Standard Disclaimer- These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.
Specific Story Disclaimers:
Violence – Where there is Xena, there will be violence. It’s just one of those things. But this kind is not too graphic, and we avoid mentions of limbs being chopped off and used for kindling, or any description of eyeballs being gouged out by an errant chakram or anything like that.
Subtext – Subtext R Us. This story, as was the last one, and the one before that which flowed like a sargassum monster from my terminal, based on the supposition that it’s about two women who love each other a whole lot. Once again, there is nothing graphic, but the theme does wrap itself throughout the story, and if you can’t take this, go read some other nice piece of fan fiction. I will make my usual statement – if love offends you, drop me a note with your snail mail address, and I will send you some authentic, found in Southernmost Florida only, key lime pie. (Just the thing for hot summers.) Because I really do feel bad for you.
Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:
Bound – Part 7
By Melissa Good
Gabrielle trotted across the central square, appreciating the cool breeze that pushed the hair back from her face, and send pleasant drafts down her loose fitting tunic. Not the time to be displaying my trophy marks from last night.. she'd mused ruefully as she changed out of her halter-top and skirt. Besides.. sometimes that thing gets.. drafty. Her mouth quirked. She liked wearing it most of the time.. it reminded her of her ties to the Amazons, but while she was in Amphipolis, and later at home in Potadeia, she'd gotten used to the comfortable belted tunics that Xena also tended to wear when not in armor. The clean, sun dried linen felt good against her skin, and she decided she'd stick with them when they went home.
Home. The word struck a sudden chord in her, and brought a smile to her face as she neared the small path leading to Lestan and Wennid's cot. Home for her always meant at Xena's side, but now home was also Amphipolis, and her mind filled with warm memories of Cyrene, the forested paths they’d walked on, the cold spring they loved to swim in, even Toris...it had been the longest they'd stayed in any one place the entire time they'd traveled together.. and Gabrielle was glad, in the depths of her heart that they were going back there.
She wanted to see the now familiar outline of the inn, and taste Cyrene's unmatchable cakes, and enjoy the private time they'd reserved for themselves every afternoon in the hidden glade to the north, where she and Xena would just rest quietly in each other's arms, and watch the slanting sunlight change it's angle, and listen to the world going by.
She had been at peace, and for the first time since she'd known her, so had her partner. And I want that back.. Gabrielle decided silently. I never would have asked her to stay home.. but.. Gods.. am I ever glad, because I think that's going to do more to heal her than anything else...I could see her changing right before my eyes there...all that hard watchfulness and angry tension just washed out of her, and left a very warm, and very loving person that I want very very much to coax back out.
She mounted the steps to the leader's cot, and the door opened as she got to it. "Hello." She said, as Wennid pulled the door back, and motioned her inside. "Just thought I'd stop by and ...Oh."
The conference room the door opened in on was filled with murmuring forest people, and she immediately stopped and started to back out. "Sorry.. didn't know you were in the middle of something here."
"No... Gabrielle, please stay." Wennid smiled, patting her arm. "We actually were just talking about you."
The bard's eyebrows rose. "Me?" She blurted, startled.
Smiles ran around the room. Wennid chuckled. "Well, you and your lifemate, actually." She guided Gabrielle to a chair, and settled her in it, pouring a cup of cider for the bard and putting it before her. "Here.. sorry I startled you .. it's really very benign.. you see, we were all just discussing our first experience with humans who share a gift we thought only affected our people."
Gabrielle settled back, resting her wrists on the table, and cupping her hands around her mug. Oh boy... this wasn't part of the agenda, Xena.. I'll just have to do the best I can. "Well.. listen, I know it must be really weird for you." She said calmly. "It's pretty weird for us, too." She leaned forward, and took a sip of the cider. "We didn't ask for this."
"Of course not." Wennid interjected soothingly. "We all understand that, Gabrielle, and believe me, we don't regret that this has happened..." Her eyes flicked around the room. "I won't lie and say that we weren't...dismayed.. at first, but that had more to do with what you are, than who you are."
Gabrielle took a breath, then thought better of it, and remained silent.
"Now.." Wennid went on. "We've gotten to know you, and we realize that... " She looked a touch sheepish "You're not so different than we are."
Gabrielle thought about that for a minute. "No, you're wrong." She finally said, quietly, but her tone carried across the suddenly silent room. "I’m very different." Her mist green eyes traveled around the room. "Just like I'm very different from Xena, and she's very different from just about anyone else I've ever known." She paused. "We get in a lot of trouble with this us and them thing, you know? We're all different - you just have to learn to judge people by themselves, not as part of some other group."
Silence fell, as they regarded her, a ring of furred faces, with varying shades of golden eyes, and the odd fangtip showing. She took a sip of cider, knowing she'd made a point, and suddenly the room seemed friendlier. Good one, Gabrielle, Xena will be proud of you.
Her nearest neighbor leaned over, and gazed thoughtfully at her. "So.. you think I'm just another person, is that right?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Sure."
The forest dweller jerked forward, baring all his teeth and growled in a risingly fierce howl.
Oh yeah? Gabrielle got angry. Take this. And she dropped her head, letting her expression harden, and locked her eyes with the forest dwellers in dead silence. The forest dweller blinked, then drew back his head, and finally tried to find someplace to put his eyes other than hers. "Don't try that with me." The bard growled. "Because I've seen things lots scarier than you." She paused, then grinned right at him. "In fact, I travel with one of them."
"Alen." Wennid's voice was angry. "That was very rude."
Alen sighed, and gave Gabrielle an abashed nod. "I know, I'm sorry. But we're so used to humans thinking we're animals, it's hard to believe when one of you just comes in here and says you don't." He paused. "Sorry."
The bard relented, and let off her Xena look impersonation. "That’s all right.. I do understand – we go through that all the time from people who think Xena is a murdering warlord."
Wennid quietly refilled the bard’s cup, and settled back down in her chair, casually casting her glance around the room. Then she smiled, and gave a signal, and the group began to disperse. She laid a hand on Gabrielle’s arm when the bard started to stand up. "Please stay, Gabrielle. I’d like to talk with you for a little while."
Uh oh. Gabrielle’s mind raced. Ok..Ok.. take it easy, Gabrielle – you can handle this. "Sure." She said, shrugging, as she sat back down and took a long swallow of cider. And be careful with that.. it’s nice and smooth and tasty, and packs quite a punch, and you don’t need to be tipsy right now.
The room emptied, and quieted, and Wennid stood, moving around the room and collecting cups. She glanced across the room and quietly studied the young human who was sitting, hands wrapped around one of her glazed mugs, with a serious expression on her face. She is.. in her own, very gentle, very honest way, as formidable as her lifemate. The forest dweller mused. Smaller than Xena, yes, and less physically threatening, but her compact body was strong and muscular, and she had a force of personality that became it’s own weapon. She piled the cups on a tray, then crossed back over and sat down next to Gabrielle.
"Tell me.. Gabrielle… how do you feel about this gift?" She kept her voice gentle, non-threatening. "How did you find out you had it?"
The bard sat slowly back, and played with the arm of the chair she was sitting in. How do I feel? Good question. "I think it’s great." She answered slowly. "It’s saved my life.. oh.. I don’t know how many times now.. even before we realized what it was, Xena used it. "
"She did." Wennid murmured. "And didn’t say anything to you?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "What was there to say? It’s just a feeling you get.. that something’s not right.. something’s.. out of place. " She thought for a minute. "She did it so often, I stopped questioning it. It was just something.. one of the many things she was just good at. "
"And when you found out.. what it was?" Wennid gently persisted.
"Oh.. gosh. " Gabrielle laughed. "Well, we’d had this situation where I was with the Amazons for a while, and she wasn’t, and we got back together after a really nasty problem. She’d told me that she knew something was wrong with me, and that’s what made her come riding to my rescue. " She grinned at Wennid’s face. "Well, she does – that’s just how she is. Anyway, we were at a banquet the next day and I could… " She fell silent. "I think for the first time, really.. I could feel that something wasn’t right with her…it was.. really strange. "
"Were you touching each other?" Wennid asked, with a grin.
"Mmmm…yeah." Gabrielle acknowledged, blushing. "Did that have something to do with it?"
Wennid nodded, and quietly filled the bard’s cup. Gabrielle didn’t appear to notice. "Sure.. it would, if you had reached a certain point. And I guess you had." Her eyes twinkled.
Gabrielle blushed again. "Sort of." She muttered. "Anyway, I just turned around and asked her if she thought we were like.. well, you and Lestan. And she said yes."
"That was it?" Wennid blinked. "You didn’t question it or..???"
The bard nodded. "Yep.. that was it. We just sort of said, Ok.. we can deal with this.. and went on from there."
Wennid rubbed her head and gave it a little shake. "And how long have you been together?"
"Two years and some." Gabrielle answered, taking a tiny sip from her mug.
"And you never considered before.." The forest dweller seemed to be having some trouble with this.
Gabrielle sighed, and glanced at her hands. "I’m not really comfortable discussing this." She looked up at Wennid. "No offense, but it’s really personal to me."
The forest dweller blinked. "Gods above. I do apologize, Gabrielle.. we’re so used to talking about the lifebond amongst ourselves, that I forgot.."
"And please don’t try to get me drunk. I don’t like it." The bard quietly added, leveling a stare at her.
Wennid studied the table thoughtfully. "I apologize again, Gabrielle. I was only trying to get you in a frame of mind where you could discuss this with less anxiety." She looked up with a serious expression. "The clan has voted to ask you, and your lifemate, to allow us to adopt you – I wanted to make sure had all the information you needed to make that decision before I asked. I can see I went about it the wrong way."
Gabrielle gave her a slow smile, and sat back. "Actually, " she said with a casual air. "what you really want is to know more about us before you ask that. " Her mouth quirked. "So.. let’s just get to the "so.. what’s Xena really like" discussion and we can go from there, OK?"
They looked at each other, then Wennid started to laugh. "OK..OK.." She finally said, slapping the table. "You pass, storyteller. .. you win." She leaned back herself, and waved a hand at the chuckling bard. "All right then… tell me, Gabrielle, what’s Xena really like?:"
"That’s better." Gabrielle cheerfully responded. "You gotta remember, I get asked this a LOT." Her eyes twinkled. Whoa.. good catch, bard!!
"So.. you’re going to tell me she’s not like all the stories we’ve heard, not a bloodthirsty, ruthless warlord who kills at the drop of a hat, right?" Wennid winked at her.
And got back a sudden, serious stare. "No." Gabrielle said, her voice deepening. "I’m not, because she can be bloodthirsty, and ruthless, and I’ve seen her kill at less than a drop of a hat."
"But she’s also endlessly brave, and totally honest, and she’s willingly offered her life up for others on more occasions than I can count. " The bard finished softly. "She’s the most complex, most driven, most determined person I’ve ever known. Or ever will."
Wennid absorbed this in continued silence. So.. the little girl is not a naïve child after all. Her mind mused. She knows the darkness as well as the light of her lifemate. "Thank you."
"You’re welcome." Gabrielle answered.
Another silence. "She came and got Jessan this morning." Wennid commented offhandedly, but her eyes glinted. "Never saw anyone pull him by the ear before and get away with it."
Gabrielle giggled. "That’s Xena." She leaned forward again, more at ease now. "There was this time…" And she was off, snaring a fascinated Wennid into several of their more complicated tales, which she told with the ease borne of long practice. She’d just finished the last, when the door pushed open, and Lestan trudged in, to throw himself into a chair, and sigh explosively.
"Where…" He rolled his head to one side and glared at Gabrielle. "Does she get all that energy?" He closed his eyes and rocked his head to relieve pressure in his neck. "She took on all of us, one at a time, then went through battle formations, and taught me more about field generalship in one morning….Ares, she’s good."
Gabrielle smiled, and glanced down. And you probably ran yourself ragged doing it, didn’t you love. "You guys finished?"
Lestan nodded wearily. "Yeah. She said if we had a few more days…" He chuckled. "But she did what she could.. and it might … " His eyes opened and met Wennid’s, over Gabrielle’s head. "Might just make the difference." His face held a note of surprise, and a dim dawning hope. "She showed me a strategy that would work against Secan… takes advantage of his one glaring weakness."
"Excuse me." Gabrielle said, standing up. I’m gonna kill her.
"Wait.." Lestan put a hand on her arm. "Wennid’s spoken to you about the clan adopting you, has she?" His mahogany eyes searched hers in quiet gentleness.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah."
"You can say no." The forest dweller rumbled. "I know we’re very different.. but it seems we have the important things in common, and I'd really like to extend the protection of the clan around you both if you’re going to fight on our behalf tomorrow."
The bard took a breath. "I know.. and I’m sure that won’t be a hard decision. " She smiled at Lestan. "I’ll go talk to her about it." She slipped from her chair, and headed for the door, shaking her head a little. "Xena, you promised." She muttered under her breath.
Then stopped short, as a tall, pale furred form towered over her, and put up a hand to slow her progress. Warrin.. oh gods… "Don’t even think about it." She said firmly, backing off and taking a defensive position automatically.
"Ok.." Xena said, for what seemed the thousandth time that morning. "Try that again." And parried the resulting blow with what must have seemed to the forest dwellers smooth ease. But it wasn’t to her, and hadn’t been for a little while. Damn damn damn… she cursed herself. I don’t have time to get tired this fast.
She’d done brief bouts with all of the fighters, getting a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses, and had spent the last while teaching them some battle tactics she’d used successfully in forest battles in the past. It was going well – the forest dwellers were very fast learners, and this was something natural to them. She’d even spent a bit of time with Lestan, and showed him a way to compensate for his bad arm. All in all, an excellent session.
In fact, she mused, if she had a fortnight to spend with the forest dwellers, doing this, their neighbors might justifiably become very nervous. A smirk tugged at her lips, then vanished as she patiently parried yet another charge, this time letting the fighter just run right past her, and smacking him lightly on the back with her flat. "When you lose control of your momentum.." She called. "You end up in places you don’t wanna be."
Deggis rubbed his back as he turned around to face her and spoke up tiredly. "But they outnumber us, Xena. What then? It’s fine to do this one on one, and Ares in Olympus I’ve learned a lot today.. but…"
Oh boy. Xena sighed. I was afraid someone was going to ask that question. "Works the same in a crowd, Deggis." She answered, watching his face. Doesn’t believe me. Damn… OK, Gabrielle, I know I promised.. but if I’m gonna collapse in the middle of battle tomorrow, I’d better find that out now. "All right.. I’ll show you." She said, stepping back a few paces, and shifting her grip on the sword. Then.. I’m calling a break, because standing up might be a problem.
They all looked at her, a ring of serious, intent faces. She took a deep breath, and reached down into rapidly depleting reserves. Better make this good, Xena.. it’s what’s going to get them through tomorrow.. or not. They have to believe it’s possible. "OK – all of you. At me. Now."
For a moment, they all looked at each other, then at her. "Now!!!" She yelled, and saw them jerk in response, then they moved at her with frightening speed.
She met the first two blades with sudden backhanded lunges that sent them flying, then was in the middle of a solid band of fighters, whipping her sword around her in pure instinct, which kept their steel from her body and kept them at bay. Two more disarmed, and she was flipping out of the way of a third, landing and leaping high again, this time slamming her hilts on a furry head, and kicking yet another who tried to engage her.
It was long, and it was hard, and she took out all the stops and kept moving, driving them back and disarming them one by one.
And at last, at very long last when she thought she might possibly pass out on the battlefield for about the first time in her life, she looked around and saw she was the only one armed and standing. She stood with her sword resting against one thigh, in a very quiet field where the grass waved gently against her boots, and the insistent chirp of crickets could now be heard. A cool breeze filtered through, pushing the dark hair off her forehead, and bringing welcome relief to her pounding head. Gods.. I can’t believe I actually pulled that off. She felt her labored breathing began to settle, and quietly thanked the gods for all that time spent in endless hours of conditioning. Pays off.. when I really need it to.
They all stared at her with eyes that absorbed her every move, every word. "It can be done." She said, pitching her voice to carry across the waving grass. "In war.. the winners are usually the ones who want it the most. Not the strongest, not the best armed.. all it takes is just refusing to lose." And she flipped her sword over, and slid it into its sheath with a smooth motion.
They believed her, she could sense it. See it in their faces. She let a smile cross her face. "All right, let’s take a break…I’ve done about all I can here for the moment." Oh boy.. was that ever true. I hope I can actually make it back to the village. That would be embarrassing…" She was, she admitted to herself, exhausted. Gabrielle’s gonna kill me. Her tired mind chuckled, and she looked up as Lestan ambled over and patted her shoulder.
"Mind if we sit down a minute.. I gotta ask you something." He said quietly, cocking his head at her.
Xena shrugged. Sit down.. that’s probably a good idea. She realized, as her legs started to shake. "Sure." She waved a hand at a convenient pair of stubby rocks poking out of the ground, and seated herself.
He followed suit, and stretched his legs out with a wince. "Thanks." He sighed. And leaned back. "Haven’t had a workout like that in years.. how do you do it?" He glanced at her, and got an amused grin back. "If you say practice, I’m gonna have to kill myself."
Xena laughed. "Sorry. Practice." She informed him. A small silence fell, then she looked over at him. "What’s up?" She plucked a strand of pale grass, and munched on the end of it, waiting for him to get whatever it was off his chest.
Lestan studied her, chewing his lip. Beat around the bush? No.. bad idea. She’s the type who just likes to get things over with. Ok.. "We want to adopt you."
"What?" The warrior’s brow creased, and she stared at him. "Do I look like an orphan or something??" But she had a good idea of what Lestan meant. Well… that simplifies the backup plan. She mused.
"No no.." Lestan chuckled. "It’s a tradition of the clans, Xena. When we have someone who joins our clan from the outside, to make them family, we adopt them. It gives them clan rights, and the right of protection from anyone outside our group." He hesitated, then went on. "And.. since you’re going to be out there fighting with us tomorrow.. I thought… " He paused. "And because of your bond with Gabrielle also. We just think you two should be.. uhm."
Xena put a hand on his knee. "Relax." She reassured him. "I understand. And I appreciate that, Lestan, I really do. Let me talk to Gabrielle and see how she feels about it before I say one way or the other."
He nodded. "Wennid’s talking to her too." He looked up and grinned. "I hope you say yes." Then he put his hands on his knees, and pushed with a groan. "I need to go get some lunch before I keel over. Can I walk you back?"
"Sure." Xena nodded amiably, and rose to join him, stretching her back and shoulders gingerly. But the shakiness was gone, and she took a deep breath, feeling some measure of energy returning. "Let’s go."
They walked in silence across the field, and through the treeline that surrounded the village. The colder breeze under the tree’s shade felt good, Xena realized, and she ran her hands through her hair, freeing it from her gambeson to let the air hit the back of her neck. Whoa. That feels a lot better. She chuckled. "Gwan, Lestan. I’m going to take a walk to the stream and get a cold drink." She gave Lestan a push towards his cot.
"Home looks good." Lestan agreed, and gave her a nod. "We’re having a big dinner tonight.. I hope you and Gabrielle will join us, regardless of your decision. "
Xena gave him a wry grin. "Gabrielle miss out on a banquet ? Never." She sighed. "We’ll be there."
She left him to amble home, and knelt by the stream, drinking for several minutes from cupped hands, then splashing the cold water over her head and face. That feels better. Her mind analyzed. At least I can go get Gabrielle now and not worry about falling over in front of her. I’d never live that down. She got to her feet and headed back towards Lestan’s cot, where she’d heard Gabrielle’s voice a few minutes earlier.
Warrin stared at her coolly. "Be still, human. I won’t harm you."
She crossed her arms and studied him. How could they have just… maybe I don’t understand them as well as I thought. Her mind raced. "Oh.. you only do that in the dark? When your victim can’t see you coming, is that it?" Her jibe hit the mark, and she saw his eyes narrow briefly.
"Have a care, human… I gave my word no harm would come to your or your friend.. " His voice rasped. "But if tomorrow brings what I know will be the death of half my clan due to your involvement, I'll break that word, and show you what our people really are."
"No you won’t." The voice floated out from behind them, and Gabrielle felt a wave of familiar warmth crash over her. Xena stepped out of the shadows, and put herself squarely between Gabrielle and the formidable form that face her. "Because one, I’m not gonna let that happen."
Warrin’s eyes showed uneasy disdain. He threw a quick glance to one side, as though trying to figure out where she’d come from. "You can’t prevent it, don’t you understand?" He said. "You’ve taken away our choices."
Xena stepped closer to him, right into the range of his claws, and smiled. "You’ll just have to take my word for that. " She stepped even closer, until she could feel the wisps of fur on his chest rasping against the quilted tunic she wore, and could smell the musky scent of him. "And if you ever.." Her voice dropped to a silky rasp. "Touch her again I’ll show you up close and personal what it means to be Ares’ Chosen. "
A silence dropped over them, as the two warriors stood with locked eyes. Gabrielle could see the tension in Xena’s shoulders, despite the casual stance and knew her partner was on a razor’s edge, needing only the barest of movements from Warrin to throw her into battle.
"Are you threatening me?" Warrin whispered, in an ice-cold tone. His fur lifted on his back and his nostrils flared.
Xena gave him a lazy smile that had no warmth in it at all. "Yes."
A long pause, then Warrin stepped back a pace.
"Your arrogance will be the death of us." Warrin stated flatly, but his body language signaled defeat, and he turned and disappeared down the shadowed path next to Lestan’s cot.
Xena took a breath, and released it, letting her head drop forward for a moment. Damn I’m glad he didn’t push that. She tilted her head and regarded Gabrielle, who had moved closer and slid an arm around her waist. "Thought you weren’t going to see him without an escort."
Gabrielle gazed up at her with a raised eyebrow. "Thought you said you were going to take a break when you got tired." She responded, maintaining a cool expression, and daring her to deny it.
And got a wry smile back, and a long arm settling around her shoulders. "I know I did. And I meant to..." Xena admitted, with a heartfelt sigh. "But if we’re going to fight tomorrow, I needed to know just how hard I could push."
The bard considered this for a moment. "And you pushed really hard." It wasn’t a question, because she could see the strain in her face, and feel the effort it was taking her to move.
Xena took a long breath. "Yeah." She admitted very quietly. "But it’s better I know now."
Well, she has a point. "So what’s the verdict?" She snuggled closer, forgiving her for the moment.
"On me, or them.?" Xena asked, as they walked towards their assigned cot.
"Yes." The bard answered, giving her a squeeze.
"Mmm… if the battle ends before noon tomorrow, I'll be fine. " The warrior replied. "And they might have a chance at winning, if they keep their heads, and do what I tell them to."
Gabrielle nodded thoughtfully, then looked up, seeing in her eyes just how far she’d pushed herself. "And if it doesn’t and they don’t?"
Xena walked a few steps in silence. "If it doesn’t and they don’t.. well, we’ll have to go to plan B." She answered, taking a another deep breath and releasing it.
"What’s plan B?" Gabrielle persisted, wanting to know the worst.
And got a quirky grin back. "I dunno.. but when I figure it out, I’ll tell you."
Gabrielle sighed. "I was afraid of that." She chewed on that for a minute. "Do they really have a chance?" She studied Xena’s profile. Or are you depending on everything landing on your shoulders? As usual? As always…
The warrior nodded. "Yeah, they do." With me leading them. I’m the one crucial factor.. and gods know, I hope I’m up to it.
Gabrielle laid her cheek against Xena’s shoulder and gave her another hug. "Come on, hero. " Her lips quirked. "Let’s get you some lunch and a nap before you fall over." Daring Xena to contradict her.
"That sounds… really great." The warrior sighed, not bothering to dissemble. She negotiated the steps carefully, and reached out, grabbing the door pull and opening the wooden portal for Gabrielle to pass before her. She followed the bard inside, and stopped short as Ares bounded over and thumped up against her legs, yawning in an ecstasy of greeting.
"Roo!!!" He yodeled, tail going furiously. "Roo!"
Xena dropped a hand onto his head, and grinned. "Hello to you to, Ares." She was about to kneel down and play with him when a pair of strong hands gripped her shoulders, and she was pushed towards the low couch. "Hey… cut that out."
"Not until you sit down." Gabrielle kept up her steady pushing until Xena relented and half dropped, half fell into the pillows, laughing as Ares scrambled up next to her and put his paws on her chest, licking her face with aggressive vigor. "Ares.." the warrior growled.
"Grr…" The wolf growled back, but settled down on her lap, panting.
Xena patted the wolf’s soft fur, and let her head rest on the back of the couch, idly studying the ceiling and letting her mind drift until she felt a gentle hand on her forehead, and focused her gaze on Gabrielle’s concerned face. "Hey." Gods.. did I just go out like that? "Sorry.."
"Here." The bard said quietly, handing her a steaming cup. "Drink this.. " She slid onto the couch next to her partner, and put a supportive arm around her shoulders as she sat partway up and took a sip.
"Not bad." Xena said, giving the bard a grin, and trying to deny just how much she needed that supporting arm. The soup helped though, and so did sitting quietly while Gabrielle threw together a large plate of meatrolls, which they shared, along with most of a fresh loaf of bread the bard had gotten, that was still warm from the oven.
She felt a trickle of energy returning, and she used that to stretch out her length across the couch, and pull Gabrielle’s body down beside her.
"Hey!" The bard yelped, grabbing at the edge of the couch and missing. "Whoa.. cut that out."
Xena just grinned as Gabrielle lost her balance and collapsed onto the couch, half sprawled across the warrior’s body. "Nu uh… I like that." She growled, and wrapped her arms around the bard, holding her in place and feeling the giggles go through her. "So.. tell me about your day?" She asked, as the bard got over her surprise and relaxed against her.
"The usual." Gabrielle tried to stifle a yawn and failed. Xena’s warmth was very seductive, and she felt her body’s rhythm slowing as she nestled closer. Now.. why am I sleepy? She puzzled quietly. All I did was run around and talk to people. She stretched lazily and felt the tension leaving her body as Xena gently rubbed her back with light fingertips. "Uhm.. let’s see. I had the usual 'Explaining the Warrior Princess' lecture with Wennid, and passed some kind of test with a gaggle of her friends that were over there when I showed up."
"The what lecture?" Xena laughed, and felt Gabrielle laugh a little too.
"Oh.. you know." The bard mumbled into her shoulder. "the ‘What’s she really like ‘ one.. everybody asks me. " She yawned again. "Damn.. don’t know why I’m so sleepy all of a sudden. .you must be a bad influence." She started to get up, but her body refused to obey and she simply collapsed again and gave in. "Ungh.. guess I’m staying here."
"Having problems, my bard?" Xena asked, kissing the top of her head, and chuckling softly. "We got up pretty early. .and after that lunch you just ate, I’m not surprised you’re sleepy. " She teased, tickling her ribs. ‘Mmm? Guess I’d better stay awake just in case, huh.."
"I think I’m just addicted to you." Gabrielle answered in a lazy tone. "I should get up and work on those scrolls, or get some staff practice in, but I have absolutely no desire to do anything other than stay right here and snuggle." She unbuckled the leather belt and slid a hand inside Xena’s gambeson, starting to trace her gentle patterns there. "And you will not stay awake, you goof." She was rewarded by an involuntary fluttering of eyelids over amused blue eyes. That’s it… come on.. you need this, and you know it. "Are we going to let them adopt us, by the way?"
Xena let her eyes close as she considered the question. Couldn’t have kept them open anyway.. gods, she has that trigger down pat. "What do you think?" She finally asked, to buy time. I want this – but not for the reason she thinks… because there is a plan B.. I just hope to Hades I don’t need to use it.
Gabrielle hesitated, then shrugged. "I guess what’s bothering me is that I’m not really sure why they’re doing it.. I mean sure… we’re going to help them out tomorrow, and you’ll probably do something or other amazing and save the day, but…" She sighed. "I still get the feeling that most of them don’t trust us. So.. what gives?"
"Mmm." Xena agreed. "I get the same feeling." She stroked Gabrielle’s hair with a gentle rhythm. "Maybe more of them agree with Warrin." Her brow quirked above her closed eyes. "Not like they’d be the first people not to trust me, right?"
Gabrielle felt her breath catch at that, and she studied the still face carefully. Trust and personal loyalty were touchy subjects with Xena.. always had been. She knew her reputation preceded her, and had gotten used to strangers assuming she was a bloodthirsty killer.. But from those that knew her more closely.. distrust from them hurt her. Gabrielle knew.. she’d made that mistake once, and never forgotten it.
It had been the stupidest of circumstances… just a shopping trip in one of the larger cities around Athens, and she had decided to try and surprise Xena with a present. That was always hard, since the warrior didn’t do shopping much, and didn’t have a lot of extraneous possessions to base any possible purchase on.. after all, how many leather gauntlets can one woman have, right?
So she’d rigged up some dumb story to get out on her own for a while, and had bumped into an old acquaintance from the Bard’s Academy, and made a pretty pleasant day of it, since Aaron would have none of her going around the market by herself, and insisted on accompanying her. She’d even found a great set of sharpening stones to give Xena, correctly assuming a warrior could never have too many of those.
But she’d forgotten how arrogant Aaron was.. and when they’d finally ended up back by the Inn they were staying at, he’d disdained the rough lodgings, and insisted she accompany him to his hostel, several blocks away. She had been on the verge of refusing, when Xena had brusquely told her to go on, that she had something she needed to attend to, and that she’d meet back up with her tomorrow.
Aaron, who had really no idea who Xena was, took in the rough hewn clothes the warrior was wearing, and her acerbic speech, and made an assumption, which led him to sniff in her direction, and state that he’d love to invite her as well, but it was obvious she couldn’t be trusted not to stab one of her tablemates for their dinner.
And here, Gabrielle knew she’d made a grave error. She should have taken Aaron down verbally, and sent him on his way, but she was confused by Xena’s angry behavior, and so had said.. nothing.
As though she had agreed with him. And behind those icy blue shields that she had only recently started to be able to see through, she saw a look of profound hurt that nearly made her heart stop. Then it was gone, and Xena had stood, and put her hand on her sword hilt, and given him a look that made him back up, dragging Gabrielle with him out the door.
She’d gone the length of the street with him, her heart growing heavier with each step, until she stopped. And turned, looking back at the inn. "I have to go back." She’d said to Aaron, who thought she was crazy. "Maybe I am.. but you just really hurt a friend of mine, and I have to go fix that."
Aaron had laughed at her. "That’s a friend of yours?" He pulled on her arm. "What.. you keep her around to do a little hunting for you? She looks like an animal."
And Gabrielle had felt a slow burning fire in her erupt without warning, as she jerked her arm free, and slugged him with all the strength she could muster, connecting with his face with an audible crack that sent a jolt of red hot pain up her arm, but she didn’t care. "Don’t you ever." She yelled, grabbing him and shaking him hard. "Ever talk about her like that. " She hit him again, and he started to whimper. She shoved him away from her violently, and he stumbled off, giving her a look one usually reserved for a mad person.
She’d gone back to the inn, but Xena hadn’t been there., so knowing her companion, she’d gone outside and entered the stable.
And had frozen at the site of Xena standing quietly next to Argo, her arms wrapped around the golden neck, and her face buried in the mare’s thick cream mane. Just for an instant, until she sensed Gabrielle’s presence, and straightened up, pulling a comb through the thick hair, and arranging it neatly along the mare’s bowed neck.
"Thought you were going cross town." Xena had said, in a cool voice, as she worked. Keeping her eyes glued on the pale stiff hairs, and not looking up at Gabrielle.
"I don’t want to hang out with idiots." Gabrielle had replied, joining her at Argo’s side, and stroking the golden shoulder gently. "I'd rather be here with you." Because it was the only thing she could think of to say that might make a start at fixing this mess.
"Can’t see why." Xena had commented, now working on Argo’s forelock.
"I said.. he’s an idiot, Xena." Gabrielle had responded softly. "He doesn’t know you."
And Xena’s hands had stilled, as she turned and gazed at Gabrielle. "It’s all right. It doesn’t matter." Her eyes had dropped to the straw. "I’m used to people not trusting me to act like a.. decent human being." She took a deep breath and shrugged. "I just didn’t expect that… from.. you." She’d swallowed hard after getting the words out, and then just shook her head, and sighed. "I just… I thought.." Then she had stopped speaking, and went back to currying Argo. "Forget it."
Gabrielle had felt that pain like it was her own, and had moved closer, and put a hand on the warrior’s arm. "That’s not how I think of you." She’d said softly. "And you know that. "
Xena hadn’t answered, just went back to her currying, so Gabrielle had gotten right up against her, and forced eye contact "You do know that, right?"
And finally had gotten a reluctant grin from her companion, and light nudge in the belly. "Yeah, I do." Then her hand had been captured, and Xena’s eyes were pinned on hers. "What happened to your hand?"
Gabrielle had blushed, remembering. "I.. um… "
"Gabrielle, that’s broken." Xena had said, examining the aching bones gently. "Damn… I need to.. what did you do?"
"I hit him." Gabrielle answered, in a faint voice, now that the pain was hammering at her. "He said.. something bad about you and I got mad and I just…" Her head was buzzing, and now she was aware of Xena’s arm supporting her, and leading her to a small bench. "Oh gods, that hurts."
Xena had sat down next to her, and set Gabrielle’s hand down gently on her own knee. "I'll have to block off…She’d stopped speaking, and paused. "Wait a minute.. " She raised a hand and captured the bard’s jaw. "You were defending my honor, Gabrielle??" Her voice was an odd mixture of pride, disbelief, amusement, and something indefinable.
And Gabrielle had looked up into her eyes, and grinned bravely. "Sure.. you’ve got so much of it .. I thought you could use a hand defending it." The blue eyes widened, and she’d let her voice drop a little. "And I mean every single word of that." Very aware of the hand still cupping her chin, and the blue eyes so close to hers, and the rich scent of leather and metal and skin that always meant Xena to her.
A long still moment passed between them, then Xena leaned forward, and gently kissed Gabrielle’s forehead. "Thanks." She whispered into the nearby ear. "But next time?"
"Yeah?" Gabrielle responded, enjoying the closeness.
"Kick him in the groin., OK?" The warrior sighed, and blocked the nerves to her hand.
Gabrielle smiled gently in remembrance. Another milestone in our long journey.. she mused. "Well, I guess it can’t hurt us any, if we say yes." Meaning the adoption.
Xena grunted in response, and grinned as she felt Gabrielle’s body slowly go completely limp against her. Fell asleep before I did…that’ll be good for a tease later. She cracked open one eye, and regarded her partner in some amusement, then scanned the room, judging the sounds she heard outside and deciding it would probably be safe for her to take a short nap. She checked the position of her sword, lying sheathed along her right leg, and gave Ares one last pat before closing her eyes and joining the bard in sleep.
"So." Secan drawled leaning back in his large chair and throwing a powerful leg over the arm of it. "Tell me." He’d just gotten back from a recon to their own northern border, and it was the first chance he’d had to get a report from his favorite lieutenant, about his parley the day before.
"Good news, and bad." Kelten said, pulling up a low stool, and seating himself in front of his leader’s desk. "Which?"
"Bad." Secan said immediately, propping his sunset red furred head up on one hand. "Always."
Kelten nodded, and sniffed reflectively. "Bad news is, she’s.. about what the stories say she is." He gazed at his hands, as they twisted each other. Remembering those ice-cold eyes that scared him far more than a human’s should. "The rest of those grazers just rolled over for me, but not her.. no.. she got right up in my fangs and threatened me."
Secan’s shaded eyebrows rose. "No, really?" He showed his large fangs in amusement, and took a deep draft of the ale in front of him.
The silver forest dweller snorted a little, and shook his head. "Yes, really." He looked up. "You know we tried to dart her."
"Yeah? You said you were going to give that a try." Secan said, a fascinated look crossing his handsome face. "Did Selwyn miss?"
"No." Kelten put his chin on his hand. "She caught the damn crossbow quarrel."
"Really??" Secan laughed. "No… you’re joking with me."
Silver hair flew as Kelten shook his head hard. "Nope.. and it wasn’t even like she was trying.. she just was walking along, and I heard his mech release, then the thing was in her hand, and she was sort of.. playing with it. You know.. flipping it over, that kind of thing. "
"Whoa." Secan stuck the tip of his tongue out. "So.. what did she threaten to do to you?"
"Make me into a rug." Kelten admitted. "And I gotta tell you Sec, I believed her."
"Did you." Secan said softly, taking a sip of his ale, and leaning back. "Damn.. I wanted her… and not just because of what she did to Elusha. I wanted her here, so I could play with her… remember what I did to that last human we caught?" His eyes glittered. "She lasted a week. Bet this one would last a month."
"If she didn’t kill you in the first candlemark." Kelten added dryly. "But anyway, the good news is, you don’t have to worry about her getting in the middle of our little war."
Secan tilted his russet head and regarded his lieutenant. "Oh?" He ran his tongue around his fangs. "Not that I was worried anyway."
"She’s lifebonded." Kelten said quietly, watching Secan’s face for a reaction, and not being disappointed as the big leader’s eyes rounded, and he sat up straighter in his chair.
"No way." He breathed. "Humans can’t…." Then he stopped, and chuckled. "Well, I always said that was our softer side.. now I have proof. Is she really?"
"Yes way." The silver forest dweller acknowledged. "She’s got this little bit of a thing she keeps tied to her tail, and brother are they ever tied.. they stand out like a bald wolf in a pack reunion."
Secan laughed. "Better and better… we’ll take out that grazer village tomorrow.. and after I finish making my point with their precious lifebonds, we’ll take our little humans back here and have some real fun. You think that warrior would like to be chained up to my table here, while I burn our alphabet into her little bondmate?"
Kelten considered the idea. "Hmmm… that might be fun.. then are you going to take her right on the table? " His eyes glinted. "Maybe we could make the little one into a rug, you think? She has nice hair.. kind of like Jerusha’s."
Secan laughed deep in his throat. "No.. I’ll make a whip out of it.. and use it on the warrior. " His face creased into a dark smile. "It’s definitely going to be a fun day. And after we finish with this one, we’ve got a few more of the peace lovers down along the coast to take care of. Then…" His fangtips showed. "Then.. I have a taste for human blood." He took a long sip of his ale. "What amusement around the fire this evening, my friend?"
Kelten stood, and straightened a kink out of his spine. "Selwyn’s the amusement." He smirked, and waggled an eyebrow at Secan. "Not only did he miss, he let them catch him."
Secan laughed. "I see… well, when you’re done, you can toss him into the grazer’s village.. Ares knows they take all the other flotsam and jetsam that floats to the top around here. " He stood and yawned, towering over Kelten from his nearly 8 foot height. "They even took in that blind whelp of mine, would you believe it? What fools. Nature’s law is very simple, Keltie. "
Kelten nodded in agreement. "The strong survive and breed. The rest, die." He glanced down, then up at his leader again. "Secan?"
A heavy red furred hand descended onto his silver shoulder. "Yes, my friend?"
His pale eyes met Secan’s striking russet ones. "Be careful with her." His nostrils flared. "There was something there… I don’t know what it was, but… she’s no grazer."
Secan’s hand lifted, and patted his cheek gently. "No, I know that." His fangs glinted. "Believe me, dearest friend, I’ll treat her with the utmost care." He slid a muscular arm across Kelten’s pale shoulders. "Come on.. we’re missing the fun." They passed out of the door to his quarters, and made their way down the neat path to the fire. "You think you can make him squeak like the last one?"
"Maybe.’ Kelten drawled. "Can I use your dagger?"
"Sure." Secan said, as they passed from the darkness, into the rich red firelight and were greeted with enthusiasm.
Elaini folded the blanket that had been on the cot neatly, and put it away, shaking her head a little and muttering to herself. She looked up when the door opened, and then an involuntary smile crossed her face. "Didn’t think you’d be back." She commented, turning around and leaning back on a nearby table.
Jessan grinned bashfully, and moved all the way into the room. "Hmm… well.." It was like.. a heavy cloud had been lifted from him, and he wasn’t really sure about what to do with himself. "Looks like Xena did the right thing.. I guess. I feel a lot better." He walked over to her quietly. "And I owe you an apology for being such a lump."
Elaini glanced down, away, at the table, anywhere but up into his golden eyes. "S’allright." She shrugged. "I’m glad you’re feeling better." She snuck a peek at his face, and saw the gentle look there, and was lost. The next thing she knew, his fingers were lifting her chin, and those eyes were meeting hers, and she had no defenses. "Jessan.."
He smiled gently at her. "Tell me you don’t feel that." He challenged, brushing his fingertips down her jawline, and watching her nostrils flare in response. "Tell me."
"I can’t." Elaini whispered. "You know that." She put a hesitant hand against his chest, and felt his breathing catch. "I can’t… Jessan, we’ve known each other forever.. I don’t…"
Jessan moved closer, feeling her hands go flat against the fur of his chest. "Happens sometimes. You know that." He reached up and smoothed the hair out of her eyes. "It’s real, Elaini. Mother Saw."
Her eyes closed, and she felt her breathing deepen. This can’t be happening… But her mind knew it was. We’re too old… it never happens this way… But her heart, already happily building a bridge to his, knew better. "Gods." She breathed.
"Mmm." Jessan agreed, and took her into his arms, feeling the rich golden warmth of a forming lifebond for the first time. Now I know why it changed Xena… this would change anyone.. even Ares himself.
They stood like that for a timeless moment, then reluctantly parted and looked at each other.
"Uhm..’ Jessan said, blushing furiously. "Actually, I came over to ask you to go to the dinner tonight with me."
Elaini smile a little, and traced the line of his fur down the center of his chest. "Sure."
Another long silence. Then Jessan cleared his throat. "We’re getting two new clan members tonight, you know."
"I heard." Elaini responded. "They agreed, then."
Jessan nodded his golden head. "They did. I’m glad."
Another silence, shorter this time. "So.. what’s going to happen tomorrow, Jess?" Elaini asked quietly. "I’ve seen Secan’s fighters. We don’t really have a chance do we? What will they do with us?"
Jessan took a deep breath, and laid his wrists on her shoulders. "Elaini, don’t worry. Xena’s here."
"And..???" Elaini objected. "So.. what is one human fighter, no matter how skilled, going to do to make a difference? Will a half dozen more of Secan’s lot gets killed? It won’t change the outcome."
"She’ll get us out of this." Jessan replied, with endless confidence in his voice.
"How can you say that? How do you know, Jess?" Elaini’s voice was getting upset.
He clasped her face in his hands, and gazed deep into her eyes. "Because she said she would." Remembering her going against his entire clan that morning, her blade moving so fast, they couldn’t even see it. Taking them all one with a single-mindedness of purpose that allowed for no defeat.
"And you believe that?" Elaini whispered softly. "You really believe that?"
Rounded, golden eyes stared back at her. "Yes." He answered slowly. "I believe she makes anything possible."
Elaini sighed, and let her head rest against his arm. "I wish I had your belief." She looked up. "Because I’m scared, Jessan. Very scared that after tomorrow, nothing will be left."
He smiled a little at her. "You’ll see." He let his thumb trace her cheekbone. "This time, tomorrow, we’ll be sitting comfortably in our hall, listening to the storyteller’s tell the tale of it. " He glanced at the window. "Come on.. Xena and Gabrielle are waiting for us to walk over."
He guided her to the door, and opened it for her. They both smiled at each other, and passed through, to the porch where two now familiar forms were leaning casually. "Let’s go."
And the passed into the darkness, flickers of cloud scattered moonlight reflecting fitfully against hides of yellow and gold, and off tanned skin and deep hued linen.
The long, low hall was gently buzzing, as there was a break in the storytelling and the packed crowd was free to make conversation with their neighbors. The torches lighting the walls snapped fitfully in the mild breeze from the large windows, and the fireplace let off the hot smell of fire warmed granite along with the remaining scent of cooked meat.
Xena leaned back in her chair, and propped one foot up against a table support, surveying the room with idle approval. Every fighter, in fact, every resident of the village was present, crammed into a space that seemed to Xena far too small to hold them. She had kept her wits, in fact, only because she had picked a seat right next to one of the open windows, and thereby had a nice breeze riffling through her hair and an open space behind her that made it bearable.
Still, it bothered her enough that she pressed her back against the chair and sighed, as she let her eyes drift over the crowd, coming to rest on Gabrielle’s animated form as the bard leaned over the table talking.
Xena felt a smile come unbidden to her face, and indulged herself in it, watching her partner make a point with a well placed hand gesture. I’ve watched her do this a thousand times. And every time, it’s different. She just captures these people.. snares in their hearts and never even realizes she’s doing it. She bit her lip to keep from grinning. Just like she captured mine.