Title: Another Kind of Quest – part 1/? (part 1 can be read independantly)
Fandom, pairing: Xena Warrior Princess, Xena/Gabrielle (femslash)
Rating: PG for now... but aiming for NC17 eventually.
Disclaimer: Don't own either of the women, I'm just borrowing them – but I solemnly promise to treat them to a happier ending than their original producers did.
Spoilers: This story takes place immediately after and draws from the episodes Destiny and The Quest (2.12 and 2.13).
Summary: Although Xena has been brought back to life, Gabrielle is haunted by what happened and unable to sleep, until Xena comforts her. As the trauma slowly subsides, other emotions previously undealt with begin to surface... First time story, and then some.
Author's note : Would love some feedback! Please leave it here: http://katekane.livejournal.com/1494.html?mode=reply
She had, foolishly perhaps, expected more pleasant dreams to return now that her real life nightmare was over. Xena's body was no longer resting cold and motionlessly in a wooden coffin; it was warm and wrapped in a blanket a few feet away, the chest heaving regularly with each deep breath. Gabrielle had spoken with her, hugged her and been hugged in return, but somehow the fact that her friend was really back from the dead refused to sink in.
Every time the bard closed her eyes she saw it happening again. Xena's face being crushed against the tree trunk. Blood seeping silently from eyes and ears as the life ebbed out of the seemingly invincible warrior woman, until there was nothing left. No breath, no heartbeat, no gaze looking out of light blue eyes. Eyes that could pierce any warlord and send cold shivers down any outlaw's neck, but also shower the select few with a surprising tenderness that – at least to Gabrielle – was even more disarming. But that night, she'd watched the light in Xena's eyes go out. And the following weeks had been the loneliest of Gabrielle's life, as she'd dragged Xena's dead body across the country, well aware that her friend had left it. Left her.
The sense of abandonment and despair returned with the images of the accident. It was all Gabrielle saw before her at night; a constant, recurring dream. She continuously woke up in a state of panic, sweating, panting and with a heart pounding so hard it felt like being beaten from within. The bard was more exhausted in the mornings than before going to sleep, and the expectation of the nightly horror to come took a toll on her afternoons and evenings as well.
Eventually Gabrielle simply gave up on sleeping. Not wanting Xena to worry about her, she would pretend to fall asleep quickly, her back to Xena.
But this night, like the previous couple of nights, she was in fact counting the minutes until she was certain that her friend had drifted off. By then she quietly turned to face her. A camp fire and several feet of grass separated them, but straining her eyes the bard could see her friend stirring ever so slightly in her sleep.
Gabrielle needed to see this, needed this constant, continuous reassurance of the fact that her friend was indeed alive and well. She knew it was the only way to keep the images and the nightmares away, and if it meant staying awake, night after night, so be it. She was not getting any rest as it was anyway, she grimly thought to herself..
On the other side of the campfire Xena stirred again. It seemed her eyelids were fluttering a little. Maybe she was dreaming. Or perhaps it was just the fire making shadows play in the face Gabrielle had come to know so well. She could describe it in details anywhere, anytime – looking at it wasn't even necessary, but she sure appreciated the opportunity to take in her friend's features uninterrupted. With Xena fast asleep, she could study every hollow, every curved angle or the rounded softness of the cheeks for as long as she wanted, never having to avert her eyes in the fear of intimidating her friend. Watching the warrior princess like this felt strangely intimate, in spite of the physical distance between them and Xena's lack of awareness, or perhaps because of it, Gabrielle mused. Almost like a caress
Xena's eyelids fluttered again; this time Gabrielle was sure of it, and she quickly shut her own eyes tightly and tried to lie as still as possible, not wanting Xena to know about her waking state. A few minutes passed in silence and Gabrielle was almost starting to relax, when her friend's soft alto quietly called out to her.
“Gabrielle. You're awake, aren't you?”
Gabrielle slowly let out a breath she'd been holding back and gave up pretending. She reopened her eyes and met a pair of piercing blue ones that could see right through her. So she might as well tell nothing but the truth, although not the whole truth.
“Yes,” Gabrielle replied simply.
“Are you all right?”
It was a cliché question, really, but the stillness of the night lent it a different edge, and the concern was evident in Xena's voice. It made Gabrielle's throat thicken and she could only muster a half-hearted “'course I am” hoping Xena would leave it at that.
But Xena continued. “You haven't been sleeping well lately, have you? What's troubling you?”
“Ah, I don't know, probably just the full moon,” Gabrielle said with a forced casualness that was more likely to alarm than convince the woman she'd been travelling with for years.
And sure enough, after frowning for a second, Xena hit the nail. “You were watching me,” she stated gently.
Gabrielle wanted to say something, to deny it, but once again she felt the muscles in her throat tensing. Her eyes were beginning to burn as well from her attempt at not blinking, afraid it might draw tears. Unable to meet her friend's concerned, questioning gaze, the bard focused all her thoughts and energy on one blade of grass just to the right of Xena's face, as if she could hone herself on it and grow sharp and resistant.
But Xena's voice cut right through her concentration. “Gabrielle,” she said simply, and it was all too much. The accident and the weeks of horror following it, the sense of abandonment and anger and the guilt following those, the sleeplessness and utter exhaustion; they all washed over Gabrielle, and although she was still staring intently at the grass, she felt warm tears on her skin.
“Gabrielle, what's the matter? Is it about my death?” Xena suggested, once again being spot on, and the bard gave up.
She wiped her cheek with a tightly clenched fist, frustrated with her body's betrayal. Her tongue felt like a dead animal in her mouth, and she had to hiss the answer through her thickened throat. “I see it all the time, over and over” she said, “every time I try to sleep, and so I just have to make sure...” She didn't finish the sentence and didn't need to. The implication was obvious.
A sharp intake of air was the only indication that Xena wasn't entirely unaffected by the exchange either. The warrior princess was probably blaming herself for what had happened, Gabrielle thought – it was becoming one of her friend's defining characteristics. And even if the bard couldn't help how she felt, she hated herself for not being able to contain those emotions that would surely add to the guilt that Xena carried around with her all the time. The bard tried hard to think of something more to say, something that couldn't possibly be interpreted as an accusation, but her mind was blank.
Once again, Xena's voice broke the tense silence. “Come here,” she said and patted the dry grass in front of her. “Bring your blanket and come lie next to me.”
Without the physical distance it would be even harder to keep her emotions from spilling over onto Xena, but Gabrielle was too tired to object. The restless days and sleepless nights had drained all energy from her, making her limbs heavy and almost numb, and her head anything but clear. She could argue with her friend, but she wouldn't win. So she picked up her blanket without further ado and went over to Xena, who in the meantime had spread out her own blanket so they could both lie on it and use Gabrielle's for cover. Xena was facing her, watching and clearly trying to read her, and Gabrielle had to fight the urge to turn away from her. At this proximity it would seem like a rejection, and Gabrielle didn't want that. She pressed her lips together, trying to keep a straight face, but failing to when Xena reached out and cupped it in her warm hand. She saw her own grief reflected as Xena winced. However, the warrior princess still managed to keep her voice under control and spoke softly and composed as ever.
“I'm so sorry about what happened, what I put you through. But I promised you I'd never leave you like that again. And I meant it.”
“No one can make a promise like that, not even you,” Gabrielle practically spat out and immediately regretted her tone. Damn useless vocal chords.
Xena sighed deeply and averted her eyes. “No... You're right. But I'm here now, Gabrielle, and I'll still be here when you wake up, I can promise you that much.”
The warrior princess was stroking Gabrielle's jaw-line gently with her thumb, and under other circumstances it might lull the bard to sleep. Or stir something entirely different in her. But right now, the loss and possibility of losses to come was all-consuming. More stinging tears sneaked out of the corner of the her eyes. “I want to believe you, but somehow I can't,“ she choked and felt the hand on her face stiffen.
Xena opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again. She seemed, for once, to be out of wise words. Instead she suddenly let go of Gabrielle's face, grabbed her wrist instead. She pulled the bard's hand under the blanket and pressed it to her own chest.
“Here,” she said, “feel it.”
There is was. A steady pulse against her palm assuring the bard that beneath the cotton shift, Xena was very much alive. Her chest pushed out against Gabrielle's hand every time Xena breathed in, and it was as if the rhythm was transferred to Gabrielle's body. Slowly, slowly the bard started to relax. Her tired limbs felt heavier, as if threatening to sink into the ground, and her breathing deepened.
After a candlemark or so Gabrielle's constant state of alert began to give way and, for the first time in days, leave room for other thoughts, other sensations. She still felt the calming beat of her friend's heart, but was becoming increasingly aware of the warm body encapsulating it. The thin cloth separating the two women's skin really didn't leave much to Gabrielle's tactile imagination. Her hand had been strategically placed between the warrior princess' breasts, and her fingertips were gracing the generous curves every time Xena took a breath. The older woman was lying on her left side, and the weight of her right breast pressed against the bard's hand. Any attempt at keeping her hand respectfully still only made Gabrielle even more aware of the inappropriate touch, and much to her horror she felt her fingers beginning to twitch. Impossible to tell whether it was caused by a local muscle cramp or her own sneaky subconscious, and the ambiguity made the bard's face grow hot. Interestingly, she could swear the heartbeat against her palm was quickening, and she briefly caught her friend's gaze. But she wasn't sure what to make of it, and, sensing Xena would read her rather than be read, Gabrielle quickly broke the eye contact again and took her hand away.
“Well, we can't sleep like this,” she said lightly, even managing a small smile in her attempt to snap out of whatever weirdness she had momentarily found herself in.
“Guess not,” Xena smiled back. Whatever she might have been feeling, there was no trace of it in her voice. It was calm as always. “So close your eyes, Gabrielle. First step.”
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow, but did as she was told.
“Now,” the familiar voice said only inches away, “tell me- am I alive or not?”
“Alive, of course,” Gabrielle responded. They were both practically whispering, as if afraid to tear the fragile calm of the night.
“How do you know?” Xena continued.
“Um, because you're talking to me...?” Gabrielle said, a hint of humour sneaking into her voice.
Xena remained serious. “Apart from that. With your eyes closed, how can you sense it?”
Deprived of her sight, Gabrielle tried to sharpen her remaining senses. Weren't blind people supposed to have impeccable hearing? She took in the sounds around her. There was remarkable little wind, so no rustling of leaves of nearby bushes and trees. Only the occasional, hollow call of a distant owl and the flickering of the fire behind her. A dry crack whenever a twig gave in to the ever hungry flames. And then the constant, light sound of Xena's breathing. Bingo.
“I can hear you,” Gabrielle concluded. “That's how I know you're alive. I can hear you breathing. And... shifting. And occasionally sighing.”
“Ten diplomatic points for not mentioning snoring,” Xena commented. “Is that all?”
Gabrielle concentrated. Took a deep breath- and smiled, as the familiar scent of her closest friend filled her nostrils. “No, I can smell you as well,” she said. “Not that I'm implying that you smell,” she quickly added.
“You better not,” Xena said. “or I'll kick your ass.” Gabrielle could tell from her friend's voice that she was smiling too. “And can you feel that I'm alive?” the warrior princess wanted to know.
Gabrielle was about to say no; she had removed her hand and there was no longer any point of physical contact between them. But then she reconsidered. In multiple ways she could in fact feel her friend, even if they didn't touch.
“Yes,” she admitted, “I can feel the pull on the blanket when you move. And, when you're facing me like this, I can feel your breath on my face.” She hesitated, then added. “And I can feel your body's warmth... how it blends with mine under the cover, grazes me.”
Gabrielle quickly opened her eyes, a little surprised at her own words, and met Xena's sky blue ones. There was that mild and tender glimpse in them, which she reserved for only a handful of people, and Gabrielle felt an inexplicable flutter in her chest at the sight.
“There you go,” Xena said gently. “You don't need to watch me wide-eyed to know I'm alive and right here. You don't even have to be awake.” She leaned in closer and added in an almost inaudible whisper, which Gabrielle felt against her face as much as heard: “So sleep tight, my bard.”
A second passed, a pregnant pause or moment of hesitation, perhaps, before the warrior princess closed the distance between them, pressing her lips against Gabrielle's forehead. It was a light kiss and practically over before Gabrielle's conscious mind registered what was going on, but it made her entire face tingle, and she found herself overwhelmed and unable to muster anything more than a hoarse “you, too”.
It's probably because I was so focused on my senses , she thought to herself, as she closed her eyes without seeing any horrifying scenarios before them. The warrior princess' strategy had clearly worked. Instead of images of death and loss, her mind was now full of the sounds, scent and sensation of the Xena lying only inches away, being very much alive indeed. With her senses heightened the intimacy alone was overwhelming, a tiny kiss enough to cause a minor explosion in the young bard's body. She still felt the tingling, which had by now travelled down her spine and spread to her abdomen. Admitted, it wasn't exactly an unpleasant feeling, quite the contrary, but she doubted it would induce the sleep she needed so badly. Whatever , she concluded, staying awake like this definitely beats the past nights of insomnia.
She closed her eyes and let her other senses take over completely. No thoughts, no reason, just Xena's rhythmic breath against her cheek. A tug of the blanket, as she shifted next to her. A burning heat from her friend's calf into her own, where their legs almost grazed each other. A muffled sigh. But mostly the breath... steady, feather light, and the last thing Gabrielle heard before she finally, for what felt like the first time in ages, fell into a deep sleep free of any nightmares.
* * * * * END OF PART 1 – TO BE CONTINUTED IN PART 2 * * * * *
Author's note : Love it? Like it? Loathe it? Would love some feedback!
Please leave it here: http://katekane.livejournal.com/1494.html?mode=reply
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