DISCLAIMER: Please refer back to "Step 1" for specific disclaimers

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Gabrielle stared at Xena’s face closely, as if her will alone could cause an eyelid to flutter or her mouth to twitch, any movement at all that would ease the fear that was threatening to crush the bard’s heart. Three days and Xena’s features were as still as a statue. Only the slow up and downward movement of her chest gave any indication that the warrior was alive at all. Gabrielle’s expression became determined.

"Xena," the bard whispered and leaned over closer in the chair.

"Xena," Gabrielle brushed back bangs that had grown too long from the warrior’s eyes.

"I know you can hear me. I know you’re in there."

"Please come back to me..."

Gabrielle’s somber expression lightened as she played with the overgrown locks of Xena’s bangs. The corner of her lip curved up into a grin.

"You’ve let your bangs get too long again," the bard admonished her unconscious partner. She flicked the wayward black strands back and forth with a gentle finger and sighed.

Gabrielle’s finger left the locks of hair, brushing a fingertip along the warrior’s cheek before reaching up to scratch her own chin. The bard looked around briefly and then spied what she was looking for.

"Let me trim them for you," she looked down at the warrior, "while we’re waiting."

She stood and walked over to the pile of Xena’s weapons stored neatly on the bench in the corner, waiting for their owner. The bard lifted the breast dagger and caressed it lovingly.

"Remember the first time you let me trim your bangs?" Gabrielle asked aloud in the empty room, talking to the bubbling flasks and the wooden furniture. Not waiting for a response, she pulled the chair around to the head of the pallet and sat, leaning forward to play once more with Xena’s raven locks.

Gabrielle slowly caressed the top of Xena’s head with gentle strokes as she talked. She was absently looking at the sparkle of candle light against the blade of the dagger as she twisted it in her hand.

"It was just after Morpheus tried to kidnap me, remember? We camped in that lovely spot. Tall trees, lots of grass. It was a nice change after all the rocks I’d been sleeping on."

Gabrielle chuckled at herself, remembering what it was like for the first few months. Her young body regretted every night they spent outdoors and complained daily with aches and pains in places she didn’t know even existed.

"It was warm and dark-- just a beautiful night. I remember sitting on my bedroll watching you stoke the fire. We had just finished a great rabbit stew -* I * cooked, of course. Excellent if I do say so myself, adding in those extra spices really did the trick that night - doncha think?"

Gabrielle looked down at the warrior, wishing she would see the familiar quirk of the lips or even a raised eyebrow. Anything to let her know she was listening. Xena’s face remained as peaceful as the bard had ever seen it, not even a dream drifted across her features.

The bard twirled a silky strand of hair in between her fingers.

"You were fixing the fire, adding wood and stirring the embers with a stick. You kept flicking your bangs out of your eyes with the back of your hand...a jerk of your head...no matter what you did, they just kept falling back into your eyes."

"The fire shifted and both of your hands were busy and I could tell that your bangs were really bothering you."

Gabrielle couldn’t help but giggle at the memory.

"You kept blowing up at your bangs with angry puffs, and this one strand of hair kept popping up and then fluttering back down right back into your eye."

Gabrielle sat back in the chair and laughed outright.

"You finally got so mad that you blew so hard, half your bangs stood straight up off your head. They fell back down and that’s when you looked at me with this expression of such exasperation...it was all I could do not to laugh."

The bard shook her head and rubbed her eye, before turning serious.

"I didn’t laugh, though. We didn’t know each other very well back then, and you were still a little gruff with me. Guarded. I don’t know...it seemed as though you didn’t want me with you, but you didn’t want me to leave either. Didn’t matter. There was no way I was leaving you. No way at all."

Gabrielle waved the dagger around in the air, getting into the story now.

"Anyway, I didn’t laugh because I knew you would get mad. But I said, ‘Why don’t you let me trim your bangs?’"

"You looked at me like I was crazy or something. Then you looked back down at the fire and said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Until those bangs fell into your eyes again. It was so funny, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I walked over to you with my hand out and said, ‘Come on, give me the dagger. I can cut your bangs.’"

"You raised your eyebrow...gods, how I love that expression," Gabrielle’s voice trailed to a whisper as she traced the warrior’s eyebrow with a finger. After a moment she returned to her thoughts and continued the narration.

"So you put your hands on your hips and raised an eyebrow and said:

(Gabrielle lowered the tone of her voice to imitate Xena’s.)

‘You’re going to cut *my* bangs.....with *my* breast dagger?’

‘It’s MY breast dagger, Xena,’ I answered, ‘I’m just letting you use it. Remember, I’m the one that bought it. Well, all right, so you can keep the breast dagger. Just let me borrow it for a minute and I’ll cut your bangs...I’ll give it back to you, I promise.’

You just stared at me, silently. I couldn’t figure out your problem; whether it was the idea of letting me cut your bangs or if it was just letting someone near you with a sharp, pointy dagger."

Gabrielle traced the other dark eyebrow with a soft fingertip and smiled, her eyes shining with the memory.

"You know, I was really getting pretty annoyed, because the entire time you were standing there staring at me, your bangs kept tickling your eyelashes, making your eyes blink. I swear you are SO stubborn sometimes! Anyways, I got tired of waiting with my hand out so I stomped with my foot and said:

‘Come on, Xena what’s the big deal. I did it all the time for Lila and she did it for me. I’m good at it. Trust me on this.’

You seemed to decide something right then and there. I could swear I saw the faint trace of a smile on your lips."

Gabrielle’s fingertip left the eyebrow and her hand began to smooth out Xena’s bangs so they were even across her forehead.

"You nodded just once, like you do, and then you squeezed your chest together. The knife popped up into the air and you caught it with a flourish:

‘Show off!’ I said as you handed me the knife.

‘Just make sure you cut them even.’ You warned me.

I remember rolling my eyes at you.

‘Oh, they’ll be even as long as you can sit still and be patient.’

‘Whaddya mean be patient! I have plenty of patience! I put up with you, don’t I?’

‘Very funny,’ I said, but secretly I knew that was more than a little true...well, back then anyway.

So I walked over to my bedroll and sat down cross-legged and patted my lap. You should have seen the expression on your face. Xena, it was priceless!"

Gabrielle laughed out loud at the memory and had to withdraw her hand from Xena’s hair to wipe an eye.

‘What’s that for?’ you said, pointing at my lap.

‘I need you to lie down and put your head in my lap.’


‘Look, you’re too tall, I can’t reach up there. Besides, this is the way Lila and I used to do it.’

"You were looking at me like I had lost my mind. The nerve of me to think that you, Xena, Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations, would lay her head down in a young girl’s lap so she could cut her bangs with a dagger this close to her throat. It was just too funny, Xena."

‘Come on!’ I said, trying to make you feel silly and foolish for having a problem with it, ‘I won’t bite you!’

‘Oh, I know you won’t bite me,’ you snickered, then sauntered over to the bedroll and began to sit down, ‘I just don’t want to get poked in the eye with my own breast dagger.’

So, you sat with your back to me and just as you began to lie down I said, ‘Don’t worry, if I miss and cut anything, it’ll be your jugular!’

"Boy, you popped right back up and gave me such a look. I was, of course, only kidding. You knew that though."

‘Ha. Ha,’ you said and then you lay back and put your head right down in my lap.

"You stretched those long legs out across the bedroll and settled in to get a little more comfortable. After you and I shifted around a bit, I lifted up a thin strand of hair, measured it to the top of your eyebrow and sliced the excess off just like this."

Gabrielle had taken a thin strand of hair and measured it out while she was talking. She pulled it gently to make it taut and then sliced it at the end with the edge of the sharp blade. The excess hair remained trapped in her fingertips and she tossed it away with a flutter of her fingers.

" ‘There! Perfect!’ I said to you and played with the piece I had cut just to be sure. But when you saw how thin a strand I cut, you became a little annoyed."

‘It’ll take all night, the rate you’re going!’

"I looked down at you from above, just like I’m doing right now, only that time I could look right into your eyes and you were looking back at me. They were so blue, so clear, I just wanted to stare into them all night. I remember grinning at your upside down face and playing with your bangs, your hands were clasped at your stomach and you were wiggling your feet."

‘So?’ I said, ‘You in a rush to go somewhere?’

‘No,’ You answered, trying not to sound pleased, but I could tell you were comfortable, ‘I just don’t want to have to lay here like this all night long.’

‘Is it uncomfortable?’


‘Am I hurting you?’


‘Then just relax and let me cut your bangs *my way.* When I’m done, you can tell me whether or not you think it was the best bang cutting job you’ve ever had.’

‘Just stop talking and start cutting.’

‘I could tell you a story.’

‘Only if you can talk and trim at the same time.’

‘I can do that.’

"So I told you a story while I trimmed your bangs. I took my time, too because I was really enjoying the feel of your hair in my fingers and the way the firelight danced across your features. You closed your eyes and listened while I played with your hair. I think I finished trimming your bangs long before I finished the story. I just kept playing with your hair, but you wouldn’t have noticed that I was done, Xena. Do you remember why?"

Gabrielle finished trimming the warrior’s locks and put the knife down in her lap. She caressed Xena’s cheeks with both hands and leaned down to brush her lips against the warrior’s forehead.

"You had fallen asleep," the bard whispered.

Gabrielle lifted her head away and stared down at the still features, the unmoving lips, the chest rising and falling alarmingly slow, the feet that were not wiggling.

"You had fallen asleep in my lap and I loved you even then."

The bard’s head fell forward touching lightly against Xena’s as she cried.



Continued in Step 23


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