The Nightmare Scrolls
by Cath, Bard
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without express permission of the author.
This story contains scenes of violence and/or their aftermath.
This story depicts a loving friendship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Contains many Season 5 spoilers.
To Kamouraskan and Heather for their edits and suggestions and to the wonderful people who visit the Tavern Wall, where this tale was first shared.
The look on Lila’s face as she opened the door told Xena something was wrong – very wrong.
“Thank the gods!” Hecuba exclaimed as Xena strode into the room.
“What is it? Where is Gabrielle?” The Warrior fought to control the fear and apprehension filling her gut. Xena’s thoughts immediately turned to her beloved Bard.
Before Hecuba could answer, Lila spoke up.
“Xena, it’s about Gabrielle…”
The tall woman moved toward the door to the room that Lila and Gabrielle once shared. Instinctively, she knew the Bard was there.
Lila stepped in front of Xena, cutting her off. Tears glistened on the girl’s cheeks. Xena noted Hecuba’s tearstained visage as well. She stopped and took a deep breath.
“What happened?” she inquired in her gentlest tone, gazing over Lila’s shoulder toward the door. She ached to cross into that room and find Gabrielle, but she knew that Hecuba and Lila needed to prepare her.
Lila looked up into the deep blue eyes of her sister’s mate.
”It all started just after you left for Amphipolis,” she began...
Xena and Gabrielle had come to Potidaea to recover from the beating they had taken at the hands of Mavican, a vicious, second-rate warrior intent on replacing Xena as Ares’ favorite.
Ares pitted Warrior Princess and Bard against Mavican in a deserted world of his own creation. He merged Xena and Gabrielle into one being. Xena battled Mavican by day, but at night Gabrielle shifted into the body they shared. The Bard acquitted herself well against Mavican, but not before she sustained some painful wounds.
During the contest, Ares revealed his true purpose: To determine Gabrielle’s worth as Xena’s successor. When Gabrielle proved herself, Ares offered her the mantle once reserved for the Warrior Princess. Gabrielle rejected him – to Xena’s delighted relief.
Although the Bard insisted she was fine, Xena decided that her wounds were serious enough to require some recovery time. Despite Gabrielle’s protests, Xena insisted on Potidaea. Her parents and sister needed to know that Gabrielle was alive. The women did not share the tale of their resurrection – only that they had survived Caesar’s attempt to crucify them and now needed nothing more than to rest.
When Xena felt certain that Gabrielle was comfortable and recovering from their ordeal, she journeyed to Amphipolis to let her own mother, Cyrene, know that everything was all right.
Xena had been gone just three weeks. Despite a joyous reunion with Cyrene, the separation seemed endless. She longed for her companion and headed back to Potidaea with a full heart.
Lila’s voice beckoned Xena to the present.
“Gabrielle started writing again, only I never saw her like this. She’d work on those scrolls late into the night. She refused to eat… wouldn’t go out, except to visit the tavern and tell her stories. She’d come home late… I could tell she had been drinking. You know it doesn’t take much for her…”
Xena smiled despite her trepidation. Gabrielle and wine… Gabrielle and nutbread… Gabrielle inebriated with the beauty of life.
Hecuba picked up Lila’s story.
“We tried to send word to you in Amphipolis. Hector had to leave for Corinth and she was getting harder to handle…”
“I probably just missed the messenger,” Xena offered. “I need to see her now.”
Her tone told them that further explanation would have to wait.
Lila stepped aside and Xena entered Gabrielle’s room. Nothing had prepared her for what she found there.
The Bard lay on a narrow bed, unconscious -- her breathing shallow. Dark circles rimmed her eyes, contrasting starkly with her pale cheeks. Her short, blonde hair was matted with dirt and sweat.
A fresh bandage covered the wound on her left shoulder, but Xena saw the red streaks that trailed down the woman's arm, almost to her wrist.
She wore a mud-stained man's vest and breeches. Gashes and scrapes crisscrossed her bare feet.
"Why didn't you do something?" Xena almost growled at Hecuba and Lila as they followed her into the room.
Hecuba answered firmly.
"We found her just a candlemark before you got here, Xena."
"What?" Xena was puzzled.
"She disappeared three days ago," Hecuba responded in a quiet voice, her anxiety barely controlled. "Just walked away. No boots. We tried to stop her, but she threatened herself with those weapons she carries. The search party found her this morning, in a cave, in the hills outside of town. She was this way when they brought her in."
The Bard's mother rubbed her forehead with a strong, weathered hand.
The Warrior Princess felt overwhelmed. This was not at all the Gabrielle she knew and loved.
Xena moved to her companion's side.
"Hey, Gabrielle," she whispered. She brushed aside a lock of damp, blonde hair. The wound on Gabrielle's forehead blazed scarlet.
Xena shook off her feelings and took charge.
"Let's finish cleaning her up, then I need to hear the whole story."
Lila helped Xena cut away Gabrielle's clothing while Hecuba brought the water she had been heating to bathe her daughter.
The Warrior winced at the sight of the young woman's bruised, emaciated body, revealed in the afternoon light. Lila looked as if she would be sick.
"This doesn't just happen in a few weeks," Xena thought. She suspected godly intervention.
They washed Gabrielle and dressed her in a clean sleeping shift. Xena settled her soulmate in bed, planting a tender kiss upon the Bard's pallid cheek. Then, the Warrior asked Lila to bring the scrolls.
"At first, she didn't want to share the stories. I caught her trying to burn them, but I saved these from the fire."
Lila placed an armful of charred, wrinkled scrolls on the table near Xena's chair.
"After awhile, though, it was like she didn't care. She'd finish one, crumple it, and toss it across the room. Next moment, she'd start another." Lila shrugged, then looked sadly at her sister's still form.
Xena dragged a chair to Gabrielle’s bedside. The Bard's breathing had become less labored and the poultices prepared by Xena and Hecuba were already draining the infection from the wounds at her forehead and shoulder. Assured that Gabrielle rested peacefully for now, Xena selected a scroll, smoothed it out on her lap, and began reading.
In her first scroll, the Bard of Potidaea described how Eli, mystic and friend, had healed them after their crucifixion. Involuntarily, Xena shuddered at the images of Gabrielle nailed to the cross beside her, and all that they had endured in heaven and hell. Then, she remembered how her friend had fought an entire Roman garrison to protect her…
"Ah, Gabrielle," Xena sighed to the gathering darkness.
The second scroll told of the monumental battle with the war gods, Ares and Kal, for possession of a god-killing chakram. So far, Gabrielle was simply describing recent events with her special flair.
Gabrielle's third piece, titled Succession, recounted their confrontation with Mavican. Xena noticed that the Bard downplayed her temptation by Ares during that adventure. From Gabrielle's verbal account, Xena knew that the god of war had pressured the young woman relentlessly. Ares had designs on Gabrielle almost from the moment Eli resurrected her. Perhaps this explained why the Bard had such skill with her sais, the new weapons she had originally purchased for Xena. Gabrielle increased those skills with ceaseless practice during their travels, but her original "awakening" was a cruel gift from Ares.
During her confinement, Ares had shown Gabrielle the power she would wield if she took Xena's place as his chosen warrior. He attempted to seduce her. When she spurned him, he grew even more insistent, determined to make her his, or at least force Xena to return to him to save her Bard. His efforts ended when Xena and Gabrielle defeated Mavican and Gabrielle chose not to kill the wannabe warrior.
As Gabrielle had described Ares' temptation, Xena realized just how fortunate they were that her friend had rejected his offer. Strangely, the Bard chose to omit these details from her scrolls. This puzzled the Warrior Princess, but she was interrupted before she could ponder further.
The Bard stirred and moaned softly. Xena and Lila managed to get her to drink a strong herbal tea laced with powdered willow bark.
“C’mon, Gabrielle,” Xena urged, hoping to bring the young woman around.
Without opening her eyes or uttering a word, Gabrielle slipped again into unconsciousness.
Xena noticed Lila's tired, worried expression.
"Get some rest," she commanded gently. "I'll call you if there's any change."
Lila nodded gratefully and left the room.
By the light of a candle, at her beloved's bedside, the Warrior Princess continued to review the scrolls that had become the Bard's obsession. In them, she hoped to find a clue that would return Gabrielle to her.
Up through the Succession piece, Gabrielle pretty much detailed all that had happened since their crucifixion. However, the fourth scroll caught Xena by surprise. It began inauspiciously enough. Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and Americe rescued a horse from a trap. Gabrielle tamed the steed and decided to keep him as her own. (Upon reading this, Xena made a mental note to find a suitable mount for the young woman.)
Then, Gabrielle's narrative took an unexpected turn.
In her fourth scroll, Gabrielle wrote of how the Warrior Princess learned that she was pregnant. Xena found herself pleased and happy about this event – even though she admitted there was no way a man could have fathered the child. The Warrior shook her head in amazement as she read the Bard’s description of her as a “love free zone.” That was far from reality – although a woman, not a man, graced her life.
“Bless you, love,” thought Xena, recalling the emptiness that followed the loss of Solan, her son. “I wish the same for you.”
The remaining scrolls detailed myriad adventures. A particularly poignant story described Eli’s death at Ares’ hands. Most interestingly, Gabrielle wrote about the Twilight of the Gods – a legend that she and Xena had sometimes discussed.
In the subsequent tales, Xena discovered that her infant was a gift from Callisto via the “one god” of Michael, the Archangel. Further, this child heralded the demise of the Greek gods – The Twilight. The gods pursued Xena, bent on killing her baby to prevent their downfall, but Xena eluded them. Hercules and Gabrielle protected the Warrior during the birth of her child – a daughter she named Eve.
By the candle’s glow, Xena observed how the Bard’s handwriting degenerated to a desperate scrawl as she completed the later scrolls. Still, nothing in the stories provided the clue Xena needed to restore her friend’s health.
The Warrior read on through the night. The candle burned to a nub, and her red-rimmed eyes ached with tears and weariness.
The final works in the series found Warrior and Bard entombed by Ares in an ice cave to protect them from the gods seeking vengeance for the twilight. The women awakened to a strange world, 25 years into the future, yet no older than they were at the time Ares hid them. Xena’s child, Eve, was now a ruthless Roman leader, obsessed with persecuting the followers of Eli.
After several more incidents, including the death of their friend Joxer, Xena managed to redeem Eve, then confronted the gods in an all-out battle. During this final conflict, Athena used the Furies to turn Gabrielle against Eve. When the Bard stabbed Xena’s daughter, the Warrior unleashed her deadly chakram against her soulmate, striking a mortal blow. Only Are’s sacrifice of his immortality saved Gabrielle and Eve.
Stunned by Gabrielle’s words, Xena glanced over at her companion.
“Does she really believe I would do such a thing?” the Warrior Princess asked aloud to the darkness. “Would I destroy the woman who means my very life for the sake of my child?”
In that moment, Xena faced the terrifying depths of her dark side. She realized her deadly fierceness in defense of what was hers – her child, her Bard. Her capacity for revenge knew no bounds. Memories of how she had punished Gabrielle for Solan’s death flowed back; how she had compelled Gabrielle to kill her own daughter, and intended to slaughter Hope herself – even before the unholy child murdered Xena’s only son.
“Oh gods! I could do that, even now.” The Warrior acknowledged the beast that lurked just beneath her outer layer of control.
Did Gabrielle’s tale express a deep-rooted fear of Xena? Or was the Bard punishing herself for past transgressions -- again? The Warrior felt a headache coming on.
Then, she recalled Gabrielle’s gentle, sweet admonishment when someone once tried to overanalyze one of her yarns: “Hey, sometimes a story is just a story.”
Xena smiled sadly in the darkness and began to roll up the scrolls.
The damp, grey dawn cast an eerie light into Gabrielle’s room. Roused from her half-sleep, Xena opened ice-blue eyes and studied the ashen countenance of the woman she loved.
Another pair of eyes, sparkling green, returned the gaze. Was their glimmer a sign of recovery, or madness?
Gabrielle’s first words answered Xena’s question.
"Gotta write," the Bard whispered in breathless desperation.
She tossed off the covers and started to rise. A firm hand on her shoulder stopped her abruptly.
"What do you think you're doing?" Gabrielle glared up at the Warrior Princess.
"Relax, Gabrielle," Xena commanded, forcing the compact blonde flat on the bed.
"You don't understand…."
Xena sensed an insane strength as the Bard struggled beneath her arm.
"Please, my love."
The Warrior Princess braced herself and pinned the other woman with her body.
"Whatever this is, we'll see it through together, but you can't shut me out." Despite her use of force, Xena kept her voice gentle, soothing.
"I have to write another story, just one more."
The Bard ceased struggling and looked up at the Warrior with a pleading expression - childlike, yet not quite sincere.
Xena detected the ploy.
"I will tie you down there if necessary. Make no mistake. You're killing yourself with this obsession."
"You don't understand," Gabrielle responded. Her effort had taken its toll. She appeared exhausted, defeated.
"Trust me," Xena ordered softly.
The Bard's eyes brimmed with tears. She blinked a few times, then spoke.
"It's just that…" She broke off and covered her mouth with her hand. "I can't tell; mustn't tell."
"Can't tell me what?" Xena probed the depths of those emerald eyes.
"Nothing, "I'm tired. Please just leave me alone." She tried again to rise, but Xena held her.
"No. Not until you let me know what's going on."
"Xena, if I could, I'd tell you everything, but I can't. I just have to write."
At that moment, the Warrior understood Gabrielle’s plight. The Bard was fighting for her sanity.
"Don't ask. Please don't."
Xena decided to risk a direct approach.
"Look at yourself. You're a mess. You've lost weight. You need a bath. Your face reminds me of the road to Amphipolis on market day. And I was gone less than a cycle of the moon."
Gabrielle flashed the hint of a smile.
"Forget it, Warrior. If you think flattery will work…"
Xena made her first mistake. She relaxed.
With a swift, graceful motion, Gabrielle rolled to the other side of the bed and onto her feet. Xena rose to confront her.
As the Warrior Princess approached, the Bard smiled, and waited.
Suddenly, the smaller woman grabbed a pitcher from the bedside table and smashed it against her companion's upper arm.
Xena reeled back; more surprised than hurt. Gabrielle saw her opening and dashed from the room, exiting the house as Lila and Hecuba gaped in disbelief.
"I'm sorry, Xena!" Gabrielle shouted over her shoulder. She ran swiftly down the road ignoring her pain and fatigue, not knowing her destination – only that she had to get away.
Xena recovered instantly and took off in pursuit of her soulmate. She ordered Lila and Hecuba to remain behind.
Gabrielle proved surprisingly fast despite her battered body. Finally, Xena caught her as she clambered up a steep slope.
The Bard wriggled and writhed, but the Warrior wrapped her in strong arms and began to drag her home.
"Must write," the young woman gasped, "Ares…"
That name caught Xena's full attention. As gently as possible, she wrestled her captive to the ground, and rested a boot in the small of Gabrielle's back.
"You rat bastard! Get out here… now!" Xena didn't bother to call the bastard by name, but he materialized anyway.
Xena whirled on the God of War, careful to keep Gabrielle pinned.
The Bard ceased her struggle and gazed up at Ares with a mixture of fear, loathing, and longing. The handsome god winked at her. She buried her face in her hands; a painful pounding began at the base of her skull.
"What did you do to my friend?" Xena demanded.
"Why is it that every time something happens to the irritating blonde, you blame me?" Ares responded innocently.
"Because Callisto's in heaven, Alti is somewhere in her karmic cycle, and we left Najara whacked out in a monastery. You're the natural choice."
"Tsk, tsk, Xena. Such hallowed company..."
Ares grinned, then looked down at the woman on the ground. "Hey, Gabrielle. Write anything good lately?"
The Bard reacted to his taunt with a wrenching sob. The throbbing at her temples was becoming unbearable.
Xena snarled and pulled her sword.
Preoccupied with their clever exchange, neither Warrior nor War God noticed as Gabrielle wiped away the tears. Red-hot anger replaced pain and madness. Every muscle coiled in readiness. The Bard made her move.
With unexpected speed and strength, the Amazon Bard twisted beneath Xena's boot, pushed the Warrior aside, and hurtled toward Ares.
The God of War failed to sidestep in time. Gabrielle slammed into him with the full force of her compact, muscular body, carrying them both to the slippery earth.
Before Ares could recover, the Bard seized his sword and rolled free.
Without his sword, Ares' godhood was a thing of the past, and Gabrielle knew it. He lunged at the woman, who grinned wickedly and evaded him.
Xena watched in astonishment as her friend brought the flat of the blade across the War God's shoulders with all her might. The big man staggered, but remained standing.
"On the ground and stay there, dog!" Gabrielle commanded in a tone unfamiliar to everyone, including herself. She jabbed at Ares and he stepped back.
"I advise you to do as she says," Xena told the uncertain God of War.
With a shrug, Ares dropped to the ground on his belly.
"You know she can't handle this," he said, looking up at Xena.
"Quiet!" the Bard growled.
The pain in her head intensified. She tried to shake it off. Ares realized it wouldn't be long before she collapsed. The sword wavered. Gabrielle closed her eyes, fighting back a throbbing at her temples that left her nauseated and dizzy.
Xena sensed the Bard's anguish and saw Ares' look of triumph. As Gabrielle struggled to maintain her balance, the War God prepared to attack.
The Warrior Princess moved to Gabrielle's side, never looking away from the man on the ground.
"Gabrielle… give…me…the… sword," she commanded in a soft, measured tone.
The bladed wavered again, but the young woman refused to yield. She fixed Ares with an icy stare that frightened even Xena.
"Let me kill him, Xena. Please. Let me put an end to the bastard and all the suffering he causes."
"You don't really want to do that, do you?"
"He deserves to die. You and I both know it."
"Just give me the sword, I'll take care of the rest."
"You'll kill him?"
"I’ll consider it."
Ares' shocked expression almost made Xena laugh.
Too tired to fight any longer, the Bard bowed her head. She lowered the sword, holding it loosely at her side. Gently, Xena eased the weapon from Gabrielle's fist.
Ares stood and brushed the dust off his black leathers. He held out his hand.
"Thank you, Xena," he said with a sneer.
Xena twirled the sword and stepped forward, leveling the point at Ares' chest.
"Uh, uh, uh," she admonished. "Not until you tell me what you did to my friend."
"Did to…? Oh, that…." The God of War assumed his most innocent air.
"What did you do to her, Ares? Spit it out or there'll be one less god on Olympus."
Xena moved the sharp point within an inch of his throat. Both women saw worry, if not fear, written across his face.
The blade pressed against Ares' now-vulnerable windpipe. He backed away, holding up both hands.
"All right," he admitted, "I called in a favor from the Furies."
He eyed Gabrielle disdainfully. Yet even in her disheveled state, something about the woman stimulated Ares.
"I offered you the world, Gabrielle. Replace her as my chosen warrior." Here, he nodded toward Xena.
The God of War recalled the Bard's vulnerability and beauty when he tried to seduce her into killing Mavican and joining him. It had taken awhile to recognize the feeling, but finally Ares admitted it to himself. He wanted Gabrielle in every way - her mind and spirit, her body, her will. She was no longer the second choice, the irritating sidekick of his Warrior Princess. She was destined to be his Amazon, his Bard.
And, like Xena, Gabrielle had ultimately refused him. It was more than Ares' immense ego could take. If he couldn't possess her, he would make her suffer.
"You have a talent, my girl. The same as Xena." Ares twisted his words like a knife, savoring the pain they caused.
"I do," the Bard whispered sadly.
Gabrielle stared at her hands. She envisioned the bloodstains already there.
Ares continued his exquisite torture.
"When you refused me, I chose to give you what you really wanted. Your passion for writing became your all-consuming obsession."
He shot Xena a quick, triumphant glance. The Warrior resisted an overwhelming urge to gut him with his own sword.
Gabrielle turned toward Xena. When she spoke, her words floated, dream-like, between them.
"The voices told me that if I didn't write, they would destroy everyone and everything I loved…starting with you. And if I told anyone…"
Her voice trailed off and she collapsed to her knees, the intense pain almost blinding her. Xena felt the Bard's agony - in her heart.
"Undo this now, Ares!" she demanded. "Now!"
"Sorry, my dear. It may not be up to me anymore."
The War God stalled. He knew that the Bard's condition punished both women, and it was just a matter of time before one, or the pair, was his.
With a flash of insight, Xena discerned Ares' plan: Use Gabrielle's pain to win the Bard herself, or to convince the Warrior to surrender to him and save her companion.
She decided that fear would not dissuade the god. Extricating themselves from Ares’ web required another tactic.
"Did you even bother to read what she wrote?"
Ares' puzzled expression indicated that he hadn't.
"For a total bastard, you came off pretty good in those scrolls. You almost succeed in seducing me. You almost get Gabrielle too. And she has you and me rolling around like weasels in at least one story."
Inwardly, Xena shuddered at the image. On the surface, she retained her casual attitude. Everything depended on appearing that she didn't care.
"Remind me again -- when was the last time I nibbled that manly chest of yours?
Do you still remember how I kiss?"
The God of War licked his lower lip.
Xena sensed Ares' arousal. Now that she had his full attention, she went straight from his virility to his vanity.
"In fact, in that last scroll, you save my daughter, and Gabrielle. The God of War sacrifices his immortality to bring 'em both back from the dead. And earns a reward from the grateful mother." She cocked an eyebrow.
The War God looked pleased with himself.
"OK, so I embellished a little," Xena thought. "The Bard isn't the only one with that gift."
Gabrielle appeared stunned by Xena's description of some of her worst work. She knew most if it was bad before the ink dried, but she could not control herself. Her friend made even that trash sound entertaining, almost noble.
Xena noted her young companion gazing up at her, worshipping her - again. If they got through this, she planned a long talk with Gabrielle - and enough loving to make them both forget the horrors of the past months.
"I don’t buy a word of it," Xena chided. "Gabrielle was much too kind. And it's only fiction. Still, she makes you look pretty damned heroic for posterity…"
Ares studied both women, his curiosity aroused. He wanted to see what the Bard had written. Xena pressed her point.
“Of course, we could just burn them. “
Xena thought she saw him wince.
“Yes?” His gazed directly into cold, deadly eyes. A shudder of pleasure ran through his body, followed immediately by apprehension as he watched her twirl the sword slowly, skillfully.
“Gabrielle will never be yours. I’m not yours. Leave us alone.”
With a resigned wave of his hand, Ares interrupted Xena's litany.
"All right. I'll see what I can do."
"Not that it means anything, but do I have your word of honor?" Xena asked casually.
"Yeah, yeah. Now, give me my sword."
The Warrior Princess couldn't resist. With a predatory grin, she feinted at the cocky immortal and laughed when he ducked and stepped back. Then she flipped the sword, caught it carefully, and offered it to Ares.
He snatched the blade and sheathed it.
With a scowl at Xena, and a regretful nod toward Gabrielle, Ares vanished.
The Warrior was on her knees just in time to catch the Bard as she slumped to the ground.
Effortlessly, Xena carried Gabrielle to a shaded, grassy spot. The woman was too light. The Warrior added good food and frequent meals to her mental list of plans for the Bard.
After she assured herself that the ordeal had not reopened any of Gabrielle’s wounds, Xena stretched out beside her friend. A night of little rest and great anxiety took its toll. She dozed; her arm wrapped protectively around the smaller woman.
Some time later, Gabrielle stirred. Xena awoke instantly.
Blue-Green eyes opened and the compact blonde smiled shyly at the other woman. The iced-sapphire glow of her lover's gaze returned the greeting. Xena knew that "her" Gabrielle was back.
Then, the Bard noticed the ugly bruise on Xena's arm. She touched it tenderly.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle whispered.
Xena breathed a sigh of relief. She grasped the young woman's hand and brought it to her lips.
"No apologies, Gabrielle. That wasn't your fault."
After a brief silence, Xena spoke again.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better. My head doesn't hurt as much and the wounds seem to have healed somewhat. Maybe Ares…"
“He owed you for all the pain he caused.” Xena wasn’t about to let her nemesis take any more credit than he deserved.
A slight breeze rustled through the leaves above them. The Bard shivered. Xena pulled her closer. Then, Gabrielle noticed that she wore only a thin sleeping shift.
"Maybe we'd better be going home now. Mother and Lila are sure to worry, and I'm underdressed to be roaming around."
Xena grinned wickedly.
"In all the time we've been together, you have seldom been underdressed. Undressed maybe, but with a body like yours…"
Before Gabrielle could think up a sly retort, the dark woman continued.
"Let's stay here a little longer. There are some things I need to say. I'll keep you warm."
"All right, but you also have the duty of defending my honor from any passing wildlife."
Xena laughed, and Gabrielle joined her. As their laughter faded, the Warrior began to formulate a way to tell her companion what was on her mind.
"Gabrielle, I read those scrolls."
"They weren't my best," the Bard replied. "I’ll understand if you hated them."
"Not at all. Several were really entertaining, and some were as good as anything you've ever written."
Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand.
The Warrior dreaded going on. Her courage was failing fast, but she might never have another chance.
Gabrielle noticed her partner's hesitation. "What is it, Xena?"
"Well, uh…" The older woman's discomfort was apparent.
The Bard cocked her head and waited.
"You know that last scroll? The one you called Motherhood?"
"You wrote in there that I killed you with my chakram," Xena stated flatly. But Gabrielle heard the trepidation in her voice.
The Bard weighed her next words carefully. This was obviously a sensitive issue, and much depended on her response.
Gabrielle breathed deeply, fixed her gaze upon the Warrior, and plunged into the heart of the matter.
"You're wondering if that's what I really think, right? That you could actually kill me…in defense of your daughter."
"Xena, I don't know. I'm not sure of anything anymore. I do know how I felt… how you felt…before Solan took us to Illusia. I could have killed you then…and I tried. You tried to kill me. We're both capable of that. Even with each other."
Xena started to rise. Gabrielle gripped her friend's arm. The dark woman attempted to twist away, but the Bard found her reserves and held tight. Xena sat.
"Just listen to me, please. Then you can leave if you want."
Gabrielle continued to think aloud, while the Warrior stared into the distance, fighting back tears.
"I also know how much you love me, and that my heart and soul belong to you, always. We love each other so deeply, yet we hurt each other more than anyone else can hurt either of us. People say that those in love don't do this. I don’t buy it anymore. Where there's a great capacity for love, there's also a great chance for harm. Worse yet, there's not caring at all… growing apart without knowing why. The not caring scares me more than any pain. Pain I can handle, but just turning away from each other would kill me as surely as any weapon."
The Warrior Princess smiled sadly at her companion.
"Xena, I'm only a bard. I don't have the answer. But remember that this was mostly fiction anyway... by a spellbound writer, no less. Give me a break, please? After all, Ares wasn't the best muse."
Xena's sad smile brightened and she looked at the woman beside her with fresh eyes. Suddenly, Gabrielle seemed years younger. She recalled the innocence and optimism that won her heart in their first season together. Despite everything, Gabrielle had retained the special gifts that made her… Gabrielle.
The young woman sensed a softening and ventured one step further.
"I mean, can you believe I actually made that bastard the good guy at the end? What a stretch!"
Xena stood and grinned at her companion. She reached down and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. The Bard came up gracefully - all the way to Xena's chest, wrapping strong arms around the taller woman's neck and hauling her into a searing kiss.
Xena decided to devour Gabrielle right there.
"Is this OK?" asked the Warrior as she tightened the embrace.
"Perfect." Gabrielle's husky growl almost obscured her response.
Xena grasped the sleeping shift at the neck. With a soft tearing sound, the sparse fabric gave way. The Warrior simply brushed the garment off the Bard's shoulders, baring her.
Before Gabrielle could react, they were on the soft ground. The Bard responded enthusiastically. Both women explored their long-suppressed passion, until the smaller cried out and collapsed back on the grass with a tired, satisfied smile.
"Hey, I'm injured, remember?"
"Uh, uh," the Warrior replied in her characteristic "you-don't-fool-me-a-bit" tone as she got to her feet. Her knees were still shaking.
"And you know what?"
"I don't care if I don’t write another thing for at least… a day." The Bard cocked an eyebrow.
"Let's get you dressed and go home," suggested the Warrior Princess. She offered a strong hand, and reveled in the firm, warm grip that met hers.