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Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstories used in "This is Tara, My Sidekick" are the sole property of MCA/Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
This is a "What if?" type of story. The "What if?" should be obvious if youíve seen the episode "Forgiven".
This is Tara, My Sidekick
by Alan Plessinger
Tara dressed quickly and picked up her knapsack with her belongings. Her sister Lila heard her leaving. She sat up in bed.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"Iím going to follow Xena. I want to become a warrior, like her. She wants to become a good person, and if I travel with her maybe I can be a good person, too."
Lila got out of bed and stood close to Tara.
"Good riddance," said Lila.
"Shut up!" she said, and hit Tara with her fist right in the mouth, hard enough to knock her down.
Lila stared up at her from the floor. She was so used to being hit by Tara, she hardly even noticed any more.
"I hope you get killed, you rotten little bitch!" said Lila.
"Shut up! Iím gonna join Xena and become a good person!"
"Youíre off to a slow start," said Lila.
"Shut up! I can be a good person! You freaks keep telling me Iím no good, thatís what makes me do bad stuff!"
"Go to Tartarus."
"Youíre gonna be rotten wherever you go. Donít blame it on us."
"Your way with words is really gonna impress Xena."
"Shut up!" yelled Tara, and ran out the door.
Gabrielle was sitting in the tavern talking to a priest from the temple of Apollo. A valuable and important urn had been stolen, and the priest needed the help of a hero to get it back. He was trying to find the location of Hercules. Bards often talked to each other and kept track of the location of various heroes.
Gabrielle told him what she knew, and the priest left.
Gabrielle sat, working on a scroll, as a gobletís worth of wine came flying from the table nearby and landed all over the scroll.
She looked at the young kid who had thrown the wine.
"Can I help you? Is there something you donít like?"
"Your face," said Tara.
"Then donít look at it," said Gabrielle, and continued working. A handful of oatmeal was thrown by Tara and hit Gabrielle in the side of the head.
Gabrielle stood up.
"Why donít you leave me alone? I havenít done anything to you."
"What kind of a coward are you? Why donít you fight me?"
"Iím not going to fight you," said Gabrielle.
Tara immediately leaped on her and pulled her hair and tried to bite her ear off. Gabrielle yelled and tried to pull off the young kid.
Xena came back in the tavern and separated the two.
"What in Tartarus is going on? Who are you?" she asked Gabrielle. "What did you do to my sidekick?"
"Nothing," said Gabrielle.
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and believed her instantly. She turned to Tara for an explanation.
"It was just a little fun, Xena," said Tara.
Xena took a look at Gabrielleís ear.
"Great. Thatís gonna need some stitches."
She turned to Tara and backhanded her across the jaw.
"Hey! Donít hurt her!" said Gabrielle.
"Donít you tell me..." said Xena, and stopped when she saw the worried look on Gabrielleís face.
"Mind you own damn business!" said Tara.
Xena was about to backhand her again, but stopped.
"Iím Xena. That rotten little kid is Tara, my sidekick."
"Come on. Weíll get you fixed up."
Xena took Gabrielle back to the campsite. It was evening, and Xena quickly got a fire going.
"Why were you eating oatmeal in the evening?" Xena asked Tara.
"Nobody eats that stuff," said Tara. "You order it to throw at people."
Xena sent Tara off to gather more wood for the fire, resisting the urge to give her a kick in the butt as she left. Xena took out her supplies and washed the ear, and applied a salve. Then she started sewing up the ear, using tiny stitches. Gabrielle held her hands tightly and tried to ignore the pain.
When it was done, Gabrielle asked Xena, "Are you a hero?"
"Me? A hero? No. Why would you say that?"
"You called her your sidekick. Thatís a word heroes use."
"I once thought I could be a hero, but I was just kidding myself. Just dreams. I guess I shouldnít call her my sidekick. Thatís an insult to every real hero. No, Iím the farthest thing from being a hero. Iím a warlord."
There was deep regret in Xenaís voice and in her eyes as she said it.
"You donít act like a warlord."
"Why? Have you ever met one?"
"No, thank the gods. Not up close, but Iíve seen them from a distance. They donít talk to their men, they grab them and yell at them."
"Oh, I know how to do that. I know how to keep my army in line."
"So, where is your army?"
"I lost them."
"Youíre a nosy little one, arenít you?"
"Iím a bard. Thatís how I accumulate stories."
"Youíre a bard?"
"I used to be a traveling bard, but itís too dangerous out there for a woman traveling alone. There are thieves, murders. Rapists."
"You were raped?"
"No. I ran like Hermes. I escaped. But it was close."
Xena looked down at her hands.
"I would kill anyone who tried to do that to you."
Xena picked up a sharp stick and poked at the fire.
Gabrielle asked, "So how did you lose your army?"
"Oh, itís the old story," said Xena, looking into the flames. "Too good to be bad, too bad to be good."
"I have a strict rule against killing women and children in any village. Raping the women, thatís different. I had to allow that, or I couldnít keep soldiers in my army. I looked the other way and tried not to think about it. One night I decided I couldnít go along with it any more. Which was stupid of me. My warriors starting deserting me in the night, leaving for other armies. One night I caught one of them leaving, and I had to make an example of him. And the situation escalated. They all attacked me.
Xena snapped the stick in half and threw it in the fire.
"I killed seven of them. The rest scattered like rats. But Iím putting together another army right now."
"And will they rape the women in the villages?"
"Yes. I donít have any choice."
"Xena, you donít want to be a warlord, do you?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle in surprise.
"Itís all I know how to do, Gabrielle. If I donít do it someone else will."
"You said you wanted to be a hero? What happened?"
"Gabrielle, this is not the kind of story you can tell in a tavern. Thereís no happy ending here, unless I get run through by a sword tomorrow."
"Please, just tell me. Iím curious."
Xena looked into Gabrielleís kind, accepting eyes, and realized she had to make it clear what a rotten person she was, because Gabrielle just didnít get it.
"OK. My first act of heroism was to save Tara and the rest of her village from being taken as slaves. The village didnít much care if I saved them or not. They wanted me gone. So I went back to Amphipolis, my hometown. I didnít know that Tara was following me. I heard that a warlord I once had an alliance with was going to take the town, and I wanted to warn them."
"They tried to stone me to death."
Gabrielle tenderly put her hand on top of Xenaís fingers. Xena turned and looked at her.
"Was Tara there?"
"Did she say anything?"
"Yes. As soon as the first stone hit me, she yelled, ĎYouíre not gonna take that, are you?í And more stones hit me, and I tried to hold on and stay calm and stay focused, and Tara kept yelling, ĎKill Ďem, Xena! Kill Ďem all! Youíre not gonna take that, are you?í And I suddenly realized that, no, I wasnít going to take it. I picked up my sword and killed their leader, the one that did all the talking. The rest scattered."
Xena was silent, waiting for some reaction from Gabrielle.
"What happened then?"
"I saved my village from the warlord. Tara kept telling me not to. She said we could start being heroes some other day, and go somewhere where the villagers hadnít tried to kill me. But I saved Amphipolis, and my mother told me to leave and never come back. And after that, things went OK, for awhile. I was able to save a lot of innocent people."
"And how did that feel?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, how did that feel?"
Xena looked into the fire.
"It felt OK."
Then Xena looked down into her lap and closed her eyes.
"It felt wonderful, Gabrielle. By the gods, it felt so GOOD. Iíve never felt anything so good before or since. For that short time I was actually proud of my life and proud of what I was doing. It made me wish I had someone to share it with."
"What about Tara?"
"Tara was just looking for an excuse to bust some heads and knock people around. She didnít much care why. She didnít get it. It was just a big joke to her."
"So why did you stop?"
"I didnít count on certain things. I didnít know that Ares, god of war, would be trying to tempt me back to being a warlord again. He impersonated my long-lost father. He made me think that a village was responsible for killing my father. And I lost it, Gabrielle. I took control of an army and I took the village. And my father, the one I thought was my father, died in my arms, and I gave the order I knew I was going to give. I said ĎKill Ďem all!í And Tara was right nearby, and she let out a whoop of joy, like it was what sheíd been waiting for all her life."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and her eyes were full of anger and pain.
"And they did it. And there was none of this sentimentality, no more sparing women and children. An entire village is no more because I was stupid, and because I could be so easily bent and twisted by Ares. I did more damage as a hero than I could ever do as a warlord."
Xena realized she was about to weep, and she held her hands tightly together and fought off the tears. Just the thought of what Tara would say if she saw her weeping made her angry enough to box Taraís ears.
"So thatís it. I decided to stop kidding myself. It takes more than strength and skill to be a hero, it takes character, and I donít have it. Iím a warlord, and thatís all I will ever be."
"Iím sorry," said Gabrielle.
"Sorry? For me? Donít you dare be sorry for me!"
"Iím sorry for all those innocent people you never got to help, because you decided to give up."
Xena was about to give an angry reply, but Tara arrived with an armload of wood, and Xena turned her anger on Tara instead.
"There you are! Where in Tartarus have you been? How long does it take to get a few sticks of wood? Get over here!"
Tara dropped the wood and came over to Xena. Xena grabbed both of her arms. Tara knew what was coming and struggled to escape, but Xena held her tightly.
"Gabrielle, get over here."
Gabrielle came and stood before the two of them.
"Hit her hard. Right now."
Tara laughed and tried to kick Gabrielle, but Xena put one foot in front of her legs.
"Donít be afraid of her, Gabrielle. Iíll make sure sheíll never touch you ever again."
"Iím not going to hit her."
"Gabrielle, this is the only way to get rid of the anger and the hatred. I know."
"Iím not angry and I donít hate her. Iím not hitting anyone, and donít you hit her either, Xena. Stop being so rough on that poor kid."
Gabrielle walked away from both of them. Xena threw Tara roughly aside and went after Gabrielle. She touched Gabrielle on the shoulder, and Gabrielle turned to her.
She touched Gabrielle gingerly on the face.
"Nothing," said Xena, "itís just...youíre real."
Gabrielle smiled, and it was a beautiful, radiant smile.
"Of course Iím real," she said.
"Listen, Gabrielle, Iím going to make this up to you. How long has it been since youíve been in a nice, big hot tub?"
It was Gabrielleís first time in a hot tub. She couldnít believe how wonderful it felt to be up to her neck in this lovely warm water; not too hot, not too cold. She leaned back and enjoyed it.
She tensed up when she heard someone coming, afraid it might be Tara. But she relaxed and smiled when she saw it was Xena.
"Hi," she said to Xena.
"Hello. I just wanted to make sure youíre alright," Xena lied.
"Oh, Iím fine. This is wonderful."
"Iíll leave you alone, then."
"No, donít go. Join me! All this water for one person, itís wasteful. This thing is huge."
"I donít think that would be a good idea."
"I donít know. Taraís waiting for me."
"Invite her, too."
"That would be an even worse idea."
"OK, but at least you can join me, canít you?"
"Xena..." she said, and held out one hand in invitation. Xena smiled, and tilted her head to one side as she beheld Gabrielle, who smiled in return.
"How does she do this to me?" thought Xena as she started to take off her clothes. "It canít be just her smile, or those amazing, incredible eyes. What has she got that makes me want to do anything for her?"
Xena removed her armor and leathers and everything else she was wearing. Gabrielle kept her hand extended in invitation as she waited for Xena to undress. When Xena finally stepped into the tub, she took Gabrielleís hand. Xena froze, and locked eyes with Gabrielle.
"Itís just a hot tub," said Xena.
She got in the tub and relaxed, and smiled at Gabrielle.
"Sometimes," said Xena, "I get in a frame of mind where I start to think that things matter a lot more than they really do."
"Like the women of a village being raped?"
"Gabrielle, I donít know why I told you that story. I donít usually talk about myself that much. I know youíre a bard, but I hope you wonít tell anyone what I told you."
"I wonít. Let me wash your back, Xena."
"Thatís not necessary."
"Please? I want to. Iíll wash your back, and then you can do me."
They washed each other, and Xena said, "Gabrielle, I donít want you to think anythingís going to happen, here."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, just because weíre both naked, you know. I didnít want you to worry that anythingís going to happen."
"Like, you know..."
"Like peeing in the hot tub?"
Xena turned in the water and looked at Gabrielle.
"Yeah, thatís it. Peeing in the hot tub."
Gabrielle looked seriously at Xena, then smiled, and threw back her head and laughed.
"You must really think Iím a three-year-old!" she said. "Like Iíve never read Sappho! Give me a break! Peeing in the hot tub!"
Xena looked down into the water and smiled. Then she started laughing. Impulsively, she splashed some water at Gabrielle. Gabrielle splashed back, and soon they were splashing each other like a couple of kids.
When they were done they sat and smiled at each other. Xena didnít quite know what to think about what had just happened.
"What was that?" she thought to herself.
With an effort, she stopped smiling and stood up.
"OK, gotta go," she said.
"No, stay Xena. Come on! I love being with you."
"I said I love...being with you."
Xena looked at this wonderful young woman, and thought to herself, "This is a life you can have no part of. This is a life you donít deserve. Not even a day in it."
Xena quickly dried herself and dressed in the outer room, left the room and walked down the hall. She turned at the corner and leaned on the corner wall, looking at the entrance to the room.
"Oh, how I envy your husband, whoever he turns out to be," she thought. "And I pray to Ares I never meet anyone like you in any village I conquer, or it will stop me in my tracks. But thatís unlikely. There couldnít be another one like you, anywhere."
"There you are. What in Tartarus were you doing?" said Tara from behind her.
"Checking up on her, like I said."
"Your hairís wet. You were in the hot tub with her! You were doing that little bitch, werenít you? Oh, that does it! Iím gonna drown that little twerp! Iím gonna kill her!"
Xena grabbed Tara by the hair and slammed her against the wall.
"You listen to me, you rotten little slut, you are never going to talk about her like that again! I swear by all the gods that ever were and ever will be, if you ever hurt her again Iím going to KILL you, Tara! I swear I will destroy you! Iíll drag you behind a horse and throw you off a cliff, and if you want to find out what thatís like just you believe for a second that Iím not serious, you hear me?"
"Let me go! Xena, that little creep is making you soft!"
"SOFT?" she said, and lifted Tara off the floor. She held her pinned to the wall by one hand against her throat. Tara pulled at the powerful fingers around her neck.
"Xena?" said Gabrielleís voice from behind her. She was peeking out from behind the door.
"Itís OK, Gabrielle."
"Xena, please, just let her go. Donít hurt her. Please."
Xena relaxed her grip and let Tara slide to the floor.
"Sorry, Gabrielle," said Xena, and Gabrielle went back inside.
Tara stared at Xena, her eyes full of hate.
"Sorry, Gabrielle! Sorry, Gabrielle! You try to strangle me, and itís Sorry, Gabrielle! I swear Iím gonna break her neck, that little goody two-shoes!"
Xena hit Tara in the forehead, knocking her head against the wall. Tara walked away from Xena, holding her head.
"Alright, I wonít hurt her, but you canít stop me from hating her."
Xena hit Tara in the back of the head again as they walked down the hall.
Tara said, "You watch it, or Iím gonna tell you little boss that youíre hurting me. Youíre gonna be in trouble."
The next night Xena couldnít sleep, and left Tara sleeping to wander into a clearing and look at the stars. Tara had no interest in looking at anything she couldnít maim or destroy.
Staring into the night sky, she heard Gabrielle behind her. Without looking, she said, "Hello, Gabrielle."
"How did you know it was me?"
"Itís not difficult to remember what your tread sounds like. What are you doing here? You want another chance to beat up Tara?"
She came around and looked Xena directly in the eyes.
"I want to travel with you."
"But not Xena the warlord. Xena the hero."
"Gabrielle, thatís just a crazy dream."
"I want to be a part of the dream."
"Gabrielle, donít waste your time on me. Iím no hero. I never will be. I donít have the character to stick to the path of righteousness."
"I think you do. I believe in you."
Xena shook her head.
"Thereís nothing for you to believe in. You really think you can become a good person just by wanting to be? Thatís what I thought, but itís not true. Heroes are born, not made, and I was born to be a warlord and sack villages and kill without remorse."
"You have remorse."
"Oh, thatís where youíre wrong, Gabrielle. I donít have remorse because I never stopped murdering, and I never will stop. If I stopped I would have to face what Iíve done and live with it. All the motherís sons Iíve sent over to the other side, all the blood, all the pain and horror Iíve caused, and I would have remorse that would never, ever end. Itís better to have always another village to conquer, always another battle to plan, because itís either that or face the nightmares every single night of my life."
"You wonít face them alone."
"Gabrielle, please, just forget about me. Iím a lot cause. I donít have the kind of forgiveness in me that you have. Iím not going to let you down the way Iíve let down everyone else in my life."
"Xena, I know that you can do great things. I know that you have good in you."
"How do you know that? Because I stitched up your ear? One little kindness doesnít mean anything."
"I love you, Xena. I know, because I love you."
Xena looked at this woman in astonishment. She had no idea how to respond to this incredible idea.
What would it be like to wake up next to a woman like this every morning? How could she ever be worthy of the happiness that Gabrielle could bring her? Happiness that you could wrap about you like a warm quilt?
How could she ever be worthy of this love?
"Gabrielle, donít even joke about something like that. You donít know me. Youíve known me for two days. My mother has known me all my life, and she hates me. She told me to leave Amphipolis and never come back."
"Youíll be back. Sheíll welcome you back with open arms one day. I promise. Xena, youíre going to have to trust me on this. I know that you want this. I can feel how much you want to be a good person and do good things for people. Remember how it felt? I could feel it too, just hearing you describe it. I want to help you be proud of your life again, because you donít have it in you to be a warlord any more."
"Gabrielle, please, I canít listen to any more of this. Please, just get away from me. You donít want to have anything to do with me. Iím dangerous. Iím a rotten person."
"No, youíre not," said Gabrielle, and took a step towards Xena.
"Stop! You think this is a game?" said Xena, and hit Gabrielle with the back of her hand hard enough to knock her down and leave quite a bruise.
Xena looked at the bruised Gabrielle, and expected Gabrielle to look up at her in shock and horror, but Gabrielle looked like there was no reason to be surprised.
"You want to travel with me? You want to know what itís like? Well, thatís what itís like, and you ask Tara if itís not true! Iíve beaten her up and even tried to kill her because she pissed me off, and I could do the same to you, any time, with no warning!"
"I know," she said, getting up.
"What do you mean, you know?"
"I know how hard itís going to be, turning away from your past and finding your way to redemption. But Iím here to help you, and I wonít let you give up. And if you lose control and hit me, Iím just going to have to hope that you come to your senses before you kill me."
"And if I donít?"
Gabrielle stepped forward and got as close to Xena as she could.
"Then honor my memory."
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena in a hug. Without thinking, Xenaís arms wrapped around Gabrielle, and Xena looked up at the stars and couldnít believe the absurdity of this sweet girl wanting anything to do with her. She hugged Gabrielle tightly, even though she knew she should be pushing her away and fighting against the tears that were coming. She hadnít cried in years. She was afraid that if she started she might never be able to stop.
Xena hugged her even more tightly, and stroked her hair.
And the tears came, and Xena dropped her head onto Gabrielleís neck, and her body shook uncontrollably. Tara would laugh if she saw it. Her men would snicker, and sheíd have to make an example of one of them. Only with Gabrielle was she safe.
And she felt so safe in this embrace. She felt as though she could trust Gabrielle to guard her soul all the way to the gates of eternity. It felt so right. It felt like after a lifetime of wandering she had finally found a home in Gabrielleís arms.
She pulled away from Gabrielle and looked her directly in the eyes.
"No one has ever believed in me," said Xena. "No one."
Gabrielle touched her tenderly on the side of her face, and Xena decided that no one but Gabrielle would ever be allowed to touch her that way again.
"Why would anyone do this for me?" asked Xena.
"Sometimes thereís just something that you know you should be doing. Sometimes thereís just a time and place that seems right to you. This is our time and place."
Xena thought, but couldnít bring herself to say, "How did this happen? You own me, Gabrielle. In two days youíve taken possession of my heart and soul."
Aloud, she said, "Gabrielle, can I really do this? Please donít lie to me. You have no idea how much I want to do this."
"Xena, it will be alright. You can do it."
"You had better be right about me, or I will never forgive you."
"Oh, Xena," she said, "Iím not wrong."
"Gabrielle, if youíre going to travel with me, I canít travel with Tara any more."
"No! Xena, she loves you, too! Sheís stayed with you through everything! She deserves a chance to find the good in herself."
"Believe me, she has no interest in finding the good in herself. Sheís been poisoning my soul for years, and Iíve been doing the same to her."
"Xena, if weíre going to be together, there are some times when youíre going to have to do things my way."
"Maybe so, but this isnít one of those times. This will be hard enough with just the two of us. Iím not taking her, Gabrielle. I wonít do that to you, and I wonít do it to me."
"But sheís just a kid! At least Iím an adult. Just barely."
"I think I know someone who can take care of her. But she wonít go willingly. Iíll have to get some sleeping powder. Gabrielle, do you know where the Centaur village is?"
"Meet me at the totem on the outskirts, two days from now at midnight. And be ready to travel."
Tara awoke in an unfamiliar bed. This wasnít the same place she had gone to sleep. What was she doing here? She sat up in bed and looked all around for Xena. She swung her legs to the floor, and sat on the side of the bed. Her head was groggy. She thought about trying to get up.
A Centaur appeared in the doorway. So this was the Centaur village. The Centaur clopped into the room.
"Whereís Xena?" she asked.
"What do you mean, gone? Gone where? She wouldnít go anywhere without me."
"She left you a note," said the Centaur, and handed her a scroll. Tara had to stand up to receive it.
Tara thought to herself, "These smelly freaks are built so far off the ground, how do they ever get anything done? Everything has to be built special for them. What are we doing here, anyway? Iím glad we wonít be around these animals for long."
Tara unrolled the scroll. She could barely read, and had to sound out the words, her lips moving as she read.
Iím sorry, but weíre splitting up. Iím going to travel with Gabrielle. The Centaurs will take good care of you. I left every dinar I had with them. If youíre going to hate anyone, and I know you are, then hate me, donít hate Gabrielle. This is my decision.
I know this stinks, and Iím sorry, but I need to do this. This is my chance to do something good with my life. I know you always thought that trying to be good was just a big joke, which is why I canít travel with you any more. I canít expect you to understand this, but Gabrielle is the real thing. Sheís everything I ever wanted to be, and sheís made me think and feel things I havenít felt in a long time. Sheís given me the courage to try to change my life.
I love her, Tara. Go ahead and laugh, but itís true. I need her. I need to be with her.
I feel rotten about this, and I feel rotten about the way I treated you. At least the Centaurs wonít knock you around as much as I did. This is not the right way to start out a life of doing good, but I donít have any choice.
"That little bitch!" screamed Tara, and threw the scroll across the room. "That little red-headed twerp! Iím gonna kill her! I swear Iím gonna kill her!"
Tara sat by the campfire and wondered what her next move was going to be. She only had a dayís worth of food, and the nearest town was too far to walk in a day, or even three days.
All of a sudden she wished she had been paying attention when Xena was trying to teach her about trapping and survival in the woods.
She thought back to that night about a year ago, when Xena had abandoned her at the Centaur village. Did Xena actually think she was going to stay with those freaks? As soon as she found out where they were keeping the dinars Xena had left them, she grabbed the money and ran like a thief.
She found a tavern that would serve her, and got absolutely legless. Then she bounced around from one gang of thieves to the next, pulling jobs, gaining their trust, finding out where the loot was stashed, and grabbing it and running. Five gangs in one year.
But eventually word got round about her, and no gang would have her. She shouldíve stashed some of her loot instead of gambling it away or blowing it on liquor and fancy food.
She was just wondering of Autolycus would have anything to do with her when Gabrielle walked into the clearing.
"You," said Tara in a low, menacing tone.
"Hello, Tara. I have a little peace offering."
She carried a cloth bag containing some dried meat and cheese.
"Iíd rather starve to death than take anything from you."
"Iím sorry you feel that way. Xena and I have been talking. If you like, we want you to travel with us again."
"There is no Ďagainí, you stupid bitch. It was me and Xena and that was all. And where is Xena, anyway?"
"Good," said Tara, taking one smoking log from the fire. "She can stitch up your ear again."
She attacked Gabrielle with the log. Gabrielle easily blocked the blow with her staff, poked Tara in the midsection, and swept her feet out from under her.
Tara looked up at Gabrielle, amazed. Sheíd heard stories about Gabrielle and her staff, but she didnít believe them.
"I didnít come here to fight, Tara."
"You think Iím afraid of you, just Ďcause you have that stick?"
Tara was on her feet again, and lunged at Gabrielle. Gabrielle knocked Taraís hands aside before they could go for her throat. She stuck her staff behind Taraís knees and pushed her over.
"Stay down, Tara! I donít want to have to hit you, again!"
"You took Xena from me!" yelled Tara, and came directly at Gabrielle. Gabrielle spun around once and connected her staff with Taraís nose.
Her nose gushed blood.
Gabrielle saw at once that it was too much. Tara fell to the ground and started crying. Xena was there in a second, like she had come out of nowhere, and wrapped her powerful arms around Tara.
"Iím bad," sobbed Tara. "Iím no good."
Gabrielle apologized for what she had done, and left the two of them alone together. She was terribly ashamed.
Xena dipped a rag in the nearby stream and washed the blood off of Taraís face.
"Tell me the truth, Tara, did you ever really want to be a good person, or was that just something you said?"
"I donít know. I never really thought about it, I guess. I just wanted out of that stupid town and away from my family, and I wanted to travel with you Ďcause I thought you were pretty cool."
"Hey, Iím still cool. You can be a good person and still be cool. Iím a leather-clad warrior, how cool is that?"
"Yeah. So, is traveling with the little beauty queen everything you thought it would be?"
"Well, this past year has been pretty rough. For the most part sheís kept me to the straight and narrow, but itís been hard for both of us. I guess youíd be happy to know there was a time when I tried to kill her."
"I wish I couldíve been there for that."
"Tara, if youíd just open your heart to her youíd realize what a wonderful person she is. All youíve ever done is try to hurt her, and all sheís ever done is worry about you and stop me from hurting you."
"She just beat the crap out of me, Xena."
"Itís called defending yourself. I made sure she was good at it before I let her anywhere near you. Why do you hate her?"
"I hate everybody. And everybody hates me."
"She doesnít hate you. She tried to talk me out of dumping you. She spent most of the last year worrying about you, and asking me if we could invite you back."
"Big deal. I want to travel with you again, Xena, but not with her. But who would choose an ugly kid like me over someone like her? Youíre both so beautiful, you probably spend all day staring at each other. And me, I have to put out just to get guys to hang around me."
"Tara, you donít have to live like this. You donít have to be this way. You can change your entire life with a single step in the right direction. No one knows that better than I do. But Gabrielle and I cannot be split up, Tara. You wouldnít believe how many have tried. I love her, Tara. She makes me so happy. I canít stand to be without her, so please donít ask it of me. I know I treated you badly, and Iím sorry. I donít know if I treated you rotten because you were no good, or if you were no good because I treated you rotten. Maybe people like you and me start doing good because weíve been bad for so long that weíre just sick of it, and weíre ready to try something else. Maybe youíre not there yet, I donít know. But this is your big chance. Come with us, Tara. Change your life."
Xena held out one hand to Tara. Tara looked at it, and was unimpressed.
"Go tell blondie to drop dead, and weíll talk."
Xena left her, and went up the hill to speak to Gabrielle. Tara got up and started collecting her belongings and packing them in her knapsack.
Why should Xena have dumped her? She stayed with Xena when no one else would, and then this little pouty-faced dweeb came along and stole Xena from her.
Oh, for the good old days when Xena was feared and hated. As much as Xena used to knock her around, and as much as she used to hate Xena sometimes, Tara was sure that if she stayed around Xena long enough she could be feared and hated, too.
Now all she heard was, oh, did you hear what Xena and Gabrielle did? Did you hear what happened to Gabrielle? Did you hear what happened to Xena?
It couldíve been her. She couldíve been famous.
Gabrielle came back down the hill. Tara speeded up her packing, because she didnít want to face her.
Gabrielle came up to Tara and said, "You win, Tara. Sheís yours."
And she walked away.
Tara looked back at Xena, who was coming back down the hill towards her. Damn it, there was grief on her face. Xena was trying to hide it, but sadness and anger and even fear were evident on her features and in her body language.
Tara looked at the back of Gabrielle. Gabrielle hadnít looked back, and hadnít stopped walking.
She ran after Gabrielle, and stopped her.
"What do you mean, Ďsheís yoursí?"
"You have what you want."
"She told you to get lost?"
"Tara, you have what you want. What difference does it make how you got it? Just take good care of her."
Gabrielle continued walking.
"Damn it!" yelled Tara. "I am so sick of you!"
She picked up a good size stone and threw it at the back of Gabrielleís head. Gabrielle stopped and held her head, and turned and looked at Tara.
"Ow," she said.
"Thatís for beating the crap out of me, and always thinking youíre better than me! Well, youíre not better than me! You hate me, and if you donít youíre stupider than you look! I donít need you, and I donít need Xena! I donít need either one of you to be good! I can be good by myself if I wanna be!"
Tara walked angrily down the road, away from Gabrielle. Xena came up behind Gabrielle, and stood and watched her go.
"So the change in sidekicks is postponed?"
"Thank the gods. I donít know what I wouldíve done without you. Were you really willing to leave?"
"If I had to. I was hoping Tara wouldnít let me."
Xena put one hand on the side of Gabrielleís neck, and reached up and touched Gabrielleís face tenderly. Gabrielle leaned into the caress.
"Gabrielle, every time I think youíve amazed me more than you ever could, you do something like this. You are just magic, Gabrielle."
"If Iím so magic why canít I get through to that poor little kid? Iím so worried about her, Xena."
"I know. Iím sure weíll be seeing her again. One way or the other. Come on, let me take a look at that lump on your head."
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