DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielle and Argo are all property of
MCA/Universal. The rest is a product of my bored brain. (Once again: I have
no life.) To satisfy my own silly need to play Cupid, there are scenes of
romantic love between two women in this story. If that bugs you, is illegal
where you live, or you are just too young to see such things, please stop
reading now. If not, read on. (This ones juicy ;)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Once again, Id like to thank all of the fanfic writers out there that have inspired me to do this crazy thing, without you, Id suffer permanent Xena Withdrawals. Id also like to say I love you to my Mom...thanks for being the kewlest Mom in the Xenaverse : ). Of course, none of this would have been possible without such talented people like Lucy Lawless, Renee OConnor, Ted Raimi, Hudson Leike & Co. as well as the rest of the wonderful Xena: Warrior Princess Crew. And last but no where near least, I want to send a hearty thanks to the nutz in #swordnstaff. Miakoda, XeniteJSC, Paige, Fairchild, Morrigan3, Mighty_Ix, Shysoul..all of you..(if I forgot any..Im truely sorry..but hey, I suffer from C.R.S.)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Debt of Life
Why did I ever think that being alive was so much better than being dead? The warrior woman thought wryly to herself as she and her companion slogged their way through a particularly disgusting swamp. Goddess, but I hate mud. Argo, her horse, looked as if she couldnt agree more as she carefully picked her way along the rain soaked path. The statuesque woman ran muck encrusted fingers through the raven black hair that was plastered to her face and neck.
"Xena, are you sure that there will be someplace dry for us to sleep tonight? If I have to sleep in the mud one more time, I think I just might ..." Her companion complained.
"Gabrielle, I promise, I will find us something, or," she said, a bit of her humor struggling to show, "or, I will kill someone trying." The corner of her mouth lifted in a grin.
"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed and lightly punched the warriors shoulder. Xena half-heartedly dodged the blow and caught the young bards fist. A flurry of expressions to fast for Gabrielle to follow crossed Xenas face, then Xena, without warning, pulled Gabrielle towards her and, with a pivot and twist of her hips, threw her friend into the mud.
"Oh, you.. you.. this means war!" Gabrielle was infuriated. She dropped her staff and jumped up out of the muck and lowered her head, squared her shoulders and charged into the giggling ex-warlord. Xenas breath came out with a "whoosh" as she landed on her rump in the same mud that she had earlier cursed. Immediately a wrestling match broke out. First Gabrielle was on top, doing her best to pin the warrior down, then, slipping her leg between the bards, Xena turned the tables and flipped the bard over. Mercilessly, she pinned the mud covered girl down and began to tickle her sides. Gabrielle tried to control herself, but the feather light pressure of Xenas fingers on her ribs undid her. She started laughing. Soon, tears were streaming down her cheeks and she was begging,
"Please, please Xena, stop, oh, oh, ahhahahahahah." The bard could barely contain herself.
"Well isnt this a cozy picture." A strange voice said from nowhere. Instantly, Xena was on her feet, sword drawn, battle ready. Gabrielle was right behind her, uneasily twirling her hastily recovered staff. A large man in nothing but a loin cloth stepped into view. Tattoos of every imaginable type covered his body, creating an unsettling picture of a moving tapestry.
"Xena, Warrior Princess rolling in the mud like a common whore."
"Andricles. What an unpleasant surprise." Xenas voice was a low growl.
"What? Youre not happy to see the man whos life you stole just to serve your army?"
The mans tone was anything but warm.
"Xena, um, not to be a pest, but.." The bard was glancing around nervously, seeing a small army of men creeping in from behind the warrior. "Not now, Gabrielle." Xena barked, moving towards the nearly nude stranger.
"I thought you were dead."
"It seems that Im not, but then again, I had heard that you were among the living impaired as well."
"The rumors of my demise are just that: rumors. However, I guess Ill just have to rectify the problem of your currant liveliness." Xena continued to advance. "Xena.." Gabrielles soft voice floated towards the warrior.
"I said, not NOW, Gabrielle. Stay out of this." She ordered.
"You still havent changed, Xena. You still wont let your slaves fight with you." Andricles said with a slight laugh.
"Gabrielle is not, or ever will be, my slave." Xena stated flatly.
"Really? She looks like your type. Young, pretty, and clearly no match for you physically."
"Hey, I resemble that remark!" The bard tried very hard not to get in the way, but she couldnt help herself. "Ill have you know that Im a bona-fide Amazon Princess."
"Gabrielle, Im only going to say this one more time: shut up and STAY OUT OF THIS!"
"As much as Id love to stay and see the outcome of this," Andricles smiled, a feral look in his eyes, "I have pressing business elsewhere."
"I dont think so." Xena muttered and with her war cry, she somersaulted over to Andricles. Suddenly the other men advanced, one of them quickly disarming and grabbing Gabrielle.
"Oh, no, Warrior Princess. Im not ready to face you just yet. But dont fret, we will finish this." With a wave of his hand, he and his men vanished into the swamp. "What was that all about?" Gabrielle asked, rubbing her wrists where she had been held.
"Nothing." Xena snarled.
"Xena, I dont know what just happened, but it was not nothing."
Exasperation filled Gabrielles voice. The two women continued down the road, the ever present rain and mud creating a dreary counterpoint to Xenas mood.
How in hades am I supposed to tell Gabrielle that Andricles is a wizard. Shed just think I was crazy. Huh, maybe I am. I still am not quite sure how he did half the things I made him do.
The warrior womans thoughts drifted back to the past.
It was the summer of the second year after Cortese attacked Amphipolis. The heat was oppressive. Her men were getting anxious and irritable. To make matters worse, their water supplies were running low. When they came across a small village in a tiny valley, it was almost a relief to fight something besides each other. After the carnage, Xena inspected the line of newly made slaves. One young man in particular caught her eye. He was incredibly large, topping her height by a head and a half, but that was not what had interested her in him. What got her attention was the fact that he looked her straight in the eye, defiance clearly written on his face. This was new to the Warrior Princess. Most of her conquered slaves would barely lift their heads from the ground when she walked by them. This boy, this young giant showed no fear. Yet neither did he try to fight.
"Boy," she barked, laying a finger on his chest, "who are you?"
"I am Andricles." He stated simply.
"Well, Andricles, this may be your lucky day. Tell me what you can do. If it pleases me, I will make you a part of my army instead of selling you to the Romans as a slave."
"I dont know what you mean. I am not a slave. I am Andricles." His features were suffused with pride. Hands that moved so fast they were a blur shot out and, with deadly accurate precision, hit Andricles in several places along his neck. His body slumped to the ground as his legs went numb. He looked up to the woman before him and croaked, "what have you done to me?"
"Ive just cut off the flow of blood to your brain, you have thirty seconds to convince me that you shouldnt die." The warrior crossed her arms and stood, patiently waiting. Andricles swallowed nervously. He could feel the world grow dim around him. Gods save me, but I do not wish to die.
"I, I am a wizard..." he finally coughed. Again a blur of motion, and he felt the world come into focus once more.
"A wizard?" The question was a purr. "Tell me all about it..."
He gulped. "Well, I can...make things...move..." he began.
Xena snapped herself back to the present. The past is the past. I cant let myself dwell on it. I can only try to redeem myself for it. The two women had continued to walk for the remainder of the day in silence. They crested a hill at sunset and found themselves looking down on a small village.
"Theres your dry place to sleep, Gabrielle." Xena remarked, dryly.
"Thank the gods." Came the weary reply.
The women continued into the village, leading a footsore Argo. People were still about, even at this hour, rounding up last minute things before night fell. Some stared at Xena and Gabrielle, but the warrior tried not to pay too much attention to it. People had stared at her for most of her life. It was only when the rock hit Gabrielle in the face and she heard the shout of "Get out of here, we dont have nothing to give you!" that made her take notice of these particular stares. Drawing her sword and pulling Gabrielle behind her, she said calmly, "I dont want anything from this place but a warm, dry place to sleep."
"Sure, Xena. And when we think were safe, your army will come in here and wipe us out. Well, we arent going to fall for that one, not this time!" said one man.
"Wait! Listen to her. Xenas not like that anymore." cried the bard, defending her friend.
"Yeah? what do you know? Youre just a girl!" another man shouted.
"I know that Ive been with Xena for two years now and she has never done anything but good. Besides, Im a bard. Not a warrior. Why would Xena: Warrior Princess be travelling with just a bard?" was Gabrielles response.
"Maybe youre not a bard. Maybe youre her slut!" this came from a woman holding her two children behind her. "I heard that Xena has a thing for pretty women like you.."
"Gabrielle, maybe we should just leave. I dont want to make these people feel uncomfortable." Xena muttered to her friend. Great. How am I going to explain that? Just when we were starting to get close again. Ill be surprised if she doesnt want me to sleep on the floor tonight. Or in a different room. sigh Oh well, whats done is done. No going back now. She could feel her old walls slipping back into place, one brick at a time.
"No, Xena. It's time that people learned to forgive and forget." Gabrielle wasnt going to let this one go. Just then, they heard a cry of pain and distress from somewhere in the village.
Everyone rushed to find out what it was. On the other side of the village was a river. When they reached the river they discovered the source of the cries. A girl child, no more than three summers old, was being dragged into the water by a crocodile. Xena didnt even think, she just acted.
"AIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI!" the famous warcry shattered the silence. She took a running start and then flipped and landed on the back of the croc. Delivering one swift punch to the back of its head, then grabbing the jaws in her hands, she pried out the girls leg. The crocodile struggled to get to Xena, but she, with an amazing feat of strength, flexed her arms and broke its jaw. The defeated animal sank into the river, trailing blood across the water. Xena stepped onto the shore and immediately began to inspect the girls ravaged leg. "Gabrielle, I need warm water, bandages, a needle and some thread. Oh, and some willow tea." Wordlessly, Gabrielle handed her an old shift from Argos saddlebags to use to clean some of the mess and then ran to get the requested items. It didnt take her long. She returned and, handing Xena the needle and thread, she sat down on the riverbank by the girls head. The girl was sobbing quietly by now, shock having begun to set in.
"Hi there." Gabrielle said brightly to the girl. "My name is Gabrielle. Whats yours?"
"Mina." The girl whimpered. Xena was gently washing off the badly injured leg when the villagers finally got brave enough to find out what she was doing.
"What are you doing to the girl?" Asked one older man.
"Im cleaning the wound so it wont infect. Then Im going to sew up the worst of the bites." replied Xena, calmly.
"Give her the tea now, Gabrielle." Xenas voice was low, but gentle.
"Mina, this tea is for the pain. It might taste a little bitter, but you dont have to drink very much of it." The bards kind voice relaxed the girl enough so that she would drink the bitter pain killer. After a few minutes, Mina passed out.
"Youve poisoned her!" accused one villager.
"She's in shock." was the simple response. "It's to be expected. Shell be fine."
It only took a few minutes for Xena to skillfully stitch the worst of the bites, then she turned the now sleeping girl over to a greatful mother.
"You saved my babys life. I cant thank you enough." The woman turned to her friends.
"Xena has changed. Ive heard stories of the Warrior Princess all my life, and Ive never heard of her saving a little girl. I say we give her a chance. She could have let Mina be eaten by that croc." The villagers began to mutter among themselves. Xena stood up and washed her hands in the river.
"Good mother, you dont have to speak for me. My actions should speak for themselves. I know what I did before was evil. I know that Ill never erase that evil for some people. I can only hope that somehow, someday..Ill be able to pay back a tenth of the damage that I caused." Then, gathering her things, she turned and said, "Come on Gabrielle, lets get Argo and go."
"Xena," whispered the bard as the warrior took up her horses reins, "are you sure that Im the bard here? That was possibly the most impassioned speech Ive ever heard you make."
"Many skills, I know. But, please, I need to do something too." Gabrielle looked a bit miffed. "By the way, that was incredible the way you broke that crocs jaw."
"It was nothing that you wouldnt have done." False modesty was never Xenas forte, and it was clear to the bard that she was pleased with the compliment.
Just as they were about to return to the road, a voice shouted, "Xena, wait." They turned to find a man running after them. "I was wrong about you. Im sorry. Im Daelus, the inn keeper. Id be honored if you would consider spending the night with us. That was my daughter that you rescued." Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a look that plainly said thank the gods and agreed to stay.
The Innkeeper led them to a large building at one end of the village.. "Here we are. Not opulent, but it is warm and dry. Now, would you ladies like a bath sent to your room?" Daelus sounded eager to please.
"Yes, please, and our meals as well." Xena tiredly replied.
"As you wish. Your room is up the stairs and third door on the right. Ill see that your horse is stabled properly." Xena and Gabrielle shouldered their packs once more and, exhaustion evident in their stride, climbed the stairs.
The room was definitely not the best theyd ever seen, but it was dry, it had a bed, and best of all, it had a large tub. Dropping their stuff, both women almost hurt themselves in the fury to get undressed.
"Here, Xena, let me help you out of that armor." Gabrielle offered. Xena nodded mute aquiesence as the bards nimble fingers began to undo the buckles and tangs of the warriors armor. Oh, how I love this. Her hands are so soft. Xena couldnt help but feel a heat rise in her body at the bards careful ministrations. A knock at the door startled her out of her reverie. It was the innkeeper, carrying a bucket of water. He and his wife spent the next few minutes filling the tub and bringing up towels and a tray stacked with food. Xena and Gabrielle picked at the food while watching the water level in the tub rise to a comfortable level.
"There," said Daelus as he poured the last bucket of hot water into the tub, "all done. Is there anything else?"
"No, no thank you. Its more than we had hoped for." Gabrielle smiled at him. He left and both women almost knocked over the tray of food racing to the steaming hot tub. Sinking up to their waists in the luxurious warmth, both women let out sighs of pleasure. "This is ambrosia." Gabrielle murmered.
"Not quite, Gabrielle, but very close." Xena slurred. Gabrielle looked at her friend. She had slid down into the water up to her neck.
"Here, turn around, Ill wash your hair and back." Gabrielle motioned while grabbing the soap. Obediently, Xena turned her back on the bard. As she knelt to turn, the lamp light glimmered off of something metallic on her breast. "Whats that?" asked Gabrielle reaching to touch the gleaming area. There was a small, golden hoop pierced through Xenas right nipple. Xenas knees turned to mush at the bards touch. Struggling to control the flood of feelings that washed over her, Xena replied, "oh, that.
Um, thats just an old Amazon custom."
"Custom? What custom? Ive never heard of it." Gabrielle was lightly fingering the ring, amazed at how it seemed to slide easily through the now erect nipple. Swallowing a moan, Xena lowered herself back into the water, effectively detaching the bards too curious fingers. Oh, by the gods, how I wish I could tell her how I feel. That felt so good. Yet, I know she only sees me as a friend. Lucky for me, she thinks that when I kissed her in Tartarus, it was just Autolycus taking advantage of her.
"Well Gabrielle, in ancient times, the Amazons would cut off their right breast so they could be better archers. So that the bowstring wouldnt get fouled." She mimicked drawing a bow, outlining where the string would be and showing how the string would get caught on the breast.
Ignoring the fiery sensations touching her own breast caused, she continued, "Fortunately, a different way of shooting arrows was created and the breast removal was no longer necessary. Instead, the Amazons just pierce that breast as a remembrance. You will have to do the same, some day." The bard blanched.
"You mean, I have to, um, have my nipple, um, poked with a, a sharp object?" The bard was alternately covering her breast and pulling on her nipple, fascinated with the idea.
"Uh-huh. I could do it for you, if youd like?" Yeah, sure I would. In a heartbeat. Not like shed let me touch her any other way. Xena turned back around so that the bard could continue washing her hair.
"Ah, I dont know..I mean, ah, doesnt it hurt?" Although her hands were confidently running soap through the warriors hair, Gabrielles voice was quivering with fear.
"It does at first, but then, you get used to it, and soon, you dont notice it." Xena dunked her head under the water to rinse. Gabrielle washed her back next. "You know Gabrielle, you really are good at taking care of me." Xena whispered. "Uhm, thanks, I think."
"Now, its your turn to let me wash your hair and back." Xena turned back to face the bard. Wordlessly, Gabrielle handed her the soap and turned herself around. Carefully, Xena lathered up Gabrielles hair, running her fingers through the red-gold tresses and massaging the soap all the way to the scalp. Then she gently pushed the bard down to rinse and finished up by washing off her back, reveling in the feel of the bards smooth skin under her calloused hands.
Clean, well fed and dressed for sleep, Xena and Gabrielle slipped between the covers of the bed.
"Xena, about that guy from this morning?" Gabrielle hadnt forgotten about the encounter with Andricles.
"What about him, Gabrielle?" exasperation tinged Xenas sleepy voice.
"Well, I thought you might want to talk about it now."
"Oh, all right. Anything so I can sleep. It was two summers after I had defeated Cortese..." She told her everything of course, nothing else would do. Half-truths and evasions never seemed to get by Gabrielle anyway. She told her of how she had used Andricles remarkable gifts to open castle gates and guide arrows to specific targets well beyond the range of any bow. She told her of how, on several occasions, she had had Andricles steal the breath right out of a persons lungs. She told Gabrielle of how, she was sure, Andricles had come to love the power she gave him. Until one day, in battle, he received a blow to the head, and when he returned to consciousness, his powers were gone. "At the time, we were certain that the Gods were punishing us for misusing his gifts, but now, now I think that it was the blow to the head. What ever the cause, he was no longer of any use to me, so," she took a deep breath, "so I sold him to the highest bidder, knowing full well that it would be the death of him. He was too large of a man to use as anything other than an arena slave or a mine worker." She finished her tale, regret and sorrow filling her voice. Now she will turn away from me for sure. Xena thought, and rolled over to hide her tears.
"Xena?" Gabrielles soft voice crept over to her ears.
"Yes, Gabrielle?" Her voice shook.
"That person isnt you anymore." With that comment, Gabrielle reached for her friend and pulled her to her embrace. Not hiding her tears anymore, Xena cried herself out. "As to the nipple thing," Gabrielle whispered after the crying abated, "I think Id like to wait a bit on that. But if anyone does it, it will be you." She kissed the top of Xenas head, then settled against her and murmered, "Lets get some sleep."
"Gabrielle, I...I dont know what I would do without you." No, no, no, no, no, no. Why cant I tell her how I feel? Why am I so afraid? Xena sighed softly and let sleep claim her.
"I love you too." Gabrielle mouthed and soon, sleep claimed her as well.
The next day dawned clear but cold. Xena and Gabrielle woke, dressed and quickly made their way downstairs. Daelus was waiting for them. Handing each of the women a steaming cup of tea and a bowl of porridge, he said, "Your horse is ready whenever you want to go. I cant thank you enough for what you did for Mina." Xena and Gabrielle ate hastily and were on the road once again.
"Xena, Im glad that you were able to prove to those people that you have changed. At least well have one place in this gods forsaken swamp to come back to dry off at." Gabrielles grin was infectious. Xena smiled back at the bard and they continued in silence for a bit. Xenas thoughts playing merry havoc in her head. What am I going to do about Andricles? I dont want to have to kill him, but if he attacks me or Gabrielle, she shuddered at this thought, 'I wont hesitate to take his life. I just wish that there was a way to settle this without bloodshed. Xena sighed.
"Xena, whats wrong?" Emerald green eyes filled with concern met Xenas haunted cobalt blue ones.
"I was just thinking about Andricles. I would really like to find a way to deal with him without any bloodshed. Especially yours. Somehow I dont see that being possible though." Resignation filled the ex-warlords voice.
"Im sure that youll think of something Xena, you always do." Gabrielle smiled up to Xena.
"Your faith in me is all that keeps me going some days, my friend. Well, since the gods have decided to bless us with such a beautiful day, why dont we make the best of it and try to cover some more ground? Maybe we can get out of this swamp."
"I suppose that means youd like me to ride?" Xena could tell that Gabrielle wasnt too pleased with the prospect.
"I would, yes. You dont have to, of course. However, the sooner we get out of this swamp, the sooner you wont be having to slog through the mud."
"Ok, ok, Im convinced." Gabrielle reached her hand up to Xena to be pulled onto the saddle in front of the warrior princess. Xena wrapped her arm around Gabrielles midsection and held her close and nudged Argo into a canter. They rode this way for a while, enjoying the closeness of each other and the beauty of the day. Gods above and below, I love this woman. I will have to tell her soon, or Aphrodite herself will come down from Olympus and curse me to the lowest section of Hades. Xena thought to herself as she leaned closer to the beautiful bard in front of her. At that moment, Gabrielle chose to voice a question that she had been debating over all day.
"What did that woman at the village mean?"
"Huh? I dont..."
"Yesterday. When we first entered that village, remember, when the people were hurling insults at you?"
"I try not to hear what they are saying, Gabrielle, Ive heard it so many times before. It would just make me angry, and there is no reason for me to be angry. I deserve whatever animosity I get." Xena was getting a little uncomfortable with the subject. I think I do remember what shes talking about. Im not sure Im ready to reveal that part of my past to her yet.
"Im talking about the woman that called me your slut" Now Gabrielle was getting slightly annoyed and it showed in the tone of her voice. "Xena, I know that you used your body to get men to do what you wanted and to get the things you wanted, but, what in hades did she mean about you liking women?" Xena sighed. Gabrielle wasnt going to let this one go either, it seemed. Sweet Athena, what is it about this woman that she can just get past all my defenses and look right into my heart and mind? Gabrielle half twisted in the saddle and looked Xena in the eyes, "well, Im waiting."
"Gabrielle. I...this is going to take some time. Give me a minute." How much should I tell her? If I tell her too much, she might be able to see more than Im willing to let her. I guess Ill just have to be safe and tell her only of the past. I will not mention ever falling in love with a woman.' "Well, its pretty much like that woman said. I..I used women like I used men. If having sex with a woman got me what I wanted, then thats just what I did." She said this in a hard, bitter tone of voice, trying hard not to betray the emotions inside. The bards mouth made a little O shape and she turned and stared at the horizon.
Then, "Xena, what was it like?" Gabrielles question was little more than a whisper of sound.
"What was what like?" Xenas response was more harsh than shed intended it to be. She saw the back of Gabrielles neck color and watched with fascination as the blush crept up to the tips of her ears.
"Making love to..to..to..a woman?" The bard stammered.
"Pure heaven..." was the barely breathed reply. Then, louder, "I really cant describe it."
"Oh, I see. Well, um, ok."
"Why do you want to know, anyway?" Dare I hope?
"Oh, just for bardly reasons. I mean, if Sappho can write love poetry for women, why couldnt I write stories about women loving women?" Gabrielles answer tumbled out.
"Makes sense to me." Can I dare hope? Should I try? Sweet Goddess, I am so scared. Me, the Warrior Princess scared of a little girl. No, not a little girl, a beautiful, wonderful, incredibly sexy young woman. Perhaps a test is in order... Keeping her thoughts to herself, Xena replaced her hand around the bards abdomen and "absentmindedly" began to caress her midriff.
A sharp inhalation of breath was the only sign that the bard had even noticed the touch. Since she didnt object to the touch, Xena continued. Soon Gabrielles breathing was coming in short gasps and Xena could feel chill bumps forming on the smooth flesh of the bards tummy. At about that point, she stopped, fearing that she would have a wet saddle if she didnt. A barely vocalized groan spoke volumes to Xena about what Gabrielle was feeling. Well, Ill be a two-eyed cyclops! Maybe, just maybe, she does like me. I must be absolutely certain though. I dont want my heart broken again. Once was definitely enough. Xenas mind conjured up images of nut brown hair and eyes backed by coffee colored skin. Mlila...I never had a chance to tell you...everything. Not this time, she vowed. Somehow, I will find the courage to tell Gabrielle just exactly how I feel about her. But not until Ive dealt with Andricles.
Gabrielle looked back at Xena, desire and shyness warring for dominance in her eyes. "Why did you stop?" Her voice was low and lilting. She licked her lips nervously.
Fortunately for Xena, she didnt have to answer the question. They topped a rise in the road to find a young man being crucified by an angry mob of villagers. "Hang on, Gabrielle. Yah!" Xena kicked Argo into a full gallop. Bracing herself against Gabrielles back, Xena stood up in the saddle and unhitched her chakram. "AYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI!" The razor sharp disc was launched with unerring accuracy towards the upraised sledgehammer coming down at the boys legs. Her chakram hit the weapon, knocking it from the mans hand, rebounded off of a few trees and returned to Xenas outstretched hand.
She pulled Argo to a halt in front of the crucified boy. "What do you people think youre doing?" She demanded. Gabrielle quietly began to cut the scared young man down.
"Es a demonspawn." One man cried out.
"Aye, hes a misbegotten son of hades." Another one added. "Exactly what crime is this boy accused of?" Xena stared at the villagers, steel in her voice. By this point Gabrielle had the boy down and was softly talking to him.
"He set old man Crags barn afire."
"Did any of you see him do it?"
"No, but weve seen im start fires jus by lookin at stuff." A wizard-child. Hmm. Very interesting. Well, Ill deal with that later.
"I dont believe you. But Ill tell you what. I am Xena." She let this fact sink in. "Ill do you a favor. How much for the boy? Ill buy him and take him away from here." The crowd didnt seem to know what to do after that. Some still wanted to crucify the boy, others, more greedy than scared, wanted to name a price so exorbitant that Caesar himself couldnt pay it.
Finally, the man who had held the sledgehammer stepped forward. "Thirty dinars."
"Agreed." Xena paid the man, and jumping down from Argos back, lifted the youth from Gabrielles arms to the saddle. Gabrielle, Xena and their newly acquired slave made tracks away from the crowd of people before someone changed their mind. They had gone about five miles from the crossroads when Xena stopped and turned to the boy. "Whats your name, boy?" Now why does this sound familiar. She mused.
"I am Nikoli, Mistress." The young man kept his eyes lowered to the ground, avoiding Xenas gaze. Mistress. I used to relish the sound of that. Now it only makes me sick.
"I am not your mistress, Nikoli. You are free to go." Nikoli looked to Gabrielle for confirmation, hope shining in his face.
"Its true, You are free. Go on, go home to your family." The bard smiled at the boy.
He jumped down from Argos back and started to run down the road, then stopped and fell to his knees. Xena and Gabrielle raced over to him.
"What is it, Nikoli? Are you hurt?" Gabrielle asked. Xena knelt down beside the boy and put her arm around his shoulders, which was shaking with unshed tears. "Cmon now, its not that bad. Tell us what is wrong Nikoli, and well see if we can help you." I always did have a soft spot for children in trouble. I kinda like being able to do something about it now. Xena pulled Nikoli to her in a rough embrace. "I, I, I dont know where I live. I dont know how to get home." He wailed, burying his face in Xenas chest.
"Shh. Nikoli. Look, um, tell me about your home, maybe Ive been there." Xena patiently sat down and took the boy into her lap. "First of all, tell me how old you are."
"I have 8 summers." He replied proudly. Gabrielle brought Argo around to the side of Xena and Nikoli so as not to block the road, then sat down beside them. "And what a big, strong young man you are too." Xena smiled at him. Nikoli began to relax and tell her about his village.
"...And my father is Andricles, the village headman." Nikoli finished up with a sniffle.
Both Xena and Gabrielle started at this news.
"Gabrielle," Xena whispered, "this may be a blessing from the gods."
"How do you mean?"
"If I can get Andricles son back to him in one piece, it just might be enough to repay him the debt of life I owe."
"Oh, that would be wonderful." The bard brightened. "Aw, look Xena, hes fallen asleep on your chest. Must be a comfy place to sleep."
"I hardly think so Gabrielle. Hes probably just exhausted." Xena deadpanned.
"I dont know about that. Looks pretty comfy to me. Here, let me try." and then Gabrielle laid her head on Xenas chest, snuggling into the flesh above her breastplate. Xena almost fainted when Gabrielles smooth skin brushed hers, and she knew her heart was struggling to burst out of her ribcage. Before anything else could happen to unnerve the warrior, however, she pushed Gabrielle off of her chest and handed her the still sleeping Nikoli. "Lets get going. Maybe we can find this town of his soon." Xena gruffly barked as she stood, but the look in Gabrielles eyes was one of I know your heart now, Warrior Princess, and this is far from over. Zeus! That was too close. Xena tried to get the drum that was her heart to slow down. All I want to do is hold her close and cover her sweet, beautiful body with kisses.
Gabrielle got up and handed Nikoli back to Xena after she had mounted Argo. Evening descended and the warrior and bard were no closer to finding Nikolis home town. They would have to camp out with him. Locating a mostly dry place to sleep for the night then setting up camp took up the rest of the daylight they had left. Gabrielle and Nikoli started supper while Xena sat and methodically sharpened her sword. Glancing up every so often to watch the bard and young man, Xena sighed to herself. This feels so much like a family. I wonder if Gabrielle ever dreams of having family? Ive never been much for settling down before, but if this is what it would be like with Gabrielle, she looked over to where the bard was patiently explaining to Nikoli how to turn a spit, no hint of exasperation on her face at her students seeming lack of knowledge, then I want children. I want to have children with her. I know I can never take Solon away from the centaurs, but it would sure be nice to visit him as his mother. I wonder if hes forgiven me? It seemed that way, when we last parted, but time has a way of twisting things. Perhaps after we return Nikoli to Andricles, and, she paused, and if Im still alive, well go and visit him. Her sword once again sharp and with nothing else to do but wait for dinner to be cooked, Xena decided to take a look around the area. "Gabrielle, keep an eye on Argo and the camp. Im going for a walk."
"Xena, ma..may I come with you?" Nikoli tentatively asked, looking at Gabrielle for permission to be excused from spit duty.
"If Xena says its ok, then how can I refuse?" Gabrielle laughed and ruffled his hair.
"Well," Xena considered. He is young, but he may be able to recognize a landmark. "all right, but stay close to me. And do exactly what I tell you to. It might mean the difference between life and death."
"Ok, cool." The boy jumped up and gravely turned the spit over to Gabrielle.
Xena cast an amused grin at the bard.
"Sigh. Looks like Im stuck here at camp again." The bard quipped.
"We wont be gone long Gabrielle, I just need to stretch out my legs." Xena smiled at Gabrielle, letting some of the feelings she had for the bard show in her eyes. "I promise to return before your wonderful dinner gets cold." The boy and the warrior woman wandered off into the night.
"Did you know that Gabrielle was in love with you?" Well, well, well, out of the mouths of babes.
"No, I wasnt aware of this fact."
"Well she is."
"What makes you so sure that she is, anyway Nikoli?"
"She never stops looking at you. My mom looks at my dad that way. I asked her about it once and she told me that it was because she loved him very much." The boy explained.
"Nikoli, just because Gabrielle looks at me all the time doesnt mean that shes in love with me. She is a bard you know, she could just be making up some story or another and looking at me to get the details right."
"No, Im sure of this. Gabrielle really is in love with you." He stubbornly insisted. Xena sighed.
"Nikoli, you just told me that your mom looks at you dad all the time because she loves him right?"
"Right." He grinned, thinking he had won his point. "Well, maybe Gabrielle looks at me because she loves me, but that doesnt mean that shes in love with me. Loving someone and being in love with someone are two different things." Xena really didnt want to have this conversation, but it seemed that Nikoli had the tenacity of a bulldog.
"But Xena, Ive seen the way you look at her too. And its the same way she looks at you. And You are definitely IN love with Gabrielle. Try to deny that."
Nikoli grinned at her like a demon. Xena stopped dead in her tracks.
"Am I that obvious?" She whispered.
"Only to those who know how to look."
"How did you get so wise, so young, Nikoli?" She looked into the boys face for some sign that he was not what he appeared to be.
"Oh, thats easy. Im a wizard-child. I see things most people dont. Like I can see that you and Gabrielle are in love, but wont admit it to each other. Thats really silly you know. Love like what the two of you have for one and other only comes along once in a great while. I can also see that you have a heavy burden of past to carry. If you let the bard into your heart, let her give to you what she most desires to, " Nikoli became very serious, " you will find that burden much easier to bear."
"You are so young. Its not as easy to do the things you advise." Xena sadly shook her head. "Im too afraid to let her see that part of me. Im too afraid that shell see something that she cant love."
"Xena, the bard loves you. And she knows more about the real you than you do. Think on that. But dont think too long, she will not wait forever. How long till another comes along and gives your bard the chance to love them?"
"Its already happened once. And then I was the cause of his death." Tears welled up in Xenas eyes. Nikoli sat down on a convenient tree root. "Tell me about it, Xena."
"You? Youre just a boy. I should be comforting you, like I did earlier." She started to protest, but something in Nikolis eyes forced her to sit beside him, resting her head on her knees.
"Yes, earlier I needed that comfort. Now its your turn. This is what I was born to do, Xena. My father has taught me this from birth. I am wizard-kin."
"Your father..." a look of infinite pain and sadness crossed her face. "I stole his life from him..."
"I knew that. I knew who you were when you rescued me Xena, and I harbor no ill will towards you, unlike my father. But," his eyes twinkled, "he will come around. Ill see to that. Now, tell me about this death that bothers you so." Xena must have spent hours telling the boy of Perdicus. How he was Gabrielles intended husband until she came along, how Gabrielle left him to follow her. She told him of running into Perdicus at Troy, and how the once scholarly lad had grown into a fine soldier. Then she told Nikoli of Perdicus finding her and Gabrielle and proposing marriage to Gabrielle.
"I was never so happy as when she told me that she was going to say no to him. I hated myself for wanting to deny her a chance at a real life, but I selfishly wanted her to stay with me." Xena then told him about Callisto and Cirra and of capturing her the first time. "Then Callisto escaped and started ravaging every village between her and me." She told him of how, in the middle of battle, Perdicus had just dropped his weapon and how Gabrielle had changed her mind. "I think I died inside. Gabrielle and Perdicus married, so to keep from losing myself to the darkness inside of me, I went after Callisto. I found her destroying a village. Stupidly, I let my guard down and she managed to capture me but because she wanted revenge on me, to "kill my soul", she went after Gabrielle. I arrived too late to save Perdicus. And I was sick. Sick with myself for being happy that Gabrielle could once again be mine." She finished up by telling him how much joy she got in watching Callisto sink into the quicksand, begging for mercy.
Nikoli looked at her, head cocked to one side. "And because of this, you feel you dont deserve Gabrielles love?"
"Yes." The tears were flowing openly now, she made no move to cease them. "Xena, I hate to tell you this, but any person in your situation would have done the same thing. Well, maybe not any person, " he amended, "some people might have told Gabrielle how they felt and avoided the whole Perdicus thing all together. But," he held up a hand to forestall her any replies, "thats not what happened. What happened is the past, Xena.
Let it go. Gabrielle obviously does not blame you for what happened, so stop blaming yourself. If you are going to lay blame anywhere, lay it where it belongs: on Callisto."
"But I made Callisto the way she was." Xena managed.
"Horseshit! Xena, Callisto made Callisto. Sure, your actions caused the choice that she had to make, but she still made that choice. You certainly didnt hold a knife to her throat and order her to kill Perdicus, or anyone else for that matter."
"Yes, but.." she tried again.
"No more buts Xena. Its time to live in the present. Now, lets go back to camp, Im starved and Gabrielle is probably getting worried." Xena looked at the position of the moon in the sky and knew that she was in for a serious lecture when they returned to camp.
"Where in Hades have you two been?" Gabrielle demanded when they walked into the firelight. "I was worried sick. I almost burned dinner!"
Xena bowed her head, then walked over to her friend, possibly lover, and said, "Im really sorry. Can you forgive me?"
"Yeah, cmon Gabby, dont be so hard on the lady. If you want someone to yell at, yell at me. I thought I saw something that looked familiar and got us lost trying to find my village." Nikoli piped up.
Faced with the tender request for forgiveness and Nikolis amusing tale of getting lost, Gabrielle couldnt help but accept their apologies. "All right, all right, youre forgiven. THIS time. Now, lets eat. Im famished." All three ate quickly and then bedded down for the night.
Xena was the first to wake. She stirred the embers of the last evenings fire and quietly began to pack up their campsite. Nikoli roused next and stumbled off into the bushes to relieve himself. Xena took the opportunity to wake the bard and, by the time the boy had returned, Gabrielle was dressed and ready to go, if a bit sleepy-eyed. "I think well find my home today." Nikoli grinned brightly.
"Im sure of it." Xena replied. "Now, Nikoli, do you want to walk or ride?"
"Oh, Xena, let the boy ride. His small legs couldnt keep up with mine." Gabrielle pointed out.
"Nice legs too." Nikoli quipped, innocently. Gabrielle blushed. Xena stiffly climbed into Argos saddle and pulled Nikoli up in front of her. Tightly wrapping her left arm about the young mans waist, she set off at a slow walk, Gabrielle right beside them. They traveled until midmorning, stopped for a bite to eat, and continued on. Gabrielle filled the journey with her wonderful tales. She told of Hercules and Xenas exploits, she recited epic poetry about love lost and love won. In other words, she talked her fool head off, but Xena didnt mind. It gave her time to think and amused Nikoli. Could I do this?' She asked herself. Could I travel like this? A child in my arms...or Gabrielle? Or both. Goddess, I miss my son. A silent tear crept down her cheek and she surreptiously wiped it away. I must see him once more. I think I need to tell him who I am almost as much as I need to tell Gabrielle how much I love her. She forced herself to think on other things. Gabrielle was telling the story of how she, Xena, had rescued two villages from certain doom in one day.
"And then, using the flying parchemant, Xena captured the power of Zeus himself and struck down the giant Gareth. "
"Wow. Xena, youre incredible." Nikoli was very impressed. This Xena was not the murderous warlord that his father had carried on about all of his life. He knew for certain now that he had to get his father off of his vengeance kick.
"Thank you." Xena blushed. Im blushing. Im actually blushing. Over a compliment from a kid. Imagine that. I must be going soft. Hmmm..maybe thats not so bad. She looked over at Gabrielle, who was staring open mouthed at the warrior. There was a softness to the bards eyes that made Xena want to melt into her arms. Down girl! Xena reprimanded herself. There will be plenty of time for lecherous thoughts and activities later. I swear it.
Midafternoon came and there was still no sign of the boys home. "I swear, its around here somewhere. Look theres my favorite climbing-tree." Nikoli pointed toward a tall tree off in the distance. "Hey..what the?" Xena clamped her hand over the boys mouth and hissed, "shh!" Just then two dozen armed men stood from out of the cover of the roadside greenery. Gabrielle swung her staff around in front of her and dropped into a fighting crouch. Xena drew her sword and pulled Nikoli as close to her as possible.
"What do you want?" She asked the men in a threatening voice.
"Ah, Xena. So nice of you to drop by." A now familiar voice caused her to turn Argo around. Standing in the road behind her was Andricles. When he saw who was seated in front of the warrior woman, his face went pale. "Nikoli..." he whispered.
"Father!" Nikoli crowed happily.
"Xena, what have you done to my son? I swear if you have harmed a hair on his head Ill..."
"Keep your threats to yourself, Andricles. I havent done anything to the boy." Xenas low voice rumbled.
"Then let him go. Prove that you mean him no harm."
"Not yet, father. First you must send away your men." Nikoli stared his father down. The battle of wills lasted only minutes, but it seemed like forever to Xena and Gabrielle.
"Yes, my son." All of the fight seemed to drain out of Andricles. He gestured and the men dispersed. "Now, come home to me. Please. Your mother and I miss you." There was a plaintive note coloring his words. He truely loves his son. I am impressed. Xena mused.
Nikoli slid off of Argos back into Gabrielles waiting arms. He looked up at Xena, winked, and ran joyously to his fathers side. Pulling his father down to his level, he began to talk animatedly, occasionally pointing at the warrior princess and her companion. A myriad of emotions crossed Andricles face as he listened to his son. Finally, he stood and addressed Xena and Gabrielle.
"It seems that I owe you a debt of a life." He placed his hand upon Nikolis head.
"No, Andricles, you owe me no debt. If anything, it is I who owed you the debt." Xena dismounted and started to walk towards her former slave.
"Xena! What are you doing?" yelled Gabrielle, concern edging her voice as she watched her friend sheath her sword.
"Andricles," said Xena, kneeling and holding her sheathed sword out to him. "I offer myself to you for your judgment. I only ask that you be merciful." Andricles looked down at the woman whom he had spent so much of his life hating, took the offered blade, unsheathed it, ran his thumb down the razor sharp edge, then, brought his arm up in a wide arcing swing towards Xenas neck. Xena felt the cold steel edge of her blade come to an abrupt halt on the back of her neck, then saw the blade land in the dirt at her feet.
"I cant. I cant hate you anymore Xena. Nikoli is right. Get up. Go. You have punished yourself for your sins more than I ever could." He turned to go, taking his sons hand in his. Nikoli looked back at the still kneeling warrior.
"Warrior Princess," the boy called out softly, "remember what I told you. Dont wait too long." She looked up in time to see the merry twinkle in his eyes as he made a curious gesture with his right hand and he and his father vanished. Then the tears came. Great wracking sobs that tore their way up from the very depths of her soul. She collapsed, moaning wretchedly into her hands. Gabrielle was beside her instantly, holding her, rocking her, calming her.
"Oh Xena, I thought Id lost you. My warrior princess." she murmered, pulling the heart-weary woman to her breast. They stayed like that, in that frozen tableau for hours. Darkness broke the spell. Xena finally pushed herself up and stood. Stiffly she bent down and retrieved her blade, sheathed it and slung it to its usual place on her back. The weight was oddly comforting.
She turned to Gabrielle and offered her a hand. The bard took the warriors tear stained hand in her own and allowed herself to be pulled up. In silence, they searched for a place to camp.
They ate a rabbit that Xena managed to snare, but did not taste it. Bedrolls laid out and Argo cared for, Xena sat, staring at the bard across the fire. I made it. Im alive. But the battle isnt over yet. I made a promise to myself and I intend to keep it. "Gabrielle.." she began.
"Xena.." the bard said at the same time.
"I...you go first Gabrielle."
"Ive thought about that Amazon thingy." she said shyly.
"I think Im ready to do it now. I mean, I want you to ..." she faltered.
"Pierce your right nipple?" she supplied.
"Yeah. That. Um, is it, is it gonna hurt very much?" she asked biting her lower lip.
"I shall endeavor to make it as painless as possible for you." Xena got up and rummaged around in her saddlebags for a while, and finding what she wanted, returned to her bedroll.
Opening up a bundle of leather, she laid out a single, long needle, a bottle of port, and a simple gold hoop. "Im sorry that we cant do the full ceremony, but theres no place convenient for you to bath fully. Come and kneel in front of me and take off that piece of material that calls itself a shirt." Slowly Gabrielle made her way over to the warriors bedroll. She unlaced the bodice and let it fall to the ground. Kneeling in front of Xena, she looked her straight in the eyes, fear, anticipation and something else warring for dominance on her face. Goddess she is so beautiful.
Xena let her eyes drink in the sight of Gabrielles nude torso. "Ok. Im ready. Do it." Xena took a piece of cloth and soaked it with the port, then gently washed Gabrielles nipple and breast. Then she took the needle and washed it. Taking a firm grip on Gabrielles nipple with her thumb and forefinger she quickly pushed the needle through. As soon as the needle passed through the other side of the nipple, she grabbed the ring and, sliding the needle all the way down, clasped the hoop firmly in place. Gabrielle took a ragged breath as the torturous mixture of pain and pleasure ceased, to be replaced by a slight burning sensation.
She cried out when Xena put the alcohol soaked rag under her breast and dowsed her nipple with the port.
"Ow. Ow owowowowowowow! By the gods Xena, that burns!" she exclaimed. "I know, but it will keep it from infecting. You will have to clean it everyday, and be sure to pull the ring through the hole or it will close around it." Xena still hadnt moved her hand away from Gabrielles breast. She looked into the bards eyes, wanting, needing to tell her how she felt. Gabrielle sat very very still, holding her breath. Softly, her voice barely above a whisper, Xena began to sing:
"Ive an image in my pocket
Of some dark demon
That temptation brought to life
And it chokes all of my breath out
Im scratching and screaming
Till morning comes to night
Place your hand
My body will decide
Place your hand
My anger will subside
There are fragments of possessions
Shards of past relations
Splintering my skin
A fear so black and hollow
It can suffocate creation
And refuse to let you in
Place your hand
My body will decide
Place your hand
My anger will subside
And they speak to me like prophets in my dreams
Speak to me like prophets in my dreams
Shouting like prophets in my dreams
Sometimes I think its easy
Too easy for the living
To receive the promised land
Can flesh provide the answer
The reason for sensation
Justify your hand
Place your hand
My body will decide
Place your hand
My anger will subside"
Hands entwined, bodies coming together, lips touching. Ice white sparkles of passions desire flaring through each woman as they came together in the only way they could, the only way theyd ever wanted to. Velvet softness gave way to driving need as tongues clashed and tangled, exploring, tasting, testing. Hands roamed, clothes, armor were tossed away, shed like skin in the haste to touch. Then, almost as if scared by the intensity of each others need, the women pulled apart to stare deeply into the others eyes.
"Xena, oh Xena. I, I never knew." Gabrielle let her fingers trail up the warriors arm to her shoulder, still needing to touch, to know that it was real.
"My sweet Gabrielle, I have loved you for so long." the warrior replied huskily.
"I knew. I knew you loved me. Ive loved you too." The depth of the bards feelings were fully displayed as she leaned towards Xena.
"You, you knew? How? How long have you..?"
"It seems like Ive always known, but I was certain of it when you...kissed me while you were in Autolycus body."
"Now, no more words, warrior princess. I want your lips to be too busy to talk."
"Your wish is my desire." Xena allowed a hint of a smile to cross her face before once again claiming her bards lips. With feverish intensity the two women kissed, each exploring the others bodies. Xenas lips trailed fire across the bards face, down her neck, to stop and nuzzle the smooth flesh of her throat. Gabrielle let out small moans of pleasure as Xena gently bit and nipped the skin below her ears and along the line of her collarbone. The warrior slowly slid herself on top of the bard then sat up and straddled her hips, running her hands all over the bards beautiful body. "So beautiful." She breathed, then began kissing her way down to her breasts. Mindful of the newly pierced right breast, she focused all of her loving attentions on the left one. Gabrielles hands came to rest on Xenas back and she dug her nails into the well formed muscles of Xenas buttocks, pulling inward with each rake.
One hand slid up Xenas back and twined itself into her hair. At first Xena tenderly took Gabrielles rock hard nipple into her mouth and rolled it back and forth between her tongue and teeth, but as Gabrielles breathing became more and more ragged and the sounds of her pleasure grew louder, Xena sucked harder and bit down causing Gabrielle to cry out.
"Uhhn! Xena. Please, whatever you do, dont STOP!" Xena just grinned and continued to suckle the bards breast. Suddenly, Gabrielle turned the tables on the warrior. Slipping her leg up between Xenas, she flipped them over and began to attack Xenas breasts with a ferocity and passion Xena had never felt before. Xena could feel herself being driven to the brink by the bards skillful manipulations of her nipples, not to mention her hands. Gabrielle had slid one of her hands down the warriors taut body and was playfully teasing the area around the patch of midnight black hair at the center of her body. Xenas hips bucked and her back arched, willing the bard to slip her fingers inside. The warriors own hands werent still either, she was exploring the curves and shapes of the bards back and buttocks, driving her nails into tender flesh as Gabrielle had done to her.
"Oh, Goddess Gabrielle, I love you." The warrior moaned as the bard turned her head and kissed her way down Xenas body. When she got to the intersection of the warrior womans legs, she muttered into the flesh of Xenas legs, "Perdicus, you may not have been that good, but you did teach me some interesting things." And then, using her fingers she spread Xenas lips open and lowered her mouth onto the swollen flesh inside. Xenas scream of pure exstacy rebounded off of the surrounding trees as Gabrielle explored every nook and cranny of her warriors center. Xena opened her eyes and saw that the bards dripping opening was almost perfectly above her mouth. She didnt even hesitate, she grabbed ahold of Gabrielles hips and drove her tongue inside of the bard as deep as she could. Gabrielle redoubled her efforts as the waves of her own pleasure washed over her. Driving first one, then two, then three fingers inside of the warm cave, the bard began to match the rhythm of her tongue and fingers. Xena copied her and soon, all either of them could feel was the white hot explosion of their orgasms.
Exhausted, sated and thoroughly happy with themselves, the bard and the warrior snuggled up to one and other and looked at the stars. "Xena?"
"Beloved? Oooo..I kinda like that. Anyway, I just wanted to say, I love you."
"I love you too, Gabrielle." Xena pulled the bard closer to her and nuzzled her hair.
Gabrielle reached behind her to grab a blanket and cover the two of them up.
"Ouch." She said, pulling her hand back and sucking on the palm.
"What happened, beloved?" Xena sat up, concerned.
"I just pricked myself on that needle-thingy of yours."
"Ahh. Well let me kiss it and make it better." Xena took Gabrielles injured hand in hers and softly kissed it. Then she began trailing kisses up the inside of the bards arm and they fell back to the bedroll, kissing and touching and exploring this new, perfect love.
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