Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
My website is at http://dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm
Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.
Gabrielle awoke, instantly aware that something was wrong. Not particularly bad, just… wrong.
Her dreams had been a jumbled cavalcade of memories but eventually her head began to clear enough to attempt to identify the warm weight resting in her arms. She opened her eyes half expecting to see a child or a young Amazon nestled there, but… it was Xena. It truly was Xena.
Certainly, the borrowed face was different, rounder, not as angular. And the eyes were closed so those amazing blues were hidden from her, but her body knew the identity. ‘ Incredible' , she thought. ‘ This is real.'
Then what was wrong?
Okay, she had a stiff neck and back, probably bad breath, hunger; all being-alive stuff she was still unused to, and yet there was a delicious sensuousness to them all. She looked down at the apparently sleeping face against her chest and finally realised what had been niggling at her: This is the wrong position for us.
Had she not been afraid to wake the sleeper, she'd have laughed out loud at the idiocy that after nine hundred years apart there could be a right or a wrong position. And in their years together, Xena had stubbornly resisted the concept of any thing being their usual way of doing anything .
But even she had grumpily acknowledged, once, that they had a sleeping position that was perfect, and this, as wonderfully sensuous as it was, wasn't it.
As her head cleared more, she realised, or was it remembered? that the aches in her back and side from their sparring were only temporary, soon to be eased by her body's youth. ‘ The brain knows, but the body doesn't' , Xena had said. Which had only served to goad Gabrielle into pushing herself further. It wasn't that the body of the Vestal was out of shape, it just wasn't used to using certain muscles, and it was those that were paining her.
She also remembered that it had been her own half-asleep insistence that Xena lie alongside and on top, as the warrior's stitched butt was in no condition to take any weight. And remembered how their shoulders had slipped over to rest on each other until their faces were inches apart… and they had kissed. Just the once, and she was almost surprised that there was no regret to be found in its gentleness. She touched the memory on her lips with her tongue. Her body remembered Xena. That she could accept, but it seemed that it was also telling her it wanted more.
Wasn't this exactly what she had sworn she would never do again? Take the warrior into her heart, accept the apology and hope that it wouldn't lead to more hurt. What had Ares said, damn him… 'are you just like all the battered wives that refuse to leave their bastard husbands because they looooove them? '
There had been a time when her life hung on the thread of how well she'd been able to interpret the shadows within the warrior's eyes. Had she been avoiding looking into Xena's eyes, afraid of what she'd see? What was more frightening? That the warrior was lying to her, lying to herself - or that she was not? Had Gabrielle become what she'd feared the most? So determined to never trust another that she'd blinded herself to real change?
Maybe. Because this was different. They had talked and she'd seen the pain it caused Xena, but the warrior had still done it. She'd had centuries to think and when Gabrielle had challenged her - that just maybe all that sacrifice was simply for some child on a pedestal, a remembered Gabrielle that was a sweeter memory than the grubby reality - Xena had become poetic. No, things had changed. And she'd changed, too. She was older, and wiser and even with the physical sensations that were stirred by just holding this woman in her arms, she was no shy youth.
And it had been so very long…
Granted, there were still problems. There was the fear contained in the memory of Japa. Of Xena once more being convinced that sacrifice was her Way. If those barriers could be removed then … there were no limits, were there?
She stared at the profile nestled against her shoulder and with a rueful shake of her head accepted what her heart had always known. “ Damn you, Xena,” she thought, “ because you've certainly damned me. Maybe if I'd known I had this same power over you, I could …” what? Believe? Accept?
That she knew this woman, knew her as well as she knew any thing in the world. What they meant and who they were to each other, that knowledge was branded on her soul for the rest of time.
Then as her mind fully cleared, she realised with some chagrin that there was no way that Xena could still be asleep if she, Gabrielle, had awakened. She reached over to lightly tap the forehead in her lap with a fingertip. Immediately the blue eyes unshuttered and the full lips creased into a grin.
“'bout time,” Xena said with a smirk.
Afraid that she had been caught with her thoughts still in her eyes, Gabrielle adopted a light tone. “Good evening to you too. Sorry you were suffering there.” She made to shove Xena's head off, but the long arms reached around and captured hers, and she desisted.
“I, ah, didn't wanta move. Comfy. For the first time… in a very long while.”
Gabrielle gave her a loving glare. “Then say that, okay?” The stroking palm along Xena's forehead offset the glare.
“Okay,” the warrior said softly.
“Are we really in a rush for our own execution?”
At that curt reminder, Xena began to get up. “Right. People to see, Gods to piss off.”
Now it was Gabrielle who held on, pulling the warrior back. “Things to decide. How much time will we have to argue our case? How hard will it be to find the Emperor…'s flunky?”
With a cat-like stretch, Xena eased her body back to its previous contented position. “I'd say it's about midnight now. Assuming Aphrodite's directions are right,” and at this she rolled her eyes, “we should be fine.”
”We meet up with the flunky and you talk. You try to explain why they're about to make the biggest mistake of their lives. Make such a good argument that the Emperor's next in command is willing to make a decision in the absence of the Emperor. Then according to the Fates, we're scheduled to meet with our old buddy.”
Gabrielle blinked. “Me talk? Are you sure? I know it's usually my job and I may have been reading a lot while I was here, but you're the one with the up close and personal knowledge now. You know this history and these guys.”
Xena managed to stay stretched across Gabrielle as she reached over to pick up her sword and examine its newly sharpened edge. “I was never exactly a big fan of Roman leaders, Gabrielle. And the last few lives haven't improved my mood much. Bad enough I'll have to stay in the same room without separating some heads from shoulders. Don't make me debate with them. You wouldn't like the results.”
“That's what I figured.” Gabrielle muttered to herself. More loudly, she said, “So, break over?” and it wasn't really a question. More firmly, she said, “Let's get at that wall, then.”
If Xena had heard the earlier muttered comment, she let it pass, and they brushed out and straightened their clothing relatively quickly and efficiently, except when Gabrielle caught her partner staring at her as she stretched her still stiff joints.
“Vestal Virgin, remember,” she reminded.
“Nope. Gabrielle. Every movement, Gabrielle.” The warrior grinned and shook her head sadly. “But there is a schedule.”
Between sparring, they'd managed to break through to find one final barrier at the very top of the stairway; a doorway that had been bricked in. Strangely enough, there didn't seem to be any mortar holding the bricks together, and they'd removed one brick to assure themselves that it led directly outside. The fresh air and night sounds had confirmed they were probably inches from their goal.
Now they stood behind it again, ready to move out, but still puzzled.
“You didn't find this a bit odd?” Gabrielle asked.
Xena gave the loosened bricks an experimental push. “I know. Doesn't make sense. Give the Romans credit, when they build, they build to last.”
“Exactly. I mean look at this tunnel. Solid. It goes through marshes, up a good sized hill, but no water, no rats. Dry as a bone. All to lead to this?”
Xena continued to examine the structure. “Ya know, I could swear that there used to be mortar, but somehow it's all just disa…”
“Aphrodite,” they both realised simultaneously.
There was a flash and that personage appeared. “Hey guys, people have been looking all over for you! Whatsup?"
The partners looked at each other, realising what her statement meant and what this visit was. Xena groaned. “This is Dite, from before she meets us… Oh, Gods. Can you handle this?”
Gabrielle chuckled and condescendingly patted the distressed warrior on the shoulder. “It's okay, I‘ve got it.”
Oblivious to the interplay, Aphrodite burbled, “Have I got news for you!”
Gabrielle interrupted. “We know. You have the Loom. That's great. But we need you to go back in time, back there in the tunnel, about six candlemarks and tell us all about it then.”
Somewhat miffed at her news not being news, the Goddess asked plaintatively, “Why can't I just tell you now?”
“Because we already know from when you told us before.”
“Headache. Right about here,” Xena moaned, rubbing her forehead.
“It's really important,” Gabrielle urged.
For a moment it looked like the Goddess was about to refuse, but catching Gabrielle's eye and the appeal she saw there, she huffed and said, “Fine. What-Ever.” And once again they were alone on the stairway.
Still rubbing her forehead, Xena had to ask, “If she's been up at the Fates, seeing and all seeing, why doesn't she know she already visited us?”
“Probably because it hasn't happened to her yet. The timeline hasn't resolved itself for her. There's our world and Aphrodite's world.”
“That I'd known for a while.” Xena gave the loose bricks another shove. “Now that's dealt with, d'you wanna just bust it in?”
Gabrielle looked up at the height of the wall. “I thought we wanted the element of surprise?”
Xena made a shushing movement, and a pair of curious but bloodshot eyes appeared peering through the gap in the wall they had made. They each looked at one other.
“Surprise is overrated.” Xena took a deep breath and with a characteristic cry, leapt upwards and kicked down the wall. As the dust cleared, they could see two booted feet sticking out from the pile of rubble.
“Well, no one else might be, but I bet he was surprised,” Gabrielle remarked.
The fresh night air flowed about them as, all business now; they stepped over the bricks and the body, prepared for whomever else was on guard.
To be continued...
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