Disclaimers: Yeah, they STILL don't belong to me, and never will. But for some reason Xena and Gabrielle have decided to come play again, so I'm going with it. Thanks very much to the people who actually own them for letting me do so, without suing me. We appreciate it!
The Cabin in the Woods
3rd in the Eternity Series
By T. Novan
Gabrielle sat by the cozy little fire, warming her bare feet and sipping a very nice cup of tea with mint. She tightened the blanket around her shoulders as she listened to wind howling outside and the rain lashing the small cabin she and Xena had taken refuge in two days before.
Looking to the corner, just a few feet away, she smiled at Xena's prone form. She was out like a snuffed candle, a silly little grin on her face. Of course, it didn't hurt that the bard had spent the better part of two hours wearing her out.
"You'd better smile," Gabrielle mumbled teasingly before sipping her tea.
A particularly loud howl of wind caught her attention, making her shiver. To her it was far too reminiscent of times past. It had only been three weeks since they had stepped through that portal and part of her was still nervous that Aphrodite's promise would only last until someone on Olympus got bored.
As she watched her partner sleep, she smiled. Mostly, because for some reason, Xena decided she actually liked to sleep. It had become a favorite past time in the last few weeks. Gabrielle considered, that for the very first time in their many lifetimes, this was the first one Xena felt comfortable and safe enough to enjoy a deep, sound sleep. She apparently had more faith in the Godly promises this time around than the bard did.
Gabrielle had no idea what time of the night it was. She had been up and down for hours. Not having anything to do but sleep, eat, write and make love, made keeping normal sleep cycles a bit of a chore.
The storm had started to creep up on them three days ago. Still on foot, they began to search for shelter, knowing they would need it sooner than later. A few hours before it had become a full-blown tempest, they had found the small, one room cabin tucked back off the main road.
An assessment told the pair the old building had been abandoned for quite a while, but was still structurally sound. A quick clean up, including the demolition of the old bedframe and other furnishings for firewood, had given them a safe, dry, warm place to wait out the storm.
They had managed to salvage an old straw mattress, after Xena evicted the two rodent residents and turned them into kabobs for dinner, it provided a lovely, soft warm spot for them to rest and other things that could, if she thought about it too long, still make Gabrielle blush.
A few items left behind by previous occupants, such as a pair of mugs and a couple of decent pans were pressed into service to make life more comfortable. All in all, they had been in far worse places, under far more dire circumstances.
Before they had departed Gretta and Kagen's village, they had been gifted with a set of backpacks and a few of the basic necessities of life, including a couple of roughhewn blankets, two loaves of bread, round of cheese, a bottle of pretty good wine, and a couple of small knives, useful for cooking.
As they walked away from that little village and their new friends, they felt like they held all the riches of the world between them.
The first few days were spent walking, talking, reconnecting in a way they both needed. Just to be with each other, to share the same air and the space. To be together. Xena asked her horrible riddles and Gabrielle spent the best part of two days trying to let her believe she was stumped.
They had talked a lot about the time they were apart with Xena explaining the reason she never stopped pacing while waiting. It was her way of walking along side Gabrielle every step of the way. The warrior had explained that since she could always hear her partner, she also conversed with her. Whenever Gabrielle's melancholy about being alone became too much and she spent her days talking to the air, Xena reassured her that every utterance had been heard and responded to.
Xena groaned and turned over, her hand searching for something. Gabrielle smiled again. Putting her cup down, she put another piece of bedframe on the fire, tightened her blanket over her shoulders and went to the bed. Slowly, she made her way under Xena's blanket and an old fur they had also found and managed to reclaim after giving it a good beating on the side of the shack.
Snuggling and wiggling as she settled in, adding her own blanket to the mix, she sighed happily as Xena's long arms wrapped around her.
"Trouble sleeping?" The Warrior mumbled.
"Just a bit. Our schedules are off."
"We don't have a schedule anymore." Was offered in a very sleepy voice. "Something else wrong?"
"No," Gabrielle smiled, inhaling deeply as she got even closer to her love. "I'm perfectly happy. Just a little insomnia."
"I'm losing my touch," Xena grumbled against her partner's back.
"No, you're not." Gabrielle chuckled, pulling Xena's arm tighter across her belly. "It's just that this whole immortal thing take some getting used to. I'm still adjusting."
"Hmmm," Xena nodded. She was torn between sleep and attempting seduction. Her lifelong philosophy had always been, if you had to be stuck in a small space you may as well find the best use for it. She couldn't fathom a reason why this lifetime should be any different. But, the lure of Gabrielle's body tucked tightly against hers, the warm blankets covering them, and the sounds of the storm, she knew very well protected them from any intruders, made her want to sleep.
"I think I've lost my touch," Gabrielle snickered before she too, finally fell into a peaceful slumber with her warrior snoring behind her.
Gabrielle awoke (I know, you were expecting, ‘with a jerk', but alas, no.) feeling something creeping around in the bed, she was pretty sure wasn't Xena. Opening one eye, she found she was correct. Xena was already up and dressed, couching by the fire to bring the embers back to life.
"Rain has turned to snow," the warrior offered without looking back, as she placed another piece of wood on the fire and then blew gently to spark the flame. "I may be able to do a little hunting this morning before it gets worse. Those clouds are coming in quick."
"You can start with the bed," the bard nodded as she sat up. "I'm pretty sure there may be one more critter in there. I think he just nibbled my ass," she said as she rubbed the offended body part. "He could be breakfast. I'd be okay with that."
Xena chuckled and turned to her partner. "He does have excellent taste in nibbling material. Rat kabobs were okay the other night, but let me go for rabbit or something with a bit more meat this morning."
"Good idea," Gabrielle nodded. "We're about out of everything else. There might be just enough wine to braise a rabbit."
"That with the bit of cheese and bread and it will be a feast."
"Your optimism is inspiring." The blonde snickered as she stood and stretched, allowing the covers to fall from her naked body.
"You have no idea what's inspiring," Xena chuckled, knowing she had to get her libido under control. She had to go hunting this morning. "You could get dressed and come with me."
"Oh, I could," she agreed as she fetched her blanket and wrapped it around her bosom. "But it's cold, and wet, and icky and I don't want to. I'm immortal. I figure I can go a few days without food before I feel it."
"You? Never!" Now Xena was outright laughing as she fetched her sword from the pack Kegan had given her. She stepped forward and kissed the bard on the forehead. "You stay here and do what you do. I think I can get enough for both of us in short order. It's not like I eat that much."
"Oh hardy, har, har…" With a wave and a laugh Gabrielle shooed Xena. "Go. Get. And don't come back without sustenance for my weary flesh."
"Wow, you've gotten bossy in the last twenty years."
"I learned from the best," Gabrielle leaned up on her toes and kissed Xena's nose. She smiled and caressed her partner's face. "I'll get dressed and see if maybe this place has an old garden or something I can convince to give us some greens. See what else I can scrounge."
"Very domestic of us."
"For a few days, until the worst of this weather passes, I'd say yes."
They set off on their respective tasks. Xena was off through the woods with a lilt in her step, Gabrielle was not sure she would ever see again. It made her chuckle to watch her partner practically bounce into the forest like the rabbit she was hunting.
In the light of morning she explored the area around the little cabin, finding a little woodshed with enough dry wood to keep the fire going for a few days. Then she found a small garden. It had obviously not been tended in a few years, but there were a few stray vegetables that come back in the fertile ground and avoided being eaten by the various creatures that lived in the woods.
"Lucky us," she smiled as she managed to pluck a few carrots and other items from the ground.
"Yeah, lucky them." Ares brows crumpled together as he squinted from his spot next to his sister. "I thought we were done interfering."
"This, brother dear, is assisting, not interfering."
"And why do the two most competent mortals in the world need your assistance?"
"Immortals now. They don't need it, but they deserve it. We played around with them long enough. Now it's time to give back a little. Nothing big."
Ares looked down at the tiny, ramshackle cabin and nodded. "I'll say."
"Look, it had to appear perfectly crummy or they would know something was up. So, I made sure they could get out of the storm and not be completely miserable. Sue me."
"Nah," Ares chuckled as he watched Gabrielle gathering the few vegetables that had ‘survived'. "I guess it's the least we can do."
"The very least."
"You always did have a soft spot for these two."
"So, did you." Aphrodite gave her brother a bit of nudge to his shoulder.
"I suppose." He admitted as the fingers of his right hand twitched against the pommel of his sword. "I liked their stubbornness."
"Ah, that would be their love."
"You call it what you want." He crossed his arms over his chest. "For them it works. Whatever it is. They were always the perfect team. Even when they hated each other."
"Is that a touch of sentimentalism I hear in your voice?"
"No." He shook his head.
"Un-huh," the Goddess smiled and nodded knowingly. "That's why you added that little extra perk in the immortality spell."
"Look, they shouldn't have to spend eternity looking at reminders of the past. Especially the ones we put there or allowed to be put there."
"You, old softy!"
"I'm outta here!" With a quick snap of his fingers, the dark God was gone.
Aphrodite smiled as she took one last look at the little cabin in the woods. Then like her brother, with a snap she disappeared.
By the time Xena had returned with her bounty, Gabrielle had managed to tidy up the cabin and find several resources that would be useful to sit out the heavier snow for a few days.
Xena had been very fortunate and brought back not one, but two rabbits and three nice bass. She had apparently also found the hidden winter stores of a squirrel or chipmunk that provided a nice little collection of nuts.
Gabrielle had cleaned the cabin, and though they had broken up the furniture when they arrived, a couple bales of straw found in the horse shed, covered with old flour sacks made for reasonably decent seats by the fire.
Having field cleaned her catches, Xena set straight to work on getting them ready for the fire. "I'm going to smoke most of this meat as best as I can. The snow is picking up and I think this was my last chance for a few days. Good news is, there's a lake close by. So, lots of fish available."
"Well, it so happens that I had a bit of luck too." Gabrielle lifted a small wooden crate and placed it down on the floor next to the fireplace, near were Xena was working. "I found this in the horse shed, a few preserved things. Some apples, peaches, and I think dates. And the old garden gave up some vegetables. I can roast potatoes tonight, and tomorrow I can make stew with the left overs of the bass. We've got a few carrots and a little onion for that."
Xena chuckled as she sat back on her heels, "Poor as peasants. And still you stay."
"Of course," Gabrielle winked. "First, we're doing just fine and second, as soon as we get to the cave and retrieve the box our money problems are over for the time being."
"You know, we should create a base. A place we can go back to when we need or want quiet. Some place we can meet if we ever get separated."
"A place no one else knows about?"
"That is an excellent idea," Xena nodded and went back to preparing their meat for the fire. "Do you have any place in mind?"
"Not off the top of my head." She reached into the crate and retrieved one of the crocks, cracking the seal. "Oh yeah, peaches and a little something extra."
She waved the cock near Xena's face making the warrior laugh and sneeze. "Be careful with that around the fire, I suspect it's flammable."
"No kidding," Gabrielle's nose crinkled as she took another whiff and then a taste test. "Oh that's," she coughed. "Smooth."
"Leave it up to you to fine the homemade hooch."
"It's really not bad," Gabrielle offered the crock to her partner. When Xena reached for it, the bard noticed something that made her hold onto the container.
"I thought you were going to share," Xena teased, tugging gently on the jar.
"I am. Let me see you hand." Gabrielle put the crock down and took Xena's right hand into her own and looked at it.
"Did I cut myself?"
"No, but where is the scar?
"Xena, you had a huge scar on the back of your hand. It's gone."
"Gabrielle, I have so many scars it's not possible to keep track of them all."
"Oh, yes, it is." She nodded emphatically. "I know every part of you. Including your scars and I'm telling you this one is gone. Stand up."
The blonde stood and pulled the warrior up, and then began tugging at her shirt to free it from her trousers. "Umm, Gabrielle, if you let me wash my hands, I'll help you with that." Xena chuckled when she felt the hook on her trousers being undone.
"Hold still." The smaller woman lifted the shirt, looking for what she full well knew should be there. "Your scars are healing!"
"Sweetheart, how much of the peach stuff did you have?"
"I'm telling you Xena, your scars are healing." She looked up and smiled, "I've never seen your body like this before."
It was true. By the time, they met originally, Xena's body was already covered in the marks that defined her life. She had been to Tartarus and back a dozen times, been used and abused by nearly everyone in her life, until that moment.
That moment when her life changed forever.
She was reasonably certain that was why Hades had chosen to show her the majority of their future. To show her that if they could survive that, they could survive anything. Hades had been sure that Gabrielle would condemn Xena to Tartarus for the way she was left alone.
Xena only had one thing to hang on to. She was rewarded for her faith in her partner.
Gabrielle continued her inspection of Xena's body, running her hands over smooth, unmarked flesh. "I don't understand it."
"Maybe," Xena stripped her shirt off and began inspecting her own body. "It has something to do with the immortality." She looked to her partner and grinned, "Turn around."
Gabrielle presented her back and felt Xena tugging the material up. "Well? Is it, it gone?"
"Yeah," Xena nodded with a smile as her fingers traced over her lover's now spotless skin. "It's gone."
Xena slipped her hands under Gabrielle's shirt and pushed it up, as she lowered her head to the flesh she revealed.
"Unn, Xena," Gabrielle's eyes dropped shut at the warm, soft lips on her neck and shoulders that caused her stomach to flip uncontrollably. "We're going to burn dinner."
"I like burnt rabbit." The Warrior growled playfully as they both moved willingly to the straw mattress. "But I prefer fresh bard!" She laughed as she swept Gabrielle into her arms and dropped them both into the center of the bed.
Xena tightened her arms around Gabrielle, humming happily as they settled into each other. "Let's make this our spot."
"What?" Gabrielle had to take a deep breath so she could focus, she had nearly been asleep.
"Let's make this our first go to spot. I like it here. We can fix it up a bit before we go and secure it so it will be ready when we come back."
"Okay." Gabrielle nodded against Xena's shoulder. "I like it here too. Bet you're wishing now you hadn't destroyed the bedframe."
"Nah, it was beyond help." The warrior offered, smiling when she felt their feet rubbing against each other, very gently. It was the little things like that she had missed most. "Its purpose had become firewood. I'll have to build a new one."
"What kinds of things do you think we're going to see, Xena?"
"Hmm, if I had to guess, I'd say, everything."
"The good and the bad."
"Yeah, there's no escaping that. But we can certainly focus on making it as good as possible."
"Do you think we'll get bored of each other?"
"There's always that possibility I suppose. Eternity is a long time. But if we keep places like this, scattered around, we should always have a safe place to go, even if," Xena paused, feeling tears in her eyes, her skin crawl and her heart sink at the thought, but she said it. "We're not together. I don't ever want to be the thing that causes you pain again and the second I do, you should leave."
Gabrielle could feel the change in her partner's body. She held tight, snuggling closer as she murmured, "You won't. Not this time."
"Gods, I hope so."
Gabrielle pushed up on her elbow and looked into those eyes that captured her heart so very long ago. "Xena, why did you agree to Hades deal? What made you do it?"
"My belief that you wouldn't desert me."
She nodded and smiled, caressing Xena's lips with her fingertip. "Hmm, the very same reason I agreed. My belief that you wouldn't desert me. I knew no matter where we ended up, we'd be together."
"You didn't know this would be the result. You would have gone to Tartarus with me." It wasn't a question.
"Of course, I would have. It couldn't have been any worse than anything else we had been through and the way you liked to torment Hades, it probably would have had its very amusing moments."
"Think that's the reason he tossed us out of there?" Xena laughed.
"I think it's possible." The bard snorted, as she settled back into the crook of Xena's arm. "Better to give you immortality than to spend an eternity letting you torture him. Even Gods have their limits and you were exceptionally good at finding and exploiting them."
"I have many skills."
"For which I have always been grateful." Gabrielle murmured settling down in the only place she ever wanted to be, Xena's arms.
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