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Gabrielle paused a moment, watching Xena giving instructions to the archers that stood on the wall, pointing left and then right. She watched as the men nodded and Xena gave her Ďwell doneí grin before she walked away. She still looks damn sexy up there bossing the troops around. But should I meet her now or just wait. Gabrielle paused a few more moments as she watched Xena conversing with the soldiers. Go on Gabrielle. Get up there. Donít second-guess yourself now.
Xena saw Gabrielle starting to make her way up the ladder to the top of the city wall. "Hold on," the warrior called down to the bard.
With one leap and a flip Xena landed a few feet from Gabrielle on the ground. She stumbled a bit but never lost her footing. "Still havenít gotten adjusted to the arm problem yet," Xena grinned bashfully at her lack of coordination. "But Iím getting better these last few days. I donít fall on my ass anymore."
Gabrielle chuckled. "All black and blue?"
Xena chuckled herself. "You know Iíd offer to show you but that might be pushing my luck a little too much." Gabrielle smiled in response. ". . Iím glad you came over here," Xena added when Gabrielle didnít interject more.
"Yeah well," Gabrielle answered as her toe dug into the dirt nervously, "I was in the neighborhood."
Xena cleared her throat. "I want you to know that what I said earlier . . . about Eve being your daughter . . . Itís not a ploy of any kind Gabrielle. I just thought you deserved to know the truth. And as for Ares, the reason I believe him is because it makes sense. I mean Eveís your daughter because of the meld he did by putting us in one body. That, along with the fact that her gestures are so similar to you itís unnerving at times."
Gabrielle nodded but still continued to look at the dirt on her boot instead of meeting Xenaís eyes. When she did muster the gumption to look up she was meet with the grinning warrior who took a few steps closer.
"Thank you for telling me," Gabrielle said sincerely. A few moments passed and Gabrielle pondered, "Does Eve know?"
"She knows," Xena grinned. "In fact sheís asked me lots of questions about you - about us. I told her everything. I was completely honest with her."
"Yes completely," Xena answered soundly. "It wasnít easy because itís not all pretty. She read your scrolls about Ďthe great warrior princessí. I think it was difficult for her to see that her mother isnít that great. Her motherís done some pretty painful things to her mom at times. But I thought she deserved the truth."
"Xena youíre not a monster," Gabrielle answered upon hearing the warriorís regret. "You can be harsh, stubborn and over reactive at times but . . . Hell like I should talk," Gabrielle said with a light laugh as she rolled her head around to relieve her growing tension. "Point is . . . You Ďareí a good person. I just hope you told her about the good times too."
"I did," Xena grinned. "In fact Iíve become quite the bard since youíve departed," Xena teased. "Itís a position I hope you will fill again since you do it sooo much better than I do . . . but I realize you have a new life and a new . . . lover . . . So Iím trying to walk a very thin line here. . . I mean, she is your lover isnít she?"
Wondered how long it would take you to ask. "I really donít think thatís any of your business Xena," Gabrielle smirked.
The warrior looked down in shame. Sheís right. Itís not. Sheís the one whoís free here . . .Iím the one whoís holding on.
Gabrielle couldnít see the pain in Xenaís eyes but everything else conveyed an utter defeat - the pouting lip, the slumped shoulders. Oh enough is enough. No more games.
"Sheís not my lover," Gabrielle answered breaking the silence, relieved by the fact she was being truthful. "Eponin wants the job but . . ." But what? I still love you. I still want to be a family. I still- "it just doesnít feel right." Good answer. Truthful yet non-committal.
Oh thank you Eli. "Then what DOES feel right?" Xena asked, trying her damnedest not to smile at the news. "What would make you happy?" Please say me. Please say me.
Gabrielle gave a deep sigh. You. Like we were. Long ago. "Iím not sure. I just remember the first few years that we were together . . . All the faith. All the trust. I miss that. We havenít had that for a long time. In truth I think thatís what bothered me most about the whole incident with Antony. I watched you Ďfalling in loveí all over again. But this time it wasnít with me. You undressed that man with your eyes. And I couldnít remember the last time you looked at me that way . . . But itís more than just sexual longing."
"What else is there?" Xena asked. When Gabrielle raised her eyebrows at the question, thinking she was treated as a sex object and nothing more, Xena shook her head and hands to try to curb another shouting match. "Sorry, came out all wrong," Xena grinned. "I mean . . . what other things do you miss when you say Ďmoreí?"
"What is it that you think I miss?" Gabrielle countered.
"Oh no," Xena shook her head. "If I put my foot in my mouth it might end this peaceful discussion in a hurry."
"Okay," Gabrielle answered. "How about right now for example? I ask a question but I canít seem to get an answer. Thatís happened quite a bit over the past year. You seem Ďafraidí to talk to me. And that really hurts me Xena. There was a time when we could talk about ANYTHING with each other and we did."
Xena considered it and nodded her agreement. "I think thatís true. We havenít talked to each other for a long time . . . For quite awhile I felt we couldnít relate to each other. It seemed easier to be quiet than to Ďrock the boatí. We were changing - growing apart instead of together."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena paused a moment. "Because . . . you werenít the girl I fell in love with any longer."
"And you fell out of love with me? Why didnít you just tell me that Xena? Why go on together?"
Xena sighed as she noted the rise in the bardís voice. Things were heating up again and she had to find a way to cool it.
"I never stopped loving you Gabrielle. . . I just felt Ďdifferentí from you. We both fought for the greater good at one point. The key word is Ďfoughtí. You no longer wanted to fight and felt peace was the key to happiness. . . I couldnít see it that way. I felt belittled when you talked about all the violence in the world. I started to feel like part of the problem instead of the solution. Iím not sure you understand and Iím not sure how I can explain it. . . All I know is that I was scared. The woman I love and respect more than anything . . .no longer respected me."
"I never stopped respecting you," Gabrielle answered on the verge of tears.
"No but you disrespected everything I stood for. Iím a warrior. I make war upon people who harm others, like this village. I had no place on your path."
"I gave up that path," Gabrielle countered.
"Yes I can see that now," Xena agreed. "But that worry was still there for long time -the worry that perhaps youíd realize that peace really was the way. And weíd drift apart even further than the first time. But I did realized that you did choose the path of the warrior like I did and then that bothered me."
"You felt unhappy that I became a warrior?" Gabrielle asked, getting a little lost in the conversation. "Iím sorry but I donít understand that. Weíre on the same path again, Xena."
"Iím not unhappy really," Xena replied looking above to the stars, trying to form the proper words. "I felt . . . worried . . . that something would set you off. Somehow you would use your warrior talents against the greater good. Somehow you would . . . become me, or at least what I ONCE was. And when Ares took a sudden interest in you that didnít make me feel any better. He saw it too - that spark, that fire - and that weighed on my mind. So instead of coming together I felt pulled apart. Torn. I wanted you to have a place in Eveís life . . . But I needed someone I could depend on."
Gabrielle felt her jaw drop and quickly closed her mouth. I canít believe this. She needed someone she could depend on?! "How many times did I tell you I couldnít love Eve more if she were my own? How often did I tell you I would die for that child?"
"Yes but what if you changed your mind again Gabrielle? What if you decided you didnít want a family? Or that live on the road wasnít for you? What if we did decide to settle and you wanted to go back on the road?"
"Then weíd talk about it Xena like we always did," Gabrielle answered. "Iíve told you before I understood what life with you would be like and I accepted it all. I still accept it today . . . what I canít accept is being shut out. I canít accept it and I wonít stand for it."
"I donít blame you Gabrielle," the warrior answered truthfully. "I told Hercules Iím surprised you stayed as long as you did. . . I could say I didnít mean to do it but thatís a lie. I did mean to shut you out. I didnít want to get hurt by you. So little by little I pulled away. I didnít, however intend to hurt you in the process. I wasnít being Ďvengefulí. I only wanted to protect myself . . . and Eve."
Gabrielle gave a small nod. "I think I understand what youíre saying. And I know weíve both been through so much these last three years. Dahok, India, Eve - it just seems like itís one thing after another. I canít remember the last time it was just about Ďusí and us alone. I guess I just missed you too much to stay with you. It hurt to be in your life but be a shadow."
Take her hands. Do it now or you might not ever get the chance again. "Gabrielle listen," the warrior said pulling the bardís hands to her until their fingers locked. Xena let a small grin creep out when she felt Gabrielleís fingers squeeze around them instead of pulling away or staying limp. "I love you. I will always love you. I never wanted you to feel unwanted or unloved . . . All Iím asking for here is a chance. Give Ďusí this chance to get to know each other again. If you donít think we can go on together Iíll bow out gracefully. Iíll see to it that you get to know Eve, if thatís what you want, with no arguments from me. I think itís important you two get accquanted regardless of what happens with us."
Eve. My daughter. Another daughter I tried to kill. Gabrielle felt herself tearing up and she quickly wiped them away. "Iím not sure if Eve would want that. After all, I did try to kill the girl."
"Hey," Xena said smoothing the back of her fingers over the bardís cheek. "She understands. She knows it wasnít really you at the time."
Gabrielle held up her finger for Xena to pause. Take a deep breath and try not to cry. Sheíll get sympathetic with you and thatís not what you need right now. "Iím sorry that I tried to kill Eve. I tried to apologize to her in the throne room on Olympus but she cut me short and I never did finish. So I want you to hear me out alright?"
Xena only nodded, giving Gabrielle the chance to continue.
"I know I was under the influence of the furies but I could have said something before hand. I could have warned you somehow. I mean the furies went after you and you still managed to trick them and beat the stuffing out of Ares to boot. If I had said something, told you of my murderous thoughts, then I might have been able to overcome it. But I stayed quiet and it cost both of us our lives. Iím sorry Xena. I donít think Iíll ever be able to make that up to both of you. . . Iím not even sure if you understand."
"Iím not so sure about that," Xena answered. "For months now Iíve thought about many things I could have done different at Joxerís that night. I think about how ĎIí could have stopped you without relying on the chakram to do it. I could have tackled you. I could have knocked the sai away instead. I replay that moment over and over and every time I think of something different I could have done."
Gabrielle gave a small grin. "Perhaps you do understand," she answered, giving a nod.
"Yeah perhaps I do." What I wouldnít give to kiss this woman right now. Xena licked her lips subconsciously. But donít do it. Sheís not ready. Be happy to hold her hand. With that thought, Xena gave it an extra squeeze. She could have sworn she saw stars when she felt Gabrielle returned the grip again as she did earlier.
"Theyíre coming! Theyíre coming!"
The runner yelled as he ran through the town, warning the village. The sound interrupted their conversation to both of their relieves. Neither woman wanted to say too much nor did they want to make rash comments of love. It was far too soon for either of them.
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Looks like itís show time," she said looking at the wall, knowing Xena planned on staying with the archers while she took her spot with the armed villagers in town.
"Looks that way," Xena grinned. "You be careful."
Should I do it? Is it false hope thinking weíll build a future together again? We might not survive this attack though and Iíd regret it if I didnít do it. I know I would. Oh what the hell . . . Gabrielle slipped her hands out of Xenaís and pulled the warriorís head down, planting a slow, delicate, compassionate kiss on her cheek.
"You too," Gabrielle whispered giving the warriorís injured arm a light pat. "Go easy on the flips," she teased before she quickly darted away.
Before Xena could open her eyes, which closed upon the gentle assault, the bard was already on her way, traveling deeper into the heart of the village. Her hand gently touched the flesh Gabrielle had just graced with her lips. One kiss. Thatís all it was but it spoke volumes to the warrior. That one kiss meant so much but above all-else it meant purpose. She had a purpose in defeating this army. Yes she would save this town but the true purpose was to move forward . . . with Gabrielle.
CONTINUED IN PART XVIII: FAVORS