When Xena goes over the top to show she’s not too over the hill, Gabrielle provokes an examination of what’s important about re-creating themselves at this later stage in their lives. In celebration of 60 winters.
"Just another average day." – Xena to Gabrielle, after surviving TSUNAMI
She inched through the high grass on her elbows, muttering to herself, wondering what in Tartarus she’d been thinking. How effortless this used to be? The anticipation of sighting prey and pouncing? She snorted in self-ridicule. Yet another unwelcome lesson in how rosy some aspects of her past appeared in hindsight despite its darkness.
So long ago, yet seemed like only yesterday. Donning her older brother’s breeches, creeping past the inn’s kitchen, heart skipping a beat when her mother’s head jerked up at that squeaky floorboard. Easing out the back and into the forest. Coating her face with mud, like they’d done as children pretending to be warriors hiding from each other. She hadn’t been much older, but now pursued a real enemy powerful enough not to need camouflage. Cortes. No problem following his tracks, trailing him to his camp. Easy enough seeing his troop strength from behind the trees. But that hadn’t been good enough. Nuh uh.
She’d wanted to get as close as possible. Invade his space. Prove she could penetrate his defenses, that he was merely a man and she the serpent who would strike before he even knew she existed. She’d dropped down, crawling through the underbrush, impervious to thorns and stones. Hands tingling with each reach forward. Gut churning every time a creature skittered or flew away in possible alarm to her presence.
She’d stopped when she could clearly hear voices. Taken a deep breath, parted the grass and found herself mere boot lengths from a sentry. Her hand grasped the knife tucked in her waistband. He’d be her first. Payback for Olman’s three children left fatherless. But her brain had dampened the rage in her heart. Reminded her of the other soldiers who might be tipped off – nearly 100 she couldn’t take out alone. Who might return with more vengeance than a village girl whose upbringing hadn’t nurtured the reptilian nature she now claimed.
She’d left the knife where it was. Left Cortes’ camp. Also left behind the vestiges of an innocent who’d never before experienced surviving on her own. Hunting to protect the survival of her kin. Calling on instincts she hadn’t used before. Somehow knowing when to conceal herself, when to attack, when to slither a different way. Recognizing she had it in her. That it felt good. Right. The first stage of her evolution into one of the known world’s deadliest creatures.
And now? Her skin felt raw, pitted from debris scattered over the earth like tiny weapons. Even nature seemed to hint her maturation had hit its limit. Mortals certainly tried. Only yesterday a stupid kid had drawn his sword, taunting her to prove herself truly the legendary Warrior Princess.
"That’s her? The crone in breeches? I didn’t come all this way for somebody who couldn’t hurt a fly."
It hadn’t bothered her at first. She’d long ago stopped worrying about her reputation. Rarely carried weapons anymore when not expecting trouble. As usual had ignored the challenge. Until she caught a flash of fear in Gabrielle’s eyes. Pride flared in her own. She’d turned from loading their wagon. Drawn herself up to her full height. Thrown her head back to clear her vision of the silver-streaked bangs she wished she’d let Gabrielle trim last week.
"You talkin’ to me?"
"You really the famous Xena?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Somebody tired of hearing about her ‘many skills.’ Somebody ready to prove he’s got a lot more." He’d sneered, "But not against the likes of you, whoever you are."
"You’re right. Ya got somethin’ I haven’t had in a long time."
"Figured as much."
"It’s not what?"
"Snot. Stuff that runs out kids’ noses. Usually from being somewhere they shouldn’t. Not using good sense when they should."
He’d stiffened, red-faced. "Talk mighty big for an old lady with no defense."
"Xena, you don’t have to do this," Gabrielle had said, trying to lead her away.
"So you are her. Gotta admit, not in bad shape for somebody supposedly past 60 winters." He’d shot her a patronizing grin, the kind bestowed on elders who manage to cross the road by themselves. "Lucky for you I got standards. No sense ruinin’ a legend for nothin’. Go back to your shoppin’. We’ll pretend this never happened."
"Unlucky for you, I am in the mood for shopping." She’d hefted a few swords from the onlookers who’d gathered, found one to her liking, gone a few rounds with the upstart, eventually leaving him in the dirt with a broken nose. Gabrielle had barely spoken to her since.
They’d camped outside the village where they’d been visiting friends. She’d gone for a morning swim. Returned to see a lone figure casually rifling through their bags, taking some items over to a tree, sitting there examining them as if completely unconcerned about being caught. Not much competition, but enough of a chance to show the Warrior Princess hadn’t quite lost her fangs. Seemed simple enough to drop down, give the old "snake in the grass" bit a whirl. Only a few more feet and ….
"Whatever you think you’re doing, you’ll have to fix it yourself. I’m through mending and patching." Gabrielle scowled at the tall grass to her left. "On this trip anyway."
Xena muttered a curse and let her forehead plump on the ground. She stifled a yelp when something sharp pierced her skin.
"That includes flesh. Maybe." Gabrielle’s glare softened a bit. "Did you hurt yourself? Or you just playing for sympathy?"
Now what. Lie there sulking? Let more blood drip so the damned cut looked worse than it was? Hurt her head even more coming up with some excuse not even a child would believe? Maybe, like that upstart had suggested, simply pretend this never happened. Or improvise as usual.
She wiped the back of her hand across her brow and stood. "Just testing. Glad to see you still got it." She removed the bag she’d secured to her back. "Good thing it was me, though. Let me get pretty close."
Gabrielle rolled her tongue in her cheek. "If it was anybody else, I’d’ve seen or heard them. When it’s too quiet, and I get goose bumps anyway, it could be only one person."
Xena snorted to herself. In other words, she still had it too, but not enough to fool the one person she wanted to impress. Yippee.
"C’mere. I can’t pretend I don’t see blood smeared over your face."
"I’ve got it," Xena retorted, getting out a cloth and their healing kit.
"Thought you were through patching."
"I can’t help my sense of esthetics. Gets me every time."
Sighing, Xena dropped down next to her partner. "Here. Go easy on me. I’m old and wounded, remember."
"Don’t tempt me." A few gentle wipes later, Gabrielle concluded, "Not very deep. You disappointed?" She pushed Xena’s head back down. "Stay still. I’m not finished."
"Whaddya mean, ‘disappointed.’"
"I know how you are about ‘tests.’ You like `em tough. Nigh impossible for mere mortals. Coming through with a mere scratch …. Could be disappointing for the one and only Warrior Princess."
Xena decided it best to keep her eyes averted after all. She wasn’t quite sure how to take Gabrielle’s neutral tone. They both knew she’d acted like an old fool. Worse yet, a young fool. Maybe Gabrielle had decided not to rub it in. Or, more likely, would find some subtle way to pick at the scab Xena would rather leave alone.
"Thought you weren’t speaking to me either."
"Pfft. Like you’ve been your usual chatty self since yesterday."
"Yesterday?" Gabrielle signaled she’d finished applying salve to Xena’s forehead. "Something happen out of the ordinary?" She crossed her arms. "Something other than visiting friends? Shopping? Two ordinary matrons minding their own business?"
Xena winced. "`Esthetics’ my eye," she muttered. "Scabs. Always the scabs."
Xena tapped the small wound on her head. "Scabbing over already. A few days, won’t even know it happened. Everything back to normal." She grunted. "`Ordinary.’"
Gabrielle watched her partner rise, walk over to their wagon and crouch to fidget with one of the axles. "Not in bad shape" was an understatement. Stubborn thing still moved quicker than someone half her age, had the trim muscularity of her prime. Maybe that’s what was so annoying about her silly "tests." Letting wannabes egg her on. Crawling through weeds like some assassin promised a pot of gold. Even more irritating, Gabrielle believed sometimes it was for her. As if, after all this time, Xena could ever doubt Gabrielle loved her just as she was.
"Why, Xena? When there’s no real danger? When all you have to do is walk away?"
"He didn’t know how to play nice. Somebody had to teach `im." Xena threw a lopsided grin over her shoulder. "Guess he pushed my `elder’ button. I’m sorry, okay? Didn’t realize you’d wanna give that kind of behavior a free pass."
Gabrielle studied her partner a moment. "Work on that wheel later."
Xena raised a suspicious brow. "Got somethin’ better in mind?"
"Depends. Has your tolerance level for scab picking improved?"
Xena’s head dropped. She mumbled something unintelligible.
"Mm. On second thought, finish your repairs. By then you’ll be covered in oil and dirt. After which you’ll have to clean up again. After which we can finally eat something. Scab picking’s easier on a full stomach." Gabrielle snorted. "At least, for one of us."
"Mmmm." Gabrielle licked her lips. "I have sooo missed these delicacies you can only get in markets near seaports. Did you enjoy yours?"
Xena sucked in her cheeks. "Yeah. Went much too fast. Got any more?"
"Nice try, but sorry. Time to move on to other … fare."
"Not quite as appetizing, I’m sure."
"It does require a certain palate. Let’s pretend you have one."
"Anything for my bard."
Gabrielle cocked her head. "Define ‘anything.’"
Xena folded her hands in her lap. If they had to do this, she might as well choose where to start picking. "Your taste for the unusual used to be more … expansive. Used to include … me."
"It still does. What makes you believe otherwise?"
"`Ordinary.’" Xena held Gabrielle’s eyes. "That’s what you want, right? No looking for trouble? No risking my ancient bones for a legendary ego? Just your average grandma out for a stroll?"
"Xena, you’re making far too much of – ."
"I saw it in your eyes, Gabrielle. When that kid challenged me. Fear. Been awhile since …. Things’ve been pretty peaceful lately. Last time I strapped on my sword, you didn’t mind. Because I had to? To defend the Village?"
"Xena, I’ve always accepted – ."
"Something’s changed. I noticed a couple weeks ago. Remember those thugs in Lycos? Hassling the vendors?"
"You said the others could handle it."
"And they did. No reason you had to step in."
"I saw the fear then too. I let it stop me that time. If I keep letting it stop me …."
"The world will end?"
"Maybe you’ll start thinking that’s me. Or should be." Xena snorted. "First it was the weight of my past. Now it’s the weight of so many years since. Not sure if it’s because of all the good deeds. You know, making me a person worth living." Her eyes clenched. "Or if it’s the age. That you think it’ll get me killed."
Gabrielle sighed. "Of course the good deeds matter. And the gray hairs." She reached across to ruffle Xena’s bangs. "I love them both. I’m not afraid of what either means. It’s just that at some point .…"
"What? You want them safe? Protected? Camouflage `em with wagons and peasant shirts?" Lip curled, Xena flicked the fabric covering her arm. "I don’t mind a normal life, Gabrielle. It’s what we worked for. It’s given me peace and joy beyond anything I’d hoped. Don’t ever think it hasn’t."
"There’s something about ‘ordinary’ that …." Xena gazed down at her hands. "I don’t like it. Not too much of it anyway. Never have. Makes me feel sometimes like I’m fading away. From who I am. What I can do." She raised her head, chin jutting out. "The person you used to expect the impossible from."
Gabrielle wanted to shake her head. Respond with her customary wry indulgence at this singular individual, who chafed interminably at the slightest rub from self-expectations even Hercules might consider too rough. Xena was wrong. As usual. But if she asked for the right answer, Gabrielle didn’t feel prepared to give it. Not then anyway. Not when it had suddenly occurred to her that the scab they could end up picking was hers.
"I honestly don’t know what to say," Gabrielle acknowledged softly. "Except," she added at the flash of pain in Xena’s eyes, "if you’ve changed to me, it’s from loving you more each day." She smiled ruefully. "For once I don’t think words’ll do the trick. Maybe I’ll have to show you."
Xena’s brow rose. "Yeah?" A tentative grin began to form. "Will I like it better?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Um, no, not that." Noting Xena’s grin fade, she scooted over to nestle in the warrior’s arms. "Well, I suppose it’s as good as any place to start."
Though not entirely reassured by the previous day’s passionate makeup session, Xena felt less like a pair of old boots – broken in just right, but the original soles wearing thin. She found herself humming in tune with her companion’s good mood, a beautiful morning and smoother ride from the recently oiled wagon wheels.
"That’s nice. I don’t recall hearing it before."
"Mm. Kinda made it up." Xena grinned. "Improvising."
"Ah. Another of your many skills."
"Yup. Actually, it’s from a lot of songs I’ve heard over the years. One pops in my head. For some reason it leads to another, which reminds me of another." Xena shrugged. "Figured I’d just go with the flow."
"Mm. I like that. Reminds me of our early years."
"Yeah? How so?"
"Well …. It was all so new. To me at least. I never knew what could happen next. Who we’d run into. Or what. Where we might go. Along for the ride, I guess." Gabrielle bumped shoulders with Xena. "Going with the flow."
"Huh." Xena thought about that. "Lots of ups and downs all right. Surprises. Detours. But inside, I felt it was always the same path. Since Cortes, anyway. Defense at first. Then toward wherever could teach me about offense. And power. After Hercules, I thought about different routes. Got a bit confused about which way to go." She bumped Gabrielle’s shoulder. "Until I lucked up on a certain redheaded ‘stop’ sign. I found myself back on track. Except I felt a lot better about it. As for everything else …."
Gabrielle chuckled. "The mystery and adventure?"
Xena shrugged. "It was more a background. A blur. Even before, I felt in the middle of a whirlwind. But more a part of it. Letting it take me over for the thrill of it. No matter the consequences. After you, I was still at the center. A tremendous responsibility for so much evil, for somehow counteracting it. Not just mine but people like what I’d been." Xena took the reins in one hand and wrapped her free arm around Gabrielle. "What I remember most is the peace. The … security."
"Security?" Gabrielle peered up at Xena, intrigued. "You mean, being around me?"
"Despite everything, you remained steadfast. Your belief in me. Pushing me to keep moving in the right direction. Strengthened my purpose. Having you to travel with, come ‘home’ to, grounded me. Gave me a sense of stability I hadn’t had in a while. Those times you left …. You always came back. Or found a way to bring me back. The one thing I could count on. That’s never changed. No matter who or what, where or when."
"My." Gabrielle swallowed. "I never thought of it quite that way."
Xena hugged her soulmate. "Why we’re so good together. Completely opposite perspectives." She grinned. "Nothing in common besides strange birds nobody else would put in the same nest."
"Xeenaa." Gabrielle swatted the warrior’s midsection. "And you accuse me of going from esthetics to scabs in the blink of an eye."
"Yeah, well …. Huh. What’s that up ahead?"
Gabrielle turned her attention from Xena to a collection of folk in the near distance. She noted most were dressed in peasant garb, while a few others wore dark uniforms of some sort. "Trouble?"
"We’ll see," Xena said, taking the reins in both hands and snapping them.
Sure enough, the uniformed men had drawn their swords. So had a few of the travelers. The two groups kept an eye on each other as they watched the wagon approach.
"Stay back!" A large man pointed his sword at the men in uniform. "These fellas need a lesson in road courtesy. Nothing you ladies wanna get mixed up in."
"Yeah," warned one of the ruffians. "Might not wanna see what we do to our ‘teachers.’"
"We’re village elders. Perhaps we can help?"
Stunned, Xena couldn’t move fast enough to grab Gabrielle as she lightly hopped from the wagon. "Gabrielle?! What the …?"
"I’ve got it."
"Gabriellle." Xena started to get down. "This is no time to – ."
Gabrielle held up her hand. "I said … I’ve … got … it."
Xena froze. Like the others, she could only stare at the petite figure strolling the wrong way.
"So …. What we have here seems simple enough." Gabrielle addressed the open-mouthed travelers. "You have something they want. You’d rather not give it up." She turned to the gaping marauders. "You’d like to take it, since apparently it’s not yours for the asking." She smiled pleasantly. "Yes?"
"Ma’am, this isn’t a sewing circle. Please, move back, before you get hurt."
"Yeah. And don’t think we won’t be happy to do it." The lead marauder sneered. "Don’t matter if you could be my ma. She’d be here with us." He threw a smirk at his three comrades. "If she wasn’t locked up."
Gabrielle walked over to a gray-haired man. "May I?" Without waiting for permission, she borrowed his walking stick. "I’m not that kind of mother. On the other hand, I have given my share of spankings." She sauntered a few feet from the gang. "Maybe a little test? See if I’ve lost my touch?" She smiled at the travelers. "You’d be doing me a favor."
"Not to worry." Gabrielle loosened her shoulders. "I won’t try anything as long as they don’t."
The travelers exchanged glances, waiting. The gang exchanged glances, irritated by this diversion from their goal. Finally their spokesman walked over to level his sword at the busybody with a death wish.
"This’s your last chance. Either get back in your wagon or …."
Gabrielle whipped the stick. Everyone’s eyes followed the marauder’s sword sail into the sky before plummeting into some bushes.
"Oops. Pardon the interruption. You were saying?"
Incensed, the man swung his fist at Gabrielle. Two staff strikes later, he lay out cold. His brothers started toward her. The travelers prepared to even the odds.
"No!" Gabrielle pointed the stick at the travelers. "Do not interfere with my lessons." Satisfied she’d be obeyed, she twirled the stick in front of her. "Come on, boys. Come to mama."
The travelers watched in horror as the three men rushed the small woman and seemed to swallow her up. They cringed at the sound of wood on bone and blade, the growls and cries of pain. When it was over, she stood alone like a flower miraculously untouched among fallen trees. She wiped her sleeve across her wet forehead before walking back to the gray-haired man.
"Thank you. Much better your stick, than wearing out these old hands."
Xena unhitched the horses and stalked off to gather firewood. They’d taken an early rest stop, mostly so the warrior could release some steam. Humming sure wouldn’t do it. Nor could she summon words that would begin to express what she felt. Gabrielle wasn’t helping either. She’d blithely chattered on about the exhilaration of a good workout, how she hoped the travelers were doing okay, if perhaps there were fish in that stream over there.
Xena counted on Gabrielle’s behaving like the adult in their duo. The younger woman had long ago resigned herself to second place at pranks, moodiness or holding grudges. She rarely did anything just to piss off or scare the daylights out of her partner. Sure, her sense of humor had remained youthful, just like her appearance. But going overboard at this age? Payback for Xena’s doing so? That was one scab they’d definitely pick. If only Xena could figure how to do so without it ending up, as usual, being about her.
"Aren’t they gorgeous?" Gabrielle glanced up at the returning warrior. She rocked back on her haunches to admire the wild flowers in a bowl on one of their blankets. "A little color adds so much, don’t you think? Some zing?"
Xena glowered at the flowers before dumping the wood she’d gathered. "Just what we need." She glared pointedly at her partner. "More `zing.’"
"Uh huh. Different. Out of the … ordinary."
Xena growled to herself. Ready or not, here it came. She strode over to tower in front of Gabrielle.
"Something on your mind, dear?"
"What’ve you got to say for yourself?"
"Me? I’m not the one huffing about, giving the silent treatment." Gabrielle gestured toward a spot on the other side of the floral arrangement. "Take a load off. Tell mama what’s bothering her big bad warrior."
"S’not funny. Not now. Not back there, when you decided to go Amazon on me."
"Snot again? What is it with you and bodily fluids?"
Xena growled. "Fine. You wanna play games, I can – ."
They stared each other down until the bigger, older one finally relented, lowering herself with an exaggerated "only because I got nothin’ better to do" air.
"Good. Go on. Say it."
Xena crossed her arms. "You’ll say it’s the same as what I did. It’s not."
"Why? Because it was me?"
"They weren’t taunting you. The others were perfectly willing and able to take care of it. You butted in anyway. Nothing to prove. Except to me."
"I saw the fear in your eyes."
Xena blinked. "Fear? Gabrielle, that’s crazy. I know what you can do. You do it all the time. When it’s necessary. I don’t understand why …. I mean, I do, but I couldn’t believe you’d be that – ."
"Then what was it?"
Xena stared at Gabrielle. She recalled the fire flaring in the green eyes. The fire that had attracted Xena from the beginning. Instead of warming her as usual, it had sent chills up her spine. But not because Gabrielle couldn’t handle herself. What had flashed before her eyes were all the times Gabrielle wasn’t fighting. Like smiling across the campfire. Going on about events or people Xena forced herself to care about. At home, darning in their rocking chair.
"You didn’t really think I’d get myself killed."
"No …. Well, something could’ve gone wrong. Before I had a chance to step in."
"But that’s not what you saw, is it? In your mind. What scared you."
"I saw …." Comprehension dawned on Xena’s face. She swallowed. "I saw … losing what we have. What I love about being with you. All this time together. The things I … take for granted."
Gabrielle smiled. "Exactly."
Xena’s eyes narrowed. Gabrielle might not be the best at some things, but she sure as heck could run rings around anybody in nearly everything else. "I’m about to get whomped, aren’t I?"
"It’s not about whomping you, Xena." Gabrielle plucked a daisy from her centerpiece. "It’s about two people who’ve done extraordinary things. Been places others only hear about. Survived hell." She brought the daisy to her nose and inhaled. "This bit of nature? Doesn’t matter if there are millions like it. Of if we trample it without ever noticing. It’s here for us to enjoy when we stop to appreciate. A normal part of life at home or on the road. No less a miracle simply because it’s – ."
Xena nodded. "That’s what scared you too? It really wasn’t about me. About me being on my last legs or something. It’s what I mean to you?"
Gabrielle nodded. "You felt a chill?"
"Um, yeah. Numb. My guts sucked out. My center crumbling. Almost the same as right before I met you."
Gabrielle sat back and gazed out. "I used to dream about you." She chuckled. "Well, not you exactly. I never could’ve imagined the real thing." She looked at the flower in her hand, remembering that first day of the rest of her life. Seeing a woman warrior magically appear. Deciding then and there this tall dark stranger was the answer to her prayers. Disobeying her parents, spurning her fiancé and the mundane future they had in store for her. Creeping out of her home with little more than the clothes on her back. Heart pounding and set on catching up to someone who’d warned her not to follow.
Gabrielle moved the flowerpot and scooted knee to knee with her partner. "I felt like a caterpillar – stuck where I wasn’t destined to be. Partnering with you was what I needed to shed what kept me from changing. Yes, I left some of my innocence behind. Some of my certainty. The world I saw with you was much more complex, more dangerous than the one I knew. But you allowed my wings to grow. Let my true colors show. Taught me how to adapt to and rise above the elements. To be tough and smart in holding to my ideals."
"A butterfly." Xena smiled. "I like that."
"Xena, you’ll never stop being an adventure to me. I take for granted what makes you the Warrior Princess. It’s having such an extraordinary creature as mine all these years. Sharing my waking and sleeping. Driving a wagon, gathering firewood." Gabrielle’s fingers tightened around the daisy. "I know what it’s like to lose you. The physical you. I had to accept that long ago. More and more I realize how much you’re what I love about being me. About my life. The wonder that fills nearly every and the smallest detail of an ‘average’ day."
"Whew. Never thought of it that way." Xena touched the clotted blood on her forehead. "Every little thing, eh? Helps explain your obsession with scabs."
Gabrielle groaned. "You’re incorrigible."
"Down to my toenails. Wanna see?" Laughing, Xena pulled Gabrielle close. "Seriously, what’re we gonna do about this?"
"This being afraid. You know, of losing the great and wonderful stuff we mean to each other. Won’t it get worse? The older we get? The longer we’re together?"
"Huh." Gabrielle snuggled in. "Um … well …."
"Didn’t think of that, didya, Bard Brain."
"Give me a minute. Hafta segue from the ‘ordinary.’"
"Hey, maybe that’s it!" Xena got a gleam in her eye. "Maybe we’ve been stuck there too long."
Gabrielle pushed back to scowl up. "What’re you saying?"
"We’ve gotten used to some semblance of normalcy, right? Maybe even addicted."
"Addicted? I wouldn’t say – ."
"Doing something to jeopardize that scares us, right? Because it’s gotten … out of the ordinary."
"Gods. You can’t be suggesting we start – ."
"I figure we’ve got at least 10 good years to kick butt. More like 20 for you. We’re confident each other can do it now. If we stay in shape, keep practicing, who says we couldn’t keep doing it?"
"I’m not sharing your vision."
"I don’t mean all the time. Going out looking for trouble. But if we see it, we don’t wait around for somebody else. Butt in like we used to. Remember when trouble and what to do about it was an ‘average’ day?"
"Sure, when my mind wanders during council debates."
"We barely caught our breath between fires. Thought relaxing was a luxury." Xena snickered. "Even with Joxer around."
"We’re more relaxed and mature now." Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "What happened to relying on wisdom first."
"We can still do that. But if one of us feels her juices going, the other goes along. No moping about missing the warm and fuzzies." Xena snorted. "Like clipping my bangs. Me watching you wander about in daisy fields. Anyway, we butt-kick until it becomes ordinary again. Heh. Until the bang clipping and daisy wandering seem exotic."
"You’re forgetting something."
"Of the 100 times our ‘juices’ get going, 99 will be yours."
"Pfft. Your one time packs quite a wallop. Got us to this sensitive chat, didn’t it?"
Gabrielle sighed, trying to recall when exactly she’d lost her edge at talking. "I see you’ve expanded your repertoire for sneaking up on people."
Xena smirked. "It’s what I do."
"I pity the poor caterpillar that gets in your way."
"Not all of `em. I can tell when a certain one’s due for molting."
"Is that so."
"Uh huh. Same as when it’s time I rid myself of old skin." Xena squeezed her partner. "Our cycles got more in synch over the years."
"Snake and butterfly. Creepy crawly and flying flutterer. Doesn’t sound like a match made in Elysium."
Xena cupped Gabrielle’s face. "Nothing ordinary about the ones I have in mind. Never were. Never will be. Long as they’re not afraid to change. And do it together."
"Promise me something?"
"Don’t ever change."
Xena laughed. She rubbed her forehead. "Hmm. That’s a hard one. You taught me that." A mischievous grin appeared. Without warning, she flicked off the scab, enjoying the shock on her partner’s face. "Some things just gotta go."
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