CHANGES OF HEART: PART XIX

BY

C.N. WINTERS

 

For disclaimers see Betrayal. Email the author at cnwinters@hotmail.com.


CHOICES

"How you holding up sweetie?" Gabrielle asked coming to Augustís side.

"I canít believe it," August answered in a low voice as she cleaned a manís head wound. "Look around."

Gabrielle did just that. It was a long time since she actually LOOKED at the effect war brought. It had almost become routine for her in a sense. Hearing the despondency in August voice took Gabrielle back to the many battle she and Xena faced - especially the early ones when she was Ďfresh off the farmí herself.

Despite all the heartache and pain floating through the tavern tonight one thing remains.

"It was a good day fighting," Gabrielle answered.

What did she just say?! "A good day fighting? Thatís what you call this?" August said, trying not to raise her voice in her anger. "Look at all the people that are hurt!"

"And look at all the ones who are still alive. We havenít lost anyone yet tonight August. Trust me. In the end if you can walk away - if you live to see another sunrise - youíve done a good job . . . Believe me, it was a good day fighting. It could have been worse . . . much worse."

August sighed. "I guess I didnít look at it that way," she remarked.

"Itís the only way you can look at war and move on. Itís a senseless necessity," Gabrielle answered.

"A senseless necessity?"

"Yeah. Think about it . . . . If that army had turned back and walked away none of this would have happened. Thatís senseless. They chose to return and the villagers had to defend what was theirs Ė it was a matter of survival . . . a necessity. The sad part is no one really won today. The warlord lost his army. Tomorrow heíll probably lose his life. And as for the villagers, theyíve harmed human beings. Theyíve taken lives. And those images will stay with them for all their days."

August considered Gabrielleís words as she began to unroll the clean bandage. "Can you . . .?" August nodded to the unconscious man for Gabrielle to lift his head.

"Sure," Gabrielle answered. But first she felt for a pulse in his neck. Next she went to his wrist. Gently she put his head back down. "Save the bandage for someone who needs it," she told the young girl. "Itís too late for him."

August eyes got wide and her lower lip started to shake. Yes Gabrielle wanted to give the girl a dose of reality but perhaps not this strong. "Here," Gabrielle said taking the bandage from her. "Go outside and get some air for a little bit okay? Weíve done about all we can here tonight anyway."

August couldnít make eye contact with Gabrielle. She simply nodded and rushed outside. Xena watched the young woman dart from the tavern as she was stitching up one of the villagerís arms that had a nasty gash. The smile Xena had as she conversed with the man fell when she watched the young girl flee.

"Youíll be better in no time," Xena said as she rose, patting his knee. She turned to make her way over to Gabrielle when the man stopped her.

"Thanks," he told her sincerely. "Thanks for everything."

"Donít mention it," Xena answered with a warm grin.

Gabrielle looked up from the dead man when she felt Xena approach.

"Do you know him? Youíve been in town a bit longer than I have," Gabrielle remarked.

"Heís the mayorís brother," Xena answered as stoic as ever.

Quietly Gabrielle pulled a sheet over his body. "You know years ago . . . I told myself that I would never get used to this. The death. The destruction . . . But now it seems like just another part of life - a Ďgivení. So whatís the use in crying over it? . . . Do you think that makes me insensitive?"

"I think that makes you practical," Xena replied. "If you took everything youíve seen in your journeys to heart then youíd be half crazy by now. Youíre not insensitive," Xena added. "Youíve just learned when to care and when to walk away. And thatís not a bad thing."

"Speaking of caring," Gabrielle said mustering a grin. "I still havenít had the chance to speak with our daughter. Is she still up and around?"

"No I sent her back to the inn to get some rest," Xena answered. "She was pretty beat."

Gabrielleís grin grew into a smile and Xena cocked her head in examination. "Whatícha thinkin about bard?" Xena grinned.

"Eve. Our daughter," Gabrielle smiled. "I havenít really had the chance to examine that fact or enjoy it . . . I like the way that sounds . . . Our daughter."

"Well sheíll be delighted to hear you say that," Xena offered. "Sheís been hoping for awhile now that youíd learn the truth. She even calls you mom when she refers to you. Perhaps we can head to the amazons and you can show her Ďthe ropesí so to speak." Xena realized that she might have just made a wild assumption by including herself in Gabrielleís travel plans. "I mean thatís if you want me there. If not then the two of you could go. I donít-."

"Xena," Gabrielle began, stopping the warrior from rambling any further. "Relax. Sheís our daughter. Iím sure sheíd want you there."

"What about you? Would you want me there?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle knew what she had just said but she didnít think it all the way through. If Xena were there, then that means they would be traveling together again. Was she ready? She looked up into Xenaís azure eyes and saw the warriorís soul aching for a positive answer.

"Yes," Gabrielle said confidently. "I would . . . I have missed you ya know." Where the hell did that come from? she thought silently unable to look at Xena any longer.

Nah ah the warrior thought. I canít let her look away this time and hide her heart away from me. Xenaís fingertips gently pulled up Gabrielleís chin forcing the bard to meet her eyes.

"Iíve missed you too," Xena answered. "And I donít ever want to miss you again."

Gabrielle had the urge to hide her joy at Xenaís words but quickly gave up, realizing it was useless. The warrior would see right through her anyway. So Gabrielle gave into her temptation and gave a bashful, red-faced grin. I feel like a sappy, love struck teenager again, Gabrielle thought as she looked into the warriorís eyes. But I have to admit . . . it feels pretty wonderful.

Damn. I wish the timing were better. Iíd whisk you away from everyone and everything if I could. But duty calls. Xena rose, the warmth of her fingers leaving Gabrielleís cheek.

"Iím going to find the mayor and break the bad news," Xena told Gabrielle. "Why donít you head back to the inn with August and get some rest? We could talk more there if you like," she offered.

The spell Gabrielle felt was momentarily broken and she looked around. The wounded had been tended to and many of them were asleep. Xena was right. It was time to call it a day so she nodded her approval.

"Okay," Xena grinned warmly. "Head on over and Iíll be there in a few."

"See you then," Gabrielle answered.

With that Xena turned and walked out of the makeshift healerís station to go in search of the mayor. Gabrielle for her part walked outside into the early morning air, searching for August. She found the girl hunched over by a well across from the tavern.

"Hey sweetie," Gabrielle began, running a hand over the galís back in comfort. "Letís call it a night okay? You and I could both use the rest alright?"

August could only nod.

The bard knew that the girl had gotten sick again just like she did before the attack and she put her arm around the girlís shoulder in support. Once at the inn the two went to the grand room located downstairs. Since the rooms were all filled, they had to use the Ďliving quartersí for shelter. It had a decent sized fireplace and the room felt cozy and warm.

Eponin and Eve were already asleep on opposite sides of the room. Gabrielle helped August to bed and took the boots off the exhausted girl. "Did you need some mint or something to settle your stomach?" the bard asked, keeping her voice low as to not wake the others.

"No thanks," August answered. "Sleep is all I need." A moment after the girlís head hit the pillow she was out.

Gabrielle took a moment to examine the young woman. She grew up a little bit today. Perhaps Eponin was right. Perhaps she did need this in some way. Gabrielle rose and looked at the room. For the first time since seeing Xena again she felt torn. Should she sleep on Eponinís side like she did the last few months or should she sleep on Xenaís side as she did the last few years?

Ha. The irony she joked to herself as she looked at the empty spaces she could take. Iíll sleep by Eve the bard decided as she picked up some blankets and pillows that lay near the fireplace. Hmm. Warm the bard thought as she snuggled into them feeling sleep begin to take her over almost as quickly as August.

She heard a door open but didnít raise her head. By the footsteps she could tell it was Xena. When she heard the breastplate come off she knew for a fact it WAS Xena and released a content sigh.

Well so much for talking tonight Xena thought as she looked at the bard with a grin. At least sheís on this side of the room.

The warrior came over and took a spot next to Gabrielle so the bard was now sandwiched between her and Eve. As Xena lay on her back, trying to unwind from the day, she felt Gabrielle roll over and cuddle into her shoulder without saying a word.

Xena didnít know if it was intentional or force of habit. All she did know is that she enjoyed it and she wasnít going to question it too much.

Iím still here, Xenaís mind thought before falling asleep. Sheís here. Eveís here. It was a good day fighting.

 

CONTINUED IN PART XX: REALIZATION