Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story iteslf are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
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Although reference is made to SOLSTICE EVE and SOLSTICE MORNING, this story, like a good cheese, stands alone.
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER SOLSTICE EVE
It was cold, and the little flame that fought so valiantly against the steady breeze did nothing to take the chill from Xena's bones. She re-settled herself under her heavy cloak, and huddled a bit closer to the fire. Her side ached with a steady throb that was wearing on her, and although her eyes were locked on the flames, her thoughts were far away.
Last Solstice, everything had been as perfect as she could make it, and she'd been able to give her bard the kind of Solstice she'd hoped she could give her every year. Some of her happiest memories were of that bright-eyed look of wonder on Gabrielle's face as they had ambled through the town, taking in every sight to be had. Then a good dinner, and stories...wonderful stories that brought tears to those sparkling green eyes, and a look of love that still had the power to takethe warrior's breath away.
She frowned unconsciously. All this year and last had in common was a soft glow of flame. There was precious little to be had for making a fire in this wasteland.
Lost in the past, she still heard the soft footfalls behind her and smiled to herself. Small, strong hands closed over her shoulders, and she looked up and around into Gabrielle's concerned face.
"You ok?" the bard asked. "Are you warm enough?" Without waiting for an answer, she got her blanket and spread it carefully over Xena's shoulders before sitting down beside her. Gently, she slid an arm around Xena's waist, trying to avoid the wound in the warrior's side, and cuddled in as closely as she could.
"I'm fine," Xena said quietly, and drew the blanket snugly around the bard. Gabrielle's cloak wasn't as thick as hers, and she could feel the shivers that ran constantly through the small body.
"Liar," returned the bard with a smile. She wriggled comfortably, settling into familiar curves, and buried her head under blanket and cloak.
"I'm not lying. I'm fine, now that you're back." Xena's words drifted under the bunching of cloak where Gabrielle's head was tucked under her chin. She raised her eyebrow as the bard worked her way out to give her one of those special looks that were always saved just for her.
"And a silver-tongued liar, at that." Gabrielle looked at the warrior closely, noting the shadows under her eyes, and the tiny lines of strain evident around her mouth. The blue eyes weren't glazed with pain any more though, and she was getting her strength back. "But you will be fine, it'll just take a little time. I'll be glad to get plenty of good hot food into you, though, and a bath isn't a bad idea, either." Looking down at travel-stained blankets and cloaks, she shook her head ruefully. "This is one time I'm looking forward to doing laundry."
"No luck with the snares?" asked Xena, more to draw Gabrielle out than for information. It was obvious the snares were empty again tonight. They still had sufficient dried meat to see them home if they were careful, but the bard was walking herself into exhaustion trying to find fresh game.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I guess I'm putting them in all the wrong places. There's got to be game around here, I just can't find it." The frustration was edging her voice, and Xena hugged her close, ignoring the throbbing in her side.
"You've kept us both fed, Gabrielle, and Argo's doing fine, too. I don't trap something every time. Don't be so hard on yourself."
"Xena, you need more food than you're getting, and I'm sure it's slowing down your recovery. You lost a lot of blood. You can't live on those teas of yours either, and don't think I haven't noticed that you somehow can't finish what I give you to eat." Gabrielle's voice was tight. "I'm not doing much of a job, here."
"Listen to me." Xena worked her hand out of the coverings and cupped the bard's chin to draw her eyes. "I took a bad wound. You got it stitched up, kept the fever down, and you kept us moving. I couldn't have done any better than you have, and you need the energy, because you're the one doing all the work. You haven't let me do much more than eat, sleep and ride." She treated Gabrielle to a mock glare. "So, don't tell me you're not doing much of a job."
Unexpectedly, the bard smiled. "Who would have thought it, a chatty warrior. Next you'll be wanting my job."
Xena smiled back, relieved. "Nope, I know my limits. And all I want is right here." She let herself lean against the bard, grateful for the support. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. I've had worse, but I'm healing. I've never had better care, either, and under some pretty lousy conditions."
"Really?" asked Gabrielle doubtfully.
"Really." Xena's voice was firm. "Now, get back under here. It's cold."
The silence was comfortable, and the fire seemed a little warmer and brighter. Eventually, Gabrielle stirred, reluctant to leave the shelter of Xena's body and cloak, but tea would be nice, and Xena would need the painkiller. The bard knew that the warrior's side ached at night more than any other time.
"To think I ever complained about the heat," Gabrielle said, sipping her tea. "How much longer until we get back into familiar territory, do you think?"
Xena looked appraisingly at the stars as she mentally traced their path. They were going in the right direction, but Xena always did that, and the bard felt comforted by the familiar action.
"At our current pace, a week or so if everything goes fine" said Xena. She sipped her tea and closed her eyes briefly at the bitter taste of the herbs in it. Taking a breath, she said, "I'm sorry we seem to be spending Solstice here, Gabrielle. This isn't what I wanted for us." She stared into her cup.
The bard looked over, surprised. She'd forgotten about Solstice in the hectic events of the last few weeks, but Xena obviously hadn't, and if she'd mentioned it, it was bothering her. She let her memory drift back to last year and Xena, seeing the soft smile on her face and guessing it's cause, felt like a failure. She'd been the one to bring them here, she'd been careless and gotten herself hurt, and it was through little effort of hers that Gabrielle hadn't been left alone so far from home.
"I remember last year. It was so special, I'll never forget it." She put her tea down, and took the cup from the warrior's unresisting hands so she could hold them in her own. Blue eyes turned to look at her. "You know what, though? I meant what I said." A grin lit her face. "Even out here, definitely in the middle of nowhere, it's special, Xena. Just like every day with you, because you make it that way." She gave Xena's hands a hard squeeze, brushed the hair back out of the warrior's eyes, and pretended not to notice the sudden shine in them.
"The gift that keeps on giving, huh?" Xena said finally. She took a sip of tea to rid herself of the sudden raspiness in her throat.
"Yep, and I intend to see that you keep on that way for a long time, yet. Finish up your tea," Gabrielle prodded. "You need your sleep."
"Thank you for my life," Xena said quietly. The bard looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled and chided gently.
"You're welcome. I do have an interest in keeping you in one piece, after all."
"No, thank you for my life. For everything you've given to me. Happiness, hope, comfort. Love. A reason to get up in the mornings, and to go on when it gets so hard. For caring about me, and taking care of me. For seeing something that no one else did, and making me see it, too." She lifted the jumble of coverings as the bard moved in towards her.
"See?" mumbled the bard from the depths of Xena's cloak. "You do want my job."
The warrior brushed her lips over the top of the bard's head. "I meant what I said, too. You're truly a gift to me."
Gabrielle sniffled and raised her head. "Come on, let's go to bed before I cry all over you."
Xena held out a hand to be helped to her feet. The bard carefully settled Xena against her, tucked the blankets around both of them, and stroked the dark head until the even rhythym of the warrior's breathing against her neck told her that the herbs had done their work. Idly, she watched the stars, far away in the cold, clear night.
The circle of her life started with the warrior, and would end with her. No matter what was in store for the future, warrior and bard would walk together forever. Maybe under the same stars that shone above them tonight, she thought fancifully. Anything was possible in the Elysian Fields, and if they found themselves in Tartarus, then Gabrielle would make stars for her warrior that were lit by her words.
Her eyes fell on Xena's saddlebags, lying beside the blankets. One of them held two small pouches, each with a battered gold coin. She smiled and gently smoothed her hand down the warrior's soft cheek, Xena burrowing in more closely with a small, contented sound. Soon they would be in Thrace, but they were already home.
"Happy Solstice, Xena," she whispered, and settled in to sleep.