by Stacia Seaman

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Disclaimer: Sadly, they don’t belong to me but rather to RenPic and MCA/Universal. Sigh.

There is some subtext here, nothing racy.

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What a day. I am so tired that I can barely see straight. I can’t wait to make camp for the night. I want a bath, food, and then my bedroll. A long hot bath. And rabbit stew. And then twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep by a warm fire.

Finally we come to a clearing. Xena looks down at me. Wordlessly she slips off Argo’s back. I want to thank her, but I’m just too tired. "Why don’t you relax for while," she says gently. "I’ll take care of the campsite."

I find a sun-dappled patch of soft grass and lie down. It is so good to be still; I feel as though I’ve been walking for weeks. After a moment I stretch and yawn. If I stay here any longer I’ll fall asleep, which is fine, but I know that I’ll wake up starving in the middle of the night.

I open my eyes and see Xena’s feet near my shoulders. She sits down beside me. "I found a hot spring on the other side of those trees." A gentle hand brushes hair from my forehead. "I’m going to go for a soak once I put some dinner over the fire." She stands up and helps me to my feet, pointing in the direction of the hot spring.

Mmmm, that water looks wonderful. I remove my dusty clothing and my boots, placing them carefully on a flat stone. I sink into the hot water and feel my muscles begin to relax. Yes, this is definitely what I need. I let my thoughts drift, remembering bits and pieces of my childhood: playing tag in the village square, giggling with Lila as we planned our weddings, sitting in front of the fire after a bath as my mother combed the tangles out of my hair. I smile and sigh.

The water ripples ever so slightly and a soft hand caresses my hair. I turn to look into crystal blue eyes. Xena doesn’t say anything, but I can sense the worry in her. I allow her to turn me around. She tilts my head back into the water, massaging my scalp with strong fingers. I hum contentedly as her hands shift down to my shoulders, working the knots out of the muscles of my arms and back. "Feel better?" Xena’s low voice breathes into my ear. I lean my head back into her shoulder and smile, then pull away as she relaxes into the warm water. I watch as her muscles ease, the tension and worry melting away. This is a side of the warrior that only I get to see - and not very often.

We continue to soak in companionable silence, then Xena stands. I look up, surprised. "Can’t let the stew burn." She pulls a cotton shift over her head, picks up our clothes, then holds up a blanket for me. I step out of the spring and she wraps me in softness. We walk back to the campsite, where Xena has already arranged our bedrolls beside the fire. I put on my own shift and sit on my bedroll. She hands me a bowl and spoon. I inhale the spicy aroma of rabbit stew. I glance over and she smiles, pleased with herself. I smile back at her and begin to eat. Xena lowers herself onto a log beside the fire and starts eating her own supper. When I finish, she raises an eyebrow. I shake my head. The stew was delicious, but I’m too tired to eat any more. She nods and takes my bowl and spoon, then goes to the spring to clean them. I feel slightly guilty that she’s doing all the work, but she doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, tonight she seems to enjoy it.

I look into the fire, trying to understand why I’m so tired. Though we covered a lot of ground, today hasn’t been as grueling as some others we’ve had. We didn’t encounter any bad weather, bandits, giants, or angry deities; we haven’t come from a vicious battle and as far as I know we’re not riding toward one; Xena and I haven’t had any misunderstandings or arguments. Now that I think of it, we’ve barely spoken today.

The fire crackles loudly, startling me back into reality. I hear Xena’s soft footsteps as she returns to our campsite. I expect her to go over to her own bedroll, but instead I hear her rummaging through one of the saddlebags. She finds what she’s looking for, then sits down directly behind me. She puts a hand on my shoulder. When I turn to look at her she smiles gently and turns my head back to the front. I’m about to ask her what she’s doing when I feel a comb making its way through my still-damp hair. Xena moves slowly and carefully, working out all of the tangles. She continues to comb my hair, running her fingers through the silken strands until they’re all dry. For the first time today I am at peace, totally relaxed.

"Would you like me to braid this for you?" she asks softly. I turn around again. She’s watching me, waiting, almost shy. I nod, unable to speak. Deft hands weave my hair into a style I’ve never worn before. "All done," she says.

I shift on the bedroll, sitting so that I can see her. "It looks good," she says, deliberately misunderstanding my questioning expression. She takes a deep breath, then clear blue eyes look intently into mine. "I’m glad you’re here," she says, taking one of my hands in hers. "I don’t know what I would do if you ever decided to leave."

"I’m not going anywhere." I lay back on my bedroll and pull her down next to me. "Isn’t it beautiful?" I ask, looking up through the trees at the stars.

"Yes, it is," Xena says softly as I drift off to sleep.



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Special thanks to Mary ‘Rard, who keeps me amoozed.

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