Imagines Xena and Gabrielle in their “golden years,” wondering what might be missing or worth preserving in their lives. Continued in “Everywhere, One and Eternal.”
Scratch scratch scratch scratch. Scratch scratch.
Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng.
Scratch scratch. Tap. Tap tap tap.
Gabrielle raised her eyes from the scroll she was writing on and stared at the planked wall in front of her. Squinting, she tried to make out the brightly costumed people and odd-shaped edifices intriguing her blurred vision.
Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng.
Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng.
Gabrielle shook her head, smiling wryly. She turned in her chair and looked over at her partner. "What do you miss most?"
Xena looked up blankly from the sword she was working on, shaking her head slightly. "Sorry? What was that?"
Gabrielle smirked. "I asked what you miss most."
"Miss?" Xena frowned. "What’re you talking about?"
Gabrielle pointed to the gleamingly sharp weapons laid out carefully on the table next to Xena’s chair - her usual sword, a couple of katanas from Japa, the chakram, breast dagger, some knives, Gabrielle’s sais. She gestured toward the pile of equally shining armor. "You’ve been at that for a week now. Polishing and honing, re-polishing and re-honing, like there’s some big battle brewing."
"So?" Xena shrugged, still frowning. "Something wrong with that?"
"Noooo. `Cept the only battle I’m aware of involves you and some fishies."
"Gabrielle. You know I’ve always liked being prepared. That hasn’t changed. Why the big deal all of a sudden?"
"What were you thinking about? A moment ago?"
Xena sighed. She laid her sword on the table and tossed the whetstone from hand to hand. "Okay, what’s up? Obviously, I’m missing something here."
"Yes! That’s what I’m saying! You’re missing something, and I’m wondering what it is."
Xena sighed again. She placed the whetstone on the table and crossed her arms over her knees. Taking a deep breath first, she enunciated with strained patience, "Why don’t you tell me what I’m missing, since I still seem to be missing what I’m missing."
"No, that’s okay. Probably just my imagination. Guess that’ll never change either." Gabrielle forced a bright smile. "Go on with what you were doing. Sorry for the interruption." She turned back to her scroll.
Scratch. Tap. Tap. Tap.
"I hate when you do that. If you got something on your mind, say it. I have enough gray hairs as it is, don’t you think?"
Gabrielle spun her chair around. "And they’re all quite lovely." She grinned. "But I won’t add to them right now." Her eyes grew distant. "I was sitting there filling in my journal. All of a sudden I couldn’t see the page anymore."
Xena tensed. "What do you mean you couldn’t see it anymore? Something wrong with your eyes?"
"Wrong with …." Gabrielle laughed. "No, no. Nothing’s wrong with my eyes. Sharp as ever." She glanced down at her right knee. "A few creaky joints maybe. And of course my back still gives me a little trouble. Just the other day I noticed …." She paused, noticing Xena was grinding her ever-beautiful teeth. "Oh, sorry," she apologized sheepishly. "Um, where was I?"
"You didn’t get that far. You were in your chair – possibly, but not probably, going blind."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Oh. Yeah. I couldn’t see what was in front of me because scenes from our travels kept popping up. You know - like from India, Chin, Japa." She tilted her head up, glancing sideways at her soulmate. "Anything like that happening with you?" she asked nonchalantly.
Xena didn’t respond right away. She regarded her partner with narrowed eyes. "When did that start? How often? You saying you’re not happy anymore with the way things are?"
"Oh, no," Gabrielle quickly assured. "These last few years have been some of the happiest of my life." She swept her gaze fondly around the room. "Having a real home. A real bed. Neighbors. No gods or demons or … or ghosts from the past turning our lives upside down every minute. No," she continued quietly, "I wouldn’t have missed this for anything."
"Me neither," Xena agreed, smiling gently. "I never dreamed I’d live to see it." She pulled a strand of silver hair before her eyes. "Or this." She rose and came over to kneel slowly in front of Gabrielle. "Or this," she added, tenderly brushing the thin lines on her partner’s brow. "Such a miracle, growing old like this. Together."
"Yes." Gabrielle lowered herself to the floor. She reached up to trace the crinkles at the corners of Xena’s eyes and mouth. "So much history here." She touched Xena’s forehead. "So many memories. And to think they’re mine too. Awesome."
The two sat like that, knee to knee, hands resting on each other’s arms, reading the face of a woman whose story they knew like their own.
"I miss not knowing what I’ll be writing next," Gabrielle finally confessed softly. "Experiencing someone else’s life - what clothes them, makes their mouths water, gives rhythm to their feet, lifts their eyes to the sky. I miss wondering what you’ll do next. Watching you dance through impossible mazes without the slightest hesitation. Hearing that full throated battle cry." She shivered slightly. "Just thinking of it makes me feel like a girl again."
Xena swallowed. "Okay. Well, now that you mention it, I guess I do miss a couple things. I … I miss feeling like the wind …. Free, strong, unstoppable. And, um …." She looked down, a little embarrassed.
Gabrielle smiled inwardly at the blush that decades together couldn’t keep from reddening her partner’s cheeks. "And?" She lifted Xena’s chin. "Something else?"
"Yeah." Xena smiled shyly. "I miss how you think I can do the impossible. The way you look at me when I do." Her eyes drifted into the distance. "Being with you was like having my very own sail. To catch me, angle me just right. Absorb all that I was and had to give. Guiding me into a force for good. I miss not being sure where I’ll blow next." She shivered slightly. "Wondering how my sail billows even when I don’t have enough to fill it."
"You saying I don’t ‘billow’ anymore?"
Xena checked to make sure Gabrielle was teasing. She was. Xena smiled with a touch of sadness. "Gabrielle, you’re so full of life and joy. Even all this time with me couldn’t trim that."
"So, you like impressing me, huh?" Gabrielle’s eyes twinkled. "I don’t recall actually hearing you say that before."
"What? You thought I was flipping and fighting to entertain smelly warlords?"
"No, but it’s nice to know for sure." Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s thigh. "Apparently you haven’t been paying much attention to my face lately, though."
Xena’s brows lifted. "Oh?"
"Yeah, like when Eve and her grandkids visit, and you’ve got a tyke on either side of you, trying to climb your body using your braids. Or when you’re over at the inn helping Xoris. You’ve talked more drunks out of there than thrown. And the way you’ve been handling new recruits for the village militia. Heh. Those Xena Scouts you’ve worked with will be your groupies for life."
"Gabrielle, that’s normal stuff. What’s the big deal?"
"Patience, my friend. ‘Normal stuff’ takes patience that didn’t come nearly as easy to a certain Warrior Princess as flipping and fighting. Nothing you’ve done impresses me or makes my heart sing more."
"Yeah, surprised me too," Xena admitted. "More new tricks I guess I never pictured myself being an old enough dog to learn."
Gabrielle slid over to perch on Xena’s lap. She pulled the silver-streaked dark head down for a kiss, before leaning against Xena’s shoulder. "You’re my old dog, and don’t you forget it. Anything you do is cute and impressive to me."
Xena hugged her lifemate. "Good thing. `Cause fetching tykes, drunks and fishies is my speed now."
"Not true. Or else you wouldn’t be scraping all the metal off those weapons over there." Gabrielle squeezed her partner’s muscled upper arms, then thumped the solid midsection she rested against. "Your little finger is in better shape than those kids you train. You can still flatten even the best warriors. Why do you think they keep wearing a path to our door to spar with you?"
Xena sighed. "Yeah, I know. I thank my stars every day I’ve got all my body parts and faculties. When I do my drills, I can’t last as long and I ache more after. The main thing I seem to have lost is some spring in my legs. Gods, I miss being able to somersault over folks’ heads like I used to."
"And I do so appreciate your not trying anymore," Gabrielle acknowledged, patting Xena’s leg. "Not that I think it’s impossible," she hastened to add. "I just prefer you save yourself for more … rewarding … pursuits."
"Hmmm," Xena murmured absently, failing to notice the suggestive lowering of her partner’s voice. "What about you? Do you find what you’re doing rewarding? You said you missed traveling, having new adventures."
Gabrielle shook her head, wondering if she’d ever figure out her partner’s timing when it came to sensitive chats. "Hold on," she said, sliding off Xena’s lap, crawling over to retrieve a couple of the large floor cushions sent by some friends from Japa. "No sense putting these old bones to the test unnecessarily." The two scooted over to a wall and sat propped up beside each other.
"Let’s see," Gabrielle continued. "Am I fulfilled? Well, I get to be queen bee of my own Village of Dreams. Thanks to Marta, it’s mostly stuff I like - talking and writing. I love helping you with the Xena Scouts. I love pulling the great-grandkids out of your hair. The best part has been developing young women to run the library, hospice and residential quarters."
"So why the questions about what we miss?"
"Oh, Xena, it’s like I said - just my bardly imagination working overtime."
Xena cocked her head at Gabrielle, preparing to further explore a certain "bardly imagination," when a knock at the door interrupted her.
The two peered into the darkness framed in their window, then back at each other. They shrugged. It wasn’t like late-night visitors was something new.
"Yes?" Xena called out. "What is it?"
"It’s me," a muffled voice shouted back. "Daracles. Sorry to bother you, but we may have trouble."
"Trouble?" Xena rose quickly, trying to look annoyed.
Gabrielle smirked. "You’re not fooling anybody." She got up and walked to her desk. "`Trouble’ is your equivalent to ‘fetch.’"
Xena glared in her soulmate’s direction before opening the door.
"Evening, Xena." Daracles nodded to Gabrielle. "Gabrielle."
"Come on in," Xena said, directing Daracles to a chair at her worktable. "What’s up?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Can I get you something to drink, Daracles? Tea or ale?"
"Uh, no, thanks." He sat in the chair indicated. "We just got a report from the scouts who patrol the river between Amphipolis and Amazonia."
"Yes?" Xena leaned forward with barely suppressed anticipation.
"They say there’s something strange going on that you should know about."
"Foreign troops? People disappearing? What, man? Out with it."
Daracles frowned. "Troops? Uh, no, no troops." He slapped his jaw. "Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to worry you. It’s not that kind of trouble."
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged looks. "What kind is it?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well, you know the Village festival is coming up."
"Yesss," Gabrielle responded with dwindling patience.
"And we’re counting on Xena to make sure the feast is plentiful."
"Yesss," Xena responded with restrained impatience.
"Well, you’re right about the disappearances. But it’s not people that’s disappearing."
"Xena? Patience, remember? You want to impress me, don’t you?"
"Daracles? Get to the point, okay? And please hurry."
Daracles hunched down apprehensively, reminding himself he wasn’t talking to your average middle-aged retirees. "Sssorry. Fish and game. The fish and game are disappearing." He released a breath, glad that was over with and in the women’s hands now.
Gabrielle glanced at her partner, who continued to lean forward with her mouth open. Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Daracles? We have some fine scouts and hunters. Surely they should be able to figure this out. Is there a particular reason you thought Xena and I needed to be involved?"
Daracles looked from one woman to the other, chagrined the discus had come back to him. "Because it has to do with Village affairs," he said to Gabrielle. "And fishing," he added, glancing at Xena. "Didn’t you say at the last council meeting that’s what you were devoting your time to lately? That’s what you seemed best at?"
The women avoided looking at each other. Xena mumbled something to herself and reached for her sword and whetstone. Gabrielle fingered her quill, resisting the urge to grind the tip into her desk.
"We were being …. We were joking, Daracles. We simply meant we’d been doing that a lot, not that it was our only passion in life. I appreciate your trying to fulfill our wishes, but I really think this is something the others can handle."
Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng. Shhhzzzweeng.
Gabrielle turned to scowl at Xena for being rude to their guest, but the thoughtful expression on the warrior’s face stopped her.
Gabrielle regarded her soulmate curiously. "You disagree?"
"Yeah, I do. What we have here is a mystery. Could be trouble of a natural kind. Could be trouble of somebody’s making. Either way, I think we should take a look-see."
Daracles blinked. "A ‘look-see’? You mean go out there yourselves?"
"Oh, no, we thought to get your advice. We didn’t mean for you to leave your nice warm home."
Gabrielle straightened in her chair. Xena smirked.
"And why not? It’s not like Xena and I haven’t been there, done that, more times than all of you put together." Gabrielle checked with Xena for confirmation.
"Absolutely. If there’s anybody who’s experts in mysterious trouble, it’s us."
"But … but," Daracles sputtered, "it could mean days - maybe weeks or months - out there, facing who knows what. The spring thaw wasn’t that long ago. It can still get quite cool at night."
"Gabrielle? Our heavy fur coats still holding up?"
"Uh huh. And I saved those boots from when we were in the desert."
"But … but …. Who’ll run things while you’re gone? Who’ll keep an eye on the militia?"
"We’ve got plenty of folks trained to do all that," Gabrielle assured him.
"Yeah." Xena smiled devilishly. "Just pretend we’re here happily doing what we usually do - planning parties and fishing."
"Gabrielle. Xena. You know we have the utmost respect for both of you. You’re legends in your own - in many times. But you’re elders now. Very active elders, true, but certainly deserving of a more fitting reward than tromping about in the cold, sleeping on the hard ground." Daracles tried once more to talk some sense into these venerable pillars of the community. "Please. Share your wisdom with us, but - and I mean no offense - preserve your bodies while you can."
Gabrielle cringed, waiting for the explosion.
"No offense taken," Xena replied with exaggerated patience, throwing a smug grin at her partner. She raised her sword and studied her reflection. She got up and held the blade in front of Gabrielle. "What do you think? Think we need preserving yet?"
Gabrielle wrapped her fingers around Xena’s hand. She gazed at the vibrant face mirrored in the sword, then up at the one behind it. "Um, no, not quite ready for that yet. Too many impossibilities left out there. Preservation might cramp our style." They nodded to each other.
"Guess you’ve got your answer, Daracles," Xena stated, returning to her chair.
Sighing, Daracles stood. "When do you plan to leave? I’ll need to get an escort ready."
"Escort?!" the women exclaimed simultaneously.
"Surely you’re not doing this alone?"
"Of course not. I’ll have Gabrielle with me."
"And I’ll have Xena. Anybody else would just be in the way."
Daracles shook his head. "Will you at least let us get the provisions together for you?"
"Sure," Gabrielle replied with a smile. "We’ll be grateful for whatever help we can get. We’ll let you know in a couple of days about our plans. Fair enough?"
Daracles stared at them a moment, then returned the smile. "You know, I have to admit, I’m less upset by this than I should be. I’ve always been disappointed I couldn’t see you in action during your prime. This may sound crazy, but my skin’s starting to tingle just thinking about it." He bowed slightly. "It seems your prime is as expansive as your reputation. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures upon your return. Good night."
"Well," Gabrielle said, closing the door and leaning against it. "We certainly put our feet in it this time." She watched as her companion hefted her various weapons, apparently deciding which to take on their trip.
"Yeah. Something new to tell the kids," Xena chortled. She strode over to a chest in the corner, rummaging around until she found some black leather breeches. "Think I can still fit into these?" she asked a bit doubtfully, holding them in front of her lower body.
"Probably, if we let them out a little." Gabrielle plumped down on the bed. She lay back, luxuriating in its softness. "I’ll sure miss this, though." Getting no response, she raised up to see her soulmate struggling into the breeches.
"Ah ha!" Xena said, sucking in her stomach so she could close the clasp at her waist. She knelt a little stiffly to retrieve a black shirt, but not before Gabrielle admired the still trim torso. "Ta da!" Xena stood triumphantly with her arms out, then did a modified pirouette. "So? Whaddaya think? Do I pass?"
Gabrielle swallowed. "Oh, you pass, all right." She thought a minute. "Toss me my stuff."
Xena grinned. She pawed through the clothing, finally wrapping her hands around a blue leather battledress. "Here ya go."
Gabrielle shucked her long tunic as Xena went to search through another chest. She’d always liked the one-piece outfit she’d worn in later years. She stepped into it. “Hmmm, a little snug at the hips, but not too bad." She perched seductively on the side of the bed. "Xena?"
"Just a sec. Yeah, there it is." Xena began fastening on the silver armor she hadn’t worn in years, her back still to Gabrielle. "Whoa," she breathed when she turned around, her eyes widening at the sight in front of her. "You look …. That fits great."
"Think so? Do I pass?"
"That armor really brings out the silver in your hair. You look magnificent."
"Yeah?" Xena stood taller and folded her arms across her chest. She tilted her head down, blue eyes smoking beneath dark brows in her most impressive warrior scowl. "So how come you’re still over there?" she purred.
"I was just saying how much I would miss this," Gabrielle purred back, patting the bed. "I was wondering if you’d miss it too."
Xena sashayed over to sit next to Gabrielle. She pushed her fingers into the bed. "I might." She pulled her soulmate in for a kiss, then sighed. "But I think I’d better get out of these breeches first, before they cut off the flow of blood to something vital."
Gabrielle laughed. "Yeah, my outfit shrunk a bit too. Better start work tomorrow on a line of active wear for the mature figure." She began shrugging out of her battledress. "How `bout we reconvene in a candlemark or so? Test how much we’ll miss the bed. There’s a few thoughts I want to capture while they’re still fresh."
"Sounds good to me." Xena gave Gabrielle a hug and went to peel out of her breeches. "I found that travel staff the Amazons presented you with awhile back. The one that comes apart? The metal pieces had some rough spots. I’ll smooth `em up for you, just in case."
A short while later, Gabrielle set writing at her desk, while Xena worked on the staff.
Scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch.
Scrrritch. Scrrritch. Scrrritch.
Gabrielle turned to her soulmate. "Are we being old idiots?"
Xena looked up. "Old idiots? You mean, for taking a little trip to find some fishies?"
"Xena, you know it’s a bit more than that. Like Daracles said, we’re not sure what we’ll run into, how long we’ll be gone. We could end up chasing poachers into Chin or something."
Xena grinned. "Ooo, I love when your imagination gets going like that."
"Come on, Xena. This is serious. Neither of us heals like we used to. Gods only know what sleeping on the ground’ll do to us."
"Already got that covered. We’ll take a packhorse to carry enough furs so we’ll be as comfy as at home. I’m gonna make some extra thick water skins to put hot water in and slide under our blankets."
"What about your bad ankle? That pain in your shoulder and hip?"
"Soft splint. Liniment. Sturdy branch to lean on if I need it."
"Won’t you miss the kids? Or working with the Xena Scouts?"
"Sure. They’ll survive until we get back."
"But what if -"
"Isn’t that the point? Not knowing? Not being so secure and pampered? Me wondering about me? You wondering about you? Us wondering about each other?"
Gabrielle thought about this. "Yes, I suppose it is."
"We’ll be fine." Xena rested her hands in her lap. "You still trust me to do the impossible?" she asked quietly.
"With all my heart. Do you still trust me to get you there?"
"With everything in me."
"All right then," Gabrielle decided, continuing to hold her partner’s eyes. "I guess we don’t need to worry about missing anything important."
An owl hoot drew their attention to the window. Somewhere out there a mystery awaited – camouflaged by the mundane, discovered as winter surrendered to spring. Impossibilities that had seemed frozen were breaking free in an endless cycle of renewal. Within, two irrepressible hearts appreciated the myriad little things they’d come to count on and their infinite faith in the wondrous promise of each other.
Gabrielle turned back to her scroll.
Scratch scratch scratch.
"Love you," she murmured, grinning through tears like some peasant girl blessed with the adventure of a lifetime.
"Love you too, Gabrielle." Xena stared blurrily at a wet spot that suddenly appeared on the staff. Feeling again like a young warrior blessed with an amazing companion willing to brave the wind.
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