all big and awed.
A deep breath stirred the quiet air.
Yeah, she would tell the little one all those things and maybe she even wanted to come stay with her for a little while again.
That'll be nice.
Cyrene stood at the counter, her gaze a million miles away.
Xena was back.
But she had changed so much even Lyceus had noticed. The youthful and sometimes 'wise ass' attitude had vanished, replaced by a quiet, withdrawn air that made her seem older than her years.
Her pale eyes held a sadness that tugged at Cyrene's heart every time she spotted the look. Not that it happened often. Xena had always guarded her emotions very well.
She certainly wasn't a child anymore.
She was a young woman that had already seen more of the world and the cruelty of man than someone her age should have.
Xena had left early this morning to ride to Potedeia and Cyrene hoped that a reunion with Gabrielle would help her to forget some of the horrible things she'd seen. The winter they had spent together had shown her a very different side to her daughter. She was laughing and teasing all the time.
Yes, meeting Gabrielle again, would be very good for Xena.
- 7 -
The forest around her was unusually quiet. Only now and then broken by soft sounds made by birds or small creatures scrambling through undergrowth. Their tiny feet breaking even smaller twigs.
The sun was up already, its bright rays falling through thick layers of leaves of ancient trees and therefore gaining a slightly green hue.
Pale blue eyes closed and Xena took a deep breath. So peaceful. She'd always enjoyed a nice quiet day but after five years of shouting orders, the sounds of metal meeting metal and the screams of wounded and dying soldiers ... and friends ... this moment had an almost magical quality and she breathed it in gratefully.
Argo snorted softly and she opened her eyes again. They were leaving the forest, soft rolling hills ahead of her announcing that Potedeia wasn't far. Already she could see smoke raising from still hidden houses.
Much to her own surprise she realised that she was nervous. Gods, it's not like you're meeting the love of your life, Xena. Get a grip, will ya. It was true but the nervousness resulted mostly from the fear that Gabrielle might have forgotten about her, after all. Something she desperately hoped wouldn't be the case.
They had spent all of five months together and yet ... She felt so close to the younger girl it was very weird. Like they'd known each other for a far longer time. Whatever.
She saw the outskirts of the small village and slowed Argo's pace a little. Nodding towards some men who were working on a field next to the road. And smiled as she saw their odd looks.
During her time at the Academy and in her army she had developed a liking for leather. Had actually gotten herself a nice, deep brown coloured set at one of the markets they went through and had it made in a very comfortable leather dress of sorts. It was kinda revealing, though her mother almost coughing out a lung as she'd seen her in it. There was a armour to go with it, but she had decided against it this morning.
The fact that quite a lot of her body was showing didn't bother the young woman at all. She was proud of her body. The five years of constant drilling and fighting had turned it in a very nicely toned one and she was vain enough to show that off, now and then.
It didn't hurt that it helped her gaining the interest of women ... and men ... if she wanted to. Having had her share of casual sexual encounters over the last five years. She smiled again in memory of some of them.
She shook her head a little to clear those thoughts out of her mind and started looking around the village as she entered it. Hoping to see a pale head somewhere. So engrossed she was in looking around that she almost missed the running form coming around the corner of a building.
But she did and managed to pull Argo back before they collided with the moving form.
A strange feeling of deja-vu washed over her and then her smile turned into a delighted grin as she saw a very familiar fair head peek around Argo.
"Well, we certainly do meet in ... strange ... ways ... " Her words trailed off as her shocked eyes took in a split lip and a dark bruise on a face now turning away that hadn't changed that much over five years.
"Gabrielle?" While speaking she was already dismounting and reached for her smaller friend.
"Gabrielle?" When there was no reaction she stepped around the small frame and felt her fists clench. Tears were running down a face she had been so looking for to see again. "What happened?"
Teary green eyes lifted and the sadness Xena found there was almost her undoing. She gathered Gabrielle in a tight hug and whispered soothing words as she felt the smaller frame shake within her arms. "It's okay, little one ... ssh ... I got you ... I got you."
Gabrielle simply closed her eyes, still not quite believing that Xena was here. Holding her. She felt a pair of large hands settle on her face, gentle thumbs wiping away her tears, caressing her cheeks.
"Little one?" The voice was soft and filled with worry and she slowly opened her eyes. Afraid it was all a dream and she would see anything but those blue eyes she was so wishing to see again.
But it wasn't a dream.
And the fact was enough to sent her into another round of crying.
Xena frowned confused and worried and let them away from the middle of the road they were standing on and, still holding on to Gabrielle sat down on a tree trunk next to the road.
After some time of just rocking Gabrielle she felt the young girl settle down some. She heard her taking a deep breath and then a soft whisper: "...thank you...."
She put a finger under Gabrielle's chin and lifted her head gently. "What for?"
"For ... for coming when I needed you ... you so much."
Xena brushed another tear away and smiled softly. "Always, little one. ... Wanna tell me what happened?"
She felt another shuddering breath warm her chest and she felt her heart pick up its rhythm.
"I ... it's ... he didn't ... " But before the small voice could form any coherent sentence an angry voice shouted across the village square and a tall heavyset figure stormed towards them.
"Gabrielle!! I told you to come back immediately!! Stupid child get your ass over here."
Xena lifted suddenly steel cold blue eyes and recognised the man as Gabrielle's father. Her entire body tensed with a sudden surge of rage as she put two and two together and came up with tear filled green eyes and a bruised face.
She looked at the shivering form in her arms. "Did he...?"
Closing green eyes and a small face burying in her shoulder answered that question. She gently retrieved her arms from around Gabrielle's thin figure and got up. "Stay here, little one. I'll be back in a minute."
"Xena?" Scared green eyes met hers and she smiled reassuringly. The smile never reaching her still ice cold eyes, though.
"I'll be fine. I'm just going to have a little chat with your father."
"NO ... please Xena ... he ... he'll hurt you! He's ... so big ... and strong and ... and ... please. ...."
The young woman crouched in front of her friend.
"He is not going to hurt me. Or you ever again. I promise."
And then Gabrielle watched as her tall friend and her father met in the middle of the square. Facing each other. Both bodies tense. And what happened then Gabrielle was sure she would never, ever forget. Ever.
- 8 -
Hecuba folded another shirt and put it in the bag resting on the bed. Next to the bag lay several packages wrapped in coloured parchment.
She sighed and brushed dark blonde hair from her face, looking around the room. Her light brown eyes taking in the few furniture and trinkets scattered about the small room.
She heard heavy footsteps outside the door and hurriedly stuffed the packages in the bag closing it tightly. Taking a deep breath she turned just in time to see her husband enter their small bedroom. His eyes blazing with silent anger as he spotted the bag.
"Where's my lunch?"
"On the stove."
He grunted and turned towards the kitchen and she sat on the bed with a sigh.
It's been a year ago that she had been called to the village square finding her violent husband engaged in a fight with a dark haired woman. Obviously loosing. She had been shocked to see the young woman pouncing on her husband hitting him over and over again.
Her handsome face a mask of uncontrolled rage.
Her shock increasing ten fold when she saw her eldest daughter run up to the woman, grabbing her arm. She had been convinced to see her small girl fly across the square. But it hadn't happened.
Instead the face had relaxed and gentled. The tall form slowly backing away from the prone body of her husband. And she had watched in breathless wonder as the young woman lifted Gabrielle up into her arms, hugging her close. Whispering something to her.
Even now Hecuba felt tears sting her eyes.
It had been the first time someone had stood up for Gabrielle. Defending her. Something she felt - she knew - she'd failed in.
And she remember how the tall woman had walked up to her. Telling her that she would take Gabrielle with her. She'd wanted to argue but upon seeing the still dazed face of her husband and Gabrielle's bruised face she had simply nodded.
Knowing it to be the best for her child.
She sighed again.
She never wanted this to happen but with every year Gabrielle grew up she became an almost eerie copy of her real father.
And although Herodotus had promised her all those years ago to love her unborn baby like his own - seeing the obvious truth every time he looked at Gabrielle... One day he just couldn't take it anymore and hit her.
It was the first time he caught her telling a story.
Hecuba closed her eyes.
Gods, she had been so young and almost immediately fell in love with the young man who showed up in Potedeia one day. His fair hair, big green eyes and soft, gentle smile had touched her in places she didn't even know existed. He had been a travelling bard. Telling stories about love, romance and passion. About a world so strange and yet so captivating she'd sat listening to him for hours on end.
He was the first man to kiss her.
He was the first man to touch her in a way that set her entire body on fire.
The first night they'd spent together he'd told her about all the things he wanted to do. About something he called the 'Greater Good'. He'd told her that he wanted to heal the world from the pain and violence it was in. He'd been a gentle soul. A dreamer.
And a gentle lover. A small smile played around thin pale lips.
But despite all the gentleness and pureness in his heart and mind his body had betrayed him. He died six months after his arrival of the coughing sickness. Leaving her with a broken heart and a reminder of the love their shared.
And Gabrielle was so much like him. It showed in her fair hair and green eyes; in her smile and in the gentle way she treaded everyone. But as she knew it so did Herodotus. And whatever love he might have had for Gabrielle vanished for whatever reason the day he heard her tell a story.
Hecuba swallowed and brushed a few tears from her face. Then a deep voice bellowed from the kitchen.
"You're visiting your bastard tomorrow?"
Hecuba's eyes narrowed in anger. "Yes."
She heard the sound of wood against wood as he got up and then he appeared at the doorframe.
"You're back by sunset and Lila stays here." Without waiting for an answer he turned and left. Leaving her sitting in the eerie silence of the room. After a long moment she slowly got up and took a deep breath. Maybe it was time to tell Gabrielle the truth.
The small room was lit by cheery rays of late spring morning sun. Painting the walls and the small ball of bedding and pillow in a soft pink. Next to the bed crouched a tall figure. A fond and amused smile playing in red lips.
Xena kept her breathing and movement quiet so she wouldn't disturb the small sleeping form in the bed.
Gabrielle was buried almost entirely in her bedding just the top of her fair head showing, soft snores emitting from the depth underneath. The young girl was by no means a morning person and Xena knew that if she woke Gabrielle now she would be really grumpy.
Yeah, ... but cute, too. Her smile formed into a smirk. Yeah.
It was one of the many things she found utterly endearing about her small friend.
Gabrielle had been living with them for a year now and already the dark haired woman couldn't imagine her life in Amphipolis without her. Gods, little one. We know each other only one and a half year and I feel so close to you...What is it about you?
A tanned long fingered hand brushed a few errands strands of fair hair from sleeping eyes. Ever so lightly caressing the soft downy skin underneath. Placing a soft kiss on the forehead.
Whispering: "Happy Birthday, Gabrielle."
"Today was ... boy, I don't even have words to describe today! It was my eleventh birthday and it was the best ever!
Xena gave me a case I can keep my quills and scrolls in. She made it herself and it is soo beautiful!!! It's the best present I ever got!
Sometimes I still feel like I'm dreaming. That nothing of this is real. Not Amphipolis, or Cyrene or Toris or Lyceus.
Last night I dreamed that I was back home. I woke up and he stood at my bed. Laughing at me and telling me that no one would ever care for me. That I'm worthless. It hurt, even if it was just a dream.
But then I woke up and ... Xena sat on my bed and smiled at me. And I felt safe. Because I know I know she cares for me! And he can never take that away from me. Because she's stronger than him. She will protect me!
Cyrene gave me a new dress. It's so pretty but still a little big but she said I grow into it. Xena said she wouldn't bet money on that. She laughed at that. I like when she does that. Her voice gets all rumbly, then. And she always says stuff like that. About me being so small and all. It's only because she's so big.
Boy, is she ever.
And really pretty, too. I overheard Lyceus' friends the other day and they said she's 'hot'. I'm not sure what they meant by that because I know she didn't had a fever. She's hardly ever sick. Maybe I ask her about it.
...ma was here today...
At first I thought she came to take me back to Potedeia. Gods was I ever scared. But she only came to wish me a Happy Birthday and to give me some presents. She gave me the letters Xena had written me while she was in Sparta. He had intercepted them so I never got them. I'm going to read every one of them!
She cried a little when she asked me if I am happy.
I am, you know?
Here nobody yells at me when I do something wrong. Nobody hits me. Or says bad things to me. I learn so much from Xena and I know Cyrene and the boys really like me.
So yes, I am very happy."
"What does it mean if someone is 'hot'?"
A surprised cough and a clearing of a throat were heard.
"Where did you hear that?"
"Oh ... some of Lyceus' friends said it the other day. I heard it but I don't know what it means."
"They did, huh? Well, .... um..." Nervous fingers ran through long ebony tresses. "It's ... when you think someone is really pretty and you like them very much sometimes you say they are hot."
Silence, and Xena could almost hear the wheels turning inside the pale head resting on her shoulder.
"Oh...is it like when you're in love?"
The young woman smiled and pulled the blanket closer around them. Now that the sun was setting a noticeable chill settled in the clearing they were sitting in and she wasn't taking any chances with Gabrielle. Responding to Gabrielle's question she said: "Um...well, something like that, yeah."
Gabrielle's fair brows furrowed and she bit her lower lip. "Have you ever thought someone was hot?"
Xena was grateful for the fading light as she felt her face warm in a blush. "Yeah ... I ... now and then, yes."
Xena bit back a chuckle as she could almost see the next question rise from Gabrielle's head like steam. Blonde locks moved and green eyes studied her curiously.
"Have you ever been in love?"
The dark haired woman was silent for a moment. Has she? Sure she had her share of crushes and there were time she thought she'd been in love but now, thinking about those times...
"No, not really."
For some reason that fact saddened her and she closed her eyes against a quiet pain that settled in her heart. Until she felt a small hand on her cheek and she opened her eyes staring right into intense green. Noticing for perhaps the first time little golden flecks in them.
"You will!" said in a serious and confident voice.
Xena looked at the small face for what seemed an eternity. Imagining those soft, gentle features at an older age. Convinced that Gabrielle would grow up to be a beautiful young woman. Turning quite some heads. Strangely though, that thought disturbed her a little but she shook her head a little to clear her mind and then smiled.
Ruffling Gabrielle's hair she chuckled. "If you say so, little one."
- 9 -
It was everywhere.
She felt it tugging at her soul. Caressing her mind with visions of carnage and violence.
She felt the familiar weight of a sword in her hand.
Heard the soft sounds metal makes when slicing through warm living flesh.
Felt herself reaching for it.
The small voice pulled her almost bodily back from the waiting darkness. Cupping her soul in a warmth so comforting and welcoming all she wanted to do was to lay down and drown in it.
Confused pale blue eyes opened. Blinking sleepily.
"Wha...?" Her sight adjusted to the dark room and she saw a small figure standing next to her bed. "Gabrielle?"
The form moved closer, shivering in the chill of the night.
"Can I sleep with you tonight? I ... I had a nightmare and ... and I couldn't go back to sleep and I thought ... maybe ... if you don't ... don't mind ..."
Despite her still lingering memory of her own nightmare Xena smiled and pulled the small body next to her. Covering it with her sleep warmed bedding. Hearing a content little sigh. "Thanks."
The small frame cuddled closer and Gabrielle fell almost immediately asleep again.
Xena smiled and lay down as well. But sleep was far from claiming her.
She didn't have this dream for almost two years. It stopped when Gabrielle came to stay with them. But for what ever reason it returned.
She knew that there was a part of her that was longing for the violence and blood she'd seen in those five years in her army. A part that needed to fight.
And she'd kept up her drills with her sword and various other weapons to satisfy this need. At least a little. She even started a militia in Amphipolis after a rather violent raid by a warlord six months ago.
She closed her eyes. Remembering the joy that had filled her as she'd cut the raiders down. As she'd smelled the coppery scent of blood. Every nerve end in her body had sang and she remembered laughing. And freezing in place when she spotted Gabrielle's face.
It was a side of her she never wanted her younger friend to see. And she had been sure that Gabrielle would pull away from her. Seeing in her the same monster her father was.
But that night Gabrielle had come into her room and without a word climbed into her bed. Curling her smaller body around her own.
She'd barely kept the tears of relief from falling at that moment.
Xena opened her eyes again. Gazing at the full moon outside the window. Hearing the soft sounds of night creatures. Feeling Gabrielle's warm sleeping body close to hers and with a gentle smile on her face she, too, fell asleep.
- 10 -
A soft moan. Moving bodies. Sliding against each other. Lips meeting. Hands stroking. Another moan. Heavy breathing. Dark hair mingling with fair. Sweat glistening on naked skin. Pale eyes darkening to intense blue. Green eyes disappearing behind closing eyelids.
The sound of the door opening. "Xena?! ... Can I burrow your ... " A startled gasp.
Xena cursed silently and turned her head. Seeing a furiously blushing Gabrielle standing just inside the doorframe. Embarrassed and confused green eyes meeting hers.
"I ... I am sorry I didn't..." Not finishing the sentence Gabrielle dashed out of the room.
"Shit!" Xena scrambled away from the warm body underneath her own and out of the bed. Reaching for her shirt that lay next to the bed. Shit.
"What's wrong?" A soft voice sounded behind her.
"I have to go after her. Explain ... " She fell silent. Explain what? That it didn't mean anything? Her gaze fell on the still naked blonde in her bed. Any traces of arousal already vanished.
"Explain what? Gods..." The young woman sat up. "How old is she?"
"Thirteen. Fourteen next moon."
The blonde smiled and rested a warm hand on Xena's back. The taller woman had sat down on the bed again to pull on her boots. "Well, she should know about these sort of things by now. Don't you think?"
Xena's eyes narrowed in irritation. "Maybe. But she shouldn't get to know about it like ... that." Her voice had dropped in to a low growl.
The blonde scowled a little. "Tch ... she is old enough to know not to come into a room without knocking first, isn't she?"
Pale blue eyes turned to her. "Gabrielle doesn't need to knock when she wants to come to my room."
A fair eyebrow lifted. "Is that so?"
Xena didn't even bother do answer that as she finished lacing her boots and got up. Without a look back she left her room. Hearing the impact of a pillow on the closing door. No time for that now. ... Where would she go?
Xena's brows furrowed in thought and then her eyes fell on the barn. The hayloft was a favourite hiding place of Gabrielle's. Before I'm running all over the place better check there first.
The barn was dark and quiet. Except for the occasional snort of one of the horses. Their shuffling hooves forming a quiet carpet of subdued noise.
The tall woman let her eyes adjust to the darkness and looked around. She spotted the ladder that led up into the hayloft and after a moment of thought climbed up. It didn't take her long to find the pale head and the small frame. Gabrielle was fiddling with a straw, her forehead crinkled in thought. Xena took a deep breath and approached the silent form.
Gabrielle looked up and even in the dark Xena saw her blushing.
"Oh gods Xena ... I ... I am so sorry .. I didn't mean ... I ... it's .... I didn't know ..." She heaved a sigh and dropped her head. "Sorry." She mumbled.
The older woman dropped down next to her and smiled. Resting a hand on Gabrielle's forearm. Searching for words.
"It's okay. I could have locked the door, right? Not your fault."
The small blonde didn't answer.
"Hey, I said it's okay."
Green eyes met her gaze and she smiled again. Gabrielle answered with a shy smile of her own. But Xena could still see the furrows in her forehead. Something was still bothering her young friend. Might as well get it over with.
"You wanna ask me something?"
The fair head dropped again and Xena heard a nervous giggle. It eased the tension she had felt and she relaxed a bit.
Gabrielle chanced another look and took a deep breath. Obviously gathering her courage. "Um... I ... you know ... I know about ... um .... " She waved her hands. "...this stuff."
Xena chuckled. She had talked about sex with Gabrielle last year when Varia, Toris' wife had gotten pregnant again. She nodded.
"But ... I didn't .. I thought only men and women ... could ... you know?" Another wave of hands and Xena almost felt the heat coming from Gabrielle's face.
"Well, it's like this, little one." Xena fell silent for a moment. Searching for the right words. She never explained her sexuality before. Not even to her mum who had simply smiled and hugged her. Saying that as long as she is happy she didn't care whom she loved. "Um ... you know ... what Toris feels for Varia or any men for another woman .... sometimes that happens between two women ... or men. And sometimes ... um .. they express what they feel on a physical level. Just like a man would with a woman. .... Well ... it is different but..." This time it was Xena's turn to wave her hand in a helpless gesture. "It's just different."
Green eyes studied her curiously and Xena almost regretted that comment. "Mmh. ... How is it different?"
Well, you had that one coming. "Um... you know that women don't have ..." She motioned to her lap and saw Gabrielle blush again, nodding her head hurriedly. "Right ... women use they hands and ... um mouths to ... " How did I get into this conversation? Note to self: Next time lock the door! "... to pleasure each other."
Gabrielle's brows wrinkled in thought and she chewed her lower lip. Then she looked up. "Oh ... Ooh. ... I .. I think I understand."
They sat in silence for a few moments. Xena relieved that she managed that talk quite well. Gabrielle still thinking about a few things.
"Do you love her?"
The question came from around a blind corner and knocked her almost over. "Wha ...?" She turned to her younger friend. Noting that Gabrielle's bangs needed a trim. She brushed them to one side and smiled a little. "I like her a lot. But ... no, I don't love her."
Green eyes looked at her for another silent moment and then Gabrielle simply nodded.
Xena ducked her head to catch Gabrielle's eyes and lifted her eyebrows in a silent question. "We're okay?"
Her answer was a bright smile and a small body that hugged her tightly. "Of course we're okay. ... But I'm still sorry I just rushed into your room."
A large hand ruffled through fair locks and Xena chuckled. "Already forgotten."
- 11 -
Cyrene and Xena exchanged worried looks as they watched Gabrielle pick at her food. A sad and painfully lost expression on her face. Any efforts to engage her into a conversation, normally the easiest thing on earth to do, had failed miserably. The teenager had only answered with short sentences.
"Hey, little one. What's the matter?"
"DON'T CALL ME THAT!"
The sound of a fork cluttering to the floor echoed almost eerily through the shocked silence as Gabrielle jumped up and ran from the inn. Xena swallowed, trying to get air passed the lump forming in her throat. She felt her hand shake in response to Gabrielle's words.
"I .. I ..."
Cyrene laid a comforting hand on her daughter's forearm. Wondering herself what had prompted the outburst. The young woman had been different ever since her birthday party last moon. She had turned fourteen and she had been so exited about the party. What had happened?
"Want me to talk to her?"
Xena looked up. Having been caught in her own thoughts. She considered the offer but from what Gabrielle had said her problem obviously had something to do with her.
She slowly got up from the table. Almost hesitantly turning towards the door Gabrielle had disappeared through. "No. No, I'll deal with her."
Cyrene watched her daughter leave and sighed a little. Gabrielle had been living with them for four years now and she had watched her daughter grow closer and closer to the girl. They were practically inseparable. At first she had been a little concerned. She had feared that Gabrielle wouldn't find friends of her own age but that had been an unnecessary fear. Gabrielle's outgoing and gentle nature made her a favourite all over the village. And considering what she had been through....
The older woman's brows furrowed in anger. Her father had made one attempt to get her back. Showing up with a bailiff - but he had come to the wrong person. She'd been barely able to hold Xena and Toris back as he showed up. Gods, that sorry excuse for a ... Even now she felt the anger at his arrogance to even dare demanding Gabrielle back.
She couldn't think of one person in Amphipolis that didn't like the small blonde. She even suspected that Lyceus had a crush on Gabrielle. She smiled. He would blush every time she smiled at him and stumble over his own tongue when talking to her. Mmh, they would make a handsome couple.
Xena didn't find her friend at any of her usual hiding places and started to worry. She looked up into the sky and felt the warmth of the sun and saw a cloudless pale blue sky.
Following a hunch she left Amphipolis and walked down the road that led to a small but beautiful lake. They used to bathe there during summer. Gabrielle always liked to watch the sunset from the soft rolling hills that surrounded the lake.
She was still trying to figure out what she had done to upset her younger friend.
Brushing a hand through her dark locks she sighed. Gods, it has been difficult lately. Something was happening to her she couldn't quite understand. Well, she didn't dare to think about it, honestly. It happened when she looked or thought about the small blonde.
Gabrielle hadn't grown that much in the last four years. Still only reaching up to her shoulders but what she had suspected almost ten years ago has happened. Gabrielle had grown into a beautiful young woman. Her soft, gentle features, that cute slightly upturned nose that crinkled at the top when she smiled or frowned. Her smile that captured you and made it impossible to be angry with her.
And she had seen the looks from some of the young men around town. Something that bothered her more than she was willing to admit.
She caught herself studying her younger friend more closely. Watching her when she talked to others. When she wrote in her scrolls or just sat somewhere daydreaming. And everytime she felt something deep inside herself stir. She cared for Gabrielle deeply; that she knew. But this was different. It was far more intense and it scared her. She wasn't supposed to feel like that, was she? Gods, the little blonde was like a sister to her. Wasn't she?
She sighed and shook the thoughts of. This wasn't about her but about Gabrielle.
The bright sunlight sparkled vividly on the calm almost unmoving water of the lake. Blinding in its intensity. Xena closed her eyes briefly and turned sideways a little. She heard the soft splashes of waves that lapped onto the shore. The sounds of fish that broke through the surface due to the heat that had settle over the lake. Birds chasing through the woods nearby.
And the soft sounds of sobbing.
She followed the sounds and found her younger friend curled into a tight ball hiding in a thick patch of knee high grass. Remembering Gabrielle's reaction at the inn she wasn't sure if she should announce her presence although every instinct inside of her told her to take the small form in her arms, and to make it all right again.
She was still debating with herself and halfway decided to leave when a small shaking voice said: "I know you're there."
The tall woman swallowed. "I ... I just wanted to make sure ... I don't know ... that you're all right."
Silence. Muffled sniffs. "Want me to leave?" She wondered if her voice sounded to Gabrielle as desperate as it did to her. Don't shut me out, little one.
Gabrielle still hadn't moved much. But then her head moved in a shake. "... please don't leave me..."
It was all it took to send Xena to her knees next to the crying girl. She hesitated a moment but then wrapped her long arms securely around the trembling teenager. "Never li... Gabrielle. Never. I promise."
A blonde head buried in her chest and she felt a breath warm her shirt. Felt the dampness of Gabrielle's face.
"I ... I didn't mean ... what I said. ... At the inn."
They sat in comfortable silence for some time. Xena watched a dragonfly zip past them. Its wings sparkling in myriad of colours. A soft humming accompanying the small creature.
Gabrielle had quieted down and now simply enjoyed the closeness of her older friend. The warmth of her body. The muscles she could feel move just under her skin. The scent that seemed to constantly surround her a mixture of leather, herbs and cinnamon. And something spicy she couldn't quite place.
She shifted and straightened a little. Moving to look up into Xena's face. Amazed, again, how tanned Xena's skin really was. "How come you're so tanned?" she asked idly.
Causing her friend to chuckle in surprise. "Um, I don't .... I spend a lot of time outside. I mean, five years in the sun, fighting, drilling guess it kinda stuck."
"Mmh." A small graceful hand lifted and touched her cheek ever so lightly. Nothing more than a feather's touch. "You're skin's soft, though."
For a moment Xena wasn't able to breathe let alone think and she had to clear her throat against the dryness she suddenly felt there. "Yeah, well ... um ... I ... " She was desperately trying to come up with something anything to say but Gabrielle saved her by sighing and turning sad eyes towards the lake.
It gave the older woman a moment to compose herself again. Gods what'd just happened? She still felt tingles running up and down her spine. Similar to what she'd felt the first time Gabrielle and she had met. Almost ten years ago.
"The harvest festival is next moon."
Xena knew that she didn't need to prod her younger friend to talk about what bothered her. Sooner or later she would do it all by herself. It was almost like a need to open up to someone she trusted. Something, Xena knew would take her much more time if she did it at all. It was something, she was honest enough to admit, she admired about Gabrielle. Her ability to talk about her feelings.
"There will be a dance. ... It's all the other girls are talking about. .. You know, about who would ask them to be their date ... stuff like that."
"Mmh." For some reason Xena didn't like the direction this conversation was taking. A date?
Gabrielle's chest moved in a heavy sigh. "I haven't been asked, yet. ... All the other girls have their dates already."
A small hand lifted again and wiped angrily at new tears.
"Oh ... um ... " Dark brows furrowed. Seeing how much this bothered Gabrielle. "Wasn't Lyceus going to ask you?"
Gabrielle smiled sadly. "Yeah he asked me. But..."
She fell silent. How to explain that she wanted to be asked by someone she didn't consider an elder brother? She sighed again and felt a gentle, warm hand turn her face. Looking into caring pale blue eyes. So much like the sky. she mused.
"But it's not the same, huh?"
Blonde locks shook in nod.
Xena smiled. "Look, little one. It's still a couple of weeks. You'll see they will fall all over themselves to be your date. You just wait."
"You think? The other girls..."
"Who cares about them? Those guys are probably still collecting their guts to ask you."
"What?" Disbelieving green eyes widened in question. "Why?"
Xena studied the gentle features in front of her. Admitting to herself probably for the first time how beautiful Gabrielle really was. She cupped a large hand around Gabrielle's cheek. "Because ... little one ... you're the prettiest girl in all of Amphipolis and it had better be a very special young man to ask you to be his date. .. They're probably afraid you turn them down."
"They what?! ... Gods Xena ... I would never do that."
Xena couldn't help but laugh at that. Seeing Gabrielle's face form into a cute scowl she tried to calm down. "Knowing you I don't doubt that. But you can't go to the festival with a dozen young men, now can you?"
"Oh." Gabrielle bit her lip and blushed a little. "Guess not, huh?" An impish twinkle in those green eyes and Xena ruffled blonde locks playfully.
Again silence settled between them. Wind had come up and rippled the still water. Thin white caps forming on the dark green surface.
Xena studied Gabrielle's suddenly thoughtful profile. What are you thinking about?
Her younger friend felt Xena's eyes but tried to ignore them for a moment. There was still something she wanted to ask Xena. She just didn't know how to go about it. She didn't want Xena to laugh at her. And after what happened a couple of months ago... But she wouldn't laugh at me, would she?
She turned her head, now catching Xena with a pensive expression. But the look disappeared the moment the older woman felt eyes on her and their eyes met. Gabrielle almost unconsciously smiling at her tall friend. And getting a bright smile in return. No, she wouldn't laugh.
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "I .. I don't even know how to do it."
Xena frowned, puzzled. Huh? "What? Dance? ... Oh, well ... I could show you, if you'd like. No problem."
She watched in growing confusion as Gabrielle blushed deeply. A deep red creeping up her neck into her cheeks.
"No ... no that's not ... I know how to dance."
"Well, what is it you don't know how to do?"
A bare whisper. "... kiss ... "
It took a moment for the words to register with Xena. And she swallowed almost against her own will.
Anxious green eyes turned to her. "I don't know how to kiss."
Yup, guess I heard right. Gods, now what? "Um, well ... why would you want to know that?"
The look she got was almost comical in its indignation and she realised how silly her question really was. She shook her head before Gabrielle could say anything. "Forget I said that. ... Gabrielle, it's nothing you can learn ... just, when the moment comes you'll know how to do it."
Gabrielle didn't really seem convinced. Then her eyes brightened. "Can't you show me?"
Oh no, no, no, warrior ... you will not ... I repeat, will not teach her how to kiss. "I .. I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Oh .. but it is! .. I trust you and I'm sure you know how to do it. And ... I don't want to make a fool out of myself if .... " She blushed again. Dropping her gaze. "You know."
"Just ... please ... Once? We don't have to use our tongues. .... Do you really do that? Ugh .. I don't know .... Just with lips? Please?"
The tall woman turned her face hoping to hide the heat warming her face. She ran her hands through her dark mane. What have you gotten yourself into?
A small hand on her arm. "Please?"
She sighed and turned back to her young friend. Meeting beseeching green eyes. Finding herself unable to say no. You're whipped warrior. Yup. Sure am.
"Okay. ... But only once."
Gabrielle smiled from ear to ear. Moving closer to Xena. "Thanks. ... Now what do I have to do?"
Good question. "Um, you kinda tilt your head a little ... yeah and um, ..." Xena watched Gabrielle close her eyes in involuntary expectation. Studying her face for a quiet moment. Tracing gentle cheekbones, the cute nose those waiting lips. "And you .. open your lips just a little. ... right.... " She moved closer herself. Closing her own eyes. "And then your lips just ... meet...." Her words trailed of as she felt a pair of the softest lips touch hers. Once ... twice. Lingering a small eternity.
She wasn't prepared for what she felt at the soft touch. Her entire body coming alive. Burning. Shivers running down her spine.
With a small gasp she broke away. Opening her eyes. And saw Gabrielle's face. A soft dreamy smile playing around her still slightly parted lips. Her eyes still closed. Should have never done that...
Slowly green eyes opened. Blinking. The smile gentle but still dreamy. "That was nice."
Fair brows furrowed as Gabrielle took in Xena's expression. "Xena?"
The taller woman swallowed and got up. Nervously running her hands through her hair. Looking everywhere but into confused green eyes.
"Yeah, well ... I ... I need to go. Um ... see you at home."
Gabrielle watched as her friend disappeared into the woods. Her hand lifting and her fingers trailing softly over her still tingling lips. "It was nice." A whisper.
Toris yawned, wincing a little at the pain he felt in the back of his neck. Gotta get Varia do rub my back tonight. He smiled at the thought of his wife. His blue eyes strayed quite without his permission towards his mother's inn where he knew his wife and his two sons were.
A fond smile playing around his lips.
Suddenly a motion next to him caught his attention and he looked slightly surprised at his sister. Carrying a backpack and a sleeping roll in her hands.
She smiled briefly and dropped her things. He looked at her. Wondering what had caused that look on her face. "You're all right?"
Thoughtful blue eyes so much like his own met his gaze and Xena shrugged. "Yeah ... just .... I'm going hunting. Probably be gone for a couple of days."
He smiled in sudden understanding. It was so typical for his solitary sister. She usually lasted all of a month before she needed to escape the confines of Amphipolis. She would mount Argo and leave for a few days. Usually not longer than a week or two. And when she returned she seemed a bit more at peace. Quieter but more relaxed, too.
"Sure. You'll be back for the festival?"
He saw the muscles in her jaw move and wondered again what was wrong.
"Probably. Not sure yet."
She saddled Argo fastening the backpack and her sleeping roll.
A thought occurred to Toris and he took a step closer to her while she was mounting the pale mare. "Gabrielle knows you're leaving?"
She didn't meet his eyes. Her gaze wandering towards the road that left the village. "Um ... no. ... I .... Could you ... ?"
He nodded. "Sure. No problem. Be careful, huh?"
Again that brief almost sad smile. "You know me."
"Exactly that's why I said it." He teased. Not getting the expected reaction. He watched her prod Argo into a slow trot and then she was gone. Leaving a cloud of dust behind. He scratched his head and shrugged. Whatever.
He was about to continue with his work when Lyceus appeared at his side.
"Was that Xena who just left?"
He looked at his youngest sibling and smiled. Lyceus' sandy blond hair so different from his and Xena's dark looks.
"She seemed a bit down."
"Yeah, noticed it, too. Well, she'll work it out. Maybe she just needs some quiet time. You know her. .... Did you wanted something?"
Lyceus was about to answer when they both saw Gabrielle emerge from the forest. A thoughtful expression on her face. The bright sun hit her fair hair, bringing out faint red highlights. Toris turned a teasing grin on his brother. Seeing the expected blush. Oh boy.
A bright smile replaced the quiet look on her face. "Hi Tor ... Ly." The small blonde walked up to them. "Did any of you see Xena?"
Toris bit his lip before he answered. "Yeah .. she's out hunting for a couple of days. You know .. the usual."
"Oh." The quiet look returned. "Um ... well ...."
Toris frowned. What's wrong with them? "Did you have a ... fight. ... Or something?"
"Wha..? No! No, I just wanted to talk to her but .. it can wait."
Lyceus who had twisted the hem of his tunic in his hands while they were talking cleared his throat. The blush getting deeper. "Um ... Gab ... Gabrielle?"
Shining green eyes turned towards him and he swallowed. "There ... there's someone waiting ... for ... for you at the inn."
Gabrielle frowned surprised. "Really?" A nervous flatter announced its presence in her stomach.
She turned and walked towards the inn. As she entered Cyrene walked up to her a huge smile on her face. "Hi cutie. There is a visitor for you." The blue eyes twinkled. The older woman motioned towards a table in the back and Gabrielle turned nervous eyes in that direction.
Seeing a young man. Tall and with dark hair. His twitching hands holding something that once resembled a bouquet. She swallowed. Oh gods.
The young man got up in a hurry and straightened to his full height. Swallowing visibly.
They smiled at each other. Neither knowing how to continue until he remembered his flowers. He gave them to her and smiled again.
"My name's Perdicus and I came to ask you something."
Continued in part 2
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