Disclaimer: Some of the characters mentioned in this piece of fiction don't belong to me. So, yes, I will put them back where they belong. One of these days....I will....really....
Violence: Yes. And please be aware that it will be rather graphic, too.
Subtext: Certainly. Really, is there anything else?
A Final Note: This could be considered an alternative ending to "Falling". It isn't, really, but the idea came from that story. Sounds confusing, doesn't it? J Anyway... It is a rather dark piece and will contain scenes of emotional as well as physical violence. Please consider yourself warned!
Any comments on the story are welcome! firstname.lastname@example.org
Silence - Part 1
by Grit Jahning
I saw you
That was all I had to see
Why don't you
Had to have you next to me
From that moment
I knew that you'd be all I'd ever need
And there's a place inside my heart
Nobody's touched before
And when I found you
I found all that I'd been searching for
You turned my world around
All I know
Is that it feels like forever
All I know
Yes I love the way it feels
All I see
Is how good we are together
And I never wanna see it slip away
I'll never let you go
Is all I know
Love is here for us to me
Is telling me
Let's put our hearts and hands to fate
Time will tell us
If what we've got was worth the wait
And there's a fire that's been burning deep inside of me
And I don't need nobody else
'Cause now you're here with me
You've turned my world around
All I know
That it feels like forever
All I know
Is I love the way it feels
All I see
Is how good we are together
And I never want to see it slip away
I'll never let you go
Is all I know
I might have never met you
At another time or place
Now I never could forget you
I could never walk away
That's all I know
'Cause there's a place inside my heart
Nobody's touched before
And when I found you
I found all that I'd been searching for
You've turned my world around
All I know
Is it feels like forever
All I know
Is I love the way it feels
All I see
is how good we are together
And I never want to see it slip away
I'll never let you go
- 1 -
The forest lay dark and quiet. Thick layers of mist caught in heavy limbs swaying softly to the gust of wind brushing through them. Faint rustle of tiny creatures that broke through the undergrowth briefly disturbed the silence.
The sky a velvet black spotted with dots of light twinkling in carefree abandon. Not disturbed by the slow, lazy advance of clouds. A wall of pale grey wrapping itself around the bright circle of light illuminating the night. Dulling it to a silvery glow.
Then the flapping of wings and an owl taking off in flight. Big, yellow eyes surveying the ground for anything edible. Dark blades of grass moving with hurried movements of mice scurrying to safer places.
One of them stumbling across something dark and heavy. Tiny paws touching warm, thick liquid. Thin whiskers moving in panic as the small creature recognised the scent of blood. Metallic. Heavy.
For the briefest of moments it froze. Tiny black eyes taking in the sight of a human body. Torn open. Pieces of flesh and bones sprayed around it.
And then it uttered a high-pitched cry as a sharp beak tore into its neck. To fade on a gust of wind as the owl turned to a tree.
The dark moved.
Barely visible the silhouette of a horse. Tall. Massive. Covered in a light metal armour.
Carrying an even darker form. And for a moment a sword caught the silvery light of the moon breaking through grey layers of clouds.
A glitter mirrored in pale eyes.
Taking in their surroundings. The outlines of a softly rolling valley that climbed at the very edge to the north. Bordered by thick woods to one side and the rapidly moving waters of a river to the other. Hills behind the outline of the horse and even as it started moving into the valley - an ocean of soldiers appeared on top of the hill. Dressed in dark leathers. Shining swords and polished armour. And like a wave lazily lapping onshore they rolled into the valley.
Following the dark form ahead of them.
Steadily advancing the bare silhouette of the city laying before them.
Hundreds of hoarse voices chanting one name. A low chorus sounding eerily through the quiet of the night.
Another glitter of pale eyes.
And a cold smile shaping red lips as an arm lifted the sword still glistening with crimson-coloured liquid. A low voice sounding over the chorus of husky voices: "Attack!"
They were met halfway.
Frightened yet determined eyes meeting the onslaught of bodies. Trembling hands tightening around the hilt of swords or bows. Chests moving with deep breaths or silent prayers. Lips trembling with names of loved ones.
And then there was silence.
For this one brief moment as they stood in front of each other there was no sound.
Countless lives that met for the first time.
And then there was nothing but death.
The silvery light of the moon sparkling on blades and armour as the two armies attacked.
Clanking of metal. Hoarse cries of men as the cold steel hit unprotected skin. Desperate neighs of horses as the massive bodies tumbled to the ground. Sliced open or pierced by arrows.
The heavy scent of blood.
A flash of white as a pair of lips moved into a smile.
And then darkness descended.
The solid wall of clouds covered the sky fully and even as the wind gained in strength a soft drizzle set in. Drops of water mixed with the thick, red liquid so liberally covering the ground. Bathing the earth in warmth as it absorbed wasted lives.
A hand closing tighter around the hilt of a sword as it plunged deep into the chest of a soldier. A slow twist and the blade moved upwards. Slicing skin open. A strangled cry. Pleading dark eyes. Lips that tried to form words and only spilled blood.
A dark head tilting ever so slightly. Then leaned closer.
A deep breath to take in the scent of warm blood and fear.
Another flash of white.
A gust of breath tickling cooling skin.
"Greece is mine."
A wet thud as the dead body hit the ground.
The rain gained in strength and by now thick, heavy drops pelted down on the ocean of bodies shifting through the valley. Its beach a line of dead or dying forms. Its sound the husky screams of wounded and dying. Desperate prayers. Hoarse grunts.
And faintly, echoing through the darkness - laughter.
The city lay before her.
In all its glory. Massive, impressive buildings and temples. Softly whispering trees lining the streets. And to the very back...shadowing the city lay the Acropolis.
A cold smile.
Before her lay, defeated and conquered, Athens ... and Greece.
Wind brushed through long, loose hair. Tugging at the dark strands in carefree abandon. Caressing along chiselled features still marked from the last battle. Scratches and a cut that ran from her right temple down to her chin.
But she didn't feel the prickling sensation of pain.
All she felt was triumph.
Conqueror of Greece. That was the title one of her generals had come up with. The smile broadened but didn't lose its coldness. Destroyer of Nations. Wasn't that what Alti had called her? Destroyer of Nations - it certainly had a nice ring to it.
The tall frame shifted a little. Her armour creaking with the subtle movement. One hand wrapped around the hilt of her sword. Its blade still drenched in blood. A thick, crimson-coloured substance. Still holding the distinctive scent of warm life.
A deep breath.
The air was filled with the scent of smoke. Burned flesh. Wet earth.
Pale eyes lifted and traced along the sky. The dark of the night slowly surrendering to the first tickles of light that appeared at its very edge. A soft golden hue bathing the city before her. Crawling along the small hill she stood on. Encompassing her in its way.
Baptising Athens' new ruler.
A low chuckle stirred the air even as she spread her arms. Greeting the new day with her sword and a fiery glint in pale eyes.
This was a new time for Greece....a flash of white....and she would make sure that no one would forget her name. This was her destiny. And she was going to make sure it was fulfilled.
Pale eyes turned west.
Barely visible the coast facing the Roman Empire ... and somewhere beyond that lay Rome itself.
Chiselled features hardened with silent fury and hatred sparkled like icy fire in blue eyes. Oh yeah. She would make sure that no one would doubt her destiny.
- 2 -
But most of them were Athenians themselves. All ages. Young and old who had given their lives trying to stop the army of the Conqueror.
The soldiers clad in dark leathers and well kept armour were at the moment cleaning up the battle field. Collecting their fallen comrades. Piling up the dead bodies of the enemy to burn them later. Unless a family member claimed the body.
The cavalry had already entered the city and was now taken over the Parliament as well as any buildings of political importance. The people of Athens were eyeing them warily. Not sure yet what to think ... if they should hate the new ruler or just hope it wouldn't get any worse.
But they were talking about the Conqueror after all. So most likely things were going to get worse.
On the field before the city gate foot soldiers were setting up camp. Temporary until quarters were found that could house the entire army.
The morning had dawned in a flash of golden warmth and the sun was already beating down merciless on the sweating men. The air filled with the distinctive scent of decay.
It was quiet.
Eerily so, since not even birds sang to greet the new day. The only sounds were the grunting of the men picking up yet another dead friend or enemy. The subtle rustling of leather. Someone chopping wood.
Aged grey eyes strayed across the camp and then returned to a young man tugging at a bandage covering his forehead. Stained with dried blood and dirt.
The young man jumped in surprise and sheepish brown eyes turned his way. "A little, yes." His youthful face paled as one of the other soldiers picked up a severed arm and something that once might have been a head.
His throat moved as he swallowed hard and immediately turned his gaze away.
"Not what all the stories are about, huh?"
It took a long moment until the dark head nodded slowly. "...not at all..."
The older man pushed a few grey locks out of his eyes and hummed in agreement. Reaching over, he patted the younger man's knee. "It's getting easier."
No response. Just trembling fingers tugging at the bandage again.
"Carry it with honour. Your first scar's always gonna be special."
The tugging stopped and shy brown eyes looked at him. For a brief moment doubt flickered across the youthful features but then a slow grin appeared. "Yeah."
They sat in silence for another long time. Repairing armour and polishing their weapons. Again and again dead bodies were carried past them but the young man studiously ignored them.
After a moment he looked up and studied the older man.
He wasn't tall. Not even close to six feet but looked still very muscular. His grey hair was long and pulled together in a ponytail. Reaching down his back.
On his bare arms he saw a few long and deep scars. A stark pale pink against his otherwise tanned skin. Callused fingers were working patiently on a dent in his chest armour.
"How long have you been with Xena's army?"
The fingers stopped and his entire body got very still. Then he released a slow breath. "A long...long time."
The young man leaned forward. Dropping his voice a little. "They say she's going after Caesar next. Do you think that's true?"
He looked up. His eyes reaching somewhere far, far away. Grief startlingly obvious on his weathered face. "Oh yeah....that bastard is right up there on her list." Anger coloured his husky voice. "And I pray to the Gods every day to let me stay alive until the day she cuts off his damned head."
The younger man was a little surprised by the agitated way his friend talked in. It seemed to be almost personal...
"Can I...." He hesitated. Not sure if he wasn't going to far by asking but then deciding to go ahead. "Why do you hate him so much?"
For a long moment he thought the older man wouldn't answer. Something in his eyes told him that he probably wouldn't want to know the answer after all.
The husky voice sounded strangely far away. Low. Barely audible as he slowly set down his armour. "I wasn't always a mere foot soldier....." A long pause. "I used to be part of her Personal Guard. And one day we were surprised by a group of Romans. They took us as prisoners and....." A deep breath. "Xena was away with a group of scouts...so they didn't get what they had been after but...." The low voice trembled ever so slightly. "But they got something much more valuable."
- 3 -
The pale horse underneath her reared and snorted as the heavy scent of smoke assaulted them. It took her only a moment to get the mare back under control.
Pale eyes noting the amount of dead Athenian soldiers without any real show of emotion. A brief flicker of pride as she took the time to observe her troops.
There were a few wounded of course ... and from the looks of it the western phalanx had been hit pretty bad but they hadn't disappointed her. A small, proud smile shaped red lips. Urging Argo to a halt, she waved one of her captains closer.
The tall and thin man saluted her and a broad grin split his dirty face. "My Lord?"
Dark brows wrinkled ever so slightly. She never really been fond of that title but she hadn't come up with anything better and since most of her men wouldn't call her by her name this one had to do.
"You're about finished?"
His sweaty head nodded and he gestured to his back. "Yup....got 'em all piled up....some have been picked up by family...and we're about ready to help ‘em down to Hades." He chuckled a little.
Xena quirked her lips in a brief smirk. "Mmh...any incidents?"
"Naw...a couple of boys tried to get swords and stuff. But we took care of it."
Cold pale eyes looked at him in silent question.
"Oh no...nothing bad or anything...just scared them a little, that's all."
The dark head nodded. She shifted a little and found her eyes drawn to the back of the field where camp had been set up. Already her banner was flapping softly in the air.
"Caravan made it into the city, yet?"
The soldier knew better than to smile at that question and simply nodded his head. "Yup. Piraeleus showed up here half an hour ago. I am sure they are already preparing the palace." He paused a moment. "Um...everything looked all right."
He almost patted himself on the shoulder for not flinching as those pale eyes turned back to look at him. It was strange the duality in her personality. One moment you could be chatting easily with her and the next ... you'd be lucky she didn't cut your head of.
A warm trace of sweat made its way down his face and he felt his skin itch where it passed.
After another moment that seemed to last forever her features relaxed into a smirk. "That's good to hear...."
A gust of wind as he finally dared to exhale.
"...inform the troops that after inspection tonight they're free until midday tomorrow. Anyone missing at roll call then will be executed." She turned her horse towards the city gate but then paused and fixed a glare at the soldier. "And any reports of rape or theft will be punished accordingly."
The man came to attention and saluted her again. "Understood!"
A brief nod and she prodded Argo forward. All around her soldiers greeted her and she couldn't quite suppress the rush of pride at their obvious triumph.
These were her men. Most of them she had selected herself. All of them had been trained by her and by the Gods look what they had achieved!
Greece was hers.
She passed through the city gate and paused briefly, savouring the moment. Her general constantly urged her to have a real entry. All pompous and triumphant. But she didn't care for that. For one it presented her as a perfect target ... and although she didn't really worry about that, she simply hated this kind of ceremony.
The people of Athens knew damn well who had defeated their famous army.
A broad smirk.
And she would find far more enjoyable ways of reminding them of that. Again and again.
Inside the gate she was met by her elite troops who saluted her and then angled their horses behind her. Ahead she could make out the massive walls of the palace.
And on top ... her banner.
The smirk turned into a small smile for an entire different reason at the sight.
The halls of the palace were dark. A heavy twilight only now and then broken by the flickering light of a torch.
But from what she had seen so far it was well kept. Clean and it actually smelled good.
Her lips quirked in an appreciative smile. Good...this looked really good. Behind her the heavy footsteps of her Personal Guards echoed loudly through the stony halls. Mixed with the sound of their swords hitting their armour.
She paused at the foot of stairs leading upstairs where most of the personal quarters were located. Here glass had been placed at the roof. Allowing bright sunshine inside. Illuminating the hall in a bright, inviting light.
Pale eyes studied the stairs.
Then she turned to the soldiers at her back. "You can leave. Make sure everybody knows that I do not want to be disturbed for the rest of the day. Any problems are to be taken care of by Spyros." She mounted the first step and then paused.
"...as for the nobles who will most likely show up here within candlemarks....tell them I will hold court tomorrow afternoon. Anyone complaining will be send to the dungeons."
The men nodded and with a curt salute turned and headed back the way they had come.
Xena waited until the sound of their footsteps faded and then closed her eyes. Her shoulders dropping ever so lightly as she finally released a long, slow breath.
Her entire body ached and she grudgingly had to acknowledge the pain prickling through her muscles. The searing hurt from the cuts and scratches on her unprotected skin ... especially the one on her face.
Lucky bastard that had managed to hit her before she cut him down.
One finger reached up to carefully touch the heated skin. For a moment she considered having it taken care of first but then decided against it. Enough time for that later.
Mounting the steps almost impatiently she was met on top by Piraeleus and Berra and wasn't quit able to suppress the flicker of worry. Which faded immediately at the smile on the older woman's face.
The Guard straightened in silent greeting and came to attention to her left.
The older woman clucked as she noticed the wound on her face and shook her head. "Ah Xena, that does not look so good. A healer should look at it." Her warm, soothing voice coloured by a strong northern accent. Eyes so pale they almost seemed colourless sparkling with deep affection.
Xena rolled her eyes and passed the two. Heading for the main chambers she knew lay at the very end of the corridor.
Up here there was more light. Small windows had been placed within the walls and provided some natural light that managed to reach even to the corners of the hall. No place to hide, she noted approvingly.
Turning to Piraeleus she nodded. "Good choice. Got everything settled?"
"Yes, My Lord. My men are looking for quarters for the troops and the staff has been questioned already. Any suspicious people have been arrested....there are two you might want to take a look at later. I don't think they're Greek."
Pale eyes flashed at that new information. "Good. Take the rest of the day off. Inspection tonight at sunset."
The tall, heavyset man nodded and without another word left. Leaving her with Berra, who had waited patiently next to them.
They looked at each other for a long, silent moment.
Aged, knowing eyes studying her and then the older woman released a slow breath. Her open, warm features clouded by quiet seriousness. Lines of age wrinkling her face as worry caused an unconscious frown.
"She did not eat much. And she has not slept very well last night." A brief pause. "I do believe she was in pain....And she misses you." The last was said with a genuine smile shaping her lips.
Pale blue eyes sparkled briefly. Cold, chiselled features shifting into something ... warmer. Gentler....
"I deal with it."
The smile on Berra's face got wider and she actually chuckled a little. Watching the tall form turn for the door, she bit her lower lip before continuing. Her voice low. "She does not look so good."
Xena had her hand already on the doorknob as the soft words froze her in place. For a brief, frightening moment she felt the world crowding in on her and it took a moment to push those feelings back where she kept them since---
Slowly, she turned and fixed angry eyes on the older woman. Her low voice hoarse with silent emotions. "She looks beautiful."
Not waiting for Berra's response, she opened the door and entered the room beyond.
- 4 -
It was huge.
Taking up most of the opposite wall were windows. Large windows allowing a beautiful view across Athens and the mountains waiting beyond.
Turning a little she noticed that all her stuff had already been delivered and most of it actually been put away. Berra must have been disturbed by her arrival.
The room was clean and smelled...
Her face that just seconds ago held a cruel, stoic expression shifted yet again and---
The soft voice came somewhere to her left and taking a deep breath, she turned.
Dark lines were visible underneath her eyes. And her skin, always paler than her own, seemed almost translucent now. Even from her point of view she could make out veins. Long, blonde hair that had lost its usual shine spilled across slim shoulders wrapped in a blanket to shield the small frame beneath from the chilly air brushing past her.
She swallowed and wrestled a scowl on her face. "You're supposed to be sleeping." Her voice sounded stern and the words like an order ... yet all she got was a tilt of the pale head and pink lips moving into a soft smile.
"Big, bad warrior."
She fought the chuckle only for a moment and then gave in. Taking the few steps towards the chair the blonde woman sat in, she dropped to one knee and took a small, cold hand into her own.
This most peculiar mixture of green and blue with just the slightest hint of grey. They shifted with her mood and right now they were a beautiful pale green.
"I meant it, Gabrielle....why aren't you in bed?"
The small hand let go of her fingers and touched her face. Pale brows wrinkling as they ever so lightly touched the cut on her temple. "Any more?"
She shook her head. "Naw...I'm fine. A hot bath and some food and I'll be just perfect."
Gabrielle's smile broadened and she shifted a little in the chair. Not quite able to mask the flicker of pain on her face.
Xena noticed it but didn't say anything. Not now...now, now she just wanted to sit here and look at the face in front of her. Lose herself in those green depths and just---
"...I missed you..." The small hand traced the smile on her lips. "I couldn't sleep...not having you with me hurts, Xena."
"I know....but you need sleep...and you need to eat." Now her voice got serious. "And you need to tell Berra if you're in pain."
A brief, mischievous smile. "Already told on me, has she?"
She wanted to stay angry. She wanted to, really. But she couldn't. Never been able to. One look from those eyes. One smile.
But it didn't change the fact that Gabrielle probably hasn't slept in the four days she'd been gone. And most likely hasn't eaten as much as she needed to.
Dropping her eyes, she released a slow breath. Guilt and anger warring inside her. Until a soft touch on the top of her head made her look up. Until she felt that featherlight touch on her cheek. Quite without conscious thought she gave in to the craving inside and leaned forward.
Touched pink lips in a gentle kiss.
Breaking the kiss but not separating the touch of their lips. "Promise to sleep if I lay down with you?"
Felt the smile more than she saw it. Followed by busy fingers tugging at her armour. "Thought you'd never ask."
She chuckled and straightened. Getting rid of the armour and her coat. Glad that the rain had washed away most of the blood. Stepping out of her wet leathers, she grabbed a shirt from the pile laying next to a chest drawer and slipped it on. Shivering a little at the dry warmth against her chilled skin.
Brushing her hands through her hair, she turned back. Met by a gentle smirk.
"Not a word."
Gabrielle laughed. Softly. The sound reaching right inside of her. Tickling. Caressing.
She took the blanket from her shoulders and leaned forward. Meeting green eyes in silent question. "Ready?"
The small frame shifted yet again and then the blonde head nodded.
Slipping one hand underneath Gabrielle's knees, she wrapped her other arm around the too thin waist. Without any effort lifting the small woman into her arms. Swallowing at the soft sound of pain. Muffled against her shirt.
"Why didn't you tell Berra?"
No answer but she hadn't expected one. Silently, she moved towards the huge bed tucked into a corner and gently, carefully lay Gabrielle down. Immediately wrapping herself around the small frame.
Felt warm breath against her chest. Small fingers curled into the front of her shirt.
"Now sleep." Lacking any real anger. A gentle request.
It took no more than seconds until the soft breathing evened out. A little longer until the small form warmed against her own.
Closing her eyes, she released a slow breath. Stirring blonde locks tickling her chin.
Tightening her embrace ever so lightly, she buried her face in the pale mane and simply drowned in the scent that was Gabrielle.
"...don't you dare!!...." The low voice was hoarse from screaming. "DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE!!"
It was raining. Chilly, heavy drops pelting down on them. Thinning bright red into a faint pink. Absorbed by steaming earth. Soaking a shirt torn and ripped.
Shuffle of boots on wet dirt and blank pale eyes lifted.
Five of them. Wounded. Dirty. Bloody.
But well trained ... and they had been unable to prevent this.
Cold, burning anger branded through her and she got up. Without a word drawing her sword, she stepped up to the first of them. He moved his lips. Tried to explain. Or say anything.
The warm blood felt odd against the cold rain and for a long moment she simply starred at the red tracing through her fingers. But it only reminded her of the still, prone form only a few feet away and she looked up.
They didn't fight. Not really, anyway.
Probably because they knew it would happen.
The last met her gaze and she released a forced breath. Her lungs actually hurt and the muscles in her jaw moved rapidly as she tried to find some balance. Any kind of control....
His arms were sliced open and he was already bleeding heavily. His tanned skin paling.
She leaned forward. Her hoarse voice all but a whisper drowning in the steady fall of rain. "You will live...and you better pray to the Gods that she won't die or I will teach you what real pain is."
Got up and simply picked the small form up. Trying to shield the pale, bruised face from the rain. Disappearing in the wall of liquid pouring down on them.
The door opened slowly and the wrinkled face grimaced as a soft creak echoed through the quiet room.
Berra waited a moment and then entered. Carrying a plate of food. Putting it down on the table, she paused and took a moment to study the two forms on the huge bed.
A soft, warm smile playing on her lips.
Relieved that the little one had finally found the peace to sleep. The small frame was curled so tightly against Xena's broader form...as if trying to bury beneath the tanned skin.
Grey brows wrinkled thoughtfully. Maybe she was.
The blanket covering them had moved and her eyes reflected the pain she felt as her gaze fell on Gabrielle's legs.
Crippled. Thin. Pale. Covered in faded scars.
Broken in too many places as that they could have ever healed properly. They still caused her much pain and she wasn't able to walk by herself.
She watched silently as tanned fingers moved. Softly, gently brushing stray locks behind an ear. Pale blue eyes turning to meet hers.
Gesturing to the table, she mouthed: "I brought food."
A brief, curt nod of the dark head and she left without a word. Smiling as a faint "thanks" drifted her way before she closed the door.
Leaving the room in silence again.
Two sets of breathing. The subtle rustle of cloth as Xena moved ever so lightly to shift the sleeping frame into a more comfortable position.
Now that her body had a little time to settle down, the little aches bothering her earlier had faded almost entirely and she stretched her upper body.
Immediately the fingers wrapped into her shirt tightened and a small sound of distress stirred the quiet.
"Ssh...I'm here Gabrielle. I am not leaving."
Smoothing out wrinkled pale brows, she waited until the small frame relaxed again. A deep breath warm against her collarbone.
"...I'm not leaving...." Fading on a gust of breath.
She lay unmoving for a long time. Perfectly happy to hold on to Gabrielle. One hand moved and she frowned as she was able to count ribs underneath the soft skin. Flattening her hand, she couldn't help turning the soft touch into a gentle caress.
Smiled as she felt Gabrielle move into her.
She exhaled slowly and took the quiet time to think about her next steps.
Athens was hers ... that was good. The only thing that sucked about it was that she had to deal with nobles and all those so called ‘politicians' now. She was still uncertain if she should keep the Parliament or not.
Dark brows wrinkled thoughtfully.
Although she had thought about all this before...it hadn't got easier with actually achieving her goal. It had gone more difficult, really. No way was she going to share the government. She was too used to people following her orders that she would be willing now to discuss ridiculous issues until she was blue in the face.
Her word was all that mattered.
Gabrielle stirred and shifted in her arms. Settling down with a soft, contented sigh.
Well, most of the time, anyway. An impish smirk tugged at her lips and she used her free hand to rub her face. Anyway....
So that meant....discourage any frivolous thoughts those Athenians senators and ‘politicians' had about governing this city. Or Greece. Not that she really cared but in order to finalise her plans she had to have a stable economy behind her.
Which meant taking some time to stabilise the country. Issue a few new rules. Make sure the stocks all over the country were filled ... and announce a call for any willing man or woman to join her army. That reminded her, she had to get in touch with the Amazons.
Caesar had cost them quite a few villages and warriors. They might be interested in retaliating.
Her face clouded over. Her jaw moving with the immediate rush of hatred the mere name caused inside her.
Pale blue eyes blinked in surprise as gentle fingertips touched her face.
"...moody warrior..." A sleepy tease.
She smirked and moved dishevelled blonde locks away to look into barely open green eyes. "Go back to sleep." A small smile taking away any sting the words might have carried.
Which vanished as Gabrielle dropped her eyes. Her voice a soft tickle against the skin of her shoulder. "...can't....hurts..."
A brief flicker of anger. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
A small hand on her chest kept her from getting off the bed. Felt Gabrielle move slowly to peer into her eyes.
"I just did." A brief pause. "...I just needed you close. Every...." Saw her swallow against the tears sparkling in her eyes. "...I needed to feel you next to me."
It evaporated any anger she might have felt and she released a slow breath. Nevertheless scowling for good measure.
They lay like this for a small eternity. Starring into each other's eyes. Floating somewhere in a world of their own making. Where nothing could touch them. Reach them. Where there was nothing but ...
Xena shook her head and kissed pink lips smiling at her. "Where did Berra put the salve?"
"Somewhere back at....ooh...she brought food."
A low chuckle. "Yup, she did."
The mattress moved slightly as she moved off the bed carefully. Trying to avoid jarring Gabrielle's body too much.
Locating the bottle that contained the milky-white, somewhat jelly salve, she returned and pulled away the blanket covering Gabrielle. Her face stoic. Her gaze avoiding those green eyes she knew were looking at her.
Rubbing the substance between her hands to warm it, she hesitated ever so slightly until she started rubbing it on the bony, scared legs in front of her. Tried to ignore the soft hiss of pain as Gabrielle lay back down on the bed.
It took a moment but then the soft voice drifted her way again.
"Did we lose many?"
Despite herself she had to swallow.
This one little word. We. It has always been ‘we' or ‘us'. Right from the beginning. No matter what. It didn't even change after ---
Clearing her throat, she shrugged. "The western phalanx had the most casualties. Were the first to attack so it was to be expected. But the rest did very well." Heard the pride colouring her voice.
And finally looked up to meet the gentle smile reserved for her.
She smirked and shrugged again. Knowing that smile too well. "Yeah...got a good bunch of soldiers there, don't I?"
Gabrielle closed her eyes briefly as warm hands moved towards her knees. Pale brows contracted with the pain she didn't allow to show otherwise. Too aware how it affected Xena.
"Yes, you do." Hoarse. Not quite able to keep the pain from colouring her voice.
The hands stopped briefly and she felt a shiver chase itself up and down her body as soft lips touched her left leg.
Opened her eyes to meet intense blue looking right at her. Losing herself in them as always. Tumbling helplessly into them. "...I love you..."
Was rewarded with an immediate darkening of those pale depths. And a tall, dark frame moving to hover above her. Intense eyes burning right into her. Warming her soul....
A gentle touch on her lips and she forgot about the pounding pain in her legs. Aided by the salve whose warmth numbed it to a tolerable level of awareness. The touch ended too soon and she had to suppress a chuckle as dark brows waggled at her.
"I know you're hungry...but you're going to eat first. Hear me?"
A large hand splaying against the chilled skin of her belly. And she had to swallow against the rush of warmth branding through her. This time it was her turn to clear her throat and she playfully shoved at the broad form smirking down at her.
"Fine....you just see if I'm hungry afterwards."
They mock-scowled at each other for all but a few moments and then started laughing. And for the first time in those long four days she actually felt happy again.
Her hand caressed angular features smiling down at her.
They had about finished everything of the assortment of food Berra had left them.
Well, Gabrielle had, that is.
Red lips moved into an affectionate smirk and the dark head shook with silent amusement. Only the slight frown wrinkling dark brows hinted at the worry deep inside her.
The dark lines underneath her eyes had almost faded already and the pale skin had got back an ever so light pink shine. She had pulled her hair into a loose ponytail and a few stubborn strands had escaped. Tickling her forehead. She brushed them back with an unconscious gesture and looked up as a soft laugh drifted her way.
Xena leaned back in her chair. Caught somewhere between disbelief and helpless surrender that the person sitting in front of her really loved her.
A predictable blush darkening the gentle features.
"Thank you." Soft. The smile obvious in her voice. Then Gabrielle's nose wrinkled as she smirked. "You're not so bad yourself."
How could someone filled with so much light it was blinding at times love her? How could this smile; the look in those eyes ... that gentle caress making the skin on her hand tingle...how could all this be real?
She felt her brows wrinkle in an unconscious frown. A motion mirrored on Gabrielle's face as she noticed the gesture.
"Moody warrior." No teasing this time.
She shrugged. "Sorry."
"Don't apologise. Just get better."
They maintained their straight faces for an admiringly long time until she simply gave in to the fuzzy feeling of happiness warming her very being. Her very soul.
Resting her elbows on the table, she leaned forward. Patiently waiting until Gabrielle had calmed down enough to meet her gaze in silent question.
"I love you."
Just that. Just three words. Three words that could mean nothing ... and everything. But they were enough to make green eyes sparkle in a way very little could. It got her a smile...
That defied any description.
That little shy, happy smile reserved for her. That smile she would do about anything to see.
She got up and crouched next to Gabrielle's chair. Her eyes closing as gentle fingers brushed through her hair. Smiling as trembling lips touched hers.
"...you're just saying that..." On an uneven breath. Gusts of warmth tickling her lips.
A smirk and even in her current position she managed to puff herself up. "Of course. Knew it'd get me a kiss."
A long silent moment where she was perfectly content to stay like that. Frighteningly aware of the soft scent that simply was Gabrielle. The warmth of her body. The sound of her breathing.
"...it got you my soul..."
Whispered words accompanied by a small hand tracing the smile on her lips. Along her cheek. Outlining the shape of her ear. Lingering on the cut on her temple.
She opened her eyes. Caught ... and drowning in deep green depths. Wrapping her into something so intense and safe---
Clearing her throat, she slowly got up. If only to remind herself that the world did continue around them. And that an army was waiting for her inspection.
Saw the understanding in Gabrielle's eyes.
"I'd like to go with you."
This small moment fading at the curt tone of her voice. She turned away and scowling at her still wet leathers, searched for another set. Too aware of Gabrielle watching her.
Hades...there had been a time where things had been a lot easier.
She paused and took the time to actually remember that particular time in her life. Right. Easier... Turning the scowl on the innocently smiling face looking at her, she exhaled slowly.
"It's your fault. You know that, right?"
The pale head nodded seriously. Although the smile never left those soft, pink lips. "Yes. I know. And I am really sorry."
Resting her hands on her hips, the scowl got deeper. "You better be."
A slight tilt of the blonde head. Green eyes catching a ray of sunlight.
Throwing up her hands, she shook her head in obvious surrender. "Fine. But..." Halting any response that Gabrielle might have had. Her voice turning from playful to serious. "When you start hurting, you're telling me...and you're off to bed.....Please, Gabrielle."
She took the few steps back towards her blonde miracle and leaning on the armrests, got face to face with those green eyes. "Promise."
Got a kiss on the tip of her nose. "I promise."
She sighed and straightened. "And please...none of that in front of the boys. I'm never going to live that down."
After a way too long silence, she sighed again and grabbed the new set of leathers. "Great." Heading for the bath chamber. Ignoring the gentle laughter following her.
- 5 -
"How does it look?"
Nervous fingers tugging yet again at a piece of chest armour to set it more squarely against a slim chest. Shoulders moving with a frustrated breath. His head wound had been taken care of and a new, clean bandage been placed around his forehead.
The old soldier next to him chuckled. Replacing the nervous fingers and straightening the stubborn piece of armour. Tugging the shirt underneath straight.
His grey head nodded in appreciation and he ruffled unruly brown locks. "Relax. It is only an inspection. Okay?"
The young man snorted. "Right. ‘Just' an inspection....excuse me if I am nervous but this is my first one, all right?" Afraid brown eyes met smiling grey. "Great Zeus, does she talk to us? I mean, does she stop and ask question or....or....I'd faint."
The outright laughter from the older man wasn't really funny and he scowled at him.
But the older man just shook his head and patted him on the shoulder. Turning to the rest of the army that was assembled on the field just outside of the city gate.
They were all in high spirits and laughing and joking. The sweltering air filled with husky voices. Impatient snorts from horses and the overwhelming scent of too many warm, human bodies.
One of them noticed him looking and waving, he came over. "Hey, Gregorios....you old hound, I see you made it. Again." A good-natured chuckled accompanying the teasing words.
The old soldier joined the laughter and shrugged.
The tall, thin man leaned forward and on his chest armour the insignia that identified him as a captain caught sparkles of sunlight. His hoarse voice dropped to a hushed whisper. "The guys talked to you?"
Gregorios nodded. "Uh huh....whose going to hand over the present?"
Now a smug smirk appeared on the newly shaved face. The skin still slightly reddened. "You."
For a moment the old man considered refusing but then he shrugged again. "Fine. Where'd you put it?"
But before he could get an answer a sudden hush fell over the crowd of warriors. An awed: "Great Zeus!" from the young man brought his head up and he felt his throat tighten at the sight.
Although Xena was all by herself a remarkable sight ... seeing her on top of a horse in full armour and with that look in her pale blue eyes made it even more so.
It was impossible not to react to her. Her mere presence could make grown man tremble with fear ... or desire.
But what had caused that sudden silence wasn't the arrival of the Conqueror.
It was the smaller, lighter figure riding on an almost entirely white horse next to her.
Most of the warriors had seen the blonde woman only once or twice and always in passing. Only few would remember the times she'd actually attended every inspection. And so her sudden appearance caused quite a stir among the troops.
Gregorios released a slow breath and turned a little to study the reaction of his comrades.
Especially the older soldiers had small, affectionate smiles on their faces. Their eyes holding a look close to protectiveness as they watched them approach.
The younger men allowed themselves a moment of outright starring ... and in some cases ... leering, until they remembered (or someone reminded them) who exactly they were starring at. It was enough to cause them to drop their eyes. Desperately hoping Xena hadn't noticed.
She'd got thinner but that smile hadn't changed at all. Gregorios straightened immediately out of habit. It still held this incredible amount of warmth and gentleness. Those eyes, he knew were the most peculiar blend of green and blue, still held this small sparkle.
He felt his chest tighten with an avalanche of emotions. Even after everything...
Next to him he heard his young friend swallow. His armour creaking softly as he bend closer.
"Who...who is she?"
Gregorios didn't turn his eyes away from the small blonde. He exhaled slowly. "She's Xena's soul."
Xena stopped her horse almost in the centre in front of the troops and simply traced along the lines of faces looking back at her.
That's what glory felt like.
This feeling of absolute power and triumph. The feeling she had imagined back when she was a teenager and had dreamed about conquering. About commanding an army. When the mere sound of battle had tickled something inside her that was so utterly profound ---
Something so much a part of her she couldn't imagine anything else.
And this feeling was now looking back at her from hundreds grinning faces.
She felt her lips move into a pleased smirk and straightened. Damn, if it didn't feel good.
She shifted her weight a little and her horse stirred restlessly. Snorting as he threw his head to voice his annoyance.
On her back the fading warmth of the sun was a soft caress against her leathers. Everything around them drowning in a glowing yellow.
Taking a deep breath of the cooling air, she exhaled softly and then slowly turned around.
And was met by warm, smiling green eyes.
Yup...life was good, indeed.
...to be continued in Part 2
Return to the Academy
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