Rating/Author's Notes: PG. XGR (Xena/Gabrielle Romance) Note that this piece is unedited. It was written for a forum (Talking Xena) mini-challenge. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Summary: Xena and Gabrielle healing after the battle in One Against An Army and the Rift in season 3.
Disclaimer: All named characters in this story do not belong to me, they belong to the creators and producers and studios that own Xena: Warrior Princess.
Episode Spoilers: Maternal Instincts, The Bitter Suite, One Against An Army.
And they knew. They all knew with that dull, tormented look in their eyes how very wrong it had all become, how different I was. I never did tell them anything: not about me, or Hope or Solan or Xena. But especially not about Hope. I've felt contempt for my body ever since it was used, since I learned what a strange, deficient and perverse device it was. A moment entrapped by fire and I was destroyed. I had Hope in an utterly nauseating mess of things. What should have belonged to me and to Perdicus, or to me and Xena through some divine gift, was a disgusting self-purge. A suicide in so many ways.
I don't allow myself to think of the little bit of joy I felt when those tiny hands, not entirely sure of what they were doing, fell to rest on my chin, or my bottom lip; I struggle to think about her gorgeous little cheeks, her eyes; her lips, golden angel-dust for eyebrows on her fair skin. Instead I often see myself coaxing her to take a drink of what I know to be poison, telling her it's alright. Don't tell me it tastes funny. Drink it, drink it. And the wide-eyed panic in her blue-green eyes as she struggled to breathe, fingernails scratching along my forearms as her body convulsed with coughing fits. Spittle bubbled from her mouth and then slowly, slowly calming, gently stopping until she didn't move at all. I long for a second chance at it, the warm weight of a tiny infant beside me, or lying atop my breast as I watch her sleep.
I might not be dangling in this abyss if not for fate, if not for that one little reflexive kick to save my life. I know Xena would have killed me then, on top of that cliff. Murder was new to me at the time. Xena had been doing it for a decade already. Another death wouldn't have mattered, not in that moment, not to her. It would only have relieved me. I know now that I am not meant for that kind of peace or gratification. I'm meant to suffer even when I struggle to free myself. I am enslaved by it. It is perhaps the worst, most pathetic irony that I ache for her, my executioner. The memories of my life with her haunt me. I remember seeing her for the first time, imagining that I was staring at eternity. It was idealism, all idealism and vanity. And yet...
... oddly, I feel as though I've never left her...
Gabrielle put down her quill and chewed her bottom lip. Crickets chirped outside. It was late and the air was suffocating with summer heat. She stepped away from the desk and grabbed the staff beside her bedroom door. Her family had gone to another town for trading; the markets in Potidaea brought in less and less business each season. She was alone. She walked onto the porch and down the stairs, hearing the subtle symphony of the night. Her boots crunched the pebbled ground, marking time. She could breathe just a bit better away from the house and her writing and her past.
Why are we in Potidea?
"Xena?" Her voice died in her throat.
"Go." Xena ducked her head to the side, hiding her face. Gabrielle couldn't move. Frustrated, Xena grabbed Gabrielle's forearm and eased her from the saddle until she slid off of Argo's side. She stared at Xena with the dumb, horrified look of an animal that had been viciously struck.
Gabrielle turned and saw her village, bizarre thoughts of sanctuary floating through her mind. She picked up her scrolls and the pouch. Hesitating, she began to walk toward the town, looking back at Xena every few paces. And then, almost wickedly, she broke out in a run, desperately racing home to her family. Miserable and afraid, a rush of adrenaline funnelled into her blood, filling her chest and her gut. Salty tears gathered in the corners of her lips. Through the watery mess, she saw her sister and mother gleaning in the wheat fields. Her father stood in the doorway of the house. They froze when they saw her.
Weeks after the fight with the Persian army, Gabrielle succumbed to her anger, to her wounds. Xena hadn't forgotten about Solan. Gabrielle couldn't forget about Hope or her murder. Neither could forget what Xena had done the morning after the funerals. A small fight between them escalated quickly, until Xena had her pinned between a tree and her staff. Gabrielle pushed back against the weapon. Xena pushed her back against the tree.
"You would have killed me, wouldn`t you?" Gabrielle said, her cheeks flushed from weeping.
Xena kept silent, her anger yielding to guilt. Gabrielle saw her weakness and thrust her arms outward, forcing Xena to let go of the staff and stumble backward. That night she disappeared into the forest; Gabrielle didn't sleep. And in the morning, on the back of the horse's saddle, she finally realised that Xena had steered them toward Potidaea.
Gabrielle thumped the fighting staff into the ground as she wandered aimlessly through the village. The stars littered the sky with their mad blinking, like nervous village girls telling secrets. She listened to the din around her, the air filled with hundreds of nocturnal sounds yet all together empty. The night was strange that way, its complexities hidden by darkness. She stopped abruptly on the path hearing a muted noise through the trees, far in the distance. For a moment, she indulged a fantasy as she replayed it in her head: what sounded like a chakram thrown and bouncing from the tree trunks. She pursed her lips, staring at the outcrop of forest. Overwhelmed with curiosity, she pursued the phantom noise.
Deep into the forest, marching over fallen trunks and sharp twigs, dread consumed her. Blood and sweat pricked her flaring nostrils; the scents of battle tinged her tongue and palate. Someone had been through the woods. She slowed her pace, advancing gingerly through the bushes. Parting the thick leaves, she recoiled at a man's empty face; eyes rolled into the back of his head as he swayed from a rope around his ankle. She ducked beneath him and continued, her foot diving into a warm, wet mass. A sharp object dug into her boot and she pulled away upon reflex, looking down. Gabrielle screamed, backing away and unlacing her boot from the cavity of the dead man. In her panic, she looked up and saw the ground littered with a bodies, some heavily bloodied, some completely clean. She tripped and fell backward, scrambling back through the forest, back to her home.
When she closed the door behind her and fastened the locks, she collapsed beneath it, panting heavily. Her foot and leg were smeared with blood, littered with scratches and bits of sticks from the forest ground. She trembled getting to her feet and limped to her bedroom, careful not to tip the small candles on the hallway shelves. Rushing to a water basin, Gabrielle poured well water from the pitcher kept beside it. She thrust her hands into the freezing water and scooped it up to her face. Neurotic, shaking fingers unlaced her top and her boot and she stood naked, bent over the basin, splashing her skin and her wounds. The blood mixed with water and streamed down her leg to pool on the floor. She ignored it, paralysed over the basin of rose coloured liquid. Gabrielle stared into the glassy abyss and a tear trickled down her cheek.
The floorboards creaked in the hall. Gabrielle whipped around and covered her body with her hands. She hadn't heard the door open or close. Reaching for a blanket on Lilla's bed, she pulled it around her torso, holding it together in a fist above her breast. She waited. Nothing. Slowly padded forward. Nothing.
She reached the doorframe and peered down the hall. It was empty. A chair from the kitchen scuffed noisily along the floor. Gabrielle searched the hall for her staff, until the nauseating realisation hit her: she dropped it in the kitchen. She inched forward along the wall, tendrils of wet blonde hair framing her vision. Her body was shaking violently. She willed herself to breathe slowly, quietly. The instant she turned the corner her fear dissolved into shock; her hand came up to cover her mouth.
Xena sat at the table with a hand fixed to her shoulder, streams of crimson running between her fingers to drip onto her knees and the floor. Her gaze faltered; she sensed Gabrielle's presence.
"I need stitches," she rasped.
Gabrielle scurried back to her bedroom, put on a clean shift and seized the small basin and the wash cloth she used. Wordlessly, she set it beside Xena and pressed the washcloth against the wound. Xena hissed from the fresh pain but obeyed when Gabrielle placed her hand on the cloth. She disappeared from the kitchen once more to scurry among her belongings. Xena stifled her groans behind a clenched jaw, pursing her lips as she bent over the kitchen table. The sound of footsteps travelled toward her and Gabrielle reappeared with a thread and needle.
The gash bled constantly and Xena had to keep the cloth atop the open wound, moving it to the side only when Gabrielle had stitched the skin together. They worked in tandem until the lengthy cut was sealed and cleaned.
"Thank you," Xena said softly, her eyes downcast.
They lingered in uncertainty until Gabrielle spoke, "You can rest in my bed for the night."
"You don't have to do that," Xena answered quickly.
Gabrielle stared up at her in disbelief, "You know I do. It's our law. The gods' decree."
"You still believe in all of that?"
She turned and headed back to her bedroom; Xena followed her. Gabrielle directed Xena to her bed while she sat across on Lila's matching one. Xena lay down, easing her upper back onto the pillow to keep from disturbing her injury. Again the quiet persisted between them. Xena fixed her eyes on the ceiling: the thick, perfect lines in the thatched roof.
"It's all I have left... to believe in."
Xena gazed at her. A perplexity had overcome her features. "What do you-"
"The law," she said, swallowing a lump in her throat, "The way we're supposed to live."
Xena paused for a moment. "What about the way we lived?"
Gabrielle folded her hands in her lap and stared at the ground. "We're not citizens and we never will be. I never thought about it until I knew what I could have missed. Some of it, I'd rather not have known... "
Xena bit her bottom lip and averted her gaze.
"Lila is married now," Gabrielle continued.
She forced a smile, "Congratulations."
"Sometimes I wish she could know what I know. She might have liked to see more of Greece or to see Rome. Maybe she wonders what it's like to be free... to be in love... "
Her voice trailed off. Xena's head snapped up, her attention fixed on Gabrielle. Fleetingly, their eyes met and darted away from each other.
"Come here," Xena said. Gabrielle started at the sound. Gingerly, she got up and rested in the space beside Xena on the small bed. Xena gently brushed a strand of red-gold hair behind Gabrielle's ear. Unfaltering, their eyes met.
"Where have you been?" Gabrielle's voice was hushed.
"And you never spoke to me?" Her eyebrow arched.
Xena raked her teeth across her bottom lip, "It was for the best."
Another pause. "You'll stay here tonight?"
"I'll leave in the morning," Xena said.
The minutes inched along, marked by the distant flicker of candle flames bouncing left and right. Anger had left them long ago, too needy and weak to cultivate on its own, too tiring to instigate day after day. It softened instead into bitterness, then to grief, eventually rooting itself in their minds as some foul mistake. Festering silently on its own, the invisible misery that they'd become adept to hide crawled its way to the surface. Gabrielle tenderly, almost too casually, leaned forward to capture Xena's lips between her own.
And it evolved that way: from a kiss, slowly deepening, not with any real lust, but with recognition and the anguish that came with it. Hands took part in caresses as they lost themselves in the swirling web of memories. The knowledge of their lives together returned to them. Nothing would ever be absolute; nothing could ever be permanent.
At dawn, Gabrielle would wake, tasting the cool morning air on her tongue. With her belongings gathered together, and her staff at her side, she'd set out into the stable where she knew Xena was about to leave. Xena wouldn't protest, not anymore. And as it was in the beginning, before they knew what wonderful and cruel lives were ahead of them, Xena would take Gabrielle with her, helping her up onto the horse's back and riding away from Potidaea.