The Oil of Lanius

By Korkyra

Gabrielle and Xena are lovers. There is no graphic sex in this Fiction. If this bothers you (the lovers' part rather than the lack of graphic action, but I am guessing that will bother some!) or is illegal for you to read in your neck of the woods, please do not continue.

The warrior smiled as she entered the cave. She looked at the bundle of blankets on the floor and the blond hair that was the only visible part of the bard.

"Still asleep," she said to the large palomino horse standing yards away. The horse neighed in response, and as her mistress was back to guard the little one, her job done, she slunk out of the cave to find her own breakfast.

"Thanks Argo," called out Xena softly, and in reply she saw Argo's tail swish. The bard still had not stirred but she whispered, "Gabrielle," and satisfied that her partner was still asleep, she brought the rabbits over to the fire in order to dress them. Once the rabbits were ready she skewered them and let them gently cook over the open flame. She then rifled through the medicine bag to find the herbs she required. She filled a smaller pot with water and while she waited for it to boil she approached Gabrielle. She gently removed some of the covers, gently checking the bard's temperature with her hand. She wasn't hot, but it was impossible not to notice how pale she was. Xena gently stroked the blond hair and two eyelids fluttered and within a few seconds opened. "It can't be morning already, surely?" The voice was sleepy and slightly slurred. The rumble of laughter that greeted the statement soon put paid to the little hope the bard held that it wasn't time to get up. She sat up slowly and rubbed her eyes. Xena was watching her with concern. "How are you feeling?" she asked tenderly.

Gabrielle blinked a couple of times and then rubbed her stomach. "About the same," she said despondently.

Xena wrapped her arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "The water will be ready in a moment, and then I'll get some herbs into you."

"Thanks Xena." Xena tightened her arms around her, enjoying the close contact that had been denied her, she thought forever.

"We don't have to travel today. We should rest a few more days. Renwa will still be there."

"But Hercules and Iolaus won't be. Xe, I'm Ok. It's probably Joxer's lamb stew." Gabrielle buried her head in Xena's shoulder. She was upset by her physical frailness; she felt she was letting Xena down yet again. She knew that no matter how long they would be together, no matter what they would go through, a little part of her would always be afraid of being left behind, of being sent back to Potedia as she didn't measure up to the Warrior Princess's exacting standards.

Xena intuitively knew that this was on her partner's mind. They had been through it so many times, and whatever she did to reassure Gabrielle, the little insecurities still emerged on the odd occasion. And at present every emotion appeared magnified.

Xena turned back to Gabrielle and spoke forcefully but sincerely, "That doesn't matter, you're what matters." She tightened her grip on the bard. "I'm never letting you go, not ever, you know that, right?" There was nervousness in her voice that made her sound so vulnerable that Gabrielle gave her a kiss on the cheek and they both sat in silence lost in their thoughts.

Xena broke the silence. "It might not be the stew, after all I'm fine."

Gabrielle snorted, "Xena you've survived your own cooking, you've built up immunity." Xena gave her a mock glare and kissed her on the head again and moved to the pot of boiling water. She poured it into a mug and added some herbs, gently moving the mug to mix them. She then brought it back to the bard who accepted the mug with a nod of the head. She held the cup breathing in the steam for a few moments with her eyes shut. Xena watched her with a mixture of pride, love and anxiety. It was unlike the bard to fall ill, and Xena didn't want to take any chances, especially now. As if she was reading her mind Gabrielle looked up at Xena and smiled, "I'm sure I'll be fine, let's head out after breakfast." Xena stared at her for a long while and nodded and then busied her self by taking the meat from the flame. She frowned as she removed the meat from the skewers and tipped them on the plates, blowing at her now tender fingers. She handed the bemused bard a plate and they both stared at the crispy pieces of black that was rabbit. Gabrielle tentatively bit into it, and started to chew and chew and chew! Xena bit into it and immediately spat it out. "Raw, but how can that-. I'm sorry, Bri, I just wanted to make you breakfast," said Xena mournfully. Gabrielle smiled weakly and removed the half chewed piece of meat from her mouth and put it back on the plate and putting it down she wrapped her arms around her taller companion. She rested her chin on Xena's shoulder and Xena instinctively put her arm on Gabrielle's upper arm, gently caressing the large scar. They sat in comfortable silence until Gabrielle lifted her head and said, "thank you."

"For what? Assaulting your taste buds. Murdering breakfast."

"For making me feel loved. For trying to do something you hate, that isn't one of your many skills just for me."

Xena smiled, "I'm only sorry that I've set your rehabilitation backwards," and Xena laid her head on the bard's shoulder. "You're my life Bri, you know that?" The words were spoken gently and again they carried a sense of vulnerability in them. Would they always feel like this Gabrielle wondered? So insecure, on edge and anxious.

No it wasn't like this, before the separation, Gabrielle thought. We survived so much, the betrayals, the lies, the anger, and the deaths of our children and grew stronger, from it. We were happy again, until Hope reappeared. Gabrielle shut her eyes remembering the look of sheer panic and pain on Xena's face as she plunged with Hope, with Xena and Joxer's anguished cries ringing in her ears, to what she assumed would be her death. She knew they just needed to find their place together again. It's still so raw-Xena's pain at her "death" and Gabrielle's bewilderment at returning. She absently removed her hand from Xena's shoulder and placed it on her own, where another scar was present under her top. She looked up and saw the concern in Xena's eyes asking the question without words. "I'm fine," she said with a gentle shake of her head. "So what do Hercules and Iolaus want? Will it matter we're late?" She was eager to change from the morose thoughts she was having. She was back with Xena, and for a short time at least there were no war-lords to fight, any towns to save, and no-one to rescue.

"Nah, it won't matter, especially as Joxer has gone to tell them we're late. They want to see you," Xena's voice became gentle again for the second sentence and her face for a moment screwed up in pain before becoming impassive again.

"Me? But Why? I-oh," the bard stopped suddenly as she realised why her friends wanted to see her.

"They mourned you, everyone did," said Xena trying to keep the emotion from her voice. "They just want to see you're ok."

"Thank you," mouthed the bard and drew Xena in even tighter. She could feel the shuddering of the warrior and held on for a few minutes until she could feel the sobs subsiding and Xena's tears stopped running down her front. "OK?" she asked, and the warrior nodded.

Gabrielle thought of how long it took her to get over Xena's death. It was days before she stopped expecting Xena to disappear, weeks before she could relax while Xena was out of her sight, even if she was only going to bathe and months and months before the nightmares stopped. She gave a shudder; even recently she would wake up reaching for Xena checking she was there, as Xena had done every night since their reconciliation. Gabrielle was gone for so much longer, and Xena had to relate the news to her family as well as the Amazons and neither took it very well, both blaming her for their loss. She couldn't begin to imagine of the emotional turmoil that Xena had suffered; to most other people Xena was a toughened, stern ex-warlord, but to Gabrielle alone did she share her doubts, insecurities and guilt. Bereft of the bard and support from any family and friends and still mourning Solon, Gabrielle was surprised that Xena neither took her own life nor resumed her old warlord ways, keeping an old promise. Made before they were lovers, before either realised the depth of their love, Gabrielle knew that it was agreed by Xena not believing it would ever happen. But when the worst did, Xena kept it.

Back together for little over a month, it was still awkward and poignant; with Xena the most emotionally open Gabrielle had ever seen her, unusually sharing her experiences honestly and without prompting. But Gabrielle was concerned that the worry over her sickness would push the emotionally fragile warrior princess over the edge, thought Gabrielle ruefully and she held Xena tightly until she composed herself.

"So shall we head out now, warrior cook? We've got some bread in the pack."

"Sounds good to me, Bard. We should make Renwa by nightfall. Did I mention there was a festival on at the moment?" She laughed at the excited expression on the bard's face. Gabrielle got up, by instantly regretted it as she was hit by a flash of dizziness. Xena was by her side in an instant. "Scrap that. We can stay here and rest!" She said in a firm voice.

"I'm fine Xe; I just got up too quickly. It's the cooking. I just have to face facts that Joxer and you are trying to poison me. It's a clever way to ensure that I do all the cooking." She moved gingerly over to the bags and started to pack her things away.

"MMmmmmm," said an unconvinced warrior who stood still, with hands on hips giving the bard her best stare.

"You know that doesn't work with me anymore, Xe," said Gabrielle.

"OK but at least sit down and let me pack up, please," Xena gave Gabrielle her most charming smile. No wonder no man-or woman-could resist her, thought the bard. I certainly can't. She nodded and eased herself down onto the ground. Xena busied herself collecting all their gear and stuffing into their saddlebags desperately trying to ignore Gabrielle's looks of horror as she put the items in the wrong bags. She whistled for Argo to return, which the palomino did and after loading her up she strode over to the bard. She lent down and kissed Gabrielle on the nose. "If you're not feeling well-"She held out her hand for the bard, which she took and pulled herself up.

"You'll be the first to know. Anyway what is the festival celebrating?" They walked out of the cave shielding their eyes against the sun.

"Aah, yes I was wondering when you were going to ask that." Xena looked at her feet as she kicked the ground. Gabrielle eyes narrowed as she watched the unusually abashed warrior. She closed her eyes and groaned. "Its fishing isn't it? By the gods we're going to a fishing festival." She looked at the now squirming warrior who was suddenly most interested in her boots. Gradually the head rose and the blue eyes that were full of mischief looked straight into her green ones. "Is there plenty of food to try?"

"As much as you want!" The warrior knew she was convincing the food obsessed bard.

"And you won't cook?" The warrior feigned a hurt look and then gave a wide grin.

"I've learnt that lesson, Gabrielle." There was a pause. "You could always try squid again." Xena tried to control her quivering mouth but failed and she broke out into a chuckle. Gabrielle tried to look angry but the warrior's laughter was infectious.

"OK warrior that'll cost you. Let me think how much." Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and Xena grabbed the bard's hand as they made their way towards the main road to Renwa.