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Disclaimer: Arlene BoltonXena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the (c) copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
As the Crow Flies
By: Arlene Bolton
"Onward for Glory!"
The Husband -
Yes! I will fight for you, Bellic! I will defend my family and my home! I am not afraid to die in such a cause! Death to Quorra and all that follow him.
The Friends -
Yes! We will fight for you Quorra! We will fight for our people and our town! There is no fear when there is Justice. Death to Bellic and the vermin he commands!
The Veteran -
Yes I will go again! I will fight again against the evil, even as I fought against Draco, even as I fought against Xena.
The Husband -
I cannot die here. I cannnot die. Oh love! Oh my wife! I am dying!
The Friend -
Where are you? Have I lost you, before I lose myself? If I must die, please let him live.
The Veteran -
How strange that the sky is blue, that the sun will rise again tomorrow and I will not be here to see it. And what does the sun care? How ironic that Xena's mighty army could not kill me and the boy lying dead beside me did. I would congratulate him if my sword weren't through his heart. I am not afraid at all. I curse all warlords.
The Husband -
Why am I in pain? I must be dead. A goddess kneels over me with the love of the world in her eyes. Her hand is so warm. If I could speak, I would tell her not to cry. Why should she cry over me?
The Husband's Death
Xena crouched next to Gabrielle beside the dying young man. "Gabrielle . . ."
"I know, Xena, but when I touched him, he . . he . . .smiled at me."
Xena looked at the wreckage of a strong young man's body. His skull bled with open wounds. His abdomen gaped open and a sword had all but severed his leg. She put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, then stood to look for another living soul in this field of death. A crow sailed by her head. She could feel the air from the beating of its wings moving against her face. The bird settled in the field to look for food. There was plenty.
As Xena walked among the dead men, their faces started to crowd into her mind and not leave. Agony, terror, horror, rage. She had seen these anguished frozen moments on other faces, many faces, hundreds of them. The men she led. The men she killed. How much more room could there be in her haunted soul before she would break apart and the demons of her guilt would scatter to the ends of the earth. She found no one living and turned back to her solace from pain.
Gabrielle still knelt by the dying young man, her arm across his chest and one hand resting on his bloody head. He whispered to her and she bent down to hear him.
"I have a baby," he whispered.
What could she say? "What's its name?"
"Ver . .onica." The dying man smiled again. "When . . .I left . . .". Gabrielle could hardly hear him, "she . . .waved . . goodbye to me."
He coughed and bubbling foamy blood started out of the corners of his mouth. He gargled and choked, then was still. The smile was gone. A crow stood at the soldier's feet, waiting for the red-haired interloper to leave its food alone. Xena kicked it into the air before it had a chance to fly out of her path.
Gabrielle lowered her head. This death had relacerated the healing scar of Perdicus' unjust end. She had stopped crying. She felt weighed down and tired. Xena looked down at her friend, at her slumped shoulders and the blood on her hands. If you love someone, do you drag them through neverending pain?
"We have to go, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle stood up quickly. She picked up her satchel and staff. "Let's go, then."
Xena got Argo from where she was tied and got on the horse. Gabrielle gratefully accepted a ride, she did not relish the thought of picking her steps among the corpses and the scavenging crows that fed on them. Argo carefully made the way for them as she carried the companions.
The Friend's Death -
Xena and Gabrielle found him crawling among the fallen soldiers that surrounded him. His face was ghostly pale with blue and purple tinges. He hiccoughed for breath as he moved, but he seemed determined to look at every face, until he found the one. Xena walked up to him and raised his head so he saw her. The man only looked a little surprised. This was not the face he sought. Where was his friend? He wanted to say goodbye. He wanted his friend to be alive, to go back to their childhood home, to have children that would climb trees, fight imaginary monsters, and swim in the river like they used to. He continued to crawl.
This field had many more dead than the last. The crows circled, swooped, landed and feasted. Xena began to walk slowly beside the crawling man as Gabrielle took a turn looking for other survivors.
"How can I help you?" Xena asked him.
"Find my friend."
"If I found him, how would I know him?"
The man raised one hand and pointed to his head. There was a blue scarf in a band around it.. "He has one like this. His sister tore them from her skirt for us when we left. She won't forgive me if he is dead I won't forgive myself if he dies. It doesn't matter, anyway," he said as he resumed crawling, "I will die anyway."
Xena didn't argue with him. "I will help you find him." She called to Gabrielle and explained their mission. The three of them grimly searched on. Xena didn't have much hope that she could pick out a blue head scarf, if the man even still wore it, but she was determined to try. There again, the faces, the pain, the useless horrible waste of lives. She, who had loved life as a child, reveled in it, she had filled fields such as these. It was only midafternoon, but Xena began to see and feel a great darkness.
Gabrielle called out, miraculously she had found the other man with the scarf. Xena went and helped Gabrielle carry him to his friend, who by now was unable to crawl, and sat propped up against a fallen soldier. They laid his cold friend next to him. He moved himself down to lie beside his childhood companion and turned to look up at the sky, as they had often done as children, watching clouds, the stars, the moon, watching the birds fly overhead. Now the birds shared the ground with him and his friend's eyes could not see the sky. He gripped the dead man's hand and then his eyes, too, could not see.
Xena felt herself swaying on her feet. Instead of the two men, she could see the image of her and Gabrielle, lying together, vacant dead eyes, holding hands that couldn't feel each other. Never to share another word or moment. Bodies already turning to carrion. She had long believed that such an end would be hers. But Gabrielle . .? Athena, please spare her!
"Leave them!" Xena's voice struck Gabrielle as hard and cold. She looked at Xena's face but only saw the hard mask, back again. She knew that face well. It used to be the only face she knew on Xena, until, as they lived their lives together, she had seen fear, radiant joy, humor, love, annoyance,and on one or two precious rare occasions, a glimmering of peace. She dreaded the mask. She knew it hid pain that would not be shared. Pain that would drive Xena till she had fulfilled whatever end her conscience set for her. She had to forget her own turmoil and try as hard as she could to be strong enough to help her friend. She knew she could be strong enough. She didn't know if Xena would let her in.
"Xena, we could cross those hills and make camp."
Xena checked the sun's position and looked toward the west. They had to keep going. When nighttime came, she would leave Gabrielle in safety and fufill her duty of stilling the raging evil of Bellic and Quorra before hundreds more died. She would stop them, as no one had stopped her.
"We have daylight left. We can't fall too far behind." Xena got Argo again and Gabrielle got on behind her without being asked. They rode without speaking to the bloodiest battlefield of all.
The Veteran's Death:
As Xena and Gabrielle rode on Argo over the ridge, hundreds of crows rose into the sky like a shiny black blanket rippling over the field of bodies. Xena could feel Gabrielle's grip around her waist grow tense. They would spend little time here. There could be few, if any survivors.
They dismounted Argo at the outskirts of the carnage and began to wend their way through, Xena leading. There was no human movement. The carrion birds rose around them at every footstep, then rapidly settled back down, made bold by their recent good fortune.
To Xena, the field seemed to be a sea of faces, stricken by death, and joined in the soul world with the dead she had sent there. She lowered her chin and looked out the top of her slitted eyes. She walked on.
The Veteran noticed movement as he lay on the ground. A crow was lazily picking at his pant leg, and he had been watching its progress toward his flesh with unemotional interest. But this movement was a person, a living person. He turned his head. He could not believe what he saw! Xena the murderous Warrior Princess was coming to revel in his death, to taunt him with his failure. Well, he wouldn't have it! He would take her with him! Dark joy filled him as he realized he could make his death into glorious revenge.
Xena stopped. There was movement just a few feet ahead of them. A man was staggering to his feet. A spear shaft protruded out of his chest and swung around with him as he reached to pull a sword out of the body next to his feet. He lurched toward Xena with sword in hand, the spear swaying with the jerky movements of his steps.
"Come with me, Xena! Die! Join me! Let's dance!" He raised the sword up up over his head with both hands to thrust it down toward Xena's heart.
Xena stood with her sword sheathed on her back. Gabrielle didn't know what Xena had in mind but she wasn't having any of it. She vaulted herself at the man with her staff and struck him with her feet at his very shaky knees. He collapsed forward, unfortunately falling onto Gabrielle. She fell onto the half-eaten corpse of a soldier, disturbing a shroud of crows. The Veteran fell on top of her, driving the shaft sideways deeper into his body and finally killing him. The disturbed birds quickly settled back down to eat. Not differentiating from their previous portion and the still alive and trapped girl, they began to peck at her arms, face hands and clothes, anything the the body of the Veteran didn't cover.
Then Xena's sword was unsheathed. With every swing and raging cry many birds fell. Cut in half, wings falling, feathers settling. Spatters of blood begin to dot Xena's face as she swung her sword in fury again and again.
Gabrielle was not able to disguise the panic in her voice. "Xena, stop, p. .p . .lease, help me out." But Xena maniacally continued to chop at the birds in the air that continued to fall dead in pieces around her. The head of a crow landed on Gabrielle's face. "Aaaaaah . . .Aaaaaah.....aaaaah." Gabrielle couldn't get a word out. She felt very ill. She thought she must be in a nightmare that she couldn't get out of and Xena would not help her.
"Xena!" She didn't mean to, but she screamed the name. Her own voice sounded screeching in her ears.
Xena stopped. She dropped her sword and knelt next to Gabrielle. She easily rolled the large man off her and helped her to her feet. "Are you alright?" There was concern on her face, but she looked like her thoughts were still far away and she kept looking around them at the men lying there.
Gabrielle picked up her staff and walked with weak-kneed steps away from the warrior. She stopped and turned back.
"What is the matter with you?"
Xena looked at her. "It's nothing."
Gabrielle slammed the end of the staff into the ground. "Nothing?! How can you stand there in a field of dead bodies, with a corpse that just tried to kill you and hundreds of birds that you just murdered and tell me there's NOTHING WRONG!?". She turned away and started making her way out of the field, still talking. "I'll go make camp, that's what I'll do. No, I don't want a ride, no thank you. I'll just spend a little more time with these party boys. Right boys? Time for Gabrielle to leave you all to whatever. To leave you all . . to leave you all . . .to leave you all . . . " she stopped and drew in a deep breath to try and calm herself, but only breathed in the smell of flesh already starting to decay in the warm air. The smell made her violently ill. After her stomach stopped convulsing she straightened up and looked at Xena, who was still standing where she was when Gabrielle had walked away.
"Come on, Xena, let's go." Xena just looked at her with that eerie masked look in her eyes. Gabrielle trudged back to her friend, picked up Xena's sword and put it into her back scabbard. She whistled for Argo, who was already standing nearby. When the horse came up beside Xena, Gabrielle turned Xena in the right direction to get in the saddle.
"Get on, woman. Up you go." Xena got on the horse, then looked down at Gabrielle. "I'm alrght, Gabrielle."
"Sure you are. Let's go." Gabrielle began walking ahead as Xena took Argo's reins and started to follow. They made their way to a campsite.
Gabrielle usually tended their campfire, but Xena seemed to take particular interest in it tonight. She scavenged for wood and piled it on until the blaze rose many feet into the night sky, forcing Gabrielle and Xena to stay well away from the heat, sparks and smoke.
The fixation was not lost on Gabrielle, who decided not to bring it up. She decided to play by Xena's rules and not bring anything up. She was incredibly tired and gratefully got into her bedroll to sleep. Xena sat on her own bedroll, stood up, sat down, walked around the fire, checked on Gabrielle, sat down, stood up . . . Finally, she faced the darkness and walked away from the campfire into the night.
The moon was almost full. Xena walked to the top of a small hillock to think and plan. She must kill the murderous mercenary warlords, that were sacrificing the lives of innocent men to fill their own purses in ransacked villages, and satisfy their need for power over others. She had known of Quorra and Bellic for many years. Bellic stole money from the dead and almost-dead of his own army, Quorra would kill his own lieutenants for spitting where he had walked. When they could find no more recruits in one area, they would travel to another and stir up hate between peoples, a frighteningly easy thing to do, and their wealth would increase, as did the depth of their evil natures. After a successful bout of this kind of greed-engendered war, they had been known to travel to the city together, get drunk and laugh at the folly of the fools that followed them.
Xena did not want to kill. She wanted to turn away. She wanted to find a land where men and women were not blinded by anger, greed, revenge. She wanted to be free from her quest, from her conscience, from the clear eyes of Gabrielle. She wanted to keep walking till she reached the ocean, walk into it and never walk out
She walked further on and saw something on the ground. It was a soldier's sandal, the back strap was cut. Down the hill from her in the moonlight, she could see the figure of a man lying on his face, a bloody stain covered his back and there was a gash across his left ankle, from where the shoe had come. He must have run from the battle behind, having sense enough to fear for his life, and been chased down, crippled and killed, probably by one of his "superior" officers.
Xena looked down at the sandal in her hands. She felt strange, like the world outside was the same, but something inside her had shifted. She clutched the sandal with both hands till her hands started to shake. A low sound came out of her, it vibrated in her midsection then grew louder coming up from her chest and filling her throat. She howled! She screamed. She dropped to her hands and knees and beat the sandal against the ground. Then banged her head into the ground, turning it back and forth. "No! No! No! No! I don't want to! For the love of the gods, free me! Please, free me!"
As her head turned back toward the top of the hill, she could see Gabrielle running toward her. She couldn't stop her hoarse, moaning, cries, but she stood up to try to avoid Gabrielle.
"Leave me alone, Gabrielle," she croaked and pulled away as Gabrielle tried to take her arm. She started to walk away quickly, still sobbing, unable to breathe normally. As Gabrielle walked to follow her, Xena broke into a run.
Xena could only run with staggering slowness, since her breath was taken with sobs. Gabrielle quickly caught up with her, grabbed her around the waist from behind and pulled her sideways to the ground. Xena struggled to get up but Gabrielle, with her eyes shut, held on as hard as she could. She didn't know if it was the right thing to do, but she had to it. She held on as her friend thrashed against her grip.
"Xena please," Gabrielle said softly into Xena's back Xena stopped struggling and Gabrielle let go. The warrior crawled away from her and sat down cross-legged a few feet away, facing her.
Gabrielle rolled onto her knees and settled down facing Xena. They looked at each other for several minutes, breathing hard and not speaking.
Finally Xena said. "Gabrielle, I want you to leave. I don't want you with me anymore. It's time for you to go."
Gabrielle didn't answer and more silence followed.
"Xena, will you come back to the fire? Please."
Xena stood up and began walking back up over the hill to the campsite. Gabrielle followed her, resigned to a night of silence, or words that revealed nothing. As they neared the camp, she saw Xena's dark sillhouette against the bonfire. The dark against the light, a warrior always at the border where the war was waged.
Xena woke Gabrielle before dawn.
"Go on to the ocean."
Gabrielle worked to gather her thoughts back from nightmares of crows and staring eyes.
"Xena, I. .I need to go with you. I won't let you go alone."
"Gabrielle, I will never take you through a war zone again. Never."
"What? What do you call that bloodbath we just came through."
"The aftermath. Go to the ocean. Wait for me for two days. If I don't come back . . .."
"Xena . . "
"Gabrielle, I will knock you out if I have to." Xena's voice was matter-of-fact and emotionless. Her eyes were cold and her face unreadable again. She stood up and mounted Argo, who was already standing prepared. "Goodbye."
Gabrielle stood up from her bed and walked over to her. She took Xena's hand and arm in hers and pulled the arm down slightly, hugging the armored forearm to her face. She kissed the back of the warrior's hand.
"Don't die, Xena. I couldn't bear to find you like we found them."
"Gabrielle . .I . . .you know what to do if you do find me like that."
This was not the reassurance that Gabrielle was desparate for, but she nodded her head in agreement.
"Thank you," said Xena and rode away on Argo.
A few hours later. Xena watched Bellic's camp from a hidden vantage point. The number of soldiers must be a fraction of the slain men that she and Gabrielle had seen. It would soon be time for Bellic and Quorra to go into hiding again, living the high life on their blood-earned riches. Xena settled down to wait for nighfall.
A soldier ran into Bellic's tent as he was preparing to sleep. "Bellic! The scouts have spotted Xena. She is camped across the stream.
Bellic didn't pause in his nighttime preparations. "Do I look like your nursemaid, ignoramus? Kill her. Go!" The soldier turned to leave and Bellic stopped him with an afterthought. "Take 50 men, no fewer." The soldier hurried out the door.
Bellic took off his sandals and put his feet in the warm footbath his aide had prepared. He was not as pleased as normally by the soothing sensation. "Curse that self-righteous woman! She could have left me alone for another week and wouldn't have to bother me with her 'noble crusade'." The last Bellic spoke with a snear.
"No, Bellic, this isn't a noble crusade," Xena said, holding up her sword to catch the lamplight. "This is pure vengeance, and it's just for you."
"Xena! The Fire of Hades! I should have known! I suppose my men are chasing a shadow."
"Not a shadow, I imagine a few of them are bending their swords on some covered rocks, but they'll catch on quickly enough to come back and burn your carcass, don't you worry."
Bellic grabbed his sword and yelled for his remaining men. Xena flew across the tent at him. They began to duel, and as each soldier ran through the door, to defend his leader, Xena dispatched him neatly backwards with a kick, keeping up her single-minded intent to run her sword through Bellic, and then meet whatever should follow.
With the help of distractions, Bellic was able to graze Xena a couple of times but his sword seemed to be a sluggish beast compared to his foe's. Still kicking soldiers out the door after virtually every thrust of her sword, Xena's eyes narrowed in focus on Bellic's eyes. She lifted his sword up and out of his hands with a quick circular swing then thrust her sword through his chest with all her strength, then pulled it back out. The stack of unconscious men at the doorway was proving a hindrance to Bellic's other would-be rescuers and he slumped to the ground and fell forward dead. Xena sheathed her sword and left the way she had come, under the back of the tent on her stomach. A couple of men saw her, but for some reason, were not of a mind to challenge her escape.
Xena retrieved Argo, from nearby. She mounted her and rode quietly away from Bellic's camp. There was no joy in her heart from the killing. She could feel blood from the shaft of the sword on the back of her neck. Endless blood, she thought, my life is a sea of blood. And I started it.
Now she must move on to the next killing.
It was daybreak as Xena reached the outskirts of Quorra's camp. To her amazement it was mostly disbanded, with a few soldiers still packing up and walking away. Could they have heard of Bellic's death so quickly?
Xena grabbed one of the departing soldiers by his arm. "Where is Quorra?"
"Quorra is dead!" the soldier said with venom, and to emphasize his feeling he spit on the ground. "Curse him!"
"How did he die?"
"Last night a young woman came into our camp . . "
Xena thought her heart had stopped beating. Gabrielle? Would she sacrifice her blood innocence to bring help bring peace to Xena's soul? Xena had not thought so, but Quorra was dead.
"She . .she killed him?"
"Oh no! Not that one. She walked unarmed into camp, well she had a stick or something, and sat down with us at our fire. We thought she was stopping by to show us a good time (we get a lot of those), but when Arkay started to get down to business she did something ugly to his nose."
The corner of Xena's mouth turned up slightly. "And then?"
"Then she told us the story of Quorra and Bellic from the very beginning." The man stopped. He seemed to be thinking, then he looked up at Xena with his face distorted in anger and tears in his eyes. "We didn't know, we didn't know! We were such fools!" He shoved Xena aside and walked quickly away.
"Where is Quorra? Who killed him" Xena called after him. The soldier turned around and pointed to his right. "Everyone," he answered.
Xena walked to where he had directed her. She needed to make sure the deed was done.
She found Quorra's body, literally covered in stab wounds, lying in a dried pond of his own blood. He had a look of terror on his face that did not add itself to Xena's haunted gallery. It was a fitting end. And the crows had already found him. Xena snatched one of the birds up from his body and held it up to her face, staring into its black, opaque eye.
"Precious little birdie, this one will make even you sick." She tossed the bird from her and it flapped off. Xena turned back to find Argo, to go to the ocean, to find Gabrielle.
It was well past sundown when Xena heard the distant roar of ocean surf. She looked up. She had thought the night was clear but there seemed to be a cloud crossing the full moon. No, it wasn't a cloud, it was a tendril of smoke, and it rose from a watchfire on the beach. Gabrielle was waiting.
Gabrielle stared into the fire. The last fire she had seen was in Quorra's camp, surrounded by his surviving soldiers, who listened intently to her story of greed and disdain for life. She had hoped (how incredibly naïve she was, how incredibly stupid) that the soldiers would hear the truth and leave to return to their families, ending the killing then and there. But they had risen, first one, then more, then all, to stalk their commander, surround him, and murder him with howls of anger.
Gabrielle had heard (though she wished she hadn't) Quorra's pleas for mercy and then his gurgling death cries. She had run from the camp, horrified. Her story had turned her audience into murderers. Sitting here, waiting for Xena, her mind went back to Veronica's father and to the friends who knew each other no more. She had even begun to have the thought that she should have joined the soldiers and thrust a sword into Quorra herself. It certainly would have been justice. But (she shook her head) she knew she couldn't have. At least, she didn't think she could have.
Gabrielle heard the sound of someone on the sand behind her. She instinctively jumped to her feet, her staff at the ready. Xena's sword landed at her feet, illuminated by the circle of light from the fire.
"Xena!" Gabrielle peered out into the darkness but couldn't see the warrior. Then she heard the sound of footsteps, walking away. She followed the sound.
Xena let Argo go and walked to the edge of the ocean. Once Gabrielle was away from the fire, she could see her easily in the moonlight. Xena crouched at the edge of the surf, touching the tips of her fingers in the tide as it ran up to her, then away. Gabrielle walked up beside her and put her the back of her hand against Xena's cheek. Her skin was cool and the muscles of her face were tight. Xena still didn't speak and Gabrielle turned back to the fire. She didn't have the energy to wrestle with the labyrinth of Xena's psyche tonight.
The next morning Gabrielle woke up to find Xena sitting cross-legged by the fire, watching her. She tried to smile at her when she saw Gabrielle was awake, but it wasn't there. Xena's hair was disheveled and dirty and browning blood stained her arms, face, and hands.
Gabrielle got up and dug in her satchel then walked over to kneel behind Xena. She began to comb her hair. She didn't say anything, just combed, stroke after stroke, combing out the tangles, combing out the flakes of drying blood and the dirt. Xena closed her eyes and held very still. Gabrielle began to carefully braid Xena's hair, intertwining the even strands, one over the other. She took the piece of leather string that she had laid on the sand and tied the braid.
When she was done Gabrielle stood up. "I'll get Argo ready."
Gabrielle looked out at the ocean. Well, at least it was a word. She sat down by Xena and mirrored her cross-legged stance. Drawn to such immediate comfort, Xena's stoic pride evaporated and she laid her head down in Gabrielle's lap.
After she had lain there quietly for many minutes, she started to feel the sensations from the world around her. She could feel the texture of the cloth of Gabrielle's skirt and Gabrielle's hand resting on her shoulder. She looked down the beach, and began to hear the muffled crash of the waves as they broke. She could smell ocean and she could feel the wind on her face. She noticed the wet sand still sticking to Gabrielle's knees from kneeling to braid her hair. Xena studiously brushed it off.
"You sleep if you want." Gabrielle said.
When Gabrielle didn't answer, Xena turned her head to look up at her. Gabrielle smiled and raised her eyebrow. "Yes?"
Xena turned to look back down the beach. "I don't like putting you through this, any of this."
Gabrielle lifted her hand from Xena's shoulder to brush her own blowing hair out of her eyes. "I know you don't."
After a few more renewing moments, Xena stood up and brushed herself off. She offered both her hands to Gabrielle and pulled her up as well.
"Ready?' Xena asked.
"'Now, l'll get Argo ready."
"I guess I'd better . ." Xena turned her hands and forearms over and back, "I'd better clean up."
"Good idea," said Gabrielle as she walked to the horse.
Xena walked into the edge of the tide and bent down in the shallow water to scrub herself clean. She looked out to the gray ocean horizon. She wondered if beyond where she could see there were lands not inhabited by cruel humans and tortured lives. Gabrielle would probably say yes, but Xena didn't think so. She stood up. She was bound to this land and to protect as many of its people as she could, till the end came.
As Xena and Gabrielle headed back the way they came, under a glorious blue sky, they caught up with hundreds of people, walking with scant belongings back to homes and towns they had abandoned as fear and death had swept through their land. There were many people helping the wounded and infirm in the march. Somehow the refugees knew of Xena and what she had done. They reached out to touch her arm and thank her as she passed them. Many had lost loved ones, but still thanked Xena simply and humbly, with sad eyes.
A woman who lost her husband in a battle reached her smiling baby out for the warrior to hold. Xena stiffened and shook her head no.
"Can I?" Gabrielle asked the mother, who nodded yes. She didn't know of the girl's bravery but she could see that she seemed very kind. Gabrielle took the baby and held it cradled in her arms. A troubled look crossed her face and she looked up at the mother.
"Is its name . .?"
"Veronica," Gabrielle and the mother said as one.
Gabrielle brushed her hand over the baby's face to distract herself from the warm flush of tears she could feel welling up. She talked softly to the girl and widened her eyes in pleasure as the baby smiled and jabbered in response.
Gabrielle stopped in the road. "Xena."
Xena stopped and turned around. "Yeah."
She saw that Gabrielle was drawing her attention to a little boy of about four. He was walking beside the tall woman. When Xena noticed him he reached up and put his hand in hers.. Xena looked down at him with warm wonder, then smiled a small smile, and walked on holding the boy's hand. Later she let him ride Argo when he grew tired before they reached his home town.
As she and Gabrielle were leaving the village, Xena came up behind her friend and tugged her hair.
"What a mess."
"Well, thank you, Xena."
"You're not going anywhere are you?"
"Are we staying here?"
"No, I mean, I told you it was time for you to go.. . ."
"Xena, it's not like I've ever been impressed with THAT one."
"Gabrielle. I'm sorry . . I never mean . ..you're . .you give me so much."
Uncomforable with the moment, Xena mounted Argo quickly.
"Xena," Gabrielle looked up at her. "Listen to me."
Xena rested her hand on the saddle horn and looked down at Gabrielle..
Gabrielle said, as if explaining to a stubborn child. "I . . . love . . .you, I'm not leaving you, I'm your friend, and . .." she looked down, then back into Xena's brilliant eyes "you are my hero."
Xena raised her eyebrow, "Still?"
"Still." Gabrielle smiled at her.
Xena reached her hand down. Gabrielle took it in hers, squeezed it and said, "Okay, that's it. I'm ready."
They began the journey back..
Claimer: I'm sorry to report that literally hundreds of crows were killed in the making of this story..
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