All the characters belong to MCA Universal and no copyright infringement is intended. The story is mine. No sex but some graphic violence is depicted. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story. Of course, if you are a Xena fan, you know that Xena needs to knock a few heads occasionally or she gets bored. This story is dedicated to my best friend, Ellen.
Comments are greatly appreciated-send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
There was a slight chill in the evening air, just enough to make the merry camp fire's warmth welcome. The sounds of tinkling water and chirping crickets made a comfortable back ground chorus as did the hoot of an owl who watched the two women campers from a high perch. A gentle breeze occasionally rustled the trees surrounding the camp clearing. The long lanky raven haired beauty leaned back against a wide log. She crossed her ankles in front of her carefully so as not to disturb the sleeping head cradled against her muscular thigh.
She looked down at the tousled ash blond hair spread out across her lap and let a small smile turn up the corners of her mouth. She returned her cobalt blue eyes to the fire and let her thoughts drift. A large well-sharpened sword lay close to her right hand within easy grasp. A faint thump caused the woman to stiffen slightly, listening intently. Satisfied that her warhorse, Argo was the only other occupant close by the small camp; the warrior, Xena relaxed her pose.
Gabrielle stirred slightly and then returned to the soft breathing rhythm of quiet sleep. Xena's thoughts turned inwards as she began a conversation with herself. "Gods, what a great day we had. The warmth of the sun, the clear river and the surrounding greenery had just been too enticing to pass up. We just had to stop. The early camp gave us time for a much needed swim." Xena chuckled slightly. "I guess my latest practical joke was the real reason for the swim. Wow, did Gabrielle jump when I slipped that little garter snake down her back. She must have chased me for at least ten minutes clutching that poor critter. I made a great move and side-stepped her grab. She and that snake went head over heels into the water." Xena relived the humorous expression on the bard's face, surprise, anger, no make that rage as the cold water splashed her warm body. "I just couldn't help myself and I made one of my better running leaps over the bank. Never have done a better cannon ball. What a perfect landing, right on top of Gabrielle. The water fight that followed was great even though I think I swallowed half that river." Xena glanced down at her sleeping friend and then returned her gaze to the fire as a curious thought passed through her mind. "When did it start being ok for us to play jokes on each other? When did we start to tease each other? Certainly, not when we first met." A look of wonder crossed the warrior's face.
That thought brought another question to Xena's conscious mind. "And when did the young girl with hero worship in her eyes become a strong, determined, courage, overly courage at times, woman?" Xena looked down at her best friend once more and then returned her eyes to the fire. "She has been through so much; following around a half crazed, blood thirsty warrior with strange notions of redemption. The loss of Perdicus, her husband, and then my own death and return have given her eyes a sad cast at times. Yet, through it all, Gabrielle has never lost her optimism and her faith in all human beings, even me."
"When did Gabrielle become so strong and determined? Make that stubborn and competitive. She holds her own with me now. I don't think I win many battle of the wills with her anymore. When did I start trusting her judgment and opinions as much as my own? Maybe I trust her more then I do myself when it comes to what is right or fair."
"And how long ago has it been since I stopped worrying that some evil deed from my past would finally be too horrible for Gabrielle to bear? When did I stop looking for any signs of fear and loathing of me on her sweet face? When did I know she would never turn from me and run away? She has heard it all; from me in my nightmares, from others with their stories and from the wronged who accuse me with their eyes as we pass. Ten long years I butchered the innocent, robbed and killed with no remorse. Has it really been two years since I turned from the horror? How long would I have kept on the true path without Gabrielle to help me see right from wrong?"
"How long since the last time I had that re-occurring nightmare that almost convinced me in my madness to drive Gabrielle away from my side? Must have been several weeks now. Wait, it stopped right after I told Gabrielle about it and shared with her my fear that it was a prophetic vision. I described the soldiers we were fighting, all in black with huge flashing swords. I fought my best but I couldn't stop them. Then I was on the ground with their leader standing over me. He plunged his sword straight for my heart and I knew I was on my way to Hades. Suddenly, he stopped in midair and collapsed to the ground. Gabrielle, in my dream, thrust a dagger in his back and he died immediately. The look on her face, the horror and sorrow at taking a life is more than I could stand. Every time, I wake up yelling NO, NO, sweat pouring off my face, my heart pounding. Gabrielle listened to my explanation and with a gentle smile told me that it was just a dream. She also told me that someday she might have to take a life to save mine and she would do it gladly. She also said she would give her life for me but I begged her never to do that. I couldn't bear that burden. She said the only thing she would never do for me was to leave my side and I could not make her. I guess I believed her."
"And how long has it been now since the last time we passed through a village that knew the wrath of the evil warrior princess? I can't remember when my name was cursed last. It has been awhile. Gabrielle has spread tales of my goodness across the countryside. Exaggerated tales to be sure, but never the less, people don't seem to turn angry or fearful faces my way much anymore. They turn to us for help. Last week in Media, we were just passing through when we were stopped by the elders of the village. Dorias, that scum, had a small army exacting tribute from those poor folks. It was pretty easy for me to meet him and his little band on the edge of the village."
"When did I start trusting Gabrielle to cover my back in a fight? In fact, I trust her skills as I trust my own. Dorias was predictably stupid. He led his men in a rush right towards us, yelling like an idiot. I drew my sword and met his with a clash. I kicked him in the chest and hit him across the head. That dropped him to the ground. In the meantime, some of his men would have attacked me from the rear but Gabrielle was there. She laid out one with a swing of her staff to his head and took another in the chest. She followed up just like I taught her with a swing that took the legs out from under the brute and he fell heavily. By that time, I had finished the other two. One felt the flat of my sword on his head and the other dropped to his knees as a result of a kick to his crouch. As I completed my turn, Dorias took advantage of my off balance movement to swing his sword down and cut me on the arm. I must admit I lost it then. I turned in rage and thrust my sword through his gut. As I pulled it out by planting my foot on his chest, he fell dead to the ground. I looked at my sword in disgust, angry with Dorias for being such a fool and angrier with myself for losing control. I turned and saw Gabrielle look at me with tenderness and sorrow in her eyes as a tear trickling down her cheek. I knew she cried for me, not for the loss of a petty warlord."
"And when did I first start to think about the day I might lay down my sword and settle down in some village, somewhere? Perhaps I might have a family, perhaps practice the healing arts. I couldn't image settling down unless Gabrielle was near. I guess I had that thought when the little girl in Media gave me a bunch of purple wildflowers and hugged me around my neck. What would it be like to have a little girl of my own?"
"How long have I sat here tonight, starring into the camp fire as the flames die down? Not once have I seen a face of someone I killed or maimed in the orange glow of the coals. Not once tonight have I seen blood, or carnage on the battle field in the flames that licked into the air. Not once has the sounds of battle or the cries of the wounded pounded my head. Is this the first time?"
Xena looked down again at the peacefully sleeping bard and gently moved a strand of ash blood hair that had slipped across her face. "When did I start to look forward to the morning and the new day with a sense of expectation and joy? When did I stop seeing the first light of day as a release from a night of horror? Every morning, Gabrielle is with me to banter, tease and scold. Every morning, we practice the warrior skills, staff for her and sword for me. It feels good to exercise stiff muscles, generate glowing cheeks and bright eyes. When did I stop thinking of this morning ritual as a necessity to stay alive and start enjoying it?"
"When was the last time I woke up screaming from yet another terrible nightmare from my dark past? Was it yesterday? No, not for several days, I think. Is that possible, that it has been so long? Was it last week when I woke us both, trembling, sweating, fearfully looking for the demons that pursue me in my dreams? Gabrielle is there always to calm my fears and stroke my matted hair. She holds me in a warm embrace and I am able to go back to sleep again. I see her clear green eyes, so tender, so warm filled with love for me. How is it possible that I have such a friend by my side?"
The warrior took her eyes from the dying fire and once more looked down lovingly at her bard. She slid down a little lower and leaned her head back. Her eyes closed as a drowsy warmth stole over her body. Amazing thoughts came to her as she drifted towards sleep. "When did I stop despising myself? When did I begin to forgive myself for all the pain I caused others for so long? When did I stop fearing for my sanity?"
Xena sighed deeply. "I wonder how long will it be possible for me to give myself and Gabrielle this wonderful vacation from my pain?"
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