DISCLAIMER: I don't own these people. MCA/Universal does. The story
is all my fault tho.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Journeys of Perspective
I first noticed something was bothering Xena when she winced. Xena never winces. Grimaces, yes, frowns, most certainly. Winces, never. Pain is not something she allows the world to see her experience, and I, being her world, was included in her stoicism. Me, oh, I go on for hours when I stub my toe, but Xena just calmly accepts arrow scrapes, sword cuts and broken bones.
"Xena? Are you ok?"
"It's nothing, Gabrielle." My warrior friend's hard voice denied me further questions. So I decided to watch her. I'm always watching her. As she rides, as she fights, as she sleeps. She doesn't know it, but it is when I first saw her sleep that I fell in love with her. Not with her power, though her power pulls me. Not with her strength, though strong she is. No, it is with the silent, tender, soft Xena that relaxes in the firelight, when in that place between waking and dream she lies. So now, I will watch her, and discover why it is she winces.
A day has passed. And another. She hides her winces well, but I still catch them. Dismounting, mounting. Stretching, reaching. It is her back, I know this now. I should have known that she couldn't take an entire rooftop on her shoulders and not suffer some injury.
It was a simple thing, really. We were passing through a village, and an old woman had approached Xena and asked if she would kindly please get her best laying hen down from the rafters of her barn. It's not really the sort of heroic thing that everyone expects of the Warrior Princess, but she was glad to help. So she climbed the rickety ladder to the hayloft, calling out in her low soft tones a human mockery of chicken clucks. I saw the feathers fall as she saw the chicken move. The chase was on. Dodging here and there through the rafters and loft boards. Her fingers closing on empty air, to be filled with feather bits. Then, she had her hands around the hen's midsection, and the clucker was happily vocalizing her indignation at being so harshly manhandled. In truth, I believe that Xena was exasperated, which would explain her lack of attention. A slight shudder in the over head loft boards signalled a danger that even an oracle could not have foretold. Xena bent down and handed me the still mildly squawking hen, which I in turn handed to her grateful owner.
Just as my friend was about to descend the time weakened ladder, I heard the crack. So did she. With a strangled cry of fear, frustration and anger, she launched herself off of the hayloft edge, into a spinning tuck and landed squarely behind me.
"Down! Now!" She had commanded, while shoving me down and covering me with her body. We fell together into a fetal huddle. I could feel her ragged breath tickling the back of my neck as we waited eternal seconds for what was sure to happen. Crr...ACK! The loft floor gave out, tumbling down around us. Wood, dust, hay and bits and pieces of the farm's stored years came crashing onto our heads. And then, due to the loss of the supporting structure of time, The roof collapsed. I closed my eyes, whispering a prayer to Celesta to make it painless. But death did not take us. Xena shielded my body with hers, I felt her grunts as wooden beams thudded into her back and shoulders. I sensed the trickle of wooddust as it flowed through her hair and down my face, and I heard her breathing. Her steady constant breathing. She refused to give up, to panic, so I myself could do no less. My warrior was strong, therefore so was I.
It only took the villagers a candlemark or so to unbury us, the aged farmwife chanting apologies the whole while we were buried. I could hear the descant of her "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" over and over getting closer and closer as each shingle, slice and bit of wood, metal and straw was removed from our hunched bodies.
Xena must have known that she was free by the feel of the sun on her leathers, for she exploded upwards, carrying me with her. Brushing away the apologies with a motion and a glance, Xena strode over to Argo and said calmly, "C'mon Gabrielle, we still have daylight left. Let's not waste it." I actually considered offering to stay and help the woman repair her broken barn, but Xena's tone told me that we had best be on our way. Smiling weakly at the old woman, who seemed at a loss as to whether she should be grateful or apologetic, I retrieved my staff and joined my companion on the road once more.
That was a week ago. Each day, her winces come more often. She refuses to let me touch her, this is a knowledge I carry within me like a lock against the emotions that scramble to free themselves. So I watch her. She is not weak. Just this morning, we defeated a band of brigands twenty strong, with her taking on the bulk of them while I aided as best as one simple villager with a staff could. I have no illusions about which one of us is best capable of defense. I know that I can, and will defend myself, but I also know that Xena is the better, no the best, warrior. But is that all she is, a warrior? My heart aches to know the woman I have glimpsed only so infrequently. I am her best friend. She has said this much about me in my hearing. I sighed inwardly at that. On the outside, I was thrilled to be accorded such an honor, but inside, I flinched. 'Best' friend is all she thinks of me as, indeed. I could only dream of more intimate meanings.
It is now 9 days since the accident. She no longer hides her pain from me, though she still covers it for the rest of the world. I think now it is time to try again to reach her. We have camped near some rocky hills and there is a mineral tang to the air that she has taught me indicates natural hot springs are in the area.
"Xena, I smell sulphur. Are we near a spring?" I ask, letting a weariness and musclesoreness color my voice more than I truely felt. Instantly, her eyes fill with concern for me. For my well-being.
"Good nose, my bardic friend. Yes, not more than a quarter candlemark's walk from here is a small spring. If you've a mind, we could walk there before I catch dinner." Playfully, I reach out and shove on her leg.
"If I've a mind! Xena, so formal. Sheesh. Well, since you are being so formal, Warrior Princess, I am indeed, of a mind for a warm bath. I could use a soak." And so could you, my unspoken thought. For perhaps, if I can get her into the Gaia heated waters, I can slip behind her unawares and treat her back and shoulders to some much needed attention.
A quick walk and we are disrobing. My fingers fly to undo laces and buckles and my clothes are lying in a puddle on the ground at my feet. My staff I let topple against a convenient bush and I look up to see Xena struggling with the laces of her leathers.
"Here, let me get those." She never asks me to help, but her silent acquiescence is all the permission I need to step behind her and unlace her second skin. The brown layer of protection slides from her body, a soft suckling sound following it's progress to the forest floor. My body aches to kiss the flesh the leather slicks across. I taste blood as I staunchly tell myself to not go_there_. Her body freed of it's daily confinement, Xena quickly shucked her loincloth and her boots. Naked in the darkness, I can now see the greenish purpley yellow bruising that covers most of her back, etched in the moonlight. I swallow a gasp. If she knew what I had seen, she would close the gates in her eyes so fast, the air would rush home to it's mistress, howling in affronted injury. So I pace myself. We step as one into the scalding water of the natural tub. Big enough for two and two more of us, we are none the less grateful to be alone. A crisp wind flutters through the valley, chilling us as the water warms.
I soaked for half a candlemark, just enough for her to relax completely, before slipping around behind her, dislodging her from her perch on a water smoothed stone.
"Gabrielle, what in Tartarus are you doing?" She grumbles as she stands, her back to me, shoulders level with my breasts. I kneel on the stone, praying that I won't be shut out once again.
"I'm going to give you a massage Xena. Your back is so knotty, a pine tree would be jealous." I give her no time to run, or deny me the pleasure of her skin. My hands descend and clasp her shoulders in a strong grip, stronger than even I thought I had. As my hands press out the muscled bunches, she tenses, then, amazingly, she gives up without a fight, and relaxes into my touch. She is silent, letting me work out the knots that have pained her for more than a week. I grow brave in my exploration of her body and let my hands drift down her back in a feathering caress that has nothing to do with pain release. I feel, rather than hear, a moan roll down Xena's body, and hear an echoing one in my own throat. I lean close to her, my nipples sharpened pebbles in her back now, my hands, slick with water and her perspiration, cup her firm buttocks and now, she vocalizes a groan so primal with desire, that I know for certain, that this was what she was waiting for.
Suddenly, she pulls away from my grip. I open my mouth to complain, but before a sound escapes, my lips are covered with the softest, firmest of touches. Her tongue slips in and tastes the roof of my mouth, and I fall into her arms. It is the longest breath I have ever held. And just as I go to return her kiss, she pushes away from me, tearing her loving lips from mine. I touch my bruised mouth, lost in the sensation of the loss of sensation I would die for. Our eyes meet. Desire and...fear...I am surprised at that, tangle in moontouched blue.
"Xena..." I whisper, attempting to use my voice to draw the woman I want back to me. She shakes her head, black hair whipping about, and steps back again. "What?"
"I can't." She whimpers. And looks at me with such sorrow, that I cannot feel angry.
"Why?" My body, heart and soul scream for her embrace. My voice trembles with the need I feel.
"Because I love you too much to hurt you."
"What?" Perplexed now, I settle into her vacated seat.
"Gabrielle, if I...allow myself to enjoy what you are offering, I will let myself love you like no other will ever love you...and then...you will leave me." Her tone is small, a hurt child striking out in it's fright.
"I would never leave you, Xena." I say, my own voice shrill and high with righteous conviction.
"You already have, Gabrielle." Her eyes hold the tears she did not shed. And I remembered. Poteidaia, Athens, Perdicus. I was a three time leaver. I reached for her again, sure in the knowledge that this time, I would not leave. As my fingers drew close to her flesh, the water shifted, and I fell forward, and my hand passed through Xena's arm. What?! I looked around, and the spring dissolved...
....I sat bolt upright in my bedroll. The embers of the previous evening's fire flared in a sudden gust of wind. My staff lay next to me, and Solari snored softly on the other side of the campfire. Xena? My mind cried. And remembered. There was no barn rescue, no hot springs. We had fought. Over what I can not remember, but I knew, that she was gone. I was on my way back to the Amazons, to the only place I would dare to call home, though my true home was at Xena's side.
"Oh Xena..." I whispered into the night, "I didn't leave you...you pushed me away."
Only the silence of the woods answered me.
Solari opened her eyes to see her Queen staring into the morning cookfire. Solari was not a happy Amazon. She should have been, now that her beloved Queen was coming home to rule, but she knew it was only because Gabrielle had no where else to go. Damn Xena. The bard hadn't said why she and the warrior had split up, but Solari could guess that it had something to do with the stoic warrior's refusal to see what was written so plainly in the bard's eyes. Gabrielle was completely and totally in love with the Warrior Princess, and not having that love returned was killing her.
"Good morning, my Queen."
"Solari." The bard's voice was solemn, holding none of it's usual cheer. The Amazon guard made a decision right then. Be damned orders, they were going to take the long way to Amazonia, and by the gods, she was going to find out what had happened to separate the two friends. What she would do afterwards, she had no idea, but she was determined to try and help her friend.
They traveled slowly, walking along the well trod road toward Thessaly. Solari tried several times to engage the bard in conversation, but Gabrielle remained stubbornly silent. Around midday, the passed through a village. The town was a buzz with gossip about a raven haired warrior who'd just left after rescuing a cat from being stuck down a well. No one had expected the taciturn woman to risk getting trapped in the village's only water source, but she had shrugged and said, "can't let something so small suffer." and shimmied down the rope. Not thirty heartbeats later, the warrior had reappeared, clutching her bedraggled cargo. She had handed the subdued animal to a nearby child and hopped on her horse, not even staying to be thanked.
Gabrielle had quickly hidden the stricken look on her face, but Solari had caught the pain in the bard's eyes at the mention of her friend. The village headman shook his salt and pepper mane.
"We don't even know her name." he had said sorrowfully.
"Xena." Gabrielle supplied softly. "Her name is Xena." Solari's heart wept at the dimming of the bard's eyes as she spoke. Xena's name swept through the crowd, some believing it, others unable to reconcile the legends of the Warrior Princess with such a simple deed. Grasping Gabrielle's shoulder in what she hoped wasn't too harsh a grip, Solari directed Gabrielle back on to the road. With a parting nod, Gabrielle joined the Amazon.
Once again, Solari tried to draw the bard out of her shell. "Gabrielle...don't you think that was wonderful what Xena did back the..." the Amazon's comment trailed off at the look of silent desperation on Gabrielle's face.
"Solari...please. Not now. I can't...I can't talk about her."
"As you wish, my Queen." The rest of their day's journey was traversed in utter silence.
It's funny how the coming of night used to thrill me. We would stop, build our fire, cook our food, lay out our bedrolls, and count stars. Or make pictures of them, or just talk. Or sit in silence. She, with her quill on parchment, scribbling out the day's adventures, I with my sword, sliding across stone. Her hair in the moonlight matched the color of freshly polished armor, and made me wish to slip my fingers through it, just to see if it were as soft as it looked. I don't know what started the fight, I do remember some very hot words were said. I ended up shouting at her that I didn't need some 'half pint wannabe warrior amazon bard' chasing me across half the known world. Gods, if I could eat my words... She had stood there, like a poleaxed cow, then the tears had welled up, and she broke and sobbed out "so now I finally know exactly how you feel..." and she had run off. I didn't follow her. I was too angry then. But later, I tracked her footsteps. She had taken herself to a river's edge, where she had curled up against a tree and cried herself to sleep. I covered her with my cloak and waited. Just before the morning's dawning, she opened her eyes, flung off my cloak as if it were a viper, looked at me with dead eyes, and said, "Xena, I'm leaving you. I'm sorry I was such a pest." I tried to make words that danced in my heart come out, but my head stepped in, and, ever practical, said, "it's your choice, Gabrielle. I never asked you to follow me in the first place." Gods, what an ass I am. She walked away from me, and my life has been Tartarus on Gaia ever since.
Sure, I kept going. It's so ingrained in me now, that hero stuff. Rescuing cats, saving children from burning farmhouses, killing off the bandit or two. Even put down a warlord before he could become more than a petty tyrant. It's been two months, and I know that my bard is most likely happier than she's ever been in her entire life. She never needed me. Just as well, I tell myself as I slip my sword home into it's scabbard, I don't need her either, right?
Solari was at her wit's end. She had delayed their return to Amazonia as long as she could, yet here they were, not more than six candlemarks from the border, and she still didn't know what in Hades' half acre had happened between Xena and Gabrielle. It was beginning to look like she was going to have to give up. They were walking along, silent as usual, when Gabrielle turned to Solari and sighed.
"Solari, have you ever wanted something so bad, you would do anything to have it?"
The Amazon considered, then answered.
"No, not really, but then, I'm young, and I have most everything I need..." She knew that this wasn't what the bard was getting at but she didn't want the bard to stop talking now.
"Oh. Well...you see...oh...never mind."
"No, go ahead, tell me Gabrielle. It's ok. Why don't we stop for now?" Solari gestured to a small copse of trees. "Look, we can rest over there and eat our noon meal." The bard nodded her agreement, and soon, the Amazon and the bard were sitting in a patch of sunlight, eating bread and cheese.
"I guess I knew I was in love with her when she died..." Gabrielle began her tale. She told Solari everything. About the fight, leaving Xena, and the dream she had woken from that night two months prior. By the time she was finished, the bard was crying soundlessly, too exhausted from holding back her emotions to contain her tears. Solari reached for her Queen, meaning only to offer comfort. So it was a complete shock to her when Gabrielle flew into her arms, and kissed her with so much passion, every nerve in the Amazon's body ignited. Unable to fight the fury of the Queen's misplaced desire, she responded to Gabrielle's kiss. Seconds passed, and Gabrielle's hands frantically worked to remove Solari's clothes. Soon, the Amazon was entirely naked, and so was Gabrielle.
There, in that sunlit circle, they began to make love. Body to body and lip to lip, they rolled in the Hellios warmed grass, allowing their passion to control them.
"Xena..." Gabrielle's love choked whisper snapped Solari out of her lust driven haze. Pushing away from the tender touches of the bard, Solari grabbed her skirt and hastily began to dress.
"Gabrielle!" She snapped. "I'm sorry. I won't do this. I won't let you give in to your need for intimacy. I am not the warrior you desire. I will never be Xena. I am Solari." Gabrielle, now realizing what she had done, and was about to do, curled up into a ball, crying "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry." over and over again. "Gabrielle." Solari said gently. "It's all right. I understand. But I think it's time we went looking for the one you really want, don't you?"
"But what if she doesn't want me?" Gabrielle asked plaintively. Solari's brown eyes hardened.
"Then she will learn what it means to spurn an Amazon."
"NO!" Gabrielle sat up and started to dress. "If she tells me to leave, then I will leave, quietly and she will never see me again." Ah, my Queen, you are so brave. Solari thought to herself. I could truely love you, little one. Too bad that task is slated for another. Solari knew full well that Xena loved the little bard, she had seen it painted in everything the warrior had done in the past two months. She knew that the raven haired warrior woman was following them. She had to be. Why else would every town and village they passed through have news of some deed or another that the Warrior Princess had performed?
"Come, my Queen. Let us continue our journey." Solari reached a hand out to the now dressed Gabrielle. Gabrielle accepted the proffered hand, and was drawn up.
"Yes. I need to see her at least once more..." Grabbing her staff, Gabrielle set out for the road with a purpose now giving her the strength she had been lacking for too long.
Gods! I am such a fool! I cannot believe I used Solari like that. I am seriously surprised that she didn't just get up and walk away from me, let alone promise to help me. I can be such a callous idiot. I continuously berated myself as we plodded down the road towards the last known location of the Warrior Princess, which was, strangely enough, only half a day's walk behind us. I guess if I'd been in a better frame of mind, I would have questioned this blessing, as it was, I just thanked the gods for their kindness and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I had a purpose now, and I was going to accomplish it, come Hades, or high water.
We walked and walked and walked and walked some more. My legs were screaming for a break, but my heart drove us onward. Solari never complained, never even spoke, she just doggedly kept up with me, pounding along beside me in that ground eating pace the Amazon's use during a long march. I only stopped when her hand touched my shoulder and directed my attention to the glimmer of a campfire off the side of the road. I didn't want to stop, until my ears caught a familiar whicker, and the sound of someone doing chakram drills. I broke into a run. Heedless of the sound my footfalls made as I raced over fallen leaves and branches, I ran towards the campfire.
"Xena!" I called out, the hope in my soul ringing through the trees. The chakram's whoosh ceased.
"Gabrielle?" A voice answered back, disbelievingly. Then I was being crushed up in strong arms, the scent of leather, cinnamon and hyacinth filling my nose. I looked up into a face filled with confusion and ...love. Yes! I saw love in those Elysian blues, and I acted on it. I knew I only had this one chance to break through the locks that my warrior had placed on her heart and I took it. Entangling my hands in Xena's dark tresses, I pulled her face down to mine, whispered, "I love you." and kissed her so long and hard, there could be no mistaking what I was saying. It was only when I sensed her responding that I felt free enough to cry. My tears mingled with the taste of her lips, and my sobs were soothed by her hands caressing my skin. She lifted me up, kissing me so deeply, that I knew...I _knew_ that everything, somehow, was going to be all right.
Solari coughed, and we separated, but only long enough for her to say, "I see everything's been taken care of. Good. I think I'll camp over there." She pointed to the other side of the road. "In the morning, if you'd like, I will accompany you to the next village. Then I really must be getting back to Ephiny. I'm sure she's more than a lit..." her words trailed off as Xena recaptured my lips, driving away anything I might have said in response.
Our night was as perfect as it could be, given the circumstances. At first, we did nothing but kiss and touch and hold each other close. However, before our intimacies could go too far, Xena had caressed my cheek and said, "Gabrielle, we need to talk." Oh, boy. Did we talk. A nice long discussion about how wrong I was. She needed me, and she made it absolutely clear just how much she wanted me. There, beside her. Forever. Well, you don't have to be an Athenian scholar to know that I apologised. Profusely. Then I told her how much I loved her, and for how long. And I kept going. I told her everything. Everything. Even about Solari. I think at first, she was hurt, but when it became clear that Solari had been the one to bring me back to her, Xena's eyes softened again, and she leaned over, kissed me gently and whispered, "ok, I think we've talked enough." And then her hands and body told me even more. But that's a private story. Suffice to say, the next morning, hand in hand, my warrior and I, with Solari in tow, began a new journey--one that would take us to many new and exciting places, but would never take us apart.
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