by Maureen McGowan
"Xena! Just RELAX!"
Gabrielle scowled at her restless friend and returned to her writing. Laying out on her stomach near the campfire, the bard picked up her feather writing tool, and tried to concentrate on the scroll in front of her. In less than a minute, she found herself looking over to Xena again.
"What do you think you're doing?
Xena looked over to her friend and shrugged her shoulders. "I'm just going to feed and brush Argo."
"No... oh no, you're not. You're staying right where you are, and *I'll* go feed Argo." Putting her writing away in her travel pouch, Gabrielle stood up and made her way over to the warrior. "I mean it Xena. You need to stay off that ankle for a day or so." Bending down towards her friend, she looked at the wrapping around the warrior's right leg. "I need to take a look at this anyway."
Xena gave Gabrielle an exasperated look. "Look, I slipped, that's all. I was stupid and twisted my ankle...no big deal. Now I'm going to take care of my horse." Xena attempted to stand, and the minute she put weight on her swollen ankle, she nearly fell over and was wincing in pain. Gabrielle was there to grab her and gently settle her back down against the cave wall.
"Uh huh...big bad warrior. Now will you just sit still?!!! Let me look at this...NO MORE ARGUMENTS!"
Gabrielle gently unwrapped the cold compress she had put on Xena's ankle a few hours ago. Both women looked to see the swelling around Xena's foot had not gotten much better. The shining skin was an angry reddish color, with bruising already forming down through her foot and up her leg.
"Exactly *how long* did you walk on this before you let me know you were hurt?"
"Not long...well, not all that long..." Seeing Gabrielle's critical stare, Xena raised her eyebrow. "What?"
Shaking her head, Gabrielle stood up and went over to Argo. "I've never know anyone as stubborn as you. Sometimes you just drive me crazy!" Turning around to Xena, Gabrielle's tone softened somewhat. "Are you sure it's not broken? I mean, it looks pretty bad."
Trying to get comfortable, Xena moved her body back and forth until she found herself propped up nicely on the blankets Gabrielle had put in back of her. "No, it's not broken. Just sprained I think. So, don't go making such a big deal out of it - OKAY?"
Still shaking her head, Gabrielle pulled a pot from one of Argo's saddlebags and picked up a few water pouches. "I'm going to the river to get some dinner and cold water for those wrappings. Do NOT move... I'll feed Argo when I get back." Seeing Xena give her another eyebrow look, the bard smirked at her friend. "Will you humor me for once Xena?"
Seeing her friend's humorless expression, Xena finally capitulated. "I promise. Just get me my sword and sharpening stone. I need to keep busy."
Gabrielle handed her friend her sword and then left the cave, headed for the nearby river. Hearing Xena cursing as she left, Gabrielle murmured, "This is going to be a *very* long few days."
Once Gabrielle left, Xena unwrapped her ankle again and gently prodded the skin. She winced at the lightest touch. "Stupid, stupid...so stupid..." Rewrapping her leg, Xena sat back and gave an exasperated sigh. She was not used to being hurt to the point where she was incapacitated, and she was too much of a kinetic person to be still for very long. She knew that Gabrielle was right...she had to stay off her feet for a while, and that prospect was not something she was looking forward to. All she could think was this was going to be a *very* long few days...
Gabrielle returned to the cave and went about the task of rewrapping Xena's ankle with cold compresses. She then fed Argo and began cooking the fish she had caught at the river. Every time that Xena had offered help, Gabrielle just scowled at her and went back to her tasks. The warrior finally gave up and sat back, trying anything she could to relax.
"You know Xena," the bard offered as she finished cooking, "you *have* been still longer than this before...it's not like you haven't. It's been all of maybe five, six hours at best. What's your problem?"
"Yeah, I know, I know...But I always knew I could get up if I wanted." Seeing her friend getting a tad bit impatient with her, Xena apologized and added, "I just hate this feeling of...of...uuurrrggghh!!!! It's just frustrating, that's all."
Gabrielle stood up and brought Xena her dinner. Sitting down next to her, they began eating. "Look, um...what can we do to take your mind off things? I can tell you some stories if you want."
Xena looked at the innocent smile of her friend and felt like a heel. "I'm sorry. Really...I don't mean to take this out on you. And you don't have to placate me like a child. Let's just eat. I'll try to get some sleep after we finish."
The rest of their supper passed silently as both women devoured their food. Once the meal was over and Gabrielle cleaned the dishes, they settled down for the evening. Within an hour, Xena's restlessness reared its ugly head again.
Gabrielle was tired and well past her own frustration point. "Okay, that's it. Xena...we need to get you to sleep." Standing up, the sleepy bard went over to Argo's saddlebags and removed a medium sized flask. Walking back over to her friend, she explained. "I've been saving this for a special occasion...and I think this is it. If you don't settle down, I think we'll kill each other before the evening's over."
Handing Xena the flask, she explained. "Salmoneus gave this to me and said it was the most potent wine he'd ever come across. Why not drink some...maybe it'll put you to sleep. If not, maybe I'll take my staff and ..." Seeing Xena give her a questioning look, Gabrielle innocently smiled..."just a thought...just a thought."
Xena drank heartily from the flask and within an hour was fast asleep. Gabrielle slowly crept over to her friend, took the jug from her hand, and covered her with an extra blanket. Making sure the cave was secure, Gabrielle sighed with relief, laid down near Xena, and fell immediately into a deep sleep.
Xena woke up, as she normally did, before the crack of dawn. Shifting around, she looked over to see Gabrielle still snoring lightly next to her. Smiling, the warrior gently brushed a wisp of hair from her friend's forehead, then turned her attention to her own hurt ankle. Gently removing the wrappings, she saw that the compresses had finally helped, as the swelling was very much reduced from last night. From experience, she knew that between her healing poltice and some heated compresses, she should be up and about in a day or so. But that still meant a day of little to no activity. Sighing, she tried to go back to sleep, but it would not come.
Looking down at Gabrielle, Xena smiled. She knew she was very lucky to have a friend like the one sleeping peacefully beside her. Not everyone could put up with her moodiness on a good day, let alone when she was hurt. Even Gabrielle had come close to losing her temper last night. Xena decided to make a concerted effort to be more mellow today.
"Yeah, right," Xena said with a smirk.
Eventually Gabrielle woke up. As she opened her eyes, she saw Xena staring down at her. Smiling at her friend, she immediately asked how her ankle was doing.
"It's fine Gabrielle. As a matter of fact, the swelling's really down. I think we need to start putting some warm compresses on it. I have a poltice that'll help too. At this rate, I should be up and about some tomorrow."
The bard got up and immediately got the fire going again. She then placed some rocks near the flames, and began heating some water for the compresses. As she worked on Xena's medical needs, she also began heating some tea and nutbread for breakfast. "I've got to go down to the river for some more water...and Argo needs to get some too. I'll take her with me. I won't be long and I'll make sure that I get enough for you to bathe in...how's that?
The morning went fairly well. Xena used some of the water that Gabrielle had gotten from the river to bathe, and her ankle was feeling better by the minute. The heated water and her poltice were working well together to heal the damaged tissue. And most importantly, Xena somehow contained her frustrations at her inactivity.
Gabrielle took the time to finish up her most recent story and to cook a nice lunch. As she served Xena her meal, she noted that her friend's moodiness was slowly returning. She knew that Xena had been trying her hardest not to act like she had the night before, and smiled. Maybe this was the perfect opportunity to get Xena to open up a bit...
"Xena, can I ask you something?" Gabrielle posed as she handed Xena her lunch.
"It's just...well, I've always wondered..." Gabrielle looked down at the ground and continued, " um...you and Hercules...I mean, you and he were...I, um...I, well..." Looking up to see Xena's reaction, Gabrielle was met with a patented Xena stare.
"What in the gods' name brought this on?"
"I've just wondered...that's all. I mean, I kinda assumed you and he had been...close, uh, together, you know? I mean, he's part god and all. I guess I just wondered if it was the...same, same as with um...Oh geez, never mind."
Xena could barely hold her food on her plate as she began laughing hysterically. At first Gabrielle was somewhat angered at her reaction, but seeing her friend in such rare form, she cheered up immediately, and the bard soon found herself laughing too.
Finally somewhat settled, Xena composed herself and slyly commented. "Let's just say that Hercules has *nothing* to worry about in that regard." She looked and saw Gabrielle blushing, and commented. "Hey, you wanted to know!"
Eating a few bites of her food, Xena decided that it was only fair play. "Gabrielle, I assume Perdicus was your first." Seeing her friend look up to her with no real remorse or sadness on her face, she continued. "Um, well, did you enjoy...?"
Looking at her friend, the bard replied. "Yeah, it was a bit awkward at first, but ...yeah..."
"Good." Xena said shaking her head, then returned to her lunch.
Xena looked up as Gabrielle posed another question "Do you remember your first kiss?"
Xena seemed to stare off into the distance...recalling her childhood 'sweetheart'. "Well, it was with this boy named Maphias. My mother always thought that we'd eventually get married. Lyceus, and the two of us were inseparable. We did everything together...well, almost everything." Looking over to Gabrielle, she continued. "I don't know, we were young and as we got a bit older, things started changing between us. We were always buddies, but one day we were playing tag and he was it....he caught me...actually I *let* him catch me." Smiling at the memory, she continued. "He grabbed me and spun me around, and...bang, right on the lips."
Gabrielle was gently chuckling, trying to picture this young, carefree Xena that was being described. "Sounds like love to me."
"Oh yeah, we were in love...whatever that means at that age. But as we got a little older, things got more serious, and then..."
"What happened? I mean, did he fight with you and Lyceus when Cortese came?"
"No...he went with my brother Toris into the hills. I never forgave him for that. Actually, I never saw him again...until the Temple of the Three Fates." Shaking her head, she turned to Gabrielle. "Your turn..."
"Well, mine's not so cute. Perdicus was always my parents' choice for me. And when I was 13, he was over for dinner one night, and well, we snuck out back, like kids do...and um, like you said, bang, right on the lips. Only, I didn't really feel much of anything. That was when I really started worrying that I would be stuck in Poteidaia for the rest of my life with a man I didn't love..."
"Wow, you knew then that you wanted to leave? You were awfully young."
"Yeah, I was always the outcast. I loved telling stories and hearing about places as far away from Poteidaia as they could get. Farming, weaving, all that stuff bored me, and I was constantly being reprimand for having my head in the clouds."
"I know the feeling. Not that I was the bard of the town, mind you..." Smiling at her own joke, Xena continued. "But I was different. I was stronger than most of the men in town, even when I was young. I could beat anyone at a sword fight...rather easily as a matter of fact. Lyceus was the only one who could give me a workout. I was faster, quicker, stronger...and that made me different. I helped my mother out at the inn, but most people looked at me like I was some kind of freak or something. And when we heard that Cortese was coming, Lyceus and I got the town organized, and, well...the rest is history."
A forced silence followed that statement, as neither friend knew what to say.
Gabrielle reached over and got Xena's dish, taking it to the fire, scraping the remnants of her meal into the flames. Once she had finished cleaning up, she heated more compresses for Xena's ankle. Removing the morning wrappings, Xena was pleased to see that the swelling was almost gone and that the bruising had stopped spreading. Gabrielle gently applied more poltice to her friend's ankle, then rewrapped the leg in warm bandages. She then got up, attended to Argo, and went to the river for more water and food.
When she returned, Gabrielle found that Xena had laid back and was attempting to take a nap. She tried to be quiet, but after a while found herself tripping over Argo's saddle and heading perilously close to Xena's hurt ankle. The warrior's arm shot out and grabbed her friend before she fell on top of her. "Walk much?"
"I'm sorry. I was trying to be quiet. Xena, why'd you ever let me stay with you in the first place?"
The warrior was taken aback by the question. She looked quizzically at her friend. "Is that supposed to be a rhetorical question?"
Settling back down next to the warrior, Gabrielle looked up at Xena and continued. "No, I really want to know."
Xena smiled at her friend. "Gabrielle, you know I tried to get rid of you. You just wouldn't leave."
"Yeah, right, like if the Warrior Princess didn't really want me around, she couldn't have done something about it if she wanted to...uh huh...tell me another one."
"Gabrielle, really...where's all this coming from? And why does it matter? You're here now and that's what's important."
Looking at her friend, the bard replied. "It's important to me Xena. Why'd you let me stay?" Gabrielle got up and went to the fire, removing more wrappings that had been heating in water near the fire. She then proceeded to tend to Xena's ankle. "Tell me...please."
Xena settled back as her sore ankle was being ministered to. She watched as the one person in the world who called her a friend gently rewrapped her leg. Once she was done, Gabrielle moved back beside Xena and looked up at her.
"I don't know...I mean, honestly, sometimes I've wondered myself. At first, when I saw you and the other women of your village being taken by Draco's men...I was just going to let you pass. I was on my way home...hoping to make amends with my mother. That was really all I was thinking about. I was confused, tired, hating myself...But then I saw you. You stood up to Draco's men...By the way, I never told you how stupid that was." Xena smiled at her friend.
"Yeah, well..." Gabrielle smirked at Xena. "And what? So why did that make you get involved?"
"I really don't know. I just knew that I had to help you. It felt like something pulled at me. Maybe you reminded me of myself when I was younger...I don't know."
"Okay, so something, maybe me, sparked you to help us. But you made it clear to me in Poteidaia that I shouldn't follow you. And then I showed up in Amphipolis...just in time I might add..." Gabrielle looked up and saw Xena smiling at the memory of the bard taking on her entire village. "You let me ride with you for a while that day, but then you abandoned me. Thank the gods your food smelled so bad or I never would have found you. I could've frozen out there that night!"
"I sent you home Gabrielle, I didn't abandon you."
"Whatever...so why'd you let me stay?"
"You're a better cook than me. How's that?"
Gabrielle smiled, but would have no parts of Xena's attempt at lightening up the conversation. "That's not the answer. Come on Xena, I've always wondered. Tell me. I remember being more of a burden than help at first. And you weren't exactly nice to me as I recall." She looked at her friend only to see an expression of deep regret on her face. "Hey, wait, don't be that way...I probably deserved it...well some of it anyway. But it points out the fact that maybe you really didn't want me there."
"That's not true." Looking at her friend, Xena sighed. "You're not going to let this go are you?"
"Nope." Gabrielle smiled at the warrior. "And I seem to have a captive audience here. So come on...answer the question."
Sighing again, Xena thought a minute. "All right. I really don't know what it was about you...and I was pretty messed up at that point. The enormity of my past was hitting me in the face, and I wasn't handling it all that well. And there you were...you kept me focused on what I was doing...I mean, looking at you, I could see what I was fighting for, you know? And you were so darned optimistic, sometimes irritatingly so...I guess you gave me that extra something I needed to keep going. But it was more than that. Inside you, I saw an innocence, all the good things in life. And as I got to know you...well, I, um...I liked the person I found. You always said that I thought you were a child...you were wrong. I saw a warm, caring, loving young woman, who for some reason could put my past aside and actually, regardless of how hard I tried to alienate her, seemed to like me. As much as I hate to admit it...I needed you. I still do."
Gabrielle reached over and hugged her friend. "See, now that wasn't so hard was it?"
Smiling down at her friend, Xena raised her eyebrow. Gabrielle could see something coming. "Okay, your turn. Why would you have wanted to come with me in the first place? I mean, I can understand you wanting to get away from Poteidaia, but face it, I wasn't exactly the best selection for a traveling companion. And as far as anyone knew - you included - I was still a warlord, a cold blooded killer. AND...I wasn't nice to you. Why did you follow me and more importantly, why'd you stay?"
"Well, you're right. You were my way out of Poteidaia. That's a given. But I saw something in you too." Gabrielle settled down next to Xena with her arm still around her friend's waist. "I mean, yeah, there was the that part of me that thought it would be one big adventure. But Xena, it was you I wanted to go with. You saved my life...my sister's life. A warlord wouldn't have done that and a cold blooded killer certainly wouldn't. And if you don't think that the problems you were facing didn't show on your face...well, you're wrong. You looked like someone who could use a friend."
Gabrielle smiled up at Xena. "I know you don't go for this stuff, but I felt a connection...right away. There was a point, when you were fighting for us, and you threw, kicked, um, whatever...a sword at the soldier who had me. You probably don't even remember this...but we looked at each other. I felt it right then...like we were supposed to meet...be together. So, even though you weren't exactly friendly at first, I knew I was where I was supposed to be."
The two friends smiled at each other and snuggled closer together. Within a few minutes they both were sleeping.
It was near dusk when Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and realized, much to her surprise, that Xena was still asleep. She kept still not wanting to wake her friend, as her arms still circled the warrior's waist, and Xena's right arm was snugly placed around the bard's shoulder with her head laying lightly on top of Gabrielle's.
The bard could not help but smile. Who would have imagined two years ago - or even one year ago - that the fierce Warrior Princess would let her guard down enough to allow someone this close to her; not only physically, but emotionally. It brought tears to the sentimental bard's eyes when she replayed Xena's words in her head. "She actually needs me..."
She knew that Xena cared deeply about her - the warrior spoke with her actions - but to actually hear her say the words filled Gabrielle's heart with a warmth she had never known before. Her one wish was that regardless of what the future would bring, Xena would never have cause to question her faith or her love. Sighing, Gabrielle closed her eyes, content in the moment.
Xena had woken up not long after Gabrielle, but had not moved. As much as she would deny the fact, she cherished the gentle closeness they were sharing. The warrior had not allowed anyone, including her lovers from the past, to ever stay this physically close to her, and emotional bonds were out of the question. The minimal physical contact she had permitted while she was a warlord served just one purpose, and after that release was consummated, she never allowed the people to stay near her. Besides the security issues - so many people would have loved to kill her - she was almost repulsed by any such contact. Long years went by where Xena's hard shell became impenetrable. Until Gabrielle...
The young, innocent bard had somehow broken through all the walls...all the barriers that Xena had spent almost half a lifetime cementing in place. At first, Xena tried to deny her feelings, but eventually, she had to finally admit to herself that Gabrielle was not only a traveling companion, but that she was special, more than family, and that she cared deeply for her. Once she had admitted this to herself, Xena became consumed with fear...fear that her enemies would use Gabrielle against her - which they had - but more importantly that Xena would do or say something to totally alienate her, or that Gabrielle would find out something about her that she just could not live with. Xena had so many demons that she dealt with, but they paled in comparison to the thought of losing Gabrielle. She shuddered just thinking about it.
Gabrielle looked up at her friend. "You okay?"
"Hmm?...Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little chilly..."
Gabrielle gave Xena a hug then released her hold on the warrior. "I'll get the fire stoked up and cook some dinner." Smiling at her friend, Gabrielle moved to the other side of the cave and busied herself with chores. "How's the ankle?"
"What? Oh, well...let's see." Unwrapping the compresses, Xena smiled at what she saw. Although very bruised, her ankle was no longer swollen, and when she gently moved and prodded it, there was no pain. "I think we need to keep the poltice and warm compresses on tonight, and I should be almost as good as new tomorrow."
"Great! Um...let me go and get some more water. Argo's probably ready for a walk too." Reaching into one of the saddle bags, Gabrielle grabbed another blanket and brought it over to Xena. "Here. Now, can I get you anything else before I go?"
"No, this is fine. Take your time....talk with Argo. She's probably feeling neglected, and she's a much better conversationalist than me anyway." Xena smiled at Gabrielle as she put the blanket over her legs.
Gabrielle walked to the opening of the cave and turned around. "Keep kidding yourself Xena...but we both know better."
Gabrielle had come back after nearly an hour away, cooked dinner, then settled back to enjoy the evening with her friend. She was amused by the fact that Xena had been downright chatty the entire night. They had discussed everything from siblings, parents, family pets, favorite foods, to the state of world affairs. They had even talked extensively about some of their more memorable adventures together. And the bard learned a lot about her normally stoic friend. Gabrielle was amazed at the amount of traveling Xena had done, and all the places she had seen, and the experiences she had lived. She was only sorry that Xena still would not share her demons from the past with her.
After a long evening, the friends settled into a comfortable silence as they prepared to go to sleep. Gabrielle was wrapping Xena's ankle for the last time, when the warrior posed another question.
"Gabrielle, do you ever regret coming with me?"
"Whoa, now why would you ask that?"
"I don't know. I mean, you've been put in a lot of dangerous situations, kidnapped, banged up more times than I can count, and nearly killed since following me. Don't you ever want to just settle down in some safe village and raise a family or something?"
"I think about having a family sometimes. But, right now, there's no place I'd rather be. And NO, I have never once regretted coming with you. I told you...I honestly believe this was meant to be. Besides, you would've died from malnutrition if I hadn't come along to cook for you."
Thinking for a minute, the bard took advantage of the moment. "But since you asked, I do have one regret." Seeing Xena's expression change, Gabrielle did little to reassure her. "Well, maybe two..." Xena's eyebrow shot up, wondering where her friend was going.
"First, Xena I wish you'd feel better...or more comfortable sharing your past with me. I know you think you're protecting me...and as the opportunity has come up, you've told me some stuff. But I think you're scared to tell me about the mighty Warrior Princess. Maybe you're afraid I'll hear something that would make me hate you...I don't know. So you keep it all inside. I guess I wish there was something I could say or do that would make you understand that nothing you could possibly tell me would ever change the way I feel about you."
Xena looked down at the ground. "Gabrielle, I've done things that go against everything you believe in...it's not just that I'm ashamed...it's much more than that. I honestly don't think I could bear it if you heard some of it and...and couldn't forgive me."
"Xena, you have to make that peace within yourself...it's not for me to forgive. You just have to trust me enough to know that you can tell me anything. I mean anything. I might not like what I hear, and frankly I think we both know that you could shock me with a lot of it. But Xena, you're family and I love you. Maybe talking about some of this stuff would help to ease your mind a bit, at least help you sleep better."
"Well, maybe...give me some time on that one okay? And what's this second regret?"
"Oh," Gabrielle said with a smile, "That we haven't talked like we have today more often. I knew you could do it...I just wonder why you haven't."
"Gabrielle, you talk enough for both of us." Smiling at her friend, she continued. "Besides, I've go to keep a little bit of mystery about me. What'll we talk about five years from now if I don't?"
The bard smiled. This was the first time she ever remembered Xena talking about the future...their future. "So, you picture us together five years from now huh?"
"Well, ... I guess I'd like to think that we'd still make a good team...even then."
"I was beginning to wonder a day ago. Frankly, I didn't know if we'd make it through the night!"
Xena laughed. "You and me both. I guess there's something to be said for this talking stuff. It made the time go by quickly anyway. I may have to do it more often. But now, I just want to go to sleep. I think we'll be leaving tomorrow."
The friends settled down and soon fell asleep.
As predicted, the next day Xena took a few tentative steps and proclaimed herself ready to travel. The twosome packed up their belongings and headed towards Sparta. As Xena rode high up on Argo, Gabrielle walked beside her, busily relating a story about King Lias and his daughter, Princess Diana. Back into familiar habits, Gabrielle had realized that something special had happened yesterday. She knew that her friend would not be as talkative as she had been the day before, perhaps for a very long time to come. But it was a start.
Xena listened to Gabrielle weaving her story. She laughed to herself thinking that her throat was actually a bit sore from all the talking she had done yesterday. But looking down at her friend, Xena realized how happy it had made Gabrielle that they had done such a simple thing as talk. It was the least she could do for her, this woman who had given her so much.
As Gabrielle finished her story, she was shocked when Xena offered, "I guess I never told you the whole sorry of Cortese's attack on Amphipolis, did I?"
Xena began to relate her story to her smiling companion as they continued their journey down the road.
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