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 found four very sleepy guards standing at the top of the stairs above Xena's prison. I could tell from their demeanor as I approached that something was amiss.
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
The guards exchanged glances. "Well, lady, the warden is already down there."
My heart sank with dread. "How long?"
"Since a little after midnight."
"What? Is she alone?"
"Aye, she ordered us away, upon pain of death."
"Where's Captain Braxis?"
"In his quarters, as far as I know. He knows better than to interfere when she's been drinking."
"She was drunk?"
They all four nodded somberly. I suddenly got the impression that this had happened before.
"How do you know she's not hurt?" Or that she hasn't killed Xena, I thought to myself.
"Oh, she'll be fine, lady, although she'll wake up with a bit of a headache, if you take my meaning."
I sighed, wondering what I would find in the cell below. One or both dead or maimed, no doubt, though even drunk, Thelassa would have had the advantage. I looked one of the guards in the eye. "Go fetch the healer. You three come with me."
When we finally reached the bottom, two of the guards went to man the crank.
"Don't bother," I told them. Xena was lying in a bloody heap at the far end of her cell. Thelassa was sitting, back against the wall, whip in hand, wine bottle between her wide-spread legs, clearly passed out. There was a puddle of vomit beside her.
I hobbled over to her. "Thelassa," I said, poking her with a crutch. "Wake up."
She groaned, but didn't move.
"Thelassa, wake up!"
She muttered something, but still didn't stir.
I turned to the guards. "You two, take her to her quarters. You, go get a bucket and get some help to clean this mess up." I gestured to the vomit with disgust. "And let me have her keys."
"Hand me her keys, please."
The soldier looked at Xena's limp form, then back at me, and swallowed.
I knew from experience that soldiers were trained to obey a certain voice of authority, and my well known friendship with Alexander would carry no small amount of weight with any loyal subject of the new empire. When it became apparent he wasn't going to comply with my request, I grabbed the front of his uniform and pulled him down so I was staring him in the eyes. "I said, give me her keys."
"Y-yes lady," he said, and bent down to take them from the warden's belt. He handed them to me; then, with his partner's help, leaned down to pick her up. Together they carried her up the stairs.
I was left alone with Xena. I couldn't tell if she was even alive from where I stood, so I approached carefully. "Xena? Are you awake?"
While I realized that this could be a very clever trap, judging from the amount of blood on her clothing and skin, I somehow doubted it.
I poked her with a crutch, but she did not respond. I could not tell if she was breathing.
I couldn't very well help her with the bars between us, so I moved to the door of the cell and unlocked it.
"What in gods' names are you doing?" a voice asked behind me.
I turned to see the healer, Artorus, and a guard standing at the base of the stairs.
"Oh good," I said, and waved Artorus over. "I can't tell if she is breathing."
Artorus, who was an older, gray haired gentleman, shook his head vehemently. "I'm not going in there."
"Look at the blood. It's obvious that she's hurt."
"So?" he asked.
One word said it all. "Then leave your supplies and go tend to Thelassa," I said in disgust. I looked at the guard. "Go bring me water, wine, and blankets."
Neither of them moved. "Do it!" I finally shouted, and the guard turned and fled up the stairs.
"Where do you want these?" the healer asked sourly, holding up his bags.
"There, next to the cage where I can reach them. Did you bring bandages?"
"Good. Now lock the door behind me, if you would." I handed him the keys. I tossed away my crutches and hopped into Xena's cell. There was no sense in bringing potential weapons in with me, if Xena was still alive and decided to turn violent.
The healer locked the door behind me as asked, then left, leaving me alone in the cell with the most dangerous woman in the world. Am I crazy?
Yes, no doubt I was. But something compelled me to continue.
I settled next to Xena and rolled her onto her back. She was unconscious, but breathing. Apparently, Thelassa had done more than whip her, because in addition to an appalling number of welts covering both her front and back, there were bruises on her face, and dried blood trailed from her nose.
There was little left of her shredded tunic, and I carefully removed what was left of it, trying not to reopen any wounds that had already clotted. While at first glance there seemed to be great deal of blood for a whipping, none of the wounds was especially deep or serious. Thelassa was skilled with her whip. If she had intended to kill Xena, she could have. Obviously, she again intended to maim and punish instead.
When the guard arrived carrying blankets and flasks of water and wine, I began cleaning and dressing her wounds. I was not a healer, but I'd helped them frequently during the war, so I had some idea of what I was doing.
Xena stirred as I started wiping the blood off her face. I froze as her eyes fluttered open, then sighed in relief as they closed again. Despite my offer before, I really didn't want to be in caught in the cell with her while she was awake.
"Don't bother," she whispered, startling me. "I deserve it."
Those were the last words I ever anticipated hearing from the mouth of the Destroyer of Nations. Even the two guards cleaning up Thelassa's vomit looked up in surprise.
"Just... let... me... die," She struggled to get each word out.
This was certainly unexpected. "Not today," I said gently, no longer afraid of being with her. "I still have a story to get from you."
She smiled crookedly, still without opening her eyes. "Cyrene... can... tell you."
"Cyrene? From Amphipolis?"
If I hadn't already been sitting, I'm sure I would have collapsed in astonishment. Cyrene was Xena's mother???! Now there was a story worth telling! "I'm still not going to let you die."
Xena opened her eyes to look at me, and the pain I saw in their blue depths was heart wrenching. "Why.... not?"
Truth was, I didn't know. But the flippant answer was on my tongue before I could censor it. "Because you haven't admitted you're conquered yet."
I smiled despite myself. There was the Xena I knew. "You will live a very long time, then."
She grimaced in pain. "If... I ... admit.... will you let me... die?"
I shook my head and held a wine flask to her lips. "No. Now here, you must drink this."
"You're... worse... than... Thelassa."
"Gee, thanks. Now DRINK!" I practically forced the wine down her throat.
She sputtered, coughed, then grimaced. "Bitch."
"I'm not done yet," I said smugly, and forced her to drink some more.
"I'd prefer water," she growled, suddenly sounding more coherent.
I switched flasks. "Fine."
I watched dispassionately as she drained the flask. Why was I doing this? Why not let her die? Didn't I want her dead? If Cyrene were truly her mother, I could surely get all the information I needed from her. It made sense that a person like Xena would prefer death to being caged and beaten like this. If I really believed in mercy, wouldn't I stand up, leave, and let her die? Was it because I wanted to see her suffer longer? It was an ugly thought, but honest.
Xena groaned softly and shifted on the cold granite. She started to shiver.
Gods help me. I looked at her body, at the fresh wounds covering old scars. I looked at her hands with their long, graceful fingers, and her thin, pale lips; her blood matted hair, and her soft eyelashes. She looked like a person, not a monster, and therein, I realized, lay my dilemma.
At some point, Xena had become a real person to me. I could hate the Conqueror, the inhuman beast who had crucified me. I could hate evil and injustice personified. But the body in front of me was not the Conqueror or the Destroyer of Nations. It was simply a woman in pain. And, unfortunately, that made me care. Despite the conscious knowledge that she would probably be happier dead, I couldn't bring myself to let that happen. I could never drown kittens, either!
I took a deep breath. For better or worse, this was what I had to do. I finished cleaning and bandaging Xena's wounds, careful to put all of the healing supplies back out of the cell when I was done with them, then wrapped her in the blankets.
Eventually, Thelassa herself staggered down the stairs to let me out. She didn't say anything as she unlocked the door to the cell.
I pushed myself up until I was standing and hopped to the door. Thelassa reached down to pick up my crutches and handed them to me.
"Thanks," I said, taking them.
Thelassa closed the door and locked it. "She could have killed you, you know," she said without looking at me.
"She didn't," I shrugged.
"Are you so eager to sacrifice yourself for her?" the warden asked, barely concealing the bitterness in her voice.
I was tired and emotionally drained, and I really didn't want to have this discussion. I sighed heavily. "Listen, I'm not sacrificing myself for her. She's hardly in any condition to hurt me, and for some reason, I'm not sure she would even if she could."
"What do you mean?"
I shook my head. "You haven't heard her, Thelassa. She's lonely... and maybe even a bit remorseful. When I tried to clean her face off, she actually said 'don't bother, I deserve it.'"
The warden looked at Xena. "I don't believe you."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, she did, believe it or not. You can ask your guards; they heard it, too."
Thelassa was silent. "Are you going to ask Alexander to replace me?" she eventually asked.
I didn't want to deal with this right now, but she deserved an honest answer. I thought about it for a moment. "No," I finally said, "if you agree to one condition."
"You stop torturing Xena."
Thelassa drew in a long, shuddering breath. "Very well," she finally said.
I took the whip from her belt.
"How can you forgive her?" Thelassa asked as I turned to leave.
I stopped. "I haven't," I said honestly. "But that doesn't mean I want to see her suffer."
"Don't expect me to thank you for helping me," Xena muttered the next morning.
"Don't worry, I won't," I smiled. She still looked the part of an invalid, but at least her bad temper had returned in full force. I took that as a sign she was healing quickly.
"Go away," she muttered, pulling the blankets closer around her shoulders.
"Nope. Sorry. Supply ship came in this morning, so I have lots of news to share."
She pretended to be angry, but I could tell she was secretly pleased.
She even looked disappointed when I finally rose to leave.
"I'll come back tomorrow, if you promise to tell me about your childhood," I said.
"What's to tell?"
"Come up with something to humor me."
"Oh, all right."
That evening Captain Braxis approached me as I left the dining hall, and I could tell by his expression that whatever it was he wanted from me, it wasn't going to be pleasant.
"Good evening, captain," I said as cheerfully as I could while steeling myself inside. "What may I do for you?"
"I'd like to have a word with you, if you have a moment."
"Certainly." I looked at him, smiling expectantly. I knew that my smile could be quite disarming, and it was the only weapon I had against him at this point.
He rubbed his chin and looked around nervously. He swallowed. "The guards told me what happened yesterday in Xena's cell."
"Ah... yes. Is there a problem?"
"Actually, yes. First of all, I don't appreciate you ordering my guards around. Secondly, you have no business interfering in the way Thelassa runs her prison. And lastly, you're a stupid fool for opening Xena's cage, and you're lucky she didn't get out and kill us all. Her cell is NEVER to be unlocked. Do I make myself clear?"
I tightened my grip on my crutches. Apparently, the captain was not a man to beat around the bush. There was a time when such obvious disapproval would have upset me terribly, perhaps even to the point of tears. But not today. I was angry. "If you had been where you were needed, I wouldn't have had to order your guards around," I said coldly. "And if Thelassa was doing her job correctly, I wouldn't need to interfere. But yes, you've made yourself perfectly clear. I just hope I don't have cause to want to open Xena's cell again."
The muscles in Braxis's jaw clenched and unclenched, and I knew I had just destroyed whatever chance I might have had to win this man's good will. "If you weren't the Emperor's little pet," he said harshly, "I'd have you thrown off this island." He then turned on his heel and headed towards the stairs to Thelassa's study.
Now you've done it, Gabrielle, I chastised myself. I'd let my temper get the better of me, and I suspected I might live to regret it. Braxis could easily make my life miserable on the island. I went to bed that night with a heavy heart, dreading the morning.
I rose with the sun, but the cheerful dawn did little to dispell my sense of dark foreboding. Even eating didn't lift my spirits.
I met two guards on the stairs to Xena's cell. They were returning from delivering her morning meal and graciously turned around to escort me down, leaving one torch behind for my benefit.
Xena was huddled in a corner, naked and shivering. She didn't look up at my approach.
"Thelassa took your blankets?" I asked, appalled.
Xena didn't respond, still staring at the wall blankly.
"You didn't try to hurt someone with them, did you?"
She turned her head slowly and glared at me.
I swallowed. I wasn't quite sure how to read that look. "Well," I asked out loud. "Did you?"
She turned back to stare at the wall. "What do you think?" she growled.
I rolled my eyes. "If I knew, I wouldn't have asked."
The barest hint of a smile crossed her face. "Go away, Gabrielle. You don't belong here."
I frowned. What was that supposed to mean?
Xena looked at me again, and her eyes were piercing. "You're going to get hurt, little girl. Go away while you still can."
Of course, since she made it an order, I would not obey. I sat down on the bench, instead, and crossed my arms. I had to wonder about her words, though. She couldn't possibly have known about my exchange with Captain Braxis. Whatever the explanation, her instincts were uncanny.
Xena scowled. "Fine. Stay with me, then. Stay with me and rot." She leaned her head back against a bar and closed her eyes.
"Don't you want to eat?" I asked, motioning to the untouched food beside the bars.
"I'm not hungry."
It was a lie, and I knew it. "I don't believe you."
"I don't care what you think or believe."
That, too, was a lie, I thought, but I shrugged. "And I don't care if you starve."
"I said, 'liar.' If you didn't care, you wouldn't have helped me before."
"Trust me, Xena, I'm starting to regret that more by the minute." And that was the truth. What was I thinking, to antagonize Braxis and Thelassa over the Destroyer of Nations?
Xena must have heard it in my voice, too, because she didn't reply.
I don't really know how long we sat there in total silence. There were things I wanted to ask her, but I couldn't force myself to speak. So I sat and listened to her teeth chattering. Perhaps I was afraid to say anything because I knew she was probably right. I didn't belong here. This was Thelassa's island, and Xena's prison, and I was here on a fool's mission, finding myself trapped between the predator and the prey in a twisted reversal of roles. Worse yet, I had no idea how to go about calling off the hunt and serious doubts if I should even try. But I was intrigued that Xena apparently cared enough to say something, even in her own insulting way.
It was half a day, maybe, before the dull ache in my mangled leg became so bad that I was forced move. I grabbed my crutches and stood up. "Thank you, Xena," I said, "for a most entertaining morning."
She snorted without opening her eyes. "You're a bitch, little girl."
"Cripple, you mean."
I smiled, and went to find Thelassa.
The warden was ensconced in her study, and, like Xena, she didn't look up when I entered.
I sighed. I was feeling so welcomed everywhere I went. "So, did she try to hurt somebody with the blankets, or did you just take them away from her for the fun of it?"
"I was doing my job in protecting my guards," Thelassa answered levelly, blowing on the glistening ink of the scroll she was writing.
"Are you going to leave her naked?"
"It's cold down there."
"It's a prison. I'm not interested in Xena's comfort."
"Thelassa..." I began.
She stood up furiously, inadvertently knocking over the inkwell on her desk. "Don't tell me how to run my prison, Gabrielle! Don't you dare. Now get out before I have the guards remove you."
I stared at her, startled by the threat, and wondered if she would actually carry it out.
"Guards!" Thelassa shouted, and I heard feet start up the wooden steps outside.
Apparently so. I had pushed my luck with the guards before, and no doubt Thelassa and Braxis had laid down the law with them since then. Truly, I had no authority in this place at all.
"I'm going," I said.
The guards arrived and looked from me to Thelassa curiously. "Gabrielle is tired," the warden said. "Please make sure she gets down the stairs safely."
To be continued in part 7
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