Disclosure: Xena isn't owned by me, nor are any of the characters. Wrote this awhile back, Gabs and Xe have relations of the sexual kind in this, so I did warn you- but then again there's nothing graphic in it, so there's that too.
There's Something Here.
Something between us.
We never speak of it. It goes without saying. But, it's always there.
One night, during the season where Persephone must go back to lay with her husband Hades, the air was a dry sort of cold- the kind that chilled the bone itself. To shield ourselves from the harshness of the snow, we quickly settled into a cave on the side of a grey mountain.
The skin from my knuckles were peeling, stinging me, leaving tiny dots of blood in it's wake. I tried to hide it from her, wrapping my hands in soft rags while I cooked a rabbit she tracked and hunted earlier.
As usual, I made up both ends of our conversation, creating words and sentences so that the vacuum of silence would be filled up. She didn't seem to notice as she munched away and licked her fingers. As I rattled on and on, she suddenly looked up, "Did you use a new a spice?"
"Uh, why yes-"
"I like it. Keep using it from now on."
I was a little taken aback with how she ordered me instead of asking me, but then again, she was once a warlord, a leader of men, a leader of warriors. And now, all she had to "lead" around was me. The thought of it sometimes made me feel unworthy, as if I had something to do with her downfall, so I did my best not to think of it. Instead I focused on the good things, and that was that she was now an agent for the greater good and I, well, I liked to fancy myself as her sidekick. I was the one who kept her on the path of goodness. I was the one who would tell her stories, would keep her well-fed, massage the knots on her body- sometimes even stitch her back together- after a serious battle, heard her confessions of her many lives, and I would be the one she held at night, if only to pacify her nightmares.
I did that. And I took a certain pride in it.
Smirking at her 'orders' for me, since I guessed now she was a leader for an army of one, I told her with amusement sneaking into my tone, "Glad you liked it, Conqueror."
She smirked, and rolled her eyes at the name, as if it was a bad joke. It was. She wiped her hands on her leathers, burping loudly before telling me, "Do your bard thing."
I smiled at her, "You want me to tell you a story?"
She shrugged, leaning back onto a wall of the cave as if it meant nothing to her. Maybe it didn't. Maybe it did. I could never really tell because Xena always was sure to keep that well-sculptured face of hers extremely controlled.
But I did see her hand. It twitched slightly. It had a tendency to do that when she wanted me to be close to her, but her pride refused to let her say it outloud.
Without a second thought I scrambled right next to her, and pressed my body into hers the way she liked. She smiled, this goofy teenager smile, and covertly held my rag covered hand in hers. I willed my teeth not to chatter as I began with a story about Xena's "favorite" subject: the Greek Gods. I loved her reaction: she wrinkled her nose and rolled her cool sapphire eyes as she griped, "Change it to something else. I've had enough of those people."
I laughed outloud at her expression. Oh, how she could be so beautiful and funny, especially when she wasn't trying. I pulled myself together after she shot me an amused glare.
"You know why I keep you around?"
I smiled cheekily, "Because I'm such good company?"
"Uh, maybe," she played, "But mainly because you can cook pretty good with these hands of yours-" At that moment, she took my covered hands in hers and the rags fell to the ground, revealing my peeling knuckles. Her eyes widnened and she ran a thumb over them softly. Still, I yelped. She looked me in the eye, hers were full of concern, "Why didn't you tell me? We could've gotten some ointment-"
"Xena, I just didn't want to be a bother-"
I was ashamed at the moment. I knew she could track twice as much of Greece without me, holding her back, and I just wanted to keep up with her pace. I didn't want to show any signs of weakness. I wanted to show her I could take it. I wasn't succeeding at the current moment.
"Oh Gabrielle," she sighed, surprising me with the tenderness in her voice. She slowly undid by blanket-turned-coat, and saw patches of dry skin all over my arms. Her look of concern quickly turned into obvious worry.
"Why didn't you tell me you were so cold this winter?"
I couldn't come up with an answer, well, not one I wasn't embarrassed to tell her.
"You're sleeping with me tonight. Our bodyheat will keep you warm for the night. Then, tomorrow, first thing we are doing is getting you an ointment for your dry skin."
She was taking care of me again. I winced at the thought. Sometimes I felt utterly useless when she did it. Not that I didn't appreciate it, but…I don't know how to describe it. I wanted to prove I could be like her; I could take care of myself.
And I didn't mention it then, but when she announced that I was to sleep with her, I was a little confused. I kind of thought we were going to already. You see, we had been traveling a little over a year now, and though this is embarrassing to admit, but most nights we already slept together. A few times she would wander over to my bedroll, but most nights I wandered over to hers. At first just our closeness was enough to let us drift off to some much needed sleep. But then, and she started it, we started kissing and fondling one another. Come the next day, we would pretend it never happened.
A part of me was worried, now that she was acknowledging it. I guess it was because it was new. Or maybe it was hearing it out loud, that we slept together. I don't know which.
And before I could say anything- the fire went out, basking us in darkness.
I heard Xena curse, promising me she could get it back up.
But, she couldn't.
And, she tried- despite the fact that we had no wood. She attempted with several different types of stones, several different times, in several different ways. I let her know that it was okay, but she just couldn't take it. I knew she was hurting. I had a theory that Xena herself sometimes forgot she was only mortal, and that she was the biggest believer in her own reputation, so times like this- no matter how small or trivial- failure stung.
I saw the expressions on her face, no matter how dark it was. She was in pain. And when she was in pain, I was too. I loved her that much.
"I…" she started, hanging her head in defeat, "I am sorry, Gabrielle. I have can't-"
I scooted closer to her, shaking my head. Before I could respond, she asked me in a small voice, "You… you know I have many skills, right?" She asked the question like a small child, asking a parent for reassurance in their capabilities. And I leaned my head into her chest, "I know… do you?"
She stayed quiet for a moment before I looked up, touching her face carefully with the tips of my thumbs, as if I was reading brail. She was lost, in more ways than one. I myself knew the feeling well. She frequently confessed I was her compass, her guide…her path. I didn't have the heart to tell her I wasn't. I was just an aspiring story-teller from Potedia… barely a bard.
Sometimes… (sighing) sometimes I felt as though I was lying to her. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't enough… sometimes I knew I wasn't. And that's what hurt the most; more than peeling skin, more than gut punches or poison darts.
We ended up sleeping in complete darkness. I was cradled in her arms, my head on her chest. And though it was all black, I knew I was wide awake. But, Xena didn't know. I could feel her kiss my forehead, and after a beat, she whispered, "I'm not."
I wanted to ask so desperately what she was talking about, but I knew that if I let on that I wasn't asleep, she wouldn't venture further. So, I controlled by breathing best I could, slowing it down some, and let my curiosity get the better of me.
She continued heavily, "I'm not your savior, Gabrielle. I'm just a broken person trying to piece myself back together. But… I see how you look at me. I see your eyes shine, twinkle, when they are placed on me. And I can't help the misplaced pride that swells in my chest when you do. I don't deserve it. But… no one has ever viewed me with the compassion that you do… and when you do it, I cannot bear to reveal the truth to you." She sighed before confessing quietly, "I am weak. I am selfish. I am a terrible human being. The only reason I help others, is for you. I do it, to see you smile at me." A lone teardrop fell onto the crook of my neck.
It was hers.
She whispered, "I am not a hero. I'm only disguised as one, only for you. For, when I am with you, it's different. I begin to try. I try to be the best version of me I can be." Xena sighed, "Please forgive me for misleading you."
I felt her warm lips on my forehead.
Then I felt her mouth move against mine, placing a small kiss before mumbling, "My love for you runs so deep, that seeing you hurt, even something as superficial as your skin makes me upset. It makes me feel as though I am not caring for you properly. How can I be if you are too afraid to even tell me about peeling skin-"
It was too much.
She was saying too many words. Words were nice to hear, I would know, but the time for words was quickly leaving. It was now a time for something more. And it was building all over my body, from the tips of my tingling fingers to the ends of my cold toes. We needed something more.
My eyes stayed closed as my hands glided to her hips, pulling her on top of me.
I let my hands roam to her thighs, my fingers lightly scraping the bits of her skin. We are right in the middle when she pulls back, panting, "You… you weren't asleep, were you?"
If she didn't know by now that I wasn't asleep, I'd vocalize it for her: "No."
I'll spare you the details, for there are some things I prefer to keep to myself, but the point is, I let her have me. I let her do things to me in that dark, damp cave that I never knew I wanted. I was scared, excited, hesitant and sure all at the same time. And somewhere between soreness and satisfaction I clung onto her. There in the cold, with our bare bodies pressed against each other, I felt relieved.
The weight had been taken off my shoulders.
We barely spoke, just low grunts and rushed instructions on what we wanted to be done to us, but I felt her love for me. I desperately wanted her to feel mine's as well. And in that darkness, our limbs a tangled mess to the point where even the Gods themselves couldn't tell us apart, I was close to her.
We did it.
We confessed our love…. or so I had thought.
I awoke the next morning, my pleasant and happy dreams quickly slipping from my consciousness only to be replaced by a banging headache. And the first thing I felt was the dryness of my throat. It was so itchy, that every time I tried to swallow, it throbbed. I then tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't. My hands quickly shot up to my face, and I groaned when I realized I had to peel this crusty green flakes from my eyes. As I did this, I felt for the first time the warm wolf pelt that was around my body. As soon as I got the flakes off my eyes, seeing the rays of the sun caking it's light all around the mouth of the cave and a little further in, I began to search for Xena.
She wasn't anywhere in sight.
All of our supplies were missing, and now I had a sickening wave of nausea to add my ever present headache. I quickly threw off the wolf pelt and scrambled to put on my clothes, hastily snatching my staff and forgetting my blanket-turned coat.
How long had Xena been missing? How could I not have noticed earlier?
A hand quickly came up from behind me, and spread shivers all around my body. A voice attached to the hand whispered, "Ssshhh."
It slowly turned me around, and the overwhelming sense of dread that struck me quickly morphed into an overpowering joy. There she was, Xena, as plain as the nose on my face, as healthy as a horse, and as whole as the earth itself. I threw my arms around her happily, oblivious to the icy breeze that was sweeping around our bodies.
"Xena, you got me worried there for a second! I thought someone attacked us during the night or that maybe you left, but now I know everything's alright! Now we can have a good morning breakfast and, oh, before I forget to remind you, I lov-"
My eyes snapped open. The way she said one word… it was colder and more insensitive than the weather. It was then when I noticed how stiff she was, how her arms were not draped over my body as lovingly as mine were over hers.
I stepped back, taking a small pouch she had given me. I looked up at her, confused.
"Ointment. It will help your skin." That was all she said. Not a word about last might, not a sign of liveliness on her face… even Argo seemed to sense it.
"Xena?" I asked, jogging to keep with her long strides as she handed me my blanket and took the wolf pelt as her own.
"Xena, is there something wrong?"
She didn't answer. With her back turned from me, she hoisted herself on Argo.
"Is this about last night?"
She clicked her tongue, and the golden palomino started off in the opposite direction from me. I was growing impatient and quickly grabbed her dangling leg as it adjusted itself on Argo's stirrup, demanding, "Xena, answer me!"
Though Argo stopped trotting, Xena acted as though she didn't. She kept her blue on the snow covered path, ignoring me completely.
I gritted my teeth to keep from chattering, "Look at me."
Slowly, she lowered her gaze to me. What I saw sent more shudders through me than the freezing weather itself. Her face had no emotion. Her eyes held no warmth. This wasn't the stoic gazes I had grown accustomed to and fond of, no, this was something else… something cold. Something deliberate… almost… corrupt. It was then what I knew what it was: It was an echo of who she was. It was the Destroyer of Nations.
"You're shivering." Those two words were all she said to me. She wasn't concerned, just merely pointing out a fact. She then returned her gaze to the path, shrugging uncaringly to me, "Walk it off, the exercise will keep you warm."
At that, I let her go and Argo continued forword.
I didn't know what to do. If I could, I would have walked away from her, my anger was that much. But I was alone, out in the wilderness, with only her protection to depend on. If I turned and left in any other direction, I would be dead in less than a week. So, after recomposing myself, I followed her.
I lingered behind, somewhat upset with myself for getting involved with her. But I also knew that if tomorrow was the first time I would meet her, I would gladly beg for her to take me with her on her journey all over again.
As we traveled downhill, I noted how Xena never spoke to me. She barely looked at me. When she did, it was only casual glances to check that I was still here, with her. I don't know why she bothered, even when if I wanted to, I could never leave her side.
When my feet became frozen little rocks, I still walked on. Her icy eyes stared down at me, as if I was some insignificant creature. And then, without warning, with one hand, she pulled me atop Argo. I was expecting to end up in the back, holding onto her, but instead I somehow ended up in the front, facing her. My cheek to her breast plate.
I briefly wondered if she felt my cold breath against her chest. But I was so tired, I didn't care. I closed my eyes. I was so exhausted, and she was treating me as if I was contaminated. It made last night feel dirty and wrong, and I wanted to cry because last night was supposed to stay wonderful and beautiful.
I was beginning to regret throwing myself at her. Maybe I should've thought it through a little better, but I just wanted so much for us to be together… and now I feel like tainted goods.
Maybe she didn't even say what she said, about me being important to her last night. Maybe I just imagined it there in the darkness. What is that called? Projection? I couldn't… really remember… the headache still hurt and I was so exhausted.
"Stop thinking. Sleep." She instructed. I couldn't just obey, not after the emotional torment she was putting me through. I tried to resist, my way of rebelling by prying my eyes open.
I slowly rested my head on her chest, forcing drooping eyes to stay awake, but failing so miserably.
"Do as I say." She was commanding me. I was her army one after all. And maybe that's all I was to her, just a nuisance. Something to lead around. Something that comes when she calls. Something to entertain her, keep her preoccupied. Something to…do on cold nights in a cave.
And that was when I felt it, one of her arms around me, protecting me, keeping me from falling off that horse, claiming me as hers. One arm, one act, so much meaning… at least for me. And then I heard her whisper in my ear, "This is wrong, Gabrielle." What was wrong? Her wrapping her arm around me? Our relationship? Do we have a relationship? Our feelings? I want to scream and ask her, but I just don't have the energy. By the Gods, sometimes I wished she could stop being so cryptic and just spell things out for this bard! And just when I sniffle, believing myself without her love, she kisses my temple soothingly. Instantly my body relaxes and I'm at peace again.
Well, my heart is. Everything else is numb- muscles, emotions and all.
As her arm pulled me closer to her, I felt tiny droplets of water on the top of my head. She was crying. Something was happening, and as usual, I was in the dark about it. I managed to pull my dry hands around her hips, and tied them together at her backside.
And there we rode, two women on a horse, aimlessly wandering the countryside of Greece in the winter time. We were two lost souls, together, stuck in a white canvas of snow. The figure that was us, wafting farther and farther away, growing smaller and smaller with each step Argo took, until we disappeared completely in the whiteness of winter.
I know there's something here, between us. It's like wedge, and no matter how close we get, it drives us further apart, and as I bury my face in her chest, I feel so hopeless.
We have a problem- we just don't speak of it.
It goes without saying.
But it's always there.