AFTER THE STORM
Xena nearly sprang to her feet from a deep slumber upon hearing the bard cry out. She looked over to see the bard now sitting up, shaking and breathing hard. Third time this week Xena thought. Her heart arched for the bard. Every night she hoped the gentle distraction of her affections before bedtime would lead the bard to happy dreams but no such luck. Gabrielle continued to dream of the desert boy whose life she took accidentally.
"Hey," Xena said softly stroking her back. "Itís okay Gabrielle. Settle down sweetheart." Xena gathered the sleeping furs around them, pulling them tighter.
Gabrielle ran her hands over her face, trying to calm her nerves. "I keep seeing him Xena," the bard whispered. "Every night he keeps coming back. Every night I kill him all over again . . . I donít think this will ever end."
Xena held back her frustrated sigh. "It will Gabrielle. Give it time. Youíve been through a lot lately."
"Iíve been through a lot lately? What about Korraís father? I took his only son from him," Gabrielle spat.
Xena chewed her bottom lip to keep herself from going off on the bard. Silence was safer.
"Iím sorry," Gabrielle apologized with regret. "I know youíre trying to make me feel better. I do . . . Itís just so difficult living with what Iíve done Ė how Iíve hurt that tribe; Korraís father. It feels like I have a huge boulder on my shoulders, crushing me, with no means of escape . . . Is that what it felt like Ė I mean when you came to Potiedaia? When you had given up?"
Xena gave a small nod but said nothing.
"When did it end? When did you feel Ďnormalí?" Gabrielle asked.
"Iím not sure Iíve ever felt Ďnormalí," Xena answered truthfully. "All I know is I saw you stand up to Dracoís army. I watched you willing to sacrifice yourself for everyone else. A fire I thought had gone out rekindled. Not the inferno that sent me on a destructive path but a new one. One I hadnít felt since I was a young woman defending my town. I started out with the best of intentions but got lost along the way. That day when I saw you I found a new beginning. Perhaps thatís why I was so adamant against you following me. I didnít want to go on and I didnít want to take you down with me."
"What changed it?" Gabrielle asked, cocking her head in curiosity.
"You wouldnít take no for an answer," Xena grinned. "Just like Iím not gonna take no. Iím gonna stand by you. Iím gonna defend you. And Iím gonna help you find your true purpose again . . .Just like you helped me."
Gabrielle grinned at Xenaís words. Sheís not the most poetic of warriors but she knows what to say and when to say it, Gabrielle considered. Iím lucky to have her. If I didnít . . . Gabrielle couldnít finish the thought.
Xena saw Gabrielleís expression of happiness slip away again. "Whatís wrong?" she asked.
Gabrielle ran her hands through her hair. "Just thinking . . . I couldnít go on without," Gabrielle began to sob.
"Címere," Xena said pulling Gabrielle to her and lying back on the ground.
She stroked the bardís hair as she cried on her shoulder. Gabrielle settled down a bit whipping her eye before hugging Xena around the waist.
"Iím not going anywhere," Xena told her.
"Even if Iím a terrible person?" Gabrielle answered. "A warrior who lacks judgement?"
"Youíre not a terrible person. Youíre one of the greatest to walk this earth. And Iíll always sing your praises to anyone I met. Youíre a brave warrior, a wonderful bard, a fantastic lover and a best friend. Iíve been truly blessed Gabrielle. And Iíll fight for you until the end. Lord knows Iíve fought bravely for much less."
"Even fanatics who talk to beings called the Jinn?" Gabrielle teased.
Xena was relieved to hear the bardís little attempt at humor. "Ooh especially . . . I might even give up a good chewing tooth now and then."
Gabrielle grinned and sat up on her elbow. "She could have never loved me like you . . . never," she whispered as she stroked the warriorís face. "You and I," Gabrielle added as her fingers traced Xenaís lips. "Weíre endless."
Xena closed her eyes and kissed the finger that lingered. The grin that was beginning to grow on Xenaís face came to an abrupt stop when she felt the bardís lips covering hers in a tender kiss. Xenaís eyes remained close and her hand moved up to cup the back of the bardís head.
"Endless," Xena sighed as her lover pulled away and she opened her eyes. "Donít ever forget that," Xena pleaded. "Youíll always mean the world to me."
Gabrielle settled back into Xenaís shoulder and stroked the side of the warriorís face. "I love you Xena."
"I love you too Gabrielle."
At dawn, Xena and Gabrielle went down to the parcel building in the local village to see if they had any messages from the family. They werenít all that surprised when they saw a scroll from Virgil. Not waiting to get back to camp they opened it and read it.
Xena and Gabrielle:
Hope this scroll finds you both well rested after your vacation. I wanted you to meet someone I met while traveling back with Eve and Sarah (Both are doing fine by the way and send their love. Lila was completely over joined and sends her regards and deep gratitude as well).
Anyway, I think youíll like him. His name is Hordious and he enjoys writing tales much like yours Gabrielle. Iím not sure what father would say to this but Iím sure you two would understand. I wanted to make a trip to Athens to introduce him to mom. She always said, love is love no matter what. Time to find out if she really meant it.
Weíll be traveling back to Africa shortly to visit some kin he has living there. I thought perhaps in two weeks we could meet on the river. Thereís a little town called Kaiai. Hordious says we could camp out under the stars, go fishing and so on at the south side of town. Iím rambling arenít I? Well I know you two donít have anything Ďpressingí at the moment so Iíll count on you being there unless I hear otherwise. I look forward to seeing you two again.
"What do you know? Virgil got a boy toy," Xena chuckled.
That earned her a playful swat from the bard. "I think it sounds very sweet and romantic," Gabrielle countered. "He sounds quite smitten in fact."
"Really? Did we read the same parchment? I saw he met a guy and theyíre going camping. No deep everlasting love going on in this letter," Xena answered gruffly.
"No dear itís subtext. Reading between the lines like star gazing and phrases like Ďand so oní. Get it?" Gabrielle asked with raised eyebrows.
Xena paused a moment. "Nope. Looks like he got a boy toy to me."
"Youíre such a cynic," Gabrielle chuckled rolling up the parchment. "Itís a wonder that we ever got together," Gabrielle grinned.
"That was easy. I just picked you up, put you on my shoulder and said ĎMe warrior. You bard. Make zug zugí."
Gabrielle slapped the parchment against Xenaís breastplate for her to hold, making the warrior yelp. "Yeah Xena - you really know how to sweep a gal off her feet you big softy you."
Xena chuckled and wrapped a tender arm around the bard. "Come on bard Ďo mine. Letís say I buy you breakfast."
"The fastest way to a womanís heart, through her stomach," Gabrielle grinned. "I guess you do know how to treat a lady Xena."
Xena grinned. "I never had a doubt my dear."
CONTINUED IN PART VI: FILLING VOIDS