"Can I help you gentlemen?"
Xena didn't turn around to face the two men who were several paces behind where she was sitting in the chair with her feet resting on the bed.
The men shuffled forward and Xena recognised Alix and guessed the other man was his brother, Todor, they looked so similar.
"We heard Gabrielle was awake," said Todor.
Xena nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on Alix. He had walked to the bed and gently squeezed her hand.
"We were busy, weren't we, Alix," said Todor looking pointedly at Alix.
Alix looked up and at Xena and saw the truth in his eyes. It was almost painful to see it reflected in his orbs.
"Thank you for saving her. Eve said you brought her to safety," Xena sounded genuinely appreciative and gave a reticent smile. "I will never forget it."
"All the times she has saved us, what she has taught and shown us," said Alix, speaking for the first time. His voice faded as he saw Gabrielle's eyes fluttering. He stepped back and motioned for his brother to do the same. Xena nodded gratefully.
"Hey," she said.
"It was real," whispered Gabrielle. "I was frightened it was a dream, and you'd be gone."
"Or it was a nightmare," said Xena as she took Gabrielle's hand in hers. Both were showing their insecurities.
"Only if you were gone," said Gabrielle, and winced with discomfort.
Alix stepped forward at this point. "Can I help at all?" he asked.
Xena flashed him a smile. "Help me sit her up and we can get some medicines into her."
Alix stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Gabrielle. Xena watched with more than a tinge of jealously. They obviously shared a bond and part of her didn't want to know how deep it ran.
Within moments Gabrielle was sitting propped up against some pillows and Xena had handed her a waterskin and a small bottle to drink from.
"Xena, I-"Gabrielle began.
"We'll need to change the dressings soon," said Xena.
"We'll be off then," said Todor, but Gabrielle shook her head.
"One thing, Alix, I want you to lead the men."
Alix looked aghast. "But-but I can't; besides Spiro is your second in command, and he's a wonderful one."
Gabrielle shuffled painfully in bed. "Yes Spiro is a perfect second. And he'll admit that's all he wants to be, or should be."
Alix looked shocked. "I don't think I can do it."
"I know you can do it, Alix. "
"Just until you're up and about."
Gabrielle looked distant for a moment and then shook herself. "It could be a while," she said quietly.
Xena looked at her unable to quite gauge what Gabrielle was feeling or thinking. There was something that was worrying the bard.
"Looks like you've got lots of work to do Brother," said Todor with a smile.
Alix nodded. "I'll report back to you later," he said to Gabrielle.
"You are in charge, now," said Gabrielle exasperatedly.
"No I am not," said Alix, "just keeping it warm."
The brothers left with Todor wrapping his arm around his brother.
Xena watched them go. "You're still the boss," she said with a smile and turned to face Gabrielle. The smile dropped as she saw Gabrielle's face staring into space. "Gab?" she asked nervously.
Gabrielle slowly turned to face Xena. "What's wrong Gabrielle?" Xena's voice had a hint of nervousness.
"I can't feel my legs," whispered Gabrielle.
Xena inhaled deeply and shut her eyes. This was not good news but not totally unexpected. The arrow wounds looked deep and close to her spine. She opened her eyes and took Gabrielle's hand.
"Ok, well we'll see, the wounds are pretty new, there's time enough for them to heal."
Gabrielle blinked back the tears. "I'm sorry."
"What are you apologising for?" asked Xena.
"You've come back to this-a cripple."
"I've come back to the woman I love. You are what's important, walking or not."
She tightened her grip on the bard and looked at the bustling infirmary praying for a miracle.
"Didn't think I'd see you away from the bed?" Ares sidled up to Xena as she was outside washing herself with a sponge and a bucket of water.
"I think I was beginning to stink a little," said Xena evenly.
She finished washing her arms and leant against a nearby post drying herself.
"Can't you do anything?" she said.
Ares spread his hands wide. "Our powers are diminishing; healing was the first thing to go."
Xena nodded. "Lets hope she can still fulfil your precious destiny," she said bitterly as she started to walk inside.
"Xena this is not my fault," said Ares, hurrying to keep up with her.
"No it's mine. Mine for leaving her alone, abandoning her four years ago. She wouldn't have been-"
"And to think you used to call me arrogant," said Ares. Xena stopped walking and turned to face him, perplexed.
"What makes you think that we'd be in a better position if you'd been around?" Ares spread his arms around. "Look around you Xena. Look at what Gabrielle has helped to create. The amazons are on board because of her. The Egyptians fight with us; Virgil is leading the men to victory in the south and Beowolf in the Norselands because of her. Could you fashion such loyalty?" Xena was open mouthed as Ares stood in front of her. "Gabrielle is an incredible person. Do not get swept away in a sea of what ifs and if onlys. That's not fair to her and not like you." Ares shook his head as if to mentally shake himself. "Must be spending too much time with blondes," he said drily, and strode off.
Xena watched him for a long time digesting what he said. She needed to live in the present now, as she had done for so long-as a warrior she could never think of the future and the past was too painful and shameful to consider at length. When she finally roused herself she strode towards Gabrielle's bed to find it surrounded by soldiers. That did not improve her already fragile temper. She stood staring at the crowd.
"So what do we know about the town?" asked Gabrielle. A map was laid across her legs.
"Small farming community," said a man. "Nothing valuable of note."
"Spiro, do you know anything more?" Spiro shook his head.
Gabrielle stared at the map for a long moment.
"Anything else, Cos?" asked Gabrielle thoughtfully. "Any movement in the North, around here?"
"Yes, yes there is," said Cos sounding surprised. "How did you know?"
"Because that's where I would base myself if I was going to make an assault on Rome." Gabrielle pointed to the town and then her finger traced a path towards Rome.
"We have no loyalties to Rome," said Todor quickly. There were murmurings of agreement.
"True," said Gabrielle rubbing her mouth and trying to stifle a moan. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "But Claudius has been supportive, and more importantly we haven't had to deal with them at all." She stared at the map. "And if they take even a tiny part of the Empire-"She shook her head. "But we don't have huge numbers. Especially as we may need to defend Frantica. "Gabrielle looked at Aphrodite.
"Dite do you think you could check out Rome? See how the land lies? Be our eyes and ears?"
Aphrodite looked shocked. "Do you think I can?" she asked, knowing how important the mission was.
"I know you can Dite! You are ready for this," added Gabrielle gently. "Take Ivan and Marina with you." The three of them nodded at Gabrielle, who gave them warm smiles, and immediately strode off.
"Spiro I want you to take a unit to Frantica. Play it softly, but if you need more men, we'll send them. Andreas, I want you to pick a small detail to travel along here, scouting. You are salesmen travelling to Frantica, no engagement unless absolutely necessary. I want all bases covered. Eve will help you with clothing."
"Still got some of the Elijian kit?" said Alix, laughing. "Unless the moths have had it!"
"Ha-ha!" said Eve sarcastically.
"Everyone knows what to do?" asked Gabrielle and pinched the bridge of her nose. She was in a lot of discomfort now and very tired. She looked around at the crowd and caught sight of a furious looking Xena.
"Xena," she said and motioned the warrior to her.
Xena stared at the bard and shook her head. "You seem to have it all organised without my help," she said bitterly and walked away. Eve exchanged a worried look with Gabrielle and followed her mother.
"Mother," she called. Xena eventually stopped and spun around to face her daughter.
"What?" she said.
"Calm down, please."
"How long was I gone before there was a crowd around her? I expected better of you, Eve."
Eve bristled and looked back at Gabrielle who was watching anxiously, the crowd now dispersed.
"I need to go for a walk," said Xena running her fingers through her hair.
"OK," said Eve, hoping that would calm her fraught mother.
"Did she mention how her legs were?" Xena whispered
"Mother, you were gone under an hour. There's been no change, what do you expect?" retorted Eve, angrily, and she turned and walked back to Gabrielle.
"Breakfast is served," said Xena and placed a bowel on the table. She then helped Gabrielle sit up, and handed her the bowl.
"Thanks. Are you having any?" Asked Gabrielle.
"Had mine earlier," said Xena. "How are you feeling?"
"No change," said Gabrielle and suddenly she lost her appetite. Xena was looking fidgety.
"I thought I'd do go for a ride, take Argo for a spin. Haven't done that for ages, and it'll be good to get out." Xena spoke quickly and kept her eyes on the floor. Gabrielle stared at the tight face and sighed inaudibly.
"Sure Xena. You go," she said quietly.
Xena kissed her on the cheek and turned and walked out of the infirmary with sad, green eyes following her.
"Enjoy your nap?"
Gabrielle was disorientated and blinked a couple of times and then focused on Xena's face.
"I keep dropping off," she said sadly.
"It's your body healing itself," said Xena. There was a pause.
"First of all Gabrielle, how are you feeling?"
"You mean how are my legs feeling don't you?" said Gabrielle, an edge entering her tone. "I still can't feel them, Ok, Xena. Still a cripple." She turned away from Xena's gaze.
"We need to talk."
Gabrielle's face dropped and she stared at Xena who was now looking any where but her.
"Of course. I understand. Stuck in this keep with a cripple, it's not what you came back for is it?"
"Not here," said Xena firmly and in a smooth movement wrapped her arms under Gabrielle and picked her up easily.
Gabrielle said nothing but closed her eyes that stung with tears. She tried to resist the temptation of laying her head on Xena's shoulder, but failed and enjoyed the sensation.
"Open up now," said Xena and when Gabrielle did she saw that she was in a large room that had been used as a store room previously. But now it was unrecognisable.
In the centre was a huge four poster double bed. From the upper frame dangled a wooden triangle. Next to the bed was a high tray on wheels. Also in the room was a large bath and mats laid on the floor, as well as a desk with scrolls laid out and two sofas which was where Xena sat with Gabrielle lain across her.
"What-"said Gabrielle open mouthed.
"Our home," said Xena proudly. "Hope you like it. We can of course rearrange the furniture, put a chakram on the wall, you choose."
"Our home," repeated Gabrielle.
"I suppose it's our first," said Xena looking around. "Not too shabby."
"I thought you wanted to leave. You were getting tired of being here." Gabrielle stared at the warrior's face.
"Of course not," said Xena gently. "I was annoyed with the way everyone demanded your attention so much. But I was also so proud. Your plans were brilliant."
"I learnt from the best," said Gabrielle quickly. "But you could have joined in. We'd welcome your input."
"They'll be time for that," said Xena. "You are their leader, and that's not changing any time soon."
"But your rides on Argo," Gabrielle's voice faded out as Xena pointed around the room. "I thought you were getting bored stuck in here."
"Just preparing everything." She got up and went to the bed. "So you can pull yourself up, more independence." She pointed to the triangle. "And you can have meals without balancing precariously your plate. Can have soup again," She said with a smile and pulled the tray across the bed.
Gabrielle watched happily as Xena walked over to the tub. "A bit of luxury, but also work for your legs."
Gabrielle looked down. "Xena I-"
"It doesn't matter." She walked over to the sofa and perched on the side and framed Gabrielle's face with her hands. "Don't you understand? I love you. No matter if you can't walk a step again. I am here, with you."
A tear rolled down Gabrielle's cheek. "I realised that I want to be with you; the travelling, being the hero, leader or even my redemption doesn't matter; it's you that matters. So if you'd let me, I'd like to be your sidekick for a while. Look after you while you're off being the hero."
Gabrielle coughed through her tears, and smiled. Xena rubbed some tears away with her thumb, kissed her forehead and then stood up.
"Although I have heard," she said and picked Gabrielle up and took her to the bed. "That some heroes take terrible advantage of their sidekicks." She laid Gabrielle on the bed and then lay next to her. Gabrielle turned slowly to face her and kissed her on the mouth gently.
"I do hope that's the case with you." She added and started to kiss Gabrielle's neck.
"You better believe it," murmured Gabrielle. "I have so many plans for you," and she lost herself to her warrior princess.
Authors note: Thank you for reading! This was written as a challenge and I honestly did not expect it to be so long. I did want to leave some threads hanging so you, dear reader, could decide in what direction (if any!) the story went. If you want to know what I think...PM me, but I'd be interested to know in your ideas! Who knows maybe I will come back to this story as I have really enjoyed writing it and have developed a fondness for all the characters, so maybe I will put meat on the bones of this story. But thank you for reading tis far, and please carry on reading and enjoying Xena fan fiction as well as feeding the bards.