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Gabrielle felt strange. Like something was just aching inside her in a place so deep she couldn't locate precisely. She just watched the tall warrior disappear and laid back on the sleeping fur. She felt like crying. Her dream... So near and so far at the same time. If only I could... Gods... I need to stop dreaming. I gotta grow up! She turned her head and saw Perdicus looking back at her. He gave her a sad smile... she returned with one more or less as much sad and closed her eyes. Hoping that Morpheus had pity on her and that sleep could claim her fast.
The morning came eventually and they hit the road early.
" I didn't see you coming back last night." Gabrielle said to Xena while they were walking on the road behind Perdicus. "Did you came back at all? You looked like you didn't sleep at all."
"Right back at you." Xena said avoiding the question
"Yeah... I had a lot of things in mind. A lot to think about... " she watched Xena push the reins of Argo.
"So what's your answer?" Xena heard the question scape from her lips without permission.
"No, of course." said Gabrielle immediately looking at Xena
"Why don't you tell him?" Xena asked puzzled facing her back.
"I'm waiting for the right time" she lied. The truth was that she was confuse. Xena sighed... visibly annoyed with the subject of the conversation.
"He's a good man." the warrior said.
"He is. He's so sensitive and kind," Gabrielle said with a smile that grabbed Xena's heart and almost, just almost pulled it out of her chest. "You know, I've never known anyone that I've ever been so confortable around..." she smiled shyly and got the ride of an eyebrow then added. "Besides you."
"Look Gabrielle." Xena stopped walking and looked her friend tight in the eye. "If it's me that you're worried about let me sey your mind at rest..." Gabrielle looked back at her heart almost stopped beating then it doubled its pace. "Seen you happy will make me happy. And if that means settling down with Perdicus..." they exchange aling and deep look, Almost getting lost in each others gaze. "You have my blessing." finished Xena smiling. Gabrielle gave her a half smile back and wanted to say something... tell her that settling down with Perdicus was the last thing she had in mind. That she would be happy just to stay this close looking into those eyes... She would be happy if Xena could feel for her what she was feeling for the warrior.
"Xena! Xena!" They break the gaze listening to Joxer's voice. "It's Callisto! She's out!"
"Damn it all to Hades!" Xena cursed out loud.
They arrived to the town and chaos was already running free. Xena stopped Callisto from killing a man then went face to face with the crazy warlord. Gabrielle saw the exchange between Xena and Callisto. She wanted to get close to her friend but there was a lot of fight, Callisto's army killing and destroying everything they could, so she just grabbed her staff and went to the fight, doing the best she could to get near to Xena... in between the hits she saw Xena stop Callisto's knife to kill a little girl, then the warrior was in the floor and Callisto's sword was pointing at her face. Gabrielle felt like her blood froze in her veins. Oh no! Her mind screamed... she was going to kill Xena. I can't let that happen! I won't... But another soldier came and Gabrielle had to face him with her staff... one blow and his sword was gone, other vicious swing and he was flat on his back, a final one in the head and he was out of combat. Then she looked for Xena and she saw Callisto leave... Xena was fine... alive! Thanks to all the gods... she breathed in relief. Then someone screamed for help and Xena answered the request.
Then she looked back and Perdicus was fighting two soldiers. One man came after her and Gabrielle hit him hard twice with her staff. Another one came and she kept fighting. She just got hit one more down when she saw Perdicus killing one man. And... he froze... Xena came behind him and put the other soldier down. But she couldn't see because she was having problems of her own as the man he was fighting grabbed her staff and was trying to take it from her hands.
Xena didn't had much time to think about it, she saw Perdicus standing there like a statue and Gabrielle almost losing her staff, she ran there and with a flip she went over Gabrielle's and the man's heads and with a powerful kick she got the staff back. Faster than a blink of an eye Gabrielle saw her friend taking control of the fight and knocking the guy down. A mother was screaming for help. Then Xena returned the staff to Gabrielle and was running in another direction. Gabrielle only had time to think that she seemed to be at all the places at one time. She turned around and spotted Perdicus... he was knelt, near to the man he had killed... still froze. Looking at the man's face.
The man was young like both of them... even younger Gabrielle thought. She knelt beside him, in the middle of that gods be damned mess.
“I can't do this anymore.” He said with a heavy voice. She looked to the dead man.“ If you don't wanna come with me, it's not gonna change the way I feel about you.” He said looking into her eyes and she saw love there, and she could feel that he was sincere. Maybe that's it , she thought... maybe he's the only one that can love you that way Gabrielle, because he known you all his life... “I love you more than anything. But I'm done fighting.” He throw his sword away. “I'm going home.”
“But...” was all she managed to say. She wanted him to understand that there are things that were worth fighting for. But... at the same time she could understand his feelings. She knew he wasn't a soldier. He's a farm boy and he always will be a farm boy. That's why you didn't marry him Gabrielle. But... I'm a farm girl too. Who am I fooling? Myself? Xena? I'm just a farm girl from Potediae and that's all... I'll never be a great warrior... a famous bard... that's just... not me . She could understand him... She felt like crying for him. For herself, both have left Potediae to follow a dream but... that was just a dream. Maybe it was time to live reality. Maybe... if I'm lucky I can even be happy with the reality...
Xena came after her just in time to see Perdicus leaving.
“Where is he going?” she asked. Gabrielle could see the power still flowing through her. She is a true warrior. She belongs this life... not Perdicus... not me. Maybe she was right from the beginning, this road life isn't for me . She faced the warrior with the saddest eyes she had.
"The answer is yes Xena.” and then she looked at Perdicus and the warrior blue eyes followed hers. “I'm gonna marry him.” They faced each other for a long moment. There were no words. For a moment Gabrielle thought that Xena would say something... but, in the next second the warrior just raised her hand... touched her friends shoulder and with a sad smile and gave her a squeeze.
"Okay." I knew it... I knew this day would come. Gods give strength. I'm so in need of it right now . Gabrielle looked at her, looked deep in the warrior's deep blue eyes. Searching inside them a sign that Xena wasn't meaning what she was saying. It can't be okay Xena. Don't you see? Why can't you just see into my eyes and understand that I'm choosing him because I'm not allowed to choose someone else. I'm not allowed to choose you! Good gods you never give up Gabrielle... “Then you should tell him... don't you think?” Xena completed still facing the bard, the deep blue irises scanning her face, her eyes intently.
"Yeah... yeah... I... I will tell him.” Gabrielle said.
"And I think you should do it before he gets do Potediae.” she said finally lowering her eyes to the ground and trying to sound amused, trying even to make a joke. But the bard couldn't let notice that she sounded a little sad. I know you too well, don't I Xena? Or am I just fooling myself? Seeing things that are nothing more than secret wishes of my own heart?
"I will Xena... but... don't you need a little help here? The town is a mess... what Callisto and her men did..."
"Don't you worry with the town Gabrielle I can handle... I... I... will help the folks here... go after him and tell him your answer. I'm sure you will make him the happiest man on earth." I know that if I was in his place I would... Xena mused. Gabrielle didn't know what to do anymore, she knew what she wanted to do... she didn't want to go after Perdicus and tell him she decided to marry him. She just wanted Xena to tell her not to go, she wanted to hear Xena say that she couldn't go with Perdicus because she needed Gabrielle by her side. That she shouldn't live this half life and be half happy with Perdicus... She wanted Xena to even question her decision. Ask me why I'm choosing to go back to a life that I wasn't born to Xena. Ask me why I'm going back to be someone I'm not. Why I'm going back to a life that I ran away from. Ask me something damn it! Make me change my mind! Her inner voice screamed to her.
"Okay." She heard herself saying. "You 're sure you don't need any help?"
"I'm sure... go on... I... I'll see you later on the camp..." she saw Gabrielle hesitate. "Okay?"
"Okay." she gave Xena a half smile, grabbed her staff more firmly and marched after Perdicus. The blue eyed warrior watched her leave... slow steps at first, them stronger and more confident and felt something like a hand crushing her heart then ripping it out of her chest. She felt the darkness, that was so much a part of her, roar inside her like a hurt animal.
Since the first night, when Gabrielle stepped out of the forest and inside the camp she knew that the darkness couldn't take control of her soul near the power of the light that emanated from the bright smile of that ingenuous kid. Now... she was sad, more sad than the other two times Gabrielle left, more sad than ever actually because she knew that her only friend, the little girl that had grown to a beautiful young woman, was going out of her life this time for good... she was sure of it.
She looked around herself with a disgusted look in her eyes and saw the mess that Callisto and her men had done to the town.
“Okay folks...” she said raising her voice above all the noise. “Those scum already are out of here, let's try to put some order on this mess. Anybody hurt?” She saw a lot of bleeding people. “You!” she pointed to a boy near to her. “Where's the healer hut?” the boy just pointed the direction. “Okay, so... you run there and see if he's there and if he's alive and bring him back here as fast as he can.” the boy just nodded enthusiastically and ran. “You and you...” Xena choose more two people. “Help me to bring to the center of the town all the injured...” then she stood up and concentrated on the job at hand. At least she could keep her mind occupied... She could try to avoid thinking about where the bard was, what she would be doing... yeah... she could only try.
Gabrielle walked out of the town and into the woods after Perdicus. After a while walking in the lonely trail she stopped and rested her head against a tree. She was confused. Did you just send me away Xena? Do you have any idea that if I say yes to him I'll be gone for good? “Maybe that's exactly what she wants you to do Gabrielle.” she told herself out loud. “It is over isn't it?” she sat on the floor. “Yeah... you knew she would loose her patience with you soon...” she left out a tired breath. “I wasn't being so... annoying lately... I guess...” she played with the staff. “I was starting to believe that... she wouldn't drop me back home anymore.” tears fell silently. Gods, it was so hard giving up a dream. She cried until she felt her heart a little lighter. Then she stood up and turned to keeping following the trail to the camp. It took her several candle marks until she got there. She wasn't really in a hurry.
When she reached the clear space between tall trees that Xena had set camp she spotted Perdicus sat on the same log he proposed her the night before.
“Hi...” she said clearing her throat a little.
“Hi!” he answered standing up a little startled. “I thought you were with Xena in the town helping those folks.”
“Well... I was... I... Actually I think I should be there helping her... there are a lot of hurt people... things to fix...” She said looking down at her feet.
“But you're not.” he stated look at her.
“No, I'm not.” she fidget. "I mean... It's kind of obvious right? Since I'm here." She sat beside him in the log. “I'm here... with you...” he smiled.
“That means...” He started to say but Gabrielle stopped him placing her fingertips over his lips. “Wait... I... Before you say something... let... let me tell you something. Okay?”
“Gabrielle...” he took her hands. “I know you don't feel for me the same way I feel for you... I... know... I always knew...” he kept going... “If... it's... If that's what you want to tell me... you don't have to. I already know and...”
“No... Perdicus... wait...” She stopped him again. “You opened up your heart to me yesterday and I would like to do the same... I want to be with you as honest as you were with me... so please let me finish and just listen up okay?”
“Okay... I'm listening Gabrielle.”
"Well I... I love you Perdicus, not the same way you love me and... you just said you know it. You always have been a great friend. When we were growing up you were... my closest friend. We have a history together and I...” She really didn't know what else to say... “ And I... You asked me to be your wife... and I had time to think about it... about my life, my dreams... My answer is yes... I will marry you.” she said looking him into his trusty brown eyes... her aching heart remembering some other blue ones that she would miss so much. Perdicus stood up completely lost in his happiness and gathered Gabrielle in a bear hug. It was strange, she thought while he hold her close in his strong arms, funny how different it was from the hugs she got from Xena... She felt like her heart was breaking into a million little pieces. But when she holds me in her arms.. I feel like... it's just like home... I can't explain the way I feel when I'm around her... she just... she can make my heart stop beating just with one look, one smile... she touched my heart in a way that nobody else ever could or ever would. And now you're just leaving her for good aren't you? You're leaving your home Gabrielle... her soul whispered softly to her. But... dear gods... it's just not my fault she doesn't love me the same way.... It's... so sad... she started crying. I tried... I really tried. Perdicus put her down.
“You're crying Gabrielle?” he asked puzzled."You..."
“I'm just happy.” she answered in a hurry smiling at him. He smiled back.
“You just made me the happiest man on earth Gabrielle.”
“I know.” she said. You can't keep searching a dream like this Gabrielle. That's it... face reality and try to be happy with what the gods gave you...
“And I'm going to spend the rest of my days trying to make your life happy my love.”
“I know you will...” then he bended and kissed her lightly on the lips.
"Do you wanna go back to Podediae and tell your parents? He asked her. “We can have a big party... invite the whole village... what do you say?”
“I'm not sure I want to make a fuss about it...” she regretted the way it sounded immediately. “I … I mean... I really would love to have something more... personal... something smaller. Just you and me and maybe a few friends... like... Xena and... and...” she stopped... there were really no one else.
“And Joxer? He added.
“Yeah....right...and Joxer... of course... Joxer.”
“It's a very nice idea. We could... marry in a day or two in the nearest temple? He added with some hope. He hopped that she would say yes. That he could marry her as soon as possible... before she changed her mind again.
“Yeah... we could.” She said softly... If we marry sooner I won't have time ti change my mind about it. “Sounds like a plan...” she added with a smile.
“That's great Gabrielle... we can tell Xena and Joxer as soon as they come back and we can leave to the temple tomorrow and do all the arrangements when when we get there...”
“Okay... we can do that.” she said. “Do you think they will return soon?” Suddenly she was uncomfortable of being alone with Perdicus in the camp. “Maybe they won't... there was so much to do back there.” she was babbling and she knew it. But she was nervous...
“Maybe they will... the sun is setting... they can't do much with the sun light...” Perdicus noticed...
“Yeah, you're probably right.”
“Tell you what... I'm sure they're gonna get here tired and hungry. It was a hard day after all... I think I'm going out to catch us some dinner...”
“That's a very good idea. I'm kind of hungry too.”
“Then it's decided.” He stood up, kissed the top of her blond head, gathered his stuff and went to the woods. Gabrielle watched him leave and then released a repressed breath.
"Xena...” the healer said approaching the warrior. “Thank you for your help... I don't believe I could have handle all this trouble alone.”
“I was glad to help.” she spotted Joxer playing with some kids and couldn't help smile at her friends goofy ways.
“We will be glad to offer you and your friends a place to stay...” he kept saying.
“It's... no need... we're going back to our camp, it's really not far from here.”
“Something to eat then...?”
“We're really fine friend. Thank you.” she said with a smile. “Come on Joxer... let's go!” Joxer left the kids and joined the warrior.
“Hei Xena, where's Gabrielle?”
“I bet she's back in the camp... with Perdicus.”
“Why? Shouldn't she be here helping us?”
“No... she's probably busy... planning...” Xena grunted a bad mood taking control of her faster than she could control.
“Joxer... shut up!”
“Okay...” he said following her... but not too close. But then Xena stopped and he almost crashed on her. “What happened?”
“Nothing... I just... maybe we shouldn't get back to camp right now.” She said.
“Nonsense...” he said and kept walking. Xena thought about grab him by his neck and drag him back but... but she was dying to see what Gabrielle was doing in the camp... alone... with Perdicus. “I'm tired, and hungry... I bet Gabrielle already made us some dinner.” he said some space ahead of her. “Come on Xena...”
“All right... all right...” she said following his footsteps. They were getting close to the camp when Joxer practically ran into Perdicus.
“Hey guys... I'm going to catch us something to eat.”
“Great, I'm going with you.” Said Joxer.
“Where's Gabrielle?” Xena asked concerned.
“She's in the camp.”
“You shouldn't let her alone. Callisto's men still can be around.” Xena added yet more concerned.
“I... I... I better go back then and check on her...” Perdicus stammered.
“No... both of you go catch the dinner... I'll check on Gabrielle, don't worry.”
“Okay... so... let's go Joxer!”
“Yeah let's go...”
Xena walked a few more moments then reached the camp. She saw the fire burning high and Gabrielle in her knees next to it making tea. Gabrielle more felt than heard Xena coming. It was a warm feeling inside her and she turned her head to the side of the camp in the exact moment the warrior stepped inside the irregular circle of trees.
“Xena!” she heard herself exclaim and she felt so happy at the mere vision of the tall figure. But at the same time something inside her heart ached. “Hi...” she said a little shyly.
“Hi. Are you all right?” the warrior answered taking a long lingering look at the bard. Gabrielle let herself be engulfed by those eyes. And she thought she saw a small sparkle of sadness behind it but then, as fast as it seemed to come it disappeared.
“Yeah... I'm fine. How are you?"
"I'm fine Gabrielle."
"And how's everything in the village?” she didn't wait for an answer and added. “I should have stayed and helped you and Joxer...” she kept talking to hide the nervous. “Were there many hurt people?”
“Yeah... a lot...” Xena sat on a log near the fire. Uncertain of how to act or what to say. Suddenly she felt overwhelmed by her own sadness.
“Xena... are you alright?” Gabrielle sat near her by the fire.
“Yeah... I'm fine... It's just...” she looked at Gabrielle's face, down on those bright green eyes of hers. And realized that probably it would be one of the last times she would be able to do that. “It's just... It's...” she didn't know what to say...
“It's... Callisto isn't it? She has this effect on you. You always get sad when she shows up.” Gabrielle said her eyes searching the blue ones. She will always feel guilty about everything that Callisto does... she thinks she created the monster... that the evil inside Callisto is her fault and she feels evil too ."
“Yeah... it's... Callisto...” Xena lied and lowered her eyes to the ground.
“Don't blame yourself Xena. It's not your fault the things she does and... and... you've done everything you could to stop her... For the love of the gods you even helped to put her away. It's not your fault they let her scape.” she reached out for the warrior hand and grasped it in her own smaller ones. “We're going to get her and put her back where she belongs... in jail!”
“No we're not...” Xena smile sadly. “ I will get her and put her back in jail. You will marry Perdicus...” Gabrielle's heart almost stopped beating. She hadn't noticed what she had said. Did I say 'we'? Xena saw the confusion in Gabrielle's face.
“I... I...” Gabrielle smiled a little flustered. “Yeah... I'm... sorry. Yeah... I forgot...”
“It's about time by the way.” Xena felt a hand squeezing her heart seeing Gabrielle's eyes. “This road life is not for you Gabrielle. It's good for you to settle down with Perdicus... raise a family... that's what I always wanted for you Gabrielle. I always wanted you safe and happy.” Xena smiled holding Gabrielle's hands in her own.
“Yeah... I know... I know...” Gabrielle tried to recompose her feelings and her thoughts. “I think you were right the whole time... and I... I... think... it's going to be a good thing...” she was more trying to convince herself than to convince her friend. “ I'm gonna miss you awfully thought!” she said smiling but with her eyes full of tears.
“Yeah... I... “ Xena suddenly felt at lost. “ I'll miss you awfully too Gabrielle.” she could only repeat the bards words since she couldn't find better ones to express her own feelings. She saw Gabrielle's face twitch, she was obviously making an enormous effort not to cry. Then Xena did what she always do... she swallowed her own sadness and tried to make her Gabrielle feel better. “Hey... but... it's not like we're never gonna see each other again right? Greece is a very small place and... I know where Potediae is... I can always stop by and say hello.” She said with a smile hoping that it could granted a smile on the bards lips.
“You better... or else...” she let it trail and smiled sadly still holding back the tears. She looked back at Xena smiling and amazing beautiful blue eyes. Will you Xena? Will you come? Stop by and visit me once in a while? I could just... wait for you to stop by forever if you promised me you would... I know you never break your promises . “Or else I will hit you in the head with my staff when I see you.” Xena smile grew larger at the attempt of humor. “Do you promise me Xena... that you will... that you won't just leave and never ever come back to see me?” she said in a serious tone and she couldn't hide the shake in her voice... “That you won't forget me?”
As if I could Gabrielle. If I could...gods... sometimes I just wish I could Gabrielle. It would be easier... for both of us. “Gabrielle...” Xena turned and fully faced the small bard, then reached out and took the smaller hands in her bigger ones. “I could never forget you.” You are a part of me... can't you see silly? “And yes...” the words came out of her lips without her permission. “Yes I promise you that I'll stop by and visit you sometimes...”
Sometimes it's just not enough... “Just sometimes?” she asked looking at their linked hands. “Couldn't you come visit every time you're around?” she added hopefully.
“Well... I think I could think about it...” Xena gave her an arched eyebrow, but not even the playfulness of the warrior princess was enough to make the sad looking to leave the bard's green eyes. “Come on Gabrielle, cheer up... you're going to be married soon... you should be celebrating.” She released one of the girl's hands, what was not easy considering that Gabrielle took a strong grasp at Xena's hands, and lifted it up until it touched her face very gently and let her thumb run back and forth in sweet caress. Gods she's so cute .
“I... I...” Gabrielle stammered a little flustered but the touch and then by those blue eyes so close to her. “ I know... I know...” she reached out and tried to capture back that hand that was driving her insane touching her face like that... it was hard to think. But then she couldn't she was enjoying the tenderness so much. She just grasped Xena's wrist and leaned into the touch closing her eyes for a second. I could just pretend for a little while that... we are not having this conversation. That we will stay like this... together and alone forever... “It's just...” she opened her eyes and finally found her tongue. “I didn't want to leave you.”
“Unfortunately you can't have everything Gabrielle...” Xena slid her fingers up and moved a lock of golden hair off of the girl' s eyes. “You can't fight warlords, rescue babies, do the things we do and raise a family. You need a calm life, a husband, a home to create your family...”
“Why things always have to be so complicated Xena? I didn't want... I wish I didn't have to choose...” she still was fixed on those blue eyes... Xena just smiled again. Then Gabrielle couldn't hold any longer and throw her arms around the warrior's neck and hugged her hard. “Do you really promise me Xena?” she asked hiding her face in the strong shoulder, feeling the smell of the dark locks of Xena hair.
“Yes Gabrielle... I promise you that every single time I'm around Potediae I'm gonna stop by and visit you and the beautiful family I know you are going to build.” Xena hugged her back. “Are you happy now?”
How can I ever be happy without you Xena? “Yeah... I guess.” she answered in a small voice releasing the captive warrior.
“Good, I'm glad.”Xena lied. Then she stood up and started her ritual. Taking of the armor... bits to amend, sharpening to do...
“Um...” Gabrielle's voice sounded near her. “Can I help you?” the girl reached for the buckles in Xena's armor. The bard then remembered the first time she had helped Xena to remove her armor. It was that one time when Xena got hurt badly and she could barely move... she was so afraid of hurting Xena even more that time.
“Sure.” said Xena turning around so Gabrielle could reach the back buckles. What if you get hurt again Xena? Who is going to help you? Who's gonna take care of you? What if some crazy warlord attacks you while you are hurt and defenseless... and... I won't be there to help you... and if something happens to you I could never forgive myself and... “Gabrielle?” Xena's voice interrupted her mental babbling.
“Yes Xena?” she asked puzzled.
“Don't worry... I can take care of myself.” Xena said ruffling the bards hair and putting her stuff away, sitting near the fire and starting to work on a armor piece “Okay?”
“How do you know what I was thinking?” Gabrielle asked kneeling beside her.
“I... have many skills.” the warrior said smiling.
“Right!” Gabrielle let out a chuckle... “I always forget that.”
“So... as you already know I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
“Yeah, but that doesn't stop me from worrying... cause I...” I love you so damn much that it aches just to breath right now imagining that something bad can happen to you and I won't be around to... “I really care about you.” she finished awkwardly.
“I know Gabrielle, but... there's no need... I'll be fine... I promise you.”
“Hey you guys... dinnertime!” Joxer's voice sounded entering the camp.
To Be Continued in part 3
Academy of Bards