For disclaimers see Betrayal. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upon finding the academy and getting August registered for the upcoming poetry competition in two weeks, the group made their way to the inn. Before they set foot inside, however, Eponin pulled Gabrielle to the side.
"Mind if I speak to you?" she asked, gently capturing Gabrielleís arm.
"No not at all," Gabrielle answered.
Xena steadied her breathing. No jealous fits. Not now. Give her space. Calmly. Quietly. "Weíll see if they have any rooms open," Xena offered as she lead Eve and August inside. Gabrielle gave a nod then turned to Eponin.
ĎWhat is it?" Gabrielle asked.
Eponin looked unsure of where to begin. "I know youíll be staying with Xena tonight."
"Actually I hadnít considered where Iíd be stay but in truth youíre probably right. Xena and I -."
"Are giving it another shot. I know," Eponin finished. "I donít want to get in your way Gabrielle."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She closed it again and tried once more, unable to find the right words. "I feel bad in a way," she finally muttered.
"Why?" Eponin asked. "I knew the score."
"I feel like I used you," Gabrielle answered, unable to look at Eponin.
"You did use me," Eponin replied. That made Gabrielle look up. Instead of the scowl she was expecting Gabrielle found the amazon grinning. "And truth be known I used you too. Thatís what friends do Gabrielle. They use each other. They use their strength, their faith, their laughter and even their tears at times when they need it most . . . I Ďhid outí in that little town for so many years until you came along. You got me out into the world again. I used you as a crutch to come out. And I know that you used me as a test in your love for Xena. Iím not bitter about that. Disappointed yes," Eponin chuckled in a carefree tone. "But not bitter . . . Friends want whatís best for each other. As much as I hate to admit it, the best thing for you is Xena, warts and all. I just hope she does right by you . . . and not just because I wished I could be your lover . . . itís because youíre my friend."
Gabrielle was on the verge of tears. "Iím glad I have friends left . . . After being gone all this time I think about the people Xena and I knew - Autolycus, Salmoneus, Minya," Gabrielle smiled bittersweetly. "All of them wonderful people. All of them friends that I might not ever see again . . . Hell with all this business with Eve I havenít even made it home. My parents could be dead. My sister . . ." Gabrielle couldnít finish and Eponin didnít let her. The ex-amazon could only imagine what it felt like to lose 25 years of your life without a trace. She held the bard close and kissed the top of her head.
"I think your next trip should be home Gabrielle. Find some closure on all this," Eponin advised tenderly.
Gabrielle wiped her eyes. "It will probably be Amphipolis first," she answered. They would hit that town first before traveling southward to Poteidaia. "Cyrene, Xenaís mom . . . I wonder if sheís alive."
Eponin smiled warmly, "Well if sheís anything like her daughter Iím sure the old gals still around and kickiní."
Gabrielle smiled too. "Will you come with us?" she asked.
It was Eponinís turn to look around. "Like I said Iím not bitter, but I donít want to be the third wheel in your personal life. Youíll have a lot of catching up to do with Xena and your daughter. I think Iíll bow out gracefully," she added, finally meeting the bardís eyes.
"I understand," Gabrielle nodded. "But I have to ask . . . What will you do?"
"Iím not sure. Maybe stay here in Athens, keeping August out of trouble. Perhaps find another amazon tribe and settle down. Who knows? Maybe Iíll travel the countryside helping innocents along the way," she grinned playfully. "All I know is I wonít be hiding anymore . . . thanks to you."
"Come on," Gabrielle said leading Eponin into the inn. "Youíre gonna make me cry again," she teased. They walked in arm in arm, to see the trio sitting at a small bar. August seemed to be eating as Xena and Eve were . . . arguing? What on earth are they arguing about? Gabrielle wondered.
Eponin gave Gabrielle her space and walked over to August as Gabrielle took a seat between bickering mother and daughter.
"So anything new?" Gabrielle said casually, hoping one of them would bite.
"I want my own room tonight," Eve announced.
Gabrielle turned to catch the tail end of Xena making a disapproving facial gesture at their daughter. Of course Xena tried to play it off as if she had something stuck in her teeth but it didnít fool the bard.
"Okaaaaay," Gabrielle answered, unsure of what was transpiring. "Any reason why? Hot date tonight?" she teased.
"No," Eve answered. "I just think that you and mother could use sometime alone is all. I mean letís face it. You really havenít been alone since you got out of Ares deep freeze. I think you might need it is all."
"Time alone?" Gabrielle asked her daughter. "Hmmm . . . I guess so. Do you have a problem with that?" she asked Xena.
"Not at all," Xena grinned. "Weíre just running low on funds is all and I didnít want to be presumptuous to think youíd want a room . . . alone . . . with me."
Gabrielle couldnít contain her chuckle.
"Whatís so funny?" Xena asked.
"You," Gabrielle answered. "You sound like a bashful bridegroom."
Eve started to chuckle too but Xena just grinned and played it off.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Xena answered. "You two go ahead and laugh it up. I canít help that I worry I might offend you."
"Xena," Gabrielle answered putting her hand on top of Xenaís that sat on the bar. "Say whatever is on your mind. If you offend me Iíll let you know. Itís not like Iím gonna take your head off." Xena looked guiltily into her stew at the expression. "Sorry. Poor choice of words, okay? I didnít mean anything by it."
"Iím sorry for hitting you Gabrielle," Xena said looking over to Gabrielle.
The bard tightened her hand around the warriors. "I know Xena. Youíve told me every day since weíve met again. And I know each time you say it you truly mean it. But you have to move on here okay?"
"Sheís right," Eve piped in gingerly. "Gabrielle felt terrible about what happened between us. And Iíve forgiven her. I think you need to find forgiveness in yourself."
"I donít think Iím ready to do that Eve," Xena answered before turning back to Gabrielle, "I donít ever want to forget it. I want to be reminded so it never happens again," Xena added.
"You donít have to forget it," Gabrielle offered. "Just try to realize that I forgive you."
"Iíll try but I canít promise anything Gabrielle."
"Thatís all I can ask of you Xena," Gabrielle answered. "Just try your best . . . okay?"
Xena nodded and the trio finished their meal with minimal chatter. As night fell, August and Eponin retired to their room. They felt it was safer if the amazon bunked with the young woman in case of would be prowlers. True to her word, Eve made her way to her room for the night, leaving Xena and Gabrielle down at the bar.
"How ya feeliní?" Gabrielle grinned. A grin that refused to leave thanks to the amount of ale she had consumed.
Xena pursed her lips, looking around the room, nodding her head soundly. "Drunk," she answered.
Both women erupted into a fit of giggles. "I just pray nothing BAD happens tonight," Xena confessed in a whispered voice. "No warlords, no vengeful gods, nothing . . . BAD . . . I donít think Iím up to a battle at this point."
"Perhaps we should get the warrior princess to bed then."
Xena could hear the seductive tone in the bardís voice. She loved it and feared it all at once. Sheíd pray sheíd hear Gabrielle speak to her this way again but she didnít want it to be drug induced. The alcohol was doing most of the talking tonight and Xena knew that wasnít what either woman wanted or what they needed. Jumping into the sheets would be the cure for all that pent up need but she didnít want anyone hating anyone in the morning.
"I thought you said we should take things easy; slow," Xena challenged as she swayed slightly on her barstool.
"I can go slow," the bard said before capturing the warriorís earlobe in her teeth. "and I can go easy," she added as she proceeded to nibble on Xenaís jaw line.
Xena cleared her throat and yelled to the barkeep, "Check please!"
CONTINUED IN PART XXIII: INEBRIATION