*Subtext friendly, but nothing too threatening physical-wise*
**The word file "Nenear" and the dearly departed "Xenite" files were butchered and hacked in the production of this motion picture**
Unknowesnt to the bard, Xena had spent the next few hours as they traveled the long way around the lava pit studying and observing her with admiration in her eyes. She was thinking mostly of what Gabrielle had said standing there by the lava pit, saying that she believed Callisto felt sorry for what she had done and that she had forgiven her. Xena had smiled at her then, thinking that only her little bard would ever be able to say something so understanding and completely pure of the heart. Yet as they walked in there usual comfortable silence, the more Xena thought about what an incredible act of human graciousness Gabrielle had performed by forgiving Callisto. This woman had killed her husband and had continually been a threat to them ever since. Yet still through all the evil and pain that she represented in Gabrielle's life, she had still seen a small spark of good and purity lost among the ruins of Callisto. The longer Xena pondered this thought the more admiration grew inside her.
She also knew this was the trait that had originally endeared her to Gabrielle back so many moons ago in Poteitdia. She had seen beyond the frightening former warlord exterior, and embraced her for the woman she had so desperately wanted to be. But not only that, she had already seen Xena as that woman, thinking her already to be the kind hearted warrior princess she wanted herself to be. Perhaps this was the biggest shock to Xena, that she believed so greatly in her ability to be a truly humane person, especially after all the cruel and decidedly inhumane things she had done.
Originally this faith that Gabrielle had in her had frightened her with its burden. She feared she could never live up to it, never be the person Gabrielle wanted her to be. It wasn't into she had watched Gabrielle from Tartarus that she realized that Gabrielle didn't expect her to live up to this, but that she *was* this person. But along with this realization she saw how truly pure hearted Gabrielle was. What did I ever do to deserve such an incredible person in my life? Xena thought as she stared at the young bard at her side. She supposed that the gods had smiled on her when they had created Gabrielle, given to her as a gift, a picture of what humans could truly be despite all the evils in the world.
They stopped for the night in a small village, much like the one Callisto had forced Xena to confess her sins in. At Xena's insistence they had gone to the local inn to rent a room for the night.
"At least let me bargain down the price some, Xena." Gabrielle smiled and went to the innkeeper, to offer her bardic services in exchange for a free night's lodging. The innkeeper, knowing Gabrielle's fame as well as heeding the rather death like view from the warrior in the corner, had agreed. Gabrielle has literally skipped back to the table and smiled one of her brilliant smiles.
"So Xena what story should I tell tonight?"
"I'm sure there is a whale of a tale in the last few weeks alone."
"I suppose," she mused it over for awhile, then shook her head. "No, it has too much of my involvement in it, I think I'll just leave it be until I can work myself out of the story. . ."
Xena's hand on her arm and insist eyes upon her caused her to stop talking and met her gaze.
"Why do you do that? Why do you always take yourself out of the story?"
"Well, I seriously doubt anyone wants to here about some clumsy bard. . ."
"Gabrielle, I seriously doubt that your skills with the staff could be called clumsy."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to retort, but found herself unable to face up to Xena's words.
"Okay okay so maybe not clumsy, but I don't want to seem egotistical."
"Gabrielle, these people need to know what a brave, pure hearted woman you are. Just, tell them the story. . .or at least tell it to me."
Gabrielle glowed under one of Xena's rare compliments. she smiled a smaller demure smile then went up to the front of the tavern full of people and called for everyone's attention.
"I am Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia, traveling companion of Xena, Warrior Princess." A murmur or recognition went through the crowd and Xena smiled like an overly proud mother.
" I am also, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons, and I will tell you the tale of my coronation, my quest with the king of thieves Autolycus for the sacred Ambrosia a gift from the gods to make a god. I will also tell you the tale of a bond so strong between two people that one would travel through the pits of Hades to return to the other."
Gabrielle begun to weave a spell of words over the patrons in the bar, until no one moved or spoke, all eyes focused on her. Xena, meanwhile, sat in the back of the room and watched Gabrielle with immense pride and love. She smiled at her as the bard's eyes would repeatedly graze over to her, until she was speaking some of the more personal parts to Xena only.
A realization hit Xena as she sat in that tavern, a realization that she didn't own Gabrielle. She saw the talent she had and knew it was extremely selfish of her to believe the gods wanted her and only her to have Gabrielle as part of her life. She wasn't a gift merely for her, she wasn't specially made by the gods for her only. This small group of villagers alone were benefitting from her, and who was Xena to deny the world this incredible woman?
Once Gabrielle was done, the applause was deafening. Many dinars were passed her way as well as many thanks and compliments on her story telling style. She made her way back to Xena, who was already at her feet with a distracted look on her face.
"Is something wrong Xena?"
"No, no I'm just. . .I'm just tried, that's all." Xena sighed and tried to present a weak smile. "Lets get to bed huh?"
They walked silently to the room and went in, Xena locking the door after them and sighing heavily. Gabrielle looked at her wearily herself, thinking that she must have angered the warrior during her story telling. But tonight, she was too tired to try and wedge the information out of Xena, so she let it pass, preparing for bed in silence.
She told Xena to take the bath that was prepared, saying she was too tired to bathe tonight. With that she slipped out of her dirty clothes and into her little shift, then crawled into the bed, falling asleep the minute her head hit the pillow.
Xena watched her from the other side of the room and sighed as Gabrielle drifted off. She then pulled off her armor and leathers, bathed quickly and got into bed beside her bard.
As was an almost unconscious ritual with them, Gabrielle curled up to Xena's side and buried her face in the warrior's damp hair. Xena sighed in a ragged a breath, trying her bet to control her the fear bubbling up inside her. Before she herself drifted off she whispered in the bard's unhearing ear "Please don't ever leave me."
They were back at the lava pits, Gabrielle dangling from the rope bridge And Xena trying to tie the rope around her waist. Gabrielle was screaming for her to cut the rope and forget about her, but sacrificing Gabrielle was not even on Xena's list of options.
She cut the rope and then dove off to grab the young bard. But this time, she didn't make it in time. This time, she watched as Gabrielle's hands slipped out of hers and she fell down, down, down, into the lava pit screaming out and finally bursting into flames as she hit the lava.
The deepest most guttural scream tore Xena in half as she called out with every fiber of her being for Gabrielle. She screamed out her name again and again, tears pouring down her face, her voice raw at the rage.
She felt hands on her face and begun to fight at them, push them away meekly, begging to be alone in her grief. But that voice in her ears, it was so soft so familiar so tender and loving. Was it. . ? No, it couldn't be, she was gone, dead in the lava, stolen from Xena forever.
But it sounded so like her. . .
"Gabrielle?" she asked in an uncertain and tearful voice.
"Xena, it's all right I'm here, I got ya" Gabrielle echoed Xena's words of comfort from earlier.
"Oh tacquin!" she wrapped her arms around her in a desperate grip, holding her tight to her body.
"Xena, it was just a dream, it's okay."
"Don't ever leave me Gabrielle, don't ever leave me, promise me!" Xena's voice was desperate, rough with tears and unchecked emotion.
"I promise I won't leave you Xena." Gabrielle caressed the side of her face, drying the tears and lightly kissing her forehead.
Xena wept into the young bard's shoulder and held on to her as tightly as she would let her. They stayed like this for some time, as Xena's quivering stopped and her tears subsided with the realization that Gabrielle was safe and sound and in her arms. Finally after almost half a candle mark, Xena pulled away slightly, leaning her back up against the headboard and closing her eyes trying to regain her composure.
"By the gods Xena you were screaming my name out so loud I'm sure half the village heard you." Gabrielle joked in a soft voice. "I'm sure they are all wondering just what we're doing in here."
"I-I need a minute. . .I need some fresh air." Xena refused to look Gabrielle in the eye as she pushed herself off the bed and blindly groped for a shift to put on, so she could get out of there as quickly as possible. But a cool hand on her forearm stopped her.
"Xena" was all she said, in that soft understanding tone that always seemed to wrap around her like a catch net.
"No Gabrielle I can't stay. . .I need-I need to leave I need. . ." she flailed slightly and pulled away from the hand on her arm and still looked blindly around the room. The hand returned, just under her chin and pulled her face up, forcing her eyes to look into Gabrielle's.
She was trapped again, but this time it wasn't in a cage, but in a loving bind she would never want to lose or break. She looked into her eyes and never wanted to run and hide from the fact that she depended on Gabrielle so much. She got back up on the bed again and was swept into a warm, sweet embrace, two long strong arms that held her close and showed so much love. She laid down with her again and nuzzled into her chest, inhaling the scent of her captor, resting her ear flat against her chest and listening to the steady heart beat beneath, ever reassuring. In this cage of love she was finally at peace, finally complete. Only through bondage did she find freedom.