Chapter 3

Gabrielle paced, glancing now and then at the two bodies lying side by side on the river's embankment. She'd done all she knew, even gave her life's breath to them both, resulting in nothing but a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was up to the Gods now. She and Xena had come through worse scrapes and she knew they'd face even more horrid situations in the future. The bard had seen it in her mind's eye as clearly as she could now view the water from the river that her best friend and the stranger were now laying next to. But as Xena's prone form remained motionless upon the ground, Gabrielle's confidence in their future together in their present lifetime slowly shrank.

* * *
Xena awoke first, gasping and sputtering for air. She opened her eyes to see Gabrielle at her side, relief and anxiousness transforming the beautiful face of her companion and friend into a knot of worry. She laid back and sighed, whispering a thank you to the sky, or whatever deity happened to be listening, for being alive. Then her mind remembered, and she turned her head and came face to face with the being she'd saved from the lightning's wrath.

The face before her was not like any she'd seen. The features were perfect in their symmetry with dark eyebrows, almost black, in contrast to what she assumed to be red hair, now turned an almost rust color by the water. Below the brows, were neatly spaced eyes, their lids closed, hopefully not for good, an inner voice said to her. The nose was long, eloquent, a deep cleft under it, fine lips cascading beneath. Beautiful… Xena thought and audibly gasped when the eyes opened and she found herself staring into the most incredible blue she'd ever seen.

"By the gods," Xena heard gasped beside her. She glanced up at a loving hazel green, then back into the depths of that piercing blue.

Chapter 4

"Where did she go, you idiots?!" demanded Lutheran, head of the family that had been chasing the woman.

"I dunno boss. You saw what we done," exclaimed the larger, and dumber, of Lutheran's henchmen.

Lutheran stared blankly at the empty space before them where a blue-white bolt of lightning had struck, lingered, then disappeared, seemingly taking with it his prey.
"Find her. I don't care where you have to go or how long it takes, just find her!" He stomped off, knowing his men would be too afraid to return until they had found the insanely irritating woman.

* * *

"We're not gonna hurt ya," Xena assured, hands in front of her, palms out. She was slowly inching closer to the woman who was immobile, but looked like she wanted desperately to get away. "Just lie still." Xena urged. "You're only going to hurt yourself worse if you keep trying to get up."

Dari heard the words but didn't understand the language. She used her eyes, which were the only things she could move without searing pain, and tried to get the woman to understand that she had to get away. The men, they would find them, and kill all three of them. But the woman didn't look like she understood. She kept coming closer, and Dari finally gave up with a grunt and closed her eyes. Everything went black when she felt herself being lifted and the pain became too great to sustain consciousness.

"I'm amazed all her bones aren't broken; after all, she did hit the water first, and then with you landing on top of her…" Gabrielle trailed off, knowing Xena wasn't listening. They sat by the fire, both staring at the lump under their fur skins. "She's dying, isn't she Xena?" Gabrielle whispered softly.

It pained Xena to think it, let alone admit to it, but she believed it was true. She'd seen it for herself when she'd taken the woman's weird clothing off. She was dying, and there was nothing she, the great healer, Xena, could do.

* * *

They each sat vigil through the night, watching the form. Each carefully listened to the rasped, shallow wheezing, knowing and afraid that each second could be the last breath the stranger took.

Xena went to stretch her legs, clear her mind, and try to forget. She left the stranger to Gabrielle's care and exited the cave.

It wasn't long before she returned. She quietly entered the cave to see Gabrielle had slipped under the cover and was using herself as a pillow for the woman's head, cuddling the larger body gently to her own. Xena smiled painfully. There had been so much loss in her bard's life. She silently asked the dark ceiling of the cave, When would it ever end? Of course, there came no reply. There never was.

Xena stood at the cave opening and watched them, a lone tear sliding down her cheek as her eyes followed Gabrielle's hand as it gently stroked the woman's face. Fingers sojourned over knitted eyebrows, down that long nose to those soft, if slightly parched, lips and over her chin, finally entwining themselves into her hair.

Xena had never seen a woman with such hair, nor the style. It was long, but combed back, over her scalp and down. It was a lot redder now that it had dried, and soft, so soft. She remembered from earlier when she had laid the stranger's head down on the sack she and Gabrielle used as a pillow.

The woman was fair skinned, but not pale; there was pinkness to her pallor. She was lighter than Gabrielle, Xena thought as she compared the two, who were lying face to face now. She allowed a small smile to form as she watched the care overcome Gabrielle's soft features, and the wonder as she examined the woman's face with her eyes after her hand had been over it.

"Beautiful," Gabrielle whispered, and Xena's eyes narrowed. She took a step into the cave and halted. Ok, so what, the woman is beautiful. She had to admit that to herself because it was true. You're jealous, she told herself, and then scoffed at the thought. I do not get jealous, she admonished herself, fighting the memories of the times she had caught that very feeling coursing through her at the thought of her bard loving anyone else, or being with anyone else for that matter.

Xena shook the feelings off. Gabby always falls for this one or that one, and quickly too. She gets it into her head the person is a saint and her emotions erupt uncontrolled, like a raging waterfall. All Xena had to do was think of her bard's past encounters . . . Najara, Meliger the Magnificent, Eli, even Tobias the donkey for Zeus sakes! She placed people up on pedestals then stood back to admire them. That's as far as it ever went. Xena almost laughed aloud at the thought.

Yep, that was her Gabby all right, always losing her heart and head to some greater good. She settled down against the cave opening and just watched Gabrielle admiring and crooning gently to the battered body that lay against her, barely breathing. Xena knew it would only be moments now before it was over. This was no time to be thinking bad thoughts, about either of them. Mere moments, and the stranger would be out of their lives, and life, as she knew it, could go on. She and her bard - together, but not together --like the lines of the Mendhi she recalled, intertwined but separate. Yep, that was them all right. If they could get past that one barrier, the physical... intimate physical contact... things would be just fine…

Chapter 5

"You're a fighter." Gabrielle whispered to the face that lay so close to her own. "Still holding on when there's barely anything left to grasp." She caressed the face for what seemed like the thousandth time. Her hands knew the face now; she'd know this face in the dark if she ever had to.

And you smell wonderful, she thought, inhaling the scent like a touch for the millionth time. It wasn't her body smell, which she knew; this was something else, some fragrance added to the body to make it smell so intoxicating. She took another deep breath and released it slowly, her breath fanning the woman's lips.

Dari opened her eyes for a second time since her arrival and was rewarded by the care and concern expressed in the light green gaze. She knew this to be the second of her saviors. The young blonde was speaking, but like the other one, she couldn't understand her either. Yet while she didn't understand the language, she had heard the other woman's gentle whispers all night as she wafted in and out of consciousness.

She could feel every bruised or broken bone, every torn and battered muscle in her body, and knew death would come soon. But until it did, she'd luxuriate in the feel of warmth the woman's body was expelling, lying so close to hers. Yes, if she had to die, what better circumstances could she be in? She was naked, she knew that much, and the other woman was barely clothed. The feel of skin on skin, the soft whisper of tender words -- she didn't have to understand them to know that's what they were -- she couldn't think of a better or more comforting way to cross over to what lay beyond this life.

A feeling of being watched caused her to move her gaze to the lower part of the cave to the opening. There she met Xena's exquisite blue eyes staring into her own.

The dark-haired woman spoke again, and again the stranger couldn't make out the language. She tried to shake her head and watched as the woman, who was tall, but not quite as tall as herself, stood in one fluid motion and started toward them.

"Where did you come from?" Xena asked again, eyes going to the unusual clothing she'd removed and back to the figure reclining in Gabrielle's arms. "Do you understand me?"

Dari sighed and closed her eyes again. It was too much of an effort to try to understand them, or to get her message across. It would be over soon, so why waste the energy?

"Let her be, Xena, this isn't a time for 20 questions." Gabrielle admonished her friend, cupping the stranger's face in her hand. She murmured gentle, soothing words as she caressed the soft skin. Her hand moved down the woman's jaw and came to rest at her neck, where she pulled her even closer.

"I'll be back," Xena said abruptly and turned on her heel.

Gabrielle worried as to Xena's abrupt departure. All right, she was actually more curious than worried about why Xena made such a hasty retreat. She has a plan, Gabrielle thought, gently rocking the body lying in her arms. That was it- Xena always had a plan.

Gabrielle's eyes fell back on the woman. "She's a little gruff." She laughed to herself. "Who am I kidding, she's a lot gruff, but you'll get used…." She trailed off, knowing if she was wrong and Xena didn't have a plan, the stranger didn't have time enough left to get used to anything.


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"None So Blind" midi by Orlandi