Disclaimers: Don't own them. Just borrowing. Not making a penny. Violence about the same as any episode you'd see. Yep, the ladies find out their true feelings, but very gentle stuff. And all this would have happened before the episode "Blind Faith." Hope you enjoy. Let me know at email@example.com
By R. D. Elliott
The warrior quickly took in the sight before her. The bard stood on tiptoe on a flimsy upended log, arms tied behind her, and neck stretched taught by a rope over a tree branch. Tanos, wannabe warlord, stood beside her laughing, taunting. "I see the stories are true. Xena's grown soft. Look, men, she actually cares what happens to the little girl."
"You should care, too, Tanos," she growled. "Anything happens to her and you will beg for death."
Tanos maliciously tapped at the log which teetered, threatening to fall away. Gabrielle's eyes widened in fear though she kept silent and tried to maintain her calm looking confidently at the warrior.
"Surrender now and I might let her live," he laughed.
"You surrender and I might let you live."
"You'll never reach her in time. But feel free to try. Men, take her!" Four large ruffians sprang into action, swords swinging. Keeping one eye on her friend, she met the attack intent on dispatching the thugs as quickly as possible. Parry, thrust, lunge, kick, slice, stab, and it was over as quickly as that, Xena standing above the fallen bodies. Gabrielle screamed as Tanos kicked the log out from under her. Xena grabbed her chakram to slice the rope. But before she could let it fly, Tanos, using an old trick of Xena's, blew alcohol-laden breath over a torch full into her face. The flames reached not only her skin, but also her eyes. She dropped to the earth, rolling to smother the fire as Tanos came forward, kicking her fiercely in the ribs. He kicked again, but she was ready and latched on to his foot twisting it sharply. He dropped to the ground in pain as the warrior princess climbed up his body to twist his neck sharply. Rewarded with the sounds of bones cracking, she released her hold attempting to get her bearings.
The pain was almost unbearable as she attempted to open her eyes. 'That's not going to work. Ok, breathe deep, force the pain down. Now listen, damn you! You've got seconds to locate Gabrielle.' She forced herself to stand perfectly still, straining her hearing as never before. Grass rustled, birds chirped, rabbits scurried to her right, and then the soft twisting of a rope to her left. She scrambled towards the sound, arms outstretched seeking. Running into the dangling legs of the bard, she wrapped her arm around the thighs, then swung up with her sword to sever the rope. Whack, miss, whack, miss. 'Stop swinging wild. Listen!' Whack, and the bard's body fell over her shoulder.
Gently she lowered her friend to the ground and yanked the rope from around her neck. The warrior felt no breath, so positioned herself to breathe for her friend. "Come on, Gabrielle, you can do it. Breathe for me," she said between giving her own breaths. Finally she heard the raspy intake of air. Xena could tell that breathing for the bard was not easy right now. Her neck had swollen from the abuse and was infringing on her windpipe. Placing her fingers lightly on her friend's eyelids, she'd know when she woke. "Open your eyes for me, Gabrielle, let me know you're all right. Come on, Gabrielle, you don't want to scare me do you?" She felt a flutter and let loose a sigh of relief. 'Thank the gods!' "Good girl." Keeping her hand on her friend's cheek for both their assurance, she spoke, "Gabrielle, I don't want you to try talking just yet. Can you hear me?" She felt the slight affirmative nod under her hand. "Good. You lie still and I'm going to check for other injuries." She began at her head slowly feeling every inch of the bard. When she began to move down the arms, she was reminded that the small woman's hands were still bound. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I was so worried I completely forgot," she apologized as she turned her friend gently. Cutting the leather free, she continued her inspection. The warrior felt the bard's arm leave her searching hands and reach up to touch her closed eyes questioningly. "My eyes? Tanos caught me off guard with the fire breath bit." She felt her friend start to rise. "No. Stay still until I'm finished." The body relaxed beneath her. "Thank you."
She resumed checking both arms, the shoulders, and down the chest. As her hands glided over the breasts, she sensed the bard tense. "Did I hurt you? Is there something wrong there?" Gabrielle took the warrior's hand and placed it on her own face, nodding negatively. Then she grabbed both hands and placed them on her midsection for her to continue. At first puzzled by the action, the warrior assumed that the intimate touch had made her uncomfortable. Once finished, Xena was happy that she had only come across small scrapes and scratches. She whistled for Argo and was soon rewarded with a muzzle pushing her hand. "Good girl." Pulling the saddlebags loose, she fished for the medicine pouch. Gently she applied salve to the cuts and scrapes as well as the bard's wrists. Finally she turned her attention to the neck. Applying plenty of salve to the rope burn, she completed with a soft clean cloth for protection. "We need to get to a stream so we can put cold compresses on your neck to bring the swelling down. Ready to get up?" The bard rose easily pulling the warrior after her. "I guess that's a yes. Let's get out of here," she smiled. Gabrielle touched the tall woman's eyes. "Yes, we'll take care of it, but not here." She felt a restrictive hand on her shoulder. "Gabrielle, we need cold water for both of us, so let's go."
Less than a candlemark later they arrived at a glade with a wide flowing river. Xena refused to let Gabrielle tend her until cold compresses had been applied to the bard's neck. "We need to get the swelling down as quick as possible. You like breathing, don't you?" Once accomplished, the warrior instructed her friend on the herbs and ointments needed to make a poultice for her eyes.
"Ready?" She felt two taps on her shoulder for yes. "Hand me the water skin then." The warrior braced herself. She'd lived through many injuries, but knew burns to the eyes were the most painful. Pouring water over her eyes, she attempted to open them.
The bard looked on watching, noting the pain and noting Xena's failure to succeed. Placing her hand on the warrior's wrist, she stopped the process. Turning the hand over she traced letters in the open palm. "Let you try? Sure, why not? I'm not getting anywhere." Relinquishing the water skin, Xena sat back trying to relax. Gently Gabrielle placed her hand on the eyelid to pull it open, but the second she began, Xena's hand came up to bat hers away.
"Sorry. Just instinct. Try again." She tried but was met with the same result. "Damn it, sorry." Again she tried, again the hand struck out. Xena could just imagine the bard with hands on her hips in exasperation. This time the bard took her hand, writing on it. "Won't hurt you trust. Gabrielle, I know you'd never hurt me and I do trust you. It's just I have a phobia when it comes to my eyes," she finished sheepishly. Again she felt the tracing in her palm. "Important must find way. Ok, well, you can always tie me down," she laughed. She heard her friend walk away towards Argo. "Gabrielle?" Then she was back and rope was being slipped over her wrist. "Hey!" she barked pulling away. "Trust" the bard traced. "Ok .. ok." The warrior placed her hands behind her back, tensing as she felt the rope begin to bind. But then she also felt Gabrielle's gentle hands stroking her arms in a reassuring gesture.
It still took time to wash the eyes. Gabrielle could see the pain in her friend's face so she went slowly allowing her time to rest. When she was finished she patted the warrior's face which had grown pale. "Ok poultice time." The bard knew this would be harder. Before she began she pulled the warrior to her holding her head, stroking her hair. She could sense the tension leaving the woman's body. Now it's time, my friend. Tilting the tall woman's head up, she pulled the eyelid quickly and smeared the poultice liberally. As much as Xena tried to be still it was impossible and soon had pulled away breathing heavily. Again the bard held and stroked her until the pain subsided. Then just as quickly tended the other eye. Silent tears threatened to escape the bard's own eyes as she watched her friend's struggle. Putting swabs of clean linen over each eye, she wrapped them in place, kissing her friend's forehead when she was done. "Thank you. Now, you want to cut me free?" The warrior felt the drumming of the bard's fingers on her shoulder indicating she was thinking it over. "Not funny, Gabrielle." The bonds were quickly cut.
As the bard released her friend she noticed in that short time she had pulled fiercely rubbing her wrists raw. "Sorry," she traced and immediately began applying ointment to the torn skin. "It's all right. The idea worked and you were right. It was important to do this. Lucky we won't have to repeat it for three or four days." Then she felt her friend rubbing aloe into the burns on her face. "Forgot about those. Thank you."
She listened as her friend moved about obviously setting up camp. 'Great. It's my fault Tanos took her, my fault she got hurt, and now she has to do all the work. At least I can take care of Argo. That I can do blindfolded.'
The bard watched the warrior carefully as she rose and made her way toward the mare. Seeing she was about to trip over a large stone, she clapped her hands once. Xena froze perplexed, "Something in front of me?" Two claps. "Thanks." Carefully she moved to one side giving whatever it was wide berth. She listened for Argo's grazing and continued on without incident. 'Damn, she must be watching me like I'm a little kid. This is embarrassing.' Pushing the picture out of her mind, she reached for her horse, feeling for the cinch and pulling away the saddle. Then reaching into the saddlebags, she pulled out the currycomb and began brushing.
Secure that the warrior was safe, Gabrielle returned to her chores. They had an early supper, Xena eating the cheese, bread, and jerky they carried with them and Gabrielle having to be content with broth since her throat was too swollen for anything else. After clean up the bard was rummaging through their bags and heading for the river. "Gabrielle? What are you doing?" she asked anxiously. In seconds the bard was by her side tracing, "Sorry. Bath."
The bard drew a question mark. "I can't see if you get in trouble and you can't call to me if you do. So no baths, no swimming, no out of range period for a while." She felt one sharp rap on her shoulder and the bard turning to leave. The warrior's reflexes were sharp as ever as she reached out grabbing her friend's arm. "Gabrielle, please. I'm not trying to be in charge. I'm just trying to keep you safe. I didn't do such a great job when I could see," she finished mumbling to herself.
The bard looked at the guilt etched on her friend's face. Sitting next to her, she pressed their cheeks together as she traced, "no fault."
"Right. You must get tired of me letting you down." She received a sharp slap on her thigh. "Oww!" And then tracing, "Can't control all. Well, I can try."
She stroked the raven hair compassionately, then leapt up as an idea occurred to her. "Gabrielle, wait!" But she was already back at the warrior's side. Taking Xena's hand she placed it on her own wrist where a soft braided leather sash was tied. Trailing the woman's hand down the long length of the sash, the bard tied the end to the warrior's wrist. "What's this? A leash?" Two taps and then traced, "Now bath."
"Ok, I give in." Gabrielle guided her friend to a log that rested partly in the river. Quickly she slipped off the improvised leash just long enough to wiggle out of her clothes before placing it back. With much enthusiasm she slipped into the water. It took a while for the two of them to get use to the tie between them. Twice the warrior began pulling the bard in; once when she got very still and once when she seemed to be jerking frantically. Finally the bath was over and the young woman emerged, mischievously shaking her wet hair over the warrior.
"Hey!" She grabbed the leash with both hands and pulled her friend in before she could free herself. Tickling her fiercely she grinned, "Paybacks are a bitch, Gabrielle." But she froze as she realized the bard had grown stiff and her breathing was forced. "Oh gods, Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." Holding her friend close she waited for her breathing to relax. "I'm so sorry. Really, I-"
Her friend traced in reply, "No worry. Payback later."
"Are you all right?" her face creased in worry. She felt her hand being brought to the bard's face that held a smile. Then she felt soft lips kiss her palm. There'd been more affection in the past few hours than the past two years. Xena didn't quite know how to handle it all. Brusquely she said, "Let's get you dry and dressed before you catch a chill."
* * * *
The evening was dragging on. Usually the bard filled the night with stories, but tonight was still. Xena was restless having nothing to do. Gabrielle watched her friend's agitation and felt at a loss as to how to help. 'She needs to do something. But what's safe?' Sidling up to her friend she patted her on the leg and the warrior automatically held out her palm.
"Rub? Rub what?" Her hand was guided to the bard's shoulder. Immediately alert, she asked, "What's wrong? Is it hurting?" 'Hmmm. That's as good an excuse as any. Surely a white lie for the greater good is acceptable.' She tapped twice. "Why didn't you say something sooner? Sorry, that didn't come out right. Come here." Methodically she began feeling each and every muscle, rotating the shoulder to see if something was amiss. 'Damn, all I wanted was a back rub. Didn't expect her to go into healer overdrive. Oh well ' "Maybe we need to put cold compresses on it." Tap no. "Ok, I just don't want to take any chances." The bard grabbed her hand, firmly placing it on her shoulder. "Ok, just rub. Got it."
'Now this is nice. Wish I could get this every night.' She leaned into the strong gentle hands and almost fell asleep under their touch. "Gabrielle? Sorry to bother you, but the fire feels low." The bard looked to see it almost out. How long had she been sitting there? Getting up she threw logs on bringing flames back to life. She looked up at the sky. 'By the gods, she must have been at it at least two candlemarks.'
"Sorry to make you do that." The younger woman looked at the grief behind the bandages. Walking back, she sat in front of her friend massaging her hands. "You don't have to do that." Tracing 'want to.' "Well, thanks." She looked up into her friend's face. 'She does this every time I get hurt. Blames herself and sulks, then stops talking. But this is worse 'cause I can't talk her out of it. Maybe I can make her talk herself out of it. She should know the drill by now.' One sharp slap.
"Oww! Ok, that's a no, but no what?" She frowned and felt a tapping on her head. "No head?" Slap. "Oww! Stop that. No thinking?" Tap yes. "What are you talking about? Sorry." Slap! "Damn it, Gabrielle, you don't have to hit so hard to say no. Ok, what don't you want me thinking about?" The bard pulled her friend's hand to her neck. "About your neck? Oh .. about you getting hurt. What am I suppose to think about? This is my fault and I can't even see your face to know " she faded away.
'To know? Something's up here. What is it, warrior?' Trace 'know what?' "Nothing." The bard grabbed her friend's face pulling her around to look at her. Xena could feel her friend's piercing look even if she couldn't see it. She took a deep breath as she confessed, "When things go wrong, I look in your eyes and know it's all right. That you don't blame me that you still care "
Suddenly she felt the bard's arms wrap firmly around her neck. Taken by surprise she just sat uncertain what to do. Pulling back she stroked the warrior's head trying to erase the furrows on her brow. With her other hand she pulled her friend's fingers to her own face encouraging her to feel the smile she held for her.
"I'm being silly, aren't I?" Two taps. "Sorry." Slap. "Oww! Ok, I'm not sorry." She felt her friend nod emphatically. "It's late. We need to put another cold compress on your neck and try to get some sleep." Two taps and she got up to go to her bedroll. "Gabrielle? Would you mind sleeping next to me? I'd feel better knowing exactly where you are and well, not being able to see is not much fun."
'Is she scared?' The bard's head whipped around to stare at the warrior. 'By the gods, Xena is scared!' She wrapped her arms firmly around the warrior kissing her on the cheek. Then she pulled her bedroll next to Xena's and helped her get settled.
* * * * *
Gabrielle slept lightly, expecting nightmares and they were right on time. 'This happens every time. I get hurt, she has nightmares. Better get ready.' She moved the sword and chakram out of her friend's reach. 'Great, now what? I can't call to her to wake her. And getting too close can be dangerous.' But she didn't have long to ponder the dilemma as the warrior's thrashing became more violent, her hands reaching for her eyes. 'Gods, no!' The bard placed herself protectively over her friend's face as the hands scratched her back wildly. Placing her cheek against Xena's face, she tried to grab the hands and hold them down. Suddenly she found herself tumbling backwards as the warrior sat bolt upright, gasping for breath. As quickly as possible she crawled back to her friend, stroking her hair and face.
"Gabrielle ?" Two taps. "Nightmare, huh?" Two taps. "Did I hurt you?" One tap. "I'm sorry " She felt her young friend's hands spell 'ok' and then continue to stroke her 'til she relaxed. Then she felt herself being pulled back down in the bedroll and her head firmly placed on the bard's breast as an arm slipped around her back to hold her tight. "Thank you." A kiss anointed the top of her head as the other hand continued to caress her face.
* * * * *
Both woke early the next morning, each concerned with seeing to the other's needs. Gabrielle wanted to make sure no damage had been done to the eye bandages, Xena wanted to put cold compress on the neck. As she finished her hands slid down to the top of the bard's shoulders where she felt last evening's results.
"I did hurt you."
'Just scratch," she traced.
"Let me feel. Come back here," she said to her squirming friend. "Gods, you're covered with scratches! We should have put ointment on these last night. Damn it, Gabrielle, you can't do this! It's bad enough I can't see to take care of you properly, but if I can't trust you to tell me the truth then things will only get worse!"
A hand went to her lips to silence her as the other traced, 'Sorry. I wrong.'
"You don't want me smothering you, but what else can I do if you're not honest?"
'Won't happen again,' she traced.
"Promise?" An affirmative nod and two taps were her reply. "Ok then, let's take care of this." After the bard's back was tended, Xena moved to saddle Argo while Gabrielle packed their things. "I'm not sure it's wise being on the road just now in our conditions." Tracing 'want healer.' "I understand. It would probably be good to get to a healer to have him look at your neck." Slap! "Oww! I really hate the way you say no." Then she felt soft fingertips on her face. "You want a healer to look at my eyes." Very gentle two taps. "Now see? Yes is much nicer. Ok, a healer for both of us." Then a wicked grin crossed the warrior's face. "You realize you're going to have to ride, don't you?"
Although Gabrielle was not fond of riding the big war-horse, she found sitting in front of Xena quite pleasant. The morning went by quickly, the stoic warrior taking a turn at playing bard.
'Now this is nice,' the young woman thought as she leaned back into the warmth of the woman behind her. 'Xena tells a half-decent story. Maybe she's actually been paying attention to me. Except she does tend to loose focus. There she goes again just drifting off. I wonder why.' The bard patted her friend's arm to continue and suddenly realized what else she'd been doing. 'By the gods, I've been caressing her arm without thought. Could I be the cause of her distraction? All right, let's try a little experiment.' The bard kept very still, then, as her friend reached an exciting moment in the story, resumed her caresses. The warrior faltered and Gabrielle stopped. She repeated this little episode two more times, smiling happily with herself at its success. 'Oh, warrior, you're in for it now. I know your secret and I won't let it stay buried.' Confident that she was not alone in her feelings, the bard began to make plans to draw her friend out.
The young woman allowed her friend to finish the rest of her story uninterrupted. She could feel the woman let out a big sigh of relief. They rode in companionable silence for awhile until she felt the warrior begin to squirm. She glanced back at the stoic face frozen in thought. 'Wrong?' she traced.
The warrior felt two taps in understanding and then a hand at her mouth. 'Guess I'm suppose to talk.' She tried to ignore the request but again felt the hand on her mouth more insistent this time. Taking a deep breath, she forged ahead, "I was wondering what to do if the blindness is permanent." She felt 'won't be' being traced in her palm. "Gabrielle, it's a possibility. I think the best thing would be for you to drop me off at Amphipolis with my mother and you could go on to the Amazons." She was met with the hardest 'no' to date. "Tartarus! I swear that's going to leave a bruise!"
'Stay together,' the young woman traced.
"I can't ask you to give up your life to take care of me." Slap no! "It's the best solution and you know it." This time Xena caught the hand before it gave the offending 'no!' "Got 'cha!" Slap 'no' with the other hand. "Damn it. Look, my mind's made up and I don't want to talk about it any more." The silence became sullen and oppressive.
A candlemark's worth of dust lay behind them when five men slipped into their path. The bard pulled Argo to a halt while inconspicuously placing her fingers on Xena's thigh to let her know how many and their approximate positions. Pulling out her staff, she slid to the ground before the warrior could stop her.
"Our lucky day; a horse, some dinars, and a couple of women to share." Gabrielle went into her defensive stance. "Ok, little missy, put your stick down or I'll take your friend out." The bard smiled knowingly and shrugged. "Warned you," he spat as the dagger flew from his hand, only to be effortlessly caught by the warrior. Before he could move the dagger returned to its sender, insuring he'd never move again.
"Damn you, bitch! Get her, boys!" yelled another of the men. Xena slid off Argo pulling her sword free while Gabrielle met the men midway. The robbers divided themselves between the women. Thinking the tall one easy prey because of her condition, they toyed with her laughing as they circled. Gabrielle was being much harder pressed by the two remaining men though their skills didn't meet her own.
The warrior was in no mood to play and set about dispatching her foes as quickly as possible. "Hang on, Gabrielle! I'm coming!"
'Still treating me like a child! I don't need you to save me, Xena!' she thought as she brought one of the ruffians to his knees. 'But maybe Xena needs to know she can save me. Ok, my friend, this is for you.' And the young Amazon lowered her guard, allowing the large clumsy man to get past her defenses. Xena heard a club make contact, knowing it was her bard who was taking the hit. With one last swing, her second man went down, and she turned to aid her friend. 'About time you got yourself over here. Ok, buddy, take one last swing so I can fall down. Ouch, that hurt, damn it.' Gabrielle allowed the strike to throw her much more than it would have. She watched as Xena found her attacker and took him down faster than squashing a gnat. 'Knew you could do it. Now come and find me. I'm not going to make this easy on you, dear one.'
"Gabrielle?" The warrior listened carefully. "Gabrielle, answer me. Please, gods, don't let it be bad." Again she listened and heard the soft breathing that led her straight to her friend. She felt wet stickiness as she touched the temple. "Damn. But it doesn't feel too bad. Gabrielle, come on, open your eyes."
'Oh no, warrior, you're on your own,' thought the bard as she continued playing possum.
"Gabrielle, wake up! I know the wound's not deep. Maybe the hit was harder than I realize. Come on, Gabrielle, I need you to help me help you. Damn. Shaking her is not going to do any good. Get it together, warrior." She whistled for Argo who immediately came to her mistress's side. "Good girl. Down, Argo." As the horse knelt, she scooped her friend up into her arms and carefully slipped into the saddle. "Up, Argo. Now take us away from here, girl. Find us water, ok? And watch out for branches as you go." The horse snorted in reply and turned onto the road walking slowly.
In less than half a candlemark, Argo turned from the road and started heading towards a stream not far away. Xena could smell the water and sighed in relief that her war-horse had come through for them both. "Down, Argo. Thanks, girl, you did great. Just let me take care of Gabrielle and I'll tend to you as soon as I can." Checking out the surrounding area slowly with her feet, she was soon satisfied that she wouldn't be putting the bard down on rough ground or in the middle of an anthill. "Come on, little one, don't you want to wake up?"
'Not yet. You need a little more time.'
The warrior rose and let Argo guide her to the water where she refilled the skins. Then gently she washed her friend's face and tried to slip a little water down her throat. "Gabrielle, you're starting to scare me. You shouldn't be out this long. Come on, please."
'Gods, Xena, you sound so pathetic, you're making me feel guilty. Ok, I'm waking up, but I'm still not doing anything to help.' Slowly she let her eyelids flutter open.
"Gabrielle! Thank the gods! Are you all right?" She felt her friend nod. "You were out almost a full candlemark." She felt her hand patted in reassurance, then 'camp' was traced into her palm. "Yes, we're going to camp here. Argo picked it. Is it all right?" Two taps yes. "I'll get out the trail rations." She felt a pull on her arm. "What? Fish? Do you feel up to starting a fire?" She felt the bard use her arm for leverage to pull herself up, then felt as the small body collapsed against her. "Ok, that's enough. You just lie down and I'll take care of everything." Again a tug on her arm. "What? Cold? You're cold? Ok, I'll try to get a fire going." 'I can do this it just may take awhile.'
With determination Xena searched for wood and by touch alone built a fire. "How's it look, Gabrielle?" Two claps were her answer. "Let's see if I can light this without setting the forest on fire," she laughed at herself. After a few strikes of the flint, a spark caught and the fire came to life. "Always said I could do it blindfolded. Guess I was right. Think I'll try for some fish now. Will you be all right by yourself?" Two claps. "Here, if you need me, just clang the plates together." Xena gathered herself, whistled for the mare, and together they went down to the stream. Carefully she waded into the water and waited patiently and was soon rewarded as a fish swam by. Expertly she hooked the fish by the gills and threw it to land. Emerging from the water, she soon recovered their supper and started back towards the campsite.
"Hey, Gabrielle, look! I'm not sure what kind it is, but hopefully it'll be good." She was met with the sound of her friend applauding. With new life, the warrior turned to the task of cleaning the fish and cooking it. "Take a look. Is it done yet?" One clap. "Ok, a little longer." Soon the fish was ready and Xena proudly presented the meal to her friend. Happily the bard gobbled up the simple meal knowing the warrior would not be able to deny her ability now to care for them both.
When dishes were cleaned and wood gathered, the warrior relaxed to pay full attention to her friend. "I don't feel any swelling or bumps on your head. You were out so long, I worry that I'm missing something." A gentle 'no' was tapped on her arm. "See? You can say no gently," she grinned.
Gabrielle smiled at the tall woman who seemed relaxed and at peace for the first time since Tanos. She took her hand, tracing, "You brought me here. Took care of me. Fixed fire. Caught fish. You saved-" and then she pulled the large hand placing it on her rear with a mischievous smile. The warrior was surprised at the move and at the feel of the firm bottom in her hand. She chuckled nervously, a blush slowly creeping up her neck. Then the bard took Xena's right hand and placed it on her chest and her left hand on Xena's chest. A brow arched questioningly. She then brought both hands together, holding them firmly.
"Together, you and me. I got it."
'Not yet, but you will soon,' she grinned at her companion. She turned and settled herself into the strong arms tracing 'sing.' "Ah, Gabrielle " A kiss landed lightly on her cheek. "Never could say no to you," she sighed and began a plaintive tune. Song after song came until the bard was fully in Morpheus's realm, snuggled close against her friend. The warrior soon followed content.
In the stillness of the night, the dark woman woke to a hoarse familiar voice calling her name. "Gabrielle?"
"Xena no don't . No, please "
"Gabrielle?" She asked reaching for the bard's face. 'Talking in her sleep. That's a good sign. But what is she dreaming? It doesn't sound good.' A last few unintelligible phrases slipped out before the bard settled back into a deep sleep, the dream over. 'Do I even want to know what that was about?' Eventually her thoughts quieted enough to follow her friend into slumber.
The next morning found the warrior back in the stream catching fish for their breakfast. Suddenly she heard the banging of plates and raced for her friend. "What's wrong?!" she asked as she felt for the bard's hands. 'Scared,' was rapidly traced, 'Alone.' "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I just went to get us fresh food." The younger woman wrapped her arms around the warrior trembling. "Hey, it's all right." Big slap no. "I can't wait 'til you start talking again," she muttered under her breath. "You had a bad dream last night. Do you think that's why you were so frightened when you woke?" Two taps. "Want to tell me about it?" One tap. 'Then it was something bad about me.' Gently she lifted her hands to the bard's neck. "Hey, good news. Swelling's almost gone. Bet you could talk if you wanted."
Her hand went to her throat in surprise as she looked up at her friend. 'If I talk now there won't be any reason for our touching. And if I get well before her, she's only going to go putting up those walls again.' Quickly she traced 'hurt.'
"Still?" her friend asked with a twinge of apprehension and received two taps. "Best not to push it then. We'll just wait 'til we can see a healer. Let's go." She whistled for her mare, turning her attention to the horse. 'She doesn't even want to try to talk. Probably doesn't want to have to talk to me.'
'What just happened? Her mood went totally downhill.'
As they moved on, Gabrielle tried to play and be affectionate with her friend, but Xena was stiff and detached. 'This is a fun ride. I've got to do something to pull her out of this.' But try as she might, the warrior refused to be budged, and so the day went in silence. When they'd stopped for the night and finished their meal, the bard decided on the direct approach. Grabbing her friend's hand firmly, she traced a question.
'Oh no, please! Not the one word answers! That's only one step away from monosyllabic grunts.' 'What's wrong?' she firmly traced and watched unbelieving as Xena pulled free. She took hold of the escaping hand. 'Talk to me!'
"Why? You won't even try to talk to me," she said with a quiet desolation. The bard looked at her friend perplexed as she traced 'painful.' The warrior took a deep breath, "Gabrielle, you talked in your sleep last night. And I know your bad dream had to do with me."
'Damn me and my big mouth! Now what?' She was wracking her brain trying to come up with a way to fix the mess she'd inadvertently created. 'In dream, you left me,' she began. 'Talked in sleep maybe why throat hurt now.' 'Please let this satisfy her. She stayed very still waiting for her friend's response.
"Well I fell pretty foolish. Wasted all that good brooding for nothing I guess." Two taps. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I should have said something right away." Another two taps. "Forgive me?" Two very gentle taps. Then she leaned in and placed a light kiss on her friend's lips. It was received quietly as a kiss of friendship. But then, to the warrior's amazement, another anointed her filled with passion. Startled, Xena pulled back. "Gabrielle, what are you doing?" Her answer was another kiss more fiery than the last. Firmly she grabbed the smaller woman's shoulders and pulled her back, almost growling, "Gabrielle, explain."
'You don't want?' she traced.
"I don't want it out of gratitude. And certainly not out of pity." The warrior began to pull herself back protectively. A gentle hand caressed her face as the other traced, 'for love.' Confusion warred with desire on the strong face. "If only I could see your eyes to be sure," she barely whispered.
'See with heart' was her reply punctuated by yet another kiss. For a moment the warrior was lost in the sweetness of those lips, but caught herself anxiously questioning, "Why now?"
'No words to get in way. No looks to prevent me. These wounds, blessings. Let us touch unafraid. Let me see I love you.' The warrior sat motionless as the words were drawn in her palm. Gabrielle waited patiently.
"Do you mean that?"
The smaller woman brought the large hand up to her mouth, kissing the palm tenderly. Then she reached up to again take the luscious lips before her. As they parted, a smile played across the warrior's face. "I like the way you say 'yes.' Gabrielle, tell me, can you talk?"
'Don't know. Haven't tried.'
"Would you try for me now?"
'I talk when you see my love.'
"I'm seeing better all ready."
And so the night was lost to the language of love beyond eyes and voice, the language of love that only the heart and body know.
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