Short chapter, folks. Hopefully Chapter 3 will follow soon.
Xena started water heating, then moved to her healer's bag. Allowing her fingers to automatically choose the proper herbs, she considered her actions a few moments before. She wasn't sure if she was more unsettled by her instinctive reaction to save Gabrielle, or by her initial impulse to let the bard die. No one betrays me unpunished, she thought stubbornly as she mixed the herbs with the now boiling water.
Xena moved over to the pallet, nodding to Ephiny as the Amazon raised Gabrielle and moved behind her, supporting her head. Xena slowly trickled the brew into the young woman's mouth, touching her throat to encourage the reflexive swallow. Aware of Ephiny's speculative gaze on her, Xena covertly studied the bard's pale face. Maybe…I told Callisto I intended to live with my pain…death is the easy way…maybe Gabrielle should feel that pain for awhile before…Xena was surprised as her heart clenched at the thought of her bard in pain. My bard…she snorted to herself.
After administering most of the cup, Xena sat back on her heels as Ephiny eased the limp body down. She looked questioningly at Xena, who responded quietly, "Now we wait. I've done all I can do…depends on how long…how much of the poison got into her system. It's up to her now."
Ephiny didn't look comforted. "If it's up to her…Xena, she doesn't want to be here. Is there anything else…"
Xena shrugged, trying to look unconcerned. "When men in my army were unconscious…sometimes it seems they can hear what's going on around them. Maybe you can try talking to her." Wishing, somewhat uncomfortably that the curly blonde would leave so she could…what, tell Gabrielle to let go, or beg her to stay?
Ephiny rested her head in her hands for a long moment, then exhaled and stood. "Somehow, I don't think I'm the one she needs to hear right now." She looked at the sullen warrior, then walked slowly to the door, pausing to rest a hand on a tense shoulder. Xena looked at the hand, then up to the sorrowful face. "Ephiny," She spoke deliberately, "If it had been Xenon…" Hearing the sharp intake of breath, feeling the hand tighten convulsively. Ephiny paused, then met the icy blue eyes.
"But it wasn't. And right now there's nothing I can say that Gabrielle needs to hear. She did this for you. She judged herself, and found herself guilty." The hand squeezed again, then moved away. "Now you need to decide if you accept her verdict."
Xena turned her gaze back to the still figure on the pallet, hearing the door close softly behind her. She studied the pale face, tense even in sleep. Listened to the uneven breaths that were becoming shallower and less frequent. She closed her eyes and thought for an endless moment, then slowly began to speak.