A/N: Hey guys! Guess who's back? :D So sorry for the late update, but I've had a lot on lately. Please forgive me :3 Anyway, here you go, I hope you enjoy!
Xena was silent all the way back to the caravan. Cupid's words swam around in her head, but her thoughts fell back to the kiss. She glanced up at her quiet companion. Selena was just as silent as she was, seemingly lost in her own thoughts as they walked back. She couldn't blame her. She knew she was confused. Xena certainly felt so. She hadn't meant to kiss her friend back, or at least not kiss her the way she had. Any feelings, however small they had been in the past, had disappeared long ago. Xena's libido was infamous, but she knew how to control herself. Whatever was happening as a result of Cupid's bow breaking mocked her control, made her feel weak. When they had kissed she had felt something invisible press against her, pushing her toward Selena. After her friend's confession of her own feelings, she felt the kiss had not only been a mistake, but may have fanned the flames.
The warrior sighed and scratched the back of her head. How was she going to explain this to Gabrielle? She would find out eventually. After what happened between them with Hope and Solan, they promised not to keep anymore secrets from one another. This was only minor, only a kiss. It wouldn't matter, right? She stared off into the distance, watching the flickering orange flames of the torches as they neared the edge of the woods. Would Gabrielle even care? Either way, she wanted to get it out, but before she could, she knew she had to talk to Selena.
She stopped a little distance away from the clearing, and turned to her friend. She watched as her emotions flickered across her face as she turned with her questioning gaze. Her violet eyes were filled with questions, curiosity, and upon seeing Xena's own saddened eyes – fear. Selena swallowed thickly as she fiddled with her dress.
"Why do I get a bad feeling?" she asked nervously.
"Selena, we need to talk."
Selena's eyes widened slightly. "Uh-oh, I remember the last time you said that. It didn't end very well for me," she chuckled, but Xena heard no humour in the sound. Rather she sounded resigned to Xena's ears, as if Selena had already given up, or knew the conversation was coming.
"My friend," Xena started softly, using the title so Selena would know where she stood. "I care about you, I do, but I feel that the kiss may have led you to think differently."
"I'm a big girl, Xena. I can look after myself-,"
"I know that, Selena," Xena replied gruffly. She closed her eyes and took a cleansing breath. It wouldn't do her any good to lose her composure.
She knew what Selena could be like, and if she still remained how she did when they travelled together, she knew Selena would be thinking about the kiss from all angles, and most likely how she could sway Xena. Selena was smart, and Xena knew it wouldn't take long before the old spark that had existed between them would eventually flame again if she left Selena to her old devices. Along her line of thought, she noted that Selena hadn't looked as shocked as she'd felt at the kiss, only surprised that Xena had broken it.
She turned away from her red-haired friend, pushing her head back to look up at the sky. "I…I love Gabrielle, Selena. Nothing will change that, and even if she never comes to know it, my heart will only belong to her."
When Selena had remained so quiet that she thought she might have left, Xena turned. For a split second, she thought she saw fire burning in her friend's gaze, the flames threatening to scorch her. When she blinked, her gaze returned to normal; her eyes absent of the look that had possessed them earlier, making Xena think that maybe she'd imagined it.
"I know, Xena." Selena was silent for a moment as she tilted her head as though she was listening. "But, I sense that, with the way you left Gabrielle earlier, her own heart is singing a song of its own to another."
It took a moment to understand completely what Selena had said. The words sounded almost jumbled in her mind, and she could have sworn that her friend sounded teasing, almost triumphant. She stepped forward, staring at Selena intently to see any hint of dissembling or lying, but found none but a look that resembled the truth. A strange, painful swirling started in Xena's stomach, bordering on sickness when she imagined Gabrielle with another. She'd vowed she would never force herself upon the bard; for fear that she would scare her only companion away with her feelings, but she had also promised herself that, if Gabrielle were to take a lover, Xena wouldn't get in her way. But an almost unidentifiable rage overtook the warrior, blinding her to her surroundings, and breaking the promise to a million pieces.
Her eyes blazed with a fire that envied the torches that lined the clearing as she set off running back to the caravan. With no other thought running through her mind than to see Gabrielle, Xena ran across the woods, dodging low branches and leaping uncovered roots, and fallen logs. The sick feeling she already felt in her stomach intensified as she broke into the clearing. Most dancers and the caravan had retired, leaving a few many lingering in amorous embrace. Her eyes flitted across them all, looking for the fair face of her best friend. But one that she did see, a person whose face held a pained expression, caught her attention.
"Juliette! Where's Gabrielle?" Xena growled. She didn't mean to, but her heavy breathing and her boiling blood left her with fair little patience to calm her tone.
Juliette's eyes widened slightly, adopting a look mixed with fear, sadness and envy at Xena's approach. She swallowed hard, and it was obvious to Xena that the young woman looked to be warring with herself. She could see it in her eyes. Xena grabbed the Seer's shoulders, shaking her as gently as she could to make her spill the bard's whereabouts.
"Please!" Xena pleaded.
The young Seer stared at her for a moment, and without having to utter a word, looked to the yurt that stood beneath one of the bigger trees in the woods. The leafy canopy shaded most of it, giving it almost a natural camouflage away from human eyes. The torches that stood nearby flickered in the slight wind, painting shadows that danced across the material walls. If Juliette had not gestured to it, Xena would have had to look twice to see. She had only been in the yurt once, but in her slightly inebriated state, and the darkness of the night, Xena felt her warrior instincts mocking her.
She released Juliette and made for the yurt, determination and fear of what she might find driving her steps. She didn't hesitate at the entrance and brushed the flap aside, peering in.
Leandros looked up when Xena walked in. He smiled at the warrior, his eyes sparkling. "Xena! I have something to tell you." He stepped closer, running a hand through his hair.
Xena ignored his words. Instead, she took one look at him shrugging on his jacket, and saw Gabrielle's prone form sleeping, tucked under a bundle of furs, and her heart assumed. She grabbed the neck of his shirt and drew him to her roughly. Leandros paled in the lantern light when she focused the full brunt of her glare on him.
"What have you done?" she seethed.
Everything around her, everything in her peripheral looked as though it was melting; the walls, the light. The confusion that messed in her mind scrambled rational thought, and pulsed through her bloodstream like fire. She shook the man in her grip again when he just stared at her with shock and confusion.
"What did you do to Gabrielle?"
He frowned. His eyes flicked to Gabrielle and back when Xena growled at him. "We…I, we kissed, Xena, that's all—whoa, wait!" he shouted, but it was too late. She was already dragging him out by his neck.
Once they were outside, Xena threw the young man onto his back upon the ground. He fell heavily, the fall expelling the air forcefully from his lungs. While he was winded, Xena approached and snatched his jacket, lifting him to her, and snapped her curled fist forward to connect with his face. The hard impact of skin on skin forced a crack that resounded in the almost quiet clearing.
Seeing the scuffle, a distracted Juliette unfurled her arms from around herself, and rushed over, her eyes wide with fear. The young Seer fell next to them and pushed Xena away, pressing her hands firmly against her shoulders. "Stop, Xena! Beating him won't do anything to help, I know! I've seen!"
Xena clenched her teeth. "What?"
Juliette lifted her own body protectively over Leandros and stared back at Xena, grim determination in her gaze. "I have seen what happens, Xena, and beating him will not help anyone! You need to stay calm…for Gabrielle."
She heard the woman's words, and the warning Cupid had given her echoed at the back of her mind. Their mixed words implored for her to listen to reason – to fight the dark pressure that pressed against her and willed her to deal pain.
She looked down at the young man she straddled and saw him staring up at her; his eyes wide with shock and fear, and holding his nose with one hand. The unshed tears she saw shimmering in his eyes looked to be from pain, and from the force of her punch, she wouldn't be surprised. He looked genuinely afraid of her as he looked up, his face conveying an emotion that made her think that the Angel of Death loomed over him. He looked as though he could see his own untimely end in her eyes. Morbidly, she knew some part of her – some bloodthirsty inkling that still lingered from her warlord days – would love to rip him to pieces for daring to touch what was hers. But as she forced herself to take a breath, she blinked and moved away, an audible gasp escaping her lips.
Leandros scrambled back once he was free, his heels kicking up dirt as he moved just in case she thought twice about freeing him, all while holding his nose. She looked to him and saw blood trickling from between his fingers, leaking to drip onto the ground. Xena winced inwardly. She knew she had most likely broken his nose. All the progress she had made with him, she felt it drift away; like dust on the wind.
"I…I'm sorry, Leandros," she said carefully, but he had already began to run away.
Juliette looked torn between staying to watch Xena, and following the man she secretly loved. After seeing the worried expression on her face, and after reassuring the young woman that she would be fine, Xena bid her to follow him, and watched as the young Seer rose to her feet.
"Juliette? I didn't mean-," Xena started.
"I know," Juliette said grimly. She offered a tiny smile and turned to chase after Leandros as he turned out of the clearing, heading back to town.
Left on her knees in the clearing, Xena felt the curious stares of those that lingered. When she looked up, they seemed to find something more interesting to look at, or hid away back in their tents. With a heavy sigh, she rose to her feet and turned. Her heart pounded away in her chest painfully. She had no idea where her rage had come from, but she knew in a few minutes, it was as if she had been possessed.
She approached the yurt slowly. She had stepped in a moment a go, blind with rage, forced to see what she loathed in her heart if she had been Gabrielle's lover. But now, in her calmer stare free of the fury that had driven her, Xena felt compelled to enter the yurt, offering support and understanding, just as a friend would. It was the thing she most hated – to give spoken permission to give the holder of her heart to take another as a lover. But Xena wasn't her lover…it shouldn't matter, yet it did. Her heart felt like it was breaking with every step.
The sound of Gabrielle's gentle snores reached her ears as soon as she entered the yurt again. Despite what had transpired outside, it seemed that the young bard had remained unaffected by any noise. In this state, Xena felt she couldn't hold anything against the woman she loved. No matter how much it hurt. Some days, Xena could still only see the innocent, chatty little girl that begged Xena to take her with her. It was that girl that captured her heart, but it was the woman she had grown into that had stolen it completely, wordlessly claiming it as her own. And Xena gladly yielded it.
The dark warrior sat on the furs beside Gabrielle. The hate and anger she had felt earlier dissolved as she took in the blonde's relaxed face. She looked so peaceful, and by the slight upturn of the corners of her mouth, Xena could have sworn she was smiling. Xena frowned, forcing herself not to growl at why the reason the smile was there. Instead, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, forcing herself to stay calm. The wine Selena had given her earlier was bubbling around her head.
When Xena reopened her eyes, she gently rested her hand on Gabrielle's face. She brushed the hair away from her closed eyes, and smiled when she felt the young woman move slightly under her touch, as if responding to her, even in her sleep.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," Xena started softly. "I know I'm…hard…to be with. That I can't give you what you want, what you need. If Leandros is-," she sniffed and turned away for a moment to collect herself before turning back. "If he is what you desire, then I won't stand in your way." She stroked Gabrielle's hair again, loving the feel of the silky tresses beneath her fingertips. She noticed Gabrielle's eyes flutter as she moved her hair, but though Xena waited to see if she would rouse, the bard showed no sign of waking.
Xena gave a dark chuckle as she continued. "I may have to patch things up with him, stop him from going back to Darius. He won't be happy that I've given his a broken nose. But then, if I do, I'll just end up watching you leave me again to be with someone else. It always seems to happen, just when I think I'm ready to hand you my heart. Then again, it's already yours now, isn't it?" she asked rhetorically. "Of course it is…it always has been."
She stared at the flame trapped within the lantern hanging above them; it swayed and danced, though there was no breeze to provoke it. It reminded her of her own heart. Though it had been closed away for years, shielded from everything that ever attempted to sway it, nothing ever did; until Gabrielle. The young woman had somehow reached in and played with the flame, controlling it with her own will so easily. Now it felt as though the flame was weakening, closing again.
"I cared, before…Borias, Marcas, and Hercules," Xena muttered quietly. "There's no denying that I cared for them in one way or another, maybe even loved them. But I was never in love with them. I still hold a part of them, but you…you hold it all. I love you, Gabrielle. My heart belongs completely to you, whether you know it or not, and it always will," she whispered, willing herself not to cry.
She looked down to her side and saw Gabrielle still fast asleep. When the bard snorted in her sleep, Xena smiled and brushed the back of her fingers against the warm, soft flesh of Gabrielle's cheek. "Why is it easier to tell you when you aren't listening?" she pondered with amusement.
She sighed and, after a quick glance around, took her sword from her back and rested it on the pile of furs beside them. The warrior shifted into a more comfortable position, and laid beside Gabrielle so that she was facing her. She didn't know how long she rested there, but she didn't care. It was when a cold chill broke through the yurt flap she'd left slightly open, that Xena moved to cover herself with the furs.
As it moved, falling away, Xena caught sight of Gabrielle's body and released a sigh of relief when she saw her best friend fully clothed. She pulled the cover back over them both and tucked her arm under Gabrielle's head, pulling her gently closer, and her mouth stretched into a grin. She had assumed when entering before that Gabrielle and Leandros had been together intimately, and when Leandros had tried to tell her that they hadn't, her anger and jealousy had deafened her to his words. She knew she would definitely need to apologize in the morning if she had any chance of saving what strange friendship she had with the young man, though if he never wanted to speak to her again, she could understand. Still, she forced those concerns from her mind.
She listened to the gentle thrum of the drums still playing outside, and waited until her eyes started to become heavy before she moved over the bard, and pressed a soft kiss against her forehead. Hearing the bard mumble her name in her sleep, her eyes flickering open for a second, Xena froze, wondering if she been heard after all. But as her heart stayed suspended, waiting, Gabrielle said nothing else and instead snuggled into her shoulder, reaching her hand up to rest over the warrior's heart as if she held it, even in her dream.
Leandros didn't stop, even when he heard the gentle voice behind him, calling his name, and willing him to stop. The pain in his face was immense. When the warrior princess had punched him, he'd felt his nose crack, and his face explode in a world of pain. It had felt like he had taken Mount Olympus to his face. Barely moments ago he had been happy and decided; now he wasn't so sure. Though, there had been one thing that had bothered him, if only slightly.
He continued through the trees until he reached the edge, and walked over to one of the water-filled barrels that sat adjacent to a house. Upon reaching it, he submerged his hands into the ice cold water, and splashed his face with it. It stung; the water went up his nose, in his eyes, and the wind against his face almost made him feel as though he would freeze.
"Ah, gods!" he moaned. He leaned over the barrel to look at his reflection. His eyes were already beginning to look puffy, and his nose was most definitely broken. It was crooked, and blood slowly flowed from his nostrils.
He turned and saw the figure of Juliette catching up to him. She stood catching her breath once she reached him. "Leave me alone, Juliette," he grumbled. He wet his hands once more in the barrel and cleaned his face and hands of blood, wincing when he bumped his sore nose.
"Leandros, she didn't mean to do it. She didn't-,"
"That's not what it looked like to me!" He turned to face her angrily. He pointed at his face and glared. "Are you telling me she was only trying to tickle me when she broke my nose?"
Juliette's eyes widened slightly when she looked at his face, and a sadness he had not seen before glazed her eyes with unshed tears. When she looked to the floor for a moment, Leandros wasn't sure whether she was crying or not.
"She was just afraid," he heard her soft reply.
He fought to lower his voice; Xena's sudden violence rocked him, leaving him confused and angry. But though his muscles quivered with his righteous anger, Juliette's gentle tone, and obvious distress touched him. Suddenly he just wanted to hold and try and comfort the young woman who had unexpectedly come to mean something to him. "Afraid?" he asked gently.
Both were quiet for a moment. Leandros wondered if Juliette would say what she meant, but he didn't need to hear what he could see in her eyes. The young woman looked away whenever he tried to look into her eyes, gently prodding with his silent prompt for her to continue. "I can't say why, but-,"
"Xena loves her, doesn't she?" he interrupted her.
Leandros didn't wait to watch her expression, but her shocked silence was enough answer for him. He had suspected as much when he had been with Gabrielle earlier. He clutched the rim of the barrel with both hands and looked into the water, watching the gentle ripples he made, and the wavering reflection of the full moon. He could still hear the distant echoes of the beating drums playing back in the woods, the gentle whistle of the wind as it blew through the trees; gently manipulating the branches into a slow, liberating dance. When he had been with Gabrielle, it hadn't felt like she was with him, rather another that her heart truly desired. He had felt her kiss, her touch, but it hadn't been for him, and he knew it.
He should have realized the signs, they were all there. The looks, the words…Gabrielle never took her eyes off the warrior princess, even when it seemed she didn't realize she was staring so lovingly at her best friend. He'd been a fool.
"Did you…um," Juliette whispered haltingly.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. She looked at him, a silent question burning in her eyes. The longer he let the silence reign on between them, the more Juliette seemed uncomfortable by her own enquiry. She pulled her braid forward over her shoulder, and picked at the end nervously; she looked so much like a child, nothing like the woman he had seen when she had first entered the town. She had seemed strong, confident. Now all he saw was a vulnerability that emanated from her like a physical thing.
He guessed by the blush in her cheeks what her question was. What he couldn't understand was why she would want to know. Still, he answered. "No, we didn't. Her heart doesn't belong to me, and I am not so low that I would ever take it while a woman was unwilling, either." He sighed and turned to sit heavily on the pile of logs that resided beside the wall.
Juliette sighed, and he was sure that it sounded like relief. She smiled at him then and approached. "You are a good man, Leandros."
He prodded the end of his nose and winced painfully. "Sure don't feel like it right now,"
Juliette chuckled and pulled a rag from a hidden pocket within her dress, dunked it in the water, and came to kneel between Leandros's legs. Being slightly taller than him, her new place brought them face to face, but the intimacy of the position wasn't lost on Leandros. He clenched his jaw and turned his eyes skyward, demanding his body not react when Juliette steadied herself by placing a hand high on his thigh. But when a jolt of heat travelled through his body and made his belly tighten, he lost the ability to speak.
"You are," she reassured him. She began to gently dab the wet cloth around his face, wiping away the blood that he had missed. "Any other would have taken advantage. You didn't, and that makes you a man." She was quiet for a moment before her brown eyes fixed on his. "Do you love her?"
"I…," Leandros swallowed and Gabrielle's image floated before his mind. He had thought, like any other time he had thought of her, that his heart would start to race, or he'd become breathless. But now, his body didn't react at all. Knowing that she loved another played a part of his new feelings, but he suspected that now the mystery was gone, there was nothing left for his body to wonder about. "I thought I did, but it seems my heart was…wrong."
Juliette smiled and shook her head. "The heart is never wrong, which is why we should always follow it. Yours was just misled; by thoughts, feelings, dreams…wishes? Sometimes kindness can be inadvertently cruel, and because you have suffered in your past, when kindness was shown to you, your heart mistook it for affection, and love. You mustn't be ashamed or angry for it; just happy that you have those that are kind to you, and want to be around you, and that your heart is open enough to feel that kindness so willingly." She bit her lip and washed out the cloth again, bringing it back to his face. "It's true that Xena does indeed love Gabrielle. I think her reaction was more of fear of thinking she'd lost her to another, than any real anger toward you, Leandros."
Leandros noticed that she seemed to have difficulty looking at him properly. He suspected that it had been fear of his anger, but now he wasn't so sure. She treated him with tenderness and care no one had ever bestowed on him, except his mother. He felt warm and protected by her touch; feelings that had long eluded him in the past. He wondered what it was she thought of him, for he only felt confused.
He watched her carefully, deciding to study her reaction to his next question. "What about yours, Juliette?"
Juliette's hand stilled its motions. She didn't look up when she answered. "What do you mean?"
"I didn't expect you to jump to my rescue earlier, nor have I thanked you for it. I guess I was just…surprised a little. But nevertheless," he brushed her braid with his fingers. "Thank you, Juliette."
She smiled in response, and Leandros could have sworn that she was blushing when she looked up to finally meet his eyes. "You're welcome. I did it for her as much as I did it for you."
"What do you mean?"
Leandros noticed a dark look pass over her face then. She continued to clean away the blood on his face. The wet cloth felt cool on his heated skin. "I don't think the warrior princess was herself. I've watched her, heard of her, and what she's done in her past, but most of all, what she's trying to accomplish now. I doubt it would have helped anyone if she'd killed you."
"Gee, thanks, Juliette," Leandros replied dryly. He attempted a smile to alert Juliette to his jest, but the look remained on her face. "What is it? You don't think she would have really killed me, do you?"
Juliette's only answer was to continue gently scrubbing his face.
The Phantom Goddess smirked as the human approached. She growled as the woman dared to look in her eyes, and glared at her in a way that conveyed that she thought so too. As she knew she would, the human wilted under powerful glare, and looked away, shivering with fear.
You failed. The Seer stopped her…the Phantom Goddess hissed.
The woman didn't answer. Instead she wrapped her arms around herself and looked to the woods sadly. "I wish you would leave me alone. Haven't I suffered enough?"
Before she could turn, the Phantom Goddess rushed to her, clutching a cold hand around the woman's neck and lifted her from the ground. Her feet kicked out, but they went through the Goddess's form like smoke. As she started to feel the air begin to leave her, she raked her nails against the fingers wrapped around her neck, but her efforts were in vain and only resulted in the Goddess squeezing tighter.
I'm not done with you yet! The Goddess snarled. Love is disappearing, but the gods are seeking to replace it. They don't know why or who has caused it, so I still have time. But that pesky warrior and her friends are ruining things for me, and I fear the warrior woman will find out. I won't lie, she has great will and strength of mind, but I feel you are purposely failing me. She glared at the human. Do you want me to release your soul of its torment?
"Yesss," the woman's choked reply came. Her eyes were beginning to roll back from her efforts to stay conscious. "More than…anything!"
The Goddess sneered at the pathetic, desperate tone in the human's voice and released her, letting her drop to the floor with a thump. Then you better find a way to get rid of them…before I do! If not?
A piercing scream sliced through the woman's mind then; past torture ripped her memories from their dark recesses, bringing them forth into flesh, and surrounded her. The faces of the ones she loved and lost surrounded her with expressions of pain and sadness, their eyes blaming her. She clutched the sides of her head and bent over on her knees, rocking back and forth at their condemning stares and the screech in her mind.
"Please, stop it! Please! I will…I will!" she screamed.
The Phantom Goddess stopped her mental torture and smiled cruelly. Reaching out, she forced the woman to look up, and with a voice as cold and cutting as an icy blade promised, The next time you fail me, your soul is mine!
Same disclaimers apply. Spelling/grammar errors, or con-crit? Tell me in a PM please and I'll sort it out :D Thanks for reading. Stay tuned