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Standard Disclaimer- These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.
Specific Story Disclaimers:
Violence Ė Where there is Xena, there will be violence. Itís just one of those things. But this kind is not too graphic, and we avoid mentions of limbs being chopped off and used for kindling, or any description of eyeballs being gouged out by an errant chakram or anything like that.
Subtext Ė Subtext R Us. This story, as was the last one, and the one before that which flowed like a sargassum monster from my terminal, based on the supposition that itís about two women who love each other a whole lot. Once again, there is nothing graphic, but the theme does wrap itself throughout the story, and if you canít take this, go read some other nice piece of fan fiction. I will make my usual statement Ė if love offends you, drop me a note with your snail mail address, and I will send you some authentic, found in Southernmost Florida only, key lime pie. (Just the thing for hot summers.) Because I really do feel bad for you.
Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:
Bound Ė Part 5
By Melissa Good
The council room was filled, by the time they got there, with a shifting mass of damp forest dwellers who sorted themselves out and settled down as Lestan strode in and took his seat, motioning for Xena to do the same.
A small silence followed, in which the steady sound of the rain outside punctuated by thunder rolled over them. "Well." Lestan said, putting a hand on the table, and gently playing with the handle of mug. "As some of you know, we had yet another incursion today. Secanís rangers entered our territory, and ambushed my son."
Silence, as golden eyes flickered around and met each other with unease.
"Jessan is all right, besides some cracked ribs and a cut or two." Lestan continued, and felt a wave of relief roll around the room. His attention shifted to the silent, dark haired woman in their midst. "Can you give us any detail as to what happened, Xena?"
A quiet, controlled voice responded, with a vibrant low tone that carried easily around the large gathering. "Nothing really to tell, Lestan. I was out running along your northern border, and saw two strangers facing off against Jess." She shrugged. "Chased them off, but they hadnít had enough, and they came back." She paused. "Jess gave one a dislocated shoulder, and he took off."
Glances traded around the room. "And the other?" Lestan asked, leaning forward.
No answer from Xena, but her mouth twitched into a feral grin.
"I see." Lestan replied, taking a breath. "That will... complicate things." Gods. She killed him. And it was probably one of his prize border raiders, and they had a witness.
She shrugged in apology. "Came at me with a sword, Lestan."
And she had been unarmed, he realized. "No fault to you, Xena." He smiled at her. "Wish I could have been there." And looking around the room, at the glints in familiar eyes, he realized he was not the only one who felt that way. But.. "That does put a spin on things, though." He glanced at Wennid. "Secan will want her."
Wennidís eyebrows rose, and she shook her head. "Damn fool."
A loud bang shook the room, and they all jumped. "Now that I have your attention. " Xena said calmly. "Wanna let me in on just what in HADES is going on here?" She felt a gentle hand on her back, as Gabrielle leaned close to hear the answer, and she half turned and caught the bardís glance, and the smile she was trying to wipe off her face. Liked that, huh? Xena thought, amused, then turned her attention back to Lestan. "Well???"
So he told her. About Secan, and his clan, who had sent an ultimatum, either capitulate, or fight, or send their best in single combat against him.
"So, we have a problem, Xena. We have no one that can match him, and his rangers are better trained, and more experienced than the fighters here." Lestan sighed. "And it would burn my soul to give into him, but I have lives to think of." His eyes met hers. "And now, sure as the sun rises in the morning, heís going to demand I turn you over to him as part of the surrender."
Xena laughed. And the sound skittered around the room dancing off the woven walls and the watching forest dwellers. "I guess Iíll have to tell him Iím not yours to surrender." She remarked, letting her gaze travel around the room. "No chance of fighting them off? "
Warrin cleared his throat, giving Xena a direct stare. "Weíd lose badly."
"Why?" Came the surprising question from the warrior.
Jessanís uncle blinked at her. "Because they have the fire in the blood, and we do not." Not expecting her to understand the lust that fueled Secanís rangers that made them almost unstoppable fighters. That let them kill without regret.
Xena nodded slowly. She did understand, probably better than Warrin knew. Probably better than Warrin himself understood. "Aresí gift." She said, quietly. Feeling the stirrings of it in her own blood.
"Aye." Warrin replied.
"You donít always need that." Xena remarked, as she sat back and let her arm rest on Gabrielleís shoulder. "You can use intelligence instead."
Lestan watched both of them, aware he was viewing a fencing match as deadly as any with live steel. "What do you mean, Xena?" He interrupted them.
She turned and regarded his face. "I mean strategy sometimes will win a day when youíre outnumbered, outclassed, and outfought."
"Youíre daft." Warrin snorted, and shook his head. "You have no idea what youíre saying. Would you ask us to go to our deaths on the chance of strategy?"
"Isnít that what you want?" Gabrielleís voice carried clearly across the table, and was followed by a deathly stillness. Her mist green eyes bored into his. "Why are you trying to convince everyone that thereís no chance? That giving up is the only option?"
Warrin stood, and walked slowly over to her, his face a mask. He stopped within striking distance, and felt his nostrils flaring as his temper began to rise.
Gabrielle rose smoothly to meet him, exquisitely aware of the hair trigger tension running through the shoulder she had a hand casually on. She squeezed the muscles gently. Give me a chance here, love. She waited for his response.
"I wouldnít risk even a one of my brothers or sisters in a foolish plan thatís doomed to failure, you little idiot." Warrin hissed. "You have so little knowledge of what we are. Go back to your human city and let us take care of our own problems."
The bard calmly regarded him. "Sometimes you have to risk the things you love, Warrin." Her eyes bored into his. "I live with that risk every minute of the day, but that would never stop me from putting myself on the line for something I believed in. And if you donít believe in yourself, and the freedom of your people, than whatís the point?"
Xena had half turned, and was watching them, with a quiet smile. Then saw Warrinís body twitch, and pinned him with a stare. "Donít." She snapped, a growl in her voice that was echoed by the small damp body at her feet.
One word, and she was unarmed, and in a room filled with potential enemies twice her size, and not one of them would have made a move towards her. They wanna see Aresí gift? Fine. Xena mused, and let the fire rise up in her, and knew they felt it. That it was closer to the surface in her than it was in them.
"Fools." Warrin spat, and turned on his heel. But it was a retreat, and they all knew it. The scarred forest dweller left the room, and there was silence in his wake.
Gabrielle let out the breath sheíd been holding, and flicked her eyes to her partner, and saw the swiftly hidden grin. "Well." She sighed, and sat back down, moving a little closer to Xena.
The warrior slid an arm around her and turned to face Lestan again. "Apologies, Lestan."
The older forest dweller shook his head. "Not needed." He grunted. "Warrin does not risk lightly, as you can imagine. He says what he feels is best for our clan.. and I value him for that." He hesitated. "But Gabrielleís words ring true in my heart as well." A glance around the room told him that his sentiment was shared. "Is there a strategy that will get us out of this damned hole?"
Now all eyes turned to Xena, and Gabrielle watched her gaze go inward for a long moment. "Maybe." She finally answered. "Iíd need more details on his fighters. And yours." She looked around. "Maybe I could teach you a few... " A grin curled her lips. "Tricks.. Secanís never seen."
They grinned back, and a little thrill of excitement traveled around the table, responding to her air of confidence. "Tell you what." Xena took a deep breath. "Iíll take a look at the situation. If itís as Warrin says.. if there really is no hope, maybe Gabrielle here can help work out some kind of agreement thatís not as bad for your clan."
The bard worked very hard to keep the look of utter surprise off her face. Wow. Didnít expect that. But she felt a warm glow of pride at the words, and she slid her arm around the warrior and gave her a quick squeeze of thanks.
"But if thereís an honorable way out..." she let the thought trail off, and saw the response in their eyes. "Iíll find it."
Lestan reached across the table, and grasped her wrist. "You donít have to do this, Xena. Itís really not your fight."
Xena laughed. "Seems to me Iíve heard that phrase around these parts before." Then she sobered, and met his eyes. "I know that." A pause, and a sly grin. "But I never could resist a good brawl."
They nodded at each other in understanding. "Very well." Lestan sighed, then realized his lifemate was poking him. "Oh. Sorry." A grin in their direction. "Will you join us for dinner tonight?" He ignored their smiles. "I can get all the information about Secanís warriors and let you see it."
Xena half turned her head, and raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle, who nodded. "Sure." She said. "Weíd be glad to." She glanced outside, at the sheeting rain, which still battered the conference room, and the lightning that lit the village in stark relief at frequent intervals. Heís right. This isnít my fight, and I could, in all honor, just leave his territory and let him settle things their way. Once up on a time that's exactly what I would have done. But now... she searched her heart and sighed. Iíve changed too much.. very stupid, Xena. She smiled inwardly. But it feels... really good to know just how naturally that choice comes to me now. Maybe.. She cut the thought off. "Well, I need to go get wet again, then change into something dry, and so does my partner here. So.."
They broke up the meeting, and headed off into the cold rain, but not a few of them noticed that the chill didnít seem to penetrate quite so deep, now that the warmth of hope was there to counteract it.
The rain hit them like a waterfall as they left the conference room, and stepped down off the porch. "Damn." Xena cursed, pulling Gabrielle closer and ducking her head. "I know I like a rainy day, but..." She felt the bard chuckle, then start to pull away. "Hey...?"
"Gotta get something for lunch." The bard shouted, nodding towards the communal kitchen. "You didnít get breakfast."
"Iíll get it." Xena said, giving her a shove towards the cot theyíd been assigned. "You go dry off and warm up."
Gabrielle took a stubborn grasp on her arm. "Look, I remember what you said this morning, and youíre the one who needs to go sit down. So go.. OK?"
Xena stopped, and wrapped her arms around the bardís neck. "Gabrielle, I really, truly am fine. Would you go on, please... you know I hate being sick.. " Her hands gently cupped Gabrielleís chilled face. "But you also know I hate you getting sick a lot more." She paused, seeing the look in the bardís eyes. "You donít believe me, do you?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Nope." She put her hands on her hips. "I think youíre pulling that stoic Warrior Princess routine on me like you usually do."
Got a sigh from the warrior. "Ok." Xena remarked, then quickly scooped Gabrielle up into her arms, and stood there for a moment, looking down at the surprised bard. "Look at me." She said, gently, and watched the green eyes track to hers. "This close, I couldnít hide a hangnail from you, right?"
The bard studied her face intently, looking for the tiny tensions around her eyes and mouth that werenít there, and felt the firm steadiness of her body and the arms that held her securely off the ground. "I donít understand." She finally said, lifting a hand and stroking her face gently. "What happened?"
"Long story." Xena said. "Iíll tell you later. Once you go inside and dry off!" She let her voice drop to a menacing growl.
"But.." The bard protested, ""Look, that canít just vanish.." She sighed in frustration. "Xena, would you put me down?" She growled, and tugged the front of the warriorís tunic. . "I know you can put stuff out of your mind with no effort but.."
"Still donít believe me, do you?" Xena said, with a momentary sad look in her eyes. "Hang on." She warned, and took a few powerful steps, leaped, crouched, and shot up into the air, diving foreword into a flip and landing in a mud puddle with an impressive splash.
Straightened up with no sign of discomfort, and stood easily, still holding the bard securely tucked in her arms. "Well?" she asked, watching the bardís face through the rain.
Gabrielle let out a breath, and blew the wet hair out of her eyes, reaching for one wrist with her other hand and pressing sharply. "Youíd better cut that out or lunch wonít be an option." She warned, but she couldnít keep a smile off her face, and she wrapped her arms around Xenaís neck, nestling her head into her shoulder. "All right.. all right..I believe you.." She said, just absorbing the warmth. "But how.."
"Later." Xena said, giving her a hug. "Now, Iím going to let you down, and I want you to please, go and dry off. For me?"
Reluctantly, Gabrielle sighed, but kept her arms around Xenaís neck as the warrior released her and her feet touched the ground. "Only for you."
They stood there in the rain for a long moment, just absorbed in each other, ignoring the pelting water, the thunder, and the mud that was collecting around them. "Your lips are blue." Xena finally said, softly, ducking her head and solving the problem neatly and thoroughly. "Better?" she asked, after a bit.
"Huh?" The bard blinked, shaking her head a little. "What? Oh..lips. Right." She gazed up at Xenaí amused face with a dreamy look., then sighed. "Right.. Iím going." She headed off toward their cot at a brisk pace, and was soon lost in the sheeting rain.
Xena chuckled, and headed towards the kitchen, sloshing mud and water with her booted steps cheerfully. She ducked into the large double size cot, to see several forest dwellers clustered around the firepit in obvious dismay. "Problem?" She inquired as they turned to see who had entered.
"Xena." The closest one murmured, and spread a hand towards the firepit. "Uhm.. in a manner of speaking. Rain came down the chimney and put the fire out. We have nothing warm but some soup.. but youíre welcome to it. She cast an irritated eye towards the trays of cut ingredients waiting for cooking. "Aresí blood. Thatís going to spoil by the time we get this thing restarted."
Xena peered at the trays, then at the broth. Then grinned. "Can I take some of this stuff, too?" She asked, cocking an eyebrow at them.
The cook stared at her. "Itís raw."
"Uh huh." The warrior agreed. Now.. I canít wait for the rumors of my eating raw meat to spread around. "Thatís ok."
All four forest dwellers glanced at her, then at each other. "Sure." The cook said, sweeping her arm towards the trays. "Help yourself."
And Xena did, collecting a selection of raw meats and uncooked vegetables, a covered pot of the broth, and some of the various condiments the forest dwellers used for seasoning their sometimes bland meals. "Thanks." She said, then paused in the doorway. "Donít try to relight that. Just clear the pit, and start from scratch."
Raised eyebrows. "Had this happen?" The cook asked, with the start of a smile on her face.
Xena chuckled. "My motherís an innkeeper." She answered, then ducked out the door and disappeared into the driving storm.
The forest dwellers looked at each other. "She has a mother?" One snorted, with a surprised look.
Xena stepped up onto the porch of their cot, and shook herself, scattering water all over the already drenched surface. Bet I look a sight.. her mind thought in amusement. The door opened as she reached it and Gabrielle grabbed her dripping tunic and pulled her inside. "Hey.." She laughed as the bard closed the wooden panel against the storm.
Inside, the cheerful flames of a well-laid fire lighted the cot, and several candles were scattered about, dispelling the gloom from outside. Gabrielle was wrapped in one of her heavier shirts, and had her cloak around her for good measure. "Get in here." She ordered, taking the items Xena was carrying and putting them on the table. "Hold still." She added, starting to unfasten the dripping tunic Xena was wearing.
"Wa..." Xena started to protest, then stopped, and just stood easily, with her arms hanging loosely at her side as Gabrielle undid the belt of the tunic, and stripped it off of her, tossing the garment over the back of one of the chairs and stepping closer with a piece of dry linen. "What did I do to deserve this treatment?" She teased the bard, who was industriously drying her off.
"Who said Iím doing this for your benefit?" Gabrielle answered, then blushed. "Gods..I can't believe I said that." She finished her task, and tossed Xena the shirt she had slung over her shoulder. "Here." She sighed, trying to ignore the warrior's delighted laughter as she pulled the fabric over her head. "Now.. explain to me what happened out there."
Xena settled the shirt around her with a sigh, and pulled her damp hair out from under the collar. "Well..." She paused, as she sat down on the chair and started untying her boots. "I.. I felt pretty bad this morning." She looked up at the bard's face, which had sobered.
"I know." Gabrielle said quietly, as she pulled up the chair next to her and sat down, putting one hand out and rubbing Xena's arm.
The warrior finished removing her boots, setting them down on the wooden floor, and leaned forward, bracing her elbows on her knees and letting her head drop down between her shoulders for a moment. Then she took a breath, and propped her chin on her hands. "It was.. really discouraging.. even just walking was hard, Gabrielle."
"Because it hurt?" The bard asked, softly, moving closer.
Xena shook her head. "No." She gave the bard a half grin. "Balance was off. I can't.. describe what that feels like." She looked off into the distance for a moment. "Usually.. I always know where I am." A pause. "I don't have to have my eyes open.. or even think about it. I just always.. know. Up from down, that kind of thing."
Gabrielle stayed silent, not wanting to stop this unprecedented look at how Xena knew herself to operate.
"This was..it was driving me nuts, really." Xena admitted, with a rueful smile. "It felt all wrong."
The bard linked her arm through her partner's and rested her head against one shoulder. "I know.. I could feel how frustrated you were."
"Could you?" Xena murmured. "Anyway, there I was, stumbling along.."
"I doubt that." Gabrielle interrupted with a sly grin.
"Do you want to hear this or not?" The warrior asked, raising an eyebrow.
The bard dropped her head against Xena's shoulder again, and quieted. "Sorry, love. Go on."
"Rabbit." Xena sighed.
"Excuse me?" Gabrielle asked, rubbing her cheek against the soft sleeve of Xena's shirt.
"A rabbit crossed the path in front of me, and Ares started chasing it." Xena replied gruffly. She paused. Well, it's embarrassing.. but this is Gabrielle, and she'll only laugh for a minute. "He tripped me, and I fell off the path and down an embankment." She waited patiently for the giggles, and gave the bard a sideways glance when they didn't materialize.
"Were you all right?" The bard asked in a gentle voice, straightening up, and lifting a hand to smooth the dark damp hair out of Xena's face. Gods.. how she must have felt. Ouch.
"More or less." The warrior shrugged. "I slammed into a tree." She leaned into the pressure of the bard's hand on her face. "Felt pretty bad about that." She admitted, quietly.
"I know." And Gabrielle realized she did - that it had been that moment she'd sensed during her storytelling. "Gods, Xena.. you should be more careful."
"Yeah, I know." Came the answer, on the heels of a quiet sigh. "So after I just laid there feeling sorry for myself for a bit, I told myself to stop being such a self pitying idiot and get going, and when I sat up.. " She shrugged her shoulders and laughed helplessly. "The pain, and the dizziness was gone."
"Just like that?" Gabrielle asked, in disbelief.
"Just like that." The warrior confirmed, with a wan smile. "I was really surprised."
"I just bet you were." Gabrielle snorted, shaking her head. "I don't.. Xena, for the sake of the gods, do you know what might have happened if..."
Xena lifted her head, and met the bard's eyes in a direct stare. "If that bounce had gone the wrong way and fractured my back, or done worse damage? Yeah I do."
Gabrielle's voice deepened with anger. "They why.. how could you deliberately risk that?" Her eyes blazed. "What on earth were you thinking of?"
Xena flinched, and drew back, blinking at her. "I didn't... I wasn't.." She fell silent, and just looked at the wooden floor, letting her fingers slide through her hair as she propped her head on her hands. "Obviously I wasn't thinking." She finally replied. "I'm not.. I'm used to making decisions and taking the consequences of them, good or bad, Gabrielle."
The bard took a shaky breath. "Do you understand what it would do to me if something like that happened to you?" There. In one sentence. Now it's out in the open. "Do you know how much I hurt... when you do?"
Xena stared at her hands for a moment, then looked up. "As much as I do for you, yes." She took a deep breath, and made a quiet decision. "But what I do.. is so much a part of what I am... that Iím not sure just how much I can change.. that." Or how much you want me to change it.
Gabrielle felt her shoulders relax slightly. "Can I tell you something?" She asked, gently.
"Anything." Came the expected response.
"I don't care what you are." The bard replied, and moved closer again, putting a hand on the warrior's knee, and feeling the aching tension in the muscles under the skin. "I wouldn't care if you were a beggar in the streets, or a cloth merchant in Athens, or an innkeeper in Amphipolis." She felt the tears well up and ignored them. "In case you haven't figured this out yet, I love who you are, Xena. The person you are, who has my heart so fully, and so completely that I don't have words enough to describe it."
Blue eyes opened wide and met hers. "I can't imagine why." Xena finally answered, after a long moment of searching her face.
"Because I donít just love you." The bard answered, with a little smile. "I like you. A lot. I enjoy being with you just because you are who you are." She paused. " Because youíre smart, and youíre funny, and.. I just... you make me feel really good when Iím around you. Thatís all." She hesitated, then let her fingers trace the muscular lines on Xenaís thigh. "I guess what Iím trying to say is.. you do a lot of unbelievable things.. but those things have nothing to do with why I love you.. and it wouldnít matter to me one bit if you chose not to do them." She glanced up at the still and watchful face. "Is this making any sense?" She paused. "Do you believe me?"
Xena swallowed, and let out a long held breath. "That takes a lot of believing." Her eyes searched Gabrielleís with stark intensity, then let a quiet smile cross her lips. "But yeah. I believe you." Just take it on faith, Xena. Thatís a gift. "Look... " she sighed. "I know.. you were right, Gabrielle. I know.. I have to change the way I think.. about some things. The way I do some things. It just... it'll take a little time."
Gabrielle reached out and grasped the powerful hands resting between Xena's knees and interlaced their fingers. "We have forever." She said, with quiet confidence. "Take as long as you like."
Forever. Xena's mind played that through several times as she allowed herself to just get lost in Gabrielle's gentle regard. I think she may have enough belief in that.. to carry both of us. Hades... be gentle with me when we meet.. and if she's got a good argument, remember you owe me one for that helmet, and listen to her.
"So, " Gabrielle said, after a very long silence. "End result, you hit the tree, it fixes you?"
Xena cleared her throat, and shrugged deprecatingly. "More or less, yeah."
"Uh huh." The bard sighed. "And you persist in believing that there is no magic involved in any of this."
"Uhm." Xena's mouth twitched. "How about some lunch?"
"You're impossible." Gabrielle chuckled, and stood up, stretching luxuriously, then giggled as Xena tickled her ribs. "Cut that out." She examined the collection of things Xena had brought back. "I hate to tell you this, love, but that's raw." Her eyebrows rose, and she cast an amused glance back at her partner.
"Oh..yeah.I know." Xena drawled, reaching over and grabbing the pot of broth, and moving it over the hearth. "Back in my more..." Her eyes glinted "Uhm.. .back in the old days, when I used to take a little more time and effort over meals - sometimes I'd take a tray of this and that.. and just cook it in hot broth. Dip it in whatever I had around.." She glanced at the fascinated bard. "Nice way to spend a rainy afternoon." She paused. "Interested?"
Ohh.. she was right. Gabrielle later thought to herself, sprawled on the thick rug in front of the fire, leaning back against Xena's stomach, with one arm draped casually over the warrior's leg. "This was a great idea." She said out loud, accepting another cooked tidbit and swallowing it with pleasure."We gotta do this more often."
Xena chuckled, stretching a little, and settling herself again, half reclined against a soft pillow from the couch that she'd borrowed. "Not too often." She warned. "This is pretty decadent."
Gabrielle's eyebrow quirked, and she glanced over her shoulder at Xena's fire lit face. "You have a problem with that?" She asked, taking a piece of lightly cooked beef from the simmering broth, dipping it in a sweet sauce the forest dwellers had a particular fondness for, and offering it to the warrior, who took it neatly in her teeth and chewed it. "Like that?" The bard asked, knowingly.
Xena nodded. "Uh huh."
Gabrielle grinned, and poked a finger at her. "You have a sweet tooth."
For a minute, she though the warrior was going to deny it, then her partner relaxed into a chuckle. "Yeah." she admitted, rolling her eyes. "I've always had one. Just ask mother." She gave the bard a lazy scratch on the back. "So do you." She accused, dipping her finger in the sweet sauce, and touching the bard's lips with it.
Gabrielle's eyes twinkled. "Yep. I sure do." She cheerfully acknowledged, licking the sauce off with evident enjoyment. "And you have no idea just how glad I am that we run around like idiots out here, so I can safely indulge that, without worrying about the consequences."
"Oh.. so that's your real reason for hanging around me, huh?" Xena teased, sliding an arm around her middle and hugging her.
"Sure.. quality sparring." Gabrielle agreed, half-turning and snuggling closer. "Besides..." she ran her hands up the warrior's body. "You're a really good inspiration."
Got a raised eyebrow back. "I am?" Xena queried, reaching up and riffling her fingers through Gabrielle's now dry hair, which crackled around her hand and clung to it.
"You really are." The bard confirmed, sliding her hands slowly down Xena's arms. "I love the way you look." She breathed, and felt her body react sharply as she felt the warriors fingertips touch the bare skin at her hip, and travel up her side with a delicate, knowing pressure.
"You're not so bad yourself." Xena advised her, as she leaned over and nibbled the bard's ear, grinning as she heard the sudden intake of breath at the light pinch.
"You know.." Gabrielle had just the presence of mind to mumble, as she gave into her instincts. "I'm starting to have a real thing for rainy days."
"Uh huh." Xena's barely heard response. "Me too."