by Leslie Ann Miller
Disclaimers- The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Violence - Yes, some. Nothing worse than what you'd see in the show.
Subtext / sex - Yes, this story depicts sexual acts between women. If that is illegal where you are, you should go read something else.
Hurt / Comfort - Yes
Other - This story is loosely based on the Hercules episode "Armageddon Now"
Thanks - I'm especially grateful to Fizz for all the help. Also thanks to the ex-guards for their feedback and assistance.
Let me know what you think, good or bad! My email address is: email@example.com
The next morning I broke my fast with the guards in the dining hall. I usually preferred to eat alone in the comfort of my quarters, but I was in the mood for some company this morning, and I didn't want to visit Xena again so soon. I was starting to suspect she looked forward to my visits, and I didn't want her to think I felt the same.
I was disappointed when Captain Braxis sat down across from me; he was the least friendly of all the guards on the island, and he normally kept a careful distance from everyone except the warden. He was rarely absent from her side. Still, I smiled at him warmly. "Good morning," I said.
He returned the smile, but it lacked any real friendliness. For a moment I wondered if he might object to my storytelling in the evenings. He didn't really seem the type to enjoy a good tale, but his next words put me at ease.
"That was a fine epic you recited last night," he said, and it sounded like he was being honest.
"Thank you," I replied.
He nodded, frowning. "You've been here almost a month, now, haven't you?" he asked.
"Yes," I acknowledged, wondering if this was a problem.
"Have you had any success with Xena?"
"Not really," I admitted. "But I honestly didn't expect her to tell me anything so quickly."
"She's not going to tell you anything willingly, you know," he said, and I thought he sounded exactly like Thelassa.
"Actually, she's showing signs of softening up," I said. "I'm quite hopeful at this point."
His expression told me he didn't believe me, but he nodded anyway. "Why don't you let the warden and me loosen her tongue for you," he suggested. "It might go quicker."
An image of Xena's naked body covered in whip welts flashed in my mind. Surprisingly, it was not as appealing as it might have been. I swallowed. "Are you wanting to get rid of me?" I joked.
Braxis laughed nervously. "Of course not! Our supplies have been much better since you arrived. The food has certainly improved. But surely you don't want to stay here any longer than you must?"
I shrugged. Honestly, I was as happy here as I'd been anywhere except perhaps at home growing up, although I did miss Alexander. For the most part I was left alone, and I was able to get quite a bit of writing done. The cook was skilled, my quarters were comfortable, and I had company when I needed it. What was there to complain about? "I spent many years with the army, Captain. This is a life of luxury in comparison," I smiled.
He frowned again. "Ah, yes. I had forgotten." He looked up as Thelassa entered, and his face seemed to brighten somehow. "Excuse me, please," he said abruptly and went to join her as she got her food.
I was puzzled by our brief exchange, and it seemed to me that despite what Braxis said aloud, he was not happy with my presence here. I watched his interaction with Thelassa, hoping for a clue as to why he might want me off the island. He helped the warden get her breakfast since she was short a hand, and I remembered how his face brightened when he saw her.
I frowned. It was obvious now that I was looking for it. The good Captain had feelings for the warden. That, no doubt, was why he wanted me to leave. He was jealous. He must have sensed the bond between us. Thelassa was very, very attentive to me. Even now, she was heading towards my table.
I finished my breakfast hastily, a bit unnerved by my realization. I didn't want to antagonize Braxis, and while I valued my growing friendship with Thelassa, I certainly wasn't interested in her in that way.
"Are you leaving so soon?" Thelassa asked, obviously disappointed that I stood up as she approached.
"Yes, I'm sorry," I said, fumbling for my crutches. "I have a lot of writing I want to get done today."
"You're not going to visit Xena?"
"No, not today. Not for a couple of days, probably."
Thelassa and Braxis exchanged a glance that I didn't understand, but no explanation was forthcoming.
"I'll get your dishes, lady," Braxis said politely.
"Thanks," I said, and left the crowded dining hall for the safety of my private room.
Three days later I decided to go back and visit Xena. She was sitting listlessly in the corner of her cage by the drain, and she didn't look up as I sat down. I was appalled by her appearance. She had raw whip welts on her arms and neck, and there were blood stains on her tunic. Apparently, Thelassa had disciplined her again, and she looked.... broken.
I remembered the look exchanged between the warden and the captain when I told them I didn't intend to visit Xena for another few days. I concluded that they'd planned to do this together, and for some reason that made me very angry.
"Xena," I asked quietly, "did Thelassa question you when she did this to you?"
She looked up at me with a snarl on her face. "You ought to know! You're the only one who wants to know about my past!"
My heart sank. They'd done this to her on my behalf. I closed my eyes and shook my head. "No. No. I swear it." If I could have paced the room, I would have. "I... this..." I wanted to apologize to her, believing it to be my fault, but I couldn't bring myself to say the words. "Xena, I don't believe in torture."
She gave me a scornful, disbelieving look.
"That's more your style," I shot back at her, then regretted it when she literally flinched. "Listen, I swear I didn't ask her to do this. I didn't want her to do this."
Xena's face relaxed into a scowl. She looked away. "You didn't have to. She doesn't need an excuse."
"Let me see if I can convince Thelassa to let the healer look at you."
"I don't need a healer," she growled.
"Some of those welts look pretty bad."
"They're nothing!" she snapped.
"Would you let me treat them?" I asked.
She turned back to me and stared for several long moments as I fought the urge to squirm under her gaze.
By the gods, why did I say that?!
"Why would you want to do a thing like that?" she finally asked.
Why indeed? I swallowed. "Because...because you're hurt."
"What makes you think I won't kill you if you come near me?" she asked with narrow eyes.
"I don't," I finally admitted.
"Then why the offer?"
"I don't like you, Xena, but what they did to you is wrong."
"I don't need your help or your pity!"
"Good," I said. "You won't get either." I reached for my crutches so I could leave. I was very upset by this whole conversation, more upset than I wanted to admit.
"Amphipolis," she said quietly before I could stand up.
"Amphipolis?" I repeated, confused.
"I was born in Amphipolis," she said deliberately.
"You were?" I asked in astonishment.
She nodded. "Put your crutches down, all right? Just... Just talk to me. Please?"
There was that word again. "All right," I said. "What would you like to hear?"
"Anything," she whispered.
So I began to tell her the same story I'd told the guards in the dining hall the night before, about the chase between the magical fox who could never be caught, and Orion's hound, who always captured his prey.
Xena smiled a half smile when I finished. "Too bad Zeus interfered. They'd still be chasing each other to this day."
I nodded. "And wreaking havoc all over Greece," I added. "Xena?"
"Are you really from Amphipolis?"
"Who were your parents?"
She smiled, wryly. "Come back tomorrow, Gabrielle, and I will tell you."
"I will," I promised.
I went to confront Thelassa after I left. I found her in her study at the top of the stairs. "You tortured her again," I said when she stood up, smiling, and I didn't try to conceal my anger.
She looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"You whipped Xena."
She smiled. "Well, of course. The captain and I were trying to get some information for you."
"I told you I didn't want your help!"
The smile faded from her face. "Gabrielle, she's not going to talk to you. Besides, it's been weeks since I last punished her. Xena deserves everything she gets. She crucified you and left me to die! How can you say she doesn't deserve it!?"
I couldn't answer her. She did deserve it. She absolutely deserved it. But that didn't make it right.
"I administer justice!" Thelassa said, slamming her fist on the table.
I swallowed hard, emotions warring inside me. "The same type of justice she gave us," I said bitterly.
"We weren't guilty!!!" the warden almost shouted at me.
"And this time, neither was she!"
"What?!" Thelassa looked at me like I'd grown a second head.
How could I make her understand? "Thelassa, her punishment is imprisonment, the total loss of her freedom for the rest of her life. What you're doing is torturing her. And torture is something that Xena would do. We're supposed to be better than she is."
The warden's eyes blazed with fury. "You would dare compare me to her?! You think imprisonment is enough punishment for everything she has done!? I'm as much a prisoner on this damned island as she is! I can't leave with this!" She waved her stump at me. "I'm trapped here for the rest of my life just like she is! And by gods, I intend to make her suffer!"
I quickly considered my options in the face of her rage. I could continue to push my point, which would just make her more angry, or I could try to diffuse her anger. I let go of my crutches and raised my hands in supplication. "Thelassa," I said as calmly as I could, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have compared you to her. Please, I'm not your enemy. I understand your feelings; truly I do!"
"Get out!" she snarled. "Go back to your palace in Corinth and your cushy life with Alexander! You don't understand anything!"
She hadn't hit me, but she might as well have. My hands dropped, and I turned to leave, smarting.
"Gabrielle..." Thelassa began as I limped out the door.
"Don't apologize, Thelassa," I said without turning around. "I prefer to know where I stand with people."
I hobbled down the stairs and returned to my room. She didn't follow me.
I collapsed on my bed and covered my face in my hands. I was both furious and hurt. I thought I'd found true friendship and understanding in the warden, but that wasn't the case at all. No, she was bitter in a way that scared me as much as Xena's cold cruelty.
Was that what I would have become if I hadn't had my vision on the cross? If I hadn't experienced the white light and been given the prophecy to help guide me through the dark times, would I have crawled away to hide on some island, ashamed to be seen by the rest of humanity, filled with spite and resentment?
I suppose Thelassa frightened me because in her, I could see a mirror of myself; a mirror of what I might have become. I took a deep, shuddering breath.
What was I to do now? Should I leave as she suggested; go back to my palace and my servant and the warmth of Alexander's friendship? Or should I ask Alexander to replace her as warden by sending a message with the next supply ship? Or should I leave with the ship and do it in person? Or perhaps it would be better to stay despite the warden's hostility and try to finish my task?
Leaving was certainly the most appealing option. I could leave and never look back. I could forget about Thelassa and Xena and leave them both to their horrible ugliness. They deserved each other. Yes, I should just go. Let them both fester on this god forsaken rock until Hades saw fit to claim them.
The cook had a small fishing boat tied to the dock. I would hire him to take me to the mainland tomorrow morning. I didn't look forward to the seasickness I would get on such a small vessel, but it would be better than staying here for yet another day.
Decided, I got off my bed and began to pack my things. It wasn't until I began packing my scrolls in their waxed leather cases that I realized what I was doing.
I was running away. I was running to my own island, my own place of comfort and safety where I'd be free of the curious and sometimes pitying eyes of strangers, protected as always by Alexander. I'd earned my place of peace, no doubt, but what had I done in the palace? I'd locked myself away with my scrolls; the less I interacted with anyone else, the better. I was hiding in the palace just like Thelassa was hiding here. The only difference was that my prison was much more glorious than hers. I almost laughed out loud at the thought. We had more in common, she and I, than even I had recognized. Perhaps she was not so far from the truth: what did I really understand, anyway?
Perhaps not much, but I did resolve one thing. I wouldn't leave now.
To be continued in part 6
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