Standard Disclaimer: All characters and other subjects related to Xena Warrior Princess belong to Rob Tapert, Renaissance Pictures, and NBC Universal.
Content Disclaimer: None. This story is completely clean.
This short story is a continuation of “A Simple Gift.”
This story won the “Many Skills Contest” fanfiction category on the Xena Movie Campaign Facebook page. You can find them here: https://www.facebook.com/XenaMovieCampaign
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.” Gabrielle painstakingly tried to arrange her quill so she could write with her injured hand, but every time she put the slightest amount of pressure against the parchment she invariably dropped the writing utensil as her right hand continued to throb. It was doubly hard to grip anything because of the tight bandage meant to keep the joint immobile, but she really wanted to commit some details to paper before they slipped her mind, broken bones or no broken bones.
Stupid wagon wheel. Gabrielle had been carrying a gift for Xena, a small, wood-carved hedgehog, when she had dropped it. As she retrieved it, a wagon wheel had rolled over her outstretched hand.
Though she had been to Athens once before, and recently, entering the city this time had been an entirely new experience. Maybe that was because she had been alone the previous visit, excited about auditioning for the Academy, but still apprehensive about the new environment, startled by the sheer size of the city and the energy of its occupants.
Not so this time. She and Xena had walked Argo through the massive portcullis that was one of many openings in a massive wooden wall that surrounded Athens and stretched in a corridor all the way to the harbor, Piraeus . The center of democratic thought was well protected from siege, but still managed to maintain a feeling of openness despite its security.
Xena had been an apt guide, uncharacteristically chatty during the walk, pointing out famous buildings and landmarks, describing their uses and telling stories about them.
The Pnyx, the meeting place of the Assembly, only open to men, something Xena snorted at.
An out of place green area, with only enough room for perhaps two people to stand. It was symbolic of another country's land, into which a specially-ranked soldier would stab a javelin and declare war, demanding that the opponent send a reply or risk invasion. When Gabrielle had pointed out that the other country couldn't possibly know about the challenge, Xena had replied wryly, “That's kind of the point.”
The sight that made Gabrielle's breath catch in her throat: Athens ' famous amphitheatre, a huge, open air construction with thousands of available seats, carefully cut stone gleaming in the afternoon sun.
The city seemed so much more vibrant this time around, and Gabrielle had to admit that was solely due to Xena's presence. The woman just made the simplest things seem like adventures, and Gabrielle was observant enough to think that Xena was enjoying the experience as much as she was. The warrior was smiling more, and laughing more easily, obviously enjoying herself even though it was clear she had been to the city many times.
Perhaps they were both seeing it with new eyes.
Gabrielle sucked on the end of her quill, glancing around the room as she committed the feeling to memory. Not the view of the city, or even the amphitheatre, but her view of the world when she was with Xena.
Now that sounded good. If only she could write with her uninjured hand....
As she attempted to dip the quill into the waiting inkwell, her dexterity rebelled, spilling the sticky substance onto the parchment and desk. Cursing her clumsiness, she stood and retrieved an old piece of linen from the saddlebags that were lying on the inn's bed, and began to wipe the mess.
An warm hand suddenly covered hers, and she turned, at first startled, then relaxing as she recognized her favorite warrior. Xena had just returned from the bathing room, and the familiar scent of warm leather and tangy brass tickled Gabrielle's nose. Droplets of water still clung to her face and neck, castoff from her damp hair. Her expression was tolerantly amused.
“I thought you were resting that hand.”
Gabrielle gave her a sheepish look, not bothering to dissemble. Instead she just shrugged, pleased and confused when Xena did not remove her hand, but instead gently grasped Gabrielle's injured one and lifted it up for inspection.
Gabrielle's eyes followed her hand as it was raised, cradled in Xena's as the warrior examined it. Xena's hands were pleasantly warm, the heat banishing the pain in Gabrielle's fractured bones. Xena was amazingly strong, powerful even, but she could be remarkably tender when she wanted to be. Gabrielle's hand rested in her palm like a small bird, safe and warm. She could still feel a throbbing, but now it felt more like a heartbeat, steady and strong.
“This is still a little swollen.” Xena's eyes slid past Gabrielle's hand and gazed at her with concern. At this close range it was impossible not to notice how blue they were. “Does it hurt?”
It took Gabrielle a lot longer to answer than it should have. She swallowed before answering, wondering if she said yes and closed her eyes, could she get Xena to kiss her hand again? If that was what she had done in the first place. “I can't even feel it.”
A dark eyebrow raised, and Xena lowered Gabrielle's hand, letting it go. “Then why were you writing with your left hand?”
Gabrielle blushed, as always, caught by the warrior's keen perspicacity. She turned, carefully picking up the soiled linen and parchment with her good hand, then setting them aside to clean later. “I guess it does hurt a little.” She smiled, remembering the look on Xena's face as she received a small carved wooden hedgehog, the gift for which Gabrielle's hand had been an unfortunate casualty. “But it was worth it.”
Xena was difficult to read, but Gabrielle caught the slightly embarrassed look, quickly masked by a rakish grin. “I must be rubbing off on you,” she teased, “Pretty soon you'll be saying arrows through your shoulder are no big deal.”
Gabrielle chuckled. “I don't know about that.”
Xena sat on the bed, rummaging through the saddlebags, obviously looking for something. Gabrielle sat also, idly looking out the window, watching the orange fingers of light gild the sill as the sun completed its daily journey. It wasn't early enough to go to sleep. Maybe they could wander the streets together, looking for something interesting to eat? That sounded like it could be fun. Xena opinions on foods were pretty funny. Though the warrior was willing to eat anything in terms of survival, she had a few favorites, and a few choice words to say about certain other things, a unique facet of her personality Gabrielle hadn't discovered until they had been traveling together for some time.
A light tap on her leg brought her out of her reverie. She turned her head to find Xena looking at her expectantly, offering her a piece of parchment.
Curious, Gabrielle took it, asking, “What is it?”
Xena shrugged. “Something I thought might be fun.”
“Like a circus, or-” as Gabrielle began to read, a dazzling grin split her face. She turned to Xena in utter astonishment. “You got us tickets to the amphitheatre?” She exhaled. “That's amazing!”
She pulled Xena into an exuberant hug, squeezing her as hard as she could, knowing full well the warrior could tolerate it. Xena amiably returned the embrace, though with much less force.
As they pulled apart, the warrior elaborated, gesturing to the ticket, “We lucked out, too. Tomorrow night's the Lysistrata, but tonight's something else.”
“Why wouldn't you want to go see that?” asked a puzzled Gabrielle, “I've heard it's really funny.”
Xena's eyebrow did its able best to merge with her hairline. “A play about all of the Greek and Persian women getting together and refusing to sleep with their husbands until they stop fighting each other?”
“Yeah. Doesn't it sound funny?”
Xena snorted. “I've heard the props are...interesting, to say the least.”
“What do you – oh!” Gabrielle playfully punched a laughing Xena in the arm, beginning to laugh herself, glad that Xena was sitting on her left, in perfect swatting range of her good hand.
Xena fended her off gamely, finally capturing Gabrielle's hand and standing, hauling the bard to her feet. “We can get a good look at the market on our way there. You game?”
Gabrielle gave her a truly joyous smile, glad that Xena was in such a playful mood. She didn't know what had prompted it, but she also didn't care. Tonight was an adventure, and she was going to make the most of it.
The market was huge and diverse; it seemed there were vendors from every Grecian province, and possibly others from lands across the sea. It was absolutely nothing like the market Gabrielle had been to last night, which had reminded her very much of ones she had seen in Potadeia when she was a child, and she imagined Xena would have seen in Amphipolis. No, the street was loud, and packed with a kaleidoscope of colored tapestries, rugs, and stained textiles. The smell was a cloying mix of a hundred different foods, freshly tanned leather, and humanity. People were yelling, vendors hawking their wares, patrons haggling.
It was a marvelous sight, but Gabrielle found it overstimulating. When she had first run off with Xena, she had been eager to see such things, but now she found she took comfort in simple things, like the friendly vendors in small towns. Like homemade nutbread. Like the warmth of Xena's hand on her lower back as the warrior led her to a stand that was selling delicious-smelling sweet rolls.
Without bothering to haggle, Xena purchased a roll, promptly ripping it in half and offering the larger piece to Gabrielle. They took bites at the same time, unanimously making noises of approval.
Xena's mouth was still partially full when she commented, “Mmmm. Cinnamon.” She licked a thumb that still had some of the sticky topping on it.
The vendor interrupted, “You can get a dozen for three dinars.”
Xena glanced at him, then cocked her head at Gabrielle. “You wanna get some for the road?”
Gabrielle gave her an amused smile, wiping her hand on her tunic. “You're the one with the sweet tooth.”
Xena feigned umbrage, knowing full well the truth in that statement. Finally, she shrugged. “Maybe on the way back.” She placed her hand on Gabrielle's back again, skillfully leading them through the crowd.
A flash of color caught Gabrielle's eye, and she grabbed Xena's arm, pulling her in its direction. “Oh, Xena, come look at these rugs!”
Xena rolled her eyes, but allowed herself to be dragged. “Whaddaya need a rug for?”
As they reached the stand, Gabrielle stopped and gave her a frank look. “I don't need a rug. I just wanted to look at them.”
Xena sighed heavily, recognizing an old argument. Xena didn't like shopping, preferring just to gather necessities and then leave, but she could tolerate it as long as Gabrielle was there. The bard loved new experiences, so it was amusing to watch her as she encountered things she had never seen before. Xena didn't think she had ever been like that, after she had left home. Then again, her circumstances had been very different. Being with Gabrielle now was kind of like having a second chance to see it all again, anew.
Gabrielle knew that her exasperation was false, and gave Xena a playful punch in the stomach, grinning widely. “Come on, we can look at weapons later. I know you need a new dagger. That old one's as dull as my Uncle Clovis.”
Xena shot her an amused look, but turned to the rugs, pointing at the nearest one. “That one's got elephants on it.”
“How pretty! Have you ever seen an elephant?”
“Well, I may have ridden one once or twice....”
Some time later, Gabrielle sat next to Xena in the amphitheatre, occupying space on the stone seats that ran the circumference of the circular structure. The stones were hard and cold; some of the other patrons had brought pillows to sit on, obviously not first time theatre-goers. Xena joked that after sitting there for a while Gabrielle might forget about her hand because her butt hurt so much. That had earned her another swat.
Gabrielle was practically jumping in her seat, vibrating with poorly-concealed excitement. Xena herself was not particularly interested in the play. If she was totally honest, which she tried to be, she didn't have the patience for events that required her to sit down for several hours. That was, she chuckled inwardly, until she met a certain bard. For some reason, she always enjoyed Gabrielle's stories, no matter how many times she heard them. Gabrielle really was a talented bard. Xena really wanted her to be happy. Watching her bounce in her seat, Xena smiled. This was the perfect gift.
“Oh, look!” Gabrielle exclaimed, as a man walked to the center of the stage. He began speaking, explaining that, given the superior acoustics of the theatre, the softest sounds could be heard even in the highest rows. He called a little boy forward from the front row, and handed him something. The boy tossed the item of the ground, sending the sound of rolling dice clattering to every ear in the theatre.
Impressive. Their seats were about midway, and though Xena's hearing surpassed most, she doubted she would've heard the sound that clearly anywhere else. “Neat, huh?”
Gabrielle bumped her with a shoulder, grinning.
As the play progressed Gabrielle settled down, watching intently and laughing loudly along with the rest of the theatre. About halfway through the production, Xena noticed Gabrielle fidgeting, covering her injured hand with her other one, obviously slightly uncomfortable. Without a word, Xena reached over and gently took her hand, enclosing it securely in both of her own, allowing her body heat to sooth Gabrielle's injury.
Her action forced her to scoot closer to Gabrielle, who gave her a slightly shocked look from close range. Xena shrugged, careful not to jostle her companion's hand. “Feel better?” Xena asked quietly.
Gabrielle gave her a warm smile. “A lot. Thank you,” she whispered back.
They sat like that for the rest of the play, and when it was over, politely waited for others to exit before finally leaving the theatre to stroll down an Athenian street on the way to the inn. Gabrielle gushed about the play, evaluating costumes, storytelling, and reiterating some of the funnier jokes.
She finally wound down when they reached their room, plopping down on the bed with a sigh. “That was amazing,” she told a still-standing Xena, “Thank you so much.”
“I'm glad you liked it.” Xena sat down, and ran a hand through her hair, ordering it. “I liked it, too. But not as much as your stories.”
Gabrielle laughed. “Oh, please.”
Xena's voice was serious. “I mean it. You're talented.” She glanced away for a moment. “You could've stayed here, you know. Gone to see a play every night.”
Gabrielle regarded her. “I know.” Her voice was very quiet. “But I didn't.” There was a twinkle in her green eyes, now. “If I'd gone to that play without you, I would've hated it.”
Xena echoed her earlier statement, “Oh, please.”
“I'm serious. When I said I'd rather be living adventures with you, I meant it.” With her injured hand, she gingerly reached out and clasped Xena's, putting a gentle pressure on that strong hand, not caring how much it hurt to flex her fingers. “You make everything an adventure. I'd rather be out in the woods, sitting next to a fire with you, than at a play, sitting next to a stranger.”
Xena face turned to her, undisguised wonder in those distinctive features. “Really?” she asked, as a slow smile began to form.
Gabrielle bumped Xena with her shoulder. “Really. Besides, if you hadn't been there, I wouldn't have had anyone to hold my hand.”
Gabrielle felt her hand squeezed lightly then released, as Xena moved her arm to give Gabrielle a one-armed hug.
“What adventures are we getting into tomorrow?” Gabrielle asked.
She couldn't see Xena's face, but she knew the warrior had adopted a puckish grin. “I dunno. I mean, we could always go see the Lysistrata. ” They laughed harder than they had at the play.
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