Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto are the property of
The campfire and blankets are presumably the property of Xena and Gabrielle.
Any further queries regarding property ownership should be directed in writing to: Autolycus, King of Thieves, c/- your local constabulary.
Violence: Just a little.
Subtext: Well, yes. (Isn't that what it's all about?)
Timeline: Between "Intimate Stranger" and "Ten Little Warlords".
by Lela Kaunitz
Since Perdicas had died, she had not dreamed. But tonight I watched her twist and turn in Morpheus' embrace, watched cold sweat pouring off her skin.
She struggled from sleep, so deep down in the nightmare she could hardly breathe, could only watch helplessly as the blade plunged in, as his eyes went wide ...
The shriek broke the surface, and she found herself awake, gasping, her skin icy with sweat.
Instinct sought comfort. She rolled to face the woman who slept by her side -
"Gabrielle..." I deepened my inflection, trying to make this stranger's voice more my own. "Gabrielle, it's me."
She stared back at me, and I knew what she saw. Callisto. My nemesis. Her nightmare.
Gabrielle slid back down under her blanket, turned her face away. "I can't do this, Xena." Her voice was brittle, still trembling with the fading edges of her nightmare. "I can't ... I can't bear to look at you, and see her."
"I know." I reached out and touched her shoulder. She flinched away.
It was too much. I snatched up my bedroll, strode to the other side of the fire.
"No, Xena." She rose to her feet, approached me, put her arms around me.
Callisto was not so tall as I - even when standing, Gabrielle's head rested easily against this shoulder which was not my shoulder.
"You're still you inside. In here." She put her hand on my heart, and there was a tremor in her fingers. I could hear the effort she was making, the struggle not to shrink away, in the tightness of her voice. But her arms around me held firm.
I stole one hand across her back, began to stroke her hair. A little more firmly, cupping the base of her skull, sliding strong fingers down the taut muscles of her neck. As I felt her begin to relax, I let my fingers roam further, kneading the muscles across her shoulders till they softened.
"Lie down," I murmured, and felt her tense again at the sound - Callisto's voice, with my intonation. But I did not pause from stroking her neck and shoulders, and gradually, slowly, we sank to the blankets.
Her head lay pillowed on my chest, and one hand rested, palm upwards, on my bare stomach. Each of her knuckles was a point of heat against my skin.
I slid my hand beneath her hair, began tracing slow circles on the back of her neck. There was a spidery delicacy to Callisto's fingers, and a tendency in them to curl back from her palms. Familiar movements had a strange emphasis.
I stretched out my free arm, studying the combination of whipcord-lean muscle over bird-fine bone.
"I could circle your forearm with my fingers," Gabrielle whispered, and I looked down to see her green eyes open. "You're so thin."
As if we had rehearsed it, we brought our palms together, and compared the sizes of our hands. I had never truly realised how small Callisto was. Her hand - my hand, now - could never have enfolded Gabrielle's the way mine had that first night.
Gabrielle ran her fingers the length of my forearm, following the motion with her eyes, then drew away. "I want to touch you, Xena," she said. Her eyes, meeting mine, were dark with confusion. "But I can't forget it's her. The smell of your skin, the texture of your hair -"
She reached for me, not quite daring to touch the white-blonde strands of my hair, then her hand clenched into a fist as she drew it back into her chest. "Even the weight of your arm around me -"
Her voice broke. "It's not you. It's her! It's her..."
And she began to cry quietly, leaving me helpless, too scared to put my arms around her.
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