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Disclaimer: The usual legal stuff: Xena and Gabrielle, mumble mumble, not mine, unintelligible grunt, theirs. Profit? Ha! I wish.
Content: there's some (okay, a lot) of violence in this one (it was my 'time of the moon', okay?) - you've been warned, that is the point of these disclaimer thingies anyway. Some gory moments, but no more than your average Xena episode. No explicit, tacky and completely unnecessary sex scenes but, oh, lots of not-so-sub-text ;-) Some of the characters are my creations and, as such, I am solely responsible for their existence - though I'm not their legal guardian, you understand. So if they vandalize your garage, it's not my fault. I guess this story comes under the mystical/mystery/pile-o'-poo category and should probably be an X-Files crossover. Hey, that gives me an idea...keep in mind that this story should be read with tongue firmly in cheek.
One other thing: I swear I'll get onto the story in a moment. This story has been knocking about on my hard drive for a whileso, chronologically, I don't know where the heck it would be in the Xena-timeline. To me, it seems like a Season Two story maybe - definitely set before the nastiness of The Rift.
By Pamela Turner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the oppressive mid-morning heat Gabrielle tried unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn as she and Xena trampled through a sunny glade. On any other occasion she would have considered it a glorious day but lack of sleep tainted her perspective. The heat prickled her skin and a small river of sweat made its way between her shoulder blades. Her bardic eye took no delight in the colours of the wildflowers or the expanse of clear, blue sky. "I didn't sleep a wink last night," she muttered in complaint as she swatted an irksome stray hair away from her face....
"I slept like a rock," Xena commented indifferently, a few paces ahead. The bard noted that, typically, Xena had hardly broken a sweat.
"Yeah, well, at least rocks don't keep other people awake with their snoring," the bard accused in a ratty tone. The warrior slid a sarcastic glance at the bard through the corner of her eye. Suddenly she stopped in her tracks and raised an ear to the wind. "I should invest in some earplugs, or you could try sleeping in a different position..." The bard hadn't seen Xena stop and consequently bumped into the annoyed warrior.
"Shh!" Xena commanded. Even her finely tuned ear was incapable of ignoring the bard's incessant talking all the time.
"What is it?" Gabrielle's eyes darted nervously around the glade.
As Xena listened again she could detect the distinct call of distress: baying horses, sadistic laughter and the yelps of a helpless victim all spelt trouble. Through the dense undergrowth Xena could see a clearing and several brigands attacking an old man. Leaping out of the foliage with a flip the warrior confronted them.
"Why don't you pick on someone your own age?" Xena drawled with a feral grin. The thugs spun on their heels and laughed derisively. Three of them, one of her - seemed like easy pickings. It was hardly fair. Of course, it would be a piece of cake for the warrior princess, but little did they know. Gabrielle skulked in the background, her staff poised. One of the cut-throats lunged at Xena with his sword. The dull, reverberating clang of metal upon metal filled the clearing. Swipe, parry, parry, leap, parry, swipe. The man swiped again and lunged but Xena kicked the sword from his hand. Then one swift kick to the crotch was enough to put him out of action.
Meanwhile, one of the thugs approached Gabrielle, circling like a vulture. He ran his tongue hungrily over his lips at the sight of her exposed mid-riff. The bard shuddered involuntarily. She readied her staff. She glanced at Xena but the warrior was occupied. "Xena," she called uncertainly.
The other brigand unsheathed his sword, focusing his attention
on the warrior woman. They grinned at each other with swords
gripped, neither willing to back down as each sized their
opponent up. They merely sparred for a moment then the thug's
eyes took on a murderous gleam and he ferociously attacked the
warrior. A stray swing of his sword scratched the warrior's upper
arm. Staring down at the small nick Xena's eyes flashed with rage
and she swivelled those incandescent eyes up to meet the
brigand's. For a moment he stayed rooted to the spot, frozen in
fear. With a whimper he dropped his sword, hastily heading for
the hills. Coward. With a satisfied grin, Xena watched him
flee and turned to face her friend.
In one thick hand the attacker grabbed Gabrielle's staff mid-swing. Using his greater bulk, he wrenched it from her, the force knocking the bard backwards. The thug loomed over the prone bard. "Prepare to meet your death, pretty." The ugly oaf spat with a wicked laugh. Gabrielle was completely at his mercy; she had never felt so vulnerable. He raised his sword above his head and Gabrielle watched in sickened terror as it glinted in the sunlight. Barely able to move from fear, Gabrielle stared up at him. In one last desperate attempt she screamed for the warrior's assistance. "Xena! Help me!" Terror then gripped her by the throat, her voice seizing up. She was blinded by the glare as the sword was brought down rapidly. The chakram streaked before her vision, distracting the thug. He grinned and the bard began to make her last prayer to the Gods. The brute leaned forward and she shielded her head instinctively with her arms. There was a loud thunk and she peeked through her fingers to see tan thighs and Xena's stony stare bearing down on her. The warrior stooped down to retrieve the chakram embedded as it was in the brigand's back. The sunlight was blocked out by Xena's frame. As Gabrielle sat up she thought the most unfriendly things about her friend; anger snatched her. She glared up at Xena in silence. Noticing the change in the atmosphere like the changing direction of the wind Xena looked back at the bard. She raised one arrogant eyebrow as she wiped the blood off the chakram with the thug's shirt. "What?" But she didn't wait for a response. She turned and strolled towards the other felled thug.
The bard narrowed her eyes as she watched the warrior search the thug. There was something very wrong here but she couldn't place what. All she knew was that, for a moment there, Xena had almost let her be garrotted by that brigand. Shoving the fallen villain's limbs off of her the bard managed to hobble to her feet. Finding nothing to identify the man, Xena punched him in the face to make sure he was out for a while.
Gabrielle turned her attention towards the old man. He appeared to be blind, the way he was groping around amongst the bushes frantically. Examining the clearing, Gabrielle wondered what he was looking for. She approached him carefully, not wanting to startle him. "Are you looking for something?"
Relief flooded the old man's features. "A flask, an ornate flask with swirling patterns painted on the side."
The bard looked again but saw nothing. "It's not here I'm afraid. I think the man who escaped must've taken it."
The old man's face darkened again, a look of pure fear in his eyes. "Hades! I must get it back. They don't know what they've done!" Taking the old man's hand, Gabrielle helped him to his feet.
"Was it valuable?" she asked as the old man straightened his clothes.
"More than you know," the old man muttered despondently. "More valuable than anything in the world. And now it's gone..." The man drooped and sank back down onto the ground. The bard pondered for a moment. She and Xena hadn't made any specific plans; maybe they could help him.
"What's your name?" She asked suddenly.
He smiled weakly. "Sirius."
Making an excuse, Gabrielle turned back to Xena. Her annoyance at the warrior had been overtaken by concern as she saw the weeping cut on Xena's arm. She approached Xena tentatively. "Are you okay?" Gabrielle asked quietly. The warrior glanced over her shoulder at the bard. There was something unmistakably different about her; her eyes seemed to be almost darker. Probably just her mood, Gabrielle considered. The colour of Xena's eyes often indicated the subtle change of her mood, and the bard took a certain amount of pride in being able to recognize that.
The warrior rolled her eyes in exasperation. "It's just a scratch, Gabrielle," she dismissed as she sheathed her sword. "Stings some but I'll survive. How's the old guy?"
Gabrielle glanced at him. "I'm worried about him Xena. One of the thugs got away with a flask. It means a lot to him," she paused, waiting to gauge Xena's reaction. "Do you think we could get it back for him?"
There was a long moment of silence then the warrior nodded almost imperceptibly. The bard gave an engaging smile and laid a hand on Xena's unharmed arm. "Thanks, Xena."
Before Gabrielle went to tell Sirius the good
news Xena added: "You never know, he might give us a reward
if it's so valuable." Seeing the look of almost fury in
Gabrielle's eyes, Xena quickly held up one hand. "A joke,
When facing my demons I clothe them and feed them
And I smile, yes I smile As they're taking me over
Catatonia, "Strange Glue"
As they travelled along the well worn road to the next town, Xena walking ahead by Argo, Gabrielle chattered animatedly to Sirius. He was delighted to hear her stories of her adventures with Xena and more traditional bardic tales. The old man was happy to recount his own life story at the young bard's insistence. His life was comparatively mundane compared to Gabrielle's but she was an attentive listener. From time to time Xena would glance over her shoulder at them, nostrils flaring and a low curse tripping off her tongue. Knowing better than to confront Xena in one of her moods (probably her time of the moon, Gabrielle realized) the bard ignored her sulking. Gods only knew what was eating her. And Gabrielle valued her life too much to find out the cause right now.
It soon became apparent that Sirius was unable to match the brisk pace that the young women were accustomed to. Aware of this, Gabrielle asked Xena if they could make a short stop for lunch. After much grumbling the warrior grudgingly agreed. They found a peaceful stop not far from the road and set themselves down. Opening up her travel bag, Gabrielle made a mental note to get more provisions at the next village. She broke off a chunk of bread for each of them and divided the cheese equally. Looking around she saw Xena leaning against a tree, arms folded across her chest, obviously still in a huff judging by the frown on her face. The warrior kicked the tree trunk with one booted heel in obvious boredom..
Getting to her feet, Gabrielle offered Xena a piece of bread. "Here, have some cheese too." Gabrielle handed Xena her share of cheese. The warrior took it without a word.
She tried a different tactic. "Want me to take a look at your arm?"
"My arm is fine," Xena replied sharply.
"It's no trouble - I've got some great ointment that should do the trick, it'll take away the sting. I'll just go - " As Gabrielle moved to fetch her travel bag Xena grabbed her a little too forcefully by the wrist. The young bard was almost shocked by the dangerous glint in Xena's eyes. She'd never seen Xena so fired up; she could almost smell the warrior's blood boiling. Maybe she was so peeved because someone had managed to hurt her. But she'd been hurt before and had never got so homicidal about it. Still, there was nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.
The warrior hissed through gritted teeth: "I told you I'm fine. Got that?"
Eyes wide, Gabrielle nodded once and Xena released her hand. Deciding to allow Xena some time to cool off, Gabrielle turned back to Sirius. "I hope you don't mind me asking, Sirius, but what's so precious about your flask? I mean, why would anyone want to steal it?"
The man's contentment from eating lunch quickly soured. "The flask is a sacred object," he replied cryptically. "By falling into the wrong hands it could spell disaster." After much prodding Gabrielle could get no more out of him. So she decided to give up. For now.
Once they had packed up again they started off towards the road. Then the most inexplicable thing happened. As Xena moved to take Argo's reins the horse whickered and backed away from her. She tried again with a growl but received the same response. The bard watched in amusement. "Looks like your bad mood's catching,(.)" Gabrielle quipped but was silenced by the look Xena drew her. Her attempt at humour fell flat.
The bard quickly turned her attention to guiding Sirius towards the road. Gabrielle could foresee that the rest of the day was going to be very trying. She couldn't remember a time when she'd wished as much for night to fall. Maybe after a good night's sleep they would all feel better, she tried to convince herself. As they moved onto the road, Gabrielle realized that Xena had not followed. When she turned she was surprised to see the warrior standing a short distance from Argo. She merely stood there, silently eyeballing the horse. Argo was snorting and stamping her hooves in agitation. "Stay here," Gabrielle said to Sirius. "Well I'm not going anywhere." He grinned in response. Cautiously, Gabrielle approached her friend.
"Xena, what's wrong?" She asked calmly.
The warrior's lip curled up at the corner in a sneer. "Stupid horse wont move."
Gabrielle glanced round at Argo. She had never seen such a frightened look in the war-horse's eyes. She couldn't understand this: countless nights she had watched Xena brushing and whispering words to her horse. In fact, Gabrielle almost envied the attention that the warrior lavished on Argo. "Hey, girl," Gabrielle murmured next to the horse's pricked up ears. "What's wrong?" The horse backed away from Xena, nostrils flaring. She eyed Xena curiously. She was tensed as if ready to pounce. Slowly, Gabrielle eased herself between the two.
"Uh, Xena, maybe you should walk on ahead. I don't know what's got Argo so skittish..." She ventured.
The warrior's eyes swivelled to fix upon Gabrielle. The bard felt the hair lift off her neck. "Are you saying I can't even control my own horse?" She asked in a dangerous growl.
"Of course not," Gabrielle laughed nervously. "I was just saying she seems a little...afraid of you. And to be honest, so am I."
Xena snorted derisively. "So you should be, little girl." Gabrielle was taken aback. Little girl??!!! If she hadn't been so stunned she might've used a few choice phrases of her own, decidedly more colourful. Just as she opened her mouth to let rip, Sirius chose that moment to stumble back towards them (probably saving her life).
"Is everything alright?" He spoke uncertainly. His blind gaze lurching around, searching mid-air.
They were silent for a long moment. Eventually Gabrielle turned to Sirius and gave him a brave smile. "Yes, everything's fine." She said between clenched teeth. She folded up her staff and packed it away in one of the saddlebags. Then, pausing only to throw a withering look in Xena's direction, she took hold of Argo's reins and the horse willingly followed her onto the road. Sirius was left with Xena. Sneering at him unseen, she grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and pushed him towards the road despite his protestations.
They did not make good time that day. By nightfall they were five miles from the town and Sirius announced that he could walk no further. So they stopped to make camp for the night. There was an ideal spot just off the track that was secluded with a bubbling crook running nearby. The presence of Sirius made little difference to their usual routine as he couldn't do much to help. He sat by the fire and listened as Gabrielle spun him a story about Hercules and the Hydra. It was a pleasant change to have an enthusiastic and responsive audience. Xena merely grunted occasionally to prove she was still listening. But Sirius would ask questions, and compliment her technique. It almost lifted her spirits. As usual, Xena sat against a tree sharpening her sword. When Sirius was asleep, Gabrielle attended to Argo. Xena made no protest. It was then that Gabrielle knew something was seriously wrong - the warrior never let anyone groom her horse. By the time Gabrielle had finished with Argo, she noted Xena had ceased with the sword and merely stared into the fire. The bard decided enough was enough, she was going to talk to Xena even if it meant getting her head chakramed off.
She sat as unobtrusively as possible on the hard ground, an arm's length from the warrior. Xena made no acknowledgement of her presence. "Xena," she began, her voice betraying her frustration, "Are you going to tell me what's wrong with you?"
The warrior continued to stare at the fire, the flames dancing across her black pupils. "I don't know what you mean." She replied in an eerily calm, melodious voice. There was a strange serenity about her. Though disconcerting, it was also very appealing - it was as if some aura radiated from her friend.
"I mean this," Gabrielle gestured with her hands, "You're acting so strangely - not like yourself. I'm worried."
Xena turned to face her. She looked Gabrielle directly in the eyes, the first time she had done so all day. And the warrior smiled - it almost made Gabrielle forget where she was, why she was even having this discussion. She loved Xena's smile, rare and beautiful as it was. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. I've never felt better in my life. I guess something just...got into me." Another beaming white smile. The bard wasn't sure which was worse: the sullen, volatile Xena or the weird, cryptic one. Either way, she wasn't convinced.
But she couldn't help but return the smile; it was infectious. "Well, you're not the only one," the bard conceded. "I've been a little testy myself today." She paused and gave Xena a playful dig with her elbow. "Lack of sleep does that to me."
Xena made a sarcastic face then a smirk tugged at her lips. "I've got the perfect cure for a testy bard...."
"Oh yeah? What?" Gabrielle bantered gamely. She was glad to see Xena returning to her usual self.
"Tickle fight!" Xena drawled then launched herself at the bard, wrestling her to the ground. Swinging one leg over, she straddled Gabrielle's thighs while roving hands quickly found the bard's most ticklish spots at her sides. Unable to stifle a squeal, Gabrielle squirmed under the relentless assault and giggled uncontrollably. Still mindful of waking Sirius with their horseplay, Xena clamped a firm hand over the bard's mouth and stilled her tickling hand on Gabrielle's exposed midriff. Another brilliant smile from the warrior dissolved Gabrielle's struggles. She gazed up at Xena, lost in the blue eyes that sparkled with mischief. The bard's gaze fell to the warrior's lips as they curved into that smile and wondered what they would feel like pressed against her own. Shoving that dangerous thought away, Gabrielle gently pushed Xena off her and stood abruptly. She could see the bemused expression on the warrior's face.
"I should get some sleep. Goodnight Xena," She said softly, her embarrassment colouring her cheeks, and crossed over to her bedroll beside the campfire.
"Sweet dreams, Gabrielle," Xena smiled and watched the bard as she went.
The next morning Gabrielle was even more tired than the day before. Sleep had eluded her, especially since her groggy mind had kept taunting her with visions of Xena kissing her - and a whole lot more. She shivered, trying not to remember. This was not good. Camp was packed up quickly and the warrior's mood seemed much improved. She was even pleasant to Sirius. But for some inexplicable reason, Argo was still wary of Xena and became restless when she came near. The warrior shrugged it off and told Gabrielle to lead the horse again.
As the bard led Argo back onto the road, with Sirius close beside holding onto the saddle, there was a blood-curdling screech from behind them. Whipping round suddenly, Gabrielle saw the warrior drop to her knees clutching her wounded arm. Dropping her staff, Gabrielle rushed to her friend in panic, unsure what to do. The warrior was screaming in agony, a howl that sickened Gabrielle's very soul. She tried to reach out and comfort Xena but the warrior shoved her away. She could only watch helplessly as her friend wretched and convulsed. Finally, Xena keeled over onto her side and ceased to move. For one desolate moment the bard's heart stopped as she wondered if, if....
"X-Xena?" She stuttered, terrified by the prospect of losing her best friend. Gathering the remnants of her courage she hauled the warrior over onto her back. Her skin was deathly pale and her eyes shut tight. Unable to look any longer, Gabrielle hid her face in her hands. But then there was a rustle of movement, an unmistakable low groan, and the bard's head snapped up. Xena was alive!
It took Gabrielle several moments to realize that Xena had undergone some kind of change. Those familiar sapphire eyes were now like two chips of darkest onyx. The warrior blinked, as if becoming accustomed to the light of day after a lifetime of being shut in the dark. She gazed down at her own hands in astonishment. Gabrielle could only stare; she had never witnessed such a transformation.
"Xena?" She repeated uncertainly.
The warrior's head snapped up. She narrowed her eyes like she didn't recognize the bard at all. It was like staring into the void of a dark soul when Gabrielle looked into her friend's eyes. It made her shiver, as if a cool wind had blown from nowhere. A slow smile spread across Xena's lips but it was unlike any smile she had ever seen on her friend's face. It was twisted, unsettling and it made her skin crawl. "Gab-ri-elle." The warrior drawled but it was not her voice.
"Please, Gods, no!" Sirius wailed suddenly from behind. "Oh, what a calamity!"
The bard leapt up, leaving Xena in her fascination with the surroundings, to accost Sirius. "What in Tartarus is going on here?" She demanded.
"Tartarus is right. It's too late. We're doomed. Doomed!"
The bard was about to beat some sense into him
with her staff when the world suddenly went dark and a sharp pain
issued from her skull to every nerve in her body. She hadn't
noticed Xena creep up behind her or the crack of the sword hilt
against her skull. "The world will bow down to me, including
you!" Xena sneered. "Sweet dreams, Gabrielle."
When Gabrielle eventually came to she found, with irritation, that she had a thumping headache. She groaned and gingerly rubbed the back of her head. There was a lump the size of Mount Olympus there and it hurt like Tartarus. The recollection of what had happened sharpened into focus and Gabrielle growled. There was no sign of Sirius or Xena. Hauling herself up she felt dizzy and sick for a moment. Feeling lost and nauseous, she decided to stick with their original plan and head for the nearest village on foot. She wasn't sure how long she had been unconscious but it was nightfall by the time she reached the village.
The locals regarded her suspiciously. She had to discover what she was dealing with here: obviously Xena was not herself and Sirius hadn't told her the whole truth about that flask. She could see there was a connection but she couldn't figure it out. A loud rumble of complaint came from her stomach. She decided that she couldn't think on an empty stomach so she strolled into the local tavern. The tavern was fairly empty with only a handful of patrons scattered at a few tables. She approached the tavern keeper at the bar on unsteady feet.
"Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me." The man regarded her sourly but she continued. "I'm looking for my friend. She's about so high - " Gabrielle indicated somewhere about a full head above her own. "Lots of leather. Dark hair. Intense blue eyes. Well, they're kinda black now actually."
Immediately the patrons stopped drinking and eyeballed her. She sniffed her armpits then shrugged. The tavern keeper folded his arms across his chest. "You're not welcome here, stranger. Leave."
The bard felt her indigence rise. "Look here, all I want is a meal. I'm a paying customer - I have as much right to be here as anyone else. Unless my money isn't good enough for you."
"I won't serve anyone who's a friend of the warrior witch."The tavern keeper replied in violent disgust. A few of the burlier men emerged from the dark corners of the tavern and gravitated towards the bar. The bard glanced at each of them in apprehension. Injured as she was and with only her staff, she was no match for their superior height and strength.
She held up her hands in appeasement. "Okay, okay, I can take a hint. But when my friend hears about this, don't expect her to spare your lives." Gabrielle announced in her loudest and most dramatic voice. She knew that it was a hollow threat. As she turned to leave she heard a familiar voice.
"Wait." It was Sirius. "I know her, she helped save my life. She's innocent in this." The old man appeared as the burly men parted to let him through.
The bard felt anger overtake her relief to see him. "You have got some explaining to do, Sirius." She said in a terse whisper.
He nodded mournfully. "I know. Come, sit and eat with me."
After ordering a hot meal and a mug of cider from the tavern keeper, Gabrielle and Sirius settled at a table beside the huge fireplace. The bard was relieved to feel the warmth of the fire on her skin and the warmth of the meal in her stomach. Her policy of interrogation was eat first, ask questions later. And preferably after seconds.
Pushing the empty plate away, Gabrielle fixed her eyes on the old man. "First things first, do you know what's happened to my friend?"
Sirius knitted his hands together. "Let me explain from the start. Before I was attacked I was returning the flask to the local temple. You see, the flask contained a nymph imprisoned by the Gods - Meagan, they call her - and somehow the nymph's spirit has escaped. The flask probably broke during the ambush. Obviously, the thieves had thought me an easy target and the flask must've appeared to be an attractive acquisition for them. Ignorant fools! They don't know what they've unleashed."
"So what you're saying is that somehow this...nymph, this Meagan, has gained possession of Xena's body?" The bard asked sceptically.
Sirius nodded. "Precisely. When your friend was wounded, Meagan saw a portal to mortal form and entered her body through the wound."
"Surely she still has her own mind?"
The old man pursed his lips. "Perhaps. But I doubt she'll be able to exert control over Meagan. She is driven by vengeance and madness and is very, very strong. Your friend may be lost already...."
"Lost?" Gabrielle interrupted abruptly. "Excuse me - what do you mean 'lost'?"
Sirius gazed in her general direction with a sorrowful expression. "I fear it may be too late for her. Once the nymph spirit enters her body it begins to diffuse with her own innate spirit, or soul, if you like. At least, if my memory serves correct. " He gave an apologetic chuckle. "The knowledge has been passed down through the generations of priests. I'm afraid my memory isn't what it used to be." It was just as well he couldn't see Gabrielle's total lack of faith. "Anyway, depending on the strength of the individual it may take hours or days."
"Xena's very strong," Gabrielle interjected quickly.
"Yes, I'm sure she is."
Gabrielle stared unseeingly into the fire. The reality of the situation was only just beginning to sink in. In all probability she would lose her best friend, her true family and home. She would be alone. Xena would neither human or entity but something in between, subjugated and possessed by this nymph spirit. It all seemed so implausible. In her mind's eye, Xena was invincible - nothing, not warlords or creatures or the Ares himself could break or defeat her. "What can I do?" The bard asked, ending the silence.
"She must be saved before Meagan has time to gain full possession. Otherwise she'll be doomed to spend eternity as Meagan's mortal vessel."
"Hmm, so I can see we're optimistic about our chances then," Gabrielle joked tastelessly then saw the look of perturbation on Sirius's face and apologized. "Sorry,"
"But that's not all," The old man continued gravely. "The thugs that attacked us have joined forces with her. She sent them to abduct a child from the village. We couldn't stop them - the men were out in the fields and it was only the women and the elderly here. They said they'd spare our lives and not burn the village if we handed over an infant willingly. Meagan requires the blood of an innocent to speed up the diffusion process and seal the bond forever."
The bard was appalled. "You mean she's going to sacrifice a child?" Taking a deep breath, the bard sighed heavily - why did these things always have to happen in three's? Just for once she wished her life would run smoothly. "So how can we save Xena?"
"I believe that only an act of true love
can save her soul." The young bard pondered grimly. An act
of true love? There wasn't enough time to find Hercules, nor,
even at a long shot, Ulysses. She ran through a mental list of
all Xena's past lovers. Nope, they were all dead - or they
weren't on speaking terms. She would have to solve the problem
herself. Surely friendship could be considered true love? She did
love Xena, though there was some confusion in her mind as
to how much and in what way. Still, she was sure of one thing,
she was the warrior's only chance.
After a short visit to the village healer to get the lump on the back of her head checked out, Gabrielle stopped by the tavern to purchase supplies for her journey. She was busy bartering a better price when she was approached by Sirius and the men who had almost picked a fight with her the previous evening. The bard raised her eyebrow expectantly as the blind man stepped forward. "We'd like to help you rescue the child from Meagan." She said, emphatically ringing his hands.
Gabrielle smiled. "That's very generous of you but it's a dangerous mission and - "
"All the more reason you should let us help," One of the other men piped up, named Oberon. "You're in no condition to take on Xena and her men by yourself."
"Plus, I know more about Meagan than you do." Sirius added.
Gabrielle eyed the little conspiracy before her. She shrugged. "Well, if you put it that way..." She said dryly before giving a genuine smile. "I'd appreciate your help. We'll need more provisions then, and horses. We don't have much time."
Once outside, Gabrielle joined the assembled men in the village square. She was startled to see the familiar flank of a white palomino. "Argo!" She exclaimed, hugging the horse's neck exuberantly. "She's Xena's horse." She said sheepishly to the confused men, by way of explanation.
"We found her on the outskirts of the village." Oberon explained.
Argo nudged the bard's shoulder with her nose. "I know girl," Gabrielle said softly, reaching up to scratch the horse behind the ears. "I miss her too. But I promise I'll get her back...somehow." She turned to face the men with a look of grim determination. "Let's go."
That morning the eight of them, including Gabrielle and Sirius, set off on horseback to the caves where the villagers suspected the child was being held. Xena's men had taken no care in covering their tracks and it wasn't long before they found their trail. The further they travelled and the nearer they got to the caves, the more certain Gabrielle became that Xena was fighting Meagan with all the strength she had. She could feel it in her gut. It was a difficult trek over arduous terrain so they stopped around midday for a short break and lunch. The bard took the opportunity to answer the insistent call of nature. On her return she overheard a snatch of the villagers' conversation.
"I'll tell you," One of the men said, "I'm looking forward to running a sword through that warrior witch." Blood boiling, the bard resisted the urge to storm out from her hiding place in the bushes and show him the sharp end of a sword himself.
There were murmurs of assent. "We'll be heroes when we bring her head back on a pike." Anotherdeclared.
"Harold," The voice of Oberon said warningly.
"What?" Harold replied incredulously. "We came along to bring that...woman to justice."
"The justice of our swords!" One man shouted.
"What kind of justice is that?" Gabrielle demanded angrily as she stalked from the bushes. "What kind of justice would murder a woman who can't control her actions? She is my friend, my responsibility." The bard glared at each of them in turn, daring them to challenge her. The all glanced away guiltily. "You'll have to go through me first. You are here to help rescue the child - nothing more. Do you understand me?"
The men nodded and mumbled their agreement. "Good." With that Gabrielle walked off to attend to the horses. After she had left, Oberon stood and stared at his fellow men. He shook his head in disgust. "You should be ashamed of yourselves." He muttered before joining Gabrielle.
It was late afternoon by the time they reached the caves. It didn't surprise Gabrielle that the warrior should choose these caves to make her base - there were similar such caves all over Greece that Xena's army had used at some time or another. This was more than likely one of them. As the band of volunteers approached the cave entrance, Xena's men appeared from within, blocking the way. Though the villagers outnumbered the men, they were far better equipped.
"Well, well, well," The leader grinned wolfishly. "What have we here? A little girl, an old man and a few farm boys. Why don't you all run back home. While you still can." The other guards snickered.
The villagers jumped down from their mounts and Gabrielle followed suit, staff poised defensively. "Okay, I might be mistaken - but weren't you the one who ran away the other day?" The bard turned to Oberon. "Coward," She said, nodding towards the leader, just loud enough for him to hear. To add insult to injury she wiggled her pinkie suggestively.
"What did you say?" The leader said through gritted teeth.
"I said you were a coward," Gabrielle replied nonchalantly.
"You just made a big mistake, little girl," The man sneered, rushing at her erratically. With one low swoop of her staff, Gabrielle took his feet out from under her. He stared up at her, eyes blazing with fury.
"Correction - you just made a bigger one. I'm no little girl, I'm the Amazon Queen." The henchman's eyes widened and Gabrielle viciously whacked him across the face with her staff, rendering him unconscious. This was the signal for the fight to begin in earnest as the villagers charged at the other henchmen. Xena's men were no match for the villager's sheer enthusiasm and were quickly subdued and tied up.
"Take these men back to the village. It's up to the law to decide their punishment." Gabrielle announced, hands on hips. She watched in satisfaction as the villagers began rounding up the fallen thugs. Yep, I could definitely get used to this commanding stuff, she thought.
"What about you?" Oberon asked in genuine concern.
"I'll be fine, I have to handle this
alone."She replied grimly. With a grimace she stepped over
the prone body of one of the brigands as she made for the cave.
If I was weak, forgive me
But I was terrified
You brushed my eyes with angel's wings, full of love
The kind that makes devils cry
As soon as she set foot in the cave there came a low, guttural laugh that echoed around the cavernous place. At the far side of the cave the infant was placed on a high ceremonial altar. Judging by the squawks and gurgles the baby was very much alive. Her hair whipped from side to side as she glanced around the cave. Xena was here somewhere, watching, waiting but making her presence known. A entirely rational desire for the preservation of her own life made Gabrielle feel like calling out to the men she knew were waiting outside. But she would not place them in any further danger. It was only now that she truly understood why Xena had left her behind so many times in their early days together. Approaching the altar cautiously, Gabrielle felt a sudden gust of wind behind her making the hairs on her neck stand on end. She turned in time to see Xena flip through the air and land silently a few paces in front of her, blocking her path to the child. The spirit was clearly not yet accustomed to the warrior's body as she staggered a little after landing and stooped slightly. All of which Gabrielle noted could be used to her own advantage. In one swift movement, Xena unsheathed her sword, grinning like a maniac, twirling it around in her hand like a toy. Despite the distance between them, Xena's eyes shone like pools of darkness, reflecting the light of the torches fixed to the walls. Her skin was chalk white. She looked ethereal, like some goddess of darkness yet she was disorientatingly beautiful.
"Ah, Gabrielle, I've been waiting so long for you," Xena crooned wickedly. Her voice rang in the bard's ears, before breaking into a thousand tiny fragments, the sounds distracting her concentration. A trick of course. The warrior's voice hardened. "I wanted an audience for this."
"Give up the child. It's me you want." The bard replied calmly as she edged around Xena trying to get nearer to the altar. If she could just keep it talking....
The warrior snorted in amusement then sneered, with teeth flashing like fangs. "You? Why in Tartarus would I want you? Nothing will stand between me and my destiny. And certainly not a little girl who thinks she's an Amazon Queen!"
Although stung by Xena's words she tried to ignore them and she wished everyone would quit calling her 'little girl'. It's not Xena she kept telling herself like a mantra. Then she had an idea. "Think about it. Wouldn't a pure hearted, innocent virgin be an even bigger sacrifice?"
A laugh formed on Xena's lips then slipped. She cocked her head to one side. "But, but you were with Perdicus..." For the briefest moment there was a glimpse of the real Xena in the warrior's eyes. Then it was gone. A fleeting ray of light in the darkness.
Gabrielle swallowed uneasily. "On our wedding night, Perdicus - well, he couldn't..." She was rudely interrupted by a cruel burst of twisted laughter. Xena almost doubled over in hysterics. There was a sudden spark of anger in Gabrielle's heart as she glared at the warrior, even though she had lied about Perdicus's performance. Her friend would never have reacted like that. This monster was not her friend. The bard's resolve only hardened - time was of the essence.
Wiping the tears from her eyes and composing herself almost as instantaneously as she had lost control, Xena advanced slowly on Gabrielle, sword poised. The movements were languid now, almost sensual and the bard couldn't help but catch her breath - even though she faced imminent death. Damn her libido to Hades! "Alright," Xena drawled then snickered, "Shame about old Perdickless. Even if you aren't as chaste as you claim to be I'm going to enjoy slitting your irritating little throat." As Xena held the tip of the blade against the bard's neck, her eyebrow quirked. That familiar gesture was almost the bard's undoing. "Any last words?"
"Only this..." Gabrielle said through gritted teeth as she rammed her staff violently into Xena's abdomen. Much as it pained her to do it, it had to be done. The warrior dropped her sword and sank to the ground clutching her stomach. Immediately, Gabrielle kicked the sword away far from Xena's reach. She swung her staff once more and it connected with Xena's jaw, knocking the warrior backwards. She lay on the ground, motionless. In a sickening moment, Gabrielle wondered whether she had killed her friend. Then she saw those horrifyingly black eyes open and peer up at her. For a brief second Gabrielle stared into those eyes for some sign of familiarity but with despair, found none. The warrior's mouth curved into a taunting grin. Thinking quickly, Gabrielle threw herself on top of Xena, pressing her full weight down and pinning the warrior to the ground. It was perhaps a futile move but she was at a loss for any other plan of action. Keeping Xena in one place at least bought her some time.
In a lightening movement Xena produced her breast dagger, catching the bard unaware. She pressed the dagger against Gabrielle's pale throat. The bard hadn't anticipated this turn of events, having completely forgotten about Xena's concealed weapon. Somehow the proximity to the warrior's bosom drove all ration, coherent thought from her mind. "Nice try, Gabrielle," Xena smirked from beneath her. She eyed the bard in brazen appraisal. "Believe me, I'm tempted...but then I wouldn't have a virgin to sacrifice would I?"
As Xena moved to slit her throat, Gabrielle gazed tenderly into the warrior's eyes. She tried to replace the black emptiness with the piercing blue she knew so well. She had to get through to Xena somehow. "Please, Xena, don't." She implored.
"I'm not Xena anymore." The warrior snarled in annoyance.
"In your heart you are. Xena, listen to me. I know you're in there, somewhere. Fight her," the bard urged. "You are stronger than her. You can't allow this to happen. You can't allow her to win. You can beat her, I know you can. Do it for the greater good. Hades, do it for me!"
The warrior seemed muddled and distracted. "I could take you out with a flick of my wrist." She hissed, brow furrowed.
The bard knew she only had to push a little further, she could see the spirit's hold weakening rapidly. In a moment of clarity, Gabrielle knew exactly what she had to do. She remembered Sirius's words, only an act of love could save Xena's soul. It would be an act of such honesty that she had never bestowed before. "Remember when you saved my life in Poteidaia? That day you saved my soul too. I was so alone until you came into my life and then I knew I'd never be alone again as long as I was with you. You've taught me so much, Xena - about the world, about life, about myself. We taught each other how to love. Don't you remember?"
Hesitantly, Xena drew back the dagger from Gabrielle's delicate throat. She was bewildered, her eyes wide. A solitary tear trickled down her pale cheek. "I remember." She whispered hoarsely, her voice more like her own.
"Come back, Xena. I need you."
Gripped with complete assurance, Gabrielle lowered her head and touched her lips to Xena's. At first the warrior bolted but her resistance dissolved and she sank into the kiss, half returning the sentiment. The bard had only meant for it to be a small peck but then she discovered just how delicious Xena's lips were and that she didn't want to stop. And she was greedy for more. She felt a warmth dwelling in her chest, a quickness in her heart and a tingle in her loins. Finally Gabrielle broke off the kiss and drew back waiting and hoping for the miracle to come, for her love to materialize before her eyes. "I love you." She said quietly. But when Xena opened her eyes they were still that cruel, heartless black. The bard felt tears welling in her eyes; it was too late, if only she had....
Suddenly there was a searing explosive pain in her side. When she glanced down she saw the hilt of the dagger protruding from her side. She felt the blade between her ribs, burning her insides. Blood pooled on the ground beside her. She emitted a low grunt as she rolled off Xena onto her back. Then the darkness eclipsed her vision as she fainted.
Heal me with your crime
The only one who ever knew me
We've wasted so much time
So much time
George Michael, "???"
Xena had almost surrendered to her tiredness, her eyelids too heavy to keep open, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Instinctively, with a start, Xena reached for her sword. Then her senses told her it was only Lila, Gabrielle's younger sister. Still wary of the warrior, Lila took a step backwards. With a flicker of a smile Xena shuddered and replaced the sword in its scabbard. "Sorry. I guess I'm a little jumpy."
More at ease, Lila sighed." I think we all got a scare when you brought Gabrielle back home." She gazed with troubled eyes at her sister lying immobile on the bed for a moment then turned her attention to the fatigued warrior. There was genuine concern in her words as she spoke: "You should rest, Xena. This isn't doing you or Gabrielle any good."
The warrior shook her head miserably and her eyes fell upon the small, broken form of Gabrielle, filling with hidden tears. "I have to be near her. It's my fault. I should never have let her have anything to do with me. If she'd stayed here - with her family...."
Lila laying a hand on her shoulder again interrupted her though this time the warrior didn't flinch. "Xena, you are a part of our family now. The Gods know we haven't always approved of Gabrielle's decision to travel with you. But that's in the past. Besides, you of all people should know how stubborn Gabby can be," Lila paused with a laugh. Despite herself, Xena grinned. Lila grew serious again. "All I know is that when Gabrielle met you she came alive and that I don't think I've ever seen her happier than when she's with you. So don't blame yourself - I know she wouldn't."
When Lila had finished her speech and departed Xena was a little surprised. She had to admit that she felt a new-found sense of respect for Gabrielle's sister. In a way it was Gabrielle's blood family giving a blessing to her friendship with Gabrielle. Yet Xena couldn't dispel the guilt that was heavy in her heart. She was indebted to Gabrielle; the bard had risked her life to save her own. Absently, Xena reached down and stroked the bard's golden hair. Such bravery, such a true, noble heart. She made a silent prayer to the Gods to show their mercy. She stooped and placed a tender kiss on Gabrielle's forehead then turned her attention to the task at hand.
Gently, Xena lifted the dressing over the wound on Gabrielle's abdomen. The skin was inflamed and crusted with scabs. Just to look at it made Xena's heart sick with shame. She brushed her fingertips over the raised, scarred skin and winced, committing the sensation to memory. A memory indelibly written in her mind to serve as a reminder of how she had hurt and failed her friend. She closed her eyes as bitter tears coursed down her cheeks. With the utmost care Xena applied ointment to the wounded skin and fixed a fresh dressing over it. As she did so the bard stirred and groaned quietly. Raw panic seized Xena. She could only hope Gabrielle would somehow find it in her heart to forgive her. "Gabrielle?" she asked with trepidation. "Gabrielle can you hear me?"
Rousing slowly, Gabrielle finally managed to prise open one eye then the other. She gazed up at the warrior expectantly. "Xena?" Her voice caught in the back of her throat. "You are Xena aren't you?" Sheepishly, Xena nodded. What appeared to be relief flooded the bard's emerald green eyes. Then she began to weep. Without hesitation, Xena drew her close, careful not to brush against the wound.
"What's wrong Gabrielle? Tell me." The warrior hushed, caressing the bard's cheek, which only seemed to make her more distressed.
Choking back tears, Gabrielle sighed. "I thought I'd lost you." She held on tightly to the warrior's leather clad waist, as if her life depended on it. There was a short burst of indulgent laughter from Xena. "You can't get rid of me that easily, you're stuck with me. But, I thought I'd lost you too." She smiled.
The bard responded with a bleary smile of her own. "I'd never felt so alone in my life." Gabrielle added, her tears drying.
The warrior nuzzled her nose into the bard's strawberry blonde hair. "You are my life, Gabrielle." She confessed. They were reduced to awkward silence, merely holding onto each other as if not yet convinced of the other's safety. Then they were unable to move from this embrace, a kind of warmth surrounded them that lulled and comforted.
It had been hours, perhaps many days - her unconscious mind had no concept of time - since Gabrielle had gazed upon Xena's face (though it had been much altered) and now she savoured the proximity. She laid her head wearily upon Xena's chest and listened to the steady drum of the warrior's heart. She drank in the familiar scent of Xena's skin and her eyes fixed upon the place where Xena's neck merged gracefully with her shoulder. It had everything she could possibly want, everything she could ever need. As her mind wandered she imagined she could build a hovel and live there. Before she was even aware of it her lips were there, relishing the faint saltiness. A muscle flexed under her lips and Gabrielle reluctantly withdrew from her haven. She was met with wide eyes of incandescent blue and pupils as dark as the night sky. For fear she was unable to speak, to explain herself, she could scarcely draw breath. And Xena's lips looked so delicious, so edible and provoked a hunger so profound in her.
But there was also an immense tenderness in those blue eyes, a tenderness so great it could mean only one thing. How long she had wanted to see love reflected there. Yet she instinctively knew it had always been there, only she had been too blind to see it. Slowly, with amazing self-control, Gabrielle reached up to trace Xena's slightly parted lips. The warrior's warm breath passed over her trembling fingertips. Gabrielle's dusky green eyes snapped shut. Without hesitation, Xena inclined her head slightly and leaned in to kiss Gabrielle's sweet lips. She smoothed her hands over the bard's golden hair, the soft strands caressing her callused palms, having longed for this intimacy for an eternity. For her part, Gabrielle held onto Xena like she was drowning - an in a sense she was. She would happily let the flood wash over her.
When they separated, the connection, the powerful sense of having touched souls remained potent. The knowledge of this union brought the bard close to weeping tears of joy, of relief. She realized that they were like opposites - as light was to dark. But perfectly balanced, they complimented each other. They simply fitted. She found herself unable to break from Xena's gaze; those heady azure depths beckoned her. "Be mine, Gabrielle. You're my light. Will you be my love?"
There was no doubt in Gabrielle's mind. "Always." She whispered. Gently, she brought Xena's face close to her own. Then she claimed the warrior's mouth in the most exquisite kiss and everything in her life before it paled suddenly.
While Gabrielle made her farewells to her family, Xena secured the travel bags on Argo's saddle and spoke in a loving murmur to the horse. It had been hard going trying to convince the horse that she was back to "normal" whatever that was. But she had won Argo's trust again. This was quality time for her and the horse and Argo seemed to appreciate it.
They had stayed a few more days since Gabrielle had recovered consciousness just so the young bard could rest. It had been a rare occasion to be completely alone with Gabrielle without the inopportune interruptions of marauding armies or maidens in distress or villagers needing saved. To have Gabrielle all to herself was a true treasure. They had talked, joked and - when Gabrielle had felt up to it - made love. A smirk tugged at Xena's lips as she remembered how eager the little bard had been about that prospect but Xena had made her wait until the wound had better healed. That had been last night...and what a night it was.
When she had awoken at dawn with Gabrielle sprawled in her arms, deep in blissful sleep; she had been overwhelmed by a deep sense of contentment, by the knowledge that this beautiful, loving, amazing woman was to be her redemption. If ever she were to thank the Gods for anything it would be for sending Gabrielle to her. Perhaps they had answered her prayers after all. And she knew it was up to her now, destiny was in her own hands, to make sure that she never tarnished or abused this precious gift.
Eventually, after bidding a tearful goodbye to Lila, Gabrielle emerged from the hovel. She approached carefully, her wound still sore and her muscles aching from the previous night's exertions, leaning on her staff for support. She crept up behind Xena and slipped an arm around the warrior's muscled torso. Burying her head in Xena's dark mane she inhaled the curious mix of leather and soap and consequently felt an ache of desire settle on her belly. "You smell good," she sighed.
Turning around to face her, Xena kissed the bard briefly. "And we'd better get moving. You're riding on Argo today."
A frown crossed Gabrielle's face, darkening her lovely features. "Behind me," Xena added and watched in amusement as Gabrielle's mood lightened rapidly. She continued in a teasing voice, staring intensely into the bard's eyes: "Just think, you'll be able to hug me tight, pressed up against me and...."
In one swift movement that surprised the warrior, Gabrielle was sitting regally on Argo's back peering down at her impatiently. With a low chuckle Xena got up in front of her, taking the reins. Gabrielle put her arms around Xena's waist and snuggled up. "Comfortable?" Xena asked playfully over her shoulder. "Very." The bard shot back as they set off on their journey.
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