Takes Place After Chariots of War

Solitude Hurts

by Marie E. Costa

Xena stared sullenly into the fire...she knew better, but at least her hearing would alert her of any danger, and tonight she felt like indulging herself in the pain she felt. Her mind wandered back over the last few days...the little girl who spoke only when Xena was ready to leave...the boys...they showed her what life could have been...her son that no one knew she had. Damn this hurts! I don't even love that man but his kids...Gaia but I could have loved being a mother. To taste what life could have been...she looked at Gabrielle's head bent over her scrolls and stifled a sigh. Does she realize what she's given up? And what had she meant, not as much when I am with you...I am going to have to do something about her. She is too trusting of strangers that warlord's pup could have been dangerous...but taking her with me is too dangerous. Oh Hades I can't even get her to stay back and wait for me...she had to come looking for me! She could have been killed! Why is she following me around anyway...it's not like I've been exactly pleasant company. Friends? What made her decide we were friends? She did...it was her decision...the only one I've made was in accepting responsibility for her...but for the life of me I don't know why...

Gabrielle wet her lips as she concentrated on writing down her thoughts on the past week. I've only been with Xena a few weeks, but they have been packed with excitement. She has taught me so much and half the time I think she doesn't realize she is teaching me. Like our second night together when she told me to get the firewood, and she proceeded to show me how to build a proper campfire for little smoke and ease of cooking. She didn't say anything just took the wood from me and went about making the firepit. Teaching me without words. Yet, whenever I ask her why she does things a certain why she slows down and explains the whys to me. She paused in her writings and glanced at the warrior woman through her lashes. But how do I get her to teach me to fight? It's the only thing she refuses to answer. If I could learn to protect myself maybe she'd stop leaving me behind. She frowned realizing that something was bothering Xena. She put aside her scroll and rose.

"Xena?" Gabrielle said questioningly as she sat down next to her friend. "What's wrong?" She looked at the sad, blue eyes and reached a hand out to touch the warrior. Stopping and clenching her fist when Xena flinched, her own green eyes full of pain and concern for the warrior woman. Yet it was the pain that Xena noticed, and that pain was what made Xena flinch. Xena thought the pain was because of her...it was, but not because of anything Xena had done, it was because Xena was in pain, and Gabrielle didn't know how to help her.

Xena looked at the younger woman and turned away. Ashamed of her thoughts...where did this weakness come from? Her eyes burned. She rubbed at them. She didn't want sympathy. Stiffen up warrior she admonished herself. You never would have made it in any army never mind as a leader if you were this weak. "Nothing." She snarled the word. "It's late go to sleep." She commanded.

Gabrielle hesitated. Xena needed her of that the young woman had no doubts, but how to get the older woman to realize it? How to help her cope with her changed circumstances? Maybe in time she'd find an answer, tonight she bit her inner lip and nodded agreement. Returning to her blanket, she carefully placed her scroll into her bag and laid down to rest.

Xena watched as Gabrielle did as she bid. How can I explain to her? My fears - she has none - is it because she's never faced death, never watched loved ones torn form this world? She's so full of questions! She wants to know everything and I...I want to hide from all I know...

Gabrielle hid her face by turning away from the firelight. She couldn't sleep now if her life depended on it, but she didn't know how to refuse the warrior. Her mind turned to the past few days. Would it have been so hard to stay in that village? Xena could have had a family...ready made and I could have settled with that warlord...he was cute and kind, he sort of made me think of a lovable little puppy...we would have been able to stay friends and live out our lives in peace. She shuddered...no! That's the kind of thing I was running from when I decided to follow Xena. Outloud she murmured, "No, this is the life I chose."

Xena raised an eyebrow questioningly at the loud murmur. Whatever could Gabrielle be dreaming of ? Was she even asleep? "Gabrielle?" She asked hesitantly. "You okay?"

Gabrielle took the opportunity to sit up. She clasped her hands to her knees and looked across the firelight at Xena. The warrior still sat where she'd left her minutes ago. Hands loosely draped across her knees. Did the warrior woman know what a pretty picture she made? It didn't matter...she smiled. "I'm fine." Her emerald green eyes sparkled in the moonlight. "I just started dreaming about what life would have been like if we stayed in that village." She shook her head violently. "No thanks, I don't want that life." She gave her friend a half smile. "I already left it behind once, I'm pretty sure I would have gone stir crazy in less than a year." She took a deep breath and looked skywards. "I've already gotten used to sleeping out here and listening to Gaia's world instead of the world of men. I don't think I could go back."

Xena grinned sardonically. So naive. She shook her head. "This will pall and when winter comes you'll be cursing me and the ground you sleep on. You'll be screaming at yourself for not staying in some cozy village with a man to take care of you.

Gabrielle's eyes opened wide. "I don't think so!" she exclaimed earnestly. "And, I could never curse you. You have given me so much! Without you I'd be married to a dull and boring farmer...or worse a slave to some grotesque man!" She shook her head wildly. "Xena," she spoke softly, knowing the warrior had excellent hearing. "It's the life I chose."

Xena reared back shocked by the vehemence in the young girls voice. She watched the strawberry blond hair fly around her heard as she shook her head in denial of Xena's words. "Okay." She twisted her lower lip up and raised both hands to ward off the girl. "I believe you." She stared in mild confusion at the girl's attitude, but accepted defeat. And took defeat gracefully in order to turn the discussion to one she had wanted to have since meeting Gabrielle's 'tree'. "Speaking of marriage and men," she began wryly, raising one eyebrow at Gabrielle's suddenly attentive face. "When I leave you in a village you have to be more careful." She paused trying to figure out how to explain it to the girl.

Gabrielle jumped in eager to seize the moment to get what she wanted from the warrior. "If you trained me to fight you wouldn't have to leave me behind." She leaned forward. "I could guard your back! We could -"

"No!" Xena's face got hard and an icy glint entered her eyes. "I will not teach you to be a warrior!" She stood up. "I need to check the perimeter." She strode away from the campsite.

"Damn..." Gabrielle stared at the retreating woman. "Why won't she teach me?" She stood up, "I will learn to fight! One day I will fight by her side!" Too tense to sleep, but knowing she'd get no further with Xena on this night she lay back on her blanket and closed her eyes to wait for morning to come.

Xena slipped silently back into camp. There would be no sleep for her this night. She had vowed never to teach another the art of war. This young girl craved adventure so much...would she leave Xena to find it with another? She gazed in wonder at the girl. In sleep she appeared even younger than she was. So innocent...how did one live to become an adult without losing that innocence? She shook her head in awe, and with a quirky smile on her face leaned over the still form to brush the hair out of her face. So trusting...so lovely...she traced the proud cheekbone and drew back her hand quickly as though the touch burned. What was she doing? She drew a deep breath and sat back down, placing her head in her hands...Gaia protect this girl from me. How am I to redeem my soul when it's so black? Warlords and innocents don't mix, shouldn't mix...but I need something...someone to show me the way. Maybe...she glanced at the sleeping girl and her eyes softened...maybe she can show me the way.

Gabrielle lay quietly pretending to be asleep. It had taken all her courage to remain still when she felt Xena's hand on her cheek. She knew the former warlord would never have touched her if she'd been awake. Xena needed human contact, if someone had been there for her when her brother had been killed she never would have become the hardened killer everyone else said she was.

Why wasn't someone there? Gabrielle wondered silently...she had a mother. Where was she, that Xena had been allowed to bury the hurt and pain of Lyceus' death deep beneath a wall of rage that burned for ten years.

Gabrielle vowed silently to help the woman. Gabrielle felt connected to this strange warrior in a way she couldn't explain. She had felt a connection ever since she had looked into those intense blue eyes from across a meadow full of brawling people. She knew it was up to her to help Xena find her way in the world. She needed to bring her out of her enforced solitude and show her how to become one with humanity again. We are not meant to be solitary creatures. Somehow she had to make her feel again...to be unafraid of love.

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eel again...to be unafraid of love.

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