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By Sylvia Murphy
Xena sat brooding against a rock. The sharp unforgiving stone reminded her of the past. That past weighed particularly heavy on this cold, damp night shrouded in mists and shadows. Perhaps it was the weather, or the quarrel she and Gabrielle had left hanging unfinished as the darkness descended. Gabrielle angered quickly, but the emotion was fleeting and soon forgotten. Unlike Gabrielle, who seemed to feel every emotion in the course of the day, when Xena felt, it was with total intensity. Xena's mind was just too focused to let in distracting superficial emotions. Xena used that focus now to wrestle with herself. "CON-CEN-TRATE!" Her will had to be continually honed for its dullness meant freedom for Xena's dark soul, Xena the destroyer. Xena began her mantra, "LOOK AT GABRIELLE!" Gabrielle's soul is innocence and compassion and altruism. Think of these things.
As if feeling the intense gaze upon her, Gabrielle shifted beneath her thin blanket. Was it the damp that made Gabrielle shiver or Xena's dark thoughts that hung in the equally malignant air? Xena smiled at the thought of Gabrielle charging up to battle the unseen furies, but the smile quickly became a frown. Xena understood that Gabrielle was attracted to Xena's wickedness. Take away the darkness, and there was not much left but an ordinary woman and Gabrielle was not interested in the mundane. Gabrielle was never overtly rude, but Xena recognized the slight glazing in the eyes, the distractedness, the subtle disappointment that occurred with the common people they met. Gabrielle would have to find her stories elsewhere.
Gabrielle whimpered in her sleep and Xena's eyebrows rose in uncontrollable concern. Gabrielle did not understand the evil she was flirting with nor its seductiveness. It invaded the mind like Bacchae blood. Xena was strong and her dark soul had been securely bound the moment Hercules had started her on her path of redemption. Xena knew she could resist evil's pull, but she was afraid for Gabrielle. Gabrielle could handle the physical violence in Xena's life, but Xena knew that was only a small part of the road she followed. Would Gabrielle circle the flames forever and avoid the moth's uncontrollable plummet to destruction? Was evil like a disease that could be passed on to the unwary?
Xena pondered all these things as she stared at the glowing embers in the fire pit at her feet. She really should put another log on the fire, but lethargy weighed her down and she didn't move. If Gabrielle succumbed to the flames, she would have yet another sin on her shoulders. She had already destroyed so much innocence. The world needed people like Gabrielle. The world needed so much. Sometimes she was overwhelmed by that need. Would saving yet another villager make up for the many ones that had died at the point of her sword? Combat, however, had other advantages. Instinct took over, the body moved, the soul forgot. She worried about getting older, getting slower. When that happened, she knew she wouldn't last long. It was something she never discussed with Gabrielle.
Xena wrapped her blanket tighter around herself. Before she met Gabrielle, she never would have bothered, but if Gabrielle woke to find Xena covered with dew, Gabrielle would scold and prod and generally make her feel foolish. It had taken a while for Gabrielle to get used to Xena's insomnia.
Letting her head fall to her raised knees, Xena sighed. Dawn was not far away, and still she could not rest. Gabrielle would waken perky and smiling, and Xena would scowl and throw their things together, anything to get them moving. Motion helped somehow. She feared that one day Gabrielle would get tired of always being damp, and cold, and tired, and find a nice hut in a village somewhere and never leave it. Gabrielle said she could never think of anything that would ease her wander lust, but she kept moving for different reasons. It was the unwritten story, the unseen vista, but someday that would all be less alluring.
Xena removed her breast dagger and shivered as she watched Gabrielle crunch herself into a ball. Sitting straighter she quickly pricked the end of one finger and squeezed a few drops of blood into the dust. Silently a prayer to Artemis came to her lips. The gods did not generally demand blood sacrifices, but it was all she could think to offer. Artemis was the patron goddess of the amazons, and she supposed of Gabrielle, now that she had the right of cast. Please Artemis, she thought plaintively, don't take Gabrielle away from me. Don't let me do anything that might drive her away.
Xena put the dagger away and stared at the glowing embers. This was a particularly bad night. Gabrielle's presence roamed unknowingly through the halls of Xena's painstakingly designed mental citadel. Would the sight of the true Xena frighten Gabrielle away? If it didn't, could Gabrielle handle the convergence of Xena's disciplined emotions? It was safer for Gabrielle to remain blissfully unaware of her effect.
Xena began to feel the exhaustion consume her as her mind slowly started to blank out. She clung to the emptiness and used it as a salve against her shattered nerves. Objectivity returned slightly and she acknowledged that she had been brooding again. As her body eased into a slump, she banished the night's evil influence wistfully realizing it would return again with the creeping mists.
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