Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others resembling those from the
TV show, belong to Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights is
intended. All other characters are of my own creation and belong to me.
Subtext Disclaimer: This story refers to a loving relationship between two consenting adults, who happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.
Timeline: This is a sequel to Hot Bath and a Bed and takes place a week after Xena walked into the sunset in the episode Forgiven.
Ann, thanks for all the help.
Please send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy, I hope.
Written by FlyBigD
The sound of stone on metal and quill on parchment mingled with the noises of night coming alive, and the soft crackling of flames. It was a simple scene that had become habit over the years and this quiet time was often spent without the exchange of words while each woman went through the motions of turning the events of their day into a memory in their own way. Gabrielle sitting on one side of the small campfire chewing on the end of her quill, staring at what shed written and Xena making sure her gear was ready for whatever tomorrow would bring. A brief moment of peace and reflection for two friends whose days were spent in the endless fight for the greater good, and a precursor for giving their bodies the rest it needed to fight another day, or that was the plan anyway. However, as plans tend to do, this one had been modified fairly recently and instead of the women putting their things away to stretch out on their individual bedrolls, when it came time to sleep, they put their things away to share a single bedroll with sleep being the last thing on their mind. But this too had been changed even more recently and though they were still sharing just the one bed, there was very little action going on between the covers, which is why Gabrielle was only pretending to write in her scroll.
Watching the warrior over the tops of the flames, the bard pulled the quill out of her mouth and put nib to parchment for the benefit of her partner when Xena looked up from her sharpening. Jotting down a few more words, she went back to chewing once the warrior looked away and shook her head in frustration as her mind reviewed the past several weeks.
Ever since theyd picked up Tara on their way to getting back the Urn of Apollo for the priests, theyd stopped sharing their bed together and the intimacy that went along with it, which wasnt that strange because theyd only just made that change a few weeks before, and neither of them felt the need to let the girl in that part of their relationship. So, itd been back to two bed rolls for the duration of the mission, with hopes that it would be a short one and as it turned out, it had been, but once theyd returned the urn to its rightful owners, leaving Tara behind as well, something had changed between them. Instead of getting right back into bed together to explore each others bodies with renewed passion, theyd gotten back into bed together and gone to sleep. At first, Xena played off her lack of interest with a remark about being overly tired and the bard had bought it, because she was tired also, but then the following day, that little bit of distance stuck around for the day shift. Then it stuck around for the following night and the second day, and thats when Gabrielle started getting suspicious, because what shed learned before Tara showed up was when it came to making love, Xenas passion knew very little bounds. The nights theyd shared and some days, for that matter, before theyd taken the mission were spent setting records for clothes removal, and how long either one could go without breathing, but since theyd completed the mission, the only record they were setting was how long somebody could go without sex before they spontaneously combusted. And although Gabrielle was fairly new to the passionate experience, she seemed to be the only one who was noticing its absence, and the absence of something else that meant more than the sex did. Not only was Xena distant in bed, she seemed to be reverting to the role of stoic warrior, withholding her emotions from everyone, including the bard and that was something Gabrielle couldnt abide. If they were nothing else, they were still best friends and if Xena didnt want to share her body anymore, the bard could live with that, but she couldnt live without being a part of the warriors life, and thats what shed felt like for the past week. It felt like she was living outside Xenas world and the love they shared through their friendship was slipping away. For reasons she hadnt figured out yet, shed been relegated to sidekick again and for all the efforts shed made to get back inside, Gabrielle still found herself on the wrong side of the warriors mask, but since staying there wasnt an acceptable option, it was only a matter of finding out what went wrong, and fixing it. Unfortunately, with Xena closing herself off, finding the reason wasnt that easy, but Gabrielle had no intention of giving up and used her time to the utmost, and if all else failed, Xena would eventually get tired of being stared at, and either break down herself, or ask what was going on. Yes, time was on her side and all she had to do was play it cool by waiting, or do something stupid like get up to go over, and smother Xena in a kiss until she confessed.
No, that would be bad. Gabrielle thought to herself and put the thought out of her mind, or at least shoved it to the back where all her other thoughts of a passionate nature were living these days. Stay focused, continuing the shoving process, and dont forget whats most important. Youll never get anywhere coming off like a banshee in heat. Been there, done that, didnt work. The problem isnt physical, its emotional, remember that. Emotional. Focus on our friendship. Got it. Now, where was I? Oh, yea. Xena. Gods, she looks like shes a million leagues away.
On the other side of the fire, the object of Gabrielles focus was lost in her own thoughts, but not so far gone as to be completely unaware that she was under scrutiny. Though shed learned a lot from her over the years, the bard was still no match for Xenas well honed instincts and as covert as the scrutiny was supposed to be, the warrior had no problem knowing when she was being watched. Each time she had green eyes on her, her skin tingled and everytime she glanced to meet those eyes, they suddenly found something else to look at. It was a visual game of cat and mouse that had been going on for a week now, and though Xena wanted the game to end with all her heart, she found herself unable to put aside the thoughts that were keeping her out of reach emotionally, despite what she knew the distance was doing to Gabrielle.
Their friendship was something she cherished as much as her partner did, but even with that, she couldnt bring herself to let Gabrielle see the turmoil going on inside her soul. In there, all the demons shed succeeded in pushing to the rear had come back to haunt her when shed watched Gabrielle and Tara kneel on the altar to be forgiven by the priest. At that moment, all the good shed ever done vanished into the nameless faces of the people shed slaughtered as a blood thirsty warlord and shed turned away from being forgiven by others because she couldnt forgive herself. For her, no amount of holy water could wash away her sins. They lived on in her memory, in her nightmares and in her soul, casting a cold shadow over the only source of warmth and light she had in her life. Gabrielle.
As if the past three years never existed, Xena found herself treating her best friend like the child she knew she wasnt and regretting every minute of it. Yet, everytime she thought about opening the door to her heart, the shadow would creep up from nowhere and close it, stealing the words she wanted to say, needed to say and leaving the warrior in even more torture than her past could evoke. Because the one thing she never wanted to do again was to hurt Gabrielle and she knew by shutting her out, she was committing the greatest crime against their friendship. The closeness theyd shared in both body and soul had been lost over night, and the confusion left in its wake shown everytime she caught more than a brief glimpse of the emeralds she wanted nothing more than to drown in forever, but until Xena could come to terms with the pain in her own eyes, she kept them like she kept her heart, hidden in the shadows of a past she couldnt forgive herself for.
Looking down at a sword that had been razor sharp before shed put stone to metal, Xena finally stopped trying to hide behind the monotonous waste of effort and put the blade aside to shift her stare into the fire, so her mind could go down the twisting, turning path of dark memories unhindered. As she watched the dancing glow without seeing the flames, her skin began to tingle again and even though she knew looking up would be as much a waste as sharpening her sword had been, her reflexes sent her eyes in search of the source of the sensation, across the fire to meet Gabrielles gaze for however long it lasted.
In the middle of mentally chanting all good things come to those who wait over and over again, which had become her pre-bedtime mantra the past week, Gabrielle had expected Xena to follow suit, by doing what she normally did, but instead of having free reign to stare mercilessly at her companion while the warrior stared at the fire, the bard was caught in the act, and caught off guard when a pair of crystal sapphires suddenly took her prisoner. Snared by a single glance, she stared back, lacking both the will and the desire to look away, because the instant their eyes met, Gabrielle saw what had been hidden behind the stoic mask. The pain shed suspected was to blame for Xenas change in attitude was reflected in a pair of sad, tired blue eyes that the fire couldnt disguise and seeing it there broke her heart.
Xena recognized her mistake in the sadness she saw building in the bards eyes and she quickly shut her own before she revealed too much, then lowered her head as a sigh escaped her lips, and a thousand condemnations began whirling in her brain.
Not for the first time in their relationship, the bard did something she knew Xena wasnt going to like before she ever moved a muscle, but chose to follow her heart rather than remember all the arguments shed had with herself over why patience was a better idea than confrontation. So, instead of sitting still while her friend sat in pain, she rose to her feet, laying scroll and quill on the ground and walked the short distance to where the warrior was. Taking her place beside her partner, Gabrielle stayed quiet for a moment to make sure Xena wasnt going to bolt, then she simply wrapped her arm around a strong shoulder and tugged gently. Feeling no resistance, she continued to pull the warrior towards her, until Xena lay cradled in her arms, where she held her close and needed no words to convey the love coursing through her soul.
After the fire had died to embers, the bard was still at a loss to know the exact reason why Xena had shut her out, because in the interim neither had spoken a word, but as she continued to hold the warrior in her arms after shed fallen asleep, Gabrielle realized that knowing the reason was far less important than knowing their friendship and their love was still intact. Even though there was a good chance the stoic mask could return when Xena woke up, shed no longer allow it to keep her from the woman underneath, who needed a friend with the quiet understanding only someone whod shared the worst could give and shed be that friend, whatever the dawn sent their way. Shed hold onto their friendship, like she held the warrior in her arms, close to her heart.
Awake before she opened her eyes, the warrior knew where she was and how she got there, although she couldnt remember why shed let Gabrielle take her in her arms. She also couldn't remember why shed stayed there until she fell asleep, but that was a moot point now, because she was awake and it was time to move, except that moving was the last thing she wanted to do. Held within the bards embrace, the warmth surrounding her and the feel of soft fingers against her cheek seemed to sap the desire right out of her body, because it was such a stark contrast to what shed waken up to the past week. Rather than having consciousness forced upon her by a birds song, or the light of day in her eyes, the warrior had been lured into wakefulness by the sound of Gabrielles quiet breathing and the feel of her breath against her neck. Instead of waking up in a cold sweat from a nightmare, shed slept like a baby and awakened to a dream full of warmth, caressed by a gentle touch that she didnt want to risk losing by opening her eyes.
Gabrielle knew she should be tired after staying awake all night, but as she stared down at a face bathed in a peaceful expression, running her fingers lightly over a relaxed cheek, whatever weariness she shouldve felt wasnt there. Somehow all the strength she needed seemed to come from just having Xena so close and being able to look at her, and touch her without wondering if she was doing something wrong. No, she thought and smiled, this is definitely right. This is the way its supposed to be.
Lost in a moment of complete serenity, the bard continued to smile as a pair of long dark lashes moved slowly upward and simply switched her gentle stroking to the other side when Xena turned her head to look up at her. Staring down into pale blue eyes, a little blood shot from sleep, Gabrielle was unwilling to give up her moment just yet and cradled the warriors cheek as she leaned down to place a soft kiss on warm lips.
Closing her eyes as the bard came close, Xena was again at a loss for knowing why she let Gabrielle have her way, because the dark shadow was still looming over her soul, but as their lips met, the chill shed been living with seemed to weaken by a fraction and as the kiss lingered, the shadow drew back even further. Second by eternal second, what had been her cold dark hell was slowly giving way to the intrusion of a warm glowing light she felt she didnt deserve, yet couldnt stop herself from falling into. Caught between the inability to allow herself to be forgiven by anyone and the unconditional love being thrust upon her, the warrior was waging a private war within the confines of the kiss and unknowingly swayed the momentum by reaching up for the lifeline she shouldve pushed away. Tangling her fingers in blonde hair, she felt Gabrielle respond as the kiss grew in intensity from a tender exchange to the beginnings of a passionate embrace and though the war was still undecided, the tide of battle was shifting.
Suddenly finding herself in a possible position to do whatever she wanted with an apparently willing partner, Gabrielle also found her more carnal desires surprisingly absent in the face of this spark of passion and although she knew better than to press the advantage into something Xena wasnt really prepared for, it seemed as though the kiss was all she really wanted for herself. Unlike any other time when she wouldve been using her hands to get rid of leather barriers to the warriors long tan body, they seemed pretty happy right where they were. The softness of Xenas skin against her palm and the way her shoulders fit perfectly into the crook of her arm just lent itself to having another contented moment, where nothing else was needed to make it any better. Although yesterday the kiss wouldve been too much to ask for, today it was everything her heart desired and she held onto it like shed been holding on to Xena all night, with a tender strength that gave evidence to the power of patience, and love.
Sharing Gabrielles contentment with the kiss for the time being, the warrior knew the vulnerable position she was in both physically and emotionally. As if the battle within her soul wasnt enough, Xena was having to split her consciousness between focusing her instincts outward, while the rest of her senses were being consumed from above. Lying relaxed in the bards arms with her weapons out of reach, she struggled to listen for the slightest hint of danger over the pounding of her heart, which was getting stronger. From instant to instant, her attention teetered back and forth as another war for supremacy broke out, and as this new battle heated up, her contentment with the kiss faded conversely.
Taking a firmer grasp on the blonde head above, Xena pulled it to her, increasing the pressure of the kiss and brushing the tip of her tongue across Gabrielles lips until they parted, giving her access to search for her playmate.
Suffering through a little battle of her own, Gabrielles dilemma revolved around remembering to breathe while Xena set her world on fire and as the flames spread rapidly, any doubt she had concerning the warrior not being prepared for something more than just a kiss got charred about the same time her own reserve had. Burning and breathing hard, she tried to keep up with the woman who seemed determined to make up for a lost week in the next five minutes, and she was losing ground fast, but instead of conceding the field of battle, she called a temporary cease fire so she could catch her breath. Sliding her hand from Xenas cheek, she placed it solidly on a heaving leather covered chest and put forth the monumental effort of breaking the kiss, which was met with resistance, but oxygen deprivation is a marvelous substitute for adrenaline, and she finally succeeded in pulling away before she passed out.
With her eyes still closed, the bard laid her head back, panting like there was no tomorrow and kept her hand on the warriors chest in case Xena mistook her exposed bare neck as an invitation. Then, as her mind cleared a little, she opened her eyes to look down at a set that were no longer pale, but a deep blue brought on by their passion. Needing a few more breaths to catch the elusive second wind, she puffed out her cheeks to release a heavy sigh and shook her head when tan fingers began tangling in her hair again, and raised one of her own to request a bit more time.
Despite her eagerness to pick up where she was forced to leave off, Xena acquiesced to Gabrielles silent request and took advantage of her laid back point of view to stare up into eyes the color of evergreen leaves, framed in lush blonde lashes that shed missed seeing so much. Having gotten only glimpses of the bards eyes and her face for the past week, with most of those glimpses being merely silhouettes, she studied the curve of the chin with her eyes as her finger tips lightly traced the outline, then gently brushed across full lips. The warrior could feel the heat radiating from beneath her touch and she caressed the warmth as she took in each feature like she was seeing beauty for the first time.
Though the tables had turned and it was apparently her turn to be stared at, Gabrielle didnt flinch under the scrutiny, or her partners touch. In fact, the opposite occurred and she smiled when callused fingers brushed across her lips. The feel of Xenas hand on her face was bringing back very fond memories of not so long ago and the bard was taking as much advantage of her point of view as the warrior was. Tan skin hid most of Xenas blush, but she could still see it, along with the same peaceful expression shed admired when shed been asleep, which was slowly giving way to a happy one as a the corners of Xenas mouth started to go up just a tad. Encouraging the beautiful face to smile, Gabrielle tried a bit of reverse psychology with a brief scowl as she stuck out her tongue. This move got one corner to go up into a half smile, so she tried making another face and received the smallest trace of her pearly whites in a smile that was warm and amused at the same time, without the hint of any of the warriors earlier despondency to taint it.
The blonde, refreshed by the smile and the touch in more ways than one, found her second wind during the respite, but waited until a tanned thumb grazed her lips before she made a move to reunite their smiles. Then she discovered the tables had truly turned when the hand that had once pulled her close held her back and she lost some of her smile as she glanced at the obstacle to her quest for sweetness. Her head bowed, she stared at the hand over her heart for a moment, then looked up to find the smile on Xenas lips fading fast. Shifting her gaze to the warriors eyes, she could see the twinkle that had been there a heartbeat before glaze over, the way a cloud blocked out the sun. Cursing herself for ever having broken the kiss in the first place, she wrapped her arms tightly around Xenas shoulders just as she tried to rise.
Somewhere between the way the early morning sun lit up Gabrielles golden hair and the smile on her own lips, the warrior felt the shadows return. As if the merest hint of happiness had been a trigger to open the flood gates, the guilty chill rushed back into her soul like a tidal wave. Fighting the frigid current and the bard, she tried to get away from both before she drowned in the darkness covering her soul, but the light, the lifeline shed clung to, now clung to her for dear life, refusing to release her into the misery she desired. Struggling harder to get up, to get as far away from anything that resembled the love she didnt deserve, she felt it tighten around her, squeezing the air from her lungs with each renewed effort to rise. Squirming, she strained against her captor, but was held fast by a power she couldnt escape and felt herself falling into a black void as hot tears were squeezed out to sear her skin, marking her descent into the abyss.
Gabrielle didnt have time to try and figure out what had caused the mood swing, or to curse herself anymore, because she was too busy just trying to hang on to Xena, which was getting harder to do by the second. In a bad position to begin with, she had both arms wrapped around a writhing body trying to wrestle what little leverage she could muster, but the warriors greater strength was beginning to take its toll on her own and only the unknown strength that had allowed her to hold Xena through the night seemed to be giving her the power she needed to keep her friend from getting away.
Grunts, groans, and growls echoed off the trees, silencing all the natural sounds associated with an awakening woodland and drove off curious creatures with their ferocity. Embroiled in a battle of wills, moments passed into minutes and minutes passed into forever as the women dueled against one another amidst the shifting light filtering though the canopy above. Wreaking havoc on the immediate area, dirt and leaves were strewn over unused bedrolls, and dying embers as long tan legs kicked wildly, but while they succeeded in digging up earth, they failed to gain a foothold on their owners freedom.
Her shoulders and arms clamped inside a human vise, Xena thrashed her head from side to side, then quickly arched her back using her legs as leverage, then slammed her body down again when the tactic failed. Trying everything but anything that would harm the bard to get loose, her breath came in harsh gasps within the confines of the hold and the energy it took to fight was starting to show as a light sheen of sweat covered her body. Feeling Gabrielles hold slip by just a margin, she pounced on the opening, twisting her body away from the bard, only to have the hold redoubled and her chance evaporate. Frustrated and desperate, she felt like her body was imploding from the pressure being put on it and made one more fruitless attempt at getting free before she finally collapsed in exhausted heaving sobs.
Pushed beyond the boundaries of rational thought, the bard reacted instinctively when Xena collapsed. Relaxing her grip an instant later, she brought the warriors head to her shoulder, cradling it gently as her own tears joined those of her friend. Placing a soft kiss on tousled dark hair, she pulled the warrior closer as the long frame curled up into a ball against her and though her own body and mind were drained and numb from the battle, the well of strength shed drawn from all night hadnt yet run dry. Taking another drink from the unknown source, Gabrielle closed her eyes and lowered her head to rest her cheek against Xenas forehead. The battle won for now, she released a long sigh, then placed a kiss on a sweaty brow and gently tightened her hold, wrapping the woman in her arms in an inescapable blanket of love.
Much of the day was spent as most of the night had been, with Gabrielle holding Xena in her arms, but instead of the peaceful quiet of night to surround the couple, the air was filled with guttural sobs as the warriors body was wracked by spasms of pure anguish that threatened to rend her blackened soul from her body. Tormented and tortured as she was, she revealed nothing but her pain between sobs. Holding her guilt inside, though it choked her with every halted breath she took, she faced the parade of nameless faces in a sea of ravaged memories.
By the time the sun began its arc toward the western horizon, the sobs had tapered off to intermittent sniffles and then the air grew silent one more time. Staring blindly at a world she couldnt see for the hands over her face or the plague of desolation encompassing her soul, Xenas tears had run dry, leaving her body spent with their passing. Still the faces came on to call her name in an endless parade of accusers that eroded her sense of space and time, except for the feel of the body holding her as a mother would a frightened child. That single link with the present, unshakeable and unbroken was the thread holding her to life while she died inside. The soft and gentle voice from the outside whispering words of comfort that weaved their way into the parade, at times overriding the voices of the dead to shed light into the darkest regions of her being. Deserted by all but this sole source of warmth, the warrior succumbed to the cold reality of her sins only to be given the strength to withstand the barrage when all she wanted to do was give in.
Beyond the point of exhaustion and beyond the point of hearing her body recite its needs, Gabrielle turned a deaf ear to the rumblings of her empty stomach, and ignored the aches her body was shouting out. Her concentration solidly focused on her warrior alone, she listened only to the calling of her heart and soul, which dispatched her physical limitations to the realm of inconsequential and reinforced whatever necessities she required.
Shed shed as many tears as her friend had during the day and after Xenas had stopped, hers continued to fall silently down her cheeks as she felt the pain tormenting the warrior invade her soul. Blind as she was to its cause, the bard never the less treated the pain as if it were her own, because in truth, it was. Whatever space Xena sought to put between them with her silence, to keep Gabrielle sheltered from the deep seated anguish, it was no match for the bond theyd forged through their friendship and their love. Just as they stood side by side for the greater good, they weathered the storms together and often found little need for words. As if they shared the same soul, they relied on that bridge to bypass conventional forms of communication and it was only their individual thoughts that remained out of reach, while their emotions traversed the unspoken connection. A subtle gesture here, a brief glance there was all they needed to get a point across and though they often shared what was on their minds aloud, for both the good and bad, it was the invisible tether that filled in what mere words couldnt express. Thats why Gabrielle didnt need to hear what was wrong and although Xenas pain was quite evident, she didnt need to see it to feel it. Inside her own soul, she fought against the temptation to be overwhelmed and follow the path of least resistance to oblivion, and used the same words she murmured to her friend to keep both their heads above water. Whispering reminders of her presence and reassurances of her love, Gabrielle continued her vigil without ceasing while Xena confronted her demons, and waited for some sign of how the struggle was going either way.
The sign Gabrielle was watching for came over four candlemarks after midday, with the sun hanging suspended in the sky, but not long before its light would disappear behind the distant mountains. Trying to stay alert throughout the afternoon, which was a difficult task in itself, the bard also tried to stay prepared for whatever Xena might do once she did make a move, whether it was another attempt at bolting, or if she simply fell asleep. Hoping for something closer to the latter, she wasnt far off base when the warrior came alive in her arms by just dropping her hands from her face and sighing. Relieved but wary, she loosened her hold a smidgen and waited again, to see what was to come next.
Cold, numb and literally wasted, Xena looked out onto a world that hadnt changed from the safety of Gabrielles shoulder with a blank stare. The parade had ended, but she didnt know if it was because shed unmasked all her sins, or if her mind had gotten too tired to go on and it mattered very little to her either way. It was over, though she knew her conscience would never be clear of what shed done and she still hadnt forgiven herself, but it was over for now and it was time to move on. If she hadnt been so utterly exhausted, that is and if shed been able to break away from the warmth of Gabrielles embrace, which she really didnt want to do. Inside those arms it was comfortable, it was safe, and it was home. A home shed been without for what seemed like an eternity that was made up of two arms, rather than four walls and knew no boundaries. One that was soft and hard at the same time, whose doors had no locks to keep her out, and a hearth fueled from a heart that knew only love. A love that kept her warm and alive. A love that was worth killing, fighting and dying for and was the only barrier between the ruthless warlord, and the warrior. A love she couldnt live without.
Closing her eyes, the warrior sighed again and nuzzled her head into the base of Gabrielles neck and felt the arms around her tighten into a gentle hug.
Gabrielle held her breath for the time it took Xena to get settled, then let it out slowly and glanced up at the heavens to send whomever a heartfelt silent thanks. Its over. She thought and cradled the love of her life where she belonged.
A few minutes later, once shed felt Xena relax against her, the bard took the time to look around the campsite and began taking stock of its condition. The fire was long since dead and would need to be rebuilt before the sun set. Their bedrolls were covered in debris and the easiest source of food, and water was on the other side of the ashes with the saddle bags. Looking around, she spotted Argo through the trees. The mare, apparently oblivious to everything that had taken place, was grazing on some grass and was the only thing that appeared not to need some tending to, which cut the list of Gabrielles things to do down by one. So, considering her options, she discounted spending another night where she was, for fear of becoming permanently rooted to the spot and contemplated breaking the silence. Somewhat fearful of giving up what shed gained, she surveyed her own condition and discovered that the well shed been drawing from for almost a day had finally run dry. Left with little else to do, she dared to test the waters and closed her eyes. Speaking a softly as she could, she ran her fingers through the warriors dark hair as kissed her forehead before she spoke. "Xena."
Blue eyes fluttered open, then the warrior blinked away her slumber and took a deep breath of regret as she answered just as quietly. "Hmm?"
Biting her lip, Gabrielle sighed through her teeth. "Xena, Im going to get up now and get the fire going. I think were gonna need it tonight. Is that okay?" Opening her eyes with the question, she bent her head to see the warriors reaction.
Sighing out an unmistakable harumph, Xena nodded despite her desire to remain where she was forever and focused her baby blues to take a furtive look around. "I made a mess." Speaking literally, but with a hint of some deeper meaning, she sighed again and sat up. Sniffing once, she turned her head to look at the bard and saw emeralds that were still sparkling with love, but looked absolutely beat otherwise. "Im sorry, Gabrielle." With a look of true sadness, she reached out and ran the back of her fingers on a tired cheek.
The bard hadnt missed the hint and could easily see the residual turmoil behind her partners eye. Bringing her hand up, she interlaced her fingers with Xenas and shook her head. As if to put the matter behind them, she whispered a resolute command and leaned forward to seal the pact with a kiss. "Dont be."
Needing that kiss more than shed ever needed anything before in her life, the warrior didnt resist the love she was being given this time and didnt resist the gentle urging to go backward when Gabrielle leaned into her. Lowering her body slowly to the ground, so as not to break the kiss, Xena stretched out and felt the bard press down on her. Like a willing sacrifice, she let her body be taken with an uncharacteristic abandon and found herself not caring what tomorrow might bring. Whether she lived under the shadow of her sins forever or not held little meaning for her. At that moment, the moment was all and all she cared about was the woman whos kiss could drive the chill from her soul. Who shared her life with all its imperfections. Who defined her existence and stood by her through everything. Who made up her world and who held her heart and soul in the palm of her hands, and who she trusted with her life. The best friend and partner whose love she could never earn, or feel as though she deserved, and yet, would never be whole without it.
Once the passion had ebbed, after the sun made its departure form the sky, Xena put the campsite in order by moonlight and put the bard to bed in quick succession, without allowing any protest from her partner, then built a fire before shed slipped in beside Gabrielle. Bare to the world except for the furs covering her body and the arm draped over her waist, which had made its claim minus the benefit of its owner ever waking, the warrior lay on her side, staring into the flames as she absently fingered the hilt of her sword. Staring as blindly as she had the previous night, her mind was far less focused than before. It wandered aimlessly between everything and nothing all at the same time, but though her thoughts lacked direction, her mind wasnt numb anymore and neither was her body. The oppressive chill shed suffered under the shadow of her guilt hadnt returned once she was left alone with her thoughts and the parade was absent too, leaving her free to feel the warmth of the bards body cuddled against her back, which soon broke her from her wanderings when the arm around her waist tightened its hold.
Lowering her gaze, she remained still while Gabrielle made another sleepy move and was apparently trying to mold her smaller body to fit the contours of Xenas longer one. This brought the warrior the rest of the way out of her aimless haze and put a smile on her lips when it became evident, by a muffled grumble from behind, that the bard wasnt getting satisfactory results from her unconscious effort. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched the furs flutter and felt the legs beneath them trying to fit up against the back of her own, but Gabrielle wasnt in the right position to make it work, and though she got some amusement from the situation, the warrior finally put an end to the struggle. Rolling slowly onto her back, she raised her left arm above her head and had to leave it uncovered only a short time before a slumbering blonde head nuzzled into the base of her neck. Then, with the bard laying half on, half off her body and contentedly snuggled, Xena brought her arm back under the covers to wrap it around Gabrielles shoulders.
Now in their normal sleeping arrangement, the warrior relaxed into the comfort the familiar feel brought about and closed her eyes to the stars above to listen to the serene sounds of night, and the slow rhythmic breathing of the bard. Letting both relax her even further, she drifted off to sleep with the passing thought that her sins still hung solidly over her head and the knowledge that the shadow could return tomorrow, but with the greater knowledge that shadow or no, nothing was worth losing what she held in her arms.
Gabrielle, tucked in her comfy warm bed with its soft tan warrior pillow, slept the way she always did. Like a proverbial rock. Unfazed, unmoved and completely oblivious to the world around her. Even the sun, in all its splendor and glory, went completely unnoticed by the woman snuggled beneath the covers, when it peeked its singular golden eye over the eastern horizon, which was the time she was normally forced from her precious slumber rather grudgingly and grumpily by the insistent proddings of her pillow. But, like the sun and everything else, the proddings, or the lack thereof, went unnoticed as well, until the orb was nearly at its apex overhead. Then the bard deemed the world worthy of her attention and showed the first, almost imperceptible signs of waking, by frowning at the notion of waking at all, but wake she did if by slow, drawn out degrees. And though she was far from being completely coherent at this point, she was not completely unaware of her surroundings. In particular, her sleep filled mind was keenly aware of the fact that she was not alone in her bed and that the warmth she was enjoying came not from the covers covering her naked body, but from the naked body she was snuggled shamelessly against, much to her groggy delight. The luxurious feel of Xenas long form and the arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders, holding her close, was enough to send Gabrielle right back to sleep with absolutely no remorse about the shameless selfish way she was making use of her time. And she wouldve gone right back to sleep with the intent of staying right where she was forever, if it werent for some pesky memories that began popping up once her mind became a little less foggy.
They, the pesky memories, played in the back of her mind like little prickly urchins hell bent on ruining her paradise by replaying the events leading up to her revelry and reminding her that all may not be as perfect with her partner as it was with her. Then they moved from the background to the foreground, as her sleep was held at bay and they brought with them a sense of guilt at her selfishness, coupled with a renewed sense of anxiety. These two emotions, combined with several others that were quickly taking prominence in her mind and feeding a foreboding sense of worry deep within her soul, soon moved Gabrielle to full consciousness, and to the point where her own considerations fell by the wayside, in lieu of a need to make sure that Xena was alright.
Completely unaware of the worry she would later inspire, Xena had slept as soundly as her counterpart and awakened in the same manner as the bard, with selfish thoughts of an unmoving nature, which is why shed been laying there quietly since shed first opened her eyes before dawn. But unlike her partner, the warrior wasnt laden with burdensome memories to make her get up and shed been content to let her normal morning routine of prodding Gabrielle until she growled go by, choosing instead to let the sun rise without her, and watch it make its glistening way through the canopy of trees. In fact, shed been almost as oblivious to the world while Gabrielle slept as Gabrielle had, with only the feel of the bards warmth against her body and the sound of the bards soft rhythmic breathing seeping into her consciousness.
As if waking into a dream for the second time in as many days, Xena had opened her eyes to a world as dark as the shadows of her soul, not knowing what the day would bring, but with an undeniable sense of peace that came from the light she held in her arms. The wonderment with which she watched the sun so easily dispatch the night was the same sense of awe she felt at how something so simple as having Gabrielle touch her, could dispel her own darkness. Even now, when the bard was asleep, unconscious of the effect she had, all it took was having her close to send Xenas demons to the furthest reaches of her own psyche. The shadows recessed, the parade vanished and the chilly prison around her soul thawed.
From the day they met and long before Xena would ever allow herself to admit it, the naive girl, whod attached herself like an incurable fungus and whose continual chatter drove her to distraction, who had the intuitions of someone far more mature, the insatiable curiosity of an innocent child, and the seemingly endless capacity for compassion and understanding, always had the innate ability to quell the former Destroyer of Nations most bloodthirsty desires with nothing more than the touch of her hand. And once she did allow herself to recognize the power Gabrielle had over her, although it scared her to acknowledge that power for what it was, the love shed denied herself to feel had become to strong. By then Gabrielle had become necessary to Xenas survival, not a convenience that could be easily discarded. The light radiating out of the bards soul was a beacon, keeping the warrior warm and guiding her when the world around her grew even too dark for her to manage. The love, so freely given, was the air she breathed and when Gabrielle wasnt there, it was like she was suffocating. Then there was their friendship, which had been the foundation everything else was built on. It came before the light, before the love and had survived when their worlds had crumbled into ruin. The intangible bond had survived to rise out of the turmoil even stronger than it had been going in and if theyd never been anything more than friends, Xena knew she would never be whole without it. Gabrielle was her world, the air she breathed, her heart, her soul, her greatest weakness, her greatest strength, the woman she loved with every fiber of her being, but above all else, she was her best friend.
These were the thoughts that had kept Xena company, while she let Gabrielle sleep the morning away. Rather than being weighed down with pesky memories of the day before and all the darkness they entailed, shed been daydreaming about the bards finer qualities, which she felt suitably lucky to have the privilege of enjoying. And although she did reminisce about some of Gabrielle less appealing attributes, such as a stubborn steak a mile wide and how she had a tendency to labor over things Xena found insignificant, she was still feeling quite pleased when a face, half hidden by sunlit blonde hair and which had a somewhat apprehensive, if not fretful, yet slightly sleepy expression on it came into view. "Hi." She said to it and smiled to show off her happiness, though she became confused when the bard continued to hold her worried scowl.
A smile being the last thing she expected to see, Gabrielle tried to play it against what shed witnessed the day before and in her lingering sleepiness, all she managed to surmise was that shed definitely missed something. So, to help matters some, she propped up on one elbow to get a better look into blue eyes, in hopes of discovering if Xenas smile was a mask, or if it was genuine. Unfortunately, she was still to close to slumber to make a conclusive determination, so she fell back on her strong suit and asked. "Are you back?"
"Back?" The warrior asked, even more confused than before, because she was pretty sure she hadnt been anywhere other than their campsite for days. "Back from where?"
"Wherever youve been the past week?" The bard clarified quietly and pulled her hair out of her eyes, to tuck it behind her ear. Then she put her hand on the warriors chest, as if checking to make sure she was really there. "Are you okay, Xena? Are you back?"
Suddenly the dawn broke on Xenas comprehension horizon and her expression sobered as a fresh wave of guilt came over her for having put the bard through hell by association. "Yea." Speaking barely above a whisper, she nodded and smiled at the reason for her return. "Im back, Gabrielle."
This news elicited a relieved sigh from Gabrielle as the creases etching her face smoothed out to make way for a warm smile. "No more ghosts?" Grasping at straws, she went on gut instinct to see if shed been right about the source of Xenas silence.
Shifting her eyes downward, the word ghosts hit home hard and it was the warriors turn to sigh. "I dont know." She answered honestly, though she couldnt bring her self to see the reception her answer would get.
"Oh." Taking the answer at face value, the bard bit her bottom lip, then began chewing on it to get up the nerve to ask her next question, which took some doing. "You wanna talk about it?" She asked very tentatively, but with a seriousness behind her apprehension.
Xenas eyes went back to the bard and she was ready to say no when the way Gabrielle smiled at her shyly made her hesitate. "Gabrielle, I dont think talking about it is going to help." Closing her eyes, she shook her head. "They arent your ghosts. Theyre mine and Ive put you through enough already."
"Xena, look at me." Gabrielles smile softened as she spoke and she brought her hand up to stroke the warriors tense cheek with the back of her fingers. When Xena finally looked up, she turned her hand over to cradle the cheek against her palm. "Your ghosts are my ghosts, because I love you, but you dont have to tell me anything if you dont want to." Taking a deep breath, she shook her head. "Its just so hard when you shut me out, Xena. I hate losing you like that, because it hurts me seeing you in pain. Having you right there and not being able to help you, because Im afraid of making the wrong move and never know what to expect if I do. I dont know if I should try to hold you, or beat you senseless because youre driving me crazy, when all Im trying to do is make sure youre alright. I need to know things like that, Xena. I need to know that youre okay inside there, that Im not losing you all the way."
"Gabrielle," the warrior interrupted quietly, as a tear trickled down her temple, "youre never going to lose me and I dont mean to hurt you. I just get swallowed whole sometimes and shutting you out is the only way I can know that you wont get swallowed too. Ive earned my guilt, but I love you too much to ever let you live in that kind of darkness. You deserve the light you have in your soul, not my sins and I need that light inside you, Gabrielle. I need it to stay bright and clear, because sometimes its the only thing I can see. Thats why you have to believe Ill always come back to you, no matter how far down I go. As long as I have your light to guide me, Ill always come home. Always."
With tears running down her cheeks, the bard sniffed enough of them away to smile. "Does this mean I shouldnt hit you when you go all stoic on me?"
Xena mirrored the smile and tempered it with a warning arch of an eyebrow. "As much as I know beating me up would make you feel better, Gabrielle. Id have to say that hitting me while Im down would probably be a very bad idea. I might end up liking it."
Gabrielle mulled this tiny bit of insight over a few times as the arm around her waist slipped lower and she felt a strong hand take a firm hold of her butt, then a firmer hold, and then a firmer hold, until any thought she might have had about taking her frustrations out on her friend physically were permanently squeezed out of her mind. "Okay. Okay." She relented with a wince. "I wont hit you while youre down." Relaxing when Xenas hand relaxed its hold, she rolled her eyes. "Ill only hit you when youre asleep. Ow. Ow. Im kidding! I wont hit you when youre asleep either. I swear!" Laughing through a grimace, the bard began shaking her leg as the pain increased. "Ill only hit you when youre wide awake and up, and Ill be sure to tell you first!"
Mirroring the grimace as she had the smile, the warrior gave the bards butt one final squeeze, then let go to give it a hearty slap. "Now, what was that about hitting me?"
"Nothing. Nothing. I dont remember saying anything about hitting." Shaking her head, the bard went through several painful expressions that did little to mask her underlying amusement. "Nope. Not me. Never crossed my mind."
"I didnt think so." Sounding very much like the warrior princess, Xena dished out one of her more sinister chuckles to emphasize her complete return, then as quickly as the mask was put on, it fell away to reveal a much softer, truer expression.
Not missing the sudden changes, Gabrielle was taken aback by them and physically drew back from her friend when it became obvious she was being blatantly stared at. Leery and confused, she wasnt completely certain the smile she was seeing wasnt some kind of ploy, until she noticed a distinct twinkle in the blue orbs studying her. Then the clouds of doubt evaporated and she lowered her head to tenderly press their smiles together. "I love you, too and youre welcome."
The twinkle never left Xenas eyes for the rest of the day and the shadow didnt return for many weeks, but when it did come to call, it no longer found the warrior such easy prey for pain and guilt, because the soul the shadow sought to take in its frigid grasp was held by another. One who protected the warriors soul with her own, encapsulating it in a circle of light and who proved to be both undaunted and unafraid of the darkness, and who refused to relinquish her hold, defending what was hers alone with warmth, understanding, patience, compassion, love and the occasional thwack to the head, when all else failed.
Thanks for reading.
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