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Nebulas and Novas and Night Sky

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Xena thinks for the first time that she'll let Gabrielle stay in the middle of Gabrielle's first space walk. She's in the suit, staring out at the nebula in the distance, light reflecting off her helmet so Xena can't figure out her expression behind the glare. All she has to go on is Gabrielle's breathing across the comms, Gabrielle silenced for the first time since she begged passage on Xena's ship, Gabrielle not asking questions that prod all the tender places Xena is trying to forget about even as she tries to atone for them. All she has is Gabrielle's wonder, because she's as breathless and amazed as Xena was the first time she was out with nothing but a suit between her and the vastness of space.

“I wish I were an immortal,” Gabrielle says finally, dreamy. “I'd just stay here and watch stars be born forever.”

“I've met one or two,” says Xena. Anyone who knows her history knows that. “You'd probably use your time a lot better than they would.”

Gabrielle grapples with her line back to the ship so she can look at Xena and almost tips herself over in the process. She hasn't got the hang of it yet, but she has a good instinct for space, how to orient herself without caring much what was up or down when she left the Argo. “I think it stops meaning much when you've got all of it, you know?”

“Why do you want to be in space, Gabrielle? You had a good life on Potidaea.”

“Yes, interrupted by raiders and boring as anything, I can see where you would think that appeals.” Gabrielle snorts. “I want to see more than that, do more than that.” She spreads her hands out, gesturing at the nebula, at the blankness of space around them. “Don't you? I've heard stories about you forever, and maybe they weren't all good, but … you saved us, Xena. Why wouldn't I want to be like you?”

There are a hundred reasons, but Xena's learned to be kind enough to keep them to herself. “You would have to learn how to pilot, how to take care of maintenance issues on the ship. How to defend yourself, there are some sectors where I'm wanted and if we happen into them you need to be able to get away safe.”

Gabrielle spins and grabs Xena's arm, out of the glare enough that Xena can see her wild grin, spinning them both until they're tangled up in their leads. “You're letting me stay? You have to let me stay, please.”

It's a terrible idea, but it's been a long time since Xena saw space the way Gabrielle is seeing it now. It's hard to want to send her away when looking at the scenery makes it all new again. She can keep them safe, get the bounty off their heads, avoid Ares, and teach Gabrielle what she needs to know to survive in space. She's got the skills for it. “If you stay, you've got to listen to me, keep yourself out of danger, keep your head down if I tell you to. Got it?”

“I will do everything you say,” says Gabrielle, and Xena already knows she won't or she wouldn't have come in the first place, but she lets that be comforting anyway. “You won't regret bringing me along, I swear.”

Somehow, despite what a terrible idea it is, Xena thinks she's right about that. “Look over there,” she says instead of articulating that, pointing below their boots. “You can almost see the Milky Way spiral.”

And Gabrielle is distracted again, leaving Xena watching her and wondering just what she's gotten herself into.