For disclaimers see Betrayal. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"How you holding up sweetie?" Gabrielle asked coming to August’s side.
"I can’t believe it," August answered in a low voice as she cleaned a man’s 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 ‘fresh off the farm’ 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? That’s 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 haven’t lost anyone yet tonight August. Trust me. In the end if you can walk away - if you live to see another sunrise - you’ve done a good job . . . Believe me, it was a good day fighting. It could have been worse . . . much worse."
August sighed. "I guess I didn’t look at it that way," she remarked.
"It’s the only way you can look at war and move on. It’s 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. That’s senseless. They chose to return and the villagers had to defend what was theirs – it was a matter of survival . . . a necessity. The sad part is no one really won today. The warlord lost his army. Tomorrow he’ll probably lose his life. And as for the villagers, they’ve harmed human beings. They’ve taken lives. And those images will stay with them for all their days."
August considered Gabrielle’s 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. "It’s 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? We’ve done about all we can here tonight anyway."
August couldn’t 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 villager’s arms that had a nasty gash. The smile Xena had as she conversed with the man fell when she watched the young girl flee.
"You’ll 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."
"Don’t mention it," Xena answered with a warm grin.
Gabrielle looked up from the dead man when she felt Xena approach.
"Do you know him? You’ve been in town a bit longer than I have," Gabrielle remarked.
"He’s the mayor’s 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 ‘given’. So what’s 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 you’ve seen in your journeys to heart then you’d be half crazy by now. You’re not insensitive," Xena added. "You’ve just learned when to care and when to walk away. And that’s not a bad thing."
"Speaking of caring," Gabrielle said mustering a grin. "I still haven’t 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."
Gabrielle’s grin grew into a smile and Xena cocked her head in examination. "What’cha thinkin about bard?" Xena grinned.
"Eve. Our daughter," Gabrielle smiled. "I haven’t really had the chance to examine that fact or enjoy it . . . I like the way that sounds . . . Our daughter."
"Well she’ll be delighted to hear you say that," Xena offered. "She’s been hoping for awhile now that you’d 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 ‘the ropes’ so to speak." Xena realized that she might have just made a wild assumption by including herself in Gabrielle’s travel plans. "I mean that’s if you want me there. If not then the two of you could go. I don’t-."
"Xena," Gabrielle began, stopping the warrior from rambling any further. "Relax. She’s our daughter. I’m sure she’d want you there."
"What about you? Would you want me there?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle knew what she had just said but she didn’t 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 Xena’s azure eyes and saw the warrior’s 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 can’t let her look away this time and hide her heart away from me. Xena’s fingertips gently pulled up Gabrielle’s chin forcing the bard to meet her eyes.
"I’ve missed you too," Xena answered. "And I don’t ever want to miss you again."
Gabrielle had the urge to hide her joy at Xena’s 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 warrior’s eyes. But I have to admit . . . it feels pretty wonderful.
Damn. I wish the timing were better. I’d whisk you away from everyone and everything if I could. But duty calls. Xena rose, the warmth of her fingers leaving Gabrielle’s cheek.
"I’m going to find the mayor and break the bad news," Xena told Gabrielle. "Why don’t 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 I’ll be there in a few."
"See you then," Gabrielle answered.
With that Xena turned and walked out of the makeshift healer’s 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 gal’s back in comfort. "Let’s 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 girl’s 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 ‘living quarters’ 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 girl’s 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 Eponin’s side like she did the last few months or should she sleep on Xena’s 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. I’ll 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 didn’t 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 she’s 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 didn’t know if it was intentional or force of habit. All she did know is that she enjoyed it and she wasn’t going to question it too much.
I’m still here, Xena’s mind thought before falling asleep. She’s here. Eve’s here. It was a good day fighting.
CONTINUED IN PART XX: REALIZATION