Most of the characters herein belong to Rob Tapert and/or Studios USA and/or Renaissance Pictures. It was not written for profit and no copyright infringement is intended.
Violence/Sex: None. This is set in the first season before X&G became lovers, sometime after the events of "Hooves and Harlots," but before "Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards."
Subtext: It's there.
For Followers of my X&G Series: This could be my version of Xena and Gabrielle, prior to the beginning of the series. For non-followers of the series, this could just as easily be the X&G from the show. My series picked up at the end of the 4th season Xena ep, "The Ides of March." Basically, they were brought back to life after the crucifixion and chose to settle down in the Amazon village with Gabrielle ruling as queen, and Xena as her consort. The entire series can be found at The Academy.
A tall figure ambled through the trees, making no noise, carefully stepping over and through the heavy brush with graceful studied ease. The air was crisp and cold, and as she breathed, small white puffs of air drifted from her nose and mouth, dissipating into the slight breeze. She sniffed the night around her and looked up, over the tall treetops toward the wispy clouds that partially obscured the stars above. She drew in another breath, detecting the clean smell of snow, though none had fallen yet.
Great, she muttered to herself. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, miles from any village, and no caves or hills to be seen. Shoulda planned our route more carefully. She'll be cold. And she won't say anything, will she? Just pretend she's fine.
She moved on, ducking under low branches until she neared the campsite, and heard a low humming noise. Her face scrunched up as her abused ears protested. Can't carry a tune in a bucket. Still, she stopped for a moment, hidden there in the trees at the edge of the small clearing, and listened. The girl sounded so happy. Content, actually, and the humming turned into song, an old winter's tune often sung by shepherds as they sat out in the fields watching their flocks as they moved them from summer to winter pastures.
Of course, she chuckled to herself. She's from Potadeia. Her family must have kept sheep. Probably the only thing we have in common. She snorted quietly and entered the clearing, dropping her armload of firewood to the ground with a clatter, causing the girl to jump, almost overturning a pot that was simmering over the fire.
"Oh!" The girl turned, her white face re-gaining color as she recognized the warrior. "Xena, you scared me." She laughed nervously, steadying the pot that rested on carefully arranged rocks that held it up above the flames. "Not that you're all that scary. Well, what I mean is, you can be scary, when you need to be, when you do your warrior thing and all. I mean, you have to be scary then, don't you?" She laughed again, wiping her hands on the new short brown skirt.
"'Warrior thing'?" She shook her head and knelt down, arranging the wood into a more orderly stack, close enough to the fire to easily add it as needed, but not so close it might fall in. Zeus only knew the girl was accident-prone. She could just see it now, the girl knocking the precious cache into the flames in one of her fanciful fits of story telling. The girl could not stay still when she talked -- her hands and body were always in motion.
"Well, yeah." Gabrielle cautiously moved closer and stooped down to help. "Your warrior thing. You know, when you put on that look, and your voice drops down all low and growly, and sometimes the thugs will run away without even putting up a fight."
Blue eyes glanced upward, silvered by the warm firelight. "'That look'?" She tilted her head in question, the long dark locks throwing auburn highlights back at the fire.
"Yeah." Green eyes met blue, lost for a long moment. "That look. Scares 'em every time."
"Does it scare you?" White teeth flashed a brief smile, and her voice took on a teasing tone.
"Oh. No. No, it doesn't scare me." The girl looked away, suddenly interested in stacking two logs just right. "I know you," she finished quietly. Even in the faint light, the blush that dusted her cheeks was evident.
Hmmmm. Interesting. "You're flushed. You aren't getting sick on me, are you?"
The girl reached up, scrubbing the side of her own neck, a nervous gesture even the warrior had come to recognize. "No. It's just being close to the fire is all. It's warm here." Her voice almost squeaked as she talked. "Don't worry, no nursing me through a fever again. Remember, I promised next time to tell you if I feel sick, instead of waiting until I can't walk anymore." Please don't send me home, the green eyes pleaded.
"The fire. Right." Finishing the stack, the warrior stood and sniffed again, moving to the steaming pot. She closed her eyes on a long lost memory, scents from her mother's inn in Amphipolis. "Gabrielle, what are you cooking?" Her eyes popped open, and her features softened.
Goose bumps danced across pale skin. Amazing, how Xena could speak her name, and make that happen. It rolled off her tongue, all nice and low, almost musical. "Oh, nothing. Nothing, really. Just . . ."
". . . spicy venison stew," the warrior finished for her. "Thought we sold all the venison in the last town from that deer I bagged."
"We did, well most of it." The girl was blushing again, and she moved to the other side of the fire, picking up a long stick to stir the fragrant bubbling mixture. "You know me, how I like to bargain. I managed to keep just a little of it. I thought you might like something special, it being Solstice and all." She looked up hesitantly. "I have a little nutbread left too, and a flask of wine, see?" She gestured to a leather pouch warming near the fire ring. "I put some cinnamon and cloves in it. I just thought . . ." Her voice trailed off on a sad note, and she pushed a loose strand of hair back behind her ear, another nervous gesture.
"Venison stew is my favorite," Xena answered quietly. "How . . .?"
"I heard you, a while back, at one of the inns we stayed in. You mentioned it to a cook -- told her it was just like you like it." And it had been a chore, prying the 'secret' recipe from that cook. She'd jotted it down carefully on a scrap of parchment, and tucked it away in her scroll case, waiting for just the right time, and decided Solstice would be as good as any. She'd picked up the proper spices in the Amazon village, along with a little surprise, if only she could gather the courage to give it. "I just thought, you know, it is Solstice night."
Solstice. Damn. It wasn't that she didn't know it was Solstice. She was constantly aware of the passage of time and season. It was just that Solstice hadn't meant much to her for a very long time. Poor kid. Bet back home her father killed the fatted calf, and they had a big celebration. And I have . . . she did have a little something, tucked away in a saddle bag, picked up on some foolish whim. She had no idea why. Maybe . . .
"That it is." She moved away from the fire, pulling her sword from the scabbard that rested against Argo's saddle, which was slung over a log. The palomino was standing off to the side of the clearing, munching contentedly from a small bag of oats. Xena fished around in the saddlebag, her fingers passing over a wrapped bundle. She felt it, pondering for a moment, and let it go, feeling around instead until she located a whetstone and a chamois cloth.
In a familiar routine, she moved across the campsite opposite Gabrielle, and sat down to sharpen and clean her sword, while the girl finished cooking dinner. It was an arrangement that worked. Xena protected them and hunted or fished for food. Gabrielle cooked it. The girl was poised quietly across the fire, stirring the stew as she added a pinch of this and that to it, herbs the warrior would have easily named if she had only a sniff of them.
She studied the girl surreptitiously, as she dragged the rough stone along the edge of the sword. To her surprise, she realized the baby fat that had padded the girl's face and arms had begun to disappear. In the new clothing, Xena could easily observe the muscles the girl had begun to develop -- strong calves and defined biceps, and a surprisingly muscular midsection. The Amazon-style skirt hung low on her hips, and to the warrior's eyes, her figure was cute. Her hair was pretty too, all shiny in the firelight, with strawberry and gold highlights that framed her face nicely, her eyes a vivid hazely-green as she bent over their meal.
Xena shook her head again, banishing the thoughts. It was wrong, somehow. She appreciated beautiful women, and had spent her fair share of time in their company. While Gabrielle might be easy on the eyes, she was a child, wasn't she? A child she'd thought of sending home, or leaving safely in every village they'd passed through, at least at first. Now . . . she sighed and allowed herself to acknowledge a truth -- she'd come to enjoy the girl's company, most of the time.
The girl was a trouble magnet, no doubt. She'd lost count of how many times she'd had to rescue her, or how many times the girl had led both of them into circumstances she was certain spelled death for the both of them. And the questions. By the gods, the girl never quit talking or asking about almost everything under the sun. Or the moon. Or the clouds. Sometimes she felt like her head would explode from the constant babble. Other times, on nights like this one, the girl kept the demons at bay, telling her funny stories, or just talking in her own intelligent way, passing observation on things that Xena might otherwise never have thought about.
The days after she left Hercules had been some of the loneliest ones she had ever known. No longer in the company of her army, or of anyone but Argo, her newly-awakened conscience had dogged her day and night, giving her no rest as she floundered, seeking her way in a world where nothing was familiar anymore.
So. There she was now, a year later, on Solstice night, in a cold clearing, miles from civilization. It would have been painfully lonely, save for Gabrielle's presence. Quite different from her last Solstice. She'd taken to the hills for a while after she left Hercules, and on that longest night of the year, had found herself in a cold, damp cave, far away from home, with nothing but dried meat and a handful of nuts to eat. She'd built a meager fire, mostly to keep warm and to make tea, but otherwise, there had been no festivities. There had been nothing to celebrate.
Instead, she'd reflected on the remains of her life with some anguish, wondering how things had gone so terribly wrong, and if she would ever find her way in the world again. She'd almost given up hope, when Gabrielle came along. She'd believed in Xena when the warrior herself found nothing worthy of belief. In her own patient, yet insistent way, the girl had hung on, never giving up on a friendship that must have surely looked strange to those they encountered.
She'd heard the veiled comments in some of the taverns they had entered -- rude and ugly insinuations about the nature of their relationship, and her intentions toward her young traveling companion. While Xena herself felt she had no honor in that regard, her young friend -- that was another story. Unbeknown to Gabrielle, the warrior had slipped away more than once, to knock some sense and understanding into anyone who would dare speak ill of the girl.
She put down the whetstone and picked up the chamois, wiping down the dully-gleaming blade, along with the jeweled pommel and leather-wrapped hilt. She looked up, as Gabrielle placed a small bundle near the fire, most likely the nutbread she had mentioned. A small smile tugged at the warrior's lips, and unconsciously, she began to hum the tune Gabrielle had sung earlier. She finished up her sword and moved on to sharpen a boot dagger -- one that had definitely seen better days. The hilt needed a new wrap, and the blade had been sharpened so often it was beginning to grow thin. She kept at her work until she stopped, looking up as she realized Gabrielle had grown way too quiet. "Something wrong?"
The girl was staring at her in silent wonder. "No." Gabrielle looked down in embarrassment. "You were humming -- earlier, I was . . . never mind." The sad expression returned to her face, and she looked up again, her eyes reflecting a loneliness Xena knew all too well.
"I heard you." Xena chuckled quietly. "Must've stuck in my head."
"Oh." The annoying blush returned, and the girl drew her thin cloak closer around her body. "Your voice is much better than mine. When Marcus died, and you sang for him . . ." she stopped, hoping she hadn't brought up too painful a memory on a night she wanted to be special. "You have a beautiful voice."
It was Xena's turn to blush. "Thank you." She found herself fidgeting under Gabrielle's gaze, something she didn't do often. The girl's legs and middle were covered in goose bumps, despite the fire, and the warrior acknowledged it was indeed cold, her own thick cloak sheltering her from the wind much more effectively than the girl's meager covering. "Bet you miss that long skirt and top."
Gabrielle frowned, looking down at her short brown skirt and matching small top. "Does this look bad? I just thought, being an Amazon princess and all, I should at least look the part. Maybe I shouldn't have . . ."
"Gabrielle." The warrior stood, moving to her companion's side. "You look fine. I like your new clothes. They're . . . nice." She allowed one frank gaze at the girl before she dropped the stoic mask firmly back in place.
"They are?" The girl's voice warbled in question, belying an approval she had come to crave from her friend.
"Yes. You . . . look good in them." She smiled, briefly touching the girl's shoulder. "I just meant they aren't very warm."
"Oh." Gabrielle smiled herself, a warm expression that crinkled the corners of her eyes and wrinkled the bridge of her nose in a most appealing manner. "Thank you."
The warrior debated with herself, before moving away from the fire toward the saddlebags. It was just a functional gift, correct? It didn't have to mean anything. She opened the thick hide flap and rummaged around, locating the bundle again. Re-joining the girl, she tossed the package unceremoniously in her direction, laughing quietly when the girl managed to catch it before it hit the ground. "Just a little something that might come in handy," she commented, before she sat back down on the log, looking intently down at her dagger as she finished cleaning it.
Brown paper rustled across from her, and a quiet gasp followed, as Gabrielle carefully unfolded the gift -- a forest green heavy brushed wool tunic with a woven brown leather belt. "Xena?" She looked up, her thumbs stroking the soft material. "You got this for me?"
"A few villages back, yeah." The warrior briefly glanced up, swallowing as the girl moved in her direction, dropping down in front of her and placing one hand on Xena's knee. Funny, how the girl could get away with touching her like that, and she felt no need to backhand her into next week. The touch was warm, and the girl unconsciously stroked her skin, much as she had stroked the wool a few moments before.
"Thank you." Gabrielle's eyes shone, and the warrior fervently hoped she wasn't going to cry. She never knew what to do when Gabrielle cried. The girl stood, taking off her cloak long enough to tug the new tunic over her head, belting it and turning in a circle in front of the warrior. "How does it look?"
"Fine," Xena smiled. "Matches your eyes."
"It does, doesn't it?" Gabrielle smiled back at her, and put her cloak back on, but not before carefully smoothing the front of the warm tunic down, and giving a wondering tug to the nice-smelling leather belt. "Nice and warm, too. Much better. See? No more goose bumps." She held out her arms for inspection.
"Glad you like it." The warrior watched her companion, as Gabrielle moved back to the fire and dished up two wooden bowls of the stew, bringing Xena's over to her, along with the warmed flask of wine. She started to leave to take her usual spot on the log across the fire, when she felt a gentle tug to the hem of her tunic. "Sit here, next to me." The warrior patted the log beside her, and scooted down to make room.
"Al . . . alright." Gabrielle slowly sat down, feeling the warrior's body heat, and wishing she herself could get warm so easily.
"Easier to share the wine if we're on the same side," Xena commented amiably.
"Oh. Of course," Gabrielle laughed nervously, then shoved down new thoughts and sensations, and dug in, concentrating on the stew, and the wine, which slid smoothly down her throat each time she took her turn at the flask.
Talk was sparse between them as they ate, although Xena obviously relished the stew, chewing and swallowing with great satisfaction, until she'd eaten every last bite in a second and then a third helping. "That was delicious." She finally set down her bowl and picked up the flask. "Just like my mother used to make for me," she commented quietly.
"Really?" The warrior rarely spoke of home, or family, or even of her past, only dolling out information as she deemed necessary. "I'm glad you liked it. I . . . I have something for you too, Xena." She stood and made her way to her own travel bag, pulling out a small box, which she placed quietly in the warrior's lap.
"Gabrielle. . ." Xena untied the twine around the box and lifted the lid, revealing a brand new shiny boot dagger, with a sturdy leather-bound hilt and a jeweled pommel much like her sword. "Oh, Gabrielle, it's beautiful." The warrior looked up incredulously. "How did you know I . . .?"
"Heard you muttering about the one you have now a few times." The girl smiled sheepishly. "Wasn't sure exactly what to get you. That one was with the Amazons. I had to get Ephiny and Eponin to help me pick it out. They assured me it was a good one. I hope . . ."
"It's perfect." Xena stood, and gave the girl a rare hug. "Thank you."
The girl held on tightly for a moment, enjoying the warmth and the obvious friendship between them. Finally, after all the time they'd traveled together, she could feel it -- Xena might, just might, finally be opening up to her, just a little bit. "Glad you like it. Oh . . ." A snowflake drifted down between them, followed by another and then another, as the Solstice made itself know.
Soon, the lacy white flakes were falling steadily around them, collecting on the bare tree branches, and somehow adding to the quiet stillness of the night. They parted from the hug to tidy up the camp for sleeping, then Xena found a spot next to a tree near the fire, to spread out her sleeping furs. Soon camp was set for the night, and the warrior sat down, stretching out her legs on the warm furs and covering herself with the top one, as she leaned back against the tree and looked up at the falling snow. She glanced across the fire where her companion was spreading out her own bedroll, and even with the new tunic and her cloak, it was obvious the girl was cold again.
"Gabrielle?" The girl spun around, regarding her across the flames. "Join me?"
"Um . . ." the girl scrubbed her neck again, and picked up her furs. "Alright."
"It'll be warmer." Xena scooted over, making room for the girl, who hesitantly sat down next to her and covered up with her own furs. "It's alright, Gabrielle, I won't bite you. I promise." She pulled the girl close and draped her thick cloak around the both of them, waiting until the girl's breathing steadied, and her body relaxed next to her.
"You alright?" The voice burred close in her ear, and the girl nodded silently. "Good."
"I . . . I could tell you some stories," Gabrielle crooned hopefully. "Solstice ones, if you'd like."
"I'd like that." Xena sat back, closing her eyes and listening as the girl launched into a series of stories, some funny, and some with a message. She lost herself in the animated voice, allowing herself to enjoy Solstice for the first time in years.
Gradually, the girl's voice wound down, and her eyes blinked her sleepiness. Xena felt her head, as it slowly landed against her shoulder, and the girl's breathing grew slower. "Happy Solstice, Gabrielle." She stroked the fair head, and placed a quick kiss on the girl's forehead.
She just kissed me, the girl realized in fuzzy sleepiness. "Happy Solstice to you too, Xena." She draped an arm across the warrior's middle, snuggling up and enjoying the warmth. "Thank you."
"For what?" The warrior rested her cheek against the girl's head.
"For making Solstice special." Gabrielle closed her eyes, as the warrior began to sing softly again, calling up old Solstice melodies remembered from childhood. Gabrielle drifted away in a pleasant sleepy haze, warm despite the snow. Funny, how she didn't feel lonely at all, although she was miles from her family.
Xena felt the change, as her companion fell asleep, her head still resting on the warrior's shoulder. She smiled, tucking the cloak and furs more snuggly around both of them, content to stay sitting there all night if necessary. The fire crackled and sparks flew up, swirling up and disappearing into the falling snowflakes. The quietness of the night settled around them, until she swore she could hear the flakes hitting the blanket of snow that was building up outside the shelter of the trees.
She looked down at her sleeping companion, smiling in reflex at the peaceful expression on Gabrielle's face. "You're not alone." The girl's words echoed in her head, from an anguished visit to her brother's tomb in Amphipolis. "No." She pondered in quiet wonder. "I don't think I am anymore."
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