Gabrielle snuggled into the warm softness that pressed against her. Creeping along the thin line between dreaming and reality, she decided not to open her eyes. Instead, she focused on falling back to sleep, but her mind took note of her senses – senses which had been blinded and disabled, and were receiving a rude wakeup call all at once. Her stomach clenched with a sickly warning, and the sounds that reached her ears were far too loud for the morning. She grumbled, thinking the birds outside might as well be in her head for all the noise they were making. She had been drunk before, but she couldn't ever remember waking up with the pounding that raged on inside her head like now. Moaning quietly, she realized her mouth was hung dry and scratchy – like she'd had it open all night. Ignoring the way the earth spun when she moved, Gabrielle forced herself into a sitting position and immediately brought a hand to her head as if it would help.
"Ah…gods," she groaned.
She noticed, with relief, the silver tankard sat upon the table nearby and reached up for it, careful not to move too fast. Each move, however slight, seemed to rock her, threatening the ground to crack beneath her. The cold water was a welcome comfort and offered escape from the ache in her temples, however temporary. It helped some, but the cottony sensation remained in her mouth. She had hoped to go back to sleep and get rid of the vestiges of her hangover. But as Gabrielle started to lie back against the furs, something touched her back.
Turning, she gasped at the sight of the six foot dark warrior laid out beside her, her eyes closed, and her breathing deep and steady. Xena's long body was tucked under the furs, her front exposed when Gabrielle's movement disturbed the covers.
How did Xena get here? She asked herself, narrowing her eyes in thought.
Gabrielle held her breath when the warrior murmured something and snuggled deeper into the furs. When she didn't wake, the bard smiled gently and lay back down, facing the warrior. As her eyes roamed over Xena's peaceful face, she felt her heart lift and race with affection. She wished she could see this kind of peace in the warrior more often. The sullen, brooding look that made itself known on the dark warrior's face was a permanent fixture, but at least it seemed to have lightened a little since the first time she'd set her eyes on Xena. The first time she'd seen her, Xena's face had held defeat, self-loathing, and hate that just broke her heart. Now, whenever Gabrielle set her eyes upon the warrior, Xena looked at her with the unmistakable look of happiness, hope and love that made a warmth spread throughout her body.
You look so peaceful, so beautiful when you sleep, Xena, Gabrielle thought. I wish I could make you look that happy all the time.
She reached out with a shaky hand, a side effect from the amount of wine she'd consumed, and carefully brushed away the hair that fell across Xena's cheek. She hadn't meant to, but her fingers grazed the warrior's cheek ever-so-slightly, prompting her gently awake. Gabrielle watched as her friend's eyes fluttered open and fell upon the bard, glinting slightly in when they caught the light.
"Morning," she said, her voice thick with sleep. The corners of Xena's mouth up in a tired smile.
"How's your head feel?"
"Like it's been run over by a chariot, backed up over and then run across again," Gabrielle muttered mournfully. She turned to look up and squinted as the morning light trickled in through the conical opening in the roof's peak. "It's so bright. I'm beginning to suspect that Apollo knows I'm hung-over and is tormenting me."
Xena's mouth felt dry, and she knew it had less to do with the alcohol she'd consumed the previous night. As Gabrielle moved to shield her eyes her long hair fell around her face; the sun filtered through the strands, illuminating them, making it look as though the bard's hair really was made of gold. As she looked up, the sunlight kissed her face, diminishing the circles under her eyes, and gave the bard a fresh-faced look. Gods…so beautiful Xena thought. She had to fight to keep her hand to herself when the impulse to run her hands through that hair grew strong.
"Perhaps you should learn your limits?" Xena chuckled when she noticed Gabrielle's green eyes staring back at her.
"Or maybe I could just not touch a drop again?" the bard complained.
Xena shrugged, yawning. "Either way,"
Gabrielle laid back and moaned aloud when the sun shone in her eyes. She covered her eyes with her hands, but her heavy limbs and lack of energy fought against her, pulling them away. Xena watched the young bard struggle with her hangover and smiled.
"Here," she said quietly, taking care to not add more cause to heighten Gabrielle's pain. She pulled the furs over them both until they lay completely beneath, shaded from the light and encompassed safely within the warm confines of the fur.
"Thanks," Gabrielle said ruefully. "I feel so weak." She snuggled into Xena's shoulder, resting her head in the crook between her neck and shoulders, and sighed contently. "Much better,"
Xena smiled at the bard's actions, and though they caused her heart to flip and break at the same time, she didn't discourage the closeness. The painful pleasure of having the woman she secretly loved in her arms, but could never have, was a price she would gladly pay to make sure she stayed there.
"How much did you drink last night, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle felt her stomach churn at the sound of drinking. She frowned into the warrior's neck. She didn't want to talk about last night, about how much she'd drank, or even how she'd come to be in the yurt. The only thing she wanted was to stay exactly where she was. She wanted to stay pressed against the warrior, wanted to memorize the scent of Xena's skin and the feel of it against her own. She wanted to remember the gentle pulse of Xena's heartbeat as it beat under her fingertips when she brushed them across Xena's heart.
They had slept together before, shared a bedroll, but something felt different. Though neither had said or done anything, there was something definitely different, and the change, though invisible to both, was there. When they had shared a bed before, they had huddled together for warmth. The contact had been platonic and careful, never more than what it had been: survival. But now it felt as it had before when they had first started travelling together. She felt a sense of awkwardness, of hesitation in her touch; Gabrielle almost felt uncertain when touching the warrior. She wasn't sure when the last time would be, so she let her touch linger. Things had shifted, but the exact pinpoint of her change and the development of her feelings was inscrutable. All she only knew was that her heart wanted more than to cuddle up to Xena just for warmth. It was no longer acceptable to her anymore.
Gabrielle grumbled and pressed herself closer. "I don't know…I," she squeezed her eyes tight to provoke a memory; any that would help her remember how much she'd had. But while she was searching, a completely different memory to one she expected assaulted her mind.
Gabrielle, her fingers in another's hair, her lips wrapped around theirs as she pulled them closer, and a carnal groan ripping from her own throat as her arousal heightened. A flash of blue. Her eyes flew open. That was a dream…wasn't it? She rubbed her head. Who was that?
Feeling the bard tense in her hold, Xena looked down. She kissed the top of Gabrielle's blonde head and smiled. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle nodded wordlessly. "I think I just had a weird dream, that's all." She moaned into Xena's neck. "I don't wanna get up. I'd rather stay here all day until my body stops feeling as though it's punishing me."
"It's self-inflicted, Gabrielle. You're going to have to get up at some point and face the day," she chuckled.
"Why aren't you suffering?"
Xena paused, listening to the way her heart pounded away in her chest in reaction to the bard's innocent closeness. She fought to control her breathing when Gabrielle's lips brushed the muscles of her neck when she spoke, but the task was near damn impossible when the thought of touching them with her own ran through her mind. The bard's skin felt soft as she brushed her calloused hand over it, the warm flesh supple and almost silky. She swallowed hard when Gabrielle leaned up on her elbow to look down at her expectantly, her breasts accidentally brushing the back of Xena's hand.
I am suffering! Xena thought darkly.
"I just know when to stop," she said. Xena cleared her throat and frowned. "I drank a lot in my youth; I know how much I could take before it consumed me. Being a warlord, I had to keep my wits about me, even when drunk. To do that I had to know when too much was too much. If I hadn't…well, I wouldn't be here. I'm sure someone might have tried to take advantage of my drunkenness and stood against me if they hadn't been sure that I could handle myself."
Gabrielle pursed her lips and nodded. "Oh, well…okay, I guess that's a good reason," she grinned. She lowered her head to Xena's shoulder again and a thought passed through her mind. "Maybe you could teach me?"
"Teach you what?"
"How to handle my drink," Gabrielle laughed and moaned when the sound vibrated through her head painfully.
Xena snorted. "I thought you wanted me how to vault a horse?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." Gabrielle smiled and snuggled closer. "Are you still going to teach me?"
"How to vault a horse?"
"Depends," Xena said.
Gabrielle mimicked Xena's trademark arched eyebrow. "On?"
"Well, if I can remember correctly, I promised that if you could knock me down, I would teach you. You have yet to do that,"
"Do you know how hard it is to get you on your back, Xena?" Gabrielle asked dryly. Seeing Xena grin widely, heat rushed to Gabrielle's face as she realized the double entendre of her own words. "I mean, uh-,"
"I know what you meant," the warrior chuckled, although, she had to admit the thought of Gabrielle forcing her onto her back made her heart squeeze and her blood burn with desire.
They fell into silence, their thoughts chasing Gabrielle's innocently spoken words. As Xena fought to keep her heart steady, Gabrielle was attacked by another drunken memory. Bits and pieces rushed back to her, assaulting her mind. It didn't hurt, but trying to interpret what she was seeing proved annoyingly painful. She closed her eyes and tried to see, but it was no use.
"What happened last night, Xena?" she rubbed her head. "All I can remember is dancing…then,"
Xena and Selena…kissed.
Xena glanced down at the bard's abrupt silence. "What?"
Gabrielle bit her teeth together and forced herself into a sitting position, moving away from the comforting warmth of her best friend's body. She pushed the fur away and moved to stand, taking caution with her movements. Her body felt heavy and weak at the same time, and the earth still spun. "Nothing," she replied flatly.
Xena frowned at her friend's behaviour. What happened? "Gabrielle?"
"I just…it's nothing." The bard looked at her feet; fighting back the tears she felt stinging in her eyes.
She remembered. Remembered seeing the two women together, both locked in what had looked to be a passionate kiss. Some part of Gabrielle had hoped that she would finally be able to address the warrior with her true feelings. The wine had given her courage to be bold, to act on the subtle desires her heart held. But she hadn't acted soon enough, hadn't uttered a word of her heart and she'd been too late, leaving Xena in the arms of another.
Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at the warrior and her heart skipped a little at the curious look the warrior was giving her. "I need some air. You were right, Xena. I need to get up and…face it," That you'll never be mine; she finished sadly in her mind. She offered the warrior a smile, and without another word, stumbled out of the yurt and into the blinding sun.
"How is your nose?"
Leandros jerked forward, his eyes flying open at the voice, and splashed when he moved to cover himself. The silver haired woman stood in the doorway, a shy smile on her face as she looked at him. She was stood a good distance away from the tub, but her eyes on what she could see of his naked form made his blood burn with embarrassment. "Juliette? I, um, I…it feels sore," he stammered.
Juliette nodded in understanding. "Have you been to the healer yet? Perhaps he could reset it for you, give you some herbs to fight the pain?"
"I'll be alright; I've endured broken bones before." Leandros cleared his throat and looked at the woman. "What…what are you doing here?"
Juliette's eyebrows arched. "I wanted to make sure that you were alright."
Leandros puffed out his chest. "I told you, I'm fine. The pain will go away soon." He brushed the bridge of his nose gently and pain lanced through him, forcing his eyes closed with a wince. "Hopefully anyway."
Seeing Juliette step forward, her eyes filled with concern, Leandros lifted his hand to stop her. "Please…I'm alright, Juliette,"
"What are you afraid of?" she smiled, unaffected by his efforts. She continued to him, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "I have seen men undressed before, Leandros. Nothing is different."
Leandros stared at her, watching carefully as she moved to sit on a stool by the bathing tub. She kept her eyes on his as she lowered her form and leaned an arm on the rim inches from his. He looked at his arm; saw the tendrils of steam rise from his flesh to disappear into the cool morning air. He had washed before in front of people before, but they had all been men back at camp, and nobody had paid mind to each other. It was different in front of Juliette. He felt like an embarrassed young boy again. His movements were awkward, and though the woman looked away when he washed, he still felt her eyes on him.
"What do you want to do then, Leandros? Leave your nose to heal by itself? You may find yourself worse off for it."
Leandros brushed his hands through his wet hair. "Have you seen it…Seer?"
"Yes, you will have a crooked-," Juliette paused and looked at him, eyes wide. "What did you say?"
"When you spoke to Xena yesterday, when you were holding yourself over me, you said you'd seen her beat me before, though she never had. It struck me as an odd thing to say. But it set me thinking about what it could mean. Then I knew. As soon as Xena backed off, I knew what you'd said had to have some truth in it." He looked at her dead in the eye. "You're a Seer, aren't you?"
The fear was evident in her eyes. It was obvious he'd scared her. When the woman started to back away, he reached out and grabbed her wrist. Her pulse quickened under his fingertips.
"I must go-,"
"No, please!" Leandros blurted.
Juliette stared at him, and though she looked scared, she made no move to pull away. She looked at him expectantly. When the pain of having his arm extended over the tub grew too much for him he let go and sat back. He brushed his fingers through his hair again; the water ran down his face, dripped into the tub, the sound breaking the dead silence that had developed between them.
"I…I won't hurt you, Juliette. I know that Seers don't have the best reputation, but…" he trailed off.
He didn't want to tap into the hurtful memories, the ones that haunted him and kept him up at night. The ones that broke his heart into pieces and made him curse his very existence, but he didn't want to turn his back on another as he felt he had with Her. He knew that if he could go back and change everything, he would have, but he couldn't and the pain from knowing that cut him deep. Perhaps he could show the kindness his father hadn't and protect another Seer from the same fate that had befallen the one he'd loved the most.
He had almost told Gabrielle the truth when they had sparred, but the pain the memory dredged up squeezed around his heart like a fist. Juliette was one and the same as what She had been; perhaps Juliette could comprehend the pain?
Leandros sat up a little straighter. "Juliette? You don't need to be afraid of me, and if it makes you feel any better, I won't tell anyone about you." He looked up so she could see the sincerity in his eyes. "I couldn't hate you, even if you are a Seer."
She seemed to relax a little at his words and Leandros smiled as she sat back down beside the tub. "Why? Everyone else I have met have shown fear or evaded me."
Leandros closed his eyes as the pain rocked his heart. "My…mother was a Seer."
"Yes, and she was…murdered…for it." Hearing Juliette gasp, Leandros looked up. "My father threw her out when I was a boy. She was already weak. The winter he threw her out of the house was the harshest we'd ever had in the village. The thick snow covered everything; there wasn't a single thing in sight that differed from the next, and the houses looked like they had been built out of the snow itself. Looking out from my bedroom window, I remember thinking that the village had been covered by a giant white blanket." He smiled at the memory. "My brother, Darius, had said that it was the gods showing us that everything had beauty. He wanted to remind me that, though the village we lived in was cramped and smelled of fish, it could still be beautiful.
The land we lived on resided in the middle of valleys that lead to the sea, so we were tucked away. I can remember…the shore had iced over. Darius and I would challenge each other to see which one of us dared to go the furthest before the ice gave in under our weight. It never did, but we should have tried it. Looking back now, we weren't exactly smart children"
Juliette laughed. "It's what children do; test boundaries."
"Perhaps," Leandros agreed, and then grinned wryly. "But we possessed an exceptional ability to attempt the stupidest things. We ignored the boundaries and created our own. Mother didn't like it. Whenever she saw us out there, walking along the thin ice, she'd panic and shout for us to come in. There was one instance that convinced me that her panic wasn't just something solely motherly. That it was more."
"What makes you say so?"
Leandros clenched his jaw. "Because whenever she saw us, she would only shout and we would return. The last time she shouted, she ran to us, tears in her eyes, as though we were already dead. She ran out onto the ice and grabbed us, dragging us back onto the land and scolded us both. The fear in her eyes had shocked me, but what had scared me was that, moments later, the ice had cracked and collapsed. The fear that had appeared in her eyes at that moment I think scared us both."
Juliette turned to give him privacy as Leandros rose out of the water. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist, lifting his hand to touch the necklace that permanently adorned his neck. Seeing him fiddling with it, Juliette approached and looked at it herself.
"That's a lovely necklace," she said, eyeing the trinket carefully.
"It was for my mother. She died before I could give her it to wear. It was meant to be a present, something to tell her that I wouldn't tell of her Sight, and that I still loved her." He took it between his thumb and forefinger, lifted it to his mouth and kissed it. "I intended to give her it after she explained to me and my brother what happened. Her fear of death if she was discovered broke my heart. I wanted to show her that I would love her, no matter what she was."
My father was a warlord, and Seers were feared like a plague. The night my father found out the truth, he grabbed and dragged her through the house. Her screams echoed through the halls and woke me and Darius up." He frowned, his lip quivering with the effort of fighting back the tears that allowing the memories that he'd kept locked away loose provoked. "He threw her…he just took my mother, and threw her out into the snow, slamming the door in her face and condemning her. When I tried to let her back in, my father reminded me who was in charge and I received a backhand to my face for my troubles. Too scared to do anything else, I could only watch as she sat out there wearing nothing but her slip, slowly freezing to death."
His eyes finally released the stinging tears. They trickled out onto his cheeks and he swept them away as soon as they fell. "I didn't sleep that night. Instead, I stayed at the window, my mother and I staring at each other, crying for the other. She was barely inches away from me, separated by a window, but the distance that divided us could have been a mountain for all the help I was."
He felt Juliette take his hand, her face twisted with sadness, and the threat of tears in her own eyes. "It wasn't your fault, Leandros. There was nothing you could have done."
Leandros shook his head. "I snuck her back into the house when father got drunk and passed out, but I should have done it sooner. I was too late. She'd been left her out there too long…and she got sick. Pneumonia. In the end, that and heartbreak was what killed her. I…killed her-,"
"No!" Juliette shouted, taking his shoulders and shaking him gently. "You didn't kill her, Leandros! Your father did! You are a good man…you are, I can see it. You are made for greatness, not darkness. You couldn't have helped her sooner without getting yourself killed in the process."
Leandros stared at her; the fire that blazed in her eyes made his heart race. She looked so adamant, as if she was willing him to listen and believe the words that she spoke, and as she did, he found himself doing so. Her genuine concern for him moved him like no other had in years.
He smiled gently, reaching down to caress her cheek with the backs of his fingers. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch, whispering words of comfort that were meant to calm and balm the open wounds on his heart. With every smile, every word she spoke, he found himself falling as though into some unknown, nameless void. It wasn't painful. Instead, the unknown called out to him, beckoned invitingly for him to fall into the depths of the dark brown eyes that looked back at him.
Without a word, he took a step closer and pressed a gentle kiss against the young Seer's forehead, his lips lingering longer than he intended upon touching her. "Thank you, Juliette," he said, his voice breaking slightly with emotion. "For listening. I've never told anyone that before."
She smiled back up at him. "You're welcome, Leandros." She tilted her head slightly then, her eyes narrowing. "I still think you need to see the healer about your nose. Unless…you want it to heal crookedly?"
"Is it true that if I don't, it will set that way?"
"Then I'll see him when I am clothed," he said quickly, a quirky smile curving his lips. Leandros paused for a moment, amazed that he had revealed so much to someone who was virtually a stranger, yet felt like a close friend. "I meant what I said, Juliette. I will keep your secret. My fear kept me from protecting my mother, but I won't have what happened to my mother happen to you too; I won't let you die in vain for something that you can't help being."
Juliette's eyes shined with unshed tears. "I knew you'd say that."
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