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The River

by My Warrior
Kathryn.A.Ruelle@uwrf.edu

The usual disclaimers apply. The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal and in no way is this story meant to infringe upon any copyrights. The story is mine. It may not be reproduced in any part or used in any way without permission.


It was the time of the day when the sun had yet to make up itís mind about setting, so it hung lazily in the sky instead, spraying a gentle mist of colors that seemed to yawn their way across the expanse, expecting twilight but shying just short of it. The sun was in no hurry and neither were we; and I glanced up at the tall warrior for a moment as we walked along. She was magnificent, the most incredible person I had ever met, and I smiled at the thought that sometimes also overwhelmed me. The former Destroyer of Nations, strolling along the banks of a river with a bard. Who would have pictured that? No one who had known Xena before, anyway. And yet I knew what a privilege it was to know her now, to be allowed into a place that most people had never been, nor would ever be.

Her strides are long, and I have to walk a bit faster to keep up with her, yet it never appears as though I am hurrying. Somewhere along the line we simply fell into step with one another, and I know in my heart it will remain that way forever. I carry my staff easily, and smile to myself at the walking arsenal beside me. The scabbard hangs comfortably on her back, the long handle of her beloved sword, polished and honed to perfection, peeking out. I smile and a small chuckle escapes my throat as I try to reconcile the word "Peeking" with something as lethal as Xenaís favorite weapon. She turns to me and raises an eyebrow, a feat I have never known anyone else to be able to accomplish. It is a silent question, and I reply with a shrug and a grin, and my warrior knows it to be a passing thought that ran through my head. She lets her gaze linger on me for a moment, and I feel it though I am once again looking ahead. I turn, and flash her a grin that I cannot keep inside, and she looks at me with that lopsided smile that she knows I love. For a moment, her incredibly blue eyes twinkle, and she winks. Then the warrior mask goes back up, mostly out of habit.

Her arms hang easily at her side, and those hands...never have I known hands that hold so much power and yet are gentle as the breeze that accompanies us. The hands of a fighter, wielding power so lethal it makes my heart skip a beat. Yet the same hands hold the same power poured into the mold of tenderness when called upon to heal or to comfort.

She is always the warrior...the protector and the equalizer and the distributor of justice. Yet she is uniquely human in all the same ways as everyone else and sometimes I look at her and realize I have forgotten that. My thoughts drift back to the last time Xena lay on her bedroll after a particularly long and difficult day. She had dispatched a band of unruly thugs raiding a small village outside of Athens and although she had been successful, she earned more than a fair share of bumps, bruises and cuts. I knew her muscles had been strained to the limit because the normally stoic warrior grimaced as she shed her armor and leathers and dove in the stream for a bath. She lowered herself gingerly onto the bedroll although with never a word of complaint. Xena never complained about anything. When I lay down, she had her eyes closed but she actually looked somewhat relaxed, ready for a good nightís sleep. Outside of her armor, she doesnít look that big and foreboding, although she is strikingly beautiful always. I positioned myself next to her so that her head was at my shoulder level, and ever so carefully, as if I thought she might break, I reached over and ran my fingers through the raven hair. For once the guarded warrior didnít bolt from the affection, she merely smiled without opening her eyes and let out a contented sigh. I loved it when I guessed correctly.

We stayed like that for a long while, and I let my fingers gently twine in her hair, pausing occasionally to comb themselves through her bangs. I donít remember drifting off, but when the sunlight came stealing in on us, she was lying in the same position and my fingers were still wrapped in her hair. My big, bad, soft warrior, I thought, and I smiled again.

 

I remember telling Gabrielle once that the river looks calm on the surface but you never know what changes have taken place underneath. How many times have I felt that way myself? After every step towards my redemption I find myself feeling a little bit better but I know for certain it will never be enough. I cannot take back the lives I destroyed no matter how much I desire it. I look over at the bard walking at my side. Her steps are light and easy, and I know without looking that she is in step with me. I know without thinking that she will always be in step with me, that I can open my eyes at any time and she will still...she will always....be there with me. I know without explanation that she is the most incredible person I have ever met. She is not a warrior, yet she has the courage of one. She is not a fighter, yet she backs down from nothing. She knows the danger, but she will not stay behind. She knows the warrior, the darkness, the bloodshed, the sins I cannot erase, yet she sees into my heart and knows what is really there. I have never been so completely accepted by anyone. I have never been so completely forgiven and redeemed and yet I know that I will never be able to do anything in this world to deserve her. I am no bard, words fail me though they are immensely important to her, and for her I will try anything. I hope I can convey in other ways what my words cannot. She speaks eloquently and easily, weaving a story that anyone could follow and immediately get caught up in, and when I try to put my feelings into words , they sound grossly inadequate. Yet she thinks the world of me. If I were a bard, perhaps I could find some sentence, some phrase, that would match my emotions, yet I know there are none. I would tell her that she has been the light in my battered soul, that she has made all the difference in my life, that she is the best thing that has ever happened to me. But I do not say these things. They are stuck in my throat. Instead, I look over, and I smile; a lopsided grin that just seems to come out that way, and seems to make the green eyes dance. I wink, and her whole face lights up. I have gone away for a week or two at a time and had to leave her behind. A weapons summit, a kingís bidding, a thug in need of dispatching. For whatever reason, whenever we are to be apart, our coming back together is always the same. The bard is always glad to see me.

I could go away for a month, or I could run to the market for supplies and be gone for an hour. Gabrielleís reaction is always the same. The smile that makes her eyes dance. The wave. The call. "Xena!" Always. I could never find the words to tell her how much this means to me. I have shed blood, I have ruined lives, I have wrecked towns and villages and souls. And yet, she is always there, and she is always glad to see me.

I am overwhelmed, for just a moment, by my thoughts and I feel that for once, I must try. So I look over at her. She feels my gaze and looks back. I am thinking of what I want to say, so I know my face is the picture of seriousness. Yet she smiles, and disarms me. I cannot help but smile back. It is still the lopsided grin. She tries her best to raise her eyebrow but fails miserably. A low chuckle erupts from my throat.

"Gabrielle?"

"Xe?"

Xe. Only Gabrielle would be able to come up with a nicknamed version of my name. Yet she has shown off her bardic talents once again. Sometimes its Xe. Or Xene. I love all of these things, yet I could never tell her that. How inappropriate from a warrior. Warriors are supposed to be big and bad. I look at her again.

She is waiting patiently for me to continue. She always waits patiently. Big and bad turns to small and uncertain. I pause, unsure of what I want to say. So I offer her the only thought that comes into my head, yet to me it seems to encompass everything I could never say. I speak.

"Iím really glad I came through Potadeia on that day."

The bard grins widely, yet her eyes soften. She doesnít expect words like that from me, especially out of the blue. But her delight at hearing them is painfully obvious, and I wish I could say them more often. She reaches over and gives me a quick squeeze, then a playful shove. She knows me. The shove is my way out, so I wonít have to deal with my emotions. I can level entire cities, wipe out a horde of scum with my bare hands, and cut the Ace of Spades in half with my breast dagger from 20 yards. I am hailed as either a hero or an enemy. People praise me or tremble at the mention of my name. The Warrior Princess fears nothing. Except her. I wonder when she stole my heart. I donít remember the moment, yet I donít remember ever having it either. She is about 4 paces ahead of me now, drawn to the edge of the stream like a fly to the stable. She leans on her staff, and points a finger to the opposite bank. I look. At first I see nothing and am about to tell her so when a hawk emerges from the top of one of the trees and with a haunting cry, soars up into the deepening shadows. Her face is flushed, and she turns to me, breathless from the excitement of something so simple yet so breathtaking. She smiles.

"Beautiful, wasnít it? Just beautiful!" She is beaming now. I find that I cannot hide the mischief that has suddenly surfaced within me, and I smile back, giving her an almost feral grin. My eyes sparkle. She is immediately on her guard, but the green orbs twinkle in anticipation. She begins to giggle, although she knows not why. I know it is because she can sense it when my playful side emerges, and even though a warrior shouldnít have a playful side, I know I am helpless to that around Gabrielle. I advance on her, still grinning wildly, and I chuckle. She backs up a few steps, unable to contain her laughter, but keeping her eyes riveted to me. Quick as a fox I scoop the bard up in my arms and jump off the riverbank into the calm water below. A war cry escapes from my throat but is drowned out by my bardís infectious laughter, which I can do nothing but echo as we hit the water. We surface simultaneously, soaking wet and laughing hysterically. It is impossible to keep a straight face when the bard is laughing. She is completely contagious and there is no medicine in the world that could cure you. The bard yells.

"Xena! Look!"

I turn to where she is pointing, but realize too late that there is nothing to see. She has jumped onto my back and is attempting to dunk me, yet her intense giggling is keeping her from her goal. I assume a bored expression, but cannot hold it for long. A toothy grin betrays me. Unable to push me under the surface, my bard has initiated a water fight, and the splashes seem to echo all around us as dusk makes her entrance.

I climb out of the stream, and offer my hand to the bard, who is attempting to drag herself out at a particularly deep spot. I should have seen it coming. She grabs the outstretched hand and yanks me back into the water. I come up sputtering for her benefit, but Iím not finished yet. For a moment we are motionless, then I expel a large amount of water hidden in my mouth. It hits her square in the face, but she is helpless to do anything but laugh. This time when we drag ourselves from the water, we both manage to remain on the shore. The moon comes up, and as we build a fire and make camp, I realize I am feeling something that had previously escaped my long-battered soul. Contentment.


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