by katharsis 9
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and everyone else that's been on the show belong to Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal Studios, blah blah blah. British readers may or may not recognize Xena's cousin, never mind the inside joke. Thank the gods the lucky lisp disappeared in the latter generations. Uncle Stavros, Elaiana and Makhet sprang forth from my twisted little mind.©Stiffneck Run Werks.
Warnings: Rated R for some language, graphic violence, heavy drinking, graphic drug use (please tell me I'm not the only one who caught Xena about to hit that hookah in Who's Ghurkan?), and two women in a seroius relationship in a sexual nature. If reading such material is illegal where you live, then stop and turn back. If you’re under 18, good-bye. No need for you to see this. If it is legal and you are of legal age, and this sort of stuff bothers you, then do not read below this line and go back.
Spoiler Alert: This story takes place after CRUSADER.
Pronunciation Guide: Makhet: (Muh •KETT')
Summary: After barely surviving the first encounter with Najara, Xena releuctantly heads home to Amphipolis with a worried Gabrielle. Soon after they arrive, strange things begin to happen.
Please feel free to drop me a line at the e-mail address above. If you’re nice I’ll answer ya, but if ya flame me, feel the wrath of my adamantium claws. Are they gone? Really? Okay, now that we’ve lost the prudes, the kids and the confused, onward shall we go...
for the night to fall
Now everything is bearable
And here in
All that you feel is tranquility
Wrong place wrong time
You can't be serious.”
Gabrielle stopped dead in her tracks, not believing what she had just heard coming out of Xena's mouth. “For the love of Gaia, Xena!” And this was suppposed to be a halfway decent day, too. The last thing the bard needed was another argument, but that chariot was rolling downhill faster than the rapid descent of Hephaestus from Mount Olympus.
Noticing that she wasn't being followed, Xena stopped also. “Gimme a break, Gabrielle. I just thought I could come up with a better tag-line. 'I have many skills' is getting kinda lame. You said so yourself.” Grumbling to herself, Xena tugged on Argo's reins and kept walking along the beaten path with Gabrielle keeping in step.
“Yeah, but I DIDN'T say for you to come up with an even lamer one.”
“And exactly WHAT is so lame about it?” She demanded, fixing a milder version of the “look of death” on her companion.
The bard snorted, unfazed by the icy blue stare. “Listen to yourself (with a near-perfect imitation of Xena's voice) 'I'm the best there is at what I do and what I do isn't nice.' That does NOT look good on parchment and is never ever gonna catch on. And let's not get into how utterly pretentious it sounds.”
“Pretentious?” Xena echoed. She cranked up the intensity of her “look-of death” another notch. “Pretentious?!? I just happen to be the best there is at what I-”
Grunting in frustration, Gabrielle tightened her grip on her staff and pounded it deeper into the ground with every step. “Oh, please! We all know what a bad ass you are. But do you have to announce it every where you go? You'll have every warlord and wanna-be after you!”
“Let them come.” That oughta shut her up.
Gabrielle didn't like the sound of that. She prayed to any gods that were listening that they would arrive at Amphipolis in one piece. The bard was grateful that Xena agreed to the trip. The encounter with Najara had been unnerving. At first, the blonde crusader seemed to embody the perfect warrior, determined in carrying out her mission to bring the world into “the light”. Taken in by the promising cause, Gabrielle was just about ready to join her and did. Then it was revealed that Najara was nothing more than a cold-blooded killer driven by voices in her head, murdering anyone that didn't agree with her vision. When Xena confronted Najara with the truth, the resulting battle left the warrior princess unconscious on the tavern floor. One lost tooth and another confrontation later, the would-be crusader was hauled off to the nearest jail. Gabrielle shuddered at the thought that she had let herself to swept away by Najara's sermon, believing that at last she could embark on her own quest for inner peace. But that was not to be. There was still the matter of her warrior with a lingering case of blood-lust. She cast a sidelong glance at Xena as they continued their walk. The tall warrior stood ramrod straight, a feral gleam in her eye. She won't won't even admit how badly she was hurt. She's walking more stiffly than usual. No one can heal that fast, not even her. And damned if she's gonna get the last word. “Xena, you can't fight everybody.”
“Can't I?” Xena hissed, glaring at the bard. “You didn't have a problem when I stomped Najara's ass!”
“And then you went on to 'stomp' everyone else's!” Gabrielle retorted, her temper flaring. “Did you have to pick a fight with the ugliest goon at the last tavern we were at?”
“I didn't like that off-color remark he made to you.”
“Well, it didn't justify your slamming him head-first into a wall!”
“It felt good.”
“Yeah, I'll bet it did. 'I'm the best there is at what I do and what I do isn't nice.' Ever since we've tangled with Najara, you've just been so...so...angry lately, and you've done just about nothing but hit the taverns looking for trouble. Just what are you trying to prove?”
“What don't I have to prove?!? I'm a warrior, Gabrielle! It's in my nature! I have to be the best! If I can't be, then I'm nothing!”
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed as she fought back tears. “No. You're just pissed off because someone came along and actually beat you! You think I liked watching her pound you into a bloody pulp?!?”
“Well, what did you expect me to do? Run? I don't run from fights, you know that!”
“Do you have a death wish?”
Xena's eyes narrowed. “What?”
Gabrielle knew she was touching on a raw nerve, but she didn't care. “I said, do you have a death wish? I can't help but notice. You've been having this look in your eye, as if the next battle will be your last. Answer me, do you want to die?”
“I don't wanna talk about it.”
“Of course not, far be it from you to worry me! If I didn't know better, I'd think you want to hurry up and die to avoid whatever it is you're brooding about!”
“Are you calling me a coward?!?”
“I never meant that, I just-”
“THEN WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU MEAN, THEN?!?”
Gabrielle recoiled as if she'd been slapped. She let the tears flow this time. How much longer till we get there? I don't know how much more I can take this. She turned away and walked in silence, staring at the ground upon which she trod.
Xena regretted her outburst as soon as she uttered it. Damn, what's wrong with me? Gabrielle's right. I am pissed off. Maybe I do need some downtime. Gods, she's crying. She placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder for her to stop and turned to face her. “Gabrielle,” she said more gently. “I'm sorry I yelled at you. I...I had no idea how much this upset you.”
Gabrielle raised her tear-filled green eyes. “I almost lost you, Xena. You need to slow down. You've been pushing yourself too hard lately and it's scaring me.” She touched her warrior's cheek. “Please. You've been hurt badly. I know you've been trying to hide it, but I can see it. Could you get some rest, even for a little while? Your mother will be glad to see you again.”
Xena closed her eyes and sighed. “All right.” She couldn't refuse the bard's gentle plea, but she still dreaded the visit home. Mother was bound to have a cow when she got a look at the new cuts and bruises.
They finally arrived at Amphipolis as the sun reached it's zenith in the sky. It would be lunchtime at the tavern, and hopefully, Cyrene would be too busy to fuss over her only daughter. The two travelers walked through the town with Argo in tow. The town was bustling with life as the people hurried through daily routines. They stopped at a blacksmith shop. Outside it, a handsome young man with a prominent chin and thick eyebrows was hammering out some metal on an anvil, his bare chest gleaming from sweat. He paused in his work as he looked up at the new arrivals and grinned. “Hey, Thena! Gabweille! How'th it going?”
“Juth fine, Mor,” Xena smiled. “How's Uncle Stavros?”
“Pa'th juth fine,” he smiled back. “Thaying long?”
“I dunno. Depends on how much work Ma lays on me.” She shrugged.
“Are you still singing?” Gabrielle asked. “You do have a beautiful voice.”
“Well, Pa thill hathint gotten ovah my lath performinth, but Aunt Thywene's been after me to do anothah one. I juth might.”
“Go for it,” Gabrielle encouraged. “Who knows, if you keep it up, you might find yourself a famous performer renowned throughout Greece and beyond.”
Mor considered that possibility and smiled dreamily. “Yeah. The Thinging Thmith. I like that. Maybe I could have a band, too. Think you can talk Jokthah to play the lywe again?”
Xena groaned inwardly. This town might as well get it over with and adopt the idiot, already. “We'll see, Mor. Well, we're off to Mom'th. Pray for uth.”
“Thure thing, Cuthz. Thee ya later.”
“Yeah, Thee ya.” And caught herself. “See you, Mor,” She and Gabrielle moved off to head to the tavern as the smith's throaty laughter was eventually drowned out by the clang of metal. Why is it that every time I talk to Mor I eventually wind up sounding like him? Hef on crutches. She rolled her eyes and muttered, much to her companion's amusement. “What's so damn funny?”
“Oh, nothing.” The bard innocently replied. “Just thinking about how you two would make such a lovely duet.”
“I'm counting on it.”
The warrior's earlier fury melted away with that last crack. They arrived at their destination in no time at all and led Argo to the stables. Their conversation as they took care of the mare became quiet and relaxed for the first time in days. Once Argo was settled in, they walked out of the stables towards the tavern.
Xena felt the familiar throb of her bones aching in protest and began to feel the effects of the beating dealt her by Najara. She couldn't shake the nagging feeling that another encounter of the blonde warrior was in the cards and the thought of it made her hackles rise. And I was gonna leave Gabrielle with that lunatic? What was I thinking? I wasn't. All I could see-can see is that damn vision. And how in Tartarus did that bitch know, anyway? I should have killed her when I had the chance.
So much for letting go.
They entered the tavern, which was in the middle of a lunch rush. Xena spotted her mother darting about from table to table taking and filling orders. Elaina was there working also. To Xena's relief, Elaina's daughter Mara was nowhere to be found. The last thing she needed was another jealous tirade from Gabrielle. She was just about to lead her bard to a table when she turned and ran smack into Cyrene.
“Xena!” Cyrene cried. “You're here! I've missed you so much, how have you been?!?” She enveloped her daughter in a crushing hug.
Xena's eyes popped wide open as a previously unnoticed cracked rib made itself known. Grimacing, she returned the hug. “Hello. Mother.”
Cyrene graciously led the two women to a table before dashing off to the kitchen.
Xena sat down at the table suppressing the urge to scream. As soon as Gabrielle sat down beside her, she felt a little better. She covered the bard's hand with her own, offering a crooked smile.
Within moments, Cyrene returned to their table with a tray of steaming plates, a pitcher of cider and mugs. Gabrielle wasted no time tearing into her meal. “This is delicious, Cyrene,” She said. “So, how have you been?”
The older woman sat down and smiled. “Oh just fine. Busy, as usual. Have you seen Toris? He's been out hunting deer all morning. He really should be back by now, it's the middle of lunch, I'm running out of meat and I don't want to borrow any more sheep from Xipphantes again.”
“MmmmmmNo,” Xena replied around sloshes of stew, knowing damn well exactly what her brother would be up to now. “Ran into Mor, though. So Toris is hunting deer, huh?” She dramatically lowered her voice. “How manly.”
Cyrene laughed. “Oh, Xena! Be nice! Ever since he's moved in, he's been volunteering to do all sorts of things around the place and he insists on hunting for lots of meat. I'm just happy he's back home. But enough about Toris.”
Xena cringed. Oh boy, here it comes.
Cyrene leaned in and got a good look at the bruises on her daughter's face before straightening with a heavy sigh. “What happened? You look as if you've been beaten half to death.”
“Hef on crutches, Ma! It's not that serious!”
“Don't give me that, I know better! I saw the way you walk, you look about ready to topple over!”
Xena looked over at Gabrielle with pleading eyes. A little help, here? The bard slowly shook her head. I guess not. She was going to have to give her mother the short version, leaving the sordid details for later. “Mom, we met this warrior. I got beat up bad. The warrior is in jail. End of story.”
“And...?” Cyrene prompted.
The warrior let out a long sigh. “Come on, Ma, it's the middle of lunch, you've got customers.”
“They can wait. I need to know if you're all right.”
“Ma, I'm fine. Really.”
“I don't believe you.”
“So when's Toris coming back?” Desperately trying to divert attention away from herself, Xena peered over her mother's shoulder at the crowd hoping to spot her older brother.
Cyrene wasn't having it. “Don't change the subject. Toris may be late, but you're here. I'm not getting up from this table until you tell me what happened.”
“Ma...” Ignoring the pain in her joints, Xena curled her hand purposely around her mug and took a hearty swig. The cold liquid crashed against a particularly sore spot in her mouth. The searing jolt of pain from that raw nerve shot so fast that the warrior didn't have time to ignore it, much less react. The cider hit the back of her throat and down the wrong pipe. Xena's face contorted into a mask of pain as she jerked forward and expelled the liquid onto the table. “Aaaagh!” She angrily brushed off Gabrielle's worried hands.
Cyrene had gotten up and went around the table to inspect her daughter more closely. She leaned forward and cupped Xena's face with her hands. “Open your mouth.” When a pained shake of the head was her only reply, Cyrene grasped her daughter's jaw and pried her mouth open. “Oh gods...Xena, you got a tooth knocked out!”
“Buv ith nod bad, weally!” The warrior mumbled, wincing in pain at her sore jaw.
Cyrene dropped her hands and sighed. “What am I going to do with you?”
“We're going to stay until Xena is better,” Gabrielle chose this moment to finally speak. “Right?” She gently elbowed Xena in the ribs before the warrior could retort.
“Uh-huh.” Xena replied through clenched teeth deciding that if she just complied, the two women in her life would back off and leave her alone. That, and Toris is due back any time, and then I'll hear it from him. It's a conspiracy.
“All right, Ma. We're staying for a bit.” The scrying pool's image of the raven-haired woman flanked by her mother and companion rippled. The dark figure above it stared at the scene before straightening. “She's come back home, and not a moment too soon.” She said to no one in particular. With a wave of her hand, the image in the scrying pool vanished. She was in her chamber, where her magic was most powerful. The woman had long, dark hair and shining black eyes. At her feet lay several large black hounds, looking up at her expectantly. She bent down and patted each of the dog's heads in turn. Linking their souls with hers, she used their keen hearing to listen to the whispers of the dead. The thing she wanted, the item which would grant her ultimate power was on the move, carried by one who knew not of its power. She had but little time left to act before her enemy could get to it first. She waved her hand over the scrying pool once more and another image appeared, that of a lone figure walking along a road. “He approaches, doing her dirty work while she hides on her island.” One of the dogs whimpered and she rested her hand on the giant head, stroking gently. “The time has come to end this once and for all. The red-haired witch will not get her hands on it first. I swear it. Now, I must act quickly, or all is lost.” The dark goddess straightened once more and began to gather the elements of the ritual.
The sun hovered over the tall trees of the forest on its slow descent into the earth. The hum of insects and other critters filled the air. A still-sleeping owl in the distance ruffled its feathers in preparation of its nightly hunt. Leaning up against a giant tree sat Xena and Toris, passing a smoking wooden pipe between them.
“So she rode your ass too, huh, Toris?”
“Oh gods, did she ever! 'You missed the lunch rush, Toris! Why do you have to chase that buck all over the forest when there's other game? Don't you know how dangerous that place is?' And on and on....”
“You get off easy. 'Xena, have you come home to die? Why do you insist on getting into fight after fight, after fight? Just what do you have to prove?' And I'd just got through arguing with Bri earlier about the same fucking thing. HEF on crutches, what is with all this bitching?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You gonna pass that or pass out?”
“Oh. Sorry, Xe.'Ere.”
Fffffffft! Ffft! Ffft! “Toris, when was the last time you cleaned this thing?”
“I dunno. Moons, maybe?”
“You mind if I...”
“Yeah, go right ahead. You don't think they've noticed we're gone, have they?”
“Nah, they ain't gonna look for us in a while. We wouldn't even be here if SOMEBODY hadn't sat on their ass getting stoned all day missing the lunch rush and leaving poor Ma without meat and...”
“All right, all right, I get the point...”
“Hey, just think of it as a little vacation. You from Mom, and me from Mom AND Gabrielle. Besides, it's been ages since we hung out, ya know?”
“Yeah. You've got your cool moments.”
“Thanks, but don't tell anybody. Where's that dog of yours?”
“Eh, probably curled up on Gabrielle's lap right now. He loves her hard.”
“Well, he better be getting off her lap when I come back.”
“You're not jealous of Lumpy, are you?”
“That dog hates me. He'll hang around Gabrielle, licking her hand, sitting on her lap, humping her leg, and if I go near her, he'll growl at me. I just rather he not be around her so much.”
“Are too. You know, Gabrielle kinda has the same problem when it comes to Mara.”
“You just had to bring that up, didn't you? That kid just kept following me around. What was I supoosed to do?”
“Tell her to go away.”
“Fat lot of good that did.”
“And you wonder why you slept in the barn that night.”
“Don't remind me.”
“No problem. Hey, you've been digging for a while, sis. Whatcha find in there?”
“Damn, Tor, do you EVER clean this pipe? It's a fucking quagmire in here.” Dig. Dig. Schlupt! “Oh, shit.”
“That is one big blob.”
“Ya got something for me to smear this on?”
“Thanks.” Spread. spread. “You know this is the concentrated stuff. Smoke this, and you'll be floating for hours.”
“Yeah, especially when you roll it up with the buds mixed in.”
“And it bubbles when you light it up.”
“Okay, all done. Aw, man! My fingers are covered with the stuff! Ugh! Damn. Won't come off. Gimme that oil.”
“Yeah, just a little sore. All right. Lighting up.” Ffffft. Cough! Cough! Hack! Wheeeezeeeeee!
“Cleaned it a little too well, huh?”
Hack Hack Hu-Whuuuuck! Ptui! “Oh, yeah.”
“Ain't gonna.” Cough! Cough! Hoouaaaagh! Kaff! Kaff! “Too stubborn. 'Ere.”
Fffffffffffffffffffft. Hnkt! Hnkt! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeew.
“Where'd you get this stuff, again?”
“Ya wanna talk paranoid? Uncle's always sitting in a corner somewhere in the tavern so he can watch the whole room. At least the troublemakers know better than to mess with very big guy with very big hands.”
“No shit! And then I'd would go up to him and he'd be like, 'Why you here? I'm trying to watch the place!' And then later, we'd go out back and puff a little...”
“Speak for yourself, Miss Suck-it-all-down.”
“Har-de-har har. So what happened today? You get lost or something?”
“Well, like Mom said, I was chasing this buck as big as a house all over the place, and yeah, I was stoned. Eventually I lost him and wound up further away from town that I thought. I found myself in a part of the forest I'd never been in. There was this giant willow tree, the largest I had ever seen. And I could tell no one had been there. It was so quiet, I couldn't hear any birds singing. It took me hours to find my way back, and it was well after lunch. Man, was Mom pissed.”
“Yeah, I was there. Glad you showed up when you did. She was just going on and on how could I get myself hurt that bad, and...”
“You gonna pass that, or pass out?”
“Oh, very funny, Toris. So where's this place?”
“That's just it. When I found the trail back home, I doubled back so I could find it again and...”
“You got lost again.”
“Uh-huh.” Toris squinted at the sky once before standing, gathering his bow and quiver. “We gotta get goin' and actually hunt something before the sun sets.”
“Yeah, okay.” With a barely stifled groan, Xena pushed and shoved her body upright, ignoring Toris' questioning look.
“Xe, are you...”
“I'm fine, Tor. Just a little sore. I'm a warrior, I get beat up all the time, it's nothing. Ain't feeling no pain, now.”
“Okay, whatever you say. Shall we?”
They entered the thick of the forest in silence. After a few moments of searching. Xena touched her brother's arm and pointed to a set of deer tracks embedded in the earth. The trail wound deeper into the woods. “It's the stag!” he whispered. “I'm sure of it!”
“Want me to flush him out?” his sister asked with a wicked gleam in her eyes.
Well, why not? “Sure.” He grinned. “Do your stuff, sis.”
“Yeah. Just be ready.” Her face spreading to a goofy, stoned grin, Xena shot straight up in the air and landed neatly on a rather high branch of a nearby tree. “C'Mon!” She deftly leapt onto the branches of the next tree over, and then another. Toris followed down below, drawing an arrow from his quiver. He looked down just long enough to notch the shaft and when he looked back up, Xena was nowhere in sight. He heard movement in the trees, but it could have been the wind for all he knew. “Uh...sis?” He stopped short, looking up at the trees. “Sis?” Shrugging, he continued to follow the deer tracks. Well, she always had a thing for the forest. Was it just him, or did Xena seem more agitated than usual? When Toris had returned from his failed hunting trip, he had been surprised to see Xena and Gabrielle at the tavern. His sister had been hunched over the table enduring a lecture form Mother. One glance had told him that all was not well. There had been a look in Xena's eye of what seemed like profound doom, with Gabrielle looking on worriedly. Of course, Mother hadn't been too happy he'd arrived empty-handed, but then he'd promised to go out later. Xena had immediately volunteered to go with him, over the protests of both Mother and Gabrielle. Eventually, Mother had to return to serving her customers. The store of meat had run out just as lunch ended. Now he had to make up for it in time for dinner. He'd been chasing that giant stag ever since he'd spotted it days ago.
A rustle of leaves from above caught his attention. Shortly, a piercing cry which could only have come from Xena rang in his ears. That's it. Toris stopped and drew back the string of his bow as a rumble of hooves approached him. Out of a clump of bushes twenty paces ahead burst a young buck. The frightened animal spotted him and began to veer of in another direction. Just as it was making its turn, Toris let the arrow fly. With a meaty THUNK, it sank into the deer's neck. The buck landed on its side, twitching violently with blood pouring from its mouth. Toris strode over, knife in hand and grasping an antler, slit the animal's throat in one swift motion. The body went limp as its lifeblood pumped into the ground. “Okay Xe, I've got him! You can come down now!”
Rolling his eyes in annoyance, he dragged the carcass over to a nearby creek fed by a bubbly spring to wash and skin it. To his disappointment, it wasn't the giant stag he was after, but it would do. At least Mother would be pleased. He dumped the body on the edge of the creek, sat cross-legged and unslung two leather satchels from his shoulder and placed it open on the ground. He regarded the sky once more. The sun was just about ready to sink into the horizon. Plenty of time until dinner. With his knife he slit the deer from gullet to groin. The innards spilled steaming onto the ground. He meticulously cleaned each organ and placed them in one satchel. He removed the skin and washed it before folding it neatly. The meat itself was cleaned thoroughly and tied into a large bundle with a long leather thong. He decided to leave the head for scavengers. After the job was done, he stood and looked once more for Xena. Where is she? “Hey, Xena!” he called. “Where ya at? I ain't carrying all this shit back by myself, ya know! We gotta get goin'!”
“Okay, but can I clean these first?”
With a yelp, Toris whipped around to find a grinning Xena holding up five rabbits along with what looked like some overgrown pheasant. “Man, I hate when you do that!” He sputtered. “Ya could've helped, ya know.” He tilted his chin at his kill.
Xena screwed her face into a half-pout, half-smirk. ”Why? You were doing such a great job of it yourself.” She plunked down her kill by the creek and squatted to clean and skin them. “I thought I'd add to the menu is all.”
“Yeah, well...” He dropped beside her and took a rabbit. ”Thanks for helping.”
A comfortable silence fell between them as they worked. Toris glanced over at his younger sister quietly noting the scars and bruises just now starting to to fade, and the apparent stiffness in her limbs. She'd always been the strong one in the family, getting into more than enough scraps as a kid. His stint as a warrior had been brief. He thought he had it in him to deal with the gore and carnage, but when it came down to it, he couldn't kill in cold blood. He still had the skills he had learned over the years, but now concentrated them on hunting. He knewthat warriors lived brief and violent lives, with the possibility of death hanging over them in every moment, but he'd always believed that his sister was different from all the rest. She'd always managed to overcome the most daunting of odds, even returning from the dead. When it came down to it, she seemed virtually invincible at times. Still, there would come a day when some young punk would get in a lucky shot. The fatigued form beside him bore testament to that. From the looks of it, Xena had been within spitting distance of that lucky shot. Earlier, he'd heard the tail end of Gabrielle's account of the warrior that had nearly done his sister in. Something told him that there was more to it. Maybe there was no way in Tartarus Xena was going to talk about it, but he had to know. “So you got worked over pretty bad, huh?” he asked quietly, not looking up.
The thick crunch of bone was his only reply. Then all movement beside him stopped.
Ignoring the warning silence, he pressed on. “Come on, sis. You look like you've been run over by a herd of centaurs. I heard what happened, about that warrior, how she nearly killed you. But that's not what's bothering you, is it?”
Xena let the rabbit's body slide from her hands, its spine crushed. She sat staring into the creek at the now-bloodied water washing downstream. “What makes you think it's not?” She hissed through clenched teeth.
“Gabrielle said the woman was some sort of crusader, hearing voices in her head, rambling on about 'the light', or something. What it something she said, or...”
“Tor, drop it.”
“I don't think so. From the way Gabrielle was talking, I could tell there was something else going on, something you don't want to talk about.”
“I mean it, Toris.”
“What was so special about this one, sis? You've gotten beaten before, but none of them got to you like this one did. Talk to me. I only want to...”
“I almost lost Gabrielle to her, all right?!? That bitch snowed her over with her damned sermon, and I let it happen!!! Is that want you want to hear?!? Are you happy now?!?” With a strangled yell, Xena slammed her fist into the pile of bodies and was instantly covered in blood and guts.
Toris simply watched as his sister broke down. Her shoulders quivered in a mix of rage and frustration. He wondered whether it was worth it, needling her like that. The physical scars from her last escapade would soon fade, but the emotional ones would linger for a time yet. He lightly touched her shoulder, and when his hand wasn't shrugged off, he slid his arm around her. “Did you kill her?”
“No. We put her in jail.”
“Well, that one less death on your conscience.”
“Don't be too sure.” Finally, she met his blue eyes with her own. “When we first met, I believed she fought for a noble cause. I figured that Gabrielle would be better off if she was with her. She fooled us, especially Gabrielle.”
He squeezed her shoulders briefly. “But why did you want to leave Gabrielle with that woman? I thought you loved her.”
A heavy sighed escaped Xena's lips. She turned from him and stared into the bubbly creek. “I love Gabrielle with all my heart and soul. I would do anything to keep her safe. If she stays with me, she will die.”
Toris' brows wrinkled in confusion. “Um, I know I'm stoned and all, but uh...that doesn't exactly make sense. I mean, you are more than capable of protecting Gabrielle. What do you mean, she'll die?”
“Toris...what I'm about to tell you must never be repeated to anyone else.”
“Not even Gabrielle?”
“Especially Gabrielle. Promise me you won't tell.”
“I give you my word.”
She turned her ice-blue eyes upon him once more, deadly serious. “Last year, when I was searching for Gabrielle, I encountered a a shamaness named Alti. She had the ability to make people experience pain, even death, through visions by touching them. When we fought, she tried to kill me by making me experience my death through visions of the future. In the last vision, I was lying on a snowy mountain, unable to move, being tied to a cross. I turned my head, and there was Gabrielle, tied to a cross as well. We were about to be crucified. It's going to happen. I can accept it if it was only me, but not Gabrielle. I thought that if I left her with Najara, she would be saved from that future.”
Toris felt a dip in his stomach as the the revelation imprinted itself on his psyche. He realized with a sinking heart the certainty of the dark future in store for his sister. Denial seemed a viable option. “Xena...you've always believed that we all create our own destinies. For all you know, that witch created that vision to rattle you. You don't really believe you're going to die, are you?”
“Toris...a few of those visions have already come true. One of them...was when I fought Najara.”
So much for denial. “You...you saw that?”
“Oh man...” He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close. “I don't want you to die. Gods know...I don't want you to die.” He wept freely, feeling the utter hopelessness of the curse weighing upon Xena's shoulders. “I love you so much,” he sobbed against her hair.
“And I love you too.” Xena hugged her brother back. “There's nothing that can be done. I'm going to die, Toris. It may happen tomorrow, next month, or maybe years from now. But it will happen.”
“Isn't there anything you can do to stop it?”
“Short of leaving Gabrielle? No.”
He released her from the embrace and faced her, tears streaming down his cheeks. “You have to tell her.”
“I gave my word I wouldn't tell and I won't. But sooner or later, you have to tell Gabrielle the truth. Maybe the two of you can come up with a way to avoid this.”
“I'm not sure that's gonna happen.”
“But you have to try. Otherwise, what's the point? You keep saying over and over again that Gabrielle is your source, your light. If you could just let her in, you could draw from that source. Don't prove me wrong.”
His impassioned words stirred in Xena a faint glimmer of hope. Perhaps Toris was right. With a sigh, she said, “I'll think about it.”
“No. You promise me you'll tell her.”
“All right. I promise. Just now right now, you understand? We're here to rest, and I don't want to ruin it.” She gazed upwards and noted that the sun was hovering ever so precariously over the tree-tops. “Now can we please finish this up and get home before Mother sends out a search party after us?”
“Yeah.” He managed a weak smile as he wiped away his tears. “Let's get outta here before you decide to squash any more rabbits, huh?”
They made it back just in time for dinner. Gabrielle greeted them both from a bench with a furry lump curled up beside her with his head on her lap. Lumpy the dog was literally a bag of dark brown fur with shiny black eyes and an equally shiny black nose. When his human pillow got up, he grumbled in protest. He looked up to see where it went and found the small bard wrapped in the arms of the human that smelled like his master. He growled at the tall form, letting her know his displeasure. Xena stared right back at him with her “look of death”, and he backed off with a whine, his tail between his legs.
Cyrene was delighted with the fresh meat and carried it to the kitchen to start a whirlwind of cooking. Gabrielle immediately volunteered to help in the kitchen. When Xena went to follow her, Toris went to the far corner of the tavern and sat at that table. Lumpy the dog slumped to the floor curled around his feet, with a sigh. As expected, the tavern was full of hungry patrons waiting for their supper. Uncle Stavros arrived, a tall man with dark brown hair and beard with streaks of grey. His cornflower blue eyes swept over the crowd as he made his way to his usual spot on his sister's tavern with a thump and drag which could be heard from twenty leagues away. He'd had the limp ever since Cortese and his men invaded Amphipolis so long ago. While trying in vain to protect his smithy, the soldiers had overpowered him and smashed his leg with his own blacksmith hammer before murdering his wife before his very eyes. His once powerful frame hunched over from years of heartache and pain, he limped to his usual spot in the far corner of the tavern. He swung his cane at a very dangerous arc, making people in his path scurry to the side. He frowned when he saw Toris already occupying his spot. “Toris, what you doing there? That's my spot.” He growled.
“Uh...sorry, Uncle” Toris mumbled as he moved over.
Stavros hauled himself into a chair with a wooomph! Once he was settled, he made sure to scold his nephew. “Toris! What with you and this last-minute stuff? Why you come home with nothing today? Why it take you so long?”
Toris shrugged. Here we go. “Well Uncle,” he sighed. “That stuff you gave me this morning was a little strong, and...”
“What kind of excuse is that? You suppose to be the man of the house now. What if something happen to you while your head in the clouds? You wanna make your mother cry?”
Toris rolled his eyes. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Stavros droned on and on about what was wrong and what he would do about it ad nauseum. There was just no winning with this guy. There was a time when the former blacksmith barely said a word. Once he'd discovered cannabis though, it was like the floodgates were thrown wide open and he just wouldn't shut up. Where the heck was Xena? Or better yet, Mor?
Elaina, the tavern's perennial barmaid, whizzed by the tables carrying a tray full of food and mugs. She placed each item on various table with a speed and accuracy that belied her age. When she reached the far corner, Stavros, got up halfway from his chair, and, leaning on his cane, neatly plucked a mug of ouzo from her tray as she passed by. “Hey!” She yelped. “Could you at least wait until I get to your table, you old fool?!?”
“MmmmmmNo.” Stavros' reply disappeared into the mug as he took a long draught.
The barmaid shook her finger at him with her free hand. “Cane, or no cane, you try that again, I'll give you such a thrashing!”
Snorting in disgust, Elaina continued on her rounds.
“I think she likes you, Uncle.” Both Toris and Stavros jumped when Xena unexpectedly appeared standing over their table.
“Zeus, Hera and Haphaestus limping on crutches!” Stavros nearly spilled his ouzo. “What you try to do, scare an old man to death?”
Toris quietly thanked any god that was listening Uncle Stavros had found someone new to bitch at.
Xena leaned in a pecked a kiss on her uncle's temple before settling into the chair beside him. “Cripes, Uncle, I didn't mean ta scare ya. How's it goin'?”
“Better than you. What happen? You go up against a chimera and lose?”
“You should see the other person.”
“Hmmph! Your wife say you got tossed down some stairs. Then you get a tooth knocked out.”
“What the matter with you? You sick? You mentally retarded? One punch too many scramble your brains? You lucky you walked away from that. What, you wanna make your wife cry?”
“Gabrielle is not my...”
“Oh she not? Then what you banging her for? Oh, the stories she tell about you, ya think you're some kind of...”
Xena buried her face in her hands as Uncle kept on and on... When will this ever end? She shot a glare at Toris, whose shoulders were quivering in silent laughter. I am in Tartarus.
Elaina chose this moment to arrive at the table with dishes of food along with a pitcher of ouzo. She smiled warmly at Xena and Toris and scowled at Stavros. “Hello, Xena. Nice to see you again. You're looking well.”
Xena felt a blush start at the back of her neck and creep to her face. “Uhh, hello, Elaina. Er, How are ya?” As long as you don't mention Mara.
Elaina put down her tray and lingered a bit, much to Stavros' annoyance. “Oh, just fine. I've got myself a new garden and you just wouldn't believe the beautiful flowers that are growing and...”
“Uh-huh.” So far, so good. A wide, nervous grin spread on Xena's face in spite of her self. Maybe if I just smile and nod, she'll go away.
“There was this one flower that took the longest time to bloom and...”
“Uh-huh.” That's right. Keep talking about your garden and not mention your crazy daughter. I really don't want to sleep in the barn tonight.
“Oh, and Mara says hi and might be coming by soon.”
Do'h! Ignoring the snickering coming from Toris, Xena grinned even wider. Thank the gods Gabrielle is out of earshot. “Uh...well...”
Uncle Stavros cut in, “Oh, I don't think her wife'll like that.”
Xena stared at him incredulously. Not helping, Uncle.
Elaina kept talking as if she hadn't been interrupted. “And of course, she'll be happy to see Gabrielle too.”
“Meow.” Toris could resist adding.
Xena narrowed her eyes at the two men. I'm gonna kill them. They think this is all so damned funny. “Ahh, well...uh...” Where is Gabrielle? “Uh... thanks. I think.”
The barmaid smiled sweetly and patted Xena's cheek. “Oh, she is so looking forward to seeing you. Whoops! Gotta go. Bye!” She rushed to the next table.
“Greeeeat.” The warrior grimaced after her. Stay away from Mara AND keep Mara away from Gabrielle. Yeah, I've got my work cut out for me.
“Where your wife anyway?” Stavros asked around a mouthful of potatoes. “She were here she'd plow though the plate and start eyeing everyone else's. What, you don't feed her?”
“For the last time, she's not my-” Xena began than thought the better of it. “In the kitchen, with Mother.” Yeah, Uncle, keep eating. Maybe you'll stuff your mouth with too much food to keep talking.
So much for that idea. “Why you no marry her? She good for you. Make you smile. Not like Mara. That girl nothing but trouble. Just ask Toris about his rash.”
“Hey!” Toris protested.
“Or was it Metruis? I forget.”
Xena exhaled a sigh of relief when she spotted Gabrielle emerge from the kitchen and approach the table, weaving in and out through the crowd. “Mom threw you out of the kitchen, huh?” She asked as the bard squeezed into the seat next to her.
“Yeah,” Gabrielle sighed. “She was like, 'Oh, you're just running yourself ragged. That is enough cooking for you. Go keep my daughter out of trouble.' So...” She wrapped one arm around Xena's waist and leaned in inhaling the scent of leather. “Here I am.” In a flash, Elaina appeared with a plate of food, placed it in front of the bard with a wink and a smile, then disappeared back into the crowd.
“You cook this?” Uncle Stavros leaned forward and peered around his niece at the petite bard. “This is good.”
“Thank you,” Gabrielle smiled back. “I'm glad you like it, Stavros.”
“No, no, call me Uncle. You practically part of the family now. At least you the one who tame my crazy niece. This one.” He jabbed a thumb at said crazy niece. “Always in trouble. Run around like some crazy person. Now, still crazy, still running around, but.you train her real good, eh?”
“Uhhh, yeah, sure...Uncle.” The bard cast a curious glance at Xena, who quirked a small grin. “It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.” She chose to ignore the sharp blue-eyed daggers heading her way.
Uncle went back to his food, chewing loudly and burping even more loudly. “As good as my sister's. Really good. Hey. Why not stay around? Make Xena settle down?”
The warrior rolled her eyes. “Uncle...”
“Yeah, Gabs.” Toris cut in, waggling his eyebrows. “Stay on. You could be the bard of this tavern. Your stories could bring in a crowd every night. You could get to know everybody...”
Xena's eyes narrowed as she realized where her brother was going with this. “Toris...” she warned. “Shut up.”
“Oh yeah, lots of people you could get to know and talk to..”
“Did I mention that Mara might be coming over soon?”
“Mara?” When the name was mentioned, Gabrielle's fork paused in mid-air and her usually cheery face melted into a frown. “Mara's. Coming. Here?” She demanded of Xena.
“Ah...well...” Xena faltered. “I'm only gonna say hi and get as far away from her as possible. How many times do I have to tell you I'm not interested in her, I love only you?”
Muttering something foul, the bard stabbed her fork into her food.
Xena swiveled another glare at her uncle and brother, who appeared to be enjoying themselves. So. You guys wanna torture me, huh? Well, two can play at this game.“Oh, Gabrielle. Did I mention that Uncle Stavros has got a thing for Elaina?” She asked with a wicked grin.
Uncle's head shot up. “What? No! That woman is a nightmare. All day long and night. Yip. Yip. Yip.”
“Oh, yeah, Unc,” Xena continued. “I see the way you keep staring at her. If she didn't move so fast, you'd have caught her by now.”
“Does this mean I can call Elaina 'Auntie', now?” Toris managed to squeak before giving in to the giggles.
“You know,” Gabrielle finally eased frown off her face. “You're right. Elaina and Stavros would make a good couple. It would give him a good reason to hang out in here. As long as you stay away from her daughter.” she warned, poking her finger into leathered ribs.
Ignoring the shooting pain in her side, Xena leaned in and placed a tender kiss on her bard's lips. “Not to worry, love. I only have eyes for you.”
“Eh, get a room.” Stavros grumbled.
A while later Gabrielle stepped over to the far wall of the tavern to spin her usual yarn of tales to a captive audience. Even Uncle Stavros snapped his mouth shut for once. The crowd seemed to multiply tenfold as they listened spellbound to yet another of the Warrior Princess' exploits.
The subject of those stories leaned back against the wall, melting into the shadows. She closed her eyes as the sweet, lyrical voice of the bard filled the air. The voice hooked onto the listener and didn't let go. For once Xena didn't mind hearing about herself. She could re-live the experiences she'd endured with a sense of detachment, find a new perspective. She smiled when she thought of that same hypnotic voice filling her ears in private moments, with words of passion.
Gabrielle threw herself into the tale. Her voice rose and fell as she mimicked the voices of each character. The enthralled audience could almost see the action unfolding, Even Lumpy the dog got up on his haunches and fixed his gaze upon the human that had captured his canine heart.
When the tale finally finished, the tavern fairly shook with thunderous applause. People got up from their tables, stomping their feet and whistling. Lumpy the dog ran to the makeshift stage and jumped on Gabrielle, licking her face.
Eeeeew, dog breath! Gabrielle patted the furry head before gently putting him down. She curtsied to the audience, reveling in the standing ovation. A clatter of dinars fell at her feet, making Lumpy yelp and jump out of the way. When the crowd died down, Elaina appeared and helped the bard gather the coins.
“Good story,” the barmaid complimented with a smile. “If you told stories here every night, you could really clean up.”
Gabrielle smiled back. “I suppose. Looks like I'll be doing some shopping in the next few days at least.” She looked towards the far corner and found Xena sitting there, smiling. “Thanks, Elaina.” She put a few coins into Elaina's hands before making her way to the table, Lumpy the dog close at her heels.
“Well done! Well done!” Stavros bellowed.
“Thank you Uncle,” said the bard as she slid into the seat beside Xena. She dropped the pouch of dinars on the table with a thump and put her arms around her warrior, much to Lumpy's disappointment. With a sigh, the furry dog went back to Toris' feet and lay there.
“Shopping?” Xena asked.
“But of course.”
Dinnertime was long over. The crowd of patrons milled out of the tavern, or to their rooms. Cyrene and Elaina busied themselves in clearing the tables of dishes and mugs. The minute Xena got up to help, Cyrene firmly gripped her shoulder and roughly pushed her back down. The warrior sat down with a grunt, her body screaming in agony once again. Stavros got up and thumped and dragged around, waving his cane to chase out the stragglers. Toris offered to wash the dishes, much to his mother's shock (what he actually wanted to do was put some distance between him and Uncle Stavros). Casting a long, mournful gaze at Gabrielle, Lumpy followed his master into the kitchen.
The cleaning was finished and Elaina left to go home. Gabrielle excused herself to go to Xena's old room at the end of the hall. With a tired sigh, Cyrene sat at the table where Xena was nursing a mug of ouzo.
“Why didn't you let me help?” asked her daughter. “You could have been done faster.”
“You're hurt, Xena,” Cyrene answered. “You need to rest.”
“Ma, don't start that again...”
“I worry about you. A lot.”
“Ma, you're always worried.”
“And why not? You've been beaten half to death, for Zeus' sake! And yet you're shrugging it off like it was nothing.
“And that's what it is, Ma. Nothing.”
“And just what were you thinking, jumping around up in the trees? You could've hurt yourself.”
“You're staying in bed while you're here.”
“I don't think so. There's work to be done around here, in case you haven't noticed. The roof, for instance?”
“And what if you fall through?”
“Then I'll just grab something on the way down and hope for the best.”
“And besides, I heal fast. Always have.”
“One day in bed. Is that too much to ask?”
Xena grumbled sourly. There was no backing out of this. She was going to be bored out of her mind if she was gonna have to stay in one place all day. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't such a bright idea to be running around with a cracked rib. One fall at a certain angle, the rib could break and pierce her lung, or worse, her heart. Bad way to go. And painful. “Okay, Ma. One day in bed.”
Cyrene sighed with relief and reached for Xena's hand. “Thank you.”
Xena grinned ruefully at her mother and squeezed back. I suppose listening to Uncle bitch all day can't be too bad.
As if on cue, Uncle stomped up carrying what looked like the largest pitcher of ouzo in the known world. “One more round,” he declared.
Much later, Xena drunkenly trudged up the stairs. Uncle's “one last round” had turned into four. She wove through the halls, occasionally bumping against the walls, making her way to the room at the end of the hall where Gabrielle waited. Man, is she gonna be pissed. Oh well. She shuffled to the door and shoved it open. She was met with a low growl coming from the bed. She stopped short, and when her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she spotted the furry lump curled up behind a sleeping Gabrielle's legs. “Beat it, mutt!” She snarled. “That's my woman.”
The dog got to his feet and began to bark furiously at her. His hackles stood straight up, making him look like a porcupine.
I'm getting real tired of this. With long strides, Xena went to the bed and yanked up the dog by the nape of his neck. The barks ended with a YELP! and Lumpy wiggled his paws in the air. His tormentor then ferried him over to the door, dropped him right outside the room and shoved the door shut. Lumpy emitted a mournful howl before slinking away.
Once that was done, Xena turned and leaned her back against the door with a sigh. She looked over at the sleeping form. Gabrielle had slept through the whole thing. A smirk tugged at the warrior's face. I know you liked to snuggle with the flea bag, but I'm much, much better.She took off her leathers, put on a shift, and climbed into bed to wrap her arms around the bard.
“You didn't have to toss him out, you know.”
Xena started and looked down on a wide-awake bard. “Don't tell me you've stayed up waiting for me,” she teased.
Gabrielle propped herself up on one elbow. “When I came in, I was expecting you soon after but-” She sniffed the air for dramatic effect. “Somebody decided to drink some more with their cranky Uncle.”
“My uncle is NOT cranky.” Xena retorted. “He just bitches a lot.”
“Well, at least Lumpy was gracious enough to wait up with me.”
“Oh, I'll bet.”
“Xena, it just so happens that Lumpy likes me better than you. You're not jealous of a dog, are you?”
“Nope, not at all. I just think he likes you a little too much for my taste.”
“For the love of Zeus, Gabrielle, he humps your leg every chance he gets. And you think he's being friendly?”
“You are jealous.”
“Damn right. If anybody's gonna hump your leg, it's gonna be me!”
Gabrielle fell back on the bed with peals of laughter. “I don't believe you! You actually think I'm getting off on an overeager dog?” Giggle. Chuckle. “That's too much, even for you!” Chortle. Guffaw. “Hey Lumpy, wanna keep me warm? You big, dumb warrior!”
Xena pouted. “Everybody's picking on me.”
“Oh, you poor thing!” Gabrielle choked out before laughing even more.
“Glad one of us thinks this is funny. Want something to laugh about, little girl? I'll give you something.” Her deft fingers sought out the bard's ribs and started tickling furiously.
“Aaaah! Xena! No!” Gabrielle shrieked before unleashing a flurry of giggles. “Not there! NOT THERE! ”
The raven-haired woman threw one leg over the smaller form and began tickling in earnest. The bard writhed guffawing underneath, her shift edging upwards from her legs. Xena's fingers curled at the hem and within moments, that article of clothing was yanked free. “Well, well, well.” She crowed. “What have we here?”
Gabrielle grabbed at the assaulting hands in vain, her naked flesh exposed to the tickling torture. She bucked against the heavy weight on her, tendrils of strawberry blonde hair flitting everywhere.
“Make fun of me, huh?” Xena smirked. “You know I don't like that.”
Gabrielle bucked again, slapping at the hands. “Okay, Xena. You win. Quit it.”
“I mean it, Xena. Stop.”
“You asked for it.” Gabrielle snapped one arm forward. The heel of her hand drove upwards, landing just above Xena's flank.
“Aaaggh!” The sudden impact made the pain flare up all over again. The cracked rib was throbbing now. Xena rode a wave of nausea as she suddenly stopped tickling and clutched her side. She rolled off Gabrielle and onto her back with a groan.
“Oh gods, Xena!” In a flash, the bard leaned over the warrior. “I'm so sorry! Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”
“I'll be fine,” Xena croaked. “No big deal, just a cracked rib.”
“A cracked rib? You mean all this rime you've been running around with a cracked rib and you're just now telling me?”
“Damn it, Bri, I didn't even notice it until we got here.”
“And you still couldn't tell me?”
“How bad is it?” Gabrielle reached over and gently prodded Xena's side.
At the new pressure, Xena grimaced. “Uuurrrgh! Not so hard!”
“Xena, I can feel the crack.”
“Well, since you're the healer now, any suggestions?”
“Very funny.” Gabrielle slid out of bed and went to their saddlebags. She retrieved some muslin cloth and began tearing it into strips. Honestly, Xena, I don't know what's gotten into you.” Shrrrriiiip! “You're still upset over Najara.” Shrrrrrriiiiiip! “You're busting heads left and right.” Shriiiiiiip! “And on top of that, you've got a cracked rib and and you're going on like nothing's wrong.” Shriiiip! “There. That should do it. Take off your shift and sit up.”
“Yeah, yeah, urrrrgh!”
“Big bad warrior, huh? Could've fooled me. Arms up.” Carefully, the bard wrapped the strips around around her warrior's torso. “You talked to your mom?”
“Yeah. She said for me to to stay in bed tomorrow.”
“Oh really? I'd have to tie you up to get you to stay there.”
“Not to worry, I'm bound to have a bitch of a hangover when I wake up.”
“Hmm, I hope I can remember which herbs to put in that tea.”
When the binding was done, Gabrielle slipped the shift back on Xena and lovingly lowered her onto the bed before climbing in herself. She curled behind the warrior, laying a protective hand over her. “Good night.” Within moments, the bard's breathing became deep and even.
Dark. I like the dark. I can see just fine but nothing can see me. The forest is alive. I can feel it breathe, hear it pulse. I'm hungry. I need food. Where can I find a- Yes. A nice fat deer. I pick up its trail and track it to the salt lick it likes. I watch it at first. I can see the muscles in its neck bunch and relax. Its antler's jut proudly in the night air. Its hot breath comes out in clouded puffs. Its soft ears swivel this way and that. It would be a shame to destroy this beautiful creature. Almost. the deer jerks its head up but it's too late. I am upon it and make the kill. Its lifeblood gushes into my mouth. I relish this. The flesh has a wondrous taste. When I've had my fill, I move on. The night beckons me once more. This time, I smell death. Where does it lead? Here. A giant melting tree. I see no movement. I go to the tree and touch it. Blood comes oozing out of the bark. I taste it. I like it. She is beside me, her presence a picture in the back of my mind. “You are mine.” she whispers in my ear and her cold hand is upon my face. I want to fight but I can't. Her black eyes pull me in and I am frozen where I stand. She smiles sweetly and leans forward. Her lips brush against mine and chills rip through my spine. Her touch burns through me. I am hers.
What am I doing on the floor? The rising sun sent shafts of light through the widow shutters. Xena opened one eye then the other. That was some weird dream. Turning her head, she spotted the bed three paces away. She sat up carefully, mindful of the bandages covering her ribs. The wet bandages. She looked down and realized she was naked and damp all over. I don't remember getting in the water and if I did, I would take the bandages off. Just how drunk was I last night? She peered over the bed at the sleeping bard. Might as well let her sleep. She's already pissed at me as it is. Which means I'll have to do this myself. Hope we've got some clean cloth strips. She went to the saddlebags and rummaged through them, not finding what she was looking for. Damn. She looked around and spotted her shift on the floor, in a bunch just under the window. Looks like I'll have to sleep in my leathers for a while. Grabbing the shift she sat in a chair and began to unwind the bandages. They smelled. What did I do, jump into a swamp? She dropped them on the floor. She'd be sure to wash them later. With cautious hands, she patted her sides. They felt fine. She ran a finger along the rib. The crack was still there, but smaller. That's strange. She got to her feet, the shift sliding from her lap and onto the floor and stretched, feeling the muscles pop back into place. I don't get it. Yesterday I was hurting all over, but now I feel fine. She touched her jaw, expecting the shooting pain from her lost tooth and found none. Tentatively, she ran her tongue around inside her mouth, then again. Okay, now this is really strange. Teeth don't grow back. What in Tartarus is going on here? Not believing, she stuck a finger in her mouth and ran it along her teeth. Sure enough, the tooth that had been knocked out was there, intact. Frowning, she scanned the room, senses alert for any unnatural presence. The room was still save for Gabrielle's steady breathing. Shafts of sunlight pierced the shutters, lighting up the dust dancing in the air. The muted sounds of other people in the inn came to her, waking up, shuffling around, tramping on the wooden floors, laughing loudly. She could even hear Lumpy the dog slinking around. Nothing here. No gods lurking around. I'm gonna drive myself crazy trying to figure this out. She looked around once more to make sure, then her eyes fell on the sleeping bard, a slow smile creeping on her face. On the other hand... since I'm feeling much better... She slid under the covers and spooned herself behind Gabrielle, draping an arm over the taut stomach and breathing into honey-colored hair.
The bard stirred underneath and sighed happily. “Morning.”
“Morning.” Xena pressed harder into Gabrielle and began planting small kisses onto the slender neck.
“Mmmmm. I take it you're feeling better?”
“Much.” The kisses became lingering and wet. Her large hand drifted up to cup Gabrielle's breast and began kneading with nimble fingers. The nipple hardened into a pebble. She sucked at the neck, a rapid pulse throbbing against her lips. Xena tightened her hold on Gabrielle and leaned over to capture the soft mouth with her own. Tongues mashed together pushing for dominance. The warrior's hand squeezed harder on the pliant flesh, pinching wickedly on the hardened tip. Gabrielle turned sideways and reached up to pull Xena closer, deepening the kiss. Leaning in further, the dark warrior eventually settled her weight on top of the bard.
Gabrielle sighed into the warrior's warm mouth, losing herself in the sweet sensations that plunged to her center. She clutched the black mane with one hand while the other slid down the lithe bronzed back. When her hand reached the powerful buttocks, she squeezed the tight muscles, eliciting a groan from her lover. She moaned when the strong fingers rolled her taut nipple back and forth and felt the other hand slide under the small of her back. The heat of the touch made her legs spread open. Immediately she felt the wetness of her center leak out of her, the sudden coolness washing over her. She dug her blunt nails into the muscular bottom, kneading the hard flesh.
Feeling the urge to taste her bard, Xena slowly broke the kiss began to trail wet tracks on the smooth skin downward. She paused at the throat, brushing her lips over the rapid pulse. Then, she kissed a slow trail between the valley of Gabrielle's breasts. Her tongue snaked out and dragged underneath one breast, purposely avoiding the hot point at the center. She licked the fleshy mound and moved to the other, enjoying the sweet taste of her young lover's skin. She nuzzled between the heaving chest with her nose before closing her mouth over the erect nipple. Encouraged by the bard's soft cries, she sucked gently, circling her tongue against the hardened nub. She dragged her mouth over to the other breast sucked the nipple there, then back.
Gabrielle began stroking Xena's head, murmuring encouragement. Her hips began to move at their own accord. The hand at her back slid lower to caress her buttocks. She arched, pushing her chest further into Xena's face. The wet heat on her breasts intensified as the throbbing in her center became more urgent. Her hands slithered over the firm globes of her warrior's buttocks and her fingers slipped into the tight crack. Closing her eyes in bliss, she slid her fingers further down the crevice to the wetness that awaited her touch. Her fingers found and glided against the quivering slit before gently prodding their way in. She was rewarded by a shuddering sigh above her and the lavish attention on her breasts increasing in fervor. She feathered touches within the quivering folds, soaking her fingers in the liquid silk.
Xena devoured the mounds of flesh, pushing her hips toward the teasing fingers. Sucking on a hot tip one last time, she licked her way up the gentle slope of Gabrielle's neck and closed her mouth on the ear lobe. “Fuck me,” she sighed.
With a groan, Gabrielle took her hand away from the heat just long enough to push Xena onto her back. She bent forward and kissed the full lips, her hand sliding towards the dark curls. “You're so wet,” she murmured. After dipping into the drenched folds, Gabrielle brought her fingers to her mouth and began to suck them. Xena looked on with rapt attention, her blue eyes fixed upon the bard's deliberate motions. Gabrielle propped herself on one elbow, gazing at the bronzed body before her. “You sure you're okay?” She asked.
Xena touched a finger against the bard's lips, silencing her. “Shh. I'm fine, really. Now come on.” She quirked a grin, taking hold of Gabrielle's hand and guiding it to her sopping sex once more. She gazed into pools of green and her bottom lip pushed into a pout. “Please?”
Returning a sensuous smile, Gabrielle pushed one finger into the slick hole then pulled it right out. She then lightly drew her fingers between the folds and began to fondle the erect clitoris. When Xena began to grind her hips, Gabrielle plunged her finger inside once more, and began pumping in a slow steady rhythm.
The warriors eyes glazed over, her hips lifting to meet each long stroke. “Harder,” she gasped between breaths. “Fuck me harder.”
“Mmm.” Gabrielle leaned forward and captured Xena's mouth with her own, stroking steadily. “You want some more, baby?” she groaned. “I'll give you some more.” She added a second finger, then a third. Her pace began to quicken, pushing deeper into the slippery tunnel. “Yessss.” Her own core began to throb hotly.
Xena whimpered as the hot fingers slid in and out of her. She placed her hands over Gabrielle's to urge her on. Sweat broke out in tiny beads on her head. She bucked harder against the invading fingers climbing higher. The first wave hit her hard. She pumped her hips in a frenzy against Gabrielle's hand, a low moan escaping her lips. “Gabrielle... Ooohhhh!” She shuddered violently, her face contorting. She arched her back, clutching at the bed sheets as she orgasmed again and again, Finally, she fell back, panting.
Gabrielle slowly withdrew from Xena and brought her hand to her mouth once more. She licked the thick juices from her hand and swallowed every drop. “That was lovely.” she husked.
“Yeah.” Xena panted. “Real good.” She reached up ad pulled the bard's head down for a long, lingering kiss. “I think I'll like staying in bed all day.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Me, too.”
Xena kissed Gabrielle again. “Ready for some more?”
“Oooh. Okay,” The bard happily turned over and raised her hips in the air, exposing obeyed and sighed when she felt Xena's weight settle on her body. The warrior began to kiss the bard's neck and shoulders, blazing a wet trail. She eased her legs between Gabrielle's and pushed her wet mound against the upraised buttocks. Gabrielle reached up and snaked a hand through raven hair and turned for a hungry kiss. She felt a hand slip around her waist and rest against her damp curls. When the fingers danced against her clitoris, her tight hole clenched in anticipation and her hips began to rock. “Xena.” she pleaded. “Please.” She was so wet, so ready. “Inside me. Now. Yes.” Two fingers entered her. “Yes.” She bent her head and her golden hair clung to her damp forehead. Xena's fingers squeezed in and out of her slowly making her mad with desire. “Yes. That's so good.” Her soft cries became whimpers. Her walls clutched at the stroking fingers. She wiggled her hips and reached behind her grabbing Xena's hand, pushing it deeper into herself. “Gods. Yes. Xena.” Then she lost all power of speech when she came, spurting her juices.
Grabbing hold of Gabrielle's waist with her free hand, Xena ducked her head and lapped greedily at the bard's sweet juices. She drew out her hand and began licking at them as well. As the spasms slowed down, she buried her face in Gabrielle's sex and sucked it earnestly, sighing into the soft flesh.
. Finally, they both collapsed onto the bed, panting and sweating. Xena drew herself up and put her arms around Gabrielle. She sighed contentedly into honey-colored hair, now looking forward to an entire day in bed with her bard.
“What happened to your bandages?”
Xena groaned inwardly. She'd forgotten all about them. “You sure picked a fine time to bring that up.” She grumbled.
“What, you didn't think I'd notice?”
“They're on the floor.”
“It always is with you.”
“Look, I'm sorry if I've been a little crazy lately.”
“Okay, a lot.”
“Okay, why are the bandages off?”
She is not going to let this go, is she? “Well, that's the funny part. I feel just fine.”
“Oh, really?” Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at Xena before running her hand over the warrior's side. Her eyebrows raised when her hand passed over the rib. “Xena? Where's the crack?”
“It doesn't hurt?”
“Even when I do this?” Without warning, Gabrielle swung and landed a flat-handed blow on the warrior's side.
Xena never blinked. “Nope.”
“You're not kidding.”
“Nope. Wanna see something real freaky?”
“Stick your finger in my mouth.”
“Uhhh...okay.” Silence. “What... the fuck?”
“Yeah, that's what I thought.”
In the hot afternoon sun, Makhet trudged along the paved road, kicking up dust in every step. He was a giant of a man with a flowing mane of dirty blond hair and black eyes. He grumbled a curse as he adjusted the scabbard at his waist and straightened the cloak on his massive frame.
Makhet had had a hard life. Seven years ago, he had once been a lieutenant in an army. Then he was sold to a trading ship, badly beaten and wrapped in chains. He spent five years there, hauling heavy loads of goods on board and off all day and all night, hating every minute of it. Then one day, the ship had stopped at a tiny island, occupied only by a lone house with smoke coming out of the chimney. The woman who'd stepped out of it had been the most beautiful that Makhet had ever seen, with long red hair and brilliant green eyes. He hadn't really remembered much of what happened next, only that he was suddenly surrounded by animals where the men had once been. Then, she'd approached him, her green eyes narrowing. For some reason, her spell had had no effect on him. He had stood dumbly while she'd looked him over. Finally, she'd smiled. “I think I'll keep you,” she'd said finally as she released him form his chains. “You might turn out to be useful after all.”
That was two years ago. During that time, he'd stayed on the island, looking after the tamed wild beasts by day and warming the red-haired witch's bed at night. At first he was happy he was no longer on the ship. But then, as he got to know the witch, he began to regret coming here. The woman had an unpredictable personality. She could be sweet and loving one moment and wildly psychotic the next. Makhet often found himself on the receiving end of flying objects and screeched curses. He soon found himself wishing he was back on the ship.
Then she had approached him one day, a sweet smile on her face. Makhet braced himself for yet another temper tantrum. But it was far from that. “Makhet,” she purred. “There's something I'd like for you to do...something I'd like for you to get for me.”
When he had asked why she simply didn't use her magic, there was suddenly a knife pressed to his throat. “Don't ask questions, Makhet,” she'd hissed. “My magic may not work on you, but you are still mortal, and you can die.”
And there he was, tramping through the forest, cursing himself for getting lost. Judging from the tracks he came across, he figured it was a hunting area, a sure sign of a nearby town. He followed the tracks until they grew deeper and began to look like a well-beaten path. The town wasn't far. He would stop at the nearest inn for the night, then ask directions. No big deal.
He reached the town and started walking around. It wasn't a bad-looking town. A few people passing by glanced at him, then looked away. Makhet was used to it, because of his size. His massive frame barely fit through most doorways. Not many people were comfortable around a guy whose head barely brushed the ceiling. He looked around for the nearest inn.
Two young men passed him, one of them carrying a string of game, talking and laughing. Makhet glanced at them, then did a double-take. One of them looked familiar. Images of a hot desert and the glint of metal assaulted his psyche. He could feel the hot sting of the whip blazing across his back. It wasn't the guy that did it but someone who looked just like him. His eyes narrowed.
The red-haired witch's mission could wait.
In the late afternoon, Cyrene's Tavern was gearing up for yet another dinner rush. Toris had actually gotten some decent game for once, which included several pheasants, rabbits, and one deer, which regrettably, still wasn't his buck. In the meantime, mother and daughter was having an impromptu conversation in the common room, the crux of which was,
“What do you mean you feel fine?”
“It means, Mom, that I feel fine.”
Once again, Gabrielle was nowhere near to help, as she was in the kitchen helping to cook the upcoming meal. Xena was at a table, her large hands wrapped around a mug full of ouzo. She was going to need it. Understandably, Cyrene was wary of her daughter's apparent recovery. “But you can't just be better, already, Xena,” she said. “You were supposed to stay-”
“In bed all day, I know.” Xena took a swig of the liquid fire. “But the day's almost over, I feel better, end of story.”
Cyrene let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine. No point in arguing with you.” She got up from the table to go back to work. “You know where to find me...”
Xena watched her mother's retreating back and felt a wave of guilt. She absently flexed and unflexed her hands. In mid-flex, she heard a small crack and her hands were suddenly wet. “Huh?” Looking down, she found the mug crushed into kindling and the remaining ouzo puddling on the table. But this that really got her attention was the tiny tufts of black hair on the backs of her hands that weren't there before. She stared at them curiously. “What in Tartarus...?”
Her eyebrow was making its journey north when Toris appeared at the table. “Hey, sis. How's it-” He spotted the ruined mess on the table. “What gives?”
Xena quickly hid her hands. No need to invite any more questions. “Well, I... ”
Toris held up his hand. “On second thought, I don't wanna know. Anyway, some guy gave me this to give to you.” He handed Xena a tiny scroll and leaned against the table. “So, what's it say?”
Xena expression was unreadable as she scanned the scroll. “This guy who gave it to you, what did he look like?”
“Well, he was kinda hard to miss. Big guy. Really big, wild blond hair, beard, cloak-hey! Where ya goin'?”
“Be back,” answered Xena over her shoulder as she dashed out of the tavern, leaving the scroll on the table.
Toris looked from the mess on the table to the disappearing form of his sister. “Hey, you're not gonna leave this shit for me to clean up-hey!” But she was gone. “Warrior Princess, my ass, more like Warrior Princess of Weird...” He cleaned up the table and picked up the scroll. Wonder what this says? He unfurled it and blinked in confusion.
As the sun winked brightly through the leaves, Xena went deep into the forest, sword unsheathed. She scanned the area until she found some oversized tracks in the earth by a giant oak tree. She was ready to follow them when she heard a whizzing sound. Instinctively, she ducked, and a split second later, a knife embedded itself into the oak where her head had been. She yanked the knife out with a curse. She recognized the markings on the weapon. “Makhet,” she growled. “Shoulda known. You always were a knife man.”
“You remembered.” A rough, gravelly voice came from nowhere. “I'm touched.”
Damn, that was loud. Xena scanned the area to determine his whereabouts. The sounds of the forest whirled in her head, piling on top of each other. She concentrated hard, trying to filter them out. “So what brings you here, Makhet? Last time I saw you, you were off at a nice boat trip around the world.” Just keep talking.
“No thanks to you! I'll bet you thought it was a great big joke selling me to that ship! I hated it! Every day wrapped in chains! Every day getting whipped for the slightest thing!”
Gotcha! She caught a whiff of something foul, which didn't belong. “You're breaking my heart.” With a smirk, Xena unhooked her chakram and let it fly. It whirred and ricocheted through the trees and made contact with a dull thud, followed by a strangled yell. The giant form of Makhet came crashing out of hiding, howling.
Catching her returning chakram in one hand, Xena jumped, whirled and caught Makhet on the side of the head with a spinning kick. “Heeeeee-yah!” THWACK!The blond's head snapped to the side but did not fall. With a roar, he unsheathed his sword and swung it downwards. Xena brought up her sword and easily parried the blow. Makhet swung wildly, a trickle of blood oozing from his temple. Xena ducked around the oncoming blade. Metal clashed against metal. In a matter of minutes Xena drew first blood on Makhet's sword arm. He hissed in pain, and brought his sword about. Xena parried the blow and kicked his sword from his hand. She jumped straight up in the air, intending to kick him again, but in mid-air, he caught her leg, swiveled about, and in a huge arc, slammed her onto the ground face-first. THUD!!!Her sword clattered to the side as well. As soon as he let go, she rolled away from his descending fist, chimes ringing in her head. She wiped some blood from a cut lip. Through her watering eyes she saw something flash in his huge hand and she scrambled to the side, but not fast enough to avoid a slash at her shoulder. Gritting her teeth, she sprung to her feet touching the wound, her hand coming away bloody. “Oh, you're gonna pay for that,” she snarled. Emitting a high-pitched yell, she drove forward and slammed her fist into his gut. With a grunt, he doubled over and she followed with an elbow on the back of his neck. In return, he slashed at her leg. Yelping in pain, she rapidly backed away, pressing her hands at the fountain on her leg. “Dammit!” When he threw his knife at her, she caught it barely in time. She readied it for a return throw. “Lose something?”
Shakily, he got to his feet, and another knife slid out from one of his long sleeves. “Got more.” And threw that knife. With her free hand, she caught it, blood pouring from the wound on her leg. She threw them both back and to her disgust, Makhet dodged them both. Before she could react, he rushed her and backhanded her hard, sending her flying. She slammed into a tree and dropped to the ground on her feet. She saw him approaching again, and suddenly her vision went blurry and everything began to spin. Everything got loud, too loud. The birds' singing became high-pitched shrieks. The rustle of leaves became roars. The wounds on her shoulder and leg were tingling and there was a metallic taste in her mouth. Poison! The fucker poisoned me! Every movement became an effort. Too late, his hand wrapped around her throat and began to squeeze. Everything began to go black. Gathering her waning strength, she jabbed a pressure point on his arm, numbing it. He dropped her and clutched at his nerveless arm. She used this opportunity to rain a flurry of blows into his stomach, the spots in front of her eyes growing bigger and brighter. Makhet exhaled sharply from the assault and stumbled backwards. With his good arm, he swung and connected with Xena's chest, sending her flying once more. She landed thrity paces away in a heap. Sweat beaded on her forehead and the blood rushed furiously in her head. With shaking hands, she unhooked her chakram and flung it once more. It flew in a wide arc and slammed into Makhet's head once more, knocking him cold, but not before he mananged to throw another knife.
She had no time to dodge it. The blade jutted almost comically from her stomach. She yanked it out, dumbly watching the blood pour from the wound. The knife slid from her grasp and the blade stabbed into the earth. She sank to the ground, the cacaphony of the forest screaming in her ears.
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