Changes of Heart Pt. v
Disclaimers: These characters arenít mine. They belong to Mr. Tapert and Co. Iím just borrowing them to vent. Itís not a happy tale and it involves two women who once loved each other deeply. If either of these facts disturb you donít read this tale. Also it contains spoilers for the last few eps of season five.
This tale is set after "Motherhood" up until season six
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.
"Howís it going?" Eponin asked.
"Itís going," Gabrielle said mustering a grin. "She ready?" Gabrielle asked nodding over to August who sat nervously on a bench.
Eponin grinned, "Yeah sheís got butterflies but sheíll be fine."
"Butterflies?" Gabrielle said skeptically. She looks borderline terrified.
"Okay so she threw up twice," Eponin confessed, "but sheíll be okay."
"Maybe you should take her out of town," Gabrielle suggested.
"Is that an order commander?" Eponin asked with a smirk as she used the title that some of the villagers had bestowed upon Gabrielle.
"No," Gabrielle answered returning the grin. "Just looking for an opinion."
"Then I think she should stay," Eponin remarked. "I think it would do her good. Let her get her feet wet a little. Let her see what life outside her village can be like. She handled the staff well today and like before Iíll stand by her."
Gabrielle gave a confident nod. "Okay, Iím gonna talk to her. Iíll be back in a few," Gabrielle answered, giving Eponinís arm a light squeeze before she left.
August darted to her feet when she saw Gabrielle approaching but said nothing.
"How ya doing sweetie?" Gabrielle asked.
"Iíll be okay. I just hope I donít disappoint you," August replied. Gabrielle could hear the shake in the girlís voice.
"Stick by Eponin okay? Sheíll take care of you. And if something happens to her make sure you come to me, okay? Iíll be right there in the square of town holding that position. Iíll either be walking away once the army is defeated or carried away to a funeral pyre. But know that I wonít be leaving that spot. And if Iím gone then go to Xena. Sheíll get you to Athens."
"You said to run when you get outnumbered. I donít understand," August countered.
"Yes I did," Gabrielle replied. "And thatís the best course of action if itís just you and you alone. War is different. If my line falls, then the army will take the village for sure. Theyíll reap the bounty and burn it to the ground. Hopefully Xenaís line with the archers will take out most of them. Do you understand? My line has to stand or the village falls."
August took a deep breath as she nodded. "Yes I understand. And Iíll do as you say. I promise."
"Then thatís all I can ask," Gabrielle grinned, giving the young lady a chuck on the shoulder. "Remember - Eponin, me, Xena. Okay?"
August didnít reply vocal. She just nodded.
"Youíll do fine," Gabrielle said confidently. She was going to continue but she heard Xenaís voice boom out.
"Fire! Next line. . . Fire. Next line. . .Fire! Next line!" Xenaís voice repeated over and over. Gabrielle couldnít see what was happening because of the darkness but she was well aware. Xena had three rows of archers firing one at a time so the army was met with a continuous onslaught of arrows.
Next Gabrielle heard Xena call out to their daughter. "Eve! Go north! Go North!!"
North?! Oh no! The north was too rocky so we didnít guard it as heavy. Gabrielle pushed past her men to stand front and center. She watched Eve and her Ďtroopsí dash across the courtyard and scurry up the ladder to defend it from the attackers. As she and her troops arrived, the army began to come over the wall. If Eveís forces had moved just a few minutes slower the army could have overtaken the city. But as it stood now, Eve and her men went toe to toe with the attackers, hoisting them back over the wall and into their comradeís path.
"I need some archers now!!" Eve called out from across the square to her mother.
A man from Gabrielleís unit stepped up to her. "We should go help her," he insisted.
"No!" Gabrielle snapped much harder then she intended and she softened her voice. "No we stay here."
"But why?" he argued. "What good is just standing here when my brother over there needs help on the wall?"
Gabrielle watched as Xena sent a line of her archers down the ladder and over to Eve for reinforcement. As she turned back she looked eastward toward Gabrielle.
Great lord above! More of them?! When Xena looked westward she gave a sigh to see that no one else was coming. At least thatís one good sign. Xena pointed toward the back of the town. "To the east!" she shouted to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle turned around but she couldnít see anything coming . . . at least not yet.
"Thatís why," Gabrielle smirked to the man. "Come on!" the bard shouted as the villagers followed her lead as she went through town.
"I though you were going to stay in the square no matter what!" August shouted from the water brigade as Gabrielle raced by her
"Change of plans. Gotta be flexible. Comes with the job," Gabrielle retorted as she raced along.
Gabrielle came to a stop when saw about 20 men on horseback, riding hard toward them carrying torches. Trip the horses. Cause a back up.
"Jacob, Joseph! Get a rope! Wrap it around the hitching posts so itís in the riderís path. When I say pull, raise the rope and trip the horses! Go! Now!" Gabrielle yelled.
The men dashed inside the corral and returned seconds later. Jacob wrapped it around once and ran across the street to the other post and wrapped it once as well. Both men picked up their ends and looked to Gabrielle who was watching the army.
"Okay, you six on one side, you six on the other," she called to the rest of her men. They too obeyed and formed what looked like a wide tunnel as Gabrielle stood at the end. Closer the horse came, their hooves sounding like thunder as they tore up the earth behind them.
They were almost within the city when Gabrielle called out.
Both men heaved with all their might and they watched as the rope got as taunt as a bowstring, tripping the horses and sending their riders headfirst into the dirt. The men directly behind them got tripped up in the mass of human and horses scattered about. When the next wave came inside, they managed to by pass the commotion, going right into the Ďtunnelí of Gabrielleís men where they were dragged from their steeds and pummeled.
As the invasion from the east began to subside, Gabrielle looked to Eve who now had her archers in place and doing a good job of defending that side. Xenaís team however didnít seem to be fairing as well. And Xena herself seemed to struggle as more men managed to climb the ladders and the wall. She was wearing down; getting tired and Gabrielle knew why. It was the arm. Her stance was off and what she was lacking in skill she had to compensate with harder blows. Blows that began to take their toll on Xena now as the warrior moved slower and slower.
Gabrielle knew she couldnít leave her men so she prayed. She prayed hard. Keep her safe. If anyone is listening please donít let me lose her. Not now. Give her strength. Gabrielle squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, almost as if she were straining to give Xena whatever strength she had within herself.
One more to go . . . One more to go . . . Xenaís mind chanted as she faced each man, taking them one at a time in her imagination. She didnít feel quite as tired with this approach. She wasnít as susceptible to give into her exhaustion if she examined the battle in such a Ďsingularí fashion, keeping that as her mindset.
Gabrielle watched Xena stumble against an attacker who, in all likelihood, was not that much of a warrior. Thatís it! Iíve gotta get up there. Gabrielle took two steps when she felt a light hand on her shoulder.
"Let me," a voice told her.
Gabrielle watched as Aphrodite disappeared from behind her to instantly appear at Xenaís side. Dite blew something in the attackers face and Xena watched as the man got a sappy look on his face and stumbled a bit. Dite released a giggle and took three strides to push the man off the wall with a poke of her index finger.
"Letís see that arm," Dite said returning to Xena. She placed a light grasp on it and Xena could feel the throb that got worse from the battle melt away. "Good as new," Dite said with a wink, making the split and sling disappear.
"Arenít you worried about the Olympian order holding that against you?" Xena asked with a smirk.
Dite grinned bitter-sweetly. "There is no Olympian order anymore Xena," the goddess retorted. "All I have now are my friends," she added, as her head nodded toward Gabrielle. "Least I can do is answer their prayers."
"Look Aphrodite," Xena began. "I didnít want to harm Hephesteus, or anyone, but they didnít give me much choice. I hope you realize that," Xena offered.
"Yeah . . . men," Dite grinned as she began to tear up. "I told him not to go . . . but he didnít listen. I told Artemis too. And Athena. None of them listened." Xena watched Diteís mind going elsewhere but she came back with a shake as if clearing her thoughts. "Did this conversation turn into a real bummer or what?" she said trying to grin. "Anyway sweet cheeks, do right by the bardly one, okay? Thatís all I ask."
"You got a deal," Xena agreed with a smile.
Without another word the goddess vanished and Xena found herself face to face with a solider charging her as he screamed a battle cry. With two quick swipes of her sword, Xenaís attacker fell to the ground below quiet and lifeless. Xena gave a brilliant warcry and Gabrielle gave a sigh of relief as she watched the warrior do a double summersault before landing in the thick of the battle.
Eveís troops gave a cheer but the victory of the North end didnít last long. The army at Xenaís line had worked its way deep into town and as Gabrielle suspected they fired flaming arrows to the rooftops in the hope of burning the village. The bucket brigade of woman and older children began to extinguish the fire while Eponin and her team kept guard over them. A few soldiers managed to make their way toward them but the villagers took them out fairly quick.
Eponin beamed with pride as August gracefully kept her own against the intruders. She never left the young womanís side and unlike the battle earlier that day, she didnít once have to go in for the save. With the remained of the army inside the village, now was the perfect time to lay siege. All four women Ė Eponin, Gabrielle, Eve and Xena all looked at each other, all of them knowing the same thing. If they all converged at once there would be no escape, the army would be surrounded.
The army noticed this as well when they realized their numbers were dwindling instead of growing now that they were inside the city. Siscerus, their leader, looked around and saw the deviation this Ďlittle towní had done to his troops and he started to scream his retreat.
"Fall back! Fall back!" he yelled from atop his war-horse.
"Fall back?" Xena taunted him as she menaced closer toward him. "Well, if you insist." With that Xena leaped up into the air, knocking him backward off the mare he rode. "Howís that for falling back?" she smirked.
He scooted along on his butt, trying to move away from her. Cat and mouse, Gabrielle thought as she took in the sight. I have to admit I love watching her play cat and mouse. Men from the army began to rush past her trying to leave town. She could have stopped them but since they posed no real threat anymore she let them go without harm. Besides watching Xena work was too interesting to look away.
As Eponin congratulated August on a job well done she turned to see Gabrielle studying the warrior intensely. Her eyes then focused to Xena and then back to Gabrielle. Iíll never be able to compete with that, Eponin considered as she watched how captivated Gabrielle looked. Never.
Siscerus began to plead to the warrior.
"Donít kill me! Donít kill me," he answered in a timid voice. "Iím begging you. Donít kill me."
"Why not?" Xena taunted. "You were ready to kill these people in this village."
"Iím sorry. Iím sorry. I just-."
"Just what? Thought it would be easy pickings? Thought you could take what you wanted although it wasnít yours? . . . Oh donít worry," Xena grinned. "I wonít kill you. Thatís up to the people of this village to decide."
With that, Xena pulled the man to his feet and a group of villagers began to disarm him of any weapons and tie him up. Some townsfolk began to chant for his immediate death but it didnít go on very long until the village leader stepped up.
The mayor approached with a battle-ax in his hand to calm the crowd. "Everyone please listen," he began. "This man will not be harmed until heís stood trial for his crimes tomorrow. He will be handled within the laws of this town. Justice will be served . . Is that understood?"
A few of the villagers screamed for a hanging. A few others for a decapitation. The majority however agreed peacefully.
"We have no time to argue tonight. This warlord will go to the village jail. We have to attend to our wounded so I urge anyone who is not injured to please escort those who are to the tavern so we can give them the care they need," he offered instead.
Those words hit home and the protesters quickly went to work on finding people that needed care as Siscerus was taken to the village holding cell.
August and Eponin approached Gabrielle. "You should have seen it!" August said proudly, "I put one warrior right on his backside. It was great! He never saw it coming," she added.
Gabrielle grinned. I remember the first time I did that. Xena looked so proud of me for being able to defend myself that I was in heaven . . . At least until the next battle when she had to save my ass, Gabrielle chuckled at the memory as she congratulated August, "Well done. Iím glad youíre both in one piece," she smiled warmly.
"I have to admit though," August replied. "It was exciting but Iím glad itís over."
Gabrielleís smile began to slip away. "Sorry sweetie but itís not over yet. Weíve got to make choices now. Difficult choices of who needs the greatest help," Gabrielle answered as she nodded toward two men who were carrying a third into the tavern. "In fact, the hard part is just beginning."
"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.
Eponin slowly opened her eyes to find August giving a light snore next to her. She wiped her eyes of the sleep and rolled over to face Gabrielle. But the bard wasnít there. She canít be up already, can she?
Slowly Eponin rose to rest her weight on her elbows. Thatís when she saw three sets of feet across the room. Quietly as possible she rose and walked over to the other side of the room. Gabrielle was still nuzzled in the warriorís arms. Xenaís cheek rested on the top of Gabrielleís blonde crown.
Admit it Ep . . . they look perfect together, the ex-amazon told herself. She needs her. They both need each other. Sure you want a lover but you want THAT. You want exactly what youíre looking at - that kind of love and connection. And youíre never going to find that with Gabrielle. Yeah you could build your world around her but sheíd never love you like that in return. She couldnít because she already gave her heart away.
Suddenly Xena opened her eyes but she didnít move. Xena could have smirked at the amazon and threw it in her face that Gabrielle had chosen her as a sleeping mate this evening. But Xena recognized that Ep did love Gabrielle deeply by the pain that showed on the amazonís face.
But youíll never love her the way I do, Xena thought as she looked up.
"You better treat her right," Eponin warned the warrior in a whisper. "Or next time you might lose her for good."
Xena didnít reply vocally she gave a slight nod to Eponin fully understanding what Eponin was saying and knowing that statement was very true. That single nod also conveyed that Xena would in fact do right by her. She wouldnít give Gabrielle any reason to doubt her has a mate again.
Eponin gave Xena the Ďwarrior nodí that Xena recognized well. It was one of respect for being Ďbestedí by someone. It was one she herself had never given to anyone. She had never been bested. Nearly killed - yes. But never Ďbestedí.
Without another word Eponin left the room, closing the door behind her.
Gabrielle was jarred awake by the noise and darted her head up. When she didnít find anyone standing above her, she took notice that someone was below her. She felt a bashful grin come to her face as she watched the smiling warrior.
"Morniní," Xena said tenderly pulling her back down to her shoulder.
Without the slightest bit of hesitation Gabrielle put her head back down and gave a sigh. "Morniní" she echoed in a sleepy voice. After she became more awake she asked, "Who left?"
"Eponin," Xena answered.
Eponin was awake? Then that means she saw me . . . with Xena. Oh shit!
"I better go talk to her," Gabrielle replied as she sat up, rubbing her eyes to focus.
"She already read me the warrior riot act," Xena answered.
"I didnít hear her," Gabrielle replied.
"Well, it was one sentence actually . . . You know how us stoic warriors are Gabrielle. We donít say much but when we do we make it count."
"Oh lord," Gabrielle sighed, "What did she say?" the bard asked, dreading the answer.
"She warned me to treat you right or next time Iíd lose you for good."
Gabrielle looked to Xena to continue. When she didnít add more Gabrielle asked, "Thatís it?"
"She didnít need to say more. I knew what she meant. And I know itís true." Xenaís fingers unconsciously found the bards arm and began to rub it up and down. "I want to give it another chance . . . but you have to want that too Gabrielle." Please say yes. Lord, let her say yes.
Do I want to give it another chance? Do I want to risk being hurt again? Am I strong enough to walk away again if I have to? Or will we find that connection we once had where we spoke our minds and led with our hearts? Gabrielle felt the grin pull at the corners of her mouth. It was useless to resist it.
"I think I want that too . . . but slowly . . . I need to take things slow."
Inside the warrior was doing cartwheels but on the outside she gave a tender grin. She moved to her elbows as she sat up. "Do you have any idea how happy that makes me?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle smiled. "Real happy?" she teased.
"Very happy," the warrior replied, moving closer still until she was sitting directly in front of the bard. Her hands made their way to Gabrielleís face. "So very, very happy," Xena added in a soft whisper.
She gonna do it, Gabrielle thought as Xena moved in even closer.
Just as Gabrielle had suspected Xenaís lips tenderly captured her own. The kiss was tentative at first - a few light pecks that lingered, causing Gabrielleís blood pressure to rise. Suddenly Gabrielle could feel her pulse in her head before traveling the length of her body. For the first time in months she felt a torch within her ignite. The kisses that Eponin gave her now and then warmed her like a campfire. Xenaís scorched her like a blazing inferno through a thick forest. And she loved it . . . missed it . . . wanted more of it.
Damn this woman knows how to kiss, Gabrielle thought merrily as more force came in the kisses that followed - a confidence growing between both women.
Neither woman was sure how it happened nor in truth did they seemed to care, but at some point Xena ended up lying on her back again. But this time she had Gabrielle sparing kisses back and forth with growing speed as she hovered over her.
Slow Xena said in her mind. Take it slow. . . But she feels so damn good. . . To Hell with slow. Itís been too damn long. Xenaís hands were on the verge of leaving the bardís mid-section to cup her breast.
They would have continued but a voice brought them to a halt.
"Oh please. There are children in the room for crying out loud."
Xena and Gabrielle both stopped the reacquainting of their lips to giggle like guilty teenagers at Eve.
"Should I kill her now or later for stopping us?" Xena asked Gabrielle with an arched eyebrow to Eve.
"Nah . . . Donít kill her. Not yet anyway. We havenít had the chance to talk yet - mother to daughter."
Eve couldnít help but grin. "She told you huh?" Gabrielle simply nodded. "And youíre okay with that?" Eve asked with a bit of uncertainty.
"Iím wonderful with that," Gabrielle answered without hesitation.
"Told you not to worry," Xena winked to her daughter. "And as much as Iíd like to lay on this blanket kissing you all day," she added to Gabrielle, "I think it might be better if go check on the villagers and see how things are going."
Xena began to rise but Gabrielle stopped her.
"Hey," she called softly.
Suddenly the warrior found her lips coveted again by the bards, and she couldnít hold back the hum of pleasure at the sensation. When they broke apart Xena took an unsteady breath to stand on even more unsteady legs.
"Ohhhhh Evie," she told her daughter. "I pray someday you find someone who can kiss like that," she smiled to Gabrielle. The three of them chuckled loud enough to roust August from her slumber. "Hey sleeping beauty is up," Xena teased. August gave a yawn and sat up stretching. "Come on kiddo," the warrior told the young lady. "A new day has dawned and itís time to go out into the world so grab your boots."
August gave another yawn as she fumbled with her footwear. Once in place Xena helped pull the girl to her feet. "Weíll be back later," she told Gabrielle and Eve, who were sitting in the piles of blankets, looking quite cozy. Xena was almost to the door when she stopped and strode back to the bard, shaking her head. "I canít leave just yet," she said as she leaned down and pointed to her lips. "One more," she said with a sexy grin.
Gabrielle reached up and stroked the warriorís cheeks as her lips made a very delicate impact upon the warrior. "Howís that?" the bard teased.
"Not bad," Xena replied, "But I think we should practice more later," she added with a stroke to the bardís chin.
With that, Xena rose and walked with August who stood momentarily slack-jawed by what she just witnessed. Oh she knew Xena was Gabrielleís lover at one point in their lives but she didnít realize that things had changed . . . literally . . . overnight.
Once alone Eve turned to Gabrielle who was beaming like a lantern.
"Iíve waited months to say this," Eve began with a huge grin.
"What?" the bard asked truly intrigued by what her daughter had to say.
Eve took a deep breath and released it slowly, savoring the moment with her eyes closed. When she opened them she smiled at the bard.
"Mom . . . Will YOU tell me one of your stories."
Continue to Part VI