Chapter 4: The Secrets We Keep
The summit of Mount Fuji would have been much more hospitable had the wind not been so persistent in its whipping. Sarah clutched the collar of her coat close to her face as she continued walking toward the noises ahead. She knew that timing and placement for this final time jump would be difficult so instead of zapping right into the middle of one of the fights, she figured she would try to land out of the fray, but within walking distance. Taking a few more steps prompted her to squat close to the ground. Up ahead Gabrielle was about to give that Japanese soldier a chakram upside his head.
A smile grew on Sarah’s face. She wanted to cheer Gabrielle on, but she knew that would just be a bad move. This phase of the plan was strictly recon. As soon as Gabrielle poured the ashes into the spring she could make herself known to the dynamic duo, but until then she would stay put. It certainly wouldn’t suit her purpose to somehow throw off Xena in the final battle and give over victory to Yodoshi.
Sarah watched and waited until she saw Xena move towards Gabrielle just as she was about to pour the ashes into the spring. But for some reason Xena still stopped Gabrielle from continuing with her task.
“No fucking way.” Sarah said to herself as she moved in closer to see exactly what the hold up was…
“Gabrielle, I must stay dead.” She heard Xena say. “In order for those souls to enter a state of grace the person who killed Yodoshi must be in one as well. You can’t bring me back.”
The warrior spoke with tears in her eyes, and even though Gabrielle may have bought it, Sarah didn’t.
“I didn’t come this far just to end up with the same crappy ending.” She said closing in on the two. “Hey!” She yelled out.
Both women looked over. Their faces covered with both confusion and surprise.
“Yeah, you two. What the hell’s going on here? There should be no reason for you to stay dead, Xena.”
“Who are you?” Xena asked, both anger and confusion in her voice. Gabrielle’s eyes passed back and forth between women, trying to understand what was going on.
Sarah looked back at the sunset, trying to gauge how much time they actually had left. A small fraction was left just above the horizon so she decided introductions would have to come after the miraculous resurrection.
“I’ll explain that later, right now I want to know who told you that you had to stay dead for those souls to be at peace. Was it Akemi, because I had a feeling that sneaky little shit was up to no good?”
“How dare you.” Xena said, rushing towards Sarah and thrusting her fingers into the girl’s neck. They both soon realized that the pinch didn’t work.
Sarah swallowed hard with relief then continued voicing her concerns.
“Now, see if you had a body that would’ve worked better this time around.” Sarah said.
“I know you from somewhere.” Xena said as she did a mental check.
“And she’s catching on.” Was the sarcastic response. “Unfortunately there’s no time to take a trip down memory lane. Now, who told you to stay dead for the peace of those souls?” Sarah asked, determination flowing from her eyes.
Xena was quiet, possibly still trying to remember how she knew her. Gabrielle watched the exchange and decided it was her turn to weigh in.
“Xena it’s a fair question. Who was it that told you to stay dead?” She asked, concerned.
Xena turned, anxiety apparent on her face, and stumbled through an answer.
“Gabrielle it’s complicated.” Xena said. As she struggled to find more words Gabrielle’s patience began to wear thin.
“No, Xena, it’s not complicated. Either someone told you to stay dead, or they didn’t. Now which is it?” The bard asked with anger now tempering her voice.
Xena simply looked from the bard to the ground. The lie she had prepared simply couldn’t come out after all they’d been through. “It’s the way things should be, if you stay with me things like this are always going to come up. I’ll never be able to completely make up for my past and you don’t deserve to live your life in that endless battle.”
“So there’s no need for…” The blonde said just before looking at the sunset. The smallest sliver of red was about to descend into the horizon. “Damn it, Xena.” She swore as she unceremoniously dumped the contents of the urn into the spring.
They all watched as Xena started to convulse. Hunched over and grasping at her stomach, she was illuminated by various shades of light. With a lurch and a scream her arms flailed out as far as they could reach, as if she were opening her body up to the life being poured into it. Some unseen force lifted her off the ground. Xena let out a cry into the air, and then was slowly dropped onto the ground where she rested on her stomach and gasped for air.
“Un-fucking-believable.” Sarah said softly as she looked on to Gabrielle.
She thought the bard would move to help Xena up as soon as the show was over, but she didn’t. Instead the bard tossed the chakram directly in front of the warrior’s face.
“If you don’t want to live anymore you take your own life. Don’t you dare be a coward and lay that burden on me.” The bard said with anger raging in her voice.
“Gabrielle I-” Tears were forming in Xena’s eyes as she tried to speak, but Gabrielle stood firm and cut her off.
“You what, Xena? You were going to put me in charge of your fate? Force me to be the one to let you go?” She was yelling at this point. “I wanted to die once too; when I killed that boy in the desert, but you wouldn’t let me. You said that sometimes love goes beyond the greater good. At least I was guilty when I laid my life on the line, you’re just giving up. So if this mountain is where you want to end things, so be it. But this time you’re on your own.”
Gabrielle started to walk away at that point. She was furious.
Oh great, I save Xena but lose Gabrielle and I need both of them to help me save Eve. Sarah thought to herself, not quite knowing how to salvage the situation. Wait a minute: Eve. Surely Gabrielle will stick around long enough to save her then hopefully the two lovebirds can patch things up.
“Hey, Gabrielle, wait up.” She said, moving to grasp the bard’s arm.
“This is not a good time.” Gabrielle warned through clenched teeth, as she jerked her arm away.
Sarah persisted. “I realize that, but something very bad is going to happen if I don’t get your help and it has to do with Eve.”
Gabrielle stopped in her tracks and Xena stood up, coming closer to both of them.
“What’s happened to her?” Warrior and bard said in unison.
Sarah backed a way a little bit; unaware of how safe she was in this particular conversation. She swallowed hard and answered.
“Nothing yet, but right now she’s about to walk into a civil war that’s taking place in Chin. If we don’t get there soon she’ll be arrested, then executed.”
“How do you know this?” Gabrielle asked.
“She seems to know a whole lot of things that have to do with us.” Xena said with spite.
Great, now they both hate me. Sarah thought before she spoke.
“Ok, look I can explain everything during some down time, but right now I think we should head back to town and prepare to set sail for Chin.”
“And who say’s you’re going with us?” Xena asked.
“Um. Well I mean I can help you. I know a lot about the situation in Chin right now and plus it’s not like a pair of extra hands is gonna set you back on your quest.”
“No but a bumbling drunk might.” Xena said, recognition having just dawned on her.
Sarah put on her most convincing innocent smile and laughed a little as she spoke back. “Guess I’m starting to look familiar, huh?”
“Yeah a little too familiar for someone who hasn’t aged a day in over thirty years. I think you’re even wearing the same clothes.” Xena said with a quizzical look.
“Since she’s another woman from your past that you never told me about could you please go into your predictably cold monologue explaining what her significance is? It’s certainly not as if we haven’t gone through this song and dance before.” Gabrielle said to Xena, crossing her arms as she waited for an answer.
“Oooo.” Sarah accidentally let out, before shutting up and looking away from Xena’s fiery glare.
“She was there the night that I laid Akemi’s ashes to rest. She said she was a friend of hers, so we got drunk in memory of Akemi and then the next morning I left and never saw her again. And now somehow she’s here, and she hasn’t aged a bit.”
“Does she have a name?” Gabrielle asked.
“Oh, yeah, I’m Sarah.” She piped in, grabbing Gabrielle’s hand in a vigorous shake. “It’s really nice to meet you even under these difficult circumstances. I’m a big fan of your scrolls.”
“I’m flattered.” Gabrielle said with mild annoyance.
“Right.” Sarah said, catching the attitude. “So anyway I promise to explain everything, but first I think we should be booking passage to Chin and gathering supplies. We probably won’t be able to catch a boat out today, but we can bunk up here for the night and I’ll catch you guys up on the particulars of me over dinner. How’s that sound?”
Both warrior and bard were looking at her as if she were trying to sell them fake Rolexes in Chinatown. At least it’s possible that their hatred for me could bring them back together.
“By my estimation you’ve already lied to me once. Why should I trust what you have to say now?” Xena asked.
Sarah was starting to get a little defensive.
“Well, considering that I kept you from murdering around 40,000 people last time we hung out together, I think you can safely assume that I’m not out to cause any harm.” She waited for the surprised look on both the bard and warrior’s face. “Didn’t expect that one, did you? Now are you going to let me regale my tale this evening or are you two gonna tear this mountain apart with the argument we all know is going to surface?”
They both studied her for a few seconds when Gabrielle finally threw her arms up and made a decision.
“Let’s just get moving.” Gabrielle said as she started down the mountain, leaving both warrior and “bumbling drunk” in her wake.
Dinner was even less fun than the trip down the mountain. The trio split up in an effort to save time with the errands. Xena booked passage on one of the barges headed for Chin, Gabrielle secured two rooms at the inn, and Sarah gathered supplies from the local market. By the time they all met back up at the inn it was time to sit down for the evening meal.
No one was talking at all. Gabrielle was pushing her food around her plate, feigning interest. Xena wasn’t even trying to do that. She was just sitting there with her hand on her temple casually looking at Gabrielle when she thought it was safe. Sarah was scarfing down rice and seaweed as if it were in short supply. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast in her own time, and that hadn’t managed to stay down with the all of the time travel she had to do. She’d hoped that focusing on Eve would dissolve some of Gabrielle’s anger, but there was no such luck on that point. But at least Gabrielle’s anger was focused more on Xena, than herself. She wished she could say the same for Xena. Once the warrior saw that the wounded puppy look wasn’t working on Gabrielle she would surely point her anger at the person responsible for the argument in the first place.
Though Sarah wasn’t exactly looking forward to engaging her dinner companions in conversation, the silence was starting to kill her.
“So I guess now is as good a time as any to explain who I am, huh?” She said.
Both warrior and bard simply stared at her, waiting for the explanation to come.
“Ok, tough crowd.” She whispered before plunging into her tale. She relayed the whole account: where she came from, who she was and what Janice asked her to do. Expressions of shock were what she had expected to see on their faces, but that wasn’t the case. This most likely had to do with the fact that Xena and Gabrielle had seen so much in their lives; so a little time traveling was truly no big deal. The one piece of information she held back was Gabrielle’s suicide, simply thinking that it was a secret best kept.
Xena was the first to speak on the subject at hand.
“So you traveled back in time thousands of years to stop me from causing the death of 40,000 people and, in effect, saving me from a sacrifice that I would have to make in the present day?”
“That’s the gist of it.” Sarah said.
“How can you be sure you didn’t alter anything else while you were on your little mission?” She asked with venom in her voice.
“I can’t be sure that nothing else was altered by my actions. But you have to understand I didn’t make this decision lightly, Xena. The pieces just seemed to fit. I think I was always supposed to do this.” She said, truly believing it herself for possibly the first time.
“Well that just makes everything ok, doesn’t it?” Xena said with disgust. “You think you have some kind of destiny that makes you special. I used to know someone else who had the same mentality. Now he’s six feet under with nearly fifty stab wounds in his body inflicted by his close personal friends.” She finished with that know it all Xena smile before asking. “How many friends do you have?”
Sarah was shaken by threatening tone in Xena’s question, but not enough to keep her mouth shut.
“You know, I think I liked you better when you were a warlord. You may have been creating your demons then, but at least you weren’t giving up on fighting them.” She said then quickly shut up when she heard Gabrielle slamming her drink on the table.
Standing up quickly the bard said, “I’m going up to my room, now. Since you two are so well acquainted you can share the other one.”
“Gabrielle wait, please. We need to talk tonight.” Xena said, her mood shifting quickly.
“Yeah,” Sarah started. “I’m really not comfortable staying the night with a pissed off warrior.”
“Believe me you’re getting the safer option of the two at this point.” Gabrielle said pointedly. “I’m not your biggest fan right now either.”
As she started towards the stairs Sarah looked to Xena and waited for the warrior to follow suit. When she didn’t Sarah knew things were bad. She played with her food for a few moments before Xena’s voice pulled at her attention once more.
“This is all your fault.” She said with vehemence.
“Excuse me?” Sarah asked, her anger building rapidly.
“You heard me! You meddled in our lives because you thought you knew what was best and now look what you’ve done. She may never forgive me for this.”
“Yeah, well maybe she shouldn’t! What you did was really fucking wrong, Xena. You ran away from your problems and laid them all on her.”
Xena slammed her fist on the table and spoke.
“I was doing the right thing. Gabrielle deserves the happiest possible life she can have and that is not in the cards if she continues to stay with me. My past comes back to haunt me all the time and every time it does she sees more of the darkness in me. She puts herself in danger to help atone for my actions. I wasn’t going to let her continue to do that.”
“Well that was a real noble way you chose to handle things.”
Before Sarah even knew what happened she was on the ground. Xena backhanded her across the face with a force that sent her tumbling out of her chair.
“You don’t know anything.” Xena said standing up so fast she knocked her own chair over as well.
The room had quieted down and the patrons were fixed to the scene between the warrior and the girl.
With a thin veil of tears stinging her eyes, Sarah looked up at Xena. Her lip was bleeding from the blow, but its sting could not compare to the one she felt in her heart. Xena looked so much like Mel and to receive such anger from her was just too much. She stood and allowed only one, single tear to fall.
“I am amazed the kind woman who raised me came from your blood. The stories she told made you my hero.” She yelled. “God, I’m so stupid, I should’ve known that you would be nothing more than another dissapointment.” She turned quickly to exit, but turned back before taking a step. “And before I make my dramatic exit, let me explain something to you warrior princess, you being pissed off at me is not the issue here. You’re alive and you have another chance to not fuck up your life. Make it count for something.”
And with that she stormed off into the cold, dark night.
Xena clenched her jaw and looked around, noticing the spectacle that they had created.
“The show’s over.” She said. When she turned to face the stairs she saw Gabrielle staring on in disgust. They locked eyes for a brief moment and then the bard walked past her brusquely.
“You should learn to listen to people before you push them away.” She said before exiting.
Xena couldn’t say a word. With her head in her hands she moved upstairs.
“Sarah, wait.” Gabrielle yelled as she caught up. Putting a hand on her shoulder she turned the girl around.
“Just leave me alone for a while, ok.” She said through the tears. It wasn’t just Xena that was bothering her, it was everything.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone. It’s not safe.” She said wiping away one of the tears on Sarah’s face. “And you shouldn’t be alone when you’re sad.”
Though the gesture touched Sarah she was feeling embarrassed and angry.
“Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, Gabrielle, and as much as you resemble my great aunt, you’re not her. I came here to set things right and I screwed that up. The last thing I want is you feeling sorry for me.”
The bard honestly didn’t know what to say; she did feel sorry for Sarah.
Seeing the bard’s frustration, Sarah spoke again.
“Look if you really want to make me feel better, go upstairs and talk to Xena. You may not be able to resolve everything but at least you owe your yourself the satisfaction of watching her grovel.”
“Only if you come back inside. You can stay in the other room while I talk to Xena.”
“Fine.” She conceded.
Together they walked back to the inn. Sarah ordered a bottle of Sake, and Gabrielle headed upstairs; both women intimidated by what the rest of the night might bring.
Upon entering the room Gabrielle’s eyes immediately fell on Xena. Both women were perplexed by the situation and neither knew what to say or where to begin. The blonde’s head was spinning at all the revelations that were coming up. The information was just all so much to deal with at once. Her main concern right now was Eve; making sure they got her out safely. She had no idea of what they would be up against and neither did Xena. It was very much a blind following the blind situation. But on top of that was Xena. The idea that the warrior was hell bent on ending her life in such a sneaky way really grated at Gabrielle’s patience. Xena was her entire life. She had given up everything to be with her and she was just going to be left behind like the little kid she was always afraid to be. Her anger over that was palpable.
Xena wasn’t about to be the one to start the conversation. The very fact that Gabrielle came into the same room was a minor miracle. She would cut her losses while she was ahead and let the bard talk if she wanted to. She could tell that Gabrielle’s mind was going a mile a minute. The bard was so perplexed with thought that she couldn’t even begin to bring anything up. She was simply leaning against the small table that accommodated their room, her hand to her temple and eyes afixed to a board in the floor. Xena moved to look out the window, desperate for something to focus on other than the incredibly troubled bard.
And that’s how they remained for a quarter of a candle mark. Every now and then Gabrielle would start to say something, but the words just wouldn’t come out right. She was so angry, but anger wouldn’t get them anywhere right now. Their main concern was Eve, so she begrudgingly started with that.
“What do you know about Chin right now?” She asked; eyes still glued to the floor.
Xena turned around with an inaudible sigh of relief. This was good; it was something she could focus on. And it meant that Gabrielle was at least interested in working with her towards one objective. What happened after this would be left up to the young, hurting bard. But right now they were stuck with a common goal. They were partners, still. And Xena could work on the rest along the way. She moved closer as she spoke.
“I’ve heard rumors around about civil unrest. Apparently the Mandate of Heaven has been upset and a new regime is trying to take over. Whether they succeed or not isn’t really of much importance, what is important right now is that the country is in chaos. The government is on high alert. That’s probably why they picked up Eve. They saw some stranger talking in the streets and simply assumed it was about revolution.”
“If she’s in prison what are our best chances of a rescue?” Gabrielle asked with a determined focus.
Xena exhaled with frustration, “Well, that all depends on the set up. If things are really lax with the guards and morale is down it’s possible we could send someone in. One of us would get “captured” and figure out where she is while the other two aided in the escape.”
“What’s option two?”
“The more dangerous one.” She said with that little half grin that is so specific to Xena it should be copyrighted.
“They would have a public execution to make an example of her. We wait until that happens and bust up the party. Depending on how well Sarah fights we may be able to pull it off with just three people.”
“If she still feels like helping us.” Gabrielle said pointedly, while crossing her arms. For the first time her eyes pulled away from the floor and bore right into Xena’s.
Xena’s first instinct was to lower her gaze in deference to the bard, but there was simply no room for the attitude at this time. They were in this together and this obvious form of insubordination would not get them anywhere.
“I’ll speak with her when we’re finished here to make sure her intentions haven’t changed. But if you’ll remember one of the reasons she came here was to save Eve. Hopefully she’ll be gracious enough to put aside any anger she has toward me in an effort to carry out those intentions.”
Gabrielle heard what she was saying loud and clear and decided to try to reign in her resistive sentiments. She nodded her head and looked back to the floor.
“What about the Amazons? They could help.” Gabrielle offered up.
“No, the last thing we need is to bring the war home. Involving the Amazons would only complicate things. We need to simply get in, grab Eve and get out. No alliances, no enemies.”
Gabrielle nodded her head and thought for a moment more.
Xena, realizing that they were finished, moved to exit the room. She stopped just short of opening the door.
“Gabrielle I know you don’t want to hear anything I have to say right now-”
“Then don’t say anything.”
“We’ve been together for over six years, I’m only asking for a moment.” She said; pain evident in her voice. “Please.”
Not even the fire of her anger could deny that tone.
“Go ahead.” She said over her shoulder.
Xena took a deep breath then turned around. She moved to Gabrielle and gently made the girl face her and spoke with tears in her darkened blue eyes.
“Whatever you may think, I love you. I’ve loved you from the moment I saw you stand up to Draco’s thugs in that forest. I loved you as you grew into the amazing woman you are now, I loved you every time you left to find your own path, and I loved you even when it hurt.” A tear fell from her eyes and she let it fall, there was no pride left in her when it came to Gabrielle. “I know that everyone thinks I’m so strong, but I get weak too. Years of watching you suffer because of me made me weak enough to finally give up. And now that weakness may have caused me to lose you. I know that this may be our last fight together; that after this you could decide to walk away from me for good. Just know that I’ll love you even then. That I’ll love you forever.” She said the last part and walked away before the emotions became too strong.
“You forgot something.” Gabrielle said.
Xena turned, confused.
“You forgot to promise that you would never do it again. That whether I forgive you or not, you’ll never give up. You’ll never be less than the person I loved from the beginning.”
Xena’s face contorted as the tears fell freely and unabashedly. She put a hand up to wipe away the tears as Gabrielle walked closer.
“We’ve been together for six years. I’m only asking for your word.” She said with an unreadable expression on her face.
“I promise.” The warrior said, barely conjuring up a whisper. She reached a hand out to touch the bards face, but was denied.
Gabrielle turned away and moved back to the table.
“You’d better go talk to Sarah.” She said with a hint of sadness in her voice.
Xena nodded in understanding. Though her heart was breaking she slowly walked out the door. It was then that Gabrielle broke down. She’d been holding the tears in too long, and she knew one touch from Xena would break her. And she couldn’t be weak right now.
Xena adjusted her face before knocking on the door to Sarah’s room.
“It’s open.” The girl said.
She walked in to find Sarah lying on the bed drinking from her bottle of sake; wincing whenever too much of the alcohol hit her swollen lip. Her eyes were affixed to the ceiling and it was evident that she’d been crying.
The warrior moved to sit on the bed next to her and finally started to talk again. She didn’t remember having to apologize so much in one night, but it was obvious that it’s what would be needed to start Sarah talking.
“How’s your lip?” She asked.
“Sore.” Was the reply.
“How’s the wine?” She asked in an effort to lighten the mood.
“Cheap and watered down.” Sarah said with a small smirk.
“I’m sorry I hit you earlier. I was angry at myself, and I was taking it out on you. I know none of this is your fault, I just…”
“You just got angry that this stranger was coming in to meddle with your affairs. I foiled your plan and probably made Gabrielle more angry with you than she’s ever been.”
Xena let out a small chuckle. “You weren’t around for Illusia.”
“But I was.” Sarah said with a genuine half-smile as she sat up. Xena turned to meet her eyes for the first time since she’d entered the room. “Xena, I’ve read every single scroll that it was possible to salvage. I’ve taken the journeys with you. From the first time you buried your weapons in the ground, to the last. I was raised on stories of the brave Xena and Gabrielle. I may not have physically been there, but believe me your struggles are a part of me.” She took another drink and sighed. “You’re my heroes.”
“Still?” The warrior asked with trepidation.
“Yeah, pretty much.” She said with a smirk. “So what’s your plan to win back the bard?”
“I’ll throw myself at her feet the rest of my life if that’s what it takes to be forgiven.”
“It amazes me how much you still underestimate her love for you. I mean, Xena, for Christ’s sake-”
“Who’s sake?” She asked with confusion.
“Uh, never mind, it’s just an expression in the future. Forget about it. The point is you’re not giving her enough credit. She’s going to forgive you, it’ll just take time. And lots of groveling…. And presents.”
That got a smile out of the warrior.
“She can’t live without you Xena. She loves you too much.”
“You don’t know that.” The warrior said with genuine concern.
Sarah paused for a second, wondering if she should tell the warrior just how well she knew that. She probably shouldn’t, but the alcohol had loosened her tongue quite a bit and her will power wasn’t as strong as it should have been.
“I know it for sure.” She said and took a deep breath.
Xena looked at her with great concern etched upon her face.
“What do you mean? What happened after I died?”
“I think you know the answer.” She ran a hand through her hair as the warrior looked at her in disbelief. “Her last scroll, the one I told you about at dinner, wasn’t really a scroll. It was a suicide letter addressed to you. Telling you how much she loved you, and how she couldn’t take life with out you. She hoped that at least this way the two of you might be together again.”
Xena was in a haze of disbelief and the tears came again.
“She’ll follow you anywhere, Xena. You need to think very carefully from now on about where you choose to go.”
Xena nodded and stood to leave.
“So I gather that you’re still going to help us with Eve?”
“Yeah, as much as I can.”
“Can you fight?”
“I’m not you or Gabrielle, but I think I can keep up. ** It’s hard to say. I’ve trained in a couple different martial arts with Janice, but there wasn’t any real danger there. The extent of combat I’ve actually engaged in is limited to bar fights.”
“Well, did you win?” Xena asked to lighten the mood.
“Most of them. The others were broken up before I knocked the guy out.” She said with mock arrogance. “I assume you’re staying with Gabrielle tonight?”
“Yeah, though I don’t know if I’m gonna be allowed in the bed.”
“Well good luck with that.” She said as she stood to turn down the bed as Xena bid her goodnight and left the room.
When Xena entered the room Gabrielle was already in bed. However she could tell by her breathing that she wasn’t asleep. She also noticed that her side of the bed was turned down as well and assumed that it meant she would be welcome in the bed. Breathing a sigh of relief she began to take off her armor and put on her shift.
“How’d it go?” Gabrielle asked.
Xena pulled the shift over her head and answered. “Well. She’s still going to help us, and it would seem that she has some fighting skills. But I would feel better if she trained a little while we’re on the boat.”
“I’ll work with her. It’ll give us a chance to get acquainted.”
Xena was a little surprised by this statement but complied of course.
“That sounds fine Gabrielle. I’m sure she will appreciate that.”
It was at this point that Gabrielle realized that Xena was still simply standing near the bed and not getting in. She knew it was because Xena was feeling awkward about the sleeping arrangements.
“Are you coming to bed now?” She asked.
“Um, yeah. Yeah, I was just…”
“Making sure it was ok?” She asked with concerned eyes.
“Yeah.” Xena said with a small smile, and then climbed in the bed.
When she lay down Gabrielle returned to her initial position, facing away from Xena, so Xena turned her back to Gabrielle as well. At least I’m in the bed. She thought to herself.
“Good night, Gabrielle.”
“Good night, Xena.”
Then with the smallest movement she reduced the warrior to tears yet again. Gently, Gabrielle moved her foot to rest against Xena’s. Neither woman made a sound, but both knew that their connection would simply not be severed.
They had a lot to work through, and so much trust to rebuild. But at least that small touch initiated by the brave bard gave them enough hope to sleep through the night.
Thwack! Thwack! Boom!
“What is that word you keep blurting out?” Gabrielle asked the fallen Sarah. They had been drilling ever since settling in on the boat and morning was slowly turning to noon. Gabrielle was fairly worried about Sarah’s fighting skills. They weren’t nearly up to par with her own and she knew that they would be going into a very hostile atmosphere.
“It’s just a vulgar expression from the future. Comes out of my mouth whenever things don’t go my way.” She said as she picked herself up. Though she did keep ending up on her ass she was quite proud of herself for keeping up with Gabrielle. But now exhaustion was starting to take its toll. “Can we stop now for the day?”
Gabrielle chuckled and looked over to a smiling Xena.
“Um, not quite yet. We still haven’t even begun the weapon training.”
“Weapon training! Are you kidding I’m all ready so bruised that I’m beginning to resemble rotten fruit. How can I fight the enemy if I’m already injured?” She whined.
Xena piped in at this point.
“You know she’s probably right Gabrielle. I don’t know why we thought she’d be able to keep up with us. She’s only a couple thousand years younger.”
That earned a laugh from the bard and a scowl from Sarah.
“What weapon do you want to start with?” She said begrudgingly.
“Are you proficient with anything?” Gabrielle asked.
“My Aunt Janice trained me with a staff before she got arthritis.”
“Perfect; that used to be my weapon of choice.” Gabrielle said.
“I’ll go round some up.” Xena said moving about the boat.
Once Xena left the dock to go below deck Sarah decided to start some dialogue with Gabrielle about the state of their relationship.
“So…um... How are things going with you and Xena?”
“You mean am I still angry with her?” The bard said, taking an offensive stance. Apparently the sparring session was going to continue.
Sarah sighed and took her stance as well, then decided to go on with the conversation. Obviously Gabrielle was avoiding that with the match.
“Yeah, that’s what I meant.” She said blocking a kick.
“I think it’s safer to say that the situation has been tabled. I’m still angry, I don’t know what to do about it, but right now we have to focus on saving Eve.” The bard then faked a punch and instead swept Sarah’s feet from underneath her.
“Ugghhh. God damnit!” She grunted and got up, taking her stance back. This time however she was on the offensive. Throwing more punches and taking less time to worry about being hit.
Gabrielle chuckled at the doubled effort the girl was putting in. She decided to let up a bit on her own offensive and give Sarah a little more confidence.
“But you’re not going to leave her right?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.” She said, blocking several blows.
“So that means you’re considering it, then?”
“Yes.” The bard said and at the same time swiftly turned and landed an elbow to the side of Sarah’s head.
The girl recovered and continued both the conversation and the fight.
“You know in her own self loathing way, she really was trying to protect you.” She threw a punch and Gabrielle caught it, brought Sarah’s arm around her back, and then forced her face down on the ground.
“I don’t need protection. I need her to trust that I want to be with her throughout her hardships.”
“And you plan to prove that by leaving?” Sarah grunted out and was freed from the hold.
Gabrielle got up then helped Sarah to her feet.
“Look, as much as you think you know, you don’t. I may have written a lot down, but so much more goes on than what was in those scrolls.”
“And I get that, but don’t you think that the love you two have for each other is worth struggling for... That the bad times are overshadowed by the good?”
At that point Xena arrived with the staffs and both women got quiet.
“What’s going on here?”
“Nothing.” Both said.
“Right.” Xena said nonchalantly while tossing both staffs.
“We had just finished a discussion and were moving on to the next.” Gabrielle said, taking her stance. Sarah rolled her eyes and prepared as well and they started sparring.
“So what’s the next topic?” Xena asked, before taking her seat.
“How ‘bout whether or not you two are lovers.” Sarah said cheekily.
“Wha-oomph.” Gabrielle uttered right before she hit the ground.
Sarah smirked realizing she’d finally found her opening.
Sarah fell on the small cot in her small bunk, exhausted. Her body ached from the punishment dealt out from the earlier events of the day. After making that comment about the nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship the training just got more intense. And sadly no answer was even derived. It was obviously an issue best left to speculation...
For now at least.
Meanwhile Xena and Gabrielle stayed topside for a little air before bed.
“So, what do you think?” Xena said as they sat together and looked at the stars. “Can she can keep up?”
“You saw everything that we did today. Haven’t made any conclusions?” Gabrielle stated with exhaustion in her voice.
“I have, but I’d really like to know what you think. You’re a good judge of character, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle ran a hand through her hair, and then propped her head against it. “She’s not incredibly skilled in any area, but she does seem better than the average soldier. It’s obvious she’s never killed anyone though. She could never seem to close in. Always fighting defensively. There were a couple of times she would have had me if she had just taken a more lethal approach, but it seemed like it never crossed her mind. There was no hesitation or anything, just preparing for the next move. It could get her killed.”
“You seemed to make it ok when you didn’t fight to kill.” Xena said in reply.
“I had you to protect me. You’re going to have too much on your mind in this fight to do that for both Sarah and Eve.”
“Then maybe you’ll be the one doing the protecting, and be the hero this time.” Xena said, pride mixing with fear.
“There’s no room for two heroes here, Xena. And I never wanted to be one anyway. I don’t know if that was another one of your reasons for staying dead, but if it was you were wrong. The only place I’ve wanted to be since I met you was by your side. Whenever you asked me to cook, or help you with your armor, or deliver a message I felt like I belonged. Like you needed me. No one in this world has ever been happier than me to be second best.”
“Do you still feel that way?” Xena asked as they looked into each other’s eyes.
“Yes. For better or worse, I do.”
“Does that mean-”
“It means that my place is at your side and that’s where I intend to stay.” She put her hand on the larger one next to hers.
“Please don’t leave me behind, Xena. I know you think I‘m strong, but sometimes I‘m still just that scared little girl from Potadeia. I will always need you. And I still love you so much.” She said with tears in her eyes.
Xena grabbed the bard and held her tight for the first time since before her last battle. Stroking and kissing the blonde head she cried tears of joy.
“I love you Gabrielle. I promise I’ll never leave you again.” She pulled back so she could look into the bard’s eyes. “I’m so sorry I tried to take the decision away from you.”
The bard’s lips gave off the slightest glimpse of a smile. “So you’re stuck with me then?”
“For better or worse I am.” Xena smiled back, mimicking Gabrielle’s previous words.
With slow hesitation Xena raised the bards chin so she could see her face. She then lovingly wiped away the tears that had made their way down the bards face and simply held it in her hands. Thinking about what Sarah had said back at the inn about Gabrielle’s alternate demise, she swallowed hard and took a chance that she had to take at that very moment. Her head moved in close, creating a gap between their lips that was soon non-existent. She knew the passion that she proceeded with had to be tempered because no matter how much she’d been forgiven in the past, there was still trust to rebuild. But this was something she simply had to do. She needed to physically express her love for the bard in some way. Her greatest fear at that moment was that Gabrielle wouldn’t respond, but those fears were quelled rather quickly.
Even though they’d done this a million times before Gabrielle could still turn her legs to jelly with nothing more than a flick of her tongue, or a slight suckle of her lower lip. The kiss was sensual, not sexual, but both women were beginning to breathe hard.
Xena was reminded of their first make up kiss. It happened right after she’d come to see Gabrielle in the fort hospital when they were up against the horde. The bard had initiated that one. Once they had finished up with the soldiers for the night and headed back to their room, Xena started to remove her armor, but was stopped by small, gentle hands. She could tell Gabrielle was nervous, but despite all that she still pushed forward. It was something that Xena found incredibly attractive about her partner. After the armor was carefully placed on the table the bard moved in for the kill. Wrapping her arms around the warrior’s neck she kissed her passionately. Xena met her lips with equal fervor and clutched at the girls back. The kisses that night led to a love making session that neither woman had ever forgotten.
But back then there were less hurts to heal, and it was easier to be intimate. Tonight wouldn’t be like that. It didn’t matter though. She would wait for Gabrielle forever.
With both chests heaving they slowly broke away and rested their foreheads together. In unison they moved to a more friendly distance, but held hands in an attempt to not lose the physical connection that felt so good, and headed downstairs.
“So um, Gabrielle.”
“Forgive me for not knowing the answer to this, but exactly how much detail about our relationship did you put in those scrolls?”
Gabrielle giggled. “I suppose you’re referring to the comment Sarah made earlier?”
“Well, at first I just wrote them to the point where it would be left up to the individual to decide whether or not we were intimate with each other. But then I couldn’t help making it more and more obvious. And while there’s no actual description of any physical activities I don’t see how an argument could be made to the contrary of us having a relationship that was more than platonic.”
“So in short you tease the masses with your writing and never deliver on the good stuff?”
She gave her a devilish grin.
“Or… I couldn’t find the words to describe the beauty of such acts.” The bard said with a genuine smile.
“You’ve got me there my bard. What response could possibly top that one?”
And with that they headed into their room.
To Be Continued…Return to the Academy