Between the Times:
Lesson 2 - Staying Put
by Brigid Doyle
disclaimer: I don't own the rights to any of this and make no claim on any of these characters. Once again there is this nagging little comment I can't get out of my head, this time from The Execution. Gabrielle tells Meleager that when Xena tells you to stay put she means right where she left you. She seems quite adamant on the point. She had to learn that lesson somewhere. What you read between the lines in this tale is up to you. For everything, you see, is what you make of it.
Cyrene stood outside the large oak door listening to the drama being played out on the other side. Her daughter's enraged voice drowned the occasional comments of the younger girl who at the moment seemed to be the brunt of Xena's anger. Gabrielle seemed to be desperately trying to explain some incident, but the warrior was giving the girl very little chance to speak. Cyrene shook her head wondering where (and when) her child had learned such a vocabulary. The heavy door blocked out most of the conversation in the room behind it, but from the little bit she could hear the innkeeper was certain the girl was not faring very well. Xena's voice rose and fell as she delivered an intense lecture accentuated by several loud slams and bangs. Cyrene hoped her daughter's fist had not damaged too much of the inn's furniture. The bellowing ceased for a moment replaced by a lighter, much higher voice that seemed to be seeking reprieve. The sounds of a flurry of movement caused the woman to jump a bit. Not wanting to be caught eavesdropping at her daughter's door, she quickly moved down the hallway toward the stairs to the tavern. The sounds that now echoed from the room were unmistakably those of harsh reprimand. Cyrene winced with each measure of her daughter's discipline. The sound stopped abruptly and the woman stepped quickly down half the stairs then turned back as she heard the heavy door slam shut.
Xena stormed past her on the stairs without uttering a word. She marched through the tavern as the clientele stepped quickly from her path. As the warrior disappeared through the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the bar, Cyrene shook her head.
"Whatever could that child have done?" She whispered to herself. She stared after her tall dark daughter knowing the warrior had surely passed through the kitchen and out of the rear door. Even if Cyrene were a decade younger she could not match the stride of her warrior daughter. Xena would be long gone by the time her mother reached the back door. 'Beside,' the woman told herself, 'she is no frame of mind to listen to anyone right now.' No, if she were to get any answers she would be better off seeking them from the young bard on the other side of the door. But not now, the girl would be much too upset to discuss anything at the moment. She walked quietly up to the door her daughter had just exited and bent close to listen. The soft sobbing that came from the other side caused her heart to ache, but she knew enough not to undermine her daughter's need to show the girl right from wrong, whatever that wrong might have been. Cyrene shook the clean linens that were folded over her arm and forced herself to walk past the door and down the hall. She would continue her usual chores for now, but before this day was done she would have some answers.
Xena threw the back door of the tavern open with such force it pulled free of its hinges and teetered on edge for a brief second before landing with a thud on the soft soil. She was vaguely aware of the portal as she passed allowing a fleeting thought to pass through her head. 'I'll fix it later.' She marched into the wooded area behind the inn ignoring the stinging and scratching of the tiny branches that clutched at her as she passed. The warrior strode on with such purpose she was blinded to everything but the path before her. She stopped only after she reached the top of the knoll and had broken into a healthy sweat. Her dark hair was plastered against her brow and her breath came out in raged puffs. She tore her sword from its sheath and broken into a routine drill that would make Ares proud. In her mind she attacked and destroyed opponents who came at her from all directions.
"WHY?" She screamed out loud causing a flock of small birds to flutter from the branches above.
"WHY CAN'T SHE EVER JUST DO AS I SAY?!" She turned in an arch brandishing her sword with both hands and neatly trimming a line of saplings by six inches.
"WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO MAKE EVERYTHING SO DAMN DIFFICULT!!?" Xena threw the sword above her head and brought it down with a resounding crash splitting a dry log into two pieces that split lengthwise as they separated. The warrior spun, the sword flashed and a second line of saplings disappeared in two swipes. She increased her speed and determination in a desperate attempt to clear her mind of all thought other than the drill. It was to no avail, that innocent gaze pierced its way into her mind, that pleading voice, that horrid scene from this morning played over and over in her memory. She laid her sword over her shoulder and let it fly as a war cry escaped from the depths of her anger. The weapon flew across the open meadow, spinning as it went, and landed dead center in the bark of a large tree. For a moment everything stopped, Xena breathed rapid breaths and blinked twice then nodded at the direct hit. A strange cracking noise cut through the silence of the afternoon as the tree split from top to bottom and fell in two halves. Xena crossed the field and retrieved her sword. Her mother could use the firewood. She needed the exercise to quell the remainder of her anger. She left quite an impression on her young bard. The girl needed time to reflect on the warrior's words before Xena returned. The afternoon was not a total waste.
Cyrene walked past the door at the top of the stairs for the twelfth time in less than two candle marks. Certain enough time had elapsed, she knocked on the door and waited for an answer that did not come. Perhaps the child had fallen asleep exhausted by the admonishment her warrior had delivered. Cyrene thought for a moment as she took a step away from the door. Perhaps the girl was so upset she couldn't answer, perhaps she needed . The innkeeper did not finish the thought, instead she turned the knob and pushed the door open. It was her establishment, if she felt one of her patrons was in need it was her duty to see what that need might be.
Gabrielle lay on the large bed in the center of the room curled into a tight ball. She faced away from the door and made no move as Cyrene entered softly shutting the panel with a slight click. The innkeeper walked quietly across the floor and noted the uneven rise and fall of the girl's breathing, it was broken by short sniffles and silent sobs. She sat on the edge of the bed behind Gabrielle and placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. She squeezed it just a bit, enough to let the girl know she was there to comfort.
"Want to talk about it?" Cyrene whispered softly.
Gabrielle inhaled quickly, releasing a new flood of tears then shook her head without looking at the older woman. She pressed her face into the pillow as the sobbing overtook her for what seemed a hundredth time since Xena had slammed out of the room.
"Shh, shh " Cyrene soothed the girl as she rubbed her back softly. "Come on, shhh. You'll feel better if you talk about it " She gently turned the girl toward her and used the end of her apron to wipe the new tears from her reddened eyes.
For a moment Gabrielle looked into familiar, yet older blue eyes then allowed herself to be pulled into a gentle motherly hug. The girl let all of the pain and remorse escape in that one small bit of comfort. Cyrene rocked back and forth in the manner mothers have done for centuries as she offered sympathy and compassion to this small penitent young girl. She patted her back and rested her cheek against the girl's head as she offered soft comforting sounds. After a few minutes the crying stopped and the girl relaxed in the innkeeper's arms. She turned and looked into the woman's face thankful for the smile that glanced back. For a second time Cyrene used the edge of her apron to wipe the tear streaked face before her. She reached into a deep pocket and offered a small swatch of material to the girl. Gabrielle carefully lay back against the pillow taking the hankie from her. She wiped her nose quickly and managed a weak smile for her benefactor.
Cyrene smiled back and gently brushed the damp hair from the girl's face. "You wanna tell me about it, now?" She asked slowly.
Gabrielle blinked the last of her tears away and took a deep breath. "Where's Xena?" She asked without looking into the woman's eyes.
"She's I sent her on an errand." Cyrene lied. "She'll be a while." If she knew her daughter it would be sometime before she worked off that terrible anger and was able to return to what Cyrene always referred to as 'polite company'.
Gabrielle looked at the woman for a few seconds, trying to see past her friendly expression and find the truth in her statement. She sniffed again and used the hankie as it was intended.
"Did you have a disagreement?" Cyrene coaxed. The girl shook her head. "A misunderstanding?" The innkeeper tried again.
"She's awful mad, isn't she?" Gabrielle whimpered as tears threatened to fall again.
Cyrene paused for a moment searching for the right words. "Oh, you know Xena." She smiled as she brushed the girl's bangs to the side. "She gets angry at the least little things. She just needs some time to work things out."
"She's gone, isn't she?" The girl asked point blank.
"No, no sweetie " Cyrene quickly assured her. "I promise she will be back." She took on a more motherly tone. "She and I have some things to discuss before she you leave."
Gabrielle smiled at the mental picture of this small woman scolding the large warrior. "It was my fault." She began remorsefully. "I didn't listen, didn't follow orders."
"I see." Cyrene nodded urging the girl to continue.
"When we woke up this morning there was smoke coming from over the rise, not a lot of smoke, just enough to notice." Gabrielle began her story. "Xena said she was going to check it out. It was too big for a campfire." She explained. "She told me to wait and that she would be right back." She stopped for a moment to wipe her eyes again. "But she didn't come right back. It was a long time and I started to get worried that something might have happened to her." She looked to the woman for some sort of approval and after a curt nod from her continued. "So I went to look for her, only it wasn't her I found." Now the girl's voice grew softer as if she were revealing some secret or bit of classified information. "I walked right into their camp. There were four of them, grubbiest smelliest bunch of highwaymen I've seen in all our travels." She added with wide eyes.
Cyrene almost laughed at the girl's innocent retelling of this seemingly dangerous escapade. "And where was Xena?" She asked encouraging the girl to go on.
"I didn't know at that point. I tried to tell these guys that I was sorry for interrupting their breakfast but they had other ideas. One of them grabbed my arm and laughed. He said he was glad I stopped by because now they could get what they really wanted." Cyrene gasped with understanding squeezing the girl's hand. Gabrielle wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "I told them they had the wrong person because I didn't have a thing they wanted or needed. But that only made them laugh more. The biggest one said that I had enough for all of them even though I was puny. PUNY? Can you imagine them calling me that!?" Gabrielle seemed to forget her own predicament as she fell into her storytelling. "Anyway I told them again I didn't have a thing. I EVEN turned my pockets out to show them, but they insisted. Then the big guy said he'd be first and he started walking toward me." She leaned closer to Cyrene and whispered. "I really didn't like the way he was looking at me and for some reason he started fiddling with the laces on his britches." The girl's expression was one of pure naiveté. Cyrene made a mental note to have a long 'talk' with her before she and Xena set off on the road again.
"Then I heard Xena's war cry and BAM! There she was!" Gabrielle smiled with pride and sat up quickly smashing her small fist into her other hand for emphasis. She regretted the move immediately and slid back down onto her pillow to continue. Hopefully, Cyrene hadn't noticed. She remembered that Xena didn't like her mother to know too much about their life on the road and shortened the 'battle scene' for her benefit. "There was a lot of punching and kicking and then the four of them were out cold." She smiled a second time even though tears still glistened in her green eyes then folded her hands and placed then across her stomach.
Cyrene waited a few seconds knowing there had to be more to the tale, then asked, "so how did that end up with you here?" She pointed to the bard and then to the bed.
"Oh yeah, huh, that ." The girl shrugged turning up one side of her mouth in a crooked embarrassed grin.
"Go on." Cyrene urged lifting one eyebrow in a very familiar expression.
Gabrielle sighed and continued. "I really thought she'd be happy to see me." She told her fingers as they fiddled with the button on her jacket. "I was happy to see her." She looked at the woman sitting beside her and quickly continued. "She didn't say anything, just grabbed my arm and dragged me out of that camp. She practically threw me up on her horse and we rode like Hades was on our trail. She never said a word, but I knew she was mad. Madder than I ever saw anyone get. And then we were here and and well ." Her words trailed off to little more than a mumble as she dropped her chin to her chest. "Well you know the rest." Her cheeks turned a bright red.
"Hmmm ." Cyrene nodded knowing full well the extent of her daughter's wrath. "I guess Xena make quite an impression on you then?"
"She's probably gonna leave me here, now." The girl remarked as a lone tear trickled over her cheek.
Cyrene smiled as she wiped the tear with her thumb. "Now, now little one, do you think Xena would have taken all the trouble of bringing you here and " She paused searching for the right word as the girl looked at her wide eyed. "And making such an effort to show you the error of your ways, just so she could leave you behind?"
"She's pretty mad." Gabrielle shrugged. "She's probably out hiring someone to take me back to Poteidia."
The innkeeper shook her head and leaned down to kiss the girl's brow. "You have so much to learn little one, so very much to learn."
"That's what Xena said, right before she decided there were more convincing methods of driving home a point." Gabrielle frowned.
Cyrene laughed as she stood. "Come on, I have some warm brown bread and honey in the kitchen. We'll have a nice cup of tea and wait for my warrior daughter's return."
Gabrielle shook her head. "No thank you. Xena said to stay right here and think about what she said. Right here!" The girl pointed with the fingers of both hands to the bed. "I think that's what got me in trouble in the first place. I don't think I want to make her any madder than she already is."
Cyrene stared at the girl for a moment not believing she was turning down a meal. "Well then I guess I'll bring the tea to you and we can share it right here." She smiled again as she opened the door. Gabrielle rolled back on her side and took a long deep breath. She closed her eyes again, suddenly very tired and in need of escape from the day's events.
Xena leaned against the end of her mother's bar staring into the depths of the mug of port she had poured for herself. She'd left her anger in the glade and brought back enough firewood for a full moon. She'd even repaired the door, hopefully before her mother had noticed it. The dark liquid shimmered with the vibrations of the patrons' movement in the large tavern. She watched as her reflection wiggled out of proportion on the surface of her drink. It was odd how it reminded her of the way anger twisted her soul.
"Xena?" Her mother's voice brought her back to the present.
She drew a long breath preparing herself for the discussion she knew she could not avoid. "Mother." She replied without looking up.
Cyrene tapped the bar with her fingertip waiting for the younger woman to meet her gaze. Xena remained as she was, defiant as usual. "I'd like an explanation." The former stated sternly.
"Mother, this doesn't concern you." Xena replied slowly meeting her mother's gaze.
Cyrene stared at her daughter for a moment taking a deep breath. "Not my concern? You come in here like a harpy out of Tartarus dragging that child behind you." The innkeeper's voice took on that motherly tone as her eyes narrowed. She leveled a finger at the warrior. "You make enough noise in one of my best rooms to scare a dryad out of a grave site. Gods know what kind of punishment you delivered on that poor child upstairs! You clear the tavern of half of my best customers, take my door off its hinges, and storm out of here leaving me worried and confused and then have the absolute nerve to say it doesn't concern me?" She took another breath recovering from her tirade. She rose her finger directly in front of the warrior's face. "YOU HAD BETTER THINK AGAIN, DAUGHTER! AND YOU HAD BETTER THINK FAST!"
Xena blinked twice pushing away a flood of memories that involved her mother's anger as well as her threats. She shook her head and turned to look up the stairs that led to the rooms on the tavern's second floor. "That poor child, got exactly what she deserved, mother." The warrior whispered through clenched teeth then turned back to face her mother's wrath. "She has a hard time following orders, mother. Someday it is going to get her killed, someday it might get BOTH of us killed!" She slammed a hand against the bar causing a snoozing client to jump to his feet. The man shook his head, dropped a coin on the bar and made a quick exit.
"See?" Cyrene was quick to point out. "At this rate I'll be out of business by sundown."
"Mother." Xena shook her head as she expelled an exasperated breath.
"She isn't one of your soldiers Xena and she shouldn't have to follow orders." Cyrene directed the conversation back to its origin.
"If she is going to stay with me and STAY alive she is going to have to learn to follow orders until she learns to take care of herself!" Xena countered with warrior logic. "That's the way it is mother, like it or not."
"Xena, she is_a_child! Don't you think you're being a bit too hard on her?" Cyrene shot back.
"Hard on her? HARD ON HER?! Mother, let me tell you what almost happened this morning?" Xena was slowly losing the small bit of composure she had attained.
"That won't be necessary, daughter." Cyrene told her with a bit of a huff. "Gabrielle already told me the whole story."
"WHAT!?" Xena's eyes grew wide. "Mother, tell me you haven't been up there coddling her! How do you expect her to learn any thing from this whole mess if you decide she is nothing but a 'poor child'." Xena barked with disbelief throwing her hands into the air then dropping them to her sides with a loud slap.
"I was not coddling." Cyrene was insulted. "I was merely trying to find out what was going on. YOU were in no condition to speak to me." She reminded the warrior sarcastically.
For a moment Xena remained speechless, reigning in the worst of her anger and trying to compose herself enough to continue this conversation. Actually trying to compose something to say to her mother that wouldn't be laced with the curses that swirled around the penned up anger in her mind. "Mother," she began with a deep sigh. "Do you know what those men would have done to her if I hadn't shown up when I did?"
Cyrene did not fail to notice the tears forming in her daughter's eyes. "Yes," she replied softly. "Yes, daughter, I do realize what those brigands meant to do. The question is Xena, does Gabrielle?"
"Mother, she had to know. It was apparent." Xena hemmed a bit not wanting her mother to know that it was not that long ago that she and her men were just that sort of brigand. They thought nothing of 'taking' young maidens for their own pleasure. Young men were also initiated into the army in much the same way. It kept them subordinate. She tried to shake the memory away as her stomach lurched with its vile picture.
"Xena, do you know how just how young that child is?" Cyrene tried to make sense of the strange look that had suddenly overcome her own child. "She can't be more than fifteen or sixteen summers." She continued.
"She just passed her fifteenth winter." Xena remarked without thinking. It was a fact she had learned quite accidentally, one that troubled her greatly. Gabrielle wanted the warrior to believe she was much older but some of the things the girl chattered on about gave her another story. It seemed she had been promised to that farm boy, old what's his name, when she was ten. Their marriage was to take place as soon as she reached her sixteenth winter. There would be a great festival in the spring and at that time she would become a wife. Since she was still unwed, it made perfect sense to believe she had not yet reached that milestone. On another occasion Gabrielle had rattled on about how her younger sister was always bigger and stronger than her, even though she was exactly two years younger. Then just last month the girl had grown quiet and teary eyed for no particular reason, only to announce that it was the first time she had missed her sister's birthday. Lila had turned thirteen that day. Xena had made a mental note that day hoping to treat the young girl to something special since it had probably been her birthday recently as well.
"That doesn't change anything, mother." Xena growled as she took a long drink and slammed her mug down against the bar. "She still needs to learn a lesson. AND if that means I have to use strong-armed tactics then that is how I will deal with it. Talking doesn't seem to have any effect on Gabrielle."
"Well I don't think you need to use your 'tactics' so strongly, Xena." Cyrene shook her head as she walked past her daughter and into the kitchen.
"Mother " Xena rolled her eyes and dropped her head in frustration. "Mother " She looked up noticing the smaller woman had disappeared. She blew a breath through pursed lips then followed her through the still swinging kitchen door.
Cyrene was busy placing several items on a small tray. She seemed to ignore the warrior's presence.
"Mother," Xena continued in a hushed tone moving into her mother's line of vision. "What you think doesn't really matter right now. Gabrielle got exactly what she deserved and if, IF it happens again I will not hesitate to administer part two of the same lesson."
The innkeeper brushed by her daughter reaching for a small honey pot on a high shelf. "Humph, now you whisper." She mumbled as she stretched to reach for the item.
Xena shook her head again as she easily snatched the pot from its shelf and handed to her mother. Cyrene nodded a sarcastic thank you. "Mother, I am not going to have this conversation with you. It is not an issue I need or care to discuss." She said more to herself than to the stubborn little woman that continued to putter around the kitchen. "That 'poor child' is my responsibility and I will deal with it in my own way." She added justifying her earlier actions.
"Do you know what she thinks?" The woman continued ignoring Xena's last statement.
Xena's shoulders slumped in defeat. She threw her hands up and let out a groan. "Yes, mother I do." She sighed. "Gabrielle thinks she is invincible, that I am invincible and that all of this is some wondrous adventure. She doesn't see the evil or the madness or the danger of the world out there. She doesn't realize how many things can hurt her or kill her or take her a " The warrior's voice trailed off as her thoughts went back to the morning's catastrophe. If she had been one moment later again she pushed those thoughts aside allowing the anger that had grown in that second to swallow the fear she had felt then and now.
Cyrene wrapped a loaf of warm bread in a small cloth and placed it on the tray next to the honey and a steaming pot of tea before turning to her daughter. She stood with her hands on her hips and stared at the expression she had not seen in many years. There had been only one other person who had gotten that close to the warrior's heart and for a moment Cyrene had to close her eyes on the pain that cut through her own soul. "I meant what she thinks right now." She said quietly, placing a hand on her daughter's strong arm.
Xena smirked a bit remembering the many hours she had spent 'thinking about' a lesson her mother had instilled on her much younger and extremely stubborn adolescent attitude. "She's probably wishing she did her thinking this morning and avoided this whole incident." Xena shook her head. "Mother, I don't know what I'd do if "
"She thinks you are going to leave her here." Cyrene interrupted not ready to have a conversation that would churn up old hurts and bring both strong women to tears.
"What?" Xena's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Mother I have no intention of "
Cyrene picked up the tray and pushed toward her daughter. "I am not the one you need to convince, daughter. I think if I taught you anything, it is to temper discipline with understanding." The woman nodded toward the door. "The child's had enough time to think," she stepped past her daughter and held the door open, " and so have you."
Xena shook her head and smiled. When had her mother become so wise? She walked through the door giving her a knowing smile.
Gabrielle yawned and rubbed her eyes before rolling over and off the bed without stopping on its edge. She made her way across the large room to a basin set on a dark wooden table. The girl dipped both hands into the cool water then bent over to bring it to her face. After repeating the action two or three times she reached for a small towel and wiped her face dry. She peered into the fine looking glass and frowned at the still puffy eyes that looked back. She repeated the washing action then checked her reflection again. Still not satisfied she shrugged her shoulders realizing it would take a bit of time for her eyes to look 'right'. After all she'd been either sleeping or weeping most of the day. She walked to the large window and pushed open the shutter taking a deep cleansing breath of the cool evening air.
'West.' She thought as she noticed the streaks of pink and red that stretched across the evening sky. 'The window faces west.' Funny she should think such a thing, she never really paid any attention to direction before, but Xena insisted she always know just in case. 'In case I have to know which way is home.' She scolded herself sniffing back the urge to cry again. The setting sun meant the day was drawing to an end. Xena had been gone a long time. She had been so angry when she left. She was probably halfway to Athens by now. That thought brought new tears that the girl brushed away quickly.
Behind her the door opened, then closed softly. The smell of fresh bread and herb tea wafted across the room. Her stomach grumbled a bit, not having been satisfied since breakfast. She sighed deeply. "Xena's gonna be mad if she finds out you're fussing over me." She stated softly without turning around.
"Absolutely." A familiar deep voice agreed.
Gabrielle spun quickly around to face the warrior. She swallowed hard, breathing deeply in an immediate panic. "I I just needed to I mean I was just my legs were stiff I I'm sorry I know you said said to " She stammered in explanation as she slipped back toward the bed never turning away from the warrior.
Xena furrowed her brow at the girl's strange antics. She placed her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow in question.
"You said said to stay right here here where you said to stay." Gabrielle continued to explain as she bent back and patted the mattress. "I wasn't going anywhere really I just needed some wear er, waiter ah, water I needed some water." She swallowed again and squeezed her eyes shut trying desperately to find a way to explain her failure to comply to Xena's stinging command.
"Gabrielle." The warrior began keeping her voice soft.
"I know. You said to stay here and think and I did. I really did think Xena. I thinked th-thought all day, even e-e-even even when I fell asleep I kept thinking and I woke up thinking and I'm still thinking." The girl struggled to continue as her voice cracked becoming higher and more urgent.
Xena brought her hands to her face and rubbed her eyes before letting out a deep breath. "Gabrielle, stop." She spoke through her palms, then lowered them to stare at the girl.
The girl fell silent and stood at attention clasping her hands behind her. Xena was unsure whether to be impressed or distressed by this action. She took a step toward the girl and cringed as a bit of fear quickly passed over Gabrielle's expression. "Gabrielle," She began again keeping her voice level. "Sit down."
The girl swallowed again and bit her bottom lip, shifting from foot to foot.
"Oh, yeah ah n-never mind we we need to talk." Xena tried again shaking her head and walking toward the window to give the girl more space. She turned slowly and opened her mouth to continue.
Gabrielle's reaction took the warrior off guard. "No, no please Xena, please don't, please. I'll listen! I'll do whatever you say. I'll stay right where you put me I mean I'll stay put in the place you say to be put. I won't do it again, Xena please don't leave me here. Please, Xena, I promise?" The girl's rapid entreaty quickly dissolved into a tearful plea as she ran to the warrior wrapping her thin arms around Xena's waist. Her youthful grip was strong but shaky. The action startled the woman as she awkwardly wondered what to do with her own arms. She held them out at her sides, almost afraid to touch the distraught young girl.
"Leave you here." The warrior repeated.
Gabrielle answered with a deep sob thinking the warrior was now telling her to go. She tightened her grip. Xena took the girl's upper arms in her hands and pushed her far enough away to see her face (and to catch her own breath). The girl's head hung in defeat but she managed to still cling to the warrior's leathers with her fingers tightly anchored on the riveted pleats of Xena's skirt. "Gabrielle, look at me." The warrior ordered gently bending to meet the girl's gaze.
Very slowly two red rimmed green eyes met the warrior's glare. "Do you actually think I would have gone through all the trouble of rescuing you from those scumbags, then used my best explanation tactics on you just to leave you here? Is that what you've been thinking?"
Gabrielle took a shaky breath and blinked, not wanting to answer either question.
Xena shook her head and stood back and shook her head. "That is not what I meant when I told you to think about what I said." She narrowed her eyes in a mock threat. "Perhaps, I need to repeat myself."
The girl's eyes grew wide and she shook her head rapidly. "No!" She squeaked. "No, Xena that isn't what I thought about all day. I you don't I " She swallowed again quickly bringing her hands back to their position behind her.
Xena smiled and stifled the laughter that threatened to burst out at the girl's plight. "Okay then, let's get some things straight." She folded her arms across her chest.
Gabrielle nodded and waited for the warrior to continue.
Xena pursed her lips and also nodded. "Number one " The warrior stuck out her index finger without unfolding her arms. "When I tell you to stay put, I mean right where I left you."
Gabrielle nodded quickly.
"Two." The warrior continued sticking out the next finger to match the number. "If I wanted to leave you anywhere, you'd already be there."
Gabrielle swallowed knowing how much truth was in that statement.
"Three, don't go making promises you can't keep because eventually you will make mistakes and when you do you will have to deal with the promises I fully intend to keep."
Gabrielle took a deep breath painfully aware of what the warrior meant by that statement.
"Four," The warrior stuck up her pinkie finger next to the other three thrusting all four in a fan like motion. "When I tell you to think about what I said, keep your mind on that and don't go making more trouble for yourself."
Gabrielle blinked then nodded again.
"And five." Xena's thumb joined the rest of the digits on her right hand.
Gabrielle waited vowing to remember every word the warrior uttered.
"And this one you better never forget." The warrior warned raising an eyebrow.
Gabrielle drew a deep breath expecting the worst. She nodded hoping the last warning didn't come with a physical reminder.
"Never, never, ever, let my mother's fresh brown bread get cold when she spends the better part of the day making it just for you." Xena stepped back to the table and uncovered the small meal Cyrene had sent to the room.
The girl managed a weak smile knowing that in her own way the warrior had forgiven her. She hesitated for only a moment before rushing back into a second fierce hug around the warrior's waist. This time Xena let her own arms fall around the small girl and gently hugged her back. There was a more serious discussion they would need to have. Xena would have to take a piece of that wonderful innocence with her explanation of what those thugs were really after that morning. She wanted nothing more than to protect that innocence, to keep it safe from the ugly reality of life, but the girl's survival depended on honesty. And honesty was not always pretty. But for now they would simply enjoy the meal her mother had sent.
In the darkened hallway, Cyrene smiled. She moved away from the large oak door knowing that the sun would not set on any anger this day. And that the small future bard would remember it was wise to stay in the place a warrior deemed a safe haven.
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