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, or you're too young - 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
Falling - part 2
by Grit Jahning
You're the bravest of hearts, you're the
strongest of souls
You're my light in the dark, you're the
place I call home
You can say it's all right, but I know
that you're breaking up inside
I see it in your eyes
Even you face the night afraid
That's why I'll be there
When the storm rises up, when the
Ev'ry beat of my heart, ev'ry day
Ev'ry second I live, that's the promise
Baby, that's what I'll give, if that's
what it takes
if that's what it takes
You can sleep in my arms, you don't
have to explain
When your heart's crying out, baby,
whisper my name
'Cause I've reached out for you when
the thunder is crashing up above
You've given me your love
When your smile like the sun that shines
through the pain
That's why I'll be there
When the storm rises up, when the
Ev'ry beat of my heart, ev'ry day
I will stand like a rock, I will bend
till I break
Till there's no more to give, if that's
what it takes
I will risk everything, I will fight,
I will bleed
I will lay down my life, if that's
what you need
Ev'ry second I live, that's the promise
Baby, that's what I'll give, if that's
what it takes
Through the wind and the rain, through
the smoke and the fire
When the fear rises up, when the wave's ever higher
I will lay down my heart, my body,
I will hold on all night and never
Ev'ry second I live, that's the promise I make
Baby, that's what I'll give, if that's
what it takes
If that's what it takes
If that's what it takes
(* " If That's What It Takes" written by Jean-Jaques Goldman/Phil Galdston)
- 12 -
The forest around her was swallowed by darkness. The moon barely visible through a thick carpet of clouds covering the night-sky.
But it was peaceful. The soft howling of an owl and the sounds of wings carrying easily through the quiet.
And what used to be a balm to her soul and mind - now it drove her insane...
This wasn't supposed to happen! A fist connecting with a tree. Bark splitting from its trunk. Shit. Shit. Shit. ... Another hit. Another. Blood on bruised knuckles.
Gods, what had gone wrong?
All she had to do was close her eyes to see those shining green eyes and to feel those soft lips touching hers. To feel the heat rising inside her body. Spreading across her skin.
A long muscular frame moved against the tree. Forehead leaning on cold bark. Hands resting on its rough sides.
A deep sigh.
I just have to get myself under control again. It was one incident. ... I keep my distance and this will pass! ... It has to....
"Yeah." A low, deep-voiced whisper. Dark hair was brushed away from pained pale blue eyes.
For a few days she had played with the idea to leave. Not go back. But the thought itself had hurt so much she couldn't even imagine what it would be like to never see Gabrielle again.
She couldn't stay away. It was as simple as that. She was caught in something so intense .... She was falling. Falling into an abyss deep and unknown. And yet so familiar and comforting it scared her senseless.
She took a deep breath and straightened. I can handle this! I have to!
A horse snorted and she turned towards the pale mare. "C'mon Argo. Let's go home."
Home. A slight smile.
"I don't know, mum."
Gabrielle turned and took another look at the mirror. The pale green dress she wore hugged her body in a way that was very flattering to her slim, well-developed body. And she couldn't help but blush at the way it showed her bosom.
"It does ... um, you know, " A waving hand indicating her chest. "... show a lot." She turned embarrassed green eyes to Cyrene who was smiling broadly.
"Don't bother cutie. You look..."
The low voice sounded from the doorway and Gabrielle turned around with a start. Just to break into a huge smile.
Without second thought she rushed her older friend and wrapped her into a tight hug. Feeling long, strong arms settle around her. Holding her just as close. "I missed you." She whispered into a chest that smelled like sun and fresh grass. Hay and leather.
They separated and smiled at each other. An appraising look from those blue eyes and Gabrielle blushed even more. "You really like it?" She fussed with the dress. Plugging at a seam.
And then a finger lifted her chin up.
"Yup. .... I guess this means you have a date, huh?"
Gabrielle wasn't sure but she thought something like sadness crossed Xena's chiselled features.
Cyrene stepped into the conversation. Happy her daughter had returned earlier than she herself had expected. "A boy from Potedeia .. what was his name? Um ... Pardel ... Persi..."
"Perdicus," Gabrielle said. A small smile playing around her lips and she dropped her gaze.
"I told you so ... Didn't I?" Xena forced a smug expression on her face. Knowing she succeeded when she felt her younger friend swat at her arm. Inside she tried to keep those walls upright.
Feeling them crumble all around her.
A shy smile and another blush as Gabrielle remembered that day. " ... yeah ... Guess you did."
Their gazes met and for a moment something like an understanding seemed to pass between them but it vanished just as quickly and left both of them confused.
Cyrene watched the interaction with a puzzled frown. She had suspected that they might have had a fight or something like that but watching them now.... Something had changed that much was obvious. She saw it in the way Xena kept her body rather rigid. Unusual when she was close to Gabrielle. Mmh.
She tilted her head a little and watched her daughter more closely. Saw her pale eyes flicker across the room but always returning to appraise the smaller form standing before her. Then her gaze softened and there was a shine to her eyes .... Oh gods ... She's in love with her!
Cyrene turned around and rubbed a hand across her face. Now what?
The only light was a candle placed on the table that flickered across a dark head and a pair of hands holding a cup of ale.
Way to go warrior! Xena took another deep swallow of the ale and let it burn down her throat. She had already had three cups but was far from being as drunk as she wanted to be.
Drunk enough so it wouldn't hurt anymore... Guess that means I have to try a little harder, doesn't it? She staggered to her feet and walked over to the bar. Searching for another bottle.
"I think you had enough."
The quiet voice sounded behind her and Xena turned around to see her mother.
"...I don't think so....." She grabbed the bottle and went back to the table she had sat at for a couple of hours now.
Trying to drown the images and feelings inside her.
Her mother sat down across from her and grabbed her hand. "Xena..." Pained blue eyes looked at her and she saw Xena swallow. "Do you want to talk about it?"
The tall body opposite her stiffened and dark eyebrows furrowed. Slowly Xena withdraw her hand from her mother's grip. "Talk about what?"
Cyrene took a deep breath but she decided to go ahead. "Gabrielle is really looking forward to tomorrow." A snort answered her. "Perdicus seems nice."
"Does he?" It wasn't really a question.
"Yeah. I think he really cares for her, you know? And she's at an age where she should think about a husband."
Xena's head snapped up. "What?"
"A husband. ... I think he's a nice catch."
Xena's jaw moved as Cyrene recognised the signs for silent anger. "Do you ... do you think ... she's thinking about ... that?"
"Well, she is fourteen. She's starting to think about stuff like this, you know? ... I'm sure you talked about things like that?"
"No, no, we ... not about that."
Xena dropped her head again and her eyes traced the liquid in her mug. Losing herself in the dark reflections. Marriage?
"You know she can't live here forever."
Pale eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Cyrene smiled. "Honey, I love her just as much as any of you but just like the boys she'll find someone she wants to start a family with. Someone who loves her. ...." Cyrene paused a moment. Searching Xena's still face. "Someone who doesn't hide from what they're feeling."
Their eyes met and around the older woman's lips played a knowing smile. For a moment Xena considered denying ... it ... whatever .... Love?.... that was settling inside her heart and soul. But her mother's eyes didn't hold anything but understanding and love.
She broke their gaze and turned towards dark windows next to her. Sighing silently. "She .. she isn't thinking about me like that."
"Maybe the two of you should talk. Maybe she's as confused and afraid as you?"
Xena straightened. "I'm not afraid!"
"No? Why did you just leave the other day?"
"I ... I .... " Xena fell silent. Unable to come up with an answer. "Mum...she's like a little sister to me. We practically grew up together! .... I ... I'm just overly protective right now. You know, her first real date and all ... nothing to it." Yeah, just keep telling this to yourself, warrior. ".. Besides ... she is ten years younger than me. ... It would ... never work."
Cyrene heard the final note in Xena's quiet voice. "You're sure?"
"We're best friends. ... And that's all I want from her." Xena's voice became a whisper. "I can't loose this."
Before Cyrene could response her daughter got up and left the inn. The darkness outside swallowing her within seconds.
"Oh honey, don't turn away from the best thing that might ever happened to you."
The square was packed with laughing, moving and watching bodies. A thick carpet of voices and music had settled. And it was impossible to lead a conversation without yelling. Young couples were dancing on a platform set up near the band and everybody had a marvellous time.
Gabrielle loved it.
It would have been perfect if Xena had been with them. But her tall friend hadn't shown up so far. Maybe she's with someone. And they wanted their privacy. She frowned. For some reason that thought bothered her. But before she could think about it Perdicus showed up, two mugs of cider in his hands and a huge smile on his face.
Everybody had congratulated him on his date and he couldn't help but notice how beautiful Gabrielle looked in the green dress. Her long blonde hair kept in a loose knot at the back of her neck. Yup, sure am lucky.
"Hey, Gabrielle .. I bought us something to drink."
"Thanks." She accepted with a shy smile. They had danced non-stop until now and she was more than ready for a break. Mmh...maybe...
"Perdicus....." Dark eyes turned her way. "Would you .. like to .. maybe ... go for a walk? I could use a break."
Yes!!! "Sure, Gabrielle. If that's what you want .... "
They left the crowded and noisy square behind and headed for a small path to the back of the town. The sky was cloudless and so the full moon was shining undisturbed.
The silvery moonlight bright enough to make out every detail around them, although it was nearing midnight.
They stopped at a huge birch tree and Gabrielle leaned against it. Her eyes tracing the myriad of stars overhead. Looking for the shapes Xena and she had found just a couple of weeks ago.
Again that strange feeling. Why does it feel like things changed between us?
"....had a lot of fun."
She came back with a start and looked at Perdicus with an apologising smile. "Sorry ... I was just thinking. What did you say?"
"I said I had a lot of fun tonight. ... And when I look around ... nothing here matches the beauty in front of me."
The blonde teenager was sure her face was a deep red and she was surprised it didn't glow. She swallowed nervously as Perdicus took a step closer. Oh gods....
"You know ... there is something that would make this night perfect."
She wasn't able to answer let alone think as she saw him lower his head. She closed her eyes - waiting for the same tingling and heat that had taken hold of her body when Xena had kissed her. She felt his lips on her mouth and ....
Just that. Lips on lips.
Gabrielle blinked her eyes open. Hoping her confusion and disappointment didn't show in her face. Obviously it didn't because Perdicus smiled at her and took her hand. "Come on, let's go back."
She allowed herself to be led away. Her mind still trying to find out what had been missing. It was romantic, wasn't it? Sure, full moon, we were dancing .... he was nice and kind ... gentle ... Why didn't it feel a special as it did with Xena?
Lyceus put down the axe and started collecting the logs he had been chopping for the last two hours.
You would think I'm the only man in this family capable of chopping wood. What about Toris?! He's stronger than me! Or Xena! She sure is stronger than me - or Toris. .... Gods I hate this!!
He threw the last log on the stack of wood with an angry grunt.
He wasn't really upset about the work. Actually it was a nice way to get his anger out of his body without harming anyone else. He had snapped at Xena earlier today and had got one of those 'looks' and a low: "Don't start with me!" So, chopping wood was a lot safer and a lot more satisfying. It was just ....
Ever since that ... that ... jerk Perdicus had showed up everything had changed.
Xena was hardly home anymore and Gabrielle was only talking about that .... that guy. After the first two weeks he had run out of expletives.
The young man sighed and dropped down on the chopping block. It was just some silly crush he had on the small blonde, he knew that - and he knew that he would never have a chance with her but seeing Gabrielle with Perdicus...
It hurt nevertheless.
He was happy for her. There was no doubt about that. Of course he was - someone as special as Gabrielle deserved someone who loved her and took care of her. He'd only hoped that he could be that someone. But obviously Perdicus and Gabrielle were really serious about this relationship thing.
He sighed again and got up.
His pale eyes looking around until they spotted the tall dark form at the stable, working with a foal.
And Xena didn't seem to like Perdicus either. She usually excused herself whenever he showed up and last weekend when he'd come over for dinner she'd hardly said a word. He wasn't sure what his sister didn't like about Perdicus. Whenever he tried to talk with her about it she changed the topic.
Whatever. All that matters is that Gab is happy. And he had to admit that she seemed to be happy with Perdicus.
- 13 -
Pale blues watched rays of sunlight sparkle on the frozen surface of the lake. Causing the ice to glitter brightly. She watched her breath evaporate as gently curling steam and felt the biting cold on her face and unprotected hands but chose to ignore it.
It was quiet around her. Now and then sounds of softly sighing branches broke through the silence but other than that she was alone. With her thoughts and the quiet sadness that she carried around with her since autumn.
She had got a letter last week. One of her friends from the Academy had written her - telling her that he and some other friends were joining an army against the Romans. He'd asked her to come with them. They would need her help.
Her first reaction was to refuse. But then she thought about it. And she decided to at least travel to Athens to meet them and to get more information. Now all she had to do was telling mum.
She'll hardly know I'm gone. Now that she has Perdicus. Her face became grim and she closed her eyes against the pain she felt inside. It's for the best. ... It'll give me a chance to get over .... whatever ... and she and Perdicus ... Just the thought of them together ....
Gods. She never felt as helpless as she did at this moment. Part of her wanted to drop to her knees in front of the small blonde and confess an undying love. But another part was convinced that Gabrielle deserved better than her. Someone who could provide her with a safe home, a stable life.
She opened her eyes and exhaled. Her eyes taking in the sight in front of her. Trees covered by frost. Painting them in glittering white.
A silent sigh and she got up. Her decision made.
"Gabrielle, can we talk?"
The blonde teenager looked up and smiled at the young man standing in front of her.
Perdicus sat down next to her and took a deep breath. He met her questioning gaze for a brief moment and looked down on the ground again.
Gabrielle sat on a bench in the backyard of the inn. Sheltered enough to ward off the early winter cold.
She watched Perdicus swallow and felt a nervous flutter inside her stomach.
"Gabrielle ... we .... " He looked up and took one of her hands. Oh gods. "You know, that I really like you. A lot. And ... I mean, I know you're only fourteen and ... I ... I don't want to .... pressure you into something here but ... "
Gabrielle frowned puzzled and shook her head. "What are you talking about, Perdicus?"
Brown eyes met hers. "Marry me." There, he said it.
For a moment all she could think of was how to breathe - and then she became aware of a chilly breeze that caressed her face. She heard faint sounds of birds and from far away children's laughter.
Then her mind focused on the young man in front of her again and she swallowed. "Ma ... marry you?"
Perdicus frowned. Somehow that wasn't the reaction he had been looking for. Wasn't she supposed to be happy?
"Yes. ... I mean ... not tomorrow or anything but I'd like for us to make this ..." He gestured between them. ".. kinda official, you know?"
"I ... um, I don't know what to say, really." Gabrielle rubbed a hand across her face. Overwhelmed by the entire situation. Marry? Gods, she wasn't ready for something like that, was she? She wanted to do so much. The Academy of Bards in Athens ... and she wanted to travel. See the world beyond Amphipolis.
Perdicus straightened and released her hand. "Well, ... a 'yes' would be nice." His voice had lost its soft tone and gained a colder edge.
She stood up, taking a few steps away from him. Trying to sort through her emotions. Just then Xena entered the yard - a set, distant look on her face. She stopped short when she saw them. Her eyes meeting Gabrielle's for a long moment. Then she nodded wordlessly towards them and entered the inn.
Leaving the small blonde even more confused than before. She felt that something was about to happen and at the moment she didn't want to think about Perdicus' proposal but go in there and talk to her older friend. Something they seemed to do less and less lately.
She started at the voice behind her and turned to Perdicus. "Sorry ... I was just .... " She shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry Perdicus but I can't ... think about this right now. Okay? Give me some time. Please?"
She didn't wait for his response and headed into the inn. Leaving him standing in the cold backyard - unsure if he should be upset or disappointed.
Xena folded another shirt and put it into her bag along with a small dagger. Her eyes roaming over her small room wistfully.
"You're not coming back, are you?"
The quiet voice sounded behind her and she took a deep breath before she turned around. Steeling herself against sad green eyes she knew were looking at her.
She forced a smile on her face. "Sure I am. ... I'm only meeting some friends and ... "
"No you're not." Gabrielle interrupted her. Entering the room with hesitant steps.
Gods, she wasn't ready for this conversation. "It's what I do. ... I'm a warrior and they need my help."
"So, you are going to join that army."
Xena turned around and closed her bag, shouldering it. She kept her back to Gabrielle and closed her eyes against the pain the next words she was about to say would cause her younger friend.
"I'm twenty four ... it's about time I start my own life, you know. ... I can't live for the rest of my life at my mother's inn. ... Maybe find someone I .. I want to spend my life with. You know, stuff like that."
Dead silence. Then she heard a soft gasp. "Oh."
She turned around just in time to see Gabrielle wipe away tears. Her jaw clenched and her grip on her bag tightened.
They looked at each other silently. Faint sounds of birds floating through the window. Sunlight playing in blonde and dark locks.
Then Gabrielle moved forward and Xena was unable to keep her distance as she wrapped her arms around the sobbing frame. Closing her eyes. Taking in their closeness and Gabrielle's warm body for a long aching moment.
A soft voice drifted up to her. "I'm going to ... to miss you so much."
She pulled back a little and looked into hurting green eyes. Her hands travelling quite without her permission to Gabrielle's face. Wiping at tears and feeling that incredible soft skin. "Don't cry, please? ... I'm going to write, okay? And I try to visit as often as I can."
The blonde head moved in a nod and she felt Gabrielle's arms tighten around her again.
Pale blue and green met and Xena gently tilted Gabrielle's head up and ducked her own. Letting her lips brush against the blonde's for a short sweet kiss. Imprinting the sensation into her mind and heart. Keeping her eyes closed she whispered: "Goodbye, little one." And without another look back she turned and left her room. Knowing as she mounted Argo and rode out of Amphipolis that she left a part of her soul in that small room.
- 14 -
She was surrounded by hundreds of soldiers. She saw them fighting, saw their swords clanking against each other. Saw horses rear and knew they were neighing in loud desperate voices as arrows pierced through their hides. She saw comrades ... friends ... enemies sliced open by already bloody blades. Knew they were crying out in pain. Shrill, hoarse screams. Knew that all around her hoarse, husky voices were shouting orders.
But all she could hear was her blood pounding in her ears.
Were the slight noises her armour made with every move.
Was the soft sound her sword made as she withdraw its blade from another bloody chest.
All she heard was the soft chuckle that escaped her as she watched the dead body drop down onto crimson-coloured grass.
The scent of blood and burned skin lay heavily all around her and she breathed it in with a smile.
Closing her eyes and laying her head back. Enjoying the soft drizzle that had started as it hit her face. Hearing in that strange quiet that surrounded her the soft splashing sounds the raindrops made as they burst on her skin.
Gods, it felt good.
She was drowning in a sea of darkness and violence and she embraced it gratefully because it drowned out any thoughts and emotions.
The pain inside.
It numbed her soul. And that was all she was looking for.
She opened her eyes again and looked around. Spotting another Roman soldier. But this one had 'scared' written all over his youthful features and she lifted a teasing eyebrow.
"Wanna play, little soldier boy?"
They had set up camp and the men were still abuzz with stories of the battle. Untrained voices singing old songs and the entire army floating on a high after yet another successful battle.
Not that it matters, right? Xena mused, while cleaning the last piece of her armour. They might won battles but Greece was losing the war. Rome had conquered almost three quarters of the mainland and their biggest army was marching steadily towards Athens.
Crushing every single Greek army on the way. That her own army hadn't fallen yet was mostly her merit. Her men simply followed her and her unwavering belief in her abilities.
Oh, she had heard of armies that had surrendered and she knew that they were fighting a losing battle but .... She'd be damned if she surrendered to those Romans!
Not as long as I'm able to lift a sword! She put her armour away and let her eyes stray over the camp.
Every time she entered a battle and survived she felt invincible. She was filled with a power and energy she could actually feel burning through her veins.
There was no pain. There was no shame. Only her need to succeed and defeat.
She felt alive.
This was what she had always dreamed of. Leading an army. Seeing the respect her men had for her in their eyes.
And only at night when she was alone and her mind calmed down did she start wondering. Came those countless, nameless faces back to haunt her dreams. Did she question her actions. But she was doing a good thing, wasn't she? She fought for the freedom of Greece. Surely that had to be a good enough cause?
And only sometimes when she was overwhelmed by her guilt, pain and memories of killing - was she very close to giving up.
All she had to do then was close her eyes and she was swallowed up by shining green eyes and bright smiles ... soft touches ... lilting laughter ... and a gentle voice .... asking her the same question over and over again: "You're not coming back, are you?" And at those time she heard her own voice answer - tired and desperate: "No, I'm not. ... no I'm not...."
Pale blue eyes closed and Xena buried her face in her hands hoping to ease the ache in her chest.
She'd been gone for two years - and she hadn't visited once. Or written a letter. For all she knew her mother probably thought she was dead.
"...Gabrielle..." A pained whisper. Almost a desperate prayer. But it vanished unheard like so many before. She couldn't return home. She couldn't face Gabrielle with the memories of what she had done.
What she had become.
Even her men were afraid of her. Her fierceness in a fight. The way she lost herself ... her soul ... every single bit of light there might have been inside of her ...
Her eyes opened. A pale icy colour. Hard. Without any emotion.
This was her family now. That was all she needed.
"Hey Xena ..." The husky voice sounded from the large campfire in the middle of a circle of tents. "We just opened a new barrel of ale. ... C'mon join us."
She doesn't need me anymore. She'd probably married Perdicus .. maybe she even has a little baby by now. .... She's happy without me. ... She doesn't need to see the monster I am.
She got up. But just the thought of him touching Gabrielle....
She shook the image off and sauntered over to her men. Already the scent of ale and roasted meat assaulting her senses. Her men moved to give her some space - their dull, aged eyes shining with awe and well-deserved respect.
A mug of ale was handed to her and she took a deep gulp. The liquid burning down her throat. Igniting a fire of a different kind inside her stomach.
Getting drunk would help in numbing her mind. And maybe....
Her eyes strayed over the faces of her men. And the few women that had joined her army from several amazon villages.
And maybe she would have some fun later on.
That the sex usually left her feeling even more empty and craving for more than pure physical relief was a thought she pushed far away for now. She would deal with that afterwards. All she wanted to do now was to drown in nothingness and meaningless physical closeness.
Hoping to escape those dreams and that haunting pair of sad green eyes.
Shy, first rays of light broke through the last remains of a cloudy night-sky. Wandering slowly across deep green hills, ancient, swaying treetops and the village square. Painting everything in their way in a soft pink. Birds were awakening and ruffling their feathers. Their first calls echoing gently through the still sleeping village. To be answered by hoarse barks of dogs that were already strolling around, looking for food. Cats were stretching slim bodies, enjoying the soft warmth on their furs.
It was a beautiful and peaceful morning.
Met by thoughtful green eyes, watching the rosy rays creeping across the floor and up onto the bed. Spreading across her bedding.
A soft sigh and she rested her chin on her forearm. Just to utter a soft sound of pain and to curl up into a tight ball, her arms covering her stomach.
"Gods, I hate this." The cramp eased and she exhaled in relief. And then she smiled when she remembered the first time she ever had to go through this. Thank the gods, Xena had been there.
She'd awoken at night - her entire body one large cramp. At least that's what it had felt like. She'd got up and her eyes had widened in shock when she noticed bloodstains on her sheets.
She'd almost fainted and after the first moment of panic stormed into Xena's room across from hers.
Sleep-dazed and slightly confused blue eyes had looked at her and her tall friend had grumbled something about finding a better time to do that. Xena had lit a candle and had listened to her for a few moments - and then a soft chuckle had escaped her and she'd stood up and ruffled her hair.
"C'mere little one ... What did we talk about just the other week?"
"Um ... Toris and Varia ... and how she ... " A soft blush, noticeable even in the dim light. "...she'd got pregnant."
"Right .. and what did I say happens to women at a certain age? .. What has to happen so they can get pregnant?"
She'd thought about that for a moment and then she blushed further. Closing her eyes in embarrassment. She'd mumbled something and had desperately hoped Xena wouldn't make her repeat it.
And she hadn't. Gabrielle's smile turned sad and she closed her eyes. She'd shown her what she needed to do at those times and then she had made her a tea to help against the cramps.
Pale green eyes opened again.
By now the sun was shining brightly and she heard the sounds of the awakening village. Laughter, calling voices. Sheep and horses. Dogs.
Gods she missed her so much - sometimes she hurt just thinking about Xena. Crying herself to sleep wondering why her friend didn't write or visit. What caused her to stay away.
Please. She begged of any god that listened. Don't let her be ... Just thinking it... She swallowed. Don't let her be dead or hurt. Please! Let .. even if she found someone to ... someone she loves ... anything .. Just let her be all right.
A soft sob escaped her and she buried her face in her pillow. I miss you so much!
His lips were moving slowly down her throat. Kissing her neck. His hands tugging at the laces that kept her dress closed.
It was... Gabrielle frowned and started squirming. I don't...
"...I don't want this, Perdicus...."
It took a moment before the words registered with him. He looked up, his dark eyes frustrated.
She shrugged and ran a hand through blonde locks. Avoiding his eyes and moving away from his body. How to explain that it wasn't his lips she wanted to feel on her body? Not his hands caressing her skin?
That it wasn't him she dreamed about at night.
"Gods ... Gabrielle ... it's been two years. ... There is nothing wrong ... Is it something I did ... or said?"
She shook her head. She didn't mean to hurt him and she knew that he really cared about her. He was kind and courteous but....
"I'm just not ready for .. this ..." She gestured between them.
"Fine." He huffed. Getting up from the bed and reaching for his shirt. His moves short and angry.
He turned to her for a brief look and then shook his head. Shrugging his shoulders he showed a nonchalance he obviously wasn't feeling. "I said it's fine, Gabrielle. ... See you tomorrow."
She watched him leave and sighed. Gods, this was getting to much...
Perdicus drummed his fingers on the surface of the table and frowned. He had been waiting for some time now and started to get impatient. This was happening more often, lately.
Gabrielle came late to their dates or found excuses why they couldn't see each other. Any attempts he'd made to do more than just kissing or touching were met by shaking blonde locks and the same answer: "I'm just not ready for this."
Hades. He'd been patient but there was only so much he could take and ... I love her. She loves me. There's nothing wrong about doing it!
His frown deepened as a tall sandy-haired man came to his table - a slight smirk playing around his lips.
"Waiting for Gabrielle?"
Perdicus bit his tongue to stop an angry response. "Yup."
"Well .. could take some time ... she's down at the river with a few other girls. Washing clothes." The smirk got more noticeable.
Lyceus knew he probably shouldn't enjoy this as much as he did but ... damn, it felt good to see that look on Perdicus' face.
"What? ... We were suppose to meet here." The dark-haired man got up.
Trouble in paradise, huh? ... Aw, too bad... Inside Lyceus was chuckling softly. "Maybe she forgot about it."
Dark eyes met pale blue and Lyceus lifted a brow at the challenge he saw in them. C'mon buddy, I've been waiting for this for two years.
But Perdicus took a step away from the taller man and shrugged. "Maybe." Without another look he left the inn. Leaving a triumphantly smirking Lyceus.
"What are you grinning about?"
His mother's amused voice sounded behind him. Oops. He turned and tried to force an innocent expression on his face. Knowing he failed miserably. So he shrugged.
"Seems Perdicus and Gabrielle have some .. I don't know ... problems .. stuff, you know."
Cyrene sighed and sat down. Oh yeah, she knew. Ever since Xena had left, Gabrielle hadn't been the same. She was very quiet and she smiled a lot less. Always a faraway and sad look in those green eyes.
Cyrene started slightly and looked up. Meeting Lyceus' concerned gaze.
"Just thinking. ... Yeah, I noticed it, too."
"Mmh." Lyceus mused. "Maybe, I should talk to her...."
Despite herself Cyrene chuckled. "You want to talk about love with Gabrielle?" She watched Lyceus blush and drop his head. "Never mind, honey .... I think there's only one person she wants to talk to, anyway."
"You're right ... I think, she misses Xena very much." So did he but even he had noticed how close they had been.
"Do .. do you think she's okay? .. Xena, I mean."
Cyrene rested her chin on her hand and exhaled softly. "... I don't know, Ly. ... But knowing Xena ... yeah I think she's all right. She needs some time to work through a few things. That's just her way of doing it." Her eyes wandered to the window nearby. Tracing a few clouds overhead.
And knowing Xena, she suspected her daughter was just too stubborn to admit what she was feeling.
It didn't take Aphrodite to see that the small blonde was in love with Xena. She might not recognise the signs yet but by the way she had behaved around Perdicus for some time now Cyrene suspected the realisation would come to her sooner or later. And the sad part was that everything Xena had been afraid of ... Gabrielle not wanting her ... had been unnecessary.
Cyrene shook her head sadly. Oh honey, sometimes life doesn't give you a second chance.
Gabrielle sat near the river. Watching leaves and small twigs float by. Closing her eyes she laid her head back and enjoyed the warmth of the sun.
Perdicus had left a short while ago. Not very happy with what she had told him. A soft sigh stirred the air. Actually he'd been really upset. Not understanding why she had to leave.
But she just felt that Xena needed her. There were no words to explain this feeling but it pulled at her soul. Away from Amphipolis.
Away from Perdicus.
He was nice and she was sure one day he would be a perfect husband for some girl. Just not for her. She didn't love him. She cared for him, sure. But...
She had thought about all the time they had spent together. And she had compared what she was feeling then with what she had been feeling being close to Xena.
I should have known it from the first kiss. She mused thoughtfully. No touch, no kiss felt even close to what Xena had awoken in her with that one, brief kiss over two years ago.
Soft splashing sounds brought her back from her musings and she opened her eyes to see a family of ducks wading through the shallow water near the riverbank. Small, fluffy ducklings stumbling after their mother. Quacking eagerly.
A delighted laugh escaped her and she leaned forward. Her eyes dancing merrily at the sight.
Then her smile turned sad. It were moments like this when she wanted nothing more than turn to her friend. Showing her little delights like this. Seeing her face break into that bright smile she so seldomly used.
A small hand brushed blonde bangs to the side and she got up slowly. And with a last look at the small animals she left.
Her mind already trying to figure out what clothes she'd be needing.
- 15 -
Lyceus sat down on the bed in surprised shock. "Are ... are you sure about this?"
Pale green eyes met his gaze and a pair of shoulders shrugged. "I ... I don't know, Ly. But ... I do know ... that I need to find her. ... I can't explain it... "
A hand ran through dishevelled sandy-blond locks. "You love her."
Gabrielle stopped what she was doing and turned thoughtful green eyes towards him. There was a look of almost childlike wonder on her startlingly open face. Her blonde hair shining brightly as the sun broke through the window and across her head. It was ... Lyceus swallowed ... to have someone look at you like that ....
"Yes. .... " A shy whisper and a gentle, soft smile appeared on her lips. "Yes, I love her."
The small blonde sighed and sat down next to him. "I told him yesterday ... he ... I don't think he understands it but .... It's not him I want to be with."
Lyceus put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her gently. "Hey, I understand. ... And I'm .... I really hope you find her ... and you know, things work out." That earned him a small, warm hand that stroked his face in a brief caress. And a soft kiss on his cheek.
"Um, well ... " He had to clear his throat, knowing he was blushing. His legs crossing in an unconscious gesture. "Do that again and I'm not going to let you go."
Gabrielle laughed softly and got up. "Not even Hercules could keep me away from her, Ly."
A knock on the door and Cyrene poked her head into the room. "Hey cutie.." She held out a package. The air already filled with the scent of freshly baked....
Cyrene chuckled and handed it to a broadly smiling Gabrielle. "And don't eat it all at once."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the not so subtle reminder of her already famous appetite.
The older woman's face turned serious and she gave her silently watching son a quick look. It took him a moment before a clue hit him and he stumbled to his feet. "Um, I ... I ... " He waved his hands and left with a helpless shrug towards his mother. Who rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Not very subtle is he?" Gabrielle remarked with a smile.
"No." Cyrene took a deep breath and taking one of Gabrielle's hands sat down on the bed. "Cutie ... do you really want to do this?"
Gabrielle frowned a little. She'd thought Cyrene approved of her decision and .... "Yes, I am. Why?"
"I worry about you. You're going to be all alone out there and .. the gods know what could happen." Cyrene looked at Gabrielle for a long silent moment. Trying to compare the young woman in front of her with the small five year old she'd first met. So much about her had changed.
And yet so much had stayed the same.
She carried an inner strength that never ceased to amaze the older woman. But Cyrene was afraid Gabrielle's open way of approaching people could get her hurt in so many ways.
Inquiring green eyes looked at her and Cyrene sighed. "Just .. promise me to be careful, all right?" I don't want to be the one to tell Xena when she returns that something happened to you while you were out looking for her.
Gabrielle hugged the older woman tightly and took in the scent that so characterised Cyrene. A mixture of herbs and clean cloth. Flour and sugar. A scent that forever would mean home to her.
- 16 -
Strange how the scent of blood sticks to you - no matter how many times you wash your body. It's like it stuck in every single pore of your skin. Reminding you of what you've done.
What you are.
The water was hot enough to steam gently. Disguising the tall occupant of the tub. There were soft sounds floating in through the walls of the tent but she decided to ignore them. Hoping to find some quiet time.
So, that was it. Their last battle. Tomorrow. And she knew they didn't really have a chance.
And she was disgusted at herself for not even trying to be afraid. She'd already accepted the fact that she was going to die tomorrow.
Pale eyes disappeared behind heavy lids and a deep sigh stirred the quiet air. Causing steam to curl in surprise.
It was as simple as that.
Her body hurt from all the wounds and scratches she'd got in battle. She felt so much older than her actually twenty seven years.
But more than that did she hurt inside. So bad. She wanted to be strong. But....
The only reason she'd ever had - ever needed - didn't need her anymore. Oh gods, little one ... I could really use a hug. ... I want to see you again. Hold you if only for a second. There's so much I want to tell you. ... So much I should have told you two years ago. ... That's really all I want but ...
"... I'm tired of fighting, Gabrielle...."
Tired of waking up in the morning ... tired of killing ... tired of breathing...
Tired of living.
Of being alone. Knowing that she couldn't have the one she so desperately wanted. Needed.
Pale eyes traced the edges of a sword nearby. Dark, crimson-coloured spots still visible. Her ears ringing with screams and pleas. With the sounds of metal against metal. Her mind alive with images of bloody bodies. Sliced open chests. Cut off arms and legs. Dying eyes. Soft sighs of last breaths. Her hands feeling cold skin of friends. Remembering warm blood running through shaking fingers.
The tall form sat up with a pained gasp and the dark head buried in a pair of hands.
" ... oh gods, Gabrielle ... help me...."
"... you know Xena, when I find you ... you are so gonna owe me for this." Gabrielle grumbled and continued rolling up her sleeping bag and the blanket she slept on. She had been on the road for almost a week now and she still felt like every single rock in the forest decided to creep under her furs at night.
Her bruises having bruises of their own by now.
The first two days she had tagged along a couple of traders on their way to the west and they had told her that the battles were getting fewer now that Rome seemed to control almost all of Greece. Only a few armies around Athens kept on fighting. Managing to do some damage to the Roman army. Not much. And not nearly enough to stop the Roman advance.
And they told her about a female captain that led one of the most successful Greek armies.
And she just knew that it had to be Xena.
So, all she had to do now was finding her. Those traders had called her insane to even attempt entering the warzone but ...
Deep down inside she knew Xena needed her. She felt it almost as physical pain. A pull that wouldn't quiet down until she'd found her friend.
No matter what happened afterwards. If she would tell Xena how she felt... Just being with Xena...She knew for better or worse they had to be together. Everything else ....
Gabrielle sighed and pale green eyes lifted, tracing a bird floating overhead the small clearing she'd found last night. Its soft cries echoing through the still quiet forest. Nearby she heard the gentle murmuring of a small lake.
She'd stayed at an inn in Kyparissos yesterday and luckily enough the owner had agreed to her offer to pay for her room and a warm dinner with some stories.
And his guests actually liked them. Asking her for more. That had felt nice.
But now ... just the thought of fish made her stomach grumble.
Xena could catch fish barehanded. She was eleven when her taller friend had showed her this skill. One of many as she had added smugly. And then Xena had thrown the wet, flipping fish into her face. Ugh ... that had been gross. Gabrielle smiled.
Yeah ... but it had been one of the best days ever, too.
She shook the memory off, feeling tears stinging her eyes. I am going to find her ... and boy does she ever have some explaining to do...
She tied a piece of string around the furs to keep them closed and stood up. Stretching her small frame. Stiff after yet another uncomfortable night on the unfamiliar hard ground. Her hands ran through her long blonde locks and she shook her head to loosen them up a bit. Then brushed a few stray locks behind her ears.
Then she sighed and looked around. She left Kyparissos yesterday and the man at the inn had said to head south.
"...south he says...great...where's south?"
"Well honey, I'd sure be happy to show you."
With a little scream she turned around to see a group of seven men. All of them wearing armour. Clean and well cared for. Their faces cleanly shaven. Unusual for Greek soldiers. Oh gods...
One of them took a step closer and she was able to see a small crest on his chest armour. An eagle on a standard, the words S.P.O.R. carved into the shimmering gold.
It were soft cries that had woken her. She'd jerked upright trying to get her bearing. By the time she'd kicked her mind into working she'd been out of her bed and her room, across the hall and into Gabrielle's room. She'd been living with them for about three weeks now and nightmares had been a nightly occurrence.
She'd seen the small frame trash wildly in her bed. Obviously having a nightmare.
"Little one..." She'd crouched next to the bed and rested a soothing hand on a small shaking shoulder. "Hey ... ssh ... you're safe."
With a soft scream Gabrielle had awoken. Her eyes filled with fear and panic - but the moment they recognised the tall, dark form next to her bed a sob had escaped her and she'd thrown her small frame into Xena's arms.
"...don't let me go..."
She'd swallowed and held her tightly. "Never, little one."
Climbing into bed with Gabrielle she'd kept up her soothing rubbing of Gabrielle's back. Brushing wet bangs from a flushed face. Dropping a soft kiss on her head she'd whispered....
"...never..." A hoarse whisper as Xena dropped down next to one of her men.
"This wasn't supposed to happen, Costas."
The old man coughed, blood running from his lips in thin lines. His brown eyes slowly glazing over. "It's war, girl ... people die." Another cough. His entire body shaking violently.
Xena closed her eyes. But it didn't help against the images she knew were surrounding them. Her army - slaughtered. For one of her men there had been ten Roman soldiers.
"..friends weren't supposed to die..."
A trembling, weak hand lifted and cupped her cheek with bloody fingers. "I couldn't .... have ... died .. with more ... ho ... honour. ..."
"Honour?" Xena's voice was unbelieving.
The grey head moved in a slight nod. "Honour, Xena. ... You gave those men pride and honour ... don't ... ... this was ... a good cause to ... to die for ... You ... made it so..."
Pale blue eyes clearly showed their reluctance to accept the words but the dying man shook his head again. His fading voice becoming urgent.
"Go ... and find her...Xena..."
Dark locks shook in vehement denial.
"Xena .... " The hand dropped to the ground with a soft thud. Another cough. "Everyone deserves ... deserves love. .... Everyone...." A fading whisper.
She was beyond tears by now. She rested her hand on his face, closing his dead eyes. She sat next to his dead body for a long time. Long enough for the sun to rise to its highest point. Long enough for the blood on her hands and face to dry.
When she finally got up her eyes traced over the battlefield. Over hundreds of dead bodies. Looking down at herself, she lifted her sword.
"..everyone...." A desperate whisper.
She mounted Argo and let the mare lead the way. Not really caring where they were going. Her mind was numb and her soul was crying out for someone to put it back together again.
It was Argo's urgent neigh that brought her back to the here and now. She looked around expecting to see someone attacking them but the forest surrounding them was quiet.
"Hey girl ... what's the matter, huh? ... There's noth...."
She didn't finish the sentence as a noise caught her attention. It was low but .... She concentrated. Yeah, there it was again.
"Good girl." She praised the horse and got down. Leading Argo to the side. "You stay here. I'm going to look what this is all about."
Argo snorted and nudged her side. Obviously not happy with Xena's decision. A large hand rubbed the pale head and Xena smiled. The gesture feeling strange after.... Gods, when was the last time you smiled, warrior? "Now Argo, don't argue with me, okay? ... I'll be right back."
With that she turned and headed towards a small clearing where she'd heard the noise. As she got closer she could make out voices. Men. Maybe a handful of them. And....
A woman's voice. Xena's face turned into a frown. The voice sounded strangely familiar. Almost....
She took a few more steps closer. Now she could make out words. The voices getting louder and...
Her heart froze for a small eternity. Just to triple its pace. ...Gabrielle...
Gabrielle backed slowly away from the advancing man. Hoping to come up with something ... anything .... to say.
"I ... um ... I really ... uh ... appreciate the offer but .... um, ..." Think, think, think!!! "You know, my friend ... she'll be coming back now .. any minute, really and um... she knows ... the way. So thank you for .. your offer but ...."
"I don't remember making an offer, blondie."
Gabrielle swallowed and backed away further - just to end up against a tree. "You don't? Oh ... well but .. I don't really need ...."
The man chuckled. "Oh honey ... I know exactly what you need." The other men behind him started laughing as well. Their hoarse voice stirring the quiet forest.
Gabrielle looked around in a desperate attempt to find an escape. Isn't this the part in all those stories were the hero shows up? But there was no hero. And she was pretty sure there wouldn't be one any time soon. The man got closer and she could smell sweat and ale. Blood and dirt.
"Touch her and I swear you'll be begging to the gods that you were never born."
The low voice sounded somewhere behind them and Gabrielle tilted her head. The voice sounded strangely familiar.
The Roman soldier in front of her whirled around. His hand already reaching for his sword.
And then a tall dark form emerged from the undergrowth - and Gabrielle felt like fainting. Oh gods, please let it be real!
Pale eyes surveyed the scene in front of her and although her insides where in a tumult she tried to keep her face expressionless. But she couldn't stop herself from searching those pale green eyes than she could stop breathing. And despite the situation they were in or anything that had happened today, there was only one thought in her mind for that one eternal moment their gazes met. ...She's beautiful....
The Roman soldiers looked at each other uncertainly. Not sure what to make of the tall form standing there. Covered in blood and gore. Midnight-dark hair wisping around an unreadable yet breathtakingly beautiful face.
One of them cleared his throat. "Come on Marius, let's go. ... She's not worth it." Pale blue eyes met his. A fire blazing in them that made him take a step back.
But Marius, the man that had advanced Gabrielle earlier only snorted. No way was he going to run from ... some woman. He rested his sword on his shoulder and lifted a brow at Xena. "What are you going to do to stop me, huh?"
Xena smiled. A bright almost gentle smile. So in contrast to the cold in her eyes. "Oh... I'm not sure yet. Maybe taking you apart limb by limb .... Or I start with that little piece of flesh you're obviously thinking with. You know .. bit by bit. And I'm going to take my time, too." Another flash of white.
Despite himself Marius cleared his throat. His eyes roaming over the dark figure once more and then he turned slightly to look at his men.
Most of them already backing away. The whole situation hadn't been their idea in the first place and they would be damned to let themselves cut into pieces by that ... that woman. Just because of some girl.
Marius huffed in disgust and turned back to Xena. "You're bluffing."
The dark head tilted to one side. "Wanna find out?"
She withdraw her sword from its place on her back and lifted a questioning brow. C'mon soldier boy, do me the favour.
Marius pursed his lips. Then turned towards Gabrielle. She was a nice piece of flesh but ... another look at Xena. This bitch is obviously crazy ... and a fuck, no matter how good, wasn't worth dying for. He dropped his sword and lifted a placating hand. "Hey .. just wanted to have our fun ... but ... she's not worth fighting over."
Xena's face became a stony mask and she took a few steps closer to the man. Topping him by at least a few inches. "That's were you're wrong." A quiet deadly tone. She's worth dying for. ... Worth living for...
He laughed. His voice sounding ominously high-pitched and he motioned his men to turn. With another look back at Xena they disappeared into the woods.
And then there was only quiet and two sets of breathing.
And then she drowned in a pair of green eyes and a small frame propelled itself into her arms. Sobbing helplessly. "You're alive. .... Oh gods ... you're alive..."
Am I? She felt Gabrielle warm, living form move, her scent already invading her senses and she closed her eyes. Yes I am. Now....
She had no idea how long they stood there. It was long enough for Argo to find them. Long enough for darkness to fall around them. Long enough for Gabrielle to quiet down.
She rubbed a hand across her face. Long enough for the tears on her own face to dry.
She exhaled and ducked her head to look at the quiet face buried against her chest. "Hey .... c'mon ... I'm all bloody."
A muffled whisper. "...don't care ... you're here..."
Xena swallowed. "At least .. let's sit down first, okay? And I need .. to get out of this armour and leather."
The small frame moved very reluctantly and then Gabrielle looked at her. A small hand cupping her cheek hesitantly, brushing a few dark lock away. "...are you real?..."
Xena covered the hand on her face with her own. "You bet I am. ... C'mon." She looked around. "That's good enough a place to make camp."
Gabrielle moved to a fallen tree trunk and sat down slowly. Her eyes never leaving Xena's moving form. She watched her silently as the taller woman started setting up camp. Lighting a fire and starting to take off her armour. Struggling with a buckle. "...stubborn piece of ..."
She smiled and got up again. "Let me help."
Before Xena could response a pair of small hands busied themselves with her armour. She looked down at the pale head. Her heart beating wildly in her chest. So much so she was surprised Gabrielle didn't hear it. The buckle finally gave in and she dropped her armour. Briefly meeting Gabrielle's eyes. "Thanks..."
She cleared her throat and looked around. "Is there ... a lake or a river nearby?"
"Yeah .. just down there." She pointed the way.
"Okay ... um ..." She motioned to her bloody body and leathers. "..I'm going to go wash up a bit."
Pale green eyes followed her. Gabrielle debated with herself for a moment but then she called out: "Do you ... mind ... um .. if I join you?" Seeing Xena hesitate she added: "I don't really like to be alone right now."
Xena's throat moved visibly but the dark head nodded. "Sure."
Gabrielle caught up with her and they headed in the direction of the small lake.
"Do they hurt?"
Xena cleared her throat, trying to get words passed the lump forming in her throat as she felt warm hands on her back..
Overhead a bright, full moon was shining. Painting the water around them silver but also highlighting the scars on her body in stark white.
Silence behind her and she turned to see a deep frown on Gabrielle's expressive face. "Hey ... I'm fine. Really."
A silent nod.
Xena turned back and headed into the cold water. Her body shocked for a moment but adjusting to the unexpected cold. Without second thought she let herself fall forward. Letting the water wash passed her body, cleaning it from the blood and dirt.
She surfaced to look at Gabrielle - and started laughing at the incredulous look on her face.
"I can't believe you just did that. ... The water must be freezing!"
She continued to laugh. Not quite believing how good it felt to do just that.
She waded out of the water and reached for the towel Gabrielle was handing her. Rubbing her chilled body dry. And warming it up in the process. Very aware of green eyes watching her every move. Warming her in a very different way...
She donned a shirt she had brought with her and finally turned around. To see Gabrielle quickly averting her gaze. A soft blush visible even in the moonlight. Huh?
"You're ready to head back?"
"Oh .. um, yeah sure."
They returned to their camp in comfortable silence. Accompanied by soft sounds of night-creatures. The howling of an owl. The sighing of trees.
They sat down near the fire. The flames quickly drying Xena's leathers and efficiently fighting off any chill the night brought.
Pale blue eyes studied the silent form next to her and she sighed silently. There was so much she wanted to ask Gabrielle. What was she doing here? How did she get here? Why wasn't she with Perdicus? So much ... but it was late. And she was tired.
"Hey, little one ... you're tired?"
Quiet green eyes turned to her and she swallowed. "What?"
"Say it again."
Huh? Say what ... Oh... "Little one."
Those eyes filled with tears and she immediately pulled Gabrielle into a hug.
"I missed you so much, Xena..."
She squeezed the smaller form tightly and closed her eyes. I'm so sorry. She rocked Gabrielle gently. Her hands rubbing her back in a soothing motion until she felt Gabrielle's breathing even out and she knew her younger friend was asleep.
She moved her own body into a more comfortable position. Never releasing the small body in her arms. Not even as sleep claimed her as well.
Silence dropped over the clearing. Now and then broken by soft snorts of a horse. By faint sounds of small creatures. The moonlight falling onto a tightly intertwined pair of bodies - and two small, contented smiles.
- 17 -
It was the powerful, steady heartbeat underneath her ear that woke her. Just to become aware of a pair of strong arms holding her in a secure nest of warm body.
A scent of clean, sleep-warmed skin and leather invaded her senses.
She swallowed - not daring to open her eyes. Don't let it be a dream ... don't let it be a dream ... don't let it be a dream...
Ever so slowly did she open her eyes and saw tanned skin at close range.
In desperate relief she cuddled closer to the body she was draped over. Her sigh warming the chest her face rested on. "Gods... I love waking up like this..." A soft whisper.
Even the heartbeat underneath her ear stopped and she swallowed. Realising that Xena had been awake. She tried to squirm away - thinking she'd gone too far. Said too much already.
But the arms around her only tightened their hold. And then a quiet, low voice floated down to her. "I love ... having you here."
Her turn to stop breathing. But then she exhaled and slowly, hesitantly she looked up.
To meet gentle blue.
And a small, almost incredulous smile.
She swallowed, drowning in a sea of ice-blue and it was so hard not to just....
But Xena must have read something in her eyes because now the tall body under her started to stir. Obviously trying to get up. No, no, no....
She caught Xena's eyes. Her face serious. "Don't you dare."
Puzzled blue eyes narrowed. "Huh?"
"Don't you dare running away from me again. ... Talk to me!"
She saw Xena's throat move as she swallowed and those eyes searched hers with something akin to... She's afraid! Of me?
Xena closed her eyes. There was a part of her - a huge part - that wanted to give up and give in to what she felt happening between them. But there was one small, insistent voice, telling her that Gabrielle deserved better than her. And she had listened to it for such a long time, it was hard denying it now.
"I'm a murderer." Said as it would explain everything. She tried to move again but the weight of the small body resting on top of hers efficiently pinning her in place.
Thoughtful green eyes looked back at her. Threatening to become her whole world. But she couldn't turn away. Not anymore...
"You're a warrior ... a soldier ... you defended yourself."
"Gabrielle ... you don't understand ... I ... " I'm a monster.
A small hand brushed blonde locks behind an ear and then came to rest on her chest. Placed above her heart.
"I know that there is a very dark spot inside of you. And I know that part enjoys fighting. Enjoys the power fighting gives you. ... You killed. I know that, too. ... But there," The small hand tapped on her chest. "There's more than that dark spot. .... So much more. .. There is light, Xena. Enough light to drown out any darkness. ... You're a gentle, caring soul. Don't let anyone ... no - don't tell yourself you're not."
The pale head tilted to one side. "Did you kill children?"
"What!!? Of course not!!"
"People that were completely unable to defend themselves? Or attack you?"
"I can't believe ... No!!"
The small hand moved and cupped her face. "You're a good person, Xena." A gentle, featherlight caress. "You are not the monster you think you are."
Xena swallowed. Unable to break their gaze.
"Please believe me."
Oh gods... She felt a gentle warmth invade her body. Cupping her hurting soul. But there were still those voices - telling her to stop this right now, to leave, to think about everything she'd done, what was best for Gabrielle ... and .. and ....
And her heart did the only thing it could think of. It told them to 'shut up!'
And then there was only quiet.
And a pair of gentle green eyes.
And those soft lips.
And then there was nothing else but Gabrielle and the world around her faded. The only sensation she was aware of soft lips touching hers in a soft, almost hesitant kiss.
She slowly, gently rolled Gabrielle onto her back, deepening their kiss but keeping it undemanding. Her tongue slightly brushing over a trembling lower lip. Asking for entrance....
After a small eternity they broke apart. Gabrielle's eyes closed tightly and her breath uneven. That's what has been missing...
Xena's hand moved to caress that soft skin. Kissing closed eyelids. And that cute, slightly upturned nose. Touching her forehead to Gabrielle's. "...hey..."
Green eyes fluttered open. The look of love in them painfully obvious. "...hey yourself..."
They smiled at each other. Still not aware of anything beyond the space they shared. But reality slowly intruded when Argo trotted near and nudged at Xena. Snorting impatiently.
They laughed softly. "Guess this means we have to get moving, huh?"
But neither of them did. And then Xena ducked her head again. Kissing those soft lips for a brief moment. Her fingers lingering on Gabrielle's face. Marvelling at the softness. She sighed and smiled ruefully. "C'mon."
She moved and stood up. Offering a hand to the small form looking up at her with a gentle smile.
Breakfast consisted of fresh fish Xena had insisted on catching and some dried fruits Gabrielle had found in her bag.
It wasn't much. And yet it was the best breakfast Xena had in what seemed like forever.
She was unable to keep her eyes off of Gabrielle for any length of time. Always assuring herself that she was really there.
Gabrielle on the other hand found herself constantly touching Xena. A gentle touch in passing. Her shoulder resting against Xena's as they sat next to each other. Her hand resting on Xena's forearm as she was relating one thing or another.
At the moment they were sitting at the fire. Their things already packed and Argo waiting patiently for them to start their journey.
"What did Perdicus say?" Xena picked up their conversation after they had sat silently for some time now. She met Gabrielle's eyes only for a brief moment. Still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or maybe to wake up ... Or something ....
"Oh .. um, he didn't understand why I did it. ... He said .... you're old enough to take care of yourself. ..." She shrugged.
Gabrielle frowned at the noncommittal sound and ducked her head to peer at Xena's face.
Distant blue eyes looked at her and the tall frame next to her straightened a bit. "Um ... I ... I understand if you want to return ... to him. You know... You found me, you know I'm all right. ... It's okay...if you want to leave now..." The words were dragged from her but she felt that she needed to give Gabrielle the freedom to choose. No matter what happened earlier.
It took a moment before the words registered with Gabrielle. But then she jumped to her feet.
"What??!! ... Xena! Where were you this morning? .. Return to .... What are you saying?"
Xena swallowed, already regretting her words. She got up as well, trying to calm the upset blonde but Gabrielle pulled away from her touch. Her voice suddenly turning hesitant.
"Don't you want me to be with you? Is .. is that what you mean?" Pained green eyes looked at her and Xena took a deep breath. Trying to calm her suddenly racing heart. You blew it, warrior!
"No .. I ... I just thought ..."
"What? You thought what? Xena ... gods ... I love you. Not him."
The tall frame froze in motion. And it took her a moment to get enough air into her lungs to utter an incredulous: "What?"
Gabrielle ran a slightly trembling hand through her blonde hair. Exhaling slowly. Her eyes sad and strangely defeated. "I love you. ... Why do you think I kissed you this morning?"
Xena was still trying to sort through the chaos in her mind. She loves me.
Gabrielle watched Xena. Not sure what to make of the silence. She angrily wiped at tears. Closing her eyes. And gasped in surprise as she felt a warm hand on her face. Gently caressing her cheek.
"Don't cry. ... don't cry, little one."
She moved forward and buried in Xena's chest. "I'm ... sorry ... I ...."
"Don't! Don't be sorry." Long arms closed around her. And then she felt Xena's chest move as she took a deep breath. And a soft touch on the top of her head. And that low voice near her ear. "The gods know I don't deserve this but ... With all that I am Gabrielle ... I love you with all that I am."
They held on to each other. Almost afraid to let go least one of them might disappear. Above them birds were breaking through treetops. Their shrill voices echoing through the forest. And then Gabrielle pulled away a little. Swatting at Xena's chest.
"Don't you dare ever doing that again! You scared me!"
Rueful blue eyes peered at her through dark lashes. "I'm sorry. It's just ... " Her voice became serious. "I want you to have a choice here. .... There's nothing I can offer you. I have no money. ... This, " She indicated herself. "...is all I can offer you." And the gods know it's not nearly enough.
To her surprise Gabrielle smiled at that. A small hand touching her chest. "That's all I want, Xena. ... All I need."
She took the small hand in her own and pulled it to her lips. "It's all yours. Always been." A soft whisper.
And again they got lost in each others eyes. And again it was Argo that reminded them that there was indeed a world beyond them. Snorting and shuffling her feet. Obviously bored by the display of emotions.
Pale blue eyes turned in the direction of the mare and narrowed in mock anger. "We need to have a talk, horse."
Gabrielle giggled and swatted at her am. Pulling away again. "But she's right. We need to get going."
They had decided to head towards Amphipolis. Letting Cyrene know that they were okay. And then...
Xena wanted to wait until the war had settled down. Not expecting Athens to be able to defeat the Roman army. Maybe stay in Amphipolis for a couple of months. And then head towards Athens again. Or travel around Greece.
Eager green eyes met her gaze. Well, they would think of something.
'They'. She didn't have any words to describe how good it felt to actually be able to say that. She felt a gentle smile play around her lips and couldn't stop the small sigh that escaped her.
She looked up and met teasing green eyes. "Daydreaming, warrior?"
Ooh...wanna play little one? She let her eyes roam over Gabrielle's body. Taking in every gentle curve hidden beneath a rust coloured knee-length skirt and pale green short-sleeved shirt. A gentle warmth spreading across her skin. And then she let her lips form into a sultry grin. "You bet I am."
The expected blush rose rapidly across Gabrielle's face and neck and she turned away. Busying herself with their bags. And felt a pair of hands settle on her shoulders. "I was only teasing, little one."
"I know. .... It's just ... " She cleared her throat. Her voice dropping to a whisper. "I thought about ... that ... too, you know."
A warm body moved closer. The low voice dropping one octave. "Did you now?"
She only nodded. Her blush deepening. And felt those hands rub her arms in a friendly gesture. And a soft chuckle on the back of her head. But the voice sounded strangely unsteady.
"We have a lot of time to talk about that. ... Later. ... Now, let's just get going, okay?"
She turned around and smiled. Something she didn't seem to be able to stop doing. She stood on tiptoes and kissed those smirking lips. And was rewarded with closing blue eyes.
It took them a moment before they blinked open again.
She went over to Argo and held up a hand. "Gonna help me up on that beast, or what?"
Xena chuckled and took their bags. Securing them on the saddle. Then she helped Gabrielle up and mounted behind the small form. Closing her arms around Gabrielle's slim waist with a feeling of decadent freedom.
And for whatever reason remembering a night over ten years ago when they had ridden like that on Argo, too. She shook her head at herself and ducked her head close to a small ear nearby.
"I thought we take the route through Thessaly. It'll save us at least two days in travelling."
Gabrielle sighed contentedly and snuggled closer against the chest at her back. Closing her eyes. Safe.
"Thessaly?" She shrugged, caressing a thigh nearby quite without conscious thought. "Sounds fine with me."
Concluded in part 3